Archive for February, 2011

Warlocked Review (GBC)

Posted in Gameboy Color, Hidden gems, Retro Gaming, Reviews on February 27, 2011 by satoshimatrix

Welcome to the World of Warlocked

There are game genres that lend themselves to portables quite well – RPGs, puzzlers, digital board games and platformers just to name a few. Another genre that fits like a glove are real time strategy games, but they are strangely few and far between. Enter Warlocked, a real-time strategy war game with most of the bells and whistles of PC RTS games…and it’s on the Gameboy Color.

 
Story

Though there has been skirmishes near the southern border for nearly a century, Queen Azarel’s kingdom had remained relatively safe.
But with the recent rush of Beast raids in territories farther north, it had become obvious that Chief Zog was determined to destroy the humans once and for all. Left with no choice, the Queen sends a call throughout the land for the Wizards to come to her aid.
Now, from high atop the walls of Konjo Castle, Azarel gazed down upon her troops, Loyal and brave to the last man, the soldiers awaited her orders…

 
Graphics

Reducing an RTS to the resolution of the GBC was no easy feat. How can you work on such a small scale that allows sprites to be large enough to be visible, clear enough to be instantly distinguishable, yet small enough to be able to populate the screen at numbers of upwards of a dozen at any one time? Amazingly, the team at Bits did an outstanding job at accomplishing exactly this.
Warlocked is a GBC-only game that pushes the hardware like no other game tried on the hardware. There can be be a half dozen things going on at once from workers cutting trees, a worker building a guard tower, an invasion squad attacking the enemy and another attacking an invading squad.

 
As the Gameboy Color could only display 52 colors at once, color limitations change the colors used for sprites, making them somewhat hard to see on the old non-backlit LCD screen of the GBC. Of course, with things like the Gameboy Player, GBA SP or dare I say emulation, this is not longer an issue, but something to keep in mind if you plan on popping this one into the ol’ GBC.

 
Warlocked is roughly tile based, allowing all that occurs on screen to be clear and destinctive. Units, buildings, backgrounds and objects are instantly reconizable with good use of color throughout. Warlocked really does look quite good. Granted, when a lot is happening onscreen, the tiny GBC 8Mhz Z-80 simply can’t keep up and Warlocked can experience some slowdown, but not enough to become a nuisance.

 
Audio
Although the instrumentation of the GBC is less than ideal, Warlocked is full of many memorable tracks that will linger in your memory after you finish playing. Warlocked was composed by Jeroen Tel, probably best known for his contribution to many Commodore 64 titles and the rather outstanding music featured in the 8-bit versions of Robocop 3. Utilizing  his experience with chiptune technology to the fullest extent, Tel composed a great, memorable soundtrack for Warlocked that endures the test of time and still sounds great today. Here’s an example of the soundtrack using the opening sequence music.

It should also be noted that Warlocked used voice clips when commanding selected units. The voice samples are remarkably crisp and clear for the Gameboy Color, possibly the best done on the hardware. Sound effects are cartoony and work given the limitations of the hardware mixed with the style of the game.
Gameplay

Warlocked is a real time strategy game in the vein of the original Warcraft series. There are five main types of units:

Workers
Workers can gather gold from mines, cut down trees for fuel, construct additional pylons buildings or attack enemy buildings. They cannot attack other units and have the lowest HP of all units aside from baby dragons. They cost $50 gold to produce.

Knights
Knights are your typical melee attackers. They are a bit slow but wear heavy armor making them the strongest units in the game. Their sword swings are powerful and a small squad of them can wreak havoc on just about anything other than Dragons. They cost $100 gold to produce.

Archers
Archers are the exact opposite of Knights. They attack at range and have low defenses, nearly that of Workers. Arrows do less direct damage than Knight swords, but attacking from a distance gives them the advantage of staying out of immediate range of counterattacks. They cost $100 gold and 10 fuel to produce.

Wizards
Wizards are what Warlocked is all about. You cannot produce Wizards; only find them. Are are around thirty wizards total, each with different abilities, some offensive and others passive. For instance, there’s Quakewiz and Stormwiz who can summon earthquakes and lightening storms respectively to kill enemy units or damage property. Likewise, there’s Chickenwiz and Sleepwiz who can cast spells to turn enemies into extremely weak chickens or cast them asleep.
On the other hand, there are more passive Wizards like Brickwiz, who strengthens guard tower defenses, Sweatwiz who doubles worker movement speeds, and Queen Azarel and Chief Zog who reduce training times of new units by half.

