Game Opinion Summaries: Digital-Only Nintendo 3DS Games, Part I: Introduction, # & A

Table of Contents

Introduction
The Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS
List of Summaries in the Series
The Summaries: #-A: Games Beginning with Numbers and A
My Favorite and Least Favorite Games In This Update

Introduction

This is the first part of what will be an ongoing series. In this first part I will have the full list of titles that will be covered, talk a bit about the system, discuss my goals with this article, and cover the first part of the list, games with names that start with a number or the letter A. I have 210 digital games for the Nintendo 3DS, so there are a lot of games to cover.   Additionally, I have 19 — yes, only 19 — digital DSiWare games that I also have on my 3DS, since you can also buy DSiWare games on the 3DS eshop.  They may have released before most of these games, but I will cover those separately.  I’ll get to those later, this list is for 3DS games.

This list was inspired by the upcoming shutdown of the 3DS and Wii U eshops, phasing in over the next year. I am trying to write SHORT opinion summaries this time, more like my early summaries than my recent ones, I have other things I want to do on this site this year other than just this. We’ll see how that goes… Heh.

Please note, these games are almost all digital-only releases on the 3DS. I buy 3DS games that have a physical release on cartridge, and I am not going to review those now. So, don’t expect coverage of most of the better-known 3DS games; I’m mostly talking about more obscure low-budget stuff in this list, since I have very few digital 3DS games with a physical release. Some cart games are must-buy games now if they have DLC, probably most notably the Fire Emblem games, but for anything else, only buy them now if you really want to play them; those carts aren’t going anywhere and will still be around after the store is shut down. These games will not, unless you mod your system. Which, after the shutdown happens, would be a reasonable thing to do.

Please note, some of these games probably have been delisted, that happens all the time. I’m covering everything I own either way.

Additionally, remember that every 3DS eshop game has a digital manual. Not all of the manuals are very helpful, but they should at least list the controls. This is very helpful and it’s quite annoying that with the Switch Nintendo dropped the manual requirement; not all games bother to tell you all of their controls in the game, and paper manuals aren’t a thing anymore. The 3DS had a better solution that this industry should have stuck with.

A final note: I put this list, as usual for my lists, in alphabetical order… except that I put series in order, and all together, regardless of each games’ name. This rarely changes things but occasionally does, as you will almost immediately see in the list.

The Nintendo 3DS and New 3DS

 

The 3DS released in 2011. As with the Nintendo DS before it, the 3DS is a clamshell-style console with two screens inside. The upper one is a 16:9 widescreen screen with impressive glasses-free stereoscopic 3d technology, while the lower screen is more 4:3 and is a touchscreen. The system has ABXY buttons and shoulder buttons, along with Start, Select, and a home menu button. The DS’s rarely-useful little microphone also returns, and this system has a tilt sensor as well for motion controls. The later, enhanced New 3DS system adds a second analog stick, via a horrible, hard to use, tiny little right analog nub, and a second pair of shoulder buttons. Fortunately, few games outside of Monster Hunter and such make heavy use of that second analog stick. A few things do make use of the New 3DS’s added controls though.

The system can save games to Micro SD card storage. Be warned though, regardless of the size of your SD card you can only install a maximum of 300 3DS games to a single micro SD card.  Games you own on physical cart do not count towards this total, but all digital games and demos do.  Thanks to installing 210 games plus a lot of demos, I hit this limit recently and had to delete a bunch of demos in order to buy any more 3DS games despite having a lot of free space on my 64GB micro SD card.  I really don’t like having to do that, it’s poor design.  This is an incredibly obnoxious limitation! I think you can get around it if you homebrew-mod your console, but not otherwise. DSiWare has an even stricter game limit of only a couple of dozen games accessible on the system’s internal memory, but at least with those the 3DS allows you to store DSiWare games on your micro SD card, and play them if you copy them back to the system. With digital 3DS games you get no such options and have to use multiple micro SD cards for more than 300 titles. It’s pretty lame. Other than that I absolutely love this system.

The 3DS ended up being Nintendo’s final line of dedicated handhelds, before they switched over to a hybrid model with the Switch. I really love the 3DS, but did not buy one when it was new. In fact, I’ve never owned an original 3DS. Instead, I waited until after its enhanced successor model, the New 3DS, was released, and bought a New 3DS XL in 2016. It’s still the only 3DS I own, so all titles here are reviews of the games as played on a New 3DS. Some games have better performance on a New 3DS than the original system since it has additional hardware power. I don’t know how big the difference is myself, though, of course; again, I’ve never had an original 3DS.

Regardless, I really love my (New) 3DS, and still play it almost every day. I particularly like this system for games that benefit from stylus-based touch controls, because I greatly dislike capacitive touch, either with a finger or a capacitive stylus, for videogames; reactive touchscreens with a plastic stylus are far, far better for gaming. You get dramatically better precision, accuracy impossible with a capacitive screen. This is why, say, the Switch Picross games are so uninteresting to me; why would I want to play those, with their button or inaccurate capacitive screen controls, when I can play the amazing 3DS Picross games?  I wouldn’t, so I don’t.  I stick to the 3DS games.

With that said, while I use my 3DS almost every day, most of that time is spent playing various puzzle games for a few minutes here and there.   This list, of course, covers far more than that.  So far, I have finished the summaries for games that start with #s or A, and those summaries are below in this update.  I have also gotten the summaries for B and C pretty far along, that update will be done next month for sure.  I haven’t started the ones after that yet though.  Hopefully I will keep this moving.

Games Covered

 

2 Fast 4 Gnomz
Geki Yaba Runner Deluxe
36 Fragments of Midnight
3D After Burner II [Arcade]
3D Ecco the Dolphin [Genesis]
3D Fantasy Zone [Arcade]
3D Gunstar Heroes [Genesis]
3D MahJongg
3D Retro Dungeon Puzzle Challenge
3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 [Genesis]
3D Space Harrier [Arcade]
3D Streets of Rage [Genesis]
3D Streets of Rage 2 [Genesis]
3D Super Hang-On [Arcade]
80’s OVERDRIVE
Adventure Bar Story
Adventure Labyrinth Story
AeternoBlade
AiRace Speed
AiRace Xeno
Alchemic Dungeons
Ambition of the Slimes
Angry Bunnies
Art of Balance TOUCH!
Azure Striker: Gunvolt
Azure Striker: Gunvolt 2
Balloon Pop Remix
Bit Boy!! Arcade
Bit Dungeon Plus
Blaster Master Zero
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
BoxBoxBoy!
BoxBoy!
Brave Dungeon
Brave Tank Hero
Bubble Pop World
Bye-Bye Boxboy!
Candy, Please!
Castle Conqueror EX
Castle Conqueror: Defender
Cazzarion
Chicken Wiggle
Collide-a-Ball
Color Zen
Conveni Dream
Crashmo
Crimson Shroud
CRYGHT
Cube Tactics
Dangerous Road
Dedede’s Drum Dash Deluxe
Defend Your Crypt
Demon King Box
Digger Dan DX
Dillon’s Rolling Western
Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger
Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure
Drancia Saga
Drone Fight
EDGE
escapeVektor
European Conqueror 3D
Excave
Excave II
Excave III
Fairune
Fairune 2
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright (DLC version)
Fun! Fun! Minigolf Touch
Gal Galaxy Pain
Glory of Generals
Go! Go! Kokopolo 3D
Gotcha Racing
Gourmet Dream
Gunman Clive
Gunman Clive 2
Gurumin 3D
Harold’s Walk
Hazumi
Hyperlight EX
Ikachan
Infinite Golf
Iron Combat: War in the Air
Jett Rocket II
Jewel Match 3
Jewel Quest 6: The Sapphire Dragon
Jewel Quest IV: Heritage
Kami
Karous: The Beast of Re-Eden
Keep, The
Kid Tripp
Kingdom’s Item Shop
Kirby Fighters Deluxe
Kirby’s Blowout Blast
League of Heroes
Legend of Dark Witch 2, The
Legend of Dark Witch III: Wisdom and Lunacy, The
Legend of Dark Witch, The
Legend of Kusakari, The
Liberation Maiden
Lifespeed
Link-A-Pix Color
Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails
Love Hero
Luxor
Mario and Donkey Kong; Minis on the Move
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars
Mega Man IV (Game Boy Virtual Console)
Mercenaries Saga 2
Mercenaries Saga 3
Mia’s Picnic
Mighty Gunvolt
Mighty Gunvolt Burst
Mighty Switch Force
Mighty Switch Force 2
Mini Golf Resort
Mini Sports Collection
Mom Hid My Game!
Mutant Mudds Deluxe
Mutant Mudds Super Challenge
My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda – Twilight Princess
Nano Assault EX
Ninja Battle Heroes
Noah’s Cradle
Of Mice and Sand
Ohno Odyssey
Parascientific Escape: Crossing at the Farthest Horizon
Parascientific Escape: Cruise in the Distant Seas
Parascientific Escape: Gear Detective
Pazuru
Phasmophobia: Hall of Specters 3D
Phil’s Epic FIll-a-Pix Adventure
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
Pic-a-Pix Color
Picross 3D Round 2
Picross e
Picross e2
Picross e3
Picross e4
Picross e5
PICROSS e6
Picross e7
Picross e8
Ping Pong Trick Shot
Ping Pong Trick Shot 2
Pirate Pop Plus
Pocket Card Jockey
Psycho Pigs
Puzzle Labyrinth
PUZZLEBOX setup
Queen TV-Game 2, The
Quell: Memento
Quell: Reflect
Quest of Dungeons
Quiet, Please!
Retro City Rampage: DX
Robot Rescue 3D
Runbow Pocket
Runny Egg
RV-7 My Drone
Samurai Defender
Samurai Sword Destiny
Sanrio characters Picross
SEGA 3D Classics Series — OutRun
Senran Kagura Burst
Severed
Shantae [GBC Virtual Console]
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
Shift DX
Siesta Fiesta
Silver Falls – 3 Down Stars
Silver Falls – Undertakers
Slime Slayer
Snow Moto Racing 3D
Space Defender – Battle Infinity
SpeedX 3D: Hyper Edition
Sssnakes
Stack ’em High
SteamWorld Dig
SteamWorld Dig 2
SteamWorld Heist
Steel Empire [Genesis remake]
Strike Force Foxx
SubaraCity
Summer Carnival ’92 RECCA [NES Virtual Console]
Super Destronaut 3D
Super Strike Beach Volleyball
Sweet Memories: Blackjack
Sword of Hope II, The (Game Boy Virtual Console)
Tappingo
Thorium Wars: Attack of the Skyfighter
Touch Battle Tank – Tag Combat
Toy Defense
Tumble Pop
Turkey, Please!
Turtle Tale
VectorRacing
Wakedas
Witch & Hero
Witch & Hero II
Witch & Hero III
Worcle Words
WordHerd
World Conqueror 3D
Zen Pinball 3D
Zombie Incident
Zombie Panic in Wonderland DX


The Summaries, # & A:

2 Fast 4 Gnomz – published by QubicGames in 2012. This game is an endless runner 2d platformer. You play as a gnome, and automatically run forward, very fast. The A button jumps, up on the dpad uses a parachute to slow your descent while in the air, and down on the pad does a charge move to break obstacles. That may sound simple enough, but it’s not, at all, as this game is HARD. Your little gnome character moves so fast that it’s almost impossible to see what’s coming at you until you die at that obstacle, maybe several times. This makes the game very heavily memorization-centric, which gets quite frustrating in a hurry. The game has decent 2d sprite graphics and level designs are fine enough, and once you have a level fully memorized going through it without messing up can be satisfying, but I don’t know if it is really worth the hassle. The game rates you with mobile game style three star ratings in two categories per level, in how many times you died — die few times to get a higher rating here — and in how many of the pickups, which are loose socks, you got. Why socks? I have no idea. The game’s trying to be funny, but it didn’t really work for me, it’s more just weird. And frustrating, thanks to the insane speed of your movement. Only get this if you’re into this kind of thing. Also released on Wii WiiWare, though obviously you can’t buy that version anymore. No big loss, endless runners aren’t that great anyway.

Geki Yaba Runner Deluxe – published by QubicGames in 2016. This game is the sequel to 2 Fast 4 Gnomz. For some reason they went with the Japanese title of the franchise here, GekiYaba Runner. I don’t know why. This game is basically an evolution of its predecessor. It has all new levels, but the exact same story and graphics as the first one. And I mean the EXACT same, it looks identical and the intro cutscene is completely unchanged. The level layouts aren’t identical, though, and most importantly, the crazy speed has been toned down — you move maybe half as fast in this game as you do in the first one. That makes this game much, much easier to play and progress through, you can actually avoid things as they come at you. The game also ditches the star ratings for a meter which fills up depending on how many of a level’s socks you collected. If you get enough to reach two marks on the meter, you get a silver or gold medal. The game doesn’t keep track of your deaths in levels either, though you’ll not be dying nearly as much this time so that’s fine. This game is okay but a bit boring. Overall the two games are probably about even in quality, as one’s too hard and the other a bit bland. Either way, my main takeaway is that I strongly prefer platformers where you can control your movement over endless runners. This kind of game doesn’t hold my interest for long. Also on Vita and Switch.

36 Fragments of Midnight – by Petite Games, 2017. This very small indie platformer won’t take you long to beat at all. The other two ‘Midnight’ games were kind of neat, but this one is much less interesting. Essentially, this game is a one-level platformer with very simple graphics, gameplay, and controls. The game randomly generates the level so it’s different each time, but it doesn’t change the game much. Once you get all 36 objects in the stage you win, game over. There’s maybe a half hour of gameplay here at most, and I saw no reason to go back just because the stage will be slightly differently laid out each time. It’s okay but probably isn’t worth getting. Also released on PC, Mac, and Linux (Steam), Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch. The ports don’t seem to change the game much from this release, so don’t buy it on those systems either.

3D After Burner II [Arcade] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. Sega made quite a few 3D ports of classic arcade and Sega Genesis games to the 3DS, all ported by then always good retro conversion team M2. All of these games are great ports of the games in question with the same, standardized menu system. You get one savestate and there are some audio options, along with some options specific to each game. In this case, there is a level select in the menu system and you unlock the ability to start from any level you have reached, which is great.

After Burner is a super scaler rail shooter from the ’80s. You’re in a fighter jet, shooting down waves of enemy planes with your machine gun and auto-targeting missiles. One button shoots your gun, the other fires missiles once the auto-lockon indicator appears. You also can go faster or slower with the shoulder buttons. This very fast-paced game is one of the games that best shows off the 3d hardware of the 3DS, everything comes at you in a much more realistic way than on any hardware that doesn’t have stereoscopic 3d! It looks awesome. Unfortunately, After Burner is a very hard game and that is no different here. This game is extremely fast and on any format, I find it very hard to actually feel like I’m in control. Instead, it feels like I just fly forward until some random missile or such hits me and I blow up. I’m sure there are some people actually good enough to be able to tell when you’re about to be hit, but I am rarely that person. After Burner is a rush and a thrill ride, but it’s one that constantly ends in your burning wreckage littering the ground from unfair, random deaths. Thank goodness for that level select I guess. That’s After Burner, though. This is a fantastic version of a frustrating game. Port of an arcade game. There are conversions of this game on many platforms but no other releases of this version.

3D Ecco the Dolphin [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2013. Ecco the Dolphin has to be one of the weirdest games ever to get a major push by a major, successful console manufacturer. This Genesis classic is well known because Sega pushed it hard despite its totally bizzare … everything, pretty much. You are a dolphin here, in a sidescrolling world. But as anyone who has played the game knows, this game is no fun little dolphin game; instead it is a brutally hard deathtrap of a game with a crazy plot. Lots of people have started this game, but few have finished it… and I must admit, I am not one of those few. Ecco’s a really cool game, and exploring the levels, using your dolphin abilities — a charge, speed-up, and echolocation ping the manual calls “singing” — to figure out your way past puzzles and enemies without running out of health or drowning, since dolphins need air to stay alive. But hte game gets so difficult so quickly that you need to be very committed to finish this title. I will someday. As for the port, it’s pretty flawless as usual for M2’s 3DS titles. This is the Genesis version of the game and not the Sega CD version, though, which means you have the pretty good chiptune soundtrack and not the exceptional CD one. Ah well. The 3d effect is fine but as with most sidescrollers is a fairly minor thing. Still, this is probably worth getting. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D Fantasy Zone [Arcade] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. Fantasy Zone is one of Sega’s early scrolling shooters. This game is a very bright and colorful sidescrolling shmup with a cute them and brutal difficulty originally released in arcades and on the Master System. The main differentiating feature is that unlike most games in the genre, you can fly either left or right through a looping stage, Defender-style. The game is much simpler than Defender, though; you aren’t defending anything, just shooting down bases. Endless waves of enemies attack you while you try to destroy these hovering bases. Once you destroy all of the bases you move on to the level’s boss. The bosses are challenging and shoot lots of bullets at you, good luck dodging them all. There are also a bunch of powerups you can buy in a shop, which you can spend money you get from killing the enemies on. I really, really dislike that almost all powerups are temporary and only last seconds, though, it makes the upgrade process feel mostly pointless. This is a good version of Fantasy Zone, and the 3d adds a little here, though not a lot. The issue is that I’ve just never been a huge fan of Fantasy Zone; it’s fine, but somehow I’ve always found this game bland and not fun enough to want to try to get good at. I’ve never gotten more than a couple of levels into any version of this game. It’s fine and an objectively above average game, but between the high difficulty, particularly of the bosses, and the extremely obnoxious timers on almost all weapon powerups, I’d rather just play something I like more. Port of an arcade game. There are conversions of this game on many platforms but no other releases of this version.

3D Gunstar Heroes [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. Gunstar Heroes is one of its era’s most popular run & gun shooters. This release is that game, but with decent ‘the sprites stand out from the background’ stereoscopic 3d effects and the usual set of features all of this series of games have. Fans of the game might want to pick this up. I like Gunstar Heroes so I got this and enjoy it, but I don’t LOVE Gunstar Heroes as some do; I like its GBA sequel more, and Contra Hard Corps as well. This is a game I wanted to love but only like. Still, this game’s got a lot of content and is pretty impressive so some version of it is worth playing for sure. And if you want it with stereoscopic 3d, this is your only option. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D MahJongg – by Joindots in 2012. This is yet another low-budget 3DS game. It’s fun, but is it a Mahjong game? No, this isn’t real mahjong; as with most American-released “mahjong” games in recent years, it is a mahjong solitaire game, or a Shanghai clone as the concept was known in games back in the ’90s. That’s a little disappointing, but I like solitaire mahjong so that’s fine. The tiles are in a patterned layout on the screen, and you need to figure out how to match all of them. Matched pairs of identical tiles disappear, but you can only select and match tiles with a left or right side exposed, not tiles between other tiles. It’s harder than it may sound, running out of moves is easy. This version of Shanghai has a whole lot of tile layouts to match the tiles on, a campaign mode where you play all the puzzles one at a time as well as a single puzzle mode where you can play any layout you have unlocked, and several different tilesets and backgrounds to add a little variety. You play with the stylus on the lower screen, in 2d, with a static view of the play area. The upper screen shows the tiles in 3d, and you can rotate that view with the circle pad. Given that you mostly play on the lower screen, the upper one is just a gimmick. Still, with lots of content, if you like this tile-matching game, and I do, 3D Mahjongg is good fun and worth getting. And no, I don’t know why they added a second ‘g’ to the title.

3D Retro Dungeon Puzzle Challenge – released by Skunk Software in 2018. This first-person action/puzzle game could have had promise, if an actual complete game was made of it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. So instead we got this little indie game, which is basically a series of first-person dungeon rooms. Each one has a different thing to do. Unfortunately there aren’t many of them and each is pretty short and very easy. After you’ve finished the ten or so of them, which won’t take long at all, you go to the final level, which… is really hard and frustrating. The rest of the game is maybe an hour of easy fun, but this level is very unforgiving and poorly designed. You basically need to avoid being hit at all but that isn’t very likely. Ugh. Overall, it’s moderately amusing, but don’t buy this. It has barely any content and is very highly unbalanced.

3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. One of the best platformers of its generation, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is very similar to its predecessor but with more of a focus on speed; most of the slow parts of Sonic 1 are gone. I’ve covered the game before in my Genesis Game Opinion Summaries list, though. What’s different about this version? Well, you can save your progress with the savestates, but otherwise, not much other than the stereoscopic 3d. The 3d does look nice, particuarly in the bonus stages, but I probably do like playing this game on a TV more than a handheld, overall. Also, Knuckles in Sonic 2 isn’t here; this is a Sonic and Tails-only affair, unfortunately. That’s too bad, I love the Knuckles lockon mode. Also playing any of the two player content, either co-op with Tails or multiplayer, will be much harder than it is on the Genesis due to the limitations of handheld hardware, if the game even has multiplayer. Other than that this is fantastic and well worth getting for the unique visual look of the 3d. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D Space Harrier [Arcade] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2013. Space Harrier is another port of a super scaler arcade game. This mid ’80s classic is one of the all-time great rail shooters and is a personal favorite of mine, this game is probably my favorite Sega rail shooter ever. It’s either Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon, anyway. And with stereoscopic 3d, level select which unlocks levels as you reach them, and perfectly smooth gameplay, this port is one of the best ways ever to play the game! So yeah, pick this one up for sure. Blasting your way through the Fantasy Zone, shooting at the various crazy creatures, and avoiding the obstacles, is incredibly fun. The game is just about as hard as After Burner, but feels dramatically more fair — your pace is a little slower here, and the things coming at you are much more visible. This is an honest challenge, not a cheap one, and it is very rewarding to get better at as you play it more. This is a must have. Port of an arcade game. There are conversions of this game on many platforms but no other releases of this version.

3D Streets of Rage [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. This Genesis classic is an all-time great beat ’em up. I covered it in my Genesis Game Opinion Summaries list years ago. This port is fantastic and as with all of the Genesis Sega 3D Classics games, even has Genesis 1 or Genesis 2 style audio options, which is pretty awesome. There are a lot of ways to play this game, but even though sidescrolling games in stereoscopic 3d aren’t nearly as amazing as into-the-screen games are, it’s still pretty neat and well worth playing. This game is probably my least favorite of the Streets of Rage trilogy on Genesis, but it’s still one of the better beat ’em ups of its generation. I love the complex, twisting level layouts of this trilogy, the great graphical design, and the fantastic music. Awesome stuff. This isn’t an absolute must have since the 3d is the only real differentiating feature here, but still, get it if you like the genre at all. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D Streets of Rage 2 [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. Streets of Rage 2 is the best beat ’em up ever made, and this is that game, but with stereoscopic 3d. I covered this game in my Genesis list also. Streets of Rage 2 has improved gameplay, levels, graphics over the first game. I love the way that levels in this game, like Golden Axe, aren’t just a left-to-right straight paths, but have more interesting layouts. It’s an exceptional classic. Of course two player co-op won’t be as easy as on a console, but oh well. What more needs be said? Get it. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D Super Hang-On [Arcade] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2013. Super Hang-On is another of Sega’s classic super scaler games. This one is a motorcycle racing game. It’s you against the clock, you need to try to finish before running out of time. This is a somewhat special one though, because most of the time Sega re-releases the Genesis version of this game. While it has a significant amount of added content, as with most of Sega’s early scaler-style games on the system, unfortunately that version also has an absolutely terrible, eye-hurtingly bad framerate. This release, however, is based on the arcade game, not the Genesis game. So instead of eye pain, you get totally smooth 60fps stereoscopic 3d bike racing excitement! This game is extremely difficult and unforgiving, but it’s incredibly fun. This is probably the one of these games I’d played the least before getting these 3DS ports, due to how bad the Genesis version is. On 3DS however, this game is almost certainly my most played of the 3DS Sega Ages titles I’ve covered here. It’s fantastic and even if most runs end with running out of time — you’ll need to be just about perfect to finish any of the race circuits here — it’s so much fun that you’ll want to keep trying anyway. The 3d looks fantastic as well. Buy this for sure. Port of an arcade game. There are conversions of this game on many platforms but no other releases of this version.

80’s OVERDRIVE – by Insane Code, 2017. This game is a really nice looking, but very average and somewhat boring playing, scaler-style racing game. This indie game has great visuals with nice scaling sprites, but again, that gameplay? This title feels slow and dull. You might want to play this if you look at it in pictures, but once you actually do you’ll rapidly lose interest and want to play something else… such as the vastly superior Sega 3D Classics titles I just covered. I think this game really goes to show how, in recent years, it’s easier to make good graphics and sound than it is to make great gameplay. Because this game only has one of those two things. If you like a game that might bore you to sleep, maybe check this one out.

This game has some things going for it, including a lot of content with plenty of races, a somewhat lengthy campaign mode with cars to unlock and upgrade, races against opponents and not just the clock, a money system that’s mostly implemented well with cash rewards for victories and plenty of cars and upgrades and race fees to spend it on, a strong pseudo-’80s theme, great sprite art, a very good electronic music soundtrack, and more. However, it’s just not very fun to play and has a lot of design problems. On the one hand, most of the time the game is very easy and dull. Drive forward, turn as the road does, you’ll be fine 99% of the time. The controls are as average as can be. Races are point-to-point and are too long, overstaying their welcome by minutes. The game puts a lot of information on screen, but in story mode the one thing that’s missing is a timer showing how long a race is. That doesn’t hide how long these races are, though. And it gets worse; sure, the game is mostly easy, but when you hit that 1% of a course that is trickier and crash, that’s it; you cannot recover from a mistake in this game, you’ll need to pause and restart the whole race. This is a very ’80s arcade game thing to do, it’s absolutely how Super Hang-On and Outrun work, but at least those games are fun to play, even if they are tremendously frustrating as you lose over and over. This game has the frustration but without the fun. Instead, it’s ‘ugh, I crashed right near the end of the race AGAIN? I don’t want to redo like five tedious and zero-challenge minutes of boring driving AGAIN just to get to the tricky part…’ and that’s not good design. Of course your AI opponents suffer no such limitations, only you can crash.

And perhaps even worse, you will need to grind in this game. Buying upgrades and cars and such is REQUIRED for progress, you will not be able to win races without a steady rate of upgrade purchases. But you may not get enough money from just the new races, so you’ll need to go back and race the easier races to build up cash as well. And again, one mistake and you need to pause and redo the race. The good news is that restarting a race is free and can be done as many times as you want, but that’s a small consolation when the game is so grindey and dull most of the time. The sense of speed isn’t even exciting in this game until you have a lot of upgrades, and even then it never reaches Super Hang-On or Outrun’s level. You won’t need to brake almost ever except at those random hard turns that’ll kill your runs, either. But wait, I didn’t mention the time trial mode! This is your classic Outrun-style race against the clock, not other cars. That could be alright, though the slow and boring gameplay would still be an issue… except nope. You literally will not be able to finish a time trial stage or two until you have a LOT of car upgrades from story mode. You’ll run out of time. This is not a real arcade mode, it’s an unusable bonus mode that’s literally impossible unless you’ve pretty much finished story mode. How lame. Overall, probably don’t bother with this one. It’s okay but there are way too many issues to make it really worth playing, and it’s just not all that fun or rewarding. Also on PC (Steam) and Switch.

Adventure Bar Story – developed by RideOnJapan,Inc and published by Circle in 2015 (port of a 2012 phone game). This game is a very generic JRPG crossed with some elements of a cooking game, with sprite art graphics. This is a port of a mobile game and you can tell. You play as a woman who owns a bar, and go on adventures to defeat monsters to collect ingredients to use for food to sell at the bar. That may sound good and some people like this game, but I was quite underwhelmed. As you collect ingredients and recipes you’ll be able to combine them in a menu, either using recipes or guessing at them yourself, to make food. However, you get a LOT of recipes at the start and a bunch of random ingredients, but very few ingredients that actually combine into usable recipes. This gets annoying quickly as you collect lots of useless stuff while all you can make is cucumber sandwiches or something like that. Additionally, this game is VERY grindey. You aren’t constantly making progress to new areas here; instead, you’re going through the same few areas over and over, fighting a thousand of the same few enemy types in the same places again and again. That’s not game design I like, give me new places to go. And the battle system is extremely generic, too, this is a basic turn-based JRPG with random batles. I’m sure there is an audience for this game but I am definitely not it, I find this game boring and not fun. Not recommended. The game was also released on iOS, Android, and only in Japan on the PSP but I don’t know if those versions are still available.

Adventure Labyrinth Story – developed by RideOnJapan,Inc and published by Circle in 2016 (port of a 2013 phone game). This sequel to Adventure Bar Story changes things up significantly, but still is mediocre. You play a different character this time; you are a female warrior in this game, an aquaitance of the character from the first game, exploring a randomly-designed dungeon. So yeah, it’s a rogue-lite, though not one of the better ones. The core gameplay is standard for the genre, with your usual Rogue-like dungeons made up of square rooms and connecting paths. This is a turn-based game, so enemies only move after you do. Every time you attack, the game plays a little attack animation in a pop-up window showing what happened. These animations slow down an already slow-paced game significantly. Unfortunately you can’t turn them off, I wish you could. I like this game more than the first one, but it still isn’t all that fun, it’s just way too slow and basic. There are no unique gameplay features here. In the game you explore rooms, fight enemies, collect items you lose upon death, either clear the dungeon in question or eventually lose and return to the base, and have occasional story scenes with some of the characters from both games. Or don’t. This game isn’t awful or anything, but there isn’t any particular reason TO play it either. There are much better games in this genre on this platform. Also released on iOS, Android, and Playstation Vita several years before the 3DS release.

