Final Fight 2 — Issue 38

Cap­com brawler takes fight worldwide

As a child of the early ’90s, Final Fight not only increased my addic­tion to arcade games, but also intro­duced me fur­ther to Capcom’s sky­rock­et­ing rise as a game devel­oper. I dived into Final Fight 2 to relive my arcade glory days.

In Final Fight 2, time has passed since Mike Hag­gar, Cody Tra­vers and Cody’s friend Guy defeated the Mad Gear gang, restored peace to the streets of Metro City and res­cued Haggar’s daugh­ter Jes­sica from the Mad Gear’s leader, Bel­ger. That peace is short-lived when the rem­nants of Mad Gear return under a new leader and kid­nap Guy’s fiancée, Rena, and Guy’s sen­sei, Genryusai.

With Cody away on a trip with Jes­sica and Guy away on secret train­ing, Hag­gar is joined by Rena’s sis­ter, Maki, and Haggar’s friend Car­los Miyamoto on a world­wide quest to crush the Mad Gear and res­cue Rena and Gen­ryu­sai. FF2 has a lot going for it; it’s a direct sequel never released in arcades with a lot of new mate­r­ial despite no new gen­eral mechanics.

FF2 has an expanded bat­tle­field with Hag­gar, Maki and Car­los start­ing their jour­ney in Hong Kong and end­ing that jour­ney in Japan. The main pro­tag­o­nists make their way through sev­eral locales in Europe in their search for Rena, all the while sur­rounded by improved graph­ics over the first game. The back­grounds are high qual­ity, and the sprites are well-drawn and crisp for each char­ac­ter with a lot of atten­tion to detail.

The atten­tion to detail also shows up in the con­trols. Over­all, con­trol is sim­ple even though each char­ac­ter has a unique fight­ing style. Hag­gar still has his pro wrestling moves, Maki makes use of Nin­jitsu and Car­los prac­tices mar­tial arts and sword skills. Though they are generic in exe­cu­tion, it’s fun to see how each char­ac­ter oper­ates dur­ing the fight.

Power-ups are still obtained via smash­ing var­i­ous objects and range from steamed Chi­nese buns to a pair of shoes that can increase health or score points. Find­ing either a Gen­ryu­sai or Guy doll will give an extra life or invin­ci­bil­ity. As for the music, it is arcade per­fect just like its pre­de­ces­sor. It’s a nice sound­track of early Cap­com brawler, and it fits the action per­fectly in each of the game’s locations.

As much as I enjoyed FF2, the game does have some flaws. While each char­ac­ter has their own awe­some spe­cial moves, using them does cost health. That’s annoy­ing when you’re try­ing to use more pow­er­ful moves to defeat bosses and try­ing not to die at the same time. Also, dur­ing the timed bonus stages, con­trol is hit or miss when strik­ing objects; if it’s not done per­fectly, you lose the bonus points. I also got frus­trated when I couldn’t take the weapons I found into other areas. That cheap­ens the use of the weapon and makes it use­less shortly after pick­ing it up. And, the chal­lenge level is ridicu­lous. I needed a cheat code just to get to the real end­ing in expert mode. It’s too easy to die and tak­ing hits from off-screen ene­mies is terrible.

Final Fight 2 placed the series in the ranks of Capcom’s top-tier fran­chises. While it hasn’t seen the level of push of say, Street Fighter or Res­i­dent Evil, the beat-’em-up is fondly remem­bered as one of Capcom’s crown­ing achievements.

https://youtu.be/a4MOiv7R0el

Killer Instinct Gold — Issue 38

A killer Nin­tendo 64 fight­ing sequel

It’s not been that long ago that Killer Instinct was still being rec­og­nized in the top ech­e­lon of fight­ing game series. But that was then, and this is now, and folks have a crit­i­cal eye toward the legacy of the defunct series. What folks really want to know: Where does KI Gold – the 2.5 sequel game – appear in that legacy?

I’m old enough to remem­ber the launch of KI2 and then Gold for the Nin­tendo 64 in 1996. I was heav­ily into fight­ing games then, still stick­ing with Mor­tal Kom­bat and look­ing for some­thing new to sup­ple­ment that fight­ing game itch. Enter Gold, which is an upgrade of KI2 for the home mar­ket. It’s a slight uptick in graph­ics, music and tweaks over the arcade ver­sion. The upgrades make it the bet­ter ver­sion of the game and push it toward must-have sta­tus for the N64.

