Book Review: The SNES Omnibus

Brett Weiss has written several books compiling the libraries of retro video game systems. I have two of his previous books: Classic Home Video Games 1989-1990: A Complete Guide to Sega Genesis, Neo Geo and Turbografx-16 Games, and Classic Home Video Games, 1985-1988: A Complete Reference Guide. These were some of the first books of their kind. Prior to these, I have never heard of a book that chronicled the entirety of a console's library. I found these pretty useful in vetting the library of NES and Genesis titles. The information provided was just enough to get a glimpse a game, with varying levels of detail. Many games that were of lesser quality were given shortened treatment, sometimes justifiable, sometimes not. Unfortunately these early publications were in black in white, and thus what photos were present did not convey the necessary detail to sell the games. 

His latest book is titled the SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and its Games Volume 1 A-M (at this time the second volume is unavailable). Immediately I notice the jump in quality of the publication. The pages are heavyweight and glossy, the pictures are in full color, and there are more of them.

The reviews span every officially released game, for the first half of the library. Each game review offers a box scan, game cart scan, title screen, gameplay pics, and an advertisement sample if available. Brett's reviews are very informative and detailed, sometimes including personal memories. While they are reviews, they slant more towards objective descriptions. There is an even keel present in every review. I was scanning for overt fanboyism or angry tirades and did not find any. At first I was skeptical of his middle of the road approach, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciate it. You see, many reviewers and YouTubers have made careers on focusing on the negative or fantastic aspects of games, but very rarely are games described objectively. I found this refreshing, as it gave me a chance to learn enough about the game to be interested in trying it, and I also had the freedom to make my own conclusions.  

Also included are quotes from Brett's colleagues, collaborators, friends, and associates. These add necessary second opinions, additional details, and personal accounts. 

Overall, I found the SNES Omnibus to be a great addition to any retrogamer or SNES fan's library. I only wish it were a single complete volume, instead of split into two.  It can be purchased on for $50. 

My Adventure With Rhea, the Sega Saturn Optical Drive Emulator

I have been an avid collector for the Sega Saturn since the late 2000's. Its fair to say that it is one of my top 3 favorite consoles. I particularly enjoy all things 2D, and the Saturn had that in spades, but only if you import; the domestic Saturn library was focused on 3D gaming, as that was the trend. It's a shame, as many top tier games for the system happen to be 2D games like Radiant Silvergun, Battle Garegga, Batsugun, Street Fighter Zero 3, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, and so on. Of course many of these games have become quite collectable of late. Some of these have been rereleased recently, like Battle Garegga and Radiant Silvergun, but many have not. Anyone who has started collecting for the Saturn has come to the realization that it is just too cost prohibitive now.

Emulation has been a handy tool for gamers to try out games that were too costly to obtain. Holy Grails like Chrono Trigger on the SNES, MUSHA on Genesis, and Magical Chase on Turbo Grafx all can be played with relative ease on a computer or rom cartridge. This is not the case with Sega Saturn games, however. The Saturn's internal architecture made for some difficult programming back in the day, and only the best programmers could make use of the Saturn's potential. What that amounts to is emulation that is behind the curve compared to its contemporaries. The gems of the Saturn catalog are locked in physical form until its emulation matures. Or until something else comes along. Enter  Rhea.

The Rhea is an optical drive emulator (ODEMU) for the early Sega Saturn models (the Phoebe is the version for the Model 2). It is a device that reads roms from an SD card, instead of a laser reading a disc. In effect, it forgoes the need to use the CD. Much like the Everdrive which came before, it is a bridging of modern tech and original hardware. This comes at long last, as some games reportedly have succumbed to the dreaded disc rot. I have only one game that this has happened to, and it wasn't fatal as the hole must have been in an unused sector of the disc. Even still, this can give a collector chills just thinking about the potential disaster looming.

ODEMUs and Everdrives offer the benefit of keeping games protected and not risking scratches, and that was a motivation for myself. As Saturn game values skyrocket, they have inadvertently become something of an investment. I never would have though they'd be worth so much, but here we are. The Rhea will allow me to play backups of my games, keeping the originals is prime condition, should I decide to sell them at some point.

