Friday, December 19, 2014

Super Morph (SNES) Review

Received: March 4th, 2014 / Written: December 15th-19th, 2014
Year: 1993 | Developed by: Millenium Entertainment
Published by: Sony Imagesoft | [|O|]
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  =)  From the early to mid '90s there were many games that were made based on a similar premise, some better than others.  The subject I'm referring to for this context is blobs and slimes (if I'm not mistaken it all started with the original NES version of A Boy and his Blob).
Game itself is okay, in my opinion, but its
premise is cool
One game that comes to mind that centered around a (boy turned) blob-like slime was the 1991 Nintendo 16-bit GameFreak/Sacom System collaborated title by the name of Jerry Boy published in Japan by Epic/Sony Records, later localized for American audiences months later as Smart Ball under the Sony Imagesoft label.  It was an interesting sidescrolling action/platformer which had the main character attack enemies by either spewing out balls or by stretching out his own body.  It's a clever bit of gameplay, I'll give it that, and there's a lot of benefits to it (like climbing walls and sticking to the ceiling).  Of course there were more games that revolved around blobs and slimes, each with their own twists and perks, and it's interesting to see a company's own take on these things.  Originally my plan was to talk about Jerry Boy first but sadly I do not have enough screenshots in order to form up a proper review of it (especially since I was going to compare it to the Americanized counterpart); so instead I'll discuss a game that thematically is similar but is somewhat structurally different.
Sadly Europe missed out on Jerry Boy  =(  Let's
see if the game they received is better?
In 1993 a PAL-exclusive game simply titled Morph was created by Millenium Entertainment that was made for the Amiga computer; that same year, as luck may have it, Europeans were given a Super Nintendo port which was never given a proper release in either America or Japan, titled Super Morph (guess that's payback for never having been given a chance to play the 1991 cart).  That version was published by none other than Sony Imagesooooo--- wow!  What are the odds that two completely unrelated games with similar themes, similar premises, and slightly different mechanics would be published by the same exact company?  O.O  Incredible!  Let us take a look at this little-known game and see how Millenium takes a crack at the blob/slime theme.
One day a random little boy is dropped off by a school bus and walks to a completely random scientist stranger's door unsupervised.  Because that's sound; this will clearly only lead to good.  <=|
So the scientist shows him around and takes him to his laboratory where he asks the little boy to test his new experiment.  What's scary is that the little tyke agrees to go through with this having no reservations whatsoever!  o_O  What???
Oh yeah, I know that this is the kind of face you can trust.  Nothing bad could possibly happen in this scenario.
So the scientist pulls the lever and oh look, something bad just happened in this scenario in the form of the boy becoming a particle until he vanishes; the machine also malfunctions sending gears flying everywhere after exploding.  *sigh*  Well, I hope the crazy scientist enjoys prison time because he's going to be spending a lot of years for child murder.

No, the game would never be this dark even if it tried.  The gears have scattered in four different areas: the garden, the sewers, the factory, and finally the laboratory; and it is up to the boy who just now got infused with morphing abilities to get them back while the scientist guides him and seemingly offers moral support (and a slew of bad puns).  What, did he have a large hole or window in the room, how the hell is that even possible?!?  Geez, were all Amiga games this weird?  I should hope not, 'cause this plot manages to singlehandedly be even more bizarre than the entirety of The Adventures of Kid Kleets/Soccer Kid=\

Stuck in a factory
In each area are nine sections, and in each section there is a gear you must find.  You control the boy who just became an embodiment of four elements, who you can move around with the Control Pad, who you must guide to the exit after having found the gear in one piece.  To make things a bit challenging are a myriad of obstacles scattered about, some of which are more lethal than others, adding a puzzle element to the proceedings.  Conveniently in the bottom left corner the four transformations that you'll utilize compose the icons in a way that matches the buttons on the right side of your controller, so that way there will be no question as to which button you must press when the moment calls for it.  The B button morphs you into a solid ball, the Y button changes you into a liquefied sentient state, the X button transforms you into a gaseous state in the form of a small cloud, and finally the A button morphs you into a bouncy rubber ball.  But it doesn't end there.

