Wednesday, April 24, 2013

SNESquest - Actraiser


(Actraiser, 1990, Enix)

(My pick for Review A Great Game Day awhile back. Special thanks to Eric Bailey for helping me with the confidence to do it again.)

As much as I cavetch about horrendous games and throw virtual rotten tomatoes ad nauseum, today, I'm going to share with you cats and kittens one of NESquester's favorite titles that I never have had the chance to speak of before, Actraiser.

Many moons before the amalgamation of genres we see today such as Borderlands and Mass Effect, Actraiser was a pioneer in the genre-mashups. One part overhead simulation, one part action game that has made many an expert's hands sweat, Actraiser was one of the earliest SNES titles and being the huge Square & Enix (to the kiddies in school, at one time, they were as different as Microsoft and Sony) fan I was, bought it on a whim and every penny and then some has gotten its mileage.

It is so hard to discuss the magnum opus of Enix action games in short form as there is no doubt this could hit 5 pages before I realize it. What do you wish you know about? The graphics? For 1991 and even quite a bit beyond, from the lush planetscapes, the unforgettable crystal dragon, to the final boss battle, the graphics are flawless. How about the sound? Oh, baby, how about it! This soundtrack is one of the greatest on any system, any year, any day of the week. It legitly sounds as if they snuck a tiny orchestra in each cart, it is THAT tremendous. Is it any fun? Actraiser boasts one of the highest replayability scores in history. Once a year without fail, I strap on my blue winged helmet, grab my trusty heaven sword, and get to whipping on some Tanzra booty. Another wonderful part is between the sim and action sequences, neither of them feels too long so you don't spend the action sequences muttering, "Okay, enough of this crap, time for the sim," and vice versa. Lastly, the story. Magnificent. Your character is basically God (I didn't make the game folks), who brings an angel with him to help make the world a better place for people. The emotional attachments you'll gain for a lost, hungry boy named Teddy and a disease ravaged man you send rain down to "cry for" are moments that will stick with you for a lifetime. The angel communicates and explains to the confused deity as the story goes why the humans are doing certain things and acting certain ways like causing wars and the like. A truly touching and fascinating game from a human emotion perspective and beautifully written.

Actraiser was a spiritual successor to another lauded Enix title, Soul Blazer, which had its own sequels. Actraiser 2 was released a few years later but without the simulation sections and an even more ramped up difficulty, paled in comparison to its original. If you've never played Actraiser, by all means, make it a point to play it at least once and you'll be rewarded with a very challenging, thought-provoking, true gem of a game.

NESquest - Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!!


(Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, Nintendo, October 1987)

(An unpublished work for Retrocade that was finished awhile back as a 'fan appreciation' review but shortened due to page limits. One of my top 10 favorite games of my life and one of the few reviews typed off the top of my head with zero note needed. I hope you cats dig it.)

Long before his trademark facial tattoo, memorable cameos in comedic flicks, and going public with his penchant for cannabalism, Mike Tyson was not only the undisputed champ of the boxing world, but the bane of everyone who went against him in 8-bit land. Spinning off from two earlier arcade hits, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is such a timeless classic that if you know of anyone who hasn't played it, e-mail me and we'll see about gathering up your oblivious pal, a sturdy chair, strong rope or wire, and a NES.

The game introduces us to an assuming, young up and comer named Little Mac, who appears to be the offspring of Ralph Macchio and Olive Oyl. Accompanied by his trainer, Doc Louis, this poor play on words of a delicious McDonalds stalwart decides the only way that he is going to become the best in the world is to take on boxers roughly six times his size. The journey from his first fight to the showdown with "Kid Dynamite" Mike Tyson is nothing short of a complete blast.

Mac is given three rounds each bout to dispatch a pre-arranged set of foes on his quest to three titles, Minor, Major, and World. In the same vein as Batman, it is the rogues gallery that truly steals the show. By far the most massive sprites the NES had seen to that point, truly giving each character that Mac faces off with an unforgettable amount of character and expression. Being 1987, there are quite a few stereotypes brought to the forefront that will make you wonder if the game would be deemed racist if released today but, hey, these were different times and as a kid can honestly say that I never wondered whether Great Tiger was hindu or muslim, he was simply Great Fucking Tiger.

A health bar is present as well as meters for stars and hearts. Each fight begins with a preset number of hearts and you lose one for a successful block and three if your opponent lands a shot. If the heart count hits zero, Mac flickers pink with fatigue and is unable to throw a punch until dodging a few punches and turning normal again. The stars represent the number of Super Uppercuts in his arsenal, Mac's special move that is thrown by pressing start. Gaining the stars can be tricky and require getting in hits at precise moments that take a bit of practice to reveal. This in itself lends to the tremendous amount of replayability that Punch-Out!! offers as I have personally played this esteemed title for 25 years and will still uncover new tricks and strategies.

Gameplay is a fun little mix of reflex and pattern recognition. First timers may be able to button mash their way past Glass Joe but will be shocked to find that Von Kaiser will shove those same blueprints right up their ass. This game is about timing and finesse and without either, be ready to spend alot of time kissing canvas. The balance in Punch-Out!!'s challenge is astounding as each fight gradually depends on that much more skill to advance. As a youngling in elementary when it was released, I can say that this was the first legend of the playground and can't remember trading tips nearly as much with any other game prior. Before Nintendo Power, there were just hive collectives of young boys who traded off the timing needed to twart Bald Bull or the blocking to counter the Macho Tornado Punch. Ah, simpler times.

