Review of the Month; 8bit Music Power Final

This one has been in the making for some time, mostly thanks to Amazon Japan never shipping my piece. I had to resort to proxy services to get a new copy and the sound jack expansion elsewhere. Rather than keep bitching, let’s jump to the review right away and start with the usual stuff on what’s on the outside.

World needs more pastel blues

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Review of the Month; Hori Mini Commander for Famicom

Hori’s been a long time on the third-party controller market. Usually they are of pretty high quality, offering relatively cheap price for a solid, no-nonsense controller that serves just fine. I’ve covered quite a few Hori product on this blog, and I have to say that I do have a slight personal bias for their products due to my good experiences with them. Hell, I still use my Rockman.EXE GBA softcase that was designed for the Game Boy Advance, because it’s so well made. Currently it houses my European 3DS.

This time we’re going back to one of Hori’s earlier third-party controllers, the Famicom Mini Commander. It seems like Hori has been doing smaller alternatives since the start. This controller also seems to be relatively obscure, and is the miniature version of the more well-known Hori Famicom Commander. For a more comprehensive review, we’re also going to open the controller to see what it has eaten.

I’m also using large file size with these photos, because I’m sick and tired of gnat-shit size pictures that are all around the net. Notice how neat Hori’s old logo is. More after the jump

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Monthly Review; Kira Kira Star Night DX

I reviewed 8-bit Music Power earlier this year, a new software title for the Famicom. Now, Riki has produced another title named Kira Kira Star Night under Columbus Circle, and this time it’s an actual game rather than a music album in cartridge form.

Before we start the game up, let’s check whether or not the hardware we have in our hands is as terrible as last time. If you want to be spoiled, the answer is a surprising No.

And now everybody has diabetes
And now everybody has diabetes because of  キラキラスターナイトDX

Continue reading “Monthly Review; Kira Kira Star Night DX”

Review of the Month; 8bit Music Power

The idea is solid; release an album of chiptunes on the actual hardware. There is an idea there, a niche idea for sure, but when done properly and executed well it should yield pretty damn good results. 8bit Music Power Seemingly does things well at first, but in the end it feels like lacking in quality.

The box is bright and fun looking
The box is bright and fun looking

The packaging itself at first looks pretty good. The cardboard is a bit thin, but for collectors this shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a tightly packed piece for sure and it feels as such in your hand.


8Bit Music Power’s box is a tad smaller than your standard Famicom, box, a thing that will make it stand out in your shelf or among other Famicom software, and not in the good way.


The reason why the packaging is different size the real standard sized FC boxes is because the box is just large enough to accommodate the cartridge itself. FC games come inside a plastic tray to keep them in place and add further shock protection, and this is something the 8bit Music Power should’ve done. It would’ve made an impact to the packaging cost, but seeing this is a niche product as it is, they could’ve taken the hit. The same things can be said of the manual, which is just a two page pamphlet repeating the same info that’s on the back of the box with obligatory information.


The cartridge itself looks for the part at first glance. It’s neat, clean and the right size. However, it is very light and uses cheap and shiny plastic. You could snap it with your two hand without any troubles. It reminds me a lot of these extremely cheap Chinese knock-offs that not even Poundland would stock. The print quality on the label is excellent, just like with the box, but where the label has been put on doesn’t deliver. It simply doesn’t feel right or pleasant to handle. The Everdrive I reviewed last month has far better plastic than this.

You can see some warping here and there already

Furthermore, whatever method has been used to produce these shells is not all too accurate. The design of the halves leaves a visible groove to the shells and the edges on the shells have sharp extra material. However, because of the cheapness of the plastic, these sharp points won’t cut, but you will feel them every time you handle the cartridge.


Popping the cartridge open doesn’t take any effort, and I wish I hadn’t checked what’s inside. As you can see, the front of the PCB has two chips, which I assume are flash memory.


All the logic the cartridge needs resides in that black blob. Under that blob of epoxy resin lies an IC, which handles all the logic the software needs. The two soldered wires, diodes and that cap don’t look too reliable and all this reeks of cheap. I didn’t expect them to produce their own FC cartridges to the same effort as with Everdrives or with official carts, but something better than this for sure. I can’t help but feel disappointed that the build quality doesn’t just feel, but is also visibly this low.

The music itself is what you’d expect from a Famicom/NES. As this is a music album rather than a game, your enjoyment will vary on what sort of tunes you like to listen to. For reference, I tend to favour songs that have a driving force and concentrate on the melody and beat rather than trickery.

There are eleven listed songs, all from different musicians. There is some range between the songs, some employing tricks that Tim Follin and his brother made known on the Commode 64. Some of the songs tend to rely on technical trickery, while others are more robust in their sounds, sounding almost something that you could hear in a high calibre FC/NES game. The composition level varies and because of that four to six are something that can withstand repeated listens. Even from that promotional trailer you can hear the difference in how things sound. Personal best from the album would be track seven, Oriental Mystique by Masahiro Kajihara. Some of them work as great background even if they’re not all that good songs and grow on you with repeated listens, but few just irritated the living shit out of me.

One of the interesting thing this album allows you to do is to turn off the individual channels. Some of the songs almost sound better with just one or two channels on, and it’s fun to mess with them now and then. However, you can’t forward or rewind any of the songs, so you just gotta listen them from the start to the end.

There is more music on the cartridge in form of few short jingles and me Option music. Of course, numerous sound effects are included, most of them used inside minigames the listener can play. They’re nothing worth of mentioning separately, but they visually pleasant.

Overall, the visual representation is beat, and while it doesn’t push the FC to its maximum. There are 41 different pictures, ranging from initial screens and logos to full-blown full screen illustrations. Some of these are impressive on their own rights, whereas others just let you down in terms of visuals. A lot of them are just big pixel reproductions of famous paintings and the like. Sticking with the original productions would’ve been the better choice, even if it had meant to cut down the amount of pictures.

Should you get this? If you’re a big fan of chip tunes and the core idea sounds appealing, search for your best deal. I would still recommend picking some samples off the Youtube or elsewhere, because the build quality did not meet my expectations at all, and as usual with your normal music albums, only few of the songs are actually good. Despite the chip tune market being niche, I wouldn’t outright recommend this to anyone without reservations.

You can check RIKI’s own website here for news and other stuff regarding the album.

Of course, you need a Famicom or a NES and an adapter to listen to this. I’m running the album on a modified AV Famicom, leading straight to my home speaker set.

Review of the Month; Everdrive N8

Review of N8 Everdrive should really be one sentence; It works as intended with some exceptions. Check the unofficial compatibility list to see what works and what doesn’t.

Flashcarts are essentially a way to play a game’s image on real hardware. This has its benefits in that the game is supposedly going to run exactly the same as the real cartridge would. After all, the two share the exact same data. This is not exactly true, as game cartridges allowed developers to use different chips to add something special to the games. For example, Akumajou Densetsu, the Japanese Castlevania III, has a VRC6 coprocessor chip inside, which adds two pulse channels and a saw-wave channel. This makes the music sound much richer and more robust, and the music had to be simplified for the Western NES release due to the machine lacking support for expanded audio. Everdrive, or any other flashcart for the matter, do not have this chip inside of them. Instead, the chip’s functions are emulated.

I know, I shouldn’t have my keyboard in the background. The Everdrive logo is pretty useless to have down there, it isn’t visible when its in use. It’s also a bit of an eyesore

Everdrive does admirable job in emulating the hardware the games were on. While NES/FC games have wide variety of hardware inside the cartridges, only handful of games use specialised chips. Some companies put out their own pieces as well, like the aforementioned VRC6 from Konami. While emulation on computer is pretty much wholly accurate, a lot of times they do away with some of the quirks of the original hardware, namely slowdowns. Other additional possibilities apply, like choice of different palettes, which can be a neat thing, even on physical consoles.

The Everdrive handles Famicom Disc System games just without any hitches, assuming your ROM image is good. Side changing is automated. I’ve been playing unlicensed games with the Everdrive, as there as some really mind-boggling peculiarities to explore for whole five minutes at a time. The FDS has a surprising amount of unlicensed games.

As I have the Famicom variant, it came inside a Famicom cartridge style casing. I say styled, because it has screws on the back and a cutout for the Micro-SD card and is made of different plastic. The slot was a bit too high in my piece, which is why I added a sliver of gray plastic to the top part. This stops misplacing the card inside the cartridge itself rather than being pushed inside the card slot. The casing is also slightly higher than standard Famicom cartridge.

