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Zaxxon (Atari 2600)

A popular game back in the 2600 hey-day

The Good
At the time, the "Isometric" view was something else. Adding a sense of depth to the side-to-side shooter was a nifty idea. You could gauge the depth of the ship/alien/green-cylinder-thingy by the shadow below it, and in order to connect on a shot you'd have to be on the same plane as your target when firing. At least I think it was that way. The "Isometric" thing was mostly used for the gates, anyhow, which came in two flavors: plain vanilla and highly electrified.

The difficulty of the later levels was used in my neighborhood and among my family to determine who was "the best" gamer. We would argue about what we'd done in the arcade and what we'd done on other 2600 games, but for whatever reason, the later levels of the 2600 Zaxxon were THE standard for gaming skill.

I still don't understand why 2600 Zaxxon was the neighborhood standard, but there you have it. Maybe that is a disguised compliment to the difficulty of the game or maybe it was an arbitrary decision. I remember that the later levels were difficult, though. They sped up as you progressed and could become pretty nasty and fast once you got far enough.

The Bad
The "Isometric" view made the game control strangely. You'd use left-right to slide left-right and up-down to raise or lower your ship. But I remember this game as being very "laggy" as far as shooters go, and recall being frustrated that sometimes I'd head left when I want to go down, etc.

Because of the control, I always preferred some River Raid or Defender if I was going to rock the 2600 shooter-style.

The shadows were also inaccurate, and the hit detection on the gate/walls was choosy. This combination made me very angry at this game many, many times due to lost lives on gates that I felt I cleared. In this game, there were no gimmes in hit detection: you either clear the wall by far or you're dead.

The Bottom Line
A weird space shooter whose enemies are some of the most obscure you'll ever see. I mean, what were those purple things? It's fun running into people who played Zaxxon, because it seems like everybody has a different pet name for all of the objects in the game. My dad, who was a Zaxxon nut, used to call the green cylinders "Gas tanks" and the purple things "Beet roots."

I'd love to get my hands on this and play once more for old time's sake. If you have access to it, it's worth a look for the amorphous targets and the "Isometric" view, which was something that was a neat twist in its time. Plus, you'll get a chance to revel in the old days, when high scores and reflexes made the gamer. Enjoy!

By MagFram on September 20, 2021

Super Mario Sunshine (GameCube)

A vacation from the Mushroom Kingdom - lighten up and enjoy it.

The Good
1) Above all, the music is the best thing in the game. Koji Kondo has decades of experience doing his thing, and despite the continued use of MIDI sounds, SMS is some of the tightest platform music ever. It manages to convey a "feel" for the spirit of the game, reflect the tropical surroundings, and move the action/mood of the game forward all at the same time. It's really amazing what the music does for the game, and it should serve as an example for other platformers as to how easily a game is enhanced with quality stage ditties.

2) Nintendo manages to convincingly incorporate the new scenery and characters into the Mario world. I'm typically pretty picky about arbitrary additions to Mario/DK (Rare's Kongs, I'm looking at ALL of you), but I think the Piantas, Petey Piranha, etc are okay additions. Like I said, I'm not crazy about them, but I think they're not as offensive as other attempts to expand the Empire.

3) For all the grief it takes, the water pack is still a fun little gadget for platform gaming. C'mon, you know you enjoy blasting bee hives and anthropomorphic venus fly traps. It's fun!

4) Good level design in that the same level is used repeatedly for different objectives but fails to become stale thanks to the water pack tricks "opening" new areas of each level to explore.

5) Though not as impressive as the music, which I feel is up there with the best of any platformer I've played, the visuals are lush and stunning. The coronas produced by aiming your camera into the sun are a nice touch. Good looking game in many respects.

6) Play control is fairly tight. I would say "absolutely tight" if it weren't for the blasted camera in a few choice areas, which I'll mention in the "Bad."

The Bad
1) Though I love the Mario world, STOP MAKING MARIO GAMES INTO COLLECT-FESTS!!! I can't say that emphatically enough. I loved the use of coins, flowers, and stars to give Yoshi's Island some extra replay, but the "Shine Get!" collect-fest is too much, Nintendo. I'm praying it's not a sign of things to come in the Mario Universe (though I know better).

