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Column: Parallax Memories

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Captain Novolin

May 15, 2007 5:08 PM |

Captain Novolin ['Parallax Memories' is a (trying to be more) regular column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column features the not so fabulous Captain Novolin for the SNES.]

Captain Novolin is a game with the lofty goal of teaching people about diabetes. It was developed by Sculptured Software (developers of such stunning games as: Raid Over Moscow and Chavez 2), published by Raya Systems in 1992 on the Super Nintendo, and funded by Novo Nordisk. Diabetes is a disease in which the beta cells of the pancreas are unable to produce insulin to prevent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

This disease affects at least 171 million people world wide, and it's estimated that one of three Americans born after 2000 will develop diabetes. Taking on such a prospect in the early age of gaming would probably have been thought of as commendable.

I guess that this game could be categorized as a "serious game," though it would be better defined as edutainment because it only uses the game as an excuse to teach people something. Captain Novolin isn't as effective a game that, oh say, Oregon Trail is (where I first learned what diphtheria was) because it's not really all that interesting to play.

Unfortunately the game really isn't all that serious either. In this insane world Captain Novolin, the only super hero available to stop the evil Blubberman and rescue the Mayor, has diabetes. Great super villains know how best to exploit the weakness of a super hero, and like Lex Luthor using kryptonite on Superman, Blubberman turns all his henchmen into junk food. At least with Captain Novolin there's something to be said for learning about the human condition of living with diabetes through the metaphor of gameplay.

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – On the Ball

May 1, 2007 11:36 AM |

OtB1.bmp ['Parallax Memories' is a (trying to be more) regular column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column features legendary developer Taito’s On the Ball for the SNES.]

Mode 7 has always reminded me of early CGI in film: it looks crappy a few years later and it's a noticeable gimmick at the time of release. Sometimes it's not so bad, or even a forgivable experiment for the time, but mostly Mode 7 seemed like a complete waste in the games that used it. Recently replaying games like Contra III and Final Fantasy 6 (3 for the SNES) just solidifies this feeling for me. On the Ball has possibly one of the best uses of this gimmick, though.

After constant (read also: incessant) prodding from a friend that I should play On the Ball I finally caved in and bought it around the time that I started this column. It's the home equivalent of the arcade title Cameltry, developed by Taito. The SNES version was released in November of 1992, some three years after the arcade counterpart.

OtB1.bmpFeelings

When I first popped the game into my SNES I was greeted with a training course that got me indoctrinated quickly. The game is very abstract, considering that it could be summed up by saying that you guide a ball through a course with obstacles.

It's more than just that, though, it's a physics game all about momentum and trajectory (though, that's too simple on the other end of the scale). The closest I could come to accurately describing the game is that it's like taking a pachinko machine and spinning it freely to try to navigate the ball through a maze.

The ball is constantly falling and the player is always rotating. Sitting still will run out the ongoing clock and make later levels nearly impossible to finish. That's the key - to be constantly turning, twisting, and navigating the world around the ball. The player isn't doing much with the ball outside of making it jump or go faster: he's keeping the the ball's momentum by controlling the outside forces.

I kept playing the game for a while when I first got it. I really enjoyed the challenge and arcade format of the game, but slowly the feeling set in. The feeling is much like sitting in a room with paint drying for too long: nausea. So ultimately I can't play this game that I enjoy so much, because after about fifteen to twenty minutes I want to return my last meal from my stomach to a porcelain dish.

OtB1.bmpEvolution

On par with the times, On the Ball is a bit of a downgrade from the Taito F2 arcade board hardware that Cameltry ran on in both the video and audio department. The music retains a unique and otherworldly quality, while the sound effects are suitable if not a bit bland. The visuals aren't honestly that bad, but this can mainly be chalked up to their general simplicity. It works well on the SNES even if it has an abstract quality from the previous generation.

Aside from some minor downgrades, the game did receive something far more important in the upgrade department: rather than the 20 levels for the arcade, the SNES port has 100. It makes the game much more suitable for home play, while also expanding on the already excellent level design and challenge of all the original levels.

On the Ball (well more specifically Cameltry) received a sequel on the DS titled Mawashite Koron. The game is mostly the same mechanically, with the addition of touch screen controls and a very abuseable damage button. Surprisingly the game is listed on the Nintendo US website and also has an ESRB rating. Unfortunately I doubt it will ever actually get released.

