Lagoon (SNES)

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water...
Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water…

There’s something special about the earliest SNES titles. That first wave of first generation games… games in which developers dipped their toes into 16-bit water for the very first time. Looking back at those early games is very nostalgic for me, as I remember the time well. The 8-bit NES was still alive and kicking in late 1991, and the SNES was just beginning its run here in the US. It was an interesting time of playing your dear old favorite NES while slowly exploring what the SNES could do. One of the earliest titles on the SNES was an action RPG by the name of Lagoon. Developed by Zoom and published by Kemco, Lagoon hit the 16-bit market in December of 1991. Now the last SNES game I reviewed was the epochal Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Gamers in America didn’t get that one until April 1992. So, we had to make do with Lagoon, which was the first ARPG on the SNES North American market. And it came with mostly negative reviews, although there is a small camp of Lagoon backers. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind to the beginning…

THE YEAR WAS 1991

The ad left a lasting impression on my eight-year-old being!
The ad left a lasting impression on my eight-year-old eyes!

At this point in time I wasn’t one for ARPGs or RPGs in general. Those genres were never my thing. My older brother enjoyed them, but I wanted more “immediate gratification.” I didn’t stray far from my platformers and beat ‘em ups. But upon seeing this ad in late 1991 in a GamePro Magazine, I actually wanted to play an action RPG for the first time in my life. I remember being drawn in by the various grotesque looking creatures and demons. The two in-game shots blew my eight-year-old mind. The green orbs seemed to bounce around in my mind and the ghoulish boss on the right was the stuff nightmares are made of. I was instantly intrigued. But of course, Lagoon became like about 300 other SNES games from my youth. As many titles as I played from 1991-1995 or so, there were so many more I always wanted to try out but never did.

One of the best things about this hobby is the ability to finally play all those games you were curious about from your youth. Even though Lagoon has a less than stellar reputation within the retro gaming community, I was still curious to check it out for myself. After all, you never know for sure how you feel about a game until you’ve played it yourself.

THE STORY GOES…

Lakeland. A peaceful kingdom, but not for long…
Two youths looking on in distress
Two youths looking on in distress
Who’s this geezer and what does he want?
A grand scrolling shot of the castle
A grand scrolling shot of the castle
Go Link, er, Nasir!
Go Link, er, Nasir!
One positive most can agree on: the music!
There’s something about first gen SNES titles
Off you go to solve the mystery
Off you go to solve the mystery

THE GAME

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Players start out in Atland. Gather some clues from the locals to figure out what’s next on the agenda. It’s very simple stuff, and an ideal ARPG for novices.

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An interesting aspect of Lagoon is how unlike many other games of the genre, when you enter a building here you don’t necessarily enter it. In most cases, there is no interior. You just get this type of scene. At first it was a little jarring, and I felt like I was getting robbed. This element gives off a vibe of low budget, but after a while I came to appreciate it. One could view this low budget move as a time saver and the game getting down to the nitty gritty. I came to actually not mind it, which isn’t a great compliment, but for this game and its world, it somehow works.

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The shop system is very straight forward and things never get too cluttered.

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Equipping weapons and armor is as easy as 1-2-3.

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Eventually you find your way to the Mayor’s house where he sheds some light to you. Which is ironic considering you’re the Champion of LIGHT, but I digress. Hey, we all need help on the journey of life (and saving kingdoms, of course). After a bit of chit-chat you realize that Giles is in trouble. His parents named him Giles after having nine months to think about it.

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I know, they had nine months to think of a name and…

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What’s up with demons and caves, anyway? Well, it’s a good thing we’re armed with a sword that would make Link and the Master Sword proud…

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Wait a second! Er, what the HELL is that? Yes, one of the biggest complaints about Lagoon is the incredibly pathetic butter knife you wield. Some sword, huh?

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Expect to see this a lot early on. You’ll try to swipe at the enemy, but instead it’ll miss and you’ll end up eating damage. It’s easy to stop here and say, “Man this game blows!” But stick with it a while and realize the trick is not to go on the offensive but rather, wait back and let them come to you.

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Once you do that, Lagoon becomes playable and actually somewhat enjoyable. Sure it’s a gameplay flaw, but nobody ever said this game was perfect. It’s just a different type of combat than what most folks are used to.

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If you can put up with the short length of Nasir’s “sword,” then Lagoon isn’t a bad game. The dungeons never get too big and confusing, and the game is a pretty simple straight forward ARPG.

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One of the best aspects about Lagoon is the ability to save the game anywhere. This makes it an ideal game to play for 15, 20 minutes right before bed. Before you know it, you will have beaten it. Not like it’s a long adventure to begin with, either.

Check out the level up system
Check out the level up system
TA-DA!
TA-DA!

It’s fun to keep an eye on your status. Leveling up increases all of your stats, and there’s a certain satisfaction in watching your character grow stronger by the step. In addition, if you’ve taken damage, simply stand still and Nasir will automatically recover. It’s a pretty cool feature that makes Lagoon that much easier to beat. His magic points will also recover in a resting state. Give it a chance and pretty soon you’ll be hitting a sweet little rhythm of waiting for enemies to run into your sword, resting if need be, checking your status on occasion and repeat. I found it oddly addicting.

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Tougher enemies soon appear, giving you more experience points when killed. There’s a definite simplicity to Lagoon that I appreciate.

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The best part of Lagoon is hands down the music. It’s the one aspect of this game that is almost always universally praised. It’s funny… in that sense it reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. Both games have a poor reputation but it’s generally agreed upon that the soundtrack rocks. Although Mystic Quest has a slightly better reputation than Lagoon and is the better, more redeeming game.

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While the game is far from great, there IS a certain sense of satisfaction roaming the dungeons, killing the monsters, and rocking out to the awesome soundtrack.

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Ah, it’s nice to see the sky and smell the air again after being in that dank, decrepit dungeon. Go on to find Giles.

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I hope you found the Healing Pot prior. Otherwise you’ll have to do some backtracking and that’s never too fun.

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After rescuing Giles, you’re not done yet. You have to guide him back to Atland. This son of a bitch moves like a grandma. If you go too fast he might get confused and lost, so always keep him in the line of sight.

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Ah! Move it, you bastard! Thankfully, Giles can’t be hurt even if the enemies touch him. Weird. You would think then that he wouldn’t need you to save him. Shoot, if I were invincible too, the things I could do! Freaking Giles. This must be a rib or something.

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Yes, I’m interested in acquiring Little Samson for the NES. And yes, I know it’s a DEMON of a game on the ol’ wallet. Thanks for nothing, old lady!

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Now you can open the gateway to access Samson, the game’s first boss.

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Shoot, I’m not surprised. With all the crazy dollars that collectors are throwing at Samson these days, one would think he got a little too big-headed for his own good!

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Oh shit. You mean, you’re not Little Samson, as in the NES game? Heh, my bad. I’ll just head back out and close the door. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday, big red scary guy…

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Yeah, that’s just not a fair fight. God damn it… this is all messed up.

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Samson sheds his helmet once he’s weakened up some. And it’s not a pretty sight, folks. In fact, I dare call it an eyesore…

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Once conquered, Samson screams like an elephant, oddly enough. You get some fancy little explosion pixels going off all over him.

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For your troubles you get your very first magic spell: the Fire Crystal.

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This allows you to shoot fireballs, giving you a much welcomed long range attack. It eats up magic points but as I stated earlier, your MP recovers in a resting state. It definitely helps to flesh out the gameplay of Lagoon, making the pathetic short sword less annoying.

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Hey wait a damn second here… where have I seen you before…

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So you’re telling me there is a Princess, and she was kidnapped. Riiiight…

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After Atland you head to the town of Voloh. Here you’ll meet a strange cat by the name of Thor. He’ll enlist your help to find the tablets.

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As you progress in the game it’s fun to see the length of your energy bar increase as you continually level up.

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There are your typical fire and ice dungeons to navigate and work through. The graphics aren’t anything to write home about, even back in late 1991 when it came out, but they’re alright and serviceable enough.

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One thing I’ve always been a sucker for in video games are the mini-bosses, or the regular bad guys that are bigger and tougher than the rest of the regular bad guys. They look intimidating, but aren’t TOO hard to defeat. And yet they’re always satisfying to kill every single time. Lagoon does a decent job of throwing small, medium and even big monsters your way.

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The bosses were intimidating due to a combination of their size, their menacing sprite work, your puny sword and their massively long health bar. They might be tough at first, but nothing you can’t work around with a little persistence. It’s just a matter of finding their sweet spots. Although it should be noted that during boss battles you can’t heal or use your magic. This could lead to some frustrating moments.

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By the end of the game your health bar should be as long as theirs. Speaking of which, it took me 11 hours to beat Lagoon on my first attempt. It’s a game one could probably beat in under 10 hours (I like to grind here and there). So it’s definitely on the shorter side, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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The game moves along at a brisk pace, much like Mystic Quest. In that way it never wears out its welcome. It’s an easy title to pick up and play. Saving anywhere is a big bonus, as you can always pace yourself rather than being at the mercy of having to go to an inn to save.

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There are plenty of weird locales to hit up, and some entertaining NPC’s to interact with when you’re not bashing baddies and blowing through dungeons.

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As an aside, I also remember Lagoon for being the first game I played following the Teacher’s Fair in March of 2012. At the time I was teaching part time and acting in a Broadway-esque play. My goal was to become a full time teacher. I gathered my portfolio earlier that morning, put on my best suit and shook hands all day long following a two hour morning rehearsal. It was a memorable time in my life as I was living out my passion (acting) while pursuing my real life goal of becoming a full time teacher. Later that night, with over 500 SNES games from which to choose, I picked Lagoon. The urge to finally quell this longstanding childhood curiosity overcame me at long last. So anytime I think of Lagoon, I’m instantly transported back to that exciting time in my life. And yes, I got a full time position thanks to attending that Teacher’s Fair. I’m still teaching at the same school, going on five years. Man, where does the time go?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

Lagoon was not well received by the public. Most panned it, calling it a frustrating and boring Zelda clone. Super Play Magazine gave Lagoon a score of 56% when it hit the UK mindbogglingly late in May of 1993. On Youtube there are two excellent video reviews of this game which I highly recommend viewing. One is from The CG Dudes and the other is from Stop Skeletons From Fighting (formerly known as The Happy Video Game Nerd). Both video reviews pretty much sum up my feelings toward this game.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Lagoon is far from a hidden gem, but far from a dud as well. A lot of people dislike it, and they’re well within their bounds to do so. However, I feel a lot of the hatred toward this game is due to a lack of understanding rather than anything else, as the game itself is fairly manageable once you get the nuances down and operate within that world. Such qualifiers are signs of a flawed game, sure, but not an entirely wasteful effort. I’ve played plenty worse on the Super Nintendo. Once I understood the mechanics of the game and employed the best strategies, I had a pretty good time making my way through this early first generation SNES title.

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The magic spells really open the game up, and make killing the monsters much easier. I didn’t have to worry about the puny butter knife so much, and shooting various projectiles at enemies across the screen became rather addicting. If you’re looking for something new on your SNES and you’ve already beaten the rest, give Lagoon a chance. It’s a quick action RPG that can hold you over for a week or two. It’s rather flawed, but not without some “first generation charm.”

Graphics: 5
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 5
Longevity: 5

Overall: 5.5

Give it a shot if you've overlooked it. It's not so bad...
Give it a shot if you’ve overlooked it. It’s not so bad…

Flea Market Memoirs

If for nothing else, for that, I embraced America
“Yes, there is a way to be good again…”

The flea market has given me some wonderful collecting memories. In the early to mid part of 2006, when I was just beginning my SNES resurrection, I acquired many SNES games thanks to the good ol’ flea market. Before I get into that though, here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite books, The Kite Runner. It romanticizes the flea market like none other.

Almost two years had passed since we had arrived in the U.S., and I was still marveling at the size of this country, its vastness. Beyond every freeway lay another freeway, beyond every city another city, hills beyond mountains and mountains beyond hills, and, beyond those, more cities and more people.

Long before the Roussi army marched into Afghanistan, long before villages were burned and schools destroyed, long before mines were planted like seeds of death and children buried in rock-piled graves, Kabul had become a city of ghosts for me. A city of harelipped ghosts.

America was different. America was a river, roaring along, unmindful of its past. I could wade into this river, let my sins drown to the bottom, let the waters carry me someplace far. Someplace with no ghosts, no memories, and no sins.

And for that, I embraced America.

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I would get up early some Saturday mornings and drive south on Highway 17, push the Ford up the winding road through the mountains to Santa Cruz. I would park by the old lighthouse and wait for sunrise, sit in my car and watch the fog rolling in from the sea. Back in Afghanistan, I had only seen the ocean at the cinema. Sitting in the dark next to Hassan, I had always wondered if it was true what I’d read, that sea air smelled like salt. I used to tell Hassan that someday we’d walk on a strip of seaweed-strewn beach, sink our feet in the sand and watch the water recede from our toes. The first time I saw the Pacific, I almost cried. It was as vast and blue as the oceans on the movie screens of my childhood.

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Sometimes in the early evening, I parked the car and walked up a freeway overpass. With my face pressed against the fence, I’d try to count the blinking red taillights inching along, stretching as far as my eyes could see. BMWs. Saabs. Porsches. Cars I’d never seen in Kabul, where most people drove Russian Volgas, Opels, or Iranian Paikans.

Nothing like heading out on an early Saturday morning
Nothing like heading out on an early Saturday morning

On Saturdays, Baba woke me up at dawn. As he dressed, I scanned the classifieds in the local papers and circled garage sale ads. We mapped our route — Fremont, Union City, Newark, and Hayward first, then San Jose, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, and Campbell if time permitted. Baba drove the bus, sipping hot tea from the blue thermos, and I navigated. We stopped at garage sales and bought knickknacks that people no longer wanted. We haggled over old sewing machines, one-eyed Barbie dolls, wooden tennis rackets, guitars with missing strings, and old Electrolux vacuum cleaners. By mid-afternoon, we’d fill the back of the VW bus with used goods. Then early Sunday mornings, we drove to the San Jose flea market off Berryessa, rented a spot, and sold the junk for a small profit.

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By that summer of 1984, Afghan families were working an entire section of the San Jose flea market. Afghan music played in the aisles of the Used Goods section. There was an unspoken code of behavior among Afghans at the flea market: You greeted the guy across the aisle, you invited him for a bite of potato bolani or a little qabuli, and you chatted. You offered tassali, condolences, for the death of a parent, congratulated the birth of children, and shook your head mournfully when the conversation turned to Afghanistan and the Roussis — which it inevitably did. But you avoided the topic of Saturday. Because it might turn out that the fellow across the isle was the guy you’d nearly blindsided at the freeway exit yesterday in order to beat him to a promising garage sale.

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One early Sunday morning in July 1984, while Baba set up, I bought two cups of coffee from the concession stand and returned to find Baba talking to an older, distinguished-looking man. I put the cups on the rear bumper of the bus, next to the REAGAN/BUSH FOR ’84 sticker.

“Amir,” Baba said, motioning me over. “This is General Sahib, Mr. Iqbal Taheri. He was a decorated general in Kabul. He worked for the Ministry of Defense.”

Taheri. Why did the name sound familiar?

The general laughed like a man used to attending formal parties where he’d laughed on cue at the minor jokes of important people.

“Amir is going to be a great writer,” Baba said. I did a double take at this. “He finished his first year of college and earned A’s in all of his courses.”

“Junior college,” I corrected him.

“Mashallah,” General Taheri said.

“Will you be writing about our country, history perhaps? Economics?”

“I write fiction.”

“Ah, a storyteller,” the general said. “Well, people need stories to divert them at a difficult time like this.”

“Padar jan, you forgot your tea.” A young woman’s voice

She was standing behind us, a slim-hipped beauty with velvety coal black hair, an open thermos and Styrofoam cup in her hand. I blinked, my heart quickening. She had thick black eyebrows like the arched wings of a flying bird, and the gracefully hooked nose of a princess from old Persia — maybe that of Tahmineh, Rostam’s wife and Sohrab’s mother from the Shahnamah. Her eyes, walnut brown and shaded by fanned lashes, met mine. Held for a moment. Flew away.

“You are so kind, my dear,” General Taheri said. He took the cup from her. Before she turned to go, I saw she had a brown, sickle-shaped birthmark on the smooth skin just above her left jawline. She walked to a dull gray van two aisles away and put the thermos inside.

“My daughter, Soraya jan,” General Taheri said. He took a deep breath like a man eager to change the subject. “Well, time to go and set up.”

For the rest of that day, I fought the urge to look toward the gray van
For the rest of that day, I fought the urge to look toward the gray van

Lying awake in bed that night, I thought of Soraya Taheri’s sickle-shaped birthmark, her gently hooked nose, and the way her luminous eyes had fleetingly held mine. My heart stuttered at the thought of her.

