Namco Museum Volume 5 (“O”)

Namco Museum Volume 5Buy this gameThe Game: The Namco Museum is open for business one last time! Today’s exhibit features games of the late 1980s, and of course Pac-Man – being the prideful little single-celled organism that he is – simply must see all the displays. You wander the halls one last time, visiting some really cool themed rooms for each game, with the yellow one underfoot. Games included this time around are Metro-Cross, Pac-Mania, Dragon Spirit, The Legend of Valkyrie and Baraduke. (Namco, 1996)

Memories: For the final installment of their series of classic arcade emulations, Namco mined their late-80s games, concentrating on fighting and quest games primarily. The only relatively simple title included on Volume 5 (a.k.a. Volume O) is the final arcade appearance of Pac-Man in Pac-Mania, a very simple updating of the original Pac-Man set in a vaguely Zaxxon-esque three-quarter perspective. In a way, Pac-Mania is the direct predecessor of the 3-D “maze mode” of Namco’s recent retro revival Pac-Man World. Continue reading

Star Wars: Rebel Assault II – The Hidden Empire

Star Wars: Rebel Assault II - The Hidden EmpireOrder this gameThe Game: Darth Vader, forever vigilant in his quest to destroy the Rebel Alliance, has apparently enlisted some new help – and it’s up to you, a lone Rebel pilot, to brave the odds against enormous flotillas of a new breed of TIE Fighters, blast your way through entire platoons of armored stormtroopers, and bring home the details of the new Imperial plan – and then return to the fray to defense the galaxy against this nearly-invincible threat. (LucasArts, 1996)

Memories: I have to hand it to ’em – Lucas Arts finally came up with a game set in the Star Wars universe which won my heart. Rebel Assault II is somewhere between a video game and a movie. There’s a lot of action and forwarding-of-the-story in the game’s numerous well-produced cutscenes, and the whole thing honestly does feel like an untold, yet worthy, entry in the Star Wars canon. There is a straightforward plotline, a set goal you’re trying to achieve, which rings true to this long-time fan of droids and Jedi Knights. Continue reading

Super Mario RPG

Super Mario RPGThe Game: The seemingly endless battle between Mario and Bowser continues with the Koopa king’s latest kidnapping of the princess. A fierce battle ensues in Bowser’s castle, ending with what seems like a swift defeat for Bowser, when another combatant appears: a huge sword from the sky impales the castle, driving both Mario and Bowser out and preventing them from returning. Mario has to embark on an extended quest through the Mushroom Kingdom and other realms, gradually accumulating a band of locals to help him fight his way through the perils he meets along the way. He has to recover the seven pieces of the Star Road before he can resume his battle against the Smithy Gang bent on taking over his world. (Nintendo / Square, 1996)

Memories: An unlikely joint project between ’90s RPG powerhouse Square and Nintendo, this game took the universe of Super Mario Bros. and overlaid it on the action RPG structure that both companies had made famous and evolved over the previous decade. As strange as it was to try to get one’s head around a Mario game with a combat system and a “special items” menu, Super Mario RPG actually works beautifully.

Super Mario RPGAnd it doesn’t look or sound bad either – for quite a while, this was the gold standard for a game set in the Marioverse; even later attempts to drag Super Mario Bros. into 3-D rendered graphics on the N64 didn’t have the beauty and level of detail in Super Mario RPG. The music is hummable and drags you into the game’s world effectively, and only refers to the well-worn tunes from previous entries in the Super Mario franchise occasionally. So many Mario games had spent so much time making inside-joke references to the previous games in the series that Super Mario RPG was a novelty simply because of how much it didn’t do that.

As a game play experience, it’s effective and addictive. A simple menu system makes good use of the ocean of buttons on the SNES controller, and it quickly gets to be second nature, which is a good thing – even during the turn-based combat segments, players can affect the outcome of their battles with carefully timed control combos, keeping the turn-based fights from being a boring necessity. The non-combat majority of the game is free-flowing, Super Mario RPGnicely animated, and just plain pretty to look at. Even with the N64’s superior graphics hardware, it would be a long time before a Mario game came along to top this one.

