Saturday, October 14, 2017

If Nintendo put me in charge of a GameBoy Classic Edition, here are the 30 games it would include

Word on the street is Nintendo may be prepping a GameBoy Classic Edition--or "GameBoy mini," as many on the Internet like to call it--to complement its recent NES and SNES plug-and-play consoles.

Given the success the company found with those miniaturized systems, a similarly compact re-envisioning of its first handheld wouldn't exactly be a surprise.

What would be a surprise (or at least it would be to me): if Nintendo filled the memory of this as-of-now-imaginary GameBoy Classic Edition with worthwhile games.

After all, while the NES-inspired product featured a number of veritable classics, it also included some head-scratchers like Pac-Man. More surprising were the titles its omitted, like the first Dragon Quest (or Dragon Warrior, for old folks like me), Duck Tales and Bionic Commando.

Would I do a better job of cramming a GameBoy Classic Edition or GameBoy mini full of must-play games? I'd like to think so.

Admittedly, the brass at Nintendo probably would put the kibosh on a number of the carts I'd push for, but I won't let that keep me from discussing them in this post.

Alleyway--Most people pooh-pooh this "launch window" release as an antiquated bore, but I've always enjoyed it. Plus, even with its issues, I think it would be a perfect pick-up-and-play-when-you-only-have-a-few-spare-minutes title for a product like this.

Amazing Penguin--I have to imagine a lot of folks who owned a GameBoy in the late 1980s and early 1990s aren't aware of this game's existence. That's too bad, as Amazing Penguin's gameplay--equal portions Pac-ManPengo and Qix--sets it apart from all the humdrum puzzlers and platformers that flooded store shelves during the system's reign.

Balloon Kid--This Balloon Fight spinoff is a tough cookie and a painfully short experience, but it deserves a spot here due to its unique gameplay (it's a side-scrolling platformer in which its main character is nearly always floating beneath a balloon) and its female protagonist.

Bubble Bobble Part 2--None of Taito's handheld Bubble Bobble titles hold a candle to the arcade original, but that doesn't mean they're all stinkers. Part 2 (Bubble Bobble Junior in Japan) is the best of the bunch by far, with adorable sprites and sprawling stages.

BurgerTime Deluxe--I've long loved the original BurgerTime game, but there's no question it's often brutal. Thankfully, this GameBoy sequel is miles more accessible. It also looks great and features a surprisingly ear-pleasing soundtrack. Bonus: the Japanese BurgerTime Deluxe packaging and instruction manual are splendid, too.

Catrap--Yet another often-overlooked game that really should be played by everyone who comes within a foot of a GameBoy system. Not only are its cat-eared protagonists (you can switch between the girl or boy at the beginning of every stage) cute as can be, but the time-bending, brain-melting, puzzler-platformer action at its core is completely brilliant, too.

Dig Dug--You just know that should a GameBoy Classic Edition ever be made, Nintendo's more likely to include Namco's portable, black-and-white Pac-Man port instead of this one. Which would be a shame, as the puzzle-heavy "New Dig Dug" mode included here (and not found anywhere else) is a breath of fresh air.

Donkey Kong--This may well be the best game ever made for Nintendo's first portable console. If you've never played it, it takes the arcade original's straightforward barrel-jumping action and transforms it into the puzzler-platformer to beat all puzzler-platformers--and that includes the many Mario vs. Donkey Kong titles that followed in this 1994 release's footsteps.

Dr. Mario--Truth be told, I've never been a huge Dr. Mario fan. I know a lot of folks like it, though, so that's why I'm including it here. I also think it's a good counterpoint to the far less flashy Tetris.

Final Fantasy Adventure--It would be easy to give this game's slot to another thanks to the presence of Link's Awakening (see below), but I'd campaign against that tactic for a couple of reasons. For starters, not everyone loves Link or Zelda. Also, Final Fantasy Adventure's ARPG gameplay is different enough from its aforementioned competitor's to be worth a go even if you're a Zelda veteran.

Final Fantasy Legend II--Purists probably would prefer to include the first Final Fantasy Legend title here, but I think its sequel is the better, more interesting, game. Either title should be seen as a welcome addition to this line-up, though, as it's decidedly lacking in traditional RPGs.

