Insert Coin Reviews: Bucky O'Hare (NES)
Posted on: March 8, 2012 by joelcouture.
Bucky O'Hare is another incredibly solid Konami game, to the point where I really don't know how it doesn't make it into more people's top ten NES game lists. It's faithful to its franchise, has great music, intricate level design, multiple characters, and all kinds of varied powers. Add on a Contra-like difficulty in later stages, where a single misstep will almost always result in death, and you've got a fantastic and challenging game that you need to play if you like the NES at all.
If you don't remember or never heard of Bucky O'Hare, I don't think too many people are going to be upset with you. As a bit of an obscure comic book and cartoon, you might find yourself hard-pressed to name any of the characters from it. Just the same, this game is packed full of them, especially in your roster. There were five members of Bucky's crew, and the game starts you off with a rescue mission to get back all of them from different planets. This isn't just some useless busywork, either, since each person you rescue is a playable character you can switch to at will. They don't all have their own individual power bars like in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they all serve their own purpose.
Each rescued character has a power that can be put to varying degrees of use. Bucky has a super jump, which you'll use every once in a while to get to hard-to-reach places. Once you get Blinky, you'll have access to a gun that can break down certain walls as well as a jet pack. The other characters offer you a super laser, a controllable energy ball, and the ability to climb walls for a short time. Other than Jenny's energy ball being kind of useless since you're stuck standing still while using it, all of the others become handy staples for many of the later stages of the game.
They can be put to excellent use at the beginning of the game too, since you have your choice of levels at the start. It seems like a bit of a strange choice to me, given that your powers don't matter a whole lot at the beginning, but I guess it gives people the feeling of having options while getting used to the gameplay. Even so, doing anything other than getting Blinky from the Green Planet first is going to be an exercise in frustration, since his jet pack is really helpful in every single area. After that, if you want to really tear through the bosses in this game, you'd better head to the Yellow Planet after that to get Willy and his chargeable Blaster. The Red and Blue Planets are kind of interchangeable after that, but since the Red Planet has a Quickman-styled area where you have to avoid instant-death lava flows, I tend to do it last. It's kind of nice to have a choice of how to tackle the start of the game, but it still seems kind of pointless to me.
Don't get too excited about whoever you rescue last, either, since your whole crew, except for Bucky and Blinky, gets instantly re-captured and placed into the Toad Mothership. Once there, the level choice disappears as you crawl your way through the devious maze that makes up the next three stages. Before this point, you might have been inclined to think that the game wasn't all that hard. With a full life meter, most areas could just be charged through with little thought to your health. Not much does a whole lot of damage, and since you're often given full-health tokens before a boss, you can usually just steamroll your way through the levels. Beyond the occasional instant-death trap, things were pretty simple.
You may not be able to tell until you hear the death jingle playing, but many simple things in this game will kill you in one hit. The first surprise will come in the form of the Green Planet's boss. He throws huge boulders at you, ones you might not work all that hard to avoid until you touch an intact one and are killed. For most people, this is the first boss, and already you're dying from a single touch. This is just the first of many other things, too, since this game loves to just kill you outright in the Toad Mothership. I'll tell you right now that if something looks like you shouldn't make contact with it, it'll probably kill you. Only contact with small enemies and their shots in this game do damage, with everything else being lethal. Tread extremely carefully.
This might seem like something that doesn't need to be said, but I found that it was very easy to make contact with something that would kill you outright. Mega Man used spikes in this regard as well, but you could get extremely close to them without being killed, whereas Bucky O'Hare seems to kill you from a little bit farther away. The distance is minuscule and difficult to explain, but after you've tried to maneuver around the Magma Core's spiked hallways a few times, you'll probably see what I mean.
Despite my gripe about spike proximity, the game controls just as tight as a Mega Man game. You can move and weave however you want while on foot, and you move around pretty quickly. You can easily position yourself in tight spaces with a couple of taps of the direction pad. Shooting is fast and responsive too, with an ability to aim in several directions, at least with Bucky. With the speed and fluidity of the character's movement and attacks, it allowed for a game that is fast paced whenever there is any action going on.
Combat requires good reaction time, as all of the enemies can attack at a speed that's appropriate for a hero who can stop and start on a dime. It's fast-paced, and it keeps the excitement high all the time. It's helped by a short invincibility window for the enemies and the hero, which means that you can really do a lot of damage to bosses by shooting as fast as your fingers can handle. You can be punished just as quickly if you do something stupid and don't get out of the way, though, as damage piles on quickly if you're being careless. You can build up a pretty long life bar to counteract it, but some of the end game bosses take so much damage to put down that you'll need every sliver of life you can hoard.
