Ishido: The Way of Stones

Grade:  B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 37th

Publisher:  Accolade

Year:  1990

Genre:  Stones

Ishido is a great little puzzle game in which you place different colored tiles on a grid.  I assure you this is more exciting than it sounds.  Each tile has one of six designs on it, and the rule is that if two tiles are touching, they must share either the same color or design.  Where it gets tricky is that to place a tile on the board so that it is touching 2 different tiles, you can’t just, say, put a red one in between two other reds.  It must be the same color as one, but have the same design as the other.  The more sides you match on, the more points you get, with a big bonus for the elusive 4-way (color match on two sides, design match on the other two).  As the board fills up and you run out of spaces with open sides, things get trickier, and the game eventually ends when there are no more allowable spaces to place tiles or, if you’re a lot better than us, you manage to place all of your tiles.  Man, I wish I knew another word for tiles.

Obviously this isn’t an easy concept to express, so when it came time to market this game, Accolade wanted some box art that properly conveyed the subtle strategy and high-minded nature of the game:

Alright, so not too shabby.  The guy sitting alone kind of illustrates the idea that this is sort of like an alternate version of solitaire, and the robes and white beard make him appear to be old and wise.  In fact, it almost seems to say that this is exactly the kind of game a wizard would enjoy playing during his spare time. I don’t know any wizards, so I cannot verify the accuracy of such a claim, but it does seem feasible.  I am a little concerned about the glowing eyes and the fact that he appears to be melting, though – maybe Ishido is radioactive?  That would explain why Sega didn’t give it a Seal of Approval.  Although that more likely that it has something to do with the sticker in the corner which indicates that the game may not work with your Genesis (for what its worth, it worked on ours). At least you get a “special price” for that inconvenience.  Overall, I’d say this is a good box.

Of course, some versions of the game fared better than others.  When it was time to release the game on the Atari Lynx, things became significantly more awesome, which I believe this is the only time those words have ever been written in regard to the Atari Lynx:

What… the hell?

Holy shit!  Or melting wizard guy has been replaced by a bikini-and-cape wearing sorceress with 80s hair magically whipping the tiles at you.  This my friends, is how you market a puzzle game.  Or any kind of game for that matter.  Now I know some of you purists out there will argue this isn’t a good box since the actual game doesn’t feature the girl.  Or the 80s hair.  Or the “projec-tiles”.  But that sounds more like a flaw with the game than the box, doesn’t it?.  Admittedly, whoever bought this game would have been pretty disappointed by the lack of such things, but it’s not like the one guy who bought games for the Atari Lynx wasn’t already used to being disappointed by them anyway.  At least this time he got a cool box out of the deal.

Alright, I apologize for going on a 300 word tangent about box art.  I guess I don’t really have a lot to say about making tiles match.  Maybe I haven’t been married long enough or something.  That’s what married people do, right?  Pick out matching tiles?  Anyway, the point is, Ishido really is a fun game.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out for yourself.  For free.  Here’s a link to a flash version of Ishido that you can play right now.  Or for those you you who prefer to install things and run them later, you can also download the PC or Mac versions of Ishido for free from the website of one of the the programmers.

By the way, one of the guys who made Ishido has a website where he talks about his experiences working on the game (he was only 17 at the time!), as well as his other projects since then.  How cool is that?

One thing worth noting about Ishido is that it’s an original concept.  A lot of people mistake it for Mahjong or some other tile game, and while there was probably an influence, Ishido is it’s own thing, not the Genesis version of some popular board game.  Maybe it’s just me, but I find it pretty impressive that so many people who have played Ishido make that mistake. It’s not easy to make people believe something is an ancient game, translated into digital form, when its really just something that sprang from the mind of some guy in California during the late 80s.  What I’m saying is that nobody ever plays Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and assumes it’s a tradition passed on to us from the Han Dynasty.

Ishido was an early Genesis game, and not immensely popular, which means that copies can be found for just a couple of bucks.  Normally, I’d call that quite a bargain, but since you could also just play the flash version for free online, I guess it really depends on who you are.  Just looking for a fun game?  Play the flash version .  Genny enthusiast?  Definitely buy a copy.  Aficionado of video game boxes?  Well, go with the Lynx version, obviously.

