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I can distinctly remember reading about so many NES games in Nintendo Power that were scheduled to be released in the US but were cancelled for one reason or another. For the longest time once a game was cancelled that was that and you would never hear about it again. But in these modern times those lost games can be unearthed and enjoyed by all thanks to thanks to kind folks like the guys over at the  Sunman was never even officially announced before it was cancelled so the fact that a more or less complete version of the game is available is a miracle. Sunman appears to be an innocuous release at first but it doesn’t take long to realize that this is really a Superman game under a different name.

I imagine the thinking behind Sunman was to do for Superman what they had already done for Batman. After the dire Superman game from Kemco anything would be better. But somewhere along the way, whether the license was unavailable or if they had cold feet when considering the NES market in 1992, Sunsoft changed gears and turned this into an original property. That wasn’t an unprecedented move for them; Journey to Silius was originally a Terminator game and changed for similar reasons. But to a greater extent than that game it is fairly obvious what Sunman originally started out as. Maybe that is why it was cancelled. While I’d like to say we missed out on a lost gem in all honesty Sunman has issues and would have needed an overhaul to make it more interesting.

Despite being developed by two separate companies Sunman is eerily similar to Taito’s Superman game for the Genesis which in turn was loosely based on their own coin op of the same name. The two games even have near identical first levels that begin on the rooftops before transitioning to a fast paced scroll up the side of a building. Both games severely limit their protagonist in terms of abilities except in Sunman’s case it is even worse. Aside from the ability to fly at any time you’ll have to rely on your fists to get by. Heat vision is restricted to specific boss battles which is incredibly lame. I wouldn’t have minded this so much if there were items or anything to break up the monotony but you get nothing at all, not even extra health. Combine that with stiff controls and the game is already off to a bad start.

The game’s Return of the Joker DNA is apparent in terms of the level design with many sequences seeming very familiar. Both games feature a level that takes place aboard a train and the many auto scrolling shooter stages further attest to this. At the very least these segments are enjoyable if not familiar. However the rest of the game’s level design isn’t as strong and is rendered moot since you can fly. The elaborate platform challenges and traps can simply be flown over although some of this seems to be intentional.

In spite of the game’s brevity actually making it to the end is a task in itself. The lack of any power-ups is a bad decision all around and makes the game incredibly frustrating, not to mention boring. Combine that with the short attack range and relentless swarms of enemies that attack at odd angles and you can die in seconds. You’ll have to either memorize each level’s layout completely or play to perfection since you can’t afford to make mistakes. The last two levels are especially brutal with a ridiculous number of enemies thrown in your path. Those two credits will disappear fast. Considering the game is so short I can see why Sunsoft bumped up the difficulty but it doesn’t make an already flawed game any more endearing.

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With its large sprites, multiple layers of parallax, and bass heavy soundtrack its obvious Sunman is using the same engine as Return of the Joker. That means the game looks fantastic although not to the same extent as that game. Partially because this is short there isn’t as much variety in locales. The grittiness of Batman’s world lends itself to the NES’s limited color palette. The visuals presented here look as though they should be brighter but it is clear the artists were working against the system’s limits.

I can see the kernel of a good game buried in Sunman but it needed a lot more work. Chances are even Sunsoft knew this and weren’t willing to commit the time to get it right. We didn’t miss anything special.


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Sunsoft’s Batman was one of the first licensed games I truly fell in love with back in the day. When you’ve been exposed to a steady diet of LJN trash it’s hard not to become skeptical after a while. Yet this one little game completely my perception of what a licensed can and should be. As much as I loved their Batman games I wish they had given Superman the same treatment. This 1992 video game has been forgotten by gamers and with good reason; it’s bad. Though far from the worst game starring this character considering the pedigree of its developer it is not a stretch to say that Superman is a disappointment. The Man of Steel deserves better.

There is no overarching story to the game as each level drops you in with almost no explanation. About half way through the game Brainiac kidnaps Lois Lane for your classic save the princess moment but even then it seems haphazardly tossed in. Sunsoft didn’t exactly make very good use of the license in terms of including characters from the Superman mythos. A few villains are featured as bosses such as the Prankster and Metallo but you’ll be hard pressed to even recognize them in game. Curiously Lex Luthor isn’t part of this lineup but judging by Brainiac’s outfit this takes place during the Panic in the Sky storyline and the original Luthor is….indisposed.

In the comics Superman is one of the most powerful characters in the industry but you won’t find any evidence of that here. Forget any ideas about flying through the air and smashing bad guys left and right for the most part. This is mainly a side scrolling platformer with the emphasis on the side scrolling. Superman can only punch and kick bad guys. The large host of abilities the Man of Steel has are limited to only one at a time which is incredibly lame. This might as well star Ultra Boy from the Legion of Super Heroes. What’s even worse is that the selection of abilities is limited to just three: super punch, spin, and heat vision for the flying levels.

