Tag Archives: Super NES

#93: Super Star Wars

Format: Super NES Genre: Run and Gun Released: 1993 Developer: Sculptured Software/Lucasarts

Super Star Wars blew my tiny little adolescent mind when I first played it. Graphically it was superb, with crisp and colourful visuals that really captured the look of the film, and even today it still looks pretty damn good. In particular, I remember the Mode 7-generated battle above the Death Star was spectacular at the time, as was the climactic fight against Darth Vader’s TIE fighter at the end – although sadly I only saw this on a couple of occasions because the game was so f*****g hard. But more on that in a minute…

As well as looking fantastic, Super Star Wars sounded amazing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it has possibly the best sound effects and music on the SNES – the 16-bit versions of the famous Star Wars tunes are absolutely spot on, and the sound effects are probably the meatiest on the console (apart, perhaps, from the OTT gun noises in Super Smash TV). Particular praise should go to the noise that the womp rats make when you shoot them – it sounds more like a train being shunted off a bridge than the demise of a fleshy sci-fi creature (listen to the video below to hear for yourself). But then again, the extravagant sound effects are in keeping with a run and gun game that has all the knobs turned up to 11 – I mean, practically everything explodes in a ball of flame when you shoot it, even the Jawas (who also fly comically off the screen with a satisfying ‘ooOOOtiiini’ noise lifted straight from the film).

Apparently Luke used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home, although here it appears he couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo.

But for all its preening good looks and aural bombast, Super Star Wars was always a little rough around the edges when it came to the gameplay department. Sadly, the massive sprites and evocative music don’t quite cover up the shoddy collision detection, inept bosses and utterly infuriating level design…

…but at the time I could forgive it – the all-consuming desire to see the next gorgeously realised level had me hooked, and the showy visuals – not to mention the fact that it’s Star Wars goddammit - were enough to keep me plugging away until I finally, FINALLY, managed to finish it. Although looking back now with the benefit of hindsight, I’m amazed I had the patience…

The landspeeder had considerably more 'oomph' in the game than it did in the film.

Here at 101 Video Games, we generally write our reviews based on our personal memories of the games, rather than what they’re actually like to play now. The idea is to generate a record of the games that enriched our lives, rather than a list of ‘top’ games – hence the inclusion of games that taught us a valuable life lesson (Rise of the Robots) or that simply made us smile (Dog Walking). However, I got so nostalgic about Super Star Wars after watching videos of it while researching this post, I ended up downloading it from the Wii Virtual Console so I could play it again.

A fatal mistake.

What do you mean, "you don't remember this from the movie"?

It all started off pleasantly enough as I happily romped across the dunes of Tatooine, blasting the local fauna into oblivion with carefree abandon and generally having a whale of a time. But then I started noticing the cracks…

[Lewis sits playing through the first level of Super Star Wars. Gradually his brow begins to furrow and a slight frown plays across his mouth as he nears the end of the stage. We listen in to his internal monologue...] “Hold on, no matter what I do, I don’t seem to be able to avoid getting hit by these creatures – maybe my reflexes aren’t as good as they used to be? …Or is it because you actually CAN’T avoid them and the developers just decided to throw loads of health boosts at you to make up for it? Wait a minute, here’s the sarlacc pit boss… oh, you can’t avoid his attacks either. And now I’m dead and the restart point seems to be practically at the beginning of the level. That’s …erm… frustrating.”

Worst. Boss. Ever.

Yes, 17 years is a long time in the world of video games, and little things we now take for granted – like reasonably spaced restart points – were thin on the ground back in 1993. But there are some aspects of Super Star Wars that are frankly just the result of poor design, like the inability to avoid getting hit, or the all-too-common ‘leaps of faith’ where you can’t see the platform you’re meant to be jumping onto (which usually results in you landing in that all-too-common ‘insta-kill’ lava instead).

