Category Archives: 1992

#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

#20: Wizkid

Format: Amiga Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 1992 Developer: Sensible Software

Wizkid is an early title from Sensible Software, who went on to develop the legendary Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder. It makes it onto the list by merit of its sheer lunacy – a trait I feel should be encouraged in games wherever possible.

wizkid_box_art

The R. Crumb-inspired box art for Wizkid

Wizkid is a sequel to the 1987 game Wizball, although it bears little resemblance to the original game. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to actually classify Wizkid into any kind of genre. The main chunk of the game involves clearing the screen of enemies by knocking blocks into them with your floating head, but once you’ve finished a round, your head is reattached to your body and you have to solve a series of increasingly bizarre puzzles to find the route to the next level. An example of one such puzzle is when you’re presented with the screen below.

wizkid_08

One of the earliest puzzle screens.

 Here’s what you have to do, according to the GameFAQ by Johnny “ThunderPeel2001” Walker:

Keep winding the well’s handle until the bucket appears. Jump onto the bucket to sink deep into the well. Go into the Ladies room and use a toilet in order to unblock the volcano (this is Wizkid, weird things happen). Go out and into the Men’s. Use the urinal one in from the left and it should leak when you flush it.

Head back outside and jump into the bucket again before you drown. Water should rise and take you back onto the upper screen. Now you can keep winding the handle for infinite colour bubbles, but you can also jump into the volcano (where the bubbles come from) and you’ll find yourself next to a Kitty and the exit to Round 3!

In short, you have to use a ladies’ toilet at the bottom of a well to unblock a volcano, then flood the level with a faulty urinal. Told you this game was weird.

The toilets at the bottom of the well.

The toilets at the bottom of the well.

In a later level, entitled ‘Wizkid Meets Dog Girl’, you have to jump into the mouth of a barking, digitised woman, and in the level entitled ‘The Ghost of Wizkid Past’, you have to work out a way to kill yourself in order to descend into the grave, fight Dracula and find the exit for the next level. The whole game is like some crazy acid trip of inventiveness, and you get the impression that the developers were having an absolute whale of a time coming up with all this stuff.

The turtle jail where the evil Zark is holding your cat hostage.

The turtle jail where the evil Zark is holding your cat hostage.

The game also keeps up Sensible’s tradition of including loosely justified hidden obscenity: to finish each level you have to collect a set of musical notes, which then cascade down from the top of the screen in what the manual calls the ‘golden shower’. Ah, good old Sensible, where are you now? Best Amiga developer ever? Probably. Any company that releases a game called Sim Brick is all right in my book.

If you jump on the fourth and sixth sheild of the Viking ship a donkey is revealed. For no reason.

If you jump on the fourth and sixth shields of the Viking ship a donkey is revealed. For no reason.

So there you have it, Wizkid made my life slightly better because it made me laugh. A lot. Possibly even as much as Advanced Lawnmower Simulator (but more on that another time).

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.lemonamiga.com)

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Filed under 1992, Amiga, Miscellaneous, Sensible Software

#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