Category Archives: Opinions

Iron Harvest looks like just my cup of tea

I just watched the trailer for Iron Harvest, and oooooh it looks good. Take a look at the video below to see what I mean:

I love all those little machine-gun robots scuttling about like metal crabs, steam pouring out of their tin heads. There’s something about the depiction of primitive versions of high technology that just feels so right – it makes me think of Nicola Tesla and his crazy inventions that seem like something from a sci-fi novel. I mean, he came up with a wireless lighting system back in 1890. And just look at this picture of him sitting next to his ‘magnifying transmitter’ and tell me it doesn’t look damn cool:

Anyway, Iron Harvest is based on the artwork of Jakub Rozalski, who specialises in peaceful pastoral paintings with incongruous pieces of technology or weird beasties parading through them. Like this amazing picture:

I love the idea of a video game that can capture the wonderful feeling of his artwork, and Iron Harvest seems to be doing a grand job so far. Incidentally, you may already have seen some of Rozalski’s work in the fantastic board game Scythe, which was also inspired by his paintings. Check out more of Rozalski’s artwork here.

With its chunky, primitive mechs, Iron Harvest also reminds me of Ring of Red – which can only be a good thing, seeing as that PS2 title was one of my favourite ever games. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one evolves.

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On the trail of Ninja Theory

Do you have a favourite developer? I have quite a few – I’ll always be interested in new games by Intelligent Systems, Dontnod and PlatinumGames to name but a few. But I’ve been intrigued by Ninja Theory ever since I played the incredible Enslaved: Odyssey to the West back when this website was in short trousers.

Enslaved was one of a few games that actually made me really care about its characters, partly thanks to the excellent script and phenomenal motion capture work. Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings) was one of the actors involved, and the whole thing reeked of quality.

Enslaved was an absolute corker of a game.

I also discovered just the other week that Ninja Theory developed another of my favourite games, back when they were called Just Add Monsters. Kung Fu Chaos for the original Xbox was their first title, and it was a wonderful maelstrom of chaotic four-player fun, with a wry sense of humour. I named it as one of the 10 games that Xbox One owners should pick up when Microsoft introduces backwards compatibility with the OG Xbox.

The wonderful Kung Fu Chaos.

But Kung Fu Chaos and Enslaved have very little in common, apart from perhaps a shared knack for comic timing. However, Enslaved is more representative of the style that Ninja Theory has become known for – high-quality motion capture, third-person combat, and a focus on bringing out the feels. Their upcoming game – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which is due out next week – is very much in the same vein, but this time they’ve really taken the motion capture to the next level.

Astonishingly, they’ve come up with a way to do motion capture in real time – so cut scenes can be performed ‘live’ by the actor, with their performance appearing in the game engine. Check out the video below to see what I mean:

From first impressions, Hellblade looks to be very much in the vein of Ninja Theory’s earlier work on Enslaved, with a strong focus on convincing performances and emotion. I can’t wait to play it.

But in the meantime, I’ve been hunting down some of Ninja Theory’s back catalogue. They’ve worked on a couple of Disney Infinity games over the past couple of years, which aren’t really my cup of tea, but in 2013 they released DmC: Devil May Cry, the reboot of Capcom’s series. I seem to recall that the game caused a bit of controversy with players owing to its ’emo’ depiction of Dante, although it went down well with reviewers. I’ve yet to play it myself, but I’m keen to see Cambridge-based Ninja Theory’s take on the very Japanese Devil May Cry games.

“Don’t call me emo.”

I also managed to find Heavenly Sword in a secondhand shop last week for the princely sum of £1. It was Ninja Theory’s first release after they renamed their studio, and one of the first titles released for the PS3.  I can’t remember much about the game from the time, except that everyone was fascinated with the main character’s flowing hair – an early sign of Ninja Theory’s growing obsession with the realistic depiction of people in games, which has culminated in the live motion capture of Hellblade. If they ever make a documentary about Ninja Theory, they should definitely call it ‘From hair to Hellblade‘.

Oooooooh, nice hair.