[We rejoin Lewis's inner monologue as he starts level 3 outside the Jawa sandcrawler.] “Ah, I remember this bit! I love that noise the Jawas make when you shoot them! Right, just need to make my way to the top of the sandcrawler by navigating these moving, wafer-thin platforms… Oh. I’ve fallen right back to the beginning. Right let’s try again… Hmm, seems a little tricky to persuade Luke to do that spinny ‘super jump’ thing, I seem to end up doing a ‘normal’  jump half of the time… Oh. I’ve fallen again.]

"Stay on target. Stay on target. Stay on... oh, I'm dead."

[Fifteen minutes later...]

“Right, finally got to the top! Now I just need to jump insid… hold on, gun emplacements? WTF? Oh. Dead again.”

[Another fifteen minutes later...]

“OK, I think I’m getting near the bottom of the sandcrawler now, although those myriad boucing lasers and security flamethrowers were a tad annoying. Still, I’ve been playing for ages, so I can’t be too far away… Hold on, I’ve come to a dead end and I can’t see what’s at the bottom of this drop. Must be another platform I guess, I’ll just jump down… Oh. It’s ‘insta-kill’ lava. That’s a bit… erm… irritating. Oh, and I’ve been taken back to almost the very beginning of the level… Right, I think I need to stop playing and find somewhere I can hurl this controller in rage without damaging any expensive electronics equipment.”

In a nutshell, Super Star Wars is just a tiny bit infuriating. But my younger self just couldn’t get enough of it – perhaps in the pre-internet, pre-‘instant access’ era I had a little more patience. And let’s face it, games were just harder back then, not like these namby-pamby modern games.

So bearing that in mind, I’ve decided to embrace Super Star Wars for what it is and dismiss its faults as the foibles of a bygone age – welcome to our video game canon old friend. Although if it’s all right with you, I’d prefer to remember you as the esteemed game of my youth rather than the frustrating throwback I bought in a fit of nostalgia.

(Skip to the 2.30 mark to go straight to the gameplay.)

Lewis

(Cover art from www.mobygames.com, screenshots from www.gamefaqs.com)

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Filed under 1993, Lucasarts, Run and Gun, Sculptured Software, Super NES

#76: Super Smash T.V.

Format: Super NES Genre: Run and Gun Released: 1992 Developer: Williams/Acclaim

The Super NES version of Smash T.V. was spot on. In fact, the SNES controller might as well have been specifically designed to work with the game, such was the perfect fit of the four facia buttons with the multidirectional shooting required in the game. Plus the SNES conversion was practically arcade perfect in terms of graphics and sound – a rare feat in the early 90s.

And of course, come the inevitable playground argument about the relative merits of the Super NES versus the Megadrive, Super Smash T.V.‘s control system provided yet more ammunition to remorsely fire into the soft underbellies of SEGAphiles. I remember SEGA did eventually get round to releasing a six-button pad for the Megadrive, but I think it was a looooong time after Smash T.V. came out, so I’m not sure how the designers got around the problem of letting players shoot and run in different directions when they only had three buttons to play with. I know that on the NES the player had to use the D-pad on two controllers to simulate the dual joysticks of the arcade version, but of course that meant you needed four joypads to play with two players.

The two player mode was definitely the way to play Super Smash T.V. The game was fun in one player, but it was a helluva lot more fun with two people and, thankfully, a little bit easier. In fact, the game’s difficulty was legendary – although it only had three levels (each comprised of several rooms), I only ever got to the end on a couple of occasions, and I don’t think I ever completed it. I loved the bosses though – Mutoid Man, the level 1 boss, is up there with the best end-of-level baddies of all time, along with Kraid from Super Metroid and Bowser in Super Mario 64.

The game was clearly based on The Running Man, and the film’s sense of black humour was carried over wholesale into the game. I loved the way that at the end of every level your score was judged on the amount of toasters and VCRs you grabbed, and the game had a very nasty habit of carefully positioning wads of tempting cash directly over mines. Despite the danger though, there was always the compulsion to collect every single prize on offer, just so you could glory in having a slightly larger pile of toasters than your friend at the end of the level. It’s the little victories that count in life.

