Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Favourite Games At Christmas II: Game Harder

Much like last year around this time I was doing a little gaming by the Christmas tree - one of my favourite things to do around the holidays - and once again I found myself reminiscing about Christmases past and some of the different memories I have with fresh new games that Santa Claus was nice enough to drop off under the tree.

Let's keep this new little tradition alive and I'll take you on a trip down memory lane, shall we?
Said Christmas tree
I can still remember when I first saw a Super Nintendo Entertainment System in action. It was the summer of 1992 and I had popped up to a friends' place to see if he wanted to come outside and play, but was instead invited in to check something out. He had the SNES hooked up and was playing Super Mario World.

I should stress that I had absolutely no freakin' clue that a new Nintendo had come out and the concept boggled my mind. I can remember being absolutely blown away by it. The graphics, the sounds, a new Mario game; I was floored.

I ran all the way home to my parents' house and began to blather on about this new, unbelievable Nintendo I'd just seen. There were four buttons! And buttons on top of the controller! And Mario spun as he jumped!

Although I don't remember the particulars of my Christmas list to Santa that year, I'd say the SNES was first and foremost on there. Once again, Santa is a badass and hooked me up with a bright and shiny new Super Nintendo packed in with Super Mario World and another game that I'll mention later on.

Over the next four years I played an innumerable number of SNES games. It was the system that introduced me to so many different kinds of video games. My bread and butter, however, was side-scrolling action platformers. As I've mentioned in my previous article, the Donkey Kong Country series became a Christmas staple for me and you'd be hard-pressed to find better platformers on the system. The year before Donkey Kong Country was released, however, I received another colourful, fun platformer for the SNES, but not one you'd expect: Cool Spot.

I can't for the life of me explain why, but I absolutely had to have this game. If you don't know, Cool Spot features the then popular 7-Up mascot of the same name. It wasn't uncommon back in the 90s to see this sort of thing. Yo' Noid, the mascot of Dominos, had a popular NES game and the California Raisins even had a game developed by none other than Capcom. Cool Spot was developed and published by Virgin Games for the SNES and Sega Genesis and was popular enough to get ported to the Sega Master System, Game Gear, Game Boy and Amiga and DOS PCs!

Could there be anything cooler?
The game is incredibly straight-forward, but try not to chuckle as I explain the premise: You play as one of the many Cool Spots and you're out to save other Spots who have been captured throughout each level. You can run, climb, jump, and shoot soda fizz in order to avoid and defeat the many pitfalls and enemies found in each level.

I know it seems ridiculous, but I'm telling you: I loved this game. My little sister and I would play Cool Spot for hours during the Christmas break. And it was no picnic! This was a tough game! It was well-designed with tight controls and some great stages. It took me quite a while to finish the whole game and I loved every minute of it! I probably wouldn't have admitted it at the time, but I always enjoyed getting games at Christmas that I could play with my little sis and, in a way, Cool Spot was the first one to start the tradition that would continue with Donkey Kong Country.

After all those great years with my beloved Super Nintendo in 1996 Nintendo released its successor, the Nintendo 64, and as you might recall from last years post I was right there playing one of my favourite games of all time, Super Mario 64.

In the meantime, however, my Super Nintendo wasn't just relegated to a drawer somewhere. It was still a permanent fixture of my bedroom and I was still using it to play my newest video game obsession, Role Playing Games. And if there was one thing the N64 lacked, it was RPGs.

The following year, 1997, was a big year for the RPG as one of the most anticipated video games ever was released on the Sony PlayStation: Final Fantasy 7. RPGs were on everyone's minds and I can recall pouring over issues of Nintendo Power hoping to see that Nintendo would finally be releasing a big Role Playing game like FF7 for its cardtridge-based powerhouse.

I would wait in vain, however, but a game would be released to the N64 that would curb my appetite, and that game was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

On Christmas 1998 I received a shiny, gold copy of Ocarina and thus began my absolute obession with that game. I played it morning, noon, and night for weeks. I was a teenager in 1998 and I had all the time in the world. It was a big year for me, actually. I also picked up a PSX and played so many incredible games over the next year, but I kicked it all off with Ocarina of Time.

Like I was saying, I slept and ate this game for the rest of my Christmas break and beyond. It was one of those titles that a friend of mine had picked up and we had the unspoken competition of who could complete it first (the same as with Super Mario 64). We would play for a day or two and then call each other up to check in and see how far each of us had gotten. If either of us were in a particularly charitable mood we'd trade secrets and tips to help the other along.

Shiny.
And you know what? Even though I played this game at a feverish pace I did take my time to enjoy it. I can remember whiling away time relaxing and fishing, diving off the waterfall near the home of the Zoras, or just riding around Hyrule Field on Epona, shooting arrows at Stalfos when the night fell. I had never played a game like it. I felt like I was fully immersed in a fantasy world and to this day I don't know that any game has ever sucked me in quite like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Now let's take a step back to the day I first got my Super Nintendo. Like I said, I was a kid in the 90s, so of course I was not only obsessed with video games, but also the Ninja Turtles. I had thrown countless quarters into the various Turtles arcade games between '91 and '92 and when I opened up my presents that fateful Christmas I found a game I never expected to see: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time.

I un-packaged the Super Nintendo as soon as my family was done around the Christmas tree. I had a little Nintendo TV stand set up with an old TV in the basement. I can still recall how excited I was when I realized I could actually hook up the SNES to the TV at the same time as my NES using the RF Connector.

Of course I had to start with Super Mario World, but I had already played that game the summer before. I quickly changed my focus to Turtles in Time. This was a game I'd been playing in the arcade whenever I could and here I was about to play it at home! I had to be torn away from the TV to get ready to visit my grandmother's later that morning and all I could think about was getting back to that new SNES and play some more TMNT IV. When I got home later that evening, that's just what I did.

There was some differences with the arcade game, of course, but I expected that. It still looked amazing! I took my turns as different Turtles, but in the end settled on Donatello, who was my favourite of the brothers to play the video games as, even though I was always a Raphael guy. I went from present day New York City, into pre-history, the Wild West, and even the future!

Yeah, in hindsight, that is way cooler than Cool Spot!
I'm not certain if everyone just forgot about me being down in the basement or not, but there in the dimly lit room, basking in the glow of that old colour TV, I blasted my way through all the different eras of Turtles in Time.

I don't know how long I was down there, but I know that it was definitely very late when my mother finally yelled down to me that I had to go to bed. The "Just Five More Minutes Mom" Rule had to be invoked, though, because I was at the end boss, the Super Shredder! And then, just like that, it was done. I had defeated the Shredder and saved the world, yet again. I completed Turtles in Time the same day I received it, December 25th, and it is one of my fondest video game memories of all time.

Merry Christmas,
R

Friday, October 30, 2015

Resident Evil (1996) - Sony PlayStation

The original "long box" art
I first played Resident Evil not long after it had been released even though I had no idea what the game was about. My friend Cole (now contributor here on Retro-Def!) and I rented it back when he first got his PlayStation and I cannot recall for the life of me why we picked that game. If you have seen the cover art for it, it is infamously bad - something Capcom is known for - but we did and I'm so glad, because Resident Evil has become one of my favourite games and gaming franchises of all time.

