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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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Forgotten Mascots of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Long ago, before the internet had been widely embraced, mascots were an important part of ensuring brand recognition. Distinctive and often cute and/or animalistic in appearance, mascots existed to put a more relatable face on the company or product they represented – Mario, Link, and Kirby are all prominent examples… But this list isn’t about them.

It could be said that mascot-mania hit a fever pitch in the early-mid 1990’s within the games industry. The heavy-hitters of the time were launching new, sophisticated consoles that possessed the graphical power to approximate cartoons; companies like Disney and other non-gaming brands were never more eager to gain their recognizable mascots a presence on these new platforms, and burgeoning developers took to creating their own distinctive characters to help set their games apart. And, perhaps more than any other console of the time, the SNES was a veritable wild west for mascot-based brand promotion.

Several mascots native to the SNES came out of this era with serious clout as an intellectual property, such as messy-haired, hard-farmin’ Pete of the Harvest Moon franchise… But many mascots weren’t so lucky. This list is about them; the casualties of the SNES mascot wars, if you will. Mascots who began their life on the Super Nintendo, only to fall into obscurity, largely unsupported in the new millennium and unlikely to ever ascend to the pantheon of well-known gaming mascots. But we special few remember them – and today, I hope you will join me in honoring them!

Ardy Lightfoot

Ardy Lightfoot is an anthropomorphic creature who might be a cat or a fox depending on who you talk to. But, while there is no consensus on his species, those who know the game know that this deceptively cute, overall-clad cat-thing is responsible for luring thousands of children into a challenging nightmare of controller-smashing proportions!

Bubsy

Bubsy is a smiley bipedal bobcat who wears a shirt with an exclamation point on it, and since the release of his first game on SNES/Genesis in May of 1993 the Bubsy series has been reviled as a blatant Sonic the Hedgehog rip-off… And unfortunately, due to its simultaneous release on both platforms, us SNES owners must take equal responsibility for harboring this fugitive from good taste!

But it’s not all bad – as a mascot Bubsy still manages to be pretty endearing, his smiling face and goofy voice clips are fodder for many a fond childhood memory, and aside from being derivative his games really aren’t all that bad either.

Congo

Congo is a half-monkey caveman-boy, (caveboy?) who wears – you guessed it – a leopard skin! Similar to the more successful Bonk of Bonk’s Adventure fame, (only with significantly more hair), this mascot hails from the game Congo’s Caper.

Congo’s Caper is actually a continuation of the Joe and Mac series, and though the series got its start in the arcades, both Congo and the game he hails from are exclusive to the SNES! Though he may not be the most distinctive mascot on the list, he has the rather interesting quirk of reverting into monkey form whenever he’s struck. Now that’s… Bananas. (*slips on shades*)

Kid Klown

Hey, remember the 90’s? Back when replacing consonants with other, cooler konsonants was a widely accepted practice? Enter Kid Klown; an unassuming mascot from a fairly middling game, and a victim of this charmingly retro naming konvention. His game, Kid Klown in Crazy Chase, draws a lot of inspiration from playing cards as evidenced by his colorful diamond-themed clown suit, and this isometric platformer is notable to this day for having multiple endings in a genre that typically doesn’t have the narrative chops to warrant them!

Mohawk

Mohawk is a naked, bright yellow man with headphones, a mohawk, and sunglasses – and I wish I were making that up! Aside from the distinction of being among the most underdressed of the Super Nintendo mascots, Mohawk’s game – Mohawk and Headphone Jack – is also one of the most disorienting experiences you will ever have, featuring rotational stages that are constantly shifting in ways that either aid or complicate Mohawk’s progress toward the exit.

Mr. Nutz

And the award for most unfortunately-named mascot goes to… Mr. Nutz! But despite that nutty monicker, Mr. Nutz just happens to possess the sharpest sense of style of any mascot on this list, being a red squirrel fond of wearing Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers in addition to his other clothing. Even though Mr. Nutz’s first few outings weren’t particularly well-received, this mascot ended up having a fairly successful run on handheld gaming devices in the years following his SNES debut.

Radical Rex

Radical Rex is so radical, his identity is inseparable from his favorite mode of transportation – his trusty skateboard, which he uses to “shred pre-historic pavement” as advertised on the box. Otherwise simply a goofy-looking brown T-rex, (who, come to think of it, wears even less clothes than Mohawk), Radical Rex is given further definition by his host of awesome and biologically inaccurate powers, such as breathing fire and roaring loud enough to hurt all enemies on-screen. Oh, and did I mention that his girlfriend is named “Rexanne”?

Sadly, history has not been kind to Radical Rex, and his game of origin is not regarded as having been very “radical” at all, leaving this forgettable mascot to go the way of the dinosaur.

Rocky Rodent

Rocky Rodent may not look like much at first glance, being a casually-dressed anthropomorphic being like so many others on this list… A little more manic-looking than the average, maybe. But what truly sets him apart is his backstory; while eating at the restaurant of a crime boss known as Pie Face Balboa, Rocky inadvertently eats an envelope containing the mobster’s protection money! As a direct result of his blunder Pie Face’s daughter is kidnapped, and Rocky is charged with rescuing her in exchange for an All-You-Can-Eat buffet.

…And that’s not all! Since Rocky’s main method of progression throughout his quest is the use of 4 magical hairstyles, the game was originally known as “Nitropunks: Mightheads” in Japan, proving once again that much of value is often lost in translation.

