Classics


 

Super Metroid

Super Metroid remains one of the best designed Metroidvanias of gaming, with fantastic level design and visual distinction, as well as good controls and excellent player options. Put this alongside fantastic tone and atmosphere, and you have a game that has aged beautifully over the years.
Total Story Score: +8
Total Gameplay Score: +17

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Atmospheric usage of music and sound
  • Incredible, and consistent, gameplay and story integration
  • Excellent pace of events, following a flow from highs, lows, spikes, and pauses in tempo and intensity
  • Visual storytelling is everywhere throughout the game
  • The Wrecked Ship and the story it tells without a single line of dialogue
  • The fantastic visual and audio storytelling of the post-Ridley fight
  • Tourian in its entirety, with good atmosphere, distinct visuals from the rest of the game, music and audio both designed to augment the tone, and the enemies being used as a storytelling tool
  • Making me somehow care about the death of a metroid… dammit

Story Negatives:

  •  

Gameplay Positives:

  • Good usage of the demo at start to tutorialize as well as inform
  • Ceres Station; Stylized design, quiet lack of music without being silent, clear showcasing of things being wrong, first glance at Ridley. You can’t lose the Ridley fight, avoiding punishing new players too badly. The red filter (contrasting the earlier blue), fake damage from steam, music, alarm, timer, tilting, all make the player feel threatened without actually introducing legitimately difficult or irritating level design
  • Incredible, and consistent, gameplay and story integration throughout
  • Excellent use of directed level design to push the player in given directions without railroading them
  • Consistent usage of the ‘filling the cracks of explorable area’ mentality throughout the game
  • The map design showcases major items and areas, does not show everything, and also gives the player a guide on where to go
  • The mini boss serves as a good combat tutorial; He has three main attacks, one that’s designed to be dodged, one that’s designed to refill your ammo and health, and one that’s designed to just hurt you
  • The Spore Spawn is a great fight. The music compliments the constant nature of the threat of the boss, given that (unless you know what you’re doing) there’s no ‘pause’ or ‘safe’ moment. The difficulty on this mini boss is increased without being unfair, and the game gives you all the tools in the fight to defeat him
  • Kraid is just an awesome fight. Huge, great music, seemingly tons of damage coming from everywhere but actually mostly light damage or easily avoidable, and a big obvious weak point to help guide the player into harder fights
  • The music is just phenomenal throughout
  • The graphics are great and have aged well. They use color well, each area is distinct, the spritework is distinct, and there are visual indicators everywhere
  • You are encouraged, rewarded, and guided in exploring throughout the game
  • Phantoon is the first genuinely difficult boss, and serves as an exam for all the previous mini-bosses as well as Kraid. His presentation is excellent, he has only a bit of randomness to him, you have very little room to maneuver making it much harder to dodge, and he has many attacks
  • The Wrecked Ship is just great. The design of it is completely the reverse of normal; fight boss first, which changes the ship format, which leads to a good type of backtracking, and the reward from it all opens up almost the entire world
  • Ridley is a great fight. Very traditional difficulty with fast moving boss and attacks that hurt a lot, the fight is very vertical and allows for a very frenetic pace, it’s fun, there’s multiple ways to kill him, and it feels very satisfying pulling it off
  • Everything about the Mother Brain encounter, from the lead up, the bait and switch with the Metroid 1 expectations, the music during her fight being loud and bombastic and terrifying, and giving the player the rampage moment to avenge the baby
  • Massive replayability
  • Mostly excellent usage of backtracking throughout the level design, making backtracking either varied in terms of terrain, or varied in terms of path and utility for the player
  • Everything about the final escape sequence is a perfect bookend to Ceres at the beginning. It is intense, it escalates in difficulty, it is frantic and honestly difficult at times, it is wonderfully visually presented as the background and level goes more and more unstable, and once again it is good backtracking

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Some of the power ups here and there have absolutely no indication of their existence whatsoever and either require shooting everything or scanning every square inch of the world
  • The Grapple Beam has squirrely controls, is intended to be mandatory, and just generally frustrating
  • There is a lack of proper checkpointing throughout, especially in Tourian, which leads to making the game more frustrating than it should in punishing mistakes

Donkey Kong Country

While still a good game, Donkey Kong Country is mostly notable for how it would set the bar for the future games in the series. Featuring a lot of frustrating gameplay and imprecise hit and hurt boxes, the game nonetheless is still a classic net positive and is still fun to go through to this day.
Total Story Score: +1
Total Gameplay Score: +6

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Amusing and well characterized ending. Also, everything about Cranky Kong

Story Negatives:

  •  

Gameplay Positives:

  • Excellent music that is both atmospheric to highlight the levels, as well as enjoyable to listen to on its own
  • Continued variance and usage of music to compliment the level design
  • Significant effort done to design a very specific graphical style of the pseudo 3D, and maintain it throughout the work
  • Varied usage of gimmicks and challenges across the levels
  • Re-use of existing enemies and obstacles in new and different ways to vary gameplay
  • Music is just… that damned good
  • King K. Rool is an awesome, varied endurance fight
  • The last world has legitimately challenging, fun, and varied levels, which is a nice breather from the previous two
  • Different playstyle between the two Kongs is good, ease of switching between the two is good, and not having to rely on a given one throughout is good

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Hitboxes and hurtboxes are just too damned difficult to figure out on the fly, and are inconsistent
  • Generally bad and frustrating checkpoint placement, as well as overworld save placement
  • Camera is awful, taking too long to catch up or not showing the right things, which leads to an over-reliance on ‘gotcha’ traps to artificially increase difficulty in the middle worlds

Mega Man 7

Despite looking nice, Mega Man 7 just has not aged all that well, and relies on unusual and imprecise difficulty to elongate playtime, and generally lacks the polish and refinement of previous and later Mega Man titles.
Total Story Score: -1
Total Gameplay Score: +3

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  •  

Story Negatives:

  • Failure to follow through with story elements, interrupted character arcs, and a disappointing ending

Gameplay Positives:

  • In addition to the usual explorative power ups and items, player can improve their toolkit with an in game bolt currency, as an option
  • Excellent variety and distinction of graphics and general spritework
  • Great music… except for the shop song
  • Exceptionally precise controls and movement
  • Dynamic levels based on boss kill order, weapon usage, and player interaction
  • Level design varies and challenges in new and different ways across the original 8 stages
  • The Robotmaster fights are good, enjoyable, varied, and challenging

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Sound design is just awful across the board, but most notably with the charge shot tone
  • Unskippable cutscenes before difficult boss fights
  • Boss refights are boring and barely different, resulting in padding
  • Wily 2 has too many discordant elements in its boss fight, and the result is just lackluster at best

Golden Sun

While the story lacks any real strength or oomph to it, somehow this RPG manages to be consistently enjoyable to play, owing mostly to surprisingly excellent level and puzzle design. Sadly the approach to trash encounters is just awful, making combat boring after a certain point, and aggravating even further on.
Total Story Score: +1
Total Gameplay Score: +5

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Each individual region has their own story arcs, which are tightly contained, interesting, and engaging, and contribute to the feeling of being out adventuring

Story Negatives:

  •  

Gameplay Positives:

  • Animation in combat is good and interesting, and helped by pseudo-3D elements
  • The spritework in general is excellent, with good visual distinction
  • The puzzle design dungeons with Synergy as the toolkit are fun and interesting
  • Some quality of life features (ability to save anywhere, restoring MP by walking out of combat, time-based summoning) encourage the player to feel more free to use abilities, experiment, and feel less stressed
  • Usage of pushblocks to vary up dungeon design and a lack of encounters in puzzle-heavy areas contributes to enjoyable level design
  • Continued variety in puzzle design across the dungeons
  • Still continued variety and enjoyment of puzzle design across the dungeons, all the way to the end of the game

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Aggregate: The lack of any meaningful options or settings // Targeting does not rollover in combat // No memory cursor in combat
  • The trash is just awful. Encounter rate is too high, fights drag on too much and require you to pay attention too much, and the trash is not particularly rewarding in gold or experience, making the whole thing drag

Valkyrie Profile Lenneth

A great core concept hampered by constant design issues peppered throughout, the game is still fun and something I recommend everyone give a try at least once. As an aside, I would also recommend a walkthrough for getting the good ending, as it adds substantially to the story and gameplay.
Total Story Score: +1
Total Gameplay Score: +2

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The core concept is fascinating; gathering people up, seeing short stories of the end of their lives
  • Very unique directorial style; events being portrayed in short-hand, rather than literally, implying more than is shown on camera

Story Negatives:

  • The voice acting is just… awful. Wrong tone, wrong emphasis, wrong everything

Gameplay Positives:

  • The spritework is just fantastic
  • Additional plus for the really good spritework, combined with excellent animation
  • The combat is, for the most part, legitimately enjoyable. Smooth, fast-paced, well animated, and the hotkey system works great, as well as timing combos and other effects
  • A second plus for the combat, which is a decent way to bring player skill into turn based combat
  • The music is pretty good throughout
  • Avoiding enemies is relatively easy to do, between jumping and freezing, and grinding is generally de-emphasized
  • The inherent gameplay structure is so well designed that, despite interface, bad translation, and other issues, the core gameplay concept was quick and fluid to pick up, as well as fun to pursue
  • Aggregate: Difficulty is a smooth enough of a curve that, even while avoiding no enemies, there were no real difficulty cliffs so long as you keep up on equipment // Dying in a dungeon just costs you time, not progress, allowing you to keep experience and equipment

