Tag Archives: sony

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.

altered beast boss 1

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.

space harrier 2 4

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?

beyond oasis

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.

dynamite headdy

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.

toejam_and_earl wiener

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.

bloodlines 3

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.


Dec. 24 – Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas

crock o xmas

Released by Sony Wonder on September 21, 1993

In 2018, it feels like the novelty music genre is mostly dead. Back in the day when radio was the primary vehicle for delivering new music the novelty song had a place. Usually they would be part of commutes or morning shows when producers thought a laugh was in order. I know where I grew up the local rock station had the Free-ride Funnies in the late afternoon when novelty tracks would be played along with stand-up routines and prank calls. Weird Al had a place on MTV along with other novelty acts and songs (remember Green Jelly’s rendition of The Three Little Pigs?) that would be played along with more “legitimate” music. As such, novelty albums were more popular though I feel like the general experience with novelty albums was hearing a funny song on the radio, buying the record, then kind of regretting it. Even some Weird Al albums couldn’t shake that feeling.

It should come as no surprise, or maybe a little surprise, that The Ren & Stimpy Show got in on the novelty Christmas album game when it released Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas in 1993. This album arrived during the height of Ren and Stimpy’s popularity and after the departure of series creator Jon K. It was the second album attributed to the dog and cat duo following You Eediot! which was released just a month prior. That album contained mostly music from the show, while this one was all new.

yak shaving day canoe

A brief bit from the show called Yak Shaving Day is the originator for all of this extra content.

The album is called Crock O’ Christmas, but it’s not really about Christmas and is instead about the fictional holiday of Yaksmas, which was referenced in a prior episode. Many of the songs are parodies of popular Christmas songs and usually just reading the title will clue you in on what the song is going to parody. As the voice of both Ren and Stimpy, Billy West is called upon to do the heavy-lifting in both singing and speaking roles. Bob Camp illustrated the cover which depicts Stinky Wizzleteats and the Gilded Yak piloting Stinky’s sausage cart while Ren and Stimpy pull it dressed as reindeer. This album is a precursor to the “Scooter for Yaksmas” episode, which we covered last year, and a lot of the lore for the holiday found in that episode originates here. Bob Camp and Jim Gomez provided the lyrics for most of the music while the whole thing was overseen by Vanessa Coffey and Charlie Brissette.

Since the format of this advent calendar styled journey through Christmas media is to provide a synopsis and walk the reader through the episode, we might as well just go with a song by song breakdown of this interesting piece of largely forgotten media.

crock sony reverse

The reverse cover for the original release.

The first track is “Fleck the Walls,” and it’s to the tune of “Deck the Halls” as Stimpy and Ren introduce the listener to Yaksmas Eve. They talk about flecking the walls with dirty diapers and detail the events of Yaksmas Eve such as filling your uncle’s boots with coleslaw, wearing rubber nipples, and licking up shaving scum left behind by the Gilded Yak. It’s quite gross, but par for the course with The Ren & Stimpy Show which really started to double-down on the gross aspects of the characters during the Games Animation era.

The second track is “Cat Hairballs” which is a parody of “Jingle Bells.” It’s basically Stimpy bragging about the wonders of his hairballs and how useful they are. Ren chimes in he has had enough hairballs which provokes Stimpy into coming up with more uses for them like making cigars and underwear from them. Gross. They then venture to their neighbor’s house to sing for them, and because the guy who lives there owes Ren five bucks. They encounter the husband and wife (Cheryl Chase) and wish them a Merry Cobbday so we apparently have two holidays to celebrate. They then are introduced to a goat, who is the pet I suppose of the neighbors. The husband then confesses he’s depressed because he never gets what he wants for Yaksmas. When Ren asks what it is he wants, he replies “a hairy chest.”

kid rhino crock

The album was re-released in 97 with re-arranged artwork.

This takes us into song three, “We Wish You a Hairy Chestwig” (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”) as Ren and Stimpy wish a chestwig for their neighbor. Shelly Williams takes over as the wife as the duo sing with Ren and Stimpy (Billy West is the husband) about wishing for a chestwig. It’s the most simple of the parodies so far and not very disgusting, just silly. At the end of the song they find themselves at The West Pole which is where Stinky Wizzleteats lives. They knock on the door and meet the old man, but find he’s not too kind. He demands Ren act like a dog then calls for his wife to get his dog wallopin’ 2×4. When Ren explains they want to sing him a Yaksmas carol, he calls for his dog wallopin’ guitar.

This takes us into the next song, “It’s a Wizzleteats Kind of Christmas” which is an original tune. It explains Stinky’s role in the holiday introducing us to his sausage cart and detailing the traditions of the holiday including falling down the stairs and eating pre-chewed gum. It will be recycled for the Yaksmas episode of the show and it’s amusing enough and it’s nice to have some added visuals in that case. When Stimpy finishes the song, Stinky gives him some praise then goes into a song of his own about a chicken getting eaten by giant worms. It seems to unnerve Stimpy and the two slip away deciding to go to the mall.

That’s where our next song takes place, “We’re Going Shopping” which is another original song, though it’s pretty dialogue heavy. Stimpy has dragged Ren to the mall and is a compulsive shopper. We also get a circus midget joke which is a reference to the fire chief from the show; a joke that hasn’t ages well. Ren doesn’t want to shop and complains about his feet hurting while Stimpy tries to sell him on a glass diaper pale (“You can not only do your duty, you can see it too!”), but he’s not interested. The song ends with them arriving at the Royal Order of Yaks where Stimpy explains how the Gilded Yaks are selected to pilot the enchanted canoes on Yaksmas Eve.

kid rhino crock reverse

Back cover of the 97 re-release.

This leads into “Yak Shaving Day,” where the characters sing about, what else, Yak Shaving Day. If you saw the bit in the show then you know what to expect. It might be the most basic song so far and least entertaining. It’s also an original tune. It ends with Ren and Stimpy back home to welcome Stinky (the fart, not to be confused with Stinky Wizzleteats) and his bride Cora from “Son of Stimpy.” Stinky and Stimpy then recount how they spent their first Christmas after thumbing through a photo album which brings us to…

“What is Christmas?” where Stimpy and Stinky basically refresh us on the events from Stinky’s debut episode. The song (another original) is actually rather sweet, even if it’s about a cat’s affection for its fart. Because it’s actually executed quite well as a sentimental track, it’s not very funny. The humor really needs the visuals of Stimpy hugging his fart cloud to work. Interestingly, our characters are now openly singing about celebrating Christmas making this whole holiday season really confusing

That song ends with dialogue about Stimpy introducing All Cobb’s Eve. It apparently coincides with Yaksmas Eve and it’s a custom from Stimpy’s native Gibberland. He then sings “Cobb to the World” (“Joy to the World”) detailing how Wilbur Cobb visits you in the night to pass out on your lawn (a trait that will be given to Stinky Wizzleteats later). The song describes Wilbur Cobb, a character from the show, in all of his gruesome glory. It’s all about how his body parts fall off with some other old man traits described as grossly as possible. The parody nature of the song limits it, but it gets its message across. Meat, corn, and cheese logs are apparently all part of this “holiday’s” celebration.

wilbur cobb

Wilbur Cobb is the subject of his own holiday, though it may be one only celebrated by Stimpy.

