Kirby Super Star

Kirby Super Star is a platform game developed by HAL Laboratory and released by Nintendo for the SNES in Japan and North America in 1996. It was released in 1997 in Europe under the name of Kirby’s Fun Pak. Between 2009-2010, it was re-released on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles. In 2008, an enhanced version was released on the Nintendo DS. It was released on the Nintendo Switch in 2019. The version I reviewed can be found on the SNES Mini.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

This action platformer contains several games featuring Kirby, a weird, round, pink puffy-type character; that can float, inhale enemies and copy thier abilities, or alternatively, inhale and spit out blocks to attack the enemies.

The menu screen where you can select and unlock new games (Screenshot taken by the author)

So what are the games:

Spring Breeze: Similar to Kirby’s Dream Land, although with some differences. King Dedede has stolen all the food from the citizens of Dream Land. Kirby must battle his way to the castle to defeat him and regain the food.

The bright, colourful graphics of the Spring Breeze game (Screenshot taken by the author)

Dyna Blade: Dyna Blade is a giant bird, who is attacking the crops of Dream Land. Kirby must make his way through four levels before he fights Dyna Blade.

Gourmet Race: Kirby must race against King Dedede whilst eating as much food as possible. These races take place across three levels. You earn points during the race by eating food, and you can gain bonus points by coming first. Whoever has most points after all three races is the winner. You have the option to either race King Dedede or his ghost (the player’s best attempt at a race). You can also race alone in a time-trial style mode.

The Great Cave Offensive: An action-adventure type game where Kirby must explore caves to find treasure. There are four areas and 60 treasure chests to find. Some of the treasures are nods to previous Nintendo games, but I won’t spoil the surprise here.

Revenge of Meta Knight: The Meta Knight is attempting to conquer Dream Land in his battleship, the Halberd. Kirby must stop the Meta Knight by defeating him in a duel. Unlike the other games, this one has a time-limit. Naturally when the time runs out, Kirby loses a life.

Milky Way Wishes: The Sun and Moon have engaged in a battle around planet Popstar with a creature named Marx. Kirby must travel to different planets in a bid to fix a giant wish-giving clock called NOVA. Unlike the other games, Kirby cannot adopt the abilities of the enemies he swallows. To adopt different abilities, he must collect items called Copy Essence Deluxes. These allow Kirby to select an ability from a list.

The Arena: This mode challenges Kirby to fight every boss in the game (26 bosses in 19 rounds). Between each fight, you find yourself in a room where you can collect five tomatoes (each one can only be used once), and two random pedestals that will grant you certain powers.

Samurai Kirby: Similar to Kirby’s Adventure’s: Quick Draw, you must wait for the signal before pressing a button to draw. If you draw quicker than your opponent, then you win. If not, you lose.

Draw you scum sucking mollusc! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Megaton Punch: This is another timing-based game. You face one opponent at a time and must press the button at certain times to gain power before Kirby attempts to punch the ground and crack a star. The person who produces the biggest crack wins.

Megaton Punch is a great game in two-player mode (Screenshot taken by the author)

I’ll have to be honest. The thought of playing this game didn’t inspire me with confidence. If I were in a shop browsing games to buy, I would not gravitate towards this one simply because it looks like it is a game for younger gamers.

That being said, the gameplay is quite fun. I like the idea of being able to adopt different abilities from your enemies, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Kirby can also fly and swim, and has a defensive pose that makes him virtually invincible. An annoying feature of the gameplay is that when you attack, you cannot turn around until your attack has been completed, which sounds odd when I write it, but it will make sense when you play the game. There are however, some nice little animations, such as when Kirby enters water, he wears a goggle and snorkel kit.

The graphics are bright, sharp, and colourful, and sickeningly cute. The music was upbeat and fitting for the game, but as I sit hear writing this, I can’t recite the tune in my head. Sadly, this game couldn’t hold my attention for long.

Spring Breeze and Dyna Blade are very easy games and would be perfect for younger gamers. The Great Cave Offensive and Revenge of the Meta Knight are more difficult and may hold the attention of an adult for a while. Personally, I think the two best games to play are Samurai Kirby and Megaton Punch. They are pretty fun in one-player mode, but are so much better in two-player mode, and would definitely recommend you play these with a friend.

Did I complete the game?

I completed Spring Breeze and Dyna Blade, but not any of the others.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Dan – “I don’t understand why I like this game. I’m almost ashamed of it. It’s just that the cart is a piñata packed full of little goodies. You’ll just have to experience it to understand what I mean. Once you play it with a friend, you’ll be hooked. Overall 7.25/10.[1]

Gamepro: “Everything’s improved from the 8-bit games (32 megs will do that). The graphics are sharp and colourful, and the spirited music changes constantly. If you haven’t gone Kirbying lately, bask in the light of this superstar. Overall 4.87/5.[2]

My verdict: “The truth is, not everyone is going to like this game. The graphics and music are great but this game gets boring very quickly, and I can’t recommend it for adult gamers, even for the Samurai Kirby and Megaton Punch games, which, for me, are the best feature of this cart.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Kirby’s Super Star? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] ‘Review Crew: Playstation – Kirby’s Super Star’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (September 1996). Issue 86:30. https://retrocdn.net/images/2/2e/EGM_US_086.pdf Accessed 27th February 2020).

[2] Captain Cameron, ‘The 16-bit Gamer’s Survival Guide: ProReviews: SNES – Kirby’s Super Star’. Gamepro. (November 1996). Issue 88:130. https://archive.org/details/GamePro_Issue_088_November_1996/page/n129/mode/2up Accessed 5th March 2020).

Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered

Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror is a point-and-click adventure game developed by Revolution Software and published by Virgin Interactive. It was released in 1997 on Microsoft Windows and the PlayStation. A remastered edition was released in 2010 on Microsoft Windows, OSX and iOS. For this review, I looked at the original version on the Playstation and PC, and the remastered version on the PC.

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

It has been six months since George Stobbart and Nico Collard stopped the Templar plot. Stobbart has returned to France from the US, where he was visiting his ill father, and plans to resume his relationship with Nico. Together they visit the house of archaeologist Professor Oubier in order to learn about a Mayan artefact that Collard has been researching. After arriving at Oubier’s house, they are ambushed, and Nico is kidnapped. Stobbart must rescue her whilst learning about, and preventing, a conspiracy to release the Mayan God Tezcatlipoca during an imminent eclipse.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”, or so the old saying goes. The graphics have remained in the classic animated film style, which I am a fan of. The music, whilst subtle, is atmospheric and fitting, and usually indicates either danger or that an important puzzle has been solved. The controls and gameplay also remain the same, that is, you can control George and Nico (at separate times during the game) and direct them to walk or interact with objects by using a cursor. The cursor icon will change depending on what action you can do. For example, if you place the cursor over an item you are able to pick up, the icon will turn into an animated hand that motions as if to pick up an object. It’s all very clear and straight forward. You are also able access your items from your inventory by moving your cursor to the top of the screen, where your collected items will appear. Similarly, when talking to another character, icons will appear at the bottom of the screen, indicating that more information can be gleaned from that person.

The Remastered Version

After replaying the game years after its release, Charles Cecil, who originally designed the game, wished to fix several issues he noted about the original version. He felt that the backgrounds were too pixelated, the movies were of poor quality, the audio needed sharpening up and that some of the dialogue seemed a bit out of place. With these issues addressed, Cecil explains that they decided to add a diary and a hint system. He also enlisted the help of illustrator Dave Gibbons to create new artwork for an interactive-comic bonus.[1]

A large brick building

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A comparison between the original (top) and the remastered (bottom) versions (Screenshot taken by the author)

There is a small difference with the original in how you gain access to your items. In the corners of the screen are slightly translucent icons. The bottom left is a satchel where your can find your collected items; the bottom right is the diary, reminding you of your journey; top left is the option menu, and top right is a question mark for when you need help. When talking to another character, a box will appear onscreen with icons that you can click on to gather information from that person.

A person standing in front of a building

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A comparison between the original (top) and the remastered (bottom) versions (Screenshot taken by the author)

I enjoyed playing this game, but I think I still prefer the first instalment. It was great to see some familiar faces from the first game, and there were some interesting new characters added too.For me, there are two things that let this game down. Firstly, I felt that they didn’t provide enough information on the Maya and Tezcatlipoca. Other players may not feel they needed more information but I’m an archaeologist and a historian by trade, and so my curiosity naturally seeks more information on such subjects. My second gripe was slightly rectified in the remastered version in that I wish they had added something new to the game to.

