Archive for the ‘Retro Gaming’ Category

booklets

I came across something on Twitter a couple of days ago that made me stop and think. Someone had posted a picture of some Wii games they had picked up and stated that they enjoyed collecting Wii games because those still came with Instruction Booklets. This was the second time that the lack of Instruction Booklets in recent console generations had come to my attention over the past few weeks.

The first time was in regards to a few Christmas gifts I got. My wife got me a PSVita along with Ys: Memories of Celceta. To go along with it, my son got me Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate and my brother, Rayman Legends. As I opened each one, I was surprised each time to find no booklet at all inside the case. There was a game cartridge, and nothing else.

For the kids that grew up with the PlayStation, N64, and subsequent consoles, this is not a big deal. Most games come with built in tutorials, and those that don’t often give you tips on the fly that teach you the game while you’re playing it. Heck, the first three chapters of the masterpiece that is Xenoblade Chronicles X are essentially training missions. This is the natural evolution of the digital age. Instruction Booklets aren’t needed anymore and, if we’re being honest, most people that missed the NES/SNES/Genesis generation probably never read the booklets that came with PS/N64/PS2 games anyway. For those of us that came of age in the 80’s and early 90’s though, those booklets were essential reading. They were almost as important as having the game itself.

First of all, our games weren’t digital (definitely not knocking digital copies of games, I downloaded three over Christmas myself). You had to pick them up in the store and take them home. Maybe I’m isolated here, but I would have the game open in the car to study the Instruction Booklet. What was the story? What items were in the game? What did the characters look like, did they have names, etc… Part of the excitement of getting a new game was to read about the game before you played it. It set up what you were doing, why, and how you were going to do it. But why did the Booklet have to set this all up? That’s my second point.

booklet-contra

How would I have possibly known if I was Lance or Bill???

NES games (as well as Super NES & Genesis games to some extent) could not waste space on telling an elaborate story in-game. All available space in that cartridge needed to be applied to the game itself. Of course, there are exceptions, but even in those games that had the story included (Zelda 2, for example), the booklet gave you far more details than the game was able to. In the same vein, many times the booklet also gave you artwork for the characters in the game, both friends and foes. Again, the NES was limited. You had to use your imagination sometimes. Hyrule looks deserted in The Legend of Zelda, but the picture of Link kneeling on a rise overlooking the countryside inside the booklet showed you that it was so much more. That was important to me then. It actually enhanced the game in my mind, if not on the screen.

booklet-zelda

Finally, NES games did not have tutorials. Sure, there are only two buttons, but developers did a whole lot with those two buttons, and there are times that you would be missing out on how to accomplish certain things in-game if you hadn’t read about the controls beforehand. When I was 9 or 10, I used my allowance to pick up Milon’s Secret Castle at a local rental store (it was in their for sale box of used games, I picked it over Q-bert, I still think it was the right decision). I really liked the game, but I was stuck on the first level of the castle and felt like I was missing something, and there was no booklet included for me to read. The next time we were in different rental store that we frequented (honestly, I miss those) that had it for rent, I asked the person at the register if I could just read the manual. They were cool with it, and it helped that I was a kid. After reading through it, I found out that there were some actions I was unaware of. I immediately put my newfound knowledge to use when we got home and got further than I’d been able to before. That Instruction Booklet was make or break for me on that game, and I’m sure that would have been true on other games I played (most of mine came with the booklet). On a sidenote, I’ve gotten quite far in Milon’s Secret Castle, but have yet to beat that game. It is freaking hard. Another great example of this is Startropics. Included with that game is a letter that you have to use to get a code that is needed in the game itself. Startropics was breaking the fourth wall long before Psycho Mantis was on the scene. Seriously, how cool is it to have to do some real world action to progress in your NES game? That’s genius.

I admit to having a yearning for my childhood. I have a ton of nostalgia towards older games, partially because they are a lot of fun and I still enjoy them, but also because they represent a simpler time for me, before the realities of adulthood and responsibilities set in and the innocence I had (and all kids have) was gone. Flipping through Instruction Booklets is a part of that as well. I’m sure this seems like I’m making a huge deal over a few pages in a video game box, but it’s not that. It’s just something that I always loved that has changed over time. Rest assured, I’m not shedding any tears over this, no matter how this sounds. Still though, even now, on the occasions that a new game does come with an older style Instruction Booklet, I do still pull it out and flip through it. Even after all these years, there’s still some magic there for me.

booklet-zelda-2booklet-zelda-2-2booklet-zelda-2-3booklet-zelda-2-4booklet-zelda-2-5booklet-smbbooklet-smb3booklet-metroidbooklet-mega-manbooklet-kirbybooklet-kid-icarusbooklet-blaster-master

 

From the grave

Almost Made It: de Blob, Okami, F-Zero, Ecco the Dolphin, Bubble Bobble, Contra, Mana, Startropics, R-Type, Adventure Island
Not Franchises, but Need a Sequel: Ghosthunter, Sphinx & the Cursed Mummy, Dante’s Inferno, The Wonderful 101, Enslaved

Legacy of Kain8. Legacy of Kain
Last Entry – Legacy of Kain: Defiance (2003)
Legacy of Kain began life as an overhead styled game called Blood Omen for the Playstation, where you played as newly minted vampire, Kain. While popular, its sequel, Soul Reaver, is where the series truly pulled me in. It was the Ocarina of Time to Blood Omen’s A Link to the Past (strictly in regards to game style). It also began the story that would permeate the remaining entries in the series, which ended with Defiance in 2003. The problem is, Defiance didn’t exactly wrap the story up. Oh, there’s an ending, but there are threads for future stories that have yet to come. The only news available for Legacy since 2003 is an MMO Game called Nosgoth that was ultimately shut down. It was only mildly related to the overall series, and was not developed by Crystal Dynamics. Considering the popularity of the Legacy of Kain series, it is surprising that it has remained dormant this long, but those of us that are still fans of the games still hope to see a more definitive ending to Kain (and Raziel’s) journey in Nosgoth.

Blaster Master7. Blaster Master
Last Entry – Blaster Master: Overdrive (2010)
If you don’t know Blaster Master, stop reading this blog, go find a copy (check the Virtual Console/eShop), and play it. Then come back. Everyone else knows Blaster Master. You play through an open world via a side-scrolling/overhead shooter hybrid style. You’re goal? To get your frog back and stop some radioactive mutants from taking over the Earth. Blaster Master is a classic that saw entries on the Sega, GBC, Playstation, and a remake via WiiWare (which is pretty darn good, FYI) and has been praised for level design as well as seamlessly merging separate game styles into one game. Aside from the remake, the last actual sequel was the PS entry Blaster Master: Blasting Again, released in 2001, which received average reviews (but which I thoroughly enjoyed). Blaster Master is a franchise that is so well know that I’m rather amazed that nothing new has been developed since 2010. The gameplay style(s) scream 3DS. Still, sadly, it seems that there is currently nothing on the horizon for this beloved series. *Note: Blaster Master received a wonderfully corny Worlds of Power adaptation. If you can find a copy, I strongly suggest reading it.

Baldur's Gate6. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance
Last Entry – Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 (2004)
I realize that Baldur’s Gate is hardly a forgotten series, but I’m speaking specifically of the Dark Alliance series developed for consoles. As I’m not much of a PC gamer, Dark Alliance was my only foray into the world of Baldur’s Gate, and I loved it. Dark Alliance is an overhead hack and slash RPG with character selection. The original was extremely well received, even winning a Role-Playing Game of the Year Award. The sequel was also acclaimed, though it was noted that it added very little to the gameplay of the original. The primary reason I feel this series needs a new entry is that the second title ended on a cliff hanger. You’re shown that someone has been working against you behind the scenes, yet you’re not shown who it was. It also stings that a third title was in development but cancelled solely due to legal issues. Every now and again, news crops up on a Dark Alliance 3, but it’s generally just wishful thinking or unsubstantiated rumors. I still hold out hope though, that I’ll one day get to play through the conclusion of the story from Dark Alliance and Dark Alliance 2.