AeternoBlade – Released by Corecell Technology in 2014. This game is a 2.5d action-platformer game. You play as a female knight in a somewhat anime-inspired metroidvania-ish action game with a time-control mechanic and decent though flawed gameplay. The game has good graphical design and makes great use of the stereoscopic 3d, but it somehow just doesn’t hold my interest and never has. I think that the controls are one reason why. First, despite the polygonal graphics, control is digital, not proportional. A proportional control option might have been good. Now, your character is primarily a swordfighter. Once she starts an attack animation in this game, you are locked into it. You can extend the combo by hitting the attack button more, but can’t, for example, quickly turn around mid-attack to hit an enemy behind you; you’ll need to wait for the attack animation to finish first and make sure to not extend it. It’s kind of annoying. Hitting airborne or underground enemies is similarly irritating, you’ll watch yourself attack nothing a lot until you finally luck into lining up your attack. You slowly get more attack combo options as you kill things and spend the points you get on stats and attack combo moves, but still you’ll mostly just mash attack and watch the overlong animations. I know some people like this kind of action, but I never have.

As for the game structure, at its core this is a linear game, you are progressing through areas and going through a decent, if cliche, revenge-your-destroyed-town story. Areas are a mixture of basic platforming and combat, with some simple puzzles. Areas often have multiple branches, and you will get new items you can equip as you go, so there are Metroidvania elements in the game. Unfortunately, the map is NOT on screen at all times, you must pause to view the map. The lower screen instead has various other mostly much less useful stuff on it. That’s bad. My biggest issue here though is, I think, with the combat; it’s just dull, I don’t enjoy playing this much. The graphical design and music are good, and this game has always theoretically looked interesting, but every time I try to actually play it I want to stop almost immediately. It tries to be good, but is a janky game with issues. It’s probably average but not any better than that. The game was first released on 3DS, but is also on Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC (Steam). The visuals fit the 3DS better than the rest of those systems, so if you really want to play this game this is probably the best way, particularly if you like stereoscopic 3d. The game has a sequel, but the 3DS version of that one was cancelled. It looks like the sequel got even lower reviews than this first one, and reviewers didn’t like this game very much.

AiRace Speed – Released by QubicGames in 2013. AiRace was a series of four auto-flying tube racing games on the DSi and 3DS. This genre of very simple flight racing games first appeared in the ’00s, probably on cellphones, and eventually moved over to consoles as well. This is the third game in the series, and the first on 3DS. This is a quite nice looking game with some cool futuristic tunnel environments to fly through. There are a total of 22 races here, with most being three-lap races, and a few several other types. The game is not amazing, but is pretty good value for the very low price. The controls are simple — you fly with the circle pad, rotate your craft left or right with the shoulder buttons, and go a little faster or slower with two face buttons. The challenge is to not hit anything, and it will be tricky as the tunnels are full of obstacles and twists and turns. It controls well and the gameplay is a good mix of fun and frustration, as you learn each track and do better each time. There are three stars to get on each track, mobile game style, depending on how fast you finish. The game can be hard and I’d certainly understand giving up once the game starts requiring you to get silver stars or better on races; that’d require a lot of practice. And the core gameplay is very simple, you just auto-fly forward and dodge stuff. But even so, this game is decent enough to certainly be worth getting. It is only $3.50.

AiRace Xeno – Released by QubicGames in 2014. This game is the last title in the AiRace series. It’s basically the same as the previous one, but with new courses and a slightly creepier-alien-look theme to some of the visuals. I like the look of this game, it’s pretty cool. However, the game is a dollar cheaper than Speed for a reason, it’s got less content — there are only 13 races here, a big downgrade from the 22 of the last one. They try to make up for this by making the game get hard much more quickly. By only a handful of tracks in you will be required to get multiple stars on earlier courses. Good luck with that one, that’ll take quite some memorization. This game is perhaps too frustrating, but it is still a decently good game I enjoy and probably would recommend. I like a more complex game better, but this auto-driving (or in this case flying) genre’s a decent amusement here and there. Sure it’s frustrating at times, but the game plays well, there are some neat environments here, and the 3d effect is great.

Alchemic Dungeons – by Flyhigh Works and published by Circle in 2017. This game is a simple-looking 2d roguelike. This game started out as a mobile game before being ported to console, but turned out much better than most such conversions. The graphics here may be plain, but I have found this game frustratingly compelling and keep coming back to it time and time again. This is a turn-based overhead roguelike RPG which is broken up into dungeons and with simple sprite-art graphics. You play as one of four characters, each with different stats. The main differentiating feature is that there is a crafting system. You collect a lot of parts as you go, and can combine them in your inventory into other items. However, there is no guesswork here — all formulas are shown to you in the menu. I love this about the game, I don’t like having to guess when crafting things. Each dungeon is longer than the last, and you unlock more item-combination formulas in each new dungeon you reach. You also can attach some items to your equipment to add status effects to the items. These attachments are permanent for the rest of the run, so you need to choose wisely.

This game is frustrating, though. The game can be unfair when you get ambushed by an impossible situation, and as it is a roguelike when you die you have to start over. If you close the program immediately after dying you will go back one turn, but that is not always enough to save you. I wish you had more ways to upgrade your attack power, but you don’t; all you can do is very limited upgrades to your weapon type and add the fire item to your weapon. Adding fire to your weapon is the biggest upgrade you can do to your attack, since it gives you a second hit on every attack, but in the later dungeons you need more than that as you get to deeper floors, but there isn’t really anything more you can do other than use temporary boost items. This is a pretty good game, but the gradually more and more difficult combat gets frustrating later on in a dungeon. I haven’t beaten all of the dungeons in this game yet despite many attempts, with some luck you can have a really good run going until randomly something awful happens and that’s it. I know that’s the genre, but I’d like more power enhancement options in this game perhaps. And yes, this is a game you can finish, I have finished some of the dungeons. Unfortunately the game doesn’t tell you how many floors each dungeon is, that would be good information to know. Still, with a simple and fun to use item combination system and simple but addictive gameplay, Alchemic Dungeons is a good game well worth a try. This is a nice roguelike dungeon crawler to play for a short session here and there, when you don’t want to deal with one of the more seriously complex titles in this genre but do want something good. Recommended. There is now also an enhanced Switch and PC DX version of this game, but I have only played this release, but it apparently adds four more character classes to the four from this game among probably other things. This original version is also on iOS, or at least it was at one point.

Ambition of the Slimes – Developed by altairworks and published by Circle in 2016. As with some Circle titles this started out as a mobile game, but it’s a good one. This game is an isometric turn-based strategy game with very chunky-pixel sprite art. It looks decent but that’s all, you can tell it’s a low-budget game. The gimmick here is that you play as a bunch of slimes, trying to get revenge on the human adventurers who like killing them so much. This may seem hopeless, but a slime gets an amazing power at the beginning of the game: the ability to take over a human by going in their mouth. Your goal in each mission is to take over or kill all humans. It’s an amusing concept and the game is fun to play. As with most games in this genre it does get hard, though. Each slime can only take over one human per mission and cannot leave once in that person, so you can only take over as many people as you have slimes, and you can only take a few slimes into each mission, there is a limit. You usually start out badly outnumbered, and even once you take over some of the humans you’ve got your work cut out for you to take them all down without losing. The first few levels are easy enough, but it gets tough quickly. The slimes and humans both come in a bunch of different class types, each with different attacks and abilities, so there’s plenty of strategic variety here. I should say, this isn’t Fire Emblem — slimes who died in a mission come back after you win and get experience for it. Given how hard this game is you’ll be very glad for that.

This may be a low-budget game, but with a unique concept and good execution, Ambition of the Slimes is a pretty good game. Be prepared for a high challenge, though! This game gets hard early on and I’m nowhere near the end so I can only imagine how much harder it’ll get as you proceed. You do need melee range to take people over, while many of them have ranged attacks, and slimes are weak and have little health and no ability to damage humans who attack them, so after a while just managing to take over the people you want to will be tough. The story is kind of messed up since you play as monsters killing humans, but hey, humans in fantasy games spend a lot of time killing slimes, so why not let them get some revenge. I don’t know what happens to the humans who have been taken over after you win a level, the game doesn’t say, but I assume they are killed; they are entered into the ‘humans defeated’ list along with ones you killed in a level. This is a simple but good game well worth playing and the 3DS version is good. Also released on iOS, Android, Playstation Vita, PC (Steam), and Nintendo Switch.

Angry Bunnies – Released by Cypronia in 2013. From the name, you might be able to guess at what this game is. Yes, it’s an Angry Birds clone… not that Angry Birds was the first game like this either, it wasn’t, but anyway. As in that popular title, you need to shoot cute characters, in this case rabbits, at a defensive structure made of board and wall pieces and such, trying to crush all of the defenders inside. This game looks decent and controls fine. You control with the touchscreen, aiming by pulling a line farther or closer from your cannon. This game does nothing that its precessors in the genre didn’t, but at least the most important part, the physics, are implemented well and there are a lot of puzzles to break your way through. I like this concept and the 3DS is perfect for a game with stylus controls like this, so this game’s well worth a play. The developers later made Wii U and Switch Angry Bunnies games. I assume they are ports of this title, though I’d far rather play it on 3DS or Wii U than Switch due to the Switch’s capacitive touchscreen being far less precise for gaming.

Art of Balance TOUCH! – Released by Shin’en in 2012. This is a pretty good logic puzzle game with good 3d visuals and touch-based controls. You need to try to balance a bunch of blocks of various shapes in a stack without the pile falling over. The game has a good physics engine that makes balancing the blocks tricky. It’s a challenging and quite fun game. The stereoscopic 3d is quite well done as well, Shin’en as usual are great at graphics tech. This is a simple but very good puzzle game which I recommend for sure, though it will get frustrating! It may start out easy enough, but keep going and you’ll see just how hard things get. It’s the kind of challenge that keeps you coming back, though. Play this one.

Azure Striker: Gunvolt – Released by Inti Creates in 2014. Azure Striker Gunvolt was the first game in a now somewhat long-running series of anime-styled action-platformers somewhat loosely inspired by the Mega Man X games. This game is okay, but don’t get too excited; the graphics are pretty nice, but I don’t find the gameplay anywhere near as great to play as it is to look at. Some people really like these games but while I found this game okay, that’s about all. This is a slightly above average game maybe worth a look, I guess. I just wish the gameplay and level designs were as good as the flashy visuals. The somewhat bland main character guy doesn’t help either. You play as Gunvolt, an anime guy in a power-armor suit who’s doing … something involving opposing an evil organization. The plot is totally incomprehensible unless you really spend time trying to understand it, and it’s not well written either. I like plenty of anime, but this anime plot never interested me enough to get me to try to make sense out of it, it seems kind of bad. I last played this game several years ago and remembered almost nothing about what happened when I tried it again to write this.  Oh right, it’s something about trying to protect a girl.  Of course.

As for the gameplay, on the default difficulty Gunvolt is a tedious adventure indeed. But to begin, this is a sprite-art platform-action game in the Mega Man X vein, except without that series’ great gameplay. You cannot crouch and control is entirely digital, but you can wall-jump. You get many items to equip, and which ones you equip in the pause menu will change your shot type and other abilities including what kind of extra jumps you get, and more. You also get abilities from bosses in that classic Megaman style. Gunvolt has two basic attacks, a gun and a laser field thing. The gun does very weak damage and locks on to a target, while the laser field does more damage but mostly only attacks at a short range. You can hit enemies farther away if you lock on with the gun then use your field attack, and this is key to making fights not take forever because your gun is very weak. The laser field has limited power, but recharges quickly when not in use.  It’s a decent concept in theory I guess, but in execution I don’t find this design very fun.   First, on the default difficulty your health is very high, so you are at very low chance of dying. And if you do die you get resurrected with full health and infinite field power! You need to die a SECOND time to actually die. Dying twice is possible in the harder boss fights, but not otherwise. So, regular enemies are just a nuisance and the stages are somewhat inconsequential. The challenge and fun of a Megaman level is not at ALL present here. The boss fights are better, but this core lock-on-and-hold-attack system just isn’t anywhere near as interesting as something which requires more dynamic action such as, oh, Mega Man or Mega Man X. I believe there is a hard mode to make the game require much more active play, but with no quick dodge move I don’t know how fun that would be.

On the whole Gunvolt isn’t a BAD game, but it isn’t a good one either; trying to be objective, this game is average to a bit above average. I just don’t like playing it much at all.  It’s an okay but often boring game far worse than the great classics it was inspired by. I’m not interested or engaged enough to say I’d recommend it to much of anyone. Some people clearly like this series because for some reason there are four, and soon to be five, of these games now, but I’m not one. I didn’t finish this game and don’t know if I ever will. Also on Switch, Playstation 4, and PC (Steam). Some of these later ports have added features this original 3DS version doesn’t have.

Azure Striker: Gunvolt 2 – Released by Inti Creates in 2016. This game is very similar to the first one, but slightly improved. The story is every bit as convoluted and nonsensically badly written as before, except there are two playable characters now, the guy from the first game or a new guy. How about a girl character, like Megaman ZX had? Lolno, they’re only here to cheer on the guys and be plot devices. Ugh, that really annoys me about these games. Those games finally put female character in Megaman, but this sort-of-followup series went right back to having male-only playable casts. Too bad, it makes me less interested in playing them. Anyway, the two characters each have different abilities and routes. But after getting several hours into the first game and being quite underwhelmed, while I did buy Gunvolt 2 when it went on sale at some point I never got around to actually trying it until I had to for this list.

Playing some of it now, it’s similar to the first game but maybe with even MORE tediously long conversations about the game’s sexist and tediously over-complex story and two characters to play as now.  Seriously, they just won’t stop popping up text boxes!  Why did they think people would want so many long conversations in what is supposed to be an action game?  You can turn off the story, but still, the gameplay’s not much better. Gunvolt still is like the first game, so you use the gun to lock on then use your lightning attack to blast them from anywhere. So yeah he’s still not that rewarding to play as, I don’t like that core concept all that much. The other character, Copen, plays more traditionally — he does most of his damage with his gun, and has a different ability to go along with it. I may like this better than Gunvolt, but not enough so to actually make me want to play this game. I’d say the graphics and design are similar to the first one but maybe slightly better. Gameplay is similar in difficulty to the first one, so most of it is so easy that it’s barely even worth thinking about, apart from some bossfights. I have not gotten far in this game but really don’t want to have to keep playing it, these games are so boring… these games look nice on 3DS with quality sprite art and effects, but that’s about all they have going for them.  Also on Switch, Playstation 4, and PC (Steam). Some of these later ports have added features this original 3DS version doesn’t have.

 

My Favorite and Least Favorite Games In This Update

 

My favorite games this update would be some of the Sega 3D Classics titles.  Since it’s a game I haven’t played all that much before, and it is significantly enhanced by being in 3d, the game in this update I’ve played the most is probably 3D Super Hang-On.  3D Outrun and 3D Space Harrier are also must-haves.  Otherwise, obviously Sonic 2 and Streets of Rage 2 are amazing.  Of the games that aren’t retro ports, Alchemic Dungeons is my favorite here, followed by Ambition of the Slimes and Art of Balance Touch.

As for my least favorite games this update… wow, it’s hard to pick!  There are some pretty bad ones here.  If I was going by just pure personal bias, I’d say the Azure Striker Gunvolt games… those are the games here that I least want to actually play, I think.  However, they are far from the worst games I covered.  As much as I don’t like playing those games, they certainly are much better than 3D Retro Dungeon Puzzle Challenge in every possible way.  That’s probably the worst this time.  AeternoBlade, Adventure Bar Story, and 80’s Overdrive are not very good either.

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Kirby and the Forgotten Land (Nintendo Switch) First Impressions

This post will be relatively short for an article on this site, but it is an important one: coverage of a new game!

In Kirby and the Forgotten Land for Nintendo Switch, Kirby and a lot of characters from his planet of Pop Star have been pulled into a sky portal, to a new world filled with the ruins of a civilization that seems to have destroyed itself. Considering how modern-day the ruins appear, yeah, that checks out. But Kirby and the creatures populating the game don’t care too much about the mystery of why the civilization was destroyed, they have their own adventure to go through in this new world. Namely, Kirby is trying to rescue many Waddle Dees which have been kidnapped by a group of bestial wolf-like badguys called the Beast Pack. It’s as much of a story as a game like this needs.

The game released very recently, and yes, I got this game right after release. And so should everyone else, because the game is great! In Kirby’s first full-scale 3d platform adventure, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a tremendously fun game that is both incredibly cute and impressively well designed. The core game control scheme and screen view is based directly on Kirby’s Blowout Blast for the 3DS, and its Planet Robobot minigame predecessor. If you play Blowout Blast and then Forgotten Land, the connections aren’t just obvious, they are glaring — both games are isometric 3d platform games with a locked camera and linear levels to beat. Kirby basically controls identically in both games as well, with the same movement, running, and flying. In both games you have limited flight and a very limited max jump height. Blowout Blast is very much worth playing for anyone who hasn’t, it’s both fun and is interesting to see the origins of Forgotten Land’s control scheme and its isometric path level style. They figured out what worked in 3d in that small, download-only score-attack game, and took it to a larger adventure here.

However, this gets into my biggest issue with Forgotten Land. While for the most part this game is fantastic, I have to start by mentioning my biggest issue with the controls: You cannot fly higher than you can jump in these games, quite unlike any 2d Kirby game, and you can only keep flying for a little while before you’ll start heading back to earth. This emphasizes moving around on the ground much more than it does flying in the air, which is kind of unfortunate; the ability to fly is one of Kirby’s key abilities, after all! This isn’t a big deal in Blowout Blast, since that title is a battle arena focused game which has only minimal platforming and very small levels, but in the full-on 3d platformer that is Forgotten Land, it is a big deal. Where in a classic 2d Kirby game you would be flying around, here you walk almost all of the time, and actually need to make jumps and such because you can’t just fly up to a platform above you! It’s pretty lame really. As a longtime Kirby game player it’s obnoxiously jarring stuff sometimes. I know this crutch is used to keep you out of areas so you have to go around and follow the path of the level and such, but still. No. This is a Kirby game, it shouldn’t be like that. I’d rather have invisible walls in the sky than this.

However, other than that, this game is so, so much fun! You can’t really tell that this is Hal’s first ever full-scale 3d platformer, because Forgotten Land is a very polished game with well made stages and challenges. As always in the series this game is mostly easy, but there is a good balance of more challenging elements mixed in, including side challenge levels with tight time limits and a lot of hidden secrets in every stage. You’ll find some of the stuff your first time through a level, but after the first level or so you’ll never find everything on your own, some things are too well hidden. I’m still in the middle of the game so far — I have beaten world three — but the added replay value of being able to go back for the rest of the stuff is appealing, and I’m sure I will go back for some of it.

On the subject of those secrets though, they take the form of Waddle-Dees. You see, for some reason, in this game Waddle Dees are now good guys, and not villains. This game is absolutely loaded with Kirby series fanservice and numerous classic Kirby enemies return, but while the game is loaded with Waddle Dees, none are villains like they used to be; now they kind of take the place of Toads and Stars in a Mario game and are NPC villagers and things to rescue in levels. Again just like in Kirby Blowout Blast, the game has multiple sub-objectives in each level. In this game, your reward for completing each one is a Waddle Dee. This time they aren’t the same objectives in every stage, though; ‘complete the level’ is a constant, with a three Waddle Dee group locked up at each stage’s end point, but beyond that each level has several hidden objectives. If you find these hidden objectives on your first play through a level that’s great, but if you don’t, the game will give you a hint about one undiscovered secret after each time you beat a level. Unfortunately you do need to COMPLETE a level to complete an objective if you go back into a stage, though — you can’t just do a side thing early in the level, get the Waddle Dee, and quit; you need to finish the level instead. That’s a little unfortunate, but oh well. Rescued Waddle Dees go back to Waddle Dee Town, and the more you rescue the more buildings you unlock in the town. It works well, good idea. Of course everything is absurdly cute too.

The basic structure of the game is that each world has five levels, the last of which is a boss fight without a full stage beforehand, and a bunch of side challenge stages with your copy abilities. There are twelve basic copy abilities, which is a decent number though not as many as some games in the past since there is no power combining like Kirby 2, 3, and 64 have. However, there is a new twist here: your abilities will change as you progress through the game and upgrade them. If you find hidden scrolls, bring them to the smith Waddle Dee in town, and pay him, you will get a new, stronger version of the power. Once powered up that version of that power replaces the old one and you can’t go back, unfortunately, but the game wants you to upgrade them and each is an evolution of the last. Some of the challenge stages require certain powered up forms of copy abilities in order to enter, so you will want to upgrade them unless you’re intentionally trying to make the game harder by not upgrading your powers. Level and world length is just about right — levels aren’t quick, but don’t drag on too long. It’s all balanced extremely well. Every element of this game feels expertly crafted.

Spicing things up ability-wise are the games’ main feature, the Mouthful abilities. A Mouthful powerup is when Kirby tries to eat an inanimate object and partially becomes it. It’s cute and slightly creepy stuff. Mouthful powerups are temporary powerups that you can only use in certain areas. You can’t take Mouthful abilities with you, you can only use them in the area you get them in. They vary from useful game abilities such as the Car Mouth powerup shown in the games’ early trailers or a water balloon mouth which allows you to spit out water to put out fire blocks and grow plants, to basic stuff like using Mouthful mode to pull the lid off of a metal container with a Waddle Dee hidden inside. Nintendo has many clever ideas in this game for Mouthful abilities and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them.

I should mention how the other currency system works as well. As you play levels, you will collect many powerups which give you money. You also get money bonuses for doing things such as completing the challenge levels quickly; this is actually often pretty hard. Each time you beat a challenge level for the first time in any amount of time you get a rare star as well. Rare stars are only used, along with a bunch of currency, to upgrade your powers, but you also can spend the regular money several other ways, including on buying health items in town and on one other thing: gatcha machines. You see, this game has little toys for Kirby to collect, of the various creatures in the game, Kirby’s various forms, and more. Some of the gatcha balls are hidden in stages for you to get, but you also can spend currency in town for random-draw gatcha machine buys. You always get some little statue each time you buy a gatcha, but it may or may not be one you have already. Of course this is only purchasable with in-game currency, not real money, but I can see some people really getting addicted to trying to get all of the little toys. They are pretty nicely modeled.

They lead to maybe the cutest thing in this entire game, too. So, from the figures collection screen, you can hit a button to view that figure closer up. When you do this the figure appears on a table, and you can zoom in on it and rotate it and such. And… there’s a giant Kirby standing there behind the table, happily smiling while he and you look at the figure! It’s the most adorable thing, I love it. It’s so so cute and nice.

That covers most of what I can talk about without getting into spoilers, which I very much want to avoid. This game may not have much of a plot beyond “explore this apocalypse world and find Waddle Dees” until the end, but that’s quite fine with me and I don’t want to spoil any of the story it does have for anyone. I also don’t want to spoil the level themes or bosses, since the many diverse stages and challenges and bosses are the main draw of this game. Seeing all of the wonderful and fun and cute and occasionally challenging things in the levels are major reasons to keep going in this fantastic game and nobody should be spoiled unless they want to be. So I will only say that every single level has great moments I have loved. After the first couple of levels I haven’t found everything in a level on my first try, either, so while the game may be mostly easy the replay value to get everything is strong if you want to do that.

Overall, so far I love Kirby and the Forgotten Land! This is a top tier Kirby game and has quickly shot high on my list of Kirby games, as it seems to be for many people. The last great Kirby game was Planet Robobot and that game is also amazing, but this one might be even better. I know I’m repeating myself here, but this game is just so incredibly fun that I can’t help it. Sure, the game is apparently only 30fps, but while playing I don’t notice or care. The game has fantastic art design and direction and stages are loaded with interesting things to look at. The difficulty is balanced well, with a fairly easy core quest but some nicely more challenging side stuff if you want to do everything. The levels are expertly crafted, with cleverly hidden secrets and a constant barrage of new and interesting ideas and scenarios. Trying to figure out the secret side objectives can be fun as well. I like the stage settings, it’s a good mix of new and classic Kirby reference themes. As someone who has been playing Kirby games since the first one, I particularly like the references to the classic 8-bit Kirby games, of which there are a great many here. Going back into a level to find more stuff is also satisfying. And all the while you’ve got a totally adorable and lovable character and game. This game is a definite must play, no question, and should be on any Game of the Year contenders list. I’ll be finishing the rest of this one for sure.

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More Super Mario Maker 2 Levels & I Finished my Super World!

Since my last article about Mario Maker 2 on the site, I have made three levels, one in December, one in January, and one just yesterday in March.  The most important of these is the one from January, for I finally finished my Super World!  To reprise, it is a Super World of eight required levels, all adapted from that game I designed on paper as a kid, Castle Siege. It took some time, but the last, eighth level of the Super World is finally done.   I put a lot of work into the level so I really hope people play it eventually, it’s worth the effort.  As for the other two levels, the first is my least interesting level.  The second, most recent stage is a better one well worth a try.

Jumps and Flight (Mario World) – I made this level in December, and it’s one of my easiest and simplest stages. That doesn’t mean it is easy, though; it’s at least Normal in challenge. It’s just quite straightforward, and without much in the way of nice environments or such. This is a short-ish stage. You just jump between small donut block platforms for the first half of the level, then navigate a fairly standard P-balloon path between spike walls in the second half.  There is a checkpoint between the halves.  The level has a clear but no likes and i get it, not sure if I’d heart this level either… I mean, it’s fine, but nothing special. Jump, then fly.

I made this because I wanted to make a level but wasn’t feeling my best so I just put something together quickly that I could clear easily.  I chose this setting because I wanted to make a Mario World level finally, so I did.  I mean, Super Mario World is my favorite 2d platformer ever, not Mario 3.  And yet the vast majority of my levels in this game are Marios 1 or 3, and this is my only Mario World level.  Honestly, one reason for that is because the simplicity of the NES games is appealing; there is no need to account for spin jumps or such in the NES games, or 3D World, which I also have made several levels in.  I might try making a level with that stuff later, but for now I haven’t.  And that is fine, I like the levels I have made.  After all, I love Mario 3’s visuals and gameplay, I just always disliked how excessively short its levels are… a problem I have certainly corrected, heh.  This level is not long though, unlike some of my others.  Play it if you want, I guess.  Code N0Y-X4C-96G.

2-4: Your Castle at Last! (Mario 3) – This level I made in January, and I spent a good week and a half or more working on the stage.  First, building this stage took a while, but then clearing it while editing many parts of the level as I made clear-check attempts took much longer.  I am glad I spent so much time on it, though, because I think I fixed all of the potential issues that would have existed had I uploaded it earlier.

This is a fairly complex level made up of three sections. This level is on the long side — my clear check time is 4:43 — but hey, it’s the last level of the Super World, it better be challenging and a memorable journey! I think that while frustrating at points, it is one of my best levels. The checkpoints are basically perfectly placed as well. Each of the three sections of the level is different –the first a platforming challenge; the second a few tricky jumps and then a battle against a lot of enemies; and the last, the final battle against Bowser, followed with the concluding section celebrating your victory. The first section is reasonably similar to my original concept, but the second is mostly new and the third a mostly traditional, though difficulty-increased, Mario 3 Bowser fight.  After that is the conclusion.  And since this level ends the game, there is a good-sized conclusion at the end to enjoy. Time-wise, that third part actually takes the longest to get through.  Bowser’s RNG can be frustrating as you wait for him to attack at the right spots to break through the floor. I think that was the right choice for a boss battle though, it works well. It’s really satisfying when you get him to beat himself! Clearing this level was pretty hard for me, but it’d be a much less frustrating task for anybody else in one key respect, you don’t need to beat the level from the beginning without dying. That was what I had the most trouble with here; once I finally did that, beating it from the checkpoints took much less time.

So what is this level? It is your final trip to rescue your besieged castle from the enemy leader at its gates. First, you cross a bridge over the poisoned lake in front of the castle. Note, this is a night forest level. That is relevant at times. In this section, you jump between bridge sections, avoiding fireballs while fighting or avoiding some enemies. There’s just one mushroom at the start, but that’s enough for this part. After the checkpoint, which is about 40 seconds into the level on average, there is one final tough jumping section, first. This jump is partially blind, but I couldn’t come up with a better way to make it happen.  I did mark with coins where to go.  You can see the area you need to drop to, it’s just on the bottom of your screen.

The jump after that is trickier, but it’s not as hard as what you face after that: a battle against enemy forces. Here, you get a frog suit, and there are several more around the area. You fight against Bowser Jr. and a bunch of troops in a mushroom forest garden, including Hammer Bros. and Magikoopas. I recommend going up to get the frog suit guarded by the two Hammer Bros. on the gate into the garden; it’s worth it to get rid of them. For this battle, you just need to kill Bowser Jr. to continue, but most of the other foes will need to go to get him. I strongly recommend staying up high and not going down into the bottom of the garden. Once you complete this, you get the second checkpoint and face Bowser. As I said, it’s a conventional Mario 3 Bowser fight, so you have to get him to break a floor. I did add a few fireballs on certain tiles to make things a little tougher, but that’s it. There are several frog suits in this area to give you additional hits, and yes, I needed them.

