Ultimate NES Remix – 3DS

Uh...I don't think Sarkesian really had this in mind.

Uh…I don’t think Sarkesian really had this in mind.

Question: If you could go back and fix or improve a classic video game, what would you change? Would you add save points to Castlevania? Give more experience per battle and an MP magic system in Final Fantasy? Extra stages in Super Mario World? Put Mega Man in the Adventure of Link? Or would you instead chop the game up into tiny bits so as to focus on minute, mundane tasks that have no relevance without the context of the full game, making them so pathetically easy that a comatose lemur could earn a 3-star rating for each challenge? I’ll give you one guess which option Nintendo chose for their Ultimate NES Remix.

Find yourself bored with the mundane challenge of running underneath a turtle with osteoporosis? Try running under a BIGGER turtle with osteoporosis!

Find yourself bored with the mundane challenge of running underneath a turtle with osteoporosis? Try running under a BIGGER turtle with osteoporosis!

With every new significant advance in video game technology comes an inevitable onslaught of ports from systems that had less computing power than my living room carpet. Nintendo develops the SNES and gives us Mario All Stars, Playstation devises a 32-bit disc based console and Namco immediately releases Pac Man for it, a move later followed by Midway Arcade Treasures for the PS2, and now that we have an awesome hand-held system with WiFi communications and 3-D technology without the need for glasses, Nintendo has decided that among all it’s remakes and ports of N64 games, it would give us the option of regressing all the way to the 1980s, but only in 30-second intervals with challenges less entertaining than most tutorial stages. No, If you must know, I didn’t exactly fall in love with this game. In fact, this sort of regressive nostalgia and half-assed attempt at creativity merely reinforces my decision not to buy a PS4 and comes dangerously close to forcing me to get up off the couch and go outside. But that would take too much effort, so let’s see what the game has to offer.

NES5Ultimate NES Remix contains selections from 15 well-loved Nintendo masterpieces and also Balloon Fight (a game that forces me to retract my statement about Joust from a few weeks ago: it didn’t need more variations of game play to make it worth playing for more than five minutes. It just needed to not control like a stack of Kleenex in a hurricane). Each game has between 6 and 25 miniature challenges, such as asking Samus to cross a room without taking damage, having Pit battle Medusa, or Link to find a secret entrance. However, while challenges sound like a lot of fun, Ultimate NES Remix hits their target about as well as a dart player on a carousel.

Oh no! How will I ever find the three coins with thirty seconds and only the silhouette of a few bricks?

Oh no! How will I ever find the three coins with thirty seconds and only the silhouette of a few bricks?

First, no matter what challenge you undertake, your score (from one to three stars, and on random occasions for no apparent reason, stars with rainbow outlines) depends entirely on your time. If Samus has to cross a room and enter a door, for example, you could opt to deftly weave through a crowd of monsters like a high-class thief stealing a diamond in a room full of lasers, but that might take time, and even if you got to that door, you’d probably get a lower score than the player who imagined themselves as Mongo from Blazing Saddles and just hopped in the pool of lava and waded across, hitting the goal on the verge of death. I enjoy timed challenges once in a while, but games that constantly hold me to a tight schedule just takes away the option to stop and smell the fire flowers. (an act I imagine would bear a strong similarity to snorting Tobasco) Dead Rising 2 timed everything, and that game completely took the fun out of beating heads and hacking limbs off zombies.

Second, who cares if Mario picks up the fire flower? If the challenge ends before you get to indulge in some freelance arson, the goal could have just as easily asked Mario to jump to a block, or walk forward, and it would have entertained just as much. One challenge put Link in the 2nd Quest dungeon room with the old man who offers, “Leave your money or your life,” with the instructions that you need to choose the latter and sacrifice one of your heart containers. The entire point of forcing a player into that decision depends on living with the consequences, but the game doesn’t ask Link to do anything afterwards, so we don’t have to consider our sacrifice, and whether or not we’d rather give up that blue ring we’ve saved up for, or if we want to bleed a little and tough our way through the rest of the game. And we didn’t have to go through an entire game to get to that heart container, or Samus’s screw attack, or Mario’s frog suit, so when you get these items, the level of satisfaction you receive almost reaches that of a hand job while under the effects of sodium pentothal.

Face insurmountable odds! Fight low-level bosses during the end game with full health!