Soraya Taheri. My Swap Meet Princess
Soraya Taheri. My Swap Meet Princess

As per usual, I prefer the book to the film
And now, my own personal flea market tales…

The Kite Runner is one of my favorite books and comes highly recommended. When I read the flea market scene in the book, in a way, it made me think of my own flea market adventures, and the crazy things one can see and do at a flea market. And so, I present to you, my flea market memoirs.

1. A ‘MEGA’ COMEBACK
-Saturday, February 4, 2006-

*beep*

*Beep*

*BEEP*

*BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!*

Staggering out of bed like Otis Campbell on a Saturday night, I shifted my way through the darkness to put an end to the madness. The thought of crawling back in bed was nearly as tempting as Jessica Alba herself. The idea, however, went quickly as it came.

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After brushing my teeth and helping myself to a bowl of cereal, I found the dawn just breaking between two white buildings. The sky was mostly gray but a streak of white stretched itself from the end of a flagpole. By the time I finished breakfast, the sky was lighter than it had been when I woke up — the streak of gray broadening into a patch of brilliant day.

I was a man on a mission. Three weeks into my SNES rebirth (1.17.06), I was gearing to embark on my first flea market voyage since 2002. With a wish list the size of Rosie’s waistline and a wallet jammed full of dead presidents, I headed off into that cool early morning, the light February breeze brushing against my face. As I pulled into the parking lot something told me today was going to be a good day. Maybe even a great one. I gazed at the box office where I saw the growing crowd purchasing their tickets. Just think, I thought to myself… beyond that building there…lies a part of my childhood.

My first flea market haul 2.4.06)
My first flea market haul (2.4.06)

I remember the morning rather well; the smell of apricot in the air, the bustling crowds all jabbering for bargains, and at long last — the lady with the game stand parked over at the far end. I dove head first into the SNES bin like Rickey Henderson stealing third base. All her games were wrapped. I eagerly waded through each one, picking out Final Fight, Dino City, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, Flashback and Tetris Attack.

It was a crazy FLASHBACK to my youth...
What a FLASHBACK to my youth…

Each of those games ran me $5 except for Tetris Attack. Some of these games I hadn’t played in 12, 15 years! There’s nothing quite like the rush of rediscovering games from your youth on a brisk, early Saturday morning. There’s just something awesome about it. It’s hard to look back on one’s early collecting days and not break out a nostalgic smile. It was the rush and the feeling of getting back into the fandom after so many years, acquiring games left and right… those are some sacred memories right there!

Channeling Bill Walton
Channels Bill Walton

I could smell colors, I could feel sounds. I have NEVER had such a great experience in my life before. Trying to figure out where I was, LOOKING AROUND, enjoying the life that I was living. I mean it was UN-BOWL-LEE-ABLE!  [/Bill Walton]

[Freak -Ed.]

Ironically, on my way to the flea market that morning I was actually hoping to find the somewhat scarce Dino City, and then lo and behold! What can I say, it was just one of those mornings, ya know?

Sometimes your gut just calls it
Sometimes your gut just calls it

The vendor was a nice elderly lady in her 50’s. I showed her each game that I wanted as she sprouted off, “Five dollas, five dollas,” but she paused when Tetris Attack came up. Somehow, I knew she would.

There was no way in HELL I was getting Tetris Attack for a measly five bucks…

She grabbed the game from me and squinted long and hard at it. Oh boy, I thought to myself, here it comes. $20, maybe $25. Yup, Steve-O, you can kiss this bargain goodbye. She burned a hole through Tetris Attack before finally saying…

".... MMMM... seven dollas"
“…. MMMM… seven dollas OK?”

I wanted to jump in the air and pump my fist. But I kept my cool and told the lady in a calm voice, “Sounds good.” All in all, it was $27 well spent :)

And that wasn't all I scored that day...
And that wasn’t all I scored that day…

Heading back to my car sensing that this was a lucky day, I decided to head on over to Game Crazy. Now, this was before their retro game selection went down the crapper. Imagine the sheer joy I felt when I spotted Mega Man X2 in mint condition for $9.99! I claimed it faster than John Madden could say “BOOM!”

Ah, the good old days of 2006
Ah, the good old pricing days of 2006

I couldn’t believe such a “big time” title was sitting right there for all to see, and it happened to be lucky ole me who finally snatched it up for a measly ten bucks!

SNES prices in 2006 was sick
SNES prices in 2006 was sick

As Tony the cashier rung me up, he looked at the game semi-perplexed. “10 bucks for this? Hmm, it must be one of the more rare SNES games…” Not surprisingly, the next time I came back to visit, all the interesting SNES games they once had, were gone…

Hard to believe it's been over 10 years since I bought this...
Hard to believe it’s been 10+ years since I bought this

To cap off the successful, splendid early morning voyage, on the way home I purchased a birthday card for my college buddy, Shanice, which I later had all us theatre kids sign. I finally got home around 12:30. It was one of those idyllic, peaceful mornings you wish would never end. The kind that makes you feel as if the whole world is right at your fingertips. The kind of morning that makes you feel like writing that novel you had always wanted to, or starting that RPG you had long vowed to begin, or finally calling that old best friend you’d been meaning to catch up with, but never did. It was indeed one of those perfect Saturday mornings… the ones that stay with you for a lifetime.

Waking up that morning I didn’t know whether I’d find any games of worth that day at the flea market or not. In the end, was I ever glad I went. I also knew… I would return…

2. NICE GUYS, MEAN GUYS, AND EASTER ISLAND HEADS
-Saturday, February 25, 2006-

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Today saw the venture into a new flea market, bigger and better than the one I hit 3 weeks ago. There were hundreds of SNES titles on hand! The first vendor had a small selection but I managed to pluck one game off my vast want list: Rocko’s Modern Life, bartered from $8 down to $5, due to the label being a bit dirty.

Man, it's 10 years later and I still haven't played this, heh
Still haven’t played this…

Speaking of which, yes, even though it’s been a little over 10 years since I bought most of my collection, I have easily over one hundred games that I still haven’t played. What can I say, the queue is long and some games are #125 on the to-play list. However, one day I hope to play each of them. That’s a large part of the fun, knowing that they’re there waiting for me. I no longer have to hunt them down, but they’re there whenever the urge strikes.

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The second vendor saw a nice kid giving me a top deal. Boogerman and Lemmings 2 were listed at $8 each, but for no apparent reason he gave them to me both for $10. His father was busy tending to another customer. I suspect I wouldn’t have gotten the bargain from him that his son gave me. Funny thing is, I was going to pay $16 for the two games but before I could pull out my wallet, the kid said, “Ten dollars is fine.”

Shoot, I won’t argue with that! That kid made life easy. I had forgotten Lemmings 2 saw a Super Nintendo release, and Interplay’s Boogerman was a game I always wanted to play back in the mid ’90s, but never did. But now I had the means.

Third vendor… man. Let’s just say, he’s going to be a main character from here on out. Let us call him… “Mr. Mean.” He had hundreds of SNES games, BUT… and there’s always a but isn’t there… well, you’ll see.

So there I was, at Mr. Mean’s large stand happily sifting through his endless SNES cart bundles. I found a ton of games I wanted, but none had a price tag, y’see. Based off my two previous vendor experiences just a couple minutes ago, I thought, “Hey, five bucks a piece, sweet! What a killing I’m gonna make here!”

I called Mr. Mean over to the glass case. I had a dozen games lined out, one I recall being Arkanoid: Doh It Again! As he walked over, I kept thinking JACKPOT CITY, BABY!

He didn’t even greet me, the bastard. Like a robot he picked the first game up, shouted “Twelve dollars!” and proceeded to slam it hard on the glass case. He lifted the next game and slammed it hard on the glass once more. “Twenty dollars,” he said with an ugly tone. He went through the other ten titles in similar fashion. It left me thinking “What the f*ck?” (in more ways than one). What kind of shady operation was this guy trying to run? I told him “Nevermind” and walked away. Bastard.

The most dirt-common cheap games went for at least $12! Contra III cart only for $38?! Who the hell was this guy kidding?!

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Still, I kept my head up and continued happily exploring the rest of the flea market. 4th vendor I spotted Pac-Attack and also… Arkanoid: Doh It Again. Funny how life can work in mysterious ways. I was denied of Arkanoid just five minutes ago by Mr. Mean, yet here I was with the next vendor who happened to have a copy of the game as well.

However, he was hesitant to sell Arkanoid off the bat.

“I don’t know… isn’t this game rare?” he asked, scratching his head. Keep in mind this was in early 2006 and iPhones weren’t a thing yet.

“Nope,”
I answered him honestly.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I actually just saw it at the very last vendor. It’s not a rare game.”

One of the best, most underrated 2 player SNES games around
Anything remotely Easter Island inspired is a win to me

He examined the glossy game label long and hard, squinting even. He studied the “Easter Island” statue with a burning intensity. Finally he looked back up.” Alright, I trust you… $5 it is then. With the Pac-Man game it comes to be $10.”

In yer face Mr. Mean! Ahhh, ARKANOID. I have some fond memories of playing the game on my computer in the late ’90s when my bro and I first discovered emulation. Kevin and I had already donated our SNES to our cousin David by the time my brother found out about roms and such. I remember it well; I was a sophomore in high school at the tail end of the ’90s, walking home from school one day talking with a buddy about my brother’s discovery the night before. Although I missed my SNES, hey, it was better than nothing. Arkanoid: DIA was one of the few games my brother got. He refused to teach me how to download games by myself as we shared the computer and he was ULTRA paranoid of me doing anything malignant to his precious PC. Anywho, I often fired up Arkanoid and was taken aback by its simple effectiveness. Some 7-8 years later, I finally got the real thing.

VINDICATION NEVER TASTED SO DAMN SWEET!

One of the best 2-player SNES games around
One of the best 2-player SNES games around

What an epic little trip this was turning out to be. What a RUSH. And I wasn’t just buying great Super NES games you see, oh no… it was more than that. I was reclaiming my childhood. Buying titles I could ONLY dream of buying back in the early-mid ’90s. I made my way to the next vendor full of hope and optimism. All the vendors so far were awesome sans one Mr. Mean.

This next guy was the final stop of the tour. Like Mr. Mean, he had hundreds of SNES games. But this guy was the complete opposite — Mr. Nice, if you will. He took a liking to me from the get-go, greeting me as though I were like his long lost nephew. Although every SNES game on display was priced at $10 or $12, he showed me a box of SNES games he kept in storage that he’d sell at $5 a piece. The funny thing is, some of those $5 games were in the $10 pile as well. Some in better shape too! What a goofy old coot :D

Ya could say it was a family-sized smashing monster of a gem [I see what you did there -Ed.]
I walked away with Super Smash TV, King of the Monsters, The Addams Family and Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems. It was a sweet mix of childhood favorites and games I simply never got around to play but had always wanted to. In many ways it was very symbolic of my SNES resurrection.

A fun little Super Mario World-esque platformer
A fun Super Mario World clone

Driving home on the freeway that day, windows rolled down, the radio blasting, y’kno, the good stuff, I glance at the nine new SNES games added to my rapidly growing collection. I found myself grinning like a Cheshire cat, knowing full well that, once again, I would be back for more…

3. PUTTING THE SWAP IN ‘SWAP MEET’
-Saturday, March 4, 2006-

Did you know there was a Prince of Persia sequel on SNES?
Did you know there was a Prince of Persia sequel on SNES?

A quiet day but I made my first trade (of many to come) with Mr. Nice. Spotted Prince of Persia 2 in the $10 bin, geez I totally forgot a part 2 ever came out, and traded Mr. Nice my extra copy of Hook plus $5 for PoP 2. Fair deal, for sure. Maybe even good. I don’t see Prince of Persia 2 for sale often, and I’d once read it saw a limited release as it came out toward the tail end of SNES’ lifespan.

Man I forgot a sequel came out on the SNES
A late sequel that was hardly worth the wait

To cap the day off I nabbed Kablooey in the $5 bin. Though, the cart was in less than stellar condition… but more on this in a bit… in fact, just TWO short days later…

3A. THE CRAZY GAME CRAZY ‘HEIST’
-Monday, March 6, 2006-

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This wheeling and dealing business was getting madly addicting! Not since my Saturn hey day did I have this much fun with video games. After class I drove to Game Crazy and bought Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Eek! the Cat and Kablooey (clean and mint). I got Kablooey free as part of Game Crazy’s Buy 2 Get 1 Free deal. 3 games for $10.80. I was rather surprised walking in to find ZAMN, a game in which my old best friend Nelly and I used to play together up the wazoo. Great memories, great game. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is certainly one of a kind on the ole SNES. As for Eek! I always had a weird urge to play this one when I first saw it previewed in EGM back in ’94, but of course, I never got around to do so.

I went home and switched the Game Crazy sticker on the newly acquired mint Kablooey with the so-so Kablooey flea market copy I’d bought just two short days ago. I returned to the same Game Crazy store later that afternoon only to find that the cashier working was the same dude who sold me the mint Kablooey just two hours ago. And it wasn’t just “some dude” rather but it was the store manager! But since I didn’t want to go home empty-handed, I decided to take the risk… sometimes, ya gotta live life on the edge :P

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Asking if I could exchange Kablooey, which I bought just two hours ago, for another SNES game, I handed him the receipt along with the so-so flea market copy of Kablooey. He held the cartridge and paused as he examined it.

Oh shit… I’m BUSTED, I thought to myself.

You know those twinges you get in those moments where you realize you shouldn’t have done what you just did? As I saw his beady eyes glaring at the cartridge casing, I knew I was having one of those moments.

After what seemed like three weeks, but in reality was a second or two at the most, he glanced back up at me and said:

"Cool. So, what game you wanna exchange it for?"
“Cool. So, what game you wanna exchange it for?”
The only hard clamshell SNES game!

I was eye-balling the Robocop vs. Terminator copy before I left Game Crazy earlier that morning. I looked it up briefly on the internet at home, and decided it was worth adding to the ole library. And just like that not only did I pick up a new game I wanted, but I also switched my so-so copy of Kablooey for a mint one. Only in America ;) A bit underhanded, yes, but with Game Crazy being the corporate beast they were, I had no regrets.

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The store manager took my receipt, wrote in Robocop and faintly made a check mark on Kablooey as to signify the exchange. That spring semester of 2006 was a sweet one. It was my last undergrad college semester and on Mondays and Wednesdays I got out at 10:15 in the morning. I miss those days.

I look back on those early collecting days with a real deep fondness
Part of me still can’t believe I was able to fool the store manager!

Yup, I had a lot of fun hitting up local malls, stores, Game Crazies, etc. on Mondays and Wednesdays. 10:30 was way too early to head home, so I usually went game hunting or out to lunch with a buddy nearly every week on those days. Now that I’ve been working full time, a small part of me pines for those innocent, relatively still carefree days of being in my early 20’s. I look back on those early collecting days of 2006 with a real deep fondness.

4. SWAP ‘TIL YOU DROP!
-Saturday, March 18, 2006-

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I had an extra copy of Street Fighter II that I offered to trade for Mr. Mean’s copy of Peace Keepers. “OK… but gimme two dollars,” he urged. I obliged. Fair enough.

Seeing The Peace Keepers (what a cheesy but lovable name) in the wild made my day. Fond memories of playing it with my brother and our friends way back in the summer of 1994. God that makes me feel old.

Mr. Nice always treated me like a long lost nephew
Mr. Nice always treated me like a long lost nephew

Next, I went to see Mr. Nice. We exchanged pleasantries. By now we had developed a great rapport; he probably saw me as the SNES fanatic with large sums of cash from the city, and I saw him as my meal ticket. Beyond that we saw each other as weekend acquaintances; some company to help fill out the drudges of everyday life. He often asked me about college life, how the ladies were, and I would ask him about how business was going or even about his sons back home. Making connections with your fellow man is something eBay or online shopping will never be able to replicate. It’s part of the charm of going to the flea market!

Another solid trade with Mr. Nice
Another solid trade with Mr. Nice

I traded him Doom, Battle Blaze, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (double) and Captain America and the Avengers for Cacoma Knight in Bizyland, Prince of Persia and Adventures of Yogi Bear. A good trade for me seeing as how Cacoma and Yogi were somewhat uncommon and on the want list for a couple months now, combined with the fact that I hated Battle Blaze and the Captain America port.

By most accounts a classic early SNES title
Sort of a classic early SNES title

As I was about to walk away, Mr. Nice reminded me to check his $5 bin. Ah yes of course. There I found Young Merlin and pounced. Yet another game I have childhood connections with. Funny thing is, I saw three copies of Young Merlin in his $10 bin, and the one copy I found in the $5 bin was actually in the best condition of all! Classic. I’ll say it again, what a nutty old coot :)

Love the feeling of reclaiming one's childhood!
Love reclaiming my childhood!

Feeling good off another classic trade with Mr. Nice, I decided I couldn’t go home now. I drove to the other flea market (where I bought Tetris Attack and friends a month ago). I figured it was worth the drive.

