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Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Great Debate: SNES vs. Genesis - Aladdin

            Console Wars. The very term has been around for a long time, and has spawned an ongoing debate about all the various home console systems that have flooded the market since at least the late 1970's. For me it was Sega vs. Nintendo. Growing up you were either a Nintendo Kid or a Sega Kid. Most kids in my circle of friends were Nintendo Kids, as were most of our peers at our junior high school. Sure, there were a few Sega Kids mixed in, but it was primarily Nintendo that dominated the conversations at lunch and between classes.

            That being said, there were some game titles that were available on both systems, one of them being Disney's Aladdin. This movie-inspired game was available on both the Sega Genesis as well as the Super Nintendo. Each game was similar in that they each depicted characters from the animated movie, and each one roughly followed the movie's storyline. There were some differences between the two and, depending on what system you played it on, each game provided you with a slightly different experience. I will now dive a little deeper and examine each version, making note of both the similarities and differences between them.

            First, let me give you the run down on publishers and non-game play information. The Sega Genesis version was published by Virgin Interactive. The Super Nintendo version was published by Capcom. Both games hit the retail shelves in November of 1993, just in time for Christmas. Both games sold well, and were popular with the younger audiences they were targeted towards. The biggest difference came in the final sales numbers. The Sega Genesis version sold over 4 million copies worldwide, while the Super Nintendo only sold 1.7 million.

                                                                        Advantage: Sega

            Next we will examine the graphics found on each version. I understand that these types of comparisons are subjective, and that each person's tastes will differ slightly. While both systems used a 16 bit color system, Sega and the Virgin Interactive team had a licensing deal and were able to utilize the services of actual Disney Studio animators when they designed the characters and game animations. Nintendo did not have the same licensing, and instead made use of Capcom's existing license with Disney to produce all Disney games for Nintendo systems. The best way to really show the differences between each version is to show screen shots from each game for a side-by-side comparison. The pictures below all have the SNES version on the LEFT and the GENESIS version on the RIGHT.

Title Screens

Stage 1

More High Flying Fun - Stage 1

            After seeing the screenshots from each version side by side, I think that a slight edge has to go to the SNES version. The details in the shading and other little details are much better on the SNES version. Sure the Genesis version looks good, and the characters looks a little bit better, but overall the edge in the graphics are definitely in favor of the SNES.

                                                                        Advantage: SNES

            We will now examine the music and sound differences between each game. In all honesty neither game really stands out above the other one in terms of which one has the better musical score. Both versions have movie-inspired tunes, and both versions have songs that easily get stuck in your head.

                                                                        Advantage: Draw

            With the more subtle comparisons out of the way, we can finally get down to the main course: how each game plays. Both games are side-scrolling platform adventure games. Both versions have generally favorable control mechanisms, and both are loaded with non-stop action.
            The first major difference of note is the sword. The Genesis version provides two primary weapons, the apples, and a sword, while the Super Nintendo version only gives you an apple as your main defense mechanism. It's interesting that in the Genesis version the apples will actually kill the enemies, while in the SNES version, the apples only stun the enemies for a few moments (smaller enemies can be killed using an apple). If you want to kill the enemies in the SNES version, you have to jump on their heads, a maneuver that can sometimes be tricky.
            Another interesting difference is the presence of Abu the monkey. In the SNES version Abu follows Aladdin around obediently, doing nothing but filling a role as another NPC. By comparison, Abu is nowhere to be found in the Genesis version, save for the bonus games that you can unlock after each stage.
Where Am I? Hidden passages (Genesis) are not always apparent.
            Both versions, as mentioned are primarily side-scrolling platform games. There are some vertical elements mixed in where you need to traverse up and over walls or obstacles in order to reach the end of the stage. In the Genesis version there are also some hidden paths that lead to additional collectible items
(apples, jewels, heath, etc.). But sometimes trying to figure out where you can and can't go is difficult on the Genesis version. The game designers incorporated a lot structure in to the level designs, and it's not always obvious where the main path lies, or what can be used as a platform. The SNES version is a little easier to navigate, and the paths through each stage are a little more apparent.

Advantage: SNES

            When it’s all said and done, I have to lean towards the SNES version as having the better overall game play experience. As I was researching this article, I found myself wanting to play the SNES version more than I did the Genesis version.  Overall there is nothing wrong with the Genesis version, but the game is more fun on the SNES.

