Pacing the Cage

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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Retro Game Review: Super Mario Bros.

Posted by ptcgaming on May 30, 2009

It's amazing how well this game has stood up to the test of time. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

It's amazing how well this game has stood up to the test of time. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Released: 1986 (in North America)
Developer: Nintendo EAD

Background: For more than 20 years, “Super Mario Bros.” has stood up against the test of time as a pioneer of platform gaming. Although it wasn’t the first platforming game, the sequel to 1983’s “Mario Bros.” catapaulted the genre’s popularity. This side-scroller set the precedent for Mario games to come, eventually evolving from 2D to 3D in the 1990s. In the meantime, Mario’s adventures against Bowser and his band of bad guys spanned the likes of not only the NES, but also the Super NES and Game Boy systems. Though other games, even on the NES itself, eventually surpassed SMB’s graphics and simplistic gameplay, the original remains a classic still enjoyed today. If you own a Wii, it’s definitely worth the $5 download.

Graphics: 3/5
I remember the very first time I set my eyes on this game back in the 1980s. I was still a gamer of the classic Atari age and had never seen a game quite as complex. The NES brought top-notch graphics (for the time) to the home console market, and this was eye-candy for gamers. This game’s visuals surprisingly held up well throughout the NES’ lifespan. This game was greatly detailed for its time.

Sound: 3/5
Aside from the several sound effects throughout Mario and Luigi’s adventure, there are five man songs that play during the game. And when the timer falls below 100, the tempo picks up. The main theme is still popular, so much I know people who have it in their list of cell phone ring tones.

Controls: 4/5
Like I said earlier, I was an Atari gamer until this time. So the concept of a D-pad and two face buttons was quite complex to me. But this dynamic (at the time) control scheme was an awesome discovery. Even today, the NES’ now-simplistic controls make this game easy to enjoy.

Gameplay: 4/5
I’d like to say this game is difficult for me, but it really isn’t. I’ve completed the first quest and others that follow on several occasions. But this game is still fun, and the fact this one can be quickly completed makes it ideal for those times when I only have a small window for gaming. Gameplay is simple: run right, jump on enemies, jump on the flag. Yet somehow it’s still fun.

Overall: 3.5/5
Anyone who has ever played SMB knows why this game’s a classic and why it has stood up for so many years. With its simplistic gameplay but perfect level of difficulty for the casual gamer, SMB remains a staple in the classic gaming world.


Posted in NES, Reviews | 2 Comments »

Retro Game Review: Final Soldier

Posted by ptcgaming on May 12, 2009

If you like scrolling space shooters, I'd certainly give this one a try. Until recently, you couldn't find it in North America.

If you like scrolling space shooters, I'd certainly give this one a try. Until recently, you couldn't find it in North America.

Platform: PC Engine
Released: 1991
Developer: Hudson Soft

Background:“Final Soldier” was the third game in the series that originated with the classic “Star Soldier” but wasn’t the final game in the series. It was only released for the PC Engine, the Japanese version of NEC’s TurboGrafx-16. However, it was released as an “import” title on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console in North America in 2008. It follows the same vertically-scrolling formula other shooters in the series have.

Graphics: 3.75/5
This game looks sharp overall, but the overlapping in-game text looks blurry. Also, your ship doesn’t look nearly as good as some of the larger enemies you confront, as you can see from the screenshot above.

Sound: 2/5
While the in-game music is catchy, it and the common sound effects you hear sound quite generic. You could pretty much lay them on top of any space shooter and not be able to tell the difference.

Controls: 3.5/5
Nothing special to it, really, since the PC Engine controller only featured a D-pad and two fire buttons. If you have this downloaded to your Wii, though, I’d recommend using the Classic Controller. The left analog stick is ideal for games like this and much better than using the D-pad.

Gameplay: 3.5/5
One of the great things about this game is you can customize how your weapon upgrades work. Most upgrades (flame, laser, etc.) have multiple ways they can work, which can be accessed from the title screen. There is nonstop action throughout, and this game is pretty challenging, at least to me. The biggest challenge comes after you’ve been killed and have to upgrade your weapons again. Losing a life can throw you off-track and make it more difficult to complete a level.

Overall: 3.2/5
This game’s score is severely hurt by the sound factor, but overall it’s a decent play. It’s definitely a step above the original “Star Soldier,” even though that one’s still a classic to this day. I don’t think “Final Soldier” will ever be held in that high regard, but it’s good to finally be able to play it on this side of the Pacific.