I’ve no idea whether Heavenly Sword still holds up as a game, or whether Hellblade will be any good. But following a developer is a lot like following a football team – they might not be dazzling all of the time, but they’ll always have some intrinsic quality that attracted you to them in the first place. For Ninja Theory, that attraction is undoubtedly their obsessive attempts to capture the nuances of human performance, coupled with their knack for storytelling.

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Fire Emblem Heroes: Five months on

Lucius and I have joined forces to take stock of Fire Emblem Heroes, Nintendo’s smartphone game that for both of us has become an unexpected obsession. Both of us are long-time Fire Emblem fans and have written about this game before (here and here), but our detailed look back starts with the earliest announcements and days of anticipation and goes up to the present. We also look to the future, with some thoughts about where things may go from here. So strap on your armor or grab your tome or healing staff, cue the Fire Emblem theme music, and join us for a closer look at the dangerously addictive Fire Emblem Heroes.

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Announcement reactions

Professor GreilMercs: Nintendo had announced Fire Emblem on mobile devices way back in spring of 2016, leaving fans to speculate for months over what form it would take. One obvious route would have been to just create a digital version of the trading card game (which, by the way, is called Fire Emblem Cipher and is a lot of fun), but fortunately developer Intelligent Systems had much more in store. The game was finally revealed via a Nintendo Direct devoted to the series early this year, and my initial reaction was of cautious optimism. While I was super psyched to see the return of my favorite characters from the series, the small size of the maps seemed limiting. I was also disappointed in the lack of support conversations, which in the main games is where two characters interact, and it’s a mechanic that serves to really bring the characters and the world of the games to life.

Lucius P. Merriweather: Yeah, I wasn’t too sure of it at that first announcement, either. The small maps seemed like a “dumbing down” of the main game, and I was worried the whole thing might just be some throwaway gimmick with a greedy gacha money-making system tagged onto it. The lack of support conversations also seemed like a big loss; in the last couple of games, the fighting almost took a back seat to the ongoing soap opera of the characters’ lives, and those conversations have really become a mainstay of the series.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got to play the game for myself…

Release and initial reactions

PGM: I enjoyed the game on its initial release, and quickly blitzed through the story mode. The character artwork and voice acting and the touchscreen interface are all great. I pulled two quite good 5* characters (the highest ranking) who saw me through a lot of my first months with the game, as I was hoarding orbs (the currency for pulling new characters) until my favorite characters were released (basically anyone from Sacred Stones and Path of Radiance/Radiant Dawn). In terms of character selection, it’s not surprising that the vast majority of the characters are drawn from the most popular games, namely the first game in the series, Shadow Dragon (remade as Mystery of the Emblem), and Awakening and Fates, the two most recent games (barring the just-released Shadows of Valentia). Incidentally, in terms of character selection and such, Nintendo is taking the same approach with the upcoming Fire Emblem Warriors by focusing on elements from those specific three games, which is somewhat disappointing for long-time fans of the series.

LPM: I was also a little disappointed at the relative lack of characters from earlier games, but it’s understandable given the sales figures for the later entries. Awakening sold upwards of 2 million copies, so the characters will be familiar to lots of people, whereas earlier entries like Sacred Stones sold well under half that amount. Still, I was well chuffed at bagging Sacred Stones stalwart Ephraim early on – and I’m holding out for an appearance from Ewan or Syrene. But in terms of fan service, they’ve done a good job of rolling out old favourites quite regularly, and there are still hundreds of characters they could release.

PGM: Regarding the gacha mechanics, they’ve actually ended up not bothering me too much, as the game gives you a steady stream of free orbs and you can stockpile them for an event featuring a character you really want. In this case I definitely don’t feel compelled to be a completist, and through conscientious hoarding and a fair amount of good luck I’ve able to get the characters I wanted most (in particular, those of my namesake, such as Ike and Soren). The game also does a good job of getting you started with building up your roster of characters by letting you battle and earn characters for free, via “Hero Battles”, a regular rotation of low-star regular characters where you can earn two of each of 12 characters for a total of 24, and “Grand Hero Battles”, which are timed events that feature unique characters, often villains from the main games.

