Naruto Clash of Ninja 2 — 3Q2020 issue

Retro Naru­to revis­its Chunin Exams arc

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retro Replay — Vampire Darkstalkers Collection — 3Q2020 issue

A bit­ing good collection

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

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

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

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

In the Groove — 2Q2019 issue

Groovy com­pe­ti­tion in rhythm game market

Just when Kon­a­mi thought it had the mar­ket cor­nered on rhythm games along came In the Groove. The series took the for­mu­la of timed arrows, music and dance charts and finessed it into bet­ter charts and sen­si­ble rat­ings; or, you know, things Kon­a­mi lacked after eight games. In the Groove didn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly per­fect the mar­ket prod­uct but it intro­duced com­pe­ti­tion in a nice pack­age that still holds up today.

ITG has the same for­mu­la as Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion: Arrows are timed to a song to rise (or drop, depend­ing on the song mod­i­fi­ca­tion used) to meet hold­ers. You’re judged on the tim­ing of your steps and either pass the song or fail based on the cumu­la­tive score and effect of your tim­ing. Let’s not get it twist­ed, though: DDR and ITG are the same thing. Giv­en that ITG cribs a lot of its ele­ments from the orig­i­na­tor of the rhythm dance game genre, you aren’t like­ly to see any­thing new or mind-blow­ing when it comes to ITG.

Where ITG shines par­tic­u­lar­ly, how­ev­er, is the inter­face and the song choic­es. There’s a lot to like in those dif­fer­ences. The song wheel inter­face — which presents songs for play — is crisp as are the song titles. The graph­ics appear to mim­ic the best parts of the DDR inter­face, which is help­ful since DDR made an ill-advised change to its look short­ly after. It’s also the intri­cate details such as being able to see a song’s BPM while choos­ing song mods.

In the Groove’s musi­cal selec­tion is no slouch, either. Many songs sound like some­thing in DDR’s cat­a­log; for exam­ple, there’s a series of remix­es that imme­di­ate­ly calls to mind the Para­noia sig­na­ture series of DDR. There’s a lot to like with a vari­ety of gen­res represented.

ITG shines also in its acces­si­bil­i­ty: If you can play DDR, you’ll be able to pick up ITG. It’s not hard to under­stand since it’s using the same engine as DDR. How­ev­er, the main playa­bil­i­ty draw comes in its song charts. ITG’s song charts make sense and are intu­itive and aren’t hap­haz­ard­ly done or pun­ish­ing. The dif­fi­cul­ty sys­tem also makes sense — intro­duc­ing charts with a high­er dif­fi­cul­ty than the stan­dard 10 lev­el sys­tem that DDR used at the time — which is a must have in a danc­ing game.

While ITG is a wel­come change of pace from DDR, there are some nit­picks that both­er me about the series in gen­er­al. First, some of the song mods avail­able aren’t the most help­ful. I’m not keen on sil­ly mods like mines being a default in songs. Thank­ful­ly, there’s an option to turn off the mod, but it shouldn’t be a default part of songs at any dif­fi­cul­ty. And, like­wise, the use of three and four arrows simul­ta­ne­ous­ly — which requires a hand to hit at all arrows at once — is obnox­ious. If a song requires it, I usu­al­ly steer clear of it. That’s not good for the song list and replay val­ue if I’m skip­ping tracks, and it’s damp­ens my enthu­si­asm for an oth­er­wise great soundtrack.

ITG gets its point across with inter­est­ing game­play addi­tions, a good sound­track and crisp inter­face. With a few more iter­a­tions of the series after its intro­duc­tion, ITG is great as an alter­na­tive on the rhythm game dance floor.

Wrath of the Black Manta — 2Q2019 issue

Nin­ja copy fails Black Manta

Peo­ple were appar­ent­ly wild about nin­jas in the ’80s. Real­ly wild. I’m guess­ing this because it seems to be a mil­lion and one games about nin­jas that were made in the 1980s. These were all made with var­i­ous degrees of suc­cess in get­ting the point across about the nin­ja expe­ri­ence. Out of the coterie there were two that stood out: Nin­ja Gaiden, a time­less clas­sic in the way of the nin­ja arts; and, Wrath of the Black Man­ta. Note that we did not use any sort of kind trib­ute for the lat­ter. There is myr­i­ad rea­sons for this distinction.