After you beat him, there’s one last little run back to the castle’s back door, and you win. Make sure to hit the P-switch that opens the door, then get to it! It’s on the bottom of the garden. I tried to make this clear with some notes made of coins.  Working on this part of the level actually took a lot of time.  It may have made a lot more sense, level design wise, to just have the door after Bowser connect to the castle for your victory, but the problem is that that doesn’t make sense in the stage map — the castle’s back door has to be in the garden, so you have to backtrack back to it.  So I added one-way gates and markers and such to try to help people figure out where to go, I hope it’s not confusing.  Just remember, again, to hit a P-switch and grab a star and you’ll be fine.

As anyone who plays the level hopefully will realize, during the process of making this level I decided to use frog suit powerups to represent your allied forces. They should be knights, but there is no way to represent that in Mario Maker 2, really.  I think using frog suits works reasonably well.  Touching them saves them, essentially.  They were going to defend the castle to the last. Fortunately, you saved the day, and all of them,  first.  Or you would if anyone completes the stage… sadly, maybe seven weeks later it is still uncleared.  I really hope that changes, it’s such an interesting stage! Code 7YM-8KL-0CG.

And lastly for now, over the last two days I made this level.  It’s another 3D World level, using a mechanic I haven’t really put in my other two 3D World levels before but makes for some interesting jumping challenges.

Cat Claw Clinging (3D World) – This level is a Super Mario 3D World stage all about the cat suit’s ability to hang on metal grilles and trees.  This is my first level with a clear condition, and I use the don’t touch the ground one.  When used to make levels where you have to stay on the ground, Don’t Touch the Ground is insufferably tedious… but when used the opposite way, such as here, it’s great!  For the most part this is a platformer stage about jumping between places you can grab on to that would work with or without the clear condition, but there are some points where the clear condition matters and makes the stage harder.  I think it’s a pretty well-made stage with a good challenge level.  It’s tough, but not one of my hardest levels, certainly.  It’s not easier but is a lot less challenging than my last stage.  And at a clear check time of only 53 second it’s one of my shorter levels too.  I had fun laying out the obstacles and grilles and such.  The level is mostly just ‘learn the jumps’, but one part is a bit tricky — the level is mostly another of my enemy-free stages, but one section has enemies: you have to bounce on bees through one part.  It’s a bit tricky because you have to line up the jumps just right or you  will get hit and fall.

And on that note, I decided to fully mark out where to jump from in this level with coins.  I’m inconsistent at whether to mark jumps or not; for the most part, I think that as long as a jump is visible and not something off screen, you should be able to do it without the additional help of an indicator.  Indicators on jumps are a difficulty-reducing crutch often used by Mario Maker creators that Nintendo would never use so blatantly in one of their games.  However, there are a few parts of this stage where I thought marking the jump points would be very helpful to reduce player frustration.  And once I had started, I decided to just continue on and add coins between every platform.  Why not.

Oh, this level makes frequent use of a move not listed on the controls page: if you start a cat claw dive with R, then hit the R button again while in the dive, you will cancel it and return to a normal jump.  You can’t do another dive without landing or grabbing on to something, though.   I use this feature a bunch of times for maneuvering around obstacles.  I decided to put in a hint room at the start saying to press R in a dive to cancel it, for anyone who is playing the level but doesn’t know that.  Sure, at this point maybe all of the few people playing this level already know that, but I’d rather help people out.  This level can be frustrating, but it’s the good kind of platformer frustration that, when paired with Mario’s exceptional controls and design, is so much fun to work your way through.  Code: D9L-F3K-PMG

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Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries Series II: Part III

There are only six games covered this time, but what this update may lack in quantity of games it makes up for with quality: several of these are among the very best games I have played on the 5200, and indeed perhaps of the 1980s as a whole.

Table of Contents

Space Dungeon
Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Tempest [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]
Wizard of Wor
Vanguard
Xari Arena [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]

Rankings

The Summaries

Space Dungeon – 1 or 2 player alternating. Two controllers required.  Supports the Atari 5200 Controller Holder.  Developed by Taito America Corporation and published by Atari in 1983.

Space Dungeon is an innovative and brilliant game that I had not heard of before the ’00s, as with most games on this console, but everyone really SHOULD know. Space Dungeon is one of the first twinstick shooters. Indeed, this might be the very first game which uses the classic twin-stick control scheme, with one stick for aiming and one stick for moving. This game, one of few games developed by Taito’s American branch which would mostly just be a publishing arm, released in arcades in 1981. As a result, it pre-dates Williams’ much more famous Robotron 2084, the so-called (but not actual) “first twin-stick shooter”. That game became a massive arcade sensation which made twin-stick games popular, and proved to be a second major success for creator Eugene Jarvis, following Defender. It deserved the success, Robotron is an amazing game which does just about everything right.

However, that this predecessor in its genre, Space Dungeon, was forgotten and has remained a very obscure title only released in arcades, the Atari 5200, and a half-baked PSP collection port is a tragedy! Because this game is AMAZING. The original arcade game gets most of the credit of course, but this Atari 5200 port is fantastic, playing just like the arcade game except for a lower screen resolution and some slowdown. I said in my first Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries list that Defender was my favorite 5200 game, and it still may be because that is an exceptional port of one of the very best pre-crash games, but this game gives it a serious run for its money; honestly, it’s probably a tie between these two games. They are both A+ graded classics, hands-down. The game lacks variety once you get used to it, but other than that is one of the absolute best games of its era. And again, it is quite innovative too.

What makes this game so good, and so original? First, the controls. I am not sure what the first arcade game with twin-stick shooting was, it seems to be unclear whether it was this game or another game released in 1981, Mars from Artic Electronics, but either way, at the time this control scheme was very new and the game implements it extremely well. You move with one stick, and fire with the other. It must be said though, both movement and shooting are eight-way only, and are digital-only. So, this game does not make use of the 5200’s controller. Fortunately, the game works well on this stick and playing this game on 5200 controllers feels great; of the digital-only-control 5200 games this has some of the best controls. It probably helps that you won’t be using those mushy buttons but instead just two sticks.

Before I continue, I do need to mention that when buying this game do make sure to get the Atari 5200 Controller Holder. It is a plastic piece which you can lock two 5200 controllers into, effectively giving you one stable twin-stick joystick. If you don’t have one the game is playable, but MUCH less comfortable to play unless you make your own controller holder somehow. Getting a loose cart copy of this game is relatively cheap, but the Controller Holder costs more. It is only used by this game and Robotron, but is well worth it regardless. Comparing this game with the Controller Holder to Atari 7800 Robotron, which doesn’t have one, is a night and day difference!

Space Dungeon is, as with most games of the era, and endless score-attack game which goes until you die. Along the way you will challenge an infinite number of randomly generated mazes. Before each of the first ten levels, custom text boxes introduce the stage, and new game elements are introduced in each of the first few levels. If you get good enough to get past level ten, though, the game continues on pretty much the same from then on. Getting that far will be a significant challenge however, because this game is satisfyingly hard! Space Dungeon has a good difficulty curve, starting easy and steadily introducing new elements through those first few levels until you’re fully used to the game, at which point the real challenge begins.

In each level of Space Dungeon, your ship explores a six by six screen maze. That’s 36 screens per level. The game has a fantastic on-screen map showing both where you have explored and a lot of useful information; more on that later. The open space within each screen is always empty, but randomly placed walls and openings along the sides of each screen add some variety; no two levels will be exactly the same. In each maze, your goal is to find your way to the exit which warps you to the next stage, while getting as many points as you can along the way. There are 14 treasures scattered around each level of the dungeon, and when you touch the warp to the next stage you get bonus points for each treasure you are carrying. Random selections of enemies will try to stop you. There are eight types of enemies in the game, with several types being added in levels two and three to the base set. The enemy types have a nice variety of types, including wall lasers, a slow but hard to kill enemy that won’t be much of a threat, fast-spawning foes, and more. Some rooms have few enemies, while other rooms have many. The most enemy-heavy rooms are colored in as red on the map. If you kill enough enemies in them the levels will be cleared and go to a normal black square on the map, making them easier the next time you enter them as you explore around. It’s a mix, and due to the random generation you never know what you are going to get when you enter a room.

So, the core gameplay loop is to fly around, explore the map, get treasures if you want, and then go to the exit, while killing as enemies along the way. You never HAVE to get treasures, it is optional. I usually try to get them, though. It’s a great design with great controls and enemies that are a very well thought through balance of challenge and fun. Enemies explode in pretty cool ways too, scattering bits of themselves all over the screen every time they blow up. This really shows off the 5200’s graphical capabilities, a purely sprite-based console like the NES would have a very hard time with this most likely! It can sometimes feel unfair that the enemies can attack you from any direction while you can only fire in the eight cardinal directions, but you get used to it. Every situation is survivable with the right actions.

When you lose a life, highly interesting game mechanics come into play, reminiscent of a both a Souls-like game and a Rogue-like. You see, you don’t just respawn. Instead, you start back from the level’s starting screen. Your map exploration data for the level is carried over, including which rooms are red enemy-heavy ones and such. Unfortunately, the actual contents of rooms is not carried over, so if you die in a room with some interesting setup of enemies when you get back to that room those foes will not be there. This is one of the only flaws in this game, really, but I’m sure keeping 36 screens of stuff in memory was way too much. But anyway, when you die, you drop all treasures you were carrying. All of them are left on the screen you died on, and a map marker shows which screen you died on. So yeah, this game has corpse runs! The idea may have been seen in some game before this one, but it’s very interesting to see it here in this twinstick shooter. There is an additional wrinkle, too: one enemy type, the Thief, also collects the treasures as it goes around. The Thief’s location is marked on the map at all times. If you shoot the Thief it drops all treasures it is carrying, but a few enemies appear as well. You cannot kill the Thief for good, it’ll fly off after being shot. So, wait too long and the Thief will get your treasures and you will need to hunt down the Thief instead of your corpse marker. Helpfully, the map always tells you where the Thief is. This whole system is a really interesting mechanic which adds a lot of depth to the game.

And that is Space Dungeon. While like all classic games the simple design could get repetitive, this game mixes that repetition up with its always-changing levels and room layouts add variety. With simple but very responsive controls, good graphics with lots of stuff going on on screen as the enemies blast apart, and gameplay that is a hybrid of an arcade twin-stick shooter with some elements of a roguelike adventure game mixed in, once I bought the game in early 2021 Space Dungeon almost immediately became one of my favorites. The game is repetitive, sure, but it is incredibly engaging and fun as you explore the maps, look for treasures, fill out the maps, blow apart enemies, and then do it all again on the next stage. The difficulty is incredibly well balanced, providing a good but approachable challenge. This is my favorite game that I bought in 2021.

Space Dungeon has only ever been released in arcades, the Atari 5200, and on the PSP in the Taito Legends Power-Up collection. Sadly there has never been a release on a modern console with two sticks. There should be.

 

Star Wars: The Arcade Game – 1 player.  Has analog controls.  Developed and published by Parker Bros. based on the Atari arcade game, in 1983. Yes, this is an official port of an Atari game that was not not made by Atari. Licensing…

Atari’s first Star Wars arcade game is a vector graphics game. This game is a target-shooting game which borders on rail shooter. Think of as being basically like a light gun game with a joystick, except if you move to the edges of the screen you can move around a little to change direction or avoid obstacles, depending on the stage. The game has three different sections: a space battle against oncoming TIE Fighters, a flight over the surface of the Death Star shooting at towers trying to take you down, and finally you re-enact the famous Death Star trench run scene, albeit sometimes with obstacles added in the trench, as the game gets harder, in order to up the challenge. I don’t know if I’ve ever played the game in an arcae, but I have played home versions of it, such as this or the very good port included in Rogue Squadron 3 for the Gamecube. It’s a good, classic arcade game.

This home console version is as straight a port of the arcade game as the Atari 5200 can muster. Obviously the graphics here are sprite-based and are no match for the perfect lines of the vector arcade game, but even so this is a pretty nice looking game. Each of the three stage types are here, and they all play just like they should. The controls are very good, and are fully analog like you would hope for. Your cursor moves responsively and while it takes some practice to reliably hit targets, once you get used to it the game can be quite fun. It is repetitive, as you’ll just do those three stage types on repeat as you destroy one Death Star after another, but they do add more enemies and obstacles in the stages as you progress, so the game does change as you get farther into it. This is a simple game. In the first stage, the TIE fighter attack, you just need to survive. Shoot the shots heading towards you and shoot down what TIEs you can. That may sound easy, but the TIEs are fast and can be hard to hit, it’s tricky. In the second, which first appears in the second loop, you fly over the Death Star’s surface, shooting the tops of towers. If you get all of them you get a points bonus. They are shooting back though, this is no bonus stage. And last, you go down that trench, avoiding walls and such that may appear in later loops, before the exhaust port appears. Shoot into it to destroy the Death Star. Otherwise, you’ll repeat the trench run until you run out of lives or destroy it, after which it’s on to the next level to do the same thing again but slightly harder.

You start with nine hits before you get Game Over. It’s a generous enough amount that beating the first loop will be simple, but make no mistake, getting a high score will be plenty challenging. That’s pretty much the game, though. It just has the one mode. It’s a pretty good game with good graphics and decent audio, and is and a solid port of an arcade classic. However, this game is simple to a fault. There’s little depth here, just memorization and twitch reaction. I like games with a bit more strategy than you find here, which is probably why I prefer games like 5200 Space Invaders or Galaxians over this or Blaster. Oh, while Blaster is better than this game, both games are good. Also, Star Wars: The Arcade Game can be frustrating at times as I try to stay alive while TIEs zip by too fast to hit as I pile up damage. Also, the very limited amount of movement you can make can be an issue as well, you are mostly railed onto your path and while you can avoid some obstacles and shots by moving the cursor to the correct edge of the screen to turn slightly away from it, dodging isn’t easy. Sega’s Star Wars arcade game from a good ten years after this one also has limited movement, but you can move around a bit more in that game than you can here. It works as it is, but is occasionally annoying. And of course there is no way to reproduce that vector look on an ’80s TV. Overall, I think Star Wars: The Arcade game is good, but not great. It’s fun, but doesn’t have the variety or depth to keep me coming back long term. Still, this game can be had for a reasonable price and certainly is worth owning.

Arcade port. This version was also released on the Atari 8-bit computer, there without the analog controls of course. Other ports were released on many other platforms: Atari 2600, Apple II, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Colecovision, Atari ST, PC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, and Commodore 64. The arcade version is also included in Rogue Squadron 3 for the Gamecube.

 

Tempest [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release] – 1 player. Has analog controls.  Supports the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller.  Developed and almost finished by Atari in 1984, but cancelled and not released. An unfinished prototype rom leaked later on. Almost 30 years later the original programmer went back and finished the game in 2012, and AtariAge published it in 2013.

Tempest is one of Atari’s more popular classic arcade games. It was another vector monitor game, a tube shooter where you spin around the outside top of a tube shooting enemies coming up towards you from the bottom. As with a lot of games though, the 5200 version was never released, it was cancelled along with most 5200 projects in the works in 1984. Fortunately, this one had gotten far enough into development for it to be salvageable into a completed game, as I described above. The result is a pretty fantastic conversion of Tempest to the 5200. This is a great game and a standout for the 5200. However, it is impossible for me to look at this game without thinking of Tempest 2000 and its sequels. I know it is deeply unfair to this game to compare it to a game ten years newer and that was made for much more powerful hardware, but I have a lot more experience with Tempest 2000 than I do the original game, honestly, so I can’t help it. Tempest 2000 is a trancendent masterpiece and one of my favorite games ever. This game? It’s quite good, but isn’t on that level. But for the hardware this does about as much as you can. It is a clear downgrade from the arcade version of the original Tempest as well, but not much could be done about that.

As in the arcade game, in Tempest for the 5200 you control a ship which moves around the upper edge of a polygonal shape, either a wall or circle of some kind, which extends into the distance below. From the bottom of the shape, enemies emerge, moving upwards towards you. If they touch you, you die. They also will shoot at you, though your shots cancel theirs. You can’t shoot all the time though, you have a shot limit. So, you need to shoot them first, but also shoot carefully, in a fast-paced and hectic game with stuff happening all over. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s also what makes Tempest so much fun. This is a simple but very well made game with brilliant design and very strong “just one more game” qualities. All of the enemies from the arcade game are here, as are the level maps. There are quite a few unique stage layouts, and though of course the game loops endlessly once you’ve seen them all it steadily gets harder as it does so. You probably won’t see most of them without a lot of practice, though, because Tempest is tough. The gameplay and controls here are very good. You move left and right with the stick. One button fires, and the other one uses your screen-clearing bomb. You get one bomb per level. This game has full analog movement. The controls are even better with the Trak-Ball controller, too. Tempest was designed for a spinner, and the 5200 does not have one of those, though homebrew ones do exist. The Trak-Ball is the next best thing for most of us, though, and fits the game very well. Once you get used to it, moving around by spinning that ball is a whole lot of fun. You have slower and more precise control with the trackball than the joystick.

For features, there are three difficulty levels, Beginner, Normal, or Expert. In Beginner or Normal modes you can start from any odd-numbered level from 1 to 9, but in Expert you can start from levels all the way up to level 81. There are only a dozen or so different level maps, but each time they loop the background color changes, which is a nice touch. There are apparently 96 individual levels, just like the arcade game, but given the utterly insane speeds of the higher stages I’ve never gotten even close to seeing them. I mostly play this game on Normal. I presume it loops after level 96?

I should mention the major downside of 5200 Tempest, though: the graphics. While great for the 5200, these low resolution, very pixelated graphics can be a bit hard to make out sometimes. Where, exactly is that enemy in that pixelated blob? Are they on this block of the stage or the next one? And are they on top, or not? It can be quite hard to tell when you will touch an enemy and die, and when you still have room to shoot them and they are actually aren’t quite on the top. The lines of the well are a different color from the enemies, their shots are a slightly different color, you are a third color, and the game highlights which space you are on top of, but even so the graphics are low resolution and extremely pixelated, to making out details is tough. This is probably the games’ biggest drawback. Well, also I wish it had background music, but the arcade game didn’t have it either. Impressively, considering the games’ 3-d nature, Tempest runs very well, with no slowdown and minimal flicker. This is a crazy-fast game that runs pretty smoothly. Once the screen really fills up with enemies some may seem to blink a little as they move from path to path, but it’s minor. It runs amazingly well. Staying alive will be the challenge.

Even in this very low-rez form, Tempest is an impressive and somewhat creepy game; the tension as you shoot down that well at the creatures crawling up at you can get to you. This is particularly true once some reach the top and start moving around the top lip towards you. You’d better hope you have some luck or a bomb! Tempest is kind of a horror game in a way, and this is even more true in Tempest 2000. This is a tense, challenging shooter where focus is key. The game is on the line between chaotic randomness and strategic shooting; you can do okay at Tempest, and have fun, while just spinning left and right and shooting down randomly, but if you want to do well at the game thought is required. I like a game to require strategy, and this game does if you want to do well, but just randomly zooming around and shooting can also be fun, in the earlier levels at least. The game eventually gets insanely difficult, particularly if you tackle the higher levels in Expert mode. Tempest 2000 is an easier game to play long sessions of, this game is more punishing. Even so, Tempest is a fantastic classic game and this is a great port of it. Sure, the pixelated graphics take some getting used to, but you’ll get it. If you like Jeff Minter’s shooters or have a 5200 Trak-Ball controller this game is definitely a must own. Tempest for the 5200 is not my favorite Tempest game, but given how exceptional Tempest 2000 is, that isn’t much of a criticism. The game is still fantastic and holds up well today. This is a fun and addictive classic which shows what this hardware can do. This is yet another game that Atari absolutely should have released back in 1984, this is the kind of game which convinces people to buy your system!

Arcade port. This version is 5200 exclusive, but the arcade version is available in many classic compilations for modern platforms. There is also an unreleased Atari 2600 version, which is much worse, and much less finished, than this one. Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, and BBC Micro versions did release in Europe, but at the time that’s it. The arcade version is available for many modern platforms in various collections: The PS2, Dreamcast, PC/Mac (several different times each), Linux, SNES, PS1, Saturn, GBA, PSP, DS (two times), Xbox, iOS/Android, and N-Gage all saw Tempest release in collections. There is also a standalone digital Xbox 360 release.

 

Wizard of Wor – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by CBS Electronics under license from Midway Games in 1983.

Wizard of Wor is one of the best pre-crash arcade games developed internally at Midway. Midway’s most successful games of the era, such as Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, weren’t developed by Midway itself, but Wizard of Wor was. Apart from a very short-lived attempt at making their own console, however, Midway would not start making home console versions of its game until the mid 1990s, however, so the game was licensed out for home systems. CBS Electronics made this port, from the time CBS had a short-lived videogame development division before the crash. Unfortunately the speech samples from the arcade game don’t make it to this version, but otherwise this is a very faithful conversion of a good game. The graphics are not the best that the 5200 can do, but it looks nice enough and represents the game well. Unlike the Atari 2600 version there is zero flicker in this version, which is great.

The arcade version of the game is a single-screen action/maze game where you need to kill all the enemies in each stage to move on to the next one. It’s a bit like Night Stalker on Intellivision or Berzerk, except I’d say it’s better than either of those. The games’ pacing is a good balance of fast action and strategic thinking. The play area is wider than it is high, six tiles high by eleven tiles long, and there are many walls breaking up the space. There are various maze layouts, with harder ones as you progress. The current level number and both players’ scores are always on screen, along with a little map showing where both players and all enemies are. The level name is regularly shown as well. This map is necessary despite the single screen nature of the game because some enemies can only be seen on the map. Oddly, Wizard of Wor on 5200, as with most all versions of the game, flips the players — the first player starts on the right and uses controller two. Strange. And you can’t just play as player two, the two player game is simulaneous co-op.

In the game, the two players start in the two lower corners of the maze. You start as a Worior, trying to kill the evil Wizard of Wor and his many minions. This is a pre-crash arcade game, though, so it is endless; if you are so good as to complete all the mazes, it just loops back around. In each level, from your start point you move around the maze, aiming to shoot the enemies as they appear before they can kill you. Walls stop movement and shots, of course, but there are also open areas. There also are portals on each side of the screen to move to the other side, though unlike in Pac-Man you cannot use these all of the time, sometimes they are closed. You attack with shots, and can only shoot one shot at a time. You will need good strategy as well as quick reflexes to succeed here. Enemies kill you with a touch or a shot. Your shots can stop their shots if you shoot at the right time, but dying is easy and lives scarce, you only get three to start. It’s a hard but extremely well-designed and addictive game. There are five enemy types in total, each with quite different abilities. As an aside, if you look them up, you’ll see that the enemies all have amusing names — Warluck, Burwor, and more. Some can turn invisible, watch out for those. When the Wizard himself appears, do your best to shoot him down before he flees.

The controls are simple, you move with the stick and fire with a button. This game has digital controls, so it is not ideal for this controller, but it works well enough for this initially slow-paced game. Once you get farther in, though, you’ll probably want a digital controller to do your best at this game. It’s entirely playable on the regular controller, which is, again, all I’ve got other than the Trak-Ball that is not for games like this, but it will make reaction times slower. The game starts out quite manageably, as the enemies move around slowly enough for you to easily kill them. But once you face the enemies that can turn invisible some of the time, and worst of all the Wizard of Wor himself, staying alive will be a plenty challenging task. The invisible enemies are on the map, but good luck following that map and the main game screen at the same time without dying! It can be frustrating when you try to shoot an enemy’s shot but instead you die while also killing the enemy and lose one of your very limited lives, but it’s all fair. If you shoot too late, you’re getting hit.

The game ups the tempo as you go not only with harder enemies, but also with the audio — there is music of sorts in this game, a background tone which increases in tempo as you kill more enemies and get closer to clearing the level. It really adds to the experience, and the tension. More games from this era should have music. The sound effects are all very close to the arcade as well and sound great. This game makes a lot of sounds, it adds to the fun. It is disappointing that the speech samples from the arcade game are absent here, several 5200 games do have speech, but that is one of the few issues with this otherwise great version of the game.

Additionally, as for that two player co-op mode, it’s pretty interesting. On the one hand, the game is cooperative, as your goal is to kill the same enemies in order to proceed. Of course you compete for score, but you also will kill the other player if you shoot them. And that’s not all, you get bonus points for killing the other player, and they do lose a life. So yeah, whether this is cooperative or competitive entirely depends on who is playing… heh.

Wizard of Wor is a very well designed game with good pacing, a good, simple concept, and great execution. The colors, dungeon names, Double Score Dungeons which boost your points, the tension of trying to get the Wizard before he gets away, this is a great game! Really, the games’ only issues are that the simple concept may get repetitive after a while and that the controls are digital and not analog. The slower reaction time of digital controls on an analog stick will make it harder to stay alive as the game gets harder, unless you have a digital stick for your 5200. After dying a couple of levels in over and over, rarely getting farther, this game can start to feel old, even with how good it is. After a while you may want to play something else, but you’ll be back. Regardless of that, Wizard of Wor is good to great. This game makes a fantastic first impression, and while dying again and again early on can be frustrating, the game is more than good enough to be worth going back to and improving at, trying to beat your best score each time. This is a great version of an under-appreciated arcade classic and I absolutely recommend it, Wizard of Wor is great!

Arcade port. This version is also on the Atari 8-bit computers. Other ports were released on the Atari 2600, Commodore 64, and, under the name The Incredible Wizard, on Midway’s own short-lived console, the Bally Astrocade, though Midway didn’t make the port themself, they abandoned the system after just a few years. The 2600 version has very bad flicker, making it much harder to play than the other versions. Emulated releases of the arcade game are also in several modern collections, including the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 collection for PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, the Midway Extended Play collection for PSP, and the Midway Arcade Origins collection for Xbox 360 and PS3. The 360 version is Xbox One/Series backwards compatible.

 

Vanguard – 1 or 2 player alternating. Developed by Atari under license from SNK, in 1982.

Vanguard is a port of the SNK arcade game of the same name. Atari bought the rights to this somewhat successful game, and ported it to their systems of the time. This 5200 version is very similar to the Atari 2600 version, just with better graphics and more content, as you would expect. Vanguard is a very early shmup, and is one of the first scrolling shooters of note. It’s a decently good game with simple gameplay and some oddities. Yes, in some ways this games’ early release date shows. Each level in Vanguard is made up of sections, each a short stage of their own. There are six different types of sections you will see, some which scroll left to right, one diagonally, and some vertically. Different levels will arrange the sections in different ways, so the game isn’t the same every time. The game only has one kind of powerup, and it makes you invincible. In some stages these powerups show up regularly, and are one of the games’ defining features. While invulnerable the music changes, which is neat. You can’t shoot while invincible, either. You can fly right through the walls and stuff though, which is fun. The graphics are somewhat simple but are good enough, and it’s nice that the game has at least some music, too many games on this system don’t have any even though the hardware is perfectly capable of it.

On the note of shooting, when you can shoot, you shoot in all four directions at the same time in this game. And you’ll need it, with how enemies come at you from all sides as you tackle the different stage types the game throws at you. The game lacks depth; this is a very simple game, you just fly and shoot or, while invincible, just fly. You’ll die often but there isn’t much to the game. This game, unfortunately, isn’t so much about memorizing interesting enemy patterns as it is reacting to what the game throws at you and trying to not die. The variety of stage types is nice, but there are only a few enemy types in each stage. Also, the controls have not been at all adjusted for the 5200’s analog controller, so control is entirely digital and you have just the one fire button. The game is slow-paced and does not run fast, either. This game gets old quickly as you wait around for things to happen. For instance, the invincibility powerup is cool the first time you grab one and at times can save you, but given how totally invulnerable you are, getting one is basically ‘you don’t need to play for the next while’ material, which is not great. And on top of that, the analog stick delays your inputs somewhat in a way they could have adjusted for, but didn’t. River Raid for example did adjust the controls to make them analog, and as a result that game feels a lot better to play on the 5200 than Vanguard does. River Raid is honestly more fun than Vanguard, too.

Overall, Vanguard is okay to good. The game is above average, but barely. It may be worth trying considering its importance and low price, though. Still, with slow and flawed gameplay with little enemy variety, Vanguard hasn’t aged as well as the best of the static-screen shooters of its era. I do find this game somewhat fun, but once you’re used to the various stage types Vanguard gets old fast and it doesn’t really keep me coming back. The game is a decent challenge, looks okay, and I like the variety of stage types, but with very slow and simple gameplay and sometimes frustrating controls, it is around average overall.

Arcade port. This version was also released on Atari 8-bit computers. A similar but downgraded version is on the Atari 2600. The arcade version has modern platform digital re-releases, including a standalone release on PSP in the PS Minis line and in the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection for PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.

Xari Arena [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release] – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Has analog controls.  Supports the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller.  Developed by Atari in 1983-1984, but not released until AtariAge published it in recent years.

Xari Arena is a cancelled game that was in development in 1984 when Atari pulled the plug on the console far before its time. It’s sort of two player cooperative, and kind of competitive, Breakout, but with some weird, unique twists. It’s got fantastic graphics and audio, too. Unfortunately, while the game was complete, Warner Bros., Atari’s owners at the time, chose to never release it… not until fans got ahold of it much later and released it themselves, that is. The game seems to get a mixed reception among the fans who have played it, either in emulation, on a flashcart, or as I have it in AtariAge’s semi-official boxed release. Some people love this game, while others find it not very good at all. Once I explain how it plays, I think it makes sense why it’s divisive.

