Arcade Classic 4: Defender/Joust
Publisher: Midway (1995)
Like fine wines, Defender and Joust only get better with age. These scaled-down versions are remarkably faithful to the originals. In Defender (1980) you fly over an angular planet surface, wiping out aliens before they can abduct humans from the surface. All the key elements are here except hyperspace, which is no great loss. Rapidly unloading those laser streams is fun, and after taking a hit your ship blooms into a little fireworks display. Playing Defender on a Super Game Boy (SNES) enhances the experience with a bright, colorful arcade cabinet display and colors that mimic the arcade. You'll feel like you're playing the actual coin-op, at least until advanced waves when slow-down kicks in and the game speed starts to fluctuate. Joust (1982) nicely emulates the button-tapping, bird-flapping gameplay of the coin-op. The collision detection is forgiving but it takes more effort (flapping) to ascend the screen. One pleasant surprise is the "updated" mode which features a large scrolling battlefield. It plays extremely well. All variations let you enter your initials in high score screens, but they didn't save for me. If there's a battery in my cart, it's probably dead. One glaring omission is the ability to toggle between the two games; you need to restart instead. Overall this cartridge packs a healthy serving of pure
arcade fun - just like momma used to make. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Joust updated
Our high score: 25,000
Publisher: Sunsoft (1990)
At first glance this platform shooter may induce eye-rolling. The short, squat hero looks more like Batman Junior
and he fires giant cannonballs. That's not the Batman I
know. It's kind of a drag how he can't backtrack as the screen scrolls forward. Is it just me or are the jump and shoot buttons reversed? None of these issues prevent Batman from being a heck of a lot of fun. The stage layouts are actually quite clever. You can strategically clear away blocks and dark ones reveal bonuses and power-ups. Some are tricky to reach, adding a nice risk-reward element. The controls are excellent. Batman can gracefully leap great distances, and his duck move is invaluable when exchanging gunfire with the Joker's goons. The stages generally follow the film, starting with the chemical factory before transitioning to the museum and cathedral. There's even a rapid-fire Batwing stage! I should also mention that the music really kicks ass. It sounds like Neil Peart of Rush going crazy on the drums. Batman may not look like much, but it's one of the more habit-forming platformers I've played in some time. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 129,900
Publisher: Acclaim (1995)
The 16-bit Batman Forever games are held in incredibly low regard. This portable edition makes some of the same missteps but it's not a total loss. The developers did a good job of making Batman look halfway realistic on the small screen. While standing in place he sways and waves his fists, and his roundhouse kicks and leg sweeps look pretty nifty too. The scenery has a vaguely digitized appearance, but the early stages are really sparse and repetitive. As Batman forges through areas he breaks statues and vases to reveal power-ups. He's accosted by thugs with names like "Bully", "Catnip" and "Ninja". Has it occurred to Batman that maybe these guys are just mad because he's breaking all their stuff?
The fighting adopts the Mortal Kombat formula and it's actually pretty good! Your blows are so devastating they cause the entire screen to shake! And since the meters are small, enemies don't overstay their welcome. The collision detection is pretty loose though; I don't think any of my rapid-fire punches ever really connect. Upon reaching the end of the first section I found myself hopelessly stuck because I couldn't open the exit door. After a little Internet research I learned I had to quickly press down and up to spring upward through the ceiling to a higher level. How was I supposed to know that?! Upon freeing some prisoners up there, the exit magically opens, which makes no sense. After exhausting your lives a score is displayed but there are no continues. Batman Forever won't win any awards but it's better than its 16-bit brethren. It has
to be! © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 75,580
Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 2, The
Publisher: Kemco (1991)
At first glance Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 2 appears to be a dull, by-the-numbers platformer. You collect keys, open doors, evade enemies, reach the exit, and proceed to the next stage. Once the difficulty starts to ramp however you realize there's quite of bit of strategy here. You can't jump, but the levels are connected by ladders, staircases, trampolines, pipes, and portals. Occasionally you'll find a weapon like a bow or bomb that can send enemies up in smoke. These are limited in quantity however, so evasion should be your first option. Adversaries include familiar Warner Bros. characters like Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Sylvester, Foghorn Leghorn, and the Tasmanian devil. Don't give up when you appear to be trapped or cornered. You can pass foes on the stairs, and sometimes they'll inexplicably turn around at the last second. The stages are short and a four-letter password is provided between them. The music is surprisingly good, although its repetitive nature will get on your nerves after a while. What makes Crazy Castle 2 work is its thoughtfully constructed stages. There's usually a specific route you need to follow and the margin for error is thin. Once you get into a groove, Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle 2 is actually somewhat addictive. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: Nintendo (1994)
I had heard good things about this Donkey Kong, but didn't realize how ambitious
it was. The first four stages are lifted directly from the original arcade game (1981) - including the pie factory screen. Not only do these play as well as the arcade - they play better
. The controls are more forgiving and you can now tumble down to a lower platform without dying. I really dig the new sound effects like Donkey Kong's growl and Pauline's scream. These screens are actually just a prelude to the "real" game, which features larger, scrolling stages. Your challenge is to grab a big key and transport it to a door while employing a series of new gameplay mechanics. Mario can now vault, swing on poles, throw items, and even "ride" on certain enemies. It reminds me a lot of Mario Vs. Donkey Kong
(Game Boy Advance, 2004). These new stages feature faint "background graphics" like city skylines and forests, giving them some personality. Playing on the Super Game Boy further enhances the experience by adding rich colors and an arcade-style border. Three save slots are available and you're prompted to save often. The new stages will exercise your brain as much as your reflexes... and that's the problem!
