Work is hell.

We should be back soonish.

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Mr. Driller 2

Mr. Driller 2

Release date:
Japan: 2001.03.21
USA: 2005.04.10
Europe: 2004.01.30

Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco (all regions)
Size: 32 Mbit

Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – this is the first third-party game, done by industry veterans, Namco. Looking a bit closer, don’t you find the release schedule a bit weird? Launch title in Japan and released after 4 years in USA – well after the Nintendo DS sequel came out.

It’s almost like Namco didn’t care much for the game. Which is weird since it’s a very competent arcade puzzle game. This is everything Kuru Kuru Kururin was not.

Sure, the game can be very infuriating. But that’s mostly caused by how incompetent the player is at it, not by how bad the controls are. Only major gripe is the limited vertical viewpoint, which can be the cause of your death from time to time. The music is pretty atrocious. I guess they just reused most of it from the Game Boy Color port of Mr. Driller – other than the speech samples in the intro, the GBA’s sample playing capability doesn’t seem to be used. And yes, there’s not really much to do here, all things considering – just four difficulty modes (one of them unlockable) plus an additional Time Attack mode which has some very absurd time limits – I wasn’t able to clear even the first stage.

The game’s a coin muncher at heart and it clearly shows. You’re always one step from dying, each false move can send an avalanche of rocks hurling in your direction, your air supply is constantly running away and the 1-ups are very rare.

Still, I found myself running the game from time to time for the whole week, trying a few runs and then going back to other things. Slowly getting better at it, developing new techniques.

And it still wasn’t enough to finish the main game mode on the standard difficulty level. Go figure. I guess that with some practice I’d be able to, sooner or later, that’s how arcade games work. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun while playing – some games are rewarding even without a specific goal – like Tetris for instance.

Anyway, if you’re in the mood for a good time waster, something you’ll be coming back to for a long while, look no further than Mr. Driller 2. This is not a game you’ll be able to play for hours on an end, but those fifteen minutes of your life spent won’t feel like a lost time.

This time, once again, we have a perfect portable game.

Scratch that. It’s something much, much worse. A perfect arcade game. Only, somehow, it fits portable gaming perfectly. Here’s hoping the past and future of electronic entertainment are one and the same. And let’s forget about the present, please. As fast as possible.

There’s one defining feature of arcade games. You’re not supposed to beat them. Ever. Instead, they’re supposed to beat you. Into the ground. Preferably as fast as possible. And then you’re supposed to come back crawling on your knees with yet another coin in your palm, asking to be raped some more like the little bitch you are. It’s the entire culture that used to specifically target and thrive on the most dedicated among the most dedicated, willing to pay for each and every play separately. And it was demanding for the games, too; they not only had to get hard enough fast enough for the players to not be able to occupy the machine for too long, they also had to prove their value in the short time before the inevitable game over so that people go back to them (again and again).

This is the environment Mr. Driller was born in. And it shows.

It’s a really simple game with simple controls and mechanics immediately, intuitively understandable to anyone who has ever played Dig Dug, Boulder Dash or even Tetris. You move through a well filled with randomly generated melds of square blocks of various colours with your one-square-sized character, trying to lead him all the way to the bottom by destroying blocks adjacent to him. You have to collect air in order to not suffocate, and avoid being squashed by blocks falling from above while you do.

Sounds simple, or even easy? Be aware that simple rules paired with randomness invariably lead to near-infinite complexity, and this game makes use of it to the fullest, often taking special care to make things more unpredictable. You can learn patterns that make your movement safer, but with the complex structures the blocks can form, coupled with limited viewport and time constraints caused by your depleting air supply, you’ll never be able to fully control the situation. And you can’t even complain, because it’s all fair – the unpredictable movements of blocks will more often than not be in your favour. But when they’re not, you can only rely on your quick reflexes and observation skills, and even then you have no guarantee that you’ll survive. Sometimes, you’re just screwed. And by simple laws of probability, this means that no matter how good you are, sooner or later something will happen that prevents you from playing forever.

