Of Axioms and Idioms: A Breath of Fresh Err

Well, I said I had a second topic in this series and I’m going to use it. Welcome to another entry in “Of Axioms and Idioms” – the series where I detail some of my more less-specific opinions when it comes to video games. Last time, I detailed how playing later games in a series retroactively ruined their predecessors if I’m not familiar with them in the first place. While this seems obvious in hindsight (sequels are supposed to improve upon previous iterations in the series), it is one of those issues that seems to plague me on a wider scale – not merely effecting how I see series of games, but rather entire sub-genres.

Today’s topic is a little more complex and probably more rigid than the previous entry. When it comes to “bad games” in a series – that is, the ones that are generally considered the worst of their series – I’m generally more forgiving of them the more they deviate from their franchise’s standard formula. Quite simply put, if a game is experimental and bad, I’m far more likely to accept its shortcomings and look upon the game more favorably compared to games that are just a shallow and/or flawed recreation of the series’ pinnacle.

The two games that inspired this article were the fourth and fifth games in the Ys series, both released on the Super Famicom. While Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys for the PC Engine is generally considered among the best games in the entire series, the Super Famicom’s Mask of the Sun was developed by Tonkin House – who previously handled the SNES port of Wanderers of Ys, which is generally considered the worst of the fourth-generation console ports. Both games had similar design philosophies: taking inspiration from the first two Ys games. However, the SFC version took more inspiration from the earlier PC releases of those games, which required significantly more precision when landing attacks. This didn’t translate that well given both the Super Famicom’s simpler control scheme and the comparatively more forgiving Ys: Books I & II, which predated Mask of the Sun by almost 4 years. This led the SFC version of Ys IV to be considered among the worst games in the series.

Its sequel, Ys V: Kefin, Lost City of Sand, didn’t fare much better in terms of reception. Discarding the traditional “run-and-bump” gameplay that the series popularized in favor of a more traditional “hack-and-slash” attack mechanic common to action RPGs, Ys V was a significant departure from its predecessors’ established formula – much like the aforementioned Ys III. However, unlike Ys III, this game would have a much more permanent effect on the series – with future games adopting the more standard attacks system, though handling it much better. Ys V’s controls were terrible – Adol’s slashes felt less responsive than those from the original Legend of Zelda in 1986. The jumping mechanics were awkward and worst of all, different sword upgrades would change the style of Adol’s attack: a horizontal slash or a “stab” (though, I thought it looked more like a “poke”) with more forward range. Throw in a magic system that’s essentially useless and you’ve got Kefin in a nutshell. Due to the lack of any other releases, Ys V is generally considered the worst game in the entire franchise – but due to the lack of any companion titles or remakes, it’s kind of an unfair comparison.

Honestly, at first glance, I would probably say that it’s hard to determine which of these two games is worse overall. They’re both essentially blights on their franchise – but neither game really did that much damage to the overall reputation of Ys. Looking back though, I’d probably say that I may have enjoyed Ys V slightly more and my reasoning is simple. Mask of the Sun attempted to recreate gameplay I had seen earlier, but was less competent in the process. It effectively tried and failed to achieve the same level of quality from a previous iteration in its franchise, which gave it no reason to exist. Ys V, for all its flaws, at least attempted something new for the franchise. It may have also have failed miserably, but it tweaked the series’ formula and tried something new. Ys IV had a blueprint for success: its counterpart on the PC Engine proves that. Ys V had no plan, no established formula to follow. While its experiments failed miserably, they led to further games and better titles down the line.

My next example may be a little controversial, as pretty much no one considers one of these games bad anymore. However, for quite some time, it was considered fashionable to bash the Western version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as Super Mario USA in Japan) for not being the “true” Mario 2. This title belonged instead to Japan’s Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels elsewhere). The latter is essentially a level pack, with insane stage designs that far exceeded what was possible with the original’s controls left intact. I’d go so far as to say that it’s essentially just a less-playable version of the first Super Mario Brothers. Meanwhile, Super Mario USA was an improved reskin of a Fuji TV collaboration game known as Doki Doki Panic. I know, everyone knows that old story. What’s more interesting, however, was the later reveal that Doki Doki Panic was based on a scrapped Mario prototype that focused more on vertical platforming. So, in the end, Super Mario USA could be considered more of a Mario 2 than the “official” Lost Levels.

Another example is a bit odd: the sixth and seventh games in the MegaMan X series. Let me make myself perfectly clear: I completely despise MegaMan X6. It’s probably the worst MegaMan game Capcom ever made in-house. While X7 seems to be considered a worse game overall, it at least had the excuse of attempting to recreate the classic action of the MegaMan platformers in 3D. It’s hard to argue that it failed in this regard. X6, on the other hand, had absolutely no excuse to be as terrible as it was. It was built using the engine of my favorite game in that entire sub-series (MegaMan X4). X5 may have been a downgrade from its predecessor, but X6 crashed and burned. Terrible level design, unbalanced boss fights, the addition of X’s awkward Z-saber attack, the ability to get completely trapped in an area if you lack the right power-up – the only redeeming factor was probably the soundtrack!

There are even cases where swapping genres can work out well for a series. Take, for example, Double Dragon. After the disappointing Sacred Stones, Super Double Dragon was an attempt to recreate the magic of the first two games. While the SNES had a legendary amount of quality beat-‘em-ups, Super Double Dragon not only failed to stand out among its contemporaries, but even faltered in comparison to its predecessors. Conversely, when Technos Japan attempted to make a Double Dragon fighting game for SNK’s NeoGeo platform, it turned out well: despite the sheer amount of competition in that genre on NeoGeo, “Double Dragon” would do so well that it eventually received a spiritual sequel, Rage of the Dragons. Of course, Tradewest – Double Dragon’s publisher in North America – attempted their own fighting game earlier – Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls. The less said about that one, the better.

This even applies to games that are generally considered dead-ends. While I liked both the NES Zeldas more than I expected upon playing them, I think I had a slight preference for Zelda II. Frankly, I’m almost certain that that’s because the original Zelda presented itself as a more primitive version of the other 2D games in the series, while Zelda II was strikingly different. Zelda II was effectively a side-scrolling action RPG, compared to the top-down adventure formula that most of the early games in the series encapsulated, and that difference made it stick out a bit more in my mind. The same could be said for Ys III: Wanderers from Ys – to the extent where I constantly compared Zelda II and Ys III while playing both. It doesn’t hurt that they were considered evolutionary dead-ends in their respective series – and by extension, inherently terrible – but to me, they were simply interesting deviations. Even more ironically, both games were followed by what was generally considered the early masterpieces of their respective series: A Link to the Past and The Dawn of Ys, respectively.

Unlike my “Bayonetta May Cry” axioms, there’s a method to my madness. If a successful formula has already been established for a series, ruining it with a mediocre follow-up that attempts to hit the same note should be impossible. Let me be clear: I’m not talking about games that simply don’t live up to their predecessors and are lambasted as retreads. I’m talking about games in existing series that attempt to recreate their established formula and fail miserably. The MegaMan games for DOS are a perfect example – they were intended to resemble the popular NES games, but failed on pretty much every level. When a series’ formula has been established, there’s a blueprint for success. If the game deviates from that formula in a meaningful way – by changing core mechanics or even switching genres, there’s at least an excuse for a piss-poor final product. There’s just no excuse if a company’s creating a copy-paste of a previous title and manages to create something objectively inferior to what came before.

There’s a corollary here as well. Bad games using established formulas can be toxic to long-running series: there’s always the chance that it won’t simply be considered a bad game, but rather the formula itself has gotten stale and repetitive. On the other hand, development mishaps in a title that deviates from the norm can yield better results down the line. The aforementioned Ys V is a perfect example of this – the following games in the series also utilized “hack and slash” and platforming elements and improved vastly over their SFC predecessor, essentially creating a new trilogy of games that are arguably better than even The Dawn of Ys.

Of course, judging whether something is a bad game or if the entire formula has gotten stale gets harder to judge when there’s a generational gap between games. It’s relatively easy to tell if a game is legitimately worse than its predecessor if they were released during the same generation, especially if they’re both on the same system. Comparing an NES game to its sequel on PS4 makes it hard to determine whether the game suffered from being recreated imperfectly or if the original game itself was simply considered good for nostalgic reasons. Obviously, there’s a chance that the formula itself could just become inherently stale and in need of alteration or outright rejection for the series to survive. Of course, this would have little effect on the quality of the original game itself – it’s a simple case of diminishing returns, nothing uncommon when it comes to video games in general.

