(This is the 64th game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
The Mega Man series and I don't get along. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is. So when I added Bucky O'Hare to my play-list, only to find out that it's a MegaMan-like right before playing it, I thought I was in for another frustrating - and short-lived - affair. Thankfully, this MegaMan-like I actually managed to beat and, despite the frustrations the game brings with it, I liked it as well.
Bucky O'Hare, the eponym of this video game, was the hero for a comic book and an animated TV series in the 80s and early 90s. Shortly after this game came out, Bucky O'Hare was rarely heard from again, though new action figures were released as recently as 2017. Don't expect to hear much from the rabbit in the future though.
This video game released on January 31, 1992 in both Japan and North America and was developed and published by Konami. Konami at this time was very well-known for releasing many quality games, and this game is definitely among their better titles at this time as well. This game released for the NES, though an Arcade game released the same year, too. These two games are the only games bearing Bucky's likeness. Reviews ranged from a 93 by Game Zone and 5 stars by Top Secret all the way down to 13.3/20 by Nintendo Power and 68% by Play Time.
My review is somewhere in between, if we consider that a 68% from me is way more complimentary than a 68% by a video game magazine.
You play Bucky O'Hare, who is captain of the ship called "Righteous Indignation". Your crew consists of Dead-Eye, Jenny, Blinky and Willy, who are captured by the antagonist Toad Air Marshall at the start of the game. Go rescue them and take out Toad, you know the drill.
The intro, with a number of typo's in both game and manual (atacked, kidnaped, marshall), explains the scenario I just described. You know have to travel to four planets named after colors to rescue them. For each rescue, you receive thanks by your crewmates and the information that you can now use them and their special abilities. From there, each additional level has some short dialogue between the crew on what the next objective is.
My favorite little detail was a TV in one level depicting Toad with an "I hate you" speech bubble popping out of it.
Other than that, story is of course not a big deal here.
GAMEPLAY | 13/20
This is a mix of a platformer and a shoot 'em up. In addition, it is a MegaMan-like. You choose one of four planets that you want to go to. After long platforming levels, you meet the final boss. You kill the boss and rescue your crewmate, who you can now choose as your character. The difference to Mega Man is that the boss does not have the same skill as the crewmate you rescue. But you are free to choose which planet to tackle in what order (one exception).
One thing this game actually does way more conveniently than Mega Man: You can switch between characters by simply pressing SELECT. Sure, switching between eight characters in NES Mega Man games would be annoying, but I would like the option, especially when you still have 4-5 or fewer characters unlocked. The gameplay here is not interrupted thanks to this, though of course switching in a fast paced platforming game such as this will come with its share of annoyances when a timing-sensitive level kills you while you are trying to switch to the right character. Can't say this happened often enough for me to rather PAUSE the game each time I wanted to switch.
Bucky can shoot in four directions and also load up a POWER bar which lets him jump higher. Collecting P's increases the length of the POWER bar and lets you jump higher. Blinky, the android, is short and can destroy certain blocks, so he is the second-most useful character, and actually necessary to go through one of the planets. Each character has some sort of ability, though you won't need all for environmental puzzles, which should have been a thing in my opinion.
Most of the game is focused on platforming. Many of the tricks the game has on offer, actually all of them, other games will have already done. There are the slippery icey platforms which annoy everyone, there is a lava pit that you need to jump over, out of which fire is shot upwards, there are the projectiles flying down from the sky while you try to not fall down to your death, there are the disappearing platforms and the room that turns pitch black, with little fireflies giving you the tiniest hint of information on where there is a platform to jump on.
Few games manage to combine many of these things into one though, which is where this game is absolutely an above-average experience. The game doesn't take a few of those tropes and makes 10 levels repeating them, the game tries to offer a new and different challenge for each of its stages, even if they aren't new to the genre itself. Plus, there is a very lengthy shoot 'em up stage at the end as well, so variety is absolutely present here. From time to time, there are small environmental puzzles to solve as well, which isn't much but definitely more than most platformers offer. Usually, it's "50 things try to kill you, try to survive by memorizing stuff and timing your movement" and while Bucky O'Hare is exactly that for most of the game, there are also parts where you need to figure out where to place a boulder to avoid those spikes, which character to use to go through a section of the game most efficiently, which area to unlock to avoid being stuck in an infinite loop and how to come out of the other end of a turning wheel thing.
Are there frustrating parts? Absolutely. There are levels where you need to perform jumps with exact precision, where you need to out-run lava running down the edges of the walls at blazing speed, where you need jump, switch character in a second, load up the power bar in half a second, release it, hang on to a wall, climb a split second and jump again to get past a particularly frustrating bit and where you need to execute moves with a ship with such incredible timing that the controls simply don't reliably allow for. Oh, and there are no i-frames.
There is some really rough stuff here. It's like the elementary version of Battletoads, where you can't stop but wonder why the devs would make so many enjoyable levels, only to frustrate the hell out of the player and make these later levels inaccessible for 99% of the players who play the game. It's elementary here because instead of 99%, it's going to be more like 80-90% and the game absolutely IS beatable without selling your soul to the devil. I can't say I managed to go through everything without making use of the beautiful functions of my emulator, but the majority of the game I played as intended and did relatively well. Game magazines call this game easy for even non-players, a sentiment with which I couldn't disagree more.
But all in all, this is one of the more enjoyable platformers I've played during this challenge. Boss fights top it off by offering somewhat difficult, but certainly very beatable challenges. Bosses have a certain pattern that they repeat endlessly, and you simply master them to beat them. They're not the most creative bosses I've seen, but I'd call them slightly better than your average platforming bosses from this time period.
No voice acting. The sound design is really good here, many sounds were really satisfying and I can't say I think the same for most NES games I've played on here, so it's absolutely above-average. The soundtrack is really good. It matches the fast-paced nature of most gameplay bits and it had me bopping my head along for most of the time that I've played this. The boss theme in particular just goes completely batshit insane. Though the majority of tracks in this soundtrack are great and worth a listen. I also think it's absolutely worth a mention that this soundtrack was composed by a female, Tomoko Sumiyama. She is only credited for 5 games, this game being the most recent.
Looks pretty good, actually better than some early SNES titles we've played on this challenge so far. Got nice looking sprites and character designs, very colorful levels with some nice scenery like in the outer space level, and in general varied environments.
Certainly there is a Bucky O'Hare theme used here to make this game, but in general it is your typical platformer in terms of presentation. These games don't try to have you immersed, they try to mainly get you hooked to the gameplay by offering you a challenge, sometimes fair, sometimes unfair. This is no different here, though the space theme is present regularly, especially in a fantastic stage where you jump from asteroid to asteroid and moon to moon to traverse.
CONTENT | 7/10
The two negatives with this game's content is 1) there isn't a lot of it and 2) there are a few very frustrating parts, which gatekeeps later content needlessly from lesser skilled players. Overall though, the content has plenty of variety and is enough to entertain for a couple afternoons. And what is here is higher quality than your average NES game for sure.
There are some great levels here, nicely varied. Similarly to Battletoads, I'm not sure why the devs decided to add some very frustrating parts to make it harder to get to the later levels which are as excellently designed as the early ones, but that's what we got here. Finally, I feel like the last level, while I did enjoy it, was very long and I mean insanely long. Could definitely have been made shorter.
There is plenty copied over from the Mega Man series, such as choosing which planet to tackle first, gaining new abilities after defeating each planet, and then having a final "castle" type stage where you go through multiple lengthy levels and some form of a boss rush. The way some stages are designed is definitely where the main innovation comes from, as Mega Man mainly sticks to being an Action-platformer with predictable level design, while Bucky O'Hare goes a bit more wild with one level where you hop from asteroid to asteroid, which all fly in different directions. There is the long shmup stage at the end as well, so it's definitely not a shameless copy or anything.
Other than trying to beat your high score and potentially using certain characters more than you did in a previous playthrough, there is no motivation given to play the game again.
Works well at all times.
OVERALL | 63/100
If you're looking to play platformers on the NES, Bucky O'Hare should be on your list. It's unlikely to get into your Top 5, but I'd argue that it will offer an above-average experience for the genre and the console for sure. Nice graphics, great soundtrack and varied levels is all you need to have a good time with these types of games.