Problem solving is a common goal
In these areas you must make a wise call on when and where the proper transformation should take place, for you cannot use it as many times as you would like; only how many you're allowed to.  Scattered throughout the areas you'll find star icons and any of the four transformation icons, for you are going to need those in order to change form.  Rather rare in this kind of hybrid genre there are no enemies to be fought anywhere, but to make up for that are obstacles aplenty.  Each of the areas' nine individual sections have a very open-ended design, so it is absolutely important as sometimes the exits are easy to reach while others not so much.  I'll cover the rest of the gameplay and challenge later.

Wall bustin'!
While the visuals aren't anything to write home about Super Morph's worlds, solid as they are, are really good to look at.  =)  But is it just me or does the art of the intro scenes and score screens look rather inconsistent?  In the intro there are times when the characters are either very detailed or have simple colors; and the crazy scientist is no different, especially with his many different animations in the score and stage lost screens (I mean seriously, he looks younger there than he does in the intro).  Whenever you begin (or resume after having taken a break from) an area the scientist will don stuff pertaining to the respective area (for the garden he wears boots and carries a shovel, and for the factory he wears safety goggles to name two examples).  He's even got brief animations for each different way that your character fails and dies; and I mean it.

Making an effort in the sewers
The areas are vast in design and variety, and some might exhibit different décor in particular sections.  The garden area sections are the only ones that take place outside, and as basic as the sky and clouds look, it is effective in its simplicity; another good touch is the grassy segments, the bushes, and the occasional waterfalls from time to time.  =)  The factory is high-tech and brimming with metallic walls, tubes, glass, and construction parts; the sewers are menacingly decrepit and eerie in nature with the heavily bricked patterns in the foreground, stalactites sometimes protruding from the ceiling, sprawling tubes, and deadly acid; and finally there's the laboratory areas which seems gigantic with the giant books resting in giant book cases, giant stairs, giant Bunsen burners, giant faucets, large windows, and even gigantic potions.  And to be fair the feeling small in the gigantic universe feel applies to the other areas as well, not just because of the sizes of the elements that belong to said areas but due to how large and mysterious the worlds seem.

Bouncy!  Bouncy!  Bouncy!  Bouncy!
Now let's talk about the main character turned morpher.  In the intro the best look for him is the fourth frame when he's still human, but he's a very different animal once he gets his newfound abilities.  His various forms have got really well-drawn and fluid animations, especially when he turns directions.  The solid form is solid in motion but its serviceable, the gaseous form has got neat cloud-like movement, the rubber ball actually reacts like a really rubber ball (whenever it touches the ceiling or ground after bouncing towards it culminating in a slight malleable follow-through), and the liquid form slushes its way and splashes itself before forming itself up again after having touched the ground after falling).  The transformations themselves, brief as they may be, I feel to be quite seamless; and to add to the charm the main character has got big wide eyes (occasionally blinking) which look at the direction that you are holding on the controller (by holding up he looks up, by holding lower-right he looks to the lower-right, and by not pressing the Control Pad at all he looks directly at the screen).  =)  Depending on what form he's got his death animations differ, and quite frankly they're rather gruesome considering it happens to a little boy despite the otherwise lighthearted tone.

Well, only one way to resolve this
Even though there aren't any enemies in sight it doesn't make the worlds the morpher explores any less dangerous.  Each form has got their own strengths and weaknesses; the solid ball is impervious to anything and can break through bricked barriers, the liquid form can douse out any fire and phase through thin platforme below it, the gaseous form will gradually float up and phase through thin walls, and the rubber ball format is the only one that allows you to bounce your way (by holding up).  Regardless of the form you're currently using, there are obstacles; whether it be fires, water, sharp objects, and rotating fans; the solid form will sink if it rolls itself onto water, the liquid form becomes water if you fall there and dissolves itself the moment you stand on top of a grater, the gaseous form will be sucked up if it's near a functioning rotating fan and burst into flames if it comes into contact with fire, and while the rubber ball format can float on the water (only leaving it if there's even-grounded land next to it) it will pop and deflate if it lands on a spike or catch on fire if it gets burned by flames.  And to make things more intense, you only have one health.

