Persona 3 vs Persona 4 Part 1: The Story

(Apologies in advance for any formatting issues; I write stuff in Word beforehand and trying to convert it into GB's blog is something I apparently can't fully grasp)

In preparation for Persona 4 Arena: Ultimix and Persona Q coming out soon (I couldn't be more excited for both of these), I figured I'd incite some fanboy rage and do something nobody smart would do: pit two extremely popular games in the same game franchise against each other in a head-to-head to figure out which one is "better." Smart, right? That's like people arguing which Legend of Zelda game is the best (Link to the Past) or which Mario game (RPG, then 2) or which Final Fantasy game (Final Fantasy VI) is the best one. It's all subjective anyway...or is it? (answer: yeah, it kind of totally is)

Well, as a preface to this head shooting, social link reversing, Teddie-fur fulled throwdown between two cult classic games, I'll just toss out that I think both games are phenomenal. Even though if you boiled them down to their absolute cores you'd basically have two identical games (get social links, use social links to get personas, use personas to fight monsters, win), both are absolutely worth playing, and if you have any affinity for JRPGs at all you should pick not one, but both up. You also could probably break them down in completely the same way as I'm doing here and have totally different results based on your own personal opinions. So why compare them?

Because why not. Also I'm one wordy son of a bitch, so this will probably go long. Bear with me.

Hur hur hur.

For the sake of some kind of structure I broke the grading credentials down into five major categories: Story, Characters, Graphics, Gameplay, and Music. Each might have subcategories and others might not. They will be split up across four different posts, with Story and Characters getting their own days each, and Graphics, Gameplay, and Music all mushed together followed by a conclusion post. I will attempt to be a thorough as possible in my analysis, but keep in mind most everything here is entirely subjective and based on my opinion. However, my goal is to convince you that my opinion is right, so listen close, internet troglodyte!

(I'm sorry I called you a troglodyte that was unkind let's just break this down now shall we)

Oh, and THIS IS YOUR GIANT SPOILER WARNING! I won't ruin endings or who the villain is in Persona 4 or anything, but there will be hints to things that happen later in the plots of these games. It's unavoidable. Deal.

Part 1: The Story

Overall Story

I made a comment on my Persona 3 FES review that the story in Persona 3 was, quote, "Not all that original or interesting." After replaying Persona 3 Portable I am totally convinced that I was suffering from mild brain damage when I wrote that. Persona 3's premise follows a group of high school kids recruited into an organization called SEES, which exists to murder big nasty shadows that appear every month during an hour between midnight and one am where spooky scary shadows come out of their school and try to murder people. Also their school turns into the Tower of Babel except Satan made it.

Yeah, totally run of the mill here.

You know, just a regular story about teens shooting themselves.

While the story does turn into "teenagers save the world" (which is what I complained about in my earlier review), it manages to subvert it's cliche in a variety of ways. Probably the biggest crazy thing is how high the death count is in this game. I didn't realize until replaying it, but tons of main characters don't make it to the end, often dying in unfair or tragic ways. In addition, most characters have rather traumatic pasts that they have to cope with, which often tie directly into the events of the game. Mitsuru's history, Ken's mom, and Fuuka being a victim of bullying all end up tying into the main story in some crazy ways.

Most importantly, the game has a very clear three act structure, and it feels very tightly knit. While the "kill the big bad, save the whole world!" isn't exactly new, the entire game builds up to this point wonderfully, while still managing a ton of crazy twists and deaths along the way. The game is dark and but doesn't force the issue, letting it's themes and existentialism seep into the plot itself, while still providing a well crafted narrative. It's a complete package, with everything from Igor to Nyx tying together in the end as if it was all made for each other.

The only issue I have with it is that the story is that it doesn't really take off until the start of the second act (basically when you get Shinji as a party member). Up until that point it's a bit on cruise control. After the Shinji plot arch, however, the game kicks right into high gear, never stopping until the end. A minor pacing problem, but one never-the-less.

While I really enjoyed Persona 4's story, I felt that it really doesn't reach the level of depth that Persona 3 has. This is mostly due to the fact that, at it's core, Persona 4 is a detective story. Somebody is committing murders, and you've gotta find out who. While this makes the story compelling, these types of stories rarely have some sort of large overarching world-saving narrative going on in the background; the main focus is to solve the case and move on. Because of this, the addition of the "True End" boss feels weirdly out of place considering everything you invested in had tied off after solving the mystery.

Another problem with Persona 4 is your detective team sometimes seems to be falling a little behind on what is going on (yet are somehow ahead of Dojima...). Not offensively so, but you'll probably have figured out a lot of who got tossed into the Midnight Channel long before Youske comes to his brilliant deductions. The game also tosses not one, but two rather obvious red herrings that your party eats up before the end, both of which resulting in a "Whew, the case is closed!" and then "Wait, what?" that makes them look kind of slow on the upkeep. In the nicest way possible of course; I love you guys.

Youske: Master Detective.

That being said, this game isn't lacking for emotional standout moments. The final kidnapping of the game and the scene where it's revealed is arguably one of the tensest, craziest things I've seen in a game, with everybody losing their minds over what happened (and the player in shock that the game would do this to them). After rescuing said undisclosed person, the events following are equally traumatic, with the game taking a rather dark turn out of the blue. This, however, isn't necessarily for strength of the story necessarily, but the strength of the characters it established (which I'll cover later).

As it stands, Persona 4 is an engaging story because it's designed to be. Mysteries are popular because they're easy to follow and are proven to keep readers engaged (look at how well thriller novels sell, and how many are published a year). It's by no means a poor story, but it seems more like a device to both move the gameplay forward and give the characters something to interact over rather than the crux of the game.

That being said, when compared to Persona 3, Persona 4 has a much faster start. It immediately throws you both into the mystery and quickly gives you objectives and explains what has to be done in order to move forward. Because of this, it's first act feels much better paced when compared to its predecessor's.

Keep in mind, I'm not comparing characters here, I'm comparing the written, underlying story. While Persona 4 is certainly interesting, it doesn't take the risks or make the connections that I feel Persona 3 does. Persona 3 also digs deeper into its lesson on accepting death (which we'll go over more momentarily) and ties it into it's story beats perfectly. Persona 4's core element (learning to accept oneself, finding the truth about a person) isn't tied in quite as tightly with the murder mystery. So, in the end, I think Persona 3 takes this, first act pacing issues aside.

Conveyance of Underlying Themes

Persona 3 is about death. More importantly, it's about learning to accept death, and everything that entails. From the moment the game opens with you shooting yourself in the head to summon your Persona, to the 2/3rds-mark choice as to whether you'd rather continue living in ignorance but inevitably die a horrible death or continue knowing your demise and fight impossible odds against it, this game is heavily ingrained in it's message about dying. Characters have to shoot themselves in the head over and over and over again to summon their personas. Aegis, a robot, questions both whether she is truly alive and, thus, how to cope with her own "death," or if it even exists. The death of a main character rocks the party and makes them realize their own humanity. A freaking ten year old kid attempts suicide in this game, then attempts to murder the person who killed his mom. Ideas about persistence in the face of death and learning to accept that everybody will eventually die, but we have to choose every day to live is a core element of Persona 3, and it executes it near flawlessly.

There's a psychological theory called Terror Management Theory that I really think is interesting (so much so I wrote a paper on it). In a nutshell, everything human beings do and create and react to is in relation to this constant, pervasive knowledge that we will all one day die. Religion, relationships, social structures, creating offspring; all this stuff we do is just reactionary to this dissonance in our heads. We create these things things because thinking about death bothers us. We create buffers to combat it because it's pervasive and, since we are sentient, the realization of our inevitable demises will never, ever go away. Even if we shut it out, the thought of death horrifies us, even if it's dying of old age at the end of a long life. We can't escape it. It's going to happen.

Even your Personas are suicidal.

Persona 3 so excellently covers not only this type of terror, but also presents ways to overcome it (while still giving you a chance to succumb in a rather important plot choice). The shooting of themselves over and over again, the fighting against impossible odds knowing death is inevitable; all of this is to show that when we learn to embrace it, we no longer fear it. And considering how the final moments of the game play out, the ending is absolutely a perfect capstone on the message the game is trying to convey. It's bittersweet, but it was absolutely necessary for the themes in Persona 3 to persist. In addition, a good deal of the social links in Persona 3 (vs Persona 4) have themes of death and learning to accept death for what it is (particularly the Old Couple and Sick Young Man). I cannot praise this game enough for it's use of symbolism and psychological existentialism.

Persona 4...isn't nearly as dark. People have complained, actually, that it's "too happy" compared to other Persona games, but I don't mind it. Persona 4 seems to really have two main core themes: the idea that we all have a darker side that's a part of us that we don't want to see (but have to inevitably accept if we are to be truthful to ourselves), and the idea of seeking truth (presented in both a personal setting with the characters' individual shadows, and the truth of finding out who the killer is). Of the two of these, the former (accepting oneself for who you are so you can move on to self-improvement) is probably the most prevalent, and similar to Persona 4 this theme not only shows up in the plot but also the social links you find throughout the game.

