Retroreflection #4 – Foray Into Football’s Arsenal (FIFA)

Football: it’s a funny old game, a game of 2 halves, and many other obligatory clichés that lead us to question the IQ of the football world at times. But at the end of the day football is fun, or should be, and there have indeed been some frankly fabulous fun football games (try saying that three times fast) from years and gaming generations past. 

 

Before the original FIFA Soccer for Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, there were little if no football simulations to speak of; most were arcade interpretations of the world’s most popular sport. The SNES never truly had a great football sim until Konami’s International Superstar Soccer came along. The port of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis FIFA was weak and frankly didn’t fit in the catalogue, which is a fair reflection on all of EA Sports’ simulations for Nintendo’s 16 bit beast. But of these arcade efforts were a few fun gems, and that’s why this edition of Retroreflection is doing what many nostalgic football fans do: look to the glories of the past.

Fever Pitch Soccer (SNES/Mega Drive/Atari Jaguar)

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Unlike today’s FIFA/PES same old year-in-year-out efforts, Fever Pitch is a much simpler affair; just switch on and enjoy 1-2 hours of pure fun.

Fever Pitch is hardly a simulation, but ironically simulation itself is one of the many ‘skills’ on offer in what is a superbly slapstick football/soccer video game. Your team is made up of rough and ready ragamuffins, each with a dirty skill (diver, banana shot, fireball shot) that can (or will) be use, as desired with the touch of a single button, to win at all costs. In practice it makes for some frankly ridiculous scores on the board, but you’d be too busy laughing at players diving all over the place to even notice.

It may now be well over 20 years old, for me it is still a great example that football video games shouldn’t have to take themselves so seriously. As the saying goes, its a funny old game, and if nothing else, Fever Pitch Soccer achieves that perfectly.

Football Manager (PC/Mobile/Nintendo Switch)

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Wrecker of relationships, destroyer of social lives, all for the chance to live the dream: to see your team win, all achieved by your hand and yours alone. I’ve known girlfriends be bribed with presents just to secure a day of play on Football Manager. A somewhat unimpressive feat for sure, but not to a Football Manager player.

Forget all the depth, the fact you can train each single player individually how you wish, manage any team in almost any league imaginable, do the unthinkable (yes, even Spurs winning the Premier League).

Football Manager takes itself as seriously as you desire, leaving it open for the most dedicated of football managers, or for those who prefer to keep it simple. Not many video games can lay that gauntlet down and succeed. I am a semi-retired Football Manager Player myself, but it is a series so consistent that I would easily be able to jump back in any year if I so wished. Maybe just one more month before bed won’t hurt. What’s the worst that could happen?

Sensible World of Soccer (PC/Xbox Live)

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Holy hell I lost a lot of my youth on this game. Perfectly balancing the core features of football management with arcade football only the 90’s could provide, Sensible World of Soccer was/is indeed the best of both worlds; either manage a team, train and buy players and watch the games, or same again but play out the outcome. Using the old-school up and down pitch view, the football on offer is fast and fun, and while it will never compete with FIFA for realistic gameplay or Football Manager’s exhaustive stat-heaven, the beauty of it is that it doesn’t need to.

Despite being released in 1994, patches are still being released for PC for the latest Premier League squads, which is a testament to the games legacy as quite possibly the most fun football game in existence. No sequel could improve SWOS. Still available on Xbox Live also, enhanced in HD goodness, it’s a bargain at under a tenner. And although it is the last game in the series in almost 10 years, it’s still top of the league, and any football fan would be mad not to check it out.

How about you – outside of FIFA/PES, what football games are close to your hearts?

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 5)

Join me as i rundown the games for the Super Nes Mini console.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

Parts 1-4 covered the 16 games available in all regions worldwide. This edition will cover the 5 Western exclusives. Children vs aliens, boxing, street fighting (wink wink), horror, even golf (of a sort). Talk about variety, eh?

Western Releases (17-21):-

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Earthbound

Developer: HAL Laboratory

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 0.44 Million (Unconfirmed)

My experience with Earthbound is limited. It was never released in the UK until 2013, so that’s my excuse. Oh wait, 4 years already? Jeez. Time does fly when you have too many games to play.

Earthbound (or Mother 2 in its native Japan) is the story of Ness, a young boy whose merry band need to save the world from impending doom. Sounds simple? Well, for the most part it is, but there is something wonderfully left-field about Shigesato Itoi’s RPG.

The world needs saving, and Ness, armed with baseball bats, slingshots and yo-yo’s, is an unlikely hero, but one that can be related to. He eats burgers to regain health, catches colds easily and also gets homesick rather easily. Just like any 13 year old, right?

Such RPG nuances must have felt too much for Nintendo to release into Europe back in 1995. It wasn’t the only RPG to miss the European cut of course. But given it sold less than a million copies Nintendo clearly heeded on the sign of caution with Earthbound.

But for me, and with the progress i have made so far, its those aforementioned nuances that make it stand out. RPG’s don’t get more niche than this. And the SNES Mini gives Earthbound a new home it deserves.

 

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Kirby’s Dream Course

Developer: HAL Laboratory

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 0.59 Million (Unconfirmed)

Kirby’s Dream Course is a Kirby game in the loosest way. In Japan it is entitled Kirby Bowl, which for what is ostensibly a golf sim adds to the identity crisis Dream Course suffers from.