Control-wise, KI Gold is easy to pick up and a lot more acces­si­ble than its pre­de­ces­sor. For con­text, I barely under­stood the combo sys­tem of the first game, but by the time Gold came along, I could hold my own against other KI mas­ters, such as long­time friend of GI David Rhodes. If I could actu­ally win some rounds and every so often matches against him, that’s evi­dence that the sys­tem is improved for casual fans. The con­cept of link­ers and chain com­bos made much more sense with a lit­tle in-game expla­na­tion, so this made the learn­ing process a lot eas­ier to grasp. The change in sys­tems was the best in terms of accessibility.

Gold’s graph­ics are a slight improve­ment over the arcade ver­sion and even more so over the orig­i­nal game. But, in com­par­i­son to other games on the mar­ket at the time, Gold doesn’t hold up par­tic­u­larly well. Putting it along­side other games avail­able at the same time, such as Tekken 2, doesn’t bode well for Gold. In par­tic­u­lar, there are janky tex­tures that snag and tear in the back­ground envi­ron­ments, which detracts from the oth­er­wise solid char­ac­ter models.

The sound­track, much like the pre­vi­ous game, car­ries the bur­den for the rest of the game. Rare’s sound depart­ment was known for pump­ing out good music, and Gold’s sound­track has quite a few bangers. It’s a lot of hard rock and a few techno tracks thrown in for good mea­sure, but it still holds up. In par­tic­u­lar, the char­ac­ter select theme – which was recre­ated for the 2013 revival of the series – is a toe-tapper and still sounds fan­tas­tic on mod­ern sound systems.

But, the per­ti­nent ques­tion still remains: Where does Gold rank in fight­ing game genre legacy? It depends. If you care about flashy com­bos and aren’t too much of a tech­ni­cal con­tent fight­ing purist, Gold is prob­a­bly your fancy. It’s got enough to draw the casual fan in, but it’s light on the tech­ni­cal aspect of fight­ing games that the long­time purist would be look­ing for. It’s fun to play and revisit from time to time, but if you’re look­ing to get bogged down in frame data and dig a lit­tle deeper, Gold isn’t going to be your color. Your best bet is to look to the future of the series, and let this instinct die out.

https://youtu.be/tevpZf962Os

Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers 2 — Issue 38

Furry duo return in solid fun

In a pre­vi­ous issue, I reviewed Disney’s Chip ’n Dale Res­cue Rangers for the NES. I reviewed the game as a nod to the times of the late ’80s and early ’90s where you knew the ins and outs of your favorite shows, includ­ing the open­ing and end­ing theme songs. With the arrival of Dis­ney+ and Capcom’s re-release of Dis­ney Afternoon-themed games for cur­rent con­soles, I heard that Disney’s dynamic duo had another game for the NES. I reviewed Chip ’n Dale Res­cue Rangers 2 to see if it would jump start my care­free kid memories.

Res­cue Rangers 2 starts off with our furry heroes and their com­rades enjoy­ing a well-deserved rest after stop­ping their noto­ri­ous arch neme­sis, Fat Cat, in the first game. How­ever, like most great vil­lains, Fat Cat was able to mas­ter­mind his escape from prison and acquire the leg­endary Urn of the Pharaoh to re-launch his fiendish plans. With Fat Cat on the loose and hav­ing evil spir­its at his dis­posal, the Res­cue Rangers are the only ones stand­ing between Fat Cat and world peace.

Res­cue Rangers 2’s game­play is exactly like the orig­i­nal; you can choose either Chip or Dale to bat­tle through sev­eral lev­els to do bat­tle against Fat Cat’s legions of hench­men who are deter­mined to stop our heroes from sav­ing the day. Chip and Dale can jump, duck and used pint-sized boxes to throw either hor­i­zon­tally or ver­ti­cally to defeat ene­mies. These boxes have var­i­ous power-ups, such as acorns, to replen­ish health, extra lives or Res­cue Rangers plaques that can earn Ranger icons. These icons will give the char­ac­ter of your choice an extra heart.