Some people consider Kororinpa (subtitled Marble Mania in the US) for the Wii a spiritual sequel to the Cameltry series in 3D, and it just so happens to also be very excellent. And just in case you've been living under a rock and really love On the Ball, the U.S. is going to finally get the Taito Legends 2 collection on the PS2, which will contain the original arcade Cameltry, this month.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, Entdepot, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Questions

April 9, 2007 8:37 PM |

wiivc.jpg ['Parallax Memories' is a (not-so) regular column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column asks where you want the column to go?]

What excuse can I make up for the tardiness of this column? I really can't think of too good of one, so I'll just pretend like I've been busy. To add insult to injury, if you're one of those three people who've been looking forward to the column's return, well, this isn't even a proper column!

Honestly, I'm looking for some help and perspective from the readership here. Great sites are built on their community, and this one is no different.

Since my last column something huge has happen: the Wii came out. Now the Virtual Console has shifted the way I was going to look at this column. Since Nintendo now feeds its users new 16 bit (and other) era games I'm not sure if I should continue to look at the games of the early nineties in a general perspective, or focus in on what has recently appeared on the Virtual Console.

Now, there's no way I could buy everything that comes out (nor would I want to), and I wouldn't be doing any kind of standard review on them. I would just continue the column as it's been going but just limit the content to recent or overall virtual console releases with the occasional distraction.

So if you have any input on what direction you would like to this column go, let me know in the comment field.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Actraiser

November 7, 2006 6:09 PM |

ACTRAISER!!!['Parallax Memories' is a regular column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Enix's 1990 Actraiser]

Actraiser can be broken up into action and simulation, and the name comes from what it does, not what it is. Using this column as an excellent excuse to purchase games that I have had interest in I picked it up on a whim at a used game store while visiting some friends in Louisiana. This was at least six months ago and between some major moving and job transitioning I put it on the back of a mental list of things to play.

While sitting around this weekend, attempting to come up with a game or item for this column I got a phone call from a friend who demanded I write about Actraiser (he also told me I'd probably get fired if I didn't mention how great the music is). After about an hour with the game I had decided that he had a pretty good idea here. Even though I had the box for the game, I was missing the manual. After the introduction where I'm told that "The Master" needs to clear the lands so that they are safe for the village I was presented with quite a few options and not a whole lot of instruction. I picked "fight monsters" and was asked if I was sure, then proceeded to get thrown into what struck me as fairly standard side-scrolling sword play.

actraiser1.gifAct

The game is divided up so that each time you get to a new area you have to defeat a boss. Defeating them will make the land habitable for people. Once the people have inhabited the land they will usually uncover some evil creature that will result in another boss fight. The side-scrolling levels entail a fairly standard fair of fantasy characters mixed with a bit of demonology. The settings for the levels range from exceptionally generic to very beautiful.

Each level is thematic to the regions of the world that the towns are located, ranging from forests to snow-covered mountains. For a game released in 1990 it's good, and at worst, on par with contemporary levels of design. It's too bad that this level of design has been so heavily copied and retread that now it just seems old hat.There are little things that keep it fresh even after all this time. One of the touches that I liked best is that when you land after a jump the sprite will crouch for a brief moment and can be used to quickly dodge an attack or make a low attack. It's unfortunate that the rest of the action isn't as inspired. Luckily, the other half of the game is comprised of a pseudo-SimCity with its own unique flair. The action sections are mostly there to break up the pace and keep things going at a very palatable rate.

actraiser2.jpgRaise

After defeating the initial boss the game opens each town up for the simulation half of the game (although it encompasses much more of your time than that action half). This is the section that got me thinking that I may not be able to play it without a manual after all. I was wrong, though; the menus (while entirely too simplistic) are well laid out and not used nearly as often as one with a knowledge of Sim games would expect. As "The Master" you pilot an angel who looks like Cupid while creating miracles and natural disasters to help the townspeople inhabit the area. The kinds of miracles you must perform range from city to city, and all are fairly simple tasks usually involving clearing grounds from obstructions.

