Tag Archives: nintendo

Hot Wheels Mario Kart Circuit and Other Sets

mk_circuit_boxToy reviews are not uncommon on this blog, but when they take place they’re almost always about an action figure that I bought for myself. This post is the rare toy post that’s not about one of my toys, but about a toy that belongs to my son. That’s because this Christmas Santa brought my boy a whole bunch of Mario Kart branded Hot Wheels. Given that Mario appeals to me and the Mario Kart series of video games is one of the most popular in the world, it felt like a review was a worthy endeavor for this blog.

My son has mostly been in and out of Hot Wheels since he turned 2. My dad, who tried his best to make me a gearhead, has probably been responsible for the majority of the Hot Wheels my kid has received over the years. He drifted away though with his interests going in different directions, but the Mario Kart set seemed to catch his eye when it came time to make out a list for Santa this past year. This surprised me as I had seen this set over the summer and somewhat tried to get my son interested in it, but he paid it no mind. The main track looked interesting, and the Mario Kart racers looked great. He has some interest in Mario as it is, but the games still frustrate him given that he’s only four. I thought maybe it just wasn’t the right time, but things obviously changed. And since the only other item he was insistent upon receiving as a gift this year was a cheap little game called Dragon Snacks, Santa delivered when it came to Mario Kart.

mk_circuitUnder the tree on Christmas morning was the main racetrack, the Mario Kart Circuit. It’s an oval design of two tracks for simultaneous racing. There’s a launcher to start and then motorized boosters before the second of two long curves. Two additional sets were also present, one based on avoiding a large piranha plant and a second where the obstacle is a massive thwomp enemy. Also joining the crew was nearly every single-carded racer including the likes of Peach, Bowser, and everyone’s favorite, Waluigi.

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Blue should always win.

Leading up to Christmas I had read mixed things about this set. Some YouTube videos were watched, and I saw enough to convince me that my kid would probably enjoy it. We were able to convince him to give up his seldom used Paw Patrol toys freeing up considerable space in the house for these new toys. I assembled the sets and while the main track looks intimidating, I found it rather easy to setup. Four D batteries are required to power the boosters and I don’t know when I last had something that required D batteries before this thing. Stickers are needed to dress the set up and they suck as usual, but at least there aren’t a ton of them. The secondary sets are even simpler as they don’t require batteries. The piranha plant was a little tricky to assemble, but it went together fine. That set just uses gravity to work alongside a wind-up function while the thwomp set has an elastic-powered launcher.

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The set includes a goomba. He doesn’t do anything, but hey, it’s a goomba!

The main track, Mario Circuit, shares a name with a track from the actual games, but it doesn’t really resemble anything aside from the fact that it’s a basic oval design. There’s a goomba in one place and Toad’s house is inside the track and that’s mostly it as far as the big attractions go. The track itself consists of four long curve track pieces connected by straight pieces. There’s a starting gate which features a lap counter function via the two flags protruding from it. You can even “lock” the counter so that when one racer completes all of its laps the opposing side locks forcing a crash. Two launchers kick things off and getting the cars to fire off properly requires more finesse than power. My kids find it hard to produce enough force, but if I try to hit it with what I’d consider is hard force the cars go flying off the track. I found it easy to get a feel for it, but the different sized cars present a challenge (more on that later). My kids choose to ignore the launcher and just feed them into the motorized portion and they seem content with that. While the cars are in motion and racing, the spectators can utilize the turtle shell buttons to try and bump their opponent off of the track. It’s surprisingly challenging, but plenty doable, and helps extend a race.

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Extra parking for all of your racers!

When my son found this under the tree, he started playing with it almost immediately. We had a lot of fun, until one of the long curves started to fail. I soon noticed that the groove under the track had begun to split. Soon enough, the piece wouldn’t even stay connected so after only a few minutes of play the two-track circuit was now a one-track circuit. To his credit, my son didn’t seem to let it bother him and I quickly fired off an email to Mattel. I received a response on the 27th, and had a replacement free of charge on the 30th. It was disappointing the track broke so quickly, but at least Mattel rectified the problem in short order.

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Racers can even hide in the turret.

The track contains room to store other racers, which is great because we have a lot. Coming with the set was Mario and Yoshi in standard karts. The thwomp track came with Luigi in a standard kart, and the plant with a second green Yoshi, but this time in the Mach 8 kart. I appreciate the new kart for Yoshi, but why did he have to be green again when there are so many other colors of Yoshi? The single carded vehicles include Peach in a standard kart, Toad in the Sneeker, Bowser in the Bad Wagon, Waluigi in the same Bad Wagon, Wario in standard kart, Koopa Troopa in the Circuit Special, and Blue Yoshi in a standard kart. Also available is a Tanooki Mario and Rosalina. There’s also a four-pack that features a Black Yoshi and there’s supposed to be another track with Donkey Kong. I’m sure there will be more to come as well.

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Toad even gets his own parking spot behind his house.

All of the cars seem to work to some degree on the Mario Circuit track. The characters in standard karts seem to fare the best, with Toad and the Mach 8 vehicle working just a little worse. With standard carts, I had no trouble getting vehicles to hum around the track with little interruption. The heavier racers, like Bowser especially, are a tad trickier to get a successful launch out of. For whatever reason, the inside track in particular was a challenge and sometimes I’d just give up and start them off in the booster area. Koopa Troopa works all right in his elongated vehicle, but he’s practically unusable in the smaller sets as his vehicle gets hung-up on the turnarounds. Even though they don’t all work as well as each other, the vehicles are still worth having because they look great. The only one I’m not as into is Toad and that’s because Mattel didn’t paint his steering column and wheel leaving it flesh-colored, which just looks weird. And since the dimensions on these karts are essentially the same as other Hot Wheels, they should be usable in other sets.

The smaller sets are far less impressive than the main track. Of the two, the piranha plant one works the best. You simply wind-up the plant and watch him slowly spin and dive at the track in an effort to consume a racer. The cars are gravity fed, so you just wait for an opening and let them go. It’s very easy to get a racer past the obstacle, but my son seems to like it. The thwomp track is less enjoyable. You pull back on the golden mushroom and select from three different release points, with really only the first one being usable. When the racer is fired it hits a little flapper which causes the thwomp to fall at random. Sometimes they get by, and sometimes they don’t – it’s all predicated by chance.

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Mattel would have you believe incorporating more pieces is the ultimate goal, but that is not the case.

The appeal of the smaller sets on their own is minimal, but the real draw is that the plant and thwomp can be incorporated into the Mario Circuit track set. Mattel’s instructional images put the thwomp just after the starting launcher and the plant just before the booster piece, while some promotional images (above) feature a different, but still long, layout. When added it certainly gives the track more personality, as my main complaint with it in its base form is that it needs a touch more Mario in terms of its visuals. Unfortunately, that’s really all they add to the track. Incorporating the two of them means adding considerable length to the circuit, and the boosters just don’t provide enough power for a longer track. The standard cart characters can basically only compete a lap or two before they just fall off, while the heavier racers can’t even pull that off. It’s really not even usable in this form, which is a shame since it’s a big piece of the appeal of the set.

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The preferred layout in my house.

The good news is, you can still find other ways to make this track work. Finding the wind-up feature of the plant a bit too annoying to use with the main track, my son and I opted to simply remove it. He likes that small set on its own, so he can play with it in that fashion. We kept the thwomp, but moved it to where the plant was. This meant we had to remove a corresponding piece of track to make it fit, but the end result is we added a fun obstacle with visual flair while keeping the track still usable. It worked well when tested on a hardwood floor, though once I moved the set to my son’s room and placed it on a thin foam mat (which is on a hardwood floor) the performance dipped. That could be a result of the playing surface, or the batteries may be weakening as the cars aren’t firing from the booster with the same velocity and after a few laps some are falling on the long curve immediately after it. I hope this thing isn’t going to suck batteries that fast as it’s barely been a week.

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New to retail in January 2020 is the Light version of the track.

Overall I do mostly like the main Mario Circuit track. The other two I could take or leave. I like that the track attempts to make it a competitive race with a little chaos tossed in, and it has lots of space for other cars to be parked. There are supposed to be more sets released as well. I’ve seen images for a Mario Circuit Light which is the same track, but smaller. It has launchers with warp pipe adornments which I like, but not motorized boosters which I do not like. The listings at Target’s website reference a Chain Chomp Challenge set as well, but I have not seen any images for it. These things seem to sell well, so I assume it’s still coming. I do have concerns with the performance long-term. I had one track piece break and I’ll give Mattel the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s an isolated instance, but I’m concerned it could happen again. And if my batteries are already weakening that could be a problem. If I feel the need to, I’ll return to this review and update it accordingly. For now, I’ll continue playing with my son as I keep an eye out for new racers showing up at retail.

As a final note, these sets appear to be exclusive to Target for the time being, though it looks like Amazon may now be selling them as well. The Light version of the track might not be exclusive to anyone though and a four-pack of vehicles is coming to retail soon. My assumption is this brand will expand to other retailers in time, but it’s just that – an assumption. The small sets will run you around $19.99 while the larger track retails for $79.99. I have seen it on sale numerous times though for $69.99 so you probably don’t need to spend more than that if you wish to take the jump. Individual cars are $4.99.


Dec. 23 – Missing in Action Christmas Specials

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The closest the original DuckTales got to Christmas was this TV spot.

When you do an annual advent calendar-styled countdown of Christmas programming, you start to realize the brands you can rely on and what you cannot. It can be a challenge to find 25 worthy topics, so in order to prevent a time crunch every fall I keep a list of specials I can source from. Throughout the year if I stumble across one I’ll add it to the list. Sometimes I’ll think I’ve found something only to find out it was a misleading title such as the episode “It’s a Thunderful Life” of the not well-remembered The Terrible Thunder Lizards program. And then there are times when I’ll find a special and I’ll view it, only to find there’s nothing to talk about. It’s not good, nor is it really bad, it’s just bland and forgettable.