Darksiders5. Darksiders
Last Entry – Darksiders II (2012)
Really? 2012? It seems so much longer. Regardless, Darksiders burst onto the scene in 2010, bringing us an apocalyptic Zelda-esque title. You play as War, the horsemen, who has been summoned by someone, and is accused of beginning the Apocalypse early. You’re then given a chance to prove your innocence and find the true culprits. While the story does give you answers, it never feels finished, and the ending scene hints at the arrival of the remaining three horsemen. Darksiders II takes place concurrently, placing you in the role of Death, and opens up more of the story of the franchise. Since then, we’ve been left to wonder exactly what became of the four horsemen at the end of the original game. Development of a sequel has most likely been held up by the selling of the license due to a bankruptcy. This franchise came to mind for two main reasons: the plot is surprisingly deep, and the gameplay is both varied and familiar between the two titles. There is also the fact that the other two horsemen, Strife and Fury, have not (yet) been playable characters. I’m excited to see their interpretation in the franchise, and how the gameplay will be adapted to their “powers.” Recent news regarding Nordic Games (the owners of multiple THQ licenses), seems to indicate that the wait for Darksiders III may not be that long.

Lufia4. Lufia
Last Entry – Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals (2010)
Lufia was one of the premier RPG’s on the Super NES, before finding a home on the Gameboy/DS systems, but has been quiet since Curse of the Sinistrals (DS) in 2010, itself being a remake of Lufia 2 (Super NES). The fact that Lufia remains knows is even more surprising when you consider that it has received no eShop/digital distribution of the original titles. The franchise is running solely on the fact that it was so good on the Super NES (the DS remake was just average). This is a series that could benefit greatly by returning to its roots via a 3DS title. Speaking strictly of feasibility, I can’t imagine a full-fledged console Lufia title simple because the budget would be insane, hence a smaller title on a handheld. I’m sad to say that I missed out on Lufia for the most part, and would jump at a chance to play the originals or even a proper sequel. With any luck, Neverland hasn’t forgotten this gem of a series.

Mega Man X23. Mega Man X
Last Entry – Mega Man X8 (2005)
If you don’t know what Mega Man X is, see my note on Blaster Master above. Mega Man X is Mega Man’s cooler, older brother. Keeping the conventions of the original series, robot masters, excellent platforming, multiple weapons, Mega Man X added enough new aspects to seem familiar, but not identical. Like many side-scrollers, Mega Man X fell out of favor as 3-D gameplay became the new norm. The one foray in 3-D for Mega Man X was…disappointing at best. Mega Man X8 was somewhat of a return to form, but something still felt a bit off from the initial titles. While the original Mega Man series saw two “old school” sequels released digitally (both being very good), Mega Man X has continued to be MIA in terms of a new title since the release of X8. Capcom could please many people by taking the Mega Man 9/10 route with X and designing an X9 that looked and played much like X – X3 on the Super NES. After the success of Mega Man 9/10, I’m actually still shocked that X9 hasn’t come down the pipeline. It’s simply hard to believe it wouldn’t be a success. Mega Man is a beloved icon. A new game in the X series should be a given at this point.

Metroid2. Metroid
Last Entry – Metroid: Other M (2010)
First of all, Federation Force is not a Metroid game. Yes, it has the title, but it has no Samus Aran. It is not a Metroid game. We will not discuss this further. Anyways, Metroid is one of Nintendo’s golden franchises, and has been universally acclaimed with virtually every release (Other M being the exception to the rule). At this point, the future of Metroid is very cloudy. I’m certain there will be a proper sequel, but I have no clue if it will go the route of Fusion/Zero Mission, or take the FPS style of the Prime series. Either would be welcome by fans of the Metroid series. Other M left a bad taste in the mouths of most Metroid fans, and one has to wonder if it’s negative reception isn’t what has caused Nintendo to step away from Metroid for a six years. If that’s truly the case, Nintendo need only to look at Fusion or Prime 3 to see that the series has had only one hiccup in its entire history. One misstep is not enough reason to shelve a premier series that features a game that many consider to be one of the two or three best games ever made (the fact that you’re not sure if I’m speaking of Super Metroid or Metroid Prime speaks to the high quality of Metroid titles). Metroid turns 30 years old this year. Nintendo has remained silent on this fact. I’m hopeful that they’re saving something for the NX reveal but, despite my normal optimism, I’m not holding out much hope in this case.

Castlevania1. Castlevania
Last Entry – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (2014) / Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (2008)
I must clarify here. I’m speaking not of the reboot Lords of Shadow series, but of the original series, which last saw an entry in 2008 with Order of Ecclesia. Until Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the Castlevania series was know for level based platforming. Symphony of the Night adopted a style similar to Metroid, featuring an open world that became more accessible via the collection of abilities or items, coining the Metroidvania term for this type of game style. Symphony of the Night was so extremely popular that virtually all Castlevania titles from that point on adopted the same style, excepting some 3-D titles that received mixed reviews, but which I enjoyed. Yet, despite each successive title being similar in style, the design of each game managed to feel fresh and new each time. In 2013, the series was re-imagined for the Lords of Shadow series, going from open world platformer to a 3-D level based game. The Lords of Shadow games are fine games, but titles such as Dawn of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia scratched an itch that few other games relieve. Castlevania made #1 on this list because I’m skeptical that we’ll ever see another title that matches the quality the series was once know for, if another title at all. Konami has publicly stated that they are shifting focus to mobile games, meaning that Castlevania may be put on the shelf for quite some time. There is a glimmer of hope though. Long time Castlevania producer, IGA, has developed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night for all current consoles. Due out in March of 2017, Bloodstained is described by IGA himself as a spiritual successor to Castlevania and is using the Metroidvania style. I’m certain I’ll download this title, but it still makes me sad to think that we may have realistically seen our last Belmont. Our last Castlevania.

Zelda II

Quite some time ago, when I was about 10 or 11, I put a borrowed gold cartridge bearing the name Zelda II into my NES system. There was no internet then, and gaming magazines were not exactly common. Therefore, I had no way of knowing that I was about to start playing a game that would still be among my favorites over 20 years later.

The Set-up:
You are Link. Some years after defeating Ganon and saving Hyrule in the original Legend of Zelda, you discover that you are marked for yet another quest, this one involving the original Princess Zelda, who is in a deep, cursed sleep, and has been for many, many years (and who is the source of the “Legend” in the title). Once again, you find yourself venturing into the land of Hyrule on a great adventure.

The Story:
The plot of this game is a bit secondary, which is the case with most NES games, but you can read the graphic at the title screen and/or check out the Instruction Booklet (remember when those were invaluable?). You are given six crystals by Impa to place in certain temples around the world of Hyrule. The temples are, of course, each guarded by a boss character that you must defeat before you’re able to place each crystal. Upon placing these, you may enter the Great Palace and claim the Triforce of Courage, which can awaken the sleeping Princess.

Zelda II Zelda Sleeping

A kiss just isn’t going to cut it.

There are other minor, very minor, side plots in the game. One involves the followers of Ganon attempting to kill Link, as sprinkling Link’s blood on Ganon’s ashes will revive him. Others are simply mechanisms used to obtain items or spells in the villages scattered around Hyrule, such as finding a lost child or returning a trophy. These are required, and involve no real expansion of the main quest, but do offer up a motivation for villagers helping you out.

The Gameplay:
Immediately upon playing this game, it is very obvious that this is not simply an expansion of the original Legend of Zelda. Link still moves on an overhead map, but anything involving combat or exploration of a particular area is played out via a side-scrolling level. These range from minor battles that occur when you are touched by a shadow on the overhead map that appears when you stray from the main road (agents of Ganon), to the temples where you are to place each of the six crystals. The overworld functions much the same way it does in the NES and Super NES Final Fantasy games. It allows you to travel “vast” distances quickly, but offers very little else in regards of combat.

All that said, it is a very large overworld, consisting of two continents, numerous villages and caves and such, and the aforementioned temples. There are also hidden “tiles” that contain heart or magic containers, or are levels that you’ll need to navigate to continue on. As mentioned above, there is a road you can follow, but you’ll have to move off that into other terrain as you journey through the game. This consists of forested areas, swamps, and deserts (and some kind of volcanic looking area much later in the game). The overworld in Zelda II has always given me the feeling of a vast land, filled with secrets and dangers. In the current gaming landscape, it’s probably not much to look at, but in that day and age, it was filled with possibilities, and seemed almost magical.

Zelda II Map

This helped make the game seem that much bigger.

