Shenmue (PS4): COMPLETED!

It’s been a while. I’ve started Shenmue via emulators a number of times over the years but it’s been ten or more since I last completed it. I remember the plot, and the basic event timeline, but specifics were like coming to it anew. I was worried that one of my favourite ever games wasn’t going to stand up to scrutiny, especially since this is a pretty bare-bones HD remaster, but it turns out that it was fine. More than fine, actually – it’s still excellent.

Sure, it came from a different era, when developers didn’t have two analogue sticks and a pretty standard way of moving your character in third person in a 3D space. Many years of story based games have now shown what is necessary and what isn’t, when the player needs direction and when they don’t, when repetition is good and when it isn’t – but 18 years ago Shenmue was doing this for pretty much the first time. As such, you have to accept that being unable to skip time and having to talk to everyone after every plot progression is just of its day and move past that to the story.

Yeah like these two are made for each other.

Which, thankfully, is still excellent.

One thing, which I spoke about in much detail on episode 14 of the ugvm Podcast, is how much Shenmue feels like a precursor to the Yakuza series. It’s actually one of the reasons I got into Yakuza in the first place, but going back to it now it’s even more obvious. To add to my podcast comments, the 70 Man Battle at the end of Shenmue is yet another thing that feels very Yakuza – as each game I’ve played has a fight against a huge number of enemies near the end as well. There’s too many similarities between the two series for it to just be coincidence!

Road Rash it isn’t.

Now it’s on to Shenmue II, which I remember less well than the original as I only ever completed it once.

Would you like to watch my entire playthrough?

Gradius (Switch): COMPLETED!

And another NES-game-onna-Switch, bus-based game completion. Gradius isn’t something I remember completing before but at the same time none of it seemed new to me. Which is odd because I don’t often play shooters like this.

Anyway, it was hard, especially the bit with the Easter Island heads, and the final boss was a complete walkover for some reason. All you have to do is stay in the right place and keep shooting – no dodging necessary!

Super Mario Bros (Switch): COMPLETED!

Yesterday, Nintendo finally enabled their online service and with it came a big old pile of NES games for free 1, one of which was – of course – Super Mario Bros.

Like Sonic, it’s a game I have many copies of and of course have played and completed many times. Also like Sonic, I played it again today and completed it again today. Whilst on a bus. It was great.

Notes:

  1. Or at least “free while you have an active subscription”

Sonic the Hedgehog (Switch): COMPLETED!

I couldn’t wait one single day for the UK release of the original Sonic on the Switch, so bought it from the Japanese shop. And then completed the entire game with all the Chaos Emeralds. Without dying.

I may have completed this game a few times before, but never on the Switch although it is probably only the second time I’ve completed it on a bus. I also now have something like 25 copies of it. No, you have a problem.

It’s a great version, building on the 3DS version by M2 by adding some new challenge modes and stuff, and of course it’s huge and lovely on the Switch screen.

SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium (NGPC): COMPLETED!

I was sure I’d never completed this before, but as I got to the three “guards” just before the Geese/Bison double fight, I realised I had played it before. See.

Not only that, but I chose Ken to play as this time too. Because of course I would. He’s Ken!

Looking at my post from a couple of years ago though, it seems I really struggled in the final few battles last time. No such trouble this time around. Well, I mean, they weren’t a walkover but each of the guards/Geese-Bison/Iori only took a handful of attempts each.

 

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (MS): COMPLETED!

Is he Wonder Man yet?

Another game I’ve completed before, but not recently and certainly not as frequently as Mega-lo-Mania.

Helpfully, I totally missed getting the bell so had to rely on mainly faulty memory to make it through the castle at the end. I’d stocked up on Thunderflashes though, which makes taking out the dragon a lot easier when I finally got to him.

Great game, but overshadowed now by the far better Dragon’s Trap remake.

Mega-lo-Mania (MD): COMPLETED!

I alone am best.

I must complete this every year, I think. There’s little need to mention much about the game really, except to say that 1) I played as Scarlet, and 2) once again I reached the final level as the only person to actually put any of my men in suspended animation. Meaning another instant win.

One day, someone else will manage it. One day.

Pulseman (MD): COMPLETED!

