Game: Star Gladiator - Episode I: Final Crusade
"Perhaps one of the best fighters most people have never played, let alone heard of…"
Buried in the past and minds of those aware of its existence, Star Gladiator was Capcom's first foray into the realm of the three-dimensional fighting. Having a history as wild as its characters, many speculate the game was developed with the intention of being a Star Wars game. An earlier attempt at what would come to life in LucasArts' Masters of Teras Kasi? Perhaps, but true or not, the thoughts of worlds and galaxies beyond the earth would remain ingrained and became a clever, covert homage to its perceived source material. Unfortunately, as solid as the game ended up being, it would never overcome it's lack of marketing or the fact that Namco would release it own weapons-based fighter, Soul Edge, in the following year. So without further ado, let's look at what makes Star Gladiator tick.
Star Gladiator takes place in the distant future where mankind has had contact with life beyond our own solar system. While most of the contact has been of a peaceful nature, there have been conflicts that force Earth to seek a way to balance the power. They settle on the creation of a plasma weapon, a weapon that derives its power from the wielder's mind. The brilliant Dr. Edward Bilstein is placed at the helm of the project due to his family's previous research into the subject, but he is eventually tried and imprisoned for using human bodies in the creation of the weapon. Four years after his incarceration in the prison orbiting the planet Zeta, Bilstein escapes his confinement and leaves a trail of destruction as he heads towards Earth with some of his fellow cons. The Federation Army, pretty much out of ideas, enacts a plan to scour the globe looking for fighters with the abilities needed to use the very weapons Bilstein created against him, and so starts project Star Gladiator.
Okay, so it's not the most imaginative story, but you get the idea. It's a little more creative than the whole "traveling warrior seeks out strong opponents to get stronger" thing has become so we'll take it; I don't really want to stoop to that whole "no one plays fighting games for the story" thing if I can help it. Regardless, after watching the bright and shiny opening FMV we reach the title screen where the thunderous announcement that we're playing "STAR GLADIATOR!" awaits us. This screen is so cheesy it's just great. Hell, I listen to this voiceover over and over on my copy of the soundtrack all the time. After choosing from your basic array of options (arcade, vs., group battles to the options menu) we are presented with some very peculiar, very interesting characters:
Hayato Kanzaki: The main protagonist of the series, Hayato was abandoned on the streets of Neo-Tokyo by his parents at an early age. After growing up in an orphanage, he reluctantly became a bounty hunter due to the lack of jobs and to help the owner of the orphanage get out of the debt. While dealing with the inner turmoil about his profession and the criminal activity it often leads to, Hayato stumbles upon an advertisement for a project called Star Gladiator. This good-natured Luke Skywalker/Ken/Ryu-ish character sees it as his way out of a life he does not want to lead.
June Lin Milliam: A gymnast from mainland China, June and her family are forced to flee their homeland after a violent revolution breaks out. Relocating to England, the only job her father can find is in the lab of one Dr. Edward Bilstein. Unsurprisingly, her father is killed when a blast rips through the facility; her mother soon follows when she succumbs to her grief. Later, the Princess Leia-haired June discovers the incident at the lab was no accident and swears revenge on the mastermind behind it: Bilstein.
Saturn Dyer: A green skinned alien from the planet Saturn (but not our Saturn mind you!) with smile as wide as a dump truck, Saturn originally intends to turn down an assignment to observe life on Earth from afar. However, he reconsiders once he realizes it's the perfect opportunity to perfect his skill with the “intriguing” yo-yo. Through street performance he becomes so proficient with it that he can actually wield it as a weapon. In the end, he defects from his home planet and joins Star Gladiator for the potential fame.
Gamof Gohgry: Having worked as a lumberjack to support his terminally-ill mother and younger siblings since childhood, this combination of Chewbacca and Zangief turns to the life of a bounty hunter after the forests of his home planet DeRosa are devastated by an unknown Earth microbe. Having become disillusioned with the lifestyle much like his friend Hayato, he joins project Star Gladiator for the chance to change his fortunes for the better.
Franco Gerelt: Having a lot in common with Cloud City's Lando Calrissian, the Spanish Matador Franco Gerelt (will Spanish Matadors even exist in 2348? Capcom, you're crazy... simply crazy) is framed for the abduction of his family by a rival matador during an event on Zeta. During his escape from the authorities, Gerelt encounters Bilstein who cunningly convinces him the only way he'll ever see his family again is to fight for him in the Fourth Empire.
Vector: A soulless killing machine created by Bilstein in order to conquer Earth and aid his escape from Zeta, Vector enters the fray as a final test of its battle capabilities (which is odd considering “Vectors” didn't seem to have any problem doing their “job” in the opening video, did they?). While Vector and his storyline have more in common with Killer Instinct's Fulgore than that of CP3-O and R2-D2 of Star Wars fame, this contorting robot wields a mean plasma rifle fueled by an internal plasma generator.
Rimgal: An experiment of Bilstein's, Rimgal is a combination of dinosaur DNA and that of Michael Milliam, June's father. Unfortunately, while the human side of Rimgal is supposedly self-aware, it fights a constant battle against its primal urges and the bio-control chip that was implanted in its brain after the accident at the British lab. Its worst fear is that it will eventually give in and destroy its own flesh and blood.
Zelkin Fiskekrogen: Before the events of Star Gladiator, Earth had clashed in battle with the bird-like people of the planet Klondike. In an attempt to bring the long battle to an end, Zelkin surrendered himself in exchange for the release of POWs. While the exchange was honored, the rumor that he passed way while imprisoned on Zeta allowed the Federation Army to keep him confined indefinitely. Freed by Bilstein during his escape, Zelkin joins the Fourth Empire in order to repay his debt. He is also an acquaintance of Hayato's as well although how this is so is never explained.
Gore Gajah: Born in Bali, Indonesia to a large family, Gore grew up performing mind tricks and magic for his younger brothers and sisters. Such black magic was linked to the family name before this however. That said, Gore had higher ambitions for his powers than simple amusement. While rising to fame on his own before the conflict, he sides with Bilstein's Fourth Empire in order to learn more about plasma power.
Bilstein: The madman that has spearheaded the events of the game with his goals of planetary conquest, Bilstein is an imposing Darth Vader figure that wields an enormous plasma sword in battle. Who knew a nerdy, Nobel Prize-winning physicist could cause so much trouble? Bilstein can be unlocked through the use of a code.
Beyond the initial 10 characters the player will encounter battling through arcade mode, there are a few additional fighters that can be unlocked and push the already peculiar boundaries of characterization. Seriously, just wait until you see the profile photo used for the one character and some of the hidden Easter eggs in the game. Unfortunately, the last of these hidden fighters, an alternate version of Bilstein, is only accessible through the assistance of a GameShark.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty of battle, Star Gladiator plays out like most 3D fighters that came before and after it. Two fighters start out in the middle of an elevated ring and can either exhaust their opponent's stamina or knock them out of bounds to take the round. Characters can execute vertical weapon attacks with the square button, horizontal weapon attacks with triangle and kicks with circle. Attacks can be blocked with the guard button (X) or evaded through sidestepping. Combos can be executed by chaining the three attack buttons together in a preset order much like a late era, 2D Mortal Kombat or Namco fighter. Pretty standard stuff.
So where does Star Gladiator start to differentiate itself from the crowd? First and foremost is the Plasma Strike, a once per round special that does massive damage. While similar to Soul Blade's “Critical Edge” attack it adds a bit of strategy to fights. Do you use it right off the bat to get ahead of the game or do you save it in case you are in need of a desperation attack? As powerful as the move is, the short wind that is needed to prepare it gives your opponent a chance to attack and cancel it. Usually, having the move interrupted uses up your one and only attempt, but it all really depends on when you're interrupted. If knocked out the animation early enough, you can still retain your charge and make another attempt later. Still, word to the wise, don't count on it.
Next up is the Plasma Reflect, a somewhat risky reversal technique. One of the Plasma Reflect commands repels horizontal strikes and the other vertical strikes. Upon execution, your character will flicker and, depending if your opponent is unlucky enough to attack with the corresponding attack (vertical vs. vertical or horizontal vs. horizontal) the characters weapons will collide with one another. The defending character will now have a slight advantage in recovery time compared to the attacker, creating an opening for an attack. Obviously, some will question to proposition of opening themselves up for an attack just to create an opening when a well timed sidestep can do the same thing , but if the opponent keeps coming at you with the same combo (thus opening with the same strike) you can start to see how the Plasma Reflect can hold it's own.
The Plasma Revenge, the automatic-response version of the Plasma Reflect, works in much the same way, only that your character immediately counter attacks the opponent after a strike. Unfortunately, as impressive and satisfying as these moves can be to pull off, anyone who has ever been the victim of one will probably tell you they feel a little overpowered when the shoe is on the other foot. Wrapping up the array of plasma powers available to the player are Plasma Finals. For the lack of a better description, Plasma Finals are basically combos that end with a bit more fireworks than your typical combo and can be defended against easier because of the time needed for their execution, which offsets their offensive power. For most characters, there isn't any one way to execute a Plasma Final as there are usually a few chains in their combo tree that will get them to the same result.
In another twist, the characters in Star Gladiator can be divided into groups depending on which “combo tree” they employ. For example, a Type A character like Hayato can link the same buttons together as another type A character like Gerelt, so, technically, if one is proficient as playing as Hayato, picking up and playing as Gerelt shouldn't be much of a problem. While this may initially seem to rob the characters of some of their individuality, a character's weaponry along with timing and physics (if a hit knocks or pops up an opponent) can drastically make the same combo very different.
As well as the above comes together, there a few things that hold the combat in Star Gladiator back. While some will be quick to point out the characters can feel somewhat unbalanced, it's simply that some moves cause too much damage. The Plasma Revenge falls into this category as well as Gamof's spinning pile driver which is capable of robbing any poor sap of half their stamina. Still, when it comes to looking for a full-blown problem, nothing beats the issue characters seem to have facing their attackers at times. Certain moves and situations can leave a character's backside turned to their opponent for what seems like an eternity and, as frustrating as it can be, there really isn't anything one can do about it except let the game's engine realize the problem and correct it. It's hardly a deal breaker but I'm sure more than a few heated matches have been unjustly lost because of it.
Regardless of the problems the above can create, there are many other aspects of Star Gladiator that help make up for it. Graphically, the game brings the goods for the era it was released in, much better than what Plasma Sword was able to do in its day. This is mainly due to the fact the ZN-1 board the arcade original employed is similar in architecture to the hardware within the PS1. Ironically, some of the fighters look better here than they do in the sequel! This also applies to the backgrounds, which have depth and personality to them. It's this personality and how it correlates to their related characters that helps bring the game's world alive. Still, the fighting environments don't do this alone; a lot of the credit goes to composers Isao Abe and Yuko Takehara (Breath of Fire II, Mega Man 6) for crafting such a solid score. Can anyone else imagine anything other than classic Capcom rock blasting in the background when battling Zelkin on top of an aircraft carrier or the death tinged darkness heard while tying to outwit Gore? A underrated element of the game for sure (actually, just about anything Takehara composes for ends up being underrated) it's made even better considering these tunes where remastered from their arcade originals to take advantage of the PlayStation's sound capabilities. These tunes can also be enjoyed outside the game in a standard CD player to boot! Praise for the audio doesn't stop there however. While all the whacks and thuds of battle are on point, it's the voice acting that deserves real praise. As simple as such an idea would seem, making extraterrestrial characters sound extraterrestrial and goofy adds to the genuine feel off the characters. Additionally, hearing a pound and respected fighters like Zelkin and Hayato speak in Japanese just feels right, something than an English dub would probably flub.
Unfortunately, when it comes to putting the finishing touches on the characters it presents, Star Gladiator tends to be a bit stingy. Despite what some people erroneously believe, the game does indeed include actual endings to each character's scenario. The problem is you have to be really, really good – and really fast - at the game to even see them. Viewing a character's ending is based on clearing arcade mode in a given amount of time based on the number of rounds and, well, it's far from easy. In fact, while continuing doesn't automatically give you the bad ending, continuing even once will probably add enough time to put you over the limit. As if that weren't bad enough, you only have one chance to defeat the special adversary that appears if you do manage to make it. Fail and you see the second bad ending. Making people work for something is one thing, making them pursue a rather unrealistic goal is another.
Anyway, that is Star Gladiator. While it's fairly obvious why the series never caught on and became mainstream, it's a solid game that deserves attention from fans of the genre. Perhaps the best way to put it is its a few steps higher than a Battle Arena Toshinden and only about one down from Soul Blade and is worth the ten to fifteen dollars you'd spend to acquire it.
