Knockout Kings 2000 — Issue 48

Not tech­ni­cal­ly a knockout
Knock­out Kings packs a punch for PSOne

Ah, Elec­tron­ic Arts aka Crunch Time World Head­quar­ters, how gamers love thee (sar­casm insert­ed). Begin­ning in 1995, there was­n’t a sports game, col­le­giate or pro­fes­sion­al, that was not giv­en EA’s sports label “the game amongst sports games.” When you saw offi­cial­ly licensed sport game com­mer­cials in the late ’90s to ear­ly 2000s, nine times out of 10 they would be from EA Sports. I have played some titles in EA’s Mad­den series but my main expe­ri­ence with EA Sports came dur­ing my junior year in col­lege when I played an EA game that fea­tured the best of pro­fes­sion­al box­ing to deter­mine who was tru­ly the undis­put­ed best amongst them. Knock­out Kings 2000 stepped into the ring and put on a show.

In Knock­out Kings 2000, you get to play as one of 25 leg­endary pro­fes­sion­al box­ers such as Mar­velous Mar­vin Hagler, “Smokin” Joe Fra­zier, Son­ny Lis­ton, and my favorite, the “Great­est of all Time” Muham­mad Ali. In addi­tion to these clas­sic box­ers, you can cre­ate your own box­er like I did with box­ers named “Bus­ta­jawzs” or “Crush­er Bear”. Depend­ing on which option you choose, you’ll be fight­ing at well-known sport venues such as Cae­sar’s Palace and Great West­ern Col­i­se­um in either the Cham­pi­onship, Slugfest or Train­ing modes. 

Despite EA’s attempt to faith­ful­ly ren­der each pro­fes­sion­al box­er’s and venue, the graph­ics are of PSOne qual­i­ty. It can be dif­fi­cult to see box­ers unless you have excel­lent mas­tery over the game’s cam­era sys­tem, which brings out the scenes in bet­ter quality. 


The con­trols in Knock­out Kings 2000 are sim­ple and do not require com­pli­cat­ed move­ments unlike oth­er fight­ing games. The super punch is very easy to per­form, which is a bless­ing since I’m a but­ton mash­er at heart. I can say with con­fi­dence that after a few bouts, I became a new world heavy­weight cham­pi­on going straight to train­ing to main­tain my com­pet­i­tive edge. 

EA did excel­lent in the music depart­ment with each mode hav­ing a unique theme for train­ing and var­i­ous music styles for the Cham­pi­onship and Slugfest modes. I espe­cial­ly like the ’50s-like gui­tar entrance theme and a hip-hop hor­ror mix that brought fear to my oppo­nents’ hearts when I used my “Crush­er Bear” char­ac­ter. The sound was top qual­i­ty, and EA gave upcom­ing artists such as Androyd, Alien Fash­ion Show and my per­son­al favorite rap­per, O, a place to shine. O pro­vid­ed the main theme “In the Game” as well as a music video with cameos by Hagler, Roy Jones Jr., and Floyd May­weath­er Jr., which was a nice touch.

I like a lot about Knock­out Kings 2000 but there are some prob­lems. The cam­era needs adjust­ment so the fight­ers can be seen prop­er­ly but even worse the mod­el­ing of each fight­er looks like EA rushed its pro­gram­mers. The fight­ers are unrec­og­niz­able, which is dis­ap­point­ing. Anoth­er issue that I had was in the train­ing ses­sion where I want­ed to learn com­bo tech­niques. The train­ing want­ed to rush my learn­ing, result­ing in lit­tle train­ing val­ue for my box­er. My final prob­lem was announc­ing calls. While I appre­ci­ate that respect­ed box­ing com­men­ta­tors Al Albert and Sean O’Grady called the action, their tim­ing was off some­times on mak­ing cru­cial com­men­tary, or they were not made at all. 
Knock­out Kings 2000 is a great sports game for the PSOne. While EA is known for cash grabs, and low-qual­i­ty work on their games, I believe that they found the mag­ic for­mu­la for suc­cess with this.

Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi — Issue 48

A secret leg­end in the making
Shi­no­bi sequel barks up the right tree with new canine companion

Before Son­ic the Hedge­hog and Yakuza, Sega had estab­lished game fran­chis­es and mas­cots for the arcade and home con­sole mar­ket. One of those mas­cots was very pop­u­lar and came out on the scene at a time when Teenage Mutant Nin­ja Tur­tles were blow­ing up across the coun­try. His name was Joe Musashi, and his adven­tures were detailed in the game series “Shi­no­bi.” Ever since its 1987 release, Joe fought a one-nin­ja war on crime against the evil Zeed orga­ni­za­tion, which plot­ted glob­al dom­i­nance with their style of nin­ja arts. Time after time, through var­i­ous Sega games, Joe defeat­ed Zeed and kept the world at peace. How­ev­er, in Shad­ow Dancer: The Secret of Shi­no­bi, Joe would once again take up his sword against evil.

Shad­ow Dancer takes place one year after Joe’s most recent bat­tle with Zeed. In 1997, New York City comes under attack by a cult orga­ni­za­tion called Union Lizard. NYC is laid to waste with sur­vivors cap­tured as UL hostages. One of Joe’s stu­dents, Kaito, hears about UL’s assaults on a neigh­bor­hood and sets out to free its res­i­dents. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Kaito falls in bat­tle. Enraged, Joe heads to NYC to bat­tle, accom­pa­nied by Yam­a­to, Kaito’s canine com­pan­ion. With a new ally, Joe enters this lat­est con­flict deter­mined to free NYC from UL clutch­es and avenge his stu­den­t’s death. 


Shad­ow Dancer’s con­trols are sim­ple. While I was impressed with the game-ready default set­up, I also appre­ci­at­ed that there are oth­er con­fig­u­ra­tions. You also have the option of using nor­mal or non-shuriken mode, which takes away the abil­i­ty to throw shuriken from a dis­tance. I also appre­ci­at­ed that Joe can also call upon three types of nin­jut­su in the forms of fire, tor­na­do, and mete­orites. The most vital weapon that Joe has in his lat­est bat­tle is Yam­a­to, who can be used to attack on-screen ene­mies with­out hes­i­ta­tion, tru­ly giv­ing cred­it to the phrase “take a bite out of crime.” Every time I unleashed Yam­a­to aka Kuma-pup­py TM, I loved see­ing the bad guys cry in pain as they thought that noth­ing could stop them. Jokes on them that a nin­ja dog brings them instant terror. 

The graph­ics were pret­ty decent as if Sega pulled the game from the actu­al arcade cab­i­net. The music is ’90s genre fit­ting for Sega games and will make you feel a spe­cial fond­ness for the nos­tal­gic days of arcades. I also like that with each stage the music blend­ed with the scenery, espe­cial­ly at the Stat­ue of Liberty. 

While I do love Shad­ow Dancer, I have a few gripes. The abil­i­ty to con­trol Yam­a­to is deter­mined by hav­ing no ene­mies on screen; if Yam­a­to or oth­er ene­mies are on dif­fer­ent lev­els of stages or when an ene­my can avoid him by jump­ing up or down out of his reach, it can get frus­trat­ing. I also don’t care for the imposed time lim­it that makes you rush to the end of the stage. My final griev­ance with Shad­ow Dancer is that at the end of each stage, there is a bonus stage where you must hit as many ene­my nin­jas as you can with shuriken. I threw a ton of shuriken at nin­ja but got low scores for my efforts. It’s a lot of work for lit­tle reward and seems like a waste of time, honestly.

Shad­ow Dancer: The Secret of Shi­no­bi is a game that helped cement Sega’s lega­cy in the video game indus­try. Sega is rein­tro­duc­ing clas­sic games in var­i­ous forms for a new gen­er­a­tion of gamers. Sega would be wise to rein­tro­duce Joe Musashi as the undis­put­ed mem­ber of video game roy­al­ty and leg­end in video game hero his­to­ry that he is.

