Friday, December 18, 2015

Magical Pop'n (SNES Repro) Review

Received: July 2nd, 2015 / Written: December 13th-18th, 2015
Year: 1995 | Developed by: Polestar
Published by: Pack-In-Video | [|O|]
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit!  =D  So after two consecutive weeks of discussing lesser licensed video game adaptations of hit movies (for both Imagineering's SNES Home Alone and its sequel), it's time to get back to business and talk about a quality title for a change.  And it's one I'm excited to talk about!

During this Summer (for reasons that would take too long in this review to explain) I had come to the realization that the Super Famicom had a much more superior and fascinating library than the Western Super Nintendo; which don't get me wrong, does have games worth playing, but its collection pales in comparison to the Japanese counterpart.  So because of this (and because my 16-bit importing got put on hold) I decided to try something I never tried before: buying an NTSC SNES repro cart of a Super Famicom game, import without actually importing.  And while the process of converting SFC titles to SNES carts attributes to their costliness, the good news was that their prices all varied (plenty somewhat below $50).
And given that the repro cart movement inspired a vast array of SFC-to-SNES games, naturally there was a wide selection to choose from.  One of my first choices was actually Magical Pop'n, which normally costs an outrageous amount to buy in its original format (for reasons I have a feeling I know the answer to) boxed or no, but there was a copy I saw on eBay that was roughly $46!  That was quite a bargain all things considered, but sadly by the time I came back to it that cart was gone.  But I wanted to try a repro cart as soon as possible, so when I saw a repro cart of Lenar's Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof (a game I had been curious about for awhile) I went for it without hesitation.  And I'm glad I did, because that lightheartedly quirky Western equivalent to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past quickly became one of my favorites, and was a great way to start this year's Summer.  <=)
But even though I had lost the opportunity with Magical Pop'n I did not give up on wanting to purchase it, because I knew that I would have another chance.  So once in awhile I checked to see if there were any repro carts for it; sometimes yes, sometimes no.  But luckily that late June I saw a copy which had cost roughly a dollar less than the one I glanced at a month prior, which was perfect--and this time I bought my own copy for sure, which arrived in early July.  This highly sought after platformer is often clamored to be one of the best Super Famicom games ever made by the retro video game-loving masses, but does it live up to that hype?  Let us talk about my second NTSC SNES repro cart: Magical Pop'n8-)  We're in for quite a ride here.
 
In the magical realm of To'ahl magic flourished and peace had prospered for awhile, and in it lived a young hyperactive princess named... er... "Princess" who's been rendered bored not just by peace but by the lessons her wizardly grandfather is bestowing upon her.
But during one lesson that he's in the middle of teaching, Gramps is shocked when he sees the crystal ball on the table flash a bright blinding light, which gives him a bad feeling and sees it as an ill omen.  And he was right, for that night a legion of monsters and henchmen serving the Demon King have decided to attack the kingdom and wreak havoc upon the once peaceful land.  With her highness being the only one who's got the skills to take on the evil forces on the land, will she be able to save To'ahl and become a better monarch/sorceress in the process?

Up on the rooftops
Magical Pop'n is a 2D sidescrolling platformer with some rather involved gameplay, so please bear with me as I describe the controls: as To'ahl's unnamed princess Princess you can run left and right, look up above you, and duck (you can even crawl as you hold down as you go left or right); jumping is done with the B button (like any reasonable SFC/SNES game, and how high or low you jump depends on how hard you press it), sliding down thin platforms by pressing down and B, doing the slide attack by pressing the lower diagonal left and right direction and the B button simultaneously, using the sword (for attacking and deflecting purposes) with the Y button (on the ground, in midair, lunging it above you, and while you're ducking), using your sword as a pogo stick as you press down and Y at the right moment (like DuckTales and Shovel Knight), and with the A button you use any one of the six magic abilities you can choose from, which you can alternate with the left and right shoulder buttons; and finally by pressing the Select button (yyyyeah, that's obscure button placement there) on any one of the abilities you're currently using you'll be conjuring a desperation attack against your foes.