Inevitably, I’ll take a look at my list at various times throughout the year and I’ll be surprised at an absence. I’ll then seek out the special I think I’m looking for only to be reminded that, “Oh yeah, that show never had a Christmas episode.” One of my top offenders each year was DuckTales. The original run for that show ran for over 100 episodes and never broached the subject of Christmas, even though Scrooge McDuck debuted in a Christmas comic book! Disney was new to television with that series and also new to syndication. Television stations typically don’t like syndicated programs to feature seasonal episodes since they don’t want to have to worry about when the episode airs. Who wants to see a Christmas episode in May? It’s an overblown issue though, which is probably why many syndicated shows would toss that aside and go with whatever stories they wanted to tell. The new version of DuckTales rectified this problem, as we saw way back on December first, which is why I’ve decided not to include the 87 version in this post.

In the spirit of this phenomenon, as it were, I want to highlight the cartoons that decided against doing a Christmas episode. These are the shows I’m most surprised by, and some of them have tripped me up more than once. I’ve looked through the episode list for these programs repeatedly looking for key words like Santa, Christmas, presents, or even snow. Alas, I guess when it came to Christmas and these shows, it just wasn’t meant to be.

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Despite their numerous rescues, the Rescue Rangers never saved Christmas.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Hot on the heels of DuckTales came Chip ‘n Dale:  Rescue Rangers. This show took the comedic duo who harassed Donald Duck and Pluto on numerous occasions and gave them their own show where they solved crimes a d helped those in need – quite a turn for the former mischief makers. They were paired with some newcomers in the inventor mouse Gadget and the cheese-obsessed Monterey Jack. Zipper the fly completed the group and they were often tasked with solving crimes or rescuing someone. The show was another direct-to-syndication affair with a 65 episode order that premiered in the fall of 1989. And like DuckTales, there was no Christmas episode for these adventurers even though one practically would have wrote itself. The diminutive heroes often found themselves helping kids, so helping a kid get on Santa’s good side could have been a plot. Or having the Rescue Rangers just plain save Christmas from a Grinch-like villain would have worked fine. Seeing the Rangers ride around in Santa’s sleigh would have been a great and festive way to end an episode. Pretty much all of the Disney Afternoon programs that followed would get a Christmas special. The only one off the top of my head I think did not is Gargoyles. I also don’t think many of the shows based on film properties (e.g. – Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Timon and Pumba) had Christmas episodes either. Alas, we’ll just have to make due with the classic Disney shorts Toy Tinkers and Pluto’s Christmas Tree if we want to see the chipmunks in action around the holidays.

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There is a ton of TMNT Christmas merch out there, but surprisingly no television special to go with it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a marketing bonanza in the late 80s and into the early 90s. The show basically existed because Playmates needed it to in order to sell toys, which is how many cartoons from that era came about. And it was a great vehicle to do so as the Turtles often had new vehicles and inventions to make use of and there was always a new mutant to battle who could quickly become an action figure. That merchandizing tie-in aspect of the show makes it a bit of a surprise it didn’t bring along Christmas, the time of year when more toys are sold than at any other point. Playmates could have been handed holiday versions of the Turtles and other characters in which they’re wearing festive sweaters or are even decked out like Santa and his elves. There could have been a mutated reindeer friend for the Turtles, maybe one with a radioactive, glowing, red, nose! A sleigh that is rocket-propelled and drops bombs or a gnarly snowboard for Mikey to hit the slopes with. Plus, there was a Christmas story all ready to go in the comics in the form of the Michaelangelo one-shot issue from Mirage in which Mikey busts up an illegal toy-smuggling ring. That episode would be adapted for the 2003 cartoon and titled “The Christmas Aliens,” but it amazes me it took over 15 years for that to happen.

dragon ball christmas

Yes, it would be silly and possibly stupid to have Goku face-off with Santa, but I bet it would be a lot of fun!

Dragon Ball

One of the longest running anime ever has produced hundred of hours of television, and not once has Christmas been relied upon to drive an episode. Dragon Ball and its many iterations has been entertaining kids and adults since the mid 1980s. It’s known as much for its action as it is for its silly and sometimes juvenile sense of humor. It’s that aspect of it that seems to make it ripe for a Christmas special. An ignorant Goku could have been introduced to the concept of Christmas by one of his friends and found the custom confusing. He could have ended up giving weird gifts, or doing something selfless and noble, either would be in-character. I think a somewhat comedically dark ending with Goku out in the wilderness seeing Santa and blasting him with a Kamehameha could have been entertaining too. Maybe the episode ends with him roasting a reindeer after Santa fled in panic with Goku clueless over what he had just done. These are all more Dragon Ball-styled plots. A Dragon Ball Z or Dragon Ball Super plot would obviously involve Goku challenging Santa to a fight. Santa would either be super powerful, or super not with Goku accidentally really hurting him in a slapstick kind of way. Maybe following such an injury, Goku has to take over as Santa for a night which has comedic potential as well, so much so that I’ve basically talked myself into wanting this. And it all ends with Oolong getting a stocking full of women’s underwear on Christmas morning. Now that’s a sentimental sort of ending.

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Goofy has experienced Christmas via Mickey and Goof Troop, but he never got to star in a holiday short of his very own.

Goofy

In the 90s, Goofy received his own show. It was basically an animated sitcom, and it put Goofy in the role of a single father. Goof Troop was a surprisingly poignant show and a different take on the character than what we were used to seeing. Goofy had shown a domesticated side on occasion in his old shorts, but nothing really like this. Goof Troop received it’s own Christmas special, and the characters returned in the same role for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas years later with a different Christmas outing. That’s good that Goofy got multiple looks at it because he was the lone holdout back in the days of the cartoon short to not have a Christmas episode. Donald Duck received Toy Tinkers, while Mickey and Pluto both got to star in Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but Goofy got nothing. That’s why when packages of cartoons were shown with Mickey’s Christmas Carol on television the Goofy short often shown was The Art of Skiing, a quality short for sure, but not a Christmas one. Goofy comically trying to setup a tree or decorate a house seems like a great way to use his brand of physical comedy. It could have even been in the form of one of his classic “How to” shorts such as “How to Prepare for the Holidays.” Goofy playing Santa, Goofy cooking a turkey, Goofy wrapping gifts – it’s almost too easy! Maybe that’s why it never happened?

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This show was just a commercial for Nintendo products so it’s surprising that they didn’t add in the wonder of Christmas at any point.

Captain N: The Game Master

Captain N was possibly the only show more cynical than Masters of the Universe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it came to hawking merchandise. It was basically an animated commercial for Nintendo as the main character, Kevin, sported a Nintendo controller as a belt buckle and armed himself with a zapper. His allies in the show were all stars of their own video games like Kid Icarus and Simon Belmont and they even made the Game Boy a character later on. Maybe the showrunners felt that doing a Christmas episode would be too on the nose, but I think it would have fit the mold just fine. Imagine all of the Nintendo products that could have been piled under that cartoon tree. I’m not saying it would have been good, as this show is pretty terrible to revisit, but it may have at least featured some ironic humor. At the very least, we could have seen Dracula’s castle covered in snow or found out if a Game Boy can function during a blizzard.


Dec. 6 – Pokémon – “Holiday Hi-Jynx”

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Original English air date December 11, 1999.

Yesterday, we took a look at the so-called Pokémon killer, The Weekenders, so today we’re going to look at Pokémon itself. The Weekenders earned that nickname because it was the first to knock Pokémon off the top of the ratings charts for Saturday morning television after it had reigned for a year. The victory was short-lived, and it would seem Pokémon has fared far better in the long run than that forgotten Disney cartoon.

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Yeah, we’re going to have a problem here.

“Holiday Hi-Jynx,” also known as “Rougela’s Christmas” in Japan, is one of the more controversial episodes of the long-running series (which has surpassed the 1,000 episode milestone) due to its focus on the character Jynx. Jynx, as you can see from the image above, seems to resemble a character in blackface. Now, in Japan this isn’t a thing, but in the US where an entire race of people were once enslaved, we have a few hang-ups about this sort of thing. And post slavery, people of color rather famously weren’t afforded the same opportunities as whites, some would say they still aren’t, which included depictions on stage or eventually on film. White actors would be cast to portray black individuals and utilize blackface. And then there were also minstrel shows which were also pretty damn racist, but also pretty common during the era.

In television, characters like Jynx were once waved off. Similar characters have been showing up in animation since it started and some made it to television, and some did not. A contemporary to Pokémon in the late 90s (as far as American audiences are concerned) is Dragon Ball which also featured its own blackface character in Mr. Popo. Mr. Popo largely went unchallenged and was featured in Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z with no alterations or cuts for years. Only when the series returned to television as Dragon Ball Z Kai in 2010 was a change made. And in that case, it was only done for the episodes airing on broadcast television and not cable. For them, Mr. Popo was re-colored with an electric blue skin tone that did little to hide the racism, but I guess it allowed the network to say, “We tried.”

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The CW’s solution for Mr. Popo.

For Jynx, the solution was far simpler. Unlike Mr. Popo, Jynx is not often featured in the series. When Pokémon first aired, the character went unnoticed and the episode was allowed to air. Eventually, the character garnered some negative press and the episode was pulled sometime in 2000. And ever since, it’s essentially been banned. When Netflix and Amazon Prime eventually acquired Pokémon for streaming, this episode was not included. The only way to see it is to purchase a physical copy of the show on DVD, and not just any DVD, as you need to get the specific version that includes it. Future releases would omit the episode.

