Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time – Review

It is natural that the financial success and popularity of a video game should beg the question if a sequel (or prequel) will be wroth the investment. After all, I’m sure all game developers wish to be known for creating a successful franchise spanning generations of video gamers. The issue is that sequels are, more often than not, flops. Ecco the Dolphin was a huge success. So why not create a sequel?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time is a single player action-adventure game. It was developed by Novotrade International and published by Sega for the Mega Drive, Game Gear and Sega CD in 1994, and for the Master System in 1996. The version I chose to review can be found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

Tides of Time picks up where the first Ecco game left off. Having saved his pod, and coincidently the world, from an alien vortex, Ecco retains the powers bestowed upon him by the Asterite that allow him to stay underwater indefinitely without the need for air, and use his sonar as a blast wave stunning enemy sea creatures. Things are peaceful in Home Bay.

One day, a powerful earthquake hits the underwater cave that Ecco is exploring. Unsure how, Ecco soon learns that his powers have left him and that the Asterite has been killed. Ecco soon meets an unusual dolphin named Trellia, who informs him that she is from the future and one of his descendants. She brings Ecco back to her future where he learns that the Vortex Queen survived, followed him back to Earth and killed the Asterite in Ecco’s time. After travelling back to his own time, Ecco must search for the globes of the Asterite that have been scattered throughout the ocean and bring them together. Only then can he learn how to defeat the Vortex Queen and save the Earth…again.

The graphics for the Mega Drive versions of the Ecco series are truly stunninig (Screenshot taken by the author).

The game play is the same as the original Ecco game. When pressing a direction, Ecco will swim in that direction. When you stop swimming, Ecco will drift, adding some realism to the gave, since the sea is always moving with the tides. To increase speed, press the ‘C’ button, and Ecco will speed up, handy for when you’re almost out of oxygen or when you need to leap out of the water and over obstacles. The ‘B’ button makes Ecco dash (tap twice for double charge). This is mainly used to attack the many dangerous and deadly creatures he encounters, as well as, breaking down shelled walls. The enemies include sharks, jellyfish, pufferfish, and crabs….those crabs can fucking do one! They come out of nowhere and make a B-line for you. I admit, I dropped the C bomb several times during my playthrough due to those little wankers. Frustratingly, the enemies also respawn which pisses me off even more and makes the game even harder.

The ‘A’ button is Ecco’s sonar ability and can be used in several ways:

  • Press and hold ‘A’ until the sonar bounces back. This opens a map segment, again very handy for when you are lost in caves.
  • Communicate with other friendly sea creatures such as other dolphins and killer whales. These friends can offer advice and hints to you.
  • Large glyphs are found dotted around the levels that offer tips or give Ecco a password so that when he comes across one that blocks his path, he can use his sonar to clear the way.
  • After the first few levels, Ecco gains the ability to use his sonar to stun enemy creatures.
  • Pressing ‘B’, followed by ‘A’, Ecco releases a sonar charge that will kill his enemies.

The graphics still look top rate. The sprites all look a little smoother and the colours and detail of the sprites and backgrounds still look incredible. Now, I may be crazy, but the game perspective feels like you have been zoomed in slightly…or am I imagining it?

The music just does not fit the game. In the original you had either a soft Caribbean melody or a low-key track that almost buzzed, giving you the feeling of being along in a scary and unfamiliar environment. Some of the weird new music feels like it should fit better in a run-and-gun shooter.

Several new features include new level types (Screenshot taken by the author)

So what is new about Tides of Time?

In the first Ecco game, there were Key Glyphs that when you sang to them, would offer clues or give you a specific song to pass through Barrier Glyphs. Power Glyphs would give you invincibility for a short period of time. In Tides of Time, there are now:

Puzzle Glyphs – Join with others to help release their powers

Cracked Glyphs – Similar to Barrier Glyphs but will only open for a short period of time; Broken

Broken glyphs – Fit the pieces together to Ecco receives a gift

Milestone Glyphs – Act like save states

Another new addition to the game is the teleportation sub-stages. The view changes so that the camera is behind Ecco as he travels forward. Dodging seaweed and jellyfish, you must watch out for rings that Ecco must swim or jump through. If you miss too many, you will go back to the beginning of the level. It doesn’t really add that much to the game, but changes it up enough to be worth including as a new feature.

