Spyro the Dragon Review

Spyro the Dragon

The early years of the Playstation saw the rise of many new faces in gaming, as Sony was building its brand to compete with the established franchises of Nintendo and Sega. In a robust library that saw the introductions of series like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, the Playstation also had its share of more colorful characters that were more akin to those of its competitors. Crash Bandicoot was the unofficial mascot of the Playstation, but he opened the door for another platforming series to make its debut, Spyro the Dragon, by Insomniac Games.

Much like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro’s original studio produced a trilogy of platformers on Sony’s trailblazing home console. And while the first entry in the series is understandably the roughest, it still provides some good fun.

Spyro the Dragon was a more open-world platformer than Crash, with Spyro’s worlds being a little closer to Super Mario 64’s wide, open stages. Though in a fun twist, the worlds are their own little hubs that have a few smaller stages of their own sprinkled throughout.

Spyro’s moveset not only includes running and jumping, but he can also glide, roll, ram enemies with his horns, and breathe small bursts of fire. He’s a fun character to control, though like many early 3D platformers, the camera can become a bit tricky to maneuver.

The story is that a villainous monster called Gnasty Gnork has cast a spell on the dragons and trapped them in crystals (Spyro was so small the spell went right over him), and has used his magic to turn the dragons’ prized gems into his soldiers. It’s up to Spyro to save his fellow dragons and reclaim the treasure.

I admire the simplicity of the plot, though the opening cinematic’s presentation of having a dragon being interviewed by a news crew (with visible boom mic) before the spell hits seems a bit too jokey, and doesn’t mesh with the rest of the game.

The goal of each stage is to collect every gem (found scattered throughout a stage or by defeating enemies), freeing dragons from their crystalized state (Spyro simply has to touch them, and they then become save points), and finding the more secretive dragon eggs, which have been stolen by thieves. You don’t always have to empty a level of all its collectibles and dragons in order to progress, but completionists will have a hefty task with tracking everything down.

In a fun twist, progressing to the next world is not simply about defeating a boss, but Spyro can move on via hot air balloon depending on how many gems he’s acquired or how many dragons he’s saved.

Spyro the DragonSpyro is joined on his adventure by Sparx the dragonfly, who not only grabs nearby gems, but also serves as Spyro’s health meter. Sparx can take three hits before Spyro is left by his vulnerable self. In another fun twist, replenishing health is accomplished by having Sparx eat butterflies.

The game may look dated, but it’s colorful enough to look at. The music isn’t entirely memorable, but it’s far from bad. The voice acting is fun, but Spyro’s dialogue can be a bit one note if you’re used to more varied gaming scripts.

If there’s any real drawback to Spyro the Dragon it’s simply that, today, it feels like the rough concept that would be polished with Insomniac’s follow-ups. The core gameplay is fun enough, but it doesn’t exactly boast a whole lot of variety, and at times collecting everything feels a bit monotonous. It feels like the very base of Insomniac’s concept, with the sequels adding the depth.

Spyro the Dragon remains a solidly entertaining platformer in its own right, it’s just that in retrospect, it’s easy to see how the sequels improved on it in both variety and quality. Still, if you’re wanting to revisit some of the Playstation’s early gems, or want to introduce young audiences to some retro gaming, Spyro remains a good starting point.

 

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Shaq Fu Review

Shaq Fu

Very few video games are as infamous as Shaq Fu. A fighting game of the 16-bit era starring Shaquille O’Neal named after the NBA star’s rap album, the game is often considered one of the worst video games of all time.

In case the idea of a fighting game based around a NBA star and named after said NBA star’s rap album wasn’t weird enough, the game’s story mode sees Shaq walking around Little Tokyo, where he stumbles across a kung fu dojo (forget the fact that Tokyo is Japanese and kung fu is Chinese). In this dojo Shaq meets an old man who deduces that Shaq is “the magic one.” The old man then opens a portal to another dimension, where Shaq must apparently save the life of a young boy named Nezu. Shaq jumps into the portal without a second thought. Because why not?

