Friday, April 26, 2013

Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken (SFC) Review

Written: April 21st-26th, 2013
Year: 1994 | Developed by: GRC | Published by: Tomy | [ O ]

Disclaimer: Some spoilers ahead
Reaching for the stars has never felt so good  =)
A lot of you may recall that last year I created a first impressions post of this game.  My "impressions" posts were a way of covering games that I just played and share how I felt about them for the moment (as well as good ways to discuss about games I haven't completed or beaten yet).  Lately I thought of sharing my thoughts on the game in the form of a full-fledged review since my initial thoughts only consisted of a few paragraphs (the last one admittedly being longer than it should've been).  I remember hearing about this game for the first time in RVGFanatic's website years ago, and from what I had read on there it sounded like a really fun experience, taking place in Disneyland of all places.  I still haven't been there but I would like to visit it one day.

Throwing water balloons underwater is
Prior to experiencing this game I played three other 2D sidescrolling Mickey Mouse platformers.  In the order that I played them, the first one I played was Mickey's Wild Adventure for the PlayStation One, one of my favorite games ever and a childhood classic that had tons of charm and was lots of fun; the music was memorable too (it's a shame that the Sony version never came out in America).  Then in early '12 I managed to catch up with The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie and The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse, two really great, really charming, really fun SNES Mickey Mouse games by Capcom (even though the former didn't have memorable music and the latter had a lackluster ending).  That summer I ordered Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken from eBay, the second Super Famicom cart I imported from Japan, and I really enjoyed it since then.  =)

The game begins somewhere in Tokyo Disneyland as Mickey and gang are preparing for the latest opening.  However something has gone wrong.
Mickey Mouse's girlfriend Minnie informs him that the others have been taken by Pete and his crew and are each held in different parts of the theme park.  It's up to Mickey to rescue the others otherwise the event will be ruined and Pete will have the upper hand, possibly try to run it himself.
But he cannot go unprepared, so Mickey straps himself with two balloon tanks on his back and brings along a big supply of balloons.  One will fill it up with helium and the other will fill it up with water.  So as Mickey prepares himself Minnie wishes him luck on his mission and the journey begins.  Will our brave mouse succeed in his Japan-exclusive Disneyland endeavor?

Would you look at that pirate ship looming in
the distance!  =)
This is a 2D sidescrolling platformer, with a diverse set of controls to back you up throughout your quest.  Mickey controls good to a point (more on that shortly), for he's got two sets of balloons in his disposal which he can use to either attack enemies or float in the air to make further progress in each area.  By holding the Y button you'll be filling the balloons with water, and the bigger the balloon is the more impact it will have on the enemy.  You could even drop it on your enemies from above and even use it to bounce yourself upward.  Holding down the X button will fill it with helium, being light enough to take you midair.  However, the longer you hold down the button the more the helium gauge will decrease.  Depending on how much you've got left, you can launch yourself really far in any of the eight directions you please should you let go and pop the balloon.  You can drop yourself down if you let go of the X button without touching the control pad; it's even possible to throw the balloon upward by itself while you duck.  Mickey can also jump, duck, swim, and run as well by double tapping, although the running controls aren't exactly responsive here.  At the end of each stage you'll be fighting against Pete, who'll always be attacking you in different ways.

Pete has come to haunt you for defeating him
so many times in the past!  O=
The areas in this game look really good, and I like how each division of Disneyland has their own unique look and feel.  =)  The stages are brimming with color and there is a good amount of detail and charm in each of them.  One such example is the first stage, which is the Adventureland portion of the park where it's mostly rendered in blue hues, which then segues to a fiery exposition inside a building, leading outside the cave into the open sea with the sky beautifully lathered with shining stars.  Another takes place in Tomorrowland where it's all futuristic but whimsical at the same time, ending in a rollercoaster ride to the shuttle under a gorgeous night sky.  The third stage is refreshing to look at as it's really colorful and it largely takes place outside with all the critters and the water-filled log rides.  Every other area looks great as well, and some of the ending shots are truly fascinating.

Donald was overjoyed when Mickey told him
they would star in a Nintendo-exclusive Mickey &
 game the following year
I would also like to give a shout out to the character and enemy designs here, they are fun to look at!  I like how simple Mickey's design is here as oldschool as it is, and the animations he exhibits are really nice and charming. Like Pete whenever you face him, you face various forms of his henchmen (in one stage they might be pirates while in another they'll don astronaut gear), and a few of them might disguise themselves as mimic chests (don't you just love those?).  Aside from the henchmen you might have to put up with creatures like ghosts, robots, fish, bats, bees, crocodiles (?), and even dragons among others; I think the roster of enemies are designed nicely.  Pete's diverse get-ups are brilliant, especially the last one, which I'll get to.  Even Mickey's friends look good here, especially Scrooge McDuck.  Yes, you read right, Scrooge McDuck is in a Mickey Mouse game, how awesome is that???  =D
"Hot dog!  It sure is swell to see ya, Scrooge!"  =)
"It's a pleasure to catch up with me favorite mouse again!"  =)
"I hear that we'll be in another game eighteen years from now."
"Yes, that is true, Mickey!  See you again in Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion!"
"Oh, boy, that game is gonna to be a classic, haha!"  =D
"Dinnae get ye hopes up, laddie."  =(

