The Trinkets and Kinship of Shenmue

Originally posted on Hey Poor Player:-

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Ryo acquires his latest fix

I have always had a thing for little trinkets. Back when I had to work in an office, my desk accommodated a Lego character here, a Marvel miniature there, an overall undeniable youthful spirit everywhere. My desk at home is a similar fixture, except now it consists of upgrades such as a Super Mario Maker mascot or Amiibo.

My history of such trinkets is a long-standing one. Fond memories of my first trip alone to the local newsagent remain strong, for it was all about the mystery toy/candy machines outside. I never knew at the time that 10/20p would bring so much joy.

25 years later, taking my 6-year-old daughter to a toy store is living proof that that youthful spirit and inclination has clearly passed down from father to child. She will happily glance past the Barbie’s and Pokemon’s that she equally adores without so much as a tentative purchase request. Well, sometimes. But once we hit the collectibles section, often located near the exit, she starts pointing excitedly like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. I can empathise. These days I’m more physically reserved, but nevertheless other family members still sometimes bear the brunt of our over-enthusiasm for inanimate plastic, often bringing us both away from retailer ecstasy. But not without a trinket or two of course.

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The capsule machines at the harbour deploy a different tactic

Once I ran across the pair of trinket-dispensing machines outside the Sakuragoaka village store, one of the primary locations in Sega’s recently remastered adventure Shenmue, it was a calling like no other. A sentimental moment within a sentimental moment, if you will. Once that passed, the excitement I’d passed down in my genes surfaced. “Do they work?” I was asked both enthusiastically and hopefully. Usually, in such circumstances, that question would not apply. Very few video games allow for such miniature interaction. It was to my delight, and that of my daughter, that the answer was most definitely, “Yes”.

And so a query of mere functionality quickly ascended/descended into capsule toy addiction. The 100 Yen – 70p – price tag seems insignificant, especially as Ryo begins the game with 10,000. Forlorn housekeeper Ine-San leaving 500 yen allowance each day only facilitates the habit further. But as Ryo says as he collects it: “I should be grateful”. This father/daughter collection connection certainly is.

The toy collection comes in the form of Sega characters – the casts of Sonic, Virtua Fighter and Nights into Dreams among others – that didn’t even exist 32 years ago. Given the alternative mix of dice, rubber balls and paperweights just wouldn’t cut it, this was always an unforgivable oversight.

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You barely get toys this good in real life

Toy capsule collecting has become a major part of this revisit to Yokosuka, but now is presented in a new light. As I direct Ryo to each machine, I let my daughter decide how many turns I take on each. It might be 5 turns on the Sonic toys, the next day just the 3, and so on for the other machines. It became a game within itself. As Ryo’s remaining cash flow is displayed with each purchase, no white lies are going to get me out of it.

After each capsule toy machine routine comes to an end, it’s time to inspect the goods. After all, “How are we going to know how many are left to get, daddy?” As if any more incentive was required to complete the capsule toy collection Shenmue has to offer, the recent PS4/Xbox One remaster also rewards collectors with trophies/achievements for their efforts. It brings a near 20 year old game’s unique experience to a new generation of players.

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“No, you kiss off, twit”

Shenmue is the ultimate example of a small world examined. The 4 years of development and alleged $50-80 million spent shows in its unquestionable detail. Real life locations such as the interconnecting street of Dobuita are prominent throughout – and much of it still parallels many ways in 2018 to the 1986 Yu Suzuki representation. The use of meteorological records to generate the weather cycles of December 1986 Yokosuka produces a plentiful mixture of clement, heavy rain, even snow. All are triggers of excitement from my daughter, from decorations on display at Christmas, to impromptu shouts of “you need to get in the arcade, it’s raining so time to play some games”. Who am I to disappoint?

Yu Suzuki’s classics Hang-On and Space Harrier were still relatively new back in 1986. As a child of the 80’s, fond memories remain of the Hang-On theme ringing in the air at many a seaside arcades well into the 90’s. But the life-size, distinctive motorcycle cabinet is now an arcade antique, rarely seen on today’s arcade scene. The concept of such a cabinet within a video game, let alone in real life, blew my daughter’s mind. She is of that age where she is in complete admiration for her parents’ childhood past’s, more specifically pastimes. We both love to read. I collect toys, she collects toys. I play video games and so does she, but more specifically the ones attributed to my past.