2) The camera, while good in many places, is so bad in a few places as to negate all the good. I'm sure that a lot of work goes into making things work in this game, and I've given Nintendo more than enough credit in the "Good" section for some of those things. But to have bad camera control after the design experience of Mario 64 (which had a better camera, IMHO) is inexcusable.

3) Not really many fun "secrets" in this place, like SMB's so-called negative world, SMB3's warp whistles, or SMW's Star Road. Would have been a nice touch.

4A) I found most of the boss fights boring. I'm being picky on this one, but I thought I'd throw it out there. They just didn't excite me, maybe because the non-conventional structure of the game didn't make things feel to me like things were "building-up" to a boss fight.

4B) This ties in with 4A: I felt the incorporation of the "bad guys" and boss fights wasn't well considered. The jump to the fight with Bowser Sr. seemed sudden to me--I understand the big "build-up" to the final fight is easier when the worlds and levels/stages are numbered, and you know how far you've got until the big battle, but Nintendo should have thought of a non-traditional way to incorporate the final fight to match the non-traditional themes (for a Mario game/platformer, at least) in the remainder of the game.

5) Finally, I'm about the only person I know who thinks that the "old school" SMB-in-3D bonus stages were entirely unnecessary. I think they're a concession to Mario fans thrown in by the game's designers because they were worried this vacation would be too "different" for Mario fans. I dislike those bonus stages because they deviate from the theme of the game. Instead of bonus stages, I would've appreciated it if the designers put more thought into how to fit the bosses and boss fights into the game more cleverly.

The Bottom Line
The title of this review says it all. This game is clearly a "vacation" from the Mario series--everything in the design is screaming it: for example, the mushrooms, fire flowers, and goombas take a backseat to palm trees, evil goop, and durian kicking.

People who expected this game to be the fabled "Mario 128" or a true successor to Mario 64 aren't being fair to the game or the game's creators. Again, it's pretty clear from everything in the game (from the opening FMV of Mario's flight to the use of tricks and devices unfamiliar to the rest of the Mario world) that this game was designed to be not just a vacation for Mario but for his fans as well.

As a goofy aside (but one I'll try to relate to the overall message), I have a condition in which I often experience music as flavors, and whenever I play SMS or even just hear its music, I have the sensation of tasting fresh, slightly unripe mangoes on the roof of my mouth. And to me, that image is the intent with this game: it's not meant to be a heavy flavor, like ice cream or a thick sauce, but instead light, bright, and flavorful, like a sweet, slightly tart young mango or a citrusy sorbet.

If you dislike SMS, you should dislike it for being "light, bright, and flavorful." But don't dislike it for reasons its creators can't control. I like the game because I take it for what it is: a fun game that's very easy to pick up and play for a half of an hour or so. In the space of time you play it, you'll typically find yourself humming along to music and enjoying the sun-drenched visuals and relaxed characters and surroundings. A great addition to any GC library.

By MagFram on June 6, 2005

Rock n' Roll Racing (SNES)

By MagFram on May 10, 2005

Q*bert (Atari 2600)

By MagFram on May 10, 2005

King's Quest (DOS)

By MagFram on May 10, 2005

Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel (DOS)

By MagFram on May 10, 2005

Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo 64)

By MagFram on May 9, 2005

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

By MagFram on May 9, 2005

Hook (SNES)

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

Yoshi's Island: Super Mario Advance 3 (Game Boy Advance)

A great game, but with a few technical flaws not present in the SNES version

The Good
NOTE: This is about the GBA conversion

  1. The GBA version adds an additional 6 secret levels that are unlocked after you complete stages with 100% completion rates on top of the SNES's 6 secret levels. Bonus!

  2. The portability of GBA means I can take YI anywhere.

  3. Porting this game into another generation of consoles ensures that YI will continue to influence gamers for another generation or so.

    The Bad
    NOTE: This is about the GBA conversion

  4. The conversion makes the sound come out a little strange. I'd describe it as sounding a little weak and slightly metallic. I don't know how to describe it, as I'm not an audio person.

