The AI on higher levels takes SO LONG to make a move! Why did it take over two minutes to choose a basic by the book move for a Queen's Pawn opening? I know it's the Nintendo 64, but come on, that's just unreasonable. Couldn't finish my game against the max level computer because it was so frustrating to wait minutes for book moves, can't imagine what the endgame is like with it. Computer's level is actually quite good for 1998 consoles, but the animations have an ugly stink on them that makes me feel like they'd be from some unfunny early-2000s animated show or something. They are also pretty herky-jerky. The fact you don't select your opponent's computer level or anything until after a game starts is...bizarre, to say the least.
By the way, how do you fuck up the camera controls of a CHESS GAME? Get this, you can rotate the board left/right and flip it up/down. Makes sense, right? Guess the buttons, go on. Guess. You see, C Button left is up/down, while C Button right is left/right, rather than just making left and right be...left and right and up/down be up and down. Combined with a surprising lack of visual clarity (in a CHESS. GAME.) and the controls being super jumpy, you want to rotate the board to an upwards angle if you play in 3D a lot which when the controls of all things work against it is frustrating. You'll pretty much want to swap to the 2D board ASAP, which ends up turning off all the battle animations and at that point you're left with a really barebones-featured but good-for-the-time AI chess game with ugly menus.
A rather bizarre game, honestly! I think the difficulty is what throws me off, as there's basically two ways to play: For score, which for the absolutely maximum rank requires the player to not die once while getting a ridiculous number of points, or for speed / pure completion in which case you have INFINITE continues (you only get one life, so every death is a continue) that also does not refill health and gives you back your kinda broken Boost ability at the same time. This means it teeters between something more challenging or something very easy. While I know a lot of people think they're archaic, a lives system feels like it may have been beneficial for a more smooth difficulty curve, or at least being a little bit more demanding with the checkpointing. Note that while you need to never die for the highest rank, you CAN still get high ranks by only dying a few times, so it isn't some totally hit-or-miss thing here.
Leaving all that aside for a moment, I enjoyed this game much more than the original Strider. Hiryu feels smooth to control here (for the most part), and in particular the addition of juuuust a little bit of aerial drift on his jumps makes it a lot smoother to run through and makes you feel more like the futuristic ninja you're supposed to be rather than the lost cosplaying Belmont brother. While the cool options are (sadly) gone, Hiryu gets some secret moves like a backwards flip or a bunch of spinny slashes that add a little dynamicism to the gameplay. I will admit I didn't find THAT much use for them, mostly because Strider just cutting up enemies is so strong, but they have potential and the fact the multi-slashes give you more points encourages you to not just spam the slash button in score runs. Wall jumping and climbing feels niiice in this game, with the only exception being going around corners on a D-Pad sometimes being finicky. I did also have trouble getting the dash out a few times, but I suspect that is more of a Me issue. But with how buttery smooth his jumps and dashes are, it feels gooooood to just slice through hordes of enemies, jumping wildly and doin' some wall climbin' fun.
What's up with the fact enemies seem to just...mostly lack collision damage, though? There's multiple bosses where running into them and spamming the attack button led to easy wins, sometimes dodging their attack patterns, and it felt really weird. The game's entire difficulty curve is mostly low, outside of the end I'd say most stages are pretty easy, but then spiking pretty hard in only a few sections or bosses. Most didn't feel too challenging (I was shocked how easy Meio was!), but there was definitely some that kicked my ass. The game's difficulty only really starts to ramp up in the last level or two, with the final levels feeling particularly harsh (and swapping the game's usual dichotomy of easier stages but harder bosses).
Frankly, my favorite part of the game was probably the vibes and the art. The game for the most part looks goooood, an excellent PS1 spritework combined with some beautiful anime cutscene art. Seriously, look at these! and, uh, ignore the screenshotting making them look kinda worse fsr. Even when the game isn't being mechanically dense, the vibes and control make it a Fun experience. I do think the length is a major downside, being defeatable in under an hour pretty easily and with the end result being that it DOES feel a bit shallow. The game doesn't really expand on its concepts a lot in that runtime and it even ends up re-using some elements within that timeframe in a bit of a lazy way. It also felt disappointing how often the right option felt like just moving right and mashing the attack button, the Scientists miniboss in particular felt actively harder when I was trying to dodge them rather than just spamming. Also while I am going to bet Auto Fire makes the game easier, I think I should have used it because by god does it hurt your thumb to mash attack the way you should in this! They put it in the game, so I'll take advantage of it.
Honestly, I might go for a second playthrough with Hien later since it was short and enjoyable. Totally recommend trying it out of you want some fast-paced, low commitment 2D ninja action in your life!
So, my birthday is February 10th. Of course I posted about this in various online chats I was in, which led to someone I know on the How Long to Beat discord posted a single image and a joke that "here's a game you should play! ;)"
So once I looked at How Long to beat and saw it was like a 2 hour game I had to do it. And that's why I downloaded and played The Bugs Bunny Birthdat Blowout in 2023 of all things. So, what are my thoughts? Well, it isn't a horrible game, just one with some critical flaws that make it wear thin despite the modest playtime. The ol' Bugs Birthday Bashorama is pretty much what you'd expect from the NES in that it is a sidescrolling platformer, with one button to attack and another to jump. Six levels with four stages each. Basic stuff. Bugs controls...fine enough, not the tightest platformer ever but far from the worst, although the game's low framerate makes it sometimes feel less responsive than you'd like. I think the bigger issue comes from Bugs' hammer attack, which simply has too little range, and a bit of a windup to it. The end result is that trying to hit enemies WITHOUT getting hit yourself is frustrating, fortunately the only enemies you usually need to kill basically don't attack except by moving. But it does get pretty silly when you hammer a frog and its sprite just teleports forward and then it keeps jumping and hits you. Or lands in front of you and you're back to square one.