In addition, the game itself gets progressively harder the further you go. Air becomes more scarce and access to it more difficult, leaving less and less room for error and hesitation. This results in something scary – a progressively steeper and steeper learning curve. Yes, you can and will get better, but gains will be smaller and smaller with each subsequent try. I don’t even want to think of the kind of dedication a true mastery of this game would need. I sure as hell don’t have it.

Numerous problems can befall arcade games when they’re transplanted to a coin-less environment. Some turn out to be too short once you can play them repeatedly without additional costs. Some turn out to be too difficult, never gathering wider audience. Some simply don’t work outside of a cabinet. Mr. Driller, on the other hand, made the switch painlessly and suffers from neither of those predicaments. Instead, it has a much more peculiar one. It’s too addictive.

In the arcade, when your eyes get tired, your reaction time gets longer and you feel like you’re hitting a wall – you just instinctively quit and go home in order to not waste any more money. No safeguard of this kind exists on consoles, especially portable ones. You can literally use them on any free moment you have. And with games like this one, you really shouldn’t. The results aren’t pretty. Trust me, I speak from experience. Tempted by the goal of completing the game on normal difficulty, I spent a total of several hours exhausting and frustrating myself in front of it, unable to get better due to increasing difficulty and decreasing concentration, but at the same time unable to stop. I succeeded after a (long) while, but I can’t even look at the game anymore afterwards.

Now, I really believe that, during the last few days, I have witnessed a masterpiece, a work of pure unbridled genius. But now, please, take this game as far away from me as possible, it’s too trauma-inducing. I’m drained of all energy, and will probably see nothing but falling blocks in my sleep for weeks.

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Kuru Kuru Kururin

Kuru Kuru Kururin

Release date:
Japan: 2001.03.21
Europe: 2001.06.22

Developer: Eighting
Publisher: Nintendo (all regions)
Size: 32 Mbit

As you can see, this is the first game that wasn’t released in the States. And for a good reason – it’s pretty much unplayable.

The basic idea isn’t anything new – you are guiding a rotating stick through a series of increasingly complicated mazes, and each time you touch a wall you loose a portion of your life. Something similar to the Irritating Maze/Stick series of games from Saurus, one of SNK’s subsidiaries.

It’s a rather nice looking, nice sounding (score by Atsuhiro Motoyama certainly helps to reinforce the cutesy mood set by the graphics) arcade game. I just wish the controls wouldn’t render the game unplayable most of the time.

You see, the game requires pinpoint precision, something that DSLite’s D-Pad can’t deliver. I did a quick comparison run on an emulator, and the game controlled way better on a keyboard, and was not as infuriating with savestates here and there, but that’s not something one could do on the original Game Boy Advance…

Also, there’s not really much to do here. There’s about 30 or so levels in the game, most of which can be finished in less than two minutes. You can spend some time besting your personal records, or trying to finish a level without taking damage, but the controls don’t really motivate you to do it. I personally gave up at around the halfway mark, after spending more than an hour on one of the levels, dying constantly on a section just before the goal.

Now, I wouldn’t really mind having an NDS port of this game with touch controls, but as it stands now, it’s about as fun as a light-gun game played on a keyboard.

When I first sat down to write this, I hit the wall on the silliest of problems. How do I call a game one can play anywhere, anytime? My first guess was “mobile”, but Wikipedia claims this word is reserved for cellphones. “Handheld” describes the hardware, not the gameplay. “Pick-up-and-play” implies a flat learning curve, as does “casual” (and I’m not going to ever use “casual” and “game” in the same sentence anyway because I don’t want to be associated with people who do). Finally I settled for “portable” – it has a different meaning too, but at least the context is on my side.

So then: In Kuru Kuru Kururin, we finally have a perfect portable game. With its short levels and simple gameplay, it lets you start playing anytime, anywhere, for any span of time you have available, and then stop without remorse.

