Monday, September 28, 2015

List of Single Player Beat 'Em Ups (Part 1)

Author: Zachary Latour

When I play a Beat ‘Em Up, I like having the 3 B’s: a buddy, a beer, and a bag of chips (preferably Doritos). As a kid growing up in the 90’s, both playing video games and hanging out with friends were very near and dear to my heart. With that being said, it is clear that playing a co-op video game is complete bliss to me. Beat ‘Em Ups are perfect for this. Though everyone plays as a team to achieve one ultimate goal, each person has their own score to brag about.

When looking for classic Beat ‘Em Ups, one has to look no further than the arcade. There are many great examples, including the massive 6-player X-Men, 4-player Simpsons, 4-player Ninja Turtles, and the 4-player Captain Commando. Though some of these made the conversion to home consoles, others never saw the light of day on retail shelves. Unfortunately, arcades have gone the way of the dinosaur in recent years. Maybe it’s due to people not wanting to touch arcade sticks covered in sweat and Cheetos dust. Maybe it’s because arcades use more power than your average emergency room. Or, maybe it’s because people would rather play games in the comfort of their own home. Whatever the reason for the disappearance, the decline in arcades has not resulted in the death of the Beat ‘Em Up genre. In recent years, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: The Game kicked so much ass, and also showed us that awesome Beat ‘Em Ups can still be made.

Many games are able to pull off the single player experience exceptionally well. Most RPGs revolve around immersing a single player in a gaming experience. Secret of Mana, however, is a great RPG that pulled off an effective optional multiplayer. Tetris is, at its heart, a great single player puzzle game. Yes, there is a multiplayer mode, but it really is just isolated simultaneous play. Both players are free to perform in whatever way they want and their actions have zero impact on the other player. It’s no different from two people running next to each other on identical treadmills. Tetris Attack expanded the game to include multiplayer combat. In Attack, your actions actually affect the amount of pieces dropped on the opponent’s side of the screen. That said, take the “Tetris” in Tetris Attack lightly: It’s about as Tetris as stacking four traffic cones on top of each other and calling it Tetris Pyramid.

Not all gaming experiences need to be co-op or multiplayer to enhance the fun, but with certain genres it is definitely a welcome choice. When it comes to a Beat ‘Em Up, I say the more players, the merrier. The 6-Player X-Men game is approximately the size and weight of a house. Due to its size and player count, it actually requires two television screens to show everything. I have a lot of respect for the people who designed this. They saw what was already out in arcades and were able to create something even bigger and better. But, maybe four really is the magic number when it comes to Beat ‘Em Ups. Any less might have friends sitting and waiting for their turn. Any more might make you realize that your social circle is a lot smaller than you actually thought it was.

Before I discuss some examples of the genre, I will just say it: I am not a fan of the idea of 1-player Beat ‘Em Ups. There are multiple characters to choose from, two controllers to use, and enough room on the right side of the screen for another health bar, so why not include a second player? I’m not saying that they can’t be great games, I just think that no Beat ‘Em Up did it better than Turtles in Time. I guess that in order for me to truly enjoy these games, I would have to be stranded on a deserted island or in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Then, I wouldn’t be able to complain that it’s a 1-player game because there won’t be anyone else to play it with me anyway. At that point I’d have to find something new to whine about, like the fact that I’d be all out of Doritos.

The Death and Return of Super Man (SNES/GEN) – 1994/1995

‘The Death and Return of Superman’ is a side scrolling Beat ‘Em Up set in the Superman universe, chronicling the DC comic timeline of the same name. With colorful, vibrant graphics and very comic-esque cut scenes, the plot effectively mimics its source. There are five playable characters as you progress through the game: Superman, Superboy, Steel, Eradicator, and Cyborg. The player controls all five in the same manner, but the art, the fighting moves performed, and resulting animations differ between characters.

This game has numerous types of enemies, so you don’t just fight the same tired designs throughout the whole game. This variety keeps the game from getting stale. Most of the levels simply scroll to the right as you beat up enemies to get to the level boss, but there are some Shoot ‘Em Up stages thrown in. Although they do change things up, they are very easy and don’t really add anything to the game. One drawback of this game is that everything is sluggish. All of the characters walk very slowly, and there is no run button or the ability to double tap a direction to dash. Both get irritating quickly. After the second level of the game, the protagonist changes from Superman to one of the other four playable characters. This welcome change keeps the game from becoming repetitive. Not only do the other characters come with unique levels, but they all have different animations when fighting, walking, or using their special move. This variety isn’t without fault though. At this point the game could have gone into a Mega Man-style selection screen where the player picked which character to play, completing the game in whichever order he or she preferred. Heck, even Final Fantasy VI allowed you to pick which order you played the game once the character paths branched out from each other. The Death and Return of Superman should have been no different. Or alternately, this could have been a perfect time for the game to become 2-player. There was a great idea for variation in the game, but it was unfortunately executed poorly. In general the game controls work well, though strangely there is no block button. That aside, one nice feature is the button configurations in the options menu. This was not common back in the day, so it was great to have multiple layouts to find the one that best fit your playing style.

