Illusion of Gaia (SNES)

Pub: Enix | Dev: Quintet | Setepmber 1994 | 16 MEGS
Pub: Nintendo | Dev: Quintet | September 1994 | 16 MEGS

Soul Blazer fans unite! Quintet’s spiritual follow-up, Illusion of Gaia, follows the adventures of a young explorer named Will along with his zany friends. Armed with his trusty flute, psychic powers and the ability to morph into strange powerful beings, Illusion of Gaia is a quirky and memorable action RPG. On a personal note, it’s been over 10 years since I first played and beat this game, and I have been meaning to review it for a decade now. At last, the time has come. I had a blast playing through Illusion of Gaia — it’s yet another high quality game in a lineup full of epic titles. It’s hard, for me at least, not to love the SNES. It’s truly the system that keeps on giving. You know a system is stacked to the gills when a game of this caliber has kind of been forgotten somewhat. Maybe it doesn’t belong in the same breath as some of the Super Nintendo’s very finest, but it sure holds its own.

I THINK I’M TURNING JAPANESE

Why does Japan get all the cool box art?
Why does Japan get all the cool box art?

Released in Japan as Gaia Gensōki on November 27, 1993, North American gamers had to wait 10 months to play Illusion of Gaia. European gamers had it even worse — it didn’t come out there until April 1995. The Super Famicom box art is perhaps my all-time favorite video game cover. Seeing Will, Kara and the adorable little pig Hamlet racing across the universe as two mysterious powerful beings loom overhead promises adventure and intrigue. Compare this box art to the one we got here in America and it’s night and day. It went from super dope to super meh. On the bright side, we’re not here for no stinkin’ cover. We’re here for the game. And fortunately, it’s a dandy one.

SPIRITUAL SEQUEL

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It's Turbo from Soul Blazer indeed!
It’s Turbo from Soul Blazer, that lovable mutt!
WHAT THE -- !
Doggy style, eh?

STRANGER THINGS CONNECTION

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Sometimes I can turn a stubborn eye to something that becomes an overnight success. As a fan of underdogs and obscurities, it may take me a while to latch on to something that sweeps a nation by storm. It happened with Goosebumps back in the early-mid ’90s. Ironically, nearly 25 years later it happened with Stranger Things (which is kind of like Goosebumps on steroids). Earlier this month I finally watched Seasons 1 and 2. Stranger Things easily became my most favorite TV show since Breaking Bad. As I went to capture screenshots for this review, it suddenly dawned on me that Illusion of Gaia can sort of be viewed as a 16-bit version of Stranger Things! Now hear me out. There is a “Dark Space” in Illusion of Gaia. Meanwhile, there is an “Upside Down” in Stranger Things. Both main protagonists (more or less) are named Will; HELL, they even look kind of similar! Will possesses the power of telekinesis, so he’s like a combination of Will Byers AND Eleven. It’s kind of neat when one thinks about it. Well, at least it is to me, anyhow :P

That Will looks familiar...
That Will looks familiar…
Will Byers from Stranger Things fame
Will Byers from Stranger Things fame
Will has his own crew
Will has his own crew…
And so did Will Byers!
And so does Will Byers
They have their special hang out
They have their special hang out
A place they play games at
A place to play their games
So do they! Mike's basement is the place to be
As did they — Mike’s basement is THE place to be
Will can move things with his mind
Will moves things with his mind
Telekinesis baby!
Eat your heart out, Carrie
Eleven does, too!
Eleven: Hold my soda. On second thought, nevermind

THE STORY GOES…

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Face cruel monsters of every kind...
Face cruel monsters of every kind…

POWER UP!

It's fun to level up in the heat of battle
It’s fun to level up in the heat of battle
Take a walk on the dark side...
Take a walk on the dark side…
Who doesn't want to be a sword swinging  badass?
Who doesn’t want to be a sword swinging badass?
Or a mysterious ass kicking shadowy warrior?
Or a mysterious ass kicking shadowy warrior?

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

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Will’s father is missing. Possibly dead. Still, Will refuses to stop searching until he finds some answers. Not unlike Joyce Byers and Will…

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Remember how season 2 of Stranger Things mentioned that the one year anniversary of a traumatic event can trigger intense feelings, flashbacks and even relapses? The Anniversary Effect is very real, indeed. Having experienced it myself, it’s little stuff like this that really connects me to Illusion of Gaia.

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Every group of friends needs that one trusty hang out spot. For these boys, it’s the Seaside Cave at the far end of their hometown, South Cape.

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Before Will heads over to Seaside Cave, however, he entertains the locals for a bit. That funky looking portal there transports you to the Dark Space, but more on that later.

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Jumping off high ledges is always a hoot. I found the game’s translation to be rather endearing.

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Marriage takes hard work and good communication to work. Seth’s parents are having a bit of a rough patch. Characters bicker and have their flaws, just like in real life. It made the game feel more “alive” than some other 16-bit action RPGs.

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WAIT A MINUTE — a runaway girl?! You mean like… Eleven?

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Dungeons & Dragons was on the table until the group had something even more compelling in mind…

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Telekinesis aside, Will has a sixth sense psychic power.

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Coming home to find a pig wrecking your living room just doesn’t happen everyday. But this is no ordinary day. Princess Kara tracks down her pet pig Hamlet at Will’s house. They go upstairs where Kara asks Will about his missing father, Olman.

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Grandma Lola and Grandpa Bill join the scene as does King Edward’s soldiers. They drag off Kara but not before she can share a heartfelt thought to Will. Ever meet someone that you felt you’ve known your whole life? That’s the way Kara feels about Will. But how does Will feel about Kara? That remains to be seen…

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Damn, son. Good thing that text box is blocking your trousers…

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Every great adventure sees our hero leaving home to explore uncharted territory. And so too it is with Will. He’s been summoned to King Edward’s castle. Will loves his grandparents but he has a mission and a destiny to carry out…

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Princess Kara begs you to rescue her but King Edward throws you into a prison cell before you can lift a finger. Night soon falls…

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Enter the Dark Space where Gaia, the source of all life, offers sage advice, rest and a chance at saving your journey.

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Battle bloodthirsty bats, sinister skeletons and other strange abominations.

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Flutes aren’t typically thought of as weapons, but Will makes the most of it.

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There’s a slight puzzle element to the game but nothing too perplexing. Jumping on that button there reveals a hidden room that’s home to some unsavory bats.

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Finding treasures and the Dark Space portal is crucial to success.

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Transform into Freedan for the very first time.

Shit just got real
Shit just got real

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Stronger than Will, Freedan turns you into a badass warrior.

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Players are introduced to Lilly near the end of this dungeon. She too possesses some unique powers.

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Racing back to the castle under the cloak of nightfall, Will and Kara head back to Will’s home in South Cape.

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However, the return is spoiled by a vicious act of vandalism. We learn that the Jackal has left his mark on Will’s bedroom wall. The Jackal is a top-of-the-line hunter hired by Kara’s mom. He now has his sights aimed directly at Will.

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Enter Lilly, who informs Will that Grandpa Bill and Grandma Lola are safely tucked away in her village. Kara gets a little protective of Will and questions who this Lilly is. The two then have a bit of a verbal splat. Their dynamic is certainly entertaining to say the very least.

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Before heading out to Itory Village, Will bids farewell to his friends. They notice that something is off with Will. You know, just like Will’s friends did in Stranger Things. Not acting like the same old Will indeed…

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Lilly’s bickering with Kara carries on.

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Shades of Eleven and Mad Max, almost…

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Traveling from South Cape to Itory our heroes go.

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Princess Kara complains and Lilly is quick to be curt with her. We soon find Grandpa Bill and Grandma Lola safe and sound. They tell you that the Jackal has been here…

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Despite fair warnings, their words go unheeded.

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Sprint down and catch some major air!

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Climb down the ladder and secure your first Inca Statue.

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Friday the 13th flashback, anyone? KU KU KU… HA HA HA. Lilly tells you about the Moon Tribe. It is there that you’ll procure your second Inca Statue.

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Hardship has a way of either destroying you or strengthening you. It’s up to you to decide which side of the coin wins out.

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Princess Kara and Lilly continue to bicker :P

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Welcome to Larai Cliff. Many have tried exploring and exploiting it. None have survived to tell the tale.

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Massive Inca stone statues litter the place. They really add to the adventure and exploration atmosphere of the game.

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Battle parasitic mutant worms and look for clues scattered among the explorers who have gone before you…

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Speaking of Friday the 13th, these bastards kind of look like Jason Voorhees (his Jason Goes To Hell incarnation in particular). Explosions reveal a skull?! Strange but true…

Jason Goes To Hell (1993)
Jason Goes To Hell (1993)

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Arrange the “Jason” statues properly and a hidden door reveals itself. The Dark Space is always a welcome sight as it allows you to save your game and also transform into the almighty Freedan.

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Freedan’s reach allows him to access places Will cannot.

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Another giant leap of faith!

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Mudpit creatures try to smother you in a mud bath. Many traps lie in waiting to befall explorers, but luckily Freedan is no ordinary man.

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Freedan is bigger and stronger than Will — transforming keeps the game feel fresh and exciting. Now that both Inca Statues have been placed, it’s time for the big boss fight.

Love the way the gust of wind pushes the leaves
Love the way the gust of wind pushes the leaves

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Castoth is a mean nasty demon.

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There’s nowhere to hide or run. Good luck!

You'll meet some strange things along your journey
You’ll meet some strange things along your journey
The raft scene is one of my favorites! So atmospheric
The raft scene is one of my favorites! So atmospheric
The game totally had me enthralled by this point
The game totally had me engrossed by this point
Ironically, Freejia is anything but free...
Ironically, Freejia is anything but free…
The falling leaves is a really nice touch
The falling leaves is a really nice touch
You can even see a couple making out! :P
You can even see a couple making out! :P
What is this, the Department of Energy?!
What is this, the Department of Energy?!

STDoE

STPortal

Seth: Hee hee, sorry. All: SETH!
Lance: Hee hee, sorry. All: LANCE!! GROSS!
Each area has its own unique design and feel
Each area has its own unique design and feel
A cool breeze whips your hair in the wind
A cool breeze whips your hair in the wind
The hair swaying detail is very lovely indeed
The hair swaying detail is very lovely indeed
You're bewitched by their harmonious soothing tune
You’re bewitched by their harmonious soothing tune
Oh, does it have only one ball too?
Oh, does it have only one ball too?
"Stop busting my ball!" -John Kruk, probably
“Stop busting my ball!” -John Kruk, probably
Reminiscent of Run Saber. I hope they don't come alive!
Reminiscent of Run Saber. I hope they don’t come alive!
Fun underrated 2 player game
Run Saber is a fun 2 player game
Speaking of running...
Speaking of running…
One of the most memorable moments in the game
One of the most memorable moments in the game
What a grand sacrifice. It's a surprisingly deep game
What a grand sacrifice. It’s a surprisingly deep game
Mummies are strong but not stronger than Shadow
Mummies are strong but not stronger than Shadow
"Don't F*CK with us, Jackal!"
“Don’t F*CK with us, Jackal!”
Contemplate your fate as you stare ahead
Contemplate your fate as you stare ahead
Don't look down, Will! Yikes
Don’t look down, Will! Yikes
The ending was beautiful
The ending was beautiful
Not many SNES endings go past 10 minutes. This does
Not many SNES endings go past 10 minutes. This does
What will become of our world?
What will become of our world?
God damnit, Quintet. You gave us another gem
Quintet you beautiful bastards. You gave us another gem

EXTRA PACKAGING

The game came packaged with this lovely map
The game came packaged with this lovely map

Like so many (action) RPGs of the era, Illusion of Gaia came packaged with some neat bonuses. This includes a world map, an extended manual that served as a player’s hint guide and an enemy map. It was this attention to detail that made games of the genre so cool back in the day.

Good shit
Click on image for full size — good shit

CHINK IN THE ARMOR

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Far from a perfect game, there are a few imperfections to take note of. For starters, fans of Soul Blazer will surely miss the ability to lock and strafe. Also, those expecting an open world kind of action adventure in the same vein as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past may be slightly disappointed. Moving on the overhead world map is automatic and you go from destination to destination. This does cut down on the fluff and travel time, but it also makes Illusion of Gaia a rather linear game.

Sorry, I had to!
Sorry, I had to!

Finally, don’t expect a very long game. It lasts about 15 hours which is plenty long enough but it does seem to fly by pretty fast. I suppose one could argue it’s better to leave the audience wanting more as opposed to player fatigue. And this one definitely left me wanting more. So this can be viewed both ways.

They got a pill for that, y'know
They got a pill for that, y’know…

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

Nintendo Power's Top 100 ranked it at #85
Nintendo Power’s Top 100 ranked it at #85

Interestingly enough, despite both EGM and GameFan previewing the game and hyping it up, neither publication ever reviewed it. It stands as probably the highest profile SNES game (especially of 1994) to never be reviewed by either EGM or GameFan. Pretty shocking to say the least. Illusion of Gaia is well received in retro gaming circles. Some prefer it over Soul Blazer, as do I. It’s not quite as awesome as Quintet’s spiritual follow-up, Terranigma, but few games are. Super Play rated it 88%.

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Preach!
Preach!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Beautiful fan art by Kaigetsudo
Beautiful fan art by Kaigetsudo

I hold Illusion of Gaia in fond reverence. While it isn’t the greatest SNES game ever, there’s something mystifying about it that left a lasting impression. There’s sort of a beautiful melancholy to it all. You really feel like you’re on some grand adventure saving the world and growing with your friends as you go. The game also hits on some surprisingly mature themes, such as the idea of sacrificing oneself for the greater good. In fact, it even reminds me a bit of EarthBound in that sense (although Illusion of Gaia came out almost a year earlier in Japan). And whenever a game can remind me of Earthbound, that’s a damn good thing!

It's full of heart and soul
It’s full of heart and soul

One reason I prefer Illusion of Gaia over Soul Blazer is the main protagonist, Will. Contrast this to Soul Blazer, where you control a generic and nameless warrior. It leaves you feeling a bit disconnected. But with Illusion of Gaia, you’re controlling a normal boy (not counting the psychic powers mind you) with normal friends in a normal town. You almost feel like you could have grown up in a similar town with similar friends. The ability to switch between Will and two fierce warriors is well implemented and adds variety to the game, mixing the humanity with the extraordinary. It’s a combination that works like gangbusters. But ultimately, it was Will and his story arc that I gravitated toward. That raft scene between Will and Kara haunts me to this day – I dare call it one of the best and most memorable moments in 16-bit history. It doesn’t hurt too that the graphics were great for its time. Little details like Will’s hair blowing in the wind and even the sparkly stars adorning the portal to the Dark Space hits the sweet spot. Illusion of Gaia has that classic lush “SNES look” that typified many Super Nintendo games from that era. And the music is some of the finest work ever composed on the SNES! Major props to Yasuhiro Kawasaki.

Beautiful art by ICEO208
Beautiful art by ICEO208. Long live Hamlet!

Another reason why I prefer Illusion of Gaia to Soul Blazer is that it’s way more character driven. The characters are teeming with life — each one has a quirky personality and the group dynamic is fascinating to say the very least. Not everyone gets along and some even bicker. Others fall in love. It sort of paints a picture of real life in some ways, and even though games are meant to be a fun form of escape, it’s always nice in my book when a game incorporates some real life stuff. I sort of feel that Illusion of Gaia has become one of those “lost classics.” It doesn’t seem to come up too often when people discuss the best Super Nintendo games of all time, but it’s one of those games where if someone asks, “Ooh, remember Illusion of Gaia?” Then suddenly it blows up into a huge nostalgia fest. I suppose that’s a testament to how epic the SNES library truly is. And the fact that one can make reasonable connections with this game to Stranger Things in the year 2017 just makes me love this quirky little game that much more.

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IoGCT

Graphics: 9
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 9
Longevity: 8

Award4Overall: 9.0
Gold Award

 

Erik the Preacher. Or perhaps the Proclaimer...
Erik the Preacher. Or perhaps the Proclaimer…

But I would walk 500 miles.
And I would walk 500 more!

Double Dragon Trilogy (NES)

Where it all began... sort of
Where it all began… sort of

Double Dragon. Man, the series brings back a lot of fond memories for me. It originated in the arcades in 1987 and received a Nintendo port in June 1988. The NES game was where many of us were first exposed to the exploits of the Shadow Warriors and the Lee Brothers. It’s hard to believe the NES version is almost 30 years old. Let’s kick off Double Dragon week here on RVGFanatic with the classic (well, mostly, anyhow) NES trilogy.

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Who could forget this intro?

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THE FIENDS!

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Remember the little music here?

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Make them pay for their sins.

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Remember climbing the ladders?
Or stealing Linda’s whip?

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Love the city in the backdrop.

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Abobo is an all-time iconic NES villain.

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They weren’t levels.
They weren’t stages.
They were missions!

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Ever been hit by a cardboard box?
They’re more vicious than they look!

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You really felt like you were on a mission.

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Scaling this tower was some epic shit.
Seriously made you feel like Bruce Lee.

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Speaking of Bruce Lee…

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Don’t think these are friendly woods.

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Take his knife and throw it back at him!

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This was so atmospheric :)

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Batting practice, anyone?

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Abobo twins busting out was so epic.

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This part always did me in.

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As did this, if I made it this far.

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Watch those sticks of dynamite…

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The Incredible Abobo.

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That moon is straight up Konami!

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How ominous looking…

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OH BLOODY HELL!

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Come here often?

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I’ve got better things to do tonight than die!

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Ah, the 2-player mode we didn’t want.

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A novelty act that didn’t last long.

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Well, at least you could use Abobo.

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How about 2 players in the real mode?

Ask and you shall receive
Ask and you shall receive

Double Dragon II: The Revenge was everything we wanted in a Double Dragon game and more. Now you could play co-op with a buddy and take out the bad guys together. I have so many fond memories of playing this game with my uncle and brother switching off back in January 1990 when it first came out to North American shores. We played the crap out of this game and it was one of our absolute favorites.

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DAMN RIGHT!

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I remember thinking this was a bit spooky.
Let’s just say Marian is in trouble…

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Look, it’s Williams with a new makeover.
Yup, must have been the ’90s.

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I used to call these guys “Leaf Men” :P

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Never gets old stealing their weapons.

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Remember throwing them off the ledge?

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Reminded me of WWF’s Demolition!

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Here comes the Ax.
Here comes the Smasher.
The Demolition — walking disaster.
Pain and destruction is our middle name!

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“GET TO DA CHOPPA!”

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Such an awesome moment.

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Not the best position to be in…

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This was even worse.

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I called these guys “Ninja Scarecrows” :P

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I loved these little cutscenes.

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“Neon-filled night” — beautiful phrase.

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I called these guys “Paintbrush Men” :P

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Watch out for the opening chopper door!
Hell of a mustache on this guy.

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Welcome to Skull Island.

KongSkullIsl

“Is that a monkey?”

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Love that sunset.

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It’s the Arnold mid-boss!

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Shades of Contra, anyone?

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Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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Bit tricky this was.

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“This is the way to certain death.”
Another great action movie line.

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Gotta have a forest stage.
Wouldn’t be Double Dragon without one.

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This part claimed so many lives…

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What lies up ahead?
Only one way to find out…

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So fun setting these guys on fire.

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It’s Chin from the first Double Dragon!
Oh man, that early ’90s fashion though.