The soundtrack will definitely help keep you moving, as it's upbeat and extremely good. Many of the level songs seem to play a little faster than your average NES game theme, helping get you ready for the pace of the game while also keeping you excited. They slow down a bit once you reach the industrial levels of the Toad Mothership, conveying a bit more menace to go along with your dangerous position, but all of them go a long way toward setting up an individual personality for each area in the game. Above all, though, there are some amazing boss themes in the game. Each of them has this undeniable sense of telling you that you're in trouble the moment the boss shows up. There's just a sense of creeping dread, and the music does an amazing job of making these creatures seem tougher than they are. The second boss theme makes the first one seem happy, making certain that you know that you're facing a real threat now. Add on the pulse-pounding tune that plays during the escape from the ship during the last level, and you've got a soundtrack that you'll definitely be humming on your own later.
That music complements the excellent visuals as well. Each character looks widely different with many little touches being crammed into their sprite. Features on Bucky's uniform and headgear are put in with a surprising amount of detail, and each planet is rich with small touches that make it come alive. No one level stays the same for its entirety, either, as you'll move through widely different parts of each stage before reaching the boss. On the Blue Planet alone, you'll travel across giant robots over a frozen sea, scramble through caves that need to be broken with enemy projectiles, ride a collapsing iceberg through a horde of jetpack troopers, and finally fight a boss in a room that is steadily raising toward the spiked roof. Each area has several different areas, all given a lavish attention to detail while providing varying challenges for you to bypass.
Make no mistake about this game, though. Near the end, it absolutely does not screw around. It is excellent in every regard while you're playing it, and you're just going to want to keep trying to beat it, but it isn't going to let you off easy. The last two bosses, fought one after another, are more difficult than most of what I fought on any of the NES Mega Man games. If you give this game a shot, though, you won't mind that one bit. There is so much quality work going on in this game that you'd really be losing out on one of the system's greatest games if you passed it up. Tough it out. You'll be glad you did.
Joel's Fast & Dirty Recommendations
Mega Man II (NES) – The definitive run and gun game, this one doesn't disappoint on any level. The music and level design in this game is the best this series will ever see, and the fun is through the roof. This game is what made the Mega Man franchise into a juggernaut, and you're a terrible human being if you haven't played this one.
Ninja Gaiden II (NES) – If Bucky O'Hare's high difficulty grabbed you, consider taking on the mantle of the bird-hating ninja, Ryu. This game was designed entirely to frustrate the casual player into quitting, demanding nothing short of perfection if you want to win. You're given infinite continues to learn each level with, so it's not being unfair, but you'd better be ready to replace a few controllers and consoles while you battle with the game's utterly heartless level design.
Insert Coin Reviews: The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim
Posted on: March 1, 2012 by joelcouture.
If there is one game that can make me break my rule about finishing a game before reviewing it, it's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I mean, when can you say that you've actually finished it? When the story mode is over? That barely even scratches the surface of the content in this game, not even putting you through a tenth of the dungeons and caverns. Do I say it's when I've finished every guild? Well, that still leaves literally hundreds of random missions given by townsfolk. It is a huge game, one that I'd be hard pressed to ever say I completed. Trying to do so, though, has been a blast.
As I said, Skyrim is a huge area. It might not look like much from maps you've seen, but I'll tell you that simply walking from one end to the other will take hours. Then again, it's hard to walk in a straight line when there are all sorts of temples, caves, mines, towns, shrines, bandit camps, broken fortresses, scuttled ships, and random encounters to come across every few feet. If you like exploration in any way, this game could keep you busy for days just walking around and trying to find everything. You can't take more than a few steps without getting a hint about some new structure just over the horizon. Once the first mission was over, I literally just explored new locations for days.
The drag is, an old nemesis was back: mountains. Skyrim is a mountainous area, and the developers have created some beautiful vistas using them. The thing that bothers me is when some place I'm looking for is on the other side of that mountain. Now, these mountains are huge, and if I've got a set location I'm working toward, I'll try my best to walk the straightest line I can to get to it. That usually means me trying to tromp my way over a spot I was never meant to cross, and having varying levels of success doing it. I will hop and press up against every inch of rock on a mountain for twice as long as it would take me to go around it, something that has been a problem for me in Fallout 3 and Mass Effect as well. I can't help but spend my time trying to do this, so it's not really a problem with the game itself. I know I'm not the only person out there who's tried to shimmy up the side of a mountain, though, so I imagine this aspect bothered other people as well.
