Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island

Every game from the Super Mario franchise has been hotly anticipated by fans of the series. After the success of Super Mario World, the bar was set extremely high for the sequel. The creators not only succeeded in producing a fantastic sequel (although it’s actually a prequel), but a game that proved so popular that its success spawned a series of spin-offs and sequels in itself. It really does seem like there is no stopping the Super Mario franchise!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SMW2) is a side-scrolling platform game developed and published by Nintendo. It was released for the SNES in 1995, the Game Boy Advance in 2002, the Nintendo 3DS in 2011, and the Wii U Virtual Console in 2014. The version I played can be found on the SNES Mini.

The overworld map is different from Super Mario World, but does allow you to track your progress in each level (Screenshot taken by the author)

SMW2 is a prequel to Super Mario World (SMW), and what a prequel it is! Magikoopa and the Koopalings intercept a stork that is carrying Baby Mario and Luigi. During the attack, Baby Mario is dropped but safely caught by Yoshi. Many Yoshies assist in bringing Baby Mario back to the stalk through a number of challenging levels and bosses. Oddly, it doesn’t explain why Magikoopa and the Koopalings are trying to intercept the brothers, or what they will do with them once they have captured them. Does Bowser know that they will grow up to be a thorn in his side?

Yoshi must carry Baby Mario through some dangerous levels whilst collecting gold coins, red coins, stars and flowers (Screenshot taken by the author)

Keeping with the Super Mario traditions, the game mostly consists of running and jumping through the levels whilst collecting coins and tokens, although this game involves more puzzle-solving and item collecting than other platforms. There is no time limit which allows deeper exploration into each level and enables you to take your time. As well as simply playing through the levels, there is an added challenge of collecting 100% of the flowers, stars and red coins from over 40 levels (plus several different bonus levels and games). This greatly extends the game’s life and adds replay value.

Yoshi has the ability to eat most of his enemies, spit and throw objects at his enemies, and jump or stamp on them (as long as they don’t have spikes). He can also briefly levitate which greatly helps whilst jumping larger gaps.

Yoshi also collects eggs which he can use to fire at enemies and obstacles. These can be found by either hitting a white and green coloured block from below (red and yellow ones also occur), or by eating certain enemies and laying them as eggs. Green eggs can simply be used as a projectile to either kill enemies or aimed to collect coins and flowers. Red eggs produce stars for you to collect when thrown, and yellow eggs produce coins when they are thrown. Yoshi can also eat green and red watermelons and then spit the seeds and fire at his enemies.

There are several areas where Yoshi can touch an icon and be transformed into either a helicopter, car, drill or submarine where applicable. This enables Yoshi to reach bonus coins and flowers etc. that were previously inaccessible. A flashing star power-up is also available which makes Mario invincible for a limited amount of time.

Although Yoshi is basically invincible, he will die if he falls onto spikes and into lava etc. When he does get hit by an enemy, Baby Mario becomes encased in a bubble and begins to fly away. A countdown will begin and you need to retrieve him before the time runs out. Once caught, the timer will increase again to ensure that you have at least 10 seconds on the timer. Throughout the game you can also collect little stars that increase the amount of time you have to retrieve Baby Mario. Two things are incredibly annoying about his feature. Firstly, Baby Mario’s crying makes you want to leave him and turn the game off. Another is that sometimes the bubble Baby Mario is in, floats to areas of the screen that Yoshi cannot reach.

The game’s illustration style is reminiscent of a colouring book coloured by crayons. The levels, backgrounds, sprites and animations look great, but I personally prefer the illustration and colour scheme of SMW. Alas, the music isn’t as memorable as SMW or Super Mario Kart for that matter.

Like Super Mario World, Yoshi can eat most of the enemies (Screenshot taken by the author)

Yoshi’s Island is a very good prequel and I enjoyed playing through it. There are plenty of new features and designs that clearly distinguish this from SMW, but it is easy to learn and familiar enough to not seem too different from other Mario games. However, I feel this game lacks the charm of SMW, and although it is challenging, I found the game too frustrating in places, making me not want to bother trying to achieve 100%.