Face insurmountable odds! Fight low-level bosses during the end game with full health!

Finally, I may have employed an undue level of generosity by using the term “challenge” to describe the tasks Ultimate NES Remix asks of you. If you’ve ever learned to ride a bike, at one point an adult probably touted their implicit level of trust, claiming they would never consider letting go of the bike while you pedaled, and–of course–let go, thereby shattering your eternal trust in them in exchange for the knowledge of how to balance precariously by your genitals on a knob of hard rubber moving at thirty miles an hour. Well, Nintendo, rather than letting go of the bike like most parents would to prove that you won’t fall over, instead puts on an extra pair of training wheels, then straps you to their back and rides the bike for you. As the challenges rarely last more than 30 seconds, they have a difficulty akin to poking a dead raccoon with a stick. In fact, a few of Link’s challenges, such as “find the secret entrance!” begin mere moments after he has set the bomb or cast the fire that will reveal said entrance, and if the game feels you can handle it, you only have to walk him into the newly revealed secret. Sound too hard? Don’t worry. The game imposes a bright yellow circle over the goal and often includes a yellow arrow pointing to it.

First, you sign them up for the Fruit of the Month Club, then when their intake of dietary fiber reaches epic proportions, you catch them by surprise in the bathroom and hit them with a hammer!

First, you sign them up for the Fruit of the Month Club, then when their intake of dietary fiber reaches epic proportions, you catch them by surprise in the bathroom and hit them with a hammer!

So knocking out three stars in each category didn’t take a whole lot of effort, so I thought, “Why not?” Well, I suppose I also had to consider Anne’s family reunion happening around me, and thought the game would give me an excuse not to talk to anyone. but still, I took a few days and earned each star in each challenge. I believe–although don’t quote me on this–that earning stars opens up more challenges for play, and that you also open up the truly remixed levels, but once I received all stars in each category, I opened up a new mode of play, the “Ultimate Famicom Remix”! Awesome! I know they made major changes when they brought these games to the US, so maybe I’ll get to experience their original difficulty levels, or play Doki Doki Panic instead of Super Mario Bros. 2.

Instead, I can sum up all the noticeable differences as follows:
1. Text in The Legend of Zelda reverts to original Japanese.
2. You can only pick up the trophy in the Adventure of Link by stabbing it.
3. Pit doesn’t fly automatically during his fight with Medusa
4. At the end of Kid Icarus, Pit no longer stands against a Grecian backdrop.

…”Congratulations! You’ve just mastered the art of classical piano and performed at all the major world concert halls. History will revere you as a virtuoso musician…now this note here sitting between the lines? We call that ‘C’…”

Exploit the glitch!

Exploit the glitch!

So I bought the game because the back of the box looked interesting, showing a stage in Super Mario Bros that ran from right to left instead of left to right, and Link climbing Donkey Kong’s scaffolding. I should, in all fairness, point out that Ultimate NES Remix does include three unlockable categories of actual remixes, for a total of 75 challenges, but like the rest of the game, you can’t play any of these long enough to enjoy them. Seriously, Nintendo…I have an SD card the size of a toenail clipping that stores 32GB of memory. If you want to swap out some graphics and data in a handful of 300KB roms, at least have the decency to give us the option of playing the entire fucking game. And that full version of SMB you gave us that plays at double speed? Yeah…I’d rather just go play Sonic the Hedgehog.
For my money, the true “Ultimate NES Remix” remains Super Mario Crossover, and it doesn’t cost a dime. Go play that.

(If they change the link…you can still Google the name)

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Donkey Kong / Burger Time – Arcade, Atari 2600, etc

Do you really need a caption for Donkey Kong?

Do you really need a caption for Donkey Kong?

So things haven’t changed for me since last week’s entry. I admit, I wrote it about two hours ago. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve still had very little time to devote to games. But in order to swing that around to my advantage, I decided to look at some games I had wanted to write about since I began this blog, but never have for whatever reasons. I’ve mostly neglected arcade games due to their rarity, difficulty in completing them, and with the earlier games especially because I didn’t think I’d have much to say on the matter. But what the hell. Why not play a few rounds of some classic games and see what I could come up with?

