Saturday, March 31, 2012

Game & Watch Gallery (GB) Review

AKA Game Boy Gallery [JP] and Game Boy Gallery 2 [AUS]
1997 Nintendo

Reviewed: March 29th-31st, 2012
It's amazing that the Game & Watch Gallery series for the Game Boy has been around for fifteen years now. While technically it's not the first Game & Watch compilation that was ever made (that award goes to the PAL- and Australia-exclusive Game Boy Gallery made in 1994), it was the first compilation in the Game & Watch Gallery name. For those not of you not in the know, the Game & Watch games are of series of handhelds that were created by Nintendo from 1980 up to the early '90s, and they were pretty successful and highly enjoyable despite their simple play control. They also had a lot of replay value, for many reasons. The neat thing with the Game & Watch Gallery series is that you were given the opportunity to play a selection of games: as they originally appeared back then (Classic), or with the enhanced look and gameplay plus background music featuring Mario and the rest of the gang (Modern). And wouldn't you know it, Game & Watch Gallery was my first introduction to these series of games, and one I found very fun when I was little (I lost it once, but I found it beneath the sofa before moving to the US; I can't remember how it got there in the first place). What's sweet is that, playing it again as a teen and a young adult, I found the compilation just as fun. Available in the first of four iterations are Manhole, Fire, Octopus, and Oil Panic.

Our first game is Manhole, which was the sixth Game & Watch game ever made, initially released in 1981 as a Gold series and released again in 1983 as a New Wide Screen edition (the version used here). There are four holes in the street without a void, which unfortunately would make it easy for the civilians to fall down the sewer (not to mention get soaking wet). It's your job to make sure that the civilians cross the street with ease. However, you can only place one manhole at a time, so you'll have to do a lot of moving around if you wish to prolong your survival. At first it'll be easy with one coming after another, however as time passes by many civilians will come at a time, making things gradually challenging because the game will run at a much faster pace. In Classic mode, if you manage to reach 300 points without having gotten a miss, your score will double up until you lose a life. But, if you reach that many points and had one or two lives lost, you'll be cleared of all your misses. Should you let civilians inadvertently fall down the sewer three times, it's game over. In Modern mode you take control of Yoshi, who remains stationary in the center and handles the four manholes himself (above him he can place his head below two manholes, and below him he can keep the two manholes afloat by sticking his tongue onto them. Unlike the Classic mode, the manholes stay up until they're stepped on, so Yoshi will have to place them up again in all the commotion. Passing by will be several Toads, Donkey Kong Jr., and (from time to time) Mario himself. If you score 200, 500, and even 700 points, a mole will award you with a life (if you have one or two misses at that time); lose three times, however, and it's game over. Like Classic, though, it starts out easy enough, but eventually becomes complicated and hard to manage due to the gradually faster pace. You can choose any of the four directions to place your manhole in each version, but if you want to make it a little easier for yourself, you can switch to a diagonal position (i.e. Northwest to Southeast) by pressing the A button. The visuals are enhanced in Modern mode, and they look really good and detailed despite the simplicity, and the flowing water is a nice touch. The characters also display good animation here, and you'll get a different miss icon depending on who gets wet. If you play Classic mode on the Super Game Boy, you'll see a border reminiscent of the New Wide Screen release and the game's all colorized, which is neat.

