Seething Cauldron of Pop Culture Talk

Irascible Analysis of Popular Culture

SNES vs. Genesis: Rocket Knight Adventures

Konami, long known for their action-packed titles such as the Contra series, Gradius, the Castlevania series, and much more, released a different sort of game in June 1993. The title Rocket Knight Adventures, seems to suggest some sort of scifi adventure with loads of action, but it’s actually a mascot platformer with bright, cheery colors and a smiling protagonist named Sparkster. Only, it’s set in the midst of a war between helpless opossum people and an army of pigs and robots. It seems an odd sort of combination, but the results speak for themselves. The game, designed by Nobuya Nakazato, known for his work on several Contra titles, is one of the more well-known Genesis platformers and mascot titles. In the game, Sparkster sets out on a quest to save the princess from a rocket knight turned rogue, as war rages between possums and pigs. Try saying that with a straight face.

What truly sets this game apart from other platformers is Sparkster’s rocket pack. Not only does it allow him to shoot across the screen at speeds that would make Sonic jealous, it can also be used to turn Sparkster into a missile for attacking enemies and for reaching out of the way places and platforms that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. Some levels the rocket pack gets a power boost that allows Sparkster some sustained flight through the entire level; these levels play out a lot like a sidescrolling shmup.

Aside from his rocket pack, Sparkster also has a sword which can be used to attack enemies up close or to through out a wave of energy perfect for attack enemies from a distance. These enemies include pig soldiers and their various robots. The emphasis on action also allows for some really cool boss battles, like a giant robot and a centipede that alternately crashes through the ceiling and walls to get at Sparkster.

It’s got a nice, fast pace to it, almost like a Sonic game in some respects and an emphasis on action while still retaining a lot of the hallmarks of the platformer genre [pits, spikes, collectables, and so on]. There’s a wide variety of levels, both platformer and sidescrolling shmup.

The soundtrack, composed by a team made up of Aki Hata, Michiru Yamane, Masanori Adachi, and Hiroshi Kobayashi, is really great. There are some many memorable tunes on the soundtrack and it’s very well made. On the other hand, the graphics, while featuring nicely detailed sprites and backgrounds, suffers from the Genesis’s limited on-screen color palette, giving it a slightly washed-out look. The graphics certainly aren’t bad, but there are better looking platformers on the Genesis.

All things considered this is a classic worth remembering. Okay, so maybe the graphics could be better, but is that really important? No, it  isn’t, because the gameplay is so good and has so much variety that nothing else really matter.

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April 28, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Super Mario World

Super Mario World

Through much of the mid-80’s, Nintendo had a stranglehold on the videogame market. Atari was dead in the water and Sega’s Master System was little more than a blip on their radar. Everything was going great, but then Sega released it’s Genesis and a partnership between NEC and Hudson Soft produced the TurboGrafx-16, ushering in the 16-bit console generation and making Nintendo’s NES look practically archaic. It was time for Nintendo to step up and in November 1990, they finally did. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System [known as the Super Famicom in Japan] was finally released and coming with it was the latest entry in Nintendo’s ultra-popular Mario Bros. series. Known as Super Mario World, the game featured improved graphics, a ridable lizard named Yoshi, and a host of new powerups. It was directed by Takashi Tezuka and produced by Shigeru Miyamoto, both known for their extensive work on the series both in the past and up to the present. Upon its release, it proved to be just as successful, if not more so, than previous installments in the series.

Much like its predecessor’s, Super Mario World pits Mario against his nemesis Bowser who has once again kidnapped Princess Toadstool. As the story is familiar, so is the gameplay. You must traverse from one end of a level to another, jumping on enemies heads or avoiding them entirely, all the while collecting various powerups and leaping over bottomless chasms. The game does introduce some new elements of course, such as Yoshi, a giant, intelligent lizard who Mario can ride on. Yoshi’s special ability is that he can consume most enemies and even spit a few back out as projectiles. SMW also features an improved overworld that is more complex and smoothly flowing than the overworld in Super Mario Bros. 3, which also includes secret levels to find and some branching paths.

While Mario is by no means as fast as Sonic, he can still move very quickly. This isn’t the focus of the game however, it’s much more focused on precision jumping. Many of the levels are feature a lot of vertical elements, many of which are very narrow so precise jumping and momentum are very important, and there are also a great number of bottomless pits that will need to be navigated across to reach the end. To aid this end, the game feature checkpoints that will save Mario’s progress through the level and a save feature that comes up after Mario has defeated a boss or accomplish some other significant goal. There are also several ways in which extra lives can be obtained, many of which are fairly easy to accomplish. Overall, it makes the game much more about figuring your way through each level and focusing on trial-and-error rather than on perfect runs. That doesn’t mean that the game is easy though, some levels are still quite difficult even with the aid of extra lives and save points.

The music, done by Nintendo veteran Koji Kondo is cheerful and upbeat most of the time, although there are some toons that are more haunting and slow [such as the underground theme and the ghost house theme]. The soundtrack is well-done and highly memorable. The graphics, while colorful and vibrant, are much less detailed than many other platformers on the SNES and even some on the Genesis. It was one of the launch titles, however, so that likely played a part in this. Neverthless, the graphics are by no means bad and it runs very smoothly almost all of the time.

As with Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario World is a true classic in every sense of the word. It is a game that still remains as fun and as challenging as when it was first released. Here is one of the greatest games of all time, no question.

