REVIEW: Super Mario Land 2 Six Golden Coins

Personal Favorite: SUPER MARIO LAND 2 – SIX GOLDEN COINS

When the Game Boy was launched it had 6 games. The two most popular were Tetris and Super Mario Land. Super Mario Land was the first Mario game not developed by Miyamoto. It also was the first to be sml2set in Sarasaland instead of the Mushroom Kingdom and it features Princess Daisy instead of Peach. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins came out in 1992 and was a direct sequel. It takes place in Mario Land where a new villain named Wario has taken over while Mario was away saving Sarasaland. There are a handful of differences between Super Mario Land 2 and typical Mario platformers. The main difference is that instead of progressing through the game in a controlled direction the player has the freedom to take on each of the six worlds in any order they choose. After beating a world they unlock one of six locks that will eventually unlock the final world. Super Mario Land 2 also has unique enemies and power-ups. The game itself is very short, its possible to complete it in under two hours. Critics complained about the short game time but enjoyed it overall.

I like the box and label art of Super Mario Land 2 a lot. Its bright, has the bunny ears, is full of unique characters and it gives you the idea of how the “line-art” visual style is gonna look in-game. While it is old and outdated visually, at the time it was a good visual choice. The line art style performed well on the Game Boy because it doesn’t give a blurring effect when Mario runs quickly across levels, a problem some other Game Boy games had. It also has some great songs, especially the tree world themes.

While I do agree it sucks the game is short I think overall this was a fantastic game for the time period. The new enemies, over-world design and power-ups make Super Mario Land games feel like a whole new experience and differentiate themselves. The biggest differentiation of Super Mario Land 2 is probably the coin system. In every other Mario plat-former when you gather 100 coins you gain a free life and that’s typically the only use for them. In Super Mario Land 2 coins accumulate between levels and they are used to buy access into mini-games which can award power-ups or 1Ups. To gain lives you have to find hearts instead, which are easiest obtained in end-of-level mini-games. Super Mario Land 2 also tracks the number of enemies you’ve killed. Every time you kill 100 you get access to a typical star power-up that grants brief invincibility. It may not be a better formula than the usual system but it is a fun change of pace. I’m betting there are a good chunk of you who have never played this series, maybe never even seen it. If haven’t you should definitely track them down, especially Super Mario Land 2. They may not be the best Mario games ever, but they are unique and a fun change of pace and formula.

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REVIEW : Legend of Zelda Oracle of Ages

Never Played: LEGEND OF ZELDA ORACLE OF AGES

Oracle of Ages was a game developed by Capcom (and of course published by Nintendo) for the Game Boy Color. It released in 2001 with its counterpart Oracle of Seasons. The two games are very similar but feature slightly different mechanics. Think of it like Pokemon Red and Blue but with even more differences between the two. The story in each intertwines and a player would need to play both to get the full scale of the plot. In both games Link must use various tools to acquire 8 specific items to stop forces of evil and save the land and its people.

There’s nothing too special or impressive about the cover artwork of Oracle of Ages other than I do like the use of background overlays.  I’m especially not fond of the art on the label, which shows no ORACLE OF AGEScharacters, only the logo placed against a background that is basically the same color as the logo, giving no sense of depth or contrast. The label looks like a blue smear with some words in the middle that you can read if you focus really hard. The game itself though is visually stunning compared to any other Game Boy Color game I’ve ever seen. Oracle of Ages almost looks as good as most Game Boy Advanced games. The opening cut-scene alone was beautiful for a game this old, so Oracle of Ages had me impressed from the very start. The game is vibrant, pushing the GBC’s color capabilities to the limit. The character sprites are well drawn, the dungeons are dark and creepy, the bosses are large and more detailed, it’s quite well done. The sound on the other hand I wasn’t too impressed with.  There weren’t many tracks I enjoyed and it also didn’t sound very crisp. At times the music almost is clouded, it just feels a bit unpolished.