After that lesson on All Cobb’s Eve, Ren just wants to go to bed, but Stimpy reminds him they have somewhere to be. It’s Muddy Mudskipper’s Holiday Hop, which is the subject of “Happy Holiday Hop,” a fun little rockabilly jam. Ren and Stimpy aren’t on the guest list, but they politely ask to crash the party while singing about Muddy. It’s not a direct parody of anything, but it’s pretty generic 50’s rock in its presentation which makes it probably the most danceable of the album so far. It’s just about a party so there isn’t anything gross. If you wanted to add a track from this album to a generic Christmas mix, this is probably the song you’d go for.

Our next song is “I Hate Christmas” where Ren acts more like the Ren we know from the show as he confesses his disdain for all of this holiday stuff. He does it after Stimpy goes to bed who recounts all of their Yaksmas Eve activities thus far before doing so. He playfully asks Ren if he’ll be joining him in bed, a some-what subtle gay joke. Ren says he’s going to “tickle the ivories” instead which is a metaphor for playing the piano I had never heard before and is rather clever. Ren’s song starts off kind of mopey, then he gets angry, as it turns into more of a lounge type of song. He particularly hates Christmas music, which is deliberately ironic, I presume. It’s the most relatable track so far if you find yourself getting run down by the holiday.

Our penultimate track is the “The Twelve Days of Yaksmas,” and I assume you can figure out what it is a parody of. It begins with Ren getting a package in the mail (“Wow, that’s the biggest package I’ve ever seen!”) from Ignoramia, home to cousin Sven. The song is them going through the package of gifts from Sven which is mostly gross stuff:  jars of spit, used bandages, golden hairballs, etc. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is quite possibly the worst of the traditional Christmas songs and it’s pretty annoying. They manage to run through it in about 4 minutes, so this isn’t too bad, but it still over-stays its welcome.

Our final track is “Decorate Yourself,” another original tune. The title is rather self-explanatory. It’s basically a rock ballad and comes in at over 5 minutes making it the longest song on the album. It has some silly lines, but isn’t very gross and the prior forty minutes of sillier stuff dampen the comedy element of the song. It mostly feels like putting a bow on the whole album. It ends with the duo saying goodbye to the audience as Stimpy tries to wish a happy holiday for every made-up holiday they cited on this album as well as some new ones prompting Ren to just tell him to shut up so they can leave. An appropriate ending for a Ren and Stimpy production.

So you want to get a novelty Christmas album to spin at your party this year? This would probably work out all right if your audience is familiar with The Ren & Stimpy Show. It’s more childish in its humor than other novelty albums, so it might only work on nostalgia really. If you’re counting on it being a memorable part of your holiday then you may be let down. As a little supplement to the show and its other holiday episodes, it’s kind of fun. If my kids ever get into the show I’ll probably try this on them and see what they think, though it is somewhat handicapped by the fact that the show skews a bit older than this probably would.

crock o promo

An interview disk was distributed with the promo version of the album.

The album was first released by Sony on its Sony Wonder label. The production is actually really well done and there’s a band, choir, and orchestra utilized. Some talented people put some time into the compositions and it shows. The lyrics could be better as there is perhaps too much that is just nonsensical. A 90s trait of Nicktoons was just to make something like cheese funny all by itself, when it never really was in the first place. It’s a tactic that works on kids (just watch the show All That which is almost entirely what I call unhumor that somehow worked on children of the era) but less so on older audiences. The booklet is pretty nice and includes original art on the cover as well as stills from the show inside. It’s festive, and there are lyrics printed inside as well along with transcripts of the character dialogue. West does a nice job with what he’s given and his level of performance is on par with the producers and musicians who participated. The album was re-released by Kid Rhino in 1997. It features some cosmetic differences like re-arranged artwork and a different layout for the booklet, though content wise it’s the same. I’d say the presentation is a bit louder visually, though not necessarily better or worse.

If you want to hear Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas in 2018 your best bet is to just head to eBay. There the CD version of the album will only set you back a few bucks with the Kid Rhino re-release apparently commanding a bit more money. There is a cassette version as well if you want to go that route. If you consider yourself a big fan of the show and you like Christmas then I think this is probably worth a look considering it’s relatively cheap to acquire. If a Christmas album by Ren and Stimpy sounds like something you would not like then you should probably trust your instincts there. You can hear most of this stuff on YouTube if you’re just curious and not eager to add any physical media to your Ren & Stimpy collection. If you’re expecting this to be the funniest Christmas album you’ve ever heard, then once again you may be let down. It’s just okay, but very much in the spirit of the show which makes it charming for fans.


Ranking the Games of the PlayStation Classic

psx classic gamesWhen the PlayStation Classic was announced a few months ago it was only revealed what 5 of the included 20 games were going to be. It was odd, but considering most places pre-sold out I suppose it didn’t matter. When Nintendo had success with the NES Classic Edition, it meant we were in for more of these devices. Myself and many others tried to predict what would be included on a potential SNES Classic and most people probably came pretty close to nailing the final line-up. Nintendo is heavy with first-party titles and its brand is forever connected with the likes of Mario and Link. With Sony, that first-party recognition isn’t there. During the height of the original PlayStation, Crash Bandicoot was positioned as the company’s mascot, but he wasn’t even owned by Sony. His games were just published by Sony, but the character would eventually come to be owned by Activision. Still, it seemed inconceivable that Sony would pass over Crash, and yet they did! He will not be appearing on the PlayStation Classic as Sony has finally unveiled the remaining 15. I knew predicting the line-up would be more difficult than doing so with the SNES Classic, but apparently I didn’t realize just how hard it would be as I went a putrid 1 for 15 with my predictions.

I suppose if I wanted to give myself bonus points I could dampen that showing by saying I at least hit on two additional franchises. And two of my requested titles (Intelligent Qube and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo) actually made it, even though I thought it would be a long shot to see them included. There’s no hiding from it though, I whiffed big time and I’ll own that. The actual line-up has likely surprised many and it has some nice surprises and some not-so-nice surprises. It’s a weird line-up, and since the PSX era did have some weird games I suppose that’s appropriate. There are three puzzle games among the 20, no 2D fighters, and only one title each from Konami, and Square-Enix. That means no Mega Man, Lara Croft, or Alucard. Were publishers not willing to “play ball” with Sony and its machine? Or was Sony just not willing to pay more for bigger titles? The Japanese version does have some different titles, including Parasite Eve and SaGa Frontier, but the Japanese market is a lot smaller than the North American one so maybe Sony is trying to maximize profits outside of Japan and is less concerned about the home country.

alucard

There are a lot of contenders for biggest snub, but Alucard might be the biggest.

This is not an optimal line-up of games, but does that make it bad? Lets suss it out and rank these titles starting with the least appetizing:

20. Battle Arena Toshinden – A decent looking launch title, it was quickly overwhelmed by Namco’s Tekken franchise. Most people forget about this franchise, and with good reason. It’s not a good game, and it’s odd to use this one instead of the better sequel, but even that game isn’t great.

destruction derby

Excited to revisit this one?

19. Destruction Derby – This game was a one-trick pony when it was released in the launch window of the PlayStation. It was cool to see cars explode and get smashed-up and it was sort-of perversely fun inflicting damage on other vehicles, but it was all empty calories. No one should be playing this game in 2018.

18. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six – This was one of the most heavily marketed games of its era. I probably saw more commercials for Rainbow Six than I did Final Fantasy VII. It’s okay, but the PSX port was pretty abysmal. Anyone playing Rainbow Six in 1998 probably shouldn’t have been playing it on PSX. Electronic Gaming Monthly even awarded it a dubious 3.8/10.

17. Jumping Flash! – We knew this one was included, and I even argued it had a place given it was a launch title and was just so very “of the era.” That doesn’t mean it’s particularly good and by today’s standards it’s quite ugly. Unlike the games listed before it though, it has a certain curiosity factor going for it that will make it worth a look when the PS Classic drops, but it might not be a game you actually stick with.

16. Cool Boarders 2 – If you like snowboarding and “extreme” sports games, then you’ll probably have this one ranked higher. It’s all right, but most people will probably wonder why it’s here and not Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (it’s the licensing, folks).

twisted metal 1

I probably logged over 100 hours with this game, but I’ve never wanted to replay it after Twisted Metal 2 came out.

15. Twisted Metal – I loved this franchise on PlayStation, well the first two games at least. The first one though has not aged well at all, and even in the moment, I knew I was playing a junky game, but it had a certain fun factor. The sequel though is way better and actually still playable. I considered it the most obvious lock for the mini console even ahead of Metal Gear Solid so the fact that this game is included but the sequel is not blows my mind.

14. Oddworld:  Abe’s Odyssey – I said the PS Classic has three puzzle games, but you could make the case Oddworld is more of a puzzle game than a true platformer. This game was hyped a bunch as being a game that gave the player numerous ways to solve a problem, but it didn’t really play out that way. It was interesting, but hardly great. It’s graphical approach should hold up well enough though.

13. Wild Arms – One of the previously announced titles, I gave my speech on it already. It’s serviceable, and its simple JRPG mechanics mean it will always remain playable. It’s just a bit crazy to think that this machine has only three RPGs when the PSX was an RPG behemoth, and Wild Arms is one of the three.

12. Grand Theft Auto – GTA was a surprise hit for the PC when it was released, and it was somewhat surprising to see it get a PSX port. It was also the first title I was denied an ability to purchase at a GameStop. Like modern GTA titles, it was arguably at its best when it was just played like a sand box causing mayhem. Unlike modern GTA titles, the actual missions and story isn’t that rewarding and the game was really difficult. It was at least a little easier to handle on the PSX than with a keyboard. It should still be fun to screw around with, but might not have much legs with the PS Classic.

Intelligent-Qube

The inclusion of Intelligent Qube is a bit of a surprise. Is it a system-seller? Probably not, but it’s worth a look if you end up getting a PS Classic.

11. Intelligent Qube – This was a surprise inclusion, but a worthwhile one. It’s an interesting puzzle game that’s at least not another brick-falling puzzler. I don’t know how well it’s held up because it’s been many years, but it should be playable and may be a dark horse contender for many folks’ most played title on the Classic.

10. Resident Evil (Director’s Cut) – There’s no denying this title was huge for the PSX, and the Director’s Cut version was superior to the original. It is possibly the worst in the franchise on the PSX though and its controls are not something I look forward to returning to. It took many hours to get a handle on them in 1996 and I’m not sure I still have such skills. Maybe it’s like riding a bike?

9. Syphon Filter – This was basically Sony’s attempt at a first party MGS or Rainbow Six. It was fine for what it was, though I’d prefer a dual shock to play it. It’s going to look ugly, and even Gabe Logan’s running animation looked horrendous in ’99. It might surprise though, and the only reason why I didn’t include it in my prediction was because I didn’t think Sony would release it without dual shock support.

8. Ridge Racer Type 4 – A totally competent racer, but let’s face it, this isn’t the racing game you want. Gran Turismo was the first-party behemoth, but I’m guessing licensing issues made it impossible to include. WipeOut was an alternative racer, but one I’d consider more fun than Ridge Racer. I would have taken Crash Team Racing over this one, honestly, and I’m not sure if I’d even play this more than once on the PS Classic. The racing genre is one that basically improves a lot with better technology, so going back isn’t always fun unless it’s more of an off-beat title. I suspect this still plays well enough though, which is why I’m ranking it this high.

persona

I’m happy to see the original Persona included in this collection, but it’s also not a hard to find game so I wish something like Valkyrie Profile was included instead.

7. Revelations:  Persona – The first game in what is now known simply as the Persona series is the biggest surprise inclusion on the PS Classic. This was not a popular game when it was released, and Persona still has more of a cult franchise vibe than a mainstream one. The first game is not as good as more recent entries with the series really blossoming with Persona 3. It is still playable though, and it’s more strategy-oriented battle system differentiates it from Wild Arms and FFVII. This one is a nice surprise and unlike the original Final Fantasy on the NES Classic, fans who are only familiar with the newer entries might actually enjoy playing the first in the series as opposed to just checking it out for the sake of curiosity.

6. Mr. Driller – The nice thing about puzzle games is that they age well. Mr. Driller is another surprise inclusion. It was well-received in its day, but not really a system mover or anything. It’s fun and charming though and if you like puzzle games with a slight Tetris vibe then you’ll get some mileage out of this one.

5. RaymanRayman was all over the place in the mid-90s. He was so omnipresent that I kind of wrote him off for this system as I never associated him with PlayStation. His game is pretty good though, and its 2D approach should hold up just fine. I never loved Rayman, but I never hated his games either.

4. Metal Gear Solid – I’m not crazy about this list of games, if you haven’t noticed, but I do think it’s pretty top-heavy. The last four are mostly interchangeable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Metal Gear Solid tops many lists such as this one. My reasoning for placing it 4th is because I think we’re missing out on some of the bells and whistles with this version by not having the dual shock support and a memory card full of Konami games. I also think the game hasn’t aged too well and recent entries in the series really helped to smooth out the gameplay experience. It’s still a fantastic game, it’s just not as fantastic as it could be on the PS Classic.

puzzle fiighter

This is a great choice for inclusion. I have nothing bad to say about Puzzle Fighter.

3. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo – This is probably my favorite puzzle game. It’s incredibly addicting and the rare puzzler that might be more fun in two-player mode than single-player. It’s got a lot of charm and personality and its sprites should hold up very well. I’m a bit surprised at its inclusion, especially given the omissions of traditional Capcom fighters, but also delighted.

2. Final Fantasy VII – We’ve all probably played it. And even though there’s been backlash towards this title over the years because it’s the most recognizable from the long-running series, that doesn’t mean it’s still not in the conversation for best Final Fantasy game. It’s readily available on other platforms so its inclusion isn’t sexy, but it’s also necessary. If you’ve got about 40 hours, you should give this one some time.

tekken 3 jin

The visuals may not wow you like they did in 98, but Tekken 3 is still a blast to play.

1. Tekken 3 – And the best game of the PS Classic is Tekken 3. A late era title, it actually holds up quite well in the visuals department and the game is simply one of the best 3D fighters ever made. It has a huge roster of characters, some fun additional modes and characters, and there should be something for everyone in terms of fighting styles. If you don’t like 3D fighters then maybe this won’t win you over, but I spent many hours with this one and I’d actually be excited to run through it again and try to unlock all of the additional characters and modes. Well, maybe not Tekken Force Mode.