The con­trols also remain the same from the first game. Res­cue Rangers vet­er­ans will be famil­iar with the con­trol lay­out, but new­com­ers will go through trial
and error until they are comfortable.

All the lev­els and back­grounds were done with great care, mak­ing me believe that I was play­ing an actual episode of Res­cue Rangers. I com­mend Cap­com for let­ting Dis­ney ani­ma­tors work their magic on heroes and boss char­ac­ters, ensur­ing that the bosses pro­vided a chal­lenge with­out los­ing Dis­ney elements.

As much as I enjoyed Res­cue Rangers 2, it’s not with­out some flaws. I stated ear­lier that con­trol­ling either Chip or Dale would take prac­tice; that is impor­tant since dur­ing stages, you can­not go back to a lower level to pick up items with­out los­ing a life. That makes things unnec­es­sar­ily tough. Also, the Res­cue Rangers’ roles were dras­ti­cally from the first game. The first game incor­po­rated Mon­terey Jack, Gad­get and Zip­per into find­ing hid­den paths, scout­ing for ene­mies, and backup and reach sup­port; they’re now reduced to back­ground scenery with lit­tle screen time.

Audio-wise, the music sounds dialed-in like the music from “1945,” show­ing that Capcom’s devel­op­ment starts strong but becomes weak in cer­tain areas. Finally, the chal­lenge level is high, but I advise play­ers to have spe­cial cheat codes enabled if they want to fin­ish this game. You shouldn’t have to use them, but they are a must here.

Chip ’n Dale Res­cue Rangers 2 has deliv­ered, keep­ing intact all the ele­ments that made it a Dis­ney favorite but, unfor­tu­nately, keeps some of Capcom’s bad habits as well. The Dis­ney After­noon lives on in this small but solid sequel.

Super Street Fighter II4Q2020 issue

Super fight­ing fun again

Though I play a lot of fight­ing game series, I keep com­ing back to Street Fighter. I don’t know if it’s out of habit or because I’m com­fort­able with the series’ sys­tems, but I find myself inti­mately famil­iar with the Cap­com cre­ation. It started with Street Fighter II for SNES, not the arcade. As the series moved along incre­men­tally, so did I and I dis­cov­ered the upgrade. The home port of Super Street Fighter II for SNES was one of the best and that acco­lade still stands after nearly 30 years.

Though Cap­com still hadn’t learned to count to three and Super Street Fighter II reeks of milk­ing the fran­chise for all it was worth, it’s tech­ni­cally a good port. This is the best ver­sion of the arcade expe­ri­ence before Super Turbo, and the SNES, despite its prob­lems with cen­sor­ship, is the best ver­sion you’re going to get. Super is where you’re intro­duced to the four new chal­lengers, who add some inter­est­ing ele­ments. Each of their fight­ing styles are already rep­re­sented in the game with other stal­warts, but they’re fun to play, nevertheless.

The music has hit its peak here, too. It’s the same as the orig­i­nal Street Fighter II and Hyper Fight­ing, but it’s Street Fighter at peak Street Fighter. That also applies to the con­trols. It’s the Street Fighter that you know and love but cleaned up just a tad.

My main gripe with the game is the fact that it’s not Street Fighter III, which it would have been if not for the insis­tence of Cap­com not count­ing ahead. Cap­com knew it had a win­ner on its hands but repeat­edly milked the fran­chise until there was noth­ing else to wring from it. Super would absolutely have been great if not for the fact that Super Turbo came a year later and there had already been two other incre­men­tal iter­a­tions of the game pre­vi­ously. That cheap­ens Super to a degree all around. How­ever, given that Super Turbo did not come home from the arcades for the SNES, Super gets a boost in nos­tal­gic factor.

What you need to take away from SSFII is the refine­ment of the Street Fighter II expe­ri­ence, and this is where it shines. Every­thing about Street Fighter II was at peak con­di­tion and refined to a tee with this iter­a­tion. Yes, this is pre-Turbo super moves and spe­cials but in a way that makes it the last true unspoiled Street Fighter II expe­ri­ence. It was so good that later Street Fighter games attempt to repli­cate this ver­sion with modes that play like Super with no super moves and most, if not all, of its mechan­ics. That’s how you know it’s a defin­ing moment in a series’ lifes­pan. It’s a super fight­ing game for a super sys­tem that still holds up.

