Review: Final Fantasy

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Aside from covering the random new release such as Sleeping Dogs and Tomb Raider, it is still a main focus of mine to re-live my early gamer days by chronicling my favorite games of yesteryear in a semi-accurate timeline. So far in the blog, I’ve covered my gaming experience starting with my days in a coin-op arcade, then moving on to first-gen home consoles like the Atari 2600, to the godfather of them all the NES. Sure, I’ve gone off on a few tangents like my Mega Man and Castlevania series playthroughs, in which I skipped around between various generations, but I’ve tried to keep a semi-linear timeline as the overall theme. Before moving on from the NES to the Gameboy days, I would be amiss if I didn’t take the time to remember what may be one of the most legendary 8bit RPGS of all time. Final Fantasy.

I can’t remember which game I experienced first, Final Fantasy or Wizardry. I was introduced to both of them around the same time in my life. I was living in Japan at the time Final Fantasy was released and I remember asking for it on a whim. I had never heard anything about it, and I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was not disappointed. The summer after my 6th grade year was spent either at the beach or in my room jamming to Paula Adbul (don’t ask) and grinding away at Final Fantasy. I put that game through it’s paces. Trying every combination of character class, exploring every nook and cranny, and leveling, leveling, leveling.

I’ve bought this game in one form or fashion many times of the years. In my current collection I have Final Fantasy 1 in the following formats:  NES, PS1, GBA, and PSP.

For this review I decided to play the most modern rendition, the PSP version. Aside from a few added dungeons, a sight modernization of the spell system, and a few extra monsters, the game is largely unchanged from the original in terms of gameplay. All of the new optional content can be found pretty much in one out-of-the-way dungeon and thus easily avoided if you’re a purist. The main reason to suggest one of the more modern versions is of course the sound and graphical upgrade. For the 20th anniversary release, Square Enix has really taken the time to make this game shine. To break it down:

For purists, the original 8 bit version will always standout.
For gamers who want original content, but updated sound a graphics, I recommend the PS version.
For people who want the best translation the most definitive version of the game I recommend the PSP version.
The GBA version falls somewhere in the middle.

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 Original NES Version    vs    Modern PSP remake
 

This is the game that started it all. At the time it was released it was a fantasy game unlike any ever seen. The storyline is simple; Four youths awake on a beach just outside of a grand kingdom. Each one possesses a dim crystal and has no memory of who they are. Throughout the game, they learn that the world is slowing being drained of its elemental power that their arrival has been prophesied as the ones who will restore order by bringing light to their faded crystals.

What starts off a simple tale of fantasy soon becomes quite a complicated plot involving a demon-possessed knight, a hidden conclave of sages, and a one thousand-year time loop that keeps repeating over and over and over…. yeah.

The player gets to choose from four of six classes when creating their character:

Warrior, Thief, Monk, Red Mage, White Mage, and Black Mage.*  (In the original English version Warrior is known as Fighter, and Monk as Black Belt)* — These classes can later be leveled up to Knight, Ninja, Master, Red Wizard, White Wizard and Black Wizard.

Unlike the other games in the series, there are no default names provided to the characters. The biggest trick to the game is learning how to manage 4 different characters in a variety of situations. It’s a strategy game. You learn the strengths and weaknesses of each party member and how to compensate. How to exploit the weaknesses of your enemies, etc.

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To me, this game is a gem. But surprisingly there are many that disagree and cite the title’s weaknesses compared to future games in the series. One this most everyone agrees on, however, is the magic of the game soundtrack. Composed by Nobuo Uematsu It was pretty impressive for an 8-bit system, and the subsequent remakes have really brought a whole new level of wonder to the soundtrack with fully orchestrated music. In my opinion, Uematsu is a very talented composer. If he been born several centuries prior, perhaps he’d receive the level of praise he deserves.

This game included many things that would remain staples in the FF series as a whole. The diff jobs, characters and monsters that would reappear in later games, and the eco-friendly theme all started here.

Despite having played this game from start to finish over a dozen times in my life, I had a blast playing this title again. The new PSP exclusive dungeon and bosses were quite a refreshing challenge.

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Difficulty: MediumThe modern day version of the game is quite a bit easier that the original 8bit release. That being said, the PSP version adds a new extremely challenging dungeon. Many people have been critical of the watered-down difficulty of the modern remakes, but honestly, I think it makes for a good starting point for players new to the series.

Story: On it’s surface, the game story seems simplistic, but as you progress it becomes quite deep and convoluted. In the end, I’m not even sure I understand the subtle details of the whole time-loop scenario. The story is unfolded only by talking to NPCs.

Originality: For computer gaming, this was the start of something new. It was culture clash of both western D&D style fantasy and the exotic Japanese anime style. The game itself combined the overhead view introduced in games like Legend of Zelda with a framed, menu-driven combat system. It was the start of a new era

Soundtrack: Fantastic, catchy tunes. Just as enjoyable on the original 8bit hardware as they are performed by a full symphony orchestra.

Fun: For me, this game is top tier. It doesn’t seem to get old. For anyone just getting into the RPG scene, I always recommend this game and a nice introduction. All of the core elements are here in one form or another. It’s a perfect litmus test for the aspiring RPG gamer. Hours of enjoyment. 

Graphics: The original release is a bit rugged in many spots, even for it’s time. But considering all the things on the screen at once, it could have been worse. Over the years, the game has been improved upon. First, by giving SNES quality graphics and then upgraded even further.