In the end, I guess it’s a matter of taste. For some people, deviating from an established formula is essentially considered betrayal of what made that particular series great in the first place. I can respect that difference in opinion, but I believe that at the very least failing in an entirely new way is, at the very least, more interesting than watching someone incompetently recreate a game I liked. More importantly, what do you think? Do you agree that failing in a different way is at least more interesting than second-rate reruns? Are established formulas the key to success? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

 

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2017

SNES Master KI

Well, 2016 is almost over, and while there were some great games released, I mainly just want this year to end and to focus on the future (or gaming’s future, anyway).  Thankfully, 2017 in gaming fills me with a sense of true optimism (as opposed to forced hope) that I haven’t had in a long time, lots of series that haven’t had an entry (or a satisfying entry) in years are returning and while Nintendo has a lot less representation on this list than my ones from previous years, things should Switch on that front very early in the year.  So, let’s hurry up and get our focus to the new year.  I’ve decided to handle games from previous lists that got hit by delays with a rule that games can only appear on my lists twice, so Zelda won’t be showing up this time.  Let’s get this started!

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The Year Without a PC Port Wishlist

Christmas has pretty much always been my favorite holiday, especially when I was a child. I was a greedy little boy while I was growing up: one of my favorite holiday traditions was always writing up my list to Santa on my computer. Sure, some years I’d get overzealous and start thinking about it as early as August, but I’d always have a lot of fun just writing the list itself. I’d always try to sort things in the order I wanted them, but that was actually part of the fun for me: one week I’d really want some action figures, the next some new video game caught my eye. The downside to starting a list that early is that as time goes on, new items catch your eye. Even the greed of a child has its limits, so I would often have to pare down my list, trimming the items I could “do without”. (Gotta love child logic, am I right?) In a sense, I think those PC ports lists I wrote for a long time were the evolution of that favored Yule tradition, but eventually I got tired of doing them. Too much wishing, not enough getting. I’ve taken a hiatus on them and now, it’s been over a year. Instead of making an entirely new one, why not look over my previous works and analyze them a little? This year, I’ll be recounting my 5 favorite success stories, my top 10 most wanted and the game on each list I’d consider the most important (excluding those on the aforementioned lists) plus a brand-new one for good measure!

Before we get started (fittingly enough, with my favorite success stories), I’d like to start with some recent successes as well. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was released on PS4 earlier this month and it will also be hitting both the Xbox One and Steam in March. Meanwhile, Garou: Mark of the Wolves was also recently released on PlayStation consoles via CodeMystics, but surprise, surprise: an entirely different port hit Steam soon after, from the good folks at DotEmu. In fact, it was such a surprise, I actually had to change a list entry because of it. The DotEmu port is less fancy than the CodeMystics port, but apparently, not only does the Steam version have a more solid netcode, but it’s also getting immediate bugfixes to iron out some of its bizarre glitches. Funny how that works. I expected that to be the last bit of news I got on the PC end of things, but I was wrong: The Legend of Dark Witch 2, another game I’d been salivating over the prospect of seeing a PC port is announced to be hitting Steam sometime during “Q4 2016”. One last big surprise for me.

You’ll also remember that this past April, I did an “April Fools’ Day” article, revolving around 10 PC games I’d like to see receive console ports. Well, like many of my jokes, this one ended up biting me in the ass. During the PlayStation Experience, Ys Origin (the only PC-exclusive Ys game) was announced to be hitting both PlayStation 4 and, amazingly enough, the Vita on February 21, 2017 with the port being handled by the good people over at DotEmu who are utilizing XSEED’s English translation and coming up with original French, Italian, German and Spanish translations as well. (As an aside, DotEmu’s also bringing a favorite of mine – the NeoGeo classic Windjammers – to the same platforms. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a PC port down the line!) You’d think that would be enough, but the world wasn’t done having fun at my expense: soon after, it was revealed that the indie platformer Kero Blaster would also be coming to the PS4, thanks to its publisher Playism. They’ll also be bringing Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight to PS4, though release windows for both titles have not been announced. Continue reading

Of Axioms and Idioms: The “Bayonetta May Cry” Syndrome

I have this tendency to start new series on the Retronaissance blog seemingly at random, only to let them die. I think my main problem is that I come up with a topic that I would absolutely love to revisit on multiple occasions, I come up with one topic to serve as a pilot article for the prospective series and then when it comes right down to it, I’m either unable to think of a good follow-up or a severely limited number of viable subjects for future pieces. Here’s hoping this one ends up surviving.

Welcome to the first article in a new series, “Of Axioms and Idioms”. These articles will essentially act as a soapbox for various “rules of thumb” I appear to have. Odd quirky choices that have affected my personal taste in video games and specific trends I’ve pinpointed. These aren’t going to be simple revelations – so don’t expect articles on why I love arcade-style games over their simulation counterparts, why I love fighting games or why I detest most turn-based RPGS – more along the lines of specific aspects that transcend genres, companies and generations.

The topic of this first article is simple, yet more than likely incoherent: a certain phenomenon I generally refer to as the “Bayonetta May Cry” syndrome. Essentially, playing later games in a franchise/genre, has a certain tendency to paint earlier iterations in such a negative light, that I’m completely unable to enjoy them. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is a prejudice I wholeheartedly acknowledge. Of course, on the surface it probably seems obvious: I’ve never heard of a case of a video game sequel not attempting to surpass its original.

“Bayonetta May Cry” seems like an odd way to phrase it, but I mainly identify it as such due to the events that led me to fully realize and articulate exactly what was going on. I was playing the original Devil May Cry on the PS2 for the first time. Unfortunately, by that point, I had already played through the original Bayonetta on Xbox 360 and it had painted a very vivid picture of what to expect of “character action games”, a sub-genre which DMC trailblazed. Unfortunately, DMC1 did not live up to the hype and as such, I never ended up finishing the game. I may want to do so at some point, but only on my terms – perhaps if Capcom decides to port that shiny HD collection to PC?

There are some other examples that come to mind. Obviously, I played Street Fighter II long before the original (or at least, a real version of the original) – but that’s so common, it’s not worth mentioning. Tekken 1 and 2, on the other hand, seems a lot more interesting. While I did encounter Tekken 1 first (in an arcade on vacation), Tekken 2 was the first game in the series I played. The evolution that went on between these two games is amazing – the graphics, the gameplay, everything but the roster had changed immensely. Likewise, you’ve got the Capcom vs. SNK duology: the first game was alright, but playing the second game first: with its extended roster, the expanded number of fighting styles and the complete overhaul of the ratio system, CvS2 surpassed the original in every way.

Aside from Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, perhaps the best example of this feeling happened with Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series. While I did technically start The Sacred Stones first, playing Awakening on the 3DS pretty much confirmed that I would never be looking back on it. The best part about this one is that I can even track my opinions of it. At first, I thought Sacred Stones was alright, a bit slow compared to other strategy-RPGs I had played at that point, but not bad. After playing Awakening, however, I decided there was no looking back: too much had improved and I was completely looking forward. The ability to pair up units alone confirmed that I would never go back to the GBA title and made me glad that I hadn’t paid a single cent for it – after all, I had received it as a 3DS Ambassador bonus.

Of course, it’s all contextual: I’m a lot more forgiving when it comes to retro games – or at least, what I consider to be retro games. Anything before the 5th generation (Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation) are generally safe, as well as the Dreamcast due to its short lifespan. The rest of the 6th generation – the PlayStation 2, the GameCube and the original Xbox – are more of a blind spot for me. I understand that they’ve been gone for roughly a decade now, but it feels like they were the beginning of what the current generations of consoles built themselves upon, a clear break from the earlier generations. It doesn’t help that that was the generation where I essentially felt out of mainline video games, preferring to stick to portables and classic retro for the time being.

I’m certain this bias has pretty much always existed in the back of my head. It’s part of the reason I’ve always liked playing series “in release order” as opposed to doing what most people suggest and start with the latest game in the series before working backwards. I’m completely convinced that playing later games earlier will ruin the earlier games in a franchise for me, though there have been some cases where this has not come to pass. For example, I played the TurboGrafx-16 version of Ys Books I & II after Ys I & II Chronicles+ on Steam. I enjoyed the TG-16 version a lot, despite Chronicles+ being a longer game, with more responsive controls and superior graphics. There were some things I’d argue that Books I & II did better than the later release – best example would be the fact that the leveling system was balanced to account for both games.