The rest of the time, while the civilians are expanding the city, you mostly fly around in a free roaming shooter environment. Assorted enemies will come out of monster lairs and try to wreak havoc on the denizens of the current town and your job is to protect them with cupid's trusty bow and arrow. Unfortunately this aspect of the game is a bit top heavy. You do gain levels as the world's population increases, but when you start building a town you're at your weakest, and the enemies at their most copious. When you run out of health Cupid can no longer defend the cities with his arrows and you're left to just watch as they get destroyed. As the town expands the people will close up the monster lairs. Fewer enemies will appear until the town is cleared of them. This is the point where you will have to go back and defeat some new unearthed evil in side-scrolling sword play mode, and the circle is complete. Return to your flying fortress and you will do the same for all of the towns until the land is cleared of all evils and your tarnished name is cleared.

actraiser3.jpgActraising

I once heard that the platforming sections are what make Actraiser great, but those really can't stand on their own. I've read claims that the simulation mode is what makes the game special because the action half is so average. Neither is the case. It is the cohesion of both elements that really makes the game so special and why it's included on Gamespot's 2003 Greatest Games of All Time list. It's like Ying and Yang, Adam and Eve, Romeo and... OK, I'll stop the duality list. To say that either element on its own could stand alone is a bold and false statement. Enix tempted fate a few years later with Actraiser 2 and completely omitted the simulation half of the game. It misses the point of what made Actraiser, and ultimately leaves the player with the impression of an average game. While I may try to argue my taste in games, it will take someone with true blind devotion to argue that Actraiser would still be great in parts rather than the sum of its whole.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – The Brawler

October 24, 2006 11:57 PM |

Final Fight CD Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Capcom and Sega's Brawlers: Final Fight and Streets of Rage!]

I can't, in this column, talk about God Hand (or any other excellent current game), so I figured I may as well discuss its roots. In the early nineties, brawlers (aka beat-'em-ups or fighters) weren't new; they were a heavily copied formula. Of all of them, two stand out as notable because they were major selling points in what was, at that time, a "next-generation" console war. These games were Streets of Rage for the Genesis (titled Bare Knuckle in Japan) and Final Fight for the SNES.

What these games had was the ability to punch, kick, and hit punks, rockers, and ne'er-do-wells in the face, and other body parts. The primal and visceral act of pummeling someone, especially a bad guy, cannot be matched by jumping on their heads or selecting from menus. Even adding a sword as a permanent weapon completely changes the feel of the attack in these games. That instinctive action of clenching your hand into a fist and tenderizing a body part can only be properly evoked by a direct button hit that brings your rage to life on the screen. Doing this to twenty-five baddies in about one minute only increases the sensation.

ffight.pngFIGHT!

Brawlers are instantly classifiable as cheesy. They're entrenched in (debatably) bad machismo action films from the eighties and late seventies, with a just hint of anime influence. No one attempts to justify why the President was captured or whether you are a bad enough dude to get him back. These are just accepted at face value and have gone into videogame (and film) history as what some people like to call "campy" or even "corny." The game puts you into the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, and Sonny Chiba. We’re not in high-brow territory here.

And what sets Final Fight and Streets of Rage apart is … well, honestly not that much. But they are of the best in the genre, specifically the best of that era. Both have these absolutely ridiculous stories (only heightened by the full voice acting for the Sega-developed Final Fight CD), each one synthesizing about fifteen action flicks. In Final Fight, the mayor's daughter is kidnapped by the evil gang that Mayor Haggar (who is one of the playable characters, mind you) refused to "play ball" with. Streets of Rage involves a group of vigilantes who want to take back the streets from crime that has gone so far as to corrupt even the local police.

Both games have you finding food in garbage cans, fighting punks with outrageous clothing and hairstyles, and temporarily using improvised weapons to get the job done faster. The games also shared the same amount of releases per system, a trilogy for each. There was obviously some brawler-specific competition going on between Sega and Nintendo, even if Final Fight wasn’t a Nintendo property. As the series progressed, they started to come into their own a little more. FF stayed truer to its original form and remained more closely based in reality for setting and enemies. SoR, on the other hand, grew more and more ridiculous. Though by this time these trilogies and completed, most people had already chosen their console of choice, and it was probably made based on Sonic and Mario more than Haggar and Axel.

streets_of_rage_3.gif
Let's Rock!