Playcontrol : This is not really an issue with this type of game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 Stars – To me, this is one of the all-time classic NES titles. A must have really, regardless of the system you want to play it on. Perhaps I’m biased, but Final Fantasy is one of the greatest games of all time.

Available today on: Wii Virtual Console, PSN, and PSP.

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Review: Wizardry – Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

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With the North American release of Wizardry Online only a few days away, and my playthrough of legacy Nintendo titles at an end, I recently decided to revisit one of my favorite RPG game series of all time: Wizardry.

I mentioned early on this blog that Wizardry was one of the first PC games I had ever spent any real time with. My family didn’t own a PC until I was in my early teens, so originally I played Wizardry on my friend’s old black and white Macintosh. A few years later, Wizardry  and Wizardry II were released for the NES. These were versions I spent a lot of time with as a teen. However, the NES ports lacked one really critical feature that really made these games unique: the ability to transfer characters between the scenarios.

Many years later, a collection known as the Ultimate Wizardry Archives was released. For the first time, the first seven games in the series were bundled into one package and I was able to play through them all again (including Wizardry III and IV – which I missed the first time around).

The story of Wizardry 1 is quite simple, the evil wizard Werdna has stolen a magical amulet from the kingdom’s overlord, Trebor. Desperate to retrieve it, Trebor is recruiting any adventurers brave enough to accept the challenge. To play, you must create a variety of characters and assemble them into a party of no more than six members. Once a party is formed, they venture down into the depths of a great underground labyrinth, the lair of Werdna. The maze is filled with monsters, traps and treasure. The challenge is not to be taken lightly, one wrong move and you might find your whole team obliterated.

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The PC version of Wizardry 1 is probably one of the most inferior versions actually, the controls are not very intuitive and a bit clunky but eventually you manage to get used to it. Also, on the graphics front, the games leaves a lot to be desired. The PC version of Wizardry is nothing but a black screen with white wire-frame lines to represent the maze. The only color graphics in the game are used for monsters and treasure chests. It’s important to note that several enhanced versions of the game exist in Japan, but only the NES version has seen the light of day in the US. This is a shame too, as I would absolutely LOVE to experience the game with modern day visuals and ambient sounds.

To play the game these days, a DOS emulator such as DOSBox is required. Luckily, this program is available for free online and a simple Google search for “Dosbox” should bring up plenty of options.

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Wizardry has the reputation for being an extremely hardcore game. The maze has no distinctive features and everything looks the same. There are traps and tricks to confuse the player, so following a map is a must. Actually, back in my day I would map my progress on a piece of graph paper. To survive, you must be extremely patient, running back to town to rest up quite often at the beginning.  That’s right, aside from healing spells, the only way to restore your HP is to go back to town and rest at the inn. That’s also the only way to actually level up your character.

If one of your characters does die, you have two chances to bring them back to life. If the first attempt fails, the character’s body is reduced to ash. If the next attempt fails, the character’s soul is lost forever and you must replace them. In the event that your entire party is wiped out at one time, you can send a new group of characters into the maze to retrieve the corpses. However, your new party will need to be strong enough to survive the journey.

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While many aspects of the game may seem simplistic, there’s actually a lot here to digest. There are advanced classes for your characters to achieve, legendary treasures to uncover, and of course Werdna himself. Once your party has defeated the evil wizard, the are award with a Chevron that appears on their character profile.  ( ”   >   ”  )  – Characters that have earned this honor can still explore the maze in search of stronger treasure, but can also be imported into the next scenario.

I spent countless hours with Wizardry as a kid. It was one of the most mind-blowing games I had played and it left a huge impact that stays with me to this very day. It’s no wonder that it is still considered the Grandfather of all RPG Games.

Difficulty: Difficult – The game is certainly difficult. There’s no doubt about it. However, due to today’s technology it’s quite easy to cheat. Avoiding death is a simple as sneakily restoring a previously saved character file. But you wouldn’t do that…. would you?

Story: The storyline seems quite basic, but the observant and imaginative player can actually glean a few interesting pieces of lore from certain events that occur while exploring the maze. Admittedly, it does seem that the storyline for this scenario is quite weak and serves only the basic purpose of giving players are reason to set foot in the maze in the first place.

Originality: For many, this game was the first taste of an RPG. The first person view of the maze was something pretty new at the time. It’s obvious that the game was heavily influenced by the tabletop version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip). The NES version of the game was the first to include music and was filled with quirky catchy tunes. The Wizardry Theme included in the NES version is legendary.

Fun: This game can still be fun today, if you have a good understanding what you’re getting into when you play it. Patience is a must, and you have to be willing to shed the skin of modern games and let yourself go back to a simpler time.

Graphics: The PC version graphics were pretty bad. Compared to the Macintosh and Apple versions of the game, the PC makes out the worst. That being said, there’s really not much that could be done at the time. This game was released during a time when PC gaming was in it’s infancy.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite it’s age and many of it’s shortcomings. This is a classic game and probably my favorite of the original Wizardry scenarios. This is the game that started it all. Without Wizardry, there would be no Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls. The game hooked me a kid, and still enthralls me to this day. Unlike most games today, Wizardry gives you the foundation, your imagination takes over the rest of the way. That is something that is sorely missed these days.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Double Dragon

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There’s always a first time for everything. For me, Double Dragon was the first time I had ever seen a “beat ’em up” game. For all I know, it may have actually been the first of it’s kind. I first encountered this title in an arcade room and it completely blew me away.

The concept behind the game is simple. You’re a hardcore dude from the streets, and you have a really smokin hot girlfriend. One day, some thugs walk up and punch her in the stomach, throw her over their shoulder and take her off. Well, that rubs you the wrong way and you (and your brother – if playing 2-player) decide to track them down and get her back. From that point on, it’s one big slugfest all the way to the final boss.