Dragons
Like Wizards, Dragons cannot be produced. In some stages, when one of your units approchs a Dragon nest, the egg will hatch and a defenseless baby dragon will be at the player’s disposal. The player must then safely lead the dragon back to their HQ for safe keeping. Once the baby dragon arrives, it will quickly mature into a full sized Dragon, a powerful flying unit that can attack anything. Dragons move a bit slowly and are subject to arrow fire from archers, towers and the enemy HQ.  Unlike Wizards, Dragons cannot be healed if injured by returning them to the main hall.
Warlcoked’s single player consists of 26 levels – 13 for each faction. That might now sound like a lot, but there’s probably six to eight hours of gameplay in Warlocked; not bad for any 8-bit game.

 
There is also a multiplayer component where you can trade Wizards and even go head-to-head battling another human opponent, bringing with an army constructed from surviving units from the single player campaign. This idea sounds awesome, but even though I had friends at the time who owned the game, I never got a chance to experience the multiplayer aspects of Warlocked.

 

Control
Warlocked manages to make excellent use of every button the GBC, making it one of the few games that puts the Select button to good use throughout.
D-pad: Move cursor, choose menu options

A: Confirm, Select units, attack. Hold to select multiple units

B: Cancel, attack an area of ground

Select: Deselect/Reselect A selected unit (try saying that three times fast!)

Start: Opens the menu

Select + A: Assign a squad of units to “Team A”

Select + B: Assign a squad of units to “Team B”

A+ B: Demolish a constructed building and salvage 50% of the resources it cost to build

 

Frustration
Warlocked is only frustrating until you get the hang of how the game is played and how to exploit the almost brain-dead AI. If you build a series of guard towers then send a worker in sight of an enemy, that enemy will always attack the worker. If you then tell the worker to retreat back to the guard towers, the enemy will attempt to follow, taking damage from the guard towers. You can literally tell the worker to circle strafe around the guard towers and then enemy will never attack either the worker or the guard towers!

 
Wizards can only be found one at a time in stages. If a wizard dies, you permanently lose them. To avoid this annoyance, make sure to return a wizard to the temple when injured. You can them summon them right away at full health.
The game allows for real time saves as well, making it a perfect portable game that you can play and suspend any time you wish.

 
Availability & Price
Despite a fairly low production run, Warlocked seems to be in low demand and can be found for as low as $2, even on ebay. It isn’t as extremely common as other GBC titles, but finding a copy of Warlocked shouldn’t be a problem. Remember that like all old Nintendo games, Warlocked has a 2025 cell battery that has an estimated shelf life of 5-10 years. Depending on how much use the battery saw, you might have to replace it, so it’s a good idea to invest a dollar or so more on a new 2032 for your new Warlocked cartridge.

 
History
Warlocked was developed by Bits Studios, a British developer responsible for dozens of titles, most notably Alien 3, Castelian, The Itchy & Scatchy Game, and R-Type DX. Warlocked was the first real time strategy title the developer produced, and its success lead them to planning a sequel to start a series.
The sequel, called simply Wizards, was in development for the Gameboy Advance but was eventually canceled for unknown reasons, making Warlocked the only game in a planned series. In 2008 Bits Studios was closed down due to lagging sales.
Youtube has managed to preserve a press release beta video showing what Wizards might have looked like. Watching it brings a tear to my eye.

Overall
Good
•    Clear, colorful graphics
•    Exciting
•    A decent challenge, especially the later Beast Campaign levels.
Bad
•    Braindead AI can be exploited for easy victories
•    When given a distant destination, the braindead AI will “guess” at how best to move units around obstiles, often moving them unnessesarily into enemey fire or otherwise has no human player would move. Still, gotta remember it’s a GBC game.

 
Conclusion
Warlocked is an impressive effort on the Gameboy Color, perhaps making it the best 8-bit strategy game ever made, bumping M.U.L.E out of that spot. It looks good, sounds good, plays good and has enough complexity that you will want to come back for more, and replay levels even after you beat them for faster times and higher scores. The game is extremely affordable today, so if you’re looking for a great GBC gem, look no further.

 

Data
Platform: Game B0y Color
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Release Date: July 24, 2000
Developer: Bits Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
Also from the developer: Alien 3, Castelian, The Itchy & Scatchy Game, and R-Type DX
Also try: Warcraft, Warcraft II
Game Length: ~6-10 hours
ESRB: T (cartoony death, but still death)
Buy/Skip: Buy it you cheapskate!

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Follow me on Twitter!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 19, 2011 by satoshimatrix

Hey guess what? I’m finally on Twitter! You can fallow me at http://www.twitter.com/bradykachan

Followers will be able to get regular updates on future articles, progress reports on ones I’m currently writing and is just one more way you can get in touch with me with a question or comment. I’ll also be posting interesting articles I come across and videos I’ve enjoyed. So get on your twitter and fallow me today! I promise I’ll actually use it!

