Thursday, October 18, 2018

Five reasons I (mostly) hate myself for waiting 26 years to play Super Mario Land 2 for the first time

You may have heard me grouse here or there about the fact that I've never played Super Mario Land 2 for the GameBoy.

It's my own fault, of course. No one kept me from playing it.

The thing is, I can't really say what did keep me from playing it all this time. Which is strange, as I recall enjoying the original Super Mario Land quite a bit back in the day.

Granted, that title launched alongside Nintendo's first handheld in 1989. And it was a lot easier to please GameBoy owners then than it was when Super Mario Land 2 followed it onto store shelves in 1992.

Did I become a more discerning game fan during the three-and-a-half-year span between those two releases? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Far more likely, in my opinion, is that I couldn't shake the (admittedly uninformed) feeling Super Mario Land 2 was little more than a poor man's version of Super Mario World.

Do I still feel that way about the game now that I've played and even beaten it? (I accomplished the latter last week.) Not really, and here are five reasons why:

It's far less of a Super Mario World ripoff than I assumed it to be--Some of you probably are wondering why I ever thought Super Mario Land 2 was a ripoff of Super Mario World. To be honest, I can't remember. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the Mario sprites in both games look pretty darn similar? Regardless, I no longer have such an erroneous opinion of the iconic character's second portable outing. Instead, I now respect its uniqueness and even silliness.

The zone maps are everything--Seriously, how could Nintendo give us something so fabulous and then never return to it? Each and every one of the zone maps included in Super Mario Land 2 brought a smile to my face during my breezy playthrough, though the Mario, Pumpkin, and Space ones especially thrilled me. Admittedly, they're just maps--and single-screen maps, at that. Still, they add a sense of childish whimsy to the experience that most side-scrolling Mario games lack.

Many of its enemies remind me of the first Super Mario Land--And by that I mean they're completely bonkers, of course. They're also a breath of fresh air compared to their counterparts that appear in nearly every other Mario game in existence. I mean, who needs Goombas and Koopas when you have pigs who shoot cannonballs out of their huge snouts (they're called Bomubomu) and fish-cow combos (Mōgyo) that try to gore you with their pointed horns?

I like its mostly unique (for the Mario series) soundtrack--I'm used to Mario games featuring tons of reused tunes. That's not the case here. In fact, I'm not sure any of Super Mario Land 2's music was pulled from previous entries in the long-running series. Regardless, pretty much every song this cartridge offers up is almost profanely exuberant. That makes playing through this platformer even more grin-inducing than it would be if it sported the typical Mario soundtrack.

A late-in-the-game stage pays homage to the "Balloon Trip" mode of Balloon Fight--Some of you may not know this, but I absolutely adore the "Balloon Trip" mode of Balloon Fight. It's the ultimate "just one more try" type of game experience for me. Does this mean I've been playing the Super Mario Land 2 stage alluded to above over and over again since I first encountered it? Not on your life. I sure enjoyed my first time through it, though, and I'll always look forward to it in future attempts.

As for that "mostly" I hid in this post's headline, well, I did that because I don't love each and every aspect of Super Mario Land 2. For example, jumps in this game feel stiffer than they do in other Mario side-scrollers. Also, it's far from the meatiest platformer I've ever played. (I finished it in a few minutes over three hours.)

Despite those minor missteps, I had a blast getting to know Super Mario Land 2 via my trusty 3DS recently. It was the polar opposite of the samey New Super Mario Bros. titles Nintendo's frustratingly focused on for the last decade-plus.

Here's hoping whoever there heads up the next Mario sequel turns to this 1992 release for a bit of inspiration.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Crazy Climber (WonderSwan)

I've long ignored Crazy Climber for WonderSwan because it looked just a little too antiquated for my liking.

Granted, the original arcade version of the game came out all the way back in 1980, so this portable port from 1999 was bound to have an old-fashioned air to it, too.

If this is your first foray into the world of Crazy Climber, you're probably wondering: wasn't it updated or modernized at all between 1980 and 1999?

You'd think so, but as far as I can tell, the answer to that question amounts to "not really."

Maker and publisher Nichibutsu improved the looks of most of its console ports and sequels, but even Crazy Climber 2000 (from--you guessed it--the year 2000, and released for the original PlayStation) features the same "scale a skyscraper using two joysticks" (or directional pads) gameplay as the quarter-muncher that birthed the series 38 years ago.

So what prompted me to do an about-face and pick up a copy of this nichiest of niche titles? One catalyst was that I found out it's played holding the WonderSwan system vertically. (I've always been a sucker for that.) Another was its cartoonish and colorful box art.