This idea of self-acceptance is presented extremely well, and arguably the theme across multiple characters is actually stronger here than in Persona 3. Not only does every party member have to overcome and accept their shadow self, but even after the fact their social links have to do with them dealing in the aftermath. The game doesn't pull any punches and say "oh, you accepted this crappy part of you? Happily ever after!" Instead, they are simply made aware of these parts of themselves they don't like, and move to make steps in their lives to adapt accordingly. It's a story about self-improvement and introspection, something I can absolutely get behind.

More like one Youske and one awesome Youske.

The second portion, the seeking of truth, plays a somewhat lesser role in the story aside from trying to solve the case (though you could argue they're "seeking the truth in themselves," which is a valid point). They try to spin it into the random final boss that just kind of shows up at the very end after the case is solved (the "Seeking of the truth" lead you to realize the game wasn't over even though it clearly tries to get you to avoid the True Ending). Characters bring it up a lot, but honestly it isn't really executed as smoothly. In many ways, the mystery plotline seems distinctly separated from the personal introspective story presented by the characters, or at least not as tightly woven as it could have been.

Still, the themes are still there, are executed well. Truth be told, while they're important, the kind of take a backseat to the character interactions, which is fine but it just shows where more of the focus of this game was.

I'm a sucker for dark, depressing stuff, but that isn't the only reason I think Persona 3 has an edge. First off, as I explained already above, I feel it's underlying themes and message are better woven into the overall narrative. Everything just ties together better, especially considering how you could construe that the events at the end were predetermined from the start, and in that regard innocuous things throughout the game start to find new meaning.

But what I think is more important is Persona 3's story is more relevant on a broader scale. The idea of accepting the inevitability of death and finding the courage to continue living despite that is (as mentioned regarding Terror Management Theory) persistent across every human being from the moment they realize their own mortality until their inevitable passing. This makes the story one that is more "timeless," or at least can be applied to a whole range of ages, genders, etc.

And if Persona 3 couldn't beat the Jesus metaphor in any stronger...

Persona 4's message of introspection and learning to accept oneself, even the worse parts, is arguably just as constant over one's life, but in truth these types of things are usually more commonly explored during adolescence and new adulthood. I, as a 28-year-old married dude who is writing game reviews during his lunch break at work, feel as if I've undergone most of this transformation of learning who I am and coming to accept it. I'm now in the stage where I need to be self-reflective less often but still strive for self-improvement. Deep down I learned who my "true self" was through the "fun" trials of adolescence and my early twenties, and now feel comfortable with myself. That isn't to say everything is gumdrops and buttons, but Persona 4's specific message is less relevant to me than, say, my unavoidable death is.

As such, I found Persona 3's themes to not only be conveyed better in terms of the medium it was presented on, but also felt more powerful and resonated stronger. Of course, I'm also a dude diagnosed with depression so I think about dying like all the time, so I might be a special case. But I still feel that Persona 3 both embraces and conveys it's themes in a much more unified vision than Persona 4 does.

Tonal Differences

As mentioned before, Persona 3 is a dark game. This ties in well to it's predecessors, too, seeing as both Persona and Persona 2 (both parts) are intentionally dark and foreboding. Oddly enough, the style in Persona 3 isn't quite as dark as the previous two (with the characters being more cartoony and the sprites less adult looking), but it still conveys very dark themes.

Persona 3 is about death. I'll just keep saying this until you go insane from hearing it. Characters die, lots of them. The overall color pallet for the world is intentionally bleak and creepy. The Dark Hour is a mix of blood reds, dark greens, and blacks. The menus are a sort of muted blue color, using black as an accent. Even your school feels less bright and cheery (than, say, Persona 4), with the overall world feeling like it's in a haze of dreariness.

#SADBOYS

It fits the game well, tying it's themes into the way it looks nearly perfectly. From the opening scene of Yukari trying to shoot herself in the head and failing, all the way down to it's bleak final boss and shocking ending, Persona 3 knows the message it's trying to convey and isn't pulling any punches. Again, this is a game where a ten-year-old shoots himself in the head over and over to summon his inner self. They aren't kidding around.

While Persona 3 felt like George R. R. Martin writes a high school story, Persona 4 feels like the Scooby Doo after school special. This isn't a bad thing, by any means, but the mood is so dramatically different from P3 (and the rest of the series) it's almost shocking. Gone are drab, dark blues and blacks and reds and are replaced with popping, bumblebee yellows and blacks. Characters are brightly colored and wear brighter clothing (Chie's outfits are a sterling example of this) and just generally feel more alive and happy. And while the game is about solving murders (and does have a few rather dramatic and dark moments), the themes of the game are about overcoming personal problems, which almost every character does handily. The songs are happier and have more pop to them, NPCs you talk to are chipper, and the game is arguably one of the funniest I've ever played. It's in stark contrast with its predecessors, so much so that people actually bag on the game for it (not sure why; not like those other games went anywhere), but as someone once said to me, "This might be the happiest M rated game ever made."

This is a game about sadness and feelings!

This chipper attitude actually does the game some favors, if only for contrast. There is a rather dramatic moment in the game (the final kidnapping) which, had it been in Persona 3, would have been shocking but not as impactful. Putting in in the happy-go-lucky Persona 4, however, makes it all the more dramatic and heartwrenching. It's in this case where it's lulling you into a false sense of security works in the game's favor, and I commend it for it.

It's a TIE?!

It's a copout answer, but it really boils down to what you want in your JRPG story. If you are into dark, bleak stuff because that stuff's your jam (read: you like Game of Thrones or The Last of Us), then Persona 3 is the game for you. It doesn't have the same absurd levels of violence or gore-scars as you might expect from a "dark, adult" game (and I commend it for that; Persona 3 is a rarity among video games where it earns it's M rating for actually being mature, not by adding blood and guts and sex in the hope it'll sell), but it does present a very dark story that will make you think.

Persona 4 is, as I said before, like going on an adventure with all your friends. It has it's ups and its downs, but overall it's a good, fun ride. If you're into hanging out with a lot of funny characters and just having a good time with not as many huge "downer" emotional moments, Persona 4 fits that bill a lot better.

The point being is that I feel both games knew the tone they wanted to convey, and even though the tones are dramatically different, both succeeded equally at what they set out to do. As such, neither really excels over the other in that regard.

That's it for today! But what are the scores?

Persona 3 secures an early lead!

But be sure and tune in next time (tomorrow? Next week? Who knows?) where I blab even more about the characters from these games, top to bottom, nobody is left out! And as always, my reviews for all these games are floating around on the site, should you for some reason want more Persona related nonsense.

Angry at my decisions? Want to talk about Terror Management Theory? Care to chat about the storylines of these two games? Please leave a comment and we'll talk about it! I'm always down for some Persona talk, man. Always.

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Nathan vs Perler Beads Part 7: Go Big or Go Home (Final Fantasy VI)

Time for another round of this! It's a two-part bonus episode today, featuring the creative magic of Final Fantasy VI. Seriously, it's my favorite game, so no duh I'm going to make tons of FFVI perlers. Whenever I sit down, I just want to make some huge Final Fantasy VI enemy, even if they're tricky and take like four hours. Because that game is gorgeous.

Anyway, I've got a one-two punch today, with steps!

First up, the clown himself, Kefka. We made him before in walkaround sprite form, but I decided that wasn't cool enough.

Black outline first...

...and the finished product. I like how he turned out quite a bit!

We put him over the other Final Fantasy VI characters so he could act all superior.

For those wondering, the ETA for Kefka was somewhere between 3-5 hours. I kind of stopped paying attention, but it was a decent chunk of time (as you'd imagine). He's also about a foot tall and a foot wide.

Continuing the FFVI train, here's the biggest sprite I've done yet. It's based off the fantastic AbyssWolf's sprite art, and the original looked like this:

The trickiest part about perlering is getting the right colors, and adapting to fit the colors you have. However, in any case, I always start with a black outline, so we did that first:

That took about 45 minutes just for that. Then I decided to just work on colors I knew for certain were correct, so I started with the greens of her hair and sash thing.

After that I realized I had to make a hard decision and actually commit to some colors, so I committed to the easy ones: the blues in her legs.

I also had an idea of what I wanted the reds to be, and the purple in her bow wasn't that bad.

The trick was finding colors that blended well with the reds, because there aren't that many that match the original sprite. I finally decided on the colors I wanted which made her outfit a bit more vibrant than the original sprite.

I also had to darken her skin tone a bit because of my limited selection of fleshy-colors, but I think it looks good.

I was doing this all in the middle of the night, and this is where I went to bed. I wasn't certain exactly what colors to use for her shoulder cape and I also wasn't sold on the skin tone (yet). I also needed to find a way to make the gold at the top of her gloves and bustline "pop", as well as the edges of the cape. After waking up the next day, however, I knew exactly what colors to use, which is rare; usually I screw up at least once on big colored projects like this.

All that was left now was her cape, which I was also worried about because of the limited colors, but I manned up and just made it. Here is the finished product, next to a Final Fantasy III SNES cart and the original Terra overworld sprite for size and color comparisions.

She's big! Three feet! Look at how big she is!

Also, my beard looks crazy in that picture. Whatever.