(This is the 63rd game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
The 'SaGa' series started in 1989 with 'The Final Fantasy Legend', as it is known by in the West, and was a Game Boy series for its first three titles until Romancing SaGa brought it to the SNES on January 28, 1992. Well, at least in Japan it did, as the game did not get a release in the West. The SNES actually never did, in fact, but a PS2 remake called 'Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song' did release in North America in 2005, though the 'Mistrel Song' subtitle would only be included in Japanese versions.
'Romancing SaGa' did pretty well, with over a million sales recorded for its SNES version. The game was developed by Square, who had released their first SNES game in 1991 called 'Final Fantasy IV', you may know it. The alliance of both games with Square is immediately notable, but Romancing SaGa , and SaGa games overall, are different in many ways from their Final Fantasy counterpart that makes the SaGa games stand out as their own, distinctive series.
Personally, I think it differs positively in many ways, but negatively in at least just as many. I go over everything in my review for 'Romancing SaGa'.
(I was able to play the SNES version with fan translations. If you are interested in this game, I would recommend the PS2 version for both its official translation and the many QoL and overall graphical improvements you will find with it.)
You play Albert, heir to a noble lord in Rosalia. No wait, you play Sif, a warrior from Valhalland. Or do you play Jamil, a thief in Estamir? Wait, what?
Off the bat, you will find out why the SaGa series is very different from your run-of-the-mill JRPG in terms of its story set-up. You have eight unique characters to choose from. Not eight different classes (though they do all differ in class), but eight (!) unique (!) characters, each with their own name and background and, most importantly, their own journey. Their journey all lead to the same destination, but you'll be surprised with the amount of freedom in play here. This is not Cyberpunk 2077, where a few intros play out differently and all culminate in the same outcome an hour into the game.
For example, I chose Albert. In his introduction, he and his sister clear a cave near the castle that is their home. Upon return, the castle is attacked by monsters, and they are to flee and report the incident to a nearby kingdom. Diana, his sister, pushes Albert off a cliff to save him from strong enemies that have surrounded them (why she doesn't jump after him, I don't know). She dies trying to fend off the attackers, while Albert wakes up later in the home of a caretaker. From here, Albert finds himself in Loban. From there, he is to take a ship to Yeoville that runs into a storm and washes up near Valhalland, where he meets Sif.
Sif's story starts in Valhalland and she finds Albert knocked out on the ship wreck, so there is some crossover at times.
Then there is Claudia's story, who is an orphan raised by the witch of the forest in Mazewood. She goes to clear a cave from monsters as well, finds a Knight called Gian getting attacked, helps him and then proceeds to leave the Mazewood later on in her introduction. She takes a totally different route, explore different areas and meets other potential companions than Albert or Sif, either meeting them much earlier or doing so at all, such as a bear and a wolf-like creature that lived with her in Mazewood.
The locations you explore are not only relevant in the companions you can fight for battles, of which there are dozens, but also in the quests you find and can pursue. These quests often don't go beyond simple set-ups to explore nearby caves and exterminate the monsters within, but it adds to the replayability and the unique structure of each character's playthrough.
So overall, it's not just eight different intros, but many different journeys altogether. This unfortunately does come with its many concessions and makes tying things together for the main story, which does exist, much more difficult. The execution in the end is lackluster, both from experience and, mainly, from reading up on it, as I couldn't justify playing the game more than I did (a little over 5 hours), which I will mainly explain in the 'Gameplay' section.
Let's start with the main story. The game is set in Mardias, where three gods called 'Death', 'Saruin' and 'Schirach' waged war against the lord of all gods, 'Elore'. At the end, Death and Schirach lost and were stripped of their powers. Saruin, who was not willing to accept defeat and the same punishment, was instead imprisoned within ten fatestones by a hero who would perish in that battle and be turned into a god by Elore as thanks. Now, a millennium later, all Fatestones are scattered throughout Mardias and evil powers festered bent on releasing Saruin, with eight heroes fighting back to make sure that this doesn't happen.
It's an OK setup for a main story of its time. How does it happen that the Fatestones are scattered? If Saruin is imprisoned in them, how can you not take care of even one of the stones? Well, we shouldn't try to look for too much logic here. The game treats the main story as an afterthought, which is OK for what it is going for, but so should we in that case.
Unfortunately, 'afterthought' is an understatement, because the main story doesn't really get any mention apart from certain main story quests that trigger for mid-game and end-game portions. I found two conflicting notes on this online, one saying that the amount of quests you finish trigger these 'jumps' and another saying that the amount of encounters you had does the trick. I'm finding number of quests to be likelier, but either way, you're not going through a linear path of quests to unlock those main quests. And only in those main quests do you learn more about the main story, which, overall, is very little for an RPG. Is that a bad thing? That's for you to decide. The non-linearity is a positive for some, a negative for others. Personally, I'd be more of a fan if the execution wasn't like this.
Because here is the issue for me. The game will take you 30-40 hours to beat just once. You can complete it with all eight characters (and get a secret ending), but those 30-40 hours are brutal in terms of the content that fills them. A good 90% of your time is spent in caves fighting near endless waves of enemies in, 90% of the time, battles that can be described as cakewalks. Of the remaining 10%, I'd guesstimate that 8% is walking around in same-looking towns to collect gear and quests, and 2% is actual story dialogue.
The combat does not have nearly the amount of depth necessary to pull the majority of players through, at least not in a fun way. In my opinion, there needs to be plenty of balance between lengthy 'dungeon-crawling' and story bits in RPGs. Final Fantasy IV did a good job in achieving this a year earlier. With Romancing SaGa, that is not the case, and I couldn't put myself through the monotony for dozens of hours, both because I don't consider it to be fun (maybe I would have if I was 8 again and didn't have many other games to choose from) and because I can put the time into the other games in this challenge which have more varied and, most importantly, rewarding experiences.
Overall, the game employs a "Free Scenario System" that shows a lot of potential. Spiritual successors such as The Octopath Traveler exist. Sequels in the SaGa series exist. This challenge will be exploring those sequels, but in Romancing SaGa, there is not enough in the side-quests and pretty much nothing in the main storyline to push one through the brutally repetitive combat system. The SNES cartridge space will not have done the developers any favors, so future generations should help out there, but I also think that improved balance in the next SNES iterations could help the potential be reached sooner than later. We shall see.
Gameplay is not as unique as the "Free Scenario System" we went over at length above, but there are certain elements to Romancing SaGa that make it stand out over other JRPGs of the time as well. Let's start with the similarities.
Just like Final Fantasy, you explore many different locations as you visit their towns and dungeons. You go into many battle encounters with turn-based combat. You purchase healing items, magic items, weapons and armor to equip your party members.
There are many differences though. First, let's go over exploration. Instead of traveling the overworld to find the towns and their nearby dungeons, you select a location from the map and fast-travel there. There is no exploration to be done in between.
Towns have their shops and inns positioned slightly differently, but inherently are all the same. You got an inn, a weapons store, a magic store and a pub to look at quest notices and find companions. There are few, if any, other houses that specific characters own. There are nearly no characters roaming in these towns in general, perhaps 3 or 4 apart from the shopkeepers. Nearby, there is emptiness that fills the space between a town and the dungeon you're supposed to enter once you get the quest. There also is going to be a path that allows you to open up the map and travel elsewhere.
There are barely any, if any, secret paths to take. Nearly all chests, if not all, simply contain gold. I haven't found anything else in 5 hours. Items to buy with the gold usually seem overpriced, though perhaps later locations give you a lot more to make up for that.
The biggest difference you will find however is encounters. Instead of walking around and randomly being thrown into a battle, you find all enemies running around in the overworld. There are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of them running around in the same area and you can defeat them one by one to reduce their number to zero, at least until you leave the area and re-enter it, which makes them respawn. It makes encounters more predictable, but my god does it not help you avoid them whatsoever. These enemies will rush after you once they spot you, and most of them are faster than you, so they will catch up. They also mirror your path, so if you try to walk left, they will walk left as well until they catch up to you and engage. If they engage you from the side, it throws your party formation into disarray and leaves you in a tougher spot, though I'll go over that in a little bit. The worst part though is when you try to flee from a battle.
In Final Fantasy, when you escape, the encounter is simply over and you keep moving. In Romancing SaGa, GET THIS: The enemy remains right where they were when they engaged you. So guess what? You are immediately thrown into battle against them again. WTF? You have a split second to react and try to run away, but by the time you process which way to go (usually at least two directions are blocked off by enemies), the enemy re-engages and you enter the battle again. Hilariously terrible and makes escapes pretty much useless.
OK, so let's go over the battle system. It is a turn-based system (doesn't have a 'real-time' component like FFIV, which I don't mind) and uses a 3x3 grid, meaning you can choose to line up 3 party members on three rows. The front row is most susceptible to be attacked, but can use melee weapons. The second and third rows are less likely to be attacked, but can't reach with melee weapons. Spears, bows, magic skills and special limited-use attacks for melee weapons (a slash on swords for example) do reach first, second and possibly third rows of the enemies. I did not get the impression that the row has a damage output penalty like in Final Fantasy games.
Unlike many other RPGs, you don't have a 'level' that you increase. Instead, you have a number of stats that get increased after each encounter, like Speed, Vitality and Charisma, which increase hit points and damage output for specific attacks. That's the game's specific oddity but not a bad one. Here is an oddity that IS bad however. As you use weapons more and more, you get upgrades to those weapons, like a slashing attack for a melee weapon that lets you hit the second row. This experience needs to be gained for every weapon that is in the game. If you don't like a weapon and decide to switch back, guess what? All your experience for the weapon has reset. Why? Who knows, maybe a developmental oversight.
The UI for combat also makes matters worse. In Final Fantasy, you select whether you want to attack, guard or use an item on one screen. In this game, you need to cycle from left to right to find the screen you are looking for, and there is a screen for each weapon and skill you have equipped. With the thousands of encounters you will have in this game, all the cycling can become really tiresome. The game saves the screen you were on last time, which means you can spam A to do quick attacks when the cycle is pre-selected. But as mentioned, side-engagements by the enemy throws your formation into disarray, so the same characters will find themselves in the second and third row all of a sudden, unable to attack. You can either let them "defend" (which doesn't really do anything like 'Guard' does) or have them move forward/backward a row, but this means cycling through the menus. Next time, you need to cycle back when you had a frontal engagement. So you're not spared all the cycling. I didn't sign up for Tour de France, man. So all the grindy fights where you simply would just spam a basic attack, you have all these extra steps involved, and things move at a snails pace. Before the screen pops up, you first need to press a key. Why? Who knows. But this means instead of two key-presses (attack, enemy select), you do three (empty press, attack, enemy select).
To conclude, it's an interesting system but slowed down to a horrible degree. There is a fast-forward feature on the emulator I am using, and I did an experiment through a dungeon to show you how horrible it is. Even if you fast-forward, the in-game counter doesn't know it, so it updates as if you did everything in regular time. In real-time, I went through a dungeon in five minutes using the fast-forward key. In game time, and in would-be real time without the fast forward, it took 40 (!) minutes. And none of the fights required a drop of strategy, so you literally are spending 35 of 40 minutes pressing the same button and waiting for it to play out the same way. Yeesh. That's literally 30-34 of 40 hours it takes to beat the game. I understand that most gameplay in RPGs is spent like this, but it's not nearly this much and it's also not in a game where there is no strategy involved for the majority of battles.
No voice acting. The sound design is average, but the one thing I noticed was how your strikes in combat didn't have the satisfying ferocity that they had in Final Fantasy. The soundtrack has good and bad parts. The main theme sounds like your prototypical Square NES/SNES main theme to the point that it is indistinguishable. The unique part about the soundrack, which isn't overly long, is that each character has their own unique theme. The bad part about it is that it plays endlessly in a loop, unless you are in a story set piece or in a dungeon. After 5 hours, Albert's theme makes a shiver run down my spine. The battle theme is the same as well, but that's typical for most RPGs and this one actually sounds pretty good, even after 5 hours. Overall, it's a soundtrack that sounds solidly average, one that you will remember fondly, if nostalgia is involved and one that is mostly forgettable, apart from the battle and character themes that you end up listening to for 30-40 hours.
Graphically this gives the impression of mid-budget early SNES game. That's to say that it certainly makes use of the jump to 16-bit, especially for a game that was Game Boy exclusive up to this point, but there is a lot of potential left to reach still. One thing I like the most about the game graphically is the sprite work and design for the companions, which look pretty good and distinct. Battles play out in terrain that you engaged the enemy in, which is a nice touch that will become more common on the SNES. Enemy sprites look OK but the lower resolution look compared to the characters is slighty off-putting. Sprites are also not animated as they await their turn, similarly to FFIV, which would have been nice but is not the norm yet.
One note worth making is on the menu UI, both in battle (which I commented on in 'Gameplay' -> sucks) and in your inventory, which is worse than in Final Fantasy. Stacking items isn't possible, so I was stuck having two slots occupied by 'Balm' from the start for some reason and equipping stuff requires you to go through many more clicks.
Overall, the game looks like a small upgrade to 8-bit RPGs. The first sentence in this section above pretty much describes it simply.
I really like how you can choose one character and then meet the other starting characters in the areas where you would be had you chosen them. This gives the game world a sort of realistic feel that you simply visit from the perspective of one of the available options. Enemies being visible in the overworld is also a nice touch, at least atmospherically, as it doesn't necessarily equate to a more enjoyable experience based on execution. I also like the world map that covers a number of different kingdoms, and these points are pretty much the most notable things as it pertains to immersion. The game doesn't accomplish anything else specifically, but it isn't as good a look to have all towns be pretty much copies of each other and be mostly barren of life.
CONTENT | 5/10
There are plenty of dungeons to fight enemies in, thousands of encounters to go through, dozens of companions to recruit, lots of locations to travel and quests to find, but one of those points proves why quantity is never better than quality, especially if you don't have much quality in that department to begin with. Thousands of encounters that play out the same way to bloat the play time way beyond where it needs to be. Final Fantasy IV isn't this long, and it includes a ton of story elements as well. This game barely has story and lasts 30-40 hours. It's just way too much.
I do like the amount of freedom on offer here, from choosing the character to play, to being let go in the world, but I definitely expected more from what I heard. "Open world" and "non-linear" are attached to this series a lot, but for those 5 hours I played, the path was certainly as linear as it gets, it simply was a unique path to Albert (and presumably Sif). Going from one location to the next also necessitates fast travel, with no way to organically go there, which eliminates open world as well, especially since each individual location usually comes with the same few features like towns and dungeons, with basically no motivation to explore in between. Then you look at it more closely and you're expected to go through dungeons with a solid 50-100 encounters per dungeon, the majority of which require next to no strategy, and I can't say I'm too positive on the design here for the most part.
The "Free Scenario System" certainly is unique. The 3x3 grid used for the combat is not bad as well, nor is the fact that you can see the enemies in the overworld instead of being thrown in random encounters. Unfortunately, innovation comes with growing pains, and that's certainly the case here, as all of these features have more negatives than positives attached to them in this particular game in my opinion.
There is genuine replayability here. The only reason I'm not giving it a perfect score here is because replaying it means another few thousand encounters to go through, which will not be a lot of fun unless you're a massive sucker for turn-based combat that doesn't have much depth. But to be able to go through eight charaters and have most of them go through pretty different journeys is definitely a very nice feature, if we don't consider the concessions that were made to make it happen. There is no character development and very little personality in characters to make these unique routes stand out as much as they should as well, but for its time, having this much 'freedom' was unheard of, at least when it comes to Japanese RPGs.
Works well at all times.
OVERALL | 57/100
I'd like to summarize the game as follows: Romancing SaGa introduces many unique ideas to the JRPG genre, but its innovation comes with very apparent growing pains. Had this been as clean as it gets for a first iteration of a formula (A Link To The Past), you would have definitely heard of it by now and would have had this game release in the West way before its 2005 PS2 port, so my opinion isn't a unique one. Future games in the series will definitely do a better job to appeal to more players, and I'm excited to find out, but as it stands, I'd recommend to skip to those for newcomers or to play a spiritual successor like "The Octopath Traveler".

(This is the 62nd game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
This is the first game I'm reviewing that released in 1992. Boy, what an introduction to the year. Well, the good thing is, it can only go up from here. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, developed by Bits Studios (Rare made the original), is part of the early 90's Game Boy Trilogy that might just be the worst trilogy in gaming.
I have now played 4 Spider-Man games from the early 90s as part of the challenge, and all 4 probably find themselves in my Top 7 Worst Games I've played so far. It's like they're all in a competition for that #1 spot. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a darn good contender, so let's see how it scores in my review.
First, an extremely important note: This game received a 98% score by French magazine Consoles +. I'm not kidding, 98%! I cannot explain how significantly ridiculous this is. Picture this: Sonic received a 95% score. Mario Kart received 94%. Sonic 2 got 92%. Super Mario Bros 3 got the same 98%. So you got it there folks. This game is one of the best games of all time according to this French magazine. Wow.
Peter Parker wakes up with an odd feeling that something is wrong. He is proven correct when he reads that day's newspaper: 'Spider-Man turns bad', it says. "I've been framed", Spider-Man thinks. As he still is in thought, Hobgoblin attacks. And the game starts.
From here, defeating bosses furthers the story with comic-book style storytelling. Turns out, someone IS framing Peter with some sort of "robot spideys". The story is incredibly basic and as per usual for this time period, not notable at all.
With this, the game unfortunately lost the tiny bit of charm that the original had, which was witty trash-talk between Spidey and the bad guys. That's present once or twice here, but not on that level.
This game has phoned it in so much that, even with those few pictures that are used to tell the story, the devs still literally re-used the same pictures for different 'cutscenes'.
Are you looking for a game that makes you laugh out loud over how terribly it controls? Well, look no further than this mess. This is called an "action-adventure" game instead of the Action / Platformer that was the original Game Boy game. Why? I have no idea. The only thing that has this game qualify is the fact that it isn't a traditional platformer. There isn't anything to qualify the adventure part though. I'm assuming it's the fact that you can enter a few buildings which have some items hidden, like a crowbar (which opens crates, because Spider-Man is too weak otherwise, as we all know).
This game controls worse than all other Spider-Man games I've played, which were the benchmark for terrible controls up until now, and I'd go as far as to say that this game's controls is a contender for the worst ever in a video game. It's definitely, without a doubt, the worst for any game that received a 98% rating (still can't get over that). This is a side-scrolling game with a lot of items that just don't work together. You climb up stairs akin to a Castlevania game, but it's not "up" that gets you up. No, because simply moving up will have you drop down because each step is actually not connected on the stairs in this game. So you need to jump up stairs. Amazing.
You do have a webswinging feature in this game, but it's hilariously terrible. The web only extends about a meter above your head and it doesn't matter whether you attach it to something or have it literally be suspended in mid-air, it works. Well, not really. You try to get momentum by swinging side to side, but Spidey lets go off the web at random and doesn't even properly elevate with it. In theory, if it works well, you can use it to quickly climb up buildings. There is no other use for it and even this use is questionable. Why? Because you simply can jump from window to window to climb a building, or use one of many invisible platforms to do so.
You can also climb the side of the buildings in this game. But since this is a 2D game, that idea does not work at all. Whenever you try to avoid bombs thrown from the heavens or enemies by jumping over them - you have to - you often will be doing so near the side of the wall. Spider-Man will automatically get attached to the wall, even if you don't want to. And whenever you do actively want to climb a wall, you need multiple tries every time to get attached. While climbing the wall, the Hobgoblin will regularly throw bombs at you and knock you off, and the game has no feature of attaching to walls mid-air, so you fall all the way down every time.
When the game starts you off, you have no clear goal. You run around in Peter's neighborhood and have Hobgoblin flying over your head, throwing bombs at you. These bombs not only can hit you on the head, but will then drop to the floor, explode and can damage you one more time from the after-effect of the explosion. Your goal, apparently, is to catch Hobgoblin with your web and ride him down, which will destroy his glider and let you actually attack him. Why can't you throw punches at him while he is right next to you? No idea, it just doesn't work. It doesn't help that your web fluids are limited, so I found myself not even being able to do what I'm supposed to on my first attempt. I can't say I would have figured it out, ever, without checking a longplay of this game though.
Regarding Spider-Man's weapons: You can punch. You can do a terrible jump-kick. You can shoot webs, but only if you crouch down (?) and only if you have enough web fluid, which is drained rather quickly.
You could argue I haven't gone over the worst part yet. The only enemies in this game are the things that are thrown at you from the bosses, the bosses themselves and out of screen snipers. There are no other enemies in this game! This game is just empty as shit. AGAIN, IT GOT A 98% REVIEW! 98%! The review (translated) says that "the whole city is against Spider-Man from the get-go". THERE ARE LITERALLY JUST THE BOSSES WHO SHOWED UP! I literally can't...
Overall, this is the worst game I have played in terms of pure gameplay as part of this challenge, or in general, so give credit to this game for that. But this truly is terrible. I was disappointed with a name like Rare being attached to a game like the original from this Game Boy trilogy, but in hindsight, that game had some charm, actual cohesive game design behind it, and managed to at least have some fans at the time. If Rare had been behind this as well, there is no chance that this would be nearly as horrible as it ended up being.
No voice acting. Sound design is not great, not bad. The soundtrack consists of three tracks. I find it hard to find a retro soundtrack that sounds aggressively bad, and I can't say this soundtrack is bad either. It's just very short and sounds very uninspired.
Can a game have no art design? On the Game Boy, there of course is no color, so attention to detail is even more important. This game is what you get when you go with the opposite of "attention to detail". The environments are incredibly bland. You run from side to side with same looking buildings scrolling through non-stop, and with a few skyscraping buildings visible in the background that is otherwise simply white. No clouds, nothing, just white. Spider-Man looks weird as hell and walks like he has no control over his limbs (every Spider-Man game in this challenge has had odd-looking Spidey animations), animations overall are poor, the devs were so lazy that they didn't even create enemies, cutscene pictures are repeated and there just is 0 passion that went into this game.
How can you expect any atmosphere when the entire game looks empty? You simply are fighting one enemy that keeps you occupied, sometimes, while trying to get near him and figure out what the hell the game wants from you. Apart from the somewhat recognizable characters from the Spider-Man universe, there is nothing about this game that emanates a whiff of what you'd expect a Spider-Man game to look and feel like.
CONTENT | 2/10
I'm giving it an additional point for the fact that there is some actual content here, but it is of the worst kind. The levels are mostly empty, they look like crap, and there are just a few them in this game, which is of course good for people who don't enjoy it, but a shame for the kids who would play everything and anything you put in front of them, if they have no alternatives. That's a good description for this game. If you could play literally anything else, you probably would.
One additional point for the fact that levels can actually be completed I guess? The first level immediately sets the tone. You exit the introductory cutscene to find yourself in this empty city with the Hobgoblin chucking bombs at you. You aren't told anything on what to do, and how to do it. The features in this game are counterintuitive to the control scheme and it makes for an awful time trying to make your way through the levels, which in addition to all this, offer no depth and complexity.
This has no concept. You are put into a small area and have only one enemy to fight, who just annoying flings stuff at you while you are outside. You can simply enter buildings and have 0 threats while you look for boring, quasi-useless items. Remove the Spider-Man name and this has literally no selling proposition. None.
No motivation given to replay this game after having beaten it the first time.
The game works, but I'm taking a point off for the fact that the controls are so terrible and certain actions appear to be working randomly from time to time.
OVERALL | 25/100
And there we have it. The worst game I've played so far in this challenge is a Spider-Man game replacing the previous holder of that title, a different Spider-Man game. I love Spider-Man and it saddens me to see what had been done to him in the video game industry 30+ years ago. Thank god that new Spider-Man 2 showcase was awesome and I can rest easy in the comfort of the franchise's handling in this day and age.