Slowly, games became more self-aware. They started to make fun of their earlier days, when they were still gaining health from turkeys found in back-alley garbage cans. With the introduction of 3-D, characters became "more realistic," and the Uncanny Valley began separating them further from our empathic desire to feel fist on flesh like we used to. In Final Fight and Streets of Rage, the brawler was at the top of its game; what happen to us gamers to make us stray from it?

It'd be hard to pin down what brawlers did to make people like them less; it's easier to point out what they didn’t do. When most gamers' tastes were changing with in the current and "next" generations, brawlers were short, repetitive, uninspired, clichéd, and corny. Or at least that’s what reviewers were saying they were after their receptive peak. So it's a real shame that when a company decides to bring this kind of game back and fix the genre's problems (well, not the clichéd and corny parts, but those are welcome to stay) with God Hand that many people are going to over look it, too.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Ghouls, Ghosts, and Goblins

October 10, 2006 7:12 PM |

SuperFami Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins series - and was coincidentally submitted at the same time as the GnG-related GameSetCompetition!]

Ghosts ‘n Goblins or Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, it doesn’t really matter what you call the game (if you can even remember which version has which names): GnG seem to hate you so much you will probably respond with curses and thrown controllers. After recently receiving a copy of Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins I figured it would be best to make sure I was still up to snuff on the older versions of the game. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone I thought I would turn my skill test into something useful here, even if it does include an 8bit game.

The first game in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins lineage was released in 1985 for the arcade. In Japanese the game carried the title of Makaimura which means “Demon Village World.” (All subsequent games carried a modifier to this: “Dai” meaning great, “Chō” meaning ultimate, and “Goku” meaning extreme. Most likely this makes it easier to talk about with your friends and cuts down on confusion in Japan.) The main character is Sir Arthur whose love, the princess Prin-Prin, was stolen from him (which oddly enough happens while having a picnic with her in his boxer-briefs). He now must go into the Ghoul Realm and save her.

Juxtaposition is one of the keys of the game. Light hearted humor mixed with demonic and satanic themes. Strict gameplay mixed with random enemy spawning. Boxers under a coat of armor. The game really sticks it too you with mixed messages, and one of the things I set out to find is why I keep playing these games and enjoy them so.

[Click through for more.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Popful Mail

September 26, 2006 6:10 PM |

SuperFami Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Falcom's Popful Mail]

Funny story. Once I associated the company name Working Designs completely with Japanese Style RPGs. The first time I heard about Popful Mail it was introduced to me as that “new game from Working Designs,” and my brain instantly came up with an RPG about a mail delivery service. Warning: This game involves no delivering or receiving of any mail. I was so wrong it hurts. Popful Mail is the main character’s name. It is obviously just some kind of mammary joke, and this time it wasn’t Vic Ireland making it.

popful-tg16.pngReady for Delivery

While there were many version of Popful on many systems the only version of the game to get released in the US was for the Sega CD. The game was originally developed by Falcom, who is most well known for their Ys series of games. The first version of the game was released for the PC-8801, a Japanese home computer. That version's style of the game was ported over to the PCE Duo. They were released in '91 and '94 respectively. These versions of the game play most like Wanderer’s From Ys and the Xanadu series of games (which weren’t released in the US, but Faxanadu, which was loosely related to it, was).

The next version of the game was for the Sega CD and released in 1994 as well. This version was programmed by Sega instead of Falcom and the game takes a major turn in the gameplay department. This is also the version that Working Designs brought over to the US. No longer playing like “bumper-car Zelda 2” the game is much more like a traditional platformer. The story is mostly the same as the original games, and the structure and levels are very similar, but because of the new play method you have much more control over your actions and thus the entire game feels quite different.

popful-segacd.pngLater in 1994, Falcom tried their hand at a similar task to what Sega accomplished by turning Popful Mail into a more traditional platformer for the Super Famicom. This version, unfortunately, is the weakest of the lot. The controls aren’t quite right, the response of the enemies is a little off, and overall the game has been reorganized. While the story remains mostly the same it doesn’t have the impact of the Duo and SCD versions. Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself though, so let’s digress back to some basic explanations.

