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

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 

Balloon Kid (Game Boy) – Retro Game Reviews

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Everyone remembers Balloon Fight on the NES, but most people have completely forgotten its Game Boy sequel Balloon Kid, which is a real shame because it’s definitely a gem. You play as Alice who must travel through eight stages to rescue her brother Jim.

Like in the original Balloon Fight, you have two balloons that can be popped by enemies, but instead of the Joust-style combat of the original, Balloon Kid is a platformer where the only goal is to avoid enemies make it to the end of the stage as the screen slowly scrolls right-to-left. Most enemies will only damage you if they make contact with your balloons, but if Alice bumps into them, she’ll bounce around the screen and any contact with fire or electric sparks is instant death. Alice can also let go of her balloons by pressing B (which is required to get through some tight space) and reinflate her balloons by repeatedly tapping down on the d-pad.

The physics in Balloon Kid are top-notch. When you launch from the ground, your momentum is preserved, so a standing jump will leave you hovering and a running jump sends you flying across the screen. You can adjust your height and momentum by tapping the A button to cause Alice to flap her arms. Alice has the perfect amount of weight to her and despite the small Game Boy screen, you’re always given enough room to dodge enemies. The game never feels unfair, and every time I died I was eager to give the next challenge another go.

The game is very generous with checkpoints, which I was very grateful for since the later stages in the game can be very tricky. If you’re emulating, I recommend using an infinite lives code your first time through. The last level is full of instant deaths and had me burning through dozens of lives in certain segments.

Each even numbered stage ends in a boss fight where Alice has to drop from her balloons onto the boss’ head. None of them are very difficult but they do add some nice variety to the gameplay. There’s a portal to a bonus stage in each level where you need to collect balloons being released from pipes before they reach the top of the screen. They’re honestly pretty boring and you’re better off just skipping them.

In addition to the main game, there is also a two-player mode based on Balloon Fight that can be played via link cable and Balloon Trip returns from the original game where the only goal is to go as far as you can without bumping into any sparks.

Balloon Kid isn’t a groundbreaking game in any way, but it’s a lot of fun and what it does, it does incredibly well. The main game can be completed in about half an hour, so if you’ve never played this forgotten Nintendo classic, give it a playthrough some time.

Final Rating: 4/5 – Great

Kirby’s Dream Land (Game Boy) – Retro Game Reviews

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Who doesn’t love Kirby? The adorable pink puffball (or badass pink puffball with angry eyebrows if you live in the U.S.) is one of Nintendo’s most iconic characters and the star of some of the best games in Nintendo’s library. And it all started with 1992’s Kirby’s Dream Land for the original Game Boy.  Unfortunately, despite its historical significance, Kirby’s first outing just isn’t very good.

Most people knows that Kirby’s signature copy ability wasn’t introduced until his second game Kirby’s Adventure (which completely holds up and is one of the NES’s best games) but my biggest gripe with Dream Land is the controls. Kirby feels really floaty even when just walking, and his slow movement can be a bit of a headache during certain boss battles. Unlike later Kirby games where Kirby floats up by repeatedly tapping the jump button, Kirby instead floats by pressing up on the d-pad which can be annoying since the same key is used for entering doorways. The game itself isn’t difficult but what challenge there is comes much more from the controls than anything else.

Nintendo designed Kirby’s Dream Land as an introductory game for people new to the platforming genre and it shows. The level design is very basic, and apart from the controls, none of the levels are too difficult. Occasionally, enemies will appear from off-screen without giving Kirby enough time to react, but given the limited real estate of the Game Boy screen, it’s forgivable. There are five stages total, each of which can be completed in about five minutes, with the final stage being a boss rush before fighting King Dedede. Hard mode can be activated by pressing A + Up + Select on the title screen but the only difference is that enemies are replaced with stronger counterparts.

The pixel art in the game is a real highlight. Despite limitations of the Game Boy, the developers managed to pack a lot of personality into Kirby and his world. The title screens before each level feature a cute little animation staring Kirby, and like in later games, Kirby splits into three and does a victory dance when you finish a level. We also see the introduction some of Kirby’s most iconic foes – Waddle Dees and Doos, Whispy Woods, Kracko, and everyone’s favorite penguin monarch – and it goes to show the strength of the art that none of these character have receive any major design revisions when adapted for more powerful system. The sound presentation is really good too, with many of the songs becoming staples for the series.

Kirby’s Dream Land certainly isn’t a bad game, but there’s nothing done here that isn’t done much better in later Kirby games. If you’re a fan of the series, Dream Land is worth the half hour it takes to complete, but if you’re new to the series, I recommend starting with Kirby’s Adventure or one of Kirby’s more recent outings.

Final Rating: 3.5/5 – Good