Home > Chronological Challenge, Clearing The Backlog > Clearing The Backlog: Chronological Game Challenge Pt 6

Clearing The Backlog: Chronological Game Challenge Pt 6

And so we continue with our adventures in playing all the video games. For those who don’t know, I have been playing through every game I own in order of original release, from the bleeps and bloops of the NES to the HD sheen of the PS4. This time around, we cover most of 1993, which isn’t all Mega Drive Collection stuff this time, I promise. It’s just…mostly that…

Kirby’s Adventure

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: HAL Laboratory | Year: 1993
Original System: NES
Played on: Wii Virtual Console

Goal: Activate all the hidden switches then finish the game

Actual Outcome: Got all the hidden switches and beat up Nightmare

Opinion: 1992 was a frustrating year in many ways – trying to punch a guy with a jetpack, no way to properly train my squad in Shining Force, Tails running into bombs, Ecco The Dolphin as a whole – so it’s nice that to start 1993, first, you draw a circle…

Kirby’s Adventure is one of the cutest games in existence. You play a pink ball of joy who likes to hoover up enemies in his gaping maw, absorbing their life force as he consumes them all. This is one of few games in the series I’ve played, and from what I hear it’s one of the best. And I’m inclined to agree.

Kirby’s Adventure is very good at making simple, low-challenge gameplay fun and charming. In the wrong hands, this could easily have been a Kid Chameleon, but instead it’s a cutesy happy platformer that’s hard not to love. Kirby is an adorably charming little fella, and the powers he can absorb give the game some strategy and variety. The level design is simple, but the maze of doorways and hidden rooms that sneak in keep the experience fresh.

The major problem with Kirby’s Adventure, however, is that it feels weird to be going back to the NES after all this time. I’ve spent time with countless Mega Drive games at this point, so going back a generation seems strange now. What’s more, the ambitions of this game feel like they would have been better suited to the SNES, particularly as I encountered numerous areas dogged by slowdown if enough sprites appeared on screen. If the game struggles to run this much at times, wouldn’t it have been better to release it on already-established better hardware?

But minor technical issues aside, Kirby’s Adventure is a fun and chill game to sit back and enjoy when you don’t feel like playing anything particularly taxing.

RIP Satoru Iwata 😥

Golden Axe III

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sega | Year: 1993 (Japanese release)
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Defeat Damud Hellstrike

Actual Outcome: Died on Stage 4

Opinion: The previous Golden Axe games were fun, if limited, titles. Certainly not my favourites by a long shot, but decent enough. They managed to make their limited, repetitive gameplay not seem limited and repetitive.

Shame about Golden Axe 3 then. I’ve heard that this game was silently released in the US via the limited Sega Channel distribution service two years late because Sega were concerned a full release would ruin their reputation in the US. It’s pretty easy to see why that would be, because Golden Axe 3 is a bad video game.

First of all, it retains the same limited and repetitive gameplay mechanics as the first two titles, but it also removes the simplicity by adding in various context-sensitive moves that never properly get explained. There’s now a block move, for instance, but it’s so fiddly and seemingly random that it makes you wonder why they bothered. It also doesn’t help that getting hit while blocking knocks you back a little, making it entirely useless for anything strategic.

Not to mention enemy AI has been programmed in a way that’s frustratingly difficult to deal with. Enemy reactions seem timed perfectly with your button presses, as they would consistently jump over slide attacks, hit me as I was hitting them, or just be general dicks and jump constantly and poke me with a stick before I could do anything in reaction (and jumping at them saw them doing the same but with the stick pointing UP this time).

And it wasn’t fun. Strategy didn’t seem like a thing this game wanted you to employ, and instead you suffer through and hope for the best. What went so wrong?

Oh, wait, I know what went wrong. Gillius Thunderhead wasn’t a playable character. What the hell’s that all about?!

