Category Archives: Retrograde

Maximo – Ghosts to Glory — 1Q2017

Maximo-03
Photo courtesy of GiantBomb.com

Maximo continues the quest to rescue the princess

by Brandon Beatty
by Brandon Beatty

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.
Score-4-retrogradeMaximo 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.

Magical Tetris Challenge — 1Q2017

Magical Tetris Challenge-11When Tetris’ and Disney’s worlds collide

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.
Score-4-retrogradeComboing 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.

Bust-A-Move — 1Q2017

Bust A Move-12Puzzle Bobble’s breakout hit

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.
Score-3-5-retrogradeWith 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.

 

Balloon Fight — 1Q2017

Balloon Fight-10Fruitless showdowns with respect to balloons

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.
Score-2-retrogradeThis 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.

Mario quick hit reviews — 1Q2016

Super Mario Land
Mario’s first adventure outside of the Mushroom Kingdom just Super Mario Land-03happens to also be his first in the portable sphere. Mario Land is a serviceable adventure filled with the weird and different (Tatanga, anyone?), but it’s still good Mario. The mechanics resemble SMB, and the graphics keep things familiar enough despite spaceships and pyramids making an appearance. Keep this early Mario as an option on the go.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden CoinsSuper Mario Land 2-02
Mario’s second handheld adventure is a step up in terms of … everything. There are more power ups, more stages and more enemies to take on, including Wario, who is introduced to the world at large here. The six titular golden coins mean more places to explore and more to do, which is always helpful in a Mario title. The controls get a little crisper and the graphics are gorgeous for a handheld title. This is one to own, even if you’re not a super Mario fan.

Score: 4 out of 5

Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Mario’s first foray into the handheld karting side of things is a Mario Kart Super Circuit-02mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s Super Mario Kart finally on a handheld system. That instantly makes it worth checking out by itself. On the other hand, the difficulty and rating system make it a frustrating experience. If you’re used to the rubber band AI from the two previous titles, you’ll find it well worn here. And good luck getting the max number of coins and stars possible in the bid to max out the game. But, it’s still decent Mario Kart overall and the game plays exactly like you’d expect. That’s a winning attribute that helps salvage this race.

Score: 2.5 out of 5

Super Mario Bros. 2 (JP) — 1Q2016

SMB2JP-01

Super Mario Bros. 2 an uneven, heavy-handed sequel

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

If there were ever a time when Mario was considered not to be fun, this would be it. I have always had a major fascination with Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom, but the true sequel to one of the greatest games of all time made me wish I didn’t go down the rabbit hole.
At first glance, SMB 2 is your typical sequel: Improved graphics and new concepts, such as the addition of the Poisonous Mushroom. But there’s immediately something off putting about the game. It’s familiar yet foreign. A lot of the same enemies are used and the game has a lot of the same story-specific elements as its predecessor. The objective remains the same: Save Princess Peach from the invading Koopa army. But this is where things take sinister and not-so-pleasant turn.
I’m not going to beat around the bush: The difficulty level is not SMB2JP-04friendly. If you didn’t start with Super Mario Bros., stop right now and go back and study up that game. The sequel is designed to be set up and buoyed by the original. If you start here, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
The new levels were designed to take “super” players to task and show them that Mario isn’t the cakewalk they thought him to be. So, born from that are Sisyphean efforts such as warps that return you to an earlier part of the level; or my favorite: The fact that using level warps at all prevents advancement to the real ending of the game. This is Ghouls and Ghosts before Ghouls and Ghosts.
Score-2-5-retrogradeThis frustrating tactic of punishing the player for being too good is exactly why the follow up to Super Mario Bros. would have never flown in America and why we didn’t see the game until a full five years after its release in Japan. People traditionally play Mario to relax, not be thrown backward in a never-ending loop of anger and frustration. This doesn’t appeal to the mass players and it’s cheap and perverse that Mario is used in this way.
While it’s not the same Mario in a lot of respects, the same old charm is present. The whimsical jaunt through the Mushroom Kingdom is now fraught with all types of danger, but it’s still pretty to behold. And the music is still the main act of beauty and source of joy in what is a dark skip through the forest of Mario. Somehow, through all of the anger, Koji Kondo’s masterpieces never seem to get old.
For the sake of your controllers, I suggest investing in cheat codes to get through SMB 2. It’s one of the few games I would ever give this advice about to beat.
We Americans might be lazy and unchallenged (editor’s note: Nintendo confirmed that this is the real reason why we received the much-easier-but-still-hard SMB 2 USA/Doki Doki Panic ripoff), but at least our controllers remain intact and whole, no thanks in small part to getting a far easier version of Mario 2. Super Frustration Bros. would have been a more apropos title for the sequel to the greatest game of all time.