The next game in this lineup is Fire, the fourth Game & Watch game that was created back in 1980 as a Silver series, after which it was released again in 1981 as a Wide Screen edition (the version used here). A building has been consumed by fire, which leaves its countless inhabitants no choice but to escape by window. Your objective is to position your trampoline below the falling victims and bounce them over to the ambulance van on the right. Controls are pretty simple, just move left and right. However, there are moments when you'll have to make two quick steps to reach the farthest person quickly (e.g. press right and A simultaneously to step quickly to the right twice). At first it will be relatively easy, but the more you progress the gradually harder it will get. Misses can be lifted when you reach 200 and 500 points, and as is the case with pretty much every Game & Watch game, it's game over if you lose a life thrice. Modern mode plays the same as Classic mode, only you guide Mario and Luigi who have to rescue Toads, Yoshis, and Donkey Kong Jrs. who flee from the burning castle tower and send them to the mushroom-shaped coach. From time to time you will also catch eggs which break upon the first bounce to reveal either a star or a Bob-Omb. If a star appears (it's totally optional to send it to the coach) and it bounces on the trampoline, you'll be rewarded five points per star bounce, but if a Bob-Omb appears then you may wish to drop it to the ground, for if it lands on the coach there will be destructive consequences. The visuals are cool, and the animations displayed here are nice. The various miss icons look good, and the reactions Mario and Luigi make when someone lands on the ground is funny. Starts off easy with the characters fleeing the castle one by one, but eventually it gets to the point where you'll have to be really quick on your toes because characters will keep bouncing on the trampolines, the action will get incredibly fast, and it'll get incredibly complicated. If you reach 200, 500, and 700 points, Princess Toadstool will send you a life from the lower left corner, but make sure you catch it, otherwise you won't have your miss removed. Playing it on the Super Game Boy will give you a colorful experience and add a border reminiscent of the 1981 release. Just curious, how can the building/castle fit so many people/characters, and how on earth can that ambulance van/coach fit so many people/characters? That's just weird!

Octopus was released in 1981 as a Wide Screen release. Sunken treasure has been discovered underneath the sea, but it's being guarded by a giant octopus. Taking as much of the treasure and returning it to the boat as much as possible will prove to be a big task, because you'll have to be very careful not to be grabbed and choked by one of its tentacles. Controls, again, are very simple, just move left and right; it's also possible to move right twice (again, right and A simultaneously). You can grab a lot of treasure, but make sure you get out of reach if a tentacle tries to lower itself down to get you. Any time you return to the boat, you'll be awarded three extra points; misses can be alleviated once you reach 200 and 500 points. Careful not to lose all three lives. In Modern mode you guide Mario who has to go down to get the treasure and return as much of it to the boat with Princess Toadstool. There are more moving spaces than there was in Classic mode, plus there's more additions that were made. You'll still have to evade the octopus' elusive tentacles, and if you grab enough treasure and return it to the boat, you'll get double the points for the times you put them in a bag. There's a catch, though: if you try to grab too much treasure, then the weight of the bag will slow Mario down, making him vulnerable to be grabbed by a tentacle (unless you're careful). It's also possible, if a tentacle is trying to reach you, to launch a bag towards it to temporarily incapacitate it. From time to time there may be moments when the octopus will try to spew black ink out of anger, so be careful. If you reach 200, 500, and even 700 points, Lakitu will drop a life removing one miss. Begins easy, but it gets harder as time goes by. Modern mode looks good, and it's nice how the octopus' tentacles animate, plus how it reacts when one of its tentacles is hit is priceless. Classic mode looks good, too, especially when you play it on the Super Game Boy cartridge with colors and border. There is so much treasure being guarded by the octopus, that it's endless!