Shove It! …The Warehouse Game

Grade:  B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 38th

Publisher:  Dreamworks/NCS

Year:  1990

Genre:  Character Assassination

We usually like to start these reviews off by discussing the game in question’s storyline, but in the case of Shove It!, we’re really not going to be able to discuss its story in great detail since it’s a game about shoving crates around a warehouse (as an aside, I really hate it when games use punctuation in their titles – it absolutely wrecks havoc with the grammar checker… and rightfully so, I suppose.  It’s not like there are well-established rules for the use of apostrophies when indicating possesion by something with a name ending in an exclamation point).  There’s not much you can do to turn that into an epic tale – it’s not like the fate of the world rests on your ability to shove a crate across the room – and to the game’s credit it doesn’t really try.  This is a game about a regular guy, doing a regular job, with the relatively low stakes of getting in trouble with his boss if he does it poorly.  What are the rewards?  The game never really says, but the title screen implies cars and women might be involved:

Not unlike hip-hop, actually.

Hmm, that guy looks vaguely familiar, doesn’t he?  Mustache, dark hair, blue overalls, red cap… where have I seen this before?  Oh, that’s right:

Mario.  Nintendo’s mascot and almost certainly the most famous video game character in the world at the time this game out.

Now it could be all a coincidence.  The developers might have just been creating a character based on blue-collar stereotypes, and came up with this eerily similar guy.  And they did change his job from plumber to warehouse worker.  So that’s something.  Even so, it’s hard to look at that guy and not think he looks like Mario.  And it’s hard to imagine there was someone in the industry didn’t know what a Mario was.  At some point there had to be a conscious realization that they were essentially “borrowing” another company’s most popular character.

So let’s take this to its logical conclusion – if you buy into my crazy theory that the people who made this game knew perfectly well what they were doing, it starts to seem like a pretty blatant attempt at character assassination.

See, by creating a version of Mario that’s grounded in the real world, he suddenly becomes a lot less glamourous, and a lot more like that guy you know who spends all his time drinking at the bowling alley and won’t shut up about the ’86 Giants.  Let’s consider the differences:

Mario Mr. Shove It!
Lives in The Mushroom Kingdom Staten Island
Social Peers The ruling monarchy His softball team
Current Occupation Rescuing Princesses Shoving crates
Ride A turbocharged Go Kart, or sometimes a dinosaur A 1988 Ford Mustang that he says is “totally boss”
Gambles on Which treasure chests contain extra lives Football games
Refers to significant other as: “Princess”, since she is, you know, an actual Princess “Princess” (sacastically) or “My old lady”
Leisure activities Tennis, Golf Gettin’ wasted!

Oh sure, we’re basing our knowledge of Mr. Shove It! almost entirely on how he looks, but don’t tell me you don’t have a cousin or neighbor who looks just like him, and he isn’t exactly as we just described.

The object of this level is apprently to make the area look less like a swastika.

As for the game itself, Shove It! is a clever little puzzle game.  The object is to shove crates around a warehouse until they have been moved into designated areas.  Crates can only be pushed, never pulled, so it’s important to plan your moves carefully.  Screw things up and you could end up with a crate trapped against a wall that can no longer be moved, forcing you to restart the level.  Really screw things up and you’ll block all the exits, causing our little Mario impostor to become trapped in the warehouse for eternity, never to listen to his beloved Bob Seger cassettes ever again.  This is why warehouse worker frequently appears near the top of “Most Dangerous Occupation” lists, right behind commercial fisherman and Iranian Nuclear Scientist.  Or at least they would be if, like in the game, most warehouses were designed like mazes and didn’t have forklifts.  Though as someone who worked in a warehouse for a brief period, I can tell you that adding forklifts wouldn’t make these warehouses any safer.  It would just turn the game into something more like Frogger – Forklift drivers are crazy.

Anyway, Shove It! is a fun little game.  There are smart level designs, and like all great puzzle games, it has a gameplay concept that is easy to understand but quite challenging to actually do.  You always have to think a few moves ahead, and it’s amazing how seemingly insignificant moves at the beginning of the level can have a big impact on the final outcome.  Kind of like chess, if all the pieces were being moved around by a guy who describes things he likes as “cherry”.

In fact, his license plates actually say “CHERRY”, as in “Man, this Mustang is fucking cherry!”

To my knowledge, nobody has ever included Shove It! in any kind of retro collection, or put it up on Xbox Live or PSN.  And being one of the earlier games for the Genesis, it is slightly harder to find than, say, Sonic 2.  Even so, we were able to find copies both online and at a couple of used games stores, usually for only a few dollars. At that price, we definitely recommend a purchase.