Review: Star Fox 64

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Today, I’m going share my thoughts on what is considered by many to be a classic title, Star Fox 64. Now, I want to start by identifying that, yes, this is technically the second Star Fox game released by Nintendo, and yes – I never reviewed the original. Why is that? Well, let’s take a moment to delve into that topic by talking for a second about the original Star Fox game.

“Star Fox” was a title released in 1993 on the Super Nintendo. It’s also considered to be a classic title by many for a number of reasons. First, it was very much a good game in it’s own right. But mostly, it is heralded as being one of the first games available on a home console to feature 3D polygon graphics. While the game looks crude by today’s standards, understand that in 1993, software- rendered 3D gaming was reserved for only the most high-end home PCs. Nintendo was able to bring this technology to the console by integrating a special “Super FX” graphics support chip onto the circuit board of the game.

This technology has proven to be somewhat difficult to emulate, which many gamers speculate is the reason that the original Star Fox has never been released as a virtual console title. The lack of an official VC release is also one of the main reasons I did not include Star Fox in my reviews of other SNES titles. The other reason being, that Star Fox 64 is essentially an updated version of the original game.

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Original Star Fox for SNES

So, fast forward five years to the age of the Nintendo 64. By this time, 3D graphics had matured considerably. So, Nintendo decided to release a new version of Star Fox, called simply “Star Fox 64”. The storyline of this game is essentially the same as the original, but Nintendo also incorporated a few ideas from the ill-fated and unreleased “Star Fox 2”. The result was a game that has gone down in history as being a fan favorite.

Star Fox 64 is basically an on-rails space shooter. The storyline takes place in a far-away solar system: Lylat. Before the events of the game itself, an evil scientist known as Andross was banished to a barren planet where he had long been forgotten. Recently, strange activity has been detected on that planet. A team was sent to the planet to investigate, but they met a terrible fate, from which only one member escaped.

This game follows the story of a second unit deployed to the mysterious planet known as “Venom”. The hero is Fox McCloud, a literal walking/talking fox.  In fact, all of the characters in the game are anthropomorphic animals. But in truth, you rarely see them since the game is played mostly from either the perspective of a cockpit, or from a third-person camera view.

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 Essentially, the game works like this: you pilot what is known as an “Arwing” spacecraft through either planetary atmospheres or through various outer-space environments. The flight is very much “on-rails” for the most part, but you are able to weave in and out of various obstacles as you navigate your way through the level. Typically, the end of each stage is met with a boss encounter of some sort. These battles allow you a little more freedom when it comes to range of motion. In-level encounters are the same each time you play, so learning where and when enemies appear is a large part of the game’s strategy.  That being said, even though both the starting and ending levels are always the same, there’s a number of paths that players can take on their journey through the game. So, it’s very possible to play this title more than once and have a few different experiences.

That brings me to another important note. By default, this game has no save-file. Therefore, there is technically no way to save your progress. The game was intended to be played from beginning to end in one single session. However, modern players can certainly create restore points using the Wii. It’s also worth nothing that there is a modern port of the game (Star Fox 64 3D – for the 3DS) that does have a native save function.

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that the N64 version does also feature local multiplayer of up to 4 players (screen sharing), while the new 3DS version support wireless local multiplayer.

All in all, Star Fox 64 is a fun little title. It’s a great casual game, even if it is a little simplistic at times.

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Star Fox 64 3D

Difficulty: Easy –  Overall, I would say that this game is fairly simple from start to finish. There are some optional challenges for players that want something more than a simple walk in the park. The biggest challenge for most new players would be to master the controls, but the game offers a very good tutorial just for this purpose.

Story: The story here is pretty simplistic, but it’s very well done. The planets are interesting and the characters are colorful and fun. This game is mostly a fun-filled romp, so if you’re looking for depth of story, or a deep-thinking space drama –  this may not be a title that appeals to you.

Originality: Space shooters had been seen as early as the Atari 2600 days, but despite being based on an aging idea, Nintendo did a pretty good job of making the first Star Fox feel original. Now, since this review is really for Star Fox 64, the same still applies. Even though this title is a remake of the original game, it still manages to come off feeling pretty fresh. Maybe it was the improved  graphics, maybe it was some of the new levels, I don’t know. But it worked.

Soundtrack: The music here is a mixed bag. The tunes are fitting, but they do seem a tad weak. The in-game music has a playful military feel to it, but lacks the “epicness” one might expect from a space-based game. The title features some basic voice acting. This comes off a little silly – but then again, how serious does a talking monkey in a spacesuit need to sound?

Fun: As long as you take this game for what it is, it’s a pretty fun title. Star Fox 64 is a game that was designed to provide some simple entertainment, and if you can manage not to take it too seriously, it does just that.

Graphics: The N64 version of the game looks great. Even today, it still holds up fairly well. Needless to say, it was worlds above the original Star Fox at the time it was released. The modern 3DS version actually suffers in some ways when compared to the original. It’s a bit more jagged looking, but the 3D effect really makes up for it.

Playcontrol: If playing the original N64 version (as opposed to the 3DS version), the real N64 controller is probably the way to go. But since most players will be playing this on the Wii, the Classic Controller is required. The game plays fairly well on the Classic, but I must admit, the original hardware does provide a superior experience. The 3DS version feels pretty natural, but after a while, you’re likely to end up with a mean hand cramp.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: None

Value:  The virtual console version of the game is available for a reasonable price. However, players looking for the 3DS version may have to shop pretty hard. New copies of the game can be hard to find, and usually go for an inflated price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Star Fox 64 is a good family game that really belongs on the shelf of any Nintendo fan. Sometimes, in the days of epic time-consuming games, it is nice to have a simple title that you can pop in and enjoy without having to invest too much thought into. Star Fox 64 does a fine job of being just that.