DanceDance Revolution Konamix — Issue 48

Dev­il­ish danc­ing demon
There’s blood on the dance floor with Konamix

As a devout Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion fan, I’ve made it clear that qual­i­ty DDR is non-nego­tiable. And what I mean by that is, a mix has to be good. It has to have DDR orig­i­nals, maybe a few qual­i­ty licens­es and the inter­face has to be work­able. DDR Kon­amix, a North Amer­i­can port of DDR 4th Mix, is a semi-decent solu­tion to a real problem.

Kon­amix plays like every oth­er ear­ly pre-Super­No­va ver­sion of DDR. Step­ping on arrows in time to a song is refined by this point, so it’s noth­ing new, and scor­ing also remains the same as DDR 1st Mix through 3rd Mix. So, real­ly the most impor­tant aspect of this mix is the songlist, and there are some gems here. Some of our favorites appeared here for the first time in a North Amer­i­can release, such as PARA­NOiA Rebirth and SUPER STAR. The 52 songs in the track­list are all Kon­a­mi orig­i­nals, hence the name, and that’s a boon because that imme­di­ate­ly makes the list worth play­ing and makes up for a few weird issues.


But how does it play? In terms of DDR mix playa­bil­i­ty, it’s not user friend­ly like lat­er mix­es. The tim­ing is high­ly sus­pect, and adjust­ing that fea­ture in the options is stil­luse­less. Because of the dif­fer­ences in frame rates and mod­ern tele­vi­sions, try­ing to play this is a fool’s errand because it’s almost so off that you’re nev­er going to do well. The weird tim­ing issues mean a lot of Goods, Greats and Boos. Also, the inter­face is obnox­ious until you choose to use All Music. With every­thing unlocked, the All Music option makes the game tolerable. 

With a lot of flawed options and playa­bil­i­ty issues, DDR Kon­amix isn’t exact­ly a must-have. How­ev­er, only because of the Kon­a­mi orig­i­nals should you buy this; some of these beau­ties are rare enough that you’d need to import Japan­ese mix­es to see them again. While I have a nos­tal­gic fond­ness for Kon­amix because it was my first expo­sure to mod­ern DDR, I would only con­sid­er this mix if you want to be called a DDR master.

Chuck Rock — Issue 48

Mediocre pre­his­toric origins
Dinosaur plat­form­ing mechan­ics does no favors

For what­ev­er rea­son, I used to be enam­ored with Chuck Rock. Maybe it was the col­or­ful graph­ics, or it was the “charm­ing” plat­form­ing. What­ev­er it was, it isn’t here in mod­ern gam­ing and with crit­i­cal hind­sight now, I can safe­ly say it should have rolled back under the rock it slith­ered from.

There isn’t much to the thread­bare bedrock of Chuck Rock. You, Chuck, are a pre­his­toric meat­head who isn’t capa­ble of more than a few words and grunts. You’re tasked with retriev­ing your kid­napped wife, Ophe­lia, from your love rival, Gary. You tra­verse through six stages, gut bump­ing dinosaurs and oth­er crea­tures, lift­ing heavy rocks to solve puz­zles and eat­ing var­i­ous foods to replen­ish your health. Occa­sion­al­ly, you’ll fight a boss who tries to keep you from your beloved and eat you. Just about every­thing is hos­tile and there are many nat­ur­al obsta­cles threat­en­ing you on the journey. 


It seems, how­ev­er, that no one men­tioned that the actu­al game­play was the real threat here. For starters, noth­ing does any­thing well. Chuck is lethar­gic and aim­less with­out a true sense of pur­pose. I get it, he’s a cave­man, but that gim­mick falls flat fair­ly fast. He’s a chore to con­trol in a hop ‘n’ bop that’s aping Super Mario World, and it’s aping the ter­ri­ble parts while try­ing to be cute. 

