Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 — Issue 42

The fight of the century

Who would win between Cap­com and SNK?
That’s the ques­tion that was at the fore­front of every­one’s mind in the ear­ly 2000s. The rival­ry between the com­pa­nies was well known, and the streets were hot with love for their respec­tive fight­ing game series. When Cap­com vs. SNK was released, the ques­tion was answered, though we still did­n’t know who was bet­ter defin­i­tive­ly. There’s a sequel for that.
What CvS did get right was the ini­tial ques­tion. Take some of the best and most pop­u­lar fight­ing game char­ac­ters from both com­pa­nies and pit them against each oth­er. Mar­quee SNK names like Ter­ry Bog­a­rd, Mai Shu­ranui, King and Rugal Bern­stein face off against Cap­com main­stays like Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, and Sagat. The full ros­ter has some­one for every­one from each com­pa­ny. If you like grap­plers, there’s Zang­ief rep­re­sent­ing Cap­com while Raiden shows up for SNK. Love fight­ing teenage girls? You’re cov­ered with Saku­ra and Yuri. The selec­tion is a nice buf­fet to choose from.
But then it gets a lit­tle more inter­est­ing. Each char­ac­ter is slot­ted into a one-to-four ratio cat­e­go­ry. Heavy hit­ters like Aku­ma and Orochi Iori, usu­al­ly hid­den boss char­ac­ters in their respec­tive games, are Ratio 4. Ratio 3 fea­tures boss char­ac­ters such as M. Bison, Geese and Rugal. Ratio 2 is for the mid­dle-class fight­er like Ryu, Ken, Kyo Kusana­gi and Mai. In the low­est ratio are light­weights like Saku­ra, Ben­i­maru, Yuri and Dhal­sim. The Ratio Sys­tem allows mul­ti­ple com­bi­na­tions so long as the ratio equals four. Build­ing your team is cru­cial because of the pow­er bal­ance impli­ca­tions and their poten­tial matchups.
The in-depth fight­ing sys­tem is not with­out its flaws, how­ev­er. The place­ment of some char­ac­ters in the Ratio Sys­tem is ques­tion­able and their movesets being pressed between EX and reg­u­lar cat­e­go­riza­tion is arti­fi­cial lim­i­ta­tions imposed at best. This is fixed in the sequel but here it’s a prob­lem that slight­ly affects game­play adversely.
In addi­tion to the Ratio Sys­tem there is the Groove Sys­tem. A two-part func­tion, the Groove Sys­tem deter­mines how the char­ac­ters per­form cer­tain basic moves like rolling and dash­ing and how super moves work. Cap­com Groove plays a lot like Street Fight­er Alpha 3 with access to Lev­el 3 supers imme­di­ate­ly with enough super meter built up. SNK Groove plays sim­i­lar­ly to the Extra Mode in the King of Fight­ers series. Here, you only get access to Lev­el 3 supers when your life meter is flash­ing, though you can charge your meter man­u­al­ly to gain Lev­el 1 supers. There’s a lot of strat­e­gy involved in choos­ing the right Groove and apply­ing its prop­er­ties to your advan­tage, which is a nice change of pace.
Cap­com vs. SNK also gets its envi­ron­ment right. The game looks fan­tas­tic, with beau­ti­ful back­grounds of famil­iar loca­tions for both com­pa­nies. Of spe­cial note is the SNK graph­ic mode for Cap­com char­ac­ters. Shinkiro out­did him­self with the stun­ning and life­like art­work. I was­n’t super famil­iar with his work before­hand because I was­n’t an SNK enthu­si­ast. But, you can con­sid­er me a devo­tee as of this game because I fell in love with his art through his char­ac­ter portraits.
And, along­side the gor­geous envi­ron­ments is a won­der­ful­ly nos­tal­gic sound­track. Sure, there are some new tracks, but the meat and pota­toes are in the old­er remixed tracks. The sound mix­es well with the action, and there are quite a few bops to be had here. The sound­track is one worth adding to the collection.
Cap­com vs. SNK is a great start for the fran­chise. It’s built with vet­er­ans in mind, but even as a new­com­er you can find a char­ac­ter to learn and devel­op. Cap­com banked on the unini­ti­at­ed tak­ing the time to learn the back­ground of the char­ac­ters fea­tured, and the result is worth tak­ing a spin 22 years after its ini­tial release. No, the ques­tion of who’s the best was­n’t answered here, but it’s one worth explor­ing in a top-notch release for the Dream­cast fight­ing game library.

