Category Archives: Classic Gaming

Shadow of the Colossus (Playstation 4) Review

There aren’t many modern video games that have left quite the indelible mark as Shadow of the Colossus. While gaming today is arguably better than it’s ever been as a whole, it seems that for whatever reason – whether it be outlandish hype, the “bigger is better” mentality, or a tendency to pander – the number of more contemporary games that feel like they have their own timeless identity are few. Half-Life 2, the Portal duo, the Souls-Borne series, the 3D Mario titles, Breath of the Wild, and select indie titles (namely Undertale) stand out. Shadow of the Colossus similarly stands tall alongside them and, although probably a more flawed game than any of the aforementioned titles, has perhaps left the biggest impression in terms of style and tone. As influential as it’s become, there’s never really been anything else quite like it.

This Playstation 4 remake by BluePoint Games is the title’s third release, all but enforcing Shadow of the Colossus’ status as one of the most iconic Playstation games ever. Similar to Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy last year, this PS4 rendition of Shadow of the Colossus is a faithful recreation of the PS2 classic, which means that, although the assets have been rebuilt from the ground-up and boast some absolutely stunning visuals, some of the game’s flaws still remain intact. For purists, the authenticity is commendable, though you may also wish that BluePoint Games had tweaked the rougher mechanics ever-so slightly, to give Shadow of the Colossus a level of fluidity to match its uniqueness.

Shadow of the Colossus has become something of the poster-child for the whole “video games as art” concept, and although there are plenty of other games that showcase the unique artistic merits of the video game medium, Colossus’s status isn’t undeserved. While many of the games released in its wake have felt confused as to how to implement their artistry within game design – usually being either AAA games that think replicating movies is the way to go, or self-righteous indie titles that think a somber tone and visual style make up for shallow gameplay – Shadow of the Colossus actually feels like a fully realized creative vision.

The core game is as it’s always been. You play as Wander, a young warrior whose love has died. Willing to do anything for her, Wander takes the girl’s lifeless body to an ancient temple in a forgotten land, in hopes that an ancient being called Dormin can resurrect his lost love. But Dormin cannot undo death without a cost, and the demon needs Wander’s help just as much as Wander needs Dormin’s. Wander is to scourge this forgotten land of the sixteen Colossi, magnificent giants who remain some of gaming’s greatest creatures. If Wander can slay the sixteen Colossi, Dormin can resurrect his fallen love.

It sounds like a simple setup, but its execution transcends it into one of gaming’s greatest stories. What starts off as a selfless quest built on love transforms into a selfish tragedy. The Colossi – despite their intimidating size and appearances – are never presented as monsters. Instead of the usual fanfare one would receive for conquering a boss fight, the slaying of a Colossus is always accompanied by grief and sadness.

One of the things that made Shadow of the Colossus so special is that – unlike the many games that try to be art by throwing in as many cinematics as possible – Shadow of the Colossus weaves its narrative and lore into something that could only work as a video game. Shadow of the Colossus, at its heart, is a giant boss rush. Every Colossus is a beautiful combination of boss fight, puzzle and stage design. Climb the Colossi, expose their weak points, slay them, return to Dormin, repeat. Again, it all sounds simple, but the creativity involved within each Colossus makes every encounter something special.

You can unlock Time Attacks for each Colossus, which then rewards upgrades to your weapons and grant new items. You can also find fruit and hunt down silver-tailed lizards to boost Wander’s health and stamina (respectively). All the while your trusted horse Agro helps you traverse the land.

It’s actually quite beautiful how it all comes together. As stated, the game is an extravagant boss rush on paper, but Shadow of the Colossus is one of the rare “art games” that understands how to meld its world and thematics into its gameplay as one cohesive whole. Save points, for example, were presented as shrines scattered across the land (though the shrines now merely restore health in the PS4 version, as saving is now done automatically or manually through the pause menu in a delightful bit of modernization). Even the aforementioned Time Attacks take the form of visions/memories that take place within Dormin’s temple. The game’s unique world always finds ways to mold into its gameplay.

