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Enter the Dungeon: First-Person Dungeon Crawls on the Super Nintendo

The scratching noise of unseen talons skittering on stone bricks echoes to you.  The acrid odor of mildew and rot curls its evil way up your nose.  Down here in the depths of the dungeon there’s only you, your party, your meager supplies, and all manner of unseen terrors waiting to strike from the shadows.  This is the Dungeon Crawl, and it’s a pervasive genre with numerous releases for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  In this article we’ll cover Eldritch Outhouses, Fantasy-scape Cities, Hidden Temples, and Crafty Castles.  Though this could technically count as a Western-styled RPG list, there are enough Japanese-developed games in the same style to separate that distinction.

Eye of the Beholder title screen

Eye of the Beholder is a classic.  Originally developed by Westwood, it was ported to the SNES by Capcom.  One of the few games capable of interaction with the SNES Mouse, it’s a standard first person dungeon crawler based on the 2nd edition rules of Dungeons and Dragons.  The story itself is simple—a group of four adventurers are sent into the sewers of Waterdeep in pursuit of an ancient evil that slumbers beneath the ground.  Upon entering, they are caught in a cave-in.  Time is ticking—with only limited supplies, the adventurers must descend to the depths and fight their way out.

Eye of the Beholder screenshot
Dangerous enemies wait around every corner
Eye of the Beholder
More monsters, but that was expected.

Despite its simple premise, EotB is tons of fun.  There are multiple classes and races you can pick for your characters, though an astute player will usually ensure he brings a rogue, a healer-type, and a mage.  (Perhaps even a gnome if they want to read the runes decked on the walls.) The battle and movement system is complex.  One is advised to have copious amounts of graphing paper on-hand before they begin, as there is no auto-map function.  The game is also a bit of a Guide Dang It, as there is no in-game tutorial, and despite the basic fantasy dressing, DnD 2e is a difficult beast to contend with even in digital format.  Attacking is done by right-clicking the weapons in the boxes; even right-clicking spells with the SNES mouse is required to send them jetting into the distance.

Play, or Stay Away:  Play!  EotB set the standard for first person dungeon crawls when it released and this port has a slight graphical and musical upgrade in comparison to the original.  (At least according to this reviewer’s memory.)  There is tons of fun to be had exploring the Sewers of Waterdeep, and understanding the system’s origin will help you understand some of the games it inspired, such as the Legends of Grimrock series.

Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra

Might and Magic III title screen

Hoo boy, where to begin here? Might and Magic III is a first-person dungeon crawler.  Much like EotB you roam around on a grid in a fantasy world.  The mechanics in the game are complex, the lore is thick, and the UI is nigh-on incomprehensible without a manual.  After playing through and exploring much of the starting city, I found myself attacking a door by accident which summoned a Mooserat, which quickly sent my entire party to its doom.

Might and Magic III screenshot
See, I’m not making it up!

Then I spent some time analyzing the manual.  The game begins in Fountainhead, a mystical city enslaved by the Rat Overlord.  There is a plot involving planes of existence, islands, and an ongoing pursuit of a bad guy, but as I’m more of an outsider to the series and this was my first go I’m missing some of the finer details.

 

The game is gorgeous.  Battles are turn-based as opposed to EotB’s real-time combat.  There are also not rows, so all combatants have a chance to attack the foes equally.  The manual has a list of over seventy-two spells.  Darkened dungeons must be lit with the Light spell; having wandered into a forbidden temple and found it pitch-black, I found a skeleton at its center after using said spell.  He proceeded to greet me coldly, summon a friend, and send my party to hell.  Game over two.  So it’s difficult, to be sure.

Might and Magic III screenshot
“Turn off the lights!!!”

MM3 is gorgeous, though.  Creatures are fully-animated.  Backgrounds are pretty, with your starting area looking like a crystalline water shrine.  The auto-map feature comes in handy.  It’s also designed for the SNES mouse function.