But what do I think? I absolutely love this game! With some of the best graphics, audio, and controls on the system and outstanding gameplay, Xari Arena is an all-time classic. While not quite as amazing as Defender or Space Dungeon are on the 5200, this is still an A-grade classic deserving of some of the highest praise you can give. Xari Arena is a truly exceptional game that gives Warlords and Arkanoid a serious run for their money as the best Breakout-style games ever made. It’s a tragedy that Atari cancelled this game, because with releases like this one and Tempest the 5200 might have gotten more of a following than it had. One of the 5200’s biggest problems, after all, is that it didn’t have a large enough exclusive library, as most of what Warner’s Atari published for the system during the maybe 15 months they released games for the 5200 were games that were either enhanced Atari 2600 games, or didn’t push the hardware all that much. This game is not like that, at all. This game was designed for the 5200, has exceptional analog controls that are great with a 5200 controller and are even better with the Trak-Ball, and, again, looks and sounds fantastic. Take the time to learn Xari Arena and hopefully you will love it.

The game does take some time to learn, though. So, this is a one or two player game, for any mixture of two human and computer players. The standard game is for two players, you against a human or AI opponent, though you can play with nobody on the other side of the screen if you wish. Yes, you can set either player to AI. Player one is on the left side of the screen, and player two the right. On each side, there is a wall of bricks. You lose if your entire wall is destroyed. You control a paddle that the game calls an energy cell. Again, you can freely move around your half of the screen, but cannot move into the opponent’s side. In addition to the two paddles, two kinds of objects move around the screen, spiral-shaped fireballs which will destroy the bricks in the two walls if they hit them but you can bounce with your paddle, and round target enemies called Xaris. Xaris stay around the middle part of the screen, but fireballs will go anywhere. When all Xaris in a level are destroyed, both players move on to the next level. A warp and counter in the center of the screen keeps track of how many of them are left. The game has 32 levels until it ends, so unlike most games of its era this game is not endless, you can win. Beating the game will be quite a challenge though, the difficulty level steadily increases as it goes along.

The thing is, though, when you touch one of the Xaris you take damage unless you have touched a fireball. If you touch a Xari without any fireball power in your paddle, your paddle will have an ‘exploding’ animation for three seconds and won’t bounce back anything, ball coming at your wall or target Xari. You do not want this to happen! So, you first need to absorb fireballs, which Xaris periodicly shoot out. You can choose to absorb or bounce back fireballs with your controller, but will need to absorb some in order to survive contact with a Xari. Each time you touch a fireball you absorb it and a hit is added to your paddle, up to a maximum of four. Once you are filled up, balls you hit with the paddle will always bounce back towards the other side of the field. Also, if you touch a Xari, it will drop the paddle level by one, so you can use up your paddle’s power to start clearing enemies once you have absorbed some balls. Alternately, you can try to hit the target enemies with fireballs you bounce back at them, as this will also destroy them if you make direct contact. Xaris are small so hitting them this way can be tricky, but it will happen. As a level goes on things will get more and more frenetic. With two dozen Xaris moving around and a whole bunch of fireballs all over, franticly trying to keep them from destroying your wall while also destroying the Xaris and bouncing back as many fireballs as possible is a significant challenge. It is also an incredibly fun one, though.

For controls, you move around with the stick or trackball, reflect fireballs with the lower button if you are not carrying a full load of four but still want to bounce a ball back instead of absorbing it, and use a fire extinguisher shield with the upper button. Fire extinguishers shield your wall of bricks from damage for a moment and destroy all fireballs in or near your wall. You can only use your fire extinguisher a limited number of times, and the number is shown on screen. You get one more per level completed, and choosing when to strategicly protect your wall with them is key to the games’ strategy. This game starts out easy enough, but as you get farther in things get faster and faster and crazier and crazier. The screen can have like 25 targets and a dozen balls or more bouncing around, and trying to keep track of everything is quite a task! The player who destroys each Xari gets points for it. For the scoring, after each level, each player gets bonus points depending on how many blocks are left on their wall. There are also point bonuses. So, while both players may always be on the same level, the scores will show how well each one is doing. The two players may both be working towards the same goal of defeating all of the Xaris, but you still compete for score. Every few levels there is a little on-screen animation showing Xaris flying around, like the interrupt screens in Pac-Man. It’s pretty cool stuff. Of course, there is one final one after you beat the game at level 32, if you can get that far. Interestingly, if one player dies, the other will keep going. The computer will continue by themselves if you die first.

The graphics in Xari Arena remind me, more than anything, of a Williams arcade game like Robotron. In terms of visual design the Atari game designer working on this game clearly was heavily influenced by Robotron, for the better, and it shows here. From the paddles to the fireballs and Xaris to the font choices for the games’ text, despite solid black backgrounds, Xari Arena has extremely bright and colorful graphics with a very strong graphical style that is both very of its time and also is timelessly beautiful looking. There’s barely any slowdown at all, either; this game runs fast and smooth. The fire extinguisher sets off a wall of light along your side that looks really cool, too. The visual look of this game stands out from most other games on this console, it looks amazing and barely looks like an Atari game at all! If this console can do this, with this many things moving around on screen all the time and with this much flash, it’s a real shame that games which pushed it were, for the most part, not released. As for audio, Xari Arena has both music and sound effects, so this is another point in its favor. The music is only decently good and not the best ever, but still, it’s a solid track which fits the gameplay well and is very catchy and memorable. The sound effects are very well chosen and each one fits its use perfectly. This game has some of the best graphical and audio presentation on the Atari 5200, with games like this released the system could have been a hit.

Overall, Xari Arena is a masterpiece. This game may be a bit complicated to explain, but spend a few minutes getting used to it and its genius quickly becomes apparent. The fantastic graphics and sound help, the system needed more of this and less barely enhanced 2600 ports, but the gameplay is the real star here. Xari Arena is a fast and frantic game with depth and absolutely brilliant design top to bottom. I still can’t believe this was cancelled in this fully complete state! Warner Bros. really mismanaged the 5200 exceptionally badly, and their choice to not release this gem should be on the list of their mistakes. If you have a Trak-Ball controller for the 5200 this game is an absolute definite must have, buy a copy today. This is a perfect game for that controller. If you don’t have a Trak-Ball, the game also plays quite well with the regular controller, though if you love games like this a Trak-Ball is a great investment. The Trak-Ball works extremely well and makes this amazing game even better.

Buy Xari Arena today, there aren’t many better games out there. This game was originally developed for the Atari 5200. A homebrew port for Atari 8-bit computers exists, but I can’t imagine the game playing anywhere near as well on digital controllers. It also was included in Atari Flashback Classics: Volume 3 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and the modern Atari VCS computer.

Rankings
——–

The games this time are all quite good.

Space Dungeon > Xari Arena > Tempest > Wizard of Wor > Star Wars: The Arcade Game > Vanguard

Compared to the games from the previous two parts of this update, Space Dungeon and Xari Arena are the overall top two games in the batch. Tempest is fourth, only behind The Dreadnaught Factor. And the other three are good games in the mix with the system’s higher-quality titles, with Wizard of Wor a good bit ahead of the last two.

Overall Atari 5200 Top Ten

1. Defender
2. Space Dungeon
3. Xari Arena
4. Centipede
5. Galaxian
6. The Dreadnaught Factor
7. Tempest
8. Castle Crisis
9. RealSports Baseball
10. Moon Patrol

Top Honorable Mentions: Super Cobra, Magical Fairy Force, Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns, Pole Position, Missile Command, Wizard of Wor

Defender and Space Dungeon are A+ classics that are among the best games of the 1980s. Xari Arena, Centipede, and Galaxian are A grade hits deserving of high praise. And the other five are A- tier titles I like a lot. The Atari 5200 is a fantastic console that deserves a much better reputation than it gets.

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A list of Western-Developed, Sega-Published Games for the Genesis, Sega CD, and 32X

I probably have written something similar to this before, but not in this format.  Here is a quick list I just made of what should be all Western-developed games Sega published for the Genesis, Sega CD, and 32X.  As you look down the list you will notice some classics and some forgettable games.  Games like sports games are important, they are some of the best-selling titles and sports games for Western markets were a critical part of the Genesis’s success.  Please note that I do say when games didn’t release in North America, but not necessarily when they didn’t release in Europe or Brazil; sorry about that.  This list shows the depth of the Genesis’s Western support.  It is one of the best consoles and has an outstanding game library.  I do not agree with people who dismiss the Genesis’s Western library.  Many of the best Genesis games may be Japanese, but American developers contributed many of the best-selling, and some of the best, games on the system as well.

I decided, for this list, to list games by their developer.  Sega’s few first party developers go first, followed by their third party studios.  Sega contracted a lot of third-party studios to make Genesis games, though a few, most notably Novotrade/Appaloosa and Blue Sky Software, released the most titles by far.  I think grouping it by developer is an interesting way to look at this information.  Each developer appears in the list at the point they made their first game published by Sega, so developer relationships go forward in time as you go down the list, though time bounces around depending on how long developers worked with Sega for.

Unfortunately for Sega, both the first and third party relationships listed in this list almost all broke down during the Saturn generation.  Sega mismanaged things badly after the boom years of the early ’90s.  But we all know that, so how about we focus on something Sega succeeded at instead, and that was making a lot of Genesis games for its largest market, the US?  I know that some people like to hate on Western Genesis games, but it’s not deserved; certainly there are many sports games and mediocre licensed games on the list, but there are also great classics like Vectorman, Comix Zone, and The Adventures of Batman & Robin.  And some of the licensed games are well worth playing as well; it’s a mixture for su1re.  Fantasia is awful, for instance, but Marsupilami is a somewhat unique and fun game.

And lastly, again, sports games are important!  They sell very well and are a key part of any successful console’s library.  People want to play them, and a more successful platform with the general audience usually has more sports games on it.  Sega’s many Western-made baseball and football games, and the smaller number of hockey and basketball games, are important and a key part of the system’s success in North America.   Sega published nine football games on the Genesis, all American-made; six baseball games, four American-made; and one hockey game and two basketball games, all made in the US.  I’m not a big fan of any of these games, my Genesis sports game loves are for the NBA Jam, Hardball, and EA’s NHL games, but they are mostly quality games and deserve to be remembered as such.

After the list, I did a quick list of my rankings for the licensed platformers.  I only covered those because Aladdin aside, they are often more overlooked than original titles like Kid Chameleon or Vectorman.

Note: Games are Genesis-exclusive unless noted.  A few titles do have modern digital re-releases, I am not counting those here.  None of the sports or licensed games have modern re-releases except for Aladdin, though.

Sega Genesis

FIRST PARTY
——————

Sega Technical Institute

1992 – Kid Chameleon
(1992 – assistance with development of Sonic the Hedgehog 2)
1993 – Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball
(1994 – assistance with development of Sonic the Hedgehog 3)
1995 – The Ooze
1995 – Comix Zone

Sega Interactive (previously Interactive Designs)

1993 – Tom Mason’s Dinosaurs for Hire
1993 – Eternal Champions
1994 – Disney’s Bonkers
1995 – Garfield: Caught in the Act

Sega Midwest Development Division

1994 – World Heroes (port of the SNK arcade game)
1995 – NHL All-Star Hockey ’95

THIRD PARTY (or first/third party collaborations)
——————-

Electronic Arts

1990 – Joe Montana Football

Western Technologies, Inc.

1991 – Art Alive
1992 – Menacer 6-Game Cartridge
1993 – X-Men

Recreational Brainware / Sega of America

1991 – Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin (first released here; game later was ported to other platforms)
1992 – Taz-Mania

Realtime Games

1991 – M-1 Abrams Battle Tank

Infogrames

1991 – Fantasia
1992 – Toxic Crusaders

Novotrade (to 1995) / Appaloosa (1996-later)

1991 – California Games (port of a multiplatform game)
1993 – Cyborg Justice
1993 – Ecco the Dolphin (first released here; game later was ported to other platforms)
1994 – Ecco: The Tides of Time (first released here; game later was ported to other platforms)
1994 – Richard Scarry’s Busytown
1995 – Ecco Jr.
1995 – Scholastic’s The Magic School Bus: Space Exploration Game
1997 – The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Ringler Studios

1991 – Mario Lemieux Hockey

Blue Sky Software

1991 – Joe Montana II: Sports Talk Football
1992 – NFL Sports Talk Football ’93 Starring Joe Montana
1992 – Disney’s Ariel: The Little Mermaid
1993 – NFL Football ’94 Starring Joe Montana
1993 – Jurassic Park
1993 – The Ren & Stimpy Show Presents: Stimpy’s Invention
1994 – College Football’s National Championship
1994 – World Series Baseball
1994 – Shadowrun
1994 – Desert Demolition starring Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote
1994 – Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition
1995 – College Football’s National Championship II
1995 – World Series Baseball ’95
1995 – Vectorman
1996 – World Series Baseball ’96
1996 – Vectorman 2
1997 – World Series Baseball ’98

ToeJam & Earl Productions

1992 – ToeJam & Earl
1993 – ToeJam & Earl II: Panic on Funkotron

ACME Interactive

1992 – David Robinson’s Supreme Court
1992 – Evander ‘Real Deal’ Holyfield’s Boxing

Extended Play Productions

1992 – Chakan: The Forever Man

Westwood Associates

1992 – Warriors of the Eternal Sun

Interactive Designs (afterwards this developer was purchased by Sega and became Sega Interactive)

1992 – Disney’s TaleSpin
1992 – Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude!
1993 – Home Alone 2

Malibu Games

1992 – Batman Returns
1992 – Ex-Mutants
1994 – Greatest Heavyweights
1994 – NBA Action ’94

Brian A. Rice, Inc.

1992 – Home Alone

Virgin Interactive

1993 – Disney’s Aladdin (first released here; game later was ported to other platforms)

NovaLogic

1993 – Captain Planet and the Planeteers (PAL and Brazil-only release)

Rare

1993 – Snake Rattle ‘n Roll (PAL-only release) (port of the NES game)

Rage Software

1993 – Ultimate Soccer (PAL-only release)
1994 – Striker (PAL-only release)

Graftgold

1993 – The Ottifants (PAL-only release)

Core Design

1994 – Asterix and the Great Rescue
1995 – Asterix and the Power of the Gods (PAL-only release)

Realtime Associates

1993 – Barney’s Hide and Seek
1993 – Berenstain Bears: Camping Adventure

Zyrinx

1993 – Sub-Terrania
1994 – Red Zone

Double Diamond Sports

1994 – NFL ’95
1995 – NBA Action ’95 starring David Robinson

HeadGames

1994 – Taz in Escape from Mars
1994 – Wacky Worlds Creativity Studio
1995 – X-Men 2: Clone Wars

Sensible Software

1994 – World Championship Soccer II

Waterman Design

1994 – Instruments of Chaos starring Young Indiana Jones (North America-only release, and probably the worst game on this list)

Artech Studios

1994 – Crystal’s Pony Tale

Probe

1994 – Bodycount (PAL-only release) (light gun game)
1994 – Daffy Duck in Hollywood (PAL-only release)

MicroProse

1994 – Star Trek: The Next Generation: Echoes from the Past (multiplatform game – also on SNES from a different publisher)

Apache Software Limited

1995 – Marsupilami

Farsight Technologies

1995 – Prime Time NFL starring Deion Sanders
1997 – NFL ’98

Clockwork Tortoise (founded by former Malibu Games staff)

1995 – The Adventures of Batman & Robin

Syrox Developments

1995 – VR Troopers

Eurocom

1995 – Donald in Maui Mallard (PAL-only release) (first released here, but a year later a SNES port was released.  The SNES version did get a US release.)

Cryo Interactive

1995 – Cheese Cat-Astrophe starring Speedy Gonzales (PAL-only release)

Gremlin Interactive

1995 – Premier Manager (PAL-only release) (multiplatform game based on a popular computer game franchise in the UK)
1996 – Premier Manager 97 (PAL-only release) (as above)

TecToy

1995 – Ferias Fustradas do Pica Pau (Brazil-only release)
1997 – Duke Nukem 3D (Brazil-only release) (based on the PC FPS game franchise, but this title is original)
2001 – Show do Milhao (Brazil-only release)
2002 – Show do Milhao Volume 2 (Brazil-only release)

Atod

1996 – Bugs Bunny in Double Trouble (also on Game Gear)

Traveller’s Tales

1996 – Sonic 3D Blast (first developed here, but would also be released on other platforms later)

Abalone

1996 – X-Perts

Al Baker & Associates

1996 – Arcade Classics (classic collection of three Atari classics — Pong, Centipede, and Missile Command)

 

32X

FIRST PARTY

Sega InterActive

1994 – Star Wars Arcade (port of a Sega of Japan arcade game)

THIRD PARTY (or first/third party collaboration)

id Software / Sega of America

1994 – Doom (port of the PC game, based on Jaguar version)

Flashpoint Productions

1994 – Golf Magazine: 36 Great Holes Starring Fred Couples

Artech Studios

1994 – Motocross Championship

Blue Sky Software

1995 – World Series Baseball starring Deion Sanders (different from the Genesis games)
1996 – The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire

Novotrade

1995 – Kolibri

Probe Software

1995 – Primal Rage (port of the Atari Games arcade game, on many platforms)

Paradox Development / Blizzard Interactive

1995 – Blackthorne (port of a SNES/PC game, with new 32X-exclusive prerendered graphics)

Frontier Developments

1995 – Darxide (PAL-only release)

 

Sega CD

FIRST PARTY

Sega Multimedia Studios

1993 – Jurassic Park (different from the cart game)
1995 – Wild Woody

Sega Interactive

1995 – Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

THIRD PARTY (or first/third party collaborations)

Digital Pictures

1992 – Night Trap (first released here, but would be ported to many formats)
1992 – INXS: Make My Video
1992 – Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch: Make My Video
1993 – Double Switch (first released here, but would be ported to other platforms)
1994 – Prize Fighter

ICOM Simulations

1992 – Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (port of a multiplatform game)
1993 – Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume II (port of a multiplatform game)
1993 – Dracula Unleashed

Malibu Games

1993 – Batman Returns (Genesis port with significant added content)
1993 – Joe Montana’s NFL Football (different from the genesis games)

Novotrade

1993 – Ecco the Dolphin (Genesis port with added content)
1994 – Ecco: The Tides of Time (Genesis port with added content)

Monkey Business

1993 – The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin (enhanced port/remake of the Genesis game)

The Code Monkeys (programming) / Sega of America

1993 – Surgical Strike (first released here, would later get a 32X CD port)
1994 – Tomcat Alley (first released here, would later get a PC port)
1995 – Wirehead (a 32X CD version of this was in development but was cancelled.)

Park Place Productions

1993 – NFL’s Greatest: San Francisco Vs. Dallas 1978-1993

Core Design

1993 – Wonder Dog

Hammond & Leyland

1993 – Racing Aces

Delphine Software

1994 – Flashback: The Quest for Identity (port of a multiplatform title)

Stargate Productions / Sega of America

1994 – Midnight Raiders

Dynamix

1994 – Bouncers

The Learning Company

1994 – Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia (port of a multitplatform title)

Infogrames / Sega of America

1995 – Fahrenheit (came with the Sega CD and 32X CD versions in one case)

Orion Technologies / Sega of America

1995 – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (an FMV game, different from the cart game)

Clockwork Tortoise

1995 – The Adventures of Batman & Robin (different from the cart game)

(Note: Prince of Persia, Eye of the Beholder, and SimEarth on Sega CD are Japanese-developed, Sega-published ports of games originally made in America for other formats. I am not including them here because the SCD versions aren’t Western-made.)

 

32X CD
(note: all 32X CD games are enhanced ports of Sega CD games.)

THIRD PARTY (or first/third party collaborations)

The Code Monkeys / Sega of America (filming)

1995 – Surgical Strike (Brazil-only release at the time)

Infogrames / Sega of America (filming)

1995 – Fahrenheit

Opinion: Ranking of the Licensed Platformers (and non-FMV action games)

When compared to Nintendo’s SNES library, it is incontrovertible that Sega released far more games and was much more willing to release mediocre games than Nintendo was.  Sega also relied somewhat heavily on licensed games.  However, most of those licensed games are actually at least decent, and some are great.  Here’s my quick ranking of the licensed platform, action, and RPG games in the list above.  Note: I’m not counting FMV games here.

Bad – These games are the worst of the bunch.  Taz-Mania, Fantasia, Instruments of Chaos starring Young Indiana Jones.  I’d pick Young Indy as being worst.  Fantasia may be the most popular pick, but Young Indy is just so stunningly unfinished!

Okay –  These overall average games may be fun. Jurassic Park (Genesis), Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition, Batman Returns, Bugs Bunny in Double Trouble, Bonkers, X-Men, Spiderman vs the kingpin (yes I know a lot of people love this game. I don’t.), Little Mermaid, Chakan, TaleSpin, Asterix and the Great Rescue, VR Troopers

Good – These are good games well worth a look.  Marsupilami, Taz-Mania: Escape from Mars, Desert Demolition, Jurassic Park (Sega CD), Dinosaurs for Hire, Garfield: Caught in the Act, X-Men 2: Clone Wars, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Shadowrun

Great – These all-time classics are some of the system’s best games.  The Adventures of Batman & Robin (Genesis), Aladdin, The Adventures of Batman & Robin (Sega CD)

I haven’t played any of the educational kids’ games ones so not rating those. I also haven’t played either Home Alone game though I imagine they’d go in “okay” at best. Also I haven’t played the PAL or Brazil-exclusive ones much if at all. I don’t have power rangers sega cd either but I’m sure I’d hate it.

Posted in 32X, Classic Games, Genesis, Lists, Sega CD | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

2021 Game of the Year

This 2021 Game of the Year article could be longer, but I think I cover the necessary categories well enough to post one this year.  (I did a GOTY list in 2019, but not 2020.  It makes a return this time.)

Introduction

In 2021, as per usual in recent years, while I bought a large number of games, few are 2021 releases. Additionally, while I did try most of the notable recent releases that I did buy, there are many games I bought this year but haven’t played yet. I have spent a lot of time playing Mario Maker 2 instead of other games. That leads into an interesting question, that of playing endless online games — for me primarily Mario Maker 2, followed by Splatoon 1 and Dead or Alive 6 — versus shorter single player games either for new or old consoles. I like both, but those multiplayer games take up a lot of time and are quite addictive.

With that said, there are a few 2021 releases that I want to recognize. Following that will be a list of my favorite games that I bought in 2021, regardless of when they released. And last, my overall favorite games of the year regardless of when I first bought them. Hey, I played over 250 hours of Mario Maker 2 this year and still absolutely love the game, I need to give it continued recognition!

Please note, some of these games are available on platforms other than the one I mention, but I only list the platform I have the game on.

The Best New Releases of 2021

1. Cruis’n Blast – Nintendo Switch – One of the first arcade racing games to be released on console in the past decade, is an outstanding, incredibly fun experience that totally captivated me for the 20-ish hours that it took me to unlock everything and beat all of the challenges, getting every collectible.  This game is by a wide margin to best game in the Cruis’n franchise and is a must-play title for anyone who likes arcade-style racing games at all.  I should have written a full review of this game a few months ago, and still plan to.  I will save my full thoughts on the game for that.

2. Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury – Nintendo Switch (this is here for the new part, Bowser’s Fury.) – I don’t like Bowser’s Fury as much as the base game, but it’s still an incredibly fun Mario experience. While it is very well made, I do kind of dislike how Bowser’s Fury gets far away from 3D World’s design philosophy, unfortunately; I really like the multiplayer, level-based concept of 3D World, but Bowser’s Fury is an open-world single player adventure. What they made is great, but personally I would rather have seen more content in 3D World’s style. It’s also disappointing that you can only play as Mario in Bowser’s Fury, that was a mistake. This is the Mario game with a bunch of interesting playable characters, after all! Put them in the new part too! Still, it’s a fantastic re-release with significant added content. And Bowser’s Fury really is very good, for the short time it lasts.

3. Diablo II Resurrected – Xbox Series X (also on Xbox One) – This is a remake, but the new graphics mode puts it in this category and not just classic re-releases, I think.  The gameplay is the same as before, but the new dramatically larger storage chest makes this game MUCH MUCH less frustrating to play than the original version, since you can store so much more stuff!  Your inventory is the same size, but your storage chest has a whole bunch of tabs you won’t find in the original game.  The redrawn art looks fantastic in 4K, too.

4. WarioWare: Get It Together! – Nintendo Switch – This game is very good, but I was aa bit disappointed, as I will say below.  I think it deserves its place here anyway, though; if you can get a handle on its complexities, there’s a very rewarding experience here.
5. Magical Fairy Force – Atari 5200 (physical release was 2021) – I covered this game in my review, but yes it’s pretty good and well worth playing.
6. Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth – PC – I’m not the biggest Metroidvania fan but this one is definitely pretty fun.  It’s short and mostly easy, but has great graphics and animation and good music.  It gets harder later on, also, and the classic anime license is nice to see.
7. Age of Empires IV – PC – While I have always liked the Age of Empires series, I found it a bit too slow-paced.  This game is a very faithful classic RTS and that is fantastic to see, but… I still don’t entirely love the series.  This is good but not the best, I’d say.
8. Seasonal Assistant – Nintendo Wii U – This little indie game is one of the dev Ultra Dolphin Revolution’s last Wii U games, and it’s a similar NES-styled top-down action game, just like the previous two Assistant games, but with a holiday theme this time.  It’s pretty fun.  I hope Ultra Dolphin Revolution continues making games on some other platform after Wii U game uploads finally are shut off next year.
9. New Pokemon Snap – Nintendo Switch – I am a strong critic of the original Pokemon Snap for N64, but this game fixes most of the original’s worst mistakes.  Most notably, there is more than an hour of content this time!  Yes it’s true, you actually have reason to play the game more than once.  There’s a lot here and it’s well done.  The visuals are nice and the game has a good amount of stuff to find and take pictures of in each environment.
10. R-Type Final 2 – Xbox Series X (also on Xbox One) – While flawed, there is more than enough R-Type greatness here to make it deserving of being on this list.  This game is crushingly hard like you expect from this series but it makes you want to keep trying.  The game sometimes feels unfair due to near-invisible enemies or obstacles though, the graphics are visually bland and sterile-looking, and limited continues were an awful choice; R-Type DX, more than twenty years ago, does continues far better!  Still, it IS R-Type.

The Most Disappointing Game of 2021

Wario Ware: Get It Together! – While a lot about this game is good, it is also extremely frustrating and difficult in a way past games in the series aren’t. I liked playing through the story despite the frustration of the extremely different ways the characters control, but quit almost immediately after that because the weekly challenge mode doubles down on the worst and least fun things about the game in an unpleasant way.  The moving-a-character concept makes the microgames much harder to figure out in an instant than past games in the series, and the very different abilities and controls of the characters are by design highly unbalanced as well.  This makes the game more varied, but also more frustrating depending on who you are playing as at the moment. Once you get into the challenge mode and have to beat lots of minigames with certain characters, or such, while trying for good scores, the game quickly gets quite frustrating.  I finished story mode and enjoyed that, but quit on challenge mode after just a couple of weeks and have not gone back.  This game is good but for its series is a definite disappointment; the experiment of Warioware but with more complex, character-based controls is, I think, not a success on the whole compared to how the series was before.

Tales of Arise also disappoints me. It’s alright but not nearly as good as I was hoping, either in gameplay, story, world design, or graphics.  The story is predictable (wait, a Tales game has… evil racists? No!), the world mostly linear, the battle system somewhat odd in how the characters share meter, and more.  It does not make my best of 2021 list.

The Best Classic Re-releases of 2021

All three of these re-releases are exceptional, must-have games or collections if you have any interest in the games included!

1. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury – Nintendo Switch (for the re-release of 3D World) – Mario 3D World is one of the best 3d platformers ever. It plays faster than the original Wii U game, and I think I like the pacing of the original version better, but for those without a Wii U this is an essential purchase. For me, buying this made me go back to the Wii U game again. Still, it wins this category anyway because of how amazing the game is. Super Mario 3D World is a highly under-rated classic as good as almost anything in the series. It’s not quite Mario 64 or Super Mario World’s equal, but it’s a very high-tier game.

2. Blizzard Classic Arcade Collection – Xbox One (played on Xbox Series X) – Blizzard’s collection contains all of their non-licensed SNES, Genesis, and 32X games, including some all-time classics, and is very well presented.  I’m a longtime The Lost Vikings fan, and this game is there, and with a new mode that combines the best features of both the SNES and Genesis versions into one.  The pretty good topdown racer Rock n Roll Racing has some nice new modes, also.  This collection also includes the first ever re-release of a 32X game, the 32X version of Blackthorne.  Blizzard beat Sega at this one, sadly enough.  They even added the SNES versions of Lost Vikings 2 and RPM Racing as a later, free patch!  Pretty awesome stuff.  Seeing Lost Vikings 2 get re-released is particularly cool.  It’s kind of too bad that it is only the SNES version and not the next-gen one on PC/PS1/Saturn, but I know that Blizzard themselves only made the SNES game so it makes sense that is the one included here.  The game itself is the same, only the graphics and audio were changed.  I like the SNES graphics, it has nice sprite art versus the somewhat mixed quality CGI rendered stuff of the next-gen version.  I just liked the voice acting in the CD version.  Ah well.  [As for the missing licensed games, Justice League Task Force, for either SNES or Genesis, since Blizzard made the SNES game and bought the developers of the Genesis game, is pretty poor and is no loss.  The Death and Return of Superman for SNES is better, but the licensing would be a problem for sure and it’s still average.]