Shaq FuThe opponents Shaq comes across are a parade of bizarre characters that include a cat girl, a voodoo princess, a hooded goblin-like creature, and a villainous mummy named Sett Ra, who kidnapped Nezu. So if you were hoping to see Shaq battle fellow NBA stars in another dimension, you’re out of luck.

As bonkers as the story is, it’s actually the game’s highlight, as its utterly ridiculous nature can provide some good laughs. The sheer lack of context behind everything in the plot (who is Nezu? Why was he kidnapped by a mummy? Why doesn’t Shaq seem weirded out that he’s fighting monsters in another dimension?), and the general absurdity of it all is just so silly it teeters in the “so bad it’s good” area.

Shaq Fu’s true fatal flaw is its gameplay. Shaq, or the other characters if you’re playing versus mode, are all incredibly stiff. Moves just don’t flow very well, meaning combos are a non-entity. You basically just keep button-mashing and hope you get lucky. The jumping is the worst part, with Shaq leaping into the air about a second after you hit the button. The jumping is not only awful, but also ironically so, considering Shaquille O’Neal’s NBA background.

Shaq FuThe story mode also has an awkward difficulty curve. The SNES version has three available fights to choose from the start, and completing those opens up three more that are progressed in order. Some fights are so easy, you can just keep hitting the same button and win (in one fight I just repeatedly kicked my opponent who did nothing but block, which resulted in him losing enough health by the time the clock ran out that I won the match). Others are considerably more difficult, with the aforementioned cat girl, one of the initial fights, being a particular pain, along with the final battle against the mummy.

Shaq Fu’s reputation proceeds it. It is a dreadful fighter that lacks any kind of depth, with a terrible sense of control and goofy visuals and animations to add a cherry on top. It may not be the most broken game I’ve ever played, but it’s certainly one of the worst fighters out there. It’s a sloppy, clunky, unpolished mess, made marginally more tolerable by its unintentionally comedic nature.

In short, it’s far from an all-star.

 

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Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire Review

Shadows of the Empire

One of the earliest Nintendo 64 titles, Shadows of the Empire was the first 3D Star Wars game released on a Nintendo system. At the time of its 1996 release, it blew gamers away, and those who experienced the N64 in its early years would have unanimously agreed that Shadows of the Empire was the definitive Star Wars gaming experience. Today, however, Shadows of the Empire has aged considerably, and what once seemed definitive would now barely pass for a mediocre Star Wars title.

This N64 game was a part of the Shadows of the Empire multimedia sub-series within the greater Star Wars franchise that was actually pretty popular in the 1990s. Shadows of the Empire follows the events in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

The game centers around Dash Rendar, a mercenary who is caught up in the ordeals between the Empire and the Rebellion, specifically those involving Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo. This, of course, makes Shadows of the Empire one of those weird licensed games that takes place during a lot of the events of its source material, but viewed from the sidelines from the perspective of a new character, which always ends up feeling like a B-story.

Shadows of the EmpireIt tries its hardest to make you care about Dash though, with the opening cinematic showing what good buddies he is with Han Solo, and immediately placing him in the Battle of Hoth, a fan favorite sequence from the fan favorite Star Wars film.

This opening stage, which sees the Battle of Hoth faithfully recreated on the N64, is arguably the best of the game’s ten stages. It’s the one that gives players the closest feeling to being in the world of Star Wars as you shoot probe droids and trip AT-ATs with tow cables.

There are other stages that take place in aerial and space battles inside of Dash Rendar’s ship, but they don’t match up to the thrills of the opening level.

Most stages take place on foot, however. Dash Rendar is equipped with a blaster, and can find some additional weapons along the way, such as heat seeking missiles and even a flamethrower. Dash even gains other helpful items like a jetpack.

The on-foot stages can provide some fun action, but it all feels a bit backwards when playing today. The camera is fixed behind Dash Rendar normally, but can be switched with the press of a button into first-person mode, a bird’s eye view, or you can fix the camera in front of Dash. The standard camera and first-person are less than ideal, but the latter two options make the game downright unplayable.