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  Arcade Version of Double Dragon

I spent many many quarters punching and kicking thugs, but I never managed to reach the end. Then one day, I saw an amazing sight. There on the shelf of my local store was Double Dragon, for the NES. I begged and pleaded and did a bunch of extra chores, within a month’s time I had earned my reward… only to be shocked and somewhat disappointed when I got it home. The NES version of Double Dragon, was nothing like what I had played at the arcade. It was uglier and it seemed very watered down. But, while the NES version was not as pretty as the Double Dragon I saw in that arcade cabinet, for many (including myself) this was the version of Double Dragon that we all came to know.

Looking back, I realize that the NES hardware was simply unable to re-create the experience of the arcade machine. The arcade version looked to be a 16 bit game. The color palette and processing power just didn’t exist in a home-based console at the time.

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  NES Version of Double Dragon

By today’s standards, either version of the game is very antiquated. But at the time there was really nothing like it. As you progress through the game you can unlock new moves and fighting abilities. Many of these depend on the direction you are facing mixed with various button combos.  It’s actually quite impressive how much they were able to pack into a controller with only two buttons.

Once you reach the end of the game, you realize that your lady was actually kidnapped by your twin bother. This is a big difference in terms of storyline from the original arcade version.

While the NES version of the game does feature a standard 2-player mode, it’s not a co-operative system like the arcade version. Instead, it’s a turn based system. Something else that was a bit of a disappoint for me. However, fear not, in lieu of co-op play, there is an alternative form of play that allows two friends to engage each other. Sadly, it to is a bit limited in it’s scope, only allowing two of the same characters to battle each other. Strangely enough, this alternate mode seems to have much better graphics and character detail

Despite these limitations, Double Dragon is one of a kind. It spawned several sequels over the years, all of varying quality. The 2nd game is arguably better than the first, while the 3rd is almost universally panned. A 4th and 5th game were released for the SNES, neither gaining much interest. Recently, a reboot was released called Double Dragon Neon. This is a game that I’ll be talking about in great length in another post. For now, I’ll wrap this review up.

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Difficulty: Difficult  – The game starts off easy, but gets tougher as you go. Aside from combating thugs, you eventually have to deal with environmental hazards as well. Everything from pits to booby traps. The stage bosses can also pack quite a punch.

Story: The main premise of “go rescue your girlfriend” has been done to death. But somehow, when put in a street thug setting, it’s somewhat forgivable. The NES version also tries to tie the appearance of repetitive adversaries into something having to do with twins… odd stuff.

Originality: For me at least, this game presented a brand new concept. I had never played a street fighting game before and this title has it all. Martial arts, weapons, what more could you want?

Soundtrack: One of the best things about this game is the music. Hands down. These tracks are awesome. The title music alone is fantastic. I would love to hear the theme played with a real rock band… and that guitar solo. Damn.  I’m sure it’s been done. In fact, I’m going to have to scour the net now to see what I can find. Defiantly not a disappointment here.

Fun: Overall, this game presents a really good time. Even today, it’s good way to kill an hour or two. I let my 9-year old play it and he had a blast. That’s always a good indicator

Graphics: Even for an NES title, the graphics left a little bit to be desired. Compared to the arcade version, it is garbage. But, It’s not really fair to make that comparison. That being said, Double Dragon 2 is a big step up from the original and it was also an 8-bit title. I feel that a little more time could have spent to improve the look of the game. 

Playcontrol: In my opinion here, the game suffers a bit. The play control can at times, feel a little imprecise. Messing up combo moves happens often, and a lot of the time it really feels like you nailed it right on. After a while, you do tend to get the feel for things, but it just seems harder than it should be.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – There’s a lot about the NES port of the game that was wrong. But there’s equally a lot of things about it that are done right. This is definitely a title that’s recommended for anyone who enjoys retro games, despite it’s flaws, it’s a classic. 

Currently available on: Wii Virtual Console (NES version)          * update –  Steam (Arcade version) [as of  2015]

Other Reviews In This Series:

Canon games:   DD – DD2 – DD3 – DD4

Side games:  Super DD -DD5 – DD Neon

Review: Metal Gear

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I have waited a long time to write this review. As a kid, one of my favorite games on the NES was Metal Gear. Despite it’s funky translation issues, this was one game that hooked me from day one. I would dare say that this game is what sparked my interest in other military style games and movies involving warfare and combat.

Metal Gear was not your typical NES game. It was not a side scrolling platformer, instead it is a screen by screen overhead action title. In some respects, the play controls and style are a bit like The Legend of Zelda. Except, in this game instead of rushing into an area headfirst with guns blazing, you want to sneak by undetected if possible.

The story of Metal Gear is actually pretty involved. You’d never realize that by reading the game manual that came with the American version. For someone reason Konami (publishing under the name ULTRA) had a bad habit of turning many of their games into a joke during the localization process. Why the felt the need to do this, I’ll never understand.

In this game, you play a black-ops special forces agent named Solid Snake. Snake is a member of a secret unit known as FOXHOUND. He is sent on a search and rescue mission. His goal is to free another FOXHOUND agent known as Gray Fox, who is being held in a secret military compound known as Outer Heaven somewhere in the jungles of Africa.

Fox was previously sent to infiltrate the base and determine the validity of reports regarding a superweapon known as Metal Gear, which is supposedly being developed in Outer Heaven, and to neutralize the situation if need be. However, during his mission, Gray Fox was caught and imprisoned.