LPM: I’m surprised at how generous they’ve been, to be honest. I was expecting constant paywalls, with progression linked to buying orbs and characters. But there are numerous ways to earn orbs, and I’ve amassed an army of more than 100 characters without having to spend a penny. I have quite a decent crew of five-star characters, too. That said, the limited time period for which special characters are available does mean the temptation is always there to spend a little cash. I picked up cute lil’ old Bunny Ears Lucina during the spring event, and I was sorely tempted to throw some money at the game just to complete the spring set before the event ended. I mean, who could resist Xander wielding a giant carrot?

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PGM: Haha. Yeah, the special event characters are definitely tempting, but I’ve been doing a pretty good job of not getting too distracted by them. Although that sort of went out the window with the current summer swimsuit event, haha. 😉

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PGM: As for the gameplay itself, it’s actually less dumbed down than I expected, as there’s a lot more emphasis on characters’ skills than in the main games and everything is quite well balanced in terms of characters’ stats, their weapons and movement abilities, and their assist, special, and passive skills. I wasn’t sure how my interest in the game would progress, although the developers did promise regular updates to include new characters and modes.

LPM: Yes, what really pleased me the most is that although the game is much simpler and quicker than the main games in the series, there’s still a lot of strategy – and at advanced levels there’s all the skill setting and stat watching you’d expect of a full-fat FE title.

New modes and features

PGM: During those first months my interest in the game continued pretty steadily, which was somewhat surprising. The almost daily release of new missions to tackle, the majority of which offer worthwhile rewards, is compelling and super addictive. The limited-time Grand Hero Battles include the game’s most challenging maps that generally require repeated attempts and have a puzzle-like element. They’ve continued to fine tune the Arena mode (which pits your team of 4 against another player’s, although theirs is controlled by the CPU) and roll out new story chapters, variations (such as maps that require you to survive for a certain number of turns or have tiles that boost your defense), and modes (such as the Voting Gauntlet, which has you choosing amongst eight specific characters and fighting on his/her team).

LPM: I love the Voting Gauntlet. I’m currently championing Elise in a war of the lady healers. Seeing the ridiculous number of points each team accrues is a reminder of just how many bloody people play this game, and it helps you to feel part of a larger community.

The Grand Hero Battles are fantastic, too. The harder ones are almost impossible to beat sometimes, and it can take days or even weeks for me to work out a strategy to beat them. High-class stuff.

PGM: One of the biggest changes was the introduction of Skill Inheritance, which was added only a month and a half after the game was released. Skill Inheritance allows you to sacrifice a hero in order to pass her/his abilities (e.g. weapon, assists, specials, or passive skills) onto another hero. At the time it seemed way too early to add this feature in, as it seemed like it would destroy the game’s balance and wipe out all the things that made the heroes unique as all characters would all converge to the same combination of skills. But in practice this hasn’t quite happened. The core gacha mechanic ensures that your roster of characters will be different from others’, and so your pool of skills to inherit from will be quite different. Skill Inheritance does a good job of both letting you customise a character that you really like to fit your play style, and letting you make good use of characters that you don’t really like or have multiple copies of.

The other big change was added only recently, which was a new event mode called Tempest Trials that ran for the past couple of weeks. This mode actually makes the game feel like a proper Fire Emblem game, in that you have to tackle a certain number of maps in a row (seven being the maximum). You’re also limited to a certain number of attempts (in the form of four-person teams you can use). The rewards were high, and the challenge was worthwhile. The mode forces you to focus on a range of characters rather than just using the same four over and over again. The only downside was that the mode required you to play it over and over again during the event period without any breaks in order to get the best rewards, which ended up being super repetitive and a real slog. Still, this mode adds great depth to the already engaging game, and all of these additions have done an amazing job of keeping me hooked on the game way past the point I had expected to be.

Enjoyment turning into obsession

LPM: I think the moment I realised FE Heroes was becoming an obsession was when I missed my bus because I was just too engrossed in the game. I growled in frustration as I looked up to see my bus sailing past – but I was also secretly relieved because it gave me more time to play Heroes while I waited for the next one.

