People seem to either hate or love Brandish. Rarely will you find someone split right down the middle. I’m in the camp of those who loved its methodical hack and slash gameplay, its magic-infused combat, its atmospheric music and an overall somber mood that works like gangbusters. A sequel was released in Japan but of course, with Brandish being not so well received in North America (and released a bit later in the SNES’ lifespan — February 1995 to be precise), Brandish 2 was doomed to stay in Japan. However, like many Super Famicom-only (A)RPGs, dedicated fans have translated the game to make it accessible to those who can’t read Japanese. If you loved the first Brandish, you’ll like the sequel as well. Let’s dive in and take a closer look.
A CASTLE DIPPED IN MOONLIGHT.
A LABYRINTH LOST TO TIME…
Brandish came and went with little fanfare. It’s one of the few SNES games I didn’t know existed until 2006. But upon discovery of the game via a magazine ad, it sucked me right into its sordid underworld. The plot intrigued me in a unique way that few other SNES games have. Playing as public enemy #1 Varik, you find yourself buried many floors below the surface and forced to battle monsters and demons in order to crawl out of this hellhole. One late night in February 2006, I had an overwhelming urge to play Brandish. So at 3 in the morning, I flung myself out of bed and I shuffled my way through the darkness to do just that. I was instantly greeted by a soothing tune as a castle dipped in moonlight came into view. The atmospheric intro still haunts me to this day. Next thing I know, I find myself deep underground in some God forsaken labyrinth lost to time. The visuals were a little crude, but man, that music. It perfectly captured the feeling of being 40 floors below the surface. Along the way you’ll meet eccentric NPCs, a menagerie of menacing monsters and some decent puzzles to work through. It was one of the most captivating gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
THE STORY GOES…
Wandering swordsman arrives…
Whoa… the heat blurs your vision.
Unable to stand any longer, you collapse face first.
“HAHA! Look at this stupid fool!”
While Karl didn’t appreciate the king’s decree, she sure did. Call it schadenfreude…
WHAT IS THE PLANET BUSTER?
THE JOURNEY BEGINS…
Most swords have a use limit before breaking. You got to be wise. Save the big breakable swords for bosses and use the weaker and unbreakable swords you pick up along the way on cannon fodder.
The original Brandish is a love or hate game. I for one loved it. It was one of the most immersive SNES games I’ve ever played. Discovering there was a sequel released only in Japan was like finding a $20 bill hidden in an old jacket. On the surface, Brandish 2 looks like an improvement. The visuals are much better, and now instead of being confined strictly underground, you’re out and about in the wide open. It seems as if it has the makings to be a superior game but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did the original. Brandish 2 just lacks the simplistic charm of the first one, not to mention the puzzles and monsters.
It’s nice to see the added diversity for sure but oddly I rather prefer the original. The idea of being trapped some 40 floors below the surface made the original have sort of a horrific unholy feel to it. That’s not to say Brandish 2 is crap. The graphics are considerably improved and the addition of more NPCs was much welcomed, but there was just something about the original that really hooked me and didn’t let go. I felt like I was really flung deep underground and right into Varik’s shoes. Scratching and crawling every inch of the way, I fought demons, t-rexes, goblins and even Death itself all in the name of survival. There was a feeling of desperation in the air and it was accompanied by a haunting soundtrack. The original had over 55 different types of monsters roaming the labyrinths. I was a little bit disappointed then to find a glaring lack of variety in the enemy roster of Brandish 2. There’s only maybe 25 types and too many of them repeated themselves based on which level you were on. There were also too many human enemies for my liking. Still, I’m glad I went through Brandish 2. And if you liked Brandish, you probably should too.
Overall: 7.5 Bronze Award
EXCLUSIVE MUSIC VIDEO
And now, an exclusive debut on the internet. 22 years after its release, I’m proud to share with you the mega obscure never-before-seen BRANDISH 2 MUSIC VIDEO! Click on the video and follow the pictures on this site below.
Kick-ass one minute instrumental… enjoy by scanning these accompanying shots…
“You always bring misery wherever you go, Ares. I’m not shocked.”
“Hey! Not so fast. You already forget the terms of our ceasefire?”
As a kid, I was all about action games. Whether it was a platformer, a beat ‘em up or a fighting game, I was a happy camper as long as I could exert my malignant desires at will. My gaming diet mainly consisted purely of hopping on platforms and bad guys, shooting foul entities to Kingdom Come, beating up gang members and blowing stuff up. My brother on the other hand grew up loving RPGs. I couldn’t stand them. Granted, I never gave one the time of day. But over the years I guess you could say my gaming taste has gone through a process of maturation. And no one was more shocked about it than me. As a kid, I simply didn’t understand how someone could derive any pleasure from a slow-paced, text-filled, turn-based game. But of course, I was ignorant to the simple pleasures that only this genre can deliver. The Action RPG, or more conveniently the ARPG, is sort of like a cousin to the role playing game. Although I never got around to playing any of them back in the day, there were actually several ARPGs that caught my eye as a kid.
OK not all of the games featured above are ARPGs but you get the picture. I did have an interest in playing these genre blending games, but Brandish wasn’t one of them.
Not that it didn’t strike my fancy you understand — it’s more a case of I never even heard of it back in the day.
During the early days of my SNES resurrection (January 2006), I dug out my old EGM and GameFan magazines to find games I had either forgotten about or never heard of. One night I came across this, and right away the ad had me captivated.
55 different monster types?
Take my money!
The game seemed as though it was right up my alley. I immediately went on eBay and bought a copy along with Out of This World from the same seller on January 29, 2006. At just a measly $2.25, one can say that it was a bargain “out of this world!” *rimshot* [Oh Lord -Ed.]
Brandish actually turned out to be my VERY FIRST taste of an action RPG and I’ll always remember it fondly as such. On a late Wednesday night of February 8, 2006… 3 AM… with my alarm set to 7:35 AM for University, I had the strangest urge to play this game. And so, I shifted my way through the darkness to do just that. It’s one of those weird random gaming memories that you recall even to this day.
As soon as the calm intro began, with its soothing music playing softly in the background, I was sold. Seeing that tower lit under the soft glow of the moonlight was the perfect image to go alongside my 3 AM session, and the story of Varik being swallowed underground having to fend off 55 different breeds of monsters immediately had me hook, line and sinker.
I played for half an hour before saving and quitting. First impressions were favorable. That night I went to sleep with sweet visions of blue blobs and red-eyed goblins dancing in my dreams. I couldn’t wait to explore more.
Below you’ll find a journal entry I wrote following my initial playthrough of Brandish back in early 2006. Man, those were the days. Glad I kept a journal because these things are like a gawd damn time machine!
