Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Comments on the SNES Classic

I wrote about the NES Classic when it was still being called the Mini NES. Since that time we've seen the device launch with too few units produced to artificially drive up demand then get cancelled before it ever could. I once wrote about how this was a brillaint tactic with the launch of the Wii but it's one that you can't use too often. Nintendo has gone from gaining up-sells off a killer app to, with the endless supply blocks the Amiibo line had, a basic part of their business approach.

Nintendo markets itself on being fun for the whole family while surreptitiously appealing to obsessive collectors. As a result, intentionally under-supplying key products has moved from making more appealing products to children to instead giving power to the secondary market. That is, people who grab up the few available stocks then re-sell them at a hefty markup. This makes children sad, parents frustrated, fans despondent and all around it hurts the brand. Nintendo really needs to stop doing this.

It's all the more important they stop doing this as they're releasing another pesudo-console. This time based on the SNES.

Let's talk about the hardware first. Much like last time, it's a small device that's compatible with the original controllers but not the original cartridges. Obviously this is much cheaper than full backwards compatibility but it begs the question of why bother making authentic SNES pads instead of using, say, the Wii remote connectors? I guess it's less important now that the Switch is out and has abandoned Wii remote compatibility entirely. The biggest improvement is that the controller pads are 5 feet (about 1.5m) instead of the NES Classic's 3 feet. Fortunately the package contains two pads from the get-go, so that's two things Nintendo's improved since the NES Classic.

Once again there is only HDMI output and once again I would like composite as well at the very least. For people who want to play some of the more technically demanding games on the device with minimal frustration or enthusiasts who want to show what sprite art looks with scanlines all over the place, Nintendo should show some interest. Particularly if they again under produce this device and it becomes entirely the domain of the super hardcore and scalpers.
AThe power is again supplied through a USB cable. For people playing on fancy modern TVs with USB ports this is likely going to be okay. The real issue is that Nintendo's official stance is that a USB transformer is required to operate the device. It's only sold separately so the goal is clearly to hoodwink people into an extra purchase that they likely don't need. A powered USB hub will probably cover your needs with greater utility. I thoroughly doubt this device requires more power than a raspberry pi. So all in all, they made an improvement on the product's value from last time then dropped the ball to be jerks in another way.

Finally, let's talk about the games. The NES Classic was a simple device and easy to bust open so people could play pretty much whatever they wanted so in a strict sense grumbling about a lineup only has so much merit. What's important with the official lineup on any such device is it shows a combination of who Nintendo currently has an amiable relationship with, as well as what parts of their history they want people to actually remember. That they wanted people to remember Kid-fucking-Icarus still baffles me, but this is the company that's also charging extra for the power supply they're claiming you need to operate a device at all.

Anyway, I really, really like the SNES Classic's list. As such I'll just give some quick thoughts on each game and mention if they were available in good old PAL land as they appear.

Contra III: The Alien Wars (1992, Konami)
This was released in PAL lands as Super Probotector 3. In the era of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, there was some interesting editing choices going on, mostly stemming from Germany and the UK's requirements. That it's flatly indicated as Contra III suggests that every region's getting the US or Japanese roms. Given that the SNES is when the 50hz refresh rate of the PAL format started to make a really serious impact on game design and awkward ports, this is a good call. 3 and Hard Corps Uprising are my favourite Contra games so I have absolutely no complaints about this being on the device. It's also one of the few simultaneous multiplayer games on the device.

Donkey Kong Country (1994, Rareware)
I recall Shigeru Miyamoto deriding their new partner's decision to use pre-rendered 3D models for the art at the time. Having its artistic rival sitting at the bottom of this list means players can decide for themselves which looks better in 2017. I know people will insist that DKC2 is the superior title and soundtrack, but the first game has such a wonderful atmosphere. At a time of raucous music, garish colours and ever increasing speed, the slower pace, natural scenery and ambient soundtrack make this game stand out even today. Plus the speedrun strategies for this game are amazing.

Earthbound (1994, Ape | HAL Laboratory)
Hey look, along with that rerelease of Mother it seems people at Nintendo besides Masahiro Sakurai are acknowledging these games some more! There was no PAL release of this game (likely due to the ill-advised American advertising campaign helping kill sales) at the time so pretty much everyone I know locally with familiarity played the game via emulation after seeing Ness in Super Smash Bros. There's no Dragon Quest entry on this device so we might as well have a quirky parody of it instead. It's also a game people can play and lament the death of Satoru Iwata, as his programming turned the game from a crash-heavy mess into the pretty darn stable final product.