Daaah, demon rabbit!  Kill it!
The magical abilities that you use cannot be used indefinitely (so it's best to use your magic sparingly), for you need the requisite amount of star power to conjure them at your leisure (many times more for your desperation moment), and scattered throughout each stage there are stars that can be found and located; some of them appear in chests while certain stars will appear after certain enemies have been dealt with.  The beauty of your magic capabilities is that they're not just a good way of disposing of enemies without going physical with the sword, but they are also a perfect way of bypassing particular obstacles in each stage (i.e. fire melts ice, rope magic lets you swing on magical hooks) should you locate and find said magic.  =)

Explosive toss
The controls are really responsive and easy to get into, and one of the best aspects of the game is actually how vast and widely nonlinear each stage is.  =)  Magical Pop'n is not a straightforward and linear platformer, for there are moments when you occasionally have to backtrack or reenter certain rooms if there was an obstacle you previously could not clear, and sometimes two separate rooms would lead to a room that is connected (like Super Metroid).  Thorough exploration is also a necessity if you wish to find chests with vital items inside and/or the magic spell you need to clear past particular obstacles; which is great because it ends up lending this platformer plenty of atmospheric depth.  =)  I'll elaborate more on it later.

"Magicaru Bomba!"
Each of Magical Pop'n's various areas look really good, with a good sense of detail here and there in both the foreground and the background.  I like how in the introductory stage it starts out raining and thundering at night, but then after passing through solid-looking interiors of both houses and underground sewers, you're treated to an amazing parallax scrolling sequence of houses as you're on the rooftop which gives it lots of depth.  =)  The forest stage, simple though it may be from comparison, has got soothing chartreuse hues during the day sequence, and its foliage looks so pretty.  Even the wavy effects of the fire cavern and the ice palace with its calming interiors look great!

Pushing to the left
The main character you control looks and animates very smoothly, and I liked the cute anime charm about her.  Her running, jumping, attacking, ducking, crawling, sliding, pushing, and even idle animations are great to look at; but what's really great about her is the expressions when she does any of these things.  =)  Among the enemies you encounter are piranhas, blobs, eerie creatures with extendable arms, fire-breathing pyro creatures, trolls, and even a literal army of penguins (if not regular ones); some of the latter even drive tanks in the first stage.  The enemies are all well-designed and animate nicely.
On the (mid)boss side of things, they are all huge by comparison, and all have varying designs (some with a very ominous look and feel to them).  One of them is a Janus-head style boss with each of the four sides having a head, and one of them is a giant-sized anthropomorphic fruit with bug-eyes (I think), to name a couple; the rest are good too and I'll leave a surprise.  When you face the final form of the Demon King the design is grotesquely menacing (do not highlight unless you've played the game: makes me think of the designs of the late H.R. Giger), and the backdrop for when you face him is visually nifty.  =D

"Take that!"
The cutscenes in the beginning and end of the game are simple yet appealing in terms of design, and the bright colors are very well-chosen during these instances; I especially adored the markers that introduced the stage you were about to start embarking.  The simplicity of the in-game cutscenes is a rather stark difference from the very detailed cover art that was attached to the game (designed by Takami Akai)--which don't get me wrong, the latter is visually striking in its own right, but the difference between the cover and in-game design of the character Princess is keenly felt.  Bottom line is, the visual art of Magical Pop'n is really good.  =D

Embracing the sunrise in the midst of battle
The music in Magical Pop'n is really great for it not only does a fantastic job of lending the numerous areas of To'ahl their sense of atmosphere but their own sense of identity too.  =)  The music ranges from lighthearted (To'ahl Castle) to atmospheric (Mystic Forest) to intimidating (Dangerous Keep) to epic and inspiring (Cloudy Ice Palace, my favorite song in the game), and they all work perfectly well (especially the intensifying final stage theme).  Even the bouncy and upbeat title theme is pleasant to listen to, and the (mid)boss themes aren't so shabby either.  The rest of the music is great, and I like hearing the short fanfare for when you successfully cleared each stage, not to mention that the soft cue for when you find a new magic spell is very comforting to hear.  =)  Even better, the music can be listened to in the sound test (yay!).

Let it snow!  Let it snow!  Rain the icy flakes
down my enemiiiies! ♪
The sound effects are decent (the sound for Princess' sword too), but I feel it would be unwise to talk about this game without mentioning what I feel was its major selling point: the main character talks.  While nowadays voice acting is common place when it comes to video games, when it came to the Nintendo 16-bit games of the '90s  if there were to be any digitized dialogue put in it would only be used occasionally, once, or not at all; in Magical Pop'n Princess speaks frequently, which gives this game a sense of uniqueness (among the SFC/SNES library).  Princess was voiced by the late Japanese media personality and AV actress Ai Iijima, in her only contribution to video games (to the extent of my knowledge), and the multitude of lines she provided helps breathe life into this game, and personally if Princess didn't utter a single word in-game then this platformer would not have felt the same.

