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Snake, Rattle ‘N Roll

Snake Rattle N' Roll Box cropped

Undoubtedly, the 8-bit Nintendo era was the perfect casual crossroads in videogame technology- think of it as the iPhone of it’s day. Let me explain: At the time of it’s release  NES was far more cost efficient than a computer, with the savings far out-weighing what those computers could offer the casual consumer for entertainment. It also offered the potential for more complex types of games, as compared to the vastly inferior blocks and bleeps of the Atari 2600 and other contenders prior to those who didn’t survive the infamous early 80s video game industry crash.

As the NES found its way into more and more living rooms, it became an ideal platform for the ultimate casual player time-sink; puzzle games. From my own childhood, I can comfortably say that the release of the NES version of Tetris caused a massive influx of casual gaming interest. Different from the Wii boom, this was still a time when videogames were viewed as little more than children’s toys, and as a result this first casual revolution did not serve to sell more Nintendo consoles to casual players but instead saw game time on your own Nintendo eroded by your parent’s newly sparked interest in your “toy”.

Over its lifespan, the NES saw some of the most beloved and enduring puzzle games in history grace its 72-pin connector. Titles such as Tetris (the GameBoy iteration is arguably the greatest videogame ever made), Dr. Mario, Yoshi, and Yoshi’s Cookie, Irem’s Kickle Cubicle, Lode Runner, Solomon’s Key, and even such action/puzzle hybrid games as The Adventures of Lolo, Rainbow Islands, and Bomberman. Of course there is one title that I feel rises above all the rest, and remains today one of the greatest and most under-appreciated game from that era.

Released by Nintendo in July 1990, and developed by famed studio Rare, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll stands alone in its unique action/puzzle gameplay offering. Taking a page from Atari’s 1984 coin-op Marble Madness, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll’s gameplay takes place on a colorful multiscreen isometric grid, complete with platforms and terrain. You play as a snake, navigating these multi-leveled isometric playing fields in search of “Nibbley Pibbleys”, small sphere like creatures, which you eat. Consuming nibbley pibbleys increases the overall length of your snake ,and thereby increases the amount of damage you can take. After enough nibbley pibbleys are eaten, your now-lengthened body will begin to blink, signalling that you can now exit the stage. Your biggest threats are environmental hazards such as spikes and pits, and the various enemies that roam the levels.

When damaged, you risk losing segments of your body. Preventing this at all costs is important, because after finding the exit to a level, you can only unlock the door by first standing on a weight scale located nearby. If you are too light, the exit remains sealed and you must hunt for more nibbley pibbleys. The game features 11 stages of increasing difficulty, with the stages past 4 becoming brutally hard. But the difficulty of the game is such that you never feel that you are killed unfairly, and part of the fun of the game is finding the easiest way to clear each stage. None-the-less, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll is an extremely challenging, yet oddly addictive, hybrid action puzzle title. Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll added another dimension to the gameplay with multiplayer co-op, something not often seen in puzzle games of the era. With a second player working to clear stages, the mode adds an additional element of strategy– trying to keep both snakes well fed makes the co-op more competitive than co-operative at times. Success, however, is determined by having both players finish each level, so it is imperative that you strike the correct balance.

If you manage to make it to the end of the game, you’re treated to a screen hinting at a sequel called Snakes in Space. Though such a sequel was never released, a portable version did see the light of day on Nintendo’s GameBoy. However, the gameplay style was altered from an isometric puzzle game to a side-scrolling platformer, killing off much of the charm and challenge that made the original so special. If you are looking for something different, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll is a true gem, and is worthy of a thorough play-through even today. The addicting, fast paced gameplay and bright, colourful environments make this a high watermark in the NES’s game library worth the revisit.

Chasing Carts: All Zelda CIB (Update #5)

This is a reoccurring feature here were I provide updates in my quest to own all of the Zelda games complete-in-box. Play catch up on my progress by checking out my flagship entry, the first update, the second update, the third update, and the fourth update .

If you are among my most faithful readers, than you already know all about my awesome Christmas present which I got from my amazing wife, but the gift came with a game also-  which means I get to add another CIB Zelda to my collection:

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few months, you will also know that the long awaited follow-up to The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess was released this past November. Of course, I was there on launch day:

The last game I added was of the last Zelda GBA game that I needed, the NES Classic Series port of the original The Legend of Zelda. I was hesitant to pick this up as the price has risen quite steadily since the GBA was discontinued, but I finally found a really nice copy for under $20 shipped, so I jumped at the deal.