THE STORY GOES…
BERIMYA AND THE SECRET POWER
Many years ago, in a far away land, stood a tower in the middle of a small kingdom called Berimya. The tower was so magnificent, it seemed to symbolize all the peace in the world. The people were happy bustling in Berimya, but this land was ruled by an evil king named Berebus.
As kingdoms prosper though, it’s not uncommon for the people to grow increasingly greedy. Berimya was no exception to the rule. Not content with his country’s prosperity, King Berebus began to dream of how he could strengthen his power. In time he caught wind of an old urban legend that the tower held the key to satisfying his insatiable greed.
The Berimyan legend went like this: There is a towering source of ultimate power that controls everything in the world. It is said that the secret of the source was kept at the top of this sacred tower, and not even the king was allowed to enter this area. The secrets were only passed down to those of pure intent by Baltus, the king’s archbishop.
The king tried very hard to suss out the secrets from the archbishop, but his vow of secrecy restricted him from doing so. King Berebus became so desperate that he sent a spy in the guise of a priest inside the tower.
Several days later, the spy returned with an ancient book he had found hidden in the tower. This scripture revealed information about the Secret Power that King Berebus desired. It was written, “A dragon, the protector of Berimya, resides at the top of the tower and controls all of the world’s power.”
Under the command of the king, the Imperial Army forced their way into the sacred tower. Baltus tried to restrict the soldiers from entering but evil King Berebus sentenced him to death for obstruction and defiance.
When the soldiers finally reached the top of the tower, an enormous dragon statue stood before them. The very moment that King Berebus spoke, the statue lit up in a pale blue light and the dragon sprung to life.
The fearless king stood in front of the dragon and declared, “I am Berebus, King of the land Berimya. Give me the source of your power or DIE!“
Suddenly, the dragon opened up its wings and curled its long neck and body into a ball. An intense, vibrant light radiated from between its wings. Fearing for his life, King Berebus ordered for the soldiers to kill the dragon. The dragon did not resist the attack, continuing to radiate light.
It also affected the people of Berimya. From that day forward, the city was thrown into isolation. In one night, the sacred tower, kingdom, and all of the people of Berimya sunk deep into the ground.
One thousand years later, the forgotten past of Berimya would be unveiled in the land of Bavalya.
BAVALYA: A DESPERATE LAND
Bavalya was a small country that showed no signs of having a horrible past. From the outside it appeared to be a peaceful place to live. But in reality, Bavalya was in turmoil. Beryx, the King of Bavalya, had devised a plan to make the country a richer place. In order for the small country to become more prosperous, he placed large bounties on criminals and collected money by taxing these rewards. This system stabilized the wealth of the country, but invited criminals to stalk each other. Bavalya had turned into a corrupt and violent place to live.
Due to these circumstances, there were few visitors who dared to enter Bavalya. The country was on the road to pure self-destruction.
THE WANDERING SWORDSMAN
One day, a curious man came to Bavalya. At first glance, he looked like a filthy beggar. The long, intimidating sword by his side, however, revealed he was a powerful swordsman with a dark, secret past. His name was Varik. He earned his living collecting bounties.
Varik walked into the local bar and noticed some men staring at him as he continued to the other side of the room. Sketches of wanted criminals adorned the walls. A loud voice boomed from a table far away.
“I heard there are hidden treasures in the large hole!”
“But have you also heard that there are demons crawling all over the place down there? And God only know what else…”
“Which one of you criminals has the most on your head?”
“It’s got to be that guy over there! He must be worth a million gold pieces,” a man in high spirits declared, pointing to Varik.
“Aye, he’s a strong one. For your own sake don’t bother with him. It’s best not to concern ourselves with that kind of vermin…”
“The reward money we could collect from that guy would allow us to live the rest of our lives in luxury, but it’s simply not worth the risk.”
Varik decided to ignore what they were saying and instead went to find out more about this mysterious hole from the bartender.
“Since the day the hole appeared, people suddenly began disappearing. Some say they hear strange groans and growls coming from the terrible hole. There are even people who say they’ve seen monsters in Bavalya! There were rumors about how, some way or another, one of the monsters crawled out of the giant hole and fatally wounded some of the locals. One person after another has been lured into this hole and they’re never seen again. You may think you’re tough enough to battle men here, but down there, it’s a different story. I’d stay away from that cursed hole if I were you! Even if you are who you are…”
THE CURIOUS HOLE
Moments later, Varik found himself standing on the edge of the huge crater. He noticed a small opening at the bottom. He began to climb down towards it when a woman’s voice suddenly rung out. “Varik!” He immediately recognized the voice. He looked back to see the sorceress Alexis standing on the edge of the crater with a stern expression carved on her face. She twirled her magical wand.
Five years ago, Varik was falsely accused of murdering Alexis’ master, Balkan, and she has been persistently following Varik ever since to exact vengeance.
Then Alexis stretched out her arm, effortlessly throwing a fireball at Varik. With enormous speed, the ground beneath Varik exploded as he dodged her fireball. Horrified that her shot had missed him, Alexis fired a second shot which fell into the hole.
You control the bounty hunter, Varik. Your goal is to somehow return to the surface. But standing in your way lies thousands of monsters, booby traps, puzzles and oh… Alexis hot on your trail! Advice? Keep moving and don’t trust goblins!
Will Varik ever see the light of day again?
Will he ever again bask in the glow of the moonlight?
Most importantly, will he ever enjoy another Bavalya Cheesesteak?
All this and more will be answered once you’ve entered the sordid world that is BRANDISH.
1. Ruins Area 1-10
2. Tower 1-9
3. Cave B10-B1
4. Dark Zone 1 & 2
5. Fortress 1-7
6. ?????? (I’m not telling…)
CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE GAMER
I started playing Brandish on February 8, 2006. Buying games at an insane pace however, my Brandish playthrough got lost in the shuffle. It wasn’t until July 2006 that I picked it up again. I collected two gold bars but they took up two slots in my limited inventory box. Can I combine them somehow? I checked a FAQ but it only said “Mega Tip: Consolidate your items” and didn’t tell me how. So I asked my good fellow gamers over at DigitPress if anyone knew. DDCecil sent me a PM that he had a Brandish manual lying around in his game shop. He offered to send it to me for free. What a guy! I was so excited the day the manual arrived that I read the 40+ pages like it was the best novel in the world. And now I knew how to consolidate items. First, you needed to have a Dimensional Box. To pay it forward, here’s a picture that explains it in full for all the manual-less Brandish players out there who may be wondering what the flipping heck.
55 varying breeds of monsters, demons and ghouls await. They range from very small to very big and from low to extremely high health points. Some prefer to hack alone while others work in packs. Here’s a small sample of some of the enemies you’ll meet in your lengthy quest…
Plus many more! There are also over a dozen boss monsters that want to rip your face off.