 

 

Zero Wing Review (Megadrive)

Posted in Retro Gaming, Retrospectives, Reviews, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive on February 13, 2011 by satoshimatrix

All Your Base Are Belong To Us

It began as a humble arcade game. It soon was ported to home consoles, sold moderately and then faded into history. Years later it saw a surge of renewed interest due to the internet boom. Now, over a decade after its infamously Engrish-ridden intro made internet history, let’s look at the game behind the meme. Sit back, relax, move zig and enjoy this in-depth retrospective of the shooter known as Zero Wing. Don’t worry; I know what I doing.

Story

In A.D 2101 war was beginning. Aboard the Earth military flagship, an explosion sounds the alarm on the bridge.

Just then, we get signal!

The main screen is ordered to turn on! It’s him!!

Cats asks how gentlemen are before explaining that all their base are belong to CATS.

They are on the way to destruction!

But just when dispair sets in, the captain orders the launch of his fighters!

Even if his ship, his crew and his life are lost, the captain knows justice will fight on.

Graphics

Zero Wing is a pretty decent looking shooter. There’s constantly a lot going on on screen as well as very large enemies and bosses, all without a single sign of slowdown anywhere. The purple bullets are easy to spot, your Zig fighter isn’t too big or too small given the resolution and the various enemy sprites animate very well and in some respects, the Megadrive version looks even better than its arcade counterpart!

Audio

Zero Wing has some really killer tracks. My personal favorites are the first, second and fourth stage themes. Here’s the original version of stage 1 for your listening pleasure. Press play for great justice.

I unfortunately do not know who the composer was as Zero Wing lacks a proper credits sequence and the staff roll is not listed in the game’s manual either.

Gameplay

Zero Wing is a horizontal autoscrolling shooter where you basically shoot everything that moves. There are three kinds of weapon pick ups in the game. The first is a red valcan cannon that fires multi directional shots, the second is a blue piercing beam that fires in a straight  line and the third are green homing missiles. Upon receiving a powerup, the Zig fighter gains two indestructible drones that sort of function as Options in Gradius or the module from R-Type. These drones fire the same waspon your zig does, tripling your offensive firepower.

There are also speed up icons that increase your movement speed, but like Gradius or any other shooter, pick these up sparingly; too many and your ship will become too sensitive to the d-pad movement and will ultimately cause more harm than good.

One of the coolest aspects of Zero Wing is the tractor beam the Zig has. When an enemy fighter comes into range, you can use the tractor beam to capture enemies in their tracks which then can be thrown at other enemies as projectiles or as a shield against incoming fire. You can only have one enemy in tractor at a time, but its always a good idea to have one in the beam for a makeshift shield. It’s surprising how much depth and quality Zero Wing truly has!

Control

Zero Wing has rather basic controls.

D-pad: Movement
A: Fire
B: Tractor Beam
C: Fire
Start: Pause

Frustration

Zero Wing is a one-shot kill shooter. Collision with anything results in instant death, drop in firepower, and like Gradius games, can sometimes result in situations where you are better off hitting reset than trying to survive an onslaught of powerful enemies, bullets and environmental hazards in your basic Zig form. Problem is, sometimes the safe path becomes so narrow surviving is much more difficult than simply making one’s time. Remember, move Zig. It can save your life!

System Availability & Price

The Megadrive version of Zero Wing can typically be found for between $10-35 depending on where you get it from. The PCE-CD version is much rarer, and goes from $30-50. No idea what the arcade cabinet goes for, but I’d imagine it’s one of the less desirable cabs in Japan given that the intro scene was made for the Megadrive version only.

History

Zero Wing was originally an arcade game developed by Toplin in 1989. Given the power of the Motorola 68000 based Sega Megadrive, a near arcade perfect console port was developed in 1990 with additional content including a full introduction to give the game a bit of story.

In 1991, Sega saw fit to release the game in multi-language PAL territories. This meant that the Japanese script of the intro would need to be localized. Toplin, a small company with few resources, hired a Japanese student who infamously was attending nightschool for English. It is due to his poor understanding of English that the world was given the Engrish mess that is Zero Wing.

In early 1999, Zero Wing would see a new resurgence of popularly and became one of the first widely spread internet fads and one of the biggest memes ever. To elaborate, check out this excellent history video on the internet craze that followed.

