Sometimes a “one-off” is the only way to get something off your chest and on to the internet. What follows is a list of articles that just don’t fit in any one particular place but deserve their right to be read.
In case you haven’t heard by now, the rumor mill is going a little crazy after Eurogamer announced Nintendo might be in the works of releasing a SNES Mini Classic much like they did with their original entertainment system this past winter.
With such rumors run the media outlets to speculation of what the game line up would be and this gamer as well. But this time, rather than just throwing a list of games together and moving on, there shall be a fire fight! A small competition with fellow blogger, podcaster, and video game enthusiast Jared Waldo. Each of us would slap together a list of 30 possible titles that may or may not appear on the rumored SNES Mini and the person with the most correct answers wins. What do they win? We haven’t decided yet. On with the list! Continue reading My List for the 30 SNES Mini titles + a Wager→
From the start, Rock ‘n Roll Racing fades from black with the blaring 16-bit tune of George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”. As a child growing up in the late 80s, my Dad was a huge metal head with everything ranging from Black Sabbath to Megadeth. This initial track of the opening sequence caught my attention of hearing it before while in my Dad’s truck on the way to school. The characters Grinder X19, Roadkill Kelly, and Ragewortt cover the main screen with destruction behind them as two cars go head to head. Then nothing. The game pauses at this scene, with the track bouncing in the background before any title or menu options. You are just in the moment. For a first timer, this was an impressive scene. It felt mature (something at the time I wasn’t), it was edgy, it was raw. It was Rock ‘n Roll Racing and it would soon become one of my favorite games.
Rock ‘n Roll Racing (RRR) takes place in a distant future complete with strange alien worlds to explore, race on, and ultimately kill the owners of their respective tracks in competitive street racing. With this type of space travel it would only make sense to have odd characters to choose as your main driver. These range from Snake Sanders from Terra, Jake Badlands from Xeno Prime, even Olaf fairing from Valhalla (which is a secret character formerly of the video game the Lost Vikings which is also a great game if you haven’t played it.) Each of these characters has certain pluses. Now these pluses will vary from character to character. It’s not like in a typical RPG where one character has a +2 in strength when another has a +3 in strength. No, these abilities tie into how you will race as a driver and which vehicle you’ll choose (more on that later). These characters seem to have a deep history. Not one of them is fresh or pristine. They’re rugged, hard pressed, have seen some shit. This is not their first time through the gauntlet of RRR and they know what to expect. But do you? Oh, you will. You will.
Much like many of the racing games at the time, it’s all about upgrading your car to be the biggest, baddest, four wheels and engine on the track. RRR takes it just a step further and separates the racers with different types of vehicles. Now not just ones that look different but are actually the same. No, these have different attributes, specials, and overall feel. There really isn’t one better than another (until you get farther in the game then there’s really an obvious winner), so you have to choose what’s right for you. For instance, you’ll be dealing with some environmental hazards such as oil slicks and ice patches (yes, typically racing stuff ha ha). Selecting the Dirt Devil (yes, I know) has the upgrade of the Locust Jump Jets that give you the ability to actually jump over things on the track. Sounds great right? Unless you miss judge the jump and fly off the side of the road to your death.
Then there’s the Air Blade (I know, I know they don’t get much better in naming things) which, doesn’t have any Jumping Jets, has some Lighting Nitros giving you a boost. If your thought process is if you spin out on a spot, having that boost could put you back in the position you had lost, then you’d be right. You lose the chance to save your skin with a skilled jump but make up for it with a killer boost and a sweet rocket shot. Don’t forget about the awesome paint jobs too. All free. No need to collect on a killer yellow Marauder racing down the track.
Racing will take the course on six different planets each having their own track designs and requirements. You and three other racers will complete four laps each with their own winnings depending on how you place. Including the world’s main racer who always drives a purple clad car, you’ll face off against Rip and Slash every race. As the game progresses, your opponents become better and better both with their driving styles and the upgrades they have. Moving through the worlds, you’ll unlock other vehicles that can be purchased at a premium such as the Battle Trak (my personal favorite) and the Havac (which is basically an ass kicking hovercraft). All of this, the car, your racer, the upgrades, will adjust and manipulate how you drive on screen.
What would football be without Madden? What would wrestling be without the charming voices of Jerry “the King” Lawler and Jim “JR” Ross? In that same spotlight, what would RRR be without Larry “SuperMouth” Huffman?