This review contains spoilers

(This is the 61st game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
Sequel-time is always exciting, and even more so for games that were really enjoyable. With Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, the follow-up to The Secret of Monkey Island, we are in such a situation. This game probably requires no introduction for the majority of you. It released in December 1991 for the Amiga and MS-DOS, was developed and published by LucasArts, was led by Ron Gilbert and uses the SCUMM engine that was used for LucasArts adventure games until the late 90s.
While Monkey Island 2 was a critical success, commercially it fell below expectations. According to Ron Gilbert they sold relatively well, but "Sierra On-Line and King's Quest were still kicking our ass completely". Plus, he wanted to make adventure games for kids after releasing Monkey Island 2. Both of these points combined explain why he left LucasArts less than a year after Monkey Island 2 released to create his own company. Unfortunately, what Ron Gilbert's exit and Monkey Island's good-but-not-good-enough sales meant was that we would not only see no 3rd Monkey Island game until 1997, but that the 3rd game was also not written by its original creator.
I mention this for two reasons. First, 2022's Return to Monkey Island, finally directed and written by Ron Gilbert (and Dave Grossman) again, continues from the ending of this game, not the 4th (which I have never played). Second, this game has an infamous ending, and knowing what I know about the future of the Monkey Island series, I am kind of unsure on how to feel about it.
This is the final game in my challenge in the 1991 play-list. Here is my review for the game.
This section is going to be a spoiler-heavy part, so skip this in case you didn't play this game yet and still want to. There are only spoilers for 1 and 2 however, not for 3, 4 and Return to Monkey Island, all of which I haven't played.
Once again, you are Guybrush Threepwood, the clumsy yet determined pirate; a title he has earned for himself in the first Monkey Island game. Now that Guybrush is a pirate and has defeated the evil ghost-pirate LeChuck, he is looking for a new adventure: Finding the treasure called "Big Whoop".
The game starts on Scabb Island, where Guybrush accidentally arrives in search of the lost treasure. I say accidental because the treasure is actually not here. It's not for naught however, as he learns more about the treasure and that there are four map pieces that he needs to acquire in order to find it. To start his search, he needs to get off the island, but that is not possible. While Scabb Island is known for being a lawless island, a man called Largo Lagrande took it upon himself to impose the "Largo Embargo" and to tax all ships arriving and departing with a heavy tax that no pirates in the area could afford. His angry demeanor and, more importantly, his connection to LeChuck as his right hand man in the past, make people scared of him. Everyone but Guybrush of course.
So Guybrush needs to figure out to cleanse Scabb Island from Largo. In the end, he does, but with a cost. He, inadvertently, gives Largo the 'still-alive' beard of LeChuck that he was carrying around to boast about his accomplishments. Largo steals this beard to resurrect LeChuck. So Scabb Island is free of Largo, but Guybrush, as he goes on to explore many other islands in search of the four map pieces, is not free of LeChuck any longer.
The game features many new, but also many returning characters from the original, just like you'd expect from a sequel of a graphical adventure, if you've ever played a different one. This creates both a sense of nostalgia and comfort, but also of a fresh adventure. It helps that the majority of returning characters were funny and quirky in the original, like the "Men of Low Moral Fiber" or Stan the used ship salesman, who opened his own mortuary in this game.
Dialogue is basically the same mix as the original, containing good humor, incredibly dry jokes (in a positive way), a few double entendre's, regular 4th-wall breaking and a contemptuous attitude by most characters towards Guybrush's clumsiness and habit of putting others into precarious positions in order to get himself closer to his goals. Don't get me wrong, Guybrush is a million times more competent than Deponia's Rufus (though both are equally as succesful I suppose), but his charm, pretty much everyone's charm in this world comes from their oddness and naivete. For example, the drycleaner is hard of hearing, the cartographer cannot see without his monocole, the bartender pays you unheard of sums of money upfront only to fire you minutes later without asking for his money back, guard's arrest someone else under your name after they had just arrested you for it minutes earlier etc.
So overall, as endearing as each character is on their own, the game's narrative is nearly entirely as lovely. I say nearly, because there is the ending 'showdown' between LeChuck and Guybrush, and the ending itself to discuss.
First, the showdown: As Guybrush attempts to uncover the treasure from its designated location, a hole opens up and he fall into it. When he comes to, everything is dark, but he locates a light switch. Guybrush finds himself in a room, though not alone. He finds LeChuck himself standing next to him with a voodoo doll. The voodoo doll supposedly will send Guybrush to an endless dimension of pain once LeChuck uses some sort of lightning power to pierce through his voodoo heart. Guybrush does get teleported, but only to the adjacent room. Looks like the doll was made of poor materials. There are 5 such rooms in this ending showdown, and you constantly need to run away from LeChuck, who shows up randomly, and assemble a bunch of items to create your own voodoo doll of him.
This is not a bad idea in itself. The problem arises, or did for me, when I had to find the last piece, which, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out without a guide. There is a room with a broken vending machine. You press the "coin return" and see a coin fly out of the machine and come to a halt at the door. LeChuck enters in a scripted moment to hunch down and grab the coin. At this point, you grab his underwear. Easy. But what you also are apparently supposed to do is give him your handkerchief, so he can blow his nose.
The problem? This is only possible in that room. If LeChuck shows up anywhere else, you can't give him the handkerchief. The bigger problem? There were a lot of times where LeChuck wouldn't show up for minutes (!) at a time, and if he did, he would never enter that one room again for a good 20 minutes. Why? Because it's entirely random where and when he shows up. And if you don't use a guide but did try to use the handkerchief in a different room (out of the 30 items in your inventory at this time), and that didn't work, I don't blame you for not trying it again in that one specific room. I did get it done after a long time, but it was frustrating as hell to get there.
And now, the ending: You assemble the voodoo doll, Guybrush uses it to rip out LeChuck's limbs, and LeChuck, in his final breaths, asks you to take off his mask. It reveals ... Guybrush's brother Chuckie. Apparently, Chuckie was asked of their parents to hunt Guybrush down. A maintenance worker of some sort shows up and tells them that they can't be down there. Scene fades to black, and we get a new scene showing a young Guybrush and a young Chuckie at an amusement park, with their parents scolding Guybrush for running off. As they go off, Chuckie gives a quick stare at the camera and shows a red glow in his eyes. The end. The after-credits scene shows Elaine Marley, Guybrush's love interest, standing over the hole on the surface and wondering whether Guybrush is down there hallucinating again. The actual end.
Wow. Reading opinions on it online, I realized that this was quite an unpopular ending at the time. Having it sit for a day, I'm mostly OK with it, as it allows for your own interpretation and for a lot of discussion without appearing tacked on or fully unreasonable.
So what's the truth here? Is it A) Guybrush is actually still a kid and just imagined the entire stories of 1 and 2? Or B) The "endless dimension of pain" curse that LeChuck was talking about actually manifested itself, and Guybrush will have to endure childhood with Chuckie, who likely bullies him? I am going to try to make a case for both scenarios, knowing full well that both the non-Ron Gilbert and with-Ron Gilbert explanations already exist by now.
Scenario A) There are surprisingly many arguments that can be made for this scenario. Guybrush appears in the first game out of nowhere and declares he wants to be a pirate. One of the requirements to be a pirate? Swordfighting, which apparently are just verbal duels where you try to out-wit your opponent. Another thing: Many characters are returning from the original, even though you explore island far away from Melee Island. Objects too, like the vending machine you destroyed in Monkey Island 1, which appears in the final stage again. The barkeeper won't sell grog to Guybrush without some ID. The "Big Whoop" treasure turns out to just be ... a ticket? To an amusement park perhaps? There are a lot more points I could mention, but to not have this be an essay on the ending, I'll leave it there.
Scenario B) A lot of points that can be made for Scenario B simply include arguing against the likelihood of Scenario A. First, Elaine's after-credits scene makes it seem like she actually exists. She asks if Guybrush is hallucinating again, which makes it likelier that the amusement park scene is not actual reality, but rather a false one created by LeChuck, or simply a dream. Second, the glow in LeChuck's eyes makes it appear, as if LeChuck pulled Guybrush into that universe on purpose. Third, this could have been an elaborate plan by LeChuck throughout the game. There is an earlier scene where Guybrush falls and hallucinates. He sees his parents, then LeChuck, then wakes up shortly after. The final showdown area also has a room where two skeletons lie and supposedly are Guybrush's parents. So has LeChuck been able to track Guybrush's whereabouts throughout the game and manipulate him discretely, to break Guybrush's will and have the curse be a success?
Having the outcome of the story be "it was just a dream" is obviously not the most satisfying, so I understand how players would find it bad. Again, I didn't mind it, but I do agree that Scenario B is preferrable.
All in all though, another enjoyable set of characters and funny dialogue was enough to pull me through this game on its own.
GAMEPLAY | 13/20
This is a graphical adventure by LucasArts / Lucasfilm Games in the style that you've all seen if you ever saw an old-school graphical adventure. The interface consists of the verbs on the bottom left side and your inventory on the bottom right side. You interact with people and objects by clicking on a verb and then on the person/object. It's the same as in the original. You use this interface to pick up items, solve puzzles and talk to people.
What a lot of these games fall victim to at least once or twice, especially old-school graphical adventures, is to create puzzle solutions that are entirely unintuitive and non-sensical, to the point that most players will be stuck and be left with no option but to try out everything possible in order to progress. Or, you know, use a guide. Luckily, this issue doesn't really creep up in Monkey Island 2, at least I found almost all puzzles to more or less make sense. Sure, using a monkey on a water pump is not the most logical solution, but it works in this game world. There were a few times where I had to use a hint, but the solutions made sense in hindsight.
There isn't really too much else that could be said here since this is through and through your average graphical adventure. One thing that I didn't find great was ship travel. You need to go through three different islands to find four map pieces, but this also means that you need items from one island to solve the puzzle on another. Since you need time to figure out what you need to do, you find yourself constantly driving from one island to the other. You need to go back to your ship on the overworld to travel, and the time it takes to do this definitely adds up to the point where the pacing of it all is not always the way you'd like it.
Overall, it's pretty much the same game as the original, just with a slightly better interface.
I used the Special Edition but played the classic version. In this edition, there is voice acting, which the classic game didn't actually have at release. But since the Special Edition is the only one available and the one any of you would play, I'm going to say that there is voice acting here for the purposes of this rating. The voice acting is great and the majority of the characters sound unique. It's a situation where half the jokes work because of the writing and half work because of the way they are said. Couldn't really have had a better voive for Guybrush either.
The soundtrack is a fantastic mix of reggae, jazz and classical music, just like the original, with a tinge of whatever is required to set the atmosphere, like a spooky melody for the swamps for example. Plus, it's much longer than the soundtrack for the original as well, and the majority of scenes have a unique track reserved for themselves, which adds to their recognizability.
I'll give this a 9 because voice acting technically wasn't included in 1991, but think of it as a 10 if you play the voice acted versions.
I adore the game's art direction. This was extremely well done, right down to the smallest details that suggest there is something you can interact with. From the quirky designs of each character you meet to the significantly more varied and detailed locations compared to the original, to the deep use of the color palette all the way to the distinctively decorated interiors.
You play a sympathetic oddball called Guybrush Threepwood in a world filled with sympathetic oddballs and embark on a pirate adventure spanning multiple different islands. The inhabitants all feel familiar and never out of place, whether it's characters that you met in the original or here for the first time.
CONTENT | 8/10
The game has a more or less perfect length for a graphical adventure at roughly 6 to 10 hours depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles. There are lots of puzzles to solve and a lot of different, distinct locations to visit. The majority of puzzles actually are very solvable and don't fall victim to the unintuitiveness that is commonplace at least once or twice in these games. My only main complaint is that the final half hour is not as well done in terms of puzzles as most of the rest of this game.
I really like how many varied locations there are to visit, but it comes at the cost of pacing. You need to walk all the way back to your ship each time you want to move to a different island, and the further you are along, and the more stuck you are, the more common it is to keep traveling around. A fast-travel or shortcut to the ship would have been a big addition. The final showdown, as I already explained in much detail, I also found to be poorly done. Finally, there are many items that clog up your inventory that you never use, which I don't necessarily enjoy in these games. There are also items that you do use but that either don't leave your inventory or that you can pick up again under the impression that this means that you'll be using them later down the line. This never happens though, and since you need to constantly move up and down to pick the correct times, this surplus of items just get in the way for no added benefit.
Overall though, the levels are nicely designed, there is good variety in puzzles, there is logic behind almost all puzzles that I can get behind and locations look nice and are available in large numbers.
At this point there have been multiple graphical adventures of this style at the time. This doesn't make them less fun necessarily, just less innovative as time goes on. The unique part about this game is that you got three islands that you constantly travel to and fro, but as I explained above, I see both positives and negatives with that approach, the negative namely being pacing from all the traveling.
No motivation given to replay this game after having beaten it the first time. It's fairly linear, you could just pick up map pieces in different orders I presume. That's more than fine, there just isn't any replayability. If you use the Special Edition, there is the possibility of using dev commentary on a second playthrough to get some backstory on the game development. I didn't do that since I didn't know how much of the sequels would be spoiled potentially.
Worked well for 95% of the time. I had two crashes unfortunately (Special Edition) and, more notably, the final section literally didn't work for me for close to half an hour because LeChuck just wouldn't show up.
OVERALL | 74/100
Another great game in the Monkey Island series. I definitely understand why this has a cult following, the characters and dialogue is just very charming, the 4th wall breaking amusing and the "high stakes but not really" plot is enjoyable to follow. The sequel improves on graphics and adds more music, but is otherwise more of the same, with an ending that not everyone will enjoy. Even if you don't, the rest of the game is absolutely worth a playthrough.

