Ms. Pac-Man (Nintendo Game Boy)

Even when miniaturized on a Game Boy screen, Ms. Pac-Man still delivers the goods. If you a Pac-Man fan, it’s a great game to take wherever you go, just in case you have a few idle minutes you need to fill with some video game goodness.

Though the Pac-Man series of games fell from grace as the ’80s progressed, as newer and more complicated games were released for more sophisticated hardware, that did not prevent the games from being ported. Gamers like me scoffed at the various Pac-Man games arriving on the later 8-bit and 16-bit systems. If I could choose between Mario and Pac-Man, why would I choose the latter? Pac-Man was passé.

I probably maintained this view throughout much of my youth. I didn’t have the time nor the money to waste on such simple, outdated games. Pac-Man was for guys who were still programming in BASIC on their Apple IIes while Monty Python played in the background on their Betamaxes. Pac-Man had no place in my late ’80s/early ’90s game world. This is why when I had a Game Boy, I owned games like Castlevania and Mega Man. Those were the hot games—not some monotonous little maze game.

If you’re at all like me, you want to travel back in time about 20 years and smack this smarmy kid. Or at least show him the error of his ways. Because, even though I did play all the way through The Castlevania Adventure, and I probably thought it was great at the time, I should have been open to playing a game like Ms. Pac-Man, which was perfect for handheld gaming. It’s a game that can be picked up and played for 10, 15, or 20 minutes while on a road trip (or while goofing off in art class). It doesn’t require a time investment, and is there for a little quick fun whenever needed.

Ms. Pac-Man on the Game Boy is a good port of the game. It doesn’t play too quickly (seems downright slow after playing Jr. Pac-Man), but given the small size of the Game Boy screen, that may be a good thing. The game features scrolling mazes and detailed characters. A cool bonus is that in a two-player game, the second player gets to control Pac-Man. I don’t know if any other versions are set up that way, but I thought it was a nice touch. At the end of the game, once both players have exhausted their extra lives, Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Man are shown coming together, kissing, and then the one who scored the most points gets to do a kind of victory dance (as much of a victory dance as can be done sans arms or legs). That made me laugh. Aww, good game. I love you. In your face, loser! 🙂

The one area in which this game suffered was sound. During play, I thought the sound was fine. It didn’t seem quite right, but I loved that it had the constant Pac-Man sound (if you’ve been around the coin-op, you should know what I’m talking about) that the Atari games lacked. It took me back to the days of arcades and just hearing the different games, each of them beckoning me—your quarters, give us your quarters . . . . The sounds during the intermission (I use the singular here, as I only made it to one—I don’t know if the others are included or not) seemed very off, and the bonk sound the ghosts make when running into one another was missing. I will confess that I played this on my GameCube using the Game Boy Player, and I’m not sure if that might affect the sound at all, but I doubt that it would, as the games are not played via emulation.

Even when miniaturized on a Game Boy screen, Ms. Pac-Man still delivers the goods. If you a Pac-Man fan, it’s a great game to take wherever you go, just in case you have a few idle minutes you need to fill with some video game goodness.

Recommended

Neutopia

Even if it isn’t revolutionary, Neutopia is a solid title that does improve on the gameplay of The Legend of Zelda. Though the cost may be prohibitive if you’re considering it for the TurboGrafx 16, it’s only $6 (600 Wii points) on the Virtual Console, making it a solid buy and a great way to spend a lazy Sunday.

I suppose in a review of Neutopia, it is almost obligatory to reference The Legend of Zelda. Yes, Neutopia is greatly influenced by The Legend of Zelda, from its overhead perspective to its dungeons to its items. I believe it is safe to say that, had The Legend of Zelda never been created, there would be no Neutopia. Some are quick to dismiss Neutopia because of this, which baffles me. The video game industry is full of games that borrow from a successful formula (would we have the prevalence of fighting games if there were no Street Fighter II or first-person shooters if there were no Wolfenstein 3-D or Doom?). It may be that Neutopia is criticized because people believe that it really didn’t enhance what The Legend of Zelda presented, but I refute that idea. Not only do I think that Neutopia improved upon Zelda’s gameplay, but I believe that it is overall a more enjoyable experience.

