Game Corner [Turtle Tuesday]: TMNT: Tournament Fighters (Xbox Series X)


Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I’ve been spotlighting four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.


GameCorner

Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: 4 September 1993 (Mega Drive / SNES) / February 1994 (NES)
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Mega Drive, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Xbox One, and Xbox Series S

The Background:
There was only one franchise that dominated childhoods back in the late-eighties and early-nineties and that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for Brits like me); beginning life as a violent pastiche of comic book tropes, the TMNT’s popularity exploded into the massively successful cartoon and action figures, live-action movie adaptations, and many videogames. Spearheaded by Konami, the TMNT were equally successful with their arcade beat-‘em-ups and their home console ports, but this was also a time when Capcom had changed the face of both arcades and the competitive fighting scene with the many iterations of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991), which was great success on home consoles and inspired a slew of knock-offs looking to cash in on Capcom’s success. The TMNT were amongst these with this one-on-one tournament fighter, which released in slightly different versions across three platforms at the time; the games took inspiration from the cartoons, movies, and the Archie spin-off comics but, while the 16-bit titles aped the combos and special moves of Street Fighter II, the 8-bit version had more in common with the likes of Yie Ar Kung-Fu (Konami, 1984) due to the NES’s limitations. Of the three, the SNES version was positively received despite being a Street Fighter II knock-off, the Mega Drive version was criticised for its sluggish controls and lacklustre presentation, while the NES version was seen as ambitious but unsurprisingly limited. All three games were lost to the midst of time, available only through emulators or extortionately expensive physical copies until they were included in this Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other games and quality of life features.

The Plot:
The Turtles and their allies take part in a one-on-one tournament against some of their most recognisable and obscure enemies and friends. In the Mega Drive version, the heroes battle across the alien worlds of Dimension X to rescue Splinter from their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, and their evil clones; in the NES version, the Shredder challenges them to defeat his latest plot for world domination; and in the SNES version, the heroes battle on a fighting game show to prove their mettle and earn some cold, hard cash.

Gameplay:
Regardless of which version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters you choose to play, the game is a standard 2D, one-on-one fighting game, with the 16-but versions of the game heavily borrowing their controls, combat, and presentation from Street Fighter II. Each game comes with a different roster of fighters, with ten fighters selectable in the SNES version, eleven available in the Mega Drive version, and seven in the NES version. Each version of the game allows you to customise the gameplay in some way, such as setting the difficulty level of the game (which directly impacts the ending and bosses you face), changing the time limit and amount of rounds to win (with the games defaulting to the standard best of three rounds), setting the speed of the game, setting the amount of credits you have to continue laying upon defeat, and eve setting the strength of your character and your opponent to establish any handicaps. These features don’t carry across to every version of the game, and some are slightly altered (the SNES version represents difficulty on a zero to seven scale, for example, while the NES uses a simple Easy, Normal, and Hard designation), but these options are generally consistent to those seen in Street Fighter II.

Each game sees you pummelling foes with a variety of moves and special attacks.

Combat, however, is a slightly different story and varies somewhat between each version; while the SNES version benefits from the additional buttons and mimics the directional input and button presses of Street Fighter II to pull off special moves, the Mega Drive and NES versions are limited by their control scheme layouts and the general presentation of the game. Indeed, the SNES version is more like Super Street Fighter II Turbo (Capcom, 1994), running much faster at its maximum speed and aping similar button combinations, while the Mega Drive version is far slower and reminds me more of the original, somewhat clunky first release of Street Fighter II. The NES version, as mentioned, is more like Yie Ar Kung-Fu and features little in the way of complex button combinations and special moves due to the limitation of the NES hardware. In the SNES version, you have two different types of punches and kicks; A and X launch a “normal” punch and kick while B and Y throw “fierce” variants. You can press up on the directional pad (D-pad) to jump and launch flying kicks and punches; when up close to an enemy, you’ll grab them and toss them in a unique throw move and you’ll use directional inputs and button presses (down, diagonal down-right, right, X, for example) to pull off each character’s special moves. When not playing in the game’s story mode, you’ll gradually fill up a gauge underneath your life bar; when this is full, you can use another simple button combination to unleash a devastating “Ultimate-Attack” that, unlike your regular attacks, actually damages the opponent through their block (though if they attack you during it you’ll fail and it’ll deplete if you don’t use it in time). Much of this is true of the Mega Drive version, but with some notable differences; there’s no special attack gauge, for starters, and no “fierce” attacks, you simply use X to punch and A to kick, and press Y to pull off a taunt (that seems to have no function). To pull off stronger attacks, you need to press the D-pad towards the opponent and then press X or A; you can still grab and throw your foe but special moves seem a lot harder to pull off (not least because the button inputs are missing from the strategy guide) and the game’s sluggish pace makes combat inconsistent and frustrating. It’s still more complex that the NES version, though; here, X punches and A kicks and that’s about it; you can use directional inputs and button presses to pull off special moves, but they’re extremely basic and the TMNT don’t even fight with their signature weapons in this game! Each game features a stun mechanic like in Street Fighter II, though; deal enough damage in a string of attacks and your opponent will be momentarily dazed and wide open for another combo or throw.

Although it lacks Nintendo’s bonus stages, the Mega Drive version has instant replays…

Some versions of the game do allow you to alter the button layout if you’re not happy with the default, and all three versions allow you to block by holding back on the D-pad (a mechanic I’ve always found awkward in fighting games; I much prefer a dedicated block button) but the SNES version also allows you to flip away from incoming attacks but only the NES version allows you to run towards your opponent by double tapping the D-pad. Each version also comes with a few gameplay options; you can take on the story mode (where you’re limited to playing as the TMNT), with cutscenes and a map screen (in the Mega Drive version) furthering the narrative between each bout, battle against a friend (or against the computer in the NES version), watch or practice the game in the SNES and Mega Drive versions, or take on a standard tournament mode. This also differs greatly between each version, with the SNES version taking the form of a broadcast and game show and featuring pre- and post-match dialogue and even tossing in a bonus stage where you rack up extra points and gold by smashing open safes in a bid to help break up the monotony. Although this is absent from the Mega Drive version, whose tournament simply goes from one fight to the next, every match is followed by an instant replay), bonus stages do appear in the NES version; here you have to smash through walls in the dojo for extra points, and all three will tally up certain criteria (health remaining, time left, whether you took damage or not) when you’re victorious to add to your score and this is the only version of the game to feature a high score table.

Each version offers a pretty tough challenge even on the easiest difficulty.

Each game comes with a natural, steady, and expected difficulty curve that I find is typical of most fighting games but synonymous with Street Fighter II; your ability to succeed will depend on how adept you are at pulling off the awkward special attacks and combos, especially as special attacks and throws deal way more damage than your regular attacks. The enemy AI, even on the easiest settings, is incredibly cheap in all three versions; your opponent will block almost constantly, is consistently able to attack and throw you through your attack animations, and they’re far more aggressive and skilled than I was, meaning I either had to fight hard and fast or be on the defensive. The difficulty and gameplay sliders can help with this, especially in the Mega Drive version, which allows you to reduce the rounds to win to one and set your speed and power to give you an advantage. Since the SNES version is the fastest of the three, combat can move at a breakneck speed, with rounds turning out of your favour in the blink of an eye, and you’ll be immediately at a disadvantage as you need to play on at least difficulty level three to even battle to true final boss and see the game’s best ending. This is even more demanding in the Mega Drive version, where you need to play on level eight to get the true ending; this version is so hampered by its plodding speed that it’s easy to get trapped in an unbreakable combo string and stunned into oblivion by your hyper-aggressive opponents. The NES version can be both paradoxically difficult and easy at the same time; there’s little benefit from picking one fighter over another as they’re all so limited but some, like Hothead, make for bigger targets while others, like Casey Jones, appear to be more agile. Either way, the limitations of the hardware make this a mundane back and forth affair that’s more about who can grab the power-up first rather than requiring any in-depth skill like the SNES version.

Graphics and Sound:  
Obviously, all three games look and sound very different. Of the three, the SNES version is the clear winner in terms of overall presentation; the game features more sound bites, big, bright, and well animated sprites and backgrounds, and the music is clearer and has more kick to it. The emphasis on story and cutscenes means there’s far more opportunities for big, partially animated sprite art here, with April O’Neil reporting on and interviewing characters before and after bouts and every fight in story mode being proceeded by dialogue between the fighters and the TMNT travelling to each location via their signature blimp. The characters in this version are clearly modelled more like the cartoon, with a hint of the live-action influence here and there, and they’re all large and full of attack and reaction frames. Sadly, the same isn’t true of the Mega Drive version; even the title screen and character select screen aren’t as impressive, though the game does include more palette swaps and some different fighters compared to its SNES counterpart. Sprites are smaller, however, duller, and seem to be missing some animation frames; everyone seems far meaner and more surly, as well, making this a very gritty and moody experience that seems to owe more to the original Mirage Comics, but it’s pretty obvious even to a die-hard SEGA fan like me which version has the better overall presentation. Naturally, the NES version is the most inferior in terms of graphics, character, and stage selection; however, while the TMNT don’t sport their signature weapons, they do have their own unique green palettes to separate them and the character designs seem to be drawing more from the first live-action movie than anything else. You won’t find much in the way of animation and variety here but it’s pretty ambitious, really; sprites have some decent details and special attacks, but the game suffers from black bars eating up a lot of the player’s screen.

Presentation varies between the three, with the SNES being the clear superior.

Naturally, the stages you’ll fight in follow very much the same format; the SNES version features a variety of large and detailed environments set largely on Earth, with some even featuring destructible elements to smash your opponents into like in Street Fighter II. Also like in that game, you’ll see background characters and elements and characters cheering and watching the fight, including TMNT staples like Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman in his fly form, and various Foot Soldiers. There’s always something going on in the SNES version, whether it’s a giant octopus, a band performing on stage, or a news report recording the action, and this version also includes better, more detailed and varied story cutscenes and even character bios in its attract mode. Comparatively, the Mega Drive version is an immediate disappointment; cutscenes are smaller and less interesting and the backgrounds, while surreal and often disturbing, are far more muted and feature almost no animation and absolutely no interactable elements. As this version of the game features a planet-hopping narrative, there are some bizarre stages to choose from, from an ice world complete with a submarine to an ocean planet with a sinking ship in the background, to the bleakness of the cosmic abyss, but it’s all so dull and lifeless even when there’s giant cycloptic magma creatures and dinosaurs looming in the background. Again, the NES version is hampered by its hardware and includes only four stages: the sewers, a subway station, the galley of a pirate ship, and the rooftops of New York City. This latter is the most impressive stage, showing the city and the Statue of Liberty at night and in all its 8-bit glory, and is preceded by a rare cutscene to set the stage for the final battle against the Shredder.

Enemies and Bosses:
As with all fighting games, every available character will eventually be your enemy at some point; button codes and the Cowabunga Collection’s enhancements allow you to play as the boss characters in the 16-bit versions of the game and the Mega Drive version even includes and practise mode to help you get to grips with your favourite character. Essentially, however, there’s minimal benefit to picking a certain character in each version of the game; all of them sport special moves that can match each other, with every character sporting projectiles, grabs, and powerful rushing or slamming attacks to deal heavy damage. However, there are some notable exceptions; as mentioned, Hothead is a unique character in the NES version, sporting a chunkier sprite and breathing fire, meaning his hit box is a little larger and the character is a little slower. In the Mega Drive version, Casey Jones can set bombs as traps, while characters like Chrome Dome and Krang can cover distances from a standstill with their extending arms and legs. Even on the easiest setting, the SNES version puts up quite a fight; I struggled against War in the first battle simply because of his ridiculous rolling throw and large swiping claws, and the Shredder proved quite formidable here thanks to his dashing uppercut, his flurry of punches, and his cheap tactics of spamming low kicks. The Rat King also proved a unique foe in this version as he relied more on wrestling moves, snatching you out of the air and grabbing you midway through your attacks to slam you to the ground, and you’ll really get a sense of how good or bad you are when you face off against your character in a mirror match.

You’ll need to challenge the game’s highest difficulties to achieve the best endings.