With this gourmet recipe for greatness, it was therefore only natural that Square and Nintendo had a parting of the ways after Super Mario RPG, primarily over Square’s desire to carry its Final Fantasy franchise over to the then-new Sony Playstation. The result was that it would be five years before there was a successor to Super Mario RPG, and even then it couldn’t use the same structure, conventions and characters from the previous game. The resulting Paper Mario series has become a success in its own right, but the debate continues as to whether Super Mario RPGor not it’s ever attained the shining-moment-of-greatness that Super Mario RPG was for so many years – when this game arrived on the Wii Virtual Console, it was a Big Deal to those who remembered it so fondly.

5 quarters!Super Mario RPG was a singular event in the development of the Super Mario franchise, offering a fresh take on the familiar characters and settings, while introducing an entire world’s worth of new places and characters. In many ways it’s still one of the high points.

Tempest X3

Tempest X3Buy this gameThe Game: As in the original Tempest, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube as a strangely crablike creature, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things (swirly thing alert!!) which spin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should still avoid spikes. (Interplay, 1996)

See the videoMemories: My first reaction to Tempest X3 was “DUDE!” And that’s not even a “Dude! It sucks!” or “Dude! It rules!” Nope, it’s just a “Dude! What gnarly graphics!” This is kind of like the original Tempest, except psychedelically tie-dyed. To put it mildly, it’s a very…colorful updating of the game. The tube walls now have colorful (if subtle) patterns, and power-ups are hailed by more lens flares than an early episode of Babylon 5. Continue reading

Namco Museum Encore

Namco Museum EncoreThe Game: All aboard! Now departing the Namco Museum aboard the spaceship Game Space Milaiya. Namco’s retrospective series literally takes off for its final ride on the Playstation with a collection of seven games, from the earliest days of Namco’s video game empire to more recent arcade titles. (Namco, 1997 – for Playstation)

Memories: For the final PS1 outing of the Namco Museum series, Namco turned out what easily could have been the user-friendliest volume yet, dispensing with the tedious “Doom minus the action” museum settings and otherwise simplifying things dramatically. In short: doing away with the extraneous trappings to make way for more games. Continue reading

ReBoot

ReBootThe Game: No one said it was easy being Mainframe’s Guardian, and this game is proof. You’re Bob the Guardian, trying to protect the citizens of Mainframe from a series of deadly tears unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace by an unholy alliance between Megabyte and Hexidecimal. Various characters show up along the way, like Mike TV, to offer advice, but aside from some vital health power-ups, you’re on your own. As you advance from level to level, a new ReBoot adventure is gradually revealed until you reach the end of the story – but if you fail in your mission to protect Mainframe, that episode’s going to come up short. (Electronic Arts, 1997)

Memories: What better property to base a game on than ReBoot, the all-CGI animated show from Canada which has never gotten a decent time slot in the U.S.? Originally shown on ABC in the early 1990s, ReBoot started out as standard kid-friendly fare. Its second season introduced some more violent elements, after which ABC dropped the show and its third season – complete with battles, psychological drama and character development aplenty – wound up in a dead-of-night slot on the Cartoon Network. (And this treatment of the show hasn’t changed – the fourth season was aired on the Cartoon Network, and went almost completely unpromoted.) Continue reading

Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi

Star Wars: Masters of Teras KasiOrder this gameThe Game: The Emperor, tiring of the constant Rebel threat to his plans for conquest, plays his hidden ace – Arden Lyn, a deceptively young-looking woman who is the last known master of the ancient martial art of teras kasi. Her mission is to hunt down Luke, Han, Leia and the other Rebels…and eliminate them. Little does she know that the Rebels are aware of the new threat to their cause, and are preparing for her arrival as well. (LucasArts, 1997)

Memories: How best to describe Teras Kasi? Think of MTV’s Celebrity Death Match set in the Star Wars universe, and you’ll have a pretty good idea, sans claymation. Teras Kasi could have been more easily titled Star Wars Ultimate Fighting and gotten the point across more succinctly (and probably would’ve sold better as well). Continue reading