So what’s new about Shadow of the Colossus’ third release? Along with the aforementioned streamlined save feature, some tweaks have been made to the control scheme for the better. The X button now serves as Wander’s jump button and to mount Agro, while the triangle button calls your stead and boosts Agro’s speed when mounted.

The most obvious change is found in the aesthetics, however. Unlike the PS3 release, this isn’t just the PS2 original with an HD makeover, but a from the ground-up recreation of the PS2 classic. This means that, although Shadow of the Colossus may be a PS2 title from 2005, you may never know it if this is your introduction to the game. The attention to detail on a Colossus’ fur, the individual blades of grass blowing in the wind, the ripples in every pool of water; Shadow of the Colossus, and indeed few games, have ever looked so beautiful. In terms of sheer realism in the environments, I’d say this PS4 remake is second only to Uncharted 4 as the best looking game I’ve seen. For a 2005 game to look this stunning is telling of just how much care and attention BluePoint Games put into this remake. Even the game’s iconic musical score sounds crisper than ever, and the added sounds that emanate from the environment and Colossi only add to the game’s atmosphere and sense of awe. Additionally, a new collectible can be found in the form of glowing “Enlightenments,” though finding them all and unlocking their questionably useful reward may only be worth the time for the most diehard of fans.

Another fun little addition is a new “photo” option, which allows you to take screenshots within the game and share them on social media. It may not sound like much, but with how utterly gorgeous this remake is, you’ll likely bask in the opportunity to take the best photos of the game’s unique world and its tragic giants.

If there is a downside to this remake, it’s that the original’s blemishes in control and camera largely remain. Thankfully, you no longer have to worry about drops in the framerate, and as stated, some of the controls have been wisely mapped to different buttons. But some of Wander’s movements and actions still feel a little clunky, and when wrestling with a Colossus, the camera can still get utterly chaotic at times, which may still lead to some frustration and swearing (emotional reactions that seem like the last responses the game wanted to create). Sure, you can praise the authenticity of the recreation, but you may also begin to question if such authenticity is the best option when the years since the game’s original release have revealed how it could be bettered.

I’m not asking for unnecessary, George Lucas-style additions here (no Dewbacks, please), and in terms of video game preservation, I get it. But a key difference between video games and other mediums that see remakes is that games feature interactive mechanics that, over time, can be bettered. If BluePoint Games were willing to change the way Shadow of the Colossus controls in terms of player input, you kind of wish they’d have done the same for the way Wander and his camera control. At the very least, an additional option would be nice.

So Shadow of the Colossus was never a perfect game, and that’s still true here. That’s a bit of a shame, because the uniqueness and execution of much of Shadow of the Colossus’ vision make it a gaming experience like no other. With the additional technical polish, Shadow of the Colossus might sit with some esteemed company at the very top of the mountain of gaming’s all-time greats. As it is, it’s still making the climb up that mountain. But Wander shouldn’t have any trouble in that department.

 

9.0

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Perfect Dark Review

*Review based on Perfect Dark’s Xbox 360 re-release as part of Rare Replay*

In 1997, Rare (then known as Rareware) released Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64. Based on the James Bond film released two years prior, the video game adaptation proved to be the far more influential entity, single-handedly reinventing the first-person shooter genre on home consoles, which remain the most prominent genre of video game on home platforms even today. It was inevitable that Rare would seek to create a sequel, but after losing the James Bond license, the developer had to start from scratch, opting for a spiritual successor to continue Goldeneye 007’s legacy.

The game in question ended up being the 2000 N64 title Perfect Dark, an original IP that combined Goldeneye’s gameplay with a new science fiction setting. The tonal shift allowed for some fun additions to what Goldeneye started (alien weapons!), and though the 360 release and an Xbox One controller make Perfect Dark more playable than Goldeneye by modern standards, it has still felt the effects of aging. While Perfect Dark once felt like an all-time great, it now comes across as a merely decent FPS outing.