Still, I worry that game mechanics and features that I grow to rely on and expect in later entries in a long-running series may end up spoiling me. More importantly, I’m worried that it may color my outlook on the earlier games, because I’ll be unable to realize whether I hate it because it lacks features I’ve come to expect or if the game is legitimately bad. Of course, that’s something that anyone who focuses on retro games would have to worry about, whether there is nostalgia for the subject matter or if it’s an unfamiliar release. It’s important to keep this kind of thing in mind.

Of course, the truth is it’s for the best that I’ve realized this bias of mine. It helps me to compensate when playing older games. This came into play this past year, when I finally decided to livestream Final Fantasy 7 – one of the three games I’d consider the most beloved (if not overrated) of its generation, alongside the original Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time. When playing the game, I promised not to compare it to more modern turn-based RPGs I liked: games like Undertale, Evolution Worlds and the first two Paper Mario games. I decided to compare it to its predecessors – Earthbound, Super Mario RPG – as well as a contemporary game: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, originally released a few months before FF7 was in Japan. It didn’t help matters (I still ended up hating FF7), but at least I avoided the pitfall of judging the game against modern games that should have surpassed it.

Of the odd preferences and quirky opinions I could possibly discuss in this series, this one would have to be one of the more negative ones. Comparing older games to later iterations in their series or genre is clearly unfair, but the problem would have to be that it’s common. When you consider that there are younger gamers enjoying the medium, some that weren’t even alive during the 5th and 6th generations, it’s completely understandable: few people my age like watching films from before they were born, so why should kids today be forced to appreciate games that are clunkier and less refined than those that are available to them on a wider and more regular basis? The one upshot to that is that by acknowledging it, I can avoid unfairly judging older games by forcing them to live up to unfair standards and hopefully this will allow me to judge them more fairly, even in retrospect. Maybe one day, I’ll even go back to playing the original Devil May Cry.

10 Games I’d Like To See Re-Released #06: Konami

After a long stint of writing longer articles, I always like coming back to these wishlists. Sure, it’s little more than an exercise in greed, but they’re cathartic for me: it’s always nice to remember old games that I wish we could access in these modern times. For whatever reason, I’ve got a certain intuition that making these lists increases the chances of these games seeing the light of day once again.

As with last time, I’ve decided to moon over recent PC ports and announcements in these re-release articles, since my PC ports wishlist series has been put on hiatus for the time being. First off, we’ve seen two more Steam iterations of classic NeoGeo games readily available on Humble Store: The Last Blade came out at the end of August, while Shock Troopers 2nd Squad came out at the end of September. Both versions have added online multiplayer, as has become common with these re-releases. We’ve also seen the release of Cave’s classic shmup Dodonpachi Resurrection (which I mentioned in a previous list) on Steam this past month, courtesy of the good people at Degica. Nippon Ichi Software announced that it will be bringing the second Disgaea game (rechristened Disgaea 2 PC) to Steam early next year, with all the additional content available on the PSP – including some characters that were exclusive to the Japanese version. Finally, we’ve got some news from the good people at XSEED. Xanadu Next, a Falcom action-RPG, which was originally announced for Summer 2016 will finally be releasing on November 3rd. They also announced two new PC ports: Senran Kagura: Bon Appétit! – a music-rhythm spinoff to the fanservice-laden brawler – will be hitting Windows PC on November 10th, while Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, a fighting game crossovers starring female characters from various visual novels, will be hitting PC “this Winter” with additional features like additional victory animations, animated backgrounds and the ability to save Training Mode menu settings between sessions.

Once again, let’s go over my constraints for this series of articles. I’m going to be looking at games from the 6th generation of video games (Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox) and earlier, as games from later generations are still easy to get a hold of. To maintain focus, I’ll be looking at one company for each article and considering the fact that I live in North America, I’ll be focusing on games that haven’t seen a legitimate re-release in my own region – I’ll just ignore any talk of importing these games from Japan and Europe. Unfortunately, this means that games that have seen re-releases on services like Nintendo’s Virtual Console and Sony’s PlayStation Classics have technically already been re-released, regardless of their quality (or lack thereof) compared to a full-on remaster. The important thing is that they can be accessed by modern audiences, no matter the quality – sorry, Zone of the Enders. I’ll also discuss any possible improvements that could be made to the games with re-releases.

This time, we’ll be looking at Konami – a fitting choice, considering they made the Castlevania series, considering the time of year. Of course, these days I guess the truly terrifying thing about Konami is their status within the video game market. These days, they seem to be focusing more on farming out their intellectual properties to make Pachi-Slot machines. What few video games they’re still making are…at best, misguided. Things weren’t always this way though, and it’s safe to say that Konami still has plenty of games trapped in their vault that should be re-released. These are but merely 10 of them.

Castlevania Bloodlines (GEN)

This would have to be my number one choice, the game that I figured was the biggest missed opportunity for the original iteration of the Virtual Console. We saw the other two major 16-bit era Castlevanias hit the Wii’s Virtual Console: Super Castlevania IV for the SNES and Dracula X: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine-CD, as well as the SNES’s inferior copy of the latter. Of those three games, Bloodlines was always my favorite: Eric LeCarde’s unique playstyle was a fun contrast to the traditional Belmont style of John Morris. The gameplay was akin to those of the NES games, albeit with improvements. I think one of my favorite parts was the fact that this Castlevania managed to take place outside of Castlevania’s general setting of Transylvania, with Morris and LeCarde travelling to Greece, France, Italy, Germany and England.

I personally feel like each of those three major 16-bit Castlevanias had a strength unique to itself: Super Castlevania IV dropped the stiff controls of the older games and had the best control of the series. Rondo of Blood focused on secrets, with multiple paths, alternate stages and even a hidden character. Bloodlines, however, I felt had the best level design: long sprawling stages, with deviating paths suited for each of its playable characters and unique design gimmicks for each stage. Hopefully, we’ll see it return someday.

Potential Improvements: I’d honestly be fine with just a straight port on this one, though at this point, it will probably be difficult. The modern iterations of the Virtual Console no longer support Sega Genesis and the only platform capable of doing straight emulations of Genesis games is SEGA MegaDrive & Genesis Classics on Steam, which currently has no officially supported third-party titles.

If we did get an enhanced port, I’d love to hear a rearranged version of the classic Bloodlines soundtrack, so long as the classic Genesis FM synth returns as an option. Likewise, the ability to choose between the Japanese and Western balancing would be appreciated.

Rocket Knight Adventures/Sparkster/Rocket Knight Adventures 2 (GEN/SNES)

Despite being considered a cult classic these days, the Rocket Knight franchise was a victim of its times. Released at that point in time where Sonic the Hedgehog had kicked off the “platformer starring an animal mascot with attitude” trend, the original Rocket Knight Adventures was generally considered to have been cut from the same cloth as such gaming losers as Bubsy Bobcat, Awesome Possum and Aero the Acro-Bat. Anyone who looked past the superficial similarities, however, was rewarded with one of the best games the Genesis had to offer. While the original was my personal favorite, the other two games were also great – better than the mediocre 2010 reboot on 7th generation consoles.

Potential Improvements: Once again, I’d be perfectly fine with a straight re-release in this game’s case, especially given the aforementioned reboot, which rubbed me the wrong way. While Sparkster for the SNES is still within the realm of possibility for re-release via the Virtual Console, the Genesis games have less readily available means for legal emulation.

Contra: Hard Corps (GEN)

Last Genesis game, I swear. While most people are fond of the Super Nintendo’s Contra III: The Alien Wars, I had more of a soft spot for the Genesis’s Hard Corps. Taking place in a futuristic dystopia, with robotic soldiers and gun-toting werewolves, Hard Corps ditched the more contemporary setting and in my opinion, it benefitted from it. I’m still surprised that a few years back, it managed to get a sequel: Hard Corps Uprising, developed by the good people at Arc System Works, no less!

Potential Improvements: I was generally more of a fan of the Japanese version of this game, which allowed the characters to take multiple hits before dying, as opposed to being one-hit wonders like the Western versions and earlier games in the series, so the ability to choose between those two versions would be great. Likewise, as with all Contra games of that era, the European version was rebranded as Probotector, replacing the organic protagonists with robotic counterparts, so it would awesome to see both themes in the same release – albeit with the proper framerate, as opposed to the slower one associated with European releases of that era.

Sunset Riders (Arcade)

One part Rush’n Attack, two parts Contra – Sunset Riders is one of those games that were so popular, you would have guessed that they would have gotten a sequel, but somehow they just didn’t. Utilizing the same style of two-plane stages seen in games like Shinobi and Rolling Thunder, Sunset Riders was effectively one of the more interesting games Konami released in the arcades. Since we’ve already seen a re-release of the SNES version, I thought it would be interesting to see the original Arcade version make a comeback as well.