Some are real brain teasers, requiring you to position new platforms and perform an elaborate sequence of actions before a timer runs out. I wish Donkey Kong didn't make me think
so much, but there's no denying the quality of this first-class title. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
Game & Watch Gallery
Publisher: Nintendo (1997)
Nintendo released a series of "Game & Watch" LCD games from 1980 to 1991. In case you don't recall the technology, it used pre-printed black shapes on a gray screen. When made visible in sequence, these shapes conveyed a rudimentary kind of animation. This technique was used to create a series of cheap, portable video games. Game & Watch Gallery reprises four of these: Manhole, Fire, Octopus, and Oil Panic. Not only do you get the original (read: choppy) versions, but also "modern" versions retrofitted with better graphics, smoother animation, and even Nintendo characters. I have to admit some of the original games were pretty clever. There's one where you catch people jumping out of a burning building with a trampoline, and it gets crazy as you try to juggle them all. In another game you try to snag underwater treasure while avoiding octopus tentacles that reach out for you. High scores are recorded but there's little fun to be had. Frantic and repetitive, these are the kind of games that put people into mental institutions!
The "gallery" part of the title alludes to unlockable pictures and history that tell the story of the series. This cartridge might have been a passable way to kill time in the 80's, but that's before we had the Internet. If you once owned a Game & Watch handheld and want to relive your youth, bump up the grade by a letter or two. Otherwise I'll quote young Indiana Jones: "This belongs in a museum!
" © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
Publisher: Disney (1994)
I can't recall the last time I felt so miserable
playing a platform game! Lion King was frustrating enough on the SNES, but at least that
one had some eye candy to ease the pain. The only thing this portable version has going for it is that cute animation of little Simba scrambling to pull himself up on a ledge. Even as a little cub Simba can use his roar to incapacitate enemies and flip porcupines. The platforms in the opening stage are arranged vertically - just one of many poor design choices. The controls flat-out suck
. Simba's ability to grab a ledge should
ease the difficulty, but most of the time he just falls right through!
It's especially demoralizing when you fall several stories and have to work your way back up. The abysmal collision detection works when it shouldn't, and doesn't work when it should! Simba bumps his head on platforms which severely constrains your movement. Worse yet, you tend to get stuck in tight spots with annoying creatures that sap your life. In stage two you leap between giraffe heads sticking out of water, and the margin of error is ridiculously small. The overhead stampede stage would be a nice change of pace if only it were the least bit fun. When Simba grows up he changes form, but is no larger on the screen. The Lion King is pure torture, and if not for the stage skip feature (pause, B, A, A, B, A, A), I wouldn't have made it very far. The harmonized music has a melancholy quality, and that's fitting because Lion King made me sad. Circle of Life? More like Circle of Shame!
© Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tengen (1991)
An old arcade favorite, Marble Madness challenges you to guide a large white marble over three-dimensional platforms before time runs out. Using finesse and momentum you'll precariously navigate narrow strips while avoiding pesky obstacles like vacuums and slinkies. You view the action from a tilted overhead angle, and the Game Boy does an adequate job of rendering the features of each angular stage. Yes, it can be hard to make out some ridges and drop-offs, but after you play a stage once or twice you learn the "lay of the land". The digital pad is kind of a clumsy way to control your marble, especially when you need to move diagonally. Still, this game has a way of keeping you coming back. When you die the game immediately places you back where you left off. Each time you play, you progress a little further, and some stages have alternate paths that add a risk/reward element. The looping, vertigo-like music is both catchy and appropriate. I've played better versions of Marble Madness, but never one this small. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 14,130
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Publisher: Capcom (1992)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back features well-proportioned characters, digitized images, and a rousing rendition of the Star Wars theme. You begin your journey as Luke riding a tauntaun on the ice planet of Hoth. It's cool how you can freely dismount to wander through icy caves below the surface. When a character communicates with you, the screen displays their digitized face above the dialog (with cantina music playing, oddly enough). "Luke, the lightsaber is the weapon of a Jedi". Thanks Ben, but I think we covered that in the first
movie! Luke fires shots rapidly and can perform a useful "super jump" by holding down first. After blasting probe droids and wumpas, Luke eventually locates his lightsaber. The graphics are detailed but the animation is painfully slow and choppy. Luke actually falls slower than he runs. The music is well orchestrated but hearing that Star Wars theme looping over and over
again will give you a Bantha-sized headache. Navigating the ice caves is a nightmare. The stages are full of regenerating enemies and the first boss took about 100 swats
of my light sabre to kill. When I died I had to restart the game from the very beginning!
Even using the force is a pain in the ass. Not only is it necessary to stock up on "force energy", but you need to collect "ability" icons to do anything. The game has no score and no password feature. I never even reached the AT-AT battle (*sad face*
). Capcom didn't put much effort into Empire Strikes Back and neither should you. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, IGN.com, GameFAQs.com, Moby Games