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The game’s greatest failing is that you don’t ever feel that super. By restricting your powers so heavily the game loses any sense of identity. The most damning fact about the game is that if you remove the costume this could just as well have been a game starring any other platforming hero. Something doesn’t sit right with me when it feels more satisfying to control Aero the god damn Acrobat than the premier superhero in the world. Being relegated to simple punches and kicks for more than half the game is dreadfully boring and lame.  The few times you get to cut loose are satisfying but fleeting; I’m Superman, I want to feel powerful!

That’s not to say that an interesting game couldn’t have been built around such limitations. You can see where Sunsoft sort of tried as there are obstacles and break points that require you a specific power to pass. However these are always in the immediate vicinity. If the levels weren’t so straightforward and had multiple paths or if there were a wider selection of abilities this could have been more interesting. As it is you’ll wonder why they even bothered. The second half of the game is essentially a shooter as you chase Brainiac and Lois Lane into space. It’s a change of pace and nothing overly spectacular but at least it breaks up the monotony.

The common complaint about Superman as a character is that he is too indestructible which makes his stories boring. You won’t be able to make any of those complaints here as the game is also excruciatingly difficult. The Man of Steel might as well be made of tissue paper as he takes large amounts of damage from some of the weakest enemies in the video game world. Not just because Superman is a gimp compared to the enemies you’ll face but also because non-powered items are rare. Health power-ups are sparse so you’ll be dying pretty frequently. You have exactly one life and two continues to complete the game and I’ll tell you right now that isn’t happening.

Why is it so hard to make a good game starring this character? From the Atari 2600 to the Xbox 360 Superman has been in some dreadful games with this ranking in the middle of the pack. There are few redeeming qualities to be found; you are better off looking elsewhere for your superhero fix.


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Super Spy Hunter

Spy Hunter is remembered as an NES classic but if you go back and actually play it you’ll wonder why. The game is really simple, has no end, and is far more frustrating to play than it should be considering it doesn’t have the most complex mechanics. But it did have a really cool musical theme, for what it’s worth. Super Spy Hunter makes good on that game’s promise and is excellent. Somehow despite its predecessor’s popularity it has maintained a low profile but don’t let that deter you as this is another notch in Sunsoft’s belt.

What’s actually surprising about Super Spy Hunter is that it is actually a different game altogether. Originally released in Japan as Battle Formula Sunsoft’s American division rebranded the game and with good reason; it plays identically to Spy Hunter although that game was created by Midway. The game’s silly premise sets the game 500 years later in the year 2525. You wouldn’t know it course as the only thing that has changed are slightly fancier cars. An international crime syndicate known as “X” plans to launch an attack on the United Nations and it is up to you and your tricked out car to stop them. I swear this could be the plot of a Fast and Furious movie but that is actually a compliment as those movies fully embrace their stupidity and are awesome.

Spy Hunter was a fast paced game and the same applies here except now you given the necessary tools to keep up with the game’s pace. There are a decent variety of weapons available and thankfully rather than having to line up with a stupid truck you simply smash it to earn the highlighted weapon. There are shot upgrades, missiles, the popular oil slick but most importantly cannon control, which automatically targets enemies. It’s rough going initially since your life bar is small but it doesn’t take long to power-up at which point with some skill you can cruise through the levels.

The level design is excellent and incredibly varied. For the most part you control the game’s pace and can go as fast or slow as you wish. With no time limit to worry about the game provides plenty of reason to adjust speed when necessary and does a much better job of telegraphing incoming hazards. The road is no longer a straight path but curves and undulates. There is far more varied terrain as well; the game does not take place strictly on the highway as you’ll drive through quicksand, pilot a motorboat and even take to the skies in a helicopter. Some of these elements were present in the original but it was so badly designed most would be hard pressed to ever see them. This is a much tighter experience that really fulfills the promise its premise suggests.

My one gripe is that the levels run a bit too long and would have been better served broken up into two segments each. Any of the alternate vehicle segments could have stages by themselves rather than sandwiched in as a smaller part of a larger whole. The level breaks that could have created would have helped with the difficulty as the six levels here feel like an all or nothing proposition. The boss battles are really cool but are also as long as the stages themselves if you can believe it. Each goes through multiple phases that are difficult but feel rewarding once completed.

While the pace has been slowed down somewhat and you are empowered to deal with the numerous threats in your path the game is still brutally difficult. The slightest touch will inflict damage and starting out your life bar is woefully short. If you die you are brought back down to the standard life meter and depending on the checkpoint it might be near impossible to mount a comeback. This is particularly a problem during the long drawn out boss battles, to the point where you might as well start the level over. Power-up trucks appear regularly but it’s entirely possible to miss out on the item you need really easily, namely life.

