Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mega Man X Review

Mega Man X was the beginning of a new Mega Man series and the first 16-bit Mega Man game. It was originally released in December of 1993 for the Super Famicom, barely over a month after the release of Mega Man 6 on the Famicom. There was no shortage of Mega Man games back then. Fans are begging for a new Mega Man these days, but back then, people were getting tired of them. Capcom had to shake the Mega Man universe up somehow. Their idea was to create a Super Rockman, a new Mega Man set in the future of the original series.

Mega Man X takes place about 100 years after the original series. In the year 21XX, an archeologist/scientist named Dr. Cain finds the remains of Dr. Light’s lab buried underground. In it, he finds one of Light’s capsules containing Mega Man X. X was Dr. Light’s final creation, a robot with free will. With X and Dr. Light’s notes, Dr. Cain was able to make his own robots, the Reploids. The Reploids helped humans, much like the Robot Masters originally did, until some started going “Maverick” and attacking humans. A Reploid named Sigma formed a group to hunt these robots, until Sigma himself went Maverick. Now, the Mavericks are led by Sigma and the Maverick Hunters are led by Zero. Feeling responsible for the situation, X joins the Maverick Hunters.

This was the first appearance of Zero, the long-haired, sword wielding, and generally cooler robot in red. He's kind of the X series' Protoman. The game really goes out of its way to make Zero look like the coolest robot ever. To the point where they make X look like a chump sometimes. Capcom actually wanted to make Zero the hero of the game at first, but went with a more traditional Mega Man in the end. They eventually made Zero a playable character, and then gave him his own series set in the future of the X series, the Mega Man Zero series.

In-game, Mega Man X looked very different from the NES Mega Man we knew. Mega Man was a little guy with a big head, in an 8-bit world. X looked like an adult Mega Man, the world was a little bit grittier, and the robot designs were a little more complex. It still looked like Mega Man, though. When the original series came to the SNES, with Mega Man 7, it didn’t look radically different from MMX. The change from Mega Man to Mega Man X reminds me a lot of how anime characters change from original series design to sequel series design. See the evolution of Mazinger Z or Goku for examples.

Mega Man X’s gameplay is very similar to the original’s, but faster paced and with a lot more style. X is almost like a Ninja Mega Man. X has a new dash, he can wall jump, and slide down walls. The controls definitely feel like they were designed with Zero in mind. You can also find suit upgrades for X in Dr. Light's capsules hidden around each stage, which give him even more abilities. There’s a helmet, which let’s you break blocks with your head like Mario, an upgrade for the X-Buster, which lets you charge up Maverick weapons for special attacks, and even a Hadoken. Yes, like a Ryu from Street Fighter Hadoken. You even have to do a quarter circle forward motion to use it.

Besides the Light capsules, there are also heart tanks and sub tanks hidden around the levels. The hearts increase your energy capacity, and the sub tanks provide backup energy, like a health potion. Usually, you have to use a Maverick weapon or a suit upgrade ability to get these items. Maybe you’ll use the boomerang to get the item, or maybe you’ll just explore a little off the beaten path to find it. It doesn’t quite make the game a Metroidvania, but it adds a little bit of exploration and replay value to the 8 Maverick levels.

The Mavericks, all have animal themes and levels that match the real-life environments of those animals, or their elemental weapon at least. You probably won't find Mammoths or mandrills living in factories or electric plants, like Flame Mammoth and Spark Mandrill. A lush green forest is definitely a fitting environment for Sting Chameleon, though. Much like in the original series, each boss has a weakness to one of the weapons you get from beating another boss, so there is still an order you can follow to make the game easier.

One detail I like about the levels is how they change depending on what bosses you’ve beaten. If you beat Chill Penguin’s stage, Flame Mammoth’s stage will be frozen. If you beat Launch Octopus’ stage, parts of Sting Chameleon's stage will be flooded. You actually need these changes to take place in order to get some items. Just another cool detail that adds to the replayability of the levels.

The graphics are pretty good, but nothing mindblowing. We had already seen better looking games on SNES by late 1993. Capcom themselves had already released great looking SNES games, like Street Fighter II, Final Fight 2, and The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. MMX’s graphics got the job done. MMX looked like a sleeker and more detailed version of Mega Man. This game has pretty a rocking soundtrack, though. Pun intended. It sounds like Mega Man music, but with a 90s rock influence, with lots of wailing electric guitars. It reminds me of early 90s rock music from bands like Guns 'N Roses.