Although Zero Wing’s only English version is PAL exclusive, North American importers are in luck with Zero Wing. Early Megadrive games from both Europe and Japan carry no region protection and properly coded games would in both PAL 50hz and NTSC 60Hz. Zero Wing happens to fall into this highly unusual category, allowing it to be played on any North American Sega Genesis from the original model to the Nomad or even modern day Genesis clones. One might say that no matter what version of Sega’s system you have, Zero Wing covers all your bases.

Two years after the Megadrive version, Toplin released a PC Engine-CD port of the game, but in many respects it was more like a remake. For one thing, the story line seems completely different, starring different characters and changing the main hero from an unnamed pilot (the only hero we know of from the Megadrive version is the Captain who died in the intro) to a stereotypical strapping young anime lad ready to take on evi. and save the Earth. There are even some additional stages added to the PCE CD version, making that game even longer than its lengthy arcade and Megadrive ports.

And then there’s CATS. Here he is in the Megadrive version.

…and here’s his PCE-CD counterpart. Yeaaaaaaaaaaah….

Legacy

On March 3, 2005, an absolute fucking wizard named Andrew Kepple posted perhaps the best parody/tribute video to any game EVER. Starting out with Queen’s classic Bohemion Rhapsody, Kepple dared ask, “what if I replaced the lyrics with Zero Wing’s intro?”

THE RESULTS:

Overall

Good

  • The cutscenes are so bad they’re legendary and therefore awesome
  • An actual decent game with fluid controls!
  • A really cool soundtrack that’s good enough to put on your mp3 player
  • The three power ups are well balanced and there are situations where switching weapons is both helpful and fun
  • A pretty lengthy shooter at eight stages long

Bad

  • No multiplayer
  • Other than the hilarious mistranslated opening, there’s nothing special about Zero Wing to tell it apart from dozens of other horizontal scrolling shooters of its time.
  • Some segments can be brutally difficult

Conclusion

Zero Wing is an absolute blast and a great game even without it’s so-bad-its-good translation. The game is bizarre, fun, frantic, difficult, and rewarding. Wait until you see the ending. It’s enough to make your head explode. So go there and import a copy of this greatest of Megadrive shooters. Don’t beleive all the naysayers who think Zero Wing is crap. Their base was stolen years ago and their hearts have turned black. You know what you doing. Buy Zero Wing. For great justice.

Data

Platform: Arcade, Sega Megadrive (Genesis), PC Engine CD

Genre: Horizontal Shoot ’em Up

Release Date: May 31, 1991

Developer: Toplin

Publisher: Sega

Also from the developer: Not much else noteworthy

Also try: The arcade and PC Engine versions

Game Length: ~an hour depending on how often you die!

ESRB: N/A

Buy/Skip: Take off every dollar to your importer. Move cash and receive Zig in mail

Arcana Heart Review (PS2)

Posted in From Japan, Hidden gems, PS2, Reviews on February 6, 2011 by satoshimatrix

Everybody was Moe Fighting

As videogames continue to evolve and become more and more complex, it’s becoming less and less possible to accurately tell what a game is going to be about simply by looking at the cover. Some RPGs look more like action games, shooters look like turn based stategy, even the cover art of some sports titles can give the wrong idea. Indeed, the days of looking at a game’s box art and knowing exactly what to expect have passed.

And then there’s Arcana Heart.

Arcana Heart manages to entice grown men to play a fighting game starring a cast of schoolgirls ranging for 14 at most to just friggin’ 8 year olds. How? With the promise of all things shamelessly moe. If you don’t know what moe means, look it up right now as I’ll continue to make reference to the word throughout this review.

This is a fetish fighter that will attract you to it even if you don’t have any particular moe fetish.

Well, the ploy worked and now I own Arcana Heart. With that out of the way, how is the actual game? Let’s find out.

Premise

Arcana Heart is a hardcore four button Neo-Geo style fighter with an elaborate enhancement system that on tournament levels, really sets Arcana Heart’s balance and depth leagues apart from other fighters.

Story

Once upon a time in the land of the rising sun, a group of game creators needed a new idea for a successful arcade fighting game in a sea of pre-existing fighting games. Their final idea was to group lolicon girls that beleive in love and peace and have them try to beat the shit out of each other. the team brought the idea to the the president who then proclaimed  “brilliant! Also make sure to throw in inappropriate levels of sex appeal and magic and shit!” and thus Arcana Heart was born. Oh, you wanted to know the story in the game itself? How silly of me.

In ancient times, the Elemental world and our world were joined. No one knows why or when, but at some point in the past, they split. Now we live in our world, and the Arcana live in theirs. Behind the scenes, the Ministry of Elemental Affairs (MEA) has been working to protect the boundary between words, for they know if the worlds ever merges into one again the results would be disastrous for humanity. Now, in the skies above Tokyo, a dimensional rift is beginning to form, and the boundary between worlds is in danger. Humanity’s only hope rests with the Maidens young girls who can communicate with the Arcana.