But he’s a robot so doesn’t have a pulse surely.

What’s this? A Mega Drive game I’ve never heard of? Surely not. Especially since it was written by Game Freak and published by Sega themselves. How come I’d never seen it before? Perhaps it’s because it was Japan-only?

Well, despite being Japan-only, and all the dialogue in the game being in Japanese, all the speech (and there’s a lot) is in English. Which begs more questions – why wasn’t this released outside of Japan? Bizarre.

The game itself plays like a cross between Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. Pulseman himself looks absolutely nothing like Zero from the Mega Man games, and none of the levels look anything like Aquatic Ruin, Green Hill Zone and Casino Night at all. Unlike both those games, though, Pulseman is badly animated and movement is jerky. He’s got a swipe attack and a weird backflip thing (during which he’s invulnerable), but the main gimmick for the game is his ability to charge himself up with electricity and use it mainly to become a ball that bounces round the screen.

To charge, Pulseman can either run a short distance or perform a dash. The ball he turns in to can then be used to reach higher platforms, break through certain walls, or travel along wires. There’s a power up which allows Pulseman to remain charged indefinitely, so long as you don’t die or finish the level.

Speaking of levels, they’re varied and some look incredible. In particular, backgrounds are often made up of the sort of sine-wavey trickery demo scene stuff tends to do. It’s occasionally distracting (on one later level seemingly on purpose) but it looks really clever. On the casino level you wonder how they squeezed so many colours out of a Mega Drive.

Jerkiness aside, it’s a fun game. Not too hard, sometimes frustrating (mainly due to leaps of faith or those baddies that follow you round discharging you all the time), and with lots of “wow” moments with the graphics.

Metal Slug 2nd Mission (NGPC): COMPLETED!

Pineapple!

As well as completing 1st Mission, I thought I’d do 2nd Mission. Makes sense. It’s good, too.

I think I was misremembering how good, though. I was pretty certain it was better in almost every way than 1st Mission, but no. Certainly, the addition of speech, more levels, and two characters to choose from are improvements. Changing the Start button from “toggle between guns and grenades” to “throw grenade” is definitely for the best. However, the levels seem less interesting for the most part, and some – like the prison and the factory – are just rubbish. In addition, many of the bosses are just those from the original again.

They also seemed to add a lot more colour to the game, especially the player character, but this just makes them garish. The animation on the new alien foes, though, is super smooth as they sort of tear open and vomit goo. No, really.

On balance, it’s still excellent. It’s just not quite as impressive or fun as the first game.

Metal Slug 1st Mission (NGPC): COMPLETED!

Rocket Lawn Chair

The Neo Geo Pocket had some great versions of Neo Geo games. They were reimaginings of them rather than ports, and played to the little handheld’s strengths.

Metal Slug 1st Mission looks and feels like the “grown up” version, only is more platformy, a bit less shooty, and much easier. That’s not to say it’s easy, it’s just the original Metal Slug was definitely a bit of a coin chomper. Sadly, there’s no speech, but that’s a small loss.

The levels are varied, with some needing exploration, some straightforward left-to-right jumping and shooting, a few sideways scrolling shooter sections, and some massive bosses. In some ways it feels a bit more like Mega Man than Metal Slug (not least when you get to the disappearing block section), but that’s OK as Mega Man is great too.

Oh, and it looks amazing. That NGPC could really make some pretty games. Just look at the sunset here, for example:

You can’t see from the screenshots, but the animation is awesome too, especially on you and the soldiers. The cute “SD” Metal Slug tank and jet look fantastic as well.

Mappy-Land (NES): COMPLETED!

Cheesy.

Mappy is a game I always play whenever I fire up MAME and haven’t anything in mind to actually play. I’m terrible at it, but I play it quite a lot. Imagine my surprise when I found this NES-only sequel existed. Not only that, it’s pretty good too.

Like the original, it’s a platformer where the gimmick is trampolines. You bounce on them to reach higher platforms. It differs from the original in a similar way to how Pac-Land and Mighty Bombjack did over their predecessors – by making it a side-scroller. Sort of.

