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.

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.

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.

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.