Category Archives: video games

Okay, Cruel World, the retro/throwback 2D games trend is officially old now

As an old person that played early side-scrolling classics like Pitfall and Jungle Hunt on his neighbors’ Atari VCS (aka 2600) consoles, I have an affinity for the genre and have played many of the recent remakes/updates/etc. Initially, I was excited by the trend but as I recently played through about half of Donkey Kong Country Returns, I realized I’m more or less over it.

My post is focused on recent releases that look to some old game(s) for all of their inspiration. I’m not including games like Sonic Colors or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.  Althose these games are among the latest 2D entries in long-running series, they’re not “retro” in their focus and, really, 2D games in these series never went away.

Also, I will be focusing on games for DS, PSP, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.  Now, let’s do this.

CATEGORY 1: GAMES THAT COULD HAVE COME OUT IN 1992

This category seems the most pointless of all.  These games are made to look, sound, and play like games originally released for NES, SNES, or Genesis hardware.

Mega Man 9 (2008, Inti Creates/Capcom: Wii, X360, PS3)

Capcom released SIX Mega Man games for the NES and FIVE for the Game Boy, all of which basically look the same (although the graphics did improve incrementally).  In perhaps the most cynical retro move Capcom decided, “Hey, let’s do it again,” even though Mega Man 7, Mega Man 8, and Mega Man & Bass had been released for later systems with improved graphics.  Mega Man 9 is a very solid game and probably more innovative than a couple of the original NES releases but in some ways it takes steps backwards, removing abilities like the slide.

My credentials: beat it.

Mega Man 10 (2010, Inti Creates/Capcom: Wii, X360, PS3)

In true Capcom fashion, they decided to do it all over AGAIN.

My credentials: in true me fashion, I downloaded and still haven’t played it.

Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth (2009, M2/Konami: Wii)

Supposedly, this is a remake of the 1989 Game Boy release, Castlevania: The Adventure.  However, I have played that game and there are very few similarities between them outside of “story”.  Anyway, this is a very serviceable release but seems especially pointless, since there were already many classic 16-bit releases in the series, including Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania Bloodlines, Castlevania (X68000), Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, and Castlevania: Dracula X.

My credentials: beat it.

Contra Rebirth (2009, M2/Konami: Wii)

Again, a serviceable release, but doesn’t really improve or expand on the classic Contra releases.  The only noticeable change for me is that the graphics are almost a bit more cartoony, which takes things ever so slightly closer to Metal Slug territory.

My credentials: beat it (the only Contra game I know of with unlimited continues).

Yoshi’s Island DS (2006, Artoon/Nintendo: DS)

Way back before I was jaded regarding the whole retro 2D trend, I was really excited for this release.  Overall, it’s easily the best game in this portion of the article but it is sickeningly loyal to the original Yoshi’s Island.  This is a problem, as its shortcomings become more apparent.  The added feature of various baby characters available to ride on Yoshi’s back feels like inconvenient fan service.  The original Yoshi’s Island sticks out in part due to its visual innovation, so it’s ironic and shameful that this game just aped its predecessor.

My credentials: beat it.

Contra 4 (2007, WayForward/Konami: DS)

Supposedly, WayForward were inspired by New Super Mario Bros. but they seem to have forgotten that that game actually had modern visual and introduced many new elements.  Contra 4 tries really hard to include every Contra convention introduced in Contra, Super Contra, and Contra III.  It doesn’t add much outside of the strictly vertical grappling hook.  It’s fun, it’s tight, but what’s old is old.

My credentials: completed only on easy setting.

PART 2: REMAKES and MIGHT-AS-WELL-BE-REMAKES

Bionic Commando (2008, Grin/Capcom: Xbox 360, PS3)

For the most part, this is pretty much a remake of the 1988 NES original.  However, the boss encounters are new, the visuals are great, there is a humorously dark attitude, and there are challenge rooms all over.  I think it’s definitely preferable to make a game like this that is basically a remake with some new elements rather than to make a “new” game that really has nothing new to offer.