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Didn’t find much but I did walk away with BlaZeon ($5). The label was sun faded but I didn’t mind. The way I see it, if I could erase any SNES game off the want list in real life for $5, I would. Can’t get a much better deal online than $5 shipped after all. All in all, not a shabby day of game hunting. In fact, a pretty damn good one.

5. “WISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!”
-Saturday, April 8, 2006-

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Sold an extra copy of Mega Man X to Mr. Mean for $8 cash. Then headed off to see Mr. Nice. By now it was common practice for me to bring any games I wanted to trade (usually doubles I landed in lots off eBay and such). Mr. Nice was a simple guy. He pretty much traded ANY game so long as he got the extra game in the trade (i.e. 2 for 1, 3 for 2 and so on). He understood quantity. Quality? Not so much ;)

A quirky take on ye standard platformer
Surprisingly competent

I bought a Super Game Boy 2 for $10 (later sold for $20+). Then I traded him my extra copies of F-Zero, Bubsy and Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow for Adventures of Kid Kleets and a MINT copy of Super Castlevania IV! Mr. Nice also asked me to throw in $2, which I happily handed over. At the time I couldn’t find a copy of Castlevania IV for under $12 shipped.

Love righting childhood wrongs
Love to play games I always wanted to but never did

Sad but true: I never actually played this back in the day. Indeed. Shame. And so, later that night I spent the entire evening slaying hordes of the undead…

And it was freaking awesome.

6. MR. MEAN’S EPIC FAIL FTW
-Saturday, May 27, 2006-

For weeks now I’d been trying to sell off four fighting game VHSes online, but to no avail. Even at $12 shipped no one wanted Mortal Kombat, Samurai Shodown the Movie, Toshinden and Street Fighter the Animated Movie. So naturally, I decided to take them with me to the flea market. Hey, couldn’t hurt, right?

As usual, the first stop was Mr. Mean. I offered to sell him the four tapes I was carrying in my University book bag.

“Let me see what they are,” he demanded hastily, as if he suspected I had gold and didn’t have a clue that I did. I slipped the tapes out of my University book bag and placed them on the glass case. He made a nonchalant circular hand motion over the four tapes.

“Mmmm… five dollars”

“You mean five dollars for ALL of them?”

“Yes.”

“No thanks.”

“OK.”

I put the videos back in the bag and started to walk away in disgust when I spotted it…

JACKPOT!
JACKPOT!

I already had a copy, but I wasn’t about to pass this opportunity up. I asked Mr. Mean how much for Aero Fighters. I expected to hear some absurd figure like $85 (note: at the time it was going for about $50-$60).

Surprisingly, I overestimated him…

“$7 plus the tapes,” he announced nonchalantly, as though he were trying to pull the wool over MY eyes.

!!!! I couldn’t believe it. But I played dumb as to not show my hand; a universal rule known by diehard flea market game shoppers the world over.

“What??”
I asked, with a semi-perplexed look on my face, as if the offer were an insult.

“$5 and the tapes for the game,”
he rephrased. Notice the price change!

“… OK, but I keep the bag.”

“Yes yes,” he grinned, as if he had pulled the wool over my eyes. When in reality it was the other way around ;)

Note: I later auctioned off that Aero Fighters copy, a double, for $50. That was about the going rate for that game, cart only, at that time. Nowadays, it’s a triple figure heavy hitter.

7. HOTTEST DAY OF THE SUMMER, AND BEST TRIP EVER?
-Saturday, July 1, 2006-

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Met a new vendor today. Extra Innings was bartered from $5 to $3, my argument being it was a common “cheap” sports game. As I was getting ready to leave I spotted Super Alfred Chicken, another game I had always wanted to play back in the day but never did.

This little game always intrigued me a bit back in the day...
This always intrigued me…

Oddly, it was priced at $6 but the dude said “Give me $3 for this one.” Shoot, I won’t argue with that! I handed him a $5 bill, and he handed me back two bills. I naturally assumed that they were two $1 bills, so I shoved ‘em in my pocket without checking. More on this in a bit…

Next, I made my way to Mr. Mean. I had another double of Street Fighter II and asked his nephew if I could exchange it straight up for Lemmings, which looked to be in mint condition (aside from the initials marking), all neatly wrapped and everything.

“Street Fighter II plus four dollars for Lemmings,” the 16-year-old countered.

Ah, hardball, a?

I stuck to my guns and reiterated my straight up offer. Take it or leave it, pal. The nephew examined the contacts and then he called Mr. Mean to come over, who had just finished wrapping up a transaction on the other side. Mr. Mean turned around, saw me, and his expression was absolutely priceless.

"Ah f*ck me, this guy again?!"
“Ah f*ck me, this guy again?!”

He sauntered on over to where his nephew and I were negotiating.

“What’s going on here?” he asked, in a gruff manner.

“I offered him Lemmings for his Street Fighter II plus four dollars.”

“And I offered your nephew a straight up trade. Take it or leave it.”

I stood my ground, refusing to be a lemming
I stood my ground, refusing to be a lemming

Mr. Mean took my SF II copy, turning the sumbitch sideways to study the contacts. Clean. He nodded reluctantly. “Very well. You got yourself a deal.”

By sticking to my guns I saved four bucks. Sometimes, it’s about more than just the money. This was one of those times.

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Mr. Nice was next. It was the same old tradition as always. Stop by Mr. Mean’s stand first, just in case anything of intrigue pops up, then head on over to Mr. Nice’s stand where I knew, AT THE VERY LEAST, I could share a friendly and affable conversation. I also brought my spare SNES copies or games I couldn’t stand to serve as possible trade chips with Mr. Nice, who gave the greatest trades in the history of mankind. On this particular trip I traded him Fatal Fury (boo) and Ms. Pac-Man (double) plus, ironically, the $4 I saved by not caving in to Mr. Mean’s nephew not ten minutes ago, for Gemfire and wow, Metal Warriors! Told ya, he knows quantity. Quality? Not so much ;)

Just another Konami classic
Just another Konami classic

I actually already had a copy of Metal Warriors, but it was going for about $30-$40 at the time, and so I couldn’t pass up on it. I don’t advocate hunting for games you already have, but when it’s right there in your face and you have a chance to get it for a bargain, it’s hard to pass up.

Like finding an extra $10 in your jacket...
Like finding an extra $10 in your jacket…

As I called it a day and walked back to my car, parked significantly far away, I arrived to find my Honda had been KO’ed by the branding iron of the scorching summer sun. It was way too hot inside so I opened all four doors and the 7-11 store, with its cold beverages, not fifty feet away suddenly seemed very inviting. I pulled out my wallet to see how much cash I had left. Inside I found a $10 bill. Wait-a-sec… I KNOW I didn’t bring no stinkin’ ten dollar bill, so what the hell? Then it hit me. The vendor who gave me $2 change when I paid a fiver for Super Alfred Chicken — his change was one bill as $1, and the other bill… yup, $10. I glanced at my car which was right in front of me in the parking lot a couple blocks away from the flea market, and then I glanced back, looking at that long stretch of road I would have to traverse in order to return the $10 bill. And on what had to be one of the hottest days of the summer, I decided I wasn’t about to walk all the way back. In essence, I ended up getting Super Alfred Chicken for free, and then some. A part of me felt bad about it, you bet your ass I did, but on the real, another part of me didn’t [… the dark side! -Ed.]

8. RUMBLE IN HYRULE
-Saturday, July 29, 2006-

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Went to the first flea market from this list and met up with that woman in her 50’s again who sold me Tetris Attack and company some odd five months ago. Traded her my extra WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game (somehow I had three bloody copies at the time) plus $2 for WWF Royal Rumble. Bit ironic, eh? She actually asked for $3 but I bartered that down to $2. My convincing argument? I needed the dollar for Wendy’s super value menu — lunch. She gave me a good-natured chuckle and nodded her little old head. “OK OK I know, you’re a college student. I know.” Hey, whatever it takes :P

Then I drove to the other flea market and traded Mr. Nice my copies of Home Alone 2 (ugh) and Out To Lunch (extra) for Addams Family: Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt.

Another 10+ year game that I still need to play. Hey, get in line...
Another game I still need to play. Hey, get in line…

Each time I headed to his stand I couldn’t wait to chat with him and see what new SNES games he might have acquired since we last saw each other. He always greeted me with a warm smile and a hearty hello. It saddened me just a little bit knowing that my SNES want list was quickly drying up — I really didn’t have that many wants left. As it turns out, I kinda knew that day what was inevitable, this would be my final transaction ever with Mr. Nice. Hell, it would be the last time I see him…

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Next stand I hit up was a new one. I bought just the Zelda: Link to the Past map for $3. The game was complete but I asked the vendor if I could buy just the map. He was nice enough to accommodate me. At that time I had yet to play Link to the Past and knew the map would come in handy when I eventually do. Plus I love the simple classic artwork of the Zelda SNES game.

And speaking of Link to the Past...
And speaking of Link to the Past

And the last stand I visited today, another new one, proved to be an absolute gold mine. He had a crate of sealed games. I ended up trading Relief Pitcher, Alien 3, Michael Jordan: Chaos in Windy City, Super Tennis and Tecmo Super NBA Basketball (mostly doubles, others unwanted) plus $9 for SEALED Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (million seller edition). That’s like trading Michael Jordan in 1992 for David Wood! Who? Exactly! I saw two sealed copies of Donkey Kong Country 2, Super Mario Kart (all million sellers), Earthworm Jim, Super Godzilla and more. But I decided the sealed Zelda copy was enough. For now, anyhow…

9. FLEA MARKET MADNESS FINALE
-Saturday, August 5, 2006-

My final flea market KONG QUEST...
My final flea market KONG QUEST…

A week later I returned to the same stand with the sealed games. Took the two sealed copies of Donkey Kong Country 2 to the vendor, as well as the sealed Super Mario Kart. He wanted $45 for all of them ($15 each). The funny thing is, before I could whip out my wallet, he tried to convince me that this was a fair price offer (!)

“You uh, would be getting a great deal, sir. Really.”

I faintly smiled. I couldn’t help it. A great deal? Was it ever. “OK, I’ll take them.”

All four sealed copies went to eBay. They cost me a total of $54, and they sold for roughly $215. That’s a $161 profit ;)

Note: I rarely use games intentionally to turn a profit… never really been into that whole thing, but this was one of those rare exceptions. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I would have been an absolute fool not to capitalize.

I went out with a bang. That’s how I like to end things. On a high note ;)

FLEA MARKETING 101

Note: These tips were originally written back in June of 2008. Times have changed since then with smart phones and retro games being bigger than ever. A lot of deals like the ones I had are much harder these days, so these tips may vary in terms of effectiveness in the year 2016. Nonetheless, here they are anyway…

  • Carry lots of small denominations. Bring lots of 1’s and 5’s. Keep the 1’s in one pocket and the rest elsewhere, that way the vendors won’t spot you fishing through 5’s and 10’s and suddenly get greedy
  • You don’t necessarily have to play dumb so to speak, or be Daniel Day-Lewis, but some acting at the right moments can work to your favor. For example, when I repeated the vendor’s offer in an aloof manner, he immediately lowered his demand. Gee, that was easy! Merci beaucoup, Mr. Mean
  • Try to establish some kind of rapport with the vendors. Especially the ones that are nice. It never hurts to have a good relationship, they might give you deals or trades they might not give someone else. Although not mentioned here, I once bought a Genesis game off Mr. Nice that he let me have for $3. To quote him, “3 dollars just for you, nobody else”
  • Rather than diving right into what you want most, casually ease your way into it. Want that Super Metroid copy really bad? First casually thumb through some Genesis games, then work your way over. Also, call it “Nintendo game” rather than by the real name, in order to make it sound more generic and common
  • Don’t be afraid to barter. If a game has a cosmetic flaw for example, you can knock off a dollar or two in many cases (if it isn’t already going for, say, $2). Try not to be TOO cheap, however. Nobody likes a tightwad, but there certainly is a right time and place for bartering
  • Bring any gaming-related items you no longer wish to own, or any doubles, hey you never know when Vendor X is open to a trade. It doesn’t hurt to bring a bag of your unwanted gaming items, as you’ve seen here in my stories
  • You don’t have to give in to any vendor’s demands — if you feel a game is just too rich for your blood, just walk away. There will always be another copy to be had (if not in the wild then definitely online). And sometimes, when you walk away they’ll stop you and suddenly be in a more compromising mood  [Yeah that’s what I thought, bitch! -Ed.]
  • Emotional objectivity. Kinda goes back to the acting bit. It’s worth repeating. Try not to show much emotion when asking a vendor how much for this Nintendo (or Sega) game
  • Get there early. Best deals then. Also, sometimes when they’re about to drive their stuff home, they might be desperate and let you in on a good deal to add some $ to their day count, but usually the good stuff is gone by the afternoon
  • Don’t be discouraged if your flea market has no good finds. It’s not the end of the world. Enjoy the sunny day. Walk around. Take in the atmosphere. Have fun!
  • Always think positive. Never hurts, plus it’s free
  • [There are no swap meet princesses -Ed.]

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Time to go home, folks
Time to go home, folks

By August 2006, my SNES want list evaporated by and large for the most part. With no reason to return, August 5, 2006 saw the last time I ever raided a flea market. I’ll always remember those days quite fondly. For some strange reason it feels as though they were from another lifetime. Those wild scavenger hunts… sticking it to Mr. Mean… the goofy old coot Mr. Nice, who always treated me as though I were his long lost nephew and dealt me the best trades in the history of mankind. Those early Saturday morning flea market runs, rummaging through countless game bins. For every lame duck common game occasionally laid the diamond in the rough and the big payoff. It was a glorious time in many aspects, but I’m also glad in retrospect that it’s all over with — the hunt, that is.

Still have wants on your video game list? Then be sure to check out your local flea markets. In addition to Craigslist, it’s another avenue you may want to consider when searching for your next video game purchase. There’s something about the flea market, and there’s certainly something about buying or trading for games RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU in real life. You never know what great deals you too may unearth. Or bloody hell, you might find your very own… SWAP MEET PRINCESS! Well, let’s be honest here. Probably not, but you might find a good game deal or two, and that certainly makes paying a visit to your local flea market worth a shot.

Tomorrow is yet another gorgeous Saturday morning. Thousands of people will be trekking to their local flea market then, in hopes of finding the latest and greatest bargain. Myself, I’ve paid my dues, and am happily long retired. Back at the ol’ ranch, I’ll be sleeping in. Either that or maybe I’ll finally play one of these games I bought over 10 years ago. It would be about damn time, eh?

The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past (SNES)

Happy 24th anniversary!
Happy 24th anniversary!

Today, April 13, 2016, marks 24 years since The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past graced the North American gaming world. Widely regarded as one of the best SNES titles around (if not THE best in many circles), it’s also considered one of the best video games of all time, period. When I got back into all things Super Nintendo over 10 years ago, I did so with two main goals in mind. The first was to relive my childhood. And the second? To right the wrongs from my past. In many ways it was the closest thing to having a time machine. There were so many SNES games I wanted to play back in the day but never did. Along with Super Metroid, A Link To The Past was atop my list of games to play and beat. I finally played through Super Metroid and finished it on February 10, 2007. It was ah-mazin’. Looking at my collection for the next game to play, I knew it had to be A Link To The Past. So it was. On February 20, 2007, I began my trek to Hyrule, and what a trek it was…

LEGEND HAS IT…

LTTP2It’s a calm and cool night in Kakariko Village. Just like any other night. On the surface, at least. But dig a little deeper… put your head to the ground… stand entirely still and listen to the howling of the wind… the leaves dancing on the twisted tree branches… something is happening. Something is coming. Nightfall quickly approaches and the stars are out tonight in full force. Suddenly the wind whips the weathercock viciously, the elders cease work on their farms and quickly rush inside to take cover. A loud rumbling can be heard from the far distance, getting closer and closer with each passing second. An ominous banshee-like scream cuts through the night sky like piercing sirens.

The gods above give Link a special message
The gods above give Link a special message

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Link arrives but oh woe is he, for the young lad is too late! The moon completes its destiny, shedding tears of pain all over Hyrule, transforming the landscape of the peaceful villages. People turn into monsters. Crops die. Dogs turn into ducks. And so forth.

And the prophecy is coming true…

WAIT A SECOND!

[You got it all wrong, ya git! -Ed.]

Right. Let’s start at the very beginning… the first Zelda on the NES, then…

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LTTP8

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[NO, NO, NO! Let’s try this one more time -Ed.]

Alright, I’m sober now. Let’s do this for real…

The legend begins
The legend begins

Although The Legend of Zelda appeared first in the series of Zelda adventures, it actually takes place many years after the third game. In this time, Hyrule had declined, becoming a rustic land with only a few remaining signs of its earlier glory. The land was overrun, and Ganon was to blame. At the heart of the conflict lay a missing piece of the Triforce and Princess Zelda.

