1942 — 2Q2019 issue

Pacific bat­tles fly in 8-bit form

Capcom’s warfight­ing 1940 series reminds me of the good times when arcade gam­ing ruled my week­ends and I was for­tu­nate to find some rare gems that later became gam­ing clas­sics. Dur­ing that time, I played 1942 in the arcade and on the NES and walked away from this expe­ri­ence with some valu­able infor­ma­tion: 1. The first game in a series may or may not guar­an­tee future suc­cess; and, 2. The cre­ators of some of our favorite games had to cut their teeth on low-tier games before they received the big breaks that made them what they are today. One of those games is 1942.

1942 is a vertical-scrolling shooter that takes place on the Pacific front of World War II. You take con­trol of a P-38 Light­ning plane assigned to go to Tokyo and destroy the Impe­r­ial Air Force fleet.

Game­play of 1942 is sim­ple: You can move either ver­ti­cally or hor­i­zon­tally. Con­sist­ing of 32 stages, the P-38 will be chal­lenged by Ki-61s, A6M Zeros, and Ki-48s with a long-range bomber known as G8N as level bosses. To give the P-38 Light­ning a fight­ing chance against these planes, it can do air rolls or ver­ti­cal loops. If you time your attacks right, some planes will drop upgraded fire­power or an escort team of two smaller fighter planes to com­bat the relent­less assault from planes that WILL attempt to knock you out of the skies, espe­cially if you’re just tak­ing off from your air­craft carrier.

While I liked 1942, there are some issues that annoyed me. Tim­ing of move­ments, includ­ing the ver­ti­cal drops and air rolls, must be pre­cise because of the high chance of being shot down by enemy planes. Also, you must watch for attack­ing planes in front and behind as the Ki-48s are mas­ter­ful at get­ting the unsus­pected into close-area shootouts, which will reduce the num­ber of lives quickly.

The music qual­ity of 1942 is an acquired taste as the repeated use of a snare drum made me think that Cap­com phoned in a lack­lus­ter drum beat, which made me turn the vol­ume down to con­tinue play­ing. The chal­lenge is decent since you will be on your toes to avoid enemy fire non­stop. It has strong replay value and would be a great time-killer as a nos­tal­gia trip for arcade vet­er­ans. Also, it’s a great exam­ple for those who want to know how side-scrolling games played a major impact in the gam­ing world.

1942 serves not only as an icon in gaming’s hall of fame but also dou­bles as one of Capcom’s entries into the gam­ing world. It helps that 1942 was the start of look­ing at Cap­com as an up-and-coming game com­pany want­ing to expand beyond its home of Osaka, Japan.

Fun facts:

    • The P-38, Ki-61, A6M and Ki-48 were actual war planes used heav­ily in the Pacific Con­flict between the U.S. and Japan. The com­pa­nies who built them — Lock­heed Mar­tin, Kawasaki, and Mit­subishi — are well-established in the defense indus­try and con­tinue to play vital roles in var­i­ous areas of aero­space tech­nol­ogy.
    • 1942 was Yoshiki Okamoto’s debut game for Cap­com. He was also the orig­i­nal game designer of Konami’s Gyruss. Because of inter­nal dis­putes involv­ing pay, he was fired from Kon­ami. After 1942’s suc­cess, Okamoto remained at Cap­com where he played an impor­tant role in pro­duc­ing Final Fight, Street Fighter II and Biohazard/Resident Evil. He retired from game devel­op­ment for con­soles in 2012 and is cur­rently devel­op­ing games for var­i­ous mobile devices.

Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition — 3Q2018 issue

Father of fight­ing games gets super upgrade

Gone are the days of roam­ing a local arcade to play the throng of would-be chal­lengers and pre­tenders to the throne of the best local fight­ing game cham­pion. In its place are home con­soles designed to push the power of the arcade. Fight­ing game fran­chises have had to keep up or suf­fer irrel­e­vancy or, worse yet, extinc­tion. The ear­li­est king of the genre, Street Fighter, has had a chal­lenge of sorts: con­tinue for­ward or go the way of its ride-a-longs of the ‘90s. Super Street Fighter IV attempts to con­tinue the tra­di­tion with mostly success.