These are spiced up a bit in the Mega Drive version through the inclusion of evil clones, who sport a purple palette swap and constantly dog your progress throughout the game. The Mega Drive version also includes a unique character, Sisyphus, an alien beetle who spits a blue projectile at you and unleashes a rapid-fire horn attack. He’s not the only unique character, however; Ray Fillet, April O’Neil, and a Triceraton are also included in this version of the game, while Wingnut, Aska, and Armaggon round out the SNES roster, with each one bringing their own strengths and weaknesses. April was a surprisingly decent character to use as she has a very cheap crouching spam attack that’s great four countering the game’s aggressive enemies, but you can never count out the titular turtles, who can send ground sparks, spinning cyclones, and twirling kicks your way at any moment even in the NES version. Krang only appears as a boss in the Mega Drive version of the game; naturally, you battle him in the Technodrome as the penultimate boss and he’s able to extended his arms, slide at you with a kick, and fire missiles high and low from his robot body but his sprite just isn’t large or intimidating enough to evoke a sense of danger. Both 16-bit versions include the same final boss, Karai, who can only be fought on higher difficulty settings; on the SNES, you fight her on top of a speeding train, whereas you battle her in a traditional dojo on the Mega Drive. In both, she’s easily the most formidable fighter, which is accentuated on the SNES thanks to her larger sprite; she’s capable of crossing the screen with a devastating cartwheel kick, tossing out projectiles, diving from high above with flying kicks, and is overall a pretty tough customer thanks to her martial arts kicks and overly aggressive AI. Thanks to its limited roster, the Shredder is your final foe in the NES version of the game; fought on a rooftop like in the movie and original comic, Shredder again has a dashing uppercut, a flaming flurry of punches, and can send a ground shot your way but goes down just as easily as every other enemy in this version of the game.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As Tournament Fighters is styled heavily after Street Fighter II, for the most part, there aren’t any in-game power-ups for you to utilise. The SNES version includes that special gauge outside of the story mode, which is good for a dramatic finish, but this is completely absent from the Mega Drive version. The NES version, however, does feature a power-up; at some point in every battle, Splinter will drop a red ball into the arena, which you can collect by pressing down and X. While the exact button inputs aren’t explained, and it seems incredibly temperamental, you can then launch this ball at your enemy to deal massive (and, usually, decisive) damage and this will be your key to victory in almost every bout. Be warned, though, as your foe is also able to pick up the ball and you’ll lose it if you take too much damage.

Additional Features:
The additional features on offer differ somewhat between each version of Tournament Fighters but there is some overlap; each version includes a story and a tournament mode and allows players to go head-to-head, selecting their character, stage, and handicap modifiers as you’d expect from a one-on-one fighter. Each game includes a variety of endings depending on which character you play as and the difficulty you set the game to, encouraging multiple playthroughs if you can stand to tackle this game again. Of course, the Cowabunga Collection adds even more features to these games; you’ll get a generous 100G Achievement for completing each game, however, you need to beat each one of the higher/highest difficulty level and battle Karai for this to pop. You can also use the Left Bumper to rewind the gameplay and bring up save states and display options with the Right Bumper, which also allows you to look through the strategy guide for tips and move inputs, which is much appreciated. In addition to viewing each game’s box art and manuals, exploring their soundtracks, and switching between the American and Japanese versions, you can enhance each game in various ways: you can choose to play as the 16-bit bosses, access additional stages, increase the game’s speed, and enable extra lives, remove sprite and slowdown from the NES version and allow for Hothead versus Hothead fights if you wish.

The Summary:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters is a tough one for me. I’m really not the best at Street Fighter II and similar knock-off fighters; the button inputs and aggressive opponents always throw me off and playing these games is often more frustrating than fun. The TMNT aesthetic certainly suits the format; all of the character have unique attacks and represent both the cartoons, comics, toys, and movies from the time and anyone who’s ever played Street Fighter II, especially on home consoles, will be immediately familiar with the 16-but versions of the game. For me, the SNES version is the clear winner; not only does it look and sound the best of the three, it plays a lot better and there are far better opportunities for combos and special attacks. The story and tournament modes are also presented in a much more visually impressive way, the stages are livelier and more interesting, and the game is bolstered by the faster combat and fluid gameplay. It pains me to say it being a big SEGA fan, but the Mega Drive version just can’t compete with its SNES counterpart; everything’s smaller, grimier, and so slow and clunky. I actually prefer some of the roster here, having read a lot of the TMNT’s Archie Comics as a kid, but the gameplay and presentation lets these additions down considerably. Naturally, the NES version is the inferior of the three but, even so, it does a decent job with the limitations of its hardware. One-on-one fighters are never a good option on inferior hardware and the TMNT definitely benefitted more from their 8-bit sidescrolling adventures and brawlers, but there’s some ambitious elements here that make it an interesting option, at least, though it’s hard to believe anyone choosing to downgrade or settle for the NES version of the far superior SNES version. Overall, if you’re a fan of one-on-one fighters and Street Fighter II, you could do a lot worse than to give the SNES version of Tournament Fighters a whirl; the other two are worth a quick playthrough for a boost to your gamer score but I can’t see myself picking the Mega Drive or NES version on future playthroughs since the SNES version just leaves both in the dust with its superior options, gameplay, combat, and presentation.

Mega Drive Rating:

NES Rating:

SNES Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Terrible

Pretty Good

What did you think to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters? Which of the three did you own back in the day, or is your favourite to play in this collection? How do you think it compares to other one-on-one fighters, especially Street Fighter II? Which character was your favourite to play as in each version? Were you disappointed by the dip in graphical quality in the Mega Drive version? What did you think to the NES version and how it utilised the system’s limitations? Would you like to see another one-on-one tournament fighter from the TMNT? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? Whatever your thoughts on Tournament Fighters, go ahead and share them in the comments below or leave a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [Turtle Tuesday]: TMNT II: Back from the Sewers (Xbox Series X)


Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I decided to spotlight four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.


GameCorner

Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: 15 November 1991
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

The Background:
In the late-eighties and early-nineties, you’d be hard pressed to find a franchise more popular than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the United Kingdom, the original dark and violent comic books exploded into an incredibly successful cartoon and extensive toy line, and a slew of videogame outings courtesy of developer Konami. Konami’s efforts helped to make the NES a household name here in the UK, produced two of the most beloved titles for arcades and home consoles, and also extended to three handheld titles for Nintendo’s super successful portable, the Game Boy. Building upon the standards set by its predecessor, Back from the Sewers improved upon the visuals despite the obvious limitations of the Game Boy hardware and expanded the gameplay options available to bring the sub-series more in line with its bigger, better 16-bit counterparts. Since a complete physical version of the game is still ridiculously expensive for the quality of the game, I was still glad to see Back from the Sewers included in the 2022 Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other TMNT games and quality of life features.

The Plot:
The TMNT’s archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, returns, now bolstered by the forces of the sinister Krang and kidnaps April O’Neil to get his revenge on the foursome.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Back from the Sewers is a simple sidescrolling action game rather than a traditional arcade style beat-‘em-up. After selecting from three difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, or Hard), you pick one of the four turtles and battle your way from the left side of the screen to right across six stages (referred to as “Acts”). Again, the Game Boy’s limited colour palette means that the turtles are only distinguished by their individual weapons, but they again have different strengths and weaknesses: Leonardo is a bit of an all-rounder, for example, with Raphael having a fast attack but a terrible range. Sadly, the shuriken projectiles are gone; they’re replaced by a sliding kick that I only found a handful of uses for as it often leaves you open to enemy attacks, but you can toss shuriken when using ladders. The buttons have been remapped, with A allowing you to jump (holding it again allows you to get some extra height with a reanimated somersault) and X performing your attack; you can pull off a jumping attack by pressing X in mid-air and the game still allows you to hit back or destroy most incoming projectiles with your attack. Screen transitions are much more involved this time and initiated by climbing ladders but you’ll also clamber along pipes to cross gaps and there is a lot more emphasis on vertical traversal, with you hopping up and down girders and platforms using up and down on the directional pad and A.

The graphics and gameplay have been overhauled to more closely resemble the arcade titles.

The essential gameplay remains mostly unchanged; the screen and hardware limitations mean things are still very restrictive but there are far more influences from the TMNT’s arcade titles (the Foot jump up from manholes and you can fall down the holes, for example). The most obvious of these is in Act 2, which sees you racing along a bridge on a rocket-powered skateboard attacking enemies and dodging barrels, and Act 6, which recreates the classic Sewer Surfin’ level, to say nothing of the inclusion of not one but two traditional elevator sequences in Act 3 and 6. There are also some additional gameplay elements here, such as a race away from a rolling boulder in Act 4, mines being scattered across the ground, bursts of flames and machine gun fire, and jumping to a series of floating platforms in Act 5. Levels are a bit longer and more involved but the game loves to artificially up the difficulty by swarming you with an endless barrage of Mousers and bug ‘bots; these fuckers will pop out from holes in the caves and sewers and from mechanical ports and it can be extremely frustrating trying to fend them all off and back jumps in Act 3’s construction sites. Some stages seem to be on a loop as well, though I think this is just a consequence of the limited hardware, and you’ll still have to avoid the same obstacles like falling hazards and electrical bolts. As before, you can pick a different character between stages and if your health is drained; each turtle has their own health bar, any damage you take carries over to the next Act, and any captured turtle can be rescued in bonus games, with these now taking place upon completion of an Act and seeing you chasing around an enclosed arena to refill your health as much as possible in a short time limit.

Graphics and Sound:
Although Back from the Sewers is still handicapped by the Game Boy’s hardware, it’s an obvious graphic step up over its predecessor right from the start, where it ambitiously recreates the cartoon’s iconic opening sequence, and the game even includes some limited sound bites to punctuate the action. The game’s overall presentation is far more akin to the cartoon than many other TMNT titles as it not only basis its story art on the cartoon but even includes level intros and a pause screen that mimic the show’s episode titles. All of the sprites and environments have been overhauled and are all the better for it; the TMNT are bigger and more detailed, with Leonardo and Raphael now carrying two weapons each and all four having a more detailed idle animation. Although the sprites appear a bit stiffer and more clunky than other TMNT titles, they pull an amusing panic face when running from the aforementioned rock and will be left charred when caught in flames and explosions.

Sprites and environments have been greatly improved, despite the Game Boy’s limitations.

Similarly, the game’s environments are far more detailed than those seen in the previous game; this is evident from the opening Act, which actually provides a level of depth and visual interest to the sewers despite the lack of moving water. This extends to the streets as well, where vehicles and there’s an attempt to showcase some depth to the backgrounds can be seen, and in the overhauled Technodrome which now sports many of the same hazards and features as the arcade versions. While there are only a handful of unique environments, such as a cave and an overused construction site, there is much more to spot in the background, from Splinter working in a pizza parlour, Foot Soldiers hiding behind cover and sliding at you, chain link fences and cityscapes, and holes in the environment leading to sewers and such, though the caves can be a bit of a mess. There are far more enemies onscreen at any one time thanks to those damnable Mouser holes and turrets, and you’ll still get an annoying beep when your health is low, and the ending is even sparser than in the first game. On the plus side, the music is much more varied and there are some fun in-game cinematics, such as Splinter piloting the turtle blimp, and options to move around in a wider area like in the arcade titles once you’re descending down the stairwell.

Enemies and Bosses:
Surprising no one, you’ll primarily be battling against the Shredder’s inexhaustible army of robotic Foot Soldiers; they’ll jump in at you but actually managed to land a hit or two this time with their sliding kicks, dynamite, large projectiles, standing on each other’s shoulders, and firing bazookas at you. As indicated, the Mousers and bug ‘bots return; they might not bite your hand anymore but they are absolutely relentless, spawning so fast and so frequently that it’s hard to fend them off and progress through some stages. Roadkill Rodneys are also back, now firing laser bolts, and the game even includes a handful of mini bosses this time around; a swarm of Foot Soldiers, a Pizza Monster in the sewers, Baxter Stockman’s fly form on a rooftop, and the Game Boy debut of the Rock Warriors in General Traag and Granitor.

Boss are greater in number, strength, and visual appeal this time around.

Each Act naturally concludes with a boss battle; each sports a life bar but they’re all just variations on the boss battles we saw in the last game. Once again, your first test is against Rocksteady; this time, he jumps about while Foot Soldiers drop objects from the windows above and shoots deflectable bullets at you, pausing to laugh and leaving himself open for your attacks. Bebop (and his ridiculously disproportinate head) awaits at the end of the bridge stage, firing out a spread of diamond projectiles and knocking you silly with an uppercut when he’s not hopping all over the place. Krang makes a rare appearance in his little walker at the end of Act 3, stomping about firing rings and raining bombs on the arena, and leaping overhead to try and crush you in a nigh-unavoidable attack. You’ll have rematch with the Shredder at the end of Act 4; this time, he fires an energy wave at you that you can jump over but not duck under, dives at you with a flying kick, and runs from one side of the screen to the other, meaning you’re basically guaranteed to take damage as the window of opportunity to dodge and counterattack is so small. Granitor confronts you in Act 5, rolling about the place and roasting you with his flamethrower, but the additional movement options afforded in this arena help to make this more manageable. When you get to the Technodrome in Act 6, you’ll have to battle General Traag to get inside the machine in a conflict made more troublesome by the 2D pane and the treadmill under foot. The Shredder mutates into his Super Shredder form for the penultimate boss, plodding about and swiping at you, teleporting about the place, and confusing you with a bevvy of duplicates to try and land a sneak attack. Finally, you’ll take on Krang’s android body in the finale; this time, Krang is nice and big and is able to stun you with a ground-shaking stomp, however he’s far weaker than in the last game and much easier to defeat than either of the Shredder fights in this game since you can just jump kick him and run underneath him when he’s jumping in for an attack.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As in the last game, your only pick-ups are the odd slice of pizza; these are sometimes carried by enemies and sometimes found floating around the environment, generally before a boss battle, but are noticeably rare and still the only power-up available.