Shadows of the EmpireDash’s control feels awkward even when not taking the camera into consideration. His movement feels slow, his jumps are both sporadic and floaty, and the player has little control of Dash’s aiming, as Dash’s blaster automatically focuses on the closest enemy in the direction he’s currently facing.

There are other problems plaguing Shadows of the Empire that have done nothing to help the aging process: Indoor sections often have pitch black lighting, making it incredibly difficult to see anything, and you often just run around hoping you’re following the path. There are too many narrow corridors, which become frustrating given the clunky controls and camera. Boss fights feel cheap, as they do enough damage to kill you in a few quick hits, and their hit points don’t reset when you die, so it basically encourages you to lose repeatedly and damage bosses incrementally until defeated. The visuals haven’t aged well at all. And when the game requires you to do some platforming, well, it’s painful.

You have to give credit where credit is due, however. The game was certainly ambitious for its day, and the variety in the levels is pretty fun. The opening level, again, was and is a great N64 moment, and hearing the John Williams soundtracks to the Star Wars films, while a bit of an easy way to ensure a quality soundtrack, never fails.

When all is said and done, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire gave a lot of people many great memories in the pantheons of both Star Wars and Nintendo nostalgia, but it would be a lie to say that it lives up to the memories. You could probably find worse Star Wars games, but Shadows of the Empire no longer wows like it once did.

 

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ClayFighter 2: Judgement Clay Review

ClayFighter 2: Judgement Clay

If you’re looking for forgotten fighting game franchises that probably should remain forgotten, it’s hard to top ClayFighter. The series holds some nostalgic value for some due to its unique art direction, which attempted to replicate the look of clay animation. But take away that one attribute and one thing becomes clear: ClayFighter is pretty bad.

ClayFighter 2: Judgement Clay – an annoyingly obvious parody of Terminator 2: Judgement Day – might not be the worst game in the series, but it does a good job at summing up its many shortcomings.

The most obvious of these shortcomings being the gameplay. This was a series that spawned in the wake of Street Fighter 2’s success, so there was a standard for the genre to live up to. But ClayFighter evidently missed the memo, and borrows none of the intricacies or depth of Street Fighter’s gameplay. Even the monotonous fighting of the original Mortal Kombat feels fleshed out by comparison.

ClayFighter simply took a popular genre, and added its own schtick to the equation (clay characters) and called it a day. It’s one of those poorly conceived fighters that seems to cater to button mashing as opposed to requiring any kind of strategies, combos, or anything that requires being thought-out. There are also some terrible balance issues, with some characters – namely the self-explanatory Blob – making the game much easier due to the outrageous advantages they have over others.

The characters are an odd assortment of cartoon characters: Bad Mr. Frosty is a snowman with an attitude, Googoo is a big, ugly baby, and Hoppy is a musclebound bunny who parodies Arnold Schwarzenegger, which puts him in that most played out of cliches of a cute thing being turned violent. These are just a few of the characters, who also have “evil” counterparts who can be unlocked. The game is clearly going for a kind of tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, but the characters are so charmless that the humor never really comes through.

I must admit that the clay-inspired character models still hold up pretty well. The character designs themselves aren’t too pretty to look at, but the game was pretty successful at mimicking the clay look through its limitations. Though Hoppy’s character model looks suspiciously less clay-like, which might be a sign of either a lack of caring or time with his creation.

ClayFighter 2: Judgement Clay is a hard game to recommend except for those who have the utmost nostalgia for it. Even then I’m sure those people probably have nostalgia for other games that are far more worth a revisit. “C2” just feels like a basic, rushed fighter that lacks any real creativity or depth. The graphics are fun to look at for a short time, but they can’t hide the shallow gameplay, unfunny sense of humor, poor balance, and general lack of fun.