3. Gleylancer – Xbox Series X (also on Xbox One) – And in third but still really great, Gleylancer is a fantastic shmup and has the best CRT shader ever in a classic game re-release.  It’s very configurable and looks great.  And again, the game itself is one of the better ones of its time as well.  Gleylancer is very hard but well worth putting some effort into.  The game natively supports next gen consoles and outputs at 4K on the XSX, also.  Nice stuff.  They followed this up with a re-release of Gynoug / Wings of Wor, but I haven’t gotten that one.

My Favorite Games I Bought in 2021 That Released Before 2021

1. Space Dungeon – Atari 5200 – this absolutely exceptional twinstick shooter is something any fan of the genre MUST play! My review is written and will be posted once I finish the rest of part three of Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries.
2. Super Mario 3D Allstars – Nintendo Switch – This is in second because while exceptional, all three included games were previously available on other consoles.  This collection got some controversy, but is mostly great.
3. Polybius (2018) – PC – Jeff Minter makes amazing games.  This rail shooter is one of his best.  I wish I had a VR setup, I’m sure this game looks unbelievably cool that way…
4. Gate of Thunder (Japanese copy) – TurboGrafx CD – Stiflingly enclosed top-tier shmupping defines this game well.  It’s fantastic but claustrophobic at times.
5. Moose Life – PC – More Jeff Minter rail shooter goodness!  And yes, it’s very very good.  I don’t like it quite as much as Polybius, but it’s a cool game in his inimitable style.
6. Immortals: Fenyx Rising – Xbox Series X (also on Xbox One) – I was surprised by how good I found this game from last year; I’m not an open world game fan at all, but this one has enough structure to work even for me.  There is a decent balance of exploration and clear forward progression here.  The combat and controls feel good and it looks quite nice.  I don’t mind the story either, and like the ancient Greek setting.
7. ToeJam & Earl – Sega Genesis – I don’t love this game like some do, and never have, but after playing more of it I finally started to see why people liked it so much.  This game is basically a non-violent roguelike, which is a pretty interesting concept.  It executes on the idea fairly well.
8. Battlemorph – Atari Jaguar CD – The low framerate is the main thing holding back this otherwise interesting futuristic flight combat game.  Battlemorph isn’t as good as Warhawk on PS1 or Starfighter on 3DO, but is a good game that plays well and has nice variety and decent depth.  Once you get used to it this game is quite fun.
9. Castlevania Anniversary Collection (Nintendo Switch) – This is a solid collection of Konami classics.  It’s too bad that Rondo of Blood and the later two Game Boy games (GB Kid Dracula and Castlevania Legends) aren’t included, but it’s otherwise good.
10. Contra Anniversary Collection (Nintendo Switch) – Finally, a cheap way to play the Japanese version of Contra Hard Corps, with multiple hit points!  I wish they had the hit points option with English text mod here, but still, it’s pretty awesome to see.

Honorable Mentions: Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 (Xbox Series X), Vanguard (Atari 5200), Kingdoms of Amalur Re-Reckoning (Xbox One/Series X), Blaster (Atari 5200), Gridder (Commodore VIC-20), Tunnels of Doom (TI 99/4A), Trials Rising (Xbox One), A Magical High School Girl (Nintendo Switch), Dragon Quest Heroes (Playstation 4), Jewel Link Chronicles: Mountains of Madness (Nintendo DS), Super Demon Attack (TI 99/4A), Scarlet Nexus (Xbox Series X), Treasure Island (TI 99/4A), Mia’s Picnic (Nintendo 3DS), Reader Rabbit (Apple II)

And lots more highly deserving games that I bought but never got around to playing. Shame on me for that…

What I’ve Mostly Actually Been Playing In 2021: My Favorite Ongoing, Endlessly Playable Games

1. Mario Maker 2 – Nintendo Switch – I played over 250 hours of this game according to Nintendo this year, and I believe it; this game is just about the perfect game, conceptually. I mean, it’s very far from perfect — Nintendo made many significant mistakes here — but it’s great despite them and I absolutely love everything about Mario Maker. I badly wish that instead of abandoning it Nintendo had given the game the support it deserves, but even just what we have is one of the best (and worst, but that’s part of the fun!) games ever made.  Nintendo may have mostly abandoned this game, but it’s my favorite regardless.

2. Splatoon – Wii U – After getting up to A+ rank I greatly slowed down how often I play this exceptional game, but it is still the best console first or third person shooter ever made and I still go back to it as a result. Splatoon 2 isn’t anywhere near as good for several reasons, first among them the much worse input lag. That game feels noticeably worse to play than this one. I’ll stick to this game, thanks.  It is still amazing and still, thankfully, has an active community of people playing it online, particularly from Japan.  Finding a game rarely takes very long.

3. The Nintendo 3DS Picross e Series – This kind of doesn’t count here since there are a limited number of puzzles on the 3DS games, but I’m including it anyway because I play a Picross puzzle or two just about every day and yet still have a vast number left. I’ve finished several of the games in this series now and will keep going until I play through them all. I have little interest in the Switch games due to the controls, you need touch with stylus for this kind of game to play its best.

4. Dead or Alive 6 – Xbox One (played on Xbox Series X to finally make the load times tolerable) – This game is the one I like but also kind of hate but keep going back to the online multiplayer of.  The over-sexualization, monetization, unlock procedure, and more are big issues with this game, but it has great fighting mechanics, is addictive, and has people still playing it online on Xbox.  The Xbox version on a Series X is also one of the only 3d fighting games with 4k60 graphics.  I got up to A+ rank earlier in 2021 but then started losing almost every single match, so I stopped playing for quite some time and have only sporadically gone back. I still lose most of the time, which was not the case before Tecmo announced the game was being abandoned. I think the players who aren’t really good mostly quit the game at that point and never returned. It’s frustrating because the mechanics are really good, but what can you do…

Overall Game Awards: My Favorite Games of 2021, New or Old

1. Super Mario Maker 2 – Nintendo Switch (and also Best Ongoing Game)
2. Space Dungeon – Atari 5200 (and also Best Old Game)
3. Cruis’n Blast – Nintendo Switch (and also Best New Game)

Honorable Mention: Polybius – PC (not new but a must play!)

I think this top four covers my favorite games of this year quite well.  All of these four games are absolute must-play classics. Cruis’n Blast, best new game of 2021!  Buy it today if you haven’t yet, it’s one of the most purely fun things I have played in a long time.

 

Platform and Special Awards

 

My most-played consoles of 2021

Please note: I am sure that number one on this list is first by a good margin, but I don’t know for sure what the order of the rest of the systems is for certain.  I’ve just got to guess.

  1. Nintendo Switch
  2. Xbox Series X
  3. Nintendo 3DS
  4. Nintendo Wii U
  5. Atari 5200
  6. Atari Jaguar / Jaguar CD
  7. PlayStation 4
  8. Nintendo DS
  9. Sega Genesis
  10. TurboGrafx-16 / CD


Special Awards

Best Graphics: I know I got this game in November 2020, when I was so lucky as to get an Xbox Series X on launch day (due to having pre-ordered it day one), but experiencing The Falconeer in 4k 120fps is an experience that is hard to forget.  The game is good but definitely has some jank, but the graphics, reasonably high poly count flat-shaded polygons, look incredible.  Other than that, this is another game from not 2021, but Dead or Alive 6 in 4k60 does look quite nice.  As for games from this year, I’m not sure; the winner probably should be Microsoft Flight Simulator’s Xbox Series X release, but I haven’t played that.  Of the games in my top ten at the top of this post, it’s Diablo II Resurrected.  It’s a nice looking game with some fantastic lighting.

Best Music: For new games, is it cheating to say that Diablo II has a truly great soundtrack?  This game has the exact same music as the original from 2000, but it is really good…

Worst Company: Activision-Blizzard.  I may be a huge Blizzard fan, particularly of their games released between 1993 and 2003, but they sure earned this one no question!  They still make some of my favorite games ever, but between the sexual harassment and the hiring of awful former Republican party officials, Activision-Blizzard and their very long-term boss Bobby Kotick well earned this “award”, sadly.  On the other hand, but it looks like most of the worst behavior came out of the World of Warcraft team, a game I have never liked anyway, so… the Blizzard I loved, as far as I know, largely isn’t directly connected to that stuff.

Best and Worst Level Design: Super Mario Maker 2.  You sure get a lot of the worst from this game, though that’s part of the fun, but some people have made really good levels as well.  It covers the full gamut of quality and that is one of the amazing things about the game; there is an endless amount of content, and while it certainly is not all worth playing, more than enough is to fill as many hours as I want to play it for.

Best Surprise: My discovering how incredible Space Dungeon for the Atari 5200 is.  This game is seriously incredible.

Posted in Articles, Atari 5200, Atari Jaguar, Genesis, Lists, Modern Games, PC, PlayStation 4, Turbo CD, TurboGrafx-16, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries Series II: Part II

Yes, after a bit too long here it is, part two of my new, three-part Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries series. I’ve only got eight summaries this time, but some of them are fairly long so while this is shorter than the first update, it’s still a good-sized article. Next time, the last six games. Several of the part three games are among my favorite games made in the 1980s. None of these eight are quite on that level, but they’re all interesting in some way or another regardless.


Titles covered in this update:

 

Mario Bros.
Moon Patrol
Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns
Ratcatcher [PD Homebrew]
RealSports Baseball
RealSports Soccer
RealSports Tennis
River Raid

Rankings

The Summaries


Mario Bros. – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983. Licensed from Nintendo.

Mario Bros. is a port of Nintendo’s arcade game of the same name. Coleco stole home console rights for Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. away from Atari in the early ’80s, but Atari did manage to get the console rights to the next game in the series of sorts, Mario Bros.  Atari released ports of the game on their consoles, the 2600 and 5200.  Meanwhile, less popular Nintendo games Popeye and Sky Skipper were published on Atari consoles by Parker Bros.  I covered Popeye for the 5200 previously, but Sky Skipper was unfortunately only on the 2600.  But anyway, Atari’s 2600 and 5200 releases were the first American home console releases of Mario Bros.   Nintendo would release a Famicom (NES) version of the game in in Japan in the same year as this one released here, but that would not see an American release until 1986.  In the interim, this was one of the better ways to play the game here.  Unfortunately for Atari, Mario Bros., while popular, was nowhere near the hit that Donkey Kong before it and Super Mario Bros. after it would be. This is a single-screen arcade game and while it is good, it has always been overshadowed by the games before and after it.

Despite that, Atari did a good job with this port. While it is not arcade perfect and, much like Popeye, it doesn’t quite match up to the NES version, Mario Bros. is a great version of an early Nintendo classic. This game and its characters look a little funny, but I think the look works. The game plays well too. As in the arcade game, Mario Bros. takes place in a sewer. This is a single-screen platformer and you walk and jump around the four-level sewer. The game has digital controls and only one button, for jumping. Jumping is limited, in that you cannot control yourself in the air at all. What jump you do is determined before you leave the ground. That’s not like later Mario controls at all, but that is how this game plays. It certainly makes things tougher. Additionally, the digital controls make no use of the 5200 controller’s additional features. This game would surely be easier with a digital controller as you would get quicker response times, useful for avoiding the many enemies. I only have regular 5200 controllers and the Trak-Ball, though. The game plays okay, it just can take you a little longer to stop moving than you’d like.

In that sewer, your goal in each screen is to defeat all of the enemies. You need to beat all of them to proceed. Your enemies are Koopas, crabs, fireballs, and various other foes. They start at pipes on the top level of the screen and move towards the bottom. Once they reach pipes on the bottom, they warp back up to the top. Very much unlike almost every game in the series since, you CANNOT jump on your foes here! Instead, you need to hit the platform an enemy is walking on from underneath to stun them. Then you can defeat them with a touch. As in Joust though, wait too long after stunning a foe and it will get back up. Some enemies need to be hit from underneath more than once to knock them out so you can defeat them. There is also a POW block on the screen you can hit from below three times. It will stun enemies. Use this power wisely though, for once you use it up it’s gone until the next level. The game gets hard quickly as your foes pile up and faster and tougher to beat enemies get added into the mix. Things may be a bit easier in the two player co-op mode, though. That’s a great feature to have.

Mario Bros. is an addicting classic game.  I’ve never loved this game, but it’s fun if you give it some time.  This game is challenging, perhaps too much at times, but it’s easy to see why the game was successful. It’s challenging and well designed, and may keep you coming back.  Its sequel would be one of the greatest and most important games ever made. This game is not that, but it is a good game certainly worth playing.  Is this version in specific a must-play, though? Probably not.  It’s neat to have as a Nintendo game on a non-Nintendo console, but there are many versions of Mario Bros. are out there, and quite a few are more arcade-perfect than this.  Newer ports will control better than this, too.  Even so, Mario Bros. for the 5200 is a good game well worth getting if you already have a 5200.

Arcade port. This version is also on Atari 8-bit computers. This game is on many formats, including the NES, Commodore 64 (two different versions), Atari 2600, Atari 7800, NEC PC88, Sinclair XZ Spectrum, Apple II, Amstrad CPC, Game Boy Advance, and in arcade-perfect form on the Nintendo Switch.  Multiplayer-focused adaptations of the game are also present in other Mario games, most notably Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES and in all of the Mario Advance games on GBA. The game has only one true sequel, Mario Clash for Virtual Boy. That is a pretty good game.


Moon Patrol – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983. Licensed from Williams, the original American publisher. The original arcade game was developed by Irem.

Moon Patrol is another port of an arcade classic. Moon Patrol, one of the early Japanese scrolling shooting games, is a side-scrolling platform shooter where you drive to the right while jumping over obstacles and shooting enemies coming your way. The arcade game is simple, but plays well and was apparently one of the first with parallax scrolling backgrounds. The game has background music too, unlike many early arcade titles. This 5200 version is a lower resolution but very accurate port. Just like the arcade game, this version has parallax scrolling backgrounds and music in addition to the sound effects! The backgrounds are really nicely done. Your tank here is a somewhat funny-looking blob thing, but that’s alright. Having music is particularly great, this system can do music but often games don’t have it. The music is a simple loop but is catchy.

In the game you control a moon tank. This is kind of an early auto-runner or shmup-on-wheels game, as you can’t stop moving, only go a little faster or slower. This version both looks and plays great. It has nice graphics for the system with parallax scrolling, the controls are responsive, and it contains all the content from the arcade game. The controls are digital and not analog, but work well — forward and backward on the stick make you go a little faster or slower to move your tank forwards or back, while one button shoots and the other jumps. Yes, jump is on a button. Take note, James Bond 007… but anyway. When you shoot, one bullet goes upwards to the top of the screen, while the other goes only a short distance forwards. Jumping, meanwhile, gives you good control of your jump. Your tank’s hitbox is large though, so some later jumps are tricky. This is close to the arcade game and is worlds better than the extremely tricky, tight jumping of the Atari 2600 version. Nearly impossible jumps there are easy in this version. To make things even easier, this game has something very rare for an early ’80s console port of an arcade game: continues! And infinite ones, at that. That’s right, when you get game over you can start right off from close to where you died. Your score does reset when you continue, though. When you get a game over your time does NOT reset, however, and if you finish a level with a fast time you get a point bonus. The game rewards not dying.

This game has two difficulty options, Beginning and Championship. Beginning is a single, easier run through the game. After you beat it you move on to the Championship course. Championship is harder and endlessly loops, so each time you finish a Championship course you start again. Every loop is very similar, though. Each loop of the game is broken up into five areas. You start at letter A. After you get to letters E, J, O, T, and Z, you get a screen showing how you did for that part of the game. In the game, you go to the right through 26 sections, each noted with one letter from the alphabet. In some waves flying enemy ships attack you from the skies, and you’ve got to shoot them down or avoid them until you get through to the next letter point. Some drop bombs that can blow holes in the ground you will need to jump over. In other waves, your main obstacles are rocks and pits. You need to jump over the pits and shoot or jump over the rocks. Because of your short forward shot distance, you need to really watch out for those rocks on the ground. Enemies in the air can be deadly, but it’s the rocks and pits that often are the greater threat here. Eventually you will face more threats and some variation on the formula. The game starts out easy, and finishing Beginning mode won’t take long. Championship is more challenging, but with the continue system it’s beatable fairly quickly if you don’t care about your score. Of course the game loops infinitely so you can always play for more points, though each letter’s stage is always fairly similar.

This is a simple but fun game. It’s a game of quick reactions, as you try to avoid the obstacles coming at you while shooting down your enemies. It does not have the depth of a newer shooting game of course, but this is a very fun classic that is well worth playing. The game has very good graphics for the time, good music, and well designed and balanced enemies and obstacles to work your way past. Really my only issue with Moon Patrol is that it won’t last all that long unless you get into playing for score. The game has quite a bit of variety, but with the static stage structure, between the good controls and continue system, unless you want to play this game for score it probably won’t last all that long. Still, however long you play it for some version of Moon Patrol is a must-play for classic game fans and this is a great version of it. You can see how Irem would become one of the ’80s better arcade game developers.

Arcade port. This same version is also on the Atari 8-bit computers. Other ports are available on Atari 2600 (with very tough jumping controls), Apple II, Commodore 64, PC (DOS), Sord M5, Commodore VIC-20, TI99/4A, MSX, Atari ST, Game Boy / Game Boy Color (packed with a port of the NES version of Spy Hunter), and in perfect arcade port form on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. There are likely more versions of this game out there than that as well. There is also an improved homebrew hack / remake of this 5200 version of the game called Moon Patrol Redux. I haven’t played that one.


Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns – 1 player. Developed and published by Activision in 1984.

Pitfall II is a very ambitious game. A groundbreaking platformer when it released in 1984, Pitfall II has a large world to explore and a very modern-feeling continue system with infinite lives that send you back to the last checkpoint. It also is fairly open-ended and, I would say, extremely frustrating. This game was first released on the Atari 2600 and this is a port of that version with moderately upgraded graphics. The 2600 version used an added chip in the cart to get more out of the system, but nothing like that is needed here. The graphics have more detail, but it is clearly the same game. Controls are identical, so this is a digital-control game with one jump button and that’s it. It would control much better with a digital controller than the standard analog pad I have, control in this game can be frustrating with the regular controller. As with the Atari 8-bit computer version of this game and only that version, though, Pitfall II for the 5200 has one major advantage over all other versions: it has a significant amount of exclusive added content! If you manage to get to what is the end of this game on any other platform, there is a whole second half of the game, full of more treasures to find and obstacles to avoid, that is just as big as the first half of the game, waiting for you. If you can get to the end of all that, this version has a much more satisfying ending than the 2600 game. Yes, this is one of the few 5200 games with a real ending. These are very cool additions which makes this almost certainly the best console version of this game, if you have a good controller for this kind of game. I do not, the standard 5200 controller has issues with this game.

As for the game itself though, Pitfall II is a nonviolent exploration platformer. The world is a rectangular maze of screens, and you move around as Pitfall Harry, running, jumping, climbing, and swimming as you try to avoid all of the many enemies, save several people you need to rescue, and collect as much of the gold as you can find. Oddly, the game scrolls when you go up or down, but flips from screen to screen when you go between screens horizontally. Huh. Your goal is to rescue your niece and cat, get the rat, find a diamond ring, and then escape. Along the way, you want to try to collect as much of the gold as you can. This task will be more challenging than it is on the 2600, though, since you have twice as much game to get through to finish it. As with the first Pitfall, this game is set in a jungle. The map is dramatically more complex than before, though; where before the game was made of 265 nearly identical screens in a straight line, this time there are perhaps fewer screens but each is totally unique, and they are, again, in a rectangle instead of a line. There are also water areas you can swim in which add some variety as well. There are also many ladders to climb up and down. These are very frustrating to use though, as you need to walk up to them while holding UP [or down] and forward to grab on to the ladder; if you just press forward you will fall into the hole the ladder is in, falling straight down until you hit a floor, water, or, frequently, an enemy who of course kills you instantly. The ladder controls are finicky stuff and really should be better.

The ambition is obvious here, and a lot is accomplished. However, I find this game maybe more frustrating than it is fun. First, I mentioned the controls already. Those digital and one button-only controls are limiting and are not a great fit for the 5200 controller. I badly wish you could duck; that would make this game much better, I think. Also, this game is sometimes considered to be a proto-Metroidvania game. It does not have items which unlock areas, but it does have exploration. Compared to later titles in this genre this games’ exploration is relatively straightforward once you get used to the game, as the game has a mostly linear path to follow with dead ends and smaller side areas along the way that may have gold in them for you to find if you want, but exploration still is a significant part of the game; it’s up to you to figure out which are the side paths and which the main one. Again this game is fairly mild in this respect, but still, I do like some exploration in games but strongly prefer to know where I am going; I hate wandering around lost in a game! You can’t get too lost in this game, but you can wander around aimlessly in some areas and that gets frustrating. You move slowly in this game so going to a dead end and back can take a while. Also, I know the treasure is optional, but I wish that it told you how many treasures you have. Figure it out yourself. It does have a score on screen, which increases each time you get a treasure, but this score will also go down so it’s not a great measure of progress unless you aren’t dying.

At first I disliked how open the game feels, I want to know where to go. It made me want to not play the game, a common reaction I have to open-world games. However, once I realized that the game is actually fairly linear, I started to like it a bit more. The music is catchy, graphics decent, and some of the exploration is fun. However, while exploring and finding your way can be fun, as you remember which paths to take and where the gold is, the controls are slow and avoiding the enemies is very frustrating. Avoiding enemies requires very precise movement, you must be at the exact right spots to not get hit. And you will often be hit, and you die with one hit.

So, even when I am starting to have fun exploring, the constant deaths get in the way. This game introduced the innovative concept of checkpoints in an open world, and they work. The issue is that they are quite far apart. Getting from one to the next without dying over and over and over will take a lot of practice. And when you die yet again and are sent all the way back to the last checkpoint it gets very frustrating. Trying to avoid the enemies and not die on the ladders or such can be really tough. All you can do is walk or jump, no ducking, no fighting back, and enemies are placed to run into you unless you do the exact right movements at just the right spots. For instance, bats fly just at head level, edging just barely higher at certain points so if you stand at the right spots you won’t die. Frogs hop back and forth over ladder entrances, killing you if you slightly mess up your timing. And more. Many enemies were placed in order to make getting past them frustratingly hard. And every time you get hit it’s all the way back to the last checkpoint for you. When you get hit, you watch Pitfall Harry float back to the checkpoint while a sad song plays while your points reduce down until you get back. The sad version of the song continues playing until you collect some gold. I often wish I could just fight the enemies to get them out of my way to get to some of the gold, but you can’t. All you can do is just memorize where to jump that gets you over them. When you do finally work your way to a hard-to-get-to gold bar or person it is quite satisfying and may be worth the hassle, but this game has some definite drawbacks.

Overall, Pitfall II is a classic, but you will need a great deal of patience and memorization to get very far in this game. A lot of people love this game, and I recognize the games’ ambition and innovation, but between the design, controls, and controller, a lot of the time I find this game much more frustrating than fun. This is a game of exploration and avoidance, and is both simple and yet complex as you try to find out where to jump from and where to go in order to find all of the gold. So far I have not been dedicated enough to it to finish the game, but it is certainly well worth trying. Objectively, Pitfall II probably is a very good to borderline great classic. Subjectively, it’s a very frustrating game I don’t know that I want to play much more of.

Expanded Atari 2600 port. Also on Atari 8-bit computers. Remember, only the 5200 and A8 versions of the game continue on with a second half after finishing the original game. Unexpanded ports of the 2600 version are also available on other platforms, including the Colecovision.


Ratcatcher [Homebrew] – 1-3 player simultaneous. Homebrew game developed by Average Software (now Phaser Cat Games) and published by AtariAge in 2016.

Ratcatcher is the first original 5200 game from Average Software’s Ryan Whitmer, and I think it could be said that his inexperience shows here. His newer title Magical Fairy Force, which I covered last time, is a mostly pretty good game. This game, however, I find much more, well, average. Ratcatcher is a single-screen arcade style game, though this game is far too complex to have made a good arcade game; until reading the manual I didn’t have a good sense of what was going on. Once you figure it out the game is alright, but has some design issues. First, though, I should mention that control here is entirely digital. Other than using two buttons this game does nothing with the 5200 controller. You could play the game with one button, but it would make an already hard game even harder. I should also say, perhaps the most interesting thing about this game is its three player simultaneous play. You will, of course, need a model 1 5200 to play with three players, but if you have one this is one of the few games to take advantage of those additional controller ports. As a solo game it definitely loses something, versus having other people on screen; this game feels better balanced for multiple people working together than for a solo player. You can play a single player game, though it will be harder.

Anyway, in this game you play as one of three ratcatchers in a sewer. The graphics are seviceably decent and audio is basic. This game is about gameplay, not flash, though it looks alright. You need to avoid deadly obstacles, most notably a massive plague of sewer alligators, while doing as the games’ name suggests and grabbing as many rats as you can. Each level has ten rats in it, and you get only one chance at each one. You must grab five rats before the level ends or you lose a life. Getting all ten sends you to a bonus stage full of points to collect before the next regular level returns to normal. You also lose a life if you touch a deadly obstacle such as a live alligator, a cloud of sewer gas, or electrified water. You get rats simply by touching them, unlike in reality they cannot hurt or attack you. They will run away from you when you walk towards them, though, so some strategy will be required.

Indeed, strategy is the name of the game here. Ratcatcher takes place on a five-floor screen. Enemies will fill the lower three levels, while the top level is generally safe, at least at first. You can move left and right, but cannot jump; your only interaction is to turn some switches. There are several sets of these, water-wave switches in the center and gate-selection ones along the sides. For those side switches, if you stand in front of the switch by the sewer gates on either side of the screen, the two buttons will move selection lights up and down. One button moves the indicator up, and the other down, for quick selection of any of the four floors. If you walk through that gate, you will come through onto the selected floor. Walking in again will only send you back out that same gate, though, so you’ll need to move the indicator again to go back to the floor you came from. You can have different floors selected on each side of the screen though, of course, and doing so is important. You can only change the selected floor at the correct side’s gate switches, though, so thinking ahead is important. This can be frustrating though, as enemies will ambush you right after you go through a gate and there’s nothing you can do, there’s no way you’ll be able to change floors and get through before that enemy gets to you.

You do have some defenses against the hordes of alligators and other threats, however. First, there also is a water meter which rises over time. Two switches on the center of the top level will, once the water meter is full enough, send a wall of water across the screen, one switch for each direction. This wall of water will go out of the floor you have selected with the gate switches on the side and push anything on that floor as far over as it can. If you let the water meter overflow, it will set off a wall of water in one of the directions even if you don’t hit a switch, also. The water will wash away all foes, though washed-away rats are lost and not captured so watch out for that. And last, there are six gates on the lower three levels that you can move up and down with switches on levels two and four. The gates are always there, you can only choose which floors they are on. For both the waves of water and the gates, your ratcatchers are affected; the water will wash you to the side of the screen, and you can’t walk through those gates any more than the enemies can. So you need to plan ahead, though with the random nature of the way enemies appear from the sides of the levels this is difficult. You start with “only” having to deal with rats and alligators, but once sewer gas, electrified rats, and more, are added in this game gets tough.

And really, that complexity is this games’ downfall, I think. This kind of game is best when it is easy to understand and play, but while somewhat interesting, this game is definitely not easy to understand or play. You need to consider which floors to block with gates, when to use the walls of water, and most importantly which floors to set each sides’ portals to, while trying to grab those rats and avoid everything else. And if you miss too many rats, you lose a life, and three lives lost and that’s Game Over. Ratcatcher is a decent game once you learn how to play it and it certainly presents a good challenge, but it is probably a bit overly complicated and frustrating. It is far too easy to die without feeling like you did anything wrong simply because of unfair enemy spawns in a game where you can’t always easily get away from foes. Due to its complexity and challenge Ratcatcher makes a poor first impression. You will lose, quickly, for some time. If you keep going and learn how to play it gets better, though, so if it sounds interesting it may be worth putting some time into, particularly if you have interested other players you can work with, so, say, one person can flip a gate switch while someone else gets the rat without being killed by an alligator right behind it as you would be in single player. This game feels better balanced for multiplayer than single player; as a single player game it is too hard and frustrating. Ratcatcher is, overall, an average game that may be worth a look if it sounds interesting.

Atari 5200 homebrew game. This was first made for the 5200. An Atari 8-bit computer version also exists, I believe. The developer also made a PC version.


RealSports Baseball – 1 or 2 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.

In the early ’80s, Atari started up a new line of sports games and called it the RealSports series. These games try to be more realistic than the early Atari 2600 sports games. There are RealSports games on the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800, but of the games in the franchise this one, RealSports Baseball for the 5200, probably has the overall best reputation. And after playing it, I get why! RealSports Baseball for 5200 is a great game, and is easily the best pre-crash sports game I own that isn’t a tennis/pong game. This game has some flaws, most notably in how hard it is to score runs, but it is very good and holds up great. Baseball is my favorite sport, and this is a good baseball game.