Overall Score: 7/10
Game: Plasma Sword: Nightmare of Bilstein (DC)
"The title change does little to hide a fun yet underpowered sequel"
In a question made famous by Shakespeare himself, the playwright unflinchingly asked "what is in a name?" While there is little doubt how perplexing today's world would be to someone from such an era, I can't help but think that Shakespeare was actually a prophet, talking about what should be for all intensive purposes be known as "Star Gladiator 2: Nightmare of Bilstein." Plasma Sword? How ironic is it that this change kept me, a fan of the original, in the dark about its existence for so long? Okay, so the word "Bilstein" should have been a clue since it's not exactly a common name, but really, would such a cosmetic change really change the game's fortunes for the better?
Beyond picking on Capcom for such an ill-fated name change, what has changed since we last checked in with the Star Gladiators and the members of the Fourth Empire? Story wise, we know that Hayato Kanzaki defeated Bilstein (like that's a shocker, the Ken/Ryu-ish character winning), Zelkin has defected from the ranks of the Fourth Empire and Rimgal doesn't reappear for the reasons revealed in the original. None of this is actually revealed by the game however - we only get a shallow, non-FMV opening that mainly states "it's not over yet" in typical Capcom fashion - so you'll need to dig around on the internet a little to discover the actual series canon because the manual isn't any help.
Speaking of the manual, it and character select screen gives us a glimpse at an area that has gone completely awry. The first row of characters presents us with the returning cast from the first game, otherwise known as the "good" characters. Unfortunately, I don't mean "good" as in "good intentioned," I mean good as in those who are well designed, have purpose and are able to form affection for. I myself have always had a soft spot for Hayato and Zelkin. Those in the second row are new characters, characters with borrowed move sets (outside plasma strikes) that are flat-out terrible. Haven't we learned that doubling the roster in a fighter is pointless when you simultaneously half it's quality? I think Capcom missed that lesson when it crashed and burned in Battle Arena Toshinden 3. Some of these characters are really unimaginative: June and Hayato's future daughter? God, we couldn't help that insipid impulse to throw some time travel in there could we? Hell, even Bilstein's daughter manages to free up some of her time to join the fray. The worst offenders have to be the hidden characters that look like they were rejected from a Bloody Roar game.
Plasma Sword does attempt to build more of bridge between its characters and the player than the original however. Upon reaching the fifth stage one is greeted with a small exchange between the characters and the endings are more accessible than they were in the first game (which was a HUGE problem), now being unlocked by obtaining enough battle points and not continuing rather than how long it takes the player to beat the final stage. That said, there are still many things within the game's universe that are simply not touched upon which is a real letdown when you consider how well Capcom can do this kind of thing when they put their minds to it - e.g. Rival Schools.
On the audio side of things, the opening animation - if you could call it an animation, calling it that seems too charitable considering this is the Dreamcast - and character select screen will tell one they're in for a bumpy ride. The opening tune is probably the best piece of music you're going to hear all game and it is quickly revisited on the first stage of the game (the rocking "Illusion of Peace") and cast roll, but once you hear the character select theme, you’ll realize that not everything fits into place and that the guitar-riff based soundtrack by Tetsuya Shibata and Takayuki Iwai is shallow by design. With stages and characters no longer as linked to one another as they once where, the personality that was seen in original game goes out the window. Still, the bulk of the stage themes can seem pretty fine when compared to the character ending themes which are complete and absolute garbage. On the plus side of things, the voice acting for many of the returning characters is spot-on again, with many of the win quotes/battle cries being close re-creations or transfers from the first game.
In another unsurprising twist, Plasma Sword is behind the times graphically as well. The graphics have been slightly improved from the original ZN-2 arcade board, which makes the game look like a slightly remastered PlayStation game. Human characters fair the best while larger characters like Gamof show the age of the original hardware, sharp lines and edges still defining his wookiee-like frame to the end. The battle arenas represent one of the lower lows of combat, ditching ring-outs and adopting an endless Tekken-like area with a flat, listless image pasted in the background that are insulting considering the original game did so much more.
Combat fairs a little better although there are some hew hitches to be aware of. First off, not assigning block to a button in a three-dimensional fighter is a bad idea in my opinion - especially in a series where it was originally. While the camera is never really a problem, there are times where blocking just doesn't seem to register. Second nick-pick: turning the former block button into a sidestep button. Like every other fighter out there, that's what the shoulder buttons are for. Third gripe: Do we really need command short-cuts for Plasma Strikes when they are already easy enough to execute? Save this for a game with six attack-button control scheme. Further diluting the experience of combat is the new plasma meter, adding that Street Fighter element to the game that was disregarded from Star Gladiator for a reason. Sure, it wasn't exactly a new experience but it was a nice change of pace for a Capcom fighter.
Finally, there are the various modes available for play. If you do a lot of gaming on your own then there's only one mode of play and that's arcade. Backing this up is versus play, group battle, training mode and nothing more. It would help if there was another mode of play like Soul Blade's Edge Master Mode that expanded on the story, attack options and replay value but no. A bare-bones presentation that makes you crave for a game like Rival Schools that heaped on the options to an almost absurd level.
Plasma Sword is worth the ten to fifteen dollars you're likely to spend on it if you're into the off-beat characters from the first game, but beyond that it's a game that’s been severely outclassed and outgunned. Well, it was outgunned and outclassed before it was released - even on previous consoles - but that's beside the point. The game can be fun while it lasts, but if you want to check out anything, or anything that should be called “Star Gladiator,” do yourself a big favor and check out the original game which was a much better product for its time.
Overall Score: 6/10
Game: Doom (PS1)
"Easily the best 90’s port of the game available, but once you go PC it's hard to come back"
As one of the forefathers of modern-day first person shooters, Doom is a title that needs little introduction. Initially lighting up PC's in 1993 with its presidio 3D worlds and engaging multiplayer, id's hot property would make its appearance on every video game console known to man in the years that followed, even on those with less than suitable hardware. While such proliferation is nothing new, the history and differences between these ports and the original represents an interesting side story in an already engrossing tale. At the top of the 90's ports lies the PlayStation edition, which, despite having to bow to some restrictions of its own, has a little more going for it than most would expect - even fourteen years later.
One of the first things that will strike one with Doom on the PlayStation is the new, ambient soundtrack provided by Aubrey Hodges. Gone is Robert Prince's in-your-face metal-influenced MIDI, which brings up the first real debate to be had with this port: the music. While some will point out the obvious shortcomings of Doom's sound capabilities on the PC, there was a abstract charm to many of Prince's tunes that drove the gameplay forward, making the game feel looser and edgier than it really was. In contrast, Aubrey Hodges' backdrop makes the game feel a lot more methodical and reserved. It's quite remarkable how each set of tunes, music being an element most would classify as a secondary concern, has such a big effect on the world being presented.
Another difference that's apparent early on are the updates to the graphics engine, the employment of “all-new ambient lighting effects.” It's nowhere near as impressive as the back of the box makes it sound since the transitions in light are as rigid as they've always been (which has never been a problem since it has always played into the type of game Doom is) but at the same time you have to laugh at the idea that the graphics have been upgraded, even two years after Doom's first appearance. It's true there's a slightly wider color palette at work here, but once you realize how many compromises have been made to reach such a plateau it means next to nothing. The number of textures a level uses is dramatically lower than the PC and, as a result, the levels don't have the same pop. Not soon after, especially if you dip back into the PC version between PSX run-throughs, you'll start to notice that these more repetitive textures, coupled with the slightly lower screen resolution, makes objects in the distance ripple when moving around. Other graphical changes made to accommodate the hardware revolve around alpha channel blending, making those pesky Specters a little more inconspicuous and altering the look of weaponry when one's under the effects of a blur artifact.
Much more pressing than the above is the editing or complete removal of key levels to maintain a consistent level of performance. While it's not the first level to have changes made to it, the editing of the Containment Area is just down right depressing. This is an extremely entertaining and complex map in its original form but to have it reduced to where it stands here does it no justice. A similar situation reigns over the Spawning Vats, although in its defense the changes (the retexturing, the removal of the ceiling that allows the animated sky from the title screen make an appearance) make it an interesting take on the level. Still, the biggest blow to the level set-up occurs in Doom II and centers on the omission of the Downtown map. This map is instrumental in driving home the story and setting of Doom II and easily eclipses the omission of The Icon of Sin, which, taking in why the above edits where made to begin with, would make the PlayStation choke faster than swallowing an unchewed biscotti.
However, when it comes to the PlayStation and Doom in general, one would honestly think that Sony's new machine could handle a bit more than this. In a general sense, one could say 1996's Final Doom proves that with its psychotic Plutonia and Master Levels. That extra year may have enabled Williams to crank a little more power out of the system, power that could have been used to push these above levels beyond their current configurations. Be that as it may, while Doom may have been pinned as a three-dimensional game when it debuted, most know it's a two-dimensional game at heart. While there have been some excellent 2D games for the PlayStation such as Konami's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Capcom's Mega Man X4 that made their debut despite Sony's erroneous - and down right moronic - philosophy of only wanting to publish 3D games to show off the console's hardware, its RAM limitations with such games has been well documented. It's not hard to believe that PlayStation has an easier time with three dimensional games, and given that Doom came out the same year the PlayStation launched, perhaps I'm being a bit harsh considering the games available when a system launches are usually eclipsed by those that appear at the end.
Wrapping up the subject of the levels included in this port, it's the maps presented here that are not present in the PC version that are the main reason to track this version down. The first new level, Hell Gate, is pretty disappointing, presenting a level not unlike the Fortress of Mystery where the main goal is just to kill everything that is thrown at you. Such feelings are quickly reversed when playing through the alternate version of Hell Keep and the last two levels of Doom, Twilight Descends and Threshold of Pain. The layout of the former is especially impressive and deserves to be played by any Doom aficionado as it undoubtedly feels like it should have been part of Doom from day one.
As far as getting around the levels, the PlayStation controller is spot on when it comes to control, making important combat tactics like circle-strafing a breeze compared to the PC. The drawback is the game's age means that analog control is out of the question, and there is little doubt how well such control would work. Other nitpicks revolve around things like the archaic password system. I can see how this could have been useful given that the PlayStation and its accessories weren't as affordable in 1995 as they were later on, but not allowing saves via the memory card is ridiculous. Couple this with how flawed the password system is (one time after messing up a character or two I ended up with 300% health) and it's plain to see while Williams took advantage of some of the more underused features of the PlayStation like the two player link cable, ignoring simple features found in almost every other game was short sighted.
Other disappointments revolve around things that are rather superfluous in nature. The removal of the intermission maps, while understandable considering the previously mentioned edits, is bit of a buzz kill as is the removal of the events that take place at the end of Phobos Anomaly, which easily lie amongst the best beginnings/endings in video game history.
Despite its problems, Doom is a blast to play on the PlayStation and excluding the more recent ports of the game found in the Collectors Edition of Doom 3 and Xbox Live, is the best port you'll find. Beyond the system's controller lending itself well to action (which can be replicated on the PC without much trouble) the sole attraction here are the levels that don't appear elsewhere. However, even when one takes this into account, it can be hard justifying such an acquisition, especially when the PC version is – by most accounts – the epitome of id's vision. PlayStation Doom is solid, but certainly not “the best Doom yet!”
Overall Score: 8/10
Game: Final Doom (PS1)
“A different kind of fun…”
I have to admit, despite not being a fan of the first person genre, I love Doom. There is something about the exploits of a lonely space marine single-handedly taking on the forces of hell that draws me in and refuses to let go. Still, as enjoyable as Doom and Doom II were, these games generally don't deliver on the challenge front for a seasoned player. While some may consider that a drawback, it was a non-existent problem to me since challenge isn't the most important thing I look for in a game. However, for those that do, they can easily up the ante with Final Doom.
To some, Final Doom for the PlayStation will never be anything more than a haphazard potluck. This port doesn't contain every level from the two thirty-two level PC campaigns nor does it contain every level from the twenty-one level Master Levels expansion. In other words, out of pool of eighty-five possible levels, only thirty make an appearance here. So how does this affect the experience? The answer depends on which episode one's talking about and which levels made the cut.
Things start out with The Master Levels where thirteen of the possible twenty-one levels make up the core of Final Doom. These levels are meant to test one's mettle with relentless enemy attacks and complex level design, something they do quite well. Players will find a level like Vesperas is hard to tackle regardless of what difficulty level their playing on. Still, the real attraction of the master levels beyond the challenge is the fact the player can carry their status and weaponry from level to level. This isn't possible on the PC since the data for each level is its own file, something that was purposely done so each map would be considered its own separate entity by players. Final Doom on the PlayStation proves how unnecessary this was since each level still feels like a separate experience even though they follow one another.
