Friday, March 29, 2013

Take Two Reviews: Super Castlevania IV (SNES)

March 26th-30th, 2013
What's this?  "Take Two Reviews"?  Well, this is something I've been planning to do for awhile, but it took me some time to actually get to it.  Basically this is where I review certain games for the second time because either I don't like my old review, because throughout the years I may have changed my mind, or it may be because I feel that the review I made was outdated.  What's going to happen is that I won't delete my old review, but I will keep it as a reminder as to why it needed to be re-reviewed in the first place.  If you like the old review, that's fine, I just don't feel that it may have aged well.  I figured I would start with the game for which my old review has been haunting me for over two and a half years, and one which I had second thoughts about long afterwards:

Year: 1991 | Developed and Published by: Konami

Simon is back to whip up some more action
Yes, this very game is what I chose for the trial review for my Take Two Reviews segment.  Super Castlevania IV was one of Konami's first games they created for the SNES console, and since then it has garnered quite a following from critics and gamers alike.  In my old review, while I stated that I thought the game was good, I felt it to be very overrated.  At first I thought maybe it deserved the 7 that I gave in 2010 (my God, it's been so long), and after having played Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo on the PSP title Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles some months after I downloaded it on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console (back in 2007) I admit that for me that there was just no going back.  Looking back at my review and having recently played through the game again, I feel that I may have been harsh on it before.  I'm not saying it's high-caliber like many denizens of gamers clamor it to be, but I do concede that it's a far better game than I gave it credit for back then.  But what exactly has changed since then?

Metroid-shaped platforms?  o_O
Well, for one thing, I've lately re-read my old review of the game, and I don't think it has aged well at all, and honestly I don't like it.  While I've explained the aspects and details of the game, as well as reveal the second quest that few people are even aware exist (I'll get to that later), I felt that I complained and heavily criticized it for the flaws that it had that personally annoyed me.  For some time I had contemplated giving this game a second chance, so what happened was I came back to it with an open mind and played it like it was my first time again.  That in a nutshell, is the genesis for my Take Two Reviews, and again, if you liked my old review, then good for you.  <=|  To each their own, I just felt the need to give this game another go.

Water, water, everywhere!
The Japanese version of this game was basically a 16-bit remake of the first 8-bit Castlevania (Akumajō Dracula), even though there are far more stages here than there were there.  Which explains the reused plot from the first game.  Once every century Prince Vlad himself Count Dracula rises from the grave and terrorizes the citizens of Transylvania with all his dark power and minions.  When the need arises a chosen vampire hunter in the Belmont family comes out to the rescue and defeats Dracula in his castle, leaving the residents of the country with peace for the next hundred years.  It is 1691, and the Count has come back from the grave once more (and I'm not just talking century-wise), and is out to seek revenge on the current descendant of Belmont, Simon.  This really begs the question of how old the main hero is, since he's not only faced Dracula before in the original game, but he's especially fought him in the Sharp X68000 remake in Castlevania Chronicles and in the arcade-exclusive Haunted Castle after snatching away his bride to be, in the middle of their wedding no less!  Yeah, the story isn't particularly great, but there's lots of stuff here that really make up for that.

"Look at you: you're all bones!"
This is a 2D action-platformer where Simon mostly attacks his foes with his whip in hand, which can be upgraded two times before it's at its full potency.  What separates this game from most games in the series is that you can use your whip all around you, in eight different directions, and should you hold down the whip button and move your arrows around then you'll be able to fiddle around with it.  There are even a few moments when you may be swinging on bat rings in order to make progression.  Since you're allowed to swing in every corner, the subweapon is delegated to the R shoulder button.  However, using these particular weapons--whether they are cross boomerangs, axes, knives, holy water, or clocks--will use up a few hearts that you collect along the way, so use them sparingly.  The hearts and weapons (especially II or III icons which enable you to use two or three subweapons at a time) are usually concealed inside candles floating around.  One thing about this game: should you grab a subweapon, you won't get a chance to switch back and you'll be stuck with it until you find another one.  Throughout the game there are bosses that will block your passage until you defeat them.

I had no idea that Dracula was such a
bookish character
The controls are solid, and being able to launch your whip anywhere your heart desires admittedly gives you a bit of an advantage.  The jumping controls are good, and what's noticeable here is that you can control your jumps while in mid-air.  You can even jump on stairs this time around, however you cannot jump up from stairs either.  Another neat addition to the controls is that you can move while squatting down, which is usually used when going through small spaces.  It's not as fast as when you walk, but it's a serviceable option (even though it's not used very often).  Sometimes there may be certain helping items that are hidden inside blocks (like meat to replenish health and an extra life).  One rare item you may stumble across is a small crucifix which will obliterate all the enemies that are currently onscreen.

A bare-breasted Medusa; I'm surprised Konami
got away with that considering NoA's policies back
Arguably one of Super Castlevania IV's high points is the visuals, which I noticed are often compared to that of Quintet's 1990/1991 hit ActRaiser, and for very good reason.  This is a gorgeously rendered game, with dark, detailed worlds replete with a big sense of atmosphere.  In it are also color-layering effects, huge amounts of parallax scrolling, some animated items in the foregrounds and background, and it displays a good amount of Mode 7 scaling and rotation effects.  It's also brimming with lots of good color choices as well.

