Saturday, 18 January 2020

Clu Clu Land (NES review)

Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1985

Clu Clu Land is an action-maze game that's part of the NES Black Box series.

A pattern of gold bars have been hidden by the evil Sea Urchin and it's up to you to find them before time runs out. Movement is controlled by hooking your hand around a turn post (or by hitting a wall / rubber trap) and enemies can be defeated with your electric shock waves. Initially, the controls are a bit of a nightmare to get used to, as you can't just move your character as in Pac-Man (1980, Arcades); instead you need to rely on momentum and timing as you swing around turn posts which isn't exactly intuitive. However, once you do become more accustomed to the controls you start to realise that the gameplay is actually very thoughtfully and cleverly designed to keep you multitasking at all times; there's always so much to think about and with the ticking clock and respawning enemies it really does force you to react quickly and strategically. One feature I did like is that you can pause the game to check your progress on the required gold bar pattern; this comes in handy when the clock is ticking and you just need to visualise what's missing without the threat of incoming enemies. The four stages do a good job of implementing new ideas to keep things fresh and I particularly like Stage 3's side exits that warp you to the other side of the screen. The biggest issue though is that there's only four stage layouts (discounting the intro stage which only appears once per game). While they each have interesting core mechanics and the patterns alter throughout, there's simply not enough variation and when compared to the 100 levels found in Wrecking Crew (1985, NES) it's hard not to feel short-changed.

Clu Clu Land's unconventional control scheme makes it tough to ease yourself into, but once you adjust there's definitely some fun to be had with its uniquely strategic gameplay. The lack of stage layouts is a legitimate complaint though and it's doubtful that it has much long-term appeal past a handful of play-throughs.

Random trivia: The 2002 Nintendo GameCube title Animal Crossing featured Clu Clu Land as an unlockable game.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Beetle Adventure Racing! (N64 review)

Developer: Paradigm Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: 1999

Beetle Adventure Racing! is a racing game that was released in Australia as HSV Adventure Racing.

It features 2-4 player Race and Beetle Battle modes (arena competition where the winner is the first person to collect six ladybugs and reach the exit), as well as one player Single Race or Championship Circuit (with six courses). What's makes the gameplay so much fun is finding the multitude of shortcuts that are littered around each course, each one usually taking you completely off the beaten track and into perilous territory. And then there's the need to drive a little wildly to collect the Nitro crates, helping to keep you on the edge of your seat; this feature adds to the excitement and you're always guessing as to whether you should chance going off-road to gain an item, or play it safe and live to fight another day! Even if you do crash, it's never tough to get back into the action, as you're placed directly onto the track within a split-second. What works amazingly well is the mixture of course types, as one minute you'll be driving along typical highway settings in traditional racing action, before blasting through Jurassic Park inspired tracks (complete with a ferocious T-Rex!), and catching some serious air amid snowy terrain that's reminiscent of the white-knuckle gameplay found in Excite Truck (2006, Nintendo Wii). It's all absolutely exhilarating and the rock-solid frame-rate and excellent draw distance play a big part in making the action so enjoyable. A very minor complaint is that the courses are very long with some laps taking upwards of three minutes to complete. However, redemption is found in the final lap of each race as the last stretch has a unique layout, providing added intensity.

Beetle Adventure Racing! is an outstanding Arcade style game that gets your adrenaline pumping thanks to its fast-paced action, varied course design and exciting shortcuts. If you're a fan of Ridge Racer 64 (2000, N64) give this game a try, as it features similar high-octane gameplay without irritatingly hostile CPU opponents!

Random trivia: The Australian version called HSV Adventure Racing has a number of differences which you can see here.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Ridge Racer 64 (N64 review)

Developer: Nintendo Software Technology
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 2000

Ridge Racer 64 is a racing game and the first title in the series to appear on a Nintendo console.