Though some of you Zelda fans may be crying, “Blasphemy!” at this point, let me make my case.

First off, the graphics in Neutopia are an improvement over the Zelda graphics. This is no surprise, as Neutopia was originally released on the more powerful TurboGrafx 16/PC Engine. The character sprite for the lead character, Jazetta, is larger than Link, as are most of the monsters. The characters and game world are rendered in vivid colors, thanks to the greater color palette of the TG-16. Though the graphics are not jaw-droppingly amazing, the overall visual experience is pleasing.

In terms of gameplay, I found Jazetta easier to control than Link. Both are confined to moving in only four directions, but Jazetta seemed a little more responsive. I will admit that there is a possibility that this was due to the controller, though, as I only played The Legend of Zelda on the Gamecube using a Gamecube controller and may have had a different experience with the original Nintendo controller.

One thing that I definitely preferred in Neutopia is that there are usually clues as to where you may find secret areas. Like in Zelda, secret areas can be found by burning trees or by bombing walls. Maybe I’m less patient than I once was, but finding the secret areas in Zelda is just a chore, especially when I only had the blue candle, which can only be used once on a screen, forcing me to enter the screen, try burning a bush, leave the screen, return, and try another bush. This becomes very tedious very quickly. In Neutopia, there are no candles, but you do get a wand (like you get later in Zelda) that emits flames, and it can be used repeatedly (in fact, you’ll find yourself using it frequently as a ranged weapon, since you sword is only a close-range weapon).

The one aspect of Neutopia that I find inferior to Zelda is its challenge. Neither the normal monsters nor the dungeons nor the bosses are very difficult (though the last two bosses seem to ramp up the difficulty quite a bit). In terms of play time, it took me an entire Sunday to play through Neutopia, which has no second quest like Zelda.

Even if it isn’t revolutionary, Neutopia is a solid title that does improve on the gameplay of The Legend of Zelda. Though the cost may be prohibitive if you’re considering it for the TurboGrafx 16, it’s only $6 (600 Wii points) on the Virtual Console, making it a solid buy and a great way to spend a lazy Sunday.

Recommended

Super Mario Bros.

Though it may be eclipsed by its sequels (especially Super Mario Bros. 3), this game is not only an important piece of gaming history, but a great way to spend a few hours, especially as a means of introducing someone new to the gaming world.

After such a long absence from reviewing, you might question why I would start again with Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Why would I spend time reviewing such a mainstream game that most gamers have likely played at least once in their lifetimes? Shouldn’t I be taking on one of the other 700+ games in my library that are more obscure? Do I think I can state anything about this game that someone else has not previously said?

Those are all legitimate questions. Though Super Mario Bros. gave rise to the platformer and boosted the popularity of the NES, its formula was refined by later titles in the series. The games got larger. The graphics became more detailed. The power-ups changed to include frog suits, flight feathers, and more. There seems little reason to go back to the original, no matter how revered it may be for its place in gaming history.

However, thanks to a self-imposed responsibility to teach a friend about video games, I recently rediscovered Super Mario Bros. and how fun this game actually is. It’s something that I had forgotten over the years, considering the game too simple to be worth replaying.

Because the game is so well known, I won’t go into a lot of specifics, as these can easily be found with a quick Internet search. What I will do is urge all of you to give Super Mario Bros. another try. Though it may be eclipsed by its sequels (especially Super Mario Bros. 3), this game is not only an important piece of gaming history, but a great way to spend a few hours, especially as a means of introducing someone new to the gaming world.

