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RPM Racing: Neither radical nor psychotic (30th anniversary)

RPM Racing was the first video game made by Blizzard (original name: Silicon & Synapse), the company that makes World of Warcraft. It was so eclipsed by its sequel, Rock n' Roll Racing , that it's hardly remembered today. The RPM in the title stands for Radical Psycho Machine, a suitably 90's name for a racing game, but what struck me most when I started playing was how slow the vehicles are. It takes them a while to get going, they never get very fast, and they lose a lot of speed with every collision. The second thing I noticed about the game is how barebones it is. The tracks are plain and unadorned, beyond the track is just green grass, and the background music is bland and unmemorable. One annoying quirk is that RPM Racing is always in split screen, even when you're playing alone! The bottom half of your TV is wasted showing a computer car's movement. The game uses the SNES's Mode 5 graphics, which are supposed to be higher quality, but you would never

Rygar: The confusing quest to save Argool

Rygar for the NES bears the name of a 1986 arcade game, but rather than porting their side-scrolling platformer, Tecmo decided to create a unique, new title of the same name. They could have taken a cue from themselves and called it Mighty Rygar. Rygar is a side-scrolling, action-adventure, platforming game with light role-playing elements, similar to  Kid Icarus  and  Zelda II . Rygar is a legendary warrior with a unique weapon: the Diskarmer. It's a spiked disk on a string that shoots out in front of him, then returns. Rygar can also bounce off the top of most enemies, briefly stunning them. I rented Rygar once, but found it too confusing. In-game, you are dependent upon terse directions given by hermits. These directions refer to areas by name and thus require the manual, which identifies each region by name and shows how they fit together on a map. I think it's cool when, given the technical limitations of the time, games were made to work in conjunction with the manual. D

Mighty Bomb Jack: Collecting bombs in a pyramid

Mighty Bomb Jack is an NES-exclusive sequel to Bomb Jack, a 1984 arcade game by Tecmo. In both, the masked and caped hero, Jack, collects bombs while dodging enemies.  Mighty Bomb Jack is a weird game, in that it's about collecting bombs, something one would not normally do. Its main mechanic is a very high and versatile jump. If you hold ↓ while jumping, Jack jumps about halfway up the screen. The normal jump goes about three-fourths of the way up, and if you hold ↑ he goes all the way to the ceiling. You can stop his jump at any time by pressing A again. If you do this repeatedly, he flutters. All of this means you have tremendous control over Jack's movement, which will come in handy when avoiding the many enemies, which both appear and move about at random. Jack has no attack and touching an enemy is instant death, so you'll be jumping a lot. You can scroll enemies off the screen to make them vanish, though they quickly re-spawn. The enemies are generic with esoteric na

Super Castlevania IV: 30th anniversary

Super Castlevania IV should just be called "Super Castlevania" because it's not a sequel. Although not a remake of the original Castlevania (the levels are all-new), the gameplay, main character, story, weapons, and enemies are the same, as Simon Belmont fights his way to Count Dracula's castle to slay the vampire. Basically, Konami took every idea from the 8-bit original and made a new 16-bit game from it. And it worked great! If you liked Castlevania, you'll love Super Castlevania. It's like the same game you remember, only better in every way (not unlike what Nintendo did with Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past ). The biggest improvement is the 16-bit graphics and sound. The soundtrack is a delight, and every level looks unique with nice parallax backgrounds. Playing this two months after I played Castlevania, I realized what a leap forward the SNES was. Super Castlevania looks better, sounds better, controls better (Simon isn't