This game's difficulty is at war with itself, although it lands squarely in the "very easy" category. The way it gets there is mildly frustrating, in that the game is full of a lot of "Gotcha!" trickery (platforms that disappear under you being the biggest ones, with at least one required blind drop into a pit area that lands you on one and means you WILL die if you don't know to jump instantly, but also hidden enemies or the like), but when you aren't getting had the jumps are fairly reasonable and the game is mostly timing based and very easy. This is especially true because the game showers you with extra lives via the (pretty random, admittedly) bonus games (I even got a +50 lives near the end!), so you get some serious trial-and-error gameplay going on! It's far from the worst you'll get on the NES, but it does get tiring by the end of the game.
Let's talk about something good, if not fully utilized given it is a random liscensed game from 1990. I think the idea of this game's collectible, the carrots, turning into platforms for you to use after collecting them is an interesting design space. You do get some tricky jumps where you have to jump to collect them, land back onto the main stage and then use them, but they're rather few and far in between. I could totally see some modern 2D platformer use them well though, like hidden secret paths only done by backtracking after grabbing collectibles, or mix and matching it with stuff like crumbling platforms (I was shocked this game never did it) or moving platforms or whatever. It did make me think about the level design in a different way than a lot of games, so good on it. Also while the gotchas wear thin, they DO feel like they really fit the tone of Looney Tunes and Bugs in specific.
Why does this game have so many bosses when it reuses them so much? Daffy is a boss in EVERY world and like every time he is PATHETICALLY easy that's actually hilarious but also not good gameplay. You fight Elmer Fudd like three times. The fight does not change any time. The final boss is the only one who uses a truly different strategy, although Pepe le Pew is at least a bit unique. If you can't make unique bosses, at least scale them back a little bit to avoid the endless repition.
Anyway this game's plot is David Fincher's The Game so that obviously gives it an extra half star-
SUBSTANTIALLY worse than Ninja Gaiden Shadow. While Shadow tried to introduce new concepts to the series from other ninja-based action platformers, Ninja Gaiden (GG) is a pale imitation of the more main series that brings nothing new and feels like little more than a downgraded experience. It also doesn't exactly seem like it "gets" Ninja Gaiden.
Let's get the big issue with this game out of the way: You essentially don't have mercy invincibility in this game. It isn't COMPLETELY non-existent, but it is so much so that getting stuck against just about anything is death. You know what sucks? When you go up to a hit a boss, say one with a slightly large hurtbox like the Stage 4 boss, and because you slightly miscalculated it you clip his sprite's hitbox and take 50%+ damage before you can escape. Or, say, having a moving spike barrier against a wall in the final level, and you mistime it and get hit. Guess what: You cannot escape those spikes until the barrier itself moves because you are caught in constant hitstun, causing you to take 80%+ of your life. This fact alone accounted for at LEAST 66% of my deaths and is probably the main thing that made this game just flatout unenjoyable. It's just not good.
On top of that whenever you're NOT having this issue, the game is EASY. Almost the only challenge in this game comes from cheapness such as having enemies that are offscreen but can fire projectiles. Even then, health pickups are abundant and so dying to enemies essentially only happens if you get wombo combo'd due to a lack of mercy invincibility. Wall snapping to this game is a bit too happy and you will frequently snap to a wall when you were trying to jump up a platform which is annoying. It does sometimes interact weirdly with walls and cause you to fall and die but most of the time it is just overly happy. And on the ship level Ryu will frequently clip into the boats sides instead of gripping on. And whenever a boss isn't clipping into you like a madman, the boss is easy with the exception of the 2nd Stage 4 form which I could not figure out how to dodge and just damage racked. Heck, 2/3rds of the final boss have easily findable spots that the boss CANNOT hit you on and the third stage has an easily observable pattern to make it trivial!
At least it has Ninja Gaiden style cutscenes? Presentation-wise the sprites are, you know, they're fine for a Game Gear game. Especially a year one game that I cannot imagine had much of a budget given it was a made by a studio I can only find info on like "was a game developers outsourced mobile ports too, did such a bad job Capcom never worked with them again" and that SIMS + Sega made their own Master System / Game Gear Ninja Gaiden (...which was so late it only came out in the PAL region and was actually well received but I digress). The sound though, dude, the music is soooooooo soulless and soooooo repetitive and there's some real weird sound effects like this sword twang on the final boss that gets spammed when you hit them and is loud and is annoying. Dunno what's up with that.
There's other bad stuff here too. A big one is that this game is SHORT: It is 5 "stages" but that is deceptive, as one stage is naught but a power-up room and a boss. If you know what you're doing you can easily beat this game in 30 minutes and it has no replayability. No secrets, no difficulty levels, nothing at all. This game has roughly the same amount of content as STUART LITTLE, come on!