 

So that’s it; the PlayStation Classic and its 20 games. Are you going to get one? Did you already pre-order one and are reconsidering that decision? I’m over-all not impressed with these 20 games, the majority of which I don’t need to revisit. Even some of the games that I think are fine I still don’t want to really play in 2018. Why play Twisted Metal when you can easily play Twisted Metal Black? Why play Rayman over the easily acquired (and cheap) Rayman Legends? I wasn’t that excited over this console to begin with, as the nostalgia factor just isn’t quite there for me with the PSX era. If the list had turned out to be something closer to what I predicted I might have been tempted. With this list, though? I’m looking at spending 100 bucks to play Persona, Intelligent Qube, and Mr. Driller as the other games I really enjoy I still own for PlayStation and can play them right now if I want. I have a first-gen PS3 hooked up to my TV right now so nothing is stopping me from popping in Tekken 3 if I wish to play it. I’m not everyone though, so for those who loved the PSX and maybe sold all of their old games I can at least see some appeal, but I still feel like this roster is one big missed opportunity.


Forecasting and Perfecting the PlayStation Classic

cute ps

Aww, it’s so adorable!

Sony announced the PlayStation Classic on September 19th and it is set to go on sale December 3rd. Following in Nintendo’s footsteps, the PlayStation Classic is a mini version of the original console with 20 pre-loaded games, a single controller, and HDMI output. It will have support for saves via a virtual memory card as well as numerous display modes to toggle through that will try and preserve the original look of the games or try to smooth them out and update them for today. At $100 MSRP, the PlayStation Classic finds itself priced in-between the SNES Classic and the soon to be released Neo Geo Mini. Making things more interesting, and also frustrating, is that Sony chose to only reveal 5 of the system’s 20 pre-loaded games:  Final Fantasy VII, Jumping Flash, Tekken 3, Ridge Racer Type 4, and Wild Arms. It’s an odd form of marketing, but Sony must feel confident it will have strong pre-sales to hold back that information for the time being. It also likely thinks it will help build excitement for the machine if they drip-feed consumers. Maybe it will be a weekly event to reveal another game or two. There are 10 weeks separating the system’s announcement and release so such a strategy is possible, or they could just come in bunches.

Choosing to withhold information on the included games is likely an annoyance for prospective consumers. I know I personally am not pre-ordering a gaming device in which I don’t even know what games I can play on it will be. It does however create the fun scenario in which people like me can speculate on what will be included and also what should be included. Those are two very different questions as if it were up to me I would load this thing up with RPGs, but I’m sure Sony will want a more balanced lineup. Adding further intrigue is the fact that Sony isn’t the first-party powerhouse that Nintendo is. With the SNES Classic, it was relatively easy to predict what games would be included because so many of them were Nintendo developed titles. Those games were not only among the best the system had, but also cost Nintendo next to nothing to include. With Sony’s machine, they’ll likely be cutting sizable checks to Capcom and Square-Enix with this thing.

Lets rundown the games I think Sony is going to include. Since we already know five of them, that means I need to only come up with 15 for this exercise. This is a prediction, so I’ll also include my opinion on if I think the game should be included, and where not, what I would include instead with the idea being I wouldn’t boot a fighting game to add a strategy one and will aim to stay within the genre. Let’s start with the included games:

cloud

This was expected.

Final Fantasy VII – This is likely the PlayStation’s biggest game, not the best-selling, but in terms of what it meant to the console. This legitimized Sony with the hardcore crowd since Sony was able to pry a successful Nintendo franchise away from The Big N. And even though it’s readily available on Sony’s Eshop and will soon be available on The Switch, Sony basically had to include it here.

Jumping Flash – This is a game that has not aged well. It’s going to be ugly, and may even make you nauseous due to the first-person perspective, but in terms of early launch window games few spring to mind as being of the era than Jumping Flash. It’s a relic, but one forever tied to Sony’s machine. As a legacy game, it feels appropriate to include.

Ridge Racer Type 4 – Squaresoft may have stole the headlines when it announced FFVII would be on a Sony console, but lets not forget how important Namco was for the PSX early on. Namco supported Sony’s machine rather extensively, and one of its signature series was Ridge Racer. Ridge Racer would eventually be over-shadows by the gear-head adored Gran Turismo series, but its arcade approach remained fun and Type 4 was probably the best of the bunch and is rightfully included.

Tekken 3 – Another Namco staple, the first Tekken was a launch window title and a worthy adversary for Sega’s Virtua Fighter series. It proved to be the best of the 3D brawlers on Sony’s machine far surpassing the likes of Battle Arena Toshinden. Tekken 3 was the final Tekken released for the original PlayStation and it represents the pinnacle for the franchise for the era. It was gorgeous for the time and felt like a game that pushed the system beyond what anyone thought it could do. It’s still my favorite entry in the series and it most certainly belongs here.

Wild Arms – The Sony produced RPG had the benefit of arriving before FFVII. While some blame that game for the lack of success enjoyed by Wild Arms, I knew more than one person who purchased this title simply because they couldn’t wait for FFVII. It’s a totally serviceable RPG and it has its share of fans, though it’s never been a favorite of mine. On one hand, it does represent the early era of PSX role-playing games, but I would not have included it.  Suggested replacementBlood Omen:  Legacy of Kain – a top-down action RPG, Blood Omen was the start of a successful Sony franchise for Kain and eventually Raziel. It had a lot of style, and as a fellow 1996 title and pseudo RPG it would be a suitable replacement. If something could be done about the horrendous load times in bringing it to the system then all the better. It’s possible the sequel, Soul Reaver, will be among the other 15 and if that is the case then I would not include this one.

And now for the predictions! I’m ordering them from most likely to least, and it should be noted, this is entirely subjective for the most part though I’m avoiding any game that was intended to be played with the Dual Shock controller (like Ape Escape), with one noted exception.

tm2 axl

Twisted Metal was arguably Sony’s premiere franchise in the 90s.

Twisted Metal 2:  World Tour – The most successful Sony first-party franchise during the PSX era was probably Twisted Metal, and that franchise’s best game was easily Twisted Metal 2:  World Tour. It took everything that made the first a surprise hit and improved upon it. Better presentation, better controls, a huge roster, and new gameplay additions made this one a blast to play. It’s probably pretty ugly by today’s standards, but still playable and likely still infectious.

Metal Gear Solid – FFVII was the signature third-party game, and franchise, for the PlayStation’s early days, but it feels like it was supplanted some-what by Metal Gear Solid. MGS revolutionized what could be done from a cinematic perspective and its attention to detail was something seldom seen in gaming. It was an instant masterpiece, and also the game that will most suffer by the lack of Dual Shock support. If It wasn’t so important to the legacy of the PlayStation I’d say hold off for an eventual Dual Shock version of the PlayStation Classic.

Final Fantasy Tactics – Another game that is readily available, but also one synonymous with the PlayStation. Final Fantasy Tactics took the guts of Tactics Ogre and gave it a new coat of paint. It’s also a bit more accessible, but just as serious about its story. FFT wasn’t what folks who had just played FFVII were expecting, so it got kind of lost in the shuffle, but has since been more appreciated and is routinely cited as one of the best RPGs ever released. It would feel weird to not include it.

crash bandicoot

I’ve never been a Crash guy, but I won’t deny him his rightful place.