Ironing things this big is a pain, and she was no exception. Part of her cape and hair broke off, and bits of her separated into large chunks as we ironed. It took almost an hour to iron her and fix the damage we'd done, but in the end everything turned out lovely. This is her next to the giant Metroid, for a size check:

And this is her nailed to the wall:

That picture makes her look small. She isn't. :)

We'll have more in the future, so be sure to check all that out! Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed watching the steps!

Next up? Atma Weapon. Yeah. That'll be awesome.

Oh, and unrelated: we have a Facebook Page as well as an Esty Shop (that we just started) where we'll TAKE REQUESTS (on either the Facebook page or email us through the shop). If you're interested, we try to price them competitively and would be willing to do almost any sprite.

Honestly, I don't care if you buy anything, but if you like our Facebook page you can keep up to date on the crazy stuff we make. Also, I'd feel cooler. XD

We also have Pokemon Coasters that I want to keep for myself, so here's a spoiler for next time:

BIDOOF

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Nathan vs His Game Collection: Day 21 - Fester can suck it

So, what happens when you reverse Cookie Monster? Something fantastic, that's what!

That has nothing to do with today's reviews, I just wanted to post it up here. Two for you today, because I'm tired and have to leave to work shortly. But hey, it's the weekend! Almost! Hooray!

Faxanadu

A little background

Oh man, somebody really went crazy with the sharpie on that one. Wanted to make sure everybody knew you owned it forever, huh? Until it showed up at the used game store, I guess.

Faxanadu is a Hudson Soft joint (makers of such fine products as Adventure Island and Bomberman), released in August of 1989. It's a classic story of Elves vs Dwarves, and the people stuck in the middle. It's a classic action RPG in the vein of Zelda 2, The Battle of Olympus or (shudder) 8 Eyes. This is also a game I wanted for a really long time but could never find a copy in stores, so when one showed up (even with a ruined label) I still had to pick it up.

First impressions last forever

This game is really, really brown. Lots of dark browns and muddy greens here. It also looks like the world graphics of Zelda 2 had a baby with the UI from 8 Eyes. Which I guess can be good or bad depending on what you like.

The game has solid controls, though, and I like the music. It's also extremely difficult.

But as I played further...

Faxanadu is widely considered a cult classic, but I just think it's ok. Don't get me wrong; it isn't bad by any means, it's just...really hard. It's hard, ok? Lots of level grinding, lots of people to talk to, lots of stuff to buy, lots of dying; you get the point. The action RPG elements help make it so the grind isn't as tedious, and I do like the various locations you can explore and the little quirks the game has to offer. For example, you can buy "titles" (like "Warrior," etc.) from a title...selling guy, and then flaunt these titles around town to get people to give you money. Yeah, it's weird, but that's Faxanadu!

Part of me thinks this game could have been better than Zelda II if only they'd put more effort into it, but after several hours I'm just sort of lukewarm to the whole game. Though I do like it a bit better than The Battle of Olympus, it still didn't quite suck me in.

So what's the conclusion?

I still think Faxanadu is worth getting, especially if you're a fan of Zelda II. While the game is very brown (what a muted color pallet!) and also very hard, it's a classic action RPG that still manages to do just about everything right. If you're into those kinds of games, and want a long, action-rpg quest with plenty of locations to visit and enemies to kill, you could do a lot worse than Faxanadu.

Copies (if you can find them) are usually $10 or less.

Fester's Quest

A little background

Sunsoft, you tards. Sometimes you make really good games, like Batman and Blaster Master. And sometimes you make total, undefendable trash, like Fester's Quest.

Obviously based on the Addams Family, Fester's Quest was forcefully ejected into the world by Sunsoft in September of 1989. It's interesting to note that the overhead engine used for most of the game was the same engine used for the overhead sections in Blaster Master, as this game came after Blaster Master. Why it's still so horrible after they made that excellent game is beyond me.

Also, he should probably do something about that spider on his head. Just sayin.

First impressions last forever

For using the Blaster Master engine, this game looks hideous. Fester is like a black mound of round pixels, and the enemies are either unidentifiable objects or toads. The controls aren't half bad (probably, again, because of the Blaster Master engine) but the power-ups are just awful. The wave gun doesn't pass through anything, so if you're in an enclosed space the shots just...go away! Who designed this?

But as I played further...

There are I guess one or two interesting things about Festers Quest. The big one being the 3D rooms when you go inside houses. Those are actually kind of cool, even if the rooms are completely empty mazes. I guess.

It seems I only had one nice thing to say, not two. This game is trash. Complete and utter trash.

So what's the conclusion?

I have a weird knack for buying games AVGN references because frequently I think he's wrong about them (for example, Jaws really isn't that awful), but he nailed this one right on the head: Fester's Quest is just not a good game. Even for curiosity, it isn't worth picking up. You'll play it for a few seconds, get annoyed, and quit. This is one of the few instances I'd suggest trying it first on an emulator before buying it, because the two minutes you spend playing it will be enough to last you the rest of your life.

It's a mess, don't buy it, don't look at it, don't acknowledge its existence.

Copies are too much, whatever the price.

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Nathan vs His Game Collection: Day 20 - THE DESTRUCTION OF SPONDYLUS.

DINOSAURS. AW YEAH.

Dynowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus

A little background

Dynowarz's box art is something wonderful to behold. A giant red dino, being shot through the head in a wanton act of violence by Spaceman Spiff there, with the hardcore, gangster font "DYNOWARZ" blasting itself across the screen. Also, they're on like the moon or something. This box art? Phenomenal.

The game itself? Uh...

Dynowarz was released in April of 1989 by...*sigh*...Bandai. Not to hate on Bandai all the time, but they really weren't on top of their game during the NES era. And they "modernized" by merging with Namco and selling you "Level Up" dlc for the Tales games. So, in truth, they're kind of still sucky.

I'm just gonna paste what's on the back of the box, here, and leave it at that.

"Something was terribly wrong in the distant man-made Spondylus Solar System. One by one the planet's central life support computers had been infected with a life threatening virus while the planet surfaces had been overrun with computerized dinosaurs known as Robosaurs. Under attack in his laboratory on Alpha Planet, Professor Proteus, the mastermind of the Spondylus System and the founder of the Robosaur project suddenly realized that this deadly sabotage could only be the work of his former partner, the deranged Dr. Brainius.

Years earlier, the doctor had fled Alpha Planet after Professor Proteus had exposed him for performing forbidden robotic experiments on human subjects. At last, he has returned to seek his revenge using the Professor's own creations! But little did he realize that Proteus had been hard at work for the past few years perfecting the ultimate Robosaur, Cyborasaurus.

There was only one hope to save the Spondylus System."

First impressions last forever

You don't start off as a dinosaur. Instant negative points. You play as a blob of blue that I think is a guy. He can jump like 200 feet in the air and has really bad platforming controls. However, after blasting through other nondescript blobs, you find a giant dino head sticking up through the floor and you jump into it.

Begun, the Dynowarz has!

Also, since you technically get in and out of your robot dinosaur, this basically makes this Blaster Master, except replace the car with a giant metal T-Rex. Point: Dynowarz.

But as I played further...

Dynowarz is honestly just a mediocre platformer. While as midget pixel blob man you can jump 3/4 of the way up the screen and get a variety of gun powerups, as Dyno (who is engaging in the "Warz") you have a limited, clunky jump, and start armed with just your fists. Yeah. You know how T-Rexes have tiny arms? That's your starting weapon: punch with tiny arms. Great.

You later get other totally not dinosaur related powerups, like a boomerang fist (?!) a sort of laser shot, and some other power up I can't remember off the top of my head. You can upgrade them, but only if you get the same upgrade powerup two times in a row. Or else it'll switch you back to another one at level one, which sucks.

After beating the level and the painfully easy bosses, you'll switch to the guy again and jump into a nearby building to blow up Mother Brain. Why the dino couldn't just destroy it from the outside is beyond me. Then you beam up (literally) and start the process over.

The controls aren't great, the graphics are ok I guess, and while I do like they try to switch up gameply styles between dino and man, neither are very fun. But hey, I'm punching robot Stegosauri in the face with a Robot T-Rex on an alien world. That's a'ight.

So what's the conclusion?

I secretly have a soft spot in my cold, dead heart for Dynowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus. It gives you one life but unlimited continues, and the only real difficulty in the game is the pits and the fact that when you get hit you leap back like a quarter of the screen (usually into the aforementioned pits). The human levels aren't that great and the bosses are lame and easy, but it's still...charming? Somehow?

Maybe my love of dinosaurs is overwhelming me. Speaking of which, why don't we make any dinosaur games anymore? What, did they stop being cool?

Copies are cheap; usually $3-5.

Elevator Action

A little background

Elevator Action is the NES port of the classic arcade game of the same name. Made, released, and ported by Taito in August of 1987, this game has the honor of being the second most played game on my TI-86 calculator, the most played being Tetris. It also stars a kleptomaniac ginger, so I can relate to that as well. Odds are you've at least heard of this game, and probably played it, so the question is if the NES port is still any good.

First impressions last forever

I remember why I both like and hate this game: it involves elevators. Lots of elevators. A bit of action, but mostly just elevators.