(This is the 60th game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
The first game in the Alien Breed series, simply called Alien Breed, came out in 1990 and was released by Team17, who are behind the Worms series as developers and are more active as publishers these days, most recently publishing 'Dredge'.
This Alien Breed review is for the original version, though there is a 1992 special version with more levels, improved sounds and a funny message at the end explaining that the game didn't have a high budget originally and that, if you are looking for better production value, you should play their other 'blockbuster' games that released since. Those blockbusters? 'Project-X' and 'Assassin', the latter of which reviewed quite well, but that's an interesting definition of blockbuster.
Nevertheless, here is my review for Alienbreed.
You work for the IPC, the Inter Planetary Corps and are sent to a Space Research Centre. Upon arriving, you find it is infested with aliens. This is explained in the opening text scroll. There is an ending text scroll that is not 4th wall breaking here, unlike the special edition, were a sequel is teased. Finally, each stage starts with you getting your objectives/targets.
What I found to be better than your typical early 90's non-adventure / RPG is that there is a tiny bit of lore added here, both regarding the IPC and the Intex Systems technology, which basically works as the in-game menu/store. That said, if you need a good story for your games, this game will of course still not suffice.
GAMEPLAY | 10/20
This has a top-down perspective and is what you would call a run and gun with maze-type levels that you need to explore to find your way forward.
You have a weapon and need to shoot hordes of aliens as you explore, aliens which respawn all the time as you leave a certain screen. You have finite ammo and need to find key items to open locked doors, of which there are many in each level. In fact, there are more doors than keys that you can find, which is really fun whenever you enter an area through an electric barrier (one that doesn't let you exit back out) and find yourself key-less, with doors looking you in. This means you can't continue forward and need to damage yourself on the electric barrier until you die.
Enemies are aliens, and only aliens, which is not so great in terms of variety for a game lacking it in general, for which you can play the low budget I mentioned earlier. Objectives are more or less the same all the time as well, so you will only enjoy this for long, if you really love the simplicity of the game. I suspect that was easier to do back then than it would be today.
There are the few boss fights as well, but they are poorly designed since you can simply hide in a corner, where the enemy can't reach you, and easily kill them. This is worsened by the fact that bosses, as well as normal aliens, can't do any attack apart from ramming into you, again, likely for budgetary reasons.
Overall, this game can easily be described as repetitive and basic, which only those who really enjoy the simplicity of it can go through for more than an hour or two.
No voice acting. Sound design is so-so, with some good and some awful sounding effects. The music is only present during boss fights, the outro and the title screen (great track). Instead of music during gameplay, all you hear is a sound that I could best describe as a mix of a heart-beat and a cat's purr, but alien sounding. Definitely adds to the atmosphere.
I don't mind the top-down perspective one bit. I did mind the bland, grayish levels though and the same aliens over and over again with the littlest differences in color based on the level you're in. The only level I truly found worth highlighting was the final one, which looked positively disgusting, as it depicted the Queen Alien's lair.
Very commendable job done here. The lack of music during gameplay, the sound that plays constantly instead and the timer that starts whenever you finish your objective and have to exit the level as soon as possible make for a stressful, tense, atmospheric experience at times.
CONTENT | 5/10
You go through about more or less 10 levels that all are basically the same. Very repetitive, but you will all have your own perspective on that depending on how much you enjoy the core gameplay.
I liked the maze-style layout of the levels, but the creativity with that can only go so far, if the gameplay features are lacking. What I didn't like was getting stuck in certain parts because I didn't have enough keys.
Nothing innovative about this game. The most unique part about it, in my opinion, is the atmosphere it manages to create.
No motivation given to replay this game after having beaten it the first time.
Worked well at all times.
OVERALL | 54/100
An average score for a game that is slightly below average in gameplay, slightly below average in graphical presentation, but notably above average in the atmosphere it manages to create. If you enjoy the simplicity of the gameplay, this could be something you can spend a few mindless hours on and enjoy yourself doing so.

(This is the 59th game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
Sequel to Sunsoft's first NES Batman game called 'Batman: The Video Game', Batman: Return of the Joker, released on December 20th, 1991, is an Action / Platformer game. The game has achieved some interesting feats, like the Joker portrayal here being called the 3rd best ever by IGN in 2019, or 'The Gamer' claiming this to be the best-looking game for the NES. Is it a fun game to play though? I go over everything in my review.
You get the story explained in the manual. Someone has stolen precious metals in Gotham City. Batman links this to the Joker. Now you must take on his henchmen to reach Joker's hideout.
The intro to the game shows three scrolling images. First, Joker leaning forward with a laugh on his face and "HaHaHa" written all over the screen. Second, a bat signal being sent, indicating the police asking Batman for help. Third, Batman, striking a pose and looking to the right, seemingly aware of the 2D nature of the game he is trapped in. Red balls scroll vertically behind him on a purple background. What are those red balls and why are they there?
Anyway, this is pretty much it. Is the portayal of Joker worthy of the #3 position given to it by IGN? You decide. I just gave you one third of his appearance in the entire game. He appears as a boss twice late-game, both in weird, futuristic devices, one where he uses some flying object and one where he is inside a wall-mounted robot type thing. Don't know a lot about the Joker, but haven't seen him use anything like this in any movies. Maybe in the comics? Anyway, what I'm saying is, if this is truly the 3rd (!) best rendition of the Joker in the video game medium, that's kind of sad, though I'd disagree, since the Joker has next to zero charm and pretty much is as replacable as an end boss as it gets.
GAMEPLAY | 11/20
Batman is equipped with a wrist projector, which basically shoots energy projectiles. Odd choice for Batman, but 1990's 'Batman: The Video Game' for the Game Boy had him equipped with a simple gun, so I guess this game wins.
There are three sorts of stages and substages. One where you do some platforming on horizontally scrolling stages and shoot enemies. One where you are in the same 2D perspective but are flying and need to shoot enemies in a shoot 'em up type stage. Finally, one where you fight bosses, where you get an individual health pool of 80.000.
The Sega Genesis Batman game from 1990 has more variety and is overall more enjoyable, makes sense considering it's a 16-bit game with more capabilities, but this Batman game also offers more variety than you usually see in these types of games, where all stages are just simple platforming and then boss fights where you carry your health into them.
The problem with this game is that it feels too by-the-numbers anyway. Due to the high detail in backgrounds and high processing power usage graphically, levels aren't all too populated with enemies, and those that do pop-up hit you a split-second after you see them. Gotta increase the difficulty somewhere I guess, and if it's not in enemy density, it's in unfair cheap shots. There are many enemies designed like this, but one particularly nasty part is where bombs drop from the heavens at specific points. There is no tell for these, and the only way to dodge them is to literally take a step forward and then run back, and do this over and over, unless you play enough to have the level memorized.
The boss fights are enjoyable for the most part, though poorly designed in a way because of the health allocation. Both you and the boss gets a boss-fight specific amount of health. You get 80k, the bosses start at about 20k and max out at over 100k with the final boss. Since this is the case, the first couple bosses can literally be spammed with attacks and all their hits can be tanked, since you will outpace them in damage easily. Conversely, later bosses, especially the first Joker fight, hit you with tons of attacks constantly which do 4 or 6k damage each, while each attack you make per attack window you get for each attack pattern is less than that, so there is an actual challenge there to avoid hits. I had the impression that the Joker fights in particular where very fair in their attack patterns and you could actually learn them easily, though mastering them without getting hit from time to time appeared tough. Basically, a solid challenge.
For your own attacks, you can collect differently lettered capsules to change your attacking style, though a criss-cross attacking weapon felt much more useful than a simple, frontward one-at-a-time projectile shooting attack, for obvious reasons.
Overall, this felt quite basic and forgettable, though not particularly annoying or frustrating.
No voice acting. Fantastic, albeit very short title screen music. Rest of the track ranges from good to very good as well, with Sunsoft proving that they know how to make use of the NES' sound capabilities. It doesn't sound particularly like Batman but rather like a Sunsoft NES Action game soundtrack, but that'll do for sure.
When it is said that this game might have the best NES graphics, I can't say I disagree when it comes to putting it into the upper echelon. Great graphics, pretty good sprite work and a ton of detail in the background.
You don't ever feel like you're playing a Batman game but rather a simple NES Action game. That's more than fine of course, but it doesn't make for much atmosphere. The point where you feel it the most is in the title screen, when the opening track plays followed by the intro with the slideshow.
CONTENT | 5/10
There are 7 stages and I believe 3 sub-stages per stage, with 5 of these containing a boss fight at the end. As I explained, there are 3 types of levels in this game (platforming, shoot 'em up and boss fights), but it doesn't stand out in any particular way and is done very quickly as well. Don't think there are secrets to find, the enemy variety is low and most boss fights are push-overs due to the health system for them.
The design of the levels is not unusual for early 90's platformers. This game suffers from its graphics, as this pretty much forces the game to stick with fewer enemies on-screen at the same time, which in turn has made the devs add difficulty by making the present enemies unfair in how they appear on screen and damage you a couple frames later. I did like how the game added little shoot 'em up stages to add variety, even if it only happened twice, and I didn't mind the later boss fights, which were more than doable after figuring out the boss patterns.
The most innovative part about this game will be the fact that you get a separate health pool for boss fights. And apart from the great graphics, nothing else makes this game really stand out.
No motivation given to replay this game after having beaten it the first time, not even a high score system to try to beat your previous one.
Worked well at all times.
OVERALL | 54/100
This is your pretty average NES platformer experience. The above-average graphics are really the only difference-maker here, but apart from that, this plays formulaic, and that formula has gotten pretty stale by now.

(This is the 25th game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
I hadn't posted this review on here back when I played it, so I'm adding it now.
Sunsoft released 4 different games under the name Batman in 1990, and this review is for the Sega Genesis version.
The Game Boy version I played previously was rather simple and while it was fun, it didn't feel like Batman. Among other reasons, Batman uses a gun throughout that game, which doesn't suit him all that much.
The Sega Genesis version is much more sophisticated and actually uses gadgets and weapons that you know him for. You fight by punching and throwing batarangs. You can climb up using a grappling hook. You drive the Batmobile in one section. And while it comes together to deliver a solid platformer for its time, regular cheap deaths are to be expected here thanks to sometimes unresponsive, often inconsistent controls. At least that is my experience and if you have experienced it differently, I'd love to know about that.
I'll explain what I mean, but first, let's look at my thoughts on the game's story and storytelling.
The story is mainly told in a scrolling text before the game starts, plus a few lines when the game ends. There is also a scene where you see the Joker next to Vicki Vale while you fight a different boss.
The plot has similarities to the 1989 movie by Tim Burton and the premise is that The Joker and his goons are plotting to take over Gotham City. They've also kidnapped photographer Vicki Vale. Throughout the game, you have to fight Joker's henchmen to get to him and put an end to this unrest.
It's the barest of bones as far as storytelling in game goes and that's fine, just know to not expect anything.
GAMEPLAY | 12/20
You get 3 Lives and 5 Continues and have to try and go through about half a dozen different stages, each concluding with a boss fight. The final stage pre-Joker fight even has you fight all previous bosses in succession, a boss rush basically, and it's the part where I likely would have given up if it weren't for save states.
The first level has Batman walk across the Gotham streets with a bunch of goons standing in his way with either pistols or knives. You can easily punch them, or throw the limited amount of batarangs you have at them. There are icons to collect that give you more batarangs, and others that give you a health or even a whole extra life.
You can duck, jump, somersault and even use a grappling hook to jump onto higher platforms. There are lots of platforming sections over bottomless pits that will test your patience, because that was the part where I started to get frustrated with the controls.
I can't say with full confidence that my emulator did or did not have issues (I'd guess no issues there) but the somersault was very inconsistent and almost felt random at times. In one area where you have to jump on top of small platforms, doing a somersault becomes necessary. Somersaulting requires you to press the jump button twice. For some reason, the second tap sometimes wouldn't trigger and I would end up falling into a pit, which takes a whole life away. Was it my fault? Was it the emulators? Was it the games? All I can say is that I didn't have issues like this with the majority of other games I've played, so I'm gonna go with faulting the game.
While most stages consist of platforming, there are two different stages, one each for the Batmobile and the Batwing. Both offer a nice change of pace, but I found them to be somewhat frustrating. The Batwing part has a few moments where 7 or 8 enemies are on the screen at once and it's almost impossible to find space to move your Batwing into. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that you get 4 health points after you lose your first life and no health items during the entire run. It's the same with the Batmobile part, only there you have these vans that throw bombs and I kind of found it hard to understand where exactly they would drop. Sometimes I would think that I am far enough away from them, only to be hit anyway, and since each hit takes 2 health, dying in these parts is extremely easy unless you play it perfectly.
The boss fights are OK but pretty easy once you know what to do, which you will know pretty fast. The Joker fight especially was ridiculous on Normal difficulty as the game gave me enough batarangs to essentially insta-kill him without getting touched once.
Overall, it's a middle of the pack platformer, which means it's an enjoyable enough game, but it doesn't stand out.
No voice acting. I liked the sound design, my only issue with it was probably that there wasn't enough or pretty much any environmental sound. Would have enhanced the experience that tiny bit more. The soundtrack of this game is great. There is a different track for each stage and all are bangers.
Graphically this fits the mood of a Batman game really well, and the streets of Gotham especially look really good for a game of its age. All in all, you can tell that this is a Batman game, and you don't need to control Batman throughout it to realize that.
It already starts off pretty well in the first stage, where you find yourself walking through the streets of Gotham, which look really good. Driving through them and over a bridge in a high speed chase, climbing up a cathedral and walking through a museum were all moments that provided plenty of atmosphere. I would have loved some environmental sound to really drive some of it home, but even so the package here is well above average graphically.
CONTENT | 7/10
It took me 5 hours to beat it after 3 non-save state attempts and one including save states. It'll probably take closer to 10 hours if you want to try to beat it with only your 5 continues, but considering that the Batwing/Batmobile stages and the final boss rush stage are rather unfair considering they are pretty long and don't offer that many healing items (only 1 each for the Batwing/Batmobile stages), I'd say not all hours would be of high quality. Still, this is a tight package with solid gameplay throughout, minus some of my issues with some platforming segments being frustrating due to unresponsive controls.
I didn't like how they only give you one health item for the entirety of the Batmobile and Batwing sections, they were way too long for that. The final stage also dragged on for far too long and felt like a lazy way to add a few more hours of frustrating gameplay, only for the game to finish off with one of the easier final bosses you'll ever see. I did like how the game attempted to mix up the platforming with the shoot 'em up like Batwing/Batmobile sections, despite my issues with them, I think every platformer should have something like that.
Graphically, this is a step above many other platformers I've played, though this is my first Sega Genesis game, so I can't compare it to its contemporaries. The grappling hook is a nice feature and overall, this game is worlds above the Game Boy version, but it doesn't seem to be innovating in any notable way.
No reason to replay this after beating it apart from the usual reasons, which would be beating your high score and playing it on Hard instead of Normal, if you didn't do so before.
The game worked well at all times.
OVERALL | 60/100
A average (=solid) platformer for its time that actually looks like a Batman game (looking at you, Game Boy version) and has plenty of cool moments involving Batman's actual gear. There is only a setting, no story development apart from the typical good guy beats bad guy moments, so you will only be playing this for its gameplay, which should entertain for a few hours but frustrate for just as many. At least the soundtrack is great throughout.
H. H. W. for VGCE, Issue 31 (Aug 91): "There's an I've-played-something-like-this-before flair to Batman." | This is true for many other games that VGCE gave high grades for. Maybe by 1991 the landscape changed drastically?
Boogie Man for GamePro, Issue 24 (July 91): "Even though you may have done it all before, it's never looked this good." | Between this and the previous review, I'm getting real looking at a glass half-full / half-empty vibes
Matthew A. Firme for GamePlayers, Issue 25 (July 91): Well, it's not a review as much as it is a guide, however they do call Batman the Sega Genesis Game of the Month in this one