Potential Improvements: Online multiplayer, the usual round of graphical filters and an adjustable amount of credits, leading to multiple “difficulty settings”. Basically, a similar release as the old Simpsons and X-Men arcade games from last-gen.

Kid Dracula (FC/GB)

Kid Dracula’s an interesting concept. Effectively a more comedic take on the Castlevania franchise, the Kid Dracula duology puts players in the role of Kid Dracula, Dracula’s child (who may or may not grow up to be Alucard of Symphony of the Night fame), as he tries to retake his rightful throne from the demon Galamoth. We only saw the release of the second game for Game Boy outside of Japan, but having both games re-released would be great.

Potential Improvements: If they manage to get the first game re-released, I’d love it if Konami were to completely translate the game – sure, the story’s not important, but small details like that are important to me. Other than that, straight emulations would be appreciated.

Contra (NES)

I’m still in shock that this game hasn’t seen a straight re-release (outside of course as a bonus in Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS), but considering that game’s long out of print, I think it fits with this list. Like I’ve said in previous articles, the original Contra is probably one of the three games that most shaped my gaming tastes overall. I just find it weird that Super C got re-releases on both Wii and Wii U, while the original – the more famous of the two NES releases – hasn’t seen anything in a long time.

Potential Improvements: I guess it would be interesting if they included both the NES and the arcade versions of the original Contra together: that would be an interesting contrast. Both arcade Contras were re-released last generation via Konami Classics on Xbox 360, but aren’t available on modern platforms. Likewise, it’d be cool to see a release with the previously mentioned Probotector reskin released in Europe – again, at the proper framerate.

Vampire Killer (MSX)

I’ve always been somewhat interested in this game, despite never having the opportunity to do so. This was the very first revamp of the original Castlevania – but while most of the future versions maintained the same basic gameplay concept while rearranging the stage designs and locales, Vampire Killer totally reimagined it. Many people consider Simon’s Quest to be the original prototype for what would eventually be called the “Metroidvanias”, but Vampire Killer for the MSX has it beat. In this iteration of Simon Belmont’s first adventure, players are tasked with exploring Castlevania, looking for various keys and items to progress, allowing the stages to progress in far less linear fashions.

Potential Improvements: Just a straight port would be fine, though honestly if they decided to give it the “Castlevania Chronicles” treatment with revamped graphics and a remade soundtrack, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

Snatcher (Sega CD)

Possibly the second most famous game associated with Hideo Kojima – sorry again, Zone of the Enders – Snatcher was an early example of a visual novel more than a standard point-and-click adventure game of its era. However, its storyline was so engrossing to many that it would eventually become a cult classic. There have been multiple releases of this game across various platforms, starting with Japanese computers PC-88 and the MSX2 and later released on the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn. However, the only official English release of the game was the Sega CD version.

Potential Improvements: Once again, the main concept that comes to mind would be to include every iteration of Snatcher – preferably with brand new translations, just like Rondo of Blood had in Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. It would also be great if the MSX2 game SD Snatcher – meant to be both a slight reboot and conclusion to the original release of the game (which ended on an annoying cliffhanger) – were also included. SD Snatcher reimagined the visual novel as a cutesy RPG, with variations on the original game’s plot, a welcome lack of random battles and a unique battle system.

Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon/Goemon’s Great Adventure (N64)

I’m still kind of baffled by the Goemon series. Referred to as “Ganbare Goemon” in Japan and “Mystical Ninja” elsewhere, there have been a literal truckload of releases due to its extreme popularity but very few have seen released outside of Japan. North America got a game for the Super Nintendo, one for the Game Boy (Europe lucked out with a second!) and two N64 games. Considering we’ve already seen re-releases for the other games in the series via the Virtual Console, it’s only fair that we also receive the remaining games already available in English, right?

Potential Improvements: Straight ports seem like the best way to go on this one. I can’t think of anything to add, unless Konami decides to do a massive Goemon collection with all new translations of the Japan-exclusive titles. That seems outside the scope of something they’d be willing to do though, so let’s just stick to hoping for straight-up Virtual Console releases.

Getsu Fuuma Den (FC)

Another game of interest to me, Getsu Fuuma Den is effectively the Murasame no Nazo to Castlevania’s Legend of Zelda: a similar game concept that looked like a great deal of fun but was strictly released in Japan due to fears that cultural differences would lead to poor sales. The game thrust players into the role of warrior Getsu Fuma on his quest to recover the three Pulse Blades to avenge the death of his brothers and defeat the evil demon lord Ryuukotsuki, who escaped hell and took over the Earth. The game relies on an overhead map system, not unlike Super Mario Bros. 3, but the action stages themselves effectively play like a more action-packed NES Castlevania game. They’re short, but there are many more of them and a certain level of exploration on the overworld is necessary to beat this game.

Potential Improvements: Bare minimum, I’d want just a full English translation. Of course, if Konami wanted to get on my good side, they would do a full-on remaster, like Castlevania Chronicles or The Dracula X Chronicles. Best of all, they could still include the original Famicom version (with that aforementioned translation) as a bonus unlockable.

As usual, before I wrap this up, I’d like to mention some honorable mentions. First, there’s the Parodius series – as much as I would have loved to have put these on the main list, there are just too many of them to choose from, so I’d probably just want a full-on collection of every game in the series. Next, Castlevania Legends for the original Game Boy. Most people tend to prefer Belmont’s Revenge when talking about early portable CVs, but I think we can all agree that Legends deserved a re-release way before the abysmal Adventure. Finally, there’s Pop’n Twinbee: Rainbow Bell Adventures for the Super Nintendo. A fairly standard Konami platformer, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – just not good enough to make the main list. Likewise, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Bonk’s Adventure, Bomberman and Bloody Roar series: while they’re technically Hudson Soft properties, Konami owns their vast library of IPs, which is a crying shame.

I guess in the end, this was probably the most bittersweet of these lists I’ve had to write. Konami’s currently in a bad place right now: if not in terms of finances (they still seem to be in a good place there, at least for the moment), then definitely in terms of corporate climate. Proclaiming that they were ditching the video game market in favor of pachinko machines and mobile games (before immediately backpedaling), abusing their employees and effectively becoming so much of a super-villain, I’m sure it would make the heads of Activision, EA and Ubisoft blush like schoolgirls. Konami still holds the rights to many series I like, so their recovery would be in my best interest. Unfortunately, at this point it just feels like the only way for these old games to survive is by burning Konami to the ground.

Made To Be Broken

A few months back, I wrote a piece about how both my feelings of nostalgia and general malaise towards more recent generations have cropped into how I view the medium of video games as they move forward: that is, negatively. Needless to say, there are just certain trends that are making me feel burnt out and I somehow long for what I remember as gaming’s “Wild West” era. While I was conceiving the piece, I was persuaded to split it in half and the previous article dealt with the more loose and open nature of the console market in general, focusing on just how many companies tried to break into the video game market in an effort to revolutionize it, but ended up as “also-ran” footnotes in the ever-lengthening history of video games.

This time around, I’ll be focusing more on oddities within the games of this time period themselves – games that would clearly be indies if they were made today. Though for the most part, I’ll be focusing on various cultural shifts that happened during this time period, many of which have had reverberations that affect the medium to this day. Perhaps if some of these events hadn’t happened, video games as a whole would look completely different. Shifts that may very well have only happened due to the sheer fluidity of the format at the time they occurred, things that may have even been impossible if they happened today.

One of the reasons I decided to write these articles in the first place was due to a story I had read online that just amazed me. It involved the cult classic D, an avant-garde full-motion video adventure game released in 1995 on the 3DO, Sega Saturn, PlayStation and PC – the latter has recently been re-released on Good Old Games. The game’s creator, the late Kenji Eno related a story to 1UP about the game’s development. He actually added the game’s story late in the game’s development and it involved cannibalism, a taboo subject in many parts of the world. In order to assure that the game was released uncensored, Eno submitted the game for approval late, sending a copy without the story segments. He then switched that copy with the full game, sending it to be printed out. I am just awed by this story: if anything like this were to happen today, the game would have likely have been recalled and every original copy would have likely have been destroyed.

