Video Game: X-Men (Arcade)

Kids of the ’90s know this game. Well, assuming that they had a video arcade near them and were into the X-Men at the height of their ’90s popularity.

This game was originally presented in a double-wide arcade cabinet with two screens and room for six players at the same time. I used to love playing this and I always hoped for a version of it that I could play at home. But it wasn’t until about ten years ago that this was ported and released for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Store.

The home version isn’t as exciting, as I don’t have six people to play this with or even six controls but playing through it on my own or with a friend or two is still quite a lot of fun.

This is a standard 2D, side scrolling, beat’em up game. Those were super popular back in the late ’80s and early ’90s with games like Double DragonFinal Fight, the arcade version of Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesStreets of Rage, the sister game to this one: Captain American and the Avengers, as well as a slew of others. I loved this genre of video games and could never get enough of them. In 2018, I wish side scrolling beat’em ups still populated the marketplace.

For the time, this had solid graphics, great sound, easy gameplay and it was addicting as hell. You didn’t care how many quarters it took, it was hard to leave the arcade without beating this on a playthrough each visit.

The game came out around the same time as the popular X-Men cartoon series. It wasn’t based on that, however. The game was actually designed after the pilot episode of a failed X-Men animated series from a few years earlier. Now that pilot was popular when it VHS, I rented it a lot, but the game sort of exists as an expansion to what probably would have been a solid cartoon series.

You have six playable X-Men characters in this: Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Dazzler. Professor X and Kitty Pryde also show up. The villains also have an impressive roster with Magneto, Mystique, Juggernaut, Emma Frost, Nimrod, Pyro, the Blob and Wendigo. It would’ve been nice to have Sabretooth though.

I still enjoy the hell out of this game and play through it on my PS3 about once a year. Nowadays, it doesn’t cost quarters and I can run through it in about a half an hour.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Captain America and the Avengers arcade game, Spider-Man for Sega Genesis and Maximum Carnage.

Video Game Review: Black Tiger (Arcade)

I’ll be honest, I barely remembered Black Tiger but once playing it in a Capcom classic arcade pack, it came back to me. I then remembered that this game was a huge pain in the ass but at least you could always continue at a spot pretty close to where you died. It was at least more forgiving in that regard than Ghosts & Goblins.

I was also reminded that this game was very similar to Data East’s Karnov, which I loved. Playing this now, it’s still a pretty fun game but I still love Karnov more.

This game isn’t super hard but once you get to the higher level bosses, it really becomes a pain in the ass. The amount of continues I used was astronomical and I would’ve probably spent a paycheck playing through this and beating it in the arcade.

I love the look, feel and sound of the game but the mechanics are pretty clunky. In fact, what made a lot of the boss battles hard were the controls.

It was also difficult trying to figure out what to buy in the store. This has a sort of RPG style to how you buy and use items in the game but I didn’t know what half the icons were supposed to be and I felt that they could have been clearer on store items.

For a seasoned gamer and someone who is much more versed in this game, it can probably be blown through in under a half hour. Hell, there’s a speed run below that took less than 11 minutes. For me, it took several hours and probably a hundred continues to get through this.

But that’s also what I miss about gaming in the ’80s; shit was actually hard. You had to really work for it and develop a unique skill set for every game.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Karnov, Altered Beast, the Ghosts & Goblins series and the Golden Axe series.

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation)

There are lots of great video games over all consoles and platforms, spanning five decades. Few, however, are actual masterpieces. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of those rare masterpieces.

I can’t say a bad thing about this game. I love it wholeheartedly and playing it in 2018 made me weep for myself, as I haven’t replayed through it enough over the years. This experience though, has assured me that it is something I’ll have to play through over a weekend every couple of years. Man, I really enjoyed stepping back into this for the first time in over ten years. It also made me feel the sense of excitement and awe that I had for it when I first bought it and took it home in 1997.

I have always been a fan of the original three Castlevania games and this takes the best elements of the original trilogy of titles, mixes them together and pushes away all the negative parts.

