Bucky O’Hare (NES) – Retro Game Reviews

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Bucky O’Hare is another great licensed game from the classic Konami library. You play as the titular Jazz Jackrabbit Bucky O’Hare who must rescue his crew from Toad Empire.  The game features many similarities to Capcom’s Mega Man. At the start of the game, you can choose between four planets that can be played in any order, each of which has a different member of Bucky’s crew. Once rescued, you can switch between different crew members at any time by pressing the Select button. After rescuing all four members, the crew takes on the Toad mothership, with an additional four levels.

The controls are very tight, which is a good thing since the levels can be very challenging, especially once you get on the Toad mothership. However, one very annoying thing about the game is that if you are hit while in midair, your jump is cancelled and you fall straight down. This wasn’t a huge problem for me and didn’t ruin my enjoyment, but it can be very frustrating at points.

Each of the five characters have different primary weapons and special moves that can be activated by holding down the B button. This can take some getting used to. Bucky’s special move is a high jump, so I always found myself wanting to hold down the jump button instead. Most of the characters also go into a crouch when charging their special moves, but if you are crouching while holding down the B button, they don’t work.

Each level has power-ups you can collect to upgrade your characters’ life bar and power meter to increase the strength of your special moves. Often these are found in out the way areas with trickier platforming, so there’s a nice risk/reward element. Each character shares the same life bar but have their own power meters that must be upgraded individually. However, upgrades carry over between levels, so it’s not too difficult to max out every character.

While you can select any of the four planets at the start of your game, the Blue Planet can’t actually be completed unless you rescue Blinky from the Green Planet first. The Blue Planet is also the game’s ice level and slipperiness is even worse here than it is in most platformers, making it one of the most frustrating levels in the game. It’s always great in Mega Man when your acquired weapons allow you to access additional areas or power-ups, but allowing players to choose the order of levels and then making one of them impossible if played in the wrong order is bad game design.

There is quite a bit of die-and-memorize gameplay on some levels, such as the Red Planet where you have to outrun one-hit death lava and you don’t have time to outrun it without memorizing the path ahead of time (and even then it’s still pretty hard). However, the graphics in Bucky O’Hare are really nice and soundtrack is great, so even when it gets frustrating, it’s still pretty enjoyable.

One area where Bucky beats Mega Man is in the boss battles. There is a lot of a variety and most of the bosses have pretty interesting designs. There’s one level where you have to cross lava by riding on giant green balls only for one of the balls to turn into a robot you have to have to fight to finish the level.

Bucky O’Hare certainly has its flaws, but for fans of NES platformers, particularly Mega Man, it’s still a lot of fun.

Final Rating: 4 out of 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

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1) – Retro Game Reviews

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When approaching a game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, there’s always the worry that it won’t live up to the hype. Despite selling poorly upon initial release, SOTN’s reputation quickly spread through word of mouth, and now it frequently appears on lists of the greatest video games ever made. Coming out early in the PS1 lifespan when most games were experimenting with clunky 3D, SOTN instead takes pixel art to a level previous consoles simply weren’t capable of. Add to that CD quality sound and a huge map full of unique enemies and it’s not hard to see why gamers back in 1997 were blown away, and for me at least, Symphony of the Night completely holds up.

Symphony marks a departure from previous Castlevania games in many ways. Instead of controlling a member of the Belmont clan, you play as Alucard, the son of Dracula and a supporting character from Castlevania III. While previous Castlevania games are fairly linear, SOTN places you in the middle of a large, winding castle to explore at your own discretion. Some areas require power-ups to access, but a large amount of castle is open to you right away provided you can survive the more powerful enemies guarding some segments.

Though often compared with Super Metroid, director Koji Igarashi was instead inspired by the dungeons in the original Legend of Zelda, and there are some key difference between the Metroid and Igarashi-vania games. In Metroid, everything is about conquering your environment with the enemies being just one more obstacle. Most enemies can be taken care of very easily with a few shots from Samus’ trusty arm-cannon or avoided entirely.  In SOTN and its follow-ups however, dispatching enemies is the primary focus. Most rooms have a very basic layout and the challenge comes from memorizing attack patterns and juggling enemies. Avoiding enemies isn’t really an option until you acquire the bat transformation midway through the game, and unlike Metroid, you receive XP for defeating enemies, further incentivizing direct confrontation.

Health pick-ups are rare in SOTN. Instead you’ll spend most of the game slashing through gauntlets of monsters in search of the next save point to restore your HP. This can lead a lot of harrowing moments where you’re one or two hits away from dying and have no idea when you’ll get another chance to save. Enemies respawn when you exit a room, so you’re often left with no choice other than to keep plowing forward and hope for the best.

When you die, not only do you lose all progress since your previous save, but you’ll be greeted with a Game Over and kicked back to the title screen, so it takes several minutes in total before you can reload your save and get back into the game. Some might see this as a design flaw, but it gives death in SOTN an impact it wouldn’t have if you could instantly hop back in right where you left off. (Don’t even get me started on how the fetishization of flow has ruined modern game design.)

The gothic atmosphere is nailed perfectly, from the enemies and the backgrounds to the story and the soundtrack. Each area of the castle is populated with its own unique monsters cribbed from every corner of horror lore, everything from werewolves, demons and haunted suits of armor to Lovecraftian eldergods and of course the notorious Medusa heads. The boss fights don’t disappoint either. Some are so huge they can’t even fit on screen, and between the difficulty and some of the best sprite work in any game ever, they’ll stick in your mind (and haunt your dreams) long after you finish playing.

The gameplay mechanics are polished to near perfection. Alucard is as graceful and deadly as a vampire should be, and you really feel like a badass helping him slash his way through waves of enemies. As you explore the castle and grow more powerful, you go from feeling like an invader surrounded by hostile foes to the master of the house surveying your domain and clearing away pests.

There are a ton of different weapons and power-ups to experiment with and hidden areas to find, giving the game a lot of replay value and facilitating different play styles. Your primary weapon is the sword, but there are also brass knuckles, daggers and rods with different attack rates and ranges. The game fully takes advantage of Alucard’s vampiric nature, allowing you to transform into a bat, a wolf or a cloud of mist (each of which is upgradable) and unlock a number of familiars to help you in combat.

One big annoyance is that it isn’t always clear what different items and power-ups do, so you might want to have a strategy guide handy. And once you have a large number of different items, it can be a pain to scroll through searching for the one you want. There are also spells that can be activated with button combinations, but I found these next-to-impossible to pull off with any consistency. Since none of the spells are necessary for completing the game, I ended up just ignoring them.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is something all gamers owe it to themselves to experience at least once, especially fans of gothic horror. It might not be a perfect game, but it’s pretty damn close. More than two decades after its initial release, it’s aged incredibly well and will likely stand as one of the true masterpieces of gaming for the rest of time.

Final Rating: 5/5 – Must Play