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Super Bomberman

I was not fond of Bomberman on the NES. My initial interest in the game mostly came from the fact that the title sounded like the name of a Mega Man boss. So I went into it expecting a fast paced action game and was instead greeted by a plodding maze game. And while that sounds damning the core theme behind it was at least brilliant. When the series entered 16-bit it truly came into its own with the addition of multiplayer that is still popular today. While Super Bomberman’s four-way multiplayer is still great the story mode is also pretty damn good as well making this one great package.

The slow pace of the NES titles is a thing of the past as the game is faster; well at least as fast as a game of this type can be. The central conceit of using your bombs to clear walls and blow up your enemies remains except now there are a ton of power-ups that spice up the action. Kicking bombs, tossing them, dropping multiple bombs at once, it all feeds into the need to be the last man standing in the end. Some of these items were in the seminal Bomberman ’93 but that does not diminish their presence here.

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The level design has been stepped up considerably to go along with the presence of new items. Each of the 6 worlds is loosely themed, from the simplicity of Peace Town to the more complex Robot Remodeling Factory. Enemy placement as well as hard blocks is always random however the types of enemies and other factors such as warp blocks or trampolines is not. Despite the game’s random nature there is still plenty of opportunity to strategically place bombs to cause chain reactions and clear the field in seconds. There’s lots of subtle technique you’ll pick up on, such as standing slightly off center to force enemies into the path of your bombs. There’s enough here that the repetition will not get to you too much.

The campaign features a pretty steep difficulty curve that I don’t think most will expect. The game does a good job of slowly building up to the more aggressive enemies initially but by the middle of world 2 there is little room for error. Because of this some of the better designed stages will devolve into spamming a ton of bombs while you are invincible at the start to thin the ranks. Good strategy but it leaves little room for nuance since the later levels pack so many enemies into a small space. Time is not on your side, especially if you happen to uncover the exit. After a set period the exit will begin spawning new enemies that must be cleared before you can leave. It is not easy to end the cycle once it has begun and chances are you will die repeatedly. While the challenge is high it is still manageable, just incredibly frustrating at times.

I go back and forth on whether the single player mode is a bit too long. Each world features 7 levels and a boss however the game does a good job of varying things up quite a bit on that journey. New enemies are introduced regularly and in interesting combinations. Alongside the creative layout of each map in terms of obstacles and traps it will take a while for boredom to set in. 7 levels in the same environment is a bit much in my opinion; if it were four or five with a boss battle at the end it would have been perfect. World five is the sole exception; here you face a gauntlet of rival Bombermen in a mock multiplayer match, with each becoming progressively more intelligent. I love it and would have liked to have seen more original ideas like this throughout for a change of pace.

As good as the single player is however multiplayer is the true star and the game comes loaded for bear. The twelve multiplayer maps are all unique and expertly designed with a few stage themes exclusive to this mode. My personal favorite is the Light Zone which is completely dark and features two moving spotlights, providing plenty of chances to ambush your friends. The speed zone eschews traps and ups the game speed instead, may the best man win. Although you can play against 3 computer opponents nothing can replace the unpredictability of facing off against friends as the AI isn’t too bright. Considering the number of times I rented the game purely for multiplayer I probably should have just bought it which should tell you how much fun it is.

Super Bomberman was a great game back in the day and is still excellent even now. While later incarnations of the series eclipse this in terms of features that doesn’t diminish the amount of fun that can still be had with it today.

8-out-of-101

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Adventure Island III

While I was not a humongous fan of Adventure Island the second game in the series went a long way toward making me appreciate what Master Higgins had to offer. It also helped that it also distinguished the games from the Wonder Boy series from which they were derived. After a solid second outing Adventure Island 3 came along and to be honest felt really unnecessary. There’s nothing wrong with the game per se other than it bearing too strong of a resemblance to its direct predecessor. Ultimately this is a solid venture but one that feels like a cash grab than a product with some heart behind it.