Airwolf — 4Q2020 issue

Let this low-flying mess stay grounded

As a child of the 1980s, there was one major require­ment I had to know: the major prime time action shows and what nights and net­works that they came on. Two of those shows were Knight Rider on Fri­days on NBC and Air­wolf on Sat­ur­days on CBS. These two shows were so pop­u­lar that Acclaim Enter­tain­ment was able to get license rights from Uni­ver­sal Tele­vi­sion to develop video games for both shows. In a pre­vi­ous issue of GI, we reviewed Knight Rider for the NES in the Tor­ture of the Quar­ter sec­tion. Could Air­wolf break this curse of pop­u­lar shows turned into hor­ri­ble games? It was time to find out.

Air­wolf fol­lows the plot based on the TV show in that you take the role of Stringfel­low “String” Hawke, who is given a mis­sion by the CIA to res­cue pris­on­ers of war from unknown ter­ror­ist groups using the top-secret heli­copter known as Air­wolf. As String con­ducts the mis­sion, he finds out that one of the pris­on­ers being held is his long-lost brother who was declared miss­ing in action dur­ing the Viet­nam War. This gives him added incen­tive to carry out his given mission.

Airwolf’s game­play is a sim­u­lated first-person view that was applied to the Knight Rider game. You have the view of Air­wolf that is clear enough to see your ene­mies and to attack enemy strong­holds such as air­craft tow­ers, pris­oner camps and repair depots. How­ever, this is the game’s Achilles’ heel. Con­trol is not flex­i­ble when you need it to be dur­ing dog­fights with enemy air­craft. You’re required to shoot first or destroy air­craft tow­ers if you don’t fire your lim­ited mis­siles with pre­cise tim­ing. The inflex­i­bil­ity rears again when you land at a pris­oner camp land­ing gen­tly and still die.

The graph­ics were OK, but they were akin to flight sim­u­la­tor games that were highly pop­u­lar dur­ing the ’80s. To give Air­wolf a frac­tion of a chance for a good review, I found the debrief­ing scene excel­lent, giv­ing me the appro­pri­ate data of destroyed ene­mies, res­cued pris­on­ers and inter­cepted missiles.

Sadly, I was ENRAGED that Acclaim could be this sloppy with a fran­chise such as Air­wolf. Don’t get me wrong, Acclaim did go on to make bet­ter video games based on pop­u­lar fran­chises, but like Knight Rider, Air­wolf failed to show me any redeem­ing rea­son for replay.

Air­wolf — like Knight Rider — are games that are rec­om­mended only for the diehard fans of the ’80s that want to relive the action-packed nights of their child­hood. While I loved both shows, unfor­tu­nately their action-packed for­mula that pro­duced major rat­ings for TV did not trans­late well into video game for­mat. Acclaim did learn well from these mis­takes, but they gave the first Mas­ter­Class les­son in video gam­ing of being care­ful with pop­u­lar fran­chises. If you want my advice, skip both games and play them on read­ily avail­able emu­la­tors; you’ll save time and hard-earned money.

Fun Facts

  • Air­wolf was cre­ated by Don­ald P. Belis­ario, who was known for pop culture-worthy shows such as Quan­tum Leap, Mag­num, P.I., JAG and NCIS, which is still air­ing on CBS.
  • The actual Air­wolf was based on a Bell 222 heli­copter designed for cor­po­rate travel, emer­gency med­ical trans­port and util­ity trans­port. A full replica of Air­wolf was on dis­play at a Ten­nessee avi­a­tion museum but has since been sold to a pri­vate col­lec­tor in Bel Aire, Calif.
  • There were numer­ous ver­sions of Air­wolf made for var­i­ous home sys­tems, but a side scrolling arcade ver­sion was devel­oped by Japan­ese devel­oper Kyugo in 1987. Acclaim released the NES ver­sion a year later, after the show went off the air four years earlier.

