Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse (GEN) Review

Not many people realize that this game is actually a first-party Sega title. Castle of Illusion was developed by Sega of Japan and released here in the States on November 20, 1990. It should come as no surprise that the premise of the game revolves around Mickey exploring this so-called Castle of Illusion in an attempt to rescue Minnie, who has been captured by the wicked witch Mizrabel. Mickey must collect the 7 gems that make up the colors of the rainbow in order to create a bridge that leads to his inevitable confrontation with Mizrabel—which happens to be an extremely anti-climactic encounter.

The game is your basic side-scrolling affair, albeit a very slow-paced one. Mickey leisurely strolls through the game's 5 levels, jumping over chasms and taking out a moderate amount of baddies along the way. Considering the fact that you can complete the game in under an hour, it is quite possible that this slow-pace was purposely implemented in order to lengthen the amount of time taken to complete the adventure. Whatever the reason, the sluggish—and sometimes slippery—controls make for a fairly unentertaining experience.

Mickey has two means of attack: jumping on his enemies or throwing marbles/apples at them. Throwing projectiles works exactly like you would expect it to, however jumping on your foes is a bit strange and takes some getting used to. You have to press the jump button twice—once to leave the ground and once to lift Mickey's legs, allowing him to land on enemies without taking any damage. Also, if you hold down the jump button while landing on an enemy, Mickey will be launched unreasonably high into the air, which can also take some getting used to—especially with the game's floaty controls.

Luckily, there are a handful of inventive level designs that save the game from being a complete bore-fest. In one of the later levels, Mickey is able to swim through the contents of a cup of tea, dodging sugar cubes that do their best to get in the way. Later in the same level, Mickey travels into the mouth of a milk jug that leads him to a candyland-esque world with a river of milk flooding the bottom of the screen. These lush environments and creative level designs keep the game interesting throughout, but the game's slow-as-molasses-pace still weighs down heavily on the game's overall enjoyment level.

As you might expect from a Disney-themed game, the visuals are quite endearing and the soundtrack, for the most part, fits right in with each level's mood. However, the soundtrack—while both lighthearted and joyful—tends to run at a constant tempo, causing the songs to bleed together and become monotonous by the time you get halfway through the game. The visuals on the other hand, despite some lackluster enemy designs, are extremely colorful and well-detailed. The backgrounds have some nice textures and the character animations are incredibly smooth. These two areas are the game's strongest points, but—as every old-school gamer knows—a game's aesthetics don't mean a thing if the core gameplay isn't there to back them up.

While Castle of Illusion does posses a handful of charming qualities along with some fairly inventive level designs, these things simply aren't enough to save the game from mediocrity. The slow, drab gameplay is too much for the positive aspects of the game to overcome. I've seen quite a few favorable reviews that score this game in the 8-9 range which is almost unbelievable to me. Being able to play through this game for the first time some 20 years after it's initial release, I was able to see it for what it really is, rather than what it was all those years ago—which is exactly what we try our best to do here at TTG Reviews in the first place.

Overall Score: 5.3/10 (Avid Disney fans will surely enjoy the charming soundtrack and gorgeous graphics that bring Mickey's world to life, but the core gameplay holds this game back from being a necessary addition to your Genesis collection.)


Here is a pretty funny commercial for the game raving about how great it is because it's 16-bit, which is quite humorous because the vast majority of Disney-themed NES games are far superior to this one.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

StarTropics (NES) Review

StarTropics is easily one of the most criminally overlooked games of all-time. Criticized by some for being a Zelda-clone, StarTropics borrows just about everything that made Miyamoto's masterpiece tick, and adds a handful of new elements to spice things up a bit. The journey begins on C-Island where you—Mike Jones, the ace pitcher from Seattle—discovers that his Uncle, an archaeologist referred to as "Dr. J," has been kidnapped by evil aliens. Mike must trek through 8 grueling chapters in order to rescue his abducted Uncle and save the world from Zoda, the alien responsible for his Uncle's disappearance.

