Seething Cauldron of Pop Culture Talk

Irascible Analysis of Popular Culture

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: 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: 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: 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

SNES vs. Genesis: Part 1 – Recap and Concensus

Well, Part 1 is now in the books and I barreled my way through about fifty games over the past ten days. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t started this because I’ve become completely obsessed with the idea and can’t get anything else done until I finish. The main problem with that is that there are probably about a thousand games between the two systems that I might reasonably be expected to play. At a rate of fifty games per ten days, it would take me about half a year to finish. I don’t like that at all. But, I digress, let’s recap Part 1 and get it over with.

Top Five Genesis Games:

1. Gunstar Heroes

2. Contra: Hard Corps

3. Landstalker

4. Beyond Oasis

5. Popful Mail

Honorable Mentions: Strider 1, Crusaders of Centy, Mega Turican, Alien Soldier, James Bond 007, and Shinobi III.

Top Five SNES Games:

1. Super Metroid

2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

3. Front Mission: Gun Hazard

3. The Firemen

4. Super Turrican 2

Honorable Mentions: Demon’s Crest, Vectorman, Wild Guns, Contra III, Metal Warriors, EVO: The Search for Eden, Mega Man series, Pocky and Rocky 2, Super Castlevania IV, and Gunman’s Proof.

Top Developer: Capcom, for developing Demon’s Crest, Super Ghouls & Ghost, the Mega Man series, Strider, and Magic Sword

Runner Up: Konami, for developing Castlevania: Bloodlines, Super Castlevania, Contra III, Contra: Hard Corps, and Legend of the Mystical Ninja.

With the top ten out of the way, it’s now time for some point allocations. The points are based on the number of titles in the genre, my personal enthusiasm for said genre [yeah, it’s subjective, but that’s just how it is], and the quality of the titles from each console in said genre. The winner of this round will get a hundred, the loser will get slightly less. That’s an arbitrary number, but numbers from the next parts will be based on how they compare with this part’s genre offering, so all other numbers won’t be arbitrary like the first one. All the points for each console will be added up at the end and a proper winner will be determined. Explanations aside, here’s the winner and the loser of Part 1:

SNES – 100

Genesis – 80

Final Thoughts: Although the Genesis had some strong showings in its top five, which even rivaled some of their SNES counterparts, once the top five was out of the way the quality dropped steadily. On the other hand, the SNES had a very strong showing it its top five, along with some all-time classics and best game ever contenders, and kept going all the way past the top twelve. SNES wins this round by a nice margin, but there are still many more genres to take a look at, including a few that the Genesis has some very, very strong contenders in, so don’t think this battle’s already over.

Coming soon in Part 2: Platformers!

April 26, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Holy Umbrella, Chakan, and Red Zone

Chakan: The Forever Man

Well, what can we say about this one? It’s an action game developed and published by Sega in June 1992, based on a comic by Robert A. Kraus. It’s notable for it’s dark theme and unrelenting difficulty. Chakan must fight his way through various levels filled with monster in order to become human again. It’s actually nearly impossible to get a real ending to the game, because of how difficult the final boss is [and the fact that you only get one try]. And the “real ending” is just an hourglass background with no text because it was never actually implemented. Joy! So, I suppose if you like to punish yourself, this is the game to play. It’s slow, incredibly hard, and doesn’t actually feature the real ending.

Red Zone

This little top-down shooter from Zyrinx, and published by Time Warner for the Genesis in November 1994. In the game, you pilot a helicopter through various missions designed to prevent nuclear war. Failure results in a little video of nukes being set off and the remainder of the world being taken over by communism. This is a scene that you will become very familiar with because the game can be very unforgiving. It’s hard, really hard. There are enemies that you can wipe out your helicopter in a matter of seconds and you can run up on them before you even realize what’s going on. You’ve got to be incredibly careful at all times, especially since get killed means an instant game over. It’s kind of cool, especially because of the neat graphics effects that it employs [and which very few other Genesis games did], but it’s just so hard and unforgiving that it’s difficult to really enjoy it.

Holy Umbrella

This action game, developed by Naxat Soft and released by Earthly Soft for the SNES in September 1995, most of the action takes place as a sidescroller, although towns are presented in RPG-style isometric view. It’s a colorful game and pretty kid-friendly, but difficult enough that someone more experienced with games won’t be immediately bored. Having said that, it’s a bit too slowly paced to be all that much fun, but it does make up for that slightly by having all sort of different abilities that have to find in order to progress, mostly relating to the main character’s umbrella. It’s also possible to switch characters mid-level to gain access to areas that the main character might not be able to. Overall, it’s a decent little game, but a bit too slowly paced for its own good. The game was only ever released in Japan, but a translation is available online.

April 26, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment