Archive for the Retro Games Category

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #3: Ninja Spirit

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Retro Games on September 23, 2018 by slateman

Irem’s 1988 title Ninja Spirit is reportedly the first TurboGrafx-16 title to receive a perfect 10 from EGM upon its release in 1988. My memories of this game are fond: the high-leaping ninja, his mirror clones and, of course, that first boss. Returning to this game was a mostly-positive experience marred, once again, by the inordinate difficulty spike common for games of the time.

The game’s familiar intro begins with our hero’s father being killed by an unspecified green glob attack. Moonlight, the protagonist who strangely is a wolf, begins his quest for vengeance. The game’s presentation is highly stylized and entirely over-the-top. Equipped with several possible weapons, my playthroughs often stuck with the standard sword, despite its weakness in several cases. Having up to two mirror images of yourself plus shadowy sword trails make for a memorable introduction. Ninja enemies spawn from everywhere, throwing daggers and filling the screen with impressive sprites. As you get accustomed to the incredibly-floaty physics, the first stage’s boss appears, an utterly-massive, six-armed demon. He is by no means difficult, but virtually anyone who has played this game recalls his striking appearance. I’d imagine this was the biggest boss for any game at the time, 30 years ago.

The relative simplicity of the first stage is forgiving, particularly on the TurboGrafx mode which allows several hits from minor characters before death. The arcade original did not have this and as the game progresses, most non-croney enemies will still result in a one-hit death. Using your clones to block and attack while you remain safe at a distance is a great method, but certain foes take an awful lot of hits. As stages progress, memorization is your ally – these guys get difficult! The vertical stage is reminiscent of Contra and the bosses never get as surprising as stage 1, at least until the end. More on that in a minute.

The music isn’t far from what you’d expect from a 1988 title. It is dark and mysterious, entirely fitting for a shadowy ninja game. The tracks aren’t entirely memorable, but they suit the title perfectly. I suppose, in retrospect, I never quite found a better ninja title in my gaming days. I never got into Ninja Gaiden (outside the original and brutal trilogy in the ’80s) and need to return to Nioh, which was rather good. We’ll see if Sekiro can trump this upon its release next spring. I digress.

Running along the ceilings in later stages and battling baton-wielding toads all gets very rigorous. The screen is littered with enemies and flying attacks making survival without powered-up weapons a chore. Though enemies carrying those perks are numerous, sometimes getting to them is suicide – perhaps a good risk-versus-reward balance.

Honestly, WTF?

But then after you’ve survived the last levels of memorization and mania, you’re ready to descend the pit towards the final boss. As difficulty goes in games, this is just stupid. The aforementioned pit is literred with flying ninjas, swords held high. You jump into said chasm blindly and one hit from any of these hundreds of foes will end you. Descending through these guys is quite literally the definition of memorization because after a few lost lives, you’re forced to repeat the entirety of the fifth stage. And by that, you’re just running as fast as you can to avoid ninjas that take multiple hits but who can kill you in one and these deadly puffs of gas that don’t seem to affect aforementioned super-powered ninjas. Yes, memorize this pattern because after the run-away technique and the memorize this one-hit-death pit of stupidity, you reach the boss. This guy’s green snaky attacks are what killed your father – though we never really learn why. My method here was to throw shurikens and run away like my own life depended on it. The unnamed boss doesn’t move, fortunately, but after all these sequences of precision and stress, that’s good. It’s OK if you die to him, you can redo that ‘falling in a pit of flying fucking ninjas’ all over again!

The credits sequence has cool half-screen images of all seven bosses with their chapter names written in elegant Chinese. You’re then presented with some semblance of a story, about you having saved the day, but it doesn’t matter, evil will just return. Inspirational! Now go back and play it on arcade mode!

Final Verdict
I’d play Ninja Spirit again. But I don’t know if I would care to try beating it again. To be fair, the hour-long experience fit right in for the time. Had you purchased a $50 game and beat it in one sitting, you would be disappointed. The 25-hour experiences of today were virtually unheard of back then and this was an arcade port, remember! However, while the setting, ambience and feel are familiar and wonderful, the rigor of the end-game makes it difficult to appreciate nowadays. I’m wholeheartedly glad to have returned if only for the sheer glee of revisiting that first stage. There’s a nice sound test where you can listen to all the music and there are also curious messages unlocked by a code – good for a laugh, I suppose. Much like the prior entries into this retro-gaming list, the first levels of this game are a lot of fun and worth a try. I’m glad I’m embarking on this journey. I’m thinking Gunstar Heroes next.