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We meet again, Arnold.
“I’LL BE BACK!”
Yeah, we’ll see about that.

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“There is evil in the air.”
It’s cheesy but that’s the charm.

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Disappearing platforms, yay…

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“Paint THIS, bitch!”

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Concentrate, young Jedi.

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Send my regards to Mr. Fuji!

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*devious Mr. Fuji crackle*

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Just a cog in the machine…

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Back again? You weren’t lying, Arnold.

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“Damnit, we just wiped this floor clean!”

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Your greatest enemy is yourself…

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This guy kicked my ass hard.

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Remember using the Game Genie on him?
Yeah, you weren’t alone. Game Genie FTW.

The Sacred Disappointment
The Sacred Disappointment

Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones came out in the US February 1991. To put it simply, my brother and I felt it was a grand disappointment. It didn’t really feel like a Double Dragon game. Certainly there was a lot of potential there but we felt it was never realized. It was hard as hell, too. I don’t mind a difficult game, but when it feels damn near impossible to get past the second level or so, something is not right. I know some people might enjoy this game and that’s fine if you do. I just never did. Nevertheless, let’s take a quick look.

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Ah, the infamous Bimmy blunder.
This was a sign of things to come.

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Creepy intro, though.
Points for that.

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I dunno, old lady, you look a bit shady…

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Ah what the hell. Let’s go.

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He nails the homeless man impersonation.

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I never liked the aesthetic.

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Double Dragon II looked way better.

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This is the boss? How disappointing.

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At least they still have a forest stage.

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Nice to see the Great Wall of China, too.

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Chin, you’ve really let yourself go…

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It’s a little depressing :P

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Wait, you can use Chin?!
That’s not jumping the shark at all…

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Beat Ranzou and he becomes an ally.

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Props for branching out, I guess.
But some things don’t need branching out.

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He’s certainly no Abobo.

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Best looking part of the game.
So let’s end it on a high note :P

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Double Dragon is a classic franchise that I feel has been overlooked and somewhat forgotten over the years. For me growing up with the NES in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the brand of Double Dragon in my mind was right up there with the likes of Mario, Punch-Out!!, Mega Man, Metroid, Castlevania and Contra. It saddens me that it kind of faded away from the spotlight but hey, we’ll always have the memories. On a side note, we did receive Double Dragon IV for PS4 and Steam on January 30, 2017. So the Lee Brothers aren’t officially dead yet.

One of the most iconic moments in NES history
One of the most iconic moments in NES history

The NES trilogy was a mixed bag. The first one was great for its time. The visuals and sound were both excellent. I also kind of liked that you learn more moves as you gain experience. It makes sense being the first game that the Lee Brothers would slowly learn more moves as they go along. The only thing missing a 2-player co-op mode in the regular game mode. The second one is the best. Now you get 2-player co-op and the Lee Brothers know every trick in the book from the very beginning, so there’s no limitations or holding back from jump street. It’s an action-packed game that’s great fun with two. My only complaint? A little bit too much platforming for my liking. I don’t mind a bit of platforming in my beat ‘em ups as long as the control is on point. I can’t say that about Double Dragon II — I’ve lost many a life trying to complete all the damn jumps in that game. As for the third game in the series, I never liked it. It felt outdated and didn’t even feel like Double Dragon, names aside. Guess you can’t win ‘em all. See ya next time for the Lee Brothers’ SNES debut!

Double Dragon: 8.5
Double Dragon II: 9.0
Double Dragon III: 6.0

Your Friendly Neighborhood Nintendo Man

HomecomingPoster

Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theatres tomorrow on July 7, 2017. The masked superhero has a famous saying: “Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” It’s a perfect time to share a Nintendo story from my youth. It’s a story that’s going to be featured in Jeffrey Wittenhagen’s upcoming Nintendo book. Thank you Jeff for allowing me the honor to be a small part of another one of your great books. To all my readers here on RVGFanatic, here’s my story in full below! :)

Chilling right before the feature presentation :D
Chilling right before the feature presentation :D

YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD NINTENDO MAN

NESFamily

I’m instantly bombarded by a tidal wave of memories whenever I think about the 8-bit Nintendo. Like so many others, I grew up on the NES in the late ‘80s. Born in 1983, I was just old enough to appreciate the NES when it started hitting its stride in North America circa 1987. I have fond memories of all those lazy carefree Sunday mornings spent playing the likes of Contra, Mega Man 2 and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! just to name a few. Nintendo help made my childhood fun and memorable. Back then gaming was a brand new experience to me. There were no fancy 3D graphics, no complex controller layouts and no lengthy 10 minute tutorials to sit through. The NES gave you two buttons; all you had to do was press start and you were good to go. Sometimes simplicity can’t be beat. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles — the NES is proof that a game doesn’t have to be overly fancy or complicated in order to be great.

Contra
Contra
Mega Man 2
Mega Man 2
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

My uncle bought a Nintendo for me and my brother in 1987. I still remember the humble collection we managed to amass through the years…

Double Dragon
Double Dragon
Double Dragon II
Double Dragon II: The Revenge
Duck Hunt
Duck Hunt
Dynowarz
Dynowarz
Gotcha!
Gotcha!
Karnov
Karnov
Kung Fu
Kung Fu
Legendary Wings
Legendary Wings
Mighty Bomb Jack
Mighty Bomb Jack
Robo Warrior
Robo Warrior
Solomon's Key
Solomon’s Key
Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3
Tag Team Pro Wrestling
Tag Team Pro Wrestling
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
WWF WrestleMania
WWF WrestleMania

My childhood is filled with fond memories of myself, Uncle Jimmy and my brother Kevin switching off for hours on end as we sat glued to our television set playing the latest NES titles. Hell, the NES was the ORIGINAL Nintendo “Switch.” After all, those halcyon days were all about switching off with my brother and uncle on Contra as we attempted to save the universe on a nightly basis back in the summer of 1989. Hanging out with my uncle and brother blasting alien scum to Kingdom Come was some of the greatest times of my childhood.

Gotta kill 'em all!
Gotta kill ‘em all!

Another fond memory I carry with me were all the rental stores that populated my area. There had to be a good 10 video stores all within a 30 mile radius back in the late ‘80s where I lived. From the established titans of the industry (Blockbuster) to all the little quirky mom and pop shops, it was an entertainment mecca with more goodies than you could watch or play to cover the span of ten lifetimes.

My actual childhood Hollywood Video!
My actual childhood Hollywood Video!

My favorite store of the lot hands down was Evergreen Video. I blame Evergreen Video and its owner, Tom, just a common man working hard for the American dream, as the source that corrupted me. One day in the late ’80s my dad was driving me and my brother around. We spotted Evergreen Video by chance when we made a pit stop in a small plaza to pick up a few items. I had never seen Evergreen Video before but on that day there it stood. Its big bold green letters silently called out to me and my brother, beckoning us over. We found ourselves breaking into a brisk stroll as we made a beeline for the store, our legs suddenly on a mission of their own.

The renting craze began that fateful day
The renting craze began on that fateful day

I can still hear the little chime that rung each time someone entered the store. It was a quaint shop with lots of family videos. You were immediately greeted upon entry by four tall wooden shelves that began near the entrance and ended close to the register counter, which sat roughly 60-70 feet straight ahead. Two columns of towering tan shelves rested on each side of the store, freeing the middle aisle for a clear walk to the counter and a good look at the man who owned the store, Tom. Rocking brown rimmed spectacles and a beard like it was 2014, Tom became something of an uncle figure to me and Kevin. You would often find Tom invariably sporting a flannel shirt of one kind or another. In fact, he was the spitting image of Al Borland (played by Richard Karn) from the ‘90s TV sitcom, Home Improvement, only with glasses.

Tom looked a lot like Richard Karn with glasses
Tom looked a lot like Richard Karn (with glasses)

Up front and to the right sat a small wooden shelf. There Tom kept his collection of 30-40 NES games. Tucked away in a corner, it was this little heavenly nook that my brother and I always made a mad scramble for every Saturday afternoon. The smell of the oak wood shelves permeates to this day. If there was ever a quintessential mom and pop rental store, Evergreen Video surely was it.

Evergreen's NES selection was quaint but inviting
Evergreen’s NES selection was quaint but inviting

Tom worked there every Saturday afternoon, rain or shine. And no matter what, we could always count on seeing his big smile greeting us behind the register counter whenever he saw us trampling in. I still remember some of the games I rented from Evergreen Video…

Beetlejuice
Beetlejuice
TMNT II: The Arcade Game
TMNT II: The Arcade Game
Totally Rad
Totally Rad
Werewolf
Werewolf: The Last Warrior

… just to name some. Back then there was no YouTube or anything to really scope these games out. You basically rented them on a whim based on the cover art and how cool the back of the box looked. It made for hit and miss rentals and some crazy times. You just never knew what you were going to get. In some regard it was almost like the Wild Wild West back then!

Some boxes look great but the game, not so much
Some boxes look great but the game, not so much
I was a sucker for them bright yellow covers!
I was a sucker for them bright yellow covers!

There was a certain purity to those days that I miss. The same can be said for the purity that courses through the 8-bit veins of the NES itself. Timing is everything in life — the Nintendo and the late ’80s simply went hand in hand and everything else that came along with it, including mom and pop shops.

NESSystem

Tom was so good to us; he even held games for me and Kevin. My brother would call and ask for a game and if Tom had said game then he would hold it for us. I remember him telling us once, with a big smile, “Only for you guys.” Maybe he said that to every kid customer of his, but damnit I like to think he meant what he said. And I don’t doubt that he did because that’s just the kind of guy Tom was.

He always served with a smile
He always served with a smile

There’s one story in particular that I’ll never forget. One time we came in to pick up TMNT II: The Arcade Game. We met Tom’s son that day. He was playing the game on the small TV that sat behind the register counter. I felt so bad when he was forced to turn the game off just so we could rent it. He was on the snowfield level battling the wolf boss, Tora. I remember Tora flashing and blinking red as Tom told his very own flesh and blood, “Sorry but these boys need to rent the game now.” I’ll never forget the poor kid looking absolutely crushed, wanting to carry on like any TMNT loving kid would, but he respected his dad far too much to disobey. I always felt guilty about that! Tom had this incredible knack of making me and Kevin feel like we were part of his family. It was top-notch service the likes of which you can’t buy. The kind of genuine service you can only find at a mom and pop shop.

Man I still feel guilty about it!
Man I still feel guilty about this!

Being huge fans of Double Dragon II, Kevin and I couldn’t wait for Double Dragon III. When it finally arrived in early 1991, my dad took us to Evergreen Video to rent a copy. The drive home was filled with visions of spinning roundhouse kicks and crazy throws galore, but alas, when we popped the game in it refused to play for some reason. My dad promptly called Evergreen Video to inform Tom about the situation and Tom told us to come back for a no-frills exchange. We ended up picking Battletoads as a replacement rental. While we were disappointed that we couldn’t play the eagerly anticipated Double Dragon III, we made the most out of that weekend. More importantly, Tom’s great customer service and integrity once again shined like a thousand stars shimmering in the night sky.

Good times. Hard times too
Battletoads kept us entertained

But here’s the part that blows my mind. A few weeks later we made our usual Saturday afternoon trek to Evergreen Video. Tom surprised us when he revealed a brand new copy of Double Dragon III — reserved just for us! He said he was waiting on us to come by because he knew how disappointed we were that his previous copy didn’t work. He wanted to make things right, but he already did that with the Battletoads exchange. It exemplifies the kind of upstanding man Tom was. He always went above and beyond the call of duty. If Yelp existed back in 1991, Evergreen Video would have gotten 5 stars all day! As for Double Dragon III, let’s just say some sequels disappoint.

Bittersweet memories...
Bittersweet memories…

Early 1992 was an interesting time. There was a changing of the guard. You could feel the shift in the winds, and you could see the writing on the wall. The 8-bit NES was being phased out for the brand new 16-bit Super Nintendo. And with it, Evergreen Video. Business wasn’t booming for Tom in early 1992 as it was in the late ’80s. When the Super Nintendo came to the US in late 1991, Tom bought some SNES games to keep up with the times. I rented Ultraman and sadly that was the last game I would ever rent from Evergreen Video. The beginning of one era (the SNES) marked the ending for another (Evergreen Video).

The end of an era
The infamous last game I rented

One innocuous Saturday afternoon in early 1992 my dad took me and Kevin to Evergreen Video to return Ultraman. Unfortunately, that trip proved to be our last. Tom told us he and the family were moving on. But because I was so young I didn’t really grasp his heartfelt admission. I just assumed he would still be there next Saturday and the Saturday after that. Because it’s Tom. And that’s what Tom does. After all, he’s your friendly neighborhood Nintendo man.

EGVUM

But reality crushed me when my mom took me shopping in that same plaza a week later. I stole a glance inside the remains of Evergreen Video. What was once a simple but lovely store that provided me with so many good memories was now a broken, fragmented shell of its former glory. A part of me expected to still see the wooden shelves and Tom’s friendly mug situated behind the register counter. Instead, what I found that day was an empty store torn down in shambles, the floor littered with debris. I felt like crying as I peered in through the glass pane. I lost a little bit of innocence that day. From that moment on I forever realized that things don’t last forever, no matter how much you want them to.

A harrowing sight indeed
A harrowing sight indeed

The last time I visited that plaza was June 2008. I had just graduated from college with a teaching credential. My cousins wanted to celebrate the occasion by eating at a Chinese restaurant. Of all the places they could have chosen, of course it had to be at a restaurant in that small plaza near the defunct remains of Evergreen Video. But of course. It was a surreal night. I just graduated from college and was looking forward to the future. But returning to that childhood plaza for the first time in what had to be over a decade got me far more emotional than I thought possible. After dinner my cousins declared a movie night at their place. But having unfinished business, I told them I would drop by later. As they drove off I stood outside the restaurant all by my lonesome. I slowly turned my gaze to the classic spot where Evergreen Video once proudly stood ages ago. My heart started racing as I knew what stood before me: I was on the verge of facing a huge part of my childhood for quite possibly the last time ever. I knew what I had to do…

"Man, where does the time go, Doc?"
It was a surreal night. Unbelievably surreal

The building was vacant. I peered inside as memories came flooding back. I saw a montage in my own mind playing. Rushing in, pushing the door open, hearing the chime of the bell and being greeted by Tom’s friendly smile. Making a beeline for the NES games, admiring the art on the boxes and hoping you would pick a good game to play for that weekend. All those images flashed in my mind one after the other. And then I was snapped back to reality. I said a quick silent thank you to Tom. Turning my back to the store, I stood there for a minute to take in the cool early evening air.

Taking it all in
Taking it all in… one last final time

I reminisced about the past while also eagerly anticipating the future. I had just graduated and was on my way to achieving my childhood dream of having my own classroom, my own students to teach and to be a positive male influence in their lives. Not unlike how Tom was to me all those years ago in his own unique way. Alas, as the final shards of sunlight pierced the storefront, I decided that was enough reflection for one night. Placing my childhood memories back in the box, I texted my cousins that I was heading over and made my way to my car. I stole one last glance at the place where Evergreen Video once stood tall and proud. I gave Evergreen Video one final knowing nod as the engine roared. The night was still young… and so was I.

There was an eerie stillness to the night
Farewell, Evergreen Video. Thanks for the memories

That fateful June evening of 2008 was the last time I visited that small plaza where Evergreen Video once stood. It’s crazy that it’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve been back to that area. I’ve since gone on to fulfill my dreams of becoming a teacher. I like to think Tom, wherever he is, would be proud of me. To this day I have no idea where he is or even what he’s up to. I never knew his last name. It’s been over 25 years since I last saw the man. It’s sad to think there’s even a chance he may no longer be alive. But wherever he is, in whatever state or space, I hope he’s doing well and at peace.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"... well, it was nice meeting ya"
Happy trails, Tom

Tom was a uncle figure to me and Kevin growing up, and Evergreen Video became much more than a mom and pop video store. It was a connection and bond held between strangers turned family. A bond that formed much like the bond that video games can help forge between people from different walks of life. And the NES certainly did that. Whenever I think back to my childhood, I invariably think about the NES, Tom and Evergreen Video. It was a different era. A simpler time. I’m grateful that I got to experience gaming’s golden age growing up. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Long live Nintendo, and long live the memories of Tom and Evergreen Video.

Check out Jeff's book for even more NES stories!
Check out Jeff’s book for even more NES stories!

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (NES)

Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth
Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth

It’s hard to fathom that come this October, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! will turn the big 3-0. Wow, where does the time go? Growing up, my brother and friends adored Mario. Don’t get me wrong — I loved the Italian plumber myself, but when it came to the NES it was always about three games that truly cemented me as a gamer for life. Contra, Mega Man 2 and of course, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! I recently reviewed the sequel, Super Punch-Out!!, so it’s only fitting to return to the original and remember why it’s arguably the greatest boxing video game of all time.

LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE

The Man, The Myth, The Menace
The Man, The Myth, The Menace

We came for Mike Tyson. We stayed for Little Mac.

MTPO1

Co-starring Carl Otis Winslow!

#mychildhood
#mychildhood

MINOR CIRCUIT

MTPO2

Ah, Glass Joe. Nintendo’s greatest jobber.

MTPO3

Joe’s facial expressions are priceless.

MTPO4

Love seeing that spit flying out!

MTPO5

Mario moonlighting as a ref was so cool.

MTPO6

Von Kaiser is a big step up from Joe.

MTPO7

Earn stars for Mac’s Super Uppercut.

MTPO8

23-13? About to go 23-14.

MTPO9

Dodging like a smooth criminal.

MTPO10

Control is crazy on point.

MTPO11

Knock off his mustache!

MTPO12

Piston Honda was serious business.

MTPO13

So intimidating the first time you see him!

MTPO14

Snapping his massive head back felt so sweet.

MTPO15

Piston’s infamous flurry of jabs.

MTPO16

He polishes it off with a gigantic uppercut.

MTPOEx

Love the way he back peddles before falling.

MTPOEx1

Looks like Paul Bunyan with those huge feet!

MTPO17

Ah, the classic training sequence.

MAJOR CIRCUIT

MTPO18

Don Flamenco has a face you just want to punch.

MTPO19

He gave off such a douche and creep vibe!

MTPO20

Give him that electrocution hair.

MTPO21

One of my childhood friends looked like King Hippo.

MTPO22

King Hippo’s defense is top-notch.

MTPO23

Until it isn’t. Classic moment!

MTPO24

One knock-out and he’s done for.

MTPO25

Great Tiger used to give me fits.

MTPO26

Love how his eyes bug out when you drill him.

MTPO27

His teleportation trick was a bit trippy.

MTPO28

Look for his turban to flash…

MTPO29

One of the all-time great NES villains!

MTPO30

Such an imposing sight the very first time!

MTPO31

Did this feel good or what?

MTPO32

He’s got buggy eye syndrome, too.

MTPO33

The Bull Charge is such an iconic move.

MTPO34

As was the counter for it!

WORLD CIRCUIT

Note: You’ll have rematches with Piston Honda and Don Flamenco in this circuit. However, I’ll skip showing them again even though they are slightly tweaked to be more difficult second time around.

MTPO35

Soda Popinksi. What an all-time great name!

MTPO36

He scared me as a kid…

MTPO37

He always whupped my ass.

MTPO38

“Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream.” He’ll be glad to.