Oh, crap!
You'll notice there are numbers next to each icon, each of which can be replenished if you attain them in the area.  Each time you use a transformation the star count will go down by one, and if you use any one of them past the point of zero the count will become red and you will not be eligible to pass the stage even if you do reach the exit with the gear in possession.  The important thing is to judge which proper ones you must use and to not overshoot your mark for any reason; you will still be alive if a transformation has a red one, but getting another red count of the same one will cause you to disappear.  If you feel that you've messed up you can always exit the stage by pressing Start and then Select; it doesn't matter whether you start in the garden, the laboratory, the factory, or the sewers for you can actually start wherever you please.  Some of the items will come into play once you find them, like the key to unlock keyholes blocking a segment, switches which you can flip to turn the rotating fans (or lights) on or off, trampolines, shades to help you see clearly underneath the tubes, and an optional map.
By pressing Select after having obtained the map you'll see the entire layout of the stage you are currently in, showing how big the area you're going in is and revealing spots where you would normally not venture.  Thing is, however, you cannot do it while it's paused and you can't pause while viewing it so you'll only find yourself looking at it for a few seconds as the timer gradually goes down.  Oh yeah, there's a timer in each stage, so you must find the gear and reach the exit under the allotted time that you're given; so don't even consider dawdling.

There is a very high chance that you either only played Super Morph or Jerry Boy/Smart Ball and not both.  But if you are dubious as to why I compare the two:
look at that!  They could practically be the same character!  Maybe this is the cancelled sequel to Jerry Boy that we never got.

Joking aside, I remember having first heard about this game several years ago, only having seen some screenshots of it from the Moby Games website.  It looked interesting, and I eventually saw some gameplay footage of it on YouTube, which made me a bit more curious.  The thing that kept me back, up until I bit the bullet and gave it a shot, was that Super Morph was PAL-exclusive.
Screenshots of Super Bomberman 3 and Xandra no Daibōken: Valkyrie to no Deai (Whirlo as it's appeared on the site) from MobyGames, since I didn't get my own screenshots for the two
When I bought a Retro Duo more than two and a half years ago my main goal was importing Super Famicom games from Japan, and I found that with many of them they worked; not so much the case for all European games, which is why I settled for the Japanese versions of these five games that you see here, since it was more likely that they would work on Retro-Bit's system than the European ones would.

After having played Jerry Boy back in February I thought it would be fitting that the next import would be Super Morph (however I got Super Bomberman 3 shortly before that since I ordered the two at the same time), sort of like a back-to-back deal and fearing that I would've risked having bought a game that would not operate on there; when it eventually got here I was relieved to discover that my first PAL SNES cart was working properly.  =)

Just flowing by
Super Morph has got a good sense of challenge flow where the areas start off with a manageable stage and then the further you go the stages become more thought-provoking in design and aptly puzzling nature.  Later on there may be a moment where you must bounce yourself as high as you can on the trampoline; sometimes a later stage that you'll be on will require warps to different parts of the room; and believe it or not there is even a time where you must be required to bounce from moving platform to moving platform, which is both exhilarating and worrisome at the same time since you must control how high or far you must bounce without falling and having to start that part over.  I think it's cool how many ways Millenium tries to challenge you.  Any time you fail or abort a stage you're given a chance to play it again for a later time, but regardless it must be done in one go as there are no checkpoints.

Made it!  =)
From what I looked up about the original Amiga version its intro sequence was fully animated and it only had twenty-four stages, while the SNES version's intro sequence was a series of stills and comprises of thirty-six stages (nine for each area).  I neglected to mention it, but in each stage there are some morphing squares where if you move towards it you'll given a random form (you can go through the same more than once if you wish to change form without pressing any of the buttons), so that's one way to conserve transformation stars.  The music and sound effects were composed by Graham King, who was also involved in the Sensible Soccer series, James Pond 3: Operation Starfish, and Rise of the Robots; but the only time you hear music in this game is during the title, the stage selection screen, the stage failed or succeeded stage, and the ending credits.