 

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Crash Bandicoot: Warped Review

Crash Bandicoot: Warped

When it comes to discussing the best entry of any beloved video game series, you’ll usually find a range of answers. Very rarely does a series have an entry that’s almost unanimously hailed as the best. Crash Bandicoot: Warped is one of those few, as it is consistently cited as the best Crash Bandicoot game. It’s with good reason. Crash Bandicoot: Warped is the best Crash Bandicoot game.

Threequels can go either way in the video game world. They’re either the point in a series where the ideas have seemingly wrung dry, and the game just seems to go through the motions, or they’re the point where creators really prove their mettle by continuously improving their craft.

Crash Bandicoot: Warped falls under the latter category of course. Taking most of its immediate predecessor’s best assets, Warped added a number of fun ideas of its own into the mix, producing the culmination of Naughty Dog’s vision for the Crash Bandicoot series.

The game uses a similar setup to Cortex Strikes Back, with the “Warp Room” concept now being expanded to one larger room leading to five smaller chambers, with each housing five levels and a boss.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedCrash retains all of his moves from Cortex Strikes Back, but this time around he also gains new abilities after defeating the game’s bosses. The new moves include a double jump, a super spin (which also allows Crash to glide), and even a bazooka!

Levels are still played in a 2.5D perspective, with the quality of level design equalling and surpassing that of Crash 2. But Warped doesn’t just settle for matching its predecessor, and new types of stages are also introduced in addition to the platforming stages. Crash Bandicoot, as well as his sister Coco, now partake in motorcycle races, jetski obstacles courses, and aerial dogfights, among other new concepts. Admittedly, the number of these vehicle stages comes at the price of less platforming stages than its predecessor, but Warped’s variety is consistently impressive.

As was the case with the second game, a crystal must be collected on every level to progress further, with each stage also housing one or two secret gems (one gem for breaking every crate in a level, with the potential second gem usually being tucked away in a secret area).

Warped ups the ante for completionists however. In addition to the returning crystals and gems, Crash and Coco now have the option to collect relics. Players can return to any completed stages to partake in that level’s time trial mode. Complete a level fast enough, and Crash is rewarded with a relic. Only the third-tier “sapphire” relics are needed to unlock secret stages, but for those seeking the game’s greatest challenge, you can always go for the gold and platinum relics.

Crash Bandicoot: Warped’s levels aren’t quite as difficult as those in Cortex Strikes Back on their own, but getting every gem is as challenging as anything in its predecessor, and completing the time trials is a whole other beast entirely. This makes Warped the most “all audiences” Crash title, as less experienced players will have a decent challenge just getting through the game, while diehards have a hefty task waiting for them with the gems and relics.

The story this time around is that, after his defeat in Crash Bandicoot 2, Dr. Cortex and his space station crash down to Earth, accidentally freeing an evil voodoo mask named Uka Uka in the process. Two notable retcons take place here: The first is that Uka Uka was apparently the mastermind behind Cortex’s previous evil schemes, and the second is that Uka Uka is the evil brother of Aku Aku, the voodoo mask who was previously just a power-up in the past games, but is now a full-fledged character.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedUka Uka is angered with Cortex’s failings in the past, and once again seeks the power of the crystals and gems to take over the world. But after the events of Crash Bandicoot 2, the crystals and gems have lost their power. So Uka Uka recruits fellow villain Dr. N. Tropy – who dabbles in time travel – to aide them in claiming the crystals and gems in the distant past, where they still have full power. Aku Aku then sends Crash and Coco through time in order to stop his brother, Cortex and N. Tropy’s plot.

While the time travel setup may sound like a gimmick, it actually helps the game stand out from its predecessors all the more. While Crash 1 and 2’s levels stuck closely with themes of water, snow, and the like, Warped instead has stages based on ancient Egypt, medieval times, an under construction Great Wall of China and, of course, dinosaurs.

In an interesting twist, none of the game’s world’s adhere to a singular theme, and the gimmicks are instead thrown about almost randomly. You’ll go from one backdrop to another and back again. In lesser hands this may just seem inconsistent, but here it works in Naughty Dog’s favor, as the sporadic nature of the level’s themes seems to reflect the game’s energy and sense of humor.