Mega Man X was really the right game at the right time. It broke Mega Man out of the rut it was in, and got people interested in the series again. I’ll always love the original series, but I can’t deny how much more I like the fast-paced gameplay of the X series. MMX made Mega Man badass. It's available on Wii, Wii U, and N3DS VC and on the SNES Classic, so definitely check it out.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the 17th Zelda game and the first original Zelda game on 3DS. It was released on November 22, 2013. The same days as Super Mario 3D World on Wii U. It was a glorious day for Nintendo fans. The game is a combination of 2 ideas, one was a concept for a Zelda game in which Link could merge into walls, and the other was a request from Miyamoto to Aonuma to make a Zelda game like A Link to the Past in stereoscopic 3D. Development on the game started shortly after Spirit Tracks on DS was completed in late 2009, but the team working on it was pulled away to work on Skyward Sword, and then on Wii U launch games, so it took around 4 years to get the game done. Luckily, we had Ocarina of Time 3D to play on 3DS while we waited for it.

A Link Between Worlds is sort of a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES. It’s actually called Triforce of the Gods 2 in Japan, which was the name of LttP there. It takes place in the same Hyrule as LttP, but with a new Link, and many years after LttP, the Oracle games, and Link’s Awakening. It’s not clear exactly how long after, but some characters from LttP are still alive in LBW. Even though it takes place in the same Hyrule, the story doesn’t have much to do with A Link to the Past’s.

A Link Between Worlds’ story revolves around Lorule and a few of its inhabitants who have crossed over into Hyrule. One of these characters is the main villain of the game, Yuga, an artistic wizard who is capturing the Seven Sages inside paintings, to resurrect Ganon once again. Lorule is basically an alternate universe version of Hyrule, like Earth 2. Lorule looks a lot like the Dark World from LttP, but it is not actually the same place. LttP’s Dark World is Hyrule’s Sacred Realm after it was corrupted by Ganondorf when he invaded it and got the Triforce of Power in Ocarina of Time. Lorule was corrupted in another way, which is explained in LBW.

LBW looks like LttP, but it is not a remake or reimagining. It does use a very similar overworld map, and there are a lot of things that play with your expectations if you’ve played LttP, but it’s a very different game. LttP’s map is used more as a loose guideline than a mold they fit a new game into. There are secrets to uncover in both new and old places, and most area layouts are very different. For example, the desert area was pretty empty in LttP, but it’s a big obstacle course full of wall merging and Sand Rod puzzles in LBW. All the dungeons are completely different too, even though they have similar themes.

Before the release of LBW, there was a lot of talk about breaking Zelda conventions from Aonuma. This game does a few things differently, but it’s not exactly Breath of the Wild. This game feels closer to the old formula than BotW. The big changes to the LttP structure are the dungeon order and the way you acquire items. You don’t find items in dungeons, like in previous Zelda games, you rent items from a character named Ravio instead. Ravio is a character from Lorule who is crashing at Link’s house, and later turns Link’s house into an item rental shop. You can rent items for a low price, but they’re repossessed by Ravio’s pet, Sheerow, if you die. You can buy items from Ravio for a much higher price later on in the game, which lets you keep them even if you die. There are still a few items you get by exploring and doing quests for NPCs around the overworld, like bottles, the Zora Flippers, and the Pegasus Boots.

Since you no longer need to find a specific item within a dungeon to complete a dungeon, you’re free to go wherever your items can take you. The only dungeons you have to do in order are the first and last ones. Much like in LttP; though, there are only 3 dungeons in Hyrule, so you have to do those before you can move the story forward and go to Lorule, where the rest of the dungeons are. This feels like a good balance between the story driven structure of LttP and the freedom of BotW.

This game’s big new mechanic is the wall merging. Thanks to a special bracelet, and Yuga’s magic, Link gains the power to merge into walls by turning into a mural, which looks a lot like the murals of Ocarina of Time Link in Wind Waker’s intro. While in a wall, Link can move left and right, but he can’t use items or attack. Moving across walls is mostly used to cross over areas with no floors or platforms. It kind of takes the place of jumping. It’s also used to move things which might be stuck to or resting against a wall, and to go into cracks which allow you to travel between Hyrule and Lorule. Wall merging makes you think about 2D Zelda from a 3D perspective. Things can be hidden in places that are not visible from a top down view, and you can slide through small openings and behind objects. It’s not quite Paper Mario, but it’s similar. It’s a very interesting new way to think about a 2D Zelda world.

Another smaller change is the energy system. It’s a lot like the one used for sprinting in Skyward Sword, but this time, it’s used for nearly everything. Most items, and the wall merging mechanic, use energy as their resource. The only items that don’t use energy are things like the bug net, and equippable gear, like the Pegasus boots. There are no bomb or arrow limits, so you never have to worry about restocking your supply. The energy system does kind of feel like a cooldown timer sometimes, though.