Trapped in a room full of treasure and pirates
dressed up as treasure chests
Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken, in my opinion, has a largely good soundtrack.  It's not only fun to listen to (for the most part), but it also helps lend a lot of atmosphere to the surroundings, which has a fantastic end result.  =)  The choice of instrumentation is interesting but it's really good.  The third stage theme is wonderful, for it's so lighthearted and evokes a lot of charm; the fourth stage theme is mysterious yet quirky, and the fifth stage theme is so beautiful and ambient that it is just breathtaking.  The title and ending themes are cool, and the boss themes are fun and catchy.  The sound effects are decent, for they're not bad.  Whenever Mickey gets hurt he makes a squeaking sound, the air and water balloons sound fairly accurate, and the rest are all right.

This area looks cool, cool as ice
The main goal of the game is to save all your friends and vanquish Pete (six times) so he won't take over Disneyland.  There are six stages in the game, and at the end of each stage is a friend awaiting your rescue.  In order they are Daisy, Donald, Elvira "Grandma Duck" Coot, Scrooge McDuck, Goofy, and finally Pluto.  However, as is customary in games like these, it's a lot easier said than done.  In Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken's case it's truly an accomplishment that is easier said than done because it's a very challenging game.  I'm not kidding, not even Mickey's Wild Adventure can touch this as far as high difficulty goes.  Okay, I should probably go into this in full detail.

Tomorrowland is ahead of its time!  =)  I love
The game has three difficulty settings, and depending on the setting there may be more or less obstacles in each area than in others.  Your health is depicted as small balloons, and you have a high health count for your capacity is eight balloons, no matter the setting you play.  On easy you begin with eight balloons, on normal you start with five, and on hard you commence with three, but that's not the only difference.  Depending on which setting you play you may have to battle more or less enemies, there might be more obstacles to avert, and there may be less to no secondary platforms on Hard (near the end of the sixth stage particularly).  The boss fights won't be different, but some elements in the stages (a giant ghost creeping up on you on the way up in the beginning of the fourth stage for example) might be faster than they were if you were playing the easier modes.  But that's not all!

Astronaut Pete fighting Mickey in a moving
Part of the reason the game is as difficult as it is is due to the way the controls were structured.  Using air and water balloons to aid your journey is actually a really interesting play mechanic, but the controls aren't spectacular.  Mickey's jumps take a bit to get right, when he's underwater he doesn't swim fast enough (but it is possible to walk and run underwater so long as you've got enough oxygen), and the air balloons take so much practice to get right as there are moments that require you to time your launches right.  Some moments require that you do consecutive flights in mid-air, but if you let go at the wrong time then you'll fall straight down.  There's also the deal with holding down the direction you want to fly to once you pop the balloon, making sure you don't pop it while not pressing any direction unless you feel you have no choice.  The controls aren't bad, though, they're really not, for they can be managed with enough time and practice.  All they needed was a bit of fine-tuning.

Riding a mine cart as you avoid being struck
by swooping vultures
In my newest Super Castlevania IV review I expressed my disapproval for being knocked back by enemies on certain games (not all of them), and I don't know if I stated it, but the reason that bugs the hell out of me is because until you're back on the ground (or until you lose a life) you cannot do anything about it!  But you want to know what's worse than being sent back after being in contact with an enemy?  How about momentarily losing control as you're knocked straight down?  =(  It's not much of a problem if it happens on top of a platform, but should you sustain damage while you're flying through the air on top of a bottomless pit, then you'll be falling straight down to your death.  And admittedly it can get a bit annoying when it happens.  Another aspect that makes the difficulty what it is are the stage designs.  While several of the stages are designed nicely, there are a few that can be really hair-raising at best, in particular Stage 6-3 where you must successfully fly through the stage consecutive times with your balloon while timing it right; there are a few secondary platforms in the easier setting then there are on Hard (where there are none).  Failure to do so will result in starting the portion over again.  The way this stage portion is designed is so devious that it can get frustrating.  What could possibly be make all that worthwhile?

*crackling thunder*
*blinks* =o
<=O  *blinks*  <=D
*summoning his minions as he blows you away*
.......  *applauds enthusiastically*  WHOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!  =D

Okay, let me explain.  First of all , look at the overall theme and tell me you do not recognize it!  The fact that it's paying homage to the under-appreciated (in my book) 1985 animated film The Black Cauldron is pretty awesome, and Pete dressed up as the Horned King is genius!  Second, I love how dark and foreboding the background is for it does a great job of evoking darkness and is part of why it's outstanding!  Third, I love the way the battle is set up and the several phases you'll be going through, as it is just epic!  And speaking of epic, just listen to that music!  It just screams "final confrontation" and is proud of it!  =)  I don't care if this game isn't as good as Capcom's Mickey's Magical Adventure trilogy or even Mickey's Wild Adventure, this ultimate battle against Pete just trumps them all!  =D  It might not seem like it from just looking at these still shots but trust me, when you play this game and experience it for yourself you will be overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence that is Horned Pete.  As far as I'm concerned this makes the trip all worth it.  Wow, am I excited!  =D  *dons pair of shades*  B-)  Yeah.