Next up is TNT Evilution, the first of the two Doom II follow-ups presented in the PC version of Final Doom. Taken as a whole, TNT Evilution is an excellent and balanced expansion that just can't make its case with the eleven levels presented here. It could have been better with a better selection of levels, but it's just better to buy a copy of the Doom Collector's Edition for the PC and play it in its entirety. Additionally, while I have nothing against the ambient score whipped up for the PlayStation versions of Doom, I just don't have patience towards it when reflecting back on the wonderful midi-based soundtrack Team TNT created for the PC original.
Last up is Plutonia with six levels. Cruel as it may sound, I'm absolutely thrilled this episode got the short end of the stick. Take the challenge of the Master Levels, throw in every cheap shot and tactic in the book and you've got Plutonia in a nutshell. Challenge quickly eclipses entertainment when it comes to levels like Congo, Ghost Town and Onslaught. That said, if you're really serious about tackling the hardest levels Doom can throw at you, I'd again suggest going the PC route so you can save your progress at will. Regardless, while the levels are still well designed at this point I have no problem billing Plutonia as Doom's weakest and ugliest link.
The shortcomings of its experiences aside, Final Doom is a worthy and refreshingly different follow-up to Doom. At it's simplest level it may be more of the same, but those who immerse themselves in what it has to offer will find it contains a feel all it's own. It's not always fun, and some parts are of more value than others (The Master Levels being the main draw here) but those with a little patience will have no problem in adding this to their collection.
Overall Score: 7/10
Game: Tomb Raider (PS1)
"One of two games that lured me away from the Nintendo 64"
In the world of gaming, opinions vary as much as the food we eat and the drinks we drink. In picking and choosing what we play and experience, we sometimes forget how important contrasting views can be and how even negative ones can be blessings in disguise.
As if the ten out of ten didn't tell you, I love Tomb Raider. Well, I love the original Tomb Raider. The sequels are a different story altogether, and while my feelings towards them depend on which one we're talking about, there was something about Lara's quest to find the three pieces of the Atlantean Scion that simply seized the teenager I was in 1997 and continues to do so today. So why was Tomb Raider so attractive, why did it (and Final Fantasy VII) lure me away from the Nintendo 64? Why was it the right game at the right time?
A lot of it had to do with entering those teenage years. After partaking in what the Super Nintendo had to offer I was unknowingly looking for experiences that felt and looked a little more mature than, say, a Mario game. I'm sure Mario 64 was (and still is) a great game (that I should sit down and play someday) but when looking back at the games I missed by choosing the PlayStation, I don't have any regrets. What I do regret is people taking a good game (Final Fantasy VII) and sticking it up on a pedestal because a) they can and b) it's the in thing to do. As aggravating as that can be, it's something the Tomb Raider has never had to deal with. The series has had its fair share of detractors from day one whom, for the most part, offer legitimate points of view. Quite honestly, I thank them for that, for keeping this game tethered to the ground. That said, let's take a look at Tomb Raider, the good and the bad, and how it easily overcomes most of its problems.
In almost any discussion about involving Tomb Raider, the first thing that comes up is the controls. Seriously, it's almost a forgone conclusion. I'm willing to admit that when things get chaotic (like when battling a small handful of Atlantean Crawlers or mummies that just love to jump anywhere) the rigid control scheme can become a liability, but these moments are the minority. Unlike later games where just about every goon you encounter has a gun (groan) the vast majority of foes in Tomb Raider are creatures with no distance attacks. One-on-one you might be able to gun them down before they close the gap, but in tight spaces or against large numbers, gaining a height advantage can tip the scale in your favor. Some may consider this kind of play cheap since the enemies capable of climbing (Gorillas) are very limited in their ability, but just when the player gets comfortable with such a strategy the final levels throw a well placed curve ball in the form of full-on, projectile based combat.
At this point, jumping back and forth from left to right in quick succession becomes the most effective from of defense/offense. While this seems like a rather straightforward strategy to implement, a moving target being harder to hit than a stationary one, it also comes with a few perils. Acute knowledge of the surrounding area is extremely important so one doesn't fall prey to a trap (most commonly a slippery slope that leads to a pit) that leads to one's doom. Sometimes there isn't much, or any, time to acquire that knowledge before an enemy attack. This isn't really a case of the camera failing to keep up with the action, although the camera can become an issue if the player ends up slamming their back against a wall - something that's a one-way ticket to suffering some cheap hits. Additionally, this technique requires a bit more finesse than one would initially believe because of the slight pause between jumps. If an enemy fires a shot at the player at this juncture, there's a good chance it will connect, meaning the player needs to adjust their timing with a slight pause of their own so future openings don't fall in line with the enemy's attack pattern.
Luckily, while the above works well enough despite not being bulletproof, gunplay is only half of what Tomb Raider has to offer. In general, the controls hold up a bit better when the player is dealing with platforming where they have a little more time to plan and execute their moves, and is where the perks of the grid based system the game is built on makes up for it's graphical deficiencies. Lining up jumps is a breeze and unlike Tomb Raider Anniversary, where there is that feeling that something can go horribly wrong at any second, there is little to fear once you have the controls down. The concept of a walk button may seem archaic in this day and age, but it works and gets the job done. The only time the platforming sections really get into trouble is when obstacles require multiple, consecutive jumps (but these sections tend to occur above water filled areas that safety break any falls) and when the game baits you with an item that requires a specialty jump like a backwards jump and its lower trajectory. Typically, these will result in a few game overs until the player figures it out or just continues on their way.
Along with the running, gunning and platforming comes graphics and level design. As was mentioned before, the grid based system Core implemented does leave some things to be desired. Things like flat scenery, pixilated surfaces and box-like structures are commonplace, but then those things are commonplace in a lot of PlayStation games. That said, I have to lump Tomb Raider's level design with that of another prominent title, id Software's Doom. Even with all the limitations, the levels just pop from the screen and it really took a play through Tomb Raider Anniversary for me to realize how impressive even the lesser known parts of the game really are. Everything Crystal Dynamics set out to replace because it wasn't as "memorable" as the rest actually ended up being better than what they replaced it with. One of the best examples is the Lost Valley where the darkness that defined the level was completely disregarded with a sky and sunlight. In fact, Anniversary ditched a lot of what made the original game work, one of the most important aspects being the cramped and confined hallways.
Another thing the original Tomb Raider got right and the remake got wrong was the music. I'll just come out and say it, Nathan McCree totally hit the nail on the head here, he really did. Many criticize Tomb Raider for using music so sparingly, for its world being so quiet, but in reality it's actually quite brilliant. There may be one of four ambient tracks playing at any given time in a level, which aren't exactly impressive own their own, but it allows sound effects like gunshots and enemy screeches to pierce the silence and make their deafening impact. It's also makes the appearance of one of McCree's full-fledged pieces like "Battle in the Ancient Courtyard," "Ruins of a Lost Civilization," and "Architecture of the Past" so special, especially when the last two are played during moments of reprieve. Unfortunately, while some of these pieces made the transition to Anniversary, Troels B. Folmann drowns them in that over-bombastic orchestral crap that finds its way into many games produced outside of Japan.
Last but not least, we reach the focal point of Lara's quest: the storyline. While Tomb Raider's use of in-game and full motion videos is competent enough in fleshing out what is going on, most will still find it bare-bones, save the world fare. For the most part, they're right. Still, even with all the bad voice acting and one-dimensional foes, it's doesn't take much to realize that Natla is probably the best villain the series has ever seen. I mean who can you compare her to? Tomb Raider II's Bartoli? The best thing is it doesn't even end with Natla; even The Bald Man, Stakeboard Kid, Cowboy, Pierre and Larson beat the tar out of any baddies presented in any of the future games, and they are never really explored as characters. What's ironic is how much went wrong when Crystal Dynamics did explore these characters. I don't really need to know that Kold (the Bald Man) is a murderer; all I need to know is that he has my shotgun and I need it back. I don't need a scene where Lara feels bad for wasting Larson, and I don't want Cowboy nuked out of existence and combined with him. I didn't like it, and I took it personally.
While some will obviously question whether or not my opinion of Tomb Raider teeters on the edge of fanboyism, I honestly feel it's more of a case where a fan is able to except the problems within without letting it taint all that was done right. Ten out of ten may seem generous, but it really doesn't when reflecting on how the game makes me feel when I play it, and when you think about it, isn't that what truly matters? Everyone has a guilty pleasure or two, and while Tomb Raider is guilty of a lot of things, I certainly can't hold it in contempt in my court.
Overall Score: 10/10
Ashley Winchester wrote:
Game: Tomb Raider (PS1)
Overall Score: 10/10
While it's easy to pick apart TR because of how it has held up since its release, it's easily one of the most engrossing and rewarding adventure games I have ever played. I just replayed it about six months ago and it sucked me in the same way it did a couple of years prior... and a couple of years prior to that. Sure, box moving puzzles can be lame sometimes and the lack of analog control may hurt your thumbs after a while, but they're just minor hindrances compared to the overall picture. The sense of wonder and exploration that Tomb Raider gives me is unlike any other game in the series, and is unlike most other games that I've played in the 15 years since its release. While it may not be a perfect 10/10 under a critical eye, as far as I'm concerned it's one of the best games that graced the PS1. Personal 10/10 for me, too.
The sense of wonder and exploration that Tomb Raider gives me is unlike any other game in the series, and is unlike most other games that I've played in the 15 years since its release. While it may not be a perfect 10/10 under a critical eye, as far as I'm concerned it's one of the best games that graced the PS1. Personal 10/10 for me, too.
Man after my own heart. I replayed the following games after this as well (well, I was kind of burned out on TR when got to The Last Revelation so I didn't finish that one) and I'll be posting those reviews next. Not to ruin what I'll say but it's pretty obvious from what I wrote in the second paragraph that they don't stack up in my opinion. There are worse games to keep around however....
That said, I will say that Tomb Raider: Chronicles somewhat surprised me. I gave up on TR after TRIII and didn't play it or The Last Revelation until last year although I did see a friend play through Revelation in 2003.
I'm curious to see how the other games stack up in your reviews. I picked up TR2 and 3 after playing the first TR this year and didn't even make it past the first level in either one. Neither one kept my interest for more than 15 minutes because I kept comparing it to the original, and was sorely disappointed in both cases. I didn't even try to pursue Last Revelation/Chronicles.
I'm curious to see how the other games stack up in your reviews. I picked up TR2 and 3 after playing the first TR this year and didn't even make it past the first level in either one. Neither one kept my interest for more than 15 minutes because I kept comparing it to the original, and was sorely disappointed in both cases. I didn't even try to pursue Last Revelation/Chronicles.
I agree that the first one is in a completely different league than the others. The second one is probably decent enough for most to enjoy but, yeah, the third one even took the wind out of my sails back in 1998. Still, all in all, I'm glad I replayed them and reaffirmed my opinions on them, but I can totally sympathize (er... empathize???) with those who are turned off so early since there aren't too many redeeming qualities to the sequels. It took a while for me to get some of these games into my console if you can believe it... the memory of TRIII was enough to do that alone. Still, it's probably no secret but you shouldn't ramrod a game down your throat because you want to say you've experienced it.... there are better uses of one's time. Sometimes we miss out on things for a reason.
Last edited by Ashley Winchester (Dec 06, 2011)
Game: Tomb Raider II (PS1)
"The best thing about Tomb Raider II? It's not Tomb Raider III."
Much like photographs, video games can be a gateway to a treasure trove of memories. While no piece of software could really trump the family photo album or a fictitious trip to the Grand Canyon, it is often ironic (sad) how a gamer can remember the first time they played a specific game but can't remember what eight times eight is. Anyhow, more often than not, games just don't define themselves, they define eras, technological advancement and consoles.
For example, while games like Mortal Kombat 3 and Killer Instinct should probably be at the bottom of any system defining game list for the SNES, they are at the forefront of my thoughts when the console is mentioned because everybody I knew had them when I was in the sixth grade. And while they where popular for all the wrong reasons (well, Killer Instinct's combo system had more to offer than Mortal Kombat 3's violence) they were a part of the culture, and a part of my personal history despite how far they've fallen since.
A similar story reigns over Tomb Raider II and Final Fantasy VII, two of the biggest titles the PlayStation was packing around the 97' holiday season. After passing on the Nintendo 64 the previous year due to its scarcity, playing the original Tomb Raider on my cousins Sega Saturn and trying out the Final Fantasy VII demo included in Tobal No.1, I was as hyped as everyone else. Who didn't want to play more Tomb Raider? Who didn't want to continue the adventures of that yellow, spiky haired character named after a particular atmospheric element? As enjoyable as both products ended up being in their heyday, what would the future have in store for them? When it comes to Final Fantasy VII, what can be said that hasn't already been said about its bizarre and somewhat overstated resurrection? Perplexing as that situation ended up being, what about game on the table here, Tomb Raider II?