Nut's a Crackin'

The game is a light-hearted tale of a bounty hunter getting into many misadventures. The story follows a pretty clichéd and silly plot that sees the hero team up with a couple of outcast characters while chasing enemies like Nuts Cracker and Muttonhead. All versions of the game have full motion cutscenes, but as you could guess the CD format of the Duo and SCD opens those up to voice acting. Also, considering that the cutscenes were all done using in engine sprites and sounds, it is a very impressive technical feat when seen it in motion. While the SCD cutscenes can’t produce as many colors it still does an excellent job in the delivery.

popful-snes.pngAll the games are good in their own right, but I prefer the Sega CD version. The US version is even a slightly different version than the MegaCD version in Japan. While Vic and company are up to their normal tricks of loose localization within the story, the Working Designs team also decided that the game was too easy in its original form. Now only three hits will kill you and the amount of invincibility you have after receiving a blow is quite short. While they may have made it a little more difficult than necessary it is a nice compromise from the fairly easy difficulty of the Japanese version.

Popful Mail was a very successful series in Japan. The game went on to spawn a large amount of followers with quite a few doujinshi being released for the series. Popful also received a five part series of radio dramas titled “Paradise.” These went as far as to write in an alternate realm where there is an evil/dark version of all the characters in the original game, and many other silly clichéd fantasy story elements. If you haven’t played any of the Popful Mail games I recommend that you track them down. I promise that you won’t be delivering mail or navigating menus.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter (which just had a new issue released!), an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Live A Live

September 12, 2006 5:54 AM |

SuperFami Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Squaresoft’s Live A Live]

When I initially started this column I made up a list of the best games from the 16bit era, and asked some friends to make up their own. I have since thrown that out the window. Most of the games considered “best” from that time are too sterile, too safe. Most are looked at through the rosy-colored glasses of nostalgia. Great games sometimes aren’t the best: they took risks.

The results varied from good concepts and bad controls to interesting mechanics with poor presentation, but they were never perfect. Some of these are what we now refer to as ahead of their time (which is really just an excuse for why we ignored them in the first place). But what happens when one of the most routine game creators decides to go a little crazy? Live A Live.

Western TruthAfter Squaresoft had released the three (or four) games that they would be most remembered for on the Super Famicom, a quirky little title appeared in Japan, but never made it to the outside world. While the basics remained a Role Playing Game, the story is broken up into a sort of novella format. The game contains nine unique scenarios that initially have no apparent connection to each other, and have varying play mechanics.

Even though the game is broken up into different stories, the divide is greater than just the main character. The stories range from primitive man, through old west and feudal Japan, all the way to a science fiction future. The game encompasses almost every range of time that is popular with modern fiction. Because of the theme it was very easy to have different popular manga artists do the character designs and write the stories for each chapter (the most popular of which, Yoshihide Fujiwara, went on to create and illustrate the Dragon Quest manga).

To Tell a Tale

Square CaptainsI believe the stories are the focus of the game over everything else. While there is a generic grid based battle system that’s fairly malleable, but not really anything special, the combat isn’t the main focus. The battles range from a mild action to tactical RPG in style depending on the story, but never neatly fitting into any category. In one scenario, there is an arcade game called Captain Square that is designed to train you in the basics of the fight mechanics (I recommend playing “Mechanical Heart” first to get some time in training, though it is completely ignorable).

In “Mechanical Heart” the only combat for the entire level is at the very end. My small affection for robots spurred me to try this chapter first and it drove home that the game wanted to tell a story - nine of them, really. Each chapter is fairly short, and the overall game is a nice length if you have gotten to the point in your life that you can no longer devote 40+ hours to a single title.

Some of the stories are charming, others involve double crosses and revenge, and some even offer a little suspense. Often the game will leave you with little information on where to go or what to do to progress the story, but even then reflecting on the story will usually lead you to a clue.

Giant Koi!The Great Divide

Many games are lacking in the story-telling department. Even recently such developers as David Jaffe have expressed their lack of interest in story. What separates most games from film is their length, as many will require ten or more hours of your time to get a story that is paper thin and offers little reward. Compared to novels, the modern RPG doesn’t have a leg to stand on. While the time lengths involved may be similar for completing a large novel as to an RPG, the depth of characters and plot are rarely comparable.