Spike McFang

For my money, this is the best lapsed SNES mascot of them all; everyone’s favorite dapper vampire, Spike McFang! While this mascot originally came into being on the TurboGrafx-16, the first game starring this loveable bloodsucker never saw an NA release, leaving his American fans with only the SNES title, “The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang” as his lasting legacy.

Contrary to the box art of the NA version, Spike wears more of a cape-jumpsuit-top hat combo than the vest and sneakers he’s depicted as wearing, (WHAT is with these 90’s mascots and sneakers?), and he uses two of those garments to great effect in-game by alternating spinning his cape and throwing his hat at foes to defeat them! And to sweeten the deal, The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang is one of the better mascot-supported titles on the Super Nintendo… The only tragedy is that we never saw a sequel!

I hope you enjoyed this mascot-themed retrospective! If an old favorite ended up not making the list, that may be because they’re not native to the SNES or originated from a brand unrelated to gaming. Indeed, that latter category might make for an entertaining article of its own. But for now, keep those childhood memories burning bright, and take comfort in your hazy recollections of a time long since past… When animals wore cool clothes and tried to sell you things!

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Lasting Fun: SNES Games that Grant Many Hours of Entertainment

This list may be all about Super Nintendo games that will really last you, but the list itself will be delivered rapid-fire style – after all, you don’t have time to sit around reading about game specifics! You’ve got GAMES to play!!!

And we’ve got to get you started ASAP, because some of these will run you 50+ hours if you’re going for total completion! So fire up your console and massage those button-calluses; it’s endurance run time!

Uncharted Waters: New Horizons

If you’re a fan of seafaring and exploration in the age of discovery, you could end up spending a great deal of time with this game! Not entirely unlike the better-known Sid Meier’s Pirates!, this title will allow you to get your fix of the high seas on your SNES. Due to its open-ended nature, a playthrough can easily run you dozens of hours… Provided you can find a copy!

Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen

This first entry in the Ogre Battle series is bursting with content, featuring 25 time-consuming tactical stages in addition to a few hidden ones. And if that’s not enough for you, the game also features thirteen different endings to sate the appetite of even the most hardcaore completionist.

Tecmo Super Bowl

Possibly the SNES game with the greatest potential to hook you for 100+ hours, (provided you have even a passing interest in football, of course!) Tecmo Super Bowl is legendary among sports game aficionados. The first sports video game to use the full NFL roster and robust statistics tracking, fans of the game continue to play it to this day… And with the ability to play through full seasons while controlling multiple teams of the game’s 28-team roster, you can certainly see why.

Final Fantasy VI (III on SNES)

Of all the RPGs on the Super Nintendo, this one provides the most time investment potential. Though the main story can be completed in about 30 hours if you know what you’re doing, completion requirements such as sidequests, maxing out character capabilities, and obtaining every ultimate item can push your playtime beyond the 50-hour mark!

SimCity

The reputation of SimCity as a prime time-waster is well-deserved, and there may be no better version on which to waste than time than the SNES edition! With the inclusion of Dr. Wright, Bowser as the city-destroying monster, and the ability to earn a Mario statue for a population of 500,000 or over, (plus some other nice bonuses), SimCity has the potential to beguile you for many days straight even as the “Sim” franchise continues to iterate!

Harvest Moon

Though Harvest Moon as a franchise has been chugging along for awhile now, this first entry is considered by many to still be the best. In terms of a time-consuming experience on the SNES that can’t be experienced better anywhere else, Harvest Moon takes the cake. Its meditative gameplay, irresistible charm, and quaint clockwork world are enchanting to this very day, and if you happen to find a copy you will be a fortunate and thoroughly-entertained gamer indeed.

And with that, a diverse list of the very meatiest titles available on the Super Nintendo has concluded! Honorable mention goes to a host of RPGs that I could have mentioned, but it would have bogged down the list. However, in the interests of making this article as indispensable as possible, I will list a few of them for you now:

Thank you for reading, and happy gaming!

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My Top 5 Guilty Pleasures on the Super Nintendo

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System is a console very close to my heart, being that it was the very first console I ever had access to as a child. I whiled away the hours playing true classics like Super Mario World and Zelda: A Link to the Past… But like so many other gamers of my generation, I also spent a great deal of time on games that ranged in quality from poor to mediocre.

And, to my shame, some of those sub-par experiences are so couched in nostalgia that I truly love the games I shared them with – unironically and without reservation! And I will share them with you today, knowing full well that the weft and wane of public opinion has not been kind to any of these titles over the years. And I do so because I hope that reading about them will kindle those same warm, nostalgic memories in others… But mostly I’m doing it because my inner child is screaming at me to do it, and he pretty much calls the shots. So, enjoy!

#5: The Adventures of Mighty Max

Let’s put the least defensible first, shall we? This game is such a footnote in the SNES library that you’re unlikely to find much information on it other than its underwhelming review scores. So why would I even mention it? Well, it actually relates deeply to my childhood psychology and how I played games as a kid; in short, I bounced off of games very quickly if they didn’t immediately interest me.

The exception to this rule was if the game in question was related to something else I liked… And as a kid, I just happened to be a Mighty Max fan. So, despite my usual inability to judge quality at that time in my life, I ended up playing the Adventures of Mighty Max so much that I was forced to confront the cold, hard truth – some games just aren’t very good. Even my prepubescent brain couldn’t ignore the dull environments, the samey gameplay, the mind-boggling decision to make you have to toss every enemy off-screen after incapacitating it… And thus, a game critic was born!