Visually it is akin to the isometric Sonic 3D on the Genesis; bumps, hills and obstacles make up the multiple Dream Land golfing landscapes. And like its visuals, that Kirby style is also successfully transitioned into a golf game.

With just 21 games to place on a SNES tribute console – one already lacking in decent sports titles – why this?! The inclusion of this isometric miniature golf sim is a strange one. Kirby is of course one of Nintendo’s top characters. No doubt redeveloping the once-named Special Tee Shot to represent the world of Kirby will have boosted sales. It’s by no means a bad game by any stretch, it looks and feels a little out of place on the SNES Mini.

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Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Original Sales: 4.10 Million

Capcom’s definitive 16-bit fighter is a true gem of the genre. The twelve most recognisable fighters in the world take each other on in The World Warrior tournament. Your chosen fighter has his/her own reasons, but all want to be the best. Which is what Street Fighter II Turbo is: The best. Some may say it is one of the best fighting games ever made. Even some say the best. But one thing is for certain: it is definitely among the best the SNES has to offer.

Sure, if you were to judge SFII Turbo against the test of time it has been surpassed repeatedly. Mostly at the hands of its own maker, Capcom. But if nothing else it serves as a perfect nostalgia trip. With the SNES Mini ROM running as the US 60Hz version, something that was often but a dream in the PAL regions of yesteryear, plus the added ‘turbo’ adjustable speed, it still serves as one of the purest one-on-one fighters in existence.

As a package however, i would have preferred to see Super Street Fighter II, which is on the Japanese release. It is also a fighter that has been previously made available via eShop. But nonetheless, Street Fighter II Turbo is still up there with the best the SNES has to offer for a fighting fix.

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Super Castlevania IV

Developer: Konami

Publisher: Konami

Original Sales: 0.50 Million (Unconfirmed)

First off, i need to proclaim that I’ve never been on the Super Castlevania IV bandwagon. It is critically acclaimed, but i find it dull, slow and simply annoying to play. Its a series that was yet to find it’s identity until Symphony of the Night 5 years later. But while it’s a title that simply isn’t for me, it does have endearing qualities that have stood the test of time.

Firstly, it is one of the few adult-themed games for the SNES. It’s distinct horror setting captures the doom and gloom in particularly detailed fashion; vines on railings in the background and the haunting shipwreck of stage 2 are still impressive. The use of Mode 7 also adds a level of disorientation to the already-increasing difficulty. The soundtrack is also excellent.

Super Castlevania IV is no pick-up-and-play retro paradise. It ranks among both Super Ghouls & Ghosts and Contra III in terms of difficulty, possibly even a level above that. It will take many a play-through to master the pixel-perfect requirement for both jumping and attacking – 2 of the games most basic and common actions. It’s a deliberately rigid and unforgiving experience that only applies to the hardcore.

 

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Super Punch Out!

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: Unknown

Finally, a sports sim! And yet, not a true one. Like many a NES to SNES sequel, the goal was refinement, not reinvention or revolution. And Super Punch Out! is a perfect example of that.

Your fighter is the average Joe going up against a series of increasingly ridiculous opponents. Each of which requires their pattern or style to be discovered in order to lay some serious smackdown yourself. It’s a simple formula that gets increasingly difficult and ridiculous as it progresses. Beating all four circuits is a bit of a challenge, and once that’s done it’s a case of breaking your own records and honing your timing skills even further.

It may be title that’s a little lost in time by today’s standards but Super Punch Out! is heaps of fun. It’s a shame it isn’t supported by any other sports titles on the SNES Mini, but is a welcome addition nonetheless.

Now we’ve seen what the east is missing, the next (and final) part will look at the Japan-exclusive titles to see what we’re missing out on.

Previous entries: One Two Three Four

 

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 4)

Join me as i rundown the games for the Super Nes Mini console.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

The Locked 16 (13-16):-

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Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Developer: Square

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 2.14 Million

Super Mario RPG is a dream collaboration between 2 giants of the SNES era. Square, kings of the JRPG throughout the SNES’ lifetime, developing Nintendo’s hottest property, Super Mario himself. But this is no typical Mario title; it is a fully-fledged JRPG starring the Mushroom Kingdom’s favourite plumber. It is also another title that got away from Europe during the 90’s.

supermariorpgAt first glance it’s more a case of Super Mario Out-of-His-Comfort-Zone; JRPG turn-based battles, an isometric 3D viewpoint, even full dialogue. It looks and feels more like a subversive dream to begin with. But after just the introduction alone any fears are quickly extinguished. The isometric view allows the Mushroom Kingdom to be given life never seen previously. A world inhabited by Yoshi’s, fish, moles and many other creatures and surroundings. There is tons to discover in such a massive world, but none of it is a chore. Even with Square’s much-maligned random battles interrupting proceedings.

The real charm and appeal comes from the volume of various amusing scenarios, accompanied by cameos and multiple in-jokes throughout. There are many platform-based secrets to find, cleverly incorporating the Mario element into a Square-developed world.

It’s incredible to think Super Mario RPG didn’t get a SNES release in Europe. Then again, it wasn’t the first JRPG to be withheld a release. As a result Super Mario RPG is one of the most anticipated games for the SNES mini. With this amount of creativity and humour added to the plumber-saves-princess formula, it is also one of the best.