Combat in Zelda II is very simplistic at first. You stab stuff. That’s it. There are no items such as a bow or bombs, although you do acquire items in each of the temples that will help you out. These consist of items such as the candle which allows you to see in caverns (which are in darkness up until this point), the winged boots allowing you to walk on water, and the whistle which removes a river devil blocking your progress. These items are all non-combat items and can only be used on the overworld map. However, as you progress in the game, you will learn the down-thrust and up-thrust techniques which complement your fighting abilities. These sound simplistic, but are actually extremely helpful in the game, and aren’t simply one and done techniques. There are also Spells that Link will learn, ranging from Shield and Jump to the powerful Thunder spell. You will need to monitor your Magic Meter however, as a spell like Thunder will just about drain it. I will admit that magic can be mostly ignored in this game, but if you’re willing to keep it in mind and use it, it can be helpful and enrich your experience. Especially a spell such as Life which will refill part of your life meter.

Zelda II Red Woman

No comment on what she does to fill your life up.

Speaking of, this game does have Heart Containers to find, but only four of them, and they are found in the overworld, not given at the end of each temple. The same is true of your magic meter and Magic Containers. These meters/containers are supplemented by Link having the ability to level up. An ability that has not been seen in a Zelda title since. Upon obtaining enough experience points (given in treasure bags and by defeating enemies), you are given the option to upgrade your life, magic, or weapon levels. Upgrading life and magic will let you take more damage or use less magic per spell respectively. Upgrading your weapon allows you to deal more damage. Each can be upgraded to a level of 8, and it is possible to ignore upgrading one aspect in favor of leveling up another, providing some minor strategy to the game (especially when used in conjunction with the automatic level up you get at the end of each temple). This RPG element of Zelda II is definitely not close to something you would find in a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but does spice the game up somewhat and further differentiates it from its predecessor.

Conclusions:
Even though Zelda II is the black sheep of the Zelda series and it is almost blasphemous to say this in video game circles, I far prefer Zelda II to the original Legend of Zelda. It just feels so much fuller than the original game, which is odd as I imagine that the original game is probably the bigger game. Somehow, Zelda II just seems to have a larger scope to it, and as you travel from the beginning across two continents to the Great Temple, it just seems like more of an adventure. I suspect that this is helped by the addition of villages and NPC characters going about their lives, making the world feel like a populated place that exists outside of the game. These towns and citizens were not present in the original game outside of people hiding in caves. Also, the difficulty of Zelda II is ramped up quite a bit, which helps further the feeling of an adventure that is escalating in difficulty and danger. By today’s standards, this game probably doesn’t stand up as anything special, but in the era in which it was released, a world full of 8-bit games, this game was bursting with a special kind of magic that only a few games are ever able to capture.

Zelda II Magic Map

Even at 34, this map still seems special to me every time I play it.

 

 

Mega Man Dying

A day or two ago, my 9 year old son got an urge to play a Mega Man game. As a NES fan from the 80’s, I heartily approved. We have the Anniversary Edition, so he could pick from 1 to 8. He settled on the original, despite my warnings that it is probably the toughest one. Ignoring my advice on such matters is a talent of his but, as he had played Mega Man Powered Up on the PSP quite a bit, he did have some idea of what he was getting into.

Let me give some background before I go on. My son loves playing “Twitch” games on his Fire Tablet. I’d say he spends most of his game playing time on those, and he is super good at them, just FYI. He does play a good chunk of console games though. He’s played through Ocarina of Time on the 3DS. Completed Super Mario 3D World before I did, if I’m not mistaken, and has mastered Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. But, those games aren’t Mega Man.

So, anyway, he played through and beat Bomb Man (no easy feat, frankly), then went to Guts Man’s stage. Anyone that’s ever played Mega Man knows how horrific the lifts are in that stage, and that is where things got bad. He had trouble getting the timing down (been there myself), and eventually just cut it off after only a couple of tries. This is not the first time this has happened, and it is almost always on older games that he likes or that I’ve recommended. Tonight, the same thing happened with Mega Man 5. He was able to get to Gravity Man, but couldn’t beat him. He was turning it off, but I actually took over and played a bit. On a side note, I can still rock Mega Man 5.

Mega Man Guts Lifts

There is no joy in this place.

The bottom line here is, he has very little patience for games that require some memorization along with trial and error. Basically, any game prior to the Nintendo 64/PlayStation era. The thing is, I don’t think it’s just him, I think it’s something that affects most gamers that missed out on the pre-3D era of gaming.

Why is it though?

I believe it has to be that games are just easier now than they were on the NES/Super NES/Sega Genesis. In many ways, this is a good thing. Some of the lost difficulty is due to better design and more in-game options (in terms of how to tackle different challenges). There’s also the fact that dying in a game now does not penalize you very much. Most games have auto-save features that mean a loss only penalizes you a few minutes of play time, if that. I come from the era of Ninja Gaiden. One mis-timed jump or stray hawk with no lives left could totally wreck your day.

Ninja Gaiden

Oh, come on!

So, while I wholeheartedly approve of the advances in gaming, I do think that patience in gaming has been completely lost on this generation. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose, and I’m not faulting the current generation of gamers in any way as they’re playing with the hand they’ve been dealt, just like those of us that grew up in the 80’s and 90’s did. We had no choice but to try and try again. If that last life was gone, it was a lesson learned and in most cases, we just started over from Level 1. Even when passwords and saves became the norm, there were still punishments for having lost that just don’t exist all that often now. It was just the way it was.

When I started this blog post, I wasn’t sure where it was going to lead me, and now I see that the answer is nowhere. I try always to write with a conclusion in mind, but sometimes when I’ve written my thoughts out, I realize that it’s nothing more than an observation, and that seems to be the case here. I suppose it’s just interesting to me to watch someone steeped in today’s games try games that I cut my teeth on, and the reactions that doing so elicits.

For the past few console iterations, we’ve witnessed a changing of the guard that continues even today. I’m out. My son’s generation is in. Such is life.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be in my room playing Castlevania.

Castlevania

Never gets old…

Super Metroid - Title

Best. Game. Ever.

The Set-up:

“The last Metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace.”

You are Samus Aran, and so begins the most amazing game to grace the Super NES. Samus Aran has faced down the Metroids on Zebes, and completely eradicated them on their home planet of SR388, with the exception of a Metroid larva which attaches to her as if she were its mother. Unable or unwilling to destroy it, Samus delivers the infant to Ceres Space Station so that it may be tested and researched. Assuming all is well, Samus sets out for a new bounty to hunt (a woman has to eat) when she receives a message. Ceres Station is under attack.

The Story:
The game opens with your return to Ceres Station. As you work your way through this small facility, you’ll notice that the scientists have been slain and the infant Metroid is missing from its containment unit. In the next room, you’ll find the infant Metroid, but before you can get it, two red eyes appear, and the leader of the Space Pirate army, Ridley, snatches the infant, fights you briefly, then bails the scene. This is one of those impossible to win or lose battles. Upon hitting a health level of about 32, Ridley will zoom towards the screen, the space station will begin a self-destruct sequence, and you, as Samus, will need to exit stage left while Ridley flees towards, where else, planet Zebes.

The greatness of this game begins with an almost immediate visit to the site of the first game. After landing on the planet, you proceed through the only accessible area to an elevator and a familiar shaft which leads to a destroyed Mother Brain tube. The entire area is deserted and reeks of age. This portion of the game is identical, and brings back fond memories for those of us that played through the original Metroid. This was an amazing design idea that lets you know, without explicitly stating it, that much time has passed since your last battle here. After collecting some missiles, however, things come to life and the space pirates show up.

Super Metroid - Old Tourian

The most impressive aspect of the story is that it tells you so much without actually having to give you dialogue or text. The opening monologue by Samus Aran recaps the history of the Metroids and her encounters with them. The opening space station level sets up the conflict of the game, the taking of the infant Metroid. The initial exploration on Planet Zebes gives you familiar ground to explore, while also letting you know that there is much more that is new here than is old. Without speaking of the ending of the game (superb), Nintendo manages to get across more plot and story using level design and a short monologue than some games do with 30 minutes of narrative. This is no easy feat, and never fails to impress me when I replay Super Metroid.