Graphics

Arcana Heart is a pretty drop-dead gorgeous fighting game. The first time I played it I couldn’t believe the PS2 was producing such beautiful high resolution character sprites on the order I would expect to see only in next-gen games like BlazBlue. The animation is truly excellent and there’s a lot of colorful, flashy environmental effects to be seen.

The character designs themselves are over-the-top moe oozing fanservice for every type of moe fetish there is. There’s an underage schoolgirl who fights for love and justice, to  a katana wielding schoolgirl, a gothic-lolita possessed by a doll, a Chinese female robot with giant robotic breasts and a underage witch-in-training, just to name a few. JAPAN.

Audio

Sad as it is, none of the music except for the vs battle theme is very memorable in the least. None of it’s bad or irritating, but you will find yourself wishing there was more care put in to the music.

As for the voice acting, most of it was cut from the English release, but the girls’ voices can still be heard in battle, shouting their basic Japanese taunts that mean silly things such as “Can you take the heat of my passionate spirit?!” or “The power of love gives me super strength!”

Even the game’s well produced opening theme song is far more plain and generic than many other games. Here’s the opening song. Judge for yourself.

Gameplay

Arcana Heart offers eleven playable characters with their own movesets, speeds, strengths, advantages, and disadvantages, all the things you would normally expect.  The game is a four button Neo-Geo style arcade brawler with three main attacks and a special attack button. By preforming button combos you can unleash special moves.

In addition to character movesets, but there’s this thing called the Arcana System. Like any game’s super moves, the Acana system can be completely ignored by novice players, but for those willing to learn it the system offers incredible depth. Unlike most game super moves, the Arcana ones are diverse and some are quite easy to pull off.

After you select your character, you can select any one of several enhancements called Arcanas which infuse that character with special traits. Some give elemental attacks such as fire or lightening, but others grant passive abilities such as the ability to teleport around the screen or slow your rate of decent while falling.

These are preformed with your usual button combination and the large number of different sets greatly adds to the replayability and lasting appeal of what otherwise would be a decent if shallow fighter.

There’s a heavy emphasis on aerial combat in Arcana Heart as you can toss your opponent easily twice as high as in other fighting games and fight mid-air Dragonball Z style.

Control

Here are the default controls. These are vital to learn if you want to have a hope in hell at playing the single player. They can be reassigned as you like.

Left Stick: Movement, scroll through menus
D-pad: Movement, Scroll through menus
Right Stick: Unused
□: A Attack (weak)
Δ: B Attack (medium)
O: C Attack (strong)
X: S Attack (special)
L1: Arcana Force (A+B+C)
L2: N/A
R1: A+B
R2: Throw (A + S)
Start: Pause
Back: Unused

Frustration

Unfortunately, Arcana Heart breaks one the carnal rules of arcade fighting games – it is not friendly to first-time players. Button mashing will result in confusion as the button required to harness your Arcana super move is also a dash move which homes in on your opponent and is by default, mapped to the X button, which is likely to be the first button players will reach for.

Playing with a full-sized arcade stick is pretty essential as is clearly remapping the controls to buttons that make sense to you. Doing this has the added benefit of further teaching the basic controls, which absolutely have to be learned for success in the single player in even the easiest difficulty.

Availability & Price

Arcana Heart usually floats around $20-30 for the North American version. The English version includes everything the Japanese version has including the ability to switch between chipset revisions (Arcana Normal vs Arcana Full), but it lacks the voice acting found in the Japanese version.

History

Arcana Heart was developed by a small software company called Yuki Enterprises, who had previously worked in concert with SNK-Playmore for the development of Samurai Shodown 5, one of the final games developed for the legendary Neo Geo MVS and AES platform.

When the Neo Geo was at least retired in 2004 after the extremely long fourteen year console cycle, Yuki Enterprises changed their company name to Examu Inc and began work on a brand new fighting game for the newer and more powerful Arcade ex-BOARD archetype. Two years later, that game was released in Japanese arcades until the title Arcana Heart.

In order to stand out from the competition, arcade game makers have often had to think of ways to turn heads and attract players. Some games use flashy graphics, huge bezels or generally giant cabinets. Examu’s stategy was to focus on attracting the moe otaku crowd by using only the most fetishy moe characters they could think of. It worked.