While it hardly strays from the formula that made the first game the success it was, Tomb Raider II strays just enough in key areas to make topping the original impossible. Why isn't Tomb Raider II as good as Tomb Raider? The core reason has to do with an argument that has been made time and time again: the environments. Given that the name of the game is Tomb Raider, which of the following three locals would you least expect to explore: a tomb, a pyramid or a... offshore oil rig? Like most, I just have question why you would take Lara out of the tombs when lightning clearly struck with that combination. Don't get me wrong, the level design it still very respectable, and I'll at least meet them halfway with the Maria Doria since it can be considered a makeshift tomb like the Titanic, but when you get the feeling that the game would be more appealing just by changing the texture mapping back to the colors that defined the original you have to admit there may be some problems brewing.
The other thing that drags down Tomb Raider II down is combat; not so much that there is a lot of it, but in what you're fighting: other humans. Supposedly, this change was born out of all the complaints Core received about the more natural enemies that populated the original, where actual gunfights were limited to the final few levels. Unfortunately, Core decided to listen to this idea so know we have every other loser cultist in the game running around with a sidearm, usually getting the first shot at you from a distance. Just perfect! I can't think of anything better than being turned into Swiss cheese before I have a chance to defend myself! Annoying as this becomes, it does manage to balance out certain elements left unchecked in the first game.
Still, there happens to be another problem with Bartoli and his men. Does anyone even fear them or think they make are good villains? They may look pretty ugly, but that's about all. And while some of the game's cut scenes (like the one that concludes the Diving Area) would have one believe otherwise, the conflict between Lara and Bartoli never feels personal. Compounding this even further is the fact the danger experienced in the first level doesn't return until the end of the game in the Temple of Xian. Another issue that arises from Tomb Raider II's narrative has to do with keeping the Barkhang Monks on your side when raiding their monastery. Not only is this insanely amusing, it saves a ton of ammo. Unfortunately, it raises an intriguing question: why would the monks leave Lara to her own devices in her quest for the dagger? They may practice non-violence until attacked, but letting Lara have such a dangerous item as a conversation piece is hardly the safest place for such an item; the hilarious, completely sexist ending proving her mansion is no Fort Knox.
As for what's new gameplay wise, we have the introduction of flares, ladder climbing, the mid air/water flip, and Lara's first few set of wheels: the snowmobile and motor boat. For the most part, these are all rather safe additions; they don't make the game seem overly desperate to evolve like Tomb Raider III's crawl and sprint or fudge up the control scheme with a million and a half commands. The snowmobile and boat present their own problems, as if that's a shocker, but they could literally apply for sainthood when compared to those in the third installment.
With that last paragraph pretty much reiterating the title of this review, Tomb Raider II's best quality is the fact it isn't Tomb Raider III. That doesn't exactly bode well for the future of the series, but it does mean Tomb Raider II is good enough for most people to digest without worry. That said time has shown that it had nothing on the original, and that it still doesn't.
Overall Score: 7/10
Game: Tomb Raider III (PS1)
"A Letter to Tomb Raider III: Lara Croft and the Search for Fun"
Dear Tomb Raider III,
I've been waiting for this day. While you were a no-brainer of a purchase for those that enjoyed Tomb Raider I and II, you and I have not been the best of friends. I mean really, how else could you explain the ten plus years between my initial play through when you debuted and the one I partook of for this review? I can easily take pleasure in what your predecessors have to offer, but when it comes to you I hesitate. It shouldn't take two days of ceaseless mulling to get a game into my PlayStation. So why, why do I cringe at the mere thought of playing you? How did you turn me away from your future successors? Alas, it's a long story, but a story that needs to be told.
Things weren't always this complicated. In the early going, you touted your slightly crisper graphics and touched up effects (like rain, water ripples, gun smoke, footprints, blood and fire) in an attempt to dress up and look sharp for your friends, as well as changing in-game secrets back to their former glory (ammo and health pickups) once again. Such high points aside, it's somewhat hard to pinpoint where it all went astray, so let's start out small. Why is it when I pick up some goodies, you no longer feel the need show me what I just picked up? Why so greedy with the info all of a sudden? Often times it's hard to determine what I just added to my inventory because your treasures are so dark and dingy – and small. Let's not forget small. What's up with these new, anorexic medi-packs? Were they too noticeable before or something? And what's up with the game's first key? Talk about lack of defining contrast! Combine this with your constant need to manipulate light and shadow and you can see how you're not exactly the most forthcoming game on the face of the planet.
Your phobia of being pilfered by big breasted, item raiding adventurers brings us to your weapon selection. Despite the lack of variety, things were great during your original incarnation: from the punch of the Magnums to the chatter of the Uzis, you provided great guns that complemented Lara's great mobility. Unfortunately, things started to go a bit south with the M16 and Harpoon Gun in Tomb Raider II. With an increase in gun wielding enemies, a gun that pretty much glued the player's feet the floor was a rather ill-conceived addition. Still, the M16 - and its newer counterpart the MP5 - look great when compared to the harpoon gun. Who in their right mind is going to engage enemies underwater when gaining the high ground is so much more effective? Let's not forget that piranhas, the greatest underwater threat in the game, can't be killed.
Okay, so it's not as bad as I'm making it out to be. The Desert Eagle is a fun little toy that doesn't feel as desperate as the Rocket Launcher, but when discussing your somewhat haphazard collection of firearms, let's not forget how important dual wielded weapons are to Lara. Even the vast majority of artwork Ms. Croft has posed for depicts her with the Pistols (the classic mainstay) or the Uzis. Sure, there are others like the one with the Harpoon Gun (laughs), the M16 and Automatic Pistol (which is part of a set) but unlike past adventures, it takes an incredibility long time for majority of your arms to prove their worth, if they ever do at all. That snazzy new shotgun is a great example, the orphan of the group that is never really allowed to come into its own. Such shortfalls are mainly due in part to the “mandatory loss of weaponry” segment that's a part of every Tomb Raider experience. First of all, this was clever the first two times it happened. Now that we've reached part three, it's no longer clever. Second, why do you feel the need to flitch all my ammunition and medi-packs? Like any wise spelunker, I spent most of my time in India conserving my supplies for long haul ahead only to be reminded you can be quite the kleptomaniac when you want to be. What if Nevada was the last area I explored before Antarctica? Thankfully it wasn't, but what about players who aren't so lucky and wind up at the end of the game with a depleted inventory? In all honesty, just admit that the “select adventure” feature is a bust and does nothing to make the game non-linear.
Another illusion masquerading under the guise of freedom is the Save Crystal system. While most of the discontent in this area is more-or-less born out of your indecisiveness throughout the years - three different titles with three different save systems – it's not hard to see how the portable save crystals were viewed as a novel idea. But with every new idea comes (unintended) consequences. With you throwing everything from A to Z at the player, it's not long before life and death paranoia sets in and questions like “how much longer can I press my luck before I screw up and die?” start weighing on the players mind. It rarely takes long to cross that line and when the greatest judge of what's been accomplished - you, the game - fails to gauge the player's progress a certain amount of liberty is lost.
Speaking of liberty, let's get to these massive playgrounds called levels. If the tone of this letter has been any kind of indication thus far, it shouldn't be any surprise that trouble rears its ugly head here as well. Your frills are quickly gunned down by India's flaccid jungles, rigorous waters and lifeless ruins. Now, you may jest at the idea of ruins having any kind of life to them given the definition of the term, but there is a difference between creating something that is lifeless and something that employs lifelessness to create an abstract type of energy. There are small glimpses of this to be seen every once in a while, but it's often derailed by things like redundant backtracks, half-baked vehicle segments, blind jumps, questionable settings (Area 51?!) and contrived boss fights. Unfortunately, this body of problems only fosters disappointment once one realizes the variety presented by your locals is a facade. The London levels may come awfully close to forging their own identity but they eventually fall into the realm of interesting and interesting does not always mean good.
The final hurdle you seem to have trouble clearing is narrative. While none of the Tomb Raider games have had a story built for the ages, there's another concept (similar to the one we talked about when talking about level design) that seems to be lost on you. That concept? Presenting something cliché doesn't necessarily have to feel cliché. In fact, one of the most impressive things one can do is take something that's been done a million and a half times and make it feel like new. Tomb Raider's Natla and Atlanteans did this despite their obvious “been there, done that” vibe. Your own angle, the old “scientist obsessed with evolution becomes a big, grotesque monster bent on making his ultimate dream a reality with angry, poison spewing sea otters” never becomes anything, not even a tongue-in-cheek parody of itself. Adding further insult to injury is the fact Lara seems incapable of learning from past mistakes; working for other people never seems to work out too well for her or the world, does it?
So what does all of this mean? Well, to answer that question, we need to examine what you want people to notice about you. Since we've shot down the majority of additions already, we're left with what these additions were attempting to implement: an increase in challenge. It's a respectable goal given the relative ease of your predecessors, but it's how you get there – by trying to fire on all cylinders at once – that shows us just how ugly Tomb Raider can be. And while Tomb Raider has always had its share of problems, I don't believe anyone thinks this is the solution. Fun is not perpendicular to challenge here and you can't underestimate how important that is to a video game. This isn't to say that a challenging game can't be fun, but it's a slippery slope and the elements you surround it with can't provide enough traction to prevent the fall.
With everything you have to offer now laid bare, I can safely say my time with you was not in vain. This isn't to say it was time well spent, or that every minute of it was enjoyable, but you know the old adage “it could be worse.” Quite honestly, it could be. There is little comfort in such words, but perhaps we'll run into each other again some day. Not too soon I hope; maybe in another ten to twelve years? Until then, you'll be leaving the light on for me, won't you?
A PS1 junkie who values other elements over challenge
Overall Score: 5/10
Game: Tomb Raider Chronicles (PS1)
"Apparently there’s life after Tomb Raider III"
Like the sun and the moon, video games come and go. In our polygon and pixel fueled bliss (and frustration) we often overlook the signs that tell us what will be continuously embraced and what is down for the count. For example, if you had told me in 1998 that Tomb Raider III would be the last Tomb Raider title to grace my TV until 2007's Anniversary, I wouldn't have believed you. Sure, I didn't exactly enjoy everything Tomb Raider III threw at me, but there was no clear-cut decree that I was through with the series. Regardless, the damage had been done, at least in a covert, subconscious manner. Because of this the last two games on the PlayStation, The Last Revelation and Chronicles, didn't even register a blip on my gaming radar despite the fact the PS1 was alive and well. While it's only natural to leave certain things behind, there are times were we can't help but wonder what we missed out on, or see if a somewhat conflicted franchise can change its fortunes for the better.
This was the central question I faced as I placed Tomb Raider Chronicles into my PlayStation 2. Ten years late to the party, could it mend the bridge one of its predecessors unceremoniously burned long ago or would it only add insult to injury? An interesting proposition to be sure, I can't even begin to explain how the game managed to span such a crevasse. All I know is it did regardless of its problems. That said, in an effort to uncover how things went so right even when they could have gone so wrong, let's take a look at this potluck of mini adventures Ms. Croft's closest friends share with us:
The first story presented in Tomb Chronicles takes place in Rome. Here, we are reintroduced to Larson Conway and Pierre Dupont (from the original Tomb Raider) as they attempt to swindle Lara out of her payment for the Mercury Stone, the lesser half of the fabled Philosopher's Stone. Outside the fact we are faced with another series recon here (the idea that Lara never met Larson before the opening of 96' original being "shot to hell" in a matter of seconds) I couldn't be more pleased with the return of these characters. Well, almost. Was it really necessary to lower Larson's intelligence quotient that far? I think we already knew he was an idiot. Overdone as the characterization really is, by the time “Frenchy” promises to buy him a milkshake, all is forgiven. Unfortunately, while Core gets away with hitting the easy button when it comes to characters, the same can't be said of the level design. While it's great to see the whole “there needs to be a deathtrap around every corner” thing from Tomb Raider III has been put to pasture, we now have levels that are too safe (creatively, not figuratively) and are still uninspired. This starts to change once the player reaches The Coliseum - a level that almost recaptures the spirit of those in the original – but ultimately fails short due to its length, which is ironic considering most of Chronicles levels benefit from their short stature.
