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Namco Museum Vol. 3 [PlayStation] – Review

Namo Museum Volume 3

For all intents and purposes, this is a review of Namco Museum Vol. 3 for the PlayStation, bearing in mind I’ve played it twice for about an hour total. That being said, I’m confident in knowing what it has to offer based on prior experiences with most of the compiled games. After a fruitful evening of game hunting with a friend, this is the title I subjected us to. Well, that’s what he may describe the experience as but for me, someone who relishes the opportunity to play just about any game, it was an entertaining romp through the past. Considering this is a compilation that only contains six games, it proved to highlight a strong selection of Namco’s arcade lineage.

This, the third installment of the Namco Museum series on the PlayStation, was originally released stateside in early 1997. Most sources point to Now Production handling the development/porting with Namco publishing it here. As mentioned, six arcade games are included: Galaxian, Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position II, Dig Dug, Phozon, and The Tower of Druaga. Most readers are likely familiar with all but the last two, but the weight is definitely carried by the headliners. Regardless, these are all arcade-faithful ports and the package is buoyed by a virtual museum to walk through, highlighting low resolution scans of the games’ original Japanese marketing materials (plus an entertaining introduction video!).

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Dig Dug
Dig Dug is a cute game with cute names such as Pooka and Fygar.

Of the games included, I’m most familiar with Ms. Pac-Man. That was one of the go-to Super Nintendo games in my household growing up. Heck, even my mom played it with us! She’s actually the reason we had it since she was familiar with the arcade release and knew it’d be more family friendly than say the copy of Killer Instinct that came bundled with our console. The version on display in this compilation is the arcade version, so it’s limited on features compared to the Super Nintendo port I’m used to. Nonetheless, Ms. Pac-Man is a riveting game with or without any bells or whistles. In fact, when my friend and I played, this game in particular sparked a bit of a high score competition.

I was first introduced to Dig Dug through its Xbox Live Arcade release, although I’ve played much more of the Mr. Driller series. A single-screen action game like most of the other games on this compilation, Dig Dug sees players assuming the role of the eponymous Dig Dug (also known as Taizo Hori) as he digs underground in order to defeat the wandering Pookas and Fygars. This can be easily done by exploding them with an air pump, although strategically dropping rocks on them can result in chained kills and extra points. Defeating them further down also yields more points. It’s a straight-forward action game but as described, there’s ways to wring strategic elements from the game to promote score-chasing.

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Galaxian
Galaxian was little more than a Space Invaders copy, although it laid the groundwork for the superb Galaga.

Galaxian is perhaps most succinctly described as a combination of Space Invaders and Galaga. It was, after all, Namco’s heavily inspired attempt at a Space Invaders game and the predecessor to the much improved Galaga. That’s not to say that this isn’t a worthy game in its own right. Namco took the Space Invaders formula and expanded upon it incrementally by designing more aggressive enemies… and adding color. Damn, Galaga is so much better… Destroying the waves of enemies still remains challenging but after the first wave, players will have seen pretty much everything they’re going to see.

Like Galaxian, there’s little to say about Pole Position II. It’s a solid racing game and it runs beautifully although nothing differentiates it from the hundreds of racing games available throughout the 1980s; it’s still a precedent setter. That leaves me with Phozon and The Tower of Druaga. This compilation represented the North American debut of Phozon as it never left Japan when it was released in 1983. I didn’t particularly care for it, although the pseudo-3D rendering of the antagonist looked good. Forgoing the game’s unique verbiage, players control an atom and collect drifting molecules aiming to recreate the shape displayed before each stage. A sole enemy is almost always present and a life is lost if it connects with the player’s atom. Essentially, recreate shapes while playing cat and mouse.

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Phozon
Phozon was a weird one, regardless of the two in the upper-left corner.

Finally, there’s The Tower of Druaga. From the title alone this one sounds epic and it was understandably inspired by Middle Eastern mythology. Controlling the hero Gilgamesh, players are tasked with rescuing Ki from said tower. This plays out across 60 floors of mazes with each floor hosting a locked exit, a key, as well as enemies and treasure. Again, this is a pretty straight-forward game whose difficulty continually increases. I wasn’t able to get too far into the tower but one tip I can share is to hold the attack button. With it held, Gilgamesh keeps his sword drawn and can walk into enemies to defeat them. A marked improvement on simply swinging the sword, trust me.