WELCOME TO THE RUINS
I like how Brandish incorporates jumping into its gameplay. It lends for some extra puzzle possibilities. Not many ARPGs let you jump, so this was very cool. On a side note, Brain Lord also lets you honor Van Halen.
Brandish is fairly infamous for its awkward “camera system.” It has turned off many players. Rather than controlling like the typical ARPG, Brandish shifts the entire maze 90 degrees around the player on each turn. This style has frustrated many due to its jerky nature. It definitely takes time to get used to. It wasn’t long before it became second nature for me, however. There are two different command settings (more on that later). You’ll always see Varik’s backside regardless of which setting you use. Strafing will be your best friend as well as the on-screen compass. It’s really not that bad once you get accustomed to it. Needless to say, gameplay here is much more methodical than your traditional ARPG due to its unique control scheme.
Inconveniently annoying as the camera system may be to some folks, there’s no doubt that the map system comes in very handy. As you progress through a floor, the map will chart your steps accordingly. Any areas that have gone uncharted is displayed for your convenience.
MAIN SCREEN FUNCTIONS
1. Current shield
2. Current armor
3. Current weapon
4. Evil bloke
7. Current region and floor
8. That would be you
9. Secondary item
10. Health bar
11. Magic bar
The marker allows you to open doors, pick up items, toggle switches, etc. The secondary item can be switched to on the fly by simply pressing X. See the “30” by the secondary sword in the picture and see how the current weapon is broken? Yup, swords wear down with usage. The sword shatters once the counter reaches zero. It may still be used in broken form, but it’ll be far weaker. For those already thinking “That’s kind of lame” — fret not. You’ll soon discover indestructible swords as you progress.
As for the secondary items, they can be anything from your inventory. Keys, potions, magic spells and so on. Be careful when selecting from your items, however. It takes place all in real time…
Your luck fluctuates constantly. It affects the damage you can inflict when attacking monsters. Gold can only be found in treasure chests or by selling items to shopkeepers. Monsters don’t drop gold when killed, so early on it may seem very hard to accumulate money. But as long as you save and spend wisely, you should be good.
Arm Strength indicates your ability to defend yourself whenever you’re not equipped with a weapon. Knowledge influences the effectiveness of your magic. Magic Endurance indicates your power to resist magic-based attacks from the enemy.
Some people complain about the plodding nature of Brandish. Thankfully, the game speed can be adjusted on a whim. This is great for a number of reasons. Wish to backtrack? Crank it to high speed. Fighting a super nasty boss? The lowest speed slows everything down and allows you to evade most effectively in slow motion. I played at normal speed mostly, switching to low or high whenever warranted.
Message speed is self-explanatory. Ditto the buttons. Hate the default blue color? You get to select from nine different color choices just for the hell of it!
Lateral shifts the screen 90 degrees when you press the D-Pad. L/R strafes. Rotate uses the D-Pad to strafing while L/R shifts the screen. I prefer Lateral by a country mile. It’s the only way to enjoy Brandish to the max and it really works after you get used to this unique style. Your mileage may vary, of course. But for me, it’s Lateral all day and twice on Sundays!
Ah, bless the marker. Not only does it toggle levers but it allows you to see an item’s description, make out what’s inside a mystery bag, warn you of hazardous spots on the ground and of course, read the many plaques scattered throughout the monster-infested labyrinths.
The plaques range from highly helpful to downright strange. Take a peek:
It truly is. Some falls sap you of precious health while others drop you to lower floors. Some pitfalls are given away by a pebble or mark but others, to the naked eye, are impossible to discern. You could drop a steel ball if you have that in your inventory, sure, but better yet, bust out that marker!
MORE MARKER MAYHEM
Items left lying around are marked by the green “mystery” bag. Don’t just pick it up right away. Use your marker!
Speaking of keys, if you love adventure games that feature hundreds of locked doors and, thereby, hundreds of keys to find, you’ll love Brandish. The Skull Key, the Dragon Key, the Ruby Key, the Asshole Key — they’re all here! (OK, not that last one). There are more keys in this sucker than you’ll find at the Plaza Hotel in New York City!
CHEAPEST (BUT BEST) THING EVER
In the first area of the game, the Ruins, there are fountain springs scattered about the subterranean floors. A quick sip or two will restore your health completely. Once out of the Ruins however, you’re on your own. But don’t worry, you have health potions as well as the greatest yet cheapest thing ever…
L+R to recover? Say wha? Yes, it’s called “resting” and allows Varik to regain full vitality. It’s not a cheat — it’s even promoted and encouraged in the manual! Whenever you’re at less than 100% health, press L and R. The screen will pause and darken as your health bar recovers until you let go of L and R. The catch? There isn’t much of one. You might guess the recuperation rate to be slow, but actually it’s pretty fast. The only small thing to be concerned about? Should an enemy attack you while you’re resting, you take double the damage. But you can usually find a safe spot to recover. Therefore, there’s really no catch as long as you rest wisely! I hardly had to use the potions I found throughout the game because I would just end up using the rest option instead.
STOP! HAMMER TIME!
Be on the lookout for deteriorating walls. Use your sledgehammer to bash in these weak walls to discover new playing areas. This is sometimes necessary in order to advance, while other times it serves as a tasty reward for eagle-eyed explorers. Note that sledgehammers have a limited usage rate, though. The game does a great job however of balancing the number of hammer bashes to that of breakable walls. Excellent programming!
Who knows what invaluable treasures, dark secrets or foul creatures lie beyond these crumbling walls…
SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP
Along the way you’ll find these shops tucked away at the oddest corners of the underground maze. You’ll never meet the same person twice! You can sell, buy or talk. ALWAYS talk to the shopkeepers. They’ll give either useful information or provide odd dialogue bits that add to the atmosphere of the game. And thankfully, the translation came out GREAT. To further enhance my point, here’s a look at some, ahem, interesting conversations…
And then you have this…
“Yeah, this whole exploring and dialogue business is fine and dandy but where’s the A in the ARPG, a?”
Don’t worry, there are plenty of bad guys to kill…
I can’t say enough how much I love the monsters found underground in Brandish. You never know which of the 55 varieties is lurking just around the corner…
TALES FROM THE CRYPT
OVERHEAD DOOM? GET OUTTA HERE!
The more I played Brandish, the more I couldn’t help but notice it! The hierarchy of the enemies, the twisting and dark passages of the underground mazes… in fact, one maze in particular reminded me of the classic Doom II map TRICKS AND TRAPS!