There's 20 stages split across four courses and it features an exclusive desert location called Renegade. Modes include Grand Prix (compete against 11 other opponents) and Car Attack (race against a single CPU driver to win their vehicle). The main feature here is the corner drifting and while it can be tricky to get the hang of it's absolutely thrilling when you do; screaming up to a corner, sliding your car around with barely any loss of speed and then levelling out never gets old! The courses are another high point with their intricate designs, and gorgeously detailed and entrancing scenery. The presentation is excellent too, with lots of nice flourishes that point to Namco's history (such as Galaga gameplay appearing on the racetrack big screen). And then there's the uptempo music which matches the adrenaline filled action perfectly and gets you totally amped for each race. My main gripe with the racing though is that you always seem to take the most damage when your car collides with another vehicle; this is even the case when you're in front and they bump you from the rear-side, as you'll usually slam to a crawl while they merrily drive off with barely any lost momentum. It feels cheap and can cost you several places in the blink of an eye. On a related note, the AI is very unforgiving as they'll frequently spread out across the road to make your life extremely difficult; this clustering means plenty of annoying zigzagging at the start of races as you basically have to navigate through (what feels like) gang territory! Also, annoying rubber banding is prevalent, as the CPU will weirdly accelerate and then slow down at times.

Ridge Racer 64 is a compelling Arcade title with first-rate course design, terrific presentation and a seriously gratifying drift mechanic. However, it never quite reaches its full potential due to its reliance on rubber banding and overly aggressive CPU drivers that seem gung-ho on ruining your day at every opportunity!

Random trivia: A revised port called Ridge Racer DS was released on the Nintendo DS in 2004.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Spider-Man (N64 review)

Developer: Edge of Reality
Publisher: Activision
Released: 2000

Spider-Man is an action-adventure game that was only released in North America.

Someone has stolen Dr. Otto Octavius' new technology and framed Spider-Man, and it's up to you to hunt down the culprits. You can web sling between buildings, and while combat generally includes punches and kicks, limited web cartridges allow you to trap enemies or shoot out a ball of webbing. The controls ruin a huge portion of the fun, as without a second analog stick you're stuck with an in-game camera that auto-swivels in the direction that Spidey is facing; this causes huge issues with combat, as it doesn't rotate fast enough meaning you basically have to jump around flailing your arms and legs like an idiot. Also, Spider-Man has a habit of climbing onto objects when you're trying to navigate the environment; this is infuriating during battle, as you clumsily have to stop moving and press the A button to reach the ground, leaving you wide open to projectile attacks. Finally, when you're actually trying to grab onto objects the controls will randomly reverse themselves, so again, you have to stop pressing everything and wait until they reset themselves. It's a shame, as the majority of the levels are enjoyable and offer a ton of variety. Highlights include navigating a bank to disarm a bomb, and web-slinging through the city while police helicopters chase you down. There are some clunkers though, especially in the last half of the game where neat outdoor web-slinging is replaced by endless cramped corridors and enemies that take forever to defeat. The bosses are a mixed bag, but I do like the battle against Rhino where you need to lure him into electric barrels, and the multi-part tussle against Mysterio.

Spider-Man is a good superhero adventure with some impressive set-pieces and excellent variety in its level design. It's unfortunate then that it's totally hampered by the N64 controller's lack of a second analog stick, as without it you're constantly fighting the camera and all elements of combat quickly turn into a rather clumsy affair.

Random trivia: The game was also released on the Game Boy Color, Microsoft Windows, Sega Dreamcast and Sony PlayStation.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Kabuki Quantum Fighter (NES review)

Developer: Human Entertainment
Publisher: HAL America
Released: 1991

Kabuki Quantum Fighter is an action-platformer that's exclusive to the NES.

As Colonel Scott O'Connor, you've been converted to raw data and transported into the circuits of an Earth defense computer in an attempt to stop a mutating virus. There's six levels and while your main weapon is a hair flip, power-ups such as Bombs and Dynamite can be obtained and used as long as you have enough memory chips. You can also hang onto certain platforms and swing to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. The level design is strong and while it starts off simple to get you accustomed to the controls / mechanics, it gradually opens up and introduces hazards (such as water tides) and horizontal grappling hooks. Another great feature is how certain sections allow you to choose between two paths on your way to the exit; this comes in handy once you're familiar with the stage layouts, as you can avoid some enemies by selecting the path of least resistance! It's not all roses though, as the game can be unfairly challenging; this is no more apparent than in Stage 2 with its blind leaps of faith. Things pick up in the inspired Stage 3 though, which ditches enemies almost entirely in favour of vertical, obstacle-based platforming; it's here that you fully realise how tight the controls are and there's a real joy to ploughing through the level in a style that resembles parkour. While the game is short, it does have an ace up its sleeve in that you gain a new projectile weapon after each completed level (an excellent idea for replayability). The narrative is held together by between level cut-scenes and while they're not as impressive as Ninja Gaiden (1988, NES) they do keep you invested in the overall goal.