Live A Live tries to break away, and tell an engaging story in a short amount of time. Comparable to a film, and with better quality than most RPGs (though we aren’t talking masterpiece theatre here) Live A Live will engage you for each chapter despite it’s brevity. One of the touches that I enjoyed most was in the “Mechanical Heart” chapter, where you are given the opportunity to pull a lever while the other characters are talking in an air lock compartment. The overwhelming urge to pull the lever took control and I did it; the main characters were then sucked into space and the chapter ended.

Now, again, none of these stories are amazingly written. Some are heavily influenced by pop culture, and pale in comparison to outside contemporaries. But the game tried, and it was ahead of its time. Though we haven’t seen anything quite like it (Eternal Darkness comes to mind), I don’t think it will be too long before we start to see more chapter based, story heavy, structures in games soon. The translation of the ROM was done by Gideon Zhi of Aeon Genesis, and it is an admirable job considering it was completed in about two months. Pick it up and give it a shot - it probably won’t blow you away, but it may just open your eyes.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – The B-Fighters

August 29, 2006 12:21 AM |

And then there was blood['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles some not-so-great fighting games]

Mortal Kombat

You can lie to yourself all you want, but it’s a fact that many of the fighting games for the Genesis and Super Nintendo were terrible and, at best, gimmicky. Others were only poor ports of good arcade games. For the sake of simplicity I am just going to focus on the Genesis and try stay away from honestly good fighting games. Looking back on the 90’s and it’s fighting game line up compared to now, we are really only slightly better off with girls that kick high.

It is probably best to begin with what started a trend of mediocre fighting games with style over substance: Mortal Kombat. The release of this game on home consoles was probably one of the largest videogame-related media events since The Wizard was released. Videogame critics were quick to speak up about how this trash would ruin our children. Because of the "realistic" violence Joe Lieberman was brought into the forefront as an upholder of public morality. I’m pretty sure that all it did was sell more games.

Using digitized people and borrowing many elements from the seminal Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat won its way into many people’s hearts with excessive and unrealistic gore. Blood would glob out of the characters with as little as a slap to the face. Heads could be rent from their torso, spinal column included. It was fantastic. The Genesis port was fairly competent and faithful to the original: I played it to death. Though the controversy over the game caused the game to be released without blood there was a code for the Genesis version which would unlock it, a code almost as infamous as the Konami Code.

For the record I turned out to be fairly balanced person and have never once tried to reproduce an act in the game other than for comedic effect.

prage.gifPrimal Rage

Atari followed suit shortly thereafter with Primal Rage. The game pitted Draconian gods against each other for the control of Urth. Rather than use live-action digitized humans this game went with clay figures. PR feels just as cheesy as MK does and goes even further for an attempt to gross out - or play up to - immature audiences. You fight to a gory death while occasionally gobbling up or tossing human worshipers at your feet. The brutality ranged from stabbings to crushing, and one of the gods could even melt the flesh off enemies with acidic urine in his "golden shower" fatality.

On the Genesis the game lost little of its “charm.” As to be expected from a port to an under-powered system the game doesn’t look or sound as nice as the original. But aside from a few missing combos (for no apparent reason) the rest of the game is pretty much intact: even all the censored items which were removed from the SNES version. Yet Primal Rage is not the end of these inadequate games.

Eternal Champions

Eternal Champions was the first game for the Genesis where I finally thought I had an excuse to buy a 6-button controller. I spent a good amount of my time playing vs. fighting games in the arcades, so I didn’t need a 6-button controller for Street Fighter II (nor a copy of the game itself really), but Eternal Champions was something new, and ultimately even more of the same.

echamptions.gifBuying into the hype I got the game and the controller but shortly thereafter gave up on fighting games in general for a while. While EC was a decent game and controlled well it was just jumping on the bandwagon of overly violent games. The only unique quality of the game is the “overkills” (stage specific fatalities), but even that had been in other games, just not to the same extent. Seeing these overkills usually involved trying to find them with your friends. You have to have an opponent land on the ground in a very specific spot when they die. Sometimes it was fairly obvious where this was to happen, where others it was nearly impossible to land right. The overkills ranged from drive-by shootings to chest explosions resulting in the outpouring of bowels.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these games a lot when they came out. I would spend many summer days and weekend hours playing the games with friends. Many times my friends would come over and I would end up playing while they went off to go fishing, or what ever it was that normal kids ended up doing. But they just don’t hold up well at all.