The overall sense of control feels more finely-tuned than in the past games, with Crash’s movements feeling more fluid than before. The visuals, while admittedly aged, also look more polished, with the animations being more vibrant than ever. Similarly, the music has taken another leap forward, with Warped having the best soundtrack of Naughty Dog’s trilogy of platformers. Even loading screens are made fun by the presence of various characters speaking to the player as the levels load up, giving you brief glimpses into their entertaining personalities.

As entertaining as Crash Bandicoot: Warped still is, however, the tricky perspectives of its predecessors are still present, and they have only become more noticeable with age. The game’s fixed perspectives still lead to confusion as to the placement of some objects and enemies, leading to some accidental deaths. And while the game’s bosses are a step up from the past two games, the final boss is once again a bit of a letdown (Uka Uka’s presence in the final battle is little more than an obstacle that needs to be jumped over).

Admittedly, some of Warped’s new ideas also fall short of their potential: Coco Bandicoot is introduced as a playable character, but all of her stages involve either riding in vehicles or on the back of a tiger, so she ends up feeling like a missed opportunity at some variety in the platforming gameplay. The aforementioned motorcycle stages, while a nice change of pace, are a bit basic and lack much distinction between one another.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedWhen all is said and done though, Crash Bandicoot: Warped remains one of the original Playstation’s highlights. Crash Bandicoot started his gaming career as a bit of a manufactured gaming mascot, but with Crash Bandicoot 2 and, ultimately, this title, Crash became a genuine video game star.

It is a little bit of a bittersweet affair. Crash Bandicoot: Warped marked the last time Naughty Dog made a platformer starring the titular character before he got passed around to various other developers like a hot potato, never again reaching the heights of Warped.

Naughty Dog has gone on to make Jak & Daxter, Uncharted, and The Last of Us to immense acclaim, but many still hope that somehow the developer finds their way back to Crash Bandicoot one day. Playing Crash Bandicoot: Warped is still a blast even today, but it’s also a bittersweet reminder of the fruitful future for Crash Bandicoot that could have been.

 

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The Misadventures Of Tron Bonne Memories

Misadventures of Tron Bonne

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was released on the Playstation Network recently. This is no small deal, considering the game is one of the rarest PSOne titles ever made (and thus one of the most expensive). It also happens to be one of my favorite Playstation games. Ever.

In case you’re unaware (don’t feel too bad, most people are when it comes to this game), The Misadventures of Tron Bonne is a spinoff of Mega Man Legends, making it a likely candidate for the title of most obscure game in the Mega Man franchise (except maybe Mega Man Soccer).

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne takes place before the events of Mega Man Legends, and turns comical antagonist Tron Bonne into the protagonist, as she tries to raise enough money to save her brothers from a loan shark.

The story is simple and filled with humor, but what makes The Misadventures of Tron Bonne stand out is what a unique game it is. Tron Bonne pilots a robot suit in action-adventure based stages, guides her henchmen through caverns in RPG stages, and even partakes in puzzle-based stages that can become pretty head-scratching. All the while she is joined by the Servbots who, along with Tron’s robot suit, can level up and gain new abilities as the game progresses.

To this day, I’ve never played another game quite like it. Its gameplay meshes genres together in very fun ways, and its story is a fun offshoot of Mega Man Legends, with the villains becoming the heroes as they fight actual heroes and more sinister villains. And it’s swimming in personality.

Misadventures of Tron BonneI have many fond memories of this game back when it was released in 2000. I had recently got Mega Man 8 (after having rented it countless times since 1997), so I was on one of my many Mega Man kicks at the time. I didn’t even know The Misadventures of Tron Bonne existed, since I didn’t see it advertised in any magazines. I went on vacation with my family at around that time, and during this vacation I went into a Gamestop (or EB Games or something, there was more variety back then). That’s when I saw a weird little game called The Misadventures of Tron Bonne on one of the shelves.