You collect 6 items in each level then head for the exit. Sometimes, you have to obtain an item from a  sub-level to open the exit. Once you’ve done all 8 levels and given your girlfriend a load of cheese, the game restarts with different level layouts and a different set of items to collect. Run through all the levels four times, and that’s it! Well, the game starts again, but it’s effectively completed. Which is what I did.

Gynoug (MD): COMPLETED!

Or Wings of Wor, if you’re from “over there”.

Was this always so easy? I mean, it isn’t easy. Not at all. But I found it really hard back in the 90s yet somehow managed to finish it today without much of a struggle. Perhaps it’s because I now understand the concept of “bullet hell shooter” (which this isn’t really, but it helps) so I concentrated on watching bullets rather than enemies.

In fact, I didn’t even die until level 3 or 4, and even that felt unavoidable.

My memory is obviously faulty too, as I was sure that the bosses were much harder to hit when in fact most of them are shot accidentally as you avoid projectiles. Only the final boss caused an issue, and that was because his weak point is well protected and it just took ages more than anything.

I was also pretty sure there was a vertically scrolling level in there. Apparently not. Dunno where I got that from!

Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs (NES): COMPLETED!

Worst game name ever?

As a big fan of the later games by the same developer (Psycho Fox, Magical Hat and Decapattack) I’ve always intended to play Kid Kool. For some reason, it has never worked for me on either OpenEmu on the Mac, or on RetroPie.  I recently rebult my RetroPie image and it now works, so who knows.

Seems I probably shouldn’t have bothered, as it’s awful.

It’s closest to Psycho Fox, unsurprising since it’s an 8-bit title. Like that game, you have a creature that sits on your shoulder that you can throw. Unlike Psycho Fox, you can’t punch, which is where the first frustrating thing comes in. You can still jump on things, but not being able to punch is a massive issue, making some of the game impossible if you don’t have the shoulder pet.

Other issues are present in Psycho Fox too, like the bizarre momentum and ability to just incredibly high but barely horizontal at all unless you’re running. In the later game, this is mostly negated by better level design and the ability to turn into different animals with different physics models, but here – especially with the flick-screen, rather than scrolling, vertical movement – it’s crippling.

Then there’s the bosses, which are repeated (with very minor differences), and are all incredibly easy. In addition, you have to complete the whole game in under an hour in order to “win” properly. And the name! Oh my, what a terrible name for a game.

It’s a shame I didn’t enjoy it due to how flawed it is, but it’s still interesting to see how they improved so many things for the follow-up titles.

SNK Gals’ Fighters (NGPC): COMPLETED!

Woman on woman violence. And cross-dressing. It was a different time!

No, I don’t know why I decided to play this either. I mean, I’d just set my Raspberry Pi back up with a fresh install of Retropie, and yeah, I’d added this as one of the games, but still. Why this and not something else, I can’t say.

But these Neo Geo Pocket fighting games are just so good, aren’t they? So slick and responsive and fun. It wasn’t that long ago I played KOFR2 and it was great as well. In fact, there’s a lot of great NGP games. Best console. For a while, anyway.

Anyway.

I’m not sure what else to say about the game. It has a nonsense story about “Miss X” holding a Queen of Fighters contest (do you see what they did there?), but of course Miss X is – spoilers – Iori. And not a “gal” at all. Hilarious and we all fell about in stitches, didn’t we? Then there’s the cut scenes like this one:

Which are great. Just the right about of wonky translation mixed with a limited text area to perfectly ruin any depth to the conversation. Nobody cares about that though, because what is important is how good the punching and kicking is and in that regard, it’s lovely and fluid.

If you’re taking notes, I played through as Yuri. And if you don’t know how she plays, she’s basically Ken from Street Fighter. Which is why she is Best.

Oh yeah, and there’s a sequel of sorts to this coming out on the Switch soon! Yesss.

Mega-lo-Mania (MD): COMPLETED!

Alright, Why Not.

As I do every so often, I sat and played – and completed – one of the very best Mega Drive games: Mega-lo-Mania.

This time it was prompted by a conversation on Twitter, but I don’t really ever need an excuse to play it. It’s so good.

Once again, the CPU didn’t put anybody in suspended animation (see my previous post on this) and, since I’d expected it, I only put the bare minimum in myself. And then won.

Again.