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Banjo-Kazooie Review

*Review based on Banjo-Kazooie’s release as part of Rare Replay*

In the wake of Super Mario 64 came a new kind of platformer. Differing from the 2D sidescrollers of the past and earlier, more linear 3D platformers such as Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario 64 ushered in a more open-world style for the genre, one that had a greater focus on collecting specific key items at the player’s own leisure,  as opposed to simply making it to the end of a stage. Of all the ‘collect-a-thon’ 3D platformers that were born in Super Mario 64’s wake, there’s perhaps no more beloved example of this sub-genre than Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie.

Released in 1998 – a mere two years after Mario took his revolutionary first steps into the third-dimension – Rare sought to accomplish the seemingly impossible, and beat Mario at his own game. Rare’s bear and bird duo nearly pulled off that feat, delivering one of the N64’s best offerings, and one of the few games for the console that’s still a whole lot of fun to play today.

In Banjo-Kazooie, players take control of the titular duo: Banjo, the lazy honey bear, and Kazooie, the sarcastic bird who lives in Banjo’s backpack. The player primarily controls Banjo for movement, with Kazooie boasting most of the special abilities.

The story is simple stuff, with an evil witch named Gruntilda kidnapping Banjo’s younger sister Tooty in an attempt to steal her beauty. Unfortunately for Gruntilda, her henchman Klungo is a bit of a bungler, and his beauty-extracting machine is on the fritz, giving Banjo and Kazooie ample time to set off to Gruntilda’s Lair on a rescue mission. It’s your typical damsel in distress plot, but the game’s consistently charming characters and often hilarious dialogue make it a unique adventure.

Speaking of dialogue, Banjo-Kazooie’s “garbled speech” is one of its most iconic attributes, with each character having their own distinct gibberish noises playing over dialogue instead of any kind of traditional voiceovers. Some of these “voices” may be a little irritating, but they’ve become somewhat iconic in the years since the game’s release, as they’ve added to the game’s already stellar sound work, with an unforgettable soundtrack by Grant Kirkhope that captures Banjo-Kazooie’s unique sense of charm and whimsy.

In terms of gameplay, Banjo-Kazooie is incredibly similar to the Mario adventure that inspired it. After completing a tutorial in Banjo’s home of Spiral Mountain, you traverse the chambers of Gruntilda’s Lair, which serves as something of a more sinister contrast to Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64. Golden jigsaw pieces – called “Jiggies” – serve as the equivalent of Mario’s Power Stars, and a set amount are required to unlock each of the game’s nine proper stages. Meanwhile, music notes more or less take the place of coins, but have an added usage in unlocking further chambers within Gruntilda’s Lair.

Each of the stages house 10 Jiggies and 100 musical notes, while the Lair itself has an additional 10 Jiggies to collect, for a grand total of 100 Jiggies and 900 music notes. Not every collectible needs to be obtained to complete the game, however, and all of these items can be gathered at the player’s own pace.

This is where Banjo-Kazooie begins to deviate away from Mario 64’s influence and becomes its own beast. While Super Mario 64’s levels were presented in a sequence of missions (with players only able to go off the path and collect alternate stars from the selected mission on occasion), Banjo-Kazooie’s stages serve as wide-open sandboxes, with players able to gather the collectibles in whatever order at almost any time.

Perhaps an even bigger change to Mario’s formula is that Banjo and Kazooie progressively learn more moves throughout their adventure, provided they can find Bottles the mole hiding in one of his molehills on the first few stages. These moves range from using Kazooie’s legs to walk faster and climb steep slopes to shooting eggs from Kazooie’s mouth and rear. These moves are not only used to navigate through levels and defeat enemies, but many of them are required to find new sections of Gruntilda’s Lair and to reach specific Jiggies, giving the game a small dose of a Metroidvania element.

Along with Bottles, the most important side character is Mumbo Jumbo, a mystical shaman who transforms Banjo and Kazooie into a variety of forms, ranging from termites to pumpkins to bees. Just find some Mumbo Tokens and take them to Mumbo’s Hut to be able to achieve a level’s transformation at any given time.