Mario Kart 64 — 1Q2016

Mario Kart 64-04

Mario Kart’s growing pains

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

Mario Kart has always been an interesting experience. Combining go-karting and Mario has and is a recipe for success for Nintendo, quite honestly. And, by the time Nintendo got around to making the sequel to the smash hit Super Mario Kart, they knew they had a surefire massive hit on their hands.
Mario Kart 64 takes everything you loved about the first game and immeasurably increases it. The Mario characters, the tracks, the secrets; everything about Mario Kart 64 is better than the original in every respect. Driving has improved with better steering qualities for all characters including the bonafied introduction of powersliding. Mastering powersliding means a world of difference in race times, especially when you have bragging rights at stake. Old mechanics, such as the weight class concept, are still present but it seems everyone has a better representation with respect to how a class really controls. The lightweights feel like, well, lightweights. The heavyweights actually feel like they’re heavy to handle.
While I’m an admitted longterm Mario Kart aficionado, I have to Mario Kart 64-09admit that if you’re going to get into Mario Kart, this is the title to do so with. It’s not hard to pick up MK64 and grasp the mechanics. It’s also easy to play with friends who understand the nuances of Mario Kart so that you’re not left behind for very long. And it’s the playing with others that makes this one of the best party games ever created. MK64 has Battle Mode as its ace in the hole and it makes it one of the first quintessential party games, alongside Goldeneye, Super Smash Bros. and Mario Party.
Score-3-5-retrogradeWith all that it has going for it, however, there a few minor drawbacks. First, if rubber band AI bothers you, this is not the game for you. MK64’s AI is one of the worst offenders of the rubber banding practice and it gets worse as you go through the single player race campaign. Combine that with the punishing difficulty of 100cc and 150cc races and you have a frustrating, controller-throwing mess. Second, this is the second game after Mario 64 where Mario characters are vocalized. I promise you will get tired of hearing characters say their favorite phrase long before you finish any of the modes. It gets old quickly and makes one wish they could turn the sound off, except that you’ll realize quickly that the soundtrack is actually great. This, however, is the game that turned me against Mario characters talking.
Mario Kart 64 is polarizing to some players: Some think it’s one of the greatest kart racing games ever made while others hate it. I tend to be in the middle; it’s a great entry in the kart racing genre, but there are some fairly major quirks with how it plays to throw a wrench into things. I like to think that the fun and the quality associated with Mario Kart boosts it out of the middle of the pack.

Super Mario 64 — 1Q2016

Mario 64-21Mario’s greatest evolution

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

Most of the gaming world would agree that Super Mario 64 is one of the greatest games of all time. I would agree also except for two things: First, the game gives me a tremendous headache after about 10 minutes of play; and, second, I’m not like most people.
See, where I have a problem with Mario 64 is where most people don’t have a problem. Don’t get me wrong; I love the leap forward that presents itself as soon as you boot up the game for the first time. I was — and still am — in awe of the wonderment that is seeing Mario in 3D after playing 2D Mario games for the majority of my gaming career. However, I’m not in concert with the idea that it’s one of the greatest games of all time. Why? Just because it was the first to fully realize a formerly 2D character in 3D splendor? Because it’s Mario and just because it’s Mario?
No, I can’t form my opinion or even include the game in the conversation of greatest game of all time just because of any of those things. There has to be some valid reasoning and while there are some great points for it, I’m not sold 100 percent.
Mario 64, graphically, is steps ahead of almost everything for the Nintendo 64. Note that I said almost.
Most games don’t hold a candle to Mario in fully realized 3D and, Mario 64-07even with his polygonal block style as with most early N64 games, Mario still looks like a king. Peach’s Palace is interestingly laid out and the graphical quality of the castle still blows away the competition 20 years later. Watching Mario run around, run and jump and be Mario but in a non-2D sprite is pure heaven for Mario lovers like myself.
But there’s that blockiness that I mentioned before. It’s obvious throughout and can be jarring from time to time. And for motion sickness sufferers like myself, the 3D is nigh unbearable. It’s all I Score-4-5-retrogradecan do not to vomit after 20 minutes, so my playtime is immediately limited because of the visuals. I should not be wanting to vomit after playing a Mario game.
The soundtrack makes up for the illness-inducing gameplay. The soundtrack is fantastic and it’s worthy of a mainline Mario game, easily. From running around in the plains of Bob-omb Battlefield to traversing numerous obstacles to take on the King of the Koopas, Mario 64 is a dream come true in terms of audio pleasure.
And, this is, after all, the first commercial game where Mario actually speaks. It’s a joy to hear him squeal and squawk for the first time as he explores the various worlds.
With all of my negative sentiments about the leap from 2D to 3D for Mario, I still appreciate the masterpiece that is Mario 64. Groundbreaking and simultaneously frustrating?
Yes. But it’s frustration worth having even if it takes a tumble down my list of greatest games ever.