It was developed by Capcom in Japan as Biohazard and directed by Shinji Mikami, who to this point had only done a handful of licensed titles, such as Goof Troop, Aladdin, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Mikami has said that in making Resident Evil he was attempting to make a game like Sweet Home, which was a Japanese only title released for the Famicom. As a horror movie buff, Mikami has also stated that he was dissatisfied with 1979's Zombie, directed by Lucio Fulci, and wanted to make a game with none of the failings of that film. Couple that with being heavily influenced by George A. Romero and his films, it is not shocking that he delivered a horror game featuring... the undead!

Resident Evil follows an elite specialized police force known as STARS (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) who are investigating some weird murders that have taken place in the small community of Raccoon City. When communication with the STARS Bravo Team is lost, the Alpha Team is sent into the Raccoon City countryside, where the ground team is chased into an old mansion by a pack of monstrous dogs, ultimately losing contact with their helicopter.

That is how the player finds them self in The Mansion, the main location for the rest of the game. You can play as two characters, Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, each of which has their own storyline and some minor changes in gameplay.

Barry and Jill taking on the undead!
The character models are all in isometric 3D and the player traverses The Mansion in what have become known as "tank controls". It can take a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it it is pretty easy to use. Essentially you aim the character in the direction you want them to go using the left and right directional buttons and then move them forward or backward by using up and down. At the time Sony had not yet released the DualShock controller, which featured analog controls, but after that controller became available the game was re-released as Resident Evil: Director's Cut, which featured and Arrange Mode and DualShock controls. Honestly, though, they change nothing and I find it easier to use the d-pad.

The main crux of the gameplay is surviving, which is why these games have become known as Survival Horror, along with Mikami being dubbed as the Godfather of the subgenre. You have very few items at your disposal and you can only carry a handful with you at any time. You slowly work your way around The Mansion, unlocking different rooms, searching for useful items, and fighting your way through zombies, giant spiders, and all sorts of crazy monsters. You can store items in special lock boxes that you will find strewn about The Mansion and you can save your progress on typewriters, as long as you've got some ink ribbons tucked away. You will find several different weapons, but remember that ammo is scarce and must be used sparingly!

It is this scarcity of ammo and healing items that drives the tension and scares of Resident Evil. You never know what you will face around the next bend, nor what items you should have on you. The game features beats not unlike the ones you would experience in a horror movie. The music will sometimes drop in a room to keep you off guard for the next scare or you will be clicking away in a room looking for an item and a zombie will jump out of nowhere and attack.

Barry and Jill in the Resident Evil REmake
Resident Evil is the very definition of a slow burn. You will find yourself running circles around The Mansion and additional areas trying to find that one door you didn't unlock yet or that item you forgot to grab. It is not an action title, like the series has become. To truly enjoy it you have to let yourself get immersed in the setting and the story and take your time. When you do hit an action sequence, it is less about how many bullets you can pump into your opponent as it is just trying to make it out alive.

The writing can be a little hokey and that is one thing that has always intrigued me about the game. The actual story itself is fantastic. It has grown to be something much, much larger than I'm sure Mikami and his team ever anticipated. The only person I know that can actually really wrap his head around the story in its entirety is Cole. That said, the writing and dialogue in this game is infamously silly at times. There are incredible lines like, "You were almost a Jill sandwich!" and "... you, the master of unlocking..."

I used to think this was just due to translation, but when you think about the influences of the game - campy horror films from the 60s and 70s - one starts to wonder if Mikami didn't do this on purpose to pay homage to directors like Fulci and Romero. The game even opens with a B-movie introduction that certainly hearkens back to horror films of that era.

The Resident Evil series has gone on to be one of the most influential video game franchises of all time and is closing in on its 20th anniversary next year. The original game was actually remade for the GameCube in 2002, which was itself re-released and remastered on a number of modern consoles. There has even been a successful film franchise based on the property which is seeing its sixth title in 2017.

Mikami's newest title, The Evil Within
I am not a huge fan of how the series has found itself in the action genre, but there are still compelling titles coming out under the Resident Evil umbrella (see what I did there?) and I am certain that there will still be great games to play in the future.

Shinji Mikami no longer has anything to do with the series. He has gone on to make new Survival Horror games, his most recent title being The Evil Within, which has garnered pretty high marks both critically and commercially. He is still out there trying to scare anyone that dares to boot up one of his titles.

It all started with this campy little horror title on Sony's newest little fledgling system back in 1996 and although there have been many remakes and sequels I still think the original Resident Evil is relevant and anyone who likes to play video games should give it at least one play through.

Happy Halloween!
R

Friday, October 23, 2015

Extra-Life 2015: Donator-Voted Playthrough

We just wanted to take a quick moment and explain our Donator-Voted Playthrough.

It's pretty self-explanatory: If you donate to The Electric Wesleys Extra-Life campaign you will receive an email to fill out a survey. This survey includes four games of our choosing and whichever one receives the most votes will have a complete playthrough LIVE beginning at 5PM EST tomorrow night during the livestream.

The four games to choose from are:

  • Resident Evil
  • Mega Man X
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

So, if you'd like to vote for a game just send us a donation! There is no amount too small! All of the proceeds go to the IWK Health Centre and sick kids.

We hope to see you this Saturday, Oct 24th, at the livestream starting at 7AM EST.

Cheers,
R

Friday, October 9, 2015

Extra-Life 2015

Hi everyone,

Back in 2013 a friend of mine asked me to join him in an event called Extra-Life, which is a charity program that raises money for Children's Hospitals. It was a 25-hour (thanks, Daylight Savings) gaming marathon, which we streamed live on Twitch for our family and friends.

It was a great - albeit exhausting - time for a great cause... and we're doing it again!


This year our team, The Electric Wesleys, will be streaming our 24-hour gaming marathon LIVE on Twitch for everyone to enjoy and this is your invitation to watch along!

The official day for Extra-Life is November 7th, but due to other obligations we'll be doing our marathon on October 24th, 2015.

Any donations are appreciated and all proceeds go the Children's Hospital of our choice, which is The IWK Health Centre. No amount is too small, but there's no obligation to donate. We'd still love to see a big turn out on the livestream!

You can donate on my Extra-Life profile: http://www.extra-life.org/participant/ryho
And check out our Team's Page for the Tentative Schedule: http://www.extra-life.org/team/TheElectricWesleys

Also, make sure to follow us on Social Media for updates leading up to the event, some possible preview livestreams, and any and all updates throughout the day on October 24th.