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The game itself begins with Solid Snake entering the base, and it’s the player’s job to try to avoid detection while collecting intelligence and the arsenal needed to locate Gray Fox. One neat feature of the game is the Transceiver. Basicially, a radio that will sound off from time to time to give the player hints and background information. Initially, your only contact on the radio is your commander known only as “Big Boss”. However, as you progress through the game you will make contact with other team members.

Eventually, it becomes clear that the Metal Gear project is real. Metal Gear is a heavily armed walking tank, armed with a nuclear arsenal. However, it has yet to be completed. As this information is uncovered, and Snake gets deeper into the secrets of Outer Heaven, it becomes clear that he was never supposed to succeed in his mission. Eventually, Snake manages to destroy Metal Gear, but as he escapes the compound, he is confronted by none other than Big Boss. It is revealed he was the mastermind behind Outer Heaven all along. He had been using his connections to steal military intelligence, establish his own mercenary force, and fund his activities. His goal was to send a rookie in, hoping to have him captured and feed misinformation to authorities, but he underestimated Snake in the long run.

I know… what a great story right! Sadly, if you’re playing the NES version of the game, you get a really watered down version of the above events. The translation team did an absolutely terrible job on the localization. Not to mention the various spelling errors and senseless text littered throughout the game.

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  Oh.. have it?

The original version of Metal Gear was actually released on an obscure home computer system known as the MSX. Thankfully, the original version of the game has since been made available in the USA. Having played thru the NES version countless times, I decided to experience the original version for the sake of this playthrough.

Several differences were immediately apparent. First of all, the music in the NES version seems to be vastly superior in my opinion. The Nintendo port of Metal Gear is packed with a great in-game soundtrack. While the MSX version seems really weak in comparison. But aside from the music, the MSX version is definitely the definitive Metal Gear experience.

In it, Snake infiltrates the compound via an underwater channel instead of parachuting into the jungle. Also, in the NES version, you never actually encounter or do battle with Metal Gear itself. Instead, you have to blow up the super computer that controls it… why?

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Above: NES version of Metal Gear
Below: Original MSX version
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This puts me in a weird position. I still like the NES version of the game for many reason, but I have to admit that the original version is definitely the one that a new player should pay attention to.

 

Difficulty: Medium  – Once you have mastered the art of sneaking around, and you’ve managed to earn a little gear and health, the game is not overly difficult. However, until you reach that point things can be pretty tough.

Story: This game features and EXCELLENT plot and it’s told very well in the original version. It’s like playing through an action packed spy novel. Really incredible stuff.

 Originality: The whole concept of “try NOT to fight” was something completely new at the time. When playing the game, you have pay attention to which direction guards are facing. Walk in front of them, and they will see you and attack. Patience is key, you have to learn to hide behind walls, and only to move at the proper time. This was really some great innovation at the time.

Soundtrack: As I stated earlier, the NES version wins this hands down in my opinion. The MSX music is appropriate, but it doesn’t seem to be very inspiring.

Fun: It doesn’t matter how time I play this game, it’s always fun. As I said earlier, patience is key. If you intend to storm through this game “Leeroy Jenkins” style, you won’t have a very good experience.

Graphics: For the most part, both ports of the game are similar. The MSX version does seem to win here. I feel that either one could have looked a little better, I’ve seen better art in 8-bit titles, but in a way the gritty, dirty look of the game is fitting.

Playcontrol: As far as response goes, there’s no issues at all. Sneaking around takes bit getting used to, but the game handles well.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Even though I’m officially reviewing the canonical MSX version, both games get four stars from me. Metal Gear is one of those must have games. I highly recommend it.

Currently available on:  PS3  and Xbox 360 (MSX Version is included in the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Legacy Collection, as a bonus game)

Other Reviews In This Series:

MGMG2MGS – MGS2 – MGS3 – Portable Ops – MGS4 – Peace Walker -MG Rising: Revengeance-  MGS5 Ground Zeros- MGS5 Phantom PainGhost Babel – Acid – Acid 2

Review: Kid Icarus

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Flipping thru my retro collection, I found myself playing another classic Nintendo title, Kid Icarus. One of the quirkier games Nintendo created, Kid Icarus is often compared to Metroid in the sense that it is both an up and down and side-to-side platformer. However, unlike Metroid, the world is not open and the player cannot progress backwards.

The storyline of Kid Icarus borrow greatly from Greek mythology, but takes great liberties with the legends. In this game, the world is ruled by two goddesses, Palutena and Medusa. As it turns out, Medusa is evil and dislikes mankind so she summons her army from the underworld and invades Palutena’s palace in the sky. Using her powers, Medusa imprisons Palutena and turns all her bodyguards into stone. The angelic residents of the palace are imprisoned in the Underworld while Medusa rules supreme.

The game begins when the young angel Pit, escapes from his prison and begins his ascent back up the heavens to find the three sacred treasures needed to defeat Medusa and rescue Palutena.

Recently, an enhanced 3D remake was released for the Nintendo 3DS. For the purpose of this retro review, that is the version I played. I must say, the enhancements make a huge difference. I’m not a fan of the whole 3D thing, so I usually turn it off. But the new sprites and backgrounds are a huge improvement over the original. The new version of the game saves after every level, so the old password functionality is gone (thankfully). I’ve read that the difficulty has been lowered slightly, but I don’t really see it.