But maybe I’m just being crazy here. Then again, maybe not. 42 floors must be cleared in all. Each one is inhabited by bloodthirsty fiends. Locked doors and keys are plentiful. Each maze has its own “personality” and even boss monsters! Brandish kind of feels like an overhead version of Doom…
A THINKING MAN’S GAME
The corridors beneath Bavalya conceal tricks and traps to snare all but the most cunning players. Even the best equipped warriors must rely on their wits and savvy to survive. Certain pressure plates open doors but others may close off escape routes. Jump over pits and plates that hinder your progress, but remember that a select few holes offer refuge from a fate that’s far worse…
This game works your thumbs as well as your brains. Teleporting rooms and warping tiles add to the madness. The unique features and challenges tucked inside each floor keep dedicated players coming back.
MEET THE FIRST BOSS
OUT OF THE RUINS AND…
As you see, the graphics leave a lot to be desired, especially by 1995 standards. The still shots and cutscenes however are quite lovely, and the Tower on the whole is the game’s best looking stage. New monsters begin appearing in the Tower…
The Tower is ransack with cockroaches, puzzles and NPCs. I won’t spoil what you have to do or who you meet, but let’s just say the game really picks up momentum here. No two floors are alike, and some of the best level designs are found here in the Tower. Oh and just wait until you see the… [SNIP! -Ed.]
OUT OF THE TOWER AND…
Welcome to the Caves, a strange and fascinating place. Although a slight step down from the Tower, it has its surprises and moments as well. Some of the puzzles are tough. My advice? Keep your eyes on your compass…
CLASH OF THE TITANS
OMINOUS WORDS OF WARNING
Top secret stuff. So let us move on…
OUT OF THE DARK ZONE AND…
UGH! You smell that? The fortress is a breeding ground for death and decay. Its pungent stench permeates the thick air, leaving you short of breath and feeling nauseous. But before you can cover your nose, you hear an inhuman growl not too far away…
The fortress is home to some fiendish mazes. Wait until you see Floor X. It’s pretty clever. On another floor, all the doors are locked with no keys in sight. You have to find the “Green-Eyed Monster” wall, and I’m not talking about envy syndrome! Then all the doors will be unlocked, freeing up all the monsters dwelling within!
Your Magic Endurance increases when taking magic attacks. Early in the game you’ll meet Black Magic. Intentionally let him zap you and then rest when appropriate. Rinse and repeat. Do this and you’ll reap the rewards of taking less damage from magic-based attacks as your Magic Endurance gradually increases.
TOO LATE TO SUCK UP… OR IS IT?
That witch Alexis finds herself in a tough predicament and will ask for your help. I can tell you this — your decision affects the outcome of the game…
Do you save the girl (whose been trying to kill you) or do you let her die? Choices, choices.
OH MY GOD-ZILLA!
Brandish is not impossible to beat, but it’ll required much wit and perseverance. Here are some handy tips to help you.
This game auto-saves. Anytime you enter a new floor the game will automatically save. It’s not as bad as it may sound, though. I never had a problem with it. Of course, you can also manually save anytime you like. And I highly advise saving often! Before you open and enter that locked door, save! When you sense a funky puzzle up ahead, save! You can never save enough
Enemies attacked from behind inflicts more damage than when attacked in front
Don’t throw away items — sell them! Even 200 gold pieces here and there adds up
Look for hidden walls you can walk through. The section of these hidden walls will differ from the rest EVER SO slightly, so keep your eyes peeled
Explore! Use the Auto-Map to see where you haven’t been. Heading straight for the exit can prove costly
You’ll meet this bony bald-headed demon early in the game. Like the red skeletons from Castlevania, he cannot be killed permanently. It’s not a bad idea to take 15-20 minutes to kill him repeatedly to increase your offensive stats.
Don’t waste money on swords as they can be picked up as you go along. Also, you don’t need some spells. Spend wisely and save for something you’ll really need.
You can hold up to 99 gold bars. Stock up on them and try not to sell until you’ve got at least several gold bars. Reason being accrued interest! Selling one gold bar is worth 1,000 gold pieces but selling two is worth slightly more than 2,000. And so on.
Fire Magic is the first spell you can afford. I highly recommend buying it. It shoots a blast straight ahead. For each use, your magic meter depletes slightly. But it automatically refills when not used. Attack foes from far away! Good stuff
When ailing, rest. Make sure no monsters are in the vicinity. You may cease resting on a dime, meaning you can cancel after a split second. Keep this in mind when dealing with tougher monsters in close quarters
Adjust the speed accordingly. At times it’d behoove you to set it on low (there’s one monster in particular). High is a must when backtracking through a previous maze to grab the item that you didn’t, or couldn’t, before
Don’t expend your numbered swords on the regular baddies. A broken sword will suffice. Save your big guns for the bosses. Use the broken sword until you can find the indestructible short sword, then the indestructible Rapier, and so on
Saved in a nasty spot? Use the Emergency Escape. At the load screen, while holding L and R, press A on the save file you wish to employ Emergency Escape. You can then reposition yourself anywhere on the map. However, your status level will drop down by one
Stuck with absolutely no clue what to do next? Look up Jax Aagar’s excellent walkthrough on GameFAQs. Cheers, Jax. I used your guide two or three times. Please don’t rip my arms off — cookie for anyone who got the Mortal Kombat II reference
If you find the dark shield/armor/sword, do NOT equip them unless it’s in the Dark Zone…
Better have Warp Magic in the Fortress… or else
Have Heal Magic before fighting the final boss
THE MOMENT TO AVOID
This is where the game’s most infamous panic-inducing moment can occur. Those plaques don’t lie, folks…
VARIK THE SOCIAL BUTTERFLY
You’re given a rundown of your performance once you finish the game. Here are my final stats:
Both EGM and GameFan didn’t preview or review Brandish. Super Play slagged the game off with a 53% rating. This seems to be the ultimate “Love it or hate it” game. There is definitely an audience that swears by Brandish, but you also have just as many people (if not more) who have cast it off as being unplayable and terrible.
Though, Nintendo Power wasn’t shy to support it. They devoted eight pages spanning two issues (#71 and #72) and had this to say:
“Great RPG fun isn’t always pretty. While you won’t be dazzled by its graphics, this cart offers tons of intellectual challenge and hours of gameplay. The numerous mysteries, bewildering mazes and bloodthirsty traps will keep hardcore role-playing fans exploring for hours. If you’re looking for Mode 7 rotation or flashy graphics, this probably isn’t your game. But if you’re seeking a thought-provoking intellectual challenge, Brandish might have exactly what you’re looking for. This ugly duckling has the potential of being a grand swan in the growing pond of great RPGs. Brandish couples the great role-playing elements of Wizardy V, Dungeon Master and Soul Blazer in one huge maze.”