A legend in his own right amongst popular television stations such as ABC, NBC, FOX, TNN, ESPN, and Speedvision, Huffman was the lead announcer for much of motor sports. His unique voice coupled with the ability to speak 300 words a minute, landed him national fame in TV and radio announcing. Who else would be a perfect announcer for the blood bath, space racer than SuperMouth? Although his lines are short and few, Huffman takes the lead role in keeping you informed about the on goings of the race. He jokes when you come in last, he applaudes killing your foes, and announces the racers that take the first spot. He even gives some helpful advice as to avoiding mines on the track is typically a good idea. Along with the rocking tunes, Huffman’s voice has a way to stick in your brain even months after playing the game. There’s times in my day still that the only realistic response is a quote from SuperMouth. I mean, who doesn’t like scoring a first place knockout? (Protip: Larry’s complete workout is in the sound test options menu so you can hear everything he says in the game. It’s glorious.)
Like most games of the era that stretch longer than a typically one time play through, RRR has a password system. And I know what you’re thinking: password systems are the worst. Unless it’s Rock ‘n Roll Racing’s password system. The one key feature that RRR has over many games is that the passwords are hackable. That’s right. The entire system can be designed and deconstructed to give you wonders beyond your imagination than ever before. It’s not your simple “put this password in to push you back to the world you were in” because those passwords typically don’t remember common gameplay elements such as number of lives, current leveling progress, or similar small details. So robust, in fact, that there is a password generator you can download for free to make whatever game you prefer.
By hacking this system, you can do things in the game that were never intended by the development team (or were they?). Things like custom paint jobs of multiple colors rather than the simple shades currently present. Or, perhaps, you think Olaf who is the best racer in the game, just isn’t good enough and you’d like to race as the Shadow. A character that appears to have been released yet never finished is playable through this hacking. Want a Havac that has the Locust Jump Jets? Got it. It’s amazing that something so small in a typical video game that traditionally causes headaches can unlock wonderful and strange elements in the game. Not the pre-programmed narcissism you get from games like Golden Sun or those that have no hope in helping like Boogerman other than to get you back to the level you were on. RRR, either by mistake or carefully planned programming, gives you a chance to create a game by your own rules.
Rock ‘n Roll Racing has fallen out of the mainstream eye. At worst, the game received many positive reviews from fellow gaming mags and continues to rank high amongst newcomers. Interplay even tried recreating the joy of RRR by releasing a sequel on the Playstation console known as “Rock & Roll Racing 2: Red Asphalt” simply known as “Red Asphalt” here in the States. A 3D, from behind racer with similar concepts and character designs as its predecessor. Let’s just say that the next gen didn’t fair well for our beloved racing title.
It even called attention in the indie gaming community. Developer Yard Team released “Motor Rock” on Steam drawing huge inspiration from the SNES title. Even so to include in an interview that they were are unable to reach an agreement with Blizzard and would not be returning to Steam. Also claiming that Steam was withholding $60,000 in revenue for player purchases. I don’t know about you, but they should have seen that coming. They in turn released the game as a free download on their site, but the link is no longer available.
Rock ‘n Roll Racing is a game of simple pleasures. Before the killing and destruction of Twisted Metal or the Need for Speed franchise, RRR took a common game genre, blended it with heavy metal music, and weird aliens to create something that was just a leg up from the others. At the time it seemed revolutionary. Today, it would probably come off as a boring racer with little to no substance and replay value. To me, it was the perfect time in my life to get lost in unknown worlds, maxing out stats, and heavy pounding guitar riffs. This is truly a title that will always stand true in my nostalgic heart as a triumph in video games that will stand the test of time.
There’s something magical that happens at the end of a console’s life cycle. Developers take years to produce a title and sometimes those games that people have poured their hearts, souls and tears into go unnoticed due to brand new hardware announcements and promises of a new way to play. Every console goes through this and the games that fall into the final releases can produce a mix bag of emotions both for the creators and the people who play them.
For the NES, Wario Woods pushed the very limits of its hardware to produce a beautiful landscape and a fun experience. The Sega Genesis, sports games reigned supreme with releases such as NHL 98, NBA Live 98 and FIFA 98: Road to World Cup to satisfy any sports nut. The Nintendo 64, on the other hand, Nintendo decided to throw caution to the wind and allow any developer to release their titles to give a final ending to the console’s life. Most of these titles included boring sequels, remakes of remakes and a bad mouthed squirrel that would seem “too mature” to be released on a Nintendo system was, in fact, released. That terrible game was Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
Developed and published by Rare, Conker is considered by many to the last “real game” Rare ever released. If you go back through their line up of the sixth generation and up, you’d probably agree. But Conker will lead you to believe that it’s edgy, bold and a new look for a Rare game. But underneath the surface, it’s a simple collectathon of maximum portions that vomits level design and gameplay mechanics from previous Rare titles including Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64.