Final Fantasy III [Actually it's VI] (1994, Squaresoft)
We've got the US name here so we're getting the US Rom and that sweet, sweet Ted Woolsey translation, baby! FF6 is presented as a hammy opera and lines like "That's Shadow! He'd slit his momma's throat for a nickle!" and "Son of a Submariner! Grr, they'll pay for this!" breathe so much more life into a  game that could come off as yet another dang Square game otherwise. Unlike the stability of the above game's code, it's a miracle that FF6 even boots on startup. Stats that don't function as intended (if at all), unforeseen exploits and a gigantic roster that by mid-game are pretty much completely homogeneous all make this game a mechanical disaster. Fortunately the soundtrack, art and generally cheesy presentation make for a memorable adventure with some great surprises along the way.

F-zero (1990, Nintendo EAD)
Whooooooooooa! Check out this sprite scaling! Too bad this game has mechanically aged horribly! I suppose it gives people some variety should they ever tire of Super Mario Kart but ho boy am I not a fan of this game. Of course, the series a whole really found its voice when Nintendo paid other people to make it for them so that's not much of a surprise. Given that it was a launch title though, the game's pace really was a breakthrough at the time.

Kirby Super Star (HAL Laboratory, 1996)
It's that famous one. The one with Meta-knight. The one where Kirby sells the Triforce for money that he never uses, splits his home planet in half as a sport and I swear he murders some chicks as well. Depending on the director Kirby games move at either a brisk or lackadaisical pace and this is definitive example of the former style.  I have a lot of respect for this series and anyone firing the game up will probably see some of why. Now have my favourite inetertextual work related to this game made this year.

Kirby's Dream Course (1994, Nintendo EAD | HAL Laboratory)
Kirby's shape-shifting and round shape have led to him being a great excuse to do wacky game ideas. Remember that game with the gyroscope on the Gameboy Colour? Or the games about drawing paths for him? How about the completely insane mini-golf simulator that I swear inspired Ribbit King? If you've never played Kirby's Dream Course before, you owe it to yourself. Then watch a Tool-Assisted Speedrun of it and weep that you will never understand the physics that well. I swear, if F-zero GX is a game not made for humans, this was the prototype.

The Legend of Zelda:A Link to the Past (1993, Nintendo EAD)
Afer the first game's love for obscuring everything and the sequel serving as a precursor to what are often called Metroidvanias, it's A Link to the Past. That serves as the true beginning of the Zelda formula. Complete 3 dungeons to gain a stronger sword and set off a plot twist. Complete 8 or so more to rescue the princess. There's still a lot of weird details in this game that show it was aiming to be a fleshed-out, somewhat logical world instead of meeting its Zelda KPIs. My favourite is the boss that is weak to an item you don't even find in a dungeon. Great game.

Megaman X (1993, Capcom)
I'd peg this and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood as two of the best examples of sequels that really took to the new hardware generations with excitement. They both radically open up movement options, increase game pace, have far flashier combat moments and make you feel like you're in a new era of game design. Whether you like the wacky guitar MIDIs Capcom composers were fond of on the SNES is up to you but ho boy will some of those melodies dig into your brain. Great game that others have likely said more than I need to. Excellent tutorial level.

Secret of Mana (1993, Square)
This leaves me worried that nobody has interest in giving an international release for the Seiken Densetsu Collection. There's also no third controller slot on the SNES Classic. Anyway, this game was intended for the SNES CD that never eventuated so it was a rush job with blatantly cut content in nearly every way. The rough, weird dialogue, breakneck pace and areas that feel both sprawling and tiny all wind up adding to the charm though. It's like when friends come over to your place suddenly and you realise you've only got  in the house a tin of tuna, some frozen vegetables, half a packet of pasta and some chicken soup. The dish you whip up might not be a 5* 3 course meal but that pasta bake's got heart, damn it!

Star Fox (1993, Nintendo EAD)
Release in PAL land as Star Wing due to an Atari game with the original name. I have a half-baked script for a series of videos reviewing this series so I'll be brief here. This game has aged atrociously. The framerate's bad, the draw distance makes reacting to targets a nuisance and the only song worth remembering is the first level's. It does have that sweet boss with the LED sign saying GOODBYE though.

Star Fox 2 (2017, Argonaut Software)
Outsourced to a British dev team, this game managed to be even more ambitious for its hardware than the first game. Due to the time it took and the looming release of new hardware, the game wound up getting completed then canned by Nintendo as games sometimes do. A nearly complete ROM was released to the internet many years ago and there was a hacking project to finish it off. Since the official complete release is getting put on here, we get to have a very wacky release year for this game. Having played that leak, I can happily say the game is better than the horror that is Star Fox Zero. Controls actually function in this game.