The Gameplay:
Starting with the very first game, Metroid has been about exploration, discovering new areas, and using new items to access other new items and areas you could sometimes see, but not yet get to. Super Metroid not only keeps this aspect of the franchise, but perfects it. Initially, you only have access to missiles and morph ball bombs, but you can see doors of differing colors, ledges that are just out of reach, and other various impediments which block your exploration. Your first time through the game, you won’t know how to access these until you find the needed item. This is old hat now, having been utilized by the Castlevania franchise and, more recently, Batman: Arkham Asylum. At the time, however, there were exceedingly few games that worked this way, and of those that did, none did it better than Super Metroid.

Super Metroid - Energy

So close, yet so far

In addition to new areas of Zebes to explore, Super Metroid also introduced new upgrades for Samus Aran to use. In addition to the traditional missiles, you gain access to Super Missiles and Power Bombs. You obtain the Grapple Beam which makes use of specific blocks located throughout the game. Also included is the X-Ray Scope, allowing you to scan areas for breakable blocks or false walls and is helpful, if not necessary, along with the Varia and Gravity Suit upgrades, and the speed boots (personal favorite). Super Metroid also fixes a flaw from the original Metroid in regards to beams. In the original title, one beam would replace the other (an aspect that bit me once when I took on Tourian with the Wave Beam and couldn’t defeat the Metroids as a result). Super Metroid makes beams stackable, meaning that your beam gains an effect with each new pick-up. This is a small, but extremely helpful improvement.

Super Metroid also includes abilities that are not mentioned in the instruction booklet, and have to be discovered on your own in game. For example, there is the wall jump, the shinespark, and the morph ball bomb jump (there are others, just not mentioned here). For the first two, if you explore fully, you will find alien lifeforms that demonstrate how these work. Much like the story of the game, there is no dialogue included, you simply watch the critters, then mimic them. This is a very subtle, but highly effective way of teaching you something in the game without holding your hand or giving you a tutorial.

Super Metroid - Wall Jump

Now, while these “secret” abilities are not necessary to complete the game, or even collect everything, they are essential if your goal is to complete the game as quickly as possible and sequence break. This is part of the brilliance of the game design. Super Metroid is set up in such a way that sequence breaking is expected, and seemingly encouraged. The game is open world, with controls in place to guide you, but you can still attack it in differing ways. You can simply go through the game, revisiting areas when you have the proper items, or you can work around some such controls, accessing areas earlier or via a different path. To this day, I still get to Crocomire, the mini-boss in Norfair, via the exact opposite path that you are meant to take. But that is part of the joy of this game. There are multiple ways to attack it, and each playthrough can be different than the previous one.

Again, this design is simply brilliant. It’s as if the developers set the game up to be completed a specific way, but then added in difficult, but obtainable, shortcuts so spice things up. In the time period of the Super NES, the internet was not a “thing.” Therefore, we had to depend on gaming magazines and guides, or, in my case, simple perseverance to find all of these exploitable shortcuts. In doing so, the game became a true adventure, and you felt that you were truly in control of the situation. Not because you were breaking the game, but because the game was designed to let you explore instead of locking you into one path of exploration. The original Metroid and its sequel did the same, but they only accomplished a fraction of what Super Metroid presented.

Conclusions:
What else can I say about Super Metroid? It’s my favorite video game. Period. It’s expertly crafted. Wonderfully paced. Superbly designed. It perfectly captures the feel of being alone in a foreign land, facing, essentially, an army of enemies that want you dead, and in many cases, tower over you. Metroid has never seemed to have the level of fandom of Mario or Zelda, but I will always take the Metroid franchise over those. Mario, Zelda, Starfox, etc… all are great franchises, and I love them, but there is a magic to Metroid that those do not possess. I can’t put that into words, and maybe it’s something specific to me. I don’t believe that it’s nostalgia though. I can recall renting Super Metroid shortly after it came out. I was immediately in love with the game, and rented it multiple times. It would be a while before I owned my own copy, but once I did, I played and replayed it. That feeling I had then has not gone, and I simply can’t imagine another game ever toppling that.

Super Metroid - Ending

Still a better love story than Twilight

Mega Man X4 - X6

Continuing from my last Post Game Wrap-up, today I’m taking on the second half of the Mega Man X Collection. These titles all originally graced the Sony PlayStation, and while the power of the console was changed, what wasn’t changed was the design of the games…for the most part. Read on to see how the second trio of games compares with the Super NES classics.

The Set-up:
You are Mega Man X…and, for the first time as a regular, Zero. If you’ve played any of the previous titles, then you know how this works. You complete an intro level, get some story tidbits, then pick one of eight bosses to take on. Get their weapon, rinse and repeat. This isn’t a complicated formula, but simplicity doesn’t mean bad either. Besides, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Story:
There aren’t many links between these games and the first three games aside from a few familiar characters. Dr. Cain is never mentioned, and instead, you find X and Zero working with a group of other Maverick Hunters. These characters actually have names and fairly large roles in the story of these three games.

While Mavericks still play a role in the plot, you’ll also find yourself battling against reploids that are, in terms of ideals, on your side in attempting to hunt down dangerous mavericks, but in this situation, neither side trusts the other, which, of course, leads to battles. Another development in these three games is that Sigma transforms from just a Maverick into a virus, meaning that he no longer consists of just a physical body, but incorporates himself into new forms (one seemingly built by none other than Dr. Wily, based on some mild clues given by Sigma). You’ll also deal with another “Zero may or may not be dead” crisis, much like in Mega Man X2. Given that Zero is a playable character in all three games, this really isn’t that big of a mystery.

The subtlety is well done here.

The subtlety is well done here.

One thing I picked up on was that, at the outset of X4, the story becomes very serious and very dark. In the first three games, you realize that there is damage and destruction, but it’s never on a grand scale, or addressed in a very serious manner. In X4 – X6, you go from millions of people and reploids killed in a Sky Lagoon crash (X4 intro stage) to the Earth being almost completely uninhabitable (beginning of X6). If you’re one to pay attention to game stories, this can really make the in-game story seem completely inconsequential by comparison. I am one of those people, so this escalation of story bugged me. It makes it feel like there is nothing to gain, story-wise, by completing the game. Yes, I realize that the story in a Mega Man X is very secondary to the gameplay, but game stories, no matter how minor or secondary, are something I take in, and it has to be mentioned here.

One interesting note, Mega Man X5 was intended to be the last of the X series. In it, Zero essentially sacrifices himself to save the planet from a cataclysmic event (a space colony is crashing) and is presumed dead. Inafune (Mega Man X head honcho) intended to continue the story in Mega Man Zero for the GameBoy Advance, but Capcom wanted another game. As a result, Zero is found and rejoins X in Mega Man X6. From what I’ve read, Inafune wasn’t very happy about this as it screwed up his plot for the Mega Man Zero series. It also shows in Mega Man X6 as certain elements change from the ending of X5 to the beginning of X6 to make the revival (reappearance?) of Zero make more sense. It’s also a bit weird in that X5 has multiple endings, so X6 assumes you received the ending that works in X5. Once again, stories in the X series are secondary at best, but if you, like me, follow them, it can’t help but be confusing.

At this point, if that doesn't kill him, nothing is going to.

At this point, if that doesn’t kill him, nothing is going to.

The Gameplay:
The biggest change present here is that Zero becomes a full-fledged playable character in all three entries, after being available a bit in X3. In X4, you can pick between Zero and X, then complete the game as that character. As a side note, instead of getting special weapons, Zero learns new saber techniques. The rock/paper/scissors effect for bosses is still in order. Anyways, in X5, you can select your character before entering each stage. Similarly, you can also pick which armor you want to use for X when entering a stage (again, starting with X5). Capcom also worked on their Samus Aran/Metroid issue in X5 by allowing you to use the armor from X4 right away (called Fourth Armor X), instead of stripping you down to basics as was the case in X-X4. In X6, you have to find Zero, but once you’ve done so, you can again select him (along with certain armors) when entering a stage. This was one of my favorite modifications made in these games. Since X5 and X6 added multiple armors, it allowed you to pick which one worked best and strategize when entering a level. For example, in X5, the Gaea Armor allows you to walk on spikes, but doesn’t allow you to dash or use special weapons. The trade-off is huge, but for a level that could be layered with spikes, it could be worth it.

The flying ability of the Falcon Armor is pretty amazing as well.

The flying ability of the Falcon Armor is pretty amazing as well.