Speaking of Crazy Climber's lovely cover illustration, I've got admit I kind of assumed it meant the game's instruction manual would be stuffed with similarly eye-popping imagery.

Boy, was I wrong. In fact, except for the manual's last spread, it's nearly devoid of art. The only exception is the awkwardly drawn hands found in the lower-left corner of page seven.

Don't take that to mean I'm disappointed with my purchase. I'm still glad I own this version of Crazy Climber. Hell, I'm still glad I own this booklet. Its cover and second-to-last page alone make it worth every penny.

If you're wondering what the illustrations on the second-to-last page are supposed to represent, by the way, that would be the game's "characters." I put it in quotes because some of the depicted objects obviously don't fit the typical definition of the word.

Anyway, you encounter all of these so-called characters as you (attempt to) make your way to the top of each of Crazy Climber's mammoth buildings.

Most aim to do you harm. The lone exception: the "lucky balloon." It kindly hauls you up a handful of floors without asking for anything in return.

One last comment before I declare this post complete: click on any of the scans you see here to take a closer look at them.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Engacho! and Lode Runner for WonderSwan

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Dungeon Land (GameBoy)

You may remember Dungeon Land is the Japanese GameBoy title I bought because it featured "enemy flan."

Or you may remember it because it was Enix's maiden release for Nintendo's first handheld game system. It's even possible you remember its magnificently colorful cover art.

And if you don't remember Dungeon Land, or if this post is introducing you to it, that's cool, too.

Either way, uh, here's that old game's instruction manual!

You might think I'm disappointed that Dungeon Land's manual isn't as salmon-y as its outer box.

That was my initial reaction to it, I've got to admit, but now that I've had some time to reflect, I actually quite like the black-gray-yellow scheme its designers used instead.

That's hardly the only interesting or impressive aspect of this booklet, however. For example, it also features a good number of eye-catching illustrations--like the ones you see in this spread.

The second page above seemingly details the game's story, by the way. (As far as I can tell, the text at the top says something along the lines of "About Dungeon Land.")

I can't tell you what those details are, sadly, as I can't understand them.

I'm sure it creatively explains why this title is part board game and part role-playing game, though. Or at least I hope that's the case.

Because it includes RPG elements, Dungeon Land has its share of fantastic enemy characters. You can see some of them--including the flan baddie I mentioned earlier--in the right-hand page below.

Even more "monsters" are showcased across the next spread. I think these are some of the game's bosses, actually--though don't quote me on that.

Whatever they are, I love them. I'm not sure why they have three names, unfortunately. Or maybe the three words above their heads aren't names at all? Maybe they just explain their three "phases" or something like that?

As you probably can tell, I haven't played much of Dungeon Land to date. That's because role-playing board games aren't a whole lot of fun when you don't understand much of the text they throw at you.

To be honest, it probably wouldn't be much fun even if I did know what was going on at all times. Maybe it's just me, but I rarely enjoy tackling digital board games on my own.

Still, I'm glad I own a copy of Dungeon Land. Who knows, maybe someday I'll rope another human being into playing it with me. Or maybe I'll learn enough Japanese to find out it's a blast even when experienced alone.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Burning Paper, NoobowPainter Momopie, Peetan, and Snow Bros. Jr.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Susano-o Densetsu (PC Engine)

If only I'd penned and published this post last summer as intended.

Back then, one of my favorite retro-game blogs, The Brothers Duomazov, was still alive and well.

OK, so maybe "well" isn't the right word to use here. After all, it hadn't been updated in more than three years at that point.

I could access and enjoy all of its reviews of old PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16 games whenever I wanted, though, and that was more than enough for me. (I swear I read some of them at least 10 times each. They were like comfort food for me.)

I bring up The Brothers Duomazov, by the way, because it was one of the only sites that offered up any real information on this obscure, Japan-only RPG from 1989.

Also, it pushed me to buy a copy of the game. Before I read the brothers' thoughts on Susano-o Densetsu, I skipped right over it each and every time I came across it on eBay or my go-to online stores.

What can I say? Its cover art screams "bad game" to me--despite the fact that a buff dude is front and center and the esteemed Hudson Soft logo sits just below his hairless torso.

Well, The Brothers Duomazov opened my eyes to the fact that Susano-o Densetsu is far from a bad game. Actually, their write-up made it seem pretty darn interesting.

For starters, it's a HuCard-based role-playing game--an honest-to-goodness rarity as far as the PC Engine is concerned.

Also, its battles don't rip off Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy like pretty much every other RPG did in the late 1980s. Instead, fights in Susano-o Densetsu offer players a bit more freedom than was typical for the genre at the time.