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #2: Super Air Zonk

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Retro Games on September 23, 2018 by slateman

While my memory of the two Air Zonk games is hazy, I had high hopes for the CD-based sequel. Issued in 1993, it turns out I likely never played this one and that’s a good thing. While there are a few improvements in the Super follow-up, it’s not not quite as good or as fun as the original. Had this been my introduction, I might not look back so fondly on the game series.

On the plus side, the ludicrous difficulty of the first game is not at all matched here. The game’s music, now Red Book, of course sounds a lot better but that does not make it more memorable. I found myself irritated by most of the music in the first four selectable stages. After choosing those four, you’re presented with three more that you must go through sequentially. Those levels had much better music, worth turning the volume up for. Unfortunately, some of the game’s tinnier sound effects, like when your weapons are powered up, cut through everything making you reduce that volume rather quickly. It turns out the Japanese version featured lyrics with certain songs, something I don’t feel I missed out on. Though, I still find the Japanese name for the game/series hilarious (PC Genjin or CD Denjin in this case).

While the audio quality itself is superior, it’s hard to say much else is. Controls and the buddy system have changed a bit, but the most underwhelming thing must be the visuals. Landing a year later than the original Air Zonk, it was fair to expect bigger and better and more of everything good. But the visuals first and foremost disappoint. Those glorious 16-Bit (*cough*) graphics with the multi-layered parallax scrolling feel watered down and the stages just didn’t have the same vibrancy. In fact, Super Air Zonk doesn’t feature that same parallax which is surprising and disappointing. Stages end up looking flat despite the colorful palette. This is certainly attributed to a different developer taking the helm: the typically-consistent Hudson Soft in this case.

As for the gameplay itself, the developers clearly took inspiration from R-Type. The third level has you moving around a pre-set path which sometimes leaves you stuck at certain points or paused waiting for the stage to progress. Other portions of levels are just entirely barren, an inexplicable issue in a game like this. Initial stages also have hidden sections which are rewarding for replays, but most of the design choices felt like a step backwards. Instead of that ‘bigger and better‘ sensation you want, a lot was ‘as good or worse‘. The power-ups changed this time around, they too take inspiration from R-Type, but the result was by no means better. You could separate from your mid-stage buddy, assuming you managed to collect and save him, or have the buddy attach to you. Each had a different firing configuration, much like in Irem’s legendary shooter. However, the diversity of weapons wasn’t as interesting or as useful. A few are entirely overpowered and you better not lose them if you get them. The game is quite tough with standard weapons and these huge screen-filling attacks were perfect for when enemies surrounded you from all sides.

The eased-up difficulty of the final stages was a positive change, though some felt it was too easy. The final boss, for instance, was a
straightforward sequence of repetition, requiring no real skill outside the standard dodge-and-weave of the four forms of Emperor Sandrovich . It was, therefore, asubstantial improvement from the bullshit demands of the first entry. However, the boss rush on stage 6 was right up there with the bullshittiest moments in gaming. The ending baddie summons the bosses from the first levels of the title, one at a time. However, if you can’t beat that boss fast enough, the next arrives, and the next (presumably – you’d likely be dead by then). But don’t rest up yet…after defeating the 1-2-3-4 punch, the boss summons those assholes two more times. It’s nonsense, the bullet sponges just returning dishing out incessant attacks and you have to restart the entire stage if you falter. Oh yes, this was a save-state game and I feel no remorse for playing it as such. Now, perhaps if I shelled out hundreds or thousands of dollars I’d care. But I fortunately did not.

Final Verdict
I was disappointed by Super Air Zonk. Outside of improved audio, which couldn’t always be appreciated, it offered very few benefits that could stand toe-to-toe with its superior predecessor. It was a fun romp for the most part, with the first two stages being entertaining and the last few having memorable tunes. However, those perks felt few and far between and were I to revisit the series, it would most certainly be to play the first game, not the second. Weaker visuals, no parallax scrolling and level design curiosities make this an unmemorable sequel. If curious, try the Japanese game, at least it has piles of poop when you launch a super attack. That and a second-hand copy sells for 1/30th of the price. I’m serious. Look it up.