QuackShot Starring Donald Duck — Issue 42

Don­ald the Explorer

As a child of the ’90s, I grew up on the “Dis­ney After­noon” car­toon line­up. All the shows received the video game treat­ment for either 8‑bit, 16-bit sys­tems or for both con­soles at the time. I had a Sega Gen­e­sis and won­dered when Dis­ney would license a game based on a DA show for Gen­e­sis. Lit­tle did I know, Sega had license deals with Dis­ney direct­ly, and like Dis­ney games made by Cap­com, Sega made a game that was­n’t anoth­er “Duck­Tales,” but was set in the series’ uni­verse and had its reg­u­lar char­ac­ters. His name is Don­ald Duck, and he made his debut in plat­form gam­ing in “Quack­Shot Star­ring Don­ald Duck.”
In Quack­Shot, Don­ald sets out on a trea­sure hunt stretch­ing across nine stages. One day in Duck­burg, Don­ald vis­its his Uncle Scrooge and while check­ing out his library, Don­ald stum­bles upon a mes­sage from King Grazuia, an old ruler of the Great Duck King­dom who has hid­den his leg­endary trea­sure across the world. Enclosed with the mes­sage is a map that Don­ald believes leads to trea­sure that would make him rich­er than Uncle Scrooge. How­ev­er, Big Bad Pete and his gang also find out about the trea­sure and set off after Don­ald, turn­ing the trea­sure hunt into a race to see who gets it first. 
Con­trol of our dar­ing adven­tur­er is sim­ple with the d‑pad and, com­bined with abun­dant options, ensures that you can set up move­ment, weapon use and dash­ing to spe­cif­ic buy­outs. Don­ald may have odds against him, but he has some advan­tages with his plunger gun uti­liz­ing yel­low plungers to stop Pete’s hench­men and oth­er foes tem­porar­i­ly with an unlim­it­ed sup­ply, and a reload­able pop­corn gun that shoots five ker­nels at once. Don­ald also has some of the “Duck­Tales” crew help­ing him: Nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie pro­vide trans­porta­tion to each des­ti­na­tion, and Gyro Gear­loose pro­vides Don­ald with bub­blegum ammo that can break down obsta­cles. The MVP weapon in the game is the “quack attack,” which Don­ald can use to knock down any ene­mies instant­ly. I give cred­it to Sega for using Dis­ney’s knowl­edge of Don­ald’s tem­per. The graph­ics and music were excel­lent, live­ly, and bright for an appro­pri­ate­ly spry game.
The down­sides to “Quack­Shot” are few but are sim­i­lar­ly found in most plat­form games. You must ensure per­fect tim­ing for Don­ald when he either cross­es dan­ger­ous obsta­cles or per­forms his dash move. Also, mild­ly infu­ri­at­ing is small voice sam­ple usage for the char­ac­ters as this was not only a debut game for Don­ald, but also it is set in the Duck­Tales uni­verse. There was so much untapped poten­tial for rich, estab­lished his­to­ry. Final­ly, you can only start the game in Duck­burg, Mex­i­co, or Tran­syl­va­nia. To pass lat­er stages, you need a par­tic­u­lar item, so there is a lot of back­track­ing unnecessarily.
“Quack­Shot Star­ring Don­ald Duck” was one of the games that I start­ed off with as a Gen­e­sis own­er. A sol­id plat­former, it showed that Sega had tal­ent of devel­op­ing con­soles and leg­endary games using orig­i­nal and licensed char­ac­ters. Most impor­tant­ly, I got to see anoth­er Dis­ney clas­sic char­ac­ter get his lime­light in his first video game with a star­ring role. Car­ry on Don­ald, car­ry on.

