Final Fantasy Adventure (Game Boy) – Retro Game Reviews

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When talking about great Final Fantasy spinoff games, Final Fantasy Adventure is a title that gets brought up a lot. Adventure is actually the first game in the Mana series, and if you’re a fan of Secret of Mana or Final Fantasy, it’s a gem worth picking up.

Adventure is an action-RPG in the vein of the original Legend of Zelda, but with more traditional RPG mechanics like gaining XP by defeating enemies, buying weapons and armor from shops, etc. When leveling up, you get an extra point to increase your Power, Stamina (HP), Wisdom (MP) or Will, which gives the game some replay value and facilitates different play styles.

Different classes of weapons have different attack ranges and some have extra functions to help you get around obstacles, like using axes to chop down trees or flails to grab onto poles and swing across gaps. Each weapon type also has a different special attack that can be activated when the special bar at the bottom of the screen fills up. How quickly the bar fills up is determined by your Will. Every time you attack, use an item or use magic the bar resets to zero, so you need to wait if you want launch the special. Most of these specials give you extra range or allow you to launch your weapon at enemies. The special attack for swords however launches your character back and forth across the screen, and I found this more annoying than helpful, especially late in the game when the will bar fills up relatively quickly.

Another annoying thing about the game is how often you need to go through the menu to change magic and items. The A button acts as your main attack and any spell or item can be mapped to the B button but you can only have one at a time. Given the limited buttons on the original Game Boy, I can’t really blame the developers but it’s still a hassle. Luckily, the menu can be opened and navigated pretty quickly so it doesn’t slow the game down too much.

Your inventory space is very limited, which can be a pain because you need to carry around matlocks and keys to navigate dungeons. Both can be purchased at item shops and some enemies also drop matlocks but not keys. The same keys work in all dungeons, so make sure you always have a few packs before entering a new one. Matlocks are used to demolish certain obstacles and open secret entrances in walls. (When you strike a wall you can break through with your weapon, it makes a unique sound.)

The morning star is by far the best weapon in the game. Not only does it break through walls, eliminating the need for matlocks, but when you attack, you swing it around you hitting any enemy near you. Some enemies can only be harmed by certain weapons or with magic, but the star takes out pretty much anything. Even when I had other weapons with far greater attack power, I still used the morning star for everything except for boss battles.

There’s a wide variety of enemies with different attacks to encounter, so I never got bored fighting the same enemies over and over like in some other game. You’ll also get a few companions to help you at different parts of the game, who have abilities like restoring your HP or MP or helping you attack enemies.

Adventure is very well balanced. There are one or two bosses I felt were overpowered, but apart from them I never felt the need to level grind or felt the game was too easy either. When you level up, your HP and MP are restored, so if you’re running low on health sometimes the best strategy is to kill as many enemies as possible. It adds a nice risk-reward element to the combat.

The story is pretty standard RPG fare. You play as Sumo, a knight who must help a mysterious girl named Fuji to protect the Tree of Mana from the Dark Lord and his minions. If you’re an RPG veteran, there’s not much you haven’t seen before, but the story is well told and there are enough memorable moments to make it enjoyable.

The graphics are about what you’d expect from a Game Boy release. Nothing mind-blowing, but not bad either. The music is a mixed bag. Some tracks are really nice, but others loop too frequently and become aggravating.

This is a game where you’ll want to have a strategy guide handy. It’s never explained in game what certain items do, and while most puzzles aren’t too difficult, there’s one in particular where the clue is extremely ambiguous. (Minor spoiler: in the town called Jadd, you’ll meet a boy who will give you a clue on how to open the next dungeon: “Palm trees and an 8.” You need to leave town, find two specific palm trees and walk around them in a figure eight until the dungeon entrance appears. How is anyone supposed to figure that out?) Late in the game you have access to the entire overworld and have to do quite a bit of backtracking, and it’s extremely easy to get lost without a guide.