The goal's simple: get the documents and get out. You can manually control the elevator and have it pause between floors until the coast is clear (unlike any elevator ever), and also hide in doors and shoot dudes who pop out of doors. So that's kind of like Rolling Thunder or Codename: Viper. Only not at all.

Also, sometimes they turn out the lights, and the game gets hard.

But as I played further...

This is a classic arcade game, but honestly one I found kind of boring. To be fair, it's a bit different than most: it requires a lot of planning ahead and devising strategy, hanging back when necessary rather than always moving forward (though you will need to move forward at some point). Killing people isn't necessarily the way to win, as the only goal you have is to get the documents and get out. It's fun, pretty crazy, and not too frustrating compared to other arcade games (like Burger Time). I never really dug it, but I can still appreciate it.

So what's the conclusion?

I like how I said I "don't really dig it" right after saying I played it a ton on my calculator. Hey, it's not like I had a lot of TI-86 games.

Point being: Elevator Action is still solid, and as far as ports go it's near perfect. While this, like all other arcade games, depends entirely on if you liked the original arcade game, I'd say Elevator Action is well-rounded enough that everybody can at least get a few solid rounds out of it. Whether you'll pick it up after that is up to you (and again, NES carts like this don't save scores after you turn them off). But still, a fun little diversion.

Copies are usually $5-10

Excitebike

A little background

So hey, the Excitebike theme is pretty great, even if it's only nine seconds long. Just put it on repeat and have a happy day.

Excitebike is an NES launch game in October of 1985, and is well remembered among fans. This game was re-released as "Vs. Excitebike" on the Famicom disc system, with the option to actually save your custom tracks. It's also worth pointing out that the Wii port in the Virtual Console also allows you to save tracks. So that's great.

And the "brrrrrpppp" sound of the motor of the bike always goes through my head whenever I see that box art, so you got that too.

First impressions last forever

Man, this game is classic. Also, tons of fun!

There's two modes: one where you race other players (but they just sort of...are there. You're really going against time and they're in the way) and one by yourself. Yourself is boring but lets you not have to worry about anything but the tracks, but I prefer playing with other racers because it's less drab.

Mastering the jumps, speeds, and when to use nitro is tricky but easy to figure out. I'm sure some people have gotten absurdly masterful at the game, but for me it's just a fine time trying to not biff it.

Also, the track editor is pretty good.

But as I played further...

It really sucks they didn't save your tracks with a battery. I know this was a launch title, but it still sucks. Can you imagine making tracks, then loaning the cart to a friend to have them test them out? That would have been cool. Also, having two player would have been nice.

Regardless, this is nitpicks. Excitebike is a simple concept (drive over a complex track of jumps, bumps, etc. while not biffing it) with a sadly limited number of tracks, but it's so fun you'll forgive it. I love Excitebike, and spent way too much time playing it for this retrospective review.

So what's the conclusion?

While I could argue that Trials and Joe Danger are better, more modern sequels (and they are), there's still something inherently charming about the original Excitebike. While a few minor niggles exist, most are from the point of view of Future Game Development, looking back (like saving tracks, etc.). For what it is, Excitebike does well enough, and is an essential part of any collection.

Copies usually are cheap; around $5.

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Nathan vs His Game Collection: Day 19 - Ducks and Dungeons

Smooth McGroove is back with an even crazier song, one that was the famous piano "Death Waltz" thing that was making its way around the internet a while back.

Two reviews for you today! Let's do it!

DuckTales

A little background

DuckTales (a woo-hoo), released in September of 1989, is probably one of the best known NES Disney games. Widely remembered and regarded as a classic, it's also currently undergoing the Wayforward treatment to be remade with modern graphics and the original voice actors. Does the game really need to be reworked for a modern age? Eh, probably not, but since they never bothered re-releasing it I'll take what I can get here.

It's worth pointing out that in Japan this game is called "Naughty Ducks Dream Adventures," which is, again, brilliant. I don't know where Japan gets these awesome names for their games, but they're really something else.

This also was the start of a long and glorious line of Capcom Disney games, that would run all the way up to the SNES era before Disney started making their own sucky games. Duck Tales also spawned a sequel, but it came out late in the NES's lifespan and is considered one of the more difficult (and expensive) games to get for the system.

First impressions last forever

Man, this game was so obviously made by the Mega Man team. Mega Man style graphics, Mega Man style music, Mega Man style stage select: it's crazy! Crazy I tell you!

But the game certainly doesn't play all that much like Mega Man (though I square Scrooge's walk cycle and animation are dangerously close). In fact, it doesn't play like any platformer I can think of to date. You have two attacks: you can swing your cane like a golf club and strike objects into enemies (or just out of the way, but you can't strike enemies) or you can bounce on the pogo Commander Keen style and jump on top of enemies. Scrooge's basic jump is kind of garbage, so the pogo is the way to go.

But as I played further...

I might as well link the Moon stage song, because everybody just loves that song to death (myself included).

What is cool about DuckTales is how it's secretly kind of an open-world game. You adventure through the various stages, finding unlocks and secrets, but if you get to Launchpad you can always take the treasure you got and head back to the base and go somewhere else (or the same location from the start). The game is more about exploration than combat and bosses (although there is both), which is probably why Scrooge isn't really all that well equipped to attack, but is very well stocked to do platforming with his pogo stick.

Since there aren't really any upgrades to speak of, the stages can be tackled in any order (unlike Mega Man, which wants you to do them in order of weakness). Also, the goal is different as well: just get money. Lots and lots of money. You can beat the bosses, but be sure to get money. Delicious money.

Exploring the stages can be tricky, but as you dig deeper and find secrets as well as master the cane jumping (which is tricky at first), you'll get the hang of it. This game also begs to be replayed, and since there's no option to save or continue, you'll need to take what you learned before for future playthroughs. Kind of like Dark Souls. Only with ducks. Duck Souls.

So what's the conclusion?

I could easily go on and on about DuckTales. About a "no money" run, or playing the game on Difficult or otherwise. About all the fantastic graphics, music, and locations. About how it pretty much did something no other 2D platformer had done (or has done since, with the exception of its direct sequel).

But I won't, because everybody knows this game is fantastic. Even today, after replaying it, I'm surprised they felt the need to "Remaster" the game at all. They could re-release this game as a straight up port and it would hold up. Though I guess a save system wouldn't hurt it (or adding a few more levels to explore). Maybe in the Remaster they'll fuse it and DuckTales II together. That would be cool.

Regardless, this is one of the best NES games ever released. It's clever, original, has great production values, and is a blast to play. If you have a NES, this needs to be in your collection.

Copies are usually reasonably priced, around $10.

Dungeon Magic: Sword of the Elements

A little background

Dungeon Magic: Sword of the Elements is another Taito game, which some may find similar to Bard's Tale. It was released in July of 1990 and designed specifically for the NES system, which is crazy because usually games like this are ports (or at least it felt like a port when I played it). This was an era of "Let's try really hard to rip of Dungeons and Dragons but not get sued" level of games, and Dungeon Magic certainly gets close.

It's also in first person, 3D. Yeah. Crazy.

First impressions last forever

Ok, so it's a Daggerfall-esque game but on the NES. Which means literally no draw distance. I can only see the square in front of me and nothing else. This isn't going to make walking around town hard.

Also, the HUD takes up 90% of the screen. Like Hydlide. The Daggerfall reference was a compliment, this one isn't.

I do think it's crazy they have a full 3D world on the NES, though. I also like talking to townspeople.

But as I played further...

This game was too ambitious for the system it is on, which is too bad because it might have been ok. The first thing I did was, after the townspeople told me to go do something and I ignored it, run out of town and battle the snake that's on the cover. It killed me in two hits.

So I decided to attempt wandering this town of bad draw distance, finally finding what I need to to progress. I got some gear and headed out of town, battling that snake again. And it killed me again.

That's when I started using a guide. After playing a bit further I found a few more minor details: you gain XP but have to go to a church to "cash it in" to gain levels. You can save (hooray for batteries!) but only an an inn. There's a magic fusing system, but despite touting "Over 125 spells!" they all seem to be either Heal or Fireball. Plus, I still can't see where I'm going. Ever.

So what's the conclusion?

This isn't a game worth getting. I really tried hard to like it, because I admired its ambition. But, in the end, it's cumbersome and not fun. The lack of any ability to see where you going is a massive problem, and paired with the boring battles and not-as-good-as-it-sounds magic system, the game's just another bad NES RPG.

I wouldn't even consider it worth it as a novelty. Avoid. I have no idea how much copies are, but I'd imagine between $5-10.

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Nathan vs His Game Collection: Day 18 - Purple Armor

Busy today, so no cute little intros. Currently submitting two manuscripts to agents and editors. Wish me luck!

Here's some Kirby. Now get on with it!

Dragon Warrior III

A little background

Dragon Warrior III is the third and final chapter in the "Edrick" trilogy, the first three Dragon Warrior games connected by a similar, blue-armored chap who liked to murder innocent slimes. This game also came out in March of 1992, which is significant because at this point the SNES has been out in the US for a year. If you thought Dragon Warrior II got ignored, Dragon Warrior III was all but forgotten.