The setting for Perfect Dark sees two alien races at war with each other; the Maians, who resemble the typical gray alien archetype, and the Skedar, vicious reptilian creatures who can use holographic technology to disguise as humans. The struggles between these two races have found their way to Earth, with the Maians finding allies in the Carrington Institute, a research and development facility; and the Skedar serving as benefactors to the corrupt dataDyne corporation, who are using Skedar technology and weapons for nefarious means. In the middle of it all is Joanna Dark, an agent for Carrington Institute tasked with uncovering dataDyne’s plots.

It’s actually a pretty entertaining story, and it has a lot of fun with long-standing conspiracy theories and old sci-fi tropes. Joana Dark also had all the makings of an iconic video game character, which sadly never quite came to fruition (largely due to the game’s underwhelming 2005 sequel). Perhaps best of all is that the game itself is still pretty fun…if you’re playing the re-release that was first available for download on the Xbox 360 and became a part of Rare Replay.

The sad truth is that – with the exception of a handful of titles (namely those with “Mario,” “Zelda” and “Banjo” in the titles) – the N64 library hasn’t exactly aged gracefully. There is some reason to that, of course. After 2D gaming had time to develop and evolve, leading to the 16-bit golden age, the N64 was part of gaming’s early 3D years. Things were starting over, and the Nintendo 64 was like Nintendo’s canary in this new mine.

I’d be lying if I said Goldeneye 007 lives up to its reputation when playing today. Yes, it played a hugely influential role in the direction gaming would take from that point on, but it feels bare bones compared to what the FPS genre has provided since, and it feels like an utter slog to control. The same could probably be said about Perfect Dark’s original N64 release, as it followed close to Goldeneye’s rulebook, and there’s only so much developers could do to work with that awkward N64 controller. But while the character models may still look clumpy, Perfect Dark’s re-release allowed Rare to implement some much-needed improvements to the control scheme. It may still feel small by today’s standards, but at least the re-release prevents Perfect Dark from feeling like a relic like Goldeneye.

The second joystick found on contemporary controllers alone improves Perfect Dark’s sense of control greatly. And the additional buttons only add to this improvement, making the overall control scheme much more fluid than it could be on the N64’s controller. Sure, there are still a few dated design choices (like Joanna being able to carry as many weapons as you could find, which makes cycling through them a bit of a chore), but again, it’s great to be able to play Perfect Dark with some lessons learned from the FPSs that showed up in the years after its original release.

Another great addition is the inclusion of online multiplayer, which came courtesy of Perfect Dark’s 360 release. Perfect Dark was one of the Nintendo 64’s better multiplayer titles back in the day, and the online functionality only gives it more replay value.

On the downside of things, some of Perfect Dark’s more dated elements also find their way into multiplayer modes. Back in gaming’s earlier years, being able to find “cheats” was something that was rewarded, and concepts like balance weren’t the issues they are today. That was true even in the N64 years, with Perfect Dark’s weaponry often being a case of just that.

Sure, some of these weapons were cool and novel – such as the Laptop Gun, which could be used by the player or placed on the ground to act as a turret – while others were a bit too overpowered. The primary culprit of this being the Farsight, a Maian sniper rifle that could not only see through walls, but killed opponents in a single hit without fail. Back in the day we all accepted the Farsight as its own reward for finding it. But now that video games have matured a little bit and don’t reward shortcuts quite so prominently, something like the Farsight now feels like a cheap and annoying product of a bygone era.

Perfect Dark certainly won’t wow anyone who didn’t experience it back in its day, and it probably won’t impress those who did if they take off the rose-tinted glasses. But the adjustments made to Perfect Dark’s re-release make it feel far more functional than its archaic predecessor Goldeneye 007. Just make sure you play it on more contemporary hardware. Revisiting Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64 could prove every bit as disappointing as a revisit to Goldeneye.

 

6.0

Kirby’s Dream Course Review

*Review based on Kirby’s Dream Course’s release as part of the SNES Classic*

Good ol’ Kirby. Nintendo’s most underappreciated of workhorses has never truly got the recognition he deserves, often held down in the shadows of Nintendo’s more prominent franchises like Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. Sure, he may not have a title quite as heralded as Super Mario World or Ocarina of Time to his name, but Kirby has also never had any atrocious edutainment titles or CDi games under his belt, either. Nor does his series house a game anywhere near as bad as Metroid: Other M. When a series’ worst entry is still a game as charming and creative as Kirby Air Ride, I’d say it’s doing alright for itself.