"Eye" see you!
Some of the standout areas are the dark forest stage with all the green foliage and the multi-planed dark clouds gradually moving in the dark sky.  The third stage has some great settings, where at first you're in an eerie atmospheric cave, and then you climb up vertically in an oddly relaxing setting full of waterfalls, and the final part has you trek through a watery temple designed with Atlantis in mind.  One of the areas has you pitted in a gold-lathered treasury, and one of them takes place in an enchanted library.  There is this one cool sequence where you're in a room where all around you the walls rotate as if you're inside a barrel thanks to the ever-wondrous Mode 7 effect.  Simon animates okay enough, and the enemies are widely varied; like skeletons (some might have whips), Medusa heads, axe-throwing suits of armor, zombies, and bats among other things.  The bosses are big and detailed, and some are actually cleverly designed, but more on that later.

Indiana Simon getting into gear
Aurally Super Castlevania IV is wonderfully composed and its instrumentation is wisely chosen.  The soundtrack is instrumental, and a lot of the music successfully create a sense of atmosphere for each stage.  The forest theme is brooding and catchy, and some of the themes in the third theme sound smooth and relaxing.  The underground stage is overly ominous, the treasury room theme is haunting, but oddly enough despite a lot of the songs sounding dark, the library theme is very lighthearted and not very menacing.  It's a good song, don't get me wrong, it just really stands out from the score.  A truly menacing song occurs when you fight off three bosses before facing Dracula at the end, with effectively riveting string work.  What's nice is how a few of the songs have been remixed from the earlier NES trilogy, like the song "Bloody Tears" from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.  The sound quality is especially good, particularly the ending song which sounds absolutely beautiful.  The sound effects are good, too.

Geez, there's more gold here than in New
Super Mario Bros. 2
The game's challenge falls somewhere between the easy and the medium spectrum, even though for the most part it's a pretty easy game.  It's not mindlessly easy, as there are a few moments that present a bit of challenge, but one could argue that the expanded controls are part of the reason the difficulty has been alleviated to a degree.  Depending on how you look at it, it can either be a good thing or a bad thing.  As I said earlier, Simon can control his mid-jumps, and the accessible maneuverability in midair lessens a bit of the challenge.  The ability to whip in all directions can make things a little easier admittedly, but on the other hand it can work to your advantage.  Each stage is filled with obstacles, and while the boss fights don't require much of a strategy to be taken down, you will have to be careful when it comes to fighting some of them.  The boss fights are largely easy, but Dracula is the worst offender in this department.

Oh, Konami, what were you thinking with
these two?  --_--
Since I'm talking about the difficulty, I may as well bring up the few personal qualms I have with it that caused me to reward it a 7 a few years ago.  One of the ways that you could die instantly (aside from falling offscreen) is by touching spikes; no matter how much health you have the moment you get punctured, you die!  There are some games where I don't mind this happening (like Prince of Persia and Equinox among others), and if the goal was to give it a realistic feel it's one thing.  However for this game I couldn't help but feel that it's unfair.  Then there's the fact that any time an enemy comes into contact with you then you'll get pushed back.  Yes, this is what inspired the Ninja Gaiden Syndrome label I came up with in my original review, even though it's been happening since long before Ninja Gaiden actually came out.  Again, lots of games have this happen, and for certain games I don't mind at all (but if realism was the goal...); I find it infuriating any time this happens, especially if you're near a ledge, for if an enemy hits you there then there's a high probability you might fall down (the only safe point is on the stairs).

This is especially true when you engage in Super Castlevania IV's obscure and slightly harder second quest, which can only be accessed by pressing Start at the end of the credits.  Less people are aware of the second quest's availability here than the one found in Kirby's Dream Land, and for simple reasons.  In the latter you're given a code that will help you access it, thereby the developers informed you to take on the second quest; in the former you're not given a hint or a clue there even is a second quest, which would give gamers the false impression that the game is only one quest long when there is so much more to that.  Unless you (discover by accident that you must) press Start at the very end of the credits, at the part where it says "Presented by Konami" and then fades to black and then back in, you wouldn't even realize that it's actually around.  Basically it starts the game over again only with the difficulty amped up a notch.  Now in each stage there are more enemies than there were before, which admittedly create a bit of challenge, although the boss fights are unaltered.  Unfortunately the same flaws apply here too, especially when it comes to knocking Simon back (having it happen to me a lot when preparing for my initial review caused me to dock the score a lot, I must confess).  Even though the first quest is easier, I much prefer it to the second one.

Note to self: import Super Famicom cart one
A lot of people consider this game to be a classic, and I can understand why that is.  It's a great-looking and sounding game with good play control.  The ability to swing the whip around in all directions is an innovative concept even though it decreases a bit of the challenge.  The stages feel atmospheric and are decently designed, and a lot of the areas are cool.  As I said before, the boss designs are neat, and among the traditional enemies that you fight in the series, there are some that are quite creative (like the Zapf bat, a giant bat created from the treasures in the room) and some not so inspring (the spectral dancers).  I looked up that the Japanese version has little to no slowdown compared to the Western version, and that the latter has been censored to a small degree.  I do think it's a fun game, albeit a tad overrated in my opinion, and having given it a second chance with a more open mind, I found it a little better.  You can keep your 9's and 10's, but I think it's good enough, both as a game on its own and as a part of a series.  Definitely worth checking out.
My New Score: 8.0/10
P.S.: This is the only game in the series I'm aware of where the title font is different than its traditional pre-2002 font.
P.S. 2: The names of the spectral dancers are Paula Aghoul and Fred Ascare.  *facepalm*  I wouldn't mind this so much if the boss fight wasn't so uninspiring to me.
P.S. 3: Normally I'm not into writing reviews in one solid color (I'm more into variety in terms of colors), but for certain reviews I cannot help but do so.