Strider — Issue 42

The ulti­mate nin­ja warrior

Strid­er Hiryu. Best known for his appear­ances in the Mar­vel vs. Cap­com series, he has been con­sid­ered a top-tier char­ac­ter by play­ers and is con­sis­tent­ly pop­u­lar. Strid­er also appeared in a stand­alone game in 2014 for var­i­ous con­soles at the time. How­ev­er, Strid­er was already estab­lished, start­ing in 1989 with his orig­i­nal arcade release that was port­ed to the NES and to the Gen­e­sis in 1990 via Sega. It was titled, yep, you guessed it, “Strid­er.”
In the year 1998, after a series of dis­as­ters fell upon Earth, peo­ple across the globe real­ized their sit­u­a­tion and began to work togeth­er to rebuild. Four years lat­er, in an East­ern Euro­pean nation called Kaza­fu sev­er­al red dots appeared as the advance guard of the evil space being Meio. They caused imme­di­ate destruc­tion of Kafazu, Europe, and North and South Amer­i­ca, result­ing in 80 per­cent of Earth­’s pop­u­la­tion being wiped out. How­ev­er, on a small South Seas Island called Mora­los, a secret orga­ni­za­tion known as “Strid­ers” began to move to stop Meio’s reign of ter­ror. They sent their best agent, Hiryu, for­ward with the task of stop­ping Meio and his plans for world domination. 
Con­trol of Hiryu is sim­ple, allow­ing him to attack in either direc­tion, duck when fight­ing, and climb to reach high­er areas. Hiryu also has use of his plas­ma sword, Fal­chion, to assist in remov­ing ene­mies from any direc­tion on the screen. I also found that Hiryu has two reli­able tech­niques that are game-chang­ers: a slid­ing move that gets him in tight areas, and a cart­wheel move that allows you to glide from sur­face to sur­face while in a spin­ning wheel, mak­ing Hiryu unpre­dictable when he lands. Hiryu also can per­form a ver­ti­cal jump, hang­ing and squat­ting attacks with Fal­chion. Hiryu will also get some mis­sion sup­port from three bat­tle robots: Dipo­dal Saucer, which fires light­ing bolts wher­ev­er Hiryu swings Fal­chion; RoboPan­ther, which cov­ers Hiryu from frontal attacks; and, Robot Hawk, which assists Hiryu by severe­ly attack­ing air­borne ene­mies. Apart from the usu­al powerups in hack-and-slash games, there’s also a powerup that increas­es Fal­chion’s power.
The music is accept­able for each stage, match­ing its theme with a few stand­out tracks for the levels. 
As much as I love Strid­er, there are a few flaws. The chal­lenge is on full dis­play from the moment you hit start. In the options screen, you can add up to five lives for Hiryu, but you must frus­trat­ing­ly hunt down extra lives and score points to acquire the rest. You also have an obnox­ious time lim­it for each stage; if you don’t clear a lev­el in time, you’ll lose a life. I also found it frus­trat­ing that Hiryu can gain up to five life bars, but if he has a sup­port part­ner, that can be tak­en away if he suf­fers too much dam­age. That makes his mis­sion much more dif­fi­cult unnec­es­sar­i­ly at times. 
Strid­er is per­fect for any­one who wants to act out their post-dystopi­an hero fan­tasies with­out fear of pos­si­ble legal ret­ri­bu­tion. It’s an endur­ing clas­sic that has tran­scend­ed the hack-and-slash genre and made a name for itself in the fight­ing game com­mu­ni­ty via the MvC series. If there was ever a time that I wish that Strid­er Hiryu was real and ready to kick a cer­tain vil­lain­ous coun­try’s ass, that time is now. Hail, Hiryu-sama.