Posted in Japanese games, PC Engine, Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Five quick-hit reviews

Posted by ptcgaming on May 4, 2009


“River Raid” (Atari 2600/1982/Activision)
Overall score: 3.5
“River Raid” to this day is one of my favorite Atari 2600 games. The graphics are outstanding for that console, the sound is exceptional and having to worry about refueling adds an extra challenge. Too bad that challenge gets a bit repetitive after awhile.


“Bases Loaded” (NES/1988/Jaleco-TOSE)
Overall score: 4
“Tecmo Baseball” and “RBI Baseball” might come close, but this was the best baseball franchise on the NES. The TV-camera batter/pitcher screen and great animation (including the “phantom glove” catcher) were great, as was the speech (any spoken dialogue was a gift on the NES). But am I the only one who thought this game was pretty tough?


“Keith Courage in Alpha Zones” (TurboGrafx-16/1989/Hudson Soft)
Overall score: 2

Even fantastic 16-bit graphics couldn’t prevent this from being the worst pack-in game for any console – ever. While the graphics are great, the music on this Mario/Zelda/Gundam hybrid is too repetitive, and the gameplay is boring. There are some really good titles for the unappreciated (in North America) TG-16, but this sure isn’t one of them.


“F-Zero” (Super NES/1991/Nintendo EAD)
Overall score: 3.5
How they get the screen to keep up while racing that fast is beyond me. Nevertheless, “F-Zero” is fun and challenging at the same time. Of course, it’s best when played with a friend. The controls take a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of them you’ll enjoy this one a lot.


“John Madden Football ’93” (Sega Genesis/1992/Looking Glass Technologies)
Overall score: 4.5

This is by far my favorite “Madden” ever. I remember the days before passing cones and football IQ, when passing windows ruled the world. I recall some intense Thurman Thomas vs. Barry Sanders battles, diving catches and cheesy touchdown dances. This game even looks great, and the players move and act like real football players do. This is the one game I wish I had held on to over the years. Sadly, I did not.

Posted in Atari, Genesis, Madden, NES, Reviews, SNES, TG16 | Leave a Comment »

Retro Game Review: Tomb Raider

Posted by ptcgaming on April 22, 2009

The original "Tomb Raider" was quite the spectacle when it was first released.

The original "Tomb Raider" was quite the spectacle when it was first released. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

Platform: Sony PlayStation
Released: 1996
Developer: Core Design

Background:Ah, Lara Croft with guns, guns and more guns. Lara’s first foray into the “Tomb Raider” series was quite the spectacle when first released, sending the heroine into the depths of massive caves, underwater and of course into tombs. This was also one of the only games to ever care the you-know-what out of me on a few occasions. While “Tomb Raider” looks primitive compared to more recent additions (including a remake of this one), it was indeed something, well, different. Not too many games featured gun-toting women as the main character, which may have been a big draw for, um, male gamers.

Graphics: 3.5/5
As far as the original PlayStation’s capabilities go, there are some games that do indeed look better than this. And while Lara might look a little “square,” many of the enemies, especially the wild animals, look pretty realistic. One complaint, though, would be how many of the wall textures blend together, sometimes making it hard to see whether or not there’s an opening ahead.

Sound: 4/5
The voice acting is clear, but the repeated grunting when you climb something can get old. Most of the voice acting is done during the cutscenes, which is just about the only time Lara comes in contact with humans (the NATLA villains, specifically) other than a few random sequences during gameplay. The music is well-done, but you’re sure to know when trouble is ahead. That’s when the “trouble ahead” music starts.

Controls: 3.5/5
For having to move Lara around with a digital D-pad, the controls work, well,they’re OK. Your thumb might start to hurt after moving her around for more than an hour at a time, because using the D-pad isn’t nearly as fluid as using an analog stick. And the developers at Core made sure you have to use every single button on the controller, since they each do something different.

Gameplay: 4/5
This game is a lot of fun (Play it in the dark. That adds some suspense). Lara automatically aims at her nearest foe, which is great for run-and-gun action. Solving puzzles slows the game down a little, but not nearly as much as you’d think. The story is pretty straightforward, and you’ll figure out what’s going on after just a couple cutscenes. But that’s not what makes the game.

Overall: 3.75/5
You’d be hard up to find anyone who played this game and didn’t like it. I remember there being this argument about whether “Tomb Raider” was in fact better than “Resident Evil.” I’m not sure which is better, especially since they have different game tempos. But one thing’s for sure – this is a game that fired off several more additions and two full-length feature films, the first of which wasn’t all that bad. Now that’s something you don’t hear every day.