In the remastered version, the graphics do look a lot smoother, and the colours have been toned down a bit to add more realism to the scenes. The little portrait character boxes that appear during conversations is a nice new touch too.

Did I complete the game?:

Yes, but I found this game tougher than the first and so probably used hints more often.

What the critics said of the original Version:

Gamespot: (Playstation) “The horrendous loading times that plagued the original have been trimmed a great deal, and the animation runs a lot smoother. Still, the game is not for everyone. Earfuls of semi-relevant conversation and the digital pad’s inability to properly replicate a mouse make Broken Sword II tedious at times. But while Broken Sword II certainly isn’t revolutionary, it’s still refreshing to see a game of this nature done well. A compelling story, plot twists, offbeat humour, great graphics, and solid sound makes Broken Sword II a game with great aspirations. It’s simply too bad the game’s format and the Playstation’s limited capabilities keep Broken Sword II from fully realizing them. Overall 6.9/10.[2]

Gamespsot: (PC) “George is slightly more sophisticated (a consequence of all that traveling he did in Circle of Blood no doubt), Nico has been fleshed out a bit and takes on a few adventures of her own, and the quirky humour of Circle of Blood raises its oddball head once more (i.e., the minor character who gets up from his desk only to reveal that he works in bikini underwear – not pants – because it makes him feel friskier). It’s Circle of Blood with new characters, a new storyline, a new threat to world harmony, and a few omissions and additions that help to streamline the adventure. Overall 7.9/10.[3]

Next Generation: (PC) “What’s new helps the game immensely, and the already intuitive interface is still there. Smoking Mirror may not be an outstanding leap in graphics adventures, but much like the sequel to a good book, it’s a fun romp with familiar characters and well-worth the price of purchase. Overall 3/5.[4]

Computer Gaming World: (PC) “All in all, Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror is above average, but it’s not great. While the engine and the graphics have been refined, there are some minor slips in plot, dialogue, puzzles that bring the whole experience down a bit. Overall 3.5/5.[5]

What the critics said of the remastered version:

Gamezone: (PC) “Among the most impressive things about the Broken Sword series are its animated cut scenes, which look fantastic on the iPad. The animation itself is a bit dated, but it also brings a sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of cartoons and animated movies of the same time period. The voice acting is solid, and the game sounds great on the iPad. The remastered version of The Smoking Mirror is compatible with both the iPad and iPhone, and though the game can look a bit stretched and blurry at times on the iPad, the bigger screen is preferable for gameplay purposes. Overall 8/10.[6]

My verdict:

“A great sequel and enthralling storyline. Great graphics, and tougher puzzles than the first instalment. Pity that about the lack of innovation in gameplay, and information regarding the Mayan culture”

Rating:

What are your memories of Broken Sword II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Hoggins, T., (January 4th 2011). ‘Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror Interview’. The Telegraph. (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/video-games/8238685/Broken-Sword-II-The-Smoking-Mirror-interview.html Accessed 7th March 2020).

[2] Stohl, B., (May 5th 2000). ‘Broken Sword II Review – Playstation’. http://www.gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/broken-sword-ii-review/1900-2545928/ Accessed on 7th March 2020).

[3] Muldoon, M., (May 1st 2000). ‘Broken Sword II Review – PC’. http://www.gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/broken-sword-the-smoking-mirror-review/1900-2538230/ Accessed on 7th March 2020).

[4] ‘Rating: PC – Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror’. Next Generation. (December 1997). Issue 36:170. (https://archive.org/details/NextGeneration36Dec1997/page/n171/mode/2up Accessed on 7th March 2020).

[5] Nguyen, T., ‘Review: PC – Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:162. (http://www.cgwmuseum.org/galleries/issues/cgw_164.pdf Accessed on 13th February 2020).

[6] Chase, S., (May 4th 2012). ‘Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered Review’ Gamezone.com. (https://www.gamezone.com/reviews/broken_sword_ii_the_smoking_mirror_-_remastered/ Accessed 7th March 2020).

Super Mario Kart

Racing games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, as gamers usually expect realism and serious competition. Super Mario Kart took already established and loved characters and put them in a family-friendly racing game. The result was the beginning of a huge series of games that saw children and adults alike competing for hours in heated but fun and entertaining tournaments. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Super Mario Kart!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

SMK is a kart racing game developed and published by Nintendo. It was released in North America and Japan in 1992, and Europe in 1993 on the SNES. It was later released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2009, and the Wii U Virtual Console in 2013. The version I reviewed can be found on the SNES Mini.

This is a racing game with a difference. You can choose from eight classic Mario characters including Mario, Luigi, Toad, Donkey Kong Jr, Bowser, Princess Peach, Yoshi and Koopa Troopa. Each character has different characteristics, e.g., Top speed, acceleration and handling. You then race on a number of tracks based on Super Mario World (Donut Plains, Ghost House and Bowser’s Castle etc.). Throughout the race you can pick up various weapons and power-ups such as turtle shells, banana skins and super stars to assist you.

One of the tracks from Donut Land

SMK has two, one-player modes. The first is Mario Kart GP which is divided into two kart speeds: 50cc and 100cc. You can also unlock a 150cc mode when you win all the trophies from 100cc mode. Each kart speed has three trophies to attain: The Mushroom Cup, The Flower Cup and the Star Cup. The more challenging 100cc option also adds The Special cup which contains tougher race tracks. Each cup consists of five, five-lap races. Depending on where you finish in the races will depend on how many points you accrue. The racer with the highest amount of points at the end of the cup competition will determine who wins the trophy. If a racer finishes between 5th to 8th then the player will lose a life and will have to race that track again. You can gain extra lives by finishing in the same position three races in a row.

The second one-player mode is he Time Trial Mode. t’s pretty self-explanatory, you simply race each track and try to gain the fastest time possible.

One of the Ghost House tracks (Screenshot taken by the author)

Although one-player mode is fun and challenging, this game really comes into its own in two-player mode. Hours of swearing at your best mate and calling them “cheating bastards” as I recall from my youth when I’d lose. In two-player mode, you and a friend can compete in Mario Kart GP, Match Race and Battle Mode. In two-player mode, the same rules apply for Mario Kart GP as in one-player mode, but you compete simultaneously via split-screen. In Match Race you can pick and choose which tracks you wish to compete on for a single race without other CPU racers. Battle mode is also head to head and sees each racer begin with three balloons spinning around their kart. You have a choice of four arenas in which you can pick up weapons and power-ups and attack your opponent. The first player that has all their balloons popped, loses. All of these features give the game loads of replay value.

Battle Mode (Screenshot taken by the author)

Wikipedia claims that in an interview with Super Mario Kart creator Shigeru Miyamoto, he explained that SMK was originally developed as an experiment to see if they could create a game capable of displaying the same game on the same screen simultaneously. Whilst I have heard this before, sadly, I haven’t been able to verify this quote, as Wikipedia’s links are broken. If this is true, then this experiment was fortuitous because it culminated in the creation of one of the most popular sub-series of games from Nintendo, with the initial instalment selling over 8 million copies.[1]

If you would like to learn more about the origins of Super Mario Kart, I can recommened listening to episode 17 of season 2 of The Life and Times of Video Games podcast.

What can I say? This game is great! The graphics are bright and colourful, the music sounds perfect for the game, and the gameplay is easy to learn. A nice little touch, to stop you dominating the grid all the time, is that if you are in first place, you will get less effective power-ups and weapons. The further back in the pack your are, the better your weapons and power-ups. My only criticism for this game is that the graphics for the tracks themselves are a little blocky, but that can be forgiven because, in my opiniom, gameplay trumps graphics everytime (controvesial I know).

I had a blast revisiting this game, and it was as fun as I remembered. My blood was pumping as I scraped wins, and dodged banana skins. My favourite character play with is Yoshi. I tried other players too (I really dislike playing with Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr) and found that I also like playing with Mario and Koopa Troopa.

Did I complete the game?