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Original and Remake comparison

This is one of the classics from my youth. Back in the 3rd and 4th grade it got me really interested n Greek Mythology. At the time I remember finding it fascinating but very frustrating. The game is divided into several liner stages. At the end of each world is a maze style palace. The palaces are open, so you can revisit areas previously accessed. At the end of each palace is a boss, once the boss is defeated, Pit recovers one of the sacred treasures and can progress to the next world. Eventually, once all the full arsenal is recovered, Pit equips himself and flies to the final stage to do battle with Medusa.

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The content of the game is what kept me fascinated as a child. The ascetics of both the graphics and music leave a lot to be desired. (Which is really bad, because I hear that the graphics are an upgrade from the original Japanese version). On top of that, the game is frustrating difficult. It spares no mercy, even on the first few levels.

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Having completed the new version, I found it to be a nice trip down memory lane. But sadly, this is one game that has not aged well in my opinion. A recent long-awaited sequel has been released and I look forward to playing it soon. I purchased it for my son some time ago and he thoroughly enjoyed it.

Difficulty: Very Difficult  – This is your standard 8-bit platformer. The monsters are the same every time, so with practice and memorization it gets easier. But it’s still pretty brutal. This is more true in the beginning of the game. Once you acquire several upgrades things do tend to get a bit easier. That being said, the last level of the game is pushover. It’s the grind to get there that is tough for many.

Story: The backstory is a pretty interesting mix of real life legend and fantasy concepts. Aside from what is printed in the instruction booklet, there’s very little story in the game itself. Although, this was common back in the old days 😉

Originality: Where there was really nothing NEW brought to the table with Kid Icarus, it is certainly a unique game. Looking back, a lot of the game feels like various ideas all duct-taped into one cartridge. It’s flimsy, but yet it manages to hold itself together.

Soundtrack: I found the game soundtrack to be poor in quality but good in composition. With one exception.. the DAMNED REAPER TUNE. Never before in the history of gaming has their been a more annoying and yet, mocking tune composed. The funny thing is, I think that’s *exactly* what they were going for. If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, you’ve obviously never played the game. — Side note: the fortress music is classic!

Fun: If you a person that is not easily frustrated, this game can be a lot of fun. However, for many, it’s a really nice way to get pissed off in record time.

Graphics: The original version was pretty nasty looking, even by 80’s standards. The new enhanced version is a nice upgrade. It kind of brings the game up to a 16bit color palette with very nice background rendering.

Playcontrol: Pretty spot-on as far as the controls go. As a platformer, there are many precise jumps needed; so steady hands are a must. The character of Pit is not particularly agile, so first-time players will need a little time before getting the feel for it all.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – This game represents attributes of both a good and bad game. It’s hard to give such a poor score to a classic title, but in all honesty, it’s not a very good game. I have read that it was a rushed work, and it really does show in the final product. Dispute my low overall score, I do feel it’s worthy of a purchase either on the Virtual Console or the eShop.

Currently available on: Wii Virtual Console or Nintendo eShop

Other Reviews In This Series:

Kid IcarusMyths and Monsters – Uprising

Review: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

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Back for the next installment of the Castlevania playthrough and review. As one might predict, the success of Castlevania brought a sequel. However, it is not what you might expect. Castlevania II is not merely an update to the original stage by stage platformer. It is something altogether different.

The game takes place 7 years after the original. In this story, we learn that during his battle with Dracula, Simon was bitten and thus cursed. As the years have gone by, the curse has slowly inflicted him, causing him to lose strength. Through his research, Simon learns that the only way to break the curse is to gather the remains of Dracula, return them to Castlevania, and burn them.

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This game is quite different then the original. Simon begins his quest in a town. There are people to talk to, some provide clues, others send Simon on wild goose chases. The game revolves around Simon collecting Dracula’s remains. These consist of: Dracula’s Rib, Heart, Fingernail, Eye, and Ring.

These remains are each kept in a separate mansion somewhere in the country of Transylvania. For the most part they are easy to collect. Simon must make his way to depths of the mansion and strike a crystal ball containing the remains with an Oak Stake. Once collected, Simon can “equip” the part, sometimes this has a beneficial effect. Ie: the rib can be used as a shield.

Two of the parts are guarded by bosses: Death (aka: The reaper) and Carmilla’s Mask. Both bosses are laughably easy. Defeated them also earns Simon a special item or weapon.

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Aside from collecting the remains, Simon must also gather various other objects: Magic Crystals, Holy Water, Garlic, to name a few. Simon can also upgrade his whip multiple times, ending with a Whip of Flame. By the time the game is over, Simon has visited multiple towns and is geared to the gills with an arsenal of weapons and items.

This time around, Castlevania itself is a cinch to navigate, it is empty. There’s not a single monster in the whole castle until Simon sets the remains on fire. This spawns a ghostly version of Dracula, that if you let it, will fly around the room and attack Simon.

However, in another example of how ridiculously easy this game is, Simon can continually toss a holy flame at Dracula, both immobilizing him and damaging him at the same time.

Once defeated, you are treated to one of three endings. In one ending, both Simon and Dracula perish in the fight. It mentions that the Belmont family will continue to hunt evil for many generations to come.

In the second, Simon wins, but eventually dies from his wounds nonetheless.

The third, Simon wins and lives a long healthy life, but the players see Dracula’s hand erupt from the ground by his gravesite. Hinting that the prince of darkness will one day return.

All in all, and despite it’s faults. I love this game. It holds a lot of dear memories for me, and will always be a favorite of mine. As kids, my old buddy and I were nuts for it. We couldn’t wait for the weekend when I’d sleep over at his house, we’d stay up all night and play this thing. We wanted to see all the endings and figure out what all the weird items did…

Despite all this, the game has some major shortcomings. The translation is just atrocious, and the game itself is way to short, and very very easy. You can sit down and play thing from start to finish is about two to three hours if you know what you’re doing.