Arcana Heart soon became a break out hit and was featured in many fighting game tournaments in Japan. Less than a year later, a patch for the arcade game called Arcana Heart Full was released to combat complaints of character balance issues and bugfixes. Given the massive popularity, a PS2 port was soon in development that eventually found its way to store shelves in North America thanks to Atlus.

There’s since been two sequels, but neither have yet been localized.

Original Advertising

Here’s the trailer for the US version of Arcana Heart. Try not to cringe.

Overall
Good

  • Outstandingly beautiful 2D graphics
  • One word. Moe.
  • For players willing to learn the Arcana System, there’s more depth in Arcana Heart than just about any other fighting game out there

Bad

  • The game’s barrier of entry is rather difficult to overcome. This is a deep and involved fighter that casual fighting game fans and button mashers stand no chance at.
  • Atlas completely removed all the Japanese voices from the story mode turning what was a semi amusing plot points into a drab and boring wall of text.
  • Forgettable music
  • Not to beat a dead horse, but the game has no tutorial to teach players just how the hell to play the game.

Conclusion

Arcana Heart is a hardcore gamer’s fighter through and through. It’s visually amazing, using high res sprites and zooming techniques right out of the Samurai Shodown series, but make no mistake, this is anything but a casual game. If you aren’t willing to learn the complexities of the fighting system, steer clear of this series. If you have expereince with Guilty Gear of Melty Blood or other doijin fighters though, this one might be worth a look, and I’m not talking about the girls. Perverts.

Data

Platform: Arcade, PS2

Genre: 2D Fighter

Release Date: April 10, 2008

Developer: Examu Inc (formally Yuki Enterprises)

Publisher: Atlus

Also from the developer: Samurai Shodown V

Also try: Melty Blood, Big Bang Beat, Guilty Gear

Game Length: ~35 minutes once you learn how to play it

ESRB: T for partial nudity, sexual themes, violence and batshit insane Japanese moe content up the vazoo

Buy/Skip: It really depends on what you’re looking for. Refer to the review above.

F-Zero エフゼロ Review (SNES)

Posted in Retro Gaming, Retrospectives, Reviews, SNES on February 5, 2011 by satoshimatrix

The start of a true racing game legacy

F-Zero was many things to Nintendo when it was released. It marked the first high caliber racing game Nintendo developed themselves, starred the mature character in Captain Falcon, a bounty hunter for hire, and showcased the amazing graphical capabilities of Nintendo’s 16-bit platform.

Although the original F-Zero pales in comparison to today’s racers in terms of complexity and versatility, it carries a certain charm that cannot be denied.

F-Zero captivated players and brought them to the 26th century where humans and aliens alike complete for the ultimate title – being named the F-Zero champion. It would take mastery of control, course layout and a little luck to even hope to reach this goal, and F-Zero did this all while being a mere launch title.

So what makes this game is epically awesome? Doesn’t it have its share of flaws? What can you teach me about the history of this series? All this and more shall now be covered over the course of this review.

Premise

As a racing game, the premise of F-Zero is to cross the finish line in first place. Simple really, but under the higher difficulty settings and tougher courses, this is a lot easier said than done. Multiple difficulty levels give players of all skill a chance at victory. This is a single player focused Racer. No multiplayer.

Story

It is the 26th century. Man has ventured off into space to discover he is not alone. Far from it, many alien civilizations are quite like man himself: Interested in fame, fortune and  women. So naturally enough, high stakes thrill sports are commonplace. But nowhere are the stakes higher than the F-Zero Grand Prix, a championship racing series over dozens of planets where custom built high speed hover cars race at speeds illegal everywhere else.

Graphics

Utilizing the mode 7 sprite scaling capabilities of the Super Nintendo, F-Zero is a pseudo-3D racing game in a time when most games struggled with even the simplest of 3D graphical flares. The game is played in a third person view behind the car view which was universally used for racing games at the time, and is still used in racers today.

Using the system’s abilities to render sprites at different sizes while warping and rotating others, F-Zero’s engine simply looked stunning for its time. Even today’s most graphic savvy gamer can easily detect the appeal of the graphics used in F-Zero.

The game’s courses are each varied and distinctive. Despite everything being completely flat, Mute City makes you feel as if you’re racing above a bustling city. Big Blue gives the impression the race track is the only place above water for miles around, and so on.

Even though the Super Nintendo would go on to really show us some pretty graphics, launch title F-Zero continues to hold its own as one of the best looking game on the system.

Audio

What would a racer be without awesome music to accompany the action? Luckily, it seems Nintendo asked themselves this question and delivered the goods in spades. Composed by Yumiko Kametani and Naoto Ishida, the original F-Zero boasts the most memorable soundtrack in any F-Zero game to date. It’s fast, frantic style fits the game very well and it’s the sort of music you just can’t hear enough of.  A true treat for the ears.