Since the Rhea physically replaces the laser in the console, it is best used in a Saturn that has a dead laser. I bought one off eBay as I didn't want to sacrifice one of my working units. The installation of the Rhea itself is very simple (The Phoebe units require some minor soldering).

The most difficult part of the process was the software end. There are a lot variables, and its easy to get lost in the sea of technical information if you're not used to working with various computer file formats. First of all, you will need to properly rip the game from your discs, and in the allowed formats: CDI, CCD+IMG+SUB, MDS+MDF, and some ISO files as long as there are no separate audio tracks. There are many applications that will do this, and the one that the internet says will work best is Disc Juggler. I had mixed success with this, so the games I couldn't back up I found through other sources. Secondly, the Rhea seems to dislike micro SD cards, or at least my micro SD cards. This was particularly frustrating as I worked on the same cards for days before I tried a regular SD card, formatted in FAT32. Thirdly, the folder structure is a little wonky. Rhea only likes folders with numbers, and will only read the game in the first folder. To change to the next game, you need to press the small button on the board to the right of the card slot. This is highly inconvenient to say the least. Thankfully, there is the RMenu program by Neuracid, which provides a menu interface and allows the games to be selectable on screen.

The action replay (AR) cart, which is the defacto-norm when it comes to bypassing the region lockeout on the Saturn, can still be used for its RAM, cheats, and memory capabilities. Leaving it in all of the time will be annoying, as every time a rom is selected the Saturn intro screen plays, along with the AR load screen. I just leave it out until I know I need it.

After a week of frustration and reading/watching every resource online, I finally broke through and got everything working. I am happy to report that games play, look, and sound as they should.

So at this point I ask myself when I'll hook up a Saturn with a laser and play my original copies. I asked myself this when I got the Everdrives. It is just too convenient to select a game from a menu. I used to love pulling a game off the shelf, opening the case, and plugging it in. That appeal has worn off somewhat recently. I seriously doubt that I will sell off all of my games, but maybe I don't need all that I have. Playing the games on original hardware is my preference, and now that is possible on the Sega Saturn. Its interesting to see how perspective can change over the years.

Review: Pro Wrestling for the Nintendo Entertainment System

Wrestling was huge in the 80's. The WWF was ubiquitous; licensed t-shirts, wrestling figures, and bedsheets were everywhere. While Nintendo would license plenty of video games, the best wrestling game on the NES was Pro Wrestling, an early first-party title, part of the black-box series.

The game can be played with one player, in a circuit-type campaign, or two player, which is head to head. The latter has consumed many a Friday night for me as infinite rematches and controller bashing prevailed. The fervor of such matches rivals that of Tecmo Bowl matches.

The body slam is a basic move in all wrestlers' repetoire
What makes it such an ideal head to head game is the simplicity of controls. Most moves are simply the result of a directional press and a button. Even if you don't know how to play, you will learn quickly. There is a punch and kick, using B and A, respectively.
Landing a kick is all timing
Body slams are easy to pull off by pressing up and B.You can throw your opponent into ropes (left or right  and B), and clothesline him on the rebound. You can throw your opponent out of the ring if you are close to the edge, and get out yourself to continue the carnage (just be sure to re-enter the ring in 20 seconds or you will be counted out).

Flying off the turnbuckle is very satisfying, as long as your opponent doesn't roll out of the way at the last second

You can even climb on the top turnbuckle and launch yourself on your felled opponent; if he gets up while you are in mid-leap you will crumble to the mat, so timing is critical.

The clothesline in all its glory

Once you think you've worn your opponent down, you can attempt a pin by pressing A while standing near him. If he has enough fight left, he will push you off before the 3-count. Likewise, if you are being pinned you can mash the buttons to get up.
Pick your opponent up off the mat and take advantage of his exhaustion
While every wrestler has their own special moves, these moves cannot be used right away. Your opponent needs to be broken in a bit before they become available. To execute, press some combination of A and a direction after engaging. The exception is Fighter Hayabusa's back-brain kick; you need to be positioned at a 45 degree angle below the opponent. This is the most difficult move to land as your opponent is generally always moving.
The Iron Claw
Against convention, there is no life meter visible. You are always guessing as to how much vitality you and your opponent have. A subtle clue is how long a wrestler takes to get up off the mat; the longer it takes, the weaker he is. An obvious sign is the loud alarm that sounds when a player is subjected to a devastating move. Recovering from a pin attempt at this point is difficult.