  5. There is slow-down in the graphics of some stages. It's not enough to put you off the game, but there you have it.

  6. My opinion is that YI is not suited for the "small screen" simply because the graphics look so much nicer in front of you on a big display. If you don't have an SNES but have a GameCube, think about getting a GameBoy Player on the cheap, hooking it up to your GC, and giving Yoshi's Island a try through your GC. It's worth the effort.

    The Bottom Line
    Here's a URL to cut'n'paste for the Moby Games SNES listing of this title:

For the SNES version, I submitted a much longer review in which I basically write that this game is a classic and is something every gamer should experience. For that reason, I think the GBA port is a fantastic way to keep this game "alive," so to say.

If you have a GBA, buy this game and play it. As I mention above, the graphics are compromised only slightly by the GBA, and that meager shortcoming doesn't take away from the outstanding gameplay and truly inspired design. If you can do the GameBoy Player on the GameCube, do that, otherwise play this game on your GBA.

If you give this game a fair chance, it will instantly join your list of favorite platformers and (perhaps) overall favorite games.

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GameCube)

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

Luigi's Mansion (GameCube)

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GameCube)

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

Super Mario Kart (SNES)

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

A counterpoint to the popular view of DKC...

The Good
1. A satisfying platformer in many respects. Engaging level design with lots of hidden shortcuts and tricks to keep you interested. Not a lot of variety, but succeeds in that it finds the fun things (riding animals, mine carts) and hits you with it enough to keep you happy but not so much as to trivialize things.

  1. Good music that attempts to move away from the three-tone-ditty or faux-rock of most other games. For me, the most memorable part of the game.

  2. Overall design that distinguishes the game from others. In the platforming genre, that's doing something.

    The Bad
    1. This game was popular in its time because of the graphics, and those graphics haven't aged well: they now look a little chunky, a little too ambitious. I don't think they've held up as well as the clean lines of Super Mario World, the tricked-out SMB2 and SMB3 of Super Mario All-Stars, or the minimalist sci-fi of Metroid or Super Contra, all of which seem to me a more timeless design. I'm not comparing DKC's graphics to those of current games, I'm looking at those graphics in the context of those of the time, and I think the design of DKC comes off as a little gimmicky.

  3. Looking at the graphics in this way allows us to do something many other gamers didn't do when DKC was released: divorce our opinion of the gameplay from our opinion of the graphics. I think doing this allows us to look back on this game and realize that while it's a good platformer, it's not as fantastically great in terms of gameplay as many people made it out to be when it was released. A few notes on the gameplay:

2a. Riding animals is fun, but is it that fun? For instance, it doesn't take a lot of skill to hop on the rhino and move right, and I think because most animal riding doesn't engage any game skill, the novelty of it--hey, I'm ridin' a crazy rhino! woo-hoo!--wears off pretty quickly.

2b. Not many things to do with your characters in terms of movement. While it's a testament to quality level design, which manages to make playing the game interesting despite the limited moves, it's still something.

2c. The play control to me always felt slightly off. Let's pick on the rhino again: Whenever I was on that guy, jumping around felt non-responsive, like there was some kind of variable, minuscule lag between when I hit the button and when the rhino jumped. The same goes for the timing on DK's roll and leap: I learned that the key to nailing it was to be a little too patient and wait past the moment you feel like you should be jumping to nail it. I'm sure the control on DK's roll and leap is by design, but I just didn't care for it. Would have liked for it, and the rest of the control, to be a little tighter.

2d. Easy. Never really challenging at all. Part of the reason is the amazing amount of lives you can rack up without really trying. Yeah, you can get tons of lives in other platformers, but normally you have to go out of your way to get those additional lives. In DKC, the lives rack up as a consequence of simply playing the game. It makes the game too forgiving.

  1. At the time I hated the snow levels because of the snow storm falling between you and the character sprite. I know that this was a "cool" feature at the time, but I hated it then and I still hate it.

  2. Please don't take this as a "hater" comment, but I don't care for the character design and resent that it's been taken on by the Mario karting universe. Diddy Kong to me is solely appealing to the "cute monkey" perception and lacks a lot of the imagination put into many of the Mario characters. I dunno: chimp in a baseball cap isn't exactly what I'd call exciting. But the cute factor caught on, and now Diddy's befouling the Mario kart series. DK Jr. in Super Mario Kart wasn't so bad, but the Rare designed Kongs to me just don't do it as far as character design goes.