While most people don’t like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, I always adored that game and how ambitious it was for the time. That ambition and it’s RPG like style mostly just upset people that wanted it to be more like its predecessor. But Symphony of the Night borrows the RPG elements, throws them in here and presents it all as something closer to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which was a much better version of the style of the original game.

Like Simon’s Quest, you have to round up pieces of Dracula’s body in order to fight him. And also like Simon’s Quest, you have the freedom to go where you please and obtaining certain items unlocks access to new areas.

The thing is, and most Americans in 1997 didn’t know this, but Symphony of the Night is actually a direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which didn’t come out in the States until later and was then renamed Dracula X. I’ve never played Rondo of Blood but now I want to after revisiting this. Rumor has it, that a version of it is being released for PlayStation 4 soon.

Anyway, apart from this tapping hard into Simon’s Quest, I also love how many firggin’ boss fights you get in this game. There are bosses everywhere in the castle. It’s like you can’t go ten minutes without encountering another boss to fight. What’s also great though, is that the classic bosses return, as well. You get to fight the Grim Reaper, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy and Medusa. You even get the annoying hunchbacks, the pain in the ass gillmen and the mindless zombies, as well as so many other regular enemies that every section of this game is new and fresh.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is absolute perfection in an artistic and interactive medium where such feats are incredibly hard to achieve. Kudos to Konami, as this is one of the best games the studio ever produced and my favorite in the great Castlevania series.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The original Castlevania trilogy for NES, Super Castlevania IV for SNES, the Gameboy Castlevania games and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (also known as Dracula X).

Video Game Review: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES)

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse was really f’n cool when it first came out because of one reason, you could play as Alucard, the son of Dracula.

Well, you could play as a few characters but Alucard was just badass and you could turn into a bat and fly through certain areas. But each character had their own special purpose.

Most importantly though, this returned to the game style of the original Castlevania, which most people wanted after the more complex, tougher and RPG-like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I am of the minority that loves that second game though, even if it’s a favorite classic NES title that people love to shit on. Those people are just simple minded and can’t solve more complex problems and puzzles though.

Anyway, Castlevania III is back to basics with some added flourish in the form of the characters Alucard, Sypha Belnades and Grant Danasty. Your main character is Trevor C. Belmont, as opposed to Simon Belmont, as this game is actually a prequel set a few hundred years earlier.

And while it does return to the formula of the first game, it branches out and is more creative, as it allows you to make choices that effect the game. You can choose different paths and the game has different endings based off of what you do along the way.

This allowed the game to have long lasting replayability. As different people beat it in different ways, kids talking on the playground came to realize that they needed to try different things in order to see the various finales. And this is back in the era when beating a game was a massive undertaking, especially since it typically had to be done in a single sitting. Castlevania III monopolized many summer vacation afternoons.

This is just a solid chapter in a solid series what was fun to play and exciting because of the options within the game. It really was a step forward in gameplay and storytelling evolution.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The other NES Castlevania games: the original Castlevania and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, also PlayStation’s epic sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Video Game Review: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)

The Legend of Zelda is, in my opinion, the greatest video game ever made. So when Zelda II came out, I was f’n ecstatic.

When I fired it up, however, it was similar but then all of a sudden, it wasn’t.

You wandered an overworld but the mechanics were different and more like that of a standard RPG. However, when you got hit by a creature, instead of going into a standard RPG battle mode, you entered a side scrolling action world. Part of me was confused and part of me was excited as hell!

In retrospect, Zelda II isn’t the masterpiece that Zelda I is. But it is a phenomenal game that might not have been what anyone was expecting from a Zelda sequel but in a lot of ways, was a better playing experience than just giving fans a rehash of what they already experienced.

Not everyone shares my sentiment. A lot of people hated this game because it wan’t what they wanted. Also, this game was tremendously f’n hard, the deeper you went. I couldn’t beat it way back in the day but once I got into my mid-’20s, I really chipped away at it and finally beat the thing. As a kid, I could get to the final boss but it always ended in me getting my ass kicked… hard.