So thank you, The Adventures of Mighty Max for SNES. Thank you for showing me what a bad game was, so that I could better avoid them throughout my gaming life.

#4: Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey

Of all the 90’s platformers starring Mickey Mouse, this is one of them.

Aficionados of the genre would probably point you to Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse, and they would be right in doing so – especially for a young Disney fan as I was. In addition to more vibrant art design and better graphics, Magical Quest allowed its players to make use of unlimited continues if its content proved too challenging by default.

Not so with Mickey Mania, I’m afraid! Though I was capable of beating Super Mario World at an early age, I continually failed to master Mickey Mania until the cartridge was lost to the mists of time… But I still remember the early levels of the game fondly after playing them so often, and even after so many defeats I never tired of bringing color to Steamboat Willie’s black-and-white world one interactable object at a time.

#3: Ultima: Runes of Virtue II

The Ultima series is well-regarded as an RPG series, having spawned many quality PC titles and ports thereof… However, when it came time for the series to migrate to Nintendo consoles, it manifested as two action-adventure titles for the Gameboy; Ultima: Runes of Virtue I and II. The latter was ported to the Super Nintendo, and I am happy to report that this is the very version that I played!

I’m happy to report this because even though I found it endlessly confusing and frustrating as a kid, it was the closest thing to an early open-world RPG that I had ever experienced. Unlike games like Link to the Past, Runes of Virtue offered a choice of playable characters and gameplay options that captured my imagination and bestowed upon me a thirst for sweeping, immersive RPGs that persists to this day. It may lack the quality and proper RPG mechanics of the mainline Ultima games, but for me it was a vital entry point to the wider world of RPGs, and for that I will always be grateful to Runes of Virtue II.

#2: Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

Of all the games listed here, this one is probably the most widely reviled. Square intended Mystic Quest to drum up interest in the genre by serving as a beginner’s RPG… However, even by my own admission the gameplay is pretty terrible, limiting your party to a maximum of two members at a time and using action-adventure elements to distract from its shallow mechanics.

But the reason this game stuck with me after all these years? The reason I recently bought it again after losing my childhood collection so many years ago? It’s all about the music and sound effects, man. The overworld music is perfectly triumphant and bombastic, the town music is smooth and inviting, and the satisfying “shwing!” of your character’s sword occasionally echoes in my subconscious to this day. As an RPG it’s frightfully unstimulating, but every now and again I’ll play through the first couple areas anyway just for a hit of those sweet MIDI melodies.

#1: Disney’s Aladdin

I’m so tired of Genesis fans telling me that their version of Aladdin is better. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong – I’ve played this game through so many time that I’m incapable of judging anymore. I ritualistically fire this one up every few years just to play it through in one sitting because, when played well, it maintains a feeling of precision and velocity that keeps me coming back again and again… And all the while it perfectly transmits the charm of the animated film in sequences like the genie levels, maintaining a tight and satisfying level of challenge throughout.

There are unquestionably better platformers on the Super Nintendo, but in this gamer’s case I’m as likely to spend a night of enjoyment with Disney’s Aladdin as I am Super Mario World to this very day… And honestly, despite my best efforts here today I couldn’t fully encapsulate why. At the end of the day that’s what this list is all about; the ineffable quality of nostalgia mingled with personal preference, and how its clouding of our judgement may just be a small price to pay for the satisfaction of reconnecting with an old favorite.

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Top 5 Most Skippable Super Nintendo Ports

Ahh, ports… That classic, essential evil of living a gamer’s life. Though porting is often necessary to bring the treasured titles of one console to another, such titles rarely make the jump without a bug or two arising in the process. This list is intended to document a handful of SNES ports for which the process went even less smoothly than that, resulting in all kinds of fun stuff like censored assets, missing content, and controversy! So come along on this journey with me, if you would; your wallet just might thank me later.

#5 Final Fight

Though its lack of Guy, the industrial level, and two-player mode are almost enough to condemn Final Fight to its place in the list by themselves, it’s the removal of Roxy and fan favourite Poison from the game in exchange for two lame, forgettable punks that really snuffs out its ability to be taken seriously as a quality version of Final Fight. The absence of the two characters isn’t just limited to the SNES, either, remaining consistent with every release of Final Fight on Nintendo platforms.

#4 Mortal Kombat

Legendary as bad SNES ports go, (but by no means the worst!) Mortal Kombat is known to be inferior on the Super Nintendo. The controls and hit detection are a far cry from the arcade version of the game, but the final blow was dealt by Nintendo’s family-friendly policy at the time; the blood that would issue from the characters on a successful hit was replaced with an ugly gray ooze, all but ensuring that no fan of the edgy fighting game would be caught dead playing it on the SNES.

#3 Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame

Aside from the claims of “worse performance and controls” that you could level at most of the items on this list, the SNES version of Prince of Persia 2 also does away with much of the original game’s story content including its proper ending, instead dumping you to the credits right after stage 13. As if that weren’t bad enough, this version is also beset by a crippling bug capable of crashing the game when you kill one particular enemy. Fun!

#2 Space Ace

Space Ace is, frankly, one of the most lackluster attempts at a port I’ve ever seen. Originally cut from the same cloth as FMV (Full-Motion Video) games like Dragon’s Lair, (and playing very much like it, too) the SNES was unfortunately unable to support the full extent of the game’s content. Rather than doing us all a favor and cancelling it, however, they included what they could and inserted a very poor action game loosely based on the game’s story to fill in the blanks. The result is a pale shadow of the original.