The Sky Tides level was pretty difficult. Because it is a scrolling level, there is lots of trial and error when it comes to finding the best way to navigate through the level. If you fall out of the sides of the tubes, you fall back to the ocean and back to the previous level.

On the next stage, Tube of Medusa, if you get grabbed by the Medusa’s and flung out of the tubes, you go back two stages!!! Luckily, the Barrier Glyph is still open so you can swim straight back to the Sky Tides level, but it is still incredibly frustrating.

On some of the levels, there are helium bubbles in the sky. When you leap into the air and use your sonar on them, they fling you across the screen to either a floating pool or another set of helium bubbles. On another level, when you leap out of the water to where a larger bubble is floating in the air. When you touch it, you turn into a seagull and need to fly over cliffs to another body of water. What on Earth were the creators smoking when they came up with ideas for this game?

To add to the replay value of this game, at the begining of the game you can choose to swim in four directs. Left leads to the password screen, top left is difficult, top right is easy and right is normal. Normal adjust the game difficulty based on your ability and how well you’re doing.

Did I complete the game?

Not yet. At present, I am stuck on Four Islands where you need to follow a friendly dolphin who will show you the way. When following the dolphin, if it disappears off your screen, it will go back to where you found it. It is rather unforgiving.

What the critics thought:

GamePro: “There’s no doubt that Tides of Time offers a lot, providing a scenic variety of levels for the player to swim through and solve. Occasional control glitches do bring their share of frustration, but you still get a solid does of entertainment. This sequel proves that Ecco’s not washed up yet. Overall 85%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Ecco: Tides of Time really shows that Genesis games can be colourful, The backgrounds and animation are simply beautiful, with lots of eye-popping graphics. The quests are a lot harder than before, and sometimes you are left without a clue as to what to do. I like the fact that you can transform into different creatures I’d have to say that I really like Ecco and his adventures. Overall 7.25/10.[2]

Next Generation: “Taxing puzzles, RPG elements, shooting stsgaes, and some of the best Genesis graphics to date make you want to reel Ecco II in, but it’s certainly not a keeper. Overall 3/5”.[3]

My verdict:

“I’m not sure what to make of this game. The graphics, as with the original, are glorious. The change is music doesn’t work well for me, and some of the new aspects of the game like the helium bubbles and turning into other creatures seems a bit dumb. Having said that, it’s a perfectly good game. Challenging, great to look at, and is certainly a worthy addition to the Sega Mega Drvie library.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time? 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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] LaMancha, M., ‘ProReview – Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time’. (December 1994). GamePro. 75:86-7  (file:///C:/Users/nikth/AppData/Local/Temp/GamePro_US_065.pdf Accessed 15th September 2021).

[2]  ‘Review Crew – Ecco: Tides of Time’. (December 1994). 65:40. (https://archive.org/details/ElectronicGamingMonthly_201902/Electronic%20Gaming%20Monthly%20Issue%20065%20%28December%201994%29/page/n43/mode/2up Accessed 15th September 2021).

[3] ‘Rating Genesis – Ecco: Tides of Time’. (February 1995). Next Generation. 2:100. (https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-002/page/n101/mode/2up Accessed 15th September 2021).

Streets of Rage – Review

There are some games that will always remain close to my heart. Streets of Rage is one such game. For almost 30 years, I have regularly returned to this game time and time again, and am instantly transported to my youth. I decided to revisit it once more with my “reviewers” hat on and wondered if it would hold up to scrutiny. Read on to find out my verdict!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Streets of Rage (Bare Knuckle in Japan) is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Arcade and Sega Mega Drive in 1991. It was later ported to the Game Gear (1992), Master System (1993), Wii (2007), iOS (2009), Microsoft Windows (2011) and Nintendo 3DS (2013). For this review, I chose to play the Mega Drive version.