Highly recommended

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan

You certainly won’t find the kind of beat-em-up action here that you would in the original coin-op or Turtles in Time, but Fall of the Foot Clan still provides a lot of fun and should satisfy Turtle fans.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were huge. They had starred in a blockbuster movie and cartoon series, had been translated into a popular line of action figures, and had been featured in a four-player coin-op that was the highlight of many arcades. Eager young gamers waited for the TMNT gaming experience at home, first receiving an NES game unrelated to the arcade cabinet before being blessed with a port of the coin-op. In between the release of these NES games, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan—the first Turtles game for the Game Boy—was released. Though it did not match the complexity of the arcade or NES games, gamers finally could Turtle Power with them on the road.

I remember reading about this cart in GamePro and being impressed by the graphics. The game features large, detailed sprites that are perfect representations of the Turtle characters. Playing through the game, you’ll run across Bebop, Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, Shredder, Krang, along with many recognizable lesser foes like Mousers and Foot Soldiers. The animation is very limited, but even twenty years later, I am impressed by the Game Boy graphics. Many of the cut scenes look like they could have been lifted right from the cartoon series . . . had the cartoons been in black and white (or is that green and paler green?).

The game plays very simply. You choose which turtle you want to use at the beginning of each stage or after one of your turtles falls in combat, but the differences in each turtle are only represented by the weapon each carries. You would expect that Leonardo’s and Donatello’s weapons would extend further than Raphael’s and Michelangelo’s, but that is not the case. Though it did seem to me that Michelangelo’s nunchucks were faster, I think this was more wishful thinking on my part than reality. In addition to each turtle’s primary weapon, shurikens can be thrown while crouching, and each turtle can jump kick as well. You have an unlimited number of shurikens, but it is often much easier to just walk up to an enemy and attack than to fight him from afar. There is some platforming involved in the game, but for the most part, you will be walking left to right attempting to hit your enemies before they hit you. Enemies are generally easy to kill or avoid, and the most problematic foes you’re likely to come across are the Foot Soldiers who jump onscreen and attempt to land on you. The bosses are surprisingly easy as well, and I made my battles with them more difficult by trying to find their patterns of attack. For example, I almost died fighting Shredder, thinking I had to avoid his attack and jump behind him to retaliate, until I realized I could walk up to him, strike, and then walk away.

The sound in this game is standard fare for the Game Boy, though it does have a good rendition of the Turtles theme song . . . which you will hear repeatedly throughout the game. Unless my count is off, the game alternates between two songs during the level, switching to a different tune for each boss battle. This didn’t detract from the game for me at all, and I found myself singing along to the Turtles theme in my head as I played.

Fall of the Foot Clan is a short game and can be beaten in under thirty minutes, which in my opinion makes it a perfect game for a portable. The game is very easy, and you may find yourself blowing through it on your first playthrough without losing a single turtle. You certainly won’t find the kind of beat-em-up action here that you would in the original coin-op or Turtles in Time, but Fall of the Foot Clan still provides a lot of fun and should satisfy Turtle fans.

Highly recommended

The House of the Dead Overkill

If you’re searching for epic quests and complicated storylines, you should look elsewhere, but fans of old light gun games or any gamers wanting some quick, mindless fun won’t go wrong with The House of the Dead Overkill.

What is it with women and zombie blasting? Sure, that may sound like a strange question, but inexplicably, women seem to love unloading a clip into a zombie’s head. Don’t believe me? Let me share some anecdotal evidence to make my point.

The year is 2001, and I am living in North Carolina. A girl I was kind of seeing at the time meets up with me at a mall. We end up at the arcade (yeah, they weren’t as scare in 2001 as they are now). Why did we go to the arcade? There was a game there she wanted to play with me: The House of the Dead 2. Yes, instead of dragging me along while she shopped or watching a movie together or any of the other activities in which we could have engaged at the mall, this girl wanted to put holes in zombies.