Paper Mario — 1Q2016

Paper Mario-01A serviceable tale on paper

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

The moment you know Mario has gone on too many adventures is when you know you’ve played way too much Mario. Paper Mario, the sequel to the hard-to-top Super Mario RPG, is when I knew I’d played way too much Mario and seemed to expect way too much from a Mario game. The joke, however, was on me as I realized that an in-depth and long adventure awaited, and a story was to be told here that needed to be told after the highlight of RPG.
Paper Mario starts out much like any other Mario game: The princess has been kidnapped and Mario needs to save her. However, there’s a twist in the danse macabre that is Mario and Bowser’s eternal struggle over Peach. Bowser has managed to get his hands on the Star Rod, imprisons most of the wish-granting community and has literally absconded with Peach and her court into the sky. This is the point at which you should be saying, “Really Bowser? You just helped save your universe in RPG and you’re back to creating problems again?” But, nevertheless, the story must go on and Paper Mario fills that void nicely with an engaging tale of teamwork and camaraderie. I was most impressed Paper Mario-04with the depth of the characters and the deft way Intelligent Systems fleshed out the world of Mario and some of his never-before-seen allies who come from all walks of the Mario life.
Another impressive part of the tale is the tongue-in-cheek humor sprinkled liberally throughout. Paper Mario isn’t afraid to be self-referential or pinch off other games when it calls for shaking up the routine “Mario saves Peach” bit.
Spoilers ahead: There is a section that calls for a certain princess to become a virtual Solid Snake-like character and it immediately calls forth images of Metal Gear Solid. That kind of borrowing is the kind of thing that’s allowed and plays well within the context that Mario is the king of all that he surveys and even in his spinoff titles, he can still run with the best of the best, pay homage and still come out smelling like roses.
In his second RPG outing, Mario still plays just as well as his first attempt in the role-playing sphere. Paper looks like and plays out like a storybook, which is fresh and inviting to old diehards like myself. The mechanics are simple to learn and are layered enough that an experienced RPGer can jump right in and understand what’s going on without much explanation.
Score-4-retrogradeIf you played the first game, concepts such as timed defense, timed offense and first hits will make sense. It’s that kind of referencing that makes the game a success: It’s easy to pick up and play, regardless of your level of familiarity with the series’ system.
My main gripe, though, is that the game feels sprawling and slightly disjointed at times. That’s a great problem to have actually, but there are times when backtracking and the seemingly endless sidequests tend to distract from the main goal. Still, I’d rather have that problem than be bored with nothing to support the main story.
Also, as a rather nitpicky side gripe, the final boss fight is one of the most aggravating fights I have ever experienced.
I was easily in that battle for half an hour solely because of the boss’ ability to heal, not because I was doing anything particularly wrong. If, at the end of the battle, I say, “I will never fight this end battle again,” there is a problem there.
It was as if it was protracted and drawn out for the sake of being a hard boss battle.
My issues aside, though, I had an engaging and memorable time playing through and I couldn’t wait to work through a new chapter in the saga that was Paper Mario. This is a tale you literally can’t put down.