No ridges at the sides either. The detailing isn't the best
No ridges at the sides either. The detailing isn’t the best

The plastic used is very similar to the real deal, but slightly softer and allows the cartridge to bend more. My piece also had an awful self-printed label on it, which I intend to replace in the near future. There was no label on the backside at all, which I find lacking in a product of this price range.

I’ll probably just scan the label from Bug-te Honey and make some stickers that way
As you can see, the Everdrive doesn't fit a normal Famicom style casing. This one is Ice Climbers. I didn't want to pop Bug-tte Honey open, as opening a Famicom cart is relatively challenging and you can crack casing pretty badly if you're not careful
As you can see, the Everdrive doesn’t fit a normal Famicom style casing. This one is Ice Climbers. I didn’t want to pop Bug-tte Honey open, as opening a Famicom cart is relatively challenging and you can crack casing pretty badly if you’re not careful

The main question I had for the Everdrive was whether or not it would ultimately end up being the similarly useless thing as having ROMs on your computer’s HDD. Emulation sure simplifies things, but in the end it’s emulation and not the real thing. It’s like eating a copy of your favourite chocolate. It sure tastes similar, but it’s got that bona fide fake taste. We’ve talked about emulation before, let’s not go into that discussion here.

I have found myself enjoying Everdrive in a very different fashion from emulation on PC. Rather than giving some random game a go for five minutes until I’m bored, playing on actual hardware has that something in it. Putting the cartridge in, putting the console one and the software is on. It’s straightforward and fast. The OS in Everdrive is not pretty, and it only serves as the most minimal way to get you to the games. It’s a bit finicky at places, like how you are to input Game Genie codes before launching the game, but all this seems to be designed speed in mind. You don’t want to dilly dally in the menus.

Anyway, playing games on the real hardware and with the intended controller elevates Everdrive. It’s all in the feeling and looks of it all and how it runs. It is, without a doubt, the best play to a game on a hardware it was intended to be played on without having the real copy. Everdrive won’t ever be the same thing as the real deal, but it comes damn close. It’s an option, if you don’t want to put any stress on your collection, and of course it allows you to try out games before deciding whether or not you want to pay that overly high price some sellers are asking.

Is Everdrive worth it? If you’re in the niche who want to play ROMs on real hardware without collecting physical games, this is for you. Everdrives are constantly being developed forwards and the aim is minimize the incompatibilities even further. I do see it trivialising any game to an extent, as one of the thing with physical medium is that you feel the work you’ve done to gain it in your very hands. Everdrive in itself emulates that physicality, but is that enough? If your answer is Yes, then Everdrive N8 and its brethren might be up your alley.

Games on your wall

There’s a Kickstarter up called Linked to the Wall, which aims to create game cartridge wall mounts. The driving idea they have is that games are made into similar form as paintings, framed to the wall. The idea seems to be solid in principle, but there’s few problems, one logistic, that they are either side-stepping or haven’t thought about.

Looking at the prototypes they have, I have to question why do they need to create separate wall mounts to different cartridges. They want to streamline and eliminate all possible manufacturing problems by creating a solid piece of plastic, which is understandable and admirable to a point, but also tells me they want to produce these as cheaply and fast as possible. Designing a wall mount that would be adjustable according to a cartridge’s width isn’t terribly hard. Designing it well is somewhat challenging. Smaller cartridges, like the Game Boy, Game Gear and GB Advance carts would require a smaller solution, one they are also offering, but again with a different mounts for each cartridge. Their design is also lacking Famicom cart design.

Let’s take a look at the depth of the cartridge connectors’ grooves between a Famicom, NES, Mega Drive, Super NES and N64 game carts. To measure the depth, I am using metal ruler that starts from 0mm at its end and a caliper to measure the width of the connector groove.

The depth of a Famicom connector groove is just shy of 12mm
The depth of a Famicom connector groove is just shy of 12mm
The width of a Famicom cart is 85mm
The width of a Famicom cart is 85mm

Let’s put the NES images up before we compare the two.

19mm, perhaps just slightly over
19mm, perhaps just slightly over

The Famicom cart is shallower than its Western counterpart on either direction. The width is not a problem with either of these in the design they are currently using. The depth is a minor inconvenience, but 10mm is more than enough build a prong that holds  NES cart in place. The plastic thickness is not a problem either, as long as the prongs are not made of too rigid material, which is a given. An adjustable arm could allocate both FC and NES carts just fine, as their design currently places the cartridge on two prongs that supports both front and back with one additional support column going into the groove. This additional piece is what keeps the cart straight, whereas the main prongs take the carts’ weight.

Their prototypes have been 3D printed and it shows. All the larger cartridges they have are slightly slanted forwards. This means they don’t only need to invest into material research than just create injection moulds.

The Mega Drive carts' groove is different shape between Western and Japanese versions. However, their backs are the same width
The Mega Drive carts’ groove is different shape between Western and Japanese versions. However, their backs are the same width.
Just a shy of 91mm
Just a shy of 91mm

The Mega Drive carts’ groove depth is a bit shallower than either FC or NES carts’, but the width is between NES’ and FC’s. Because the MD cart is shallower, the support column would need to be 1mm shorter, but at this scale and weight that’s not an issue with the right material.

11mm in depth
11mm in depth
97mm, I most likely jammed the instrument a bit too hard in

Super NES/Famicom cartridges have the same width and depth across the board despite their different outer appearance between US and EUR/JPN region. The NES still has the widest groove, meaning SNES carts shouldn’t pose a problem with an adjustable arm.

11mm in depth
11mm in depth
71.5mm in width
71.5mm in width

The N64 has similar depth to the FC carts, but a Mega Drive cartridge still beats it. It’s width is the smallest, which means the adjustable hand should be at that size, minimum.

Let’s say that the adjustable arm is a design where there’s basically two tubes inside each other and you pull them out. If the minimum width is 70mm, it’s has enough room to spread at least 40mm either direction, adding a whopping extra 80mm to the total width, making the arm at 150mm at maximum, an unneeded amount. The needed width could be marked down with slots a peg slides into or with a small screw, both low in profile if done right. Another option is to position the adjuster the point where the mount is secured to the wall. Just have two slaps of plastic that you screw together at whatever distance from each you want. They wouldn’t even need to make large change in their current design to accommodate this.

If you have an access to a 3D printer, you could actually just use these measurements and do your own mounts if you wanted.

With Game Boy and GB Advance games, you have the exact same width and depth with both cartridges and there’s no good reason why to have separate mounts for both of them. Have the support wedged slightly into the connector groove and it would keep either GB or GBA carts in place.

A thing that I haven’t mentioned at all is thickness. For the record, here are the measurements for the carts used:
FC – 17mm

NES – 16.5mm

MD – 17mm

SFC/EUR SNES – 19.8mm in the middle, 17mm at screw point

US SNES – 20mm in the middle section, 17mm in outer sections

N64 – 18.9mm before tapering out

Having the main supports elongating to 18mm should be just fine, keeping the mount low profile. With the adjustable design, you could have the support prongs holding the cartridge in place with similar level of low profile.

The design given in the Kickstarter also leaves the cartridges’ connectors all open for further oxidation. While this is supposed to be a solution to problem of having games in boxes, which is really a non-problem to begin with, at least in these boxes the games were sealed from excess moisture and other unwanted materials floating in the air.

The problem of connectors being exposed is not really all that easy to solve without additional design tweaking. To keep the production as low as possible, you really can’t have luxuriously separate pieces that would seal the grooves, as they have a different height. The height with Nintendo’s cartridges’ are pretty solid 10-12mm, with N64 having the largest height, but also the thickest wall. Mega Drive’s height is same as N64’s; 12mm. The wall thickness is not the same across the board either. An adjustable solution for this would not be too low profile. A solution would be to have the lower support be thin enough but strong enough to be adjusted according the width and height, but as mentioned that’d skyrocket the costs both in design and production.

They also have basically opened some of the game boxes in their examples. These cardboard boxes are hard to come by as it is, and opening them as such ruins them. I hope they used a scan copy from the Internet.

I also have to question their advertisement slogan “Turn your games into unique wall art!” seeing there are thousands of these games out there.

Of course, you could also do what I did to throw some of my games to the wall and save some room while you’re at it. Just pick some shelves from Ikea and put your games on it. You can put more games on the wall that way, save some money and protect them from dust. Plus, when you’re tired with them you can use the shelves for whatever else than just stash the frames and mounts away.

Not saying this is the best solution, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best
Not saying this is the best solution or the prettiest, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best on the long run

Review of the Month; Hotblooded High school Dodgeball Club: Soccer Chapter/ Nintendo World Club

The end of the month always creeps on me. I never realise that it’s here until I have no time to react. As such, have a game review of Nekketsu Koukou Dodgeball-bu Soccer Hen, or the translation in the title, or the English localisation known as Nintendo World Cup. For the sake of this review, I will call the game as Nekketsu Soccer, even if that’s inaccurate by all accounts. While I would like to use football in this post, I will use soccer to differentiate it from hand egg.