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ElectricWesleys
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheElectricWesleys
Twitch: http://www.twitch.tv/TheElectricWesleys

We hope to see you there!
R

Friday, September 25, 2015

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990) - MSX2

MSX2 box art
When I first played Metal Gear Solid for the Sony Playstation in 1998, I was among the first in the general North American gaming public to do so, having gone to the effort of preordering it. It was one of the first games I'd ever watched video previews of online (something that's completely commonplace these days) and the official trailer Konami released for it had me, among many other gamers I'm sure, salivating in anticipation.

Like a certain someone in my age group and older, I had memories of playing the original Metal Gear on the NES and recognized it as something of a brilliant game given its fairly original premise and gameplay mechanics despite its primitive design and limited capabilities. I'd never played through the game in its entirety though; in fact I never came close. But still the combined experiences of playing through the very early parts of the game and watching someone else advance quite far were more than enough to make me realize retroactively what a special and unique game it was.

The impending release of this 32-bit, 3D sequel had me delving into as much history as I could find on the series (magazines like EGM were a great help in this regard) and I came to discover that not only was the NES game I'd played actually a somewhat inferior port of a previous MSX2 version released only in Japan but also that a sequel, also only released on Japan, stood between it and Metal Gear Solid. There had been no port this time and only the truly hardcore Western gamers who'd gone to great lengths to acquire the MSX system (which never caught on in the North American market but was essentially the standard PC in Japan in the mid through late eighties as well as in parts of Europe and South America) had any shot at playing this sequel: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. And even then they'd had to import it and play it in Japanese.

What came of all this was that one of the greatest 8-bit games of all time went almost completely unnoticed in the West and actually, given that by 1990 the MSX2 was nearing the end of its own life cycle, there weren't too many Japanese gamers who would experience it back then either. But the West would get its own sequel that same year on the NES: Snake's Revenge. The bad news was that this wasn't a true sequel at all and certainly didn't play like one. While developed by Konami and released under their Ultra imprint (oddly enough, while developed in Japan it was only released in North America), the game had zero involvement from series architect Hideo Kojima, which is absolutely apparent in the final product. In fact, Kojima was completely unaware of the game's existence until a chance meeting on a train with a fellow Konami coworker revealed it to him. This spurred him to create a true sequel, which I guess Konami wholeheartedly supported. This leads one to wonder exactly why they endeavoured to make Snake's Revenge without him in the first place. Whatever the case, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake would not only relegate Snake's Revenge to the status of non-canonical sequel, it would also blow it out of the water in every respect.

Snake's Revenge for the NES
One of the reasons it is one of the greatest 8-bit games ever is simply because it packed in both graphically and sonically about as much as was possible on an 8-bit system. The MSX2 was pushed to its limits and it's apparent that a NES port would have struggled mightily to compare, had one existed. The game features a completely reworked engine to provide a much more elaborate game design than its predecessor. And while the first Metal Gear had the thinnest of stories, which was only very sparsely supplemented with dialogue and one lone plot twist near the finale, Metal Gear 2 offers a much more complex narrative, filled with what could be called cutscenes and lengthy radio conversations. For the first time we're given insight into Snake's personality and motivations. I'd even go so far as to say that the game actually features real character development as the story progresses.

At first Snake's dialogue might seem underdeveloped to veterans of the later games as he's actually pretty mature and polite - quite a far cry from the gruff, cynical character we know so well. But if you think about it, it only makes sense - Snake is younger here and while the events of Outer Heaven were certainly difficult and traumatic for him they weren't much compared to what he's going to go through. It's definitely what happens here in Zanzibar Land that molds him into the Snake of the Metal Gear Solid games. Apparently he was into women's figure skating back then, too.

So what is the story anyway? Here's the setup: It's several years after the events of Metal Gear (sometimes it's stated to be three years, sometimes four) at the end of the twentieth century, Christmas Eve, 1999 to be exact. The world is facing an unprecedented energy crisis with its oil supply going dry. But a Czech scientist, Dr. Leo Marv, has developed a new microbe capable of synthesizing petroleum. This comes to be known as OILIX. During a trip to the United States to discuss his findings with the international scientific community, Marv is kidnapped by agents from the nation of Zanzibar Land, a small nuclear-armed country in central Asia, hoping to use OILIX to cement their military dominance over the rest of the world. Once again FOXHOUND agent Solid Snake is sent in alone to rescue Marv and diffuse the situation, much like his mission in Outer Heaven. Also like the Outer Heaven incident, the enemy has a powerful deterrent to any nation or nations that might try to stop them by force - Metal Gear. This latest model is Metal Gear D.

Unlike so many of the games of the day, this extensive setup isn't just written in the game's booklet - it's all presented as an introduction once you start playing. Anyone playing Metal Gear 2 for the first time will quickly discover that while Metal Gear is the series' starting point, its alpha, it is Metal Gear 2 that truly laid the groundwork for all that was to come afterward. From a storytelling and presentation standpoint (extremely cinematic, particularly for an 8-bit game) as well as gameplay standpoint, it was a massive leap forward and practically everything that defines the Metal Gear series was established here. This was the game that introduced the ability to crouch and crawl, to distract patrolling guards by making noise and guards that could see in more than just straight lines. It was here that the radar showing your and enemies's locations was introduced along with an evasion mode following the alert phase. Long radio conversations (codec later in the series) were first established here, as well as dialogue reflecting Kojima's own personal views on various world politics, war and nuclear weapons.

Metal Gear 2's story and gameplay elements were so extraordinary that really, most of what happens in Metal Gear Solid is just a reiteration of them. When I was playing through Metal Gear Solid for the first time, I was blown away, as I imagine most gamers were. Now, I'm sure I still would have been had I played Metal Gear 2 first, but it couldn't possibly be the same. Why? Because when I stated that much of Metal Gear Solid was a reiteration of Metal Gear 2, I was being quite literal. Not only were elements I've already mentioned above again present in the new (Metal Gear Solid) game but even certain plot points, encounters and scenarios were actually lifted verbatim from the MSX2 masterpiece. Fight with a cyborg ninja? Check. Attacked by a Russian helicopter? Check. The need to backtrack through previously visited areas to advance further (more on that later)? Check-a-roony. There's way more than just that but I don't want to give everything away. But I will just mention that when I first played through Metal Gear Solid 2 and got to the part where on the Big Shell Raiden is contacted by a mysterious character warning him of invisible landmines in his path I thought "Oh, right. Just like in the last one where Gray Fox as the Ninja contacts Snake." Well, little did I know at the time that that scenario in the first Metal Gear Solid was just an echo itself from Metal Gear 2!

Metal Gear 2's Black Ninja
As to the gameplay, it's still based on the first Metal Gear but with more abilities, challenges and options. You're still sneaking around inside large bases (and some outdoor areas, too) with multiple floors and many doors requiring different levels of keycards to open. Being detected still brings an alert mode wherein you're chased by not only every enemy on the screen but also those of adjoining screens as well. Security cameras, trap doors, mines and other traps have to be negotiated and you're able to acquire different types of equipment to help you deal with them.

