REVIEW: Oscar (1996, SNES)

Alright, what are we doing today?

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Oh. ANOTHER Sonic clone…and I can’t even tell what type of animal the main character is supposed to be…joy.

Developed and published by Flair Software and Titus as a port of an extremely obscure computer game released three years before it and released at the slowly but surely approaching end of the SNES’ lifespan, this game follows the titular Oscar, a…something, as he travels throughout several worlds based on popular movie themes while trying to collect Oscars scattered throughout the levels.

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Yes, THOSE Oscars.

But regardless, seeing as how the 13 or so people who actually remember this game REALLY don’t have nice things to say about it, how bad can it possibly be? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS –  If there was a perfect word to describe how exactly this game looks, “cluttered” would be it. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, from the backgrounds, the character sprites, and the use of colors (good lord, the use of colors) just feel sloppy and thrown together. Now, I know what you might be thinking: “Dude, it’s just a port of a computer game, so it’s gonna to look like crap!” And to that, I respectfully disagree entirely. Believe it or not, there ARE computer games that can look just as good, and in some cases better, than 16-bit console games. Great examples of this would be Superfrog, Jazz Jackrabbit, THIS, I could honestly go all day. So, in all, there really isn’t any excuse, and even if you still look at it as just a computer game it still isn’t very impressive by any means.

THE SOUND – When the title screen music literally goes nothing beyond a jumbled bunch of ear-piercing guitar riffs, you know that the rest of the soundtrack is NOT going to go easy on the ears. And, surprise surprise, it doesn’t! When it’s not being annoying and all-around intolerable, the music is just flat-out boring and bland. I am not joking when I say that none, I repeat, NONE of the music in this game is good, or at the very least, decent. Look, I know that this was released when the SNES was at death’s door, but that does not excuse the lack of effort in any way!

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It might not look THAT bad at first…but then you play it for yourself.

THE GAMEPLAY – Just when things couldn’t possibly get any worse for Oscar, they somehow do when the gameplay is put into the equation. Never in my life have I seen such an incompetent and borderline-unplayable 2D platformer since Rocky & Bullwinkle on the NES! Getting the first out of MANY problems out of the way, Oscar’s controls. Not only do they feel VERY stiff and strange, but he is just way too fast for his own good. Second, the level design and gameplay is as basic and unimaginative as you can get. All you do is just wander around aimlessly collecting Oscars and letters, with nothing interesting or varied about them. Lastly, a majority of the power-ups are some of THE most useless I’ve ever seen in a 2D platformer. While some CAN be somewhat helpful, like the one that slows you down, and in a ironic turn of events – actually makes Oscar more controllable and the game slightly more playable -, the others are completely worthless and in some cases, can even make the game WORSE! Now, I’ve seen some pretty bad Sonic rip-offs before, but this one honestly takes it to a whole new level.

THE BOTTOM LINE – Oscar is one of those games that can show just how badly you can screw up even the SIMPLIEST of video game genres, with awful and unappealing visuals, ear-grating music, and gameplay that fails to hold your attention in every way. Thankfully, this game was quickly (and rightfully) forgotten after its’ release, and will never be remembered as anything more than just another terrible Sonic clo-

WHY!?

2/10

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REVIEW: Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool (1993, Genesis)

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Greetings, retr0pians. Who DOESN’T love Cheetos? They’re crunchy, deliciously cheesy, and they are represented by a character who has had what is quite frankly one of the most bizarre reboots ever conceived.

Now, with that said, is there a person who would love Cheetos so much to the point that they’d wish that there was a game based off of them? Because that’s what I’m wondering judging by the existence of today’s subject alone.

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Developed by System Visions and published for the Sega Genesis in 1993 by Kaneko, and based off of a proposed but never-aired cartoon series, the game follows the exploits of the titular cool cat as he searches for pieces of a motorcycle to escape from the zoo holding him captive. Will this game leave me with a good, cheesy taste in my mouth, or will it just make me want to go on a strict junk food-free diet? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – The graphics are…okay. Not mind-blowing, not eye-melting. Just okay. In terms of redeeming factors, the character sprites and level backgrounds are very stylized, giving off a vibrant and cartoonish look to them. Unfortunately, they are also rather simplistic in their execution which causes them to look a bit sloppy and unprofessional, especially when compared to Genesis games that came before and after it. But you wanna know what the worst part about this is? This is probably the best thing about this game compared to what’s next…

THE SOUND –  UGH… I don’t know whether or not if System Visions had a strict deadline to port everything over from the SNES to the Genesis, but the music here just sounds…bad. While the composition does have somewhat of a catchy beat to it, the overall execution of how it sounds it just grating on the ears! In fact, compare the music of the Genesis version above to the original version on the SNES below:

Not only is it less loud and thus less grating on the ears, it also sounds far less sluggish. The differences are as striking as night and day. It might not be the worst that the Genesis has to offer in audio capabilities, but it’s still a major misuse of the system’s sound chip.