Additional Features:
Back from the Sewers trumps its Game Boy predecessor by including three difficult levels, but it’s still very limited in terms of in-game options. Luckily, the Cowabunga Collection awards a 70G Achievement for completing the game, offers a strategy guide to help with the game’s trickier sections, lets you view the game’s box art and manuals, includes both the Japanese and American versions, and offers various borders and display options (including an LCD display to recreate the Game Boy’s headache-inducing screen). The game also allows you to rewind the game with the Left Bumper and access save states using Right Bumper and you can take advantage of the enhancements to jump to any level you wish and enable infinite lives without fear of missing out on your Achievement.

The Summary:
Undoubtably,Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers is a vast improvement over the TMNT’s previous Game Boy title. If the first one was a pretty basic proof of concept, this sequel takes the capabilities of the handheld system and uses them to its advantage to produce a title that’s still very restricted by its hardware but much more akin to a 2D version of its arcade counterparts. While the sprites and animations are still a bit stiff and limited, they’re far more detailed, as are the backgrounds, and I loved how the game included versions of the sidescrolling chase sequences from the arcade games. Placing the bonus game sat the end of Acts was a nice way to break up the monotony and I enjoyed the improved music, cutscenes, and the expanded length; tossing in a few mini bosses also helped and it was just great to have so much to se happening around you. Unfortunately, it’s still not perfect; I don’t mind the loss of a turtle as a life system but the endless swarm of Mousers and bug ‘bots was needlessly frustrating and some of the bosses were almost impossible without full health. The strange loop system and slide kick were also odd inclusions, but the overall presentation was much improved and far more fitting for the license and the standards set by its technically superior counterparts. There are still better games on the Game Boy, and better TMNT videogames, however, but this one is a little bit more worth your time compared to its predecessor.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers included in your Game Boy library back in the day? How do you think it compares to the last TMNT Game Boy game? What did you think to the additional elements included from the arcade titles? Were you a fan of the overhauled sprites and backgrounds, and which character was your favourite? What did you think to those Mouser holes and the addition of mini bosses? Do you have any fond memories of the Game Boy? Whatever your thoughts, you can share the, in the comments section below or you can join the discussion on my social media.

Game Corner [Turtle Tuesday]: TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan (Xbox Series X)


Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I’ve decided to spotlight four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.


GameCorner

Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: 3 August 1990
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

The Background:
Back in the late-eighties and early-nineties, it was tough to find a franchise more popular than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles as we knew them in the UK); the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) cartoon and extensive toy line saw the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” dominate an entire generation. The TMNT were also prominent videogame characters thanks to the efforts of Konami, which saw them help to make the NES a household name here in the UK and produce two of the most beloved arcade games that also impressed on home consoles back in the day. Not content with their arcade and 8- and 16-bit titles, Konami also produced three handheld titles for Nintendo’s ground-breaking portable console, the Game Boy. Limited by the Game Boy hardware, Fall of the Foot Clan was obviously lacking in many areas and struggled to live up to the standards of its technically superior predecessors, though it was still praised for its ambitious attempt to give fans a portable TMNT experience. With a complete version of the title being pretty expensive for what it is, it was very much appreciated to see it included in the 2022 Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other TMNT games and quality of life features.

The Plot:
When their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, kidnaps April O’Neil, the TMNT emerge from the sewers to take on the Shredder’s Foot Clan once more.

Gameplay:
Unlike most TMNT videogames at the time, Fall of the Foot Clan is a pretty simplistic sidescrolling action game; you pick from one of the four turtles and travel from left to right across five stages attack enemies with their signature weapons. The TMNT are even more indistinguishable from each other thanks to the Game Boy’s non-existent limited colour palette but are, as ever, identified by their weapons and the reach offered to them. Raphael gets up close and personal with foes with his sai, for example, while Donatello is afforded a greater reach with his longer bo staff, however this is so far the only TMNT game I’ve played that allows you to throw shuriken by default (and an infinite number to boot), thereby affording even the most limited ninja turtle a projectile attack. The controls are as simple as you could want; you press X to jump (and holding the button sees you jumping higher into a somersault) and A to attack. You can attack in mid-air and press down and A to toss your shuriken, but a big mechanic in this game is the ability to swat away most incoming projectiles with your attack, which is almost mandatory given the much smaller screen size of the Game Boy.

A basic sidescroller that mixes up its gameplay with bonus games and mild platforming.

Gameplay is very restrictive and doesn’t really ask all that much of you other than to continue to the right, slashing at enemies as they jump at you, and avoiding the odd level hazard, such as falling blocks, bouncing balls, electrifying obstacles, and spiked ceilings. Here and there you’ll get the option to hop up to a higher level or wade through sewer water; you can destroy barriers to reach bosses, hop on and rush underneath pistons, jump over fire pits, and leap from log to log over a raging river. If your turtle runs out of health, they’ll be “captured” and you’ll have to pick another to tackle the stage again, though you’ll helpfully be placed at the start of the boss battle if you reached that point when you died. One mechanic Fall of the Foot Clan incorporates that separates it from pretty much all of the classic TMNT games is the presence of hidden bonus areas in every stage; these aren’t immediately obvious (though the strategy guide clearly highlights them for your benefit) and allow you to restore your health by guessing the number Master Splinter has in mind, fighting with Krang by eradicating as many stars as possible, or partaking in a bit of target shooting. You’re generally given a few chances to succeed at these but they’re not particularly inspired or fun or easy, though I appreciate the attempt to mix the simplistic gameplay up a bit with these little distractions.

Graphics and Sound:
Naturally, you need to keep expectations low here; not only is Fall of the Foot Clan a Game Boy title, it’s an early game Boy title so it plays things very safe and doesn’t try to throw too much at the player or tax the game engine. The result is enemies leaping at you largely one at a time and barely launching an attack before you take them out in one hit and keeping the amount of onscreen action to a minimum, but there are a surprising number of little details that certainly make it somewhat ambitious. The TMNT don’t have idle animations and Leonardo and Raphael only have one weapon each rather than the usual two, but their weapons move as they walk, and Raphael and Michelangelo even twirl theirs as they plod along. When ensnared by a Roadkill Rodney, you’ll even see your turtle’s skeleton as they’re shocked and they get crushed by pistons and weights as well, all of which are nice little touches I wouldn’t really expect from such a limited title.

Though basic, the graphics and presentation are ambitious at times.

Environments aren’t really anything to shout about; stages are pretty long, consisting of a few different screens and transitioning from different areas as you progress, but there isn’t a great deal of detail in the background in environments like the Technodrome. At the same time, the streets have a bit going on, with graffiti and posters on the walls behind you, and you’re even able to hit a parking meter to use it as a projectile at one point. I also liked seeing the mountains in the background of Stage 4 but easily the most visually interesting stage is Stage 3, which sees you jumping across the backs of trucks and vehicles down a speeding highway. Sprites are all nice and big and certainly capture the essence of the cartoon; the Foot even drive past in a jeep at one point and the classic TMNT theme plays, with the rest of the chip tune soundtrack being very fitting to the franchise and the action. The game’s story is as basic as you could want and is told using some basic text under pretty decent sprite art recreating scenes from the cartoon. Unfortunately, the ending falls a little flat, with the Technodrome just disappearing from frame and the epilogue consisting of a bunch of text, and you’ll be assaulted be an incessant beeping when your health is low, which is always a pain.

Enemies and Bosses:
You’ll never believe it but you’ll primarily be fighting off an endless supply of Foot Soldiers on your short journey; they’ll come jumping in and be reduced to a little explosion before even getting a chance to attack, but they’re capable of tossing darts and bricks at you but are largely disposable. Generic enemies like bats, fish, and anthropomorphic fireballs are also a problem, but the classic TMNT enemies like Mousers and Roadkill Rodneys are also present and capable of chomping on your hand and electrocuting you, respectively. Each stage naturally culminates in a boss battle against five of the TMNT’s most recognisable and popular villains, each of which is afforded a life bar.

Classic TMNT enemies are recreated in the Game Boy’s limited hardware.

The first boss you’ll battle is Rocksteady, who simply wanders across the screen blasting at you from his rifle; Bebop ups the ante by rushing at you in a charge, punching you up close, and firing rings from his pistol, but it’s not exactly a stretch to hop over them, swipe them with your weapon, or toss a shuriken their way. Baxter Stockman attacks in his fly form at the end of the all-too-brief Stage 4; he hovers overhead, firing projectiles at you, and swooping down in a dive, but again you can just jump over him and attack without too much difficulty. In a change of pace, the Shredder is encountered as a penultimate boss rather than the final battle; he can be a bit tricky if you go in with low health, advancing towards you and swiping with his katana before teleporting to safety after. This means that Krang is the game’s final challenge; he emerges in his android body from a transport wall and stomps about, completely immune to your shuriken and trying to kick you in the face. While he’s quite a large target and he likes to jump about, you can again jump over him and attack him and whittle his health down if you stay in a good rhythm.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As ever, the TMNT can restore their health by picking up the odd slice of pizza; these are sometimes dropped by enemies and sometimes found floating around the environment, occasionally before a boss battle, but are noticeably infrequent and are the only power-up you’ll find in the game.

Additional Features:
Unlike most TMNT videogames, there’s no two-player option here; in fact, there aren’t any options to speak of in the base game, not even a difficulty mode or any sound options. Thankfully, the Cowabunga Collection remedies that, awarding you a 70G Achievement for completing the game and allowing you to view the game’s box art and manuals, switch between the Japanese and American version, and apply various borders and display options (including an LCD display to recreate the feeling of playing on the Game Boy’s eye-watering screen). The enhancements not only allow you to remove slowdown and sprite flicker, rewind the game with the Left Bumper and access save states using Right Bumper, but you can also choose to practice the bonus games if you want to bump up your health in your next playthrough.

The Summary:
I don’t like to throw too much shade at Game Boy titles, especially early ones, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan really isn’t all that impressive or fun to play through. There are some ambitious and admirable elements here and there, don’t get me wrong; the odd bit of animation, the ability to throw shuriken, the attempt at variety in the stages are all positives and I liked how it did the best it could with the hardware limitations to adapt the aesthetic of the cartoon. However, there’s no denying that this is a far too simple effort to really give it too high a score, especially compared not only to the obviously better arcade and home console TMNT games but also the later Game Boy titles. This feels like a proof of concept to show that a simple sidescrolling action game can be cobbled together with the license rather than an attempt to really try anything too innovative with the platform. Throwing in bonus games was a nice, if frustrating, touch and there was even some call-backs to the superior arcade titles here and there, but the TMNT would definitely be represented far better in subsequent Game Boy games and I can’t see myself going back to this one over the other TMNT games included in the Cowabunga Collection.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Did you have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan in your Game Boy library back in the day? What did you think to gameplay and presentation of the game, especially regarding its simple sidescrolling format? Which of the characters was your favourite to play as and which boss was the most exciting for you? Were you able to beat the bonus games? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? What’s your favourite Game Boy title? I have a comments section down below where you can share your opinions on the TMNT’s Game Boy debut, or you can start the discussion on my social media.

Game Corner [Turtle Tuesday]: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Xbox Series X)


Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I’ve decided to spotlight four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.


GameCorner

Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: 12 May 1989
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, MSX, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayChoice-10, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, ZX Spectrum

The Background:
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the UK) were the in thing for kids in the eighties or nineties thanks, largely, to the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) cartoon and an extensive toy line. A couple of years before Konami brought the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” to the arcades, the developers helped to make the NES a household name here in the UK with this adventure title, produced at a time when videogames (especially those on Nintendo’s ground-breaking platform) were built to last by ramping up their difficulty. Reportedly the first TMNT product to release in Japan, the game suffered from glitches and exploits across all its versions and is often cited as one of the hardest NES games of all time thanks, largely, to it featuring in an early episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd. regardless, the game was a huge success at the time and sold over four million copies worldwide despite mixed reviews, with some praising the controls and graphics and others flagged the lack of polish and recognisable elements from the franchise. Although readily available at the time on a variety of consoles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been pretty difficult to come by after being removed from the Wii Shop Channel in 2012, that is until this Cowabunga Collection released for modern consoles alongside a host of other TMNT games and quality of life features.

The Plot:
The Turtles are on a mission to retrieve the Life Transformer Gun from their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, who has kidnapped their friends and is terrorising New York City with bombs, ninjas, and his army of robots.