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Like nearly every NES game they crafted Super Spy Hunter looks great. Although it doesn’t look like it this is a pretty technically advanced game with extensive use of raster effects seen mostly in 16-bit games. The road twists and turns realistically and there are even highway overpasses and bridges. It’s minor but adds to the game’s atmosphere and sense of speed. The screen can get pretty crowded at times with only a minor bit of slowdown. Flickering sprites are a bigger problem as the developers were a bit too ambitious for the hardware. The soundtrack is also great; that familiar Peter Gunn theme returns but is also joined by wide range of tunes that almost sound like they belong in a Konami game.

Though slightly flawed Super Spy Hunter is not only makes up for the lackluster original but is an excellent game in its own right. Brutally difficult but highly enjoyable the game is hard to find but so worth tracking down.


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Sunsoft continually raised the bar as to what was technically possible on the NES with all of their work seemingly culminating in Batman: Revenge of the Joker. But as brilliant as that game is graphically there was one other unknown Sunsoft gem that can compete in a different sense. Gimmick! was once scheduled for a worldwide release but cancelled, which is unfortunate as gamers missed out on a truly unique game for the time. While its execution isn’t completely flawless there is still plenty to love in this criminally overlooked classic.

At first glance Gimmick! resembles an even cuter version of Kirby but the gameplay is as far to the left as possible. Yumetaro’s only means of offense is his star attack. By holding B you will charge up his star which can be unleashed as a bouncing projectile. Although this is your only attack the star has plenty of functions. Aside from bouncing along the ground it will rebound off walls and can be used as a makeshift platform. There are a few bottles that alter its properties to that of flame or a bomb but they aren’t in great supply so you’ll spend the majority of the game with the default star. It’s definitely not easy to get the hang of and this is what will turn off most since the game has no real learning period.


But those that stick with it will be graced with some of the most unique gameplay in an 8-bit platformer. The game’s physics are far more advanced than any game of that generation and are a joy to play around with. Your star attacks are affected by the physics; releasing a star from a large height will cause it to bounce higher. Depending on the walls and obstacles it hits it will also move faster and actually slide along a surface realistically. Slopes and inclines also affect everything, from your stars to the enemies as well. It is both terrifying and hilarious when you think you’ve gotten away from a particularly troublesome foe only to see it slide down a hill, build momentum and leap at you with its accumulated speed.

All of these aspects play a role in the game’s meticulous level design.   Every platform and slope is placed there for a reason, even if it isn’t immediately obvious. Although there are only six levels each is relatively huge and full of secrets and sometimes more than one path to its conclusion. Since there is no time limit it frees you up to explore every nook and cranny; chances are if you see what looks like an unreachable platform there is something there, it’s just a matter of how to get there.

The excellent level design does its best to mask the Jekyll and Hide nature of the game. At its best moments the game is insanely fun. Just the simple act of sliding around with 3 or four enemies following close behind and keeping pace due to the game’s physics is incredibly fun to see in action even if it usually ends in death. The times where you’ll randomly happen to land on one of your rebounding stars and ride it through a particularly rough segment are awesome. But these are underscored by bad enemy placement and traps, the kind where a cheap hit is unavoidable. This is perfectly embodied in the stage five boss. Here you have to time the angle and trajectory of your stars to properly reach it, something no other game at the time even attempted. But this is just the opening salvo in a grueling three stage boss battle, one that doesn’t pull any punches and can quickly sap your lives and continues.

If it isn’t already apparent this is an incredibly difficult game. The enemies are incredibly aggressive and will rarely stop their pursuit unless impeded. The charge time on your star attack isn’t so bad but you are helpless until it disappears which can be a killer. Extra lives aren’t rare but you’ll have to survive long enough to find them. You only have three continues to see this through to its conclusion which will take a few days for most gamers I imagine. You’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of this.

Speaking of which as if the game wasn’t hard enough to see its true conclusion requires a level of skill that I don’t think most can muster. In each stage is a hidden item that is needed reach the seventh and final stage. Not only do you need to find these thoroughly hidden items you have to collect all of them without continuing, otherwise the game ends after the sixth boss. Between the aggressive enemies, interesting but frustrating physics engine, and suspect enemy placement not many will have the patience or fortitude to replay the game and memorize every aspect it in order to meet those insane requirements.

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Gimmick has a clean visual style that is highly reminiscent of Super Mario Brothers 3 and Mega man yet still feels uniquely its own. The visuals are bright and colorful yet can still evoke a darker tone when necessary. The animation in particular is incredibly well done for an 8-bit game even if the enemies are a bit generic. Where the game truly excels however is in its sound. The game uses a custom chip that added three more sound channels to the NES, enabling one of the richest and varied soundtracks for the system. This is one of the best soundtracks ever produced for the console bar none.

