After beating Suikoden, the thought of jumping right into Suikoden II left me salivating. That game’s status as the best in the series, and one of the best JRPGs of all time is pretty much universally agreed upon . But, I slowed my roll. Typically, I sandwich a few shorter games in between playthroughs of role-playing games, considering they generally take thirty hours to complete, at a minimum. After all, I’m a grown-ass adult, with grown-ass adult responsibilities, so I don’t have the time to just sit around playing video games all day. Rest assured though, they do occupy way too much of my thoughts.
Anyways, collecting myself, I laid out the three games I’d be playing. The futuristic, yet mechanically ancient first-person shooterCodename: Tenka wasn’t a total bust, but after a couple of hours, I couldn’t justify playing it anymore. In contrast, the one-of-a-kind insect simulation Mister Mosquito only took a few hours, and was right up my alley. Finally, there was Mars Matrix. Spurred on by intriguing compliments delivered by Brandon Sheffield on Twitter (that I can’t seem to find now…), and the realization of how much the Dreamcast version sells for in the secondary market, I figured I ought to give it a shot, or a second one, since it turns out I played it back in 2011, an experience I’d all but forgotten about.
When I beat Super Mario Bros. for the first time last year, I felt I had marked an item off of a video game bucket list. It was a momentous achievement not just because it’s such an influential and important game to the medium, but because it was challenging as well. It took many, many failed attempts, progressing slightly farther each time before I was able to conquer Bowser and when I did, I felt like I accomplished something! For the same reasons, I’ve recently come to the Mega Man series.
For someone who fancies himself a collector and a knowledgebase of video games, it’s been hard for me to reconcile the fact that I’ve only played one Mega Man game; not even a core title in the series either but a spinoff: Mega Man Network Transmission. With compilations of both the classic and X series, I decided it was finally time to rectify this omission. With little deliberation, I shelved the Mega Man X Collection and decided to begin where the franchise did: with Mega Man. Granted, playing the Xbox version of Anniversary Collection on the Xbox 360.
It didn’t take long to dawn on me once I’d started, but this game and this series helped define the action-platformer. In a basic sense, Mega Man plays like Super Mario Bros. with guns. It retains the precision platforming of that game while featuring more frantic action, especially with the bosses. The stages are relatively brief affairs but each one hosts unique platforming challenges. Even with their brevity, it would always take multiple continues before I could reliably reach the boss; if I didn’t decide to halt that stage for the moment and move onto another after losing my stock of lives.
Another influential aspect of this game is the open-ended nature in completing it. Before Mega Man has the opportunity to settle his score with Dr. Wily, he first has to beat six of the mad scientist’s robot masters. Their stages could be selected in any order and what’s more, once beaten, Mega Man obtained their weapon. I could freely switch between the weapons Mega Man had acquired and was rewarded for doing so as each robot master was weak to another’s weapon. After obtaining a new weapon, I’d try a stage and make it to the boss to see if it was weak to the weapon just acquired and do so until I found my match.
Once the robot masters had been defeated and the path to Dr. Wily became available, the challenge really began. I went through a decent amount of continues before reaching the Yellow Devil. This iconic Mega Man boss was highlighted to me with his annoying inclusion in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U where he transfers chunks of his body horizontally from one side of the screen to the other rebuilding itself, a difficult attack to evade. Now I know where that originated. That exact same tactic is present here and was one of the hardest video game obstacles I’ve had to overcome in recent memory, maybe since beating Super Mario Bros. last year! It took me so much time and effort (multiple sessions across a couple of days even) that I naively thought this was the final boss. Because of course it wouldn’t be DR. WILY! Come on John, think about it!
So once I’d finally conquered the Yellow Devil (which literally made me exclaim WOOHOO!), I was crestfallen to realize there was more to do… much more. Dr. Wily’s stage was four sections long – each ending with a boss fight, or set of boss fights. Each of the robot masters that Mega Man had beaten previously had to be beaten again. Thankfully, the game allows unlimited continues and mercifully, when used in Dr. Wily’s stage, they restarted me in the current section and not at the very beginning of the stage – pre-Yellow Devil. With that ability, I was actually able to make it deep into the final section of Dr. Wily’s stage when that nightmare scenario we all have while playing video games happened – I lost power. ARGH!!!
With that, I was done with Mega Man. Not just for that night but for a long time. At least, that’s how I felt for the next fifteen minutes until I had a chance to cool down. This was something I still had on my video game bucket list, something I still felt I needed to do in order to broaden my gaming knowledge. A few days later I returned and with little resistance was right back where I was pre-power outage. Most thrilling of all was the rematch with the Yellow Devil. What had once taken me an eternity to overcome I could now topple in a few attempts!
With the robot masters bested again and these sections completed, there was one thing left to do: put Dr. Wily in his place. Like the Yellow Devil, this was another tough matchup. Dr. Wily had two forms, each with an eternity of a health bar. After a few attempts I knew what I had to do: I had to cheese him.
In the original Mega Man, there’s an exploit that allows Elec Man’s weapon to damage an enemy multiple times with one shot. This weapon’s projectile is long and branching like lightning. As soon as it made contact with Dr. Wily, I pressed the back button on my Xbox 360 controller – pausing the game. Upon unpausing the game, it damaged him again as if this was the first time the projectile made contact. This exploit wasn’t removed from the Anniversary Collection and I milked it across a half-dozen attempts before the mad scientist finally bowed to Mega Man.