MTPO39

Enjoy this while you can.

MTPO40

He’s a tough bastard!

MTPO41

He’s no Randy Savage, though.

MTPO42

They just keep getting bigger and bigger.

MTPO43

Watch out for his Macho Spin Punch.

MTPO44

Whew!

MTPO45

A NES rite of passage.

MTPO46

Making it this far was impressive alone.

MTPO47

Hey, he’s not so bad…

MTPO48

Yeah, right. Gotta be super fast!

MTPO49

Arguably the most intense NES final boss battle.

MTPO50

You were a legend if you could beat Tyson legit.

MTPO53

My brother’s friend was able to make it to Tyson on a few occasions. Just getting to Iron Mike was an accomplishment in and of itself. Being able to land a few blows was enough to earn you a couple high fives. Tyson is very fast and very hard to hit, let alone knock out. If anyone ever did, they became a gawd damn legend. No one in my group could ever do it, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Tyson terrorized many Nintendo kids growing up in the ’80s. He’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

MTPO54

Show him who’s boss, Mac!

TELL ‘IM, DOC LOUIS!

MTPO51

In-between rounds Doc Louis will give you tips.

MTPO52

Gotta love the added damage to the avatars!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Mike-Tyson-Punch-Out-Cast

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is one of my favorite NES games of all time. I love the 8-bit Nintendo but if I were to be perfectly honest a large portion of its library has not aged well. To be frank, some have aged downright terribly. However, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! stands the test of time even nearly 30 years later. From the huge sprites to the different strategies one must adopt from fighter to fighter, there’s no denying this is one of the all-time classics. A truly great game never goes out of style. No matter how much time passes by, it remains as playable and fun as ever. Few games can claim that. This game can. It’s always hard to admit when a childhood favorite fails to live up to standards. In this case, there are thankfully no nostalgia goggles. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is still a TKO even three decades after its initial release. That says it all, really.

OVERALL: 9.5

Whisper sweet nothings into my ear, Doc
Whisper sweet nothings into my ear, Doc
Rock on Rocky, er, Little Mac
Rock on Rocky, er, Little Mac

Rampage (NES)

"GREAT SCOTTS! MY WIFE!" "YOUR WIFE?!?! THAT'S MY GIRLFRIEND!" "WHAT!? THAT'S MY LESBIAN LOVER YOU FOOLS!"
“GREAT SCOTT — MY WIFE!”
“YOUR WIFE?!?! THAT’S MY GIRLFRIEND!”
“WHAT!? THAT’S MY LESBIAN LOVER YOU FOOLS!”

Ah, Rampage. Hard to believe the 1986 arcade game turned 30 last year. Next year will mark 30 years for the 8-bit NES port. Who didn’t play this game back in the day? I remember seeing the lovely cover at my local mom ‘n pop rental shop EVERGREEN VIDEO and absolutely going nuts. I loved monsters and the cover promised monster mayhem and destruction. My old man handed a Washington over to Tom, Evergreen Video’s owner, as my dad did every Saturday afternoon when my brother and I would go to rent the latest NES title. Remember when games were that cheap to rent? Hell, remember when renting games was a thing?! But I digress. That whole car ride home, all five minutes of it, was the longest five minutes of my life. I couldn’t wait to play Rampage. We rushed to our game room, popped it in and the rest is history. The fact that I remember it fondly to this day nearly 30 years later says it all.

KING KONG VS. GODZILLA

MORE AMAZING THAN YOUR EYES CAN BELIEVE!
More amazing than your eyes can believe!

Man, I remember gawking at this VHS cover at Toys R Us in the late ’80s. Toys R Us used to have a super small VHS section that contained Disney movies and the odd Godzilla film. Long before Capcom made crossovers popular in the late ’90s, there was 1962’s KING KONG vs. GODZILLA! I had no clue such a film existed so I nearly crapped my pants when I first saw the box sitting pretty on the shelf. Suddenly I no longer cared about buying that latest ThunderCats toy or the newest Nintendo game. Rather, all I wanted was to walk away with just a movie… from Toys R Us! We’re talkin’ TOYS R US here! You know it had to take a pretty damn special movie to possess any kid to want to do that. King Kong vs. Godzilla was that special. My parents bought it on sight and I remember being a bit disappointed when I finally saw the movie. Still, I liked it enough and had no regrets of not buying Leonardo: Scuba Diving Edition!

Can't wait for their rematch in 2020!
Can’t wait for their rematch in 2020!

Speaking of King Kong, I just watched Kong: Skull Island the other night. It was pretty good, and I am excited for this new “MonsterVerse” that Legendary has created. Crossover franchises are all the rage now, and I can’t wait for King Kong vs. Godzilla to hit theatres on May 29, 2020. That’s sure to be epic.

One of the best shots in any monster film ever!
One of the best shots in any monster film ever
My body is ready. TAKE MY MONEY
My body is ready. TAKE MY MONEY

After discovering the internet in the late ’90s, I purchased a subtitled version of King Kong vs. Godzilla. I enjoyed it a lot more than the English dub. So, how does this all relate to Rampage? Well of course…

I hope you weren't too fond of the wolf guy!
I hope you weren’t too fond of the wolf guy…

RampageNES2

I'll say!
I’ll say!

Yeeeeee-ahhh
A used… pink bathrobe
A rare… mint snowglobe
A Smurf… TV tray
I bought on eBay!

My house… is filled with this crap
Shows up in BUBBLE WRAP
Most every day
What I bought on eBay!

Tell me why I need another pet rock
Tell me why I got that ALF alarm clock
Tell me why I bid on Shatner’s old toupee
They had it on eBay!

I’ll buy… your knick-knack
Just check… my feedback
“A++!”  they all say
They love me on eBay!

Gonna buy a slightly damaged golf bag
Gonna buy some Beanie Babies, new with tag
From some guy I’ve never met in NOOOORWAAAY
Found him on eBay!

I am the type who is liable to snipe you
With two seconds left to go, whoaaaa
Got Paypal or Visa, whatever’ll please ya
As long as I’ve got… THE DOOOUGH!

I’ll buy… your tchotchkes
Sell me… your watch, please
I’ll buy… I’ll buy, I’ll buy, I’ll buy…
I’M HIGHEST BIDDER!!

JUNK KEEPS ARRIVING IN THE MAIL
FROM THAT WORLDWIDE GARAGE SALE (Dukes Of Hazard ashtray)
Hey! A Dukes Of Hazard ashtray
OHHHH YEAH… I bought it on eBay!

Wanna buy a Pac-Man Fever lunchbox
Wanna buy a case of vintage tube socks
Wanna buy a Kleenex used by Dr. Dre, used by Dr. Dre!
Found it on eBay!

Wanna buy that Farrah Fawcet poster
Pez dispensers and a toaster
DON’T KNOW WHY… the kind of stuff you’d throw away
I’ll buy on eBay!

What I bought on eBay-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y!

Stop staring at me and do it you goof!
Stop staring at me and do it you goof!

RampageNES4

[That's not kinky at all... -Ed.]
[That’s not kinky at all… -Ed.]
RampageNES6

Jump safely off, or fall down and lose health
Jump safely off, or fall down and lose health
Hey, I did originally write this review in 2008...
Hey, I did originally write this review in 2008…
Better enjoy it -- there's not a whole lot...
Better enjoy it — there’s not a whole lot…

RampageNES10

[No wonder he moved, and it ain't coz of the hairy ape -Ed.]
[No wonder he moved, and it ain’t coz of the ape -Ed.]
RampageNES12

See that little guy?
See that guy?
YUMMY!
YUMMY!
[I knew there was something funny about the ape -Ed.]
[I knew there was something funny about the ape -Ed.]
I CAN HARDLY CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT. CAN YOU?!?!
I CAN HARDLY CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT. CAN YOU?
I mean, look how beautiful Vegas is! So let's check it out
I mean, look how beautiful Vegas is! So let’s see…
Bloody hell, man. That's it?!
Bloody hell, man. That’s it?!
Love that sign. Brings some much needed variety
Love that sign. Brings some much needed variety

Indeed. The best part of the game is scaling a building that allows you to clobber that one, the one behind it and the one next to it as well. That, along with playing with your brother or friend, was as good as it got in Rampage.

Hmmm, where have I seen this before?
Hmmm, where have I seen this before?
Ah yes of course... THE KING OF MONSTERS!
Ah yes of course… THE KING OF MONSTERS!
[Damn you Bowe, I had money on you that night -Ed.]
[Damn you Bowe, I had money on you that night -Ed.]
Fan Man dropping by...
Fan Man dropping by…

November 6, 1993 marks one of the strangest incidents ever witnessed in sports history. It was a rematch between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield. During round seven, a fan parachuted down just missing the ring. The bizarre incident caused a 21 minute delay.

Holyfield eventually won the bout after the fight went 12 rounds. He regained his World Heavyweight title. It was the only loss Riddick Bowe would ever suffer in his boxing career.

RampageNES19

RampageNES18

RampageConquerRampageConquer1

 

 

 

 

 

Every five or so stages, you conquer another region. No password or save system made beating this game a daunting and tedious chore.

RAMPAGE THROUGH THE YEARS

The boys are back in town ♫ ♫ ♫
The boys are back in town  ♫ ♫ ♫

I was a bit saddened when we never got a Super Rampage on the SNES. I thought that spelled the end but Rampage saw a revival during the 32-bit generation in the form of Rampage World Tour. I bought a copy back in 2003 and it’s OK for what it is, but I was disappointed there wasn’t a three player mode. There was no excuse for that especially since the Saturn could more than handle it. Therefore the port always came off as incredibly lazy to me.

The last Rampage game to date
The last Rampage game to date

Rampage: Total Destruction came out on the Wii in 2006. Who knows if Rampage will ever be resurrected again (in video game form).

Well, speaking about a resurrection...
Well, speaking about a resurrection…

Coming to theatres in April 2018 — Rampage starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock is no stranger to video game movie adaptations. This will be his second video game film, with his first being 2005’s Doom. That was not a good movie. Hopefully Rampage turns out OK, and I think it will. We’ll find out in about a year!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Even nearly 30 years ago, I knew Rampage wasn’t a great game or anything. It’s best played with a like minded bud for no more than 15 minutes. Is there a more mindless one trick pony game than Rampage? It is what it is. It can be fun to pop in for a few minutes once in a blue moon but it’s not something you’ll want to play often. I’ll always remember Rampage for its cool box art and allowing kids to live out our fantasy of being a towering monster crushing buildings left and right — even if it fell way short of what we imagined. I guess there’s only so much you can do with this sort of format. Rampage is one of those games that gives you the nostalgic feels but the memories far surpass the actual experience, if that makes sense. It’s certainly a memorable relic from the good old NES days of late ’80s yore.

The arcade marquee is forever burned in my mind
The arcade marquee is forever burned in my mind

Super Mario Kart (SNES)

Pub and Dev: Nintendo | September 1992 | 4 MEGS
Pub and Dev: Nintendo | September 1992 | 4 MEGS

Man, Super Mario Kart. Where do I begin? The Super Nintendo is loaded with awesome games; my memories with this system run long and deep. Super Mario Kart not only ranks as one of the very best, but it also gave me and my gaming buds countless epic memories. It was a brilliant idea — take Mario, his chums and throw them in a crazy, zany go-kart world. It was instant Nintendo magic. And the rest, as they say, is history. As clearly evident by the success the Mario Kart franchise would go on to enjoy, Nintendo caught lightning in a bottle.

THE NIGHT IT CAME BACK HOME

The return of Super Mario Kart
THE RETURN OF SUPER MARIO KART

On April 9, 2006, I reacquired Super Mario Kart by trading my copy of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Limited Tin Edition). Only 40,000 were ever made. My girlfriend at the time bought it for me in 2004. Two years later, I turned it into Super Mario Kart, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2. The tin edition was going for roughly $25-$30 at the time. It goes to show you how great the retro gaming market was back in 2006. I made the deal with a nice guy off DigitPress. While I’m a big fan of the Halloween films, I couldn’t pass up on this golden opportunity to get four of my favorite childhood video games in one fell swoop.

Thanks for the steal, Mikey! Uh, we *ARE* cool, right?
Thanks for the steal, Mikey! Uh, we ARE cool, right?

THE NEW KINGS ON THE BLOCK

Super Mario Kart made my bro and me the hit of the town
Super Mario Kart turned my bro and me into gods

It was 24 years ago that my brother and I made the best trade of our gaming lives. Exchanging Death Duel for Super Mario Kart instantly made us kings of our neighborhood. All the kids living nearby came flocking to our place weekend after weekend, month after month. Being the only ones who owned the game, our quaint little home morphed into a madhouse as we had friends coming and going nonstop. Even now, whenever I close my eyes and listen closely, I can still hear the incessant chiming of my childhood doorbell. As a kid I would lay there in bed on lazy Sunday mornings trying to enjoy my peace and quiet. No such chance of that. By 8:45 every Sunday morning, like clockwork, Ben and our other friends were banging down our door. We were truly the new kings on the block.

FLASHBACK TO CHRISTMAS 1992

Talk about turning chicken shit into chicken salad…

Christmas ’92 proved to be one for the record books. In addition to my mom buying me King of the Monsters, that same year our uncle bought us Death Duel. I remember the ad from EGM. It looked cool and all, but honestly, my brother and I were a bit disappointed. Of all the games on our wish list, Death Duel certainly wasn’t even in the top 20. We tried not to complain though as our mom always taught us to be grateful and that any gift was better than none at all. Still, Kevin and I went home that night talking about how awesome it would be if Death Duel magically transformed into Super Mario Kart instead (the game that topped our Christmas wish list). It was rare that my brother and I both wanted the same game — he was a “mainstream” guy while I was more fond of the obscure underdog titles. However, Super Mario Kart transcended all of that. It was just that kind of game.

Good thing my brother was still only 11 at the time!
Good thing my brother was still only 11 at the time!

And then, as we were talking, an epiphany struck us. We suddenly recalled the ad for Death Duel in EGM. We pulled out the latest EGM issue that we had bought weeks earlier and madly flipped through it in search of our great loophole. Ah, there it was. Not suggested for children under 14. I was only nine and my brother was 11. My brother wouldn’t be able to play Death Duel for another three years! And five for me! Not that we couldn’t break the rules but when the rules benefit you, why not follow them? ;)

We struck gold

After showing the ad to our mom, just as we predicted she would, she promptly called our uncle to explain the situation and asked if he kept the receipt. Luckily, he did and since we hadn’t opened the game yet, it was ripe for a swap. So later that week my mom took me and Kevin to exchange Death Duel for Super Mario Kart. I remember thinking that it was the greatest trade in the history of mankind. I still laugh thinking about this Christmas memory. Who knew a silly ad could bring about such a dramatic turn of events? :D

Thanks a lot, EGM!
Thanks a lot, EGM!

Rather ironic that I originally acquired Super Mario Kart via trade, and then 14 years later reacquired it by trade. I’m hanging onto my copy this time for sure!

Everybody was go kart racing
Everybody was go kart racing

My brother and I played the crap out of Super Mario Kart that Christmas season and well into 1993. It was such an addicting game. My favorite character was Yoshi. My brother loved using Koopa. One of our friends, Ben, liked using Bowser or Donkey Kong Jr. Ben liked them most because they had the size to push others around. We were the only kids in the neighborhood who had Super Mario Kart, so our neighborhood friends were banging on our door like bloodthirsty zombies. I remember many Sunday mornings where the doorbell chime woke us up at 8:45! Kevin and I quickly became the kings of our block, all thanks to Super Mario Kart.

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THE GO KART RACERS

I like the cancel/confirm choice
I like the cancel / confirm choice

There are a total of eight racers, but really four different types. They come in four pairs which vary in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

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Mario takes a break from stomping goombas, but this is hardly R&R! He’s sort of a jack of all but master of none type. He doesn’t have the highest top speed and his acceleration is only average. However, he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. Also, due to his slightly bulky build, he’s able to hold his own a little bit even when bumped by the heavyweights Bowser or Donkey Kong Jr.

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The man who lives in the shadow of Mario. I always liked Luigi because I enjoy cheering for underdogs and sidekicks. He basically has the same abilities as Mario but he lacks the size to adequately counter a Bowser bump.

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The damsel in distress is out to get hers! She’s top of the line when it comes to acceleration, but only average when it comes to top speed. Look at those demon-possessed eyes. Yeah, I would advise against cracking any sort of “kitchen barefoot” jokes here.

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Yoshi has always been my go-to kart driver. Come on, a dinosaur in a go-kart? You just can’t beat that. The beauty (Princess) and the beast (Yoshi) share the same qualities and both are especially ideal for Donut Plains and the battle mode. On the flip side, they rather stink when it comes to Vanilla Lake.

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For the first time ever, you can control one of gaming’s most iconic villains. I remember this being a huge deal in my gaming circle back in late ’92. Using a special customized XXL go-kart, Bowser is as nasty as ever. Because of his enormous size, he’s slow to accelerate but once he gets going, there’s NO stopping that immense momentum… until you bump into a barrier, that is. That’s gonna suck. A lot. But as far as top speed is concerned, Bowser is king.

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Donkey can shove the competition aside and is the only one who can truly withstand the impact of a Bowser bump. Both struggle with Donut Plains and the battle mode, but they excel at Koopa Beach.

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Koopa was my brother’s favorite back in the day. He lacks in top speed but makes up for it when it comes to control. Koopa steers corners extremely well, which means you can stay on the gas pedal a little longer than most other racers when rounding corners.

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Toad is similar to Koopa but rumor has it Toad has the slight edge in terms of acceleration (being just a hair better… again, just a rumor). Both of them are cornering champions though and perform well particularly on Choco Island. But look out for Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr.!

THE GOODS

sumaka10The mushroom is a classic, basic and useful card to have in your back pocket. When you’re at the beginning of a long straight path, or right before a jumping strip, press A to give yourself a short and sudden burst of speed. Remember using this to scream ¼ across the tracks of Ghost Valley 1, or Mario Circuit 2? It never gets old! ^_^

sumaka11Ah, the green shell. The shell for real men. It shoots out straight, so that means you have to aim it with skill. Of course, some luck factors in as well, but the green shell is largely based on positioning, timing and skill. Misfire and it will ricochet off walls until it finds a victim. Don’t get in its way! Also, you can drop it behind you. It makes for a defensive tool if timed properly. Nice!

sumaka12For less skill and a much higher rate of success, the homing red shell will quickly stir up words not quite appropriate for this site. Once in a blue moon you can avoid the red shell. For example, power sliding around a corner can free you of the red shell’s death grip. But the wise and discerning player will only fire the red shell when their target is right there for the taking. A banana peel or green shell can nullify it, however…

sumaka13The banana peel isn’t the best offensive tool in the game, but it can be surprisingly effective when you’re neck and neck with the competition. You can also launch a banana peel about 10 yards ahead of you. While a fun sight, it’s rarely effective. Its best attribute isn’t its offensive capabilities, but rather its defensive potential. It has the ability to act as a defensive buffer to a red or green shell.

sumaka14Although it doesn’t quite enjoy the glamour among Mario Kart fans as the vaunted lightning bolt does, the star has always been my personal favorite. It’s a combination of various powers: your speed is increased, you’re immune to track obstacles and enemy weapons, but best of all, anyone you touch instantly spins out. However, if you fall into water, lava, or off an edge, you’ll lose the power.

sumaka15The game’s most infamous and adored power-up, the lightning bolt is both devious and dangerous. The fact that it’s so rare only increases its legend. Releasing the lightning bolt affects all seven competitors. Doing so shrinks them down which decreases their speed, but best of all, it allows you an opportunity to sadistically crush (literally) the competition. The lightning bolt is no doubt a game changer!

sumaka16The coin is often viewed as the worst item of the lot, but it’s not useless. It’s definitely a no-brainer item though, since as soon as you get it, you should press ‘A’ to use it. It adds two coins to your count. Coins affect your overall top speed, with 10 being the max. So while it may not be as sexy as the other items, it’s handy when you have few or no coins.

sumaka17Mr. Ghost is only available in Battle Mode, sadly. I wish it was available in the two player GP mode as well, but I guess one can’t have it all. The ghost not only snatches your friend’s current item but it also makes you “invisible.” Stealing your rival’s red shell or star in particular tends to lead to a curse word or two being uttered. And let’s face it, that’s probably half the fun of the battle mode ;)

sumaka18The feather allows you to make a great leap of faith. It’s particularly handy for Ghost Valley 1 and a few other tracks. Sure, you can jump with the L or R button but this turns you into the second coming of Michael Jordan. You can also use it to leap over an incoming shell (which is super satisfying) or a well-placed tricky banana peel. You can also use it to cut corners, too. Good stuff.