To say that I feel this game is sadly and sorely misunderstood would be like calling the Super Nintendo “just another video game system.” I’m not sure how many of these detractors have gone past the Ruins (the point where I feel the game really starts coming into its own). Brandish rewards the patient and dedicated gamer. Though quite a few of the mazes may appear somewhat repetitive, there are some excellent layouts peppered throughout. These levels, coupled with the puzzles and an incredibly diverse monster role call, will keep you coming back for more. It’s easy to be turned off by the camera and walk away after 20 minutes convinced that Brandish is a dud. It didn’t take me long to adjust and it became second nature after a while. It’s worth making the effort. I’m glad I did, anyhow. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Gameplay is not innovative but it’s good ol’ fashion fun to walk around a maze hacking away at a Tyrannosaurus Rex with your Sword of Majesty. The next second you find yourself zapping Death itself with your Fire Magic. Uncovering secret rooms and solving puzzles is also all part of the fun. Oddly enjoyable!
The sound is lackluster, consisting of forgettable bleeps and bloops. But the music itself is really effective. The Ruins theme does a convincing job of making me believe that I’m really 40 stories deep underground. The Tower theme is a Zelda rip-off! That’s a good thing. My brother walked by the TV set one night, heard it and said, “What the hell! That’s the damn Zelda theme!”
The shopkeeper theme is perfect. It really sets the mood proper and enforces the feeling that everyone is dwelling deep underground. Speaking of the shopkeepers, they are a hoot to talk to. The translation job was handled well — this game’s dialogue is among the most entertaining I’ve read for any SNES (A)RPG. For example, the weird looking old lady coughing and apologizing for looking like Death itself. And she really does. It lends the game a very unique atmosphere that does a great job of sucking you in…
The various NPCs you run into throughout is another thing that Brandish has going for it. Will you dare to help that one female find her long missing boyfriend? What about the ghost girl — what the hell does she want anyway? And why is her spirit still lingering around? Can you trust the goblin? Playing Brandish was like getting caught up in a really good book.
The gameplay takes some getting used to due to the way movement is handled. As a result, combat is not as smooth as other ARPGs. It’s very methodical and you have to approach it with the right mindset in order to appreciate it. Once you get over the somewhat awkward movement, it actually opens up and plays rather well for what it is. However, enemy AI is pretty terrible. Remember how the guards would chase after you upon sight in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past? The monsters in Brandish do no such thing. They just sort of loiter around until close contact is established. It’s too bad they don’t actively hunt you down as it would have made for a more tense adventure.
Speaking of the monsters, the ad cited 55 different monster types crawling deep underground. That instantly appealed to me and it did not disappoint. From tiny cockroaches scampering about to towering T-Rex’s roaming the mazes, Brandish has got monster lovers covered. Octopus-like creatures, minotaurs, Medusa, hell, even the Grim Reaper is seen milling about the hell hole! It all adds up to one delightful adventure for the gamer willing to make the effort.
Brandish certainly is not for everyone. But if the plot, puzzle solving, monster slaying and a more methodical style of game playing appeals to you, chances are you’ll be glad you gave this the time of day.
It’s January 7, 2017. RVGFanatic launched on January 7, 2007. Wow, where has the time gone? I celebrate 10 years today. 10 years later my Super Nintendo passion still burns as brightly as it did a decade ago when I first started RVGFanatic. What was the world like 10 years ago?
YouTube was still in its infancy
George W. Bush was US president
Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone
To celebrate this milestone, I figure it’s a good time to finally reveal my Super Nintendo collection in-depth. Most of my 400+ boxed SNES games were acquired from 2006-2008. I was lucky the nostalgia bug bit me several years before it did many others. It’s the only reason I have been fortunate enough to amass the collection that I did.
Each shelf will have certain games highlighted by these categories:
Best Game — What I consider to be the best game on that shelf.
Worst Game — What I consider as the worst game on that shelf.
Guilty Pleasures — Games that I enjoy but aren’t necessarily good.
Unsung Heroes — Overlooked games that I find to be high quality.
Most Disappointing — Games I thought I would like a lot but don’t.
Most Surprising — Games I didn’t expect much from but delivered.
Most Wanted — Games I’ve still yet to play but most excited to play.
Miscellaneous — Random notes on other games not yet highlighted.
ActRaiser is an excellent first generation SNES game that alternates between side scrolling platforming action and build-a-city simulation. The two parts mesh well together like a perfectly constructed puzzle.
Speaking of alternating, Axelay does that masterfully as well, switching level to level between horizontal and vertical shooting nirvana.
WORST GAME AAAHH!!! Real Monsters DISHONORABLE MENTION Adventures of Mighty Max
Incredibly tedious and annoying.
Mighty Max was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid. The game? No.
GUILTY PLEASURE An American Tale: Fievel Goes West
Nothing fancy here. Just simple, basic platforming with decent visuals.
Aladdin is often overshadowed by its Genesis counterpart but I love the brilliant animation and colors of the SNES edition. That and its dramatic hanging-on-a-ledge-by-the-tip-of-your-finger gameplay was so satisfying.
Alien³ is a solid movie licensed game in an era where many of these games weren’t very good. Try playing it with all the lights turned off…
Arkanoid: Doh It Again! is an underrated 2 player gem. It’s so simple that even non gamers can jump in and have a blast. Highly recommended!
One of the most atmospheric games on the SNES, Blackthorne proves there’s nothing like blasting goblins and trolls in a desolate mine with a sawed off shotgun. You can even “accidentally” kill innocent prisoners
The box of 3 Ninjas Kick Back alone commands $500+. The game itself surprised me as being a decent (2 player) action platformer with three different characters to choose from. Surprisingly competent!
MOST WANTED Adventures of Batman and Robin
The GameFan previews back in the day made it look BEAST.
The most unique game here, The Adventures of Hourai High, was never officially released in America. It’s a fan translation of a Super Famicom RPG import that captures the spirit of EarthBound. I bought it from Time Walk just mere weeks before they folded.
Adventures of Kid Kleets isn’t half bad. It stands out a bit from the other me-too SNES platformers on account of having to kick a soccer ball at bad guys in order to subdue them. The ball physics made it a quirky, interesting experience.
Aero Fighters is a quality 2 player shooter.
Konami developed many classic SNES games in the ’90s. Animaniacs wasn’t one of them, and probably stands as Konami’s weakest SNES effort.
Ardy Lightfoot is a curious oddity for me in that part of me wanted to put it in the unsung hero class, but there’s another part of me that considered it for most disappointing. Worthwhile, but it’s not great like I had hoped.
Battletoads & Double Dragon wasn’t as good as I hoped, but it gave me some fond memories. One of the earliest crossovers I can remember, it was a huge deal in my gaming circle back in ’93!