But like I said, it's my own problem. I'd never ask them to take out the beautiful mountain ranges that make this game so visually striking. They may hinder my ability to walk where I want to, but they make up for it by looking incredible. These rocky places go a long way to making the game feel gigantic and desolate. Walking across the cliffs of a snow-covered mountain, fighting off trolls and wolves, gives you a sense of scale that I haven't seen in many other games before. Looking out from a high peak and seeing most of the world laid out before you while knowing that it took you an hour to get there just drives home how small you are in this giant, open world.
From that distance, everything looks incredible. The plains, forests, lakes, and ruins all look spectacular once you spy them in the distance. Up close, things still look pretty good, but they could use a bit more work. It looks like a game from a few years ago, with people looking doughy or a bit square in places. The hair in this game is one place it looks pretty noticeable, but to be honest, I haven't seen a game that did a convincing job of hair yet. The people and places aren't going to win any design awards when you get up close to them, but this game was never meant to be viewed through a magnifying glass. It was meant to be seen at a distance, looking in on the giant world available to you.
Rage took up three discs. Three. Now, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim somehow fits on one. I can't even comprehend how that works. While I'm sure some sacrifices were made for looking at things up close on the Xbox 360, but given just how many places were crammed onto one disc, I can forgive them. I can't make myself care about ugly hair when I have a few hundred dungeons available to explore, some of them almost the size of the map itself. I know I keep repeating this, but for the sixty dollars you spend on this game, you are getting so much play time that it's ridiculous.
You can take the game in any direction you want, too. Maybe you don't feel like playing the main quest, deciding to become a professional assassin instead. That's available to you, through in-game missions or just by the fact that you can kill whoever you feel, short of important story characters. Maybe you want to rob houses. You can do that as well, breaking into whatever building falls across your path. You can fight whoever you want, take whatever you want, and go wherever you want. The game never tells you that what you're doing isn't all right or that it makes you evil in some way. You're given one of gaming's finest toy boxes and told to do what you like, and it is great.
Games like Grand Theft Auto invented the open world concept, but they were just shells. Sure, you could hop into any car on the street and kill pedestrians, but these people had no meaning. Each random person was just a fluke spawn, something the game created just to fill up the space. In Skyrim, the people have set paths. They all have names and varying levels of importance. If you were to go on a killing spree, you'd find that your pool of available missions and things to do would go down in a hurry. Also, the buildings aren't just huge cubes meant to take up space. Every building in Skyrim is open for you to explore, or only just locked away behind a simple mechanism. The world is actually open to you in a meaningful way, and while you decisions aren't affecting some morality meter, they will have real consequences for you. It gives the game a real sense of being open and free, rather than allowing you to make hundreds of unimportant decisions instead.
On top of all this, the combat and gameplay are great. First-person medieval combat makes me wonder why I've played turn-based RPGs all this time. I still love me some old RPGs, but there's not much quite like slamming a huge hammer into an orc's head from up close, or picking off a distant enemy with a well-aimed arrow. Sneaking through dungeons, creeping every step of the way until you bury a knife into an unsuspecting enemy's back never seems to get old. The adventure feels up-close and immersive when you're looking out over a giant's camp through your own eyes, and it's something that needs to be played to be understood.
Maybe some of that stuff might get boring, though. Even so, you can still change your play style on the fly with the game's intricate leveling system. As you level up, you can pick from health, stamina, and magicka, but you also get to add a point into perks that will make you better at certain tasks. These reward people for playing in a certain way for a long time, allowing you to make some powerful improvements to your character. If you're partial to the bow, you can take perks that will slow time, let you draw an arrow faster, or deal more damage. If you change your mind on your play style, there's nothing stopping you from switching over to magic and putting points into that from here on out. It's up to you.
On top of that, you can level up each individual skill just by using it. Changing what weapon you use is as simple as using the thing for a few hours. If you stop using one-handed weapons and switch to two-handed ones, you'll gain experience just from burying that weapon into enemy heads. Even some of your passive skills, like sneaking or what armor you wear, all get affected by what you're doing. There is never any point where you'll feel that your time is being wasted, as every move you make goes into making your character better in the way that you would want it to.
With its colossal world to roam around in, and its gameplay style that will suit whatever way you want to play the game, you're left with an incredible package that is a testament to what a single player game can do. Without a hint of multiplayer, this game offers a variety of tasks and quests that could easily keep you busy for hundreds of hours, if you're willing to let it. This game is literally as long and engrossing as you want it to be. If you can only buy one game for a very, very long time, I'd highly recommend it. When you start it up, though, make sure you don't have to work the next day. You'll quickly find out why.