Batman Returns — 4Q2020 issue

Dark Knight’s sec­ond out­ing a rous­ing adventure

As a Bat­man fan, I hold a spe­cial place in my heart for most of the big-screen adap­ta­tions of the Caped Crusader’s fight to clean up Gotham. Bat­man Returns, despite its prob­lems, is at the top of the list in terms of favorite aes­thet­ics in a Bat­man film. That said, I wasn’t sure if I felt the same affec­tion for the game version.

The story is the same as the film: You, as the Dark Knight, bat­tle the nefar­i­ous Pen­guin and his equally fool­ish part­ner Cat­woman as they join forces to take over Gotham and wreak havoc. Because you are tech­ni­cally supe­rior (and richer) than your foes, you have an arse­nal at your dis­posal that helps you take out the crim­i­nal ele­ment that is doing the bid­ding of the med­dle­some bird man and trou­ble­some minx. Really, if you’ve watched the superb film, you shouldn’t be at a loss here as to what you need to do. It fol­lows the plot exactly, includ­ing the encoun­ters that Bat­man has with lesser hench­men. Being a game based on a movie prop­erty some­times has its perks.

Con­trol­ling the Dark Knight is much like you would expect from watch­ing the movie. Bat­man is easy to guide around, though there are a few spots where the direc­tions and what to do could be a lit­tle more clearly pointed out. How­ever, Bat­man is fluid and moves quickly enough that get­ting around Gotham to take on the Pen­guin and Cat­woman isn’t much of a problem.

Returns, fore­most, is stun­ning visu­ally. Much like the film, the game’s graph­ics are top-notch and evoke that well-known Tim Bur­ton feel. The graph­ics are so well done that it almost appears that they were taken directly from the movie and inserted into the game. The col­ors are rich and pop when nec­es­sary in the game’s color palette, though it doesn’t stray far from the movie’s muted col­or­ing too much.

Much like the graph­ics, the sound is also spot on and close to the movie’s back­ing tracks. Of course, there are a few appro­pri­a­tions because you’re not get­ting a full orches­tra with com­poser Danny Elf­man on the SNES chip, but the music is suf­fi­cient and gets the job done.

Bat­man Returns is a decent adven­ture set to the tune of the pop­u­lar sequel on the sil­ver screen. It’s a paint-by-the-numbers sequel with gor­geous, rich visu­als that some­how man­age to do the movie ver­sion jus­tice in the 16-bit era. It’s com­fort­able and easy going, so you’re not miss­ing any­thing if you’re look­ing for the best fol­low up that fea­tures Bat­man. The Bat, the Cat and the Pen­guin have a good adap­ta­tion on their hands with this 16-bit recre­ation of Gotham.

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse — 4Q2020 issue

Drac­ula slays in thirds

Castl­e­va­nia. The name alone is well renowned to vet­eran gamers world­wide as one of Konami’s mas­ter­piece fran­chises, hav­ing expanded from the NES to var­i­ous gam­ing con­soles and a glo­ri­ous revival in anime form thanks to Net­flix. As a video game vet­eran myself, I know of the many bat­tles between the GOAT vam­pire hunt­ing Bel­mont fam­ily and the infa­mous prince of hor­ror mon­sters, Count Drac­ula. Ever since I was exposed to the first Castl­e­va­nia game, I fell under its spell, want­ing my chance to place a stake into Dracula’s chest. I finally got my chance to do so when I got my first game, Castl­e­va­nia III: Dracula’s Curse for the NES.

In Dracula’s Curse, you take on the role of Trevor C. Bel­mont, fore­fa­ther of series hero Simon Bel­mont, who is called upon to save his vil­lage of Warakiya from Drac­ula and his res­ur­rected army of dark­ness. Trevor has one small but pow­er­ful advan­tage with him: the abil­ity to trans­form into three part­ner spir­its: Alu­card, Dracula’s for­got­ten son; Grant Denasty, pirate ter­ror of the seas; and, Sypha Bel­nades, vam­pire hunter/mystic war­lord. Along with this shaper-shifter abil­ity and equipped with the mys­tic whip and Pol­ter­geist ax bequeathed by the Pol­ter­geist King, Trevor sets off into the night ready to do bat­tle against Dracula.