To further elaborate on the gameplay in these titles, I have to actually separate them a bit. X4 plays very similarly to the first three games, with the exception of being able to play as Zero, as discussed above. Zero is much more of a melee fighter, and I’ll admit to only playing through the game as him once many years ago. I prefer to have some space between my character and the enemies. That said, if you like the melee fighting style, then Zero would be great for you. Capcom did a great job of balancing the game so that Zero would not be handicapped. My reluctance to use him is based solely on my preferred fighting style.

While X4 really does feel like an extension of X – X3, X5 and X6, do quite a bit to change things up, and they feel like two parts to the same game in many ways. Rescuable reploids are introduced in X5. They generally refill your health a bit and give you an extra life. They can’t be harmed by enemies on screen, and missing them doesn’t hurt you even slightly. In X6, however, a few of the reploids will give you equippable items (you can equip a certain number of items, up to 5, based on the armor chosen and nightmare souls collected). To up the importance of getting to these particular reploids, Capcom decided that it would be a great idea to place them in peril, and make it so that a “Nightmare,” an octopus looking creature (when killed, these critters leave behind blue orbs which give you the above referenced nightmare souls), could turn them maverick. If this happens, don’t think that you can just restart the stage and get them again. In Mega Man X6, once you’ve lost a Reploid, they’re gone forever, along with any item they may have held.

Now, if you remove the ability to choose your character for each stage and the rescuable reploids, then X5 is otherwise another traditional type entry into the series. The platforming is tough, but generally fair. Some of the bosses can be aggravating, but that’s true of many bosses in the Mega Man games. All in all, X5 is a strong entry, one I prefer to X4, frankly, even with the overly dramatic story. It helps that the bosses all have names based on Guns ‘n Roses members (no joke, just click that link). I think the inclusion of an armor from the onset, as well as having two other sets of armors to find and choose between, along with Zero, for each level, infuses the game with a level of variety never before seen in an X game. Overall it can’t quite match the first couple of entries, but that’s hardly a criticism. X6 though….wow…

Very recently I have praised X6 on Twitter. I had fond memories of it and defended it, as it garners quite a bit of criticism. After playing through it again though, I can honestly say I have no idea why I was remembering it so fondly. X6 is almost a completely broken game. I’ve already touched on the absurdity of permanently losing a rescuable reploid, but there’s more to be said on that front. Quite often, the reploids are placed in such a way that to save them before a Nightmare can get to them, you have to just touch them in route to killing yourself. One stage in particular sees you leaping from wire to wire (X or Zero will hang onto these automatically) over a bottomless pit. Some are horizontal wires, while some are vertical. The catch detection on the vertical wires is sketchy at best. Now, scattered through this section are Nightmares and reploids. Quite a few reploids. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I purposely killed myself five times rescuing reploids. Each gives you an extra life, so there was no danger there, but what game forces you to die in order to essentially collect an item(s)? Imagine a Metroid game where a Missile Tank was suspended over an instant-kill contraption, and to get it, you had to just leap into it and die. That’s almost exactly what’s happening here.

This, but with lots of nightmares and lots of reploids.

This, but with lots of nightmares and lots of reploids.

Now, some people will point out that with the correct armor equipped, it is possible to get these reploids without dying, and they would be correct. Here’s my counter to that though. When you enter a stage, you have no idea what the layout will be like. You also won’t necessarily have access to the armors needed to achieve this. Now, this wouldn’t be that big of an issue itself if not for the fact that near these reploids are Nightmares, and again, once you lose a reploid, it is gone forever. I’m fine with a game teasing me with an item I can’t yet acquire, but can return for later. That’s not the case here. In my Metroid example above, picture the same scenario, only this time there’s a Missile Tank eater nearby that will take your missiles forever if you don’t grab them immediately. That’s how X6 works.

Aside from the frustrations with the reploids and nightmares, level design in X6 is amazingly sloppy. Just to throw out once such example, there’s a level that has you moving below a trash compactor. You will need to seek shelter from time to time. This is annoying, but not broken. The frustrating part arises when you fail to hold down when you’re supposed to be crouching. You will die if you don’t crouch. No spikes or anything, just a flat surface. It makes no sense whatsoever, and it doesn’t help that crouching has never been a major part of X’s move set. I foolishly crouched, then let go of the button once the ceiling was at it’s lowest. I died. I was also flabbergasted. Another level sees you having to dash through spike lined passages. Spikes are never your friend, and if you are off just a bit, you die. This was not fun, this was torture. Another, even more appalling experience I had was in a stage that placed you in a pit, then had ice blocks methodically come down on you. The goal was to dodge these, then jump on them and work your way to the top, except the game put me between two columns of blocks (you can’t wall jump on them, of course), then crushed me. I literally had no where to go, and becoming trapped wasn’t just a mistake on my part, it was impossible to avoid based on how the blocks fell. This should never, ever happen in a game. I was doomed through no fault of my own.

It did not go this well for me.

It did not go this well for me.

Still, the greatest crime of X6 is something that is unforgivable. There are actually portions of the game that you simply can’t pass if you’ve chosen the wrong armor. You have no way of knowing this beforehand and, if you haven’t previously completed the level, no way of exiting the stage. This is simply stunning. How does a game even get released with such an oversight? It feels like this game was never even tested. Also, one such spot is in the second to last level of the game. My preferred armor is the Shadow Armor as it comes with a shuriken shot, a saber, and makes you invulnerable to spikes (plus, you just look damn cool). Enter a section that you need an air-dash to get across. The Shadow Armor isn’t equipped with an air-dash. I had forgotten about this, and actually just cut the game off when playing it at this point. Stubborn as I am, when I played it again, I again used the Shadow Armor, and researched this section. To get past this, you must equip a certain part first. In the level, you have to leap, then unleash a saber swing at just the right time, then use the Giga Crush attack. If executed perfectly, it will add the distance needed to your leap and you can proceed, but you almost have to glitch the game to make this work. I could forgive this if there were some method of switching armors while in a level, but that’s not the case. Also, being a final level, there is no exiting. If you can’t pull off the moves needed to make the jump, you have to kill yourself and continue. This is absurd, but seems almost par for the course for the disaster that is X6.

Conclusions:
Few series can hold their quality as sequels continue to pile up. While I think the original Mega Man series stayed strong through Mega Man 6, Mega Man X cannot make that claim. Mega Man X4 and X5 aren’t necessarily bad games, but both did feel like some of the magic from the first couple of entries was missing, and it goes beyond something like fatigue with the series. They just don’t feel as crisp and precise as X or X2. Again, that doesn’t mean they’re unplayable, just that they fall off a bit when being compared to their earlier namesakes. I’m sure that it’s no easy task to live up to titles such as X and X2, and it shows here. I refuse to make such excuses for X6 however. That title is most definitely a black eye on the X series, and the fact that it was allowed to ship at all with the problems it has is amazing. I would love to overlook these, but they are so blatant that I consider it a failure on Capcom’s part. Bottom line here, X4 and X5 are quite a bit of fun, and I recommend them for any fan of the X series. X6 however, should be reserved for completionists or masochists. It’s truly that bad and lowered the bar for Mega Man X…though, as you’ll see soon enough here, X7 managed to lower it even further.

Mega Man X

As much as I love writing these Post Game Wrap-ups, when I started playing the Mega Man X Collection on the Gamecube, I just couldn’t justify doing three different posts for the first three games, even though it would have given me a week or two worth of fodder. I’ve decided to, instead, break down the X series into the Super NES era, the PlayStation Era, and then do the two PS2 games separately as they’re designs are so different from one another (this is assuming I actually do play through the whole series again). There will be spoilers here, but then the Mega Man X series has never been known for it’s groundbreaking story-telling.

The Set-up:
You are Mega Man X. Approximately 100 years after the era of the original Mega Man, a capsule is discovered containing an extremely advanced fighting robot, Mega Man X. Mega Man X bears many similarities to its namesake, while at the same time distinguishing itself enough from that series so that it never feels at all like a rehash, but like a familiar, yet different game. Whereas Mega Man generally focused on precise timing and meticulous platforming, Mega Man X focuses on fast paced battles with more open platforming levels, due in large part to the simple yet brilliant addition of the wall-jump and the dash.

So simple, yet so game-changing.

So simple, yet so game-changing.

The Story:
Capcom seems to live and die by the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” creed, because the general story of the first three Mega Man X games are right in line with the original series. Robot fights other robots, robot fights evil creator/leader, creator/leader seems to be taken care of, rinse and repeat. Yes, the story is rather predictable, but as I said in the opening, these games were never about the narrative. Besides, Capcom really stopped even trying to hide it, showing an outline of Sigma and referring to him as [Sinister Voice] in the opening scenes.