For me though, it was the sound effects that really made Smash T.V. stand out from the crowd. The host’s endlessly repeated soundbites are still echoing around my head to this very day:

“BINGO!”

“Good luck! You’ll need it!”

“Biiiiig money!!! Biiiiig prizes!!! IIIII LOVE IT!!!!”

“I’d buy that for a dollar!”

That last one was lifted directly from Robocop - the designers certainly didn’t hold back on their referencing of movies set in a satirical dystopian future.

It wasn’t just the sampled speech that made the game stand out though – Super Smash T.V. featured some of the meatiest gun noises and explosions I’ve ever heard in a SNES game. Even the puny handgun you start with sounds like some sort of artillery cannon, and after you acquire a heftier weapon and the screen has fills with enemies, it sounds like World War Three has broken out. Listen below to see what I mean… and look out for the fight with Mutoid Man at the end – the only game character I can think of that carries a spare head inside his ribcage.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.gamefaqs.com, http://www.vgmuseum.com and http://www.giantbomb.com)

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Filed under 1992, Acclaim, Run and Gun, Super NES, Williams

#70: Starwing (Star Fox)

Format: Super NES Genre: 3D Shooter/Rail shooter Released: 1993 Developer: Nintendo/Argonaut Software

I remember seeing the first screenshots of Star Fox* in a games magazine and being totally confused by what appeared to be a random jumble of triangles. But when I finally saw the game in motion (probably on the mediocre ITV games show Bad Influence) it completely blew my tiny little adolescent mind. 3D? On the Super NES? What black magic is this?!

That’ll be the Super FX chip then, which not only made all them fancy polygons possible, it also made the game pretty damn expensive (about £55 I seem to remember, although correct me if I’m wrong). Still, it was worth every penny, if only to score bragging rights in the playground. And do you know what? The game felt expensive.

For a start the cartridge was noticeably heavier than other SNES carts – and everyone knows heavy equals expensive – but beyond that it was obvious that a lot of time, effort and money had been put into polishing and tweaking every little bit of the game. The music was fantastic, a sweeping orchestral score that perfectly fitted the grandiose space opera storyline, and the sound effects were also spot on (except for the noise of your Arwing being hit by laser fire, which sounded oddly like someone punching through a sheet of A4 paper).

Graphically, Star Fox was leagues ahead of anything else around at the time on home consoles – there just wasn’t anything like it. It seems odd to think now, but in 1993 3D was a rare novelty that was almost entirely confined to cutting edge arcade games (I remember when my local Quasar centre got a Virtua Fighter arcade cabinet – swarms of us gathered round it in awe like it was the Holy Grail). But the key thing about Star Fox was that it had the gameplay to back up the good looks, with varied and interesting levels and some ingenious bosses. I particularly liked the final confrontation, when old monkey-faced villain Andross conjured up an enormous floating head that promptly tried to swallow you whole.

It’s a shame there weren’t a few more Super FX games – apart from Star Fox, the only ones I remember are the brilliant Stunt Race FX and the not-so-brilliant Vortex… although a quick look on Wikipedia reveals that the chip found its way into Doom and Super Mario World 2 as well. It seems a shame that Argonaut went to so much time and trouble on building their little magic chip only for it to be used so little… although I suppose it was pretty expensive to manufacture, which must have put off most developers.

Star Fox wasn’t a particularly long game, but the branching routes and secret levels made it eminently replayable. I must have played through the whole thing at least a dozen times, which is partly a reflection of the game’s brilliance and partly a reflection of my limited games collection (I think I had about six games in all).

It’s hardly surprising I didn’t have many games – this was in the days when the secondhand games market didn’t really exist and most games kept their value for much longer (as opposed to today’s games market, where new titles drop to half price a couple of months after release). Games took months to save up for, and I could only afford to buy two or three a year – but Star Fox was worth every penny of my pocket money.