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Super Mario World

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 20.61 Million

There isn’t really much left to say about Super Mario World. Given it was a console-bundled title, most if not all SNES players will have at least sampled its greatness.

Super Mario World is often considered the greatest of the 2-dimensional Mario games. But lets be honest, you could pick pretty much any of them as a favourite and all have their justifications. But what is probably most impressive about Super Mario World is that while it was the console’s first ever release, it is as good as game as any released in the SNES’ 13-year lifespan.

super-mario-worldDinosaur Land is a vibrant, colourful continent throughout all of it’s seven worlds. And while Super Mario was 6 years away from venturing into 3D, an extra dimension to the Mario series comes in the form of now-iconic Nintendo character, Yoshi the dinosaur. He can crush enemies Mario cannot, swallow enemies to use against others, even become a platform for Mario to vault to otherwise inaccessible areas.

Regardless of your favourite Super Mario choice, everything about Super Mario World is simply iconic. It may not be the first choice when you power up your SNES Mini, given it has been available on almost every Nintendo platform in years gone by. But it is an essential addition to the collection.

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Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 4.12 Million

With Super Mario World, the introduction of Yoshi added an extra dimension to the Mario series. With this direct sequel, Nintendo added an entirely new dynamic to the series. A dynamic so significant it has gone on to become a spin-off series in its own right. Set as a prequel to the entire Mario series, Yoshi must escort a Baby Mario across 6 worlds in order to save his baby brother Luigi. It may be a Mario game, but Yoshi is now the star of the show.

Yoshi’s Island differs from the traditional Mario series in many ways, despite being just another platformer at its core. The egg ready-aim-fire mechanic is Yoshi’s main source of attacking and collecting. It gives Yoshi his own identity in the Mario ser- sorry, what is now the Yoshi’s Island series.

Super Mario World 2 Yoshis IslandBut it is the visuals that are Yoshi’s Island defining feature. Shigeru Miyamoto, showing his aversion to Donkey Kong Country’s pre-rendered graphics, opted instead for a hand-drawn style that is simply a feast for the eyes. The animation is crisp, fluid, and at times wonderfully fluorescent. Powered by the Super FX2 chip (the sequel), there are effects in both the foreground and background that were not previously possible.

Yoshi’s Island is up there with the most anticipated of the SNES Mini titles. This is the first re-release of the original SNES version. As faithful as the Game Boy Advance remake was, it fell behind somewhat in the sound department. But here the original soundtrack is back in it’s full glory, and serves as the cherry atop a very delicious, satisfying and colourful cake.

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Super Metroid

Developer: Nintendo + Intelligent Systems

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 1.42 Million

Yoshio Sakamoto’s sci-fi exploration platform shooter is one of the finest video games of all time. It is such an atmospheric, adept and amazing experience that unusually appealed more to the western market. Not that I’m complaining.

Super Metroid is the third title in the Metroid series, and follows on directly from the Game Boy’s Metroid II. Samus Aran ventures to Planet Zebes in order to save a kidnapped infant Metroid. Zebes is of course no theme park; it is the base of the Metroid’s kidnappers, the Space Pirates.

7521263c3098e556fa7634b4b4eaecaeThe Metroid formula quickly comes into play. Samus is drained of her robotic suits’ abilities and power. At this point, the open-ended tunnels of Zebes are ripe for exploration. And what a journey it is. The learning curve is attributed to the new abilities and health banks you unlock over time. Like the Legend of Zelda series, certain areas require a certain weapon/ability to progress. But as there are so many extra items to be found throughout, those abilities become essential for entirely different reasons.

For me, this is what makes Super Metroid so special as an adventure; you want to speed through it? It can be done in less than 3 hours. Want to collect everything? It will take a lot longer. Either way, Super Metroid is an essential experience.

You can read part one here, part two here and part three here.

That’s the locked 16 done and dusted. But don’t despair! The next part will cover the Western exclusive SNES Mini titles.

What are your favourite SNES Mini titles so far?

 

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 3)

Join me as i rundown the games for the Super Nes Mini console.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

The Locked 16 (9-12):-

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Star Fox

Developer: Nintendo + Argonaut Software

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 2.99 Million

Shigeru Miyamoto’s science-fiction third/first person rail shooter Star Fox heralded the birth of yet another successful Nintendo franchise.

The Star Fox series is famous for its animal crew of Fox McCloud, Slippy Toad, Perry Hare and Falco Lombardi. They fly together in the distinctively-shaped Arwing spacecraft across various missions to seek out the evil scientist Andross.

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Shooting down/avoiding enemy ships, robots and asteroids of various sizes has lost little of its charm in 24 years. Ok, maybe just a little. The use of the Super FX chip powers up Star Fox to the point of being overworked at times. Polygons wobble frequently and at times the frame rate crawls, which hinders aiming and avoiding oncoming obstacles.

The three map paths-to-completion do their best to very the difficulty whilst avoiding repetitiveness. The bosses get bigger, bolder and more bizarre; from simple spaceships to a two-headed big-bastard dragon. That fires eggs. Yep.