Game-play itself was solid. Its your typical Zelda fare: go to these different dungeons, find these specific items, rescue the girl, save the world. I did enjoy the dungeons and bosses a lot in this particular Zelda game though. Some of them were quite challenging, many of them quite fun. I personally kinda prefer the top down version of Zelda games that the NES and handheld versions use over modern day 3D play. Another thing I liked about Oracle of Ages is it is better at directing the player than most other Zelda games. One of my peeves about the series is the games don’t always do a good job of steering you in the proper direction. Sometimes they almost just expect you to wander around until you find the correct location. Some people may love that sense of exploration. I personally have always found it a tad annoying. I don’t need a giant arrow pointing to where I should go, but at least tell me outright through an NPC interaction where I should be going and what I should be doing. I also liked that this wasn’t another typical Ganondorf story, there’s a unique antagonist and some other key characters.

One thing I didn’t care for that just seemed to be unnecessarily tacked onto the game was the ring system. I feel like Zelda games have enough things to keep up with as it is. The rings just felt like an extra thing to think about that really didn’t add much of interest to the game. I also thought the game was a bit long in the tooth, but that’s the way I honestly find most Zelda games. I’m a fan of puzzles, I’m a fan of the dungeons. But a lot of times I feel like Zelda games go a ORACLE OF AGES GIFstep too far. I need this rope, I’ll need to travel back in time to get it, but to travel back in time I’ll need to be able to swim to this island, but to be able to swim I have to first help this whale do a chore, but to do that chore I first have to figure out how to get to this specific spot, getting to that spot requires me to get an item from a shop, but before the shopkeeper will sell it I must first do him a favor, by this time I’ve forgotten why in the hell I’m doing any of this in the first place and I’m quickly losing interest in the overall plot and flow of the game. I was obviously exaggerating a bit with my scenario but I’m truly not too far off from how Zelda games can be and sadly Oracle of Ages was guilty of it from time to time. Just give me a concise quest that gets me to the next dungeon so I can enjoy the best part of a Zelda game and also continue trying to save the world.

Minor gripes of sound and typical Zelda game annoyances don’t stop this from being a great game that just might be the best game on the entire Game Boy/ GBC line-up (aside from maybe Pokemon Red/Blue) . Its worth a play if you’ve never had the pleasure.

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REVIEW: Pokemon Yellow

Poll Winner: POKEMON YELLOW

We did things a little differently for our poll game this go-round. Instead of letting you guys vote for a game I had you vote for my Pokemon team, which I thought would be a fun twist for us all. You ended up giving me a pretty good team which was also decently diverse: Pikachu, Machamp, Snorlax, Gyarados, Gengar and Venusaur.

Pokemon Yellow was the last Pokemon game for the Game Boy and the third entry in the series. It came Pokemon_Yellowstateside in 1999, only a year after Red and Blue. Pokemon Yellow is basically set in the same general plot line as Red and Blue, but adds some small tweaks that make the game more closely follow the Pokemon anime series. One major change is Pikachu, who was technically obtainable in the originals, is now your starter Pokemon instead of Charmander/Squirtle/Bulbasaur. Not only is Pikachu your starter, he refuses to stay in his Pokeball, just like in the show. The animations and sprites also received minor improvements over the originals. Its been a commercial success and another great entry in the cult hit series.

I am a HUGE Pokemon fan so I found it hard to be unbiased in my review. Pokemon played a gigantic role in my childhood and led to the forming of several early friendships in my life. While Yellow wasn’t my all-time favorite Pokemon game (SoulSilver holds that honor) it was one I enjoyed very much. I’ll try to approach this as unattached as possible to begin the review. Art-wise Pokemon Yellow follows Red and Blue‘s example of simply being a large artwork of its key Pokemon, in front of a color background of its namesake. Visually the game is a small step up over Red and Blue.

The over-world itself isn’t too enhanced, but the redone sprites I personally find to be fantastic. I prefer Yellow‘s sprites over most other games in the series, even the modern day iterations. Red and Blue‘s soundtracks are among the upper echelon of early gaming and Yellow is no different. The songs are all fantastic and have a great range from the casual and cheerful various city themes to the antsy and intense gym battle themes. There may not be a soundtrack that has as many numerous recognizable tracks as Pokemon. There may be a specific song or two on a game (like a Zelda theme or a specific Sonic zone here or there) that is historic, but no other games boast this high of a number of memorable songs.