Super SFIV, at its core, is a fight­ing fan’s dream. A robust engine with plenty of options for either the novice or the advanced, SSFIV makes play­ing a fight­ing game easy. Even if you haven’t played since the hey­day of SFII, there’s a lot of com­pelling con­tent here to draw you in and get you started in the world of com­pet­i­tive dig­i­tal fight­ing. Var­i­ous modes are here, ready for a deep dive, and there are more than enough new char­ac­ters and old stal­warts to make fight­ing inter­est­ing. The gen­eral rule of thumb is, if the char­ac­ter was in SFII and its deriv­a­tives, SFIII or SF Alpha, there’s a good chance they are avail­able for play in SSFIV.

Fight locales asso­ci­ated with many of the char­ac­ters are avail­able with a great sound­track accom­pa­ny­ing them. SSFIV does an excep­tional job of remind­ing more expe­ri­enced fight­ing enthu­si­asts of the Street Fighter ori­gins and piquing the curios­ity of newer fight fans. The con­trols also hear­ken to the old days, so much so that it’s easy to pick up and play and learn about the dif­fer­ent sys­tems afforded to each char­ac­ter. Most new char­ac­ters will play like an older char­ac­ter on the ros­ter so it’s easy to learn the nuance of fight­ing with a new­comer if you’re expe­ri­enced with pre­vi­ous SF games. If you aren’t expe­ri­enced, there’s a great tuto­r­ial mode that runs through combo and movesets of each char­ac­ter to teach the basics. That var­ied level of depth goes a long way toward replay value.

My one gripe out of all the love­li­ness that is the mixed nos­tal­gia fest of SSFIV is that it’s Cap­com being Cap­com as usual. For the unini­ti­ated, Cap­com gained a rep­u­ta­tion in the ’90s for hav­ing a solid fran­chise in Street Fighter II but not being able to count to three. The con­stant upgrad­ing and reis­su­ing of SFII got old quickly. And, quite frankly, Cap­com hasn’t learned its les­son because Street Fighter IV should not have mul­ti­ple retail ver­sions of its upgrades. Arcade Edi­tion should have been an update that could be bought dig­i­tally and down­loaded to patch the game up to what­ever ver­sion Cap­com wanted con­sumers to have. Even when the orig­i­nal ver­sion was released, the capa­bil­ity was there. This just screams of cash grab and Cap­com being igno­rant of tire­some tac­tics wear­ing on the fan base. The fact that Ultra Street Fighter IV — one more ver­sion beyond this one — exists is proof pos­i­tive of this.

Other than the fiasco of mul­ti­ple ver­sions, Cap­com has a solid win­ner on its hands with the fourth entry in the long-running series even as it fades into the back­ground in favor of SFV. If SFV is not your cup of tea, but you want to stay cur­rent with the world of Street Fighter, SFIV is a good bal­ance and at the right price now to delve into the world of Ryu, Ken and Chun-Li.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm — 3Q2018 issue

The ulti­mate beginning

Naruto Uzi­maki. From 1999 to 2017, Shonen Jump Magazine’s hyper­ac­tive ninja knuck­le­head had a major impact on the geek cul­ture scene as well as anime and manga. From graphic nov­els, to other nov­elty mer­chan­dise and video games, many anime fans world­wide fol­lowed his rise from out­cast of his ninja vil­lage to its leg­endary sav­ior. Dur­ing Naruto’s rise, there were many video games for var­i­ous sys­tems that fol­lowed every adven­ture of our blonde, blue-eyed hero and his friends. I got the oppor­tu­nity to play one of the Naruto-based games after a recent game shop­ping expe­di­tion when I found Naruto: Ulti­mate Ninja: Storm.