Hey, I like this second chance series I came up with.  It's a doorway for new possibilities.  I wonder what else I could give another light of day in and out of video games and review form:  =)
Nah, I'm not in the mood to be depressed again...  =(
(Only the first Zelda, the other games-that I played-I like)
(This movie is not worth watching in my book)
Never ever again!
Obviously it's going to be a big process to go through.  *shrugs*  But hey, we'll see where the Take Two Review series go.  Stay tuned next Friday for my next review which will take place on my birthday (I turn 22), so it's going to be a special one.  Take care!

P.S. 4: To each their own.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment!  =)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Donkey Kong Classics (NES) Review

Written: March 20th-21st, 2013
Year: 1988 | Developed and Published by: Nintendo

Disclaimer: Some of the screenshots I took are a little fuzzy, so I apologize in advance!
In the early 80's were a couple arcade games that were created by Nintendo that would go on to be successes for a very long time: Donkey Kong in 1981 and its sequel Donkey Kong Junior the following year.  They were so successful in fact, that they would be ported in pretty much all the consoles that were around at the time (albeit by different video game companies); so when Nintendo decided to port both of their games in 1983 for their Famicom console themselves, the reception on the adaptations were mixed at best.  A few years later the NES ports would be available for Western audiences to experience, and the reaction was just about as equal (i.e. "not as good as the arcade originals").  In 1988, for some reason, Nintendo decided to have their 8-bit adaptations of the games available in one package that is Donkey Kong Classics.  So, aside from a chance to play two ports of classic arcade games in one cartridge and the fact that there's a new title screen, does this two-game compilation add a lot to the games?  No, not really.  But has time been kind to these individual video game adaptations done by Nintendo?  That's what we're going to find out today.

Welcome everyone, to my first ever 2-for-1 Special review!  =D
How it's going to work is like this: I pick two games (whether they are part of the same series and/or are similar or not) and I review them back to back.  I'll talk about the earlier game first and then I'll discuss my thoughts on the next game.  Afterwards, in the end, I'll summarize my thoughts on both games and reveal which of the two games I enjoy the most. So what better way to start than with the first two Donkey Kong games.  Let's do this!

Donkey Kong (1981, 1983)
"Jumpman"'s my (old) name and jumping is
my game!
This was one of the first video games to incorporate a plot, as simple as it was.  The plot of Donkey Kong centers around Mario (then known as "Jumpman") who must save his female friend Pauline (then known as "the Lady") from the clutches of the eponymous gorilla Donkey Kong (who's always been known as "Donkey Kong"), the villain of the game.  Inspired by stories such as King Kong and Beauty and the Beast, it's not a very shabby plot.  Throughout the game you have to avoid the barrels he throws down at you, be careful not to get caught on fire by the fire enemies, and of course you must not get ambushed by killer trampolines.  You won't be reaching Pauline without having to evade certain obstacles along the way.

Lots of platforms abound here
Mario has got good controls.  He can move left and right, jump (but cannot change direction in mid-air), climb ladders up and down, and even use the hammer should he pick it up.  By grabbing the hammer Mario will be rendered invincible for a short period of time and attack the enemies that are in his way, however that only applies to the hammer itself since Mario can still be damaged if an enemy touches him.  The visuals and sound are decent (the title theme is catchy), and the animation is basic but cool.  Mario will be going through certain construction sites, and in the last stage he must dismantle the ground below Donkey Kong and make him fall down in order to save his friend.  Afterwards the game loops again only with slightly more challenge, like most games at the time did.

It's Hammer Time!!!
Unfortunately in this game Mario suffers from Spelunker Syndrome where he dies upon falling down more than a few inches.  Damn, what a way to go!  Why have this happen long before the game Spelunker itself comes out??  The game adaptation is pretty decent, even though the squeaking sound coming from Mario's shoes can really get annoying (thank goodness Nintendo decided not to keep it in the future games that starred as him).  A common thing when it came to ports of Donkey Kong were that the factory stage was missing, and this port is no exception.  On one hand, this was one of the first games that was made for the system, so obviously limitations had to be made; you have to start slow when it comes to new things.  On the other hand, taking into account how later on in the NES' lifecycle there have been ports that proved that they could handle every stage that was in the arcade (and more), it seems a little weak to me.  I don't mind personally that the factory stage is not here (or the fact that some cutscenes and animations were excised in the process), though I do have to wonder what it would've been like had the factory area actually been on there.  Oh, well, it's harmless entertainment, so I think it's a good adaptation; just not as great as the arcade title it originated from, that's all.

And now it's time for me to review the equally famous sequel: =)

Donkey Kong Junior (1982, 1983)
Climbing is essential here
Donkey Kong was such a hit upon release that there was no doubt that a successor would eventually follow in its steps.  Well, the following year it did in the form of Donkey Kong Junior.  And this time around the plot has taken a rather dark turn: now Donkey Kong is the one that's been caged down and captured by Mario, the hero of the first game.  Um, role reversal much?  However, the gorilla's son, Donkey Kong Junior, is free and will try to stop Mario and save his father in anyway he can.  In order to prevent the young ape to succeed, Mario will send out snapping crocodiles (Klaptraps, anyone?), two different types of birds, and even try to electrocute him by controlling electric sparks in his hideout.  Dude, what has he done to you to make you do such a thing?!  D=  And where does he get and store all his animals?  Well, it's off to save daddy, Junior!

