Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mega Man (NES) Review

Without a doubt Capcom's most successful franchise, the first game in the Mega Man series was released in December of 1987. Despite being arguably the worst of the original Mega Man games (1-8 that is), the franchise's debut doesn't seem get the credit that it deserves. It's nowhere near perfect, but to this day, it remains the cornerstone that every other game in the series is built upon. Sure, later Mega Man games made some fairly notable improvements over the original, however, the Blue Bomber's debut is still something that should not be overlooked by anyone that considers themselves a classic gamer.

First and foremost, if you've never played a Mega Man game before, the basic formula is based upon the timeless game of rock, paper, scissors—which is, for some reason, wildly popular in Japan. The bosses that you face at the end of every level each have one particular weakness and one particular strength. For example, Fire is greater than Ice, which is greater than Electricity, and so on. Upon defeating one of Dr. Wily's minions, you will be granted with the ability to use his power. It may take a few tries to figure out the particular order to tackle the bosses in, but once you've got that figured out, the main portion of this game is a breeze. It's after you beat the first six levels and move on to the Wily Fortress when the game ramps up the difficulty by a considerable amount—this game can be found on many top 10 hardest games of all-time lists. Personally, I don't think the game lives up to those standards, but it is quite a bit tougher than some of the more popular games in the series like Mega Man 2 & 3.

The controls are extremely simple; A jumps, B shoots, and the D-Pad is used to maneuver the Blue Bomber. The Start button is used to bring up a menu that allows you to select which weapon you'd like to use, which also pauses the game, as does Select. Whenever you have a weapon selected that was earned by defeating one of the game's six bosses, a second bar will appear next to your health bar to let you know how much ammo you have left with that particular power-up. Each weapon that you earn throughout the game is extremely effective against one of the other five bosses, allowing you to knock them off in far fewer hits than it would've taken with the power blaster that you begin the game with. Even the bosses you face in the Wily Fortress have their weaknesses, however, they are not as pronounced as those of the original six robots you square off with (each of whom you will face-off against for a second time in the Wily Fortress). However, as long as you possess a fair amount of perseverance, you should have no trouble emerging victorious as the game offers up an unlimited number of continues. On the other hand, there is no way to save your progress (not even a password system), which is something that has been seen in every Mega Man game since.

When it comes to NES soundtracks, you'd be hard pressed to find a more consistent developer than Capcom. Although Konami and Nintendo give them a run for their money, I don't believe I've ever played through an 8-bit Capcom game without having a handful of the tunes memorized by the time I completed the game. The original Mega Man is no exception to this rule and has a number of memorable tracks. Most of the tunes runs at a brisk tempo and keep you locked in to the action on the screen. There isn't a bad tune in the bunch, and although other Mega Man games offer up soundtracks that are just as good, if not slightly better, the franchise's debut sets the bar extremely high—a bar that most other NES games could never live up to.

The visuals are also fairly impressive, although they don't hold a candle to the soundtrack. The smooth animations, bright and colorful graphics, and original character designs have managed to hold up quite well over the past 20+ years. The graphics are by no means a prime example of what the NES was capable of, but the art direction was handled extremely well—the recently released Mega Man 9 (available on all three current-gen consoles' downloadable services) essentially uses the exact same art style, which speaks volumes for how well they've held up over the past two decades.

If for some crazy reason you've never played a Mega Man game before, there isn't much of a reason for you to start here, as multiple games in the franchise's history went on to eclipse the original game. However, those of you that have your fair share of Mega Man experience will undoubtedly be able to find a great deal of enjoyment in the Blue Bomber's introduction to the world. Sure, the MM formula has been a bit worn out over the past 22 years, but that doesn't mean that the games aren't fun, which is, of course, the most important aspect of a game. There are a few moments later in the game that will undoubtedly try your patience, but it will all be worth it in the end once you send Dr. Wily back to where he came from.

Overall Score: 7.0/10 (The first game in the Mega Man series is far from perfect, but it's still a worthwhile experience for any fan of 8-bit, side-scrolling platformers.)