#1 Pit Fighter

This may be the worst port of a game released for any system, much less the Super Nintendo. Though Pit Fighter itself is, by most accounts, a pretty redeemable fighting game at its best. Its reliance on digitized actors was still novel at the time, and I’m sure that counted for something in its other iterations. But here? On the SNES? I struggle to describe it using words. I would have to express it in the guttural, poorly-recorded grunting of every character in that game as they use their one effective move to flail weakly on-screen next to an opponent that they’re clearly not making physical contact with.

That concludes this list of the very worst ports available for the SNES. I hope that your sense of morbid curiosity has been sated, and that you have learned – as I have – that though the Super Nintendo is home to many quality titles and touchstones of gaming culture, it’s home to some incredibly dubious ports as well!

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5 Intriguing Genre Hybrids of the Super Nintendo Era

Genre hybrids are ubiquitous to the point of meaninglessness in this modern age of gaming. A huge portion of AAA games rely on RPG elements to varying degrees, and once-solitary genres like stealth and narrative adventure games can scarcely find a market in the modern day without diversifying their gameplay to include elements of other genres.

But in the early-mid 90’s genres were more distinct from one another, and successfully mixing genres while ensuring the quality of the finished product was much more of a balancing act for developers. As a result, the average SNES fan tended to see a lot of “safe” genre combinations release in those days; action-RPGs, platforming beat-’em-ups, puzzle-platformers, etc.

But to focus entirely on those games is to ignore a huge part of the frontier spirit that made developing for the SNES great. It was a time for Nintendo to step it up – to justify this new, upgraded console with software that pushed the limits of what was possible within the games industry. And in that regard, every game on this list was a smashing success! Commercially successful or not, the games listed below expanded the potential of the multiple genres they drew upon, paving the way for the effortless genre blending we modern gamers enjoy today.

Cacoma Knight in Bizyland

Cacoma Knight is one of those games you would never expect to make it out of Japan. With its cutesy visuals, anime-style characters and mind-bending gameplay it doesn’t exactly sound like the makings of a mega-hit… And it wasn’t! But any SNES owner would be proud to own this engaging combination of action and puzzle gameplay for reasons I will now expound upon!

Cacoma Knight’s gameplay is all about restoring light and goodness to a corrupted land through the use of magic chalk, which your character is responsible for guiding through each stage. The stages are represented by a single screen of happy scenery that is corrupted before your eyes, prompting you to create lines across the image with your chalk while avoiding the enemies running amok over it. Each time you create a complete shape that part of the image will be un-corrupted, and it’s up to you to keep completing shapes until the entire image is restored!

The experience is super enjoyable and unlike anything else on the system, so be sure to try it out if you ever get the chance!

Firestriker

Even in the 90’s it was unusual for games to truly innovate on the work of arcade classics – it’s a bit like tinkering with the music of classical composers; you do try it, but you’re unlikely to ever surpass the original. Now, I don’t think Firestriker succeeds in surpassing Breakout, but it’s certainly a unique game worth the time of any SNES owner fortunate enough to possess it.

Like Breakout, Firestriker requires you to prevent a bouncing ball from going off the bottom of the screen – but that’s where the similarities end! Firestriker combines that gameplay with a dungeon-crawling adventure in which you control a magician buffeting a fireball back and forth while avoiding enemies and slaying bosses, which is cool enough on its own, but the game’s robust multiplayer options that put it over the top as a robust genre hybrid.

Outlander

Outlander, while not quite the best game in the world, is notable for blending genres that had yet to be fully recognized by the game industry at large. Though most of the game is comprised of some fairly dull vehicular combat sequences, it’s the on-foot resource-gathering sequences that make the idea of the game engaging. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the game requires you to scrounge for materials like gas, food, water and bullets while on-foot, making Outlander something of a survival game before the genre was even acknowledged by most gamers.

SeaQuest DSV

SeaQuest DSV is what you would call a… Hmm… “Aquatic exploration and submarine management sim”? Easily one of the most complicated multi-genre undertakings on the Super Nintendo, the game demands a lot of the player; side-scrolling exploration using mini-subs and trained dolphins, isometric exploration of the open sea using your sub, and all the while requiring a careful balance of upgrade and equipment management.

Though systems like this would hardly register as noteworthy in a 90’s PC game, the fact that SeaQuest DSV managed to cram so much strategic gameplay into a SNES title while maintaining its enjoyability is a feat in and of itself!

ActRaiser

One of the coolest games ever made and the primary reason for this article’s existence, ActRaiser is a triumph of game design revered by gamers to this very day. This is largely because ActRaiser performed one of the boldest genre fusions ever attempted in video games and pulled it off; the fusion of side-scrolling action and city-building sim.

In ActRaiser, you play as a god known as The Master trying to rebuild a shattered world. This is done in two ways; through an avatar of The Master during side-scrolling action sequences, and as a cute little angel flying above the overworld when you turn your attention to rebuilding society on the land you’ve reclaimed. The game is a unique and unforgettable experience, and richly deserves its status as the best genre hybrid on the SNES.

That concludes this list of intriguing genre hybrids! I hope that it has not only imbued you with a fuller understanding of the 90’s hybrid scene, but our current climate as well… But most of all, I hope it has encouraged you to never stop trying new things – because you never know when your next new thing might be the next big thing!

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Super Elusive: The Rarest SNES Games Out There

When it comes to Super Nintendo games, it’s easy to confuse rarity with value; the journeyman SNES collector’s mind may drift to titles like Chrono Trigger or Earthbound, which possess both a high pricetag and and a high level of desirability among collectors… But in reality, these games aren’t terribly hard to come by even without the help of online storefronts.