Between rounds, Doc Louis gives advice and does what he can to keep Little Mac warmed up. To anyone who may find a rotund older gentleman suggestively rubbing a seventeen year old's tiny shoulder, it's shitloads better than the blatant blowjobs in between rounds of Ring King. I'm not joking, go play a round of it. Doc's tidbits can range from the useless to world-changing as I'd never have known about the Don Flamenco one-two trick if I didn't pay attention to my trainer. These interludes are the only time you're not treated to the game's tunes, which by the way are exceptional.

As for Mr. Tyson himself, think boxing's equivalent to Darth Vader. No matter who you are or what you've done, you're are utterly screwed the first hundred or so times you face him. The only way Little Mac can recoup any money is by advertising sponsors on the bottoms of his boots because within two seconds, Tyson is throwing lightning fast uppercuts that put you on your ass if they so much as graze you. Last ninety seconds of this legendary barrage of badass and things get only slightly easier. As with all things in life thought to be impossible, Tyson can be conquered with enough resolve and patience to learn the patterns he presents. Take my word for it, if you get your hand raised against this titan of the NES, that rare feeling of extreme accomplishment that will wash over you is worth every KO endured to get there. The mark of a masterpiece.

Grade: A

NESquest - Elevator Action



(Elevator Action, Taito, August 1987)

BACK. FOR. GOOD.

Have you ever heard whispers of a legendary game out there that you've never played? One day, the moment of truth arrives, you procure a copy of what is sure to be a masterpiece in your collection for years to come, pop that sucker in and get to work. Sometimes, it can be pure magic akin to scoring with that legendary hottest woman in the club. Other times, it can feel something like said hottie in your bed revealing that she has a much larger dick than you do.

 

Originally released by Taito in 1983, the arcade port of Elevator Action didn't hit the Nintendo Entertainment System until August of 1987. The gist of this little gray square of dookie is that a master spy/secret agent/badass named Otto aka Agent 17 must infiltrate 30 floor towers built by rich eccentrics with a penchant for elevators and escalators and grab secret documents while avoiding a ton of Judge Doom lookalikes. For such a master infiltrator, I find it hilarious that we all know his real name in addition to the fact that Otto is the only person in the game not dressed in all black.

What makes this a festivity of feces you may wonder? Let's start with the fact that Taito had two years to master the quirks of NES programming and the absolute best they could muster was a game that harkens back to the Atari 2600 in terms of quality. As all of us fellow retro fanatics are aware of, graphics never make or break the fun and replayability of a game but during a time when gaming was trying to evolve, there was no excuse for the graphics to be this poorly executed in the very same month that saw the debut of Metroid and The Legend of Zelda.

Surely with eye-candy that could be the NES version of "Plan 9 From Outer Space", the controls couldn't be as awful right? Wrong, they are SPECTACULARLY awful. Otto jumps in a motion so choppy that it forced me to recall the days when the internet would stream video via dial-up though Windows Media Player 1.0. As if the poor guy's dignity wasn't already shattered enough, when he does slowly "jump" he throws his ass rather invitingly in the air. Mix that in with the way he vigorously humps the rope as he enters the building and we have ourselves a not-so-subtle cocktail from programmers who may have been more bent on alternate lifestyle humor than, you know, making an actual playyable game to take pride in.

While riding down the abundant elevators and escalators, baddies are trying to make life difficult, but there are a few ways to fight back. A straight out gunfight is preferrable once you get past the idiocy where you can't crouch inside elevators and must press up again to stand if ducking to fire. Other mechanics can be utilized such as trapping them under the elevators (strangely causing them to die Pac-Man style) or shooting a light fixture to land on the enemy's head. No lie, I spent an hour trying to land a light on an antagonist's noggin to no avail, so I wouldn't recommended it. The main goal as you traverse the bizarre buildings is to enter every red door you see and snatch up secret documents. Miss a single briefcase and when you hit the ground floor, the game really sticks it in and breaks it off sans lube by shitting you right back to the very top to go through 8-bit hades all over again.

Enemy A.I. is somewhere between the Keystone Cops and Three Stooges in terms of acumen and the only time they seem to have any wherewithal is if you linger in a stage too long. It would be infinitely more exciting if they started out from the get-go by going batshit as you can go through half the building before seeing that "action" thingy mentioned in the title. Make it to the bottom and Otto rides off in what appears to be a child's first big plastic car and rides off to the next building. We don't even need to go over the sound as there is one song on a 7 second loop the entire time that will make you dive for your My Music folder before sterility kicks in. Effects are just as hideous and are the worst on the NEs since the fabled Action 52 cart. Marvel as your NES spits out bleeps and blips that even our friend the 2600's sound chip would've been embarrassed about.

With such tremendous ports already made for the system such as 1942, Gradius, and Popeye, this felt like an unlicensed cart. Lazy, uninspired, and a mockery of the not-so-bad original arcade game.

Grade: F

(No, I'm not changing the format of the reviews. This is my work from Retrocade Magazine Vol.2, Issue 1 in its unedited full form. Today will be a collection of work done outside the site before the new material drops. I know alot of you haven't seen this and I think it is one of my best so enjoy!)