Donkey Kong Jr. — 3Q2015 issue

Like father, like son

I don’t believe there is any­one who reads GI who doesn’t know that I don’t care for Don­key Kong. By now, it should be painfully obvi­ous that I don’t care for the simian’s retro exploits or his more recent out­ings, either. It’s not that I don’t respect what the great ape has done for gam­ing; it’s more that I feel he gets credit for mediocre-to-horrible games. Don­key Kong Jr. falls on the lower end of the spec­trum.
Much the same tripe as the orig­i­nal, you’re tasked with sav­ing some­one by mov­ing across hell and high water. But wait, this time it’s dif­fer­ent! No, you aren’t sav­ing Pauline this time around; no, you’re Don­key Kong Jr., the scion of Kong­dom sav­ing your incor­ri­gi­ble father from the clutches of evil human Mario. The fact that another ape has to save his parental fig­ure from Mario in a com­plete role rever­sal begs sev­eral ques­tions: Where was Junior when his father was kid­nap­ping inno­cent maid­ens and run­ning ram­pant? Why would Mario even bother to kid­nap the great ape in the first place? Sure, there’s the motive of revenge, but you’re never going to get your ques­tion answered, try as you might. You just have to accept that DK needs sav­ing and it’s up to you, his reli­able off­spring, to do the job.
Hop­ing that your adven­ture in sav­ing your father is worth it, the game tasks you in uti­liz­ing a jump­ing and climb­ing mechanic that may or may not work, depend­ing on where you are height wise. Any fall more than a few pix­els high will kill you, which makes about as much sense as the kid­nap­ping caper you seem to be embroiled in. Who­ever had the bright idea to make jump­ing a chore and maneu­ver­ing your ape around impos­si­ble obvi­ously didn’t get that this was a bad design deci­sion imme­di­ately. See­ing as though they are the only skills your ape has, it would have been a lit­tle bit wiser to make those work well.
Instead, you’ll watch Junior repeat­edly get eaten alive by croc­o­diles (we’re not sure why a plumber would employ these dan­ger­ous live crea­tures to kill an ape), nailed by ran­dom falling objects and fall to his obvi­ous and hor­rific death, all because he’s under­de­vel­oped at jump­ing and climb­ing.
And while you’re wit­ness­ing this obvi­ous act of poach­ing, it’d be wise to use some head­phones. The music, much like the orig­i­nal game, isn’t the great­est and it will get monot­o­nous imme­di­ately. Don­key Kong Coun­try this isn’t.
Your best bet is to try the game just for the nos­tal­gic fac­tor in see­ing a pretty rare char­ac­ter; Junior was last seen, by my count, in Super Mario Kart for the SNES. He isn’t putting in too many other appear­ances and maybe, just maybe, it was this trip out of the jun­gle that con­vinced him to let his father do all of the adven­tur­ing in the fam­ily. This bar­rel isn’t full of laughs or a blast.

Midway Arcade Treasures 2 — 1Q2015 issue

 

A mostly for­get­table trea­sure trove

We’re going to use the term trea­sure trove loosely when I refer to Mid­way Arcade Trea­sures 2. Sure, there are some dia­monds in the mine that was once Mid­way and its arcade hits. But some­times, as demon­strated ably in this pack­age, Mid­way dug just a lit­tle too deep to find things that I wouldn’t trade for a seashell and some glass beads.

Mid­way Arcade Trea­sures 2 fol­lows in the vein of the pre­vi­ous title, min­ing for hits out of the ver­i­ta­ble Taj Mahal that is Midway’s cat­a­log of arcade favorites. The sec­ond go-round imme­di­ately catches the eye — and wal­let — for ver­sions of Mor­tal Kom­bat II and Mor­tal Kom­bat 3, arguably the cen­ter­piece in the entire show. Fol­low­ing up those pieces are lesser hits such as Pri­mal Rage, APB and Ram­page World Tour. The entire com­pi­la­tion is made up of 20 titles, which is a bar­gain for the amount of games you’re get­ting. Whether you want to play all 20 titles or not is the ques­tion and it’s eas­ily answered quickly: No.

A few of the titles included imme­di­ately dredge up hor­ri­ble mem­o­ries. These drecks of mod­ern gam­ing soci­ety have been res­ur­rected, and I’m not exactly sure for whose ben­e­fit. Hard Dri­vin’, men­tioned and dis­sected in GI’s hor­ri­ble games pod­cast of yes­ter­year, is the worst offender of the bunch. I have no earthly idea who thought this was an arcade clas­sic and why it needed to be thrust upon the masses again. It was a hor­ri­ble game to begin with and deserves no fur­ther dis­cus­sion or inclu­sion to rean­i­mate it from the depths of hell where it belongs (Editor’s Note: Fun fac­toid — Hard Dri­vin’ pro­vided the basis for GI’s Tor­ture of the Quar­ter col­umn). N.A.R.C. also war­rants a men­tion as a title to avoid, as well as Pri­mal Rage. Let’s face it, Pri­mal Rage was touted as com­pe­ti­tion for the likes of Mor­tal Kom­bat, Street Fighter and Killer Instinct back in the day, but no one with any sense ever took it seri­ously. The game doesn’t inspire any new feel­ings of doing so after 20 years.