The best thing about Yellow, as well as any Pokemon game, is the game-play formula. Its a JRPG formula with a small tweak here or there that simplifies things for players who may be new to the game archetype. The growth of the Pokemon includes a wide variety of things including stat improvements, new moves and evolutions into an even better Pokemon (which sometimes includes a change in “type” which increases tactics variety). All of those changes culminate into leveling up your team being a fun IMG_0804and rewarding experience. The type system includes various weakness and strengths. It plays out well in the first series and is even more fleshed out and balanced in current gen Pokemon games. Gym battles feel climactic, especially in Yellow, with fast paced music and interesting bosses. Oftentimes in Yellow you find yourself easily dispatching regular trainers but then getting to the gym leader to find that he or she is leveled ahead of you and can provide quite a challenge at times. This is something I think early games in the series did better than recent ones. The thing I appreciate the most about Yellow and all Pokemon games for the most part is the pacing. Hours of grinding isn’t required. If you fight all comers you find while progressing through the normal steps of the story you will be adequately leveled to take on difficult battles. Hours and hours of relentless grinding are not required unless you decide to make big changes in your team or you didn’t properly build a balanced team. Luckily you guys chose a pretty good team for me. I was weak to Psychic, with 3 of my 6 being weak to it and none of them having a move that Psychic is weak to. But with timing and technique I was able to take down some difficult fights, namely in the Elite Four.

If I had to make a complaint about Pokemon Yellow I guess I would say it needs a tad bit more post-story content. It has the legendary Pokemon to capture, but a couple big trainer battles here or there would be extra icing on the cake and is something recent Pokemon games have made a point to improve on.

Pokemon is fantastic, I don’t care who you are or how old you are. If you never got into it for whatever the reason, make sure to give it a fair try. The games are well crafted and hopelessly addictive.

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REVIEW: Game Boy / Color

GAME BOY / COLOR REVIEW

Man the original Game Boy is not visually appealing in the slightest. It’s a heavy gray block of plastic. The screen is very hard to see, requiring perfect lighting to really see the game very well. Neither graphics nor sound are great. I’ll be honest, after playing Super Mario Land 2 for a couple hours I gave up and finished it on the GBC. My eyes and brain had been strained enough using this outdated system.

One interesting and positive thing I noticed is that I never had any issues with cartridges being read on either Game Boy system. We’ve been talking of how the NES, SNES and Genesis can be a huge pain game-boy-screenshotwhen it comes to reading games but I’ve never found any of Nintendo’s handheld cartridges to have the same issue. Also we have to put into perspective Nintendo’s design choice for the Game Boy. While currently I find the system to be bulky and cumbersome, it was the smallest and lightest handheld console of its time. The developers stressed portability over graphics and screen size. Its design is not bad, it just seems so compared to the progression developers have made in the last 20 some years. Speaking ill of this bulky monstrosity with a nearly unreadable screen is the gaming equivalent of looking at cave paintings and making fun of how inferior they are to modern art. The artist did a great job with the tools they had available to them at the time. Despite all this it is still a fun and important system in gaming history, the true grandfather of handhelds.

The Game Boy Color is a huge step up in all departments. It was easier to see, added color to the originalfile.php games and is smaller and lighter than its predecessor. The addition of color isn’t all that sets it apart, it is overall a higher resolution. The sound also is a bit cleaner. I also found it more comfortable to use and more convenient to travel with than the original. I enjoyed using it to go back through these classic games. I recommend collecting for both systems IF you’re going to collect for handhelds. If you’re just interested in collecting the five or six most important consoles in history then the Game Boy is definitely skippable.

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HISTORY / COLLECTING : GameBoy / GameBoy Color

HISTORY OF GAMEBOY AND GAMEBOY COLOR

In the history article on the NES I talked about Nintendo’s history as a company and its early consoles. The Game and Watch was the first handheld Nintendo made but it wasn’t what I would deem a “console”. What I mean by that is it did not have a library of swappable games that it could house. It contained a singular game and that was it. The first handheld “console” was the Microvision, which was created by Smith Engineering and Milton-Bradley in 1979. The Game Boy was Nintendo’s first handheld “console” and was unarguably the most successful of the first generation of handheld video games.

