REVIEW: Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse

Personal Favorite: CASTLE OF ILLUSION

We will be doing Game Gear a bit different. Since I have a small Game Gear library and there are also a limited number of decent games for the system I have chosen three of the better and more popular titles to review.

Castle of Illusion originally came out for the Sega Genesis. An 8-bit version was made for the Game Gear in 1991 and plays somewhat differently. Both games were developed by Sega and feature Mickey Mouse castletraversing various areas in an effort to rescue Minnie from an evil witch. They’re 2D platformers and have a multi-hit life system. Later Castle of Illusion’s 16-bit version came to Sega Saturn, PSN, XBLA and PC. The 8-bit Game Gear version had decent reviews and sales but has had no remakes.

I like the artwork a lot, the creepy castle, face in the tree and the witch against the full moon backdrop do a great job setting the eerie tone. Visually Castle of Illusion is one of the Game Gear’s better looking games. Its landscapes and enemies are colorful and make full use of the Game Gear’s palette. Mickey has decent animations, I particularly liked his toe-tapping during idle stance and the way his tail wags when he’s crouched. It does ok in the sound department, with themes that match the stages well. Creepy tracks accompany the castle levels and fun, uptempo tracks play during the forest and ice cream stages.

The gameplay of Castle of Illusion is your standard fare of 8-bit platforming. It feels a lot like early NES platformers. Mickey can jump and he can pick up and throw objects. Avoiding enemies and making dangerous jumps are your primary task. What I enjoyed most about the game is it actually has pretty damn solid boss battles for an early handheld, especially the final two. The life system uses hearts, with a max of 5, so the system is a bit forgiving.

That being said I still had trouble with the final Dragon boss and took a couple days beating him. I was still having a good time though, as my deaths couldn’t be blamed on any issues with the game. The blame was solely on my rustiness with difficult old-school platformers. I probably couldn’t beat the first two levels of any NES Mega Man title right now.

Castle of Illusion can’t really be credited with influencing any future games, as it itself is basically a copy of several standard platformers before it. Even though Castle of Illusion doesn’t re-invent the wheel, its a solid option for Sega systems comparative to Super Mario games. All in all it is a great game compared to its peers at the time and is a must-own in my opinion if you’re a Game Gear collector. I also highly recommend its 16-bit version if you’re a Genesis collector as its a classic title and is much deeper of a game than this one.

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REVIEW: Sega Game Gear

SEGA GAME GEAR REVIEW

The Game Gear, while big and bulky, is aesthetically pleasing because the colored Start button and the logo look good against the black on black console. Games are decent visually. They have a wide palette of colors but aren’t too defined and are limited by the dark screen and its poor resolution.  Game Gear’s sound is even worse, coming off a bit cloudy and muffled, even with headphones. The gamegear_sonic2system is also a battery hog, requiring 6 AA’s, which it drains in just a few hours.

On the positive side I do like the pad and buttons which click well and are responsive. I also like the shape of the system, it feels comfortable in your hands. The console may be big, but it doesn’t feel very heavy. Game Gear’s carts had no problems booting up for me. The option to play Genesis games through the adapter is the best thing about the system and expands the library significantly. Speaking of library, the Game Gear has a decent one, most of the games being first party Sega games. Tails Adventures, Castle of Illusion, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Triple Trouble, Columns, and Prince of Persia are some of the must-owns. All in all it is a decent system. I definitely prefer the Game Boy Color, but the Game Gear was definitely a huge step up technically over the original Game Boy. If you don’t collect many handhelds then the Game Gear is certainly passable.

HISTORY/COLLECTING: Sega Game Gear

HISTORY OF SEGA GAME GEAR

Launching in 1991, the Sega Game Gear was the company’s first handheld. It was an 8-bit handheld that shared a lot of tech with the Master System (Genesis) and played ports of a Game Gear Games 001lot of that system’s games and could even play actual Genesis cartridges with an additional adapter. The shape of the system and its buttons and pad used are purposely curved like the Genesis controller. Game Gear uses ROM cartridges like most early consoles and handhelds. Launch titles included Columns (which was packaged with the handheld), Castle of Illusion, G-LOC: Air Battle, Psychic World, Revenge of Drancon and Super Monaco GP. The developer kind of rushed it into the market (to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy), but still managed to produce a technically solid console. It featured a powerful full-color landscape ratio screen, which was superior to the original Game Boy. Game Gear debuted at $149.99 ($262.82 today adjusted for inflation)  and had decent sales at launch. However it never got very close to the great sales of Nintendo’s Game Boy. It was discontinued in 1997 after a 6 year run and selling 11 million units.

PERSONAL HISTORY WITH SEGA GAME GEAR

I didn’t play the Game Gear until just a couple years ago when I started collecting for it. Growing up none of my friends had a Game Gear, we all had Game Boys. I saw a Game Gear here and there at stores but never really cared to ask for one for Christmas or Birthday as I was more than happy with my Game Boy Color. Since collecting for it I have played a handful of games and enjoyed most of them, namely Castle of Illusion, Tails Adventure and Sonic Triple Trouble, all of which I will be reviewing.