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sega, fighting a grueling battle against gaming juggernaut Nintendo, had some success with its Master System, but the time was coming when they’d need a new console to fight the battle. That console, the Mega Drive/Genesis, arrived in Japan in October 1988, North American slightly less than a year later, and became a serious contender for Nintendo’s throne. But a console alone wasn’t enough, they needed a figure who could be pitted directly against Nintendo’s mascot king Mario. That figure, designed by Naoto Oshima, Yuji Naka, and Hirokazu Yasuhara, was Sonic the Hedgehog. Unlike the portly plumber, Sonic dripped attitude and cool. He could run at insane speeds and leap wide chasms with ease. Upon its release, it was an instant hit and even launched the Genesis past the SNES during the 1991 holiday season. Despite being released nearly seven months after Super Mario World in Japan, it actually slipped into North America a month and half before Nintendo’s latest entry in the Mario series. The title was developed by Sega’s Sonic Team, originally known as AM8 but renamed to mark their first release as a group. The game’s amazing soundtrack was handled by Masato Nakamura, who also returned to compose the sequel.

The basics of the gameplay in Sonic the Hedgehog are similar to those of other platformers. As Sonic, a speedy hedgehog out to save his animal friends from being turned into robots by the evil Dr. Robotnik [Eggman in the Japanese version], you must traverse from one side of a level to the other, jumping on the heads of enemies you might come across or simply avoiding all the while also avoiding various pits and other traps. Sonic, however, is not without it’s little quirks that set it apart. For one thing, Sonic is fast. Really fast. At times he’s little more than a blur on the screen. In giving this speed a good use, there are lots of loops, open spaces, and tunnels for Sonic to traverse. His speed, however, is not without its price. Enemies can appear very quickly, as can deadly obstacles like the dreaded spikes [some of which can hide in seemingly innocuous areas only to spring out as Sonic approaches]. It’s very important that player be aware at all times and not simply attempt to speed through a level as quickly as possible.

Also, rather than a health bar, Sonic must collect rings. As long as Sonic has a single ring, he can survive being hit [although any rings he has will instantly explode through the air, though they can be recollected after a second or two], except from being crushed or falling into a bottomless pit. These rings also give extra points at the end of each level.

The level set up is three levels based on a certain theme [Green Hill Zone, Marble Zone, and so on] with the end of the third level featuring a boss fight against one of Dr. Robotnik’s latest inventions, usually a modification of his personal airship. There are seven sets of levels in all, including the final zone. There are also special stages that can be accessed at the end of the first two levels of each zone by obtaining fifty rings and jumping through a giant ring at the end of the level. Each stage has at least one checkpoint that will act as a restarting point if Sonic dies elsewhere in the level.

As stated before, the soundtrack is one of the better 16-bit soundtracks out there, rivaling the best of Nintendo and Square. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but I could listen to the soundtrack over and over and never get tired of it. Graphics-wise, it’s a very vibrant looking game with nicely detailed sprites that are just the right size for the game. Backgrounds feature scrolling elements and there’s even some trickery used to give the far background an element of depth that most games back then didn’t have.

There is one aspect of the game that I find a bit aggravating: you get three extra lives and then it’s game over. There’s no continues here, none at all. Giving the nature of the game, it means that you’ll more than likely get a few game overs before making it all the way to the end. It’s a bit unforgiving in that respect, but it’s certainly not a big enough issue to hurt the game all that much. It’s still a genuine classic and one of the greatest games ever made.

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Part 2 – Platformers

Platformers, known for their fast-pace gameplay and emphasis on precision jumping and enemy evasion, rather than on weapons and killing, thrived on both systems and saw the main, public battle between Nintendo and Sega in the form of Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario the Plumber. Did Nintendo’s veteran franchise ultimately win the day? Or did Sega’s new-kid-on-the-block Sonic, with his hip coolness, steal the show? There’s only one way to find out for sure, and that’s to go back and play the games all over again!

Genesis

Sonic the Hedehog 1-3, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic CD, Knuckles Chaotix, Rocket Knight Adventures, Dynamite Heady, Ecco the Dolphin, Ristar, Toe Jam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron, Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, Pulseman, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, El Viento, Kid Chameleon, Comix Zone, Disney’s Alladin, Bonanza Brothers, Wiz ‘N Liz, Wonder Boy, Quackshot starring Donald Duck, Puggsy, Taz-Mania, Marvel Land, Tempo, World of Illusion, Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2, Flink, Global Gladiators, Wardner, Tinhead, Devil Hunter Yohko, Wild Woody, and Turrican II.

SNES

Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country 1-3, Lost Vikings 2, Prince of Persia 2, DoReMiFantasy, Kirby Super Star, Kirby’s Dream Land 3, Miracle Girls, Super Bonk, Super Adventure Island, Pop’n Twinbee: Rainbow Bell Adventures, Ardy Lightfoot, Violinist of Hamlin, Disney’s Alladin, Super Mario All-Stars, Plok, Magical Pop’n, Ganbare Daiku no Gensan, Go! Go! Ackman, Joe & Mac, Tiny Toons Adventure: Buster Busts Loose, Umihara Kawase, Power Lode Runner, Lode Runner Twin, Claymates, Bugs Bunny Rabbit Rampage, Disney’s Magical Quest, Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions, Skyblazer, Sparkster, Super Back to the Future II, Jurassic Park, Smartball, Mohawk & Headphone Jack, Out to Lunch, Sink of Swim, and Realm.

Taking a lesson from Part 1, I’m going to take longer to go through Part 2. I’ll probably only do two games a day at most and I’ll try to give each game a bit more playtime than I did before. Basically, it gives me more time per game to figure out what makes it work or what doesn’t work and I don’t have to run myself ragged trying to comment on so many games in such a short amount of time. It’s going to take probably three weeks at that right, but you’re patient, right?

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , | 1 Comment