LTTP11

When Princess Zelda discovered that Ganon had acquired a piece of the Triforce, she broke the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces and hid them. She knew a hero was needed to challenge Ganon, so she sent her nurse, Impa, to search the land, even as Zelda herself was captured. During her quest, Impa long evaded Ganon’s reach, but in a forest glade she too fell into his clutches and would have been killed if not for the heroic actions of a passing youth named Link. Once the villains had been driven away, Impa told the young man about Zelda’s secret. Then, unable to hold back her tears, she told him how the Princess had been taken captive.

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Link’s heart burned with passion, and he pledged to defeat Ganon and rescue the Princess. He set off at once, knowing only that he had to collect the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom. At every turn in the path he met waves of monsters from Ganon’s unholy army. They challenged him in battle.

LTTP13

Link’s first task was to find the hidden dungeons where Zelda had secretly hidden the divided Triforce. Many of the entrances were disguised, and only by using all of his wits and the scraps of hints that he picked up along the way was he able to succeed. Inside each dungeon he met countless enemies, for Ganon’s minions had taken hold of even the most remote chambers.

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In the end Link was able to gather all eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, then he scaled Death Mountain and gained entrance to Spectacle Rock. Ganon’s great maze dwarfed any that Link had previously encountered. In a hidden chamber, he discovered a magical Silver Arrow and, taking the prize, he came face-to-face with Ganon himself. The battle between youthful hero and villainous miscreant raged across the chamber, unaffected by the cuts of Link’s sword. As Link began to tire, he tried a last desperate strategy, putting the Silver Arrow to the test. The bowstring sang and the arrow flew straight. Ganon was destroyed!

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With the defeat of Ganon, Link’s mind turned to the purpose that had driven him here — the rescue of Princess Zelda. One final chamber stood before him. Link pushed ahead. Here Zelda greeted him and the pieces of the Triforces of Power and Wisdom were reunited.

A hero's work is truly never done
A hero’s work is truly never done

With the destruction of Ganon and the power of the Triforce restored, peace reigned once more in Hyrule. Princess Zelda now ruled the land, and the country prospered. It seemed as if the shadow of Ganon had been destroyed forever. But Link remained ever vigilant. Wherever Link roamed, he looked for signs of Ganon’s return, for he could not believe that he had truly banished evil from the land.

THE LEGEND CONTINUES

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Zelda II: The Adventure of Link takes place several years after The Legend of Zelda. An older, taller and perhaps wiser Link has seen the country prosper. But peace is a fragile commodity in Hyrule and history has a way of repeating itself.

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Marked by the sign on his hand, Link was destined to become a hero. But in the peaceful days following his first quest, he became restless. He combed through the forests, crossed the deserts and delved into the caverns of Hyrule, looking for clues to explain his feelings of unease. In time he became aware of a whisper that passed between the birds, beasts, and even the blades of grass: there was a new magic in the land… a new magic nameless and terrifying.

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Lying as still as a marble, Princess Zelda slept the dreamless sleep of enchantment. When Link found her in the North Palace, he saw at once that she was spellbound. His greatest fear had come to pass. By refusing to reveal the secret power of the Triforce to a wizard, Zelda had brought on her own downfall. But not all was lost. If Link could somehow unlock the mystery of the Great Palace, then he could save Zelda and the Triforce of Courage to boot.

Savage beasts lurked behind every corner
Savage beasts lurked behind every corner

Again Link took to the fields and forests, but these places had become wild and dangerous, inhabited by enemies of old. Link found himself relying on his wits and swordplay at every step. Creatures he had never before seen also waylaid him: spiders called Deelers that dropped from the trees, tall Geldarms that rose from the sands of the Tantari Desert, and of course the Moblins, armed with spears and hatred.

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Link’s mission? Enter each of the six palaces and restore a missing crystal to a statue. Together the statues created a magical lock on the Great Palace. Only by replacing the six crystals could Link open the final door. In each palace, however, he had to battle a Statue Guardian of great strength: Barba the Dragon, Ironknuckle the Knight, Carock the Wizard and many other nasty surprises awaited our youthful hero.

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Link came across many strange looking statues and structures. Some had switches that only the brave, OR the foolish, would pull.

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As he closed the palaces off one by one, Link crossed the whole of Hyrule, from Ruto in the northwest to Death Mountain in the south, from the Island Palace in the Stormy Straights to Maze Island in the Far Eastern Sea. He helped villagers whenever he could, but he never lost sight of his ultimate goal. Finally, after uncovering the secrets of Old Kasuto, Link pushed on to the Great Palace where he met the Thunderbird.

You are your own worst enemy
You are your own worst enemy

Once the Thunderbird was vanquished, Link thought that Zelda and Hyrule would be saved, but it was not to be… not yet. Exhausted from his journey, Link had one more enemy to defeat — an enemy so unexpected that he did not know what to do, for the enemy was his own shadow.

THE LEGEND GROWS

Eat your heart out, King Arthur
Eat your heart out, King Arthur

Back in the mists of time, before the era of The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link, Hyrule was a land of fabulous palaces and magic. It was also a troubled land, and the divisions of Light and Dark were tearing it apart. The origins of this conflict lay even deeper in the shadows of time, with the coming of the Triforce and the greed of Ganondorf, King of Thieves.

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To comprehend Hyrule and Link’s desperate quest, one must first know the ancient legend of the Triforce. In the Golden Land, where it was placed by the creators of the world, the Triforce beckoned to people. Ganon and his band of thieves long searched for the secret entrance to the Golden Land, eventually stumbling upon it. Then Ganon defeated his fellows for possession of the Triforce.

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In a period known as the Imprisoning War, the King of Hyrule brought seven wise men together to seal the door to the Golden Land, for Ganon’s evil power had been spilling forth, causing corruption and darkness. The once peaceful land became a place of dreadful rumors of the coming of a magical enemy. At this time the Master Sword was forged, but there was no hero valiant enough to wield it.

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Before the wise men could seal off the Golden Land and the Triforce, Ganon’s army surged into Hyrule and besieged the castle. The knights of Hyrule fought heroically, but the power of the Triforce controlled their enemies, giving them inhuman strength. The battle raged back and forth. Many foes fell in the tide of battle, but too many knights perished as well. It seemed that they were beyond hope.

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Then, at the end of the day, the wise men finally succeeded in blocking the door to Ganon’s Realm. With the power of their master removed, the enemies fled or threw themselves into the moat. Hyrule was saved and over the years the Golden Land, which then became known as the Dark World, faded from collective memory.

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While the people of Hyrule forgot about the Dark World, the master of that evil land had not. Ganon brooded in his prison, surrounded by reminders of his fall. He grew ever more bitter as the dark years passed like the wailing of cold wind on a winter’s night. Ambition burned in his eyes. He vowed to one day return to power.

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Many centuries passed with Ganon and the Triforce safely locked away. Then the disasters began: plague, drought, quakes and fire. The King sought sage advice and a wizard named Agahnim stepped forth, ending the strange disasters. He became a powerful advisor to the King, but he kept his true plans to himself…

It seemed like a Golden Age, but it wouldn’t last.

“Can anybody out there hear me?”

Once Agahnim had consolidated his power, he began to abuse it. First to fall victim were the ancestors of the seven wise men. The wizard imprisoned six maidens in crystal cocoons, never to be seen again. Then Princess Zelda herself was captured as she sent a telepathic plea into the night. The Hylian gift that enabled Zelda to send her message also allowed Link to hear her.

“Stay back, Link. You hear me?!”

Having received Zelda’s message, Link felt compelled to save her, but his uncle forbade him to leave the house. Link’s uncle thought that the lad’s courage outweighed his common sense, yet he knew that something had to be done to save the princess. Turning away from Link, he gripped his sword. He knew a secret entrance into the castle, although he didn’t know the way out.

What a terrible night to have a curse...
What a terrible night to have a curse…

Link couldn’t tell how much time had passed since his Uncle had left — a minute? An hour? The only thing he knew was that Zelda had spoken to him. He could bear sitting around no longer. Taking a lamp to light his way, Link stepped out into the lashing rain and headed toward the castle.

"Idiot! Aye, here, take my sword..."
“Idiot! You never listen to me. Aye, here, take my sword…”

As Link floundered about in the storm, he heard a second telepathic message from Zelda telling of a secret route into the castle. When he found the entrance, he also found his uncle inside, wounded and unable to carry on. Link took his Uncle’s sword and promised to return…

KEY ITEMS AND ABILITIES

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Here are some of the cool things Link can do. You’ll be doing lots of this, and as you’d expect from Nintendo, the control is crisp and feels spot on. So far, so good!

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And here are some of the items you must find in order to complete your quest. Some have multiple uses, some are one and done, while others act as teleporting devices! Nice.

Even Hyrule is home to some hobos
Even Hyrule is home to some hobos

The Magic Bottle is an awesome item. You can carry up to four and these babies can hold magic potions (recovering health, magic power or both), fairies (which if you have activated when you die, the fairy will escape the bottle and revive you there on the spot), etc. Can you find all four? Here’s my favorite of the four. A hobo trying to just see the light of tomorrow. I love how totally atmospheric this is and it gives Hyrule a real pulse.

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Like I said earlier, many items serve multiple purposes, which speaks to Nintendo’s ability to make such playable games. The hookshot also acts as a potent offensive weapon!

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Here, Link shows off the powers of the almighty Firerod.

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The Goriya can be a tricky foe at first, but his pattern is actually simple, particularly in large open spaces. The green ones are a push over but the red ones are defiant with their scorching fireballs. Be sure you have a set of arrows on you and be prepare to move your feet.

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Hmmm, I wonder what happens when you drop a bomb by damaged walls? Oh look this is just too hard. Back to my Rampage games, then.

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Use your net to capture bees and store them in a bottle. They can be unleashed to help you battle Ganon’s minions. Did I mention how awesome the bottle is? And recall how items can serve multiple purposes. Did you know, in addition to the sword deflecting the magic of Agahnim, that the net ALSO works?  Try it!

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Hyrule is filled with cool legends and urban myths. Is the Tale of the Good Bee for real? Only weary travelers know for sure.

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That little swirly spot is the mark of the Magic Mirror which allows you to go from the Light to Dark World. I love this shot. Just look at the billow of smoke blowing from the chimney, the little swords adorning the exterior, and hey, what would happen if you smash the stake down with the magic hammer?, Could you drop off the ledge into that opening down there… where would it lead? Hmmmm…

RAIN OVER ME

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The opening scene, with the rain lashing down on Hyrule, is considered one of the most awe-inspiring gaming moments in 1992. It was simple, but it has stuck with many SNES players.

Your first goal is to head to Hyrule Castle, but you’ll need to find an alternative route…

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One of the many great things about this game was that it wasn’t just a pure action game. You had to use your wits to progress throughout the game, making it all the more rewarding when you finally do conquer it.

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Rescuing Princess Zelda is no easy job. First you must come to blows with the Ball and Chain Trooper. His demise comes with the prize of a big key. Congratulations, you’ve saved the damsel in distress and the game is over! Of course, wouldn’t be much of a game, so the silly lass gets kidnapped again. That wacky Miyamoto…

THE HOLY GRAIL!
THE HOLY GRAIL!

After you retrieve the three pendants (and solve a host of puzzles while killing tons of enemies), make your way to the Lost Woods and see if you can’t find the mythical Master Sword. Be careful, the Lost Woods is home to weird creatures, thieves hiding behind bushes, and to make matters worse it’s filled with fog and lots of false swords. Can you find the Real McCoy?

*cue classic Zelda sound effect*
*cue classic Zelda sound effect*

The mist clears and the surrounding thieves quickly scramble for cover. No normal being can so easily extract the Master Sword like that. Whoever this Link was, they knew better than to mess with him. And with that, the adventure is only beginning…

THINGS TO FIND AND DO

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In each dungeon a Big Key must be collected in addition to a host of other keys. I love how the Big Keys are kept in these large treasure chests. Therefore, it’s rather satisfying whenever you locate these bad boys.

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Other treasure chests hold not keys, but valuable goodies. Link like, oh yes, Link like a lot.

You gain an extra heart for each boss defeated, but 24 hearts are scattered throughout Hyrule in the Light and Dark World. Collecting four gives you one full heart. Some are hidden underground, others high above ground. Be creative! Push and pull any weird looking tombstones, trees, etc. Can you find all 24 hearts?

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There’s one! Random games can be played, at the price of some Rupees, and you just might find a piece of a heart in the process.

Mini-games are fun and break up the action a bit
Mini-games are fun and break up the action a bit

This is one of my favorite mini-games. It took me like 100 tries before I found the piece of heart! Worth it? YOU DAMN RIGHT!

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Along the Swamp Ruins, Hyrule historians surmised that the civilization must have cultivated crops and practiced an early form of irrigation.

[They what? -Ed.]

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Oh look, in layman terms this is another underground dungeon, but rather than being just another level, they lavished some feeling of history behind it to create its own unique world; such is the love that Miyamoto devoted into the game.

[Oh -Ed.]

Look out for Mumm-Ra...
Look out for Mumm-Ra…

Before you arrive here you must get by the intricate stonework and maze-like garden of the Dark Palace, which features a unique monkey motif. Due to the passage of time the garden has become unpredictable and thus can prove to be difficult to navigate…

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The only way to enter this dark catacomb was to flip a switch up top. But how can Link get up there? Hmmm. Talk about monkey business…

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The very ominous looking Eastern Palace, with twin gargoyle heads adorning the courtyard, is even more frightening inside. Link entered the stark domain where he soon encountered materializing skeletons and slumbering giants. Here lies the almighty Bow, but it’ll awaken the deadly Armos Knights…

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Nowhere in Hyrule was it safe. Agahnim’s guards patrolled the castle walls and even on the Sanctuary grounds.

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Many strange places call Hyrule home. Few adventurers dare make the trek in some of the more suspicious looking entrances. Thieves carved out this opening in a huge, old redwood stump, then tunneled into the earth to create a cave. Rumor has it, no one who has entered has come out alive. Children are advised to stay far away. It’s even said that a man-eating goblin lives deep underground…

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Speaking of ghouls and goblins, the Hyrulian Cemetery was full of legends and rumors. One of which was that the tombstones didn’t always hide bodies, but treasures. Will you go tramping around and risk the chance of disrupting the slumber of the dead? Who knows what spirits you might unleash… or what treasures you might find!

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The lightning laser guards Agahnim’s Tower. Man, if only I could find something to break that pesky magical seal…

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Link can see all over the land of Hyrule atop the pyramid, but an odd sense of clot overcame the young warrior. So he did not linger around for very long. But he also sensed, somehow, that he’d return to the pyramid sooner rather than later…

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A tricky section, this. Rather than floors you have intricate catwalks. Torches could be lit via the Lamp or Firerod, and then Link would have to make haste to the next position where he could relight the flame before it flickers out. You could also use the Magic of Ether to briefly light the way or push a block created by the Cane of Somaria. Or, you could just study this picture.

[Ahhhh -Ed.]

STRANGE BEINGS…

"Come to me, my little sonny..."
“Come to me, my little sonny…”

Across the land of Hyrule there are several fortune tellers. Villagers whisper that these mysterious cloaked figures are not human, and that to enter their shops is to take your own life by the throat. In a quaint cottage near one entrance to the Lost Woods you can find one of them. For a price, she would stare into a magical crystal ball and tell what fate lies in your future. Some people took the predictions seriously and visited often, while others felt it was a waste of money and claimed their crops never grew again after the visit. Link did not believe in such silly superstitions, and knew that with each fortune telling he also had his health fully restored. So, how bad could the fortune teller really be?

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Many trees litter the landscape of Hyrule. In the Light World they don’t present any sort of threat. But in the Dark World some timbers are rumored to speak. Explorers claim they’ve heard weird chants and believe these trees to be Golden Land sentries who were petrified by Ganon’s magic. Link came across hostile trees and could feel the power of Ganon growing by the step.

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This mischievous monkey, known as KiKi, has strange powers and is in love with rupees. In exchange for a set amount, he promises to do a huge favor that will right your quest. But can he be trusted? Will he steal your money and scamper off high in the trees? If you say no, will he summon his primate pals in a revolt? It’s your call…

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Life in the Mire is a nasty place. The Swamolas, believed to be the cousins of the Lanmolas, hid below the muck and slime, surfacing only to snatch a meal [Sounds a lot like my ex-wife… -Ed.]

The chickens are innocent harmless creatures, that is, until you attack one repeatedly. Then, it calls upon its buddies to revolt against you. Useless? Perhaps. Fun to mess around with? You betcha!

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In the Dark World the Ghostly Garden was filled with evil, from the bomb chucking Hinox to the squirming blobs.

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Don’t be fooled by the Hinox’s grin, he is one of the tougher regular baddies in the game. Thank goodness then that they only patrol the Dark World!

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The electro-blobs can cause havoc in packs, especially in close quarters.