I recognized Tron Bonne from Mega Man Legends, so I was immediately curious. I was allowed to get a gift during this vacation, so naturally I picked this video game (even on vacation I couldn’t say no to video games). I had no means of playing it at the time because I was far away from my Playstation, which was still sitting comfortably at home. But I peered through that instruction manual (and player’s guide) countless times during that vacation until I got home (I was ten, okay).

I adored the game so much. Even as a kid, there were some games I hyped myself for but eventually got bored with. But I can’t recall ever being bored with Tron Bonne. It was one of those games that just grabbed my imagination. I would try to draw the characters, or draw my own characters who were really just ripoffs of the characters. I’ll still call it a strong creative influence for me. I loved Mega Man Legends, but I think I always loved this spinoff more.

As the years went by and gaming changed, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne still held a special place in my heart. I came to realize just a few short years ago that the game only received modest reviews from critics, much to my disappointment. But the critics were simply wrong, as far as I was concerned. The game was great, as far as I remembered.

Misadventures of Tron BonneI admit, until a few short days ago, I hadn’t played The Misadventures of Tron Bonne since at least 2002 (though it was probably 2001). I hate to say it, but I began to wonder if perhaps my feelings for the game were simply my ten-year old enthusiasm. I would need to play it again to see if it held up to my memories.

I am not currently in possession of a PSOne, so the news of The Misadventures of Tron Bonne coming to the Playstation Network was a great opportunity to revisit a favorite.

I admit I was a bit skeptical. The game was, after all, from the Playstation/N64 generation, a time that may have been important in my gaming life, but not one that has aged particularly well (Oh Goldeneye, I knew thee well). I was concerned more and more that childhood memories may have been dampened by poor aging. It was a month after I downloaded the game that I finally decided to take the plunge.

I’m glad I did. The Misadventures of Tron Bonne has held up wonderfully, all things considered (there are some camera issues and the mini-games can get pretty difficult, but nothing that affects the game’s appeal too much). I’m having a whole lot of fun playing through this overlooked gem once again, and rediscovering just how unique it really was.

My ten-year old self was right, the critics were wrong. The Misadventures of Tron Bonne may not be the most widely remembered game out there. But for me, it’s simply unforgettable (expect a review down the road). It may not be perfect, but The Misadventures of Tron Bonne remains a fun and unique game, and one of my favorites in Capcom’s illustrious catalogue.

EarthBound Beginnings Review

EarthBound Beginnings

It’s been a long time coming. Mother – the predecessor of beloved cult classic Earthbound – was released on the NES in Japan back in 1989. It was intended to make its way to the rest of the gaming world, but due to the rise of the 16-bit generation, the game’s (finished) English translation went unreleased, as Mother wasn’t an immediate success even in Japan. Its Super NES sequel would create a cult following unlike any other in the world of video games, and for over two decades fans have waited (often hopelessly, or so it would seem) for Nintendo to give the original an official worldwide release. And now, after all this time, we finally have just that. Mother has been revived under the new English title of EarthBound Beginnings through the Wii U’s Virtual Console! But does it live up to its almost mythical reputation?

On the surface, EarthBound Beginnings is a tried and true, old school RPG. Players traverse an overworld where they encounter various locations and meet many characters as they progress through the plot, while a traditional, Dragon Quest-style battle system provides the action. What sets EarthBound Beginnings apart from other RPGs is its personality.

EarthBound BeginningsWhereas most RPGs of its day (and today, for that matter) boast traditional fantasy or sci-fi settings, EarthBound Beginnings is set in a contemporary American-esque backdrop. Swords give way to baseball bats, potions are replaced with hamburgers, and filling the roles usually reserved for orcs and goblins are hippies and bag ladies.