One tweak is that in the original Metal Gear you need to improve your rank, which is basically like gaining levels, so that you have a longer life bar and can hold more ammunition. This is accomplished by rescuing hostages being held in cells scattered around Outer Heaven. In Metal Gear 2 it's a little more straightforward - gone are ranks but you still gain the same perks upon defeating bosses - another element that would show up again in Metal Gear Solid.

Besides Marv and a couple other essential characters, there aren't any other prisoners that need rescuing. Replacing them are children - war orphans taken in by Big Boss (who is once again the primary antagonist - I probably should have mentioned that earlier) who will give you information and tips when you talk to them. In a weird, kind of sick twist, it's actually possible for Snake to kill them but you lose health if you do. The more children you talk to, the more is peeled back about Big Boss's character and for the first time in the series you learn that he isn't just a straightforward heartless villain. I will point out that the revelation that Big Boss is Snake's father isn't actually in this game and was only retconned later in Metal Gear Solid. But knowing that detail during the final confrontation certainly makes it a more emotional gaming experience.

The boss fights are expanded slightly too, usually there's a bit of dialogue from them after you defeat them and you can also get some background info on them from one of your radio contacts. None of the fights are too hard once you figure out what to do but they offer a nice variety of required tactics over the course of the game. The fight with the Hind D helicopter bears mentioning because although this is a 2D 8-bit game, it's done in such a way that the fight actually feels somewhat three-dimensional - testament to the innovation of Kojima - something we've all become familiar with over the years.

Original MSX radio screen vs. updated PS2 radio screen

As much as I must gush about the game's story, presentation and gameplay, I will admit that it isn't perfect. A significant amount of backtracking is required and some gamers can find that tedious. Usually, as someone with limited patience,  I'd be among them, but honestly, I enjoy this game so much that it really didn't bother me at all. Also, early in the game there is a swamp you must traverse and if you step into the wrong area, you'll quickly start to sink, which can lead to death if you don't backstep very quickly. This sounds like a pretty standard videogame challenge but I'll tell you now that there is no way visually to tell where you should and shouldn't step. Your route has to be figured out through trial and error. Again, this might be acceptable except that this swamp is four screens in size and you have to take a long, convoluted route to navigate it safely. Getting through it is easily the most irksome part of the game. For me at least.
As improved as the game's engine is over the original Metal Gear, for some reason Snake can still only move in four directions which, while not hampering you in any way while you play, just seems kind of weird given all the other changes and advancements.

Another "flaw" is something that is really no fault of the game. It's just a small story point. As the game was released in 1990, it presupposes that by 1999, the year in which it is set, the Soviet Union will still be around. One of the characters is a member of the Czechoslovakian Secret Police - an organization that was dissolved even before the Czech Republic and Slovakia became separate countries. But hey, no big deal. Also, the game's plot really makes NATO come off as a bunch of dicks. Genocidal dicks, practically.

While Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake is unarguably one of the greatest games of its era and one of the more influential games of all time, the fact that it was released exclusively on a dying system just when the 16-bit era was kicking off ensured that in Japan it would only make a small blip on the radar. And of course in North America, none at all. This has to be one of the bigger, well, I don't want to use a word as strong as tragedy so we'll go with "unfortunate occurrences" in gaming history as a plethora of gamers who were active at the time of its release, myself included, missed out on it altogether and didn't even learn of its existence until years later, let alone get the chance to actually play it. In 1998, with the buildup for Metal Gear Solid, a fan translation of the game was done along with an online version of its instruction manual but this also went largely unnoticed.

Snake crawling through a vent
The aforementioned facts also ensured that the game was released in limited quantities so these days it is a highly sought after and highly expensive collector's item. A copy will set you back around three hundred bucks US and that's without the box. A complete version could cost over five hundred, which is more than the MSX2 itself goes for these days. Thankfully, since 2006 gamers have had the option of experiencing this classic by way of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence and later Metal Gear Solid The Legacy Collection.

A mobile phone version was released in Japan in 2004 as well and all of the changes made from the original version were carried over into the PS2 port. These included the addition of thermal goggles, increasing the amount of land mines you can place on one screen, revamped character portraits on the transceiver screen, frequency numbers being saved in a memory window after using them for the first time, name-changes for some of the characters and several more. Because of a few gameplay tweaks and a different saving system, I would assume the original MSX2 version is probably at least slightly more difficult to play through than the updated ports.

The fact that a twenty-five year old, 8-bit game that was barely acknowledged in its time let alone celebrated, could be so complex, well-presented and fun to contemporary gamers marks it as a truly special game. If you're playing it for the first time you'll find yourself marveling how it's so similar to Metal Gear Solid - an amazing game in its own right for a much, much more powerful console with what I can only assume was a much, much higher budget and longer development time. Not only does Metal Gear 2 "hold up" today, it actually shatters expectations of the uninitiated and rivals many current games in enjoyability. Play it any way you can, whether you're a Metal Gear fan or not.

Metal Gear!?
cole d'arc

Cole d'arc is a writer based out of Halifax, NS. He is a practiced blogeteer and professional lister at Five-O-Rama, is the man behind Cole Talks Comics on YouTube, and a founding member of The Sausage Factory live stream movie discussion show.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Metal Gear (1988) - Nintendo Entertainment System

The NES title screen
When I was a kid one of my favourite games on the NES was Metal Gear... and I barely ever played it. An older neighbour kid had a copy and this guy lived and breathed the NES. He was the kid that mastered every game that he owned and Metal Gear was no exception.

He was also kind of obsessed with war and violence, so I think Metal Gear spoke to him on some other strange level that I couldn't really understand. He was actually passionate about it, in a way. Before we ever got to play the game he would explain it to us; he'd walk us through the story, like some old sage-like storyteller. His passion for Metal Gear came through and it became something more than a game.

We used to actually "play" Metal Gear outside. We'd pack up old backpacks with rations - granola bars and fruit snacks - and other "items" from the game. I can remember taping two empty 2L pop bottles together for an "air tank". Then we'd grab our favourite toy guns and hit the streets to hunt down the infamous Metal Gear and save the world.

Occasionally when my neighbour would bring the game over I'd give it a try, but mostly I'd just watch him complete it. He could easily do it in one sitting, so I'd seen him clear it several times.

I'd go on to become a huge fan of the Metal Gear Solid series launched on the Sony Playstation in 1998, but I'd never really gone back to play the game that started it all and sparked my interest in the series. Here we are in 2015 and I'm finally sitting down and completing Metal Gear on the NES all by myself for the first time!

Let's start with some brief history on the game: Hideo Kojima was a planner and game director for Konami's MSX PC division in the 80s. Before Metal Gear he had worked on a sequel to Antarctic Adventure entitled Penguin Adventure and an unreleased game called The Lost Warld. When he took on Metal Gear the combat engine wasn't working well and so he converted the game to be a stealth action game in which the player actually attempted to avoid enemies instead of straight-on attack them, which was the norm in most games at the time.

Metal Gear released in 1987 for the MSX2 in Japan and, due to its popularity, Konami quickly decided they wanted to port the title to other systems, like MS-DOS, the Commodore 64, and the NES.