And our last game here is Oil Panic, the first of several Game & Watch Multi Screen games made in 1982 (basically the precursor to the Nintendo DS, sans the stylus controls). Oil is gradually dripping from the ceiling, and you have to make sure that it doesn't touch the floor (in the top part of the screen), otherwise the building will catch on fire. You guide a man with a beaker that can only contain up to three oil drops, but if it overflows there's flames abound. Below you is a man who has a drum which can take countless amounts of oil drops; thing is he moves around often, so make sure he stays still long enough on either the left or the right side, otherwise you'll wind up spilling it incidentally on either innocent civilians near the gas station. There are two ways of losing a life: oil falling on the floor, and oil spilled on a civilian; so you can lose up to five lives. If you reach 300 points (lifeless), there will be two people at the bottom who will remain stationary for several seconds, making things a little easier. However, if you have lost a few lives by that time, all your misses will be cleared out. In Modern mode things are slightly different: Bowser is attempting to spill oil in a home, and it's up to Mario to make sure there's no fire. Mario has two beakers, and you can turn around, so he can carry up to six oil drops which he has to feed to Yoshi (who keeps moving around, so make sure you find a good time to do that). If you feed Yoshi two sets of three oil drops on either the left or right side, he'll breathe fire which in turn creates a block. If you manage to successfully let Yoshi create four blocks on the left of side of the playing field, Yoshi will climb up said blocks and knock Bowser off the building through various means (i.e. egg throwing, watermelon seed spitting, fire breathing), giving you a perfect chance to score major points. On the right side, if Yoshi spews fire on the block, then several coins will emerge out of it (unless you reach 200, 500, and 700 points, in which case you'll be awarded a life if Yoshi breathes fire on the then-transformed/emerged "?" block). One thing you should bear in mind is Donkey Kong Jr. and Luigi, who are minding their business below you, and if you spill the oil and Yoshi didn't catch it, then you get a miss. It begins easy enough, but afterwards it will get to the point where catching all the oil and disposing it will become a hard accomplishment due to the faster pace. Game looks good on the Super Game Boy, too; plus, the animation on Modern mode is great.

So, overall, the four-in-one package resulted in quite a memorable experience. It's fun to play through these games every once in a while, and it just amazes me how much they've aged well. For some reason, the Classic modes feel more "modern" than the Modern modes do, and I do appreciate the amenities that were implemented in the Modern modes' play control and visual appearance. What keeps the four games from growing stale are the two difficulty settings on both Modern (Easy "Mushroom" and Hard "Fire Flower") and Classic (Game A and Game B) modes, and if you manage to reach 1,000 points on any of the two Modern modes, you'll unlock the Very Hard "Star" mode, which will truly test your skill with its swift pace and dangerously complex action. If you reach every 200 star in each mode of each game, you'll be rewarded a star (which is optional); seeing how high you can score points in the game is a fun challenge (even though I'm not really the type of gamer who plays for score). The additional background music you hear on the four Modern modes are catchy and great, I even like how it speeds up throughout the course of the game. Normally I frown upon the option to disable background music when it comes to video games, but this is one of those rare exceptions because even though the music sounds good, it can get a little repetitive if listened to for too long. Another special feature in Game & Watch Gallery is the Gallery screen, where you can view certain Game & Watch games and learn a bit about their history, most of which you'll be able to play in the next Gallery follow-ups. There are sixteen games in the Gallery, and if you manage to score a certain amount of points in any of the two modes of any of the four games, you'll be awarded a star block (which is your Gallery piece). It's another fun way of challenging yourself. Game & Watch Gallery was so successful that it garnered three more games in the series (my favorite out of the four being the third). It's a blast to play, and one of those many childhood classics, especially when played on the Super Game Boy (should you own an SNES console); the Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island-themed border just rocks. Definitely worth checking out if you can find it for a decent price, or if you download it on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Handheld service.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Disney's Aladdin (GBC) Review

2000 Virgin//Disney Interactive/Crawfish/Ubi Soft

Reviewed: March 12th-15th, 2012
One of my favorite animated movies made by Disney growing up is Aladdin, which had a great Arabian atmosphere, awesome animation, memorable music from composers Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and the late Howard Ashman (rest in peace), fun characters, and a very good plotline. And it's still one of my favorite Disney movies of all time. I never saw it in theatres back then, since I was only one at the time, but I was introduced to it by the VHS copy. The movie was such a success that it garnered two direct-to-home sequels (Aladdin and the King of Thieves being the better and most superior out of the two, in my opinion), a TV series (following the events of The Return of Jafar), and of course there was no question that there would be several video game adaptations based on the all-time classic. And like pretty much every '90s kid, I managed to play a video game version of the movie. The first one I played was the Game Boy original version based on Virgin's MegaDrive adaptation, and honestly I don't feel it has aged very well; but luckily, to compensate for that, I also experienced the PC version on the 3 Video Game Classics CD (with The Lion King and The Jungle Book), which was miles better (and as far as I looked up, it's closely accurate to the original Virgin version). I remember when I was little that there was an ad booklet which had some games in it, and one of them included a Game Boy Color version of Disney's Aladdin. I remember wanting that version a lot (despite having already owned a couple adapations), and it wouldn't be until a year or two later that I would play it. I can honestly say that I was pleased, and it was a lot better than the Game Boy original version. But has time been good to it?