Here's a video courtesy of great website that archives footage from any NES game you can think of!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Die Hard Arcade (Saturn) Review

Upfront confession: I’ve never seen the movie Die Hard and I don’t have any real plans to see it in the future. Macho explosion movies just don’t do much for me; arcade style beat-em-ups based on said movies are a different story, though. Die Hard Arcade was released on April 8th, 1997 for the Sega Saturn, having been first released as an arcade machine (but I’m sure you could’ve guessed that). As an in house, Sega developed game, it was always intentioned to be released for both the Saturn and arcade. The game utilizes one of the most traditional story arcs by making it your mission to save the president’s daughter from the evil “White Fang”, but does that even really matter?


Though your only buttons consist of the simple punch, kick, and jump affair, the game always keeps you engaged with an abundance of combinations that can come from them. Then the formula gets taken a step further, as you can pick up 10+ different weapons throughout the games’ five levels. It’s important to note that you can only hold and use one weapon at a time, but you won’t mind as you smile beating down wave after wave of thugs that come between you (and your partner) and victory. In general, the difficulty is not very high but it’s never low enough where your interest would wain.

Here’s the real kicker: this game only clocks in at around 30 minutes or so of actual gameplay. To its credit, these paltry minutes are spent in many different locales around this building the game takes place in. The environment in Die Hard Arcade often plays the role as an additional enemy to consider, with many sections offering up some sort of hazard to deal with along with the normal bad guys that will populate the scenario. Per this genre’s course, you’ll also encounter a few different bosses along the way. Also, as you run between different environments, you often come into “Quick Time Event” scenarios where you’re put on the spot to quickly hit a button the game tells you to. Whether you hit the correct button or not impacts how you enter the next area, and in general is a nice change up from the core gameplay.

There’s another drawback (if you choose to view it as such): if you and your buddy plan to make a run through Die Hard Arcade, you’re essential forced to play “Deep Scan” first. Deep Scan is a simple Sega arcade game that has you fire depth charges to destroy submarines below. Destroy enough submarines and avoid their attacks and you begin to be awarded with credits to use in the game. For a casual two player run through the game, I recommend amassing around 20 credits (which are shared between the players). As a bonus arcade game on the disc, it’s nice to have, but as a required precursor to the real experience, it feels more like a chore.


The Sega Saturn was never known for its 3D processing prowess, but surprisingly Die Hard Arcade still holds up pretty well in the visuals department. The animations are smooth, and everything runs without any noticeable slowdown. The polygons that make up the characters may be showing their age a bit these days, but I think there’s a certain charm in that because the game isn’t hindered by its graphics.

Audio quality is a different story, however. Though the sound effects and music aren’t noticeably bad, they aren’t noticeably good either. There are only a few music tracks in the game, and they can become a bit repetitive as you progress along. Admittedly this is a bit of a disappointment, but most people (including myself) don’t go into playing a beat-em-up hoping to hear outstanding sound.

There’s also the matter of the cut-scenes, which I suppose are meant to tack on a story to the game. These cut-scenes look and sound fine, but are best left off (in Options menu) because they serve more to interrupt your experience than enhance it. The annoyance increases when what often seems like one long scene loads and plays in small pieces at a time.


As an arcade machine meant to suck up your quarters, Die Hard Arcade is fantastic…but as a Sega Saturn release it just doesn’t quite meet today’s standards of a stand alone game. The core 3D, beat-em-up style gameplay entertains very consistently through its experience. Unfortunately, that experience is much too short, especially if you take my recommendation to turn off the unnecessary cut-scenes. It is worth mentioning that like many great beat-em-ups, it does have natural replay ability, though. Deep Scan would have been a welcome addition to the disc, but instead it’s a shallow (no pun intended) game that you must play to get more than the initial 4 credits. I know this game is pretty highly regarded in the Saturn community, but I believe most view games like these from a historical perspective. I choose to review based on today’s standards and the bottom line is that there isn’t enough meat in this package.