Indeed, the entire landscape of the video game market changed back in 1993. Due to the controversial video game releases of Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, both in their full unaltered state on various Sega platforms, there was a congressional hearing over whether or not video games with “controversial content” should have been completely banned. That’s right, the United States Congress threatened to ban video games with violent or sexual content, not unlike Germany or Australia’s wide array of video game regulation. In the end, a compromise was made: the video game industry decided to self-regulate content and educate parents on the type of content the products they were selling contained, in order to allow them to make informed purchases of material they deemed appropriate for their children. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was founded the following year in 1994. It was later joined by Japan’s Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO) in 2002 and Pan European Game Information (PEGI) in 2003. In the end, this was probably a net positive overall, but what I find ironic about this was that Sega was putting ratings on their games before the ESRB was even established.

Night Trap and D were both what were referred to as “full-motion video” (commonly abbreviated as “FMV”) games, utilizing the then-cutting edge ability of CD-based consoles to create an entire video game experience using video clips. Typically, these games utilized live-action footage, thus creating “graphics” that trump even modern video games in terms of realism. Of course, this would generally come at the cost of complex gameplay experiences: gameplay was rarely more complex than the quick-time events we’ve seen in video games for generations. Of course, we’ve recently seen a resurgence in the genre, via indie developers. Though this time around, it would seem that the games made in the revival are less about providing graphical fidelity and more about creating “art” – scare quotes intended.

Of course, the existence of FMV games as a genre brings up another point. This may just be a matter of my own perception, but it seemed like there was a time when popular titles would lead into entirely new genres. I remember watching the “first-person shooter” genre blossom from the more derogatory “Doom clones”. Street Fighter II, while not the first fighting game, cemented various aspects of the 2D fighting game genre. These days, it seems like we never surpass the “clone” phase of this evolution: the closest we’ve gotten is the deluge of “crafting” games in the wake of Minecraft, but this generally just leads to games in existing genres adopting its unique elements.

Likewise, another thing I’d consider to be better in “the good ol’ days” would be the limitations put upon developers. In generations past, developers were generally only limited by whatever hardware they were developing for. This would generally lead to clever solutions to problems: arcade games would be entirely overhauled if they weren’t suitable for consoles, various perspective cheats would be used to create amazing graphical tricks and sometimes even entirely new hardware could be added to offset whatever limitations the systems in question had. Meanwhile, in the modern era, developers seem to have the exact opposite problem – an amazing amount of power to work with, but generally held back by the far more mundane problem of a lack of resources. Strict deadlines, a lack of manpower or finances: these are the major bottlenecks that plague today’s developers. In an era where it seems like we’re getting less and less for the same amount, it’s just sad to consider that we’re effectively being cheated out of the best possible games of this generation for such bland reasons.

In the end, perhaps the reason that video games as a medium feels far less elastic and much more deeply rooted in various traditions is due to the simple fact that they have a history now. Much like how early motion pictures were far more inventive than modern films, video games have gone through their own set of growing pains and settled on various frameworks. While adhesion to whatever institutions that have taken root in the industry are obviously not mandatory, they’ve effectively become a groove that the industry as a whole have settled into, effectively creating the landscape we know today.

SNES: 25 Years, 25 Games

Recently, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System turned 25 years old in North America. Generally considered one of the best all-time consoles, the SNES’s library boasts many amazing titles. So, inspired by a list made by the staff at Game Informer, here are multiple opinions on the top 25 Super Nintendo games of all-time. I asked two other people to give their thoughts, as well as supplying some of my own.

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10 Games I’d Like To See Re-Released #05: SNK

Man, I’ve been slacking off a bit lately. I intended to have this up by the first of the month, like I usually do, but because I slacked off on next month’s article – and I’ve decided to have the companion piece to that pushed back to next month – I ended up just relaxing and recharging, instead of writing this one. In terms of games I ended up achieving, I can’t really claim victory here, but I am incredibly happy to hear that the original Dead Rising is being re-released on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. While this technically wouldn’t have made my list, considering it was a last-generation title, it’s good to see that it will no longer be tethered to the Xbox 360 permanently. In addition, both main iterations of Dead Rising 2 (the original and Off the Record) are also hitting PS4 and XB1 – both games were already released on PC. I was kind of hoping we’d also see re-releases of Case Zero and Case West – but DR1 was really what I was most looking forward to in terms of re-releases.

Since I’ve gone on hiatus with PC ports, I feel like I might as well do my bragging about it in here. At the start of July, I got hit with a bombshell I wasn’t really expecting: Aksys Games got the rights to bring Falcom’s Tokyo Xanadu to North America and to make matters even sweeter – they’re financing a PC port of the game on Steam. It’s unknown if it’ll be a direct port of the Vita version, or if it will also include content from Tokyo Xanadu eX+, the enhanced PS4 port, but regardless I am ecstatic for what this may mean for future Falcom releases on PC.

Before we get started with the list, let’s go over the rules I’ve been keeping when writing these articles. I’m going to be looking at games from the 6th generation (Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox) and earlier. I’ve decided to focus on one company for each article, and because I live in North America, I’m not counting any international re-releases, so if anyone decides to be a smartass and tells me I can buy some of this stuff on Japan or Europe’s services, that’s not going to work for me. If I can’t buy it legitimately from America, I’m not counting it. I’ll also be discussing any potential improvements that could be made to these games, in the case that they would receive an HD re-release. To make things reasonable, I’ll also be avoiding games that saw re-releases on 7th generation and later consoles, through PlayStation Classics, Virtual Console or other similar services. Of course, more substantial re-releases than straight emulations would be ideal, but at least the games themselves are easy enough to obtain and play.

To celebrate the recent release of The King of Fighters XIV, I’ve decided to delve into the library of the newly-rechristened SNK. SNK has been starting to re-release some of their classic fighting games on PS4 with full online functionality, as well as some of their arcade classics on PC via Steam and the Humble Bundle. However, I am clearly a very greedy individual, so I just can’t get enough SNK classics. Here are 10 games I’m absolutely hoping they re-release sometime soon.

Crystalis (NES)

I bet you were expecting me to start with a fighting game, weren’t you? Well, Crystalis is perhaps the best Zelda game on the original NES, at least in terms of official releases. The unnamed protagonist awakens in a post-apocalyptic world, where science and technology have been abandoned for magic. In order to defeat the devious machinations of the Draygonia Empire, our hero must combine the powers of the four elemental swords: Wind, Fire, Water and Thunder in order to reform the legendary sword, Crystalis.

Potential Improvements: Considering how poorly done the later GBC remake was, I’d prefer it if they just kept this one as true to the original as possible. Just put this sucker on the Virtual Console on Wii U, 3DS and NX (if it continues the Virtual Console program). That’s pretty much the best we can do for it.

The King of Fighters 2003/NeoWave/XI/’94 Re-Bout (Arcade/PS2)

Admittedly, this is kind of overkill, but these are all great games and since they’re in the same series, why not? 2003 and XI were the first two games in the series’ third arc: commonly referred to as the “Tales of Ash” Saga; ’94 Re-Bout was a remake of the game that started it all, with enhanced graphics, playable bosses and the addition of Edit Mode; while NeoWave was just a pseudo-remake of 2002 made for the Atomiswave arcade hardware.

Potential Improvements: Online play is really the only thing I’d want for these re-releases. Graphical enhancements are optional, but would probably be appreciated by most people. Personally, I’d rather see bonus features like image galleries and sound tests.

SNK Gals’ Fighters (NGPC)

I was a huge fan of the NeoGeo Pocket Color back in the day. In fact, I actually owned one while it was still active in the United States and it really helped me to become the SNK fanboy I am today. To be honest though, a majority of the games SNK released on their slick little handheld were derivatives of arcade titles, with the most popular “original” titles being their crossover games with Capcom. However, there was at least one original fighting game IP on the NGPC I’d love to see re-emerge, even only as a re-release. SNK Gals’ Fighters was another crossover fighting game, this time taking various women fighters from games like King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown and Last Blade and put them into a more comedic setting not unlike Capcom’s Pocket Fighter. A fully realized sequel and/or remake of this game would be my true goal, but that seems unlikely without at least some kind of a re-release to gauge interest.

Potential Improvements: Online play, full stop. Everything else was at a point where it can’t really be improved, due to the small scale of the system it originated on.

Rage of the Dragons (Arcade)

This is probably the most legally murky of the choices on this list, Rage of the Dragons was a spiritual successor to the Double Dragon fighting game on NeoGeo, which was loosely based on the live-action movie adaptation. Playmore couldn’t get the rights to make an actual sequel, so instead they decided to create an homage: starring such original characters as James and William – the Lewis brothers and “Abubo”. All-in-all though, a solid tag fighter from the NeoGeo’s later days.