In this game you control the eponymous main character, who's an urchin in the streets and steals to survive. The goal of this game is to rescue Princess Jasmine from the grand vizier Jafar, and therefore saving Agrabah. The game is loosely based on the 1992 classic, with some changes here and there that make for an interactive adapation (for better or worse). Virgin's Disney's Aladdin is an action/platformer in the same vein as Cool Spot and Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow in that there are large open-ended areas with intricate layouts and (optional) items to gather throughout your progress. Aladdin can swing his scimitar at enemies or throw his apples at them from a distance (careful, for you'll have to be conservative with them). Seeing as the original MegaDrive version had three buttons, in this portable port you're reduced to alternate between the two with the Select button; luckily there's an icon in the lower right corner which lets you know which weapon you're currently using so there won't be any confusion. Aladdin controls pretty decently, for you can run, jump, climb up ropes, hang and move while on the sideways ropes, and there are few moments when you'll even ride on Carpet. It's also possible to swing your scimitar in midair, while on a rope, while ducking, and while moving, so you don't have to just do it while standing still, which is a plus; same for throwing the apples. Scattered throughout the areas are gems and Genie icons. If you've gathered either five or ten gems, bring them to the merchant who appears at the start of the movie, and you can buy either a life (five gems) or a continue (if you don't feel you can beat it with no continues, ten gems). If you collect one or movie Genie icons, you'll be sent to a bonus stage which will give you the chance of getting some items, but should you land on Jafar's mug, you'll leave the bonus stage. You also have a health bar in the shape of blue smoke coming from the lamp in the lower left corner, and there are a few blue hearts around to increase your health. Also around most stages are a black lamp which acts as a wipeout item, wiping out all enemies on screen, and the Genie jars which act as your checkpoint. At the end of each stage you'll be given a short password. The control is good, and the nine stages are decently designed with their own sets of obstacles and hazards.

The movie's original sountrack is really memorable and catchy, and luckily for us, several of its songs managed to be lifted to Virgin's video game adaptation, and they sound just as good; and the original songs aren't so bad either. When transitioned to the Game Boy Color, the results are a little mixed. On one hand, it's pretty cool how the sound tried to stay as faithful to the MegaDrive adaptation's music as it possibly could; but on the other hand, due to the limited capabilities of the Game Boy Color, the music will loop a little sooner than you'd expect, making the songs sound incomplete. But the sound is mostly good. The "Prince Ali" and "Friend Like Me" numbers sound good, and the "One Jump" and "Arabian Nights" songs are all right as well. I like how atmospheric the desert and Cave of Wonder themes are, and before each Genie bonus starts there's a cute "Pop the Weasel" type of intro which is cute. The boss theme (heard a couple times) is the best song in the game, unfortuntely the way the "A Whole New World" song (my favorite song from the movie) was handled in this version was very saddening to me. The sound effects are sweet, too, like the sound from Aladdin swinging his scimitar and the sound of apples being collected. Though I wish a little more would've been done for this department, it's still all right.