Combine that with this Alfa System-made game's cyberpunk-ish aesthetic, and it should be easy enough to understand why I'm now a proud owner of a complete copy.

The instruction manual showcased in this post was pulled from the interior of that copy, naturally. It's quite something, wouldn't you agree? Admittedly, it could use a few (or a lot) more illustrations, but I think it's pretty fabulous even in its current state.

I especially like the full-page world map featured on its fifth page. And of course I adore the item and enemy drawings highlighted on the Susano-o Densetsu manual's final spread.

What's your opinion of this surprisingly beefy booklet? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Or maybe it doesn't inspire any kind of emotional reaction from you? Regardless, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Dungeon Explorer, KiKi KaiKai, Parodius Da!, and Son Son II.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Six 'seasonally appropriate' games I'm planning to play this Halloween season

I've already completed a pair of Halloween-ish games in recent weeks: Creeping Terror for 3DS and Undertale for Switch.

They'll soon be joined by the following sextet of spooktacular titles, all of which I hope to play between now and All Hallows' Eve.

I can't promise I'll finish all of the games discussed below, mind you. I will start them, though, and then put as much time into them as I can before the calendar flips over to November.

Avenging Spirit (GameBoy)--If you're a bit of a Japanophile like I am, you may know this game as Phantasm rather than Avenging Spirit. You also probably know it's fairly well regarded by people who've played either version. That makes a lot of sense once you're clued in to its premise. A group of mobsters kidnap your girlfriend and then kill you. Now you're a ghost. A ghost that can possess other people. Make use of that unfortunately acquired skill to track down your lover and take revenge on the thugs who took your life. It's all quite thrilling--or at least that's how I'd describe the few minutes I've put into Avenging Spirit here and there--if not entirely "seasonally appropriate."

Avenging Spirit for GameBoy

Death Mark (Switch)--I first became aware of this horror-themed visual novel when it was released (in Japan) for the Vita last summer. At the time, I didn't even know what kind of game it was--all I cared about was its stunning box art. So when the news broke a few months ago that a localized version of Death Mark would hit Western store shelves in time for Halloween, I almost fainted. Sadly, publisher Aksys Games switched out the Japanese release's cover illustration for one that's a bit more "by the numbers." Oh, well, I'm still excited to see how it compares to the other VNs I've played so far.

Dark Souls Remastered (Switch)--I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I fired up this game's network test a couple of weekends ago. Boy, was I wrong. Not that I'm complaining; I actually enjoyed it--even if I did die innumerable times, and even if I did find it sort of suffocating. I will admit that this bite-sized portion of Dark Souls Remastered stumped me now and then, but I figured things out eventually thanks to a bit of internet sleuthing. Something else I'll admit: I'm still not sure this is my kind of game. I'm going to give it a go anyway, though, because I'd rather try it and hate it than ignore it and wonder "what if?"

Luigi's Mansion (3DS)--The original Luigi's Mansion is another one of those games that I've "always meant to play." Or maybe I should say I've always meant to play it for more than 30 minutes or so--because that's about the longest I've spent with it to date. I blame that appalling lack of attention on my nearly decade-long disinterest in playing games while tethered to a TV. This 3DS port of the game should solve at least part of that problem. Hopefully it'll solve the other part, too; in other words, hopefully I'll actually finish it this time around.

Magical Chase for PC Engine

Magical Chase (PC Engine)--What I'm about to say may shock some of you: I've never been the biggest fan of this Quest-made shoot 'em up from 1991. Admittedly, it's likely my feelings on the game have been colored by the astronomical prices that tend to be attached to copies these days. That's not all of it, though. I'm also not too keen on what I see as Magical Chase's discordant theme. I mean, your "ship" is a broom-riding witch--why do you fly it through bright and colorful environments that look nothing like the creepy locales typically associated with such beings? Still, as much as I wish it were a little more like Cotton, I can appreciate its designers' attempts at creating something different. I'll try to remember that during this latest playthrough.

Super Mario Land 2 (GameBoy)--OK, so Super Mario Land 2 isn't exactly a Halloween-esque game through and through. It does feature a "zone" that fits the season at hand, though--or so I've been told. I can't say so myself, because I'm a Super Mario Land 2 virgin. (Gasp!) Of course, this isn't the first time I've suggested I was going to start my way through this title, though it will be my last. Why? Because I've already bought it (via the 3DS eShop). Here's hoping it's only a matter of time before I reach the "Pumpkin Zone" alluded to earlier.

Are you planning--or hoping--to play any spooky or scary games in the lead-up to October 31? If so, which ones?