Track & Field II — 3Q2015

Track and Field 2-01Spirit of an Olympic champion

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

Hearing the name Track & Field II easily creates powerful nostalgia in me. I was a young girl learning the ins and outs of an NES in 1989 when my older brother, Tony, brought home the Olympic contest title. It was the last year that we lived in the same house and had time to sit down and play video games together. That was the year that I learned what it meant to duel an older sibling who had far better hand-and-eye coordination and reflexes and why teenagers seem to do much better at games than little kids.
I’m no Olympic athlete so I’d rather try my hand at the digital versions. Track & Field II offers a virtual bounty of events from which to choose, and all of them are pretty faithfully recreated from their original counterparts. There are 12 events to choose from, with three that can be chosen in different modes or as special events.
The events, ranging from hurdles to gymnastics and swimming, are Track and Field 2-14fun to try but frustrating to learn the nuances. It took consultation with Tony, an NES Max controller and many years to get the hang of certain events. This is mostly because there wasn’t a lot of info out there in the days before the Internet and because, again, I had terrible untrained coordination and reflexes. Even today, with a wealth of tips out there, it’s still hard to get a bull’s-eye in the archery, and it’s been nearly 30 years. Graphically, there’s a few things to look at, especially for an NES title. It’s not going to set the world on fire but the graphics are fine for the time period and don’t detract from the overall experience.
Score-3-retrogradeThe music, while not especially memorable, is still serviceable. It’s not something you’re going to be humming well after you’ve put down that turbo controller, but it’s not bad, either. A lot of the tracks are well done and fit the general mood of the event you’re participating in. There are a lot of sound effects in the game and they are generally what make the game what it is.
The nostalgic factor is what keeps me coming back to what is a generally frustrating game. That nostalgia is what turns a potentially controller-throwing hurdles event into a first-place triumph over a notoriously hard A.I. that likes to punish at every chance.
It’s my chance to feel like the Olympic champion that I will never be.

Donkey Kong Jr. — 3Q2015

DK Jr-01Like father, like son

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 DK Jr-12game 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.
Score-1-retrogradeInstead, 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.

Shiritsu Justice Gakuen: Nekketsu Seisyun Nikki 2 — 2Q2015

Rival Schools 2-10Rival Schools 1.5 is still fun

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

We here at GI are strong proponents of anything Japanese, fighting games and education. So, you can imagine the delight that is a generous mix of all three. To that end, it should be obvious by now that we love Rival Schools and its overall series Project Justice. Despite the fact that it comes from the brain trust known as Capcom, we’re still entranced by the concept of Japanese high school students fighting to save themselves.

Score-3-5-retrogradeThe middle game in the series, Rival Schools 2, is an interesting addition to the family of fighting games. It’s neither a true sequel nor a spin-off of the original game. It’s an addendum, which Capcom is notorious for pushing on the general buying public. It’s more of the original game — which we love — with some upgrades thrown in to make it worth importing. This version was never released in America, thus there are modes that you will never see. That makes importing the game worth the time and trouble.

RS2 is your standard fighting game, which doesn’t make it unique. Rival Schools 2-09However, the inclusion of the board game mode and the character creation mode that plays out like an eroge simulation are some of the goodies that we’re missing out on in the U.S. There’s also the addition of three new characters: Ran, a photojournalist who uses her camera to attack; Nagare, a swimmer; and, Chairperson/Iinciyo, who leads the charge for Taiyo High School students to defend themselves. Other than these gifts, there’s not much different here than the first game. You’re still fighting to defend your chosen school, and there’s still fun to be had in a slightly deep fighting game system. There’s not too much different aesthetics-wise, in that there are a few new stages and new stage themes. The older stages are still here and it’s fun to play against the newcomers with older characters or a created character.

JP flag w stick iconI have two caveats with recommending the game to others. The first is the fact that it’s in Japanese mostly and reading is a must to get through the character creation and board game modes. That’s a bit much if you’re not into the language or know enough to navigate through menus. The other issue is the fact that, as usual, Capcom has seen fit to deny American gamers the best of a series, shortchanging loyal money-spending fans who would pay a high price for the goodies of the character creation mode and the board game mode. The dirty truth of it all is Capcom has never thought highly of its American audience. We’re not going to see something awesome like either mode because “we just wouldn’t get it anyway.” A fun fact is that both modes were to be included in the first game but were left out in America because it would have been too much trouble to include them for Americans, according to Capcom of Japan. But we’re smart enough to make cash grabs off of for multiple version of Street Fighter, though, right?

The moral of this story is that Rival Schools and its further sequels all deserve to be played by a wider audience. Although it’s a slight rehash of the first game, RS2 was deserving of respect and a proper introduction to the American audience. Thankfully, we were allowed to see the next sequel, Project Justice. Here’s hoping for a class reunion.