No, I refuse to make that reference!  >=(
Basically you only hear sound effects while actually playing the game, and I don't mean like Equinox in that it starts with a musical prelude followed by several minutes of ambient sound effects, nonono; I mean it's nothing but sound effects (ambient ones too) giving this game an eerily quiet (yet atmospheric) feel.  So much so that after you get out of the stage (in any way) you'll find yourself doing a double take when music suddenly starts playing (even if for a brief moment); I haven't experienced a video game instant like that since NCAA Basketball.  But as far as the sound effects are concerned they're low-key but serviceable in their own right.

Super Morph is a fun action-puzzler to play once in awhile, and I liked how many of its puzzles were laid out; and between Jerry Boy and this game I actually preferred this one because at least today's game doesn't suffer from occasionally slippery and loose controls.  It's a pretty good alternative to The Lost Vikings as far as the hybrid genre is concerned, but ultimately what prevents Super Morph from being as excellent as the aforementioned Viking venture is that it has to be beaten in one sitting.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing necessarily bad about that, but when you really think about it the fact that you have to solve thirty-six puzzles in the same playthrough sounds a bit excessive (especially with many of the latter stages' puzzles being longer and more complex).  It can be done (it takes less than an hour to beat), but I think a password feature would've been very appreciated in my opinion.

It's not very expensive and you can buy it for a good price on eBay, but you'll need the right system to be able to play it.  If your method of playing imported Nintendo 16-bit carts is by modding your NTSC SNES console (if you live in America) then you may be very disappointed for PAL SNES carts will not work there; the main reason for that is that while both the NTSC SNES and JP SFC carts run in 60 hertz PAL SNES games when played in Europe ran in 50 hertz, running roughly 16.7% slower than the other versions (for most games) and sometimes squishing the aspect ratio through a letterbox format.
This was an issue in the late '80s and early 90's for European gamers, and reportedly speaking it's still recurring today (for both Virtual Console services of the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo Wii U), even though Europe has largely worked over that since the mid-'90s.  This was not the video game developers' fault, because they had to convert Japanese and/or American games for Europe under conditions which they had no control of.  =(

I don't know how Super Morph originally ran on a PAL TV, so I compared how it ran on my TV with how it ran in a World of Longplay video dedicated to it on YouTube; it was about on par as far as I could tell, but in the long run the game ran a lot smoother on my flat NTSC widescreen.  Your best option to play this game if you live in America or Japan is by either buying a European Super Nintendo console (not likely) or buying a Super Famiclone system which is compatible with Super Famicom games and some SNES PAL carts; I know it works on the Retro Duo, so that one's not a bad choice.  =)

Good luck
Even if it requires to be beaten in solely one sitting Super Morph is a solidly quaint action-puzzler that's cleverly designed and strangely involving thanks to the literally quiet atmosphere and trying to outsmart inconvenient trappings in your way.  It plays good, the European charm is nice, and it has got a reasonably high amount of replay value; although how much you like it depends on whether you're in to the hybrid genre or not.  If you want to solve a good series of puzzles that involve a lot of problem solving and navigation then you may have a good time with it.  If you're not into puzzling and just want in for the action then it may not work for you as much as it would if you were.  If you want to play for the atmosphere, well you'll feel right at home with Super Morph.  It's not perfect, but it is solid in its own right.  =)

<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>
P.S. One day I will review Jerry Boy and share my thoughts on it, and I'll try to get to it in one of the opening months of 2015.  Man I wish its 1994 GameFreak-developed sequel was not cancelled.
P.S. 2 I know that the screenshot I took of Pop'n TwinBee wasn't from my TV, but I did eventually get the original Super Famicom cart... thing was I never took footage of that one so under short notice I instead took a literal still of it while playing it on TwinBee Portable for the PlayStation Portable.
P.S. 3 You know, The Suite Life's Arwin Hawkhauser makes inventions which malfunction all the time.  Maybe he and Super Morph's crazy scientist should get together sometime.  =P
Thank you for reading my review, my readers, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  I hope you have a great day and Merry Christmas.  Take care!  =)
Next Review: ????? (?????) on Christmas Day

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