Retro-Game Backlog Entry #1: Air Zonk

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Retro Games on September 22, 2018 by slateman

I don’t know if I played this game back in the day. I’m fairly certain I played Super Air Zonk on the Turbo CD. Regardless, for some reason this was the first game I opted to address. After a difficult playthrough, I went back to realize there are three difficulty levels – Sweet, Spicy and Bitter. My run was on the middle difficulty.

The game starts out well enough – bright and bubbly and totally ’90s. The side-scrolling shooter had plenty of tributes to the Bonk series it derives from and the soundtrack is familiar and upbeat. As the stages progress, the formula doesn’t diverge much. Bosses are large and colorful and the power-ups are fun and diverse. You can hold down the II button to charge up your attacks, which work for most weapons. These result in surprising-for-the-90s effects which either do a weapon-specific attack or launch a screen-clearning bomb.

However, by the time level four rolls around, things start getting out of control. The boss rush finale is insanely rigorous and artificially lengthens the gameplay through its sheer difficulty spike. The continue system, right at home in 1992, is brutal. And as the fifth stage progresses on, you just hope you played your cards right. Air Zonk is one of those games that is manageable if you are powered up properly. Getting hit and losing that weapon boost, and you’re essentially neutered as the masses come at you. Dying early on means you might as well just give up and re-start.

But it doens’t matter. That final boss is just bullshit central. It’ll take you several go-arounds just to figure out the formula, which means replaying that absurd final stage again. Oh, and again. And when you do find that pattern, it doesn’t mean things are easy. He has five random attacks which aren’t too difficult to dodge, but before each and every attack he shoots out a green ball which if it hits you…*ahem* when it hits you completely blocks your shots. Therefore, your choice is to dodge the five random attacks and live or dodge the green attacks and get hit by his main ones. So…now that you’ve been hit, expect for almost all of your attacks to be stopped.

And so you dance this weaving pattern. Dodge, get hit by green orbs and wait for those to stop nullifying your shots so you can get a handful of hits on him and repeat. More than half of my game time was on this boss. For the remainder of the game I could see why EGM awarded this as their best TurboGrafx game of 1992. But that finale was just nonsense. I’d go back and play around in the first three stages or so but have no interest in the rest.

Final Verdict
Air Zonk is representative of its era. The bright and colorful palette, fun soundtrack and wide range of weapons make for a fun romp in small doses. The end of the last stages were just stupidity, however, and negate any enjoyment from the first portion of the game. Would revisit the initial sections and wouldn’t wish the latter on my worst enemy. I’m glad I played, now to tackle the Turbo CD Super Air Zonk! I imagine its soundtrack will be both more impressive and familiar, as I almost certainly played that one 25 years ago or so!

Retro-Game Backlog Attack

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on September 21, 2018 by slateman

As I age, it becomes increasingly difficult to be surprised or impressed. So many themes in gaming, TV shows or films have a ‘been there, done that’ feel to them. That’s not always bad = more of the same is oftentimes familiar comfort food that suits a specific purpose or need in life.

And while the prior paragraph may sound cynical and bitter, it’s by no means the full story. Just this year I played through Bloodborne and God Of War, both perfect 10s and Game of the Year candidates for their respective years.

However, while AAA games may be formulaic, they are also expensive and here in Sweden, that’s doubly true. Everything is expensive here! So, what to do to get my fix of awesomeness? Well, now that you mention it, the answer is something I’ve been thinking of doing this for quite some time…

Today I’m uploading a list of older games I’d like to tackle. Most will be my initial playthroughs as these titles are some that, for one reason or another, eluded my gaming gaze over the past few decades. Some, however, are ones I’ve desired to revisit – those are noted with an asterisk. With some modified hardware and trusty emulators in my grasp, here is a list of a dozen or so games I endeavor to tackle over the next few months. If all goes well, I’ll share my post-game thoughts after each accomplishment. OK, let’s get to it!

PC Engine

  • Air Zonk
  • Ninja Spirit *

Turbo CD

  • Gate Of Thunder
  • Lords Of Thunder
  • Super Air Zonk

Playstation

  • Einhander *
  • R-Type Delta

Genesis

  • Castlevania: Bloodlines
  • Contra: Hard Corps
  • Gunstar Heroes

Super NES

  • Castlevania: Dracula X
  • R-Type III
  • Super Castlevania IV *

Nintendo64

  • Mischief Makers *