The Famicom and NES saw a lot of great sports titles, and sports titles were the thing adults went for the NES. Some games like Kick Off replicated the real soccer as closely as possible at the time, thou it should be noted that the home of the series is on Amiga, meaning the NES version was a port of a computer game. It showed, and the game ultimately wasn’t really all that fun.

Nekketsu Soccer on the other hand is just fun. It doesn’t concern itself with most rules of soccer, mostly just resorting to the idea of getting the ball into the opposition’s goal with your feet. What adds the flavour to the whole deal is the cartoon violence Kunio games are known for. You can actually tackle your opponents enough times to cause them permanently be floored on the field, and they can do the same thing to you. In addition, some fields are less than properly taken care of, leaving stones for you and other players to trip on. It’s hysterical at times and lots of fun.

Nekketsu Soccer does what the series should be always stick with; simplicity. There’s no unnecessarily complex commands to use, as the player controls just one character at any given time. Because of this, the controls are tight and as responsive as they should be. The team control is done via commands that reflect the overall simplicity very well. When one of your team mate has the ball, you can tell them to Pass it to you or Shoot. Otherwise they will advance towards the goal and act according to their AI. When the enemy has the ball, you are able to tell them either Tackle or Slide. As mentioned, tackle some poor bastard enough and he won’t be getting up anytime soon. I remember playing few rounds so that every single opponent outside the goalkeeper was down.

There’s also a secret weapon; the Super Kick. By hitting A and B together you’re able to hit the ball with a scissors kick, launching the ball towards the goal while sending any opposition flying high. Well, almost. There’s limit how many times you can use it and its power varies a little bit. You also need to hit it while the ball is in the air, meaning that you need to command your team mate to pass it to you. Timing the kick is a bit tricky at first, but once you get the timing right, you’re able to repeat it with ease.

Each round has 1min 30sec timer, and in that time you can usually score relatively high in early games, but later one when the AI actually starts getting competent you might find yourself working hard to keep the ball and enemies dead on the ground. These short burst work the best for the overall pace of the game.

Speaking of the AI, each team has its own strengths and weaknesses, thou some do seem to share similar approaches on how they act. Some tend to pass more often, some just rely on hard tackling while there seems to be those who keep really damn close to your players and steal the ball whenever possible.

The music sounds striking, but it’s not memorable. It gets you pumped and while it does leave a lasting impression, you don’t really hum any of the themes too much afterwards. It’s perfect background music and fits the game.

It’s a damn fun soccer game, one of the few I can pop in and just play for the sake of fun. If you’re looking for some light cartoony soccer, this game is for you. Hell, even if you don’t like soccer, give it a look anyways.

The game is sparse in its graphics department, and there are some flickering and very rare slowdowns. Technosoft did their best giving the stages some variety, but there’s only so much you can do with a soccer field. The characters use the now classic 8-bit Kunio series sprites, and as such are very cartoonish, especially when hit hard with their eyes bulging out. They’re not necessarily very Japanese in their visual, thou if you know where they comes from, it’s pretty clear that the characters are some sort of mish mash of super deformation and mushrooms.

Now, you might wonder what are the differences between Nekketsu Soccer and its Western localisation, Nintendo World Cup. Well, first of all, Nintendo World Cup supports four player mode through the NES 4-Score, and that’s awesome. However, if you don’t have three friends to sit down with you, you can do just fine with the two-player option in Nekketsu Soccer. Additionally, Nintendo World Cup cut all the cutscenes that existed in Nekketsu Soccer, because it has no links tying itself to the previous game, Nekketsu KouKou Dodge Ball club, even if the games was localised as Super Dodge Ball in the West as well. You’re not really missing with the intermissions, they’re just Kunio messing around. Because Nintendo World Cup made the game’s teams international, you do lose that special relation with each of the team, as they originally had a special title card for each of the match. This is understandable, as you really can’t expect to see Buddhist priests as Team Germany or similar. They still have some images showcasing the opposition, but they’re a bit more simpler in overall terms, and they still seem to use the same musical cues as the Japanese version. The round times are also a lot more longer, which kinda forces the game to overstay its welcome.

From the Kunio Sports titles, Nekketsu Soccer is one of the stronger titles. Perhaps it is simplified to a fault, where after exhausting its contents there’s not much to return to, but grabbing a few friends to play this shouldn’t be too much a problem. Despite that, it’s a title worth returning to, especially in an era where most high profile games tend to become unnecessarily complex.

Trivia; my copy of Super Mario Bros., Nintendo World Cup and Tetris was almost destroyed by a dog. The dog managed to get its teeth on the cart when we left it with the game in car for five minutes. It would act strangely, sometimes resetting the game by itself or refusing to play anything but Tetris.

Review of the Month; Nintendo home console cartridges

Cartridges or cassettes. Whatever you call them, the bottom line is there is something tactile in holding one. The corners, the plastic and the label artwork’s surface, they all carry something any of the disc based medias just lack. They can take abuse and survive being dropped into a lake below zero degrees after drying them out and other things like that. You can have them without their casing and still be sure that they’ll survive.

While it may sound stupid to review the cartridges Nintendo had for Famicom, NES, SNES and N64, take this as a thought practice. The insides of the carts don’t matter here, just the casing. Of course, you can’t have just the cart, you need to take into notice the overall design of the console. It would be unnatural to design a console and not give a damn about how the cart would look, right? With the exercise I hope you all think what has gone into each and every detail, how and why they were designed. One thing you all notice right away is that none of these carts have sharp corners. Things like that, small but every so vital are hidden in each design. Everything that looks simple has a complex design behind it, and these carts have some simplest shapes with reasons we can’t even begin to think why,

Let’s start with the FC cartridges.

From right to left; Salamander, Kinnikuman Muscle Tag Match and Joy Mecha Fight
From right to left; Salamander, Kinnikuman Muscle Tag Match and Joy Mecha Fight

I admit that I’ve grown to like FC carts more as the time has gone by. My first FC-sized cart was a 64-in-1 multicart that contained not too uncommon set of games. A good set, ranging from shooters like Gradius (renamed Grading) and B-Wings, to platformers like Nuts and Milk and Ninja JaJaMaru-kun, all the way classics like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. Anyway, the problem with the cart is that FC carts need an adapter part in order to be pulled out from a NES that, and the pin layout is different. Still, FC carts are neat little things, combining a good size/weight ratio.

The 64-in-1 open. There's not much room for the PCB in there, but that's as intended
The 64-in-1 open. There’s not much room for the PCB in there, but that’s as intended

The FC cartridges came in variety of colours and shapes. Many hardcore Famicom collectors seem to pride themselves on recognizing the manufacturer of the game simply by glancing at the case’s shape, a deed that is not all too difficult with certain moulds having the logo of the company, like IREM or Jaleco. This is a splitting thing, as some of the designs are good, but some of the designs are just awful. The Bandai cartridge above baffles the mind, as the ribbed sides tend to get caught on the cart slot on the console. Well, this is a problem only if you don’t pull the cart straight up. However, this is not such a huge deal if you have a version of Famicom with the cartridge eject function, like the original or Twin Famicom. The AV Famicom could’ve used the same function, as just pulling the cart from the console isn’t a valid option, unless the accepting pins on the console are loose as hell or manage support your pull against the console with your fingers. It’s just faster and easier to hold the console with your other hand.

Still, the overall design serves the function very well. Sadly, most FC carts lack any sort of end or top label, whichever you prefer to call them. However, in the photo you can see that Konami games usually have a label that wraps to the top whereas Bandai has opted to use a specific slot for a sticker. Joy Mecha Fight actually has a tape on top of it, to which I’ve written the game’s name. Companies also tend to put something in the back of the carts, like a quick guide how to play the game and an area where to write your name in. This was dropped in every other Nintendo cartridge afterwards, replaced with the standardised info box.

The size can be a bit a problem, as the smaller the carts are, the easier they are to misplace and lose. The construction is good and the plastic used is pretty damn high quality, resisting mechanical stress very well. Next to this the plastic just doesn’t want to give in, unlike the plastic used in 64-in-1, from which we can see the insides.

Overall, the FC carts are well designed that have certain elements lacking, but seeing how there are wide variety of different ones to choose from and some of them fix problems that the other ones have. The lack of standard design has allowed more dynamic use of the carts, and everyone will find styles they like, and styles they will deem worthless.