Gameplay:
Unlike the vast majority of TMNT videogames, the original NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles title is a 2D, sidescrolling action platformer that allows you to switch between the four titular turtles at any time via the pause screen. Being as it was an NES title, your controls and options are somewhat limited, but also effective; X sees you attacking with your turtle’s signature weapon and A allows you to jump, and you can both hold A for a higher and longer jump and attack while in mid-air or crouching. The TMNT are separated not only by the colour of their bandanas but by the range, speed, and power of their weapons; Donatello has the longest reach and is great for dispatching enemies above or below with his bo staff, for example. He and Raphael also seem to dish out more damage, destroying some enemies in one hit that would take Leonardo and Michelangelo two or three, however Leo and Mike have better options for attack with an arc or a swing. You’ll also comes across a number of secondary weapons with limited ammo, which you can switch to using the Xbox controller’s ‘View’ button and will find some pick-ups that activate automatically to carry you across gaps. Each turtle has their own health bar, and the game “helpfully” alerts you when you’re at low health by emitting a warning wound, so you’ll need to switch between them to get past trickier sections with fire pits and the like. If a turtle’s health is depleted, he’ll be captured and unplayable until found and rescued, though it’s game over if all four are captured.

Navigate through mazes, repetitive areas, and the infamous electric seaweed to rescue your allies.

The game is split into two very distinct sections; the first is a top down overworld, a recreation of New York City and the surrounding district, which is split into six areas that act as the stages of the game. Here, you can wander about, attacking enemies and avoiding larger vehicles such as Roller Cars, carpet-bombing fighter jets, and helicopters with search lights. At one point, you’ll hop into the turtles’ Party Wagon, which allows you to blast at Roller Cars and enemies on the overworld with X, though you’ll need to search for a handful of high-powered missiles to destroy barriers with X and progress further. The second part of the game is the 2D, sidescrolling action stages, which are accessed via manholes placed all over the overworld or by entering certain buildings. These drop you into claustrophobic sewers, aircraft hangers, enemy warehouses, and robot factories and see you navigating past enemies, hazards, and tricky jumps to small blocks or platforms to either progress, find health and pick-ups, rescue a comrade, or access new areas, like the rooftops and caves. Not only to enemies respawn when you leave the screen for just a second, but hazards are numerous; you’ll be stuck on conveyor belts, walking across some smaller gaps and trying to jump across others to tiny blocks, and hopping over spike and lava pits. At some points, you’ll be dumped back onto the outside if you fall while jumping across the rooftops or landing in the raging sewer waters, and you’ll also have to contend with spiked ceilings and instant-kill crushing spiked walls near the end of the game. Easily the game’s most infamous section is encountered pretty early on when, after reaching the damn, you’re given 2:20 to navigate an underwater section full of electrical bolts and electrifying seaweed in search of eight bombs to disarm. While it’s true that this is a difficult section thanks to the unfair hit boxes, the tight time limit, and the labyrinthine nature of the section, it’s made all the easier with the Cowabunga Collection’s rewind feature and you can tank through some of it using well-timed character swaps.

Graphics and Sound:  
Since it’s an NES title, the graphics are obviously somewhat dated; the top-down sections on the overworld aren’t great, with movement being noticeably clunky, and the game’s reliance on mazes and looping paths can get annoying when you’re stumbling around the airport trying to find the correct path or dodging searchlights in the dark to find the right manhole. The variety in these top-down locations is appreciated, though; you’re in the city, visit a dam, pop along the JFK Airport, and infiltrate the Shredder’s secret base under cover of darkness, and the game opens with a pretty ambitions character introduction screen and is accompanied by some fitting chip tunes to help ease even the most annoying sections, and each stage ends with a rendition of the TMNT theme to punctuate your victory. When you pause the game, you’ll get access to a pretty basic grid-like map that isn’t much help but it’s better than nothing; April O’Neil and Splinter will also offer some limited advice to give you an idea of what you’re looking for or how to defeat the game’s bosses, but these features are stripped from you in the final area as you’re “lost”.

Although limited by the hardware, the game’s fairly distinctive and graphically ambitious.

The 2D sections are where the game shines since you can actually see the TMNT in action, though the actual sprites obviously don’t emote or animate all that much unless they’re being swept away by the current. Mostly, the controls work just fine; you’re generally restricted in your horizontal and vertical movement so it’s rare that you have to make precise jumps but, when you do, they have to be pretty bang-on. Hit boxes are quite big, which is an issue in such close quarters, and backgrounds can be disappointingly bland and repetitive; all that separates one sewer section from another is the amount of brown and green, for example, so it can be easy to get lost, especially in sections that have to warping about trying to find the right exit. Things pick up a bit as you progress, with large background elements being used as static boss sprites, and you can avoid any slowdown or sprite flickering by turning them off with the Cowabunga Collection’s enhancements (though a fair amount still remains, perhaps unavoidably). The game’s story is primarily told through limited text and some art portraits, but the game doesn’t include any credits and it’s a bit cheap how the enemies constantly respawn but the health items and other pick-ups don’t, meaning you sometimes have to backtrack into dangerous areas to restock your health and ammo.

Enemies and Bosses:
Considering the source material has a near inexhaustible cast of characters to choose from, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles features some truly bizarre and misplaced enemies; I may not be able to remember every TMNT character but I could barely recognise any of the enemies encountered here, with the shuriken-throwing Foot Soldiers and the Mousers being the most familiar for me. There are some really weird baddies here, ones that are far too generic for a TMNT game and sadly symptomatic of this era of gaming; we’ve got robot bugs, spider-like jumpers, flaming men who spit out smaller minions, a large porcupine that shoots spines at you, a big bald asshole with a chainsaw, flying eye drones, this weird blank slate of a humanoid who becomes invulnerable when crouched down, another bald asshole who tosses boomerangs, crawling eyes, giant mutated frogs and fleas, and some truly aggravating Dimension X Troopers who hover about firing lasers right at you, no matter where you are, and always attack in groups! Some of these enemies will act as mini bosses, gaining a health bar and teaching you their attack patterns and such, but most of the time they’ll swarm the screen just to annoy you and screw up your jumps.

You’ll need to defeat TMNT mainstays and a robo-turtle to rescue April and Splinter.

Each stage of the game ends in a boss battle, generally with the life of one of the TMNT’s allies at stake; Bebop goes solo in this game as Rocksteady is holding April hostage, though he attacks in very much the same way as he always does, by charging at you with a head of steam, punching you when you get close, and jumping at you with a kick. It’s pretty simple to stay at the right side of the screen, jumping up to where Rocksteady and April are to avoid Bebop’s limited attacks, and smack him with your weapons. Rocksteady gets in on the action at the end of the warehouse stage and follows very much the same pattern; while April sits all tied up, Rocksteady charges at you with his horn, tries to jump at you, and fires bullets at you. However, you can destroy these projectiles, which is always helpful, and you can absolutely cheese this by hopping on top of the crates on the right-hand side and using Donatello’s crouch attack to defeat him without taking a single hit! When you finally figure out where the rope is and how to get across the rooftops, you’ll find Splinter held hostage by a dark version of Leonardo; this guy attacks exactly as Leo would when you play as him, with sword swipes and such, but draining his health reveals that he was the “Mecaturtle” (not to be confused with Metalhead…) all along. The Mecaturtle hovers about using its rocket boots and fires homing missiles at you, punching when up close, but there’s a lot of room to dodge and land hits.

Bosses get bigger and tougher near the end, though the Shredder’s a bit of a joke.

After fighting through the Shredder’s robot factory, you’ll battle one of the more visually impressive bosses of the game – a giant Mouser that’s rendered as a background element and reminds me of the titular war machine from the original Metal Gear (Konami, 1987). While it looks intimidating, its lack of movement and predictability make this a pretty easy boss; it fires twin laser beams from its eyes that are simple to avoid, the smaller Mousers it drops are easily defeated, and you can easily smash away at the weak point in its mouth using Donatello’s ridiculously long bo staff. Naturally, you’ll eventually make your way to the Technodrome, which also acts as a large, impressive, and formidable boss battle; the humongous machine idles along on its treadmill base, frying you with electrical currents from its front and back spokes and protected by two turrets and an endless supply of Foot Soldiers. You need to fight against the pull of the treadmill, fend off the ninjas, and attack the Technodrome’s giant eye to eventually blow open an entrance, but this is easily the toughest and cheapest boss battle in the game. Once you fight your way through the insanity of the Technodrome, the game ends with a one-on-one encounter with the Shredder; after teleporting in with a burst of lightning, he jumps about the enclosed arena trying to punch you and firing deadly shots from his one-hit-jill de-evolution pistol. However, it’s laughably easy to avoid this and stay out of his way, especially with Donatello, and you can even trap him in a corner using Leo’s rapid sword swings to make short work of the would-be-conqueror.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As ever, you’ll occasionally find pizza strewn about in the 2D sections to refill either two bars of your health with a slice, four with half a pizza, and the entire bar with a whole pizza. Like all of the game’s items, these are quite rare and hard to track down thanks to the maze-like nature of the levels, and you’ll need to remember to switch to a turtle with low health when you spot one to keep everyone in tip-top condition. You can also find a turtle-face icon that looks like its should be an extra life but actually grants your temporary invincibility and puts you into an awkward frenzy. In one specific area of the game, you’ll also need to track down missiles for the Party Wagon to destroy the barrier son the overworld, though you can just about get by with one load of ten if you plan your route and shots correctly. Areas three and four also hide the rope item, which you’ll need to automatically cross large gaps across rooftops in area four.You can also pick up additional weapons, which you can switch to with the ‘View’ button and which act as projectiles, with each having a limited amount of ammo. Sometimes enemies will drop additional ammo, but mostly you’ll just stumble upon the weapons out in the open in 2D sections and they’re extremely effective, killing many enemies in one hit. You can grab shurikens, tossing either one or a triple-shuriken spread for maximum coverage, a boomerang, and a “kaiai”, which fires out a powerful energy wave.

Additional Features:
In a change from most TMNT videogames, there’s no two-player option here; in fact, there aren’t any options to speak of in the base game, not even a difficulty mode or any sound options. Luckily, the Cowabunga Collection remedies that, awarding a 70G Achievement for completing the game and allowing you to view the game’s box art and manuals, switch between the Japanese and American version, and apply various borders and display options. While the enhancements only allow you to remove slowdown and sprite flicker, you can still rewind the game with the Left Bumper and access save states using Right Bumper, and choose to watch the game play itself if that’s your jam.

The Summary:
I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed the TMNT’s first venture onto the NES. It helped that I knew all about some of its more frustrating and obscure moments thanks to watching the Angry Video Game Nerd and the reputation that game as earned over the years online as one of the most difficult NES titles. While the game’s presentation and execution are a bit janky, opting for a restrictive and confusing 2D sidescroller rather than a mindless beat-‘em-up, I liked that each turtle was selectable at any time and shared their own health and weapons. While they all control the same, they’re made unique by their individual weapons, which can be particularly game-breaking in certain situations, and I liked the top-down sections of the game, despite how confusing it can be to navigate at times. What lets the game down is the oddball nature of the enemies on show; it’s almost as if this could’ve been any NES action game as the enemies are decidedly off-brand for the TMNT, and the environments just aren’t detailed or distinctive enough to really make an impact or make best use of the license. The respawning enemies and labyrinthine gameplay certainly add to the game’s difficulty; some of the enemies are needlessly cheap and make it extremely difficult to not take damage. However, I enjoyed the boss battles, especially the presentation of the giant Mouser and the Technodrome, and it’s fun to add a little more depth to the TMNT beyond just repetitively pummelling enemies. Tense, frustrating, and head scratching at times, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a fair amount of action packed into it for such a limited title and it’s definitely worth checking out, especially with the enhancements offered by the Cowabunga Collection, which definitely reduce the challenge offered by this influential NES title.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a part of your NES library back in the day? What did you think to gameplay and presentation of the game, especially regarding its maze-like aspects? Which of the characters was your favourite to play as and which boss was the most exciting for you? Were you able to make it through the underwater section? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? What’s your favourite challenging game from the NES days? I have a comments section down below where you can share your opinions on this classic NES title, or you can start the discussion on my social media.

Game Corner [Bite-Size / Asterix Anniversary]: Astérix (Arcade)


Asterix the Gaul (and his best friend Obelix) first debuted on 29 October 1959 as a serial in the French/Belgium magazine Pilote. Since then, the plucky Gauls have gone on to have many adventures in comic books, videogames, and feature-length productions and Asterix himself has become a popular and enduring character in his native France and around the world as Asterix’s stories have been translated into over a hundred languages across the world. I may be a day early in celebrating this anniversary as it coincides with the release of the SEGA Mega Drive but I’ll take any excuse to talk about Asterix’s amusing escapades.


Released: 1992
Developer: Konami

A Brief Background:
It wasn’t long before the French comic book series Asterix made the jump off the panels and into other media; the first Asterix book was adapted into a feature-length animation in 1967 and Asterix cartoons and live-action films have been pretty consistent over the years. Similarly, there have been numerous Asterix videogames; the first was released for the Atari 2600 in 1983 and I had a lot of fun growing up playing Astérix (SEGA, 1991) on the Master System. One of my absolute favourites to play whenever I spotted it in seaside arcades was this cracking, colourful arcade title from Konami, one of the most prominent developers in the industry at the time. Sadly, Astérix was never ported to home console ports, but the game is fondly regarded as one of the most fun-filled, action-packed arcade titles, and it received something of a spiritual sequel in 2021.