Gargoyle's Quest--This was one of my most-cherished cartridges back when I first owned a GameBoy thanks to how it combines exploring an RPG-ish overworld with conquering side-scrolling action stages. And it was among the hardest to let go of when I stupidly sold my system and collection of GameBoy cartridges a number of years after I bought them.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Noobow (GameBoy)

Up until the early part of 2013, I had only a passing interest in Nintendo's GameBoy.

Oh, I owned one as a kid--got one as soon as I possibly could after it hit store shelves in the summer of 1989, in fact--and I loved it as much as anyone can love a bulky electronic gadget with a green-and-black screen.

After I sold my GameBoy system and catalog of carts a few years later, though, I rarely looked back. It just wasn't an experience I felt like revisiting, you know?

So, what happened in 2013? I came across a small blog post about the game highlighted here: Irem's Noobow.

That post included a short video of Noobow in action. I was hooked a second after I hit "start."

Over the next few months, I searched the Internet high and low for other Japan-only GameBoy games that had escaped my attention and that might appeal to me as much as Noobow.

All of that digital sleuthing resulted in me discovering import gems like PeetanPainter Momopie and Osawagase! Penguin Boy. (OK, so that last one actually earned a Western release--as Amazing Penguin.)

Once I became aware of those titles, too, there was no going back. In the years since, I basically made it a goal to obtain complete-in-box copies of those Japanese GameBoy games and a slew of others (like Astro RabbyBurning Paper and Cave Noire).

Curiously, each of the games I've mentioned so far were sold with stellar instruction manuals packed inside their colorful cardboard boxes.

Noobow's manual isn't as stellar as some of the others linked to at the bottom of this post, but I think it's still pretty nice.

Chiefly responsible for me calling it "nice" is that it sports a number of adorable illustrations of the eponymous Noobow, who apparently began life (and I believe continues to serve) as a mascot for a line of merchandise.

Strangely, this booklet doesn't contain even half as many illustrations as Noobow's outer box does, but at least almost all of the ones stuffed inside the manual are unique.

Also worth celebrating: the Noobow manual features three full pages of item drawings and descriptions.

If this is your first visit to this site, or if you haven't been visiting it for long, you need to know I love old game manuals that feature item drawings and descriptions.

Admittedly, the item drawings showcased here are on the rough side, but that just adds to their charm, if you ask me. (For another Japanese GameBoy manual that features rough item drawings, check out my post about the booklet made for the system's Bubble Bobble port.)

The second-to-last page of the Noobow instruction manual (see below) is supposed to be reserved for jotting down passwords, by the way. Whether or not the text a previous owner scribbled onto mine actually is a password, though, is up for debate.

Now that you've taken it all in, what do you think of the Noobow GameBoy instruction manual?

Also, if any of you have played this 1992 release, what do you think of it?

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Astro Rabby, Bubble Bobble Junior, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru, Snow Bros. Jr. and Tumblepop

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A few thoughts on Golf Story for Switch now that I've put about eight hours into it

I don't know about you, but I think it's almost comical that the first game I played on my new Switch was Golf Story.

(Yes, a digital copy of Splatoon 2 came with the system, but I quickly sold it. Don't worry, I'll likely buy a physical copy of it down the road.)

As for why it's so funny this was my first pick-up for Nintendo's latest console, I sort of have a reputation for liking old and quirky games, right? Well, Golf Story has quirk to spare, and there's no doubt it looks like something that could've come out of the 8-bit or 16-bit eras.

So, I guess what I'm saying here is: I doubt there could be a better game to ease me into Switch ownership.

It's certainly done its job in that regard. After all, like this post's header makes clear, I've already spent more than eight hours playing Golf Story--and at the expense of the recently released Project Octopath Traveler demo, no less. (It wouldn't be an overstatement to say Square Enix adding this bite-sized version of its upcoming, Romancing SaGa-esque RPG to the Switch eShop is what pushed me to buy the system now rather than early next year.)

Would anybody become as engrossed as I have with this game if they were given a chance to play it? I think a good percentage of folks would, but not everyone.

To figure out if you're more likely to be in the yay or the nay camp, read my impressions of Golf Story's first eight or so hours.