Now, as for the actual story of the first three games, after Mega Man X is discovered and activated, his discoverer, Dr. Cain, is so inspired by X’s advanced design that he creates Reploids, modeled after X. Predictably, this goes very wrong as many of the Reploids go “Maverick,” meaning they become violent and endanger humans. The Maverick Hunters, a group which X joins, work to capture/destroy these Mavericks, including their leader, Sigma. Sigma is the Dr. Wily of this series, being defeated only to return as the “surprise” manipulator behind events in future games.

Dr. Cain serves as the Dr. Light of the series (well, except for the dooming humanity with Reploids stuff), giving X advice and directing he and Zero throughout the first three games. His role was very minimilized in X3, however, and was also his last appearance in the series. There was never an explanation for his whereabouts (though the PSP Mega Man X remake has a scene suggesting he was killed in the Reploid attacks).

Whereas Mega Man had Proto Man as a sometimes ally, X has Zero, who is clearly designed with Proto Man in mind. Zero plays a supporting role throughout X, drops in for a few moments in X2 for plot purposes (although some of your time is spent hunting his parts so Dr. Cain can rebuild him), then becomes a sometimes playable character in X3. I say sometimes because you can switch to Zero once per level, but he is unable to fight any bosses or mini-bosses. Throughout the first three games, there are hints that Zero has more of a backstory than we, the players, know. While this is never fully explained by the end of X3, the next three games shed quite a bit of light on his history and creation, and create yet another link between the X series and the original Mega Man series.

Like, perhaps he was created by some rival of Dr. Light's...

Like, perhaps he was created by some rival of Dr. Light’s…

The Gameplay:
Really, for Mega Man X, there were only a few minor tweaks to the Mega Man formula, but those tweaks are what makes X-X3 so much fun to play and escalates them to the elite status they enjoy in the gaming world. While the usual moves return (including the Mega Buster, but sans the slide), Mega Man X’s moveset was modified to give X a wall jump, meaning that those days of plummeting down sadistically placed holes are gone.  While this could have sucked the difficulty from the game, the designers instead implemented the wall jump to make the platforming that much more interesting. In addition to this, you can also locate well hidden Dr. Light capsules in each game that grant X a new ability for his helmet, body, legs, and buster. Most notably among these is the dash move, which allows X to dash for a short distance, and allows him to leap further (when leaping from a dash, of course). This move is absolutely required to complete the game, which is most likely why it’s impossible to miss the capsule that gives you this move in the first game, and why X has it by default in the sequels.

As per the formula, there are eight bosses that you get to pick from and, upon defeating the boss, you will receive their weapon. Then, you try to pick the next boss based on which is vulnerable to that weapon. Rinse and repeat. There are no true positives or negatives to this system. It worked for six entries on the NES, and works perfectly for the Mega Man X series. One wrinkle to the formula is that the bosses are no longer “Men,” but are instead, usually named after animals (Spark Mandrill being one of the exceptions). Chill Penguin, Flame Stag, and Volt Catfish replace the likes of Ice Man, Heat Man, and Elec Man. This is a minor change, but does help to further distinguish the X series from the original Mega Man series.

You gotta love the flame antlers.

You gotta love the flame antlers.

One thing that is lost with the addition of special moves such as the dash is the brutal difficulty that Mega Man is known for, though this isn’t a negative. Mega Man X is still a challenging game, but it becomes challenging by forcing you to navigate tricky platforming sections using those new moves. There’s not much of the twitch/reaction platforming that the made the original games so difficult. And I’m not saying that the original games were unfair or bad games (they’re some of my favorite games on the NES), just that the expanded moves in X-X3 allows for more room for error by allowing you more ways to recover from something like a missed jump. Also, because you can carry four subtanks (energy tanks) and find a heart in each stage (which increases your life gauge a bit), the game is made easier via exploration. I truly can’t imagine beating this game with only one subtank and a couple of the heart upgrades. Yes, you can rush through this game, but in doing so, you’re increasing the difficulty on yourself. Therefore, you can actually manipulate the game to be as difficult as you wish for it to be.

Although some people are just masochists.

Conclusions:
Mega Man X really just feels like a grown up Mega Man. Whereas Mega Man was always light-hearted and a bit cheesy, X feels much more serious. And, again, I’m not denigrating the original Mega Man series, but commenting on the plot narratives of the game. Dr. Wily never feels very sinister, but is more of a cartoon villain. Sigma actually does feel sinister, as do the other bosses. The story just feels much more serious, which I’m certain was a design choice, and a very good one as it allowed the X, X2, and X3 to set their own tone apart from the Mega Man series, which would see two more entries on the Super NES and PlayStation, respectively. The game also looks a bit darker, due in part, I imagine, to Capcom having more power to work with on the Super NES. The sprites are all very detailed, and the change in look when X gets upgrades from Dr. Light are a great touch.

Still, with any Mega Man game, the heart of the game is the platforming, and X never disappoints. As I pointed out above, the designers truly took X’s new moves and ran with them, creating some amazing and very memorable levels. Do the first three X games surpass the original series in quality? I’m not sure I’d say that exactly, but I will say that they do, at the very least, match those games. And saying that a game matches a Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3 in quality and design is high praise indeed.

Mega Man X Boss

Father & Son - Video Games

Let’s face it. There is still a large group of people, possibly even the majority of people, that, when hearing that we as adults still play and enjoy video games, dismiss us as if we are being infantile or childish in our interests. Despite the vast adult audience that exists now, many having grown up alongside gaming as a medium, it’s an activity that is dismissed as shallow. An activity that is the lowest form of entertainment. A pastime that lacks any meaning or any redeeming quality. It’s easy to let that prevailing thought get to you, but then you find something like this, left innocently enough in the comments section of a YouTube Video:

Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together – until he died, when i was just 6.

i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.

but once i did, i noticed something.

we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.

and once i started meddling around… i found a GHOST.

literaly.

you know, when a time race happens, that the fastest lap so far gets recorded as a ghost driver? yep, you guessed it – his ghost still rolls around the track today.

and so i played and played, and played, untill i was almost able to beat the ghost. until one day i got ahead of it, i surpassed it, and…

i stopped right in front of the finish line, just to ensure i wouldnt delete it.

Bliss.

You know what, I’ll admit to being a softy, especially when it comes to fathers and sons. This story hit me hard. I don’t know how true it is. I can’t imagine someone making it up. I see no motivation in doing so. Even if it’s not true, it still hits me hard, because it taps into another side of playing video games. It’s not childish. It’s not infantile. It’s not a pastime to be dismissed. It’s another way of making memories. Of times you’ll look back on and smile some day.

Video games were not my dad’s bag, by any stretch of the imagination. I remember the one time he actually played one though. It was the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on the NES. He played for about 10 minutes. To the best of my knowledge, he’s never touched a controller again. Still, I remember that one time he tried it. I also remember my mom playing Super Mario Brothers 3 with my brother and I. Beating Bowser only to play through again with an inventory full of P-wings. I can still recall our competitions in Kirby’s Avalanche, including one particular versus match that went on for nearly a half an hour (most matches only lasted about 5 minutes).

And we played through ever world. We were old school.

And we played through every world. We were old school.

There’s also the times with my brother. We’d take turns holding down the Right Arrow on controller 2 in Mega Man 3 to get the super jump and, eventually, invincibility. There were the sessions spent playing Separation Anxiety, racing against each other in Mario Kart 64 or Battle Cars. And no mention of this would be complete without throwing out our playthrough of Secret of Mana. If I remember correctly, he would always play as the Sprite Child. Of course, there’s also the time that I put him, my younger brother, who had at least a 6 inch and few pounds advantage on me, on the floor for turning off my Link to the Past game before I could save, because he was mad at me. You don’t screw with my game. Sh!t gets real when that happens.  😉

Games Memories

I hate this picture. Like it or not, memories actually can be made playing video games. It happens every day, and just because some people think it’s a waste of time, doesn’t mean that it is. Anything can be used to create memories between people. How many of us recall playing with friends through a Mario Party game, or Mortal Kombat, or Goldeneye (oh yeah…)? Just because those memories were made playing video games makes them no more or less valid than a good time had playing Monopoly, or maybe playing a family softball game. Time spent with those close to you cannot be dismissed simply because it was spent playing video games. That’s an extremely shallow and narrow minded view of people and how they choose to spend their time with friends and family.