Jump ahead to 2009. A friend of mine (this time someone I am not kind of seeing) visits me at my house. If you’ve looked through my video game collection, you will see that I have a lot of games and many games that seem to span the gender gap. However, once this friend learns that I bought The House of the Dead Overkill, she excitedly says, “Let’s shoot zombies.” And the next time she visits? “I want to shoot zombies.”

It seems there is something about blowing away swarm after swarm of the walking dead that appeals to both men and women. Perhaps it is an inherent fear of the dead shared by both. Perhaps it is catharsis without the intrusion of conscience (they were already dead, anyway). Perhaps we were all so freaked out by Night of the Living Dead that we need to shoot zombies for our mental wellness. I’m sure there is a psychological study in there, but I guess that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to discuss whether or not this game is worth buying and/or playing.

The answer to both is yes.

The House of the Dead Overkill is just plain fun. It’s great that the introduction of the Wii has revived the light gun genre (though we’re not really talking about light guns anymore). These games were almost always fun and accessible to a wide audience. Instead of memorizing what a bunch of different buttons do, all you have to remember is to pull the trigger when that zombie is in your crosshairs and occasionally shake your gun to reload (as opposed to shooting offscreen, which tended to be the way to reload with light guns). You don’t even need to worry about controlling where you move, since the game does that for you. It’s a matter of shooting and surviving, outlasting the horde of creatures wanting to rend your flesh.

Before I give this game too glowing of a review, there are some weak spots I need to point out. The graphics in the cut scenes are not great. I know that the Wii is incapable of producing the graphics of the Xbox 360 or the PS3, but the cut scene graphics here are exceptionally poor. The graphics while playing seem better, though I cannot say whether they actually are or if it is just a matter of being too focused on the action to notice them. Also, the storyline can be hit or miss, depending on your tastes. I appreciated that they presented the whole game like a low-budget seventies horror flick, but my friend was very annoyed by the cut scenes and just wanted to get to the action. Part of that may have been that the storyline is more catered to a male audience (for example, the intro to the game includes a live action exotic dancer, presented in grainy footage appropriate for the era this game is trying to capture). Also, the profanity in this game is excessive, and while I don’t believe that really bothered my friend, those of you who find this distasteful might want to avoid this game.

Those issues aside, there isn’t a whole lot to dislike here. This is pure fun and the reason we went to arcades back in the day. What’s even better is that this title can now be found for cheap (I saw it for as little as $13 around Christmas). If you’re searching for epic quests and complicated storylines, you should look elsewhere, but fans of old light gun games or any gamers wanting some quick, mindless fun won’t go wrong with The House of the Dead Overkill.

Highly recommended

Astyanax

Overall, Astyanax isn’t a bad game, and for those of us looking for hack-and-slash action on the NES, it is probably one of the better titles to choose from. Though the game does not rank among the best the 8-bit era has to offer, it will provide a couple of hours of fun—interspersed with the occasional expletive as you fall victim to another cheap pit death . . . .

Finding a good hack-and-slash game on the NES isn’t an easy prospect. It’s a genre that would thrive on the 16-bit consoles, with games like Golden Axe and Knights of the Round being ported from the arcades, but the titles on the leading 8-bit platform were scarce. For this reason, Astyanax caught my eye when it was released back in 1990, and though it took me another 19 years before I would add it to my collection, it always remained in my mind as one of those games I had to get my hands on someday.

So, the burning question is, was Astyanax worth the wait? Is Astyanax a good game?

If making a good game were just a matter of combining aspects of already successful games, then there would be no question, as there are qualities of this game which are reminiscent of Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, and The Legendary Axe—all games which are typically held in high regard. Astyanax has similar platforming and controls to Castlevania. Its presentation includes cut scenes to help tell its story, just like Ninja Gaiden. The gameplay is also quite similar to The Legendary Axe, especially considering how your axe powers up the longer you wait between attacks in both games. Unfortunately, though Astyanax appears to borrow from these and similar games, it lacks the polish of these games. The controls often feel unresponsive and the hit detection can be poor. The cut scenes, though attractive, really do not add a lot to a very basic save-the-princess storyline. Even powering up your axe has its problems. Along with your power bar increasing, you will also be able to upgrade your weapon when you receive a special token from the stone idols placed throughout the levels. The first token you will get changes your axe to a spear, which actually decreases your attack power. If you find another token, you will then wield a sword, which is the most powerful of the three weapons, but unless you are sure you will be able to upgrade to the sword, there is no reason to take one of these tokens, as it will just make defeating your enemies more difficult.