First up, we all know people who have accused video games of some pretty horrendous things, warping our perspective on the world in such a way that we can no longer think in terms of reality and filter everything through video game terminology. Somehow, everyone born between 1980 and 2000 wound up with a craving for violence and the survival instinct of a lemming, as we clearly haven’t figured out that once you die, you don’t come back to life. Notice how Buddhists and Hindus kindly abstain from such criticisms. Besides, plenty of us have spent at least a little time looking out for lemmings, making sure they get safely to the exit. However, if one game has irreparably warped our minds so that we can’t change, the classic Donkey Kong wins that black mark for eternally damning us to play as characters who jump.

The premise of the game somewhat follows the end of King Kong, except instead of Adrian Brody climbing the Empire State Building to rescue a victim of Stockholm syndrome with absolutely no interest in him, we have a fat carpenter with the inexplicable ability to leap over Winnebagos. Unless, of course, he has a hammer with him. Then he plants himself firmly on the ground. In the background material, we learn that Mario kept Donkey Kong as a pet, but treated him cruelly. Nintendo never specified the nature of this mistreatment, but I can only assume he regularly punched Donkey Kong’s head to force-feed the ape live turtles. So you play as Jumpman–Mario–the psychotic dick of the story, trying to rescue your girlfriend from an Ape who probably only wanted to protect her from domestic violence.

Mario: So badass, he beats fire to death.

Mario: So badass, he beats fire to death.

In addition to the easily recognized first level, Mario jumps his way through three distinct obstacle courses as he chases down his questionably legal pet: one filled with conveyor belts moving pies, one with elevators and bouncing springs, and another, the top of the building, with precarious rivets that Mario must remove to collapse the building, thus knocking out the ape. Interesting fact, after Donkey Kong, Mario’s profession changes from carpenter to plumber. I can only assume that unleashing a giant, abused ape at the Acme Factory construction site and then demolishing all the progress made by the builders somehow motivated this career change.

As you can see, Atari managed a seamless port with absolutely no graphical reduction whatsoever.

As you can see, Atari managed a seamless port with absolutely no graphical reduction whatsoever.

While Mario probably won’t make it to the top without enough quarters to fund a minor war, the game actually shares a number of qualities with modern iPhone games that makes it fun to play–albeit much in the way that hardcore drugs provide a fun and exciting pass time until you realize you’ve pawned your car, house, grandmother, and both testicles in order to fund a habit that does nothing more than waste time. But it provides enough satisfying noises and flashing lights to get the endorphins flowing so hard that you’ll never realize how unimportant and inconsequential a goal your brain has set for you to accomplish. But you always have the option of aiming for a high score; if you do well enough, you get to enter your initials into the machine’s memory, providing just enough recognition to proclaim your skill while providing you with enough anonymity to avoid admitting that you’ve invested more money into the game than it would have cost to buy your own Donkey Kong cabinet.

But hey, you could always get a job, right? McDonald’s always needs fresh faces to assemble their disgusting food virtually void of any nutritional value beyond whatever it picks up on the floor, right? You might as well start training early. For that, I recommend Burger Time, developed by Data East and published by Midway. Not having branched off into a franchise, this once-popular game has faded into obscurity, but still represents the pinnacle of the ever-popular food-preparation genre. At least, I think more people like this than Sneak King.

My mother used to point at the exposed air ducts in McDonald's and tell 5-year-old me that they used the tubes to transport hamburgers. Now I know better; real kitchens actually look like *this.*

My mother used to point at the exposed air ducts in McDonald’s and tell 5-year-old me that they used the tubes to transport hamburgers. Now I know better; real kitchens actually look like *this.*

Players take control of Peter Pepper, as he prepares burgers four times the size of himself by running across the ingredients, which someone has kindly stacked on multiple levels of some sort of building complex. The ingredients drop down to the next level, knocking any subsequent ingredients down one further level, and you continue burger-stomping until all ingredients have fallen onto the plates below the building. While making burgers with a technique often saved for making wine, Pepper must also avoid anthropomorphic food items, hunting him down to slap him with their sausage, rub him with their pickle, or otherwise leave egg on his face. No. I did not make this premise up, and honestly the fact that someone obviously did does worry me slightly, as much as I enjoy the game. In a culture where we often need to ask what goes into our food, I’d hope to avoid answers like, “The chef’s shoe and whatever crud he stepped in on the way to the diner.”