Ride down the water
All right, so time for my final thoughts on Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken.  What do I think?  Even though I pointed out the flaws with its controls and how some elements attribute to its difficulty, it's actually a pretty fun game.  =)  Granted, some polish with the jumping and air balloon controls would've been nice, and some stage designs were a little too long or dastardly designed, but honestly there's so much that makes up for those.  The areas are so wonderful to look at (some of them are even surreal, which work so well), and the soundtrack is mostly great (the only exception being the Cinderella's Castle theme because it can get very depressing and annoying after awhile due to the difficulty).  As I said before, the balloon system is pretty clever and the way it was executed is pretty decent.  I enjoy the interaction between Mickey and his friends even though it's all in Japanese, and there is so much charm to be found here.  There's a password system to continue your progress, and thankfully it's only comprised of four character slots filled with basic shapes.  Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken is one of those games where you'll see more of the ending the higher the difficulty setting you play, and the finale scenario is very rewarding, especially after you beat Horned Pete which is just an epic final boss battle to boot.

While I've never been to Disneyland, I do wish to go there someday since I often hear that it's a fun place to go; and the various areas found here give me a pretty good idea of how it would be like in there (minus the spikes, enemies trying to hurt you, trap doors, and bottomless pits, that is).  It might be frustrating at times, but the challenge is commendable (there is a clever yet peculiar way of crossing through wind gusts without being blown upward in the second stage) and it's a fun way to spend an hour and a half; I think GRC made a very good game here.  Maybe not as great as the second Super Famicom-exclusive title starring Disney's mouse Mickey & Donald: Magical Adventure 3 (more on that awesomeness another day), but it's good fun in its own right. If you want to play a Mickey Mouse that offers a good amount of challenge, you'll find it right here.  If you're looking for something easy, you may want to skip this one.  If you enjoy all (good) things Disney, I recommend you import it and give it a shot.  It's definitely worth playing, and I'm glad got it last year, as I enjoy playing it every once in awhile.  =)
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great day! Take care!  =)
P.S.: As long as we're talking Disney, I hope DuckTales Remastered on the Nintendo Wii U will serve as a great comeback for Scrooge McDuck; it's a shame that most kids nowadays don't know about him or his many adventures.  Yes, I heard the news regarding the game's focus group, and I can't help but find that sad.  =(
P.S. 2: Was I excited over Horned Pete or what?
P.S. 3: Any time you hold down the Select button while standing still Mickey will look directly at the screen.  Uhhhhhm...  point, game?  =\
P.S. 4: I wanted to add more in the post-scripts by briefly venting my thoughts towards certain Disney shows I don't personally like, and how I blamed some of them for the above news, but it would've taken too long so I decided not to.  =(
P.S. 5: One more thing:
for those that played this game, did anyone actually reach that chest up above?  I tried and I tried but I could never obtain it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Super Adventure Island (SNES) Review

Written: April 20th-21st, 2013
Year: 1992 | Developed by: Produce | Published by: Hudson Soft

That calamari will know better than to mess
with him again
Whenever a video game series or video game characters would transition themselves to the 16-bit console, the end result (for the first attempt in the series) is mostly positive.  Mario transitioned well when he starred in his first SNES game Super Mario World, and that game was brilliant (even if it's a touch overrated).  Samus' first 16-bit venture was very memorable in Super Metroid, and that game was awesome.  So was Link's transition to the 16-bit world The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.  Even Kirby's first 16-bit entry was highly enjoyable, even though it was a spin-off, in the form of Kirby's Dream Course.  Some first-time 16-bit entries, on the other hand, would prove to be heavily polarized in terms of overall reception and execution: one example being Capcom's canon 16-bit entry to the original series Mega Man 7 (technically the first SNES Mega Man game was Mega Man X, but you get the idea) and another being the case with Master Higgins' initial foray to the SNES Super Adventure Island.

Skateboarding through the beach
Hudson Soft's Adventure Island series started off as a direct NES port (albeit with slight alterations) of Westone's 1986 arcade game Wonder Boy, which was released by Sega for coin-op machines, while the rest of the entries would be original and (mostly) handled by the Hudson Soft team.  At present I only played three games in the series (Adventure Island for the NES; the Game Boy port of Adventure Island II, Adventure Island; and Super Adventure Island programmed by Produce) and my thoughts on the series are: ehh!  <=|  I don't think they're awful or anything, I'm just not that head over heels towards these games.  They've got some good stuff going for them, don't get me wrong, it's just that I personally don't find them to be top-tier quality; but that's how I personally feel from what I've played in the series.  To each their own.  I first played Super Adventure Island in the summer of '10 after having ordered it from eBay, and you can probably guess where this is going.