Final Fantasy Anthology — Issue 42

Reach­ing a new audience

Chances are, if you’re think­ing about buy­ing this retro pack­age of Final Fan­ta­sy, you’ve already played at least one of the two games includ­ed. So, why buy this? Because the pack­ag­ing is the draw, and it’s a must-own if you like the Final Fan­ta­sy series.
Let’s start with the obvi­ous: Final Fan­ta­sy Anthol­o­gy does not have a lot of Final Fan­ta­sy games includ­ed. Two clas­sics with inter­est­ing and sto­ried back­grounds are here: Final Fan­ta­sy V and Final Fan­ta­sy VI. Until this release, Final Fan­ta­sy V had nev­er been trans­lat­ed and released in the U.S because it was deemed too hard for the mar­ket. Final Fan­ta­sy VI was released in the U.S. as Final Fan­ta­sy III. It was a crit­i­cal dar­ling in both mar­kets and is wide­ly regard­ed as one of the best retro-era Final Fan­ta­sy games and role-play­ing games ever. So, Square Enix putting these two games togeth­er in a pack­age would kill two birds with one stone: Good sales — near­ly a mil­lion copies sold — and intro­duc­tion of a “lost” game to the bare­ly tapped mar­ket. Square Enix suc­ceed­ed on both fronts.
Released in the U.S. and PAL regions, FF Anthol­o­gy fea­tures FFV and FFVI in full with new CG intro­duc­tion movies for both games. Although we have reviewed FFV pre­vi­ous­ly (see 2Q2010 issue), we have nev­er reviewed FFVI. Just know, how­ev­er, that both games are fan­tas­tic, with FFV as our choice to play in the pack­age. Both games have a deep sto­ry with mem­o­rable char­ac­ters that you come to know and love by the end of your adven­ture, and beau­ti­ful graph­ics and stun­ning sound­tracks. It’s a tes­ta­ment to the strong sto­ry­telling found in the retro FF era, and the pack­age is bet­ter for includ­ing these two games particularly.
Round­ing out the pack­age is the oth­er high­light: The includ­ed bonus sound­track CD. The sound­track fea­tures 22 of the best tracks from both games, with our favorites com­ing from the FFV por­tion. FFVI does have some bangers, also, so the sound­track is great addi­tion all around. 
What you should care about — and why you should buy this pack­age — is the fact that you’re get­ting the best of the 2D Final Fan­ta­sy games. Add in that sound­track CD, which is like a gate­way to FF music, and you have a good deal with in-depth game­play to boot. This is Square Enix at its best before it embraced the 3D era for its flag­ship role-play­ing series.

Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus — Issue 41

First time’s a steal for Sly Cooper

Ever since the now-Sony Inter­ac­tive Enter­tain­ment intro­duced the PlaySta­tion 2 to Amer­i­can gamers in 2000, the news sur­round­ing the new gam­ing con­sole ranged from a strong suc­ces­sor to the PlaySta­tion name to the “Dream­cast Killer,” refer­ring to Sega’s bow­ing out of mak­ing gam­ing con­soles for the home mar­ket. While this was true, Sony was build­ing up a rela­tion­ship with a lit­tle-known gam­ing stu­dio called Suck­er Punch to intro­duce a char­ac­ter that would suc­ceed Sony’s oth­er well-known char­ac­ter, Crash Bandi­coot. The result: “Sly Coop­er and the Thievius Raccoonus.”

Though we’re jump­ing into the remas­tered ver­sion for the PS3, the base game is a result of what would hap­pen if you put anthro­po­mor­phic ani­mals togeth­er with Ocean’s Eleven and Splin­ter Cell games. The sto­ry is that Sly Coop­er along with his team of Bent­ley Tur­tle and Mur­ray Hip­popota­mus are try­ing to recov­er the Thievius Rac­coonus, a scared book passed down in the Coop­er fam­i­ly that records skills and tech­niques used to steal valu­ables from oth­er thieves. 

At age 8, Sly was to inher­it the book, but a group known as the Fiendish Five appeared that day, killing his moth­er and father and tak­ing all the pages of the Thievius Rac­coonus, scat­ter­ing them across the world. Now old­er and wis­er, Sly, Bent­ley and Mur­ray begin their quest to recov­er the Thievius Rac­coonus and destroy the Fiendish Five. 

The game­play takes time to adjust to, but it is sim­ple. You can either use the d‑pad or left ana­log stick to con­trol Sly while using the square but­ton to use his cane to strike, and the X but­ton to jump and dou­ble jump. Sly also gets some help look­ing around his sur­round­ings with the help of the in-game cam­era by using the right ana­log stick. 