While the graph­ics are nice, know­ing what’s a haz­ard and what is use­ful isn’t the eas­i­est to dis­cern. Some items blend well, and some ene­mies look like they could be help­ful items. It’s a shame con­sid­er­ing the graph­ics are clean and deeply hued with a com­ic book ink feel. Chuck has a nice sprite and match­es well with the con­cept as do the dinosaurs. How­ev­er, while they look nice, noth­ing nice can be said about the sound­track. It’s monot­o­nous and bor­ing, and there’s noth­ing that stands out. It’s bor­ing and goofy, much like the game­play and the con­cept, which does noth­ing to endear any­one look­ing for a nice sol­id ear­ly Super Nin­ten­do or Gen­e­sis platformer.

What we have here is a fail­ure to cap­i­tal­ize on an estab­lished plat­former. Mario set the stan­dard a year ear­li­er with the excel­lent stan­dard-bear­er Super Mario World. Core should have tak­en a look at that and emu­lat­ed what they saw. They did­n’t, and we’re stuck with some­thing that, while cute, is nigh unplayable in some spots and a chore in oth­ers. Let’s be glad that with a bet­ter dis­cern­ing eye, I learned to leave some games in the Stone Ages.

Bust-A-Move 2 — Issue 47

Bub­ble Bob­ble Part Deux

Bust-A-Move gets down again in sequel

Long ago, bub­ble pop­ping took hold of my inter­est, right about the time I start­ed get­ting hair on my chest and some sense acquired when it came to good qual­i­ty video games. And would­n’t you know it, my late great mama — the dear­ly depart­ed GI Mama — also divined that she was a fan of the bub­ble-pop­ping non­sense that I’d brought home for my Super Nin­ten­do. Alas, my tastes had to grow so we looked for more bub­ble-pop­ping non­sense and found there was a sequel or two to the mad­ness. What apro­pos popped up was Bust-A-Move 2.

Now, let’s not get it twist­ed: This is the same old Bust-A-Move you’re used to play­ing if bust­ing bub­bles is your thing. Noth­ing is dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent than the for­mu­la estab­lished in the orig­i­nal game: You pop clus­ters of like-col­ored bub­bles in an effort to clear estab­lished puz­zles. This basic premise was set up in the first game for the SNES and it has­n’t changed, no mat­ter the iter­a­tion. But what has changed some­what is the pre­sen­ta­tion. In this ver­sion, there is an illu­mi­nat­ed map puz­zle path that your char­ac­ter can choose, and deci­sions have to be made to get to the end puz­zle. The deci­sion to include a vis­i­ble path struc­ture is a nice step for­ward, but still needs some pay­off to be a gamechanger. 

Slight­ly dif­fer­ent yet famil­iar are the graph­ics. Bust-A-Move 2 has­n’t real­ly changed all that much in the looks depart­ment. There are some new graph­ics for the back­grounds dur­ing puz­zles, the char­ac­ters are more defined and the bub­bles them­selves are more crisp and deep­er hued to pop but that’s about it. It looks OK for an N64 puz­zle game, but there are oth­ers out there doing a lot more with the same con­sole resources, such as Mag­i­cal Tetris Challenge.

The sound­track is a lit­tle more bub­bly than the orig­i­nal but has a lit­tle less charm than the first game. The songs are slight­ly catchy, but not near­ly as mem­o­rable as the first game’s 16-bit organ-inspired schtick. How­ev­er, what you’ll real­ly notice that’s dif­fer­ent is the addi­tion of voic­es. Now, your char­ac­ter and the oppo­nents make a lit­tle noise when they achieve a com­bo. It’s cute, even with the shrill squawk­ing that shows up in the menu.

But let’s be hon­est, what you came here for was to learn if the puz­zle game­play is up to the stan­dard estab­lished by the first game. Yes, it is, and here’s why: Not much changed. No crazy weird mechan­ics shoe­horned in, no mis­steps in how the bub­bles bank or strange con­cepts cob­bled togeth­er (aside from the sticky plat­forms that inex­plic­a­bly start show­ing up halfway through the sto­ry mode) make appear­ances here. You can be rest assured that it’s the Bust-A-Move that we all know and love.