The NES version of Metal Gear - for most of my life the only version I knew - is known these days for being a pretty bad port of the game. The team that developed it were given three months to convert the source code from Kojima's game and make a workable NES version. As a result, there are bad translation issues, hiccups in the gameplay, and the most glaring issue of all, which I'll get to at the end of this article.

NTSC front box art.
I actually played the MSX2 version of the game back when it was released as a pack-in with Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence on the Playstation 2 in 2006. I remember thinking, "Man, this game looks so much better than the NES version!" I was surprised that they didn't just release that game on the NES, not thinking about the technical limitations and difficulties in porting the game.

Even though there are glaring issues with Metal Gear NES, I still remember it fondly as my first foray into the world of Metal Gear, so I give it a wide berth and I just can't help that. It takes a lot of flak these days, especially after The Angry Video Game Nerd spoke up about his thoughts in his Metal Gear episode in 2010, but I don't think most of it is warranted and I even think, in a few instances, The Nerd was reaching.

Here is the description of Metal Gear from the NES release:

Crazed Colonel Vermon CaTaffy poses new terrorist threat to the world.
Outer Heaven leader CaTaffy has activated the ultimate super weapon: Metal Gear!
Responding to the crisis, covert unit "Fox Hound" is called into action, and that's where you come into play.
Trained in hand-to-hand combat and skilled in every weapon known to man, you're Fox Hound's lethal fighting machine, code named "Solid Snake".
But on this mission you better be sly as well, to surprise heavily armed enemies, busting 'em up quietly and rescuing their hostages before alarms are triggered.
Plus you gotta maintain radio contact with Commander South, who'll feed you crucial info on Metal Gear's whereabouts.
To survive, capture sub machine guns, Barettas, grenade launchers, and plastic explosives...Until you find and destroy Metal Gear, ending CaTaffy's reign of terror.

Now you might be thinking, "I remember playing Metal Gear as a kid and none of this happened!" Well, you wouldn't be wrong. The tight deadlines didn't just cause issues with the game's programming, but also with its localization.

At some point in the game's localization and translation process it was realized that the reveal of the true enemy (no spoilers here) in the game probably wouldn't fly with American audiences. The Persian Gulf War was nearing its end and American eyes were squarely focused on Western Asia and Northern Africa. It was decided that some changes would be made to the game's story, which is reflected on Metal Gear's box and in its instruction manual. An evil mastermind was interjected, (ridiculously) named CaTaffy - an obvious spoof on Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi - and your main contact in the game was renamed from Big Boss to Commander South.

Additionally, Metal Gear was chosen as one of the Worlds of Power NES game novelizations. Produced by Seth Godin, written by various authors, and published under the pen name "F.X. Nine", the Worlds of Power series was an attempt to present young video game players with the stories from their favourite games in the form of short novels. The source material for these games, however, was often based on the story in the instruction manuals and then elaborated heavily by the authors. So, in the case of Metal Gear's novelization the story is centered on Justin Halley, a.k.a. Solid Snake, and his mission to take down Vermon CaTaffy and his mobile assault weapon, Metal Gear.

NTSC back box art.
None of this made it into the final game, however. The game largely follows the same story laid out in the MSX2 version, in which Solid Snake is sent into a militarized complex in the Eastern Pacific called Outer Heaven by Big Boss - the leader of the special forces unit FOXHOUND - on a mission to save a captured comrade and take down a new threat to the world.

The game starts out with Solid Snake parachuting into the jungle surrounding Outer Heaven with nothing but his wits, his fists, and his smokes. You're quickly introduced to the Transceiver: a radio that allows you to contact different individuals for help in your mission. The leader of FOXHOUND, Big Boss, calls to remind you over main mission objectives: find and save Gray Fox and destroy Metal Gear.

Then you're launched into the game. It does a great job of showing you the ropes. This isn't your standard run-and-gun action title, like you'd expect from a war game. Stealth is key and you have to catch your enemies off-guard in order to take them out.

In a lot of ways, Metal Gear is more like a Metroidvania crossed with a top-down action-RPG. You're essentially dropped into an open world, but you have to access certain items and keycards in order to get to the next area. If it weren't masked by the war-sim look and feel I think most people would argue that this game is an action-RPG and not a straight action shooter title.

As I said, as you progress the game you'll find items to aid you on your mission: a gas mask so you can breath in poison gas-filled rooms, a flashlight to see in the dark, and infra-red goggles so you can see laser trip-beams. You'll also collect keycards that allow you to open doors to save POWs and find more weapons.

Saving POWs is important as it helps you to level up your rank. You start off on Rank 1, with a very short life energy bar and the ability to hold little in the way of ammo and rations, but this is quickly remedied by saving soldiers around Outer Heaven. POWs will also give you hints and Transceiver frequencies that will help you along the way.

You may start off with nothing but your bare hands to protect yourself against the enemy guards and bosses, but you'll find weapons strewn about that make taking out baddies a breeze. The hand gun can be found pretty quickly, as well as grenade launcher, and eventually a rocket launcher.

Boss fights might seem tricky at first, but if you have the right weapon they're usually pretty easy to take out. You can also find a silencer along the way so that you don't alert enemies of your presence until it's too late.

Lastly I'll mention rations. These items will fill up your life gauge, which is definitely a must-have at the beginning of the game when your life bar is so low.

One of the short-comings of the NES version of Metal Gear is that you don't collect rations and ammo as drops from fallen enemies, like in the MSX2 version. It's not really that much of an issue, though, because you'll find rations and ammo in many rooms in the enemy base and you can leave the room and come back in to stock up.

There are a few times where the game can get a little confusing as to where you should go. Much like a Metroidvania, I find if I stop playing for an extended period of time I can forget where I'm at or what objective I'm trying to accomplish and I end up wandering aimlessly trying to remember where I was.

The cover infamously stole images of Michael Biehn
as "Kyle Reese" from Terminator for the box art.
Honestly, though, I had a blast replaying Metal Gear on the NES. It is a great game, which is why it sold so well when it was released. It seems in vogue to trash it these days, especially with the MSX2 version widely available, but it plays really well. There are some hiccups; the menus are a little annoying to navigate when switching between items and weapons, but that's an issue in any version of Metal Gear that you'll play. Also, continuing after a death or from a password can drop you really far away from where you were last playing, which is a bit aggravating, but also par for the course with NES titles.

Other than that, the story is very cool, the translation isn't all the bad, and you kind of feel like you're playing out an 80s action film when you play Metal Gear. Even when I was dying over and over and having to remember where I'd left off I was having fun sneaking around the different buildings.

The MSX2 version is a much more polished and well-developed game, I'll admit that. On the whole, however, the two games are pretty much the same. Most of the differences between the two would initially seem like laziness on the part of the programmers, but it is all due to the tight time restriction the team had in turning around the NES port.

