Saturday, June 30, 2012

#3: Pilotwings

Fly me to the moon...
Pilotwings is a flight simulator of sorts. It doesn't strive for realism in terms of what you have to do in order to fly a plane but instead goes for broad strokes in a series of mini-games. You don't have any flaps to control when you're flying the plane, for example, you just have a throttle higher button, a throttle lower button, and the D pad to aim your plane. Later levels do include wind that you have to deal with, but your way of dealing with it is to just aim a little into the wind.

On top of flying a plane you also get to ride a hang glider, skydive off of a helicopter, and fly around with a jetpack! The idea of each mini-game is the same thing... Hit all the targets (rings to fly through, bars/balls to touch, etc...) and then land on a target. The closer you are to the middle of the target the more points you get. You get to play each mini-game of a level once and if you accumulate enough combined points you get promoted to the next level.
Big Al doesn't care that I fell in the ocean.
For bonus points you can try to land on a small moving platform. Positioning yourself is hard, because of the wind. Also while there are 2 camera angles you can use neither one is very good for landing on the pad. The most likely result is that you crash into the ocean. With a super heavy piece of equipment strapped to your back tightly enough that you don't fall off when the jetpack fires. I'm pretty sure I'm dead. Big Al only seems to care about a little water damage in the jet engine.

Hell No! We Won't Go!
Pass enough levels and you unlock a 5th mini-game where you pilot a combat helicopter in an assault on some island stronghold. There are surface-to-air missile turrets shooting red globes at you. It's hard to tell where they're going to hit and even harder to actually maneuver the helicopter so mostly your strategy is to weave erratically and just hope you don't get hit. I remember beating the game in the past but my stubbornness wasn't enough this time around and I gave up after 5 tries.

This game seems to get incredible reviews and I'm honestly not sure why. I'm pretty sure this game was developed not to make a good or fun game but to show off the capabilities of the SNES graphic chip. In particular it made use of the 'Mode 7' that tried to simulate 3D images on a 2D surface. I can remember getting frustrated as a kid with the hang glider game in particular since I could never figure out when I was going to land. When playing through this time I don't think I even came close to the landing pad. I didn't fall into the ocean so I still got some points which let me get promoted.

Pilotwings also didn't have a multiplayer mode which tends to be the saving grace for mini-game compilations. If I'm playing by myself I'd rather play a full flight simulator than the weak substitute here. That said, this was a launch title, and I do remember finding it amusing, and the difficulty of landing did provide clean 'turn swapping' breaks for my brother and I. I do think it did a fantastic job of showing off some of the capabilities of the new hardware.

Rating: B

Sunday, June 24, 2012

#2: Gradius III

G3 baby!
This was the only third party launch title for the SNES. Originally an arcade game it was ported to the SNES and made easier by allowing continues. I have to say, from my playing today, it is not easy enough. Holy cow this game is hard! (Apparently the arcade version was pulled from arcades because it was really too hard!)

Continue from right here!
Gradius III is a traditional shooter. Your ship is on the left and is flying right. Swarms of enemies fly onto the screen shooting pellets at you. Hit anything and die. Kill special enemies for mandatory power ups. In particular, your ship starts off so slow you can't possibly dodge anything but you can spend a power up for SPEEDUP. Or you can spend 2 powerups for PHOTON. And so on across the line. Anything less than 2 SPEEDUPs seemed suicidal. Die and lose everything you have. Respawn in the middle of the level. Die again because you have no speed and there are bullets everywhere.

Customize powerups!
The game has a neat feature when you start where you get to choose what powerups you want to collect as you play the game. You can pick from 4 premade sets or you can build your own with different options. It's a nice twist to a standard shooter and I remember really liking this feature when I played the cartridge in University.

In addition to being stupidly hard the game also suffers from massive lag when too much stuff is on the screen at one time. Everything moves slower which can make it easier to dodge things if you know when to anticipate the slowdown. When you're just picking up the game again for the first time in 11 years and don't have the intuition anymore it just gets you killed. I remember getting good enough at the game to beat it once upon a time but right now I was barely able to beat 2 bosses. And that's using all of my continues! The problem with losing all your powerups when you die is the game is actually reasonably easy when you have a twinked out ship but you can't survive long enough to get all the stuff without becoming really good at the game. I don't think I like that style of difficulty? Or maybe I just don't want to play Gradius III enough to get over the skill hump? I donno. I had a lot of fun with the game in Comfy Prime so it can't be all bad!

I tried using the Konami code when the game was paused and it blew my ship up. Sigh. I wanted to cheat!

The music/sound didn't jump out at me. It also didn't annoy me, so that's a plus I guess?

Rating: C

Saturday, June 23, 2012

#1: F-Zero

Realistic hoverjet racing!
F-Zero was one of the launch titles for the SNES and I believe it was the first game we bought for the system when I was a kid. It's a pretty typical racing game. You start off by choosing your car, your circuit, and your difficulty level. Then you play through each track on the circuit in turn. Finish in the top 3 to advance. Fall out of the top 3 and you lose a life. Run out of lives and it's game over. You can also lose lives by taking too much damage to your car or by falling off the track.

The four cars are the average one, the one with awesome acceleration but terrible traction and top speed, the average one with a lot of health, and the one with terrible acceleration but awesome traction and top speed. The red car was, at least in our house, thought to be the best by far. I can remember eventually playing a LOT with the yellow car in an attempt to steal a top time record from the red car. The game kept track of the 10 best total times and the best single lap for each track so there were things to try to beat.

Top acceleration means you can lead from the start.

There are jumps on some of the tracks and I remember there were a few spots in the game where you could use a super speed boost off a ramp, cut hard to the side, and actually skip a good chunk of the course. My brother and I used to spend hours and hours searching for cheaty jumps! Here's a picture of me trying to remember one of them and failing miserably.

Uh, where'd the track go?
The graphics in the game weren't great as far as the backgrounds went (What is that I'm jumping over? A circuit board?) but the tracks were well designed and the game seemed to play relatively fair. (Well, once you got into first place it didn't matter how well you did. One slip up and that yellow car would pass you!) The music was great! As soon as I started the second track of the first circuit (Big Blue) I started dancing in my chair.

I played around with three of the four cars (I always hated the blue car so I skipped it) and made sure to beat the first circuit on expert. (I used the red car.) I'm sure 13 year old Nick would kick my butt at the game, but even 21 years after the game was released and probably 18 years since I'd last really played the game I still have some skills. My hands even had muscle memory to do turns properly by tapping the accelerator to keep aligned in a reasonable direction!

The game is missing some things we'd take for granted in a racing game in this day and age. You couldn't see the other cars on the mini-map. You couldn't play multiplayer. There's no gear shifting. There are no weapons. But even now, as someone who doesn't like racing games very much, I enjoyed popping this game in and playing around with it. For the time it was awesome!

Rating: A