There is a downside to both the progressing moveset and transformations, however, in that both features can feel a bit underutilized. While the prospect of revisiting levels with new moves to reach previously inaccessible places and items may sound enticing, chances are you’ll find every molehill in one level and have everything you need for the next. Only two of the levels (the snow/Christmas-themed Freezeezy Peak and the desert stage of Gobi’s Valley) are particularly interchangeable, as both are unlocked close together, and each features one Jiggie that can only be accessed with a move learned in the other. As for the transformations, you’ll only change forms in five of the nine levels. And when you do get to transform, the different transformations are more or less just used to squeeze into a particular area Banjo himself can’t reach, all to obtain a single Jiggie.

The fact that such elements are present at all is a joy, as they’re a testament to the inventiveness that went into Banjo-Kazooie’s creation. But perhaps they were ideas ahead of what Rare could handle at the time, with both concepts of revisiting levels with new moves and the transformations fulfilling much more of their potential in the game’s 2000 sequel, Banjo-Tooie. By comparison, time has shown that Banjo-Kazooie couldn’t quite reach its ambitions.

If that is the case, it’s simply another testament to just how creative Rare was during Banjo-Kazooie’s development. The gameplay itself is some of the best on the Nintendo 64 and, much like Mario 64, remains a joy to play even today (though Mario 64’s sometimes clunky camera is still present). And the nine featured levels may just outdo Mario’s famed N64 outing, with some truly ingenious obstacles created to take advantage of Banjo and Kazooie’s versatile moves, as well as featuring themes that add new twists to platforming norms (such as the aforementioned ice world also being built around Christmas, or a sewer stage that houses a mechanical shark as its centerpiece. And Rare was wise to save their most creative level for last; a giant tree that can be visited in all four seasons of the year, with each season changing both the level’s challenges and its inhabitants). If that weren’t enough, Banjo-Kazooie’s playful spirit is perhaps most present after every level is completed, where the heroic duo take part in a quiz show/board game against the evil witch, in which players have to remember details about the game and their playthrough.

Banjo-Kazooie is simply a great time from beginning to end. That so many other games from its era – including beloved titles like Goldeneye 007 – feel so outdated by today’s standards while Banjo-Kazooie still remains one of the best games in the 3D platforming genre is telling of just how much creative energy went into the game, and how well it executed it. It may not always achieve its lofty ambitions, but Banjo-Kazooie is creative, fun and charming enough to stand the test of time.

 

9.0

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Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash Review

Senran Kagura is exactly the kind of series I can appreciate in this day and age, when political correctness has seemingly become an all-encompassing evil that seeks to dictate what creators can and cannot create, and in which people seem to actively want to be offended by anything and everything. Senran Kagura is unashamed, irreverent fan-service cranked up to eleven. Yes, Senran Kagura is juvenile, and about little more than its bosomy ninja cast tearing each others’ clothes off in friendly battles, but it’s so tongue-on-cheek and ridiculous, that you’d really have to have no actual concerns in life to seriously be offended by it. Frankly, if it weren’t for some of the language, I don’t see why this series should warrant the same maturity rating as a game that features gratuitous violence or sex.

But again, in such uptight times, I can appreciate something like Senran Kagura all the more. And quite frankly, the entries I have played – though flawed – are pretty fun. Most games in the series are combinations of beat-em-up titles and 3D fighters, but Peach Beach Splash changes things up by turning it into a team-based, water-gun and bikini-themed shooter. Think of it as Splatoon with a dash of Super Mario Sunshine… with lots of boobies.

To be honest, the gameplay and setup of Peach Beach Splash feels more appropriate for the nature of the series than its usual antics. At the very least, I know I’d like to see a water gun battle between these girls than a swordfight. But I digress.

Peach Beach Splash has a heavier focus on multiplayer than past titles, though single player campaigns are still present. The four usual ninja groups (Hanzo Academy, Homura Crimson Squad, Hebijo Clandestine Girls Academy and Gessen Girls’ Academy) each get their own campaign, along with a special fifth campaign that unlocks once the others are completed.

“Katsuragi is my waifu.”

Each of the four standard campaigns sees you take control of that respective ninja group, and you can select whichever member of that group you want for any of the campaigns’ ten missions. Each individual campaign is shorter than the one found in Estival Versus, and are mostly used as a means to unlock different weapons and characters for multiplayer use, as well as costumes and other customizable features for the girls.