As it was previously mentioned, there is a striking resemblance between StarTropics and The Legend of Zelda. The game is played from a top-down perspective with the camera placed fairly far away as you make your way from island to island via your Uncle's submarine, Sub-C. Once you hit dry land, the camera remains quite distant, but you are now traveling on foot in search of villages where you can question the locals. The overworlds look very similar to your typical NES RPGs (the mountains and trees are no bigger than you are), as do the towns. Once you make your way into one of the local settlements, you are forced to talk to just about every member of the community before you are granted access to the path you must follow in order to proceed to the next dungeon.

Once inside a dungeon, the camera is moved much closer than it was in the overworld segments, revealing Mike as a much larger sprite than he was before. Mike also gains the ability to attack inside of dungeons with the yo-yo that was given to him by the chief of Coralcola—the name of every town ends with "cola" for some odd reason. The yo-yo is upgraded twice during your quest allowing you to shoot projectiles from it at a greater distance as long as you have enough health—much like Link's ability to shoot his sword whenever his health meter is completely filled. These projectiles also do more damage than the regular yo-yo. Mike is also given a multitude of power-ups throughout the game's many dungeons including baseballs, baseball bats, shurikens, lazer guns, and more. Most of these additional weapons prove to be the most useful during the boss battles at the end of each dungeon. There are a few additional items for Mike to collect that have more particular purposes. For example, the Rod of Sight allows Mike to see ghosts where they would normally be invisible and the winged anklet allows Mike to jump one space further than normal.

StarTropics is one of the few top-down games that grants you the ability to jump and it is a very crucial element of the game's design. In some circumstances, Mike is only able to jump in place in order to avoid enemy attacks. However, on numerous occasions, Mike is presented with a series of blocks that he is able to jump on top of, allowing him to activate switches and progress through flooded regions of the dungeon. Some of these blocks will sink as soon as you touch them and others will even be submerged underwater until you take a leap of faith in their direction—if you watch your enemies closely, you'll occasionally see them land on the transparent blocks. Hopping around from block to block is a vital skill that you have to master if you want to conquer this game.

Although it is not visible, the game utilizes a grid that restricts Mike's movements to the four cardinal directions. This can be a bit frustrating at times as Mike seems to slide around on the grid causing his movements on the screen to occur slightly after you perform them on the D-pad. Luckily, there aren't too many sections that require you to make quick, precise movements, so this is only a minor concern that doesn't take too much away from your overall enjoyment of the game.

We'll start with the bad news first; the visuals. The graphics are extremely bland, especially in the overworld areas. Most of the colors are flat and there is too much repetition in the environments. It isn't until you board Zoda's spaceship in the 8th and final chapter that you are presented with an entirely unfamiliar location. On top of that, there are a number of times that Mike is meant to travel through a hole in the wall of a dungeon which can only be located by spotting a small shadow on the ground in front of it. These shadows are sometimes borderline-impossible to see and, regrettably, had me looking up youtube videos to figure out where I was supposed to go. While the graphics do exude a little bit of the charm found in games like Earthbound, it's simply not enough to offset the fairly uninspired and repetitive landscapes.

The soundtrack, on the other hand, is chock-full of stand out tunes that you'll be whistling for days to come after you've defeated the evil alien Zoda. Each of the tracks fits it's environment to a tee. While traversing through the overworld, you are treated to a perky, upbeat track that will have you exploring every inch of the island before you make your way down into the dungeon. Upon entering a dungeon, the music shifts to a slightly darker tone, helping to build up the intensity leading up to your encounter with the boss. There are maybe a dozen-or-so different songs in the game and not one of them disappoints.

While there are a couple of hinderances that keep StarTropics from being a top-tier NES title, this is still a must-own for any fan of action RPGs. The slippery controls in the dungeons are a little bothersome at first, but they will be virtually unnoticeable by the end of the second chapter, allowing you to fully enjoy the majority of the game. You may need to look at a walkthrough once or twice—especially in the final three chapters—if you get stuck, but it still doesn't take anything away from the sense of accomplishment you'll feel after beating the game. It's not overly difficult, but it provides a rewarding challenge for gamers of all ages. You owe it to yourself to play through StarTropics.