When you double jump, your character will actually fly, which is a very interesting and fitting for the game. There are sequences in stages where you are fighting on street level, and then you actually have to fly up the side of a building to fight on the top of it. When flying you are able to fight other airborne enemies, smash down onto enemies below, or just cruise around to your heart’s content. The ability to double jump and fly actually creates a flawless transition between fighting on the ground and in the air. This is one area where I will praise this game: It is very well executed and works perfect.

All five characters shoot a beam, either from their eyes or their hands. It can be shot quickly or charged to do more damage. This beam is almost worthless since it takes a while just to shoot the quick shot and the damage dealt from it is next to nothing. It is best used as a means of stunning enemies, rather than a straight attack.

Each character has a special move that can be used when you have enough orbs to do so. This attack is used to clear the whole screen of baddies, or to do damage to a level boss. The animations when using this attack are beautiful, and Eradicator’s special move looks especially epic. Most Beat ‘Em Ups allow you to hit multiple enemies with your punches and kicks, but this is not one of those games. When there are 2+ enemies next to each other, you never can hit more than one at the same time. This allows for many cheap hits from the enemies you aren’t currently fighting. Furthermore, when you get hit, knocked down, or electrocuted by something, you don’t get even a second of invulnerability to get back on your feet. This can lead to rapid health loss when a boss knocks you down, or when three or more enemies come at you at once.

Using foreign objects as weapons has always been a staple in the Beat ‘Em Up genre. One thing I like in this game is the ability to pick up boxes and debris on the ground and throw it at enemies. Another way of getting throwable objects is by kicking enemies off motorcycles or smashing their planes down. The remains are then able to be used as a weapon. One huge positive of this is the potential to hit multiple enemies at once with a projectile. However, even this ability has issues. For example, Superman actually throws in a weird arc. You have to get used to how to throw or you will miss every enemy on the screen. Another problem is that you can’t fly while holding anything. If you’re holding a broken motorcycle and arrive at a part of the level where you have to fly up the side of a building, you have to leave the object behind. It really becomes a waste of resources at that point. I don’t understand this thought process both in the context of Superman and in video games in general. Superman should be able to lift any of these objects without any issue while flying, and as it is not the end of a level, you shouldn’t be forced to give your weapon up.

In general, The Death and Return of Superman is visually well done. Superman’s pose after beating a level looks particularly awesome. When walking, the graphics are very fluid and the characters’ capes look great as they are blowing around. One thing I really like about this game is the layered backgrounds. There’s one level in particular that contains a fence behind you. You can see water far beyond the fence, but also can see though the missing panels at the city directly on the other side of it. All of these backgrounds scroll individually, so the collective scenery is spectacular. However, not all of the visuals are effective. The game is also a victim of artwork in the foreground. Although it is not anywhere near as cluttered as ‘Separation Anxiety’, I still just don’t see any point in having it. Showing newspaper boxes, street signs, poles, or vita chambers in the foreground does not make me feel any more immersed in the game. Even though they don’t get too in the way of gameplay, the foreground art should have been left out altogether.

Though the game does offer infinite continues, it doesn’t let you use them on the spot. Personally, I always prefer limited instant continues over unlimited continues that take you to a game over screen and make you restart from the beginning of a level. The levels aren’t very long, but it does get tedious going through the same parts over and over again. That said, the game over screen is beautiful. Watching Superman’s tattered cape blowing in the wind is very well done and fits the mood of the game.

When it comes down to it, this game fights against itself more than tries to save the day. There are a lot of good ideas here, but for every positive this game has to offer I can think of at least two negatives to counteract it. As a whole this game is a brutally and unnecessarily frustrating mess compared to other games released in the genre. I would even go as far as saying that after playing this for a while, I didn’t even find it fun anymore. I really wanted to like this game, maybe due to nostalgia or maybe due to just wanting to play a great retro Beat ‘Em Up. If the developers had made a handful of changes to this game, it could easily be in the Top 5 of Beat ‘Em Ups. But, this is the unfortunate final product and hindsight is always 20/20.