A few examples:
  • Jet-pack enemies that appear on rooftop areas don't actually fly in the NES port, but do in the original
  • When you die in the MSX2 version you can continue from a recent check-point, where in the NES port you are placed in a location - which may or may not be convenient - based solely on your rank
  • If you kill an enemy by punching them they may drop ammo or rations in the original game, but there are no drops present on the NES copy
  • There are two alert modes in the MSX2 game: one that only applies to enemies on screen and another that will continue into other screens and pulls in additional guards. The NES port features a mix: it only applies to one screen, but additional guards will always pour in
  • Cameras don't have a blind spot in the original title and you can only conceal yourself from them by standing still with the Cardboard Box item. In the NES version you can stay tight to the wall to avoid cameras as well as use the Cardboard Box
An awesome ad for Metal Gear!
The most glaring difference between the MSX2 and NES versions of the game is the final boss, and it's a doozy. As you would expect in the MSX2 version of Metal Gear the final boss is the Metal Gear itself. In fact, I'd dare say you'd expect that to be the case with any version. Unbelievably the NES version of the game doesn't feature the Metal Gear as the final boss or anywhere in the game! Instead you have to destroy a Super Computer, which apparently controls the Metal Gear.

In the original title Dr. Pettrovich, one of the captives in Outer Heaven and the creator of Metal Gear, teaches you the specific steps that are required to destroy his weapon, but in the NES version none of that is present. You just have to fight the Super Computer and call it a day.

I often wonder if Konami thought anyone would notice that the end boss wasn't Metal Gear, but were just so rigid with the timelines that it didn't matter to them. I picture some smarmy executive saying, "Most kids won't even reach the end of the game. Who cares!?"

In the end Metal Gear NES isn't a bad game at all. It has it's problems, but it plays almost identically to its MSX2 counterpart. I think it's only by comparison that it gets a bad rap these days. Regardless of what you think of the game I've had blast playing it these last few weeks. It sparked all the nostalgia centres in my brain and I enjoyed every minute of it. 

Writing this actually got me thinking about the Metal Gear series as a whole. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is being released on September 1st, 2015 and could be the end of the franchise. If you were to ask me about my favourite video games or game series I don't think I'd often say Metal Gear, but in reality I've been eagerly following these titles since the NES. I bought a Sony Playstation just to play Metal Gear Solid, bought a Playstation 3 just to play Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is one of my favourite games of that era.

I may need to rethink my list of favourite video games!

Metal Gear for the NES is definite recommendation.

Hope you enjoyed,
R

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Star Fox 64 (1997) - Nintendo 64

Gotta love that N64 box-art!
Star Fox 64 is a reboot of Star Fox, the wildly popular FX-powered Super Nintendo game released in 1993. SF64 was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1997. There had been a cancelled sequel in development for the SNES during the four years between these releases, so there was a lot of hype for a new 3D Star Fox game.

The game is an on-rails shooter in which you play as Fox McCloud, leader of a group of mercenaries known as - prepare yourselves - Star Fox. The team includes Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad, and Falco Lambardi. In most of the stages of the game your team actually joins you in the battle and it is often up to you, their fearless leader, to help them out of jams. There are some benefits to keeping your team alive, such as Slippy's ability to scan bosses for weak points and a plethora of tips from Peppy.

The story goes that Andross, a mad scientist from the blue planet Corneria, banished to planet Venom for committing atrocities upon the people of Corneria several years prior, is attacking the Lylat System once again with new "bio-weapons". Fearing imminent defeat, General Pepper hires Star Fox to take down the evil Andross once and for all.

The Landmaster in action.
Thanks to the Nintendo 64's more powerful hardware, SF64 comes packed with several improvements over the SNES game. These include "all-range mode", which allows players to take control of Star Fox's Arwings in an open battlefield, complete with new moves that include a "loopdy-loop" (the technical term, I assure you) and the tried and true barrel roll. Some of the best stages in the game are dogfights against Star Fox's rivals, Star Wolf, in all-range mode. Also, several stages have been added with new environments, in which Fox will take control of the Blue Marine submarine or the Landmaster tank.

Star Fox 64 is a very short game, which most players will easily be able to pick up and finish in one sitting. As a result, Nintendo EAD had to pack a lot of replay value packed into that little grey cartridge. In order to get the true ending of Star Fox 64, you have to finish the game by taking on the different planets in the Lylat System in a certain order; the hard red path, the medium yellow path, and the easy blue path. The only way to unlock certain stages is to perform specific tasks along the way, such as defeating a certain number of enemies or saving a teammate.

Of course Nintendo had to make use of the four controller ports on the 64 and included a multiplayer component in Star Fox 64. There are three modes: Point Match, Battle Royale, and Time Trial.

There are also unlockables in the game in the form of medals. If a player can finish missions with all team members intact and obtain high kill counts they'll receive a medal. If you collect all of them you unlock an Expert Mode. You'll also unlock additions to multiplayer, like the ability to use the Landmaster tank or play as the members of Star Fox on foot and brandishing bazookas.

The Rumble Pak add-on makes for quite the behemoth.
To cap the whole thing off, Star Fox was the first N64 game to use the Rumble Pak, which was included with the game, This was one of the first implementations of "force feedback" or "haptic technology" in a home console game and would usher in similar technologies from the Playstation (Dualshock controller) and the Dreamcast (Jump Pack).

Is Star Fox 64 without its problems? Few games are. One serious downfall of SF64 is that unlocking some of the different planets in the Lylat System can be very vague and difficult to figure out. There's no clear direction. Coupled with the short playtime of the game, this isn't that big of deal honestly, but in order to replay a stage you have to sacrifice a life. This means that if you're running through Star Fox 64, play a level, and don't get to take the path you want you have to keep sacrificing Arwings in order to retry. This can get a little annoying when you just can't figure out how to unlock a certain planet. Get ready to play through the first stage of the game many, many times.

Another gripe is the aforementioned new vehicles. They do add a little variety to the game, but honestly can be a bit of a pain to pilot. For instance, when deep underwater in Aquas, the only way to light your path is to constantly fire off torpedoes in the Blue Marine. You have unlimited torpedoes (thanks, Slippy!) but it can be a serious pain to constantly spam the torpedo button. Also, one of the Landmaster stages has you having to constantly fire upon an escaping train. This wouldn't be a big deal, but the controls on the tank can be a bit clunky to begin with, and you have to be mindful of everything else going on, while trying to keep your attention on the train.

When I think about it, these are ultimately complaints about the level design. It does add some difficulty to the game, and honestly you can master these stages. It just seems unnecessarily hectic at times and probably could have been handled better.

Do a barrel roll.. in glasses-free 3D!
All-in-all I find Star Fox 64 a satisfying game. Some people don't appreciate a short play time, but I don't mind it one bit. Also, you'll find yourself wanting to play this game over and over anyway, because it is very fun, so figuring out how to access different planets in the Lylat System won't seem like too much of a chore.

