Monday, September 24, 2018

Second Chances: Tennis (NES)

A couple of years ago, I published a "Second Chances" post about another NES tennis game, Jaleco's Racket Attack. (Read it here.)

In that write-up, I regaled the four or five people who actually read it with the trials and tribulations I had to endure during my most recent experience with that 1988 release.

Basically, Racket Attack is a hot mess. It's slow, slippery, and frustratingly difficult. Well, guess what? Some of those same words could be used to describe Nintendo's Tennis from 1985.

OK, so Tennis isn't exactly slow. Or at least the player sprites don't move slowly. No one is going to accuse the ball of racing through the air, though.

Tennis' speed is the last thing you'll need to worry about should you ever play it, however. No, far more worrisome and irksome are the following:

* When it comes to player-controlled characters, you've got just one option--a white guy with dark hair.

* As for opponents, there are just five in the entire game. They're also caucasian men.

* Your repertoire of moves consists of two serves (a fast one and a slow one), a "flat" forehand, a similarly struck backhand, a lob, and a volley.

* Every match you play in Tennis takes place on the same "hard" (concrete) court. Look elsewhere if you care about carpet, clay, or grass surfaces.

* Speaking of which, the game lacks a tournament mode, a "world tour" mode, or even a rankings ladder. Your only choice is to play one-on-one matches against the five opponents mentioned earlier. (Each one represents a different difficulty level.)

This tennis title would be annoying enough if that were the extent of its "cons." Unfortunately, it isn't.  In fact, the game's final noteworthy negative is the one that impacts gameplay the most.

What is it? It's that positioning your character sprite in Tennis is an overly finicky exercise. If you're not in the right spot, you'll totally miss the ball. Or you'll hit it but send it many feet wide of the sidelines.

Given all of the above, why am I even writing about about this ancient cart? Or what prompted me to give it a "second chance" it seemingly didn't deserve?

It all started when I subscribed to the just-launched Nintendo Switch Online service and downloaded the complementary NES app.

After playing a few rounds of Balloon Fight's "Balloon Trip" mode (as you do), not to mention a couple of go-throughs of Donkey Kong, I clicked on Tennis without giving it much thought.

It looked and sounded and felt just as antiquated as I remembered, of course, but for some reason I didn't exit out of it after a handful of games.

In fact, I kept on playing until the end of the match, which I lost by the rather humiliating score of 6-0, 6-3. (Although in my defense, I came back from 5-1 down in the second set and even saved a bunch of match points along the way.)

Time for me to sashay away from the game once and for all, right? Wrong. I'm actually kind of pumped to play it again.

I can't guarantee I'll give it the time of day after I defeat even one of its handful of opponents, mind you, but until that happens, I'll probably return to it now and then to see if I can make any headway against the competition.

Have any of you played Tennis? If so, what do you think about it?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Seven game announcements from yesterday's Nintendo Direct that made me grin from ear to ear

I don't know about you, but I was far from thrilled by the E3 2018 Nintendo Direct.

Don't get me wrong, I loved seeing Fire Emblem: Three Houses in action. (Finally!) The footage of Daemon X Machina showcased during the above-mentioned presentation similarly blew me away. I'm not much of a Pokémon or Super Smash Bros. fan, though, which probably explains my lack of enthusiasm toward the company's most recent E3 extravaganza.

The latest Nintendo Direct, though--the one that went live yesterday? That was my jam.

I approached it assuming I'd get a fresh glimpse of the Yoshi Switch game that was revealed over a year ago as well as new details on titles like Pokémon: Let's Go, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and the upcoming Luigi's Mansion remake for 3DS. Oh, I knew that wouldn't be the full extent of this broadcast, but I also didn't think it would offer up much else--especially in terms of reveals that would wow me.

Boy, was I wrong. Not only did almost all of the following announcements came out of nowhere for me (the Animal Crossing and Katamari Damacy ones were rumored in the days and even hours leading up to the Direct's drop), but they also thrilled me to pieces. Keep reading to learn why.

A new Animal Crossing is coming to Switch in 2019--Given the earth-shattering sales of previous portable entries in this long-running series of "slow living" games, a Switch entry was the definition of a no-brainer. Still, many thought Animal Crossing would hit the system sometime in 2018, so its absence until now has made some of those folks (including myself) antsy. All is forgotten and forgiven with yesterday's news that the game is coming in 2019, right? Not quite, but it's a start. And, really, I put hundreds of hours into the Animal Crossing release most consider the worst (City Folk), so it's safe to say I'll be singing a decidedly positive tune by the time this next one is plopped onto actual and virtual store shelves in the coming 12 or so months.

All of the Final Fantasy love--You might think the news that both Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition HD are Switch-bound would've prepared me for the news that a bunch of other Final Fantasy games are coming to Nintendo's hybrid system, too. Nope, it didn't. When World of Final Fantasy Maxima was revealed, I responded with a pleasantly surprised, "oh!" I was unable to produce sound when Chocobo's Mystery Dungeon EVERY BUDDY! popped up, though, and the same was true when Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age waltzed onto the screen. Admittedly, I'm more than a bit bummed that almost all of the above seem to be digital-only releases (Final Fantasy XII is the only exception, according to word on the street), but I'm going to buy them anyway.