Go, Junior, go!
Like the first game with Mario, the controls with Donkey Kong Junior are pretty good.  The young ape can move left and right, jump in the air (but can only do so in one direction), and he can climb too.  He cannot attack the animals personally, but by climbing towards a fruit it will fall down and if you timed it right, it will crush the enemy.  Donkey Kong Junior can also climb up and down, and you can choose to do it with one or two lines (i.e. ropes, vines, chains) at once.  If you choose to climb up through only one line he will go pretty slowly, but if you climb up both lines then you'll do it quickly; the opposite applies should you climb downward.  At the end of each stage you'll be obtaining a key, and in the final stage you have to place six keys in the upper platform where Donkey Kong will be rescued and Mario will get a taste of his own medicine.  After that the game will start again on a higher difficulty.

I'm shocked that Mario would stoop so low
The visuals are basic but are nice to look at.  Donkey Kong Junior displays good walking and climbing animation, and when he loses a life his eyes bug out (albeit in a cutely comedic way).  Mario looks all right, and Donkey Kong looks cool too, but if you ask me he looks a bit too happy to be held captive.  0_O  Unfortunately, should Donkey Kong Junior fall down several inches he'll lose a life.  The sound is decent as well (the title theme is nice), though the main character has a bit of an obnoxious walking sound.  You know how I said earlier that the first Donkey Kong had four stages in the arcade but in most home conversions there were only three of them available?  Well,...

Must retrieve all the keys!
...Donkey Kong Junior had four stages in the arcade, and what's different this time around is that it's got four stages in the NES home conversion; which really makes you wonder if a four-stage Donkey Kong on the NES would've been possible back then?  The original arcade game had some cutscenes and additional animation that were eschewed when ported to the NES, but outside of that it's really faithful.  Like the original Donkey Kong, I find Donkey Kong Junior to be fun and entertaining, and it's nice to play as a different character.  I find it fascinating how Donkey Kong went from being a villain to an innocent taken hostage all of a sudden.  In my opinion, this is also a good video game adaptation.  =)

So those were Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior!  So what are my thoughts overall?  To put it simply: I think they're both decently-crafted ports, and the two games are fairly entertaining enough.  I remember having first played the 8-bit Donkey Kong when I was little through the plug-and-play over one of my cousins' house in Italy, and what surprised me back then was that it looked just like the first introductory stages in the Game Boy game that shared the same name.  I wondered if I could do all the neat stuff I could do in the handheld; not the case.  That's what happens when you play something similar on the Game Boy beforehand.  As for Donkey Kong Junior (the NES version not the Game & Watch one), I never played that game until Christmas of '02, when it came packed in with the e-Reader I got for the Game Boy Advance.  Since then I really liked it, and it was a real surprise to me.

Donkey Kong is decent, and I think it's fun to play every once in awhile, though to be honest the NES port does not hold a candle to its superior successor Donkey Kong Junior as far as I'm concerned.  While it might be lacking some cutscenes and animations that were present in the arcade, I just feel that it's a faithfully great representation regardless.  I find it more fun to play as Donkey Kong Junior than as Mario as far as the early '80s Nintendo games are concerned.  As for the compilation Donkey Kong Classics, it's good, though I wish Nintendo could've added a lot to it.  By the time it was released, the NES proved that it could handle ports of arcade games very well and have most of what the arcade originally had.  Nintendo could've taken this opportunity and remade the first Donkey Kong from scratch and try to incorporate the infamous factory stage among other things.  It would've made more sense than to just slap two games together that were already available some years prior without changing anything about them.  Shame.  =(

Do I recommend you try Donkey Kong Classics?  Well, that's a bit of a mixed answer I'm about to give.  If you buy this game expecting for the aptly-named classics to have some updates, you may be disappointed, 'cause they appear exactly like they did when they first arrived on the console.  On the other hand, if you ever wanted to play the first two Donkey Kong games without having to resort to changing games when you're not playing the other, then this cart will deliver.  That's all I've got.  *shrugs*

Throughout the years the characters involved would evolve and appear in many games for decades to come.  Donkey Kong would become a hero in his own series of games, be Mario's arch-nemesis in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, and he would also be a supporting, playable character for a lot of spin-off games.  Donkey Kong Junior would be saving his father once more in the Game & Watch handheld exclusive Donkey Kong II, act as one of the characters who must be saved in the Modernized versions of Game & Watch classics in the Game & Watch Gallery series, and somehow get a chance to race in the hit Super Mario Kart as opposed to his father.  Mario would successfully expunge his lone role as villain by resuming to be a good guy from then on and never looking back.  And Pauline, ... well, Pauline is still the damsel in distress, so not much has changed about her, really.  =|

Regardless, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior were very successful in the arcade way back when, and with two fun DK-themed titles under Nintendo's belt, there was no way that this series would head downhill after that.  No way at a--
...ooooooh, yeeeeah.  This game!  Maybe some other time.