Kirby is usually known for his 2D platforming adventures, which are easier and friendlier than Mario or Donkey Kong’s journey’s in the same genre. Kirby is a gloriously overpowered character, being able to eat enemies, copy their abilities, and even fly over hazards. But the series has never not been fun, and that remains true even for Kirby’s spinoff titles. Perhaps one of the most under-the-radar Kirby titles – and the out-of-left-field entry in the SNES Classic Edition – is Kirby’s Dream Course, which combines the colorful world of Dreamland with miniature golf.

This 1994 SNES title sees Kirby transported to isometric golf courses, where the goal is to defeat all enemies – save for one – on a course. Once these enemies are defeated, the final foe becomes a hole which serves as the stage’s goal. Get Kirby into the hole within a set number of turns, and you can move on to the next stage.

Kirby is controlled here like a golf ball, with players able to adjust the power, angle and spin of Kirby’s movements. As in golf, the player receives a better score if they can get Kirby into the hole in the least amount of turns, but being a video game, Kirby loses a life if too many turns are taken. Players can gain extra turns when Kirby defeats an enemy and makes it into a goal, but will lose turns when hit by an enemy attack, and will immediately lose an entire life if he falls off a stage.

It’s a simple setup, but the core gameplay is a lot of fun. Better still is that Kirby’s copy abilities have found their way into the mix, with Kirby gaining an ability when he defeats a foe that happens to possess one. The powers can then be activated by a press of the B button once Kirby is on the move. The wheel power, for example, will boost Kirby’s speed so he can glide on water and move easily through tough terrain, while the stone ability will bring Kirby to an immediate halt, which can be a lifesaver on more elaborate courses.

If there’s any notable complaint to be had with the gameplay, it’s that – for a game with a pretty unique setup – Kirby’s Dream Course doesn’t exactly do the best job at giving the player a decent learning curve. The simple act of ‘striking’ Kirby can be a little confusing if you jump right into things, and although there’s a tutorial available to help out with that, it fails to explain some of the finer details of the experience (such as giving Kirby light boosts with the A button). The same applies to the aforementioned copy abilities, with the game more or less leaving you to guess how their individual physics will affect those already present in the game. It’s not overly cryptic, but for a Kirby game to be cryptic at all seems strange.

Visually, the game is another impressive showcase of the timeless colors and charms of the SNES, and the sound effects and music are delightful remixes of classic Kirby tunes. And while the single player adventure may feel a little repetitive at times, a two-player competitive mode gives the game some nice replay value, with players taking turns to see who can best a course the quickest.

Kirby’s Dream Course may not be one of the most remembered Kirby games, but it is another testament to the pink hero’s often-overlooked versatility. While Mario frequently reaps praise for his chameleon-like ability to blend into any genre, Kirby has been doing the same thing for nearly as long, but to much littler fanfare. And though Mario’s offshoots usually deserve their praise, when it comes to golf, Kirby has the former-plumber beat. The later Mario Golf on Nintendo 64 looked and felt like a typical golf game, but with Mario characters attached. Kirby’s Dream Course, on the other hand, actually feels like what golf might be like in Kirby’s whimsical world.

 

7.5

Portal Review

In 2007, Valve released The Orange Box, a unique compilation of five different games: re-releases of Half-Life 2 and the subsequent Half-Life 2: Episode 1, as well as the then-new Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. It was the fifth game included in the bundle that perhaps stole the show. This title was called Portal, which was one of the most brilliantly realized pieces of creativity gaming saw in both that decade and console generation. Combining an innovative take on the puzzle and first-person shooter genres, Portal remains a highlight of its era due to its innovation, humor and all-around fun factor.