With the inclu­sion of hideous titles, there will be some con­trol issues. The good news is that most titles play like they did when first released. The bad news is that some “improve­ments” have done just the oppo­site of their inten­tion. Let’s take, for exam­ple, Mor­tal Kom­bat II. Because of “new-and-improved” con­trol map­ping, it is impos­si­ble to fight hid­den char­ac­ter Smoke in all ver­sions except the PC ver­sion, and it takes a patch to fix that. That drags the over­all expe­ri­ence down con­sid­er­ably. Con­tin­u­ing with the Mor­tal Kom­bat exam­ple, Mor­tal Kom­bat 3 runs just like the arcade. Except, the arcade ver­sion of MK 3 was ter­ri­ble, with a lot of bugs and glitches that neces­si­tated the much-better Ulti­mate MK3. It’s a mixed bag: On the one hand you’re get­ting improved con­trols and mod­ern advance­ments, but on the other hand, these changes aren’t exactly wel­come.
What is wel­come, how­ever, is the inclu­sion of the behind-the-scenes mate­r­ial. Doc­u­men­taries and making-of mate­ri­als are included as bonus fea­tures for a few games, most notably Mor­tal Kom­bat II and Mor­tal Kom­bat 3. If you were an MK fanatic, these are inter­est­ing looks at the fran­chise at the height of its ini­tial pop­u­lar­ity. If you’re won­der­ing what the hype was about, it’s a great look at the ori­gin of the series and where ideas and mythol­ogy were cre­ated. The bonus mate­ri­als for all games included are worth buy­ing if you’re into the arcade scene and its history.

Whether you deem this col­lec­tion worth your time depends on how ded­i­cated you are to the preser­va­tion of the U.S. arcade scene. If you’re a purist and you care about obscure games such as Wiz­ard of Wor and Xybots, by all means go out and search for the trea­sure. Oth­er­wise, let this booby-trapped box stay hidden.

NBA Jam — 3Q2014 issue

Photo cour­tesy of Gamefaqs.com

The old king of the court

NBA Jam was — and still is — an expe­ri­ence. No, that’s not some pre­pos­ter­ous fluff dreamed up by an National Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion maven like yours truly. It was truly an expe­ri­ence because if you were around at the time that Jam hit the streets, you’d remem­ber the sheer amount of hype that sur­rounded the arcade release. You’d also remem­ber the hype that came home with it. Was it jus­ti­fied hype? Yes and no.

You see, Jam rep­re­sented the start of the exag­ger­ated sports game era, the type of game where the player ani­ma­tions were over the top and the action just as extreme. Throw in a plethora of secrets — like play­ing as Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton — and the hype went into over­drive. The game isn’t bad and it mostly lived up to its billing. The sim­ple setup of two-on-two bas­ket­ball and fast-break bas­ket­ball helped cer­tainly, and the ani­ma­tion isn’t bad at all. The player inter­ac­tion is where it mostly suc­ceeds, actu­ally. At the time,

Photo cour­tesy of NIntendolife.com

there was no other place to get the kind of play that Jam offers: Crazy dunks, the abil­ity to be on fire from great shoot­ing and street ball-type rules. It’s that offer­ing that made it a phe­nom­e­nal success.

Jam doesn’t stum­ble in its race to be an in-your-face baller expe­ri­ence. That street ball player inter­ac­tion means you don’t have to learn much about the game to suc­ceed and play well. The con­trol is sim­ple yet has a layer of depth that means any­one can do well at any skill level. The atmos­phere could be a lit­tle bet­ter with a bet­ter sound­track, but what will make you take notice is the announcer. If there’s any­thing you will remem­ber about the game, it’s Tim Kitzrow shout­ing to the top of his lungs that a man is “on fire” or “BOOMSHAKALAKA.”

The graph­ics, like the sound­track, are noth­ing to get excited about. There’s a sta­tic crowd except for the court­side folk, and then there’s the play­ers. Jam pop­u­lar­ized the over-exaggerated look for play­ers, and it cer­tainly had its uses. It’s not out of place for Jam, and it brings a cer­tain atmos­phere to the action that Jam ben­e­fits from.

If there’s ever a rea­son to play NBA Jam, find it in the car­toon­ish action, sound and look. That’s where the fun is, and the main rea­sons why the game suc­ceeded in liv­ing up to the hype (mostly) that broke back­boards in the olden days of 1993.