It's unfortunate, however, because it continues the Dragon Warrior NES traditions of taking the frameworks of the previous games and improving upon them without deviating too much from the original's ideas. It's a solid experience, and it's a pity most people have never played it (and it was not included in the three remade on the DS, either). It did get a remake on the Game Boy Color, though. Since that system's totally still relevant.

At any rate, on with the review!

First impressions last forever

The game still looks like Dragon Warrior. Same grid-based maps, same grid-lookin' overworld, same battles against slimes on a black backdrop, same opening a menu to do anything. Not bad, of course; it's become quite quaint by this point actually, but first impressions this game seems all too familiar.

But as I played further...

Dragon Warrior III is crazy cool, mostly because it introduces a class system, probably ripped off from its competitor, Final Fantasy (or Final Fantasy III). With unique classes ("Goof-Off") and not so unique ones ("Soldier"), you could tailor your party of three to be exactly what you wanted. But what is extra cool is when they hit lv 20, you had the option to change class and reset at lv 1, but keep all the cool stuff you've learned. Grind enough (or just have a lot of patience I guess) and you could technically make the Ultimate Warrior. It's a pretty sweet system that is a lot like Final Fantasy III/V/Tactics/X-2 but feels fresh to the Dragon Warrior formula.

There's a lot of other really cool touches as well, like the day/night cycle on the overworld map, the bank (which saves you from that killer "lose half your gold on death" thing from the previous Dragon Warrior games), a stronger, longer story, and more. As far as the first three Dragon Warrior games go, this one is easily the most accessible, while still retaining that old-school charm.

So what's the conclusion?

Dragon Warrior III is the best of the first trilogy, and a great way to cap off Edrick's journeys. It's neat to see how this game has story beats that tie into the first two games, and the improved battle and job system takes an already solid foundation and makes it better. It's one of the best JRPGs on the system, and still holds up quite well even to this day.

Copies are pricy, however, and have only been going up. Currently if you're lucky you can find a copy for $40, though most tend to run in the $50-60 price range. If you want to play it but don't care about the NES, the Game Boy Color version is cheaper, usually around $25.

Dragon Warrior IV

A little background

The final chapter in the NES Dragon Warrior saga, Dragon Warrior IV is also one of the best in the franchise. Released only seven months after Dragon Warrior III, Dragon Warrior IV hit the NES scene on US shores in October 1992, only two months before Final Fantasy V came out for the SNES in Japan. This makes Dragon Warrior IV easily the rarest of the bunch, though Square Enix did remake the game on the DS, so you can still experience it for cheap(er) that way.

I also would like to point out the completely uninspired US box art for both III and IV. Come on, guys...just some weapons? That's it? Even II had at least some dudes on it, even if it wasn't with the awesome Japanese art that actually fit the game. But...just a sword? You have a game with a rich story, multiple viewpoints, and intersecting arcs and a sword is the best you can come up with?!

Anyway, let's actually talk about the game.

First impressions last forever

Purple armor.

I'm playing as Ragnar, a warrior and leader of the guards, on a quest to slay monsters and save missing children, and I'm wearing purple armor?

Also, the color palettes of these games are all weird, but I only now noticed because of my armor clashing so horribly with the road. Maybe I'm fixating on something not important here.

Lastly (and this isn't really a "first impression" because it happens several hours in), not being able to control your AI characters when you play as the "Hero" was a dumb idea. Come on, Enix!

But as I played further...

Ok, now that my petty gripes are out of the way, I can say I love Dragon Warrior IV. It's such a cool game! First off, it takes five chapters before you actually get to the main character's line. Five chapters! And each chapter has their own hero (or set of heroes) that you control, providing background and meshing the whole story together. That's cool, especially for a NES game!

There's also tons of stuff to do in this game. Trade for better weapons. Play as a merchant. Gamble your money at a casino. Fight enemies (though the grind is almost completely gone in this game). Save your game at a Church. Watch as the story unfolds and meshes together. The possibilities are endless!

All this paired with faster gameplay, great music, same nostalgic graphics, and a great narrative. Dragon Warrior IV is a marvel on the NES.

So what's the conclusion?

This is easily the best NES RPG out there, though I guess I'll accept arguments between this one and Dragon Warrior III, if only because that game's class system is cool. But still: one of the best, for sure.

While Final Fantasy II/IV was getting awards for finally adding a narrative to JRPGs, Dragon Warrior IV was criminally ignored, and I'd argue it had a better story than Final Fantasy IV, or at least a more coherent one. That's not a diss on FF IV (love that game too), but...come on. You fly to the moon on a ship called the Lunar Whale. High art we weren't going for.

If you're a JRPG fan and a retro game collector, this will be your crown jewel in your collection. Unfortunately, it almost costs that much, with prices having skyrocketed in the last little bit, making carts by themselves in the $80 range. If you just want to play the game, the DS remake is considerably cheaper, and for the most part is wholly loyal to the original game.

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Nathan vs His Game Collection: Day 17 - The Birth of the JRPG

You may note there's only two games on the list today, and you are probably either sad or finally glad it's a reasonable amount to read in a sitting. The reason for this is my wife and I are currently starting an etsy shop to sell all the perler crap we make (if you want to see more stuff we've made, check out the archives of this blog; there's tons). We will alsob e selling them at a local convention in May, so we've been both making inventory as well as designing a logo, etc. It's been hectic, and as such reviews are going to have to take a slight break.

I also write novels and am trying to sell my tenth and eleventh as well as write my twelfth, all while managing a full-time graveyard shift, so it's been pretty busy. But expect reviews back in full force once stuff calms down a bit.

Regardless, today is about Dragon Warrior (or Dragon Quest, in Japan). So let's put on some Dragon Warrior tunes and get kicking!

Dragon Warrior

A little background

Heh, a "little" background. Right.

In Japan in 1986, Enix invented a genre that would become a staple of Japanese game design. Yuji Horii, who admitted to being a fan of Western RPGs around that time such as Ultima and Wizardry, decided to try his hand at the whole thing with a new way to approach the RPG. Pairing up with the now-legendary Akira Toriyama (manga artist responsible for Dragon Ball as well as the art for Chrono Trigger), they made a fantasy game in the styling of medieval Europe, a popular time period for most RPGs in general (tabletop or otherwise). A simple plot was established: slay the dragon, save the kingdom, and you were thrust into a world full of magic, battles and slimes.

The game sold incredibly in Japan (the series still out-sells Final Fantasy over there, and when a new Dragon Quest game comes out it's practically a national holiday), but floundered in the States, despite having improvements like a battery to save your game (how did they not have this in Japan?!). The game is well known because Nintendo, suddenly burdened with thousands of copies of this game that nobody wanted, decided to hand it out free with every subscription to Nintendo Power magazine. Subscriptions went up, people got Dragon Warrior, and the JRPG craze was born.

The influence of Dragon Warrior/Quest cannot be understated. It single-handedly laid the groundwork for what would become Japan's most iconic genre: the JRPG. Turn based battles with plenty of grinding, experience, and magic are what Japan seems to be known for now, and resulted in some of the best games ever released. Even the famous Final Fantasy series, which is considerably more popular over here than Dragon Quest, only exists because Square, close to bankruptcy , decided to "borrow" and improve on the incredibly successful Dragon Warrior format.

While the battle of whether Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy reigns supreme as the best JRPG series of all time is still ongoing, the truth will never change: Enix did it first. And they made history.

But is Dragon Warrior still any good? Um...

First impressions last forever

YEAAAAAAH THE CASTLE SONG.

Wow, was this game really this...Old English heavy? I guess it was, but the game is really seeped in it. It's like when I replayed Final Fantasy IV and was amazed at how awful the translation was. Anyway...

Oh yeah, you have to use a command for everything. Can't just walk down a stairs, have to Menu-->Stairs. Can't just talk to the guy, have to Menu-->Talk. Sadly, you still can't "Open" the king.

Also, a Slime Draws Near! Command? So classic.

But as I played further...

When I said this game was a framework from which all future JRPGs were molded, I meant it. It's just a framework. This game is as bare bones as you get: go outside, kill hundreds of monsters for money and minor XP, buy the next sword. Kill the next level of monsters slightly farther away. Get the next best sword. Cross the bridge. Die. Grind from the weaker monsters until you get a spell. Cross the bridge. Die again. Grind more. Be thankful for the evolution of JRPGs.

Don't get me wrong, it's still classic. I especially love the text narration during the battles (which Mother/Earthbound copied and made marvelous), which has since become iconic to the series. I also like the music (to a point) and think the dated graphics are charming. It's just ans atrocious grindfest, and doesn't stop being an atrocious grindfest all the way up until the end.

So what's the conclusion?

Dragon Warrior might be one of the most important games ever made, but it isn't all that great to play currently. While I still think everybody should have it in their collection (and copies are all over the place), as far as a game worth playing today it kind of comes up a little short. It's still charming and has some great design, but overall you're probably better off playing the sequels.

Don't get cheated; copies are under $5, and again: they're everywhere.

Dragon Warrior II

A little background

After the resounding success of Dragon Quest in Japan, a sequel was inevitable, and came out in January of 1987 over there, less than a year after the first game. Here in the states, however, we gave the first game such a lukewarm reception we didn't see this sequel until September of 1990 (I'm honestly surprised they brought it and the other two games past it over at all, considering Square didn't bring Final Fantasy II or III over). It's worth pointing out this is just a mere year before Final Fantasy II/IV would smash player's expectations on the SNES, meaning this and the other two Dragon Warrior games to follow were criminally overlooked (and became rare collector's items).