The Castlevania series ends up having a pretty convoluted timeline, so to keep things understandable, I’m going to help track the games for those that might not be familiar, I will amend with each review:

1691: Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

Difficulty: Easy –  This game is not very difficult at all. Perhaps at the very beginning there’s a bit of a challenge until Simon has grown in strength, but if you don’t go wandering too far you’ll have no real trouble. Monsters are stronger at night time, but not by a very noticeable degree. Some of the mansions feature fake floors that will plummet you to your death, etc. But their locations can be detected by tossing some holy water on the floor.

Story: I like the concept of Simon being inflicted by a curse and having to resurrect Dracula in order to break it. One might expect a simple “Dracula has returned!” plot, so this is a nice treat. Aside from that, there’s not much lore that unfolds in the game. Some of the locations are named roughly after certain areas of Romania and Transylvania, but there’s no elaboration in game.

Originality:   This is certainly not a rehash of the first game. The development team took a big risk by making the sequel radically different.

Soundtrack: The music in this game is the pinnacle of NES beeps and bloops if you ask me. Great stuff, I still hum it today whenever I think of the title. Some of the classic melodies from the Castlevania series started right here.

Fun: For me, this is great fun title. It has a more serious tone than the original in some ways. It also is a bit more atmospheric. This is probably my favorite of the 8bit NES Castlevania games. 

Graphics: The graphics here are very different than the original. I consider them to be an improvement. There’s a lot on the screen at times, and this game will occasionally choke up. But in terms of aesthetics, I do not have any complaints. Good 8bit artwork.

Playcontrol:  A big improvement over the original. Simon feel much more flexible and easy to control. Switching between equipment is pretty simple and painless. Everything is precise and responsive as it should be.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – While this title is a favorite of mine, it received a lot of criticsim during it’s time. Many fans of the original title were turned off by the difference between the two titles. I personally feel that the boss battles should have been a bit tougher than they are. Many of the puzzles in the game are bit unusual and don’t make much sense. (Thank god for Nintendo power, or many of us would still be trying to figure out what to do with the red crystal.) Regardless of these issues, I love the game.

Available now on: Wii/WiiU Virtual Console

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania

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When you’re a kid, no other game has cooler monsters and a scarier atmosphere than Castlevania. It’s creepy, but just campy enough to keep you from getting scared. For those that are not familiar, here’s the set up: Transylvania is the place we all know and love. Filled with gypsies and creepy things. Every 100 years the land is plagued by the ghostly return of the legendary vampire, Count Dracula. Throughout history, a family of warriors known as the Blemont Clan have always stepped forward to eliminate the threat.

The year is 1691 and Dracula has risen again, this time the hero is a young man named Simon Belmont. He must enter the fortress of Castlevania and make his way through the haunted castle, fighting armies of skeletons, zombies, and other monsters, to hunt and slay the evil Count Dracula.

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Simon Belmont is armed with nothing but his trusty whip, the Vampire Killer. Although he can pick up various optional weapons to help him out. The first level begins in the courtyard of the castle, and takes Simon into the lobby of the castle. Each level is guarded by a “boss monster”. The bosses get progressively harder. Below is a list of the areas and the bosses that protect them.

Castle Courtyard and Entrance: Giant Vampire Bat

Castle Tower: Medusa
Castle Roof and Turrets: Mummies
Castle Catacombs and Lab: Frankenstein’s Monster and Igor.
The Dungeons: The Grim Reaper (Death)
The Clock Tower and Dracula’s Chamber: Count Dracula

The game starts off fairly easy but get harder as it goes on. By the time you’re to the dungeon, you’re ready to pull your hair out. The fight with Death, is so difficult it’s almost laughable. Very few ever make is past the reaper… Compared to Death, Dracula is easy.

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Once Dracula is defeated, you’re treated to scene of Castlevania crumbling into ash and there is a really corny credit scroll filled with various puns. It really ruins the actual “horror feel” of the game. Konami, the publisher of Castlevania, was infamous for inserting these terrible jokes into games during the localization process.

Overall the best thing about this game is the music. WOW. This is some good stuff, you’ll be humming it for hours afterwards. Not to mention, anytime you hear it, you’ll have whip flashbacks…

Difficulty: Very Difficult –  For many players, Castlevania consists of only two or three levels. Because for many, that’s as far as they get before walking away from the game in disgust. After that point, the game is brutal. That being said, those willing invest a little time and patience should eventually manage to get through. The boss fights seems a bit out of balance. For me, the Grim Reaper was always the hardest boss in the game. Much harder than the final boss, Dracula.

Story: The story is a bit strange. Here we have taken Dracula, an iconic figure and inserted him into a game with a different hero. It seems a bit unusual, but interestingly enough it works. The game itself is basically a tour classic horror monsters, set within the confines of creepy castle walls.

Originality: Castlevania was unlike many of the platformers that were popular at the time. Giving the hero a whip seemed a bit refreshing for some reason. The idea of making a showcase for various horror movie icons is a campy, but very fun.

Soundtrack: While I’ve heard better 8bit soundtracks, the music of Castlevania is catchy and very well crafted. This game introduces some iconic themes that still last into today’s Castlevania releases. Great stuff here.

Fun: If you like cheesy horror movies, and creepy environments, this is a fun stroll. However, for younger players and those that get frustrated easily, your enjoyment will often be ruined by the intense difficulty some parts of the game have to offer.