(This is the 58th game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
Before there was Wolfenstein 3-D, there was Catacomb 3-D: The Descent. Before that, there was Hovertank 3-D, but if you'd consider Catacomb 3-D a rough prototype, which I do, I don't know what you'd consider Hovertank 3-D to be. Humble beginnings to a genre that would evolve incredibly fast from here is what you'd call it I guess.
Id Software, developers of Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein, the latter of which will debut in 1992, started their work on the FPS genre by releasing the above mentioned games in 1991 using a prototype of the Wolfenstein 3-D engine. They would improve upon their framework in incredible pace, which you will be able to immediately notice just by comparing Hovertank (April 91), Catacomb (November 91), Wolfenstein (May, 92) and Doom (December 93).
Today's review focuses on the second of those 4 games, which is the third entry in the Catacomb series and the first in first person perspective. The game would be followed by the Catacomb Adventure Series that included three games. These weren't developed by id Software but rather internally by Softdisk, and apart from small improvements and additions, they offer pretty much the same gameplay, so I won't play and review them as part of this challenge.
But here is my review for Catacomb 3-D: The Descent. It will be more negative than I actually am about the game, it's just that from a critical standpoint it's not that good. From a video game historian's perspective, one will definitely appreciate the game for what it is and what it led to.
Don't be fooled by the FPS categorization. You don't shoot bullets. You use your hand to shoot magic bolts in a game that has a dark fantasy setting.
You play a high wizard and need to rescue your friend, who is held captive by the evil lich Nemesis. There are 20 levels, some of which have scrolls in them that give you tips on how to progress. At the end of the game, you can just walk up to your buddy and rescue him without even defeating the Nemesis.
So yeah, no story, let's move on.
GAMEPLAY | 10/20
You likely know what the boomer shooter genre looks like. You move through 20 flat levels that are built in a more and more of a intricate maze-like fashion, with areas divided by walls and doors. The controls are set up so that you can move by pressing the keys on your keyboard while shooting with either the left mouse button or the ALT key. Although you can also use the mouse to help, turning is done very slowly in both cases.
You walk through all areas of a level to find keys that open locked doors, which hide portals. Some levels later on have more portals that mostly are there to confuse you and act as puzzles (read: filler). While looking for the keys, enemies - of which there are a grand total of 5 - will appear and will require getting disposed of. On easy, the first enemy, trolls, require 3 hits to die. The second enemy, orcs, require more like 10-15. Then there are mages, bats and red demon-type creatures, which require up to 50 hits. Only mages shoot bolts back, the rest just walk up to you and hit you, so the only real difference here is how many shots it takes to kill them, which should tell you how rudimentary the design is here.
Your bolts have no ammo and can be shot non-stop. That's also a requirement because a big part of progress here is to shoot at every single part of a wall, as some of them can be destroyed and hide key items, like, keys... So once you kill all enemies and still haven't naturally found the key to progress, you start a session of non stop shooting, killing your index finger in the process. It's not that bad actually, the simplicity of this task is definitely much better than having to play poorly controllable platformer game, by far.
You also can shoot nukes and rapid-fire bolts, and will find a large amount of healing items everywhere. The healing system is likely the same as in Wolfenstein 3D, but instead of having 100% health, your health is displayed with an image of your characters head. As he takes damage, he gradually loses the skin on his face and reveals more and more of his skull. I thought that was a nice touch.
Playing this will undoubtedly help in putting into perspective how quickly the genre is set to evolve. I thought it was interesting to see where the boomer shooter subgenre was about to find its foothold, but wasn't quite there yet.
No voice acting. The sound design is as basic as the entire game, you know, apart from the fact of starting a new genre, but basic nonetheless. It includes some unpleasant noises, such as scraping against a wall, which was probably twice as annoying because you weren't intended to be stuck there in the first place. The soundtrack literally consists of one song, one that would a month later be used for a section in Commander Keen 4, so hearing that for 2 hours straight was very pleasant, as you can imagine.
It's difficult to give this game a fair rating because, on the one hand, it is extremely brief and simplistic in design, with the only improvements over Hovertank being that the few enemies actually received some design attention and the walls featured textures rather than being painted a single color.
On the other hand, this graphics engine was quite revolutionary due to its unprecedented nature. Due to the nauseating movement structure of this game combined with the very little detail present here, I'll rate this lower than I probably will Wolfenstein 3D, but credit where it's due. Which it probably is with Hovertank.
The only immersion comes from the fact that this plays in the first person view that players weren't accustomed to yet. There is barely any story or world-building here to really get immersed in anything else.
CONTENT | 4/10
20 levels that all have you do the same thing, just with a little bit more complexity each time. The simplicity of the shooting did feel fun when it flowed relatively well to be honest, and I'm likely going to enjoy the more sophisticated Wolfenstein and Doom quite a lot based on my experience here, but obviously this is very much lacking in depth and variety.
You go through levels that become more and more complex as you go deeper and deeper into the 'dungeon'. Unfortunately, late game it felt like filler and unnecessary complexity rather than fun puzzles to tease your brain over. Making enemies bulletspongy enemies late-game is understandable, because how else are they going to differentiate them in these early times, but it's not good regardless, and the fact that you can simply walk past the final boss to find your friend and win the game is an odd, yet hilarious oversight.
Similarly to the graphics section, how do you rate this fairly? By saying that Hovertank did it first and Catacomb didn't improve on it in a notable way to earn a high rating? I suppose. That doesn't make the fact that this is very innovative and a great thing that the dev team accomplished, and was about to accomplish from here on out.
No replayability, though there are three difficulty levels. I can't imagine wanting to up the difficulty considering how bulletspongy enemies get in the later levels.
Crashed once when I was strafing a bit too much using ALT. Otherwise, works well.
OVERALL | 42/100
Hey, not the worst score in the world. Catacomb 3-D is a game I appreciate for showing what's possible, and for its time in history. As a game, its simplicity offered me with a fun, mindless first hour, but as a game from a critical standpoint, it's not good. If you want to go into id Software games, I'd recommend starting with Wolfenstein, as you don't miss out on anything significant with Catacomb that won't be present in Wolfenstein.