Play, or Stay Away:  If you’re looking for a meaty, weighty dungeon crawl with non-standard story or enemies, do Play.  There’s enough depth and complexity to make it well worth the many hours it will ultimately take the player to proceed.

Arcana

Arcana title screen

Different than many of your standard first-person dungeon crawls, Arcana is a strange beast.  You play as a boy named Rooks, the last Card Master, in an episodic adventure format.  He can summon elemental spirits and use elemental card attacks in battle while skulking through various temples and dungeons.  Unlike the previous games on the list, Arcana is a character-driven story; unlike most Western RPGs where one steps into a role and the NPCs address the player, the character of Rooks is the protagonist, and the NPCs communicate with him.  As Rooks is a Card Master the whole game plays with the aesthetic: within dungeons, cutscenes, and more, most everything is a Card of one sort or another.

 

Arcana screenshot
Your childhood friend and his Apprentice. 
(PS… remove Teefa’s equipment before the end of Balnia.)

Battles are turn-based, and as with most typical RPGs, Rooks starts out with a pocketful of change and not much else.  Careful treks to the dungeons and back to the nearest village allow your characters to gain more gold and outfit themselves even further.  Monsters are gorgeous and fully animated, although my one grip is as a Card game, why isn’t there an option to actually, I don’t know, trap the monsters?

Arcana screenshot
Enemies are animated, and even your characters get full-body animations while fighting.

Play, or Stay Away:  Definitely play.  Removing the imposing character creation option allows you to dive, almost instantaneously, into this dungeon crawler.  Having an extra party member be a Summon Creature adds some extra pizzazz to what could have been a by the numbers fantasy quest.

Drakkhen

Drakkhen title screen

Oh, Drakkhen.  I’m not going to make fun of you, though that would be quite easy.  I have many frustrating, painful, confusing memories of Drakkhen from my childhood that I had to reapproach as I played.  Having learned my lesson from first-person crawls with M&M3, I sat and played through the in-game tutorial.  Gone were my confused days of clicking the wrong button.  I looked into stats and began to pick up parts of the scenery, equipping them as necessary.  My characters started to survive this time as I explored the mythical quadri-elemental, bipolar realm of the Drakkhen.  I started to have fun!

Drakkhen screenshot
Hellcat, aka, Random Death

And then I smashed into a tombstone and a huge black-headed cat from Hades laser-blasted my party to pieces while incinerating my armor.  I forgot to save.  I also had forgotten about the random evil that lurks in the overworld.

There are a lot of upsides to Drakkhen.  It takes advantage of the Mode-7 chip to ensure you are exploring an actual 3D world.  It also has a fairly unique story.  It’s first-person for all movement outside of dungeons, which is frequent.  It has a day and night system which impacts the music and ecosystem in the overworld, for what little there is.  And dungeons are genuinely puzzling.

Drakkhen screenshot
A gorgeous sunset.

Some downsides: fighting is done automatically, so it’s basically random rolls and sometimes your characters get caught on scenery as they wander around in frightened circles.  The Map in-game tells you where you are but not where you’re pointed, which isn’t the worst.  It is, however, a pain, especially since encounters on the overworld are frequent and can kill you if you’re not prepared.

Play, or Stay Away:  I’m torn between Stay Away and Play.  I have a lot of fond yet frustrating memories of this game.  Yet I am more familiar with RPGs of its ilk and, if I had the time, I could happily see myself devoting many hours more to it.  However, it’s definitely a dense nut to penetrate.  I would say Play if you’re a hardcore RPG enthusiast.

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Top Six Creepiest Super Nintendo Games

Do you like your games to give you indigestion?  You know how the old saying goes: if you ever feel alone, watch a horror movie in the dark by yourself and you won’t feel so alone anymore.  In that same vein, we present to you today the Super Nintendo equivalent: six creepy-as-crap games that’ll get you in the mood for the morbid.

#6:  Super Valis IV

Super Vialis IV title screen

Super Vialis IV screenshot
A mighty leap in a war-torn area.