Ultimately a tedious and frustrating affair, Ninja "Game Gear" Gaiden will only be worthwhile those with particular interests in exploring the Sega Game Gear's catalogue (it was a top seller when it came out, to no surprise when it was a portable Ninja Gaiden), those who want to DEEPLY dive into the history of Ninja Gaiden, ooooor they just like to play 30 minute-1 hour long platformers out of boredom on a Tuesday night.
I decided to play Strider tonight because I saw multiple people leaving reviews on it lately and the How Long to Beat time was about an hour, so why not check out what everyone's talking about? And I gotta say that by the time I rolled credits at about twice of said time, the main thing I had to say was "Wow, that kinda sucked".
Look, I can see plenty of reasons to like this game. The art, especially for a quite early Genesis title, is very well done. This is probably most epitomized in the Siberian Wilderness stage in the segment with power outages (where the darkened, silhouette look broken by crackling electricity is pretty badass), the ending sequence and city shots, and the detailed sprites on enemies along with Strider himself. It has the clear intent of a neo-futuristic, 80s anime style setting (given Moto Kikaku's involvement on the manga this seems particularly fitting), and there's some pretty rad boss visual designs. The music's pretty solid and the sound can be good too, although I do feel the need to note two things. First, Stage 4's Amazon enemies seem to have some oddities going on with their sound, because a lot of times I'd have them play their attack sounds on loop a LOT when they were on the fringes of the screen in a way that was outright annoying. I thought maybe this was just a glitch of some kind, but when I checked a random Longplay on Youtube and it seemed to have the same issue so IDK. Hiryu's sword swing also makes a LOT of sound when you spam it but that was probably more frustrating than when it'd be designed due to listening with headphones rather than a crowded arcade or CRT or w/e so I don't hold that much against it.
I just couldn't jive with a lot of the gameplay though. The game feels like a bad, peanut butter mashup of Ninja Gaiden's speedy action with Castlevania's jumping physics, with the end result being a game that demands precision and speed that feels stiff and, in my opinion, unresponsive. You can definitely get used to it, sure, and it is consistent (even if Strider tumbling with the horizontal jump is at first maybe a bit throwing off), but it isn't particularly fun to play. It's like a bad version of a Metroid-style two-different-jumps mechanic. I also felt like some consistent hitbox and physics dissonance was on display here, largely with any kind of moving platform, which was absolutely PAINFUL in the final level. I died at least 10 times to the run up to the final boss because you have to stay on a moving platform that will cause you to flip off if you don't grab and/or jump with the right timing, and there were plenty of times I just grabbed on and then instantly fell off or fell off for seemingly no reason and so on. There's also a bizarre inconsistency to the game: I streamed a good chunk of this with a friend on Discord and we both noted how I'd run through the same area, often times doing the same thing, and yet have enemy spawns vary for reasons that were esoteric to us.
This is particularly notable because Strider is HEAVY on trial and error gameplay, it loves to put enemies just off screen or in spots where if you don't react immediately after entering a new area you'll get hit. There's also plenty of "gotcha" moments in the game. If you don't know a trap is coming up right when you beat the first boss, for example, you WILL get hit. Boss quality varies heavily but most are unimpressive in execution, one of them felt particularly odd as it seems like it has unavoidable damage to hit it and you basically have to mash and have full health to win before you die. When I looked up other runs, I never saw them avoid the damage either. It's likely possible but I couldn't figure it out. I'd probably enjoy this more if the game's physics felt more free, because then I'd be able to memorize myself into a nice rhythm of jumping, attacking, and so on.
It's not as though gameplay is without any merit. The idea of Gradius style Options as power-ups is underexplored but interesting. The game's got some classic ninja wall jumps and ceiling clings and platform grabs and tends to mix these in quite well: If the jumping didn't feel so bad for me the actual level design seems solid if very difficult (you can definitely tell this was an arcade game!) to me albeit with way too many gotcha moments. Some of the Options do seem to sometimes work oddly, mostly just kinda going wherever they please off screen, but it's pretty cool conceptually and fun to use. Plus I love how it fits hard into the cyber-ninja theming, he has a robot dog!
Overall, Strider might be pretty fun if the way it controls and the physics hit for you, but those things just never hit for me and it just dragged down the experience and kinda devolved into a frustrating effort by the end of things. I respect the influence it had over gaming and Strider Hiryu himself is cool, but it was just a miss for me.
Perhaps the worst thing about this game is the bizarre Intentionally behind the design. It's not just that there's no block button and that you're invincible whenever you crouch or jump (which also has flight, but no air attacks!), it's that the AI abuses it too. Or that you become unable to attack if your "Power" level, which goes down whenever you get hit and has the time it goes up depend on your actual health, which the AI WILL use to casually infinite you if your HP gets low enough, because you can grab enemies who are proned on the ground to end it early and then just grab them to deplete their power again and infinite them if their regen is not high enough. The game has horrible turning lag, which is only worsened by needing to double tap back to turn around (this is apparently a setting in the configuration that is on by default for...for some reason). The AI is subject to this as well and so will do the same thing the player does: Use their invincible jump to cross up the opponent and try to throw out their fastest attack. This also leads to the ideal way to beat the AI being HILARIOUS! Keep jumping in place while the AI attacks and try to catch them in an attack to throw them, which they will often jump themselves but you then jump back and so you and the AI keep jumping at each other for like a minute before one messes up. Oh, also, A and B are attacks, but the C button ain't jump and is in fact near useless! Wanna know how you jump and fly around? You hold up. It's as painful as your fingers as you're imagining.