Its basic formula was nothing short of KA-CHING
Its basic formula was nothing short of KA-CHING!

You get the items by passing a question mark tile. Let the randomness run its course or if you’re in a rush then press ‘A’ to stop it. It was (and still is) a fun gimmick that made Super Mario Kart extra awesome. The racing itself is fine, but the weapons add an extra dosage of strategy and fun.

THE TRACKS

sumaka20MARIO CIRCUIT 1

This is by far the game’s easiest course, as well it should be. It eases you into the mechanics. There are no major tight corners. Instead, you get plenty of straight away paths. Not a lot of frills or thrills here, but that’s fine since there are 19 other tracks that are much more gimmicky. Mario Circuit 1 is plain but a memorable beginner’s track nevertheless.

sumaka21DONUT PLAINS 1

To the casual observer, at a cursory glance, this track may appear to be a tranquil setting with a beautiful pond. However, experienced kart drivers know behind the serenity lies a deceivingly semi-tough course that can eat up unsuspecting novices. Some corners have loose dirt and debris strewn about. Ease up on the gas during these points or else pay the price.

sumaka22GHOST VALLEY 1

Ah, Ghost Valley. The mushroom super jump bit, the feather trick and its unique elevated wooden track make this course unforgettable. Oddly enough, whoever built this course from long ago randomly inserted a jump bar in the middle. Remember the first time you used the mushroom right before the jump bar? Talk about a “holy shit” worthy moment indeed.

sumaka23BOWSER CASTLE 1

Bowser’s got some of the trickiest tracks around, but his first one is fairly straight forward. It has some memorable features that help make it stand out. Midway through there are three zipper bars for you to drive over, granting you a quick speed burst. It was always a rush to turn the corner tightly and hit one of those zipper marks right on the, er, mark. And watch out for those annoying Thwomps!

sumaka24MARIO CIRCUIT 2

I’ve always enjoyed the Mario Circuits because they have sort of a ‘pure’ untainted kart track feel to them. At the same time, there are just enough tiny gimmicks here and there that keep things interesting. This one is most notable for its famous great big jump bump at the end. Sabotaging players here was wickedly fun. Try dropping a banana peel just to the right of the second marker on the left side for computer opponents. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about ;)

sumaka25CHOCO ISLAND 1

A slippery dirt course way out in the desert, the infamous piranha plant calls Choco Island home. The terrain is dominated by bumpy surfaces and mud slicks so don’t get too pedal happy here. Be weary also of the mud bog that lies somewhere in the last quarter of the track — try using a mushroom here and see what happens!

sumaka26GHOST VALLEY 2

While the first Ghost Valley track will always be the best one in my book, all of them are special in their own unique way. This one has a zipper for the final stretch of the course, with a small jumper off to the far right side… allowing you to take to the skies with a mushroom. I like how the small jumper is randomly placed there.

sumaka27DONUT PLAINS 2

Try using the mushroom to skip the edge of the pond! This course is a perfect place to show off your great power sliding technique. Donut Plains 2 is littered with monty moles up the wazoo. They pop out of holes in the ground and even magically jump out of the grassy areas. If one latches on, you have to shake it off. I shake it off, I shake it off! But I keep cruising. Can’t stop, won’t stop moving. It’s like I got this music in my mind saying it’s gonna be alright. Er, sorry. [I don’t know this guy. Security! -Ed.]

sumaka28BOWSER CASTLE 2

This place can be a little confusing at first. Luckily, Bowser’s kind enough to place some arrows to guide you along. You can choose different routes to take. Alright, the routes are basic, but having a choice is still nice. If you have a feather, you can pull off a really awesome trick but it requires absolute precision. It’s not as easy as the jump in Ghost Valley 1…

sumaka29MARIO CIRCUIT 3

There are a dozen square question mark blocks waiting for you just after the start / finish line, which may allow players to get an early advantage right out of the box. There is a serious hairpin turn in the middle of the track, and just for the hell of it there’s a nifty turbo plate in the final straight away leading up to the goal.

sumaka30KOOPA BEACH 1

The good news: there aren’t any tight turns. The bad news: the sand surface isn’t the best for traction. Your kart has just enough buoyancy that it can travel safely across the water… except for the deeper, darker blue parts. Touch that and you’ll be swimming with the fish! [HAR HAR HAR -Ed.]

sumaka31CHOCO ISLAND 2

Strange, suddenly I’m craving Coco Puffs. Choco Island 2 has a much bigger patch of chocolate goo waiting for you in the middle than the first Choco Island. There’s also a very narrow road which is the perfect place to drop a green shell or banana peel. Avoid the heavy dirt off-road sections — they slow drivers down to a crawl.

sumaka32VANILLA LAKE 1

Brrrr! It’s a good thing the engine of your go-kart is so hot because you’re going to need that warmth as you race around this slick frozen lake! It’s probably the shortest track in the whole game. Vanilla Lake 1 is filled with annoying ice blocks that really impede your progress if you can’t skirt around them successfully.

sumaka33BOWSER CASTLE 3

Bowser’s castle tracks just keep getting fancier and fancier. This one gives you three different lanes to pick from. The inside and outside lanes have a turbo tile to zip you past the competition. But the middle path has two question mark tiles. It does require, however, a well-timed leap to acquire…

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MARIO CIRCUIT 4

This is a fairly long track that’s packed with corners of all sizes and shapes. It’s also home to many pesky pipes looking to block your path. Nothing beats the thrill of successfully blowing past them on your way to the finish line. On the flip side, nothing’s worse than being clipped by a centimeter, slowing you down to finish in second place (or worse). D’oh!

sumaka35DONUT PLAINS 3

Graced by two rickety old bridges, literally. One of them is missing some wooden planks and the second bridge is really FUBAR… requiring you to leap safely across. It’s so narrow too that you’re likely to get bumped if another racer is nearby. You can knock others into the pond, but keep in mind that it goes both ways! And to top it all off, the bloody monty moles are back.

sumaka36KOOPA BEACH 2

It’s time for another bash at the beach! This beach is loaded with some serious greenery that will slow down anyone who drives on it. As it was with Koopa Beach 1, watch out for the dark blue patches of water. They’ll drown you faster than you can say “CRIKEY! FLOPPING CHEEP CHEEP!”

sumaka37GHOST VALLEY 3

The trickiest of the three Ghost Valley tracks, this one is filled to the brim with gaping holes. Carefully navigate your way through or you’ll pay a dear price. Just like the two previous Ghost Valley tracks, the feather can prove to be a difference maker here.

sumaka38VANILLA LAKE 2

A very slippery course that’s more lake than land. Advanced players know how to jump around the edges of the lake to shave a precious second or two off their time. To complicate matters, this track is filled with ice barriers that can bring you to a complete and fatal stop. Winter Wonderland this ain’t!

sumaka39RAINBOW ROAD

It would only be appropriate for the final course to be the toughest. Rainbow Road, in that context, certainly doesn’t disappoint. There’s no room for error with narrow paths galore and some very difficult to avoid Thwomps. Oh yeah, those plain Thwomps from Bowser’s castle tracks? Yeah, they’re now enhanced with an electrical force field. One touch and it’s Spin Out City. Rainbow Road separates the boys from the men.

Ah, the memories
The nightmares are coming back!

BATTLE ZONES OF DEATH

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Select from four battle zones in the 2-player battle mode. The first course is basic and pretty much wide open, while the second one has more nooks and crannies for players to take cover. The third one, surprise surprise, is the slipperiest of the four. The fourth, as you can see above, is the nuttiest.

Lot of bruised egos in this mode
Lot of bruised egos in this mode

The battle mode is real simple. Each player has three balloons strapped to their go-kart. The first to pop all three balloons of the other player wins. This led to some serious cutthroat battles. The Ghost icon was a bitch! Great memories…

Setting a record by mere tenths of a second FTW
Setting a record by mere tenths of a second FTW

We also had a blast with the Time Trial mode. Getting the best time meant bragging rights. It was a gloat worthy accomplishment any time you beat out your brother, friend or even your own records. Not only could you be recognized for the best total time but the game also took account of best single lap time. Nothing was better than breaking both the single lap and total time record simultaneously.

Gotta break all the records...
Gotta break all the records…

PERFORMANCE CHECK-UP

I remember studying these two pages like crazy
I remember studying these two pages like crazy

Ah, the performance chart from the game’s manual. The SNES had some great instruction manuals, bursting with both color and useful information. Kind of sad to think about how today’s kids will never fully grasp the simple joy of studying a game’s manual in the backseat of their car going home from the video rental store. Life today is better in a lot of ways, but I can think of a few things technology simply cannot supplant.

sumaka43Super Mario Kart has a simple but effective ranking system. If you ranked at 5th or worse, you had to then replay that course. The point system is as follows:

1: 9 points
2: 6 points
3: 3 points
4: 1 point

I’ve always felt that this scoring system worked really well. Take a look:

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Classy, elegant and yet simple. Gotta love it. The music that plays here is awesome and to this day remains stuck in my head.

You cant cut it any closer!
You can’t cut it any closer!

Nothing is more exhilarating than a photo finish race. Check out how crazy close Donkey Kong Jr. came to my Yoshi — 1’17″52 vs. 1’17″53!

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I love the set-up screen here. Super Mario Kart just oozes with class and brilliance. You start out by earning the Gold Cup on all three races of the 50cc class. Then do the same in 100cc. Doing so unlocks Special Cup. Earn the Gold Cup there and you’ll unlock 150cc. 150cc is no joke!

MUSHROOM CUP OVERVIEW

Passing someone causes them to crane their neck
Passing someone causes them to crane their neck

Few things satisfy like using a mushroom to burst past your top rival during that finish line finale.

I love seeing the exhaust fumes kick up like that
I love seeing the exhaust fumes kick up like that

Power sliding around a tight corner to zoom past the competition is simply the best. And if you have the star, using it right after power sliding around a corner really puts you ahead of the pack!

Wind slanted 17 MPH east...
Wind at 17 MPH east…

I liken the green shell to that of a bow and arrow. When aimed properly and used effectively, it proves to be both fatal and satisfying. While the red shell is a more effective weapon, the green shell is the one that allows players to show off their mad skills and ability to project accurately. Here I am setting up poor unsuspecting Koopa in my line of fire. Let’s see what happens to ol’ turtle face…

I love how Koopa's eyes bug out. Good stuff!
I love how his eyes bug out. Good stuff!

Release the sucker at just the right time and BAM! They spin out in a frenzy dropping coins every which way as you speed on ahead. Was there anything better than this? Even a mere child can use the red shell successfully. But the green shell now, ah ha. That, my friends, is entirely another matter. The green shell is for true Mario Kart masters ;)

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Or using the lightning bolt right before they jump...
Or using the lightning bolt right before they jump…
Koopa is in for one hell of shellshock [Har har -Ed.]
Koopa is in for one hell of “shellshock” [Har har -Ed.]
Super Mario Kart is as entertaining as it is sadistic
Super Mario Kart is as entertaining as it is sadistic
The music here is still stuck in my head... *hums tune*
The music here is still stuck in my head *hums tune*

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Nowadays 150cc Special Cup laughs at me *sigh*
Nowadays 150cc Special Cup laughs at me *sigh*

SEND IN THE CLONES

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Surprisingly not, there came an inevitable flow of Mario Kart clones on the Super Nintendo. Shockingly however, most of them came out in Japan only. The most blatant clone is SD F-1 Grand Prix. Think Super Mario Kart meets the animatronic rejects of Chuck E. Cheese’s. As far as clones go though, this one is quite good. It has slightly better visuals than Super Mario Kart (October 1995 vs. September 1992). However, to no one’s surprise, it doesn’t play as well. The same can be said for all the other clones below. They’re all very competent and fun in their own right, but they’re NAGASMK (not as good as Super Mario Kart). SD F-1 Grand Prix is my favorite of the clones.

BattleCross3BattleCross4

 

 

 

 

 

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Definitely the least blatant clone of the lot, Battle Cross is what you might get if you threw Super Bomberman and Super Mario Kart into a blender. Who didn’t dream of that crossover at some point during the early-mid ’90s? Battle Cross is a single screen racer featuring six drivers and various weapon power-ups strewn across its nine wacky tracks. It does suffer slightly however from “It sounds better than what it actually is” syndrome. It’s pretty good but ends up feeling a bit “lightweight.” Still, it allows up to five human players and when approached with the proper mindset it can be a rather fun affair. Just temper those expectations going in.

battleracers2 battleracers3

 

 

 

 

 

Battle Racers took Bandai’s famous Kamen Rider-related characters and dumped them into a Mario Kart-esque game. I love the gorgeous sunset effect as seen above. It’s a very solid racing game but as stated before, it’s simply NAGASMK. Still, it’s worthy enough to warrant a look.

streetsumakastreetsumaka1

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, we come to the lone American clone in this lot. Street Racer features a four player split-screen mode. That alone makes it something to write home about. Well worth adding to your SNES collection, Street Racer has got its own bizarre personality and world. Give it a shot.

HONEY I SHRUNK THE KARTS!

My brother and I loved this code back in the day
My brother and I loved this code back in the day
We turned the code into its own mini-game!
We turned the code into its very own mini-game!

The rule was simple. If you were “IT” you could pick any driver. The other person had to select Bowser (or Donkey). Why? They were the slowest to accelerate. The goal? Tag big ol’ Bowser (or Donkey). We found Vanilla Lake 2 to be most conducive for this makeshift mini-game. I can’t tell you how many hours we wasted on this. It was so cool because we felt like we had discovered an extra ‘secret mode’ to the game, which only increased its already excellent longevity. When shrunk, the small courses suddenly loom large, and what healthy child doesn’t love a spot or two of tag? It only added to the game’s brilliance and was a testament to just how stellar the game was. GP and Battle Mode are great and everything… but for sheer laughs and kicks, try out this miniature game of tag! It was classic childhood innocence sprinkled with that impeccable Nintendo magic that made it a winning combination :)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

EGM ranked it #15 on their Top 100 list (November '97)
Damn right it’s better than Mario Kart 64 ;)

Super Mario Kart was considered a universal smash hit. While today many are divided on where they stand — some feel it has stood the test of time while others think it hasn’t aged too well and that later renditions have rendered the original a bit obsolete — back in 1992 practically everyone was blown away. Along with Capcom’s Street Fighter II, Super Mario Kart was THE two player game to have on the Super Nintendo. Those two showcase titles were responsible for moving Super Nintendo systems by the truckload back in 1992. EGM gave Super Mario Kart ratings of 9, 9, 8 and 8. GameFan rated it 97, 96, 95 and 90%. Super Play scored it 93%. In EGM’s Top 100 Games list printed in issue #100 (November 1997), Super Mario Kart ranked in at a lofty #15. Their “Most Challenging Moment” blurb made me smile because I completely agree with them. It was a heated argument back in the late ’90s on which was better: Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64. I do love me some four player Mario Kart 64 but come on, the tracks on the original game was simply superior. It’s a debate that continues to stir passionate opinions to this very day…

The original was a trailblazer
It was a trailblazing innovator

Nintendo Power Magazine published their Top 100 Nintendo games list in issue #100 (September 1997). By the way, I found it cool (and such a wild coincidence) how EGM and Nintendo Power Magazine reached 100 issues at almost the same time. Nintendo Power ranked Super Mario Kart #32 while Mario Kart 64 placed #4. They hit the nail on the head with their very first sentence. I owned both Mario Kart games growing up, and while I really enjoyed Mario Kart 64 as well, Super Mario Kart was my favorite.

You're good, kid, but your older brother is better
You’re good, kid, but your older brother is better
A beautiful cover for a beautiful game
A beautiful cover for a beautiful game

Super Play Magazine published their own Top 100 SNES Games list back in April 1996. Super Play ranked Super Mario Kart as the third best SNES game ever created.

#1 in Retro Gamer's book
#1 in Retro Gamer’s book, er, magazine

Retro Gamer Magazine printed a special article on the SNES back in issue #23 (March 2006), highlighting ten “perfect” SNES games. Super Mario Kart topped that list at #1. Speaking of lists, I’ve been working on my very own SNES list the past 10 plus years.Whenever I get around to publishing it, you’ll see I also have Super Mario Kart ranked fairly high ;)

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

Hats off to one of the best SNES games ever crafted
Hats off to one of the best SNES games ever crafted

It’s crazy to believe it’s been nearly 25 years since Super Mario Kart raced its way into our hearts. Time flies. It’s almost been 25 years since my brother and I pulled off the greatest gaming trade in the history of mankind (well, at least of our lives). This was the kind of game that brought all your neighborhood friends over like ants to sugar. Hell, even that one guy you barely knew! Whether it was the intense battle mode, the heart-pounding GP race, or even the brilliant makeshift tag mode we created out of a simple code, Super Mario Kart provided so many rich memories for me and my friends. It features great graphics (although it had to be seen in 1992 to truly be appreciated), excellent sound and unforgettable music, and finely tuned gameplay that only the Big N could perfect. The racing just feels right, and the creativity of the weapons and tracks only added to the game’s zaniness and appeal. Nintendo delivered another legendary gem and proved there was indeed life for Mario and friends outside of the platforming genre.

Thanks for all the memories, you silly bastards
Thanks for all the memories, you silly bastards

I still play Super Mario Kart to this day. It’s one of my “go to” games whenever I feel like I might be heading into a gaming slump. It’s like that tried-and-true classic on the menu that you always order when you want to be reminded of how good food can taste. Super Mario Kart always reminds me of why I love gaming in the first place. It’s got an outlandish universe filled with classic characters, practical weapons and power-ups to use that never gets old, and memorable courses that are still as fun to race on now as they were then. Almost a quarter century later, Super Mario Kart still finishes in first place in my book in many categories. And it remains one of the finest Super Nintendo games ever created.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 10
Gameplay: 10
Longevity: 10

Overall: 10

Platinum Award
Platinum Award

Regardless of later renditions and what else may come in the future, Super Mario Kart will forever be a true testament to how GREAT video games can be. It’s the best racing game on the SNES and one of the best Super Nintendo games ever. Thank you, Shigeru Miyamoto!