Potential Improvements: Once again, online play would be the most important thing for me. What would be really cool though, would be if they were able to work something out with Arc System Works (the current owner of the Double Dragon IP) to do a “Double Impact”-style release with the original DD fighting game. That game was great.

Savage Reign/Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle (Arcade)

This is the point in the list where things start getting obscure. First up, we’ve got a fairly unknown duology of SNK arcade fighters. Savage Reign was generally considered a very forgettable fighting game, but its sequel, Kizuna Encounter, was a fairly solid game. The first tag-team fighting game SNK ever made, Kizuna significantly improved over its predecessor with a more interesting cast and improved gameplay engine. I’d mainly include Savage Reign just to show how far Kizuna came.

Potential Improvements: Online play, ‘nuff said. Including both the original arcade and arranged CD soundtracks would also be a nice gesture.

Aggressors of Dark Kombat (Arcade)

Another obscure game, fittingly made by ADK – the creators of World Heroes, who were later acquired by SNK – Aggressors of Dark Kombat is a unique fighting game compared to the majority of those that appeared on the NeoGeo. While some Fatal Fury games allowed characters to jump into the background and foreground, Aggressors allowed players to full-on walk in 3 dimensions, not unlike a beat-‘em-up like Final Fight, Streets of Rage or Sengoku. In addition, the game also utilized a similar control scheme to beat-‘em-ups: one button for attacks, one for grappling and one to jump. The game also featured the ability to grab and use weapons found throughout the battlefield (again, like most beat-‘em-ups). Matches consist of a single round, but both characters’ health bars have multiple layers, leading to long fights. The closest we’ve seen to a revival was the appearance of Kisarah Westfield in NeoGeo Battle Coliseum.

Potential Improvements: Online play is really the only recommendation I can think of, though honestly, this would probably do best in a collection with other ADK-developed titles, not unlike 2008’s Japan-exclusive compilation, ADK Tamashii for the PS2.

Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 (NGPC)

SNK’s non-fighting game releases are generally considered fairly obscure, but Dark Arms is probably the weirdest entry on my list. Based on the pre-NeoGeo lightgun shooter Beast Busters (which received a smartphone sequel a few years back), Dark Arms was a top-down action RPG-style game featuring a demon hunter who enters the spirit world in order to prevent an outbreak of monsters in the main world. Your mentor is the Master, a grim reaper-esque fighter who gives you a weapon, called the Catcher, which you can use to collect the souls of felled monsters in order to create an ultimate weapon: the titular Dark Arms. Probably one of the most unique titles on the NGPC, I’d love to see modern audience get the chance to play it.

Potential Improvements: To be honest, I’ve got nothing to add. A straight port of the original would be a great treat, especially as a budget title.

Fatal Fury: Wild Ambition (Arcade/PS1)­

The King of Fighters XIV isn’t SNK’s first foray into 3D graphics. They’ve actually been experimenting for quite some time. While most people argue that the KoF spinoff duology Maximum Impact was their best attempt, I was fond of an older title. Wild Ambition was effectively a remake of the original Fatal Fury, in the sense that MegaMan Powered Up was a remake of the original MegaMan: the basic plot remained the same, but there were some pretty extensive changes made – changes that no one really cares about since it’s not canon anyway. The roster’s been rearranged – with many of the old forgotten characters replaced with more popular ones from later iterations, like Mai Shirunai and Kim Kaphwan.

Potential Improvements: This isn’t going to surprise anyone, but online play is pretty much the only thing I’d add to this, especially if they use the PS1 version as a base.

Breakers Revenge (Arcade)

Probably the most obscure game on this list, Breakers Revenge was a revamp of a 1996 fighting game developed by Visco. The main reason it’s on the list is because it was exclusive to the arcades: there wasn’t a release on the AES or the NeoGeo CD, despite both platforms being active when it was released. I’m not sure exactly who owns the rights to this one, as Visco and SNK co-published it, but considering the fact that Visco’s currently making slot machines and flat screen TVs, I’d guess it would be easy enough for SNK to secure the rights.

Potential Improvements: I’m not even sure if I should continue writing this section, because it’s obvious just going to be online play. Although, honestly, I also wouldn’t mind seeing the original Breakers packed in as a bonus.

Samurai Shodown 64 & 64: Warrior’s Rage (Arcade)

Ever since SNK expressed interest in reviving some of their other old properties, one name has risen to the top of the list: Samurai Shodown. SNK’s #2 fighting game franchise – mostly due to the fact that until now, none of its characters appeared in a mainline King of Fighters game – Samurai Shodown has had a very successful run for the most part. The obvious choice of action would be to re-release the classic 2D games again. Unfortunately, considering the fact that Samurai Shodown Anthology, which contains every major release in the series, was released on the Wii and PSP, they’re still somewhat easy to get one’s hands on. So I’ve decided to ask for the next best thing: the lesser-known 3D releases for the Hyper NeoGeo 64. Samurai Shodown 64 and Warrior’s Rage told their own story, taking place after the second Samurai Shodown game. It also introducted the world to Asura and Shiki, two fairly popular characters that would later appear in NeoGeo Battle Coliseum. Plus, no matter what, it can’t be as bad as Samurai Shodown Sen.

Potential Improvements: Online play would be my main request, but what would be really cool would be if they included the Samurai Shodown games from the NeoGeo Pocket Color, as they were scaled-down remakes of the 64 games. It would at least be interesting to have them compiled, at least for the sake of comparison.

Admittedly, it was harder to narrow this list down than it usually is. So my honorable mentions will be a little more in-depth than they usually are. First, we have Metal Slug Advance for the Game Boy Advance: one of the rarer spinoffs of the series, built from the ground up as a home gaming experience as opposed to the standard arcade run ‘n gun. Then there’s Buriki One, another Hyper NeoGeo 64 game. What appeals to me about B1 is its unique control scheme – buttons are used for movement, while the joystick is used to perform attacks and its tenuous connection to the Art of Fighting series. Finally, there’s The King of Fighters EX2: Howling Blood, another GBA game. It’s effectively the closest thing I’ll ever see to a King of Fighters R-3 and it’s a respectable game in its own right. I’d just love to see it get some more love.

Despite my overall love for SNK as a company, it was harder to make this list than I would have originally expected, but that’s mainly due to the fact that so many of the games I would’ve wanted received re-releases either during the seventh generation or even recently, with their latest round of re-releases on PS4 and Steam. Hopefully, some of the games on this list will be among SNK’s next choices when deciding which games to re-release in the future. By that token, let’s also hope that their classic slogan, “The Future is Now” is more literal than figurative.

Dark Horse Ensemble

I’m going to be completely honest here: lately, I’ve been feeling a little burnt out in some ways when it comes to modern gaming. Not enough to drop the habit entirely, as I did during the sixth generation, but the feelings of nostalgia I felt back then have bubbled back up to the surface, albeit for different reasons. Instead of the simple statement that “games back in the old games were, like, a billion times better!” (ah, the simplicity of adolescence!), these feelings are a bit more introspective. Instead, what I long for were the paradigm shifts of yore: when every electronics company tried to break into the video game console market, when big-name companies would actually publish the weird experimental games you only see as indies nowadays, back when computer games and video games were completely different things. Back when, at least from my perspective, video games were in their “wild west” period: an era where a plucky Hanafuda card company could break into the scene and take over the entire video game market, only to be toppled down the line by the company that brought us Betamax.

Originally, I was going to write a single article to attempt to flush out my nostalgia into something worthwhile. However, just due to how nebulous everything I’m talking about is and the fact that the original concept could only come across as a bitter rant from a nostalgic millennial, I was advised to split it into two articles instead. This time, we’ll be focusing on the hardware side of things – stay tuned for the software side of things sometime soon.

Since the sixth generation, the first-party gaming companies have been, shall we say, set in stone: Nintendo, which emerged all the way back during the third generation of gaming; Sony, which burst onto the scene during the fifth in an act of unbridled revenge on the former; and wacky PC company Microsoft sliding into the sixth generation, effectively taking over for the departing Sega. In previous generations, however, there were several pretenders to the throne – even back when people would have you believe there were even less choices. Now this article won’t be, by any means, comprehensive: instead, owing to the nostalgic origin of this piece, I’ll be writing about the systems I can remember most vividly.