Why is the timer so weird? It's like the devs have no concept of time. It begins at like 90 seconds, yet lasts about 10 minutes real time. Just like...w h a t? The super stiff controls make the platforming parts hell, although the idea of combining a platformer and a fighter is at least interesting, especially since your health is shared between platforming stage and boss fight. To be honest in the right game this could be fun, but Heavy Nova ain't it. Did I mention you don't start with all the moves? Yeah, you have to grab "Level Up" containers around the platforming stages in order to get all of them, and while the early ones are smack dab in the middle of the stage the last one is hidden. This also means needing to fight the first boss without any but like 4 moves which is about as fun as it sounds. More hilariously, fighters with attacks missing in the story mode (because the 2nd player AI ALSO doesn't have all their moves) are still missing them in the 2-player mode, so the first boss for example only has four attacks in the vs. mode. It's downright comical. This game has some instances of borderline unavoidable damage, enemies just out of sight to blow you up immediately, some absolutely BAFFLING hitboxes that will largely whiff for no good reason (same for the AI in the boss fights and missing!), and overall is just poorly designed.
The music is decent enough but mostly uninspired, although I did like that they went ham on the final boss theme, and uh. Game's preeeeeeetty ugly man, these are NOT the best lookin' robots you could find, palette swap heavy game, some real jank. Also stages don't have defined edges, so they go infinitely left/right, which led to the funniest part of the entire playthrough as I used the dash attack to escape the AI, the AI used the dash attack to follow and since they can be held infinitely we just zoomed across the entire screen like Sonic Adventure 2 for like a minute. I will also confess I didn't beat this game without a Game Genie code to have infinite Power because the AI can infinite you with two attacks if you don't have it and it just was TOO obnoxious to handle.
It's a failure on every level, but at least streaming it out to friends was a fun time. Thanks to Vee's review of the sequel for bringing this game's existence to my mind and making my friend go "it'd be Funni if you played it this sounds so BAD I'm curious".
In-Game Time - 4 Hours 27 Minutes
Real Time - 9 Hours 50 Minutes
Completion Percentage - 48%
Real Time - 9 Hours 50 Minutes
Completion Percentage - 48%
In my Metroid II review I opined that Metroid II -> Metroid Fusion felt like an under-discussed evolution in the same vein of Metroid -> Super Metroid, a parallel track of game design with a heavier focus on linearity, a somewhat more "horror" atmosphere and more of a theme of hunting a monstrous species (Metroids/X-Parasites) vs. stopping the Space Pirates like Metroid/Super Metroid. What surprised me when playing Metroid Fusion is just how much this feels like a direct follow-up to Metroid II despite following directly after Super Metroid on the timeline! In the same way that Super starts by showing the cold, silent remains of the end of Metroid 1 to build mood and indicate moving on, the first boss you fight in Metroid Fusion is a mutated form of a hidden boss in Metroid II, followed by a literal recreation of SR388 (the planet from Metroid II). And while Super Metroid showed the eeriness of entering an empty space Samus had ruined through, Fusion uses Metroid II to amp up the threat of the X-Parasites. Remember those creatures from the last handheld game? Where here they are but SWOLE and dealing tons of damage to show just how dangerous they are. And, of course, the X-Parasites are an explicit result of Samus' actions in Metroid II.
Beyond the opening, though, Metroid Fusion takes even more from Metroid II, such as a more linear approach compared to the very widely open-ended Super Metroid, the aforementioned theme of hunting, but even in smaller stuff. One I didn't think of before is how Metroid Fusion actually has the same "Kill the same boss you're hunting down the entire game" structure as Metroid II, but does it in a way that feels like a much better and more subtle way. Because you fight the Core-X after every boss! The only exception, the B.O.X. robot, gets a fight with the Core-X later. This keeps up the same theme of hunting down the same enemy, but makes each fight much more distinct since the "same" part is only at the end. Where Metroid II had a constant tracking counter that went down as you opened up each area, the X-Parasites are an unknown quantity that only infects the ship and propagates further as Samus opens up each area, even directly causing new issues. It's quite a fascinating evolution!
The series' evolution is neat and all, but how about the game's quality itself? Well I am happy to report I found it hiiiiighly impressive! The controls for Fusion feel incredibly tight, although Super's controls were already good enough I find it more of a twist rather than a flatout improvement. Where Super tended to be a bit more slow and methodical, Fusion uses what are mostly highly responsive controls to put together a much more fast paced affair that also allows more precision platforming. The only part that felt off was the wall/ceiling grip: I quite like what they add to the game but I found them at times a touch unreliable, although I did enjoy them for the most part. Being on the GBA also means we didn't have the truly ideal setup of shoulder buttons for aiming, but missiles/Power Bombs being on a dedicated toggle button is soooooooooooo much smoother and you get used enough to the up/down movement with aiming. The snappy ledge jump was a nice addition to the platforming.