Joel's Fast & Dirty Recommendations
Fallout 3 (360/PS3/PC) – The last game that had me looking at the clock in shock, realizing that it was six-thirty in the morning. With a huge world filled with dungeons and locales, it'll grab you and keep you for hours. The only drag is that I find the guns don't really change much, leaving you with very little reason to look for new ones. The loot system is kind of boring, but otherwise the game is good fun. Plus, how else are you going to see a city get nuked by your own hand?
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (360/PS3/PC) – The Dark Brotherhood quests alone are worth the price of admission for this game. While it has a really weird leveling system that can completely screw you over (Don't sleep. Ever. Trust me, not sleeping will save your life.), there's still an amazing, but dated, game underneath. It doesn't look that great any more, but you can't deny the fun you'll have with it, especially for the few bucks it'll cost you now.
Insert Coin Reviews: Power Blade (NES)
Posted on: February 23, 2012 by joelcouture.
You know what would make a sweet game? Boomerangs.
You'd think that particular set of words have never been uttered, but you'd be wrong, as it is the entire premise of Power Blade, a lost gem from the NES. Falling into the same camp as Journey to Silius, this is a fun action game that you really need to play.
The key is the boomerang. At some point in your life, the idea of throwing something and having it return to you sounded pretty cool. It probably sounds cool right now. Well, Power Blade turns that into something amazing in video game terms. How does a weapon that can hit an enemy twice on one swing sound? Every toss of the boomerang launches your weapon out for one hit, but can easily score a second on the way back. Against large enemies this is almost guaranteed, since your weapon will often still be inside their hit box after their short moment of invincibility has ended.
That short invulnerability seemed to be a conscious effort on the developer's part, since it allows you to try for some dangerous stunts that you might not otherwise go for. A huge mech might be on the platform in front of you, and while you could try to attack it from afar and dodge its shots, you could also charge toward it and try to choke it with thrown boomerangs, killing it before it has much of a chance to fight back. It encourages the player to be brave, and that also goes for the bosses. Many of them can deal a lot of damage to you, but you can also run up to them and just chew through their health as well.
That boss isn't going to be able to get away from you, either, since the boomerangs fly in the same way the Metal Blade does in Mega Man 2. You've got eight directions to throw your boomerangs, letting you attack things from wherever they might be coming from. Stupid aerial missile launchers giving you guff? Knock them down. Something launching enemies at you from under a platform? Drown it in boomerangs until it explodes. At full power, there isn't any place where an enemy will be out of reach for your weapon, something that is utterly satisfying for a NES game.
You might not do much damage with that piddling first boomerang, though. It barely has any distance, and you can only throw one. Lame. Well, only until you start powering it up. You can upgrade your boomerang's distance and how many you throw with items dropped from defeated enemies. At full power, you can hurl three boomerangs the length of the screen, literally ripping enemies to shreds. It's counteracted a bit by the fact that you have a distance meter, and that every throw gets weaker and weaker until you let it charge, but you're still throwing three highly damaging boomerangs at the same time.
If you're somehow still having trouble after all that, there are a few more pickups left to get. The game has health tanks you can store for later use (Think Mega Man 2's E-Tanks), something that is handy against some of the bosses, as well as grenades that will let you wipe the screen or cut off a large section of a boss' health. There's also power suits you can pick up that make you do even more damage, allowing you to take three extra hits before the suit fades away. Add all of this stuff together, and you'll find that you're more than equipped to deal with the irate computer that's taken over the city.
If all of this sounds like it's made you a little too overpowered, then you've hit upon Power Blade's one big flaw: difficulty. Power Blade is just really, really easy to beat. Without even trying all that hard, you can often steamroll through most of the game. Between short enemy invincibility windows, super-powered boomerangs you can throw in any direction, and all of your various power ups, you're just too well armed against the game's enemies. Even worse, most of them don't have all that much health. Considering you're hitting robots with boomerangs, you'd think they'd be a little more resistant to damage. They just aren't, though, with your average enemy barely requiring you to slow down to kill it. Even tough enemies have usually exploded before you manage to get close enough to get hit.
Bosses aren't much better. Many of them move in slow, predictable ways that let the player have huge windows to hit them with. Since most bosses are only invincible for less than a second after taking damage, you can practically hit them as many times as you can throw a boomerang. Given that many of these robots stay close to the ground and that the player's invincibility window is quite long, it's really easy to just sit there and trade hits until the boss is dead. Even up to the last boss, it just didn't feel like the game was trying all that hard to stop me from beating it.