First Impressions:
Astérix is a super colourful, super vibrant sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which players can freely choose to play as either Asterix or Obelix (or team up as both) and journey across seven stages, each one lovingly recreated from some of the tenacious Gaul’s most memorable adventures, ploughing through Romans and collecting their helmets to score points. Controls couldn’t be simpler; you move with the joystick, attack with one button, and jump with another. Both Asterix and Obelix can dash, perform a running and jumping attack, and will slap Roman’s silly, or kick or toss them away, when they get up close and personal.

Journey through some memorable locations bashing Romans all over the ancient world.

The differences between the two characters are largely negligible; Asterix is smaller and slightly more agile, but Obelix doesn’t exactly seem slowed down by his girth. One difference between the two you’ll immediately notice is that Obelix begins with a menhir in hand, as is his trade, which appears to be the one instance in the game where you can wield a weapon (albeit temporarily). Both characters will also receive a brief power-up when loyal puppy Dogmatix wanders onto the screen with either a gourd of magic potion for Asterix or a crispy roast boar for Obelix; collecting either will send them into a brief frenzy that sees them immune to all attacks and taking out every onscreen enemy in short fashion, though this is only for a very short time. Players can restore their health by eating fruit or stealing a kiss from Panacea, who wanders to and fro in each stage, and swing from vines to take out enemies. You get two lives per credit and, while there’s no time limit, Cacophonix’s musical notes will damage you if you linger too long. Perhaps the oddest thing about Astérix, though, is that you do not have unlimited continues; even if you input ninety-nine credits, you’ll eventually run out of chances to spawn back in and be left with nothing else but your high score and beginning the game all over again.

The game is absolutely gorgeous and perfectly captures the look and humour of the comics.

As fulfilling and entertaining as the beat-‘em-up gameplay is in Astérix, however, the game excels in its visual presentation; more so than any other 2D Astérix videogame, this sadly forgotten arcade title pops with bright, cartoony graphics that are ripped straight from the original comic books. Sprites are large, fantastically detailed, and full of fun little animations; Romans can be rapidly slapped across the face, slammed by their ankles, and twirled around in the air just like in the comics, a bunch of cartoony sound effects punctuate the action, and there’s even a little bit of voice acting and onscreen text (in both English and French) to help tell the story. Stages are proceeded by both sprite-based cutscenes and comic book panels to track the pair’s journey to Rome, and you’ll be able to play a chariot race as a bonus stage for extra points. While enemy variety quickly begins to suffer (you’ll see the same Roman infantry and generals in every stage), they’re all exactly as they appear in the comics and can even be seen hiding in tree stumps and riding horses. Each stage also includes additional hazards and enemies, such as rolling rocks, mischievous Egyptians, and disreputable pirates; you’ll also battle a boss at the end of each stage, with a group of Roman’s gathered into the tortoise formation awaiting you at the end of the first stage and the mind-controlling Iris opposing you in Egypt,

My Progression:
I’ve played Astérix before, both in the wild as a child and thanks to the gift of emulation, and have always been thoroughly impressed with its graphics, gameplay, and fidelity to the quirky humour and adventures of the source material. The attention to detail here is astounding, even compared to other licensed videogames from the time, and it pleases me no end to see these fun-filled and colourful characters brought to life so well. While I’ve always enjoyed the platforming and puzzle-based mechanics of many Astérix videogames, the concept lends itself incredibly well to the simplicity of a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up and the game’s stages are packed full of gorgeous sprite work, things to see and interact with, and short enough to play through in action-packed bursts.

While there’s loads of locations, I wasn’t able to actually finish the game due to the credit system.

Having said that, though, Astérix is stunted somewhat by the fact that you cannot simply feed coins into it until you plough through to the ending. I can’t recall ever playing an arcade title that restricts you in such a way, meaning that even when you emulate the game you can’t just blindly charge ahead and just press a button to jump back into the action. Instead, your continues are strangely limited, which unfortunately limits your progress in a way that I have never encountered in an arcade title before, and that means that I rarely manage to get past (or even to) the pirate ship stage. On this particularly playthrough, I struggled to make it through Egypt before losing all my chances, which was a shame as I was hoping that the different ROM files I had available would allow me to just carry on like normal. However, if you are able to best the ever-increasing waves of cartoony and bombastic enemies thrown your way, you’ll eventually battle across the high seas in boats, zip through the air on a magic carpet, race along in a mine cart, and finally find yourself battling the game’s toughest enemies in Julius Caesar’s Colosseum.

Astérix is a quality sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that you may never have played, or even heard of. Sadly, this is one of a number of arcade-exclusive titles that never saw the jump to home consoles, and that’s a crying shame as this would’ve been a blast to play in the 16-bit era. While the game doesn’t really offer anything beyond the stand two-button combat you’d expect from an arcade title and is seemingly lacking in a few areas (a life-draining special attack and weapons amongst them), it excels in its absolutely gorgeous visual presentation to perfectly capture the look, feel, and humour of the source material. It’s just a shame that I can’t just keep pumping in credits to charge on through to the ending, but I always enjoy loading this one up when I have some time to kill. Have you ever played Astérix’s arcade adventure? If so, how do you think it compares to other Asterix videogames and beat-‘em-ups of the time? How far have you been able to make it in the game, and which of the stages was your favourite to play through? Which character, book, or movie is your favourite? How are you celebrating Asterix and Obelix’s birthday this year? Whatever your memories or opinions of Asterix, feel free to sign up and drop them below or leave a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [Bite-Size]: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Nintendo 3DS)

Released: 7 March 2012
Originally Released: 4 December October 1997
Developer: Konami
Original Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment
Also Available For: Game Boy

A Brief Background:
In the hierarchy of videogame characters, you would be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Goemon, the spiky-haired protagonist of Konami’s Ganbare Goemon series of adventure games. Loosely based on the legendary Robin Hood figure of Ishikawa Goemon, Goemon was first introduced to gamers back in 1986 as “Mr. Goemon” and was best known outside of Japan for his critically acclaimed Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) title, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Konami, 1991). While the world was waiting with baited breath for the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo EAD, 1998), 3D adventure fans were treated to Goemon’s bizarre Nintendo 64 jaunt, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka, 1997), my first exposure to the character and the franchise and still one of my favourite N64 games of all time. Mystical Ninja was accompanied by this release for the original Game Boy, a divisive adventure title that was criticised for its high difficulty and for being a poor knock-off of The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo R&D4, 1986). Regardless, Mystical Ninja made its was to the 3DS Virtual Console in 2012 and, based on my enjoyment with the N64 title and desire to play something akin to the SNES game, I snapped it up before the service was shut down.

First Impressions:
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is a top-down action/adventure game far more in the style of The Legend of Zelda than its sidescrolling SNES predecessor and third-person N64 jaunt. The game’s story is split into chapters, with story text, dialogue boxes, and map screens depicting the efforts of Goemon, Ebisumaru, and Sasuke to rescue their friend Yae from the malevolent Black Ship Gang. Before each chapter, you can pick from one of the three protagonists, who all essentially control the same way and have the same abilities; each character has a weapon to attack with by pressing B and can jump by pressing A, though each has slightly different attributes. Goemon is an all-rounder, for example, while Ebisumaru’s jump isn’t quite as good as Sasuke’s. Like Link, you character will fire a projectile from their weapon when at full health, though you still have access to a projectile in the form of a limited supply of shurikens, which you can switch to by pressing ‘Select’ and each character has a different range to their shot. The pause screen brings up a rudimentary grid-like map that gives you some idea of where you are, where you’ve been, and where you need to go, though the game is pretty linear and it’s not especially difficult to find your way around. Each chapter starts you out in a town of some sort, one either ruined by enemies or that’s a port for the Black Ship Gang, and you can explore, chat to non-playable characters (NPCs) for some vague hints and lore, and visit shops and inns to replenish your health and ammo. This is the only way to refill your strength gauge outside of collecting Crystal of Life items from chests, which add an extra hit point to your bar and, as you only get one life and the game’s passwords make you start from the beginning of the chapter, this can make for an incredibly difficult gameplay experience.

Limited graphics and gameplay options make this a disappointing Game Boy title.

You’ll wander through the town, taking out enemies (who don’t drop anything useful and respawn when you return, making backtracking a chore), and finding stairs down to underground passages, ant hills, castles, and through the Black Ship Gang’s ship. Exploration generally amounts to finding chests that contain a life or weapon power-up, extra shurikens, and coins to spend, but you’ll occasionally find shops and inns in here too and you’ll pretty much always be tasked with finding an NPC with a story-specific item (bamboo, a bomb, the symbol of the Black Ship Gang) that you need to progress further.  Graphically, the game really isn’t anything to shout about; considering we were seven years into the Game Boy’s life span by this point and we’d seen an incredibly detailed and layered adventure game in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo EAD, 1993) about four years prior, it’s hard to not judge Mystical Ninja, which more resembles Super Mario Land (Nintendo R&D1, 1989) than Link’s Awakening. The sound is pretty good, but the sprites are small, lacking in detail, and the environments all become very samey very quickly. Add in the fact that some locations are veritable mazes and include hazards like pits, water, and lava that take a whole chunk off your health and send you back to the beginning and you have a game that just looks dated and lacks all of the visual charm I associate with the Mystical Ninja franchise. By taking advantage of the 3DS’s save state system, you don’t really need to explore all that much as you can just reload if you make a mistake, but that won’t help you when you come across the various mini games that accompany the game’s bosses!

My Progression:
Mystical Ninja’s enemies aren’t really all the difficult to get past; you’ve got samurais, ghosts, giant ants, bats, and pirates scattered throughout but also some trickier enemies, like teleporting ninjas, ink-spitting squids, and these weird…I dunno…golems? Walking tree-things? Most enemies can be defeated in one hit, but some take more, and it can be tricky lining up your shot or blow because of the game’s rigid grid system and the character’s weapons not having a wide arc like Link’s sword. The hardest thing about the enemies, though, is that they all respawn when you return to where they were meaning that it’s usually easier and faster to just jump around and avoid them, especially as you don’t get any health or coins or anything for beating them. Some areas include mini bosses, like a sumo, a flying queen ant, a hook-handed pirate captain, and a large octopus, but most of these are pretty easy to pummel into defeat from afar. When you explore Skeleton Island, defeating the club-wielding ogre-things opens up a new part of the area to explore and brings you one step closer to the final boss, but it’s actually highly unlikely you’ll even get past the first boss without using the password system. My playthrough was going pretty well; I was disappointed by the graphics, lack of power-ups, and the inability to switch characters on the fly, but the game wasn’t too much of a challenge to figure out. I beat the sumo, got the bamboo, and used it to cross the water to a castle, where I eventually reached this rocket boss…thing.

Sadly, while bosses are easy to beat, the mini games that accompany them are hard as balls!

It was a little sporadic but I managed to defeat it but Baron Skull, leader of the Black Ship Gang, challenges you to a 100-meter race afterwards that is, frankly, impossible. You need to tap A as fast as possible to beat him but, no matter how fast I was, I couldn’t even get close so, technically, my run ended there. I used the password to jump to the next chapter, though, to see what else was on offer; here, you battle this big stone boss in a cave that constantly throws boulders and its extending arms at you and, when you beat it, you have another impossible tapping game to complete, this time a tug of war! I couldn’t beat that either, so I jumped to chapter three; here, you need to answer five out of ten questions right in a timed quiz to board the Black Ship Gang’s ship, which isn’t too hard, and the big octopus has you quickly select which lantern doesn’t match to finish the chapter, so I was actually able to beat this one! Things properly broke down in chapter four, where you cross a bridge to another ship and are challenged to a number of mini games; the first isn’t too bad (especially with save states) and simply has you matching pairs of cards, but the second was, again, impossible as no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get all of the images to match the main picture. I skipped ahead to the final chapter, where you easily defeat Baron Skull’s ogres and rescue Yae, then hop over some lava and battle him to the finish in a first-person mech fight. This sees you summoning the giant robot Impact (though you only see him from inside his cockpit) and punching Baron Skull when he pops up, following the helpful arrows to prepare your attack. Unfortunately, you can’t block or fire projectiles and I couldn’t even see what or when Baron Skull was firing at me, and this is a multi-stage fight, with Baron Skull getting faster and harder to hit, so this was where I officially gave up.

To say I was disappointed by Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon would be a massive understatement. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting it to be anything like the Nintendo 64 game of the same name that’d so massively captured my attention and imagination, but something more akin to the SNES game or even more in line with Link’s Awakening would’ve been fine. I was expecting the game to be hard because it was a long and involved role-playing adventure game that had you going from town to town, exploring dungeons and castles, and acquiring new weapons and items…not because of nigh-impossible button mashing mini games with absolutely no margin for error! The game is stupidly simple 99% of the time, coming across as a kiddified version of the original Legend of Zelda and barely presenting much of a challenge as long as you remember where you’ve gone in the maze-like areas. The bosses are pretty simple to beat as well, but those mini games, while quirky and in keeping with the series’ bizarre sense of humour, are such a brick wall that I honestly have no idea how you’d get past even the first one! Add to that the dated the graphics, the lack of variety between the playable characters, and the disappointingly bland locations and you are basically left with a forgettable Game Boy experience that I can’t say I’ll be motivated to try and finish any time soon. But maybe you think I’m being too harsh? Maybe you’ve beaten this game without issue? If so, I’d love to hear about it, and your thoughts on the Ganbare Goemon series, down in the comments or on my social media.