Combat in general has been improved from Super Metroid, with bosses who have more complex patterns or interesting weaknesses. I can see the argument that something special is lost here at the same time, Fusion has quite a few more bosses than Super and so some don't stick out as hard + Super had some special attention to fights like Draygon with his special kill mechanic, but I'm not so sure I agree with that as there's good mechanical variety between all of them and most of them have good build up. The SA-X fight is obviously one of the highlights, but the Nightmare fight is built up especially well earlier in the game with this wonderful atmosphere in the background, the battle itself has this really spooky and memorable, horror-ish vibe to it and it mechanically is very fun, twisting how it works from the start to the end to keep the battle fresh the entire time. It's also difficult in a way few 2D Metroid bosses were and in a very fun way, I am pretty sure I died to it more than any boss in Dread. It's very memorable and competes with the much later Dread for my favorite 2D Metroid boss fight (I still need to finish more 3D Metroids, so don't want to state the entire series!). I'd overall say the bosses are much improved from Super Metroid, even if you'll get some mediocre ones like the B.O.X. Robot which was a bit annoyingly simple for me.
Much has been made of Fusion's linearity given the most popular of Metroid games, Super Metroid, is extremely non-linear. This is a real graw in some people's jaw, but I didn't have any problem with it for a few reasons. First, Metroid has not always been a strictly non-linear affair, and with how much this game feels like a direct sequel to Metroid II (which is also super linear) it feels appropriate for it to be more linear. Secondly, I dislike the idea that Metroid has to be held in a tiny box of Super Metroid-style non-linear gameplay, both in the sense of not allowing linear experiences and not allowing other non-linear forms. And thirdly, the game itself plays with the linearity in some fun ways to weave together story and gameplay!
The story of Fusion, while maybe having some nuance lost in translation, is pretty fun (especially for a GBA era platformer not in the Mega Man Zero series) and messes around with the player's expectations, while melding that with the story itself. Samus herself isn't really too pleased to have an overseer, for example, but the biggest way the game does so is how the game gets progressively less linear as Samus herself wrests control away from Adam and begins questioning the apparently straightforward mission. The only way to beat the game is to go on your own for a lengthy segment without any guidance as the guidance is lessened over the entire game, until you get to the big surprise climax, and the environments are constantly changing to keep the experience fresh nonetheless. There's also plenty of little secrets to find and the map system has been improved from the last game to let you know if you've gotten an item! So I don't have an issue with it and if anything I find it very nice how well the game's linearness is folded into an in-story reason, that kind of player-character connectivity people will go on about in various games.
This game also nails the extras of it like soundtrack and art style. I love the very colorful look to the game that not only makes it feel alien to Super or Return of Samus but also just stands out environmentally in the process. It feels like a saturated candy kinda color, intentionally garish in spots, and I just love that. The spritework is quite lovingly detailed for the GBA with a lot of wild creature designs that are pretty well defined along with solid animations (Nightmare in the background of the lab, the slime scientist combos all come to mind). And while the soundtrack might not hit GOAT Level Super Metroid status it has plenty of bangers: The Nightmare Boss Theme is obviously one of the highlights, I'd even say the main one, but stuff like the Serris Boss Theme, the SA-X theme when approaching WILL make you tremble and when you get caught it is adrenaline pumping. I'll take this time to note that the SA-X felt like an effective scare monster: The AI may be very primitive, but you will get ROASTED when you do get caught, and it is truly more the buildup that is frightening in this game. The first time you encounter the SA-X is brilliantly designed so that you will almost certainly get somewhere safe via bombing before it enters...and then get to see it from below, waiting to see if it will realize you're there and attack. Or at least that's how it was for me. The soundtrack has this 80s/90s sci fi undercurrent to the soundtrack, which makes perfect sense given the 2002 release date, and harkens back to Metroid's Alien-inspired roots wonderfully. Although this game is more a tribute to The Thing, but I digress.
I can think of a few criticisms for the game, probably the most prominent being the very few truly new power-ups you get in the game. If I recall this game has some of the least "new" power-ups in it and you can really feel that, especially because the Grapple Beam was removed as it definitely could have led to some fun platforming segments. Imagine an SA-X chase over a grapple beam area! As I mentioned, the down-diagonal style of angle can be awkward without the Super Metroid shoulder buttons. The fact the game locks you out from backtracking after a certain point, and not really with clear warning, is a serious kerfluffle for 100% completion (which I didn't do but is very common!) and feels unnecessary. Sure you can go post-game to collect stuff but it feels like there surely was some fix for it.
While I think it falls just under Super Metroid (and roughly equal to Metroid Dread) for me, Super feels more fresh and I find the way it balances the open nature with signposting along with the environmental storytelling more impressive, Metroid Fusion is nonetheless one of the top games I've played and a top end (action) platformer. Atmospherically horrifying, aesthetically pleasing, challenging yet fair bosses and a strong mixing together of gameplay and story, it stands near the apex of both its genre and the Game Boy Advance. Go try it out, trust me: It isn't a big time commitment despite the game having plenty of content, it is an interesting place of gaming history and it is just plain fun.