Did I complete the game?:

I have completed the main storyline, but am yet to achieve 100% throughout.

What the critics thought:

Edge: “…Yoshi’s Island is a welcome addition to the series – as playable, challenging and entertaining as the best of the other Mario games. Overall 9/10.[1]

Gamefan: “One word immediately springs to mind – perfect. Perfect gameplay, perfect graphics, perfect music.  Overall 9.7/10.[2]

Next Generation: “The most impressive features of Yoshi’s Island are its size and playability. Strewn with bonus levels of all kinds, much like the original, this game will keep your dinosaur friend hopping in several different directions. You’ll find yourself baffled at the task of completing this gargantuan game, but you’ll definitely enjoy trying. Overall 5/5.[3]

Nintendo Life: “Yoshi’s Island isn’t just a great platformer: it’s a reminder of why this silly little hobby of ours is so wonderful. Sure, the game contains no political satire, no poetic justice, no character development. But if what Miyamoto and Tezuka crafted isn’t a work of art, then the definition of “art” needs to be amended. Overall 10/10.[4]

My verdict:

“A great and worthy prequel which I feel lacks a bit of the charm of Super Mario World. However, the graphics are gorgeous, and there is plenty to learn and find, differentiating it from its predecessors and most of its contemporaries. Don’t be fooled, this game is much tougher than Super Mario World and although there is plenty here to keep you coming back, rage quits will be frequent!”

My rating:

What are your memories of Yoshi’s Island? 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] ‘Testscreen: SNES – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island’. Edge. (November 1995). Issue 26:62-65. (https://retrocdn.net/images/a/af/Edge_UK_026.pdf Accessed 10th March 2020).

[2] ‘Viewpoint: SNES – Yoshi’s Island’. Gamefan. (October 1995). Volume 3 Issue 10:18. (https://archive.org/details/GamefanVolume3Issue10October1995ALT/page/n17/mode/2up Accessed 10th March 2020).

[3] Rating: SNES – Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2’. Next Generation. (February 1996). Issue 14:178. (https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-014/page/n177/mode/2up Accessed 10th March 2020).

[4] Delgrego, K., (23rd July 2009). ‘Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island Review’. Nintendolife.com. (http://www.nintendolife.com/reviews/2009/07/super_mario_world_2_yoshis_island_retro Accessed 11th on March 2020).

Star Wars: Dark Forces

In the early 90s, I was at the height of my Sci-fi geekdom. I watched and re-watched Star Trek and Star Wars movies with unhealthy regularity. The video games that the franchises were producing in the early 90s were also filling my daily quota of science fiction. Resisting the entreaties of my parents to go out into the summer sun, I preferred to stay in a darkened room and lose myself in these cherished universes. Some would say it was an unhealthy hobby for a teenager, and they could be right…if it wasn’t for the fact that I played competitive football at least twice and week, and worked part-time jobs that is. However, the memories I have playing these games with a childhood chum (who I shall refer to as MC), are not to be discarded lightly.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Star Wars: Dark Forces is a first-person shooter developed and published by Lucasart in 1995 for MS-DOS and Macintosh. A year later it was released for PlayStation. In 2009 it was re-released on Steam. The version I played was for the PC.

A map can be used whilst still moving around the levels which is very helpful (Screenshot taken by the author)

You play as Kyle Katarn, who is studying agricultural mechanics with the intention of working in the family business. Whilst at the academy, he is told that his parents were killed by the Rebels, causing him to enlist in the Imperial Army. Whilst working for the Imperial Army he meets Jan Ors, a double agent working for the Rebels. She informs Katarn that it was an Empire raid killed his parents. With the truth known, he helps Ors escape. He then becomes mercenary and begins to take on jobs for the Rebel Alliance.

The first mission is set during Rogue One, and sees Katarn charged with stealing the Death Star plans (naturally this storyline is not considered official canon). It then skips to after A New Hope. Once the Death Star is destroyed, the Rebels ask Kyle to investigate an assault on a Rebel base by a new type of Imperial soldier.

