Book Review: Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the SNES Library


A few years ago, Pat Contri, aka Pat the NES Punk, released his Ultimate Guide to the NES Library book (2017). It is a compendium that reviews every game in the NES library. There aren't a lot of books dedicated to this kind of content, but retro gaming has been growing in popularity and more and more offerings have appeared in recent years.  Pat utilized a Kickstarter campaign for initial funding, and produced a quality book. I reviewed it here. It was positively received, and clamors for a follow up resulted. Like the first book, I backed it immediately as I am a fan of the first book. After two years, the new book is finally here.

The normal page layout

Like the first book, the authorship of the review articles is divided up among a staff of contributors. This is reasonable, given the length, number of games covered, and amount of detail provided in each review. Following the format of the NES guide, the SNES guide has more or less the same genre descriptions, rating system, page formatting, picture quality, and attention to detail. This is fine as it worked well in the previous book. Whether the game is good or bad, the review is justified by its thoroughness, with concrete examples provided. I find the reviews fairly objective, but not devoid of flair or personality. The page format is largely the same as before, providing at least four screen shots, the man review, a personal reflection, and game data.

Game information provided in the top corner

Bonus articles cover other related topics, like Super famicom, accessories, etc

In addition to individual game reviews, there are special articles from guest personalities that cover other items of interest and ephemera. Topics of these articles span accessories, regional differences, hardware, commentary on the era, and more. These are just as, if not more enjoyable to read as the reviews themselves. The book is the same size and heft of the first book, and the art direction of the two books work well when placed side by side.

The NES guide on the left, the SNES guide on the right

Hardcore fans of retro gaming are well aware of Pat the NES Punk, and other YouTubers in the same vein. Halfway through his YouTube career, Pat started the Completely Unnecessary Podcast, available through normal podcast aggregators and on YouTube. This new production took a more casual approach towards content generation, and you see Pat as himself, not acting out a script. This reduced his normal video output from the Punk character. The Ultimate Nintendo guide books are part of his diversification. It appears to me, that as anyone of them becomes more popular, the amount of unwarranted criticism starts to increase. All of the sudden what someone's hairstyle looks like or level of success become talking points. Pat makes no qualms about offering his opinions on his podcast, and why shouldn't he, it's his podcast? I have seem people post on social media as if they are offended by his position or stance on various topics. Whatever your opinion of of Pat may be, there is no question that this book is one of if not the best offering of its kind.

Guest entries are plentiful and welcome

The production quality is fantastic, the same as that of a college textbook. At $60, this is a no brainer for any fan of the Super Nintendo. It's perfect as a coffee table book and conversation piece, as well as a research tool for those wanting to dive into the Super Nintendo library. Highly recommended. Link to purchase here.





Arcade to Home Console Ports That Improved the Game


Arcade machines in the 80's and 90's were always superior to home consoles as far as graphical prowess, memory, sound design, and overall power. Games from the arcade were often ported to home consoles so concessions had to be made in order to get the arcade game running on an underpowered piece of hardware. Some developers would change the gameplay to better suit a lesser machine, for better or worse. Examples of games that were improved were:


Rygar

Rygar arcade was a simple action platformer. Using your disk armor, you traversed the terrain from left to right, dispatching various mythologically-inspired enemies. The action was fast, and deaths were plenty. Various weapon upgrades could be collected, but vanished if you died. It was a fun, yet repetitive quarter muncher.


In the NES version, Rygar can expand his abilities and use items to open up new areas

When ported to the NES, it took on RPG-like elements to extend the gameplay into an adventure game. Gone are the one-hit deaths, you now have a hit points. Your player's attack starts out fairly weak, but as you defeat more enemies and gain experience points you become more formidable. An overhead view acts as a hub between stages, and different items that you acquire open up more areas. Backtracking is necessary as the gameplay was not linear. This has now become somewhat of a cult classic among diehard NES enthusiasts.


1943

1943 is the sequel to 1942, and it was a vast improvement over its predecessor. It offered better graphics, better sound, a life bar, more weapon variety, and better gameplay in general. I played this over and over at the comic book shop in my hometown. I remember only being able to get to stage two before having to pump in another quarter. It was difficult, as managing your item pickups involved constant strategic planning. Both your life bar and special weapon time constantly deplete, so you have to make a split second decision on which to pick up when it appears. You also have to shoot the item drop to change it into the desired pickup, all the while dodging enemy fire and collisions. It made for a thoroughly hectic and engaging game.



When it was ported to the NES, the main gameplay elements were still in place, but a few additions were thrown in. As you progress through stages, a little tipi (not sure if that's what it is) icon sometimes appears. When you fly onto it you are taken to an upgrade screen, where you allocate an upgrade point to the attribute of your choosing. This is the first shoot'em up game that I can remember that has RPG-like upgrade elements. This increases the enjoyment of the game immensely, and gives the game a psuedo adventure feel. There is also a passcode so that you can pick up where you left off. This is nice, as there are 24 stages, and they are not necessarily short. The home port also adds a charge shot, by holding down the fire button. This delivers a powerful single shot, but the down side is that you cannot fire while charging and thus are vulnerable during this time period. I find it not to be worth the risk, and just crank up the turbo fire on my NES Advantage controller. Having turbo fire is the only way to last while playing this game. I regard it as one of the best on the console.