Xevious 3D/G+

Xevious 3D/G+Buy this gameThe Game: Evil aliens are taking over the world and building heavily-fortified installations on land and undersea! Our last defense against them? You – and your well-armed Solvalou Fighter. You can repel air attacks with your lasers, and See the videotake out ground bases, missile launchers and tanks with your bombs. (Fortunately, you never run out of either of these!) Every so often, you’ll have to fight the odds to take out one of the aliens’ primary bases – and then you’ll have to deal with the huge “Bosses.” (Namco, 1997)

Xevious 3D/G+Memories: This somewhat obscure Namco title updates and revives their classic arcade title Xevious, which accumulated a cult following in 1983 when the game was released Stateside by Atari. Truth be told, Xevious 3D/G+ doesn’t rewrite the book or reinvent the wheel. For the most part, the game simply puts the original Xevious in a vaguely third-person 3-D perspective, adds some weapons and enemies (most notably the enormous and hard-to-kill Bosses), and kicks ass graphically. I liked this a lot. It has a great deal of respect and reverence for its source material. Continue reading

Starcon

Starcon for PlaystationThe Game: In a first-person space shooter set in the Star Control universe, the player is charged with maintaining order in the spaceways, a job made a little more difficult See the videoby rival warlords trying to stake their claims on the interstellar shipping lanes. Your patrol ship is armed to the teeth, which is good – because so are their ships. (Accolade, 1998 – never released)

Memories: Left in an unfinished state and never officially released, Starcon represents the most recent, and most baffling, attempt to drag the Star Control universe into the console realm. It’d already been done spectacularly well on the 3DO with Star Control II, which actually managed to trump the original PC version in some respects. But while the Playstation should’ve been capable of an equally spectacular port of Starcon II, Accolade instead licensed the name, and some placenames and species, for a game that has almost nothing to do with the rest of the series. Continue reading

Godzilla Generations

Godzilla: GenerationsThe Game: Smash your way though half a dozen cities as one of several incarnations of Godzilla. (Sega, 1999)

Memories: Some people claim the Dreamcast tanked due to the release of Sony’s Playstation 2. Others say the Dreamcast failed because of widespread piracy of the system’s games. My own personal theory is that the Dreamcast failed because Godzilla Generations sucked so badly. Continue reading

South Park: Chef’s Luv Shack

South Park: Chef's Luv ShackOrder this gameThe Game: Chef’s got his own cable access game show where eligible bachelorettes can compete for his affections! However, in the total absence of eligible bachelorettes, Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Cartman have shown up to play the game. They answer three rounds of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-style trivia (only much more scatological than Regis usually gets) and then go into a randomly-selected “mini-game.” To the victor goes the Cheesy Poofs! (Acclaim Studios Austin, 1999)

Memories: This hysterically funny party game is a hit around the Green household. Now, just the presence of the words “South Park” will very likely tell you that this isn’t a game to get for your kids. With that in mind, it’s still a good game. Continue reading

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom MenaceMemories: As various heroic characters from the days when Jedi Knights still enforced justice in that galaxy far, far away, you must expose the danger posed to peaceful Naboo by the Trade Federation’s army of battle and destroyer droids, and escort Order this gameQueen Amidala out of the clutches of the invaders who would force her to surrender her world into slavery. (LucasArts, 1999)

Memories: Oh, what a frustrating game! The Playstation is a recent acquisition for me, and I like the wealth of Retro Revivals and emulations available for Sony’s nifty little game console. But this game and the Xena game just about drove me nuts…yet this is the style of game that most everyone seems to be trying to create these days. Continue reading

Star Wars Episode I: Racer

Star Wars Episode I: RacerThe Game: Strap yourself into the very fast, very dangerous world of pod racing. Rocket through dozens of different courses, facing off against opponents who Order this gamerange from patsies to cunning and ruthless adversaries. Save up your winnings along the way to make your pod faster and handle better. Aim for the Boonta Eve race on Tatooine and try to win it all. (LucasArts, 1999)

Memories: The first video game released in conjunction with The Phantom Menace is this racing game developed by LucasArts. This game holds the distinction of having one of the oddest titles (and dullest packaging) in recent years, but inside is a decent and fun little racing game. Continue reading