Lewis

*Well, technically it was called Starwing in the UK for interminably dull legal reasons (and presumably for the same reasons, the sequel was called Lylat Wars instead of Star Fox 64). But everyone I knew called it Star Fox anyway.

(Screenshots from http://www.vgmuseum.com/)

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Filed under 1993, 3D Shooter, Argonaut Software, Nintendo, Rail Shooter, Super NES

#40: NBA Jam

Format: Super NES Genre: Sports Released: 1993 Developer: Midway

You’ve probably noticed that there are precious few sports games on this list – the reason being that I hardly ever play them. I’ve never quite been able to get to grips with football games (people I’m playing against often wonder why I cheer when they score – it’s usually because I thought I was controlling their team), and the only sports game that has successfully piqued my interest in recent memory is Golf on Wii Sports. Back in 1993 though, you’d have had to pry the joypad out of my hands with a crowbar to stop me playing NBA Jam.

It’s not like I even like basketball – in fact I find it incredibly boring – but somehow this game managed to make basketball not only bearable to watch but actually exciting. Its first stroke of genius was to get rid of all those surplus players on the court – with only two players per team there’s none of the usual confusion you get with sports games over which player you’re controlling and where they’re going to pass the ball next and hold-on-I-didn’t-mean-to-pass-it-over-there-damn-you-computer-for-cheating-oh-now-you’ve-gone-and-scored DAMN THIS MACHINE. No, none of that.

The second wave of the genius wand ensured that all of the gameplay knobs were turned up to eleven – you don’t just slam dunk the ball in this game, you leap 30 feet into the air, spin 360 degrees, do the splits and dunk the ball so hard the backboard shatters, as multiple flashbulbs erupt in the audience and the announcer builds himself into a frenzy.

Realistic? No, but who cares, this is a video game, right?

"BOOMSHAKALAKA!"

Speaking of the announcer, the sampled speech was a real highlight – speech was rarity in games before the CD-based consoles arrived. As I remember, the announcers didn’t have that many soundbites, but for some reason they never got repetitive (maybe I was still tickled by the novelty of people speaking IN A GAME). The best bit was when a player scored three points in a row, which caused him to (literally) become ‘on fire’, accompanied by the commentator booming “HE’S ON FIRE!”. The phrase has penetrated my brain to such an extent that I still find myself thinking “HE’S ON FIRE!” every time I do something noteworthy in a game.

‘Achievement: Brumak Rodeo 10G’

[Thinks] “HE’S ON FIRE!”

"HE'S ON FIRE!"

But the true brilliance of NBA Jam emerged in multiplayer – the game was good when played alone, but it was utterly fantastic with four players. Along with Super Bomberman, it was one of the first games to be compatible with the Super NES multitap – imagine kids, you had to fork out £20 just to play with more than person! – and the two games barely left my SNES for the whole of 93 and 94. You can keep your Modern Warfare 2, just give me NBA Jam, four controllers, a bottle of Virgin Cola, Maid Marian and her Merry Men on the telly and several flavours of Push Pops, and I’ll be happy.

Lewis

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Filed under 1993, Midway, Sports, Super NES

#32: Killer Instinct

Format: Super NES/Coin-Op Genre: Fighting Released: 1994 Developer: Rare

Killer Instinct was fantastically naff really. The character designs were generally uninspired and the graphics had an odd sheen to them that made it look like everything had been sprayed with cooking oil. On top of this, most of the levels were incredibly murky (possibly in an attempt to make the game seem ‘darker’ and more adult), so the effect was a bit like watching bits of foil leaping about down a well. However, it was enormous fun to play, so that made everything all right.

killer_instinct_SNES

When the game came out, most gaming magazines trumpeted the fact that it was based on hardware from the long-awaited ‘Ultra 64′ (later rebranded with the decidedly more prosaic name ‘Nintendo 64′ when it was released two years later). As it turned out, this was all complete rubbish, and Killer Instinct actually turned up on the Super NES the next year, which somewhat tarnished its ‘next-generation’ image in my eyes (although it was hugely impressive that they managed to squeeze the whole game onto a SNES cartridge – obviously Rare is staffed by tiny gaming wizards with magic compression wands).