Overall Score: 6.7/10 (Die Hard Arcade is a fun and satisfying game experience…while it lasts. As a beat-em-up fan, I’m personally happy to have it in my Sega Saturn collection. However, as a game that can be beaten in well under an hour, it’s difficult to recommend as a stand alone retail disc.)

- Randy

Gunstar Heroes (Genesis) Review

Gunstar Heroes is, without a doubt, a top 10 Genesis game (arguably the best) and is also one of the defining titles of the run 'n' gun genre. While Nintendo fanboys were busy getting their keisters handed to them by the brutally difficult Contra III: The Alien Wars, Genesis gamers were treated with a much more balanced game in Gunstar Heroes. GH is not a walk in the park by any means, but the ability to sustain multiple hits before biting the dust leads to a much lower level of frustration and in turn, makes playing through the game a much more enjoyable experience.

At the start of the game, you (and a friend if you're playing co-operatively, which is HIGHLY recommended, as always) are given the opportunity to choose from 1 of 4 starting weapons:
1) Force—a machine-gun-like weapon with moderate power.
2) Lightning—a laser-like weapon that can go through multiple enemies.
3) Chaser—a machine-gun with low power that homes in on enemies.
4) Flame—a flame-thrower with high power but fairly short range.
During the game, you are able to pick up an additional weapon and combine it with your original selection, giving you a total of 14 different weapon combinations. For example, if you have 2 Flames, your weapon will simply become more powerful and have an increased range, but if you have 1 Flame and 1 Chaser, you will now have a heat-seeking flame-thrower.

Once you've selected your weapon, you are then taken to a level-select screen, allowing you to choose between the games 4 main levels. You can tackle these 4 levels in any order you'd like, as there is no benefit to beating them in a particular order. After taking care of the first 4 levels, you are then forced to play through the remaining levels in a set order. As I mentioned before, GH is a side-scrolling run 'n' gun, however the 5th level that you will play is a horizontally-scrolling shmup—a fun little diversion from the game's slightly repetitive formula.

While the game's main levels are a lot of fun to play, it's the frantic boss battles that have you dodging one attack after another—for several minutes each—that really set this game apart from it's peers. I suppose this should be expected, considering the fact that GH was developed by Treasure (Dynamite Headdy, Bangai-O, and Ikaruga). However, unlike other Treasure developed games that are incredibly difficult, Gunstar Heroes manages to present a good challenge while still feeling fair from star to finish. It's also a little less bizarre than the typical Treasure affair, but despite the lower degree of difficulty and lack of any mind-boggling craziness, GH still stands out as the cream of the crop when it comes to Treasure developed games, despite being the first title ever developed by the company.

Being a fairly late release in the Genesis' life span, Treasure was able to harness a majority of the power inside of Sega's 16-bit console. The soundtrack gets the job done as far as setting the atmosphere goes, but there isn't any one track that I can recall just 3 short days after completing the game. The graphics, on the other hand, are where the game truly shines in audio/visual department. The screen is constantly overflowing with explosions and enemy sprites and only suffers from a minimal amount of slow down in the process, which rarely becomes anything more than a slight distraction. The character animations are incredibly smooth and give the game a very polished feeling throughout. For a Genesis title, the visuals really don't get much better than this.

When all is said and done, Gunstar Heroes makes for an incredible 2-player experience that won't soon be forgotten. It is without a doubt a top-tier Genesis title and, like I mentioned at the beginning of the review, is quite possibly the best game that ever graced the Sega platform. GH is also a defining game in the run 'n' gun genre and possibly the greatest Treasure developed game to date, which is saying quite a lot. In other words, if you don't already own a copy of Gunstar Heroes, you need to do yourself a favor and pick up a cartridge off of ebay—or if collecting cartridges isn't your thing, then you can also download it from any of the 3 current generation console's downloadable services. There is absolutely no reason for any self-respecting gamer not to own this game!

Overall Score: 9.1/10 (This game is a must-own for anyone and everyone with even the slightest interest in video games...just be prepared to get owned by it a few times.)