Gameplay Negatives:

  • There is actively misleading or poorly designed information on concepts and items throughout
  • The game heavily leans on walkthrough-itis to figure out when to do what events, what items to keep or send, how to get the real ending, et cetera
  • As with a huge majority of older RPGs, the trash design is lacking; too much of it, too required at a certain point, and just boring after a while
  • Jumping is just plain awful, which is compounded by the platforming sections
  • Unskippable cutscenes
  • Aggregate: Bugs, including one where every time Lenneth changes equipment it de-equips her skills, which is just aggravating // The map is not good, with bad color choice, visibility, and panning // Many dungeons have almost identical appearance and textures, leading to both getting lost and being bored

Treasure of the Rudras

Another fascinating entry of older RPGs and one I definitely recommend trying at least once… with a walkthrough handy. It suffers many of the same issues older RPGs tend to have, but there’s a core nugget of great concepts in both story and gameplay that make it worth trying. Sort of recommended.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: -1

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The scenarios weave into and through each other, which not only elevates each but is generally awesome
  • Surlent’s story has actual plot twists, character development for Sork, background lore, and setting building
  • The lotus machine section of the factory for Riza’s story was cute, legitimately funny, well done, and has no penalty for screw ups

Story Negatives:

  • The ending in its entirety. Riza’s sudden turn around, a preachy message being abruptly shoved in, the awkwardness of their vision of doom, the decision to damn the planet and invalidate literally the entire game in favor of a vague ‘we’ll make it’ all just does not work at all

Gameplay Positives:

  • The mantra system is interesting on almost every level
  • A second plus for the mantra system; which rewards you for jotting down spells and prefixes, is entirely freeform, let’s you build anything at any point limited only by mana pool
  • The animations in combat are quite good, with idle, casting, attacking, and this is despite having a large cast of characters. Enemies have pretty good animations too
  • The scenario system is also good in gameplay, as choices you make and the order in which you do things directly affects how things turn out in other scenarios
  • Allowing the player to fully control the party turn order in initiative is huge, leading to a decent amount of strategy in combat

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Encounter rate for trash is too high, and trash is way too boring
  • A second negative for the trash problem; by the time you get to the second scenario, its just gotten old, plus you can’t generally auto-A through trash at a certain point in the game
  • Unskippable cutscenes
  • The walkthrough-itis is heavy in this one. Often there’s no clues at all for what you’re supposed to do, further limited by requiring you to (sometimes illogically) speak to a specific NPC to advance the script, and even further hampered by the trash encounter rate discouraging exploration
  • The entire game’s pace is just off, making it feel like a complete slog after a certain point
  • The final boss has multiple aspects which are okay individually but when combined make it awful; It’s a multi-stage fight with no pause or recovery, you have a limited inventory size and no option to refill it, the final phase has several RNG elements to it, Flow is not properly defendable, and the game rather suddenly just requires you to grind right at the finish line

Super Mario Bros

This was a very difficult game to review objectively, but per my usual approach I tried to remove nostalgia and ‘considerations of release date’ and review it as if it came out today. And while it does to many things legitimately right, it also has pretty substantial flaws that, ultimately, make it a game that hasn’t aged all that well. We did have to come up with a new concept for this review though.
Total Story Score: 0
Total Gameplay Score: +2
Cheats: No.
Total Play Time: 1 Days // 4 Hours
Time Reviewed: 5-3-2019

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • The core music is upbeat, catchy, loops nicely onto itself, and does not get old
  • The in-game tutorialization built into the level design is great, especially in 1-1
  • The level design in general is good iterative design, varying between obstacles to avoid and obstacles to overcome
  • Aggregate: The rarity of 1-Ups makes it interesting // Multiple power ups in almost every level to help mitigate loss and death // Mid-level checkpoints in almost every level
  • Aggregate: While not the best at it, there is good replay value for people, speedrunning or elsewise, in no small part thanks to… // Warp zones, allowing for a varied experience, skipping content you don’t like, or just playing faster

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Artificial difficulty in the form of the game over and limited number of lives (yes I know there’s the trick to skip back to the proper world)
  • Sudden lack of mid-level checkpoints in World 8 just adds to irritation factor
  • The sudden and substantial difficulty cliff from world 5-1 onwards

Innovators and Codifiers: 2

  • Innovator: Of sidescrolling platforming as a concept, and bonus points for revolutionizing gaming as a whole
  • Innovator: Music innovation for making actual, good music an accepted and recognized concept in game design