Most will probably devour the first stage at speed to unlock the previously-unreleased Star Fox 2, which is arguably the biggest draw for the console. More on that later, but Star Fox is still very much an enjoyable, if a little jerky, space adventure.

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Star Fox 2

Developer: Nintendo + Argonaut Software

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: N/A

It’s incredible to believe that a new SNES title has been released in 2017. Star Fox 2, originally intended for a SNES release but ultimately cancelled, is a sequel 25 years in the making.

Fox McCloud and the crew are back, along with some new friends, of which 2 make your pilot/wing-man team. Star Fox 2’s looks instantly familiar once the action starts, but the mission blueprint is of a different nature to the original. Andross is back, but instead of seeking him out on his home planet, he’s coming after Corneria. Your 2-man crew navigate a map screen with enemies moving as you move. Should your paths cross, for example an enemy ship, a battle is initiated. If you allow Corneria to amass 100% damage, it’s game over. If both your team members succumb to becoming space fodder, it’s game over. There are no extra lives here. It’s an inventive structure that expands on the linearity of the original.

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The cross-heir view from the originals’ asteroid levels require urgency but a little patience, given the sections get a little jerky at times. The more infiltration-driven missions transform your ship into what can only be described as a robotic chicken of sorts. These walker sections require the use of floor switches to obtain items and unlock the next area. Unfortunately they are also very thin in the challenge department.

Which leads to Star Fox 2’s biggest problem; it’s over almost as soon as it’s begun. It takes little over an hour to complete, with the only incentive to return being to try and improve on your completion grade. What Star Fox 2 lacks in challenge and intuitiveness is however made up a little by the fact you’re playing a modern piece of nostalgia. Yes that is very much a cliche, but i don’t care.

Star Fox 2 unleashed my inner child from start to finish. It may be a case of what might have been, but Star Fox 2 deserves the lease of life the SNES Mini has given it. Just don’t expect to be racking up more hours compared to other SNES Mini titles.

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Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 1.1 Million

So. Damn. Hard. If you asked me for 3 words to describe Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, they are all i could muster. Dark Souls is admired for its challenging and unforgiving nature, and the same can be said for this Capcom classic.

If you’ve never played Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts before, i wouldn’t make it your first port of call once your SNES Mini is powered on. It is an incredibly challenging platformer that features re-spawning enemies, requires pixel-perfect reactions and a lot of patience and practice. Particularly with the double-jump mechanism; once you’re in the air all manner of control has gone until you land. And even then it’s probably into more trouble.

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It may seem crazy to list all the negatives from the get-go, but these simply serve as a warning. It may require utmost precision, but it also rewards it; the scenery and levels look and feel fantastic. From blizzards to lava-filled caves, castles to pirate ships, all levels of spooky are covered. It certainly trumps fellow SNES Mini horror-platformer Castlevania IV in my book. It’s also incredible to think that as a 12/13 year old i was able to finish Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts without the aid of save states or battery back up.

Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is the most chilling and atmospheric 16-bit platform adventure ever. It is insanely challenging, but in being so it also gives it even more charm. It has been a pleasure to be re-acquainted.

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Super Mario Kart

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 8.76 Million

Despite Mario Kart 8 technically being the most balanced and best Mario Kart, the original SNES classic will always be my favourite. It was the first video game i ever bought with my own money at the tender age of 11.

That may well be an unrealistically biased and nostalgic view, but there is no doubting the very first Mario Kart gives all its successors a run for their money.

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The fast yet compact tracks, powered by the Mode 7 scrolling graphics engine, are full of twists, turns and diverse Mario-themed terrain. Different skills on different tracks herald the best records and rewards; hop-and-drift mastery gets you through the Donut Plains, stepping off the gas to navigate the many right-angles of the Bowser Castles and Ghost Houses, and so on.

It’s no surprise that tracks from Super Mario Kart have been recreated in it’s successors. Donut Plains in MK8 fits the drift narrative perfectly, and an MK8 version of the original Rainbow Road is also a fitting tribute.

And seeing as the SNES Mini is a fitting tribute to the platform itself, for it to not include Super Mario Kart would be a crime. And there’s not a blue shell to be seen.

You can read part one here and part two here.

12 down, 9 to go! Are you excited yet? You should be! Catch you next time!

 

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 2)

Join me as i rundown the games for the highly anticipated Super Nes Mini.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

You can read part one here. If those titles weren’t enough to whet the retro appetite, wait until you see what’s in store with the next 4 games. I’ve invested hour upon hour into this particular set in the last 20+ years. Like most of the titles included in the SNES Mini, they cemented my interest in video games as a medium for life.

The Locked 16 (5-8):-

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Kirby Super Star

Developer: HAL Laboratory

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 1.4 Million

The SNES Mini may include 21 games for a fixed price, but Kirby Super Star offers a surprise right off the bat. 1 title, 8 games! Okay so they’re all a little on the slender side, but Kirby Super Star is a title bursting with variety.

Kirby’s core ‘copy’ ability, allowing him to mimic abilities of those he ingests, is also the core theme each game is constructed around. This could mean Kirby wielding a sword, a laser cannon, or maybe even singing enemies to death. The most recognisable is Spring Breeze; essentially a SNES version of the original Game Boy Kirby’s Dream Land, albeit somewhat simplified.