A suplex can land your opponent out of the ring

Pro Wrestling has seven selectable wrestlers, each with their own ethnicity and special moves:
  • Fighter Hayabusa - a nondescript Japanese wrestler, with a devastating back-brain kick that is difficult to pull off
  • King Slender - the classic, long haired, blonde American, he is stereotypical wrestling hero. His special move is the suplex.
  • Starman - a pink unitard and star face makes this Mexican wrestler a throwback. He has the ever-amusing standing sommersault kick, and less impressive flying cross chop.
  • The Amazon - the most unique character on the roster, he is the usual favorite due to his vicious piranha bite and head lock choke. Oh, and he has the head of an angry fish and he's green.
  • Giant Panther - a blonde, tan skinned giant, he is anti-hero of sorts. He finishes opponents with his iron claw and head butt.
  • Kin Korn Karn - a Korean wrestler that is less interesting to use, given the other choices. His special moves are a Karate kick and Mongolian chop (why Mongolian if he's Korean?).
If you're not warmed up before you attempt a suplex, your opponent will counter with is own

The final wrestler is the Great Puma, who is the title holder. This guy is super tough and can utilize all special moves, and seemingly has endless stamina. Being the final boss, he is not selectable as a player. If you manage to defeat the Great Pumu, you then have to defend the title against all challengers. I'm not sure if there's a proper end to the game, as each successive match becomes more difficult.

The visuals are very early 8-bit, but sprites are drawn well enough that you can clearly see everything that you need to. Each wrestler has enough visual flair to set them apart. The background consists of a ring, the announcers, and the mildly animated audience.

The music is a catchy tune on a loop, which sticks in your head when you're done playing, but is not annoyingly redundant as you might expect. The sound effects are appropriate for the action, and the crowd will cheer when you pull off a special move.

Beat your opponent down out of the ring, just make sure to get back in before 20 seconds
Somehow this game was truly forgotten, as it doesn't seem to come up in any kind of list for the NES, which is a crime. It doesn't have the flash that other games have, but it has supreme playability. Find a way to play this game, an give it a few tries, you won't regret it. Better yet, grab a friend an play it together for the first time.

Review: 1943 for the Nintendo Entertainment System

When I was a kid, there was a Comic book store in my home town that would feature a different arcade cabinet every six months or so. I distinctly remember it having Rygar, Time Soldiers, Ikari Warriors, and 1943. I would buy a comic for 75 cents, and then play a game with the change. I played 1943 a lot, and became pretty decent at it.
picture from the International Arcade Museum

Later, 1943 was released for the NES. I didn't purchase it right away; new game purchases were rare  in my household. I think I got it from Funcoland as part of a trade-in deal. As crappy as I felt about trade-in values back then, I still continued to trade in games as that was the only way to a kid could get enough money to acquire games. I mainly bought used games, as they were more affordable.
Naturally, 8-bit color spaces dictate that the carrier is orange.

We all knew that home console games weren't as pretty, or didn't sound as good as arcade games. Especially considering the NES could only have 24 colors onscreen at one time, there was bound to be some imaginative use of pinks and purples. Given that the game takes place entirely over water, the backdrop is lots and lots of ocean. There are little flecks of color here and there, and lots of clouds of different shapes, but overall the visual variety was doomed from the start. In true shoot'em up nature, there has to be lots of enemies on screen at the same time, so that means small enemy sprites, which are hard to make detailed due to their diminutive dimensions.

Once you reach the end of the stage, your plane will dive closer to the surface and do battle with the boss, which is usually some battleship, carrier, or giant bomber. The bosses are the largest sprites, which I'll bet are the background graphics, as the the background graphics change right before.
Increasing attributes makes this game standout among its 8-bit peers.

Even though the game took an expected hit in the graphics department, it was even more fun than the arcade. I remember the soreness in my thumbs after I played it for hours on end. I think the reason it was addicting was the RPG elements that it incorporated into its gameplay. Your plane could could "level up" any one of its five attributes if you found a secret icon (rose or dragonfly). The attributes you could improve were: offensive power, defensive power, energy limit, special weapon variety, and special weapon timer. It is so satisfying to see the longterm effects of progress, and helps to balance the increasing difficulty of the later levels.