With there being so many Namco Museum titles nowadays, it’s hard to recommend this one over the more comprehensive collections for newer consoles. Still, at the right price, this is worth snatching up. I have multiple Namco compilations but $0.99 for a loose copy was too good to pass up. I will say I was surprised by the museum content, I wasn’t expecting that and don’t recall similar information in the newer compilations. And that darn introduction video really got me jazzed up too! If anything, I’ll keep my eyes peeled on the other PlayStation Namco Museum releases in the hopes of getting more of that content, if the price is right.

Lastly, here is a video that my friend and I recorded while playing this game. The best part by far is the Ms. Pac-Man competition which commences about halfway through and runs to the end of the video. It’s not very serious, but I still won, and that’s what counts.

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Arkanoid: Doh It Again [SNES] – Review

Arkanoid Doh It AgainMy interest in the Arkanoid series piqued after reading a Retro Gamer article chronicling the series. I’d never played a game in the series, although like most everyone else, had played a game like it. So, when the Oklahoma Video Game Exhibition came around and I found what I believed to be a reasonably-priced complete copy of Arkanoid: Doh It Again, I snagged it. Since then, I’ve played the game a great deal, enough to beat it, even. There were interesting touches to differentiate it from other similar games, although I eventually grew bored of it. The bulk of my time was enjoyable, but the times that weren’t, were tortuous.

The rounds usually were made to look recognizable.
The rounds were usually made to look recognizable.

The game consisted of 99 rounds with each one featuring a unique arrangement of blocks. Most were easy, usually requiring no more than a handful of attempts. However, there were a few, particularly rounds 95 and 99 that took me upwards of fifty attempts; seriously, like fifty attempts. These were awful and truly tested my determination to see the end. Generally, the tougher rounds were made so due to the inclusion of gray and gold blocks. Gray ones took multiple hits to destroy while gold ones were unbreakable. When these were used in combination, and arranged in specific ways, my success was based on persistence and a lot of luck.

Breaking up the formula were boss fights. These took place every eleven rounds and featured one of three bosses. If you’ve done the math, you know that means I fought each boss three times! This was a letdown, especially when I reached round 99 and sure enough, just a repeated boss. To be fair, they grew tougher with each appearance, although nothing else changed about them. I simply had to hit them more times. And, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the final round ate up my time and patience. Eventually though, I overcame, able to walk away with the satisfaction of beating the game, and little else.

Two-player modes (competitive and cooperative) round out the game and enhance the replayability. Honestly, this is where the game shines, too. Playing solo, the game represents a near-perfect podcast game, which is to say it can be a little boring. Throwing another person into the mix livens the atmosphere and makes for a fun experience – specifically cooperatively. There is a level editor mode as well, but that’s not my cup of tea; and the game also supports the SNES mouse which seems like an odd bullet point, but it probably has its perks in level creation.

One of the three boss fights, and one of the two instances of Doh.
One of the three boss fights, and one of the two instances of Doh.

Arkanoid: Doh It Again doesn’t have a lot going for it. Persisting through the game’s 99 rounds yields some good times, but eventually, those are overshadowed by the hours spent beating a select few stages. I’m still interested in playing other games in the series, but won’t necessarily seek them out. Perhaps the biggest personal revelation, however, was the fact that this game came out on the Super Nintendo in November 1997. That’s so late in the SNES’ lifecycle! I mean, November 1997. NOVEMBER. 1997.

The Box Art of Final Fantasy IV

As I browsed GameFAQs, searching for these images, a revelation occurred to me. Final Fantasy IV is probably the most re-released game in the long-running series. That’s a fitting fate for it too. It was perhaps the major title to usher in the “golden age” of Japanese role-playing games. At the very least, it was the first game in the series that hinted at the forward momentum Square would have over the next decade-and-a-half with the genre. So, why don’t you join me as I explore the covers Square used to sell the game over the years.

A cutesy move away from the previous games' covers.
A cutesy move away from the previous games’ covers.

The first thing I noticed when looking at the original box art Square used for FFIV is the lack of emphasis placed on Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork. The previous three games featured his renderings of warriors and princesses prominently. This go around though, you’d think he was relegated to the logo only. This wasn’t the case though; Square simply chose to highlight a different aspect of the character designs – the super deformed! It’s cutesy for sure and plasters some common job classes upfront, and I guess I like that they took a different route with it. Oh, and there’s Kain Highwind in Amano’s logo.

Objects as letters! Not as bad as numbers as letters.
Objects as letters! Not as bad as numbers as letters.