On the other hand, the NES cartridges take a different approach. While some of the FC carts without a doubt look more like toys in comparison to the industrial grey, standard sizes and shaped carts West is more accustomed to.

Go play Sword Master. It has great music with decent gameplay. Frustrating as hell at times, but fun
Go play Sword Master. It has great music with decent gameplay. Frustrating as hell at times, but fun

The design made design choice is easy to understand. As the NES was redesigned to fit the Western sensibilities, the cart is to the console what a VHS tape is to a VCR. The Zero Force insertion, while pretty damn neat idea and functionality, was more or less a flawed design. Still, properly treated consoles didn’t have any troubles, as one of my consoles didn’t saw any sort of maintenance in fifteen years, and it was still working just fine.

Anyway, the NES cart is more utilitarian than the FC carts were. The division of the NES cart front follows the Golden Cut somewhat loosely, having the rectangle pattern on the left, and the label positioned so that its centre is in one of the cross points of the Cut. The label also wraps to the top, allowing for an end label. The arrow, which points what end goes into the machine first, is in the middle of the cart but also positions itself near the lowest line of the cut. Overall, rather pleasant design that allows the label to pop out more. The whole front is also covered in a very slight pattern fine sand-blast like pattern, which is common. It adds a nice feeling, despite the sides and the back being completely sleek.

The rectangle pattern ends with a spot for pulling the cart out from the console. The rectangle pattern also add friction and the whole position is pretty natural. However, I can’t but wonder whether or not it would have been better to shuffle these design bits around and dedicate the whole top for a sort of handle. This would have forced the label to be moved down and could’ve taken most of the cart surface. Could’ve been an interesting take.

The NES cart is about twice as high as the FC cart despite the PCB inside is still the same size. I have seen some people having problems with that, as it does waste space and plastic, but ultimately it is a very good sized cartridge. It offers more tactile experience, but sadly the carts after all these years do look somewhat barren in comparison to the Eastern brethrens. Nevertheless, the standardised appearance and more utilitarian design does work, and as the carts are sitting inside the console, there were no need to add additional bells and whistles to them. The toploader NES did change this, but this is more the fault of the redesigned console than the carts’ had one them.

The NES carts are of good design. Unlike the FC carts, they the standard shape doesn’t leave anyone cold, but at the same time they are incredibly subdued. Not many companies add so much space for the sake of design, and Nintendo did good with these. If you wanted more eyecandy from them, just remember that they’re not something to have your eyes on; they’re just containers for the game inside.

It should be noted that the FC and NES carts use different number of pins and the insides are turned. They don’t mix and match. As such, when you put a FC game into a NES with the adapter, it needs to face wrong way. Same with the NES games on FC consoles. It’s kind of stupid to play Turtles III: The Manhattan Project on my AV Famicom facing the back to front.

Enter the Super Nintedo Family Entertainment Computer System
Enter the Super Nintendo Family Entertainment Computer System

The Super Nintendo never lied. It was essentially a super version of the NES in many ways. Unlike with the NES, all the core designs each side of the ponds adhered to the top load mechanism. Unlike with the NES, PAL region shared the same console and cart design with Japan. For whatever reason the US design saw a change.
The insides of the carts are the same this time around, PCBs facing the same side and all that. The US and JPN Super NES shared the same regional coding, so the shape is different and the US carts have grooves in the back for further prevention. Funnily enough, the PAL carts have nothing to prevent the user from inserting JPN games into PAL consoles.
The JPN/PAL design is more curved and fits most hands just fine. There’s small ridges in the sides of the cart, but they offer no real purpose outside visuals. They could be for adding more friction when the cart is pushed into the console, but it’s far more practical just to push it down from the top. The lines going from the all around the cart are neat little touches on otherwise a very NES like standardised appearance. The slot on the front of the cart is part of the locking mechanism. When the power is turned on, a tab is pushed there and this is what holds the cart in place. It also prevents ejection until power is turned off. The back of the cart has a slight texture, and this adds decent amount of friction, despite the Super NES carts having no need for it.
The size is now utilitarian, build to house just the PCB and nothing more. The plastic quality is still good, thou the larger size means that the same thickness of the shells can raise some worry. I actually own a Super Return of the Jedi with the back cracked in. The PCB itself is still in perfectly fine condition, but the amount of room the PCB has inside the shells is surprising. Next to this, the JPN/PAL carts feel slightly cheap despite the plastic quality.

The Super Famicom cart is pretty neat. It’s like the best of both words of FC and NES cart, but it lacks the end label. Otherwise it’s very pleasing thing to look at. Unlike with the NES cart, the whole surface of the JPN/EUR cart is covered with that fine texture. The cart fits fine with the console design itself, and the slight curves are met with few straights.
The US carts however are… I’ll just say it straight; I’m not a fan of the US redesign of the Super NES with its darker gray and purple. The cartridge of course mirrors the console and follows the similar rugged, almost prototype look the US console has. Gone are curves, in are straight lines and levels. The locking slot is in the exact same position, but lacks the textured lines of the JPN/PAL carts. Instead of vertical lines, the US cart has sectioned 1/6 on both sides of the carts for what I imagine is where you hold the cart from. The rectangle pattern returns from the NES carts in a different form and are much larger and wrap to the back of the cart. They don’t really add much friction, as the lines on the carts are too shallow and too far between to service in this fashion. As such, they seem to be more akin to visual lines, which is not all too horrible. However, the side sections are just perfect size for pushing the carts down with your thumbs, leaving the label nicely into your view.
The US Super NES carts have a juxtaposition where they are just a tad too busy with elements with little to no detail in them. This opposes the JPN/PAL cart, which has less larger areas like that, but has the little details on the side. On the positive side, the US cart has an end label, which is nothing short of great. Perhaps it would be applicable to say that the US cart suffers from having the US Super NES as its parent console. Nevertheless, if you like how the US console was redesigned, then you’ll most likely find the US cartridge more appealing than the JPN/EUR design. It’s interesting to look at the two designs and notice how they both have a mix if FC and NES cart designs, but in different amounts.

Sleek, stylish and surprisingly far removed from the general 90's designs
Sleek, stylish and surprisingly far removed from the general 90’s designs

The N64 cartridges on the hand are meagre in comparison to either 8-bit generation or 16-bit cartridges. The design path from Super NES to N64 cartridges is pretty clear and not necessarily a good thing.

First of all, there is only one version of the N64 cartridge. No regional variations. However, similar physical region locking still applied and the back mould had different slots between Japan and US once more to prevent people from playing games across regions. Let’s get the similarities off the table first.

The N64 cart has the same vertical lines for visual flavour as the Super NES cart and are relatively in the same place, framing the label in the middle. However, the label is now more confined and has more vertical dimension. It would seem similar area for holding the cartridge applies here as it did with the US Super NES cart, but lack any sort of texturing outside the fine grain. The N64 cart has also inherited both curves and straights from both Super NES carts, saving the curve for the top and being otherwise flat. This is closely tied to design of the console too, as the curve is exactly the same the N64’s front. It’s an excellent design consistency, something that lacked in previous consoles. Well, the NES did have it to some extent, but mostly because the NES was a box you pushed the cart in.

N64 carts are hefty. They are smaller than Super NES carts and their weight/size ratio is more closer to the FC carts, and perhaps are too heavy for their size. However, unlike the Super NES design, the N64 carts don’t feel cheap. On the contrary, a N64 cart feels almost like a luxary item with its sturdy build and the ever present high quality plastic.

While the design overall is rather minimalistic, the label is there to draw your eye in. The small concave areas at the lower front corners of the cart are there to add some good visual, but don’t take too much attention. They don’t serve any functional purpose, though adding just ever so slight guides into the cartridge port in the N64 could added some firmness in keeping the cart in place. The lack of locking and ejection mechanism had an impact on the design without a doubt and most certainly were taken away as a cost cutting method.

Sadly, N64 games lack end labels. However, the design doesn’t permit them from the get go. The curved top doesn’t allow the label to wrap to the top, but I would imagine a small section could have been reserved for a separate sticker.

Out of all Nintendo home console cartridges, at least from their main line, the N64 has the least elements to mention about. In a way it is the peak of Nintendo home console cartridge design, however I would argue otherwise. If there had been one more step, other than the 64DD, I would imagine Nintendo could’ve made a cartridge to finish all cartridges. A cartridge that would’ve become the very epitome what it means to have a part of the console itself in your hands. Nevertheless, as a swansong for home console cartridges from Nintendo, N64 carts do an admirable job in showing that a well designed and a well built piece is just a joy to use. It’s a well designed piece of hardware, it can proudly say it was the last.