Game Corner: The Simpsons (PlayStation 3)

Released: 8 February 2012
Originally Released: 4 March 1991
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Arcade, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

The Background:
The Simpsons began life as a series of short cartoons created by Matt Groening for The Tracey Ullman Show, with Groening hastily naming each of the family members after himself and his own family and the characters coloured yellow by colourist Georgie Peluse simply because it was deemed amusing. In 1989, Groening was approached by a team of production companies to produce a series of half-hour episodes focusing on his dysfunctional family for the Fox Broadcasting Company. Groening jumped at the chance to produce an alternative to the “mainstream trash” that was currently airing and The Simpsons eventually premiered in late 1989. The show became a multimedia juggernaut after “Bartmania” gripped the nation; in addition to the long-running series, The Simpsons featured in every piece of merchandise imaginable, from action figures and comics to videogames.

I’ve played this game out in the wild before but it was great to see it re-released, however briefly.

While the majority of these early videogames are notoriously poor, one stood out for its high quality graphics and addictive beat-‘em-up gameplay and that was the arcade game produced by Konami. It was surprising how well the developers adapted the Simpsons concept to a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up however, while the game was somewhat restricted by the relatively short run of the show at the time, what really gave the game its prestige was its obscurity. I’ve been lucky enough to play this out in the wild over the years so, naturally, I jumped at the chance to get it when it was finally re-released on the PlayStation Network in 2012; sadly, the game has since been delisted, meaning there is no easily accessible way to play this classic beat-‘em-up title, but Whacking Day seems like a great excuse to revisit it nonetheless.

The Plot:
Whilst out shopping, the Simpsons accidentally bump into Waylon Smithers as he is stealing a giant diamond for his employer, the greedy and malicious Charles Montgomery Burns. When the diamond lands in Maggie’s mouth, Smithers kidnaps her and the Simpsons are forced to pursue him to rescue her.

Gameplay:
The Simpsons is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which up to four players travel from the left side of the screen to the right through a variety of familiar Simpsons locations while pummelling wave-upon-wave of goons and other assorted enemies. Unlike some four-player beat-‘em-ups, any player can select any character and you’ll even be able to pull off unique double team moves with each member of the Simpsons family. There are four characters to choose from (Bart, Homer, Marge, and Lisa) and, though each one controls exactly the same, it does seem as though each one has slightly different pros and cons and each one attacks in a slightly different way.

Gameplay is incredibly simple, utlising only two buttons and a variety of attack animations.

For example, Bart and Lisa are smaller and faster, making it easier to manoeuvre around the screen and to avoid enemy attacks, while Homer and Marge are much taller and slower. Bart glides along on his skateboard, which he also uses to attack enemies; Lisa skips around using a skipping rope (which she also uses to attack); Homer attacks with his fists (and seems to have the shortest range as a result); and Marge whacks enemies with her vacuum cleaner, giving her the longest reach but a slightly slower attack than, say, Bart or Lisa. Gameplay couldn’t be simpler: you just move to the right and attack enemies until you reach the end of the stage where you’ll battle a boss. There are no special moves or complicated button presses and combos to worry about here; X jumps and Square attacks and that’s pretty much it. You can perform jumping attacks and each character has a unique combo attack (Bart whirls around like a spinning top and Homer flails his fists in a frenzy, for example) that is performed by simply mashing X but you can’t grab or throw enemies and there’s no dash function but you can pick up and throw items and objects at enemies.

Gameplay is briefly broken up by some good, old-fashioned button mashing.

While 99% of the game is a mindless, monotonous beat-‘em-up, The Simpsons livens things up not just with its bright, cartoony graphics, quirky features, and sound bites but also through its level variety and a couple of Bonus Stages. The first of these has you mashing buttons to pump up a balloon and the second has you doing the same thing to slap your character back to consciousness. It’s not much, and the computer-controlled opponents are ridiculously hard to beat, but it helps to break things up a little bit. The quirkiness of the game helps with that, too. Since the game was made so early in The Simpsons’ lifespan, much of the show’s characterisations and format had yet to be properly established. As a result, Smithers is a maniacal villain and many of the obscure and fleeting inclusions from the show (such as the bear, Homer’s dreamland, Princess Kashmir, and Professor Werner von Brawn) are much more prominent over characters like Abe Simpson, Milhouse Van Houton, and Otto Mann (who all show up in brief cameos to drop off weapons or health items) and some (like Kent Brockman) are missing entirely in favour of numerous cameos by Groening’s rabbit, Binky. Still, similar to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami, 1989), cartoony slapstick and a vibrant aesthetic keep the game enjoyable to look at and play: characters will fly at the screen when smacked by doors, use speech bubbles to shout at you to wriggle the joystick when enemies grab them, and the game does a decent job of recreating certain locations from the show even if some are a little more obscure than others (such as Krustyland and Springfield Butte).

Graphics and Sound:
The Simpsons is a bright, vivid, and lively beat-‘em-up full of big, colourful sprites, cartoony effects, and a decent amount of detail packed into every animation and location. Each character has several frames of animation, even when standing idle; they’ll quickly grow impatient with you if you leave them too long and often speak using both sound bites and word balloons. Additionally, when attacking or being attacked, each character has many frames of animation that allows them to attack in a flurry, be sent tumbling backwards, or return to life in the guise of a superhero.

The game’s selection of Simpsons locations is a little questionable at times.

Considering, as I mentioned before, how early into the show’s run the game was produced, stage variety is commendable…if a bit wacky, at times. Stage one is, naturally, the streets of Springfield but, while you’ll pass by the Noiseland Arcade and the Rusty Barnacle, other prominent locations from the iconic Simpsons introduction and various episodes are missing. Similarly, Krustyland is quite different to how it appears in the show and appears to be more like an amusement part, Moe’s Tavern is greatly expanded into something more like a casino and a strip club, and Springfield Butte appears to only be included because a handful of early Simpsons episodes occasionally ventured into the wilderness outside of the town. Things get really surreal when you visit Dreamland on stage six, which features all kinds of weird background elements and brief inclusions of what I would consider to be more prominent Simpsons landmarks (like the school and the Simpsons’ home).

Motion comic-like cutscenes and in-game graphics recreate the look and feel of the show.

While many of the stages are quite short and relatively barren, the game packs in a bunch of cameos and little details here and there: Howie walks out of the arcade (and will smash you into the screen if you get too close); frogs hop around in the cemetery; and various supporting characters (from Sherri and Terri to the original design for Sideshow Bob and even obscure characters like Doctor Marvin Monroe) show up to drop off health or power-ups. The Simpsons does a great job of recreating the look and feel of the early episodes of the show and this is helped all the more with the game’s commendable recreation of the iconic Simpsons introduction (which includes a brief rundown on each playable character) and theme tune. The game’s plot, such as it is, is told through the use of both motion comic-like cutscenes and in-game graphics, with a few sound bites thrown in here and there. This allows for a surprising amount of non-playable characters (NPCs) to briefly appear onscreen at once and a few amusing little animated sequences to play out, such as your characters getting swept over a waterfall, Smithers blowing himself up, and Maggie placing her dummy into the unconscious mouth of Mr. Burns.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you embark on your journey, you’ll battle against a seemingly endless wave of men in suits whose sole mission in life is to pummel you to death. Some of these also throw their hats at you or wield brooms or other weapons; they’re also capable of grabbing you to drain your health and get progressively aggressive as the game goes on. You’ll also battle fatter enemies, who can attack in teacups or throw boulders at you, and enemies will drop from trees dressed as ghosts and toss bombs at you in the cemetery. There are also a handful of unique and quirky enemies to contend with, some of which act as mini bosses of sorts: in stage one, for example, you’ll have to fight past a fireman, Binky and fake Krusty the Clown’s regularly crop up in Krustyland, zombies burst out from the cemetery grounds, you’ll encounter Bigfoot a number of times at Springfield Butte, and Channel 6 even has you fighting ninjas and a laser-spewing robot!

The first two bosses ask little more from you that a bit of dodging and relentless attacking.

Easily the most surreal enemies are found in Dreamland; here, you’ll encounter anthropomorphic donuts and saxophones, Marge heads made of clouds, and nuclear technicians who continue to attack you even after you knock their heads off! As mentioned, most of the game’s stages end with a battle against a gigantic boss; these are generally pretty easy and all come down to a simple case of dodging and piling on the attacks. The first boss, Professor Werner von Brawn, fills most of the screen and attacks with punches and belly flops (but his trunks have a nasty tendency to fall down, leaving him vulnerable to your attacks) while the second boss is a gigantic Krusty balloon that tries to slap at you and rains bombs down onto the arena.  In each case, though, victory comes from simply utilising any weapons dropped off before the fight, using your jumping attacks, and relentlessly pounding away until they are defeated.

Later bosses mix up their attacks and get a bit of back-up to make things a little more challenging.

Stage three doesn’t actually have a proper boss battle but, at the end of Moe’s Tavern, you’ll have to fight a cracked-up DJ who punches at you and breathes fire! However, his tendency to stop and taunt makes him an easy fight, as is the giant fake bear that awaits you at the end of Springfield Butte. The hardest thing about this boss is that it surprises you by bursting out of a cave, which can cause you to get hit by logs, and boulders rain down into the area, which can be annoying. Similarly, the large Kabuki Warrior who awaits you at the end of the Channel 6 stage is made more cumbersome by his long reach (thanks to his spear) and the fact that he conjures a ninja or two to distract you during the fight.

The bowling ball is a multi-phase boss fight that can go on for some time.

Dreamland, however, ends with a particularly annoying and tough boss battle against a huge anthropomorphic bowling bowl that attacks in four different phases: in the first, it simple rolls and bounces around; in the second, it grows arms to bounce higher; the third sees it grow legs and shoot bowling pin missiles; and the fourth and final phase sees it grow one large, stretchy arm to swipe at you. It’s quite a laborious boss battle, especially considering that every boss before this was relatively short and simple, but is just a taste of things to come.

A tough battle against Smithers and Mr. Burns awaits you at the finale of the game.

When you reach the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, you’ll simply walk right through the stage and into Mr. Burns’ office for the final battle, which is preceded by a fight against Smithers. Smithers attacks with his cape and maniacally dashes around the office tossing bombs at you. Thankfully, you can throw some of these back at him and he goes down relatively quickly as long as you can get near him and avoid being chargrilled by his bombs and death animation. Defeat him, though, and Mr. Burns bursts through the wall in his mech suit for another four-phase boss fight. At first, Burns attacks with retractable pincer-like arms and spits out the odd nuclear bomb, then he rises up onto treadmill-like feet and starts shooting missiles at you. In his third phase, he switches to a hovercraft-like base and adds a spiked rod attack and, in the fourth phase, having had his exosuit smashed off throughout the fight, Burns simply resorts to bouncing around the screen and scattering bombs everywhere. This is definitely a fight made easier with another player or in Free Play mode as Burns is a damage sponge and can easily smack the life out of you in just a few hits.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As in any self-respecting beat-‘em-up, the Simpsons have a variety of options when it comes to restoring their health; NPCs will drop off burgers, hot dogs, donuts, pie, and roast chickens and you can also shake apples from trees, each of which will allow you to keep fighting a little longer. Some of these can also be found right before boss areas so, if you’re low on health, it’s worth picking them up.

A variety of weapons and health-restoring food is provided by some familiar NPCs.

Similarly, you’ll find and be gifted a variety of weapons throughout each stage; one of the most prominent is the slingshot, which allows you to fire a limited number of projectiles at your enemies, but you can also grab bowling balls, a hammer, bar stools, brooms, bottles, drink cups, and even Snowball II, Santa’s Little Helper, and the original design of the Space Mutants to launch at enemies.

Additional Features:
The Simpsons has twelve Trophies for you to earn, each of them actually requiring a bit of skill and effort on your part as they task you with reaching certain stages, acquiring a certain number of points in specific game modes, or teaming up with other plays on- or offline. The difficulty of these varies quite a bit; it’s not much to ask you to finish the game four times, once with each character, but finishing the game in thirty minutes or less or on the “Expert” difficulty with limited continues is a bit of a tall order. When playing this version of the game, you are presented with a variety of gameplay options. You can choose to play in “Free Play” mode (which gives you unlimited continues), “Survival” mode (which gives you one life an no continues), “Team Quarters” (where you share forty continues), and “Quarters” mode (which gives you ten continues).

The Japanese version of the game adds a couple of extra features here and there to spice things up.

