Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2

Brad: In the first Rocket Knight Adventures, you had to hold down the button to charge up your weapon to make it more powerful, and then release the button to fire.  This led to something I call the “Megaman 4 Effect”, in which you spent almost the entire game holding one button down while trying to jump obstacles and maneuver around your enemies, and it marred an otherwise decent game.  This got fixed for the sequel, which is both good and bad.  On the plus side, this game is significantly more playable than its predecessor.  On the other hand, without the one glaring flaw to fixate on, it becomes more obvious that the rest of the game, while decent, isn’t anything too special.

We played the first RKA thinking it would be great if not for the Megaman 4 effect.  But now that its been fixed, we’ve come to realize that the game is really just pretty good.  Worth playing for a while, but not too long.

Sparkster000You have to like a world where everything is either covered in spikes, fire, or both.

Stryker: Sometimes I wonder if any of the people who keep saying how great this game is ever really played it.  I think maybe they just saw it was from Konami, that it was an action/platformer, and that it had a unique character, and assumed that it had to be good.  And then other people simply believed them and the legend grew.

Vapor Trail

Brad: There seems to be a misguided idea among game designers that putting fewer checkpoints in a game makes it harder.  Vapor Trail is apparently big proponent of this theory, since dying in the game generally sends you back to the very beginning of the level.  If you think about it though, this idea is for the most part misguided.  The easier parts of the game don’t magically get harder just because you’re being forced to play through them over and over.  I suppose it slightly increases the chance that a player might screw up an earlier part of the level, but for the most part, it’s just repetitive, frustrating, and makes the not very challenging areas seem even less interesting by comparison.

Maybe from the perspective that it makes the game less fun, thereby reducing the chance that a player will bother stick with it long enough to get through a level, I guess you could argue that it does make the game harder.  So, um… good work, I guess.

Kill this thing without getting hit or be forced to play through the entire level again.

Stryker: The storyline to Vapor Trail is that terrorists somehow hacked into the military’s computers and are threatening to launch nukes at every major city unless their demands are met.  Now in real life that’s a pretty unlikely scenario, but this is not unusual territory for a video game, so we’ll let it pass.  Here’s a question, though – how is launching one fighter jet going to solve that problem?  As in, what’s your mission?  The game is kinda vague about that part, which is understandable since it doesn’t make any goddamned sense at all.

Mr. Do!: We’ve seen some power-ups of questionable usefulness in shooters before, but a cannon that shoots your bullets in a left-to-right “curveball” arc?  Ideas like that are bad enough to get you elected governor in most southern states.

FIFA Soccer Series

Note:  Of all the games in the series of EA’s FIFA Soccer titles, these were the Editor’s favorites:

Brad: FIFA ’95 (Genesis)

Stryker: FIFA ’96 (Genesis)

Stryker: Soccer isn’t a very popular sport here in America, but having played for my high school team, I do have an appreciation for the game.  Unlike football, or baseball, or basketball, a soccer game is typically a low-scoring affair.  It’s defensive in nature, highly strategic, and methodical.  For the athletes, it’s largely a contest of endurance, as there are few substitutions or stoppages of play, and conserving precious energy is a key part of play.  This is a game that requires patience and precision… oh hey, feel free to stop me if I mention anything that sounds like it would make for a fun video game…

We realize that EA probably saves money by reusing some sprites from their other games, but Jesus Christ, it looks like the dudes from NHL’95 got confused and started playing the wrong sport.

Brad: One thing I will say in favor of the FIFA series is that starting with FIFA ’95, the game added a “shove button” (technically, 2 buttons pressed at once), that allows you to blatantly push your opponent down to the ground.  Turn the fouls off and you can finally experience soccer the way we used to play it in the Hamburg summer rec leagues.