(The reason why 64DD disks are not included in this is because 64DD was a failed addon and they were Zip Disks and not cartridges. GameCube also had a cartridge, but that was intended only for the developers and never for the home consumer.)

Old games, new reviews

Back when NES was the king of the hill with little competition, a port of an arcade game called City Connection was included on a multicart with 63 other games. I’ve got no idea where the game originated, but I can give an educated guess combining China and Russia of early 90’s. The cartridge itself ended up into my possession with the second NES console, which was bought due to certain situations in family at the time.

For whatever reason, the cart began with the game number 10, City Connection, rather than from number one. Whenever I felt lazy enough I would simply engage the cart and play City Connection rather than spend any second to browse through the familiar game selection.

Just look at that cover. It looks happy-go-lucky fun joy time!

City Connection is a peculiar game. The aim is to traverse all the road with your Honda City each stage offers. Essentially, sort of reverse Pac-man, where you add paint to the road rather than eat pills from it. Police cars travel with you, and hitting them will explode your itty bitty but still awesome Honda City into lovely cloud of hearts. The same happens if you hit a spike that rises from the ground if you spend too much time dicking around at one spot. Other major obstacle are cats that randomly appear on the road. Hitting them will make the fly off the screen in a satisfactory manner, but holy hell they’re annoying. I’m sure City Connection has contributed anyone’s dislike for cats because of them. There’s Oil cans that the player can pick up and shoot towards the Police cards, making them spin and tackle them away. The obstacles are set so that the game rewards the player for making quick last second decisions. It’s not what we could call a hard game, but it’s merciless. This lulls the player into false security and the game requires surprisingly temperate play style where plans often change the very second that damn cat appears on the screen. Your planned route is never clear.

To say that City Connection keeps you at your toes while forcing you to advance at all times would be apt.

For a game that was ported to the Famicom in the mid-80’s, City Connection is a very competent for its time. While I have not been able to play the original arcade cabinet, it is rather clear that the core o the game has seen rather exact translation between platforms. The music and graphics are understandably downgraded, and stages have been cut due to size limitations. Animations were transferred very accurately too, from the spin of the wheels to the small wheelie the car does after a handbrake turn. The animations make the game very satisfactory. The MSX port is less than stellar as it lacks scrolling screen an music being one sound tinning, but the core of the gameplay still remarkably intact. Out of the two, the Famicom port is superior in every regard.

Why am I talking about this game? Because the more I see reviews of it, the more it baffles me how it get berated, especially now that City Connection is on 3DS’ eShop. Nintendo Life, for example, has a review which doesn’t seem to comprehend that games don’t need to be realistic, scoffing off that roads simply float in the air. Older arcade games had a level of surrealism to them, which later transferred to some console games. Sadly, this is now lost and more often than not everything needs to be sort of functional if existing in real life. The Famicom port may not be anything spectacular, but it is standard of its time and by all means is one of the better ones produced. For example, the home console version of Momoko 120% on Famicom, Urusei Yatsura; Lum’s Wedding Bell, has just significantly changed controls for the game to feel just tad different. Well, the use of the Urusei Yatsura license is another one, but that mess is a whole another thing. Funny still, Momoko 120% still uses the opening theme of Uruisei Yatsura, Lum’s Love Song. Nevertheless, some would say that the Famicom port, while limited, has more to offer in some ways.

Reviewing an old game with its re-release is a challenging task. On one hand, it is true that a good game will get good reviews regardless as they will stand the test of time. On other hand, we can also argue that we need to take sensibilities of the era the game was produced in. Is it fair to put Super Mario Bros. in direct comparison with Super Mario Galaxy, reviewing both of them with the same frame as any Wii U, PS4 of Xbone game?

No, it really isn’t.

Society changes, and so does technology. Without taking into notion timeframe of the production and prime any product has is to do a disservice to both to the product and customers. Objectively speaking, almost any properly made game of the modern gaming era is better than any NES game; the graphics are better, sound is of higher quality, gameplay more varied and coloured and disc space allows far more stuff to put in. Design of the games are larger with expansive worlds and so on. However, this is rather obtuse way to look at things, especially when we just give the numbers 2D Mario games have sold across console generations. Ultimately, it’s the wallet that speaks the loudest when it comes to the customers.

Reviews are ultimately biased, and the person giving them colours the text despite how much they strive for objectivity. Nevertheless, it should be something anyone writing anything called a review should do, as it is different from giving an opinion. I may have an opinion that City Connection is a great damn game and that I have spend many hours with it. However, at the same time I do admit that people who are accustomed to modern gaming expect something else and could find the game a chore. Nevertheless, the reviewer should take another view to any product at hand other than their own and wager possibilities they may not be willing to entertain otherwise. The closer we are to matters, we often can’t see the forest from the trees, or vice versa. This is why it would be good to have someone who is completely unrelated to the matter, an outsider, to say a hefty word or two. Of course, a forest has more things than just trees as well.

Then again, City Connection is a thoroughbred arcade game, so of course it would demand proper execution for further advancements. Otherwise you’re going to see a lot more coins vanishing down the chute.

Top 5 games of 2014

Year is at its end, and it is time to go over the Games of the Year. Unlike with most other people listing theirs, this list will consist of any game I happened to play the first time this year. Why? Because modern market allows almost any game from any year to compete with the new productions thanks to the magic of re-releasing. That, and the overall industry doesn’t seem to give a damn about release dates, as they’re completely glad to give Year of X to titles that were released in other regions year earlier or later.

That said, there listed games are not in order of preference or what is best. As I began compiling this list about six months ago, the listed games are in the order they were played in, starting from very early January.

And oh, this post counts as my Monthly Review. You’ll soon see why.

DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou (Xbox 360,  2013)

Not one of my favourite trailers. Masu Star to yourself, you damn blobs

DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou may be the last DoDonPachi game CAVE said to make, but it’s no less enjoyable than the earlier entries. In these days when good shooting games are becoming somewhat a rarity, DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou is a welcome entry.

There’s very little to actually describe or tell about the game, as anyone who has played a vertically scrolling shooting game can already measure the core gameplay. Shooting game fans will call out now that scoring is inherently what makes the difference in gameplay, but ultimately they all are just about flying towards the top of the screen while blowing shit up as much as possible without dying yourself.

What may split your opinion on the game is how CAVE has move further emphasize on the cute characters in the series, and here it seems to blossom the most as the co-pilot keeps discussing with your operator and commenting on stuff in the 360 Mode. While I don’t personally find anything too negative in this, and even laughed at few things they say, there are those who will curse CAVE’s decision to bring this sort of stuff in.

The problem with any shooting game, especially with vertical scrollers, is that the genre sort of becomes a blob of gray mass if one isn’t well versed with it already. Without a clearly defined design that would allow it to stand out, a shooting game is muddled with generic visuals. SaiDaiOuJou falls into this category, as visually it doesn’t look any more interesting than the numerous other predecessors it has. That said, the visual are rather nice and all that, but they don’t stand out. It just may be that I have played far too many space ship shooting games in my time without being a hardcore fan who wants to one-coin each and every game.

However, how the game plays can’t be argued. With the experience CAVE has under its belt, I would expect nothing less than absolute perfection in function. While there are the occasional hiccups here and there you may not even notice, controls are absolutely to the point and only the player can be faulted for losing a ship or getting a hit. A whole another question is whether or not the game deserves enough time to put into it, but that’s a completely subjective thing.

However, it must be said that for this release CAVE decided to simplify things. Whereas DaiFukkatsu had somewhat complex mechanic bullet cancellation system in it, SaiDaiOuJou simplified things by returning to the core idea of shooting and dodging bullets. Nevertheless, AutoBombing returns from past titles, but some would regard this option a standard nowadays. Hyper System is a sort of mix of past iterations, where engaging the Hyper Mode boosts the ship’s weapons fill the screen with stream of bullets and erasin enemy bullets. Naturally, invincibility comes with the mode. However, here’s the thing; the Hyper Mode has ten levels of upgrading, and any time you engage the Hyper Mode, you lose all upgraded levels. The upgarde levels are essentially multipliers, and the higher the level, the bigger score multiplier is. If you don’t give a damn about your score, this system is a bit moot. The Rank level, essentially the game’s difficulty, is tied to the Hyper System; the more upgrade levels you have, the higher the Rank is. Using bombs and entering Hyper Mode lowers the Rank.

While that previous paragraph may sound a bit complex in text, it’s really something you instantly understand by intuition. Shooting games have the benefit that when they’re well designed from the core up combined with a good visual design that conveys the system, any and all players can understand what the hell all these mean by iconography alone. Because of that the amount of time you need to invest in DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou is relatively small in comparison to some of the more complex brethrens, namely DaiFukkatsu.