Crash Bandicoot 2:  Cortex Strikes Back – Crash was conceived as the original PlayStation mascot meant to oppose Mario and Sonic. It didn’t really work out that way, since Sony didn’t even own the character, but for awhile he was utilized that way. Arguably his best contribution to that era were the commercials (“Hey, plumber boy!”), but the games were pretty good in their own right. Not really my cup of tea, it would be hard though to deny Crash a spot on the PlayStation Classic and most agree that his second outing was superior to the first. They would also probably argue the third was even better, but I’m guessing Sony is placing an emphasis on earlier games which is why they may opt for this one over Warped.

Resident Evil 2 – Really, the only thing that makes me thing think Resident Evil 2 might not be included is the fact that Capcom is working on a remake as we speak. For that reason, it may prefer to include the original or even the less celebrated third entry. Everyone likely agrees that RE2 was the superior title, so in the interest of keeping things simple, I say Capcom relents and lets Sony have it.

Castlevania:  Symphony of the Night – We’ve long since past the era when Symphony of the Night was an under-appreciated classic. Famously released to a hostile public because it dared to be 2D, most have come to realize how silly a notion it was to declare 2D gaming obsolete and have embraced SoTN as one of the very best games in the long-running franchise. And those that didn’t realize it at the time certainly did when Castlevania 64 was released.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 – Most associate the 16 bit era with the height of the fighting genre, but it was still alive and well come the 32/64 bit era as well. PlayStation was not known for its excellence with 2D fighters, leaving that to Saturn and eventually Dreamcast, but Street Fighter Alpha was an exception. And of the games released in that series for the system, Alpha 3 was the best.

wipeout xl

I had a lot of good times with Wipeout.

Wipeout XL – Perhaps an aggressive ranking, but Wipeout felt like an important franchise during the early days of the PlayStation. The Psygnosis developed futuristic racer could have been mistaken as an F-Zero clone, but the physics and course design made it so much more. XL was the pinnacle for the series, and assuming Sony can work out the licensing issues, I expect it will be included.

Tomb Raider – Lara Croft’s humble beginnings were as an ugly, pointy-breasted, mess of polygons that I’m not sure people even in the moment felt looked particularly good. She was tough to control, but wasn’t a tank like Jill Valentine, and her adventure was pretty damn difficult. She did move onto other consoles, but Tomb Raider always felt like a Sony franchise and it’s likely viewed as important to the console, even though I do not want to revisit it. Suggested ReplacementParasite Eve – not exactly a one for one, but the shooter/RPG hybrid was quite interesting for its era, and as a franchise that never made it off of the PSX, it would be nice to see it here. The sequel is better, but may be hard to get into without knowing what happened in the first.

The Legend of Dragoon – Seeing how successful Final Fantasy was on its machine, Sony decided to get into the RPG business with The Legend of Dragoon. Seemingly thinking RPG fans enjoyed length over anything else, TLoD was gigantic and is probably the longest RPG on the system. It also looked great, and its battle system was okay. Aside from that, it’s not very good, but since Sony produced this one it won’t cost them much to include it and they probably view it as a signature title for the system. Suggested ReplacementValkyrie Profile – Oh boy, does this system not lack for RPGs. You could easily fill the console with 20 RPGs and not run out of quality software. Xenogears is my favorite, and it has an outside shot of being included, but a game that’s also good and brutally expensive is Valkyrie Profile. It would be great to see Sony use the PlayStation Classic as a means of delivering hard to find games to the consumer, but I’d be shocked if they included this one. It would probably cause me to buy one though, since getting a PlayStation Classic is way cheaper than buying this one second-hand.

Gran Turismo 2 – Assuming Sony can sort out the licensing issues, this one feels like a no brainer. Gran Turismo is one of Sony’s premiere franchises, and even though it’s faded some, it’s still remembered quite fondly. And given that its sim approach makes it way different from Ridge Racer, there’s room for it on the Classic as well. Though for me personally, it’s also a game I wouldn’t play.  Suggested ReplacementCrash Team Racing – so it’s not exactly a sim, but I struggled to come up with a more appropriate replacement. CTR was stealthily the second best kart racer of the era, behind Diddy Kong Racing and ahead of Mario Kart 64. Yes, you read that correctly. MK64 is the most overrated game in that long running series and doesn’t hold up, but CTR is frantic, fast, and fun. The only problem is you’d pretty much need to get a second controller.

mega-man-x4

X found a home on Sony’s console, where Zero was allowed to flourish alongside him.

Mega Man X4 – Capcom is not shy about loaning out Mega Man for compilations, and since he’s featured on both the NES Classic and SNES Classic it stands to reason he’ll appear here. The X series was the most prominent on Sony’s console, and X4 was the best of the Mega Man games released for the system which also included the underrated Mega Man 8. And yet, it doesn’t feel like the most “PlayStation” of the Mega Man games…Suggested ReplacementMega Man LegendsMega Man X4 was just released as part of a compilation of X games. It’s easy to come by. What’s less easy is Mega Man’s first foray into RPGs on the PlayStation, Mega Man Legends. I won’t argue it’s better than Mega Man X4, because it’s not. It just feels like a more appropriate release. The only thing that would change my mind is if Nintendo is already developing a Nintendo 64 Classic and intends to include the port, Mega Man 64, on its machine. If that’s the case, then stick with X4.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 – The Tony Hawk series was a huge hit on Sony’s machine, and the second game was the most well-received. It was basically the first and only skateboarding sim worth playing, and I knew many people obsessed with this game that weren’t even that into skating (but the ones who were into skating were even more obsessed). There are challenges in bringing it to the PlayStation Classic, but I would bet Sony finds a way to get it done. Suggested ReplacementBushido Blade – Confession time! I never liked the Tony Hawk games. Sorry! And since there is no skateboarding sim worth replacing it with, I’ll go with the sword-fighting sim from Squaresoft. Bushido Blade was a really neat take on fighting games as it aimed for more realism. Not total realism, just more. And it primarily did that via one-hit kills. If a guy gets slashed across the gut with a sword that shouldn’t merely take away some of his health bar, it’s going to incapacitate him. As a result, fights could be really brief, but most actually turned into endurance matches. They were tense, and in order to succeed you had to get your opponent to fall for a feint or just get careless leaving them open for an attack. It’s a toss-up which version is superior, this or the sequel, but most seem to lean towards the first since it had more weapon options.

Suikoden IISuikoden II has become such a popular game long after the PlayStation era came to a close that I think it’s actually likely that Sony includes it. It’s on their web store for Vita/PS3/PSP and it was presented as a pretty big deal when it first showed up. Sony probably has a solid relationship with Konami and won’t have too much trouble bringing this one to the PlayStation Classic, but it remains possible that Sony thinks this would be too many RPGs and leaves it out. That would be a very bad move.

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Expect PaRappa to appear on the PS Classic, but don’t expect him to look this smooth.

PaRappa The Rapper – Sony’s flagship rhythm game was pretty well-received. It also helped to popularize what came to be known as cell-shaded graphics. It was recently remastered and re-released, which is why I’ve placed it at the bottom of this list. It’s possible Sony doesn’t want to eat into that at all, plus it’s going to look pretty terrible in comparison, but it’s popular enough to merit inclusion. Had it not been for that re-release I’d have pushed this into the top 10 easily. Suggested ReplacementTobal 2 – I don’t really care for PaRappa, or rhythm games in general, so for my last slot how about something exciting? The SNES Classic certainly benefitted from including the previously unavailable Star Fox 2, and if Sony wants to drum-up some similar excitement announcing Tobal 2 for a North American release would be one way to do so. I believe it was prepped for one, but abruptly cancelled as the era was winding down and the first game did not sell particularly well. As a result, some of the localization may still exist, and if it doesn’t then that might not be much of a hurdle anyway as fighting games usually don’t require much, so how about it, Sony? Give us some sizzle!