The game opens up with our “hero”, Conker, calling his girlfriend from a bar while completely intoxicated to inform her that he will be late getting home. His girlfriend, Berri, is shown doing aerobics starting with a very close up shot of her ass to a slow zoom out to an answer machine as Conker lies about his reasons of being late. From here, Conker stumbles out of the bar and tries to make his way home. Thankfully he doesn’t try to drive because binge drinking and viewing women as sex objects within the first fifteen seconds of the game is more than enough. Don’t think I could have taken a dead squirrel in a ditch as the car horn honks from his head lying against it until the police arrive to find him gone on top everything else. Thanks for thinking Rare. Drunk driving is bad.
Conker stumbles into a field and is greeted by a talking scarecrow who tells Conker that he will help him get home by traversing the land. This is the point where we finally get to play the game through a simple tutorial presented from our scarecrow friend. But not before we get him a few somethings to drink.
Scattered throughout the overworld are pads on the ground with the letter B on them. Look familiar? They should if you’ve played Banjo-Kazooie or Donkey Kong 64. The scarecrow informs Conker that if he (i.e. You) press B while standing on these pads, you’ll get exactly what you need. They are referred to as “context sensitive” pads that will grant Conker a temporary ability to help him overcome whatever objective he’s facing. Not a new idea, could be interesting, but already I’m losing hope.
There’s two problems here. One: and maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine, but I just can’t stand when a game uses metagaming to teach me how to play. An NPC claiming to the protagonist that if I press “the start button” a menu will appear. How does the NPC know about what’s going on beyond the screen? The surroundings of the world around him has taught him and drives information through the characters to communicate to the player. And, with all games with this kind of tutorial nonsense, the main character has no reaction to this kind of double speak and we, as the player, are lead to believe that this is OK for storytelling. Unbelievable.
Secondly, the amount of temporary weapons that can be used in this type of game mechanic is lazy level design. As a hero, you are giving certain special abilities as the game progresses to keep the player intrigued enough to finish to the end. You do this by creating fun and interesting ways to use the, sometimes, tired special moves in new and creative ways. That’s good game design. You make the player think differently about how to complete a puzzle using the tools and tricks they’ve learned throughout the game.
A bad way of doing it is to just give the player a new ability to conquer whatever comes their way. No, don’t think outside the box and use a move that you’ve learned so long ago in a new and fun way that makes you feel accomplished, no, we are just going to give you exactly what you need at the very moment you need it. No more “oh, geez, what the hell do I do” kind of thinking. Just hit that B button and let the game do the rest. What a waste.
Being a fan of voice acting and the art in general, I always take a closer look, or ear in this case, to how characters are presented by the people who voice them. With the exception of Conker himself, every character seems to be on helium or sulfur hexafluoride (the opposite of helium). Smaller characters always have a high pitched voice where larger characters have lower voices. But it’s not as simple as that. The pitch of these characters is so off that any gamer would be torn from the story to question the purpose. It feels like everyone is so digitize from their original takes that it comes off as completely ridiculous. So much to the point that you are no longer listening to what they are saying but to how they are saying it. Rare seems to have gone an extra mile to make things seem just a little bit more weird than normally. It makes me wonder what would happen if their classic platform titles used voice actors instead of the grunts and groans we know today?
And it’s always a strange thing to hear an animal talking. It would be different if it were voiceovers like in the movie Milo and Otis. That would allow the developers to use facial expressions to really show emotion as the talking is done more off screen than from the lips of their characters. Just give me text to read. I can’t believe I said that, but I want to read in my video games. Keep the voice acting to the professionals.
Conker is slow to move and attack. His main weapon, a frying pan, comes out from under his coat like Christmas for a five-year-old. The enemies are so much faster than you are, you’ll be running around trying to collect candy bar pieces (your health meter) before death finds you. And yes, death is really a thing that you encounter if you lose all of your health bar. He hates his job (I mean, why wouldn’t he) and gives you tips on extending your lifespan on the surface. Death helping you stay alive, I thought we were going for realism here, Rare? I thought we were going for realism?