Dragon Warrior II was consistent to the first game, but with a few rather dramatic changes. Gone was just a single character fighting single enemies: you now had a party of three and could battle monster groups. The story was a bit more fleshed out, as were the graphics, though the nice battle backdrops were replaced with just black space (not an improvement). But that's best left for the review.

First impressions last forever

This game still has the whole "open a menu to do anything" tedium, and at first glance it looks a lot like its predecessor. However, after just a little while I noticed the dramatic differences, including the better inventory system, combat, and (of course) better characters (since you get three now!)

But as I played further...

Unlike the first Dragon Warrior, which hasn't aged gracefully, Dragon Warrior II is surprisingly solid. While you'll still do a good deal of grinding, the story is better, the gameplay (especially battles) is faster, and the overall experience is much more enjoyable. When I think of 8-Bit JRPGs, I usually think of this game, Dragon Warrior IV, and Final Fantasy. All have held up very well today, but I still give the edge to the Dragon Warrior games.

This game also has a ton more enemies than the first game, all just as charming and rich with personality as the rest of the series. It's still a lot of fun, while not having jumped off the deep end into that "let's waste your time on useless story stuff instead of gameplay" thing that creeps into modern JRPG.

So what's the conclusion?

Dragon Warrior II is exactly how a sequel should be: bigger, better, and more badass. With faster battles, more characters, a better story (even though it's still kind of nonexistent), charming graphics, and the same great music, Dragon Warrior II is an essential NES JRPG. While you could argue that III and IV are technically better, I still think it (and it's two NES sequels) all stand up as solid to this day.

That's spoilers for later reviews, but you'll live. Unfortunately, the prices are only going to go up from here, with Dragon Warrior II usually running around $20-25 depending on quality.

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Nathan vs His Game Collection: Day 16 - DOUBAHL DRABBLE

The well-written subtitle of today is from the opening line of Double Dribble, where a bad English pronunciation of the game's title paired with the NES's fantastic sound chip results in some pretty great hilarity.

I've been playing God of War: Ascension over the past couple of days, and I must say...I'm not all that impressed overall. I felt the games took a dip in quality when they jumped to the PS3 (not in the graphics department, of course, but the overall game feel and storytelling) and Ascension feels like everything God of War became that I didn't enjoy, instead of everything God of War was in the first game that initially drew me to the series. Regardless, I'll have a review up once I beat it. Eventually.

Today I don't have anything too special, but I was thinking about Mega Man X, so here's the best song from that. On with today's batch!

Double Dribble

A little background

Double Dribble is known in Japan as Exciting Basket, which might be the silliest name for a video game. Imagine if you didn't know this game were a basketball game...what would you think of when you heard "Exciting Basket?" The most hardcore basket-weaving game of all time! SIGN ME UP.

Anyway, this was an arcade game turned NES game in September of 1987. It's worth noting this preceded Konami's other sports game, Blades of Steel, by a little over a year. I only bring it up because these games look and play very similarly, except with a sports change-up. Like I know anything about sports! Basketball and hockey are like the same thing, right? Put things into mesh circular other things. Done. I won sports.

First impressions last forever

"DOUBAHL DRABBLE."

That voice is even better than the Blades of Steel voice! Though I can see the tech has improved in that year; at least I can understand the Blades of Steel guy.

Oh right, the game.

The intro scene, where all the people crowd to the stadium, looks kind of awful, but once you get in the game it looks good. I like how the dude shoots a hoop next to each of the settings when you change it, even if that's kind of a massive waste of time. I also like that the controls are super simple.

But as I played further...

This is a very solid NES basketball game, and probably my favorite NES basketball game. The characters look a lot like the Blades of Steel guys, and I'm ok with this. The controls are also similar and simple: one button passes (based on the direction you are currently holding dictates to who), and one button for shoot. Tap the button to shoot, hold it to dunk (if you're close enough). The game moves fast and you can have 5 minute halfs, meaning the game won't overstay its welcome.

The game is ok against the cpu, but really shows its stuff in multiplayer. The fast-paced, extremely smooth ball play reminds me of NBA Jam (which wouldn't come out for a while later), and you can get quite competitive. My only complaint is it's hard to steal a ball back after the other team has it (no shoving like in NBA Jam) but it's a minor issue.

So what's the conclusion?

Double Dribble is surprisingly good! While it isn't Blades of Steel (the addition of fights and being able to "check" opponents make the turnaround of the puck frequently, unlike the ball turnaround in Double Dribble) it's still very fast, very smooth, and a lot of fun. Konami really brought their a-game to the NES, and it shows. I also like that it plays official music during the games. It's cool!

The game is also very cheap; usually under $5 for a copy. If you like two player NES sports games, this one is a must-grab.

Dr. Mario

A little background

Ah, Dr. Mario. Gunpei Yokoi, most famous for being the father of the Game Boy, was the key developer in this Nintendo staple, which came out in the US in October of 1990. It was rumored this game was made after seeing the incredible success of Tetris, and Nintendo wanted in on this action. They'd make other NES puzzle games as well, including Yoshi, Yoshi's Cookie, Wario's Woods, and the awesome Tetris Attack on the SNES, but this was their first successful venture into this type of puzzle game.

The game is similar to Tetris only that things fall from the top of the screen to the bottom. In truth, it's a bit like what Bejeweled became, focusing on matching colors in a row rather than clearing lines. The game since became a classic, re-released on every Nintendo system to date (sometimes multiple times) without every changing the core "three colors, two-sided pill" idea. It was just too good to change.

As a bit of a personal note, my wife and I played this game a lot at a local arcade when we were dating, and she is absurdly good at it. Seriously, I did well against her on almost all other games, but on Dr. Mario she wiped the floor with me. We even bumped her difficulty up to five higher than mine and increased the speed and she still won. I guess I just suck at Dr. Mario.

As a final aside, I think Dr. Mario 64 is the best version of this game released, just because it has four player vs support. Four player Dr. Mario is pretty hectic and fun if you have three friends who are pretty good at the game.

But I'm not. I'm just there as a sacrifice.

First impressions last forever

The music has since been iconic. Interestingly enough, I like Chill over Fever, which seems to be abnormal. Fever's great and all, but I dig Chill's mellow beats. Probably because I first played Dr. Mario as the Wario Ware Inc. unlockable on the GBA, which only has Chill.

Oh yeah, um...the game looks good and is simple: get four in a row, hopefully with viruses. Clear out all the viruses, go on to the next stage. Easy.

But as I played further...

There's a few things that still irk me about Dr. Mario that I still haven't gotten over (and are probably why I suck). First, the second those pills touch something else, they stick forever like super glue. Unlike Tetris, where you have some flipping/moving leniency before a piece "locks," this ain't the case in Dr. Mario.

Second, it's really easy to bury yourself and be stuck beyond fixing. Unlike Tetris, where you can screw up but you always seem to have a way out, it seems like in Dr. Mario the game is out to get you. Pill remains pile up higher than the viruses, burying them under useless colors, and you realize it's going to take ten minutes to just fix the mess you made during the first minute of the game. It doesn't help that...

...Third, the game loves to toss you useless pills. All the red viruses are gone? Dr. Mario tosses down another double-red pill. Um...are you the worst doctor ever? We cured red, you fool! Put that bottle away and only toss down blue or yellow ones!

I'm gonna sue Dr. Mario for malpractice.

So what's the conclusion?

Despite me sucking and having irrational anger at the game for that, Dr. Mario is still a really solid, very fun and addicting action-puzzler. The Wii port is for babies and shows you the next 4-5 pills, which is cheating for pansies. Men (and my wife) play Dr. Mario only knowing the very next pill and that's it! WIMPS.

Anyway, Dr. Mario on the NES still holds up to this day, and is still a very good version of the game. It has two-player support, so your wife can destroy you at it too (or whatever your significant other may be), so grab two controllers and have a great (?) time.

People love to inflate this game's price (around $10-15), but you can probably grab it for cheaper with savvy shopping.

Dragon Power

A little background

Don't be fooled by the stupid, american-ized cover: this is very much a game based on the Dragon Ball manga. Released by Bandai (ugh...) in March of 1988, Dragon Power also holds the title of being the only Dragon Ball game released on the NES in the US, Z or otherwise. It's important to keep in mind that this is before Dragon Ball Z really took off in the states; Goku and otherwise weren't known over here, so putting some generic Karate Bro on the cover made sense...I guess. In Bandai's mind. Who knows what is going on in there.

The game also had an interesting bit of censorship, where one of the power-ups were woman's panties. They were changed to rice balls in the US, for probably obvious reasons.

First impressions last forever

Man, this game looks like an old NES game. Blocky, badly-drawn sprites with no black outlines, really jittery animation and bad color composition...game looks kind of awful. But also weirdly...charming? The cutscenes with awful writing and their animated faces are kind of endearing, and I like that Goku always has that happy-go-lucky smile on his face. The game, despite being hideous, kind of lured me in with its style.

But as I played further...