My credentials: beat it.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010, Dimps/Sonic Team/SEGA: Wii, X360, PS3)

I was pretty disappointed with this one, not because I love the Genesis Sonic games (I don’t) but because I generally love the Dimps-developed Sonic games.  SEGA decided to make a game true to the spirit of the early 90s Sonic games but they went too far, and basically just remade Sonic and Sonic 2.  From what I’ve played of the game, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles featured more innovation than Sonic 4.

My credentials: played about half, got bored.

Mega Man Powered Up (2006, Capcom: PSP)

A remake of the very original Mega Man, this release adds 2 brand new levels and, consequently, 2 brand new robot masters.  The updated visuals are cute but probably a bit too blocky.  The game allows you to play through the whole game as robot masters that you’ve defeated.  That may not seem all that great on the surface, but it allows you to use a specific robot master weapon as much as you want without worrying about it being depleted.  Capcom probably should have included the levels from multiple Mega Man games, which probably would have raised the quality through the roof.

My credentials: beat it.

Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X (2006, Capcom: PSP)

An updated remake of the original Mega Man X.

My credentials: I have not played it!

PART 3: NEW BUT NOT REALLY

New Super Mario Bros. (2006, Nintendo: DS)

As a true homer, I really, really looked forward to this game.  A new side-scrolling Mario game!  The first since Super Mario Land 2!  I’m very conflicted on this release and it’s probably impossible for me to be objective but I can see for a certainty that it was way too easy.  It took me a scant 4 hours to beat the game the first time and I never, ever saw a “Game Over” screen as the game is painfully generous with power-ups and one-ups in some strange effort to make Mario’s quest as easy as can be.  I needed just 4 more hours to find all the big coins and secret paths and all that and then I was done.  And PS – I’m not even that great of a gamer.

Beyond that, New Super Mario Bros. is well-constructed but pretty uninspired.  There are new power-ups and other gimmicks but everything is so backward-focused.  There is no real innovation.  The structure feels like the developers looked at SMB3 and SMWorld and decided to ape them but with a few twists.  That isn’t much of a stretch considering the game was created by the same team that developed the Super Mario Advance re-release series on Game Boy Advance.  The old Super Mario Bros. games were largely special because of their crazy, surprising innovations.  They looked in front, not behind!

My credentials: beat it.


New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009, Nintendo: Wii)

Well, it’s a lot longer than its predecessor.  Four players can play simultaneously, which is fun.  Too bad 2 of the players have to play as generic Toad characters.  Nintendo claimed they couldn’t use Peach because it would look strange when someone held her above their head with her dress on.  Ugh.  She regularly wears more practical clothing in the sports games, why not here?  Or why not use Wario and Waluigi?  Or, Jesus forbid, a new character.  Some of the power-ups are cool but the focus on the past continues with the reintroduction of the Koopalings.

My credentials: beat it.

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins (2006, Capcom: PSP)

Not much more forward-thinking than the New SMB games but it can be forgiven to some extent, as this game treats you like a man, not a kindergartener.  Additionally, some fundamental changes have been made, like a killed character continuing from the spot from which they perished, a warping system, an inventory (!), and non-linear gameplay.  A very worthy, well-thought-out update.

My credentials: got to the final boss door, didn’t have enough rings/keys/whatever to get in, quit, have fantasized for four years about coming back to it.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010, Retro Studios/Nintendo: Wii)

Retro previously developed the great Metroid Prime trilogy so I expected a lot.  And boy! I was disappointed!  This is probably not a bad game but I did not have fun playing it.  It misses the point more so than the New SMB games, as it fails to capture what really stood out about the original DKC games.  You might ask why I hold the game to the old standards; it’s because the game seems to be committed to them.  For one thing, at least in the first half of the game, I did not encounter any water levels.  I only came across Rambi once.  Also, the graphics, while of a very high quality, are not groundbreaking.  The original trilogy was known for its groundbreaking visuals and audio.  Before even considering a new DKC game, the developers should have thought of a way to make the game really stand out.