A Link Between Worlds is technically impressive. It runs at 60 frames per second (most of the time) with 3D on or off. Something not a lot of 3DS games can do. It looks great with 3D on too. It also has great character and enemy designs, which look like a cross between LttP’s in-game graphics and art from the first NES Zelda’s manual. I think a lot of the textures and colors are kind of bad, though. Less would have been more here, I think. Even in the SNES days, LttP was not a technical marvel, but it still looks good today, because, like Wind Waker, it used simple colors and outlines, which made it look like a cartoon. LBW doesn’t do either of those things, so it looks like some kind of “New” Legend of Zelda sometimes.

This game’s graphics won’t age well, but I think it will be remembered as one of the best 2D Zelda games. It think it strikes a great balance between the old LttP style and the new open world style of Breath of the Wild. I also love how the wall merging mechanic makes you think about 2D Zelda from a 3D perspective. I really like this game’s story and characters too. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Ravio and Hilda.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Super Nintendo Classic Edition Review

In 2016, Nintendo struck gold with the NES Classic Edition. It wasn’t just the hot gaming item, or the hot Holiday gift, it had all kinds of people looking for it, well into 2017. To this day, I have never seen an NES Classic in person. Then, in April of 2017, Nintendo announced that production of the NES Classic Edition was coming to an end. People were angry, they were confused, and Nintendo gave no answers. Things started making a little more sense in June, when Nintendo announced the SNES Classic Edition. It came out on September 29, comes with 21 games, and costs $79.99, $30 more than the NES Classic. Basically, Nintendo stopped making the NES Classic to make the SNES Classic. The NES Classic will be back in 2018, though, so there’s still a chance to get one!

The SNES Classic Edition is a tiny replica of the SNES. The controllers are actually wider than the system. It has working Power and Reset buttons, but the Reset button is more like the Home button on other systems. It has an HDMI port and a USB micro port on the back, and 2 Wii remote style controller ports under a flap in the front. It does not have a real cartridge slot. SNES carts are wider than the system, anyway. It comes with a small AC power adapter, but you can hook it up to pretty much anything to power it, like a TV, or even your Switch.

The controllers look like the originals, and they’re the same size as the originals, but they are not exactly the same. They have a matte finish that's a little bit rougher than the originals and the cords are about 4ft shorter. The controller cords are 5ft long. That’s 2 more feet than the NES Classic’s cords, but still way too short. If you think this is going to bother you, get an extension cord, there’s a bunch available on Amazon. Or better yet, get a wireless adapter. I got an 8bitdo wireless adapter that allows you to use Wii Classic and Wii U Pro controllers, and works with both the NES and SNES Classics, after a firmware update. The controllers look cool, but since they don’t have a Home button, you have to use the Reset button on the console to go back to the main menu and switch games, use save states, or use the rewind feature. That’s why I prefer using Wii and Wii U controllers.

Every version of the Wii Classic Controller works without the need for an adapter. That includes 3rd party stuff, like the Tatsunoko VS Capcom arcade stick. You just plug them in like you would the regular controllers. Don’t bother trying to use PS2 or GC to Wii adapters, I tried all of mine mine, and none of them worked. No luck with the Tekken Tag 2 stick for Wii U either, even though it plugs into a Wiimote, just like the Tatsunoko VS Capcom stick.

The UI is king of a mixed bag. I don’t really like the pixelated icons and SNES shell themed art. I guess they’re going for a retro look, but it just looks kind of cheap. They do have nice pictures of all the boxarts, though, which look pretty good.

Every game has little icons that tell you how many save states you’re using (out of 4), if it has battery backup, and if it’s a 2 player game. You can sort by release date, 2 player games, publisher, title, times played, and recently played. The options are above the games and the save states and rewind function below. Everything is fast, easy to understand, for the most part, and the games load instantly. Even though it doesn’t look great, it gets the job done.

I think the way you go back into a game from the main menu is a bit unintuitive. If you exit a game and go to the main menu, you have to press down, select your save state, and then press A on it to continue. If you press A on the boxart, you reset the game. If you’re used to the 3DS OS, that’s exactly what you’re going to do, and you will lose your progress, and you will be sad. I just lost about an hour of progress in LttP today.

The system has options for 12 different borders, including black, and 3 filters. The filters included are CRT, 4:3, and Pixel Perfect. You can't mix and match filters. CRT mimics the look of old tube TVs and gives you a blurry look with some fake scanlines. 4:3 gives you a sharp image with rectangle pixels, which looks like what you get with Virtual Console games on Wii U. Pixel Perfect gives you a sharp image with square pixels. It’s the unmodified image the system sends to the TV. It doesn’t stretch the image, like old TVs did, so you’ll see circles instead of ovals, and squares instead of rectangles in a lot of games. I prefer Pixel Perfect for most games. I grew up playing games in 4:3 on a tube TV, but I can’t unsee Samus’ oval Morph Ball now.