The main game is played in an over-head perspective (like Legend of Zelda only...not good), and if you can get the stick early on by going into a secret cave the game is way more fun. If not, punching has horrible range, and enemies with swords will destroy you.

Levels follow a simple pattern: a small, usually one to three screen overhead battle, followed by a fighting game style miniboss. While the overworld stuff is ok (and I like how the enemies fly off the screen when they are killed, like they're yanked off with invisible wire), its the miniboss battles that kill the game. It's hard to deal damage without taking any, with your stick disappearing for these fights and enemies giving no indication they've been hit.

Oh, and if you die even once on a stage, you start the whole stage over. Sure, you have unlimited continues, but we're talking the last five to ten minutes of work here. Yeah, I'm good Dragon Power. No thanks.

Also the music...if we can call it that. It's basically two measures that repeat over...and over...and over...and over...

So what's the conclusion?

I got this game because of the novelty of owning the first Dragon Ball game, and because the contrast between the game (and manga it's based off of) and the actual NES cover art amuses me immensely. While I do think the game's quirky charms are sort of endearing (which is also why I kind of like Kid Niki: Radical Ninja, even though the game is total garbage), it's hard to recommend it as an actual game. The overworld parts are sort of fun, but the one-on-one battles are a wreck. Plus, the continue system will probably turn off most casual players.

It's not a completely broken NES game, but it's not a very good one. Copies are usually around $3.

Dragon Spirit: The New Legend

A little background

Dragon Spirit is "another damn NES shmup," but with a twist: you're a person-turned-dragon! Yes, just like the Dragon Knight in DOTA. Talk about a ripoff.

The game is an actual good Bandai game (shocking, I know) though Namco technically made it. The game also was published by Atari under the Tengen label, meaning there's two versions of this game: the licensed cart version, and the black Tengen cart. As you can see, I have the legit version, though I know people who have the black one. They're the exact same game.

Dragon Spirit is a port of an arcade game by the same name, and sticks squarely into overhead shooting. It came out in June of 1990, and I'm tired of finding background facts for it so screw it, here's impressions.

First impressions last forever

This game actually has a pretty clever way of starting. It gives you a brief title to let you know the game loaded correctly, then tosses you into the action as the Blue Dragon Knight in the opening level. It's a fairly easy opening level, but the neat part is what happens if you die. If you make it to the end, you get another late title card with the "Blue Dragon" beneath it, indicating you're playing the normal difficulty. If you die, however, the game realizes you might need some help, and gives you the same title card with the "Gold Dragon" beneath it, giving you a different dragon and making the game easier. Gold Dragon is missing some levels (and you can't get the "True" ending), but it's cool to gauge a player's skill level through gameplay and then use it to determine difficulty.

But as I played further...

Dragon Spirit is a very good NES shmup. It plays like Xevious or Legendary Wings: you have a regular air attack, but you can also drop limited-ranged bombs on the ground for enemies beneath you. Power-ups are plentiful, which can turn your dragon into a two or even three headed dragon, spraying bullets everywhere, and powering up your attacks. You have a health bar that gives you 3-5 hits before death, but every time you are hit you downgrade a level of attack (also a bit like Legendary Wings) which is obnoxious. Luckily, since the above-mentioned powerups are plentiful, getting downgraded isn't that bad.

The graphics are pretty decent, though they don't hold a candle to the arcade version. The game also runs fairly smoothly without the awful slowdown issues of contemporary Legendary Wings. Plus, you get to travel through time! The first world is you in pre-historic times, burning up dinosaurs with your dragon awesomeness. HOW COOL IS THAT? VERY COOL.

Also the music is good too, every Konami-esque.

So what's the conclusion?

I've said it a lot of times: there's a lot of damn NES shmups available, but Dragon Spirit is an overlooked one that is quite phenomenal. Even on "Blue Dragon" level the game isn't too challenging, and with a turbo controller it becomes even easier. The dragon theme is also pretty rad, turning what might have been a boring space shooter into a dragon apocalypse. I like it, is what I'm saying. I like dragons.

If you like NES shmups and missed this one, I'd say give it a go! It's certainly on my top five in that category, and is loads of fun. The only problem is it doesn't have multiplayer, but hey...you can't win 'em all.

Copies are a bit tricky to find but don't tend to cost much; usually around $5-10.

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Nathan vs His Game Collection: Day 15 - Triple Dragon

FYI, Cards Against Humanity is back in stock on Amazon after a several month hiatus, as are all the expansions. I spent the evening with my cousins playing a rousing game of Space Team (which now supports up to eight people) followed by some absurd Cards Against Humanity offensiveness. It was a laugh riot, to say the very least.

Today's is a classic but an good one for the Youtube: Duck Tales' moon theme, the most Mega Man song out of all of 'em. Nice work, Capcom. I don't envy the guy who is going to have to remix this song for the new Duck Tales Remastered game. Talk about an impossible task!

For tonight, we have the holy triforce of NES beat-em-ups: the Double Dragon series!

Double Dragon

A little background

Everybody knows Double Dragon. An arcade hit turned NES hit, it was released by Tradewest on the NES in June of 1988. In the original promotional material for the game, the now iconic Billy and Jimmy were known as Hammer and Spike (ok...), so that's a fun fact.

For those who somehow missed the memo: Double Dragon is a beat-em-up game. Some like to think of it as the beat-em-up game, the one that made them popular and gave us such classics as the Simpsons arcade game and even more modern interpretations like Castle Crashers. For me personally, Golden Axe and Streets of Rage 2 on the Genesis were my first introduction to that genre, but I still played a good deal of Double Dragon in my youth, as well as in college.

People often falsely declare the genre "outdated," while I personally think games like Castle Crashers are taking the popular idea that started the whole thing (beat up a lot of dudes in awesome ways) and modernizing it, but that's a conversation for another time. Also, Double Dragon NEON is awesome, and IGN is stupid. But considering how completely wrong they've been about other games, it isn't surprising.

First impressions last forever

Yeah, time for some Double Dragon! Hey wait, I picked two player, but there's only one life bar...oh, right. This game's two-player is just switching off characters, Super Mario Bros style. Sorry, wife, looks like you have to wait for me to die.

The controls feel solid, with the kick and punch packing a lot of...well, punch (hur hur), and great "smacking" sound effect. You also can jump and kick, and you feel in control. The graphics aren't half bad either, and I like the opening cutscene of your lady getting punched in the stomach. Not because I'm sexist, but because it just...happens. With no background. And then the story begins. Great!

But as I played further...

Man, the lack of two player is really bumming me out, but the game is still a good deal of fun. I let out a cheer at the first Abobo sighting, and ran up the elevator railings and glitched through the floor like everybody should. For a one-player beat-em-up it isn't half bad, but the fun with these games is two player, so I'll still harp on that. The only two-player mode is some VS combat fighting game thing that sucks. They can keep it.

Also, on a side note, my cartridge is like super glitchy. The colors kept changing, the screen kept flickering, and it froze twice. Time to break out the Q-Tips and Windex...

So what's the conclusion?

Double Dragon is still a solid, fun beat-em-up. What I really like about this game (and its sequel, which we'll cover next) is how balanced the game feels. Yeah, it's tricky and you'll die a decent amount, but you can always get pretty far before screwing up and going down. Or having your cartridge freeze.

It still has my one really big complaint for all these types of games: the insta-"falling down a hole"-death. Having full health and accidentally stepping too far down is so frustrating. Urgh, I'm getting mad just thinking about it!

Regardless, Double Dragon is a lot of (single player) fun. It's also pricey, around $13 these days.

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

A little background

After the runaway success of the first Double Dragon game, Akklaim bought up the franchise and pumped out a sequel. While the arcade game...exists, I think most people remember the NES version of this game. AS THEY SHOULD, because it's easily the best beat-em-up on the system, coming out in January of 1990. I guess that's a bit of a biased opinion before even getting to the review, but you know what? DEAL WITH IT.

I don't want to give any more background. So I'm just gonna play this game, ok?

First impressions last forever

Yeah, actual two-player action! Just don't pick "Game B," because then you can hit each other.

This game is iconic as balls. The first major change is the controls. Rather than have one button kick and the other punch, now buttons are a direction of attacking. A will always attack to the right, and B to the left. If you're facing the direction of the attack you'll punch, and if not you'll do a back kick. With one swell foop, Double Dragon II fixed the big problem with these types of games: getting surrounded and getting attacked from behind. Brilliant.

But as I played further...

This game is a freaking blast! I even love the awful engrish and corny cutscenes. "G-R-A-S-P!"

The game is also quite fair. After beating each stage your life gets refilled, and while you don't get an absurd number of lives like in Double Dragon 1, three each is more than enough for a two-player game.

This game also has a lot of really cool places. From the streets to the rooftops, the inside of a chopper to an undersee lab, Double Dragon II goes all over the place. The graphics look quite good, and the controls and sound effects are solid.

So what's the conclusion?

Double Dragon II is easily the best in the series, and still stands up today as one of the best beat-em-up games I can think of. It's never unfair (except maybe that one room where you step out of the door onto a conveyor belt that tosses you into a pit...), plays great, looks great, sounds great, and is an absolute kick co-op. Get it? "Kick?" Because...you get it.