A popular troupe with mascots with attitude is their interesting idle animations. If you are not sure what I mean, the next time you play a game, let them sit for a while without touching the controls to see if they do anything different other than just standing there. If it’s a game from the 1990s, more than likely there will be a funny animation that you wouldn’t have seen without sitting idle will start. Conker is no different, pulling out a Nintendo Gameboy and playing a game while he waits for you to make your next move. Yes, a game within a game. It’s almost Shakespearian if you think about it.
Listening to the sounds coming from the Gameboy, it got me thinking “What game could Conker be playing?” Off to Wikipedia I go! What follows is a list of games that Rare has developed for the Nintendo Gameboy prior to Conker’s release:
Wizards & Warriors X: The Fortress of Fear
The Amazing Spider-Man
Super R.C. Pro-Am
Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World
Battletoads / Double Dragon
Donkey Kong Land
Donkey Kong Land 2
Donkey Kong Land III
I have painstakingly watched video after video of these titles looking for any of these that may fit the sounds produced from Conker’s Gameboy. None of them do. None. If you are going to Michael Bay your video game, at least make it coincide with content that you actually created. We all see the Banjo head mounted on the wall in the game save selection screen. We see Kazooie turned into an umbrella in the closet. We get it. You love your games. And, hell, some of us even love them too. But you have to go full force with it. If you are going to half ass anything, don’t let it be the outpouring of respect you have for yourself. It’s just bad form.
I get that this game is for mature audiences. It’s rated M for mature/15+. I get it. But going above and beyond to make sure the player feels out of sorts doesn’t do anything for game. Using curse words, taking fun of alcoholism and suicide doesn’t make your game “cool”. It only appeals to children because as an adult, we see and deal with these things everyday and it’s no fun. I play games to escape from the reality I live everyday to do something different: explore a forbidden world, conversate with aliens, conquer an ancient demon that terrorizes a small town. Not drink at a bar, battle a poop monster or piss on anything that moves. That’s the life I live right now. And I don’t want to play a crappy game that tries to emulate my life. I am not Conker the Squirrel.
Licensed video games. Just think about that for a second. Licensed video games. For most of us, a cold chill from scenes of Beetlejuice, Back to the Future and Friday the 13th that haunted as children and for some, still today, creeps down our spines.
There are a few of those titles that still hold supreme though: Batman, Gremlins 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. Plus I’m happy to say that licensed games have really taken a big leap forward in terms of quality, gameplay and sadly, basic game mechanics. Something us retro gamers were not privy to that in the olden days.
These licensed games weren’t subjected just to movies and cartoons. In an era where anything was possible, we saw video games based on girl’s dolls, books and even toys. Tiny toys, especially tiny toys that could fit in your pocket. Toys of a haunting, evil nature that graced many silver screens in force of horror, terror and downright awesomeness. This is where our story begins.
Toys for kids during the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s were all about small moving parts. You’d be crazy to find such a toy now that was rated for kids 12 and up due to something they call a “choking hazard”. Back then, small was in. Hard, possibly metal, tiny toys were what you wanted. The smaller, the better they’d say. One particular franchise that saw that light started from two former executives from Mattel that created a line of miniatures based on monsters and legendary creatures from religion, mythology and popular science fiction. This is Monster in my Pocket.
Developed by Komani, Monster in my Pocket was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990. Basing its storyline primarily on the comic book series (I guess you can’t have much of a story with just toys), you are thrown into the world that is Monster in my Pocket. And it’s a world that you are familiar with. A world where your platforms and environments are your kitchen, your coffee table and your backyard. Places where these little guys had been in my house. Hoping from couch to couch. Attacking enemies from the stove to the countertops. I didn’t have much of an imagination growing up to create elaborate backdrops and scenery. Just a couple of books and a dream.
It’s a beat-em-up. Every one loves beat-em-ups. It’s not the best. You have two characters to pick from (provided you are playing a single player game): the vampire and the monster. Or basically Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster. See? They didn’t have much of an imagination either. Both characters play the same; no different movesets or characteristics. Most of the enemies repeat over and over again. There are some interesting stages like going down into the sewers or fighting a boss in the freezer. Good stuff there.
Here’s why Monster in my Pocket is a great game. It’s a childhood dream come to life. It doesn’t make itself out to be something it’s not. It’s not trying to be groundbreaking or have some crazy overarching story that only a psychologist would understand. You’re playing with your toys around the house. Just like you did when you were a kid. The graphics are fine. You can make out everything with a decent amount of detail. And you get to experience something that we all seem to miss out on as adults: playing with toys around the house.