Though the game is slightly flawed Gimmick! hits enough high points that the extreme difficulty isn’t as much of a deterrent as it should be. If you are in the market for something different Gimmick! will scratch that itch, just be prepared to pay an arm and a leg as it is incredibly rare.


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Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally

Once Sunsoft gained the Looney Tunes license we all knew the usual suspects would be first at bat in terms of videogame adaptations. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck starred in games of varying quality but it was the less famous of the bunch that would receive the most interesting titles. Taz-Mania used a unique perspective and was a fun if simple game. The Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally is interesting in that it manages to successfully capture the back and forth nature of the cartoon shorts but completely fail at everything else video game related.

Like the cartoons Wiley E. Coyote is on the Roadrunner’s trail in order to score a quick meal. The game is broken up into 5 main levels that are presented as episodes with 3 sub levels each and a boss battle. The object of each level is to simply reach the flag at the end, a task that is easier said than done as Wiley is there to harass you throughout each stage with some new contraption. Many of these will be familiar to anyone that has seen one of the shorts such as the bat suit, steamroller, and catapult. Since he is invincible Wiley has to be avoided at all times which becomes more difficult the deeper you progress. It’s an interesting take on a traditional platformer and one that mirrors the show, complete with each Acme gadget backfiring once you’ve completed a stage.

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Aside from mirroring the content of the show the game does an excellent job of matching its look. The game uses large sprites that are full of personality and enriched by the system’s vivid color palette. Although the game takes place primarily in the desert they’ve done a good job varying the settings with an eventual mine and outer space (!) thrown in for visual diversity. The numerous sight gags involving Wiley’s devices failing have also been recreated pretty well. The only downside to the presentation is the repetitive music.

While comparisons to Sonic might seem apt aside from speed the two games have little in common. The Roadrunner completely relies on its speed to blaze through levels and has few offensive moves. Once you’ve built up speed coming to a sliding stop can take out weaker enemies and a quick press of the Y button enables a burst of speed like Sonic’s spin dash. Unlike that move however it is limited by energy. Pecking can be used to eat bird seed or attack enemies but is largely ineffectual. Honestly outside of boss battles what few enemies you’ll encounter can be avoided. The game’s focus is squarely on dashing through levels and collecting flags but it fails spectacularly in that regard.

You won’t find any loop de loops but there are plenty of nice long stretches and inclines where you can build speed and rocket forth in a blur. However the level design and enemy placement practically discourages it. Whether it’s the Coyote or some other obstacle nearly every attempt to simply enjoy the game’s speed is ground to a swift halt. That leaves a square focus on Mario style platforming and the game’s sloppy controls and collision detection weren’t built for that. The roadrunner moves to fast and is incredibly floaty; trying to navigate a series of narrow platforms is aggravating as a result and unfortunately that makes up the majority of the game. It’s as if the controls were designed for a completely different game and shoehorned in because they barely work.

As you can imagine the game is incredibly difficult as a result. Absolutely no one will complete these levels on their first try as there seem to be no rhyme or reason to object placement. Unless you’ve memorized each level completely you are going to smack into something at every turn and life restoring hearts are exceedingly rare. By the latter half of the game each stage is a massive labyrinth of recycled ramps and hills. Luckily the timer exists only to grant a point bonus since it would make the game impossible otherwise.

Wiley E. Coyote’s end level machines are big on the spectacle but it isn’t immediately obvious how to damage them no matter how long you stare at their blueprint. With limited continues I can see many being forced to start over trying to suss out their patterns if they even make it that far. Honestly I don’t even know why I soldiered my way through the game back in 1993 and I don’t have the excuse of no other games to play.

The developers managed to recreate the look and feel of the show pretty well but failed to provide any reason for you to want to do anything other than stare at it. Death Valley Rally is a bad game from start to finish and should be avoided.


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Chameleon Twist 2

With Mario 64’s impact on the market we all knew it was only a matter of time before a legion of imitators would follow.  While most were generic trash there a few that were particularly inspired.  Chameleon Twist marked Sunsoft’s reentry as a publisher and although it did not live up to their past exploits it was certainly interesting.  It was definitely a case of gameplay over graphics as it resembled a first generation effort.  Regardless of its production values it must have sold well enough to warrant a sequel that expands on its ideas but also brings with it further complications that ruin the experience as a whole.

The story is so saccharine it almost hurts.  Davy and his pals are having fun playing on a see saw when a giant rabbit falls from the sky and lands on it, sending him to another world.  Whatever, it doesn’t need to be Shakespeare to give you an excuse to explore a new set of worlds.


Though his appearance has changed not much else has.  Davy and his friends Jack, Fred, and Linda control exactly the same as in the first game enabling veterans to jump right in.  It should be noted that character choice is purely cosmetic.  Your elongated tongue can be unfurled and controlled with the analog stick for a number of purposes.  The most common is to suck in enemies to use as ammunition (like Yoshi) but it also has many utility functions such as clinging to objects, hand stands, and even functioning as a makeshift pole vault.  The tongue mechanic is what truly makes the game and is intuitive and most of all fun to play around with.