DDR Max Dance Dance Revolution 6th Mix — 2Q2015

DDR Max-01A new era of DDR

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

Let’s have a quick history review, shall we? Konami created the Dance Dance Revolution series in 1998 and by 2002, there were at least six entries in the main series. I’d gather that this meant DDR was pretty popular, but you would never hear Konami say that too loud. At some point, however, someone realized the magic that was DDR needed to come into the modern era. So, everything that was related to the first five entries in the series — with the exception of the song wheel and difficulty categories — was thrown out in favor of a complete overhaul. DDR Max was the result and with it comes a mixed bag of modern and old DDR.

Score-4-retrogradeGraphically, Max represents the beginning of a new era. Sure, it resembles current DDR games because they use the song wheel, but the colors became a little brighter and the little touches used to illustrate the different difficulties and categories are emphasized more. The interface is much easier to read, though the addition of the Groove Radar still has some ways to go here. It’s not exactly helpful in providing digestible information that helps make quick informed decisions. That’s a complaint that still stands today, so much so that I tend to ignore the meter altogether. Also, the foot rating is missing and song difficulty rating numbers have yet to come (that’s not until Max 2). But the song wheel has been freshened up so it looks a lot better and is a little more palatable.

Musically, the selection is among the best in the series. The one thing DDR Max-20about Max that’s notable about the music is the lack of a Paranoia mix. For a series trademark song, its absence is immediately noticeable, and quite frankly, drags the mix down a few notches. There’s a few throwJP flag w stick icon away songs like Share My Love and Dive, but overall it’s quite a few excellent choices thrown together to make a good song list. The variety is nice and it feels like a good fresh start for a series that had a lot of repeats in the first five games.

I don’t go back and play 6th Mix often, mostly because I can’t deal with a lack of Paranoia in my life at this point. As a DDR old head and one who owns the American version as well as the Japanese version, I applaud the change up that Konami pursued. It was a bold move that paid off in the long run: DDR still looks like a lot like this form, even with at least eight more games under its belt as a series. Sometimes, a change in pace is needed to keep the dance groove going.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nirr98TpleQ

DDR trivia

* DDR Max is the first game to feature a 10-foot difficulty song. Max 300 was officially the first 10-footer in the history of the series, though it wouldn’t receive its official rating until Max 2 was released.

* Max 300, the boss song of the mix, features 573 steps in its Heavy difficulty chart. 573 is known as the Konami number, a number that relates to the romanized pronunciation of the company’s name.

* Max is the first DDR game to feature the Light/Standard/Heavy difficulty scheme, dance point system, speed mods, Extra Stage/One More Extra Stage and freeze arrows. The difficulty scheme would stay in place until the release of DDR SuperNOVA in 2006.

* Two songs introduced in the mix, Flash in the Night and Follow Me, are the only two songs in the series that do not have an official foot rating. These two songs were introduced in 6th Mix, which is the only mix that does not use the foot rating system. They have never appeared in later mixes, which gave official Konami numbered ratings to all songs.

Midway Arcade Treasures 2 — 1Q2015

A mostly forgettable treasure trove

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 Midway Arcade Treasures 2-46issues. 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.
Score-2-5-retrogradeWhat 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.

Devil May Cry — 1Q2015

Photos by Brandon Beatty/Gaming Insurrection
Photos by Brandon Beatty/Gaming Insurrection

Capcom’s instant action platforming classic

by Brandon Beatty
by Brandon Beatty

In previous installments of Otaku Corner, I reviewed manga based on Capcom’s Devil May Cry. Ever since DMC’s arrival in 2001, it has grown from a critically acclaimed series to written and visual adaptations in comics, written novels and other various merchandise. Originally set in the Resident Evil universe, because of technology restraints and an expanding reverse storyline from Resident Evil, the series was ported to the PlayStation 2. Having enjoyed experiencing the manga’s action, I wondered if I would feel the same when I played the first DMC game? I was about to find out.

Devil May Cry has elements that are similar to Resident Evil; the Devil May Cry-15only difference is that you will be dealing with supernatural enemies instead of those who were created by unethical scientific experiments. You assume the role of Dante, a demon hunter/investigator who uses his skills to exercise demons for profit and to avenge the loss of his family from said creatures. One night while working, Dante is hired by a mysterious woman named Trish, who after a brief but amazing test of Dante’s skill, hires him to go to an abandoned castle where Mundus, the demon who is responsible for the death of Dante’s family, is planning a return from hell. Unknown to our badass hero, he has taken on a a job that starts out as an opportunity for vengeance, but soon will unlock an ancient birthright and his true destiny as mankind’s newest protector against demonic forces.