Available on: Wii Virtual Console, Wii U Virtual Console (Europe only), 3DS

The End of the 16-bit Era

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As the 90’s rolled on, the original NES was eventually put out to pasture and completely eclipsed by it’s successor. Years went by and new games were released, but by the mid-90’s my interest was starting to wane.

The last game I remember playing to completion on the SNES was probably Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. This title was a simplified RPG. Intended as an introductory into the genre. I remember playing it and being slightly let down. I felt that it was “Final Fantasy” in name only. And, while not a bad game, it didn’t live up to the reputation.

Mystic Quest

I also noticed that around that time, the games featured in Nintendo Power Magazine started to change. Classic concepts such as platform games started to give way to newer styles such as fighting games and realistic racing games. Sports games started to be pushed a lot more than they had previously. The Nintendo kids were starting to grow up, and Nintendo as a company was not sure what to do about it. Censorship and other issues forced Nintendo to lose a little bit of ground to competitors. And the dawn of the personal computer was on the horizon.

At this point in my teenage years, my interests began to shift from cartoonish style gaming to things much more tangible, like girls. I began spending less time playing video games and more time practicing on my guitar. Eventually, the NES and SNES got put in the closet and were only taken out when friends were over. Even then, our play shifted from things like Mario to multiplayer fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

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Even my trusty Game Boy was eventually replaced for a Walkman as a form of “entertainment on the go”. The last game I really remember spending time with on my Game Boy was the “Final Fantasy Adventure”. Another name-dropper. This game, while good, was not a Final Fantasy title. But instead, was first in what would come to be known as the Mana series. (I decided not to include FF Adventure in my playthrough reviews because a remake of the game has since been released for the GBA).

When I did feel the urge to play, I found myself sitting in front of my mother’s PC playing some of the later games in the Wizardry series. For me, it had seemed that I had matured past my video game days. And for a couple of years, I didn’t spend much time gaming at all.

That changed in the latter-half of my highschool career when I built my first PC. That was when I discovered that PC gaming was more than text-based adventures and frame-by-frame fantasy games. It was the dawn of the First-Person Shooter.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing mainly on my early days of PC gaming. I’ll still have a few modern reviews thrown in here and there, so fear not console-lovers.

Also, this leaves a bit of a gap. As discussed in the a couple of my recent Retro Reviews, there were a number of games that I missed out on. Only recently did I  take my first play of Super Punch Out! for example. There’s a number of great games from the 16 bit era that I simply did not experience, and are now considered classics. Star Fox, Earthbound, and the Mega Man X series to name a few. I plan to catch up to some of these in due time, and I’ll feature them all right here. But for the meantime, I plan to have this blog follow my own personal journey through gaming.

Review: Super Punch-Out!!

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After a several weeks of intense SNES RPG action, I decided to take a step back and relax with something a bit simpler. I was browsing thru my Virtual Console library and came across a game that I purchased a couple years ago, but never actually played. That’s right, Super Punch-Out! is a classic SNES title, but one that I never experienced in my youth. So this review is based on my first playthrough ever of the title.

Now, while I never played the Super Punch-Out! in my younger days, I was a rabid fan of the original. I consider myself to a Veteran Punch-Out! Player. I figured my experiences in Punch-Out! would have me somewhat prepared for this game, but I found that not to be the case.

Super Punch-Out! is a direct sequel, and in many ways is similar to the original. You play as Little Mac (although he looks a bit different in the game), there is a cast of colorful opponents – each with their own quirks and strategy, but the feel of the game is very different.

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First of all, instead of three one minute rounds, we now have one three-minute round. This makes the fights feel a little longer, and also keeps the momentum going. But at the same time, it makes it harder to escape from a bad situation. There’s no breaks and no rest between beatings. Also, the controls work quite a bit differently. Blocking and dodging is not as simplistic as it was in Punch-Out!

The first time I played the game, I got my ass handed to me on the second fighter, Bear Hugger. Even more so on the following fight. The game controls felt a bit sluggish to me, compared to the original. Keeping in mind that these are two different games, I took a moment to regroup and re-analyze the situation. Eventually, I was able to get a feel for the way things work in this game and I started to get better.

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The best part of the game is the cast of colorful boxers. A handful of characters from the first game also make an appearance here, but there’s a whole new slew of comical opponents.  The 16-bit graphics also prove to be a plus here, as the characters have much more detail and there’s even some short bits of recorded speech thrown in here and there (which at the time was really something special).

There are three standard circuits that you can progress through during the game. However, if you manage to complete all three with zero losses, you unlock a special secret circuit that features some really challenging fights.

For those that are unaware, the Punch-Out! games actually debuted in the 80’s as arcade machines. When Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! was released on the NES, it was very different from the arcade titles. This game sort of restores the looks and feel of the arcade versions. But I’m not really sure if I like it. I found Super Punch-Out! to be entertaining, but nothing really memorable.

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Difficulty: Hard  – I found this game to be a bit tougher than the original title, and overall to be a pretty good challenge. It starts off easy, but the difficulty increases with each new fight. The secret matches are really rough. The game can be pretty frustrating early on, but once you get the hang of things, it does get a bit easier to deal with. Each boxer has their own strategy.