You can then select between Easy, Normal, Hard, and Expert difficulty modes (with enemies increasing in number and difficulty the higher the setting), select any stage you like (though, as I finished this game a long time ago, this may need to be unlocked so I forget if it’s available right from the start), view characters and artwork in the gallery, apply different borders and screen settings, and have access to a sound test. You can also choose to play the Japanese version of the game, which differs somewhat from the worldwide release. For one thing, it adds the nuclear bomb item to certain stages, which allows you to clear the screen of enemies. It also allows you to use weapons in mid-air, ups the power of the slingshot, adds a “Vital Bonus” score at the end of every stage, allows you to increase your health beyond its limit, and adds a number of different enemy, item, and NPC placements within every stage which can help mix up subsequent playthroughs.

The Summary:
The Simpsons is not an especially deep or feature-laden arcade title; the lack of special moves, relative emptiness of the stages, the enemy variety, and the short length of the game all, arguably, make it somewhat inferior to other arcade beat-‘em-ups released around the same time. Yet, thanks to its colourful graphics, quirky animations, and simple pick-up-and-play formula, it’s a classic of its genre through and through and easily one of the most enjoyable beat-‘em-ups out there. Of course, much of its appeal comes from nostalgia and its rarity but none of that detracts from the fact that it’s a blast to play and never outstays its welcome. A sidescrolling beat-‘em-up may not necessarily be the first genre that springs to mind when you think of The Simpsons but it works really well here; even though the show was still in its early days, the game does a great job of capturing the spirit of The Simpsons and including a number of cameos and call-backs to the show. It’s a shame that The Simpsons wasn’t more commercial available through ports to home consoles and that this particular version has been delisted from online stores as it’s a great way to waste an hour or so and the additional features and options help to spice the experience up. It was a great little package for a long-forgotten game and I can only hope that, one day, it’ll reappear on the Xbox so I can experience it all over again.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of The Simpsons? Have you have played this game out in the wild or did you first experience it through emulation or the PlayStation and Xbox ports? Which of the playable characters was your favourite? How do you feel the game holds up today, especially compared to other beat-‘em-ups? Would you like the see the game re-released again or do you think it’s better left in obscurity? What is your favourite Simpsons game? Do you have a favourite character, episode, or moment from the show? How are you celebrating Whacking Day today? Whatever your thoughts on the world’s most famous yellow family, feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to check back in for more Simpsons content!

Game Corner: Rocket Knight (Xbox 360)

GameCorner
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Released: May 2010
Developer: Climax Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox One

The Background:
Mate, how absolutely brilliant was Rocket Knight Adventures (Konami, 1993) back in the day? Back when cute, anthropomorphic mascots were all the rage, Sparkster (the titular “Rocket Knight”) really stood out thanks to some absolutely gorgeous graphics, kick-ass music, and fast-paced, rocket-based combat. I used to play that game so much as a kid but never actually managed to finish it (maybe one day); the game did well enough to receive two sequels, one for the Mega Drive and one for the Super Nintendo, but Konami’s long-forgotten and short-lived little franchise went dormant for far too long after these releases. Then, out of nowhere, a revival of the franchise was thankfully put into production thanks to producer Tomm Hulett. A 2,5D, digital-only title, I first played Rocket Knight on the PlayStation 3 but I didn’t hesitate to snap it up once it went on sale on Xbox One so I could get into it again. It’s not an especially long or difficult game but, as one of my favourite franchises that has been sadly lost to the mists of time, I could never not jump at the opportunity to charge up Sparkster’s signature rocket pack once more.

The Plot:
Fifteen years after bringing peace to the Kingdom of Zephyrus, Sparkster has been living a quiet life as a family possum. His peaceful life is shattered when the Wolf Army suddenly invades the Kingdom; heeding the call to adventure, Sparkster dons his trademark armour and rocket pack and returns to the fight to defend his home once more.

Gameplay:
Rocket Knight is a 2.5D action/platformer in which players take control of Sparkster, a “rocket knight” who seeks to defend his land from invasion. All of Sparkster’s moves and abilities from his debut game return here, meaning he is armed with a large sword for some basic close-quarters action and which is also capable of blasting enemies from a distance as well.

Blast through enemies with Sparkster’s trademark rocket pack and sword.

Sparkster’s unique selling point was his rocket pack; by holding the B button and pointing Sparkster in a direction, players can blast ahead, mowing down enemies and ricocheting off walls to reach higher areas. Sparkster can also drill through certain breakable elements by tapping B again and briefly hover with a tap of the A button to aid with tricky platforming sections. However, Sparkster’s rocket pack isn’t finite in most stages; you’ll have to keep an eye on the energy bar in the top-left of the screen as you won’t be able to blast away if it’s empty. Luckily, this bar refills quite quickly, meaning you never have to wait too long to burst into action and Sparkster can also blow his energy reserves on a cartwheel-like attack that is super handy for bouncing dynamite back at enemies. Sparkster can also clamber across vines and bars with his tail; sliding down these will allow you to jump higher and further and you can also attack enemies by whirling around in a rocket-powered swing.

Take to the skies in auto-flying stages to mix things up a bit.

Stages are generally a simply case of moving Sparkster from point A to point B, with a smattering of enemies and platforming segments to contend with, but every so often you’ll be thrust into a sidescrolling auto-flying stage where you can fly indefinitely. In these stages, enemies, obstacles, and mines will try to slow your progress but you can blast at them with Sparkster’s energy shot. You can also hold X to charge up your shot and unleash a screen-clearing beam of energy that is perfect to taking out tricky enemies. Eventually, stages introduce more complex elements, such as when Sparkster finds his rocket pack affected by extreme cold. Your rocket fuel won’t regenerate in these stages unless you pick up a fuel icon or find a burning torch to defrost Sparkster.

You’ll need to master Sparkster’s rocket pack to contend with later stages.

Other stages have you dodging and ducking fireballs, blasting from airship to airship while massive cannons try to knock you from the sky, hitting switches to open doors or lower energy fields, jumping from precarious moving platforms or navigating short, simple mazes to progress further, or outrunning a massive explosion. Rocket Knight is not an especially long or complex game but it’s simple, easy to play fun that challenges you by increasing the difficulty of its enemies and stage hazards over time. Fortunately, checkpoints are plentiful throughout the game’s stages; Sparkster can replenish his health by collecting hearts, which are sporadically found throughout each stage, and earn extra lives by collecting 1-ups and earning enough points. Points are accumulated by collecting blue and red gems, finding power-ups, and building a combo by defeating enemies in quick succession. Each time you clear a stage, you’ll earn additional points for how fast you completed a stage, encouraging speedrunning and a degree of exploration as you hunt down hidden gems.

Graphics and Sound:
Rocket Knight is not an especially ground-breaking game in terms of its graphics but it has a simple, adorable charm; favouring a 2.5D aesthetic over the gorgeous sprite art of its original games, the game resembles a cel-shaded cartoon more than anything. Characters pop out from the background and are lively enough (though Sparkster could be a little more animated when left idle), appearing big and chunky and almost anime-like in their appearance.

Pantomime-like cutscenes relate the game’s simple story.

The game’s simple plot is told through pantomime-like cutscenes, as in the original game, with a brief synopsis greeting the player as each stage loads. These cutscenes are amusing and quaint, getting the point of the game’s uncomplicated narrative across easily enough and are thankfully not bogged down by copious amounts of voice acting (they are also entirely skippable if you prefer to just jump right into the action). The game’s music is just as good; Rocket Knight wisely opens with a remix of the memorable and catchy “Stage 1” music from the first game (still one of the greatest videogame tracks of all time, in my opinion) and takes its cue from there, punctuating each stage with plucky tunes that could maybe have a bit more oomph behind them but are nevertheless enjoyable.

Enemies and Bosses:
For the first portion of the game, Sparkster will have to contend with the Wolf Army; these are generally little more than cannon fodder, running head-first into your sword and attacks and easily dispatched of. Soon, they start tossing dynamite at your head (though these are easily knocked back with a swipe of your sword) or clinging from walls and ceilings to toss throwing stars at you. They’ll also pop out of the background or try to overwhelm you with sheer numbers, attack with bazookas, or drop bombs on you but are, for the most part, pretty easy to deal with.

Wolves and pigs will try to skewer you and blast you to pieces.

However, after taking out Ulfgar the Merciless, the King and leader of the Wolf Army, Sparkster is betrayed by former-enemy-turned-ally General Sweinhart and must contend with a renewed invasion from Sweinhart’s Pig Empire. These swines are far more dangerous enemies, taking multiple hits to defeat and blasting at Sparkster with energy pistols, hiding behind shields, erecting electrical force fields, and piloting intimidating mechs to try and squash Sparkster flat.

Sparkster’s rival, Axel Gear, makes for some of the game’s more thrilling battles.

Since Rocket Knight is only a short game (it’ll probably take about an hour to finish on the “Normal” difficulty), you only have to contend with three bosses and two sub-bosses. The sub-boss battles are a one-on-one duel against Axel Gear, Sparkster’s hated rival; Axel has many of Sparkster’s abilities, including his energy beam and rocket pack-based attacks, but also circles the screen leaving damaging clouds in his wake and tosses grenades Sparkster’s way at any opportunity. These are some of the most fun bouts in the game, though, as it’s thrilling to go against Sparkster’s dark opposite; however, they can be frustrating when attempting the game on “Hard” mode.

The first boss is big and can be tricky but has a glaringly obvious weak spot.

The first true boss you’ll encounter is a giant mechanical forest shredder that tries to stamp, swipe, skewer, and explode you at every opportunity. The boss’s weak spot is the big, red metal “mask” on its head and you can choose to either rocket yourself into this or try to reflect the dynamite it tosses your way back at it but you’ll have to dodge its rockets and giant, scenery-destroying buzz saws as the fight progresses.

The second boss is largely immune to your attacks, requiring a different strategy.

Ulfgar the Merciless is a slightly less straight-forward opponent; impervious to your attacks, you must instead bait Ulfgar into charging head-first into blocks, knock dynamite back at him, or destroy the platforms he is standing on to damage him all while dodging his charging and melee attacks and the debris he causes to come crashing down from the ceiling.

Defeating General Sweinhart can be a challenge all by itself.

The final boss is a battle against General Sweinhart himself and is also, fittingly, the toughest and most frustrating battle of the game. Sweinhart hides inside a titanic mech shaped in his image for most of the battle, randomly trying to squash you (or cause bottomless spits to emerge) or fry you alive with his laser eyes. When he leans in close, you have to quickly land an attack on his metal nostrils; take too long and he’ll spawn an enemy or three into the arena, which is only going to cause you more headaches. Land three hits and the mech goes down, spitting Sweinhart out. Here’s where it gets really tricky; you have to dodge Sweinhart’s laser and bombs all while trying not to touch the electrified parts of his downed mech and using Sparkster’s rocket pack to knock Sweinhart from the sky in such a way that he gets fried instead. If you’re quick about this, you can significantly knock a lot of Sweinhart’s health off but it’s so fiddly and tricky to dodge his attacks and get him to land in the right place that you’ll have to contend with his giant mech at least two times in a standard battle. To make things worse, the game is really stingy with health in this battle; when fighting the other bosses, a couple of health power-ups are available in the arena but, here, it seems completely random when one will drop from the mech’s nostrils, making this far more frustrating than it needs to be at times.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
In keeping with the first game, there’s not much on offer to help boost Sparkster’s performance throughout Rocket Knight; gems will add to your score to help you towards earning extra lives, 1-ups are occasionally found in stages, and certain stages will see you get an instant refill of your rocket fuel but that’s about it. There’s no invincibility or speed up, no shields or damage increasers, and no upgrades to get or worry about; it’s just you, your sword, your rocket pack, and your wits.

Additional Features:
As you might expect, Rocket Knight comes with a handful of Achievements for you to earn; sadly, there’s not very many and they’re not especially varied in their content. However, while clearing every stage and beating the game on “Normal” might be easy enough to get, others, like beating every stage below the par time or finishing the game on “Hard” mode, can be a mite trickier. You can select “Hard” mode at any time; however, staying in “Hard” mode is easier said than done. The only way to stop the game from automatically dropping the difficulty back to “Normal” is to land a special attack on each of the game’s bosses (such as damaging the forest shredder with dynamite or causing Axel to fly into his own bombs). Once you manage it, though, you unlock two additional skins: one that lets you play as Axel Gear (which is awesome) and the other is Gold Sparkster, which is also an even more challenging gameplay mode. You can input the famous Konami code on the title screen to unlock these at your leisure but I don’t think that allows you to earn the Achievements associated with them.

The Summary:
Rocket Knight is an extremely enjoyable, if all-too-brief, return to form for one of Konami’s more forgotten franchises. Fast paced and simple to play, there’s not much here to really test your skills or have you pulling your hair out as even the game’s trickier moments are fun to play through thanks to the appealing aesthetics of the game’s graphics and soundtrack. The controls are tight and responsive, stages are short bursts of action and enjoyment, and the gameplay is simple yet easy to get to grips with. It would have been nice to see the three original games included as unlockables or bonus content but maybe one day Konami will remember Sparkster and give all four of his titles a bit of a spruce up for a new generation.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think of Rocket Knight? Were you happy to see Sparkster randomly return from obscurity or did you have issues with the game’s length and presentation? Did you ever play Rocket Knight Adventures on the Mega Drive or either of its sequels? If so, what did you think of them and would you like to see more games in the franchise? Either way, whatever your thoughts on Rocket Knight, leave a comment below.