For reasons why, first, most early sports games were two player only. This game, however, has AI opposition to play against. The game has four difficulty levels too, to cover many skill levels. Even on the easiest setting beating the computer is difficult because of how hard scoring runs is, but there is still a nice skill gradient here. The game even allows an AI to play against an AI, if you want. Fun stuff. The game has a voiced umpire calling the balls, strikes, and outs, too, for a very nice touch. Voiced speech was rare in games at this point and it’s a fantastic inclusion here. Now, this title does only have single games and not a season mode or such, but for this era that is to be expected. There also aren’t named players or teams, just a red team and a blue team, and there is just one stadium. That’s fine, the game has what it needs. For the time, AI and voice make for a pretty good feature set.

As with most baseball games of the pre-crash era, RealSports Baseball for the 5200 is a single-screen game. Later on, baseball games would zoom in and have you basically field on a mini-map, while the zoomed in main screen showed just a part of the field. In this game, though, as with earlier titles, everything is on one screen. This means that the outfield is dramatically condensed down in size; outfielders look like they are standing right behind infielders. The game accounts for this by having the ball take a lot longer to be thrown from an outfielder to an infielder than from one infielder to another, so the real distance is taken into account even if visually it doesn’t look that way. There are plusses and minuses to this approach. On the positive side, I have never liked the zoomed-in-field style of baseball games; I want to be able to see on the main screen where the ball is going. My favorite baseball game is Hardball III, which uses a single screen to show the whole vertical distance of the field. That game is newer and higher resolution and has a much more accurately-scaled field than this one, though, so the distances appear correct on screen in a way they don’t here. So I kind of like this, but on the negative side, the small outfield makes getting balls to drop for hits much harder than it probably should be! Batting is one of the hardest things in sports, and this game makes successfully hitting the ball pretty hard since fielders almost always seem to be standing right where you hit the ball to. The small outfield here gets frustrating. Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had.

For batting, there is not a separate batting screen. Instead, the pitcher simply throws the ball towards the batter, who tries to hit it. You pitch by hitting the upper button to throw the ball. You then can control its motion with the stick while the ball flies towards the plate, though only along the horizontal axis; there isn’t a vertical axis here for the ball. This makes things a little easier, but batting is still hard. The lower button throws the ball to a base, to try to pick off a runner. If the ball is hit the game automatically selects the closest player. You can change players with the lower button and throw with the upper one once you pick up the ball. The game automatically targets throws to the farthest base that a runner is running towards, which can be annoying at times when you want to go to a much closer base for the out, but you can change your target base with the lower button. Defense works well here and after a few games I wasn’t giving up many runs against the easiest AI.

When batting, you swing the bat by moving the stick on your controller horizontally from left to right. You need to have the stick start fully on the left side in order to properly swing, then move the stick at the right time to hit the ball. Your stick movement is fully analog, as you would expect on the 5200, for good control. This control scheme is kind of strange, but it works well once you get used to it. Atari would use this same control scheme in other RealSports baseball games, but it works much less well on a console with digital-only controls like the 7800 than it does here. Once you get the timing down for batting this game is fun, even if it is frustratingly hard to actually get enough hits to score many runs against the AI.

Overall, RealSports Baseball is a great game. Games against the AI do tend to be low-scoring and victory is difficult, but the effort is rewarding and the controls and gameplay very good and well thought through. With two button and analog both supported here, this game makes good use of the 5200’s controller. The voiced speech lines calling balls and strikes are also great and add a lot. This very much is an early title features-wise, but if you don’t mind that RealSports Baseball is definitely recommended. This is great for its time and still is a lot of fun today. It’s even better in multiplayer, of course.

Atari 5200 exclusive. There are games on the Atari 2600 and 7800 with the same name as this game, but they are different games, neither one as good as this one. I covered the 7800 game years ago and did not have good things to say about it. Reading that summary again, I notice that that game shares a lot with this one, they just did everything worse there.


RealSports Soccer – 1 or 2 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.

RealSports Soccer works much less well than the baseball game above, unfortunately. I do not have nearly as much experience playing soccer games as I do baseball games, though I like the sport well enough, but this one… this is not very good. I haven’t played many other pre-crash soccer games to compare this one to so perhaps it is fine for the time, but still, after a match or two of this I didn’t want to go back. RealSports Soccer is just below average, not awful, but there is little reason to play it today.

As you might expect, features-wise this game has one or two player play with four AI difficulty levels. As in RealSports Baseball, player one is the blue team and player two the red one. It has only single matches and no seasons, as with all sports games of its day. The game scrolls on a three screens long field. It’s not large, but with how slow the characters move, that size is more than enough. The game does have isometric perspective for a more realistic field angle than most older games had and some nice player animation as they run around. The audio, however, is very simple and basic. You won’t find any of Baseball’s speech here! Each of the players, either human or AI, starts by controlling one of the two players at the kickoff. The two controlled players have different shirt colors from their teammates, to distinguish them. The ball and the two human or AI-controlled players are always on screen, along with three other AI-controlled players per team that you can switch to. Movement controls are analog, as you would hope for on the 5200, but I don’t think that’s enough to save this game.

For the controls, when you have the ball, one button attempts a pass, and the other other a shot on goal. You can also aim shots high, medium, or low with the 1, 2, or 3 keys on the keypad. When your team has the ball, you always control the player with the ball. When you don’t have the ball, you can switch between players with the 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 keys on the keypad. Goalies are automatic and are always AI-controlled, you can only play as the other players. The thing is though, while visually this game is three on three, with, again, the ball and the two controlled players always on screen, as for the four AI-controlled players, when they go off screen they immediately come back on at some random location on the edge of the screen. This gives the sense that there are more team members here, but the game isn’t actually keeping track of their locations; it’s just randomly having people appear when one leaves. When one leaves on the right, the next one to enter will often be on the left.  There is no behind-the-scenes simulation of the rest of the field.  And of course the ball and the two controlled players never leave the screen. This results in a very stripped-down-feeling soccer game.

Worse, this game is slow. The pace of play here is very sluggish and cannot be sped up. This makes the game somewhat boring to play. The game is easy, too. If RealSports Baseball is hard, RealSports Soccer is easy. Scoring goals is easy, and stopping the AI’s team from scoring is maybe even easier. Beating the AI takes little effort on any difficulty. Maybe this is a bit better against a human opponent, but it’s not very fun against the AI. The game does play okay — you can run around, pass to your other players, and shoot on goal — and apart from the slow speed the game looks nice, but with gameplay this slow and easy I don’t really want to. Atari tried for some new things here, with the AI opponent, multiple shot angles you can shoot at, throw-ins when the ball goes out of bounds, and more, so it may be a decent effort for the time, but the sluggish pace, lacking simulation, and very easy AI hold it back a lot. RealSports Soccer is a tedious, below average game not really worth playing.

Atari 5200 exclusive. There is also an Atari 2600 game of the same name, but it’s different.

RealSports Tennis – 1 or 2 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls.  Supports the Trak-Ball controller. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.

Tennis was the first sport made into an electronic game. At first you had games like Odyssey Tennis and Pong, simple ball-and-paddle games inspired by tennis, but by the early ’80s things had progressed into a somewhat more realistic simulation of the sport. And that is where this game gets a definitely mixed reception. RealSports Tennis has somewhat bland graphics, with a decent but unexciting isometric court and nicely animated players. As usual in the series, one player is blue and the other red. Yes, this game is singles tennis only, not doubles. You can actually give human players three-letter initials if you want, like in an Odyssey 2 game. Nice. There are no courtside graphics, just the green court on a dark red background. It has challenging AI to play against and allows you to play a full, five-game match of tennis. That’s all okay, though visually and aurally average at best.

The controversy here is about the controls. Well, and also the AI. First, controls. In this game, you don’t just automatically hit the ball like you would in Pong Sports / Video Olympics on the 2600. Instead, you move around with full analog controls. You move with the stick or, if you have one, with the Trak-Ball’s ball.  The trackball is a bit better of course, but either one works.  Either way, the rest of the controls are on the  keypad and buttons.  To hit the ball, you need a well-timed button press.  The button you press may be the regular side buttons or a keypad button, depending; this game makes heavy use of the side buttons.  However, in order to serve you need to press the upper side button to serve.  Having to go back and forth constantly between side buttons and keypad can get a little confusing at times.  Still,  serving is easy and you’ll pretty much always hit it in bounds on the serve. The upper side button will also hit the ball back the way it came on a similar angle. You can also hit a lob with the lower side button. However, if you press one of the buttons on the keypad instead during a volley, you will hit the ball towards that part of the opponent’s side of the court. Think of the nine numbers as aiming at the nine sections. With this you can control where the ball is going to a much greater extent than you can in older tennis games. That makes this game feel much more modern than its 1983 vintage. However, the way you do it is somewhat clumsy, with those keypad keys, and the controls take some definite getting used to thanks to how many buttons the game uses. I like having the ability to aim my shot, though. I think it adds to the game. The game was certainly designed around it, you will need to aim carefully to get the ball past the AI.  It can be a fun challenge.

However, the AI in this game is crushingly difficult! While winning games is possible, the AI gets to the ball almost all of the time. You really need to learn the game to be able to actually win sets. Just hitting the side buttons to hit the ball back the way it came won’t be good enough, aimed shots with the keypad are pretty much required. Some luck would help, as well. This is a somewhat slow-paced game, as the ball often feels like it’s moving slowly, but it does pick up at times. The game can get intense as volleys continue. I wish the AI was fairer but I’m sure that is very hard to do well on a machine from the early ’80s. On the whole I think this game is alright, but flawed. I like the greater control you get from being able to aim your shots, but beating the AI is frustrating and this isn’t the most exciting game. It’s a decent game maybe worth a look, particularly for two interested players. The controls will take getting used to though.

Released on Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computer. That version looks similar, minus the analog character movement of course. There is also an Atari 2600 game of the same name, but it’s entirely different.

River Raid – 1 player.  Has analog controls. Developed and published by Activision in 1983.

River Raid is a port of the very popular and successful Atari 2600 game of the same name. One of Activision’s biggest hits this side of Pitfall, River Raid was naturally ported to many formats and the 5200 is no exception. This port is, for the most part, a by-the-numbers port, largely identical to the original 2600 game except for improved graphical detail.  The graphics are much sharper and clearer, this is a nice next-gen enhancement of the game.  However, that’s not all.  Activision did an interesting thing here — not only did they improve the graphics, they also made the controls fully analog. It’s a really nice change which has a very noticeable impact on the game. Or at least, movement left and right is now fully proportional and analog. Speed control feels more digital, as instead of gradient speed control you switch between set speeds depending on how much you push the stick up or down.

Other than that, though, this is River Raid. River Raid is an early vertically-scrolling shmup. You fly a plane in narrow canyons over a river, shooting down enemy ships and tanks and destroying bridges at regular intervals. It was inspired by a famous bridge-attack raid from World War II. This is a simple game, with enemies that only sometimes attack you and relatively simple graphics and gameplay, but it is quite challenging and can be addictive. It is very easy to mess up and hit the walls, and that loses you a life just as fast as enemy bullets do. The game also has a fuel system. Your fuel meter steadily decreases as you go, and flying over fuel tanks refills it. Unlike Konami’s Scramble, you cannot refill fuel by shooting fuel tanks; you need to fly over them without shooting them, instead. Running out of fuel is initially rare, but the farther you get the easier it is to run low. You also will face some more aggressive foes as you get deeper into the game.

As mentioned previously, with many 5200 games, this game is a last-gen port, from the 2600.  Everything looks better and higher resolution here, with jagged coastlines with cliff faces along the edges of them and more detailed enemies to shoot, but it does not push the hardware as much as an exclusive would.  River Raid is no match for the best shmups of the later ’80s, since the game is simple and lacks the depth of a Gradius or R-Type.  In this game you just fly up and shoot the somewhat randomly laid out enemies the game throws at you while avoiding the walls.  Still, River Raid is an addictive classic that still holds up fairly well. This game is not as complex as a next-gen exclusive like The Dreadnaught Factor, and I don’t like it quite as much as that game, but it’s still good.  Enhanced last-gen ports have a place as well. The shooting and dodging gameplay of River Raid is timeless fun.

Overall, River Raid is a good enhanced last-gen port.  The game is simple, has held up well, and still is a lot of fun to play.  I do find it a bit too simple to keep me going for longer play sessions, but it’s a good game to play here and there.  I’m not sure if the analog controls make this game better than the 2600 version or not, but they do at least make it distinctly different and certainly are a lot better than the game would feel with digital controls on this system’s analog control stick. I think the results are good and make this version of the game well worth a try, thanks to the controls it’s a bit different from other versions of River Raid. Other than that though this version plays the same as the original. I’m sure more could have been done than they do here.  Some of Activision’s games on the 5200 are more impressive than others, and this one is in the middle on that.  Oh well, it’s still a good version of a great game.

Atari 2600 port.  Other ports were released on the Intellivision, Colecovision, Commodore 64, MSX, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, PC, and, as far as I know always in its Atari 2600 form, on numerous Activision collections for newer consoles from the last 25 years.

Rankings

These rankings are not absolute, but here’s what I am thinking at the moment.

RealSports Baseball > Moon Patrol > Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns > Mario Bros. > River Raid > RealSports Tennis > Ratcatcher > RealSports Soccer

Including the games from part one, The Dreadnaught Factor > Castle Crisis > RealSports Baseball > Moon Patrol > Magical Fairy Force > Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns > Mario Bros. > Blaster > River Raid > RealSports Tennis > Ratcatcher > Decathlon > Frogger > Buck Rogers > James Bond 007

Of these, the game I ranked highest that I like playing the least is Pitfall II. I’m giving it a lot of benefit of the doubt for its ambition, clearly.  Based purely on how fun I find it, Pitfall II would probably go either just above or just below Ratcatcher.

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Four More Summaries of my Latest Mario Maker 2 Levels

Yes, I’m back to another one of those. I may be the only one who cares about my descriptions of my Mario Maker 2 levels, but I still think this is one of the greatest games ever made and don’t plan on ever entirely stopping playing it so long as it is supported. I did take a break from it last month, as I played several modern games one of which I will review, but I’m back to Mario Maker again and made another level.

Before I begin though, I AM playing Atari 5200 games and am working on the next update for that summary list. I was too busy with those modern games to get this written this month, but it will happen soon. I played several games today for it, in fact.  I had forgotten about the fully analog controls in 5200 River Raid… interesting.

But on to Mario Maker 2 level descriptions. As I said in the title, I have four. They are from June, July, August, and October.

In June I made The Climb – Versus. Code 124-T1P-XNG (Theme: Mario 1)

This level is a second take on my level The Climb from a bit ago. I thought that the level’s ‘climb as you jump up around dropping ice blocks and donuts’ concept would work great with multiplayer, so I made this level that does exactly that. It’s the same basic idea, but with four sections for multiplayer versus play and more variety as you climb — each of the four routes up the level is broken into several sections, each a bit different. First you climb with static icicles, then with donut blocks, then finally with dropping icicles. There are powerups to give you extra chances, though I put more at the bottom of each path than the top. The level has eight plays and no hearts, though it does have two clears. Disappointingly, it hasn’t been played in multiplayer versus even once. I know it’s hard by multiplayer versus standards, but still, it’d be nice if it was. I think this level is probably overall better than the original version of The Climb because of the added variety as you go up, but with way fewer plays and no hearts I guess players disagree?

Oh — for design reasons, two of the four paths are jumping along the right side of the shafts, the other two on the left side. I wonder which way people find easier… I found it easy either way, though — while working on and clearing this level I played through all four paths, to make sure they worked, and didn’t die even one single time. I’ve clearly played my ‘the climb’ concept enough that I find it easier than most.

In July I made my next level. This one finally continues my super world, at long last! 2-2: Bombardment Hills. Code 43Q-GC6-5JG. (Theme: Mario 3)

For the few of you who played The Castle, don’t worry too much; while challenging, this level is short, not long, and is nowhere near as hard as that level is. This is a one minute long speedrun of sorts. Basically, you’re running to the right mostly at full speed, jumping over spikes as you go, while a whole armada of Lakitus try to kill you from above. If you stop for more than an instant, they’ll get you. So yeah, the level is frustrating and can seem unfair based on Lakitu ‘where are they throwing the spikes’ RNG, but with practice I figured out how to fairly consistently get through. Most of the level is done without a powerup, as I couldn’t think of a way to give you one that wouldn’t make it possible to probably damage boost up and take one of the Lakitu clouds, something that I don’t want to happen until the end of the stage. There also isn’t a checkpoint because I can’t think of a way to have the Lakitu cloud chase work from halfway; I’d need a second Lakitu cloud, and that would hit the enemy limit and then they wouldn’t throw many spineys if the first cloud was still on screen. The level is short enough that it’s very beatable in one shot, though; it is only a minute long, again, and that includes the boss fight at the end. As for that boss, I thought of several things, but ended up going with something that I think works pretty well — it’s a fight in a clown car against a Koopa Kid. Take out the Lakitus as well for some lives, and then relieve yourself of their attack. The fight can be a bit tricky but hit those question mark blocks, they have mushrooms in them!

The other thing I did not do in this level is put a coin trail along the way telling the player what jump heights they should be using. Perhaps I should do that, to save the significant amount of trial and error it takes to get the jumps down since they are NOT all max height, but I chose to leave it up to the player; I don’t like too-heavily-indicated levels really, unless the indicator is necessary. And that’s why there is a coin trail at one point in the level, for one truly blind fall. I had to indicate that, so I did. Otherwise though, learning those jumps is the point of the stage. You either like this kind of level or you don’t. I’d say I’m on both sides of that one; I mean, I like this type of level so long as it isn’t too too hard (I’m no Team Precision player to say the least!), but it certainly can be frustrating, particularly if certain spinies keep killing you. For a small hint, small hops on the uphill slopes are a very good idea. That’s the only way I found to survive one particularly annoying spinie on a steep uphill early in the level, for instance.

Overall I think this level turned out well, it fairly accurately reflects the original design I drew back in the early ’90s — remember the eight numbered Super World levels (of which this is level six) are based on paper designs of mine from my childhood. This level was a ‘run and jump over the spikes while a cloud chases you shooting lighting bolts at you’ concept. I think a bunch of Lakitus stand in well for an angry cloud.

The third level, from July, is a 3D World level about walljumps.  Appropriately, I titled it Walljump Land.  As the name suggests, this level is all about jumping from wall to wall.  Specifically, this level is about walljumps in narrow vertical shafts.  This is all about quickly jumping back and forth between two sides of a vertical path, avoiding spikes along the walls by jumping to the other side as necessary.  The level only took me about a minute and a half to clear so by my levels’ standards it’s on the shorter side, but it’s a fairly intense stage due to how I mix up the jumps.  I change the distances between safe spots on the walls frequently through the level, and have a section late with timed switching block walls as well.  It’s fun stuff, but I found it difficulty. I eventually decided that it was too hard, so I caved and added powerups to the level; I’m not good enough to do this without them, or with only one at the start or such.   I am sure anyone else playing it will also appreciate the powerups.  At the bottom and middle of the subworld I even put in pipes giving out infinite powerups, if you want to drop back down to get a powerup again. As a result, the level is a good challenge but not TOO hard.  I think this is a good level, and there are a few bits which show off why 3D World is unique, including a section where you have to spin jump for extra height; I know this is only my second 3D World level, but I love the 3D World style!  I think this level works well and hopefully is fun.  The level code for Walljump Land is WDC-7N2-0SG.  Oh, yes, this is another level of mine with no regular enemies.  You certainly can die though, it’s filled with spikes to avoid with your wall jumps.

After that aforementioned break, I came back to Mario Maker 2 recently and over the last few days made a new level.  It is the seventh level in the super world numbered levels series, and is titled 2-3 – Ocean Crossing.  This level finally adapts the seventh level of that childhood game concept of mine to Mario Maker.  This one was always going to be the hardest level to make, because the level concept and map are not nearly as polished as levels 1 to 4 are since I didn’t redo it later as I did with those stages.  Additionally, the basic concept of this level is something that you can’t do in Mario Maker 2, so I basically had to make a new level with few connections to my original idea apart from the basic concept of “you’re crossing over water while avoiding obstacles and fighting enemies”.  The original idea was that your characters would be in little boats, perhaps a bit like the Ninja Turtles in Turtles in Time with their little hoverboards in the Neon Night Riders bonus level, fighting against enemies in their own boats and jumping over rocks and whirlpools that would get in your way.  Well, you can’t do a whirlpool in Mario Maker really, there are no water currents in this game.  The original Super Mario Bros. in 1985 has water currents, but this game does not!  It’s one of the things they really should have put in at some point, but never did.  Unfortunate.  You also can’t make little boats that track the player.  However, I can make a level vaguely thematically similar, as there is a level theme with a water surface available at least, the Forest theme, so I can make SOMETHING set on top of the water.  It just won’t be the level I imagined.  This level is the least like its source material of all seven so far, and I’m sure level 8 will not be this different either.  And yeah, I don’t like that; while I do think I made an interesting level, I kind of want to try again sometime at making something more like the original concept, though I have no idea how, with Mario Maker 2’s limitations, you would reproduce it.

Basically, while thinking about what to do for this stage over the course of this year, I had two ideas for this level: either a frog suit level about challenging jumps, or a poison water night forest level about jumping from boat-like platform to boat-like platform and rock to rock.  The poison water concept makes sense because the original idea would not have had you swimming in the water, but considering that my Super World’s numbered levels are all Super Mario Bros. 3 levels, and the frog suit is pretty great, going for the frog suit option was an easy call.  So, this level, 2-3 – Ocean Crossing, is a frog suit level.  There are two parts to this level, challenging jumps on the water’s surface as you try to get over various barriers, and fights on a pair of enemy ships.  I tried to have obstacles appear at roughly the spots I drew whirlpools or rocks on the original level map, but otherwise this is all new.  Having the enemies have some large ships is a new idea too, actually. That seems like an idea I should have had back then, but didn’t.  This level took me about 2 minutes 20 seconds to beat, so it’s decent length.  It has two checkpoints and is pretty tough; it took me a few days of trying to finally complete the stage.  I did edit it as I went though, mostly to make some things easier where I was really having trouble, so it’s not quite as hard as that suggests; I greatly reduced the difficulty of most of the most frustrating jumps.  If you know your frog suit jumping distances, this level should be fun, I think. If you don’t, well, here’s a good time to learn them!  You can take damage in many areas and keep going, damage-boosting your way past some obstacles, but there are a few points, mostly in the second half of the level, where I require you to keep your frogsuit.  This level is all about learning the jumps, and given the very controlled way the frog suit moves and jumps, that is quite doable.  I do not put indicators in the level and I would like to know if people think I really should use them, but… I had to learn these jumps through practice.  Isn’t learning that what a level like this is all about?  Everything is visible, there are no blind jumps here.  It’s just about positioning.  (Yes, I know I’ve been a bit inconsistent with how I indicate jumps sometimes and not other times, but I do put thought into when I use indicator coins and when I don’t.  I just don’t really know whether other people think I should use more or not.)

As for the two ship battles and the boss, I did put a lot of difficult enemies on them, most notably a bunch of Hammer Brothers, but hey, you’re nearing the end of the game, I wanted it to be harder.  I did ease up a bit, though — the final ship now has two good powerups, while at first there was only one regular mushroom.  That was not enough, so I improved the powerups and removed some enemies.  I tried a lot of things for the final battle against Morton (since I used Ludwig in level six, 2-2), and ended up going with a partially submerged one, appropriate to the level.  I strongly recommend killing all enemies above before trying to fight him.  Oh, and story-wise, while making this level I thought up the idea that these two enemy ships are filled with treasure looted from your castle, which you will soon return to.  It’s a nice idea which fits the game well I think.  And yes, there are plenty of coins to get in both ship holds.  Overall, what do I think of this level? I like it.  It’s not my favorite level of mine, but I like the challenge and the frog suit.  The level code for this level, 2-3 – Ocean Crossing, is VCW-1D6-NYF.

On a somewhat unrelated note, here’s a secret… what is the level of mine that I go back and play the most often?  It’s …

Bombardment Hills.  Yes, really.  Despite all of its semi-random nonsense, I keep going back and playing this level over and over… heh.  I’m not sure why but I really like it.

 

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Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries Series II: Part I, and the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller

Yes, after far far too long, it’s an actual update on this website that people might want to read. (Yes, I have kept making Mario Maker levels, and will have more posts on my levels in the future. But that is for another time.) This is the first of what will probably be three parts of this Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries update, covering nine titles and also the 5200 Trak-Ball trackball controller.

Series Table of Contents

In Update One, This Post

Table of Contents
Introduction
The Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller

Game Opinion Summaries:

Blaster [Modern Rerelease of Cancelled Game]
Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom
Castle Crisis [PD Homebrew]
Countermeasure
Decathlon (aka The Activision Decathlon)
The Dreadnaught Factor
Frogger
James Bond 007 [1983]
Magical Fairy Force [PD Homebrew]

Rankings

In Future Updates

In Part II
Mario Bros.
Moon Patrol
Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns
Ratcatcher [PD Homebrew]
RealSports Baseball
RealSports Soccer
RealSports Tennis
River Raid

In Part III
Space Dungeon
Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Tempest [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]
Wizard of Wor
Vanguard
Xari Arena [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]

Introduction

In this article, I will cover the 23 Atari 5200 games I have bought between September 2015 and the present day in August of 2021. I quite like this system, so I have gotten a fair number of titles considering the small library. Some of these, as noted, are modern homebrew titles from AtariAge, while others are from the original 1982-1987 library. I have also gotten the system’s main controller accessories, the Trak-Ball controller and the joystick coupler. I got another 5200 as well; I now use a model one four-port 5200, instead of the model 2 two-port system I used to use, because I like the auto switching RF box, it is very convenient. And yeah, as I said in my first article about the 5200 years ago, I still like the 5200 quite a bit; it is the pre-crash console I use the most. The controller isn’t nearly as bad as people say and has some pretty cool features, the graphics are good for the time, its game library makes up for with quality what it lacks in quantity, and I like the console’s design and style a lot as well.

Given the number of titles to cover, I will break this up into parts. These games are fairly simple so it won’t take long to get through all of them though. In this article I will cover the first 9. It’s a good mix of titles, covering both new homebrews and titles from the system’s original run.

The Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller

The Atari 5200 had a short life, and most software was designed around its standard controller. Atari considered a paddle controller, but did not end up releasing it. No digital controller was offered either, though third-party options do exist, working well with games that are not analog. I like the 5200 controller, but it does not work equally well for all games. A controller perfect for digital games might have been nice, but instead, Atari released a trackball. A trackball is basically an upside-down analog mouse. Instead of moving a mouse around that rolls a ball to represent movement, you roll the ball itself to move something around the screen. Trackballs were popular in early arcade games for titles that needed analog control, and while the 5200 controller is analog, its analog stick is not nearly as good as a trackball is for games designed for this kind of controller. Atari realized this and answered with the 5200’s only first-party controller accessory, the Trak-Ball. It released early in the system’s life, so they are relatively common. I got one complete in box a couple of years ago.

This very large controller, the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball, is perhaps best known for being big, but it’s also amazing. Indeed, of the classic trackballs I have, this one is easily my favorite! It works very well, has decent buttons, and makes the games that support it significantly better. The 5200 trackball may be as large or larger than your average console, but the ball rolls very well and it feels great to use. That heft helps the controller’s feel, I would say.

The Atari 5200 Trak-Ball works by basically emulating a joystick. As great as it is, this is its one fault — it’s not a “real” trackball, acting like a mouse. It’s really pretending to be a 5200 analog stick, which gives control a slightly floaty feel. See this Atari-Age thread for more. I don’t mind this at all, as there may be better trackballs out there for computers, but of the console trackballs of the ’70s or ’80s this is by a very wide margin the best one in my experience.

Despite the way it works, the 5200 trackball’s only other fault is that it only works with games designed to support it. It may be emulating a joystick inside, but the bounds the trackball uses are very different from those used by a stick, and games not designed around the trackball rarely work well, or at all, with it. Atari did not put in a mode that fully emulates the regular controller’s analog stick. The other console trackballs that I have for older consoles work not only with games designed for analog, but also can emulate a standard joystick if you wish to play any other game with a trackball instead of a regular controller. The Colecovision trackball even has indentations in it for you to put controllers in, so you can use the buttons on the trackball base and the stick on a controller, to make a pretty nice arcade stick. That’s really cool. The Sega Master System trackball similarly has both analog and digital-emulation modes. I wish that the 5200 trackball had had something similar, it’d have been nice considering how few games support this controller.

However, what’s not as good about those other trackballs i how well they work, or rather, don’t work. Having multiple modes and more support is all well and good, but that’s only helpful if you actually want to use the trackball as a trackball! And with those other old trackballs I have, I don’t. The SMS trackball is absolutely horrible, with extremely slow movement regardless of game or mode. The Colecovision one has slightly better movement than that, but it’s still not very good. It’s a nice arcade stick but not a good trackball. The 5200 one, however, is outstanding! I love using this controller, and absolutely have bought some games, and some homebrew games, because they support the Trak-Ball controller. I would highly recommend a Trak-Ball to anyone with a 5200, they are fantastic, well-made, great looking controllers well worth the price. Every supported game is made significantly better.