There you have it. I am few steps closer to completing my CIB Zelda collection. I plan to make a push and finally get this completed this year. Check below for an update on the list, slowly but surely…

The Legend of Zelda (Classic Series version, grey cart) (NES)
The Adventure of Link (Classic Series version, grey cart) (NES)
The Legend of Zelda (Classic Series) (GBA)
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Gameboy)
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Regular version without holographic cart)(N64)
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Gamecube)
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) 
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) 

Anime Bravo Foxtrot: Why UN Squadron is Essential

A popular theme in many manga (mangi?) and anime flicks is the retconning of World World II. Games, manga and anime such as Valkyria Chronicles, Operation Darkness, and Pumpkin Scissors all take the setting, esthetic and look of 1940′s Europe and each add their own twist, whether that be mechs, steampunk technology, or field medics in fetish outfits.

Pictured: War

A casual glance at the cart for UN Squadron elicits virtually no excitement at all. It appears to be a run-of-the- mill, throw away cart- a game that seems to belong along side Bill Elliot Nascar and Bulls Vs. Lakers in a thrift store bargain bin.

Save for one, very important part of the label… the little red rectangle that says “Capcom”. Capcom, fresh off dominating the third party library of the Nintendo Entertainment System, began it’s reign of 16 bit effulgence primarily with arcade ports, such as Final Fight and UN Squadron.

However, where the SNES port of Final Fight is ultimately remembered as a famously co-op free misstep, UN Squadron is barely remembered at all.

Beneath the generic label and uninspired name, lies what Super Famicom players knew as Area88; a challenging, colorful 16-bit actioner that separates itself from the formulaic design of the standard spaceship shmup in a couple of ingenious ways. Having more in common with Gradius than After Burner, UN Squadron strayed further form both by adding non linear stages, upgradable and selectable weapons and aircrafts, and a most revolutionary of all, a health bar.


Game Boy Screen Replacement

As you may well recall, I picked up an original Game Boy DMG-01 at a thrift store for $5.99 a few weeks ago. Not bad, not too bad at all. In fact, the only downside to the deal was the screen on the Game Boy was shit.

Back in 1989 when the Game Boy was first released the primary user base were grade school children. Most Game Boys were subjected to a harsh treatment from the moment they left their packaging; stuffed into under-sized pockets, careless tossed into backpacks not to mention the endless hours bouncing around in the back seat during car trips. And once they fell out of use they were often stored in less than ideal conditions, thrown in attics, crawl spaces and under piles of in closets, drawers and storage rooms.

Nintendo is known for their extremely durable build quality, often leaving the case in great shape, with the soft plastic screen to showing most of the wear.

Thankfully, replacement screens for all models of the Game Boy are plentiful and cheap. I picked the replacement screen I am using here for around$3 on Ebay, brand new. Just make sure you get the right screen, as Game Boy Color screens are not interchangeable with the original model.

Another plus is that replacing the screen is incredibly easy and takes about 5 minutes, all told. All you need are a Game Boy that needs a new screen, a replacement screen, and an xacto knife or small flat screwdriver. It is also a good idea to have a soft clean cloth, a can of pressurized air, some fine-grit sand paper and some crazy glue.

Begin by using the knife to gently pry up the screen. I prefer to use the hobby knife, or retractable box cutter because you have  a bit more give, and are less likely to chip the Game Boy around the edges of the screen than if you use a screwdriver.

Work your way around the edges of the screen until you can easily pry it off using the knife. Most Game Boys are round 20 years old, so the glue should not put up much of a fight.

After you have the old screen off you can discard it. Next, take the fine-grit sand paper and gently remove some of the glue from recessed screen area. This will help the new screen fit a bit more flush and stick better, however, this step is not necessary and can be skipped. Take your can of air and blow any dust from the screen area. It is surprising how much dust can accumulate under the screen. This will also remove any loose glue bits as a result of your sanding. After all the dust is blown out, take your soft, dry cloth and carefully wipe the LCD screen itself for good measure, making sure it is spotless and clean.

90% of all after market replacement screens you will come across will already have an adhesive back, but putting three or four small dots of super glue on the area the screen will cover will help is stay in place even if the adhesive gives out.