 

Well, that’s it! What do you think? Is this something you would buy? Think I pretty much nailed it or did I miss something obvious? Surely, they’ll try and get a Spyro game onto this thing, but I’m not sure at what game’s expense (alright, probably Suikoden II, but maybe Sony will do the right thing and not include The Legend of Dragoon)? The PlayStation was perhaps my most favorite system as it came around when I was most interested in gaming. I was in my early teens so I was able to obsess over gaming without the distraction of what would follow in high school. Picking just 20 games just highlights how many games have to be excluded, so let’s go out with some honorable mentions. For the most part, these are games I would definitely include on my personal PlayStation Classic, but acknowledge Sony is unlikely to do so for one reason or another:

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Oh please! Oh please! Oh please!

Xenogears, Final Fantasy IX, Chrono Cross, Tomba!, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, Vagrant Story, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, Mega Man 8, Mega Man X5, Rogue Trip, Street Fighter EX Plus a, Brave Fencer Musashi, Colony Wars, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Front Mission 3, Spider-Man, Alundra, WWF Smackdown 2: Know Your Role, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, IQ: Intelligent Qube


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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.


Mega Man 8

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Mega Man 8 (1996/1997)

Mega Man 8 is perhaps the most divisive game in the history of the Blue Bomber. The first developed without series creator Tokuro Fujiwara, it was the only mainline Mega Man game released during the 32 bit era, and for a long time, was the last to be made with current generation technology, even though it didn’t seem like that at the time. After the release of Mega Man 8, the series essentially disappeared in favor of the many Mega Man spin-off franchises such as X, Legends, Battle Network, and others. When Capcom finally reconvened to create a Mega Man 9 it opted to pretend as if this game (and to some extent its predecessor Mega Man 7) never existed going back to a visual style akin to the original NES games and a gameplay style that went even further back. Capcom would stay with that look for Mega Man 10, but finally announced in 2017 that a new Mega Man game is coming and it won’t feature illusory 8-bit images.

It’s interesting that the game has become so maligned over the years, since at the time Mega Man 8 was supposed to be a celebration of Mega Man and the impact he had made in the world of gaming. Coinciding with the 10 year anniversary of the first game, Mega Man 8 stayed true to the series roots by sticking with 2D gameplay when the whole world was demanding 3D. Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) initially wanted nothing to do with the game because of its use of 2D visuals. Wanting to highlight the processing power of the PlayStation, SCEA nearly prevented the release of the game in North America, but eventually relented when Capcom agreed to dress-up the packaging. Since it was also to be released on the Saturn, SCEA wanted exclusive content and thus received a little booklet to be included with each copy of the game recounting the legacy of Mega Man. Maybe out of spite, Capcom would introduce better, exclusive, content on the Saturn with optional hidden bosses.

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There’s a whole bunch of new enemies for Mega Man to vanquish.

Mega Man 8 largely follows the formula of the games that came before it building off of Mega Man 7. So unlike more recent entries in the series, this one still retains the charge shot and slide maneuver as well as the bolts currency which can be used between levels to purchase upgrades for Mega Man. Dr. Wiley is the main antagonist once again and Bass and Treble return from 7 to make Mega Man’s life more difficult. The plot isn’t of much importance, suffice to say that Wiley is up to no good and has created 8 robot masters that Mega Man has to get by before he can ultimately take on the mad scientist. A new character is introduced, Duo, who’s from outer space and brings with him some kind of weird energy that Wiley wants to make use of. He starts off as an ambiguous character, but will eventually become an ally when he “senses justice” within in Mega Man, or some nonsense.

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Most of the levels have an appealing design that serves its robot master well.

What you need to know as a gamer is that Mega Man has roughly 12 new stages to topple. After a simple introductory level, four additional stages are open to Mega Man and each features a robot master to take down. Following their defeat, an intermission stage is unlocked before the final 4 robot masters are available and then eventually the multi-stage Wiley Tower. Splitting the 8 robot masters into two separate groupings of four does make it a little easier to determine an order to tackle them in. As is the case with virtually every Mega Man game, defeating a robot master earns Mega Man a new weapon and each one is a natural weakness for another robot master (Wiley should really avoid doing that when creating these things). There is an added challenge in introducing the robots this way as the player needs to figure out which robot to tackle first – twice! There’s no overlap in terms of weaknesses between the two groups of four, so the first boss you fight and the fifth will basically necessitate relying on the Mega Buster to topple. If you want my advice, I suggest starting with Grenade Man and Aqua Man, respectively. Although I did have this game before I had internet access and a boss order available to me so I have taken down more than just those two with the Mega Buster.

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Mega Man 8 is gorgeously animated, but few appreciated it in 1996 since it wasn’t 3D.

Scattered throughout the stages are bolts. There is a finite amount of them in the game and they serve as currency for Mega Man to purchase upgrades. Since you’re limited by the amount of bolts in the game, this also means you’ll be unable to purchase all of the upgrades in a single save file. Some of the upgrades available to Mega Man include a fast charge attachment, a shield that will prevent knock-backs, a laser shot, and a spread gun, among others. Basically all of them are useful to some degree, though I’d argue the most essential is probably the quick-charge. One annoyance, the ability to exit already completed stages must be purchased, so if you want to go back for bolts that you missed (and you will, since some require a weapon acquired later to access) you will have to either waste bolts on this feature or play through the entire level again.

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There’s some auto-scrolling segments to break-up the gameplay. This Rush segment works well, but don’t ask me about the snowboarding one.

The stages feature a solid mix of run and gun and platforming gameplay, as well as a couple of auto-scrolling events. The levels offer a rather average level of difficulty for a Mega Man game sitting this one squarely in the middle of the pack if arranged accordingly, though perhaps closer to the easy side. Continues are unlimited, so the game is forgiving in that regard, but the checkpoints are spread out enough that having to use a continue does hurt a bit. There are no E Tanks in this game, which might explain why it’s a touch on the easier side, but there is a Rush attachment that can be used once per stage that summons Mega Man’s trusty robotic canine who will drop power-ups as he flies back and forth. It’s not as seamless as an E Tank since Mega Man still has to chase down the power-ups and there’s no guarantee that Rush will drop exactly what you want. This makes him a bit unreliable during the chaotic boss encounters in the game and he’s also basically useless if you’re in an area where Mega Man is limited by where he can stand (auto-scrolling segments, spike pits, etc.).

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In what was apparently common for Capcom at the time, fan input was sought for boss designs. Some of the original fan-submitted works appear in the credits.

Of the main stages available, none are probably memorable enough to supplant a Quick Man or Flash Man stage, but they mostly offer plenty of variety and avoid the pitfalls of tedium. Tengu Man’s stage features a pervasive gust of wind that extends Mega Man’s jumps when moving with it, but also hinders his ability to backtrack. This stage also features one of the auto-scrolling portions where Mega Man hops aboard Rush and uses him like a jet-board as he soars through the air. During these segments Mega Man can also summon his lesser allies like Auto and Beat to assist him in taking out the various enemies he encounters. Astro Man’s stage features some maze-like portions as well as a frantic escape from a sinking tower. Sword Man’s stage is broken up into sections that can be tackled in any order, sort of like the boss gauntlet that appears towards the end of every Wiley Castle. Some levels also feature a mid boss and defeating that boss unlocks a new Rush ability (4 in total) that include the health power-up, as well as a few other things that aren’t really essential but can be useful.

