If you’ve read a few of my reviews, you know I often mention my backlog. I’ve made a concerted effort to work through the treasure trove of games I own or have always wanted to play the last few years, and it’s been a fulfilling process.
It wasn’t too long ago that I completed Phantasy Star, many years after first playing it. Thanks to a number of enhancements that allowed the player to determine how much they valued their time, the SEGA AGES release of Phantasy Star proved to be an enjoyable way to finally roll credits. Well naturally, that set me up to play Phantasy Star II.
I don’t know that I’d call Growl a good game, but man is it great.
Originally released into arcades in 1990 courtesy of Taito, a friend and I happened upon it last weekend while dabbling with AtGames’ Legends Gamer Pro. A classic beat ‘em up with middling gameplay, Growl would fit right in amongst a police lineup (or an identity parade, as I just learned it was called across the pond) of contemporaries. Nonetheless, we plowed through it in about a half-hour, won over by the numerous absurdities.
So when we spent the weekend with her family in Moore, Jenny, her family and I went thrift store shopping. We visited a single Goodwill as we came to realize our desired destination was closed on Saturdays. I spent my time scouring the books, albums, and CDs – too much time actually. I saw a couple of video games in the glass cases around the cash register, but surely they had more. I figured they’d be with the other various media I was sifting through, but there was an electronics section that I didn’t examine. Regardless, I walked away with a few items – one of them being the CD Pornografitti by the 1980s/1990s funk metal band Extreme.
At the time, I was being awfully pretentious and was very skeptical of its quality. I’d never heard of the group and I mean, it’s an album called Pornografitti, how great can it be? It wasn’t until our drive home Sunday evening that I was given the opportunity to listen to it. As Jenny began falling asleep in the passenger’s seat, I began rocking out to the very Van Halen riffs. Strong Bad would have no qualms with this music. The first handful of songs were quite lengthy – averaging five minutes a piece – and they were enjoyable. With titles like “When I’m President” and “Get the Funk Out” it was easy to tell these guys were having a good time. I didn’t take them too seriously and it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I appreciated it. Then “More Than Words” came on.
You know, that song. I was baffled. I figured “Okay, every metal album in the 1980s and early 1990s had to have a ballad and they must’ve just covered this song.” Then I looked it up real quick (don’t do this while driving folks) and realized “Holy shit, they did perform this song” and what’s more, they wrote it too! This song topped the Billboard charts; talk about a newfound respect! I continued listening as the night came on and the subsequent tracks returned to the band’s hair metal roots. It was all standard fare until “When I First Kissed You” came on and I questioned the band and the album again.
This song was not a mega-popular single or a single at all. Instead it was a piano-centric crooner song not unlike something Frank Sinatra would perform. It didn’t have that kind of glamour or sensuality, but it helped to portray the band’s broad interests and talents. Again, written by them – not simply a cover. In fact, all of the songs were written by Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt – the lead vocalist and guitarist respectively, although they handled other duties as well. So, as we’re nearing our destination, the songs return once more to the band’s standard fare. Until the final track: “Hole Hearted.”
I thought to myself “Are you kidding me!?” No way did they also do this but sure enough, written and performed by the group. I hear these two singles practically every day at work, when Christmas music isn’t playing that is. I’ve heard them so much just growing up that their lyrics and music are hard to forget. They’re not songs I would’ve actively sought out on iTunes or anything, but I’m glad to have broadened my horizons to the group and associated the two in my head.
That’s one of the great things about thrift store shopping. Sometimes you find surprises and sometimes you surprise yourself. I was prepared to have a laugh and write this album off and by proxy, the band. Instead, I found a group of optimistic hard rockers who had the talents to write diverse songs, be them generic hair metal, piano-centric croons, or heartfelt broad-based singles. If anything, they had fun at the time and someone’s still able to enjoy their music 24 years later courtesy of a thrift store. But I still didn’t find any other video games.
When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.
There are some games in my collection that I don’t recall obtaining. Magic Johnson’s Fast Break is one such game. I can speculate how it came into my possession, but ultimately the game is pretty inconsequential to me. As best as I can recollect, I’ve played it once. My friend and I competed against each other as part of the Leonard 2012 Video Game Olympics. He’s much more adept than I when it comes to sports games and accordingly was victorious. It’s incredibly dated at this point, but I can’t imagine it had much going for it back in the day even. My belief is that basketball games weren’t noteworthy until NBA Jam, but many people have a fondness for Double Dribble so that would seem like the genre’s best on the NES.
Magic Johnson’s Fast Break was originally developed and published by Arcadia Systems and released as an arcade game in 1988. It was ported to the NES by Software Creations and published by Tradewest in North America in March 1990. It was also ported to a handful of European PCs at the time as Magic Johnson’s Basketball. Most notably, the NES version featured support for up to four players.