Story: There’s really not much to say here. It’s a comical boxing sim. It is what it is. It doesn’t really need much of a plot.

Originality: A lot of concepts in this game are carried over from the arcade titles and the original NES game. However, it manages to stay fresh enough that it doesn’t feel recycled.

Soundtrack: The in-game music is fitting, but not particularly memorable. Not good, not bad.

Fun: For those who enjoy silly characters and like a challenge, this game can be quite fun. Some younger players or inexperienced gamers may quickly be frustrated.

Graphics: The art work is colorful and very well done. It’s a vast improvement over the original game. This time around, we have a semi-transparent Mac. This is made possible due to the graphic capability of the SNES. Little Mac is all grown up!

Playcontrol: Players expecting a play-feel similar to the NES Punch-Out! will be in for a surprise. This game has it’s own feel. But once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to handle. The controls are responsive and I did not experience any lag or playcontrol frustrations.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Super Punch-Out! is not a bad game. But it’s not an especially good game either. It suffers a bit by standing in the shadow of it’s predecessor. The characters are entertaining and memorable, but the game itself was largely uninspiring. For those who love first-party Nintendo titles, it’s certainly worth picking up digitally.

Currently available on:  Wii Virtual Console

Other Review In This Series:

Punch Out!!Super Punch Out!! – Punch Out!! Wii

Review: Final Fantasy VI

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Here we are with the third and last Final Fantasy title in the 16-bit era. Final Fantasy VI. This game also marks the end of the “number confusion”. Originally released in the US as Final Fantasy III, this was the west’s second taste of 16-bit FF glory.

These days, there’s a few options for the people looking to play the game. The original FF3 version is available on the Wii virtual console. The playstation network sports another, better rendition of the game, complete with the correct title and an improved translation. However, the latest release is Final Fantasy VI advance for the GBA. This version features updated visuals, improved translation as well as some additional content (spells, espers and optional dungeon). Having never played this version before, I chose the GBA version for this playthrough.

The game begins with two Imperial soldiers escorting a mysterious girl into a town. The three of them are piloting walking war-machines (aka Magi-Tech Armor). It is revealed that they have been sent to capture a frozen beast, known as an Esper, that was recently uncovered on the outskirts of town. The three of them encounter resistance from the locals and it is revealed that girl is under some sort of mind control. The Esper reacts to the attack and fights back, in the scuffle, the mind control over the girl is broken. But she is suffering from a case of amnesia. She is taken in by a local who recruits her into a secret group of rebels. The story unfolds from here…

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Like it’s predecessors, Final Fantasy VI features a lush and brilliantly crafted storyline. It is often considered to be one of the best in the series. The game features a cast of characters that are impossible to forget, each with their own background and personality. While this has become a staple of the series, it really shines here. This game also features one of the most sadistic and insane arch-villains in video game history. I’m not going to spoil anything, but even in the old days where Nintendo censored just about everything, the wartime tactics of Kefka were jaw-dropping.

As if the story wasn’t enough, it’s made even more potent due to the amazing game soundtrack. Again, I’m tempted to say it is also, best in the series. I’ve been told that some selections of the score are even taught in Japanese schools beside other classical music masterpieces.

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The graphics are certainly a step up from FFIV and V. These are slightly improved again in the GBA version. Detail on the character sprites are done pretty well, but most gorgeous art in the game comes from the scenery and monster art.

Much like Final Fantasy IV, there are no pre-set character jobs, but each character has their own role and set of skills. In early parts of the game, your hand is held a bit when it comes to party formation, but later on in the title you have the ability to create a group using the entire roster. This is where personal preference and deep understanding of each character and their abilities really shines.

Having played this time a number of times over the years, I was excited to see what changes the GBA version brought. There are four new Espers available to Terra as wells a several spells and a new dungeon. The dungeon features an optional and ultimate boss, the Kaiser Dragon. This boss is legendary among fans because it was discovered to have been coded into the original game, but there was no way to encounter it. Apparently cut out of the title at the last minute, it is finally available for those wanting a real challenge.

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Difficulty: Medium  – This game is on par with the rest of the series. The patient will survive. Players can grind their way to ease if they really feel so inclined. But the real trick to the game is learning each character and their abilities and then applying them to overcome obstacles. The new optional content in the GBA is quite difficult and is really included for veteran players.

Story: Final Fantasy VI features what can arguably be called one of the greatest RPG storylines of all time, and I’m not exaggerating. It’s that good. My summary above covers about the first five minutes of the game, if I were to try to summarize this entire plot, we’d be here for hours. And the kicker is, there’s never a dull moment. This was the title that showed the world why Final Fantasy would become synonymous with RPG genre as a whole.

Originality: In reality, there’s not a lot of new ideas brought to the table. Everything in this title, storyline aside, has been seen elsewhere in the series. However, the biggest difference here is that everything has now been polished to perfection.

Soundtrack: One of Uematsu’s best works, and arguably one of the best game soundtracks to date. I literally have three different version of the game soundtrack in my personal library. Everything about the music in this game is sheer perfection. It’s truly art.

Fun: This is one game that never leaves me disappointed. It’s very fun and addictive title. So much so that it is often the title I recommend to those looking for a starting point in the series. The story sucks you in and the gameplay makes sure you don’t let go until the very end.

