Farming life begins with SNES simulator classic
Leaving everything behind and taking up the life of a farmer doesn’t seem to be half bad. Sure, it’s back-breaking daunting work with a large reservoir of potential failure. But it’s honest work and highly satisfying. Or, at least that’s what Harvest Moon wants you to believe. In a tale as old as video game time, the original farming simulator wants you to live that life and succeed, no matter the cost. Harvest Moon’s original entry is the starkest of all in the series. You, the nameless farmer, are tasked with rebuilding the family farm and property. There are animals to raise, crops to nurture and sell, and — if you play your cards correctly — a family to start. You have roughly a year to do this before your parents come back and judge your efforts. If you’ve succeeded mostly, you’re in the clear. If not, well, you’ve failed and it’s game over. This is the basis for the series that you see today in Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, and though mostly unchanged in basis, it’s simple and effective. The depth comes in learning the game system. Crop nurturing and animal husbandry are not easy, but once you’ve got the nuance it’s a whole new world of profits. The controls are simple to pick up and once you’ve built yourself up stamina-wise, the fruits of your labor are obvious. There’s something super satisfying about working the land, planting crops and caring for your animals in a day’s work and then reaping the benefits. There is planning involved also, which adds an extra layer of depth. Knowing how to spend your day wisely — whether it be tending to the farm or socializing in town — is important, and adds to the overall experience. Part of that experience is the presentation, and it’s not bad for a SNES game. Given that this is 16-bit, the sprites are bright and pop with the gorgeous SNES palette. Some areas are a little too brown but overall, it’s a pretty game. The music is slightly monotonous but it’s a little catchy so it doesn’t necessarily grate the way you’d think hearing the same tune would for more than 20 minutes of farm work and socializing. Because this is the entry point to the modern series, Harvest Moon has work to do. Time — though not explicitly shown on screen — runs too quickly. Also, the starting handicap of low stamina and mediocre tools is not fun. This does become easier in later entries, but this frustrating mechanic began here and does not enhance the series in any way. Despite some frustrations with the game, it’s a nice, relaxing start to a fun, quirky series. Modern features may be a draw for the later games, but don’t let the original fool you. There’s a wonderful life to be had even in the 16-bit starter.
As the faithful readers of GI know, I’m a child of the ’80s and ’90s. I owned an NES, Genesis and a Game Gear, but not a Game Boy. To satisfy my portable gaming needs, I got a few Game Gear games that would hold my attention. I’m not much of a puzzle man, but one stood out as an alternative to the highly popular Tetris at the time: Columns. Columns’ gameplay is similar to Tetris, except that you’re matching various gems with each other before their row known as — you guessed it — columns stack up, ultimately ending your game. The game backstory claims that its origins hails from Middle Eastern merchants with also a little bit of Greece mixed in. Control of the columns is simple: Guide the columns’ rows and arrange pieces to fit. It’s a simple concept that is quickly understood. You can be a newbie or a puzzle expert and still jump into playing. There’s also an option to change the items from jewels, to fruit, dice, or traditional playing card suits, which livens up the gameplay slightly. The graphics are top-notch in both versions. The graphics are colorful and more than just bricks being moved around. They look good even in a small setting like the Game Gear. The music in Columns varies from ancient Roman tunes to a futuristic beat that is calming during gameplay. The soundtrack is a nice mental break for the mind, which helps when you’re possibly frantically making matches. Columns is an underestimated crown jewel that shines on all Sega systems. It’s a fun alternative to Tetris with a nice calming effect to boot. Hunt down this different but brilliant puzzle choice.
Building blocks of Columns
In 1989, Jay Geertsen, a developer for Hewlett-Packard, was looking to port a software tool to HP’s in-house operating system for its work computers. Geertsen believed there was a better way to learn skills and have fun at the same time. He came up with modifying Tic Tac-Toe and applied it as a way to help software engineers practice their programing. The result: Once they heard about Geertsen’s work through third parties, Sega called him and inquired about development. Check out his story through this link: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/retro-gamer/20190711/281599537055264.
Smooth with no chaser. Beetle Adventure Racing is like a fine cognac: No filler, no BS. It’s just a fine racing game featuring the popular-in-1999 redesigned Volkswagen New Beetle. Like that cognac, it’s what you want in an experience, but you wish there was more at the end of the glass. Beetle Adventure Racing, while short on story, is a racing dream. There isn’t much to the story other than you’re racing against other Beetle drivers on six varied tracks. There are several modes including a time trial, championship and two-player duel, but that’s about it. You’re also racing with only Beetles, though they vary in color with different stats. There are two unlockable Beetles, but that’s pretty much all there is in terms of rewards. The depth really lies in the tracks and their nooks and crannies. There are a ton of secrets and shortcuts that help in the point-gathering modes or to shave time in the time trials, and that sort of makes up for the lack of everything else. Sort of. While the rewards are sparse, the presentation is not. Beetle Adventure Racing looks and plays wonderfully. The environments look great for a Nintendo 64 game and really make the game pop overall. And it also plays well. The racing is smooth and lithe, making for a satisfying experience when taking curves or finally landing a shortcut path. Of special note is the soundtrack. It’s only six tracks plus a few other menu tunes, but this is a fantastic soundtrack. The tracks work well with the racing locales, and almost all of them are bangers. Our longtime favorite is Mount Mayhem, the snow lodge mountain track. We’ve been bumping that as long as the game has been out in various formats, and 24 years later we continue to do so. It’s that good and comes with high praise. Our only caveat with Beetle Adventure Racing is that the difficulty level is slightly out of balance. It could use some tweaking so that you see the later racing tracks a little more often. Given that it’s hard to find some of the point boxes on the tracks and you need them in order to earn continues, it should be easier to obtain for the latter portions of the game. Aside from the punishing difficulty, the game is practically perfect. There isn’t much to feast on, but when you can feast it’s among if not the best racing game on the N64. It’s a heck of an adventure whether you’re a Beetle enthusiast or not. V dub or bust.