The problem with this particular title is that there’s literally nothing else to write about it. Even the gameplay description can be finished in one sentence. You control a revolving stick to lead it from start to finish, using springs to change the direction it turns to, trying not to hit the walls and avoiding a total of three kinds of moving obstacles. There, you have it, that’s the entire idea. Out of other aspects, music may deserve a short mention; but again, while it’s good (finally, something that’s a pleasure to simply listen to), little can be said about it apart from “soothing” and “cute”.

The one thing the game has going for itself is, fortunately, the basic and vital quality of any game ever. It’s challenging. From start to finish, by its very design, brilliantly hard and unintuitive. The stick (actually a helicopter, judging from the silly placeholder cutscenes) moves in such a weird way that controlling it takes hours to just get used to, not to mention master. Every narrowing of the track, or the simplest of curves, becomes a dangerous trial for the unprepared. And even when you (slowly and gradually) grasp the mechanics of it, even the shortest loss of concentration will still lead to a crash.

That, I believe, is the reason for the game’s extreme simplicity. When even the basic movement is a challenge in itself, there’s no room for much more. Really, I’m pretty happy with the job the level designers have done, but still, even with just 38 levels in the story mode I start noticing that things are getting repetitive. Or rely on gimmicks. Or simply get too random to grasp and rely on memorisation, or trial and error, rather than actual skill. (There’s also a challenge mode with levels that don’t suffer from any of that – but they’re really, really short instead.)

The game leaves a lot of room for improving your skill, instead: when you finally finish all the levels (it’s gonna take time, a whole lot of precious time), you can polish your time records or do perfect runs with no wall or obstacle hit. If you want to. I, for one, don’t. Just finishing the basic story mode levels was enough for my nerves. Never again. Unless I find myself in some boring place with no other electronics apart from a Game Boy and Kururin in its cartridge slot, that is. As I said, a perfect portable game.

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Mega Man Battle Network

Mega Man Battle Network
a.k.a. Battle Network RockMan EXE

Release date:
Japan: 2001.03.21
USA: 2001.10.30
Europe: 2001.11.30

Developer: Capcom Production Studio 2
Publisher: Capcom (all regions)
Size: 64 Mbit

I must confess I used to like Japanese RPGs. In fact until very recently I considered them as my favourite genre of videogames.

What happened that changed that? Well, three games, that’s what. Final Fantasy XII, Dragon Quest VIII and Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne. It’s not that they are bad games. On the contrary, I’m positive you won’t find better RPG games on any of the consoles released so far.

That’s the problem – they are so good, so perfect, flawless even, that they make other games pale in comparison. You start to notice the seams holding the blotched belly of a corpse that the Japanese RPG has become ever since Final Fantasy VII showed publishers that you can sell games by the truckloads just by their visuals alone, ditching any semblance of a game design in the process.I still get the urge to play a Japanese RPG from time to time, mostly for old times sake, but generally I finish only the best ones. Rest either bores me after few hours or after few minutes.

Which brings us to this week’s game – first in Mega Man Battle Network series. Developed by Capcom Production Studio 2, known for most of new Capcom console releases – Onimusha, Lost Planet, Dead Rising, Mega Man 8 and Legend series. Yes, it’s one of them Japanese RPG games, although the Mega Man roots are certainly visible – the battle system gives a nice, quasi turn-based approximation of the old platforming games, with lots of frantic shooting and moving around required.

I need to be frank here – I wanted to drop the game before the introduction sequence ended. The game looks to be made with grade schoolers in mind, at least judging by the story. It’s infantile, childish and generally just plain stupid. It certainly doesn’t play this way though, as the battle system is rather neat, allowing for varied gameplay and rewarding experimentation. Wish I could say that that’s enough so one can call the game a good one. But it’s not.

