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Column: Green And Black Attack

COLUMN: 'Green and Black Attack' – Nemesis II

March 1, 2007 5:25 AM |

Title Screenf['Green and Black Attack' is a "regular" column by James Edwards taking a reflective look at Nintendo's original portable workhorse, the Game Boy. This week, we blast off into space and sanction surreal aliens in Konami's Nemesis II.]

Monsters In My Pocket

As the Game Boy era began, the smart folk realized straight away that it's needs would be unique. That's why the venerable (and much missed) Gunpei Yoko's only entry into the Super Mario Bros, canon was the sublimely different Super Mario Land, and why the tiny philosophy of our previous subjects Batman and Donkey Kong outshone blur-ridden attempts to mimic home console sizes and standards like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall Of The Foot Clan or Super Mario Land 2.

More than that, it's so easy for series to slip into a groove when they're constrained to a single hardware line - consider how unique the Mega Drive entries in the Contra and Castlevania series ended up, ditching or rethinking motifs to refresh themselves. A smart development team will use a change of format to branch out from a tested formula. And so, to Nemesis II on Game Boy.

COLUMN: Green And Black Attack - Donkey Kong '94

November 27, 2006 4:07 PM |

dk0.gif['Green and Black Attack' is a new regular column by James Edwards taking a reflective look at Nintendo's original portable workhorse, the Game Boy. This week, we lionize Nintendo's winning reimagining of an arcade classic, 1994's Donkey Kong.]

If you've been keeping one horrified eye on Sega's latest Sonic the Hedgehog cash teat, you might have noticed the increasingly rubbery hero dashing around with a new girlfriend... a very human new girlfriend. While this isn't the first time interspecies lust has turned up in a platform game, it's a lot more consensual than Shigeru Miyamoto's 1981 design debut Donkey Kong, which saw Mario launch his gaming career and loose his girlfriend to a big ape. Donkey Kong 94 is a Game Boy remake of that game... for a few levels at least.

Monkey Magic

Chances are that even if you've only ever heard of Donkey Kong, you've got a great idea how the original arcade cabinet played: man loves woman, his pet ape gets envious and abducts her to a building site, man has to jump over a barrage of industrial debris in order to spank that chimp and win back the hand of his lady love. The game shows its age today, with stiff controls, a mere four screens of gameplay and punishing mechanics (even the tiniest of falls will break Mario like a cheap pencil), but Miyamoto's knack for instilling child-like glee shines through in every pixel and resonates with the every note of the excellently warbly sound track.

In a developing market inured to context-free shooting marathons, the game broke considerable amounts of new ground in terms of narrative and characterization, and will be shamelessly mined for its concepts until the sun expands and burns up the Earth like a big blue match head. That won't happen for billions of years!

[Clcik through for more!]

COLUMN: 'Green and Black Attack' – Batman

November 13, 2006 5:12 AM |

Batman! Batman! Batman!['Green and Black Attack' is a new regular column by James Edwards taking a reflective look at Nintendo's original portable workhorse, the Game Boy. This week, we tenderly probe Sunsoft's shrunken take on the caped crusader in 1990's Batman.]

There are three simple rules to "doing" Batman: he wears a cape and cowl, he clads young wards in emerald swimming trunks and he never, ever uses a gun. Ever. The first is vital to preserve his mystique, the second a matter of personal taste. The third was imposed on the character by his real-life owners DC Comics in the forties, part of a campaign to clean up their new golden goose for easier mass-market consumption, and later justified in the text as a psychological aversion to the weapons which forever robbed young Bruce Wayne of his parents and his innocence.

Keep Bustin'

Nobody told this to Sunsoft, because the Game Boy rendition of Batman is strapped from pointy ear to booted toe with some of the very finest 8-bit firearm archetypes the system could muster: he has one that fires straight ahead, the one that oscillates up and down really quickly, the big powerful one and the one that returns like a boomerangl. You'll know what to expect if you've played Contra or any other suitably generic 8-bit platform shooter. This weird little quirk is accentuated by the teeny little six-pixel glock Batman's well-designed sprite totes at all times. Either post-1940 DC Comics are barred from Japan, or nobody at Sunsoft cared about getting the character of Batman right. It doesn't matter.

Batman! Batman! Batman!.gifV-V-V-Vicky Vale

Batman is a game which transcends its license (specifically Tim Burton's 1989 blockbuster) to become one of the choicest picks of the early Game Boy lineup. Sunsoft ignored the movie's (mostly) non-fatal takedowns and gothic stylings in favour of a well-tuned Mario World clone with added guns, killer robots and jetpack-wearing hoodlums. It almost feels like Batman was dropped into a pre-existing game to make a quick buck... almost.

Instead of a bleepy Batdance, players are treated to Sunsoft composer Naoki Kotaka's famous brand of futuristic chiptunage: absolutely nobody could touch Sunsoft for soundtracks on the NES, even Nintendo, and the same holds true on their handheld offspring. Everything is rendered in a lovely clean and minimalist art style which owes more than just a tip of the hat to Gunpei Yoko's early products for the system with Nintendo R+D 1. Rather than bog the GB's processor down with more detail than it could handle (a mistake made by many a later title), Batman sticks to the system's strengths, providing a miniaturized experience that relies more on gameplay than graphic muscle. Some slight "wow" factor is provided by a neat little effect which flips the screen end over end at the start of each level - call me a spud, but it still impresses me today, especially given the limitations of the system.

If you're gonna go, go with a smile

In most stages you'll have to make it through a simple left-to-right obstacle course to the exit, but sometimes you'll be placed in the Batwing for a dose of simple left-to-right SHMUPing (just like world 4-4 of Mario Land) and the penultimate level is a good old-fashioned auto-scroller, which spikes the difficulty. While Sunsoft don't do justice to Batman's... justice, lurking on high is fully represented - each level has an arrangement of destructible blocks across the top which often allow Batman to proceed without fighting Joker's generic minions and androids. Sometimes you'll happen across darker tiles: these can be shot to reveal icons that can either boost Batman or degrade his weapon power, calling for judicious shooting. Every now and again you'll be treated to a cutscene: Joker's birth in a vat of acid has suitably creepy animation.

Batman! Batman! Batman!.gifPurple Rain

If I had two criticisms of Batman, they'd be that the game is far too short, and that the difficulty spike right at the end skews the challenge far too unevenly, as Bat-Bat has to deal with crushing after crushing before facing off against the dinky little Joker for a final showdown. Here, the Joker is a bullet-spewing maniac, and your bat-fate rests on as much luck as skill.

While most console lineups look better as coding knowledge progresses, the Game Boy often struggled to keep up during its extended lifespan, seeming shakier, jerkier and more infirm. Thankfully, early titles like Batman are absolute gems of game design that still hold up well today - just be sure to limit your use of the far too generous (unlimited, in fact!) continue feature and gag your inner comics fanboy before you turn the power on - that guy lets you have no fun at all. Now that I have played Batman, I can forgive Sunsoft for Aero the Acrobat.

[James Edwards is an unproven young force in the field of video game writing, brimming with youthful vigor. GameSetWatch is the first stop in growing his legend.]