Unfortunately, I don't have much to say about Ninja Gaiden Shadow. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect from "original Game Boy Ninja Gaiden", although it also takes cues from Shadow of the Ninja. You gotta slash, jump and ceiling climb via grappling hook your way through five levels of mediocrity. The level design here is pretty boring overall, but it is all servicable and smart enough to make you go "oh, ah-ha!" to figure out a solution or two. The game is at its best when emulating Ninja Gaiden's fast flow state "keep running forward and trying to dodge" vibes and less so when it tries to do slower platforming, which is just kind of There. Enemies variety is interesting enough. I was enjoying myself enough until the final level. The actual level isn't too hard, but the hitboxes of the laser turrets felt MUCH chunkier than the lasers themselves and led to way too many cheap hits for my tastes. The controls felt snappy and responsive enough, but I had some issues with the grappling hook being read as a forward jump or not jumping out of crouch, however I suspect this was due to me fat fingering the inputs since when I focused on it those problems evaporated.
One thing about this game: It is SHORT, easily under an hour, and while that it is acceptable on the Game Boy it has NO replay value like...say...Kirby's Dream Land does. That felt rather unfortunate and a bit of a shame. Given it is Ninja Gaiden, an unlockable "Hard Mode" would have been fun even if it was very generic and just spammed some more enemies on screen or amped enemy damage by 1.
If there's a plus to this game it is that, much like The Amazing Spider-Man GB, the soundtrack randomly goes hard. The final battle theme is pretty lit in particular. And for a Game Boy game the graphics are pretty solid too. I was honestly angling for a 5/10 on this until the lasers at the end just kept pecking me and making me get to the final boss with low HP, plus the game is ultimately pretty unimaginative, but I'm glad enough I played it just to see what the game was like!
As someone who agrees with the point this game is bringing up, the humor tended to miss for me a lot (ah, yes, just what everyone should do: get all of their news from Twitter. That only ever made anyone a communist and didn't breed intense alt right wingers!), and it is so direct without any subtly or nuance that it you will either be like "yes, I agree with this, and?" or "please mr. bezos step all over me while i vote in another tax break". I dunno. If the humor lands for you it'll be funny but it just fell flat for me.
It's cute and warm and fluffy! This is obviously an edutainment-style allegory game moreso than anything else, but I appreciate the game wears its heart on the sleeve, to the point you can see it answering its own criticisms that only people who are already attuned to its message would check it out. I like the fact that it has good, genuine world building rather than being overly direct, and that it could trip you up both by going too far into stereotypes, and also by assuming everything you hear is incorrect! I got 4/5 on the first quiz, 5/5 on the 2nd. Honestly, seeing an expanded game / whatnot of this universe would be fun, because the worldbuilding is neat for the time it has. Marie is absolutely my jam when it comes to characters which is a plus. I don't have the heart to go for the bad ending by being mean to them :(
The art style is very appealing and the music that's in the soundtrack is energetic and mood setting. HELLO was nice. There's plenty of deeper meaning to be found in the text about people who are "othered" having the onus to change people's minds thrust on them, but at the same time understanding for those who are unaware or curious (rather than just total assholes like the people mailing threats), which is nice. As a bisexual person, having a fluffy and optimistic game tackling these issues is pleasing, and it didn't feel condescending at all, I'd say it sounded smart. I hope we get to come back to the Tomato Clinic in the future and given I have one night, hot springs I should really check out npckc's other works already!
Not a ton to say about this one, folks. It's a very very easy and very, VERY generic 2D GBA platformer. The level design evolves little throughout the game, you WILL go through the exact same swimming section at least 9 times, most of it is doing pretty simple platforming that doesn't evolve, I only died a single time before the final boss (who I died to three times against) when they SHOWER you in 1-ups. Controls are mostly fine save for the double jump having a weird delay to it that means you kinda need to pre-emptively double jump, but I DID get used to it. It isn't as horrid to control as a lot of godawful platformers and not heavily flawed, just super boring.
Normally I might be willing to give this a low 3 but maaaaaaan the art style and story suck. Did we really need Frogger to find a princess before he, ahem, busts? The spritework in this game is frequently grotesque and in the dialogue cutscenes it uses terribly pixelated versions of the already awful PS2 Great Quest models. This game is just plain disgusting to look at. Frogger has a lot better games on the GBA and the GBA has a lot better 2D Platformers, there isn't anything interesting to analyze so just...avoid this.
Metroid -> Super Metroid is a commonly discussed evolution of the series and one that is absolutely true, with the start of Super Metroid all but spelling it out for the player. But how about this: Metroid II -> Metroid Fusion is a completely parallel yet similar evolution of taking an older title's unique ideas and modifying them. Both of them offer more linear experiences than the game they preceded (Metroid/Super Metroid) that offer a more "horror" vibe to them and revolve around the idea of hunting, with Fusion having you take the role of the hunted and Metroid II taking the role of the hunter. This dual track of Metroid development is very interesting to consider, but how about the quality of it as a game? Well, I'd call it a game that succeeds in spite of itself.
This game runs a LOT on the general atmosphere and "vibes" of the game, this light horror tension as you're walking through stark white (or puke green if you're playing the original original Game Boy) stone enviroments while waiting to see where you're going to run into the tough boss you're going to be hunting down, seeing their discarded shells or floating awaiting your approach and THIS part of the game is pretty effective. There were multiple times where when I came across a long corridor and would move forward in little bursts so I wouldn't trigger a boss if I wasn't ready health-wise and that kind of feel is exactly what the game feels like it is going for. The final Area is particularly strong at this, nearly empty save for the final enemies and a few secrets. It really gives the feeling of traveling through a ruined and desecrated facility, continuing the Metroid trend of strong enviromental finishes to Metroid games which is what kept the game in the 7 star range for me. The strong music helps in this regard, spooky bit tunes and screeches and lowkey enviromental noises that really set the tone. The title theme is a particularly strong one, the transition from the little "scree....scree..." noises to a more relaxing tone is basically how the game goes, the kinda frantic stomping anger of the final boss theme, the general surface theme. This game really doesn't have a LOT of music but it takes full advantage of the primitive Game Boy sound options to make a pretty memorable OST.