New to the game are the vertical swing and the umbrella.  The parasol can be unfurled to slow your descent and glide across gaps.  If there’s wind in the area you can catch a ride on the updraft, a mechanic I wish saw more use.  The vertical swing is more complex as you build momentum to swing across vast distances.  Both see extensive use through the game, more so than most of the other techniques combined.  They’re both great additions and were it not for the game’s major flaw would have made the game a very solid package.

The world’s you will visit have been given a visual overhaul, eschewing the standard ice, fire, forest tropes for more varied themes.  Sky Land, Carnival Land, Ice Land, Edo Land, Toy Land, and Pyramid are far more interesting thematically than Jungle Land and Desert Land.  Well there is still an ice level but it’s awesome so you can’t really hold that against them.  At only 6 levels the game is a bit short however each is considerably long and well-paced.

With a more diverse set of themes the level design is more adventurous in scope as each covers a vast expanse before reaching its boss.  I think a bit too adventurous; it always clear which exact direction you should go and its apparent even the designers realized this as there are arrows guiding you at every turn.  You’ll have plenty of opportunities to think outside the box in order to progress past some of the game’s many obstacles and when it works the game is pretty fun.  However outside of its bosses it is still pretty easy.  I can’t see anyone struggling to complete the game in under 3 hours if they possess a modicum of skill.

Or a low tolerance for frustration.  In spite of the strides made to fix the original’s flaws the camera in Chameleon Twist 2 is so bad it nearly ruins the entire game.  You have no manual control over it and can only pan from side to side which is borderline useless.  It tries to give you the best view possible but the inability to place it over the shoulder to better line up jumps is almost game breaking.  The problems are really apparent whenever vertical swinging is involved and it sucks that a potentially cool new move is more frustrating than engaging.

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The first game’s crude visuals could be excused due to its release early in the N64’s lifespan.  There is no excuse for the average presentation this time around.  With the likes of Banjo Kazooie, Spyro the Dragon and Rayman 2 on the market with stellar graphics (for the time) it’s simply unacceptable that more wasn’t done to spruce up the visuals.  The new worlds are visually more vibrant than its predecessor but still suffers from low poly counts and blurry textures.  The game does have its moments of course but the bad definitely outweighs the good.  The music is below average and grating to the point you might consider turning the volume down to avoid hearing it.  This screams first generation but it was released in 1999.

The music is bad and the graphics are ugly yet somehow Chameleon Twist 2 is still compelling on the strength of its tongue swinging mechanics.  Unfortunately it’s not enough to overcome its flaws and with better execution could have been worth checking out.


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Journey to Silius

The world of video game development is often a rocky road to getting a finished product to market.  The majority of games released can often yield many interesting stories about features that were planned, elements removed, or even odd changes of genre.  Not every game turns out the way the designers hoped or expected which is usually the reason bad games turn out that way.  Sunsoft’s Journey to Silius is one such case as it began life as a licensed product only to become something mostly original.

Journey to Silius was released in 1990 worldwide.  In the future the Earth is facing massive overpopulation leading to the creation of space colonies.  But not everyone leaving the planet is a saint.  During construction of Colony #428 it is obliterated by terrorists, killing Jay McCray’s father and his research team.   Following his father’s will Jay sets out to protect the remaining colonies and get revenge.

Originally conceived as a tie in to the Terminator those plans fell through so Sunsoft made minor alterations and created an original intellectual property.  In some respects they didn’t do much to hide the Terminator connection but it was enough to avoid getting sued.  Regardless, Journey to Silius is an original action romp that doesn’t break any new ground but still provides enjoyable thrills in the same vein as Contra.  This is a great game that has gone under the radar and deserves a much higher profile and for fans of run and gun action games is probably the next best thing after Konami’s classic.

Through 5 stages you control Jay as he battles the terrorists and their mechanical army.  The standard pea shooter is complimented by 6 additional weapons you receive after defeating each boss.  These weapons use a separate bar for ammo that depletes faster depending on the weapon.  Bottom line, get real comfortable with the pistol, you’ll be using it a lot.

The controls are pretty smooth for the most part aside from the jumping, which is a bit floaty.  This isn’t much of an issue as there is very little platforming, it just sticks out considering the rest of the package.  There isn’t any one feature that helps the game stand out, all of the mechanics are done solidly, and the game will remind you of Contra in many facets, the biggest reason being the difficulty.