My daily routine now includes opening the game just after 8am to see what missions and goodies are on offer. And every ‘screen break’ now features a quick session of FE Heroes – which does slightly negate the point of a screen break, I suppose.

PGM: My interest in the game has gone through several slight dips and peaks. I hoarded characters until I reached the limit you can have (200, although you can pay orbs to up that number), and then I got into merging characters (combining two of the same type of characters to raise their stats) and inheriting skills. Planning out characters to use and what skills to inherit is exactly the type of Fire Emblem geekery that I obsess over, and I’ve spent hours looking up characters’ stats. I have a huge file on my computer where I record the stats of the characters I have amongst other geeky info, and I’ve pretty much memorized the various tier lists for the game that I’ve been consulting daily religiously.

I’ve been amazed at the number of hours I’ve put into this game. The other day I somehow got sucked into playing the game for 6 hours. A couple of those hours were finishing up the special marathon Tempest Trials mode in the morning, a couple more hours on grinding characters for skills in the afternoon, and then a couple of hours at night trying (and failing) repeatedly to beat the “Infernal” mode of a Grand Hero Battle map. There were a couple of days last month where I was caught up on all the missions and I was, frankly, relieved that I didn’t have to play the game. Right now I’d probably have to play about an hour a day to keep up with the missions, which is a little higher than would be ideal, but is still doable.

LPM: I was worried the game might get too repetitive at first. Certainly, grinding characters through the Training Tower can get a little dull sometimes. But the sheer variety of missions and battle types they’ve added to the game has put all thoughts of repetition out of my mind. There’s an embarrassment of options here.

The future?

PGM: Developer Intelligent Systems has perfectly paced the game’s rollout of new features, and definitely kept me hooked even though I haven’t had to spend a dime. I find it hard to imagine how they can continue to keep adding new features and modes, but just as it is the game should be able to continue to keep my attention for a good while (although I’m still waiting for some of my other favorite characters to be added, whine, whine). Right now with the existing roster of characters each character has a fairly unique combination of movement type, weapon type, and spread of stats (although there are too many sword users, which is inevitable as nearly all the main characters from the main games are sword users). A lot of the newer characters have been given new unique skills that have still managed to keep things pretty balanced, but it’s hard to imagine how that can continue for another 100+ new characters.

LPM: It’s been fascinating to see how the game has evolved and has continued to keep evolving. At first, characters like Hector and Takumi seemed far too overpowered, but nowadays it’s a struggle to get far with them, as more and more options and heroes have been introduced. Keeping on top of the meta game is a full time job, and it’s only going to get more complex and involved as more characters get introduced.

PGM: Intelligent Systems is one of my favorite developers, and contrary to my initial expectations the game is actually so much fun and addictive that I’ve added it to my list of Favorite Games of All Time. I’m skeptical that the game can continue to keep my attention for another year, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what Intelligent Systems has up their sleeves.

LPM: Me too. Oh my god, summer swimsuit Tiki has some sort of melon hammer! Right, time to farm some orbs…

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The games that should have been on the SNES mini

The upcoming SNES mini has a superb line-up of games built-in, not least the so-far-unreleased Star Fox 2, finally making its debut more than 20 years after it was finished. As a reminder, here’s the list of stone-cold classics it will ship with:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-Zero
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter 2 Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania 4
  • Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Yoshi’s Island

But even though the line-up is excellent, there are tonnes of titles that we think could or should have been included – after all, the Super NES has an enormous catalogue of utterly fantastic games. So, if memory constraints and licensing issues were no object, these are the games, in alphabetical order, that we’d like to see added to the already wonderful roster of the SNES mini…


ActRaiser

Baron Richenbaum Fotchenstein: One of the greatest games for the system, combining a god simulator with side-scrolling action and one of the greatest game soundtracks of all time, ActRaiser is a must play for any gamer.