... Still a better platformer than anything Sonic-related in
the past decade and a half
Given the way she looks when she spinjumps
Iijima passed away in 2008 at the young age of thirty-six from pneumonia, which is sad to hear as from what I've looked up about her she seemed like a very nice person.  May the voice of the Princess rest in peace.  =(  When I say that the main character speaks throughout the game, I'm not kidding: she speaks when she attacks with her sword and when she takes damage, she says the magic spell aloud (mostly during desperation magic), she moans when she loses all her health, she cheers when she finds a vital item or a magic spell and when she defeated the end of stage boss, and even the title is spoken out loud by her ("Magicaru Pop'ūn"), and they all sound crystal clear.  =)

Now that is one big breath of fire
The six stages in Magical Pop'n are all layered in a way that certain turns you make will lead to different parts of that stage, but if it leads to a dead-end at least it's possible to backtrack; you never know if a particular door or path will lead to something good.  Occasionally you will stumble upon treasure chests, and depending on what's inside you will find a star for your star count, a heart that will augment your health capacity (health can regularly be replenished by candy and sweet food), and a life icon, but be careful because some of them might contain bombs (and when that's the case you should clear out from it within seconds).  Part of what adds to the challenge is that in this game you must find three life icons in order to gain a new life as opposed to one like in most games of the genre; and that I find quite clever.  =)

Spinning in action
Just like Princess' health is represented by hearts, the (mid)bosses' health is represented by, fittingly enough, skulls.  Polestar devised many ways of challenging you in this game; for example, on several occasions are doors that will have to be unlocked by the press of a switch, and later on in those instances you have an unspecified amount of time to reach that door and enter it before time runs out and you have to go through it again.  Once in awhile you'll have to avoid the beaming and fiery projectiles from the wall enemies, even as you must jump on (a series of) moving platforms.  Do you remember how you had to properly time your jumps on the disappearing/reappearing platforms in Mega ManMagical Pop'n has one moment like that during one stage, but don't worry, it's not as tasking here as it is in that aforementioned 8-bit platformer.

Penguins are my enemy in this game
Quite honestly as far as difficulty is concerned it's largely normal for the most part (especially when confronting enemies and bosses); what makes it worthy of challenge for me are the stages' sense of longevity.  The area layouts are complex, which gives you a solid chance at trial and error as far as navigation is concerned; the first time you play it you don't know where a path might lead you until you take it, and after the midboss fight you can only progress forward from there.  Don't worry, these stages are not as nightmarish as I make them sound, for they are fun and manageable to navigate (with plenty of challenge to boot); where it might feel overwhelming in terms of size (even after the first time) are the maze-like final two stages, especially since this platformer must be beaten in one sitting.  Spoilers: Magical Pop'n has to be beaten in one sitting; but it's not so bad since it can be beaten in roughly an hour or an hour and a half if you stick with it.  =)

Nearing the tale's end
It's too bad Magical Pop'n remained Japan-exclusive (officially speaking), but I do understand the reason for it: while it is possible to translate what little of the story dialogue there was during the beginning and ending, the voice would've remained the same regardless.  Voice acting doesn't come cheap, you know, as it is a very costly process, and I can't imagine the pint-sized heroine speaking in a language that is not Japanese.  That is one of the many reasons I consider Polestar's platformer to be very fun until the very end, as well as for the versatile control scheme, complex area layouts, and likable boatloads of anime charm.  Also, thank you, Polestar, for not adding a score on the HUD (who says all platformers need them?)!  =D

What a beautiful statue
Magical Pop'n is a very enjoyable and highly endearing platformer through and through, from the likably outgoing character Princess to its well-made structure to its varying ways of challenging you to the very fun lighthearted nature.  When I received the game this July I was excited, and because I was so invested in it and because I was willing to persevere I wound up beating it in less than twenty-four hours (give or take a few breaks from it when I didn't succeed).  Gamers all over often regard it as one of the best Nintendo 16-bit games ever made, namely Top 10 material, but is it really?  I don't know, Magical Pop'n is a very great game, there's no doubt about that, but as much as I like the game I don't think it's quite that high in terms of quality (for me it ranks more in my Top 30 than anything else); but then, in the long run it might depend on your personal taste and preference.  =)

Swinging on by
Do I recommend this game?  Absodamnlutely!  If you want to play a platformer with complex area layouts and a grand sense of fun and challenge then Magical Pop'n delivers in those regards.  True, it must be beaten in one sitting, but the ending will be very rewarding should you bypass all the obstacles and challenges thrown in your way.  With the original Super Famicart, from what I looked up, you'd be lucky if you stumbled across a copy that cost way less than $100; with the repro cart edition that has popped up in years past, that is now possible, and if you can afford it then I say go for it!  =)  I guarantee you'll have a very great time with it!