Additionally, the villains are totally lame and forgettable.  Strange, I used to think the same about the Kremlings but now I see their relative worth.  I just don’t get it.  I would have thought that Retro Studios would want to do something more original, ambitious, and rewarding after the Metroid games.  Guess not!

My credentials: played through 4 worlds.

PART 4: CONCLUSION

Yes, I have played a lot of these games and I enjoyed or at least pretended to enjoy them as I did so.  But now I am older, wiser, and skeptical-er.  Almost all of the games in this article have been topped by recent 2D releases that were inspired by the classics but have decided to move into the future.  These games include LostWinds, Shadow Complex, and Braid.

Probably the coolest thing ever: Super Mario Bros. Crossover

Somehow I just found out about this yesterday: Super Mario Bros. Crossover! Basically, it amounts to one of the coolest crossovers ever. Here’s the recipe:

the lovely character select screen

Ingredients:
-start with the video game, Super Mario Bros.
-add Bill Rizer (from Contra)
-add Simon Belmont (from Castlevania)
-add Mega Man
-add Ryu Hayabusa (from Ninja Gaiden)
-add Samus Aran (from Metroid)
-add Link (from The Legend of Zelda)
Et voila! Super Mario Bros. Crossover at your fingertips.

Now, this isn’t some slapped-together hack.   It’s not like Mega Man’s sprite is just filling in for Mario.  Nope, Mega Man has a mega buster, a charge shot, and can call on Rush to jump to hard-to-reach areas.  Samus can roll around and lay bombs.  Bill can blow Goombas away with his spray gun.  Ryu can climb walls.  Ugh, it’s just too awesome.

Like Mario, all of the heroes can kill most enemies by jumping on them but most of them can’t break bricks by jumping up to hit them.  Each of the characters brings his/her own strengths and limitations that play out in really interesting ways.  Most of them can’t jump or run as fast as Mario, which means they end up having to solve things differently.  For example, those end-of-world fake Bowser confrontations that usually end with Mario jumping over Bowser and hitting that whatever to send Bowser crashing into the lava below?  That’s not so easy for many of the other characters, which can result in machine-gun or sword fights with the King of Koopas.  The hero characters bring their own music, too, which contributes to the overall euphoric confusion of the experience.

So far, my favorite characters are Bill and Simon.  Playing as Bill feels a lot like a standard Contra game, actually, as you can race through machine-gunning everything in sight and jumping over tricky pits.  Simon is just boss because of his brutal throwing axe attack.  My only real complaint is that the Link from the original Legend of Zelda is used, which just looks incongruous with the rest of the game.  His sprite is about half as tall as everyone else’s and is squished, since it does come from an overhead-view game, after all.  I’m perplexed by this decision because there is a perfectly good side-view sprint from Zelda II that would have fit in perfectly.

Anyway,  the creator of the game has stated that he has many updates in mind and I look forward to seeing their implementation.

If you have a gamepad, make sure you follow the instructions at the site to allow you to use one with this game, as it’s definitely worth it.

Recent fighting game reviews: Street Fighter IV, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Punch-Out!!

There has definitely been a resurgence in one-on-one fighting games over the last 2 or 3 years.  I recently dug into a few that represent long-running series that I’ve enjoyed.  An interesting trend among the games I review in this post is that the publishers of these series decided to farm the games to outside developers.  I guess Japanese publishers just hate to develop their own games.


