The Console Wars: Aladdin Vs… Aladdin?

Forget the current resolution wars between PS4 and Xbox One. This intellectual property added fire to the already-brutal console wars fire of the 90’s. I remember having brutal teenage arguments with friends, unjustifiably defending my choice (SNES) even though I’d never played a second of the Mega Drive version at that time. I was a bit of a SNES fanboy. I won’t deny it.

Having since experienced both from start to finish, is there an actual definitive answer? Let’s see which one truly is the diamond in the rough. (Sorry not sorry).

Aladdin (SNES)

aladdinsnes1First of all, both versions of Aladdin for the SNES and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis were published and developed independently. The former by Capcom, due to its Disney licensing rights with Nintendo at the time. It is a simple, enjoyable although not-so-challenging 2D side-scrolling platformer. It does however boast some of the crispest visuals to ever appear on the platform, accompanied with a great, faithful soundtrack.

Although not the longest of games, every level plays out at pretty breakneck pace. As Aladdin you vault from posts in the ground and swing from those stuck out of walls, Prince of Persia-style. Capcom implemented the Super Mario method of bad guy disposal: jumping on them. Such disposals are integrated into the paths you take, creating an often seamless journey through the streets of Agrobah and beyond.

Capcom’s Aladdin was the first hit game of designer Shinji Mikami, of future Resident Evil/Vanquish/Evil Within fame. It is indeed the level design that is Aladdin’s greatest attribute. The traversing of obstacles flow effortlessly when negotiated with the desired precision. It’s a game to perfect as well as conquer, with the charm and essence of the movie all wrapped up in a nice few hours of entertainment.

Aladdin (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

The Sega version of Aladdin was published and developed by Sega and Virgin Games respectively. Sega’s licensing gave them something Capcom didn’t – Disney animators. Yes, Disney actually animated this game. So naturally, the character sprites looked ripped right out of the movie, and are superbly animated.

But not just the visuals were different; Aladdin was given a sword, and jumping on enemies just caused you harm – cue a more recent Prince of Persia homage with its basic swordplay. For those enemies further away, collected apples become an essential secondary attack, which adds an extra dimension to the very few boss fights.

RugridealaddinAfter the first couple of levels the fun factor soon transitions into massive frustration and annoyance. The learning curve steeply rises about halfway through. The ‘Rug Ride’ level was nearly as frustrating and life-sapping as the infamous Battletoads bike level.

Comparing the Genie levels of both editions, this one is just a mess in level design, and at times too difficult to be tolerable. Catching, holding and jumping between several balloons with instant death should you miss just feels so unnecessary. Who knew Robin Williams’ Genie was so malicious? Oh wait, he wasn’t, so why is he TRYING TO KILL ME?

Another soon-to-be-famous designer was responsible for this version: Dave Perry, of Earthworm Jim fame. You can definitely see the resemblances between the two. Unfortunately for Dave, I wasn’t a fan of Earthworm Jim mechanically either, despite both games’ success. It looks nice, though, I suppose.

References today

You have my view, but the debate still rages on between the two. As recently as February 2014, Polygon posted an interview with Shinji Mikami, who stated he preferred the animation of the Mega Drive version. He further complimented the game by saying he would have probably bought the Mega Drive version – if he hadn’t have made the SNES version of course.

Over on Twitter, someone declared their love for Aladdin on the Mega Drive to the @GAMEdigital handle, only for Game to re-tweet and add an image…..of the SNES version. It was later claiming it would be a ‘clearer’ image. Take that, Dave Perry.

Nintendo/Squaresoft Gems of a Generation

Before Square Enix there was Square Company. From its inception Square released 145 titles before its merger with Enix in 2003. Many of these games were released under a given ‘Squaresoft’ brand name, such as the ever-popular Final Fantasy VII for PS One, which was one of the west’s first taste of Squaresoft magic, which paved the way for world-wide RPG dominance. However this series, and other famous Square properties such as the Front Mission and the SaGa series all in fact began on Nintendo platforms, albeit mostly Japan-only releases.

Following Nintendo’s failed SNES-CD venture with Sony and then Phillips, and subsequent continuation with cartridge games with the N64, all these properties moved onto the Sony PlayStation. And, despite Final Fantasy VII being the most famous RPG of all time, and subsequent remakes for today’s platform, it’s often the SNES titles Squaresoft produced that remain firmly in our hearts.