My Personal Score: 8.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Did I get any more repro carts after Magical Pop'n?  Yes, I have; the next one I got months later was Human Entertainment's The Firemen (my third repro cart); now does that game live up to the hype?  Stay tuned for my thoughts on it sometime in 2016.  I'm sorry to say that you might be disappointed as to what I have to say about that one.  =(
 
P.S. 2 Huh, all these years I've been pronouncing Konami's vertical scrolling cute'em on the Super Famicom wrong: it's not Pop'n TwinBee ("Pop'in TwinBee") it's Pop'n TwinBee ("Pop'ūn TwinBee").  And people say video games don't teach you anything.  XD
 
HAPPY 20th ANNIVESARY, Magical Pop'n!  ^(^o^)^
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I don't know about you, but this snowman doesn't look like one who wants to wish you a happy birthday.  Which reminds me, I should probably watch Rankin/Bass' Frosty the Snowman again which is... okay, I guess?  There's also Frosty's Winter Wonderland which is... ummm?  =/  Or how about Frosty Returns which itself is...... ummm?  =/  I haven't seen his crossover features with Rudolph, I wonder how they are like?
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Thank you for reading my review, my kind readers, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think!  Have a very Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!  =D

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (SNES) Review

Received: October 27th, 2015 / Written: December 3rd-12th, 2015
Published: December 12th, 2015
 
Year: 1992 | Developed by: Imagineering
Published by: THQ

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  When Home Alone became such a sensational hit during its 1990 theatrical run it took everyone by storm and is considered by many to be one of the greatest Christmas classics, even twenty-five years later.  It not only benefitted from Chris Columbus' well-done tender direction and that well-loved John Hughes touch, but it also turned its lead child actor Macaulay Culkin into a star overnight.  =)  He would also appear in movies like My Girl and Only the Lonely, and even once hosted for Saturday Night Live, all in the following year 1991 (yay, my birthyear!).  But alas, the sheen from his star was not meant to last forever.  =(

Judging by the very low box office numbers and/or negative reaction to the following movies he would star in afterwards--The Good Son, Emile Ardolino's The Nutcracker, Getting Even with Dad, The Pagemaster, and the live action Richie Rich movie--you would think that the audience was intentionally skipping out on them.  But what started the downhill slope for Culkin?  Let's recap for a brief moment:
Image from Wikipedia
Home Alone was a charming and quaint little 1990 Christmas family film that was entertaining to watch (even as it was self-contained), and while it had gotten mixed to generally positive reviews at the time of release (and even today) it still has aged remarkably well all these years later.  The direction was good, it is arguably the high point of Macaulay Culkin's career, and the idea of a boy trying to take care of and provide for himself plus defending his home against crooks was rarely explored before then.  The way it bookended itself was perfect and its moral was sound; the worst you could do is throw said moral away and undermine its message for the sake of a sequel. 
Image from Wikipedia
Which is exactly what happened in 1992, two years later (thanks, Hollywood), in the form of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York; and while it did not rack up as many numbers as its predecessor, it still made a killing at the box office.  With Chris Columbus returning to direct, John Hughes resuming producing and writing duties, and the bulk of the cast and crew from the first movie reprising their roles (reportedly Culkin was given a $5 million check to come back and replay the role that gave him celebrity status... a child star doing a movie just for a paycheck is a bad sign), you'd think that because Home Alone was a hit that everyone would be enamored of this Hollywood-backed theatrical sequel.  Not so, for upon release the second Home Alone has gotten (and is still getting) negative reviews from critics alike, for various reasons.  But why is that?

I haven't seen Home Alone 2 since I was very little, so allow me to paraphrase as best I can its plot synopsis provided by Wikipedia.  *clears throat*  One year after the events of Home Alone, nine-year old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) gets in trouble with his family (just like the first film) the night before a Christmas flight is to take place (just like the first film); a strange series of circumstances causes him to be separated from his family (just like the first film) whereas they rush to the airport so as to not miss their flight rendering him alone (just like the first film); the Sticky Bandits (formerly the Wet Bandits) Harry Lime (Joe Pesci) and Marvin "Marv" Merchants (Daniel Stern) are out on the loose and may potentially encounter and might want to cause harm to Kevin (just like the first film); Kevin's mother Kate (Catherine O'Hara) splits from the family to find and reunite with her son (which does not at all sound familiar).