Is all of this necessary? It’s hard for me to say. I’m a white guy, so I’m naturally not as sensitive to the subject as others would be. Someone apparently didn’t see the value in giving Jynx the Mr. Popo treatment to get it back on air or into a streaming catalog, which is unfortunate since this is a Christmas episode! Poor little Pokémon fans are being deprived a Christmas special because of the stupid, racist, Pokémon it features. I suppose now with the show totaling over a thousand episodes no one sees a need to make sure this one, specific, episode makes it onto Netflix or wherever. Plus, the show has other Christmas episodes. What’s worse, is the episode did get recolored, but for Japan only. A “fixed” episode exists, it just needs to be dubbed. Did they lose the dub track or something? It seems like something that would be easy, and cheap, to correct.  It’s also annoying because Jynx is terrible, she is one of the worst of the original 151 Pokémon. As a human shape, she lacks the cuteness or the charm of someone like Squirtle or Cubone. She’s rather curvy too, which is just weird for a Pokémon.

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Japanese audiences received a new version of this episode, but English audiences have not.

Anyways, that’s Jynx for you. She’s the reason this episode has been placed into purgatory which gives me a desire to take a look at it. Also, for me 2019 may very well be remembered as the year my son was properly introduced to Pokémon. Since getting him Let’s Go! Pikachu for his birthday, he’s been a walking, talking, Pokédex. Time will tell if this obsession will stick, but it’s been rather amusing for me to see him get into something so completely like he has Pokémon which has only further made me want to include the show in this year’s version of The Christmas Spot.

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A rather idyllic piece of Christmas imagery.

Let’s get to it then. This episode is from the first iteration of the show taking place in Kanto. It’s episode 65 of the English dub, though it was supposed to air sometime around episode 39 or so and there’s a continuity error as a result which I’ll note when we get there. And naturally, this is a Christmas episode and it’s going to go all in on that sentiment.

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That’s no Santa!

The episode opens and narrator Rodger Parsons brings us into a darkened bedroom with a girl asleep in bed. It’s Jessie (Rachael Lillis) of Team Rocket, so something must be up. A shadowy figure enters the room from the chimney, could it be Santa? As the figure approaches the bed, a trap is sprung and the old elf is caught in a large net. Jessie rejoices at the capture of Santa, as does their sometimes loyal sidekick Meowth (Madeleine Blaustein). After the title card is displayed, we discover that this is not Santa, but James (Eric Stuart) dressed-up as the Christmas icon in a dry run for a true Santa trap. Jessie has apparently been obsessed with capturing Santa dating back to her childhood when she made an important discovery. While asleep one Christmas Eve, she woke to find Santa in her room, only it wasn’t Santa it was a Jynx! The Santa Jynx picked up Jessie’s favorite doll and departed up the chimney with it infuriating the young girl. Ever since then, Santa has failed to pay her a visit and now it’s time for her revenge!

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We call this one the Pokémon army crawl

Elsewhere, Ash (Veronica Taylor), Brock (Stuart), and Misty (Lillis) have just made a discovery. They’ve spotted a lone Jynx on a beach and she’s holding what appears to be a boot. Jynx, being a rare Pokémon, immediately captures Ash’s attention and he decides he needs to catch this Pokémon. He deploys Pikachu who’s thundershock attack does little to bother the Jynx. She gets Pikachu in her arms and uses her signature maneuver, a kiss, to paralyze the electric rodent. Ash then deploys Charmander and commands him to flamethrower the Jynx. This is the continuity error I mentioned earlier as Ash’s Charmander had already evolved in a previously aired episode.

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Because Jynx wasn’t content to just be racist…

Charmander’s flames subdue the rather docile Jynx, and Ash attempts to capture it with a Pokéball but it fails. Ash is confused, which is about when the group decides to diagnose this situation further such as why is Jynx holding a black boot? Misty takes a look at the boot Jynx is holding and finds it belongs to Santa Claus. How can she tell? He has a picture of himself in his boot, which is a pretty weird way to declare ownership over something (that’s because in the Japanese version, Santa’s name can fit on a postage stamp-sized image where as his English name would not, so he gets a portrait). Jynx then tries to tell them what happened, but like most Pokémon, she’s only capable of saying “Jynx.” Brock guesses she belongs to Santa, and Jynx gets all horny and tries to kiss him which he does not respond well to.

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Jynx’s power on display.

Jynx then does something she should have done from the start. She glows and shimmers with rainbow colors as her hair stretches out and touches everyone around her, including Charmander and Pikachu whom Charmander is adorably carrying on his back. It seems Jynx has the ability to psychically communicate with others. They see the Jynx in an arctic setting polishing Santa’s boot when suddenly a piece of the ice she’s standing on breaks apart from the mainland and drifts away. This Jynx is lost and needs to get back to Santa, and Ash vows to help her out which nearly earns him one of those undesirable kisses.

From atop a peek nearby, Team Rocket is watching and scheming. Since Jessie knows the “secret” about Santa, she’s naturally inclined to follow this Jynx. They intend to follow Ash and the others to Santa’s workshop to steal all of the toys – the horror!

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They live to serve

Ash’s grand plan is to board a raft and sail to Santa’s workshop using Misty’s water Pokémon to pull the raft. As they do so, Team Rocket boards a Gyarados submarine to give chase. Eventually, the water Pokémon get tired and Ash decides he can take over pulling the raft. He strips down to his boxers and dives in. He doesn’t appear to get very far before fatigue sets in as well. He starts to think about turning back, but hears a feminine voice in his head urging him on. When he asks Misty and Brock if they heard it they say they did not. Ash keeps going and the voice informs him he has a ways to go. Suddenly, a wave rises up and crashes into Ash. It severs the rope around his waist and pulls him underwater. He opens his eyes and sees a black void approaching him.

ash lapras

I bet Ash wishes he was wearing something other than just his underwear when meeting Lapras for the first time.

We’re interrupted with a “Whose that Pokémon?” (it’s Pidgeotto) bumper before returning to the show. The black void before Ash turns out to be a Lapras, a dinosaur-like Pokémon of the sea. It takes him to the surface with Ash upon its shell and Misty is able to get a Pokédex reading on the gentle beast. Turns out, Lapras is capable of telepathy and that’s the voice Ash had been hearing. Lapras (Jayne Grand) explains to everyone that Santa had asked it to find a missing Jynx. Lapras has been watching this trio for some time, and can take them to Santa’s work shop.

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So called they’re willing to get next to a racist, sexual harasser like Jynx.

Lapras pulls the raft ever faster, forcing Team Rocket to speed up. Their submarine is pedal-operated, so they have their work cut out for them. As Lapras pulls the raft along it starts to rain. Ash enjoys it, but Lapras cautions him that it will soon get really cold. Ash says he can handle it and we cut to later to find all three huddled for warmth amongst Jynx’s hair. Lapras informs them they’re almost there and we soon see what looks like a giant iceberg up ahead. Lapras informs the others this is the location of Santa’s workshop, but before they can get too excited the visage of Gyarados rises from the water’s surface.

team rocket cold

Team Rocket bringing new meaning to the term chilly reception.

Team Rocket exits the submarine and breathlessly goes into their usual introductory routine. Eventually, Jesse and James are forced to embrace each other for warmth as Meowth makes his entrance. He quickly decides it’s way too cold and returns to the warm confines of the submarine. Jesse then demands that Ash hand over Santa Claus. When they express confusion, she clarifies she means Jynx. The others have a good laugh at her expense, while Jessie insists that Jynx is actually Santa Claus. Fed up with their laughter, Jessie orders Meowth to fire a missile from the submarine. It arcs into the sky, and as Ash and the others panic, Jessie and James make off with the Jynx. The missile explodes and a huge cargo net is draped over the good guys while Team Rocket heads to the workshop.

jynx elves

I suppose it makes sense that in this world Santa would have a team of Pokémon instead of elves.

Once there, we see a frozen Christmas tree and Team Rocket peering through the windows of the fabled shop. Inside they see numerous Jynx (which Jessie insists on referring to as Santas) doing the work we would normally associate with elves. They soon spy the real Santa, causing Jessie to question everything she’s thought up until now. Santa is seen fretting about his missing left boot to one of the Jynx, and Jessie pops in with the boot and presents it to him. He’s delighted and asks if she also found a Jynx with it, but before she can answer Ash and the others storm in. Ash informs Santa that these people are on his naughty list, and before he can inquire further James and Meowth tie him up. Jessie then tells them if they want to have a happy new year they better do as they command.

jessie and santa

What makes less sense is for Santa to possess no eyes.

With Ash and the others all tied and bound there’s nothing preventing Team Rocket from loading all of the Christmas presents onto their submarine. Santa tries reasoning with Jessie and he seems to be onto something. Jynx comes over and uses her psychic powers to show Jessie what really happened that night. When she woke from her slumber she knocked her favorite toy on the floor causing it to break. Jynx, who was assisting Santa that night, saw the broken toy and took it to have Santa fix it back at his workshop. She now returns it to Jessie good as new. When Jessie asks what took so long, Santa explains that after that Christmas Jessie sealed off her heart to Santa, and once a child stops believing he can no longer enter their home. Jessie’s eyes well up with tears, and James appears affected by this display of emotion. Jessie is thankful, but then informs Santa she’s still taking all of the toys anyways because she’s still Jessie.

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That’s a lot of presents.

As Team Rocket flees in its sub, Lapras emerges. Lapras tells them Christmas is for everyone, and can’t be stolen, before unleashing its ice breath attack on the submarine. It becomes frozen solid, and Ash uses the opportunity to summon Charmander once again. He instructs the Pokémon to free them first before turning its fire breath on Team Rocket. Charmander ends up thawing the ice, inadvertently freeing Team Rocket allowing it to call upon Weezing to take out Charmander and resume its escape.

jessies xmas moment

Is Jessie about to have a magical Christmas moment?