The SNES has the best anthology of RPG’s, and in my opinion are still the most accessible to this day. The afore-mentioned series’ may well be the most recognised due to their ongoing adventures, but 2 in my mind stick out as the 16-bit generation’s best: Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana.

Potential spoilers, be warned.

Chrono Trigger

The superlatives for Chrono Trigger are never ending, echoed by many, with good reason. The brainchild of A-List creators Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy), Yuji Hori (Dragon Quest, from fierce rivals-come eventual partners Enix) and Akira Toriyama (DragonBall creator, and Dragon Quest artist), it’s incredible to think this game could even happen. It did, and it is a magnificent package. The SNES proved to be the platform that showcased both graphical power and fully conveyed stories and characters by their creators, and Chrono Trigger has both in spades.

You play Crono, a young boy whose chance meeting with a young woman named Marle at the local fair, leads to a series of time travel adventures. He makes friends while ripping back and forth through time, uncovering the plans of an evil force laid dormant for centuries.

Presented in typical top-down RPG view, Chrono Trigger at first seems like no more than a typical Final Fantasy affair, but it’s active time battles keep the action flowing perfectly, and none of the battles feel forced into, which Final Fantasy games can certainly be guilty of.

The heroes assembled throughout lead you through like any great fantasy novel; you connect with them and want them to win, not just because it’s the aim of the game. One such hero is Frog, who is (surprise), a frog. But, you just know from the first meeting there is something more going on, and you have to know. This is typical of all the hero contingent, and it’s what separate’s Chrono Trigger from the pack. Chrono Trigger’s further uniqueness from other RPG’s of this nature stems from its time trial plot device; there are no less than 13 different endings possible in this game, and a typical run through is around 20-30 hours, unlike similar RPG’s that can clock in double that easily. It’s not very often that JRPG’s warrant a replay, but Chrono Trigger does exactly that. It has been re-mastered and re-released numerous times, but never strayed away from its 2D blueprint. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?

Secret of Mana

Another Squaresoft classic, and is actually a sequel (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest for Game Boy being the original), Secret of Mana is a grand adventure. There is more of a Link to the Past feel to it, but with key JRPG elements being the backbone. The combat system is the best example of this; like Zelda, you are free to move, attacking enemies when you wish, however to land the heavier blows you must allow your weapon gauge to recharge 100% first.secret-of-mana_3

You control any one of 3 three characters; Randi, the main protagonist and holder of the Mana Sword), Primm, a princess on the run from an arranged marriage) and Popoi, a ‘Sprite’ who has no memories of his past, so joins the quest to seek them. The quest is almost Zelda-like; the Mana Sword must be re-energized by acquiring the power of the 8 Mana Seeds. Compared to Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana is indeed much more clichéd and simpler in its story. But its unique mixture of real-time battles, epic bosses, excellent use of the Mode 7 graphic technique, and seamless flow to the adventure make it near flawless. Additional to this is the intuitive and superb Ring Command menu system; options such as equip, using items, etc. appear in a circle around your controlled character, leaving you to simply access the desired options without the arduous, multi-layered menu system JRPG’s often have.

Both Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana have been released for touch screen mobile platform in recent years, and even with the initial bedding in process of touch-screen joysticks, little of the magic is lost, 20 years on from their inception. Although of the same genre, they are different adventures in so many ways, and easily 2 of the best RPG’s of all time. They are also 2 of the most treasured items to own for retro-collectors, easily fetching over £100 each if boxed. If you haven’t experienced either, I suggest you do. Prepare to be dazzled.

Super Metroid – The Perfect Video Game?

That’s the ultimate goal isn’t it? To create the perfect video game. Very few video games are considered as such, and even then it is of course only opinion. There is no fact in a critic’s verdict, whether it’s print/online. People often forget that, and it is of course the same for you; we’re all critics after all. But there is the matter of consistency to take into account, which is where one of my ‘perfect’ game choices gets a unanimously positive critique/public view: Super Metroid. For those that have played through Yoshio Sakamoto’s action/sci-fi magnum opus, I may be wasting my words on you; but I’m confident you’ll read on to either nod/shake your head at this ‘critic’.

supermetroidSuper Metroid is as perfect as a video game can be. With its super sci-fi intro, a dark atmospheric tone is set from the get-go. This never dissipates but, even more impressively, increases or decreases depending on the location/situation. The elevator ride down to Ridley’s lair is a prime example; I don’t think a 16-bit videogame had ever given me goosebumps before. The crisp, fluent visuals complement the soundtrack perfectly, and of course vice versa, the soundtrack often giving the perfect nod of anticipation for the next section. A great example of this is the descent into Brinstar; it fades in superbly, and sets the tone for the action packed section up ahead.