The Game Boy released in 1989, at the price of $99.99 ($182.45 today adjusted for inflation). The developers focused on keeping a low price point and ease of portability over having a huge screen or gb1using color. These choices were scrutinized by most reviewers and competing companies at the time, but proved to be a wise choice by Nintendo as the Game Boy continued to beat out all competition (Sega Game Gear, Atair Lynx, Microvision and TurboExpress) in both sales and popularity. In fact the Game Boy completely sold out its 300,000 units in its first two weeks in Japan and sold 40,000 units its first day in the U.S. A big factor of its success in many people’s minds, mine especially, is that the layout of the Game Boy’s controls are the exact same as the NES’s controls which by 1989 was king of the console market. People saw the Game Boy in ads and in stores and saw they could now on-the-go get the same home gaming experience they had grown to love over the last couple years with their NES.

Another key to the Game Boy’s success was its games. Tetris proved to be perfect for portable gaming as it was a game that relies on speed, skills and sound over impressive graphics. Super Mario Land was another key launch title that was a new, slightly different take on Super Mario Bros. which was easily the most popular console game in the world at that time. The biggest game for the Game Boy however was gb3undoubtedly Pokemon. Pokemon was built from the ground up to be a handheld game. Its addictive gameplay and turn-based JRPG-lite style proved to be the perfect blend of game for handheld gamers. Pokemania swept the entire globe, culminating in countless shows, cards, toys and collector’s items.

The last and often overlooked key to the Game Boy’s success was the ability to play with your friends through use of a link cable. Whether it was dueling on Tetris or trading and battling your Pokemon, the link cable added an extra layer of fun to the system. It was especially great for siblings and school friends. The link cable was perfect for Pokemon because its two different versions, Red and Blue, required you to trade with other people if you wanted to collect all 150 Pokemon. So at school kids would discuss Pokemon, plan trades and battles, all the while spreading the word of Pokemon through their school like wildfire.

Slightly improved versions of the Game Boy came out over the next decade including the smaller and lighter Game Boy Pocket in 1996 and the Game Boy Light in 1998 which was basically the Pocket but gb2with an improved backlight. Late in 1998 Nintendo released the Game Boy Color, a pretty big step-up over the original. It was brighter, smaller and lighter than the Game Boy but also added color to the games. Along with these new features it also still played games for the original Game Boy so there was no worry of having to buy a ton of games for it at the start, it already had a great back catalog. This was one of the earliest examples of “backwards compatibility” in gaming. At this time frame the SNES had launched and in turn provided another new wave of great Nintendo games that could be ported over to the handheld market and could now retain all their colored glory while doing so.

PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE GAME BOY / COLOR

The Game Boy and Game Boy Color are probably more responsible for my lifelong gaming addiction than any console I’ve ever owned. I definitely logged more hours on my GBC over my early years than I did my NES, Genesis or SNES combined. One large reason for this was because I was on the road a lot. I’ve mentioned in the past that Levi and I lived way out in the woods of central Kentucky. Because we lived so far away from our school we were the first kids on the bus and the last ones off, each way was 90 minutes so that’s 3 hours of bus riding every friggin school day. I spent this time doing my homework and then playing my Game Boy, usually Pokemon Red. I also had long trips once a month when Levi and I made the trek up to Indianapolis to visit our dad for the weekend, which was a round trip of 8 hours. We would stock up on AA’s, pack up Tetris, Pokemon, Super Street Fighter II and our link cable and battle it out during the long car ride.

My love for the Game Boy carried over into the amazing Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. I think I honestly prefer handheld gaming over home gaming if I really break it down. The convience of being able to play on the go, at school, at work, wherever, that factor cannot be praised enough. Especially with how gorgeous our handheld games look these days. My Vita can compete visually with almost any current gen game on the market, its mind-blowing honestly (too bad its library is so bare). Another reason being most of my favorite gaming genres translate very well to handhelds, sometimes better. Turn based strategy, side-scrolling platformers, RPGs and Puzzle games are so enjoyable and I often actually find them better on handhelds than console/PC.