Xena: Warrior Princess

Xena: Warrior PrincessOrder this gameThe Game: An evil sorceress, in her plot to destroy the gods, needs to sacrifice a mortal queen – and decides that Gabrielle will do, since the bard is also the Queen of the Amazons. Xena must fight her way through numerous obstacles to challenge the might of the sorceress and defeat her – the world, and Gabrielle’s life, depend on her success. (Electronic Arts, 1999)

Memories: Xena is a natural property for a video game, and indeed, there have already been games on earlier platforms that explored the Xenaverse. But this multi-level, first-person fighting game is the first to attempt to match the scope of the television series, offering individual “episodes” to fight your way through en route to the final goal. Continue reading

The X-Files

The X-FilesOrder this gameThe Game: FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are investigating a mysterious disappearance at a wharfside warehouse when they come under fire themselves – and then become the next to disappear. As junior FBI agent Craig Willmore, you are assigned to the case. Your mission is to find out what happened to Scully and Mulder…but in the course of investigating this case, you’ll find that you’re vastly underequipped to take on a job where enormous opposition will stop at nothing to prevent you from finding them. (Fox Interactive [developed by Hyperbole Studios, 1999)

Memories: I’m torn on this game. On one hand, it’s an exceptionally cool concept – the “interactive movie” experience that has been sought by game makers since the days of the 1983 laserdisc cartoon game Dragon’s Lair. But on the other hand, it’s a frustratingly limited (and limiting) game, not unlike that same dragon-slaying opus of yesteryear. Continue reading

Lego Rock Raiders

Lego Rock RaidersOrder this gameThe Game: The Rock Raiders are zipping through space, looking for another planet to explore, when a gigantic wormhole opens up and whisks them into the next galaxy. Before you can say “Mister Paris, engage!,” Chief and his crew are already scouting out new worlds to mine. One planet seems like a particularly promising candidate, but sensors detect other life forms there. Your job is to help various members of the Rock Raiders crew perform mining, exploration and rescue tasks on the surface of this strange new world as safely as possible. (Lego Media, 2000)

Memories: This may be just about the coolest game I’ve seen on the Playstation since MTV Music Generator. Now, you’re probably already laughing it up, wondering why in the world someone who’s pushing 30 is playing a game where the protagonists are well-rendered little Lego men (yep, just like the ones that come with the toys). But believe it or not, despite the exceedingly simple early tutorial missions that kick things off, this is actually quite the crafty little real-time strategy game. Continue reading

South Park Rally

South Park RallyOrder this gameThe Game: As any one of a large number of residents of that blissful burg known as South Park, Colorado, you compete against the rest of the town in a no-holds-barred race through the snowy streets. Helpful power-ups and hapless cattle are sprinkled liberally through the town like so many Cheesy Poofs. (Acclaim, 2000)

Memories: This hilarious third entry in Acclaim’s series of South Park video games takes a classic arcade staple – the first-person racing game – and adds some sound bytes, characters, and scatological humor to create what may be the best South Park title available. Continue reading

Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship YamatoThe Game: In the year 2199, Earth is beseiged by radioactive planet bombs launched by the Gamilons. When two junior officers happen upon alien wreckage on Mars, including a message intended for Earth with details of new propulsion and weapon systems, and the promise of a device which could restore Earth to its former beauty, the wheel is set in motion for mankind’s final desperate gambit for survival. The WWII battleship Yamato is repaired and made spaceworthy with the new technology, and Captain Okita hand-picks a dedicated young crew to fly the ship to the planet Iscandar – the source of the message – and back. That’s where you step in for Okita – using a rotating ring of character heads, you can give characters such as Susumu Kodai, Yuki Mori and Daisuke Shima their orders, get their advice, and engage in combat with the Gamilons in space and on the surfaces of various planets. (Bandai, 2000)

Memories: Oh, how I wanted to love this game. An epic adventure game based on Space Battleship Yamato? Count me in.

Sadly, this isn’t an epic adventure game. It’s two-thirds CGI movie, and one-third plodding turn-based combat game. Continue reading

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