 

Mega Man 2 (NES)

One of the true cornerstones of the NES library

For anyone who grew up on gaming in the late 1980s and had an 8-bit Nintendo, we all have certain games that we connected with. For many of us, one such game was Mega Man 2. Released in June 1989, Mega Man 2 rocked my world. It truly captivated my imagination. The ability to pick your stage, take enemies’ weapons and the fact that you’re a freaking robot made this game an absolute slam dunk. There’s not much left to say in 2016 that hasn’t already been said thousands of times before, but I still wanted to talk about this game for a bit. It’s an incredibly nostalgic piece of gaming history for me. Remember that intro? It set the mood perfectly and haunts me to this day.

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Ah, childhood memories
Ah, childhood memories
That music, everything. It worked
That music, everything. It worked
The classic select screen
The classic select screen

I remember the first time I saw this, my eyes popped. I never really played the original Mega Man, so this stage select business was brand new to me. Back then all the games I had played were done in a linear fashion. The game had a set order of levels and you had no choice but to follow that order. Not so here. Capcom gave us the freedom to pick and choose. Of course, as we would come to find out, there was a method to their madness. The bosses all had a special weakness that required another boss weapon. So there was a hidden order if you will, but it’s always nice to be given a choice.

The first boss I ever chose
The first boss I ever chose

I selected Wood Man first because I liked his burly look. That plus I figured it would take place in a forest type level. I’ve always had a thing for forests in video games, even way back in 1989.

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Who could ever forget the sleeping bats? As soon as you get near them they spring to life. The purple hare was always a favorite enemy of mine. It wasn’t big or tough enough to be considered a mini boss, but it was strong enough to sustain a few bullets. I love enemies that are a notch above cannon fodder. Of course, the big bad wolf/dog creature and his flaming breath is an image that has been burned into our memory banks, pardon the pun. Classic stuff.

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Watch out for the bird which if not killed early on drops an egg that could be bad news for ya. Love the random sprinting chickens.

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After defeating Wood Man, you take his weapon Leaf Shield. Discovering the proper order of a Mega Man game is all part of the charm and fun.

Ah, Flash Man. Another classic boss
Ah, Flash Man. Another classic

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It’s your classic typical icy level where the surface is slippery. Ah, these images bring back such fond memories of a simpler time. I *hated* that robot rider with a burning passion. He always seemed to zap my health without fail each and every damn time.

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One of my favorite things about fighting Flash Man is that his battle zone isn’t a straight flat surface. I like all the different tiers there. It just makes the fight that much more interesting.

The music here was unrivaled
The music here was unrivaled

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This was one of my lesser favorite levels but it still has its moments. The giant spiked crane reminded me of Contra and the conveyor belt added a decent gimmick to this stage.

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Those Metal Blades are deadly, slicing and dicing anything caught in its path. They become yours after you send Metal Man back to the scrap heap.

The stars are a nice touch
The stars are a nice touch

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Like your typical forest and icy levels, you have your obligatory sky or air level. I’ve never been a big fan of these stages. Not crazy about instant game overs!

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Those squiggly worms were a good place to “farm” for goodies. That big guy there tries to suck you in [Sounds like your standard Saturday night *rimshot* -Ed.]

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One of the joys of playing a Mega Man title is figuring out which boss weapon works best on another boss. It’s a game of trial and error. Keep in mind too that back in 1989 there was no internet. There was no GameFAQs. And there was no YouTube. You couldn’t just find out the solution in mere seconds. Back then it was a real battle of wills. You traded secrets with your buddies on the playground. It was just a sign of the times. Signs from a bygone era.

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When I was a kid I struggled with this stage. Hey, I was 6, OK? I always seemed to get hit by those damn floating Tellies. Especially right at the top just when I’m about to leave that bloody screen forever. Later you come to this makeshift ride with more annoying Tellies.

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I remember watching my brother and his friends getting this far. I never could back in 1989. It’s funny how certain levels haunted us as kids, but we can now dominate as adults. The same applies for vice versa.

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I watched in sheer awe as my brother and his friends made short work of Crash Man. I remember thinking to myself that they just accomplished the impossible. Ah, the innocent of youth.

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I *hated* those laser beams. I never could get past them back in the day. I liked how the screen was dark except for when that enemy chucked his flaming ball.

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Alright, another boss fight where the surface isn’t flat! [Wish I could say that about my wife… *rimshot* c’mon now what the hell -Ed.]

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Ah, the mandatory water stage. I think pretty much everyone has the image of that giant robotic fish firmly implanted in their brains. One of my favorite things about any Mega Man game is reaching the boss zone. I loved the giant Dr. W sign and the “health bar door.” Come on, just look at it. It looks like your health bar!

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Don’t jump too high! It made this fight a little more challenging than normal.

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Those bloody Tellies are back to haunt me. And there’s your token disappearing block jumping section. Over a death pit, of course. Of course.

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Heat Man’s weakness, surprise surprise, is Bubble Man’s Bubble Lead. Even I was able to figure that out as a kid. Thanks Battle Beast. Water always beats fire!

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After defeating all eight robot masters, it’s time to head to Dr. Wily’s evil fortress. This reveals a series of more levels to further extend the game.

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Some of the more iconic bosses in Mega Man history right here. They blew my mind back in the day, particularly the King Kong wannabe. He took up like half the damn screen!

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It’s the final fight! Against Dr. Wily! *laughs* Right, because Capcom and “final” go hand in hand, and I’m not talking about Final Fight, either.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Thanks for the memories, Capcom
Thanks for the memories, Capcom

There were a total of six Mega Man games on the NES. People often debate over the years which one is better: part 2 or 3. My answer remains the same throughout the years, Mega Man 2. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, but Mega Man 2 just hits a sweet spot for me that very few NES games do. Even to this day, I find it to be highly playable — it’s held up well over the years. If it weren’t for Contra and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, this would be my favorite Nintendo game. From the impressive visuals to the music to the whole novelty of it all, Mega Man 2 stands as one of the finest 8-bit video games ever created. Its lofty place in gaming history is firmly cemented.

I think back to the year 1989 and remember how excited my friends and I were playing Mega Man 2. Discovering each boss’ weakness, figuring out the best path to take and beating the boss with one pellet of health remaining… these were all part of the joy of playing any given Mega Man title. All those Saturday mornings spent in Ben’s garage that summer of 1989 provided a plethora of fond memories. It was the thrill of banding together as a group of friends and playing the game well into the afternoons. When we couldn’t just find out secrets and tips with one simple click. Those were some great times from a bygone era. Those memories stay with me to this day and I can’t help but reminisce about them whenever I think of the greatness that is Mega Man 2. Hats off to you, Capcom. This sequel truly made the Blue Bomber a force to be reckoned with.

OVERALL: 9.5

Super C (NES)

Contra is back, and boy is it tougher than ever
Contra is back, and boy is it tougher than ever

Last Saturday night I was inspired to fire up the old NES for the first time in ages. I still love the system to this day but in terms of actually playing it, it’s been a while. I don’t get to game as much as I’d like these days due to work getting busier and busier, but when I do game I tend to play my Super Nintendo. But last Saturday I had the strangest and strongest urge to revisit my old friend, and my old flame, the 8-bit Nintendo. The first game I played? Super C. Now back in the day I recall playing it briefly, but never thoroughly, and I was adamant on changing that. The game initially kicked my ass until I enabled a few Game Genie cheats to help see me through. Normally I try to beat a game fair and square but I had no guilt here. I just wanted to see all of the crazy levels. This was my journey through hell and back.

Note: Credit vgmuseum.com for these pictures.

Note 2: This past weekend I also published reviews for NES Contra and Contra III: The Alien Wars. Be sure to check them out, too.

Love the orange purple sky
Love the orange purple sky
You descend upon Hell on Earth
You descend upon Hell on Earth

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Super C came out April 1990, two full years before Contra III: The Alien Wars. I can kind of see where the influences for Contra III‘s first level emanates from. Some of these sights here look awfully familar. Hmmm….

I do miss the classic foot soldiers
I miss the classic foot soldiers
They finally shoot back for a change
They just had a little more style and pizzazz to them
It ain't Contra if it doesn't have a turret
The soldiers run pretty fast
More turrets to take out
More turrets to take out
Forge on ahead
Forge on ahead

The first stage is pretty solid. Sure that first boss isn’t anything mind-blowing or ultra memorable, but I love how after you destroy all the turrets a red beating orb appears in the middle for you to gun down. It sets the stage as a lot of the bosses have compartments or turrets to take out first.

Hey, a top down level!
Hey, a top down level!
Shades of Contra III
Shades of Contra III

Indeed, playing Super C is like peering into the future. Some of Contra III‘s levels and ideas seem to derive somewhat from Super C.

It's also a bit Heavy Barrel-esque
It’s also a bit Heavy Barrel-esque
More turrets
This game has turrets syndrome
A pretty fun romp all in all
A pretty fun romp all in all
A simple but effective boss
A simple but effective boss
Shades of Contra's jungle
Shades of Contra‘s jungle
In the jungle the lion sleeps... TO-NIGHT [... -Ed.]
I do prefer the original, but it’s nice to see the nod
It's too flat for my liking
It’s too flat for my liking

It is. The first game’s jungle had lots of different platforms to jump on or off of. This jungle version lacks that. It’s pretty much a straight flat shot through, and that takes away a lot of the fun and intrigue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun level to work your way through, but it’s just not as fascinating as the original.

Mandatory water bit
Mandatory water bit
You can feel a mid boss coming
You can feel a mid boss coming
What did I tell ya?
What did I tell ya?
Bloody collapsing floors!
Bloody collapsing floors!
COMPARTMENTS R US!
COMPARTMENTS R US!
The bubbles are deadly
The bubbles are deadly
It gets rather hard here
It starts to get rather hard here
The 'Eagle Men' are back!
I’ve seen you before…
Going in deep now...
Well I’ll be damned
So many guns...
It’s hard to keep a weapon long

I keep dying and end back up with the weak pea shooter. Did I mention this game is double tough?

Interesting boss...
Decent boss but c’mon Konami

The plates come down one at a time and it’s pretty fun to navigate successfully, but I want some more monsters in my Contra bosses, damnit.

Going into the great wide unknown
Going into the wide unknown
Reminiscent of the Waterfall stage
Shades of the Waterfall stage

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I do prefer the Waterfall level in Contra over this one in Super C, but that has been a running theme, no?

Shit gets real here
Shit gets real here
Unbelievably tough
Unbelievably tough
It's not fair...
It’s not fair…
Bombs away!
Bombs away!
Oooh, creepy and ominous
Oooh, creepy and ominous
Alright, I'm digging this
Alright, I’m digging this
Points for something new
Points for something new
How do you not die here?
How do you not die here?
You can't hold me back, Trump!
You can’t hold me back, Trump!
You looking good, Donald
You looking good there, Donald
Now wait a second...
Now wait a second…
You've hit the motherload, Jimbo
You can see the influences Super C had on Contra III
This is not gonna be good...
This is not gonna be good…
This must be Hell all right
This must be Hell all right
Neat bit where you shoot down
Neat bit where you shoot down
It's those spider scorpions!
More ALIEN than ever before!
You remind me of an old pal
You remind me of an old friend
Who could forget the Demon that guarded the top of the Waterfalls?
Who could ever forget this massive monstrosity?
I must have lost 50 lives here
I must have lost 50 lives here
Finally a moment to breathe
Finally a moment to breathe
Rest time is over
Rest time is over
Awesome mini-boss. They don't make 'em like they used to!
Shame they didn’t bring back the demonic giraffe
Super C: Super Cheap?
Super C: Super Cheap?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Now wait a second...
A worthy sequel albeit super hard

It was nice to finally go through this game last Saturday, even if I did have to enable a cheat code in order to do so. I managed to finish the game with precisely one life remaining. I doubt that I could ever legit beat this game, even if I were to devote 20 years to mastering this game. I love a good hard challenge but this game seems to cross the line and wander into super cheap territory. I do like it a lot, but I just wish it weren’t so damn difficult. It’s so hard that for me it takes away some of the fun if you’re playing this as is. I know there is a camp of Contra fans who prefer Super C to the original. But for me the original will never be touched, outside of Contra III: The Alien Wars that is. Still, Super C stands as a worthy sequel and it’s cool to see the influences it would come to have in Contra III.

Ranking the first three Contra games (Contra Force doesn’t bloody count).

1. Contra III: The Alien Wars
2. Contra
3. Super C

PS- Remember the creepy commercial? See below.

Contra (NES)

It's the game that got me into games -- for life
An essential video game of the ’80s, Contra stands the test of time

For many kids growing up in the mid-late 1980s it was all about Mario and his chums. I was a fan myself, but the one game that really cemented me as a video game fan for life was Konami’s Contra. The gun-slinging, alien-shooting atmosphere was off the charts, with incredible graphics, sound and gameplay. And unlike Mario, two could play at once. In short, it was a senses-shattering, adrenaline-filled action thriller. It was the kind of game you talked to your buds about on the playground at recess. The kind you never get tired of beating again and again, provided you had a friend firing alongside you every step of the way.

Tonight we take a trip down memory lane, recalling along the way the memorable nasties, the unforgettable little moments, and why this game has stood the test of time.

A FREAKY COINCIDENCE

This tribute piece was originally written almost 10 years ago now, back on February 9, 2008. As I was writing it, I decided to search when Contra was first released on the NES. I kid you not, the date was *drum roll please* February 9, 1988. So exactly 20 years later, to the very day, I was commemorating Contra. It’s one of those freaky coincidences that prove there are indeed greater and mysterious forces at work here.

I made this back on February 9, 2008
I made this back on February 9, 2008

And although RVGFanatic is mainly a platform where I share my passion for all things Super Nintendo, I’m happy to occasionally honor games that didn’t appear on the SNES at all. Contra is the first game of a brand new section on the site entitled “Random Retro.” And I can’t think of a finer first game than this.

THE INFAMOUS KONAMI CODE

Who could ever forget this?
Who could ever forget this?

Ah the classic Konami code which gave you 30 men. Ask any serious Nintendo fan about the code and they’ll recite it for ya on cue (select, start for 2 players).

THE JUNGLE

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The first stage is the very memorable jungle romp. Indeed, it was always amusing to us young kids how your guy was as big as the trees themselves!

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One of the great things you first notice are all the convenient angles you can fire at. It made you never look at games where the hero could only shoot across quite the same ever again, yeah?

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For some reason this silly mechanical bridge really captivated my imagination as a youth. My brother and I would often see who could cross it successfully, sort of a game-within-a-game type thing, yeah.

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Uh, yeah, I meant to fall off that collapsing bridge. Of course I did…

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Each time I saw him my mind would wander to such thoughts as “How did he luck out to get that hiding spot? It sure beats running in the wide open like some kamikaze soldier!” Ah, the thoughts we had as kids, eh?

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about
Now THAT’S what I’m talking about
I know I sure haven't
I know I sure haven’t

This first towering boss really set the tone for what the rest of the game would turn out to be. Contra simply tickles the imagination. It’s a world where massive monstrosities call home and where being a deft action megastar is the only ticket out alive.

This was an amazing sight back in 1988!
This was an amazing sight back in 1988!

At the end of the jungle lies this humongous base. I remember thinking what a huge boss it was at that time, and if I wasn’t sold yet, I was now. A sucker for any sort of elaborate Lego base or set, I was blown away by how cool this imposing structure appeared.

First order of business is to eliminate the entry soldier up top. Next, take out the two turrets, which spits out lovely red gumballs. Seriously, was I the only one who thought they looked like giant red gumballs?

Always love me a good spread
Always love me a good spread

Indeed. After clearing the two turrets, wipe the base plate out and proceed onto level two. What great horrors and thrills await you there?

BASE ONE

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This scene blew my mind back in 1988. It was like nothing I had ever seen before on the ole 8-bit NES. Like all of the game’s levels, to this day I can hum level two’s theme.

Simply riveting stuff back in '88
My imagination ran wild at the horrors laying ahead
Wow, this was mind blowing back in '88!
Wow, this was mind blowing back in ’88!

Boss number two is yet another awe-worthy gigantic structure. First you must blow away the pods. Once you do, look at the black screen for a good luck message… or at least yet another notable boss, anyhow.

Shades of Cobra from G.I. Joe!
Shades of Cobra from G.I. Joe!

Oh I know you can hear the music right about now, yes? Don’t deny it. You can even recall the sound that occurs every time you die, can’t you? Good stuff. Except that dying part, though.

We called this boss “Snakey” or “Snake Breath.” No explanation needed… just look at him! To this day I can see him zooming across his tiny black space back and forth, desperately spewing his venomous breath. This game was chalk full with memorable bosses. They stay with you even nearly 30 years later. Jeez!

WATERFALL

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Stage three… gotta make your way up to the top of this treacherous mountain. Keep your eyes peeled and your guns ready.

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The classic rocks-falling-down bit. Remember to keep pace with player 2
(if applicable). The bottom of the screen in 2-player mode acts as sort of an invisible pool of burning lava.

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Another cool part. Those two small fires move back and forth while turrets and soldiers from above try their damnedest to take you out.

Thankfully you’ve got that invulnerable icon there…

Capitalizing on the Running Man trend of the late '80s!
Capitalizing on the Running Man phenomenon!

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After a lengthy and arduous journey some 5,000 feet up this mountain top, you have to deal with the guardian from Hell…

MIND.OFFICIALLY.BLOWN
MAMA MIA!

YIKES! What a beast this guy is. Nobody could do bosses quite like Konami. That was their M.O., no? First you gotta take out his two limbs.

MIND.OFFICIALLY.BLOWN
MIND.OFFICIALLY.BLOWN

Then once that’s done, blow his gawd damn jaw off! You can actually position yourself where you’re able to hit him and he just misses you. An easy bloke, but a damn impressive and highly unforgettable one. He’s one of my favorite bosses of all time. I remember my reaction the first time my bro and I saw him: “WHOA!”

Beat him and proceed safely to level four. Wow, we’re not even halfway through and already this game is killing it! No wonder it’s one of the best games of all time.

BASE TWO

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A reprise of level two, but a bit tougher and nastier. Don’t touch the electric ropes, and don’t stay in one spot for too long!

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I just love that vast bleakness up ahead, as well as the little specks of red there. A really nice touch that makes it seem very ominous, indeed. Really accentuates the feeling of stepping into the great wide unknown…

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Watch out for the dough rollers as I used to call it back in the day. Hey, that’s what they looked like to me!

Blackness peppered with ominous red... oooh
Blackness peppered with ominous red… oooh
Konami you bastards. You did it again
Konami you bastards. You did it again

This is what lies ahead! Just like the boss of level two, except now with two heads to contend with! Again, you must destroy the pods. Some Eagle Men (as we kids called them) swoop down upon you in the process.

This was a somewhat tough boss as the little bubble shots it spewed required impeccable skill to successfully dodge. In typical classic boss fashion, once weakened, it’ll start to flash red.

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Damn right it reminded me of the Autobots and Decepticons. Man, you had Transformers, Nintendo and bloody Hulk Hogan all ruling the ’80s. What a time to be alive, eh?

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Pretty damn similar, no? I liked how the red brain pulsated harder and harder the weaker it got. It made it more intense as if the thing was going to explode into a million bloody pieces!