COLLECTING FOR THE GAME BOY / COLOR

I kept my Game Boy and Game Boy Color of my youth and surprisingly they still look and perform amazing for how many hours I’ve put into them. I also kept my games. So when it came time to collect for the Game Boy I didn’t have a whole lot of searching to do. There were about a dozen of great Game Boy games that I had missed out on so I hunted those down. I also hunted down a complete-in-box copy of Pokemon Red, which is in better shape than any other Game Boy game I’ve seen in person. Its one of the gems of my collection. For it I had to resort to eBay. Much like with the NES and SNES, Nintendo used cardboard boxes to house Game Boy games. These boxes do not hold up well with time. If you’re a complete-in-box collector, you’re gonna spend a lot of time and money getting ahold of Game Boy games. If you’re like me and you collect loose cartridges in great condition then you’re in for a lot of fun. Game Boy games aren’t too difficult or expensive to come by at yard sales, thrift stores and retro game stores. I’d say the average prices of most of its popular games are in the $10-15 region. Sometimes it is a bit hard to find copies that don’t have labels that are either worn or been wrote on with a Sharpie, but with a bit of patience and luck you will find what you want.

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You decide which Pokemon I use in Yellow’s review!!!

In preparation for my GameBoy game reviews I decided I would play and review Yellow version as my “Personal Favorite”. I thought it would be fun if you guys got to decide my team!gbc

Pick 5 Pokemon from the polls, as I will be playing Pikachu for sure since he’s kind of a core mechanic of Yellow version.

POLL: http://www.poll-maker.com/poll382145x65f44bC3-15

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REVIEW: Gunstar Heroes

Never Played: GUNSTAR HEROES

Gunstar Heroes is a game I’ve had suggested to me a few times over the years but one I never knew of back around the time I had access to a Genesis. Now I’ve bought it specifically for this review so that I can finally try it out for myself.

The game was developed by Treasure, who I know from their creation of the two best shmups of all time: Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. Sega published it in 1993, so naturally it only came to the Genesis, gunstarnot the SNES. Gunstar Heroes is a “side scrolling shooter” game, which is kind of a cross between a side scrolling platformer and a horizontal shooter, akin to the popular Contra series. The player can start the game with their choice of character and more importantly their choice of four weapon types. Along with throws and sliding attacks, the player uses their gun to defeat waves of aggressive enemies and runs through a level to eventually defeat its boss, picking up weapon types along the way. Up to two weapon types can be held at a time and doing so combines them into a new style of shooting, changing the actual gun options from 4 to 14. The player also has the choice between Free Shot (lets you run while firing) and Fixed Shot (holds you in place while firing but allows for more accuracy) for even more potential playstyles. Gunstar Heroes was very well received and had overwhelmingly positive reviews.

The artwork and game cover are honestly not too different in resolution from its actual gameplay. It shows Red and Blue fighting through enemies while being chased by one of the game’s most infamous bosses. This is a fantastic game visually, one of the most well defined Genesis games I’ve ever seen.

The art style is kind of cute and cartoony but not in an over-the-top way. Its soundtrack was very solid as well. Gunstar Heroes is all about the gameplay, that’s where I found the game to truly shine. I loved this game from jump street. It’s like an arcade shmup and Rocket Knight Adventures had a baby. Its fast, its frantic, its fun. The combat is exceptional, with its mix of power ups for guns and effective melee attacks as well. It showed me that Max Payne wasn’t the first game to feature badass slow motion gun-blasting dives. The ability to combine power-ups really added to my interest in replays and approaching bosses. Then towards the end of the game it switches from its typical style and goes full on side-scrolling space shooter in awesome fashion.

