Games of June 2019

Portal 2

I had completed this in early 2019 after some on-and-off playing (no telling when I started, but it was at least four years), but despite the praise it got at the time, the first half of the game (at least the first third) is that it basically functions as a "mission pack sequel" of the first game, and then when the game storyline lurches forward, it changes too many things about GlaDOS' character, from a sardonic immoral pathological liar AI to a sardonic but deeply conflicted AI that was originally designed with a real person's mind uploaded into it, as well as the backstory of Aperture Labs from a mysterious, enigmatic facility with just enough background to know that something horrible happened not too long ago, to this weird underground lab with the disembodied voice of a wacky sociopath who rambled on about lemons, tumors, and mantis-men.

At least Portal 2 is done in the same spirit of the original. I have good memories of playing the original Portal back in 2011 and 2012, and "Want You Gone" felt like a reminder that fit in well with the comfy feel of "Still Alive" and other games of that era.

Super Mario Land

The weird thing about Super Mario Land, and it's something I first noticed when I popped a Super Mario Land cartridge into my Game Boy Color at a friend's house a long time ago, is it feels like a bootleg Mario game someone programmed on a calculator or an early computer. It isn't just the grayscale graphics, the whole game feels wrong. Nothing is proportioned right, mechanics feel off, fireballs bounce off like superballs (this makes just zooming through levels chucking fireballs impossible). One-ups look like hearts, and getting a star doesn't play the familiar "invincible Mario" music, it plays the Can-Can. The whole thing is kind of explained away as an unfamiliar desert kingdom instead of the regular Mushroom Kingdom, but it still feels incredibly strange. Even if it feels like an inferior rip-off, though, it's decent entertainment and has some of the catchiest music that the Game Boy has ever produced.

Urban Yeti!

I learned not to trust HardcoreGaming101 for what a "good game" is a long time ago, but that didn't stop me from trying a ROM of Urban Yeti! for a laugh, and I realized just how bad it was. It's not that the concept, although absurd, is bad. It's just everything else that's bad. Whether it's the music that sounds like they played something through the GBA's wimpy sound chip and re-recorded that as the actual music, or the overhead "gameplay" where you can barely figure out what's going on, or the fact that there's no save features and just passwords, or the awful minigames that literally count that as a "life" if you fail at it. They (HG101) tries to justify it as being a game from an unloved developer that worked on licensed titles, but there's other games, licensed games from "licensed game" developers that are better. Personally, it reminded me just a bit of The Sims: Bustin' Out except all the fun sucked out of it (the fun that was left despite TSBO a significantly flawed game), but what it really reminded me of was all those unlicensed NES games, because everything was there...the loose gameplay concepts, the not-quite-right-to-the-system sound, interfaces that weren't standard, and vastly undervaluing the system's capability.

Super Tetris 2 + Bombliss

I had always known that console/computer ports prior to the 1990s were a bit sketchy--computer-to-console games often suffered from blurry graphics and some compromises made when it came to trying to translate a mouse and keyboard to a ROM cartridge with limited storage and just a directional pad and a few buttons, whereas console-to-computer games usually suffered in the sound department and lacked the programming tricks that consoles used for smooth scrolling graphics and other features.

The recently-discovered Super Tetris 2 + Bombliss for the Mac is no exception, adding some cool dithered graphics but ditching the music of the SNES version for some 10 second clips, none of which are memorable. I'm not a huge Tetris fan, but the SNES version was one of the games I had associated heavily with the mid-2000s which stuck heavily in the mind, because of the music.

Admittedly, the soundtrack is objectively pretty average (overall) for some of what the better Nintendo games put out but at the end of the day it's still Tetris, and I don't really care for Tetris all that much.

Wario Land 4

Although it was at least the second playthrough at that point, I associate Wario Land 4 most strongly with visiting my uncle’s apartment in New Jersey (staying for a period on assignment with the company, not his permanent residence) in 2007. There was something about Wario Land 4’s weird and moody atmosphere that paired with the totally foreign experience of the New Jersey/New York area (the latter just a few day trips). It also had some strong associations with that point, it was the height of the “malls blogs” era (MallsofAmerica was even still updating, and at that point, no major retail stores had closed).