Kevin initially fears someone (Brenda Fricker's Pigeon Lady) he eventually learns to get along with (not at all like his relationship with Roberts Blossom's Marley from the previous movie); Kevin sets up traps for Harry and Marv that winds up getting them arrested in the end (*sigh* which happened before); Kate and Kevin get back together again and he ends up saving Christmas (again); then later an offscreen voice tells him he's in trouble, Kevin runs offscreen, cut to credits.  The end.  We saw this before!  So,... yyyeah, general consensus states that Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is basically the Ghostbusters II of Home Alone (i.e. same story, same beats, different circumstances) and...... they're right--and before you say anything if you like the second film, I'd like to point out that the director Columbus has admitted to sharing that exact sentiment.  =<  But it did find itself a small following with audiences despite the "Been There, Done That Syndrome" (which is far from the only reason critics hated it, but let's not worry about that right now).

But despite the fact Kevin is now in New York as opposed to his hometown Winnetka, Illinois, he's not really home alone (like the title implies) this time around but lost in the Big Apple; the only reason it's called Home Alone 2 is because if 20th Century Fox didn't name it that then people would not immediately recognize that it's a sequel to the original, but at the expense of being a big misnomer.  But Kevin not only has to deal with Harry and Marv this time around, but even the suspicious Mr. Hector the Plaza Hotel concierge played by the ever great Tim Curry;
who's not this guy, by the way; he looks like a douchebag.  Imagineering probably did not have Curry's likeness rights when making the game, despite the fact that unlike their Nintendo 16-bit video game adaptation of the first Home Alone where it came out a full year after the 1990 hit came out, their Nintendo 16-bit video game adaptation of the sequel came out a month prior to its November 1992 theatrical sequel's release.

Look out!  It's Pale Concierge Not Tim Curry!
Likewise with the first film after it became a hit, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York also got its fair share of video games.  In 1992 Manley & Associates (King Arthur and the Knights of Justice on the SNES) developed a version for the PC and MS-DOS published by Capstone, and in 1993 the Sega Genesis (not MegaDrive for it did not see a European release) got its own take on the second movie by Interactive Designs, and reportedly is the worst version of the bunch for I hear that it's unplayable.  In 1992 Imagineering made their licensed adaptation for Home Alone 2 for the NES, SNES (not SFC since Japan lucked out did not receive the 16-bit sequel), and Game Boy all published by THQ.  As was the case for my SNES Home Alone review, I'll only discuss the SNES version of this game since it's the only version of it that I played.

Dashing through the fourteenth floor
Once again you take the reins of young Kevin McCallister as this time you must roam around and then escape from the Plaza Hotel, journey through Central Park, navigate around his Uncle Rob's house, leading to him running from the clutches of and then take on the Sticky Bandits Harry and Marv.  Jumping is accomplished with the A button while the weapon you've currently selected is used with the B button... nice to see Imagineering has learned nothing from the first game (and once again, no options screen that let you customize them in the way you prefer it); but this time to cycle between the weapons you've got in stock just press either the Select button or either shoulder buttons.  The weapons of choice are the regular stun gun, exploding necklaces (?), powerful punch guns, and even more powerful punch bazookas that can fly through enemies.  Unlike the first SNES Home Alone video game where your only form of defense was the water pistol which served as a temporary stunning mechanism, if you run out of any of your weapons you will then be at your most vulnerable, so it's best to exercise conservation with these four weapons.

"Hand over that Ice Bear plushie and no one gets hurt!"
You can still press and hold up to enter doors and/or find vital items which will aid you greatly and down to duck, but there are some new controls here.  Now you can climb ropes and ladders up and down, press X to summon the elevator by pushing the button, and even slide (by holding down as you run)--sliding is a good way of not only averting obstacles but it's an effective way of taking down baddies (the chef boss in particular) without using your weapons (all except Concierge Not Tim Curry, a fatso thief, and Harry and Marv, for if contact is made with them then regardless of how much health you have you'll lose a life and start from the nearest checkpoint).

About to set a fiery 10 Ton trap
Like before some of the vital items can be revealed by holding up near inconspicuous spots, although some of them do appear out in the open; among them are any of the four special weapons, batches of cookies spreading around the room, pizza slices (gather all six of them during any point of the game to earn a free life), a whole pizza for a life, a bottle and/or card for brief invincibility, and a pigeon symbol.  By touching the pigeon symbol you can do a powerful tumbling jump against most of your enemies, but you will revert back to normal if you lose damage once.  If you lose all your lives this time around it's game over for there are no continues; according to the Cutting Room Floor there was one to be inserted in the game but wasn't due to its incomplete status, and can only be accessed with a Pro Action Replay code.  But once more, there's no need to fixate on that and I'll explain the reason why later on.