It’s not like this is a bad game. There’s certainly a lot to do here, both before and after finishing the main story line. The graphics are pretty nice, detailed and colourful, with lots of little touches here and there, like a Gamecube console sitting next to the TV in one of the character’s house. Music by Akari Kaida is all right as well, though I wish the tunes were made a bit longer. As it stands now, listening to the same 20 second loop over your whole visit to the dungeon, which can take more than an hour, gets on your nerves pretty fast.

I really like the idea of having two playable characters, one in the real world and the other being his avatar on the internet. This would make for some interesting puzzles if only the developer didn’t half-ass the execution. What you get instead are some lame excuses of a puzzle, like encountering a locked door in the real world and having to hack into it, just to (usually) defeat some sort of a virus that decided to make the door its home.

Another welcomed feature is the ability to save the game at any time. None of this savespots crap that plagues Japanese RPGs to this day. Given how busy my life is, it’s very infuriating having to redo 30 or more minutes of gameplay just because I’ve stumbled upon an enemy significantly stronger than the usual dungeon’s denizens. Not that you will die often. The game is generally rather easy – there are some rough patches here and there, but most of the time it’s smooth sailing. Which is a pity, given the game’s heritage – old Mega Man games weren’t that easy, were they? Good thing there’s another series of Mega Man games on GBA, that gives both the NES and SNES series a run for their money concerning difficulty. I’m looking forward to that, whenever we get around to it. This one though can rot in videogame hell, for all I care.

I like collectible card games. Most of all, I like their single-player computer incarnations. They play just like Japanese RPGs (a worthy genre by itself), only with more focus on fights and strategy and less on story, puzzles and level-upping, which makes them better pretty much by definition.

Unfortunately, definitions are just theory, and theory is not always followed by practice, so this particular game seems to do the exact opposite. Now that I think of, maybe I shouldn’t really treat it as a card game in the first place. Sure, you collect “cards” that let you perform attacks and other actions, and you build a “deck” out of them, but that’s where all similarities with your usual collectible card games end.

First of all, there’s no strategy involved whatsoever. You’re not even playing against equal opponents here – the enemies are either a bunch of random monsters (called viruses here) that can perform just one or two actions, or highly specialized bosses that can also perform just a few actions and do it in predefined patterns. Finding a catch that makes their attacks avoidable and therefore less threatening is the most thinking you’ll have to do. And caring too much about building your deck is pointless; you just lump your strongest so called battle chips together and fill the rest with assorted supplementary attacks. Technically, you should care whether your attacks go well together – you can use multiple ones per “turn” if they’re of the same type or have the same code – but putting too much attacks of the same type in your deck puts you in a disadvantage against random monsters that may be hard to hit with them, and collecting attacks with the same code with meaningful results is either outright impossible or just too much of a bother.

But the worst thing is, you can and are even encouraged to kill your opponents in the first turn (the faster you do it, the bigger a chance of getting a battle chip with their attack as a reward is). Basically, the expected mode of playing the game is to be much, much stronger than everyone else. Well, it is technically a pleasure, but it’s usually more of a pleasure in something more important than a recreational past-time.

Also, you actually do have to level-up here. You just don’t do it by winning random fights, you do it by buying power-ups with “money” you got from winning random fights. The improvements are pretty limited, but crucial. Armors and HP boosts change the game from “kill or get killed in the first turn by random chance” to “kill them in the first turn or kill them slowly over a long period of time”. Once you can survive a turn or two of enemy attacks, this invariably means you can survive the entire fight (unless you made a really stupid deck, with no HP recovery chips for example, and then make some really stupid moves). Silly, given that even jRPGs usually avoid this without problems (if only just due to the fact that the damage stays after a fight, unlike here).

Oh, and did I mention the pea shooter you have on you all the time that’s actually more convenient during battles than most normal attacks? You’ll actually use it all the time when your random fights get longer than maybe 2 turns, just because it’s less of a bother than trying to hit your opponents with your theoretically stronger regular attacks when they simply run away from them. Good job throwing the last remnants of strategy to the gutter, Capcom designers.