Climbing up a candy-flavored canyon
The game starts off with a scene of Master Higgins and his girlfriend Tina having a honeymoon on top of a palm tree, until a dark cloaked sorcerer called... Dark Cloak transforms her into stone.  So he heads off to follow the sorcerer's trail and will go to great lengths to defeat Dark Cloak and undo his malign spell.  Master Higgins will travel jungles, volcanoes, beaches, a whale's insides, a tree-laden environment, a dark mine, a hot desert, underwater, a snow-capped place, and finally the snow castle where the main antagonist awaits.  Each stage is divided into parts, while the last part will have you face off against a boss.  Yeah, the plot is that simple.

Under the sea!  Under the sea!
You take control of Master Higgins, an incredibly chubby and "hook-mouthed" grass-skirted caveman who attacks enemies by either throwing axes or boomerangs.  Unlike the other games in the series where items were encased inside eggs, the weapons are floating in mid-air where you can catch them.  The fact that there are two weapons makes it feel a little limited, with the best of the two being the boomerang, but there is an upside to this.  If you collect more of the same weapon you'll be able to throw more of them at a time, but collect them enough times and you'll be able to dish out flaming sparks instead, which act the same as the weapon you're carrying but are more powerful than before.  This is one of those one-hit games where once you take a hit you lose a life; at that point you'll restart from either the first or the second half of the stage portion.

Super Adventure Island's controls are somewhat loose, but they can be worked around.  Master Higgins can also duck and jump, and from time to time he'll be riding a skateboard in the stage portion until he either reaches the goal or if he gets into contact with an enemy (the board will be gone but Master Higgins won't unless he's by himself).  There is one new type of control introduced in this game: the super jump.  The regular jumps are fairly normal, but in order to jump really high all you have to do is press down while on the ground and press the jump button.  That's all there is to that.  What's noticeable here is that his pacing is always the same for the portly primitive cannot run.  What you'll want to make sure of is that the health bar does not become entirely empty (as it repletes itself the more you move), so in order to keep it filled you must collect tons of fruit along the way.  Gee, no wonder his corpulence is downright brobdignagian.  =\  No offense to the character.

Neon lights flood the bonus segments  =)
The visuals are pretty decent in their own right.  It's colorful and good to look at, even if more attention to detail was paid in the foregrounds than in the backgrounds.  The stages and the stage portions look nice, and some are pretty unique.  The beach setting looks nice what with the waves that roll back from time to time, the swimming settings inside a whale's mouth and underwater have good wavy effects, and there's a fascinating-looking canyon that almost looks candy-coated.  The other areas look cool, too, and during most cutscenes there are instances of Mode 7 used; like in that scene where Master Higgins is swallowed whole by a Mode 7 whale and a scene where Master Higgins is falling to the water as everything around him rotates thanks to Mode 7.  The chunky troglodite protagonist looks and animates okay, though I find his one-frame throwing animations really weird.  The enemies are detailed and cartoonish, but the bosses are even bigger and more detailed, including Dark Cloak's second form.

Time for some routine exercise
The soundtrack was composed by none other than the great Yuzo Koshiro (known for doing the music to Ys Book I & II, The Revenge of Shinobi, Streets of Rage 1 and 2, and ActRaiser), and without a shadow of a doubt it's Super Adventure Island's high point.  The game's background music consists of tropical beats, hip hop, and a certain amount of calypso here and there, and they sound really good.  The theme that plays when you're swimming is catchy, the snow theme is cool (even though it sounds Follin-ish at times), and the tropical jungle and beach themes are nice.  The boss theme is great too, especially the ultimate one.  I'll say this much about the music: at least it's more noteworthy and more memorable than ActRaiser 2's soundtrack, which Yuzo also worked on.  The sound effects are all right and many of them sound like they were lifted from the previous games.

Mmm, bananas!
Super Adventure Island is not a challenging game, but boy is it straightforward.  I'm serious, all the stages are very linear, with no complex level design whatsoever (well, except the penultimate stage portion near the end but it's still linear) meaning there's no other direction or method to reach the end.  There are slopes and curves, sure, but it's still incredibly undeviating.  Don't get me wrong, there are some games that can pull that off (so long as they're fun and have elements that make up for that shortcoming); this is not one of those games.  It's a good thing there are enemies serving as obstacles.  At the end of each stage is a boss who's pattern must be followed in order for you to take it down.  There are few other reservations I have, particularly when Higgins loses a life.

I have a lot of qualms with this.  Shall I count the ways?
1. The way he looks when he dies feels really condescending to me, and it doesn't help any that it happens every time you die.  That just insults me.  >.<
2. He always faces the left any time he dies.  He never dies while facing the right.  Sure, it may have been the case with Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands!, but hell, that game was so easy that you would barely even see it!
3. I hate the sound effect that plays when Master Higgins dies, it just adds to the condescension as far as I'm concerned, not to mention it abruptly ends the music.  >=(  It might be different if he gets burnt to a crisp, but the same thing happens otherwise.