There’s nothing really innovative about Final Fantasy Adventure, but what it does, it does very well. If you like action-RPGs, it definitely worth the 10 hours or so it takes to complete.

Final Rating: 4/5

The Adventures of Batman & Robin (SNES) – Retro Game Reviews

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Given Konami’s current reputation, it’s hard to believe they used to be one of the most respected publishers in the industry, and one of the things they were most known for were their awesome licensed games. The Adventures of Batman & Robin lives up to that reputation and is without a doubt one of the best looking games on the Super Nintendo.

Based on Batman: The Animated Series, everything from the character sprites and backgrounds to the sound design and even the dialogue perfectly captures the feel of the cartoon. They even have the show’s signature title cards before each stage. There are eight stages in total, with each stage acting like mini-episodes of the TV series. The first seven focus on different villains, with the eighth stage being a boss rush, half of which are repeats and the other half being new villains.

But despite how good the game looks and sounds, there are two major drawbacks to the game: its length and its frustrating difficulty. If you’re good enough, the game can be completed in just over an hour, and while I don’t inherently mind hard games, in this case the crushing difficulty feels like its only there to artificially extend the length of the game. I’m not ashamed to admit I cheated my way through a lot of the game. On your first playthrough I recommend using an infinite lives cheat at the very least.

Each stage begins with a brief cutscene explaining your current mission and allowing Batman to select which gear to take with him, including his signature batarangs  and grappling gun (which can be used unlimitedly) as well as smoke bombs, shurikens, paralysis spray and plastic explosives (of which you have a limited supply). There is also a flashlight, gas mask, and infrared goggles, which you can take with you on every stage but are only useful in the Penguin, Scarecrow and Riddler stage respectively. It’s a nice gimmick, but since there’s no penalty for taking everything other than it taking longer to cycle through your weapons, it feels underutilized.

Despite the title, Robin isn’t playable and only has a very small role as a supporting character. If you’re a fan of the character, it’s a bit of let down, but given how small a role Robin played in the cartoon most of the time, I suppose it isn’t very surprising.

The combat system is decent. You can stun or disarm thugs by hitting them with a batarang or grab them by the collar and throw them into other enemies. It’s very well animated and a lot of fun. However, the same three henchmen are used over and over in every level, so by the end I just crouch-rolled past them most of the time.

The levels themselves for the most part aren’t too difficult. Most levels consist of beating up henchmen and some light platforming (sometimes assisted by your grappling gun ) before encountering the boss. There is some variation, like investigating a museum in the Penguin stage or the Riddler stage being a giant maze. The Catwoman stage featuring a rooftop chase lit by police searchlights was the high point of the game for me.

The fifth stage takes place entirely in the Batmobile, which sounds cool but the controls are incredibly clunky and you’re placed under an insanely strict time limit. The Batmobile is equipped with guns like in the Tim Burton movies and you can blow up civilian cars without any penalty. This is the only part of the game I consider outright bad and if you skip it, you won’t be missing anything.

All of the bosses are way too overpowered. Many of them are faster and have larger attack ranges than Batman with very little wind up to signal their attacks and some of them feature instant death via bottomless pits.One really frustrating thing is that in some boss fights if you get too close, Batman will auto-grab the villain and they will kick you away without any chance for you to avoid them. Even the bosses that aren’t too hard have so much health that the fights drag on forever. You end up feeling like a wimp after punching the villain a dozen or so times and them just getting back up for more, and that’s the last thing you want in a Batman game.

The Adventures of Batman & Robin is a bit of a mixed bag. If you are a fan of Batman: The Animated Series or just Batman in general, it’s definitely worth checking out, but the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. If you don’t mind grueling difficulty or aren’t opposed to using cheats, it’s a decent afternoon’s worth of entertaining.

Final Rating: 3.5/5

One Piece (Game Boy Advance) – Retro Game Reviews

Image result for one piece gbaI’m a big fan of the One Piece anime, but there sadly aren’t a lot of retro One Piece games that are accessible to English speakers. One Piece GBA is by no means an amazing game but there is still a lot here for fans of the anime to like. The game is a platformer/beat ’em up and retells the story from the beginning of the series through Luffy’s fight against Smoker.