(This is the 57th game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
The Game of the Year, ladies and gentlemen. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, initially released on November 21, 1991 in Japan for the SNES, developed and published by Nintendo, is a fantastic action-adventure and is the Zelda game that has set the framework for the series in so many ways from here on out, and that it has done such a great job with that concept here already deserves a lot of praise (of which it got a lot I hear).
I can talk on and on about the positives, but I'll go over everything in detail in my review. Though I do want to add that I am surprised that Nintendo, after releasing a Game Boy Zelda game in 1993, didn't release another home console game in the series all the way until 1998. That's seven years from now. Of course, releases were almost an annual thing from then on for about a decade, but I am still surprised about this little fact. At release, this game received a 39/40 Famitsu score, the first game to ever get a score so high according to Wikipedia's article on the game, and was the best-selling game in 1991, so it's not like Nintendo wasn't aware of its popularity. Though the gap between BOTW and TOTK was even larger, so it's not any different today. Anyway, here is the review.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past takes a massive leap in narrative in comparison to Zelda I and II. Unlike all the other improvements the game presented with the jump to the SNES, the narrative jump did not have to be this grand. In hindsight, it's what this gaves this game that little something that many games lack in atmosphere and in what players would be able to draw back on years after finishing the game.
While Zelda II simply had a scrolling text to explain the set-up and then have you go side to side until you get the "you won" text, ALTTP goes to great detail (for its time) explaining the mythology of its world.
The setting is Hyrule, which, according to Hylian scrolls, many moons ago was created by mythical gods of Power, Wisdom and Courage. It is said that after finishing their work, they left a symbol of their strength hidden somewhere in Hyrule, a golden triangle known as the Triforce. The Triforce myth, an ancient epic, tells that this Triforce, an inanimate object, may grant the wish of the person who finds it. Its hiding place is the Golden Land, and over time, more and more people, fueled by greed, looked to find it, killing each other in the progress.
One day, by accident more than anything, a gang of thieves led by Ganondorf Dragmire, or Ganon, found the gate to the Golden Land. Ganon quickly vanquished his followers to have the Triforce's powers for himself. It is explained that the Triforce can not judge between evil and good and grants every wish, so while Ganon's exact wish is not known, it did not take long for evil power to flow from the Golden Land and for disasters to beset Hyrule.
This led the lord of Hyrule to sent out the Seven Wise Men and the Knights of Hyrule to seal the entrance to the Golden Land. A war raged between them and Ganon's evil army. As the Knights struggled to find off the army, they did give the Seven Wise Men the required time to magically seal Ganon in the Golden Land. In the midst of this, the people of Hyrule, suspecting that Ganon's power stemmed from the Triforce, created a mighty weapon resistant to magic which could repulse powers granted by even the Triforce. This weapon is called the Master Sword. It is so powerful that only one of pure heart can wield it.
A long time later, you, Link, are woken up by a person who calls herself Zelda. She needs your help. The reason for her pleas? Ganon, while still sealed in the 'Dark World' (the current name for the Golden Land), wants to take over the 'Light World' (Hyrule) as well. To break the seal, he needs the life force of the seven wise men. He uses a wizard, Agahnim, as his pawn to do this, who captures the seven wise men one by one. You need to save them and kill Ganon once and for all.
And that's the back-story. Quite a detailed one, huh? This information can mostly be found in the manual for the game, but each of the seven wise men you are supposed to capture, and Zelda herself especially, tell you these stories in-game as you interact with them, leaving you with no blanks even if you didn't touch the manual.
With how limited the storytelling used to be during this time, I didn't find any of the main plot points for this game to be terribly sophisticated. But what this game did really well was to go in-depth regarding these plot points. To create plot points for all these important parts of the story at all. This is an action-adventure game with lots of puzzles of all varieties, and getting stuck and exploring to find a way forward is what you are meant to do all the time. So having an in-depth narrative like this compared to the majority of games from this time is actually pretty damn useful in motivating the player to keep going.
Out of these plot points, there is a lot to like, but I want to point out the description of the Master Sword in particular, as personally I am a big fan of weapons that can only be wielded by good-hearted people, I think that's a great sort-of requirement to set for all those young people who played this back in the day. For that reason I think when you eventually get the Master Sword, there could have been a bigger deal made of it, but maybe that's something for a later game in the series.
All in all, in terms of the big picture, the plot here is nothing special. It's a much more sophisticated telling of more or less the same story most games of the time used, but with slightly more depth to it and 'gamified' so the devs could use it as a framework for the game they were about to built. The seven wise men for example aren't this mysterious ancient group, they act as seven dungeons that you are meant to explore and beat in the game. It could have just easily been three or four, but the game would have not been as long this way. The Light and Dark worlds are simply two overworlds that you can explore, and instead of having to design two very distinct ones in shape, the same overworld style was used and just made darker and with a few changes to the traversal were made. So if you want to be cynical, yes, the game design shaped the narrative, but I don't think that's a bad thing for a game, especially of its time, and I appreciate the devs for putting in the effort to have the story not just be an afterthought to the gameplay but have it be integrated in everything you do like this.
GAMEPLAY | 16/20
This game is an action-adventure and introduces more or less the core design that the majority of the follow-ups would stick to in the Zelda series. It plays from top-down 2D perspective. You control Link and traverse an overworld filled with many secrets, enemies and dungeons. The main gameplay consists of the following loop: You need to enter a specific dungeon. The dungeons take pretty long, have multiple floors and consist of many different puzzles the player needs to solve in order to progress to the boss. During each dungeon, you find a special item, like a Fire-Rod, an Ice-Rod, a boomerang, a staff of invincibility, a hook shot, a magic hammer and more. These not only help you beat the dungeon, but once you do, you return to the overworld and a ton of optional (and mandatory, you just don't know it yet) sections of the overworld now open for you to be explored. The magic hammer for example allows you to pound stakes and obstacles into the ground which had blocked off certain areas before.
During exploration, through which there is a LOT to find, you can open up holes to secret rooms, you can find NPCs who give you side quests, you can find environmental puzzles and hints (a shield says that you should not throw something into a circle of stones, I wonder what happens if you do it anyway), you can stumble upon pieces of a heart (4 of which give you one additional hitpoint) and you find required items to potentially open up other dungeons, like a certain medaillon for example.
There are also many different caves and buildings to go to, as these often offer you optional, but incredibly useful upgrades to your gear. Help a gnome find his way to his partner and you are rewarded with an upgrade to your sword. Find a fountain, throw rupees in and you can increase the amount of bombs/arrows you can carry. You can give certain items you find to certain NPCs, who reward you with different items. "I wonder who would have any use for this mushroom?".
There is quite a lot to do here, and I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't stuck multiple times. Taking a break of more than a week in this game means you're almost guaranteed to start over or use a guide, because a lot of information that you absolutely are required to have comes from one-time dialogue with NPCs often enough. If you don't pay attention or take a break and forget this information, you're going to be looking around for that one elusive item for a while. The game doesn't hold your hand one bit, and that's something each of you will have your own opinion about. Personally, I appreciated this because for the majority of this game, the game design matched this need for exploration by giving you multiple bread crumbs for almost everything you need to figure out. I personally missed some, for sure, and therefore had to make use of a guide a couple times, but if you enjoy the exploration part of this game a lot (and don't want to save some off those minutes to be able to progress through a challenge quicker), I'm sure you can manage to beat it without a guide.
That said, I had two issues here, which I explain more closely in the Level Design part of this review. First, is that the overworld traversal is not perfect and is too reliant on Save & Exit's to not slow the pace down considerably, and the second is that some solutions are not very intuitive. Here is a room which a bunch of tiles. You have to move one tile in a specific direction to make a chest appear. Here are 20 statues with their tongues showing. None do anything after you hit them, pull them and dash into them. Here another dozen. They don't do anything. Here are another 4. One of these opens the door you need to progress. When these are all in the same dungeon and you're stuck, and pretty much anything can trigger anything at times, it can definitely become a frustrating excercise of trial and error.
But these issues don't overshadow the excellent gameplay experience that is on offer here.
The combat is pretty straightforward. You point in one of four directions and can slash forward with your sword. Holding the attack button also produces a 360° attack. You gain a dashing ability pretty early on, which damages the majority of enemies if you dash into them. Many items you find later on also can be used for attacking purposes, so it's rare that you only rely on your sword for too long. Apart from bombs and arrows which you can constantly re-fill, you get a boomerang, fire- and ice rods, three medaillons that produce special attacks and more, some of which drain your 'magic meter', as they'd otherwise be too overpowered. Different enemies have different susceptibilities. Some can only be killed with fire, some need to take an arrow to their eye and late-game skeletons don't fully die unless you kill them with a bomb.
My main gripe is that since you can only slash forward, hitting the target can sometimes be an issue, though not too often to make it annoying. For example, some enemies have a shield or other forms of frontal protection. The shield may be on the right hand of the enemy, which means you need to place yourself further down to hit their left side, which exposes you to a hit for half a second. Then there are enemies that start producing shock waves at random times, and there is no warning for it, so way too often, you'd swing and in those couple frames between swing and hit, the shockwaves can activate and cause rather significant damage to you. Also, there are many enemies that cause knock-back. Since dungeons often have holes that you can fall into, hitting enemies and falling into them can be annoying, but avoiding the fight usually solves that issue. Finally, this is another one of those games where you need to regularly open up your inventory to change weapons, which is a common issue with games that use multiple items like this. It's not too bad but noticeable when you fight particular bosses, especially Ganon at the end.
In terms of controls, this game plays and controls pretty fluently. You want to do something, and Link does it. The only instance where I felt that the controls were truly unfair were on tight platforms where you could fall off to the sides. For some reason, walking and turning had this slippery feel to it, and instead of making a sharp right or left, Link would need a few steps to gain momentum to that side, which often leads to him falling down. On ice-y platforms I understand, but on regular platforms this was odd.
Overall though, this game offers great gameplay and exploration. It proves why it's so popular, as it is several times more polished than other action-adventures of this time.
No voice acting. And I'm glad, at least for the SNES version, because the constant screaming of Link in the GBA version I definitely couldn't have survived for 15+ hours.
The sound design and soundtrack are both excellent here. There are some sound effects, like the discovery of a secret door, that is so iconic that even I, someone who didn't really play any Zelda games before, instantly was able to notice it. In general, there are sound effects for pretty much every action and they all sound clean, which is not something that was to be expected from games on this level at the time. The soundtrack is great for the epic journey that this is supposed to be, with many epic tracks fitting the scneario. I would have wished for more tracks to use during dungeons to make them more distinct on an auditory level, but I also would understand those who say that listening to fewer tracks increases the 'bond' with them on a nostalgic level. Many games today opt for fewer tracks as well, so I wouldn't call it a negative.
The graphical jump here from Zelda II to ALTTP is obviously absurd, but apart from simple image quality and resolution, the art design here also stands out. Bright colors, beautiful 16-bit graphics, excellent sprite work, diverse environments and very solid special effects. Apart from just the eye-candy perspective, the game incorporates a lot of environmental puzzles to its exploration, and the tells from the environmental design are excellent as well. Here is tiny half-circle that indicates a platform, here is a small crack in the wall that is not noticeable until closer inspection, but very noticeable thereafter, indicating a secret area.
You explore all types of different areas in the game, from distinct dungeons and, to be overworld specific, forests, deserts, mountains, swamps, castles and more, and you have few, if any games that look quite like this on such a scale at the time.
You truly feel like a hero embarking on an epic journey in this one. The graphics and soundtrack set a great stage for your travels, and there is a lot of attention to detail in the world-building that one can only appreciate. A cute thing for example was when I passed the controller to my six year old brother for a while. He started swinging his sword at a bird in the Dark World that just would not die, and to our amazement, after a few dozen hits, dozens of the same bird started flooding the screen and attacking us. Small details that most players won't experieence are always fun to find. One additional thing I enjoyed is that there is actual in-game meaning to the items you find. You don't find a generic book, you find the Book of Mudora, which can translate inscriptions. You find Staffs of Somaria and Byrna, you find three magic medaillons like the Bombos, which only the hero bearing the master sword can retrieve. It's really basic at this point of course, but it does add to the immersion.
CONTENT | 10/10
Few games are so chock-full of stuff to find while exploring. The great part is that the majority of the overworld does have stuff to find. The overworld is seperated through screens, and I wouldn't be surprised if there is something useful or interesting on each screen.
You have specific dungeons to go to, which are marked on your map. That's all that is marked though. You need to find your way there on your own and sometimes, you need to find specific items that unlock your entry to the dungeons themselves. This is all paced really well.
The overworld is differentiated in two versions, the Light World and the Dark World. These are basically the same overworld, but with different looking environments, different obstacles and more enemies on the Dark World part. For example, in the Light World, there is a Kakariko Village to the west, and in the Dark World, the same area is called Village of Outcasts. You can switch between these worlds in two different ways. You can either use a 'Magic Mirror' to switch from Dark to Light, or, since you can't switch back this way, you need to find a warp portal to switch from Light to Dark.
All in all, the game is really well designed. My only issue here is how annoying traversal can be at times. Unless you want to run across the map for the umpteenth time, you have to rely on 'Save & Quit', which allows you to select a location to spawn in (when in the Light World) once you enter back into the game, or which places you at a specific spot near the middle of the overworld (when in the Dark World). Later, the flute item allows you to fast travel to specific locations in the Light World. But this is a minor issue overall and a subjective thing for sure, though more interconnectivity that opens up shortcuts later on would have been amazing.
One additional point I want to make is that some items are very hard to find or making progress can be tough to figure out at times. And while my complaint is not that part, it's that crucial information is often given once and as an aside, so not paying attention once or simply forgetting about something hours after getting the information means you can be stuck for a while. I don't think a journal that notes the most important stuff would have been the worst thing in the world.
Overall, the game balances it game quite well though. You'll get a great dose of exploring, of making your way through large dungeons, of battling and do so in a very good pace for the majority of it.
Inner-series, the jump from Zelda II to ALTTP is incredible, but even generally, there was no game quite like this at the time, or at least none that managed to put it together quite as well in an action-adventure setting. There is greated attention given to storytelling and world-building, the soundtrack is great, the graphics are cream of the crop, the dungeons are uniquely designed and offer a fun challenge and exploration is incredibly rewarding.
There are more than a few side quests you can still find on subsequent playthroughs, as well as heart pieces. Even improving your sword or upgrading your bomb and arrow space are completely optional parts that are easy to miss, so there will be plenty to discover. The story is linear however and most special items you can find are mandatory.
The game worked well at all times.
OVERALL | 86/100
You want to know what the best game of 1991 is? You've probably just read the review for it. Few games during this time allowed for this much exploration and managed to for the majority of the game to balance the joy of discovery with the potential frustrations of being stuck this well by offering breadcrumbs of info in its NPC dialogue and environments that attentive players take to their advantage to continuously make progress. The dungeons are distinct, large and filled with environmental puzzles and combat challenges to overcome. The soundtrack is very good, the graphics great in comparison to its contemporaries and while the overworld design does get somewhat tedious from time to time, you're going to get a very good and prototypical Zelda experience here. If you like Zelda games and you didn't play this, I don't know what you're doing. If you're unsure, future releases will likely offer plenty of QoL improvements that will make them more newcomer friendly, but even if you start your Zelda journey somewhere else, don't forget about A Link To The Past.

In Tacoma you play as Amy Ferrier and have the task of retrieving data and the wetware of an AI, ODIN. from an abandoned station, Tacoma, which was struck by a meteor a few days prior. The crew was rescued, so as you collect the data, which happens automatically, you are free to explore the many different rooms in the station, where you can re-watch interactions between the crew members during and immediately after the meteor strike from a few days ago. Doing this, you find out about each member's role, ambitions, backgrounds and relationships between each other.
As mentioned, the devs are behind Gone Home as well. These games are very similar in that there isn't any threat, you can basically just explore a location and piece together the story and the events that unfolded and so, they place a heavy burden on narrative, world building and atmosphere.
It's possible that you can beat the game without really "completing" the story or finding out every truth but I wouldn't recommend it, because the story is actually pretty interesting (way more than Gone Home in my opinion). Beware that this is a walking simulator, so there isn't much in terms of gameplay. You just walk around, read some notes, listen to dialogue, do a few very easy puzzles and interact with a couple other things and that's it. All the value here is in the story and the characters, so your prior experiences with walking sims should tell you, if this game is for you.
That said, that value is quite high, as the game places you in a narrative that is quite thoughtprovoking when it comes to our current dabbles and battles with AI and how it might look like in the future where AI is more embedded into our everyday lives. I don't want to say too much, because as I said, the narrative is very important in carrying your experience, but this is a game that, while it doesn't take that story theme to an unexplored area, does create an interesting and engaging plot where the player feels actively involved thanks to the rewinding / fast-forwarding mechanic that the player needs to use to gather clues on what happened on this station.
Overall, I can recommend it and it's definitely up there as one of the more enjoyable walking sims I've played. This comes from someone who isn't necessarily a big fan of the genre, but whatever that genre needs to do to make up for its lack of gameplay, this game has accomplished.

(This is the 56th game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
The two "The Amazing Spider-Man" games from 1990 sucked. That's the only way to put it when I've ranked them worst and 5th worst out of the 55 games I played for this challenge. So when I heard that today's game, Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin, developed by Technopop and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis in 1991, not only was single-handedly responsible for convincing Marvel not to revoke the Marvel licensing deal with Sega, but also was sold to over 2/3 of Sega Genesis owners at the time, I figured that this game would fare much better.
It did fare better. It's like the elite version of the 1990 Spider-Man games. Unfortunately, those games were crap. And the elite version of crap is simply 'elite crap'. That said, here is my review for the Sega Genesis version from 1991.
In terms of its storytelling, this game resembles the 1990's Game Boy version in that you get some dialogue between Spider-Man and his enemies between stages, which is a good choice because Spider-Man's got a personality that can add some charm to the game when used. Unlike that game though, you don't have a conversation with an enemy before you fight them, but rather after you do.
You see, Wilson Fisk - The Kingpin - gets on TV and tells the citizens of New York City that Spider-Man planted a bomb that will explode within 24 hours. The Kingpin offers $10,000 to the person who captures him. $10,000? That's it. Oh wait, the manual calls it $500,000. That makes more sense.
The Kingpin receives the support of Dr. Octopus, the Lizard, Electro, the Sandman and more. Each of them he gives a key, all of which Spider-Man has to collect to disarm the bomb.
I am reviewing the Sega Genesis version as I said, but if you do want to play this game, play the Sega CD version if you can. It comes with fully voice acted cutscenes, which are surprisingly well-done considering its 1991 we're talking about. Peter Parker comes across as if he's in his mid-40's though, just as an fyi.
This is a side-scrolling platformer, the likes of which you've seen plenty of before. The difference here? You're Spider-Man! This comes with all the Spider-Man perks, such as using your webs to glide through the screen. Shooting webs. Crawling around like a Spider to fit in tight spaces, like a vent. Sticking to walls. And yeah, that's all.
I give credit to this game for actually giving you a proper web-slinging mechanic where you can actually properly glide through the screen in a somewhat fluid motion. I can't really say anything negative about this in particular.
But everything else about the controls is just a mess. Often, you need to climb up, and to do so, you latch onto walls by holding the jump button in mid-air. Then you walk up and let go of the jump button whilst pointing up in order to jump over whatever it is that you're holding, as you can't just crawl over, say, a crate. You can crawl to the top of the side of the crate and then need to jump over it. Meh, but whatever. But then the jump over the crate is just so unresponsive and often doesn't even end up in a jump that I've damn near lost my mind. The worst thing was when an enemy was on top of such a crate. The warehouse enemies of the first level for example just point forward and relentlessly shoot every second. Shot, shot, shot. Since you're roleplaying as incompetent Spider-Man, you can't hit them from below or diagonally upwards like in Super Castlevania IV, no, you have to jump up and get on their level to hit them. But in doing so, you are always exposed to those bullets and get hit by them seemingly every single time. I'd lose half of my health bar just trying to stand up on a goddamn platform. Even worse is when they shoot you and you fall dozens of feet downwards because the bullet makes you fly backwards a couple feet.
If you get near these same enemies, they'll whip out a knife and stab towards you. Even if you manage to get behind them during this swing, and even though the knife doesn't actually connect with your body, you still take damage. What?
Then there is this annoying feature that I don't like in any game that does it, which is that the game expects you to fall down without even seeing what's down there. So often enough, you fall on top of a rat or a dog without even being able to see it and taking damage. Then you need to kick the rats to kill them, but those kicks need to be perfectly timed or you miss it by a split-second and the rat runs through it to hit you.
I think that's the rant over with. It's just a terrible control scheme that still somehow is 100 times better than what the 1990 games produced. Doesn't make it good though, just less crap.
To finally give you a bit of a better idea on how this game works, you go through 5 or 6 stages overall and defeat a boss at the end. Those give you their keys and you need those to defeat the Kingpin at the end and disarm the bomb. The bosses aren't overly difficult, I've managed to beat two pretty easily before giving up because of how frustrating the rest of the level is.
No voice acting. This was not a pleasant auditory experience. The sound design and even some of the tracks had that metallic harsh sound to it that I feel like was rather common with the Genesis based on the Genesis games I've played, and even if it wasn't present in the music, it still didn't sound any good. The most pleasant and cheery track is ironically the 5 second tune that plays when you die. The sound effects for pretty much every action just doesn't sound good. The wind-like sound that plays whenever you jump got especially annoying really quickly since you need to constantly jump in order to climb walls, but the sounds of shots, of your own attacks, of rats, the forklift and of damage, among other things, was just unpleasant through and through.
This is no indictment of the Sega CD version, which by all indications sounds really, really good, but again, is not reviewed here.
I had to look twice at times to figure out whether I was playing a game on a 16-bit console or not. The levels are designed rather simply. You are in a sewer, so here is a sewer that looks pretty much the same everywhere. You are in a warehouse, so here are some crates and barrels in the background. You are outside so here are some same looking bland gray buildings, and with some windows flashing in a golden color. Apart from some of the color use here and certain effects like Sandman's arm extending or him losing shape and then gaining it back again, the effort here just seems to be lazy.
This is also another Spider-Man game where I'm not too happy with the design of Spider-Man. Once again he is hunched forward when he is supposed to just stand tall. The enemies manage to have proper posture, so why is Spider-Man always hunching forward in these games? And why is there red coloring beyond the black outline of his body? It's like a child drawing over the lines.
The use of actual dialogue and cut-scenes help add some charm and to actually give you the sense that you're playing a Spider-Man game. Some levels are very tight in that Spider-Man can't really do a lot other than crawl around and some levels are out in the open where web-slinging shouldn't even be possible, and overall mostof the levels don't really have a Spider-Man feel to it.
CONTENT | 4/10
As you can tell by now, I don't find the content to be of particularly high quality. What you get with this game is 5 or 6 different stages with boss fights at the end of each that all do have their own sets of different challenges and therefore feel distinctive. There is also a little mini-game where you need to take pictures of as many enemies as possible, which at the end of each level gets you paid by the Daily Bugle, which basically means that your web fluid replenishes based on how many dollars you made. Other than this, there isn't much here and the length of the game is mainly stretched by how awful this controls.
Pretty average stuff, you go through levels that don't offer unique environmental challenges and are rather bland to defeat a final boss at the end of each. It's not different from most of the other platformers / Action games of this time.
Bonus points for adding a somewhat fluid web-slinging mechanic to a Spider-Man game, but other than that this is just a below-average 2D action game.
No reason to replay this, after beating it.
The game worked well at all times.
OVERALL | 39/100
3/3 as far as terrible Spider-Man games are concerned for this challenge. This one ranks best out of all three, which you'd expect considering this released for the Sega Genesis and sold really well according to one of the developers, but the Sega Genesis version truly sucks. The worst offender would be the controls, though this is not a treat from the audio-visual end either. If you want to play this game, check out the Sega CD version, which at least adds some cut-scenes and has much, much, much better sound.