Game­play is basic like most action-platforming games with sim­ple moves such as mov­ing left and right with the con­trol pad, jump­ing with a but­ton, and attack­ing with basic weapons by using com­bi­na­tions for spe­cial weapons. These con­trols have spe­cial des­ig­na­tions for Grant, con­trol­ling how high he can jump and climb walls, and for Alu­card, who can trans­form into a bat. To give this team of vam­pire hunters an extra advan­tage, Trevor can upgrade his mys­tic whip to a long-ranged chain whip and can use var­i­ous Warakiya items such as the ban­shee boomerang, bat­tle ax and a pocket watch that tem­porar­ily freezes ene­mies. Sypha has her magic staff as her main weapon in addi­tion to using ele­men­tal orbs that can pro­duce fire, ice and thun­der attacks. Grant has use of the dag­ger, but he can only use the mys­tic ax as his sec­ondary weapon. Alu­card has use of a destruc­tive ball that can be upgraded to shoot three directions.

While I appre­ci­ate these effec­tive tech­niques to dis­patch the undead, there were flaws such as learn­ing to time each attack or risk falling off a stage. Also, whichever part­ner spirit Trevor teams up with, the part­ner takes dam­age, cre­at­ing a strug­gle to sur­vive in cer­tain stages. I also learned that you col­lect stone hearts to power weapons and if Alu­card is your part­ner, he would turn into a bat. That’s fine but that skill eats up your hearts and if you run out, he could turn back into human form putting him and Trevor in a MAJOR bind.

Adding to the frus­tra­tion, there is a time limit to com­plete each stage, adding either chal­lenge to game­play or mak­ing you curse and smash your con­troller to pieces.

A word to the wise: Dracula’s Curse is chal­leng­ing but LOOK hard for spe­cial items such as leg of were­wolf, which refills your life meter; and, the invis­i­bil­ity potion that also gives tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion to give you the upper hand. Also, if you must go up a row of stairs, ALWAYS press up on the con­trol pad to walk oth­er­wise you will fall and lose a life.

The game’s music is excel­lent, stay­ing true to the series’ theme of clas­si­cal hor­ror. If you heard a Castl­e­va­nia theme before, you won’t hear any­thing new here. This isn’t Castl­e­va­nia IV just yet, after all. The replay value is there although it will require you to have patience to and excel­lent strate­gic skills when choos­ing paths to take and part­ner spir­its to work with.

Castl­e­va­nia III: Dracula’s Curse is an exam­ple of how Kon­ami built a respected fran­chise in its early days with­out dis­re­spect­ing their devel­op­ment staff and let­ting them do what they do best. Dracula’s Curse is good but not with­out its quirks and flaws. If you love old-school plat­form­ing in the Castl­e­va­nia con­trol vein, jump in and part­ner up to take on Drac­ula once more.

Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 — 4Q2020 issue

DDR Extreme bet­ter sec­ond time around

I’m a DanceDanceRev­o­lu­tion fan from way back when, in that time and space before the U.S. really dis­cov­ered the series and when we dealt with hastily put-together mixes that didn’t really cap­ture the feel of DDR. Ah, those were the heady days of 2002. Alas, DDR finally blew up in the U.S., and we finally started receiv­ing mixes much like Japan. The prob­lem was, we were get­ting them years after the fact, and when we did get them, they were mostly lack­ing — bro­ken, incom­plete messes that you were bet­ter off pre­tend­ing didn’t exist. That, my friends, is where we join our story already in progress with Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion Extreme 2.

Never mind that there is no DDR Extreme 2 in Japan. We’re going to set that aside for a minute to focus on the fact of why it exists in the U.S. DDR Extreme 2 is borne of the fail­ure of Kon­ami to do right by its fans out­side of Japan. We received DDR Extreme in 2004, a full two years after the orig­i­nal was released in arcades and for PlaySta­tion 2 in Japan. That game is absolute garbage: It’s noth­ing like what Japan received, which is a game that’s much closer to the arcade ver­sion of Extreme. We received a bro­ken and changed-for-the-worse song inter­face, miss­ing and weird songlist and grad­ing mechan­ics that were excised as of DDR 5th Mix. Now that you’re all caught up, you should see the rea­son why we needed a do-over game of sorts. That’s where Extreme 2 comes in.