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Can you find the blacksmith’s partner? Without him your sword cannot be tempered.

HURRAH!
HURRAH!

Finding the partner will require some wit and cunning skill. Nicely done.

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Sahasrahla the village elder proves to be very helpful throughout your journey.

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Zelda can communicate telepathically with Link through various panels found on the walls of the various dungeons. She offers handy tips to further your progress.

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Fairy Fountains are a Godsend, re-energizing weary travelers to full strength.

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Can you rescue all six trapped maidens?

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Steve, the handsome hero, once again [Yeah, ONLY in video games -Ed.]

YOU AIN’T THE BOSS OF ME

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Many boss battles take place throughout the adventure and I won’t spoil all of them, but here are some to feast your eyes on.

The Armos Knights look intimidating, but they’re a cakewalk. Three well-placed arrows will dispatch of each one, but the last one is double tough. Defeating them earns you the Pendant of Courage.

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Moldorm guards the Mountain Palace and can be very tricky. If you fall over you must start over. I suffered this such fate several times before I got the best of old Moldy. Once you upset him, he starts slithering really fast. It’s almost disturbing in a “It shouldn’t LOOK LIKE THAT!” sort of way.

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Blind the Thief is very sneaky. Finding him is half the battle. Good luck with that, friend.

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Agahnim guards Hyrule Castle and has captured Zelda, the swine.

[Zelda or Agahnim? -Ed.]

Hmmm, both, really, come to think of it.

Hint: He can only be hurt by deflecting his magic. Why not try out the bug-catching net?

Gotta love that old school NINTENDO POWER art
Gotta love that old school NINTENDO POWER art!

Oh Lord… this doesn’t look too good…

Vitreous guards the Misery Mire. It sees all, har har har. Watch out for the lightning this vile creature emits, and once the giant eye comes after you like such, hack away. Like most of the boss battles, it’s easy but nonetheless very satisfying to kill.

The fall of Vitreous sees you rescuing the sixth and final maiden. Finally, the location of Princess Zelda will then be disclosed.

Looking a bit like the new Godzilla...
Shades of GODZILLA RESURGENCE

Ooooh, that’s one nasty looking bugger.

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The Helmasaur King is a big bad boy all right, and guards the double tough Dark Palace. He starts the battle out wearing a gigantic mask. The first step is to remove it, somehow…

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Can you destroy the evil Ganon and save all of Hyrule? The quest awaits.

MY FAVORITE LEGEND

Link to the Past has plenty of legends, rumors and urban myths. It gives Hyrule a real heart beat, a real pulse. It’s the magic that only Nintendo and Miyamoto seem able to craft. I love almost all of them, but I have to share this one… the good ole LEGEND OF THE FLUTE PLAYER.

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Witnesses have seen animals gather around a fading flute player in a grove in central Hyrule. Others claim they can hear the faint playing of a flute hauntingly swirling from the grove north of the Swamp. They would run in the direction of the sound and then find absolutely nothing. Silence fell over as they approached the stump. Suddenly the music would play again and they ran for their lives, convinced that the grove was haunted by an evil, restless spirit. And ever since, everyone knows of the location simply as THE HAUNTED GROVE.

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One day, Link ran into the Haunted Grove to escape some of Agahnim’s soldiers. There he found one of the strangest sights he had ever seen in all of Hyrule. A ghost-like boy sat on a stump playing a flute. Surrounding the boy was a host of animals. When Link approached, the animals ran away and the boy vanished. Try as he might, he could not catch the animals or the boy. Link later discovered they were ghosts…

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Later in his journey Link came across villagers who indulged the youth on the legend of the Flute Boy.

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In the Dark World, the mystery of the Flute Boy was slowly but surely unraveling…

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The Flute Boy gave Link his shovel. Now if Link could only find the lost flute…

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Link got to work, in hopes he would find the Flute and discover its magical powers…

I won’t say how the tale of the Flute Boy plays out exactly, but it’s pretty sad. I grew quite fond of the bloke. Blast it to all heck.

Boy, clues used to be SO subtle in video games
Boy, clues used to be SO subtle in video games

THE TRUE STORY OF ZELDA — FINALLY UNCENSORED!

Stop the presses! I’ve got the scoop to end all, er, scoops! Hidden in the vaults of Nintendo Headquarters I have managed, through my adventurous and plucky spirit, to secure the DIRECTOR’S CUT of how the story REALLY plays out!

Take a look below.

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Well that escalated quickly...
Well that escalated quickly…

Yoinks! Looks like when the pressure was on, his Master Sword broke… [Oh dear -Ed.]

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

  • EGM: 8, 9, 9, 9
  • Super Play: 93%

In their 100th issue, November 1997, EGM listed Link to the Past as the 3rd best game of all time.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE SHIGSTER

[Don’t call me that ever again -Mr. Miyamoto]

Credit Super Play Magazine (a UK Super Nintendo publication that ran from 1992-1996) and Onn Lee of Electric Brain fanzine for their conversation below with Zelda mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto! Circa November ’92.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Shigeru Miyamoto has the golden touch. He’s directly responsible for both the Zelda and Mario series of games developed at Nintendo’s ‘Entertainment Analysis And Development’ department in Japan, making him perhaps the most important games creator at work in the world today. When a piece of software sells 10,000 copies in Japan it is considered a hit, but many Mr. Miyamoto has been involved with have shifted millions, as well as become household names worldwide. It all puts him rather in the super-league. Here’s a conversation recorded with Mr. Miyamoto earlier this year.

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What exact role do you take in the games development process?

SM: I don’t actually do any of the programming, but I am involved in organizing the programming teams. Instead of imposing deadlines, I find that constant encouragement of your staff is the best way to keep them going. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons for our success.

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Are the Super Famicom and SNES versions of Zelda III the same?

SM: Because the SFC version completely used up all 8 megabits of memory, we originally estimated that we’d need another megabit to cope with the text being translated into English for the American game. That being the case we’d need a 9 megabit cartridge for America, but wouldn’t be using up all the space on it, so we toyed with squeezing in a few of the spare ideas left out of Zelda 1 to fill up the space. In the event, though, we managed to fit the English version onto 8 megabits anyway, so any ideas like that went out the window. So yes, both versions should be exactly the same.

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When was Zelda III originally meant to be released?

SM: We were hoping to release it at the time the Super Famicom itself first came out, back in November 1990 alongside Super Mario World. We couldn’t make that, so after that a March ’91 release was planned, but the project dragged on beyond that, too. Eventually it became a Super Famicom first anniversary release instead.

How many people actually worked on the game?

SM: We started with just a handful for about a year, but then added more as things progressed. Basically the small team works out a rough draft plan, and the large team refines this into a game.

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What kinds of things did you have in mind when planning the new game?

SM: We wanted to improve on all the shortcomings of the 8-bit games that had been imposed on us by the technical limitations of the Famicom. In the 8-bit Zelda the player had to imagine a lot of effects that the graphics couldn’t simulate. Also, back in 1987 Zelda had introduced lots of new features to games, like the ability to save your game and buy items, but in the meantime these had become the bog-standard components of any RPG. We knew that to keep ahead of the pack, Zelda III needed more.

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How difficult did you want to make Zelda III?

SM: On average it takes about 40 hours to complete, but the fastest recorded time at Nintendo is five hours! We’ve actually tried to make it as easy as possible. The way the game is structured you can’t take alternative routes to finish the game, so we’ve made it that, for example, if you come across a blocked passage you will be able to progress further, even if you have forgotten a certain item. If mainstream gamers could cope with less linear adventures, though, we might have made it a lot harder.

Is it true that loads of brilliant ideas had to be dropped because of a shortage of memory space?

SM: No, we dropped the average ideas and picked the best!

And finally, how about the future?

SM: I can’t discuss new games at the moment, but we’ve got lots of plans, at least one of which is along the same lines as Pilotwings [And that, as one might guess, became most likely….Star Fox -Ed.]

Thanks once again to Super Play Magazine and Onn Lee!

Interesting that Shigs [Oh forget it -Mr. Miyamoto] mentioned the average of 40 hours. Here’s how I fared on my first go ever…

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As you can see, Turtle Rock and Dark Palace gave me the most fits. Most Zelda III players complain about Turtle Rock and Ice Palace. Ice Palace wasn’t too bad for me. I had a night class at 7 PM and had an hour to kill. I decided to tackle Ice Palace and ended up beating it just in time before class started. Nothing beats that I tells ya! Ah, good times.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Nothing like righting a childhood wrong
Nothing like finally righting a childhood wrong

On Sunday evening, March 11, 2007, 19 days after I started Link to the Past, I dethroned Ganon and finally liberated Hyrule. It was bittersweet in some respect. Sure it was nice seeing the land blossom again and what have you, but a part of me wanted just one more dungeon to work through, one more boss to decimate, one more item to procure, one more heart piece to discover, one more mini-game to play and one more urban legend to solve. It was 30 hours of bliss, and the more I progressed the more the game grew on me, until it nearly consumed me, making me even all the more shameful I waited 15 years to finally play through this. Ah, to live and learn eh?

Every little touch in this game is just great. The hobo taking cover under the bridge, the tale of the quarreling brothers, the bedridden boy, the legend of the Flute Player, the witch, all the dungeons and bosses… there is so much to do and take in. And take it in you will. Not nearly enough games reach the level that Link to the Past did. And what a shame that is. This is more than a game — it’s an EXPERIENCE. Corny and cliche, but true. Take it from a converted fan of this genre, I am just beginning to discover the joy this type of game can generate. It’s not immediately satisfying perhaps, but it doesn’t take long before the quest takes over your every waking moment. After I beat the Ice Palace I ran to my night class. As my professor lectured on and on about BICS and CALP, I could only find myself thinking about what horrors the Misery Mire would bring, and counting down the hours until class would end. Is this the sign of a truly captivating game, or a truly sick man? Probably both.

Further proof of the latter… something disturbed me deeply regarding the theme of the Dark World. Play through that again and TRY TO TELL ME that the theme doesn’t sound like the infamous Saturday Night Live music skit DICK IN A BOX!

[Uh yeah, reminder to self: edit that out…. -Ed.]

Any complaints? Well, there is a hint of slowdown here and there, like the boss fight with Mothula f’rinstance. And while it’s relatively clear what you need to do next, a few of the puzzles are slightly, in my opinion, obscure and can be tough to figure out if playing guide-free. The incessant beep that plays when you’re on your last heart is annoying. These are minor quips though, quite frankly. Other than that, it’s hard to find a real flaw in the armor.

Until we meet again
For now the Master Sword rests peacefully. For now…

Zelda III was released in Japan on November 21, 1991, exactly one year after the Super Famicom made its debut. The American release was held back for six months. When it finally did appear it sold 250,000 copies in the first six weeks — faster than any other Nintendo game in history! If by some crazy chance you’ve yet to play Link to the Past, then I hope you make it a priority to do so. I still have a lot of classics I need to go through, and I can only hope they’re half as good as this.

You are TRULY one of the best games EVER
Happy 24th Anniversary! April 13, 1992-April 13, 2016

Yes, Link to the Past is worth all the hype. You cannot call yourself a Super Nintendo fan, hell, forget that, you can’t call yourself a VIDEO GAME fan until you’ve played through this fine masterpiece. One of the best games on the Super Nintendo, heck, on any system ever. Magic, mystery, action, loads of multi-purpose items, puzzles, giant guardians, huge sprawling mazes, it’s got the lot! An epic hall of fame adventure you simply must go through at least once, if not twice, before you die.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 10
Gameplay: 10
Longevity: 9

Overall: 10

Platinum Award
Platinum Award

Majyuuou (SFC)

So much untapped potential...
So much untapped potential…

While it boosts one of the greatest gaming libraries in the history of mankind, the SNES will never be mistaken as a system home to a wide plethora of darker, more mature games. One of the few that truly fit this class though is Majyuuou (AKA King of Demons) exclusively released on the Super Famicom. Just look at that box art. You’d think it’s gotta be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Sadly, it never quite lives up to the lofty expectations built inside of my head nearly 10 years ago when I first played it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. It just means I was hoping for a little more.

At first glance, “Resident Evil meets Castlevania” crossed my mind. A most enticing combination indeed. Well, when viewed from such, I guess it was doomed to fail. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as per usual, so let’s rewind it back a little bit…

WILLING AND ABEL

You are Abel. Your wife (Maria) and daughter (Iria) have been captured by your former friend Bayer who sold his soul to the devil. With them Bayer intends to revive the KING OF DEMONS. You’ll do anything to save your family, even taking on various demonic forms yourself. This gives it a bit of an Altered Beast feel.

You start the game out in human form. Here you can do the following:

  • Roll
  • Do a downward kick in mid-air
  • Double Jump
  • Fire his 9MM gun
  • Fire a power shot (hold attack until the power bar flashes)
  • Transform into different types of demons

Majyuuou opens with you battling Bayer on the bridge to hell. It’s basically a mere scrimmage, with Bayer eventually retreating. The door on the far right swings open, and your foray into the darkness begins…

A DESCENT INTO MADNESS

I wish sprites were a bit bigger
I wish sprites were a bit bigger

Things start out easy. Low entry winged demons are one and done. A fairy helper acts much like how an “option” does in SHMUPS.

Just when you think “This is TOO easy,” the earth rumbles and the ugliest, biggest grub you’ve ever seen quickly slithers your way!

Now that's more like it
Now that’s more like it

The parasitic creature traps you into a dead end. Fortunately, or so you think, the ground collapses, sending you even deeper into the rotting depths of hell.

Pop their heads off!
Pop their heads off!

Mutant frogs, gun toting she-devils and hordes of zombies greet you with open, decaying arms. One shot cleans the zombies’ heads right off while two seals the deal. Out of the corner of your eye you can see victims pinned up against the perfidious walls like grand prizes, but there’s no time for sentimentality — you know you could very well be next! With hell’s army hot on your tail, you come to a decrepit elevator. There’s no choice but to enter the dank, rotting interior…

Oh what a tangled web we weave
Oh what a tangled web we weave
"HA-DO-KEN!"
“HA-DO-KEN!”
Look at those nasty veins!
“You one UGLY motherf*cka…”

Exiting the elevator, you’re visited by an old friend. I do love the attention to detail in this game. Look at those nasty veins. It’s a fight to the finish.

Their version of the Baron of Hell
Their version of the Baron of Hell

March forward and meet the Barons of Hell. These big bastards are tough, requiring 12 shots to kill.

Don't let it add your skull to its collection
The first boss of the game
It's time to begin your first transformation
Begin your first transformation

WHEW! That’s only the first stage. It’s all very short though, but you gotta love the assortment of mini-bosses and demonic enemies. On a system sorely lacking these such things, it’s a very much welcomed sight! But can Mayjuuou keep up the pace? Sadly, although every fiber of my being at this point wishes it were so, I’d be lying if I said I thought it did.

Suck on their blood to regain health :)
Suck on their blood to recuperate

Stage 2 is a plant themed world with buildings in complete ruin. Green pods releases little red fairies. Kill ‘em, then you can eat their fallen carcasses to regain health. Brutally creative, and you know you love it.

Everything’s going smoothly until you cross an old abandoned building. You hear a trembling and know it’s not JUST the racing of your heart, but that something BIG and BAD comes your way…

I hate being right
I hate being right (sometimes)

If it catches you with its iron mandible it’ll drag you up and down the screen like a rag doll.

"I've got my eye on you"
“I’ve got my eye on you”

Defeat the insect mini-boss and then find yourself eye to eye (no pun intended) with yet another mid-boss!

Mrs. Bushroot says hello (and good-bye)
Mrs. Bushroot says hello

The Plant Queen guards the exit of stage two. Put this wannabe Empress out of her misery and then get ready to enter the ride of your life, literally. A spook-filled speeding train rolling past a cemetery. Something afoul is in the air…

Play this at night, for sure
Play this at night, for sure

Within 10 seconds this mini-boss appears. It only has 1 attack: throwing its two scythes at you, which will spin in place for a few seconds. Just leave some room on the left and you’ll be OK. Battle the rest of the minions on the train and soon you’ll meet a pair of twins unlike any you’ve met before…

[Can’t be better than the Synch twins I met during the summer of ’89 -Ed.]

Only in Japan. God bless Japan
Only in Japan. God bless Japan

You are completely helpless as you watch the two monsters kill this innocent lass. Her banshee-like scream as she perishes is actually somewhat eerie and unsettling. After these two you immediately face the end boss of stage 3.

Aim for the sick pulsating mass
Aim for the sick pulsating mass
It doesn't put up much of a fight
It doesn’t put up much of a fight
KA-BOOM
KA-BOOM

Once the disgusting bubbly mass is blown to bits, the Ghost Train is rendered helpless and crashes through the castle walls.

Level 4 begins and from here on out, I’ll let you discover what horrors await. Will you be able to stop Bayer? Will the King of Demons arise? Can Abel save his family?