Lara's second quest takes place in levels that are as cold and as hardy as the most sea weary commander. In short order, this journey takes one through an indoor dockyard, the tight quarters of a ship (submarine), a somewhat forgettable underwater skirmish and back again. Generally speaking, the Russian Base is a very peculiar section of the game and it's not particularly easy to explain why. The gradual improvement in the level design combined with the rather stereotypical characters makes it seem like this story is stuck in traction most of its duration, but the experience never really grinds to a halt even though it feels like something's missing. That thing? The narrative is simply in hibernation here, and it only comes out of its sleep during the final level. It's here where the build up from the previous levels is finally justified, and while the game is not going to win any awards for original storytelling the payoff at the end is substantial enough to overshadow the fact you've seen this story in every submarine themed movie ever shot. As silly as it seems to applaud a game for successfully mimicking an overused plotline, Chronicles success here is a prelude of things to come.
This is where the game really starts to shine. While this adventure is more or less born out of the first recon that allowed Von Croy to teach the young Lara about spelunking in The Last Revelation (personally, I always liked how Lara's parents originally disowned her because of her appetite for adventure) The Black Isle has more in common with a MediEvil game than a Tomb Raider game. While most people would laugh at the mere idea of ghosts and goblins showing up in any kind of Tomb Raider narrative, or that it could be enjoyable to go around without any weaponry and focus on puzzles, such ideas quickly prove their worth. Still, what really brings these levels to life are the two ghouls the story focuses on and Father Patrick Dunstan, an Irish priest/demon hunter. Not since the original Tomb Raider has such an interesting character been introduced. Quite honestly, I couldn't get enough of the guy, from his cool and collected demeanor to his getting bitched slapped for mouthing off to damned spirits, he literally brought everything together. The only bad thing is as high as Dunstan raises the bar there are other characters that insist on limboing under it.
The last set of levels is where Tomb Raider Chronicles plays a perilous game between positive progression and past pitfalls. Starting off in some air ducts above the fabled Iris, we're quickly introduced to several things that scream Tomb Raider III: laser traps, turrets, and the HK gun which looks a lot like the MP5. Truth be told, the last thing this game – or any game – should do is remind me of Tomb Raider III. It's just a bad idea. The second thing on the not to do list that is done is throwing the concept of creating likable yet stereotypical characters to the wolves with the introduction of (a somewhat insulting take on the quintessential African American hacker) Zip. For every line of dialog that is actually funny (“guns is metal”) there are fifty lines that are just terrible, and by the time Lara asks him why she's even bothered to hire him I'm asking myself the same freaking question. Of course, Zip's answer to that particular question is pretty excruciating, but when it comes to shades of Tomb Raider III that appear, it's surprising how the game takes those elements, makes them its own and makes them ten times better. Things almost fall apart during the final level (Red Alert!) for a multitude of reasons, but things miraculously come back together again before it's too late.
In its final incarnation on the PS1, it's nice to see that some of Tomb Raider's graphical deficiencies have been addressed. The polygonal breakup that ran rampant throughout the first three installments is nonexistent here, leaving clipping as the only occasional issue. Such an achievement really isn't Chronicles doing since this revision of the Tomb Raider engine was first featured in 1999's The Last Revelation. Still, the cleaner experience is appreciated. The only other gripe to be had is when the game shifts to an unchangeable, preset camera angle that makes it difficult to control Lara. I'm sure Core would love for me to believe this is to add a cinematic quality to certain areas, but in reality I think we all know the main reason behind it was to lighten the burden on the design team so certain objects didn't even need to be rendered. Still, things like this are easy to overlook when each area of the game finally has a look and feel to call its own.
While it suffers from most of the problems present in every game the series has seen thus far, I have to admit that I enjoyed my time with Tomb Raider: Chronicles, and I'm sorry that I allowed Tomb Raider III to keep me away from it for all these years. Chronicles doesn't really succeed because of its gameplay however, relying more on intriguing characters (old and new) than anything else. That said, fans who gave up on the series like I did should give this a go; they may end up just as surprised as I was to find out there is another game in the series worth their time.
Overall Score: 7/10
Game: Star Fox (SNES)
"While Star Fox's visuals have obviously aged, its gameplay keeps it firmly afloat"
In this wild world we live in, time never stops. Time is an unyielding force and an undeniable truth. Faced with its ebb and flow, we often demonize its passage, from classics like "I don't have the time!" to "Where did all the time go!" we'll come up with any excuse to make ourselves feel better and minimize its impact.
As automatic as such denial becomes for anyone, such a realization smashed me upside the in the head while I stood at the local game store waiting for the clerk to unearth of a copy of Star Fox from the back room. Ironically, I had sold a copy of Star Fox to the same store three years prior, the urge to revisit it fueled by my disappointment with Star Fox 64 purchased a week earlier. Striking me as a game that I would have enjoyed much more had I played it during its prime (I ended up in Sony's camp during the 32/64 bit era) I couldn't shake these thoughts of the original being the superior game. So, here I was, ready to reenlist and retake control of those magnificent arwings. Did those memories survive the present, or did they crash and burn much like an Attack Carrier on Corneria?
Obviously, despite boasting the first appearance of the Super FX chip, anyone familiar with console gaming will immediately realize that Star Fox's graphical presentation is out of date. We have true polygons on the SNES, which is impressive feat in itself, but objects are simple representations of what they are. This is mainly due to the fact that texture mapping is kept to absolute minimum, mainly for performance reasons and the fact they would be at a lower resolution than those found in a PlayStation game. So how is it that a game that mainly consists of flat, shaded polygons still looks impressive? Well, to be honest, it's a case where the beauty of simplicity challenges the player. Sure, that may seem like a boring column of gray matter coming at you while flying through Corneria, but we all know it's a building, and crashing into it would hurt. With video games being all about imagination, is it so hard to extend a hand and meet this element half way in such a respect, especially with the game being the first of its kind? Reinforcing such a point is how cinematic Star Fox can make a small handful of polygons appear. I can't be the only one who gets chills watching the arwings soar through the sky as they depart from the base on Corneria or when Fox enters and escapes the twisted corridors of Andross' lair on Venom.
While some will obviously have concerns with Star Fox's graphical presentation (which was out of date circa 1995) most will find its gameplay has a bit more resolve. Like most first party Nintendo games, the fact that things are kept simple doesn't mean that the game lacks depth or that it would automatically be surpassed by future titles. For the most part, the game dodges a lot of the problems you would expect to crop up in a game like this (due to the fact there is no free/all-range mode) but then there are some problems that are simply unavoidable. In certain skirmishes you'll be pretty prone to smashing your aircraft into boss enemies despite your best efforts. Because of this, a few battles feel pitched when you're expected to dodge structures you can't see (Macbeth boss Spinning Core) because they're behind your view or the camera is zoomed in so far you can't see the boss' appendages (Fortuna boss Monarch Dodora). The failure of the barrel roll to activate at times (although it may just be my ancient controllers), slowdown (which is much more noticeable today than it was when the game came out) and continue point/twin blaster issues can also put a damper on the proceedings but are relatively minor annoyances.
Still, if there is any one area where Star Fox could succeed blindfolded, it would be audio. While most are quick to equate Hajime Hirasawa's score with what John Williams whipped up for the Star War movies, I find such a label grossly misleading. Sure, the bombasity behind some of the game's numbers may remind you of "The Imperial March," but I don't think it's as big of a complement as people think it is, and, while I'm not musically inclined in anyway, I don't think it's hard to imitate such music. Listening to great tracks like "Corneria" and "Player Down (Band Version)" I find that while Star Fox's music may have taken influence from the above, by no means is it a copy and paste job. The only real hiccup is the credits theme which reminds me a little too much of Final Fantasy. Koji Kondo of Mario fame handles the sound effects with dead-on accuracy, the crack a downed arwing makes when it explodes being very penetrating. Rounding out the sound is Star Fox's use of voice and presidio-speak. Characters communicate in unintelligible jabber that is geared towards each character during game play and is a wonderful alternative to the wretched voice acting in Star Fox 64. The use of real-life voiceovers on the stage introduction screen (Good Luck!!) and during events like the appearance of a boss enemy ("Incoming Enemy!") and the ending is wisely executed despite its limited application and low sampling. Its use in the ending sequence is especially powerful and puts a real cap on the whole adventure.
As far as replay and challenge, Star Fox offers three paths to the same finale. Level one is perhaps the most known because it is easiest, but is essential in building your skills. Level two requires a minor increase in skill over the first path (although there is one boss that can throw a real kink in your progress if you don't know how to handle it) and Level Three is an altogether different (but awesome) beast when it comes to difficulty.
In the end, picking the game up after being away for it for three plus years I was able to revisit everything the game had to offer in two (non-full) days of gaming. A little disappointing but it was rather fulfilling and worth all five hundred and ninety-five pennies. While it's obvious Star Fox's three-dimensional graphics can hold anything against games even one generation ahead of it like a late era, two-dimensional masterpiece like Donkey Kong Country 2 can, underestimate the game at your loss. Highly recommended for anyone interested in rail shooters like Panzer Dragoon II Zwei.
Overall Score: 8/10
Game: Battle Arena Toshinden (PS1) and by extention Battle Arena Toshinden 3
“You really need to look at the sequels before you judge the original”
Like the sun and the moon, video games come and go. While some games retain their luster well beyond their initial release, others suffer short, uncelebrated ends. Sometimes the two are one in the same; an acclaimed title devouring a soon-to-be-forgotten relic. Its titles like these that gather dust in our closets and under our beds; it’s one of these titles I’d like to talk about today: Battle Arena Toshinden.
To anyone familiar with one-on-one fighters, the reason for Toshinden’s fall was obvious: superior competition. As a launch title for the PS1 and eventually a system pack-in, Battle Arena Toshinden represented new possibilities. Sure, it wasn’t the first three-dimensional fighter out there but it was responsible for bringing it to a whole new audience. So what went wrong? As bright and shiny as Toshinden was it revolved around the simple exchange of blows and little else. Missing were the combos and juggles that late, two-dimensional fighters thrived on. Such omissions would become detrimental when Tekken and Virtual Fighter 2 showed up while Battle Arena Toshinden 2 hacked away at the same old game. Backed into a corner, could Toshinden evolve and survive?
Yes and no. Battle Arena Toshinden 3 would contain the elements its successor skimped out on, but it was too late; products like Capcom’s Star Gladiator and Namco’s Soul Edge easily eclipsed what it had to offer. Faced with the dire reality, the series would see one last entry in Europe and Japan (there was also a Wii entry released solely in Japan) before fading away. As simple as the story seems, there were other factors involved in Toshinden’s decline. While the game wasn’t a testament to graphical prowess, the first entry actually looked better than its predecessors. The more detailed Toshinden tried to get the uglier it became. Sure, the third game could blaze at sixty frames per second but once your character models start looking like Legos you’re only putting off the inevitable.
Still, in many ways the original Battle Arena Toshinden had more to offer by offering less. Really, can anyone look at Toshinden 3’s extended roster and not laugh at some of those lame-ass abortions called characters? Now reflect back on the original cast from the first game. Looks a lot better in comparison, doesn’t it? Okay, so every character from Eiji to Ellis fits into some prefabricated character mold, but at least you can forge some kind of affection for them despite the clichés. As endearing as the roster is, there's another area that has stood the test of time: the music. From the drum rolls heard when battling Kayin to the teasing synthesizers in Duke’s stage, Makato Mukai and Yasuhiro Nakano’s themes do their part in forging the characters personalities, Eiji and Sofia's themes dripping with a favor that is undeniably Toshinden.
As painful as Battle Arena Toshinden’s backwards slide into video game hell was, I’m sure there are those who look back on the original as fondly as I do. While the game proves there is a vast difference between the games that introduce an experience and those that provide one for the ages, it doesn’t mean its place in video game history should be ignored or forgotten.
Overall Score: 6/10
Game: Donkey Kong Country (SNES)
"While time hasn't exactly been cruel to Donkey Kong Country, it hasn't exactly been nice either"
Memories are a funny thing. Unlike the vast majority of games that have come and gone over the years, Donkey Kong Country is a game that I can unmistakably remember my first encounter with. It was dark night when my friend's mother dropped us, a bunch of grade school kids, off at the local Junior High School for movie night. As for what flicks played that night or which friends I was with I can't remember, but what I can remember is the movies were preceded by a promotional VHS tape the school had received from Nintendo.
Okay, so no one actually played Donkey Kong Country that night, but it goes without saying we were all insanely impressed with what we saw on that video. The funny this is, as much as I clamored for the game's release, I never actually owned Donkey Kong Country during my childhood. I know I borrowed a copy and completed it, but it wasn't until Donkey Kong Country 3 came out that I would actually possess a Donkey Kong Country title of my own. What's even more ironic was the second game was my favorite. Still, as limited as one was purchase wise before the days of the internet or having their own income, Donkey Kong Country was a game you just knew was great, even years after its release and your last play through.