If you've seen the opening screen, you might be wondering why I didn't bother trying Expert Mode to make it more challenging. Well, all that does is lower the time limit on the levels, not doing anything to enemies or damage. In other words, all it does is make it more of a nuisance to find the secret agents in every level. In Power Blade, rather than having one straight path through the level, there are multiple ways to get around, all of which will eventually lead to the boss room door. You might think this would increase replay value, except that you have to take the right path in order to find the hidden agent in each level. You need to get a key from them in order to open the boss room, or else you can't progress.
I liked roaming around the levels, to be honest. It was a bit of an odd change of pace at first, given that I can't remember all that many action games that gave me the freedom to choose a route, especially with dead ends. You have plenty of time to explore on Normal difficulty, so it's not a big problem, but the constant moving around does give the enemies a bit of a better chance to whittle your health down. At a certain point, though, you'll find that this exploring doesn't improve the game so much as it forces it to become longer. I liked poking around, but it did wear thin after the first few levels, and I imagine it will with other players as well.
What won't be bothering you while exploring is the music. For all of its similarities to Mega Man, the best one is probably its great soundtrack. There is a very similar vibe in this game's music to that of the blue bomber, but all of the tunes manage to stand out on their own. It doesn't have much for stand out tunes, but it does manage to have a soundtrack that is pretty solid throughout. My only complaint is that the boss music falls a little flat, kind of matching how wimpy each of the bosses are compared to you. It's not the kind of tune that pumps you up and makes you feel like a powerhouse, but just one that provides a decent background track to your fight. I would have liked to see something a little better given how good the rest of the game's tunes are, or at least on track that stood out above the others. Still, having really good sound is something you can appreciate while fumbling through a level.
Even if the bosses and enemies are pushovers, they at least look good. Each boss is pretty big, and none of them look or attack like the others. The only washout seems to be the robot hornet's nest, which spew out a bunch of small, weak enemies for you to deal with while shooting at the pods they come from. Beyond that, each robot has a lot of parts and details on it, especially the fish enemies that pop out of the water in some of the stages. There's also a lot of mechs and flying pods that make for interesting visuals throughout, showcasing a surprisingly wide variety of enemies. They're all cakewalks that you'll barely notice, which is a shame, but they do look nice.
The backgrounds are a little dull, though. Some of the stages seem like they're trying to represent cities, ships, and the like, but they all just look like giant piles of girders in no particular order. The same could be said of Mega Man, except for the fact that each area in Mega Man is easily identifiable. Each level has a personality to it that works as a theme for how the stage works. None of Power Blade's levels seems to have any coherent theme or idea, and because of that, they all kind of blend together. A few areas will stand out, but for the most part, the stages are forgettable.
It may be far too easy, but you'll only be bothered by that because you'll want to spend more time with this game. With its neat combat system and fun music, its something that is pure fun to play for a few hours. It won't frustrate you in any way, allowing for a rare relaxing time with a NES game. So, if you want to play a futuristic action game with little in the way of annoyances, give it a spin. I never get tired of it.
Joel's Fast & Dirty Recommendations
Metal Storm (NES) – It can get far more frustrating in areas than Power Blade ever does, but it does provide for some futuristic shooter fun. Coupled with its gimmick of letting you change gravity to walk on the ceiling, and the fact that walking on the roof makes for some devious traps, it's a pretty solid title. Just so you know, you die in one hit. Prepare for flying controllers in some later stages.
Kabuki: Quantum Fighter (NES) – The premise may be kind of...completely stupid, but there's something about killing computer viruses by hitting them with your hair that is pretty neat. The game also has some cool platforming, allowing for some interesting boss fights. The cover is oddly serious, though, given how insane the concept for this game is.
Insert Coin Reviews: Contra 4 (DS)
Posted on: February 16, 2012 by joelcouture.
All right, a blurb at the end of a review just doesn't do Contra 4 any justice. As the spiritual successor to the greatest run-and-gun games on the NES, Contra 4 manages to be a perfect homage to that series, doing everything right that many developers have been doing wrong for years. If you like the series, this is the game you've been waiting for since Contra III: The Alien Wars and if you're new to it, welcome to NES difficulty.
This game does not ever screw around. Never. On the first time you play this game, you are going to lose one continue, if not all of them, on the first stage. I don't care how good you are at video games, it's just going to happen. Come to terms with it before you turn the game on. Accept that death is an integral part of the Contra series. Every death tells you something about the environment and enemy placement, warning you of where you should take every single step the next time you play. Before you can play through a stage, you will have to be able to know every single thing that is going to happen in it.