The campaigns bring some fun to the table, combining the series’ usual display of defeating hordes of enemies before taking on a team of opponents comprised of members of one of the other groups. Usually to win, you’ll have to defeat every member, which is done by squirting them with enough water that they fall to the ground. Once in a grounded state, a teammate may revive their fallen comrade, so that’s why you have to take them out of the battle by shooting off either their bikini top or bottom (don’t worry, convenient lighting knows just how to censor things).

Simply holding the square button is all it takes to revive a fallen teammate, and pressing square against an enemy is all it takes to enter the “finisher” screen, in which you manually aim a rubber duck to shoot off the girl’s bikini with enough water.

It’s as fun as it is juvenile and silly, with this gameplay carrying over to the multiplayer modes. Unfortunately, the single player campaigns still suffer from some of the shortcomings of past entries in the series. Namely, there are just way too many cinematics. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t mind staring at these girls, but I can just as easily stare at them during gameplay. And while much of the characters and dialogue can be funny, you literally get a cinematic both before and after a mission. Sure, you can speed things up and skip dialogue, but these cutscenes are often longer than the missions themselves, and when you have to sit through one cutscene just to go to another one before the next mission, it gets a bit tedious.

It should be said that most of these cutscenes are also, once again, just the character models displaying a limited range of animations in front of static backgrounds. Sure, there are some hand-drawn anime and more animated CG cutscenes here and there, but for the most part, you sit through a large amount of cinematics that look virtually the same.

“Exquisite dialogue.”

That’s not the only limitation either. Just as in Estival Versus, the hand-drawn cinematics expose limitations in the variety of character models. While the official character artwork displays the characters’ having a wide range of body types, the in-game models look almost identical, with just the heads swapped with a copied-and-pasted body. For example, Haruka and Katsuragi (AKA best girl) are a bit more… “amply gifted” than even the other girls in the series, their in-game models look no different than anyone else. You may say that’s a shallow complaint, but in a game that places such a heavy emphasis on the character designs, the characters’ in-game similarities do feel a bit lazy.

Aside from these limited aspects though, Peach Beach Splash is a mostly fun experience. The variety of characters (who each get their own melee attacks) and weapons mean there’s always a different way to play, and special assist cards – which grant different bonuses and abilities –  add all the more variety.

The multiplayer modes are what will likely keep you coming back though. Whether it’s the team battles, queen of the hill, a co-op horde mode or capture the bra (yeah…), Peach Beach Splash gives you plenty of multiplayer options. And there always seems to be something new to unlock, whether it be costumes, weapons, or collectible in-game cards; so if you’re into one-hundred percent completion, Peach Beach Splash will keep you busy for a while. And if you simply want to look at the characters, there’s a dressing room mode where you can spend time with them… or so I’ve heard.

Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash certainly isn’t going to change the minds of people who, for some reason, find the concept of animated bosoms to be the most reprehensible thing on Earth, but if you’re a fan of the series, it provides a fun deviation from the usual gameplay. Even if you weren’t a fan of the individual entries in the past, Peach Beach Splash may be the change of pace you’re looking for in the series.

I hope Peach Beach Splash can get some kind of direct sequel down the road. With a bit more polish (and a whole lot less dialogue boxes), this Senran Kagura offshoot may just give Splatoon a run for its money.

 

7.5

Cuphead Review

Cuphead certainly looks unlike any game that came before it, replicating the distinct look of a 1930s cartoon down pat, right down to the grainy picture quality and surrealistic character designs. The music and sounds also have that muffled, “in a tunnel” quality of the slapstick cartoons of the era. Cuphead is brought to life through completely hand-drawn visuals. From its shockingly fluid character sprites to its cel animated backgrounds, Cuphead is a wonder to see in action. It may not be the first game to use hand-drawn visuals, but no video game has earned the right to be called an interactive cartoon quite like Cuphead.

Simply put, Cuphead is on an aesthetic level that’s all its own, and it may be a good number of years before another game showcases a similar level of visual inventiveness.

Of course, all the aesthetic pleasures in the world wouldn’t mean much if the game they contained couldn’t stand on its own two feet. Thankfully, Cuphead is a more than capable gameplay experience, even if its action can’t quite capture the same magic as its eye-popping visuals.