Unfortunately, just agreeing with a statement out of the fact it's shared by the masses doesn't mean it holds true for you. As cruel as the passing of time can be for products, it's especially true of memories. Anyway, about a year ago I picked up a Donkey Kong Country cart at a local game store with all the intent in the world to play it. Plans are great, but that's all they are - plans. It wasn't until Donkey Kong Country Returns came out for the Wii in 2010 that I got the bug to play though it again with my buddies talking about the new one. While I could honestly care less about the Wii or the reboot itself, I could only wonder if the original could live up to those engraved memories. It just had to right? All those people with fondness for the moniker just couldn't be wrong!
Well, those people aren't wrong, but they aren't right either.
As warm and fuzzy as the title screen made me feel, a peculiar feeling came over me once I got to the game itself. At first I thought it was run-of-the-mill boredom, but after some more time with the game it became clear that wasn't the case. There was something that just felt off, an abstract element I couldn't pinpoint. The game still looked great, the game still sounded great (oh my, do these games sound great!) but it just wasn't doing it for me. Was it the fact there is less to collect here than in the sequels? Or the fact the bonus areas aren't as streamlined as they are in the sequels? Maybe the fact Donkey and Diddy seem a bit more limited as a team than Diddy and Dixie? I know for a fact I missed the ability to have the characters climb on one another shoulders for teammate tosses. Whatever the reason (the last one seems the most likely) something was limiting the appeal the gameplay previously had.
As I progressed through the game, this feeling did ease up a bit. I'm a sucker for an awesome level like Oil Drum Alley regardless of what year it is, but the boss fights are another story. One of Donkey Kong Country's worst kept secrets is the fact the bosses are total pushovers. I kept telling myself this was okay, that the final, climatic encounter with K.Rool would make up for it. Not quite. While it is certainly the most engaging battle of the game, when you take down the kingpin of the Kremlings (who are still cool to this day) on your first try after ten plus years of being away, you realize that such patience is far from deserved. The cinematic nature of the cute and clever ending helps comb over such a problem, but it's far from the dead-on sense of accomplishment one gets from Star Fox's ending.
In spite of all of this, Donkey Kong Country is still worth any gamer's time. While it's easy to buy into crowd and simply say it's been unscathed by time, this is a case where I'd rather be honest and not give into any nostalgia based illusions (as important as illusions of any kind are). Do the sequels hold up better? I hope so, but then that's a whole other story, again based on memories and little else. I'll have to get back to you on those
Overall Score: 7/10
Game: Felix the Cat (NES)
"Who could have guessed Felix could star in a half decent platformer...."
I remember the first time I saw a Felix the Cat NES cartridge. As happy as I was in actually knowing who Felix the Cat was, something I think would be lost on today's youth even more than those who grew up during the early nineties, I was skeptical how a game based on a character from the 1920's/1950's would turn out. Upon popping the game into my friend's Nintendo, I was pleasantly surprised.
Felix the Cat plays out like most platformers of the time and is more-or-less a copy of Super Mario Bros.2 with its own cast of enemies and power-up system. The events of the game are set into motion when The Professor (Felix's arch nemesis) holds Kitty (Felix's love interest) hostage in an attempt to retrieve Felix's "Magic Bag," a satchel capable of transforming into anything its owner desires. Using his "magical bag of tricks," Felix must confront The Professor, his cast of cronies and rescue his beloved.
Of course, getting there is half the fun. For the most part, each world Felix visits on his way to the mad doctor has it's own theme: there's an Egyptian like area, a climb up a snow covered mountain, underwater excursions and mid-air encounters that lead up to the battle-scared wastes of space. As adequate as the stage design is, the better half of the gameplay lies with the power-up system. By collecting Felix icons, the player can increase Felix's magic level which provides the player with a variety of attack options, not to mention providing additional hit points. While the forms available vary depending on the type of level being played, these transformations are fueled by hearts. Hearts are consumed naturally over time and can be restored with milk, another power-up that appears upon retrieving a fixed amount of icons.
As well-rounded and creative as the power-up system is in general, there are some areas of Felix the Cat that could have used some more work. The boss encounters that conclude each world are easily the game's weakest link, the battles centered on enemies with insultingly simple attack patterns that make those used by robot masters in Mega Man look like an art form. The relatively lax level of difficulty spills over into the levels as well, as it's easy to work up a reserve of lives and beat the game in little over an hour. Still, the most disappointing aspect of the game has to be the music. The title theme and selection for world one are magnificent but the remainder of the score quickly looses focus.
While I can't exactly say I would have paid full price for Felix the Cat when it debuted, the game is easily worth what a general, non-top tier NES title goes for these days. The experience may not have longevity in its favor, but it's a well-crafted product that deserves a look after you've acquired all the other, must have NES releases.
Overall Score: 6/10
Game: Ninja Gaiden II The Dark Sword of Chaos (NES)
"There are games, then there's The Dark Sword of Chaos"
When it comes to video games, I try to be subjective. While I won't shy away from praising a solid title in conversation, I'm usually able to offer up some criticism to go along with the good. Impartial as one thinks they can be, there are some games even I can't help but fawn over. Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos is one of those games.
So what's so special about The Dark Sword of Chaos or Ninja Gaiden in general? As wishy-washy as such an explanation may seem, a lot of Ninja Gaiden's charms have to do with what the games accomplished during their era. The games may have been legendary for their high level of difficulty, but the real reason Ninja Gaiden was able to distinguish itself from the crowd was a novel feature that was dubbed "Tecmo Theater." A form of storytelling that's been incorporated into nearly every game today, "Tecmo Theater" was a primitive take on the quintessential cut scene. As primitive as these "cut scenes" are, they're incredibly powerful in propelling the game's refreshingly adult-oriented narrative forward.
It's this "mature nature" that the Dark Sword of Chaos and the original take to the bank. Characters are stabbed, shot and killed, not just "defeated" like a typical Nintendo game, and the life-and-death struggle that plays out sets a mood that few games (of the time) could match. There is perhaps no greater example of this than the game's opening scene. Point plank, I can't be the only one who gets chills as Asthar scrolls across the screen declaring his allegiance to the forces of evil. It's easily one of the most defining moments I've experienced in a video game and I'm sure I'm not alone.
In regards to gameplay, the most common comparison people make in regards to Ninja Gaiden is old-school Castlevania. The comparison is apt on the most basic level given the game's set-up and look, but is ultimately misleading since Ryu controls a lot differently - and a lot more fluidly - than your typical Belmont. New power-ups like the shadow doubles, coupled with the ability to scale all objects fit seamlessly into the mechanics and can give the player an immense edge when employed correctly. Still, some will be at odds with the knock-back received from enemy attacks. The game pulls no punches when it comes to punishing the player for miscalculations, the result usually being the loss of a life. Cruel as it may seem, the test of a good player is using this hitch to your advantage.
The game's remaining elements go long way in forging an unforgettable adventure as well. Sonically, the game’s a tour-de-force that easily matches or surpasses its predecessor, enhancing the action on the screen to an absurd level. One will also find the scrolling/animated backgrounds are a nice upgrade from the static backdrops used in the first game. Simply put, name something and The Dark Sword of Chaos has improved upon it; name something that was fine the first time around and The Dark Sword of Chaos has left it alone.
In the end, games - and sequels - don't get much better than Ninja Gaiden II. Cliché as it sounds, Tecmo created something more than a mere game here; they created an experience. Do yourself a favor and partake of something that transcends an era, something that is greater than its whole.
Overall Score: 10/10
Game: Mighty Final Fight (NES)
"A pint-sized classic based off a classic"
When it comes to retro NES titles, I find it rather odd that Mighty Final Fight is the quote unquote rarest game I was looking to add to my collection. While I'll admit the SNES port of the arcade original is where Final Fight started for most, I can't say that title is why Final Fight has remained at the forefront of my gaming memories for as long as it has. So given that, what's so special about Mighty Final Fight? How could a downscaled rendition of a SNES classic be of such note? Well, as one would expect given the formula behind it, calling Mighty Final Fight special is somewhat of a stretch, even for someone who is pretty smitten with the game. It's obvious that hundreds of games, games from the Double Dragon series, Battletoads to Sega's Streets of Rage have crossed strikingly similar terrain over the years.
As blindingly derivative as gaming can end up being, most know there are times where experiences can thrive upon their simplicity. As simple as a game like Final Fight was, there's a part of me that can't help but think that it was a bit too simplistic to really show off a (new at that time) console like the SNES. This isn't to say I was disappointed with Final Fight, but to say it was a quantum leap over the last generation of brawlers (beyond graphics) would be a lie. It's this - the lack of any real progression - that makes Mighty Final Fight so attractive in an ironic sort of way. Simply put, there is no real sacrifice made in taking the series back a console generation. While I’ll concede that’s not exactly the most positive thing one could say about a game, the game’s super-deformed presentation has its own way of charming the player and is a worthy avenue to explore in contrast to the straight-edged look of its technologically advanced brethren.
That said, Mighty Final Fight still contains many of the irritants of the time. Despite being a last generation NES title, the amount of time the sprite layer of graphics spends flickering during game play is rather obscene. Granted, it's never enough to flat-out rail-road the experience but it does slightly mar what is an otherwise spectacular looking game. Perhaps what's even more surprising (e.g. disappointing) is the audio by Setsuo Yamamoto. I absolutely love good NES music but outside the crunchy boss theme Yamamoto's themes seem a little uncomfortable with their meandering nature. The last thing that brings the final grade down a bit is the difference power and speed have in relation to game's characters. Giving each character their own individual attributes is something that any game should implement, but as far as which one is the greater (or which one is more useful in helping you beat the game) speed has the definite edge over power since there are so many instances where speed is much more beneficial and can easily make up for the lack of power.
Despite this, Mighty Final Fight is an enjoyable romp that is reminiscent of a simpler time. Unfortunately, the real problem with Mighty Final Fight is its cost. Again, not that you'd think it by looking at it, but the game is not exactly common and with so many other quality beat-them-ups available for a fraction of the cost, it's debatable how many will justify that cost. Those looking to experience the game while avoiding the price tag may want to check out the game on GBA where it one of the three games included in the Capcom Classic Mini Mix. Regardless of which path you choose, don't pass up on what can be experienced here just because of the art style or simplicity; Mighty Final Fight can be rather engaging if given the chance.
Overall Score: 8/10
Game: Super Mario Land 2 Six Golden Coins
"An essential GameBoy title"
When it comes to video games, it's amazing how we sometimes overlook staple characters. Despite the amount of respect I've held towards Mario in general the games always seem to be at the bottom of my current backlog of gaming titles. As much as I don't want to insinuate that these games can't satisfy more mature gamers (a thought that is just ludicrous) does such an idea subconsciously lurk within my mind? It's hard to say. Still, when I saw a copy of Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins at the local Game X-Change I knew I had been away for too long. I knew it had to be replayed.
One purchase and playthough later I'm pleased to announce that Mario Land 2 is still the game I remember, a game that is in good company with other GameBoy classics like Kirby's Dream Land and Metroid II. Despite the fact that each Mario game tends to be special in its own way, I can't think of another game that parallels the refreshing variety seen in Super Mario Land 2's levels (even the levels within each zone are far from being rehashes of one another) and the zones are clever and keep you guessing with their occasional, alternate exits. As important as control and graphics are to the package, I have to go out on a limb and say the game's audio is the icing on the preverbal cake.
That said the fact that the game is literally over before it even begins is a bit of a buzz kill. Super Mario Land 2 may be longer than a title like Kirby's Dream Land but it's still short enough to undertake in a single, dedicated sit down or two which is a bit a disappointing. Younger players will obviously find more challenging than teens and adults but this should hardly deter anyone from playing it, especially when one considers it's rather easy to procure and doesn't cost an arm and a leg like some these older games do. Don't let the game's age fool you, it can easily go toe-to-toe with anything released before or after it without batting an eyelash.
If you have an original GameBoy or a GameBoy Advance SP lying around it's practically a crime not to have this game around for a quick run-through every now and then. Again, I'll admit I'm usually not the biggest fan of first party games despite the quality they're known for but Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins is a good reminder of why we - make that I - should pay more attention to the list usual suspects.
