Seething Cauldron of Pop Culture Talk

Irascible Analysis of Popular Culture

SNES vs. Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Hot of the heels of their roaring success with platformer Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega needed a follow-up that captured the appeal of the original but expanded upon the formula enough that it could still be just as fresh. This time around, members of Sonic Team [such as Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara] traveled to the United States to work with a newly-formed development team known as Sega Technical Institute. The product of their labor, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, went on to sale six million copies and helped the Genesis catch up to the SNES in market share. It’s also been branded as one of the greatest videogames of all time, certainly no mean feat.

This time around, Sonic is joined by his pal Miles “Tails” Prower, a fox with two tails [hence the nickname], who aids Sonic by, mostly, providing moral support. However, Tails can, at times, accidentally attack the enemy. Usually he falls into a pit or walks directly into an enemy and dies, only to reappear a few moments later. He does prove his worth near the end, however, so I suppose he’s not entirely useless. Clever players will discover that Tails can be directly controller during singe player with the second player’s controller. There’s also a two-player race mode where Sonic and Tails race through various levels to see who can be the fastest, but everything gets really squashed during this mode and there’s a lot of slowdown, so I wouldn’t really recommend it.

This time around, the gameplay has been streamlined a bit and made a bit easier. Sonic can run much faster than before and there are various things that have been implemented to take advantage of this, such as more loops and twirls for Sonic to run through and less strategically placed enemies. In the first game, it was hard to get up a lot of sustained momentum because there was usually and enemy or a spike trap waiting just ahead, so you had to be very careful about how you used Sonic’s speed. That’s not the case with Sonic 2. But, that doesn’t mean that Sonic is just about running fast from one side of the level to the other, there’s still a great deal of platforming and quick-reflexes required. This is especially evident in levels like Oil Ocean Zone and Chemical Plant Zone which have large, sprawling levels and, in the case of the later, a number of insta-death pits places in the final third. Another addition is the ability to rev Sonic up by crouching and pressing the A button, allowing him to build up speed for a sudden burst. This is very useful for getting up steep inclines or powering through enemies. Much of the rest of the gameplay is very similar to the first title, you collect a lot of rings, jump on enemies, run really fast, and fight Dr. Robotnik at the end of every zone. That’s not a downside, of course, as the gameplay standard set by the original is one of the best in 2D platformers.

Both the graphics and the music have seen a considerable update for this sequel. The backgrounds and the foregrounds popout with detail, depth, and a vibrancy that many Genesis titles sorely lack. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say that this is one of the best looking Genesis games. As I stated before, Sonic moves even faster than before. For the most part, the Genesis has no trouble keeping up, although sometimes Sonic can get moving so fast that he actually starts to move ahead of the camera. This is usually the case most often when Sonic is going through a series of loops and doesn’t affect normal gameplay. The music, done again by Masato Nakamura, is absolutely one of best soundtracks ever made. Nearly every track is an all-time classic and each is highly memorable. On the technical front, it’s an absolute gem.

On a special note, one of the zones where the graphics, music, and gameplay gel the most is the Casino Night Zone. The two levels that comprise this zone is are just so absolutely brilliant. The way the skycrapers in the background shimmer in the night, the stars that pass by up in the sky, the sprawling, complex levels filled with bumpers, flippers, slot machines, and more. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that the Casino Night Zone is one of my favorite levels in any platformer ever. Everything about it is just so good.

As I stated earlier, Sonic 2 is a bit easier than the original. It’s possible to store up a bevy of extra lives and extra continues without much effort at all, although it’s still very possible to lose all of them fighting the final boss. I certainly have on more than one occasion, but getting that far is not the Herculean effort that it is in many other Genesis platformers.

Bottom line: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is an all-time classic in every way and one of the greatest games ever made.

May 5, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Super Bonk

The Bonk series, beginning on various systems back in 1990, was a mainstay of the Turbo-Grafx, it was published by Hudson Soft after all, system for a number of years. Finally, in 1994, after seven entries, the franchise finally landed on the SNES. It also proved to be one of the last entries in the series as, for reasons unknown, it had one more sequel [Super Bonk 2, Japan-only] and the pretty much died out after that. There was a compilation or two and a collection of minigames features Bonk, but nothing like what it once had been. There is, however, a move to resurrect the series with a downloadable title in the works for the three major systems. All that aside, let’s focus on A.I Company’s last, major effort on the series: Super Bonk.

