Category Archives: Run and Gun

#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

#48: Super Probotector: Alien Rebels

Format: Super NES Genre: Run and Gun Released: 1992 Developer: Konami

Curiously, this game was released as Contra III in the US and Contra Spirits in Japan but was renamed Super Probotector for the European market, and the main characters – two Rambo-esque commandos – were replaced with robots. I have absolutely no idea why the change was made – did Konami think robots would have a stronger appeal for the European market? Or would we be averse to the charms of two All-American heroes?

STOP PRESS: I’ve just done a bit of research about the change to robot characters, and it seems it was done because of a German law that forbade the portrayal of humans killing other humans drafted by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons. (Sounds like something out of Big Brother doesn’t it? The book that is, not the TV show.) I presume the law no longer stands, as since Contra: Legacy of War on the Playstation the PAL versions have remained unchanged from the US versions. And come to think of it, if the law was still in place, Germans would face a serious games shortage – no Modern Warfare, no Tomb Raider, no Far Cry, no pretty much anything except Little Big Planet and Mario. But then again, perhaps there’s something to be said for not shooting your fellow human beings in the face… I mean, why can’t we all just get along?

This screenshot is from Super Probotector, but the others are from Contra III (the US version). Note the commando has been replaced with a robot.

Anyway, I digress. Super Probotector was one of my all time favourite games for the SNES. It was rock hard, but the frenetic gameplay and fantastic graphics were more than enough reason to persevere through the endless stream of imaginatively designed enemies. The bosses deserve a special mention – the giant, fire-spewing tortoise at the end of level 1 was a particular delight, and one of the game’s stand-out moments was the reveal of a giant metal skeleton boss (see image further down the page). After seeing off two annoyingly persistent little jumping metal skeleton dudes, their big brother forces his way through the giant metal doors behind you and tries to light you up with his flame breath. Surely a potent warning against picking on the little guys.

Gasp in wonder as the plane swoops towards the screen - all hail Mode 7.

Another stand-out moment was the Mode 7 plane on level 1 (see above), which swooped in and napalmed the ground beneath you. There was a time when all anyone who owned a SNES could talk about was Mode 7 (which was some clever graphical trickery that allowed 2D objects to be stretched and pulled to make them look (sort of) 3D). It was the classic trump card whenever the whole Megadrive v SNES debate reared its ugly head in the playground – the MD owner would sneak in an early attack by mentioning the Sega console’s higher clock speed, which the SNES owner would parry by pointing to the visual wizardry of the Super NES’s Mode 7 genie. The MD owner would then throw down the tried and tested “but the Megadrive has more games”, to which the Nintendo-phile would retort “but the SNES has got Mario”, and so on, and so on, until fisticuffs ensued or a teacher intervened.

One of the occasional top-down sections.

I recently downloaded an XBLA trial game of an early version of Contra (not Contra III – I think it was Contra II, which originally came out on the NES). I’d forgotten just how difficult and unforgiving the Contra games are – being hit by even one bullet means instant death, and some absolutely pixel-perfect jumping is required to avoid the various hazards thrown at you. Back in ’92 I would happily keep retrying again and again to get through Super Probotector, but now the prospect of instant deaths, limited lives and no save game fills me with dread. After less than half an hour I gave up playing the demo, and couldn’t bring myself to purchase the full game.

All of the game's bosses were kind enough to reveal their weak spot with a great big red dot. Aim for the mouth my friend, aim for the mouth...

I guess it goes to show that the way I play games has changed – for me it’s not so much about the challenge nowadays as just wanting to see what comes next. I think games designers have realised this too – at some point they cottoned onto the fact that a lot of gamers just gave up if a game was too hard, which meant that most people would never get to see all of the lovingly created levels that the designers came up with. It’s safe to say that modern games are easier as a result – but there’s always the option to play on hard for the real masochists out there.

But all of this thoughtful chin-stroking still doesn’t change the fact that Super Probotector is one of my all time favourite games – I might have moved away from playing unforgiving hardcore shoot ’em ups, but this game is a shining example of the genre. Any game that features a level in which you hang from the underside of a missile while shooting down an enormous alien spaceship must be doing something right.

Lewis

Screenshots from www.vgmuseum.com.

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Filed under 1992, Konami, Run and Gun, Super NES