Posted in PlayStation, Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Retro Game Review: Star Fox 64

Posted by ptcgaming on April 22, 2009

"Star Fox 64" is a marvel to look at and hear, but that doesn't mean it's without flaws.

"Star Fox 64" is a marvel to look at and hear, but that doesn't mean it's without flaws. (Screenshot from

Platform: Nintendo 64
Released: 1997
Developer:Nintendo EAD

Background:The original Star Fox for the Super NES pushed the envelope for home console gaming (For more on that. click here). So, Shigeru Miyamoto decided to push the envelope with Star Fox again, this time on the Nintendo 64 console. While the game at its core is a 64-bit remake of the original, it’s just as revolutionary. With outstanding graphics and sound, this is definitely a must-play for N64 console owners and Wii owners willing to drop a bargain bin price of 10 bucks to download it off the Virtual Console.

Graphics: 5/5
If there’s one thing Nintendo’s developers have been good at over the years, it’s being able to take an already great concept and make it even better. Just take a look at the graphical improvements from “Super Mario 64” to “Ocarina of Time” to “Majora’s Mask” and you’ll see what I mean. Star Fox 64 is no different. The graphics are better than even SM64, which has been hailed as one of the greatest games ever. The 3D universe is more vibrant and vivid than ever, and there are not any very noticeable glitches in what you see. Everything is so fluid it’s hard to imagine you’re playing a video game released more than a decade ago.

Sound: 4.75/5
Best voice acting on a cartridge-based game. Ever. And that’s saying a lot since the Neo Geo was pretty good with sound, too. All the voices are extremely clear (A big chunk of space on the cartridge went toward sound). But I knocked a small chunk off the score because after a while the things they repeatedly say get a little annoying.

Controls: 2.5/5
The problem I have isn’t with the buttons. It’s with the analog stick controls that pilot your Arwing. They’re much too sensitive, and quite often I catch myself burying the nose into the ground because of the smallest movement.

Gameplay: 3/5
Part of the drop in points has to do with how the sensitive controls affect gameplay. And I’ve read a lot of reviews that say the game’s very easy and very short, which must mean I’m pretty bad at it. I find it quite difficult. Of course, I only have time to play it for a few minutes at a time, so I haven’t had much practice with it. It is a fun game, though, just tough.

Overall: 3.81/5
Don’t get me wrong, this a great game. It’s a step above the original SNES version, which says a lot. It’s beautiful to look at and hear, but it’s not without its quirks. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in rail shooters, because you won’t be disappointed.

Posted in N64, Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Retro Game Review: Pit-Fighter

Posted by ptcgaming on December 22, 2008

What fighting games looked like before steroid testing.

Platform: Arcade
Released: 1990
Developer: Atari Games

“Pit-Fighter” was, well, I don’t know what exactly to call it – strange, risque, a cross between professional wrestling and a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie – I really don’t know. Strangely, though, this pre-“Street Fighter II” 2D fighting game was actually revolutionary – it featured digitized characters modeled after real-life actors. In fact, “Pit-Fighter” (gasp!) looks better than some of the latest fighters do. I remember first playing this game in a convenience store near the house I grew up in, and even then that guy in the leather mask seemed a bit odd to me.

Graphics: 5/5

I know, I know. But you have to understand I’m comparing this game to others that came out around the same time, so then it looks great. But the digitized character modeling, along with a crowd that actually looks like people, was the closest thing you got to realistic in 1990.

Sound: 2.5/5
There are a lot of generic sounds in this game. Otherwise, nothing much to write home about. While the graphics were top-notch, the sound was anything but.

Controls: 3.5/5

The arcade configuration was a joystick and three buttons (punch, kick, jump). Pressing all three face buttons at the same time resulted in your character performing a “super move.”

Gameplay: 3/5

You can pick from three fighters – Buzz, Ty and Kato (or Larry, Curly and Moe if you want them to be) – and each has its own fighting style. Then you have to fight eight opponents, capping off with a final match against the “Masked Warrior.” Meanwhile, people with knives or sticks would sometimes interfere with your match. And in a multiplayer game, all playable characters had to beat the tar out of each other to decide who fights the “Masked Warrior,” since only one person has the unfortunate opportunity – er, ultimate chance – to face the final match. By the way, don’t stay in the crowd too long – they’ll throw you back in!

Overall: 3.5/5

Using the composite of all the scores above to get this score can be misleading. Why? Because this game really isn’t that good. While looking back at how great it was for 1990, I still can’t defend this one today. I mean come on, have you actually played this?