 Overall Winner:

            Weather you decide to play the SNES version or the Genesis version, you will be rewarded with one of the better games found on each respective system. Each one requires a lot of patience, and if you put in the effort you will be rewarded. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I'd Buy That For A Dollar

System: Nintendo (NES)
Release Date: 1989
Genre: Side-scroller
Developer: Data East
Publisher: Ocean Software

            Who is he? What is he? He's RoboCop. Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop. With 2014 bringing us a remake of the 1987 science-fiction action film, I thought I would re-live a portion of my childhood, and review the movie-inspired RoboCop video game on the NES.

            The original RoboCop was a graphically violent movie, probably not suited for someone my age. Filled with graphic scenes of bloody mayhem, and language to match, RoboCop was a delightful, albeit cheesy, film for a 10 year old boy. I remember renting and watching it with friends for my 11th birthday party.
Good times. Since it was easy to take a popular action movie and translate it in to a video game, it should come as no surprise that RoboCop was also translated over to the world of video gaming. Versions of RoboCop were found in arcades, and on home consoles alike. The only one I ever played though was the version for the Nintendo Entertainment System. RoboCop was one of the first games I remember saving up to buy after I finally got a Nintendo System of my own.

                        Looking back, I probably would have been better off buying something else.

            RoboCop puts you in control of the beloved OCP cyborg. Your goal is to fight your way through various film-inspired stages. The stages themselves roughly follow or relate to the film itself, including ones with the mayor of Old Detroit holding people hostage, and the abandoned factory where the final showdown with criminal master-mind Clarence Boddicker takes place. There is even a battle with ED-209, the fearsome super robot also created by OCP. Sounds like a recipe for a decent game right? Wrong. The game was not fun, and was a lot more difficult than it needed to be.

            To start off, RoboCop cannot jump. I know he's a cyborg, and he's not supposed to jump, but almost every platforming video game out there utilizes some kind of jumping feature. The inability to jump did not ruin the game, but it certainly would have been better if it had been available. Aside from that, the controls are basically decent, and it's easy to maneuver through the game. The only other exception would be the controls related to going up or down a set of stairs. You have to be standing on a specific spot in order to begin your ascension/descension. If you aren't then you simply crouch down. With a little practice though, you eventually figure it out, and make the stairs a little easier to navigate.

            So if the controls are decent, and the inability to jump and navigate stairs are livable flaws, why then would I say this game was bad? Well, to put it simply, the rest of the gameplay experience sucked out loud. The hit detection was incredibly inconsistent. Then there's the inability to decide when to use the gun. That always frustrated me to no end. That's right, Robocop's primary weapons are his fists. The game decides when it's time to pull out the gun, and when it's time to holster it up and resume punching. This means
that until the game tells you, both the A and B button will yield a punch attack, and with the inconsistent hit detection, it's not always a sure-fire way to do battle. If they had simply gone with A = punch and B = shoot, then this game would have been at least a little better. There is nothing wrong with letting the player decide when to punch, and when to shoot. In the movie itself, RoboCop used his gun more than he did his fists, why take away from that?

            If the reasons above are not enough to make the game unplayable, then you need not worry, there's more. While you are punching your way through each stage, you can also enjoy the worries associated with having a timer. Timed stages are nothing new in the world of video games, but there is just something about the way it works in this game that takes away from the fun. RoboCop has two basic status bars, the T bar and the P bar. The T bar is your timer. But rather than using the basic countdown type timer found in most games, RoboCop decided to go with a bar that more closely resembles a battery status indicator. When you consider that you can add
additional time to your game by picking up batteries, it's actually kinda clever. The only drawback is that you don't know how much actual time is left, so it's easy to start panicking when you see that you only have 3 bars left and there are no batteries in sight. The P bar is your health status. If you take enough damage from enemies your power will drop, and RoboCop dies. There are health restoral bottles along the way, so you can rejuvenate. I only wish that they were a little more prevalent during some of the tougher areas leading up to a boss battle.

            The game at least gives you three continues to work with since you usually either run out of time or get killed in combat at some point. After the third continue has been used, the game stops. You cannot press start, or A, or anything to get back to the title screen. You have to press the reset button in order to start again. At that point you may as well just turn the power off and put in
Target Practice
a new game, as you are usually frustrated at that point anyway. The fact that you have to hard reset the game in order to start over only invites the opportunity to change games, since most of the time you are sitting down. I know I always had to decide weather or not is was worth the energy to get off the couch to reset the game. I usually found myself thinking that since I was already up, I may as well either turn the whole thing off, or swap out the cartridge for something else.