You have the choice between Adam, Axel and Blaze. Each character has a unique move set (Screenshot taken by the author)

A once peaceful city has been the victim of a crime wave. A secret criminal syndicate has taken over the local government and the local police force. Frustrated by the police force’s corruption, three young police officers take it upon themselves to clean up the streets and stop the crime syndicate.

Streets of Rage can be played in either one or two-player modes. You can choose one of three characters:

Adam Hunter – an accomplished boxer

Axel Stone – a skilled martial artist

Blaze Fielding – a judo expert

My favourite character has always been Axel (Screenshot taken by the author)

The gameplay is fabulous. Each character has an impressive number of moves, with plenty of differentiation between the characters. Blaze is quick and can jump high and far but not as powerful as the other two. Adam is the slowest but is powerful and can jump high and far, and Axel, my personal favourite, is quicker than adam and just as powerful but doesn’t jump as high or as far. There are even a few moves with which you can use to double team the enemy. If things get too heavy, each character can use their special attack which involves calling for back-up in the form of a police car. A police offer, leaning out of the window proceeds to fire napalm or rain down fire upon the enemy in the form of a gatling gun rocket launcher hybrid.

Throughout the eight levels, there are also a number of weapons such as bottles, knives and baseball bats that you can pick up and use against the enemies.

Along the way, you gain points for killing the enemies but you also gain extra points for picking up cash and gold bars. To gain health, you will need to find apples and beef joints. Occasionally, you may come across a 1-up icon too.

Blaze can easily hold her own against a gang of baddies (Screenshot taken by the author)

Firstly, this game looks beautiful. The character sprites are clearly defined, colourful and very detailed! The level designs are also some of the best I’ve seen for 16-bit games released around this time.

The controls are tight, and each character has plenty of moves to prevent this from becoming a monotonous button mashing affair. The controls are nice and responsive and the hit detection is spot on. There is also an element of strategy when fighting some of the bosses so that you can work together in a team.

The game has four difficulty settings ‘easy’, ‘normal, ‘hard’ and ‘hardest’, but even if you stick to the easiest setting, I found that I returned to this game again and again, especially when playing in two-player mode with my brothers and sister.

I have so many fond memories of this game, and it’s probably why I rank it as as only of my favourite games of all time. Even after almost 30 years, I still return to it yearly with my little brother and we play through it.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed this game many times over the years on the ‘easy’ and ‘normal’ settings.

What the critics said:

Sega Power: “Double Dragon-style street fighter with arrange of 40 combat moves! Loads of enemies, frenzied activity and brilliant soundtracks. This sets new standards for urban guerrillas. Overall 5/5.[1]

Mean Machines: The greatest and most enjoyable beat ‘em up yet seen on the Megadrive. Overall 90%.[2]

Games-X: “Okay as beat ‘em ups go, but will only appeal to fans of the genre. Overall 3/5.[3]

Computer and Video Games: “Beautifully presented, the games smacks of quality from the moment you slap in the cart and prepare to slap heads. The gameplay is totally wicked. Each fighter has his or her own characteristics, but you’ll soon choose a favourite with which to kick ass. Overall 93%.[4]

Mega Tech: “This is the best beat ‘em up on the Megadrive with tons of moves, action, death and great electro soundtracks. Overall 92%.[5]

Sega Pro: “Basically this is Final Fight for the Megadrive. Great graphics and some amazing moves. This is the best beat-‘em up game yet for the Megadrive. Overall 96%.“[6]

Wizard: “Fighting game, third generation game. Not bad, still holds up well. Lots of action. Overall B.[7]

My verdict:

“I can’t praise this game enough. It looks fantastic, it plays fantastic and the sound track is awesome. It truly is one the greatest video games ever made and I can be certain that even when I’m in my senior years, I will still return to relive the Streets of Rage adventure again and again.”

Rating:


[1] ‘The Hard Line: Mega Drive – Streets of Rage’. Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:54. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 13th September 2020).

[2] ‘Streets of Rage – Review’. Mean Machines. (September 1991). Issue 12:80-82. (https://retrocdn.net/images/f/f2/MeanMachines_UK_12.pdf Accessed 15th September 2020).