Ash apologizes to Santa for letting Team Rocket get away, but he’s not too concerned. He instructs the Jynx, dressed in little Santa suits of their own, to use their psywave technique. They do as instructed and telekinetically lift the submarine from the water and dump out the presents on the shore. The submarine is then destroyed, and Team Rocket “blasts off” as it always does.

jynx santa army

That would make me run too.

Santa is then shown in a one-Rapidash open sleigh piled high with presents. He thanks them for their help and instructs Lapras to take them home. As he flies away, Ash realizes he never told Santa what he wanted for Christmas. Lapras informs him that Santa knows as Jynx brings out presents for all of them, even Pikachu. Lapras wishes them a merry Christmas to finish things off here.

santa rapidash

This show found a clever way to avoid my reindeer criticism.

We’re then taken back to the castle-like structure on a cliffside that opened the episode. Team Rocket is shown all sharing a bed. They look a bit worse for ware. They’ve hung stockings, but Meowth doesn’t think they’ll be getting filled with presents. Just then, Jynx shows up outside the window. She winks and blows them a kiss, which puts all three to sleep. Santa is then shown flying past the moon, because all Christmas specials featuring Santa are required to include such a shot, and he too wishes us all a merry Christmas.

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Gifts for all!

That was a rather interesting approach to a Christmas episode. It turned an unpopular Pokémon into Santa’s elves and gave Team Rocket a Grinch-like plot. I suppose I should have foreseen a Grinch turn for Team Rocket, but it wasn’t something I ever considered. It’s always interesting to see how Santa is incorporated into a fictional world’s lore, and in this case his existence is unquestioned. It’s perhaps a touch light on Christmas sentiment, but it’s also nice when a special doesn’t beat the audience over the head with the same. I like the fake-out with Jessie who appeared to be having a happy Christmas moment, only to continue on with her plans of thievery. It genuinely fooled me and I thought the episode was going to take the sappy way out, but I’m happy it did not.

The decision to make Jynx essentially Santa’s elves was perplexing to me, then I remembered Black Pete. Yes, one final bit on the inherent racism of Jynx seems to come from Sweden. There, Santa has a servant named Black Pete who functions similarly to Krampus. He’s often depicted by a white actor in blackface, not unlike Jynx. Black Pete punishes bad kids, which is something Jynx apparently does not do (unless you view her putting Team Rocket to sleep at the episode’s conclusion a form of punishment or trickery), but the Jynx certainly are servants of Santa. The main Jynx was scrubbing his boots when she got lost, for goodness sake!

pikachu xmas gift

Even Pikachu!

As for the future of Jynx, she’d return without the Santa plot. Nintendo and Gamefreak also apparently took the issue of her appearance with western audiences to heart and her skin tone has been altered from black to purple. This change has carried over to the games and it’s definitely an improvement. She’s still an awful Pokémon, but at least her racism is less blatant.

santa pokemon

The natural closing shot for 99% of all Christmas specials.

Because of its controversial nature, “Holiday Hi-Jynx” isn’t the easiest Christmas special to view legally. It’s not streaming, and it obviously won’t be shown on television this year. You can either go out and buy the old DVD, or turn to the internet. It’s not particularly hard to find if that’s the route you take. As for me, I’d like to show this one to my Pokémon obsessed son. I don’t think the imagery will have a negative impact on him, and he’d probably like to see Ash and company interact with Santa this Christmas. Hopefully he’s not expecting a Jynx to visit him on Christmas Eve because there’s no way I’m letting one of them into my house. I have my limits.


Ranking the Games of the Sega Genesis Mini

us genesis mini box

Commemorating 30 years of the Genesis, Mega Drive to you non-Yankees, in comes the Genesis Mini to go along with your other mini consoles.

Did you think the era of the mini console was over? You would be forgiven if you had. Last year’s Sony Playstation Classic arrived with a thud. Originally retailing for $100, you can probably score one now for less than half of that as they clogged shelves during the holiday season and failed to excite. And it wasn’t a surprise. Sony just didn’t have the software muscle to make the Playstation Classic a must-own console. It wasn’t for a lack of effort on Sony’s part. There was a clear desire to have this device harken back to the early days of the Playstation as a celebration of one of the most popular gaming devices of all time. The problem was it may have been too reverential for those early days as a lot of the software just hasn’t aged too well. And the games that had have been readily available for download or in compilation packages for years. Top it off with no dual shock and a hefty price tag just made the console undesirable. Maybe Sony still made money off of the machine, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn the electronics giant took a loss either.

bad genesis mini

Not to be confused with the awful other mini Genesis units out there.

If you thought that high profile failure would deter others from following suit, well then you would be wrong. Throwing their hats back into the ring is Sega, who has been licensing its old software and hardware for years as part of third-party plug-and-play devices of less than desirable quality. Even when the NES Classic was available, Sega had a Genesis Mini on store shelves that boasted wireless controllers and a port on the console for an actual Genesis cartridge. Everything about it though was clunky and pretty awful. Since it was licensed out, it likely cost Sega nothing aside from a hit to its brand reputation. Maybe Sega decided it needed to help that brand out while making another effort at tapping into that mini console nostalgia that has boosted Nintendo’s bottom line for a few years now.

To do so, Sega has sought the services of M2, the developer behind the Sega Ages compilations which have been universally praised for their emulation quality. Sega also is apparently handling the actual hardware in-house, and actual Genesis controllers will ship with the system this fall. This smells like an honest attempt at a quality device, the only question really is can Sega still manufacture and produce quality hardware? It’s not something the company has been involved with for decades now since the high profile failure that was the Dreamcast. Considering there isn’t much to these mini consoles, there probably should be some degree of confidence Sega can pull it off. By sticking with wired controllers there’s no worry about cheap, wireless, devices which plagued the prior models. And we already know the emulation end should come out quite well.

genesis mini tower

Sega is apparently going all-in on the nostalgia and even releasing a non-functioning Sega CD and 32X mini in case you want to remember this abomination.

What we also know is the price ($79.99, same as the SNES Classic) and contents of the package. The US version will include two classic 3-button controllers and 42 games. Yes, it would have been preferential to have the six-button controller, which will apparently be included with the Japanese version so perhaps there will be some six-button controllers for sale, but it’s not a deal-breaker since every game had to utilize the 3-button layout. Mostly though, look at that games total:  42! Where Nintendo seemed careful about what it included with the SNES Classic, likely wanting to adhere to placing a dollar value on each game, Sega has simply said “Screw that!” and put a vast collection of games on this set that well-represent what the Genesis was famous for. Sure, there are some notable omissions. Mortal Kombat was huge for the Genesis, so it’s surprising to see it excluded. Considering the game doesn’t possess the gameplay to match its visuals, it’s only a sentimental loss. An actual good game that is missing is Sonic the Hedgehog 3 + Sonic & Knuckles. It’s possible the lock-on function was difficult to duplicate, or maybe Sega just felt that would be too much Sonic. Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of obvious omissions. Sports were huge on the Genesis, but licensing for sports titles is likely far too complex and expensive. Likely, most of your personal omissions are a preference for one game in a series (Shining Force vs Shining Force II, for example) vs another.

I’ve taken the time to rank the games of the other high-profile mini consoles, only skipping SNK’s, so I feel an obligation to do the same for the Genesis. This is the only negative for me of Sega including 42 games as I have to rank them all! This is no easy feat, but I’ll do my best. Now, I have played every game on this list, but that doesn’t mean I am supremely familiar with all of them. I’ll try to convey my familiarity where I can, but this is also just one man’s opinion so take it for what it is.

First of all, there are actually 2 games I have not played and they are the two most recent revelations:  Tetris and Darius. The Genesis Tetris was somewhat infamously discontinued before it got going. It’s one of the most expensive carts to this day. It’s Tetris, so you probably have played it before on another platform. I’m sure it’s good. The other game I have not played is the arcade-only Darius. A fan version of this game showed up on the internet and it’s speculated the version here is the same. It’s an auto-scrolling shooter from Taito so if you like that stuff I suppose you’ll be excited to play it. As for the other 40 games, well let’s just get right down to it.

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Altered Beast is memorable and was an early success story, but it was never really a good game.

40.  Altered BeastAltered Beast is an arcade classic, and as an early Genesis title, it does have some fans. On the other hand, it’s an example of how porting from arcade to the Genesis wasn’t entirely smooth and that arcade perfect ports were still years away. The transforming beast gimmick is neat, but everything else is rather terrible. It’s playable, and as a kid I liked it enough, so if it’s your worst title then that’s not too bad.

39.  Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle – The mascot before Sonic, Alex Kidd is perhaps best forgotten, a super floaty platformer that is representative of a lot of the shovel-ware that would clog game systems during the era. There’s at least some skill to be formed while playing this one, hence why I put it ahead of the vanilla brawler, Altered Beast.

38. Virtua Fighter 2Virtua Fighter 2 is a late era representative of how porting from the arcade to the home was hard. This time, it’s because arcade hardware had more than lapped what was available for most gamers at home. If playing this title on the Saturn, then it’s pretty good. On the Genesis? Well, let’s just say it’s a shocker they even bothered.

37. Eternal Champions – Sega’s in-house fighting game entry, Eternal Champions was the straight to home fighting game that wanted to be violent and shocking. Instead, it’s just a one on one fighter with little charm that’s also some-what bogged down by overly complex mechanics. The fact that it was developed for the Genesis, and not the arcade, made it noteworthy at the time because that was practically unheard of for fighting games. It ended up being a harbinger of things to come as the arcades became more marginalized as the 90s wore on. Playable, but hardly memorable unless you really like the fatality-like Overkills.

36. Ecco the Dolphin – Pretty nice looking for a Genesis title and certainly unique given that you play as a dolphin and solve puzzles. It’s also one of the most boring titles I’ve ever played. Some people love it, and it was a huge seller, so maybe others will too.

35. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – I’m on the record as just not being a fan of this franchise. This version is naturally superior to what was on the NES, so if you like that game then you’ll love this one. I personally just find this game difficult to a fault, where it only cares about being hard and not being entertaining. Such a slog.