Go ahead and try. No one is watching. I won’t say anything.
It’s late July 1992. I’m 7 years old. Born and raised in Northern Kentucky, we were blessed with many things. One of those things being the Tilt Arcade located in a mall in Florence, Kentucky.
It was summer break. I had been an avid gamer since the bright age of 4 and it was a mix bag when it came to favorites. Of course we had Mario, Contra and Double Dragon, but I was missing that competitive edge. Growing up with an older brother, we didn’t have a game that we both could play to find who was the best.
Every time we went to the arcade, my mother would give us a roll of quarters in the amount of 20 dollars. Luckily, this was before “tokens” became popular so there wasn’t any conversion needed before running through the arcades finding that one game you wanted to play.
My mother, not a gamer in any sense of the word, sat outside the doors, Danielle Steel book in hand to let my brother and me run rampant through the dark corners illumined only by the glow of CRT screens.
Out in front was a line of maybe ten people all crowded over the same machine. Two moved side to side in the same direction of their digital avatars while others were rooting for one player or another. Never have I seen a game at the arcade receive so much attention.
That game was Street Fighter II.
Street Fighter II? But I never played Street Fighter I! And I wouldn’t for many many years later. On my PC of all things but that is a different story.
I decided that this was the first game I was going to play for the day. I stood in line, surrounded by 20- and 30-somethings, and waited for my turn to play. After what felt like an eternity, I was finally up next to play. There was a man there, probably in his early 20s, who had not left his side of the controls for almost ten battles. He was on an incredible winning streak. Being the next one in line, he looks back at me, turns, then looks back at me again. He’s probably thinking “What the hell is this kid think he’s doing?” I wanted to play. That’s what I was doing. I placed my two quarters on the ledge below the screen and waited for my turn.
It didn’t take long for the man continued his winning streak and made short work of the one I was about to replace. I took my place up to the second player controller, slid my quarters in, and marveled at the huge character select screen.
My opponent quickly chose Guile and waited patiently as I strolled through the different characters looking at their profile picks and what part of the world they represented. Ultimately I decided on Ken, being the only one from the U.S.A. (well Guile is too, but you couldn’t pick the same character back in those days).
I’ll put it lightly. I got DESTORYED. I’m talking maybe one or two shots on him, but he just let loose. Not holding back from slamming a 7-year-old in an arcade. No mercy was had on the that day.
But something stirred in me. The projectiles his character shot from one side of the screen to the other was like magic. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. The backgrounds were super animated and I was just waiting for the blond from the U.S. airbase to come out and congratulate the winner on a job well done. Never happened, mind you, but I was a kid. After seeing Street Fighter II for the first time, I thought anything was possible.
Well that was it, I played through my 20 bucks in quarters, mostly on Street Fighter II, and ran out to my mom to let her know of the awesome game that I just played. She suggested that we go and see if it’s out on one of the many consoles we had at home.
Now to me, that was impossible. I just played it in the arcade, which to me meant, it just came out. It would take years to be released on a console if ever. Just a few shops down in that same mall was an EB Games (remember those?). Walking in, I was guided to the back of the store by images of familiar characters. There on the shelf were 30 different copies of Street Fighter II for the Super NES. I picked one up and almost threw it at my mother in my excitement. I said over and over again, “This is it! This is it!” She took it from my hand, looked at the price, shrugged and said “Well if your father asks this is your birthday present.”
I didn’t even think about the repercussions that would have on my birthday presents that year nor anything else. I was going to get the greatest game that had ever been released… ever! She bought the game and we headed for home.
In the car on the way back, I popped open box to read the instruction booklet. I read it from cover to cover until we finally parked in our drive way. I rushed from the car to the house, ran into “family game room” and slammed the cartridge into my SNES. I powered it up and started really playing the game for the first time. I spent the next eight hours playing Street Fighter II until my dad forced me to bed.
One of the things about great video games is they don’t have to have anything to do with plot development, or characters, or story or graphics to truly be great. It could be just a day in the arcade when something took your breathe away and when you realized that you were hooked. And I mean really hooked.
The Street Fighter II series (all of them) is still one of my top five favorite games ever. I could go on and on about creating combos or why Super Street Fighter II’s mechanics are terrible when it comes to the in-air hurricane kick. I don’t need to talk about any of that. I just need my 20 bucks in quarters and a guy nice enough to let a 7-year-old play.