Make sure the screen is placed properly and press into the recesses on the Game Boy firmly. and there you have it- an honest to god, almost brand new Game boy for under $10!

NES Finds and Deadly Gets!

I have been off of collecting for the NES for a few years now, mainly because there aren’t that many games left for the console that I feel I desperately need, and I only have about 100 carts. There are still a couple titles I am actively seeking, however, and I do occasionally switch out a loose cart for a CIB set. These are my NES finds over the last few months.

My dad actually picked this bare bones NES console for me at a thrift store. The price was $5.99, and the 72 pin connector (as well as the general condition of the console) is like new. I am pretty impressed. I gave it a good cleaning and I now have another back-up Nintendo.

I upgraded my kind of ratty cart-only copy of Mega Man 3 for this descent shape CIB copy. I am not one of those collectors that has to have the boxes in perfect mint condition, so I am very happy with this copy. Mega Man 2 will always be number one with a bullet, but any series where a game this refined and near-perfect is second best is pretty amazing.

I have always been a fan of the Kirby games, especially part 3 for the SNES, but at the same time I have always found them to be lacking any semblance of challenge. At any rate, this minty CIB copy of Kirby’s Adventure replaces a cart only that went missing from my mom and dad’s place many years ago.

I picked this up for dirt cheap from Replay Games on a hunch it would a worthy sequel to Sunsoft’s amazing NES original. It’s not. The game is pretty good, I guess, but it suffers from being WAY harder than it needs to be and that really hurts the playability. I am no slouch for hard games, but Batman: The Return of the Joker is far to cheap and unforgiving.

This is actually a cart I have been looking at getting for a while now. I remember having poured untold hours into this game as a kid. I am a big fan of PC point-and-click adventure games, and this is about as close as you can get on the NES. It’s kind of like playing a cross between an Alfred Hitchcock movie and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, I.E. totally bad-ass and awesome.

Uninvited is another game I rented a lot and played the crap out of as a kid. I only paid $15 for this, and it seems to go for $20+ easy on Ebay. Much like Deja Vu (and Shadowgate) it’s a PC style point-and-click adventure game ported from the Macintosh, if I am not mistaken. Uninvited has you searching a haunted mansion trying find your missing girlfriend after you wake up alone in a crashed car. My friends and I used to try and find all the hilarious and gruesome ways you could die in the game. It’s pretty fun exploring a creepy old mansion, triggering booby traps and getting killed. Not in real life, though. That would be terrible.

Free Games are Great

This past Monday I was killing some downtime at work by checking the video game section of my local online classified site, when I saw an ad called “Free Gamecube and Games”. Naturally, I was hesitant, as 4 out of every 5 ads I answer on classified websites never seem to go anywhere. However, having nothing better to do I figured I would investigate further. Forty-five minutes later I was back at my desk with THIS sweet little  haul:

ALL FOR FREE! I just had to drive 10 km from my office and pick it up.

My freebie Gamecube lot includes a Silver Gamecube console with matching Silver controller, a third party memory card, a third party wireless controller with receiver and the following games, all complete and in really good condition; Mario Kart: Double Dash, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, Medal of Honour: Frontline, Donkey Konga 2, Starfox Adventures and James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire.

I had none of these games, save for Mario Kart, so that is an added bonus.

In this day and age, with people  auctioning off the crap in their attics thinking they will strike it rich, you don’t often see video games being given away for free. All because some asshole found a copy of Stadium Events, sold for $30,000 and it got reported on CNN.

My Gamecube bundle benefactor made no such assumptions of value. He just wanted it out of his house because he had moved on and was sick of looking at it. Fine by me.  I have a certain small place in my heart reserved specifically for free games.


Hard Games: The Good, the Bad, and the Broken

Nintendo games are hard. It’s a fact.

Pictured: hard fucking games

A lot of old Nintendo games are, as a matter of principal, really hard… but let’s be honest here. Video games these days for the most part are moronically easy. There are exceptions to this rule, but the rule remains. Challenging video games are a dying art form.

Back in the 8-bit era games had to be hard in order to justify paying $60 (or more) for a video game with 6 stages. Video games of this time period were not played for the amazing, dramatic story arcs, or for mining achievements and trophies- they were played for fun, and often times the fun came from the challenge itself.