Music on the other hand works for the game during the gameplay but is completely forgettable. It’s so generic modern future-y techno. Perhaps that’s what the genre as a whole has become; generic.

Regarding the game Modes, there’s nothing special to mention, but all of them are well executed.

Arcade HD is just that, a pretty looking HD version of the original arcade game. However, this adds a sort of Challenge mode to it, where the player has some 50 tasks to complete in while playing the Arcade HD. They range from doable Kill first boss without dying to bullshittingly tedious Keep a chain through the whole game. Shooting game veterans and achievement hunters no doubt will love things like this, the normal player will just wave their hand at most of them and juts enjoy the game otherwise.

In all honesty, I had no idea what differences the 1.5 Mode had, so the Internet kindly told me to fuck off while telling me the mode was essentially just a generic patch to fix some bugs and tweak the system. Seeing it is its own mode, there was more than enough changes to warrant a separat Mode.

Xbox 360 Mode on the other hand is solely developed for the console. It’s essentially the story mode of the game, and we all know how much plotlines in either shooting or fighting games matter in the end. This is where all those talking heads come to play and the mode with the sleekest visual appearance. In 360 Mode, pretty much all the stuff about Rank and Hyper management is thrown out of window and the player has to keep one energy meter from falling to zero, or its Game Over. Hyper Mode kills make the enemies drop starbits that recover said energy. While otherwise you have a ship selection, the  360 Mode has just one ship. However, that ship is powered with extra weaponry and all that.

Also, Novice Mode is Easy mode the Game. To tell you the truth, I had rewrite this section about seven times because I couldn’t make sense what went into what mode without some extra sources. This is is because the only mode that doesn’t bleed to others is the 360 Mode, but that doesn’t keep the other modes bleeding into it. Ultimately, after having not played the game in some time, it’s far more hazy memory than Tatsujin/Truxton, a contender for this entry. While I personally prefer Truxton from the two, coin toss said DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou and the fact that I ended up playing it far more than Tatsujin.

If DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou would be the last big vertical shooting game, it would be a decent sendoff for the genre for the time being. Much like Godzilla movies, there are times when you need to take a break and let things level down properly to meet the new demand. Nevertheless, DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou kept its place in the Top 5 throughout the year simply because not many else managed to reach its level of quality. I’m not sure if this is a sign of what sort of quality 2014

Space Hunter (Famicom, 1986)

I’ll be straight; there’s two bits of music in Space Hunter and they both are pretty tinny

Space Hunter is a gem of a game, sort of. Hailing from the year 1986, this Kemco developed title will make you mute your TV and put on some high paced techno.

Space Hunter is kind of those games that just work. Despite it showing its age with the only two pieces of music it has, repitition in graphics and rough sprites, the game design is solid with extremely well made stages that not only encourage the player to venture deeper into the stages, but also to take their sweet time with things.

The game’s story is in the manual, as usual for a Famicom title. Set in 2199 after a world devastating nuclear war, humanity cling on robots and cyborgs for their survival. As per sci-fi trope, there is a mechanoid revolt led by De Gaulle and Earth is targeted with asteroids alá Yamato. A 16-years old cyborg labelled with N0. 000837192, called Altiana, does not agree with this and proceeds to kick seven planets worth of ass in order to protect humanity but also to show that not all mechanoids are all that bad.

Here’s the thing; the game is structured much like a non-linear adventure game would be, e.g. Metroid or Symphony of the Night. Initially there’s six worlds to choose from and you are able to select any of them as your starting point. If and when you get stuck on a world, you can always exit it at any time and move to another world. That’s similar non-linear approach Metroid used the very same year. While Metroid was on the Famicom Disc System, Space Hunter was on Famicom Cassette, which allowed saving for Metroid. The key difference between Space Hunter and Metroid is how the areas are structured, where Metroid created one whole world, Space Hunter opted for a more stage like approach akin to Mega Man. The final stage is unlocked after the initial six have been cleared, but every stage has an escape scenario, where a time bomb is ticking down. When the timer hits zero, or the player manages to escape, the planet explodes.

The action in the game is pretty nifty as well. The view is your normal side view outside dungeons, but most of the time you’re controlling Altiana in air, zipping around the scenery with her jetpack powered flight. The game does not use scrolling and plays like the Legend of Zelda in this regard, where the map has been designed to be played screen-by-screen. More importantly, it works extremely well. With this the player can tackle each screen properly without worrying about threats attacking off-screen, but also allows the player to escape any screen he feels like he can’t handle.

While Altiana zips around the screen completely free, all enemy types have their own little way of advancing towards Altiana. Some act like they home in to Altiana, while some simply move around and shoot now and then. Initially, Altiana has a bomb that explodes at infinite horizontal length when she is from the harms way. Thus, the player is required to do split-second decisions at times. Each stage contains items or weapons that are necessary to obtain in order to beat the game, thus exploring the game throughout is highly important, despite some stages having hidden doors that need to be bombed open. These hidden doors can hide stuff like Energy power-ups, but the game is completely beatable without ever upgrading the Energy meter. Extra weapons on the other hand are something you really want to get, as they can change your approach to the enemies drastically. The basic bomb may require player to mix the fast and methodical action, but e.g. Heart Beam allows you to shoot enemies down directly. The boxart shows Altiana holding a Beam Sabre, but you need to pick this weapon up from one of the planets.

In comparison to other games released in 1986 for the Famicom, Space Hunter had to compete with numerous seriously heavy weight contenders. The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest, Arkanoid, OutRun, Bubble Bobble, Akumajou Dracula and Rolling Thunder rightfully took their place in electronic game history, and in comparison Space Hunter looks and sound archaic. If the game had been released a year or two earlier, it would have been a great hit. While the gameplay is still solid, the music and visuals do betray its nature as one of the lesser releases of the year, but one that still holds up relatively well. Space Hunter sort of fell into the crevice where it wasn’t good enough to be remembered but not bad enough to gain any infamy. There is a minor cult following to it in Japan, but then again almost everything has a cult following in Japan. In 1986, Space Hunter would not have been success in the West without some serious revamping, so it really was better to leave it as Japanese exclusive at the time.  I ended up with my cassette because I tend to buy blind game sets from time to time for dirt cheap, and found this in one of those.

If you can’t tell, I’m rather passionate about Space Hunter and I don’t even know why. Preferences be damned.

Senran Kagura 2 Shinku (Nintendo 3DS, 2014)

Unlike with the blobs in DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou, these are the things that sort of matter as they’re the main focus

While agenda driven people will call the game shit because of its abundance of titular action, Senran Kagura 2 Shinku really is a solid game I really couldn’t put down.

Truth to be told, Senran Kagura 2 Shinku is nothing all too special in terms of bringing anything new to the table. However, it is exactly the kind of game Senran Kagura was supposed to be, at least from the customer perspective. In comparison to the first game, practically everything has been improved to the point that the first game is simply obsolete. If one has access to this title, there’s no reason to get the first one, unless you’re a completionist or care about the story that much.

Essentially, the player controls one of the multiple kunoichis in order to tackle often multi-part stages either alone or with a friend, either AI or an actual friend who bought the game as well. While the two core sides of Senran Kagura intentionally mirror each other, each character has their own weapons, movesets and key differences in gameplay, even thou speed, jump power etc. seems to be universal across the board. It would have been nice to see every character specialised even more, almost to your normal VS. fighting game level.

Comparing the controls to the first , they’re a tad more technical and require just a hint more skill, but that small difference makes this title worlds apart. Y is your standard attack you’ll most likely be mashing for most of the time, but the combo tree now requires you to hold the attack button as well. X works as character specific modifier, to some adding an attack while some have equipment changes. This adds s level of dynamic fluidity to the core gameplay, which most people could ignore if not for the lack proper Guard. Senran kagura 2 Shinku opts for sort of Burst, to loan a term from Guilty Gear, where the character sends a burst of energy to cancel damage and push enemies away. In air this will cause the character to do a ground pound with the same effect. R is reserved for dashing and this move will be your friend in avoiding some attacks. I’ve done some damn nice weaving across enemy attacks when I’ve been top of my gameplay. Holding R will initiate the classical ninja run. However, when locked to an enemy, you will hit the enemy with a wire and essentially home into them. Properly combining this homing with launching finisher can rack you long damn combos. A is a dedicated character switcher, and balancing between the characters and their scroll counts (which allow you to pull off Special moves) is somewhat important. Of course, during multiplayer your friend will be controlling the other character all the time.

Another thing is that the game makes use of the Circle Pad Pro in that it adds some level of camera control. However, the core design of the camera function is actually rather well executed and there is no real reason to get the addon just for this title. I would rather have my fingers on the controls at all times in this one.