Donkey Kong: 7.0/10
Donkey Kong Junior: 8.5/10
Overall Package Score:
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: I understand that the NES ports aren't exactly lauded, and I do know where everyone is coming from.  But hey, look on the bright side: I could've reviewed Donkey Kong Jr. Math instead.  ...  >=)  *Dracula music and laughter plays in the background*

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Clu Clu Land (NES) Review

Written: March 19th, 2013
Year: 1984 | Developed and Published by: Nintendo

♫A-treasure huntin' I will go!  A-treasure huntin' I
will go!
For as long as I remember, there have been ways to play video games on TV screens without actually owning the consoles themselves.  What I'm referring to of course are plug-and-plays, which are controllers with software programmed and/or emulated in them which as the nomenclature suggests: you plug it in to your TV and play the games that are on it.  I was exposed to plug-and-plays when I first saw one over at one of my cousins' house in Italy when I was very little, and what was neat about them was that, despite the fact that the games in it looked dated (I wasn't around in the '80s, and the plug-and-plays I'm alluding to consisted of Famicom and NES games), we had a blast playing what was on there and the variety of games was pretty neat.  Because of the fact that the copyright information was taken out of the title screens of each game (likely to avoid a lawsuit or something of the sort), I wouldn't realize until sometime in my teen years that the majority of the games that I experienced on the controller were actual games and not ones exclusively made for the plug-and-plays.  That, coupled with the fact that there were Famicom games from Japan on there, made plug-and-plays all the more awesome, in my opinion.  One of the games I initially experienced via the plug-and-play was the game of the day itself: Clu Clu Land.  =)

Clu Clu Land is one of those games that were made early during Nintendo's 8-bit generation by Nintendo themselves that I feel is very overlooked and slightly underrated by today's standards.  It's not a particularly groundbreaking game or anything, but it's one of those 8-bit games I have fond memories of and find fun, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  After my cousins no longer had a plug-and-play (I was in middle school at the time) I received an e-Reader for the Game Boy Advance, in which you could swipe several cards on it to play classic NES games (but the NES "ports" were not plenty, and the device has not aged well as far as I'm concerned), and I managed to experience Clu Clu Land once again through the e-Reader.  Eventually I decided to buy an NES, where I managed to catch up with titles I hadn't played before and revisit games that I had played before.  Even though I already had it on the e-Reader, I went ahead and bought the original cart for the NES.  Considering everything, I think I made the right choice.  =)

The objective in Clu Clu Land is to unveil all the golden treasures that are laid out on the playing field.  Doing so will bring you to the next stage.  Your round character Bubbles controls decently enough but he's got one handicap: he always moves.  He cannot stop himself, and anytime he bounces on a wall he'll ricochet right back from it.  But not to worry, there's a solution: should Bubbles extend his left or right arm on a pole, he'll be rotating around and face another direction; by holding down either arrow keys he'll keep rotating until you release the button and he lets go.  Out to stop our treasure-hunting hero are a set of sea urchins emerging from whirlpools, and the only way to stun them is by shooting your sonar at them.  So long as they're stunned and dormant, you can push them towards a wall to squish them.  By gathering all the treasures you'll form up a common or abstract shape, as the treasures are hidden until you pass right through them (you may have to search around a bit).  This game can be played simultaneously by two players, where the second player controls a green palette swap of Bubbles.  Hooray!!!  =D  Unfortunately, the game has a timer in it.  Hooroo.  =(

Ah, glasses!
The visuals and sound here are dated but serviceable.  Each stage has a differently-shaped border with various hues of the same color.  Bubbles swims through black space, and the gold treasures display their sheen and animate well when spinning.  Any time all the treasures have been found the stage border will flash bright and dark for a few seconds.  Bubbles has got good, basic animation and I like the way he rotates as he turns and the way his propeller-like tail, well... propels.  Soundwise it's also decent, although the songs are few and the melodies sound catchy, even though they can get a little repetitive after awhile.  Any time that the timer is running low the tune will change to a fast one.  The title music is brief and good, and some of the sound effects are cool, like the bling sound of the treasures and the sound the sonar makes.

"Gosh!  All this treasure hunting sure has made
me hungry!"
Clu Clu Land has a decent amount of challenge, although this is one of those arcade-like games that never really reaches an end and just lasts indefinitely until you lose all your lives.  The goal of each stage is to recoup all the treasures so you can form up a shape, however there are three things that will threaten your progress: sea urchins, whirlpools, and the timer.  So long as the sea urchins are blue, you'll be vulnerable to attack until your sonar turns them orange.  Since you'll always be moving you may have to practice making turns and ensuring what time is proper to let go or not; you must also ensure that you won't fall down the whirlpool by accident.  Careful coordination is a must!  The timer is also something you have to worry about, for if it reaches zero when you haven't finished the stage, then you lose a life.

From time to time some items will pop up that will aid you; like fruit and moneybags for points, a white flag which will give you a life, and a clock which will temporarily stop not only the enemies but the timer as well.  There are variants of five stages with diverse design, and sometimes before you know it you may stumble upon an invisible trampoline that will turn visible once you come into contact with it and then bounces you back.  After every fifth stage you'll land yourself in a bonus stage where you must collect as many blue crystals in the allotted time for a chance to score major points, and the good news is that there are no enemies at this point and the treasures are hidden in every nook and cranny.  Keeping that in mind, the challenge value is not bad.