But while short-order cooks tap dancing across your lunch may not pass a health inspection, it definitely passes muster as a game. The food monsters take skill to avoid, and multiple play-throughs help in observing their behavior. Of course, you do have five blasts of pepper which, while they may add flavor, texture, and probably extraneous grit to the burgers, will stun the enemies briefly and allow you to pass by safely. But technique doesn’t stop there; burger ingredients function as much more than a dance floor or jogging track; you can also crush enemies by dropping ingredients on top of them, or with enough skill, you can trap them on top of a falling ingredient, which will cause that part of the burger to fall three levels instead of one. And be honest; you know you’d forgive any dirt on your bun as long as the cook surprised you with an egg in your meal, right?

As you can see...I can't beat the default score even with unlimited credits.

As you can see…I can’t beat the default score even with unlimited credits.

Honestly, they don’t think up games like this anymore. Well, they didn’t for a while. Again, Burger Time reminds me of an iPhone game or a flash game. Simple, yet difficult, and abstractly rewarding. Having spent the better part of the last five hours writing, I feel completely void of witticisms to close this entry with. Should you play these games because of 8-bit noises and high scores? (I think even among games like Angry Birds, we’ve lost the value in playing for a high score. Of course, that doesn’t mean I give a damn about your boring-as-hell quest for that high score. ) Yes. Do I expect that to make any sense? No. But games don’t have to make sense. They have that going for them. Finnegan’s Wake doesn’t have that luxury. Neither does most modern art. Show me a red square in a yellow rectangle and I’ll look at it briefly. As I move my head across the room. To see if I can find any interesting displays. While I look for the clock to figure out if I can leave yet. But give me a game with a sadistic animal abuser re-creating 1930s horror films, or an epic-yet-unsanitary battle against starvation in the kitchen of my local Perkins, I’d play that for hours.

Yeah, it looks bland and unappetizing, but I hope the decreased resolution also dulls the flavor of ABC gum and spilled beer.

Yeah, it looks bland and unappetizing, but I hope the decreased resolution also dulls the flavor of ABC gum and spilled beer.

Please note, before I leave, that both of these games have their own slew of ports, remakes, remasters, and upgrades, but each one comes with their own nuances, sacrifices, additions, or shitty Atari graphics, so I’ve only categorized a few of them here. I’d like to add a disclaimer that if you pick up anything but the original arcade versions and experience an utter disappointment, I warned you that not all ports live up to the original.

Starting next week I should have more free time. I hope. I promise to think of something funnier to say by then.

Donkey Kong Country – SNES, Game Boy Color

Obligatory Ice Level Cliche.

Obligatory Ice Level Cliche.

Between applying for PhD programs, Evil Dead: The Musical performances, and preparing for next semester’s classes (while this post says “January,” I actually wrote it about the day my Evil Dead: Hail to the King entry posted), I’ve had just enough time to glance longingly at the pile of 20+ books that I may some day have a chance to read. Sorry to say, my to-do list requires a few sacrifices, but rather than ritualistically stabbing my Playstation until my hands run wet with sticky, electrical discharge, I opted to suck up my pride and whip out a platformer, under the assumption that the pain, at least, wouldn’t last long, and I could count on the popularity of Donkey Kong Country to garner a few more views per week than normal. Sadly, I think the entirety of this paragraph might tip my hand a little prematurely, but before you all start chucking barrels at me, I promise to remain as objective as I can. Even if game reviews inherently rely on subjective analysis.

Congratulations. You'll have more use for them than the Kremlings. But 99% of them will still rot before you can eat them. An illustration of wealth distribution in Ape society.

Congratulations. You’ll have more use for them than the Kremlings. But 99% of them will still rot before you can eat them. An illustration of wealth distribution in Ape society.

Anyway, Donkey Kong, after a ten-year hiatus in which he realized Mario had turned to completely lavish his attentions on Bowser, returns to his home island. However, Donkey Kong Country has its own reptilian antagonists, and they want bananas. Yes, for some reason, a crocodillian race of carnivores has need for a cavern full of bananas and will fight to retain their plunder from its rightful owners, a family of five apes who likely couldn’t eat that much fruit before it turned black and shriveled up anyway. So Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong–whom he finds stuffed into a barrel like he hadn’t paid his protection money to the crocodile mafia–set out on a banana-hunting quest, taking a path so roundabout that it would only make sense in an action platforming game.