Ulti­mate Ninja: Storm is a hybrid con­sist­ing of fight­ing and role play­ing game ele­ments. Free Bat­tle mode allows you to choose one main fighter with two backup char­ac­ters against another player or the console’s choice of char­ac­ters in var­i­ous stages taken right out of the Naruto uni­verse. Free Bat­tle also allows you to earn extra cash if you defeat their oppo­nents using var­i­ous moves known as nin­jutsu. The extra coinage will be needed in the role play­ing mode, Ulti­mate Mis­sion Mode, dur­ing which you con­trol Naruto in var­i­ous mis­sions that involve episodes 1 to 135 of the anime series.

I found every­thing from the cin­e­matic intro to actual game­play excel­lent. Namco Bandai brought their expe­ri­ence in mak­ing games like Tekken and Soul Cal­ibur and com­bined it with Masashi Kishimoto’s guid­ance in devel­op­ing the per­fect exam­ple of a video game based on a pop­u­lar anime fran­chise. Every stage, land­mark and char­ac­ter are por­trayed per­fectly in the game mak­ing me as if I was trans­ported to the Hid­den Leaf Vil­lage. The con­trols are easy and will help you pull off some up-close cool com­bos when cer­tain but­tons are dis­played. They’re also great dur­ing the explo­ration of Ulti­mate Mis­sion Mode as you’re try­ing to find hid­den items and mis­sion locations.

Another cool thing about the game was that the music from the anime series was not only kept intact, but also was done in Dolby Dig­i­tal Sound. The voice act­ing in the game is high cal­iber thanks to Namco Bandai work­ing with Viz Media and Stu­diopo­lis Inc. to bring together the orig­i­nal Eng­lish voice actors to reprise their respec­tive roles. Even with the excel­lent Eng­lish voice act­ing, you can also play the game in Japan­ese with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles for a more authen­tic feel. Any­one who has not played a Naruto video game will find it per­fect for either a hot or rainy-day after­noon, or a friendly fight­ing game tour­na­ment at any anime convention.

Namco Bandai did an awe­some job of bring­ing Naruto to the PS3 in addi­tion to pub­lish­ing addi­tional games based off this iconic fran­chise. For now, Naruto’s jour­ney to be hok­age has ended suc­cess­fully, with a son ready to take up his own chal­lenges. Ulti­mate Ninja: Storm is a great start show­cas­ing Naruto’s early adventures.

Devil May Cry 4 — 3Q2018 issue

Devil’s in the details: DMC4 a nice break from Dante

Capcom’s “Devil May Cry” series is a game that has basi­cally rede­fined the term “hack–and-slash” in video games. With the first three games using hack-and-slash style as well as action-adventure ele­ments, I won­dered what new sur­prises would the fourth install­ment of the series bring and to which system?

DMC 4 fea­tures demon-hunter extra­or­di­naire Dante, but the story and main char­ac­ter has changed for a more intense expe­ri­ence. Tak­ing place in a remote island town called For­tuna, you assume the role of Nero — a younger ver­sion of Dante — who is a mem­ber of the Order of the Sword. The Order of the Sword is a mil­i­tant reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion formed to destroy demons based on the actions of the Demon-Knight Sparda, who rebelled against the demon under­world to pro­tect human­ity. At a recent cer­e­mony to honor Sparda, Dante smashes though a sky­light and kills the priest lead­ing the cer­e­mony, set­ting off a chain of events that would not only put Dante and Nero on a col­li­sion course with each other, but also would lead both demon-hunters through a greater mys­tery to find out the true inten­tions of the Order and to stop a more vicious plot of a demon-invasion.

While Dante’s role in DMC 4 is not as the main char­ac­ter, he does still play a key role in the game as a playable char­ac­ter in cer­tain scenes. Nero is not to be taken lightly either as his arse­nal con­sists of his Devil Bringer arm, his mechan­i­cal sword Red Queen and his dou­ble bar­rel revolver, Blue Queen. Nero can gain an extra advan­tage to accom­plish his mis­sion by gath­er­ing “Red Souls,” DMC’s orig­i­nal game cur­rency, and “Proud Souls,” a new cur­rency. After a mis­sion is com­pleted, Pride Souls can power up Nero’s tools rang­ing from extend­ing the Devil Bringer’s reach to more pow­er­ful shots from the Blue Queen. The con­trols for Dante and Nero are easy to use thanks to the PS3’s Six Axis controller’s built-in ana­log fea­ture, which I found help­ful with cam­era issues from time to time.