Wrath of the Black Man­ta is your stan­dard adven­ture game cen­tered on find­ing miss­ing chil­dren in New York City, the appar­ent bas­tion of all evil and where the most heinous crimes take place in the video game world. A drug fiend named El Toro is hell­bent on turn­ing these chil­dren into addicts and it’s up to you and your nin­ja skills to make Toro get down or lay down with the War on Drugs.™

The premise is run of the mill, the con­trols con­fus­ing and clunky and the action extreme­ly repet­i­tive. The back­grounds do change from lev­el to lev­el and there is a lot of ground to cov­er. But, all you’re going to do is walk around search­ing ware­hous­es for chil­dren and gang­ing up on infor­mants from the car­tel to get infor­ma­tion. What should be an absolute clean sweep is a clus­ter because get­ting that infor­ma­tion with­out being killed from ridicu­lous hits is a nightmare.

The fact that most of the action is ripped off from the infi­nite­ly bet­ter and more inter­est­ing Nin­ja Gaiden doesn’t help here because you’re going to die a lot from ter­ri­ble jump­ing and those afore­men­tioned hits from ene­mies. The sound­track also does Man­ta no favors as it’s just bare­ly ser­vice­able. Even the art is ripped off from some­where else: Word on those mean streets of NYC is that some of the art was tak­en straight from the book “How to Draw Comics the Mar­vel Way” when the Japan­ese ver­sion was port­ed to the U.S. I’m guess­ing they thought no one would notice, but it goes over with the sub­tle­ty of a ton of bricks. Speak­ing of a lack of sub­tle­ty, the obvi­ous “stay away from drugs, kids, if you want to live” mes­sage and the hit-you-over-the-head irony of char­ac­ters named Tiny (a in no way sur­pris­ing­ly large boss char­ac­ter who tries to stomp you to death in the first lev­el) means you’re in for a long ride with this whether you want to or not.

The key to this bat­tle is, if you want to play a nin­ja adven­ture just play the released at the same time Nin­ja Gaiden. Gaiden is far supe­ri­or in every way and has more appeal in terms of sto­ry. Wrath of the Black Man­ta is the poor man’s Nin­ja Gaiden and is in no way stealthy enough in its sub­tle­ty to earn any sort of title of nin­ja anything.

Mega Man X Collection — 2Q2019 issue

A mega col­lec­tion of Blue Bomber greatness

I’m a huge Mega Man fan. If allowed to, I would dec­o­rate GI head­quar­ters in every room with gear resem­bling Capcom’s infa­mous Blue Bomber. After Mega Man’s last adven­ture on the NES, I found that dur­ing the tran­si­tion from 8‑bit to 16-bit gam­ing a new char­ac­ter known as Mega Man X would appear, giv­ing the Mega Man series a new chap­ter set years after the orig­i­nal. While I played a few MMX games when it was on SNES and PSOne, I real­ized that I liked the X series but won­dered if Cap­com would do a col­lec­tion for the PlaySta­tion 2. My wish was grant­ed in Mega Man X Collection.

MMX Col­lec­tion is sim­ply as adver­tised: A col­lec­tion of the first Mega Man X games released. It con­sists of MMX and MMX2 from their SNES debut; MMX3 — anoth­er SNES game that was port­ed to PSOne; and MMX 4, 5 and 6, which were released for PSOne. There is also an unlock­able game, “Mega Man Bat­tle and Chase,” an exclu­sive nev­er released out­side of Japan.

In each MMX game, you take con­trol of “X,” a new ver­sion of the Blue Bomber cre­at­ed by Dr. Light years after the orig­i­nal Mega Man. X is a more pow­er­ful ver­sion of our blue titan but with free will. 100 years lat­er, after Dr. Light’s death, X was found by Dr. Cain, a robot­ics expert who devel­oped robots based on X’s design known as “reploids.” How­ev­er, this began a rise of rebel­lious reploids, known as mav­er­icks, which led to the for­ma­tion of a group known as mav­er­ick hunters to stop them. Alas, the mav­er­ick hunter’s leader Sig­ma became a mav­er­ick (and the series’ main vil­lain), forc­ing X to team up with anoth­er mav­er­ick hunter named Zero to stop Sigma’s plan for glob­al domination.