This is an essential game for any NES collector. Seriously. It's just...so good. With so many people trying to revive this game (including the absolutely offensively bad XBLA Double Dragon II game that just came out...seriously, don't buy it), it's crazy that this sequel is still the absolute best.Carts are a bit cheaper than the first game, but not by much. Usually $10-15.

Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones

A little background

Man, why is that picture blurry? I swear my phone just decides when a picture is going to be good or crap on its own accord. Or it knew Double Dragon III's legacy...

Yeah, so after II drop-kicked us in the face with how awesome it was, we get this game, released on the NES in February 1991 and called Double Dragon III: The Rosetta Stone in Japan, though I prefer to call it Double Dragon III: The One They Screwed Up.

Without going into too much detail, this game flopped pretty bad, essentially killing the series (though they did make the Battletoads crossover game) and got scathing reviews. Which is weird...how could they screw up Double Dragon? Just...do II again but with new stuff, right? How is that hard?

First impressions last forever

This game actually gives a pretty good first impression. The cutscenes are sort of cool, and the game looks really good. The combat seems to be taken from Double Dragon instead of II, meaning bi-directional hits are out, but whatever. There's actually like a plot too, that seems ripped right out of an old kung-fu movie. How could this go bad?

But as I played further...

Two words: one life. That's it. You get one life, and no continues. Once that life bar is gone, the game is over. Game Over screen and everything. Vamoosh. Start from the beginning. Balls.

Compounded on that is the new enemy AI, which is cheatersville. It seems they realized that the option to hit both ways is gone now, so they intentionally surround you and get you hit-locked. As a bonus, whenever anybody new shows up off screen, their opening attack is a jump-kick, which you can't dodge if you're locked in a combo punching somebody. So you'll take a hit (either from the kicker, or from disengaging the guy you are currently beating the spittle out of) and down your single life goes. Ugh.

I'd comment on length or levels or something, but I honestly can't beat the first level. I seem to remember getting to the end of level 2 at some point (the game at least fills up your life after each level), but never beyond that.

So what's the conclusion?

Double Dragon III: A Festering Suckfest isn't worth your time or attention. It seriously sucks that, after the greatness of the second game, they somehow messed this up so much it's worse than even the first game! You may think I'm being too hard on this game, but seriously: it's Battletoads level of frustration here. And at least Battletoads had continues. I'd rather play Battletoads than this game, seriously. The most painful games are the ones that we really want to be good (and have a pedigree behind them) but just don't cut it (Final Fantasy XIII, I'm lookin' at you too). Double Dragon III isn't worth your time or money. Just stick with number two.

Copies are the same price as the rest of 'em, usually around $13.

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Nathan vs His Game Collection: Day 14 - Label Damage

Today's is going to be short, both because I'm short on time and there isn't all that much to say about the games in question. Still, here's a youtube link to a Skyrim theme on violin and piano. Purdy.

And that's it! Boring day over here from me; busy with life stuff, but still managing to put out a daily review batch because I care.

Destiny of an Emperor

A little background

Oh geez, oh gosh, oh man, what happened to that label? This was another gift, and it looks like the game went through the war, not to mention there's that huge price-tag on the lower half. Oh well...it happens.

Destiny of an Emperor is a Capcom joint, though it looks more like a Koei game had a baby with Dragon Warrior. It was released in September of 1990, and is widely considered a "hidden gem" of the NES library? Is it?

First impressions last forever

Holy cow, this game is so Dragon Warrior. Having to enter a menu to talk and examine, the sprites look exactly like Dragon Warrior (only more Japanese , the and even the mountains and trees in the world map have a Dragon Warrior flavor. How many times can I say Dragon Warrior in a review? Dragon Warrior, Dragon Warrior, Dragon Warrior...

But as I played further...

It gives a somewhat weak first impression, with truckloads of ambiguous text and a weird opening cutscene and no explanation for what you are doing (besides killing a band called the "Yellow Scarves." Really threatening name there, guys). But before long, you realize this game is basically just Final Fantasy (again, another game they knocked off) only much more fast paced. Which, honestly, I'm down with that.

Fights are done in random encounters that look...bland, but it does have some nice character pictures in the corner when they attack. A little touch I really liked was that your hit points are actually soldiers under the commander's...well, command, and when you get hit you lose that many guys. Massive manslaughter here!

You gain more commanders and tacticians as you advance, and in order for your sub-generals to do advanced commands you have to assign them a tactician. You can only have six people in your party at once ("only"...), but the battles are very fast and pretty hard, which is a plus.

So what's the conclusion?

I will openly admit I didn't play enough of this game to probably give it a fair rating, but I will say that I warmed up to it quite a bit after getting a little more into it. While my initial impressions were just "Lame Dragon Warrior knockoff," the game actually feels a bit more like Dynasty Warriors meets Final Fantasy, which is pretty neat. The story seemed ok, and the translation was at least decent. As a whole, if you are looking for a totally unique turn-based strategy game on the NES that isn't a Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior game, Destiny of an Emperor is worth checking out.

Copies are usually between $5-10 (depending on the label damage...)

Donkey Kong Classics

A little background

I will openly admit this review is kind of stupid, because Donkey Kong Classic is just a compilation of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr, and I own a DK Jr. cart, so it's next on the list alphabetically. But for the sake of purity, we're doing this one first.

Donkey Kong Classics is...well...two NES Donkey Kong games together. It was released in October of 1988, and it's worth noting that was two years after the ill-received Donkey Kong 3, which isn't on this cartridge. I guess even Nintendo knew that game wasn't as good as the other two.

Since I'm going to give my thoughts on Jr after this, I'll just focus on the original for this review, since I don't actually have an original Donkey Kong cart as of yet.

First impressions last forever

Donkey Kong looks very similar to the arcade game, which is a good thing. The sound effects are spot on, and even though a few graphical effects (like DK smashing down the stage before it beings) are missing, it's still solid gameplay-wise. I also think it's easier than the arcade version, though I can't pinpoint exactly why.

But as I played further...

The biggest fault of this version is the missing level three, which this compilation doesn't even have. If they were making a "best of," couldn't you have brought that level back? I know you have more than enough space on the cart!

That aside, Donkey Kong is still a fun game that I'm awful at. Not as bad as Burger Time, mind, but still not that fantastic. I'm no "King of Kong" if you know what I'm saying. Also, go watch that movie. It's great.

So what's the conclusion?

Do I really have to explain Donkey Kong? You jump. You climb ladders. You dodge barrels. You do it over and over until you get a high score. Simple.

Another thing that fries my bacon about this compilation, I should point out: no battery backup. The original games didn't have it and that made sense - they were older games before battery backups became normal. But for this? Not saving any of my saves after I turn the NES off? This is an arcade game, for crying out loud, two of the most iconic of all time. For this "greatest hits" you could have at least saved my scores, if you aren't going to put that level back in!That's really the biggest problem with the port, to be honest, because besides that it's perfect. If you like Donkey Kong and/or Donkey Kong Jr, this is the copy to pick up, as it's usually as much as any one of those two carts, and has both game on it and they run flawlessly. Also, mine has a little scratch on the top, continuing the "label damage" theme. See? Consistency. The game is usually $10-15.

Donkey Kong Jr.

A little background

Ah, Donkey Kong Jr. My favorite of the original Donkey Kong arcade games.

This cart came out in June of 1986, four years after the arcade release. It is pretty much a perfect port of the original Arcade game and, unlike Donkey Kong, isn't missing any levels. It's also noted as being the first game where Mario is actually the bad guy, capturing the big dumb ape and forcing his wifebeater-wearing son to come save him.

As a fun fact, it's implied that Cranky Kong in Donkey Kong Country is the original Donkey Kong, and since he's that game's Donkey Kong's grandfather, it means DK in Country is the son of Donkey Kong Jr. Leave it to Rare to think our freaking arcade games needed some weird continuity with their series. So does Mario come visit the Donkey Kong Country world? Is Pauline there? Who knows?

Nobody, that's who. And nobody cares, either. Just like the Donkey Kong Rap. Why does that exist?

First impressions last forever

I love Donkey Kong Jr. I don't know why, but it is one of the few arcade games I really got good at. The game has some clunky controls, and it takes a while to realize that if Jr falls from just a little too far, he'll die (what?!). However, after dying a few times in the first world you start to get the hang of it, figuring out the two-handed climb (which is faster going up) and the one-handed slide (which is faster going down) in order to best burn through the levels.

But as I played further...

I've also always felt this game is better than Donkey Kong for a few reasons. First, it gives you an offensive capability that was skill based, not just picking up some stupid invincibility hammer. Knocking down fruit to hit enemies is tricky. Second, it does a good job mixing climbing with jumping, while the original Donkey Kong was more about the jumping than anything. DK Jr. takes the best from the original and spices it up, which I think was smart.

So what's the conclusion?

This is one of my favorite old arcade games (which I'm actually pretty good at, weirdly enough, though not that good). It's similar to Donkey Kong in a lot of ways, but also does well branching out on its own and being unique because of it. Both games are very distinct and require different styles of play to master, and are absolutely necessary for any collector's library.

Copies are around $7-15, but you should probably just get the Donkey Kong Classics collection in this case.

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