Graphics: Again, an improvement of the previous entry in the series. This game pretty much set the bar for RPGs in terms of what to expect visually. As I mentioned above, the monster art and scenery are amazing. The Mystic Forest area of the game was, at it’s time, breathtaking.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should with one exception. The character Sabin features some special abilities that rely on fighting-style button combos to execute. While these are fairly easy to input on Nintendo style gamepads, I’ve found them to be a bit trickier on Sony hardware. Nothing major, but worthy of mention.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For many players, myself included, this game *IS* Final Fantasy. I am a fan of the entire series, but for me, VI represents everything that made the series great. The storyline, the music, the art – it’s all here. If you are looking to escape reality, or if you’re curious what all the hype is about, this is the game to play.

Currently available on:  Wii Virtual Console and PSN.

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: Final Fantasy V

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Onward with the 16-bit Final Fantasy playthrough, we have one of the more obscure entries in the early series, Final Fantasy V. Again, this is another title that was not available in the US upon it’s original release. Released in 1992, North American players did not get a taste of the game until 1999 when the game was bundled with Final Fantasy VI for a Playstation compilation called the Final Fantasy Anthology. This collection was my first taste of the game.

Sadly, I can’t claim it was a very enjoyable experience. I never owned an original Playstation. My first Sony system was the Playstation 2. Final Fantasy V and the PS2 didn’t get along very well. There was a terrible graphical corruption bug that would rear it’s ugly head 90% of the time you tried to save or load your game in FFV. This only occurred on the PS2. Determined not to let that hold me back, I eventually memorized the layout of the save screen and was able to save the game blindly.

Luckily, this issue was eliminated with a later release for the Game Boy Advance. For the sake of this playthrough (and my sanity), I used the GBA version. Like many of the other re-releases in the series, the remake contains some content not found in the original game. Aside from a much improved translation, the GBA version also includes four new jobs (more on this later) and as usual, an optional dungeon.

Before continuing, I will note that while I consider the GBA remake to be the definitive version of the game, there is actually a newer version of FFV released on iOS. Personally, I don’t consider iPhones or iPads to be viable gaming devices. I play and enjoy iOS games, but I feel like playing something like Final Fantasy on a touch-screen is far from ideal. That being said, the iOS version features improved graphics. There has been talk of a 3DS version, but at the time of this writing, nothing has materialized.

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Final Fantasy V focuses very heavily on story. This playthrough took me over 40 hours, the longest so far. The game focuses mainly on a young man named Bartz and his pet chocobo. Bartz witnesses the crash of a meteor in a nearby forest and decides to investigate. There he meets a strange old man who is seemingly suffering from amnesia. The two travel together to a nearby kingdom where their adventure begins. Throughout the game’s story, more heroes join the fold and team learns that a magical seal that has long kept an evil warrior at bane has been shattered. As one might imagine, there’s a lot more to it than that, and like all the other games in the series, the story should be experienced firsthand and not read.

One interesting element this game brings back is the Job System from FFIII. Throughout the game new lobs are unlocked and can be assigned to characters at will. Over time, skills from the job equipped can be permanently learned by that character. The original release of the game contained 22 jobs, while the GBA version has 26.

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Graphically, the game is on par with FFIV. The GBA version does feature slightly smoother graphics, but nothing too noticeable. When it comes to music, the game has some interesting pieces. Overall, the soundtrack is fitting and very well done, but I do feel is pales in comparison to the wonderful score of Final Fantasy IV.

With me, typically, my favorite part of playing a Final Fantasy game is the story and the atmosphere. This game, is an odd exception. My favorite part about FFV is actually the gameplay. The Job System is very well done and lots of fun. Grinding away to unlock abilities might be part of what made my playthrough so long. The storyline of FFV is great, don’t misunderstand. There’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested, but overall, it is probably my least favorite. Many people may disagree, but that’s just my opinion. It’s hard to follow up a game like Final Fantasy V, and I feel like it shows with this title.

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Difficulty: Medium  – The same rules apply here as with the rest of the series, patience is key. Mastering the Job System is the trick to the whole game. In today’s world of digital hand-holding, I wonder how that will sit with many younger players. For this reason, I feel that FFV is a little harder than other entries in the early series. But still, overall much easier to master than some of the twitchy platformers of the 16bit era.

Story: Final Fantasy V features a very rich and detailed story. It’s excellent, but just not as good as I expected. Don’t get me wrong, even the worst Final Fantasy storyline beats most other RPGs hands down. It just didn’t light the same fire in me as other titles in the series. Regardless, the game does have some very memorable characters. Lenna always puts a smile on my face.

Originality: A lot of this game is borrowed from other titles, and that’s ok. The job system is revamped enough from FFIII to seem original. But other elements of the game do tend to fall into the “standard Final Fantasy experience”.

Soundtrack: Good score, but not great. Not my favorite that’s for sure.

Fun: As I stated earlier, the job system can be a lot of fun even if the rest of the game drags a bit. I did enjoy my time playing the game, but I felt like it was a little too long

Graphics: The graphics are about what you’d expect. The GBA provide a nice little boost and of course the iOS version is beautiful. It’s a mixed bag depending on the version you’re playing. I do feel that the original developers could have been able to squeeze a little more “pretty” out of the game if they tried harder. But, the art is certainly acceptable.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – As I mentioned, FFV is a good game. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s certainly worthy of playing. Personally, I don’t feel it reflects the best the series has to offer. Even though it is currently out of print, if you can get your hands on the GBA version, this is the one I recommend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a more modern remake.