First, let’s start with something a bit less obscure: the Sega Master System. Released in North America in 1986, the Master System was Sega’s first console released outside of Japan – it was known as the Mark III in its country of origin, being preceded by both the SG-1000 and the SG-1000 II, technically making it Sega’s third console overall. Now obviously, the Master System didn’t do such a great job breaking into the American market (as evidenced by the fact that what most people referred to as a “Sega” was generally the Genesis/MegaDrive), it did manage to break into a very profitable niche both in Europe and Latin America, especially Brazil. Regardless, the system sold well enough worldwide for Sega to continue tinkering with console hardware, before releasing their magnum opus: the aforementioned Genesis. While I personally had no experience with the Master System itself, it still manages to hold a special place in my heart: after all, the first video game system I ever owned was Sega’s Game Gear, which was effectively a portable (and significantly more popular) Master System.

Speaking of the Game Gear, here’s a fun fact: it wasn’t even the first handheld console to serve up games in color. Predating Sega’s slimmest handheld by two years in North America, The Atari Lynx was not only the first Atari system to be named after a wildcat, it was also surprisingly long-lived, being sold all the way into 1995. Cheaper and more power efficient than the Game Gear that would push it into obscurity, the Lynx’s Achilles’ heel was critical: it had an absolutely miniscule library of games, only managing to hit 75 official releases by the time the console was discontinued. That means that for its entire lifespan (from 1989 to 1995), the Lynx averaged roughly 12 and a half games a year. The main game I remember from the console was, bafflingly, a port of Ninja Gaiden III from the NES, though it had a respectable amount of ports, such as Robotron 2084, Ms. Pac-Man, Hard Drivin’, Pit Fighter, Double Dragon and bafflingly, the arcade version of Ninja Gaiden.

Another interesting factoid generally lost on most of us was the fact that the Sega Genesis was released in North America in August 1989, thus officially starting the fourth generation of video games for the Western hemisphere. Of course, many people would think that the Genesis would have to wait until the Super Nintendo was released in 1991 for some real competition, but you’d be wrong. The ultimate in also-rans, the TurboGrafx-16, released by Turbo Technologies Inc. (or TTI, for short), was released the same year as the Genesis in North America, but actually predated it in Japan: the MegaDrive was released in 1988, while the NEC’s PC-Engine (the TurboGrafx’s Japanese counterpart) was released the previous year. NEC’s little wonder console would also manage to beat Sega to many other milestones as well. The most notable of these would have to be the TurboGrafx-CD, released in North America in 1989, an add-on unit akin to the Sega CD. There was also 1992’s TurboDuo, which combined the CD into the base unit and beefed up the system specs as well. In addition, TTI (a joint venture of NEC and primary developer Hudson Soft) released the Super System Card by mail order, which upgraded existing TurboGrafx-CDs to the same specs as the TurboDuo.

Of course, perhaps the most amazing thing about the TurboGrafx-16 was its mascot: not platformer mascot Bonk (or PC Genjin, as he was known in Japan), I’m talking about Johnny Turbo. Truly a product of the halcyon age of the ‘90s, Johnny Turbo was the totally rad alter ego of computer expert Johnathan Brandstetter who fought against the evil alien overlords over at “FEKA” who were spreading lies about how the TurboDuo wasn’t the first CD-based game system on the market. Needless to say, the TurboGrafx-16 was generally considered a loser outside of its country of origin, mainly due to the fact that the base system was weaker than the Sega Genesis (which from our perspective, came out first) and that many of the best games the system had to offer were strictly Japan-only releases, leaving us with less recognizable games and some truly abysmal Western-developed releases. The ironic thing about this was that, in Japan, the MegaDrive was actually the third most popular system of its generation, effectively being trounced by the PC-Engine and its countless off-shoots.

However, perhaps the most incredible thing to come out of the TurboGrafx experiment was the TurboExpress. Released a whopping 4 years before Sega’s own portable Genesis the Nomad, the TurboExpress was a fully functional portable TurboGrafx-16 that could play all of the TG-16’s games. It also had a TV tuner, which allowed owners to transform the TurboExpress into a portable TV, much like the Game Gear had and even offered a link cable to allow for two-player play. In fact, a few TurboGrafx-16 games even had unique multiplayer modes for the TurboExpress.

Next up, we come to what was perhaps the biggest loser of any of the consoles I’ll be talking about in this article: the 3DO. Conceived by EA founder Trip Hawkins and developed by the aptly named 3DO company, the 3DO wasn’t so much a console as it was a series of specifications. Panasonic manufactured the first units back in 1993, but both Sanyo and GoldStar (later LG) would begin producing their own models in 1994. In essence, it was effectively the predecessor to Valve’s current model for its Steam Machines. The 3DO was a technological powerhouse back when it was initially released in 1993. Unfortunately, it was also launched at a whopping $699. Likewise, the game’s library generally consisted of some fairly unwieldy PC ports though there were a few gems on it. My main memory of the 3DO was playing Super Street Fighter II Turbo on it at a short-lived game shop near my house and I was literally blown away: my young mind was so impressed because while the Genesis and SNES couldn’t handle Super Turbo, this behemoth could! Unfortunately, developers never really adapted to the hardware and by the time both the PS1 and Saturn came out, the 3DO’s impressive technology had aged like an internet meme. It just couldn’t compete and bowed out entirely in 1996. 3DO did plan a successor, dubbed the M2, but eventually bowed out of the market and sold the concept to Panasonic who eventually abandoned their planned concept. The technology lived on in ATMs and coffee vending machines and Konami would also license its use to build an arcade board in the late 1990s.

Speaking of expensive powerhouses, what list would be complete without the NeoGeo Advanced Entertainment System. Now, while I’m sure most gamers are at least marginally aware of the NeoGeo Multi Video System, a proprietary arcade board built by SNK, substantially less should be familiar with its home console variant. Released in 1990 at a whopping $649.99, The NeoGeo AES was quite literally worth the price of admission, as it had the exact same specs and library as the MVS. Think about that, you could literally play arcade-perfect versions of arcade games from the comfort of your home at a mere $200 and without the hassle of trying to stash multiple arcade machines in your garage or basement. Of course, while the AES didn’t enjoy mainstream success, it did have a dedicated fanbase and an extremely long lifespan, with the last title being released in 2004. Then there’s the NeoGeo CD, released in 1994 at a much more reasonable $399, with games costing $50 apiece. Unfortunately, the NGCD was marred by extremely long load times, though the Japan-exclusive NeoGeo CDZ doubled its disc-read speed and its last game was released in 1999. The NeoGeo CD did have its fair share of exclusive titles however, the most well-known being Samurai Shodown RPG, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Last but not least, I’ll be talking about the also-ran that’s the closest to my heart. The one system on this list, I not only own, but owned while it was still alive and kicking. Despite relative success in the arcade and enthusiast gaming markets, SNK decided to branch out even further – into the handheld market. The Neo Geo Pocket was originally only released in Japan as a black-and-white handheld, but its successor, the Neo Geo Pocket Color saw a much wider release, including North America. A simple system to say the least, the NGPC was unique in many ways. It had the best selection of fighting games on a handheld EVER (yes, I’d say it’s even better than the Vita in that respect), but it also managed to push SNK out of their arcade-style comfort zone, allowing them to develop more refined gameplay experiences: classic turn-based RPGs like Card Fighters’ Clash and Biomotor Unitron, the turn-based strategy game Faselei!, the action RPG Dark Arms: Beast Busters 1999 and even third party support from Sega in the form of Sonic Pocket Adventure. Alas, when SNK closed down for the first time in 2000, the NGPC fell by the wayside, leaving several titles in limbo, including a revival of Ikari Warriors, a third game in the King of Fighters R series, NFL Blitz, Magician Lord and perhaps most heart-breaking of all to me, Windjammers. As an aside, ever since SNK announced that they’re looking through old IPs to revive in the near future, I’m personally hoping they consider giving another shot to ladies-only fighting game Gals’ Fighter, an NGPC original.

In the end, talking about these old failures scratched that nostalgic itch ever so lightly, which is kind of ironic. Back when they existed, I generally considered the majority of them as pathetic imitators attempting to encroach on the territory of “real video games”, but when I think back on them, they were just a part of what made the environment so exciting back then. After all, no one thought Sony was going to become a powerhouse during the fifth generation and everyone expected Microsoft to drop out after the initial Xbox’s lack of success, only for the 360 to best the PS3 for the majority of its lifespan. Lately though, the closest we’ve seen to these competitors of old have been Valve’s line of Steam Machines and the Ouya, the crowd-funded failure of an Android console. More depressing still, this was even more action than we saw in the previous two generations. For the reasons I’ve stated, I’m actually somewhat excited to see what happens with Fuze Entertainment’s Tomahawk F1, which was released in China back in June. I’ll be honest, I agree with the general consensus that it looks a bit lame, and yet, that’s the reason I’m excited for it. I’m getting the warm fuzzies of nostalgia for this thing because it almost looks like the modern-day equivalent of the Atari Jaguar. Of course, who knows? It could surprise us.