    The Bottom Line
    I wrote this review for the reasons the title suggests: I wanted to give a counterpoint to the notions upon the game's release and the notion held to this day by some nostalgic DKC fanatics that the game, coming near the end of the SNES life-cycle, was by default the pinnacle of SNES platformers. It's easier to realize you're being unfairly nostalgic when you're looking back on an Atari 2600 game that clearly benefited from cool cover-art--it's harder to recognize nostalgia when it's a game that's only 10 or so years old.

I don't think it takes much of a serious playthrough of DKC to see that it just doesn't have the ageless qualities of other great platformers. Where I identify many other great, older games with their gameplay, I can't help identifying DKC with those chunky graphics that were such a big deal at the time. That to me suggests that DKC isn't maybe all it was cracked up to be at the time in terms of gaming goodness.

None of this is to suggest that DKC is a bad game. It's a good game, a very good game that obviously had a lot of time put into it. But does it belong in the rarefied company of platformers like SWM, SWM2, SMB3, Super Metroid, some of the Mega Man games, etc? I don't think that it does.

Still, a good platformer that's worth playing.

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse (SNES)

Though it relies on some Disney boilerplate, this isn't a bad game

The Good
1. The graphics manage to pull off the Disney look well enough.

  1. The costume change, which becomes a novelty after many replays, is still a neat gimmick at the outset. A nice touch, I thought, especially for the little ones who like to giggle at Mickey in his firefighter (or magician or climber) outfit.

  2. Gameplay that keeps you coming back. I was never really a big fan of this game, but for whatever reason I kept playing it when no one was looking. So for me at least the game had decent replay value.

  3. Good music in a few places. I really liked the theme that went along with the snow level (think it was called "Aurora" something).

  4. Does a good job, for a Capcom Disney platformer, of doing the standard things that everyone expects of a platformer: jumping, swimming, maybe a snow level for some sliding, decent boss fights, so on. The game feels like it was stamped out of the Disney assembly line, but it's somehow likable. Not bad, Capcom.

    The Bad
    1. A combination of forgiving hit detection and simple play control make this game very easy, even on its difficult mode.

  5. The costume changes are cute at first but quickly become boring. I get it, Mickey's modest, he needs to pull the curtain so we don't see him in his mouse undies. Does he have to go through this routine every time, though?

  6. I don't find the floating blocks of this particular kingdom to jive with the rest of the kingdom. I know that I have to suspend disbelief and accept that for whatever reason, there are blocks hovering throughout the world, but I don't see why they have to be blocks. For instance, in the first areas, why couldn't the blocks have been instead pixellated to look like tomatoes, and the tomatoes you use to fly be drawn to resemble something else? I don't know why, but I think the answer is just that somebody decided Mickey would spin blocks and didn't go any further with the idea. Would have been nice to take it a step further and integrate the idea into the object design for each level.

  7. Again, it is a Capcom Disney platformer, and uses the Disney look to compensate for a lack of imagination in some of the level and character design. This sounds contradictory--I mean, shouldn't a Disney platformer use the Disney look?--but what I'm suggesting is that, for instance, many of the variation on Pete bosses didn't necessarily have to be Pete variants. I understand why they stuck with the Pete look on many, as he's the big bad mastermind of this whole debacle, but all they had to do was research some old Mickey cartoons to come up with different ideas for equally acceptable bosses. Would've been a cool touch.

    The Bottom Line
    This game is a reminder that there are many people who play video games not because they're looking for the ultimate in gameplay but because they want to do something as simple as experience the world of Disney. It's true, no matter how funny it may seem to those of us who can't begin to fathom how anyone could favor a dime-a-dozen platformer over the yet-to-be-topped insane karting action of Super Mario Kart.

Magical Quest uses the 16-bit palette to paint a picture that's a decent representation of the Disney world, and I think that's exactly what its target audience expects of it. So in the sense of fulfilling the expectations of those who want the "Disney experience," this game is a resounding success.

On top of that, this is game surprises in that it isn't a bad playthrough. When I would go home for the holidays, I'd often play this game with the younger, late NES, early SNES generation members of the family, and I'd enjoy it, so much so that I would take the hour or two necessary to play it through completely each time for the heck of it.