The world of EarthBound Beginnings is funny and charming, complimented by fun character designs (the main cast resemble Charlie Brown and company from Peanuts). Though some of the visuals show their age, the game’s personality shines through its technical limitations. Better still, the soundtrack is one of the most versatile in the NES library, with the overworld tracks ranging from upbeat and catchy  to melancholic and somber. The battle themes are similarly versatile, with riffs on rock and roll and more psychedelic inspirations accompanying appropriate enemy types. The music never quite reaches the heights of its successor, but it’s a standout NES track nonetheless.

But what of the gameplay? It’s here that EarthBound Beginnings, while mostly solid, can sometimes show the effects of both age and a lack of polish. The core gameplay itself is a fun enough RPG, and although it’s obviously retro, the simplistic battles grow on you the more you play it.

EarthBound BeginningsThe trouble is these battles occur in the form of the most poorly-aged of all RPG conventions: random encounters. These random battles happen at an annoyingly frequent rate, and often when you just want to get from one place to the next you find the trip takes considerably longer than it should because of the amount of random battles you’re bombarded with.

What’s worse is that you’ll still run into weaker enemies once you’re strong enough to make the rewards they give you not worth the time. You have the option to run away, but it only works so often, and when it doesn’t it just drags the battle on that much longer. EarthBound would later fix these problems by removing the random aspects from battles and having weaker enemies either run away or being instantly defeated upon contact.

Another problem arises in the game’s difficulty. There are various points in the game where the challenge takes a steep difficulty curve. Even in earlier portions you’ll find yourself running into enemies that are well beyond your level. This, of course, means that you are often required to level grind for large chunks of time before you can progress further. Grinding isn’t a problem in RPGs when it’s optional, but when the player feels forced to take extended periods of time to level up just so they can continue the story, it really breaks the flow of things.

If you’re used to the more refined EarthBound, then going back to EarthBound Beginnings can feel like a big step backwards in these regards.

EarthBound BeginningsThe narrative serves as another highlight overall, but it too is hampered by some underdeveloped aspects. The plot itself is simple, as an evil alien presence is creating a dark influence in the world. People and animals are acting strangely, robots are invading towns, and inanimate objects are coming to life and attacking people. It’s up to a young boy named Ninten (or whatever the player chooses to name him) to save the day. The plot is simple enough, but builds into something more profound, with the ending in particular being emotional in a way that’s rare to find even in today’s games, making it a piece of gaming narrative that was ahead of its time and then some.

On his travels, Ninten is joined by a young girl named Ana who, like Ninten, can use psychic powers in battle. A geeky boy named Lloyd, who makes up for his lack of supernatural abilities with his knowledge of fire crackers and laser beams, is the first mainstay partner Ninten encounters. Finally there’s Teddy, the leader of a local gang who uses more traditional video game weapons.

The game doesn’t include extensive moments of character development, but the moments it does have can be genuinely touching. Ana, Lloyd and even silent protagonist Ninten all leave their mark. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Teddy, who ends up only joining the party temporarily, leaving you to wonder why he was added to the game to begin with.

As stated, the story itself was ahead of its time in some ways. Sadly, the progression of  that story isn’t always consistent, and sometimes it can be downright cryptic where you’re supposed to go next. I had to resort to online walkthroughs for much of the game, often because I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to go.EarthBound Beginnings

Still, the game has enough novel ideas to keep players engaged even in its confusing moments. Having Ninten calling his largely-absent father in order to save is a nice touch, and the dialogue of just about every character you encounter further displays the game’s uniqueness, with NPCs saying things both trivial and contemplative. Rarely do they just point out the obvious goings-on with the plot.

When EarthBound Beginnings works, it’s a roaring success. The more dated elements do prevent it from reaching the same heights of its sequel that we’ve grown to cherish, but the simple fact remains that there are so few games that feel like this. Its personality, sense of humor and sentiment create a unique experience out of a tried and true foundation.

Mother was a unique oddity in its day, and its reputation has turned it into something of a legendary treasure. Today, EarthBound Beginnings feels like that treasure has been unearthed. It doesn’t always shine brightly, and may be a bit rusty. But in its own way, it’s a treasure nonetheless.

 

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