Adventure Island 2 did a firm job of establishing the mechanics of the series and for the most part this third installment follows its tenets to the letter. The inventory screen makes its return, allowing you to store extra hatchets and helper animals for future use. The lone new additions to the game come in the form of a boomerang which loops around before coming back and a crystal that grants temporary invincibility. Master Higgins has also befriended a new animal as well, a triceratops who can roll into a ball as a means of attack.

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Aside from the ability to crouch and attack however Adventure Island 3 feels like an expansion pack rather than a brand new installment. Level themes are brought over wholesale to the point where if you were to make a quick glance you could very easily mistake this for the second game. The underwater levels in particular are so blatantly copied and pasted that Hudson should feel ashamed of themselves. To an extent you could lobby this same criticism at the Mega Man series as they all followed the same template however each robot master provided wildly different levels with uniquely appropriate traps and enemies. Here the gameplay is so simple and the graphics so identical to the prior game that you can’t help but feel like they didn’t try as hard this time around.

As damning as that sounds however it also means the game is extremely solid. There are smaller mechanical changes that make working your way through the game much more enjoyable. There are less levels per map meaning each themed “world” doesn’t become tired by the time you reach its boss. Adventure Island 2 seemed to pack its islands with far too many levels just for the sake of it so I’m glad Hudson also took note of this as well. Speaking of bosses they also don’t move around the map Mario 3 style if you lose; no more trudging through some of the more difficult stages to get another shot at a boss. I found the length of the individual levels to be perfect as well. They are just long enough to harbor numerous secret rooms and a few tricky platforming areas while also allowing you to breeze through a decent number in shorter gaming sessions.

One area that I found surprising is the game’s challenge. The difficulty curve ramps up pretty quickly and I think will be off putting to anyone not familiar with the series. By the time you reach the end of the second island fruit is noticeably less abundant. Combined with hazards such as rolling boulders and carefully placed moving platforms that require you to slow down you’ll experience quite a few close calls before making it to the exit. Its sets a different pace than the other games and I like it. Boss battles on the other hand are exceedingly easy with simple patterns that offer little challenge.

While I’ve painted a picture of a game that seems to simply reshuffle its predecessor’s assets that would be far from the truth. The forests, caves, and undersea themes are definitely the same but these are joined by deserts, pirate ships, lava, and other standard platforming fare. The game simply doles them out throughout the length of the adventure rather than front loading it. The game has a slightly more angular look that is different but I wouldn’t say superior. For a game released in 1990 it definitely lagged behind its contemporaries.

There you have it. Adventure Island 3 is another solid entry in the series but is also uncomfortably similar to its predecessor. I hate to call any game a lazy cash in as even the most terrible games still require some effort to produce but in this case it definitely applies. If that doesn’t seem all that bad than you could do far worse than AI3.

7-out-of-10

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Bonk’s Adventure (NES)

Like Mario and Nintendo Bonk was the closest the Turbo Grafx-16 ever came to having an official mascot.  While Bonk’s Adventure wasn’t the pack-in title it was the one of the first games to garner the system widespread attention.  His judiciously large noggin was also heavily used in ads trying to sell the system.  But by the end of 1993 the platform was all but dead in the US.  Hudson Soft saw an opportunity to introduce the character to a wider audience and ported it to the NES in late 1993.

The question is why?  Not that Bonk’s Adventure was a terrible game but it did have some flaws that were corrected in the amazing Bonk’s Revenge.  Though the good will that game mustered was squandered with the uninspired Bonk 3 I think a completely original game tailored for the NES would have been a better fit rather than a port of a game released in 1989.  The NES market had completely dried up by 1992 with 16-bit in full swing leaving this port ill timed.  All things considered it is good for what it is but isn’t even in the same galaxy as something like Kirby’s Adventure.