Batman ReturnsSNES (1993)

I’m not sure if any movie based game nailed the atmosphere of its source material better than Batman Returns on the SNES. Everything looks spot on, especially the cutscene graphics. Taken right from the movie, the cutscenes use lots of blacks, whites, and grays, rather than a bright color pallet. The colors make the game feel exactly like the movie, and in general, this game does it justice. The Batman Returns movie was dark and gritty, and so is the game.

The first thing you notice when starting this game is that the sprites are very large and colorful. The opening shows a beautiful scene of the Batmobile driving into Gotham. The backgrounds in the game are very detailed and rich. For example, in one of the first levels there is a large Christmas tree in backdrop. The colored lights on the tree continuously change as you fight your way through the level, giving the whole sequence something extra. The backgrounds are also interactive: You can bang enemies off of street signs, throw them into store windows that smash upon the impact, and more. Throughout the game, Batman has many methods of attacks. He is able to punch, jump and kick, swan dive, spin around hitting enemies with his cape (a special move), throw test tubes, or use his batarang and grapple hook. The test tube is used to clear the screen of baddies or damage a boss. While you only have a limited supply, you do pick up extras on your way through the game. The grapple hook is mostly used to swing out of the way, but you can also use it to swing into and hit enemies. The downside of this attack is as soon as you make contact with an enemy, you lose health. I understand that games take health away when you use you special move (this game being no different), but it makes no sense why you lose health when utilizing the grapple hook to combat enemies. It is not your special move.

All of the enemies in this game, with the exception of bosses, are clowns. There are many different types of them: Tall clowns, fat clowns, clowns juggling bowling pins, clowns on stilts, fire breathing clowns, grenade shooting clowns, sword swallowing clowns, clowns on motorcycles, clowns throwing bombs, and large, monstrous clowns that act as stage bosses. This definitely is taken from the movie, but the clown theme does get repetitive. Though Catwoman and the Penguin are the star villains of the movie, in the game all of these clowns seem to take center stage. One of the most satisfying things in the game is grabbing two clowns and smashing them into each other, knocking both out. Beating up enough of these guys throughout the game rewards you with extra lives, which is a huge help.

The bosses in this game are beyond unfair. A few of them are the monstrous clowns previously mentioned, but you also have Catwoman and the Penguin. Catwoman is insanely quick, has ranged attacks with her whip, and can fly back and forth across the screen in a second. I swear she has moments of invincibility too. You can figure out her pattern, but it is still very hard to get out of her way, as Batman is not the most agile superhero ever to live. The Penguin battles are cheap too. There is a time when you fight him in his Rubber Duck vehicle. You have to jump under it as it ascends and then get out of its way before it comes back down. You can just barely make it, but since this game doesn’t have a dash button, I got hit almost every time. Bosses are prime time to be using your stash of test tubes.

This game is yet another casualty of interference from foreground artwork. From street signs to statues to poles, let’s just say they make a better door than a window. There’s one part where a statue covers the entire left side of the screen. It gets in the way and is an unnecessary annoyance. There is another level where there are lots of rocket shooting, armored penguins in the foreground throughout the whole thing. This is pretty much the only time I’ll give foreground art a pass. The penguins look so funny here that you can’t help but laugh. A large army of armored penguins shooting rockets and flapping their beaks talking to each other is pretty hilarious. I was laughing throughout the entire level looking at these guys.

Overall, this game is very well done. However, here are a few negatives that stuck out to me. First, when you finally get to drive the Batmobile, it is nowhere near as awesome as I thought it was going to be. Second, When you are knocked down you aren't even granted a moment of invincibility to get back onto your feet. Third, fighting Catwoman is hard enough, but the second time you fight her there are poles in the foreground that block you from seeing everything that’s going on. Also, Catwoman’s laugh is so annoying that it will haunt your dreams if you play this game too much. Finally, in the game’s option menu it says that in order to use a test tube, you just have to press X. While playing, I could not get the action to work with the X button. I honestly thought my controller was broken and tried using a second controller, but got the same results. Only after I looked this up on the internet did I discover that you have to press either L or R, and THEN press X. It is completely unacceptable to have incorrect information in the options menu.