Katamari Damacy Reroll--I'm a firm believer that everyone could use some Katamari Damacy in their life. This Keita Takahashi-created series is so colorful, energetic, and wacky--not to mention fun--I'm sure it would make even the biggest sourpuss grin like the Cheshire Cat. (But, you know, in a less creepy fashion.) I do wish this release included a remaster of We Love Katamari as well as the first Katamari Damacy title, but Bandai Namco's probably planning to sell it separately. And you know what? I'll purchase it, too--as long as Reroll proves to be a solid effort.

Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn--I don't know how many of you are aware of this, but I adore Kirby's Epic Yarn. In fact, I love it so much I named it my favorite game of 2010. As such, I was beyond bowled over when it dawned on me that I'll soon be able to play an enhanced version of it on my 3DS. I'm sure a lot of people would prefer to see this on the Switch, but I think the 3DS is the perfect place for it. It'll fit right in with Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World and Hey! Pikmin, wouldn't you agree?

Luigi's Mansion 3--Although I can't say I was shocked to learn during yesterday's Nintendo Direct that the company is prepping a third Luigi's Mansion title, I was shocked to hear--and see--that it's so far along. Something else that shocked me: some folks are calling it ugly. Did we watch the same footage? I mean, sure, it's not the absolute best-looking game I've ever laid eyes on, but the same could be said of other Switch standouts like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. At any rate, I can't wait to get my hands on Luigi's Mansion 3--even if nothing changes about its graphics between now and whenever it releases in 2019.

Town--Talk about "out of nowhere." Did anyone see this coming--a Switch RPG from Game Freak that doesn't have Pokémon in its name? That's a big plus as far as I'm concerned, though I know not everyone will feel the same way. Of course, I tend to love the company's weird side projects--see HarmoKnight and my favorite 3DS game ever, Pocket Card Jockey--so I guess you could say I was destined to at least like this one, too. My only concern at the moment is that Town's likely to be a digital-only release. Which is fine in many respects (it likely means it'll be cheaper than your typical "boxed" game, for instance), but also suggests it may not have as much content as a retail offering.

Yoshi's Crafted World--First things first: I think this game's name is disappointingly lazy. That said, maybe the person or people who came up with it want it to remind people of the last Yoshi title, Woolly World? Whatever the case may be, all I really care about is how Crafted World plays, looks, and sounds (and in that very order, too). I obviously can't say how it plays, though the footage shown off yesterday certainly makes it seem like a worthwhile platformer. I can, however, say it looks quite wonderful. For me, the aesthetic is just different enough from Woolly World's to be completely enticing. Should the soundtrack live up to the gameplay and visuals, Yoshi's Crafted World should be a feast for the eyes, ears, and, well, fingers.

Did you watch yesterday's Nintendo Direct broadcast? If so, what did you consider to be the stand-out game announcements? Which ones thrilled--or even disappointed--you the most?

See also: the Japanese version of yesterday's Nintendo Direct

Monday, September 03, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Pizza Pop! (Famicom)

As a youngster, I regularly turned up my nose at Jaleco's NES offerings.

For me, they were way too rough around the edges. I preferred comparatively "cleaner" games like the ones made by Nintendo, Konami, and Capcom.

That's not to say there weren't exceptions. I bought and played the hell out of the company's Racket Attack, for example. (Don't take that to be an endorsement; it's not. The game's terrible, even if I have a soft spot for it.)

And I remember renting and enjoying its home port of City Connection on a few occasions, too.

Despite my anti-Jaleco bias, I'm sure I would've given Pizza Pop! more than a second look back in the day had it not been a Japan-only release.

Sadly, that wasn't the case, and so I had to wait until a few years ago to finally experience this wacky platformer (via emulation, of course).

Was it worth the wait? In some ways yes, and in some ways no. On the positive side, Pizza Pop! looks and sounds great. I particularly love its cartoonish aesthetic, though its boppy, poppy backing tunes are a ton of fun as well.

On the negative side, though, there's the fact that this game seems to revel in being annoyingly cheap (from a difficulty perspective).

Something that was without a doubt worth the wait, or at least worth what I spent on it, is this game's instruction manual. Why? For starters, it's full of color. This is especially true of its story spread (pages two and three, above), but it's also true of the ones that follow.

Sadly, that's one of the only places you'll find any unique illustrations in the Pizza Pop! booklet. You will encounter a number of screenshots throughout, however. They don't really make up for the lack of drawings, but in this kind of situation you've got to take what you get.

This manual's biggest missed opportunity, as far as I'm concerned, is that its pair of "character" pages (12 and 13, below) feature in-game sprites rather than line-art depictions of the game's enemies.

Oh, well, at least the baddies that fill the Pizza Pop! stages are a good-looking bunch.

What do you think of this latest entry in my "Manual Stimulation" series? Also, if you've played Pizza Pop!, what did you think of it? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

See also: some photos of Pizza Pop's packaging

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Lucky Monkey (GameBoy)

Does Lucky Monkey not ring a bell? Maybe you know this adorable platformer by its Western name, Spanky's Quest.