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES

  • There are 3 different demon transformations, with stronger versions for each. Each has a unique regular / super shot. One demon form can flip, another teleports, etc. Find out which form works best for which stages
  • To get the good ending, you must use all 3 forms at some point before the final level. Doing so unlocks the 4th and ultimate transformation…
  • You are human only for stage 1, unless you opt to not touch an orb after defeating the end level bosses, which would make the game more challenging
  • The beginning plot is in Japanese, but throughout the levels there is no text. There is an English fan translation for those who want to experience it in full
  • Press select at the title screen to activate the options menu. As a side note, try pressing select 15 times. Done correctly, you’ll access a level select cheat in the options menu. Very handy…
  • The helper is very useful. If you die it’ll revive you for a 2nd go and you won’t waste a life. Some levels contain a green aura symbolizing the helper — touch it to gain its powers
  • There are health refills here and there. Stand over and press down
  • The health bar increases as your point total goes up. You can continue forever, but you’ll start at level 1 health and for the later levels, it’s simply not enough

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Pop their heads off!
A sordid, fun and hellish romp

On a system lacking in these sort of darker, more mature titles, it’s nice to see a game such as this exist. It certainly helps to fill a void, but part of me, even nearly 10 years later, can’t help but still view this game as somewhat of a letdown. Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy this game enough, but it pains me to think WHAT IF. It’s a perfect example of a game being “solid” yet “disappointing” all at once.

That said, this is a quality game. It’s just not the epic gem I was hoping for. Looking for a ghoulish action platforming shoot ‘em up sort of good time? With macabre visuals up the wazoo and some demonic transformations thrown in for good measure? Then check out Majyuuou. Just make sure you leave the lofty expectations at the door.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 7.5
Longevity: 6.5

AwardOverall: 7.5
Bronze Award

Memories of Renting

To all the video stores that ever lived: I raise my glass

Renting video games every Saturday afternoon was a big part of my childhood. It’s a bygone era that I hold near and dear to my heart. As a kid growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, few things could match the sheer joy of watching Saturday morning cartoons before heading out to town with your old man to rent the latest video game. I have so many fond memories of this childhood weekend ritual. Sure, streaming and online content has made things faster and more accessible than they were 25, 30 years ago. But it comes at a price. Part of the fun of renting games and movies 20+ years ago was the actual time you spent riding around with your dad, being in awe of seeing all the games you wanted to rent, and eagerly anticipating the drive home to play the game of the week you had chosen after careful consideration. In my generation this sort of experience was, quite frankly, priceless.

So if you’re like me and fondly recall those halcyon days, well then my friend you’ve come to the right place. Kick your feet up, crack open a cold one, and join me for a sentimental stroll down memory lane. It’s a look back at a more innocent time in our lives. A golden time.

IT’S TIME TO (BE KIND AND) REWIND

My brother Kevin and I rented a TON of games in our day. Actually, I rented them. Kevin made me do his dirty work, as he was too lazy (and shy) to go rent games on his own accord. 90% of the time he had a specific game for me to get. If it was rented out, then I had freedom to choose. Sadly for me at least, most of the time his choice title was there. If not at the first store, then surely the fifth.

However, I secretly enjoyed doing the dirty work for him. I have very fond memories of renting. I loved all the little (and semi-lengthy) trips that my dad and I shared. Each Saturday afternoon we made the trek together. He was a busy man, but he always awarded me and Kevin with one rental each Saturday. Looking back, I think it was more than just simply renting video games but alas, I digress. I always looked forward to our weekend ritual, rain or shine.

From roughly 1987 to 1995, we must have rented 200 games between the Nintendo, Genesis and Super Nintendo. Years later, I rented some PS1 games for Kevin, but it was few and far. The renting bug eventually faded as my bro entered high school and gradually lost interest in gaming. It wasn’t much long before the renting bug died completely sometime circa 1998 or 1999.

From the mom and pops to the big boys, here are some memories and tales of my favorite childhood video stores.

BLOCKBUSTER VIDEO

“Curse them mom ‘n pop killers!”

I didn’t rent a ton from Blockbuster, as I found the alternatives much better, but my dad and I occasionally stopped by. They were a bit on the expensive side, $4 or $5 to rent a Super Nintendo game, but the plus side was you could keep your rentals for up to 5 days. That was their main selling point; it was rather enticing to think you could keep a game throughout an entire school week. But my mom didn’t like the idea of us gaming throughout a school week, so Blockbuster was seldom utilized in my renting rotation.

My best memory involving Blockbuster Video: it was my first job! A new one was being constructed just a 5 minute walk away from my house. I was a ripe 17 years old. It was October of 2000. I told my friends we should all apply and work there. My friend Eddie got the job one night. The next night I headed over while the store was still being worked on. The manager interviewed me on the spot and next thing I know he goes, “See you next Friday, kid.”

Working at Blockbuster was mostly a great experience. I was there for ten months before quitting in August of 2001. I was starting college later that month and I wanted to focus on that. Yup, just mere weeks before the 9/11 tragedy.

Eddie stayed on board until November 2001. He often told me it just wasn’t the same without me. We had a competition to see who could rack up more free rentals. We were able to get 5 free rentals a week, and we always had to max it out, even if we didn’t have time to watch the movies. In the end, the computer displayed a whopping 172 free rentals under my name! That’s roughly $775 in value.

I remember when Nikita and Judy joined the team. Oh man. I’ll never forget those two. They were from our same high school and let’s just say they had a reputation. And as I would find out, for DAMN good reason! Judy was very friendly, especially. The first day we worked together, I was putting a DVD on the top shelf. As I was doing this, she squeezed in to put a DVD on the bottom shelf, and… and…

*Cue NBA Jam announcer*

“HEL-LO!”

[What happened? -Ed.]

They say you never forget your first time, er, job. I believe that.

EVERGREEN VIDEO

My first love. I can 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 1980’s my dad was driving me and my brother Kevin around. We spotted Evergreen Video by chance. It began the whole renting craze for us.

I can still hear that little bell that rung each time the door opened. It was a small store with lots of family videos. Up front there was a wooden case full of NES goodness. The smell of the oak wood shelves permeates to this day. If there was ever a quintessential mom ‘n pop rental store, Evergreen Video was surely it.

Tom was a cool guy, and he became sort of like an uncle to me and Kevin. He owned the store and worked there every Saturday afternoon when we would visit. Back then, I even rented my fair share of games that I wanted. I basically picked the games with cool covers. I still remember some of my choice titles.

Because all licensed games are good!
Because all licensed games are good…
Hey look, a good licensed game!
Hey look, a good licensed game!
You had me at "Yellow"
You had me at “Yellow”
Yup, I was a sucker for them bright yellow covers
Yup, I was a sucker for them bright yellow covers
Some were duds, but I still had fun
Some were duds, but I still had fun

Tom was so good to us — he even held games for me and Kevin. My brother would call to ask for a game and Tom would hold it for us up to 24 hours. I remember him telling us once, with a big smile, “Only for you guys.”

One time we came in to pick up TMNT II: The Arcade Game. We met Tom’s son that day, and he was playing the game on the small TV they had. I still recall vividly to this day feeling bad that he had to turn off the game so we could rent it. He was on level 4 battling the wolf boss. Funny the little details you remember.

We couldn't wait for this sequel. What a disappointment
What a disappointment

My brother and I were huge Double Dragon fans. We owned and played Double Dragon II to death. So when we found out part III was out, we figured it would be the Holy Grail. Besides, just look at that epic box art. We rented it from Evergreen Video, but it was disappointing for a number of reasons. One, the actual game itself wasn’t as good as we were hoping for. Two, after the first level the game crashed. We received a faulty copy. My dad drove us back to Evergreen, he explained the situation to Tom and Tom was more than happy to give us a no frills exchange.

It more than held us over for that weekend
It more than held us over for that weekend

But here’s the really cool thing. 3 weeks later, Tom told us he received a new copy of Double Dragon III, AND he was holding it, just for Kevin and me! Even though I was a little kid, I remember being blown away by his love and generosity. He really was like another uncle to us. This epitomized the kind of cat that Tom was.

This time we were just disappointed by the game
This time we were just disappointed by the game

When the Super Nintendo came to the US in late 1991, Tom bought some SNES games to keep up with the changing of the guard. I rented Ultraman: Towards The Future, and sadly, that would be the last game I ever rented from Evergreen Video.

In early 1992, my dad, Kevin and I made our usual Saturday afternoon trek to Evergreen Video. Two reasons we always left the house around noon:

  • We couldn’t miss our Saturday morning cartoons
  • The store didn’t open until noon

[Good reason -Ed.]

Unfortunately, that trip would prove to be our last. Tom told us he and the family were moving on. And of course, with my being so young at the time, I didn’t quite get it. I just assumed he would still be there next weekend, and the weekend after that, because it’s Tom. And that’s what Tom does. Your friendly neighborhood mom ‘n pop video store owner.

A piece of my childhood died that day...
A piece of my childhood died that day…

I didn’t understand the magnitude of his words until a short month or two later when my mom took me shopping. As we passed Evergreen Video, what was once a simple but lovely store, with so many good memories, I stole a glance inside. A part of me expected to still see the wooden shelves, and Tom’s friendly mug situated behind the register counter. Instead, I saw an empty store, torn down in shambles, the floor littered with debris. I felt like crying as I peered in. I lost a little bit of my innocence that day. From that moment on I forever realized that things don’t last forever, no matter how much you want them to.

GAME HUNTER

The stuff dreams are made of. That describes the essence of Game Hunter in a nutshell. They exploded on the scene in 1992 and not before long, developed a cult-like following in my town. They catered to the diehard: NES, Genesis, Neo Geo, SNES, portables and every other system in-between.

They even had a few arcade cabinets!
Games here, games there, games everywhere

Not only did Game Hunter have every system under the sun, they also carried a few arcade cabinets. It was here that I cut my teeth on World Heroes (my all-time favorite franchise from strictly a sentimental value). There was nothing better than scouring through the hundreds of games they carried, then plopping a quarter into one of their cabs while your dad went to check out. Gotta love the simple pleasures of life.

On top of all this, they also carried anime. I’ll never forget when my old best friend, Nelson, rented “Devil Hunter.” We watched it that evening in his room with our friends and Nelly’s little brother, Johnny. I was shocked at the amount of nudity! We tried our best to kick out Johnny, at least Nelson and I did, but we were outmatched by the fierce curiosity of a seven year old. We tried shielding his innocent eyes with Nelson’s pillows, but to no avail. It was sheer chaos as the other guys hooted and hollered at every nipple shot. Ah, to be 10 years old again.

"I'M NOT WORTHY!"
“I’M NOT WORTHY!”

However, the greatest thing about them were the import games they carried. It gave Game Hunter a truly special mystique. Seeing a wall covered with exotic Super Famicom boxes NEVER failed to amaze my little 10 year old eyes. Keep in mind this was back in the early ’90s when none of us had the internet, or a disposable income, or instant access to these titles that we enjoy today. It was truly mind-blowing to see so many imports in front of your face back in 1992.

The very first import I rented, back in late '92
You never forget your first time…

The first import I ever played and rented was a little Kaneko fighting game by the name of Power Athlete (Power Moves). I rented quite a few imports courtesy of the almighty Game Hunter over the years. It was always a treat to see the Japanese version of a highly anticipated SNES game on the shelf MONTHS before the US version was due. I’ll never forget that fateful day in the summer of ’94 that Nelson and I saw the import versions of Fighter’s History, King of the Monsters 2 and Muscle Bomber (Saturday Night Slam Masters). But, that’s a story for another time. Game Hunter’s import selection was definitely what made them so legendary. Recall that back then, import did not mean just another version of a game but rather, they carried a strong mythical aura.

It took me right back to my living room circa late 1992!
Even bad imports came off as exotic!

They also saved games by request. Unfortunately their service was questionable at times. Once I had them hold Fatal Fury for the Genesis. I rounded up my dad and when we got there, the worker said,“I thought you meant the Super Nintendo version. We don’t have the Genesis one.” He didn’t seem very apologetic, either.

My dad absolutely flipped out. And he rarely ever did. If anything he treated everyone with TOO MUCH respect (if that’s possible). But in this instance, the old man truly lost it. Game Hunter was a decent 20 minute drive away, so my dad went to town on the poor dude for wasting our time and gas. I think the term kids use today is, “Owned.”

Game Hunter ended up closing its doors in the late ’90s.

All in all though, I’ll always harbor very fond memories of Game Hunter. The buzz it created and generated within my gaming group was unmatched, and truly a sign of the times. Times that have long passed on…

HOLLYWOOD VIDEO

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

A couple years ago I was browsing through a topic called “Stores That Don’t Exist Anymore.” When I saw this picture, I had to do a double take. Was it, could it be? Yes! It’s the actual Hollywood Video I frequented as a kid. Man, this picture brings back so many memories. The mountains in the back. How TARGET was right across the street and just to the right of the Target sign was a classic mom and pop rental shop VIDEO MART (which I’ll get to later below). One time my mom was shopping at Target and I decided to sit on the little lawn right there by the Target sign, reading Goosebumps book #26 “My Hairiest Adventure.” Man for some reason that’s a memory that vividly sticks out in my mind. The feeling of being free. Out on the lawn reading my favorite book on a crisp late afternoon in January. Cars zipping by with Hollywood Video as a pleasant backdrop to my reading. A cool little breeze in the air. My own slice of Heaven.

The Hollywood Video in my town opened in 1994 and was only a 5 minute walk away from my house. I made a beeline after school one day.  It was the third rental store in a HALF MILE radius. It was the golden age of video stores. A big purple sign draped over the window proudly declared:

  • FREE MEMBERSHIP! GRAND OPENING!

Like a miner rushing for gold, I made a beeline for the door. The SNES selection was enormous! I spotted Double Dragon V and Fighter’s History. I grabbed the former and bolted to the front of the line.

I had $5 cash on me, and Hollywood Video used the same type of renting procedure as did Blockbuster: 5 days roughly $5.

The lady looked at me with her eyebrow raised. It was my first trip to a rental store all by myself and I must have been a sight for sore eyes, standing there all giddy like I had just consumed a gallon of sugar.

“Um, does someone in your family have a membership?”

I replied innocently, “Naw, but your sign says I can get one for free.”

“You would need a driver’s license and credit card for that, though.”

Oh man, I felt like such a damn fool :P

I have so many fond memories of all those late school nights strolling up and down the horror section and perusing through their 16-bit titles while my dad bought groceries across the street. Of special note was how humongous this place was. At 8,500 glorious square feet, it was the damn biggest rental store I had ever seen.

JUST ANOTHER MANIC MONDAY...
JUST ANOTHER MANIC MONDAY…

I captured this shot of my childhood Hollywood Video on a rainy Monday night back in 2006. This location eventually folded in 2010. It was the last renting relic of my youth standing.

ULTIMATE VIDEO

The Night He Came Home -- Again
The Night He Came Home — Again

Much like Street Fighter II and Doom did, once a phenomenon sweeps a nation, out come the clones. It was no different for video rental stores in the early ’90s. Ultimate Video was perhaps the quintessential example of such. Opening in 1993, they had a mom ‘n pop feel but with the size to match any Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. I really loved the aesthetic of this store. It was also near my cousin’s house. Ultimate Video’s neon green sign lit up the night sky, dazzling you with its flash and glitz. It was the first thing you saw coming off the freeway, and it always drew me in like a moth to flame.

One vivid memory I have in particular of Ultimate Video was renting Halloween 4. As a kid that movie really creeped me out. It really nailed down the atmosphere of Halloween.

Ultimate Video quietly faded away in the late ’90s.

U.S. VIDEO

This mom ‘n pop was much larger than the average mom ‘n pop. It had a huge selection of movies, and a small, but memorable game section.

Those Master System game boxes are something else
Those Master System game boxes are something else

To this day, I remember the funky Sega Master System boxes, like Alex Kidd in Miracle World. U.S. Video was right next to the library, so it was quite convenient. Since my mom took me to the library weekly, I was always able to convince her to let me go to U.S. Video right across the street. Funny thing was, for as much as I frequented this store, rarely did I rent from them. Mostly, I walked the aisles staring at the horror movie boxes and thumbing through their tiny game selection.

I did rent this one though. #Sucker
I did rent this one though. #Sucker

OK, confession time. As a kid one of my favorite Genesis games was Fighting Masters. I played it years later in 2006. It was one of those experiences that leave you scratching your head. “Man, what was I thinking all those years ago?!”

Hey, we all had a bad game we liked as a kid
Hey, we all had a bad game we liked as a kid

The best thing about U.S. Video though were the two arcade cabs they had at opposite ends of their store. On one side you had the mega popular (and always crowded) Street Fighter II cab. On the other end you had a Neo Geo MVS that featured Fatal Fury, Sengoku, King of the Monsters and World Heroes. While I was first exposed to World Heroes at Game Hunter, it was U.S. Video where I played that game the most. The MVS cab was usually open as everyone was busy playing SF II at the other end of the store. Perfectly fine by me! I was content playing World Heroes hassle-free.