Overall Score: 8/10
Game: Kirby’s Dream Land (GB)
"While there are two things that hold Kirby's Dream Land back, they are hardly insurmountable"
Being a recently re-acquired staple I lost back in 2003 when my *lovely* roommates robbed me blind, Kirby's Dream Land was the first game featuring everyone's favorite pink puffball. While my experiences with Kirby titles beyond this one are extremely limited (the only other one being Kirby's Adventure/Nightmare in Dream Land) and the fact I could probably go on and on why this, along with Metroid II, deserves a place in any serious Game Boy collection, I'll dive right into the game's two main problems:
Problem One: It's too short.
At five levels, Kirby's Dream Land is simply too short. The levels are fantastic (and beat the tar out of those in Kirby's Adventure) but the game is over before it begins. Add to this the fact the final level is basically a Mega Man-esque recap of all the bosses you've fought up to that point and it's easy to see how it's entirely possible to blow through the game in one sitting within an hour.
Problem Two: It's too easy.
Kirby's Dream Land is a cakewalk. Sure, it may be a delicious cakewalk, but it's still a cakewalk. When one can go seven to eight years without playing a game and come back to it and beat it with a single life there's nothing challenging about it. This isn't saying anything however, as some games, like Mega Man Legends, lack in this department and still manage to deliver the goods. In similar fashion to Mega Man Legends, it's possible to increase the difficulty level (press up, select and A on the title screen) to give King Dedede's minions one hell of a booster shot. Seriously, once you get to the previously pathetic Whispy Woods you'll realize the spike in difficulty is no joke - they're out for blood now - and unfortunately leave you no middle ground to traverse.
Beyond the above, Kirby's Dream Land is astounding in just about every other category. I mean really, who doesn't remember the music from Green Greens? Who doesn't remember crushing King Dedede? Sure, a lot of what's here and what I'm saying is tinged (ok, littered) with nostalgia, but after playing through Kirby's Adventure last year, Dream Land's simplicity is hardly a vice. More (in terms of Kirby's abilities) did not equal out to a better game in my opinion, nor did more levels. There's a charm here that's missing from some of the game's immediate successors; an intangible x-factor you can't put a price on.
Kirby's Dream Land may have some significant flaws, but it's one of the best (original) GameBoy titles out there. If you haven't experienced it you owe it to yourself to try it.
Overall Score: 8/10
I'm currently out of game reviews to post at the moment. As I've stated I won't write or post a review until I've played/re-played and I'm kind of stalled out on games at the moment so I'll give this thread a rest until something crops up. In the mean time I'll start a new thread for other reviews - books, other music, etc.
I haven't been playing many games recently - well I've actually started several but stalled out on them. I did manage to write something new but it's a little different than usual. As one will see this isn't a review but a top ten list. I'd post it on Gamefaqs but it really doesn't fit with their guidelines.
The Top 10 franchises that defined the PS1 (to me)
When it comes to the various consoles that have seen the light of day over the years, it doesn’t take my mind long to think of all the great games that came out for them. Going though the backlog of games that call my room home, I have to admit that the Super Nintendo was a pretty mean machine. Yet when I’m honest with myself there’s only one machine that tops them all: the original PlayStation. This may seem only natural when one considers how large its library is, but with that many titles their bound to be some undesirable material.
Good games, bad games - I’m sure we all could go on about which games deserve their place in gaming history and our hearts and which ones don’t. Still, this list *attempts* to look beyond games as single entities and looks at which franchises defined my time with the PlayStation. At the same time I am only human so if a game in a series deserves to be looked upon with more distain than the others I’m not going to hesitate to berate it.
Again, this list isn’t based on sales figures or general popularity although I might mention that. I don’t expect everyone to agree with the selections either - in all honesty, I expect some of the selections to cause a few sparks – so without further ado here are the ten franchises that defined the PS1 (to me).
10. Twisted Metal
Defining Game(s): Twisted Metal 2 (SingleTrac era), Twisted Metal 4 (989 Era)
As would be expected, it only seems fitting to start off a PlayStation-based Top 10 list with a series exclusive to the console line. It’s also befitting that the wreck loose carnage of Twisted Metal fits keenly into the image and perception the PlayStation touted over one of its later competitors – a strategy that was more than effective on me. Still, the original Twisted Metal and its immediate successor are notable for another reason, one of the most important being that they were as fun as hell despite being ugly as sin. While graphics are not a primary concern of mine in an overall gaming experience, there is something to be said about a game that shows the early pains developers had when working with the third dimension. The first two games are practically a testament to this, but it’s how they overcame such problems that makes Twisted Metal’s story what it is.
Behind the Ranking:
The reason Twisted Metal ranks so low on this listing is rather obvious: Twisted Metal has a divided history. Actually, make that a VERY divided history that was widened even further by series fans themselves. As most know, the first two games were developed by SingleTrac before Sony handed the series to 989 Studios. Between this “hand off” the code for the game’s engine was “lost” (sure, we’ll say it was “lost”) and 989 had to build the third game from the ground up. 989’s Twisted Metal III would achieve a high enough of a sales plateau to eventually acquire the “Greatest Hits” label but the damage had been done; the game was slammed in the gaming press (boring and insipid level design was a common complaint as was the loopy physics engine) and it was panned by many who enjoyed the first two entries. Despite such failings, 989 Studios was able to make some amends (in my opinion) with the arguably better Twisted Metal 4 despite its terrible cast of characters and cars.
9. Resident Evil
Defining Game(s): Resident Evil (for being a point of origin), Resident Evil 2 (for doing what good sequels should)
The original Resident Evil is often celebrated as the game that spearheaded the survival horror genre. This is true to a certain extent - it may have made people take notice of genre more than it truly invented it - but then I’m not really here to ignite such debate or split such hairs. (Too late on that one, right?) Anyway, the game is important for other reasons as well. Unlike the previously mentioned Twisted Metal, the original Resident Evil was multi-platform and also appeared on the Sega Saturn. Additionally, despite the claim I’m going to make I’ll willingly admit the first time I ever played Resident Evil was on the aforementioned Saturn. (Please note this kind of admission will be made with another game shortly.) Okay, so with that out of the way, am I the only one that saw Resident Evil as a PlayStation exclusive despite the fact it was on both consoles? Okay… that might be a weak argument considering I knew a whole two people with a Sega Saturn growing up, but someone out there has got to relate to what I’m saying, right? Regardless, such a feeling would only be reinforced when the Saturn version of the second game was eventually scraped from development.
Behind the Ranking:
Resident Evil on the PS1 is a classic case of a series taking an extremely solid foot forward with it’s first sequel only to have it’s past come back and (somewhat inadvertently) subtract the very same step. In other words, as impressive of a job as Resident Evil 2 does in streamlining the experience that was founded by the original, it makes the original seem a little stunted and archaic which hurts the games when looked upon as a group. Blunt as that may seem, this isn’t a call to abandon it from one’s collection or to discard and relegate it to a historical footnote. No. This is mainly a plea to see the game for what it is and to accept its successes and failures. Looking at it in such a manner makes it no less important in the scheme of things.
8. Breath of Fire
Defining Game: Breath of Fire III
As cliché as it may sound, Breath of Fire is either one of two things to people: a painful, by-the-numbers role playing affair (outside Dragon Quarter) or a delightful, by-the-numbers role playing affair (also outside Dragon Quarter.) As close as those definitions are from a written standpoint, they are about as opposite as you can get from an argumentative one. Yet as a fan (outside Dragon Quarter… are you sick of this yet?) I can honestly see the other side of the argument. Take away the first rate Capcom art, the in-house Capcom soundtracks (minus Dragon Quarter… I swear, last time!) and you have nothing special. In fact, as much as I love the game and its narrative I have to admit that Breath of Fire II is in many ways a mess. But for some reason it’s a lovable mess I want smother with a great big hug.
Behind the Ranking:
The reason Breath of Fire comes in eighth has pretty much already been alluded to: none of the games (except for Dragon… no, I won’t say it!) have never really broken down any barriers or changed up the genre. Beyond that however, the two entries that appeared on the PS1 were solid pieces of software, one of which (Breath of Fire III) introduced some well thought-out mechanics like the Dragon Gene Splicing system. Generally I hate using the phrase “well crafted” because it’s usually a euphemism for something that “works” but is “extremely stale” (see Wild Arms 3) but it’s probably the best way to describe Breath of Fire titles. The only real hitch with such an explanation is that part IV comes dangerously close to being monotonous with it’s slow pace and washed-out color palette, something that gives the third installment the slight edge in the end.
7. Mega Man X
Defining Game: Mega Man X4 (seriously, it’s not even a contest)
I know a lot of people are going to ask “really?” when it comes to this trio of games defining the PlayStation when a) nothing of real note has changed with the gameplay in years, b) the story isn’t one for the ages and c) one’s great, one’s mediocre and one’s flat out terrible, but I’ll just state the obvious and say I’m a true blue “sucker” and Capcom’s damn lucky that’s the case despite how many times they’ve dropped the ball with this one. The disastrous failings inside however, at least one of these games (X4) continues to make a name for 2D platforming on the PS1 and screams it from the rooftops. Yet the ironic part of the story is how Mega Man X4 (and by extension Mega Man 8) were originally headed towards a Saturn-only release before Sony decided “they wanted it too” and that side scrollers had a place on their precious console. X4 would go on to be on both consoles although (like this is surprising) the Saturn version (which had some minor improvements like a looping soundtrack) would more-or-less become a relic of a forgotten time while the PlayStation edition would sell well enough for the Greatest Hits designation.
Behind the Ranking:
This one needs no explanation: one great game cannot make up for the mediocre X5 or the fact that X6 was slapped together in six months behind Keiji Inafune’s back and shot out of localization process in a mere week to make it out in time for Christmas to “squeeze” the last cent out of the remaining PS1 crowd. Speaking of Keiji Inafune, he is the only member (or rather “former” member) of Capcom that has actually gone on record and apologized for that which is Mega Man X6. Unfortunately, X6 would not be the last X themed train wreck to come out of Capcom… fans would have to suffer through a highly questionable 3D excursion on the PlayStation 2 (with an insane amount of loading screens) before X8 would try and fail to deliver a worthy ending to the series – something X5 did much better. If one can take solace in anything related to this it’s that Capcom can’t do anymore damage now that Mega Man’s retried.
6. Final Fantasy
Defining Game(s): Final Fantasy VII (if we’re talking sheer "importance"); Final Fantasy IX (if we’re talking affection towards)
Oh geez… I look forward to reading the hate mail on this one. Yeah, I did it. I placed the Final Fantasy sixth. And just as a bit of warning, you’re probably going to be even more peeved the further you get in this list when you see what was placed above it. Anyway, what can be said about Final Fantasy VII’s bizzare resurrection and massive following that hasn’t already been said? Okay, I get it – it was and therefore still is an important title. Sure, I wouldn’t have gotten into role-playing games without it and the buzz that surrounded it. All of that is true enough, yet when taking it in it’s still just another game I’ve spent more than enough time playing and it, and Final Fantasy in general, fails to be the reason I stuck with genre as long as I did. Personally, I’d credit other games with that honor – games that have received far less acclaim.
Behind the Ranking:
One of the reasons Final Fantasy is so far back in the list is because the “heyday” of the J-RPG is long past. It doesn’t take much of a glance at the PlayStation’s library to see what genre was popular at the time and as one can clearly see that time is no longer upon us despite the fact Square (now Square Enix, ugh) still tries to pull out the big guns. Sure, there are still role-playing games being made today but no longer in the same quantity – I mean heck, even Wild Arms is gone and it stuck around five games too long. Regardless, opinions change and the massive body of RPGs that came out during the PlayStation’s reign isn’t quite “goldmine” I once viewed it as, nor is the genre itself. Like the endless flow of first person shooters on shelves today (yeash…I get the point already! Shooting things is “fun”) there will eventually be a price to pay for such proliferation. Needless as it is to say RPGs are still paying the price for that.
5. Tomb Raider
Defining Game: Tomb Raider (none of the sequels come close)
Again, I can already imagine people being upset that Tomb Raider beat out Final Fantasy, but then action games are always in style. Anyway, along with the aforementioned Final Fantasy VII (which doesn’t need any more accolades) Tomb Raider was the other game responsible for making me ditch the Nintendo 64 launch in favor of the Sony PlayStation. Yet as much as I will tout Tomb Raider’s success as the PlayStation’s success this is another game I originally played on the Saturn. However, the more you think about it, Tomb Raider did become pretty synonymous with the PlayStation brand considering it landed the mass of sequels that followed the original thanks to Sony’s massive payment to Eidos for the exclusive “console” launch of Tomb Raider II. The games that followed the original also ended up on the PC as well but then the lines between PC gamers and console gamers were pretty much drawn like they are today.