(Incidentally, Killer Instinct emerged at about the same time as Cruis’n USA, another game that was thought to be based on Ultra 64 architecture – unlike Killer Instinct however, Cruis’n USA was entirely bobbins and not really the best of adverts for Nintendo’s new console. Even if it wasn’t actually developed on one. Does that make sense?)

Killer Instinct ready screen

Killer Instinct fought its way into my life when I was going through the teenage phase of hanging around McDonald’s for want of anything better to do. Calendars, the American-style diner next door to MaccyD’s, decided to install a single Killer Instinct arcade machine right in their entrance hall, presumably to keep customers entertained while they were waiting for a table. Not that we ever let the actual customers have a go on it, although thanks to this particular coin-op my friends and I made a substantial contribution to Calendars’ revenue during the summer of ’95.

Killer Instinct Cinder

The game’s biggest gimmick was its combo system, which went above and beyond the call of duty – if I remember rightly, some characters could even deliver 56 hit combos (which I imagine would have been intensely irritating for the recipient).* My friends and I spent most of that long, hot summer poring over combo lists in the backs of game magazines, desperately trying to make longer and longer combos. I think the best I ever managed was 24.

Killer Instinct 80 hit Combo

Looking back, there were probably better things I could have been doing that summer than hanging around in the entrance to a restaurant and memorising complicated lists of button presses. But for the moment they escape me, as all I can think about is laying the smack down on shiny robot knights and Harryhausen-esque skeletons…

Hey, I wonder how much  Killer Instinct goes for on eBay…?

Lewis

*Although from the screenshot above, it looks like an 80 hit combo was possible. Cor, and indeed, blimey.

However, it was enormous fun to play, so that made everything all right.

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Filed under 1994, Coin-Op, Fighting, Rare, Super NES

#29: Super Mario Kart

Format: Super NES Genre: Racing Released: 1993 Developer: Nintendo

I don’t think I really need to say much about this one, do I? It’s Mario Kart, everyone’s played it, the Super NES version is the best. End of post.

super_mario_kart_box

Although having said that, I quite enjoyed the GameCube version… and one thing that the later versions of Mario Kart had that the original didn’t was a four-player mode, which seems so essential to the game that it’s almost inconceivable that it wasn’t in there from the start. Anyone remember Street Racer? It was one of the first Mario Kart clones, and its big claim to fame was that it featured a four-player mode, but in almost every other respect it was identical to Mario Kart, albeit significantly more ropey. It sticks out in my mind for having some of the worst character designs I’ve ever seen, including ‘Biff’ (‘a 19 year old typical school bully figure from America’) and ‘Surf Sister’ (‘a young Australian girl with a degree in mechanics’). It’s enough to make you weep.

super mario kart water

Anyway, the main reason that Super Mario Kart is The Best VersionTM is that the multiplayer was perfectly pitched. The Balloon Battle fights were nail-biting affairs that hinged on pixel-perfect deployment of the torpedo-like green shell combined with sheer panic as your opponent unleashed the dreaded Red Shell of Doom. Later versions were a lot more forgiving and the arenas (particularly on the N64 version) were much too large, which meant that a lot of the tension was swept away. As much as I love the GameCube version, the Battle Mode was – dare I say it – actually quite dull (although the Racing Mode was excellent).

super mario kart two player

Speaking of racing, the single-player mode of Super Mario Kart was arguably its weakest link. Perhaps unfairly, I basically saw it as necessary chore to be endured to unlock the multiplayer tracks – let’s face it, racing against the computer will never even come close to racing against friends. However, special mention has to go to the Ghost Valley and Rainbow Road tracks, which are some of the best-designed tracks to have ever been etched onto silicon. Rainbow Road in particular has a way of dragging you back for one more go, even though it’s teeth-grindingly difficult – I think it taps into the inner masochist hidden inside all lifelong gamers.

super mario kart donut land

I’m sure everyone has their favourite version of Mario Kart, but for me the first one will always be the best, and I’m sure almost everyone of my generation will agree with me. I mean, just watch the video below: it’s gaming perfection. All hail Mode 7.

