Category Archives: 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

#24: Super Metroid

Format: Super NES Genre: Adventure Released: 1994 Developer: Nintendo

Metroid Prime on the GameCube was a strong contender for the list, but in the end I decided to go with Super Metroid as my most fondly remembered Metroid game. If you’ve never played it, I urge you to download it from the Wii Virtual Console with all possible rapidity – it really is an absolute classic, reflected in that fact that it’s still knocking around the top of the Game Rankings ‘All Time Best‘ list.

Super Metroid Pal Box

The thing that always stands out in my memory about Super Metroid is the bloody great big box that it came in – bizarrely, Nintendo decided to ship the European version of the game with an enormous strategy guide detailing every last corridor and secret item in the whole game. I don’t think this kind of marketing tactic has been attempted before or since (correct me if I’m wrong) and you’ve got to admit that it’s a bit of strange decision. It’s as if Nintendo were about to launch the game and then suddenly thought:

“Ooooh, maybe it’s too difficult for them? What if they get a bit, you know, frustrated? I know, let’s tell them exactly how to do everything in the entire game. That should do it.”

Of course, hardcore players like me don’t need strategy guides (“Ha! I laugh in the face of your pathetic guide of weakness!”), and I blitzed my way through this enormous and complex game with nary a moment’s pause.

OK, maybe I peeked at the guide a teeny weeny bit, but only when I was really stuck. Honest.

super metroid 1

The highlights of Super Metroid were undoubtedly the bosses – particularly the screen-filling Kraid (see screenshot below). He (I presume he’s a he anyway) doesn’t seem to learn though. Put it this way: if I was entirely invulnerable except for a weak spot in my mouth, I would probably keep my mouth shut the entire time, rather than periodically unleashing reptilian screams of fury then wondering why I kept getting hurt.

super metroid 4

However, I think the overall reason that Super Metroid was so successful was that it constantly drove you to see what was around the next corner. Every few screens you’re presented with some sort of barrier to your progress – perhaps a seemingly impassable lava pit or a platform that’s just out of reach – and one of the game’s joys is collecting a new item or ability and then backtracking through the game to see what new areas it will open to you. In fact, Super Metroid engendered an almost compulsive urge to explore every nook and cranny of the game world in the hunt for elusive weapons and upgrades, and the triumphal music that accompanies the discovery of each item is right up there as one of the most pleasing game sound effects of all time (possibly only beaten by the music accompanying the opening of a treasure chest in Zelda: Ocarina of Time).

super metroid 3

You could argue that its excellent graphics and inspired shift to 3D make Metroid Prime the instant stand-out game of the Metroid series, but in terms of gameplay there’s very little Prime does that Super Metroid doesn’t.

Excluding duplicated games, Super Metroid is currently at number 8 in the All Time Best games list – which is frankly not high enough in my opinion. Buy this game now: you won’t regret it.

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.vgmuseum.com)

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Filed under 1994, Adventure, Nintendo, Super NES

#18: U.N. Squadron

Format: Super NES Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1991 Developer: Capcom

Back in the day, I used to be a massive fan of shoot ’em ups (or ‘shmups’ as people are trendily abbreviating them nowadays). I don’t play them so much anymore, but there’s still something satisfying about a good shooter – the frantic button hammering, the screen-filling bosses, the feeling of constantly being no more than a gnat’s hair away from explodey death… yeah, there really is nothing like a good old shoot ’em up.

un squadron box

Having said that, I think you do need a special kind of gaming autism to really enjoy them: the hallmark of the genre is a level of difficulty that cultivates armchair-gnawing, joypad-snapping frustration in most gamers, but shmup players have developed the Zen-like patience/sheer bloody-mindedness to not only persevere with but enjoy these most unforgiving of games. In this respect, U.N. Squadron was a little more lenient than its peers, featuring – horror of horrors – an energy bar. Energy bars are like kryptonite to hardcore shoot ’em up players, who believe that they detract from the intensity of the shoot ’em up experience. For sane people though, they offer the opportunity to get past the end of the first level without retrying several hundred times.

un squadron first boss

Despite the energy bar, U.N. Squadron was by no means easy, although it was a lot more forgiving than some of its contemporaries, such as Gradius III. It also had the added bonus of featuring various paths through the game, something that we take for granted now but which at the time was fairly rare. This meant that it was rare to get stuck on one level, and the sheer variety of planes and weapon upgrades was a compelling reason to keep playing (and replaying).

un squadron chopper

Surprisingly, U.N. Squadron had a plot. I say ‘surprisingly’, because I’ve just found out that it’s based on an old manga called ‘Area 88’ – you can read all about it here. I’m always surprised when games like this have a plot – it seems so utterly unnecessary and ridiculous, like the ongoing plot of Tekken. I mean, in what possible situation would a single plane go up against an entire air force? I’m not sure where the U.N. come into it either – I presume that in this scenario the G8 have withdrawn funding, so the U.N. can only afford to send one plane at a time on peacekeeping missions.

un squadron stealth

Looking back at this game, it’s clear just how much gaming has moved on in the last twenty years, and I even remember thinking at the time that shoot ’em ups were ‘a bit old-fashioned’. The entire genre is based around repetitiveness, and any attempt at complexity rarely extends beyond choosing which special weapons to equip. Having said that, it’s hard to beat shmups for a pure adrenaline rush, and now that I have less and less time to play games, a quick five-minute blast on a traditional side scroller like this has more and more appeal. U.N. Squadron was certainly one of the better genre efforts, and it’s surely overdue for a revival.

UN Squadron clouds

Shoot ’em ups are a sort of prehistoric gaming genre that has somehow survived into the 21st century – like the Coelacanth, they keep being declared extinct, and then a thriving colony of them pops up somewhere unexpected. After all, a healthy clutch of shooters was recently spotted on PS2, and reports of new shmups being released on Dreamcast persisted long after the console’s ‘demise’. Here’s hoping that  U.N. Squadron will throw off its extinct status and resurface on Xbox Live Arcade sometime soon.

Lewis

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

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Filed under 1991, Capcom, Shoot 'Em Up, 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