Although I completed 50cc mode, as of yet I cannot seem to win the Star Cup in 100cc mode.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “This is the best driving game to come along for some time. Mario Kart may look like an F-Zero clone on the surface, but there are many interesting upgrades ranging from power-ups to special combat battle modes using a split-screen layout. Replay options and plenty of tracks add to the appeal of this super game. Overall 8.5/10.[2]

Gamerpro: “Here’s one that’s a winner. Super Mario Kart makes wheel-spinning, bumper-grinding, motor racing actually cute! The little guys definitely have a lot of drive. Overall 4.75/5.[3]

Electronic Games: “Super Mario Kart has a fast-paced feelwith plenty of in-depth play. While the gameplay isn’t totally revolutionary, the action does deviate from what we’ve been exposed to in the past to make this new driving adventure something worthwhile to add to the collection, whether you’re a fan of driving titles, or Mario. Overall 93%.[4]

Superplay: Matt Bielby – “Quite simply the best racing game yet on the Super Nintendo, and one of the funniest, most playable ones on any system. The balloon-bursting option is a delight! Guaranteed to be one of the most played carts in the Superplay office for the rest of the year. Overall 93%.[5]

Superplay: Jonathon Davies – “Everything we could have hoped for, and more. It’s completely impossible to fault. In fact, this is the sort of thing the Super Nintendo is all about –  sheer perfection (ahem). (Make sure you find yourself a decent opponent, though). Overall 93%.[6]

My verdict:

“A simple concept but a fantastically fun game, especially in two-player mode that will keep you coming back for more. Tons of replay value, with countless evenings with friends and family is what this game is all about.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Super Mario Kart? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] (14th April 2010). ‘IGN’s Top 100 Games of All Time – Super Mario Kart’. http://www.top1ign.100.com. https://web.archive.org/web/20120414133232/http://top100.ign.com/2007/ign_top_game_23.html Accessed 24th February 2020.

[2] ‘Review Crew: SNES – Super Mario Kart’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (November 1992). Volume 5 Issue 11:26. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/7f/EGM_US_040.pdf Accessed 25th February 2020).

[3] ‘Bro. Buzz, ‘Pro Review: Super Nes – Super Mario Kart’. Gamerpro. (December 1992). :80-2. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/26/GamePro_US_041.pdf Accessed 25th February 2020).

[4] Stevens, S., ‘Video Game Gallery: SNES – Super Mario Kart’. Electronic Games. (December 1992). Volume 1 Issue 3:79-80. (https://archive.org/stream/Electronic-Games-1992-12/Electronic%20Games%201992-12#page/n79/mode/2up Accessed 25th February 2020).

[5] Import Review: SNES – Super Mario Kart. Superplay. (November 1992). Issue 1:29-30. (https://archive.org/details/Superplay_Issue_01_1992-11_Future_Publishing_GB/page/n29/mode/2up Accessed 22nd February 2020).

[6] Davies, J., Import Review: SNES – Super Mario Kart. Superplay. (November 1992). Issue 1:29-30. (https://archive.org/details/Superplay_Issue_01_1992-11_Future_Publishing_GB/page/n29/mode/2up Accessed 22nd February 2020).

Saboteur

I was born in 1983, and had an older brother and father who were interested in computer games. Although I vaguely remember some sort of computer system that we played Pong on, the first computer system that we owned that I really remember was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Games on cassette tapes, multi-coloured loading screens, and games frustratingly crashing often were my childhood memories. One game that holds a special place in my heart is Saboteur, as it was the first game that I completed. I remember playing it alot as a child. My dad even spent time creating a map showing every room and all the features. The version I reviewed is from the ZX Spectrum 128.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Saboteur is a single-player stealth action-adventure game. It was developed by Clive Townsend and published by Durell Software in 1985 for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 16. Enhanced versions were released for the PC, iOS and Android in 2017, and the Nintendo Switch in 2018.

Beware of the Dog! (Screenshot taken by the author)

You play as a ninja who must infiltrate a warehouse to steal a floppy disk, which contains names of rebel leaders, before escaping in a helicopter. Along the way you may have to evade or engage in hand to hand combat with guards and guard dogs. You can also pick up and throw projectiles such as shurikens, knives and bricks. To add to the excitement, you’re given a time limit with which to complete the mission.

There are nine skill levels which increase the difficulty of the mission by including more guards, more locked security doors and giving the player less time to complete the mission. This feature adds to the overall replay value of the game.

Let’s start with the music. The music is only existant once the game has loaded, and you see the first option screen where you can opt to play with a joystick, keyboard or Kempton interface. You also have the option to redefine the command keys. The music that plays over this menu is actually pretty good. It reminds me of the sort of music melody that might be played over any number of 80s action movies. It tells the player that the game is serious and means business. Sadly, there is no in-game music.

Use your kung-fu skills to take out the guards (Screenshot taken by the author)

As far as SFX goes, the game is quiet. I don’t know whether the lack of in-game music and SFX was intentional or not, bearing in mind that this is supposed to be a stealth game. You can hear the boat as it arrives at the dock and your saboteur’s footsteps as he runs. There is a noise when you’re being fired at and when you attack a guard, but other than that the game is eerily silent. This silence, intentional or not, actually adds to the atmosphere of the game.

The graphics are smooth, and I like the way that there is a stark difference between rooms that are lit and rooms that are supposed to be in darkness. The sprites are clear and well defined, and there is virtually no colour bleed between sprites, and the backgrounds.

The game is easy to learn and control, and there are plenty of places to explore, even if you don’t necesarily need to visit them to complete the mission.

What the critics said:

Computer & Video Games: “Saboteur is an addictive, exciting and challenging game. A mixture of Exploding Fist and Impossible Mission. It’s a winner – watch it climb the charts! Overall 9.25/10.[1]

Sinclair User: “The game is very realistic, the graphics are outsnaindgly smooth and there is no colour clash or flicker to speak of. There are nin levels of play, ranging from extremely easy to extremely difficult. Overall 5/5“.[2]

Your Sinclair: “Saboteur manags to combine the good graphical representations of the other kung-fu games with a solid background of an action-packed story. One to be recommended. Overall 9/10”.[3]

Computer Gamer: “An exceptional game that takes the kung-fu game a stage further to perfection. Overall 4.75/5.[4]

My verdict:

“Modern gamers, don’t be fooled by the seemingly crude graphics and lack of music and SFX. This game is challenging and fun, and there is enough here to have you wanting to continue playing on harder difficulty settings.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Saboteur? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] ‘Software Review: Saboteur’. Computer & Video Games. (January 1986). :23. (http://live.worldofspectrum.org/infoseek/magazines/computer–video-games/51#22 Accessed 26th February 2020).

[2] Edgely, C., ‘Spectrum Software Scene: Saboteur’. Sinclair User. (January 1986). Issue 46:20. (http://live.worldofspectrum.org/infoseek/magazines/sinclair-user/46#20 Accessed 26th February 2020).

[3] ‘Review: Saboteur’. Your Sinclair. (January 1986). Issue 1:66-7. (https://archive.org/details/your-sinclair-01/page/n65/mode/2up Accessed 26th February 2020).

[4] ‘Reviews: Saboteur’. Computer Gamer. (December 1986). Issue 9:74. (https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gamer_Issue_09_1985-12_Argus_Press_GB/page/n73/mode/2up Accessed on 26th February 2020).

Phantasy Star II

A picture containing text, book

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Before the 1990s, RPGs were a niche genre in the video game world. They take a lot of time and effort to play, and not everyone has the patience or desire to attempt such gargantuan games. However, those that do play RPGs cherish every moment of their journeys through fantastical universes. They take great care in building up their warriors and magic users in order to defeat hordes of enemies. Phantasy Star was one such RPG which was highly praised by critics, even though it did push the Sega Master System to its limits.[1] The successor to the Master System, the Mega Drive, offered the creators of Phantasy Star II more to work with.

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star II is a single-player RPG developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1989, but it wouldn’t reach North America and Europe until 1990. It was later re-released on the Sega Saturn and Game Boy Advance as part of the Phantasy Star Collection, and the Dreamcast as part of the Smash Pack Volume 1. In 2005, an updated remake was released in Japan for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable. The version I played was the Mega Drive version on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection on the PlayStation 3 (also available on the Xbox).