My beloved late GI Mama once declared Bust-A-Move a cheat­ing game while I was mol­ly whop­ping her in a ver­sus mode run. She said she’d see me in the sequel. Well, the sequel here is just enough jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to wait for that rematch in heav­en when my time comes. It’s noth­ing new but then again, some­times stick­ing with the estab­lish­ment is the best idea when it comes to bub­bles part deux.

Pokemon Puzzle League — Issue 46

Poké­mon Puz­zle League catch­es the best traits of Tetris Attack

The zenith of Poké­mon came rather star­tling and ear­ly, some­where in the heady days of 2000. After all, by then, Poké­mon was in the zeit­geist as a video game and cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non. You could stick your arms out in any direc­tion and hit Poké­mon prod­ucts. So, it goes then, that the video game sphere received its share of the wealth after the ini­tial fer­vor wound down. At this point, how­ev­er, the Nin­ten­do 64 was on its last legs and received a few games bear­ing the Pock­et Mon­ster license. Out of that smoke arose Poké­mon Puz­zle League.

Poké­mon Puz­zle League isn’t a ter­ri­ble use of the license. Sure, it’s gra­tu­itous Poké­mon every­where, but it’s not a bad puz­zling game in gen­er­al. The premise is sim­ple: Take what you already know about Tetris Attack and slap Poké­mon on it. That’s all Poké­mon Puz­zle League is, and since Tetris Attack isn’t ter­ri­ble either, Puz­zle League ben­e­fits from a sol­id foun­da­tion. The mechan­ics remain the same except there’s Poké­mon involved, and the Poké­mon don’t real­ly affect any­thing beyond aesthetics. 

Poké­mon Puz­zle League feels like a Tetris Attack clone ought to feel. The puz­zling mechan­ics are tight and quick move­ment is clean and pre­cise, even with the wonky N64 con­troller. This is one of the first Tetris Attack clones pro­duced, but it car­ries on the tra­di­tion of tight, good puz­zling game­play well. There is a boun­ty of modes to play, includ­ing stan­dard 2D and 3D line clear­ing, a 1P sta­di­um mode and ver­sus. The vari­ety makes for a good rol­lick­ing time and fills up play­time with qual­i­ty offer­ings. And, I’d be remiss if I did­n’t say some­thing about the dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el. If you’re not pre­pared and don’t under­stand the mechan­ics of Tetris Attack, you will get wrecked even on the easy lev­el. The AI does not play around and while it’s part of the charm of Puz­zle League, it can be daunt­ing to have to replay lev­els mul­ti­ple times on Nor­mal or even Easy dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el because the AI caught a lucky break.

But what you came here for, let’s be hon­est, is the Poké­mon pre­sen­ta­tion. Thank­ful­ly, this is the draw. It’s a buf­fet of Poké­mon-dom, with all of the ani­me favorite char­ac­ters thrown in as well as the main gym lead­ers and Elite Four from the games at high­er dif­fi­cul­ty lev­els. The Poké­mon rep­re­sent­ed here are all using the 4Kids voice­work and the ani­me art­style, so hope­ful­ly you like the ani­me enough that you don’t mind that it’s based on the Poké­mon Orig­i­nal Series gen­er­a­tions. The sound­track is appro­pri­ate­ly Poké­mon, which means the music is good. There are a few bangers on the sound­track that make it a must down­load, includ­ing most of the Team Rock­et themes, Lorelei’s theme, and Pro­fes­sor Oak’s theme. Despite this being car­tridge-based, Puz­zle League does­n’t skimp on the sound quality. 

Poké­mon Puz­zle League is a joy to learn and get seri­ous about even if you remote­ly like Tetris Attack. It’s got the Poké­mon aes­thet­ic from the suc­cess­ful ani­me and hand­held games, a nice Poké­mon-cen­tric sound­track and a fun, chal­leng­ing puz­zle mechan­ic that’s beg­ging to be explored. If you love Poké­mon and puz­zle games, cast your Mas­ter ball out to catch this one.