            Overall RoboCop on the NES was a pretty horrible game. The music and graphics were at least decent, albeit far from perfect. Should you get a chance to play it, you should only if for the sake of being able to say you have played one of more awful games from the NES era. Otherwise I would recommend playing something else entirely.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine’s Day Special: Kid Icarus – A Love/Hate Relationship

System: Nintendo (NES)                                                                                                            
Release Date: 1987                                                                                                                      
Genre: Action/Platforming                                                                                                   
 Developer: Nintendo

            Well it’s Valentine’s Day once again, and what better way to celebrate the holiday of love, than Kid Icarus on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Kid Icarus is a bow and arrow wielding hero from ancient Greece, whose quest it is to seek out and kill Medusa, and rescue the Queen of Light from the sky temple. Since Cupid also wields a bow and arrow, you can see the connection to Valentine’s Day, and hence why Kid Icarus is a Valentine’s game……right? Sure….just go along with it.
            I never owned this game as a kid, but had friends who did, and that was where I was first introduced to Pit. Yes, Pit. That’s our hero’s name. I always just assumed that the character’s name was Kid Icarus, since that’s the name of the game, but nope, his name is Pit. I have a recollection of a story from Grecian times that involved a man named Icarus, who flew too close to the sun with wings made of wax, and feathers. Flying that close to the sun caused the wax to melt, and he plummeted to his death. That’s my version of the story anyway. Iron Maiden also had a song called ‘Flight of Icarus’ on their 1983 album Piece of Mind. Aside from the wings on Pit’s back, Kid Icarus has nothing to do with the story or the song.
            Action platforming games were the bread and butter of the Nintendo System and most games of the time were always in this format. Kid Icarus took the platforming concept a step further, and required the
player to navigate in a vertical direction, Most games were side-scrolling, and moved from left to right on the TV screen. Kid Icarus provided a unique change in the platforming world. Did it work? Yes. Even Metroid had vertical scrolling areas, but I guess that’s no big surprise since both games were made by the same people.
            So is Kid Icarus a classic game? No. It was not one of the original 18 games that were available when the Nintendo was first launched in North America. So by that definition it is not a classic game. It is however a classic game in the sense that the game itself spawned sequels. Pit was also featured in animated TV shows and he made cameo appearances in other games like F-1 Race, Super Smash Brothers Melee and Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
            With the backstory out of the way, let’s talk about the game itself. Kid Icarus is a game that truly captured the love/hate relationship with me. I hate the game with the fury of a thousand suns, but I also love playing it. It’s one of those games that you just can’t put down. It is also another game that I have never beaten. You are only given 1 life, to try and complete the quest. So in the event that you die, either from taking too many hits from an enemy, or by missing a jump and falling to your death, that’s it. Game over.  Sure the game has a password system that allows you to continue, but you have to reach certain checkpoints along the way in order to actually make use of it. Along the way you pick up various items that will assist you in your journey. Hearts are used as currency, and you can buy items from the shopkeeper. You can also
acquire a credit card at some point, and simply charge items to it. The items found in the shops include, water of life (health restore), mallets, a pencil, a flaming torch, angel’s feathers, and more. There are also Black Market shops that allow you to buy things like flame arrows, protective crystals, the sacred bow, health restoral items, and other things found in the regular shops. As I mentioned earlier, this is a game I have never beaten. I have never even made it past the first stage, so I don’t know what some of these items do, or what they are used for. I know the mallet is supposed to be used later in the game when you rescue a friend, but I have never been that far. I have however, played through enough of the game to know that at some point if you are not careful, you get turned in to an eggplant for whatever reason, and soon after that you die, since eggplants cannot fight back.
            Kid Icarus is a compelling enough game that I want to keep playing it. I want to see what comes next. I want to reach the checkpoints, and acquire new weapons and items. Unfortunately though the game’s difficulties eventually win out and I find myself longing to play something else for a change of pace. I know I will keep plugging away at it, and someday I will make it past the first stage, and eventually make it all the way to the sky palace, where I can defeat Medusa once and for all. Until that time however, I will continue to harbor a love/hate relationship from this classic game from my childhood.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Modern Game: Flappy Bird - A Short Lived Hatred

By now everyone has probably played, or at least heard of the recent,and now defunct game Flappy Bird. I remember hearing about it on Super Bowl Sunday, exactly a week ago today. My girlfriend showed it to me, and I tried it a few times, and thought wow, this is frustrating as hell, I am smarter than this, why can I only get a high score of 3? I remember seeing refrences on Twitter during the Super Bowl that made jokes about scoring more points on Flappy Birds than the Denver Broncos had in the Super Bowl. Yes, Flappy Birds exploded online and worldwide very quickly. Most of the hype came in the form of people saying that this game was impossible, and there were stories about people killing eachother for getting higher scores. I know I saw at least one video on You Tube that shows a guy killig his phone with a hammer. In fact here it is for your viewing pleasure....