Overall Score: 8.0/10 (A great addition of any NES collection and a must-own for any fan of the action-RPG genre.)


Here's some footage of the first 10 minutes of the game...enjoy!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kirby's Adventure (NES) Review

Kirby's Adventure is easily one of my favorite games of all-time and is, without a doubt, my favorite NES game—yes, it even beats out Super Mario Bros. 3. Kirby's Adventure flirts with perfection from the moment the title screen "teaches" you how to draw the little pink puffball right up until the credits begin to roll upon completion of the game. Released only four days before Christmas, 1992, the developers at HAL Laboratories had the opportunity to unleash just about every ounce of power that the little gray box had to offer...and they did.

Those of you who've played any Kirby games that were released post-1992 will notice that the gameplay really hasn't changed very much, if at all, since the release of Kirby's Adventure. Kirby can walk/run, and jump—typical for side-scrolling platformers—however, Kirby's got a couple of tricks up his non-existent sleeves that set him apart from the crowd...

-1st: Kirby is able to fly for an infinite amount of time. This ability to soar through the air at will does make the game a bit of a walk in the park—almost completely nullifying the chances of falling down a bottomless pit—but it never takes away from the game's overall enjoyment, which is really the most important aspect of any game. If you're not having fun while you play, then what's the point?
-2nd: Kirby is able to ingest any of his opponents and copy their abilities—at least a dozen or so different ones—hanging onto them until he is struck by an attack from another foe. If this happens, there's no need to panic because Kirby can simply chase down the star that is expelled from his body once he takes damage in order to regain whatever ability has been temporarily lost. There are a handful of enemies with no abilities that will simply give you nothing if you swallow them, but they can still be fired out of your mouth in order to inflict some damage.

While there are truckloads of games that offer up a multitude of power-ups for their heroes, very few give you the capability of being able to give each of the games enemies a taste of their own medicine—which happens to be a very satisfying experience.

To put it simply, Kirby's Adventure has, arguably, the best graphics of any game in the massive NES library, as well as one of the most memorable soundtracks to ever grace the 8-bit console. There's an absolutely zero percent chance of playing through this game from start to finish without having at least 90% of the game's insanely catchy ditties ingrained in the back of your mind for the remainder of your waking life. Aside from the incredible quality of the perky tunes, what really sets the soundtrack apart is the number of tracks. It really is amazing how many songs they were able to cram onto this 6-megabit cartridge.

Adventure also sports a considerable amount of vibrant colors and adorable sprites that contribute to the game's sugary-sweet aura. The animations are extremely polished as well. Unfortunately, these beautiful graphics come with a price...severe slowdown. You haven't experienced slowdown until you've played through Kirby's Adventure. Any time that you have 3+ enemies on the screen—especially while Kirby is airborne—the screen will come to near-standstill (maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but it slows down A LOT). However, for whatever reason, it only adds to the game's intensity as you slowly weave your way through the more hectic patches in the game's 7 levels (each consisting of 5-6 sub-levels).

If, for whatever reason, you haven't had the chance to play through Kirby's Adventure at some point in your life, PLEASE do it now! Quite possibly the pinnacle of gaming in the 8-bit era, you really owe it to yourself to get your hands on at least one version of this game, whether it be the NES cartridge, Virtual Console download, or even the GBA remake, Nightmare in Dreamland. While you can probably beat the game in about 5 hours or so, the replay value is nearly endless and if you're a completionist like I am, there are tons of secrets for you to go back and find once you've completed the adventure—it even tells you the percentage of the game that you have completed next to each individual save file. Quit reading this and just go play the game already!

Overall Score: 9.5/10 (This game is an absolute masterpiece and is a necessary part of any NES collection)


Here is an original T.V. spot for Kirby's really is funny how commercials have changed over the years. (Thanks to youtube user dacdillinger!)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pocky & Rocky (SNES) Review

Developed and published by Natsume (of Harvest Moon fame) in June of 1993, Pocky & Rocky is a largely undiscovered shmup in the SNES library. A scrolling shooter—both vertically and horizontally—played from an overhead perspective is obviously something that has been done numerous times before, however, Pocky & Rocky possesses a handful of charming qualities that set it apart from other games in the genre.

