Saturday, December 29, 2012

#29: Super Baseball Simulator 1000

One thousand or a really precise one?
Super Baseball Simulator 1000 is certainly one of the games I played the most on the SNES as a kid. It had everything a baseball game needed to have in order to keep my interest for a long stretch of time. Would it still hold some of that luster 21 years later?

165 games is a lot of games!
The first thing the game has going for it is the ability to actually play a full baseball season. The game accurately tracks every at bat that happens in the game and keeps hitting and pitching statistics for every player on every team throughout the season. I didn't actually like playing baseball all that much as a kid but I loved baseball stats. I used to keep score for games I'd watch on tv and wrote a spreadsheet to track my house league team's stats using whatever spreadsheet software it was that came with GEOS on the Commodore 64. So for the game to keep data over almost 500 games for a season was pretty awesome for me.
Mercy ruled!
But as I said, I didn't really like playing baseball... This game would let you simulate games you weren't playing which was nice. But on top of that you had the option to not really play baseball. You could play super enhanced baseball. In the field you'd have a jump/dive button and a super jump/dive button so you could jump to the roof of the stadium to catch a home run if you timed it right. You could slide all the way from one side of the field to another. Hit X before getting the ball to charge up a super throw that would get to the base fast. Hit Y before getting the ball to power up your glove allowing you to actually catch some of the super hits. Every batter had a special hit they could use like turning the ball into an exploding bomb that stunned whoever it hit or turning the ball invisible or reversing the controls of the defender so up was down and left was right. Pitchers had 4 super pitches they could choose from with things ranging from the iron ball that would frequently break bats to the SSFB (Super Super Fast Ball) that went, as advertised, really freaking fast.

Other 'super' pitches weren't so super.
You could set up your league to allow a limited number of super moves per game. This terrible leaf pitch would cost you 4 of your quota. You could turn super moves off entirely by setting the quotas to 0. Or you could set them to unlimited and just be crazy awesome on every play. Guess what I did?

Now, the computer couldn't quite handle the concept of super moves. It wouldn't use them very well, it had no idea how to deal with some of my super moves, and it would trivialize others. For some reason the super hit which made the ball invisible was easy to deal with. I think the computer would cheat and know where the ball would land. On the other hand the super hit which made the ball's shadow invisible broke the AI. It would simply stop moving players until the ball landed. Even though it could make sense that the computer could do an ok job of working out where the ball 'should' land given that you can still see the ball itself!

The game was really easy. Back then it was really easy, now it was really easy. But I played it a lot so I guess I didn't care that it was really easy. I wasn't playing the game to win so much as to try to twink out my player stats. My lead off hitter would basically hit an inside the park homerun every at-bat. Only when the computer would randomly make an error would I get screwed (for some reason the stats engine would treat that as an at-bat but not as a hit which would lower my average). I can remember being bitter about the mercy rule which called the game after you were up by 10 if you were the home team. If you were the away team you could score as much as you wanted because theoretically they could come back in the bottom of the inning. I'd run into problems trying to have my guys show up on the stat lists because they wouldn't get enough at bats because most of them would only bat once in the first inning and then the game would get called.

That said, I think using an actual limit on super moves would make the game more strategic. Do you really want to use the super throw from the out field on this play? You can guarantee strike the other guy out by throwing 3 warp pitches in a row... In order to have a game you need some way to prevent that from happening. Gentleman's rule or by putting in a cost you can't always pay. I'm glad they built such a system into the game even if I never used it.

At any rate, I played a full 5 game season, went undefeated, and had fun. Still a good game.

Rating: A+

Saturday, December 22, 2012

#28: Lagoon

Nice waterfall I guess?
I recognized the name Lagoon but I couldn't really remember why. I was thinking it was an action-adventure game where you saved townspeople by opening chests but that would be game 72 on the list, Soul Blazer. I'm sure I rented Lagoon as a kid but I guess it really didn't stick with me. It turns out Lagoon actually is an action-adventure game, but not a memorable one. The game started with me forced to wander around town trying to find a plot hook. The town was full of buildings with doors. Some doors I could open. Others I couldn't. There was no way to tell which was which which was pretty frustrating. Ultimately by visiting, in order, mayor's house, church, cave entrance, church, mayor's house, church, weapon shop I was finally able to get started.

I opened this treasure chest and it locked up the game and played a huge, unskippable fanfare. Doo da dooooooo! You found 10 gold. The mayor gave me 300 gold to start my adventure which was enough money to buy every single thing in the store. 10 gold is not interesting. It certainly didn't deserve a fanfare.

I eventually made it to the end of the stupid cave and found the dude I was sent in to rescue. He was injured and took a healing potion I found in a chest to similar huge fanfare. I gather he wasn't going to move until I gave him one, so it's a good thing I found that chest first... Otherwise I would have had to backtrack the stupid cave, then come back here. Once the guy started moving it turned into an escort quest. I had to go back through the whole cave with this idiot following me. Idiot-boy moved very slowly (I guess for flavour because he was injured?) and would try to take the shortest path to me. Even if that path included a little impassable crack. Then he'd just stand there looking stupid until I walked back up to him and showed him the right way to go.

I got frustrated with the escort quest so I tried to get my friend killed. Nope. The enemies would just walk right through him without doing any damage to him at all. He would appear to be invincible. Why did he need my help if he can't take any damage? Just walk home on your own, loser. So I took off to the exit without him... But then it wouldn't let me go into doors unless he was beside me, so even if I cleared a straight line path to the door I then had to wait for him to catch up before proceeding.