Brain Lord

BRF: Brain Lord was basically a clone of Link to the Past, but with a bit more RPG elements thrown in and a greater emphasis on the puzzle aspect. It’s an often overlooked game by pre-merge Enix.


Chrono Trigger

Lucius P. Merriweather: A lot of people have already expressed dismay that this game isn’t on the SNES mini – it’s widely regarded as the best RPG on the Super NES, and one of the best JRPGs ever. I’ve never had the chance to play it myself – not least because it was never released in Europe for REASONS – and I’m a bit gutted I won’t be able to sample its timey-wimey shenanigans on the SNES mini. Guess I’ll have to track down the Nintendo DS version instead.


Demon’s Crest

LPM: This is sequel to Gargoyle’s Quest on the Game Boy and Gargoyle’s Quest II on the NES. In a neat twist, the games in the series have you take control of one of the baddies from Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins – a gargoyle named Firebrand, who has to save his world from someone even nastier than he is. The original Game Boy title was one of the best games on the handheld thanks to its nifty controls and levelling system – far better than the game it spawned from, in my opinion.


DoReMi Fantasy

Professor GreilMercs: Lucius mentioned this in his Skyblazer post, and by coincidence I had just finished playing through it. I’m one of the few people who was a fan of Milon’s Secret Castle, DoReMi Fantasy’s oftentimes obtuse and frustrating NES predecessor, but this game is a completely solid platformer from start to finish. The game oozes with charm and features everything you could want in a platformer, including a lovable hero, great graphics, loads of variety, and fun locales, powerups, and enemies. FYI, DoReMi Fantasy was made available on Wii’s Virtual Console and is well worth a download despite its Japanese-only text.


Earthworm Jim

LPM: As an impressionable young child, I thought Earthworm Jim was one of the funniest games EVER. The game’s best gag is that [SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT] at the start of the first level, you jump on a see saw to launch a cow into the stratosphere, seemingly for no reason. Then right at the end of the game, long after you’ve forgotten all about it and just as you’ve rescued the princess, the cow comes hurtling down and crushes her completely. Man how I laughed.


Flashback

BRF: Another essential title, Flashback was available on many other platforms, but it’s just so good of a game that I can’t go without mentioning it. It’s a spiritual successor to Out of This World (aka Another World) with many improvements on the formula, making it one of the best sci-fi action-adventure games ever made.


Mortal Kombat II

LPM: Yeah, so they made the blood green, but Mortal Kombat II was still an absolute blast on the SNES. Turning into a dragon to bite your opponent in half is still the BEST EVER MOVE IN A FIGHTING GAME. The gore was also still ridiculous and poorly rendered enough to be funny, unlike the modern games in the series – which frankly make me feel sick. Watch this video of the finishing moves in Mortal Kombat X and tell me you don’t feel queasy by the end of it.


NBA Jam

LPM: I have absolutely no interest in basketball. I don’t even really know the proper rules. But I LOVED NBA Jam. Probably because NBA Jam doesn’t really have much to do with real basketball, unless players can actually leap 4o feet into the air and set balls on fire in real life. I was lucky enough to own a SNES multitap, and 2 vs. 2 matches of NBA Jam were a chaotic delight.


Pilotwings

LPM: I was genuinely surprised that this game didn’t make it onto the SNES mini. As one of the SNES launch titles, it was a revelation – who knew that a hang-glider simulator could be so much fun? It’s an idea that came out of nowhere and left a profound mark, yet it’s only been repeated once more, with Pilotwings Resort on the 3DS. If any game is testament to the Super NES’s wealth of original titles, it’s this one.


Puyo Puyo Tsuu

PGM: Kirby’s Avalanche was the first SNES Puyo Puyo game released outside of Japan and is better-known than its Japan-only sequel Puyo Puyo Tsuu. Both games feature addictive Tetris-like puzzle gameplay with a fun and not too complex combo system, but the tweaks added to the sequel make for much more enjoyable battles. The main change in Tsuu is that you can counter the garbage blocks your opponent sends to you, which can lead to tennis-like sequences of volleys and returns in the form of attacks and counterattacks. Previously import only, Puyo Puyo Tsuu was actually released internationally at the same time as DoReMi Fantasy on Wii’s Virtual Console, and is a classic that is definitely worth a look. It or Tetris Attack would have superbly filled the puzzle game hole in the otherwise great SNES Classic Mini line-up.


Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing

LPM: What did Blizzard do before World of Warcraft? Well, back when they were known as Silicon & Synapse, they made the fantastic isometric racer Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing, in which you blitz around futuristic race tracks while blowing up your opponents with missiles, all to the sounds of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. It is exactly as much fun as it sounds.


Shadowrun

BRF: An excellent cyberpunk action-rpg. It’s not the prettiest thing on the Super Nintendo, but it makes up for it with a fascinating story and a lot of nice, tactical combat.


Skyblazer

LPM: One of the SNES’s long-forgotten gems. In fact, I myself had completely forgotten about it until just last week, when my memory was jogged by watching a video that mentioned it. Go back and read this post to see why this is a must-play game.


Stunt Race FX

LPM: The SNES mini has a few games that used the famous Super FX chip – namely Star Fox, Star Fox 2 and Yoshi’s Island – so it’s a shame they couldn’t squeeze the excellent Stunt Race FX on there, too. The chip let the Super NES to rudimentary 3D, and Stunt Race FX has you racing around in big polygon cars with blinking, googly eyes. It was fantastic fun, but it never received a sequel, and it’s never been re-released, so it’s a crying shame it was left off the SNES mini roster – I’d have loved to have played it again.


Super Bomberman

LPM: In single player, Super Bomberman was OK. But in multiplayer, it was like gamer crack. Oh the summer afternoons I lost to this game, blinds pulled against the sun, locked in explosive combat with my friends as the hours ticked on. And if I could go back, knowing everything I do now? I WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING.


Super Smash TV

LPM: The Super NES essentially had an arcade perfect port of Smash TV thanks to its canny button layout. The four facia buttons replicated the second joystick of the arcade cabinet, so you could move in one direction while facing another – something that couldn’t be done at the time on the three-button MegaDrive, much to my Sega-owning friends’ disgust. Still one of the best two-player games of all time.


Sunset Riders

LPM: There was a time when almost every game Konami released was pure gold. Sunset Riders is classic Konami – big, colourful sprites and relentless run ‘n’ gun gameplay. I lusted after it for years as a youth but never owned it – I’d really love to play it now.


Tetris Attack

PGM: One of the absolute best puzzle games on SNES or anywhere, Tetris Attack introduced Panel de Pon (aka Puzzle League) to video game players outside of Japan. The Japanese-only game Panel de Pon is included on the Japanese version of the SNES Classic Mini, but Tetris Attack would have been a great addition to the non-Japanese editions. Tetris Attack is a reskin of the original game with characters from Yoshi’s Island. The core gameplay is the same, though, and it’s super addictive and fun. The game features one of the most complex chaining systems in puzzle games, but mastering its intricacies is extremely rewarding. The gameplay saw later additional reskinning, including Pokemon Puzzle League on N64 and GBC, but many, myself included, still count the original as among the best in the series.


Uniracers (aka Unirally)

LPM: A real oddity this one – a two-player, side-scrolling unicycle racer from the studio that went on to make Grand Theft Auto. I seem to recall it really split reviewers, but it has since gained a cult following – essentially it’s a bit like Sonic the Hedgehog but with stunts. And a unicycle. However, it’s unlikely this game will ever be re-released – Pixar filed a lawsuit against DMA Design, claiming the unicycle looked too much like the one in their animation Red’s Dream. DMA lost, production was ceased after the initial run of 300,000 copies, and the game has never seen the light of day again.


UN Squadron (aka Area 88)

LPM: One of my favourite ever side-scrolling shoot ’em ups. Head over to this post I wrote way back to see why.