I'm not a huge fan of either title, to be honest. Not that it matters--developer and publisher Natsume could've called this 1991 release (in Japan, at least) Monkey Game and I'd still love it to pieces.

Why do I love it? For starters, it's cute--and as you should be well aware by now, I tend to like cute games.

Also, a lot of Lucky Monkey's enemies are anthropomorphic vegetables or fruits--something else that's long caught my attention.

I'm attracted to more than Lucky Monkey's looks, though. I'm pretty fond of its soundtrack, too, which reminds me of the one conjured up for another Natsume joint, Shippo de Bun (Tail 'Gator outside of Japan).

And then there's the gameplay. I called it a platformer earlier, and while that's undoubtedly the best way to describe the action in Lucky Monkey, it's hardly a Super Mario Bros. clone.

Here, you take the eponymous simian through a series of tower-themed stages. To clear a stage, he (I think?) has to defeat all of its food-based baddies using balls that have been stashed away somewhere or other.

Actually, I'm not sure they're balls. After all, if you bounce them off the monkey's head a few times, they explode and shower the surrounding area--which includes some enemies, hopefully--with shrapnel.

So that's what you're getting from Lucky Monkey the game. But what are you getting from Lucky Monkey the manual?

Well, as you'll hopefully see as you go through this post, you're getting a rather nice example of a Japanese GameBoy instruction booklet.

I wouldn't call it a standout, mind you, but I wouldn't call it a turd either.

One of my favorite components of the Lucky Monkey manual: the little illustrations of the protagonist that line the top of each page.

The handful of (admittedly simplistic) other drawings that pop up now and then are worth ogling, too.

Also deserving of a thumbs-up, in my opinion: the blue-and-orange color scheme this booklet's designers employed during the printing process.

In the end, this one obviously could be quite a bit more thrilling, but even it its current state it's far from disappointing.

Or at least that's my opinion of Lucky Monkey's instruction manual. What do all of you think about it?

See also: photos of Lucky Monkey's packaging

Monday, August 27, 2018

Sushi Striker's retail release makes me wish Nintendo had done the same with some of the 3DS system's digital-only gems

When Sushi Striker was unveiled last summer, I was sure it would be an eShop-only offering.

After all, that's how Nintendo has treated this kind of game for the majority of the 3DS' lifetime.

So imagine my surprise when the company made it clear Sushi Striker was getting a retail as well as a digital release.

Naturally I went with the physical option--and then proceeded to enjoy the hell out of it over the course of 50-plus hours. (Seriously, if you tend to like action-puzzle games and you've still got a 3DS, pick up a copy as soon as possible. For more information, see my recent "five reasons I've fallen head over heels in love with Sushi Striker" write-up.)

Something I couldn't help but think while working my way through Sushi Striker's considerably beefy story mode (basically its only mode, if I'm to be honest): why didn't Nintendo sell boxed versions of some of its other 3DS eShop titles?

Which 3DS eShop titles am I talking about here? Pocket Card Jockey is one example. So is Rusty's Real Deal Baseball. And then there are the Pushmo, Dillon's Rolling Western, and BoxBoy! games, too. (Don't worry, I'm well aware of last year's physical BoxBoy! collection, but it only saw the light of day in Japan.)

Arguments could be made for retail releases of all these titles, if you ask me. For example, the folks at Game Freak--of Pokémon fame--made Pocket Card Jockey. That alone should have been enough for it to hit store shelves along with the eShop. (Something else that should've helped matters: the fact that Pocket Card Jockey is an absolute gem. I'd go so far as to say it's one of the 3DS' best games, in fact. To learn why I feel so strongly about it, read this post of mine: "If you own a 3DS, you need to buy and play Pocket Card Jockey right now.")

I thought a compilation of the three Mallo-centric puzzlers--Pushmo, Crashmo, and Stretchmo in my neck of the woods--was a sure thing, too, but obviously I was wrong. And I was wrong about Nintendo plopping to the first two Dillon's Rolling Western titles on a cartridge, too.

Of all the digital-only gems mentioned here so far, the one I can most understand not getting a boxed version is Rusty's Real Deal Baseball. Yes, such a product could've gathered all of its in-game purchases (which aren't insubstantial) into one package. Doing so would've required at least a little jiggering, though, and Nintendo probably decided that extra work wasn't worth it, especially given Rusty's undeniably limited appeal.

In the end, I know all of my moaning and hand-wringing here is beyond pointless. The ship's basically sailed on the 3DS, and there's no way Nintendo is going to pump out retail releases of Rusty's Real Deal Baseball, Pocket Card Jockey, Dillon's Rolling Western, or any other "old" digital game this late in the system's life.

Still, I can't help but harp on those missed opportunities a bit. As things stand, each of the games mentioned above eventually may be lost to time because they were never embedded on a cart.

I guess this just means I have to buy a few used 3DS systems and then fill them with these gems before Nintendo shutters the eShop. (I'd need a few to ensure there are plenty of backups, of course.)

Do any of you wish you could've bought physical copies of some of the 3DS' eShop-only treasures? If so, which ones?