Extreme 2 is a decent addi­tion to the U.S. con­sole DDR library of games. It fea­tures the song wheel inter­face and restores the 5th Mix grad­ing mechan­ics. The song list is great, too, finally fea­tur­ing at least some of the songs found in the Japan­ese ver­sion such as Car­toon Heroes (Speedy Mix), Irre­sistible­ment, Speed Over Beethoven and Para­noia Survivor/Survivor Max, which were all new to Japan­ese Extreme when it was released. It closely mir­rors the home release of Japan­ese Extreme, which meant Kon­ami was finally tak­ing the U.S. mar­ket seriously.

Because it’s so close to the Japan­ese ver­sion of Extreme (editor’s note: We reviewed this title in the 2Q2013 issue), we’re going to skip the focus on how it plays other than to tell you that the tim­ing win­dows remain loose as they always are in the U.S. ver­sions, if you care about that sort of thing. From expe­ri­ence, it’s much eas­ier for me to get an A grade on Para­noia Sur­vivor in the Amer­i­can ver­sion than in the Japan­ese ver­sion. The Amer­i­can ver­sions always have had more loose tim­ing win­dows, and it makes play­ing a lot eas­ier. The options are pretty much the same, though you will have to spend time unlock­ing songs because, as with pre­vi­ous U.S. releases, it’s miss­ing the Sys­tem Data Sup­port fea­ture found in the Japan­ese ver­sions. That fea­ture unlocks a pre­vi­ous game’s data using the cur­rent game. While this would have been help­ful in Extreme 2, it’s not so bad to have to play through the Event mode or Dance Mas­ter mode, though you will be tired of cer­tain songs after the fifth time through.

And Dance Mas­ter mode is where you may spend a decent amount of time try­ing to unlock cer­tain things. Dance Mas­ter is not a ter­ri­ble mode but some of the con­di­tions are not easy and require an inti­mate knowl­edge of DDR. If you’ve bought this ver­sion, chances are you are expe­ri­enced enough with DDR for this not to be a prob­lem, but for the unex­pe­ri­enced this might be a tedious exer­cise in, well, exercise.

And, because many of the servers are now down, we can’t really com­ment on the online modes. While active they were inter­est­ing and fun to play against oth­ers using the early pre­cur­sor to PlaySta­tion Net­work, but alas, 15 years later there are no servers for Extreme 2, so that’s a loss. You aren’t really miss­ing any­thing there because there is always the lat­est ver­sion of DDR and Step­ma­nia, which are imme­di­ately supe­rior to a 15-year-old game.

DDR Extreme 2, an anom­aly itself, is an OK addi­tion to the U.S. library. Though I fault Kon­ami and its U.S. branch heav­ily for screw­ing up DDR Extreme enough to have to do a sec­ond go-round, the well-rounded redone songlist kind of makes up for the extremely bor­ing mess that pre­ceded Extreme 2.

Naruto Clash of Ninja 2 — 3Q2020 issue

Retro Naruto revis­its Chunin Exams arc

When it comes to the Naruto video game fran­chise, com­pli­cated con­cepts have never been part of the equa­tion. There’s noth­ing remotely hard about any of the games under the ban­ner and almost all are known for their pick up and play abil­ity. So, it stands to rea­son that the Naruto: Clash of Ninja series is easy to start and get into it, and that rea­son­ing is cor­rect. Clash of Ninja 2 con­tin­ues the acces­si­bil­ity that the series is known for.

Naruto is a great long-running starter series if you’re just get­ting into anime. The basic premise of the anime is the basis of Clash of Ninja as well: A strong-willed boy from a world of nin­jas strives to be the best he can be and one day become the leader of his vil­lage. Because of a dev­as­tat­ing attack on his vil­lage the night he was born, Naruto is orphaned and ostra­cized by his fel­low vil­lagers while host­ing a crea­ture known as the Nine-tailed Fox. He grad­u­ates from his village’s acad­emy and is placed on a team fea­tur­ing his crush Sakura and his rival Sasuke while learn­ing team­work and the ways of nin­jutsu. Clash of Ninja 2 fol­lows the first half of the series, with Naruto work­ing with his team­mates through the Chunin (first level) exams that the ninja acad­emy grad­u­ates face.