PGA Tour Series

Side note, of all the games in the PGA Tour series, these were the editors’ favorites:

Brad: PGA European Tour (Genesis)

Stryker: PGA Tour 3 (Genesis)

Brad: The gameplay in the PGA Tour games is exactly the same as kicking field goals in Madden, so if you were to shoot an incredible, record-shattering 55 on one of these courses, it would be the equivalent of playing a football game and kicking fifty-five field goals without running any other plays.  Funny how the greatest game of golf ever played would end up being so much like the worst football game in history.

This picture is from the PGA European Tour, so it’s probably safe to guess that the guy is a aristocrat who lives in a fancy castle.

Stryker: The PGA series has the same problem that has plagues most golf games – it sends you out on the course with the world’s greatest caddy.  On every shot, the game points you at the flag and picks the perfect club for you. It also tells you all kinds of specific, useful information, such as the exact wind speed and direction, as well as the exact distance to the hole, and your maximum power with each club.  All that’s left to do is make a few slight adjustments, and then swing away.
Oh sure, hitting the ball is tricky at first, as it can be pretty unforgiving, and anything less than perfect timing on the swing meter will send your shot veering far away from it’s intended target.  Problem is, it doesn’t take long to get the timing down, and once you do, there really isn’t anything else to provide challenge.  You’ll go from shanking tee shots and sinking quadruple bogeys to Tiger Woods-like dominance to complete boredom all within about 30 minutes.

The Punisher

Brad: Over the course of this project, we’ve come across more than a few superhero games that did a pretty rotten job of recreating our favorite superheroes.  There’s been Superman games where the man of steel got hurt every time someone walked into him, far too many Spiderman games where you couldn’t climb walls, and even one version of Wolverine who’s primary method of attack was to kick people in the balls.  The was also a Tick game that was painfully unfunny, though to be honest I thought that was pretty true to the source material.  Nevertheless, the Genesis’ track record with “superhero accuracy” hasn’t been too good.

Punisher’s pickup lines leave a bit to be desired.

The Punisher goes a long way toward reversing this trend, as it is probably one of the most accurate portrayals of a comic book character seen in a 16-bit game.  Before we get too carried away though, let’s keep in mind that the Punisher doesn’t have any extraordinary “superpowers” and that his main attributes are shooting stuff, punching stuff, and dressing like he buys all his clothes from bootleggers in the parking lot of Misfits concerts.  This isn’t exactly unexplored territory for video games.  Let’s face it, you could take a character from just about any action game on the system, throw a skull shirt on him, and have yourself a pretty accurate version of the Punisher.

So yeah, this game does a nice job of recreating the Punisher.  And I know how to boil corn.  In terms of difficult achievements, they’re about equal.

Stryker: Like so many things that combine awesomeness with violence, the Punisher gets started in a bar, where thugs just start attacking him.  The game never bothers to explain this, so I’m inclined to think the fight started for no reason at all.  That’s not so hard to believe, though.  “No reason” is the fourth most common reason bar for why fights start, right behind looking at somebody else’s woman, declaring that the local sports team sucks, or proclaiming one’s appreciation of Jeff Gordon.

Underground poppy fields?  That totally makes sense.

Mr. Do!: Sorry, but I stopped taking this game seriously the first time a street thug attacked me with a fucking battle axe.

Centurion: Defender of Rome

Brad: The best thing I can say about Centurion: Defender of Rome is that it got me and about 19 others out of a day of Latin class back when we were in 9th grade.  That might not sound like much, but it’s no small praise as Latin was typically the worst class any of us had.

The high school I attended had a requirement that each student pass 2 years or foreign language classes in order to earn a Regent’s Diploma.  And the alternative – a regular non-Regent’s high school diploma – was unthinkable.  The school made it sound like a normal diploma wasn’t worth the paper it was written on – that it might as well have come with a college rejection letter printed on the back, and a job application from the local Burger King stapled to it.  So I took Latin.