Worn and torn buildings are not a good place for a
kid to do maze-like exploration in
The visuals in Imagineering's Home Alone 2 are a notch above those that were presented in their take on the first one, and of the two it is more presentable.  But I would be lying if I didn't feel that they were hit and miss at points (and not just the characters, but I'll get to them when I'll get to them).  The Plaza Hotel segments are one of the best to look at, especially with the hotel rooms that have varying degrees of detail, lighting, and shading going for them (even though they look the same), culminating in a pitch blue basement area.  The Plaza Hotel area as a whole also has obstructive foregrounds once in awhile (in the form of columns) which does lend it some depth, which do show up again in the penultimate section (in the form of wired fences).

"Hi!" "Hello!" *pellet fired*
The entirety of Kevin's Uncle Rob's cabin may not have much in the way of detail (considering its rather unwholesome status), and does seem flat in spurts, but its wall décor is all right to look at (when you see it anyway) and there is a sense of atmosphere what with the large holes in the walls and occasionally the floor.  Where the visuals tend to falter a bit actually transpire during the stages that take place outside--for one, there is no line scrolling, which means the backgrounds are attached to the ground you're treading on (like an 8-bit title).  Another problem is that one of them is too dark to look at (Central Park) which makes the small details of the grass and bricks hard to distinguish at points, and the fight against Harry and Marv transpiring on the Christmas Tree looks like a mess and is in dire need of polish.  The hit and miss feeling personally stems from the fact that the visuals are not consistent throughout the whole game; give Imagineering's Home Alone some credit, the visuals in it were at least 100% consistent in terms of look and feel.
And if you thought the digitized stills of the first movie during the first game looked bad, then the digitized stills of Home Alone 2 look absolutely worse here.  While the backgrounds are black during these cutscenes (to hide the obvious outlines around the characters), the problem is that they are too pixelated for their own good.  There is a time and place for pixilation when it comes to Nintendo 16-bit games, but this is not one of them.

*BOOM*
Even the characters and enemies have rather inconsistent in-game designs and/or animation.  Kevin looks and animates a lot smoother here than he did in the first game (he even takes breaths when he's low on health), but the way his upper body doesn't move up and down while his legs are in motion (when he's carrying a gun in hand) makes him look an automaton.  XD  Some enemies have enough detail on them (the concierge, Harry and Marv, and the maid) while others are decidedly lacking in that regard (the room service men); it's also a bit distracting when some of them have actual skin tones while others are ghostly pale.  Opposite Kevin the enemies have choppy animation (even when some of them grab you); as for the non-human enemies, you'll occasionally have to deal with bats, rats, packs of wild dogs, pigeons during a moment when you're tested by the Pigeon Lady, and even flying trash can lids.

Kevin, stop aping the spin jump from Sonic and
Magical Pop'n--it will not do you favors  =<
Just like John Hughes returned to write and produce for the sequel and Chris Columbus returned to direct it, so too did John Williams come back to provide the score for the second Home Alone outing.  But for the video game adaptation of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York none of Williams' well-known cues were used, not even the title which the opening credits claims were by him... methinks Imagineering may have taken the lazy way out and copy-pasted the first game's credits over onto this game.  But laziness in a lesser licensed video game?  <=0  That's just unheard of...............  ;-)  The music that was done for the video game though are all right by themselves (like the Central Park and Uncle's Cabin stages) while the Plaza Hotel sounds a bit sinister (especially in the basement), though the soft-sounding elevator music was quaint to hear in brief spurts.

An "exit" sign?  I wasn't under the impression that I
was playing Probe Software's The Pagemaster
A game I would much rather play than this one, mind
What sets this game apart from its SFC/SNES predecessor is not only the fact that you can slide (which is a requirement at points but not to be done every time) but also the fact that there is actual platforming involved once in awhile.  Yeah in Imagineering's take on the first movie there were moments where you had to jump on things, but that was to reach items that were placed quite high above you; but in Imagineering's Home Alone 2 platforming is a necessity (particularly during the Uncle's Cabin stage), not to mention that the platforms are so small that proper jumping coordination is going to have to be exercised in order for your platforming to be pitch perfect here (or risk having to repeat the floor again if you fail to cross it).  Just be glad that you don't have a timer threatening to take away any of your lives if you take too long to reach the exit.