The excel­lent detail that is used in each level comes to life in the back­ground and cin­e­matic scenes. These were done with high def­i­n­i­tion tech­nol­ogy that will make you feel like you are play­ing with a mas­ter­piece of art instead of a video game. Capcom’s sound team brings their A-game again. Each sound and vocal effect com­bined with Dolby Dig­i­tal Sound gives an orches­tral qual­ity to the game. Cap­com did a great job in voice and motion cap­ture for DMC 4. Johnny Yong Bosch (Bleach, Street Fighter IV) brought Nero to life and Reuben Lang­don repris­ing his role as Dante.

Devil May Cry 4 shows what Cap­com is capa­ble of doing when they let their devel­op­ment team do its job: make their games enjoy­able. DMC4 is a chal­leng­ing, but enjoy­able way to kill free time when you want to get your demon-hunting on. The replay value is strong espe­cially if you are a vet­eran DMC player; this game is worth your hard-earned cash.

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend — 3Q2018 issue

Guilty Gear suc­ces­sor cleans up nicely in fight­ing game arena

Fight­ing game con­nois­seurs have a robust buf­fet to choose from these days. There’s Mar­vel, Street Fighter, Tekken and Mor­tal Kom­bat for tour­na­ment purists, a new Soul Cal­ibur has been announced, and a new Smash is on the hori­zon and the older games in the series are still played in some cir­cles. Guilty Gear, which has always been qui­etly in the back of the lunch­room, was a mix of tour­na­ment and casual, so it stands to rea­son that its spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor — BlazBlue — would mimic that notion.

BlazBlue arrived in the fight­ing game scene as a new entry in the port­fo­lio of Guilty Gear devel­oper Arc­Sys­tem. Tak­ing what they learned from that series, Arc­Sys­tem improved upon the for­mula they’d cre­ated with gor­geous visu­als, a rock­ing sound­track and impres­sive game­play options that ensure you’ll have plenty to do.

BlazBlue CSE starts off rather intim­i­dat­ingly. From the begin­ning, there are quite a few modes to choose from. If you’re not informed, you might be a lit­tle lost try­ing to under­stand just where you should start. With a var­ied plate to choose from, at the very least the modes are inter­est­ingly designed and add value to an already-packed game.
The stand­out fea­tures, how­ever, are the graph­ics and story. As with Guilty Gear, you’re get­ting a treat visu­ally. The level of detail in each char­ac­ter and the back­grounds make the game worth sit­ting down and study­ing. If you’re into anime, the aes­thet­ics were designed with you in mind.

The story is also wor­thy of com­par­i­son to most mod­ern anime. It’s con­vo­luted and com­plex and has twists and turns involv­ing a multi-layered cast. There’s a lot about the search­ing for a sav­ior and magic — which isn’t out of place for an Arc­Sys­tem game. It feels famil­iar but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s lay­ered and deep.

Learn­ing the mechan­ics for most fight­ing games is a mixed bag. Some games expect you to be able to jump in and mas­ter the basics as if you’ve done noth­ing but play fight­ing games all of your gam­ing life. Oth­ers like to give you a tuto­r­ial so that you’re not lost and quickly putting the game down, never to return. BlazBlue CSE is in the lat­ter cat­e­gory: So con­cerned is the game about you learn­ing to play and mas­ter all that it has to offer that it throws a sur­pris­ingly deep tuto­r­ial mode at you. It slowly increases the level of com­plex­ity and the mechan­ics are spot on and easy to grasp. All fight­ing games need the type of learn­ing tool that’s offered here.