[3] ‘Bare Knuckle – Review’. Games-X. (22nd-28th August 1991). Issue 18:38. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/26/GamesX_UK_18.pdf Accessed 15th September 2020).

[4] ‘Streets of Rage – Review’. Computer and Video Games. (October 1991). Issue 119:54-6. (https://retrocdn.net/images/d/d0/CVG_UK_119.pdf Accessed 15th September 2020).

[5] ‘Streets of Rage – Review’. Mega Tech. (February 1992). Issue 2:30. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/21/MegaTech_UK_02.pdf Accessed 15th September 2020).

[6] ‘Streets of Rage – Review’. Sega Pro. (April 1992). Issue 6:29. (https://segaretro.org/index.php?title=File:SegaPro_UK_06.pdf&page=29 Accessed 15th September 2020).

[7] ‘Game Reviews – Streets of Rage’. Wizard. (January 1993). Issue 17:24. (https://archive.org/details/WizardMagazine017/page/n27/mode/2up Accessed 24th September 2020).

Altered Beast – Review

Altered Beast was one of the first 16-bit games I played as child and I have idealised memories of how good the game was. The question is…how will I feel revisiting it after 25 years?

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Altered Beast is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with some platform gaming elements. It was developed and published by Sega, and released in the arcade in 1988. It was later ported to the Master System, PC, NES, Atari ST, Mega Drive, ZX Spectrum, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amiga and MS-DOS. It was later released in the Wii Virtual Console, Xbox and PlayStation. For this review, I played the Mega Drive version.

After rising from your grave, you must fight your way through a graveyard whilst collecting orbs that turn you into an anthropomorphic beast (Screenshot taken by the author)

“Rise from your grave!” demands Zeus, as you emerge from your tomb. You play as a Roman Centurion who is resurrected by Zeus (I know Zeus was a Greek God and the Roman equivalent was Jupiter, but let’s overlook the mythological inconsistencies). Your mission is to rescue Zeus’ daughter, Athena, (Minerva for the Romans) from the evil Demon God known as Neff who has taken her to the Underworld.

The cutscenes are accompanied by some incredibly eerie gothic organ music (Screenshot taken by the author)

you must punch and kick your way through graveyards and caverns to reach the Underworld, all the while fighting numerous undead minions and monsters. In order to meet and defeat the end of level bosses, you need to collect three orbs which increase your strength and eventually morph you into anthropomorphised animals such as wolves, bears, tigers and dragons, each with unique abilities.

Chicken Stingers, as they are called in the manual, are similar to the pink creatures you ride in Golden Axe, with a similar attack. Does this mean Altered Beast and Golden Axe are in the same universe? (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game is tougher and more frustrating than I remember. The screen scrolls slowly from left to right automatically, meaning you have no choice but you advance. The controls are sluggish and your punching and kicking range is so small that you need to get very close to the enemies. They are quicker than you and so can kick your arse pretty easily. Modern critics argue that the game doesn’t hold up to today and I have to agree.

The graphics are clearly, early 16-bit. The sprites and backgrounds would be cleaner and more detailed if this game was released a few years later. Having said that, I still think the games looks good. The creepy gothic organ music during the cutscenes is pretty cool.

In a previous review, Shining in the Darkness, I discussed the possible links that suggest Shining in the Darkness and Golden Axe were in the same universe, due to the presence of Gilius-Thunderhead, the green dwarf. During this review, I noticed that the Chicken Stingers, are identical (except for athe colour palette change) to some of the Bizzarians in Golden Axe. Does this mean that Altered Beast is also set in the same universe as Shining in the Darkness and Golden Axe?