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We understand, Ryo. We really do

As the story has developed over time my daughter’s attention lies away from searching for sailors, gangs and Chinese translators. Thankfully I have enough cash to catch the bus to work at the harbour each day. But not a day in the game passes without prompts of “Have you fed the kitten today?” or “Have you spoken to Nozomi?”, or even “Is Tom still dancing in the street?” It’s a testament to Shenmue’s cast of characters and their day to day actions. They may be mostly insignificant but hardly inconspicuous at the same time.

The world of Shenmue is currently pressing on towards its next chapter in our household. My PSN trophy cabinet is filling up after many revisited gaming memories. But the real trophies will always be the trinkets themselves, and the youthfulness they have invoked. I am eagerly awaiting to start Shenmue II, when the parent/daughter trinket collecting team can begin again.

FOF Podcast #1 – Amateur Podcaster

So i made a podcast. Huh.

I finally did it. I’ve been mulling over recording a podcast for a few months now, and now the pilot episode is done.

So here’s what to expect:-

  • Round up of Video Game/TV/Movie highlights
  • Blast from the Past – An in-depth look back at an entertainment piece/franchise that is 15 years or older
  • Feature topic (series, discussion points)

I hope to expand content over time, this is (hopefully) just the beginning.

How to listen

You may have seen the player at the top of the page. Just click play and you’re off.

If you’re on iTunes, then you can download it here. Please leave a review. Be gentle.

If you’d rather search and listen/download within your own preferred podcast app, simply search for ‘Feast of Fun’

I am already working on the next episode, and while the quality of the content is important, what is more important is feedback.

Feel free to @ me on Twitter (@agent_prince), or drop a like/follow on Instagram @agent_princekk

And finally, i hope you enjoy the podcast, even if it is just a few seconds of it.

Ta-ra for now!

 

SEGA Reveals New Team Sonic Racing Trailer

The Sonic the Hedgehog gauntlet continues

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Sonic the Hedgehog is back. Back again. And this time he’s taking a back front seat from all that running, back into his racing car. This week, Sega released a teaser trailer for the Sumo Digital-developed racer.

Entitled Team Sonic Racing, it promises to combine the best elements of arcade and competitive style racing, at a fast pace. 12 characters from across the Sonic Universe will be available both solo and online. So far Sonic, Shadow and Tails have been confirmed as characters. Multiple game modes, such as Grand Prix, Time Trial and Team Adventure are also confirmed. More interesting however are the team mechanics, such as Item Transfer or Slingshot, that can be used to assist racing teammates. There will also be vehicle customisation.

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Don’t expect any characters outside of the Sonic Universe, as was the case with 2010’s Sega All-Stars Racing and its 2012 sequel. This is purely Team Sonic. I find this a little disappointing, given the variety of the cast in All-Star Racing. Plus racing as Ryo Hazuki on a forklift was hilarious. It could however prove to be a good platform for fans to become more familiarised with supporting characters, a consistent weak spot for Sonic over the years. There have been far too many over the years, and few remain stable.

The tracks in the trailer look to be a similar style to the All-Star Racing games of last gen. The upside-down arched roads naturally have that Mario Kart look to them. With Sonic Mania Plus due very soon, and Team Sonic Racing set for late 2018, Sonic really is back. No one has come close to emulating Nintendo’s runaway success with Mario Kart. But now, Sonic Team Racing at least looks to be a decent alternative.

Check out the trailer below, and let me know what you think!

 

 

Let’s Play Anime #1 – Ghost in the Shell (PS1)

The first in a new series, charting the Anime genre in video game form.

First up: Masemune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell.

Developed by: Exact (now Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan) and Production I.G.

Director: Kenji Sawaguchi

Sales: 100,000

What would have been once seemed impossible for both the anime and movie industry 20 years ago, a Hollywood adaption of Ghost in the Shell was released last year. Masamune Shirow’s original manga of nearly 30 years ago is philosophical, sociological, and psychological. It is also essential reading. In 1995 an anime adaption followed, which is still one of most well-known anime movies in the world. Following its success on both eastern and western shores, and with the Playstation in full flight at that time, Sony released a Shirow-designed video game just 2 years later.