At first the gameplay in Super Bonk seems very familiar. Like any good platformer, you move from one side of the level to the other while fighting or avoiding bad guys and picking items and other trinkets along the way. Super Bonk is no different in this regard, but it does have three different forms for the main protagonist, Bonk, and three different sizes that he can grow or shrink to depending in which type of candy he eats. These forms and sizes have different functions and serve to make the game more interesting. Just in terms of gameplay, this is about all the Super Bonk offers in terms of being unique from other platformers. However, that’s not the end of the story. The way the levels are made and how unique and wild they are is pretty impressive. Each one seems to flow into the next and there are often a number of different way to finish each level, including entirely different paths. There are also a number of special stages scattered around, which are accessed by finding an item that looks like a flower. The special stages are fairly short, but mix things up by offering something different from just the usual platforming. It’s easy to dismiss Super Bonk after a few minutes as just another derivative platformer, but if you spend enough time with it you’ll find yourself playing more and more. It’s very deceptive like that.

The graphics are decent enough, but lack the color and detail of many other SNES platformers. It’s not a huge concern, but it’s something worth noting. The music is likewise decent, but nothing that really stands out.

Difficult is fairly low, even for a SNES platformer. In all the time spent playing I died just once, during a boss fight, and I was able to pick up an extra life along the way to replace it around the same time. It’s a bit on the easy side, but still quite fun. Although I wouldn’t call this an all-time classic, it’s a platformer that has stood the test of time and remains a fun diversion.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Sparkster

Hot off the heals of their success with Rocket Knight Adventures, Konami made a sequel called Sparkster for the Genesis. They also made another game called Sparkster for the SNES. Aside from the names and having the same main character, they’re actually two completely different games, which is why I’m going to list both of them.

Both are similar in gameplay to the first game, although I feel that the some of changes made to the Genesis Sparkster push it a bit farther away from the spirit of the original title while the SNES Sparkster is a bit closer. Use of the jetpack is less strategic in the Genesis version, as it fills automatically and fairly quickly allowing the player to concentrate on other things. I’m not necessarily for or against it, either way has it perks and it downsides, so that’s kind of a wash for both versions I think.

Genesis Sparkster has some gameplay quirks that the SNES Sparkster doesn’t have, such a buttons that can be pressed using a burst from Sparkster’s rocket pack to access other areas of the level or unlock hidden items. On the other hand, the SNES Sparkster has a somewhat more complex and vertical level layout, it’s not a huge difference but Genesis version feels a bit more straightforward by contrast.

Graphically speaking, the both version feature slightly flatter looks than the original, which had a slightly tilted looked to the backgrounds with added a bit of depth. It’s not so much an issue with the SNES version because it has a level of vibrancy and background detail that it still looks very good, but the Genesis version has suffered just a bit and doesn’t hold up quite as well as its predecessor. Both a good looking titles that run very nicely, so that’s not necessarily a knock, just an observation. Akira Yamaoka, known for composing the Silent Hill games, contributed to the soundtrack on both Sparkster titles and, for the most part, did a pretty good job. I don’t think either soundtrack is quite as memorable as the Rocket Knight Adventure soundtrack, but that could just be nostalgia talking.

They’re also fairly hard, even harder than the original. Although the SNES version has five continues, compared to two in the Genesis version, it’s still pretty tough. Particularly in the second stage where there are these giant wheels that will squash you flat if you so much as touch them. It’s really unforgiving. Bosses in both version are hard as well. Overall, they’re just hard games and difficult in a way that I never thought the original was, although the original wasn’t necessarily easy or anything. The SNES version does have a password save system however.

I’d give a slight edge to the SNES version, but both a fine games and nice additions to the series.

May 3, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Go! Go! Ackman

Akira Toriyama, known for his hyper-famous Dragon Ball series or maybe even Dr. Slump if you’re feeling really obscure, but he also had another series that ran from 1993 to 1994 called Go! Go! Ackman, which starred a demon child named Ackman who harvest souls to sell to the devil. He’s the “hero” of the story. As with any such series, it was inevitably turned into a series of licensed games, of which there were four [three on the SNES, one on the Gameboy] and all of them were developed and published by gaming house Banpresto.

In the game, Ackman fights against the angel army and collects the souls of the defeated enemies, which his demon companion, Godon, keeps in a jar. The gameplay is pretty standard action/platformers stuff. You have to jump over lots of bottomless pits, fight enemies, and gather powerups and such. Ackman has a four-bar health meter and several lives per continue, which, as far as I know, are unlimited. There are several different weapons that can be picked up and used, although you’ll mostly just have Ackman punch and kick his enemies. Don’t try to jump on enemies’ heads though, because most of the time that doesn’t work and results in Ackman losing health.

Graphics and music are both pretty good, nothing really all that special but it works and doesn’t get in the way. The only problem with the music is that most levels just loop the same bit of music over and over. I mean, I like the tune, but it gets old after a while.

I will mention this: the car driving level is brutally unforgiving. You’ve got to get it fully memorized in order to complete it and that will probably take you at least two continues. There’s a boss fight right after that and if you die during the boss fight you have to do the car driving level all over again. That was the part where I gave up.

There are also two sequels for the SNES and they all play pretty much the same. Only the first one’s been translated though.