Anyway, this game has a vast world, secret areas and really cool mechanics. It was extremely well thought out and meticulously designed.

love the boss battles in this game. Each is pretty unique and a lot of fun. While the bosses of the first game are more iconic and would be the ones that would go on to be in future sequels, this game was still highly creative in doesn’t come with a dull boss or really, a dull moment.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is, by far, one of the best video games of its era. It has aged really well, for those of us who still like their games 8-bit. I fire this thing up almost yearly.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The Legend of ZeldaDragon Warrior, Final Fantasy.

Video Game Review: Castlevania (NES)

Every kid in the ‘8os played Castlevania. Well, if they didn’t, they missed out on one of the greatest experiences of their generation. Sure, it wasn’t as massive as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda but it is just as much a classic and has had a similar level of staying power, as sequels are still made and it even has an anime show on Netflix that is currently running.

The game sort of takes the Universal Monsters and throws them into a 2D side scrolling adventure of badass proportions. The big boss is Dracula but you also face Frankenstein’s monster, a hunchback, a mummy, several gillmen, as well as other classic monsters that weren’t in the Universal Monsters canon like the Grim Reaper and Medusa. There are also zombies, giant wolves, giant bats and dismembered Medusa heads that fly at you. There are deadly traps, pits and water that is instant death. The game throws a lot at you and pulls no punches.

Seriously, this really pulls no punches. The game is hard as hell. And maybe the difficulty level is it’s only real negative. It isn’t an unbeatable game, as I have conquered it. But man, it is an incredible challenge that takes hours upon hours of mastery before one can actually beat it. But that was what the best old school NES games were about: mastery.

Another slight negative is the mechanics. Sometimes the jumping is wonky and it’s easy to get overzealous and screw up. Also, the stairs can be a total pain in the ass but eventually you’ll get it.

Castlevania is one of the best games of its era. It had to be to create a franchise as strong as it did. It is a true product of the ’80s and a real blast for old school horror fans.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other NES Castlevania games: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, also PlayStation’s epic sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Video Game Review: Spider-Man (Sega Genesis)

Also known as: Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin

Review:

Spider-Man, the 1991 game, is what pushed me towards getting a Sega Genesis over a Super Nintendo for Christmas when I was in 7th grade. I was reading Spider-Man comics daily, at the time. Who can blame me though, as the artists during that era were Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen? To say that I was a massive fan is a massive understatement.

When I finally got my tiny mitts on this game, I was not disappointed and playing it became an obsession because it was super fun but it was also really hard. But it wasn’t unbeatable hard. It was the kind of hard that you had to work at to overcome. Eventually, I beat the game and when I did, I felt a sense of real accomplishment that I hadn’t felt since the original Legend of Zelda.

For 1991, the graphics were sick, the gameplay was incredible and the mechanics were really cool, as I had been relegated to simpler 8-bit titles before this.

The game also featured a good group of classic Spider-Man villains and Venom, who was still actually new at the time. The villain lineup was almost like a Sinister Six lineup. You had Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, Electro and the Sandman with Hobgoblin and Venom replacing some of the traditional Sinister Six members (Kraven, the Green Goblin, Mysterio and the Vulture were rotated in and out in the comics). You also had the big boss of the game, Wilson Fisk himself, the Kingpin.

Some of the boss battles were easy, some were hard but each one required a different strategy, almost like what would become more common place in video games of the future. You didn’t just try and jump on some character’s head a bunch of times or throw a fireball, you had to figure out each battle like a puzzle. However, even figuring things out didn’t guarantee victory, as you needed to also rely on timing and your skill.

I replayed through Spider-Man recently and even though I got to the end and got my ass kicked by the Kingpin, it was still a lot of fun.

I know that a plethora of Genesis titles are considered classics ahead of this. However, this was why I chose the Genesis platform and it continues to be my favorite game put out for that console.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other old school Spider-Man games: Maximum Carnage, the original Gameboy game and the two games released on the original PlayStation.