The graphics are probably the one area in which Astyanax shines, but there are still issues that prevent it from really excelling even in this regard. For an NES game, your character sprite is large, as are those for many of your enemies, such as the skeletons and the mini-bosses. The problem this creates is that it only takes four or five enemies to appear onscreen to cause a lot of flicker and a painful amount of slowdown. This slowdown will often be crippling, as it makes the controls that much more unresponsive, which will often lead to you taking cheap hits and falling into one of many pits to your doom. Strangely, there does not appear to be a lot of slowdown when facing the end bosses, which are huge and well defined. As is the case with many NES games featuring large bosses, the background is removed for boss fights, and all that will appear onscreen are a ground plane, your character, and the boss. While the bosses look nice, they are not well animated, and will frequently feature just one or two parts that actually appear to move. It’s not enough to detract totally from the presentation of these enemies, but it is noticeable.

Overall, Astyanax isn’t a bad game, and for those of us looking for hack-and-slash action on the NES, it is probably one of the better titles to choose from. Though the game does not rank among the best the 8-bit era has to offer, it will provide a couple of hours of fun—interspersed with the occasional expletive as you fall victim to another cheap pit death . . . .

Recommended (with reservations)

Star Wars: Episode I Racer

Would I recommend Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer? If you’re a fan of racing games and have an N64 lying around, it’s worth a look. It’s definitely not the cream of the N64 crop, and its dated graphics and sometimes frustrating track layouts can make it a chore to play, but if you come across a cheap copy, go ahead and pick it up.

After a nearly six-month hiatus, I am finally back to review Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer. Why has it taken me six months to get to this review? Part of it was just a matter of too much intervention from real life duties and responsibilities. The rest of the problem was that I just had a very difficult time getting into this game.

When I started this blog, one goal that I had was to finish each game prior to posting a review. Though you can get a feel for a game and determine whether or not it’s fun to play without playing it all the way through, I believed that to produce the most honest review of each game, I had to do so. Because of this, my Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer review never came to be.

For some reason, I could not get into this game. I remember playing it not long after it was released for the Nintendo 64 and really enjoying it. The problem is that was about ten years ago, and I was playing the game against someone instead of trying to plod my way through tournament mode on my own.

Perhaps the biggest issue I had with this game are the graphics. Though good for the late ’90s, they have not stood the test of time at all. Often while racing, I had problems discerning what certain objects were, and I found myself running into an obstacle that I could discern until the last moment, obliterating my pod racer and setting me several seconds behind my competitors. The textures are often dark and muddy, even when using the expansion pak. Also, I often felt as if I needed to memorize each track with its shortcuts and to execute a near-perfect run in order to even have a chance at winning.

If I had found a human competitor to play against, I think I would have appreciated this game more. The things I liked about the game were the ability to choose from a variety of racers, the option to change how many places were paid for each race, and the inclusion of upgrades that can be purchased for the pods. Granted, these were generally standard options for racing games when Episode 1 Racer was released.

So, my final verdict? It’s a game that I’m glad I have in my collection, if only for the fond memories I have racing against my brother a decade ago. Would I recommend Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer? If you’re a fan of racing games and have an N64 lying around, it’s worth a look. It’s definitely not the cream of the N64 crop, and its dated graphics and sometimes frustrating track layouts can make it a chore to play, but if you come across a cheap copy, go ahead and pick it up.

On the fence (sorry, can’t decide whether or not to recommend this one)