So after completing Kirby’s Dream Land, I figured I’d make a kick out of this “playing Game Boy games” idea and keep the concept going. I acquired SolarStriker and another Game Boy shoot ‘em up at the famous (infamous?) Admiral Flea Market for a few bucks many weeks ago and barely played it then. It was released in 1990 by Nintendo and developed by Nintendo R&D 1 and Minakuchi Engineering. The copy I have is loose and there are no indications of a narrative in-game, although I can tell from a little research (Wikipedia) that there is some mumbo jumbo about saving the Earth. A story isn’t crucial though, as is usually the case with this type of game. What matters is the gameplay.
All of the game’s six stages had me piloting an X-Wing looking spacecraft vertically towards the top of the screen. The enemies remained basic throughout my sessions with the game. They always entered from the top of the screen, and maybe even the sides; always in waves though, but never shooting profusely in a bullet hell way. The game did grow challenging, although I was able to make it the final stage within a half-dozen attempts. The bosses were the most challenging foes (duh) and I thought the fourth one especially was a life-sucker; there were bullets coming from all directions! In my favor was a simplistic power-up system, although my weaponry never deviated from shooting straight ahead.
When I began playing SolarStriker, I thought that I wouldn’t get close to the end. But after a little bit of time and determination, I was able to routinely make it. So, it’s a challenging game, but not devilishly so, however… the naturally dark color palette of the game was an issue. I had to adjust the color palette on the Game Boy itself to a negative version of the default to stand a chance. There was something about the black background of each stage obscuring the enemy fire that I couldn’t get my head around. Like Kirby’s Dream Land, this was a simple iteration of the genre it’s portraying, but a fun one that didn’t consume a lot of time.
Final Fantasy III is very traditional; then again, it originally came out in 1990. Within the first hour I had all of my party members and knew the ultimate goal I was aiming for. Luneth, the primary protagonist falls in a hole right away and finds out he is one of the chosen four, destined to save the world. His town elder knew this and when you return back to your hometown, they send you off with a few paragraphs. There isn’t the need for excessive exposition here. All you need to know is what the end goal is, what you’re doing in the current dungeon/town, and how to win battles.
It seems that Final Fantasy is renowned for being a series that one can turn to if they want a detailed or captivating story, and in this aspect, Final Fantasy III is very disappointing. The dearth of detail in the story turned me off; it’s a reason I play video games, and specifically, RPGs. The characters were stiff and lacked detailed personalities, the story was eventful, but nothing ever seemed impactful, a good job wasn’t done on making it seem like every action was necessary. Most of my time spent was zoning out and just battling to progress, and that’s the way I ended up playing the majority of it. I’d plug in a podcast, nothing against the soundtrack which I liked, and play it in bed before falling asleep, and I had a lot of fun playing it like this as I usually do with handheld games.
The battle system is simple, lacking complexity, which works. Battles are easy to understand and with the ample amount of job classes, there is a variety of strategies available. Final Fantasy III did a good job of requiring me to try out multiple classes. Some dungeons would contain enemies that would resist physical damage, presenting the need to have your party deal nonphysical damage, via magic with mages or summoning, um… summons with, um… summoners. There were quite a lot of situations like this where you had to move out of your comfort zone; whereas I would usually keep my party full of physical attackers and a white mage for healing, I experienced many different jobs, and by the end of the game, I had a diverse party, with at least half of my party being a class I wouldn’t ordinarily pick.
One complaint I did have in regards to battling was the amount of grinding required towards the end. Throughout most of the game, I’d wager I was a level or two above where I needed to be, and it stayed like this up towards the final dungeon. After losing to the final boss a couple of times, I fought enemies within the last section of the game for at least five hours to level; this difficulty spike is not uncommon with games like this, but was nonetheless annoying when I knew the outcome of the game and only wanted to complete it at
this point, granted I handled the final boss ably, but still! This aspect also brought up another annoyance, the save system. The ability to save anytime on the world map is practically a requirement, however there is also a quick save option that allows you to save anywhere, but the save will be deleted when you return. Instead of implementing the ability to save anytime and keep that save, the developers have opted to keep the original spirit of the game intact, for instance, let’s say you’ve been grinding for an hour in the final dungeon and stumble upon an enemy that wipes you out, there went that progress. While this is aggravating, it’s also something that makes you adapt and from that point on, I was exceptionally cautious, and in a way, this difficulty is enjoyable and helps in keeping the game feel as it originally did.
There was no emphasis placed on totally remaking the game for today’s audience, which probably would’ve aged it in different ways as it’s been on the market for four years now, it’s the original Final Fantasy III, slightly redid. If you can appreciate a game designed in 1990, check out Final Fantasy III; it provides a lengthy quest that is sparse with detail, but a fun battle system that is easy to watch the time fly by with.