Don’t ask me why I chose Latin.  Spanish was the easiest choice, with French being a close second.  Latin was hard.  Everyone in school knew this – I have no idea how since none of us had taken a day of foreign language classes yet, but it was the prevailing wisdom.  My personal theory was that while Latin might be harder, it had the advantage of being a dead language.  This meant I’d never have to worry about running into anyone who actually spoke it, and could thus avoid those humiliating situations you see in movies where the one guy is from Spain and is like “Oh, you can speak Spanish?” and then says a bunch of things in Spanish, and the other guy, with only his 2 years of high school Spanish to rely on, fumbles around and ends up saying something like “Your pants are very turtle,” much to everyone’s embarrassment.

For some reason I was deathly afraid of that ever happening to me.

This beats the hell out of Latin class

I also figured that if so many English words came from Latin, I would already know what half the words meant.  Like so many other things about my experiences in learning a foreign language, this proved to be a throughly incorrect theory.

Latin class was about as close to a guerrilla war as most kids attending a public school in an upper-middle class district are likely to experience.  Before I can fully explain why, there is something you need to understand.  Latin sucks.  Learning Latin sucks even more.  There’s approximately a billion words you need to learn, and 90% of them sound like slight variations of each other.  The grammar is completely different from English, and seemingly every single word in the language has it’s own customized set of rules for how it can or can’t be used.  Oh, and since nobody has used the language in 2,000 years, there are a lot of things that they didn’t have words for, so if one were to attempt to speak Latin in a modern setting, there’s no universal agreement on what words to use for these new things, or how the rules of grammar would apply to them.  Et tu, internet?

So yeah, we kinda hated Latin.

What had started out as a respectably sized group of over 30 students taking Latin every other day in 7th grade had dropped to about half that number by 9th grade when it became an everyday event.  The following year, which was optional, only 13 of us were taking the class.  I stuck with it for that final year, figuring it would be easier to keep taking Latin, something I already knew, rather than sign up for a new class learning something entirely unfamiliar.  This was of course based on the entirely faulty assumption that I had actually learned any Latin in the past few years, which I hadn’t.

Now add to our non-willingness to learn Latin the fact that our teacher had very little ability to control the students.  By “very little”, I mean that a kid jumped out the window once in the middle of class and she didn’t notice.  This, as you may imagine, is a pretty volatile combination.  Probably a third of class days could be most accurately described as “open rebellion” in which we did whatever the hell we wanted while she flailed helplessly.  These could be fun days, although a little scary, because there was always the threat of things getting REALLY out of control and someone getting hit by a thrown object or lit on fire.  And that’s not a totally hyperbolic statement either – some kids the year following us actually did start ripping pages out of textbooks and lit a decent sized fire during class.  The teacher, not wanting to get in trouble, didn’t report this to the office, and instead sent one student out to retrieve the fire extinguisher.  Without a hall pass.  The kid got busted (the only time I’ve ever actually heard of that happening at my old school) and sent to the office, where she waited for 10 minutes before calmly explaining to the principal the reason she was in the hall without a pass was to get the fire extinguisher because the Latin room was in flames.  In the meantime, my old Latin teacher had sealed all the windows and doors, so that the smoke wouldn’t escape and tip off anyone to what was going on inside.  Yes, this really happened.

Most days, however, we would just take turns pretending the radiator was broken and kicking the hell out of it repeatedly.  That really wasn’t fun, just kind of noisy and disruptive.  Which was still better than learning Latin.

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Centurion.  Well, since the only way to really pacify us and keep things from getting too out of control was to not teach us Latin, we spent a lot of time not learning Latin.  Instead we would do things that had tenuous connections to the language, such as learning about the Roman Empire, mythology, and, sometimes, Franciscan monks.  We ended up watching a lot of movies this way, which might sound like fun, but only if you haven’t seen very many school movies.  This wasn’t really a tactic of appeasement so much as sedation.

Horses were larger in Roman times.  Or elephants were smaller.