Your P-38 plane is equipped with a double machine gun. If you hold the fire button, you charge a powerful laser blast, but charging takes two seconds, which in a fast paced game is a lifetime. I don't find it worth the risk to not fire, so I seldom use it. Your plane also has an escape loop the loop manuever, like in 1942, except this is accompanied with a lightning strike or tsunami, depending on your proximity to the surface. This will wipe out small enemies on screen, but it will also cause damage to you as well, which is a questionable programming decision. If your life meter runs to zero, you can use these attacks without loss of life, since you don't have anything to loose, that's really the only time I would use them.
Three-way is a decent all-around weapon choice

Being an early NES title, there was no rapid fire feature, so using a turbo controller is a must. A couple of the weapons have automatic fire, but since all special weapons are timed, you can't count on these for long, so you have to keep an eye on the weapon timer. When it gets low, you need to shoot the next power up icon that you see until it becomes the desired weapon. Which special weapons are available is determined by how many points you have used to upgrade the special weapon attribute. For every attribute point, a new weapon is made available. Each special weapon pick up has its benefits and draw backs.

  • Shotgun - fires a short range spread, which is not very powerful but it does destroy enemy bullets. It can be leveled up to include a forward shot in addition to the wide shot.
  • Three way - fires in three forward-facing directions; is a basic versatile weapon good for beginners, as it covers a wide range of the screen, destroying popcorn enemies before they get too many shots off.
  • Vulcan - a rapid fire machine gun, with slightly larger bullets. You don't need rapid fire for this, just hold the fire button down.
  • Missiles - these are powerful and fire in rapid succession, but it fires in a narrow stream. 
  • Laser - super powerful twin laser, the strongest weapon in the game (same as the charge shot, without the charging).
The laser makes short work of most enemies, but it is a serious investment in attribute points to acquire it

I mainly use the shotgun, powered up twice, as it allows me to not worry about direct enemy fire. In the later stages, there is so much going on that it is easy to get hit as fire comes from all directions. Also, this allows me to build up my other attributes like offensive and defensive power, energy and weapon timer limits. Thirdly, the fewer weapons you have unlocked, the easier it is to shoot the power icon to get the desired power up, since there are fewer weapons to cycle through.
Bosses fill the screen

You have only one life, and your energy limit determines the number of hits you can take before you explode. However, the timer counts down, and you will continuously need to replenish energy by collecting energy tanks, or power icons. The basic appearance of a standard shoot'em up has become eschewed by the resource management and leveling up tactics, making this a remarkably deeper than it appears. It also has difficulty in spades; you'll have to work to get far in this game. Fortunately there are unlimited continues, and even a password system, which is unheard of for a shoot'em up.

You recoup some energy after defeating a boss

Overall, 1943 on the NES deserves more credit than its given. Even though it may appear monotonous in nature, its got enough tweaks and challenge to keep you coming back for more. The password system and unlimited continues gives you a fair shot at success, and being able to pick up where you left off was a novel idea for its time. I highly recommend this game for any fan of shoot'em ups, just make sure you use a controller equipped with turbo.

30 Games I'd Pick For A Genesis Mini

With the reveal of an upcoming Sega Mini-Mega Drive (Genesis), I thought I'd try my hand at deciding on which games would be included, if it were up to me. Never mind the fact that AT Games is the company responsible for developing the plug 'n play console, which by the way is the worst kind of news a Sega fan could hear, based on the level of quality they have become associated with.
This exercise is purely for fun. I'll try to be realistic as far as expired licenses, and take the perspective of what Sega would like their legacy to be. As far as number, I think around 30 is fair.

Beat'em ups:
When you look back at gaming in the nineties, couch co-op was king. That meant beat'em ups were a staple for sleepovers and family gatherings. Sega had two of the best franchises in the genre in Golden Axe and Streets of Rage. I wold have included all three entries for each, but the constraint of thirty games necessitates that only the best appear. Hyperstone Heist is derided by Nintendo fans as a port of Turtles in Time, but that would be an injustice; it has its own nuances, longer levels, and just feels right on the Genesis. Splatterhouse 3 is more than just a brawler; you need to strategize and make the right decisions to get through the game as the time pressure gets intense.