And on that note, from my previous article, Super Breakout, Space Invaders, Centipede, Defender, Missile Command, and Pole Position support the trackball. Of them, Centipede and Missile Command are exceptional. Both are great with the regular controller, but are better with the trackball. These are far better versions of these games than any version relying on a d-pad or analog joystick for controls! Centipede alone might make the trackball worth getting, and there is more. Super Breakout is also better with the trackball than the regular controller, though I still find the game slow and kind of boring. The others work less well, though. Space Invaders and Galaxian are playable, but not better, the loss of precision of knowing where your stick is, as compared to a rolling ball, makes the games harder overall. Pole Position and Defender struggle even more, as you have to constantly spin the ball in an uncomfortable way. Defender is not fun to play this way with how that game controls, and Pole Position is just somewhat odd to control this way, I couldn’t get used to it and kept crashing. I’m sure there are some out there who like it, though. I will cover more trackball games in this series, two in this update. Fortunately both go in the good category of trackball games.

Overall, the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller is fantastic. Buy one. This is the best trackball for a classic console.

Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries 2021 Update, Part I

Please note: all games use the regular Atari 5200 controller unless otherwise noted.

Blaster [Modern Rerelease of Cancelled Game] – 1 player.  Developed by Vid Kidz / Williams in about 1983. Was to be published by Atari, but was cancelled due to the crash. Released by AtariAge in the 2000s.

Blaster is a rail shooter from Williams. It was developed by their star programmer Eugene Jarvis at his short-lived Vidz company. After making Defender for Williams, Jarvis left in 1981 to make his own company, though all four Vid Kidz titles were published by Williams so he didn’t go far. This game was their last one, before being taken out by the video game crash of 1984. While an arcade version of the game was released in 1983, even though this Atari 5200 version was actually completed first, Williams’ arcade-first priority led to the home version eventually getting cancelled because of the crash. Fortunately completed prototype copies exist and are now available from AtariAge, complete with box if you want. Now, Jarvis is one of arcade gaming’s legends, but Blaster is by far the least well known and least popular of his four pre-crash arcade games. When your first three games are Defender, Defender II/Stargate, and Robotron 2084, though, that isn’t hard to understand; those three are some of the greatest classics ever. Blaster? It’s fun and I definitely like it, but it’s no Defender.

But what is Blaster? It is, again, a first-person rail shooter… on the Atari 5200.  This is a first-person game.  You fly forwards, shooting at enemies coming at you.  You move where you will fire at with the stick and fire with a button.  If you keep pushing the stick in a direction, you will also very slowly nudge your ship that direction along its path, to avoid obstacles and such.  The controls are unfortunately entirely digital and you need to get to the edge of the stick’s range for them to respond.  They work well enough, but analog would have been nice.  Visually, however, this game is a technical marvel and easily has the best graphics I have ever seen on this system!  The graphical style may look like a strange mess at first glance, but play it a bit and everything is identifiable and looks great. Everything “scales” into and out of the screen extremely impressively. It’s probably very well done fake scaling of some kind, but regardless it looks amazing. However, the gameplay here is very simple, without the depth or challenge of Defender or Robotron. While fun, this game is more of a tech showcase than an amazing game. Even so, between its outstanding graphics and good gameplay I quite like Blaster overall.

The game has four stages, and after going through all four it loops back to the beginning but with slightly higher difficulty. After you complete each level, you go to the next one. The game shows your current stage on screen in a status bar along the to, along with your score, number of lives, and energy. Yes, you have a health bar in this game, you don’t die in one hit. It is essential considering how chaotic things get. The controls are good, sometimes slow framerate aside, and work well on the 5200 controller.

The first stage has you flying along a planet shooting enemies and avoiding walls, while flying through gates if you want. Everything on this level is made up of open rectangles. Enemies explode once you shoot them, which is a cool effect. It works once you get used to it and runs fairly well; there definitely is slowdown, but with how much this game is doing I don’t blame the game for it. It’s just impressive this system can pull off pretty good scaling at all! But it can, as Blaster proves. The second stage is essentially a bonus stage. There are no enemies here. It’s a warp zone with a cool ‘warp’ effect in the background where you try to pick up stranded astronauts in a warp tunnel for bonus points. I don’t understand why the bonus stage is the second segment of each level and not the last one, I think it would have been better at the end. Oh well. The third stage is a space battle. This returns to the enemies made of rectangles, except now you’re just fighting them in space, no land or gates. It’s a good level. The fourth and last stage in each level is an asteroid field. Shoot all of the asteroids coming at you before they hit you! This time the objects are rock sprites, not objects made up of those open rectangles. There are also some enemies who shoot at you here, and some stranded astronauts to try to pick up. It’s kind of like first person Asteroids.

On the whole, Blaster is a must-see title for its visuals. It really is amazing that the 5200 can do this, even if it slows down so much the screens full of what sure look like scaling sprites look incredible for the early ’80s! As for the gameplay, again, this is a simple game. You can move around a little, but only a little to avoid obstacles and such; you are mostly locked to your route, hopefully shooting anything that gets in your way as you go. The game starts out easy but does slowly get more difficult as you complete more levels, so there is a solid difficulty curve here, but some hits can feel unfair with how hard things are to make out sometimes. The health bar helps with this, though. Blaster is definitely worth playing, but is it worth buying considering the cost of buying a copy from AtariAge? For me, yes, no question. For others, though? Well, definitely play it, at least. While definitely not Eugene Jarvis’s best Atari 5200 game, Blaster is a solidly good game that is impressive to see.

Also released in arcades. This is the original version, though that one is enhanced over this release. This Atari 5200 version is exclusive, though the arcade version is available in Midway Presents Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 (PC / PlayStation) and Midway Arcade Treasures [1] (GameCube / PlayStation 2 / Xbox / PC). Unfortunately it is not in the newer Midway Arcade Origins collection for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.


Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom – 1 player.  Has analog controls.  Developed and published by Sega in 1983.

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, or Zoom 909 as its original Japanese arcade game was titled before they added the Buck Rogers license to the Western release, was one of Sega’s first super-scaler style games. This game is a behind-the-ship rail shooter, and in arcades and on Colecovision it has many different stage types along the way through each loop of the game. It’s a good title and I like the various ways enemies come at you in the different ‘stages’, though determining 3d depth can be hard, you will often miss enemy ships you think you are lined up with. This flaw applies to all versions of the game except for one, the Atari 2600 version.

However, this is not the Colecovision version, or the 2600 version. It is the Atari 5200 version, and as with all versions other than the Colecovision, the game is dramatically reduced in stage count. As with most non-Colecovision ports, this version of Buck Rogers has “five” stages per level: first three parts on the planet, as you go through gates and fight enemies. The game calls this multiple rounds but it’s basically one, you just go through gates in the start then fight one type of enemy and then several before you leave the planet. Once you leave, first you fight a formation of enemies and then a boss before you move on to the next level. It’s a decent formula, but it is hard to forget that the Coleco version has something like twice as much stage variety, or to get over both versions’ common flaw, how hard hitting enemies can be with the 3d perspective. The audio is also extremely basic, with no music and only simple sound effects for your gun and engine noise. The analog controls help slightly, compared to other home versions of Buck Rogers, but not enough to make me want to play this.

Worse, I also can’t help but to compare this game to the outstanding Atari 2600 version of the game, which I covered in a summary years ago. I absolutely love that game, it’s one of my favorite 2600 games! While the key design is mostly the same as this 5200 version in terms of it stage layout, the 2600 makes one major change, probably due to lesser hardware power it makes the game play on a flat plane. Removing the ‘where is the enemy actually?’ problem is a huge help, and as a result the 2600 has easily my favorite version of Planet of Zoom. It has the best audio by far as well, with some really cool sounds that you won’t find in this 5200 game. Yes, the 2600 both plays and sounds better than the 5200 version of this game. This is probably the only time I will say that, but it’s true here. Overall, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom is an average game at best, and is deeply disappointing compared to the Atari 2600 version. Probably don’t buy this, get the 2600 version for the best version or the Colecovision one for the one that is the most faithful to the arcade game. I got this game knowing it wasn’t the best but wanting it anyway because I like this system, but it probably wasn’t really worth it.

Arcade port. Many versions of this game were released, most notably on the Colecovision, but also on Atari 2600, Sega SG-1000 (note, this is NOT the same as the Colecovision version despite near-identical hardware!), PC, ZX Spectrum, TI-99/4A, Commodore VIC-20, Atari 8-bit computer, Commodore 64, Apple II, MSX, and Coleco Adam. The arcade version is pretty good, but of what I have played I think I actually like the simple, 2d Atari 2600 version the best.


Castle Crisis [PD Homebrew] – 1 to 4 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls. You can use the regular controller, but the game also supports a paddle controller if you have a prototype or homebrew one. Homebrew title published by AtariAge in 2004.

This game is a Warlords clone for the 5200. If you know the Atari classic Warlords, you know this game; it is Warlords, with a few additions. Warlords is one of my favorite games on the 2600 and the 5200’s analog controller is a great fit for controlling a paddle, so it’s fantastic that a fan decided to do waht Atari didn’t and make a 5200 version of this classic. This game is based on the arcade version more so than the Atari 2600 game.

Warlords, on the 2600 or arcade, is a four player block-breaking game. Instead of just breaking a wall like Breakout, here there are four forts made of blocks in the corners of the screen, with a paddle protecting each one. The game starts with one ball, or fireball rather. You must protect the warlord inside your fort. One of the buttons holds the ball, so you can launch it off from the point you choose. You defend your fort while trying to bounce the ball around the enemy paddles and destroy the warlords in the three other forts. Each time one of the four players is knocked out, another fireball is added to the field. The game will also add a second fireball early on if nobody hits anything for a while. It’s a fantastic game with great controls, a paddle might be neat but the analog stick works extremely well here. This is a challenging, fast-paced, and frenetic game that can be incredibly fun. The game has absolutely no slowdown and gets the feel of the arcade game down exceptionally.

For game modes, there aren’t many. The single player has only a single difficulty level, and it’s tough. The game keeps a score in this mode if you want to write down best scores, and if you win a game you go right into a new one until you lose. One loss and it’s game over. The two player mode is like the single player, but with two people. It’s co-op basically, and you don’t get game over until both players lose in the same level. Three and four player games are single-round versus only matches which don’t have a score or progression. All of these modes are just like arcade Warlords. In any mode, all non-human players are filled with some pretty tough AIs. More options might be nice, but they aren’t really needed. Really, the only negative is that this is an extremely faithful unlicensed clone of an Atari game, but at least they changed the name, most homebrew conversions like this don’t even do that. AtariAge and Atari may have some kind of deal anyway, AtariAge uses Atari’s logo and such without issue.

There is one issue however. On the 2600 four player play is easy, since 2600 paddles come two to a cable. On the 5200 it is trickier however, as controllers are one to a cable and only the first model of the console has four controller ports, the second model dropped to two since Atari released basically nothing using more than two controllers, Super Breakout excepted, but it’s just an alternating mode there anyway. Had they released games like this back then perhaps the model two would have kept four controller ports, because this is a fantastic time! I wouldn’t call the controls better than the 2600, since paddles are a really good fit for this kind of game, but the analog joystick works just about as well.

Overall, Castle Crisis is great. This is a fantastic conversion of one of the best pre-crash games. Whether it’s worth the money or not is up to you, as it’s a full-price game on AtariAge and as great as the single player is the multiplayer is a huge part of the fun and you’ll need a 4-port system to get the most of it, but even just for single player play it’s a great, great game which I definitely recommend. That it isn’t an original idea, but a homebrew port, is really my only criticism here.

This game is only released on the Atari 8-bit computer and Atari 5200, but it is a very faithful port of the arcade game Warlords, which has been released on many formats, most notably the Atari 2600. Warlords has modern remakes as well.


Countermeasure – 1 or 2 player alternating. Released by Atari in 1982.

Countermeasure is an early 5200 game from Atari, and it is their only released 5200 game that is exclusive to this system, this game wasn’t released on arcades, 2600, or Atari 8-bit computer. Control here is not analog, but it does have eight-direction shooting and aiming. The game does make full use of both action buttons and has some complexity to it. Reading the manual is highly recommended before playing this game.

Countermeasure is a decent, but perhaps overly difficult, overhead tank action game with some complexity to it. The game scrolls upwards vertically, infinitely so I believe, though each level has a timer and you move slowly so you will usually only get a few screens up if you are playing well. Along the way you will find enemy turrets that rotate and shoot at you when you are in their line of fire, towers that contain clues to the code you need for this level, rocket silos to touch if you know the code and wish to end the level, and terrain obstacles which slow you down and block your fire. You slowly drive upwards in your tank, shooting enemies and trying to save the world.

For controls, you move with the stick. One button shoots, and the other, when held down, will rotate the turret to the direction you press. So, turning your turret is easy here, which is pretty nice. The very slow movement speed can make the game frustrating, though. The controls are responsive, but while this game is solid it often feels unfair, the enemies often seem to be able to shoot farther than you and hit you when you can’t hit them. Again, your slow movement speed also makes avoidance tricky. Staying alive in the main levels is hard, those towers are merciless! Still, the way that your movement speed and fire distance vary depending on terrain is pretty cool, and advanced for 1982. The graphics are alright, with solid sprite art and recognizable terrain. The sounds are good, though there is no music, a far too common issue on this console.

As I suggested in the previous paragraph, your main goal here isn’t just to get to the end of each level. Instead, as the game’s name suggests, you need to find the countermeasure code to stop an oncoming enemy nuclear attack. You need to find the three letters of the launch code that will save America from the enemy nukes! Each launch code is three letters long, and there are three letters that can go in each spot, O, L, or E. Letters can repeat in multiple spots though so you do want to find the clues and not just guess. Each clue tower will tell you one of the three letters of the code.

Once you get the code, or enough of it, or are running out of time and have no choice, go to a tower. The enemy helpfully waits to launch their nukes until you get into the tower to stop them. Once you touch a tower you CANNOT leave and must enter the code before the tower’s countdown ends. Note, this is a separate timer from the one in the level before. If you fail to input the code, it is Game Over and a skull appears over the world map on the screen. Ouch. If you succeed, it’s on to the next level, where the colors may change to give the game some variety. As with most games of the time the game never ends, every time you save the world you just start again on the next, slightly harder, stage until you eventually run out of lives. Each level is short, and the game starts out easy. There are ten difficulty levels available, which adds some replay value. The launch code on each stage also randomize so you can’t just memorize them.

Overall Countermeasure is okay. This game can be fun and definitely is a tense and challenging experience, but the frustrating difficulty and slow gameplay hold it back. I like overhead vehicular action games and was hoping for something great for one of Atari’s only 5200 exclusives, but this game is a slow and bland game that is above average, but not one of the system’s best. Atari’s best 5200 exclusives were never released, unfortunately. Still, with a low price and decent gameplay Countermeasure is probably worth picking up if it sounds interesting.

This game is officially a Atari 5200 exclusive, though I believe that a homebrew Atari 8-bit port exists.


Decathlon (aka The Activision Decathlon) – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Activision in 1984.

Decathalon is a port of the Atari 2600 game of the same name. As with many of Activision’s 5200 ports of 2600 games, it is a graphically enhanced version of the game that changes almost nothing in terms of gameplay other than making the game harder to control. The audio isn’t much improved either, expect only very basic sound effects and minimal start and end music. So, there is very little reason to get this game on the 5200 specifically versus the 2600 version unless you really like this system. That said, Decathalon is a decently fun olympic sports game that can be fun, so for cheap enough it’s worth a thought despite how similar it is to the original version.

As with the original version, this game has only one mode, the decathlon, and you don’t really have AI opposition, only one or two humans. You do get points based on your performance, though. There is an AI racer running on screen with you in the track running events, but their times are not recorded anywhere after the races and they do not compete in the jumping or throwing events, so this really is just a score or multiplayer-only game. I wish it had more full AI opposition, that would add to the game.

As with most Olympic sports games, Decathlon is, at its core, a button-masher, or stick-twister in this case. Konami’s Track & Field used two alternating buttons to run, but this one uses alternating between left and right movements on the stick to run. You have a meter on the screen for each player showing your current pace, and can affect it with proper stick-movement rhythm. You will also use a button for jumping or throwing in those events. As you might expect, the 5200 controller’s loose analog stick makes running a bit trickier than it is on the 2600 with its tight digital stick. This game is playable, but the constant stick-waggle gameplay is tiring and gets old fast. Playing this a lot would be bad for your hands, I would say.

As the name suggests, there are ten events in this title as you go through the ten parts of a decathlon track and field event. You’ll run the 100, 400, and 1500 meter track races and a hurdles race, jump the longjump and high jump, throw the discus, javelin, and such. Most events are simple to control, but getting the timing right for the jumping events can be challenging and will definitely require practice and perhaps a read of the manual. The graphics are nice and are enhanced over the 2600 version. This game is far from essential even on the 2600 but is an amusing enough game once in a while. The controls on this version do hold it back a bit, but it’s alright. This game has definitely aged, with its very short runtime and lack of AI opposition, but even so is an above average game on the edge of good. This game could have been a lot better but is okay.

Atari 2600 port. Also released on Atari 8-bit computers. Other ports of the game were released on Commodore 64, MSX, and Colecovision.


The Dreadnaught Factor – 1 player.  Has analog controls.  Released by Activision in 1983.

The Dreadnaught Factor is one of Activision’s few console games of the early ’80s that isn’t a port of an Atari 2600 games. This game is an early scrolling shmup. The game was only released on the Intellivision and 5200, and the two versions are quite different — this one is vertical scrolling, while the Intellivision version, as you might expect, has worse graphics and is horizontal scrolling. This game is one of those titles which shows what the Atari 5200 can do, and it is impressive. The graphics here are really good, with nicely-drawn sprites and some cool effects as the enemy ships approach you. Audio work is also great. This is the kind of thing this system can do when it wasn’t just getting last-gen ports!

The Dreadnaught Factor is a shmup where you fight against a finite fleet of enemy battleships. Yes, finite — this is one of those rare pre-crash games that you can actually beat and last more than a few minutes! The game has different difficulty levels, each with more battleships than the last. The easy modes are quite simple to complete, but the 100-dreadnaught hardest mode will be much more of a challenge; this game does have limited lives and no continues. In the game you fly upwards, facing off against the dreadnaught one at a time. This game has full analog control, so your side-to-side and forward speed are proportionally controllable. You cannot stop or turn around however, only slow down to a crawl. One action buttons shoots lasers that hit turrets, fighters, or bridges, and the other drops bombs that go in exhaust ports or engines. Yes, this game makes good use of the 5200 controller’s strengths.

Your main objective is to blow up all of the exhaust ports on each ship. Destroy those and you will blow up the ship. In order to do that though, you will need to destroy many turrets, bridges, and engines on the ship in order to slow the ships down and make them shoot at you less. The game has some nice strategy to it as you consider what to attack. Now, I mentioned speed control, but you can’t stop, so each time you fly over the dreadnaught without dying you will automatically fly back around for another pass. Dreadnaughts advance after every pass however, and if you take too many passes and a dreadnaught reaches your base, it’s Game Over. You can get shot down many times and keep going as you have many lives, but the game ends if they reach the base. The game doesn’t have a lot of variety, but makes up for it with its quality. Sure, you just fly up, avoid enemy fire, and shoot targets on the various types of dreadnaughts, but with good graphics, good controls, and well designed, high quality action that pushes its genre forward in ways rarely seen at the time, The Dreadnaught Factor is a pretty impressive game for the pre-crash era.

How great is this compared to the top shmups of the NES, though? Well, it’s no Gradius and it is a more limited game in some respects, with less graphical variety and a slow difficulty curve, but it makes up for it with great gameplay. There is challenge eventually, there are different styles of dreadnaughts with different designs so you aren’t just shooting the exact same ship every time, and challenge the loop is a lot of fun, though, so I don’t mind the pretty minor flaws much at all. I also really like that you can actually beat this game. This is a standout game for the 5200 and one of the best shooters of the pre-crash era.

Also released on Atari 8-bit computers, without the analog controls there of course. The game was also released on the Intellivision, though that version is fairly different; it is a side-scroller instead of vertical.


Frogger – 1-2 player alternating. By Parker Bros., 1983 (licensed from Konami).

Frogger is one of the early arcade hits and it has been ported to dozens of platforms, past and present. The Atari 5200 version is a solid port, but this game is a very poor fit for the Atari 5200 controller. I mostly like the 5200 controller, but certain types of games don’t work well with that analog stick and a precise digital-control game like Pac-Man or, here, Frogger is at the top of that list.

I imagine most people know how Frogger plays, but I should describe it. This is a single-screen arcade game. You are a frog and need to get across a road and a river in order to get to the other side and score points. You move space-by-space, trying to avoid the oncoming cars in the first half and then trying to stay on the logs and alligators in the second half so as to not fall in the water. For some reason this frog can’t swim, which is quite silly. The game has nice graphics that well represent the arcade game. It is a simple but addictive arcade game.

The game looks and sounds nice and plays correctly, just as Frogger should. the issue is the controller. You have two control options here: either you can use the stick and a fire button, or the keypad. For the stick option, you use the stick to choose which direction you want to move, and a fire button to jump. The stick is more comfortable to use, but its drawback is how much you have to move it to make Frogger change directions. This delay makes quick reactions very difficult, and it is the controller’s fault and not the game. The keypad option is simpler, hit # to go into keypad mode and then you just push the 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys on the keypad to move in the four directions. A complete copy of the game comes with an overlay that leaves the 2, 4, 6, and 8 digits exposed, though it is quite unnecessary once you remember that those are the directions. The keypad is a quicker and more reliable way to move, but these sunken-in rubbery keys were not meant to be main action buttons, just supplimentary ones, so I find this less comfortable. I’d almost rather use the stick honestly, even if it makes the game harder. The four buttons are also far apart from eachother.

So, both control options have good and bad points. Parker Bros. did the best they could with the controls in this game, but as good as the 5200 is its controller is not equally suited for all kinds of games. As I have said before, this issue is why modern controllers have both a d-pad and an analog stick on them, each one has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of game being played. The 5200 controller was highly innovative and I like it, but this game shows that it is better for some kinds of games than others.

Arcade port. This version was also released on Atari 8-bit computers, there with simpler digital controls. Other versions of Frogger have been released on dozens of platforms. Frogger is surely one of the most-ported games ever.


James Bond 007 [1983] – 1 or 2 player alternating. By Parker Bros., 1984.

This is one of the many Atari 2600 to 5200 ports on this platform. This game is generally unpopular on the 2600, and unfortunately this is an accurate port. Parker Bros. made some great 5200 games, but while this game has improved graphics and sound over the original 2600 version, the gameplay is the same and that is the main problem here. While not bad, this is, unfortunately, a below average game.

What is the game, though? Well, James Bond 007 is a side-scrolling vehicular action game. Each of the three levels is loosely themed after scenes from different James Bond movies, but they all involve you driving in a car, car-boat, or such. The game tells you the movie name and your number of lives before your car takes off and the next stage starts. This game kind of plays like a much worse, more complex take on Moon Patrol with mission objectives that it doesn’t tell you except in the manual. You can move forward and back a bit with the stick. You jump by pushing the stick up, which is awful and very hard to control. If you hold the stick up you will keep jumping as soon as you hit the ground, so watch out. The game uses one fire button, which fires your two kinds of shots, anti-air missiles and bombs/depth charges, to hit enemies above or below you. Both attacks go diagonally forwards and you cannot turn around so if you miss an enemy it can be a problem, some will shoot you from behind. The game badly needed either separate fire buttons for the two attacks or a jump button, but no, it’s just a lazy 2600 port controls-wise. Oh well.

For graphics and sound it’s a mixed bag. While there are some nice graphical details here, particularly in the animated Bond waving and getting into his car in each level’s intro, this game both looks and plays worse than Moon Patrol on the 5200. The game does scroll smoothly, as expected on the 5200, but don’t expect any parallax here. There is a nice rendition of the James Bond theme on the main menu, but as sadly usual on the 5200 there is no in-game music.

Anyway, in each stage, you drive to the right. You cannot stop so you will need some good reflexes to survive. You need to jump over pits and shoot enemies as you try to accomplish the objective in each level, which generally means reaching the end of the stage. You do need to know what to do in order to complete each mission though, so read the manual. You should try to shoot the diamonds in the sky in the Diamonds are Forever level, for instance, and must jump onto and land on a specific oil platform in another level. You will do a lot of jumping here but cannot control your car in the air, so if you’re shot midair there isn’t much you can do, you lose a life. Similarly, you can also dive under the water in some areas, but only in a jump-style automatic dive which you cannot really control while underway. This game gets very frustrating far too often, as dodging enemy far is a huge pain. Practice pays off, but is it really worth the hassle? There are also three difficulty levels, with the easiest as the default.

And that’s the game. The graphical differences and moderate complexity of each mission is interesting, but the flawed, slow controls and sometimes very frustrating gameplay make this game much harder than it should be. Like most people, I haven’t finished all three levels yet and don’t know if I will. It probably loops afterwards, though. This is a below-average game that probably isn’t worth playing. If you do, get ready to memorize everything and die constantly. I don’t regret getting it, but can’t recommend this one to anyone other than serious James Bond diehards or 5200 collectors.

Released on Atari 2600 first, then also Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computer (this version), Colecovision, Sega SG-1000, and Commodore 64.


Magical Fairy Force [Homebrew] – 1-2 player simultaneous.   Has analog controls.  Supports the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller or a regular 5200 joystick. Homebrew game developed by Average Software (aka Phaser Cat Games) and published by AtariAge in 2021. The game was completed and released digitally in 2020, but due to production delays the physical cart was not released until 2021.

Magical Fairy Force is an original homebrew title, something quite rare for the Atari 5200. I was looking forward to this game for some time before its release and it’s awesome to finally have a copy! It is from the same developer as Ratcatcher, which I will cover later. The game was loosely inspired by the versus Neo-Geo shmup Twinkle Star Sprites, but is its own, entirely original game. It isn’t as good as Twinkle Star Sprites, but it’s a 2KB game for much older hardware, it does what it can.

The primary influence Magical Fairy Force takes from Twinkle Star Sprites is that it is a two player splitscreen versus shmup. Unlike that game though, probably for technical reasons the split here is horizontal instead of vertical, so one player is on the top half of the screen and the other the bottom. Both players shoot towards the center of the screen, so they face eachother but cannot hit eachother due to a status bar between them. The game has two modes and no difficulty options, either one player versus a computer or two people against eachother. The game was mostly designed as a two player versus game. The single player vs. AI side of the game fortunately exists, but was not the focus. Sadly, I have no one to play against so I can only judge the single player here. The single player mode is a story mode where you fight against all of the other characters and then get an ending text screen for that character. It’s cool that each character gets an ending, that adds some replay value. The two player mode is a basic versus mode, it does not keep track of wins and losses. The game is fun but there are no difficulty options and the game is mostly somewhat easy, though this does vary depending on which character you play as and whether you use controller or trackball.

The core gameplay here is to move around your side of the screen, charging your super meter by shooting enemies and then using those super attacks once the meter fills. This game has fully analog movement. The joystick works well, but if you have a Trak-Ball controller as I do it is highly recommended! With the trackball, control is basically perfect. Anyone with a 5200 trackball really should get this game. Anyway, one button shoots your normal shots, and the other uses a special attack. Each match ends when one player runs out of health. Each match is one round long, and the single player game has eight matches, against the eight characters. Multiplayer is strictly a single-match affair.

On screen, on each player’s end of the screen a status bar has a character portrait, health which is made up of four blocks, and the super meter. In the middle of the screen in a black bar are two timer bars, if one runs out that player loses. Also in the black section along a bar on the top or bottom edge of each player’s half of the screen, small wisps appear. These wisps are your main targets as shooting them fills your super meter. They will shoot bullets at you sometimes, shooting straight at you, but can’t move and only appear in this bar. Below/above that is the blue area you can move around in. Here you have your character sprite, and each of the eight characters has a custom sprite, and a few obstacles, most notably clouds and fairy dust, along with wisp bullets and enemy super attacks. Touching clouds drains your timer quickly, so shoot them if they are getting in your way. I have almost never run out of time though, so the threat of the timer is rarely an issue so long as you shoot the clouds in your way. The graphics are pretty good for this system and have an impressive amount of detail. Audio is extremely minimal, however; there are only very basic sound effects and that’s it, there is no music.

My other criticism is of the core gameplay loop, that is, of shooting those small, immobile wisps. The gameplay, as you move mostly left and right trying to hit those wisps while shooting or dodging lightning bolts, bullets, and super moves, is fun and rewarding when you do well, but it lacks the excitement of its inspiration. Twinkle Star Sprites is a dynamic game full of enemies attacking in wave-based patterns. You don’t really have any of that here, you just shoot the wisps while dodging or shooting any other obstacles or enemy supers in your way. For the 5200 this is a fairly complex game, but I can’t help but wish for more dynamic action than this target-shooting-focused title. I would never expect the equal of Neo-Geo gameplay complexity on the 5200 of course, but it’s too bad that something more like the pattern-based waves of Twinkle Star Sprites aren’t here. I know you couldn’t do too many patterns in a playfield this horizontally wide and vertically narrow, but maybe something could have been done. On the other hand though, while a bit dry the game is fun. It requires good skill, and matches get tense as health dwindles. The game also shows off the Trak-Ball well.