Currently available on:  PSN

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 

Collective Review: Final Fantasy IV & Final Fantasy IV: The After Years

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Finally, my reviews have reached an important milestone in the era of 16-bit gaming. The first Final Fantasy title for the Super Nintendo. Final Fantasy IV was originally released in the US under name “Final Fantasy II”, since the second and third installment of the series were not originally brought stateside, it was believed that renaming the title would be a good idea and the American audience would be none the wiser. Of course, as years went by and the Internet became a common way to share information, the cat was eventually out of the bag. These days, the game is properly titled and it widely available  under it’s proper name.

When preparing to the do this playthrough and review, I had an important decision to make. There are many versions of this game available, and I had to decide which to use. To bring everyone up to speed, I’ll layout what’s out there:

Final Fantasy II (Wii Virtual Console) – This is the original version of the game, as it was released on the SNES

Final Fantasy Chronicles – This was the playstation release. It features the original game, with the proper title and a slightly improved translation.

Final Fantasy IV Advance – Improved Graphics, Improved script, New optional dungeon

Final Fantasy IV DS – 3D graphics version of the game, Improved translation, mini-games, cutscenes

Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection – Improved 2D graphics, DS Script, optional areas, “Interlude”, “After Years”

There’s a little something for everyone out there. For purists, I recommend the Chronicles version of the game. For the sake of this playthrough, I decided to use the Complete Collection. It was a version of the game I’ve not encountered before. Plus, it includes both After Years and the all-new Interlude scenarios. (More on these later)

9-Cecil_Rosa-5B1-5D Cutscene from Complete  Collection

Regardless of the version you choose, the focus of this review is on the game itself, not any particular one feature.

This game holds a lot of great memories for me. FFIV was the title that really cemented RPGs as one of my favorite genre of games. The storyline is nothing short of fantastic. The game revolves around a knight by name of Cecil. When game begins, Cecil is the captain of an elite Air Force known as the Red Wings. He is ordered to strike and steal a powerful crystal from a nearby village. After carrying out his orders, Cecil begins to question the nature of the orders given to him. Cecil is reprimanded for his lack of loyalty and as punishment is sent on a task that ultimately leads to adventure and redemption.

There’s so much to tell about the rich storyline and characters of this game, but I think it’s best experienced during play and not read in a summary.

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  Screenshot from the original SNES version

The gameplay will be very familiar to fans of the series. For the most part, the game functions and plays much like Final Fantasy I-III. Unlike FFIII, however, there are no “jobs” to select. Each character has a predetermined role and will skill up in the areas of their expertise as you progress.  The character development in this title was second to none, considering it’s time. Each character has a very detailed backstory that is revealed throughout the normal progression in the game. I can’t stress enough how much of a breakthrough the storytelling in this title was. It was unlike anything that had been seen.

Also, much like the previous games, Final Fantasy IV features a phenomenal soundtrack. Again, composed completely by Nobuo Uetmatsu.

Graphically, the game was pretty standard at the time of release. The character sprites are clear, as is most of the environment. I found some of the textures to be a bit repetitive and unimaginative at times. But overall, there’s not much to complain about. Later versions of the game have brought drastically improved visuals.

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  Screenshot from the Complete Collection

The game proved to be quite a success, and many years after it’s original release, it spawned a direct sequel. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, as released in episodic downloadable chapters on the Wii in 2009. This game take placed 17 years after the original and features both the aged heroes from the first game, as well as their offspring. In reality, I should probably dedicate a separate review just to this title, but there are enough similarities that I feel I can bundle them together

Originally spread out over 11 separate chapters, each typically focusing on a particular character or set of characters, players can complete the scenario and then spend time seeking powerful treasure in an “endgame” dungeon. Eventually data from all the scenarios is compiled and used in the final chapter.

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  Screen shot from Wii version of The After Years

Finally, If you’re playing the Complete Collection, there is an additional short scenario called “Interlude” that serves as a link between the original game and the After Years. This was my first time getting my hands on this chapter and while I found it be enjoyable, it’s very short and really doesn’t bring much to the table. But, it’s included and certainly doesn’t lessen the experience.

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  Screen shot of  ~Interlude~

Again, I have to stress that this a classic RPG and an overall excellent game. It doesn’t matter which version you can get your hands on, you’re in for quite an experience.

Difficulty: Medium  – As typical with RPGs, most of the game itself is fairly straight forward and easy going for those with a little bit of patience. Several of the bonus areas, and added content found in the later releases can be much more challenging, however.

Story: As I mentioned, the storyline for Final Fantasy IV is fantastic all the way around. Both in terms of detail and content. The storyline is even further enhanced in later versions of the games. The original SNES cartridge could only hold so much data, so a lot of the original script had to be cut from the game for space reason. Regardless, even the old version is fantastic. But to get the most out the title, I do recommend either FFIV Advance or The Complete Collection.

Originality: Mechanic-wise, there’s not a lot new introduced in the title. The 16 bit art and enhanced sound really bring a breath of fresh air to the title though. I don’t find any faults here.

Soundtrack: Excellent score. Probably the best in the series so far. Uematsu never ceases to amaze.

Fun: Many wonderful, comforting memories of this game rattle around in my brain. The characters and storyline really make this game a lot of fun. The special effects are great, the SUMMONS are awesome. Who doesn’t enjoy unleashing Ifrit on a group of cowering enemies?

Graphics: The original released featured nice, acceptable graphics for its time. However, later entries in the series and other 16 bit RPGs eventually surpassed it. The more modern versions of the game are much lovelier to look at and feature richer, more detailed models.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should.