Here’s a sample of just one of the many awesome tracks in F-Zero

Gameplay

Four cars, fifteen tracks and more twists and turns than you’ll know what to do with. The gameplay in F-Zero is solid, for the most part. Each track in the game has five laps, two laps longer than most racing games. Once you complete a lap, you get an “S” to store. An “S” gives you a temporary speed boost that can mean the difference between first and second place. You can carry up to 3 “S”‘s at once, giving the player the ability to boost up to 3 times on a single lap.

Like an action game, F-Zero uses a health meter, called here the “Power Gage”. Whenever you collide with an object weather it be another racer, the course guardrails or a mine, you loose energy. Loose all your energy and your car will explode. Luckily though, on every track is a pit stop that you can drive through to regain some lost energy.

Although there are four distinctive hover cars in the game, only the Fire Stingray is worth using. The Blue Falcon, Golden Fox and Wild Goose all suffer from low grip and poor handling, and in a game where precision movement is vital they are immediately tossed out of the realm of possibilities. If not for the Fire Stingray, F-Zero would be unplayable.

Thankfully though, the Fire Stingray is here to save the day. Weighing in at nearly 2 tons, it has the best handling in the game, and at 478km/h the Fire Stingray is also the fastest craft in the game. Its sturdy body can also take the most amount of damage of any of the cars. Due to its heavy weight though, it has the weakest acceleration.

While the gameplay elements would definitely be expanded upon in later F-Zero titles, the original game still manages to hold its own.

Control

F-Zero has flawless controls. The d pad moves your craft left and right. Once you hit a jump, hold down to tilt your craft so you make a smooth landing. The B button provides the accelerator. Y breaks. A boosts. Hold in L or R when going around a turn to make a tight turn. X is unmapped. Start pauses and Select moves the cursor around menu choices.

Fun Factor

Since before recorded history, people have always found thrill in competitive races. The sudden rush feeling of traveling at extreme speeds while under pressure to remain in control is alive and well in F-Zero. Travel the straights of Death Wind while the gale forces push your craft around, or defy nature as you race above the surface of a star in Fire Field. It’s all awesome.

Frustration

F-Zero requires mastery at higher difficulties, but beyond that there isn’t a whole lot that’s frustrating about the game. The practice mode lets you get used to the twists and turns of the gameís stages and can easily be the difference between victory and defeat. The AI isn’t cheap and nothing happens unexpectedly.

System availability & Price:

F-Zero was first released with the launch of the Super Famicom in 1990 and the Super Nintendo in 1991. Since then, the game has also appeared on the Wii Virtual Console in all regions around the world. Beyond the VC, there have never been any ports to any other systems.

Prices are tame for the original F-Zero. If by some chance you don’t own it already, here’s the rundown of prices. On average, you should expect to pay between just $1-15 for the Super Nintendo version, just $3-20 for the Super Famicom version, and 800 points for the Wii Virtual Console version. If you have an HDTV, I would personally recommend the Wii VC version only because of the ability to play this short game in high definition. F-Zero’s Japanese Super Famicom release is identical to that of the North American one, so import away.

History

Development of F-Zero started in 1988 during the peak of the Famicom and NES’s popularity. During early development, a full roster of 20 racers and their cars were designed, but due to technical limitations of the then experimental Super Famicom hardware, all but four were dropped from the final release. As a result, the remaining 16 cars were designed around a single model and were all merely different colors of the same craft. This explains the seemingly misplaced filler cars that populate the race track.

F-Zero’s legacy is one of praise and glory. It has been called the fastest and smoothest pseudo-3D racing game of its time, and offered a level of realism unmatched for some time after.

Sometime around 1995, Nintendo started working on an F-Zero sequel for the Super Nintendo to take advantage of their then in depth knowledge of the hardware and larger cartridge sizes available.

However, like many Super NES games under development at the time, F-Zero 2 was canceled in its early stages due to the soon to be released Nintendo 64. Nintendo felt that their talents could be better put to use working on a title for that system, which ultimately didn’t arrive until 1998.

In Japan, one of the most unique and simi-popular add-ons for the Super Famicom was the Satellaview. The Satellaview was a satellite modem that attached at the bottom of the console, allowing Japanese gamers to download game titles and various other things directly from an orbital dish at certain times of the day.

The unfinished F-Zero 2 was released as a Broadcast Satellaview game, or BS for short. The full title of the game became BS F-Zero 2 Grand Prix.

BS F-Zero 2 Grand Prix reuses the same graphics engine, play mechanics, and music from the first F-Zero, making it more akin to a rom hack of the original game than a stand-alone title.