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Megasoft | Year: 1993
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Defeat Neo Zeed

Actual Outcome: Outright gave up on stage 2 out of boredom

Opinion: You can tell this is the 90s because we have a game about ninjas.

So, Altered Beast was fine for its time. It’s very dated now, but taken as a relic of the late 80s, it’s easy to find some appreciation for it, particularly as that RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE line is very charming.

Now imagine Altered Beast with ninjas and you’ve imagined Shinobi. Problem is, in the years between Altered Beast and the third Shinobi game, video games improved and changed. When Streets of Rage 2 came out a year before, there’s no excuse for a flat, uninspired “beat ‘em up” like this. It uses the same 2D left-to-right structure of Altered Beast, although the fact you basically just chuck throwing knives at every enemy you see as soon as they pop up on screen kills a little bit of the challenge.

And truthfully, I was bored. This game makes ninjas boring. I don’t want to be a ninja who walks from one side of a corridor to another. I want to be a ninja that does crazy acrobatics and performs crazy stealth kills. This is not what being a fictional ninja is all about. This is Altered Beast with a projectile and no one saying RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE. Or indeed “this isn’t my SWOOOOORD” or something equally cheesy.

You made ninjas boring, Sega, and that is why you don’t make hardware anymore. Probably.

Sonic CD

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sonic Team | Year: 1993
Original System: Mega-CD
Played on: PS3 (PSN re-release)

Goal: Collect all the Time Stones and ensure a Good Future in all zones

Actual Outcome: Ensured Good Futures in every zone, but failed to get all Time Stones

Opinion: Some might say that Sonic CD is called that because it was released for Sega’s ill-fated CD-ROM add-on for the Mega Drive, and the CD stands for Compact Disc as a result. This is incorrect. It stands for Sonic Chilli Dog, after Sonic’s favourite food, and I refuse to accept anything else.

When you boot up the first level of Sonic CD with the Japanese/European soundtrack (the correct choice), a gaggle of schoolkids all shout “YAAAAAAAY”. This is an appropriate reaction to Sonic CD because this game is fantastic.

It’s exactly what you’d expect from an old-school Sonic game, but this has the added element of time travel. You see, Dr Robotnik’s tethered a world with the powers of time travel, and he’s using this to send robot teleporters to the past, which is creating Bad Futures. Sonic, through the course of the game, is also able to travel through time by employing the Back to the Future strategy, and part of the game’s objectives involve you going back to the Past, finding Robotnik’s teleporters and destroying them.

When I first played Sonic CD (via the 2011 remaster on PSN), I wasn’t sure what to think. It felt too limited for my liking. Then on this playthrough I realised what I was doing wrong. Speeding through the levels and taking down Robotnik isn’t the objective here; the time travelling and machine-destroying is. And when you recognise that, you realise that Sonic CD has some of the best level design in classic Sonic, and also the most rewarding for repeat plays, as you’re constantly on the lookout for time travel posts and machines in the past.

And Sega made good use of the CD-ROM technology of the time. While gameplay is largely the same as the Mega Drive games, there are lots of little effects here and there that make it stand out a little more, and the soundtrack is amazing, and possibly the best of early 90s Sonic. And that’s saying something.

It’s hard to fault Sonic CD, and is probably one of the better 2D offerings in the series. Gameplay is smooth, fun and inventive, and graphically it holds up (admittedly, playing a remaster probably helped on that front).

That said, while I loved Sonic CD overall, Wacky Workbench can get stuffed. That zone is horrible.

Sonic Spinball

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sega Technical Institute | Year: 1993
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Defeat Dr Robotnik

Actual Outcome: Defeated Dr Robotnik

Opinion: 1993 was apparently the year of Sonic The Hedgehog, as Sonic CD, this game, and the next game all belong to that series, although admittedly only Chilli Dog was a real Sonic game. The other two are spin-offs in completely different genres.

In this one, Sonic is a pinball. Literally. He spends basically the whole game in his ball form and you toss him around gigantic pinball tables. Apparently Robotnik built a colossal pinball fortress to seal away the Chaos Emeralds. Look, just go with it, okay?