Con­trol of X is sim­ple as any reg­u­lar side-scrolling game, espe­cial­ly with the option of switch­ing between the ana­log sticks or direc­tion­al but­tons. X’s main weapon, the X‑Buster, and oth­er weapons he acquires from a lev­el boss can be pow­ered up in addi­tion to find­ing upgrad­ed boots, hel­met and armor via secret areas in each lev­el. Using a sub screen, I appre­ci­at­ed that it was under­stand­able and sim­ple in orga­niz­ing items and weapons since, in oth­er side scrolling games, look­ing for need­ed items is time con­sum­ing and morale-drain­ing. Zero is also playable in MMX 4, 5 and 6 where con­trol­ling him is a guar­an­teed good time as he is not only equipped with his own Buster weapon, but also his sig­na­ture Z‑Saber cuts ene­mies down to size.

The graph­ics have been refreshed, ensur­ing that a thought­ful bal­ance of action-adven­ture and ani­me-styles ele­ments are intact. Capcom’s music depart­ment did an awe­some job remix­ing each game’s sound­tracks. With the amount of detail put into this game, the replay val­ue is high, espe­cial­ly if you’re want­i­ng to get deep­er into the Mega Man lore.

The Mega Man X Col­lec­tion is the per­fect answer for a devot­ed fan­base of the Blue Bomber. While the MMX series may be in ques­tion, I hope Cap­com hears Mega Man’s fans’ calls to con­tin­ue his leg­endary return to gam­ing as the MMX col­lec­tion is a great way to con­tin­ue Mega Man X’s hunt.

Cool Spot — 2Q2019 issue

A refresh­ing platformer

Every so often there will be a licensed game that’s actu­al­ly worth some­thing. It will have a great sound­track and decent con­trols and not be so obnox­ious­ly unplayable that legions of old­er gamers remem­ber it with a cer­tain hatred that burns deep with­in their soul to be passed down through gen­er­a­tions to come. Cool Spot, licensed from Pep­si part­ner 7UP, is the excep­tion to the norm. If you’re expect­ing a half-baked idea of plat­form­ing sole­ly because it’s a mas­cot, think again. This romp to release sen­tient lit­tle red dots is actu­al­ly not half bad and has genre-redeem­ing qualities.

Cool Spot starts off innocu­ous enough. Spot must res­cue its friends, who are trapped through­out 11 lev­els in cages. Why its friends are trapped, we’ll nev­er know but it’s up to Spot to res­cue them and lec­ture you about not drink­ing dark sodas. Spot’s tra­ver­sal through these 11 lev­els is noth­ing short of amaz­ing despite the ram­pant prod­uct place­ment. It’s sur­pris­ing­ly good, with sol­id con­trols that don’t make con­trol­ling Spot a chore, and com­pe­tent sim­ple mechan­ics that don’t get in the way: It’s most­ly jump­ing and shoot­ing mag­i­cal sparks at ene­mies and barred gates. The life sys­tem — hilar­i­ous­ly denot­ed by an ever-peel­ing and dete­ri­o­rat­ing pic­ture of Spot — is more than gen­er­ous and there are helper pow­er ups galore to get through lev­els. The lev­els them­selves have a lot of depth and are timed just right with enough time to explore or get the bare min­i­mum expe­ri­ence in the search for Spot’s miss­ing friend.

While Spot might be on a prod­uct place­ment-filled jour­ney, it’s a lush­ly drawn trip. Cool Spot is no slouch when it comes to the audio-visu­al depart­ment. The back­grounds are drawn with Spot mov­ing through an obvi­ous­ly human world at about 25 per­cent of the size of every­thing else. It isn’t big at all but the world sur­round­ing it is and it shows in the sheer scale, though my only gripe with the game comes here: The back­grounds, while beau­ti­ful, are recy­cled except for a few stages. At least the first three stages are repeat­ed and reused, just with new stage names and some recol­or­ing in spots.

While you’re soak­ing up the beau­ty of it all, how­ev­er, the sound­track is rock­ing in the back­ground. Cool Spot is one of the best sound­tracks for the Super Nin­ten­do and should be in every gamer’s library. Mag­nif­i­cent pro­duc­tion val­ues, crisp audio and nice, deep bass lines make for some inter­est­ing tracks that don’t sound like stan­dard 16-bit audio. Tom­my Tal­lari­co, pre-Video Games Live fame, put obvi­ous love and care into the audio and it shows. It’s one of the best sound­tracks for its time.

Cool Spot has a lot to offer in the way of good ’90s plat­form­ing. If you can work around the prod­uct place­ment and shilling for the 7Up brand, you’ll find an uncom­pli­cat­ed hop-and-bop with depth and a bang­ing sound­track that’s sur­pris­ing­ly refreshing.