Kabuki Quantum Fighter is a legit alternative to Ninja Gaiden and while it does draw heavy inspiration from Tecmo's classic series it has a few of its own ideas that blend in seamlessly with its high-octane gameplay. In particular, its unique power-ups and flowing level design are key features that push this into the upper echelon of NES titles.

Random trivia: If you manage to beat the game, a sound test is unlocked after the final credits.

Mario Kart 64 (N64 review)

Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1997

Mario Kart 64 is a racing game and the first 3D entry in the series.

It supports 1-4 players and the Grand Prix mode tasks you with placing first in a series of four races. Opponents can be attacked with various weapons that include Shells, Banana Peels and Thunderbolts. The 16 courses have incredible design with a huge amount of standout moments, such as the train running through Kalimari Desert and moles that pop up from the ground in Moo Moo Farm. Perhaps the most unique and inspired is Yoshi Valley though with its multiple routes in its maze section; interestingly, your race position is hidden in this course, so the tension is kept high until the finish line! The only course that falters is Rainbow Road, as it's too long and the transparency effects and bright lights can make it difficult to see upcoming Chomps as they charge towards you. While the racing is easy for newcomers to get to grips with, what's most welcome are the awesome tricks that advanced players can use; these are great for improving your skills and include drifting for mini boosts, and braking when you hit a Banana Peel to avoid spinning out. Unfortunately, the CPU rubber banding is outrageous and its overuse can ruin much of the fun in higher difficulties; no matter how well you race, there always seems to be someone on your tail in the final lap which gets seriously aggravating due to pure skill not being rewarded. The frame-rate is rock-solid though and even in VS. mode there's barely a hiccup. Battle mode (where you must pop all three of your opponent's balloons to win) is multiplayer hilarity, although I do wish there were more than four arenas and that you could challenge CPU opponents.

Mario Kart 64 is an exceptional racer with rock-solid controls and some of the best course design the series has ever seen. Be warned though that the irritating catch-up system does cheapen the gameplay in advanced difficulties, so you'll need to learn every trick in the book to even stand a chance against the overly aggressive CPU!

Random trivia: Various unused features (such as vertical split-screen) can be enabled using Gameshark codes.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Ice Climber (NES review)

Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1985

Ice Climber is an action-platformer that was part of the Black Box series of games.

Supporting 1-2 players (co-op), the objective is to use a hammer to break the arctic ice above you and then climb to the top of the mountain. There's 32 mountains to conquer and various enemies such as polar bears and condors try to stop you from succeeding. The controls are easily the biggest sticking point, as they're incredibly stiff and don't provide you with the finesse needed to react in an efficient and reliable manner. Similar to Psycho Fox (1989, Sega Master System), movement relies on momentum so your character always requires a run-up; however, the inputs aren't particularly responsive and you don't have much control over mid-air adjustments leading to many missed platforms and lost lives. The collision detection isn't the best either, as you'll often leap straight through the edge of a platform. Where the game does shine though is in its ever-changing level design, as with such a simple concept, the idea of leaping vertically ad nauseam could easily have become monotonous; instead, new layouts and mechanics (such as moving floors and enemies that bridge ice gaps you've created) are introduced to keep you guessing, in turn, helping to improve your skills and on-the-fly decision making. I also like how you can choose any of the 32 mountains at any time, as it allows less skilled players to at least see what the game has to offer, while giving pros a chance to skip ahead to more challenging levels. The music features the primitive Black Box style tunes you'd expect from the era, but the melodies here are very catchy and do a great job complimenting the on-screen action perfectly.

Ice Climber is a decent game for short bursts thanks to its above-average level design, but the fickle controls do ruin some of the fun. Also, while the core mechanic is solid, it's not enough to sustain an entire game, and when you factor in the title's short length it's doubtful that many people will want to return for repeated play-throughs.

Random trivia: In 2004, Ice Climber was re-released on the Game Boy Advance as part of the Classic NES Series.

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