Sonic Spinball is pinball. If you like pinball, you might like this. If you don’t like pinball, you’d probably hate this. I’m pretty cool with pinball, although it’s not something I’d be too willing to play regularly as genres go. But where Sonic Spinball differs is that there is an actual objective here, and that’s a blessing and a curse.

So, you want to battle your way through the four (yes, four) tables and defeat Dr Robotnik. This gives you a focus, as you complete various objectives to gain the 16 Chaos Emeralds (?), but also it’s maddening because pinball is a game where basic physics are generally not your friend. Unless you’re the protagonist of a song by The Who.

I enjoyed Sonic Spinball a lot, but I also hated it because of how tricky it was to achieve anything. One wrong flip sent you careening off into an abyss, and while there were plenty of lives, all your progress would be erased upon death. So you died on the boss? Tough! Do the whole level again. And when the game has some incredibly wonky physics on top of that, meaning you never really know which way Sonic’s going to go, you have the recipe for a frustrating game. You do have some minimal control over Sonic, but it’s honestly not much. You’re still largely at the mercy of the physics engine.

So, basically, it’s pinball with a twist. If you like pinball and Sonic The Hedgehog, you may like this, but if you don’t like one or both of those things, you’d probably hate this.

Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Compile | Year: 1993 (US release)
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: Beat all 13 stages in Scenario Mode

Actual Outcome: Got to stage 12 and struggled to get any further

Opinion: And here’s the other Sonic spinoff. However, Sonic himself doesn’t turn up here. Instead, you battle against 12 of Robotnik’s minions from the Saturday morning cartoon (the silly one, not the one with Princess Sally), then beat Robotnik himself. And how do you do that? By matching beans.

Yes. Puyo Puyo was a Japanese puzzle game where you had to match coloured beans together as they fell onto the screen. Match four or more of the same colour, they disappear. Create combos and you generate waste blocks so your opponent has a harder time matching their beans. But for whatever reason, Sega of America felt that the West wouldn’t be interested in the game unless they slapped the Sonic name on it somehow. And so, they switched out characters for Saturday morning cartoon characters and named it after Sonic’s nemesis, and the result was Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine.

DRMBM is a horribly addictive little puzzle game that’s also incredibly hard to actually progress through. The game’s Scenario Mode asks you to defeat 13 opponents (12 minions and then the Eggman himself), and to do this you really need to get good at creating waste blocks to dump on your opponents. The problem is, the beans that drop are pretty random, it seems, and as the game progresses, the speed of the game becomes so fast that it’s almost impossible to develop some kind of strategy.

But you want to beat it. Even if you’re tearing your hair out with frustration, the game makes you determined to come back for more. This, like other puzzle games, is crack in video game form. So, while I initially was happy to stop after numerous failures on stage 8, I kept coming back and eventually reached stage 12. I couldn’t stop. Help me.

Phantasy Star IV: End of The Millennium

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sega | Year: 1993 (Japanese release)
Original System: Sega Mega Drive
Played on: PS3 (part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection)

Goal: End the rising biomonster threat

Actual Outcome: CAN’T BE BOTHERED

Opinion: Phantasy Star IV is a Phantasy Star game. Therefore all my previous opinions of Phantasy Star still apply. The game is still ugly as hell. The battle system is still confusing and laden with terms that make no goddamn sense and require the Enigma machine to figure out. The story is slightly better-explained, but I also didn’t care. And the world map was far too open and gave little indication on where you needed to go.

This is not my idea of a phantasy. Sorry.

  1. JTinRealLife
    July 14, 2015 at 6:01 am

    There is no known cure for a Puyo Puyo addiction I’m afraid, so I can’t help. The only option is to get really really good and watch strategy videos and nonsense untill the game offers no challenge to you and you want to play at tournaments,but then realize none of them happen in your continent… Good times!

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