Clash of Ninja 2 does an admirable telling the begin­ning part of the story of Naruto, story-wise. Because the begin­ning of Naruto is sim­ple to under­stand and fol­low, the punch of char­ac­ters and addi­tions aren’t over­whelm­ing, and it’s easy to keep up with the action and char­ac­ter moti­va­tion. Every­one is rec­og­niz­able from the anime and it’s easy enough to actu­ally fol­low the story and learn more about the anime with­out the filler that the series is known for.

Graph­i­cally, Clash of Ninja looks just like the anime, which is a bonus in its favor. The game is gor­geous and bright, and it accom­plishes the goal of mak­ing you feel like you’re play­ing the anime instead of a game. Like­wise, the music and voice act­ing are great and feel and sound like they were pulled directly from the anime’s soundtrack.

Mov­ing around within Clash of Ninja 2 is a solid expe­ri­ence. It’s easy to pull off moves and com­bos, and coun­ters are easy to under­stand and get the hang of with a lit­tle prac­tice. My only prob­lem is that every­one seems to play the same way, so there’s not much vari­ety in the movesets. The char­ac­ter you choose is merely cos­metic with the movesets and mechan­ics not chang­ing from char­ac­ter to char­ac­ter. Other than that, the abil­ity to jump right in and get to work is a wel­come and refresh­ing change of pace in a cat­e­gory of gam­ing known for its sometimes-challenging mechanics.

Even though there have been more games released in the Clash of Ninja series and other Naruto fight­ing games added to its lengthy reper­toire, Clash of Ninja 2 is just where you need to start if you’re want­ing to get into fight­ing games and have a love for anime or Naruto. With a wealth of modes, great visu­als and facil­i­tated abil­ity to ease into game­play, this is one well-regarded ninja.

Retro Replay — Vampire Darkstalkers Collection — 3Q2020 issue

A bit­ing good collection

Col­lec­tions come a dime a dozen these days. Every­one wants to have a pack­age of their best fight­ing games and then upsell them for the next cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions since the cur­rent con­sole might not have back­ward com­pat­i­bil­ity. Cap­com is no stranger to this, hav­ing released sev­eral Street Fighter col­lec­tions over the years. The final game series to get this treat­ment was Dark­stalk­ers aka Vam­pire in Japan with the Vam­pire Col­lec­tion.
For those who are unini­ti­ated, Cap­com does make fight­ing games beyond Street Fighter: Vam­pire doesn’t get as much due and press as Street Fighter but is just as good. But let’s get into the meat and pota­toes of why you’re here: Is the col­lec­tion any good? I can resound­ingly answer yes. It’s every­thing you’d want of the Vam­pire series, includ­ing games that never made it to the U.S.

Mak­ing up the col­lec­tion are Vampire/Darkstalkers, Vam­pire Hunter/Darkstalkers 2, Vam­pire Savior/Darkstalkers 3, Vam­pire Hunter 2, Vam­pire Sav­ior 2 and what Cap­com calls a hyper ver­sion of Sav­ior 2, which pits all ver­sions of the char­ac­ters against each other. In those five games is a deep fight­ing game engine with great mechan­ics and an inter­est­ing sto­ry­line that invokes mon­sters of mythology.

The game­play style didn’t change too much between games but it’s unique and has char­ac­ter enough to encour­age even the most hard­ened street fighter to come back and learn more. There are advanced tech­niques such as Dark Force and chains to learn as well as movesets that require some con­troller gym­nas­tics to mas­ter. The char­ac­ter design in each of the collection’s games is a bit wonky from the age of Capcom’s over­styl­ized car­toon­ish era of hand-drawn sprites but it doesn’t look terrible.

The best thing about the series — other than the game­play — is the sound­track. Hunter 2 and Sav­ior 2 never made it to the U.S., and Dark­stalk­ers in gen­eral didn’t do as well as Cap­com would have liked. And that’s why this col­lec­tion is a must-buy item. You won’t see this in Amer­ica, and it should be. The games are pre­sented in their orig­i­nal form with all ver­sions avail­able. This pack­age is worth find­ing and importing.