Biker Mice From Mars is a nice Rock ‘N Roll Racing clone.
The Blues Brothers may look like a typical platformer on the surface but it’s not without some neat tricks. For example, you can carry and throw one another in the 2 player co-op mode. Oddly enjoyable for what it is…
The Combatribes was the second import game I ever rented back in late 1992. My brother and I loved beating up Martha Splatterhead and her delinquent gangs, all in the name of saving the Big Apple.
I went through all 40+ levels of B.O.B. in the summer of 2007 and had an absolute blast. If someone turned Doom into a 2D side scrolling action platformer, it might be this. Someone once called it “retarded Metroid”
Brawl Brothers has always been a bit underrated in my book. It’s a big improvement over its predecessor, Rival Turf. My brother and I had a lot of fun with it back in the day. Doesn’t really get the props that it should.
There are better versions of Bust-A-Move out there, but that doesn’t take away from the first game still being a competitive 2 player barn burner!
Captain Commando was a late port job — it came out in the arcades in 1991 but didn’t make it over to the SNES until August 1995. It was odd to see that large a gap, but I’m glad Capcom did it. Captain Commando is far from perfect but something I’ve enjoyed revisiting over the years.
I went into Brandish with low expectations in 2006. I ended up loving the atmosphere, music and a more cerebral style of play. The underground labyrinths are crawling with monsters galore, from T-Rex to Death itself!
A ghoulish atmosphere, detailed visuals and a slick Super Metroid-esque style of play makes Demon’s Crest one sublime adventure.
Colorful visuals in some highly bizarre worlds with masterful sound by the one and only Tim Follin make Equinox worth checking out. A “save-almost-anywhere-you-go” system helps keep the difficulty in check as well as encourage repeated attempts to finally snag that elusive key.
Fatal Fury 2 certainly redeemed Takara in my eyes. Fatal Fury on the SNES was the absolute pits. But this one hit the mark with much better control, gameplay and even an option that lets you play as the bosses.
Some would say Final Fantasy II gets plenty of love. But there are times where it seems to get lost in the shuffle especially when people are quick to bring up the “big three” of Chrono Trigger, EarthBound and Final Fantasy III. Don’t forsake this amazing early RPG!
MOST DISAPPOINTING Fatal Fury Special
Whereas Fatal Fury 2 excelled in smooth control, Fatal Fury Special did not. It’s a shame because otherwise it holds up fine for a 32-MEG port.
Many view Donkey Kong Country 2 as the best DKC game.
Donkey Kong Country 3 is sometimes overlooked because it came out late in the SNES’ lifespan (November 1996) and wasn’t quite as epic as the first two DKC games. It’s still very, very good in its own right though.
My copy of Gunman’s Proof comes courtesy of Time Walk just mere weeks before they closed their doors. Gunman’s Proof is criminally underrated. Think a combination of Zelda, EarthBound and the wild west. It’s a Zelda clone with guns and bazookas! ‘Nuff said, really.
A spiritual sequel to Soul Blazer (which some fans prefer), I love the improved visuals and shape shifting shenanigans of Illusion of Gaia.
Not your typical SNES game filled with bright and bold colors, First Samurai is something of a quirky guilty pleasure for me. I kind of like the foreboding visuals and atmosphere. And the sound effect “OH NO! MY SWORD!” is typical of its cheesy goodness, er, mediocrity.
Final Fight 3 is the best of the SNES Final Fight trilogy. Special moves, multiple branching paths and super specials make it a treat to play. It was roasted back in early 1996 when it came out, but became one of those games people grew to appreciate only after the passage of time.
With such a lame generic name, I didn’t expect much from Fire Power 2000 back in the day. A 2 player co-op mode helped for sure, but it was the overall smooth gameplay that made this an absolute winner.
FireStriker takes the classic Pong/Arkanoid style of play and infuses it with heroes and monsters. Quite an interesting mix.
It even sports a spiffy 4 player battle mode!
Goof Troop is a fun 2 player overhead action puzzle game. Goofy and Max complement each other extremely well — Goofy is stronger while Max is faster. One of the better 2 player titles from the 16-bit generation.
Hook plays a bit on the slow side, but I love its visuals and haunting soundtrack. A whimsical atmosphere adds to its overall appeal.
The idea of playing a shrunken protagonist navigating everyday objects and environments has greatly appealed to me ever since I saw Honey, I Shrunk The Kids in 1989. Harley’s Humongous Adventure may not have the most appealing aesthetic but it is rather surprisingly decent.
MOST WANTED Hagane
It’s been over 10 years since I bought it and sadly I’ve still yet to play it. The only thing more mind blowing? I bought it back in 2006 for $5!
Just as how it was nice that shelf three ended with the three Final Fantasy games, I love how shelf four begins with the Final Fight trilogy.
A classic early SNES shooter, Gradius III is plagued by bouts of slowdown but it’s got an amazing soundtrack and that vintage Gradius gameplay.
Few companies did bosses like Konami!
Konami also makes a mean soccer game — International Superstar Soccer Deluxe is arguably the best 16-bit soccer game ever crafted.
Well, that was easy. Not only is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past considered arguably the best Super Nintendo game of all time, but it’s also widely regarded as quite possibly the best video game ever created. It’s a timeless, quintessential adventure that never fails to leave a mark.
My all-time favorite baseball game.
WORST GAME Izzy’s Quest for the Olympic Rings DISHONORABLE MENTION King Arthur & the Knights of Justice
Ironically, these were the last two games ever reviewed by Super Play Magazine. I guess they were so bad that even Super Play had to stop and ask themselves “What are we doing with our lives?”
Sure, it’s a bit slow in places but it’s tremendously fun to throw stone tires and boomerangs at all sorts of dinosaurs, all in the name of saving your special cave lady. Best of all, you could do it with a friend.
Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics is a damn fine sequel. It refined a few things from the first game and makes for a worthy addition to any SNES library.
I didn’t expect much from Judge Dredd but was pleasantly surprised by how well it plays. Shoot, punch and kick bad guys into oblivion. Not great but good for a movie tie-in.
Capcom delivered SNES owners with two of the better beat ‘em ups in the form of King of Dragons and Knights of the Round. Now that’s how you do King Arthur justice!
When you take out the game’s best mode (the tornado tag team bedlam mode) and gut two of the six monsters, you’ve earned this “award.” King of the Monsters was as big a disappointment as the monsters themselves.
I love how the second row of this shelf begins with the Mega Man quintet. And the first row opens with both Lemmings 1 and 2.
BEST GAME Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals HONORABLE MENTION Mega Man X
From recruiting monsters to the IP system, Lufia II rocks!