Although there are only 5 stages each is extremely long and will throw a mélange of enemies at you in droves.  You are severely underpowered compared to the forces you face since you’ll want to conserve gun ammo for the bosses.  Many of the larger enemies require far too many shots to kill regardless of the weapon equipped and you’ll face several in rapid succession.  Even conserving ammo doesn’t make much of a difference; the bar depletes far too fast and you’ll once again have to make do with the standard pistol.  It seems unfair that the game goes out of its way to force you to use that damn gun, increasing the difficulty artificially.  You only get 3 continues and it seems quaint considering the number of levels, but a password feature would have been appreciated.

Like nearly all of Sunsoft’s NES games Journey to Silius shines when it comes to the presentation.  You can clearly see many traits of its lineage in the graphic design; the color scheme and many of the background elements look as though they were ripped straight from Blaster Master or even Batman.  They did their best to remove as many references to the Terminator but you can still see trace elements like some of the enemies and the most blatant, the final boss.  That is obviously the T-800.  More power to them since Hollywood didn’t notice or care.  The soundtrack is incredible, a hard rock soundtrack that matches the action perfectly.  Unlike most NES games, the tracks are sufficiently long and don’t loop repeatedly.

It doesn’t rise to the same level as the Contras and Mega Mans of the world but it doesn’t need to.  Journey to Silius is enjoyable despite its few issues and went under the radar at release, much like Metal Storm.  You can probably buy it for a few bucks now and I say go hard.  Shedding light on games like this is one of the reasons I enjoy working on this site and I recommend this game wholeheartedly.

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Chameleon Twist

To a legion of gamers the analogue stick has always been the preferred method of control in video games.  To them it always existed.  But that isn’t the case.  Those of us who have been at this hobby for 2 decades or more remember the early years of the Playstation and Saturn.  3d games were a bitch to control with a d-pad.  The N64 and its controller promised to usher a new era for 3d gaming with its odd 3 pronged controller and one of the earliest games that showed that promise was Chameleon Twist.

Chameleon Twist was released by Sunsoft (R.I.P) in 1997.  Oddly mirroring Alice in Wonderland, you are Davy (or one of his friends), an ordinary chameleon who watches a rabbit ripped straight out of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale disappear in a portal.  Following him Davy is now anthropomorphized and seeks a way back home.  Imbued with a unique set of play mechanics Chameleon Twist sadly doesn’t have the production values to match its gameplay and ends up mediocre overall.  But it at least gave us a look at the future.

Davy’s prehensile tongue forms the basis of the gameplay.   Capable of many feats your tongue is your lifeline and best friend.  The primary form of attack comes from swallowing enemies and spitting them out, machine gun style.  The tongue can stretch for extremely long distances and also doubles as a means of transportation.  From latching on to poles and swinging around, to a pogo stick, this is the type of mechanic that practically writes itself.  More importantly it couldn’t be accomplished with a d-pad, no way in hell would any sane human being even try, you’d end up with blisters the size of walnuts.  The analogue stick offered a level of precision that was unmatched up until recently.

For the most part the level designs follow suit and challenge you to think a little more than the average platformer.  There’s a steady progression in how you’re asked to use your powers but ultimately Chameleon Twist is a bit simple and flawed.  From the graphics and gameplay there’s a sense that the developers were almost too afraid to take on more than they could handle, and the game suffers for it.

The level themes come from the generic guide to platformers and for every ingenious use of the tongue there’s something that brings it down.  The biggest culprit is the camera.  Although you can rotate it there are far too many scenarios where that isn’t possible and you are left to blindly flail around in hopes of finding where you need to go.  Depth perception is an issue when it comes to measuring how far you have to stretch your tongue to reach a pole or platform.  For a game that relies heavily on its unique “hook” the camera needs to be near perfect to facilitate it and in this case it fails.  Fixed camera angles have never worked in full 3d platformers and Chameleon Twist is a prime example why.

It’s too bad the developers were not up to the task of surrounding the at times brilliant gameplay with a suitably interesting world to match.  It isn’t a complete bust however; Chameleon Twist is simple but fun in spite of its issues and the fact that relatively unknown developers were able to create and execute such a good concept bode well for the future.

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Batman: Return of the Joker

The original Batman for NES was everything we were looking for in a Batman game: pretty, challenging, and most of all fun.  After its success it was only a matter of time until a sequel was announced.  Batman: Return of the Joker in many ways surpassed expectations while also falling short of them.

Batman: Return of the Joker was released in 1991 for the NES with a later port to the Genesis in 1992.  Unlike most Batman games this was an original product not tied to a movie or particular comic book storyline.  The Joker has escaped Arkham Asylum and it’s up to Batman to stop him.  Sunsoft wowed everyone by creating one of the first great Batman games and while this does not reach the same heights as that game it still manages to be one hell of a ride.

Eschewing the melee combat of the first game Batman is equipped with a gauntlet that is able to fire various projectiles.  If you’re familiar with Batman’s history you know that guns are a big no-no for him, but we’ll let that slide for gameplay sake.  In fact all melee has been removed with the exception of a slide attack that doesn’t see much use.  Because of the focus on guns this feels more like side scrolling shooter rather than an action platformer.