It has been my experience that you can find a Star Fox 64 cartridge pretty easily at used game stores or flea markets/garage sales and they're typically pretty affordable. Rumble Paks are usually pretty easy to come by, too, if you want the authentic experience. You can also download SF64 on the Wii Virtual Console 1000 Nintendo Points, which is roughly $10, but you won't be able to play the game with any sort of force feedback functionality. Lastly, you can pick up Star Fox 64 3D for the 3DS, but be warned that it's becoming harder to find and like Nintendo's other popular N64-to-3DS remake, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, the price is rising and rising.

Star Fox 64 is May's game of the month for the Cartridge Club. If you want to join in on the fun, check out the Cartridge Bros. website and their dedicated Cartridge Club forum to chat about the game with other gamers. Also keep an eye out for their podcast dedicated to the game at the end of the month.

Good luck!
R

Friday, May 1, 2015

Moon Chronicles: Episode 1 (2014) - Nintendo 3DS

Said game case.
Back when the Nintendo DS was the hot handheld on the market I would often see a title at local
game stores called Moon. Every time I saw the game case I was intrigued by the title. I had heard of the developer, Renegade Kid, and their other popular first-person titles on the DS, the Dementium games, but for some unknown reason I just didn't buy it! I can't even say why, because I saw copies of Moon all the time, often read the back and thought, "This sounds like a fun game!" I would always place it back on the shelf, though.

Flash forward almost five years and Renegade Kid, now a force to be reckoned with on the Nintendo eShop with games like Mutant Mudds, Bomb Monkey, and Xeodrifter (see my review here!), made the decision to remaster their handheld space shooter as Moon Chronicles. Now running at a smooth 60 frames per second, with upgraded graphics and effects, the game would be released in episodic "seasons" on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.

Season 1 would be the original Moon game, broken into four episodes. Episode 1 was released May 15, 2014 and included the first episode and VR training missions. On February 5th, 2015 episodes 2, 3, and 4 were released simultaneously. As of writing this Season 2 has still not been announced, but Renegade Kid has said that the second season, an all-new story for the Moon series, will launch in 2015 and that a complete package of Episode 1 will also become available.

Reeemiiiiix!
Moon Chronicles: Episode 1 begins as Major Kane, an elite US soldier, lands on the Moon. A mysterious hatch has recently been found on the surface of the planet and a team of Kane's contemporaries were sent in on a reconnaissance mission, but have gone missing under the surface. It's up to Kane and his special task force to find out what's going on down below.

The game plays and feels just like an old school PC shooter. The environment, music, and sound effects feel like they'd be right at home on a Windows 95 cd-rom. The walls even look slightly bitmapped!

The controls took a little getting used to. As I mentioned before, the game was originally released on the DS and used a control scheme similar to that of GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64. The player used the d-pad to move in any direction, the face buttons to aim your weapon, and shooting was relegated to the shoulder buttons (no Z-button here). In Moon Chronicles on the 3DS that control scheme remains, but thanks to the Circle Pad Pro players can now use two analog sticks to control Kane, which works much better than the d-pad/face button combination.

I still had some trouble with getting used to the controls for the game, because I found the aiming a little stiff and my hand cramped from using the Circle Pad Pro, but after a while I got used to it and was doing just fine in the aiming and shooting department. Note: if you own the New Nintendo 3DS, Moon Chronicles is compatible with the control nub, which may or may not be preferable to the Circle Pad Pro attachment.

No need for an unlimited ammo code.
You start off the game with a rifle that has unlimited ammo. It's accuracy and power are very weak,
however. At first I wondered if I was even hitting the various enemies, which are mostly drone-like objects, but I quickly realized that when my reticle went red it meant I was making a hit.

Unlike most first-person shooters these days, you don't regain health by hiding! That was a nice surprise. I think that gimmick gets over-used and can take away from the excitement of the game. In Moon Chronicles you have to retrieve vials from downed enemies, which will give you health.

That's basically it for the gameplay! I don't want to go too in-depth with it and ruin any of the story-line, but I will say that later in Episode 1 I did find a new weapon, which actually uses ammo (also dropped from enemies), and I got to ride around in a cool vehicle!

My major complaint about Moon Chronicles: Episode 1 is the length. I finished it in two sittings of less than an hour each. That included some backtracking, looking for secrets, etc. I think if you were just sticking to the combat and kept a good pace you could probably finish the entire episode in under 40 minutes.

The price tag on Moon Chronicles is initially $8.99, which includes Episode 1 and unlockable VR missions. If you include the VR missions you are looking at some extended gameplay, which makes the $8.99 price tag a little more palatable. Episodes 2, 3, and 4 were all released individually for $4.50 or you can buy a season's pass and get all the episodes for $9, which makes the whole package of Moon Chronicles about 20 bucks. I would say that looking at the length of the mission in Episode 1 $9 seemed a little steep. I felt like I paid to play a demo of the game.

So, in conclusion, Moon Chronicles Episode 1 might be an easy choice for any fans of the original title on the DS or anyone that just really likes vintage PC shooters. The initial cost of the first episode seems a little steep, so you might want to decide if you think the whole package is something you're interested in before you take the leap and buy.

Reviews for Episodes 2, 3, and 4 to follow!

Hope you enjoyed,
R

Friday, April 24, 2015

Xeodrifter (2014) - Nintendo 3DS

I've had my eye on Xeodrifter ever since I first heard of its release months ago, but I was on the fence about picking it up. I love "Metroid-vania" games, so I figured it would be right up my alley, but I have a bad habit of buying eShop games on my 3DS and leaving them un-played (an issue I'm currently trying to rectify).

8-bit glory.
Recently there was an eShop sale for Renegade Kid titles, however, and at about $5 I decided to take the plunge, put everything else aside, and finally play Xeodrifter.

Xeodrifter, as I've already mentioned, is an action platforming title that takes a great deal of inspiration from the NES classic Metroid. It boasts a pseudo 8-bit aesthetic, retro music, and non-linear gameplay, which all comes together in a wonderful nostalgia-fueled package.

The game, following its old school roots, is light on story, but follows an interstellar drifter who is exploring a cluster of planets when the warp core on his ship is damaged. You can only travel to the four planets in this tiny corner of the cosmos, but must find a way to repair your warp core to carry on your mission of discovery.

Bring it on, Boss Man!
You can travel to any of the four planets when you begin the game, but you will quickly realize that you require certain power-ups to access many of the areas in these alien landscapes. You can acquire these abilities by facing off with giant alien bosses located on one of the four mysterious worlds.

The drifter is equipped with a simple gun and the ability to jump when you begin playing, but as you battle your way and explore the four planets you'll find many power-ups that will give you more health and allow you to upgrade your weapon to take on the alien creatures you'll encounter.

The game is short, but sweet. I finished it in around three hours on my first playthrough. The pacing is great and keeps you enticed to play, but you can easily put the game down whenever you please. One problem I have with "Metroid-vania" titles is that I often lose my place. I legitimately keep a book where I record my steps as I play games in this subgenre so I know where I'm going between gaming sessions. In Xeodrifter, more than likely due to its simplistic nature, I never had an issue remembering what I was up to and having to backtrack significantly to figure it out.