Then there is the learning curve; which is seamless in its execution. It’s no different to previous games in the series in that you start with a simple blaster, but the aforementioned visuals and power of the SNES not only leaves enough subtle hints, but also develops the mind-set that success is dependent upon. Add to that the perfect pacing, an average play through of roughly 10 hours first time around, which might not sound like much, but like many a Nintendo classic, it’s highly likely you’ll return for at least a second run through. Add icing to the cake in the form of one of the best and most memorable video game endings ever, and you have an instant classic.

Now I’m sure you’ve heard all this before, in some form or another. But I believe Super Metroid is not a perfect video game just for its vision, production and execution, but more than that. Back in 1994 when it was originally released, I was 13 years old. Video Games were already a big part of my life, and had been for 8 years, and games such as Super Metroid only served as a positive aid to my lateral thinking, evaluation, puzzle solving, and general acumen.

Over 20 years on, it not only stands the test of time, but has indeed got better with age. Super Metroid is not just technically brilliant, but still technically brilliant, even to this day. And with the beauty of virtual console, it is already being passed on to further generations. That, for me, is perfection.

My 52 Game Challenge of 2014

2014 was a great year for gaming. Particularly for me, as I decided to undertake the ultimate lonely gamer task: complete 52 games in a calendar year. That works out at just shy of 4.5 games a month. Ouch.

Now I’m typically a gamer who starts many games, but takes forever to finish them. Save points are often my weak point in that I often to decide to call it quits once I reach one. Note to RPG makers: NO MORE SAVE POINTS, autosave all the way please.

Anyway, although late one, I completed the challenge. A simple feat for a lonely gamer such as myself, if I’d not started it in June! Yes, that’s 52 games completed in 6 months. And here they are:-

Xbox Live Arcade:-

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Streets of Rage 2

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade

Streets of Rage 3

TMNT: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled

Street Fighter III Third Strike

Final Fight

X-Men

Sonic Adventure 2

The Walking Dead Season 2

King of Fighters ’98

 

Xbox 360:-

Lego Batman 2

PES 2015 (Champions League)

 

PSN – Duck Tales Remastered

 

3DS:-

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Sega 3D Classics: Sonic The Hedgehog

Sega 3D Classics: Shinobi III

Kirby Triple Deluxe

Fantasy Life

Super Mario 3D Land

 

Wii U:-

Super Mario 3D World

Mario Kart 8 (Special Cup)

Bayonetta 2

 

Wii – Kirby’s Epic Yarn

 

Gamecube – Capcom Vs. SNK 2

 

Nintendo 64 – Lylat Wars

 

Gameboy:-

TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan

Kirby’s Dream Land

Super Mario Land

Super Mario Bros Deluxe

Donkey Kong Land

 

SNES:-

TMNT: Turtles in Time

Mickey’s Magical Quest

Final Fight 2

Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium

The Great Circus Mystery Starring Mick and Minnie Mouse

Aladdin

Super Castlevania IV

Street Fighter Alpha 2

Castlevania: Dracula X

Starwing

Donkey Kong Country

 

Mega Drive/Genesis – TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist

 

Master System – Sonic The Hedgehog

 

NES:-

TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project

Castlevania

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Where’s Waldo?

Super Mario Bros 2

Duck Tales 2

 

Turbografix – Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

 

Arcade – Sunset Riders

 

Particular highlights from this list have been many, but the standouts are Kirby’s Epic Yarn, A Link Between Worlds, 3D World, Fantasy Life and Bayonetta 2. LOVE THAT GAME. Not many particularly lengthy titles I know, with Fantasy Life probably the longest, but there were some tough cookies, the standout being Castlevania’s III and Dracula X. But that was the beauty of the challenge; it drove me on to finish even those difficult titles, in order to move onto the next one.

I shall once again be undertaking the challenge in 2015, in fact, if I get to 52 in 6 months again, I may well go for ANOTHER 52! I shall keep you all updated on here, plus I shall Instagram and Tweet each game as I finish them.

How about you, are you up for the challenge?