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FUN FACT: In this game, there is no mention of the actual Cheetos snack whatsoever.

THE GAMEPLAY –  As if the laughably simplistic graphics and obnoxious music weren’t already enough of a bad first impression, the gameplay comes in to hammer it all down, leaving you with a generic, lifeless, and all-around unenjoyable experience. Right off the bat, the first major issue is Chester himself. While his controls are acceptable, it’s the pacing of his speed that’s sticking out like a sore thumb. He’s slow. Really, really, really, slow. In fact, Chester is so dang slow that even some of the turtles move faster than he does! Now I’m no animal expert, but aren’t cheetahs supposed to be, oh I don’t know, THE FASTEST LAND ANIMALS IN THE WORLD? And although there are sneakers that can make you go faster, they really aren’t that useful. Secondly, the level design. Now usually I don’t mind games being linear at all: in fact, some of my favorite video game franchises like Crash Bandicoot are well-known for their linear structure. But what really irks me about the level design is that it’s simply TOO linear with barely any variety to keep whoever would want to play this’ attention. Thirdly, during the levels, you can find a guitar. When you pick it up, you start playing a solo and dancing. Why exactly is this a problem, you may ask? Well, whenever you’re playing the guitar, you can’t move. Like, at all. This is made all the more frustrating during the bridge level (you’ll know what I mean when you get there). Lastly, the gameplay itself is so cliche and so uninteresting that by the time the 25 minutes (No, I am NOT making that up) it takes to beat this game are up, you’ll probably have already drifted to sleep by then. I never really expected great quality from a Cheetos game, but almost everything about this trash heap falls into the “Corporate Sell-Out” category so badly that it just feels like no one really cared.

THE BOTTOM LINE – Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool is yet another example of why making games based off of already existing properties can be a terrible idea 94% of the time. The graphics are passable but feel cheaply done, the music is bad and difficult to listen to, and the gameplay brings a whole new meaning to the words “sluggish” and “boring”. I highly recommend that you don’t “fool” yourself into playing this game.

…tough crowd.

3/10

REVIEW: Plok (1993, SNES)

If there’s one game that I’ve absolutely been DYING to cover, it’s this one. Originally, I had planned to do it back in January when I was still using the “new review every day” format (trust me, I don’t know what I was thinking either) which I had ditched in favor of the “new review every Saturday” format. In fact, if you recall back to my Flintstones review, I had even said to tune in next time to see me tackle it. However, I wasn’t satisfied with the way the previous version of this review was worded, so I had scrapped it for the time being and moved to April. But now that those four months are up, I’m finally ready to do that particular game. What is it, you might ask? It’s none other than the 1993 action-platform game, Plok.

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Originally developed as an arcade game called Fleapit by Ste and John Pickford, the game was later re-tooled completely to be released for the Super Nintendo instead, and was also converted into a more traditional platform game.

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Gee, now I wonder who could’ve influenced that decision…

Blue hedgehogs aside, the game’s story revolves around the titular character, an egotistical and ill-tempered pile of clothes who resides in and is the self-proclaimed ruler of the fictional archipalego of Polyesta who returns to his home one day after retrieving his flag only to discover that it has been overrun by giantic blue creatures called  Fleas-

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AGH, NOT THOSE FLEAS!!

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Thank you.

With only detachable limbs and a barrage of power-ups to rely on, Plok must rid the Fleas from his home and save Polyesta from the dastardly Flea Queen’s clutches. But regardless, why exactly have I been wanting to review this game so dang bad? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – When people bring this game up nowadays, a lot of them tend to compare the visuals and use of colors to Yoshi’s Island (FUN FACTS: The release of this game actually predates Yoshi’s Island by two years. Also, the Pickford brothers actually pitched this game to Nintendo, who even showed a strong interest in publishing it; however, they ultimately decided against it due to the fact that Yoshi’s Island was still in development at the time). And while I can definitely see some similarities, the graphics still have enough unique quirks to help differentiate themselves and be extremely appealing at the same time. For starters, the graphics, while not quite as detailed as YI, have a very colorful and cartoonish aesthetic to them and give off an overall abstract vibe. This leads into what I believe is the graphics’ biggest strength: the unmitigated creativity of them. Sure, maybe a few people may be turned off by the use of colors, but in what other game would you find characters and enemies this lovably trippy and off-the-wall at the same time? The graphics aren’t really anything that are necessarily brilliant, but they do an excellent job on taking their simplicity and using it to their own advantage.