X marks the spot indeed.
WORST GAME Lester the Unlikely DISHONORABLE MENTION The Mask
Lacking in self-esteem, Lester’s courage and abilities increase as you progress through the game. It sounds intriguing on paper but unfortunately it lacks in execution what Lester lacks in confidence.
To its credit, The Mask was faithful to source material and tried to be different from your typical movie licensed platformer. But its ugly animations and terrible aesthetic brings it down a notch or two.
Using three vikings’ specialized abilities to reach the stage exit, The Lost Vikings was both innovative and refreshing.
The sequel introduced Fang the wolf and Scorch the dragon. These were fairly underrated titles that got a bit lost [har har -Ed.] in the fold.
Magical Quest’s classic “take-a-block-from-the-sky-and-use-it-on-bad-guys” system, along with costumes that altered Mickey’s abilities, made it such a bloody good time.
Similar to X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, I prefer this game due to its roster (Iron Man, Spider Man, Hulk, Captain America, Wolverine). Plus you can select any superhero for any stage whereas in X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse you couldn’t. Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems came out October 1996 so it’s often forgotten. Give it a shot!
Mega Man 7 divided the fanbase. His homecoming was met with mixed reviews but I find it akin to slipping on an old comfortable pair of jeans.
Michael Jordan in a platformer beating up bad guys with a basketball? That’s as crazy as him retiring from the NBA in his prime to go pursue a baseball career. Both happened, but only one turned out to be any good.
MOST WANTED Metal Warriors
Shame shield activated.
Mega Man X² was not the leap over Mega Man X like many of us hoped, but it’s a quality sequel nevertheless.
Mega Man X³ introduced Zero as a playable character. The Mega Man games are a bit like pizza. When it’s good, it’s really good. But even when it’s a bit eh, it’s still alright. Mega Man X³ falls somewhere in the middle.
Can’t go wrong with the Blue Bomber!
The SNES port of Mortal Kombat II spelled vindication and redemption. The blood and Fatalities were both retained in this second go-round, surprising the hell out of everyone back in 1994.
This shelf ends with two “Mr.” games.
The next begins with “Ms.”
Many Ninja Gaiden fans have been vocal about the mishandling of this SNES port. So vocal in fact that I almost feel guilty enjoying it as much as I do. Such a shame there was never a proper 16-bit sequel.
From a pure wrestling standpoint, NCW > Saturday Night Slam Masters.
A quietly solid top-down shooter, Operation Logic Bomb is a one man wrecking crew of a good time.
Pieces is an underrated quirky game. You wouldn’t think assembling pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to be that much fun, but it somehow is. Throw in a nifty 2 player mode and you have a surprisingly competitive affair.
Nosferatu was previewed in 1992 but didn’t come out until late 1995. With that much time you would expect a highly polished game. Instead, its broken difficulty past level 3 makes it a waste of massive potential.
MOST SURPRISING Phalanx
How did this cover get the green light?!
MOST WANTED Ninja Warriors
Man, I really need to fix this. And soon.
I like how the previous shelf ended with two “Mister” games and this one began with Ms. Pacman
Released in December 1996, Realm had a chance to be a sleeper hit. It’s a run ‘n gun featuring some nice visuals and unique creature designs. Unfortunately, the broken difficulty renders it nearly unplayable.
Power Moves was the first import I ever rented back in late 1992. Even then as kids we knew it was a bit lacking. Don’t even bother unless you’re going for a complete collection or for the sake of nostalgia.
Plok is a criminally underrated platformer where you control a strange bloke who fires his limbs at enemies, way before Rayman did it. It looks like a “kiddy game” but don’t be fooled, it’s tough as nails.
RoboTrek’s unique combat system, ability to customize robotic allies and the zany universe made it such a blast to play. Love the art style, too!
SNES fans got gypped when it came to Strider. However, Run Saber is a solid consolation prize. It’s a short, easy and fun 2 player hack ‘n slash.
Slippery control derailed this promising platformer.
MOST SURPRISING Rival Turf
For all the hate Rival Turf gets — some have called it Rival Turd — I was pleasantly surprised by how decent this turned out to be, especially for April 1992. It was the first SNES beat ‘em up to feature a 2 player mode.
MOST WANTED R-Type III
Said to be one of the best SNES shooters.
Why haven’t I played it yet?
Pocky & Rocky 2 was a worthy sequel.
Prince of Persia is an interesting little game.
Not counting the orange box of Final Fight Guy, Riddick Bowe Boxing is the only North American SNES box that doesn’t have the traditional black side. Instead it’s gray, white and red; it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Another box that stands out on this shelf is Robocop vs. Terminator. It’s the only SNES box that is a hard clamshell and has no title on the side. The game itself can be fun in a dumb, violent kind of way.
Shadowrun is a unique action RPG set in a futuristic cyberpunk world. The game opens with your character awakening from his slumber atop a cold steel slab. It hooked me right away and didn’t let go until the game’s satisfying finale. A sequel was hinted at during the end credits that we sadly never got.
Secret of Mana was an innovative action RPG that allowed 3 players to go at it. This was unheard of back in 1993. Mana may be a little overhyped in some circles but it’s still a quality adventure worth venturing through.
WORST GAME Speed Racer DISHONORABLE MENTION Spider-Man & the X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge
Speed Racer switches from side scrolling platforming to a racing game. The former is barely passable but the latter is absolutely atrocious.
Spider-Man & the X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge was way too hard and while not without some redeeming qualities (the music rocks), overall it falls shy of the mark. Not the worst game ever, though.
GUILTY PLEASURES Snow White: Happily Ever After Sporting News Baseball
Yes, I own a Snow White video game and yes, I kind of dig it. What the hell am I doing with my life?! The platforming is surprisingly competent. Just not the thing you go ’round talking about, not even on the internet
Sporting News Baseball isn’t the greatest baseball game around, but it features the iconic baseball field from my favorite film, Field of Dreams.
It’s actually pretty good.
I was just expecting a lot more.
MOST SURPRISING Street Fighter Alpha 2
Amazing what Capcom squeezed into a Super Nintendo cartridge!
MOST WANTED Star Fox
Hopefully I appreciate this in 2017 as I would have in 1993…
Some under-the-radar titles from this shelf:
While none of those titles will appear on any top 10 list, they kind of typify a good portion of the SNES catalog. Ranging from decent to very solid, while they’re not essential, they sure round out a collection nicely.
If you like your 16-bit baseball, Super Baseball 2020 is an entertaining futuristic take on the sport. For another outlandish quirky baseball title, be sure to check out Super Baseball Simulator 1.000. It’s outta this world!
[I see what you did there… -Ed.]