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts: 30th anniversary

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is an SNES-exclusive sequel to Ghouls 'n Ghosts, itself a sequel to Ghosts 'n Goblins . Like its predecessors, its claim to fame (or infamy) is being ridiculously hard. Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts follows the formula of Ghosts 'n Goblins to a tee. You control a knight named Arthur who must rescue Princess Guinevere by battling endless hordes of monsters and demons: Zombies, Ghosts, Weredogs, Bats, Red Arremers, and even Mimics (the D&D monster that disguises itself as a treasure chest). He picks up various weapons along the way but can only hold one at a time. Some of them (especially the torch) are worse than the throwing spears he begins with. Three new weapons are the crossbow, scythe, and tri-blade. The crossbow is good because it shoots two arrows at once, at about 45 and 30 degree angles upward. I avoid the scythe because Arthur can throw only one at a time and the ability to arc it downward by holding ↓ does not compensate for this. The

Final Fantasy IV: 30th anniversary

Thirty years ago today, Final Fantasy II arrived on the Super Nintendo. What we didn't know at the time was that we were getting a slimmed-down version of the Japanese Final Fantasy IV. It's a tragedy that II and III got skipped here, but the reason was valid at the time. Final Fantasy didn't make it to the U.S. until 1990, three years after its Japanese release. A complete prototype translation of II was made for the NES, but Square Soft decided a Super Nintendo sequel in 1991 made more financial sense. Every major NES hit was getting a Super sequel at that time. Had II been released here, it probably would've been slammed for looking dated and being hard-as-nails. No one in America was disappointed when we instead got Final Fantasy IV (disguised as II) on Super Nintendo in 1991! One of the game's strengths is the wide cast of rotating characters. Instead of rolling up a custom party at the beginning à la Dungeons & Dragons, you experience all the classes as pe

Super Tennis: 30th anniversary

Thirty years ago this month Nintendo released Super Tennis. The word "super" indicates nothing more than that it's a Super NES game, the replacement for the original Tennis on the NES. It blows that dinosaur out of the water. Super Tennis has three main draws: realistic tennis simulation, a Circuit mode, and gameplay options. The game achieves a surprisingly intricate level of tennis simulation by mapping each of the four main buttons to a different type of stroke, depending whether you're near or far from the net. When your player is near the base line (the back boundary of the court), A is slice (slow with low bounce), B is flat (normal), X is top spin (fast with high bounce), and Y is lob (slow with high bounce). When you're near the net, A is light volley, B is strong volley, and X and Y are still top spin and lob, respectively. However, if you hit the ball with A or B before it bounces, you instead do a drop shot, which is a light hit that gets the ball just

Final Fight: 30th anniversary

Thirty years ago Final Fight came out on the Super Nintendo. The game itself is older, being a port of a 1989 arcade hit. Although originally developed by Capcom as a sequel to Street Fighter, the name was changed since it's a "beat-'em-up," whereas Street Fighter was a fighting game (player v. player). I've never played the arcade version, but I played one of the sequels on the SNES. It couldn't have been the original, which is one-player only. This is by far the game's biggest flaw. Beat-'em-ups aren't very fun by yourself; the whole point is to team up with a friend to take down all the enemies or die trying. Lack of a two-player option on console games was a common problem back then: Double Dragon  was also one-player on NES. Final Fight's biggest draw, I suppose, is you can choose from two characters, a huge lumberjack-type named Haggar, or a slimmer guy named Cody. Each has a slightly different move set. The arcade game had a third charac

Kid Icarus: A heavenly delight

I consider the "golden age" of NES games to have been inaugurated at the end of 1986 with top-notch third-party titles like Gradius and Castlevania . But it didn't fully emerge until Nintendo put out a trio of its own stellar games in the summer of 1987: Kid Icarus, Metroid , and The Legend of Zelda . If Kid Icarus doesn't seem great, it's only because it lives in its sisters' shadows. Except for Super Mario Bros. , none of the NES's earliest games were especially great or intricate. Duck Hunt was probably the second best, and it's extremely basic. But that changed with Kid Icarus. Like Super Mario Bros. before it, here was a platformer with multiple worlds. Although it had less than half as many stages as that game (thirteen compared to 32), they were longer and introduced a novel element: vertical scrolling. The game lacked the ability to scroll vertically and horizontally at once, so moving off-screen on vertical levels causes you to appear on the