Players take control of Cuphead, an old-timey cartoon figure who – as his name implies – has a cup for a head; while a second player can take control of his brother, Mugman. These two characters live on Inkwell Isle, under the watchful eye of Elder Kettle. One day, while Elder Kettle is asleep, the two mischievous brothers sneak into a casino. After at first securing a winning streak, the casino’s owner is revealed to be the Devil, who raises the stakes on Cuphead’s gambling. After Cuphead makes a bad roll, the Devil demands their souls as payment. The brothers plea for another way out of the mess, and the Devil promises he’ll let them go, if they can secure the souls of others who owe the Devil a debt. So Cuphead and Mugman set out to defeat the debtors, and find a way to get out of their contract with the Devil.

It’s a silly plot, but perfectly in tune with the 1930s cartoons that inspired it. People often seem to misremember old cartoons as being more innocent than they actually were. Many old cartoons, even those starring the “squeaky clean” Mickey Mouse, often saw their cute characters go through some extreme circumstances before they learned a lesson, and it’s great to see how Cuphead manages to capture the tone of its inspirations, and that the 1930s cartoon feel doesn’t stop at the visuals.

In regards to gameplay, Cuphead is a run and gun platformer, with a particular emphasis on its boss fights. Cuphead and Mugman can shoot magic from their fingers, and can perform a “parry” action by pressing the jump button against pink objects while in midair. The more damage the heroes do to enemies, the more a special meter builds up in the form of playing cards, with a successful parry automatically achieving a full card. Cuphead can use stronger attacks by using a single card, but if you wait until you have a full five cards, you can unleash a super attack.

Along the adventure, Cuphead can purchase new types of guns (or magic blasts, whatever you want to call them). You can equip two such guns at a time, and can swap between those equipped by the press of a button. Additionally, you can also buy items that provide other benefits, such as additional hitpoints (the standard is three, but you can up it to four or five), or the ability to hit an automatic parry during a jump. To prevent the heroes from becoming overpowered, however, you can only equip one such item at a time.

There are three types of levels in Cuphead: the standard run and gun platforming stages, boss stages, and bullet hell boss stages (differentiated by Cuphead and Mugman piloting an airplane in an autoscrolling level).

The boss fights are the meat of the game, with most stages being gauntlets of either multiple bosses, or individual boss enemies who go through multiple phases. Perhaps most notable is how creative many of these boss fights are. Despite Cuphead’s simplistic gameplay mechanics, the creativity on display with every boss fight makes them constantly surprising, and every last boss is distinct from the others.

On the downside of things, the platforming stages aren’t remotely as fun, and it seems that the developers were well aware of that, seeing as there are only six of them in the entire game. I wouldn’t say these stages are flat-out bad, but they fail to replicate the quality and creativity found in the boss battles, and feel really bland by comparison.

In terms of challenge, Cuphead is as deceptively sinister as the cartoons that inspired it. Its opening tutorial is perhaps the easiest I’ve ever played, but once you step into the actual game, it can get incredibly punishing. Cuphead’s steep difficulty curve means it certainly isn’t a game for everyone. You won’t find any checkpoints in the boss fights or the levels, so if you die, it’s back to the starting line. And some of the bosses are unrelenting in the amount of alternate forms they take and how many projectiles they throw at you at once. Thankfully, as challenging as it is, the difficulty is mostly fair (I only felt there were two boss fights where it seemed like there were a distracting amount of going-on on screen).

The bosses do include a “simple” option where you’ll only face off against their first few phases at the expense of not getting their soul contract and, subsequently, being unable to progress until you try the actual thing (making the simple mode more of a practice mode than anything).

With how painstakingly long it takes to create hand-drawn animation, Cuphead is an understandably short game, with only three “proper” worlds and a fourth world that consists of one particularly lengthy gauntlet and a battle with the Devil himself. But for the most part, Cuphead is a blast while it lasts. The standard stages may be a little bland, but the boss encounters are one delight after another. And in terms of style, Cuphead is second to none.

 

8.0

Culdcept Revolt Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

It isn’t all too often that you get to play a game that feels distinctly different, but that’s pretty much the case with Culdcept Revolt, which plays like a combination between a board game and a card game, with some light RPG elements thrown in for good measure. Although it boasts a somewhat tedious nature that will turn away some players, those who will fall in its niche will likely be hooked.