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Space Harrier 2 is certainly a unique shooter that was far more impressive back when it came out than it is today.

34. Space Harrier 2 – A strange behind-the-back on-rails shooter. You can move your character all over the screen to avoid attacks. It gets pretty chaotic, but if you’re a fan of on-rails shooters it might offer a nice change of pace from the typical approach.

33. Golden Axe – A solid arcade port that’s still plenty playable, Golden Axe is far more enjoyable with two-players. I’m surprised Sega went with the original here, but there’s not a ton separating the games in this franchise so I suppose it matters little. It’s fine, but I’ve played Golden Axe so much that it’s hard to get excited about it.

32. Kid Chameleon – A platformer in which you play as what appears to be a 50’s greaser and collect power-ups that impart new abilities. It’s a neat concept and if you stick with it you may find it rewarding. I’ve personally just always hated the “feel” of this one as the character is really floaty and slippery.

31. Comix Zone – One of the coolest looking games on the Genesis, Comix Zone has a great concept. You play as a comic book artist who gets sucked into his own panels. It’s just so unbelievably hard that all enjoyment is ruined. I guess you could save-skum your way through it, but that’s hardly what I consider fun.

30. Light Crusaders – An isometric RPG, it’s actually one of many RPGs on the Genesis Mini. It’s crazy how many there are. Is this one the worst? Probably. I’ve never spent a ton of time with it though so maybe I’m selling it short. I’m not a fan of the perspective or the visuals, finding it frustrating. It does at times feel like a precursor to the much superior Diablo given the perspective and the fact that there’s just one, really long, dungeon in the game. It did receive quite a bit of praise when it was released in 1995 so maybe I should give it another shot?

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Visually, Beyond Oasis strikes me as Secret of Mana meets Dragon’s Lair.

29. Beyond Oasis – A top-down action RPG, this one reminds me of Secret of Mana. It has some distinctive visuals, but the animations can be a bit chunky. Not the greatest controls either as you’re most likely going to find little snakes you have to crouch to hit to be the biggest annoyance. It’s an interesting game, but it’s somewhat made worse for its RPG elements as dealing with NPCs just feels tedious and dry.

28. Super Fantasy Zone – a shooter, but one in which you have full control of the vehicle similar to TaleSpin on the NES. It’s a pleasing title to look at and an easy one to just pick up and play when you have a half hour to kill or something. I prefer this style to auto-scrolling, even if it’s still not the type of game I seek out. It was also never released on the Genesis in the US, but was released on the Virtual Console in 2008.

27. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse – Disney and Sega had a nice thing going for awhile. Castle of Illusion was among the first and an early entrant on the Genesis. It’s a rather benign platforming title that might be easier than you remember if you last played it as a little kid. That is unless your skills in 2D have diminished, then it might be harder than you remember.

26. Earthworm Jim – This game was inescapable when it came out as the marketing was obnoxious. It’s a flashy looking shooter/platform type that gets pretty hard pretty fast. I think it’s a bit style over substance, but it does have an addictive quality to it. I know it still  has a strong fanbase to this day, which is probably why the character is set to attempt a comeback on the Intellivision Amico.

25. Thunder Force III – This game is a totally serviceable shooter in the same vein as R-Type. Not my cup of tea, but plenty fine. This is the best game in the franchise as it switched to the horizontal format and even introduced some elements that would be considered forgiving, a rarity in this genre.

24. Wonderboy in Monster World – Yet another RPG, this one is a side-scrolling action one. It’s perfectly playable and even enjoyable still today. It’s also a little boring when it comes to the RPG elements which is probably why Wonderboy never took off like Zelda did. Either that or it was because his name is Wonderboy. I mostly rank it this high on the list because I find the aesthetics of the game quite charming.

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Dynamite Headdy was a later arrival on the Genesis so it may have been overlooked by many.

23. Dynamite Headdy – There were so many mascot plaformer types in the 90s that it’s forgivable if you forgot about Dynamite Headdy. He’s basically a bug without a neck who can throw his head at enemies. Interesting concept, for sure, and a totally fine platforming title. Headdy handles well and the game is bright colorful, what more do you want?

22. Alisia Dragoon – It’s kind of like Castlevania with lightning bolts and dragons. Alisia Dragoon is a side scroller in which you have lightning powers and multiple dragon sidekicks to cycle through. Like Castlevania, there’s exploration elements and hidden places to find. It’s also pretty relentless about attacking from all sides making it imperative to use your powers judiciously so they have time to recharge and strike out in all directions. This is a game I’ll likely spend more time with should I get a Genesis Mini.

21. Sonic Spinball – It’s pinball, but with Sonic the Hedgehog instead of a ball. I’m actually not sure if this title is overrated or underrated. When it came out, a lot of people were a little irritated it wasn’t a proper new Sonic game, but it’s hard to deny it’s a rather fun experience. It won’t blow you away, but you’re unlikely to have a bad time at least.

20. Columns – A Sega classic, of sorts, Columns was the brick-falling game not named Tetris. It’s a match 3 type of puzzler and it’s fine. It won’t wow you, but it’s easy to get absorbed in. I’d much rather play this than something like Yoshi’s Cookie, though I’d prefer to play one other puzzler on this set over it.

19. Landstalkers – Another isometric action RPG, this one is just much more enjoyable than Light Crusader. It’s nicer on the eyes, and while the story isn’t anything special the world is far more interesting to explore. The perspective is still more annoying than fun, but this is a title in need of some added exposure so hopefully the Genesis Mini is a benefit for it.

monster world iv

Monster World IV features a colorful and cute design that I just find so charming.

18. Monster World IV – The last entrant in the Wonderboy series on the Genesis and a game previously unreleased on the console outside of Japan. It has been included on compilations in recent years, but this will be the first time US gamers will get to experience it on Sega hardware. It’s yet another side-scrolling RPG, but it has charm and looks great. A surprise, but worthy, inclusion for the Genesis Mini.

17. Mega Man:  The Wily Wars – This one is almost like cheating as it’s a compilation of the first three Mega Man titles ported to the Genesis with enhanced visuals. It should be awesome, but I’ve never liked how it feels compared with the NES games. It seems slower and more deliberate almost as if Capcom went too far in updating the visuals and instead negatively impacted the gameplay. Maybe that’s why it originally went unreleased, being only available on the Sega Channel. I’ll give it another shot, for sure, as it’s still Mega Man and those three games are classics in their own right.

16. World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck – I’m probably ranking this one too high, but it was a personal favorite of mine as a kid. It’s Castle of Illusion, but with two-players and much improved visuals. It’s a fun, breezy, platformer that should be beatable for even those who have let their skills diminish over the years. It just might take some practice.

sonic 1 main

Sonic’s gameplay is somewhat divisive, but what isn’t is the impact he had on Sega and video games as a whole in the 90s.

15. Sonic the Hedgehog – Sega’s first real answer to Mario, you either love it or you don’t. The game is a constant battle with the urge to travel at top speed, because once achieved, you open Sonic up to a world of hurt in the form of spike traps and death pits. It’s a game of trial and error, and had it not been a success back in the 90s we might not even be here having this conversation. Still very playable, just not the best Sonic title any longer.

14. Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition – It’s the arcade classic now on the Genesis. This is about as competent a fighter as you’re going to find, it’s just hard to get excited about playing it in 2019. The 3-button controller is not the ideal way to experience Street Fighter, but it’s competent at least. It’s still Street Fighter II though, which is a nice floor to have.

13. Road Rash II – The motorcycle racer that was a staple on the Genesis, until it wasn’t. This game was largely popular amongst my friends because you could attack other racers, but even absent that it was still a damn good time and a fun racer. I’m a bit surprised it’s the only racer on this set though, but I’m not sure Outrun has aged all that well and Virtua Racing is probably too hard to emulate.

12. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – Another stacking puzzle game, this is just Puyo Puyo but with a Sonic skin. Specifically, it’s done in the style of the cartoon Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s the rare puzzler that’s better with two players. Probably the only puzzle game I prefer to it is Puzzle Fighter, which isn’t surprising since they’re pretty similar. Definitely check this one out if you never have.

11. Contra:  Hard Corps – The venerable Contra series on the Genesis. Some Contra fans cite this as their favorite entry in the series. I’m no Contra expert, so don’t ask me. It’s a fun and challenging shooter though. Too hard for me, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Have fun using save states on this one.

strider

Strider is Capcom’s forgotten hit franchise. Its visuals are a tad dated as this was an early Genesis title, but its gameplay is not.

10. Strider – This felt like Capcom’s answer to Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Strider is a bit more vertical and the main character Hiryu has a lot of weapons at his disposal. Strider controls well and offers plenty of action, a good one to get lost in especially since the challenging difficulty will keep you busy.

9. Vectorman – Speaking of hard games, here’s another. Vectorman is a shooter/platformer with some gimmicky stuff as well as the titular character can change form. Visually distinctive, Vectorman is a game I enjoy despite the fact that I suck at it. Maybe I just need more practice. I’ll probably play this one a few times and struggle to make it to level 3.

8. Shinobi III – A challenging platformer, but one more deliberately paced. I’ve always preferred Shinobi to Ninja Gaiden or Strider because of that pacing. It’s easier to plot out an attack and feel out a boss fight. It’s also still hard, but often fair. Smart move by Sega to go with the third entry over the other two as this one has always felt like the most balanced entry in the series.

7. Phantasy Star IV – A more traditional JRPG, this series is basically Sega’s Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. I’m a bit surprised they opted to go with IV over the more popular II, but either one is fine. I wish it looked and sounded better, but it’s strangely addicting thanks to its combat system and I look forward to playing through it.

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The only game brave enough to refer to its characters as wieners.