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Mega Man has finally learned how to swim, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Some levels, on the other hand, don’t go over as well. Frost Man’s stage features the snowboarding auto-scrolling bit and it is not enjoyable. The input feels laggy, and the developers apparently noticed this as well because they inserted audio prompts commanding the player to “Jump! Jump!” or “Slide! Slide!” These segments are mercifully short, but also short on fun and it’s a shame they recognized the need for the cues but not the need to just cut them entirely. Aqua Man’s stage also features scenarios completely submerged in water. Mega Man has apparently received a software upgrade that taught him how to swim, as he no longer just jumps around slowly in water. Swimming basically works the same way in Mega Man 8 as it does in Super Mario Bros, which is to say it’s not good. Mega Man is also a lot longer relative to Mario so it’s not easy to maneuver him around enemies. You’re better off to just plow through those segments and hope for the best.

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Mega Man’s “sister” Roll runs Dr. Light’s shop which you can visit to purchase upgrades for Mega Man after acquiring enough bolts.

The bosses themselves are all fine. They’re fully voiced, like Mega Man (more on that later), and it’s kind of funny to hear them taunt Mega Man before and during confrontations. There’s nothing particularly logical about who is weak to who, unless you know more about the robot than the game presents. For example, Sword Man does have a fire element associated with him that’s not apparent just by looking at him and Aqua Man’s Aqua Bubble is his weakness. There’s also no weapon on par with the Metal Blade that makes life easier across the board, though the multi-hit Grenade Bomb is pretty good and seems to have the most uses. Other weapons are more utilitarian. The Tornado Hold can be used to levitate Mega Man or hit enemies that are high in the air and the Thunder Claw can be utilized like Bionic Commando’s claw at certain points in the game (another benefit to splitting the bosses in groups of four means levels can be designed to utilize certain weapons because it’s guaranteed the player will have it). There’s also a 9th weapon that Mega Man receives in the opening stage:  the Mega Ball. It’s basically a soccer ball and pressing the fire button causes Mega Man to drop the ball. He can then dribble it if he likes or even jump on it for a small height boost on his subsequent jump, or press the fire button again to kick it. The ball can ricochet off walls, but it’s mostly too unwieldy to properly utilize. Only one boss requires its use. Two other very useful weapons include the Homing Sniper, which can fire up to three homing missiles, and the Astro Crush which rains down death on the entire screen. As a result, it has a very limited amount of uses.

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This is the only boss who requires the use of the Mega Ball, and as a result, he’s pretty annoying.

Where things start to fall apart with Mega Man 8 is after the eight robot masters have been vanquished. Wiley’s various stages are lackluster and downright annoying at times. The first opens with another snowboard segment, this one far more annoying and longer than the ones from Frost Man’s stage. Worse yet, it ends with the only boss fight that requires use of the Mega Ball, and as a result, it’s pretty tricky. If you have to resort to a continue you’ll be stuck playing through that snowboarding segment once again and you’ll want to snap the disc in half. After that is another Rush auto-scrolling segment that uses the scrolling gimmick to kill you if you’re not paying attention (and it’s mean enough that you probably will die at least once when you hit that part for the first time) and concludes with the worst boss fight in the game. It’s long and tedious, but as a plus it’s not particularly difficult so hopefully you take it out on the first try. The third level is better and finally presents what feels like a fair challenge plus a dual boss fight when you take on the Bass + Treble machination and then the Green Devil, or whatever it’s called. The Devil boss is probably the easiest one of them all, but if you don’t know its weakness it is considerably more difficult.

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Seriously, fuck this shit.

Finally, there’s Wiley, and unfortunately he kind of sucks too. He’s very similar to his Mega Man 2 version in which you take on his tank thing before fighting him in a floating capsule/bubble contraption. The tank is not terribly difficult, but it’s also not easy, and given the lack of E Tanks there is a bit of added challenge. The capsule part is a bit boring because he just doesn’t take much damage. He doesn’t appear to be weak to anything, so you just have to make sure you outlast him.

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The anime cut scenes by and large look great considering they’re stored on CD ROM, but the voice acting just kills it.

Since this was the 10 year celebration for Mega Man, Capcom decided to dress things up with some anime cut scenes! Xebec was contracted to do the scenes and they actually did a really nice job considering these are forever trapped on a PlayStation disc. Since the total run-time for all of the sequences put together is probably only 10-12 minutes, they could afford to take their time and put a lot of effort into making them look good. Unfortunately, the same degree of care was not put forth into the voice acting when it came time to localize the game for North America. I don’t know if the Japanese voice acting was equally terrible, but the English version is hilariously bad. It’s the most infamous part of the game and what people think of first when they think of Mega Man 8. Mega Man sounds like an adolescent high-voiced girl while apparently no one realized that the characters Bass and Treble refer to music and not fish. Dr. Light is especially bad and sounds like a bumbling old fool who refers to Dr. Wiley as “Dr. Wow-ee” while the voice actor for newcomer Duo just sounds like he would rather be anywhere than in a studio voicing this character.

The voice acting is a real shame because outside of that the production values are pretty great. While few wanted 2D games in 1996, no one could argue that Mega Man 8 wasn’t attractive to look at. It’s hand-drawn visuals have aged way better than basically anything else on the PlayStation. Mega Man is the right size in relation to the screen and is lovingly animated. Many of the generic enemies are brimming with personality and the bosses, in particular Frost Man and Sword Man, are also a lot of fun to look at. The music is solid as well, and while most are probably nostalgic for that 8 bit sound I doubt few would suggest the soundtrack is poor. And while the voice acting during the anime bits is atrocious, it does succeed in adding some personality to those bosses and its mostly welcome in that space.

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An assortment of mini bosses keeps things interesting and provide a vehicle for awarding Mega Man with even more power-ups.

Mega Man 8 performed rather well at retail when it was released, but reviewers were far more mixed. Incidentally, what it was maligned most for (its visuals) is what it’s most likely celebrated most for today. There was an undercurrent of backlash from some outlets because of its simplified look and there was also some Mega Man fatigue at the time. After all, this wasn’t just the 8th Mega Man game. It also followed three Mega Man X titles and some handheld ones as well. That’s a lot of Mega Man games in the span of 10 years so reviewers and gamers could be forgiven if they weren’t as excited for a proper Mega Man title in 1996 as maybe they would be today. Opinions are still divided on this one though. As recently as 2010, IGN considered it the worst of the mainline Mega Man titles. More recently, Retronaut’s Jeremy Parish ranked it as high as 5th among all of the Mega Man games (did you know there’s 20 total as of this writing?) which is probably the most praise I’ve ever seen given to the game. Perhaps not surprisingly, I tend to fall somewhere in between those two extremes. It certainly is not the worst of the Mega Man games, but Mega Man 2 and 3 are probably superior, at least. I definitely would rather play this one than Mega Man 7, though I’m less sure when it comes to other games. I’m not an expert Mega Man gamer and I never touched the ultra hard Mega Man 10 because it sounded like something I wouldn’t enjoy. When I picked this game up in 1997 as a birthday present I had some fun with it and returning to it in 2018 was by no means a bad experience. If you like Mega Man, but have never played this one and have only heard bad things then I’d suggest giving it a shot. It’s not hard to come by thanks to the compilations put out by Capcom nor is it prohibitively expensive if you want an original PlayStation version (if you want it for Saturn you will have to pay a lot, though) so you only have yourself to blame if you haven’t played it.