You need to do this because enemies have been placed in all sorts of awkward positions, many of them more than armed enough to deal with you. The small shots that they often fire all blink while on the screen, but the fact that you're playing this on the DS means that there are twice as many screens for that shot to be coming from. You might be doing just fine on the bottom screen, blasting guys left and right, all while a single guy up top takes a potshot at you, dropping your character to the ground. The emphasis on both screens having danger in them means you always have to be aware of what's going on in your environment, always looking for the one thing that isn't an obvious danger.
Knowing where each enemy is goes a long way to making it through these levels alive, and it's something that will come naturally, if you work at it. This game manages to be relentless, while at the same time never feeling unfair. If you take your time while moving, you'll often see the dangers coming your way well in advance. Tough installations and enemies rarely move around all that much, and are always in the same place, so you can usually scroll a bit of them on screen and shoot while you still have a distance advantage. The stuff that moves around rarely takes more than a hit or two, so peppering sections of the screen with gunfire can work wonders to lengthening your life. Take your time and keep calm, making a mental note of every death and how to avoid it next time. You'll make progress in a hurry once you start playing like that.
To help you, the classic weapons are all back. You'll be firing spread shots in no time, laughing as you mow down your enemies. While doing so, you might come upon another spread gun lying around, picking it up since it was on your path. Once your spread shot starts firing five shots instead of three, you'll have found out the coolest thing that was added to this game: super weapons. For every weapon in the game, there is an upgrade that can be acquired if you pick the same weapon up again, giving you something with an absurd damage output. The machine gun fires twice as many shots at a ridiculous rate, the crush missile can kill some bosses before they're even started their attack routines, and the fire shot becomes something you can almost use. Finding these weapons can really help keep you alive, especially with the ability to keep two fully upgraded super weapons.
Beyond practice, the super weapons are the other part of managing to one day see the credits roll. There isn't a single point in the game that super weapons don't make a lot easier. Keeping a super spreader and super crush missiles will leave you prepared for weak or strong enemies, and can help you wipe out many things before they even get on the screen. In the end stages, these weapons are must-haves, giving you a lot of necessary breathing room in the huge waves of enemies that are coming at you. This game throws everything it can at you by the end, and the bosses take absurd amounts of damage if you don't have any decent weapons to fight them with.
You die in one hit, though, losing whatever weapon you were holding. Barring months of practice, more often than not, you're going to screw up. Somewhere along the line, someone is going to get in a lucky shot, costing you one of your weapons. It's going to put a large dent in your momentum, as now weaker enemies begin posing a threat again. Super weapons go a long way to making your life easier, but it is what you do when you lose them that will decide whether you finish this game or not.
Like I said, this game is a return to NES difficulty, mainly in that you have to finish it in one sitting. There is a limited save feature that will let you return to where you had played before shutting the game off, but you don't get to keep the weapons you had. If you're doing well, this makes this little feature useless. If you've got no weapons on you, by all means use it, but starting off some of the end stages unarmed is not something you want to be doing on purpose. So, for most people, this means having to start at level one, working your way from the Jungle all the way to the Harvest Yard in level 9. It's a fight that is going to take you a few hours, even when you know what you're doing.
You might not mind having to replay the game repeatedly, though, if you get any kind of a kick out of the music at all. You might be expecting a lot of remixed tracks from the previous games, but to be honest, they didn't go down that route. Instead, the developers have shown the same innovation they did with the rest of the game, really making the music their own. It has a strong, guitar-backed soundtrack, one that isn't as concentrated on heavy metal as Contra: Shattered Soldier was on the PS2. It doesn't feel as electronic-driven, either. Instead of focusing on angry-sounding music all the time, they've instead created many different moods depending on the area. The lab has an eerie vibe to its music, as does the journey to the alien's heart. The city feels desolate and empty, with a rising sense of menace throughout it.
It all sounds tough, somehow. There is just this amazing undertone to each song that is good enough to make you want to keep playing, keeping you feeling pumped up. It's like the finale track to every good game you've ever played, but you hear something like that in every level. It's upbeat and motivating in each stage, helping provide some of that necessary drive to keep on continuing, even when you've been badly beaten.
For a DS game, it looks great. There is a lot of lushness to the environments, from the trees in the Jungle to the piles of bodies in the Harvest Yard, each screen is just packed with things going on. Enemies will pour into the screen, four or five at a time while the backgrounds pulse with life, the organs beating on the walls as you climb through Black Viper's innards on the way to fighting the last boss. Those bosses are all pretty cool too, running the gamut of robot and organic. The machines are pretty neat, but the organic creatures steal the show. From hearts, alien eggs, and giant mouths, you see a lot of gross details as these enemies are killed, falling apart in showers of fluid. They pulse and writhe, giving this sense of dread at the disgusting things inside them. It makes the game feel really creepy and dangerous, something it probably didn't need any help in doing.