Behind the Ranking:
The reasoning behind Tomb Raider’s spot at number five is somewhat akin to Mega Man X’s spot at number seven. The initial game was amazing and still blows my mind to this day but the sequels have more than enough ammo (e.g. problems) to take the series down a few notches. Common complaints among players are the first few sequels take Lara “out of the tombs” and ignore that fact that lightning clearly struck with that combination. A more comical complaint is that Tomb Raider II and III essentially turned Miss Croft into a mass murderer with their endless waves of human enemies. I’m sure a jury would buy the “I was just treasure hunting” or “it was self-defense” excuse if presented with a hill of corpses. Still, perhaps the biggest blow Tomb Raider encountered was twofold: overexposure and the oversexing of its protagonist. The oversexing may have been played to great comical effect in the second game’s ending but with a new entry coming out each year it wasn’t long before both became problems.
4. SaGa Frontier
Defining Game: SaGa Frontier
This entry makes me very happy because I know that 99.99% of readers are just asking what the hell this series is doing here. The same readers are probably asking how I could possibly place this above Final Fantasy. Well, I did and as odd as it may sound the decision came quite naturally. See, I’m in that small niche of players that actually liked SaGa Frontier for what it was: a small little smorgasbord. I’ll concede that in following a release like Final Fantasy VII SaGa Frontier had absolutely no prayer in the marketplace (at least here in America) and that it’s gameplay was as ill-explained as you could get. Really, have you ever read the manual for this thing? They really leave it up to the player to discover how the majority of the game’s gameplay systems work. I doubt that a more concise explanation would have saved SaGa, but then fans (especially those on GameFAQs) have been more than eager to fill in the holes over the years. What’s even more astounding is that new things are still being discovered about this title – even fifteen years later.
Behind the Ranking:
Those paying especially close attention may have noticed I made no mention of SaGa Frontier II in the previous section. Rest assured that’s no mistake as I’ll freely admit I “cheated” and used its existence to shoehorn this game onto the list. So what’s wrong with SaGa Frontier II? Well, I’m not a very big fan of the “generation” system it uses (losing characters because they “grow too old” is not something I want to deal with) along with a host of other issues like weapon breakage. Anyway, no game (except for Diablo II and Final Fantasy VII) has sucked away my gaming hours quicker than SaGa Frontier and given the current level of time I spend gaming now (rather low - especially when it comes to new games) I don’t see anything challenging it’s crown in that respect anytime soon. With that said, I promise I won’t use Castlevania: Chronicles to squeeze Symphony of the Night onto this list (not really the same “kind” of Castlevania when you get down to it) or use VR Missions to justify Metal Gear Solid.
3. Mega Man Legends
Defining Game(s): Mega Man Legends (actual), Mega Man Legends 3 (because of the cancellation controversy)
First of all, if you’re one of those people that are in the “the Mega Man Legends games aren’t true Mega Man games” crowd I recommend skipping this entry because it’s only going to be filled with love for this series. I don’t really care what your argument against them is (really, what other 3D Mega Man game can you put these up against? X7?) but I fell in love with them from the first minute I played them. Okay, I’ll admit they aren’t perfect, that there are easily exploitable ways to kill every boss (just circle strife around them) and there are hitches here and there but Legends does so many things right, things that Mega Man fans claim they want but turn a blind eye to when they get it. If you haven’t figured out what I’m talking about yet it’s narrative. People always complain Mega Man “has no real story” but this is far from the truth when it comes to Mega Man Legends.
Reason for Ranking:
Mega Man Legends scores so high (and higher than the X series) because the original game is an excellent stand alone experience. Additionally, while it not quite perfect, the sequel does a ton of things that Mega Man sequels fail to do time and time again. What does Mega Man Legends 2 do? Well, it ups the ante with its level of difficulty a fair and respectful notch and *gasp* it actually answers questions from the first game in a satisfying fashion! Seriously, I’d like to see the X or original series do that. Finally, it seems impossible to end a discussion on Mega Man Legends without tackling the controversial cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3. As a fan I wanted nothing more to see Mega Man get off the <MOON> after an entire decade, but if the whole thing (and the downward spiral of the X series) has taught me anything it just wasn’t meant to be. Furthermore, I wasn’t too interested in Mega Man sharing the spotlight with a new character and I’m sure I’m not the only one that held that opinion.
2. Wild Arms
Defining Game(s): Wild Arms, Wild Arms 2 (toss-up)
Being the second RPG Sony green lighted for release on the PS1 (the first being somewhat bland and uninspired Beyond the Beyond), Wild Arms only had a mere three/four months to make it’s mark before Final Fantasy VII arrived on store shelves. Thankfully, that was enough time for the series (or rather the first game) to carve out a niche for itself. Still, while a lot a people saw Wild Arms as a “filler” to tide them over till the next big release, I saw something more. This is especially important because I played Wild Arms after I had completed Final Fantasy VII (my first RPG) and still thought it was the better game. I’m sure some see this kind of romance as window dressing, but Wild Arms’ place in my heart was cemented when the second game came out to little to no fanfare in an even more competitive market place. Still, even as a fan it’s not hard to see how Wild Arms 2 got buried, the game not exactly doing itself any favors with its dated battle graphics that were pretty much unchanged from the original.
Reason for Ranking:
The reason Wild Arms and Wild Arms 2 rank so high on the list is due to the fact the following games (four of which are on the PlayStation 2) are extreme disappointments. Wild Arms 3, 4 and 5 can’t even begin to match the games on the PS1 and the remake of the original adventure (Alter code:F) is one of the biggest video game busts I can recall considering how long to took for Agetech to localize it. With that laid bare perhaps the biggest failing of Wild Arms beyond it beginnings on the PS1 is the lack of memorable villains. Each subsequent game tired and failed to offer an antagonist as cool as the Metal Demons and Odessa. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) role-playing fans know how this story ended, the company’s flagship series coming to a quick and uncelebrated end on the PSP which a last-ditch change in genre. After a failed Wizard of Oz based role-playing game Media Vision would pretty much bow out of genre and concentrate on licensed IP games.
1. Syphon Filter
Defining Game(s): Syphon Filter (as its point of origin), Syphon Filter 3 (for it’s method of storytelling)
I’m sure there are those that are wondering “what the hell?” Why on earth why would I pick Syphon Filter out of all the games/series on the PS1? Well, it’s not very easy to explain, but I couldn’t even begin to imagine how this series would pull me in when I received the first game though a very haphazard trade with an old friend. Still, for better or worse, it happened and it’s usually the first thing I think of when it comes to the original PlayStation. Of course, the first thing that people are going to ask (or rather tout) in this situation is Metal Gear Solid’s “vast superiority.” I’d defuse that ticking time bomb (or rather ignite it) by saying that while Metal Gear Solid is a game that any PlayStation owner should own and play, can we be a bit more objective when it comes to that game? Despite it’s pedigree it hasn’t exactly aged as well as some people would have you believe. Okay, now that I’ve ticked off another group of people, I should probably get to why people should play the Syphon Filter trilogy. Well, prepare to be disappointed because I don’t really have a good argument! As weak-kneed that seems and unlike most of the other games on this list Syphon Filter is probably a case of “you had to be there.” Really, as bad as that sounds you just had to be there.
Reason for Ranking:
Syphon Filter gets top billing because more than any other series listed it literally screams PlayStation. The first trilogy was self contained on the PlayStation and appeared on no other console (excluding the more recent PSN releases) and represented all the advancements and limitations that come with the console and a franchise in one fell swoop. When it comes to strong and weak points, the series definitely started and ended on a better note than it continued with the overreaching and overeager efforts of Syphon Filter 2, but these faults were easily combed over by the time the third installment filled in some of the smaller plot holes with its fulfilling method of story telling. The last thing that makes Syphon Filter a true counterpart to the original PlayStation is the fact that it (much like Wild Arms) more-or-less “died” with the console (okay, that’s actually my opinion) despite the fact there would be enough demand for games to be made for the PS2 and PSP. I would try and follow Syphon Filter into the future but it just wasn’t meant to be…. it’s time was over and done but it has yet to be forgotten.
In the end most of the products on this list aren’t perfect, and in the case of SaGa Frontier far from it, but they were more than enough to define the PlayStation’s place at the top of the heap to this gamer. Still, as much as one can tout the success of Sony’s hardware, everyone knows a console is nothing without games, and when it comes to the PS1 this is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, this is especially true considering this list focused solely on franchises with multiple releases. Here’s a short list (and some notes) to combine with the above to get you started in case you missed any of them the first time out – know I did.
Brave Fencer Musashi - a solid action adventure that was never intended to be a quote unquote “Zelda Killer”
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - I doubt this needs any introduction
Chrono Cross – would be a top tier game if it wasn’t for it’s “story” and mass of pointless characters
Doom – easily the best 90’s port of the game available, PlayStation exclusive levels are excellent
Einhander – I missed this one the first time out; amazing but I’m simply terrible at it
Final Doom – stretches the PlayStation a little thin but has a few perks over the PC version of the Master Levels
Final Fantasy Origins – faithful (perhaps too faithful) enhanced ports that pretty much replace the originals
Final Fantasy Tactics – you have to give this a nod despite the amount of time it takes to complete
Final Fantasy VIII – would have been mentioned above if not for “Squall,” “Rinoa” and “love story”
Legend of Legaia – a must for RPG lovers despite all its flaws
Mega Man 8: Anniversary Collector’s Edition – how on EARTH did this outsell Mega Man X4?
Metal Gear Solid – there are few games that can match the cinematic quality of Metal Gear Solid; everything else?
Rival Schools – a solid fighter that heaps on the extras to an absurd level
Silent Hill – missed this one the first time out as well, the game can certainly set a mood
Soul Blade – perhaps the premiere weapons-based fighter on the PlayStation; Toshinden kryptonite
Star Gladiator – off-beat three-dimensional fighter that along with Soul Blade laid Toshinden to rest
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 – Tony finest gaming moment; manuals add an insane amount to gameplay
Xenogears – far from perfect; interesting and notable for what it tries to accomplish than what it does
For me, the playstation was my 'renaissance' of gaming. I chose Genesis right before SNES came out, so I sorta missed that boat a little (though i got an SNES later), but I got a playstation at the launch and I consider the playstation to be more or less equal to the SNES in terms of revolutionizing gaming. For me the canon is: Resident evil, tomb raider, ff7, metal gear solid, tekken 3, castlevania: sotn... can't think of anything else.
But there are boatloads of honorable mentions due to playstation's huge third party support. I loved all the offbeat titles: Parappa, Artdink titles like carnage heart and tail of the sun, ridge racer series, wipeout, poypoy, tenchu, time crisis, tobal, street fighter ex+alpha etc. etc.
One thing I wanted to mention along the lines of gaming reviews was Gamefan magazine- they had a big influence in my gaming purchases and got me hyped over things nobody else ever would. One of the main reasons was that they seemed really into what they were talking about. They would rant about how Japanese got better art on their game boxes (true) and better instruction manuals, things most people would disregard entirely, but they had a heartfelt approach to it. I ended up getting an import of Romancing Saga 3 which had glorious game box art and a fabulous instruction manual, only I couldn't play it because it was in Japanese! But they also emphasized lush 2d art along the lines of Secret of Mana, Castlevania: sotn and FF6(3), which admittedly is superficial, but they brought such passion for these things that they influenced my gaming experience in a big way. Because of gamefan I checked out such esoteric titles as Star Gladiator which you already mentioned, but also Tail of the Sun. I just bring this up because you are doing gaming reviews and I wondered if maybe you had a similar experience, or maybe some other publication or writing influenced you.
Because of gamefan I checked out such esoteric titles as Star Gladiator which you already mentioned, but also Tail of the Sun. I just bring this up because you are doing gaming reviews and I wondered if maybe you had a similar experience, or maybe some other publication or writing influenced you.
Growing up I believe I only ever read one issue of Gamefan. I it covered a few games I eventually got (like the lackluster Toshinden 3) and other ones that didn't even come out in the US (the 32-bit versions of Mega Man X3, some of which [3DO!] didn't even some out).
Still, I did have a subscription to GamePro for two or three years when the PlayStation and games like FFVII and Symphony of the Night where coming out. To say that those magazines and reviews didn't influence my purchases would be quite the lie. Really, what magazine didn't make Symphony of the Night look cool? That said, I did end up getting a lot of the PSX titles (especially the ones in the "Fighters Edge" section as I was into fighters) they did features on at one point or another. Still, I think the lower price point on PSX games ($40, $20 for a GH) was a real factor in how many games I got for the system.
I don't know why I quit getting GamePro but the issues are so small today comapred to how large some of them were in late 90's. I'm sure it's completely different now than it was back then.