Although there are four new cars, they are all identical to the ones from the first game except in appearance.

There is only one league in the game called the Ace League, which in has five new courses.  These tracks are all extremely difficult and even crossing the finish line is a feat in some of them.

Overall

Good

  • Amazing Graphics
  • Top-Notch Music
  • Spot-on Control
  • Competitive AI
  • Challenging Courses
  • Four Distinctive Hover cars

Bad

  • The limitation of only four racers is disappointing when you consider that most of its sequels have 30 or more
  • The duplicate filler cars that populate the race track often get in your way
  • No multiplayer at all
  • You can’t run time trails on all 15 courses

Conclusion

With all things considered, F-Zero is an amazing game that has stood the test of time remarkably well. If you don’t already own it, well what’s wrong with you? Go get it! Its super cheap and totally awesome.

Oh, and if you were wondering how I managed to write this review so quickly it’s because I had previously written it. Over two years ago. Here’s my original video review!

Data

Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Famicom, Wii Virtual Console

Genre: Racing

Release Date: August 23, 1991

Developer: Nintendo E.A.D

Publisher: Nintendo

Also from the developer: The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. 3, F-Zero X, F-Zero Maximum Velocity, etc

Game Length: 3 hours

ESRB: Nonexistent at the time, but re-released as “E”

Buy, rent or skip: Buy

Megaman Robot Master beadsprites

Posted in Beadsprites, Megaman Classic, Pixelart, Retro Gaming on February 4, 2011 by satoshimatrix

Although I’ve been making them for years, I’ve only mentioned my  beadsprites here and there here on my site. I think it’s time to change that.  As most of you would know or probably guess, I’m a huge Megaman/Rockman fan. I absolutely love everything about the series, especially the classic series. As such, most of my beadsprites focus on the Megaman classic series.

Yes, a lot of people do Megaman sprites, but I feel mine will stand out a bit as I make them a little differently. I’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that they adhere to the NES color pallet as closely as possible in general (meaning they are never miscolored) but I also adhere to their original full-color designs, and recolor the sprites to match what they would look in in artwork as opposed to the limited amount of colors the NES could produce for them.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s my sprite works!

Bosses from Megaman 1. From left to right and top to bottom: Dr. Light, Rush, Protoman, Megaman, Roll, Cutman, Gutsman, Iceman, Bombman, Fireman, Elecman.

Bosses from Megaman 2. From left to right and top to bottom: Metalman, Airman, Bubbleman, Quickman, Crashman, Flashman, Heatman, Woodman. Flashman, Crashman, and Bubbleman have been color enhanced beyond the capabilities of the NES color pallet. I based their proper colors on official character artwork.

Bosses from Megaman 3. From left to right and top to bottom: Needleman, Magnetman, Geminiman, Hardman, Topman, Snakeman, Sparkman, Shadowman. Snakeman has been color enhanced slightly by adding the red snake eyes he should have.

Bosses from Megaman 4. From left to right and top to bottom: Brightman, Toadman, Drillman, Pharaohman, Ringman, Dustman, Diveman, Skullman.

Bosses from Megaman 5. From left to right and top to bottom: Gravityman, Waveman, Stoneman, Gyroman, Starman, Chargeman, Napalmman, Crystalman.
Note that all these sprites have all been color enhanced beyond the capabilities of the NES color pallet. I based their proper colors on official character artwork.

Bosses from Megaman 6. From left to right and top to bottom: Blizzardman, Centaurman, Flameman, Knightman, Plantman, Windman, Tomahawkman, Yamatoman.
Again, note that these sprites have all been color enhanced beyond the capabilities of the NES color pallet. I based their proper colors on official character artwork.

Bosses from Megaman 7 FC. From left to right and top to bottom: Freezeman, Junkman, Burstman, Cloudman, Springman, Slashman, Shademan, Turboman.
Note that these sprites have all been color enhanced beyond the capabilities of the NES color pallet. I based their proper colors on third 16-bit sprites as well as official character artwork.

Bosses from Megaman 8 FC. From left to right and top to bottom: Tanguman, Astroman, Swordman, Clownman, Searchman, Frostman, Gernademan, Aquaman.
Note that these sprites have all been color enhanced beyond the capabilities of the NES color pallet. I based their proper colors on official character artwork.

Bosses from Megaman 9. From left to right and top to bottom: Concreteman, Tornadoman, Splashwoman, Plugman, Jewelman, Magmaman, Hornetman, Galaxyman.
Note that these sprites have all been color enhanced beyond the capabilities of the NES color pallet. I based their proper colors on official character artwork.