The premise of Portal is simple; Players take control of silent protagonist Chell, who awakens in one of the many chambers of Aperture Science, and soon realizes she is a test subject being held against her will by the diabolical-yet-hilarious AI named GLaDOS, who promises Chell a delicious cake if she can overcome the test chambers.

Chell is to test out Aperture Science’s greatest innovation: the Portal Gun! As its name implies, the Portal Gun fires portals (initially only a blue portal, which connects to orange portals found in the various test chambers. But soon enough the Portal Gun is upgraded to shoot orange portals of its own). It’s up to players to solve every test chamber’s puzzles by means of navigating through portals. Fire two portals. Go in one portal, come out the other.

It all sounds simple enough, but Portal’s execution really is something to behold. The game is constantly finding new ways to add twists to the puzzles, such as energy projectiles that need to be guided to their stations via portals, or walls that will erase your portals when you walk through them. The game even uses its portal setup to tamper with physics in some incredible ways (fall into a portal fast enough and you can fly through another if you’ve placed them properly).

Portal is played through a first-person perspective, like any of the countless shooters that ran rampant at the time (and still do so today), but here you’re not out to kill hordes of enemies by riddling them with bullets (Your only foes are a few bumbling, robotic turrets and a quasi-final boss against GLaDOS herself). Your goal is simply to survive by means of being creative. It’s as fresh of a twist on genres (and indeed, the video game medium itself) today as it was in 2007.

“It’s a pleasure to meet me!”

Visually speaking, Portal has held up pretty well. Its graphics may not wow players today like they did a decade ago, but the sheer splendor of seeing your environment (and Chell herself) in different perspectives through the portals remains one of gaming’s greatest visual delights. The music, though minimal, is similarly off-beat and charming.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Portal comes in the form of its writing. Though Chell never speaks, GLaDOS is one of gaming’s great sources of comedy. GLaDOS reveals her more psychotic behavior as the game goes on, but she frequently tries to cover it up with some lightheartedness and the aforementioned promises of cake, making for some delightfully dark humor.

If there’s any caveat to be had with Portal, it’s that the entire experience is done within a few short hours. While the content that is here is almost flawlessly realized, it all ends all too soon. This has only been magnified since its sequel was released in 2011, and turned the concept into a much heftier experience, while also improving on basically everything the original started and introducing some great tricks of its own. While Portal remains a stellar game in its own right, compared to Portal 2, it now feels like a demo for what was to come.

A short run time and being overshadowed by an exceptional sequel are hardly unforgivable sins, however, especially when considering just how creative and fun Portal still is. It’s objectives may be a simple case of getting from point A to point B, but such a simple premise has seldom been so innovative as it was – and is – here in Portal.

 

9.0

Contra III: The Alien Wars Review

*Review based on Contra III: The Alien Wars’ release as part of the SNES Classic Edition*

Contra was one of the pioneers of the run-and-gun genre, made famous by its hectic action, steep challenge, and for popularizing the Konami Code. On the NES, Contra became one of the premiere third-party franchises for the console. It made perfect sense then, that Contra would make the jump to the Super NES, like so many other NES franchises did. But while the likes of Mario, Zelda and Mega Man found new life on Nintendo’s 16-bit machine, Contra’s leap to the SNES felt more like a continuation of the NES games, as opposed to their evolution. There’s still fun to be had with Contra III, though playing it today, it seems less impressive than many of its SNES peers.

The setup remains the same, with one or two players taking control of musclebound heroes who are armed with machine guns of unlimited ammo. You run, jump and shoot your way through stages, fight waves of enemies, and take on massive bosses.

It’s standard run-and-gun action, but there are some fun twists added to the mix. Notably, you can carry two different weapons at once. Picking up power-ups gives you new weapons – such as powerful lasers or the impossibly useful homing missiles – and you can carry two power-ups at a time by picking them up when a different weapon slot is selected. But should you die (and you will), you will lose whichever power-up you had in the selected slot when you died.

This makes it rather difficult to hold onto weapons, because Contra III is no slouch in the difficulty department, with a single enemy attack costing you a life. With how often the screen fills up with enemies, it can be hard to master your way around them to survive. And that famous Konami Code doesn’t work here, so there’s no easy access to extra lives. You have to tough it out the old fashion way.