Grand papa! I mean grand upper! (I think)
  1. Streets of Rage 2
  2. TMNT Hyperstone Heist
  3. Golden Axe
  4. Golden Axe 2
  5. Splatterhouse 3
Platformers were perfected in the '90's and Sega's flagship franchise, Sonic, carried it out of obscurity and helped overtake Nintendo (for a brief period) in market share. Rocket Knight Adventures is a unique take on platforming, bringing in the rocket pack mechanic for super fast bursts and platforming challenges designed for it. Castle of Illusion is an early Genesis title, and a masterfully crafted game that has deliberate pacing with spot-on control. Moonwalker would be a great addition, but it is another game restricted by licensing.

These pigs are always so scared

  1. Sonic The Hedgehog
  2. Sonic The Hedgehog 2
  3. Sonic The Hedgehog 3
  4. Rocket Knight Adventures
  5. Castle of Illusion
Action Platformers
The Shinobi franchise, to me, defines action platformer. Thr original arcade game was one of my first, and I wished for a port of it on the Genesis, as the Master System and NES ports were not up to snuff. Instead, we got a trilogy of excellent ninja action games that are challenging, addicting, rewarding, and just awesome to behold. Ninja magic is the equivalent of a shoot'em ups' screen clearing bomb; every game should have one. Bloodlines is one of the few non-Nintendo Castlevania offerings, and truly pushes the Genesis to its litmits. Ghouls 'n Ghosts is an exemplary conversion of the arcade, as is Strider. I love the support that Capcom game to Sega.

Hold still...
  1. Revenge of Shinobi
  2. Shadow Dancer
  3. Shinobi 3
  4. Castlevania Bloodlines
  5. Ghouls 'n Ghosts
  6. Strider
Run 'n Gun
To me, the genre of run'n gun games didn't exist until Contra. The concept of platforming while streaming hundreds of bullets is one that garnered the attention of hard core gamers, as the intensity was often too difficult for the undedicated. True to its name, Contra Hard Corp is ridiculously difficult at first (aren't all Contra games?). Play it over and over repeatedly, and you will gradually learn the stages well enough to not die right away. What's odd is that in the Japanese version you have a three-hit life bar, greatly easing the difficulty. There were some odd regional decisions back in the day, and this was a part of Japan's anti game-renting stance. The logic was that if a game was to easy, Americans would not buy it after renting it and beating it.
Treasre's Gunstar Heroes is the other top dog in the genre on the Genesis, with just as much frenetic action and explosions its easy to see why. It is more forgiving than Hard Corps, as it has a life meter. The game speed is very similar as well, and that may be attributed to Treasure's employees being ex-Konami programers. Mercs is an excellent Capcom home conversion, with added features over the arcade. Rambo III is an underrated title, but I think there would be licensing fees here.

I play the Japanese version with a life bar since I'm not so Hard Corps.

  1. Contra Hard Corps
  2. Gunstar Heroes
  3. Mercs

Shoot'em up
This is where I really had to restrain myself. With shoot' em ups being my favorite genre, and the Genesis being one of my favorite consoles, I could have littered the list with far more entries, but in the spirit of anticipating what is a likely lineup, I had to pare this section down.  I also love Gleylancer, but that was a Japan only release and largely unknown. Fire Shark is another favorite, but not as poplular in general. Including Musha would help sell lots of units as the game itself is one the most expensive Genesis games out there. Thunder Force III and IV are no brainers.

This boss is what the Genesis could like like on all games, when properly programmed
  1. Thunder Force III
  2. Thunder Force IV
  3. Musha
  4. Gaiares
The Genesis was not endowed with the plethora of RPGs that the SNES had, and I'm not by any means an expert on the genre, but I remember Phantasy Star 2 being really good, especially when compared to the original on the Master System. I hear lots of good things about the Shining series, but I have no direct experience with them. Some of these could arguably be replaced by a different RPG, and I'll say that whichever ones get chosen, there will probably only be three.
  1. Phantasy Star 2
  2. some other RPG
  3. some other RPG
The genre that helped gamers shed the kiddie aesthetics of video games, multiplayer sports games help sell Genesis consoles. Sports fans who were not necessarily gamers were eager to play Electronic Arts' sports lineup, that was just as robust then as they are now. I thought a Madden game should belong on the list, but that would require licensing fees, so its more likely that Sega includes a game from their own football franchise, the Joe Montana Football series. NHL '94 is a worthy licensing fee, as it was one of the most played games in the dorms. NBA Jam is the arcade sports title that has broad appeal and everyone remembers.