6. Toejam & Earl – Too high? Possibly. This game is just too weird not to love and represents the oddball nature of the Genesis so well. You practically have to play it with two players, but the journey to piece together the spaceship of a couple lost aliens is certainly memorable and humorous. This is also the rare game where the power-ups feel more like a curse as they make it so hard to control the characters. This is definitely the go-to game when a buddy stops over. Maybe now I can finally beat it?

5. Gunstar Heroes – A more forgiving run and gun game than Contra or SNK’s Metal Slug. It’s also faster and has its own distinct visual style. This is routinely cited by many as one of the best games on the Genesis so it was a must-include for Sega. It’s surprising that this series hasn’t been able to live on as a modern-looking version would be amazing. We’ll just have to settle for this release, I guess.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – It’s like the first game, only everything is better. Maybe you want to say the soundtrack is better on the original – that’s fine. Every level here though is probably superior to every level in the first game. The inclusion of Tails technically makes it two-player, but no one has fun controlling Tails. He’s the original “give this guy to your little brother/sister” character as he can’t die and has no control over what is happening on screen. Which is why if I play any game with one of my kids it will be this one.

streets 2 uppercut

Arguably the best brawler ever created, it’s amazing that Streets of Rage 2 has maintained a stranglehold on that title for so many years.

3. Streets of Rage 2 – Considered by many to be the best brawler ever created. Even better than Final Fight or Double Dragon II. Streets of Rage 2 stretches the genre about as far as it can go. It has a surprisingly deep combat system and it looks great as well. So many games have attempted to rip it off, and none have come all that close.

2. Shining Force – If Phantasy Star was Sega’s answer to Dragon Quest, then Shining Force was its answer to Fire Emblem. Shining Force is a criminally under-appreciated strategy RPG. Maybe we just didn’t have the attention span for it back in the day, which explains why Nintendo never bothered with Fire Emblem until much later, but I never knew anyone who talked about this franchise. It’s great though, but I’m surprised Sega went with the original over the better sequel. It’s not a big deal though. If you don’t like this style of gameplay, then Shining Force won’t win you over. I’m a bit of a junkie for this stuff though, hence the placement here.

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Bloodlines was sort of dismissed upon arrival, maybe due to Castlevania fatigue, but it’s one of the best games in the long-running franchise.

1. Castlevania:  Bloodlines – The secret best 16-bit Castlevania? A lot of praise gets tossed at Super Castlevania IV, but Bloodlines is the superior game. It returns the player’s sprite to a more diminutive size giving the game more space. It features tried and true Castlevania gameplay and a great soundtrack as well. Like a lot of games on this console, it wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been at the time, but at least there’s time to rectify that. This is a fabulous game on the Genesis, and if you love Super Castlevania IV but haven’t played this one much or at all then now is as good a time as any to rectify that.

That’s my opinion of the Genesis Mini’s software. It’s a great collection of games and the sheer amount likely pushes this one ahead of the SNES Classic in terms of value. What remains to be seen is if Sega can deliver on the quality, and while I’m fairly confident the company can, it’s hardly a sure thing. Performing this exercise has, more or less, convinced me to get one myself. And thankfully, it looks like the Genesis Mini will be a lot easier to come by than either of Nintendo’s offerings initially were. And if you think we’re done with mini consoles, well you are mistaken. Konami just announced a TurboGrafx-16 Mini so there’s that to look forward to. And the specter of a Nintendo 64 Classic will continue to loom large over the market until it’s either released or we all collectively decide to believe Nintendo that it isn’t coming.


Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! or Baby’s First Pokémon

lets go pikachu boxI was four years old when I got my first video game. Like probably many individuals my age, that game was Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Prior to that, I do not know where my exposure to video games came from. Most likely it was via television commercials and older cousins, though i have no specific memories. I certainly was a consumer of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, but that arrived a year later. No matter, I was more or less hooked when I got my first game, and while games had a lot to compete with in my early years, eventually it became my number one hobby by the time I was 9 or 10.

This past April, my own son turned 4. It felt like a good time to properly introduce the boy to video games. Unlike me, he’s grown up with video games in his house since day one. Despite my rarely playing them when he’s awake, he’s still seen them and has always wanted to play them as well. And he has. Mostly he just plays Disney Infinity where he can run around in the Toy Box mode and is free to swap characters in and out. On occasion he also plays classic games as I’ve steered him towards old Sesame Street titles on the NES since they’re easy for him to understand and he learns something too. Sometimes he’ll want something else and he’ll struggle to make it more than a few screens in something like Rescue Rangers or The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, but he still insists he’s having fun and rarely wants to put the controller down.

lets go versions

Pokémon Let’s Go is available in four versions: Let’s Go, Pikachu!, Let’s Go, Eevee!, and versions of each that come with the Pokéball Plus controller.

Seeing his enthusiasm for video games made me want to find something he could play and succeed at. I also wanted it to be a shared experience as I’m not ready for him to go close himself off to the world and get lost in a video game. That’s how Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! ended up on my radar. My son had already been exposed to Pokémon at a young age. He knew who Pikachu was and had messed around on my Pokémon Go! app. I had no reservations about the material, but just needed to make sure it was a game we could enjoy together. After doing some research, I was convinced the title would work and for his fourth birthday my son got his very first video game.

My experience with Pokémon goes all the way back to 1998 when the original Red and Blue titles made their way to US shores. They were the games that finally convinced me to pick up a GameBoy and I ended up with both versions of the title, beating both more than once. It was a fun, addicting, light role-playing-game and I stuck with the franchise into the Gold and Silver era, but after that I was mostly done. I checked out Pokémon Pearl for the DS, but never finished it. After a few years on the market, I eventually grabbed Pokémon Y to see how the franchise had changed over the years and mostly enjoyed it. And I was a day one downloader of the Go! app and I still play it today. I was pretty confident I could navigate my son though Let’s Go, Pikachu! which is basically a remake of the original games with some of the elements from Pokémon Go! integrated.

pikachu interact

My son could probably play with virtual Pikachu for hours if I let him.

I opted to get the version of Let’s Go, Pikachu! that comes bundled with a Pokéball Plus controller, figuring my son would get a kick out of it. Getting it up and running was a tad tricky. Like most games now, Let’s Go, Pikachu! does not come with formal instructions and you basically have to wing it. This caused confusion when I initially booted it up with Pro controller in hand. The game won’t even recognize a Pro controller though because it wants you to play with just a single Joycon. After messing around, I figured that out and was taken to the controller select screen. It displays both Joycons, a docked Switch, and the Pokéball controller and you have to press a button on the controller you wish to use. I always go with the Right Joycon because it has a Home button on it. Had Game Freak just included a little message that said “Pro controller not supported” when I tried to use it that would have saved me some time.

no randos

The Pokémon now appear on the screen. It’s a beautiful thing.

From there, I was further confused at how I could bring my son into the fold. I could not find options for 2 player, and when I would activate the Pokéball accessory it would de-activate my Joycon. Frustrated, I started the game and we went through all of the usual junk until you get to actually play. I don’t know how we ended up figuring it out, but in order to play with a second player they need to activate a controller while playing just by pressing a button, or in the case of the Pokéball, by shaking it. Then a second player, a gender-swapped version of the character you created, appears. When you encounter a wild Pokémon, two Pokéballs will appear and you can both throw to your heart’s content. In battle, the second player will deploy the Pokémon in the second position on your party screen effectively giving you two actions to your enemy’s one.

After finally figuring all of that out, things were mostly smooth. Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a 3D game that seems to share assets with Pokémon Go! It’s very much presented like modern Pokémon titles with the only differences being in how you interact with wild Pokémon. They now appear on the screen and you’re free to engage them or try to avoid them as you please removing random encounters. This has apparently been a controversial move in the Pokémon community as some prioritize the excitement of what wild Pokémon has been encountered. Personally, I never want to play another Pokémon title with random encounters again. Good riddance!

catching clefairy

Catching is just like in Go! only now you physically “throw” the ball. Landing the ball within the shrinking ring will earn you a bonus.

When you do come into contact with a wild Pokémon, you no longer battle them. This is where the Go! influence comes in as you now just throw Pokéballs until the creature is caught. And since this is Nintendo Switch, you literally make a throwing motion with the controller in hand to throw balls. It works fine, though I find the Pokéball Plus to be a tad more accurate. The rings from Go! are present as are the various items that can make catching a Pokémon easier. What’s gone is the curveball, but replacing it is the dual ball. My son and I didn’t even catch onto this until way late into our adventure, but if both players simultaneously hit a Pokémon with a ball then a special animation plays where the balls essentially combine into one. This makes the throw more likely to be successful and also adds extra experience to the encounter. That’s right. Catching Pokémon is now your primary method of accumulating experience so your Pokémon level-up and become stronger. Thankfully, since you’ll be catching a lot of Pokémon there is no longer a computer storage system. You simply possess a box that can store your extra Pokémon and you can access it at anytime.

Charizard battle

Battles are largely unchanged. Each Pokémon is limited to four moves and each can only be used a set amount of times before needing to be recharged with an item or at a Pokécenter. Only difference from the classic games is that everything is now animated.

Battles are still largely the same as before, though they do take on greater importance now that you literally have to keep catching ’em all if you want your Pokémon to get stronger. Battles allow you to earn experience, but also money. And you’ll need a lot of money so you can continue to buy more Pokéballs. The only wrinkle with battling is the inclusion of the second player that I mentioned earlier. This allows you to attack enemies 2 on 1. It does forfeit the free substitution between matches that you would normally get, but that’s a small price to pay. Strangely, on the rare occasion you find yourself in a 2 on 2 battle the second controller will be disabled and Player 1 will control both battlers. That was frustrating for my son. Ultimately though, because of the 2 on 1 nature 99% of the encounters in the game are much easier to breeze through, but that isn’t the only thing making Let’s Go, Pikachu! an easy experience.

surfing pikachu

Pikachu now learns all of the HMs for you. Here’s surfing Pikachu!