Truth be told, this isn’t the first Culdcept game, as the series saw some releases on the PS2 and Xbox 360 back in the day. But Revolt is the first entry in the series to make its way outside of Japan for nearly a decade, so even those who did manage to play the series during its “test run” era in the western world will likely feel a sense of newness when stepping into Culdcept Revolt’s unique setup.

The goal of Culdcept Revolt is to acquire a certain amount of magic (which varies depending on the board) and then make a lap around the game board while still holding on to the required amount of magic. As you may have guessed, you try to either prevent your opponent from gaining enough magic to win, or steal it from them when and if possible.

It works something like this: the game boards are comprised of five different types of spaces; fire (red), water (blue), wind (green) and earth (yellow) make up the majority of the boards, with the “gate” spaces being required to pass by in order to complete the aforementioned laps around the board.

At the start of each turn, the players are given a card; either monster, item or spell. The monsters are possibly the most important, and are placed on spaces to steal magic from the opposing players who happen to land on that same space. Either the enemy player pays the toll, or they attempt to battle the monster with one of their own. Should the defending player win the battle, the passerby must still pay the toll. But if the offender wins, they get to keep their magic.

Most monsters come in one of four types, corresponding with the elements of the board spaces, and receive bonuses if they’re placed on a space that shares their element; but there are also monsters that don’t have types, and are best used when you’re not in a position to gain the bonuses.

Should you enter a battle with a monster, both parties have the ability to equip their monster with an an item card (when applicable), which may increase their hit points or strength, or provide a different bonus, like a guaranteed first strike.

Finally, the spell cards are used outside of battle, and can be used to get a head start in a fight by damaging a monster, or provide you with extra magic, or even limit the number a player’s dice will land on in the next turn (which can potentially be used to help yourself or hinder an enemy).

Players gain additional magic every time they pass a gate space during a lap, and once they finish a lap, the monsters they placed on the board lose their “fatigue,” which essentially means you can then provide them with additional bonuses.

These bonuses mainly revolve around altering your conquered terrain. You can change the color of a space, swap the positions of monsters, and even increase the value of a space, thus increasing the toll enemy players need to pay.

The catch with all this is that playing most of your cards, and performing these territory actions, cost you some magic. So you can’t simply upgrade your territory and deploy monsters all willy nilly. There’s a sense of strategy to be had.

In terms of the core concepts, Culdcept Revolt has a lot of originality going for it. It feels like something like a crossover between Monopoly and the “Duel Mode” of Mario Party 3, but with fantasy monsters and anime characters.

Despite the freshness and charm, however, I’m afraid that Culdcept Revolt won’t be a game for everyone. Many of its matches will feel like they drag on and on. This is doubly true in the single player campaign, in which the enemy AI seems to take its sweet time in making decisions, and the characters often feel the need to bombard the player with dialogue at the start of their every turn. And frankly, the things the characters have to say aren’t particularly interesting, with a storyline that’s riddled in cliches, right down to the whole “main character with amnesia” trope that seems to follow anime-styled games like cuteness on a puppy.

Another downside comes in the form of the random elements of the game itself. Okay, so like any game where dice is a factor, there’s going to be a bit of randomness about it. But Culdcept Revolt feels like one of those games where computer players conveniently get consistently high rolls, while the human players are outright lucky if they manage to move more than two or three spaces in a turn. Not to mention that the cards you receive at the beginning of your turn are also completely random, which makes it hard to build a proper strategy from the outset. Sure, one could argue that the random cards are akin to an actual board game, but real board games usually provide you with different decks to choose from. At the very least, being able to pick whether you draw a monster, item or spell would help add to the strategizing.

Culdcept Revolt is a game that certainly showcases some fun and original ideas, and even includes the ability to save in the middle of a match to return to it later, which is perfect for a portable game given how lengthy the match-ups can be. But Revolt also isn’t a game for everyone, with its single player campaign teetering on the boring side. Thankfully, local and online multiplayer should have you and another player enjoying the game for what it is. If you have the patience for it, that is.