Lewis

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Filed under 1993, Nintendo, Racing, Super NES

#3: Street Fighter II

Format: Super NES Genre: Fighting Released: 1992  Developer: Capcom

An obvious choice for this list maybe, but Street Fighter II had an undeniable impact when it was released, both on the games industry as a whole and on an impressionable young lad named Lewis, who’d just received a brand new Super NES for Christmas.

This is the US box - the UK version was spangly gold.

I remember that Christmas really well – I’d asked for a SNES for Christmas, but it was by far the most expensive Christmas present I’d ever received (it cost a whopping £150). Because of this, I wasn’t expecting to receive any games with it (except for Super Mario World of course, which came in the box), so imagine my surprise and delight when I found a brand new copy of the console game of the moment – Street Fighter II – nestling under the Christmas tree alongside a SNES-shaped box. My grin stretched until Easter.

Go Eddie!!!

I remember excitedly setting up my brand new console, only momentarily delayed by the search for a plug. It’s bizarre to think now that console manufacturers used to ship consoles without plugs – how tight is that? I remember when my sister got her NES – my parents didn’t realise that it didn’t come with a plug, so my dad ended up taking the plug off the food mixer instead. The congealed blob of cake mix on top of the plug casing stood as a testament to this fact, along with the dangerously exposed wiring.

Anyway, one of the reasons I was so impressed upon receiving SFII on that morning was that the game was so outrageously expensive – it cost £65 when it was released. Yes, that’s right, SIXTY-FIVE POUNDS!!!!!! Unbelievable. The manufacturers blamed the expense on a specially manufactured 16 megabit cart, but I’m sure that can’t be the whole story. £65 was, and still is, an exceptionally large amount of money to part with for a game, and it’s got me thinking about how the cost of gaming has gone down in general.

Back at the dawn of gaming, games were pretty cheap – cassette tapes were only a few pounds each – but as the consoles took over from the home computers, prices skyrocketed. Most NES games cost between £40 and £45, but some cost even more – Star Wars, for example, cost £50 and Maniac Mansion came in at a massive £55. The trend continued on the Super NES, with most games being released at around £45.

Of course, most games nowadays are still released at between £40 and £50, but a savvy consumer certainly wouldn’t pay that – you can buy most new games with around a £10 discount online, an option that wasn’t available back in 1992. Plus when you take inflation into account, the real price of games has actually fallen. Most importantly, there’s now a huge secondhand market for games that simply didn’t exist in the early nineties – Nintendo for one was vehemently opposed to the idea of its games being sold secondhand, and it was some time before the secondhand gaming market really took off. Taking all this into account, you can understand my joy at receiving SFII on that magical Christmas morning – at £65, it would have taken me literally months to save up for it.

It’s interesting that, while games have come down in price, consoles seem to have gotten more and more expensive. £150 for a SNES was expensive at the time, but it was nothing compared to paying £300 for the Playstation or, more recently, £425 for a PS3. I guess that you can’t really compare a PS3 to a SNES though: consoles are inherently more complicated these days, more like integrated entertainment systems or mid-range PCs than games machines.

Come on Zangief!!!

I realise I haven’t really said much about SFII in this post, but there’s little I can add to the countless columns of text that have been filled by this game already. All I will say is that it was, and still is, one of the best two player games ever made, and it’s a tribute to its brilliance that the design of 2D fighting games has changed little since its release.

Having said that, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as practising for hours, diligently learning all the special moves for all the characters, then being beaten by your little sister when she just mashes all the buttons together at once. Especially if she’s playing as Zangief.

Lewis

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Filed under 1992, Capcom, Fighting, Super NES