Posted in Arcade, Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Retro Game Review: Metal Slug: Super Vehicle-001

Posted by ptcgaming on November 17, 2008

Everything in “Metal Slug” is bigger and badder. And that’s a really good thing.

Platform: Neo Geo
Released: 1996
Developer: Nazca Corporation

Background: “Metal Slug” is “Contra” on ‘roids. That’s about the best way I can put it. The guns are bigger, the explosions are bigger and the bosses are bigger in this game, which retained all its arcade glory on SNK’s Neo Geo home console. Most of us couldn’t afford to fork out 600 bucks-plus for a Neo Geo, let alone the 200 bucks or so each game cost, but Nintendo Wii owners can download this piece of gaming glory for just 900 Nintendo Points (9 bucks!) – and, it’s compatible with the Wii Remote, so no additional hardware is necessary! The storyline in a nutshell is you and another player (in 2-player mode) have to mow down General Morden’s Rebellion army and recapture the Metal Slug tanks (which yes, you get to drive). But the storyline won’t grab you anywhere near the game itself.

Graphics: 5/5

There’s a reason the Neo Geo was so expensive: It was the guts of an arcade cabinet inside a home console. This game features hand-drawn elements (You heard me) with vivid backgrounds that feature little to no empty space. Even though this a a 2D side-scrolling game, it still has sort of a 3D feel.

Sound: 5/5

The background music is very well-done. It’s clear and doesn’t feel like a drill into the head after five minutes. The voices are done perfectly, which can also be attributed to the Neo Geo’s technology.

Controls: 4/5

You use three face buttons – one each for jumping, shooting and grenades/cannon. The joystick/D-pad movements are fluid. However, I knocked a point off for how difficult it is to shoot straight down or on an angle.

Gameplay: 4.5/5

This is a run ‘n gun, just like “Contra.” However, like I said before, everything is bigger – much bigger. And the weapons surpass everything “Contra” has to offer (with the exception of the Spread gun, of course). You start with a single-shot pea-shooter, but you can upgrade to such weapons as a heavy machine gun, flame thrower or even a rocket launcher (You rescue POWs for weapon power-ups). If an enemy gets too close, you can slash him with a knife. And most of the scenery can be destroyed, too. You mow through cities, forests, mountains and military bases, so the game never gets old.

Overall: 4.625/5

This game has just as much replay value as “Contra,” the run ‘n gun game I’ve measured all others against. In fact, this is probably the only one I feel is better than “Contra,” which is saying a lot. One thing I forgot to mention to all the parents and censors out there is “Metal Slug” is bloody – both you and your enemies bleed when hit – but the cartoony look and humor in the game (like shooting enemy soldiers while they’re camping) makes this game tons of fun but not all that serious. I can’t stress enough how much I think you should play this one.

Posted in Neo Geo, Reviews | 1 Comment »

Retro Game Review: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

Posted by ptcgaming on October 31, 2008

Can’t you just, like, throw water on her or something?

Platform: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive
Released: 1990
Developer: Sega of America
Background: In honor of today being Halloween, I decided to review a game with a Halloween theme (I was going to offer a list of Halloween-themed games you could play tonight but ran out of time). There were a few other games I thought of reviewing, including “Doom” (too violent), “Halloween” for the Atari 2600 (too goofy) and “Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker” (too weird!). But I settled on this little nugget because even your kids can read this review, and also because it’s actually not a bad game.

“Castle of Illusion” was released for the Genesis in 1990, before even Sonic the Hedgehog sprinted onto the scene, meaning this came out during the console’s early years (It was also released for the Sega Master System and Game Gear). In it, you play as Mickey Mouse, and your mission is to rescue Minnie from the evil witch Mizrabel. To do this, you make your way through a giant castle, acquiring gems as you go. These gems are necessary to reach the final battle with Mizrabel.

Graphics: 5/5

For being one of the Genesis’ early releases, this game really did shine visually. The levels are very colorful for the most part, and Mickey looks like, well, Mickey.
Sound: 3.5/5
Other than certain sound effects heard throughout the game, each level of the castle has accompanying music that isn’t too bad.
Controls: 3.5/5
Being your typical 2D side-scroller, there isn’t anything special that can be said. The Genesis only featured a directional pad and three “fire” buttons on its controller at this time, so function wasn’t much more than on the NES.
Gameplay: 3/5
This game is easy – very easy. So easy, you’ll probably finish it rather quickly. But if you’re a fan of side-scrollers and Disney you’ll enjoy this game. You’ll also get caught up in how good this game looks while you’re playing.
Overall: 3.75/5
If you like great 16-bit visuals and can get past the fact it’s a Disney game, “Castle of Illusion” is a great game to try. Otherwise, it doesn’t really set itself apart from other 2D side-scroller offerings of the time. It was one of a series of Disney-themed games released by Sega.