Super Adventure Island has to be beaten in one sitting, and it has only two continues, though honestly, I don't feel that it's a satisfactory amount, even if you were to master this game.  Maybe it's to do with how the game was structured that I find it problematic.  One last issue I've got is that there are a few stage segments when if you walk a certain amount then an enemy will pop out of the blue.  Not convinced?  How about some visual aid then?  I have taken the liberty of keeping track of the time into one of the video footage I recorded, and here is one example:
It's true, I swear I'm not making this up!  That penguin did not walk all the way from the left offscreen, it just instantaneously appeared right there!  Even in pre-HD standard TV sets it should be apparent!  That's enough to catch you off-guard and cost you a life if you're not careful.  How exactly is that fair??  D=<  Give ActRaiser 2 some credit, it at least had the decency to have enemies approach you from offscreen; the only exception to the rule being the robed spectres, but those were totally justifiable because they were spectres.  They can be allowed to appear out of nowhere, penguins are not!  I can't imagine anyone being okay with this.

It's a good thing he's fat, otherwise he'd be
freezing to death wearing only a grass-skirt
I guess the main problem I have with Super Adventure Island is that I personally find it unpolished.  The visuals are good but not great, the soundtrack is the main highlight of the game and blends well with the environments, and the controls are okay.  Though to be frank the controls are part of the reason why the game is unpolished.  The inability to run is not so much a problem but the fact that the controls take a bit to adjust to, including the over-reliance on the super-jumps can be distracting at times.  I'm not real fond of seeing the animation for when Master Higgins loses a life, and I don't like the fact that there are only two continues either (give gamers who are novice, unlike me, a chance).  The neon-lit bonus areas are nice, but they're short-lived, and the area designs needed to be expanded or at least implement something that helps make up for it all.  The Mode 7 sequences are cool, although it seems to me like the game was meant as a visual tech-demo than anything else.  I honestly feel that Produce was unqualified to create an Adventure Island game, as their strong suit is applied to RPGs, as evidenced in the infamous turn-based The 7th Saga and the not as famous action-adventure Brain Lord.  Don't get me wrong, their heart was in the right place, they just lost a bit of focus along the way.

And it's a shame too, since it seemed like there was lots of potential in the package; even compared to some other games where characters first made their appearance on the SNES.  Mickey Mouse's first Nintendo 16-bit entry The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse was flawed but felt polished and was fun to play, and as unforgivably short as Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose! was (first Nintendo 16-bit Tiny Toon Adventures), it at least had a sense of polish and was fun.  Even Milon's first and only 16-bit venture DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibōken was incredibly polished, and it's my second favorite Super Famicom game of all time right next to Tenchi Sōzō (Terranigma).  Had Super Adventure Island been a little more polished, then maybe I would feel more positive about it.  As I said earlier, it's not horrible, I just find it to be pretty average fare; the most fun I had in the series was the first Adventure Island Game Boy game, even if it was flawed it was at least decent.  Despite the shortcomings it did well enough to get a second Super Adventure Island, and I looked up that it was better than the first.  I even researched New Adventure Island for the Turbografx-16, and from one gameplay footage I saw on YouTube it looks like it's actually great.  I would be willing to try either game someday, but at the end of the day I feel that I played the first Super Adventure Island enough times to last me a lifetime.  If you enjoy the series you may like this game, but if you're not then you should approach it with caution.  You might come out liking Master Higgins' first 16-bit game, I don't know, but it all depends on your leniency.  I suppose I shouldn't complain too much, 'cause on the bright side I have played a lot worse.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment!  I hope you all have a great day; take care!
P.S.: Points to anyone who recognized the comic strip I referenced in the review.
P.S. 2: Even if it doesn't sound as good as Super Adventure Island does, I personally find ActRaiser 2 to be superior to this game.  Also, I don't get a chance to reference ActRaiser 2 often in my blog (since I find it underrated); this is the third time I've done it thus far.
P.S. 3: To each their own.
P.S. 4: Boy, I was pretty mean about Master Higgins' character, wasn't I?  =(
P.S. 5: I promise my next review will sound more enthusiastic than this one.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Popeye (NES) Review

Written: April 12th-14h, 2013
Year: 1982, 1983 | Developed and Published by: Nintendo

I heart you, Olive!
One of the countless animated shows I grew up watching was the Elzie Segar and King Features Syndicate icon Popeye.  And who hasn't?  It's an intriguing premise with a strange yet likable sailor who's pretty slim but has got beefed up forearms, becoming invincible once he eats his can of spinach.  All the while trying impress and/or save his love interest Olive Oyl.  There were times when they mixed it up a little, but when I was little I enjoyed the ever-living crap out of this series.  XD  Hard to believe that the character's been around for almost eighty-five years, and that his animated shows have been around for eight decades.  I did say I enjoyed it a lot when I was little, but my opinion on the shows is somewhat different than it was before.

"I'm Popeye the Sailor Man!  I'm Popeye the
Sailor Man!"
There was a moment during my later teen years when I felt like revisiting these shows because I had a lot of fondness for them.  When I was finished with them I found myself laughing, but not for the right reasons.  The animation was pretty good for its time, but what really floored me upon watching them again was how silly they were (maybe a little too silly for their own good).  Although, that was probably the idea the studios were shooting for with this series.  I'm referring more to the episodes that were made during '43 to '57, which are noticeably different in style and tone than the ones that were crafted between '33 and '42.  I still like them enough, don't get me wrong, but to me nowadays the Popeye cartoons fall along the lines of "guilty pleasure" than anything else.  Still have respect for them though.  =)

Sailing through the open sea
Well enough about the show, let's talk about the licensed game itself.  After having gotten a green light from Kings Feature Syndicate, Nintendo decided to make a Popeye video game for the arcade back in 1982.  The following year Japan saw the release of the Famicom system, Nintendo's first 8-bit console which would transition to America in the form of the NES in 1985.  A well-known fact about the Famicom was that the first game that was made for it was the port of this coin-op title.  While most console versions were developed by Parker Brothers, the Famicom/NES version was done by Nintendo themselves.  And the end result paid off very well.