If you love Guilty Gear or if you just want a deeper sto­ry­line than what’s cur­rently offered by the larger more well-known titles on the mar­ket in fight­ing games, BlazBlue promises to deliver a rich expe­ri­ence. It deliv­ers on that promise with a com­mit­ment to extend­ing beyond just the reg­u­lar fight­ing game expectations.

Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival — 1Q2017 issue

Rolling the dice with Ani­mal Crossing

Judg­ing from the stand­point of an avid Ani­mal Cross­ing player and enthu­si­ast, the con­cept of new games com­ing into my beloved fran­chise is not always wel­come. There have been par­tic­u­larly good games (i.e. Wild World, the orig­i­nal game) and mediocre offer­ings (Happy Home Designer and City Folk). Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a lit­tle bit of both: It’s a fun take on the Ani­mal Cross­ing uni­verse, but it needs a lit­tle bit of pol­ish and more things to do to keep the con­cept of a board game based on the fran­chise interesting.

I’ve always referred to Ani­mal Cross­ing as the series about doing noth­ing. Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val takes that con­cept and turns it on its head. With Fes­ti­val, you’re tasked with mov­ing around a typ­i­cal Ani­mal Cross­ing town in the form of a large board game. The town is trans­formed by spaces that can be events, Stalk Mar­ket sale stops and vis­its from the usual assort­ment of guests that visit a nor­mal town in the franchise.

What makes the game fun is the usage of all things Ani­mal Cross­ing. Game time is deter­mined by a cal­en­dar that uti­lizes events com­monly found through­out the series, and vil­lagers that you would encounter in town show up to help out player char­ac­ters. The player char­ac­ters them­selves are Ami­ibo fig­urines that you pur­chase and input into the game. For exam­ple, GI has about 25 Ami­ibo, eight of which are Ani­mal Cross­ing related (Digby, Celeste, Isabelle, Vil­lager, Tom Nook, Mable, Rover and K.K. Slider) that can be used to play through a ses­sion. These char­ac­ters can col­lect points to unlock new out­fits and modes in the plaza based on game per­for­mance. The tie-in to the series ben­e­fits the otherwise-tired Mario Party for­mula and enhances the charm of what would prob­a­bly be a tire­some exer­cise in board game management.

Using some of that inher­ent charm of Ani­mal Cross­ing, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val plays well and looks great. There is a notable pas­tel sheen over every­thing in-game, but it still looks just like you’d expect Ani­mal Cross­ing to look: Bright, col­or­ful and smooth. Because we’re long past the janky block graph­ics of the orig­i­nal game, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is closer in style to the lat­est game in the series, New Leaf, and it works in its favor. The sound­track is also in line with the New Leaf era and it’s ser­vi­ca­ble. It’s not the main fea­ture of the game, so I’m not expect­ing it to reach the realm of New Leaf’s great tracks, but it’s not unpleas­ant so it works just fine for what it’s asked to do.

My main com­plaint about Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val, how­ever, has more to do with the pol­ish of the final prod­uct and some of the addi­tions. It feels as though there isn’t enough to do in-game, quite hon­estly. While the board game is fun, it’s not enough to keep me inter­ested long-term. The addi­tions in the plaza — mini-games that use Ani­mal Cross­ing ideas — are cute but get old quickly, and some are out­right frus­trat­ing, even for a long­time player like myself.

The trivia sec­tion, for exam­ple, tests your knowl­edge of the series. Set­ting aside the fact that there shouldn’t be a time limit to answer ques­tions that test your prowess of a series that has at least seven games, the ques­tions are incred­i­bly obscure most of the time and require that you have ency­clo­pe­dic mem­ory and under­stand­ing of how the series works. Most peo­ple just look­ing for a fun board game aren’t going to know the answers, let alone know them quickly. I have been play­ing Ani­mal Cross­ing since the “Pop­u­la­tion grow­ing!” days of 2003, and I had trou­ble with quite a few of the ques­tions asked. There should be more to do, more inter­ac­tion with the town that you play in and more of an attempt to dig deep into that well of seven games.

Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a unique take on a series that has man­aged to endure and improve over the past 15 years with new con­cepts and inno­va­tion. If there is some con­so­la­tion prize for stay­ing on this board, it’s know­ing that while it could use some pol­ish and flesh­ing out, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a good roll of the dice and gam­ble that paid off for the Ani­mal Cross­ing franchise.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory — 1Q2017 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GiantBomb.com

Max­imo con­tin­ues the quest to res­cue the princess

I have a love and hate rela­tion­ship with Cap­com. For every game they develop and pub­lish that will be a smash hit by being more cre­ative and stick­ing to the basics, they churn out five or six copies of the same game with­out break­ing any new ground (i.e. Street Fighter V). I won’t even men­tion how they stud­ied the Kon­ami code of dis­pos­ing of one of their great­est game series and its leader. With this view of Cap­com off my chest, let’s look at a game that is orig­i­nal and has become a suc­ces­sor to the clas­sic games Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island: Max­imo: Ghosts to Glory.

You take the role of said char­ac­ter, Max­imo, who, after return­ing from a bat­tle to pro­tect his king­dom, finds out that his main lady Queen Sophia is cap­tured by his once-trusted adviser, Achille. To make mat­ters worse, Achille has devel­oped a drill that has pierced the under­world, allow­ing him to cre­ate an army of undead mon­sters to ter­ror­ize the king­dom. All is not lost as is seems that as Max­imo was free-falling, the Grim Reaper makes a deal for him to return to the liv­ing world in exchange for return­ing the lost souls to the under­world. Max­imo accepts and begins his quest to free Sophia and restore the peace taken by Achille.

Max­imo retains the ele­ments from Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island but allows free­dom to explore all of the stages thanks to its 3D design. Max­imo has the abil­ity to run, jump and crouch to avoid ene­mies and is eas­ily con­trolled with use of the ana­log con­trol stick. Max­imo is also ready for bat­tle with his trusty sword and shield, which can be thrown at approach­ing ene­mies and capa­ble of wip­ing out all ene­mies on the screen if the right power-ups are applied. In addi­tion to his sword and shield, Max­imo has his armor which, if all the parts are gath­ered, he becomes invin­ci­ble for a brief period.

A heads up: Make sure that Max­imo keeps his armor as long as pos­si­ble since like Arthur in Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins, if Max­imo takes too many hits, he would be down to his box­ers, which would lead to his death if he takes another hit. Also, con­trol­ling Max­imo is not dif­fi­cult, but some prac­tice is rec­om­mended to get adjusted to mov­ing around.
The stages are excel­lently designed and guar­an­teed to make you feel that you’re in Maximo’s world. The game’s music is an enjoy­able mix of orig­i­nal and remas­tered tracks from the orig­i­nal Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins. The chal­lenge level is ridicu­lously high, guar­an­tee­ing great replay value.

Max­imo: Ghosts to Glory is one of those type of games that will please fans of old-school adven­ture gam­ing who want to play the genre with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. In my opin­ion, Max­imo is also a exam­ple of what Cap­com can do when they allow cre­ativ­ity to flour­ish instead of always milk­ing their golden fran­chises to death.
Well done, Cap­com. Well done.

Balloon Fight — 1Q2017 issue

Fruit­less bal­loon showdowns

The best thing I can pos­si­bly say about Bal­loon Fight is that it’s inno­v­a­tive for its con­cepts at the time. Other than that, this isn’t a game I’d rec­om­mend to any­one beyond the age of 10 and even that’s push­ing it.

The premise is sim­ple: You play as the “Bal­loon Fighter,” who is tasked with stay­ing alive and defeat­ing ene­mies in increas­ingly dif­fi­cult stages. Two bal­loons are attached to the Fighter and to the ene­mies, and the Fighter must pop their bal­loons while avoid­ing his own being popped and other obsta­cles such as a large piranha, water and light­ning strikes. The Bal­loon Fighter is fairly stout and sturdy, see­ing as though he can take a lot of bump­ing and push­ing, but if he loses his bal­loons, it’s a lost life. There are bonus games and a dif­fer­ent mode, Bal­loon Trip, that takes the Fighter through an obsta­cle course to improve your rank and score.

This is all fine and well, but the con­trols turn what should be a fun and sim­ple game into a night­mare and a chore to actu­ally con­trol. The Fighter flaps his arms to stay afloat and even with both bal­loons still present, this is extra hard to do and main­tain. More often than not, I don’t lose bal­loons because an enemy popped them; it’s because I landed in the water, was eaten by the large fish or steered myself unwit­tingly into the light­ning I was des­per­ately try­ing to avoid. Pre­ci­sion fly­ing this is not. To get a sense of what it’s like to con­trol the Fighter, imag­ine if the hor­ri­ble Ice Climbers were fly­ing instead of jump­ing ter­ri­bly up a mountain.

And while the game is barely playable, the sound­track also man­ages to squeak by in pre­sen­ta­tion. It is a sad day when I declare that a sound­track from Metroid sound direc­tor Hip Tanaka is irre­deemable. There is noth­ing that makes me want to lis­ten to this, and nearly every­thing that Tanaka has cre­ated gets high marks from me. The songs aren’t mem­o­rable, there are few songs there any­way, and the lack of var­ied sound effects is dis­con­cert­ing. Add the sound­track woes to an under­whelm­ing graph­i­cal palette and the game over­all is a mess.

Despite the pedi­gree of folks who worked on the game (i.e. Shigeru Miyamoto as pro­ducer, Metroid designer/director Yoshio Sakamoto and Tanaka), Bal­loon Fight couldn’t be fur­ther away from the qual­ity of Nin­tendo clas­sics I want to play. Bal­loon Fight is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an older era of games that required a Her­culean amount of patience, which I am not pre­pared to give in this day and age where bet­ter games are available.

Bust-A-Move — 1Q2017 issue

Puz­zle Bobble’s break­out hit

Bub­ble Bob­ble isn’t super famous last I checked, but I learned who Bub and Bob were by the time I fin­ished their first puz­zle effort for the Super NES, the mid-90s appro­pri­ately named Bust-A-Move.

There’s much fun and mirth to be had in the bubble-popping title. There’s not much story other than Bub and Bob are pop­ping bub­bles to save a friend, who is trapped at the end (level 100). Once their friend is saved, that’s it. But, that’s assum­ing you can make it that far.

Bust-A-Move is incred­i­bly sim­ple to play but hard to mas­ter. The con­cept is easy to under­stand: aim a launcher and match three like-colored bub­bles. The bub­bles will fall off the play­ing field, clear­ing space and rows so that you can work toward clear­ing fur­ther bub­bles. After a cer­tain num­ber are cleared, the ceil­ing of the well low­ers, inch­ing closer to a vis­i­ble line. Once the line is crossed with a bub­ble, the game is over. Basi­cally, it’s reverse Tetris with bub­bles instead of lines. The trick­i­ness in mas­ter­ing the game comes in pop­ping the bub­bles. There are dif­fer­ent tech­niques to achiev­ing the results that you want, but it really comes down to know­ing how to aim and learn­ing the fabled bankshot off the side of the well.

With its sim­plic­ity in learn­ing, Bust-A-Move quickly dis­tin­guishes itself as fun to play. I requested the game for my 14th birth­day, and I’ve had a blast play­ing the orig­i­nal since. There are other games in the series, but this one is the best out of all of the sequels and spin­offs of the series. The con­trols aren’t too stiff, though some­times I have com­plaints about the par­tic­u­lar way a bub­ble bounces or sticks a lit­tle too eas­ily to the first bub­ble it comes close to. Yet, the con­trols aren’t horrible.

The sim­ple theme also shows in the graph­ics. Bust-A-Move is one of the bright­est and cutest games I’ve ever played. The col­ors pop and while you’re using col­ored bub­bles, they don’t nec­es­sar­ily inter­fere with the back­ground graph­ics, which could make for a con­fus­ing play field.