If you want to know the one thing I don't like about the game, it's that bar between the two screens. Given that many of the shots that travels between screens are only small, glowing dots, it's already easy enough to lose track of them in all of the carnage going on in the screen. Adding onto that fact is that that space between screens actually exists in the game. It's treated as if the screens continue on in that space, which means that unless you're keeping an eye on a bullet's trajectory, you can easily lose track of where it is. In some levels, you play very close to the top or bottom of the screens, leaving you with almost no time to dodge around one of these shots. A lot of cheap, unnecessary deaths will come from this until you learn where you need to watch out for it.
That's about the only thing that frustrates me about this game, though. Despite the fact that it seems to be going out of its way to annoy you, Contra 4 will grow on you. It's difficult, but only in a way that encourages you to try harder. Every time you make it a little farther, you realize how much you've accomplished. Even when you screw up and die, you'll still see things to watch out for next time, and you'll be that much closer to memorizing the game. This is a game you can be truly proud of beating, and something there is no shame in admitting defeat to. The last stage alone is utterly grueling, being as long as three or four earlier stages, but there is a feeling you'll get upon beating this game that just can't be matched.
Joel's Fast & Dirty Recommendations
Super C (NES) – Both of the NES games are excellent, but I just like this one a lot more. With more attention to detail on the graphics and a stronger soundtrack, I can't get enough of this game. It's one of the few games you'll ever play where putting in a code for more lives is considered the accepted way to play it. You know your game is hard when people consider cheating to be the only proper way to play.
Contra: Shattered Soldier (PS2) – One of the few games since the SNES to get the vibe down right, but it takes the series in an odd direction. Instead of having weapon pickups, you have an array of weapons that are always at your disposal. This changes the game to one where you need to know what you should be using instead of scrounging to keep a few favorites lying around.
Insert Coin Reviews: Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!
Posted on: February 9, 2012 by joelcouture.
Punch Out? He's reviewing Punch Out? Isn't that like trying to review Super Mario Bros or Mega Man 2? Everyone already knows that game is a classic. Well, I agree with you. I don't think there's much of anyone out there who's owned an NES who hasn't already fallen in love with this bizarre sports title. I don't think I have to work very hard to convince people that this is a great game. Regardless, there is some stuff I have to address about it. One is the fact that, until a few days ago, I'd never beaten it, and the other is that it's the only sports game I've ever felt any inclination to beat.
From the position of hindsight, everyone knows that Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! is a fun and frantic way to spend an afternoon. What is really amazing about this game is how many gamers, ones who detest sports games, are happy to play it. It's pretty unique, and I doubt any other sports game to come before or after has ever managed to break down those barriers as well as Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!. It's something I don't think this game is given enough credit for, either, given how polarizing sports and non-sport games tend to be for the gaming world. Before Call of Duty managed to focus all of the internet's rage toward it, sports game players were considered the bane of gaming. All of the games were classed as shallow repeats, and their players were stupid. Sports games dragged down the hobby for the rest of gaming, dumbing it down and showing developers that making the same thing, over and over again, was what raked in the cash.
Except Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!. That game's just fun. What with the silly characters and puzzle-like strategies, it's not really a sports game, right? Well, I don't know how to break this to you guys, but while taking the presentation and making it less than serious, they still managed to create a complex game that mimics a lot of the strategy and movements of the sport itself. It may feel at times like a puzzle game wrapped up as combat, but if you've ever competed in any combative sport, you know that your opponent is always a puzzle to be figured out. People have patterns and certain attacks they like, and if you can find ways to work around them, you will find ways to win. As such, as goofy as it may look, Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! is still an extremely good simulation of the sport.
If you don't agree, then you probably haven't played the game to the depth with which it can be played. For me, I always fought defensively. I could never get down when I should have gone on the offensive, as even Glass Joe seemed capable of blocking any attack I ever made. I had always felt like the game wanted me to play things defensively, waiting for the computer to attack, dodging out of the way, and then moving in to counter it. It works pretty well for most of the game, to be honest, so I'd never felt like I'd taken the wrong tactic. Once you hit Bald Bull for the second time, though, you'll probably see that there has to be a better way of playing. Most counters work extremely poorly, and if you keep waiting on him to do something, he'll soon settle on repeatedly doing Bull Charges until he flattens you.