Maybe, just maybe, the game is more fun in its later stages, when you face more complex enemies and have all of the battle chips available to build your deck with. Maybe, just maybe, it’s fun in multiplayer, against actual opponents. (Note that it was just agnostic honesty rather than actual doubt, I can’t see how the game could possibly get better under any circumstances, I just didn’t try the aforementioned ones myself.) But to get there, you have to wade through numerous irritatingly unreadable mazes, solving puzzles and fighting way too many similar random fights. I still kind of like doing that, puzzles made hard by poor map design aside it’s pretty relaxing, but for a normal person it’s probably not worth the trouble.

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Super Mario Advance

Super Mario Advance

Release date:
Japan: 2001.03.21
USA: 2001.06.10
Europe: 2001.06.22

Developer: Nintendo EAD, ported by Nintendo R&D2
Publisher: Nintendo (all regions)
Size: 32 Mbit

Let’s start with a disclaimer. I never played a Mario game before. Actually, to be more precise, I did play some of them, but it was always limited to being shown the game, trying to go through the first level for a few minutes and leaving completely uninterested.

This time, I kind of had an obligation to invest some time into actually playing. Long story short, I’m still not interested in the slightest afterwards.

And I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with the fact that this is my first time playing a Mario game. Because that was the first time I played a Mario game, did I mention that already? I just happened, by random chance, to be born in a second-world country with limited access to technology and a culture completely different from the one that spawned GameBoy Advance and modern retro gaming, spared the social pressure to get familiar with what’s probably the most popular videogame series in history. And then, sometime in the mid-to-late nineties, I found about Sonic the Hedgehog, my personal standards for a platformer changed forever and there was no turning back. But that’s another story, one that’s best saved for a more fitting occasion.

I cannot become a Mario fan now. I doubt anyone can become a Mario fan anymore (although I should probably withhold that statement until I try its latest WII incarnation; which, of course, I don’t plan to do). The part of me that the game appeals to is long gone.

Kids of the eighties, do you remember your first days of electronic entertainment? Everything was fresh and new, everything was exciting, full of things you’ve never seen before and never knew were even possible. Games weren’t just games, they were challenges to overcome, unknown lands to explore, beautiful clockworks of unpreceded complexity that were a thrill to just interact with.

Fact of the matter is, this game is made with people like that in mind. It lets you see things you’ve never seen before (before circa 1987, that is), exploit its mechanics like you couldn’t before (before circa 1987, that is) and search itself for many, many hidden surprises.

It just doesn’t seem to care whether you’re actually having fun during the entire process.

I’m not a kid anymore. I’m older, busier, more tired, and have over twenty years of gaming on my back. Nothing is new anymore, and when I play, I don’t do it to check the new things the game will show me or let me find out about itself, because I’m sure I’ve seen them somewhere already, many, many times. The days I could spend hours upon hours replaying Montezuma’s Revenge to finally go all the way to the end are long behind me. Now I just want to enjoy myself, every single second.

So I’d like some proper controls, ones that can actually be grasped, ones that won’t make me, at best, redo some long maneuver or, at worst, accidentally kill my character half of the time I try to jump over some apparently bottomless pit because they literally require pixel-scale precision. I want a proper level design, one that doesn’t require memorization, one that will let me explore them without the risk of killing myself every time I want to try something new. In the eighties, they thought it’s so much fun, putting additional hurdles for people to overcome so that exploring the game takes them longer. But it doesn’t really make the game more difficult. It just makes it much more of a chore.

And even the constant thrill of danger, my last chance of enjoying the game, was destroyed by the fact that I wanted to see as much of it as possible and decided, at some point, to use that vile savestate feature that emulators invariably have. This one is my own fault, I admit, but rage-loading is still better than rage-quitting. I tried to limit it as much as possible at first, but redoing things over and over again was too much of a bother.