When they released it in America for the SNES a year later though, the American branch didn’t even try. It’s simple and it always catches my eye when I scour local game shops for good deals. Maybe it’s not so bad; it does catch my eye after all. They really had to pitch it to us though, didn’t they? They’ve got bullet points on the front of the box! It was released over here as Final Fantasy II since the second and third titles weren’t. This prevented much confusion. And releasing a dumbed-down version prevented much difficulty.

Back to Yoshitaka Amano.
Back to Yoshitaka Amano.

The game was first rereleased for the PlayStation in 1997. The Japanese box art sees a return to the styling’s of Amano. Cecil Harvey and Golbez are prominently featured, although honestly, it’s hard for me to distinguish the rest of the imagery, and even if that really is Golbez and not Kain. Regardless, Kain takes his place in the logo. Cecil definitely fronted a hair metal band before being cast for FFIV. The PlayStation version was released in America too, circa 2001. It was bundled with Chrono Trigger and released as Final Fantasy Chronicles. There’s not much else to mention about the box art.

Bandai? You mean the company that collaborated on the Apple Bandai Pippin?
Bandai? You mean the company that collaborated on the Apple Bandai Pippin?

Little known to many Western gamers, Bandai had a fortuitous deal with Square to rerelease Final Fantasy titles for their WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color. FFIV was released for the WSC in 2002. A decadent airship is featured in the background that was no doubt crafted by the illustrious Cid Pollendina.

Simple.
Simple.

FFIV would next see release on a Nintendo platform again – the Game Boy Advance. It was released as Final Fantasy IV Advance in Japan and America in December 2005, and six months later in Europe. The Japanese box art is simple. Gray silhouettes of Cecil and Kain flank the logo. Meanwhile the American and European release is much more colorful. These versions feature Cecil and Kain, as well as Rosa Farrell for the first time. The box art used for these regions hints at the love triangle between the cast. This is definitely Amano refining the “wispy lines” he’s known for.

Less simple, but I prefer it!
Less simple, but I prefer it!

A few years later, the game saw a full-scale remake into 3D. Originally released for the Nintendo DS in Japan in December 2007, it was released in the back-half of 2008 in America and Europe. It has since been released for mobile devices running iOS and Android systems as well, but those platforms don’t really have boxed games… Japan received another Amano box art, featuring a larger portion of the cast, including the Lunar Whale. Here in America, we received an ominous black box, which formed a holographic Golbez. Europeans received the same essentially. The only difference was the color palette.

The DS covers.
The DS covers.

Finally, FFIV was bundled together with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and an interlude bridging the two titles as Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection. This was released for the PlayStation Portable in 2011 and was the version I played. I think Japan and Europe got the better box art with this release. A large portion of the cast is done in emotive poses, painted in a watercolor style very reminiscent of Amano’s work on the original three games in the series. America on the other hand received gray silhouettes of Cecil and Kain against a white background. This version was very reminiscent of the Japanese release of Final Fantasy IV Advance.

The PSP covers.
The PSP covers.

With a brand as strong as Final Fantasy, the box art doesn’t have to sell the game. This might explain why Square has felt the liberty to rerelease Final Fantasy IV with a multitude of different covers. With much variety for this one game, it’s hard to pick a single favorite. I really like the Japanese and European release of Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection. It’s probably the easy favorite. All of Amano’s artwork is awe-inspiring personally. Heck, the Super Famicom release is cool too, in a differentiated cutesy way. I’ll go with my easy favorite though – the Japanese and European releases of The Complete Collection.

Lethal Enforcers – First Impressions

On consoles, Lethal Enforcers was released in a massive cardboard box that could contain the Konami Justifier.

Back when arcades ruled the video game roost, light gun games were widespread. The genre wasn’t as ubiquitous on home consoles, but it seems like each console from back in the day had a light gun. One game with a big presence back then was Lethal Enforcers. It was originally released as an arcade game in 1992, but was ported to the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Sega CD from 1993-1994. Developed and published by Konami, each version came bundled with the Konami Justifier, a blue light gun modeled after the Cult Python, the iconic .357 Magnum revolver. Enabling cooperative play is the harder to find pink light gun, although it works across all three platforms.

The Genesis and Sega CD versions were very grainy.