I played Fatal Fury and World Heroes to death here
The Neo Geo Nook!

I remember fondly the times my mom would go grocery shopping, and luckily enough for me, U.S. Video was just across the street. As my mom bought apples, oranges and pears, I snapped bones and set human bodies on fire. Being on my own as a 9 year old kid, even if it was just for 20 minutes, gave me an incredible sense of freedom and adventure. It’s amazing what kids got away with 25 years ago compared to today. How times have changed.

One evening there was a tough shot 20 something year old playing World Heroes. He was using Janne. I challenged him, using Hanzo. There was a young female employee standing behind the counter, watching with great interest as this little 9 year old kid challenged this 20 something year old punk. He was extremely cocky. Two rounds later, I left him in a bloody and twisted heap. He quietly walked away with one massively bruised ego. I looked over my shoulder and saw that the girl watching had the fattest smile on her face. I still recall that vividly ^_^

This box haunts me still
This box haunts me still

And when I wasn’t playing World Heroes or checking out the back of game boxes, I wandered around the many towering wooden shelves of videos. Their horror section sticks out in memory, with the cover of Child’s Play 2 leaving a lasting impression [Gee, I can’t imagine why -Ed.]

U.S. Video shut down in the mid ’90s.

VIDEO MART

Perhaps the smallest video store I have ever seen. Like Evergreen, it was a family-owned gig, lots of wooden shelves and they would hold games and movies for you. Throughout the early-mid ’90s they held countless WWF new releases for me. SummerSlam ’92, Survivor Series ’93 and so on. Sometimes the waiting list was quite lengthy. Looking back, it was quite a unique system. They made house calls when your movie came in. I still remember the owner calling me one night. “Steve, Leprechaun 2 is back, waiting for you.”

Their small SNES section was not impressive, but it was cheap to rent and the store scored major gas points with my dad — it was only half a mile away from home.

Thanks Uncle Jimmy

The year was 1989. One night my crazy Uncle Jimmy took me to Video Mart to rent a movie. I saw the cover of Halloween and in my naive 6 year old mind, I thought “Halloween? Cool, I love trick-or-treating!” I begged my uncle to rent it, and he obliged. I spent most of the movie watching it from behind the sofa, and later that night I had a nightmare that Michael Myers was stalking me around the house. And I’ve been a fan ever since. Go figure.

Some games just give you a happy burst of nostalgia
Some games just give you a happy burst of nostalgia

After my family moved in early 1996, I returned to Video Mart one night in late 1996 to rent The Combatribes. Surprisingly, the owner remembered me, and he asked where I had been. You get that kind of connection at these mom and pops that you don’t quite get at the chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood. At any rate, I came back that night because I was homesick. My dad drove me back to my childhood town because he was awesome like that. The Combatribes was the second import game I ever rented and it was a game I rented like 7 times during a 6 year span at 5 different stores. My brother and I beat The Combatribes a couple times before my dad returned it the following night. It was just the nostalgic kick I needed to help me get over my new town blues, at least for one weekend, anyhow.

My bro and I never got tired of crackin' skulls
We never grew tired of crackin’ skulls

Video Mart ceased to exist, to my sorrow, for sentimental reasons y’see, in the late ’90s.

THE WHEREHOUSE

Back in the day it was a pretty happening place, and I rented a lot of games there. They had all the SNES games in thick transparent cases. Movies were encased in plastic cases where you had to squeeze and shake for the VHS to slide out.

If you recall from the beginning of this article, I did most of the renting for my brother. He was too shy and lazy to go rent games on his own accord, so he shipped his little bro.

And after years of doing anything constantly, you get to be a bit of a pro at it. A master, even. Kevin told me once, and I never forgot this: “Steve, you sure know how to rent the hell out of games.” It became a badge of honor. Although there were so many times where I saw games that I wanted to rent, I almost always came home with the title my brother requested. I had a 98% kill rate, and I know it sounds silly, but it was something I took pride in.

Coming through in the clutch
Coming through in the clutch

The summer of ’94 saw my greatest challenge: Super Street Fighter II. I raced to the SNES section madly thumbing through the thick glass display cases. There were a few other guys huddled around, and I knew they were after the same Holy Grail. Instinct took over and I sprinted to the counter. A pimple-faced male employee, who looked like he was 3 weeks fresh out of his senior prom, glanced down at me. Panting, I asked him if he had a copy of Super Street Fighter II safely tucked away back there. I figured it was so rare that maybe they keep it behind the counter in order to avoid the inevitable bloodshed that would occur in the aisle if not. His expression suddenly changed. Flashing me a clandestine smile, as if I’d just shared the secret password he was waiting desperately all day to hear, he reached down behind the counter in dramatic fashion. “Kid, it’s your lucky day. This here is the last one we have.” And right there, in that moment, my childhood was made.

I was absolutely blown away. Time froze. It was the longest 5 minute drive home ever. When Kevin opened the door, you could tell that he was expecting the worst. Even if I was the master of renting, renting Super Street Fighter II successfully on launch day was right next to building a rocketship in your garage. Knowing that, I had to mess with him a little bit, so I told him some BS story about how I was too late, etc. He nodded compliantly. “Well, you took your best shot,” he chirped. “YOU BET YOUR ASS I DID!” I eagerly revealed the prized trophy I had kept hidden behind my back.

"HOLY SH*T!"
It was an instant classic snapshot memory

The Wherehouse, sadly, died off along with the ’90s. But I’ll always have the memories.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Thanks for being a part of my childhood
Thanks for being a part of my childhood

Renting was just part of an innocent era that’s sadly gone by the wayside in today’s digital age. Technology has taken over, and simple innocent pleasures like video rental stores have long gone the way of the dinosaur. A relic of the past, I feel sad thinking about how my children will never get to experience this basic childhood joy. Wandering up and down countless aisles surrounded by hundreds of movies and games was blissful. It was like a museum of pure entertainment overload. Good innocent times from a bygone era. It’s really a shame kids these days only know of Redbox and NetFlix. I like those modern conveniences too, but damn if it’ll ever match the pure joy and wonder of visiting the local rental store on a Saturday afternoon. If you were a kid growing up in the early-mid 1990’s, it was a ritual and a way of life. There’s something incredibly sacred about those old video stores and memories.

The joy of renting, whether it was “OH MY GOD! IMPORT!”, connecting with your fellow man, watching your dad stick up for your pride and honor, or snagging the final copy of a popular new release – those were some badass, bitchin’ times.

Blackthorne (SNES)

Kids fear the boogeyman. Little goblins fear Kyle F'N Blackthorne
Kids fear the boogeyman. Little goblins fear Kyle F’N Blackthorne

It’s no secret that the SNES lacks in the abundance of “mature games.” The Genesis is more well known for its darker, grittier games while the SNES is often seen as the system with super colorful, bright, “cutesy” type games. With furry critters, mascot platformers galore and cute mannerisms when said mascot is idle. However, that doesn’t mean the system was completely devoid of mature games. One of the very finest in that department is BLACKTHORNE. Players assume control of Kyle Blackthorne, an elite badass mercenary who is easily one of the coolest protagonists in 16-bit history. As a kid playing this you couldn’t help but feel so BADASS carrying a sawed-off shotgun and blasting goblins to Kingdom Come. Only you can deliver swift justice in a war-swept nation of chaos!

“I HAVE COME HERE TO KICK ASS AND CHEW BUBBLE GUM. AND I’M ALL OUT OF BUBBLE GUM”

Kyle Blackthorne reminds me of Roddy Piper's character from the cult classic, THEY LIVE. R.I.P Hot Rod
Kyle Blackthorne reminds me of Nada from the cult classic, THEY LIVE. R.I.P Hot Rod

I first played Blackthorne back in ’94 when I rented it for my brother for the weekend. We fell out of our chairs when my brother “accidentally” shot a good guy and actually killed him. The game has been firmly embedded in my gaming heart ever since. There’s just something really cool about Blackthorne. It feels different from your typical SNES game, and there’s something to be said about that. Hell, I still have the poster EGM handed out to subscribers back in the day. I love its comic book-like art style. It proudly hangs in my game room to this day. Each time I walk in I take a moment to not only admire my collection, but the artwork of the poster as well.

Badass poster for a badass game!

Blackthorne may not be a Super Nintendo classic per se, but damn if it doesn’t come rather close. It captured my imagination more than 20 years ago. It’s a game I enjoy coming back to again and again still to this day. Part of what captivated me so much was the game’s story and opening cinematic. I always felt this would make such a cool sci-fi movie. The intro absolutely resonated with my 11-year-old being at the time. It set the scene perfectly, creating a moody, morbid world of good versus evil. The whole prodigal son angle adds even more intrigue. I mean, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?

Bee tee dubs [TELL ME … YOU DIDN’T JUST… SAY DAT -Booker T], here’s a fun little fact. This is a “lost” review from my original site, RVGFanatic.com. I worked on it all October long, and was set to launch it right on the eve of Halloween 2015. That’s when I first discovered I couldn’t. Never fret, this “lost” review is now being restored and revealed for the first time in the history of cyberspace. Can’t you just feel the excitement bubbling over? [It’s practically up to my neck… -Ed.]

RAMPAGE, RUIN AND REDEMPTION…

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No, not the Sarlaac Pit Monster
Not to be confused with the Sarlacc Pit Monster [You had to, huh? -Ed.]
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These nightmarish visions haunt Kyle day and night
These nightmarish visions haunt Kyle day and night

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By the way, imagine if that were Large Marge rolling down the highway...
Imagine if that were LARGE MARGE rolling down the highway…

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SIMBA BLACKTHORNE?

Both Blackthorne and the Lion King are redemption stories of a son returning home to dethrone a false king
Both Blackthorne and the Lion King are redemption stories of a son returning home to dethrone a false king

On a related note, I find it fascinating that the plot of Blackthorne nearly mirrors that of the Lion King. Both feature a fair and just king only to be murdered by an evil adversary who then takes over the throne. Meanwhile, the rightful heir to the throne and the son of the former king is living his own life somewhere far away. Until that is, one day he’s finally summoned back home to take care of unfinished business. Back to where it all began to avenge the death of his father. There’s a lot of striking similarities between the two but it’s all probably just random coincidence as the Lion King came out June 1994 and Blackthorne was released only three short months later. The Lion King‘s plot isn’t exactly original or one-of-a-kind, either. Nevertheless, I find the whole connection between the two (even if it’s completely happenstance) to be of note. I love the father-son and prodigal son redemption theme that both of them possess. And yes I’m still holding out for the Blackthorne motion picture and Broadway musical.

Furthermore, both good kings had a wise elder in some sort of advisory role. Mufasa had that creepy little monkey Rafiki while Vlaros had Galadril by his side. And both Rafiki and Galadril were responsible for beckoning Simba and Kyle Blackthorne back to their homeland in order to reclaim it as their own. It’s just another wild similarity. Now you know if you ever become king, make sure you have a wise advisor at your side. That way should you die, your advisor will at least be able to lure your wayward son back home to save it!

Rafiki was a creepy little monkey, wasn’t he?

FLASHBACK TO A TIME WHEN GAMES WERE OUT OF THIS WORLD

Gotta love the gritty bleak visuals. They really set the game's mood and tone
The gritty bleak visuals really set the game’s mood and tone

Blackthorne employs a rotoscoping animation technique. Some other SNES games incorporating this technology were Out of This World, Flashback, Prince of Persia and the long delayed Nosferatu. Kyle comes with highly detailed animations but at the cost of Mario-esque fluid platforming. You have to be very precise with your movements and it can feel a bit mechanical at times. It takes a bit of time to get used to, but for this sort of game I feel it works. Just don’t expect to zip through the levels because Mario you ain’t! But then again, I guess you could say Kyle Blackthorne Mario ain’t!

TAKE NO PRISONERS, NoA

My brother and I fell out of our chais when we first saw this 20+ years ago
My brother and I fell out of our chairs when we first saw this 20+ years ago

I’ll never forget the time I sat there in my old living room, watching my brother play this game. He fired off a shot at an innocent good guy and as he crumbled to the ground, so too did we! It was a moment in history for us. With the uncensored Mortal Kombat II also released at roughly the same time, this was a major change of heart for Nintendo of America. No longer was this strictly a “kiddie” system as NoA battled head to head with the Sega Genesis for 16-bit brand supremacy in the mid-’90s. OK sure the blood is green but STILL, killing chained innocents! It was simply unheard of at the time, and in my 11-year-old mind it instantly elevated Blackthorne into a special category all its own.

Shooting them behind the back without looking? It blew my 11-year-old mind
Shooting them behind the back without looking? It blew my 11-year-old mind

There are no ramifications one way or the other for killing or saving them, though. I kind of wish the game rewarded you for keeping them alive (especially when enemies come into play and you save the prisoners from getting killed in the line of fire). This would have added in an extra layer to the game. An extra layer of skill and morals. With there being no punishment though, I freely admit that still to this day I rarely hesitate to put a slug in their heads each and every single time. I know, I’m terrible. But damn is it still a blast more than 20 years later. Well, maybe not for the Androthi, but definitely for moi ;-)

Some of them help you, so you should spare them. SHOULD...
Some of them help you, so you should spare them. SHOULD…

Be sure to talk to them first at least before putting them out of their misery. Some will have helpful items or the odd hint here and there. If you kill them before conversing, then you risk losing out on whatever advice or item they had for you. After a bit of chit chat though, they are indeed fair game…

YOU GO HIDE, AND LET ME SHOOT. LET ME BE THE ONE TO MAKE YOU HOOT

A very early take on Gears of War!
A very early take on Gears of War!

The bulk of the gameplay consists of you battling these goblin henchmen known as Graggs. The first wave of Graggs early on in the game start out simple enough. A couple shots and they die. Later they get much tougher and fire off more bullets so the difficulty jumps by quite a bit. Get ready for plenty of “hide and shoot” battles. Duck into the shadows to avoid the bullets being pumped your way. Once the Gragg takes time to reload, you bound out of the darkness to fire back. Blizzard obviously took creative liberty since I don’t think in real life you can dodge a bullet by merely ducking into the shadows [Try it out sometime Steve, and let me know how that works out for ya -Ed.]. I like to think of this system as a very early, primitive model of what would eventually morph into games such as Gears of War. Blackthorne‘s early take on hide and shoot isn’t exactly the most thrilling gameplay experience, especially today in 2016, but it’s the atmosphere that makes this game through and through. There’s simply not much else like it on the SNES.

Expect plenty of "hanging on the ledge by the pinky figner" action as well
Expect plenty of “hanging on the ledge by a pinky” action as well

Blackthorne is a very methodical game. Kyle can only walk when holding his shotgun. To run or jump you have to first put your gun away. It puts sort of a “speed bump” in the action. On the bright side, Kyle can kneel, roll and even hang onto ledges by the tip of his fingers. This style of slower paced gameplay isn’t for everyone, especially those who enjoy more seat-of-the-pants action. It can grow a bit repetitive as the game progresses since there are only a small handful of level themes, but it’s got such an engrossing atmosphere that I don’t mind traversing the many similar looking levels.

TOOLS OF DESTRUCTION

Hover bombs blow up doors and enemies
Hover bombs blow up doors and enemies

Along the way you’ll find some helpful items for Kyle’s cause. These items can be found either by talking to the Androthi prisoners or in some cases can only be found by killing a certain bad guy. Don’t mind if I do! I love all of the items but my favorites have to be the bridge key (for how damn cool it looks and how neat it sounds inserting the key) and the levitator.

It looks and sounds so damn cool
These laser proof combat boots sure come in handy
This item can be recycled but sometimes must be sacrificed, like here
This item can be recycled but at times must be sacrificed, like here
Guide and detonate the Wasp Bomb at your heart's choosing!
Guide and detonate the Wasp Bomb at your heart’s choosing!
Love those skeletal corpses in the background
The skeletons add such a morbidness to the mine

THE KARNELLIAN SWAMPS

These traitors are known as Andromedogs. They're human but somehow much tougher than the Graggs
Andromedogs are human but somehow much tougher than Graggs. Go figure

It’s refreshing to see the Androthi unchained on these levels. However, you can still “accidentally” fire at them. But this time, if you do that…

... they'll fire right back! And they're DAMN tough
… they’ll fire right back! And they’re DAMN tough

PASSWORD FRIENDLY

Short and clear passwords FTW
Short and clear passwords FTW

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

Nintendo Power named it their 86th best Nintendo game of all time (September 1997)
Nintendo Power named it their 86th best game of all time (issue #100, September 1997)

Blackthorne fared well with the critics. It earned Game of the Month honors with EGM, who scored it with marks of 8, 8, 8 and 8. I remember thinking back in ’94 how cool it was that the Game of the Month didn’t receive any 9s. If I’m not mistaken, that was a first in EGM history. GameFan gave it ratings of 90, 88 and 85%. Super Play wasn’t quite as impressed (what else is new). They rated the game 76%. Nintendo Power was a big fan. In their 100th issue (Sept. ’97) they ranked Blackthorne as the 86th best Nintendo-related video game of all time. That’s some mighty praise there. Overall, it’s been well received.