The bosses, aside from the first one, are insanely difficult and fun. They also had a personality, especially my nemesis, Orange (who’s seen on the cover). He gave me the most trouble of anyone on the game and thus I grew to love to hate him. Speaking of bosses, this gamegsh1 may have the best cast of boss fights ever. So many are memorable, not just because you face them again near the end in a “boss rush”, but also because of the personality and challenge they possess. Each one seemed to have a unique mechanic that you had to master to take them down, actually quite similar to Rocket Knight Adventures in that aspect. Also, the minecart level’s (because every 16 bit classic seemed like it had to have a minecart level) boss is one of the most memorable bosses I have ever faced. He changes into multiple forms throughout the fight and each must be approached in different ways than the last. While fighting each form both he and you are constantly in motion on-rails, giving the fight an intense and frenetic rush to it.

Gunstar Heroes is one of the best arcade games I’ve ever played and it never even came to arcades! Its right up there with Treasure’s other stand-out arcade games Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. I only wish it hadn’t taken me this long to play this game.

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REVIEW: Rocket Knight Adventures

Personal Favorite: ROCKET KNIGHT ADVENTURES

Rocket Knight Adventures was my personal favorite Genesis game, even over Sonic the Hedgehog 2. There are dozens of stellar games for this console, but for me Rocket Knight Adventures and its sequel Sparkster are at the top of the hill.

Developed by Konami for the Genesis only, Rocket Knight Adventures released in 1993. Its a side-scrolling platformer like many other popular games of its generation. It features an opossum named rkaSparkster, a knight armed with an energy-projecting sword and a rocket pack that when fully fueled helps him fly. Sparkster must fight through an army of pigs and robots to rescue Princess Sherry and protect his king and kingdom. The game had moderate attention and sales when it released. Since then its kind of been known as a retro hidden gem, a game that holds up fantastically but isn’t always the easiest to find. Its also known for being very difficult, which I can personally confirm.

The artwork and box cover are great, setting a nice example of the tone and art design you can expect in the game. The levels in Rocket Knight Adventures use backgrounds that look flat, almost like a painting. Sparkster and the enemies have thicker lines, giving them a quasi 3 dimensional quality when in front of those flat backgrounds. Soundtrack is fan-freakin-tastic, one of best of the 16bit era. Between this game, the Castlevania series and the later music masterpieces Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution, Konami really has proven to be one of the best in the business as far as video game music. One particular thing about this game’s music that I liked was how even though each song sounds pretty different they all have kind of a high-tempo, kind of anxious undertone to them. That tempo makes sense when you think about that during the entire game you’re in pursuit of these enemies trying to catch them before they can get away.

The best things about Rocket Knight Adventures is its gameplay and personality. Sparkster and his enemies are quite animated, using lots of facial expressions and sound effects to convey their feelings. When you defeat a normal pig soldier he’ll be stripped to his undies and scurry off. When you do rka2platforming elements you will hang upside down by your tail instead of simply standing on the object. Between each level are nice little cutscenes which show off Sparkster’s determination and end with a new animation of him in pursuit of the space-pigs, even more fired up than last time. Speaking of levels, each one feels very different from the last. Through the use of different background settings, new enemy types and new boss mechanics you feel like you’re playing something new with each stage you transition to. Gameplay wise I LOVE the rocket-pack and sword mechanics. Some stages have you walking side-scroller beat-em-up style. In these levels you have a sword that can reach short range or can be charged to do a 360 spin attack. You can also use your rocket pack to give you a short-ranged jolt in one of eight directions. The fact that you can also activate it while mid-air really adds to the game’s depth and mechanics. Other stages have you flying non-stop in a horizontal shooter style after you get a rocket-pack upgrade. These almost feel like an entirely different game.

One of my favorite features are the bosses. There are multiple per level and each have unique and usually challenging mechanics. They’re the perfect amount of difficult. You’ll die the first time you face a new one, almost guaranteed.

