Friday, August 30, 2013

Super Then and Now: Perspectives on SNES games as a child and adult

In my post ‘Then and Now’, I listed some NES titles and gave my perspectives from childhood and adult life. After receiving quite a bit of positive feedback, I figured why not do a follow-up covering the SNES. As with my NES post, this list is not a “top SNES games” or anything like that and the presentation is in no particular order.


Super Punch-Out!!
What is it?
The 16bit iteration of the most realistic boxing simulation ever created. Updated graphics, some new fighters, and a revamped super meter all carried forward the timeless gameplay of the original. While the difficulty was turned way down and featured no near impossible fights (ie. Tyson), the implementation of a time attack mode could keep the gameplay rolling.

Then?
Maturing a bit from my NES days, I approached Super Punch-Out with a bit more intelligence. No longer was I swinging wildly in the hopes to out-mash my opponent. Lacking in reliable guidance, I never really developed strategies for fast knockouts but mastered the game sufficiently that I could comfortably beat it without losing a round. Unfortunately, Super Punch-Out wasn’t exactly conducive to play when friends were over and I rarely felt the draw to dust off the cart.

Now?
I recently fired up Super Punch-Out in an emulator and immediately fell back into the groove. I was surprised at how I was able to remember fight specifics and was able to clear the game with relative ease. I think it might be a testament to just how tight the controls are and how structured the game is that I was able to pick it up again so quickly. That said, I couldn’t help but feel that I was playing a puzzle game that I had long since solved and the whole experience was less rewarding for it. I dabbled a bit into the fast times strategies I could find on the internet and got a bit of a kick in beating Gabby Jay in 7 seconds but found that my patience to absolutely dominate the game wasn’t there. I highly recommend a playthrough for those who never picked it up and loved the NES original but don’t expect to squeeze out more than a couple hours of playtime unless you are obsessed with getting the absolute fastest times.

Secret of Mana
What is it?
An RPG produced by Square featuring real-time combat and support for two simultaneous players. Secret of Mana was also one of the first games to implement a ‘wheel’ system for accessing skills and weapons. The gameplay and mechanics of Secret of Mana paved the road for Chrono Trigger which is widely considered to be among the best RPGs of all time.

Then?
Secret of Mana was a way to introduce friends to the RPG genre. The game was undaunting in that it  eschewed the RPG turn-based approach and the early game often felt more like an action title than an RPG. Staple mechanics like levelling up, armor, and party management are gradually introduced as the game morphs from seemingly an action game into a fairly traditional RPG. For my friends, it was a step into a whole new world, for me, it was a way to share a genre which I felt was overlooked by my peers and, in the case of controlling the second character, directly participate as, one-by-one, the magic of RPGs spread.

Now?
I often feel that Secret of Mana is overlooked in favor of Chrono Trigger by many people. This isn’t to say that Secret of Mana gets a bad rap, people generally recognize it as a fine game, it is just frequently overshadowed. It may have a lighter story and not as many memorable characters, but I feel it still holds up today. Secret of Mana was released in an era when Square was churning out bacon-fried-gold every title and being on the lower end of this spectrum is still a lofty place to be. Fans of the RPG genre, especially the 16bit variety, looking for more of what they love can’t go wrong here. If you still make a run through Chorno Trigger every now and then, maybe mix in some Secret of Mana, you won’t be disappointed.

WWF Royal Rumble
What is it?
The LJN produced rasslin’ game featuring the top superstars of the period. Mechanically, the game functions similar to a fighting game with life bars and special moves. Despite LJN’s reputation for making junk, WWF Royal Rumble is a competent game if not in the same league as the Street Fighter series.

Then?
I think most young boys go through a wrestling phase (some never grow out of it), tuning in to Saturday Morning Superstars to watch larger than life men beat the tar out of each other while following soap-opera story lines. As a kid, picking my favourite superstar and controlling them to victory never got old with my friends. The game was easy enough to pick up and tapping buttons faster than your opponent was a sure route to success. While totally unbalanced, I was still a bit too young to appreciate the nuanced merit of balance as displayed in greats like Street Fighter to care. That said, who doesn’t want to watch the Undertaker absolutely decimate all comers in the Royal Rumble?

Now?
Knowing more about LJN’s reputation as an adult, I must say I was a bit surprised when I found out they developed WWF Royal Rumble; I remembered the game quite fondly. While the game is hardly a masterpiece, and the controls are barely serviceable, the magic of pitting two favourites in the squared circle can still be fun today. The animations are reasonably fluid for the era and each superstar really does feel unique. That said, I would probably rather play a more balanced fighting game or a more modern wrestling game incarnation then blow on the bottom of this cart. It’s an average game that can draw a few laughs among friends but has long since been outdone and can safely stay shelved.

Turtles in Time
What is it?
The gold standard of beat-em-ups letting you pick your favourite Ninja Turtle and battle your way to Krang and Shredder. No Ninja Turtles fan's SNES collection was complete without this gem.

Then?
Turtles in Time was an example of how a popular franchise mixed with solid gameplay could be a massive success. While playing solo was fine, the game would really shine when a friend would pick up the second controller for some two Turtles one screen action. Faithfully rendering each character and enemy to match the eponymous cartoon show was a dream for the fans while tight controls and reasonable difficulty ensured a good time to be had by all (at least until your buddy eats a pizza he doesn't need and screws you over, then it just gets violent).

Now?
Turtles in Time was recently remade and released for download on modern consoles so a lot of people had the chance to relive their youth with this one. Unfortunately, as many reviews pointed out, the gameplay just doesn't hold up. Smashing the same button repeatedly makes the game feel repetitive instead of fun. I think a huge part of the magic of the original was in being a fan of the series; as an adult who no longer cares about Ninja Turtles I experienced the game on pure gameplay level and was mostly underwhelmed. The tight controls of the past are still there but the action just doesn't feel the same as I remembered it. I was fortunate to play through with a bunch of friends locally (by far the best way to play), and, after beating the game once, did not feel compelled to play again.

I think that's enough for now. I would go into a N64 list but I think the then/now part doesn't work as well as most of my memories of the games from this era were formed when I was old enough to have a relatively mature concept of gaming (at this point I wasn't playing games just because they had awesome box art or made the most sparkles on the screen). In the end, I think the SNES was the last console where I was dependent on birthday money to get new games and it really represents the point where I feel I jumped from a child playing a game to an young adult pursuing a passion.