Demon’s Crest — Issue 46

Fire­brand reigns supreme in ghoul­ish, ghost­ly, fiendish romp

Cap­com is known for its glob­al­ly renowned ros­ter of video game char­ac­ters. From Mega Man to Neme­sis, these char­ac­ters have cement­ed their lega­cy. Fire­brand, the red demon of death that is on that renowned ros­ter, made his bones and shows up to show out in Cap­com’s Demon’s Crest (no, not the dev­il’s toothpaste).

In Demon’s Crest, you take the role of the fire-breath­ing, head-butting hero Fire­brand through six stages as he tries to recov­er mag­i­cal crests, which are arti­facts with con­trol of the ele­ments and time. Accord­ing to Demon’s Crest leg­end, when these items fell into the demon world, a civ­il war erupt­ed with Fire­brand as the vic­tor claim­ing the crests of Earth, Fire, Wind, Water and Time. Fire­brand fought anoth­er demon named Somu­lo, who held the crest of Heav­en, and secured a vic­to­ry over the rival demon. How­ev­er, anoth­er demon named Pha­lanx attacked Fire­brand while he had low health, tak­ing pos­ses­sion of all the crests. This allowed Pha­lanx to sum­mon anoth­er crest that con­trols infin­i­ty. While Fire­brand recov­ered, he was impris­oned in an are­na guard­ed by the revived Somu­lo. After defeat­ing Somu­lo, Fire­brand begins his quest for vengeance and recov­ery of his well-earned spoils of war. 

Game­play is a com­bi­na­tion of plat­form­ing and Japan­ese RPGs mixed with ele­ments from Castl­e­va­nia and Metroid. Fire­brand has the usu­al plat­form­ing moves such as run­ning, and jump­ing, but can climb walls, tem­porar­i­ly float, and launch pro­jec­tile attacks with the help of the Fire crest. Fire­brand can pick up var­i­ous powerups from fall­en ene­mies to increase health and attacks in addi­tion to col­lect­ing coins to pur­chase for var­i­ous items found in shops through­out the demon realm. I also love that Fire­brand has some allies: Phora­pa, a demon who sell potions with var­i­ous abil­i­ties; Mal­wous, a demon that tells Fire­brand the secrets of tal­is­mans found from the human realm; and, Morack, who sells mag­ic spells to boost Fire­brand’s arsenal. 

The con­trols are sim­ple, yet require some nuance to remem­ber all of Fire­brand’s abil­i­ties. The fact that Cap­com decid­ed to take a fresh approach on the plat­form­ing instead of mak­ing anoth­er Ghosts n’ Ghosts was a wise choice to make here. The music fits the theme of each stage and main­tains the theme of the stage well. And much like the music, the graph­ics also won me over for the col­ors and artistry, espe­cial­ly when played on a mod­ern television. 

While I love most parts of Demon’s Crest, there are some not-so-good nit­picks to make. Cer­tain stages where per­fect tim­ing is need­ed to land on float­ing plat­forms across killer obsta­cles are annoy­ing. The pre­ci­sion isn’t there and it’s frus­trat­ing to attempt it mul­ti­ple times. Anoth­er strike comes when you play the bonus game. You must time your head-butting attack against demon skulls in a Whack-a-Mole-style game with a time lim­it. Con­sid­er­ing that if you lose, you also lose mon­ey, this is a prob­lem with the in-game econ­o­my. It makes you not want to play the mini-game at all. I also had issues with the Mode 7 view in Demon’s Crest. Although awe­some most of the time you use it in nav­i­gat­ing the demon realm, it weird­ly affects your vision if you fly around for a pro­longed time. 

Demon’s Crest comes from Cap­com’s attempt to do some­thing new and excit­ing. Ush­er­ing in a new era of plat­form­ing and hop ‘n bop action was Cap­com’s agen­da and it paid off. In the case of Demon’s Crest, they under­stood the assign­ment and passed.