Gameplay in DMC is a complete 180 from Resident Evil as the battle style is more melee combat that running and hiding from zombies. I found the controls pretty easy to use, thanks to the analog sticks that allow plenty of free movement to jump and take full advantage of Dante’s sweet combat moves. You will love it when Dante gets to business immediately with use of his twin handguns that can infict damage rapid-fire style and his awsomely designed sword Alastor that can be upgraded to unlock new attacks. He also has a BIG trump card to really make the demons howl with the use of “Devil Triggers” (think Goku or Vegeta going Super Saiyan with an arsenal of weapons and being in god mode).

Score-5-retrogradeThe graphics are beautiful as Capcom developed a great game engine and made great use of the PS2’s technological capabilities to bring out the action without using the god-awful camera angles found in Resident Evil. I personally liked how each cutscene brought DMC’s storyline together without any over-the-top drama. The enemy variety is good, too, ranging from demon marionettes to giant owls and other demonic creatures. I enjoyed the voice acting because it was not forced, flowing in sync with the game’s plot. I am proud to say that I would definitely replay this game when I’m feeling like I want to rip some demons apart.

Devil May Cry is a standout original game that is worthy of its praise from gaming critics the world over. I find this another testimony to the fact that Capcom can do themselves and their customers justice by being true to their craft. I was pleased with my first DMC gaming experience and await more in future installments of this series.

Mega Man X5 — 4Q2014

Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com
Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com

Duo team attack finish

Brandon-2013-cutout
by Brandon Beatty

MMX5 takes place several months after the events in Mega Man X4, during which the giant space colony Eurasia has been taken over by an unknown reploid known as Dynamo as it was undergoing extensive repairs. As a result, a computer virus infected Eurasia’s gravity control systems, sending it on a collision course with Earth. At the same time, Sigma and his new band of Mavericks have taken control of various areas that have equipment capable of preventing Eurasia’s fall, and he has also launched his own virus across the globe. X and Zero, under orders from their new leader Signas, must go to those areas to acquire the equipment needed to stop Eurasia, and send Sigma back to the scrap heap once more where he belongs.

MMX5’s gameplay remains the same as any regular action-adventure game. You can chose between using X and Zero, who Mega Man X5-01each have unique abilities. I chose Zero because of the option to use his Z-Saber and Z-Buster as more effective combat tools, and also because of his stronger jumping abilities. MMX5 allows both characters to be swapped out during the stage select screen, provided you choose before time runs out. This adds freshness to the gameplay, keeping the game from being too mundane or too comfortable for a chosen character.

I liked the fact that there are new armors in the game that X can start off with. The Gaia armor from MMX 4 is less powerful but Score-4-retrogradestill gets the job done. You can find other armor sets that will give you an advantage, with good old Dr. Light providing insight about them. He has also made a special armor for Zero that you will find later on. I also want to note that if players pay close attention, there will be some background scenes in MMX paying tribute to classic Mega Man and Mega Man X games.

The plot of the game, while a good storyline point with stopping Eurasia, may frustrate you because you would have to defeat the first four Mavericks and later be told that two were developed simultaneously without previous knowledge of both plans. I also questioned the developer’s method of stage planning when they placed Dynamo in nearly every mid battle to delay either X or Zero without any strong challenge, and I questioned why, during Duff McWhalen’s stage, it takes a huge amount of game time to fight off a sub-boss that required running and firing just to keep it at bay.

Despite some frustrating issues, MMX5 is a great game to kill time with and shows how — with proper care and fresh ideas — a gaming franchise can still be relevant. Get the picture, Capcom?

http://youtu.be/rlJKIWgdETw

Mega music

Capcom always had a creative knack for naming Mega Man adversaries. Mavericks in X5 are based off of the original band members of the rock group Guns N’ Roses.

Grizzly Slash – Slash
Squid Adler – Steven Adler
Izzy Glow – Izzy Stradlin
Duff McWhalen – Duff McKagan
The Skiver – Michael Monroe
Axle the Red – Axl Rose
Dark Dizzy – Dizzy Reed
Mattrex – Matt Sorum

Harvest Moon: Back to Nature — 4Q2014

Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com
Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com

A life that’s second nature

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

A life of farming is never simple. Ask any farmer and they’ll tell you: It’s a tough, tough job that requires before-dawn rising and at-dusk retiring that repeats itself over the course of many a day. There’s also the fear of Mother Nature wrecking your livelihood and outside forces such as other humans stealing from you and running you into ruin. But, thankfully, you can avoid all of that and experience the joy of living off the land at its finest, digitally if you so choose, thanks to Natsume’s Harvest Moon: Back to Nature. And, if you play your cards right and take time to pull yourself away from digging up your ground, you can find yourself a certain Mrs. to share the farming duties with as well.