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Other delights include Gourmet Race, where Kirby and King Dedede race across 3 levels whilst devouring as much food as possible, and The Arena, a gauntlet-style boss fight mode. The meatiest portion of this Kirby all-you-can-eat buffet is Milky-Way Wishes. Kirby must traverse over 9 planets in the same vein as any regular Kirby title, but with 1 subtle difference; Kirby can no longer obtain abilities from ingested enemies, Instead, you collect ability-laden items, much like the Super Mario series.

Each slice of this Kirby pizza pie has it’s own unique and fun topping. Some may be more filling than others, but there is something for everyone in this great package.

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 4.6 Million

What is there left to be said for what is simply one of the best games of all time? It is simply a remarkably profound experience from start to finish. What’s even more remarkable is that it is still a brilliant game, more than 20 years on.

A Link to the Past has been re-released, remastered, and most important of all, replayed so many times. Ocarina of Time is the Zelda entry that has dominated so many best-games-ever lists. The sublime Breath of the Wild is sure to carry on that mantle for the next few years. But this 16-bit predecessor is still significant to this day. It’s nowhere near the biggest interpretation of Hyrule but it is still very big. Factor in teleportation to-and-from a Ganon-corrupted mirror image of Hyrule and it doubles in size and difficulty.

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The layered labyrinth-style dungeons, the vast array of tools and weapons, finding heart pieces. Yes all these are series stables to this day, but A Link to the Past is still capable of ingenious surprises; thieves in the woods after your stuff, bunny transformations (yes, really) and of course, the amazing Hookshot.

A Link to the Past is always a journey worth revisiting. It was one of my very first SNES experiences as a teenager, and often revisit on a semi-regular basis. Come September 29th, I intend to visit the world of Hyrule all over again. I recommend you do to.

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Mega Man X

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 1.1 Million

There’s an impression left by the Mega Man series that screams “they’re all just the same”. In the case of Mega Man 1-6 that is evident, with Mega Man 2 being the standout exception. Screenshots of the series’ upgrade to the SNES does little to suggest more of the same. Thankfully Mega Man X is anything but.

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The ‘X’ is not just a fancy spin off name (i’m looking at you Apple), but the birth of both a new character AND series. Dr Light’s supreme invention no longer has to rely on the abilities of defeated bosses; upgrades such as dashing and superior armour are also acquired throughout. At it’s core it is of course a Mega Man game. But these new dynamics, accompanied by excellent level design and freedom to tackle them how you want makes for the ultimate Mega Man experience. Plus it’s still pretty mutha-truckin’ hard to boot.

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Secret of Mana

Developer: Square

Publisher: Square

Original Sales: 1.8 Million

Ooh boy. Secret of Mana is a beast of an RPG. The premise is fairly simple; boy finds legendary sword, and is immediately tasked with saving the world. In between is an action RPG that hits all the right notes. It also provides a rare multiplayer experience for the genre, with up to 3 players on screen at once.

Secret of Mana’s initial moments play out in a similar vein to A Link to the Past. Once the first series of battles commence, Mana cements itself as an RPG with it’s intuitive menu system. This ‘ring menu’ system results in quick command prompts to use spells/items, with little intrusion on battles. All characters move freely during battle, a la Zelda, but weapon attacks require a brief pause to recharge to ensure a hit and more damage. This brilliant blend of real-time and turn-based combat makes for often-exhilarating boss battles.

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Memorable melodies of Mana soon become ingrained in the mind thanks to one of the greatest soundtracks of it’s kind. And like Zelda, Mana makes use of the SNES’ patented Mode 7 effects for the overworld map, with Mana’s world made up of several islands as opposed to Zelda’s solitary land with multiple landmarks. In the later stages the back and forth travelling can get a little confusing. Particularly when you step away for while and jump back in……yes, i am currently lost in my most recent play-through and haven’t the patience to get back on track.

But despite my lack of bearings and memory, Secret of Mana is a hugely enjoyable and engrossing RPG. Its many hours of combat, collecting, travelling and storytelling are one of the SNES’ most cherished experiences.

8 down, 12 to go! Are you excited yet? You should be! Catch you next time!

 

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 1)

Join me as i rundown the games for the Super Nes Mini console.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

16 of the 21 titles are locked-in for all 3 regions of release (Europe, USA, Japan), with the remaining 5 differing slightly for the Japanese release. Regardless of their quality (I’ll get to that), what is consistent with all the titles is they are all more than 20 years old. Many younger gamers may have never sampled any of these classics, or possibly never even heard of them. In the case of the latter I’ll just assume you’ve been living under a rock or something.

BUT! The Super NES Mini should be the perfect way to address both these predicaments. So please join me as I give the lowdown on every game for each region.

The Locked 16 (1-4):-

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Contra III: The Alien Wars

Developer: Konami

Publisher: Konami

Original Sales: Less than 1 Million

Konami’s superlative platform-shooter was one of the first games released on the SNES. Thanks to the upgrade in technology the SNES provided, this edition of Contra radically improved the NES classics; climbing walls/ladders, hanging from bars/walls whilst shooting, even commandeering tanks. The SNES’ Mode 7 chip also assisted in creating alternate levels with a top-down-view. These utilised the new shoulder buttons of the SNES control pad to turn your character 360 degrees.

gfs_29082_2_19Long-time fans will note that in Europe the series is no longer visualised as futuristic robots. In the 1990’s the series was repackaged as Probotector; presumably changed to appear less violent for the European audience. Enemies were also robotic, not human. That is until the Wii U Virtual Console ported the US version in 2014.