You play as Luffy, and it’s a lot of fun to try out his signature moves in 16-bit glory. There’s a pretty wide moveset, including the Gum-Gum Pistol, Gatling Gun, Bell and Rocket. As you progress through the game you can also unlock the Gum-Gum Balloon and Spear. However, the game never explains how to use each move, so you’re going to want to consult a strategy guide. You have a special meter that can be charged by damaging enemies, and when filled be used to activate the Gum-Gum Bazooka or Axe. As the story progresses, you recruit the other members of the Straw Hat crew and can switch to having them jump in with their own special attacks instead. The other Straw Hats are scattered around each level and you need to find them each time to use their moves.

The combat is your standard repetitive beat ’em up fare, with you fighting the same enemies over and over again in each stage. The game totals how many of each enemy type you defeated in the stage and it’s not uncommon to defeat the same enemy more than 50 times in a single stage. Sometimes one of the major henchmen from the anime show up and you get a bonus for defeating them, but they just attack a few times and then jump off screen, so it’s very difficult to take them down before they leave and they end up just being annoying most of the time.

The platforming is very basic early on but gets better as the game progresses. One incredibly annoying thing is how many bottomless pits there are in this game. There are a lot of leaps of faith too, so I lost a ton of lives jumping into pits thinking there’d be a platform below. Enemy attacks can also knock you into pits, which everyone always loves. In addition to finding the other Straw Hats, there are also a number of coins scattered throughout each level. There isn’t any reward for collecting them, but they do add some replay value for completionists.

There are six acts in the game, matching the six story arcs of the East Blue Saga and each act is divided into three stages. The second stage of each act ends with a miniboss fight with the third act serving as the main boss fight. The bosses are a mixed bag. Some of them are pretty fun (particularly Jango and Don Krieg), but every single one of them is a damage sponge and the fights drag on for way too long.

Most of bosses are pretty tough too. Luffy gets can’t move when he attacks or cancel his attacks, so if you miss the boss, you’re a sitting duck while you wait for the attack animation to finish. If that wasn’t bad enough, a lot of the bosses become invincible during their attacks, so if you start attacking at the wrong time, it’s nearly impossible to avoid them.

The Buggy fight in this game is notoriously difficult. If you land a hit anywhere but his head, he breaks up and becomes invincible so the only move that works on him is the jump kick which causes hardly any damage. All of his attacks take huge chunks of your life and have a long range to boot. Despite only being the second boss in the game, he is by far the hardest. I ended up just cheating to get past him.

If there’s one reason to play One Piece GBA, it’s the impressive sprite work. Luffy’s attacks are all nicely animated and the game manages to capture the feel of the anime very well. There are a lot of nice little touches like how Luffy holds onto his hat to keep it from flying off when he runs or how his arm stretches when you jump down to grab a rope. Most of the major supporting characters get cameos, and it’s great to see 16-bit versions of Luffy and his pals.

The game is based on the 4Kids dub of the anime and was never released outside of North America, but apart from a couple name changes and Sanji’s cigarettes being replaced by lollipops, it’s pretty faithful to the original story. (Interestingly, Smoker’s cigars managed to slip past the censors.)

The music is pretty catchy in some stages, but don’t expect to hear any of the iconic music from the original anime. On the plus side, there’s no “Pirate Rap” either.

Whether or not One Piece GBA is worth playing all comes down to how big a fan you are of the anime. The gameplay certainly isn’t going to blow you away, but for a licensed game, it’s not half bad, and One Piece fans should definitely give it a shot.

Final Rating: 2.5/5

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Game Boy) – Retro Game Reviews

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Now this is more like it! The first Super Mario Land was a bit disappointing, but Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins improves on it in every way. From the art and music to the level design and physics, everything’s been given a complete overhaul. At times, Land 1 felt more like a bootleg than a legit Mario game, but 6 Golden Coins manages to capture everything we love about the Mario formula while still being unique enough to stand out on its own.