Published by Atlus, SV4 is a sidescroller with attitude.  You play as an avenging angel, a Maiden hand-picked by the Goddess to cleanse the world of evil.  And boy, is that evil ever-present.  The first level lands you in a war-torn zone where skulls stalk backwards on tentacles and lustily leap at you.  The very first boss: the Grim Reaper himself.  If that ain’t scary, I don’t know what is.

SV4 has an interesting power-up system, and even a hard-mode for those who like torture.  So what’s your excuse for not playing?

Creepometer: 6 skulls out of 10.  The anime-styled graphics in the intro, the forgiving health system, and some of the later levels combine to make the game a little less spooky than it could have been.

#5:  Zombies Ate My Neighbors

Zombies Ate My Neighbors title screen

LucasArt’s B-movie homage has Zeke and Julie fighting off a host of monsters in up to 99 different levels.  Their weapons: squirt guns, popsicles, weird liquids in beakers and the occasional bazooka.  Their enemies: hungry zombies, giant ants, horny aliens, and chainsaw-wielding maniacs.  Their goal: save as many survivors as possible.  It doesn’t help that the survivors are braindead, or that the game itself stacks your failures on top of one another.  (Every time a survivor gets eaten, one less survivor populates on the next level.)  If all the survivors are killed, it’s Game Over.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors screenshot
Survivors become Angels once they get snacked on.

Though graphically it’s kind of cartoony,  Zombies Ate My Neighbors quickly amps up the terror with a limited health gauge and relentless waves of evil.  Ever get stuck in a hedgemaze with four chainsaw-wielding, nigh-on-indestructible madmen?  Do you want to be?

Creep-o-meter: 7 out of 10 skulls.  You want scary?  Try fighting an eighty-foot baby with only some silverware.

#4:  Super Castlevania IV

Super Castlevania IV title screen

Konami’s whip-slinging platformer has Simon Belmont returning once again to Castle Dracul.  Clad in a leather skirt and sporting his bondage gear, this vampire killer has upgraded his ability to aim, allowing the player unlimited freedom in which direction to whip and idly move the handle.  It’s every masochist’s greatest desire: WhipSimulator91!

Super Castlevanie IV screenshot
Even dangling the darn thing is addictive.

Seriously, though, Simon has a horde of undead minions to slay on his way through town and countryside to dive into his old nemesis’ sky-crypt.  Flying bats, giant skulls that spit macaroni noodles, and dancing spectres await you on your quest.

The soundtrack is killer, the enemies are awful, and the environment and art all has that creeptastic aesthetic one loves so much.

Creep-o-meter:  7 out of 10 skulls.  The lack of difficulty on some of the later stages makes it more interesting than scary, and some of the changes in localization turn down the terror.  Hey, it was the nineties after all.

#3:  Super Ghouls and Ghosts

Super Ghouls N Ghosts title screen

King Arthur’s beloved has been taken once again, and so he picks up his trusty lance, slips into his tinfoil plate armor and sets off after her.  On his way he must face hordes of zombies, demons, magicians, werewolves, and more unsettlingly pointy plant things than he can wave a stick at.

Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts is the sequel to Capcom’s classic quarter-muncher, Ghosts and Goblins.  The primary fear is not necessarily the gruesomeness of the graphics, however.  Rather, it’s the overwhelming difficulty.  Arthur can double jump, but it’s hardly flexible.  Once he picks a direction, that’s it.  The amount of times you’ll sail over the edge of a tricky jump is enough to scare anyone away.  But really digging down and timing your jumps (and maybe watching a couple of Let’s Plays) will really help you stick the timing.

Super Ghouls and Ghosts laughing screenshot
They’re laughing at your progress.

Creep-o-meter: 8 out of 10 skulls.  There’s not usually a halfway marker in the stages, so most of the fear comes from the terror that you’ll have to redo a tricky part of the level again.