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Taking into account the technological gap between the two platforms this version of Bonk’s Adventure holds up surprisingly well.  The simple art style of the original release is a perfect match for the NES’s technical constraints.  Though slightly smaller all of the character and enemy sprites are just as expressive and as a bonus Bonk is sporting his redrawn look from the sequel.  The one area that has taken the biggest hit would be the overall color palette.  16 colors max is no comparison to over 400 but Hudson has done a pretty good job compensating.

Bonk’s main method of attack is his massive head which can be used to bonk enemies, smack projectiles and even juggle enemies for more points.  While it is effective it’s better to dive bomb them like a missile which will also propel you in the air for repeat attacks.  In the Turbo version Bonk had some measure of control while airborne by spinning which was easy due to the turbo option.  Here you’ll wear out your thumb trying to perform the same maneuver so thankfully it’s rarely ever necessary.

The hit detection is still just as screwy and presents problems on numerous occasions, most specifically during boss battles.  Each boss has a very particular hit box and while the first few are easy enough to hit later ones such as the demon tank are a nightmare to target.  It isn’t always obvious how long there period of invincibility will last and so you’ll take many cheap shots as a result.  There are some standard enemies that seem to possess much longer range than it would seem as I took damage no matter how early I initiated my attack. It’s very uneven and something you’ll eventually adapt to but it should have been fixed.

All five levels have been recreated for the most part but shortened.  Bonk’s Adventure wasn’t the longest title on the market and this version almost feels like a guided tour of it.  Every level is broken up into multiple segments but some have been removed and the level order shuffled around.  Stage four in particular suffers the most as it is one straight path to the end.  While not at the same level as a Mario or Sonic Bonk was a varied adventure but you’ll only get brief snippets of that here.

The game is incredibly easy, far easier than its big brother.  With less enemies on screen you’ll spend large amounts of time alone exploring the barren environments.  Food and flowers that took to you the bonus games were in abundance but have been scaled back considerably.  The game is far too generous with meat with chunks available at every turn turning an already simplified adventure into a cakewalk.  Even with the bad hit detection I was able to zerg rush the bosses, especially since you awaken right where you left off after death.  I can’t see anyone having difficulty completing the game in less than an hour.

Bonk’s Adventure was a decent title in 1989 but better platformers were available for every console in the years following its release.  In light of stiffer competition it can’t compete, especially as it is one of the most expensive games on the market due to a limited print run.  It’s admirable that they were able to bring most of what made the game good over to the NES but it simply isn’t enough.  Trust me this is not worth the hundreds of dollars it sells for used or brand new.

6-out-of-10-1

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Super Adventure Island

It’s amazing what a graphical face lift can do for a game.  I was never fond of the Adventure Island games on NES or their Master System counterpart, Wonder Boy (the whole lineage between the two will break your brain trust me).  However when the series made its 16-bit debut on the SNES it made me a fan due to its overall presentation.

Super Adventure Island was released in 1992 by Hudson.  While enjoying a date with his girlfriend Tina an evil sorcerer turns her to stone.  It’s up to Master Higgins to defeat the wizard and change her back.  Super Adventure Island was released in between parts 2 and 3 on NES and as such removes some features from both games while at the same time adding its own for its 16-bit makeover.

As Master Higgins you travel through 5 levels, comprised of 3 stages and a boss fight at the end.  Like prior games in the series, 1 hit means death unless you are riding the skateboard meaning you’ll have to be extra careful as you go.  The standard club can be upgraded to triple clubs or the more versatile boomerang.  A super jump has been added to Higgins’ arsenal to traverse the vertical levels faster and make the more tricky jumps.  There isn’t a timer per se, but the bar at the top of the screen serves the same function and can be replenished by eating fruit (I never understood that,  does Master Higgins have diabetes?).

While it comes across a bit simple the difficulty curve is actually finely tuned.  The initial levels are simple enough and give you time to acclimate to the game’s mechanics while steadily adding new challenges every level.  By Chapter 3, you’ll face enemies that dart in from the front and back and will have to look before you leap more often than not.  There are a decent spread of horizontal and vertical levels that present their own unique challenges and switch up the place.  You’ll actually change weapons willingly depending on the situation, something that I almost never did in prior installments.