SNOWFIELD

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Brrr… you may not need a jacket but you will need lots of skill and luck.

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Oh sure he seems harmless enough. But then factor in foot soldiers running up your back end [that sounds… painful -Ed.] and suddenly it’s not so easy now is it?

Not Yoda. Just only way to fit that text in, ha!
Not Yoda. That’s just so that the text can fit, ha!
They finally shoot back for a change
They finally shoot back for a change
Yah, you definitely need a potent firearm, or two players!
You definitely need a potent firearm, or two players!
We kids called this the UFO Boss. Creative, huh?
We kids called this the UFO Boss. Creative, huh?

ENERGY ZONE

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I like how each of the game’s locales has a slightly different look and feel. Aside from the two base stages, no two levels look alike. Gotta appreciate that.

Patience is required in level six
Patience is required in level six due to these flames
Awesome set piece!
Awesome set piece! Stay focused, or else…
Run through them like a knife through hot butter
Run through them like a knife through hot butter

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Remember Larami Corp’s Super Soaker lineup? Very popular stuff circa 1992-’93. First there was the orange Super Soaker 50 if memory serves right, then the OMG ultra-cool Super Soaker 100 which EVERY kid on my block had to have. My bro was the first to buy one and of course, he became a legend within our circle of friends. Good times.

They don't make 'em like they used to
They don’t make ‘em like they used to

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Little subtle touches like this tile floor changing colors right before a gigantic boss fight don’t go unnoticed. It’s the little details that make a game for me.

Well said
Well said

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Nobody did bosses like Konami did. You could say that they were the boss of that domain… [You’re fired -Ed.]

Somebody's been eating their Wheaties
Somebody’s been eating their Wheaties

Good ole 1988-1989. The year I was in Kindergarten. At the table with the big white styrofoam blocks I would share my tales with my friends of the battles I had with the “50 foot tall purple and orange alien monster.” My friends looked on with eyes wide open, urging me to continue my story. Just imagine this little six-year-old story teller will ya!

On a side note, back in 2008 I visited my old Kindergarten classroom to help out for a day. The teacher, remarkably, in her old age still somehow remembered me: an impromptu 20 year reunion! It was simply surreal. I looked over at the corner and saw that 1989 scene replay in my head — where I was weaving magic by the campfire about this Contra baddie. Mmm. Some things just stay with you forever.

HANGAR

This was my favorite stage of them all
This was my favorite stage of them all

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The imagery this level had was highly compelling to say the very least. Rolling mine carts, trident-esque hooks, hi-tech computer-y interior… there was just something about it that left a lasting impression.

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I love the spiked walls that would pop out of the ground. Sometimes weapons may get caught in-between as well. It’s a small detail, but they really do add up.

[Psssst. Manute Bol FTW -Ed.]
[Shoot. Manute Bol FTW. R.I.P. big man -Ed.]
Remember, I made these pics back in 2008!
Remember, I made these pics back in early 2008!
DUM DA DUM DUM!
DUM DA DUM DUM!
I love these damn spiked walls too much
I love these damn spiked walls too much
Contra is one macho video game
Damn right it is!

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You know, I think Konami might have been obsessed a little bit with stars. Almost every stage is outdoors and features stars. Red, orange, green, blue…

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Foot soldiers come trampling out the door and from behind, all while the turrets below sprout up fireworks. Two players really come in handy here, believe that!

ALIEN LAIR

Stage 8 is short and sweet
Stage 8 is short and sweet

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Ah yes, who could ever forget this epic mini-boss. We called him “The Long Neck Alien Monster” — catchy, huh? I remember not being able to eat shrimp for a while after seeing this monstrosity for the very first time!

Like I said, I made these pics back in 2008...
Like I said, I made these pics back in 2008…

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This last level didn’t host very many baddies but they were all  memorable due to their distinctly demented nature. As well as they should be, seeing as how the level takes place in an alien’s lair. It perfectly captures the foreboding mood of a giant mother alien waiting for you at level’s end…

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This is it. The final stand, the last whistle. My brother and I always had to kill all four pods before attacking the heart; it’s much more fun that way. Destroy the Red Falcon‘s heart to restore peace to the universe.

"ONE OF US HAS TO DIE!!!"
“ONE OF US HAS TO DIE!!!”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Thanks for all the memories, Contra
Thanks for all the memories, Contra

NES Contra remains one of my all-time favorite video games. I credit it as the game that hooked me for life. I always enjoyed video games prior to playing Contra, but it was Contra that blew my mind in a way no other video game before it was able to do. My brother Kevin, my uncle Jimmy and I played it to death. Though oddly, as much as we loved it, we never bought it back in the day. But thanks to a mom ‘n pop shop called Evergreen Video, we must have rented it half a dozen times. Plus borrowing our friend’s copy, but of course we had to loan him our copy of Legendary Wings – a fair trade if there ever was one ;)

Contra steamrolled its competition in 1988
Contra steamrolled its competition in 1988

Each of the eight stages have their own unique quirks and little details you can’t help but fondly remember. It’s the sign of not just a great game, but one that somehow sticks with you for a lifetime. They are far and few between. Playing Contra is akin to going about your daily routine as usual, only to inhale a whiff of a comforting scent that takes you back to a certain period in your youth. A much calmer time when things weren’t so hectic and chaotic. A more innocent time if you will. Contra conjures memories of ’80s yore, and reminds you of why you love video games in the first place.

Where's Godzilla when ya need him?!
Where’s Godzilla when ya need him?!

Who could forget the sights and sounds? Konami were maestros. 25+ years later the tunes are still stuck in my head, and the bosses are firmly planted in my heart. Nobody could do bosses like Konami. They knew just how to spark your imagination, and really brought the enemies and end level guardians to life. Never have I played a game where we talked about the bosses as much as we did with Contra. They were awe-inspiring, gruesome and unforgettable. Killing them always felt so satisfying, and if you were anything like me, you shared “war stories” about it with your friends as if it were a genuine badge of honor. The game had, and still has, that special connection with gamers the world over. That is partly why we cherish it so, even nearly 30 years later.

Until we meet again, my friend...
Until we meet again, my friend…

From telling my friends in Kindergarten about my battles with the 50 foot tall purple and orange monster to the many nights my brother, uncle and I spent locked up in the gaming room blowing up alien chunks, I will never forget the fond memories I have of Contra. But it’s not just nostalgia talking. This is still a damn EXCELLENT game. One of the best on the 8-bit Nintendo in my humble estimation. Its gameplay fares well to this day, and it has a unique aura about it all its own. Mario? Yeah don’t get me wrong, the Italian plumber is cool and all, but here’s the game that made me a video game fan for life. Here’s the game that turned boys into men. And here’s the game that damnit, just might be my favorite NES game of all time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get back to blasting some alien ass. Boo-yah!

Super Play’s Top 100 SNES Games

The SNES Bible? Pretty damn close, if you ask me
The SNES Bible? Pretty damn close, if you ask me

Super Play Magazine was a UK publication that ran 48 issues from 1992-1996. It’s been referred to by some Super Nintendo fans as the “SNES Bible.” About 10 years ago I was lucky enough to win an auction for 45 of the 48 issues. It’s a magazine worthy of the hype — it’s the perfect companion to any SNES library. I read through the issues in order cover to cover from Halloween to Christmas back in 2006. It was awesome. But nothing compared to the moment I reached issue #42. For right there on the front cover it boasted something that made my heart race just a bit faster. A Top 100 list. Now, I know everyone has varying opinions on “top” lists. But for me, as long as the list is done in good fun and the author doesn’t act like it’s the end-all, be-all, then it’s all good. I find top lists fun to browse through. Ever since I read EGM’s Top 100 Video Games list in their 100th issue (November 1997), I’ve loved the idea of lists. As a matter of fact, for the past 10+ years I’ve been actively working on compiling a list of my own personal SNES favorites. I hope to share that at some point before 2017 is out. But for now, I’m proud to convert over Super Play’s Top 100 list from April 1996.

As you read through this list, may you recall fondly why the SNES is one of the very best of all time. And hey… may you even find a game or two you never heard of, or overlooked, or disregarded in the past. It’s all part of the fun and joy that comes with reading a ‘Top’ list. So then, without further ado…

One of my most viewed pages ever on the first site
One of my most viewed pages ever on the first site
Sit back, crack open a cold one and enjoy
Sit back, crack open a cold one and enjoy

100. COOL SPOT (Virgin) 82%

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Before Dave Perry was selling the cartoon rights to garden-based invertebrates for millions of dollars, he was designing platformers like this for Virgin. It’s a twist — and there has to be a twist, or the game’s Just Another Platformer, right? — is Spot’s size: he’s a veritable Tom Thumb in the game world, making for a lengthy supply of size comparison japerings. The graphics are topper too, mind, and as a whole it stands as one of the few non-Mario platformers worth anything more than a passing glance.

99. SAMURAI SPIRITS (Takara) 84%

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If any game company is synonymous with any one particular type of game, it is Takara and beat-‘em-ups. The two go together like Princess Di and divorce papers, and while the Japan-based coders have released many disappointing examples in their time — World Heroes and Art of Fighting, to name but two — Samurai Spirits (AKA Samurai Shodown) is one victory. This SNES version lacks the screen-scaling of the coin-op/Neo Geo original, and it’s not as polished as we would have liked, but it retains enough of the original’s flavor to make it worthwhile.

98. HEBEREKE’S POPOITTO (Sunsoft) 86%

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Sunsoft’s second ‘tribute’ to Super Puyo Puyo (their first was Hebereke’s Popoon) sees them getting just that little bit closer to its greatness. Popoitto uses the same link-four-colors concept and peppers the gameplay area with a number of nasties which have to be removed before you can even think about moving on to the next stage. And before you ask, no, we’ve no idea what Popoitto means, either.

97. UNIRALLY (Nintendo) 85%

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The only SNES-only game from Scottish coders (and Dream Team members) DMA Design, Unirally (or Uniracers) is a fine example of original gameplay and innovative graphics. Using a process not far removed from Rare’s ACM, the unicycles call upon countless frames of prerendered animation to give a splendidly vivid, if occasionally headache-inducing, look to the thing. Perhaps the fastest game around, the enjoyment of hammering around loops and twirls is heightened by the split-screen two-player mode, which makes all the difference.

96. SPIKE MCFANG (Bulletproof) 85%

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Originally released in Japan as Dracula Kid, The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang is cuteness incarnate. It qualifies more as an arcade adventure rather than an ARPG, and its action-led style allows it to be a diverse little package, one moment seeing you white-water rafting, later seeing you walking rafters battling spiders. The magical attacks, based around a playing card theme, are novel, and it all adds up to a very original title.

95. DONKEY KONG COUNTRY (Nintendo) 90%

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It’s interesting to note that when Nintendo gave Rare the license to produce a game on their behalf, they chose not to let them have Mario to play with, but Donkey Kong — a character with nowhere near the same amount of kudos nor following as the platform-pounding plumber. Did they not trust our Warwickshire-based chums to turn in an effort to do Mazza justice? We could pontificate all day. What’s important is that Rare did a decent job, especially when you consider at the same time they created a new era of SNES graphics to boot.

94. THE LOST VIKINGS (Interplay) 84%

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Heaven knows where Interplay found the inspiration for this, a platformy puzzle-type thing starring three rough-hewn bearded geezers, but here the game is, and a compelling little thing it turns out to be too. You tackle each level in a sort of back-and-forth fashion, switching between the vikings in turn as you reach bits which require their individual skills to overcome. Yes, it probably sounds a bit cruddy, and admittedly the whole thing has something of a Commodore 64 game feel to it, but it’s original.

93. SUPER PARODIUS (Konami) 86%

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Essentially Gradius on hallucinogens, with delightfully remixed versions of a number of well-known pieces of music and boss characters to make you weep with disbelief, this is an old shoot-‘em-up with lots going for it. If you’re not familiar with Gradius, well, what the heck have you been doing for the last ten years? Pressing flowers? We shall explain: It’s a forced horizontally scrolling shooter whose most novel contribution to the genre is the concept of ‘multiples’ — little pods which follow your ship and act as companions. Do you see?

92. DESERT STRIKE (Electronic Arts) 90%

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Fact: the only people who claim that military hardware is fascinating are dull people. (Unless we’re talking fantastical military hardware, of course — give us a 50 foot tall assault suit and watch us smile). And so it comes as little surprise that Desert Strike, in which you fly a modern-day combat helicopter, is not as fast-moving or exciting as fantastical shooters. Dessy might fairly be termed a thinking man’s shoot-‘em-up, in fact, but its challenge and distinctly un-PC themes make it hugely appealing.

91. KIKIKAIKAI (Natsume) 88%

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Capcom’s Gunsmoke and Commando coin-ops paved the way for countless games presented in the same vein, and Kikikaikai (AKA Pocky and Rocky) is one of the finest examples you’ll see on the SNES. More difficult than its slightly prettier sequel (which was published by Ocean in the UK under the name of Pocky and Rocky 2), it chronicles the exploits of a young, reifu-throwing sorceress and her cuddly raccoon companion. As you’d expect from a game with a name like this, it’s packed to the rafters with Japanese weirdness, and we love it dearly.

90. SIDE POCKET (Marubeni) 86%

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The game popular with fat lager-fiends and sponging students alike proves almost as playable in its SNES form as it does after a few cherryades down at the local watering hole. It’s a great interpretation is Side Pocket, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that you don’t have to get 50 pees from the bar nor argue over who’s going to rack them up this frame. Oh, and it has one of our favorite speech samples ever (an ill-sounding woman who announces the title of the game as if she herself has had one too many cherryades).

89. SUPER STAR WARS (JVC/Virgin) 89%

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When ex-editor Matt Bielby said that the music in Super Star Wars was “almost good enough to justify the price of the game on its own,” he wasn’t just being his typically over-enthusiastic self: this is a landmark in SNES music, capturing the mood and feel of the motion picture like no other film license game before or since. It’s easily the most fun game of the trilogy, too, with a fatter-than-Jabba wodge of levels, endearingly recognizable graphics and slick platform shoot-‘em-up gameplay.

88. BREATH OF FIRE (Capcom) 80%

It took a long time getting a Western release (18 months, to be precise), but the wait turned out to be just about worthwhile. Forget about it providing anything like the involvement of Square’s FF series because it comes across more as a clone than a fully-fledged attempt at taking them on equal terms. Instead look at it as an above average RPG with its own fair share of talking points, notably its clever day-to-night transitions and a healthy clan of likable, if rather underdeveloped, characters.

87. WORLD MASTERS GOLF (Virgin) 80%

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There’re enough golf games on the SNES to fill a pair of Jimmy Tarbuck’s plus-fours, but this, the first effort by a UK development team (Arc Developments, if you’re interested), leaves them all choking on sand as it chips delightfully out of the bunker and straight into the ‘cup.’ With corky Mode 7 flybys, four courses (Aldan Forest, Cranfield Lakes, Marston Beach and Victoria Plains), a workable ‘three-press’ power bar system, and generally pleasant presentation all-round, it’s everything the ardent fan could ask for.

86. XANDRA’S BIG ADVENTURE (Namco) 85%

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If you’ve ever opened a packet of Jelly Babies, picked out a green one, held it between thumb and forefinger and thought, ‘I wonder what it would be like to be this green jelly feller,’ then you should A) consider taking up some form of medical help, and B) buy Xandra’s Big Adventure. Xandra, see, is a little guy made of green jelly, and he takes up a pitchfork in an umpteen level platformer that’s filled with the kind of innovation you’ll only find in Japanese software. Keep an eye out for Whirlo, the European version which wasn’t released in the UK.

85. ULTIMATE PARODIUS (Konami) 85%

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There’s little to say about Ultimate Parodius other than that it’s an improvement over the original (yes, even though it scored one percent more in our review) but not quite up there with the latest installment (yes, even though we gave that game two percent less) which you’ll find further up the list. It’s all a trifle confusing, we admit, but at the end of the day the review scores here are pretty irrelevant — some of the older games have aged better than others, and… oh, just trust us, okay?

84. JURASSIC PARK (Ocean) 89%

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Licensemeisters Ocean inevitably snatched the rights to Spielberg’s T-Rex of a movie and surprised us all by delivering a game which is not only entertaining but fairly original, too (which is more than can be said for Sony Imagesoft’s Jurassic Park 2). Incorporating Gauntlet-esque outdoor bits with a selection of indoor sections rendered á la Wolfenstein, JP presents a series of tasks which add up to a well-rounded arcade adventurey challenge.

83. PUGSLEY’S SCAVENGER HUNT (Ocean) 90%

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Ocean were one of the first UK-based outfits to really get behind the SNES, and it didn’t take them long to coax wonderful things out of it. Addams Family Values II: Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt, to give it its full name, was early evidence that Brit coders could do stuff to rival the best of what Japan had to offer, with its magnificent use of color and ingenious presentation (check out the level which takes place inside Granny’s crystal ball for proof). While not nearly as player-friendly as any Mario game, this hasn’t aged badly at all.

82. RAMPART (Electronic Arts) 79%

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The best video games, some say, are those where more than two or more people can take part at once. While RPG fans would contest this claim with their biggest +1 Swords of Chaos, Rampart illustrates perfectly just how much can be gleaned from a concept once you throw another player into the mix. A two-player conversion of Atari’s three-player trackball coin-op, Rampart‘s a game which tests both fast-paced shooting accuracy and Tetris-like building skills. It is a unique game and has unjustly gone dismissed by most SNES owners.

81. SECRET OF EVERMORE (Square Soft) 81%

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The long-awaited attempt of Square Soft’s American arm to produce something to rival Secret of Mana turned out, perhaps inevitably, to fall some way short of those magical standards. There’s still quite a bit here to get excited about, of course, notably the combat system (smooth and fast-paced), the atmospheric sound effects (Wil likes the noisy market scene) and the alchemy principle (whose mix-and-match spell-making replaces the more common simpler methods in just about every other RPG). And it’s out in the UK.

80. NFL QUARTERBACK ’96 (Acclaim) 89%

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To quote Tony’s flatmate Will Groves, who guest reviewed this in issue 40, “As usual, non-gridiron fans will take a lot of convincing but anyone who knows the game and has enjoyed Madden in the past might want to consider sacrificing just a tiny bit of the Fat One’s on-field experience for the more managerial/coaching experience of NFL QBC ’96.” What the scruffy urchin’s trying to say is that this is the best American footy game on the SNES. He just gets a little bit mixed up sometimes, bless him.

79. WORLD LEAGUE BASKETBALL (HAL) 84%

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Way before NBA Jam strode onto the court with its size-16 Nike Air Maxes, this was the best basketball sim on the SNES by a fair chalk. Making full use of Mode 7 to spin and scale the court — and induce vomiting in ex-editor James Leach’s case (yes, really) — it gets a trifle confusing following the action for the first hour or so of play, but give it time and it gels to form a mostly satisfying sports sim.

78. THE CHAOS ENGINE (Bitmap Bros) 89%

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Most video game programmers are happy to remain anonymous apart from a credit at the end of their games. Not so the Bitmap Brothers, who insisted upon getting their mugs in anywhere and everywhere. Their desires to be famous aside, they make good games, and this is one of ‘em. It’s Gauntlet for the ’90s, except with only two players and, well, much fewer levels. What’s especially commendable is that if you don’t have a human companion kicking about you can opt for a CPU-controlled variety, whose behavior is remarkably convincing. This game is known as Soldiers of Fortune in North America.