Throughout the 7 levels there are many segments of forced scrolling that really reinforce this, and there are even levels that have you don a jet pack for some Gradius inspired action.  Boss battles equip you with a very large life meter and almost take on the air of a fighting game as you contend with the Joker’s henchmen.  There’s nothing wrong with the change in focus, but it is disappointing that the complex platforming and difficult enemies have been removed.  The game is a simpler with those elements removed and suffers for it.

What does hurt the game the most is the lack of polish, starting with the controls.  The first game lived or died by its pinpoint accurate controls but sadly Sunsoft did not spend as much time in that category.  Batman slips and slides even when you try to come to a complete stop.  The platforming as well borders on nightmarish at times because of the sloppy controls and spotty collision detection.  It’s disheartening to land what seems to be a perfect jump only to fall through the edges of a platform because the game decides it wasn’t close enough.

The challenge is about average until the midpoint of the game at which point it borders on the retarded at points, with missiles coming from all directions, enemies dropping in droves and the hit or miss platforming.  Thankfully there are passwords to save progress and you’ll need them.  Batman was a very challenging game but nothing that could not be overcome with perseverance.  The same cannot be said of Return of the Joker.

But at least it’s insanely pretty.  At its release some of the more…….”enthusiastic” publications of the time claimed Return of the Joker resembled a 16-bit game in an 8-bit cartridge.  It doesn’t match such lofty praise but there are times where it comes close.  Unlike the tiny sprites of the first game everything has been increased by almost 50% and the detail is insane for an NES game.  The look of the game is inspired by the comic book and heavy on the Gothic architecture.   Many effects uncommon for the NES such as parallax scrolling and line scrolling are on display.

Batman Return of the Joker served as a showcase for Sunsoft’s mastery of the NES hardware and next to the unreleased in the US Mr. Gimmick is probably the most technically accomplished game for the platform.  That performance comes at a price however, the screen flickering is at times ridiculous, to the point where half the screen is missing.  They really should have reined in their ambition.  Ah well, the game suffers for our entertainment.

While not on the same level as the original Return of the Joker is still entertaining despite its problems.  Sadly the game does not have the gameplay to match its graphics but still packs enough thrills to last an afternoon or two.

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Batman (NES)

Movie to game adaptations have to walk a thin line.  Depending on how faithful to the source material they are the gameplay opportunities can be limited.  On the other hand take too many liberties and you might as well have created an original game to begin with.  Most of these “conversions” tend to go a bit too far in either category when the best course of action would be a blend of the two.   Batman for the NES is one such product, using the framework of the movie very loosely to propel the events of the game forward and turning out one of the better Batman games.

Batman was released in 1989 roughly coinciding with the release of the movie that same year.  That was more serendipity than careful timing.  Loosely following the plot of the movie Batman is on the trail of the Joker across 5 levels of pulse pounding action.   About the only ties to the movie are the cut scenes and some of the stage locations and truthfully its better for it.  For the longest time the NES game was the standard by which most other Batman games were measured which speaks volumes to its quality.

Batman has a variety of weapons to fight the opposition but the most readily available are his handy fists.  Obviously the range is short and will force you to observe attack patterns before jumping in.  The 3 weapons accessible from your utility belt are the Batarang, Spear gun, and Dirk, all of which use different amounts of ammunition.  The Batarangs are all you need to be frank; the power more than makes up for the limited range plus the boomerang effect can be exploited to decimate the bosses without taking a single hit if you’re fast enough.

The multi-tiered stages present ample opportunity to make use of Batman’s agility with the wall jump integral to progression and mastering its use becoming essential by the second level.  Timing how high and how far you spring takes practice, something you won’t necessarily have a lot of time to do once the game stops holding your hand early on.

The challenge is a bit uneven at points.  The first level eases you into the game but then jumps by way of environmental hazards on level 2 making for some very tricky platforming.  Most of the standard enemies pose little threat with few exceptions; its more their placement in relation to whatever gruesome deathtrap lies before you.  There are a few control quirks that also have to be taken into account: there’s a slight delay whenever you jump that can be really frustrating in an emergency.

The bosses follow the same see saw challenge, with some absolute pushovers and others like Firebug a relative nightmare to beat.  It sounds a bit strange to say it but a password feature would have been welcome.   There are only five stages, true, but they are all really dense and it can be a bit much to do all in one sitting.  Overall the difficulty remains fair, a trait many similar games on the NES can’t claim.

Graphically amazing and fairly challenging, Sunsoft were beasts on the NES.

This still remains one of the better movie licensed games released on the system and maybe of all time.  The graphics are outstanding; highly reminiscent of Blaster Master while still capturing the dark and drab look of Gotham City at the same time.  The music is dark and haunting and matches the tone of the game perfectly even though they did not make use of the movie’s score.  Toss in the steady challenge and decent length and you have an action game that stands with some of the best on the console.