The Sea Hag attacks by throwing skulls at
The plot, as is standard for Popeye, centers on the titular sailor who's competing against his archnemesis Bluto for Olive Oyl's affection.  OF COURSE!  The goal of the game is to gather all the items that Olive throws down at you in order to proceed to the next stage.  In every first stage she'll throw down hearts, every second stage she'll send down musical notes, and in every third stage she'll throw the individual letters that spell out "HELP".  If the item falls to the water, make sure you grab it before it completely sinks otherwise you lose a life.  Of course it's not that simple as Bluto (and the Sea Hag on the harder mode) will try to do away with you.  The gameplay is simple and good as Popeye controls great, for he can move and climb stairs.  He cannot jump, but he does bounce off ledges as he walks off them.  In each stage you'll find a can of spinach which will allow the tables to be turned for a short period.  However, they're only available in the stages once: either when you start the stage or after you lost a life.

Only Popeye is strong enough to break glass
bottles by punching them
The visuals are basic but they're good and very colorful to look at for an early 8-bit title.  The characters look and animate well, and their design has preserved their charm from the show.  Anytime either Popeye or Bluto lose they do a rotating flipping animation, and any time Popeye consumes the spinach his skin temporarily turns hot pink.  Riiiight!  The first stage takes place in front of Popeye's and Olive's homes near water, the second stage takes place in front of a huge building near water, and the third one is set on a ship which takes place on top of water.  I just noticed, there's so much water below you all the time.  The songs are few but decent, and the 8-bit rendition of the Popeye theme sounds especially well-composed.  This game has decent aesthetic qualities, which is nice.  =)

In my opinion the arcade Popeye is a really good game, and this NES port is especially good.  The gameplay is simple yet fun, and for being one of the first ever NES games that were made it's not too shabby.  Sure there are three stages and it consistently loops after the last one, but it more than makes up for it with slightly amped up difficulty.  Just like the arcade original there are three stages... uhhhhhm!  Was that factory stage in Donkey Kong really that hard to emulate, or in Nintendo's case, recreate when it was ported to the NES?  That just seems sad.  -_-  The arcade game had bigger character sprites and significantly more detailed locations, which is a little weird considering the 8-bit conversion had tiny sprites by comparison.  The original Donkey Kong arcade trilogy had small character and enemy sprites, and their sizes were the same, even if the aspect ratio wasn't.  There are slightly less character frames in the NES version, and in the second stage J. Wellington Wimpy was standing on the other side of the seesaw; in the NES version Popeye miraculously bounces up from it to lil' Swee'Pea without any counterbalance to make it possible.  Huh!  Oh, well, I guess I can't really complain about that seeing as Nintendo was making baby steps with their 8-bit console, so I'll let that slide.

Popeye can also punch out Bluto's glass bottles, the vulture that consistently flies to the ship in the third stage, and even the skulls the Sea Hag throws at you in the harder modes.  A change that was made from the arcade version were that in the original the Sea Hag would pop up from time to time to throw bottles at you, but in the NES version she just stays in the upper right corner of the house throwing skulls down at you.  It's a nice change, I'll admit.  I was introduced to this game by the plug-and-play many years ago when I was a child in Italy, and since then I found it to be fun.  It does the show and character justice, and I believe it's worth a try.  If you like the show and characters from Popeye, I'm sure you'll like this game, as it's nice to play in short bursts.


Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great day!  Take care!  =)
P.S.: This game must take place in the span of a few days, otherwise why would Bluto change outfits for each stage?
P.S. 2: 1982 introduced us to some great arcade games; including games such as this one, Donkey Kong JuniorDig Dug, Mr. Do!, Joust, Millipede, Kozmik Krooz'r, and even Super Pac-Man among others.  I'd count Domino Man but it was released a year after it was made.  =|
P.S. 3: Turns out that there's a Popeye video game that was exclusively released in Japan for the Super Famicom that was made by the company that gave us Double Dragon and River City Ransom.  That's news to me!
P.S. 4: One-color review again!  =(  I didn't feel like changing every paragraphs' colors this time around.