Back to Nature is the best game in the long-running series. I say this with confidence because it’s one of the only titles in the series to have been remade multiple times with the same setup, just different characters. Every modern Harvest Moon title takes its cue from Back to Nature, as well. The main goal, which stays the same throughout the series, is to take a farm that’s fallen into disrepair and make it into a profitable bastion of hard work and success. Your character works to accomplish this by pulling up his bootstraps and putting in a little elbow grease with little to no help from anyone else, aside from the gnomes he meets tucked away in the crease of the town.

Speaking of the town, you’re tasked with meeting folks and forging Harvest Moon BTN-01some type of relationship with them so that you are considered neighborly. The town’s set schedule makes for interesting interactions and a type of schedule planning not unlike Animal Crossing. While you’re working to save your farm and chatting up the townsfolk, you’re given a third task of finding a suitable lass in town to wife up. If you can manage to put a ring on it by wooing your intended (there are five lovely ladies that you can choose from to pursue with varying likes and dislikes), you’re all but guaranteed to earn your place in the town and be allowed to stay.

Back to Nature is deep, extremely deep. So much so that it takes quite a bit of time just getting the farm up and running in a proper manner that you might make money to sustain it. And that’s Score-4-retrogrademission accomplished for Back to Nature: Get you involved and thinking hard about what it is you want to accomplish in your town. That level of interaction is simple to begin with, and with decent controls it doesn’t get too much harder to maintain. It’s one of the things that I love about Back to Nature. It doesn’t press too hard about mechanics and there’s a wealth of information within the game about crops and caring for animals that can help you maintain a comfortable way of life within the game. But sometimes, the level of comfort you want isn’t always within reach.

While I praise the controls, the effect isn’t always beneficial for you. The game is hard in the beginning, sometimes too hard for its own good. Take, for example, the fact that you arrive in town with basically nothing but the clothes on your back. You’re expected to succeed and settle down there but you have nothing tying you there very much. What’s to say that your player character doesn’t decide that it’s too much, packs up shop and goes home? It’s not very realistic with some of the things you’re tasked with doing, and starting with absolutely no money and trying to rebuild a farm is impossible with no cash flow.

My next problem comes with the cash opportunities afforded in the game. Without cheating, it is nearly impossible to become successful and well off. This leads into a larger problem with the way time is structured in the game as well. While the time aspect has to be different than real time, an entire day should not pass within nearly 30 minutes. It’s extremely hard to get much accomplished in the early going and it demands that you must have a routine in place quickly or risk being left behind. Sure, you’re given a year or two to get things together but it’s hard to make things work on the farm, court a girl and participate in town activities all at once in the short amount of time that passes as a day.

Couple it with the schedule given to the town and there’s a time management problem just waiting to happen. The controls sometimes leave a lot to be desired, too. More than once I’ve had a bucket that I’ve filled with goodies from my plot of land empty just far away enough from a bin that it went wasted. And more than once I’ve been angered by loss of income because it’s on the ground and not able to be reclaimed. But that’s a fact of life in Harvest Moon titles, I suppose.

Otherwise, Back to Nature is a great simulation of farm life. It’s a good way to play a dating sim and life sim all at once with very little consequence for poor choices. Getting back to nature is an idea all of us need to think of at least once, even if it is to digitally pair off and make a fast dollar.

Back to basics

Back to Nature, released in 1999 for the PlayStation One, has been remade several times. The first remake was released for Game Boy Advance as Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town in 2003. Friends of Mineral Town was expanded with a side story, More Friends of Mineral Town — which allows playing from a female farmer’s perspective — in 2005. These were later ported as Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl for PSP in 2005.

ChuChu Rocket — 4Q2014

Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com
Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com

An epic cat and mouse game

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

Cats in rockets trying to kill mice. As well as being weird, the age-old concept of a cat-and-mouse game is surprisingly addictive. In the form of the Dreamcast’s ChuChu Rocket, the concept manages to jump the barrier of weird and branch into the realm of entertaining.