1942 — 2Q2019 issue

Pacif­ic bat­tles fly in 8‑bit form

Capcom’s warfight­ing 1940 series reminds me of the good times when arcade gam­ing ruled my week­ends and I was for­tu­nate to find some rare gems that lat­er became gam­ing clas­sics. Dur­ing that time, I played 1942 in the arcade and on the NES and walked away from this expe­ri­ence with some valu­able infor­ma­tion: 1. The first game in a series may or may not guar­an­tee future suc­cess; and, 2. The cre­ators of some of our favorite games had to cut their teeth on low-tier games before they received the big breaks that made them what they are today. One of those games is 1942.

1942 is a ver­ti­cal-scrolling shoot­er that takes place on the Pacif­ic front of World War II. You take con­trol of a P‑38 Light­ning plane assigned to go to Tokyo and destroy the Impe­r­i­al Air Force fleet.

Game­play of 1942 is sim­ple: You can move either ver­ti­cal­ly or hor­i­zon­tal­ly. Con­sist­ing of 32 stages, the P‑38 will be chal­lenged by Ki-61s, A6M Zeros, and Ki-48s with a long-range bomber known as G8N as lev­el boss­es. To give the P‑38 Light­ning a fight­ing chance against these planes, it can do air rolls or ver­ti­cal loops. If you time your attacks right, some planes will drop upgrad­ed fire­pow­er or an escort team of two small­er fight­er planes to com­bat the relent­less assault from planes that WILL attempt to knock you out of the skies, espe­cial­ly if you’re just tak­ing off from your air­craft carrier.

While I liked 1942, there are some issues that annoyed me. Tim­ing of move­ments, includ­ing the ver­ti­cal drops and air rolls, must be pre­cise because of the high chance of being shot down by ene­my planes. Also, you must watch for attack­ing planes in front and behind as the Ki-48s are mas­ter­ful at get­ting the unsus­pect­ed into close-area shootouts, which will reduce the num­ber of lives quickly.

The music qual­i­ty of 1942 is an acquired taste as the repeat­ed use of a snare drum made me think that Cap­com phoned in a lack­lus­ter drum beat, which made me turn the vol­ume down to con­tin­ue play­ing. The chal­lenge is decent since you will be on your toes to avoid ene­my fire non­stop. It has strong replay val­ue and would be a great time-killer as a nos­tal­gia trip for arcade vet­er­ans. Also, it’s a great exam­ple for those who want to know how side-scrolling games played a major impact in the gam­ing world.

1942 serves not only as an icon in gaming’s hall of fame but also dou­bles as one of Capcom’s entries into the gam­ing world. It helps that 1942 was the start of look­ing at Cap­com as an up-and-com­ing game com­pa­ny want­i­ng to expand beyond its home of Osa­ka, Japan.

Fun facts:

    • The P‑38, Ki-61, A6M and Ki-48 were actu­al war planes used heav­i­ly in the Pacif­ic Con­flict between the U.S. and Japan. The com­pa­nies who built them — Lock­heed Mar­tin, Kawasa­ki, and Mit­subishi — are well-estab­lished in the defense indus­try and con­tin­ue to play vital roles in var­i­ous areas of aero­space technology.
    • 1942 was Yoshi­ki Okamoto’s debut game for Cap­com. He was also the orig­i­nal game design­er of Konami’s Gyruss. Because of inter­nal dis­putes involv­ing pay, he was fired from Kon­a­mi. After 1942’s suc­cess, Okamo­to remained at Cap­com where he played an impor­tant role in pro­duc­ing Final Fight, Street Fight­er II and Biohazard/Resident Evil. He retired from game devel­op­ment for con­soles in 2012 and is cur­rent­ly devel­op­ing games for var­i­ous mobile devices.

Balloon Fight — 1Q2017 issue

Fruit­less bal­loon showdowns

The best thing I can pos­si­bly say about Bal­loon Fight is that it’s inno­v­a­tive for its con­cepts at the time. Oth­er than that, this isn’t a game I’d rec­om­mend to any­one beyond the age of 10 and even that’s push­ing it.