I have a seven year old son, and there is no doubt in my mind that he’ll remember us playing frisbee or jumping on the trampoline when he’s older. But I firmly believe that he’ll also remember racing against me in Mario Kart Wii. He’ll remember the day he finally beat me, and it’ll mean something to him because he knows that I don’t just let him win. He’ll remember the time spent in Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, and all the times he had to come to me for advice while playing Ocarina of Time 3D. He’ll recall the wireless Pokemon battles, as well as the ones in Pokemon Stadium, the way he could usually best me in Super Smash Brothers Brawl and the time working together to finish the Subspace Emissary. Maybe he’ll even remember the times that, despite my hate of the game, I sat down and played coop Minecraft with him. Those thoughts will not be of how those were simply meaningless hours. They will be treasured memories of time spent with his dad, because in spite of what many people want to think, video games are so much more than just wasted time.

Secret of Evermore

Many moons ago, in the mid 1990’s, my brother and I were looking through the video games at Wal-Mart, as we always did when at Wal-Mart. In that day and age, they weren’t locked away behind glass cases, so we could pick up the cases and look them over. Between us, we had about $25 or so and noticed a game on sale for $19.99. After looking at the back, and talking it over, we decided that this was a game worth taking a chance on. The game in question was Secret of Evermore, and at the risk of ruining the ending of this wrap-up, it may have been the best impulse purchase I’ve ever made. Recently, I played through it again for the first time in quite a while, and can’t pass up the opportunity to proclaim its greatness to anyone that may read this blog.

The Set-up:
You are a young boy from Podunk, USA. Along with your dog, you enjoy outlandish adventure movies and exploring areas you’d probably be better off not exploring. But, that would make for a boring video game, so you, along with your trusty canine pal enter a deserted mansion and stumble upon an odd looking machine. After accidentally activating it, the two of you are transported to a strange space station, and your adventure begins.

Secret of Evermore also has an interesting back story that has nothing to do with the in-game story. Developed by a US studio owned by Squaresoft, Secret of Evermore was delivered to the US just about a month after Japan received Seiken Densetsu 3, the sequel to Secret of Mana. Secret of Mana had/has a massive fan base, and had been very well received upon release. When it became known that the sequel would not be localized outside of Japan, it was mistakenly assumed by many that Secret of Evermore was the reason for this. That Evermore’s development had redirected resources from the possible localization. This rumor lead to Evermore getting a bit of an undeserved backlash. Because of that, Secret of Evermore had a stigma attached to it, and, despite being a very good game, never became that hit it probably deserved to be.

That's a bit harsh.

That’s a bit harsh.

The Story:
After arriving in the space station, you are almost immediately escorted to an escape pod by a someone that appears to be a butler, and jettisoned to the mainland of Evermore. After crash landing, you find that your dog has changed forms (a running theme from region to region), now appearing large and wolf-like, a form much more fitting for the jungle you have crashed in. He locates a bone for you, which becomes your first weapon. After a raptor encounter (which can be either won or lost, with both outcomes advancing the story in the same way), you arrive in a village and are introduced to their leader, a young girl they call Fire Eyes.

Evermore Fire Eyes

Now, many years before the story I laid out above, a cut scene informs you that four other people used the machine you eventually stumble upon. Fire Eyes happens to be one of those people, her real name being Elizabeth. You learn from her that she has been there many years, not aging, and that the land she resides in reflects her personal interests in dinosaurs and such (another running theme). In an effort to get back home, she sends you to recover an alchemist (more on alchemy later) that may be of some help.

This is the general set-up for the entire story in Secret of Evermore. You’ll advance through what is known as Prehistoria, before finding yourself in another land, so on and so forth. Each of the regions has its own theme, giving you some variety as your progress through the story. Even with regions, you may encounter differing styles that further differentiate one area from another. For example, in the second region you visit, you will ultimately explore a desert, a Roman-esque city, an abandoned Greek style hall/temple, a pirate area, and a pyramid. It is important to understand that though there are only four regions, each region is quite large and will take some time to fully explore and complete. Likewise, the enemies you encounter will fit with the regions. No palette swapping here. With each new area you visit, you will encounter another of the residents of Podunk, and learn more of the experiment that sent them to Evermore, while also seeing cut scenes that hint that someone is working against you from behind a curtain. The story isn’t the deepest story in a video game, but it does flow well and gives you a reason to keep progressing through the game. The actual villain of the game is a bit of a surprise, but not exactly groundbreaking. I don’t mean to diminish the story at all, it is a good story, and is boosted quite a bit by some excellently written dialogue. The writing in Secret of Evermore is top notch, and filled with humor. You will not want to skip through the text in this game, because every conversation is filled with wit. The story is good, but the dialogue is excellent.

Dialogue Evermore

The Gameplay:
First of all, understand that you can switch between your main character and your dog at anytime. The dog has one attack (biting) which can be leveled up. Also, when not playing as your dog, you can have him search (via sniffing) by holding down the R shoulder button. He will often sniff out ingredients that can be used for alchemy (see below). This sounds very minor, but fully utilizing this one action can be extremely helpful in boosting your stock. It’s one of those small additions that actually adds quite a bit to the game’s charm and personality. There are a few sections that force you to play solo as the dog, but these only last a few minutes. Otherwise, I’d expect you to spend the majority of your time controlling the main character.

If you’ve played and are familiar with Secret of Mana, then you can skip the rest of this paragraph. Secret of Evermore was either built on the same engine as Mana, or on one that copied it. Like Mana, Evermore is an Action RPG, meaning that it contains traditional RPG elements such as magic and leveling, with battles occurring in real time, much like a Zelda title. Replacing the traditional RPG menu is a ring menu system. Essentially, a ring surrounds your character, and you navigate through options from weapons, magic, and equipment to a status screen and items. Along with leveling up your character (and your dog), weapons can be leveled up twice, allowing you to charge them up by holding the attack button, resulting in a stronger attack. Weapons come in three varieties: swords, axes, and spears (personal favorite), though bazookas do show up very late in the game. In each new region, you’ll receive a new variation of each of these. The same is true of equipment. You’ll be able to obtain armor for your body, arms, and head, along with a collar for your dog, with all being upgraded as you advance through the game.

The perspective of the game is the same as A Link to the Past or Final Fantasy VI. You’ll control your character using a top down view point. There truly is quite a bit of exploration to this game, even though the story itself is linear. You will be limited in where you can progress to (by way of blockages you don’t have the means to clear yet), but within those areas you’re confined to, there is still an openness and aspect of exploration. The areas are generally quite large, and beg to be fully examined. Just progressing from Point A to Point B will cause you to miss helpful items, armor, or spells. One early area, referred to as the Bugmuck, contains two spells and a charm (items that cause permanent status upgrades when obtained), all of which could be very easily missed if you refuse to stray from the beaten path. Virtually every area in the game functions in this same manner. Secret of Evermore may be linear, but in many ways, it’s only as linear as you choose to allow it to be.

Bugmuck

Now, a word about one of my favorite aspects of the game, Alchemy. This is where Evermore drastically differentiates itself from Mana, and many other RPGs, for that matter. In Evermore, magic is referred to as Alchemy. You’ll be taught formulas by the various citizens of Evermore, but you’ll need ingredients to use them. Each formula (or spell) will require two different ingredients, in varying amounts, to use. For example, the Flash formula requires 1 Wax and 2 Oil. Acid Rain is 1 Ash and 3 Water. As I pointed out earlier, ingredients can be bought and found by your dog. It’s a very simple system, but is ingenious at the same time, providing a very unique spin on the more traditional MP magic system. You are allowed to equip a maximum of nine formulas, with plenty of opportunities to swap other spells in and out of that list. There are also some formulas that can be missed, meaning you will need to search to find them all, though any required formulas will always be right within your path. There is no harm in missing one of the non-essential formulas, but the OCD in me always forced me to hunt them all down. Alchemy attacks will level up as you continue to use them, becoming stronger over time. Each one also has a unique animation, and though this could be a trick of my mind, I would swear that as you level some of them up, the resulting attack will appear bigger. I’ve never been able to truly confirm this, but it seems to be the case. The only criticism I have in regards to alchemy is that there are so many formulas available throughout the game that you’ll constantly want to be switching in new ones, often resulting in very few of them being leveled up. This is a very minor complaint though, as the formulas you receive later in the game are naturally stronger anyway.