This first-person shooter sees Katarn navigate his way through several locations including a Star Destroyer, Jabba the Hutt’s Palace, and the planet Coruscant. The levels are well designed and challenging, and really give the illusion that you are in the Star Wars universe.  Throughout the levels, there are lots of secret doors which contain power-ups and goodies to help you on your way.

“There he is, blast him!” (Screenshot taken by the author)

You can choose between a number of different weapons with which to fight the Imperial soldiers including blasters, thermal detonators, land mines, and some more explosive weapons. All weapons have a secondary mode which offers a different effect when fired. All weapons need ammunition so use the more powerful weapons sparingly.

The map unfolds as you progress for the level, adding to the feeling of isolation and the unknown. You can toggle this map to be overlaid whilst you are walking around the level too which is a useful tool to have. There are times in the game when you need to use night-vision goggles and breathing apparatus which are nice touches. Just remember that you’ll need to pick up batteries for the night vision goggles as they only have limited power.

The in-game music is atmospheric, but very basic. Don’t expect John William’s well-constructed musical themes blasting through your speakers in high fidelity. The in-game graphics are generally good. Although the levels are 3D, the baddies are 2D. However, they are well illustrated and use familiar exclamations such as “You’re not authorised in this area!”, and “There he is, blast him!”. Sadly, they do become a little pixelated as you get closer to them. The cutscenes are beautifully illustrated but sadly, it’s not the real Darth Vader’s voice.

Even animated, Darth Vader is an imposing figure (Screenshot taken by the author)

The controls let this game down a little. Whilst you are able to run, jump, duck, swim and look around, the mouse only allows you to look horizontally turning left and right. You need to use the keyboard to look up and down. This makes it unnecessarily difficult when shooting at enemies on high ledges. The jumping is frustrating too as the player doesn’t stop instantly when landing which, although realistic, means plummeting to your death alot as it’s difficult to gauge when you are near to falling off the edges.

The three difficulty settings, and the fact this is a Star Wars game, give this game some replay value, but I don’t think this is a game that will have you returning time and time again.

Did I complete the game?

Yes!

What the critics said:

Gamespot:Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the game is set in the Star Wars universe. It’s much more fun to blast Imperial lackeys than faceless monsters. The familiar setting is enhanced by your enemies’ taunts, like “Stop, Rebel Scum!” Dark Forces’ only real flaws are its tragically short length – less than a dozen levels – and its lack of multiplayer options or add-ons, which severely limits the replay value. Overall 7.6/10”.[1]

Next Generation: “Ultimately, Dark Forces offers nothing that Doom didn’t provide a year ago apart from some pretty Star Wars cut-scenes. And Technically, it’s on par with the most accomplished 3D games, but it seems that LucasArts’ reputation as a software pioneer has made it wary of producing an instantly playable title. Dark Forces will be judged by Doom Standards, and in most areas, it falls just short. Overall 3.5/5.[2]

PC Zone: “The best Doom-inspired game to date, based on Star Wars. Overall 95%.”[3]

My verdict:

“Overall the game has a good storyline and is fun, even for non-Star Wars gamers. Some of the controls need a little fine tuning but the number of weapons you can use, the level designs and familiar phrases such as “There he is, blast him!” make this game worth playing. However, single player limits the replay value a bit.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Dark Forces? 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] Dulon, R., (1st May 1996). ‘Star Wars Dark Forces Review’. Gamespost.com https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/dark-forces-review/1900-2538507/ Accessed 17th March 2020.

[2] ‘Finals: PC – Dark Forces’. Next Generation. (May 1995). Volume 1 Issue 5:94. https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-005/page/n95/mode/2up Accessed 17th March 2020.

[3] ‘CD Rom Review – Dark Forces’. PC Zone. (March 1995). Issue 24:52-56. https://archive.org/stream/PC_Zone_24_March_1995#page/n55/mode/2up Accessed 17th March 2020.

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

Description automatically generated
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

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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.