Regardless of the lick of paint, the action is non-stop and as break-neck as it is neck-breaking in difficulty. At times, anyway. While it may have a steep learning curve Contra III is super fun, particularly when teaming up with a friend.

We’re one title down and it is a worthy one.

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Donkey Kong Country

Developer: Rare

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 9.3 Million

Donkey Kong Country was the game to launch Rare as one of Nintendo’s top developers back in 1994. It is still the best alternative platform series to Super Mario across all Nintendo’s consoles. Nay on all consoles. Come at me.

The visuals were ground-breaking of the time. Rare visited Twycross Zoo to study and record the movement of Gorillas. This ultimately led to the brilliant 3D rendered graphics of not just Donkey Kong, but a family of Kongs. Most notable of these new characters was Diddy Kong, Donkey’s playable companion and eventual series successor. Diddy went onto be the star of the 2 sequels that followed, but didn’t make the cut here, although arguably better games.

donkey-kong-at-20-years-old-442-body-image-1417529242Like Super Mario World, DKC uses various world maps to navigate multiple stages within each. Each world portrays basic themes such as forestry, ice, or underground mines. The action is side scrolling, so nothing new when compared to Super Mario World, but the rendered graphics give it a unique character.

DKC was also the beginning of another massive Nintendo franchise. The afore mentioned 2 SNES sequels were accompanied by the wonderfully challenging Game Boy Donkey Kong Land series. Even Diddy Kong Racing, a Rare-developed Nintendo 64 racing game became the biggest rival to the Mario Kart series for a time.

Donkey Kong Country was one of the SNES’ most important titles ever back in 1994. While it is considered frustrating for some, over 20 years on, it is no less frustrating than Retro Studios’ more recent efforts. It still deserves to be revisited and re-appraised.

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Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan)

Developer: Square

Publisher: Square

Original Sales: 3.4 Million

One of the historic frustrations of a European SNES gamer was seeing critically acclaimed titles not even seeing a release. It took 16 years of salivation for the SNES version of Chrono Trigger to finally get a release on Nintendo’s Wii Shop Channel. It was even longer for this Hironobu Sakaguchi-produced masterpiece. The huge success of the Playstation 1 epic Final Fantasy VII paved the way for a PS1 release in 2002. This incorporated full motion video scenes to appeal in the next generation of video games.

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This version however is the original classic. It is often regarded as the greatest Final Fantasy game ever, and is definitely up there with the best the SNES had to offer. The traditional overworld/dungeon/town maps, menu-based combat and active time battle are in full flow here. These became trademarks for the western onslaught of Final Fantasy titles, names VI to X.

Final Fantasy VI is the SNES Mini title I’m looking forward to the most. Having only sampled the PS1 version, this could be worth the asking price alone.

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F-Zero

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 2.85 Million

Nintendo’s futuristic racer is modern motor racing mayhem set in the 26th century. Back at its original 1990 release, it also happened to serve as the perfect showcase of the SNES’ technical capabilities. The frantic twists and turns of 15 tracks that roll out like carpet; seamlessly so thanks to the smoothness and rotation of the SNES’ Mode 7 technology. In terms of sheer pace there are still very few videogames like it.

Over the years however its limitations have started to surface. At best you fly (ok, hover) through an exhilarating array of tracks. At worst, you bounce repeatedly off the track walls until your choice of just 4 cars crash into flames. Generally the experience meets somewhere in the middle, depending on your level of reaction/tolerance. I can only imagine it’s a vision of the future that car insurance companies can only dream of.

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F-Zero’s lean content can make it feel and look little more than a supercharged tech demo – but it is one hell of a ride while it lasts. Practice gives F-Zero’s perils of power racing only a marginally easier perspective; even the most talented driver (especially on the ‘master’ setting) will find themselves bouncing like popcorn in a microwave.

Nevertheless, F-Zero is an iconic SNES title. Back at the SNES’ Japan launch, F-Zero was one of only two games available. Plus it really is one of the SNES’ best showcases of its capabilities. It served as an example to its competitors that the SNES meant business. And of course, the fact the Super-Nes Mini is even a thing in the first place, proves Nintendo right.

So that’s the first 4 titles covered. Are you looking forward to any/all of these?

 

My ‘Final Games’

One of my favourite podcasts, Final Games, is to video games what BBC’s Desert Island Discs is to music. Each episode a different guest details their 8 video game choices they would take with them to a hypothetical deserted location for the rest of their days.

So, in Final Games tradition, I will include my choices with a sample of music from each, and my reasons for each choice. Enjoy.

Tetris (Gameboy, 1990):-

There are many iterations of Tetris, but for me all pale in comparison in quality, simplicity, and sheer importance to video games than the Gameboy version. The tile-matching puzzle titan was the original mobile gaming phenomenon that brought gaming to the masses. It helped launch video games into the mainstream and many of its derivatives appeal to those who even don’t consider themselves a gamer.

Back in 1989/90 when physical console multiplayer connections were a must, I often challenged a friend who lived around the corner, visiting each other’s homes to spend hours on linked battle mode.