Friday, April 5, 2013

My Special Birthday Review

Written: April 2nd-4th, 2013 / Published: April 5th, 2013
Hello, everyone I'm StarBoy91, very passionate about video games!  Guess what?  April 5th is on the horizon, and you know what that means?
It's my birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!  =D
I turn 22 this year, and I thought of reviewing a special game for just such an occasion.  Twenty-two years!  My how time flies.  But what game shall I review?  What more appropriate than a game that has become a growing cult classic over the years, and a very good game to boot than this one?  =)
Console: SNES | Year: 1993, 1994 | Developed by: Ukiyotei | Published by: Sony Imagesoft

Rain, rain, go away!  Come again some other day!
To say that this game is a fascinating mystery would be a great understatement.  Developed at a time before Sony would take gaming to the next level with their CD-based PlayStation console, there was a time believe it or not when games were published by them for Nintendo consoles.  From licensed titles to legitimately decent games, it was a real craze at the time.  Okay, I exaggerate, but there were plenty of them around.  One such game was developed by Ukiyotei, who also made the cult licensed SNES games Hook and Spawn, in the form of Skyblazer.  Surprisingly, despite being released in the middle of the console's lifespan, it wasn't exactly noticed when it was initially released to the public.

"Hey, you've got something in your eye; let me
get it for you!"
While a lot of overlooked (and underrated) games were partially known about during their heyday but would become well-known in the future years to come, this was a case where not very many were aware of it at the time but eventually would become a bit of a phenomenon, a cult classic if you will.  It's a truly unusual tale of an obscure game turning into an instant hit.  I remember having first heard about this game many years ago on Flying Omelette's old Top 100 countdown, and from what I read on there it sounded interesting.  Some time later I discovered a (very informatively funny) review of it over at good ol' RVGFanatic's website, who gave it a very good rating.

Sky getting into the heat of things
One of the common things said about this game are that it's good, it's got good play control, it's obscure and it's underrated, and I couldn't help but become curious about it.  I played Ukiyotei's previous endeavor Hook long before I played this game (back in 2009), so of course I was interested to know if it was really as good as many said it was.  However it wouldn't be nearly two and a half years later that I would experience this classic.  This was one of the games that I wanted to try and thought "this will be my next game" only to catch the attention of another (being a gamer/collector's hard work).  Also, whenever I checked on the game back then on eBay there weren't that many copies, and shockingly there was one copy that was significantly more expensive than its common sales price range.  Last year, on my 21st birthday, I received this game alongside the fun and charming The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse for the same console, and I'm happy to say that it was well worth the wait.  =)  But how good is it exactly, and how did it attain the status that it's got today?  Shall we begin?

Climbing up towers is a fun past-time
The evil entity Raglan has summoned Ashura, the Lord of War, to kidnap the sorceress Ariana and prepare to send the world into total darkness.  There is only one individual who can save her and put a stop to their whole operation, and that individual is called Sky, who's a descendant of one of the oldest heroes.  However, he is not ready just yet because he has yet to learn and master the magic powers to truly become powerful and able to take on Ashura and Raglan.  Along the way he will be mentored by an old man... simply known as "Old Man".  In each shrine he will lecture you, show you a mystic pattern (i.e. passwords) to continue your progress, and depending on the situation he may also raise your health capacity by one.  Will Sky be successful in his journey?
I don't know about you, but any time he makes that face he looks scary!  D=

Dashing in mid-air
Skyblazer's gameplay is good.  For the most part it is versatile and responsive, and Sky is really fun to control.  The play control is very solid, especially when it comes to learning different magic.  His main attack consists of punches, kicks, and combos; he can also control his mid-jumps, move while crouching, and climb on walls.  The game is split into three different islands, where the lion's share of the action happens in the middle one; and so long as you're in a certain island you can decide to go forward or replay a stage if you feel like it.  The majority of the stages has a boss fight at the end, and should you win you'll be learning a new magic spell which you can cycle through with either shoulder button, and how much magic it uses up all depends on the type of magic (ranging from a healing spell to a spread-shot spell among several others).  The magic will prove very useful throughout the game, but only use it if you really have to.

"Oh, why did I choose to be on the bad side?"
I said that the gameplay was mostly versatile and responsive, and there's a reason for that. While most stages will have you jump and traverse on foot, there are a couple self-scrolling stages where Sky dons a pair of wings on him.  Yet for some reason the flight controls do not feel quite as smooth as the rest of the gameplay.  There are even a few third-person flight sequences for when you go from island to island, and while they control slightly better, they're still not as top-notch as the rest.  It's also a chance to collect various gems.  Most times you defeat enemies they may leave behind increments of health potions, increments of magic potions, or increments of gems (the bigger the size, the bigger the amount).

Sky is so legendary that he can breathe
underwater for a very long time without issues!
Skyblazer has very good quality in terms of background music.  The soundtrack is very exotic and has got a really good amount of instrumentation.  A lot of it fun to listen to, it adds so much to the atmosphere, and (pun intended) it's music to the ears.  The 3D flight segments are accompanied by great piano notes and an ambient aura, the Temple Infernus theme is dark and foreboding, the song that plays in a couple of the stages with the tubular bells is cool, the Lair of Kharyon theme is so beautiful and relaxing I could listen to it all day without getting tired, and the Petrolith Castle theme is fun and energetic.  The boss theme is decent, but the major boss theme trumps them all.  The ending music is sweet, although it only works best if you've played the game.  The sound effects are good, and a few are even humorous (there's a "ding" sound for when you deflect certain projectiles).  Any time Sky gets hit he makes a grunting sound, and the best part of the music is it doesn't start all over if you lose a life and just keeps playing (more games should do that).