Walking around the overworld (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game is set 1000 years after the events of Phantasy Star and takes us back to the Andromeda galaxy and the Algo star system. Orbiting the Algo sun are three planets: Palma – where the government reside; Mota – once an arid desert planet that has since been transformed into a tropical paradise; and Dezo – an inhospitable ice planet.

The Algo star system has prospered under the control of Mother Brain, a computer that regulates the climate, and is responsible for terraforming Mota. However, Mother Brain has started malfunctioning, producing increasingly strong monsters. One night, Rolf (our main protagonist) awakes from a nightmare, where a young girl whom he doesn’t recognise is battling a demon. It is suggested that this girl is Alis from Phantasy Star. After being informed of Mother Brain’s malfunction, Rolf, along with Nei, a humanoid with cat-like features, sets off to investigate why Mother Brain has seemingly turned against her creators.

The screens for dialogue have been greatly improved (Screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star II is first video game to use  a mega 6-bit cartridge. This enabled the designers to create the largest world yet seen in a video game.[2] They have dispensed with the dingeon crawling parts of the game, and have focussed on the overworld views when trawling through the dungeons. As expected, the overall graphics have been improved, creating three very distinct worlds. The sprites in the overworld maps are more individualised and are brightly coloured. The dialogue screens have also been greatly updated to anime-style character screens.

Where did the beautiful backgrounds go? (Screenshot taken by the author)

The battles screens are greatly improved. Firstly, you can now see your characters attacking animations, and the enemies are more varied and detailed. Sadly, they decided to take away the scenic backgrounds and replace them with a blue grid. I’m not sure what the thinking was behind that decision. They have still yet to fix the fighting menu. Annoyingly, You still need to scroll through the menus to target individual monsters which is tiresome.

There are two further irritating aspects to this game which I would have hoped they’d have resolved by now. The first is that many of the names of the plethora of spells you are able to use do not indicate what type of spell it is. The manual doesn’t have any information on this either, so you need to experiment during battles to find out what the oddly named spells do.

“That’s part of the fun!”, I hear some of you cry. Not really. One would assume that a magic user would know what the spell was they were using. Hopefully this will be resolved in Phantasy Star III.

The second irritating aspect is that you do not have a combined inventory, so you need to constantly scroll through the menus in order to exchange items between your fighters. Its exasperating!

Overworld view on Dezo world (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Yes, it felt like a slog at times, and needed a walkthrough on occasion.

Dragon: “The animation, especially for battles, is superb. There are over 50 spells available. Even weapons and armor can give benefits to characters beyond their normal effects. For example, special armor found in one dungeon allows the wearer to cast a healing spell every so often. The battle system enables more than one type of creature to attack and allows the characters to attack specific creatures instead of idiotically going after one creature at a time. This game is definitely a winner. Overall 5/5”.[3]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Martin – “RPG’s aren’t my thing., but this one has a monstrous quest anyone can get involved with and lost in…I wish the battle scenes were on landscapes instead of boring blue grid, but all in all PS2 is presented well. Overall 8/10”.[4]

Raze: “Large combat sprites, wonderful scenes and backdrops. Great in-game effects and unobtrusive background music. A challenging quest packed with gameplay. Overall 90%”.[5]

Video Games and Computer Entertainment: “It’s very user friendly, with a simple but extensive menu system, and a battery back-up that allows you to save numerous games in progress. The plot advances quickly, providing a constant stream of new subplots…Phantasy Star II is a complex and eminently enjoyable game that will give you more variety and challenge for your buck than any other video game. Overall 9/10”.[6]

Zero: “Phantasy Star II is definitely not just any old thing. In fact, it’s just about everything you could want from this kind of game – big (very big), involved, exciting and challenging. Overall 89%”.[7]

My verdict:

“Graphically, a great improvement on the first, with an engaging story and plenty of action to keep you quiet for many hours. They just need to sort out that poxy battle menu! RPG fans will love this game!”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Tracy, T., (16th December 2002). ‘Phantasy Star Collection Review’. Gamespot.com.  (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/phantasy-star-collection-review/1900-2901862/ Accessed 15th March 2020).

[2] Adams, R., ‘Wishing on a Phantasy Star II’. Computer Gaming World. (November 1990). Issue 76:85. https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_76/page/n83/mode/2up Accessed 14th March 2020.

[3] ‘Phantasy Star II’. Dragon. (August 1990). Issue 160:51.  https://www.annarchive.com/files/Drmg160.pdf Accessed 14th March 2020).

[4] ‘Phantasy Star 2’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1990). Issue 9:18.  https://archive.org/details/Electronic_Gaming_Monthly_Issue_009_April_1990/page/n19/mode/2up Accessed 14th March 2020).

[5] ‘Reviews: Phantasy Star 2’. Raze. (April 1991). Issue 6:34-5. http://www.outofprintarchive.com/articles/reviews/MegaDrive/PhantasyStar2-Raze6-2.html Accessed 15th March 2020).

[6] ‘Sega Genesis – Phantasy Star 2’. Video Games and Computer Entertainment. (March 1990) Issue :34 & 49. https://retrocdn.net/images/d/d2/VG%26CE_US_14.pdf#page=24 Accessed 15th March 2020.

[7] ‘Review Console: Mega Drive – Phantasy Star II’. Zero. (March 1991). Issue 17:88. (https://archive.org/details/zero-magazine-17/page/n87/mode/2up Accessed 15th March 2020.

Street Fighter II

Every once in a while, a game comes along and raises the bar for video games everywhere. In the 70s there was Space Invaders, Pong and Asteroids. In the 80s you had Pacman, Super Mario Bros. and Tetris. In 1991 Street Fighter II hit the arcade and was an instant hit, and people lined up to spend their pocket money for a few minutes of intense action.

Titel screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting is a competitive fighting game developed and published by Capcom for the arcade and released in 1992. It is part of a sub-series of Street Fighter II games along with Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, Super Street Fighter Turbo, and Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition. I will not be reviewing each sub-series instalment individually, so they will all be lumped in together. The instalment I reviewed was the Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting version that can be found of the SNES Mini.

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting was also ported to the following:

  • 1992 – Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum ZX and PC (DOS)
  • 1994 – CPS Changer
  • 1995 – Game Boy
  • 1997 – Master System
  • 1998 – Saturn and PlayStation
  • 2004 – Mobile
  • 2006 – PlayStation 2, XBox and PlayStation Portable
  • 2018 – PlayStation 4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows

According to Street Fighter “canon”, Ryu won the first tournament by defeating Sagat. During the battle, Sagat was badly injured by Ryu, hence his chest scar, and suffered a mental breakdown. Later, the story seems to have changed a bit. Now, Sagat was winning the fight quite easily. When Ryu had been knocked down, Sagat offers a hand to help him up. Ryu, possibly affected by the darker nature of his martial art, takes advantage of this show of mercy and performs a Shoryuken to Sagat’s chest. Ryu goes on to win the tournament. Sagat melts away, is recruited by M. Bison and joins Shadaloo (Shadowloo – a powerful and deadly criminal organisation).[1]

There are 12 characters to choose from and the fights take place all over the world (Screenshot taken by the author)

So, we find ourselves entering a second tournament. Who are the competitors?