So what was left for me was puzzles. The game is perfectly fine in that regard when it wants to, and it was enough for me to hang to while going through the levels. But now that I’m finished, I’m glad it’s all over. Here’s hoping for no more old platformer remakes in the near future. Unless it’s Montezuma’s Revenge, that would at least be something I’m familiar with. (I just checked, it’s on GameBoy Color instead; oh well.)

Now for something completely different – a Mario platformer that isn’t really a Mario platformer. You see, back in the NES days, Nintendo needed a follow-up to the massively successful (for good reasons) Super Mario Bros. game. The game had a sequel for Japan only FDS accessory, but that was more of a level pack, made with masochists in mind – the difficulty level starting with inhumane and quickly turning to impossible.

Instead of releasing this to (still virgin at the time) USA audience, Nintendo took another one of their games, Yume Koujou: Doki Doki Panic, made a quick sprite swap job, did some minor and not so minor arrangements (like adding the ability to run for instance) and released the game as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the USA and later on as Super Mario Bros. USA in Japan.

Both Super Mario Bros. 2 games were later ported to SNES and packaged alongside the original game and Super Mario Bros. 3 as Super Mario All-Stars (Super Mario Collection in Japan). On the system launch of Game Boy Advance Nintendo decided to release the game for their latest handheld. To recap, we’re talking about a slightly enhanced port of a graphical remake of a total conversion of a decidedly un-Mario game.

Well, R&D 2, despite not being a very experienced developer (this being their fifth game), threw the players some bones, and there are certain bonuses in this version that make it worthwhile to play the game even if one had any of the previous incarnations. All levels in the game have 5 red A(dvance) coins added to them, kind of like the Dragon coins in Super Mario World. The game keeps track of all the coins you gather, giving you a nice incentive to catch them all. There are a few other changes here and there, gigantic versions of enemies and power-ups, but really nothing comparable to the red coins.

Also included is a port of the original Mario Bros. A good time waster, but I don’t imagine anyone playing it more than once – especially since the GBA port has a smaller view, one that requires scrolling the screen to see the upper row of the level.

You can’t really fault the game’s presentation. The graphical side is spot on – crisp and cheerful, while music has the usual catchy Koji Kondo flair. Maybe it does not sound as good as the SNES game (a trend you will notice in pretty much all SNES to GBA ports), but definitely serviceable. Only thing I don’t really like are the character voices. Those were added to the GBA conversion, and well, calling them grating is an understatement. It’s a pity there’s no option to disable them, while keeping the music. The controls are responsive and while there seem to be a slight slowdown from time to time, it’s almost unnoticeable.

Please take note that this is an 8-bit game at heart. It’s out to get the player and doesn’t pull its punches. This is more noticeable starting from level 3-3, which took me almost as long to clear as all the other levels before it. And the game doesn’t get easier after that – some of the levels will destroy your 1-up surplus in a matter of minutes. Luckily, 3-3 seems to be a turning point in the game, since it has a nice, quick and easy way to farm extra lives, which should be detailed somewhere above. After that it’s just a matter of perseverance on the player’s side. It still makes for some rather intense moments, for instance during my play-through I’ve started 5-3 with a stash of 99 extra lives and ended up finishing the level on my second to last 1-up.

It’s still fun, even despite the difficulty level. Mainly due to exceptional level design. You can see Shigeru Miyamoto’s hand in this game almost on every single screen. Loads of secrets hidden around here and there, and everything is placed in a way that will give you the maximum level of challenge while still being completely doable.

There are two things that keep the game from being a classic. One of them is the somewhat weird character controls. Of the four characters, Mario is pretty much his usual self, albeit with so little friction, he handles like he’s on ice on normal levels, and even worse on ice ones. Luigi jumps higher, but the jumps he makes are very, very floaty – not something I could wrap my head around. Peach is some sorts of an easy mode – she has the ability to float for a second or so after each jump, making her the easiest to control, but robbing the game of most of its challenge. Toad controls feel the most like Mario’s in other games, but his character voice is so grating you will want to rip your cochleas out after few seconds of exposure.