Super Play were tough graders...
Super Play were tough graders…

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Blackthorne's world consists of grims and grays. The bleak, desolate feel of the game is deliciously palpable
Blackthorne‘s world is grim and gray. The bleak, desolate feel of the game is deliciously palpable

When it comes to darker mature games, the SNES is certainly a bit lacking in that department. However, Blackthorne is a shining example of an atmospheric game that went against the grain of your typical SNES offering. Combine that with some excellent animation and solid (albeit basic) action puzzle platforming and what you have here is a very strong effort. Unfortunately, it’s weighed down by a few too many flaws to be considered a bonafide classic. The incredible animation came at the expense of ultra fluid gameplay. Blackthorne is not the smoothest playing game in the world. There are moments where you may want to scream and shout at your TV. Mario fluid this is not. You must be very precise and deliberate in your choices. It’s a rewarding experience although perhaps one that isn’t always instantly gratifying.

Blackthorne definitely stands out in the vast SNES library
Blackthorne definitely stands out in the vast SNES library

Another flaw is that while the game starts out with a bang, it can quickly grow a bit tedious and tiresome. Duck in the shadows. Run and jump. Hang on ledges. Solve simple puzzles. There isn’t a great deal of locales either. There are 17 levels containing one of four themes: mine, swamp, sand and Sarlac’s castle. After a while they all seem to somehow blend together a bit. But for all the flaws listed, this game knocks it out of the park in terms of attitude and atmosphere. Every detailed pore of its world bleeds with desolation, despair and dread. There’s an overwhelming sense of bleak futility that permeates the game’s 17 levels. Yet in spite of the foreboding thickness, there’s always a glimmer of shining hope in the form of one, Kyle Blackthorne. With his trusty sawed-off shotgun and a never-say-die attitude, players are flung into a grim world of grays and darkness. It’s one of the more immersive games I’ve ever played on the Super Nintendo, and one I enjoy breaking out every late fall or winter season. There’s just something cool about it. While it’s far from perfect, it’s damn good and one of the better “mature” games on the entire system. As such, it will always hold a noteworthy place in the annals of SNES history.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 8
Longevity: 7

Overall: 8.5

Double Silver Award

 

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Prehistorik Man (SNES)

Clubs, chicks and cheeseburgers... it's everything a caveman could ever want
Clubs, chicks and cheeseburgers… it’s everything a caveman could ever want

Ever play an obscure-ish game for a little bit and walk away feeling like you had just unearthed a hidden gem? Then for whatever reason that game gets lost in the shuffle. You always mean to come back to it, but somehow you never do. Until you do. And you stick with it a little longer the second time around. Then it suddenly dawns on you that the game isn’t a hidden gem at all but rather, it’s a disappointing effort that could have been (really) good with a little more polish. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s rewind a bit and start from the beginning.

THE YEAR IS 1996, AND 16-BIT FINDS ITSELF BATTLING EXTINCTION

I remember seeing this tantalizing SNES ad in an EGM issue of 1996. A part of me pined for that era of gaming again
Seeing this sexy ad in a ’96 EGM issue made me pine for that era of gaming again

The first game I bought to ignite my SNES resurgence (January 17, 2006) was Power Moves. And fittingly so, it was the first game I reviewed on RVGFanatic.com exactly one year later (January 17, 2007). With this WordPress being sort of RVG’s second coming, it’d only be appropriate to kick off the SNES reviews here with the second SNES game I purchased just seconds right after winning Power Moves. The same seller was selling an obscure little platformer called Prehistorik Man. It was one of those games I remember seeing in EGM, being oddly curious about, but never played. By the time it came out (early ’96, although some reports cite mid ’95), gaming took a bit of a backseat in my life as middle school loomed front and center. So faced with the opportunity at gaming redemption, there was only one thing left to do. I began counting down the days until I could quell this childhood curiosity.

Power Moves first game. Prehistorik Man second game. Both initials PM. Oh, how I love random, useless coincidences
I got a kick out of the fact my first two SNES games had PM as their initials. Just a random, useless coincidence

One of my primary reasons for getting back into the SNES was my burning desire to play platformers. When I think SNES, “platformers galore” is one of  the first things that, er, jumps [Oh dear -Ed.] to mind. And if Power Moves represented another main factor for why I got back into all things Super Nintendo (i.e. nostalgia), then Prehistorik Man was a shining example of the other factor: a desire to play the games I missed out on back in the day. So it was fitting that these were the first two game purchases of my SNES resurrection. A game I have fond childhood memories of, and a game that more or less “got away” from me. It was the perfect blend of revisiting my past while rectifying the errors of my youth.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Firing up Prehistorik Man, the game opens up well enough. It blasted me with that unmistakably bright and bold mid-’90s SNES look. Like a Saturday morning cartoon bursting at the seams, I was instantly impressed and won over. I couldn’t wait to maneuver Sam around this colorful world of hop and bop bliss.

I felt instantly at home with these bright and beautiful visuals
Vintage mid-’90s SNES era visuals!

Sam’s club [I see what you did there -Ed.] strikes hard and fast. Bonus points for the swing radius as you can take out enemies coming from  even behind you. Barry Bonds has nothing on this caveman critter. Speak softly and carry a big stick Sam does. Except, he doesn’t… speak softly, that is.

In a pinch you can scream and kill all enemies!
Sam’s quite the screamer [I don’t judge. It is 2016 -Ed.]
It’s quite the useful tactic, you see. Especially when the enemies grow in strength and quantity. They come at you pretty fast and soon the club becomes less and less effective. Luckily, Sam’s super scream doesn’t take precious health points away, like it would in a beat ‘em up. Good thing this is a platformer then! Here you have a scream bar that gradually builds up each time you’ve used your super shout. It’s nice that Titus gave this to us as sort of a “free” special move if you will. You just got to be careful when and where you use it, though. There are times where spiders swing back and forth. And the only way to advance is to hop on them to catch a ride. Use the Starscream and you’ve killed your only ticket. But thankfully, Prehistorik Man does the whole Mega Man “move off screen and enemies will respawn” trick. Super useful. But, also, super annoying in any other area but. A classic tale of the ol’ double edged sword, no?

Shall we go clubbing tonight? Nah, I rather go bar HOPPING
Shall we go clubbing tonight? Nah, I rather go bar HOPPING

Titus had some neat tricks up their sleeves. In addition to clubbing enemies into oblivion, they also gave you the choice of the good ole hop and bop. Now, one hop can send Sam soaring into the air. This allows you, the cunning and skilled player, the opportunity to collect otherwise unreachable goodies for extra bonus points. Or, hop on an enemy a few times consecutively and you’ll kill them but ALSO earn bones. The bones collected will allow you to enter the shop scattered throughout the levels to buy clues, continues and more. So you can go for the straight clubbing kill, which requires little skill, or you can go for the more tricky multiple hop kill which rewards you with bones for the shop system they’ve set up (pardon the pun). This allows sort of a differentiated level of play for novices and experts, and is a pretty cool little system.

TITUS’ DINO SIZED SINS

Buy a clue, Sam. No seriously, I mean it
Buy a clue, Titus. No seriously

Do you see that “save game” option above? You might have to squint and lean in real close, or simply zoom in if you’re browsing on your smart phone or tablet. For all the neat little things this game does, it botches it with some truly idiotic blunders. Take for example this whole “save game” BS. You pay your hard earned bones to save the game but guess what, as soon as you turn the system off, the save game is null and void. So what’s the whole point of this option at all? It makes no sense, and really puts a damper on the whole game. Worst of all, there is no password system. It sure could have used one being that it’s 23 levels long. Granted, the levels aren’t long, and some are incredibly short, but 23 is still a lot.

TITUS REDEEMS ITSELF

Thankfully, along comes one of my favorite cheat codes ever…

... the level select in long non-save/password platformers!
… the level select cheat!

So, in a weird way, that whole null and void thing on the save system is now null and void (again) thanks to this handy cheat. Damnit Titus, what the hell were you doing?! [That’s what Vince McMahon said… -Ed.]. At any rate, at least Titus made up for it with this cheat.

Kranky Kong would be proud
Cranky Kong would be proud

Sam isn’t alone in his quest. Along the way you’ll meet various NPCs that engage you in entertaining ways. I like the game’s sense of humor and the elder in particular is vintage “GIT OFF MAH LAWN!” material. Er, if cavemen had lawns. Ah you know what the hell I meant!

… AND TITUS SCREWS UP YET AGAIN

The hang glider is tricky to get, er, a hang of. Sorry...
The hang glider is tricky to get, er, a hang of. Sorry…

In addition to NPCs, Prehistorik Man attemtps to break up the mundane by incorporating various transportational devices. Quite frankly, they’re tough to master and have a somewhat steep learning curve. I consider myself to be a pretty decent platforming player, but these rides took me some time to figure out, and even then I felt like I was dying more than I should have. In other words, the control on these sections feel a bit finicky and feel like they could (and will) betray you at the drop of a hat. It’s too bad because I do like the idea of them, but they lack the polish of a primo platformer. Hence why I think for all the good this game does, it still ends up in the middle of the pack.

[I once brought a pogo to a togo party in the '90s. God has texting saved my life... -Ed.]
I wish I could forego the pogo
Titus didn't exactly reinvent the wheel here folks [Har har! -Ed.]
Titus didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel here folks [Har har! -Ed.]
In addition to the various rides, Sam can pick up assorted weapons. Some of them even serve multiple purposes, which is something I always love and appreciate. Well, ALMOST always.

It looks simple enough here but don't be fooled...
It looks simple but don’t be fooled…

There’s one infuriatingly maddening level in this game (actually, there’s more than a few) that I have not been able to bypass sans cheat code. The spear seems like a cool weapon at first. Unfortunately, the execution is terrible. It cuts through multiple enemies in a single fling. COOL. It can also pierce itself into surfaces which allows you to jump to higher ground. Again, COOL. But at the end of this blasted level, you come to a humongous tree that requires you to throw a spear and jump on, rinse and repeat. I can do it about 4-5 times consecutively but I can never reach the top. Either the spear gives way or my button push to jump doesn’t register in time. It’s way harder than it needs to be. It was symbolic. I kept falling and each time it felt like Titus was laughing in my face. Just like how they added that stupid save system but when you turn the game off it no longer saves! Seriously, screw you, Titus. Bunch of gawd damn assholes!

BUT EVEN AN ASSHOLE CAN HAVE SOME REDEEMING QUALITIES

Ah but then there are nice moments like this that scream mid '90s SNES and all those long, lazy weekends you played it with your bro and best bud!
Ah but then there are moments like this that scream mid ’90s SNES and all those long, lazy weekends of childhood bliss
Then there are breath takingly gorgeous levels like this that suck you right back in
Gorgeous levels like this suck you in
Whew, Sam just avoided becoming a SAMMICH [You're fired -Ed.]
Sam just avoided becoming a SAMMICH [You’re fired -Ed.]
Anytime a game gives me a Contra III first level flashback, it can't be ALL bad, right?!
Contra III flashback, anyone?
Or Gradius III for that matter
And Gradius III for that matter
OH.MAH.GAWD
OH.MAH.GAWD
More Contra III first level flashbacks! Damn I think I love you again, Prehistorik Man...
Nothing like a screen-filling boss!

ONCE AN ASSHOLE, ALWAYS AN ASSHOLE

WTF is this. What happened to the gorgeous visuals and atmosphere the game established early on?!
And then we get this lame level

Prehistorik Man is one of those games that wows you early on, but regresses as you progress. After the impressive multi-jointed dino boss, you enter “Slime World” (Todd’s rolling in his grave somewhere in 16-bit purgatory). These slime themed stages (whose only correlation to slime has to do with the few blobs that exist in these lame levels) are horribly designed and unappealing, both to look at and to play. There’s way too many blind jumps and too many instant death pits. Sure, you can move the camera around a bit like in Super Mario World, but SMW didn’t have the weird herky-jerky scrolling and slippery controls that plague Prehistorik Man. These aspects adversely affect the game.

Some of  the levels involve various fetch quests, rather than simply reaching the exit
Unfortunately the game breaks the 5th Commandment of platformers: Thou shall not possess herky-jerky scrolling

I do like the fact that some of the levels involve certain goals other than survive and advance to the exit at the far right. But when these goals include narrow ledges in far off places and sometimes require blind leaps of faith to find them… it becomes very annoying very fast. But just when you think the game becomes a bit too unbearable, we thankfully see a return of better stage design.

Use the drafts to propel you upwards. Windy Well from Donkey Kong Country 2, anyone?
Use the draft to propel you upwards. Windy Well from Donkey Kong Country 2, anyone?
Use the firefly and adjust the camera system to light your path
Use the firefly and adjust the camera system to light your path
An over abundance of fast food and death spikes. I see what you did there, Titus...
An over abundance of fast food and a death bed. I see what you did there, Titus…
Another nifty looking gigantic boss!
Love the boss designs. Hate the fights. Cheap hits galore and the health discrepancy is ridiculous!

It should be noted that the bosses in this game will give you nightmares. They are way too hard. Especially when you only have 3-5 hearts to work with while their energy bars stretch from California to New York. Add in the slightly too slippery control and you have a bad combo.

The bosses in this game are as deadly as they are cool. They're way overpowered....
Ever heard of a Tic Tac before?
I love the sense of black humor here
Some nice black humor here
Whoa mama, SNES transparencies!
16-bit transparencies, baby!
Love the look and design of these underground caverns
Love the look and design of these underground caverns
Another cool feature is the ability to collect hearts from slain enemies. Collect four mini hearts and you get one heart refill
Another cool feature is the ability to collect mini hearts from slain enemies who have damaged you. Collect four and you get back one big heart refill
Me HATE water
Now we know why cavemen stunk
Me REALLY hate water
Shades of Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts
Some of the levels are really a sight to behold. Shame the playability isn't quite up to par
Some levels really are a sight to behold. Shame the playability isn’t quite up to par
The last stage is crazy difficult, with ghosts that you seemingly can't avoid taking cheap damage from...
The last stage is crazy difficult, with ghosts that you seemingly can’t avoid

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

GameFan adored and applauded it, giving it high marks of 87, 90 and 94
GameFan adored and applauded it, giving it high marks of 87, 90 and 94
Super Play as usual was a little more reserved in singing a game's praises unless it truly deserved it
Super Play as usual was a little more reserved in singing a game’s praises unless it truly deserved it

EGM rated it 9.0, 9.0, 9.0 and 8.5. It did well with the critics in North America, anyhow. Good old Super Play though, like the tough loving father that they were, didn’t quite agree with our friends at EGM and GameFan. They gave the game a 76%. Initially, when I first played Prehistorik Man in early 2006, I fell in love with it after 15 minutes and thought of it as an “8.5” game. I recently sat down with it 10 years later to finally THOROUGHLY play it. The more I played it, the more disappointed I became. It’s certainly not a BAD game by any stretch. But it’s a prime example of a game that sort of wows you early on, but can’t maintain or build on the early momentum of the game. Few things are more disappointing in a video game than that. Still, there’s some value to be had here. On a side note, as of this writing it doesn’t seem to go for very much. It’s not very common as it came out later in the system’s lifespan. If you consider yourself a fan of the genre then I recommend picking up a copy now while you still can for $20. It wouldn’t shock me one iota if this commands $50+ one day soon.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Not quite the smashin' hit I had hoped it would be, but you can't win 'em all I guess...
Not quite the smashin’ hit I had hoped it would be, but you can’t win ‘em all I guess…

With a little more polish, Prehistorik Man could have very well been a hidden gem. I used to think it was until I sat down to play it longer than 15 minutes. For the past decade I kept wondering why no one ever mentions it in “SNES hidden gem” threads. Now I know why. It’s one of those games that upon initial play tricks you into believing it’s better than it is, but press on and the flaws soon become readily apparent. The game has amazing visuals. Well, for the most part at least. I’m not crazy about those bland looking “slime” stages. But the other stages are vintage SNES era stuff. The sound effects can be annoying, particularly the grunts. And the music is very forgettable. So much so that the GameFan review (see above) went out of its way to mention it. And as you may know, GameFan rarely complained about music as they tended to overhype EVERYTHING. So it just goes to show you how forgettable the music in this game is. The gameplay is hit and miss which leads to a very uneven playing experience. Sometimes it will delight while more times it’s likely to infuriate. There’s enough good to make it worth your while but it’s also plagued by enough bad that only fans of the genre should seek it out.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 5
Gameplay: 6
Longevity: 5

Overall: 6.0

Wait, 27 levels?! More like 23
Wait, 27 levels?! Try 23. So unprofessional [Now you know why Vince suspended Titus -Ed.]