Harvest Moon (SNES) — Issue 45

Farm­ing life begins with
SNES sim­u­la­tor classic

Leav­ing every­thing behind and tak­ing up the life of a farmer does­n’t seem to be half bad. Sure, it’s back-break­ing daunt­ing work with a large reser­voir of poten­tial fail­ure. But it’s hon­est work and high­ly sat­is­fy­ing. Or, at least that’s what Har­vest Moon wants you to believe. In a tale as old as video game time, the orig­i­nal farm­ing sim­u­la­tor wants you to live that life and suc­ceed, no mat­ter the cost.
Har­vest Moon’s orig­i­nal entry is the stark­est of all in the series. You, the name­less farmer, are tasked with rebuild­ing the fam­i­ly farm and prop­er­ty. There are ani­mals to raise, crops to nur­ture and sell, and — if you play your cards cor­rect­ly — a fam­i­ly to start. You have rough­ly a year to do this before your par­ents come back and judge your efforts. If you’ve suc­ceed­ed most­ly, you’re in the clear. If not, well, you’ve failed and it’s game over. This is the basis for the series that you see today in Har­vest Moon and Stardew Val­ley, and though most­ly unchanged in basis, it’s sim­ple and effective.
The depth comes in learn­ing the game sys­tem. Crop nur­tur­ing and ani­mal hus­bandry are not easy, but once you’ve got the nuance it’s a whole new world of prof­its. The con­trols are sim­ple to pick up and once you’ve built your­self up sta­mi­na-wise, the fruits of your labor are obvi­ous. There’s some­thing super sat­is­fy­ing about work­ing the land, plant­i­ng crops and car­ing for your ani­mals in a day’s work and then reap­ing the ben­e­fits. There is plan­ning involved also, which adds an extra lay­er of depth. Know­ing how to spend your day wise­ly — whether it be tend­ing to the farm or social­iz­ing in town — is impor­tant, and adds to the over­all experience. 
Part of that expe­ri­ence is the pre­sen­ta­tion, and it’s not bad for a SNES game. Giv­en that this is 16-bit, the sprites are bright and pop with the gor­geous SNES palette. Some areas are a lit­tle too brown but over­all, it’s a pret­ty game. The music is slight­ly monot­o­nous but it’s a lit­tle catchy so it does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly grate the way you’d think hear­ing the same tune would for more than 20 min­utes of farm work and socializing.
Because this is the entry point to the mod­ern series, Har­vest Moon has work to do. Time — though not explic­it­ly shown on screen — runs too quick­ly. Also, the start­ing hand­i­cap of low sta­mi­na and mediocre tools is not fun. This does become eas­i­er in lat­er entries, but this frus­trat­ing mechan­ic began here and does not enhance the series in any way. 
Despite some frus­tra­tions with the game, it’s a nice, relax­ing start to a fun, quirky series. Mod­ern fea­tures may be a draw for the lat­er games, but don’t let the orig­i­nal fool you. There’s a won­der­ful life to be had even in the 16-bit starter.

Columns — Issue 45

Columns stacks up against Tetris juggernaut

As the faith­ful read­ers of GI know, I’m a child of the ’80s and ’90s. I owned an NES, Gen­e­sis and a Game Gear, but not a Game Boy. To sat­is­fy my portable gam­ing needs, I got a few Game Gear games that would hold my atten­tion. I’m not much of a puz­zle man, but one stood out as an alter­na­tive to the high­ly pop­u­lar Tetris at the time: Columns.
Columns’ game­play is sim­i­lar to Tetris, except that you’re match­ing var­i­ous gems with each oth­er before their row known as — you guessed it — columns stack up, ulti­mate­ly end­ing your game. The game back­sto­ry claims that its ori­gins hails from Mid­dle East­ern mer­chants with also a lit­tle bit of Greece mixed in. 
Con­trol of the columns is sim­ple: Guide the columns’ rows and arrange pieces to fit. It’s a sim­ple con­cept that is quick­ly under­stood. You can be a new­bie or a puz­zle expert and still jump into play­ing. There’s also an option to change the items from jew­els, to fruit, dice, or tra­di­tion­al play­ing card suits, which livens up the game­play slightly. 
The graph­ics are top-notch in both ver­sions. The graph­ics are col­or­ful and more than just bricks being moved around. They look good even in a small set­ting like the Game Gear. 
The music in Columns varies from ancient Roman tunes to a futur­is­tic beat that is calm­ing dur­ing game­play. The sound­track is a nice men­tal break for the mind, which helps when you’re pos­si­bly fran­ti­cal­ly mak­ing matches. 
Columns is an under­es­ti­mat­ed crown jew­el that shines on all Sega sys­tems. It’s a fun alter­na­tive to Tetris with a nice calm­ing effect to boot. Hunt down this dif­fer­ent but bril­liant puz­zle choice. 