Street Fighter II': Hyper Fighting
Can we have the description say "FROM THE DESIGNER OF KILLER INSTINCT SEASON 1" this time? Hyper Fighting was born from a combination of Capcom USA's desire to make an improved competitive experience for players, and a faster game pace to compete with all those wacky Rainbow Edition bootlegs that run at a speed more like Super Turbo on Setting 3. Innovations in intentional frameskip are melded with a nerfed Dictator and Guile, a buffed Zangief and a Ryu who will kill you if he lands a crossup. Let's say it together, everyone!
[j.MK 2LK(3) 5LK+5HP xx 236HP]x2
Oh and check out the Tomo Tape.

Super Castlevania IV (1991, Konami)
Castlevania is one of my favourite computer games ever made. It might surprise you to then read that I can't stand this game. It's flashy and does lots of exploring with how to make a whip both more exciting and more... whip-like but goddamn is this game LONG. Really, really, LONG. It'd be fine if I could save and resume the game later or if the levels were interesting, but they're not. The game makes the same mistake Castlevania III did of focusing on quantity rather than quality of content. The issue is that while III was taxing due to the levels being harder than I's and there's more of them, IV is taxing due to the levels being easier and there's far too many more of them. The game just winds up feeling like a chore. I do see value in including such a game as it's a reminder to get your priorities right for a quality game, even if new hardware is opening up new opportunities.

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts (1991, Capcom)
While Konami was making the above transition to the SNES, so too was Capcom. While I feel that Castlevania made intentionally clunky controls to convey a sense of horror, the Ghosts 'n Goblins/Ghouls 'n Ghosts series always felt like you're stuck playing Gradius with no Speed Up engaged. It doesn't help that while Castlevania is one of the best examples of a transition from arcade to home console design, Capcom opted to maintain brutal oppression for its own sake. There's a certain purity to this series' love of hating the player but it all too often feels like it's wasting my time. Great entertainment to get a friend to bash their head against one of these games for a while though.

Super Mario Kart (1992, Nintendo EAD)
It's Mario and friends! They're all in karts! There's crazy rubber banding so nobody gets left behind for long! I'd say this game's bottled lightning but by this point in history it's a veritable tesla coil of the stuff. There's not much that needs to be said at this point for this series beyond that it's a delight at almost any level of play and the original Rainbow Road is one of the most gloriously sadistic climaxes to a racing game out there.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996, Square)
This game was so late into the console's life that if it had gotten the PAL conversion and extra localisations it would have come out after the N64's launch. As such, like Earthbound before it it was the domain of emulation play until the Virtual Console release. While the peak of fusing Mario with RPG systems is with Paper Mario & The Thousand Year Door I don't think we'd have ever gotten such a game without something paving the way. All the trademarks of Mario RPGs stem from here. Irreverent humour, twitch mechanics, collecting seven star-related objects. They're all somewhat more serious and muted than they would later become. There's sure as hell no parrying in this game. It was a sign of things to come and an enjoyable romp in its own right.

Super Mario world (1990, Nintendo EAD)I like World more than 3, to be honest. While 3 feels like a child with too many toys who abandons each before getting the most out of it, World is way more interested in fleshing out each concept as much as it can. I often see complaints that there's a lack of variety in setting throughout the game but I have no problem with that. The first game's a classic and it only has grass, tunnel, water and castle areas. Despite being called World it's really more Super Mario Goes To an Island. As such, levels feel like they're consistent, connected and satisfying to move through. The game's new mechanics are mostly overpowered, but the decades of wacky romhacking have shown just how much you can do when you have such strong options.

Super Metroid (1993, Nintendo R&D1)
 The best platformer on the SNES. One of the best of all time. A game that's influenced so many and yet has pretty much never truly been replicated. The brilliance of this game lies in that it subtly sets the player on a railroaded course once they reach Brinstar, yet has enough trust in the player that they'll be able to work out what to do if they don't pick up on the clues or choose to outright ignore them. There's enough minor pickups to incentivise exploring and enough freedom in the base movement that the technically proficient can completely tear the game up. Yet, the boss designs mostly focusing on the "My turn your turn" approach instead of all-out numbers-based slugfests means that there's no real right or wrong direction until Ridley. Want to meet Draygon before Kraid? Sure! Want to meet Phantoon first and go for a world record? Why not! Want to just beat up Kraid, get the Varia Suit and slowly go through Norfair like we wanted you to? You won't feel like a chump for doing so!