I'ma shooting my sonar... beam!  =/  I need
to work on my improv
So all in all my opinion of Clu Clu Land is that it's a really decent game.  I think it's cute and harmless entertainment, and while it's not a game I'll come back to day after day, I do personally think that it's a fun title to play once in awhile.  It was fun when I was little, and honestly I think it's fun now.  It's not legendary but I think it's good in its own right.  It's nicer to play it on the big screen than it is on the e-Reader, and while most degraded GBA ports resort to cropping the screen (among other things), the NES "ports" simply had the square aspect ratio filling up the whole screen.  Now I'm all for preserving the company's intended aspect ratio (pan-and-scan sucks, in my opinion), but if you're going to do it by stretching and squishing it just to fit the screen size, then the result will be a bit ugly; but that's just my perception of it.  I still think it's underrated after all these years, and while I can sort of understand why some gamers might feel negatively about it, I still think it's worthy of a look.  Make of it what you will!
Thank you for reading this review, please leave a comment! =)
P.S.: Remember how in my DuckTales review I made a collage of all the Disney shows that I didn't end up enjoying?  I just realized (to my surprise) that I forgot one: Mr. Young!  How could I have forgotten that, since it was one of those shows I had in mind when creating the collage?  Though given that from what I've seen of the show I personally found too juvenile, dull, unremarkable, and unmemorable, I guess it's not so surprising after all.  =|
P.S. 2: This has been a personal review.  To each their own.
P.S. 3: My next review will be consisting of two games.  That's the only hint I'm giving.
"Hey, did you know that the treasures here would eventually turn up in the NES classic The Legend of Zelda as the monetary value 'rupees', and that the Unira sea urchins would turn up in said game as large versions of themselves?  Now there's a fun fact for ya!"  =D

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Super Mario Bros. (NES) Review

Rough Draft: March 3rd-12th, 2013 / Written: March 12th-14th, 2013
Year: 1985 | Developed and Published by: Nintendo

Disclaimer: Spoilers (for the few who haven't played this game)
And so, a legend is born!
Almost three years of talking about video games in my blog, and I haven't once reviewed a Mario video game?  =/  That is just wrong; I should rectify that right away!  Pretty much everyone should be familiar with the events that eventually led up to this game's release.  But for the few that are not in the know, it went something like this: an unfortunate series of events led to the infamous Video Game Crash of 1983, which gravely impacted video games and consoles of the time for the next two years.  Video games were on the verge of being passé and less viable until a pack-in title with a new console arrived on the scene late in '85.  The console was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and the video game that came along with it was Super Mario Bros.

Hopping on mushroom-tops!
Prior to this game a few others that had the likable main character were around, from the 1981 Donkey Kong arcade game where he was known as "Jumpman", to its 1982 arcade successor Donkey Kong Junior where Mario would serve his only role as villain, to the original Mario Bros. arcade game in 1983 which both revealed his profession as a plumber and introduced us to his brother Luigi, and forevermore giving the titular character the name he would always be known as: Mario!  Eventually the Big N decided to create something new and big with Mario in it, so what better time to do it than at console launch?  This was inevitably a big moment at the time, and clearly it was a big chance they were taking.  But when it got released, it was a huge hit and not only did it help revolutionize the platformer genre as we know it, but it also helped to end the Crash.  =)  And now, over a quarter of a century later, gamers still fondly look back on and enjoy this game.  Let's go on an adventure to discover the importance of this sidescrolling platformer!  *cues the Map Room/Dawn theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark*

I hope you like this message, because you'll
be seeing it a lot!  XD
The plot, like most games at the time, is pretty simple and straightforward.  Her Highness Princess Toadstool (anyone ever wonder who the King and Queen are?) has just been kidnapped from the Mushroom Kingdom by Bowser, King of the Koopas, because... he's evil?  He's been snubbed by Mushroom royalty in the past?  He's got the hots for her?  I don't know, Bowser's real light in terms of motivation.  *shrugs*  News of her kidnapping spread around the locale, and the short Italian plumber Mario decides it is his duty to save her.  If you take into consideration the year this game came out, it's actually not a bad plot.  Maybe not an entirely new premise, but there's lots of creativity in here.  As I said before, trying to save Princess Toadstool is a pretty decent plot....  That is...
...until Nintendo decided to abuse this plot in minor and major intervals in the game series, making the plot point tired and overdone.  I mean, doesn't she get tired of getting kidnapped all the damn time??  But despite all this, the Mario games are (for the most part) a very enjoyable and entertaining series of games.  =)

Thus has come the inevitable battle with Mario
against Bowser... or so it seems!  =<
Super Mario Bros. is a sidescrolling platformer where you star as the titular character Mario (or Luigi if you play as him with the second controller).  One button makes you jump (A), and how light or hard you push it determines how high or low you jump; and holding down the other button (B) while moving towards either the left or the right will allow you to dash.  You can also duck down to avoid certain obstacles when the time arises.  Any time you start a game or after you lost a life, you begin as little Mario, who can only bop his head on "?" blocks (whether they are visible or when they are disguised as brick blocks, which cannot regularly be broken as little Mario); however, you can bop your head on any block if an enemy is on top of it, rendering them defeated a la 1983 Mario Bros.