 

Build­ing blocks of Columns

In 1989, Jay Geert­sen, a devel­op­er for Hewlett-Packard, was look­ing to port a soft­ware tool to HP’s in-house oper­at­ing sys­tem for its work com­put­ers. Geert­sen believed there was a bet­ter way to learn skills and have fun at the same time. He came up with mod­i­fy­ing Tic Tac-Toe and applied it as a way to help soft­ware engi­neers prac­tice their pro­gram­ing. The result: Once they heard about Geert­sen’s work through third par­ties, Sega called him and inquired about devel­op­ment. Check out his sto­ry through this link: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/retro-gamer/20190711/281599537055264.

Beetle Adventure Racing — Issue 45

Adven­ture of a life­time races on the scene

Smooth with no chas­er. Bee­tle Adven­ture Rac­ing is like a fine cognac: No filler, no BS. It’s just a fine rac­ing game fea­tur­ing the pop­u­lar-in-1999 redesigned Volk­swa­gen New Bee­tle. Like that cognac, it’s what you want in an expe­ri­ence, but you wish there was more at the end of the glass.
Bee­tle Adven­ture Rac­ing, while short on sto­ry, is a rac­ing dream. There isn’t much to the sto­ry oth­er than you’re rac­ing against oth­er Bee­tle dri­vers on six var­ied tracks. There are sev­er­al modes includ­ing a time tri­al, cham­pi­onship and two-play­er duel, but that’s about it. You’re also rac­ing with only Bee­tles, though they vary in col­or with dif­fer­ent stats. There are two unlock­able Bee­tles, but that’s pret­ty much all there is in terms of rewards. The depth real­ly lies in the tracks and their nooks and cran­nies. There are a ton of secrets and short­cuts that help in the point-gath­er­ing modes or to shave time in the time tri­als, and that sort of makes up for the lack of every­thing else. Sort of.
While the rewards are sparse, the pre­sen­ta­tion is not. Bee­tle Adven­ture Rac­ing looks and plays won­der­ful­ly. The envi­ron­ments look great for a Nin­ten­do 64 game and real­ly make the game pop over­all. And it also plays well. The rac­ing is smooth and lithe, mak­ing for a sat­is­fy­ing expe­ri­ence when tak­ing curves or final­ly land­ing a short­cut path.
Of spe­cial note is the sound­track. It’s only six tracks plus a few oth­er menu tunes, but this is a fan­tas­tic sound­track. The tracks work well with the rac­ing locales, and almost all of them are bangers. Our long­time favorite is Mount May­hem, the snow lodge moun­tain track. We’ve been bump­ing that as long as the game has been out in var­i­ous for­mats, and 24 years lat­er we con­tin­ue to do so. It’s that good and comes with high praise.
Our only caveat with Bee­tle Adven­ture Rac­ing is that the dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el is slight­ly out of bal­ance. It could use some tweak­ing so that you see the lat­er rac­ing tracks a lit­tle more often. Giv­en that it’s hard to find some of the point box­es on the tracks and you need them in order to earn con­tin­ues, it should be eas­i­er to obtain for the lat­ter por­tions of the game.
Aside from the pun­ish­ing dif­fi­cul­ty, the game is prac­ti­cal­ly per­fect. There isn’t much to feast on, but when you can feast it’s among if not the best rac­ing game on the N64. It’s a heck of an adven­ture whether you’re a Bee­tle enthu­si­ast or not. V dub or bust.