The game features an overworld map similar to Super Mario World with six zones you can play in any order. Each zone has multiple levels ending with a boss battle to recover one of the eponymous golden coins. Each zone has a different theme ranging from Halloween to space to climbing up a giant Mario robot. There are also a few bonus levels, some of which can only be accessed by finding a hidden exit in certain levels.

The sprite art is massively improved over the first game. Mario and foes match their appearance in SMW and all the sprites are a lot bigger and more detailed. (I love the face Goombas make when you stomp on them.) Mario even gets a spacesuit in the Space Zone levels.

As a consequence of the bigger sprites on the Game Boy’s low resolution screen, you sometimes have to make leaps of faith where you can’t see where you’ll land, but these are pretty rare. For the most part, levels are designed with the Game Boy’s limitations in mind and, again, are a massive improvement over the first Land.

In addition to the standard super mushrooms and fire flowers, SML2 introduces a new carrot power-up which causes Mario to sprout bunny ears he can use to hover around the level. As Bunny Mario, Mario loses the spin jump move he can use as Big Mario/Fire Mario (which works the same as in SMW), but it’s still really overpowered since you can just float over most of the obstacles in a lot of stages. I can see why Bunny Mario has never returned in later games, but it’s still pretty fun.

Koopa shells can be kicked along the ground like in standard Mario games, and the bomb turtles from the first game have been spun off into a new enemy. These are used very sparingly and you’re always given enough room to maneuver, so they aren’t the headache they were in SML1.

Several other enemies return from SML1 (including the final boss Tatanga who acts as the boss for Space Zone) and a lot of new enemies are introduced too. However, they are all depicted in the standard Mario art style, so they don’t feel too out of place, even when Mario is fighting haunted umbrellas or the Three Little Pigs. (Yes, Mario fights the Three Little Pigs.) Most of the enemies haven’t returned since, but 6 Golden Coins marks the first appearance of series staple Wario who acts as the main villain.

SML2 is one of the easier Mario games, but not so easy that it isn’t fun. Most of the levels can be beaten on your first try and the game is very generous with extra lives. (I had over 20 when I finished the game.) There are a few boss battles that can be tricky, and the final level can be pretty tough since it has to be completed all in one go. (Of course, if you’re emulating, you can just use save states.)

The final battle with Wario is a highlight of the game. It takes place in three stages with Wario using the fire flower and carrot power-ups for the latter two stages. It’s a pretty neat gimmick to have Mario’s own abilities used against him and I’d love to see Nintendo do something like this again. At the very least, it’d be nice to see Wario as the villain in a mainline Mario game again.

Super Mario Land: 6 Golden Coins isn’t just a great portable Mario game; it’s a great Mario game period and one of the best games in the Game Boy library. It’s pretty incredibly just how much they managed to pack in. Even today it stands as one of the best entries in the Mario series, so if you’re a fan of the franchise and you skipped this one, that’s a mistake you’ll want to correct.

Final Rating: 4.5/5

Super Mario Land (Game Boy) – Retro Game Reviews

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Super Mario Land is a notable entry in the Mario series for several reasons. It’s the first Mario game on a handheld console, the first game to feature Princess Daisy, and the first Mario game made without the involvement of Shigeru Miyamoto. This last fact definitely shows as Land breaks with the standard Mario formula in many way.

The basics are the same: stomp on enemies, collect coins and get mushrooms and fire flowers for an extra hit point, but there is a lot of weird stuff I never expected to see in a Mario game. Let’s start with the enemies. In addition to your standard, Mario foes like Goombas, Koopas and Piranha Plants, you also fight sphinxes, aliens whose heads fly off, Easter Island statues, hopping Chinese vampires and giant fists that come out of pipes.