Super Street Fighter IV
2010 (this is a revised version of a game originally released in 2008)
developer: Dimps/Capcom
publisher: Capcom
format: Xbox 360 (also available on PlayStation 3, Windows and – in a miniature-sized version – iPod)

Ramble: In 2008, Capcom revived its famous Street Fighter IV with the arcade release, Street Fighter IV, which was ported to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 the following year.  In typical Capcom fashion, the game has been upgraded and re-released with Super in the title.  Since I never played the original, I can’t offer much in the way of a comparison but from what I’ve heard it’s what one would expect: new characters, new combos, new fight locations.

Anyway, as for the game itself, if you like Street Fighter II and Street Fighter Alpha, you will like this game.  That may seem like a no-brainer but it hasn’t always been the case with previous Street Fighter games.  For example, Street Fighter III, while highly rated by critics and fighting game afficionados for its great animations, messed with the formula enough to be less commercial.  The Street Fighter EX series was never universally accepted by SFII buffs, either.

In many ways, SFIV feels like a remake of SFII.  For example, the original SFIV cast largely consisted of the 12 characters from the original version of SFII.  All of the Super SFII characters have made it over to Super SFIV, as well.  Super SFIV also includes several characters from SF Alpha but only a handful from SFIII and just a few original characters.  Another element that makes SFIV feel remake-y is that the characters seem to be frozen in time, presented basically as they were in either SFII or SF Alpha.  This is definitely a problem for me.  In SF Alpha, the character Cody is supposed to have recently escaped from jail and is thus portrayed as wearing a prison outfit.  In SF IV, which takes place story-wise after SF Alpha, SF, and SFII, Cody is still wearing a prison outfit.  Dang, dude, find some new clothes.  Sakura is still wearing her pervy schoolgirl outfit.  Rose is wearing the exact same dress from SF Alpha.  Admittedly, you can buy new outfits for the characters but to buy every outfit would cost you $16.  EL OH EL!

The best: The game plays very well.  Many of the characters have picked up some new moves to change things up.  The art style is also great but doesn’t come across as stylized as it seemed to be portrayed in gaming publications.  It may seem remake-y but still has its own style and feels fresh in ways that count.

The worst: The fighting locations are basically random.  In SFII, each character had their own cool fight location that reflected his or her personality or culture to some degree.  E. Honda fought in a Japanese bath house, Dalsihm fought in an elephant stable, Guild fought on a military base, etc.  In SFIV, you and your opponent are just whisked off to some random location and you fight.  Another complaint is that the final boss is totally generic and boring, a problem that SFIII had, as well.  SF‘s Sagat and SFII‘s and SF Alpha‘s M. Bison were cool and memorable, but this new guy will never be remembered.

Grade: B+

**********


Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
2008 (didn’t make it to the US until 2009)
developer: Eighting
publisher: Capcom
system: Wii

Ramble: Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is essentially a descendant of the Marvel vs. Capcom series, featuring the trademark simplified control scheme and fast and wild action that series is known for.  This game received pretty good reviews but I just don’t see it.  The combos seem to be the same across the roster there is at least one combo that’s mega simple and spammable.

The Capcom characters chosen for the game are pretty terrible, too.  Only a few are from fighting games, which could be okay, but two slots are wasted on Mega Man Volnutt from the Mega Man Legends series and his pal, Roll.  Meanwhile, dudes like Arthur of Ghosts ‘n Goblins fame have still not appeared as a playable character in one of these vs. games.  At least Viewtiful Joe made the cut, a selection that actually makes sense due to his brawling nature.

Unfortunately, the fighting falls flat for the most part and characters seem relatively unbalanced.  I beat the game without losing a single match on my first playthrough by using Ryu and Alex (of SFIII fame).  Playing with midgets like Viewtiful Joe and Roll offers a more difficult challenge due to imbalances.

The best: The visuals are pretty good.