77. OGRE BATTLE (Enix) 80%

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It was hard to believe that sound as lush and graphics as sumptious as those in Ogre Battle could belong to a mere strategy game. Even a slight lack of involvement during the actual battles couldn’t deter a pointy-hatted Zy from extolling its virtues. Should you be fluent in Japanese, you could replace Ogre Battle’s entry with its oft delayed sequel — Tactics Ogre which surpasses it in every department. As there seems to be no sign of it appearing here though, Ogre Battle still wins out as the best-looking fantasy strategy game available.

76. JUNGLE STRIKE (Electronic Arts) 83%

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The Strike games — Desert, Jungle and Urban — fall into that horribly cliched category of you’ll either love them or hate them. Some gamers — mostly hardcore arcade fans — simply can’t abide the way they limit your munitions and fuel, meaning that you’re always working against the clock and a finite amount of times you can pull on the trigger, while those of a more strategic bent find the approach invitingly taxing. Us? We’re quite partial to a spot of Strikeage, and feel this is the best of the trilogy on the SNES.

75. MORTAL KOMBAT II (Acclaim) 90%

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Perhaps the biggest grumble ever — bigger even than “Waaagh! Why aren’t we getting such-and-such RPG in the UK?” and “Why can’t I ‘be’ the bosses in Street Fighter II?” — must be “Why isn’t there any blood in Mortal Kombat?” Such gripes were more forgivable then most, though — after all, the gore and violence was MK’s main selling point, despite whatever Williams would like to believe to the contrary. This MK2 conversion pulled over all of its coin-op counterpart’s juicy bits to become a worthy little fighting game.

74. STREET RACER (Ubi Soft) 91%

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There have been many occasions when we’ve found our jaws collecting fluff off the carpet. And second only to Ollie’s ability to consume an entire packet of chocolate digestives in three seconds flat in the jaw/floor interfacing department is the four-player split screen mode of Street Racer. Four independent Mode 7 windows running at speeds in excess of Super Mario Kart, thanks to its “Look, ma! No Super FX chip!” coding, cement Racer‘s inclusion in the Top 100.

73. EARTHWORM JIM (Virgin) 91%

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Created by Dave Perry’s hand-picked team of programmers and designers, Shiny Entertainment (of whom Nick Jones, who programmed SNES Alien 3 while still at Probe, is one, video game trivia fans), Earthworm Jim can justifyably claim to be the first ever game to come close to looking like a cartoon. It could also lay claim to being one of the most imaginative games to reach the SNES, and proves that it is possible to make video games genuinely humorous.

72. SUPER SMASH TV (Acclaim) 84%

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Super Smash TV was the first game Ed ‘Mortal Kombat’ Boon produced when he joined Williams’ coin-op division, a fact which should give an insight into its nature. Yes, destruction, death and carnage are the objectives in this update of the classic early ’80s coin-op Robotron 2084. The coin-op used two joysticks, one for moving your blokey, one for aiming your shots, and the SNES joypad’s four-button arrangement made the conversion as playable as anyone could have hoped. The two-player facility is the icing on the cake.

71. SUPER FAMILY TENNIS (Namco) 83%

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If Super Tennis had a multitap option, this game probably wouldn’t have made it into the Top 100, but it doesn’t, so it does, if you follow. With a more limited range of shots than ST, its graphics and presentation nevertheless surpass it with some ease. The animated backdrops are especially noteworthy and demonstrate the kind of attention to detail missing from the likes of Jimmy Connor’s Pro Tennis Tour, David Crane’s Amazing Tennis and Wil Overton’s Office Cardboard Racquets and Sellotape Ball Tennis.

70. LEMMINGS 2 (Psygnosis) 88%

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Green hair, blue capes, big feet — yep, Ollie’s mates really are a weird bunch. Boom, boom. Anyway, what we have here is the sequel to the world’s most popular puzzle game after Tetris. This follow-up introduces the idea of breaking down Lemmings into tribes, each bearing characteristics unique to that breed, thus making each more suited to certain types of levels than others. What makes it all worthwhile is that an awful lot of thought has gone into putting the all-new levels together — an all too rare occurrence in a sequel.

69. MORTAL KOMBAT 3 (Acclaim) 85%

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After hauling MK2‘s blood-soaked carcass back into the workshop, Williams returned with a game that’s bigger, juicier and more stuffed with secret bits than an MP’s private life. While the characters occasionally feel more lightweight than those of the former game, and the presentation lacks its punch, if you’re going to bother with any of the Mortal Kombat series you really should make it this one. As a conversion it’s sound, and you’ll not go far wrong with it if you bear in mind it’s not trying to be Street Fighter II.

68. DIDDY’S KONG QUEST (Nintendo) 82%

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When we put Rare’s latest platformer head-to-head against Yoshi’s Island last issue it slowly became apparent that Brit designers still have a lot to learn from our chums across the oceans. Judged purely on its own merits, DKQ is nevertheless a perfectly serviceable example of one of gaming’s oldest themes, with especially gorgeous graphics — perhaps the best ever seen on the SNES, in fact — and a difficulty level that’ll keep you pumping away at the joypad for hours. Or at least until you break it through sheer frustration…

67. POP ‘N’ TWINBEE (Konami) 84%

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No, we don’t know why it’s called what it is, either. What we are certain of, though, is that it’s the second best of the pitifully small amount of vertically-scrolling shooters on the SNES. The Konami trademarks are evident from the moment the first ground-based nasties — a group of living pineapples, no less — scroll into view, and it retains a cute, messed-up-in-the-head spirit all the way through. Its low point is the difficulty setting (which, is low), but with the three elements of gameplay, graphics and sound in such full effect, you hardly care.

66. SENSIBLE SOCCER (Sony Imagesoft) 91%

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While neither as fast or comprehensive in scope as the Mega Drive or Amiga versions, SNES Sensi is still accomplished enough to deftly sidestep every single one of its competition… well, except for ISSD, of course, which stands in its path like an impassible brick wall. Simplicity and speed are the two factors which distinguish it, and although it will feel more like a game of pinball than football to the uninitiated, everything eventually becomes second nature after repeated play. Just like football in real life, really.

65. PARODIUS 3 (Konami) 83%

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The third — and best — installment in the series offers an incredible 16 characters to choose from — eight male and eight female (er, we think, although it’s difficult to sex spacecraft) — and, unbelievably, the most outstandish elements ever to make it into a game. If you missed the review last ish, you won’t have seen the karaoke-singing panda in a dress or the lipstick-shooting, bra-wearing robot boss. Which, come to think of it, you’re probably better off not seeing.

64. FLASHBACK (Sony Imagesoft) 91%

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We don’t welcome conversions from other formats, generally speaking (unless that format is a coin-op), but we’re willing to make an exception for this, Delphine’s follow-up to Out of This World, which comes to the SNES via the Amiga. An early exponent of the graphical technique of rotoscoping — where a real person’s movements are recorded to generate game animation — it’s a platformer with heavy adventurish overtones. The animated cut scenes work well, and it’s sad to contemplate never seeing its like on the SNES again.

63. R-TYPE III (Irem) 83%

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Masters of the scrolling shooter Irem finally proved they had what it takes — they’d already given us the lackluster Super R-Type and GunForce — with this, a game that isn’t, surprisingly, a conversion of a coin-op but a totally original effort. Using Mode 7 in just about every way imaginable it provides one of the few examples of games of this type worth investing any time into. While most others are as predictable as Anthea Turner’s inane grin, R-Type III starts out originally and continues to try to improve on itself over and over.

62. UN SQUADRON (Capcom) 91%

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A loose conversion of their coin-op of the same name, UN Squadron is one of Capcom’s finest SNES games. Based on the anime and manga strip Area 88 — which was used for the game’s name in Japan, incidentally — it’s a horizontally-scrolling shooter in the classic mold, with all the usual power-ups and attack wave/boss structure we’ve come to expect since the likes of Gradius set the agenda. Novelty bonus points come in the form of a shop where you buy new weapons and the opportunity to pick and choose your way through the levels.

61. CIVILIZATION (Koei) 88%

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Civilization looks like a pile of nob. It also plays like a bit of a clinker when you start out. But give it a chance and it’ll grab hold of your attention like a pit bull terrier to the seat of a postie’s trousers. You start as a leader of a tribe whose purpose is to build it up over the years into a flourishing society. Along the way your scientists invent various items and concepts with the goal being to make it into space by the year 2001. To some this will prove as boring as Brian Walden, but Sim City fans will lose themselves in it for weekends at a time.

60. SUPER ALESTE (Toho) 87%

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At a time when few thought the SNES could cut it in moving lots of details around the screen, Super Aleste came along and delivered non-believers a punch to the throat they wouldn’t be forgetting in a hurry. We are talking Sprite Central — so much so that it occasionally gets a mite tricky working out what’s going on — and this technical achievement coupled with the seven types of weaponry make for a most enjoyable brains-off, triggers-on blaster. The downside? Oh, you had to ask, didn’t you. It’s not massively difficult. Damn. This game is known as Space MegaForce in North America.

59. OUT TO LUNCH (Mindscape) 84%

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Of all the ideas anyone could come up with to build a game around, cooking must rank as one of the least likely to turn out any fun. But Out To Lunch is fun with a capital ‘F.’ It’s jollier than Father Christmas, more compelling than an opened tube of Pringles, and as welcoming as an open-armed Claudia Schiffer. The secret of its success? It doesn’t try to blind you with over-the-top graphics or convoluted storylines — instead it delivers good traditional gameplay values polished up with dinky presentation and amusing graphics.

58. THEME PARK (Ocean) 91%

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Trust Bullfrog — creators of such adrenaline-pumping titles as Populous, Populous 2 and soon, Sim Hospital — to come up with a game which asks you to manage a funfair. It’s not nearly as dull as it sounds, of course — funky presentation, groovesome graphics and super-addictive gameplay ensure that it’s rarely anything less than fascinating. Perhaps not destined for the classic status which Sim City has earned itself, Theme Park nevertheless shows what the cream of the UK’s development talent can offer the world.

57. NBA JAM: TOURNAMENT EDITION (Acclaim) 90%

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A super conversion of the smash-hit coin-op which puts action ahead of strategy, resulting in a fast-moving game. While we’re here, have you ever wondered why Acclaim games such as this and the Mortal Kombat series have so many hidden options and cheats? Well… it’s because during the months that follow a game’s release, players seek them out and send them to mags like Super Play, which duly print them, giving the game bonus coverage, some times for up to three months. Free advertising, see?

56. SPARKSTER (Konami) 89%

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Originally something of a celeb on the Mega Drive, the opossum hit the SNES in some style in 1994. Not as celebrated as it deserves to be, Sparkster is one of the funkiest platformers we’ve had the pleasure of playing, with bosses bonkers enough to make your hair fall out and Special Bits stacked up to the ceiling. Such as, you ask? A giant robot boxing match in space, rotating missiles almost a screen in height and beautiful watery reflections. You’d best play it on a difficulty setting trickier than Normal, though…

55. MICRO MACHINES (Sony Imagesoft) 83%

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It was inevitable that, after producing countless budget-priced racing games on 8-bit computer formats (remember the likes of BMX Simulator?), Codemasters would get around to exploiting the theme on a console. The result, first seen on the NES, was a revelation, and this more-or-less straight conversion offers as many larfs as ever, with some parallax scrolling and an enhanced multi-player option being the only real enhancements. Micro Machines is simple, addictive racing fun the way your mother used to make it.

54. NHL ’96 (Electronic Arts) 90%

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If you’ve ever visited the local ice rink only to be bundled over by a four-foot-tall 10-year-old as he zigzags around at around 60 MPH, you’ll appreciate this opportunity to zip around an expanse of frozen water without the risk of battered knees and a pride to match. More than that, though, it’s the latest and best of EA’s top-selling ice hockey series, with super-slick gameplay and as many options as you could wish for (although we wouldn’t have said no to being able to leave the ice, pick up some chips from the fast-food bar).

53. MICRO MACHINES 2 (Ocean) 88%

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Like the original Micro Machines, except with more tracks, more vehicle types and more, well, fun. Some of the new course designs are a bit on the clumsy side, but it matters not. That’s all there is to say, really. Um… How about a joke? Okay, a man goes into a pub with his pet giraffe and buys a pint of beer. After drinking it, the poor animal collapses and dies, spurring the landlord to say,“Hey, you can’t leave that lyin’ there!”, whereupon the bloke replies, “It’s not a lion, it’s a giraffe.” No? Erm… it loses a lot when it’s written down.

52. PRINCE OF PERSIA (Konami) 89%

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If turbans and voluminous ‘loons turns you on, you’ll be gagging for a bash on POP, whose lead character sports some of the most attractive Arabian duds going. This plaformy slasher is very much an acquired taste: its controls are notoriously fiddly to get to grips with and the hazard-packed levels don’t suffer fools gladly. But put in the effort and be prepared to indulge in no small amount of hair-tearing along the way and you’ll get a great deal out of it.

51. MICKEY’S MAGICAL QUEST (Capcom) 89%

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Whether you’re swimming through the sap of a tree or fighting a boss character who rotates as he skates in a half-pipe made of ice, the graphics in MMQ never fail to raise at least one eyebrow. Its rock-solid platform gameplay is spruced up by Mickey’s ‘magical’ ability to change between outfits as the game progresses, allowing him to play with such diverse personas as a mountaineer (with grappling hook) and a firefighter (with working hose). Not overly taxing, but one of the prettiest and most charming games in this list.

50. TOURNAMENT FIGHTERS (Konami) 90%

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At a time when every man and his dog was scrambling to clone Street Fighter II’s legendary gameplay, it was left to Konami to do the job right. Their blatant rip-off, featuring the pizza-crazed foursome and a selection of adversaries from the animated series, worked because, unlike the many clones which altered SFII’s core gameplay in order to differentiate themselves, it didn’t really try to be different — its only major gameplay change being a power-move bar. Stonky special moves places this among the best SFII rips going.

49. SUPER BOMBERMAN 2 (Hudson Soft) 91%

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Every fan of Bomberman had their fair share of ideas about what they wanted to see in this sequel. Whether they were pleased with what they got — player-coded bombs, various new power-ups, and the biggy, playing areas in the main game option which scroll over large areas — remains another thing altogether. Whatever the case, SB2‘s battle mode is enough in itself to make this a worthwhile undertaking, especially when you consider that, like many of the games here, it’s kicking around now for less than 20 golden round ones.

48. BUST-A-MOVE (Taito) 84%

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‘Do’ing a puzzle game is hard. It either goes very right (see Kirby’s Avalanche) or very wrong (see Zoop). Bust-A-Move (or Puzzle Bobble in Japan or in the arcades) belongs very much to the former category. Its one-player mode is fairly forgettable but its two-player option has been known to force an office to grind to a halt for an afternoon, such is the volume of competitive juices it’s able to squeeze from participants. It’s a simple link-the-colors affair, but its speed and accessibility make it essential to anyone who’s always got a pal handy.

47. SOLSTICE II: EQUINOX (Sony Imagesoft) 91%

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There are few things worse than having to listen to a self-appointed video game expert bang on about how 8-bit games remain far superior to any others since. But 8-bit games have their uses, and the most obvious is in influencing games of today, which is why Equinox works — because it took an excellent 8-bit game theme (the isometric 3D ‘arcade adventure’) and made it better. Apart from its showstopping soundtrack (another Tim Follin masterpiece), other stand-out points are its unusual color scheme and high level of challenge.

46. SOUL BLAZER (Enix) 89%

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As one of the few Zelda-alikes to come anywhere near touching Nintendo’s work of genius, Soul Blazer dates back to 1992. You play a fresh-faced young adventurer whose task is to return a withered kingdom to normality. The action may seem repetitious at first, but the enormous range of characters — with numerous animals including a dog named Turbo — and a consuming quest make this one of the most addictive and rewarding ARPGs to hit the SNES. You’ll have to dig hard and deep to find it these days, but it’s worth it.

45. KILLER INSTINCT (Nintendo) 85%

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Although the formula ‘Street Fighter II + Mortal Kombat 2 + ACM graphics = top-selling game’ could be construed by skeptics as lazy design, Rare’s first attempt at a one-on-one beat-‘em-up is constructed with such professionalism that it’s difficult not to enjoy it. Yes, the concept of combos in excess of 40 hits borders on the ridiculous and the characters on show lack the charisma, and therefore appeal, of Kenneth and co., but KI is proof positive that Street Fighter II’s playing style — which it clones — cannot be beaten.

44. BREATH OF FIRE 2 (Capcom) 81%

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When resident RPG-head Zy Nicholson says that a new example of the breed has “friendly menu-driven combat, superb real-time effects, isometric battle scenes and some likeable weirdness” you know it’s worth more than just a cursory examination. And this BOF2 most definitely is: still shorter on quality than Square’s best output but strong enough to placate his fellow pointy-hat wearers. Which is, dear readers, why it earns the right to ease it buttocks into one of the 100 comfy chairs at Super Play’s Table of Excellence.

43. FRONT MISSION (Square Soft) 88%

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Foregoing their usual magic and monsters stronghold Square came up trumps with this future war strategy game based around the infamous ‘Mobile Suit.’ With a superbly polished menu system and wonderful isometric battle fields, Super Play soon warmed to what could have been a rather dry stats fest. For a game that’s yet to be released outside Japan, potential players should be comforted by the fact that Square have, in an effort to Westernize the story, written all the menus in English. All this and Tommy Chong too.

42. EARTHWORM JIM 2 (Virgin) 85%

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It would have been easy for Shiny to fart out any old sequel, but at almost every turn this shows what happens when you spend good money on good programmers and designers: you get a good game. From avoiding stairlift-bound grannies to rescuing puppies by bouncing them onto marshmallows, EWJ2 goes out of its way to further push the platform game envelope. Luzz a top soundtrack and a decent level of challenge into the mix and you have something which bodes well for Shiny’s imminent efforts on the Nintendo 64.

41. ILLUSION OF GAIA (Enix) 88%

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This charming pseudo sequel to Soul Blazer provides ample proof of Enix’s mastery of the action RPG niche. You don’t have to worry about a list of stats the length of your arm; just pick up your sword and go. As with Blazer, there’s a selection of NPCs who brighten up the proceedings considerably, and the lead character’s ability to change into a super-powered form at various points ensures that there’s always something new waiting just around the corner. It’s out in the UK as Illusion of Time — go and look for it right now.

40. EARTHBOUND (Nintendo) 88%

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The fact that this is the only game on the SNES to feature a signpost advertising ‘DRUGS’ should be enough to convince you that it’s not just yer everyday RPG. If the word crude could have been invented to describe its graphics, the words quirky and ingenious might well have come into being to relate to its other parts. Its combat system is limited, but the storyline, tripped-out visuals and subtle soundtracks ensure it’s never anything less than totally entertaining.

39. SUPER BOMBERMAN 3 (Hudson Soft) 89%

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What Hudson Soft seem to have failed to realize during their updating of Bomberman is that the game is at its most fun in multi-player mode, yet this third part contains less battle screens than the only-quarter-as-big original. What’s just as frustrating is that the enhancements on offer in this third part — kangeroos to ride and an ‘after-death’ play-on feature, to mention the most important ones — only hint at Hudson’s design talents, and you can’t help yearning for more. But it’s still Bomberman, and Bomberman is brill.