And instead of Koopas curling into their shell when you hit them and letting you launch them at other enemies, in this game when you hit them they turn into bombs that quickly explode. This makes Koopas really annoying because sometimes the only way to avoid the explosion is to hop back to the previous platform you were on and wait a couple seconds for them blow themselves up. Maybe they couldn’t get the standard Koopa shells to work on the Game Boy hardware, but this is really poor substitution that just slows the game down.

Invincibility stars work the same as they do in other Mario games, but instead of the normal invincibility music, for some odd reason, it plays the Can-Can instead.

The level design isn’t up to the normal Mario standards either. A lot of levels will repeat segments with slightly different enemy placement, and you need to progress a lot more slowly since enemies will sometimes pop on screen without giving you enough time to react.  Land is still one of the better platformers on the Game Boy but don’t expect the same level of quality you get from a mainline Mario game.

There are four worlds in total with three levels each, and the last level in both even number worlds is a shoot-em-up. Having shoot-em-up stages in a Mario game is weird enough, but having the final level and final boss being a shoot-em-up is just baffling. To quote the Angry Video Game Nerd, what were they thinking?

If you’re a Mario fan and you’ve never played Super Mario Land before, it’s definitely worth picking up. It might not be on the same level design-wise as other Mario games (in a lot of ways it feels more like a bootleg than a real Mario game), but it is still a decent platformer experience that will keep you entertained for the hour or so it takes to complete.

Final Rating: 3.5/5

Trip World (Game Boy) – Retro Game Reviews

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Trip World is an odd little game. A platformer in the vein of Kirby, you play as a cute little rabbity thing (maybe it’s a lagomorph) traveling through five worlds to defeat the bad guys, recover the thing and restore peace to the land. You know the drill. Trip World’s main gimmick is that your character (called Yacopu) has different transformations you can use to progress through the level, but none of them are taken to their full potential.

Your main form attacks by kicking but the attack range is so small you have to be standing right next to your enemy to hit them which opens you to counterattack, especially during boss battles. On the plus side, enemies only hurt you when they attack so you can even walk on enemies or balance them on your head without taking damage. In fact, as far as I can tell, a lot of the “enemies” have no form of attack whatsoever.

You also have a flying form that can be selected by pressing up + B and a fish form that can be selected with down + B. The flying form not only doesn’t have any attacks, it can’t even walk and if you bump into anything, you’ll spiral back to the ground. This happened sometimes when I didn’t even touch anything and I’m not sure why. The fish form swims during the one water segment of the game and can attack enemies with bubbles, but otherwise just flops on the ground and is completely useless.

You can activate additional forms with power-ups. One form causes a flower to grow Yacopu’s head and allows you to flick seeds at enemies that will cause a flower to sprout from their heads and make them pause for a short period. Another power-up turns Yacopu into a ball, allowing you bounce much higher than your normal jump, but the ball form is hard to maneuver when you need precision so it’s as much of a hinderance as it is a help.

The tail power-up is the most useful. Yacopu grows a tail you can attack enemies with at a distance, and I think the game would have been a lot more fun if you just had this form as the default. There’s also a mini power-up that shrinks your character but doesn’t do anything else. And apparently there’s a “big” form you can get by collecting a second power-up while in tail form that shoots instant-kill fireballs that even work on bosses; however, I never got the chance to try it out on my playthrough.

You’re given four lives each of which can take four points of damage. There aren’t any continues or extra lives, but you can press Select on the menu to choose different levels (five in total) and even choose which checkpoint in the level to start at. It’s a nice touch.

The level design is very basic and you shouldn’t have any trouble getting through them, but between Yacopu’s slow movement speed and wimpy attack range, some of the bosses are nearly impossible without the tail power-up.

The art and music in Trip World are highlights. All of the characters are very cute, and all of Yacopu’s transformations are animated instead of just blinking between forms. Robby the Robot even makes a cameo in one level. Each level has multiple different themes for different segment and for Game Boy music they aren’t bad. Nothing you’ll remember once the game is over, but nice all the same. One odd thing to note is that when Yacopu dies, it has the same exact sound effect and animation as Mega Man for some reason.