April 30, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Kid Chameleon

In a rather uncharacteristic move, Sega established a development team in the US known as Sega Technical Institute. On top of working on several Sonic games, the team also came up with several totally original titles of their own. One amongst that number was Kid Chameleon, a game about a virtual reality program that kidnaps anyone who can’t beat the game. Unfortunately for the kids who play it, that’s everyone who has ever played it so far. Enter Casey, a cool kid who think he’s got what it takes to the beat the final boss, Heady Metal, and free all the kids who have been kidnapped.

He’s nicknamed Kid Chameleon because of his ability to assume various personas by putting on different masks. One of those is a  samurai who wields a sword, another is an armed knight, and another is rhinoceros sort of creature. There are more besides those three and each serves a different purpose in getting Kid from end of the level to the other. This adds variety to the gameplay and ensures that few levels repeat the same structure.

Setting the masks aside, the gameplay is similar to Super Mario Bros. There are various enemies that move back and forth across the screen and most of them can be killed by jumping on their heads, although this is not the case for all of them. There are also breakable blocks that hide collectible crystals and Kid’s various masks. Some of the forms have melee or even ranged weapons, further differing it from other platformers. Each section is usually split into two levels, although it doesn’t have boss battles. Each form also has at least one diamond power, which uses the diamond collected in the various to levels to perform different effects.

Kid Chameleon is slightly easier than other Genesis platformers. You start with three lives and three continues and it’s possible to get more over the course of the game. I died a few times, but that mainly as a result of simply getting used to the game. Also, each form has its own health bar and that, when emptied, causes Kid Chameleon to revert back to his regular form, which has two hit points. Obtaining a new mask, even the same as the one Kid already has, result in his health bar being refilled. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some areas that can be really tricky, however.

On the technical front, the graphics aren’t too hot. I know I harped on Rocket Knight Adventure’s graphics a few days ago, but it looks much better than Kid Chameleon, which has a flat look to it. That doesn’t effect the gameplay of course, but I think it’s worth at least noting. In terms of music, I suppose it gets the job done, but there’s nothing there that I find to be particularly memorable.

Overall, it’s a fun game to play for a while, but I just don’t see putting it up with the best platformers on the SNES and Genesis.

April 30, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Violinist of Hameln

Enix, a company almost synonymous with RPGs, had their own platformer for the SNES at the height of the craze during the 16-bit years. Released September 1995 in Japan, The Violinist of Hameln, based on a manga of the same name by Michiaki Watanabe, followed the exploits of Hamel, a skilled violinist, in his quest to take down a group of demons that have been terrorizing a small village. Before he leaves, he takes a young girl named Flute with him.

Now, let’s get one thing out of the way right now: Violinist of Hameln is probably one of the most sexist platformers ever made. That’s no small accomplishment when most of them feature a heroic male character saving a helpless female character who has been kidnapped by the bad guys. But Hameln beat all those with ease. That’s based on the gameplay aspect that also makes Hameln unique among platformers. Flute, the village girl who helps Hamel, basically gets used and abused in every single level. This is through a variety of ways. For one thing, Hamel can pick her up and throw her like a projectile at enemies or headlong into breakable obstacles. There are also a variety of costumes that Hamel can find to make Flute use to get past various obstacles [one costume is an ostrich which can walk across spikes and another is a frog that leap high up in the air]. Hamel can also stand on Flute’s shoulders to reach higher locations than he might otherwise. Flute has a health bar but she can’t actually be killed, how much health she has left at the end of level determines bonus points. So…yeah. It’s really wrong, but also kind of funny. I guess that makes me bad person.

With that out of the way, Violinist of Hameln is a pretty basic platformer. There are various platforms, ladders, enemies, and spikes to be overcome along with other environmental traps to avoid. Hameln’s main weapon is a violin that can shoot out deadly musical notes, which actually work surprisingly well in fighting enemies. If not for the addition of Flute as a gameplay element, it really wouldn’t be all that special. So, I suppose that means that extreme sexism is this game’s claim to fame. That’s so horrible to say. Well, anyway, just don’t take it all that seriously and it shouldn’t be too hard to enjoy.

The game is a bit on the hard side, I got killed once just on the first level. It’s not among the hardest platformers out there, since you’ve got a health bar and several extra lives, but I’d put it above some of the other platformers on the SNES.

The music is the sort of upbeat tunes that you can expect to find in most mid-range platformers. It’s nothing really all that special, but it serves the game well enough. The graphics are nice and colorful, but, again, nothing that you couldn’t find in a number of other mid-range platformers. Both of these elements get the job done without really being all that memorable.

Overall, it’s a fun little game. The addition of Flute and her many costumes is interesting and adds some variety to the gameplay, but it’s still not an all time classic like the three other platformers discussed so far. Try it out, have a little fun, and then move on.

April 29, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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