Gaming Controllers: Your conduit to a virtual world

When it comes to video game development, there are a lot of factors to consider when crafting the perfect game. Visuals have always been a top priority as they’re the simplest way to demonstrate quality to the consumer so the necessary hardware is required to craft some pretty graphics. A fast processor is certainly required or else those pretty games will be choppy and slow. Audio is obviously important, as who would ever want to go back to mono? When it comes to actually interacting with a game and that little avatar on the screen, few things are as important as a controller. There are a lot of different factors that go into creating the perfect controller. Before the NES the joystick was the preferred input method, which was replaced by the directional pad or rocker switch, which has now mostly been supplanted by the analog stick or nub. Those early Atari controllers usually only featured one action button, now anything less than eight is unacceptable. As games have advanced through the decades, the controller has been asked to do more. Let’s pay tribute to those who have done it the best.

First, let’s also make some dishonorable mentions, those controllers that failed to impress.

nintendo-64-controller-gray-flatNintendo 64 – How to rank this one? You all know it, that oddly shaped, three-handled device released in 1996 alongside the Nintendo 64. It wasn’t the first controller to feature an analog thumb-stick, but it certainly made it standard, which is about the only good thing I can say about it. It was chunky, the face buttons felt cheap, and the shoulder buttons offered little satisfaction. The Z-trigger was a nice touch, but unless you were playing one of the many 3D platformers featured on the N64, this one was lacking.

images-222Atari Jaguar – Just look at this thing. If you never handled one consider yourself lucky. Ignoring that the system was a terrible waste of money, this controller was a beast of unwieldy proportions. See that key pad? Of course you do because it’s gigantic. That thing had inserts that could be snapped over it depending on the game, but it was mostly a tacky, useless feature that just made the controller obtuse. The cheap feel didn’t help things either.

All right, with those out of the way let’s move onto the top five. For the controller to be considered, it had to be a “stock” controller during a system’s lifespan, meaning it came bundled with a new console. I also tried to give some deference to the controllers that paved the way, otherwise this top five would be really slanted towards the modern additions since developers have naturally had many opportunities to improve upon the designs of yesterday. Before I get to the top five, let’s first pay homage to the godfather of the modern controller:

nes-controller-flatThe NES controller – It’s the one that standardized the modern layout of basically every controller. The d-pad on the left, and action buttons on the right. Maybe the squared edges weren’t the best idea but the re-designed “dog bone” bundled with the later model NES rectified that mistake. It’s been improved upon by leaps and bounds, but few people thought at the time there was anything wrong with it.

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5. The Neo Geo CD Controller – Neo Geo is the console for SNK and their many arcade games. It was a high-end console for arcade enthusiasts as the giant cartridges were essentially identical to the arcade counterpart. As such, it was really expensive. It was also heavily populated by the fighters, and since every arcade cabinet is equipped with a joystick, the Neo Geo was bundled with one as well. When the Neo Geo CD came out though, it came with a more traditional controller. The layout is the standard established by the Super Nintendo with four face buttons arranged in a diamond shape, but the thing that stands out is that analog slider type of input on the left. Quite simply, it’s the finest analog stick or slider I’ve ever encountered, which is incredible since it’s over twenty years old at this point. It has a satisfying click to it and enough resistance for more precise actions. I’m not sure how well it would hold up with modern 3D games, but for 2D games it’s flawless. And best of all, it’s the only analog thumb-stick I’ve ever encountered that’s usable with fighting games. Anyone who tried to play Street Fighter IV on an Xbox 360 can tell you how impossible a task that is.

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4. Sega Genesis Six Button Controller – Not a stock controller initially, the six button version of the Genesis controller was the preferred controller by gaming enthusiasts who had a Genesis. And if you were really into fighting games, it was probably your favorite across all consoles. It maintained the standard Genesis d-pad, which included easy diagonals making it superior to the one offered by the Big N. The three buttons layout though was suboptimal, and the six button controller rectified that shortcoming. The layout made it super easy for games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat to access the strongest punch and kick attacks. By the time the Genesis 3 and the CDX came to be the controller even came with a turbo function (in case you forgot, gamers in the 90’s thought turbo was the greatest)! The only criticism that can be levied on this one is the size. Being quite small, it takes some getting used to in the hands of an adult male.

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3. The Xbox One – It’s more or less the same as the 360, which is probably what most gamers wanted. The ergonomics of the controller are pretty tried and true and this point, though while most controllers are trended more towards the smaller side, Microsoft still likes to keep their controller a little thicker than others. While the original Xbox controller was too much like the Dreamcast in that department (which was a contender for a dishonorable mention), the Xbox One controller has found a nice balance. The only thing holding it back is that damn D-pad. One of the measuring sticks of a controller is how well it handles all genres of games, and the Xbox One’s inability to properly control a quality 2D fighter is a hindrance carried over from its predecessor. If you don’t like 2D fighters though, a genre that has certainly seen its popularity apex long ago, then you’re probably good with this one.

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2. The Super Nintendo – The Super Nintendo is essentially the root of all modern controllers (excepting, of course, the oddball Wii controllers) as it established the preferred layout for virtually every game. A directional input on the left, diamond shaped action buttons on the right, and shoulder buttons for easy trigger finger access. The rounded edge made it comfortable, and the center of the controller was open for less important buttons and functions which is something future controllers took advantage of. The Super Nintendo controller was essentially perfect for its era. While most gamers would agree the the d-pad on the Genesis controller was superior, it wasn’t able to match the feel of the SNES controller, nor was the d-pad advantage enough to make up for the extra buttons. Oddly enough, Nintendo has been the one company to not really carry forward the SNES controller’s design. After it came the N64 and Virtual Boy, which also featured a terrible input device, before the Gamecube sort of brought Nintendo back to the old design. The Wii and Wii U obviously went in completely different directions for their input device, but at least they’ve had secondary controllers that resemble the SNES one. Sometimes it’s better to just stick with what works.

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  1. The Dual Shock 4 – Stick with what works seems to be an unofficial motto for Sony and its Playstation controllers. The original Playstation featured a controller that was essentially a SNES controller with two extra shoulder buttons and handles for added comfort. After the N64 made analog a big deal, it was replaced by the Dual Shock which added a vibrating function and twin analog sticks. The PS2 and PS3 did little to change from the Dual Shock, but the Dual Shock 4 brought about some slight modifications that have helped to make it gaming’s best all-around controller. The D-pad is still placed in a prominent spot despite the fact that it’s utilized less than an analog stick, but the analog input manages to remain in a thumb-friendly zone. The rear triggers are comfortable and responsive, and the diamond layout for the face buttons is preserved. Sure, the touchpad in the center of the controller is a novelty addition, but it’s not one that takes away from the controller’s main functions. It’s the one controller I really can’t complain about as it has a nice weight to it, it’s durable, and never lacking for buttons. Good luck to those who try and top it, but hopefully Sony continues to stick with what works.

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