There are some great Batman games and some terrible ones. Same goes with movies. Batman on NES and the recent Arkham releases are great games. Batman Forever comes to mind as a horrible one. As far as Beat ‘Em Ups go, this one is a great example of a well-made game. The fact that this particular game is 1 –Player really grinds my Batgears. This game feels so much like an arcade game that you can practically see the words ‘2P Insert Coin’ flashing in the top right hand corner of the screen. I understand this follows the movie and there’s not much wiggle room here for a sidekick, seeing as Batman acts alone in the film, but any of these would have been acceptable as the second player’s character: a palette swap of Batman, the Batmobile transformed into some type of bipedal Terminator machine, or even a rocket shooting armored penguin gone rogue. As far as Batman games go, while this might not be the best, it is far from the worst. Batman Returns is personally my favorite of the movies. I remember seeing it as a kid, and the Penguin scared me and my sisters out of our minds. Next time you’re in the mood for Batman, watch the movie and then play the SNES game afterwards. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with both.

Mighty Morphin’ Power RangersSNES (1994)

First off, the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” game for SNES completely rocks! It’s honestly one of my favorite games from the 16-Bit era. This game proves that excellent games can be made from licensed properties.

This game is a side scrolling Beat ‘Em Up where you begin the levels as your un-morphed chosen character and fight your way to until you meet the boss of the stage. At that point your character morphs into their respective Power Ranger with a killer animation while at the same time filling up your health bar. Then you fight through the rest of the level until reaching the boss.

The game is fast. All of the Power Rangers move quickly in the game. They can jump all over the place, even off walls. There is no run button, nor you can’t double tap a direction to dash, but I really feel that the game is fast enough and works well without either.

You are able to choose your character from one of the five different Power Rangers: Trini, Billy, Jason, Kimberly, and Zach. The characters all have the same controls, but each has a unique look, move set, and respective colored uniform and weapons. One great feature of character selection in this game is that you choose a character before every stage. You can continue you play as the same character throughout the whole game, or you can switch it up. If you beat stage one with Zach, and wanted to play stage two with Kimberly, that is entirely possible. This is one of my favorite features of the game because it really keeps everything fresh. However, as is my major complaint with the entire genre, the game suffers from the lack of a two player mode. All five characters were created for the game so why not utilize as many as possible simultaneously?

The game is on the easier side on the spectrum of difficulties. It wasn’t meant to be very hard and it wasn’t meant to be cryptic. It was made for a younger audience and it needs to be taken as that. When it comes to health pickups, nothing is wasted here. If your health bar is full when you pick up a medical kit it will actually heal you past the end of your health bar. On the other hand, if you fall into a pit you do lose all of your health instead of just a portion of it.

The enemies are almost exclusively the Putties from the T.V. show. They come in an array of colors from gray to green to red and so on. The different colors of the Putties are used to differentiate the amount of hits until they’re defeated and also the type of weapon they wield. Even though there isn’t a vast array of enemies, I never felt bored beating them up throughout the game. This game is similar to the ‘Secret of the Ooze’ with regards to the bosses because although I did watch the show as a kid, I didn’t recognize any of them. The bosses do not have health bars, but rather change form as you deal damage to them until they are eventually destroyed.

The soundtrack in the game is one of the best I’ve ever heard. It comes as no surprise, as the music in this game was composed by Kinuyo Yamashita (Yamashita’s other famous works include Castlevania and Mega Man X3) From the 16-bit rendition of the theme song to the amazing Depot level music to the ending song, you will be rocking out the entire time. The music is so fistpump-worthy that you will find yourself humming the songs long after you’ve finished the game. I actually let the ending song continue to play on my T.V. while I was finishing up other things in my room because it is such a great song.

A cool detail of the game is the subtle homage to some classic games. Most of the healing items are medical kits, but every so often you’ll find a turkey leg with a large bone sticking out of it to heal you, a reference to Castlevania. Also, in the first level some Putties roll up in cars. After you defeat the Putties, you have the option to destroy the cars by punching and kicking them Street Fighter II style. It doesn’t affect the game at all, but it’s a nice nod to other games.

While it has many positive aspects, the game is not without its faults. There are some sections that completely derail the game. There are certain sequences where you have to crawl on your knees to get through the level. I really don’t think this was necessary, and it really looks weird seeing the Power Rangers crawling on their hands and knees. All of the authority of their presence is taken away in these sections. The worst part of the game is when you have to swim. You are not able to fight underwater, but Putties are still able to hit you when they’re submerged. You also can’t stand up underwater. This means that you have to wait for the water to clear in order to beat up the enemies or start breaking down a barrier. After a few seconds the water fills up again, forcing you to stop what you’re doing and swim out of range of the enemy attacks. Then, the water will drain again and you can finish off the baddie or destroy the blockage in order to continue on your way. These sections are pointless and only take away from the game.

“Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” is a licensed game that was made correctly. It’s fast, fun, and pulls very well from its source material. The largest drawback of this game is that it is only single player. Though not the end of the world, it really would have much more replayability if you could play co-op in the game. I felt satisfied throughout the game, especially when everything came together in the end. When the Megazord makes its appearance, it completely pumps you up and really give you a second wind to get to the end. This is definitely one of the best 1-Player Beat ‘Em Up games.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Video Game Successors/Sequels with Different Names: Part 2 Marvel Edition

Author: Zachary Latour

Successors/Sequels with Different Names: Part 1

Marvel has had a pretty nice run throughout their career. They’ve had great success with comics, toys, T.V. shows, movies and even video games. There are Marvel characters in games from as far back as Spider-Man on the Atari 2600, and they continue to be used in current generation consoles. Just name a console and more than likely there has been a game released on it that included a character from the gigantic Marvel Universe. Though some of the games have been lackluster, others were excellent and have become classics; my personal favorite being X-Men 2 on the Sega Genesis.

Some of these Marvel games are sequels to other Marvel games, but you wouldn't know it just by reading the title. Below are three Marvel sequels with different names.

Separation Anxiety (SNES/GEN) – Sequel to: Maximum Carnage

Maximum Carnage is a Beat ‘Em Up released by L.J.N. in 1994. The first thing you notice is that this game nails the comic book appearance right from the start. With vibrant colors and hand drawn sprites, the stages and enemies look like part of the source material. The onomatopoeia is great too; there’s just something satisfying about seeing words like ‘THWAK’ and ‘SMASH’ popping out on the screen in large comic print while you’re beating down baddies. I’m not going to say this game pulls off the comic book look better than Comix Zone, but it does a very nice job with it.

Although this game allows you to play as both Spider-Man and Venom, it is actually only 1-player and the different stages dictate when you play as each of the characters. That said, the game provides a number of interesting abilities for the characters. You can button-mash punch and kick like normal, but you can also pick people or objects up and throw them at other enemies. Or, you can grab two nearby enemies at once and smash them into each other. Two different approaches to fighting, and both are very satisfying.

Apart from combat capabilities, the characters are also able to climb on and move freely about the walls. In fact, in some stages you must exclusively climb up or down walls while avoiding hazards. These segments do break up the repetitiveness, but there really isn’t much point to them and they could’ve easily been left out.

One thing I like about this game is that it doesn’t just scroll from left to right. When you reach the end of some of the stages, you actually have go back the way you came, beating up more enemies along the way. You can look at this as being lazy, as one only has to design half of a level and then repeat it to make the gameplay seem twice as long. To me, however, it really breaks up monotony of just walking to the right all the time.

In Separation Anxiety the game finally becomes a 2-player Beat ‘Em Up, with one person playing as Spider-Man and the second player as Venom. Despite this improvement, the game still has problems. One of the biggest nuisances with ‘Separation Anxiety’ is the constant occurrence of objects in the foreground that block part of the screen. Sometimes it’s something small like a lamppost being in the way, but there are times when over 50% of the screen is covered by objects in the foreground. I don’t recall any game with effective use of foreground objects, and this game is no exception.

Another annoyance is the continue system used in ‘Separation Anxiety’. During a 2-player game if one person loses all of their lives, they are done playing until the other character dies. Then both players will start again together. It would have been nice if you could use your continues on the spot, like in Turtles in Time, or at least steal lives from the other player so that both can continue playing the game together. The way it’s done here just seems prehistoric to me.

‘Separation Anxiety’ is definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to being a co-op instead of a single player game, but it is still slightly off from being perfect.

One nice small feature in both of these games is that the enemy’s name is shown next to their life bar as your beat them up. Sometimes you might be fighting someone named ‘Andy’ or ‘Lizzie’, but when you’re fighting a boss, like ‘Doppelganger’ or ‘Shriek’, you learn the names of the villains who are a part of the Spider-Man universe.

The music in both of these games is excellent. Just listen to the theme songs on the title menus for both games to hear the outstanding quality. Although I could listen to both for hours, the Sega Genesis version of the ‘Separation Anxiety’ theme is just epic.

I also love the game over screen for ‘Separation Anxiety’. The four characters on it look particularly badass, and it’s much better than the bland game over screen from ‘Maximum Carnage’.

‘Maximum Carnage’ has no problem standing on its own, but the addition of the 2 player mode is the reason I would always pick ‘Separation Anxiety’ over ‘Maximum Carnage’.

