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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Classic Games Retrospective: Part II

As Craig progressed through a big chunk of Super Mario RPG, I played a stack of titles, some were good, others weren't.  However, the first title I played, at the start of our little journey was Gunstar Heroes, a spectactular action/platformer that ranks among my favorite games of all time and easily charts pretty high on the list of the best games on the Sega Genesis.  
Gunstar Heroes -

Oh, man!  I love this game so much.  It is a title I can gladly refer to as “perfect”.  The action gameplay is so solid and well-paced, and unlike other games from the early 90’s, I actually felt like I could easily take on ten baddies with little effort.  The boss battles were balanced but challenging and the level design was exceptional.  Few games bring out the video game nerd in me like Gunstar Heroes, and I look forward to this venture through this great action plat former.

The Levels:

After playing through  the game, bringing back some great memories, I will give a brief perspective on some of the elements of the game that I enjoyed.

The first four levels in Gunstar Heroes are selectable and playable in any order:

Black’s stage has one element that is truly unique for a game like this.  After a brief bout of traditional gameplay you are sucked into a board game and must throw a giant die across the floor and progress across a game board, each square you land on can contain a mini-boss, some sort of timed challenge or a set of power-ups.  

The stage for Green is a straight-forward dash through the mine from hell.  The boss takes three forms, each with increasing difficulty.  The most memorable thing about this level is the boss’s second form, which has Green chasing you down a shaft, swinging a massive spiked ball from the tail of a giant machine.  Gunstar Heroes is a fast-paced game, and unlike games like Megaman X, your character is nimble and able to flip and glide through narrow gaps between enemy attacks.  

Pink’s jungle stage has you scaling a pyramid then rapidly sliding down the opposite side, which begs the question: Why didn’t the dude just walk around the thing?

Orange:  Orange’s stage is probably the most fun of the first four levels.  His is a vertical sprint up the side of a building racing to reach the deck of a massive air ship.  Fighting your way across you’ll face two minibosses and a barrage of enemies.  This level really puts your skills to the test.  That said, it is probably the easiest of the four levels in my opinion.  The boss isn’t really that impressive, but a few of his attacks pack a punch.

After laying waste to these four bosses, you then proceed through a series of final challenges.  These include a scrolling shooter ala-Gradius and a series of boss bouts that can really push your buttons. The final few bosses are actually quite easy, including the final battle in which you must attack an array of four crystals floating around the room.  As the fight progresses, their movements grow more and more erratic.  The pacing of this fight is very fast.  The game ends pretty abruptly after this.  You just fight about eight bosses in a row and it just seems to stop.  That certainly isn’t to say it wasn’t fun while it lasted.

The Gameplay:
The Gameplay is where Gunstar Heroes really shows it’s muscle.  You have a number of maneuvers including a sliding attack, a double-jump/air dash attack, the ability to grab small and medium-sized enemies and hurl them as projectiles and the agile backwards jump that allows you to fire on enemies while dodging their attacks.  All of these give a great deal of depth to the combat.

These moves are all about maneuverability, but what about fire power?  Well, Gunstar Heroes contains four primary weapons that can be mixed together to create a different gun entirely.  Like, say for instance you mix the Lightning with the Chaser.  You can fire a direct shot and hit a target, hold the fire button down and put a Damage-over-Time effect on the baddie for as long as you can hold that button.  There are a lot of mix-and-match weapons you can piece together from the small selection.

Final Thoughts:
How does Gunstar Heroes hold up?  Quite well actually.  It is one of the few action titles from the 16-bit era that still feels every bit as layered and deep as many of the action titles of today.  The game, which is now available for download on all of the major consoles, is a must-play for fans of challenging and addictive action, creative gameplay and an unflinching pace.  Gunstar Heroes is one of the best downloadable titles on the market.

Gunstar heroes is a game where some weapons are completely useless and some combinations of weapons are immensely overpowered. Through the game I watched as Chris used a myriad of weapons (he preferred the flamethrower more than anything else).  Combining the flamethrower with another weapon resulted in a quite interesting combination: a flame ring.  Which he then used during most of the game.  Another weapon he frequented use of was the Machinegun + Lazer combination, which fired a continuous beam of death and damage at his enemies. I thought it was the more destructive of the two but he said it was harder to control which would be crippling to the weapon.

The weapon combinations were something unique to games in this time period. A game later on the Nintendo 64 would use the same formula for some interesting results: Kirby and the Crystal shards.  It seems the difficulty of this game is directly proportional to the usefulness of the weapon combinations that you find.  Going through the game with a machine gun or a whirling laser of death makes the game harder/easier by comparison.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Classic Games Retrospective: Part 1

Night 1.  Sunday, June 12th-Monday June 13th.

After digging through piles and piles of cables, searching for a couple of controllers and sorting through my stacks and stacks of video games, me and my friend Craig started on a 10 hour run through some great classic titles.  There was some take out from a mall food court, a late-night run to McDonald's and about half a case of Dr. Pepper that was all sacrificed to the Altar of Old-School Gaming.