As previously stated, P&R is a scrolling shooter although, unlike typical shooters, the screen scrolls only as your character(s) (a young girl by the name of Pocky and a raccoon dog named Rocky...Beatles anyone?) move throughout the level. Another key difference is the fact that you are a person (or raccoon dog) on foot rather than some crazy gunship flying through space at mach speeds. This slight variation in gameplay from the norm gives P&R a very fresh feel as you, and possibly a friend (which is HIGHLY recommended by the way—this game is HARD) romp through the game's six levels.

The controls are very tight and responsive...if you die, nine times out of ten, it's your fault. You've got your basic attacks which include throwing projectiles (in this case, cards and leaves—which can be upgraded by picking up power-ups) at the hordes of enemies and waving a shield-like weapon (some type of wand or a raccoon dog tail, depending on your character selection) to parry away most of the "bullets" that the enemies will send your way. You also have a slide which allows you to quickly dive from one side of the screen to the other in order to avoid dodge attacks, primarily used during boss battles. You also begin each level with one bomb that essentially wipes out all of the on-screen baddies in one fell swoop, which definitely comes in handy on numerous occasions.

If you've ever played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja for the SNES, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. The sprites are smoothly animated and very colorful, as are a majority of the backgrounds. The game does suffer from a little bit of slowdown, but it's nothing that takes away from the overall experience, as this is common territory for games of this era. The soundtrack, while it gets the job done, isn't really anything to write home about. There's not a bad tune in the bunch, but the typical Japanese soundtrack lacks any stand out tracks, ensuring that you won't be humming any of the melodies to yourself the next day.

I'll be honest; after level three, I started breezing right through the tedious cut scenes that did nothing more than slow down the pace of the game. It's a shmup...the story is not important. Luckily, a simple push of the start button will skip the cutscene in it's entirety, allowing you to get back into the game in no time. If you'd like to follow along with the story of the Nopino Goblins, feel free, but don't say that I didn't warn you.

If you don't like games where you have to play through levels multiple times before you are able to conquer them, then I strongly encourage you to steer clear of this game. However, if you're looking for a good challenge that isn't going to have you scouring through ebay listings looking for replacement SNES controllers, look no further than Pocky & Rocky. It's a great game with a lot of character that supplies the sometimes-stagnant shmup genre with something that's just a little bit outside of the box.

Overall Score: 7.1/10 (A worthy addition to your SNES collection, but not necessarily a must have.)


Here's a video showing you the game's intro and the entire 1st level courtesy of PickHutHG (a youtube user).

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Shape of Reviews to Come

Hello everyone,

my name is Kevin (K-Port66) and I am going to be using this blog to give you all a place to come for all of your reviewing needs. I am an avid video gamer (old school and new school) and I will be supplying both written and video reviews on this site for your reading/viewing pleasure.

At first, I am going to be focusing on bringing you reviews of games for the NES, SNES, N64, Game Boy (Color), Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, and Sega Dreamcast and will then move on to reviewing games for the Wii, DS, GBA, Gamecube, PS2, PS3, XBOX, and XBOX 360.

The main goal of this site is to give gamers a place to go for reliable and honest reviews of video games. I will try to be as unbiased as possible. For example, even though the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES is a great game and it paved the way for many platformers to come, it is not the greatest game of all-time as many sites like IGN would lead you to believe. It may be (arguably) the most influential, sure, but I am going to be reviewing games and considering how good they are now (how well they have held up over time) rather than reviewing them and factoring in the time of their release. Of course, I will comment on these things, and if a game was a great technical achievement for it's time, I won't take anything away from the game...but it won't be getting any bonus points for that fact is all that I'm trying to say...that probably took way too many words for me to get out, so sorry about that!

Anyways, I hope you'll all use this site as a source for all of your gaming needs. Take care!