You pick up var­i­ous objects such as coins, extra lives, and bot­tled clues to cre­ate gear, solve puz­zles, and learn new skills. Sly also has a spe­cial sneak­ing tech­nique that acti­vates in times of need. Fair warn­ing: Sly does not have a life bar. If he falls in water or gets hit by an ene­my, you will lose a life. This adds to an already chal­leng­ing set­up. The graph­ics are well drawn and appear crisp in every lev­el while the cut scenes pay trib­ute to the Ocean movie series. Suck­er Punch took great care in the lev­el design, which made the game seem more like an ani­mat­ed movie. 

The music was ener­getic and relaxed enough for me to take my time play­ing espe­cial­ly when Sly per­formed a sneak­ing maneu­ver. The music was so top tier that I’m sold on a sound­track CD to make a playlist. Voice act­ing was excel­lent with Kevin Miller as Sly, Matt Olsen as Bent­ley and Chris Mur­phy as Mur­ray, adding to the theme of expert thievery. 

Sly Coop­er and the Thievius Rac­coonus is a game that aims high and grabs replay val­ue and fun. If you want to escape bore­dom and pull off a caper with the Coop­er gang with great rewards and brag­ging rights, jump into the adven­ture instead of try­ing to be a real thief. 

It’s a steal of a game.

Ken Griffey Jr.‘s Winning Run — Issue 40

The Kid’s SNES fol­low-up a guar­an­teed home run

There are a few things Rare, the bas­tion of all that is unholy in retro gam­ing, has done cor­rect­ly. One was Gold­en­Eye 007 for the Nin­ten­do 64. And anoth­er is the Ken Grif­fey Jr. MLB series.
Ken Grif­fey Jr., for the unini­ti­at­ed, is one of the best major league play­ers to have ever picked up a bat and glove. There was once a time that folks believed that Grif­fey would beat Hank Aaron’s home run record in the ’90s. Alas, once Grif­fey left the Seat­tle Mariners after the 1995 sea­son, he was nev­er the same thanks to numer­ous injuries. He’s still “that guy,” though, and it remains that his game series is one of the best in arcade base­ball. The first game was good, but the sequel — Ken Grif­fey Jr.’s Win­ning Run — is absolute fire.
Let’s start with the premise, because there actu­al­ly is some­thing of a sto­ry here. The open­ing cin­e­mat­ics show Grif­fey Jr. at the plate doing what he does best: Smack the ball. Already beloved by fans and team­mates, his hero­ics in the bot­tom of the 11th inning of the 1995 Amer­i­can League Divi­sion Series’ final game that year cement­ed the city’s love for “The Kid” and led to the birth of this sequel title. He was so beloved that when Grif­fey Jr. start­ed think­ing about retire­ment, Seat­tle active­ly cam­paigned for the Hall of Famer to sim­ply “come home” and reclaim his title of King of the King­dome. This set­up is lov­ing­ly craft­ed in just the intro, and the rest of the game is favor­able because of it. 
So, what’s inside the pack­age with a slick out­side? A lot, for a SNES game. There are sev­er­al ways to play, depend­ing on if you want a quick game or if you want to make a full 162-game sea­son of things. The MLB League mode is a great­ly appre­ci­at­ed fea­ture. In it, you can choose to play three types of sea­sons: A short 26-game sea­son, a medi­um 52-game sea­son and a full 162-game sea­son. There’s also an option to play an exhi­bi­tion game in the MLB Chal­lenge mode. I like the abil­i­ty to choose between those options, because maybe I don’t want to sit through an entire sea­son. I can’t do that in real life, so I know I don’t want to do that in a video game ver­sion. There’s even a mode to resume a pre­vi­ous­ly start­ed game. 
If you’re not so inclined to be a play­er, there’s a decent man­ag­er mode includ­ed. Ever the non-tra­di­tion­al­ist, if you’re like me and you want to skip to the end, you can run through a World Series mode where you play out the Series to crown your cham­pi­on. There’s also an All-Star mode where you can play through the tit­u­lar game and par­tic­i­pate in the Home Run Derby. 
With the wealth of options in how to play, it’s easy to actu­al­ly play. Win­ning Run doesn’t rein­vent the wheel of base­ball video game mechan­ics, which is a good thing. That means that even if you’re not a sports nut, you could prob­a­bly pick up the game and learn how to play base­ball. Base run­ning, field­ing, pitch­ing and bat­ting are easy to under­stand here, and the mechan­ics all come naturally. 
While Win­ning Run doesn’t have the MLB player’s license — nei­ther did the orig­i­nal game, either — it does have a fla­vor that com­pet­ing games at the time didn’t have: Charm and charis­ma in every detail. The graph­ics are clean, crisp and out­right beau­ti­ful. They are so well done that even 26 years lat­er, as a SNES game, they hold up. Even the menu graph­ics look great. Rare was killing it in the late por­tion of the SNES’ lifes­pan, and Win­ning Run is a stun­ning example.
And, for a moment, let’s talk about the sound­track. This is one of the few sports sound­tracks that I own. Rare’s sound team con­tin­u­ous­ly makes up for the sur­round­ing mess with qual­i­ty sound, and this is one of the best from their cat­a­logue. The main theme was fan­tas­tic, and the menu theme is out­stand­ing as well. Both themes add to the over­all pack­age and get things start­ed off right. The in-game ambi­ence is nice as is the play announc­er. Every­thing ulti­mate­ly cre­ates a good arcade base­ball feel, which you’re going to need if you’re going to slog through an entire pennant.
Tech­ni­cal­ly, aside from the lack of the MLB player’s license, there’s noth­ing wrong with Win­ning Run. The lack of play­er names and like­ness­es is a bum­mer, but it doesn’t real­ly take away from the core strengths of Win­ning Run. 
Excel­lent options, easy-to-under­stand mechan­ics and a fan­tas­tic sound­track make run­ning the bases fun in Win­ning Run. The Kid’s sequel effort paid off and bats high in the order of great sports games.