  • Ryu is the champion of the first tournament and a student of Shotoken karate. Dedicating his entire life to martial arts, Ryu has no home, no family or friends. He wanders the globe testing his skills against other fighters.
  • Ken is also a student of Shotoken karate, but has a huge ego to match his fighting ability. In recent years, Ken has not been training as hard, and is not as sharp as he used to be. A challenge from fellow student Ryu prompts Ken back into action and he enters the tournament.
  • E. Honda is the greatest sumo wrestler of all time and has received the highly prestigious title of “Yokozuna” (Grand Champion). After hearing that the world doesn’t consider sumo wrestling a true sport, he has entered the tournament to prove the them all wrong.
  • Guile is ex-special forces. He was captured and imprisoned, along with co-pilot Charlie, during a mission to Cambodia (or Malaysia depending on which information you read). After months of imprisonment in the jungle, they escaped and began their long trek back to civilisation. Along the way Charlie died, and Guile has been seeking vengeance ever since.
  • Chun-li is an undercover Interpol officer secretly tracking a smuggling organisation known as Shadowloo. The trail leads to the tournament in which she enters, believing that one of the Grand Masters (Balrog, Vega, Sagat or M. Bison) is responsible for her father’s death.
  • Blanka is somewhat of an enigma. From the rainforest of Brazil, he is the source of reported sightings of a creature that is half-man, half-beast. Recently he has been found wandering into cities and fighting whoever dares to confront him.
  • Zangief is a proud Russian. He loves his country and he loves fighting! One of his favourite pastimes is wrestling bears, hence the scars all over his body.
  • Dhalsim has spent a lifetime dedicating himself to yoga. He has a disciplined mind, but now he wishes to enter the tournament to test his fighting skills. Proving himself will help him gain a higher state of consciousness.
  • Balrog (based on boxer Mike Tyson) is a former Heavyweight boxing champion who has been banned from the ring for disobeying the rules. He is very strong and very aggressive, and fights in the streets of Las Vegas for money. He is also bodyguard to M. Bison.
  • Vega is a nobleman by birth, he has spent time blending Ninjitsu with skills learnt while he was a matador. He has been nicknamed the “Spanish Ninja”.
  • Sagat was once labelled “King of the Street Fighters” but has since lost this title due to being defeated by Ryu in the first tournament. Skilled in Muay Thai boxing, he plans to regain his title in this tournament.
  • M. Bison is a mysterious but powerful man. He is the leader of the criminal organisation Shadowloo. He is the ultimate boss that must be defeated to ensure victory.[2]
Fight! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Street Fighter II can be played in one or two-player modes. In one-player mode, once you have selected a fighter, you must battle your way through all the other opponents before fighting the Grand Masters: Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison. There are eight difficulty settings allowing for less experienced players to practice on easier settings. Each character has their own motivation for entering the tournament, and in order to see each character’s own unique ending, you need to defeat the game on at least level six (as I recall but I may be wrong).

Shoryuken! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Each character is distinct (although nowadays some argue a little stereotyped) and has their own individual fighting styles, except for Ken and Ryu who have the same Shotoken fighting style. The fights take place all over the world with beautifully illustrated and animated backdrops. The music is memorable, with each fighter having their own distinct tune. Some, annoyingly, get stuck in your head.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Like all great games, Street Fighter II is easy to play but difficult to master. Once the fun of the one-player mode has been exhausted, Street Fighter II really comes into its own with a highly addictive two-player mode. All over the world, you can be guaranteed to bump into people who have memories and stories about late rainy afternoons and nights with friends playing into the the early hours of the morn. Additionally, during one and two-player modes, you can increase the fun and challenge even more by turning the time limit and increasing or decreasing the speed of the game.

Did I complete the game?

I have completed the game in the sense that I have finished the game with all 12 characters and have seen their respective endings. However, I have not defeated the game with all 12 players on the hardest setting.

What the critics said:

Edge Magazine: “If you own SNES SFII it’s still a tricky decision whether you should buy Turbo: at current import prices, probably not. But if you’ve yet to be introduced to the genteel art of street-fighting, and have a few pounds to shed, SFII Turbo is the one to get. Overall 9/10“.[3]

Gamepro: “Despite the minor quibbles with the AI of the computer, the repetitive crowd-noise effect, and the removal Re-Dizzy Combos from CE mode, SF II Turbo is worth every penny for its boss and speed features alone. Overall 5/5“.[4]

Nintendo Power: “This game is a must have for all Super NES players who like action and competition. Overall 4/5.[5]

Electronic Games: “For those looking for a good fighting game, Street Fighter II is the best to date. Capcom should be proud. This translation has no equal. Overall 94%.[6]

Superplay: “Faults? Well, as a one-player game it’s superb, but inevitably has its limits – it’s the two-player game that makes it so great, even trouncing Super Tennis for laughs and general lasting interst. Overall 94%.[7]

Super NES Buyer’s Guide: “Spectacular graphics, great animations and realistic sounds make this a great game to get! Overall 9.3/10.[8]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Steve: “All the moves, graphics, gameplay and sounds are rolled into a 16-Meg cartridge that will do anything but disappoint fans of the arcade original or fighting games in general. Awesome! Overall 9.5/10.[9]

N-Force: “The smooth animation’s poetry in motion, it’s martial art! Apart from minor control problems which will be remedied with the new joypad, this is everything you could ask for. If you’ve got a SNES you’ve got to get a copy. It’s the game of the year! Overall 96%.[10]

Megazone: “Street Fighter II is already and undoubted classic on the arcades and this classy conversion will be a smash hit for the Super Nintendo. Overall 95%.[11]

Awards:

Best Game of the Year (All Games Systems) & (SNES) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[12]

Best Video Game Ending (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[13]

Joint winner of Best Video Game Babe (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[14]

Hottest New Character in a Video Game (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[15]

Best Trick That Didn’t Work (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[16]

According to Wikipedia, Street Fighter II won several more accolades, but as of yet, I have been unable to find the original magazines to verify.

My verdict: “Memorbale characters, memorable music, and fab gameplay. SFII has multiple difficulty levels, plenty of different characters to use, and a competitive two-player mode, giving this game huge replay value. SFII remains close to the hearts of gamers everywhere.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Street Fighter II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Jasper, G., (July 20th, 2018). ‘Street Fighter: Timeline and Story Explained’. www.denofgeek.com. (https://www.denofgeek.com/us/games/street-fighter-v/242133/street-fighter-timeline-and-story-explained Accessed 20th February 2020).

[2] ‘The World Warriors’. Street Fighter II: Turbo Instruction Manual. (March 1991). :14-37. https://www.nintendo.co.jp/clvs/manuals/common/pdf/CLV-P-SABHE.pdf Accessed 20th February 2020).

[3] ‘Testscreen: SNES – Street Fighter II: Turbo’. Edge Magazine. (October 1993). Issue 1:82. https://archive.org/details/EDGE.N001.1993.10-Escapade/page/n81/mode/2up Accessed 21st February 2020).

[4] Quan, S., ‘Super NES ProReview: Street Fighter II: Turbo’. Gamepro. (August 1993). Issue 49:26-35. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[5] ‘Now Playing: SNES – Street Fighter II’. Nintendo Power. (August 1993). Issue 38:105. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20038%20July%201992#page/n113/mode/2up Accessed 21st February 2020).

[6] Camron, M., ‘Video Game Gallery: SNES – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Games. (October 1992). Volume 1 Issue 1:72. (https://archive.org/stream/Electronic-Games-1992-10/Electronic%20Games%201992-10#page/n71/mode/2up Accessed 21st February 2020).

[7] Brookes, J., ‘UK Review: SNES – Street Fighter II’. Superplay. (November 1992). Issue 1:67. (https://archive.org/details/Superplay_Issue_01_1992-11_Future_Publishing_GB/page/n65/mode/2up Accessed 22nd February 2020).

[8] ‘Super NES Review – Street Fighter II’. Super Nes Buyer’s Guide. (July 1992). Volume 1 Issue 2:60. (https://archive.org/details/snes_buyers_guide_002r_-_1992_jul/page/n59/mode/2up Accessed 22nd February 2020).

[9] Steve., ‘Review Crew – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (July 1992). Volume 5 Issue 7:18. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_036.pdf Accessed 23rd February 2020).

[10] ‘Reviewed! – Street Fighter II’. N-Force. (August 1992). Issue 2:48-9. (https://archive.org/details/N-Force_No_2_1992-08_Europress_Impact_GB/page/n47/mode/2up Accessed 23rd February 2020).

[11] Iredale, A., ‘Review: SNES – Street Fighter II’. Megazone. (October/November 1992). Issue :36-7. (https://retrocdn.net/images/5/55/Megazone_AU_24.pdf Accessed 23rd February 2020).

[12] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Game of the Year (All Game Systems) & (SNES) – Street Fighter II: Turbo’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :14. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[13] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Video Game Ending (All Systems) – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :20. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[14] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Video Game Babe (All Systems) – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :20. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[15] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Hottest New Character in a Video Game (All Systems) – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :20. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

[16] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Trick That Didn’t Work (All Systems) – Street Fighter II’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :22. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

Myst

Adventure game creators have always sought to immerse gamers into their imaginary worlds but have sometimes been limited by technology. For example, I remember some early Spectrum games that were simply text based. Although they were fun, I never felt immersed in the game. Myst was the first game I’d played where I felt that the immersion experience was successful on me. Others may differ but I can only tell you how I felt about it. I should also warn you that there is a spoiler near the end of the review.

