Saturday, July 28, 2012

#7: Drakkhen

Drakkhen was the first RPG put out in North America for the SNES and it has some very interesting design decisions. You have a party of 4 characters and you only control one of them in combat. The other three wander around the screen and try to swing at the enemy. I made a wizard but he didn't seem to have any useful spells and mostly just tried to beat down with his staff.
Bung's clothes broke... Nice undies!
You start off by randomly generating four characters. You have to make a fighter, a scout, a priest, and a wizard. You get three rolls for your stats. I think I saw only a single 18 but I had one person roll four 17s. Of course, I had no idea what the stats did or which stats a given class really wanted but I made my best of it.
Physique = Fortitude = Vitality = Constitution?
The basic storyline is there were dragons and they were awesome. They disappeared for some reason and left behind a half-dragon race called the Drakkhen which have been suppressing humanity. There are 8 Drakkhen royalty (a male and a female of each element) and you need to wander around the world dealing with those 8 Drakkhen in an attempt to save humanity.
The fate of humanity is in Bung's capable hands!
The overworld map is an interesting pseudo-3D system. You have a map with compass that shows you where all the castles and stuff are. I remember the game having an interesting enough story and 12 year old me was more than capable of figuring out where to go next. I remember it being hard but fair...

Having now played a wide variety of RPGs I can say Drakkhen has some very serious flaws. Not being able to control your party is frustrating. The sound effects are actually terrible. Experience doesn't seem to be split between members of your party so the guy I was controlling (and was therefore getting in range to attack fastest) kept getting all the kills. He hit level 3 and everyone else was still level 1. Gear breaks after taking a few hits and naked people seemed to be guaranteed to die in one hit.

I played a bit, saved, and thought I'd go back to it another day. I have since decided I really have no desire to keep playing. I did rent it several times as a kid and distinctly remember beating it at some point so it's not unplayable trash or anything like that. It's just got a lot of warts that I don't want to deal with for the hours it would take to really make progress.

Rating: C

Saturday, July 21, 2012

#6: The Chessmaster

Can you beat Gandalf at chess?
Do you have a desperate need to play a slow, plodding game of chess with bad sound effects and AI? Then Mindscape has the game for you! The first thing that happens when you hit start is you get thrown into a game against an opponent of unknown difficulty. This AI was really big into trading units and actually had a one pawn lead on me into the late game. I don't know how/why it happened (I certainly didn't plan it out) but he ended up losing a rook for no cost and that was pretty much game. I promoted a pawn into a bishop (it said to hit A for a queen but the A button on my xBox controller is in the same location as the SNES B button) but it was good enough.

Suck it, Black!
I'm bad at chess. So the fact I won the first game either means the AI is bad or it let me win. After that game it actually took me into an options menu that I feel should have been available from the start...

2-Player Mode for those without a set.
I tried turning the background music on and let's just say it's very good it defaults to off. It actually reminded me of my first computer programming class in high school when people first discovered they could make qBasic play 'music'. A lot of this game felt like an intro programming class, actually. The graphics feel amateurish. The sound effects certainly are, with the same sound playing both when you take a piece and lose a piece. And the music is just terrible.

The only thing it has going for it is actual chess AI. There are a bunch of different 'level of play' settings that probably change the game a fair bit and which I wouldn't expect a teenager to be able to program. Maybe this game was ok at the time but it seems pretty mediocre now. I'm pretty sure I rented this game at some point in my youth since I remember the Gandalf intro screen but I doubt I was very happy with that decision.