THE SOUND – Ooooh yes, now this is where things REALLY start to get great. Normally, when people pick their favorite SNES soundtracks, they usually turn to the more usual choices, like Donkey Kong Country, Mega Man X, just to name a couple. But if you ask me what MY favorite SNES soundtrack is, it is most definitely this one.  Composed by brothers Tim and Geoff Follin, the music utilizes a wide variety of instruments and sounds, all of them managing to come together to make a series of level themes that are catchy, memorable, and even a bit atmospheric at times. I’m being dead serious when I see that this is literally up there with games like Sonic 1-3 and Rocket Knight Adventures in terms of awesome 16-bit platformer soundtracks, seriously it is that freaking good. But of course, there IS one problem I have with the sound, and it’s the fact that every time he gets hit, Plok makes this really high-pitched yelp. Sure, it’s tolerable after the first few times…but after you hear it the one-billionth time, you might wanna turn the SFX off.

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Look out, it’s the Rocky Horror Picture Show lips’ evil humanoid genetic clones!

THE GAMEPLAY – One of the more irritating things about mascot platformers was that they tend to follow a rather strict formula: a “snarky”, “too cool for school” protagonist, gameplay that attempts to emulate Sonic’s level design but fails miserably most of the time, and a overall sense of blandness. However, if you look back at my Superfrog review, you can make a mascot platform game that can be seen as a legit competitor if you put an actual sense of effort into it and try to give the game an identity of its’ own. What category does Plok fall into, you mask? The latter, and HOW. Although the gameplay is very different from Superfrog, being much more linear (for the first few levels at least) and more slowed down, it is still just amazing in every way. First things first, the controls are as smooth as butter, being tight, snappy and  all-around responsive. Secondly, the level design is just great. While it starts off more Mario-esque where you just get to the end of each stage, it gradually gets more open and maze-like as you progress. There are also several power-ups that can be found throughout the game, all of them being fun to use and helpful in their own unique way.  Oh yeah, and the boss battles? Yeah, they’re also incredible. Not only are they challenging as all heck, they are just fun to fight as a whole. Add all of this up, and you’ve got yourself a true overlooked gem of the SNES libary.

THE BOTTOM LINE – If you want a game with a quirky and zany sense of humor, top-notch design, simple but appealing visuals, and one heck of a challenge, then Plok is most definitely the game for you. It really is a shame that this game came out during the massive over-saturation of mascot games, especially ones like…

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You’ll get yours soon, bobcat…mark my word.

Luckily, the game has amassed a remarkable cult following over the years, and has even gotten a sequel comic (which I highly recommend you read) as of late. Oh, and there’s also a 3D fan game in the works…make of that what you will.

9/10

REVIEW: Killer Instinct (1995, SNES)

Given the wide range of games that I’ve covered over the past few months, I knew it was only a matter of time until I reviewed a fighting game. However, rather than choosing one of the more well-known ones, like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter,  I decided to choose one that’s a bit more under the radar, although it has a humongous cult following and has even got a reboot recently. That game is the Super Nintendo-exclusive port of the arcade game, Killer Instinct.

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Developed by Rareware (A developer whom some of you will most likely recognize out on a whim) and released in 1995, this particular title acts as a major detour than the studio’s more kid-friendly offerings, instead choosing to go a much, much more dark and violent route in every aspect imaginable. But can this game truly stand out from its’ fighting game brethren, or does it just belong with every other game that has a good reputation purely for nostalgia? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – One of the things that had so many people going (ahem) ape over DKC and this game was its’ highly detailed and striking (At the time) 3D visuals. And I have to say, even after so many years, this game’s graphics are absolutely MIND-BLOWING. Sure, people might give DKC a lot of credit for pushing the SNES’ graphical capabilities, but I’d argue that this game pushes them even further. It might be because of the fact that it’s a port of an arcade game, but the character sprites, backgrounds, and effects are packed to the brim with all kinds of details and variety. In terms of amazing 16-bit graphics, I would most definetely place this next to titles such as Puggsy and Turtles in Time.