A plain and mysterious title screen, giving little away. Much like the game itself. (Screenshot taken by the author)

Developed by Cyan Inc. and published by Brøderbund Software, Myst was released for the Macintosh in 1993, Windows in 1994, 3DO in 1995, and PlayStation in 1996. A remake was released for Windows in 2000 and Macintosh in 2002, and the realMyst: Masterpiece Edition was released on Steam in 2014. The game was ported to many other platforms including Sega Saturn, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Android, iPhone, Nintendo 3DS, Jaguar CD, Amiga OS, CD-I, For this review I replayed the original Windows version.

Your view as you explore this mysterious world

Viewed in first person mode, Myst is a graphics adventure puzzle game which sees an unnamed protagonist (that’s you) falling into a fissure and appearing on a mysterious island. You are able to move and turn by using a cursor to click the route you wish to take or the direction you wish to turn. You can also interact with objects by clicking and dragging them.

One of several notes found on the island to assist you in working out what you are supposed to do. (Screenshot taken by the author)

As you explore the island you learn more about its history and the worlds you will soon visit. Some notes also offer hints to help you progress through the game. You soon learn that you need to gather blue and red pages and restore them to two books found in the observatory.  Two brothers, Sirrus and Achenar, have been trapped inside these books. As each one speaks to you through garbled transmissions, they explain that the other brother is mad and has imprisoned them in the books. They both try to convince you to free them instead of the other brother, both claiming that the other brother murdered their father. To find the pages you must explore several other worlds and solve various puzzles.

Both brothers are trapped in separate books…but which on whould you free? (Screenshot taken by the author)

One of the more interesting aspects of this game is that you are simply thrust into this game with virtually no back story and no idea what you have to do, and oddly, you cannot die! At first you are simply wandering around, searching for buildings to enter and objects to interact with. This can be quite off putting to some as it can take a while to understand what the hell is going on. Some of the puzzles are fun and challenging. Others are less obvious to solve. One annoying aspect of the game is having to return to the same worlds to collect the other page you didn’t collect on your first visit, as you can only pick up one at a time.

One of the other worlds you visit to find the blue and red pages is Channelwood. (Screenshot taken by the author)

I remember when this game was released, and I played it with a school friend. However, we never got that far as it was a bit too difficult for our teenage brains. When I came to it years later, I fared better having gained much experience with these sorts of games. I thought the graphics were out of this world. The background music and minimalistic SFX bring an eerie air to the game adding to the feeling of being truly alone. Having revisited the game over 25 years since its release, I think the game has held up pretty well. Sure the animations are basic and not as smooth as modern games, and the 3D design of the worlds look dated, but the gameplay is straightforward, once you realise what you need to do, and I found myself being immersed in the game once more.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

There are four possible endings, with one of them being the true ending. However, the true ending is frustratingly and unsatisfyingly none existent and I found myself wandering Myst for some time before searching online to see if I had missed something. Nope, sure enough there is no ending. I guess I will have to play the sequel Myst: Riven, to see what happens next.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, but definitely needed help from the walkthrough on this on!

What the critics Said:

Gamespot.com: “Myst is an immersive experience that draws you in and won’t let you go. Overall 8.9/10[1]

My verdict: “This is a tough game and seems to be aimed towards more experience adventure gamers. However, I loved the concept of the game, and the ambient music and SFX immerses you into the game. I just feel it could have been so much better if more story was included. I also felt the way you can only carry one coloured page at a time, meaning you have to go through each world twice, was a cheap way to prolong the game. I mean, who can’t carry two pages!”

Rating:

What are your memories of Myst? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Sengstack, J., (May 1, 1996). ‘Myst Review’. www.gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/myst-review/1900-2542724/ Accessed on 17th February 2020).

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

In 1986, The Legend of Zelda was released for the NES and sold over 6 million copies.[1] Its success spawned a whole series of video games that continue today, with every instalment being much anticipated by fans all over the world. A Link to the Past was one of the SNES’s earliest games in Europe, but sadly I wouldn’t get to play it through properly until 2019.

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past is the third game in the Zelda series. It is an action-adventure game developed and published by Nintendo. It released for the SNES in Japan in 1991, and Europe and North America in 1992. It was ported to the Game Boy Advance as A link to the Past and Four Swords, as well as the Wii, Wii U. It was accessible for the Nintendo 3DS through the Virtual console and the Nintendo Switch through Nintendo Switch Online. The version I reviewed was for the SNES which came with the SNES Mini.

You play as young adventurer Link who must defeat the evil Ganon from gaining the power of the Triforce which would allow him to turn the world dark and evil. Link must save the Kingdom of Hyrule and stop Ganon by rescuing several maidens who are the descendants of the Seven Sages. To do this he must scour the dungeons and defeat a plethora of enemies and end of dungeon bosses.

Link can slash or pick up bushes and stones to find health and rupees (Screenshot taken by the author)

Link is armed with a sword, shield, and bow and arrow with which to fight his enemies. By killing the many minions throughout the worlds, you can gain rupees, arrows and health. Your sword has two actions: You can swing it to attack or if you hold the attack button, your sword will charge and will produce 360 degree swing, which is handy if you are surrounded by enemies. Once you gain the Pegasus Boots you can charge your enemies and stab them with your sword. Along the way you can acquire upgrades for your armour, sword and shield as well as many magical items to aid you in your quest.

The open world design enables you to explore every inch of the Light and Dark worlds, which can become frustratingly tedious at times as it involves returning to the same areas with new items to access secret areas. However, a cool aspect of the game is the need to warp from the Light and Dark worlds in different parts of the map in order to access areas that are inaccessible in the other world (it’ll make sense when you play it). The enemies re-spawn which can be annoying at times, but it also gives you the opportunities to gain more health, rupees and magic.

Link must warp from the Light to the Dark worlds and back again to gain access to certain areas

The main music for the Light World, known as the Hyrule Overture, is dramatic and fitting for the game. It is the music of a hero! The overhead perspective offers a more 3D feel to the game and allows more detail and colour to the backgrounds and sprites. The increasing difficulty of the dungeons and end bosses adds a challenging aspect to the game. You will find yourself spending many hours on this game as there is so much to explore. Don’t feel bad if you use a walkthrough, as some items are hard to find.

The dungeons increase in difficulty, so make sure you are well prepared before attempting them (Screenshot taken by the author)

My little brother had a SNES growing up, but he didn’t buy Link to the Past. The first time I saw it was at my friend Graeme’s house. I never really got to play it, but I watched the very early bits of it and was amazed by how great it looked. When I bought the SNES Mini, I was excited that I would finally get to play it. Was it as good as I’d hoped? Hell yes! My only gripe was that by the end of the game I was a bit bored as I felt it had become monotonous, and I should have been wanting more. Other than that, this is a great game and I would recommend it to all.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, but I did have some assistance from a walkthrough to find certain items.

What the critics said:

Nintendo Power: George: “This game is amazing. Its got incredible graphics, great sound effects, and it’s a well thought out adventure. Overall 4.675/5.[2]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Wow! This is the closest a game has ever come to being perfect. Everything except the graphics gets the best score possible. Unfortunately, Nintendo let us down when it comes to the graphics as there is nothing spectacular here. Overall 8.75/10.[3]

Computer and Video Games: “The graphics are very simple, but the animation is fluid and the game is packed full of colour. Sound-wise, Zelda III is spot on. It has some great orchestral scores and lovely sound effects throughout. If you liked the first two games, or you fancy a spot of RPG related malarkey, the get this straight away. It’s a corker! Overall 89%”.[4]

Superplay: “The long awaited 16-bit Zelda is a brilliantly designed and implemented adventure that puts similar games to shame, in much the same way as Mario dominates the platform world – Nintendo’s top programmer was involved in both games. Overall 9/10.[5]

Awards:

Best Video Game Sequel (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[6]

My verdict:

“It was worth the 27 year wait!!! Beatutiful to look at, excellent gameplay, and an engaging story. Frustratingly lengthy at times, but a classic of the genre, and every gamer must at least attempt to play this game.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Zelda: A Link to the Past? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Sahdev, I., (November 12th, 2019). ‘The Legend of Zelda – Global Sales’. http://www.gamedesigngazette.com. http://www.gamedesigngazette.com/2018/01/the-legend-of-zelda-global-sales.html Accessed 19th February 2020).