Zombies (aka Zombies Ate My Neighbors)

LPM: Back before we all got zombie fatigue, this game was an utter delight. It’s essentially a send up of the B movie horror genre as a whole, so there are aliens, swamp monsters, vampires and werewolves along with the titular zombies. The aim is to save your neighbours before the monsters get their hands on them, and the weapons were particularly great – I remember one was a grenade made out of a heavily shaken soda can. An awesome game from when LucasArts were in their prime. (NB. Anyone know why ‘Ate my Neighbors’ was dropped from the title for the European release?)


So there you have it, a sample of SNES classics that we’d really love to revisit. Are there any other SNES games that you’d add to the SNES mini if you had the chance? Let us know in the comments!

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I forgot all about Skyblazer

At the end of the DF Retro video about the upcoming SNES mini, they discuss some of the games that they would have liked to have seen on the final roster of pack-in titles. Most are worthy but obscure titles like the platformer DoReMi Fantasy which incidentally I’d never heard of before today, but it looks pretty damn great.

But at the end of the list came a game that lit up a part of my brain I haven’t used in 20 years…

“Hold on, this rings a bell…” I thought, as gameplay from Skyblazer filled the screen. “Yep, this is definitely familar…”

I took to Google, and the more images of the game I found, the more dormant memory nodules were triggered. “Skyblazer! Yes, I had this! It was bloody great!”

Somewhere along the line I’ve completely forgotten about owning and playing this fantastic SNES game, and I still can’t remember buying it or what happened to the cartridge. But the more gameplay footage I watched, the more I remembered about the game itself. Funnily enough, it was the sounds that really brought it back – especially the weird barking noises made by the lamp boss at the end of the third level (check it out at the 5.00 mark in the video below).

It was a wonderful game, sort of a medieval fantasy version of Strider complete with wall clinging and energy blasts, although with fists and feet taking the place of fancy energy swords. There are also some impressive uses of the Super NES’s Mode 7 technology, with spinning 3D towers, morphing bosses and into-the-screen flying sections.

What a great game. I’d really love to play it again, but seemingly it’s never been rereleased on Nintendo’s Virtual Console or anywhere else. This could be because the game was published by Sony Imagesoft in Europe and the US, so there’s a chance that Sony weren’t happy about it appearing on Nintendo’s download service. Or, perhaps more likely, everyone else has completely forgotten about it, just like I did.

Still, what a shame if this game is destined to become just a footnote in gaming history. It was one of the standout games for the SNES, although it had some stiff competition – in fact, it came out just before the release of Super Metroid in early 1994, which probably didn’t help sales.

The developer, Ukiyotei, folded not long after its release, and Skyblazer was by far the standout game from their short and patchy gameography – the highlights of which include video-game versions of the limp Peter Pan spinoff Hook and Neo Geo Pocket conversions of Metal Slug. As a developer, they barely lasted five years. But they left behind an absolute gem of a game that has sadly been largely looked over.

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I’ve blagged myself a SNES mini and I can’t bloody wait to play it

When Nintendo announced the SNES mini last week – or to give it its full, hellishly cumbersome name, the Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System – I think I actually did a little whoop of excitement. How very un-British of me – I hope noone else in The Manor heard it.

I wasn’t too bothered about the NES mini, which came out last year and immediately sold out everywhere. Many of those old 8-bit games are barely playable today, and I’d already finished a fair chunk of the 30 games it came with. But a SNES mini is a different prospect altogether. Those 16-bit games still tend to hold up well, and the pixel art looks just as good today as it did back then. In fact, SNES graphics have aged far better than the muddy, low-poly visuals of the 32-bit generation that followed.

But the thing that had me desperately searching the internet for somewhere to preorder the bugger was the announcement that Star Fox 2 would be bundled with the SNES mini. It marks the first time that this game has been officially released anywhere, despite it being practically finished 20-odd years ago. Star Fox 2 was even on my wishlist for the Nintendo Switch, ahead of its official reveal. I had to have it.

But alas, preorders on the Amazon, GAME and Nintendo sites sold out in a matter of minutes – by the time I found out about them, they were all gone. Oh unhappy day! Thankfully though, @scully1888 came to my rescue by tweeting that preorders had gone up on Argos’s site, so I zoomed over there immediately, desperate to avoid missing out again. It seems like everyone else on the internet had the same idea though – the site kept crashing as I tried to check out, apparently because so many people were trying to order the SNES mini at the same time.