Contra

Contra in the arcade was graphical eye candy, but the gameplay was slow and cramped. This was due to the vertically oriented screen, which worked for most arcade games up to that point, but for a horizontally scrolling run'n gun game it was unideal. Bullets would travel at slow speeds, since there was a shorter length of screen from left to right, and to give the player enough space and time to react to them this was necessary. If the bullets travelled slowly, you couldn't really have players and enemies outrunning them, so the pace was much more deliberate, and somewhat sluggish. The jump animation was a flip, and a somewhat realistically-animated one at that. The stereo music and sound effects were grand, but they weren't enough to motivate players to stay.


The NES port of Contra immediately had a wider aspect ratio, as home TVs utilized the standard 4:3 ratio. This opened up the game speed, which vastly improved the sense of action. More stages were added to extend the game. Due to the wider real estate, two-player co-op felt more natural, and it was easier to see what was going on. Up until this game, two player co-op games on the NES were uninspired. This is the game that really set the bar for what co-op gameplay could and should be on a home console. The variety of weapons, the precision platforming, the colorful graphics and catchy soundtrack all contribute to one of the best games on the NES. The rigor of the arcade was kept intact, but with enough practice and memorization, you could eventually beat the game. You could also use the Konami code (30 lives), if you just wanted to power through without practice. For some, even 30 lives aren't enough.


Ninja Gaiden


The arcade version of Ninja Gaiden is a beat'em up game with some fairly detailed graphics for the time. The joystick had a small red button at the top, used to grip and hold onto environmental structures so that you could swing and flip. It may also be notable for its gruesome continue screens, threatening to cut open your protagonist with a saw blade if you don't continue. The fighting animation was neat as your combination of kicks and punches were seamless and fluid. My favorite move was flipping over an enemy and simultaneously grabbing him by the neck and throwing him upon landing. This would become necessary to learn if you wanted to survive for any length of time. Otherwise, it was a fairly standard brawler.


The cut scenes for the NES version fo Ninja Gaiden were ground breaking

The game was changed completely when ported to the NES. No longer is the game about beating up everyone you see, it now is an action platformer. You can scale walls by jumping back and forth between them, a skill that becomes refined as you progress. Your sprite has been reduced, and a sword is now your main attack. Weapons can be picked up, and rely on magic points for their use (like hearts in Castlevania). Enemies don't offer much of a challenge themselves, but their placement and movement is where the difficulty arises from. This game can get hard, as enemy respawn more frequently than in any other game that I've seen. The boss battles start out farily easy, but the difficult ramps up considerably in later levels. It is beatable, but memorization, precision platforming, and resource management are an absolute must. The game takes on a movie-like presentation with many cut scenes between stages to carry the plot. For the time of its release, it was an impressive feat. Despite its high level of difficulty, it is a fun game that is engaging, and more memorable than its arcade origin.


Bionic Commando

The Bionic Commando arcade game was a weird and half-baked platformer with ideas that didn't really come to fruition. Instead of a jump, your avatar is equipped with a bionic arm that reaches out like a grappling hook, and allows you to swing over objects and chasms. It was notable for being original, and against the norm. In the span of time that a quarter buys you, you'll likely still have not adjusted to the mechanics of the grappling arm. This does not motivate one to keep pressing on. More likely, you would have decided a different arcade game deserved your quarter. It was a neat idea, just not one suited for quick plays in an arcade game.


Capcom realized their mistake, and changed to tone of the game into an item-based adventure game. Weapon upgrades, increasing health bar, an overhead map, and cut scenes carrying the plot were all added to slow down the pace and make the game last. The demands of the grappling mechanic are gradually ramped up as you progress, giving you time to increase your skills. The slower pace and somewhat obtuse directives given by allies over wired communications require some thought and problem solving, contributing to its sense of adventure. Various items will be needed for progressions, upgraded weapons can be found, and your life bar can be increased by collecting "pills" that enemies drop. There is a map screen, on which you direct your transport helicopter. There are main stages under enemy control, and neutral zones where you can collect items and information. These neutral zones do not allow hostilities, so you cannot fire your weapon, even if it appears that an enemy is rushing towards you! Also on the map are enemy transports, and if your transport and an enemy transport cross paths, you will engage them in battle via overhead screen, a nod to the original commando. The benefit of battling through these is to pick up continues, as the game is long, and gets rather difficult near the end. The original Japanese version had the Nazis as the enemies, led by Hitler himself. When the game was localized, direct references to the Nazis were altered, except for the sprite of Hitler at the end. What an end it is.

So, those are five of the best examples of games that were improved upon porting to a home console that I have direct experience with. What are some other examples?