The truth is that most commercially successful SNES games were produced in high enough quantities that true rarity eludes them to this day – indeed, it’s mainly the strange, the overshadowed, and the technically-challenged that make up the bulk of the Super Nintendo’s most unobtainable titles!

So clear away those preconceptions and prepare to read about some games so rare that you’ve probably never even heard of them… And if you have, congratulations; that’s an impressive recall of obscure retro knowledge you have there! 

Aero Fighters

Aero Fighters title screenUnlike most of the games on this list, Aero Fighters is a pretty high-quality game with mechanics that set it apart from the many other shooters available on Super Nintendo. It avoids the pitfalls common to most of the other rare games on this list and went on to spawn several sequels, prompting one to wonder why the original seemed to receive such a limited production run.

The true answer is complicated, as you might expect. First of all, the studio behind Aero Fighters, (Video System; later renamed McO’River), got their start developing games for arcade cabinets – not consoles. And that early lineup includes Aero Fighters, making the SNES edition of the game a port. Now, that doesn’t doom a game to the realm of unattainability by itself… That’s why it’s the departure of Aero Fighter’s original head developer, Shin Nakamura, that is commonly cited as the primary reason behind the game’s rarity. Unhappy with the studio’s move toward developing for platforms with horizontally-oriented screens, Mr. Nakamura departed with several other employees to form his own studio, Psikyo. Though Aero Fighter sequels eventually released on Neo Geo, they were done without the series creator’s involvement, and the original game was allowed to fall into obscurity. 

Fun N Games

Fun N Games title screenIn contrast to the curious case presented above, Fun N Games is kind of an open-and-shut case when it comes to discerning the reasons behind its rarity. First and foremost is the nature of the game; a suite of SNES-based applications including a paint program, a music-making program, and a few minigames that alternatingly distinguish themselves as unstimulating or derivative. Cries of “Buy Mario Paint instead!” were common in the reviews of the day, and consumers had no problem taking that advice since, according to former Leland Interactive staff members who worked on the game, only about 2000 copies of the “game” were ever produced.

Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally/Speed Racer

The result of a collaborative effort between Nintendo and Life Fitness, “Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally/Speed Racer” allowed players to control their character’s speed and orientation in both games with specially-designed “Exertainment bikes” produced by Life Fitness, a stationary bike capable of linking to the Super Nintendo electronically!

Both games on this cartridge were later released separately, but the very fact that this is a compilation cartridge is exactly what makes it so desirable to collectors – it was only available as a pack-in deal during the initial launch of the Exertainment bike peripheral, making it one of the rarest games available on the platform!

Hagane: The Final Conflict

Widely accused of being a Blockbuster exclusive in the North America, (and with no definitive proof one way or the other), Hagane: The Final Conflict could be accurately described as a mid-tier Shinobi-like. It received positive critical reception at the time of its NA release in 1995, though due to the lag time between the original and North American release, the graphics did not hold up to those of recent titles such as Donkey Kong Country that sought to challenge the capabilities of 32-bit consoles.

Aside from its technical performance and mild gameplay annoyances, (such as samey environments, underutilised game mechanics and poor enemy placement), Hagane is well-regarded in modern day, and one of the most sought-after rare games on the SNES platform for those who enjoy playing as well as collecting.

Super Turrican 2

More a victim of being released late in the Super Nintendo’s life cycle than any other title on this list, Super Turrican 2 is a technically impressive game that traded in the freedom, (and, arguably, some of the identity) of the original Super Turrican for mind-blowing visuals/effects and satisfying action. While not quite as rare as some of the games listed above, the game is unusually hard-to-find considering its pedigree; Factor 5 was a respected studio at the time of its release, and it remains one of the most visually impressive titles on the SNES.

Untangling the rarity of this one is even more difficult than that of Aero Fighters, but I see it as a combination of two, (and potentially 3) factors: #1, Factor 5 released Turrican games on MANY platforms between 1990 and 1996 including the SNES, perhaps leading to production fatigue. #2, in 1996 Factor 5 began to favour the new Playstation console as a destination for their games rather than the SNES, and #3, Turrican as a property has shown some strange symptoms of being in dispute over the years. After being released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service in 2008, the game was mysteriously retired from all Nintendo distribution channels in 2013, and earlier this very month the co-founder of Factor 5 announced that they are returning to the game industry and have reacquired the rights to Turrican!

Due to the not-entirely-transparent nature of game industry deals at the time of Super Turrican 2’s release, it’s difficult to decide which of the above answers is the most complete in explaining the game’s rarity in the modern day. But one thing is for sure – I’d love to get my hands on a copy of this classic gem… Though preferably without it costing me an arm and a leg!

Ninja Gaiden Trilogy

Ninja Gaiden Trilogy VGA GradedYet another title that is worth more than the sum of its parts, this Ninja Gaiden Collection is rare precisely because it compiles all the Ninja Gaiden games on a console that did not originally host them. It is also subject to many technical quirks in doing so – from green blood to comply with Nintendo’s new Family Friendly censorship policy to altered game mechanics to slowdown issues. If anything, however, these quirks have only made the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy more of a collector’s item, further distinguishing this collection from the three NES titles that came before.