The worst: The gameplay falls quite flat compared to the Marvel vs. Capcom series and just makes me want to play those games instead.  Almost as weak as the gameplay is a topic I haven’t addressed yet at all – the Tatsunoko cast.  I’m sure some people will think my reaction to the Tatsunoko roster is due to my lack of familiarity with the properties but I assure this is not the case.  For an American equivalent of the lame Tatsunoko cast, I would invite one to look at Hanna-Barbera.  Most of the Tatsunoko fighters are boring super hero types in the same mold as Space Ghost.

Grade: C+

**********


Punch-Out!!
2009
developer: Next Level
publisher: Nintendo
system: Wii

Ramble: After fifteen years of neglect, Nintendo finally dumped the Punch-Out!! property on developer Next Level to bring us a new game.  Sorta.  Much like SFIV, the Wii Punch-Out!! feels like a remake of an earlier game, specifically Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, released for the NES.  Just like the NES game, the new entry follows a bout format of 3 rounds consisting of 3 minutes each, unlike the SNES game which features bouts of just 1 round.  In fact, advancements presented in the SNES entry are largely ignored, including the cool characters that made their debut in that awesome effort.

In the new Punch-Out!!, earning super punches becomes extremely important, as it’s the key to defeating some enemies.  Speaking of enemies, there are only 13 in the standard game.  If you have spent a lot of time playing the previous Punch-Out!! games you’ll get through the first six or so opponents without much trouble but matters do become more challenging after that.  Most of your opponents have picked up new tricks, changed their moves, or completely changed their timing since the last time you saw them.

After beating the main game, the 13 fighters challenge you for your title and there are pretty big changes the 2nd time around.  This is where I currently am in the game, and the difficulty is definitely amped up, considering I haven’t even beaten Glass Joe – who is now protected by headgear (LOL) and has a crazy punch timing.  This challenge mode effectively doubles the length of the game in a manner that is much more enjoyable than simply making the fighters harder.

If you like the NES version, I have little doubt you’ll like, and maybe even prefer, the Wii remake.

The best: The characterizations are great and the various boxers speak in their native languages.  The fighting is solid and does the series justice.  The challenge mode is a simple but ingenious addition.

The worst: There should really be more characters and more than just a single new fighter.  Ignoring the contributions of the as-yet untopped Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) isn’t too cool, either.

Grade: B+

Zelda clones and offspring

As you may have noticed from a previous post, I recently finished The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which means I have beaten 10 Zelda games and have 3 to go (not counting the Four Swords spin-off games or the awful licensed games for CD-i).  Now, finishing 3 Zelda games is no small task and it’ll probably be awhile before I’ve actually done so, but I can’t help looking to the future.  When I’ve beaten all the Zeldas, what will I do when I want a Zelda fix but don’t want to replay a previously finished game?  Well, fortunately, there are many Zelda clones out there.  I’ve assembled this list for myself as much as anything but I’ll share it here for those other forlorn gamers that have rescued Hyrule as many times as possible. Note: I am ONLY including the games that by reputation are considered worthwhile. I’m not including any that are generally considered crap because I don’t want to play them!

Note 1: Before we start, bear in mind that I have not played most of these games. So, if I categorize a game incorrectly, just let me know!

Note 2: With each game I will list 2 ratings. The first rating, from GameFAQs, represents scores from amateur reviewers. The second rating, from GameRankings, represents scores from “professional” reviewers. Okay, let’s go!

Part 1: A rose by any other name . . .

Unapolagetic, Unabashed CLONES! These are the games that make little to no effort to hide their Zelda-ish-ness.

Golden Axe Warrior (Master System, SEGA, 1991)
what a terrible cover illustration
I have to start with this game because, OH, GOD, just look at the screenshots!

Yep, this is a major rip-off but fans seem to like it for what it is. Interestingly, this game came out in 1991, five years after the original Zelda was released in Japan. What made SEGA think that, after all that time, they needed their own Zelda clone? And for the Master System, no less, when the SNES/Genesis war was well underway? And how did the Golden Axe property get mixed up in the whole thing? Another interesting note – SEGA never bothered to release the game in Japan.
GameFAQs: 8.3 (3 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Neutopia (TurboGrafx-16, Hudson, 1990)

I mainly started with Golden Axe warrior because it was so blatantly derivative. However, Hudson beat SEGA to the punch by one year with a slightly less derivative offering, story and all. See fo’ yo’ self.