(This is the 55th game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
We found ourselves our first 1991 Game of the Year contender, ladies and gentlemen. Super Castlevania IV, an iconic platformer by Konami that originally released in Japan on October 31, 1991, is pretty much as good as advertised. And that says a lot considering that it was advertised as "one of the greatest games of all time". In many ways, from atmosphere to soundtrack to the simplicity of its gameplay loop, the game is timeless. In others, such as graphics, controls and features, it obviously lags behind more recent video games, but that's not a comparison we make here of course. For its time, Super Castlevania IV ranks high in those categories as well however.
Here is my in-depth review for the game. For the challenge, we'll be returning to the Castlevania series in October 1993 with Castlevania: Rondo of Blood.
If you're a big fan of video games, you will know about Castlevania and the story set-up for its games, at least for most of them. There is a clan of vampire hunters called the Belmont family, who are tasked with defeating the evil Dracula, who resurrects himself every 100 years, when the "forces of the Good mysteriously become weak".
Super Castlevania IV doesn't do things differently, in very large part because this game is actually a remake of Castlevania for the NES from 1986. Or at least kind of it is.
The Japanese version, called Akumajō Dracula (the Japanese name for the Castlevania series), shows both in its name and in its story set-up that this is a remake of the first Castlevania. Simon Belmont, the main character for this game, is described as the young heir to the Belmont clan and prepares himself for its first adventure.
In the USA version, it is said that it is "time once again for Simon Belmont to take up his whip...", indicating that there was a different time when Simon Belmont had been active, which would be Castlevania II. See, Konami USA didn't actually factor in that this would be a remake, I suppose hence the name Super Castlevania IV (IV!), so it was actually considered a sequel all the way until 2005, when Konami released an "Xtreme desktop app" with the canon timeline, which didn't include Super Castlevania IV at all (as it is in essence a retelling of the first Castlevania, which IS included in the timeline).
With that out of the way, what IS the story here? You play Simon Belmont, as explained, who must defeat the evil Count Dracula in 1691 Transylvania. Equipped with a holy whip called 'Vampire Killer', which makes him the heir to the Belmont clan, Simon Belmont makes his way to Dracula's castle.
That's pretty much it. As per usual, story has no big considerations for these early 90 platformers, but there is enough here to set a dark, gothic atmosphere that will be palpable throughout your time with the game. For some additional lore, the manual states that "Simon has found an ancient tome left to him by his ancestors revealing the secret of the whip. In it, he learns that the whip can snap in eight directions." Some tiny little lore to explain a new gameplay mechanic is the kind of attention to detail I like to see, even if the game otherwise doesn't have a lot to offer in terms of storytelling.
GAMEPLAY | 16/20
This game is a platformer of the best kind. You know, I have my typical issues with platformers that are almost ubiquitous in the early 90s. Whether it's unfair hit boxes, long-distance jumps that you will die due to unless you can time them perfectly, too many enemies and obstacles on-screen at the same time, unresponsive controls, no ability to jump and hit, not being able to jump and redirect yourself, only having the ability to hit straight, no crouch-and-move function, ridiculously overpowered bosses and many many more things I often find that make these old-school platformers incredibly frustrating.
But Super Castlevania IV manages to elegantly incorporate so many QoL-improvements and the devs seem to have figured out how they can find a great balance of fun and challenging, even if it's not perfect at all times.
Simon Belmont is equipped with a whip. As per usual, you can use it to hit enemies and candles, the latter of which are almost everywhere and drop items. These items are food items, which give you health, heart items, which give you ammunition for special weapons (ok..) and the special weapons themselves (boomerang (goes across screen, comes back) axe (flies in an arc), fire bomb (burns anything in path), dagger (flies straight) and watch (stops most enemies and their attaks for a few seconds)). Next to these, you can also pick up special items that destroy all enemies on screen, grant you invincibility for a couple seconds (called 'invisibility' in the manual, hah), that allow you to shoot twice per ammunition and that increase the power of your weapons. So a nice variety here.
The whip itself has gained new functions in this game, and boy are they useful. First, the whip can be whipped in eight (!) directions now. So up, down, left, right and then in each direction diagonally as well. Second, the whip can be used at rings, which allows you to latch onto them and leap into the air like you're Spider-Man. Third, you can also hold the attack button, which allows you to swing the whip around in a sort of limb state, which is funny and kind of unnecessary, but I appreciated it existing for sure.
What this game really does well, and is what I opened with here, is to keep the cheap deaths to a minimum. Your own hit-box is reduced, so projectiles that graze your hair don't damage you. The enemy hit-boxes are extended, and you can even hit them from below through the blocks that they're standing on. Enemies that would take a lot more hits in previous versions take fewer this time. Jumps on distant blocks are successful, even if one of Simon's legs barely touches the platform. The majority of enemies are easy enough to hit and avoid, and not bouncy and very quick like in previous games. The fact that you can whip in 8 directions makes hitting enemies above and below you so much easier, especially when you're on stairs. Enemies attack slower, and the levels are designed much better in a way that you don't have to worry about fighting multiple enemies AND having to avoid environmental obstacles at the same time.
None of the points above make this game a cake walk. They just make it a lot more fair and a lot more fun without all the hours of frustration that don't really need to be there. Are there still frustrating parts? Sure. When you enter a new screen and enemies jump on top of you immediately, that kind of sucks. When you jump and fall out of the map instead of on the stairs that are right below your feet, that's still annoying. Spikes one-hitting you is kind of dumb.
But for the majority of the game, you actually feel like you can control the action and do so naturally, without having to adjust to the idiosyncracies of a game's particular control scheme.
For some, most boss fights might be very easy, and to me, from what I've seen, I'd place them between Castlevania 1 and 2 in terms of difficulty, though closer to 2. What this game does a lot better than 2 though is that boss fights are actually mostly cleverly designed, or at least each battle has its distinctive challenges it asks the player to overcome. Some bosses you CAN simply brute-force your way through by mashing the attack button, and those definitely could have been improved upon, and the final boss fight does have some annoying parts in particular, but I'd say the boss fights were enjoyable for the most part.
Heck, the whole game was enjoyable for the majority of it. If you're looking for a retro platformer, you'd be remiss to not check out Super Castlevania IV.
No voice acting. It makes use of the sound engine of the SNES to create a satisfying group of sound effects, but where this game really shines in the aural category is with its soundtrack. Man is it fantastic and does it set the tone. The opening alone sounds so beautifully eerie and mysterious that it sets you off on the right foot before you even press START. The exact same can be said for the Prologue track and then some. That one got me bopping my head. The 'Stage 1 Theme of Simon Belmont' I can only imagine being iconic, but I loved listening to themes like 'Bloody Tears' and 'Beginning', which move the soundtrack from eerie to downright epic. Bloody Tears is originally from Castlevania II and I'd argue it sounds even more epic on there, but I'm glad it got re-used and re-mixed, so I could hear it here for the first time. It's literally one of my favorite video game tracks of all time now, it's like it's straight out of a symphony.
'Beginning' is from Castlevania III, as the NES trilogy's tracks were re-used in part here as you can tell, especially in the later levels.
And you know what else is amazing? When you are in the final stage of the lengthy final boss battle against Dracula and his two strongest goons, when both goons are defeated and Dracula is on his last few health bars, what music kicks in? Simon's theme. Not only is that a badass track to begin with, but the implications of using it just adds to the moment so much, as Simon knows he got Dracula, Dracula knows Simon's got him and now it's on the player to beat Dracula's ass one final time. Beautiful.
The SNES offers a big jump graphically, and this game makes use of it. Each level looks unique, with a lot of attention to detail in the design of the backgrounds and environments. There are some genuinely unique levels to explore here in terms of technical composition as well, like the rotating level that is powered thanks tothe Mode 7 graphics mode or the stage where you need to hang on to a ring with your whip while the screen itself is rotating. There is also the chandelier level with rotating chandeliers that you need to jump on, but oddly, the background for that level is simply black like it was more common to see in the NES days. These levels are pretty rare and don't really last that long and don't provide a big challenge, but it's still nice to see how creative the devs can get with this technology.
There hasn't been nearly as much work put into sprites and animations I felt like, which both end up feeling and looking like NES models a lot, but Simon himself has gotten some detail added to his sprite when it comes to the armor he is wearing, his hair and the definition in his arm and leg muscles.
Tremendously atmospheric. The soundtrack and story set-up already put you in the right mood for this one, but thanks to the power of the SNES, there is a lot more attention to detail in the graphical presentation, along with the Mode 7 feature that I just mentioned which allows some levels to come alive more. Now about those cooked meals that are hidden in the walls ...
CONTENT | 8/10
There are 9 numbered and two lettered levels, so a total of 11 stages. A full playthrough for someone who doesn't die once takes a bit more than an hour. For me, it took about 6-7 to get to the final stage, but I couldn't defeat the final boss gauntlet without using save states. These stages are varied in looks, sometimes even in design (keywords, again, Mode 7) but there is no progression system or any special hidden rooms or unique levels with different style of gameplay to mix it up. Regarding the progression system, you literally have all your abilities available to you from the first level and nothing new is introduced apart from different enemies in different stages. But your health stays the same, your strength can be temporarily improved by finding the appropriate items and you don't gain new skills. That's all fine of course, but a little bit more meat on the bone in some way wouldn't have been a bad thing I think.
That said, a game that can be beaten in one or two afternoons depending on your skill set, especially now with the power of emulation, and one that does what it focuses on really well, is a game with great content in my eyes.
In its core, this is pretty basic. 11 total stages, each with their sub-stages and boss fights, either at the end or sometimes in the middle. What this game gets bonus points for is its execution of the basic, which is simply very well done and shows why this formula has been so popular among devs and players for so long in the first place. Some levels that show off the skills of the SNES in particular add to the variety of it all as well.
There isn't anything particularly innovative about the core gameplay here. This game simply does a great job of putting it all together and bringing it to the 4th gen of consoles, while adding a lot of QoL improvements, a few very much welcomed additions to Simon's whip and creating a very dark and tense horror atmosphere.
The main motivation to play this again would be to beat your high score. There are a couple secret rooms to find as well, though all they offer are a bunch of candles to find regular items. This is interestingly a step back for the series, as Castlevania III offered multiple different characters and multiple paths that you could take after specific stages, which added to replayability. Personally, I don't think this is a big deal at all, as I enjoyed the focus on Simon, who now had a lot more abilities, and not having multiple paths allowed for more focus on the fewer stages that had to be created. I'd be lying if I said I would have minded multiple paths for added replayability though.
The game worked well at all times.
OVERALL | 76/100
One of the best platformers of the early 90s for sure. It's a tremendous improvement on earlier entries of the series in pretty much every way, it's rather easy to progress in compared to its contemporaries and the much tighter controls along with the greatness that is the game's OST, the majority of you will have a great time playing this I'm sure.