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Blaster Master


My summer of 1994 was mostly dedicated to two games: Battletoads and this gem here, Blaster Master.  Oddly enough, I had read the Worlds of Power (remember those books?) adaptation before playing the game itself which might have slightly clouded my perception of the game beforehand.  Those preconceived notions would quickly disappear however as Blaster Master is one of the best games for the NES.

Blaster Master was released in North America in 1988 and starts off with a completely ridiculous story.  The story finds your pet frog Fred deciding he’s sick of being cooped up in a fishbowl and hopping out the door and onto a fucking chest of radioactive waste sitting in your backyard.  Read that again.  It gets better.  After mutating like the Ninja Turtles he jumps in a hole in the ground that was oh so conveniently there for no reason and like a moron, Jason jumps in after him.  Somehow he doesn’t break his neck and discovers the tank SOPHIA the 3rd and hops in to go after Fred.

It should be noted that the story is completely different from its Japanese counterpart, in which your home planet SOPHIA the 3rd is conquered by the emperor Goez.   The lone survivors of the assault build you an advanced weapon called the Metal Attacker to fight back.  Yeah, they sure did take creative license when changing that.

Some coked up executive had way too much fun coming up with that.

The game has 2 distinct modes of play.  The majority of your time is spent in SOPHIA as you explore the world Metroid style.  While the game does not have traditional levels, it is split up into 8 themed areas that have their own end boss.  Each boss coughs up an upgrade for your tank that will allow you to go back to previous levels and advance past barriers to find the next level.  The second are the overhead segments where you leave SOPHIA behind to explore various caves and rooms to upgrade Jason’s primary weapon and find power-ups for the tank.

While you can leave the tank at anytime it’s not advised as the enemies in the “overworld” will destroy Jason in 1 or 2 hits, plus you can scarcely fall more than 3 feet without taking excessive damage.  All of the bosses are fought by Jason, which encourages you to at least visit some of the rooms to upgrade his gun.  SOPHIA and Jason both have separate life bars thankfully and only while on foot will your weapon downgrade if hit.

So what makes Blaster Master so good?  Everything.  Equal attention was paid to both parts of the game.  The controls for both characters are sublime; you’ll be leaping over vast distances in your tank one minute and moving at a brisk pace as Jason overhead.  As the upgrades pile up SOPHIA’s mobility will increase.  You will eventually gain the power to scale walls, ceilings, and hover, with all of these powers necessary to progress. Unlike most Metroid style games, the level layouts are never drastically confusing, and although you have to find each one on your own with no hints, generally you’ll see areas that you know you’ll have to come back to later, I would even go as far as saying they’re intentionally in your field of view for that reason alone.  There are many pathways you won’t be able to reach or will question why its even there, then when you get an upgrade realize its a shortcut to travel between areas.

The game isn’t afraid to take you out of your comfort zone, with levels requiring extensive amounts of time in the overworld as Jason, more specifically areas 4 and especially 5.  It’s an odd choice to not have any bosses to fight in SOPHIA, but it technically is Jason’s journey so it feels right that he should be the one to take them down.  The one thing that stopped most gamers, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this, is the difficulty.

Yeah, prepare to see the game over screen a lot.

I wasn’t joking when I said I spent my summer of 94 playing this.  You have limited continues with no passwords or battery backup to finish the game, and like Bionic Commando it is long.   Once you know where to go for each level you can breeze through it, but to reach that level of familiarity  will require a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.  You won’t generally find yourself in danger of dying while in SOPHIA as enemies drop extra health in ready supply.  The dangers here are environmental hazards like spikes and lava.  When you are on foot you are very vulnerable;  Jason moves very fast in these parts and it isn’t uncommon to walk into unseen enemies.  Your weapon downgrades when you get hit, and the path to the bosses can be long, leaving you screwed if you take too many hits prior to arriving in their lair.  All power-ups reset when you leave a room, but that can be tedious, especially in the longer sections.

The bosses, definitely the highlight of the game, are relentless and can seem impossible at times, but there is an awesome glitch you can exploit on half of them.  The very popular grenade trick which was printed in all of the magazines of the time allows you to hit a boss with a grenade and pause at the moment of impact, with hits still registering.  After about 10 seconds, voila!  Dead boss.  This could also backfire on you, if you get hit and pause at the same time, you’ll also continue to take hits.  It sounds like all of this is a bit much to deal with, but like most of the NES games that shared the same level of challenge; you soldier on and deal with it because the game is awesome.

Sunsoft consistently proved they were one of the top NES developers of the time and Blaster Master continued that legacy.  If it had battery backup or passwords it would be perfect, but that is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  Blaster Master is unquestionably another notch in Sunsoft’s belt.

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