Overall rating (out of four stars): (FFIV – 4)  (The After Years – 3) – Separating the review into two titles, the original game gets a perfect score. This is defiantly a must-play title for RPG enthusiasts.  The After Years, however, is a bit harder to recommend to general audiences. This game is a more fan-service than anything else. I enjoyed it, and it was very nice to revisit the world and characters again after so many years. But it did feel a bit thrown together. If you decide to experience the After Years, I recommend the PSP version over the multiple pricey downloads on the Wii.

Currently available on:  Wii Virtual Console, PSP, PSN

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: The Legend of Zelda – A Link to the Past

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I have spent the last week continuing my retro playthrough with two excellent Zelda titles. This first review is for the SNES classic, A Link to the Past. This was the game that finally brought the story of Zelda and Link to the 16bit era. But not without ruffling a few feathers and causing some mass confusion among fans.

In this game, we again play as the heroic youth Link on his journey to uncover the secrets of Hyrule and rescue the captive Princess Zelda… but it quickly becomes apparent that the storyline presented to the player does not quite match that of the first two games. With no explanation, players soon realized they were enjoying a prequel of sorts, but with seemingly a different “Link”.  It was many years until Nintendo finally explained the mysterious timeline of the Zelda series. But that is another post for another time.

In a Link to Past, Nintendo took a step back from the side-scrolling experiment that was Zelda II, and we are once again given a great top-down adventure game. The mechanics are very similar to that of the original Legend of Zelda, but the game itself offers a much richer environment and storyline.

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In this game players are able to explore the Kingdom of Hyrule in two separate dimensions, Light World and Dark World. Often switching between the two phases to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles. Ultimately, Link must locate and rescue seven sages whose combined power will allow him to invade Ganon’s tower and rescue the princess.

Much like the other games in the series, Link must explore and uncover hidden treasures and powerups that will assist him on his journey. As mentioned earlier, the ability to switch to the Dark World adds a whole new dimension of exploration and gameplay not seen in the series so far, but one that becomes a staple of the series.

This is one of those classic games that sucks you in and won’t let you quit until you’ve explored every nook and cranny.

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Difficulty: Medium  –  The difficulty of this title seems to be quite balanced. While still a little tougher than many of today’s games, it’s not very frustrating and fairly easy to complete for most gamers

Story: The self-contained story is very well done especially for this type of game. Lore-hungry players will find a lot to keep them satisfied in this title. As far as connecting the events of this game with the previous Zelda titles, that’s where things get a little tricky. This game is a prequel to Zelda and Zelda II, and actually features a different “Link” than the hero of the original games. While very confusing, this does become a little clearer as the series progresses.

Originality: While keeping many aspects of the original game, there’s a lot of new concepts and ideas presented in A Link to the Past. The Dark and Light world makes for a really interesting experience, and was something unheard of at the time.

Soundtrack: Excellent stuff here. The soundtrack is one of the stand out features of the game. Several new pieces are included along with classic theme song. 16bit sound at it’s finest.

Fun: If you like fantasy or puzzle games, you can’t go wrong with this title. Players that enjoyed the original Legend of Zelda will feel right at home with this title.

Graphics: The art work for this game is colorful and somewhat cartoonish, but it suits the game well. This game is another example of Nintendo doing what they do best; creating beautiful visual worlds.

Playcontrol: Excellent play control. Overhead titles like this don’t usually suffer in this area. Everything feels natural and the controls are precise and spot-on.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 –  This is one of the greatest games in the Zelda series and one of the best action fantasy games of all time. This is one of those Super Nintendo titles that should not be missed.

Currently available on: Wii Virtual Console

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: Super Metroid

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Next up, we have the infamous Super Metroid. This is a game that I actually never managed to acquire back in the day. Instead, I had a friend that left it at my house for about year. LOL. So yes, I did play it. But I did not own a copy until it’s virtual console release on the Wii. Recently, it was released on the Wii U virtual console where it drew quite a bit of attention due to comments posted by younger players on Miiverse. These poor kids were lost without all of the on-screen tutorials that are so common in today’s games…

Regardless of the apparent confusion on Miiverse, this game is Metroid done right! Bigger mazes, more items, bigger badder monsters, and… a map! The map is what this series needed. Everything good about the first two games was improved upon here. The only exception to that might be the music. While not a bad as Metroid II’s soundtrack, Super Metroid is not much better. Nothing beats the original game, as far as music goes I guess.

This game picks up pretty much where Metroid II leaves off. Samus takes the hatching to a science lab and leaves it in the care of some scientists. Not long after she leaves, a distress call comes through, Space Pirates have attacked! By the time Samus can doubleback, the lab is in ruins. The last thing she sees is Ridley snatching up the hatching and flying off! Of course, from there Samus follows Ridley back to  the planet Zebes, where the game starts.

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One of the fun parts of this game is going back and seeing places from the original, this time redone in better graphics and often with a twist. At this point, the game is much like it’s predecessors. Hunt items, find bosses, unlock new areas.

Finally at the end of the game, Samus makes her way back to the Tourian area where she once again encounters Mother Brain. After a pretty wicked fight, all seems lost. The Mother Brain has Samus backed into a corner and is about to deal the killing blow. When suddenly, the hatchling, now fully grown, if not bigger, dives in and latches on to the mother brain. The Metroid drains her of her life energy and transfers it to Samus. Finally, with a sudden burst of energy, the Mother Brain lashes out an attack on the Metroid, sadly killing it…

Charged with super powers, Samus slays the Mother Brain. Then, just like in the original, a self-destruct sequence begins. Once you ascend the corridors, Samus finds her ship and flies off the planet victorious.