And that concludes the list of the Super Nintendo’s rarest games! I decided not to include special competition cartridges and experimental software because, frankly, they’re interesting enough to have their own article – and perhaps, one day, they will. But until then, take the time to jot these games down on your retro wishlist if you’re a fan of collecting; because as we’ve seen, despite all the quirks and bad luck that tended to dog the games on this list, they have risen from the ashes to form an identity all their own in 2017… And if you’re looking for a crown jewel to stand at the forefront of your game shelf, you need look no further!

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A Tribute To Zelda: Link To The Past

breath of the wild screenshotWith Breath of the Wild arguably creating the most intense buzz for a Zelda game since the resounding praise for Ocarina of Time, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement– for good reason. The game is incredible! With the freedom to navigate every inch of land on the map in a visually stunning open world, filled with all the (nearly) endless hours of fresh Zelda-ing that we have all thirsted for over the decades, it is easy to champion this new gem as the most important installment in the series.

However, I’ve heard a lot of people making the argument that Ocarina of Time is actually the supreme Zelda game. At the end of the day, this is at least a partially subjective discussion that is nearly impossible to be fully objective about. When it comes to Zelda, I have found it’s hard to completely separate your personal feelings, stemming from the order in which you played the games and the corresponding nostalgia, from your overall opinion. However, when I hear people comparing OOT with BOTW, with a few others even chiming in with Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess— and the odd voice championing the odd complexity of Majora’s Mask— I can’t help but add one more point of contention to the debate:

What About A Link to the Past?zelda link to the past screenshot

Personally, I like to move away from the rhetoric of comparing one game to another by which is the “best.” I know I’m not alone in believing that A Link To The Past might just be a favorite Zelda game, but I’d be surprised to hear if I was in the majority. Which I understand. For the modern gamer, A Link To The Past may seem like rather unassuming competition. However, when contextualizing the time in which the game was released, it is important that we don’t forget about the amazing contributions that it made to the series…

The first Legend of Zelda title builds an awesome foundation, and Zelda 2 makes some cool contributions, but A Link to the Past is the first to encapsulate nearly everything that makes Zelda iconic with precision… Rather than chime in with my opinion on why it’s “better” than any of the other Nintendo masterpieces, I’d like to focus this article on the iconic impact A Link To The Past made on the franchise moving forward, because many of these contributions have had a tremendous ripple effect on the greatness of the rest of the series.

Plot (And Side-Plots)

The storyline lays the foundation for all of its. The idea of a “light” and a “dark” Hyrule finds visually innovative ways of recurring in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, but it manages to be just as successful here, in its 2-dimensional inception.

Zelda MapBy creating a map full of diverse geographical regions, populated by different species of friend and foe, and featuring unique puzzles, dungeons, and temples, the groundwork formula for a lot of the rest of the series is more or less constructed.

The storyline is one that becomes quite commonly referenced in future Zelda games, in one way or another: pass through 3 dungeons, get the Master Sword, save Princess Zelda, defeat 7 more dungeons, access the final dungeon, and defeat Ganon. Ocarina of Time and Windwaker follow this structure clearly and distinctly, but elements of this structure still exist in others– including, to some extent, Breath of the Wild.

As engaging as the storyline is, it is also just as successful to veer off into sidequests and extraneous adventuring. There are awesome hidden treasures, like items and weapons, that can only be found by exploring away from the storyline, which adds a whole lot of incentive to engage with a map that, for the time, was incredibly impressive– and in many ways still is.

Basically, A Link to the Past was the first Zelda installation to present an engaging story that is well designed with precise pacing while also creating a world that is alluring enough to veer off course.

What I love about it is that I always felt that veering off course feels just as valuable as staying on, if not more. Basically, the game gives you the freedom to strike your balance, which is a wildly enjoyable and liberating experience.

The later Zelda games take this aspect to new extremes. There’s a lot to draw on here. The Biggoron’s Sword. The elaborate, multi-layered side quests to obtain every mask in order to  Majora’s Mask; thinking of you, Anju and Kafei. Breath of the Wild’s immense hours of micro-stories, shrine quests, and intense amount of Korok seeds. In my opinion, upgrading the Master’s Sword with the Tempered Sword through the Dwarven Swordsmith is as awesome as any of these. And that’s just one example.

Unlike a lot of 2-D adventure games, the difficulty is manageable. This isn’t the kind of game that consistently has you wandering cluelessly, but that’s not to say the puzzles don’t get extremely puzzling, and that the bosses don’t sometimes make you throw the controller.

In many ways, this is the closest to an “open world” that exists within the series until Breath of the Wild. Still, the major points in the storyline remain as some of the most epic in the Zelda series: finding the master sword, entering the dark world, and the Triforce sequence at the end… Beautiful, mysterious, strange, and incredible.

Music & Effects

The Super Nintendo allowed a little less freedom than Ocarina of Time in this regard. But the music’s importance in the gameplay takes on an epic level between the adventuring and the intense dungeons in Link to the Past. Link to the Past has an incredible sense of atmosphere, and the music plays into that in a major way; especially with the difference between music in the “light” and “dark” worlds. A diverse array of sound is created to suit very specific environments, and it adds an unforgettable element to the game. Obviously, this is an element of the Zelda experience which Miyamoto & co. have continued to prioritize.

Zelda’s Lullaby and the themes for Hyrule Castle and Ganon make their first appearance in this game, although they are certainly developed when they return in Ocarina of Time. To put it in perspective, although the sound quality is not allowed to be as crisp, some of the Zelda touring symphony’s most popular tunes come from A Link to the Past.