 

6.5

Ninja Gaiden (NES) Review

“Nintendo hard.”

That’s a term commonly used to describe the often brutal difficulty of games found on the NES. From Mega Man to Castlevania to Battletoads, the NES was riddled with games so punishing, that arguably no system has since repeated such consistently high difficulty. Among the most famous of these “Nintendo hard” games was Techmo’s Ninja Gaiden.

Ninja Gaiden is a side-scrolling action game, where players take control of Ryu Hayabusa through six different worlds, each more difficult than the last. Ryu can jump, slash enemies with his katana, and use special items Castlevania-style by pressing up on the D-pad along with the attack button.

Perhaps Ninja Gaiden’s most notable aspect that set it apart from other 8-bit action titles, however, was Ryu’s ability to wall jump (these were simpler times, when a simple new game mechanic could be used as a selling point for a title).

“Though its story is nothing to write home about, Ninja Gaiden’s cinematics were novel in their time.”

For the most part, Ryu Hayabusa is a fun character to control. His jumping feels smooth and responsive, and the simple combat mechanics are quick and fun. On the downside of things, the wall jump – despite being one of the game’s biggest draws back in the day – isn’t nearly as consistent. Ryu sticks to any wall you jump towards, which is fine, but once he’s on there, it can get tough to get him down. You can’t simply drop down, and instead have to use the wall jump (which can get troublesome in enemy-packed areas). Problems arise though, when the wall jumping doesn’t always coincide with your button presses. It’s a strange phenomenon, because while Ryu’s controls otherwise feel completely responsive, you may have to press the jump button several times before Ryu decides to jump off a wall. Playing as a wall-jumping ninja certainly is a cool idea, but I’m afraid time has exposed how unpolished the mechanic was in Ninja Gaiden.

With that said, Ninja Gaiden is still a really fun game overall. The levels are short but challenging, and for the most part that challenge – while it can be steep – is generally fair. And thankfully, the levels feature a decent amount of checkpoints, and even game overs simply take you back to said checkpoints, so this helps keep the frustration down (though it also may make you wonder why game overs were even included to begin with). You even have unlimited continues, which means you have ample tries to learn from past mistakes.

There are two major caveats with the levels, however: the first is that dying during boss fights will take you back to the start of that level, which is a dumbfounding decision, seeing as any other death takes you back to the nearest checkpoint. I’m not even saying you need to start back at the boss door or anything, but why not the closest checkpoint? It’s just a weird inconsistency.

The other problem with the stages are how easy it is for enemies to respawn. Sure, many games feature respawning enemies if you go a certain distance and come back, but it seems like if Ryu moves even an inch backwards, previous enemies will respawn. This can make things kind of annoying when trying to make the game’s trickier jumps, and you need to keep readjusting your position, only for the enemies to respawn and stand in the path of your jump.

So Ninja Gaiden has a few aged elements to it. I suppose that should be expected, considering the NES era will still something of a pioneering time for the medium. But even if it can’t compete with more timeless NES titles like Mega Man 2 or Super Mario Bros. 3, Ninja Gaiden still displays a strong sense of fun and challenge. And hey, it’s still not as tough as Battletoads.

 

 

7.0

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (SNES) Review

Terminator 2: Judgement Day remains one of the best action movies ever made, as well as one of the best sequels in film history. This, of course, made it ripe for the pickings when it came to video game adaptations. Numerous Terminator 2 games were released, with perhaps the most famous one being the mindless-but-fun arcade shooter which was ported to consoles under the title of Terminator 2: Judgement Day: The Arcade Game, to avoid confusion with the many other “T2” video games that bore an identical name to the film.

One of these games, featured on the SNES, was by none other than LJN. The same publisher which rushed one cheap movie tie-in game after another to pollute the NES library was still up to their old tricks during the 16-bit era, and it may be one of the worst games LJN ever produced. No wonder the arcade game wanted to distance itself from it…

In this version of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, player’s take control of Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, the T-800; who is sent back in time to protect John Connor, the boy who will grow up to lead the human resistance against the machine uprising.

If there’s anything positive to be said about this T2 game, it’s that it follows the story of the movie decently well, with the game’s eight main stages recreating famous scenes from the film. Though I also have to give some ironic points to the game for making the T-800 look like Hank Hill, which I get a kick out of.