But once you learn the mechanics, if you’re skilled at the combat system,  you’ll be able to tackle the boss with good timing and patience. I’m not gonna lie, the game is hard, like almost Battletoads degrees of hard. But the difficulty lies in timing and the combat system, the difficulty is not artificial. The bosses typically don’t take a ton of hits to defeat (which is nice because it keeps the feeling of the game being a fast-paced “chase”) and typically don’t do a ton of damage per hit. With skillful play you can take them down quickly, but it takes time and quick reflexes to get to that level of skill. The second to last boss and the train boss specifically were much harder than I had remembered. But at no point in my countless retries did I get mad or frustrated at the game. My deaths were my own fault, my reactions too slow, my patience too thin. Maybe this is a product of my hundreds of hours into Souls games and Battletoads but I think its most likely because Rocket Knight Adventures is such a superb game.

Rocket Knight Adventures is an all-time great, somehow even better than I had remembered it. The art, sound, mechanics, personality, everything is top of the line. Buy this game without hesitation if you own a Genesis, no matter the cost.

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REVIEW: Sonic & Knuckles

Poll Winner: SONIC & KNUCKLES

Sonic & Knuckles tied with Comix Zone in our reader poll. The fact that not including a Sonic game as one of my three reviews would feel criminal helped me decide to overlook Comix Zone for now. I am a huge fan of the Genesis series of Sonic platformers, with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 being not only my favorite Genesis game, but also one of my 10 favorite games of all time.

Sonic & Knuckles was the last 2D Sonic the Hedgehog platformer for the Genesis and the fourth entry in the well reviewed and popular series. Sonic & Knuckles came out in 1994, only three years after the original Sonic the Hedgehog released. It and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 were actually planned to be two large halves of Sonic_&_Knuckles_coverthe same game, but due to memory constraints of the cartridge it was split into two separate titles. Sonic & Knuckles picks up directly where 3 left off, with Sonic tracking down Dr. Robotnik to defeat him, after already destroying Robotnik’s airship/WMD at the end of 3. The player plays through the first half of the game as Sonic, with plot interaction with Knuckles from time to time. After completion of the game the player starts over as Knuckles and plays through similar levels, seeing things from Knuckle’s point of view and defeating a couple bosses Sonic didn’t face. It also was the first Sonic game that uses “lock on technology”, meaning the game cart is open at the top and has a place where you can input another Sonic game into it. Inserting older Sonic games unlocks extra content like letting you play Knuckles in them or access to a plethora of special bonus stages.

The artwork of the game cover and box art is pretty simplistic, just a pretty cool logo design showing both Sonic’s and Knuckles’ face outlines. Visually the game isn’t too different from any previous Sonic games. To my knowledge they all ran on the same engine and no major adjustments or improvements were made between the four entries in the 2D platforming series. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing necessarily. It kind of falls into the old moniker “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it” because all of those games have great visuals and sound for their era. The soundtracks of any Sonic game for the Genesis are known for being unique and top notch. In fact I’d go as far as to say that they’re without a doubt my favorite soundtracks of any games period. There are random moments in everyday life when I find myself humming the themes to Green Hill Zone, Metropolis Zone, Mystic Cave Zone, Oil Ocean Zone or Casino Night Zone. Can’t really say that about any other franchise personally. As far as Sonic & Knuckles‘ tracks I would say overall its the weakest lineup of the games, but that Sky Sanctuary Zone’s individually is pretty stellar.

Gameplay wise I find Sonic & Knuckles is slightly inferior to the previous games as far as my tastes go. In my mind a great Sonic game needs three things: stellar soundtrack, speed and fluidity of level traversal and a plethora of short but unique zones. Let’s breakdown the last two things a bit. When I say speed and fluidity what I mean is that your motion of Sonic shouldn’t constantly be stopped by obstacles or enemies. It should require the occasional stoppage to keep things interesting and challenging, but there is definitely a such thing as overdoing it. Sonic & Knuckles overdoes it a bit. The reason the first two Sonic games were great is they have a great sense of fluidity to most of their levels, keeping them short and smooth, then adding the challenge in the boss fights. The rush of flying through a course at blinding speed, slowing down a hair here or there to kill an enemy or grab a power-up is what makes a Sonic game unique and fun. Sonic & Knuckles has you stopping too often, namely in a couple specific zones in the middle of the game.