GameFAQs: 8.0 (6 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Neutopia II (TurboGrafx-16, Hudson, 1991)

Hudson didn’t waste any time releasing a follow-up. Both games are supposed to be pretty good in spite of their shamelessness.

GameFAQs: 7.0 (1 review) GameRankings: N/A

Crusader of Centy (Genesis, NexTech/SEGA, 1994)

Unlike the previously-mentioned games, this one supposedly has some original and unique aspects in story and concept, like some sort of animal training and monster philosophy. However, just LOOK at those screenshots.

GameFAQs: 7.6 (7 reviews) GameRankings: 8.0 (1 review)

Part 2: I’m Breathless: Music From and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy

This section contains games that take the Zelda formula and wrap it up in new clothes. These games have enough of their own feel that they have established their own fan bases, unlike the games in Part 1, whose only legacy is “play this if you want more action in the style of the first Zelda game.” However, all of the games in this section are usually described as, “it’s like Zelda but . . .”

The Battle of Olympus (NES, Infinity/Imagineer, 1988)

“It’s like Zelda but in ancient, mythology-inspired Greece.” More specifically, it’s like the Zelda black sheep, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Reputedly, it’s a bit more action-oriented and less RPG-oriented than its inspiration. This game has some pretty rabid supporters, too.

GameFAQs: 8.3 (12 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Willow (NES, Capcom, 1989)

Oh, look! One of the few games on this list that I’ve actually completed! A year after the film of the same name was released, Capcom managed to finish off this beauty. “It’s like Zelda but in the world of Willow,” which isn’t exactly all that different from the world of Zelda. However, this game is far from derivative and very much has its own identity. There is a lot of item acquisition and there are dungeons, but there’s less of an overworld/dungeon/overworld/dungeon process. The setup is a bit more RPG-ish than most Zelda games. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and revisited certain areas just to hear it.

GameFAQs: 8.5 (11 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Crystalis (NES, SNK, 1989)

“It’s like Zelda but more RPG-ish and with a storyline.” This game does look like Zelda on the surface but its fans, and there are many, claim that it is superior to the original in every way. Maybe so!

GameFAQs: 9.3 (29 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

StarTropics (NES, Nintendo, 1990)

“It’s like Zelda but in a modern setting and with a yo-yo instead of a sword.” This game was developed by Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! team and wasn’t released in good ol’ Japan.

GameFAQs: 8.6 (30 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II (NES, Nintendo, 1994)

This little-known sequel was released four years later and only in the USA. Poor guy.

GameFAQs: 8.8 (16 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Final Fantasy Adventure (Game Boy, SquareSoft, 1991)

Oh! Another game I’ve actually beaten! “It’s like Zelda but in a Final Fantasy world.” This is actually the first game in the Mana (or Seiken Densetsu) series and bore the title, Final Fantasy Gaiden: Seiken Densetsu, in Japan. At first glance it looks a lot like Zelda but the overall feel is pretty different, with that darker Final Fantasy tone. There are many RPG trappings like leveling up and magic points and the items/weapons acquired throughout the game are more destructive than what you’d normally find in Zelda games (like blades and clubs on chains). I understand the SNES Mana games are less Zelda-ish but this one certainly belongs in Part 2 of this article and I would definitely recommend it.

GameFAQs: 8.8 (26 reviews) GameRankings: 8.2 (6 reviews)

LandStalker (Genesis, Climax/SEGA, 1992)

“It’s like Zelda but with an anti-hero, platforming, and an isometric viewpoint.” This one also has pretty rabid supporters.