The controls for the standard levels are basic stuff. You can jump, use an undefined punch/knee attack, and use a pistol and shotgun, once you pick them up in the first level. The control layout isn’t bad, but the T-800 controls somewhat sluggishly, especially when you encounter steps, and can’t consistently get ol’ Arnie to go on the desired path (you would think you could just press down to continue walking on ground level, but the T-800 just seems to randomly decide when he wants to continue forward or go up stairs).

During these stages, you have the consistent goal of collecting what are unceremoniously referred to as “future objects,” by means of finding the canisters they’re contained in, destroying them, and picking up the object inside (which resembles the famous Terminator skull). But each stage also presents you with other objectives as well, all of which must be met in order to move on.

The first stage, for example, requires you to pick up your firearms from fallen enemies, as well as find John Connor’s home address by means of phone booth. The stages inform you of these objectives at the start of a level, and through the pause screen. But here’s where things start to get messy.

For one thing, the text which explain the objectives can be difficult to read, being written with thin, close together letters all spelled out in a garish hue of red (which can often clash with the colors of the background, with the brown building on the first level making things all the harder to discern). Far worse still is the fact that these objectives are only barely explained to the player. When the game tells you to “collect future objects,” it says nothing about them being hidden in canisters that you need to blow up. Nor does it tell you how to get John Connor’s home address, with my mentioning of a phone booth in this review being more generous than any advice in the game.

These vague explanations only get worse as the game goes on. The evil T-1000 will begin to appear starting with the third level, but he can actually show up on level two if you take too long to complete it. Not that the game tells you that or anything.

But I haven’t even touched on the worst aspect of the game yet, and that would be the driving segments. In between the main stages are driving sections. And – my lord – they are unplayable. The T-800’s motorcycle (unidentifiable from the enemy motorcycles who try to stop you) seems to only have two speeds: Dead stop, and ludicrous speed. To say it’s difficult to control is an understatement. You don’t even have enough time to avoid oncoming cars because you’re going so fast. And should you take enough damage and die, you have to start the game over from the beginning.

To make things worse, the motorcycle is an utter mess to control. The driving stages take place at a 45 degree slant, with you needing to find your destination by following the directions of a compass. But this compass is barely any help, because it only shows you the broad, general direction you’re supposed to be going, but the scenery all looks identical, so simply telling the player to go west doesn’t exactly do a whole lot of good. As if this weren’t all bad enough, actually turning the motorcycle is a chore. You’d think just pressing a direction would be good enough to change course, but instead, you have to hold down the Y button and press a direction at the same time. And even then, it seems wildly inconsistent, with the motorcycle unable to turn in certain directions at certain times, and sometimes it doesn’t even respond to your button presses at all.

To put it bluntly, Terminator 2 on SNES has the absolute worst driving controls I’ve ever experienced.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day even stumbles in aesthetics, with bland, ugly backgrounds and – if the Hank Hill-esque Terminator weren’t indication enough – character sprites that don’t resemble the characters in the movie at all. Not to mention the ear-grating, repetitious music.

I think the simplest way to sum up Terminator 2: Judgement Day on SNES is that it’s an LJN game. It takes a beloved movie, and turns it into a game riddled with bad controls, level design and aesthetics. At the very least, this one follows the plot of the movie a bit, which is more than you can say about something like LJN’s NES adaptation of Back to the Future. But does that really mean anything when the game itself seems to actively be trying to create an unenjoyable experience?

Hasta la vista, bad game!

 

1.5

Friday the 13th (NES) Review

There really aren’t a whole lot of movie franchises that can keep going strong after more than two or three entries (with Star Wars being one of those exceptions, though even it had the hated prequel trilogy to overcome before the franchise got back on its feet with The Force Awakens). But that doesn’t stop studios from overexposing movie franchises, even long after they’ve wrung dry. Horror franchises in particular, have a long history of never knowing when to quit, and Friday the 13th may have been one of the worst offenders, with ten total films in its original series, plus a crossover and a reboot during the 2000s. That’s a lot of mileage for a series that essentially boils down to little more than a madman killing a bunch of campers. Friday the 13th was one of those horror franchises where, much like its antagonist, it just wouldn’t die.