Warning: this is not a golf simulator--Do you love serious golf games? The kind that mimic the club-and-ball sport down to a T (or, you know, a "tee")? If so, you might want to avoid Golf Story for the time being. To begin with, it's a fairly silly take on the Scotland-born pastime. Also, it would be a stretch to say it forces you to play gobs of golf. Yes, the eons-old sport is Golf Story's focus, and nearly every inch of its overworld (for lack of a better word) is a fairway or green or bunker, but you spend a lot less time making your way through multi-hole courses than you might think. In other words, if you're looking for something that's more like Electronic Arts' PGA Tour series and less like Sony's Hot Shots Golf efforts, this isn't the download for you.

That said, if you've enjoyed any of the early Mario Golf games, you should enjoy Golf Story, too--I say that mainly because Golf Story's gameplay feels a lot like that of the original Mario Golf and Mario Golf: Advance Tour. For those of you who've never experienced those titles, that means Golf Story's controls are arcade-y and accessible and, for the most part, intuitive--assuming you've played at least one other video game version of the sport before you picked up this one.

A little clarity would be greatly appreciated--Notice how I said "for the most part" at the end of my last sentence? I did that because, as fun as Golf Story is, it doesn't always provide the player with all the information he or she needs to enjoy it to its fullest. On more than one occasion, I've found myself in a situation where I wasn't completely sure what I was supposed to do or how I was supposed to do it. At first, I thought I was to blame, but eventually it dawned on me that Golf Story's sometimes-vague text was the real culprit. Thankfully, I've always gotten myself out of those jams, but I obviously would've preferred not getting into them in the first place.

I don't really agree with people who say this game is "EarthBound-esque"--Sure, Golf Story is goofy. And weird. But is it as weird and goofy as everybody's favorite cult-classic RPG, EarthBound? Not in my mind. Plus, the vibe here is completely different. Shigesato Itoi's seminal work often feels like a dream--or a nightmare. Golf Story is far more mundane and down to earth. It's odd in parts, no question, but don't expect it to display the kind of amusing, head-scratching edginess that's front and center in all three of Nintendo's Mother titles.

I'm not a huge fan of Golf Story's soundtrack--It almost kills me to say this, but I don't much like the music that accompanies your trip around the pixelated Australia that serves as this title's setting. At best, the tunes are forgettably ho-hum; at worst, they recall something you'd hear at a low-rent Renaissance fair. That's hardly the end of the world, of course, and the music here isn't exactly keeping me from enjoying my playthrough, but I also wouldn't have minded a more compelling and ear-pleasing soundtrack.

Don't be surprised if you encounter a few bugs or glitches here and there--On the fence about whether or not you should buy Golf Story? You may want to stay there a little while longer. Why? If you play it now, you'll likely run into one or more bugs or glitches--some of which could cause you to replay a chunk of the game (or worse). For example, I've regularly gotten the pompadour-sporting protagonist stuck while trying to run across a bridge. Jiggling the Switch's left analog stick a few times always frees him, but it's annoying all the same. Another bug I've experienced a couple of times: the camera getting screwed up if I try to scope out a hole before taking a shot. The worst glitch I've encountered, though, has been when I've hit a ball, or thrown a disc (you play disc golf in this title, too), and it's become jammed in a tree or behind a non-player character. On these occasions--yes, it's happened more than once--the only option has been to reset the game.

The good news here: developer and publisher Sidebar Games is prepping a patch as we speak, so hopefully it will take care of all of the bugs and glitches I just mentioned, as well as the many others discussed in this Reddit thread.

Given all of the above, you might think I'm less than enamored with Golf Story at the moment. On the contrary, I'm thrilled with it. Sure, it's got its flaws, but it's such a blast overall that I'm finding them easy to overlook. I especially like the game's relaxed attitude and almost languid pace. Although there's a point to all of its swinging and putting and chipping, it never really puts any pressure on you. You're free to explore its evocative environments in whatever manner and at whatever pace you prefer, and I'm finding that particularly refreshing.  

Are any of you playing Golf Story? If so, what do you think of it? Do its positive attributes outweigh its negative ones for you, too, or is the opposite true for you?

See also: 'OK, who's got some Switch game recommendations for me?'

Sunday, October 08, 2017

A few thoughts on the Nintendo Switch now that I've spent a couple of weeks with one

It's been about two weeks since I got a Switch, so I figure now is as good a time as any to share my thoughts on Nintendo's latest piece of gaming hardware.