Ah, Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega’s top mascot has had a bit of a revival lately. From trilogy games on the Genesis and other systems developed by Sega and its competitors to comic books and various merchandise, cartoon series and two blockbuster movies, Sonic and Co. are living large. He reached a similar zenith in his second game — Sonic the Hedgehog 2 — which also introduced fans to his equal-yet-unique partner, Miles Prower aka “Tails” (because he’s a two-tailed fox) who joins our favorite blue speedy demon in a new battle to stop Dr. Robotnik. In Sonic 2, Sonic and Tails and their friends are enjoying peaceful days on West Island until Dr. Robotnik and his cronies arrive, kidnapping the inhabitants, and transforming them into robotic slaves. The slaves would help Robotnik search for the legendary Chaos Emeralds, which he plans to use to power his space station. With Robotnik’s latest threat, It’s up to Sonic and Tails to find the Emeralds to foil Robotnik and his dreams for world domination. Gameplay in Sonic 2 is much like the first Sonic game, but with some new additions. Each level or “act” (there are 20 in total) will have you bashing enemies and avoiding various hazards such as spikes and bottomless pits. While dashing through you must utilize some patience and timing to avoid these various obstacles. Sonic is still easy to control but he now also has a cool new trick called the Spin Dash. This lets him go even faster and take down more enemies. Tails has the same skills, but his two tails give him a little more flair. Sonic 2 has the option of Sonic or Tails going after Robotnik alone or joining forces in either single- or two-player modes. Robotnik has some new allies in the form of a robotic monkey named Coconuts and a robotic crab named Thrasher whose shell is comprised of a pinball bumper. With Robotnik having new methods to attack and hench bots to carry them out, the usual powerups (Rings, Speed Sneakers, and invincibility) are vast and abundant, but Sonic and Tails can take advantage of a new power shield that gives temporary protection against hits. The graphics are of 16-bit quality, but they do an excellent job of shining, whether it’s characters or backgrounds. Each stage is bursting with high energy color; the Chemical Plant Zone, Metropolis Zone and the bonus stages are my some of my personal favorites. I was pleased with Sonic 2’s music from beginning to end as it paired perfectly with the stages, beat by beat. The Green Hill, Chemical Plant, Casino Night and Mystic Cave zones hit the spot with special recognition for the Sky Chase Zone for its relaxing beats. Sonic 2 is worthy of revisiting often, especially if you want to experience 16-bit gaming at its finest. There is no doubt that Sonic 2 would be a sure-fire hit game to introduce to a new generation of gamers looking to experience good old-school gaming. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a certifiable banger in the annals of video game history. One of the best sequels ever released kept Sega in the 16-bit wars and gave us legendary Sonic gameplay that still holds up. Spin Dash on blue blur.
Bombastic yet cool. This is the dichotomy you encounter in the atmosphere of Jet Grind Radio. There’s nothing quite like it — except its sequel — and that’s a blessing because I don’t think the world could handle anything else. It’s quirky, futuristic, stunning, and undeniably cool when you get down to it: Jet Grind Radio is the future. Set in a futuristic Tokyo, Jet Grind Radio features a wide cast of rollerblading graffiti gangs vying for supremacy and struggling against an egomaniacal madman and his conglomerate, which are attempting to take over the world. The storyline serves its purpose but it’s the characters that are the draw here. Each character — including the unlockable — has an interesting look and story going on. They are the lifeblood, and it’s fun to learn about them and their motivations. While we’re loving the characters, let’s also give love to the art style that brings them to life. The art style is gorgeous and still holds up after 23 years. The graffiti cel-shaded look has aged well; graffiti never fails to be awesome and impactful, and Jet Grind Radio looks phenomenal. It’s the first game to use this technique, and it set the standard in 2000 in terms of presentation. The backgrounds are also well done and inspire runs through the game. It’s clearly an early 2000s game, but that only portends good things about the Dreamcast and what it was capable of. And as good as the game looks, the graphics almost don’t hold a candle to the soundtrack. This is one of the best soundtracks ever done, and it will have you bopping while you’re running around on inline skates. This is one of those soundtracks that you put on while working and you get some of your best work done. Funky and pop-centric, the soundtrack has so much going on thematically that there’s bound to be something for everyone. And in terms of appealing to mass consumption, the controls are a common denominator kind of sensibility. The immediate comparison here is Tony Hawk, which isn’t surprising since the Hawkman had just released his first game — Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater — a year earlier to critical acclaim. Jet Grind Radio doesn’t necessarily grind on Hawk’s coattails, but you’re bound to say to yourself at least once, “These controls sure feel familiar.” And you wouldn’t be wrong. That’s a good thing, because it plays like early Tony Hawk, you know when it was good. While everything is great in terms of presentation and control, I’d be remiss in mentioning that there is one bothersome flaw with Jet Grind Radio. While the controls are easily analogous to early Tony Hawk games, it wasn’t easy to pick up the game and know what’s going on immediately. It’s a little too inaccessible at first, like it’s asking you to have some in-depth knowledge ahead of playing for the first time. You may not be familiar with the concepts the game is throwing at you, and it’s the game’s responsibility to ease you into the fray. Thankfully, the surrounding game is so good that you’ll come back to get more in-depth with the trappings of Tokyo-to. The Jet Grind series has lasted into the modern era with re-releases and a rumored reboot, and the original game details exactly why. Easy controls, varied modes, an engaging cast (love Pots, Piranha and Beat!) and popping soundtrack make for an immediately unforgettable experience. Get in-line to get down with the fantastic Jet Grind Radio.