A Thousand Words: Wario Land 4

Wario Land 4

When I was a kid, I got a Game Boy Advance, and one of the available games that early in the product’s life cycle was Wario Land 4. It’s still one of my favorite platformers ever, and learning about it and the character’s history has made it even better.

Wario’s origin apparently came from the Game Boy team loathing having to make a Mario game, viewing him as this ugly mustached intruder. So for Super Mario Land 2, they made an ugly mustached intruder. By a good coincidence, flipping the letter “M” in Mario led to a viable pun in both Japanese (Warui) and English (War) for a villain. Wario became popular enough to get his own games.

The excuse plot is Wario finding about an ancient pyramid and then heading off to plunder it. He travels through paintings into various dimensions (it just dawned on me now that this is a parody of Mario 64), and goes on weird escapades. This is a well-done game. The platforming is very good, and the colorful setup manages to work around the GBA’s infamous dark screen without being too obnoxious. It also ditches the outdated arcade holdover “life” system completely-if you die, you just get pushed back to the hub and have to restart the level.

What’s made me extra-fond of this game is that it’s the first that I mastered. I remember how fun it was to be able to effortlessly beat bosses that used to give me trouble, and recall being able to constantly stunlock one boss as a moment of pride. (Also, it was actually hard to accidentally get the worst ending, but I remember being “bad” on purpose to do so as yet another challenge). The GBA had a lot of clunkers, but this was not one of them.

Review: I Refuse To Be Your Enemy Volume 1

I Refuse To Be Your Enemy! Volume 1

It’s time to review another light novel with an overlong title, this one being Kanata Satsuki’s I Refuse To Be Your Enemy! Now, a bit of explanation is in order. Much as how Mack Bolan spawned a glut of mobster-slaying vigilantes, thus the success of Hamefura led to a ton of “reincarnated as a previously doomed video game character” tales that continue to this day. And this is no exception, with game villainess Kiara Credias realizing her predicament and trying to change things.

The problem with this compared to My Next Life As A Villainess is that the latter didn’t go the easy route of just munchkining through with foreknowledge. Instead, Katarina tried to munchkin her way through with foreknowledge and it didn’t work (except it did in that she survived happily). In this case, the “win through foreknowledge” is played much straighter. This is both less amusing in its own right and clashes with the still-present goofy antics.

While this isn’t technically bad , it’s still little more than a 51% book.

A Thousand Words: Pokemon Silver

Pokemon Silver Version

It’s the 25th anniversary of Pokemon, the series of my childhood. And one generation stands out in particular for me-Generation II, more specifically the Silver Version. However, I also feel like this particular generation happened at exactly the right time, when I was young enough to be in total awe but old enough to appreciate it.

I’d say Gen II felt alive in ways that neither Gen I or III did. There’s a clock, and visible day-night progression. Certain events only happen on certain days of the week. There are two regions, both of which look and sound distinct. It feels impressive.

Of course, two regions also lead to something I did notice even at the time-its horrible difficulty progression. Most of the early game is an absolute cakewalk, to the point where I think Whitney’s infamous Miltank gets its memetic status purely because it’s the only even slight challenge in an otherwise effortless journey. Then the difficulty jumps big and stays there.

If I was to replay Gen II now, I’d say it almost certainly wouldn’t impress me nearly as much. But it will always have a place in my heart that none of the other (worthy and enjoyable) games did.

Review: My Next Life As A Villainess Volume 3

My Next Life As A Villainess Volume 3

The third volume of My Next Life As A Villainess takes place after the original planned ending of the story. In-universe, it takes place after Katarina has “beaten the game”. There’s two reasons why this declines in quality. The first is that the second volume was such a good stopping point that it feels a little wrong (even if understandable) to go past it. The second is that the setup just really isn’t that deep, so it’s especially vulnerable to getting worse as it gets bigger.