Something I need to note before I continue: I've only used my Switch in handheld mode so far. In fact, I haven't even taken its dock, which lets you to play games on a TV, out of the box. I'll probably free it from its (beautifully decorated) cardboard prison around the time I get my hands on Super Mario Odyssey, but even then I can't see myself using it all that often. That's how much I prefer playing games "on the go" (which in my case usually means while sitting on the couch or lying in bed) to staring at a TV screen these days.

Anyway, I've spent a good amount of time with the rest of the Switch hardware since it arrived on my doorstep late last month, so here are my impressions of the main unit, Joy-Cons, user interface, eShop and more.

It's smaller than I imagined--For whatever reason, before I bought my Switch I was under the impression it was pretty bulky in its portable form. So, imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the opposite of huge. No one is going to call the thing "tiny," of course, but it's plenty small for the occasional car and plane trip. Would my tune be different if I commuted with my Switch? Perhaps, but the fact is I've only ever played my original 3DS on the bus. I've never once taken either of my 3DS XL systems or my pink-and-white Vita to work, and I'm pretty sure the same will be true of my Switch by the time its hold on me, or the portion of my life that's spent using public transportation, comes to a close.

The huge screen is a huge plus--Truth be told, I've never been a size queen. In fact, even now I'd rather play games on my original "flame red" 3DS system than on my pink-and-white 3DS XL. Still, I'd be lying if I said I wished the Switch's screen were smaller. It's nice to not have to squint while reading text, for example. Granted, I don't think the increased screen size--and improved screen resolution--will really hit me until I play a game like Super Mario Odyssey or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on it. Assuming I react to that experience like I think I will, I may never hook up my thus-far-ignored Switch dock.

I like how solid it feels--This is the aspect of the Switch that surprises me the most, to be perfectly honest. Before I held the system in my hands, I thought the Joy-Cons might seem a bit loose or wobbly. Thankfully, they don't. In fact, I often forget the controllers are detachable--that's how snug everything feels when Switch is in its handheld form. I know some folks will say, "of course the Switch is solid--Nintendo made it!" Well, Nintendo also made the original 3DS hardware that features a floppy hinge and a scratch-prone upper screen, so one should be forgiven for worrying the Switch, with its far more complicated design, may follow in its footsteps.

The UI is sleek and snappy, but still leaves something to be desired--Although I'm a big fan of the user interfaces Nintendo's designers created for the 3DS, Wii and Wii U, I appreciate that they went with something a little sexier and a little less kiddie or cutesy this time around. Plus, the Switch's user interface (UI) isn't just sleek; it's also noticeably faster than the Wii and 3DS UIs. (I can't speak to the speed of the Wii U user interface, as I've sadly never experienced it.) Unfortunately, a game system's UI needs to be more than elegant and brisk. It also needs to be functional, and that's not how I would describe the Switch UI at the moment. Why can't I move my game and demo icons? Why can't I display them in various ways (other than in a straight line), or make folders to contain them? And why can't I change the background of the system's home menu like I can on my 3DS? I have a feeling  an upcoming update will allow all of this--and hopefully more--but, boy, it sure would've been nice if it had allowed it right out of the box.

I hope the eShop gets an overhaul (and soon)--Much like the Switch UI, the system's eShop is sleek and snappy--and not entirely satisfying. I'm sure some people think the 3DS eShop is a jumbled mess, but I'm not one of them. I like that it offers visitors plenty of opportunities to find and discover games and demos. You don't have to know exactly what you're looking for when you make your way to the 3DS eShop. With the Switch eShop, though, you've got a tab for recent releases, a tab for best sellers and that's about it. If you want anything else, you have to search for it. Again, I'm pretty confident this will change in the future and the Switch eShop will become quite a bit more dynamic, but the question is: when? Here's hoping Nintendo gives us a more user-friendly, and publisher-friendly, digital store soon.

Now that I've shared my thoughts and feelings on the Switch, what are yours? Those of you who've spent at least a little time with the system: do you agree with what I've said here, or do you disagree? Regardless, let me know your opinions on the matter in the comments section of this post.

See also: 'A few thoughts on Golf Story for Switch now that I've put about eight hours into it'