Obligatory Underwater Level by character with infinite lung capacity cliche.

Obligatory Underwater Level by character with infinite lung capacity cliche.

Through my first impressions of the game, I reasoned that while Donkey Kong hadn’t participated in the Mario games since 1983, he at least spent a good deal of time playing them, and has learned much specifically from Super Mario World. I’ve established his cold-blooded baddies already. Much like Mario, DK takes out the majority of opponents via massive head trauma. When he can’t bring the full weight of a 300kg gorilla down on their skulls, he can throw barrels at them, a move clearly taken from the original game, but vaguely similar to Mario’s koopa shell kicking. Both Mario and DK travel from level to level through multiple zones of their respective islands. They can take up to two hits with appropriate power-ups–if we compare Diddy to an amanita mushroom–and collect either 100 of something, or a small number of level-specific items to get an extra life. They also ride animal pals–four of them–who each have unique abilities. They both shoot themselves out of cannons and find secret rooms with bonus games. Rare simply changed the characters, maps, and artwork from Super Mario World and called it a new game like an electronic Sword of Shannara, hoping we wouldn’t notice.

An illustration of Karma in Ape society.

An illustration of Karma in Ape society.

I don’t like platforming games and really can’t pretend to hide that. Years ago, before Final Fantasy VI introduced me to RPGs, I did play my fair share of Mario, and I’ll even admit that an afternoon playing Super Mario Bros. at Danielle Lehto’s house in first grade introduced me to a lifelong meth-style addiction to video games. But the idea of running through levels trying not to touch monsters except on their heads, all the while avoiding the plummet into bottomless holes appeals to me about as much as the thought of telephoning strangers at 11:00 pm to bring them the word of Lovecraft and convert them to the Cult of Cthulu. Simplicity, repetition, and pointlessness don’t make for great selling points, and much like religion, if you didn’t grow up with it, platformers just provide a tedious, time-consuming practice of learning thoughtless, reactive patterns with very limited returns.

I'll call him "Bright Eyes." Comment if you get the joke.

I’ll call him “Bright Eyes.” Comment if you get the joke.

Having said that, I recognize you may not agree with me. In fact, I know a lot of people out there think that nothing epitomizes enjoyable entertainment like trying not to fall into holes. If you like this, if you want to find a game with simple, bland gameplay that lacks all the cumbersome issues of a well-written story and the addictive, rewarding noises, flashes, and rewards of an iPhone game, then yes, Donkey Kong Country might deserve the 9/10 stars reviewers commonly give it. If you like Mario, you might want to try it. It does differ quite a bit, though. Rather than a hub design, DK Country lays out its world map like an air-travel montage from an Indiana Jones movie. Most levels run exclusively from left to right horizontally. They have multiple hidden bonus rooms, but no secret endings or branching paths. Some have stage-exclusive gimmicks like fueling up a moving platform, turning on lights, or traveling with a parrot holding a flashlight.

Donkey Kong and Diddy supposedly have different skills. Diddy can jump higher and farther–but still can’t quite make it to the hard-to-reach barrels and items. Donkey Kong supposedly has more strength, but has to jump on most enemies just as often as Diddy. Occasionally I stumbled across an item located deep down in a hole with absolutely no clear method of obtaining without winding up as donkey guts on a rock somewhere. For these, I took a few leaps of faith before converting to Donkey Atheism. I suspect the secret involves some of these character skills, but I didn’t have the patience to keep replaying levels just to figure out the puzzles. After a while I found an enemy that Donkey Kong could kill that Diddy couldn’t, but using this to proclaim uniqueness of character falls under the same category as trying to sell a new model NDS on the virtue of an upgraded picto-chat.

Uh...this just disturbs me.

Uh…this just disturbs me.

Due to Donkey Kong Country’s incredible simplicity, I can’t really find much to say about it. People love this game, but I don’t see it, and while I find alliteration light-hearted and cartoonish, whenever someone starts converting Cs into Ks for such a purpose, I generally eye them up with the astonishment I’d give to a banjo player performing minstrel tunes in blackface. Rare didn’t provide the easy access to save points that Mario has, but a skilled player could probably recover Donkey Kong’s entire banana hoard in two or three hours, coincidentally the same length of time a fresh banana in my possession usually takes to turn into a brown slimy pulp.