It's not a bad game. Honest.

By MagFram on May 8, 2005

River Raid (Atari 2600)

An incredible game - one of the best ever

The Good

To me, the thing that really did it for me with River Raid was the amazing control. The game actually responded in the 2600 version at home the way that other shooters --like Defender -- responded in the arcade. This made the game a huge hit with just about everyone I know.

The graphics were good for the 2600, the refueler twist on the standard shooter, and the awesome hit detection are just a few of the things I'd mention if I were going to list everything good, but what's the point? Everything about the game was so tight, so perfect, that going on and on about what I like would be useless.

Everyone will enjoy playing this game.

The Bad
I liked everything.

The Bottom Line
If you haven't played this game, you should find a way to play it. It's easy to pick up and play for gamers of all skill levels. It is one of the best games ever on the 2600, and it deserves to be played by everyone. You will love it.

By MagFram on May 7, 2005

Kangaroo (Atari 2600)

Take "Donkey Kong" and make it extraordinarily boring w/ terrible control

The Good
Like many 2600 games, Kangaroo has some really fun, involving cover art. When my sister got this game for her birthday, I remember looking at the box and thinking, "This game has got to be the coolest thing ever--you get to be a kangaroo who boxes monkeys. Thank you, jesus." My little sister was even further stoked because she was at the age in her gaming career where box-art still misled her on in-game graphics. So the box-art gets a big thumbs up for doing it's job: it tricks you into buying the game.

The Bad
You hop from platform to platform to rescue your baby kangaroo. This wouldn't be so bad if the controls for the game didn't completely suck, but they did. In order to jump to the next platform, you had to push up and right simultaneously, and on the 2600 stick, this didn't always work quite right. As a result, the part of the game that mattered the most, getting from platform to platform, was ruined by poor control.

You just cannot expect people to want to play a game in which the most necessary task is rendered into a happy accident by bad game control. Expecting this of them is cruel and unusual.

The Bottom Line
A "Donkey Kong with a twist" game that had much better box-art than game control. Belongs in that big hole in Nevada with all the ET carts.

By MagFram on May 7, 2005

Power Stone 2 (Dreamcast)

By MagFram on May 7, 2005

Warlords (Atari 2600)

A game that should be canonized for its contribution to multiplayer video gaming.

The Good
This is the game that brought me in from the arcades and opened my eyes to the fact that playing home consoles could actually pull off tricks not found in the arcade at that time. Up until I played Warlords, my multiplayer experience involved switching back and forth between 1P and 2P in the arcade or 1-on-1 pong/combat at home.

The gameplay is simple: 4 players defend their castles pong-style with a shield/paddle from a ball of destruction being bounced about. Certain modes allowed players to grab the ball, others didn't. As the match progressed, the ball sped up. Last castle standing wins.

This game single-handedly united the neighborhood I grew up in. Kids from 6 to 12, normally very sensitive to age differences, fought over open paddles to get in on 4-on-4 action and play somebody regardless of age, sex, etc. As a 9-year old at that time, I took a lot of pride in the fact that I got to hang out with the "older kids" whenever I played Warlords: I was renowned for my defense and would get invited over for tag-team matches. At the time, it was flippin' awesome.

I can't believe that it's been 25 years, and Warlords is still for me the purest multiplayer video gaming experience I've ever had.

The Bad
Honestly, this game is pure goodness. What is bad is that it wasn't more widely played at the time. Had it been more popular, games like Gauntlet and Quake would've showed up much sooner. I'm crazy and stupid enough to believe that.

The Bottom Line
A true classic. A masterwork. People who played and "got" Warlords were automatically 15 or 20 years ahead of their time in terms of understanding the essence of multiplayer video gaming.

Though playing it now would be a novelty and isn't going to open your eyes to anything mind-blowing, it's worth checking out if you can just to see how the idea of multiplayer gaming is a pretty simple concept. And it's a concept that Warlords nailed cold in a decade long, long ago.

By MagFram on May 4, 2005

Harvest Moon (SNES)

By MagFram on May 4, 2005

Spider-Man / X-Men: Arcade's Revenge (SNES)

By MagFram on May 4, 2005

Chrono Trigger (SNES)

By MagFram on May 4, 2005

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