Marvel Super Heroes (SAT/PS1) – Spiritual Successor to: X-Men: Children of the Atom

Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 has become a staple in the Fighting game scene. The massive rosters, great sprite animation, and over-the-top 3 on 3 fights will definitely take you for a ride. Before the Marvel Vs. Capcom series there was a different series that included games like Street Fighter Vs. X-Men and Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter. But even before that we had two games that started the line: ‘X-Men: Children of the Atom’ and ‘Marvel Super Heroes’.

These games started in arcades before being ported to home consoles. One great thing about this series is that each new game incorporated not only brand new characters, but characters from the previous installments as well. This continued over the years, culminating with Marvel Vs. Capcom 2’s massive 56 character roster, which included pretty much every character from earlier games and then some.

X-Men: Children of the Atom is the first fighting game that focused on the X-men universe. The playable characters include Colossus, Cyclops, Iceman, Psylocke, Storm, Wolverine, Omega Red, Sentinel, Silver Samurai, Spiral, Juggernaut, and Magneto. The roster might be small, but all of the characters look great and play smoothly. I also love that the matches don’t always take place in one environment. Like in multiple Mortal Kombat games, it is possible to break through the bottom of the screen into a different area, which can really keep matches fresh.

‘Marvel Super Heroes’ differs from ‘X-Men: Children of the Atom’ by having a roster that incorporates different groups in the Marvel Universe, not just the X-Men section. It includes characters like Captain America, Doctor Doom, The Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Shuma-Gorath, and Thanos. (Not so crazy to see where the inspiration for ‘Marvel Super Heroes Vs. X-Men’ came from now).

One nice addition to this game is the inclusion of the Infinity Gems. A player acquires one of the six gems (Power, Time, Space, Reality, Soul, and Mind) by walking over it, doing something special, or beating it out of the enemy. Then, the gems can be used as a power-up bonus for things like power increase, defense increase, quicker speed, health recovery, etc. This is a great addition to the game, providing boost in the fight and the entertainment value from beating the gems out of your opponent.

I’m not going to say either of these games is better that the other. Both of the games came out when Capcom was king, and it is definitely apparent in the games. The inclusion of the power-up mechanic from the Infinity Gems is a welcome addition to ‘Marvel Super Heroes’, but it doesn’t make ‘Marvel Super Heroes’ a better game than its precursor.

You can’t go wrong playing any game in the long running series of ‘Vs.’ games. The cool thing about mash ups games like these is that, like Super Smash Bros., they really create a means to settle arguments between fans pertaining to who would win in fictional character battles. Fights like Wolverine vs. Doctor Doom and Juggernaut Vs. Colossus can all be seen here. When you get into later titles you can see fights like Captain Commando Vs. Roll, Servbot Vs. Storm, and Jill Valentine Vs. Akuma. This is fan service done right. Play either of these games for the vibrant visuals, smooth controls, great characters, and tons of fun.

War of the Gems (SNES) - Spiritual Successor to: X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse

X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse is a side scrolling Platformer/Beat ‘Em Up. The game focuses around five characters (Gambit, Psylocke, Cyclops, Wolverine, and Beast) as the group is infiltrating the island of Genosha in order to liberate mutants in captivity. You start the game with a choice of the five characters. Each has their own stages to be completed and you can play the stages in any order which is convenient, but unfortunately, the stages are tied to specific characters.

I understand that the different stages are supposed to be happening simultaneously, which is actually a cool plot design, but not being able to be your favorite character throughout the game just doesn’t sit well with me. Since one single character is tied to a specific stage, if that character loses all their lives then no other characters are able to play that level and the game is over.

The graphics, music, and control of ‘X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse’ are all top notch

War of the Gems is also a side-scrolling Platformer/Beat ‘Em Up, but this time the game focuses on Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, and The Hulk attempting to recover all six of the Infinity Gems.

Just like the previous game you start with a choice of five characters, but this time the characters are not tied to specific stages. If Iron Man is your favorite character, you are able to use him through the entire game, or at least until he runs out of lives. The difference here is that even if a character dies, you can continue playing the game as one of the other four characters. Also, you can collect items that will allow you to heal, execute special moves, and even revive slain characters.

Although this game came out later, it doesn’t seem to have the same amount of care put into it as its predecessor: the stage selection screen is boring; the music isn’t up to par; cheap hits are in abundance; and for some reason when Spider-Man shoots his web at enemies, they just stand there frozen for a second, rather than showing an animation of them being wrapped in the web.

One thing I love about both of these games is that in addition to the normal action buttons there are button combinations to pull off other attacks. The button combinations are very similar to those of Street Fighter (the roll characters not the charge characters), which makes sense because Capcom was in charge of both games.