  1. NHL '94
  2. Joe Montana Football
  3. NBA Jam T.E.

This list was very difficult to make. Keeping the numbers down to 30 involved a lot of bloodletting that went against what I personally preferred, and what was a list more likely to cater to the masses. If I didn't care what was likely then this would have been nearly all shoot'em ups, beat'em ups, and action platformers. As my freshmen year English teacher told me: " variety is the spice of life", hence the potpourri of included genres.

An Additional ten game to include, if we stretch the game limit to 40:

Street Fighter II Champion Edition
Virtua Racing
Mortal Kombat II
Road Rash II
Out Run
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
Captain America and the Avengers
Tecmo Super Bowl
Raiden Trad

To round out the package, the system should come packed with two controllers. 32X and Sega CD add-ons are not part of the picture here. The Genesis was a fantastic system with devoted fans, and this kind of revival is what Sega fans have been waiting for. Let's just hope AT Games ups their game, seeing the standard that the NES classic has set.

So what do you think? Any major omissions? What definitely should be on an officially licensed Sega Genesis Mini?

My Top Ten Favorite Puzzle Games

Puzzle games are a staple of every console generation, appearing among the earliest arcade games. You might say the the earliest video game smash hit, Pac-Man, was a puzzle game. The reason why puzzle games are popular is their accessibility. They are generally visually appealing, easy to learn, and addictive. These are the games that you might pull out for people unfamiliar with gaming. When competitive modes are available, they often lead to legendary matches, all night gaming, and some tested friendships. With every new console generation, the puzzle game genre is well represented, by most of my favorites were in the past. Here's my top ten puzzle games, in no particular order. 

Bomberman series
Hudson's Bomberman series has a lasting legacy even to this day, spanning from the third generation through today's consoles (eight generation). The gamplay is simple: plant bombs to destroy barricades and reveal the exit, and don't get caught by an enemy or blow yourself up. Power ups make your task easier, but be careful as sometimes your stronger bombs catch you in the greater blast radius. Playing alone is fun, but multiplayer is the true calling of this game. Multitaps allow for up to five players on most consoles, but the Saturn version supports up to ten players! I don't have a Saturn multitap yet, nor ten controllers, but this sounds like a convention experience like no other.

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
In what is a tounge-in-cheek name, Capcom has ribbed itself with parody of its sequel naming conventions and produced a refreshing puzzle game. Gems of different colors fall into the play field, and if you connect like colors they meld together. A swirling ball is the catalyst that will set off the same colored gems. Of course the goal is to bury your opponent in gems. You pick an avatar from the Street Fighter or Darkstalkers universe. Each character has different attack patterns; the patterns of gems that fall on your opponent when you set off chains.

Bust-A-Move series (various)
The series is related to the Bubble Bobble franchise with its inclusion of Bub and Bob, yet the gameplay is its own. Bust-A-Move uses a color matching mechanic to pop bubbles that stick to the ceiling. When three or more bubble of the same color are physically touching, they pop and disappear. Every miss causes the bubble to stick and accumulate. The ceiling drops an inch or so periodically, and adds to the pressure; if the bubbles attached to the ceiling fall below a certain line, the game is over. A ubiquitous Taito arcade game, ported to nearly every platform, it has several renditions with minor, if any changes to the gameplay. The version I played the most is on the Playstation, but it is on nearly every system from the SNES and on. The soundtrack is as sugary sweet as the colors on screen, and if you play for longer than ten minutes, you'll find yourself humming them eventually. Two player competitive mode is just as fun if not more so, as your success contributes to your opponents struggle.

Tetris (various)
The original killer app, Its my belief that the Gameboy's massive success was largely due Tetris being the pack in game. The very definition of: "simple to learn, hard to master". It was the first time I would see adults gaming on their own accord, and not simply appeasing kids with a patronizing few minutes of gameplay. It may be the most popular puzzle game of all time, and its pretty easy to see why. Who knew dropping shapes consisting of four blocks and making lines disappear could be so fun?