One of the things that Wario Land 4 was good at was almost every stage being unique, with some enemies unique to each world. The Big Board’s gimmick was based on RNG (or just good timing) but when used with quicksave features it became a joke. Other literal "hit-and-miss" levels, like The Big Board, also were difficult without quicksave features, but quicksave makes everything a bit too easy. Ultimately, there are only 16 levels not counting the intro and final level, but it's a good enough experience that it doesn't feel underserved or overstayed its welcome, with the levels large enough to explore but not long enough that it just feels like a drag. (If you recall from the old games pages, it was a problem I had with Yoshi's Island DS), which I played for the first time as well in 2007.

Pokémon Trading Card Game 2

I wrote about this game in the review of the first game, but sometime early in 2019 I did finish the sequel, which was fan-translated but not especially polished (the backs of the cards are from the Japanese game, there's some problems with spacing, and inconsistent with the admittedly strange names from the original game, like "Pappy" and "Lad"). The game is fun, I suppose, and the Game Boy Color-only features does add back a lot of depth that was forgotten in the first game, but the problems of the first game still rear their head.

The AI is still terrible and its apparent more than ever that the coin flips aren't actually random and pre-determined at the beginning of the game; it's not RNG on the fly, something games have done since almost the beginning. The game has some major pacing problems (you go from an extended and annoying prologue sequence with not enough cards to quickly knocking out the last bosses), though the game tries to shake things up with special battles (no trainer cards in the deck, must have at least one Pidgey, all fire energies, no retreats allowed) in the end. It all adds up to what should be a post-game expansion pack, but isn't. (You can't import cards or even deck layouts). The credits have far too many programmers for what is basically number-crunching during battles, and even ends with a "To Be Continued", indicating a third game was supposed to be made, probably focusing on the "Neo" cards. It's disappointing in a way, but the card game ran itself into the ground with gimmick mechanics and overpowered cards, while there's not much room to build on in terms of the core card game mechanics.

WarioWare Gold

Might as well fill in another "retro" review since I bought this in early 2019. I haven't yet shared WarioWare on this site (I recently celebrated "knowing of WarioWare's existence" from 15 years ago...finding out in a then-just-a-year-old issue of Nintendo Power bought from a flea market, 7/4/04). I have felt like the WarioWare series has gotten worse and worse over time, from the high points of the original and Twisted! to the (then) depths of DIY, and now WarioWare Gold. It's a bit of a "best of WarioWare" wrapped up in a new storyline, but that's a charitable description.

For one thing, many of the games got straight ports from their original games with some graphically upscaled graphics (if you could call it that) but none of them are done particularly well. A few stick out in my mind: "Write On, Dude" is where you copy a kanji character from the top screen, but unlike the original, there's no outline to trace and the game is very picky as to where you write the strokes. (This "unforgiving attitude" also extends to the boss game of the Kat & Ana, the incredibly un-fun "Top Notch", which involves exact placement of ingredients on a cake, and I do mean exact to the point where a few pixels can cost you the game). "Crazy Cars" is another straight port but adds new vehicles that are far harder to jump over. "Tiptoe Titan" no longer has the joy of letting you lose by crushing the little men, nor does it have the "camel" (two little men inside). "Crossing Guard" is completely changed, and removes the undiscussed "story" in the level two (an ostrich runs to the right, then the ostrich runs to the left followed by a crowd of people, then a crowd of people run to the right as a crowd of ostriches follow). The voice acting on this game is terrible, and it's not just the main cutscenes sounding like half the VAs slept through their lines while the other half is screechy and overacted, it's not just the established voices used for characters like Mona and 9-Volt have changed, it's the fact that if any microgames use voices, it's the same, tinny voice for every game, and you'd see what I mean if you played it.

Lastly, the actual console of the 3DS doesn't lend itself well for the ports. The 3DS is far heavier than the GBA for tilting action, with the heavier GBA SP clocking at 5 ounces, but the 3DS family starts at 9 ounces and only goes up from there. The microphone is also in the wrong place for the 3DS, at the bottom instead of the middle.

What's particularly saddening is this could have been really great. A straight port of the best of the original, DIY, Twisted!, Touched!, and Smooth Moves with perhaps some adjustments taken into account for heavier hardware, and then 30% new games, but with the bizarre atmosphere of the original games.