On the bright side, you can find extra lives by defeating certain enemies or destroying certain objects, and you have a few continues to hold onto. On the downside, many enemy projectiles are incredibly small and hard to make out, so you’ll often get killed by an enemy shot that you didn’t even notice because of everything else that’s going on. Worse still, if you run out of continues, it’s back to the beginning of the game.

Admittedly, no matter how often you have to start over, you aren’t going all that far back, because Contra III only boasts a grand total of six stages. This means that Contra III is an incredibly short game, even for its day. While the SNES saw many franchises grow bigger when they made the jump to 16-bits, Contra III feels more like an NES game with a visual overhaul.

Back to the bright side of things, that visual overhaul comes with some benefits, the best of which being the second and fifth levels, which ditch the sidescrolling action in favor of a top-down perspective. Taking advantage of the SNES’ scaling and rotation capabilities, players can spin their character 360 degrees by the presses of the shoulder buttons. These stages make for a nice change of pace, and add a little variety to the equation.

Contra III: The Alien Wars remains a fun and exciting run-and-gun title, and provides a truly testing challenge, especially for two players. But it also feels a tad shallow, and maybe even a little outdated, due to its exceptionally short length. Though many still regard Contra III: The Alien Wars as an SNES classic, it feels more like a “pretty good” NES title that just happens to be 16-bits.

 

7.0

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting Review

*Review based on Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting’s release as part of the SNES Classic*

There is no questioning that Street Fighter II is one of the most impactful and important video games ever made. It single-handedly created the fighting game genre, and it could be argued that multiplayer and competitive gaming was forever influenced by it. Street Fighter II was such a success that Capcom continued to re-release the game under various new guises (a trend that continues even today with Ultra Street Fighter II on the Switch). Some of these subsequent releases featured notable changes such as additional characters, others had more subtle gameplay and balancing tweaks. The first such re-release was Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, which turned the four boss characters playable and allowed two players to pick the same characters. After that came Turbo: Hyper Fighting which, although containing the same detailed mechanics as the previous installments, is one of the lesser additions to the legendary title.

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting retains the same basics as the original Street Fighter II, with a single player being able to take on the other characters in the arcade-style story mode, or two players can duke it out amongst each other in what was always the game’s biggest draw. The fighting mechanics of Street Fighter II were always deep and intricate, and that all remains true here (though so do the original game’s shortcomings, namely stiff character movements and many moves taking a good chunk of health, making for some disappointingly short matches). Turbo: Hyper Fighting also retains the four additional playable characters from Championship Edition, along with the eight originals, so there’s plenty of variety to be had in the combat.

So what’s different this time around? Well, true to its name, Turbo: Hyper Fighting includes a faster playing speed called Turbo mode, which makes the combat more hectic, and is definitely a test for one’s Street Fighter abilities. The characters also have a few new moves in their arsenal, such as Chun-Li now being able to throw a fireball and perform the Spinning Bird Kick in midair. Additionally, there are other, smaller tweaks to the game balance.

These changes are certainly welcome, and probably improve the overall experience. Likewise, the 16-bit graphics and iconic music are as pleasing as ever. But knowing that even more polished and enhanced versions of Street Fighter II were released shortly after, you have to wonder why Nintendo (or Capcom) decided to re-issue this relatively minimal version of Street Fighter II for the SNES Classic Edition. For its time, it may have refined the experience, but in a post-Super Street Fighter II world, it can be a little difficult to look back.

One change that isn’t so welcome is the enemy AI when playing alone. You’d hope that when refining the game, Capcom would have done the same with the AI, but the computer opponents of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting are frustrating for all the wrong reasons, as they spam the same moves ad nauseam. Fighting against a tough opponent is fine, but when Ryu starts cheesing the Hadouken more frequently than even your cheapest gaming friends, it’s more annoying than it is difficult.