[2] George & Rob. ‘Now Playing: SNES – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past’. Nintendo Power. (March 1992). Issue 34:105. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20034%20March%201992#page/n111/mode/2up Accessed 19th February 2020).

[3] ‘Review Crew: SNES – Zelda III’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (March 1992). Issue 32:24. (https://retrocdn.net/images/3/35/EGM_US_032.pdf Accessed 19th February 2020).

[4] O’Connor, F., ‘Review: Famicom – The Legend of Zelda III’ Computer and Video Games Magazine. (February 1992). Issue 123: 68. (https://archive.org/details/computer-and-videogames-123/page/n67/mode/2up Accessed 17th February 2020).

[5] ‘What Cart? RPG/Adventure Games: SNES – Zelda III: A Link to the Past’. Superplay. (November 1992). Issue 1:90. (https://archive.org/details/Superplay_Issue_01_1992-11_Future_Publishing_GB/page/n89/mode/2up Accessed 22nd February 2020).

[6] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Video Game Sequel (All Game Systems) – Legend of Zelda III‘. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :17. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/04/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1993.pdf Accessed 21st February 2020).

Age of Empires II: Age of Kings (Including The Conquerors, The Forgotten, The African Kingdoms, and The Rise of the Rajas Expansion Packs)

Age of Empires (AoE) allowed you to take part in the rise and domination of Ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, Yamato and Romans. The Roman Empire has now collapsed and a power vacuum has appeared in Europe. You can take control of civilisations such as the Mongols, Holy Roman Empire, Moors, and Franks, and follow the stories of some of history’s most famous people such as Joan of Arc, William Wallace, El Cid, Saladin and Barbarossa. It’s time to shine up your armour, sharpen your weapons, and prepare to build an army capable of dominating your enemies. We are now in the Age of Kings!

The Age of Kings

Titlescreen (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

Released in 1999, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is a real-time strategy game and the sequel to Age of Empires. It was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft (for Windows and Macintosh), and Konami ( for Playstation 2) for the 2001 port. A spin-off was created for the Nintendo DS in 2006.

Every campaign has a campaign map allowing you to easily replay missions. This map is from the William Wallace tutorial (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author).

If you are new to AoE, and even if you’re not, a tutorial campaign is available where you help William Wallace (1270-1305) and his armies defend their lands from English encroachment. Other campaigns include:

Joan of Arc (1412-1431): Help the French push the English out of France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Saladin (1137-1193): Fight with the Muslim armies and help expel the Crusaders from the Holy Lands.

Genghis Khan (1162-1227): Lead Khan’s army on their invasion of Europe.

Frederick Barbarossa (1122-1190): The Teutonic expansion of the Holy Roman Empire.

As with AoE, you have the option to play Campaign or Random Map modes. In Campaign Mode, you are given a specific objective fitting with the storyline. You must send your villagers to collect resources (wood, food, gold and stone) in order to build a base and an army. By gathering resources you will also be able to progress from the Dark Age through the Feudal and Castle Ages to the Renaissance. If resources are scarce, you can used trade cogs or the market to sell and buy materials.

In-game in the William Wallace campaign (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

In Random Map Mode, the computer generates a range of differing landscapes and conditions. You have the option of choosing between 13 civilisations. Once chosen you can then opt who you compete against, and your and your opponent’s starting ages. You can win by either defeating your enemy, by building a Wonder that stands for 1000 years, or by collecting relics in a certain amount of time. The additional Deathmatch Mode starts you with an abundance of resources to quickly build a powerful army, and Regicide Mode sees you needing to kill the opponent’s king unit to win.

What’s new?

Before each campaign mission you are greeted with a screen showing text, illustrations, and voice over narrating the context of the mission. During the missions, some of the characters converse with each other offering hints to help find resources, make you aware of enemy locations, or simply helping to move the story along.

Cut scene from the Joan of Arc campaign (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)
The Siege of Orleans from the Joan of Arc campaign (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

AoE II has also introduced counter-units to ensure more strategic gameplay. For example, infantry such as men-at-arms and swordsmen, are good against buildings but poor against cavalry. So how do you defeat cavalry? You train spearmen and pikemen who, in groups, make short work of cavalry. Each civilisation also has one or two special units. For example, the Britons have Longbowmen, archery units with an increased attack range. Like priests in AoE, monks can convert enemy units and heal your own. They are also able to pick up and carry relics back to their churches. These relics can offer bonuses such as giving you a slow but steady trickle of gold into your coffers.

Another new interesting feature is the option to garrison units in town centres, castles, archery ranges and guard towers. When you garrison archers and villagers into the aforementioned buildings, additional arrows will be fired to help defend your base.

One more helpful feature is the town bell. By pressing the bell icon when the town centre is selected, villagers will automatically garrison in the nearest building, which is handy for when you are being attacked. Interestingly villagers are now male and female adding more realism to the game.

The graphics and sound have been greatly improved from the first instalment. Buildings and units are more colourful and intricately illustrated, adding to the idea that technology has moved a long way since the Classical world. The overall look of the landscapes has also greatly improved from AoE.

The Siege of Jerusalem from the Saladin campaign (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

This game has tons of replay value. Once you’re bored with the expansion campaigns and random map modes, you can also play multiplayer online where the game really comes into its own, or so I am told.

Last, but not least, you are able to read a short history of all civilisations featured in the game. As a history buff I find this a neat little feature as it adds more context to the campaigns and offers further insight into civilisations that we didn’t learn about at school.

What the Critics Said:

PC Zone: “Easy to learn, hard to master…detailed graphics and finely balanced units. Vastly improved single-player game…perhaps too similar to the original game. Overall 90%[1]

Gamespot: “No matter how you play it, chances are good that you’ll enjoy Age of Kings if not for its careful historical detail then because its context never takes precedence over the game’s playability. And if you’ve ever liked any other real-time strategy game in this classical style, then you’ll clearly see why this one deserves so much credit, even in direct comparison to the finest examples in its category. Overall 9.1/10[2]

Awards:

1999 Strategy Game of the Year – http://www.Gamespot.com

Best of ’99 Strategy Game – Gamepower

Editor’s Choice – PC Gamer

Editor’s Choice – Computer Gaming World[3]

Wikipedia states that AoE II won several other awards but I have been unable to verify those claims.

The Conquerors

In 2000, the Conquerors Expansion was released adding five new civilisations (Aztecs, Mayans, Spanish, Koreans and Huns) and four new campaigns:

Atilla the Hun (406-453): Follow Attila’s rise to power as he battles against a crumbling Roman Empire.

Montezuma (1466-1520): Ruler of the Tenochtitlán who must defend the Aztec Empire from Hernán Cortéz and the Spanish invasion.

El Cid (1043-1099): The Castillian knight who fought for both Christians and Muslims in Spain.

Battles of the Conquerors: A group of unrelated but famous historical battles including the Battle of Hastings (1066), the Battle of Tours (732), and the Battle of Yamazaki (1582).

Although some units are the same, many new buildings styles and units are introduced (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

The Conquerors also introduced several new features and tweaks. New buildings styles and units indicative of the civilisations were introduced such as the Eagle Warrior for the Aztecs. The addition of the King of the Hill, Defend the Wonder and Wonder Race scenarios, add new criteria for winning Random Map games. New winter and tropical maps have been included, and it is now possible to garrison infantry troops inside battering rams, increasing their speed and attack strength.

AI has been improved to help manage your settlement. For example, villagers will automatically begin to collect the nearest resource once they have built a resource gathering site such as the lumber or gold mine sites. When building walls, villagers will spread out and build separate parts of the wall rather than massing on one block at a time. Also if more than one villager is sent to a farm, the second villager will automatically seed a new farm and begin to harvest food. Siege weapons such as mangonels and onagers will not automatically fire if they are at risk of hitting their own soldiers, which I know was something that annoyed a hell of a lot of gamers about AoE and AoE II.

What the Critics Said:

Gamespot: “Virtually every addition in The Conquerors helps make Age of Empires II a better, more thoroughly enjoyable game. Nevertheless, it’s true that the enhancements to the interface and the tweaks to the game’s balance are more obvious to more experienced Age of Kings players. This is largely because Age of Kings was an outstanding game to begin with – and as such, any improvements in an expansion pack such as The Conquerors understandably provide only a marginal improvement overall. At the same time, the multiple additions in The Conquerors add up to be more than enough to entice Age of Kings players to focus their attention on this ambitious, deeply strategic game once again – and for a long time. Overall 8.5/10[4]

Awards:

According to Wikipedia, The Conquerors won PC Gamer US Best Expansion Pack of 2000, but I was unable to find the magazine to verify.

The Forgotten

Titlescreen (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

In 2013 another expansion pack, The Forgotten, developed by SkyBox Labs and Forgotten Empires, and published by Microsoft Studios, was released. It introduced five new civilisations: Italians, Indians, Slavs, Magyars, and Incas. It also offered seven new campaigns which included:

Alaric of the Visigoths (370-410): Fighting back against the Romans.

Bari (c.800-Middle Ages): The fall of Rome left room for competing Italian states to try and gain power. Here is the story of one such Byzantine family.

Sforza (15th century): Sforza is a mercenary offering his services around Italy where they are needed. His fate is in your hands.

Dracula (1428-1477): The Story of Vlad the Impaler amidst incursions from the Ottoman Empire.

El Dorado (1540-41): Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro travel to South America in search of the Lost City of Gold hidden somewhere in the Amazonian rainforest.

Prithviraja III (reign c.1178-1192): Help Prithviraja III unite the warring clans of India.

Battles of the Forgotten: More independent historical battles including the Conquest of Cyprus (1570-73), Battle of Langshan Jiang (919), and Dos Pilas (629-761).

The Forgotten fixed a few bugs noted from the Age of Kings and The Conquerers. As well as new technologies and new units consistent with the new civilisations, it also introduced Capture the Relic and Treaty modes for Random Map games. Not only are new maps included but some maps have been expanded so that they are four times bigger than previous maps.

What the Critics Said:

I was unable to find critic reviews for The Forgotten, although it has had mostly positive ratings from users on Steam.[5]

The African Kingdoms

(HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

In 2015 yet another expansion pack called The African Kingdoms was released. It introduced four new civilisations (Berbers, Ethiopians, Malians, and the Portuguese). The new Campaigns included:

Sundjata (Malians c.1217-c.1255): The Ghanaian Empire has fallen leaving a power vacuum in West Africa. Help Sundjata build the Malian Empire and rule over West Africa.

Francisco de Almeida (c.1450-1510): Wars between the Moors and Christians have taken its toll on Portugal. They must branch out to find new sources of wealth unavailable to them in Europe. You must help push East to India.

Yodit (Ethiopans c.960): The Ethiopian Princess is accused of theft by her jealous nephew and is forced to flee her homeland. Help her regain her birth right.

Tariq ibn Ziyad (Berbers invasion of Spain and Portugal 711-718): Lead your army across the Strait of Gibraltar to wealth and glory in Iberia.

Screenshot from the Yodit campaign showing new building styles (HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

As well as the usual bug fixes, tweaks, new units and technologies, consistent with the new civilisations, and new maps; a new mode, Sudden Death mode, was added.

What the critics said:

I was unable to find critic reviews of The African Kingdom, although it has had very positive ratings from users.[6]

The Rise of the Rajas

(HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

Finally, in 2016, The Rise of the Rajas expansion pack was released. It included four more civilisations (Burmese, Malay, Khmer and Vietnamese). The new campaigns were:

Bayinnaung (Burma 1516-1581): A warrior king is betrayed and assassinated. His devoted servant pledges to carry on his legacy and seeks to reunite south-east Asia and create an empire.

Suryavarman I (Cambodia 1002-1060): The Khmer Empire is in turmoil due to internal politics and warring factions. There are also external threats from the surrounding, hostile neighbours. You must help Suryavarman I rise to power, defeat the warring factions and restore the Khmer Empire to dominance.

Gajah Mada (Java 1290-1364): Prime Minister of Majapahit, Gajah Mada, plans to build an empire that will rule the archipelago. However, he has sworn an oath to the king. How will he reconcile his ambition and his loyalty?

Lê Lợi (Vietnam 1384-1433): Vietnam is in the midst of a civil war and the Ming Empire of China has intervened and seized control. Minor noble Lê Lợi must reunite the warring factions and regain independence.

(HD Edition) (Screenshot taken by the author)

As with the other expansions, many bug fixes and balance changes were made. A multitude of more maps were added, as well as the usualy building and unit style changes consistent with their respective civilisations.

What the critics said:

I was unable to find critic reviews of Rise of the Rajas, although it has had very positive ratings on from users on Steam.[7]

The graphics of AoE II and all respective expansion packs are beautiful. The lush green maps, arid deserts, and coastal areas and are vastly improved from AoE. Although not perfect, and there are plenty of similarities, they have done a fine job in trying to create unique buildings and units distinctive to their respective civilisations.

The music has also been improved. Although the in-game background music isn’t designed to take your attention away from the action, the music adds a feeling of dread to the game, and is very atmospheric.

The campaigns are excellent and are far superior to AoE. Before each misson, the cut scenes really help set up each scenario, drawing the user into the story. The mix of different civilisations and empires rising and falling is based on real history, highlighting how violent our past was, and how things could easily have turned out differently for the winners or losers. Imagine if the Normans were defeated at the Battle of Hastings, or if the Aztecs were able to repel the Spanish invasions. History may have turned out differently. The addition of the expansion packs focussing on the history of not just European empires, but Asian, African and South American empires as well, means that the history of those non-European empires can be brought to the western world, where these histories are not taught in mainstream education. Learning about other cultures and histories will only enrich us.

One of the downsides to AoE was that once you had an army of maxed out hoplites, you could pretty much win any scenario. The introduction of counter units in AoE II has added an extra challenge to the game, forcing players to use a plethora of different units in their armies in order to be successful.

For me, what lets this game down, and this is why I have only given it four stars instead of five, is that I feel that this was made for hardcore real-time strategy gamers only. There is nothing wrong with that of course. What I mean is that I found the majority of the missions too difficult, even on the standard difficulty setting. You barely have time to figure out your location before you are inundated with wave upon wave of attacks. In some cases I got the feeling that the game must be cheating as they seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of resources.

“Get good!” I hear some of the hardcore real-time strategists say.

You may be right. Maybe I need to get better, but surely that is why difficulty settings are there. I also found that some of the missions took over two hours to complete. That just seemed too long for me.

Did I complete the games?

I have completed the games, but I mostly had to use the resource cheats as even the standard difficulty setting proved too difficult for me on many occasions.

My verdict:

“All real-time strategists will love this game. The sequel and expansion packs are great value for money with tons of replay value. They are beautifully designed and very challenging. Too many similarities between units of different civilisations and the overall difficulty was too apparent to allow a clean sweep of five stars.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Age of Empires II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Shoemaker, R., ‘Reviews – Age of Empires II: Age of Kings’. PC Zone. (Xmas 1999). Issue 84:72-75. (https://archive.org/details/PC_Zone_Issue_084_1999_Dennis_Publishing_GB_christmas_edition/page/n73/mode/2up Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[2] Kasavin, G., (12th October 1999). ‘Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings – Review’. http://www.gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-ii-the-age-of-kings-review/1900-2537995/ Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[3] (27th January 2000). ‘“Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings” Crowned No. 1 on Holiday Sales Charts Around the World’. News.Microsoft.com. (https://news.microsoft.com/2000/01/27/age-of-empires-ii-the-age-of-kings-crowned-no-1-on-holiday-sales-charts-around-the-world/ Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[4] Kasavin, G., (25th August 2000). ‘Age of Empires II: The Conquerors Review’. www.gamspot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-ii-the-conquerors-review/1900-2620147/ Accessed 8th February 2020).

[5] ‘Age of Empires II (2013): The Forgotten’. Steam. (https://store.steampowered.com/app/239550/Age_of_Empires_II_2013_The_Forgotten/ Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[6] ‘Age of Empires II (2013): The African Kingdoms’. Steam. (https://store.steampowered.com/app/355950/Age_of_Empires_II_2013_The_African_Kingdoms/ Accessed on 8th February 2020).

[7] ‘Age of Empires II: The Rise of the Rajas’. Steam. (https://store.steampowered.com/app/488060/Age_of_Empires_II_2013_Rise_of_the_Rajas/ Accessed on 9th February 2020).