The second thing is the complete lack of vertical scrolling. Yes, you read that right. The game scrolls horizontally in both directions, but each up or down movement beyond the screen is accompanied by a full screen switch. Which is very confusing, since you lose control of your character for a split second, but don’t lose the acquired inertia. I don’t even know how many lives I lost due to that.

I wasn’t able to finish the game in week’s time, but I did clear more than two thirds of it, and I must say I had fun while doing that. The game does not give a very good first impression, what with the weird scrolling, but it definitely grew on me the further I went into it. This is something I’d gladly come back to, to finish the rest of the levels and grab the remaining red coins.

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F-Zero: Maximum Velocity

F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
a.k.a. F-Zero for Game Boy Advance

F-Zero: Maximum Velocity USA CoverF-Zero for Gameboy Advance JPN Cover

Release date:
Japan: 2001.03.21
USA: 2001.06.12
Europe: 2001.06.22

Developer: NdCUBE
Publisher: Nintendo (all regions)
Size: 32 Mbit

First up on the release list we have the third game in the F-Zero series. Both the first SNES game and its N64 sequel were developed by Shigeru Miyamoto’s Nintendo EAD, setting up some high standards when it comes to futuristic racer games. This one was developed by a relatively unknown, low-profile company called NdCUBE.

And they did a pretty good job emulating the original F-Zero. Everything of note is here, as smooth as the original SNES game, just a tad smaller. It’s a pity I can’t say I like the result though.

I mean, sure, the Mode 7 graphics do look great (even now, but then I might have a sweet spot for pseudo 3D, who knows), it has some nifty music by Masaru Tajima (田島 賢) and Mitsuteru Furukawa and the slick, futuristic design of the game is nothing to scoff at – consistent, minimalistic and easy on the eyes. I can’t say I didn’t have fun playing it. Those few times when I wasn’t swearing or yanking my hair out.

You see, this game has rather weird race physics. Loads of inertia, making your ship turn like it’s a semi loaded to the roof with German porn videos. This coupled with some rather peculiar design decisions (the sides of the track act like bumpers in a pinball table, though these actually slow you down with each touch) makes the game rather not fun on anything above the Beginner difficulty level. The AI does not help this at all, it does not have catch-up like in some other racing games, but here it does not need catch-up. It will play almost flawlessly, leaving you to smell its exhaust fumes. There’s just no margin for error.

Which is a pity since the unlock system requires you to beat the game at the highest difficulty to access the additional tracks. Not the greatest of the ideas – we all love unlocks, especially unlocks that feel organic. And this one sure does not feel like that… Oh well, 15 tracks that are available on startup out of 20 should give me a good overview of the game, right?

Would I recommend the game? Well, this being the first game, there is no reason not to recommend it. It’s not the most complicated game under the sun, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The game structure is made for handheld gaming – each race doesn’t take longer than 3 minutes to complete, and there are only 5 races in all four championships, so the whole run through it shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes. A major plus or a major minus, depending on what you expect out of it.

It’s not a classic, that’s for sure, but it’s not a bad game by any means. The game’s philosophy just doesn’t sit well with me for some reason.

F-Zero. Whoa. That’s, like, one number above F1, and we all know F1 is the most advanced racing series in the world. Apparently they’re even more advanced in the future. At least I’m assuming the game is set in the future, it looks futuristic.

All right, enough with being silly. I tried really hard to write in witticisms, but apparently I’m not yet prepared to do it for the span of few kilobytes, so I’ll have to settle for a mundane (not to mention rather poorly composed) “review” this time. I hope I won’t have to write reviews in the future, but it’ll have to do for now. It’s not a big loss, I have a bad sense of humour anyway.