But Is It Art? – Street Fighter: The Movie (Arcade)

I’ve wanted to do another one of these articles for quite some time now. In fact, I really wanted to do another one right after finishing up the first one about Bubsy. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t think of any topics that I both considered interesting and had enough knowledge about. However, not too long ago, a friend of mine suggested I do a new one, as he was a fan of the first and challenged me to rack my brain for inspiration for a suitable topic. Somehow, challenging me to continue this series gave me the inspiration for a new topic in record time.

If you haven’t read the title of the article, the topic of this entry in the “But Is It Art?” series is Street Fighter: The Movie: …The Game. Specifically, the version released in arcades circa June 1995. Now this game (which from here on out, I’ll abbreviate as “SFTM”) is the pinnacle of willfully forgotten Street Fighter games: it lacks the historical significance of the original Street Fighter from 1987; there is no real (albeit misguided) demand for character original to this iteration to make reappearances in future titles, quite unlike the Street Fighter EX series (developed by ARIKA) and there’s definitely no call for the game to be re-released, due to the game having the infamous reputation of being the worst Street Fighter game of all-time – even when taking into account the hyperbole slung at the most recent Street Fighter V.

Yet, I still beg the question: is it art? Where most stream monsters see an abomination cobbled together by the hands of a worthless “baka gaijin” company from the 1990s, I see what may very well be the most brilliant movie-to-video game adaptation of all time! Consider this, SFTM’s arcade version was generally considered a poor conversion of the classic Street Fighter 2, but who among you would not claim the exact same of its source material: the ill-received, ironic cult classic that was 1994’s Street Fighter movie. Can one consider a game that truly embodies the essence of the film it was commissioned to represent really be considered a failure? As I argued that Bubsy was a parody of the original Sonic the Hedgehog before, I now argue that Incredible Technologies made the greatest video game adaption of a major motion picture in the history of both mediums.

First off, let’s look at Exhibit A: the mindset behind the movie’s creation itself. Steven E. de Souza, the movie’s director actually wanted to actively downplay the “supernatural” elements of the games in his film adaptation, citing that adherence to the source material was what made the Super Mario Bros. movie a critical flop. Considering the fact that the movie that provided the basis from this game decided to actively avoid elements from the source material, wouldn’t it be more accurate to equally avoid those elements when converting the inaccurate movie into its own video game? Indeed, the game would only be considered defective if you were looking at it as a straight replication of the Street Fighter II games –this was strictly not the case: the game was a tie-in for the movie, which took its own creative liberties.

Exhibit B is a little more esoteric, but hopefully all will be revealed by the end of this paragraph. During the production of the Street Fighter movie, Capcom put an extreme emphasis on nabbing famous action star Jean-Claude Van Damme to play the leading role of William F. Guile, to the extent where they used a majority of the film’s budget signing both him and Raúl Juliá. The majority of the film’s cast reprised their roles in the game, with the exception of Juliá, who was replaced by a stuntman due to his ailing health. Why do I bring this up? Simple, it is almost common knowledge at this point that the original plan for Mortal Kombat was to create a licensed video game based on van Damme’s 1992 film Universal Soldier. Midway counter-pitched a game focused on Van Damme himself instead, taking inspiration from his 1988 film Bloodsport. As we all know, those plans fell through, but Van Damme provided the inspiration for the character Johnny Cage. Considering the fact that at least in the West, Mortal Kombat was Street Fighter’s chief rival at the time, bragging about the fact that Capcom had succeeded where Midway had failed seems like an entirely plausible theory – though ironically, van Damme only managed to record four hours of motion capture for the game, the rest of the digital captures were provided by one of Van Damme’s stuntmen: Mark Stefanich.

Finally, there’s Exhibit C: the fact that the movie itself was a Western production, it would only make sense for the video game adaptation itself to take on some Western design philosophies, in order to better match the tone and style of the film itself. Unfortunately for the game itself, at this point, the majority of 2D fighting games were simply terrible clones of the Mortal Kombat series, many so bad I have a sinking suspicion they were intended more as parodies than copycats. Even Mortal Kombat’s chief Western rival, Killer Instinct, aped elements of the game including blood and dynamic finishing moves. In fact, Incredible Technologies, the game’s developer, was no strange to Mortal Kombat clones, having made two of their own: 1992’s Time Killers and 1994’s Blood Storm – which is likely the reason why Capcom recruited them to make their own digitized live-action fighting game (even though both games actually used sprites).

As an aside, I just find it kind of interesting that many people consider the home console game – which was an entirely different game from the arcade version, which never received a home port – to be the superior game, though both are generally disliked. The home version was just a dolled-up recycling of the engine for the classic Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Granted, the home version of SFTM did add some new elements, actually being the first time in a Street Fighter game where you could use “EX” special moves (referred to as “Super Special Moves” in-game), predating even Street Fighter III 2nd Impact. Likewise, the roster was changed to better resemble Super Turbo as well: Sawada was kept, as he was a replacement for Fei Long, but the four palette-swapped Bison Troopers were removed from the game and replaced with Blanka and Dee Jay. Interestingly enough, there was an unused ending for Blanka in the arcade version, implying that he may have at one point been considered as a playable character. Even more bizarre was the absence of both Dhalsim and T. Hawk from both versions, despite appearing in the movie itself. Regardless, though the home version is considered the superior version of the game, my preferences lie with the arcade version, because all-in-all, no matter how bad the game itself may have been, the conversion made for home consoles was just an inferior version of a game that was eventually made available for both of the consoles SFTM appeared on – via the first Street Fighter Collection, a two-disc set that included Super Street Fighter II, Super Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold.

Of course, the argument that could be made against this theory is pretty obvious: Incredible Technologies doesn’t exactly have the best track record, though they would eventually enjoy reasonable success with the Golden Tee series. Likewise, while you’re unlikely to find Time Killers and Blood Storm on anyone’s top 10 worst fighting games of all-time list, the memorable aspects of these two games were their gimmicks, not great gameplay. Considering the fact that Capcom worked with such abominable companies as Acclaim, U.S. Gold and my mortal enemy, Hi-Tech Expressions, it’s entirely possible that this was just a cynical cash grab at the hands of Capcom to try to win over fans of their chief fighting game rival for the least amount of money possible. Fun fact: Incredible Technologies also co-developed Ducktales: The Quest for Gold on various computer systems (not to be confused with Capcom’s NES and Game Boy titles). That was actually the only Ducktales game I ever played growing up. Maybe I’ll revive Repressious Memories and do an episode on it someday.

In the end, whether or not it was art, despite all the horrible things people have said about this game, it did some interesting things. Alongside the original Street Fighter Alpha (which came out the same month), it was one of the first Street Fighter games to expand on the Super Combo concept, allowing characters the chance to perform more than one. It gave some classic Street Fighter characters some brand new moves, most notably Guile’s Handcuffs, a reference to the infamous glitch from the original version of Street Fighter II. It was even unique to see a Capcom-published fighting game ape the concept of SNK’s desperation moves – special attacks only available to fighters when they lost a certain amount of health – though in this case, they were more like standard special moves than the super combo-esque moves more common in SNK’s version. There were also counter throws, the ability to interrupt blocks to perform special moves (not unlike an Alpha Counter) and SFTM Arcade even had the distinctive honor of being the first Capcom game to incorporate a “Tag Team” mode, predating X-Men vs. Street Fighter by over a year. Granted, this game’s Tag Mode was more like the 2-on-2 mode in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3: not allowing to switch characters on the fly, rather the second character would take the first’s place when they were defeated and the round would continue until both of one player’s characters were defeated.

Granted, I probably don’t have the best opinions with regards to the Street Fighter series in general. I don’t consider the first game to be an unplayable abomination, simply because my first experience with it was with a PC port so terrible, it made the original arcade version look like a gaming masterpiece. While most people fight over whether Super Turbo and Third Strike is the best game in the series, I personally tended to prefer the Alpha sub-series. So maybe considering Street Fighter: The Movie: The Arcade Game to be something of a work of art is just another one of those offbeat opinions I have.

What do you think? Was SFTM a brilliant commentary on its own flawed source material or a truly cynical fighting game built by committee to appeal to Capcom’s own pessimistic viewpoint of Mortal Kombat fans? Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.