Bust-A-Move also gets a nod for its atten­tion paid to other modes such as Chal­lenge and the two-player bub­ble pop­ping. Chal­lenge is fun and a good test of skills: You’re tasked with pop­ping as many bub­bles as you can before it’s game over. It’s hard to pop a lot if you’re new to the game, but as your skills progress, you can and will see a dif­fer­ence in how long you man­age to last. The two-player mode is fun also, because you can either play against the com­puter or against another human player. Any game that gives me the option to play two-player against the com­puter auto­mat­i­cally gets a nod because that injects longevity into a title immediately.

There’s a decent amount of depth to Bust-A-Move and it cer­tainly makes for an inter­est­ing puz­zle dis­trac­tion on the SNES. It’s worth explor­ing the bubble-popping world with the orig­i­nal bub­ble eliminator.

Magical Tetris Challenge — 1Q2017 issue

When Tetris and Dis­ney col­lide

Mess­ing with an old and uni­ver­sally loved favorite such as Tetris is a risky propo­si­tion. You can get it right or mess it up hor­ri­bly, where it is for­ever known as the “messed up ver­sion of Tetris.” Luck­ily, Mag­i­cal Tetris Chal­lenge by Cap­com man­ages to dodge that label and add a few ele­ments to the main game to refresh an older title.

Mag­i­cal Tetris is, at its core, a fun game with lots of charm to spread around. There are mul­ti­ple modes to choose from and the vari­ety helps the replay fac­tor long after the nov­elty of com­bo­ing wears off. The story mode is the other mode most played at GI, and is based off the new Mag­i­cal Tetris mode. While I’m not fond of the cliffhanger by dif­fi­culty level method, the story is ser­vice­able and moves the action for­ward with a nice added Dis­ney touch. Main­stays such as Mickey, Min­nie, Don­ald and Goofy fill out the cast, though you can only play as these four.

Mag­i­cal Tetris earns its bread and but­ter in the way it builds on the Tetris for­mula. With Tetris in the name and designed to appeal to a mass audi­ence using that, Mag­i­cal Tetris starts out with the basics: Cre­ate and clear lines using seven letter-shaped pieces. Clear four lines and you get a Tetris.

Ah, but herein lies the addi­tions to Mag­i­cal Tetris and where the basics end and advanced play begins: For every line cleared, a small amount of energy is added to a magic meter. Fill up the magic meter and you get what we’ve termed at GI as a break­down: All pieces restruc­ture to cre­ate a neat space and a large por­tion of the well where your pieces fall is wiped clean. Also, clear­ing lines cre­ates com­bos, which can be coun­tered until a piece is shaped 10 by 10. Com­bos and coun­ters cre­ates a back and forth, dur­ing which oddly shaped pieces are cre­ated and fall into the play field. By set­ting up the pieces in a decent shape in your well, you can achieve what is called a pen­tris, or five lines cleared
simul­ta­ne­ously.

Com­bo­ing and coun­ter­ing makes the game­play fun and adds an increas­ing level of com­pet­i­tive­ness and urgency to every match. Even if you’re not the most Tetris-competent gamer, Mag­i­cal Tetris does an excel­lent job invit­ing all skill lev­els in to learn and get bet­ter. The basics are quickly explained and the advanced tech­niques are made plain as you go along. That helps in the fran­tic atmos­phere of a spir­ited two-player human match, where any­thing and usu­ally every­thing can happen.

The game shines in its visu­als, which ben­e­fit from that Dis­ney touch. The game is bright and col­or­ful and designed in the way of Dis­ney games and ani­ma­tion, mean­ing it’s top-notch through and through. The graph­ics are still good for an N64-era game and haven’t aged badly. The sound­track has aged well, too, and is still one of the best of the era. Each character’s stage is mem­o­rably themed and stands out enough for you to remem­ber it well after your game is over.
Hav­ing played the major­ity of the Tetris spin­offs and cre­ations out on the mar­ket for the past 30 years, I need to have some­thing that pushes me to play. Mag­i­cal Tetris suc­ceeds in adding to the Tetris for­mula just enough to buy its way in to my library and stick around through charm and abil­ity. This is an excel­lent Tetris spin job.