Trip World has a lot of neat ideas and I wish it received a sequel to more fully develop them, but as it stands, the game just isn’t very good. You can complete it in under an hour, so if you enjoy cute platformers, it’s worth giving a play just to see the animations. Just don’t expect anything more substantial than a fun little distraction.

Final Rating: 2.5/5 

Shining Force (Sega Genesis) – Retro Game Reviews

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While Super Nintendo owners back in the day had a smorgasbord of some of the best RPGs ever made to choose from, RPG fans with a Sega Genesis had very slim pickings. When I first played Shining Force as a kid, I didn’t even know what an RPG was, but I was instantly hooked. The fantasy setting, the wide cast of characters, and a plot far more complex than anything I’d encountered in a video game before, it all blew me away. But returning to the game now as a far more experienced gamer, I’m sad to report it just doesn’t hold up to modern standards. It’s not a bad game, especially for one that came out so early in the Genesis’ lifespan, but everything about it is very bare bones.

The story is standard RPG fare. A villain named Darksol wants to harness the power of the Ancients to take over the world and it’s up to you and the titular Shining Force to stop him. You travel from town to town fighting Darksol’s minions and recruiting new members to your party (30 in total including hidden characters). Each party member has their own backstory and reasons for joining the Shining Force. They’re pretty much all just fantasy cliches, but it’s still a nice touch. Unfortunately, once they join your party, none of the characters get any more development.

If you’ve ever played a tactical RPG before (think Final Fantasy Tactics or Advanced Wars), you know what to expect from the combat.  Characters take turns moving around a grid attacking one another. There are archers, mages, healers, even a couple of flying characters, but everything is very barebones. The enemy AI is completely braindead. Most of them don’t even move until you get into attack range and then they walk up to the nearest character attack and repeat.

Even using an emulator with a fast-forward feature, the battles take forever. Each time you or an enemy attacks, the view switches to a one-on-one fight. The sprite art is genuinely really nice for these parts, which is good because you are going to be seeing these same animations over and over and over again. There’s no way to turn them off either.

If your main character, Max, dies in battle you get sent back to the nearest priest (who acts as the savepoint) but on the plus side you get to keep all your experience and gold. If any of your other party members die in battle they can be revived by the priest for 10 gold times their level. I always had way more gold than I needed so that wasn’t ever a problem. In addition to saving and reviving your party members, the priest can also remove status ailments and upgrade your characters’ classes when they reach a high enough level.

Each character can hold up to four items including weapons and other equipables. You have buy items from shops one at a time and select which character to give them to, so stocking up on supplies takes forever. You can also find items in chests, but you can only open them if Max has a free item slot. You’ll want Max to have some healing items since he’s the only character who needs to survive in battle, but every time you find a chest, you’ll need to open the menu and give his items to someone else just to open it.

Each party member as well as some major NPCs have their own animated portraits for when they’re speaking or when you select them in the menu and these are all really well done. However the rest of the sprite work in the game is really basic. The same five or six NPC sprites are used over and over in every town without so much as a pallet-swap. Even some supporting characters have the same NPC sprites as random townsfolk.

Repeating art is one thing, but the same music is used over and over as well. In battle, anytime a character attacks it switches to a short attack theme and then the main battle music starts over from the beginning when the attack is finished. Every. Single. Time. If you’re going to play this game, I recommend muting it and listening to something else.

Shining Force isn’t a terrible game, especially for the time, and it still has a lot of charm. (I love how whenever you sell something to a merchant he says “It’s mine, all mine.”) However, its age really shows. Shining Force received a number of sequels as well as a GBA remake, which hopefully fix the problem I had with this one. There’s a really good game buried somewhere in Shining Force; it just needs a little polish to bring it out. Shining Force will always hold a special place in my heart as the first RPG I ever played, but even with the benefit of nostalgia, I really can’t recommend it when there are so many other tactical RPGs out there more worthy of your time.

Final Rating: 3/5