Since button combinations are used for special moves in these games, it would have been nice to have the move set inputs shown in the pause menu as an easy reference. Unfortunately, this is not a feature in the game. However, if you are one of the lucky people who still owns the manuals to these games, inside you can find lists of the characters’ special moves and how to pull them off.

When I was younger and I played ‘War of the Gems’, I liked it a lot more than ‘X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse’. After playing them again back to back just a few weeks ago, it is clear that ‘X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse’, despite its flaws, holds up much better.

Still, I deduct points from both of these games for being 1-Player Beat ‘Em Ups. Neither of these two games came out anywhere near the launch of the system they reside on, so there are no excuses for not allowing a second player. While both games allow you to play as at least one of your favorite mainstream superheroes, ‘X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse’ is the better game.

And, to the artist who drew the art for Psylocke’s butt animation when she’s doing a crouching leg sweep, you are my favorite superhero.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Video Game Successors/Sequels with Different Names: Part 1

Author: Zachary Latour

When it comes to video games, there are many things that are responsible for making us want to play them, especially if it's a game we are unfamiliar with. Cover artwork is probably the #1 thing that can make someone want to impulsively buy or rent a game; if you look at Contra (NES), Turtles in Time (SNES), or Alisia Dragoon (GEN) the artwork alone is great enough to make one pick it out for a weekend rental without knowing what the game is like.

Just like the cover art, the title should pop out, draw you in, and stick with you. The title of a game is what will be remembered the longest. However, a terrible game can also have an amazing title and beautiful cover art, and yet still be terrible. Would a game by any other name be as great? Well, yes in fact, it would be. 'Metroid' would be just as perfect even if it was titled, 'Samus Aran and the Planet of Zebes'. 'Chrono Trigger' would be just as epic if it was called 'Defeating Evil Through Time: Did I Remember to Feed My Cat?'. However, the perfect title of a game is like the proper punctuation at the end of a sentence: it ties everything together in a nice package.

One of the most important things a title is responsible for is being able to keep a series together. Through the use of subtitles and/or numbering, sequels are able to be clearly identified as a part of a set, making it easy to find other installments. Let’s take a title like ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’ and pick it apart. The first thing we are told by the title is the franchise that the game comes from, ‘Call of Duty’. Second, it tells us the series that the game comes from, ‘Modern Warfare’. Third, it says the chronological number where this specific release resides in the series, 2. There is no doubt that ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’ was released after 1 and before 3. There may be nothing special that stands out about this particular title, but it provides us with all the information we need to know.

Some series went in a different direction than the numerical naming pattern. Even though it was a sequel or a spiritual successor, the title was changed between games. This could be due to copyrights, being lost in translation, or the game diverging so the name didn’t quite fit. Let’s take a look at some sequels/spiritual successors that gamers might not know are part of more well-known series, because they used an unconventional naming scheme.

College Slam (SNES/GEN) – Spiritual Successor to: NBA Jam

NBA Jam T.E. took an already whacky amazing sports game, NBA Jam, and added an updated roster and new features to it. The new features included things like Hot Spots that would increase the points received for a shot made from a specific point on the court; Power-Up Icons that would power the player up when they collected them; and Juice Mode which sped the entire game up. All of these additions took a crazy look at basketball and brought it to a whole new level.

College Slam is the college basketball game equivalent of NBA Jam T.E., and it’s really the most refined game in the series. All the insanity of NBA Jam series, from the great announcer, the amazing dunks, and ‘being on fire’ carry over to the third installment. College Slam retains all the additions of NBA Jam T.E. and incorporates extras like being able to play an entire season, play only the final four, and being able to edit the team roster.

NBA Jam offers us the ability to play as most of our favorite players from the NBA during that era, but College Slam leaves player names out of the game completely, leaving position titles in place of them. I find this awkward as College Slam is an officially licensed college sports game. If it had to do with roster changes, well, there was no DLC in the 90s, so even NBA Jam rosters were only completely accurate during the time that the game was officially released. The names of the 5 positions on the team roster are able to be changed in College Slam as well as the stat points of said positions, including speed, dunk, pass, 3pt, etc. You are able to rename every position of every team in the game and adjust stats accordingly. Technically it is possible to make any roster, out of the 44 selectable teams, up to date even up to today in College Slam. (There is a maximum of how many points can be allocated in total to each position, so don’t think you can just max out your favorite team and completely wreck house every time you play.)

IMHO College Slam is the best game in the series and takes the already crazy NBA Jam T.E. to new heights of ridiculousness. What it comes down to is your preference between playing with NBA teams or college teams. Either way, these games are drenched with charm. NBA Jam will always be the household name that everyone remembers and loves, but that doesn’t mean that College Slam has to forever live in its shadow.