Alchemy

Supplementing your formulas are items referred to as Call Beads. When used, these allow you to summon one of the four other citizens of Podunk and use one of their alchemy attacks (after you meet them in game, of course). These are some extremely strong attacks, but Call Beads aren’t very readily available, forcing you to pick your moments.

One other very noteworthy element of Evermore is the music. Be it the ambient noises of the jungle in Prehistoria or the dark, classical music of the Hall of Collosia, each piece of music stands out. The highest compliment I can pay Evermore’s soundtrack is that it is one of the very few that I would happily purchase on CD and listen to independent of the game. It truly is that well written and orchestrated.

Conclusions:
As I’ve stated, Secret of Evermore is extremely similar to Secret of Mana in many ways. As popular as Secret of Mana is though, I actually prefer Secret of Evermore. I feel like everything about Mana was sharpened for Evermore. The weapon system is more efficient in the leveling. The hit detection (a personal gripe I have with Mana) is much better in this game as chained hits from enemies are gone. Even the graphics appear sharper and more detailed.

But, this isn’t about Secret of Mana, this is about Secret of Evermore, and what I can say about Evermore is that it is an amazing game. It’s one of the very few games I can hold up as not having any discernible flaws, in my opinion of course. I hold this game in the same regard that I hold A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and Final Fantasy VI, just concentrating on Super NES games. I don’t believe that it’s an over exaggeration to place it alongside those games. It really is just that good of a game, and I hate that it was hampered by a falsehood regarding it’s development.

This game will always be linked to the Mana series of games, however, and not just because it shares a similar name with the first Super NES entry. They really are sibling games, similar in so many ways. The majority of game players will hold up Secret of Mana as the superior game, and it will always have that legacy, but in my personal opinion, as good of a game as Secret of Mana is, it just seems to me that Mana was used as a template, but all the screws were tightened up, giving us an almost perfect game in Secret of Evermore.

And speaking of Final Fantasy games...

And speaking of Final Fantasy games…

Franchises

Passed Over, but not Forgotten: Lego Series, Rock Band, Resident Evil, Age of Empires, Bioshock, Dead Space, Donkey Kong Country, Batman Arkham Series

FFXII8. Final Fantasy
I love the story and name inspiration behind the original Final Fantasy on the NES. There is surely no way the developers could have imagined that the game they assumed would be their last would spawn a series of games spanning six generations of consoles and regularly sell in the millions of copies. The fact that there are regular debates over the best in the series and countless lists ranking each one is testament to the passion that still exists among the fan base. It is also unique that each entry is tucked inside it’s own universe, allowing the developers to explore new themes without restrictions, while also making sequels to a particular entry if they so desire.

R&C7. Ratchet & Clank
By the time I tried my first Ratchet & Clank game, three entries had already been released. While I had missed three amazing games, this meant that once I did find out just how great this series was, I had multiple games to keep me occupied. Ratchet & Clank combines third person shooter mechanics with clever platforming to produce both a unique and wonderfully fun game to play. In addition to spot on level design, the multiple weapons at your disposal means there is almost always something new to try out. Finishing the package is the writing. Ratchet & Clank has some of the funniest dialog I’ve ever encountered in a game, spoken by a cast of characters that I dare anyone not to laugh at. I only hope I can secure a PS3 soon so I can discover the sequels there that I’ve yet to play.

Mega Man6. Mega Man/Mega Man X
Initially, I was going to separate these two franchises, but I feel that the play style and mechanics were so similar that it made no sense to split them up. The original Mega Man series on the NES defined tight platforming and challenging, yet fair, level design. Both the ability to choose your next level and take the power of a defeated boss were groundbreaking when introduced. With the X series, Capcom advanced the plot and introduced a new Mega Man capable of more fluid and quick movements, while staying true to the roots of the franchise with the ability to pick your next foe as well as take their power upon their defeat. While the X series made Mega Man X easier to control in many ways, the levels were also designed accordingly, meaning that the challenge and tightness remained, combined perfectly with X’s new move set.

Pokemon5. Pokemon
Maybe it’s the slight touch of OCD I suspect I have, but Pokemon pulled me in after only a few minutes of play in Pokemon Red. The premise is amazingly simple. Capture wild monsters, then use them to fight other wild monsters, all the while exploiting a rock/paper/scissors weakness cycle based on each Pokemon type. Yet, that simple set-up is extremely deep once you advance further into the game. Attempting to “Catch ’em all” is only part of the appeal. Building the perfect team and taking on the Elite Four (no easy task) becomes quite a challenge in and of itself. There is a reason that this series still moves millions and can be counted on to move systems, and that reason is a simple premise combined with exceedingly deep gameplay.

Mario World4. Super Mario
I think that, as more Mario titles are released, it’s easy to forget just how well each of these games are made. Even the original, while dated, is still playable and fun today. The same can be said of each entry that has spanned Nintendo’s consoles. From Super Mario Brothers 3 to Super Mario World to Super Mario Galaxy, the Super Mario series can always be counted on to be at the peak of platforming games. Each game starts out easy enough, with levels best described as a cakewalk, but soon enough throw clever gameplay twists and tricky level design at you on a regular basis. Whether you’re playing the relatively open levels of Super Mario Galaxy, the left to right design of New Super Mario Brothers U, or the linear 3D designed levels of Super Mario 3D World, each game has its own quirks and feel while still managing to maintain a sense of familiarity from past games. No easy task considering how many excellent Mario games Nintendo has produced since that first entry so many years ago.

Twilight Princess3. The Legend of Zelda
There’s not much left to say about The Legend of Zelda that hasn’t already been said. I can think of no other franchise that consistently delivers the extreme high quality that Nintendo delivers with this series. Whether it’s the first two games on the NES system or the more recent Wii entry, whose story sets the beginning of the land of Hyrule as well as series antagonist, Ganon, each game stays true to the series while also telling its own story with its own unique mechanics and attributes. I can also think of no other franchise in gaming that creates such anticipation and rumors regarding its next entry, be it the art style (realistic or cel shaded), the story, or what will set it apart from previous entries. The reason for such anticipation is simple, the series has yet to disappoint or fail to deliver. Until that time happens (and I doubt it ever will), we’ll take each new Zelda title with joy and immediately begin anticipating what will come next.

Castlevania2. Castlevania
I’m hard pressed to say what it is about the Castlevania series that so appeals to me, but when I was compiling this list I had no question about placing it this high. Much like the Zelda series above, Castlevania consistently delivers high quality with each new game. While the game style has evolved over time from level based platformers to open world exploration titles to 3D environments, each game continues the tale of the Belmonts and their allies always working to take down Dracula and his minions. This story, while sometimes a bit convoluted, has always been one of my favorite aspects of Castlevania. Taken as a whole, it chronicles multiple generations of the same family working to continue their ancestors work. While I’m sure that Konami didn’t have this entire story mapped out from the beginning, they have done well to connect and continue the narrative with each successive entry. Along with the story, the core gameplay and combat are stellar as well, and have remained mostly unchanged as time has passed. Whether it be with a whip, sword, or magic, taking down Dracula feels just as good now as it did in the very first Castlevania.

Metroid Prime1. Metroid
Part of the reason I love the more recent Castlevania titles is the fact that they have taken on the Metroid open world style of play. Still, as good as those games are, no game perfects the exploration aspect of a game the way that Metroid has. Seeing ledges and doors that you can’t yet get to with your current abilities only drives you harder to find the necessary upgrades to find out what lies in those inaccessible areas. Metroid has also perfected the feeling of being alone and out-numbered, yet never overwhelmed, on a strange, alien planet, or in a space station. I also think that of all the games I’ve listed, Metroid took the biggest risk by shifting from a side-scrolling style to an FPS layout, yet despite how wrong that could have gone, it resulted in one the best games ever developed in Metroid Prime, not to mention the two stellar sequels that followed. Like many other games, I can detail the aspects of Metroid that I enjoy, but I can’t put into words just how much joy I get from this franchise. I just know that even Other M, which I consider the weakest entry, can still give me enjoyment. So, for the reasons I’ve listed and others I can’t, Metroid is my #1 gaming franchise.