Unlike the first game, Senran Kagura 2 Shinku is not a cakewalk. It’s not absolutely horseshit with its difficulty either, but in a good region where the game does feel challenging but fair. Some of the reviewers in Japan did complain that the game was too hard, but far from the true. If the Normal difficulty feels too hard, one can always drop to easier level. However, the hardest difficulty level does up itself to bullcrap level, but this is more because the controls, while significantly upgraded, are still not up to the task. Not to say that the game controls badly or anything like it, but it’s still a far cry from absolutely accurate controls like in e.g. Bayonetta. The controls just would have needed one more notch up to be just perfect.

Outside the core game, there is a Challenge mode, where you have a pyramid made of hexagons. Every stage ups the difficulty with more and more opponents with varing kinds, and the lower you get in the pyramid, the larger selection of stages you have to tackle. Some of them can be insanely hard, but the pyramid is an excellent place to level up.

Oh yeah, Senran Kagura 2 Shinku has levelling up system. It’s nothing special and same as in every game, despite lacking any numbers to show your stats. The stat that matters any is the Friendship level, and you’ll find yourself playing stages over and over with different character combination to increase their Friendship levels.

A welcome addition to the game is proper level of customization. By unlocking pieces of clothing and weapons you can then create your own ninja chimaera of a costume for whatever character you so choose. I decided to change every character’s clothing to something else, and I completely admit putting a bunny girls costume on Homura because it fits her so perfectly. The alternative weapons look pretty damn nifty and of course there are spoof armaments to boot.

Anyways, with the customization you also have sort of posing mode. There’s numerous poses and faces you can choose from and save the pictures for you SD card. As the game has the whole dual character dynamics going on, you can pose your favourites in racy way. Or not. There’s some potential in there, but in all honesty it’s more a curiosity than anything else.

Music is absolutely great. I’m sure this is more dependant on the listener, but I can say that I enjoyed the soundtrack very much to the point of listening to it while working. Especially the arrange soundtrack. Overall, the soundtrack varies from light, everyday tunes to very hard hitting boss battle themes. They’re never intrusive or will overstay their welcome, but dammit if they’re not something I’m happy to own.

No the best song in the game, but it’s nicely hard hitting

The 3D offered here is one of the best I’ve seen on the system. It also helps that the 3D has some use in determining the character placement on the field. This isn’t essential, but it’s nice to see some 3D with decent framerate when compared to some of Nintendo’s own games, which have horrible 3D going on for them. I don’t know why Nintendo kept pushing 3D as the new thing, but very few of their games actually have managed to use it in a non-intrusive way with at least decent framerate. Hell, I expected Game Freaks to get their Pokémon games to look smooth, but they’re just choppy messes. Of course, the 3D here also allows you to oogle the ample ‘talents’ of the characters as much as you can in the posing mode.

Senran Kagura has come a long from its initial, really low quality entry that seemed to rely mostly on the fanservice than anything else. I would have liked to see this level of quality from the get-go, but it seems the series has more life on PSVita anyways in other forms of games. Senran Kagura 2 Shinku saw abysmal sales and I have some doubt whether or not there’s going to be a third entry in the main series for the 3DS in action game genre.

That said, the ending of Senran Kagura 2 Shinku was absolutely perfectly executed. The blend of gameplay, style and everything that the game had been building up to that point created a perfect climax that only a few game achieve. It is without a doubt the game I played most on the 3DS this year alongside Super Out-Run!, which is another absolutely superb game, which deserves a spot in my Top 5 Games of the Decade. Nevertheless, Senran Kagura 2 Shinku is a game that needs to be given a long try, even if you disliked the first game to a large extent in regards of the gameplay.

What I love the most about this game is how lax it is. It allows the player to jump in and jump out at any point, tackle a challenge or two or try to beat a new story stage and be on their way. Despite this, the challenge it throws is often on the spot. Or almost bullshit on the harder level with lower level characters with no ally in play.

Bayonetta (Xbox 360, 2009)

Speaking style and climaxes, I decided to get Bayonetta after playing Metal Gear Rising a bit too much and yearning something more.

Despite not really liking the Devil May Cry series, it feels that Bayonetta is a perfect example how improving a formula to the point of making past games obsolete is the key to move onwards. A lot of most important points in game design and coding has to be almost absolutely on-point in games like Bayonetta, otherwise the whole game will suffer from having a lax core. Bayonetta is not one of those games, otherwise it would be an awful, awful experience all around.

No, Bayonetta is one of those kind of games that throw a bullshit level challenge at the player, but at the same time giving the player all the tools to burn the bullshit down without any of the foul smell as long as the player is up to the task. Senran Kagura 2 Shinku could be Bayonetta level game if the core had been as polished and accurate, and where it becomes a slugfest, Bayonetta gracefully evades this.

One could almost say that Bayonetta has perfect difficulty curve. However, it is a complete waste to play the game on the easier levels at all. As said, the game has pretty much perfect controls and gives the player every tool he needs to solve any situation, but all these tools truly shine and see use when the game pulls the player’s skill through the roof.

Rather than repeating same things other sites have said, let’s talk about P.N.03, a game that was released for the GameCube in 2003. P.N.03 has certain elements that remind a lot of Bayonetta in a far more restrictive format, but similarly once the player masters the gameplay, you might as well bump the difficulty to maximum level and proceed to give the game its ass. Not only that, but the main character Vanessa has similar classy, nonchalant attitude Bayonetta has but also knows know her value. The two design worlds couldn’t be further apart between the games, P.N.03 concentrating on clean, simplistically futuristic white designs (that sometimes look something like Apple could come with in few years) whereas Bayonetta has darker, highly detailed stone structures with fantastic twists to them. However, P.N.03 has more in common with Vanquish thematically.

Seeing how Platinum consists of ex-CAPCOM employess, it’s only natural to see this sort of thing happening. I would rather see this sort of past experiences put into good use rather than wasting them. Exploration of ideas that were not mature enough at the time or didn’t have enough to develop themselves into full bloom is another that we’ve seen to some extent with Platinun. Evolution of ideas and themes has been sort of trademark from Platinum to the extent one could fault them for creating an offering from the company that seems far too homogeneous for its own good. While I agree with the notion that a company should mainly concentrate on what it does best, it should also be noted that a becoming a one-note company may be a death sentence in entertainment business.

GODZILLA (PlayStation 3, 2014)

When discussing Godzilla games, the reality is that none of them are great. There are good games, and Godzilla-kun on the GameBoy is surprisingly well made and the Atari monsters fighters like Save the Earth are not bad by any means. Despite this, all Godzilla games have a niche audience as they don’t really work outside fanbase, albeit the aforementioned Atari monster mash games were party worthy. Nevertheless, truly great Godzilla game has yet to arrive. Often people just want to step into Godzilla’s shows and proceed to destroy anything in their path. It’s a simple concept, but thus far it’s been rather limited is success. The Dreamcast Godzilla games were the closest thing to this idea, but the execution left a lot of desire. The numerous Godzilla strategy games never really were all that good, thou the one on Saturn is probably the best of the lot. With the success of Street Fighter, it was no wonder Godzilla saw few 2D fighting game during the VS Series era. However, SNK’s King of the Monsters was largely more influential to the point almost all giant monster games were modelled after. The aforementioned Atari Godzilla games are a prime example of this.

The 60th Anniversary game of Godzilla, aptly just named GODZILLA, will be a game that some love and some will think is shit because it’s not any of the Atari monster masher games. As such, if you’re looking for this game to be anything like them, you’re sorely going to be disappointed. On the other hand, if you go in with an open mind, you’ll soon find a very enjoyable, multi-routed Godzilla simulator that by all means is the Godzilla game people have been expecting. To a point.

How the game is structured is stage based, a thing I wholeheartly welcome. Each stage has four Data collection points, where the player is expected to pose Godzilla for the camera while an unseen soldier takes a picture. It’s sort of fun to try to get the best looking shot possible. The stages themselves contain structures for Godzilla to destroy to oblivion, which is absolutely necessary in order to collect Energy, a thing that applies to G-Force units as well. The main objectives of destruction are G-Energy Generators, which usually end the stage when all of them are destroyed. By chaining these destructions together, Rush bars fills like any other combo bar, and by keeping the Rush bar adding to itself keeps the Energy multiplier rising. x10 may be the biggest multiplier in the game, but it’s essential to keep up in order to reach why you even collect Energy; to get Godzilla over 100m high. In this game, Godzilla grows as he collects Energy, which affects Godzilla’s properties. By getting over 100m height, and using all the Data collection points in each stage in your selected route, you unlock the Final Stage, where at least on the Hard route you fight the Hollywood Godzilla. The thing is, at this point the player Godzilla has triggered the Burning state and is about to explode, much like in Godzilla VS. Destroyah.