The premise is sim­ple: You play as the “Bal­loon Fight­er,” who is tasked with stay­ing alive and defeat­ing ene­mies in increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult stages. Two bal­loons are attached to the Fight­er and to the ene­mies, and the Fight­er must pop their bal­loons while avoid­ing his own being popped and oth­er obsta­cles such as a large piran­ha, water and light­ning strikes. The Bal­loon Fight­er is fair­ly stout and stur­dy, see­ing as though he can take a lot of bump­ing and push­ing, but if he los­es his bal­loons, it’s a lost life. There are bonus games and a dif­fer­ent mode, Bal­loon Trip, that takes the Fight­er through an obsta­cle course to improve your rank and score. 

This is all fine and well, but the con­trols turn what should be a fun and sim­ple game into a night­mare and a chore to actu­al­ly con­trol. The Fight­er flaps his arms to stay afloat and even with both bal­loons still present, this is extra hard to do and main­tain. More often than not, I don’t lose bal­loons because an ene­my popped them; it’s because I land­ed in the water, was eat­en by the large fish or steered myself unwit­ting­ly into the light­ning I was des­per­ate­ly try­ing to avoid. Pre­ci­sion fly­ing this is not. To get a sense of what it’s like to con­trol the Fight­er, imag­ine if the hor­ri­ble Ice Climbers were fly­ing instead of jump­ing ter­ri­bly up a mountain. 

And while the game is bare­ly playable, the sound­track also man­ages to squeak by in pre­sen­ta­tion. It is a sad day when I declare that a sound­track from Metroid sound direc­tor Hip Tana­ka is irre­deemable. There is noth­ing that makes me want to lis­ten to this, and near­ly every­thing that Tana­ka has cre­at­ed gets high marks from me. The songs aren’t mem­o­rable, there are few songs there any­way, and the lack of var­ied sound effects is dis­con­cert­ing. Add the sound­track woes to an under­whelm­ing graph­i­cal palette and the game over­all is a mess.

Despite the pedi­gree of folks who worked on the game (i.e. Shigeru Miyamo­to as pro­duc­er, Metroid designer/director Yoshio Sakamo­to and Tana­ka), Bal­loon Fight couldn’t be fur­ther away from the qual­i­ty of Nin­ten­do clas­sics I want to play. Bal­loon Fight is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an old­er era of games that required a Her­culean amount of patience, which I am not pre­pared to give in this day and age where bet­ter games are available.

Bust-A-Move — 1Q2017 issue

Puz­zle Bob­ble’s break­out hit

Bub­ble Bob­ble isn’t super famous last I checked, but I learned who Bub and Bob were by the time I fin­ished their first puz­zle effort for the Super NES, the mid-90s appro­pri­ate­ly named Bust-A-Move. 

There’s much fun and mirth to be had in the bub­ble-pop­ping title. There’s not much sto­ry oth­er than Bub and Bob are pop­ping bub­bles to save a friend, who is trapped at the end (lev­el 100). Once their friend is saved, that’s it. But, that’s assum­ing you can make it that far. 

Bust-A-Move is incred­i­bly sim­ple to play but hard to mas­ter. The con­cept is easy to under­stand: aim a launch­er and match three like-col­ored bub­bles. The bub­bles will fall off the play­ing field, clear­ing space and rows so that you can work toward clear­ing fur­ther bub­bles. After a cer­tain num­ber are cleared, the ceil­ing of the well low­ers, inch­ing clos­er to a vis­i­ble line. Once the line is crossed with a bub­ble, the game is over. Basi­cal­ly, it’s reverse Tetris with bub­bles instead of lines. The trick­i­ness in mas­ter­ing the game comes in pop­ping the bub­bles. There are dif­fer­ent tech­niques to achiev­ing the results that you want, but it real­ly comes down to know­ing how to aim and learn­ing the fabled bankshot off the side of the well.

With its sim­plic­i­ty in learn­ing, Bust-A-Move quick­ly dis­tin­guish­es itself as fun to play. I request­ed the game for my 14th birth­day, and I’ve had a blast play­ing the orig­i­nal since. There are oth­er games in the series, but this one is the best out of all of the sequels and spin­offs of the series. The con­trols aren’t too stiff, though some­times I have com­plaints about the par­tic­u­lar way a bub­ble bounces or sticks a lit­tle too eas­i­ly to the first bub­ble it comes close to. Yet, the con­trols aren’t horrible. 

The sim­ple theme also shows in the graph­ics. Bust-A-Move is one of the bright­est and cutest games I’ve ever played. The col­ors pop and while you’re using col­ored bub­bles, they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly inter­fere with the back­ground graph­ics, which could make for a con­fus­ing play field.