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I try not to post too many spoilers in my reviews, but my son, was on the edge of his seat during this game. Especially at the end fight. He was bouncing with excitement when the Metroid showed up to rescue Samus. I thought he was going to cry when the Metroid died. It was cute.

Back to my earlier comments about the Miiverse buzz, despite lots of initial griping by younger players, the majority of them really gave the game positive reviews. The Super Metroid/Miiverse phenomenon has, in many ways, opened my eyes into something the Wii U has done right. It’s given single player games a level of online interaction that’s accessible right from the console.

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Difficulty: Medium  –  This game has a few really tough spots when it comes to boss fights. But most of these are easy learnable. The environment is not too challenging, but it can be frustrating at times for younger players.

Story: Again, we have a bit of storytelling at the beginning and end of the game. Most of the game’s plot is unfolded as you play by situational things. It’s not spoonfed to the player.

Originality: More of the same really. This game takes the ideas and concepts of the original game and makes them…. super. Not that I can complain tho, Super Metroid really seems to be the definitive Metroid title so far.

Soundtrack: Again, weird stuff here. I think this is what they were going for. The soundtrack is Super Metroid is a little bit more hummable…

Fun: Super Metroid is super fun if you ask me. I always have a ball playing through the game. The graphics add a lot of atmosphere. Plus, seeing a lot of the original locations and slightly reimagined bosses make the game a fun nostalgia trip.

Graphics: This is one of the shining points for the game. The alien environments really shine through on the Super Nintendo. The bosses and monsters are more detailed. Everything loos superb.

Playcontrol: No complaints. Flawless and responsive. Feels a little awkward if playing on the Wii U gamepad, but you get over it pretty quick.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 –  Excellent first party title from Nintendo. If unlockable platformers are your cup of tea, this is the game for you. This is the game that set the bar for such titles.

Currently available on: Wii Virtual Console, Wii U Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

Review: Super Mario World

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With the release of the Super Nintendo came the delivery of another entry in the Mario series; the fabled Super Mario World. Considered by many to the ultimate Super Mario experience, this game took everything that was great about the previous games, and combined into a 16bit powerhouse of a title.

The games features the classic platforming elements expected from a Mario title, with the overworld map/level select system from Super Mario 3. Those familiar with Super Mario 3 will feel right at home with this title. One of more notable features of this game is the introduction of Mario’s dinosaur sidekick, Yoshi.

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What makes this game a little unique, is that there is a whole slew of optional levels that are not required to finish the game. These “special” levels are actually the hardest the game has to offer. Your reward for beating them? Some of the monsters appear as alternate models. Woo. Still, you can’t help but want to clear them all.

I first encountered this game at the house of one of my Japanese friends. Of course, on his Super Famicom, it was titled Super Mario Bros. 4, but regardless of the title, we spent and entire weekend playing the game. We took care to uncover the secret levels, find the multiple exits to those stages that featured them, and the ultimate challenge: collect all of the Yoshi coins on each level.

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A few years ago, a slightly redone version of the game was released for the Game Boy Advance. But aside from some minimal cosmetic changes and some silly voice acting, there’s really nothing of note in this version. More recently, the game has been released for the Wii U virtual console and features Miiverse integration. I find it fascinating to read and watch the young people today playing the game for the first time, posting questions and answers on Miiverse. It’s a bit heartwarming to know that even after all this time, the game still holds up.

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Difficulty: Medium  –  This is a middle of the road Mario title. Most the main levels are easily passable after a few tries. It’s the optional levels that can really be a bit nervewracking.

Story: Again, it’s Mario. Blah blah blah Bowser. Blah blah blah Princess. Help Help. We’ve seen it all before. But, that’s part of the charm isn’t it?

Originality: The transition to a 16bit environment really did a lot of the series. Despite featuring very familiar gameplay, the title is kept fresh with the introduction of new power-up and of course, Yoshi.

Soundtrack: A very catchy and nostalgic soundtrack, but really not that inspiring in my opinion. I can’t really find anything to complain about, but there’s not really any thing about the game sounds that stand out either.

Fun: As far as a fun game that you can play over and over, this is the Mario title I turn to. Hours of fun for the entire family here. This is the “family game night” title to start with.

Graphics: For a launch title, this game surprisingly featured the best of what the Super Nintendo has to offer. Beautiful, crisp cartoonish graphics. A work of art.

Playcontrol: Spot-on play control on the original system, but it does take a little getting used to depending on what controller you’re using. Wii Players would do good to play on either a Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro. Wii U players, can play using the Wii U game pad, but to me, it feels a bit awkward. I recommend getting a Wii U Gamepad Pro.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 –  Another classic first party title from Nintendo. This is one of those games that you should have in your library no matter what. Great visual, fun pay, and imaginative levels make for a perfect title.

Currently available on: Wii Shop, Wii U eShop

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Review: Mega Man 7

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I was originally going to put my marathon of Mega Man games on hold for a while, and continue to hang with 8-bit games for a while. But, considering that it’s Mega Man’s 25 anniversary, I figured no would be a good a time as any to play through the rest of the series. This brings us to the first 16-bit Mega Man, Mega Man 7.

Hail to the most gut-wrenching, fist pounding, hate your life, hard-as-nails Mega Man game of all time.

