Friday, February 22, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: Hours of gameplay, lots of variety in enemies, bosses and items. Good story and presentation
Cons: None really, maybe a little bit linear

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was made by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and released in North America in 1992. It's an action/adventure game (though I always lump it into the RPG category) that uses a top-down perspective at an angle to simulate depth. I typically prefer the older titles in the series, and would go so far as to say that A Link to the Past is my favorite Zelda title -- narrowly eclipsing the Ocarina of Time/Majora's Mask duo for the Nintendo 64.
You play as the protagonist Link as he journeys through puzzle-filled dungeons to rescue the descendants of the Seven Sages and retrieve the stolen Triforce to restore balance to the world. While you do technically rescue Princess Zelda during your adventure, it's right at the start of the game and isn't really a big part of the plot. One big part of the game is the fact that you have both a light world and a dark world and eventually you are able to travel back and forth between them. Changing something (like flooding a corridor) in one world also affects the other world (allowing you to swim along that corridor to an otherwise unreachable ladder), which adds another element to the already bountiful puzzle aspect.
The world map is medium-sized, but there's an awful lot of content packed into it. Combine this with the dark world almost doubling the size of the adventure, and this game has quite a lot of gameplay and will require some time investment to complete. There are a lot of different enemies, from armored knights to big skeletons, snakes and slimes to cyclops and jellyfish, there's quite a diverse group of enemies to battle. These aren't just cosmetic differences either; one enemy may burrow up from underground while another may block your attacks with his shield. One may zip around the screen really fast while another might just sit and shoot fireballs.
You can look at much of the world map area from the start, but many areas are inaccessible for a while. There may be a gap you can't cross until you obtain the grappling hook item, or a boulder you can't pass until you obtain the gloves to lift it with. While this does help to keep you pointed in the right direction as far as game progression, it does make the game a little more linear as well.
The boss encounters in the various dungeons are equally as impressive and varied. Bosses usually take up like a quarter of the screen and are pretty mean looking, and they all fight very differently from each other. Usually they can sap quite a bit of your health very quickly, but they all have a pattern and/or weakness to exploit (often involving an item found in the dungeon) that makes the battle fun -- it's still challenging, but just the right amount.
The puzzles are pretty much a staple of Zelda games, and while there are a few that are frustrating and may leave you Googling for a walkthrough, most are balanced rather well. Blow a hole in the cracked wall here, go through and grab a key, go back up and pull a lever to flood the corridor, swim to the end and push a block down a hole, push that block onto a switch on the floor below to open a door above, etc. Overall very fun though, and it just wouldn't be a Zelda game without them.
There are lots of items to find as well and they all have their uses. Bombs, a bow and arrows, grappling hook, shovels, nets, mirrors... suffice it to say that you'll continue receiving new gameplay mechanics and puzzle-solving items throughout the game to keep things interesting. Some of the items you may remember from previous Zelda titles, but there are a lot of new ones as well -- the grappling hook in particular was a lot of fun.
The game looks beautiful -- the colorful graphics are very polished and animations are smooth all around. You can tell that Nintendo had a nice budget to work with while developing the game and took their time to do it right. In my opinion A Link to the Past is one of the better looking games on the SNES, especially the enormous dungeon bosses with their high level of care and detail. The music is mostly outstanding as well. A few tracks like Zelda's Lullaby are so great that they became classics and Nintendo pulled them into the later Nintendo 64 title, Ocarina of Time, where they continued to be fan favorites to a new generation of Zelda players.