My finished game file.
The controls are tight, the colours and retro-themed art style pop beautifully, and the music - although
at times a little repetitive - all come together to make for a really fun, accessible indie title. The only issue some people might have would be the length, as the game is a little on the short side. For a guy like myself, I enjoyed the short play time, but I can see where a title that's three hours long could be a problem for some. There is some inherent replay value to search out all of the health and gun upgrades, but I would say that I found most of them on my first playthrough, so that might not really flesh out the game enough for those looking for more bang for their buck.

All in all I can recommend Xeodrifter to anyone that likes a fun, retro-style indie game that doesn't break the bank and also won't take weeks to finish. You can pick it up on the Nintendo 3DS eShop as well as Steam for around $10.99 at full price, as well as a Special Edition on Steam for $16.99, which includes a download of the soundtrack and a development diary for the game. Xeodrifter is also slotted to be released on Xbox One, PS4, and Playstation Vita later this spring.

Hope you enjoyed,
R


No, thank you!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Top 5 Favourite Video Game Consoles

I'd just like to begin by saying that this list is inspired by both the Cartridge Bros. and Lo Burton. The Cartridge Bros. recently posted a video from their new weekly series Not So Deep Thoughts and the topic was their personal top three favourite consoles. Being the professional lister that I am it instantly piqued my interest. Not long after watching their video I saw that Lo Burton of And Then She Games fame responded with her personal top five favourite consoles. After reading her blog post I just knew I had to make my own list!

Yes this is a list of five, which might make you wonder why am I not posting it on Five-O-Rama? The reason is that it's a personal list, so I felt it more-so belonged here on Retro-Def. If I was, say, making a list of the Top 5 Best Consoles of All Time, regardless of my personal opinions, then that would definitely makes its way to Five-O-Rama.

Also, why a top five? I tried to just pick my top three, but I kept feeling like I was leaving something important out by not mentioning the other two consoles on this list. Also I like lists of five. And Lo broke the rules first!

Onward!

Sony Playstation 2

The big beast it all its glory.

I bought my PS2 the summer I graduated from high school and I instantly fell in love with it. I'm a big cinephile and the fact that it came with a DVD player built in was a huge selling point, but also I had a deep love for its predecessor, which I'll mention in a moment. It was an easy sell.

The PS2 continued to foster my love for game series like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid, and also introduced me to different types of games that I had never played before, like Dance Dance Revolution. Yes, I played DDR... and I was damned good at it.

It also lead to my first foray into online console gaming. I'd done some modem matches in PC games up to this point, but the simplicity of the PS2's network adapter and hopping online while sitting on my couch was something I really fell in love with. I became obsessed with the SOCOM: US Navy SEALs series and a few of my friends and I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning eating pizza, drinking beers, and playing with our clan in SOCOM; all thanks to my beloved PS2, which remains hooked up in my house to this day.

Also I watched The Matrix on that thing like a kajillion times when I finally got it on DVD.

Nintendo 64

Look at that controller!

I had a really difficult time placing this console in the hierarchy of this list, but in the end it still lands in my top five so that's saying something!

The N64 makes the list because of all kinds of amazing solo games, like Super Mario 64, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, StarFox 64, and - my favourite Legend of Zelda title - Ocarina of Time.

Most importantly, however, it is because of the incredible multiplayer experiences I had with this system. I, like so many others, played countless hours of Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye 007, and Perfect Dark. I can't tell you how often I can recall staring bleary-eyed as the sun started pouring through an open window and not even realizing that my friends and I had been up legitimately all night battling each other in these incredible games.

Nintendo Entertainment System

The one that started it all.

Another system that I had a hard time placing!

The NES had to make the list, however, simply because it is the system that started it all for me in this hobby of video gaming. It houses in its library some of my favourite games of all time, like Super Mario Bros. 3, Mega Man 3, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I didn't really understand what an entertainment system gaming console was when I first received my NES as a Christmas present 25 years ago, but I quickly became attached to the concept and it has endured as one of my favourite pastimes all these years later.

What's even more interesting (for me) is that in the last few years I've actually been getting back into my NES. If I had written this list in the not-so-distant past I'm not sure where it would have placed, honestly. I had great memories of it, but rarely, if ever, hooked it up to play it. I started picking up some NES carts for games I'd missed on the console at flea markets - games like The Legend of Zelda, The Adventures of Link, and Hogan's Alley - and in a way it's almost like I'm falling in love with my NES all over again.

Sony Playstation

The only "revenge console" on the market.

Up until the PSX (yes I still use that acronym) gaming for me was something I occasionally did on my own free time, but I'm not sure I considered the hobby something incredibly personal. I mostly loved playing games with friends. There were some games that were released on the SNES and N64 that started me down that path, but the Playstation was where I really started to take this whole gaming thing to heart.

I first decided I needed to have a PSX when I began reading about a then upcoming game from Konami by the name of Metal Gear Solid. The graphics, the ideas behind the gameplay, the correlations with film; all of these bullet points, plus my fascination with its NES predecessor, had me dying to play the game. As a huge Final Fantasy fan, you would think it would have been Final Fantasy 7 that brought me over to Sony's "new kid on the block" console, but that just wasn't the case.

I got a PSX for MGS, but there were so many other titles that kept me clocking time in with it for many years to come. Titles like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Final Fantasy 9, Suikoden, Resident Evil, Parasite Eve, Final Fantasy Tactics... the list just goes on and on.

I feel like I developed my taste for games with the PSX. Before that I had played a few RPGs, and I knew that I loved Final Fantasy 3, but I wouldn't say that I was an "RPG fan". Like I just mentioned, I was interested in FF7, but I was just as happy to watch my buddy play it on his PSX. It wasn't until I had my own Playstation and started wading into the ever-growing torrent of RPG titles finding their way to North American shores that I became the RPG-hound that I am today.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Finally, the games could top-load!

The SNES is significant to my gaming history for so many reasons. Before it if a game wasn't a side-scrolling action title, I didn't care if it existed.

Even writing that I realize that most of my favourite games on the SNES were the likes of Super Mario World, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, the Mega Man X series, and the Donkey Kong Country series. That said, however, the SNES is where I began to cut my teeth on games of a different ilk.

If the PSX is where I cemented my love for RPGs, the SNES is where the love affair all began. I played ground-breaking titles on it like Final Fantasy 2, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and ultimately Final Fantasy 3.

I still find my SNES to be my most accessible system. It plays all of my old, favourite games flawlessly. Just plug them in and off I go. In a moment I can be whisked away to so many worlds that I loved visiting in my childhood, whether it be Dinosaur Island with Mario, time-hopping with the Turtles, or bearing the cold winds of Narshe with Terra and Locke.

I've tried to express my love for FF3 before, and I think I've failed to truly get that across, but that game alone would probably make the SNES my favourite console of all time.

And, for the record, I love those pastel purple buttons!

Hope you enjoyed,
R