The 1980s were an exceptionally busy decade when it came to milking horror franchises. Another relic of the 80s came in the form of taking virtually any conceivable movie and turning it into an NES game, whether it had any right to be one or not. It only makes sense that both of these dreadful trends would eventually cross paths. Enter LJN’s NES adaptation of Friday the 13th.

In all fairness, Friday the 13th isn’t the worst LJN game I’ve played, but that isn’t exactly saying a whole lot. This is still a game that seems more cumbersome and convoluted than anything else, and still deserves its frequent ranking as one of LJN’s worst creations. But at the very least I suppose it bears the name of a movie that feels like a product of its time, as opposed to taking a classic like Back to the Future or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and turning it into a monstrosity. The downgrade in quality between movie and game simply isn’t as extreme here, if nothing else.

With that said, the game still isn’t any good. The whole goal of the game is to defeat Jason Vorhees, the ski-masked murderer from the film series, before he kills all the camp counselors. You take control of six different counselors, which have minor gameplay differences between one another (some are faster, others jump higher, or throw offensive rocks in different arcs), and the player will select a different counselor upon the death of the current one.

Admittedly, the “different characters as different lives” setup was original at the time, and some of the game’s other aspects, such as traveling through “3D” space in the different cabins, were also decently bold for their time… even if their execution leaves a whole lot to be desired.

The game revolves around the player moving around the campgrounds, finding lighters to light the fireplaces of the cabins, and slowly chipping away at Jason’s seemingly never-ending health bar whenever you come across him. Most of the game is played in a 2D side-scrolling perspective, with the cabins, once again, having a go at three-dimensional space.

Friday the 13th features a map screen (which you awkwardly open by pressing start and select at the same time), which shows your current location on the campgrounds. Every once in a while, an alarm will sound, informing you that Jason is on the prowl. During these times, you can also see where Jason is on the map, and you have to get to that location and combat him before a timer runs out, otherwise another counselor dies.

Here’s where things really start to get hairy. The time you have to face off with Jason is very limited (I don’t think it usually reaches the minute-long mark), and oftentimes Jason will spawn on the complete other side of the map. And seeing that most of the gameplay is on a 2D plain, discerning which direction during gameplay takes you which direction on the map isn’t always easy (or consistent).

In short, it’s easy to get lost, and even easier to lose multiple counselors to Jason before you even have a fair chance at reaching him.

Should you manage to locate Jason in a cabin, however, you are pitted in a battle against him that looks like something out of Punch-Out!!. You can slowly deal bits and pieces of damage to Jason, but he does considerable more damage to you, meaning you’re far more likely to lose a character to Jason than you are of sending him away for the time being. I will admit though, when you actually run into Jason upon entering a cabin and searching its every corner, his reveal is actually successfully startling.

Sometimes, you can even come across Jason in the 2D sections, in which case you simply try to pelt him with rocks (or knives, should you be lucky enough to hold onto them for a prolonged period of time), while avoiding his attacks. Slowly but surely, you can eat away at Jason’s health with every encounter, in hopes of eventually depleting it entirely and finishing the game.

Dare I say the idea of solely fighting Jason Vorhees may have made for an interesting game under the right hands? Like I said, when you do come across him, it’s probably as scary as the game could have been for its style and time, and the fact that he can run across you just as likely as you can come across him is a pretty suspenseful idea. But of course, this is LJN, so the concept becomes more than a little ruined.

On top of the confusing layout and navigation, the entire process just grows far too tedious. And more likely than not, you’ll probably lose all of your characters before you take out even a fraction of Jason’s health. And even the suspense of Jason possibly being around any corner is ruined by the inclusion of zombies, wolves and bird enemies. Sure, these enemies drop items like the lighters and the knives, but their inclusion seems unnecessary. Like they’re only there to fill out the map. But the game probably would have benefitted from a smaller map with no enemies, where maybe you had to find the items through puzzles or something, all while Jason is on the prowl. But, again, this is LJN. Shouldn’t expect too much.

In the end, Friday the 13th just ends up being another example of LJN’s almost shocking ability to produce rushed and unfinished games. Though some of Friday the 13th’s concepts were novel at the time, the horrendous layout and arduous nature of the game make it a complete bore.

 

2.0