Tetris is the perfect pickup and play game, whether it’s a bus journey, your lunch break at work, or simply the need to engage your brain for any amount of time.

Super Mario Bros 3 (NES, 1991):-

The Christmas of 1991 I received my very own Nintendo Entertainment System, along with the latest Super Mario game – Super Mario Bros 3.

Mario games were easily the benchmark for all platformers today, 2D/3D, and back then, this was the benchmark. The overworld map, suits (frog, hammer and Tanooki) and the super leaf were all introduced here, and have been mainstays ever since.

At 10-years-old I wasn’t great at video games but I herald beating Super Mario bros 3 as my earliest gaming triumph.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (SNES, 1992):-

Link to the Past was the first video game I’d ever bought 2nd hand back in 1993/4. LttP is a game I make a time-honoured tradition of playing through each year. Like Super Mario World, it was another masterpiece released around the launch of the Super Nintendo, and simply timeless.

From the dramatic opening, essentially a tutorial which serves as a perfect insight into the themes of discovery and survival the game brings, Link to the Past is simply one of the best adventure games ever to be coded, and a journey I implore everyone to take at least once in their lifetime.

 

Chrono Trigger (SNES 1995, 2008)

The supergroup collaboration of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Hori, Dragonball and Z creator Akira Toriyama plus script writer Masoto Kato simply created a masterpiece in role-playing and storytelling. Despite its standard JRPG appearance Chrono Trigger is bolstered by its time travel mechanic, resulting is a story that transcends thousands of years and consists of love, tragedy, and friendship, with 13 different endings on offer.

Neither the SNES or the PS1 versions were released in Europe, and it wasn’t until around 2001 that I managed to grab a decent boxed copy – but it set me back £92. Once it finally got it’s 2008 DS release, my dream was realised. 13 years of hype and it did not disappoint.

 

Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (PS2, 2006):-

If I’m going to live out my days alone in a deserted location, then I’m going to need my football fill.

Since its release in 2006 I have spent hour upon ungodly hour challenging the incredible Master League mode; easily the greatest single player football mode in any football game ever made.

The beauty of the PES series is that as you raised the bar, so did the game in its challenge and learning curve.

A joy to play, difficult to put down, PES 6 is the football game I would take to my grave.

 

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, 2014):-

Bayonetta 2 is simply a masterpiece. Yusuke Hashimoto’s sequel to Hideki Kamiya’s incredible Bayonetta achieved what few sequels do: not only replicate what made the original a success, but also improve every element.

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The combat is simply a masterclass, the art direction stunning, the pacing tighter, truly improving what was already a perfect original. Despite the main campaign taking around 10 hours, there is so much more to perfect resulting in a title that could possibly be played forever, with secrets to find, scores/grades to beat, combos to create and perfect; Bayonetta 2 is simply incredible.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998):-

OoT is simply the most incredible video game ever devised. Enjoy Oblivion/Skyrim? Dark Souls/Bloodborne? The Witcher? OoT is the blueprint for all of those and many more.

It was released 2 weeks before Christmas in 1998 and in truth I did little else in the advent lead up than sample its delightful open world, fall in love with the combat mechanics, savour the magnificent soundtrack, and surrender myself to the contentment that the game delivers.

Following its 3DS remake and release in 2011 I once again stepped into Link’s shoes and it is as much a joy to play now as it was almost 20 years ago, and I’m sure I could say the same in another 20 years.

 

Final Fantasy VII (PS1, 1997):-

Cloud’s journey to stop world-controlling corporation Shinra from draining the world’s life essence for fuel resource has everything: friends, enemies, love, tragedy, death, and one of the greatest antagonist’s in video game history, Sephiroth.

Tscus_94163_07042008_191550_0015he beauty of Final Fantasy VII is its pacing, the turn-based combat, the incredible backdrops, levelling system, and so much more. The sprites may now look a little outdated, but the rendered backdrops really capture the mood and condition of the slums people must live in, and the open world is truly a feast for the eyes.

Final Fantasy VII is the only game in the series I’ve gone back to, having finished it twice, and still desire to go back to on a regular basis. When the time comes, it is a journey I would gladly take once again.

 

 

 

 

 

Retroreflection #1: Legend of the Mystical Ninja

Otherwise known as Goeman, Legend of the Mystical Ninja was actually the 2nd Goeman game in the Konami series, but the first released in the west. Considered by many a SNES classic, Mystical Ninja follows Kid Ying and Dr. Yang as they travel across native land to free an abducted princess. Now almost 25 years on, does it hold up today?

So what is it?

Legend of the Mystical Ninja is an action platformer with RPG elements, using a combination of semi top-down and left-right-left platform action, depending on the progress within each stage, of which there are 9 to get through. It’s great to pick up and play – simple jump and attack commands as well as evasion will get you through the most of it, with the addition of rotating weapons you can purchase from the various stalls and shops dotted around. Said stalls also sell health, armour and sandals that increase your speed. Currency is almost limitless due to the nature of constantly re-spawning baddies that hand out cash as they are disposed of. The top-down sections are maze-like, each one more complex than the last, as you find your way to the left-right boss areas. Once there, the game transforms into a more standard action platformer – more like the Megaman series – until you reach the end of level boss.

