Tag Archives: castlevania

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.

A little more E3

A couple more announcements:

The Last Guardian (PS3, Sony)
This is from the development team that made Ico and Shadow of the Colossus so chances are it will be beautiful, emotional, and unusual. It appears to feature a boy and his gigantic, griffin-like companion.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PS3 & X360, Konami)
Konami is attempting a 4th 3D Castlevania game, this time supposedly being overseen by Metal Gear Solid’s Hideo Kojima. I’m only mildly excited because the previous 3D Castlevanias have been mediocre and the preview vid looks like Devil May Cry or God of War and those series suck ass.

More Japanese mergers/acquisitions

Awhile ago I wrote an entry about Japanese mergers and buy-outs of recent years. Here’s a recap:

Squaresoft (Final Fantasy, SaGa, Mana) and Enix (Dragon Quest, Soulblazer) merged to create Square Enix.
-Square Enix acquired Taito (Space Invaders, Arkanoid, Bubble Bobble) but maintains it as a separate brand.

Sammy (Guilty Gear, pachinko machines) acquired SEGA (Sonic, Phantasy Star, Yakuza) to form SEGA Sammy but SEGA is maintained as a separate brand.

Konami (Castlevania, Metal Gear, Contra) acquired Hudson Soft (Bonk, Bomberman) but maintains it as a separate brand.

Namco (Pac-Man, Tekken, Tales) merged with Bandai (Gundam, Digimon) to form Namco Bandai.

Technos (Double Dragon, Super Dodge Ball, River City Ransom) folded and its assets were acquired by Atlus (Shin Megami Tensei).

SNK (King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, Metal Slug) was acquired by a pachinko company and then later regained its independence as SNK Playmore.

Since I wrote that entry, there have been more recent developments . . .

Namco Bandai acquired the video game aspect of Banpresto (Super Robot Wars, Summon Knight). Namco Bandai also acquired D3 Publisher (Puzzle Quest, licensed games).

Tecmo (Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive, Tecmo Bowl) merged with Koei (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dynasty Warriors) to form Tecmo Koei.

AND MOST INTERESTINGLY, Square Enix purchased a European publisher, Eidos (Tomb Raider, Hitman, Legacy of Kain), pending shareholder approval.

Old Computers #4: Sharp X68000

CALL THE COPS I'M GONNA JUMP

Released by Sharp in 1987, the X68000 was another attempt to break into the Japanese home computer scene. It was much more powerful than the established competition presented by the PC88 and MSX series. In fact, its hardware was comparable to the arcade units of the time which had a predictable result – it was the champion of arcade conversions, hosting arcade classics from the kings like Capcom, Konami and Namco. Unfortunately, there weren’t a great deal of original games for it except for an awesome Castlevania installment (released here for PlayStation).

As was often the case in the 1980s, machines with high graphical capabilities were of little use to most business and many homes, meaning the X68K was a popular alternative, but not a big boy. The last model was released in 1993 before the line succumbed to the all-powerful Windows 95 craze.

-AM- Old Computers Part 2: Microsoft (of Japan)

Since I started out with Commodore Business Machines which inarguably are gaming consoles as much as they are computers, I’ll continue in that line. In that respect I offer for your consideration: the MSX line. The MSX was the brainchild of Microsoft’s Japanese brach in an effort to create an industry standard set of specifications. Microsoft did not manufacture the computers but merely designed and developed them, allowing many 3rd party companies, notably Sony, to produce them. The line debuted in 1983 and eventually became fairly successful in Japan, Brazil and continental Europe. The US and UK were still in love with the Commodore 64 and other models and MSX never took off there.

There were 3 primary models of the MSX over the years: MSX, MSX2 and MSX Turbo R. The first 2 were well-known for their game libraries and, like Commodore 64, had cartridge slots that booted up games immediately on startup just like an NES. Many games that are typically associated with NES, such as Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy and Castlevania were released near-simultaneously on MSX2. The system is also famous for being home to the first 2 Metal Gear games.

The MSX line faded with the beginning of the 1990s and was deceased by the mid-90s, no big loss for Microsoft, whose operating system was dominating PCs.

MSX: 1983 MSX2: 1986 MSXturboR: 1990

kicknz

-AM- Video game genres: Adventure vs Action-Adventure vs Action

I’m gonna write an article on the adventure game genre and this article serves as an introduction and prologue for all you gentle folks.

ADVENTURE
This genre was pretty big in the 1980s but is now pretty minor, although making a slight comeback. This genre is really old and began in the late 70s. For the first 10 years, all adventure games were text-only, which gives you an idea of how non-action-oriented they are. These games focus on conversation, exploring and logic. After graphics were introduced to the genre beautiful but somewhat static images became a staple.

Notable examples:
King’s Quest by Sierra On-Line
Monkey Island by LucasArts
Myst by Cyan

ACTION
This is a really generic genre and a huge one. You could argue that other major genres like platformers, scrolling shooters, first-person shooters, etc. are all part of this genre. Who can say, really? Most of them feature lots of ACTION and not a great deal of thinking.

Notable examples:
Contra by Konami
Super Mario by Nintendo
pre-1997 Castlevania by Konami

ACTION-ADVENTURE
You may not be surprised to learn that this genre fuses action and adventure elements into ONE! The adventure genre is on life support but this one is doing very well. These games have reflex-testing action combined with puzzles, item management, exploration, etc.

Notable examples:
The Legend of Zelda by Nintendo
Metroid by Nintendo
Prince of Persia by Broderbund
Resident Evil by Capcom

kicknz