Posted in Genesis, Reviews | 1 Comment »

Retro Game Review: Pong

Posted by ptcgaming on October 24, 2008

Say what you want about how this game looks, but you probably wouldn’t have many video games to play at all had this not been created.

Platform: Arcade
Released: 1972
Developer: Atari Inc.

Background: Anyone who spends hours on end playing Wii Sports, Madden or NBA 2K can thank Allan Alcorn. Why, you ask? Because Alcorn developed “Pong” (even though Magnavox had earler developed a similar game and won a lawsuit in regard to it. Atari’s “Pong” is more well-known, anyway). Without this barebones (by today’s standards) video game, who knows whether or not the gaming industry takes off into the 1980s and becomes the multi-billion-dollar industry it is today? The instructions were simple: “Avoid missing ball for high score.” It was so popular, home console versions were also developed.

Graphics: 1/5
Let’s not kid ourselves here. All “Pong” consisted of was a group of white lines and dots on a black background.

Sound: 1/5
Nothing more than a couple beeps and blips.

Controls: 5/5
You moved your paddle with those famous round “paddle” controllers that were also popular with the Atari 2600 console. So easy the drunkest guy in the bar could figure it out (and I think that was actually the idea).

Gameplay: 3.5/5
“Pong” was hard: not “Mega Man” hard, but difficult enough. Your timing had to perfect to hit the ball right, and the ball bounced around at some funny angles.

Overall: 2.625/5
You’re not going to find yourself spending entire weekends in front of the TV playing “Pong,” but I hope you get an appreciation for it if you haven’t yet. Sure, it’s nothing at all to look at, but it does give a great example of how far video games have come. What were once nothing more than a bunch of lines and dots on the screen has evolved into realistic-looking games that narrow the line between what’s real and what’s just a game.

Posted in Arcade, Atari, Reviews | 1 Comment »

Retro Game Review: Yie Ar Kung-Fu

Posted by ptcgaming on October 21, 2008

My money is on the little guy.

Platform: Arcade
Released: 1985
Developer: Konami

Background: Yes folks, there actually were fighting games before “Street Fighter II” came along (There had to be an original “Street Fighter,” right?). Now truth be told, compared to SFII and “Mortal Kombat,” they weren’t that great. One of those early arcade fighters was “Yie Ar Kung-Fu,” a Konami contribution to the genre. You played as the fighter Oolong and had to defeat 11 other fighters over the course of two gauntlets. The fighters were faced in a set order and supposedly got harder as you went, but some of the middle fighters seemed easier to me.

Oh, and did I mention you only had three lives to do this? My bad.

Graphics: 3/5
It’s like watching Looney Tunes fight. OK, the fighters don’t look that much like cartoons, but they don’t look overly real either. The black outlines on the fighters’ sprites is so thick their movements look more like goo than anything. The backgrounds aren’t that bad, which saves this game visually.

Sound: 3.5/5
There is in-fight music, sound effects and a little bit of speech throughout.

Controls: 2/5
Don’t expect fluid movements while playing this. You can punch and kick, high and low, as well as jump. The problem is that when you jump, you don’t have much control over how high or how far. And kicking while in the air is difficult – scratch that – nearly impossible. The direction of your jump is shown by the little yellow arrow that follows your guy around.

Gameplay: 2.25/5
I’ll admit this game is fun to play – at first. But once all of its little quirks begin to come out, you’ll quickly become tired of it. And since it’s an early fighting game, the hit points on each character aren’t perfect, which means you might clock a guy in the head two or three times but only actually hit him once. I was torn between giving this game a 2 or a 2.5 for gameplay, so I settled for the middle.

Overall: 2.69/5
It’s no “SFII: Hyper Fighting,” but if you want to see how fighting games were in the early stages, check out Yie Ar Kung-Fu. You probably won’t be finding it in many arcades these days, but there are ported versions available on newer home consoles (Warning: the NES version is completely different from the arcade). It probably won’t dazzle you with top-notch graphics, sound and gameplay, but it’ll give you a good idea on how far fighting games have come.

Posted in Arcade, Reviews | 1 Comment »