For the most part though, due to its short length and tuning the game is a bit easy.  Most levels last about 2-3 minutes at most and although there are 20 the experience won’t last that long.    In prior installments there was a constant sense of urgency due to the “timer” ticking pretty fast; that fear doesn’t exist here since there is ample fruit to replenish the meter.  You can inch forward and force the enemies to appear, removing any surprises.

Hudson really rolled out the red carpet when it came to the game’s presentation.  The graphics literally pop off the screen with a vibrancy of color most SNES games around the time of its release could match.  It’s bigger, badder, and better in every way.  It is a bit inconsistent at times, with flat backdrops and ugly color choices at times.  The Mode 7 effects were very clearly tacked on and unnecessary but nearly every 16-bit developer is guilty of it too.  The real star of the show however is the soundtrack.  I’ve mentioned it many times but it bears repeating: Yuzo Koshiro was a machine during the 16-bit era, with Super Adventure Island displaying his insane range.  Hip hop, reggae, rnb, and island themes comprise the soundtrack and match the visual aesthetic perfectly.  You rarely get a soundtrack this eclectic, let alone put together so well.

This is a still a decent action romp despite its age.  The soundtrack is timeless and the gameplay holds up well.  Despite the improvements made in later installments this is still one of the best games in the  series and worth a few hours of entertainment.

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Bonk’s Adventure

In the great pantheon of console mascots everyone remembers Mario, Sonic, and Crash Bandicoot.  Those are the most obvious, and the ones that achieved the most success out of the glut of platformers that bombarded the market.  But there’s one mascot that is never remembered and forced to sit in the back of the bus.  That would be Bonk, the mascot (somewhat) of the Turbo-Grafx 16.

Bonk’s Adventure was released in 1990, a year after the system had launched.  A bit odd considering he would more or less become the face of the platform in America.  I say somewhat mascot because the game was ported to numerous other consoles, but those ports came long after the original.  Like Mario before him Bonk is out to rescue a princess, this time from the evil King Drool.  Your enemies are anthropomorphic dinosaurs, and you know I never gave it much thought, but although you are a caveman you never encounter any others in the series.  But that’s just me thinking about this too much.

What sets Bonk apart?  Mario has his butt stomp, Sonic has his speed, Bonk has a big fucking head.  Harder than a brick you use it to skull bash any enemy in your way as well as select walls.  You can spin in the air to cross gaps or dive bomb enemies with your head for massive damage.  The wonky hit detection of that attack will piss you off however.  You need to be precise when using it but I think even the developers realized this.  Various fruits and foods populate the levels with most of them only netting you extra points, however some restore your health and are in abundant supply.

Power-ups are few but the ones available make you a walking death machine.  Meat comes in two flavors, large and small and will power you up in 2 stages.  Large meat puts you at maximum power and makes you invincible for a short period of time.  Small meat only does it slightly, giving you the power to freeze everything on screen for a few seconds with a head stomp.  These actually come in abundance, and generally you won’t traverse any one level too long before reaching another if it runs out.

I love the animations in this game.

The power of the TG-16 is put to use in much subtler ways than you would expect.  Although the game has an overall simple look its done on purpose.  The full range of the system’s color palette is on display here with each level exploding in color.  The enemies come in all shapes and sizes with some taking up nearly the whole screen.  The overall animation in the game is incredible, not just on the main character himself.  You’ll see a selection of hilarious hit animations when you attack and when you receive damage.  The bosses are the show stoppers and are where the game starts to deviate from its prehistoric theme.  One is a ninja and one is actually a tank with a dinosaur for a head.  It’s an interesting mish mash to say the least.

It doesn’t revolutionize the genre but what it did it did well.  For its time this stood out as a fine example of the platform genre.   It’s funny that this game predated even Sonic the Hedgehog yet never reached the heights of that franchise.   This was ported to a huge number of systems so pick your poison if you want to give it a try.

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