Review – Pac-Man Museum (Xbox 360)

Pac-man-museum-4-620x348

I have a confession. I’m rubbish at the original Pac-Man, and always have been. But it’s a damn addictive game. While most gamers and even non-gamers will have sampled the original at some point in its now 34 years of existence, all would surely agree that Pac Man is one of the most iconic and recognised video games (and characters) ever developed. So iconic in fact, that Pac-Man has undergone many evolutions over the years, from variations of the original formula to a side scrolling platformer. So, for no anniversary whatsoever, Bandai Namco has repackaged 9 (+ 1 DLC) of these classics for old and new generations to explore and enjoy.

The Good

Starting with Pac-Man (1980), the original pellet-guzzler is timeless, but for those who have never sampled it, the premise is simple: Collect all the yellow dots whilst avoiding contact with the ghosts. The 4 bigger pellets turn the tables, turning the ghosts blue, and becoming additional Pac-Man fodder for grabs. Classic arcade stuff and very challenging to boot, it’s inclusion in the museum is a given, although the fact it had been available through XBLA as a standalone title for 8 years surely means many will already have this in their catalogue.

Pac-Mania (1987): Definitely one of the better titles in this compilation, Pac-Mania was the most refreshing take on the original to date; essentially the original with an isometric 3D viewpoint, but with the added ability for Pac-Man to jump. To keep that from destroying the difficulty curve altogether is the more close-up view of the area, meaning searching for those last pellets can prove elusive.

Pac-Man Arrangement (1996) is a decent stab again at the core Pac-Man ‘genre’, but with a fake 3D stage view, and a horrendous colour palette. All is forgiven with its revisit to the core gameplay that reminds you of the original for the right reasons.

Pac-Man Championship Edition (1997) is not a Pac-Man Street Fighter game, despite the title, but is by far and away the best Pac-Man game in this compilation. Pac-Man core values with score-attack principles set upon neon-lit but familiar stages makes for fantastically addictive fun, and delivers that true ‘one more go’ factor. The problem is, XBLA already has a superior ‘DX’ version since 2010 that most Pac-fans, like me, already own.

Pac-man-museum-Pac-LandPac-Man Battle-Royale (2011) is arguably the most original Pac-title, and one of the most fun. The ghosts are just a side-obstacle here as you put yourself in the typical mazes against…. other Pac-Men! The super pellets increase your size and speed to try and eat your opponent, or otherwise push them into the ever-present ghosts. It’s a bore on your own, but with online-only multiplayer (wut?), I don’t think I’ve had as much simple multiplayer fun as the original Bomberman.

The Bad

Pac-man-museum-3Super Pac-Man (1982) and Pac & Pal (1983) are close to the original, but the goal is to collect keys and unlock gates as opposed to eating pellets. The ‘pal’ in Pac & Pal is Miru, who helps you collect the required items on each level in order to progress. However this introduction only serves to make the Pac-Man experience more confusing and even less fun. Plus having to keep an eye on an A.I. Miru and yourself becomes tiresome very quickly.

Pac-Land (1984): The Pac-Land main theme is one that is embedded in my brain from visiting arcades all through my childhood and teenage years. This side-scrolling platformer was a major new venture for Namco’s titular character, and was certainly my most anticipated title to play from the museum. But from just completing the first stage, my childhood memories were shattered, only to reveal a platformer so devoid of any fun, meaning, with ridiculously unfair physics that make any Mega Man game seem like a walk in the park.

The Ugly

Pac-Attack (1993): This horrific Tetris/Dr. Mario rip-off is just very, very dull, which a steep learning-curve from the get go that will put most off after a few minutes.

Pan-Man-Museum-1-300x169The ‘Museum’ is a pretty standard affair, allowing you to choose from the games on offer, the list of achievements, etc. Each museum title can earn you up to 8 stamps for achieving the required goal(s), which range from the simple (beat the first level) to the obscene (score 300,000 in Pac-Man). Other than that, I feel a massive opportunity has been missed; if this is indeed a museum, where are the history details? Instead, all there is in addition to the menus and the games is a rather bizarre first person view into a room where unlocked characters (via stamps) can be viewed in some kind of holding cell. Very bizarre.

So, as compilations go, Pac-Man Museum is pretty good, but is a release that, bar Battle-Royale, would have been more relevant 5 years ago. The fact that most fans will most likely already have the original and the Championship Edition DX games through the same service for some time will find the £16 price tag a total turn off. Make no mistake though; there is a lot to enjoy here, whether you have done before or not.

Originally published here