THE SOUND – Things are already off to a good start with the graphics, and it’s a equally good thing that they don’t stop with the sound either, because my oh my it does NOT disappoint in the slightest. Starting off with the music, not only does it have a balance of ambiance and excitement, it even has individual themes for each character! These themes do an equally impressive job of matching each character’s design and personality to a T. The sound effects also really bring you into the action; you WILL feel each punch, kick, and attack, and you WILL get an idea of just how much each one hurts. And of course, I couldn’t possibly bare the thought of talking about the sound without bringing this up:

Overall, the sound offers plenty of things to admire in terms of both composition and style. But even with that, there’s still one major thing left that can either make or break a game…

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It’s a dinosaur fighting a skeleton with a shield and sword. The awesomeness speaks for itself, people.

THE GAMEPLAY – Even with the fantastic graphics and music, the game still has to offer players with fun and exhilarating gameplay, especially considering the type of genre this game is in. Does it do exactly that? The answer is a definite Y-E-S. Getting the controls out of the way, they are very responsive and tight, with plenty of possible combos, chain attacks, unique abilities, and finishing moves at each character’s disposial in each timed match. The fights themselves are absolutely amazing, being fast-paced, violent, and overall just incredibly enjoyable. But of course, there are a bit of problems to be found – while the controls are definetely great, there comes the occasional moment where they can feel a bit iffy, giving your opponent the oppurtinity of a cheap shot. But like I said, these moments only come up once in a while and don’t really do much to bring the game’s quality down.

THE BOTTOM LINE – Killer Instinct is one of the greatest fighting games ever made, with spectacular graphics, music, and gameplay to back it up. I would absolutely recommend this to any Rare and/or fighting game fan.

9/10

REVIEW: Turrican (1990, Amiga)

Today’s game is one that I’ve been deliberately holding out on for quite a while, as it’s often seen as an overlooked gem in the retro gaming community. That’s right, gather up your laser rifles and get ready to fry some evil-doers, cause today we’re going to take a look at Factor 5/Rainbow Arts’ Turrican.

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Originally developed for the Commodore 64 by Manfred Trenz and later released for several other consoles afterwards, the game’s story revolves around the exploits of the titular robotic mutant warrior as he does battle against the diabolical MORGUL, and free the planet of Alterra from his non-existent clutches. But is this truly a diamond in the rough, or nothing more than a pile of scrap metal? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – Okay, normally I tend not to focus too much on a game’s title screen, but…GOOD LORD, that has got to be the most epic title screen to a retro game ever. Like, I could literally stare at it for hours. Other than that, the rest of the game’s graphics are…decent, I suppose. While they’re not as detailed or stunning as the title screen, they still have some amount of polish and do a pretty good job of giving us the imagery that we’re in a world that’s unlike ours. In terms of character sprites and animations, they actually look and move really good. Even if you take in the possibility that most of the game’s already limited budget was spent on the title screen alone, the graphics are still above-average for a side-scrolling action game.

THE SOUND –  With an awesome title screen and decent graphics to back it up already, it’s important that this game exceeds in the sound department as well. Thankfully, it manages to do just that. Similar to what you would normally hear in a 1980’s action film or tv show, the game’s soundtrack is composed of synthesizer sounds and melodies. However, it never really gets to the point where it’s annoying or boring. The synthesizers, along with the graphics, also help to give the game a more “otherworldly” feel to it. But then again, like I said in my Superfrog review “One thing that a lot of computer games have in common is good music”.

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Here I am, just minding my own business and-OH MY GOD A GIANT FISH.

THE GAMEPLAY – Something that this game has often been described as is a mixture between the 2D Metroid games and a rather obscure arcade shooter called Psycho-Nics-Oscar. And going back and looking at those two games and this back and forth, I can definetely agree. Getting the level design out of the way first, it’s actually really impressive. It has a a clear and linear path to follow, but it manages to be really wide and open, with plenty of enemies to fire at, as well as tons of ammo as well as other weapons to discover and find despite the time limit as you platform throughout the stages. The controls are also pretty good, even though they’re not quite as defined as other games that were coming out at the time. However, there is one major issue I have with this game, and it’s the fact that you can die a bit too quickly. Sure, you do have a lot of weapons at your disposal, but when the enemies tend to be as sproadic and unpredictable as they are, there really isn’t any need for a health meter by the end of the day.

THE BOTTOM LINE – Turrican has its strengths, but it ultimately isn’t refined as its’ follow-ups or its’ competition. While I would recommend this to computer gamers, I’m not quite sure if platform fans will go nuts for it.

7/10