The structural fundamentals present in the past two books are still there, for better and worse. But it’s definitely lost something. Going from “someone tries to munchkin a setting through foreknowledge and successfully ‘fails’ because she thinks it’s still railroaded when it’s not” to just “light fantasy antics” is a big step down. There’s a reason why, despite enjoying the first two installments, the third is the last I’ve read, with little motivation to keep going further.

Review: My Next Life as a Villainess Vol 2

My Next Life as a Villainess: Volume 2

The second volume of My Next Life as a Villainess deals with Katarina now going to the actual academy setting of the game and demonstrating her biggest character trait of absolute obliviousness towards romantic attraction (the fandom joke is that black holes are less dense than her). One of the biggest and best buildups in the first volume was foreshadowing the game’s protagonist, Maria Campbell. The second doesn’t disappoint when she actually appears. Katarina is clueless to the fact that her being actually nice has already butterflied almost all of the original game’s plot away, and equally clueless to how Maria is now attracted to her.

The plot is worse when it tries to go for more genuine danger and drama, simply because it conflicts with the tone of the rest of the story. But even that’s not too bad. While I can understand why that would be included, it’d probably have been more preferable to just focus entirely on its heroine worrying about nonexistent “death flags”.

It also has a good conclusion as Katarina survives the “game” and hears Maria’s confession, which she of course doesn’t get. When I read that this was the original planned ending, it didn’t surprise me at all. Of course, it was successful enough to continue, but just as how The Sum of All Fears serves as a good stopping point for Jack Ryan, so does this for the series (boy, never thought I’d be directly comparing those two).

The structural issues I mentioned in the past volume are still there. But after seeing so much of setting munchkinism, and coming from an online community where this kind of thing is a stereotype, I love the concept of someone who tries to munchkin the setting and it doesn’t work out (well, in this case it does, but not in the way Katarina thought or intended). While I probably won’t read too far beyond the original end, I still enjoyed this series as a break from tanks exploding.

Review: My Next Life As A Villainess Vol 1

My Next Life As a Villainess: Volume 1

I felt it was time to check out of one of those “anime antics” settings that Spacebattles has a bizarre fascination with. In this case, it was Saturo Yamaguchi’s light novel series, My Next Life As A Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom (these are notorious for their extremely long titles). Frequently abbreviated as Hamefura, this is the story of someone who is reincarnated as a video game character.

More specifically, it’s the story of a schoolgirl who stayed up too late playing her dating sims, which led to her death in a bicycle/car accident as she tried to hurry to compensate the next day. This led to her being reborn as Katarina Claes, the antagonist/rival girl in one of them set in a fantasy academy setting. Upon recovering her memories of her past life, and knowing that Katarina is fated to have a bad end in the game, the heroine tries to get a better fate.

This initial installment isn’t bad. I can see the “it’s a good concept even if the execution is ‘iffy’ ” that made appealing to fanfic writers. The prose is pretty well, matter of fact. I don’t know how much of that is due to translation issues and how much is due to the novel being intended to be smooth and easy to read (you could say it was meant as light literature). But it’s not a deal breaker, and neither are the “anime antics” surrounding Katarina and the inevitable boys. I had fun with it and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual fare here.

A Thousand Words: High Seas Havoc

High Seas Havoc

Data East’s High Seas Havoc is one of the many 1990s mascot platformers. In fact, it was so generic at first glance that when I saw footage of it and wanted to look further, it took some effort to do so. Still, looking at it closely shows some interesting things and some that are very well-done.

The title character, a sailor seal (no, not that kind) has to save the damsel in distress and Macguffin Gem from an evil pirate lord. The opening part is a sort of semi-soft attempt to sort of, maybe a little, come close to Sonic. There’s slopes but not really any mechanics to take advantage of them. The base mechanics are a lot different too-most notably, you have a refillable health bar instead of anything like rings. Then the game gives up on that and goes back to being a completely traditional platformer. It also becomes a lot harder.