(This is the 54th game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
We're a bit late into the 'Wonder Boy' series, as the Platformer / Action-Adventure 'Wonder Boy in Monster World', which released on October 25, 1991 for the Sega Genesis, is the fifth game in the Wonder Boy series already and only two more games release for this series from here on out in 1994 and, interestingly enough, 2018. The games preceding and succeeding this game I'm about to review also received remakes in the past decade, so the series has seen somewhat of a revival recently. 
For its time, Wonder Boy in Monster World received positive reviews and currently carries a 7.5 Moby Score. Multiple magazines are quoted saying something to the tune of "Who needs Sonic, when you can have Wonder Boy", which I found funny to read in retrospect, but it should tell you that this isn't just some random character, but rather a relatively popular one. Some magazines weren't all too kind, like Sega Power's review saying that this is "one aimed at younger players, but I think that even they will find this very boring or repetitive." Who was right according to my taste? Well I'll start with this: I didn't beat the game.
In this adventure of Wonder Boy, you play Wonder Boy, who needs to save Monster World, which is under attack by ... monsters? Where else did you think the monsters wanted to be at? The Wonder Boy by the way has a name, he is called Shion.
Shion gets the help of many residents of Monster World. He can use one girl's 'Ocarina', an instrument that unlocks door if the right melody is played. He can use Poseidon's trident to explore the underwater areas. He gets the assistant of a dwarven kid that unlocks the path to a cave filled with monsters.
There isn't a lot of dialogue here besides the generic few talks you will have with people who want you to help them, so that they agree to help you afterwards. You are thanked a lot for being a hero and on you go until you win the game. After you defeat the final boss, the end credits actually play immediately after, which is kind of anti-climactic, though there are post-credit scenes where the resolution of the story is quickly explained. Again, it's generic "the hero saved everyone, so that they can live on happily ever after, or until the sequel at least." talk.
As is usual for games that call themselves side-scrolling Action RPGs at this time, you discover towns and have a few people there that you can talk to (I wouldn't call this an RPG though). Though when I say a few, I do mean just a few, as there aren't many characters walking around.
This game is also another one of those that has you run around colorful worlds for most of it, only to have the final act be in some sort of futuristic looking area against a futuristic looking final boss. Why were so many end-game areas designed like this? The games often have no hint of sci-fi, but all of a sudden some rogue AI / robot from a distant planet wants to use his futuristic weaponry to destroy you, and you poor dude with just your sword are supposed to put an end to it. Well, you do in the end, but you know, it's getting hilarious at this point how this seems to be the resolution so often.
This is called a side-scrolling platformer / action adventure / RPG. The first genre is correct. The second as well. As far as RPG's go, this I wouldn't call one of them. There is no character progression in terms of stats or any decisions you can make, there is in general no choice you can make and the only stats that are there are for attack, defense and speed. Armor, weapons, shields and boots are what effect those stats. You get those by opening chests and going to stores, though you'll have to do a lot of grinding for gold to get many of those store items.
So yeah, it's not an RPG, you simply control Shion in this side-scrolling platformer. From the 3 hours I've played, there wasn't much exploration but rather convoluted level design that made you look around for where to go next. There isn't really any area or anything that opens up for optional exploration. There are some harder to reach chests in this game, some of which are tricky to find. I got to one by accident by pressing up randomly (you press up to enter rooms), and a room appearing in the middle of nowhere and leading me straight to a chest. That can hardly be called exploration though.
So you are equipped with a melee weapon and have to fight enemies, some of which can jump up, some of which can swoop down, some of which can throw stuff at you, rush you, guard with their own shields and all sorts. The problem is that the swinging animation of yours takes a few frames too long, so what happens way too often is that you try to time the swing right, but you are a split second too early and before you get a second swing off, you already get hit by an enemy rushing you. The tough part is that once you die, you are sent back to your last save, which will be at the previous inn. This can send you back many, many minutes, and there is often plenty of time between your last save and the boss fight for example.
Boss fights represent ridiculous difficulty spikes here. Until the first boss for example, apart from those swing animation issues, you won't have any problems. And then you reach the boss and it just jumps on top of you constantly whilst throwing up tiny minions that hurt you when they run into you. So you got 4-5 minions coming after you from both sides, the boss coming from the top and until you take a looong time to figure out how to beat this thing, you'll, well, lose a loooot of time, and it doesn't really fell satisfying either. This the case for a lot of boss fights where it feels like the enemy attack patterns are way too wild and random. The main thing this game does with boss fights is just throw a bunch of stuff at you at once, which makes it hard to dodge, but even harder to find an opening to strike. Not fun.
The worst issue comes a few hours in however, when you are supposed to use Poseidon's trident to go underwater and find Poseidon. Multiple times I found myself thinking "where the hell do you want me to go and why are you making it this so convoluted?" I looked up the solution for a while and you know it's not a good sign when you see the actual path and think to yourself that this is way too unnecessary.
In the end, the save system and repetitively annoying gameplay made me abandon this one a few hours before completion. It's not even like this is a game where it being so hard is the point. It's not necessarily even that hard in terms of combat, bosses excluded, but finding your path and having to go all the way back to inns due to the lack of save points just makes the game annoying to play.
No voice acting. The soundtrack ranges from meh to really good. The intro track sets a good tone for a game this is both child-friendly and one that will kick your butt repeatedly, and while few tracks combine these themes, you'll have tracks do a pretty good job of using either one to give off a relaxing vibe or one that captures the tension well. However there are some true stinkers here as well, like Village Theme 1, not to be mistaken with Village Theme 2.
This game has good looking graphics thanks to its use of a wide color palette and attention to detail in the scrolling backgrounds. One interesting thing the game does in its villages is a visual transition effect when you enter a house, which makes the inside of the house become visible.
The sprite work, enemy design and animation here is not great, but the devs created a cozy and inviting world here, at least graphically, though it kinda starts falling apart a bitonce you hit some rough patches when it comes to hard enemies/bosses or not knowing where to go.
Welcome to monster world, a world called after monsters that is in turmoil as it gets invaded by monsters. The game uses all the tropes you'd expect from a platformer of the early 90s, so unless this was one of the few games you played over and over at the time, you will notice that it doesn't offer anything new and doesn't really pull you in like plenty of other games manage to do. The world that is created here in its basic form, thanks to its soundtrack and graphical presentation, is inviting overall though, however you'll be stuck at very hard bosses and puzzles multiple times, so more likely than not it's only inviting until a certain point, where you likely will find yourself stuck, especially if you were a kid in the 90s playing this.
CONTENT | 6/10
Enough content here for an Action Adventure like this. You got many boss fights, many different enemy types, different types of equipment, plenty of puzzles and hidden stuff too boot. Not all of this is good content, but you'll be busy for a good 10 hours if you decide to play it to the end.
Most of the time, where you need to go is straightforward. Then there are times where you will keep running around in circles, unless you figure out that you need to go to X first or press Y, which unlocks a new path. That sort of environmental puzzle is pretty enjoyable. But most of the time when things aren't straightforward, you're meant to go to some place that is only described very imprecisely, and it's a lot of time away and makes it very easy to get lost with no positive impact on fun factor or satisfaction from figuring out the way. Add to that that if you die on your way there, you're sent back all the way to the last inn you saved at, and you can see where you'd get easily frustrated.
Nothing new on offer here, it's a mix of features and a focus on themes and a theme for its world that you have seen in a lot of different games before. There isn't even a specific thing this game tries to focus on more than on other areas, the game is meh to alright in every area, which makes for a meh game overall. It's got average world building, basic gameplay, convoluted level design, a middle-of-the-pack soundtrack, frustrating boss fights, slow pace and a boring set of one-dimensional characters. I'm sure the series has done better than this, but this game isn't doing anything above-average unfortunately.
You can look for some more of those hidden equipment or health items in a second playthrough, but there is no other motivation given to play through it twice.
The game worked well at all times.
OVERALL | 50/100
You know, I'll take a game that is below-average in most aspects of a video game, if it does a specific thing really well. But Wonder Boy in Monster World doesn't really rate better than "average" in anything, as it's a game that takes many features of better games, puts them together and ends up being a worse product. So it's a skip for me, there are plenty of better retro platformers / action adventures to play from this time period, though it's definitely not a 'terrible game'.

(This is the 53rd game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
Following 1990's 'Gargoyle's Quest', the next release in the 'Ghosts 'n Goblins' series is Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, the third main entry after the 1985 and 1988 Arcade games. Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, developed and published by Capcom, is the first among these three to not be released for the arcade at all, instead focusing all efforts on a SNES release on October 4th, 1991 in Japan initially.
As the challenge started in 1990, I didn't play the other two games in the series, but I didn't have to to have heard of 1985's 'Ghosts 'n Goblins', which is infamous for being one of the hardest games of all time. Just by looking at gameplay for that game, I can tell you that 'Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts' for the SNES is a much easier game, though by no means easy.
Regarding the difficulty, there is a pretty noticeable difference in the NA and Europe versions. The European version is much simpler due to fewer enemies on screen, fewer of the harder enemies and, from what I can tell, less hits needed to take them out. Apart from the lower difficulty, this helps combat the slowdown effect that is more common in the USA version. A slowdown, for those who don't know, is literally that, the game slowing down. This happens when there are many sprites and/or special effects on-screen at the same time as, in this case for the SNES, it pushes the console to its limits. In the European version, I've experienced slowdown only once, and that was very brief. So if you want to play the game and are looking for an easier time, go with the European version.
Accessibility: I might lead off with this one from here on out for all games that have any sort of accessibility options, as those are still not common at all in 1991. For this game, as it is not originally designed for the Arcade I assume, there are some pretty nice options to make the experience even easier / more bearable for yourself. First, there are four difficulty levels, from beginner to professional. Higher difficulties increase enemy amount, boss health, how many money bags you need to collect to gain additional continues and a few other things I haven't noticed. In addition, you can choose the amount of lives you have from 1 to 9. Add to both of these that there is a checkpoint system and all this definitely makes the game much easier than the vanilla experience.
Once again, you are knight Arthur. The setting for this one is described in the manual only. It's titled 'A Knight's Quest'.
"All hail, dauntless knight Arthur! Years ago you quelled the terrifying phantoms of the Ghoul Realm [...] and rescued Princess Guinevere. But now the kingdom is shrouded under an eerie spell. Sardius, the Emperor of Evil, has snatched Princess Guinevere [...]"
It's your typical old-school platformer sequel storyline set-up. Same things happened again, you must save everyone again. It's fine, you didn't play a game like this for the story back then.
In-game, the opening has Arthur and Guinevere in arms in her castle, as someone approaches through the large window behind them. It's Sardius, who kidnaps Princess Guinevere and flies off. Now you must go through 8 levels to defeat Sardius and get the Princess back. But there is a catch. Like is typical for this series, you don't go through the levels just once to win. Once you go through them for the first time, the Princess tells you that she was wearing a powerful bracelet. That bracelet was the reason she was kidnapped and using it is the only way you defeat Sardius. Luckily, she dropped it whilst kidnapped, so you gotta go through all levels and find it. That's the only dialogue in the game, so you're really not playing it for the story, but the game gets a bonus point for having continuity with its main character and, albeit just a tiny bit, for adding to its lore.
GAMEPLAY | 12/20
Let's compare some of this to 1985's 'Ghosts n' Goblins' here to show you where this game changed and, usually, improved.
You control knight Arthur in a 2D platformer where you kill enemies with some sort of a projectile whilst jumping from platform to platform to avoid falling to your demise. There are 8 total levels and a boss at the end of each level. Apart from throwing your projectiles (lance, dagger, crossbow, scythe, torch, axe, tri-blade - yes, these all act as projectiles here), you can double jump and crouch, which I don't think you could do in the NES title.
You have two hit points, which is unchanged from the original, so get hit twice and you die. You either are sent back to the start or, if you've made it far enough, start at a check-point. Each level has a 5 minute time limit, something I never had an issue with. You either die or make it in time.
Many enemies are the same from the NES title, and act the same. Most infamously, there is the "Red Arremer Ace", the red devil-like creature that constantly avoids your hits and swoops down on you out of nowhere. This thing is just as annoying here as in the NES game, because the worst part is, if you don't kill it, it will follow you until you do. Plus, depending on the weapon you got - and plenty of them suck - it will take multiple hits to die, but you're likely going to get hit at least once before you get it down, and often enough twice, which, again, means you die. Horrible little creature.
Gameplay on the easier difficulty levels is mostly controlling well, but there are some issues you will have to live with no matter how many enemies are on screen. For example, jumps can be very hard to control sometimes, a frustration that is exacerbated by the fact that platforms you need to jump on are very small sometimes. Plus, you need to choose the direction you want to jump in while you press jump. No changing direction mid-air, so you can imagine how frustrating that is. On top of that, there are ladders you can climb here. For some reason, you need to hold 'Up' while climbing for much longer than the ladder appears to be long, as your character is stuck in an animation at the top of the ladder for a good second before he stands upright. This second is usually vital as some sort of enemy or obstacle is often placed near the top of ladders. And if you are on top of a ladder and just want to crouch, to for example break open a chest next to it, too bad, your character will start climbing down the ladder instead.
Boss fights in this one, for the most part, are surprisingly easy. Especially if you get the right weapons into the boss fight, you can make a lot of damage quickly.
There are some unique environmental challenges to each level, which I enjoyed. In the first, you need to stand on top of the right platforms while a wave forms, otherwise it will take you out. In another, an avalanche approaches and can throw you to the start of the area, so you need to climb ladders or stand on a platform above that the avalanche can't reach to avoid that. There are some other things like that, which adds to the variety in gameplay, which otherwise isn't all too varied but mostly enjoyable.
The end game condition being that you have to find a bracelet does tank the overall fun factor however, because to get it, you need to open chest after chest without getting hit once until you can upgrade to the golden armor, at which point one of the next chests will reveal the bracelet. Get hit once and you lose your armor and need to keep opening chest after chest once again, because chest #1 gives you iron armor, then a random number of chests later you'll find emerald armor and after another random number of chests later you'll find the gold armor, so this takes a while.
No voice acting. The sound design is fairly average, though with a few sound effects that are odd picks. For example, destroying stone statues gives off the sound of glass breaking. The soundtrack overall is quite fitting with the overall atmosphere that is present here, with some spooky tracks to enhance the immersion. Wouldn't place the OST among the greats, but fits the game well.
Compared to the NES game, this is a great jump in graphical quality in pretty much every aspect. Not a surprise given the jump to the SNES, but this definitely gives off sequel vibes just based on that. The devs did a great job in the enemy design and put plenty of effort in animations to make the game feel much more lively. A nice touch is that your health is indicated by what you're wearing. Wearing armor means you can get hit once without dying.
The first 5 levels have a pretty unique design and weather conditions. Stage 6 to 8 all play in Sardius castle and look similar.
A spooky atmosphere is present throughout. Though the fact that you walk around in your underwear when one hit away from death is kind of an odd pick as it works contra to the atmosphere the game is going for otherwise.
CONTENT | 6/10
The game is not overly long, and most of the duration comes from the trial and error due to the difficulty. Apart from that, there is a slightly average amount of content here for a platformer, with more weapons than usual, more enemy variety than usual and different types of environmental challenges.
Of the eight levels in this game, the final level is just the boss fight with Sardius, the two preceding ones are relatively similar (and one is very short) and then you have five that are unique in design. The mission design for these is pretty basic. Go through a level, defeat the boss at the end to move forward. The time limit present is not that relevant and I never had any issues with it. Having to go through the same levels with a slight increase in difficulty again after going through them once already is something I personally didn't necessarily enjoy, but your experience might vary there.
It's pretty much the same game compared to the other ones. The most innovative part about this game is the fact that it was made much more accessible to players of lower skill.
Apart from trying to beat your high score and trying to win with higher lives selected, you can also try to win the game on higher difficulty levels.
The game worked well at all times. You'll experience a bit of slowdown, if you play the US version, so I'd recommend the European one.
OVERALL | 59/100
A very skippable game. It doesn't take advantage of the SNES at all from a graphical and technical standpoint, it's a much worse version than the one for the Arcades, it's in general a rather basic platformer, very repetitive and lacks features. Not the worst game of the year, but a Top 5 contender.

(This is the 52nd game in my challenge to go through many known games in chronological order starting in 1990. The spreadsheet is in my bio.)
This is going to be a short review similarly to what I did for 1990's Wing Commander. The truth is, there are some genres and games that are not going to be my cup of tea. This means that my review for these games couldn't do them justice. The right person will absolutely love Wing Commander, and the right person will absolutely love Civilization I, despite its lack of QoL and overall features compared to newer entries. So in terms of this challenge, I don't think it would be fair for me to review these games with my review score.
That said, I can recognize an objectively well-made game when I see one, and Civilization definitely belongs in that category. I can't say I didn't have any fun with the game either, I definitely did in my 5 hours it. However, the game (and its manual) is so packed with features that take a while to get a grasp of in nature, and also get more difficult to figure out due to the old-school UI. Once you get somewhat of graps of the basics though, the game becomes kind of routine, where you use the cities you build to create settlers, militia, phalanx and more, where you use these characters to explore the world, where you meet other races and either go to war or make peace, and where you overall try to gain world domination before you lose.
The gameplay loop was definitely fun. If you're intro strategy games and you want to go into the Civilization series from the start, I'm sure you'll find a lot of enjoyment out of this. And even if I will likely not include most strategy games to my challenge playlist for the coming years, Civilization will likely become a mainstay.