So, well, the game. I like it. I like it in a way one likes a good time-waster. In a way, racing games are perfect for handhelds. You need just three minutes to play through one race and turn the machine off until next time. So the fact that the designers decided to make five-course series into a default play-through mode (they take a more significant amount of time to finish – at least fifteen minutes, assuming that you make a perfect run) instead of individual courses puzzles me quite a bit, as I feel it defeats the whole purpose. I’m not complaining, though, since I’m not even using a handheld right now. Besides, I like the game, did I mention that already?

I like the controls, for example. I started playing this the way I play all racing games, mainly, keeping the acceleration button pressed the entire time, trying to turn in whatever direction the track turns. The result, predictably, was also not unlike other racing games, mainly, my vehicle running head-first into track boundaries, which consist of some kind of magnetic barrier (although in fact, what I kept hitting was not only the boundaries, but also various kinds of obstacles, including bombs and other, much slower vehicles, which tend to appear on the track for some reason). This not only slowed it down, but also damaged it, eventually leading to a huge explosion accompanied by a totally redundant note saying that I lost. But. After a few tries I realized simply releasing the button for a short time (a few times in succession if necessary) is not only enough to make it through even the sharpest of turns, but also a valid way of doing it. It also appears to be a perfect way of stabilizing your vehicle during each and any kind of trouble (Brakes? Who needs brakes?). Basically, I actually can just accelerate (almost) the entire time and navigate with two arrow keys (with other ones needed only incidentally), and neither the gameplay nor my performance seems to be crippled by it in any way. Making it easy for the player is something I can appreciate.

I really appreciate computer opponents, too. They actually fight for position, bump into each other and obstacles, their vehicles display their particular quirks (faster ones do go faster, low turning stats translate to taking wider curves on chicanes, etc.), they can even crash on heavily damaging courses. Of course, they also fight me for position, bump into me pushing me off the track and are usually way faster than me (at least on higher difficulty levels), but all they do seems to be within the very same mechanics that apply to the player vehicle. Forget all those zombie undamageable cars driving predefined paths that tend to haunt games of this kind.

Speaking of difficulty levels, the learning curve seems to be perfect. Going through all the base courses and difficulties in a natural order seems to be the ideal way of learning the game and getting better at it. While I skipped the beginner setting and struggled for several attempts to finish the first two courses as a result, after finally getting past them I could complete each subsequent one after one or two tries; still, there was always just enough challenge to keep the gameplay interesting and force me to improve my skills. This stopped being true for the, significantly harder, unlockable courses and the gap introduced by the hardest difficulty is pretty huge, but one can assume anyone who played that far into the game is already hooked on it enough to appreciate the newfound challenge.

Other aspects of the game are… well, solid. Say, courses. While their number is low enough to not get repetitive, they tend to be either bland or based on gimmicky obstacles. The music is hit or miss, and the graphics aren’t particularly thrilling, just a proper 2D I can’t complain about. But I’m not complaining. I had fun. Now I’ll gladly stop wasting my time on it and move on to new challenges. See you next week.

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Welcome to the world of… yesterday?

Ah, good old Game Boy Advance.

I can’t believe the whole system is almost ten years old. I still think that it has the best line-up of all the handheld systems, ever. So many great games to choose from and most importantly, most of them in beautiful 2D.

This site is a way to relive the whole experience, starting with the system launch and going successively through all of the games, or at least those that are playable. We won’t be going by the actual release dates, but by dumping order, which is almost the same thing and much easier to check.

Of course, I need to mention our precursors, Chrontendo, Magweasel, Pre-Sonic Genesis and Juggling Chainsaws. Thank you all for paving the way.

The order of business will be one game per week, played by me on a NDS Lite and a friend of mine using PC with Visual Boy Advance, with updates here each Sunday detailing our adventures in the world of portable 2D gaming of highest (and lowest) quality.

Hope you will enjoy it. I know we will.

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