Graphics: The NES version of the game lacks a bit compared to some of the arcade cabinets. But I tend to forgive this as this was one of Konamis first big titles on the NES. Everything on the screen is pretty much discernible, and still manages to capture that “creepy castle” feel.

Playcontrol: Overall, no big complaints. The jumping in the game can be a little stiff at times, and some jumps require you to be pretty precise. What little quirks the game does have with the controls, are easy to get used to after a while.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Another 8bit classic. For many, this little is something once visited and remembered. However, it is notable for launching a truly iconic series. Opinions on this game are all over the spectrum. Personally, I can easily look past it’s faults and enjoy it for what it is.

Available now on: Wii/WiiU Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Zelda II – The Adventure of Link

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As one would suspect, after the smashing success of The Legend of Zelda, a sequel was not too far behind. For the follow-up, Nintendo made the bold move to creating an entirely different game. Unlike it’s predecessor, Zelda II is not presented entirely in a top-down, bird’s-eye view. The game consists of two different modes: travel mode and action mode. Travel mode resembles the familiar top-down view from the previous game. This is what you see as Link makes his way across the vast world map. However, when he encounters monsters, enters a town, or enters a palace, the game switches to a side scrolling action mode.

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Link earns experience points from enemy kills that allows him to get stronger as your progress through the game. Link can also learn magics spells and combat techniques from various NPCs hidden throughout the game.

Zelda II begins not long after the end of the first title. On link’s 16th birthday a mysterious crest resembling the triforce appears on his hand. Link visits the royal palace to inquire about it’s meaning. It there that he learns not long after his victory against Ganon, princess Zelda was cursed by a sleeping spell. The only cure is the recovery of the third piece of the Triforce, the Triforce of Courage. This artifact is kept locked away in a great palace. To gain entry, Link must venture to the six lesser palaces, defeat their guardians and place a magic crystal into a hidden statue.

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Difficulty: Difficult –  In my opinion, this title is a bit harder than the original. The side scrolling battles can be a bit awkward and clunky. Some of the bosses are pretty tough without a specific strategy in mind.This game is extremely frustrating for my 8 year old son.

Story: I’m impressed by the fact that this is not simply a “Ganon has returned from the dead!” scenario. It seems that Nintendo put a lot of thought into creating something different. When considering the Zelda series as a whole, you can really see that a rich storyline is beginning to develop for the world of Hyrule.

Originality: Nintendo definitely gets marks for trying something new with this title. Unfortunately, I feel that their efforts fell a little flat. The sidescrolling play didn’t seem to fit in well, in my opinion. But other than that, it is pretty refreshing to see a game company not afraid to try some new things.

Soundtrack: The music is quirky and catchy, but it doesn’t hold the same aura of mystique and epicness that original game did.

Fun: This game has it’s moments but overall it’s definitely not a favorite of mine. Some of the last dungeons are pretty brutal and the game has a very repetitive feel after awhile. I feel that the game overall had a lot of potential, but I think it would have benefited with a little more time and tweaking before release. Despite these criticisms, playing the game today, I find it quite enjoyable mainly for nostalgic reasons. So, I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Graphics: This is weird one. The sidescrolling parts of the game a fairly well done, but still not as good as many other games that were released at the time. The overworld map, however, looks dismal. The graphics actually feel like a step backwards. Ugh.

Playcontrol: The sidescrolling combat seems clunky and at times, inaccurate. As usual, it’s even worse on the virtual console. In my opinion, the game suffers in the category.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Make no mistake, this is a classic title. I do recommend it for it’s historical value, but I feel that overall it’s a fairly mediocre game. Which is sad being that is the sequel to one of the Nintendo’s most legendary titles.

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ IILink to the PastLink’s AwakeningOcarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Review: The Legend of Zelda

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It didn’t matter if you were a fan of “sword and sorcery” games or not. When you saw the shiny gold cartridge that contained The Legend of Zelda, you were intrigued. In fact, the same was true for me. Until Zelda came along, I never gave much thought to things like wizards and dragons. I was all about spaceships and robots. But the lure of the glittering gold enticed me. Yes. The game cartridges for The Legend of Zelda were not grey in color like most others, but instead, they were golden.

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After being lured in by the physical game itself, I was hooked as soon as I pressed the power button. Instantly, I was hypnotised by a haunting lovely melody and the slow pulse of a the glowing title screen. I remember thinking, what an amazing tune.

The Legend of Zelda takes place in the far away land of Hyrule. Recently, princess Zelda of Hyrule was kidnapped by the evil Ganon. Ganon came into possession of an ancient artifact known as the Triforce of Power. Using his new found power, he has taken over the kingdom with his terrible monsters. Our hero’s name is Link. Link must explore the kingdom in search of the eight separate pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom. Once the artifact is assembled, he will have the power to challenge Ganon and free princess Zelda.

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Link begins the game with nothing in his possession. Almost immediately he is given a wooden sword. Other items drop from defeated enemies. However, most of the important gear needed to progress through the game are hidden away in various dungeons. These dungeons are scattered across the kingdom and link must find them and defeat the monsters that reside in each and collect the Triforce piece in order to progress.

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Eventually, link makes his way to the final dungeon at Spectacle Rock. However, be warned, only a hero with the right weapons will be able to deal that final blow to Ganon! Once the game is complete, you can play again with the “2nd Quest” – a whole new challenge.

The Legend of Zelda was the first of it’s kind and it spawned many sequels. It stands as one of Nintendo’s greatest successes – right up there with Mario. These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find many people between the ages of 25-40 that are not familiar with Link and his epic search for the Triforce.