If you actually did beat a difficult video game, you either had to have your mom’s camera ready (and I swear, no child took a successful photograph of a TV screen before digital cameras) or have friends present to witness the feat. Barring either of the these scenarios meant that no one would believe you. I swear to god, I bet Mike Tyson in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, but to this day not a single one of my friends believes me because I did it alone in my apartment in 2006. Dicks.

The near unplayably hard games for the NES were not just the Bayou Billys, the Amagons, or the Golgo 13s of the NES library. Some of the most loved and fondly remembered video games from the NES era were genuinely challenging affairs. The first 3 Mega Man games, Castlevania I- III, and Contra are among the best and hardest games of the late 80′s and early 90′s. They were also massive financial successes.

The difficulty type of 8-bit video games really falls into two separate and distinct categories; artificial difficulty and actual difficulty.

Actual, genuinely hard games slowly ramp up the difficulty and always make the player the master of their own fate. The room-crossing lasers in Quickman’s stage from Mega Man 2, the Grim Reaper boss from Castlevania, the final level in Super C. They are all hard, but fairly so. When you die you only have yourself to blame. Enough practice and you can master these obstacles and fly through without a second thought.

Artificial difficulty, commonly referred to as “cheap” difficulty, bursts from the seams of the most irritating hard games because they are, first and foremost, unfair. Randomly disappearing platforms, picky hit detection, over powered enemies, difficult and out of place platforming sections, and the combination of poor level design and one-hit-kill environmental traps all contribute to give a hard game an overall stink of cheapness.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The fucking birds.

Ninja Gaiden, a series famous for it’s high difficulty has three games (the NES trilogy) that entirely owe their reputation as controller smashers to those winged devils. Those fucking Ninja Gaiden birds still haunt my nightmares, and the nightmares of every gamer who has subjected themselves to the original TECMO Ninja Gaiden games. Seriously, jumps that were often hard by themselves, plus birds? Together? CONSTANTLY?

Some games, most notably Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, straddle the boundary between actually hard and artificially hard. One could argue that the first half of Zelda II is actually hard, in a good way. A fun, challenging platforming action game that gets a lot of things right. The second half of the game however switches gears, and becomes critically difficult. While certainly grind heavy through-out, it becomes an absolute nightmare to achieve the highest levels because the enemies that yield the most experience are often overpowered and difficult to kill.

“Fuck it. Let her sleep.”

The last few palaces become nightmarishly long themselves, and the frustration mounts as the task of even uncovering their locations becomes more and more convoluted.

In an ironic twist, the North American version of Zelda II was intentionally made to be more difficult than the original Japanese Famicom Disk System version. Conclusion? Nintendo of America hated us.

Deadly SNES Gets!

I have been on a big Super Nintendo kick over the last few months. I have always loved the SNES, but I have mostly been in it for the RPGs, so to speak. I have resolved to start filling in the gaps in my collection and I must say is that it’s going very well thus far. I picked all these carts up in a few lots on Racket Boy, Ebay, and from my local game store Replay Games. Without further ado…

First thing is first, Contra III: The Alien Wars has been noticeably absent from my collection. I am a hardcore Contra fan from way back, and I am really pumped to finally have a copy. The game is awesome. You should play it.

Again, another absentee from my SNES collection. I was never a huge fan of the first 3 (4) games for the NES (Famicom), but this 16-bit rendition feels different from the 8-bit titles, and I mean that in a good way. I picked this one up locally from Replay Games. A pretty good little platformer, but it comes nowhere near Super Mario World’s total dominance of the genre.

This is another cart I picked up at Replay,  and the one game of all of the titles in this post that blew me away the most. I already had (and played the shit out of) Super R-Type, and R-Type III absolutely blows it (and all the SNES Gradius games) out of the water. Huge, varied bosses, amazing graphics, insane power-up and a fantastic soundtrack all elevate this game to near perfect status. The difficulty is high, but it never seems cheap or unfair. Highly recommended, and I am not that big of a shmup fan.

X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse is a game that I had always seen but never gave a second thought to. I started hearing some good things about it, so I took a chance and picked it up off of Ebay. The game cost me $6 shipped (don’t pay much more, you can find it pretty cheap if you dig). All and all a pretty solid action game, worthy of a pick-up. It is not quite a mind-bendingly difficult (or fantastic) as the Genesis X-Men games, Clone Wars especially, but solid none-the-less.