Ghost in the Shell is an action-packed yet simple first/third person shooter. It is a great entry for fans of the franchise as a whole. It retains the excellent animation and voice acting from the English dubbing. The highlights of this now-collectable PS1 title are most definitely the original cut-scenes. They give off the feel of an interactive movie of sorts. You play as the ‘Rookie’, a new recruit to Public Security Section 9. Working alongside Major Kusanagi, Batou, etc, the team seeks a new terrorist threat, the Human Liberation Front. HLF claims to be responsible for the bombing of the Megatech Body Corporation building, but all is not as it seems….

In order to complete the investigation and infiltration, you control a Fuchikoma, a highly-manoeuvrable spider-like mini tank. It results in hi-octane 3D action, with standard target assassination in order to access the next area type stuff. The Fuchikoma can jump, strafe, scale buildings, fire missiles and comes with an unlimited-ammo machine gun by default. Set pieces such as navigating through tight sewer systems and free-falling down a skyscraper are high points in between the glossy mission-brief cut scenes.

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But despite the stunning cut-scenes, top soundtrack, and easy pick up and play access, Ghost in the Shell is painfully short. A full play-through of the game only takes around the same time as it does to watch the movie. Add to that little-to-no replay value, and is incredibly easy. I remember my first play-through came from an overnight rental, back when rentals were an excellent try-before-you-buy method. This was more tried-and-don’t-need-to-buy; the game retailed around £34.99 on its release. A little less than the standard £40+ but still a questionable price. Amazingly, it has never been released on PSN in Europe, meaning that original copies are now fetching £60+ on eBay in today’s inflated collectors market.

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Ghost in the Shell is unique in that there are very few titles like it; an original anime production straight from the creators, which is ultimate fan service. 20 years on, it is astonishing that it still stands as the most original anime-based video game ever made. Unfortunately, much like the recent Hollywood adaption, it is a disappointingly shallow-yet-fun experience. A must for any fans/collectors, but nothing more.

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.

The_Legend_of_Zelda_-_A_Link_to_the_Past_(North_America)

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?

 

Return to Championship Manager 01/02 (16/17 Data) – April ’02

THE OBJECTIVE: Bring title glory back to Liverpool.

THE OBJECTIVE: Bring title glory back to Liverpool. This Coutinho is a loyal one.

THE CAVEAT: Any transfer bids must be accepted. Although the window is over, players can still be approached for end of season moves.

April. FA Cup Semi Final. Liverpool STILL top of the league. Some European competitions also happening, or something. They don’t matter till next season. On with the show.

Before the monthly awards, in March I missed the small matter of just the 2nd sacking of this Premier League season. David Moyes finally departs Sunderland, who are rock bottom and doomed anyway. Shrug.

2nd Sacking

There was also the small matter of the League Cup final. Liverpool exited at the 3rd round stage to Derby, who lost 4-0 in the next round to Everton. Huh.

In this final, the far superior Spurs win convincingly, despite a scare at the end when Iheanacho pulled a goal back in the last minute. I expect Spurs to drive Liverpool to the wire in the Premier League; this will only aid that momentum.

League cup final

March Monthly Awards:-

Well fucking hell. Finally some recognition. Former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke on the other hand has had an impressive month. 4 goals scored in Crystal Palace’s 2 wins and a draw. 4 more than he ever managed in a Liverpool shirt in a single month.

March MotmMarch potm

Another month, yet another injury. Given it’s the captain, it does make it more significant. Hendo has been fantastic all season.

Hendo injury

PFA Awards:-

The prolific Harry Kane takes the Players Player of the Year award, with Zlatan and Benteke in behind. The goals from all 3 have certainly been the reason for their respective teams’ league positions.

PFA

The PFA team of the season is pleasing from a Liverpool perspective. Although Roberto Firmino has been Liverpool’s main striker all season, this team has him in midfield. Ryan Shawcross improved an already solid Liverpool defence, but it was also his Stoke performances that caught my eye in the first place. Loris Karius has also played a massive part of the best defensive unit in the league.

Overall the side is dominated by sides at the top, with 9 of the players coming from Liverpool, Spurs and Man Utd respectively.