Lethal Enforcers contains little narrative, but little is needed. Crime is being committed and as a cop, it’s your (and your partner’s) duty to uphold the law. You’ll shoot through scenes in which bad guys pop their heads up from cover looking to blow yours off. Without quick timing and precise accuracy, game over comes quickly. Once those qualities are on lock-down though, you might just be able to make your city a little cleaner. While that sounded like an ad, that’s pretty much the best way I can sum up the game.

My friend and I played the Genesis and Sega CD versions of Lethal Enforcers and I only noticed one difference between the two versions – the soundtrack of the Sega CD version was of a higher quality. Both games looked identical, although the Sega CD version should look much better than its Genesis counterpart. I imagine the Super Nintendo version is identical to the Genesis version, although without playing it myself, I can’t say with certainty.

My friend and I had a rough go at the game. It was easy to complete the first level, a bank robbery, and even do so without losing lives, but to unlock the next level, we had to have 70% accuracy. We eventually managed this, but the second level, a trip to Chinatown, upped the difficulty, while also asking us to have even better accuracy. The game has five stages and I’m sure this continues to be the case throughout the game.

This scene played like an episode of The Flintstones – my friend and I saw, like, thirty National Rubber Stamp Companies.

I really enjoy light gun games, and Lethal Enforcers seems to be one of the genre’s better examples. It’s tough, but it doesn’t force players to memorize enemy locations. With quick reflexes and good accuracy, anyone can have fun. Playing cooperatively is a treat because at that point, you’re into the experience for at least thirty bucks, but it’s definitely much more fun with a partner. Lethal Enforcers is a fun game, although for the best experience, it will be slightly costly/difficult to track down. It’s worth noting that Lethal Enforcers won’t work on HDTVs so if you’re interested, make sure you have a CRT TV or something you can play it on.

Front Mission – First Impressions

I think the US box art is very bland. They should have used Yoshitaka Amano's art.

The 2007 Nintendo DS release of Front Mission was the first time the game was available in North America. It was originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1995 and saw upgraded ports for the WonderSwan Color and PlayStation in the years before it arrived here. The game spawned a series and is undoubtedly one of the more well known tactical role-playing games.

Front Mission contains two lengthy scenarios to play through, each taking place on Huffman Island. The game has a very detailed back-story detailing the events that led up to the confrontation of two superpowers on a small Pacific island in the late 21st century.

The first scenario follows a young captain, Royd Clive who is fighting as mercenary for the Oceania Cooperative Union. When his scenario begins, I witnessed his fiancée getting killed by opposition forces, the Unified Continental States. He loses interest in fighting but is recruited by a mercenary leader and accepts. Through his conquest of the island he receives indications that his fiancée might still be alive.

The second scenario follows Kevin Greenfield, a former high ranking officer in the U.C.S. who was stripped of his rank and sent to Huffman Island. This scenario was labeled as more difficult than Royd’s and I didn’t play any of it. Heck, I didn’t even finish Royd’s scenario; I’ve played for about a dozen hours and I’m basically halfway through his scenario at mission 13.

I spent the bulk of my time with Front Mission when I spent a week away from home, away from my consoles, and I haven’t put much time into it since then. Perhaps I would’ve remained captivated by it if there was more going on plot wise. Most of the plot advancement stemmed from minor victories against Royd’s enemy, the U.C.S., allowing his squad to gain ground on them. Also going on was Royd’s quest for his possibly still alive fiancée but this plotline developed very slowly. Recruiting new squad members introduced new characters, but I rarely saw them afterwards.

The wanzers could equip many different types of weapons so having a diverse squad helped.

Personally, I really like tactical-rpgs… from afar. Leveling up and managing a fairly large squad sounds interesting, but this eventually amounts to too much work. Another thing I dislike about the genre is the sense that there is one correct way to complete a mission; it seems I get halfway through a game and all of a sudden hit a wall. This is one area where Front Mission appeals to me. I never felt like there was one way to complete a mission. Perhaps this is due to the upgradability of the wanzers.

Battles were fought in wanzers (mecha) which could be upgraded in many ways. When I wasn’t in a mission I could set up camp in a nearby town and visit the local shop. Here, I could upgrade the weapons my wanzers had equipped and change their various parts. When I ran out of money I visited the arena and easily won more by gambling. However, this turned into a rather boring cycle of mission, new town, shop, arena, shop, and so on. Recently, I’d spend upwards of thirty minutes upgrading my wanzers, and that’s too much downtime.

The actual missions in Front Mission are turned based and battles take place between individual units like most other tactical-rpgs. Some missions have unique events and enemies, but there isn’t much diversity apart from “attack all units until dead”.