As far as the 2-Dimensional Zelda games go, this one makes the most profound impact on the rest of the series. The original Zelda is obviously important, and extremely impressive as an initial stab, but most of the best ideas from that game are perfected in LTTP. Link’s Awakening is fantastic, but it feels more like a spin-off from the series, and anything that “was just a dream” will be eternally annoying to a large amount of us.  Still, the graphics are impressive, and they stand up as more-than-playable today. Atmospherically, it is amazing what is created within the constraints of what was available to game developers in the earliest years of the ‘90s.

Weapons, Equipment, and Conventions

The Master Sword, now one of the most iconic staples of the series, is introduced beautifully in this game. Honestly, is there a single item that is more quintessentially “Zelda” than the Master Sword? With the added introduction of the hookshot, and the first incarnation of boots that allow you to hover in open air, as well Link’s abilities to play music by harnessing the ethereal Ocarina and learn magic spells– it is safe to say that Link’s skillset and range of abilities get a significant makeover that will help him for generations to come.

Moldorms play a major part, Moblins take on their famous facial structure, and all sorts of enemies are created and added to the common Zelda repertoire.

Elemental dungeons are brought into play. 3-Dimensional graphics certainly allow these ideas to be taken further, but the introduction of forest, fire, and ice dungeons obviously prove to be important ones for the series.  Locations like Lake Hylia, Kakariko Village, and many other aspects of geographical Hyrule are also added to the Hyrule landscape. As mentioned previously, the plot structure is repeated nearly verbatim in at least two other Zelda games.

To say that this game did not have a major impact on the elements of the legendary history of Link, Zelda, and Hyrule would be a statement based in pure ignorance.

The importance of these aspects should go without saying.

Conclusion

I mean no disrespect to the first Legend of Zelda game, which I have often cited as if it is nothing but a springboard for A Link to the Past. This franchise began by setting an extremely high bar; at one time, the first was the only home-console game to ever sell a million copies.

What makes this franchise incredible is that the bar always seems to get higher, and the next title almost always finds a way of matching or topping. After Skyward Sword, Zelda’s creators felt like the general “Zelda” structure, which was largely impacted by A Link to the Past, had exhausted its possibilities– especially in comparison with modern, open-world gaming.

In abandoning many of the “Legend of Zelda” conventions that have arisen of the years, Breath of the Wild returns to many of the other elements of Zelda games that have not been seen since A Link to the Past; a more open world concept, choice in the order of dungeons, and a world rich with hidden treasures, like weapons and equipment, that are fully optional.

Each time Link wields the master sword, uses the power of song, is pulled directly through the open air gripping the handle of his hookshot, or steps temporarily on open air thanks to fleet footwear– you have this installment of the franchise to thank. The generations of eccentric characters who continue to populate Kakariko Village, the view of Lake Hylia, and the sensation of gliding while grabbing the underbelly of a shrieking cuckoo– these are all products of the creation of A Link to the Past.

Choose any of the titles mentioned as this piece as the “best” Zelda game, and it would be hard to objectively argue with that. What cannot be argued, however, is the incredibly profound impact that A Link to the Past managed to have, and continues to have, on the masterful Legend of Zelda mythos that has created the most critically acclaimed and, arguably, most successful gaming franchise of all time.

It doesn’t have to be a competition, but in many ways, A Link to the Past simply can’t compare to the amazing 3-dimensional realities created within Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Windwaker, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, and Breath of the Wild. However, in other ways, they can’t compare to A Link to the Past; and each and every one of them owes a lot to the innovations and additions created within the framework of the 1991 classic’s exceptional gaming experience.

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Puzzling: The Puzzle Phenomenon on the Super Nintendo

Tetris may have started the genre, but it certainly wasn’t the only influence. As a relative outsider to the genre today I investigate the puzzlingly popular phenomena of the Match-3 genre on the Super Nintendo. Showcasing each game’s hidden history, we pull back the steamy curtains on such games as the quizzical Pac Attack, the effervescent Puzzle Bobble, the strangely familiar Kirby’s Avalanche and the delicious treat that is Yoshi’s Cookie, and I describe my own personal experience trying to come to terms with, and perhaps even coming to love the genre.

Pac-Attack

Pac Attack title screen for Super Nintendo

The History: Pac-Man is one of Namco’s most recognizable icons. The lil hungry yellow disc is responsible for countless quarters being wasted in the eighties. He, his wife, and the four undead specters they repeatedly devour have been starring in various arcade and home console incarnations since at least 1980. Released in 1993, Pac Attack is Namco’s attempt to break into the Match-3 genre, and one of many of Namco’s attempts to broaden the Pac-man franchise. (Subsequent entries for the Super Nintendo would eventually include a pseudo-point ‘n click adventure style game called Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures of Pac-man, and Pac-in-Time, a platformer.)

The Experience: My brief time spent with Pac-Attack was filled with confusion and fear. The GUI looks like spraypaint on a brick wall done in MS Paint. Pac-Attack starts you out with no tutorial and one is expected, even on easy, to understand the complex and sometimes arcane objectives. There are exactly four pieces in Pac-Attack: brown bricks, red ghosts (I am told these are the Blinky fellow), Pac-man himself, and a fairy. Random assortments of bricks and Blinkies fall from the ceiling until enough Pac-man’s unholy presence arrives.