The Good

Legend of the Mystical Ninja is an instantly accessible title, with a simple control scheme that feels natural in your hand. Being close quarters with the enemies is vital to progression and even backtracking an inch will reveal baddies have re-spawned, keeping you on your toes as they come thick and fast. The real fun in LotMN is the various stalls, shops and – Yes! – Arcades. Along your journey you can pop into many doors/curtains, each holding something different. The shops, although a novelty in appearance are essential; if you don’t stock up on armour and food, there is no replenishment once you reach the boss areas. It’s an initially steep learning curve but you certainly benefit from its lack of subtlety. Mystical Ninja does get progressively difficult at each stage and the bosses step that up even further with a couple of real tough ones along the way.

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It’s the various games and arcades that provide a great quest distraction and are great fun. From a standard lottery, a matching pairs game, a quiz show, even greyhound betting, there is hours of fun to be had, let alone the game itself! There is even a Konami arcade, which provides a level of Gradius to tackle. With money not being an issue, you can easily find yourself immersed in these mini-games that you only leave to keep the currency coming.

LotMN provides a lush, cartoonish view of Japan, with the aforementioned shops appearing as Chashitsus, enemies such as samurai, ninja, and kimono-clad geisha’s among others. The standout element has to be the soundtrack; catchy yet traditional, you’ll find yourself humming along most tunes after just a few seconds.

The Bad

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As indicated earlier, it is essential to stock up where possible before heading into the boss areas, otherwise you’ll likely be in for a world of pain and frustration. Health depletes by merely touching an enemy, whereas with armour it will merely remove a piece when hit. So without armour only a near perfect run will keep you going, which can become really tough then facing the various end of level bosses. Not a fault of the game as such, but once you pass the checkpoint there is no going back so prepare to lose your health, lives and continues swiftly, which of course can lead to frustration.

The only other minor criticism is the length of the main quest itself. The 9 levels, provided you don’t spend hours in the arcades/games, move pretty swiftly, especially if you’re equipped for the boss areas. It can also be quite repetitive in the pre-boss zones, although necessary for currency.

Overall – ****

Legend of the Mystical Ninja holds a lot of nostalgia value for me. The amusement park level alone provides hours of entertainment in itself, and is certainly a world worth exploring for its charm. It’s a simple yet enjoyable game that still holds a lot of that charm many years on. Still recommended.

Video Game Inception: Top 5 Games within Video Games

We all love video games, whether your tastes are for platformers, shooters, RPG’s or even sports. They are a wonderful form of escapism, but what about escapism within escapism? I’m talking about the fishing in Zelda games, the end of level bonus sections of Yoshi’s Island, getting drunk at the bar in GTA IV; games within games. If a lengthy quest/mission is getting you down, what better way to take a breather than partake in a game or 2, right? Here are the pick of the bunch.

Fable the Lost Chapters: Chicken Kicking Competition

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A special addition to the Fable re-release ‘Fable: The Lost Chapters’, and hardly the most animal friendly game, but nevertheless both entertaining and amusing. Yes, you literally kick these poultry projectiles through the air, with angles, strength and stamina all playing a part in getting the chickens into a scoring area grid for points. Yes, chickens equals points. How is that not appealing?

Shenmue: Space Harrier/Hang-On (Dreamcast):-

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In a world as real (and expensive) as Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue, it comes as no surprise that a town (Dobuita) has an arcade. Amusingly titled the YOU Arcade, it includes 2 FULL versions of Yu’s own arcade classics: Space Harrier and Hang-On. Now I know Ryo wants to avenge his father’s death, look for sailors or whatever, but even he feels the need to beat Space Harrier level 5. It’s only natural.

Super Smash Bros Melee/Brawl/Wii U: Home-Run Contest (Gamecube/Wii/Wii U):-

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The premise is simple: Do as much damage to the sandbag stood on the platform as possible, then launch it with a baseball bat as far as you can. Easy right? Wrong.  Many a minute is never wasted trying to inflict any extra % of damage to the bag to make it travel just 1 more meter. However, plenty a minute is wasted in the failed attempts to beat your own records. Just. One. More. Go.

Final Fantasy VII: Gold Saucer (PS1/PSN):-

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Despite the quite frankly annoying but devastatingly catchy theme music, the Gold Saucer can deliver hours of quest-distracting entertainment. The various areas provide different types of games from an arcade to replay the motorcycle chase, snowboarding, basketball hoop-shooting, betting on Chocobo races, to a battle gauntlet area where you can hone your battle skills without fear of death, for some great prizes to aid the main quest. In a game that eats through the hours as you seek to find the triumphant end, there are certainly more hours to be eaten up here alone.

Legend of the Mystical Ninja: Amusement Park Level (SNES/VC):-

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The entire exploration area is filled with mini-game goodness, with an endless supply of re-spawning enemies to replenish the much needed cash to play them. Highlights include a modified first level of Konami classic Gradius, Tear Down the Wall (think Breakout/Alleyway), Air Hockey, and that’s just the Konami Arcade tent. Add to that bets on Horse Racing, a matching-cards memory game, even a lottery, plus many more, and it’s quite possible you’ll forget why you arrived in what is only the 3rd level of the game.

Do you have a favourite video game mini game?

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.