Tight controls, countless hours of gameplay, unique boss encounters, beautiful presentation and a good story make A Link to the Past one of the must-have titles for the SNES. Being one of the best selling games on the system means that there were many copies produced, so you can still find it around today for $5-$8, which is an absolute steal. In fact, I would almost go so far as to say it's worth the price of picking up a $30 SNES console on eBay for this title alone.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Tecmo Super Bowl III: Final Edition (Genesis)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun core gameplay, NFL licensed players and teams, intuitive controls
Cons: Poor presentation (audio and visual), sometimes annoying trying to pass to off-screen receivers

I'm normally not a huge fan or sports games, though there are a few that I enjoy. I did enjoy the original Tecmo Bowl for the NES, so when I bought my used Sega Genesis and Tecmo Super Bowl III was among the games included with it I remember looking forward to playing it. As it turns out, it was a game I quite enjoyed quite a bit. Tecmo Super Bowl III: "Final Edition" was developed and published by Tecmo in 1995 for the Sega Genesis as well as the Super Nintendo. While both versions are mostly the same, there are minor differences between them and this review will be focused on the Sega Genesis version.
First off, the game featured real NFL teams and real NFL player names, and this is a huge thing in sports games. Taking control of some made up team with unknown players just doesn't give you the same satisfaction as controlling your favorite team and making big plays with a character you recognize. Most players even have small character portraits that pop up when you make a big play with them, sort of like a little newspaper headline.
Tecmo Super Bowl III has a lot of features including a season mode where you can play through the 1995 NFL schedule, and if you continue further the game will generate new schedules to let you play as a franchise. You can trade players, draft free agents, suffer injuries, attempt 2-point conversions. The game tracks statistics for both players and teams, tracks league leaders, lets you change the lineup and roster around... it's an awesome amount of customizability compared to most earlier games, and in fact contains most of what you'd expect in a current generation game except for the graphics.
One thing that I like and dislike both at the same time is the Super Star Editor. This allows you to create your own custom players with a limited amount of points to distribute amongst his various statistics (such as speed, power, passing speed, etc). These statistics continue to improve as the player does well in games, regardless of whether they are played by you or simulated. It's really nice, but the one thing I don't like about it is the fact that you can sometimes create perfect players who are maxxed out in every stat... and even then, sometimes you still have points left over! Perfect running backs, wide receivers, offensive linemen... I've never stumbled upon a perfect quarterback yet, but you can usually end up with one way better than any real player in the game. This really should have been limited to an extent, or at least made it extremely rare to get a perfect player.
The gameplay is really good though. You have the option of selecting between two different play books during each play, and inside each one is a set of four rushing and four passing plays giving you a total of eight of each. Runs are smooth, passes are quick and easy by cycling through receivers with the A button and then throwing the ball with the B button. Controls in general are easy, in fact you mostly just use two of the three buttons on the Genesis controller. One negative point to mention is that often as your receivers run down field, you're left with looking at their icons at the edge of the screen while the player is out of sight, which makes it really difficult to see who may or may not be covered. This makes it difficult to complete passes sometimes, and is really my only qualm with the actual gameplay mechanics.
Visually the game isn't bad, but it's not really good either. Tecmo Super Bowl 3 is 2D and presented with one team on each side of the screen, but tilted slightly so there's a sense of depth at least. It works well enough, the problem is just that everything is noisy and grainy, characters are blocky, animations are simple, colors are drab. Don't pick this up for its visual appeal! Sound fares a little better, with the low buzz of the crowd noise in the background that actually raises and lowers in volume at key points. Things such as touchdowns and fumbles are announced by an announcer, though the voice is kind of gravelly and raspy. Overall not bad though.
Being a sports game, replayability is high as you can play through season after season improving your team, trading and drafting players, and improving your custom players. In addition, a quick preseason game against a friend is always fun and I find myself breaking out the game more often for that than I do to play through seasons. It's a decent game with fun gameplay at the core and simple, intuitive controls that make playing easy. However, it loses a star because the presentation leaves a lot to be desired and another star because of the issue with receiver visibility.
Three out of five, but still slightly above average worth of picking up, especially since it can be found for just a few dollars online. Despite the flaws it really is a fun game, and it's probably the best football game available on the Genesis anyway. When I have my Genesis hooked up to play Shining Force or Shadowrun or something, I often plug in Tecmo Super Bowl III a few times to play in between.