"Eeek!  Get away from me you creep!"
This time on your HUD you have a health of five (as opposed to three) and this time require six pizza slices (as opposed to eight) to earn a new life, and if that's cause to think that Home Alone 2 is easier than Home Alone,......... well, you'd be right.  Well, I say easier--expanded controls do have a way of alleviating some difficulty, it just depends on how the game was structured--but it's still a pattern-based game where the key to success is not rushing through it but going slow and steady as you follow enemy patterns (especially during the chase sequence near the end).  Yeah, your invincibility time if you get hit is not as long as it was the first game, but if you study and memorize the patterns the enemies make then the difficulty is not going to matter in this game because there simply is none.  =<

Climbing downward, downward, downward
Once again the human enemies have dumb AI, which means they follow you wherever you go, and if you step on a bed inside a room that gives you a wide gap from them then they will stay there until you either dispose of them or jump off.  The pillows the maid tries to throw at you for example are so easy to avoid if you're just near the bed (especially since she'll hold still and do nothing motion-wise).  The only segments of the game that try to give you the impression that they will impose a challenge if you're not careful are the pigeon test in Central Park where the ground is extra slippery if you try to slide (which you may find yourself doing often to avoid them) and the boss fight at the Christmas tree where Harry and Marv will actually jump on whatever side of the branch that you're at with nothing to aid you but the pigeons thrown by the Pigeon Lady done with the Y button.  Between their Home Alone and this sequel, I'm starting to think Imagineering had no concept of what constitutes legitimate challenge.

It is an oft-forgotten fact that before Home Alone came out in theatres there were no expectations for it as this was a very new idea being put on the silver screen.  But after audiences and critics saw it for the first time they were surprised at how well the premise was executed; Kevin had an arc that was fulfilled: going from helplessness, cowardice, and brat to independent, brave, and responsible.  The message about Christmas being about family was exceptionally sweet, which touched (and occasionally tickled the funny bone of) viewers alike and worked at a reasonable 103 minutes.

But when Home Alone 2 was announced by 20th Century Fox there were expectations for it since its predecessor was a huge success and its premise was thoroughly explored, but it did leave a negative impression on critics when it actually came out in '92.  It was bad enough that (as mentioned before) it was essentially a rehash of the first film (which made them feel antsy throughout because they knew exactly what beats were going to be used and just wanted it to end) only set in New York but critics were so disheartened that Kevin and his family had learned nothing from the events of Home Alone that it ended up making the whole Kevin arc in the prior feature a moot point and the key message forgotten, and that left a very sour taste in their mouths.  I'm not sure how I'll feel if I watch Home Alone 2: Lost in New York as a young adult, but I'm not sure that making it 120 minutes--the longest running time for a movie with John Hughes' name attached to it--was a sound move (that's seventeen minutes longer than before, a stark contrast).

But the audiences and families that went to see it didn't care what critics said; yeah, they recognized instantly what it was when watching it (a "been there, done that" sequel), but they just wanted to view it as a fun family outing and were happy to see the characters and actors they liked from the first film on the big screen again.  And maybe... that might just be enough for them, and why Home Alone 2 has garnered a bit of a following.

Home Alone may have been a success, but it was one with a double-edged sword: you can't help but feel sorry for Macaulay Culkin post-Home Alone; it's not his fault, you know (not really), but it was at that point when maybe stardom was becoming too much for him and ultimately relied on scripts that let him down during his fallout period as a child star.  And that's a shame because he started out with such promise.  =(  Poor John Hughes, it's too bad what happened to his career after the fact; it was clear at this point that he could not recapture his glory days of the '80s that helped make him a household name.  He liked working on Home Alone so much that he wanted to relive those moments by injecting some similar slapstick in some of his future work (even if it was extremely out of place; live-action 101 Dalmations and Flubber, anyone?), but even more unfortunate was how the bulk of his post-Home Alone efforts largely garnered negative reviews (Home Alone 2 did not help)--that is, all except Chris Columbus' Only the Lonely (which Hughes co-produced) and the 1994 Les Mayfield remake of Miracle on 34th Street (written and produced by Hughes) which both received mixed to somewhat positive praise.  =(  Could you possibly go too far by transforming Home Alone into a franchise?