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “Altered Beast is a spot-on conversion of the coin-op. The trouble is, the game wasn’t exactly a smash-hit – it’s a very simply beat ‘em up with only five levels. The gameplay is very samey, and it doesn’t take long to get all the way through the game. Overall 67%.”[1]

Sega Pro: “For its day, it was amazing – speech, smooth scrolling and lots of playability. However, its finest hour has truly passed. Overall 74%.[2]

The Games Machine: Altered Beast turns out very close indeed to its arcade origins, complete with two-player mode. The main characters and enemy sprites look ever so slightly washed out, but the detail is all there, and background graphics are spot on. Overall 87%.[3]

Sega Power: “However much you enjoy the coin-op, give this one a miss. Poor scrolling, jerky animation and limited gameplay. Overall 2/5.[4]

My verdict:

Does Altered Beast deserve the accolade of being a classic title? There are many video games that acheive the accolade as a ‘classic’ but not all of them are worthy of title. Having revisisted Altered Beast, I can say that the concept was great, but the execution was lacking. The game is too short, the controls too sluggish and frustrating, and the graphics should have been better. I think this game is better remembered than played.

Rating:

What are your memories of Altered Beast? 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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Altered Beast’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:137. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n135/mode/2up Accessed 28th July 2020).

[2] ‘Sega Software Showdown – Altered Beast – Mega Drive.’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 28th July 2020).

[3] ‘Review – Altered Beast’. The Games Machine. Issue 19:17.  (https://archive.org/details/the-games-machine-19/page/n15/mode/2up Accessed 28th July 2020).

[4] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Altered Beast’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:52. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 29th July 2020).

Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle – Review

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Alex Kidd proved to be a hit on the Sega Master System throughout the eighties, and was arguably the console’s mascot. The question was, could he continue to be their main draw for Sega’s latest console, the Mega Drive? Clearly not, as this was his only outing on the 16-bit console.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in Japan in 1989, Europe in 1990, and the US in 1991. It was later released on the Wii Virtual Console, Mega Drive Handheld, Cloud Online, and Steam. I chose to review the original Mega Drive version.

Rookie Town (Screenshot taken by the author)

On the planet Aries, Alex Kidd’s father, King Thor, has been kidnapped by Ashra, the ruler of planet Paperrock. Alex travels to Paperrock in a bid to rescue his father. He must navigate through 11 stages: Rookie Town, The Prairie, The Splashy Sea, Scorpion Desert, The Pyramid, The Hiho Forest, Tropics Town, Rocky Mountain #1, Rocky Mountain #2, In the Sky, and Sky Castle, where his father is being held. The Sky Castle is where you must fight Ashra at Janken.

The gameplay is simple: Run, jump, punch, kick, crawl and swim. Alex will slide around a bit when quickly changing direction, and is a bit floaty when jumping, which takes getting used to, so be careful near enemies. When breaking into red treasure chests, coins will spill out for Alex to collect. Grey treasure chests contain lives and power-ups. Beware, however, as some chests, some contain bombs that explode and will kill Alex.

Jan-Ken-Pon (Screenshot taken by the author)

Along the way, Alex can pay to compete in Janken fights (paper, scissor and rock) with shopkeepers to win equipment and power-ups. These include motorcycles, helicopters, a pogo stick, a wizard’s cane, a cape, and a necklace that helps Alex to see the thoughts of his opponent. This item gives you a better chance at winning Janken. At the end of every level, Alex must collect the piece of cake to progress.

Alex can swim and, thankfully, seems to be able to breathe underwater (Screenshot taken by the author)

The power bracelet is very useful and allows alex to shoot a crescent-shaped band of light that kills the baddies. Spoiler alert!!! You need to have this equipped after beating Ashra at Janken so that you can fire at him from a distance. This is the only way to defeat him.  

There are three difficulty settings: easy, medium and hard. With increased difficulty, you are given less lives to start with and the Janken opponents are harder to defeat, adding to the game’s replay value.  

Graphically, the Mega Drive is capable of so much more. The sprites are nicely drawn, if a little cutsie, suggesting this game was meant for a younger audience. Sadly, the levels and backgrounds are rather basic. The music, however, is very catchy and will get stuck in your head. When revisiting this game after 20 odd years, I still remembered the tunes instantly and began to hum along.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, but I have only played through on easy mode.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “The graphics and sound are almost Master System Standard, and while it’s fun to play, with plenty of secret rooms and things to work out, it lacks that really addictive spark that makes the 8-bit Sega Alex Kidd games so much fun to play. For ardent Alex Kidd fans only. Overall 68%[1]