The rewind feature is pretty cool and easy to use. The system is always saving the last 45 seconds of your game, so you can go to the main menu, press X on a save state, rewind and fast forward through those 45 seconds, and resume playing wherever you want. It works with any save state, with any game, at any time. You can be playing Super Metroid and go rewind a Super Mario World game, if you feel like it. It’s a very cool feature.

This system comes packed with some amazing games. They’re not just some of the best SNES games, they’re some best games ever made. Zelda LttP, Super Metroid, and Super Mario World are definitely in my top 10. There’s hundreds of hours worth of gaming fun in this tiny SNES.

Here’s a list of all 21 games included.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - One of my favorite Zelda games and one of my favorite games of all time. It’s the blueprint for pretty much every Zelda game until Breath of the Wild, and a must play for all Zelda fans.

Super Metroid -

Super Mario World - The SNES pack-in game at launch, and one of my favorite 2D Marios. It introduced Yoshi, had a huge world with multiple exits in many levels, and for the first time, you could go back and replay any level without restarting the game.

Super Mario Kart - The original kart racer. I thought it was the weirdest idea at the time. It let you drive a go kart around Super Mario World themed levels! That’s crazy! It’s kind of weird to play MK without analog controls now, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Donkey Kong Country - I know it’s cool to hate on DKC these days, but I love this game. It’s no Mario World, but is awesome. The music and graphics are fantastic, it's full of collectables and secrets, and it’s very challenging. It’s one of Rare’s best games.

F-Zero - One of the SNES launch games. It was a SNES graphics showpiece. It’s still a lot fun.

Mega Man X - The first 16-bit Mega Man and the debut of Zero. One of the best 2D action platformers ever.

Super Castlevania IV - A reimagining of the original Castlevania. It did a few new things in the series, but it was never followed up on, because Igavanias took over after Symphony of the Night. It had great gameplay, cool mode 7 effects, and amazing music.

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting - The second version of SFII on SNES, since Champion Edition never made it onto the system. The hype for this game was unreal. We didn’t have the 4 bosses playable at home until this came out, over a year after arcade CE and SNES SFII were out.

Contra 3: The Alien Wars - A great run and gun shoot 'em up and borderline copyright infringing homage to Terminator, Aliens, and Predator. Unlike the NES game and the Super Famicom version, there’s no 30 lives code.

Secret of Mana - The sequel to Final Fantasy Adventure on Game Boy, and the first SquareSoft game I ever finished. It's an action RPG, but it has a slow charging battle system. It's kind of like Zelda meets Final Fantasy.

Earthbound - Stand By Me meets Dragon Quest. It has a crazy cult following for a reason. It has a unique setting, touching story, and lovable characters. Legalize Mother 3!

Star Fox - This was an amazing technical feat for the SNES at the time, and there is still fun to be had here, but it’s kind of hard to go back to with its low framerate.

Star Fox 2 - The birthplace of a lot of the bad ideas used in future Star Fox games. It’s the worst ideas of Star Fox Zero, Command, and 64, minus motion or touch controls, collected in one game. It’s all in free roaming “all-range” mode, with no on-rails stages, it has the real-time map from Command, and the Arwing AT-ST (chicken mode) from Zero. It’s interesting from a historical point of view, at least.

Kirby Super Star - A collection of Kirby games, including minigames and traditional Kirby games.

Kirby’s Dream Course - An isometric mini golf game where Kirby is the ball.

Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts - An original GNG game made for the SNES, and the third game in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series. Super hard, arcade style, run ‘n gun platformer.

Final Fantasy III - Also known as Final Fantasy VI. It has some of the best music on the SNES and is probably the best looking sprite-based RPG SquareSoft ever made.

Super Punch-Out!! - The second Punch-Out on consoles, and fourth game in the series. This one brought back a lot of boxers from the arcade games and replaced the NES game’s uppercut mechanic with the KO punch mechanic from the arcade games.

Yoshi’s Island - At a time when people were in love with new 3D and pre-rendered graphics, like in Donkey Kong Country, Nintendo dared to make something that looked radically different. It was Yoshi’s first platformer, and it had more exploration than the typical Mario platformer.

Super Mario RPG - The last SquareSoft game released for a Nintendo system outside Japan before they made the move to PlayStation. It’s the grandaddy of the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games.

Overall, I think this is a great package. I wish it had some more games, though. Where are Super Mario All-Stars and Chrono Trigger? It’s also sorely missing a good beat 'em up, like Final Fight 2 or Super Double Dragon, and a good spaceship shoot 'em up, like Gradius 3 or Super R-Type. I also wish the price was closer to the NES Classic’s, but there’s a lot of great games in there, and it’s still worth the price. Buying all these games on VC, if they were all on VC, would cost a lot more money. If nothing else, it’s at least a great ornament. This system is super cute, and looks cool just about anywhere in an entertainment center.