When I started to collect arcade cabinets for my game room a few years back I managed to get a Primal Rage cabinet exceptionally cheap. I tried to rekindle the love for these b-movie games with some friends. We made a party of sorts out of it: pizza, beer, and women (well, my wife at the least). After a good hour (or less) of laughs and drunken hilarity the thrill wore off, the games showed just what they were: bad. In a half-hearted attempt to see if the console ports were somehow better than the arcade originals I revisited many of my favorites (with other baddies not mentioned such as TMNT:Tournament Fighter and Cyborg Justice). The experiment was a failure and, in retrospect, I find it hard to believe that we thought of these as looking real or even close at one point. The memories remain and the fight goes on. 2D fighters are all but extinct now and many of these games are the reason why. Strangely enough Mortal Kombat is coming up on its possible "final game," I can only hope that really is true.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Castlevania: Bloodlines

August 15, 2006 1:42 PM |

The Not as Great USA cover art['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Konami’s 1994 game: Castlevania Bloodlines]

In the Family

The Genesis Castlevania is called Bloodlines. If you had a Mega Drive it would have been called either The New Generation (PAL) or Vampire Killer (JPN). The game is Konami’s only Castlevania title for a Sega console, and was their most original up to that time. Because the game was designed on a secondary console, Konami’s designers let their hair down and changed the standard platform-jumping, vampire-slaying, and black-and-white-horror-film formula.

Bloodlines’ story attempts to bridge a gap in the canon. Where the series previously had only a loose connection to the novel by Bram Stoker, there is now a direct connection with Dracula. The game has two selectable characters: John Morris, wielder of the Vampire Killer whip; and Eric Lecarde, wielder of the Alucarde Spear. If you are unfamiliar with the novel, Quincy Morris is the American who helps Van Helsing defeat Dracula and is killed by Gypsies during the final confrontation in Transylvania. John is the son of Quincy and a descendant of the Belmont family, and he keeps the bloodline going as owner of the Vampire Killer. Eric is his friend who seeks revenge for the death of his girlfriend. The Countess Elizabeth Bartley wants to resurrect her uncle, Dracula, and in her attempt starts World War I. (Yes, Castlevania: Bloodlines has World War I skeletons with helmets—let’s just get that out of the way.) Eric and John travel Europe to defeat her before she can resurrect Dracula.

Skeletons!European Vacation

I know that is more background than I normally give, but for a Castlevania game it’s quite unique. Many Castlevanias retell the first game, and few are set outside of Dracula’s castle. But almost all of Bloodlines takes place outside of the castle and its estate, and the level variation sets Bloodlines apart. It was one of the last action-style Castlevanias (before they became Metroidvanias), and Konami expanded greatly on what had been considered a stale formula. The levels range from an homage to the original title to a trip up the slanted Leaning Tower of Pisa. Some levels also have slight variations depending on which character you have chosen.

The largest difference from previous games is Eric Lecarde, the Spear toting sidekick. Eric is implemented very well, and makes the game both easier and slightly more challenging. His spear attack is versatile, fast, and accurate, making enemy disposal fluid and painless. In contrast, John’s whip is still the same as in previous incarnations—slow and plodding.

Bloody FranceIgavania

Bloodlines was the goriest game in the series at that time. When you whip a zombie, his upper torso is knocked off and his lower torso falls over, spilling his blood and guts. Killing a crow will leave it twitching on the ground before it disappears. The Hellhound sub-boss explodes sending blood, flesh, and gore flying everywhere. And this is only the first level. Unfortunately, if you played the European version of the game, you probably don't remember it this way. The PAL version is heavily censored, the zombies are green, there is less gore, and the pool of blood in the intro screen was changed to a pool of water.

Bloodlines symbolized change for Castlevania. Almost every aspect of the series was changed while preserving the mechanics and horror-movie feel. Three years later, two-dimensional Castlevania got another overhaul with Symphony of the Night, which was then carried on to the Gameboy Advance and into the Nintendo DS, by Koji Igarashi, the current caretaker of the series. Igarashi's next game will be a sequel to Castlevania: Bloodlines. Perhaps this means Castlevania is in need of a change once again.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]