Rating: D-

Saturday, July 14, 2012

#5: Super Mario World

 The iconic launch game; it came bundled with the system itself. In this day and age you don't even get a game when you buy a new system. Back in 1991 you got a truly amazing game. I guess coming out of the video game crash the console creators figured they really had to give you something to make it worth your while jumping to a new system? Now it feels like they expect you to buy a new console just because it exists.
I remember when we got our SNES back when I was a kid. My parents had gamified chores (yeah, in 1991... My family is way ahead of our time!) by giving us points on a chart for doing all kinds of things. The end goal if we got enough points? A NES! My brother and I were getting close as Christmas was nearing but we didn't quite make it in time... Our final present was the last points we needed! Awesome! Come here, NES!
It turned out not to be a NES. It was a SNES. (Which was turned on the whole time, so as soon as the tv was turned on the theme music for this game was running.) By any objective measure this would be a fantastic upgrade. It's a better system. It had a bright future full of awesome games. It had more buttons on the controller, but not too many more. But I was bitter. The prize was clearly defined and now it had changed! I hadn't even heard of this SNES thing. (They got my grandparents to buy it down in Florida.) That lasted all of about three stages into this game. As soon as I got the feather item from one of those glowy cape dudes and got to fly around I was hooked. This was _way_ better than an NES!

I wonder what I do with this key...

Now-a-days I'm not a big platformer fan. I'm rusty and have trouble actually landing my jumps. I remember being better than this, but I may be crazy. Certainly I remember my brother and I running one specific level over and over to earn maximum lives... Would we have had to do that if we were awesome at the game? I doubt it. But I had a lot of fun playing this game again, even for a little while.

As platformers go, Super Mario World is one of the best. It brought in lots of new things (feather, Yoshi, the ability to replay any level, bonus games, storing a power-up in the box up top, POW boxes...) while staying true to the past with mushrooms, flowers, starmen... It had plenty of interesting challenges to do like the star world. It had alternate exits from some levels with keys and such. It was accessible enough that you could plow through it while being hard enough to keep your attention for a long period of time.

Rating: A+

Saturday, July 7, 2012

#4: Sim City

My sheet listing all the SNES games listed Sim City as being a Nintendo first party game. This seemed off to me, since I'd swear it was made by Maxis. I decided to do some investigating and it turns out Nintendo actually coded this game with their own programming team with permission from Maxis. There were tons of interesting tidbits on the Wikipedia page. In particular, Will Wright apparently had a level editor for a war game that he really enjoyed playing. So he kept developing the level editor and turned it into Sim City. And then had a hard time selling the idea to companies because there's no actual game there. You're just building a city. It turns out people enjoy just building things and Sim City became quite the hit.

Who needs more than 8 characters?
As far as the SNES version goes, I remember it being pretty fun as a kid. Of course, since then I've played many newer versions with tons of features added in that just weren't around in this version. In particular I kept trying to click on buildings to see how many people were living there, and the exact land value, and maybe a randomly generated name for the building. No dice.  

.4479% annual interest rate? Sign me up!
I played around a little bit, built a bank, and was given an offer I simply couldn't refuse. I spent all that new money and went back for more. It turns out in this version of the game you can only get a new loan after the old one has been fully paid off. So I was stuck with no money and a partially completed vision of a city. In particular I'd just hit brown-outs because I built too much stuff and not enough power plants. I found myself in a familiar situation in a game like this... The game is really fun when you're building new stuff. It's pretty fun while watching your new stuff bloom. It's terribly tedious when you're broke and can't build any new stuff. I remembered an infinite money code exists in the game but decided there was a better end to my playthrough...

Why must I be a safehaven for plumbers?

Bowser just missed my house!

And that was that. Bowser didn't blow up the stupid bank but did visit my precious casino.

The SNES version of Sim City actually innovated the 'reward' buildings for doing different things. Run out of money, get given a bank. Get enough people, get given a mayor's house. Build enough police stations, get a police headquarters. Is this the genesis of achievements? Do we have Nintendo of all people to thank?

This game was awesome for the time. It was a port of an existing game but had some Nintendo flair thrown in and an innovation or two. The genre continued to evolve and I'd rather play one of the later games but for the time this game was fantastic. Playing it again really made me want to play another Sim game. Apparently a new version is coming out in the next year so maybe I'll hold off for that?

Rating: A