Sometimes if you hit your head on a "?" block a mushroom will pop out, but you must get to it before it crawls away... which brings up so many questions considering there are mushroom characters (Toads) to save too, but never mind; once you grab the mushroom you'll become big Mario, who can now break through bricked blocks.  If you're big Mario the next power-up you'll come across is a fireflower, which will enable you to throw flames towards your foes with the B button, thus turning you to Fire Mario!  =D  If you hold down the B button before you move during this, you can fire at your enemies while running simultaneously.  A few blocks might have a star jump out, which will bounce up and down until it's either acquired or lost; once you grab the star you'll be Star Mario, who will become invincible for several seconds.  You can jump on top of most enemies, and this was the first game to utilize the concept of earning a life should you collect a hundred items (in this case, coins), which would inspire a lot of games outside the Mario series to mimic it and put their own spin on it.  At the end of each world you must face off against Bowser.

Cheep-Cheep attack!!!  =O
This game came out during the early years of Nintendo's 8-bit generation, and as blocky and aged as they may be now by today's standards, the visuals still hold up in their own way.  The animations are decent and fun to watch, even if you are reduced to just a few frames, like the animation where Mario runs or the animation of a Paratroopa's wings flapping, or the simple one-frame take of a stomped-on Goomba, even the shimmer of the gold coins.  When you play as little Mario he looks like a small child; a small, mustachioed, child, but after he consumes a mushroom he becomes three times tall (in a red and brown combo prior to obtaining the Fire Flower, in which he's got a brighter tan/red combo).  While I'm at it I'd like to discuss about the enemies: each of them have got a discernible and unique design, and while they might be palette swapped every once in awhile, they still look cool, and it amazes me how much they have evolved throughout the years design-wise.  There's the Goombas, the Koopa Troopas, the Paratroopas, the Cheep-Cheeps, the Bloopers, the Bullet Bills, the Lakitus, the Spinies, the Buzzy Beetles, the annoying Hammer Brothers, and of course the main baddy in the game himself, Bowser!  Any time a star lands on Mario he becomes a living rainbow, with colors coming and going for a short bit.

Lakitu, only Koopa to fly on a cloud
The visuals for each stage and background look particularly good, with a hint of freshness and variety despite the basic look.  For the most part you'll see a bright sky with clouds, grass, hills, bricks, pipes, and more.  Some stages might take place right on top of treetops or giant mushroom-tops, some might be occurring underground or you might even have to swim underwater at times.  What's neat is how from time to time the game might take place at night as opposed to day, and some areas may take place in a snowy setting.  In the fourth and final stage of each world (there are eight in total) you find yourself in Bowser's castle or fortress, where for the most part it's all dark and gray, save for the lava and fireballs that you might have to dodge.  Honestly, I like the colors Nintendo chose for this game, as I feel they do a job well-done representing the game.

Say, if Mario can breathe underwater
indefinitely in his 2D games, they why does he
need bubbles to breathe in his 3D games?  =/
Composed by famed Koji Kondo, I think he has made good use of the 8-bit sound chip, creating one of the most popular and well-known video game soundtracks for many generations to come.  And the songs are pretty good too, like the famous Mario theme which has a fun and catchy beat.  The underwater theme is slow and relaxing, the underground theme is short but cool, the invincibility theme is brief but energetic, and Bowser's theme sounds both ominous and dark.  The short fanfare that plays whenever Bowser's been ousted is reassuring and positive, and the short ending song is playful yet rewarding.  The game's  sound effects are also memorable, from the bling sound you hear any time you grab a coin, the sound that plays when you climb down a pipe, especially the jump sound, among others.

In bonus rooms such as these there are lots
of coins to collect
Well I've talked about everything else for this game, but how does the challenge value hold up after all these years?  Honestly, incredibly well!  While the first Super Mario Bros. isn't exactly a hard game (for the most part), it has got what I feel to have a very fleshed-out difficulty and tons of variety in terms of what challenges await you.  I'm not certain where to begin, but I may as well.  The goal of the first to third stages in each world is to reach the flapole all the way to the far right so you can move on to the next one, and in the fourth stage of each world you must eliminate Bowser once again to the far right so you can enter the subsequent stage.  What's quite notable is how every stage offers a new and unique challenge, as well as introduce a new enemy for you to face (e.g. you'll be seeing Cheep-Cheeps and Bloopers for the first time in Stage 2-2, and you'll be putting up with Lakitu every few stages from Stage 4-1 onward).  A few stages are even reused, except this time there are some added obstacles to make it slightly harder; that is clever.  When it comes to battling Bowser, or a lackey disguised as him... just roll with it; you have either one of two options: A) shoot some fireballs at him enough times until he falls down (but only if you are Fire Mario), or B) you can take the easy route and grab the axe positioned in the right end so you can cut off the bridge, thereby forcing him down to fall into the lava.  A lot of the times you may wind up shooting for method B (regardless of whether you have a choice or not), but if you're fortunate enough to reach him as Fire Mario, then so long as you avoid his fire breath (or hammers) then method A will be a surefire way to take him down. pun intended.  =|

There's a steady challenge flow the longer you progress in the game, and it is very manageable; the only stages you may have real trouble with, like I do, are the final two stages, 8-3 and 8-4.  What's frustrating to me about 8-3 is how there are a lot of Hammer Brothers, who are so annoying and you have to time your movements just right otherwise they may either jump down on you or hit you with their hammer(s) (and believe me, that has happened one time too many), especially when you're little Mario.  Stage 8-4 requires that you take a sequence of pipes, and picking the right one will ensure that you're on the right track; and those paths are simple enough to follow if you're careful.  Here's what gets to me about this stage: near the end is a lone Hammer Brother guarding the way, and you have to get past him.  If he jumps then you know you have to run past him, but be sure neither it nor its hammers hit you, otherwise it's bad news for you.  =(