While it may not look like much by today's standards, it was pretty impressive for me at the time to play a portable adaptation of the MegaDrive adaptation in color. And considering the hardware, it's cool how this port managed to try to look as close to Virgin's original version as it could. Each location is really detailed and colorful, and they look really good. The streets of Agrabah are a sight to behold with the market-like setting and tall buildings; and the palace dungeon is very atmospheric with the chains hanging over the ceiling and the reflection on the floor from the light of the moon. The Cave of Wonders stages look sweet as well, especially the Rug Ride stage with neat line scrolling that adds some depth. Aladdin and the guards' animations are nicely fluid, and their sprites look good. I like how swiftly Aladdin swings his scimitar, and the way he twists out of the Genie jar after you lost a life and start from the checkpoint. Between most stages there are cutscenes with great backgrounds where characters interact, with large detailed character frames during these moments. There are moments when there might be flicker here and there, but it doesn't detract from the experience. The backgrounds admittedly aren't as detailed as the foregrounds are, but it is cool how there are objects layered in front of Aladdin's sprite (say if a pole were in front of him, for example), giving it good depth. Aladdin even displays good idle animation.

The game has a good amount of challenge, although it is mostly an easy one, even on the hardest of the three difficulty settings. I'll just get it out of the way first, the difference between each difficulty is how much health you sustain when hit and there are a few more enemies. Now let's get on to the rest of this aspect. Each stage harbors different kinds of obstacles that will see to it that you don't progress yourself forward. The enemies can be slain by scimitar, but if you wish to take them out from a safe distance (because some enemies throw little swords at you) then you can just launch a few apples towards them. In the desert stage you have to gather a few scarab pieces while avoiding spikes on the ground and defeating the guards. The palace dungeon has exploding skeletons with bones that eventually scatter around, plus there are spikes emanating from the wall and chained balls rolling back and forth to avert. There are even a few moments when you'll have to make timed jumps with bricks popping in and out of the wall while heading up. The Cave of Wonders has a series of events; evading sword-spewing fez-wearing fish, slaying bats, avoiding little rocks, running from boulders attempting to flatten you, and flying on Carpet while dodging giant floating rocks. Basically there are different ways that you'll be challenged. The few boss fights are decent, especially the one with Jafar. The checkpoints make the stages easier to navigate so you won't have to do it in one go, but the passwords make things a little more easier. Virgin Interactive's original MegaDrive version (and most ports) required you to beat it in one sitting, making the Game Boy Color version the only port of the Virgin version to have the password. The game is pretty manageable to beat in one sitting, and you are given a few continues, but if you don't feel confident, then I suppose the password can be helpful. Each time you're hit, you lose a bit of damage, so you may want to look for hearts to replenish it.

Disney's Aladdin for the Game Boy Color is a good game, and I think it's cool how it tried to be as colorful and good-sounding as the MegaDrive original. Now, with that said and done, what could possibly be wrong with it? It's superior to the Game Boy version, but unfortunately that's where the bad news starts. The Game Boy Color port felt more like a playable remake of the Game Boy version then it did as a port of Virgin's original adaptation. I can understand how some details may have been excised due to the hardware's limitations, but there were things that I missed from having played it on the PC years ago. The original version had eleven stages, including the inside of the lamp stage and the stage where you battle Jago, and it also had bonus stages starring Aladdin's pint-sized monkey pal Abu. I found it a little distracting that the "Friend Like Me" theme was playing on the palace stage, but not during the Genie stage. If you found an Abu icon in the original version, you could take control as Abu, who had to avoid falling pots or rocks to the end, otherwise it's game over for Abu. Aladdin had an upward swing attack, too, but for the Game Boy versions it was scrapped. There's also the deal with the battle with Jafar; in the original once you defeated his human form he would turn into a cobra, but in the Game Boy Color port once you defeat Jafar's human form you win the game. It makes for a rather shorter experience. Maybe if the Game Boy Color version were the first version of the Virgin adaptation I played, then maybe I wouldn't make a big deal about it. It's a good, fun interactive version of the movie, and the great thing about it owning this portable version was playing a version of the MegaDrive original that was as closely accurate as possible. If you play it for what it is, it's a very good experience, but if you play it as a port, you may find yourself longing for more. You make the call!