You start to get a sense of speed and excitement for about 3 seconds and then hit an enemy placed dead in your path, in a manner to where it was nigh impossible to see it in time to jump over it. Or it gives you a few feet of track to cover long enough to gain almost top speed and then wants you to stop and start again in the opposite direction, a few times in a row. These instances mixed in here and there can be great for a Sonic game to add difficulty and contrast, but Sonic & Knuckles does it too often. As far as soundtrack and level uniqueness, its pretty solid for a Genesis game but is lacking when you compare it to its predecessors. It also has a couple zones that are just flat out not fun, namely Sandopolis. Sandopolis is probably the worst zone of any Sonic on Genesis. Its slow, difficult, lengthy and has a very annoying ghost enemy mechanic. That zone felt more like a Mario level than a Sonic leve. There was no sense of speed, it was all platforming.

Despite these gripes Sonic & Knuckles is still a Sonic game at its core. Its still thrilling to stumble into a boss battle with only a handful of rings on you, scrambling to regain “your precious” when you get hit. The lava and sky zones were great. I liked the large number of boxes, especially the ones introduced in 3 (Robotnik, Flame Shield, Water Shield and Lightning Shield). Playing through as Knuckles was a cool change of pace and enough to keep replays enjoyable. The lock on technology is also very cool and added replayability to the franchise as a whole.

All in all Sonic & Knuckles may be the worst 2D Sonic platformer for Genesis, but that’s not near as bad as it sounds. The previous three were just that spectacular in my opinion. Sonic & Knuckles is still a game worth playing and adding to your Genesis library.

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REVIEW: Sega Genesis

GENESIS REVIEW

Aesthetically the Genesis has that look like all 90s electronics did (at least the original version which I own does). Black plastic, white writing, white grid lines, power switch that you move side to side instead of a push button. It looks and feels just like an early 90s boombox. It uses an antennae adapter like the NES did, so its easy enough to hook up to modern TVs. The sound and video both were pretty on point. All in all this old system still looks, sounds and feels nice.

Cartridge problems abound though when I go to play the games. Despite cleaning the three games the day before, none of them fired up first try. Gunstar Heroes and Sonic & Knuckles took two or three sega sonicattempts. Rocket Knight Adventures took around a dozen. I was worried for a minute that I’d need to track down another copy of it in good shape, no small or cheap feat. Still with all that said I didn’t have as much trouble with the Genesis carts as I did with the NES’. Once I got a couple minutes into each game the spectacular sound and graphics helped me quickly forget the cartridge woes. I’ll get into specifics during each game’s review but I’ll say for now that of any past generation of gaming, 16 bit (namely Genesis and SNES) hold up the best as far as their quality vs. the length of time its been since they were released. They take everything right about the 8-bit gen games (great music and personality, difficult but not artificially difficult) and they enhanced them.  Performance wise they look brighter and cleaner. Development wise they didn’t crap out as many simple arcade ports and created several new and interesting intellectual properties. Sega and other developers used their limited tools to their full potential. For example, at high quality (for the time period) graphics and sound developers didn’t have much memory room on the cartridges. So those nice looking games are pretty short, all three I reviewed can technically be beat in 3 hours. But the difficulty, re playability and hidden secrets extend those hours.

The controller and console itself both feel a tiny bit lighter and more hollow than previous consoles, which kind of makes it feel “cheap”.  The Genesis’ original controller is the exact thing I’ve been talking about in genesis controlpast posts about how after the NES, the next console to come out simply kept the same layout and then added one or two buttons. The NES controller had pad on left, two buttons on right. Genesis adds third button. Nintendo makes SNES controller with 4 on right, plus shoulder buttons on each side to equal six buttons. Not to be outdone, Sega makes new controller in response that has an extra, smaller row of buttons totaling six buttons. That was the start of the button wars and we haven’t slowed down since. As far as the Genesis controller’s performance, I think it gets the job done. While its not the most ergonomic or comfortable controller it does have a pad and buttons that respond very well. If you don’t own a Genesis I highly recommend collecting for it. Its cheap to collect, holds up very well and was one of the most important consoles of gaming’s early roots.

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