Game Freak has finally done away with those annoying Hidden Machines. Instead, Pikachu (or Eevee if you got the other version of the game) learns Secret Techniques that function the same way. Yes, even Fly which causes Pikachu to pull out a bunch of balloons to fly around with. These moves only work on the field of play and not in battle so they don’t affect Pikachu’s move set at all. No longer do you need to drag around a Pokémon just for HM access.

In addition to those techniques, your Pikachu will also have the option to learn new moves from a move tutor throughout the game. These moves really help to make Pikachu a well-rounded attacker, and frankly, he’s way over-powered. One of these moves is Zippy Zap, which is basically an electrified Quick Attack that always scores a critical hit. He’ll also be able to learn Splishy Splash, an electrified water attack so ground enemies are no longer an issue. He also now learns Double Kick just thru his basic leveling-up which is quite useful at parts. He can even learn an electric flying move too, though I opted to not add that. Basically, there was rarely a reason to pull Pikachu from battle and only the compulsion to mix things up provoked me and my son to do so.

metatron

A new Pokémon was created for this game, but you’ll need to catch him in Pokémon Go! if you want to use him in this game and complete your Pokédex.

The game is largely a remake of the originals, but there are some twists. The bicycle and fishing rod are gone and instead replaced with Pokémon actions. Pikachu can learn a Surf maneuver and when surfing you’ll encounter the many water Pokémon out in the wild. You can also ride on certain Pokémon to increase your movement speed on the field of play. And once you beat the Elite Four, you can even fly freely on the back of a Charizard or Dragonite. The Safari Zone is also no more and has been replaced by the Go Park, a place where you can import Pokémon from Pokémon Go! This is very useful for filling out the Pokédex as there are still Pokémon unique to each version of the game and some evolutions that still require trading (which you can bypass in Go!). There’s also a new Pokémon that can only be found in Pokémon Go! and it and its evolution can be transferred to Let’s Go, Pikachu!

flying charizard

No bike? No problem.

This is a solid Pokémon experience for me, but what about the boy I bought it for? Turns out, it’s pretty fantastic to him. He loves catching Pokémon, so much so that battles get boring fast for him. It’s a bit of a problem at times because there are points where you need to battle, especially since the kid flies through Pokéballs since he wants to catch everything he sees. He knows it’s a necessary evil though and trudges through the battles like a good soldier. It also stunk for him when we had to traverse water as that’s only one-player, but at least that didn’t take up vast sections of the game. I could even hand him the controller to catch anything I encountered too. He’s not great at moving the player in the field, but at least he mostly never had to since his job was to catch Pokémon. The other difficult part with a young kid playing is he has no interest in talking to non-player characters. This is a bit of a problem because you need to talk to everyone in this game because some give you important special moves and some might even give you a free Pokémon. His unwillingness to talk to people caused me to miss a few things that we eventually had to backtrack for. And any “dungeon” that didn’t contain wild Pokémon for him to catch was a real drag.

mega venusaur

In addition to the original 151 Pokémon, Mega Evolutions have also been added.

Shortcomings aside, the game largely did what I wanted it to do. It gave me something I could play with my son and we were both able to enjoy it. I’m not sure what we’re going to do now as we have already defeated the Elite Four and even captured Mewtwo. There’s still some slots on the Pokédex to fill out, but I wonder when my son will become bored with catching the same old Pokémon. There is some additional post game content, but it’s mostly battling related which isn’t very interesting for him, but we’ll see. We also have yet to utilize the external functions of the Pokéball controller. Like a Tamagotchi, you can load a Pokémon onto it and carry it around with you. It will earn experience and I think you can press a button on the ball to hear the critter chirp or something. The noises the Pokémon make are still the same as they were over 20 years ago, save for Pikachu and Eevee who have vocalizations from the anime. Nostalgia is nice, but it would have been neat if they went through and did the same for all of the Pokémon. And for that matter, how about some spoken dialog instead of text? I got sick of reading it aloud to my son and he seemed to as well.

Nonetheless, the game has been a big enough hit in my house to make my son a full-fledged Pokémaniac. He’s now watched all of season one of the anime on Netflix and loves watching YouTube videos on the subject. He’ll often tell anyone within earshot random Pokémon facts (“Hey mama! Did you know Haunter evolves into Gengar?!”) and I rarely see him without his Charmander plush. My daughter, who is only 2, has some-what embraced it as well. She loves Pikachu, and after we took the both of them to see Detective Pikachu in theaters (her first movie in a theater) she’s become a Psyduck fan as well. Eventually, I envision the two of them playing this game or a similar one together. In my dreams they’re enjoying themselves, though in reality there will probably be lots of fighting and arguing. That’s an issue for another day, for now, I’ve got a son who’s crazy about Pokémon and just beat his first video game (with some help from dad) which puts him way ahead of where I was at his age. Hopefully, a sequel is on the way that we can enjoy together in a similar manner. If it rights some of the few wrongs present here, then all the better.


The Mini Console Wars are Upon Us

ps classicPlug and Play games have been around for several years now. They’re those cheap little Atari-styled joysticks you see at electronics stores that when plugged into a television allow one to play games like Pac-Man and Asteroid. They’re novelty machines and an inexpensive way to say to someone “Remember this?” I don’t know how successful they’ve ultimately been, but they’ve persisted and may be responsible for bigger publishers to look at and say there’s more here than meets the eye.

Companies love money, and they love finding ways to make money off of things that require little or no capital. When Nintendo launched its Virtual Console service with the Wii it was a simple and inexpensive way for the company to monetize outdated games. Previously, Nintendo’s path to doing so was via its portable line which was always a generation behind the main consoles in terms of power. Porting a SNES game to Gameboy Advance was cheap, and gamers liked playing games they enjoyed roughly five years past on-the-go. It was a novelty, but a good game is a good game. When consoles finally reached the point where DVD and Blu Ray mediums meant storage was no longer an issue, retro compilations came into fashion. Few sold big numbers, but they didn’t have to since the cost to emulate the software was fairly cheap.

pacman

The start of the retro craze?

All of that changed when Nintendo unveiled its NES Classic Edition System in 2016. The tiny device was immediately attractive to older gamers because it was so cute and tastefully done. Pre-packaged with 30 “classic” games at an attractive low MSRP of $60 helped to make it the hottest item of the 2016 holiday season. Nintendo famously could not meet demand, and it’s taken the company nearly two years to finally make the system readily available. Since then it’s also released the SNES Classic Edition. That came with a second controller and 21 games for the higher MSRP of $80, roughly approximating the price Nintendo has always placed on its NES games relative to its SNES games via the now dead Virtual Console service.

Since Nintendo had such unbelievable success with its products, it’s no surprise then that other companies have followed suit. Sega has licensed its Genesis hardware for similar mini consoles with the added feature that most have contained an actual cartridge slot to play physical Genesis software. The results have been less well received though as the Genesis knock-offs have been rather clunky. Prior to that, Sega was arguably ahead of the curve by licensing its product for portable systems. They too were pretty clunky though and I’ve never had someone actually recommend one to me.

neo geo x

SNK and Tommo tried to make the Neo Geo affordable and practical, but it didn’t work out.

The newest entrant to hit retail is actually an older one as well. SNK too was ahead of the curve with its Neo Geo X released in 2012. The NGX was basically the precursor to the Nintendo Switch. It was a handheld console with 20 pre-loaded Neo Geo games and room for expansion via game cards. It came with a dock that resembled the Neo Geo AES console and once placed inside that dock the games could be played on a television with the included AES style joystick. It was an ambitious, and expensive (but what Neo Geo item isn’t?), toy manufactured by Tommo as opposed to being a true SNK console. The hardcore fanbase didn’t have pleasant things to say. From stretched visuals to input lag, the NGX was more of a novelty than a true way to experience the Neo Geo. After all, most of the system’s best games are available across many consoles now and emulated quite well. SNK was so dissatisfied with the machine that it eventually ordered Tommo to cease and desist production less than a year after release.

The NGX may have been a failure, but it didn’t discourage SNK from trying something similar again. Likely influenced by Nintendo, the Neo Geo Mini is now a thing set for release next month. Unlike the Nintendo machines, the SNK Mini is both a portable and a dedicated home console machine. It resembles a little arcade cabinet and comes with 40 games pre-installed. It looks like it will be rather clunky and cramped when enjoyed as a portable, but it supports standard Neo Geo controller pads so it likely will get the job done when plugged into a television. Like all things Neo Geo, it’s pricier than the competition and will set you back 90-110 dollars, but SNK has an extremely loyal fanbase that will likely guarantee this thing is a sell-out.

neo geo mini

The Neo Geo Mini certainly scores points for cuteness, but how functional it is seems suspect when not plugged into a television.

And of course, the impetus for this post, is the just announced PlayStation Classic. Unlike the Neo Geo Mini, the PlayStation Classic looks to be a straight-up knock-off of Nintendo’s products. A mini PlayStation with 20 pre-loaded games and a single controller for $100, it’s a fairly no-frills duplicate. Sony has only announced 5 of the 20 games, and they’re a pretty representative snapshot of what the original PSX offered:  Final Fantasy VII, Jumping Flash, Wild Arms, Tekken 3, and Ridge Racer Type 4. Sony made the decision to package the system with one standard PlayStation controller, which means no analog. The choice to do so is being spun as a way to celebrate the original release of the console nearly 25 years ago, but I’m guessing it was really done for cost reasons. The machine also resembles the original launch model right down to the additional port on the system’s rear (it’s guarded by a removable plastic tab and I don’t know if its present for aesthetic reasons on the PS Mini or if it’s hiding an additional function).

genesis classic

Sega has made half-hearted attempts to duplicate Nintendo’s success, but the results have been subpar at best.

The PlayStation was the highest selling console of the 1990s so there’s likely a lot of gamers who hold the system in high regard. Even so, there are factors working against Sony with the PlayStation Classic. For one, Sony has actually been very good at making its classic games easily available. The PlayStation 4 may have been left in the dust in some respects, but both the Vita and PS3 can download and emulate almost all of the biggest games released for the original PSX. They’re not free, but they’re also not prohibitively expensive and the cost varies from publisher to publisher. Likely Sony’s biggest ally in those days was Squaresoft, now Square-Enix, which has made almost all of its PSX games available in Sony’s Eshop. And if you’re one of the few who (like me) purchased a PlayStation TV then you have yet another avenue for experiencing these games. Even games like the ultra rare Suikoden II can be played rather effortlessly these days.

ps classic close

The PlaySation Classic is about what you would expect.

The other issue Sony is going to run into is its price point and lack of analog support. Some classic PSX games made full use of the Dual Shock controller including Metal Gear Solid and Ape Escape. Other games were retro-fitted to utilize the new controller and made better, like Resident Evil 2. Since the console does utilize USB for its controller input it’s possible it will support the Dual Shock 3 and 4 as an input method, but it stinks to not just include that out of the box. And of course, the $100 price point is another tough sell. It follows the path Nintendo laid out with its retro machines of adding another 20 dollars for each successive console generation, but it does feel like there is a limit for what people are willing to spend. Gaming enthusiasts will still have interest, but will Sony be able to successfully attract that casual crowd that really drove sales for the Nintendo units? Considering the Sony brand isn’t as famous as Nintendo’s, despite the obvious success of the PlayStation consoles, it would appear that this unit is destined to be less popular. And on the business side of things, Sony just doesn’t have as many firs-party titles as Nintendo making the licensing more expensive. That’s likely reflected in the price-point, but it’s also possible that Sony also just isn’t going to pull in the same profit per unit that Nintendo can manage.

Revealing only 5 of the included 20 games from the start feels like a gamble on Sony’s part. Does the company think that the excitement of the initial announcement will be enough to drive pre-orders into near sell-out numbers? It’s possible, but it also feels like there’s a lack of confidence in the software. A lot of Sony’s biggest games come with obvious licensing hurdles. Gran Turismo boasted hundreds of actual vehicles. Tony Hark’s Pro Skater contains the likeness of dozens of unaffiliated skaters as well as sponsorships as well. Even Jet Moto and Wipeout featured in-game sponsorships or licensed music. It’s unlikely these licensing agreements factored in new retail releases down the road and license holders need to be re-engaged in some cases in order to include them. All of these things cost Sony money and might discourage the company from including some of the system’s most memorable games.

psc ad

The choice of controller may be a hindrance, but we’ll see.

Just like the remaining 15 games, it also remains to be seen how Sony views its newly launched Mini Console business. Does the world really need a PS2 Mini at this point? I’d argue no, but I also would not be surprised to see Sony try. They may wait to see if Sega or Nintendo jumps into that generation first though before dipping their toe into those waters. It’s also possible Sony sees this as the first of multiple mini PlayStation devices. Perhaps a second could mimic the redesign of the PSOne and include analog support. Maybe this one due out in December is to be expandable or new versions could arrive that include a different variety of games. We don’t yet know if there will be regional differences with these consoles as there were with the Nintendo ones too. And lastly, we don’t know how well this system will be at emulating these games. While many hold up from a fun-factor perspective, visually they have not aged well and may look troublesome on modern televisions. Sony at least has experience with the PlayStation TV (I bet Sony really kicks themselves now for not designing the PS TV to resemble a mini PlayStation) so we know they can make a quality plug and play device at a modest price point, but we also don’t know if we can expect the same level of quality from this device. All of these questions, and the fact that I still own most of my favorite PSX era games in a physical form, has me less than enthused about the PlayStation Classic. I’m not pre-ordering it, but I’m also not ruling out a purchase somewhere down the road. It is fun to think about though, and it certainly reaffirms the notion that we’re not through yet with mini consoles.


SNES Classic – Some Quick Thoughts

IMG_1711

The UK box had a bit of a rough ride across the Atlantic, it would seem.

So the SNES Classic is out and has been for a week. As expected, it’s been rather difficult to get one if you weren’t fortunate enough to land a pre-order (which was also rather difficult to obtain). Scalpers are out in full force, and based on the few bits of feedback I’ve received from some of those who waited in line on launch day, it’s the scalpers who are making up the largest portion of the buyers. That’s too bad, because this is a rather awesome gaming device. Niche it may be, it still contains some of the greatest games ever developed. I was fortunate enough to land two pre-orders:  one for the SNES Classic and one for the UK SNES Classic. It took my UK version an extra week to make it to my door, but I’m now ready to offer up some thoughts.

If you’re unfamiliar with the UK version of the Super Nintendo, it’s basically the same as the Japanese Super Famicom. Nintendo of America felt it needed to market the original NES as more of a secondary entertainment platform as opposed to a toy, and thus they redesigned the look of the machine for release in the US. For the Super Nintendo, they too also went with their own case design, though this one was far more in-line with the Japanese version as the carts were basically the same. I don’t know why they did this, and some speculate it was an ego thing, but I’ve always been partial to the Super Famicom design. When I first saw the Super Nintendo, I was underwhelmed as a child as I didn’t think it looked too “super.” Boxy with purple accents, it was kind of ugly. I got over it, of course, when I played Super Mario World, but I always wondered why some of those early games have a diamond shaped logo featuring three circular colors:  blue, red, green, and yellow. Years later I’d come to know that was the logo for the Super Famicom and it referred to the colored face buttons on the controller. I’ve never gone the extra mile and acquired a Super Famicom, but when I saw the UK SNES Classic, which is identical to the US one aside from the case and controllers, I knew that was the version for me.

IMG_1703Both editions of the SNES Classic are, naturally, pretty cute. Like the NES Classic they’re tiny and are closer in size to a game cartridge for the original system than the old system itself. They’re light, and pretty simple devices. Both feature working power and reset buttons that function the same as the ones on the original consoles. The eject buttons and cartridge door are non-functioning, and the there’s a little snap-off piece where the controller “ports” are that pop off to reveal the actual controller ports for the Classic edition. In the box, both units come with two controllers, an HDMI cable, and a micro USB cable. The US version has a USB to wall adapter that the UK one lacks, but any such adapter will work. The US version also comes with a poster with instructions on the reverse side while the UK version comes with an instruction manual designed to mimic the original. The UK version also comes with My Nintendo reward points, I’m not sure why the US version does not.

The software for both systems is the same. If you go out and import a Japanese unit you’ll get a few different games, but the UK and US get the same ones. The dashboard is slightly different as each one is mean to resemble the visual style of the actual unit, so the US dashboard has purple accents and the UK one has a power light in the bottom right hand corner. The little graphic of a controller beside a game is also updated to reflect the proper controller for each unit, so purple buttons for the US and multi-colored ones for the UK. Other features, like CRT mode, widescreen, and so on are all the same.

I’ve only had time to play a little, but the first game I fired up was Super Mario World. I wanted to test the game out and see if it felt like how I felt it should. Testing for things like input lag and any graphical stretching, I found the game to be picture-perfect. The emulation Nintendo has pulled off with both the SNES Classic and the NES Classic is fantastic and miles ahead of what the company did on the Virtual Console. It’s why whenever someone poo-poos these things and suggests just getting a Raspberry Pi I laugh at them. I think the Raspberry Pi is great, but games on that do not look and play as well as they do on these devices. There’s also something to be said for having an actual Nintendo controller in hand to play these things, which just feels right.

Following Super Mario World I made sure to play and beat the first level of Star Fox. I may want to redo my rankings and kick Star Fox to the end of the line because that game is a tad rough to play these days. I played it though because you have to beat the first level in order to unlock Star Fox 2. Truth be told, I don’t look really look forward to playing Star Fox 2 for any reason other than sheer curiosity. I suspect it has aged just as poorly, if not worse since it attempts to do more than just be a flight sim, and probably isn’t nearly as enjoyable an experience as most of the other titles on this collection. If I see fit to do so, I’ll post a review of it. Some day.

IMG_1710If you’re still unsure I can safely say the SNES Classic is worth the 80 dollar price tag Nintendo has placed on it. It’s a great little machine full of some truly excellent games, some of which would cost you hundreds to purchase on the secondary market. Like the NES Classic, it’s also not something you need to drop hundreds of dollars on to own so if you’re still looking for one I encourage you to be patient and not feed the scalpers. For now, Nintendo is claiming these will be shipped in abundance so hopefully they’re sincere and these are attainable for everyone who wants one. They’ll probably remain hard to get through the holidays, but if Nintendo keeps supplying them past 2017 they should get a bit easier to track down. If you live in an area with Amazon Prime Now, keep an eye on their social media accounts as it seems like they’ll be selling these exclusively through that service as well through their few retail locations and that truck thing they do. Supposedly, people who were able to pre-order through the US Amazon site are still waiting for them to be fulfilled. Meanwhile, Amazon’s European web stores seem to be getting stock regularly for their versions and most ship to the US. Sometimes they claim not to (when I pre-ordered my UK edition it said UK only, but it still went through), but will ship anyways. Just make sure to select the global shipping option, if offered. You’ll pay a few more bucks, but it might be worth your while, especially if you’re like me and prefer the UK look of the console.

As for my two units, I only wanted one. I plan to keep the UK version and gift the US one to my best friend who was not as fortunate as I. If you were concerned I’d betray my fellow retro-gaming enthusiasts and flip it on eBay, rest assured I have no plans to do so. I also do not need to collect mini systems and have a version of each. Hopefully who ever wants one will be able to get one because this thing is pretty cool. Don’t screw over your fans, Nintendo, and discontinue it while demand remains high.


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