What you won't see without a lot of practice and experimentation is the complex system of blocks, dodges, and attacks in the game, and how they also factor into what your opponent is doing. Dodging to the side works great in a pinch, but did you ever push back in the opposite direction and find that you came back to a ready stance twice as fast, with your punches flying at an absurd rate? How about bringing your defenses up by pushing up, only to notice it got Von Kaiser to protect his head? You might feel like your opponent is going through some set motions through a match regardless of what you're doing, but he isn't. You can set up opponents to be countered in certain ways, or trick them into specific movesets by throwing punches. The only reason I got past Mr. Sandman at all was because throwing a left hook almost always got him to throw a cross, allowing me to weave out of the way and land a headshot followed by some body blows.
That might not sound very revelatory to you Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! fanatics out there, but it was the one thing that completely turned my game around. I always thought it was nothing more than a reactive game, where you just had to counter what the computer was doing. Can you blame me, though? How many games had a feature where they reacted to what you were doing during the NES era? Bosses might work their way toward where you stood, but that was about it. If you used the laser in Contra, it didn't change how the aliens came at you. This game made your input matter on a level I still rarely see in gaming, and made it so that all of those fights I loved so much as a kid grew a whole other level of depth.
Learning to push my opponents to see what they would do was new to me, and at first, it was very punishing. Simple guys like Piston Honda and Don Flamenco mopped the floor with me, reminding me why I never bothered to fight offensively to begin with. As I progressed, though, I soon reached opponents that were all but impossible if you didn't know how to get them acting a certain way, like Super Macho Man. It was hard to teach myself to take little risks during these matches, but it's something that the game encourages, hinting at it during your match against King Hippo. You can't beat him without learning aggressive counters, and if you haven't been learning them yet, he'll give you a hint of how useful they can be.
The depth of this game astounds me. Its cartoonish graphics and stereotypical characters belie the intricate engine that is running underneath the game and making it tick. By adding super moves and one-hit knockdowns, they've created a system that rewards people for always trying something new in a match. By countering smart, knowing which hand to punch with and when, and having a good feel for when to go after your opponent and when to hang back, they managed to create one of the most amazing sports games I've ever played.
They've also created a sports game that managed to get me to play it, period. I don't like sports games, beyond playing a few minutes of hockey with someone. That's it. Somehow, despite how technical and difficult this game can get, it only managed to interest me more. The opposite should have been the case, but instead they've made something that I always have fun playing, and even better, always learn something new while playing. Given that this game is just shy of a quarter century old, it's pretty impressive for me to still be picking up new things from playing it.
That silliness about it is one of its main draws. I really like the ridiculous vibe of all of the boxers. I never have, and never will, follow the boxing world in any way. If they'd put this engine into a game that used real-world boxers, I wouldn't have any interest in it. I just wouldn't be able to get into it, since I have no real interest in the subject matter. When you throw in horrible stereotypes like Soda Popinski (Vodka Drunkenski if you're playing the arcade version) and Great Tiger, you're starting to pique my interest. The addition of super moves, like Great Tiger's magic punch that has him flying around the ring, you take boxing in a direction that makes it more like a game than a sports simulation.
I guess my problem is that sports games tend to have no fantastic element to them. I'm sure for many people, the fantasy of being a skilled sports star is a lure in itself, but it just doesn't do anything for me. It takes that special spark of creativity with the sport to draw me in. The developers of Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! took boxing and gave it a life and personality all their own. They made the sport into something a bit more interesting than an attempt to realistically portray boxing. For lack of a better way of putting it, there was a special spark about the game, in its presentation and quality, that made it something that any gamer could love.
And many do. This game is still as fun to play today as it was in 1987, and that is probably the best compliment I could give any NES game. As a boxing game, you will be blown away by how complex and interesting it is, constantly being surprised at how much is going on during any given match. For presentation, it may be simple, but it manages to create a vibe that is pure fun, and will always leave a smile on your face. Pushing yourself to put these guys on the mat as fast as you can is the most fun you could ever have playing video game boxing, no matter how many other attempts come out after.
Joel's Fast & Dirty Recommendations
Base Wars (NES) – Take baseball, which is boring, and add in robots with arm canons, as well as the ability to get in fights with the other players, and you get this bizarre game. While not as technically impressive as Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!, it still has the distinction of being one of the two sports games to ever be in my house. I just wish I was good at it.
Warioware Inc: Mega Microgame$! (GBA) – Look, this is probably as close as I'm gonna get to liking another sports game. It's quirky and weird beyond belief, and some of the super short micro games do have sport-like elements to them, so I guess this counts. Maybe?