Total Carnage (SNES) – Spiritual Successor to: Smash TV

Smash TV is one of the best 90s arcade games that transferred perfectly to the SNES. Smash TV is a dual stick shooter about a game show where the contestants try to kill and blow up everything in separate linked rooms, while collecting VCRs, lifetime supplies of meat, and paid vacations. It’s loaded with different weapons and power ups that can be collected to help get you through the game. Beating the stage bosses, as well as trying to rack up a higher score than the other player, is the overall objective of Smash TV

Total Carnage takes Smash TV and brings it in a different direction while still keeping the same elements in play. Where Smash TV had divided rooms with a break in between killing waves of enemies, Total Carnage takes a more linear approach, with enemies coming at you with more of an even flow. Both games feature multiple ways you are able to progress through the game in order to get to the end of it; Smash TV has multiple exits from completed rooms which can bring you different ways each time you play, and Total Carnage has portals scattered all over it that will take you to different locations. One of the best things about the arcade version of Smash TV is that the graphically violent visuals are so well done, and unfortunately the SNES port loses a lot of the visuals due to hardware limitations. The death visuals in Total Carnage are pretty well done on the SNES port compared to its predecessor.

Comparing these two games is like asking, ‘Do you like your chaos organized or not?’. Super Smash TV is like having your dinner on a tray where the peas, potatoes, bread, and steak are all in their own separate sections where they can’t touch each other and you’re free to eat each section in whichever order you’d like. Total Carnage is like taking the same food, putting it on a plate, mixing all of it together, and having some of everything in each bite. Yes, both contain the same elements, but they will look and taste drastically different.

Smash TV understands that it is insane, and it really creates a perfect atmosphere where things like the funny game show host and all other quirky parts of the game just seem to work really well together. Total Carnage seems to throw its humor in your face so there's no way you can miss any of it. Unfortunately, the Total Carnage port suffers from slowdown whereas the Super Smash TV port does not. Also, the SNES version of Super Smash TV has a speed up code that makes the game double the speed and honestly about a million times more fun. Both games are very unique and at least deserve a try to find out which one you prefer, but the replay value, speed up mode, and zero slowdown of Super Smash TV make it unparalleled in comparison.

Super C / Operation C (Game Boy) - Sequel to: Contra

Given that the iconic ‘C’ is on the label of both games, this title isn’t the furthest stretch on a name change. Although, when I was a kid and I would go to Funcoland, they would have a newspaper that listed the game platforms, the game titles, and the game’s price. If I saw ‘Super C’ or ‘Operation C’ typed out on the paper with no screenshot or artwork, I would have had no clue that these two games had anything to do with Contra. Contra Force isn’t much like the core series, but due to its title, it would seem to me like that game has more right to the series than ‘Super C’ or ‘Operation C’ does. There’s no reason ‘Super C’ couldn’t have been titled ‘Super Contra’, and ‘Operation C’ couldn’t have been titled ‘Contra Operation’.

‘Operation C’ takes the formula that made Contra and ‘Super C’ excellent and applies it to the Gameboy. There are side scrolling and vertical scrolling levels in this game just like in the previous installments. Some of the power ups seen in this game are new, like the homing shot, and some have been left out that were introduced in prior games. The game is fast, fun, and feels exactly like a Contra game in every way; the downside is that it is only one player. Back in the day, if you wanted a portable version of Contra then ‘Operation C’ was pretty much all you could ever ask for.

It really is difficult to say which of these two games is better, because it’s like looking at a set of twins that have different hidden talents and choosing which one you like the most. One might make you laugh and one might make you cry, so either of these could be your favorite depending on what kind of mood you happen to be in. If you travel a lot, ‘Operation C’ might be your favorite. If you like hanging around the television, Contra might be more to your liking. I’m personally torn on which I think is better. Contra is a masterpiece, but ‘Operation C’ always blows my mind from the second I put it into my old brick Game Boy and slide the power switch to the right.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Download Gamestop Trade-in Prices in Price Guide

The internet meme isn't entirely accurate, but now you can find out how much Gamestop will really offer with a simple download from our custom price guides.

If you own a game store you can use the guide to make sure your trade prices are competitive with Gamestop's.

We regularly check Gamestop's Trade-in prices online and update the price guides daily with the most recent price.

Right now Gamestop offers trade prices online for all current generation consoles and the previous generation too. Xbox One and Xbox 360. Playstation 4 and Playstation 3. Etc.

To add the trade-in prices to a price guide check the "Trade Prices" box for Gamestop then complete payment.



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