Difficulty: Medium –  For the most part, things are pretty easy going. In the beginning there’s a bit of a challenge until Link gets some decent equipment. However, players who are willing to exercise a little patience, and take the time time to locate many of the hidden power ups won’t have much of a problem until the last few levels. At that point, things get a little tough again.

Story: Originally, the story seemed a bit shallow. However, this was largely due to very poor in-game translation and a thoughtless game manual. Being the first title in the series, this game lays the groundwork for what will eventually become a mythology all it’s own.

Originality: Good marks here. The formula for the game, in a small way, is a bit like Metroid. You have a whole world before you. You can explore it as you wish. However, there are many roadblocks along the way that will become passable as you progress. The overhead view is nice change in a a world that was typically dominated by sidescrolling games. This was one of the first games I remember with a stash of collectible equipment the player could swap out and select as needed.

Soundtrack: Haunting, ambient, and adventurous! Great stuff here. Timeless themes.

Fun: This is classic game with hours of fun. There’s no telling how many times I’ve played through this game from start to finish. It never gets old.

Graphics: The graphics in this game are a little hard to define. I get impression that the art direction in the game is supposed to have a “cartoonish” feel to them. Colorwise- it succeeds. The biggest problem is that with such a wide view, there’s not a lot of detail. Regardless, everything on the screen is clear. There’s really no question what various on-screen objects are supposed to be. For an overhead game, the graphics were good enough.

Playcontrol: No real issues here. This applies to both the original release as well as the modern-day ports available. The overhead view of the game, and simple controls lead to an all-around precise experience.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This is classic 8-bit Nintendo at it’s finest. For all the reasons listed above, this is one title that I have to recommend to every player regardless of age.

Available now on: Wii Viritual Console, Nintendo eShop

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ IILink to the PastLink’s AwakeningOcarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Review: Metroid

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I love looking back at the these old games. When I think of classic NES titles, Metroid is one that immediately comes to mind. I received my first NES as a Christmas present. Metroid is one of the games I got that Christmas morning. It has captivated me ever since.

In Metroid, you play the galactic bounty hunter, Samus Aran. Samus is sent on a mission to infiltrate a secret base of Space Pirates on the world of Zebes. The pirates have stolen a batch of organisms known as Metroids from a Federation research lab, and are illegally breeding the creatures for warfare. Samus’s mission is to sneak into their stronghold, exterminate the Metroid, and destroy the pirate’s base.

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Samus begins the game equipped only with an upgradeable suit of armor and an arm cannon for defense. As you explore the planet, new weapons and upgrades are added to the arsenal, thus unlocking new areas to explore. The planet is home to two “mini-bosses” known as Kraid and Ridley. The space pirate operation is controlled by a cybernetic organism known as the Mother Brain. After much exploring and problem solving, Samus eventually defeats the Mother Brain which launches a self-destruct sequence. If Samus manages to escape, the game is won.

The challenge of the game lies in discovering the various items needed to progress. There are several areas on the planet Zebes, each with their own unique atmosphere. As you play the game, you will constantly move back and forth between the various areas.

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If you manage to complete the game in a certain period of time, it will be revealed that Samus Aran is actually a female. While these days that may not be a very big deal, at the time of the game’s release a female bounty hunter was something that surprised many players.

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Many games have since been released that follow the Metroid formula. What makes Metroid truly stand out is the fact that it was the first. The developers did an amazing job of creating a truly alien environment for the player to explore. Everything from the strange creatures, to the unearthly soundtrack make for a great experience. This is one title that I certainly recommend for any gamer. It’s makes for a great latenight play-a-thon.

Difficulty: Medium –  In early parts of the game, before Samus is equipped with a decent arsenal of weapons and energy tanks, things can be dicey. Patience is key. If you take your time, and don’t rush headfirst into a room of aliens you will be ok. The players that takes the time to explore and uncover a good amount of loot won’t have too much of a problem. Most the minibosses have their own tips and tricks that make them easier to defeat. Weapon selection is key.

Story: At first, the story seems just a little bit shallow. It’s good backdrop to the game, but provides little else at first glance. However, as the series developed later, the story behind Metroid is expanded and becomes quite a complex tale.

Originality: At the time it was released, Metroid was hands down a new experience. Nothing like it had ever been seen. The formula behind the gameplay proved to be so popular that many titles in the future would imitate it.

Soundtrack: Weird, alien, fitting. Again, another first. The music in the game is so unlike anything I had encountered before. Very ambient, with strange reverberated notes and mechanical noises. The tunes are still catchy today. I love it.

Fun: By now it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the game. I never fail to have a good time when I put it in.

Graphics: This was a launch title for the NES and in a way it shows. The graphics are clear and the characters are distinguishable. There’s not much going on in the background of the levels. Most of the backdrop is just solid black. That is my only real complaint.

Playcontrol: Spot on with the original release. After a few hours with the game, you really get a feel for what Samus is capable of. The Virtual Console version suffers from imprecision, but this, as usual is due to the difference in the controller. Oddly enough, I have never experienced this on my 3DS version

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Metroid is a classic NES title and one that I feel everyone should experience. I introduced my son to it when he was about 6 years old and he’s loved it since day one. If you have never played it, you’re really missing out. It stands the test of time well.

Available now on: Wii Virtual Console, 3DS eSho

Other Reviews In This Series:

MetroidMetroid IISuper Metroid – Fusion – Zero Mission – Prime – Prime II – Prime III – Other M