And then one day, at the suggestion of yours truly, we arranged to have a Genesis hooked up into the classroom and spent the day playing Centurion.  It was glorious.  Well, at least compared to watching Theseus and the Minotaur. I was the class hero for an afternoon.

Anyway, as a game, Centurion may have been a bit too far ahead of it’s time.  It’s a kind of an early version of  the Total War games, in which you have turn-based empire building combined with real-time strategic battles.  Unfortunately, it came out in a time when creating a functional RTS was still a far-off dream.  The interface is sloppy and unintuitive, and a simple “false retreat” strategy is game-breakingly effective.  The empire-running aspects of the game are alright, but pretty limited when compared to other strategy games of the time.  Presumably, they were supposed to be supplemental to the RTS portions of the game.  It’s a fun game, just not nearly fun enough to make the Top 50.

However, for one wonderful afternoon, it saved us from having to learn about declensions or whatever, and prevented a potentially coma-inducing second viewing of Frai Iacobis.  That’s pretty good right there.  Plus, it was essential to helping me fulfill a lifelong dream of playing video games at school.  So while I do acknowledge that its not one of the 50 best games for the system, I will still always remember Centurion: Defender of Rome rather fondly.

Stryker:Centurion is a strategy game where the same strategy works in almost every battle, which makes the game pretty easy.  To make up for that, your troops can only remember one command at a time.  This means you have to each unit about the first step of your brilliant plan, wait for them to execute it, and then explain the next part to them while the battle rages on.  Not only that, but you have to issue your commands to each unit one at a time.  This doesn’t actually make the game any harder though, just more annoying.  It’s one thing to trick your enemies into walking into your trap they never saw coming, but quite another to surprise your own troops by slowly unveiling the exact same plan you’ve already used to conquer most of Europe.

Biohazard Battle

Storylines in shooters are kind of a tough proposition.  It’s not easy to come up with a logical reason why a military force would attempt a strategy of trying to defeat an entire space armada with one lone ship. On top of that, whatever convoluted reason the story writer does come up with for justifying this course of action better be pretty damn concise, because nobody wants to invest more than thirty seconds of their time into reading the narrative to what’s essentially a prettied up version of Galaga.

Ironically, one of the few games in this genre to come up with a decent story is also one of the most popularly mocked – Zero Wing.  The game had a story that actually kind of made sense – your flagship was attacked without warning, and only your fighter managed to escape in time – but this story of sneak attacks and revenge was lost amidst the translation that famously gave us phrases like “All your base are belong to us” and “Someone set up us the bomb.”

Oh, Zero Wing, you’ve given us so much over the years.

Biohazard Battle doesn’t take any time to explain its story in-game, and since this one came to us without any box or instructions, we don’t have that to use as source material.  From playing the game, we’ve been able to determine that this is the story of four fish/insect monsters who like to spend their time flying around planets while getting shot at by bugs.  And while there’s a part of me that would really like to see what kind of convoluted logic it would take have that make sense, I think it’s probably better off if I don’t.

Part of the reason is that, although in the back of my mind I know that there is almost certainly a long, detailed Wikipedia entry for Biohazard Battle, until I see it, I can deny it.  Were I to confirm the fact that at least one person felt the need to add a lengthy Biohazard Battle entry to the online encyclopedia, whatever little faith in humanity I still have left would be destroyed.  So never underestimate the power of denial.  In this case, ignorance isn’t just bliss, it’s essential.

Much as I hate to admit it, someone out there probably wrote a 7,000 word Wikipedia entry on THIS.

The other main reason I don’t bother finding out the “real” story to this game is that the story the designers came up with will probably be a big letdown compared to all the crazy theories Stryker and I have come up with while playing it.  Some cliché story about alien planets or mutant lifeforms is going to pale in comparison to plotlines like “World’s Hardest Pizza Delivery”, “Revenge of the Tuna Monster”, or “This is Just What Andy Dick Sees Every Time He Closes His Eyes”.