Though janky (the main character really needed to be able to use the sword he was shown as having in the box art instead of relying on an iffy flying kick) and having all the issues of a “B-list” game, this is never outright bad. Certainly it’s not a rushed absolute low-effort game like too many other trend-following platformers of this time. And this especially shows in the music. Emi Shimizu’s soundtrack is one of the most underappreciated ever, with my favorite track being “Cold Paradise“.

The level that song plays on, Frozen Palace, is also something to behold. It’s a variant on the typical “mechanical works” level, albeit with freezers and water instead of the usual molten metal. Combined with hovering meditating dogs (yes, really) as some of the enemies, it’s definitely the most unique stage in this game. The rest is more generic, but the graphics are still well done for the time.

There is some undeniable “inspiration” from Sonic and the game is in the same basic field, but it’s different enough thematically and gameplay-wise to not be considered a mere lazy ripoff. Probably the biggest issue besides “cartoon animals” is the gem Macguffin, and that’s small. And did I mention the soundtrack is amazing?

A Thousand Words: Super Mario Land

Super Mario Land

I remember playing Super Mario Land when young and being extremely unimpressed. Of course, this was after I played the (well-done) port of the original Super Mario Bros on the Game Boy Color. So a part of me goes “of course a launch title for a very low-powered console is going to be bad in hindsight”. But another part of me wants to judge it by the standards of the time, when having Mario in a portable form at all was an amazing feat. Certainly the game wasn’t objectively bad enough to be a flop-it was an amazing seller.

And yet with full hindsight, it’s little more than a downscaled Super Mario Bros with weirder backgrounds that feels jerky and unsatisfying. The most obvious example is the physics-fireball, but the rest doesn’t feel as charming as the console games. This isn’t the fault of the weird aesthetic, which I don’t have any issues with. It’s just aged badly.

A Thousand Words: Rocky Rodent

Rocky Rodent

It’s easy to dismiss Rocky Rodent as one of the follow-on Sonic The Hedgehog knockoffs. But looking at it and looking at the actual Sonic games makes for an interesting comparison to what something superficially similar just didn’t understand.

Judged on its own terms, Rocky Rodent is decent enough. The music is good enough, the gameplay is never outright bad, and the styling is legitimately quirky, both in the haircut power-ups (seriously) and general eccentricity (the first boss is an SMG-wielding mobster in a VW Bus being driven by a cartoon rat). However, beyond that it’s one of the best examples of copying the surface of something but not getting the points.

Part of this is the level design, but a far bigger part is that the game uses what’s essentially Mario’s damage system. You have a maximum of two hit points, power-ups increase them by one, and getting hit with a power up causes you to lose it. In areas where you HAVE to be powered-up to get past an obstacle, this means backtracking to get it again if you’re hit.

Compare this with the rings intentionally designed to give you a huge margin for error (so you can go faster with less skill) in the real Sonic series, and you see the problem. It’s less coherent thought and more just following the two leaders. Thankfully the visuals and competence of the game mean this isn’t more of an issue than it is.

In an era of lazy, outright terrible cartoon mascot platformers, Rocky Rodent can at least be successful gameplay-wise and a little distinct setting-wise.

A Thousand Words: Metal Slug

Metal Slug

SNK’s classic series Metal Slug takes the Contra-type “side scrolling shooter” game and adds an unforgettable art style to it. The excuse plot is you controlling a member of the elite “Peregrine Falcons” against the “Rebel Army”-and more weird enemies.

The art, from the goofy yet legitimately detailed sprites to the lavish backgrounds to the smooth animations, is consistently amazing. The music isn’t as standout (with a few exceptions), but is always at least serviceable. As for the gameplay, it’s both very good and inherently limited.

The action, weapon combinations, and controls are all excellent with the exception of a few clumsy platforming sections. The issue is the games are very short and were originally for arcades. So it’s either “be good enough at this very hard game to avoid deaths or just brute-force your way through with credits”. This probably couldn’t have been avoided, but it’s still a little bitter. That being said, this series is a classic for a reason and the games are well worth playing.