The game looks great! The SNES brought Mega Man a much needed upgrade in the line of visuals. The sound is much improved too. There’s actually even a -gasp- improved storyline, complete with printed dialogue, etc. Finally a Mega Man game that does not seem so recycled.

The game starts with a flash back of all of Mega Man’s accomplishments. It shows in anime cell style Mega Man turning Dr. Wiley in to authorities. As the story goes on, we learned the Dr. Wily had a back up plan…. He had several robots programed to come searching for him if they remained un-contacted after a certain period of time. Now that he is locked up, and not sending the messages needed to keep them at bay, they have come searching. As expected, the robots break him out of jail and start tearing up the city! Dr. Light and company catch word of this and send Mega Man into action.

As Mega Man begins his journey to stop the robots he has an unusual encounter! The meets up with a black robot, named Bass. Who has a canine robot companion, much like Rush named: Treble!

The mysterious Bass tell Mega Man to go home, he’s going to handle this job, then he blips away.

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The game is divided into two sections The first four robots Mega Man will face are: Junk Man, Cloud Man, Burst Man, and Freeze Man (I did them in that order).

After defeating the first set of robots, Mega Man gets word that Dr. Wily has been seen raiding the robot museum! Mega heads over to the place an encounters a few old friends…

This game is a little different than the previous installments. in this game, scattered through the levels are various nuts and bolts that Mega Man can trade to his friend Auto in exchange for new parts and power ups. There’s also the letters spelling out RUSH that can be collected to allow Mega Man to upgrade his companion.

Afterwards, Protoman shows up. He says that only the strongest robot should continue and he challenges Mega Man to a friendly duel to see which of them is truly stronger. Mega Man wins and Protoman lends him his Proto Shield.

So far, the game has been challenging, but nothing too bad. I was really enjoying it so far.

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The next phase introduced four new robot masters: Slash Man, Shade Man, Turbo Man and Spring Man. These guys and their respective levels are HARD. So hard, that I nearly gave up. I did Spring Man first, followed by Turbo Man, Slash Man and finally….. the most aggravating boss I’ve faced so far in the series: Shade Man…. You’ll see why if you ever play it. Shade Man’s level is also home to Beat, Mega Man’s bird friend! On the way to final fight with Shade Man, we meet up again with Bass. He is in bad shape… Mega Man sends him to Dr. Light’s lab for repairs and prepares for the battle ahead…

I never played this game as a kid. I doubt I would have lasted long, even now as an adult, I kept getting frustrated and disgusted with the difficulty level. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I just ran through it. But I feel compelled to unlock every item and weapon and find all the secrets.

After the defeat of Shade Man, Mega Man gets word that Bass has ransacked Dr. Light’s lab. It turns out that Bass was designed by Wily to be an evil version of Mega Man… So time to chase him to Wiley’s lab.

Wiley’s Castle did not seem as bad as the rest of the game so far. There is an interesting encounter with Bass, but Mega Man defeats him easily enough. The exception to this is the fight with Wiley himself. As usual, the fight has two phases. The fist was easy, a few thunder blasts to the face and the Skull Walker broke down. The second form however… DAMN.

Once defeated, there is an interesting scene. Dr. Wiley cowers before Mega Man and promises to go quietly. Mega Man begins to charge his cannon and says he’s finally going to do what should have been done long ago. Wily makes the comment: “Impossible! Normal robots are forbidden from harming people, it’s against your programming”. Mega Man states: “I am more than just a robot…” at this point Bass appears and snatches up Dr. Wily and the two of them escape.

Interesting… It’s about time Capcom gave us some storyline in this series.

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Difficulty: Very Difficult  – I mean it when I say that this was one of the hardest platformers I have ever experienced. It’s really quite ridiculous. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but the difficulty level seemed a little too extreme.

Story: About time!! We finally have a really good story in this game. I think this game was released in a time where Mega Man manga comics had become very popular. As a result, a lot of the lore and developments from the books were introduced into the game. It’s a very welcome change, with a cliffhanger ending! 

Originality: While the premise is basically the same, the addition of an active storyline really adds a little originality to this title. This is a step in the right direction for the series.

Soundtrack: Finally we have a good Mega Mega soundtrack again. It’s been a while, but the Blue Bomber’s first foray into 16-bit territory takes good advantage of the SNES sound system. Big improvement over the last few games in the series.

Fun: While I had a blast progressing thru the storyline, I found the challenge to be a big buzzkill. I spent more time pissed with the last half of the game than I did enjoying it.

Graphics: CapCom REALLY took advantage of the new power behind the Super Nintendo. The graphics in this title are amazing. The series keeps it’s cartoon look, but with the addition of more colors, the game really pops and comes to life. Great stuff all around.

Playcontrol: I have a big gripe here. This handling of the controls felt very out of sorts for me. It does not handle like the previous games at all. I got used to it over time, but it feel slightly delayed and unnatural. Then again, I’m playing a PS2 port as part of the anniv collection. So perhaps that is the issue.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This is really nice addition to the series and a good upgrade. However, due to the difficulty level, I cannot recommend it for everyone. Which is a shame.

Not currently available

Other Reviews In This Series:

MMMM2MM3MM4MM5MM6MM7MM8MM&BassMM9MM10

MMX – MMX2 – MMX3 – MMX4 – MMX5 – MMX6 – MMX7 – MMX8 – MMXtreme – MMXtreme2 – Comman Mission

Zero – Zero2 – Zero3 – Zero 4 – ZX

BN – BN2 – BN3- BN4- BN5 – BN6