GameFAQs: 8.7 (15 reviews) GameRankings: 8.7 (2 reviews)

Beyond Oasis (Genesis, Ancient/SEGA, 1994)

“It’s like Zelda but in a middle-Eastern setting and with brawling.” One reviewer described the game as a mash-up of Zelda and the Streets of Rage series. Sounds like a nice change of pace!

GameFAQs: 8.1 (13 reviews) GameRankings: 8.4 (3 reviews)

Legend of Oasis (Saturn, Ancient/SEGA, 1996)

The sequel to Beyond Oasis, but now with “Legend of” in the title to make the Zelda connection clearer. Thank you for that!
Now that's a big kick!
GameFAQs: 7.7 (3 reviews) 7.8 (3 reviews)

Alundra (PlayStation, Matrix/Sony, 1997)

“It’s like Zelda but in 32 bits and with some jumping.” The main character is even elfin in appearance.

GameFAQs: 7.9 (32 reviews) GameRankings: 8.5 (11 reviews)

StarFox Adventures (GameCube, Rare/Nintendo, 2002)
Dinosaur Planet
If you hadn’t already guessed, this game is “like Zelda but with the StarFox cast and conventions.” Here’s how it came about. In the N64 days, Rare had made something of a habit of making high-quality “clones” of Japanese Nintendo games. Super Mario 64 begat Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 and Mario Kart 64 begat Diddy Kong Racing. Eventually, Rare decided to make a Zelda game for the N64, entitled Dinosaur Planet. Shigeru Miyamoto got a look at it, noticed the protagonist was furry, and commanded Rare to convert the game into a StarFox installment for the GameCube. Anyway, the gameplay is Zelda 64 to the core, with the L-button aiming, button mapping and auto-jump. After this release, Rare and Nintendo divorced.

GameFAQs: 7.7 (66 reviews) GameRankings: 8.0 (80 reviews)

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube, Eurocom/THQ, 2003)

The general consensus is that this game is like Zelda but in ancient, mythology-inspired Egypt. The main innovation is the addition of a jump button.

PlayStation 2 version – 8.6 (8 reviews) 7.9 (33 reviews)
Xbox version – 8.0 (2 reviews) 8.1 (21 reviews)
GameCube version – GameFAQs: 8.0 (9 reviews) 7.9 (25 reviews)

Beyond Good & Evil (PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube/PC, Ubisoft Montpelier/Ubisoft, 2003)

The protagonist is a photographer of some sort and the setting is kinda sci-fi. I don’t know much else but it’s always described as a Zelda clone. It has developed a really fervent cult following and was respected by the critics. Supposedly, a sequel is on the way.

PlayStation 2 version – GameFAQs: 8.1 (34 reviews) GameRankings: 8.7 (57 reviews)
Xbox version – GameFAQs: 9.1 (27 reviews) GameRankings: 8.8 (52 reviews)
GameCube version – GameFAQs: 8.9 (33 reviews) GameRankings: 8.8 (43 reviews)
PC version – GameFAQs: 8.9 (9 reviews) GameRankings: 8.3 (23 reviews)

Okami (PlayStation 2/Wii, Clover Studio/Capcom, 2006/2007)
doggy
Unlike most of the games on this list, Okami enjoyed a pretty healthy marketing and hype push. Interestingly, it came out in the same year as a high profile Zelda release, Twilight Princess, and the reviews often described it as a “Zelda-killer” or as having “out-Zelda’d Zelda.” Pretty big talk! So, yeah, it’s like Zelda but in an ancient, mythology-inspired Japan, and the protagonist is a divine dog. The game was especially praised for its beautiful, painting-like visuals. This was the last game Clover Studio developed before Capcom dissolved them and the principal members left to form Platinum Games. There’s a sequel on the way for DS.