Pac Attack for Super Nintendo screenshot
Pac-Man the Ever-Hungry Arrives

Pac-man himself descends at random; compelled by the force of gravity, Pac-man will chow through the ghosts completely and totally at random. (I attempted to divine a pattern… but perhaps the intelligence required for this game is beyond me. Pac-man seems to start off facing right, except when he starts off facing left, and woe betide you if he has to point down, for he dies, as is his fate every time he’s eventually placed.) According to the manual, Pac-man summons the Fairy once he devours enough ghosts, but since I only saw it happen once I can’t verify that myself. Bricks, like Tetris, will disappear once a solid row is laid, as I discovered after my third game over.

I’m sure I’m missing something. I played about an hour of the game between the 1P arcade mode and Puzzle mode and I still left the game without even the beginning of a strategy in my head. The one time I thought I had successfully derived the formula for Pac-man’s movements and created a nice, winding corridor for him to eat his way through he turned the opposite direction and immediately committed suicide via dead end. C’est la vie, my lil hungry friend.

The Outcome: Equivalent in trickiness as a Rubix Cube. Or maybe I’m just dumb.

(Afterword: At my editor’s insistence I went back and waited at the loading screen. To my surprise a series of demo levels played out. Using tips from these I was able to enjoy some of the levels afterwards, though the puzzle aspect still eludes me.)

Bust-a-Move

Bust a Move title screen

The History: Taito’s bubble shooter stars two tiny dinos, Bub and Bob, as they attempt to prevent themselves from being squashed to death. Based on the platformer Bubble Bobble released on NES and in arcades everywhere, this bubble-bouncing billiards-meets-Breakout mix garnered some decent critical praise in its time.

The Experience: Bust-a-Move is cute, its music is soda-pop catchy, and the best part of all: it’s easy to pick up on. You position which direction to shoot multi-colored bubbles. Match enough of one type of colored bubble and the whole group detaches from the ceiling and falls harmlessly below. All the bubbles hang from other bubbles attached to the ceiling. So aiming a well-timed shot can drop multiple groups of bubbles at once.

Bust A Move screenshot
Easy… easy….

Quickly a strategy forms in the mind: calculate where and how to stick dud bubbles that don’t match, and try to bounce your bubbles through tight spaces and strange angles to knock as much of the next tricky structure off in one go.

The Outcome: Hours were spent whiling away the time. If you like addictive, fun-to-play and gently sloped difficulty curves, Bust-a-Move is for you.

Kirby’s Avalanche

Kirby's Avalanche title screen

The History: Originally released as Super Puyo Puyo in Japan, Kirby’s Avalanche is a graphical western remix reminiscent of the stylistic changes done to benefit Western audiences ala Super Mario Bros. 2 for the NES. As with much of the Puyo Puyo series, the gameplay loop remains the same: back and forth automated AI, where the goal is to stack as much debris in your partner’s window as possible by way of matching four-sets of similarly colored blobs together.

The Experience: The similarity to Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine cannot be understated, but that makes sense, seeing as they’re both Puyo Puyo clones. Hanging at the title screen gives you a great demo explanation of moves you absolutely must learn, including chaining combos together to ensure complete and total devastation to your foes. By the time I loaded the tutorial up I had mercilessly wiped the floor with the weakling that Kirby is first faced with.
Kirby's Avalanche screenshot
“Um, can we just walk together?” the frightened lil monster asks. “That’s not in the rules!” Kirby triumphantly declares. Presumably right before he devours the poor thing whole.

Out of retaliation, possibly for his eaten friend, the next round had me facing a winged character who proceeded to bend me over and make me beg for the forgiveness of the Lord. Within seconds black monotone-faced blobs had fallen all around me in a stream. My combos kept getting blocked. I… died.

Kirby's Avalanche screenshot
It’s Super Puyo Puyo, it’s Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Yet somehow it’s a lot cuter, more graphically pleasing, and a little harder to play.

The Outcome: Had a great time, and would play it again for fun. Probably the best introduction to the Puyo Puyo genre I’ve ever received.

Yoshi’s Cookie

Yoshi's Cookie title screen

The History: Echoing episodes of The Super Mario Super Show, at some point, Mario and Yoshi gain control over a bakery. Fortunately for them both, Yoshi likes cookies. Matching the cookies up in a straight line allows the player to clear the line of them out. Hijinx ensue as Yoshi and Mario scramble to fit the cookies into decent lines before the sorting bin runs out.

The Experience: I tried out the 1P and Puzzle mode. 1P is appropriately decent. You start off with a certain amount of cookies of various types and must match them in lines from edge to edge. More cookies hover ominously in the distance, watching and waiting for the perfect time to interrupt your combo. Holding the ‘B’ button speeds the cookies’ descent towards you. Stuck with single cookies that don’t match? If you get a Yoshi-faced Cookie he acts as a special cookie that matches all others.

Yoshi's Cookie screenshot
Mario jumps and hits the counter every time you move a cookie.

Puzzle Mode gives you a certain amount of moves and no additional cookies. Once your moves are out, you get a GAME OVER and are asked to try again. I got fairly far in my limited run. It’s very satisfying to twist and turn rows of cookies rook-style and match them in a certain set of moves, though a few tens of levels in it starts to get… difficult.

The outcome: I left my time with Yoshi’s Cookie pleasingly satisfied, and hankering for something sweet.

In Conclusion

Has my opinion on puzzle games changed? I don’t know. To be honest I’m not entirely sure I had an opinion on puzzlers beforehand, other than maybe time sinks for those with twitchy fingers. My little experiment satisfied my curiosity, at the least. I understand more now how addicting puzzle games can be, and I understand a little more how ultimately satisfying that twitch can be. My advice: even if you haven’t tried them before, try a puzzler out.