I was also impressed by this game's use of visual langauge and how it made a game without a ton of tile variety quite legible, in addition to servicing the background story. For example, you come to the same tiered tile set of platforms in pretty much every area, which is a visual indicator of being that area's "hub" from which you'll be exploring the other areas for their designated Metroids, which gives an effective way to know when you're in a new area when combined with each area having either a unique flying enemy OR a unique hazard at the bottom of it. Simply by looking to see "oh, is this the one with spikes?" was enough to give me a good idea of where I was via mental map, helping with the total lack of an in-game map. Blast doors you need to use missiles on pretty much always lead to something good, while if they lack the missile doors you're in league for a boss fight. That sort of thing permiates the game and is very helpful.
This is great and all but all runs into some pretty serious flaws in the game. I actually didn't find the boss fights too repetitive, there's enough exploration that it turned into more of my brain tinkering how best to exterminate the next boss which given the hunting / "genocide ALL metroids" theme feels intended, but instead the problem I had is how often the fights just felt like a health/missile check. You simply do not have the mobility with Samus' stiffer Game Boy controls and the chunky sprites vs. the screen size to effectively dodge your opponents, let alone easily hit weak points, meaning that a lot of fights felt to me like spamming missiles while tanking hits and hoping my chunky dodging was enough. The Ai exploitability (which I don't blame them for it's an OG Game Boy game for god's sake) adds to this. It DOES mean some of the fights were quite intense, but it adds a pretty hollow element to a bunch of them. There's also a few of them that just do NOT work right, usually involving long vertical drops, the one with fake blocks was a specific low point as 80% of the fight was just trying to even jump to fight it. The fact that the boss only moves when on screen and the way the music/sound effects work also makes it feel incredibly artificial, just not good.
This dovetails nicely into another issue I had: For some reason this game HATES recharge stations, but it doesn't fully commit as something like Super Metroid would later do by locking you OUT from them until you finish a specific area. Instead it just puts them in horribly awkward locations, like on the ceiling or random crevices, making them really easy to forget location-wise or just take a long time to get to. Some even have enemies that circle them you need to dodge and they'll do like NO damage but force you out of the Spider Ball or Space Jump (which you need to access most of these) and now you have to go through like a whole minute of them to get back there. Why is this a thing? I could understand if it was survival horror style scarcity, but no, not only are they often not locked off, but the game frequently puts farming areas w/ enemies that respawn constantly on screen (compared to leaving and re-entering) for you to get your resources back up, so the scarcity isn't really a "thing". It is a very confused design choice.
The map is mostly easy to navigate, but I will say I ended up looking at a guide three times during the game, although I think only one was really the game's fault. The first time was wholly on me because I thought I had checked an area multiple times but despite knowing what each screen is I apparently didn't jump all the way to the top of one. The last time was just convenience after I died to the final boss to see if the area had health/missile refills or if I had to backtrack. The middle time was because I forgot what area had lava to recede after beating one Metroid batch, which DID feel like an issue as it can be kinda easy to forget where the lava areas are, this isn't too bad but it does feel like this game could use a rudimentary in-game map if possible. Even moreso than Metroid 1 in a way: It's more viable to make an in-game map on your home console Metroid game than the Game Boy one that's absolutely gonna be played on the go constantly.
A few general and short thoughts at the end: The platforming here is very simple and never too challenging, but it is still fun if chunky at times. Annoying how various late-game stuff can be when you do it without the High Jump Boots, which ARE optional and which I never found. Enemies being placed at annoying heights was overly common, especially with flying enemies, where it was hard to find a jumping OR crouching height to hit them. This is a rare game where I feel like it looks better when NOT played on a Game Boy Color, so I recommend that.
Real Life Time: 8 Hours 32 Minutes
In-Game Time: 6 Hours 55 Minutes
In-Game Time: 6 Hours 55 Minutes
This game is a whole half hour long or so (It took me 27 minutes), so there isn't a lot to say here. I commend Rare for trying to give this game some meat with a unique boss at the end of each world in a bit of a Mega Man style, but it wasn't exactly uncommon on the original Game Boy (Super Mario Land 1 had this as a launch title, let alone many other games) and the fights are fairly bad. They range from stupid simple (stand to the far right vs. Green Goblin and unless you miss hitting him on the pattern you cannot be hit) to extremely frustrating (The final boss, my god). Probably the most annoying thing is that this was a beat 'em up / platformer hybrid, but your attack range feels tiny: I particularly found it difficult to hit bosses without taking damage back, sometimes without it even being during their attack but just due to the hitbox of it being so small that I got too close and got hit. I would not have beaten this game were it not for the fact that when you die and get to full health, boss HPs retain their damage. I was on my very last continue when I won.