The game of cat-and-mouse is simple: Lead mice to safety in your rocket with well-placed arrows while avoiding cats that other players will send to hunt the mice. The more mice you have left alive at the end, the better. It’s not hard to get started once you have that basic understanding of the game, and it quickly becomes an addicting exercise of frantic fun to keep mice alive.

The fun thing about ChuChu Rocket is the sheer randomness of everything happening on the playing field. There are so many factors that can affect your mice total at the end of a round that it’s Score-4-retrogradeimpossible to win by talent at moving rodents alone. One must consider the fact that only three arrows can be placed by a character at any given time. With level layout also taken into consideration, the idea that you can be in the lead for five seconds and that be enough to win is a real possibility. Throw in the power-up aspect and constantly changing conditions of the match area and there is a real recipe here for disaster disguised as fun.

It’s a good thing that the game is so fun to play because the ChuChuRocket-02graphics and the music sure aren’t going to draw you in by themselves. The game looks like a 1999 game, which isn’t to say it’s horrible, but it isn’t pretty, either. The graphics date themselves mightily, but that’s not really anything to be ashamed of, since ChuChu Rocket doesn’t exactly need to get by on the quality of the scenery. The music is nothing to write home about, and frankly, I played with it turned off for the majority of the time that I’ve owned the game. It really adds nothing to the overall experience and after a short time, it becomes rather irritating. But, like the graphics, it isn’t really what you came here for.

What you’re going to take away from ChuChu Rocket depends on what you’re looking for. In this day and age, 15 years after its original release, you can take a solid party game from this that’s a highly quirky title worthy of many replays or you can see a weird 15-year-old game about cats chasing mice with questionable game conditions attached. Rat infestation issues aside, ChuChu Rocket is a great rat race into nostalgia.

NBA Jam — 3Q2014

NBA Jam-02The old king of the court

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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, 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 NBA Jam-17experience. 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.”

Score-4-retrogradeThe 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.

SSX Tricky — 3Q2014

SSX Tricky-02Grab your gear and hit the slopes

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

SSX can get a little … well … Tricky. OK, yes, I went for the easy joke, but it’s one that can be made with a solid title in SSX Tricky. Tricky tends to take the best things about the SSX franchise and make them better. And that’s better for everyone because snowboarding games of the time weren’t exactly freshly powdered experiences.

Tricky settles into its role as a snowboarding simulator with slick visuals and an added bonus of interesting characters. The easiest way to describe playing Tricky is that it’s you versus the mountain, and well, sometimes you versus the other characters versus the mountain. While the World Circuit mode is touted as a main attraction — and it is certainly is for several reasons — the mode that does the most for me is Free Ride. There’s nothing quite like running down the tracks and pulling off tricks without other characters to annoy you. The characters aren’t really that annoying, and the rivalry system is fun, but I preferred my solitude while learning the game and Practice and Free Ride provided that easily.

Those slick visuals are also on display throughout the different SSX Tricky-19modes, and it immediately sets the game apart from its competition of the time. The game flat-out looks great on the GameCube, and the other console versions looked great, too. The GameCube version has an interesting control scheme that lends itself to rolling down the slopes, and it’s intuitive and becomes second nature as you become more comfortable pulling off various tricks. For that increasing level of comfort, you are rewarded with bigger and better items that should help you improve as well as make you look a little better on the track. It’s that drive to unlock these goodies and tracks that keeps you coming back to Tricky.

That’s all alongside the soundtrack, which is excellent, too. There are a few vocal pieces with the instrumental tracks for the different levels, and all are appropriate for the atmosphere EA wants to Score-4-5-retrogradeconvey. In particular, the remix of Run DMC’s massive hit “Tricky” is the highlight — as it should be. If it’s the main theme of the game, it should stand out, which it manages to do so. It never gets old to hear the trio’s 1986 hit sampled and remixed (editor’s note: ’80s rap never gets old, in any situation) while throwing down massive tricks on a treacherous mountain. And, believe it or not, the voice acting adds to the game as well. Usually, a fully famous all-star cast of voice actors produces mixed results. However, Tricky is an exception to that rule. Folks like Lucy Liu, Oliver Platt, Patricia Velasquez and Billy Zane deliver solid results.

With three other sequels and a reboot in 2012, Tricky has had the challenge of standing out in a crowded library of titles featuring snowboarding. But it’s not that hard to do when it’s got good mechanics and great atmosphere, a rather tricky feat to accomplish.