After my third attempt to check out, I tried a different tactic – I downloaded the Argos app and tried ordering through there instead. And lo and behold, it worked first time! I refused to let myself believe it at first, but then the confirmation email came through – yep, I’m definitely going to receive a SNES mini come 29th September.

Get in.

Star Fox 2 may be the main draw for me, but there are plenty of other reasons why I’m so excited about this tiny console. First up, just look at it. It’s so wee! Bless its little cotton socks. I just want to hug it.

Those curvy lines mark it out as one of the best-looking consoles of all time, a real design classic. I’m just grateful that the European market got the curvy version with primary coloured buttons, as the American purple boxy SNES is, in my opinion, something of an abomination.

Second, there are some awesome games included – just look at this list:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-Zero
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter 2 Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania 4
  • Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Yoshi’s Island

What a line-up!

I completed many of these back in the day, including Super Metroid, Super Mario World, Zelda III, Contra III (or Super Probotector as it was known over here) and Donkey Kong Country. They’re amazing games, but I doubt I’ll end up playing through them all again for the simple reason that I’ve already finished them. Likewise, I’m not a big fan of Kirby games, so I doubt I’ll be playing through those. I’m not too bothered about EarthBound either: I’ve played the first couple of hours of the Wii U virtual console version, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I would have absolutely loved it if I’d played it when I was a kid, but it’s less relevant to me now. I had the same feeling about reading The Catcher in the Rye at age 25.

BUT! I can’t wait to get struck into Secret of Mana – I bought the iOS version a while back, but it was almost unplayable because of the fiddly virtual controls, so I gave up on it fairly quickly. I can’t wait to play it again in the format it was designed for. Super Mario RPG is another one I’m really excited about, as it was never released in Europe. It came out on the Wii U virtual console recently, but it’ll be great to play it on an old-school SNES pad. And then there’s Yoshi’s Island – I borrowed my sister’s copy of this years ago and got about halfway through, but then some game-breaking bug caused it to crash and wipe my save game – the first (and only) time that’s ever happened to me on a SNES game. The bit I played was fantastic though, so I can’t wait to go back and finish it.

Super Castlevania IV is also up there on my ‘must play’ list – the Baron has got me all excited about going back and playing through the older Castlevania games thanks to his ongoing rundown of the classics, and I never played the Super NES installment first time around. It’s meant to be pretty good, too.

Third – and finally – the entrance of the SNES mini into my household could also signal the return of multiplayer gaming. I don’t tend to play online, and almost all of my games are single player – but with two controllers packed in and copies of Street Fighter II and Super Mario Kart tucked away in its innards, I can see the whole family gathered around the SNES mini for some retro grudge matches come Christmas. I recently played Street Fighter II against Ian in a local games cafe, and it was just as good as I remember. Indeed, I found it a lot more fun that the later installments – there’s something to be said for its simplicity, and hence its low barrier to entry.

And Mario Kart? Well there’s your 70-quid’s worth right there. I’ll see you in the Battle Arena.

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Darksiders: Warmastered marks a last hurrah for the Wii U

Look what just arrived in the post!


Sir Gaulian has been banging on about how good Darksiders is for years, so I finally decided to try it for myself. I initially dismissed the game as a bit emo for my tastes – the ‘LOOK AT ME I’M SAD AND ANGRY’ stylings of try-hard sequel Prince of Persia: Warrior Within sprang to mind – but I’m told it’s more like Zelda than anything else, and that pretty much sold it to me.

The fact that THQ Nordic is releasing this remastered edition on Wii U at all is something of a surprise. It comes seven years after the original game and seven months after the release of Warmastered on Xbox One and PS4, not to mention a good five months or so after the announcement that Nintendo has ceased production of the Wii U. It’s likely to be one of the last boxed releases for Nintendo’s retiring console.

But by all accounts, it’s an excellent game to go out on.

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