A classic. I am kind of ashamed I didn’t own this already. Amazing graphics, great music, challenging (to say the very,very least)- this game has it all. A genuine requirement if you are a Super Nintendo enthusiast.

This is a title that I have wanted for a LONG time, but I just never seemed to be able to find it locally or online for cheap. I finally went for broke and found a copy on Ebay for $12 shipped, and I am in love. This is probably my favourite from this post, and the game I am still currently playing (the Temple of Doom levels are hard as shit!). It’s a pitch perfect adaptation of the Indiana Jones movies, and is one of the best games on the SNES. It was made by the same team and uses the same engine as the SNES Star Wars games. Speaking of which…

I have never owned these, or really given them much playtime previously as I am not a fan of the Star Wars franchise, but I must say they did right by the series with this trilogy. I haven’t given them an in-depth probing, but they all seem to look good, play good, and have a decent level of challenge. I look forward to giving them more of my time in the future.

I got this one in a lot with the Star Wars games, and it seems to be a complicated bridge simulator. It certainly seems like something I can get into, as I am a casual Star Trek fan, but we’ll see. There are too many good games, so this one may sit on the shelf for a bit before it gets a play-through.

Last, and certainly not least, I picked up this awesome Nintendo Power Player’s Guide which covers a variety of early SNES games. The game is done in the classic early 90′s Nintendo Power Player’s Guide style and is full of strategies, hints and maps for such classics as Actraiser, Super Castlevania IV, Final Fanatsy II, UN Squadron, and piles more. I actually got this for a steal on Ebay ($2.50!) so I can’t complain about it rough-ish condition.

All in all, my SNES collection is getting pretty fantastic, and I still have a whole mental check list of games I want to add. You’re next, Wild Arms

Game Boy / Tetris Thrift Store Gets

I was killing some time on my lunch hour last week, rummaging through a local secondhand store, when I stumbled across a couple pretty awesome finds. First up,I snapped up the Game Boy pictured above for a measly $6. Not bad. As I was examining the condition of the Game Boy (in great shape, by the way. screen is a bit scratched up though) I noticed a nice little bonus:

The Game Boy version of Tetris is not only the best version of the beloved Russian puzzle game in existence, but may well be one of the greatest video games of all time. It is required to own this game if you have a Game Boy, and it seems that line of thinking has carried on into the second hand market. What makes the inclusion of the Tetris cart with the Game Boy kind of funny is that in another part of the store, in a glass display case, they had another copy of Game Boy Tetris, cart only, for $7.99. Score one for me!

In the same store, amongst the kids junk toys I also just happened across another copy of Tetris, this time for the NES. Price? A paltry $4. This was good for me because I accidentally (long story) sold my copy of Tetris for the original Nintendo a few years back and had finally had a copy drop into my lap.

Arc the Lad Collection

Arc the Lad was a series of strategy RPGs released in Japan for the PlayStation. The first game in the series, Arc the Lad, was released in Japan in June of 1995. Following that, Arc the Lad II was released in June 1996 and Arc the Lad III in October 1999.

However, the English speaking world did not see any games in the series until Working Designs lovingly localized the first three PS1 titles in one boxset released as Arc the Lad Collection. In addition to the three translated and localized games, the collection also included a bonus game call Arc Arena: Monster Tournament, an add-on game in which monsters collected in ATL II could be pit against each other and weapons and items could be traded with other players via memory card.

The set came with 6 discs in total, the four games spanning fives of the discs. The sixth disc was a making of video entitled The Making of Arc the Lad which focused primarily on Working Designs thorough localization process, and featured interviews with Victor Ireland, then-president of Working Designs.

Additionally, the set came with a full color leatherette-bound hardcover book encompassing the traditional instruction manual, but also including tips, tricks and artwork.

Rounding out the boxset, was an Omake box full of goodies. Inside the Omake box were several other bits of merchandise, including a  branded memory card case, 22 cardboard character standees, and analogue stick covers featuring characters from the series. All of this came in the Omake box itself, a magnetic closing rigid cardboard case decorated with artwork form the series.

Arc the Lad Collection is another example of the lengths Working Designs went to in order to localize Japanese RPGs and give them the respect and attention not commonly given to the genre at that time and is certainly worth it’s price for any RPG or PlayStation collector.


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