Super Punch-Out! (1994, Nintendo IRD)
I find it kind of funny how much representation this series is getting so far. Given that there's pretty much nothing like this game that in an abstract sense is closer to Space Invaders than a fight, it's a neat addition. No more Mike Tyson awkwardness to worry about either. It's still 4 years until he reveals that Austin 3:16 shirt and becomes more acceptable to mention in mainstream culture, after all.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (1995, Nintendo EAD)
This is a game whose artistic direction I absolutely adore. It's about carrying a baby to his parents, so let's make everything look like it's drawn in crayon! Unfortunately, I have grown to hate this game and pretty much every dang Yoshi game since. Kirby's Dream Land is an easy game that remixes its level design and enemy placements if player's want a greater challenge. Yoshi's Island increases challenge by reminding you at the end of the level all the hidden collectables you missed then telling you to do it all again. Without getting hit. This wouldn't be too bad. After all, Super Mario World had five collectables and (sometimes) two exits per stage. The issue is that it's not five in this game. It's twenty five. That's a 500% increase in stuff to find. In levels that are even longer than World's. As the game wears on it becomes more and more of a slog to rival Super Castlevania IV. Except at least in that game when you reach the end it's actually the end. In this game you're told to go through it again searching every. Single. Nook. And. Cranny. This gets even worse in later games with entries like Yoshi Story making you sniff every single patch of ground. Gets points for acknowledging the quick kill on Naval Pirahna though.

So that's... 21 games? Huh. The NES Classic had 30. I'm not sure that giving a perception of one console's games being more valuable than another is the best idea. Perhaps Nintendo's just assuming you don't actually know how many were on the NES Classic since you probably never had a chance to buy one that wasn't on the secondary market. Let's put down 9 games to fill out the roster.

NHL 93 (1993, Park Place Productions)
There's a disturbing lack of arcadey sports games on this device. All the weirder since the last one had a Tecmo Bowl. NHL's a game whose sport is almost equally niche across markets but is an absolute joy to play. Beat people up, steal the puck, get goals. Plus it's an EA game, and I believe they're the current holders of the license for...

NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (1994, Midway)
Pretty much the best 90s arcade style sports game. A true symbol of its era. Edgy cameos, digitized motion captured movements, is a basketball game. Making even ice hockey seem like a tame affair, NBA Jam is a true combat sport. Shove people while yelling "HOOAH" then go for 3 from downtown. How'd you pull off that flaming slam dunk? Is it the shirt? Is it the shoes? What matters is it's a joy to play and probably the best art direction of any Ed Boon game.

Panel de Pon/Tetris Attack (1995, Intelligent Systems | Nintendo R&D1)
 I'm going to pinch this comment from Gosokkyu: Nintendo's really missed a chance to rebrand this series as Puzzle League, go with some of the weird nostalgia people may have for Pokemon Puzzle League and renew this series. As a competitive game this is a pretty flawed title (rounds are usually decided in the first 60 seconds then take another 20 for the result to be realised) but there's probably ways you could work around that. On a more casual level the way rubbish blocks are dealt with feels satisfying as a comeback mechanic and the marathon modes are satisfying in their own way. This game has nothing to do with Tetris so a rebranding could give Nintendo another niche to grab a hold on. We know there's some demand for competitive puzzlers, as there was that controversy the other year with a Puyo Puyo clone.

Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (1999, Intelligent Systems)
Nintendo and IS have managed to completely rebuild Fire Emblem as a juggernaut brand. I see genuine value in localising this monster of a game and unleashing it on both the Classic as an initial exclusive then later on Virtual Console stores. Reactions to the reduced difficulty of Awakening and so on show there's demand for a hard game. Let's take it up to eleven and change the perception of games being of low valuable simply because they're old.

Goof Troop (1993, Capcom)
There's only one Zelda game for the SNES so let's work in a game that took some obvious influence from it. While the license may be trickier based on the Disney IP, this game's a pretty unique experience on the console and a cooperative delight. The sort of game a parent can play with a child and bond over.

WEAPONLORD (1995, Visual Concepts)
The SNES Classic has an M rating here already, so let's bring in another fighting game! This game was ambitious beyond belief given the hardware it has to work with and I would love to see it get a bit more recognition. A good way to show kids the EXTREME facets of 90s marketing, and fun to compare and contrast with the default state of absurd violence much of the industry has normalised.

Kirby's Avalanche (1995, HAL Laboratory | Compile | ...Banpresto?)
It's Puyo Puyo. Every device needs Puyo Puyo. Especially a version with bizarre garbled audio announcing each character's name. This one also has the weirdest depiction of Kirby. One where he cuts vicious promos on everyone all the time. Maybe he integrated the Suplex power a bit too hard beforehand?

Chrono Trigger (1995, Square)
It's Chrono Trigger. It's one of the best dang RPGs on the console and if you'll excuse the pun, a timeless experience. The audio is stellar. The art is so good that it continues to impress to this day. It's nowhere near as buggy as FF6. For a generation it was the definitive New Game + codifier. This game is so dang good I have no idea why it's not in over FF6. At least Square decided not to shove 4 down our throats yet again.

Drahkken (1991, Infogrames, Kemco-Seika)

Seriously, where the hell is Final Fight 3 (1995, Capcom)?
There's no beat 'em ups on the device. Put Final Fight 3 on.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article, Picho. I found myself nodding along the whole way through. Your extra games are gold, too.