Although I wound up cheesing the final boss, I have no regrets. I overcame so many obstacles while testing my reflexes, dexterity, and memorization that I still feel accomplished. Besides, literally every FAQ and forum commenter I came across suggested the same thing. I’m not sure anyone’s beaten Mega Man without utilizing that exploit! Nonetheless, I can cross beating Mega Man off my bucket list and can feel a little more confident in my gaming prowess and knowledge. Foremost of which is the fact that Mega Man is a precisely tuned action-platformer that’s tough but rewarding. Now, onto Mega Man 2!
When I think of Sam’s Club, I tend to look back fondly on my middle school/high school gaming habits. With the plethora of $13 games I added to my collection, I experienced some of the best low sellers of that period. One of those titles was P.N. 03 – a futuristic character-action game from Shinji Mikami. It was set in a clean science-fiction environment, looked stunning, but played tepidly. Much of the game is lost to me now, but I do remember it being poorly received. In fact, I remember not being that big of a fan, although I played through the entirety of it, and played more to unlock additional costumes for Vanessa Z. Schneider. I’m willing to pop it in again, but I’m afraid I’ll be greeted with stilted combat that hasn’t aged well.
P.N. 03 was developed by Capcom Production Studio 4, and naturally, published by Capcom. It was spearheaded by Shinji Mikami and was one of the “Capcom Five.” In fact, this was the sole game of the lot that remained exclusive to the GameCube. Thankfully, this game turned out to be more of a testing ground for Mikami’s ideas; ideas that went on to create the brilliant Vanquish. P.N. 03 was originally released in Japan on March 27, 2003 and was released in North America on September 9, 2003.
Being an avid fan of Nintendo, especially during the GameCube years, I was turned on to cel-shaded games via The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Since then, I’ve had a fondness for the cartoony graphical style used in games as far-ranging as cartoon tie-ins and the uber-violent affairs of Suda51. Auto Modellista was an arcade-style racing game from the time period that I also had a fondness for, primarily because of its art style. Underneath however, was an informative racing game that enabled me to understand crucial racing concepts.
Auto Modellista originally appeared on the PlayStation 2 in 2002. Developed by Capcom Production Studio 1, the game was part of an initiative to support the PlayStation 2’s online capabilities. The other games from this group (Resident Evil: Outbreak and Monster Hunter) outperformed it, and is perhaps why this game was later ported to the GameCube and Xbox. The GameCube was the only version to lack online play, which it might as well now. Despite it including a split screen mode for two, I strictly played solo.
The Garage Life mode is the primary single player mode. Freely using up to thirty cars, I completed individual races and series’ to unlock further challenges, new cars, and customization parts – even for my garage! The customization was light – most every car’s exterior could be customized in areas (bonnet, side, rear, spoiler, etc.) and most had three options. Performance upgrades were unlocked and also very limited, although they were beneficial and necessary to winning. I made sure to focus on events that awarded these first and I breezed through the game in a few hours.
The courses were divided up amongst the familiar circuit design and more unique hill courses. These upward or downward winding courses were set against the backdrop of the Japanese hillside and featured ludicrous amounts of sharp turns. These sections might as well have been a scene from Initial D! They were one of my highlights from the game, particularly due to their uniqueness. With less than a dozen tracks, they didn’t have much competition. Speaking of, the opponent AI wasn’t much to deal with either. The difficulty stemmed more from the performance upgrades and whether I had them or not.
One element of the Garage Life mode that I appreciated the most back in the day was the extensive information the game passed on to me via emails. With every type of car I used, I’d be flooded with emails describing it and the best way to handle the car. The same held true when I received performance upgrades or competed on a new track for the first time. This was the first racing game I played that taught me how to corner and also how to corner in a specific car setup. It was helpful when I later graduated to Gran Turismo 4!
My recent replay of Auto Modellista wound up being a brief sojourn through my memories of not only the game but the video game industry when it was released. I feel it’s indicative of the then growing popularity of cel-shaded graphics and the move towards online play. Despite those elements of the game, at its core, it’s a typical arcade racer with an extra dose of customization and simulation style information. However, it’ll always be remembered for being that cel-shaded racing game.
While it’s one of, if not the, pioneer of the run and gun subgenre of shoot ‘em ups, I never used to appreciate Commando. Until last year, I preferred the games it influenced such as Ikari Warriors and Guerrilla War. Which is kind of weird liking the former since it plays practically the same; Guerrilla War however is much faster. Last year, when my friend and I were in the heyday of the NES in our still ongoing competition, I realized playing Commando effectively required running and gunning.
If you had watched me play Commando previously, you would’ve seen me shooting from a stationary position. This is a terribly ineffective way of playing this type of game and explains why I never spent much time with Commando, just an attempt or two every now and then. After this epiphany though, I’ve grown to appreciate, and enjoy the game, whether we played the arcade original via Capcom Classics Collection, the NES version, or the Atari 2600 version. Well, about that version…
Adapted by Imagineering employee Mike Reidel and published by Activision for the platform in 1988, this version of Commando is surprisingly recognizable. Despite there being a fraction of the enemies attacking at any given time and the aspect ratio being wider and shorter than its arcade counterpart, the actual gameplay is pretty keen on the source material. Perhaps not though as, ironically enough, I find it harder to run and gun in this version. Stopping and popping is a viable method in this version, so all things considered, perhaps this version is unrecognizable as Commando. A great effort, but there are better ways to play this game.