Looking for a more traditional baseball game? Then check out the quietly stellar Super Bases Loaded 2. A bit slow but super fun.
Ranging from pretty good to excellent, any of these games would do well to round out a strong Super Nintendo collection.
MOST DISAPPOINTING Thunder Spirits
Thunder Force III eats it for breakfast.
MOST SURPRISING Super Slap Shot
I really thought this game was going to suck but it ended up reminding me of a 16-bit version of Blades of Steel. Let me pump the brakes because I don’t want to overstate this game’s stock — but it’s surprisingly decent!
MOST WANTED Super Star Wars
Super Empire Strikes Back
Super Return of the Jedi
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… I played the first one very briefly. It’s time I rectify this and play the other two. R.I.P. Carrie Fisher
Time Trax isn’t too shabby.
Can’t go wrong with the Top Gear trilogy.
Closest thing to Out Run on the SNES
I had an odd fetish for Top Gear 3000…
It even sports a quirky 4 player mode!
The box of EarthBound is so big it needed its own shelf!
The old man’s been kidnapped and it’s up to you to save pops. Luckily, you can turn into a werewolf as well as use a wide variety of firearms. Nothing special, but it’s enjoyable enough, especially on a rainy day.
Vladamasco is being ruled under the iron fist of the diabolical General Von Hesler. As young Spike, a junior magician and vampire in training, you must traverse many strange lands to put an end to Von Hesler’s wicked ways. Attack with your trusty cape and hat (which can be upgraded) in this short but sweet action RPG. It can be beaten in three measly hours, but what fun you’ll have!
Worthy of the Arnold name, True Lies is barbaric and one of the best 16-bit movie licensed games. Few SNES games can match its sheer brutality.
U.N. Squadron is loads of fun.
I’ve always found the SNES port of World Heroes to be underrated and faithful. Easy to pull off combos, vibrant visuals and those oh-so-vicious Death Matches make this one a winner in my book. Besides, where else can you knock someone into burning ropes?
16 fighters, 24 megs and 32 fists (plus a sword and bearded axe) to contend with, World Heroes 2 is everything a sequel should be: bigger and better. The home port adds in a speed option and the ability to play as the two bosses, bringing the count to a whopping 16. Only Super Street Fighter II had as many at that time. Truly an unsung hero. Pun intended.
MOST DISAPPOINTING Total Carnage
Total Carnage is a semi-sequel to Super Smash TV that fails to recapture the magic of the original. This is further exacerbated by a somewhat shoddy home port.
I saw Wolfenstein at a friend’s house in 1992 but my first time ever playing it was with the Super Nintendo in early 1994. And I freaking loved it. I was surprised by how smoothly it ran, relatively speaking of course. In my book, it stands as a stunning, underrated achievement.
MOST WANTED Ys III: Wanderers From Ys
It will be my first Ys game!
Tuff E Nuff is kind of odd, from the energy bar placement to the title printed on the box, which reads in full: Hey Punk! Are You Tuff E Nuff? It’s fairly decent for a homegrown SNES fighter, however.
Speaking of homegrown fighters, WeaponLord is very deep.
Super Nintendo games represent a sweet spot in gaming for me. It was during a time where games weren’t overly simplistic yet they weren’t yet too complicated, either. It just strikes that happy medium for me. I also find that many SNES games have aged extremely well. Many are as playable and as enjoyable today as they were 20, 25 years ago. It’s a true testament to the timeless quality that many of these games exude.
One of my favorite things to do is come home on a Friday night after a long grueling work week, head to the game room and finally playing that one game that I’ve been wondering about ever since the ’90s. Finding the game on the shelf, opening it up, reading through the color manual, and popping it in to at long last quell a 20+ year curiosity. One guy said it best years ago when he said “It feels like I’m fulfilling my childhood dreams.” Aside from your SNES classics and gems, I find there are also over 100 games that are perfectly playable and enjoyable. Maybe they’re nothing to write home about necessarily, but they can certainly entertain you for a weekend or two. I own over 400 boxed Super Nintendo games and I’d say only a small handful of them are bad. It really blows my mind how deep the SNES library is. It’s probably why I find myself coming back to the system time after time. It’s been a great journey these past 10 years!
If there was ever a platformer destined to stay in Japan from the moment it was made, this would win by a country mile (or a Godzilla foot). It combines an anime feel (based off the anime after all), Japanese wackiness and standard platforming 101 techniques. There are 8 worlds to conquer, with multiple levels for each one.
Nangoku has a level-up system. Anytime you kill an enemy a number pops in its place, indicating how many experience points you just gained. After a set amount is achieved, you level up. This is pretty cool as you don’t see this done much in platformers. A password system is also incorporated to make your life easier.
Sweep kick, punch and jump kick your way to victory.
Punch that block to form a makeshift bridge to safely guide you across deadly bamboo spikes.
Daft developed three Super Nintendo games: Super Back to the Future II, Violinist of Hamelin and Nangoku Shounen Papuwa-kun. All three are solid to very good games. Daft was an underrated company. Enix snatched up Violinist of Hamelin and this game to publish. Over the years, Enix has been erroneously credited as making those two games. Of which I was guilty of. Let it be known, for the record, Enix only published them. It was Daft that made the magic happen. Of their three SNES games, I enjoy Nangoku the most. It’s pretty much a standard platformer, but there’s a quirky Japanese charm to it, and I love the RPG-esque leveling up system. It adds a different flavor to the game and makes it feel different from every other 16-bit platformer.
Looking for a fun platformer that stands out a bit from the crowd? Then take Nangoku Shounen Papuwa-kun for a spin. It’ll likely put a smile on your face as everyone I’ve talked with who has played this has enjoyed it quite a bit.
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
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…
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.
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.
The shop system is very straight forward and things never get too cluttered.
Equipping weapons and armor is as easy as 1-2-3.
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.
I know, they had nine months to think of a name and…
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tougher enemies soon appear, giving you more experience points when killed. There’s a definite simplicity to Lagoon that I appreciate.
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.
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.
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.
I hope you found the Healing Pot prior. Otherwise you’ll have to do some backtracking and that’s never too fun.
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.
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.
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!
Now you can open the gateway to access Samson, the game’s first boss.
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!
Oh shit. You mean, you’re notLittle 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…
Yeah, that’s just not a fair fight. God damn it… this is all messed up.
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…
Once conquered, Samson screams like an elephant, oddly enough. You get some fancy little explosion pixels going off all over him.
For your troubles you get your very first magic spell: the Fire Crystal.
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.
Hey wait a damn second here… where have I seen you before…
So you’re telling me there is a Princess, and she was kidnapped. Riiiight…
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.
As you progress in the game it’s fun to see the length of your energy bar increase as you continually level up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”