Sega Pro: Alex’s only appearance on the Mega Drive is not a bad attempt…although it can get repetitive. Overall 77%.[2]

The Games Machine: “It goes without saying that Alex Kidd highly playable and incredibly addictive. Overall 82%”.[3]

Sega Power: “Alex goes 16-bit in this colourful platform exploration romp. As with previous Alex Kidd games, the jolly atmosphere belies the testing gameplay. Fun and very polished.  Overall 3/5.[4]

My verdict:

“Definitely one for the younger gamer. It can be completed very easily without too much hassle, but there is little to keep you coming back for more. Catchy music, nice sprites and bright colours, but the level design and backgrounds are a bit basic and could be more visually pleasing. However, I do have a softspot for this game and feel it’s been harshly judged by critics. I certainly keep it in my collection and revisit it every year or so. It’s also handy to keep around for my niblings.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle? 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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Game Index: Mega Drive – Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:137. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n135/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[2] ‘Sega Showdown – Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle.’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:18. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 14th June 2020).

[3] ‘Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle’. The Games Machine. (June 1989). Issue 19:18-9. (https://archive.org/details/the-games-machine-19/page/n17/mode/2up Accessed 28th July 2020).

[4] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:52. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 29th July 2020).

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium – Review

After six years and four games, Phantasy Star IV sees the conclusion of the original Phantasy Star series. In the Phantasy Star universe, the games have spanned several thousand years and players were introduced to many different characters including Alis, one of the first female protagonists in computer game history. I have throoughly enojoyed playing through the series but as George Harrison wrote, “All things must pass”.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

PSIV is a role-playing game that was developed and published by Sega and released for the Sega Genesis in Japan in 1993. It would not make an appearance in North America and Europe until 1995. It was later released on the Wii U Virtual Console in 2008. For this review, I played the version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3.

Taking place 1000 years after the events of Phantasy Star II, a cataclysmic event known as the Great Collapse has turned Motavia back into a desert planet, and once again there is an increase in biomonsters appearing throughout the world. Chaz Ashley, a young hunter, learns of the link between the biomonsters and the ecological crisis on the planet. The computer system put in place to control the climate is malfunctioning, and the planet is reverting back to its original desert-like state. It also seems that Dark Force is back, hellbent on destroying the Algol system once and for all.

Sadly, the overworld graphics seem to have reverted back to the PSII model making it look a little dated (Screenshot taken by the author)

Firstly, the story is more fleshed out than it’s previous instalments, and a lot more engaging. The dialogue in general feels like there was a better translation of the original script. Additionally, during dialogue moments, character profile boxes appear which are beautifully illustrated. It also clarifies exactly who is speaking. During cutscenes, more illustrated boxes are added giving the illusion that you’re reading a comic book. There are also a few nice surprises in the form of characters from previous games reappearing, but I won’t spoil it by telling you who.

Originally the game came with a very comprehensive 40-page manual explaining every aspect of the game including: Information on each character, what the main items are for, what all the spells and techniques do when used, what injuries you can incur, a map of Motavia, and information on weapons and armour.

The gameplay has been kept the same – that is, top down view with the exception of battle mode. There is a significant increase in walking speed for the characters, meaning you can get from A to B a lot quicker. You are also able to increase the speed of the battles and text to help hurry the game along. One annoyance was that when you approach a person and/or object, whilst still pressing that direction, you walk around the target as oppose to stopping in front of it. When you play it, you’ll know what I mean.

The graphics in battle mode have also reverted back to a similar style to PSII, with the addition of illustared backgrounds (Screenshot taken by the author)

Oddly, the sprites in the overworld seem to have reverted to PSII style graphics as oppose to PSIII or creating newer, more improved graphics. Comparing the two, one could be forgiven for thinking PSIII was a later instalment. Sadly, these graphics look dated for the mid-90s, especially when compared to RPGs such as Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse (1994) and Shining Force 2 (1993). Also, the PlayStation had been released in 1994, upping the expected standard for games in general. When the PlayStation could produce RPGs like Suikoden (1995), what chance did the Mega Drive have?