The Punisher — Issue 40

The Pun­ish­er makes good in dig­i­tal crime cleanup

Before Mar­vel vs. Cap­com became a rel­e­vant name to gamers, the com­pa­nies col­lab­o­rat­ed on oth­er games. Those games became essen­tial clas­sics to devel­op gamers who spe­cial­ized in sin­gle-com­bat titles. In 1994, Cap­com and Mar­vel brought a Final Fight-style game to the Gen­e­sis that starred comics’ most infa­mous anti-hero: Frank Cas­tle aka The Punisher.
The game fol­lows the sto­ry­line of the clas­sic Mar­vel comics series. Frank Cas­tle, a dec­o­rat­ed vet­er­an Marine, was enjoy­ing a day in the park with his fam­i­ly when they unwit­ting­ly became wit­ness­es to a mob shoot­ing. As a result, Cas­tle and his fam­i­ly were mas­sa­cred, him being the only sur­vivor. Cas­tle became deter­mined to get pay­back by any means nec­es­sary. With fel­low war­rior Nick Fury (of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Cas­tle begins his war on crime against mob boss Wil­son Fisk aka King­pin, who caused the death of his fam­i­ly and many oth­er innocents. 
The game plays sim­i­lar­ly to “Final Fight” and “Cap­tain Com­man­do.” You can choose to play as either Cas­tle or Fury and can team up in mul­ti­play­er. You start off with the basics, pro­gress­ing to com­bos and var­i­ous weapons such as hand­guns, auto­mat­ic rifles and katanas. There was lib­er­al food and oth­er pow­er-ups such as cash, gold bars and dia­monds that increased my score and restored health since the amount of ene­mies com­ing at me was nonstop. 
The graph­ics were pleas­ant enough, although they attempt­ed to copy arcade cab­i­net-qual­i­ty with lit­tle suc­cess. I will give Cap­com cred­it for mak­ing the graph­ics comic­book-like. it was like read­ing an actu­al issue of the comics includ­ing cap­tions “BLAM!” “KRAK” and BOOM!” instead of play­ing a rushed paint job of a pop­u­lar com­ic series video game. The music of each stage was also decent as Capcom’s sound team deliv­ered, keep­ing things close to what the Pun­ish­er feels like. 
With the work Cap­com put in, the atten­tion to detail made me want to pick it up to play as a return­ing com­ic book fan who knew about Cas­tle and Fury but want­ed to learn more about the King­pin and oth­er Mar­vel vil­lains such as Bush­whack­er and Bonebreaker. 
The Pun­ish­er is the first suc­cess­ful par­ing of Capcom’s know-how with Marvel’s leg­endary vig­i­lante who wastes no time dis­pens­ing his brand of jus­tice on crim­i­nals. Play­ing through this isn’t exact­ly punishment.