PFA team of the season

FA Cup Semi Final (iPro Stadium, Derby):-

FA cup semi

It may have been only 2-1, but Liverpool were by far the better team. Palace quickly canceled out the opener by Sturridge, while Firmino was rested. Firmino was introduced following an injury to Sturridge at half time, but it was Klavan’s header that settled the tie. Given the absences of captain Henderson and Lovren, Klavan and Sadio Mane covered perfectly.

Liverpool go onto the FA Cup Final!

Fixture #32 – Watford (Away):-

Match 32

This is a hiccup Liverpool simply cannot afford to have right now. Dropping 2 points to a side almost certain of relegation is potentially disastrous at this stage of the season.

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Elsewhere in gameweek 32, Spurs pick up a big win in the North London derby. They’re chipping away at Liverpool’s lead at the top. And the games just keep on coming.

Fixture #33 Leicester (Home):-

Match 33

Fuck. It’s all tumbling down. Leicester keeper Zieler has the game of his life, keeping out Liverpool’s TWELVE shots on target. Leicester manage 2 and score from 1 of them. Even down to 10 men Leicester’s resolve could not be broken. As a result Liverpool’s title dreams could be just that.

And the other gameweek scores:-

April 13

Holy shit. Spurs win at Bournemouth. That’s 5 points gained in 2 successive matches. By my reckoning that puts Spurs level on points with Liverpool WITH A GAME IN HAND. Liverpool have 5 games left. I can’t cope.

Oh christ here comes another match.

Fixture #34 – Crystal Palace (Away):-

Match 34

Ok, this is better. Karius earning his stripes in this one, keeping out everything Palace had to offer. It’s at this stage, now more than ever, that players need to stand up and be counted. Even then i don’t think my heart can take it.

April 17

Spurs don’t play for another 3 days, so the pressure is back on them for now. Hull Lose yet again, dragging them closer to the bottom 3. West Ham maintain 4th position with another home win. Arsenal cement mid table in a catastrophic season with defeat to Mourinho’s Man United to remain in the Champions League spots.

Fixture #35 – Southampton (Home):-

Match 35

Liverpool took a couple of bad results following the injury to Jordan Henderson. James Milner, having only featured sporadically all season, has stepped up the plate in Hendo’s spot. A 10/10 performance is exactly what is required.

april 20

A Kane-less Spurs come up short at the Hawthorns to give Liverpool a lifeline in the title race. United win again. Hull lose again. Manager-less Sunderland appear determined to drag Burnley down with them. The season is unraveling week by week now. Squeaky bum time.

Fixture #36 – Burnley (Away):-

Match 36

Another tight result against a team at the bottom. Only Liverpool could do this to its fans. Sadio Mane, brought on at half time for the isolated Wijnaldum, makes the difference with the match winner. He hasn’t featured all season, but this could be the goal that secures the title. Just keep winning. Just keep winning.

April 27

Unfortunately that’s what Spurs keep doing. Winning. They’re pushing Liverpool to the wire. Elsewhere, Man Utd have improved dramatically since dropping out of Europe. That’s 11 goals in 5 games for them. Liverpool have scored 6 in that time. But they’re still in pole position. Watford and Sunderland truly look doomed after defeats yet again.

In the Championship, Newcastle and QPR are back in the Premier League next season after achieving promotion.

QPR promoted

Newcastle promotion

Final table after April:-

April table top

Should Spurs win their game in hand, only Liverpool’s superior defence keeps them top of the table. The top 4 sides are now confirmed, it’s a battle for 3rd place between Man Utd and West Ham. West Ham having their best ever season in the Premier League era with 21 wins and only 6 defeats. Southampton are a side that have slipped under the radar a little. They are having an excellent season, currently in 5th place, heading above the declining Everton.

April table bottom

Down below, Hull are now in the drop zone themselves. They have lost more games than Burnley and Sunderland. Plus, Burnley’s 38 goals almost doubles what both Hull AND Sunderland have combined. So any 3 of these 4 will go down.

It’s tight at the top. With only 2/3 games left of the season, every point gained/lost will have repercussions. Next month: The conclusion of the Premier League season!

Catch-up on what you’ve missed here: Pre-Season August September October November December January February March

Championship manager and it’s fan made updates are available as freeware from http://www.champman0102.co.uk/  

For this blog the October 2016 data update was used.