Bust-A-Move also gets a nod for its atten­tion paid to oth­er modes such as Chal­lenge and the two-play­er bub­ble pop­ping. Chal­lenge is fun and a good test of skills: You’re tasked with pop­ping as many bub­bles as you can before it’s game over. It’s hard to pop a lot if you’re new to the game, but as your skills progress, you can and will see a dif­fer­ence in how long you man­age to last. The two-play­er mode is fun also, because you can either play against the com­put­er or against anoth­er human play­er. Any game that gives me the option to play two-play­er against the com­put­er auto­mat­i­cal­ly gets a nod because that injects longevi­ty into a title immediately.

There’s a decent amount of depth to Bust-A-Move and it cer­tain­ly makes for an inter­est­ing puz­zle dis­trac­tion on the SNES. It’s worth explor­ing the bub­ble-pop­ping world with the orig­i­nal bub­ble eliminator.

Magical Tetris Challenge — 1Q2017 issue

When Tetris and Dis­ney col­lide

Mess­ing with an old and uni­ver­sal­ly loved favorite such as Tetris is a risky propo­si­tion. You can get it right or mess it up hor­ri­bly, where it is for­ev­er known as the “messed up ver­sion of Tetris.” Luck­i­ly, Mag­i­cal Tetris Chal­lenge by Cap­com man­ages to dodge that label and add a few ele­ments to the main game to refresh an old­er title.

Mag­i­cal Tetris is, at its core, a fun game with lots of charm to spread around. There are mul­ti­ple modes to choose from and the vari­ety helps the replay fac­tor long after the nov­el­ty of com­bo­ing wears off. The sto­ry mode is the oth­er mode most played at GI, and is based off the new Mag­i­cal Tetris mode. While I’m not fond of the cliffhang­er by dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el method, the sto­ry is ser­vice­able and moves the action for­ward with a nice added Dis­ney touch. Main­stays such as Mick­ey, Min­nie, Don­ald and Goofy fill out the cast, though you can only play as these four.

Mag­i­cal Tetris earns its bread and but­ter in the way it builds on the Tetris for­mu­la. With Tetris in the name and designed to appeal to a mass audi­ence using that, Mag­i­cal Tetris starts out with the basics: Cre­ate and clear lines using sev­en let­ter-shaped pieces. Clear four lines and you get a Tetris.

Ah, but here­in lies the addi­tions to Mag­i­cal Tetris and where the basics end and advanced play begins: For every line cleared, a small amount of ener­gy is added to a mag­ic meter. Fill up the mag­ic meter and you get what we’ve termed at GI as a break­down: All pieces restruc­ture to cre­ate a neat space and a large por­tion of the well where your pieces fall is wiped clean. Also, clear­ing lines cre­ates com­bos, which can be coun­tered until a piece is shaped 10 by 10. Com­bos and coun­ters cre­ates a back and forth, dur­ing which odd­ly shaped pieces are cre­at­ed and fall into the play field. By set­ting up the pieces in a decent shape in your well, you can achieve what is called a pen­tris, or five lines cleared
simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.

Com­bo­ing and coun­ter­ing makes the game­play fun and adds an increas­ing lev­el of com­pet­i­tive­ness and urgency to every match. Even if you’re not the most Tetris-com­pe­tent gamer, Mag­i­cal Tetris does an excel­lent job invit­ing all skill lev­els in to learn and get bet­ter. The basics are quick­ly explained and the advanced tech­niques are made plain as you go along. That helps in the fran­tic atmos­phere of a spir­it­ed two-play­er human match, where any­thing and usu­al­ly every­thing can happen.

The game shines in its visu­als, which ben­e­fit from that Dis­ney touch. The game is bright and col­or­ful and designed in the way of Dis­ney games and ani­ma­tion, mean­ing it’s top-notch through and through. The graph­ics are still good for an N64-era game and haven’t aged bad­ly. The sound­track has aged well, too, and is still one of the best of the era. Each character’s stage is mem­o­rably themed and stands out enough for you to remem­ber it well after your game is over.
Hav­ing played the major­i­ty of the Tetris spin­offs and cre­ations out on the mar­ket for the past 30 years, I need to have some­thing that push­es me to play. Mag­i­cal Tetris suc­ceeds in adding to the Tetris for­mu­la just enough to buy its way in to my library and stick around through charm and abil­i­ty. This is an excel­lent Tetris spin job.