PlayStation 2 version – GameFAQs: 9.5 (52 reviews) GameRankings: 9.2 (75 reviews)
Wii version – GameFAQs: 8.9 (27 reviews) GameRankings: 9.0 (47 reviews)

Part 3: All in the Family

This section is a quick overview of games that bear superficial similarities to Zelda and are probably influenced by Zelda but are not by any means clones and that break out of the mold in several meaningful ways. Perhaps I will write more about these games at a later date but for now I’m including the following in this category.

Mana series, including Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3, Sword of Mana, and the bastard stepchild, Secret of Evermore.

SoulBlazer series, including SoulBlazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma.

Shining series, including I’m not even sure which games el oh el.

Zenonia series, the series that’s dominating on iPhone of late.

END

I’m glad that all these clones exist because there are too many elements that the Zelda games hold onto with unnecessary stubbornness.  Why is the setting always medievel-Europe-looking’?  Why is the star always a little, elfin, blond boy?  Anyway, you have your orders. As for me, I still have to beat three more Zelda games before I can seven dig into the list. If you disagree with my categorization, let me know. If you love one of the above-mentioned games and think I should play it first, let me know. Goodbye.

A software recommendation: BioShock

BioShock (2007)
developed by 2K Boston and 2K Australia
written and directed by Ken Levine
art directed by Scott Sinclair
design led by Paul Hellquist
programming led by Christopher Kline
sound designed by Emily Ridgway

BioShock

Here’s the premise, and it’s a very good one for a video game: this apparent Ayn Rand devotee named Jack Ryan builds an underwater city called Rapture, hoping to bring in the most brilliant (and self-serving) minds in the world. Naturally, after awhile, everything goes wrong. Genetic experimentation becomes common and people become addicted to it, many of them going completely batshit and violent, while charged up with their genetic enhancements. A substance called Adam is necessary for a lot of these enhancements and there are these gross, little girls (Little Sisters) that go around removing Adam from dead addicts. These little ghouls are protected by inhuman golems in diving suits (Big Daddies).

The game is played from a first person perspective, which is not a genre I’ve typically been interested in. The only other first-person shooters I’ve beaten were GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and the Metroid Prime trilogy. BioShock transcends my lack of interest in FPS games in a few ways. First, the premise and setting are so engaging. The story is revealed throughout the game via tape recorders found throughout the city (I guess every asshole in town kept extensive audio diaries el oh el). The game takes place in the mid-20th Century and the whole feel is kind of pulpy but with top of the line production values. Second, there is a big variety in weapons and powers. You shoot a lot of guns but you have also gain a lot of super powers throughout the game. Don’t like that asshole running at you? Shoot a bunch of bees at him from your fingers. Or freeze him and then shatter him with a wrench. It’s hilarious and fun.

A lot of the newer, popular game franchises either don’t appeal to me at all or just not enough to buy them until they’re used for $10. However, this game managed to overcome my biases and I’m sure it will appeal to any old school game nerd. You can’t beat great gameplay and setting/story in one place. Having said that, the trailers I’ve seen for BioShock 2 look way too similar to the first game. Goddammit, remember the 1980s when the problem with sequels was that they were too different from their predecessors? That was a nice problem to have.

kicknz

National Game Registry 1993: In the Hunt

IN THE HUNT
original platform
arcade
developer/publisher
Irem

One of the very few auto-scrolling shooters that’s any good, this submarine game came from the same team that would later create the Metal Slug series, and it’s obvious from the gameplay and graphic design. Go underwater and then kill everyone.

In the Hunt was inducted on January 2nd, 2010.

Return to the National Game Registry to view more inductees.

National Game Registry 1993: Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS
original platform
arcade
developer/publisher
Capcom

Another scrolling beat-em-up from Capcom. This time you can play as a hot chick with an exposed midriff. What a relief! The game uses the Cadillacs & Dinosaurs multimedia license that Kitchen Sink Comix unsuccessfully tried to push on the world.

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs was inducted on January 2nd, 2010.

Return to the National Game Registry to view more inductees.