Nobunaga’s Ambition — Issue 39

Ambi­tious guide to greatness

I’m appar­ent­ly no bat­tle­field gen­er­al. I learned this fas­ci­nat­ing tid­bit about myself with­in a rather rough short sea­son of my gam­ing life through dis­as­trous deci­sions and lack of prepa­ra­tion. My troops weren’t ready, I didn’t have enough hors­es and my crops failed to sus­tain my gar­ri­son. Even my samu­rai and nin­ja were tak­en out quick­ly. I was out­manned, out­matched and dec­i­mat­ed before I knew what hit me. Suf­fice to say, if I had been Oda Nobuna­ga, feu­dal Japan would have been in sham­bles like my men­tions on Twit­ter these days. That is the way in Nobunaga’s Ambition.

Ambi­tion is not for the faint of heart. It requires seri­ous plan­ning, thought­ful tac­ti­cal strikes, and good resource man­age­ment. At its core, Nobunaga’s Ambi­tion is a war sim­u­la­tion that takes you through feu­dal Japan’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary peri­od, where uni­fi­ca­tion was the goal and Nobuna­ga was the man to do it — pos­si­bly. While you can choose to be Nobuna­ga, you can be any oth­er num­ber of gen­er­als from dif­fer­ent regions of Japan at the time. You’re tasked with rais­ing an army, gath­er­ing and main­tain­ing sup­plies, and defend­ing your region while con­quer­ing oth­ers in a bid to uni­fy all of Japan under your shogunate.

You roam around the Japan­ese coun­try­side with your troops and chal­lenge the oth­er gen­er­als in a turn-based bat­tle some­times to the death. If suc­cess­ful, your name will be men­tioned in his­to­ry as a great gen­er­al and the uni­fi­er, much as his­to­ry played out with Nobunaga’s vic­to­ry over Shogun Ashik­a­ga Yoshi­a­ki in 1582 and his suc­ces­sors’ bat­tles after his death.

The premise is unique, though to ful­ly appre­ci­ate what it is you’re doing and why, you prob­a­bly will have to be a his­to­ry geek or inter­est­ed in Asian his­to­ry. It’s niche but fun with a lot of his­tor­i­cal edu­ca­tion thrown in.

Its niche con­text aside, the game is fun to play once you ful­ly get into the sim­u­la­tion. It’s a very 1993 pre­sen­ta­tion. The graph­ics are small for the maps, but they’re rem­i­nis­cent of the graph­ics of the time for the SNES and Win­dows games. The stand­out among the graph­ics, though, are the gen­er­al por­traits. They’re col­or­ful — as are the oth­er graph­ic ele­ments — but are also beau­ti­ful­ly detailed. For a SNES game, the graph­ics are top notch and still can com­pete with the big titles of the era.

The music can be a lit­tle grat­ing but it’s not over­ly ter­ri­ble. There are a few dif­fer­ent songs for the menus and bat­tle, and while slight­ly tin­ny, they are OK in a short-term play setting.

If you’re into strat­e­gy sim­u­la­tions and Japan­ese his­to­ry, let curios­i­ty strike and set­tle in for a rous­ing bat­tle. Nobunaga’s Ambi­tion is enough to get you start­ed in the genre and is des­tined to lead to greater things.

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.

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 re-cre­at­ed 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.