Soaring through the sky
The visuals are especially fantastic, for they display some of the most colorful worlds seen on the console (well, in '94).  What's also neat is how detailed they are and how they share a common cultural theme, almost as if we're visiting the environment ourselves.  Likely it was inspired by the Middle East; not bad.  Each background is great to look at, and the variety of them really makes the game environments great.  Some examples of them are the Temple Infernus where it's all red and filled with flames plus there are even cool details in the backdrop.  Conversely the Petrolith Castle area is all blue and icy, with all the cool details in the backgrounds and foregrounds.  The Lair of Kharyon is a visually mesmerizing stage, where it largely takes place underwater and is consumed with detail.

Battle in a higher place
Another neat-looking area is the Tower of Tarolisk, where for the most part it takes place inside the tower, but when climbing it outside it looks sweet; Sky is fixed in the center as he climbs up or falls down in a fashion similar to Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday's two tree segments and Mickey's Wild Adventure's two tower portions.  The characters' and enemies' animations are detailed and great, and the bosses are huge and really cool.  One boss is a giant wall which rotates from time to time, and another boss is round and spiky, becoming bigger with each hit it gets; both made possible with the Mode 7 effects.  Speaking of Mode 7, they're also put to use whenever Sky flies to the next island, which is spectacular to look at (even though the segments are brief).  The other regular bosses are designed good, such as the weird elephant-like creature with a turtle's head in place of its trunk that unleashes red grinning apples (it's just as weird as it sounds) and an evil spirit that protrudes from a strange lamp.

This is a peculiar place to house architecture  =/
Skyblazer has got a lot of good qualities going for it, but there is one thing that prevents it from achieving absolute perfection: it's easy.  The stages are fairly simple to navigate (save for one), and in the top-down maps you can go forward or backtrack (should you wish to do so).  The bosses all have patterns, and the enemies can be defeated from combos or single hits.  But here's where the downside lies: there's barely any challenge to it, the enemies are easy to defeat, the stages are a little short for their own good, and the abundance of power-ups in the stages also helps render the experience easy.

It's a small world after all
But just because the game is easy it doesn't mean that the game itself is bad.  It's fun to play and the stages themselves are decently designed, even though they don't offer much in terms of length.  Sure it would've been nice had some actual challenge been around; fortunately pretty much everything else makes up for it.  The stages are not only fun to look at but they're also fun to navigate; the Lair of Kharyon stage stands out in that it's the only stage where figuring your way out of a maze is required.  Also, not all bosses are easy: the battle against Raglan is harder than the rest of the game combined, but he can be ousted if you're careful enough.  Skyblazer is also one of those games where before you must face the final (two) boss(es) you must go through a boss rehash, where select bosses will be ready to fight you again.  What's fairly neat is how the password system is laid out and how the symbols are represented.  Here's an example:  =D
At least every region, North America included, will see the spheres colored like the buttons from a Super Famicom contro--  O_O  Say, those sphere designs look familiar!  Just... mirror the positions of the green and red spheres, then flip the giant sphere backdrop vertically and you get...

I think RVG put it best in his review when he said
this attack method was just weird  =|
So yeah, Skyblazer isn't excellent, but damn if it isn't fun while it lasts.  The areas are wonderfully detailed and atmospheric, the soundtrack is purely brilliant, the game is wonderful to look at, and the gameplay is really, really good.  The in-game map is cool, the boss fights are decent (especially the final boss), and the 3D flight segments are sweet.  It's just a shame that it's too easy, because the game is really fun and it had the potential to be an all-around incredible game.  Don't get me wrong, it's a really good game, and definitely a step up from Ukiyotei's Hook from earlier, but if it were slightly more challenging (I'm not saying make it ActRaiser 2 or The Addams Family: Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt challenging , just a tad smidge) then it may have been better.  Then again, its easygoing nature is what makes it so accessible and appealing in the first place.  I think that in itself (not to mention the other aspects) is why it's gotten so popular these past several years and became something of a hidden gem.  Everything else about it is great that I could forgive its shortcomings, if only slightly.

Is it worth hunting down?  If you're looking for a fun platformer with a diverse set of attacks and spells throughout , then you'll find it right here.  =)  If you're planning to try a challenging platformer, then you may want to lower your expectations.  If you're willing to overlook the brevity of each stage and easy difficulty, then I think you'll enjoy this game.  I certainly did, and I'm really glad I played it.  While it's not perfect by any means, I will say that Ukiyotei did a nice job with this title.  Well done!  =)
Hmmm, this ending scene reminds me of another game's ending sequence that looked similar to this; I wonder what it could be?
Thank you reading my birthday review, please leave a comment, and I hope you all have a great day!  Take care!!  =D
P.S.: Skyblazer has contradicting copyright dates.  In the opening credits it says it was made in 1993, but in the ending credits it says it was made in 1994 instead.  Make up your mind!!!  >0<
P.S. 2: That one easter egg was pretty cool.  It's almost as if Sony knew their PlayStation buttons were going to be designed that way.
P.S. 3: If you recognize the game I'm talking about in my phoenix screenshot, don't reveal what the game is!  Just say that you know what I'm talking about.