#2: Demon’s Crest

Demon's Crest title screen

Demon’s Crest has you play as the annoyingly familiar dem-entity Firebrand, the antagonist of Arthur in the previous entry.  Imprisoned in a cell, Firebrand must escape captivity and recover the titular Crests from Phalanx, another demon who presides over the realm.

Demon's Crest screenshot

The music is haunting, and Firebrand receives different transformations that give him access to different areas at different times.  The enemies are terrifying, and the atmosphere oozes out of the screen and into your soul.  Tangling with Demon’s Crest will certainly set your spirit to a certain spooky spectrum.

And don’t forget: there are even towns to explore, and other demons to talk to!

Demon's Crest screenshot
Other than being a creepy demon pig, he’s just like any other merchant.

Creep-o-meter: 9 out of 10 skulls.  Did you see that Dragon Zombie?  Eeew.

#1:  Castlevania: Dracula X

Castlevania Dracula X title screen

Richter Belmont, Simon’s ancestor, has undergone such tremendous genetic drift that his ability to aim has been replaced.  Perhaps owing to repetitive wrist strain, this Castlevania regresses its gameplay and only allows Richter a front-facing strike akin to a sword, though to make up for it his subweapons are slightly better.  The game is still hard as balls.

Dracula X screenshot
There is a neat little crystallization when you die, so there’s that.

A little less creepy and a little more anime, Dracula X opens on a burning city with less-orchestral and creepy music and more power ballads and electric guitar.  It’s a badly-done port of Rondo of Blood, a Japanese-only PC Engine/TurboGraphx-16 game, and it lacks most of the hefty bite its SNES predecessor possessed.

Creep-o-meter: 10 out of 10 skulls.  Yeah, its soundtrack is glam rock instead of Hammer Studios level orchestral horror, but most of its terrifying enemies would go on to comprise the technically superior sequel, Symphony of the Night.  Mostly it’s ten out of ten because it’s scary how badly they messed this game up in terms of approach.

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The Super Nintendo: A Console to Remember

Super Nintendo console with controller

1991, the year the Super Famicom made its way to America under the name of Super Nintendo Entertainment System or SNES, as it’s often called. Many gamers would consider this the first golden era of gaming. The battle between the SNES and the Sega Genesis was intense, as they both went all out with their popular IP’s. But of course, the overall winner was the SNES. It’s been 26 years since its release and even nowadays we still talk about it, but just what made this console, what it is? Well we are here to talk about that.

Super Nintendo console with controller

The Super Nintendo was at its time one heck of a machine. Six years had passed since the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and it had grown outdated. It had very old graphics and sound compared to the newer and “cooler” Sega Genesis that was released in 1989, but this wouldn’t last long as Nintendo had a strong comeback when they launched the SNES. The powerful graphics, big games and advanced audio were a blaze that created a revolution in home gaming consoles.

Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Screenshots

By the time Nintendo launched the SNES, the Sega Genesis already had the market won, and with over 100 games available, gamers throughout the country loved Sega. However, the Super Nintendo introduced something interesting and appealing. Nintendo had narrative adventures – stories with true emotional depth and charm. The system’s rich color palette, powerful 16-bit graphics and ability to simulate 3D graphics gave game producers liberty and an energy boost so to say. The possibilities of the console made them eager to create games for it: new adventures, RPG’s, action and Co-op games. Games that were born in the NES era saw new light with the SNES, such as Earthbound and The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past.

The dedicated graphics chip ran all the images on screen, allowing the CPU to focus on raw data, such as processing sprites, and the relation object-space in a game.

Star Fox for Super Nintendo screenshot

The SNES sound chip was superior technically, as it had better availability on sound channels and could keep better sample quality. Whereas the Genesis had a synth-like music system, making it more suited for techno and drum/bass music. The SNES audio chip was meant for orchestration like-sound.

The SNES was not a console made to recreate the feeling of an arcade machine – it was made to create a new and original experience of gaming at home. It was the start of a new age in gaming history. It was the first gaming console for many, and sold more than 30 million units. And earned even more millions of hearts of the gamers around the world along the way.