Bombastic (PS2)
Bombastic is the sequel to the Playstation game Devil Dice. The concept is there are dice scattered all over the floor. Your character can walk all over them, and each time he does, the dice turns. Whatever number the dice shows facing up, that is the number of dice that have to have the same number facing up and touching each other in order to detonate. For example, if you turn a die to show a four, then you will need to turn four neighboring dice to show four, after which they will pulse and explode. Two player co-op can be chaotic, as you can cancel your partner's turns if you're not paying attention. Its a blast.

Lumines Plus (PS2/PSP)
I know this game premiered on the PSP, but I played the PS2 port first. You have squares that are made of four tiles. The squares can be any combination of two colors, i.e, all red, one read and three white, two red and two white, one white and three red, or all red. As you drop the squares onto the blocks on the play field, any singularly colored squares or rectangles that form as a result will be eliminated. If your drop results in anything other than a uniform color square or rectangle, it remains, adding to the bulk that may potentially grow. The music is a potpourri of drum n' bass, electronica, techno, and related genres that young party people would have listened to in the mid 2000's.

Ms. Pac-Man (various)
There's no need to say much here. Ms. Pac-Man is an institution, a game that has stood the test of time. The home 16-bit ports include the pac booster option, to allow you to move twice as fast when holding the boost button. This added acceleration adds a new element of strategy that is welcome to savvy players who like to take chances. There are also new mazes and game modes, for those who have the original mazes memorized.

Super Monkey Ball
While not a typical puzzle game, Super Monkey hits all the right notes when it comes to what a puzzle game represents: challenge, physical rules, coordination, patterns, and fun. You roll your monkey in a glass ball through a course, and hopefully you are able to navigate to the end. The course is suspended in air, so if you go off the rails, you plummet. You collect bananas along the way, but don't let that distract you from the ultimate goal of completing the course. This game was released on the Gamecube and PS2, and the analog controls are sublime. Definitely one of the best games of that generation.

Tetris Attack (SNES)
In what might be called a blatant name drop, Tetris Attack is not related to Tetris at all. The game was originally released as Panel de Pon in Japan, and was renamed upon its western release, along with the additon of Yoshi themed characters. The game consists of rising blocks from the bottom of the screen. The blocks are of five varieties: yellow star, red hearts, purple diamonds, green circles, and blue triangles. You maneuver a two-block cursor, which can switch the order of any two blocks framed by it. Doing so may result in a chain of three or more of the same block touching, and thus disappearing and reducing the bulk below a set line, which is the goal for each stage. Again, two player mode is where the real fun is at. The music is super, super, catchy.

Dr. Mario (NES)
In the early days of the NES, Mario was wedged into many first-party Nintendo games as possible. Golf, Punch-Out!!, and now Dr. Mario. It's more ludicrous than people give it credit for, and bit scary to pass off pill prescriptions in such quantities. The concept is this: there are viruses that must be killed by color-matching pills. There are three colors of viruses (red, yellow, and blue), and correspondingly, three pill colors. The pills can be one solid color or half and half. The pills can be rotated so the correct side falls on the intended virus. Four segments of the same color, virus and/or pill, cause that chain to disappear and thus progress. The goal is to rid the jar of all viruses. Its bare-bones as far as complexity, but sooooo rewarding to whittle down a screenful of viruses to a clean bottom finish. The music is catchy as anything you will hear on the NES, even if there are only two tracks. Two player mode lays on the competition, and you can imaging the change in mood that can take place when things get heated.

Review: Macross: Scramble Valkyrie for the Super Famicom/SNES

Robotech was one of the better 2nd-tier cartoons of the 1980's. I say second tier because is not as much of a household name as Transformers, G.I.Joe, He-Man, and so on. It was only broadcast on smaller networks, and at moderately inconvenient times (I think 6 a.m.). It was a translation of the  Macross anime series, which was popular in Japan in the early 80's. The series is known for its giant transforming fighter plane mechs, and dramatic personal relationships that developed between the main characters. The localization consisted of a few name alterations and some stretch editing to prolong the series into a full season here in the U.S.