Street Fighter II remains one of the most influential video games ever made, and one of the few that can boast it created an entire genre. But each subsequent iteration was an improvement over the last, which makes the previous versions lose a little bit of their luster when playing today. When the superior Super Street Fighter II Turbo, as well as Street Fighters III and IV exist, Turbo: Hyper Fighting comes off as a little underwhelming, competent and fun though it may be.

 

7.5

Super Punch-Out!! Review

The Punch-Out!! series is one that many Nintendo fans remember fondly from the big N’s golden age, and with good reason. Though it seemed simplistic, Punch-Out!! boasts the same level of intricacy and depth that Nintendo games are known for. But it also seems relegated to the lesser echelon of Nintendo titles, laying dormant once Nintendo made the jump to 3D up until the series made a triumphant return on the Wii in 2009; only to once again fall off the radar in the years since (but at least series’ hero Little Mac has made it into Smash Bros. now, though he probably should have made the cut a few entries earlier than he did). The series’ final entry in its heyday was Super Punch-Out!! on the SNES, which remains a stellar experience to this day…even if it can get frustratingly difficult at times.

In Super Punch-Out!!, players take control of a very different-looking, more blonde Little Mac, and fight their way through the boxing world to become champion. The game features three normal circuits to fight through, each consisting of four opponents (three foes to climb the ranks, plus that cup’s champion), with a secret fourth circuit being unlockable if you can make it through the other three without losing (and good luck with that).

Though the NES game displayed the action from a top-down view, the jump to the SNES meant the series could now take advantage of then-new graphical effects, with Little Mac being made transparent during fights to give players a much more welcome third-person perspective.

The controls are simple enough; move left, right and backward to dodge enemy punches, press B to throw a right hand, and Y to give your opponent a mean left hook. Pressing the buttons on their own strikes at the opponent’s body, while pressing up on the D-pad with the buttons takes a strike at their head. Additionally, every hit you successfully land builds up a meter at the bottom of the screen. When this meter completely fills up, you can press the A button to unleash more powerful attacks as long as the meter remains full. Of course, every time Little Mac takes a punch, the meter drops.

“Damn you, Dragon Chan!”

This is all simple in structure, but in execution it makes for some surprisingly deep strategy. You have to constantly play close attention to your opponents’ movements and patterns, so you know what kind of punch or dodge to use at which time. This is made all the more strategic by the fact that every opponent fights differently. Some may fake-out punches before going for the real thing, others have strong midsections and can only be hurt by a punch to the face, and others completely break the rules of boxing by jumping off the ropes. Learning every enemy’s strategy is key to victory, and if you can master them well enough, you can even manage to fell your opponent before the standard three knockdowns.

On the downside of things, there does seem to be a little bit of a trial-and-error method to some fights, particular opponents who posses one-hit KO moves. On its own that’s not a terrible thing, but seeing as you have to start a circuit over should you get a game over, it can get a little annoying when you finally manage to defeat some particularly difficult opponents, only to lose to one of the more trial-and-error fights and have to go through each opponent all over again.

Another questionable element is that every fight has a three minute time limit, and if you fail to knock your opponent out within that time, you automatically lose. You could potentially knock your opponent down twice, and take very little damage in return, but you’ll still lose if the clock strikes the three minute mark. Whatever happened to winning by decision?

“We all box down here, Georgie!”

These complaints are ultimately minor, however, when you consider how much fun the overall package is. Along with the deep combat, Super Punch-Out!! is bursting with personality. Every character is an outlandish cartoon caricature; from Bruce Lee knockoffs to Bob Marley parodies. There’s just so much humor and charm in every fight that it becomes all the more enjoyable.

The upgraded graphics from previous installments help bring out this personality all the more. The character animations are incredibly detailed, and you’d be surprised just how extravagant the character movements and expressions can be, considering this was on 16-bit hardware.

Super Punch-Out!! is a refinement of the NES entry in the series, and remains a whole lot of fun to play today. Only truly dedicated players will probably finish all four of its circuits, but Super Punch-Out!!’s simple controls, deep combat and boatloads of personality make for some great entertainment, not to mention replay value.

 

8.0