Bullets can be dangerous, but most damage in this game is done by special attacks you charge by shooting those wisps. You have two abilities, a weaker one for about half of your super meter which sends a couple of lightning bolts at your enemy, and a character-specific super attack for a full, blinking meter. Enemy lightning bolts are easy to shoot down and fill up your super meter a nice amount if you shoot them, but if you miss one and it gets past you that player does take a hit. Still, I think they’re probably too easy to dispose of, taking damage to lightning is rare as far as I’ve seen in this game so far. They add some tension as you have to get over to them to shoot them down, but I almost always make it. The full-bar supers are another story though, they are definitely dangerous. I like how each character has a custom move, that’s impressive for such a small game. I don’t think all eight are equally balanced, though; some are MUCH easier to hit enemies with than others, and while the different characters’ meters do charge at different speeds, still I get the strong sense that this game isn’t balanced. At least against the AI, I think some characters are significantly better than others. It all depends on how easy it is to hit the AI with your supers. Oddly, the final boss’s super is not the best one, I would say. I know balance is hard, but this is one of my main issues with the game. Things may be quite different against a human, but I haven’t been able to play that way so far.

It may sound like I am criticizing this game a lot, but I do like this game and enjoy playing it. It is simple and yet has depth, the graphics are good, and the controls are spot-on. I do wish it had more polish and balance, and more features such as music, difficulty options for single player, and a win-loss record for multiplayer, but I know the game creator said that they couldn’t fit more features in this cartridge size, the largest the system natively supports. Unfortunately, while having a larger cartridge with bank switching is possible on the 5200, it is not currently available much at all. I hope that that changes, this game could use the space. What’s here is good but a few more features would be great and the balance is questionable. When I first played this game, I lost my first match, won my second, lost my third, and then went back to read the manual more thoroughly. After that I easily beat the game without losing a single round. Yeah. I seem to have happened to select a character with one of the best supers, and got lucky in that few full-bar supers were used against me during the game; the AI sometimes uses full-bar super attacks and other times just throws that mostly useless lighting at you for long stretches, for some reason. When that happens you win easily. I had fun despite how easy it was, though, so I decided to play again with a different character. I found it much harder with them, I died many times. Overall, the difficulty is a little easy but is balanced reasonably, most of the time I do get a few game overs before winning. Fortunately you have infinite continues in this game, so you will win so long as you keep trying. That’s good design.

Overall, Magical Fairy Force is a good game. It doesn’t quite reach greatness, at least in single player, but it is good and can be a lot of fun to play. The graphics are great, challenge reasonable, and the action fast and a good mix of skill and luck. I also love that it’s an original game and not just another conversion or port! It is also great to see another Trak-Ball game, the 5200 trackball is an amazing controller and needs more games. The core ‘shoot the little wisps in a line on top of your half of the screen’ gameplay isn’t as exciting as I wish it was, audio is minimal, and the super attacks seem quite unbalanced, but the game is much more good than bad. If I had another human to play against, instead of the sometimes iffy AI, I probably would like the game more, too; again, it was designed first and foremost for multiplayer that I can’t often try these days. I can imagine multiplayer matches being pretty tense at times, as you go back and forth. This indie game has some issues, but it’s pretty good overall and absolutely is worth buying.

This game is a 5200 exclusive so far, though the developer is working on a PC (Steam digital download) port/remake with added features.

Rankings

If I was ranking these games against eachother, I would put them in this order:

The Dreadnaught Factor > Castle Crisis > Magical Fairy Force >> Blaster > Countermeasure > Decathlon >>> Frogger > Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom > James Bond 007

The top three of these are very good games I definitely recommend, and the fourth is at least worth a look for sure. Overall none of these games quite match Defender, Centipedeo, or Galaxian, games I covered in my original 5200 list, but The Dreadnaught Factor is close. As for those last two, though… well, James Bond and Buck Rogers are, currently, my two least favorite games of the now over 40 titles I have for the 5200. Ah well. If that’s the worst a system has, we’re talking about a pretty solid console.

Posted in Atari 5200, Classic Games, Game Opinion Summaries, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

On My Super Mario Maker Levels – For Both Mario Maker 1 and 2

What, it’s an actual… update on the site?  Why yes it is.  Once I started not updating the site for a while, I started worrying more about it and that led me to do what I usually do in such situations, ignore the issue.  Of course this doesn’t solve most problems, but I do it anyway.  For pretty much the whole last year and a half I have been meaning to make a bunch more posts about Mario Maker on this site — one about the “final update” when Nintendo abandoned the game less than a year after its release, one about my levels once I started making them for MM2 in mid 2020, and more.  And today I finally wrote one of those updates, about my levels.

Before I begin, I will be using a lot of Super Mario Maker terminology in this article.  Sorry about that, for those not familiar with the terms.  I will try to describe what things mean.  Please also read my previous Mario Maker 1 and 2 articles on this site for more on how these games work.

And well, I’ve finally gotten to making that second one, about my levels.  I started making levels for Mario Maker 2 in June 2020, right as Nintendo abandoned the game with the “final update”, and have made nine levels in the eleven months since then.  Additionally, I made three Mario Maker 1 levels in the month before uploading to that game was shut down in March.  They aren’t entirely original — I took a VERY long MM2 level I made (that remains uncleared) and broke it up into three reasonable-length levels for the first game — but I had a lot of fun making those stages and they aren’t the exact same as the MM2 original, so they certainly count.

My levels come in two types, the numbered levels for my Super World, and other one-off stages I make.  So far I have five super world levels and four other stages.  The numbered super world stages are all Super Mario Bros. 3-themed, while the others have a variety of themes — two are SMB1, one SM3DW, and one SMW.   The Super World is basically a series recreating the levels from one of the games I designed on paper as a kid but never had been able to actually play before.  It’s a really cool project that I will complete; there are three more levels to go to make the full eight of the original design.  I went with the SMB3 theme for them because it seemed the most appropriate given what Mario I’d played the most back when I thought up those levels in the early ’90s, and it was definitely the NES games, I had limited access to the SNES that decade.  For my other levels I use other themes.  The themes are different in looks but also in gameplay, as each one has different features that only exist in that theme, so it’s nice to make levels in a variety of themes since they definitely play differently.  The most recent level I just uploaded today.

How good are these levels?  I won’t say that they are the best levels ever, but I like them.  I think most of them are good, and I hope others do as well.  Whether you like them or not depends entirely on what kind of Mario levels you like to play.  I’m only moderately decent at the game, but like to challenge myself by making levels that I find hard.  My goal was to make Expert-difficulty levels, but I guess most of the levels ended up above that because they have low clear rates.  I can’t do the tricky techs like shell jumps and such, though; they’re challenging but normal levels anyone should be able to clear with enough patience.  For context, in the Ninji Speedrun competition levels that Nintendo made themselves, I usually ended up either at the top end of the two-star times or the bottom of the three-star time.  The three star time is Nintendo’s top rewards bracket, but the best players got times far better than that.  As in, I’m okay at the game but no match at all for the top players. I’m fine with that as this game is great for Mario players of any skill level.

Lastly for the introduction part, all 12 levels I will mention in this article still are up and playable.  My first MM1 level got quickly deleted because not enough people played it, but I have not had this problem in MM2 or with my three late MM1 levels; between more people playing MM2 and that I advertised the stages slightly more, they thankfully have stayed up.  I hope it stays that way.

With that said, my first Mario Maker 2 level, in June 2020, was a port of my old Mario Maker 1 level that I wrote an article about several years ago on this site.  Yes, I made a Mario Maker 2 version of Airship Attack.

Game: SMM2. Level: Airship Attack. Code: VMG-62B-9XG. This SMB1-theme level is an adaptation of my one 3DS/Wii U Mario Maker stage, with some improvements based on a few comments I got from when the SMM1 version was available. I really like the stage, other than that I messed up the screenshot that shows with the stage… bah, that bugs me every time I see it! The level is a Mario Maker level for sure, I made it challenging and kind of annoying in that classic Super Mario Maker way.  It’s not a troll level or such though, this is a legit platforming stage with a series of setups to get past.  I think it’s a pretty good and well-balanced stage overall.  The hardest part of the level is about halfway through, where you have to use a moving platform to get through a small hole in a wall of spikes.  This part is tricky due to numerous fireballs to avoid on top of the spikes, but I like it quite a bit anyway.  I like all of the changes I made to this stage versus its original version; I made a few rookie mistakes in the SMM1 version that are fixed here.  If I ever remake this level yet AGAIN, someday, in addition to fixing the screenshot location, I’d also add a second checkpoint right near the end.  If you die at the end you go back a long, long way, and I should have put in that second checkpoint.  But it’s a good level as it is, and I’ve had fun with it each of the three or four times I’ve remade the level now across different versions of the game.  This version of the level has clears and likes, which was great to see.  This is still overall maybe my favorite Mario Maker level that I have made, probably due to it being my first one.

Game: SMM2. My Super World Code: 2D4-L46-SJG This incomplete Super World has five main levels now, consisting of the first five of the eight levels of that game I mentioned earlier that I “made” as a kid, plus several of my other levels added in as optional stages.  Each level has a bossfight against a Koopa Kid at the end. All numbered levels use the SMB3 tileset.  The basic story here is as follows.  The original game as I said above, was called “Castle Siege: Knights of the Golden Sword”.  It has eight levels and gameplay-wise is a cross between Mario and a beat ’em up like Golden Axe with an ’80s to early ’90s Castle Lego-inspired set of weapons and such.  Which would it have ended up as back then I’m not sure, but elements of both are clearly present.  These Mario Maker levels obviously are all Mario and no Golden Axe, since this isn’t a beat ’em up.  It changes the gameplay but that’s fine, my goal with this Super World is to make a Mario version of Castle Siege. It fits well, and I’m glad I started this after the “final update” because the Koopa Kids and Bowser are a perfect fit as bosses of the eight levels, much more so than just the three bosses of the base SMM2 game would have been or some creations of my own or such.

Super World Stages:

Game: SMM2. Level 1-1: Volcano – 7N5-3JC-V2G – This is my easiest stage by a lot, it’s fairly short and straightforward: go up, then go down. That’s not to say that the level is easy because there are a lot of enemies here who are trying to kill you, but your task is straightforward and the level is not especially long.  Apart from the boss, which is the first of the Koopa Kids, this is quite faithful to the original design.  Just make sure to dodge the hammers at the start… heh. A decent number of people have cleared this level and it has some hearts.  If I made more level of this difficulty maybe my levels would be more popular, but no, my other stages are mostly quite a bit tougher than this one and you can see the results in clear percentages and number of plays.  This one is the highest in both counts.  This level may be Normal difficulty, I’m not sure where the dividing line is in terms of completion percentage.

Game: SMM2. Level 1-2: The Mine – VD5-Y7T-6XF – This level is a simple maze in an underground mine. I made this harder than the original concept by requiring that you get three coins in various corners of the stage. I can see why some people would find that annoying, but I like the change because the “maze” is pretty simple, the level needed something to make it more interesting and substantial. This is supposed to be an eight-level adventure, and that requires trickier stages than it was on paper.  There’s a reset door at the end if you didn’t get all three that goes back to the beginning. The three coins are in some corners of the map. You CAN get all three in one pass through the level if you take the correct route, the reset door is not required. Here’s a hint to the sequence if you want it:  The first coin is in the first pit, and the other two on the upper route. Avoid the lower route where the screen in the level-image screenshot is.

Game: SMM2. Level 1-3: The Lake – M0Y-WKB-SJG – This is an underwater frogsuit level. It’s kind of long I guess and is mostly a ‘keep moving and dodge the stuff’ stage, but the frog suit is so much fun to use that I liked making it for sure. Just try not to lose that frogsuit.  Versus my original design this level has the same basic layout, but I made the later two thirds of the stage have spikes for walls in order to increase the challenge a bit.  The boss fight at the end is also original, and I like it.  However, other than my very long level The Castle, this level has the fewest clears and the fewest likes of any of the levels I have made, which… really, is wrong!  Sure, the level is a bit long and you do mostly just hold right or left while avoiding oncoming enemies, but I really like the challenge of trying to not get hit.  The frog suit is a fantastic powerup which makes for some fun avoidance-based gameplay and that is what you do here.  I think this really show the bias people have against water levels, but come on, with the frog suit they can be pretty good!  I would honestly rank this as one of my favorites of my levels.

Game: SMM2. Level 1-4: Enemy Camp – FWD-PNJ-84G –  In this stage you come down out of the mountains, fight your way through an enemy camp, break through their siege lines, and enter a captured castle at the end.   Yes, it’s a key part of your journey! So, back in the mid ’90s, I redrew the first four levels of this game to add specific enemy counts to the stages, make everything look better, and such. I did not redraw the later four levels, though, so adapting them will require a lot more new content than these do. So, this is a perfect stopping point for world one. Of course a lot is new due to Mario Maker 2’s mechanics and stuff I added to make the levels a bit tougher and more interesting — there are new machinery parts mid-level for instance, more enemies, and such — but still it’s much more faithful than the later ones, levels six and seven particularly, will be; those will need a lot of work. The level is rough around the edges and some of the machinery parts could be refined for sure, but it’s good enough for a one-day Mario Maker project so I’m publishing it. Once made, I had to clear check it, though, and that was the hard part, this level took me a couple of hours to clear. Other players won’t have as many problems of course because you get to use that checkpoint. The level has some clear and likes, and that’s great, I really like the end moment of the stage particularly as you reach the castle, so it’s nice that some people have experienced it.

After that level in about November, for a December level I took a break from the Super World to make a new level that isn’t one of the Castle Siege remake stages.

Game: SMM2.  Level: Piranha Castle. Code: XS5-V6R-WKF  What did I make?  After some thought, I decided to make a challenging but short platforming level with a more intense pace than most of my stages.  This is a short level, but every bit of it requires precise commands to get through as you avoid lava, piranha plants, and fireballs.  This is no elite precision level, it is approachable, but it’ll definitely take practice to complete!  It uses the 3D World theme, which might be my favorite theme in the game. You’ve got to get through a fireball and piranha plant-infested castle, good luck! This is another level that’d be much easier if you could use the checkpoint than when I had to clear it from the start, that requirement is kind of cruel. But anyway, the level’s a fun challenge. There is a coin trail to help, follow it! I have just one note to help players,  you need to walljump immediately at the exit of all clear pipes so hold back in the pipe then jump. Make full jumps after each clear pipe, cutting the second one off slightly early so as to avoid the spike wall. In a creation note, the fireballs after clear pipes can’t kill you if you make a full, correct jump; if they could it would be random chance and I thought that would be unfair. I put thought into this.  One interesting thing about this level is that it has dramatically more attempts than any of my other stages, but has a similar number of footprints, likes, and clears.  This shows that some people really got into it and died a lot but kept coming back.  The mark of a good difficult level indeed.

My next level after that, completed in late January 2021, is one anyone other than me clearly considers much less good.  Well, I at least like it, sorry about that.

Game: SMM2. Level: 2-1: The Castle. Code H19-G58-WQG.  So in the original Castle Siege “game”, level five was the longest and most challenging looking level of the eight. I put off starting work on it for a while because I knew it would be that, but in mid January finally got started.  It really probably should be the last level of the Super World, but I put it at level five so here it is, surely the longest and hardest level of my Super World in the middle of the world.  Oh well; I want to stick to the order and layouts of the original designs, and I’m doing that.  This level took a lot of work — I spent several weeks in January working on and tweaking this level.  Unfortunately, with how long it is very few people have seen almost any of that.  It wasn’t deleted, but only got eleven footprints and no hearts or clears.  I’m not surprised by that but it is kind of too bad, there’s some cool stuff in this level if you get far enough… and some pretty challenging stuff, but hey this is Mario so that should be expected.

Anyway, after a lot of tweaking I finally managed to make the level something I could upload.  Versus my first design, essentially I left most of the section up to the first checkpoint unchanged (apart from some alterations to make the first screen a lot easier), but kept adding in powerups and such to the later two third of the level. So, really the hardest part of this stage is the first third. Once you get to that first checkpoint it gets a lot easier, I think. There are definitely hard parts later on, but a few things are cheesable and there are regular powerups so with a bit of practice it’s not too bad. After finally clearing from the start last night, I cleared from both checkpoints pretty quickly.

I am thinking about making a harder remake of this stage without the compromises — fix the things I know you can cheese, put back in that one really annoying enemy at the beginning, make some of the jumps later one harder that I eased up on, maybe get rid of the checkpoints, and such. Perhaps. That would take forever for me to upload though so I’m not sure if I will.  So far I have not.  I did do something else, though — I made three levels that break this level into parts, with a full level for each of its three checkpoints.  I made those three levels in Super Mario Maker 1, though, and have not ported them back to SMM2 yet.  I will probably do that eventually.  More on these levels soon.

I also broke one part of this level out into a dedicated stage — after coming up with a pretty cool idea for how to do a tower0climbing section that’d be a lot more interesting than ‘just go up a vine or platform’, I decided to  make a full level dedicated to just that idea.  More on that below.  I quite like that part of this stage and I’m glad I thought to make a much more accessible version of it.

But yes, this level is hardest in its first third. I know that having a level be hard at the end is best in a normal game, but honestly for Mario Maker this way is a lot more tolerable for the creator — after all, it’s easy to restart a clear attempt when you keep dying at the beginning. But if you keep dying at the END of a hard level, over and over and over again? That would be incredibly frustrating in a much worse way. If they make a Mario Maker 3 I’d love to see them come up with a solution to fix the “levels are way way harder for the creator than anyone else” issue, if indeed it can be solved.

As for the level, the first third is somewhat precise platforming, as you jump over enemies and between vines over spikes.  The second third has you traveling through the great hall, kitchen, and first tower of the castle.  The kitchen and each tower room has a little puzzle in it for you to solve in order to proceed.   Two parts in his section gave people trouble, so while I changed them in the SMM1 remakes, so far I have chosen to not re-upload this stage so instead I should put a few hints here.  First, one of the tower rooms has an off-screen thwomp.  Pay attention to the arrow made of coins over a switch on the floor you need to hit at the end of a room, it is a warning.  And second, in the kitchen, keep moving!  If you stop in the middle of the meat grinder — that is, underneath the munchers only being kept away from you by P-switch blocks — Boom-Boom may hit one of those P-switches.  You are supposed to keep moving here, that’s what I always did while uploading, so do so and make that second jump.  With that done, it’s on to the last third of the level.  Here, in probably the easiest third of the stage, you travel over the top of the castle, up the second tower, and then down into it to fight the boss.  You can cheese some of this section of the level.  I think I came up with a great room for a battle against Roy Koopa; this is one my best boss fights for sure. My clear check time was 5 minutes and 31 seconds, and you could finish it faster than that but it’s going to take a long time regardless.  I hope there is someone out there takes on the challenge of clearing this stage in full; the parts are cleared, all three of those SMM1 levels have clears, but not the whole thing here!

In February I made a shorter level.

Game: SMM2. Level: The Climb.  Code: NPV-G19-V5G.   This is that level that breaks off the wall-climb portion of The Castle into its own level.  This version is longer than the equivalent portion of The Castle, as you have a full-height vertical sub-world to climb up instead of just three or four screens as it is in the original.  This is a simple and focused stage — you learn the tech, and then repeat until you reach the top. The tech in question is going up a vertical wall using alternating alternating donut blocks and falling icicles. It’s a neat trick.

I think it is a good level, though it’s not as thematically interesting as my past stages, I think, except for some theoretical existential meaninglessness if you want to read way too much into a Mario level. While making this level, I was thinking about the journey you take in the stage.  You see, you basically just go up this wall until you hit a pipe which spits you out near where you started, making the whole thing pointless except for the knowledge you got past this wall, but sometimes that’s just how it is. Maybe I’ll made a third version of this idea where you go up a wall like this then reach the top and jump down off the other side, but for now it’s a somewhat pointless, if entertaining, endeavor…

Anyway, the level is only a bit over a minute long and is pretty easy once you get the rhythm of the jumps down. I think it’s fun, if unchanging, as the spacing stays the same throughout. Versus the version in The Castle, this version is kind of harder and kind of easier. One the one hand, it’s longer — The Castle’s version is four screens of climbing, while this one is twelve screens. There also isn’t the blooper that The Castle has, so you can’t skip a jump by hitting it instead. There are no regular enemies this time, unlike the one of the Castle’s version. However, this version is also easier because there is a midway checkpoint and I put the Link powerup in at the last minute, which gives you an extra hit; in The Castle you just have regular powerups which make you larger, and I find it impossible to not get hit when large when climbing these walls. Plus you don’t need to deal with the sometimes tricky jump at the top of the tower in The Castle, much less the rest of that stage.

So, this level, The Climb, should be fairly simple, as I said, once you get the jumping rhythm down. Hopefully it’s fun, though.  The level has four comments, which is more than most of my stages, so a few people found it interesting at least.

How to play hint: I find you can make two small hops on a donut, most of the time, before the next icicle respawns.  Hop-hop-jump.  One of the comments on this level is someone pointing out this technique.
After that, in March 2021 I made three levels, the three Super Mario Maker 1 versions of the three thirds of The Castle.
The Castle Trilogy for Mario Maker 1

So, one way to tweak The Castle would be to put a few fixes into the stage. It would still be a very long level with only two checkpoints, though, so I decided to take a second path — make three levels based off of each third of the level.  However, since I only have one Switch I can’t really do that easily, I need something to recreate it from after all. I guess I could film the screen or something but haven’t done that.

Instead, I started remaking it in three pieces in Mario Maker 1 on the Wii U. I have now completed and uploaded the first two parts, and I would very much appreciate it if people gave them a try.  I’ve had fun with this and challenged myself with tweaking levels, and hope others can experience them as well.

My main takeaway is that I hadn’t played MM1 in a while, and this effort has reminded me of how much better MM2 is than the first game. I mean, making these levels is fun, but I keep running into ‘I wish I had that in this one…’ moments. Sure, creation is a lot better on the Wii U Gamepad than it is on the Switch, but the vast number of things you can put in your levels in the second game that don’t exist in the first one much more than outweigh that. I had to change a lot of things in these levels, this second one particularly, because of all the things MM1 doesn’t have. I made it work, but overall I like the experience better in MM2. The biggest loss are on/off blocks and P-switch blocks, I think, not having those really makes a lot of things harder. I miss Boom-Boom way more than I would have thought, though, along with Spike, slopes, vertical levels, and more.  Hammer Bros. are also MUCH more aggressive in the first game than the second, which makes getting past them much much harder in these stages than in the original SMM2 version.  Despite how tedious making levels with a controller can be, overall SMM2 is a better game even for creation because of how many more items are available to you.

Remember, these are both Mario Maker 1 levels, not 2.

Game: SMM1.  Level: The Castle, Part One – 28C1-0000-0424-6ACF

This level gets to the first checkpoint of the Switch stage. This is a stage full of somewhat precise jumps. In parts you move quickly and in others slowly, but either way it’s all about learning the jumps. It’s mostly the same as the original version, apart from slopes being replaced with stepped blocks and a Spike having to be replaced with a second Hammer Bros. I uploaded this stage quite quickly and definitely had fun with it, without the rest of the level this part’s a fun level, I would say!

The one thing I didn’t do is make the boss at the end mandatory, you can still run right by him. In a standalone stage maybe it should be required though, I’m not sure… oh well.

This makes a good standalone stage I hope people like.  I should have put a midway checkpoint in this level, and if/when I make a SMM2 port of this level I will do so, but it’s a challenging but doable stage as it is, you just need to learn the jumps.  It will probably take a while because this level demands some precision, but you can do it!  At least one person has finished this stage, maybe more.  Naturally a lot fewer people play Mario Maker 1 in 2021 than Mario Maker 2, but at least a few people went back to the game in its closing weeks to play the many new levels like mine that released before the shutdown.

Game: SMM1.  Level: The Castle, Part Two – 8C47-0000-0424-940C

As in the original level, this one is a stiff challenge. You go through the great hall and kitchens and then up and down a tower. It took me a while to upload this one, but it’s up now. I had to make a LOT of changes to this level, as anyone who’s played the Switch version would understand — replacing missing enemies with other ones, figuring out how to make all of the on/off and p-block sections at least kind of work without those things, deciding what to do about the vertical sections without a game that allows vertical levels. The on/off and p-block sections have been replaced with various things – key doors, P-switches, and a spring, specifically. I had to mix things up in order to keep the level flow mostly the same, where in the second half of the stage you have to go across each tower room, activate something, and then return back to where you started to proceed. It works now, though it’s not quite as smooth as it is in MM2 on Switch due to having to use P-switches and what that does to the coins. The vertical fall section’s not as good now of course, but there’s nothing that can be done about that. There are now two two-screens-down jumps instead of one four screen one. It’s probably even easier than it was in the Switch version though, just jump over and you’ll be fine.

I did make one change to this level that players will like — I added a midway checkpoint. I can’t do this in the full MM2 level since you can only have two checkpoints per stage, but here it’s separate levels, so I put one in at the halfway point. Clearing the level from the checkpoint is challenging because you have to fight a Hammer Bros. as small Mario, and yes that killed me a lot while uploading the stage, but still I think it’s a great addition which definitely makes the level a little bit easier; sure that enemy is tough, but that’s less frustrating than having to start over every time!  Maybe I should have put in two checkpoints, but one works well I think for a level this length.  The level did get a completion eventually, though I think it was the last of the three to be finished.

Game: SMM1. level: The Castle, Part Three: Final – E186-0000-0424-F18D

This level had to be fairly heavily modified from the original final third of The Castle, but I made it mostly work. I did a few things to make this harder than the original, but more to make it easier so overall this is probably easier than the SMM2 version. On the harder side, you can’t skip the first section of this level anymore; you’ve got to work your way over the battlements. This is challenging, but with practice I figured out how to get through well. On the easier side though, I put two checkpoints into this level. And yeah, that sure makes this level a lot easier! This one shouldn’t be too tough to clear really, there is a Bowser fight at the end but it’s fairly straightforward. I put a message at the end before the goal congratulating the victorious.

As for changes I had to make because of parts that aren’t in the first game, they are pretty significant. The largest changes are that vertical levels aren’t in SMM1, and there are no icicles either. Both of these things really hurt this stage, but I think the solutions I came up with work. It’s not quite as good a level as it is in SMM2, but this is still a solid level I think.

This level almost immediately got three footprints and one completion. No star then, but a quick completion was a surprise, that’s nice to see. It’s obvious a lot fewer people play SMM1 than the first game, which is understandable.  A few more people have played it since.

Then, I didn’t make any Mario Maker levels for a few months.  I kept meaning to but just didn’t get around to it.  Yesterday however I changed that and made a new level for Mario Maker 2 for the Switch.  It’s not the long-delayed sixth Super World level though, it’s an original one based on an idea I was thinking about.
Game: SMM2.  Level:  The Desert of Regret. Code: Q77-LXD-7MF 

It’s been a few months, but yes I finally made another Mario Maker 2 level. It’s a pretty tough level but definitely beatable, just learn and make the jumps and you’ll be fine!  My original concept was ‘a super annoying troll-ey level full of softlocks where you can’t die but will have a hard time winning’ but I didn’t follow through, fortunately for anyone who plays the level.  Well, I did follow through, except not for the “softlocks” or “troll-ey” parts.  “You can’t easily die but may have a hard time winning”, though?  Yes, that describes this level well.

What I made is a fairly precise platformer level with small platforms to jump between, including note blocks, donut blocks, timed P-switch sections, and lots of required use of momentum to make jumps.   There is also one puzzle near the end, and there are two checkpoints.  Below you is not death pits, but ground that lead to reset doors or paths that send you back to the last checkpoint.  At first the level didn’t have the reset doors but while working on the level today I changed course and added them in order to have a much more fun and playable stage, instead of an intentionally bad one.  I had some fun with the level once I added the reset doors, it’s frustrating but in that good ‘I want to learn this jump’ way that Mario’s controls make so special.  There are three or four jumps in this level that gave me more trouble than the rest of the stage, but it didn’t take too long to upload really, you can just keep trying so long as time remains after all.

As with many of my levels I think getting to the first checkpoint is one of the harder things in the level, though what I would call the hardest jump is late in the second checkpoint’s section.  I used coin trails to show where to go for a few off-screen jumps, so if you miss them first try lining them up without the coins can be hard.  It’s definitely possible though, I’ve done it without the coins for all of them.

There are no enemies in the level other than a couple of tornado things which cannot hurt you because the concept was ‘you shouldn’t be able to die’.  However, I did have to add a spike in the sub-world to let you die because of one puzzle near the end that irreparably breaks if you get certain coins.  I decided on keeping the puzzle over keeping the total no-die thing.  On that note, the levels’ description text is “Live. Jump. Repeat.” which is a reference some may some may recognize.  I think it’s fitting.

You can definitely do better than my clear check time, I got through the first section really quickly but did fall down a bunch in the middle section.  You can also do worse, though — I had less time left on the clock in the time I cleared the level from the first checkpoint than the time I cleared it from the start.  Heh.  The level only was uploaded hours ago and it already has a like and clear!  Pretty cool. It took the person quite a while, almost 24 minutes (versus my clear check time a bit over 3 minutes), but that’s the kind of level this is so that is to be expected, the level took hours to make and upload.  It’s really cool to see a quick like and clear, I wasn’t expecting that so soon.

Conclusion
That is all of my Mario Maker levels so far, though I will certainly be uploading more as time passes.  I am far from done with this exceptional game and series, that’s for sure!  With the best controls and gameplay of maybe any game ever and endless variety, Super Mario Maker 2 is one of the very best games of all time.  It’s also a frustrating mess, but that’s one of the reasons I love it.  Both the good and bad of Mario Maker is reflected in my levels, I will admit, but whether it is my levels or others Super Mario Maker is a compelling, engrossing game I continue playing frequently, making levels for on a regular basis, and watching people better than me play daily.
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