I enjoyed meeting new squad members and hearing from them, but they didn't add much.

Front Mission belongs to a genre I guess I don’t particularly enjoy but I found it more approachable than other similar games; then again I still didn’t complete it, as of this writing at least. I found the gameplay solid and very rewarding when the tides of battle were in my favor. I wish there was more to the plot, either the actual confrontation between the two superpowers or Royd’s story. Just the thought of a whole other scenario is daunting, but surely a boon for any fan of the genre.

Soul Blazer – Review

What a wicked sword dude.

It’s not every day I have a half-off coupon to my favorite video game store. So when I received one I used it wisely and picked up a relatively expensive Super Nintendo RPG. I decided on Soul Blazer, a game I had no previous knowledge of. More specifically, it was an action-RPG developed by Quintet and published by Enix for the SNES in 1992. I thought it had a simple plot and simple gameplay, but it was exciting to return life back to the world of the Freil Empire.

Primarily a tale of greed, Soul Blazer at first has a shallow plot, but it gets interesting. The king of the Freil Empire has captured a famous inventor and forced him to create a machine that allows the king to communicate with a seriously bad dude, Deathtoll. Deathtoll wants souls and the king wants money so they strike a deal, souls for money. Here’s where the player character comes in.

The player character, the soul blazer is sent down from the heavens by The Master to remedy the situation in the Freil Empire. As the soul blazer I was capable of defeating the numerous monsters throughout the dungeons of the empire as well as communicating with the souls I released.

The stages ran the gamut from sea floor to snowy mountains to space.

There were seven stages in all and I thought the way they were structured was interesting. Each stage was basically a village with access to a dungeon or two. The first stage was a mining town with a mine serving as the dungeon. The second stage was a settlement in the woods of woodland creatures, and so on; the stages were diverse and they contained all sorts of different creatures.

Like the villages, the dungeons were set in interesting locales; one on a model town and another in a fantastically rendered version of space were my favorites. The dungeons were very straightforward and not very difficult. I followed the path and killed monsters as they spawned from portals. Once the portals were depleted, they changed into a switch that would release a creature back in the village.

There wasn’t any puzzle solving in the dungeons, I just followed the path and killed any monster I came upon. The villages on the other hand did require a bit of thinking. After freeing creatures and restoring the stages to their original glory, I could chat with the creatures and sometimes get some info on a stronger sword, better armor, the location of magic, or a necessary item.

The bosses were challenging and required strafing, lots of strafing.

For the most part, Soul Blazer wasn’t very challenging. The monsters were really dumb, basically walking into my sword and the dungeons were quickly completed, about an hour for each. The bosses on the other hand were challenging, but not excessively difficult.  The only puzzle solving that was tricky came at the very end when I had to retread a few of the earlier dungeons defeating previously indestructible enemies. But my favorite part of the game would have to be the soundtrack. I thought it was phenomenal and hummed along with practically every track. Soul Blazer was a good game and in the end, well worth using a half-off coupon.

3/5

Wheel of Fortune: Deluxe Edition – Review

Another game show video game released by GameTek, also for the SNES.

Continuing on with game show video games for the Super Nintendo, my friend and I popped in Wheel of Fortune: Deluxe Edition. It was developed by Imagitec Design and published by GameTek in 1994 and I came away with the same feelings as I did with Family Feud. It was a competent recreation of the TV show and we enjoyed playing it, but there are probably newer, better versions out there.

I know it!

My friend and I entered in our names and chose to be one of six characters. We played through the game in four rounds and a speed-up round, and finally the winner would play a bonus round. Like Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune: Deluxe Edition did a good job of recreating the TV show, albeit within the abilities of the SNES.

When it was our turn, we could spin the wheel, buy a vowel, or attempt to solve the puzzle. When spinning the wheel we’d land on a slot (hopefully not bankrupt or lose a turn) and then pick a consonant and win money depending on how many of that letter were in the puzzle. We could also buy vowels, and lastly attempt to solve the puzzle. If we were right, we’d win the money we had accumulated in that round. The winner after four normal rounds and the speed-up round would continue into the bonus round. Here the winner would pick three consonants and one vowel, and then attempt to guess the puzzle.

I feel practically the same about Wheel of Fortune: Deluxe Edition as I did about Family Feud on the SNES. My friend and I both had a good time playing it, but there is probably a newer, better version available.