Let’s take a moment to realize that this fits both monsters extremely well. Burning Godzilla by logic would leak radioactive materials and irradiate its surroundings like a nuclear bomb that keeps exploding and walking. The Hollywood Godzilla feeds on radioactivity, and would be the better source of food than another, world ending Godzilla?

There are numerous other monsters about as well, not met in every stage. Pretty much all of these are fan favourites, ranging from all three Mecha Godzillas, Millenium series version of Gigan, Mothra’s both forms, King Ghidorah and Biollante. However, G-Force is not helpless. As the Disaster level grows, the more equipment is thrown at the player. Initially it’s pretty normal tanks and helicopters, but escalation Maser Cannons and Super X machines are thrown in. Later on, you will face a stage where there is a time limit (the G-Generators will be withdrawn underground, thus preventing their destruction when time is up) with all three Super X machines attacking Godzilla, entering the fray in sequence.

While the stages gets pretty damn hectic at the latter half of the game simply due to the amount of units thrown at the player, as well as the enemy monster appearances sometimes combined with a time limit, they are rather small. All the smaller stages however are the most interesting ones, as they contain the most buildings to destroy and have the best overall atmosphere all the while the larger stages have very little to destroy and large areas to walk through. However, there is a good balance between stage size and destroyable objects in Oil refinery/ port and is probably my personal favourite because of this. However, finding the most efficient way to move through the city to maximise the energy gain will makes the stages dull. The stages do replicate some of the iconic cities and places from the movies, but they lack variety. Next to this, almost every stage is repeated throughout the game. For example, there’s two variations of the oil refinery, one with thick fog and one with sunlight. That’s it. Even the G-Force unit placement seems to be exactly same between the two.

It’s not really fun to see more city outside the boundaries, to be honest. You know it’s there, but you can’t destroy anything there. There’s a stage, where you can see cars and buses parked outside the stage area, but nothing damages them. Atomic breath even reaches them, but does nothing. Larger areas would be nicer to have, but it would be even better if there was more variety in them with more imaginative places with a level of hazards, like a volcano or beach. Multiple monsters per stage is another thing that should have been a no-brainer. Whether or not the PS3 could handle that is not really the question, but how it should have been executed.

Stage repetition is a problem; you are forced to play through the initial few stages every time you replay the game for a new route. The length of the game overall something many people will be turned off by, as I managed to finish about 50% of the routes in my first four hours of play. The amount of enemies found is also lacking, enemy monsters counting at twelve, three of which are a Mecha Godzilla. The addition of three Super X machines help in this alongside Gotengo, but ultimately the four aforementioned shared too many common tactics among each other. The repetition found in GODZILLA is very much loyal to the form found in the movies, thus it would be highly recommended to play a route at longest per session, otherwise the game may feel like its overstaying its welcome and neither nostalgia of fan obsession will rejuvenate the charm of often visited stages. The tedium is upped with certain unskippable scenes that repeat every single time. They’re not longer than few seconds, but when you have a methodically slow paced with further slowing parts, you just want to mash that Start button and skip all of them. Including forced tutorial, because nobody except three of us read manuals anymore.

This being a cross-generation game, the visuals will without a doubt be superior on PS4 but I wouldn’t give a damn about that. However, whenever there is a huge amount of stuff flying across the screen, like destruction of half a dozen of tanks, seven helicopters dropping from the sky, loads of buildings getting wrecked, Super X flying and shooting at Godzilla all while Biollante decides to spit acid, the console feels a bit overwhelmed by all this. The slowdowns are not uncommon, but I have to say they do have certain cinematic feel to them, allowing the player to take in the action in a very different way, but of course is horseshit when one remembers that this is a game and not a movie.

However, despite that I would be somewhat willing to give leeway with this. GODZILLA is very much a tokusatsu recreation game at its core and the scene is highly important. This is reflected in the control scheme as well. While most of you have learned to control the aim with the camera with the right stick, in GODZILLA the right stick moves only the camera. Nothing is relatively to it, only to Godzilla. If you were to move right, Godzilla would move to his right. Godzilla moves forward with the left stick or D-Pad, but rotates like a tank or Resident Evil character with L1 and R1. All face buttons are use for attacks and general control, and L2 is reserved for Special attack and R2 is more akin to attack modifier. Now that I think of it, I never used R2, it’s that useless. If you’ve ever played Mega Man Legends’ PlayStation version, the controls are somewhat similar. However, these tank controls simply work and you do feel that you’re controlling a giant monster despite sometimes interesting flailing going on the screen at times. Much like the movies themselves, GODZILLA doesn’t concern itself with realism too much.

However, the game holds your hands too much in regards of the controls. For you beam breath attacks, you have three options; normal ground hitting one, a ground sweeping one and then enemy locked version. Outside these three, you have zero control of it, exactly like in any other Godzilla game and this is just awful. This is a lazy to ensure that the breath attack is not overpowered, but the lack of control means you have to control Godzilla in proper position. This would be acceptable if not for the fact that the running tackle homes in. If you’re slightly angled off an enemy in order to rush a building next to it, the running tackle will adjust Godzilla towards the enemy. This makes fine tuned tactical positioning impossible, forcing the player to use over exaggerated, almost 90-degree angle positions, motions and movements. This is especially infuriating against enemies that are considerably larger than you. For example, Destroyah often appears in 100m scale, where Godzilla may be just 70m or 80m. There are multiple positions and points in Destroyah’s attacks moves player could make use of, but because of these hand held controls it’s better to abandon any tactical aspects and just blast away. It’s frustrating to fight an overwhelming enemy and trying to get proper data photo of it while fighting the controls at the same time.

Then again, pretty much every single enemy monster can be caught into a pattern of running tackle > tail whip >repeat. Throw one or two breath beams in there here and there and you’ll beat every single opponent in the game.

Music in the game is, without a doubt, accurate. The game has some original sounding compositions, but familiar tunes are visited and the whole overall atmosphere it adds is what you would except. Same goes for the sound effects and there is nothing to criticize. I would have wanted to see some Godzilla Island references, but I guess even the most Japanese fans hate that show.

The main mode you’ll in be playing is the Destruction Mode, which contains everything mentioned above. Go reread that if you want to.

Second mode is King of the Monsters, which is essentially a series of VS. fights against the enemy monsters. The aim is to finish the fights as fast as possible. Initially you only have Godzilla open, but you can unlock Hollywood Godzilla with pre-order code and Burning Godzilla by getting to the Final Stage. The mode in general is nothing special, but it would have been great if this mode could’ve been a proper VS. fight mode with two players.

Evolution Mode is where you modify Godzilla’s stats, like getting more Temperature gauges, which allows you to use more than one atomic breath in sequence before regeneration is complete. This also opens more attack moves, and all these are dependent on monster parts you somehow gain while beating up enemies in the Destruction Mode.

Diorama Mode is pure fanservice. There are numerous stages set out where you can place monsters in almost as you like in order to replicate a scene or create something completely new. These pictures then can be saved, used and shared, but the models are somewhat restricted and posing is not all too dynamic. Diorama Mode is a nice addition, but the lack of freedom keeps it from being an absolute blast to use. I still see some people sinking hours upon hours to get the best possible picture, but overall the mode’s promise lefts wanting a bit more. However, there’s a catch; all the poses taken via the Data Points translate to poses in the Diorama Mode, so multiple playthroughs with various photos of Godzilla and other monsters is a must.

Monster Field Guide on the other hand is just that; a guide to the monsters in the Godzilla franchise. The thing that makes me all giddy is that the guide seems to be list pretty much all major monsters from the franchise as well as some of the units like Gotengo. It lists differences between series, like Manda’s lenght or Hedorah’s height.

Ultimately, GODZILLA falls a bit short. It’s a remarkable Godzilla game a lot of people have been waiting for since the genesis of home video games, yours truly included, but it feels like the devs finished the initial content but didn’t have any time expand it enough. This may be just my own expectations crushed, however.  If this is going to spawn some sort of upgrade or sequel, all they really need to do is refine the code and add more content in form of more stages, monsters and that play VS. player mode. Godzilla 2, or whatever it is, needs more aliens and other monsters. The growing gimmick could be discarded altogether to boot, as the whole thing really is just about racking the highest score.

Nevertheless, the game is pretty damn remarkable piece of the Godzilla franchise and it’s good to see it getting a Western release, thou as an importer I can say that it has zero language barrier.