I finally downloaded the game from Google Play and spent a few aggravated minutes playing it before bed.

The game itself is really simple, you tap the screen to make the bird fly, each tap flaps the bird's wings, and you gain a little altitude. The objective is to navigate this bird through a series of pipes, trying not to hit anything at all. Sounds easy, but in reality if your bird even breathes on the pipe, you are dead. This game is difficult, but very addictive. You must keep going, trying to achieve that higher score...dreaming about what the end of the game may look like...wanting bragging rights over your friends and family. The reality is that none of that shit is ever going to happen though. This game will torment you. It will haunt your dreams, and make you feel like an idiot. Good luck.

As I mentioned earlier, Flappy Birds was an overnight sensation. One that was monstly born out of hatred. As a result, the creator decided in less than a week that this game was coming down. As of today (2/9/2014) the game can no longer be found online. For more information, please read the USA Today Article below:

Flappy Bird was in my life for a week. It frustrated the fuck out of me. I warned friends not to play it, yet continued to torture myself over and over again. My high score is currently at 12. Based on what I know, this is a decent score, but I have seen others that are still a lot higher than that....the quest continues.

Love it or hate it, Flappy Birds is going to go down in history for a number of reasons. People will always remember it for it's frustration level. Some are glad to see it go, while others will mourn it's loss. If you are one of the people who still have it installed on your phone, I would recommend never deleting it. It is now a piece of history.

R.I.P. Flappy Bird

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super Bowl Special: 10-Yard Fight vs Tecmo Bowl

It’s that time of year again, Super Bowl Sunday. Today it’s the 48th edition of the NFL’s championship game. The Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks are squaring off in New Jersey for the Lombardi Trophy. For some it’s a chance to cheer for their favorite team in the biggest game of the year. For other’s it’s a chance to watch the commercials, and enjoy the company of friends and family for a few hours. And of course it’s a chance to eat great food, and imbibe various forms of alcohol. No matter what you enjoy about the game, it’s a big part of American culture, and today I will be sharing my thoughts on the two football-themed video games I experienced growing up.

10-Yard Fight.

By today’s standards, the NES game 10-Yard Fight is pretty weak. Simple graphics, basic plays, and probably the slowest controls ever made. This was the first football video game I ever played, if you don’t count the hand-held football game that my friend Ryan had. My friends and I would play 10-Yard Fight, with me almost always on the losing end. I was never good at it, and always got blown out.

The actual game play is pretty terrible, even for the time. The players run in slow-motion, so trying to gain yards is tedious and tiresome. The basic plays are running and passing, and you don’t always seem to be able to control where the ball is thrown. Defense isn’t any better, you move slowly, and if you are playing against the computer you usually have to wait for the motion man to cross the field before the ball is snapped. It may be football, but it’s a horrible rendition.

Tecmo Bowl.

The second video football game I ever experienced was the 1989 Tecmo Bowl, also on the NES. When compared to 10-Yard Fight, Tecmo Bowl is a masterpiece. By today’s standards it’s a much simpler game than what you find on the modern consoles, but it still has a certain nostalgic value for most people. The music is memorable, and the game play itself is a much richer experience than that of 10-Yard Fight. Tecmo Bowl provides a team with real NFL players on it, and allows you to control players like the legendary John Elway, or Walter Payton. Too bad they couldn’t get licensing for the team logos. That’s right, they use real player names, but when you see a close-up of the helmets, they look nothing like the actual team helmets of the day.

At this point it’s probably easier to just use video and screenshot comparisons to really tell the story of these two games. So with out further ado….

 First we will look at the differences between the title screens.

Ok, so there is no real differences with the title screen themselves. Both tell you the name of the game, the year(s) published, and who made it. The biggest difference is the music. Tecmo Bowl uses a catchy tune right from the get go, while 10-Yard fight just sits there quietly, almost daring you to press start.

Next is a look at the scoring sequence. Compare this:

To this:

I couldn't get my own game footage to load properly for Tecmo Bowl, so I found a different one on YouTube. But it really highlights the differences in game play between these two games. It's worth noting that it was common place to purposely run backwards in Tecmo Bowl and try to run a 99 yard touchdown using Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, or Bo Jackson.

To end this thing, I present the intro for Tecmo Bowl on the NES.

And the winner is....Tecmo Bowl!!!