Chō Jikū Yōsai Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie is a game for the Super Famicom, only released in Japan. Fortunately, it is playable on a NTSC Super Nintendo if you remove the plastic barrier tabs in the cartridge slot. The game follows the plot of the anime series; how closely I don't know as I am not too familiar with the original. I imagine its pretty much the same as the localized Robotech story, which goes like this. A giant alien ship crash lands on earth. The world is in the midst of a global world war, and ceases  

The game is a one-player horizontally-scrolling shoot'em up. You can choose between three pilots: Hikaru, Max, and Milia. Americans may know Hikaru as Rick Hunter, Max is still Max, and Milia is Miriya. I wish they included Roy Fokker, as I he was my favorite. Your veritech fighter can transform on command into its three modes: plane, guardian (gerwalk), or battloid (battroid). The three different forms handle differently. The plane is the fastest. The guardian has the most agility and best speed level as you can navigate tight quarters. The battloid is the slowest, and largest target as it stands upright. In addition to different handling of the three forms, the weapon load out varies with the configuration as well, and each character has vastly different weapons on their crafts. This makes for nine unique weapons available during the game. In addition, each can be leveled up three times by collecting "P" icons. 

Weapons by character:
Hikaru (aka Rick Hunter)
plane - straight ahead piercing laser
guardian - maching gun with vertical bombs (above and below)
battloid - machine gun with powerful but slow missiles

Weapon load outs are visually shown during the character select screen

plane - machine gun that can spread with power ups
guardian - strange energy ball chain thing: can be maneuvered as a defensive shield but hard to use
battloid - homing shots

Max would be the ideal choice, if only his guardian weapon were useful


plane - forward vulcan cannon
guardian - wide shot scythes
battloid - super powerful but slow bursts

Millia's battroid shot is the most powerful in the game

The gameplay takes al of these character nuances into account as the stages require knowledge of which weapon/craft is ideal for a given situation. You'll have to learn how to pilot all three forms as just one will not be successful through an entire stage. In wide-open space with waves of enemies the plane or guardian mode is the way to go. In tight corridors the guardian or battloid will negotiate the space and obstacles better. Each boss and mini-boss battle is unique, so you just have to see what works. Due to the variety, there's loads of replay value. 

The difficulty is adjustable, but I found that normal was too difficult initially, at least until I became familiar with the stages. If you collide with the walls and other stage elements, that counts as a hit.
Your ship has a shield gauge, which can withstand about 4-5 hits. Also, each hit will power down your currently selected ship configuration. Three continues are provided, and more can be picked up in the stages. "S" icons will restore some of your shield. A Minmei doll will restore your entire shield. 
The Minmei weapon is pretty easy to turn enemies with

The most unique gameplay aspect is the "Minmei" weapon. When you refrain from firing for three seconds, your craft will have a glowing aura around it. Touch an enemy during this and that enemy joins you, and follows you around, firing at its former allies. The enemies all have different patterns and styles, and you can swap one out for a different one as you progress. This is pretty useful, especially since your little helper is not confined to the same physical stage barriers that you are, and is seemingly indestructable. While not as useful as the claws in the Thunder Force series, or the multiples in Gradius, its is still a welcome addition, and fits in with the storyline.

Look at all those poor Zentradi soldiers adrift in space.
The game presents you with new challenges and enemies that are refreshing and unique. In stage one, gravity mines litter the field of play, and navigating away from them as you are under attack is challenging to say the least. In stage three, giant missiles zoom towards you seemingly from out of nowhere, until you see the missile battery up close and have to figure out how to take them out without being in the direct line of fire. Later, the ship fills with water, making buoyant enemies bob with the water level and float in and out of your path.  

Visually, the game is very appealing. Sprite design is very faithful to the series, and there is lots of variety. The parallax scrolling in some sections rivals that of the Genesis. From the start of stage one, a giant enemy ship materializes on screen in a flashing, screen obscuring manner. From that point on you know this is not a typical shooter. Even the background have extra details that show the love and effort put into this game by the developers. 

While licensed games are generally shoddy and quick cash grabs, this game seems to buck the trend. It is a fantastic game for anyone who is a fan of the genre, and doubly so for fans of Robotech/Macross. Its a shame that it was not released here, as it is easily one of the top three shoot'em ups on the SNES.