Mario has found himself in coin heaven
Is Super Mario Bros. a perfect game?  No, but back when it came out it was it the game that everyone could only dream of before, and that's exactly what they got and a lot more.  As simple as the gameplay is, what really set the bar was the different ways that it would try to challenge you (i.e. in a couple of the Bowser stages, there are a few paths to choose from, and only by taking the correct route will you be progressing farther; take the wrong one, however, and you'll be forced to keep moving until you find the set of paths again and take the right one).  I think it's quite impressive, and above all, the first adventure starring Mario has really stood the test of time.  With the exception of the final two stages, it's a largely manageable game with decent enough challenge.  There are secrets here and there, and you can climb down some pipes to warp to more subsequent worlds, but if you want to hear my thoughts I think that doing a warpless run can be more rewarding in the long run.  There is a secret way to continue from the world you left off if you lost all your lives without starting from the beginning (and most of you should be aware of this secret), and from time to time there are invisible blocks that turn visible once you jump towards them (will require trial and error).  As hard as the last two stages are in terms of survival, they're not impossible and perseverance to the very end is key.

Duck!!  Incoming Bullet Bill approaching!
For the longest time Super Mario Bros. was one of the few Mario games (well, canon and mainstream anyway) that I played but never finished.  I beat it a few times in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the Game Boy Color, but it doesn't exactly count seeing as it's a port (and a heavily cropped up one at that); I wanted a chance to try to beat the game in its original format, outside the GBC.  Stage 8-3 and 8-4 were so difficult that it was getting to the point of being frustrating.  There was a moment that I thought, "All right, one more time and that's it!"  I was feeling compelled to play this game to the end, and I persevered to my very best.  There was a moment that I only had a few lives left where I was little Mario in the final stage, and I was worried that I was going to lose a life and start the stage over (I was very lucky).  To my surprise, I have evaded the Hammer Brother, defeated Bowser, and rescued Princess Toadstool.  I was so excited I just could not believe it!  =O  I beat the first Super Mario Bros. for the first time!  O_O  Holy crap, I actually beat this game!  =D  And it turns out that in 1985 Toadstool was a redhead; if you beat the game you get chance to see her for the first time and will be rewarded for your hard efforts with this screen.

Looks and sounds better, but it still plays
as solidly as the original  =)
I suppose I may as well share my thoughts on the SNES remake on Super Mario All-Stars (which was my introduction to Mario's first adventure when I was little, plus the compilation itself was also one of the first SNES games I ever played) as well, but in brief.  The visuals and sound were revamped and vastly improved upon.  The game is a lot colorful and beautiful this time around, with signicantly more detailed worlds replete with parallax scrolling and slightly updated character and enemy design and animation.  In the remake there is a new cutscene for when you save Princess Toadstool (and there are various animations occurring whenever you save any of the Toads), and you can save your progress in here as opposed to playing the game in one sitting.  Just as it looks pretty, so too does it sound beautiful.  The 16-bit remixes of the songs sound wonderful, and in some cases are more atmospheric and imposing; in my opinion, the added instrumentation adds a lot.  There are even a few songs exclusively made for this remake; now anytime you take on Bowser a menacing song will pop up, there is now music playing in the title screen, and when you're in a bonus room a cheerful and bright song will play in its stead.  It might just be me but the controls feel slightly different here and the Hammer Brothers seem more difficult to evade, but aside from those bit of differences it is still a very solid platformer.  =)

Thanks for the memories, Mario!  =')
While I'm a little more partial to the SNES version, I must admit that over the years I've grown more fondness and appreciation towards the NES classic.  While not as visually flashy or as better-sounding, there's something about the 8-bit original that feels timeless and remarkable.  Even with its many rereleases that have emerged over the years (including the heavily cropped up Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the Game Boy Color that I mentioned earlier), it is still quite an incredible video game.  As a game on its own it works really well, but as a part of a series it's even better.  It truly amazes me how long this series has been around.  While I wouldn't go so far as to call it the best in the series (and trust me, there would be lots of competition in the following years to come) it does fall somewhere along "one of the best of" category.  Over the years the Mario series would be going through its series of ups (take your pick) and downs (*cough* live-action movie, *hack* animated shows, *cough* spin-off games not officially involved by Nintendo *cough*), but with Super Mario Bros. it was the beginning of something new, leaving a legacy that would go on for years that no one would ever forget.  I don't know what the state of video games today would be like if not for this game, but for all intents and purposes, I have unconditional love for it!  =)  God bless you, Super Mario Bros.!  *proudly salutes*
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: March 3rd, 2013 will be a day I remember, always!  =D
P.S. 2: This is the second video game I reviewed in one solid color after Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion.
P.S. 3: If you haven't played this game yet, then what are you waiting for???  Do it right now, you're missing out big time!!!
P.S. 4: I couldn't have chosen a better first Mario game to review!  =)  What game in the series shall I review next?
P.S. 5: Yes, I'm aware that there are borders on the left and right side of the screen.  A lot of NES games did that.  =(
P.S. 6: Yeah, I know everyone has been calling her Princess Peach since Yoshi's Safari came out, but I don't care, to me she'll always be Princess Toadstool.