COLLECTING FOR SEGA GAME GEAR

The Game Gear is pretty easy and cheap to collect for, maybe even the easiest of all systems I’ll be covering on this blog. The system itself can be found regularly at pawn shops, thrift shops and yard sales. It does have a recurrent problem you need to test for though: the speakers on the system seem to go out after a few years. Sound typically still works with headphones though. Game Gear’s games themselves are laughably easy and cheap to find, aside from a few gems like Castle of Illusion and Tails Adventures. The average loose cartridges run from about $4-$10. If you’re a complete-in-box collector you’re looking at an average of about $40 which is super low compared to most systems. Condition of the box may not be great however, because they’re cardboard like most early systems we have covered.

I will not be doing a vote game for the Game Gear since my library is very small for this system. I will be choosing three of my favorite games for it.

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REVIEW: Chrono Trigger

Poll Winner: CHRONO TRIGGER

So I know what you’re thinking, how is it I have never played a game the caliber of Chrono Trigger if I’ve played and owned thousands of games? Well Chrono Trigger, while a high-selling game, sold mostly in Japan. I never saw a copy of Chrono Trigger first-hand until I recently purchased it for this review. Growing up I always heard about it and how good it was but none of my friends had it and I never saw it available for rent either. It was quite hard to find in North America. I waited so long to buy it because of its high price tag (usually just under $100, due to lack of NA copies and its critical acclaim).

Chrono Trigger was developed by Square in 1995. A fun fact I learned while researching is that Chrono Chrono_TriggerTrigger was headed by three guys who Square deemed their “Dream Team”: the creator of Final Fantasy, the creator of Dragon Quest and the manga artist of Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball. The game is a JRPG, but one that doesn’t strictly adapt to any past formula. It has its own style of combat system that is similar to the type seen in Final Fantasy games but has its own unique features. Chrono and a group of adventurers he meets one at a time along his journey are on a quest to save the world by time traveling through different periods to stop the problem before it has time to manifest. Chrono Trigger came to the SNES only originally but has since been redone or repackaged on the PS One, Virtual Console and Nintendo DS.

The game cover is pretty cool. Its done in manga style and happens to feature my three favorite characters of the game. My only beef is that Marle is using Fire magic which she cannot actually do in-game. Chrono Trigger is visually a beautiful game. Its very impressive that a game this big manages to feature sprites and animations like this. The overworlds are well drawn and colorful, each enemy is unique, each adventurer has their own set of awesome battle animations. I also thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack. Through the first few hours I felt like it could use a few more unique tracks but the second half of the game finished strong in the music department with several boss battle themes. The devs managed to pack so much personality into every character in Chrono Trigger through animations and dialogue. I really found myself caring about each new character, about what they had to say and what role they would play in the overarching story. It seemed like every time a new team member was added I was even more intrigued with them than the last. How they managed to make me care so much about a robot I’ll never know, but I was anxious and distraught when Robo was getting beat down by his own brethren and I was powerless to help. I felt Frog’s pain when I finally learned of his past and how he came to be in his current form. I was happy and proud for Marle when she stood up to her parents and decided to live her own life. How did Square make me care so much for these 16-bit pixelated sprites? Personality is even packed into minor characters and enemies. For example when you beat the Dragon Cannon boss Chrono leaps up onto it and vigorously stabs it making it fall through the bridge. The enemies on the bridge catch themselves in a human chain and your group uses them as a bridge while they curse your existence.

The story itself is very engaging and rich. At first I thought it would be your typical time travel romp but it turned out to be very deep and loaded with plot twists. The scale of the plot, the possibility of alternate endings and the character development adds up to this being one of the best video game stories ever.

Even better than the superb art, sound, story and characters of Chrono Trigger is its gameplay. I’m particularly impressed with the battle system. Chrono Trigger uses a live battle system like some Final Fantasy games, but it also features Double and Triple attacks that vary widely between your team composition. These attacks combine multiple party members who are currently available at that moment and give you a range of options. These options give you access to different sizes chrono-trigger-gifand styles in the area of effect of an attack and can add elements to attacks that wouldn’t otherwise be there. A simple early game example would be Chrono and Marle. Chrono has a whirling attack that can hit multiple enemies at once, Marle has a Cure spell that can target one friendly character. If they’re both ready to attack they can use Double Tech and have an option that will have Chrono do a whirling attack across all your party while Marle imbues his sword with Cure, thus allowing you the ability to Cure your whole party simultaneously which at that point in the game isn’t possible otherwise. Double and Triple attacks add an extra layer of fun to the already fast paced combat system that keeps things interesting through the entire game. There is also a wide variety of interesting enemies that require certain elements or timing if you want to beat them quickly, for example the shielded guards in the prison. The robust battle system was icing on an already delicious cake.

This game and the Final Fantasy series have laid the foundation for nearly all JRPG’s that have followed, its the mark for what to strive for when making one. Chrono Trigger isn’t just one of the best games on the SNES, I’d venture to say its the best RPG ever. I just played this for the first time and even though its now 20 years old its easily the best RPG I’ve played in recent memory. It holds up, it outperforms every other recent game I’ve played on all fronts aside from graphics obviously. Don’t be a fool like me, don’t wait to play Chrono Trigger. This is a masterpiece, stop what you’re doing and buy it right this second.

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