Image from Wikipedia
The answer to that question would be "yes" because on December 1997 cinema-going crowds were treated to Home Alone 3; and if you thought Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was a misnomer then Home Alone 3 is an even bigger one because it neither transpires in the same setting(s) nor stars the same cast and characters from the two Columbus-directed Home Alone features.  With none of the cast and crew returning to the series, except Home Alone editor Raja Gosnell in his directorial debut and John Hughes once again writing and producing, this movie starring Max Keeble himself Alex D. Linz as the kid who's home alone was a modest success at the box-office (and didn't rack anywhere near as many numbers as the first two movies) but was received poorly by both critics and Home Alone fans alike.  I remember liking it when I saw it on TV as a child (long before I developed my taste in movies), but chances are it does not hold up well for it's generally regarded as a silly kids film, unlike the first two movies where they respected both the child and adult audience.  Home Alone 3 was also the film that put the final nail in the coffin for John Hughes' career, for which he never got a chance to recover from.  It's so sad to see a man who had such good talent and potential squander it all and fall from grace.  =(  Whatever happened to you, man, may you rest in peace.
Image from Wikipedia
So with three theatrical releases under 20th Century Fox's belt, you'd think you had seen the last of Home Alone, right?  Sadly no, for in 2002 a made-for-TV feature called Home Alone 4 (Home Alone: Taking Back the House in North America) was created, which reprised the McCallister family and Marv (without Harry) but with completely different actors (which included the awesome Jason Beghe as Kevin's father) as Kevin must defend the home of his stepmother to be from Marv and his wife Vera.  Originally it was set to be the start of a brand new Home Alone TV series, but when there were not enough viewings and positive ratings the plans fell through much to the relief of everyone.  It's a telling sign that it was destined to fail when one of the actors from the first movie Daniel Stern not only refused to reprise his role as Marv (here played by French Stewart) but outright called the movie "an insult, total garbage" afterwards; give him some props for not holding back.  I only saw bits and pieces of it when I was younger, and I feel no desire to watch it in its full context.
Image from Wikipedia
Finally after a ten-year gap in 2012 another made-for-TV installation was made for the series called Home Alone: The Holiday Heist, which once again focused on a family whose name wasn't McCallister, and to date is the final movie in the series (let's hope it stays that way)--among the largely unknown cast were big names in it like Malcom McDowell and Edward Asner.  Reception towards it was unpleasant, and apparently instead of one kid fending off thieves and robbers there's two defending their home, which kind of negates the whole "alone" aspect of the title; you know, as in by your lonesome?  ~_0  I never saw it, but I don't think I'm missing out on anything.  Home Alone worked as a self-contained feature, and it's clear that becoming a franchise did not do it wonders, and frankly after four (")sequels(") I think it's time to lay this series to rest.

Imagineering's first Home Alone on the Nintendo 16-bit (which I actually played when I was a child, unlike its sequel) wasn't a good game by any means, but it was playable and had some of the spirit of the movie it was based on, especially due to its simplistic nature.  It was harmless fare overall but because of the lack of challenge it provided it ended up becoming bland and mediocre as a result.
If Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was guilty of feeling to much like the first movie, then the same goes for Imagineering's video game adaptation of each respective game.  While the goal is more widespread than just gathering vital items to secure in a safe like the first game, the controls and structure are similar in feel (despite the extension) and Imagineering has done nothing to benefit it in terms of offering it a good sense of challenge or fun.  It's still easy and short if you memorize all the patterns, though to be honest there were a couple moments that seemed to show genuine promise (namely in the Uncle's Cabin stage) but sadly those were too few and far between.  =(  I'm thinking Imagineering might have attempted to make a better game than its predecessor, but ultimately they just winded up making the game inferior as a result, but it is still playable if you know exactly what to do.

If you're the least bit curious about the SNES Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (or are a Home Alone completest) then it's harmless (but less than mediocre) if you know what to do but aside from that just stick with the first two movies and skip the game altogether.  If you want my honest opinion, though:
then I recommend you go for Probe Software's fun open-ended platformer The Pagemaster instead, which is actually a bit good in its own right.  =)  It's funny how the Macaulay Culkin film which was received less favorably than either Home Alone would wind up getting the superior video game adaptation than the two films about Kevin McCallister.

Whatever you decide, your mileage may vary.
 
My Personal Score: 4.0/10
<( v-v)>TO EACH THEIR OWN<(v-v )>
P.S. I'm aware about the PlayStation 2 Home Alone game developed by Coyote Console and published by Blast! Entertainment that was only released in Europe in 2006.  I never played it, so I'm not going to cover it.
 
Thank you for reading my review, my readers, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and take care!
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Look forward to my next video game review: