Sunday, January 24, 2021

Non-Adventure Review: Downtown Nekketsu March: Super Awesome Field Day!

2020 was by most accounts a terrible year. But even terrible years have some good in them, and one good treat for gamers last year was the release of Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle by Arc System Works. This officially brought all of Tecmo's Kunio-kun Famicom games to English speaking gamers for the first time ever.

One of the most entertaining games of the bunch is Downtown Nekketsu March: Super Awesome Field Day!, known in Japan as Downtown Nekketsu March: Let's Go to the Great Athletic Meet.

In Downtown Nekketsu March: Super Awesome Field Day!, the goal is to choose one of six students from Nekketsu High School to compete in several events. The school with the highest amount of points at the end is declared the winner. Rounds (or laps) and time can be selected in the menu for each event.

The first event out the gate, Cross Country, or XCountry as it is displayed in-game, shows exactly what kind of game you are in for, as the athletes run through the city. As this is a Kunio-kun game, you have the ability to hit your opponents, as well as pick objects off of the ground to use as weapons. The portions of the track are quite fun, as the involve the usual such as running along city streets and along rooftops, to the strange, such as running through houses past people sitting down to enjoy a meal, to the unusual, such as climbing up a building parkour-style and swimming in sewers.

The second event, Obstacle, is a Ninja Warrior, also known as Sasuke in Japan, style obstacle course where the goal is to get to the end of the event first while running and jumping through obstacles such as trampoline platforms, conveyor belts, and hands that come out of doors as you walk by. In essense, it is a pre-cursor to modern games of this type, such as the Crash Course series.

The third event, Ballbreak, is aptly titled as the event has the athletes climb a pole to reach a ball, and the goal is to be the first to break the ball. As usual, you can punch and kick your opponents and use picked up objects to keep them from reaching the pole first. Once on the pole, you can punch and kick your opponents off the pole as well.

he martial arts competition, or M.A. as it is dieplayed in-game, is the most like Tecmo's regular Kunio-kun or Double Dragon brawlers, with the exception that the mayhem takes place in a single location. Here, the goal is to simply beat on your opponents the most, with fists, kicks, or with picked up objects as weapons, in order to bring their health bars down to zero. The last opponent standing wins.

It's a shame this one never made it outside of Asia during the lifespan of the Mintendo Entertainment System. It has the same charm as Super Dodge Ball, with bits of River City Ransom thrown in. I grew up with both of those games, and I would have loved to have been able to play this one as a child. Luckily, it's still fun as an adult, provided that you don't mind the limited graphics and somewhat stilted control scheme of games from the 8-bit era of gaming.

Final result:
3½ out of 5

Saturday, January 2, 2021

System Review: SNES Classic Edition/Super Famicom Mini

Nintendo followed up their popular NES Classic Edition with a system that is arguably even better than the former: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition.

The system runs on the same Allwinner R16 “system on a chip” as the NES Classic Edition, with a 1.2 gigahertz quad-core Cortex-A7 central processing unit, a 500 megahertz dual-core Mali-400 ARM graphics processing unit, 256 megabytes of random access memory, and 512 megabytes of Flash storage.

This time however, the system comes with two controllers (although the cables are still quite short). It also comes with twenty of what are arguably the most classic games for the system, including Contra III: The Alien Wars (known in Japan as Contra Spirits), Donkey Kong Country (known in Japan as Super Donkey Kong), Earthbound, Final Fantasy III (known as Final Fantasy VI in Japan), F-Zero, Kirby’s Dream Course, Kirby Super Star (known as Kirby of the Stars Super Deluxe in Japan and as Kirby's Fun Pak in Europe and Oceania), The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (known as The Legend of Zelda: The Triforce of the Gods in Japan), Mega Man X (known as Rockman X in Japan), Secret of Mana (known as Legend of the Holy Sword 2 in Japan), Star Fox, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, Super Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (known as Super Demon World Village in Japan), Super Mario Kart, Super Mario RPG, Super Mario World, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (known as Super Mario: Yoshi Island in Japan) Super Metroid, Super Punch Out!!, and Star Fox 2. The latter was completed and canceled in the 1990s, and is available for the first time on the Super NES Classic Edition.

The Japanese version of the system, the Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Famicom, also contains two controllers and twenty classic games, however the game list is slightly different. It comes with Contra Spirits (known outside of Japan as Contra III: The Alien Wars), Final Fantasy VI (known outside of Japan as Final Fantasy III), F-Zero, Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, Kirby of the Stars Deluxe (known as Kirby Super Star in North America and as Kirby's Fun Pak in Europe and Oceania), Legend of the Holy Sword 2 (known as Secret of Mana outside of Japan), The Legend of Zelda: The Triforce of the Gods (known as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past outside of Japan), Panel de Pon, Rockman X (known as Mega Man X outside of Japan), Star Fox, Star Fox 2, Super Donkey Kong (known outside of Japan as Donkey Kong Country), Super Demon World Village (known as Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts outside of Japan), Super Mario Kart, Super Mario RPG, Super Mario World, Super Mario: Yoshi Island (known as Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island outside of Japan), Super Metroid, and Super Street Fighter: The New Challengers.

As with the NES Classic Edition, I’ll be looking in depth at the above games in the future, and the links will be updated accordingly. But, suffice to say, no matter which version you pick up, if you can find it for around $100, this retro micro-console is a bargain, especially considering how much some of these cartridges go for on eBay. The system is already discontinued, but at the time of this review, it is not hard to find at a reasonable price.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Friday, January 1, 2021

Non-Adventure Review: Pac-Man Championship Edition

Pac-Man Championship Edition takes the well-known formula of Pac-Man and turns it on it's head with a game focused on racking up the points rather than focusing on completing multiple stages.

Pac-Man is a veritable classic. It defined the maze game genre and became the king of arcades. Its formula has been copied and refined multiple times, with my personal favorite remaining the ever-excellent Ms. Pac-Man.

The character has also been reinvented over the years, appearing in everything from adventure games, to platformers, to kart-racing games. However, Pac-Man is always at his best when he is eating pellets around a maze while keeping away from the pesky ghosts. It's a tried and true formula, and the formula of the maze games haven't really changed much over the years. Pac-Man gets larger in Super Pac-Man and Pac-Man Jr.'s mazes scroll rather than remaining on a single screen, but the way that the games are presented is largely the same.

Pac-Man Championship Edition changes the formula, while somehow maintaining the basic gameplay that made Pac-Man so popular in the first place. The maze stages are gone, and so-too are the cutscenes. In their place is a timer and a fantastic use of the fruit. The goal here is to eat all of the pellets on one end of the maze. Doing this causes a fruit to appear on the other end of the maze. Eating that fruit causes the pellets on the other end to be replenished. This continues until the timer runs out or until Pac-Man has lost all of his remaining lives.

There is also an extra mode, which is my personal favorite. In this mode, the pellet gameplay remains the same, however eating all of the pellets on one side of the maze not only makes a fruit appear, but eating the fruit causes the entire layout of the other side of the maze change as well. Pac-Man also quickly picks up speed in this mode, and so do the ghosts, making it much more exciting.

Pac-Man was originally relased on Xbox 360 in 2007, so it has some modern flair. The mazes are presented in neon colors that light up when a ghost or Pac-Man is near them. This happens while a pulsing bass line plays as the game's soundtrack. The game was successful for Namco, so it has since appeared on other systems, such as the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, iOS and Android.

An even more interesting port, however, is the official Famicom (the Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System) version created by M2 and a Japanese coder known as Coke774. This version uses the Namco 163 chip, which gives the Famicom additional RAM as well as additional sound capabilities. The Famicom version of Pac-Man Championship Edition uses this chip to present a game that contains the same gameplay complete with a booming soundtrack, mixed with visuals that both mimic the ports on modern systems yet contain graphics from the original Famicom version of Pac-Man as well. This is pulled off excellently, and is by far my favorite version of the game.

With a booming soundtrack, fantastic visuals, and addicting gameplay, Pac-Man Championship Edition is the best maze game in years. Any version is well worth your time, but I'd recommend the Famicom version over the rest. It has a great blend of classic and modern visuals, and makes use of the Namco 163 chip to give the game the booming soundtrack that makes the presentation so special. The Famicom version is available in Namco Museum Archives Volume 1, and is well worth the purchase price for just Pac-Man Championship Edition alone.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Happy New Year

2020 was an awful year, but it did bring some surprises. We got a Sam & Max Save the World (aka Sam & Max Season One) high definition remaster from Skunkape Games (a company registered to Dan Connors and staffed by many early Telltale developers) for Windows and Switch.

I'll be updating the reviews on the season to Mega Reviews shortly, but I'll just say now that the Switch version is awesome. It's so much fun playing Sam & Max on the go.

On the subject of Sam & Max, 2020 also brought the announcement that a virtual reality game starring the titular duo will be coming in 2021. Titled Sam & Max: This Time It's Virtual, the game will finally bring to life the virtual reality Sam & Max environment that was first teased in Sam & Max Hit the Road way back in the halcyon year of 1993.

Skunkape Games also hinted at a high definition remaster of Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space (aka Sam & Max Season Two) as well, so 2021 should prove to be a very good year indeed for the dog and hyperkinetic rabbity thing.

Hopefully it's a very good year for the rest of us as well.