Slow escort quest coupled with wonky controls coupled with a pretty bad combat system meant I just walked away from the game rather than finish the escort quest. I don't remember getting this bitter at the game as a kid so it's quite possible that World of Warcraft managed to jade my perception of escort quests. 

The combat system was annoying in that my sword was only a couple pixels long and I'd only hit the enemy if I managed to line it up mid-swing with an enemy. My health bar regenerated and theirs didn't so I ended up just charging into every enemy and mashed the attack button until they died. I'd be full by the time I got to the next enemy so I didn't care how much damage I took. This is bad game design, I think. I want combat to be interesting and then to have consequences for failure. Oh well.

Also frustrating... I was going up levels but I only found out by checking the status screen. No dings. No messages. Nothing. Opening a chest with 10 gold in it was worth a fanfare and a pause. Leveling up? Nothing at all. That's the wrong way to design a game. People like to level up. Tell them when they did!

That said, if I didn't have a lot of action-adventure experience this probably wouldn't have been so bad. And it was the first such game on the system. Well, it came out in the same month as Super Castlevania IV... Lagoon should probably be happy it's earlier in the alphabet since I suspect it would get a worse rating in the other order...

Rating: C

Saturday, December 15, 2012

#27: Home Alone

Nice tilted e in the logo!
Ah, Home Alone. A movie tie-in platformer for the highest grossing movie of it's year, and third most all-time at the time. Even now Wikipedia lists is as #38 all-time in North America adjusted for inflation. With such a popular movie it's no surprise someone made a video game based on it... Movie tie in games tend to be terrible, though. How does this one fare?
Who hides a bag of cash in the toilet?
The premise of the game is The Wet Bandits have broken into the house and are trying to steal all your valuables. You play the 8-year Kevin and are tasks with running through your house stuffing valuable stuff into your backpack. When it fills up you can empty it out in a laundry chute. Throw enough stuff down into the basement and you have to go down there to lock it up in a gigantic safe. As you play you collect different weapons and can set off various traps on the bandits.
The platforming section actually isn't bad. Your movements are a little slippery and you can violate the laws of physics by adjusting your trajectory in mid air. But it feels good. Maybe this is because this was one of the first games we had on the SNES and I played it a lot as a kid, but it just feels like the way a platformer should feel.
The theme of the game is a little silly. Why does an 8-year old care if some thieves are going to take his toy trains? How does a squirt gun actually slow them down at all? I get that the movie was all about traps and fending off the bandits and I guess it fits in decently with that. And is it really so different than collecting coins or stars or whatever it is Mario is making you randomly collect? I guess not.

The level design gets boring. At least Mario would go underwater once in a while. In this game every level features several rooms full of stuff, 2 hallways, and a basement. You collect different valuable things but you always stuff them down a hole and then dodge bugs in the basement.

The music and sound are actually pretty good. The movie got nominated for an Oscar based on the music so I guess they had a good base to work off of. I'm surprised they didn't screw it up.

The game actually uses three buttons. Jump, attack, switch weapons. Hurray!

Overall the game is a little repetitive and is a movie tie-in but it was fun back in the day and wasn't bad even now. I feel like I'm supposed to hate this game but I just can't. It's a fun little platformer.

Rating: B+

Friday, December 7, 2012

#26: D-Force

It's begging for a D rating right in the name!
Even before the start menu the game started with a brick wall and a terrible choppy sound. I thought something was wrong with my headphones. But then a helicopter shot through the brick wall and it became clear that there was nothing wrong with my hardware. No, that was the way they thought a helicopter sounded. Man, I sure hope that doesn't carry over into the actual game...
What are those balls?!?
The game turned out to be a shooter. A really, really bad one. The sound did carry over into the game. The music was mediocre on top of it, but the sound was really, really terrible. This game had all of my least favourite aspects of games so far. Shooting my starting weapon, with no enemies on the screen, caused lag. The game used one button. Shoot. All these other buttons on the controller and none of them did anything. To be fair start did pause the game... But even paused the background would keep pulsing this weird flowy animation. I bet they thought it looked cool. Or the intern they brought in thought it looked cool. I think it looks terrible.
I made it to the boss of the first stage. One good thing is dying only knocked you down one power-up tier instead of all the way to the bottom. One bad thing is the boss moved faster than any other enemy and coupled with the lag from shooting I couldn't survive. And didn't care enough to keep trying.

Then I uploaded the images here and saw the title screen had different options. So I went back to try exploration mode, which was in a dinosaur world without power-ups and with an added button! L or R would zoom in. It sucked.

I don't think I played this game back in the day. And I'm never going to play it again.

Rating: F

Saturday, December 1, 2012

#25: True Golf Classics: Waialae Country Club

Looks like the Rebel Alliance logo. Or BAT-MAN!
It may surprise people to learn that I think this game may be my most played SNES game. It's certainly in the top 5. I didn't have many friends as a kid and I spent most of my days after school around the time this game came out at my friend Mathieu's place. We'd play games every day. A lot of hockey games, but even more golf. This golf game. You could create characters and track stats over many, many plays. I think we got pretty good at it.
High score wins in golf, right?
I am no longer very good at it. And I no longer like it at all. It's a little laggy. It's very punishing when choosing swing power in that it wraps around from full to empty. So I kept hitting the ball a couple feet instead of hundreds of yards. Putting gave a good hill map thing, but was laggy to bring it up.

I found I didn't remember the holes, despite having played it so much, and didn't care that I didn't remember them. It wasn't very fun so I stopped playing as soon as I fell to last place on the leaderboard. Which I believe took all of two holes. It was a fine game for the time but I have absolutely no desire to play it anymore.

Rating: C+