To start the night, Craig opted to begin a play-through of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Super Nintendo; Nintendo/Squaresoft, 1996) and I, on a separate set-up, went for some Gunstar Heroes (Sega Genesis; Treasure, 1993).  The opening of the night was filled with a few funny pitfalls, including the accidental unplugging of the Super Nintendo during the Mario RPG run and some moments of crudely capturing some great moments of Craig's RPG run with an "affordable" digital camera.

From there while Craig continued his adventure, I went on to play a few more titles of the 16-bit era on my own set-up next to my PC.  I played some Ristar (Sega Genesis; Sega, 1995), a few minutes of Zombies Ate My Neighbors! (Super Nintendo; LucasArts, 1993) and a terrible fighter called Tuff E Nuff (aka: Dead Dance [Japan].  Super Nintendo; Jaleco, 1993).

After our food run, we hit up the Super Nintendo on a single TV to play a stack of other titles:
  • Vortex (Super Nintendo; Argonaut Software, 1994)
  • Demon's Crest (Super Nintnedo; Capcom, 1994)
  • Spectre (Super Nintendo; Peninsula Gameworks, 1991)
  • Darius Twin (Super Nintendo; Taito, 1991)
  • Axelay (Super Nintendo; Konami, 1992)
  • Mega Man X2 (Super Nintendo; Capcom, 1995)
Throughout this series, we will offer perspective on these games.  I will write an article and occasionally, there will be quotes within sections (they will be italicized) and it will be cited at the end, whether me or Craig said it.  We had a lot of fun riffing on some of the worse games of the stack and we tried to capture as much of it as we could.  We are looking to possibly video capturing our play soon, something that will make the experience here a little more personal, and fun.

I will code each game entry with a date played, followed by a little copyright info (as you've sort of already seen).  Then I will offer perspective on our experience with that game for the night we played it.  Some titles will be played over a period of multiple nights, and this will be referenced in the article.  So, you may see games appear multiple times. 

Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars
With better visuals than most games of its era, Super Mario RPG is a stand out, smart and addictive RPG with all of the elements of great Square and Enix titles of the era, and a little distinctly-Nintendo humor thrown in to add some lightness to the story.  The opening features some illusionary 3D in the form of hanging chandeliers and an early-game boss battle with Bowser.

There is an undeniable strangeness to this game.  It feels different than most RPGs era, it feels surreal and familiar all at the same time.  It’s a confused sort of emotion, which is why, for me, it is a game a love, but not one that I cherish as much as other titles like Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger.  I have not played Super Mario RPG in well over a decade, so revisiting it is welcome, but it does not well up within me as much anticipation as a few of the other nostalgic titles lined up.  But, a great game I haven’t played in years is a good start to a long journey through the era that birthed the greatest video games ever made.

Right off the bat this game pulls out some impressive visuals compared to a lot of games of the era, putting out a sort of false 3D By having multiple ranges of motion, which isn’t something that a lot of games around the SNES decided to do. I think of this game as a possible predecessor of the Range of motion provided in games like Super Mario 64. Eight direction X/Z Axis controls were uncommon to games in the period..

The villians in the game, the smithy gang, are a bunch of clowns. Right off the bat a giant sword pierces the castle of bowser and stamps a big “GTFO” Stamp right on the door. The stamp reads “Six stars onry.” So you obviously must go the other way.. Around the world in the opposite direction, collecting stars as you beat various smithy gang bosses.

Craig is playing through this one with rapidity.  He played from the opening up to Marrymore.  Burning through the game, he commented on the experience.  I captured what I could on video.  A few moments just for effect.

I apologize in advance for the shaky-cam, I wasn't playing in any format that could easily be captured so I was using a digital camera.  The first is an early boss battle with the Hammer Bros., the second one of the funniest moments in video games: when Mario is accidentally transformed into his 8-bit form.

In Part 2, I will cover my experience of playing through Gunstar Heroes.  I didn't capture any video unfortunately, but I will try to offer as much insight into how much I love that game as possible.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Coming Soon: A New Perspective on Classic Video Games

Starting very, very soon, we will return and begin a new series focusing on old-school video games.  The tentative title of the series is the Classic Gaming Duel (that's "Duel" not "Dual") Retrospective, in which my friend Craig and I will offer two parallel opinions and perspectives on classic titles spanning multiple platforms.  The articles will be broken down to provide a complete chronicling of our return experience to the game and will also include a final opinion and an individual score from both of us.  We will also occasionally provide insight into the titles’ development teams, important contributions to the medium and other notable elements.  As some games are longer than others, naturally articles could span multiple publications and visitations.

If you love games, and you love to know more about where today’s games were born, you will love what we have in store.  The first game has yet to be named but the first article should be ready this week.