Basic enemies have this issue where due to your range, all fights are one of two things: The enemies just run into your fist (the bats in the subway level and some other flying enemies) OR they come at you and due to your range you either have to hit during a small window before they ever attack or get hit, there's very few alternative attacks and the jumping is too chunky to reliably dodge opponents. The low enemy variety also makes it overall boring. The wall climbing segments I think are actually a neat idea, the spidey-sense warning of falling objects as a kind of obstacle course dodging is a good implementation of the idea but they make the obstacles fast enough that you really can't react to it and some randomness in the patterns led to parts where I think I had no choice but to take a hit. It's also too easy to one hit kill yourself by jumping on these parts and I don't know why you have to jump into a window when you reach the top to finish the stage...especially since you always then end up on the rooftop rather than inside. Web-slinging was also inconsistent even once I realized the odd control scheme and led to a pair of unfortunate deaths.
There's only two good things about this game: The music with David Wise on the team is kinda boppin' and the cutscenes are cheesy in an intentional, old Spidey cartoon way that frankly makes them pretty funny. Why does Spider-Man answer the phone in his house dressed as Spider-Man? It's not worth playing the game for but, hey, it is something!
It's pretty fun to look back on the very first Kirby game and see how much of the series lay within its genesis, in particular the game having Game Boy shmup levels that are a clear starting point to the multitude of later shooter levels Kirby will have in his games. There's the real cute animations between every level which a multitude of games like Kirby's Adventure and Kirby 64 would use, plus the fact it has a lively and vibrant soundtrack that's quite nice for an early Game Boy game.
None of this really saves Kirby's Dream Land from feeling like a boring game. The problem isn't just that it is easy, plenty of easy games are fun, but the methods in which Dream Land is easy often make it actively unengaging. There isn't enough consideration to Kirby's great flight abilities (which are stronger here than most), so a lot of levels can be beaten by mashing the jump button and ocassionally stopping to slightly descend for a flying enemy that tracks you. And even when you can't do that, the game's platforming is a bit overly simplistic for Kirby's already very simple moveset. While obviously he lacks the copy abilities, the inability to even slide is disappointing as that'd add a very casual option to allow more for the player to do. Simple can work, I enjoyed Super Mario Bros. 1 again recently, but it really needs something to challenge the most basic stuff for me because otherwise it's not doing enough. It's telling the most deaths I had were something I'd also complain about, is the background of Level 4 blends into the stage to me and so I died multiple times thinking I was landning on level but actually went through a bottomless pit. I do understand this was meant to be an extremely beginner friendly platformer and I can see it working as a kid's first game well enough, but I've always preferred platformers more engaging than this.
The bosses are also pretty lackluster, Kracko was my favorite and felt like the one with the most gameplay to it, King Dedede is shockingly boring here due to how casual he is to avoid yet how long it can take to get hits in if you are playing safely. I do appreciate the game having a second playthrough hard mode option and the vast array of difficulty options for the time is great, but the fact I need to get through the game twice before getting the difficulty adjustments is a bummer, and the actual playthrough I had gave me little desire to go through it a second time. An interesting start for the Kirby franchise, but Kirby's Avalanche feels like the truest start of the series.
A short review for a short game, Super Mario Land is more interesting as a historical artifact in being a launch title for that good ol' original Game Boy and being the first portable Mario game than as a fun gameplay experience. The biggest thing that sticks out about it is the wackiness on display that makes it feel like a successor to Super Mario Bros. 2 USA (in fact when I was younger I constantly thought Daisy came from SMB2 rather than SML due to that!), with alien UFOs as stage transportation, flying Moai Statue heads as attacks and Mario having actual shmup sections! It's a kind of playfulness outside the norm, in this case being before the norm was established in 1989, that gives it an endearing quality of its own, and there's some things that would be fun to revisit like the shmups.
The playful creativity is brought down by the game itself, which feels undeniably crunched to fit in with a still burgeoning Game Boy, with extremely simple level design and enemy placement. Combined with the much shortened length from something like Super Mario Bros. 1, Super Mario Land feels more like the start of a game than a complete showing. It isn't helped by some questionable physics and MORE questionable hitbox detection. It's no Castlevania: The Adventure, but difficulty judging sprite hitboxes and with the run button were the main reason I died in an otherwise very easy game. It's very easy to overshoot when running due to Mario's overly tuned acceleration, but Mario's actual air mobility is limited and momentum is barely preserved, so if you try to weave back you're liable to fall like a rock. I also repeatedly ran into the issue of the game not registering my jump input if I tried to jump TOO soon after starting a run, which was annoying.
On the plus side, the game's very generous lives system thanks to a pretty easy minigame means too much game overing isn't an issue. The game's checkpoint system is bizarrely flawed, but it isn't frustrating since it is flawed in the player's favor: Multiple times I died and then the game put me on a checkpoint further in the game, causing me to end up "skipping" small parts. The graphics are super simple, although I kinda dig Mario's sprite along with some like the adorable 8-bit jumping spider, but the soundtrack is actually kinda fire. Pretty bouncy tunes.
Overall, though, Super Mario Land is a mildly enjoyable and obviously flawed look into the past of the series, it's genuinely fascinating to see what Gunpei Yokoi and company thought was critical to keep or not keep in such a limited form of a Mario game. Mushrooms and Goombas? Critical. But fire flowers and how Koopas work? Exchangable. It's super short, an hour or less if you don't game over, so check it out if it looks vaguely interesting and don't sweat it if it doesn't.