The menu system is easy to access and straight forward to navigate. What made me particularly happy is that you no longer need to manually go into your menu and pass items between characters in order for them to equip or use them. The weapons and armour will automatically be available to those who can wield them.

On Dezo – added snowy effects give the impression that you are in a blizzard. However, this effect is heavy on the eyes. (Screenshot taken by the author)

Buying and equipping weapons and armour has been simplified, and for the better. When you buy a new weapon or piece of armour, arrows appear by the name of the individual who can wield it. Sadly, you cannot see if an item will improve the stats of that character until you buy it and equip it.

PSIV reintroduces fighter animations back into battle mode, similar to that of PSII. However, this time the backgrounds have also been kept. The animations of the physical attacks of the characters are the same as they were in PSII which is a little disappointing. The backgrounds during the battles are more detailed and, in some cases, animated. Additionally in PSIV, you can now use your transport vehicle during battles instead of using your characters.

A nice new feature is that two or more characters can combine their spells and techniques to create bigger and more powerful attacks. Sadly, this is very trial and error and it doesn’t always work (Screenshot taken by the author)

The enemies are beautifully illustrated and animated. There are some real ugly bastards in this game. A nice little extra is that sometimes, when two or more fighters use a certain technique or spell, it can combine to produce a stronger attack. Sadly, this doesn’t happen everytime you attempt it.

One added bonus is that you no longer need to  pay to restore a fallen comrade. You simply go to a hostel, and bed down for the night. In the morning, said comrade will be right as rain.

Finally, and thank Christ, the battle menu is now wonderfully intuitive. It is very easy to learn, and they have finally simplified the way you can chose which enemy to attack. This makes strategic attacks a hell of a lot easier.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, a walkthrough was needed on several occasions though.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “This is the fourth instalment in the Phantasy Star series with an improved magic system that allows you to combine spells for more power. Overall 7.75/10[1]

GameFan: “The graphics are gorgeous, the music is some of the best I’ve heard in a while on the Genesis., full of batchin’ samples, and the game exudes nothing but pure, joyous power. Overall 93/100.[2]

Mean Machines Sega: “The best pure RPG for the Megadrive…” Overall 88%.[3]

Sega Saturn Magazine: “The gameplay – controlling inventories, arming combatants, and using spells – is not to everyone’s taste. But the game succeeds by creating climactic moments, introducing new characters and powers, and taking many weird and wonderful plot turns. Overall 90%.[4]

Game Players: “Newer RPGs like Final Fantasy III make this game look ancient…this still feels like every other Phantasy Star Game…The game offers plenty of items while staying clear and user-friendly. Fighting every other step drives you crazy. Overall 70%.[5]

My verdict:

“Although the graphics are beginning to look a bit dated, they are still pleasing to look at for the most part. The story is compelling with some nice surprises, and they have simplified the menu systems making them easier to navigate. Personally I feel this is the best Phantasy Star in the series.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star IV? 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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew: Genesis – Phantasy Star IV’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (June 1995).  Issue 71: 46. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/21/EGM_US_071.pdf Accessed 17th February 2020).

[2] Rox, N., ‘Genesis Review – Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium’. GameFan. (April 1995). Volume 3 Issue 4:19 & 27. (https://archive.org/details/GamefanVolume3Issue04April1995/page/n25/mode/2up Accessed on 26th March 2020).

[3] ‘Megadrive Review – Phantasy Star IV’. Mean Machines Sega. (July 1995) Issue 33:76-7. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-33/page/n75/mode/2up Accessed 26th March 2020).

[4] ’16-bit Megadrive – Phantasy Star IV’. Sega Saturn Magazine. (December 1995). Issue 2:91. (https://archive.org/details/Official_Sega_Saturn_Magazine_002/page/n89/mode/2up Accessed 26th March 2020).

[5] Slate, C., ’Genesis: Review – Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium’. Game Players. (February 1995). Issue 49:38-9. (https://archive.org/details/Game_Players_Issue_49_February_1995/page/n37/mode/2up Accessed 26th March 2020).

Super Mario Kart – Review

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. For this review, I played the version 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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[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).

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – Review

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 chose to review 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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[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).