38. CANNON FODDER (Virgin) 89%

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Cocky coders Sensible Software plucked the little chaps out of Sensible Soccer and plopped them into a military warzone to produce one of the most enjoyable and original games to reach the Amiga. The SNES version is as accurate a conversion as one could wish for, and the guide-the-soldiers gameplan remains as playable as ever. Best appreciated with a SNES mouse, the only flaw to be found in it rears its head in a later level where success seems to lie as much with luck as it does with out-and-out skill.

37. SUPER CASTLEVANIA IV (Konami) 91%

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Simon Belmont may be the most unlikely name for a hero since Cecil (out of FFII), but this, his first 16-bit game, is a showcase title. It’s something of a slow starter, however, and you’d be forgiven for playing the first couple of levels and going away wondering what the fuss is about. Stick with it, though, and its true colors make themselves known in the form of a barrage of memorable pieces of music and some of the cleverest use of Mode 7 ever seen. It’s rock hard in places and you’ll feel a proper smug bugger when you finish it.

36. AXELAY (Konami) 85%

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If technical achievement was the point of reference for this Top 100, Konami’s old but golden shooter would trample all in its path. From start to finish, Axelay is an extraordinary game. Alternating between vertical and horizontal-scrolling levels, each is as memorable as the next, whether it’s the lava-flooded wastes of level four or the subterranean caverns of level five (complete with stunning echo effects). A graphical and sonical tour de force, it’s hampered by a difficulty curve which will challenge only the most noviciate of gamers.

35. STARFOX (Nintendo) 93%

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When Argonaut invented the Super FX chip it was the equivalent of Pamela Anderson discovering cosmetic surgery. The first fruit of the marriage between 16-bit SNES and 32-bit RISC chip is, like F-Zero, a piece of gaming history that no SNESite can afford to have missed. Inspired by Namco’s Starblade, it’s polygon shooting at its finest as you and three animal chums team up to take down the evil Andross and his cohorts through levels based both over land and in space. Miyamoto’s influence makes all the difference.

34. SHADOWRUN (Data East) 85%

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Grim. Gritty. Grimy. Um… Greasy? [Just get on with it -Ed.] Okay, here is a game which should have kick-started an entire series of similar SNES games if there was any justice in the world, but instead remains just the high point on the C.V. of Australian coders Laser Beam. A ‘cyberpunk’ adventure, it’s an isometric 3D actioner where you wake up to find yourself with no memory and must proceed to unravel a tale by cybernetically enhancing your body, ‘jacking’ into ‘matrixes’ and whatnot. Oh, and there’s tons of killings.

33. ACTRAISER (Enix) 90%

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When the great SNES versus Mega Drive debate was at its height, Actraiser was wielded in the SNES’s corner as an example of just how superior the Nintendo mchine’s sound capabilities are, thanks to Yuzo Koshiro’s masterful soundtrack. Audio thrills aside, there’s a corky game in here too, presented as a selection of platform slashing levels accessed via a main map section, itself an enjoyable God game-type thing where you must tend to the world’s populace. The long-awaited sequel was pump, incidentally.

32. F-ZERO (Nintendo) 86%

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The Amiga had Marble Madness, the Mega Drive had Super Shinobi, and the SNES had this. What are we talking about? Killer apps, of course — games which sell their machines on their merits alone. Any hardened gamer witnessing F-Zero‘s stunning exploration of Mode 7 had to have a machine of their own. There’s no two-player option, the courses are bland when compared to those of Super Mario Kart and it’s only a paltry four mega bits big, but it’s lightning fast and gloriously playable.

31. CHRONO TRIGGER (Square Soft) 90%

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We awaited this game’s arrival — the product of Akira ‘Dragon Ball’ Toriyama, Yuji ‘Dragon Quest’ Horii and Hironbu ‘Final Fantasy’ Sakaguchi — with such abatement of breath we nearly kneeled over our keyboards and expired. And when it arrived, it nearly lived up to those lofty expectations, with a roster of smashing-looking characters and a natty time-travelling storyline. The only criticism to be leveled at it is the lack of character depth and overall lightweight nature when compared to the Final Fantasy series.

30. TINY TOONS ADVENTURES (Konami) 89%

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Years before Yoshi’s Island planted its innovated feet on the SNES, Konami’s Tiny Toons title — known as Buster Busts Loose in the UK — was doing fresh things with the stale-as-last-month’s-Holvis genre. As early as level two you come across a section where the game holds up while you’re required to take part in a bit of rope skipping before you can pass, while later levels include a game of American football and a space-based bit where you can totally invert gravity. It’s all over rather too quickly, though, but we still love it tons.

29. SIM CITY (Nintendo) 84%

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Did you like Lego? Do you still play with it secretly now? Do you still play with it openly now? Whatever the case, if you have even an inkling of interest in building things you’ll love Sim City. It’s not a game for everyone, but those willing to put in the time will discover an addictive experience. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto had a hand in this version, incidentally, giving it benefits over other versions including the green-haired helper-outer Doctor Wright and a great preset game scenario featuring a mighty Bowser attack.

28. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RACING (Interplay) 88%

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If you’ve ever been stuck on a twisty country lane behind a flatcap-wearing octogenarian in an Austin Maxi, you’ll have no doubt fantasized about having a whacking great assault cannon mounted on your bonnet. This is the sort of game you need to play to relieve such frustration. It’s fast, slick and has about the most impressive guitar effects we’ve ever heard in a game, courtesy of real rock classics re-interpreted by game music genius Tim Follin. It has a fabbo simultaneous two-player too. Gaming rarely gets more fun than this.

27. SUPER PUNCH-OUT!! (Nintendo) 90%

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We like boxing. Not for real, of course (our soft faces are too delicate for such behavior), but watching it on the telly and doing it in video games. Especially when the video game is Super Punch-Out!!, Nintendo’s long-in-the-making update of the NES title Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! Yep, simulated pugilism doesn’t come any more entertaining than this. Well, not unless you count Taito’s Real Puncher coin-op, which would prove as much fun, if only we could persuade Wil to be the one standing in front of its scanning camera [Oi! -Wil]

26. PLOK! (Tradewest) 90%

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Apart from having the finest harmonica samples ever to grace the SNES (er, although we’re not aware of any other competition), Plok! manages to lift the trophy of Best UK-Produced Platformer, too. It achieves this accolade by being original. Plok, for example, is like no other game character, able to fire off all of his limbs until he’s reduced to just a helpless torso. His charm is joined by a selection of vehicles to bomb around in, collectible special-power outfits and the best black-and-white levels we’ve ever seen. And we’ve seen a few, by crikey.

25. GOEMON 2 (Konami) 90%

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Although only available in Japanese form — sales of the Western version of Goemon 1, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, proved too low to warrant the ‘trouble’ of translating the sequel — if you only buy one import cart, make it this one. Although it looks similar to LOTMN, the platform-based sections are more detailed than before (and include a number of vehicles you can hi-jack and use to plough through the weirder-than-before nasties) while the all-new Mode 7 mecha Goemon sequences offer new gameplay. A Konami klassic.

24. TETRIS BATTLE GAIDEN (Bullet Proof Software) 86%

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‘Gaiden,’ as many Super Play readers will know, is a Japanese word meaning ‘side story.’ Tetris Battle ‘Side Story,’ then, includes two modes: a battle option, which allows you to collect pods with which to build a spell meter; and a ‘straight’ Tetris mode, which turns out to be the best version of Tetris available on any format anywhere, ever. Surprisingly, the battle mode is a fine and worthwhile twist, too. In all, classic stuff.

23. SUPER BOMBERMAN (Hudson Soft) 92%

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To invent a new game style is one thing, but to create one which your competitors find near-impossible to rip off is another — which is what Hudson Soft did in creating the Bomberman concept. Diehard fans agree that the first in the series is the best, with a battle mode simple enough to ensure that all the family can join in, while allowing experienced players to get to grips with grass-roots Bomberman gameplay. You could lock four people in a room with this game for 24 hours and they’d still come out smiling. Probably.

22. STREET FIGHTER II (Capcom) 94%

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When SFII arrived in arcades in 1991, many gamers took one look at its six-button controls and wrote it off as something of a novelty — this was, after all, a time when three fire buttons were just about the limit in coin-ops. It didn’t take long for the game’s potential to shine through, though, and it became one of the biggest earners in the history of arcade gaming while the accuracy of this conversion did a similar amount of earning for Nintendo, selling SNESes by the shelfload. The inability to ‘be’ the bosses removes some of the magic, though.

21. STUNT RACE FX (Nintendo) 93%

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Only Nintendo’s second Super FX title, SRFX (AKA Wildtrax in Japan) is just as remarkable as their first. If you thought polygons came in only two varieties — dull and duller — you’ll change your mind once you see this. The four vehicles — coupé, 4×4, 2WD and truck — all have personality and individualistic levels of handling and engine performance and the skill required to drive them is something that only comes with practice. Characteristic tracks and fab Stunt and Radio Controlled modes make this a driving game like no other.

20. FINAL FANTASY II (Square Soft) 90%

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There are many games that, without Super Play‘s championing of them, would go unnoticed by the general SNES-playing community. Final Fantasy II is one example, serving to introduce those lucky enough to track down an import copy to the delights of turn-based combat and Square’s deftness at weaving tales of magic, war and high drama in a fantastical setting where people with big eyes and even bigger hearts rule the day. The story, soundtrack and finely-tuned gameplay compensate to make it essential playing to all RPGers.

19. CYBERNATOR (Konami) 91%

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Unique among shooters, Cybernator has a level of detail normally the sole presence of the most hardcore Airfix modeller — who could forget the little blokeys who run around at your feet peppering you with their peashooter-like weapons, just begging you to turn your giant machine guns onto them? Or the three-screens-high end-of-game boss? Sadly, a sequel never materialized, but we’re looking forward to Gun Hazard, by the same team.

18. SUPER STREET FIGHTER II (Capcom) 96%

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We’ll never know why Capcom chose to produce ‘plain old’ SSFII on the SNES when arcade-goers at the time were enjoying the souped-up SSFII Turbo (or ‘X’ as it’s known in Japan), and it remains one of the most frustrating happenings in the machine’s history. With four new characters (Fei Long, Dee Jay, Cammy and T. Hawk), new backdrops and new moves for the old fighters, to name but a few improvements, SSFII is deserving of its place, but players coming to it after Turbo will expect speed, and its absence rather dulls the experience.

17. DOOM (Williams) 92%

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If you work in the back room of a butcher shop, Doom may not be nearly as appealing as it is to the average Joe on the street. We’re talking major slaughterage, see, dealt out with a series of chuff-off weapons that make Arnie’s arsenal in Commando look like air pistols. Judged as a conversion, this is more complete than the 32X and Jaguar efforts, and although the lower screen resolution sometimes makes it look like an ugly bugger, the Doom playability remains intact, making it one of the most challenging and impressive games of ’95.

16. INTERNATIONAL SUPERSTAR SOCCER DELUXE (Konami) 94%

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Football games aren’t difficult to write — chuck in a bit of grass, a few sticks at each end and get some players running about and you’re half-way there. What’s difficult is making them intuitive to play and deep enough to keep you coming back. ISSD shoots and scores in both of these departments, with playability that’s as silky as Silky the silkworm’s silk pajamas and so many options that you’ll probably never get around to all of them.

15. ZOMBIES ATE MY NEIGHBORS (Lucas Arts) 89%

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We had little expectations for ZAMN when it turned up in 1993, a fact which made the discovery that it was utterly fantastic all the more pleasurable. Describing it as a maze game makes it sound dull, which it most definitely isn’t. The detail, soundtrack, weapons system, two-player simultaneous mode, showstopping bosses, atmosphere… sigh, we just can’t find anything wrong with it. Well, apart from the fact that they didn’t have the balls to give it its full title in the UK, preferring the less ‘offensive’ Zombies instead. Cuh.

14. SUPER TENNIS (Nintendo) 92%

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Tennis. Tennis. TENNIS. TeNniS. Nope, no matter how it’s written, tennis just doesn’t sound exciting at all. But that’s just what Super Tennis proves to be: the most enjoyable sports sim going. Translating a fast-moving sport such as this is tricky, but the programmers have somehow done it so well that it feels beautifully intuitive. The graphics look a bit basic by today’s standards, but then, as they say, who looks at the mantelpiece when they’re stoking the fire?

13. KIRBY’S AVALANCHE (Nintendo) 91%

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At a time when it looked like no-one would ever topple Tetris from its position as the greatest puzzle game in the history of all things, along came Compile with Super Puyo Puyo (later repackaged and renamed as a Kirby title for the US market). The idea is simple: groups of two colored blobs fall from the top of the screen which you can rotate and move left and right, just like you can with a Tetris piece. Match four like colors and they disappear, sending rogue blobs to your opponent’s side. So ace in two-player mode it’s unbelievable.

12. CONTRA III: THE ALIEN WARS (Konami) 90%

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Truly a landmark in SNES gaming, Contra as good as turned Nintendo’s 16-bit machine into a coin-op. If it’s Memorable Gaming Moments you’re after you’ll be wanting to play through this and be stopped in your tracks by a flyby bombing raid which sets the whole level aflame. Or maybe it’ll be the giant Mode 7 crab boss which scales in and out of the screen as it attempts to jump on your head. Or… or… There are simply too many. Perhaps the most exciting game on the SNES — this is one classy, timeless blaster.

11. SUPER MARIO COLLECTION (Nintendo) 96%

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Four of the finest platform games ever created come together to form a package which no gamer with any degree of self-respect should be without. In the order that they appear, then, Super Mario Bros. is the game that started it all, and is fabbage; Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels is a tough data disk-like extension to part one; Super Mario Bros. 2 is the odd one of the troupe, and pretty good; and Super Mario Bros. 3 is the daddy of them all and nearly as good as Mazza World. Not as slick as the NES originals, but one helluva package.

10. PILOTWINGS (Nintendo) 92%

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9. SUPER METROID (Nintendo) 92%

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8. SECRET OF MANA (Square Soft) 94%

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7. LEGEND OF THE MYSTICAL NINJA (Konami) 90%

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6. FINAL FANTASY III (Square Soft) 95%

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5. YOSHI’S ISLAND (Nintendo) 94%

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Unless you’ve had your head buried in the garden for the last ten months, you can’t have failed to know what this, the sequel to Super Mario World, is all about, and just how highly we regard it.

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To call it merely a platform game is to call Super Play 41 sheets of printed material, of variable size and weight, glued together. At every turn the game seems to make an effort to be different, whether it’s in simply giving Yoshi the power to launch eggy projectiles or in presenting level layouts which take you all around the block and back again or in any one of countless set pieces that your average platform game would kill for just one of.

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At 16 mega bits, Island isn’t the largest game to ever dock with the good ship SNES, but what you get for your meggage is nothing short of breathtaking. Play it and remember just why you got into video games in the first place.

4. SUPER MARIO WORLD (Nintendo) 94%

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Launched alongside the machine in 1990, the portly plumber’s debut SNES outing still has a considerable edge over any similarly styled platformer on any other format since. A tap or two of Miyamoto’s magic wand is what made it so great, of course, and it is the ultimate illustration of the ‘great graphics do not a great game make’ adage.

3. SUPER MARIO KART (Nintendo) 93%

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Unlike any other Mario game, SMK didn’t arrive on the SNES gaming scene in a hail of publicity. Rather it slipped in unnoticed through the back door. When gamers woke up to its utter brilliance, however, it remained firmly jammed into cartridge ports the world over for weeks at a time.

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What makes it so good? Playability, pure and simple. There is no other driving game which comes close to it in delivering seat-of-the-pants, lean-into-the-corners action. Forget about driving a formula one race car around Silverstone: take Koopa for a spin around a Bowser’s Castle track, leaping lava pits, dodging enemies’ cunningly-aimed projectiles and searching out those elusive red shells, and the magic that only Nintendo seem able to provide becomes patently evident.

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With eight characters of differing abilities to choose from, three engine classes, 20 varied tracks, an ingenious Balloon game and a time trial mode, this is the most complete driving game package we’ve ever seen. Can it ever be beaten? We’ll just have to wait for Super Mario Kart R on the Nintendo 64…

2. STREET FIGHTER II TURBO (Capcom) 96%

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The sequel to the game which kicked a genre up the arse and dragged it into the ’90s, Turbo must surely be the most played game in just about every SNES owner’s collection. The first of the series to allow players tobe’ the bosses, it successfully transfers over every aspect that made the coin-op such a barnstormer. What makes it such an evergreen title is its depth of play: two players who’ve fought against each other on countless occasions can sit down and not be sure of the outcome of any particular match-up, such is its flexibility and scope for variety.

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Unlike any other game, being able to play a Street Fighter II title competently is an essential skill in any gamer’s repertoire and, like riding a bike, once you’ve picked it up it never goes away. This version must be applauded for its accuracy as a conversion — for a 20 megabit cartridge game on a console to come this close to the umpteen-times-as-expensive coin-op is no mean feat, and the game will be fondly regarded when most of today’s ‘super console’ titles are but faded memories.

1. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK TO THE PAST (Nintendo) 93%

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Okay, we’ve stuck our collective neck out and put Zelda III at the top of the tree, and now you want us to justify our decision. Fair enough. There is, quite simply, no other game which is as complete. And when we say complete, we mean playable, taxing, enthralling and rewarding — every factor which should be looked for in a video game. While many great games stumble on occasions throughout their duration, Zelda III remains constantly engaging throughout. Right from the start, when Princess Zelda’s telepathically-transmitted cries for help set you out on a quest to save her, everything falls into place like a good book. From then on, the scope of the thing unfolds at a fairly uniform pace, giving you extra abilities here and there which in turn allow you to uncover more and more secrets of the game world. And that’s probably its secret: you start out with a limited range of abilities but grow in experience and power as you progress, meaning that unlike, say, a platform game, where you’re asked to perform the same skills throughout, you have to learn and exploit new ones continually.

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While its graphics rarely rise above the level of perfunctory and its soundtrack occasionally tires (especially when you’ve spent an hour or so in a particular area trying to fathom out the solution to a certain problem), Zelda III‘s gameplay remains wholly absorbing. It’s linear, sure, but then this is an action RPG. The proof of the pudding is that it could be released today, some five years since its original appearance, and still appear as fresh as the likes of new games like Yoshi’s Island. What’s perhaps most telling is that Zelda III transcends boundaries: a platform fiend or a driving game nut will find it as inviting as a hardcore RPG-head. If you haven’t played it yet… do you really own a SNES?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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There you have it! 100 of the best SNES games according to Super Play Magazine. Lotta great games on there, no doubt, but also some glaring omissions (most notably, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time). I hope going through this list gave you some new titles to take note of… either ones that you perhaps have previously dismissed for one reason or another, or maybe even some titles you had never even heard of before. As stated earlier, I’ve been working on my own top list for over 10 years now, and am hoping to launch it at some point in late 2017 if all goes well. It’s always fun to compare your own opinion with that of others. Speaking of which, regardless of which titles you feel are missing from Super Play’s list, or which titles you think are ranked way too low/high, there’s no denying the boatload of amazing SNES games out there.

Glaring omissions? Games you think the Super Play boys (that came out wrong…) ranked (way) too high or low? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

PS- For more Super Play, check out The Super Play Drama.