Game Corner: Kid Dracula (Xbox One)

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Released: May 2019
Originally Released: October 1990
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
Well, this is it; over the past few weeks, I have been reviewing each of the titles of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection and we’re finally at the end with perhaps the most obscure title in the collection. By 1990, Konami was pretty much knee-deep into establishing Castlevania as a successful franchise; Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (ibid, 1989) had released the previous year and both Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (ibid, 1991) and Super Castlevania IV (ibid) were due to come out in the following year. So, naturally, this was the perfect time for a chibi­-style, super-cute parody platformer starring Dracula’s son. No, not Alucard (or, at least, not explicitly…); this title would, instead, be a spin-off starring the titular “Kid Dracula”, a mischievous little imp with a super-deformed, cartoony aesthetic. His self-titled games released exclusively in Japan until the release of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, which included the original NES version for the first time, in English, but was Kid Dracula worth the wait or is it just another example of a wacky Japanese title that never should have seen the light of day in the West?

The Plot:
After waking from a long sleep, the self-proclaimed “Demon King”, Kid Dracula, is challenged by the demon Galamoth. Arming himself with his father’s cape, Kid Dracula sets out to destroy Galamoth and his minions and retake his throne as the Demon King.

Gameplay:
Kid Dracula is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer that, in a change of pace, has players take on the role of Dracula’s son, Kid Dracula (also called “Lil’ Drac” and, presumably (given their similarities), a super-deformed version of Alucard), and journeying across a number of levels defeating Galamoth’s minions. Rather than using a whip, Kid Dracula attacks with a fireball-like projectile, just like his Dad. You can blast enemies in the direction you’re facing, shoot upwards, and shoot downwards while jumping, making Kid Dracula a relatively versatile character. You can also hold down the attack button to charge up a shot, which will allow you to collect Medals that you can use to play one of the game’s four mini games at the end of each level. Rather than collecting the traditional Castlevania sub-weapons, you’ll acquire new attacks after defeating each of the game’s bosses; you can switch between them by pressing the “Select” button to assist both in disposing of enemies and your traversal through the game’s nine brisk levels, though there is a significant delay in switching between attacks and there’s no option to mix and match them.

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Take out enemies with a fireball or charged shot.

Unlike the protagonists of other Castlevania games in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, Kid Dracula is a floaty, slippery little devil but no less sluggish in his movements. When you jump, Kid Dracula gets some serious height (even more so when jumping underwater) and floats his way downwards slow enough for you to make sudden course corrections to avoid instant-death spikes or attack enemies. However, he also comes to a dead stop when jogging, meaning it’s pretty easy to slip off platforms to your death, especially in the ice world, which has some of the worst slippery ice physics I’ve ever encountered. Kid Dracula’s health is represented by hearts; you start the game in Dracula’s Castle and with three hearts but very quickly upgrade to four and, eventually, five, by picking up bigger heart containers. Regular hearts will replenish Kid Dracula’s health and he can earn as many extra lives as he needs by playing the mini games at the end of each level.

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Each level has its own gimmicks and hazards, ranging from the simple to the frustrating.

Kid Dracula features a fair amount of level variety and gimmicks; in level one, you’re tasked with escaping Dracula’s Castle, a journey that takes you from the throne room (traditionally the end of most Castlevania games) and through the obligatory clock tower. It’s a very vertical opening level but the game quickly switches it up in level two, which sees you hopping over clouds across a bottomless pit of death and riding a track. A significant portion of level three is underwater and, after jumping around on rooftops in level five, you’ll end up riding a subway train, dodging low-hanging ceilings and fighting off monsters as the level auto-scrolls you forwards.

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Level six has probably the worst hazards in the entire game.

Generally, Kid Dracula balances these different gimmicks pretty well but you’ll be faced with the same issues that have plagued all of the Castlevania games in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection: wonky physics, tricky jumps, and knockback from damage. As a result, a lot of Kid Dracula’s levels can be more frustrating than enjoyable and the game can be a bit of a chore to get through thanks to some dodgy enemy placement and instant-death traps; in level six (a desert), you have to jump around falling spiked blocks (just brushing the edge of these instant-death spikes will kill you), are chased by a giant boulder that will kill you the moment it touches you, have to out run a collapsing spiked ceiling, and then have to battle the boss on floating hands, meaning that one hit will send you plummeting to your death.

Graphics and Sound:
Kid Dracula has an amusingly charming little art style; it’s hyper deformed, turning Castlevania’s traditionally gothic and horrific aesthetic into a chibi, over-exaggerated, cartoony style that is pure Japan through and through. Kid Dracula himself stands out at all times thanks to his massive head and cute little face but each of his enemies hold their own as cutesy-fied monsters that seem more adorable than threatening.

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Some levels are more detailed than others.

It’s a good job that the sprites are so large and cartoony and expressive as the game’s backgrounds leave a lot to be desired. It all kind of falls apart after you leave Dracula’s Castle, which is when Kid Dracula throws such cliché level designs as a pyramid, an ice level, and a city at you. Though there are some interesting level designs outside of the first level (the second level being set in the clouds and the airship are quite interesting), a lot of the backgrounds are criminally plain and uninteresting at times which you would think would allow Kid Dracula to run quite smoothly but you would be wrong.

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Kid Dracula suffers greatly from slowdown and sprite flickering.

Instead, Kid Dracula suffers from the worst slowdown and sprite flickering in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection so far…and I’m struggling to see why. It’s not as if the game is overly complicated or full of that many moving elements but you’ll stutter and jitter about during critical moments, slipping to your doom or making fatal errors when fighting the game’s various bosses because the game slows to a crawl and the sprites start bugging out on you. Thankfully, the game has a whimsical soundtrack and loud, cartoony sound effects, all of which add to Kid Dracula’s quirky nature, but none of which can help reduce the frustration the slowdown and sprite flickering brings to the title.

Enemies and Bosses:
Kid Dracula has to battle a whole host of wacky enemies in his debut game; level one features all of the staples you’d expect from a Castlevania title (bats, zombies, spear-throwing knights, and Frankenstein’s Monster) but, from level two onwards, you’ll come up against such enemies as a broomstick-riding witch, cloud-riding imps who throw lightning bolts at you, Olympic swimmers, axe-wielding maniacs who wear hockey masks, aeroplane-throwing apes, and even aliens dropped from flying saucers. Each of these is rendered in the same exaggerated, cartoony style as the kid himself, which can often undermine the very real threat they pose to your health. Sure, the skeletons in Kid Dracula look funny but they can still be a pain in the ass when they throw their heads at you, and the enemies still respawn once you leave the screen. Luckily, most can be put down with one of Kid Dracula’s regular fireballs and those that are trickier can be done in with either his charged shot or Bomb technique.

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Most bosses are ridiculously easy but Lady Liberty challenges you to a quiz!

As for bosses…well, you fight a giant chicken at one point so what does that tell you? The first boss is a little ghost who runs off and gets his bigger brother after you’ve damaged him enough and most of these encounters are a pretty simple affair where you just dodge their attacks or run underneath them and blast them with your more powerful attacks until they are defeated. However, when you reach the end of level five, you’ll encounter Lady Liberty who challenges you to a quiz rather than battling you, which is an amusing twist. Things get a bit trickier with level six’s sphinx head boss; you have to jump precariously from its disembodied hands and avoid the bubbles it shoots out all while floating over a bottomless pit that spells instant death. Once you reach level nine, you’ll have to run a gauntlet of sub-bosses including an massively annoying, teleporting dragon who can only be damaged in a small window of opportunity by your Ice Shot and a giant mechanical drill and is so big that it’s difficult to defeat it without taking at least one hit.

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Neither Galamoth presents much of a threat.

Eventually, you’ll go one-on-one with Galamoth himself not once but twice; the first time, you battle “Demon Lord Galamoth” at the end of level seven and he attacks with both a sword (easily jumped over) and a stream of fire (easily ducked). The second time, you battle “King Galamoth” at the end of level nine but, despite being the game’s final boss, he’s not much of a threat. He’s completely immune to all damage except in the small window where he opens his mouth to drop a fireball on your head; just stay between the lighting bolts he shoots down and keep as far left (or right) as you can and be sure to fire a charged (or Bomb) shot upwards before you miss your window and you’ll be back as the King of all Demons in no time.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Every time you defeat a boss, Kid Dracula learns a new technique; you can learn the Homing Shot (which fires a spread of projectiles that home in on enemies, but isn’t particularly strong), a Bomb Shot (which deals explosive damage and one-shots every regular enemy), and an Ice Shot (which, apparently, freezes enemies in place but I only ever used it against the aforementioned dragon boss). Kid Dracula also learns two useful techniques to help him progress further through levels and past hazardous obstacles; the first is the Bat transformation, which turns you into a bat, and the second is the “Up Up Down Down” technique that allows you to walk on ceilings. Both of these only last for five seconds so you have to be quick when using them and, while you can fire a standard projectile when on ceilings, pressing the attack button when you’re a bat instantly turns you back into Kid Dracula (and, generally, sends you falling to your death). It’s also worth noting that you’ll lose the bat transformation if you hit a wall and won’t be able to perform it at all if you’re standing too close to a wall, and it’s pretty difficult to control Kid Dracula when he’s in this form, so it’s best to have a route figured out before attempting this transformation.

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Try your luck in the mini games to earn extra lives.

At the end of each level, you are asked to pick a route and, depending on how Kid Dracula makes his way downwards, will play one of four mini games: Roulette, Cancan, Garapon, and Jab ‘N Pop. In each, you must pay to play with your Medals, so it’s advisable to hit as many enemies as you can with your charge shot so you can collect a lot of Medals, and can win extra lives if your luck is in. These mini games aren’t especially difficult, just based more on chance than skill, and the instructions for their play can be a bit vague; I still don’t really get how Roulette works and I just tended to randomly select stuff and hope for the best and still walked away with at least one extra life each time.

Additional Features:
Like other Castlevania games, Kid Dracula features a password system that allows you to return to (or jump to) any of the game’s nine levels whenever you want. The Castlevania Anniversary Collection also awards you an Achievement after you clear the game, allows you to make liberal use of the save state feature, and apply different frames and display options to customise the game’s appearance to your liking as standard.

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The Summary:
Kid Dracula is a quirky, amusing little title; the way the characters talk in cutscenes is charming and the game is clearly meant to be a fun little spin-off of the traditionally dark, broody, and gothic Castlevania series and I can appreciate its humour and artistic direction. Indeed, it’s hard to deny that the sprites look great; everything has this hyper deformed, chibi-aesthetic to it and it’s like playing a peculiar Japanese anime rather than a horrific battle against bloodstained monstrosities. Yet all the humour and artistic charm in the world can’t change the fact that Kid Dracula is a laborious experience; the controls are slippery, the level layouts frustrating, and the slow down and sprite flickering absolutely maddening. Maybe I’m just burned out on the series by this point, especially the issues that dogged the 8-bit Castlevania’s (and many other titles, to be fair), but I feel like Kid Dracula really doesn’t have any excuse to struggle as hard as it does to run at an appropriate speed and level of quality due to its more simplistic nature.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What are your feelings about Kid Dracula? Do you feel it was a worthy attempt at expanding the franchise or do you think it was maybe a bit too “out there” as a concept? What other Castlevania characters would you like to see get their own spin-off? Are there any other genres you think Castlevania could try to fit in to, like racing or a first-person shooter? Whatever your thoughts on Kid Dracula, or Castlevania in general, feel free to leave a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.

Game Corner: Castlevania: Bloodlines / Castlevania: The New Generation (Xbox One)

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Released: May 2019
Originally Released: December 1993
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Mega Drive, Nintendo Switch, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
For the longest time, Castlevania was a series synonymous with Nintendo’s home consoles; handheld or otherwise, Castlevania was generally played on a Nintendo-branded product, meaning those of us (like me) who were playing SEGA consoles missed out on the chance to slay Dracula like those Nintendorks. Castlevania: Bloodlines (also titled Castlevania: The New Generation) changed that…or, at least, it would have except for the fact that Castlevania: Bloodlines is still one of the rarest and most expensive videogames these days. Luckily, the title was not only included as part of the Mega Drive Mini but is also available on the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, being only one of two 16-bit titles available in that collection following Super Castlevania IV (ibid, 1991).

The Plot:
It’s 1917 and the dark countess Elizabeth Bartley seeks to resurrect her uncle, none other than the evil Count Dracula. To facilitate his resurrection, she sends her minions across Europe to cause chaos and bloodshed, only to be opposed by two young vampire hunters: John Morris and Eric Lecarde.

Gameplay:
Castlevania: Bloodlines is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer and the first game in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection to not include one of the legendary Belmont family. Instead, players can choose to control either John Morris or Eric Lecarde right off the bat, making it only the second game in the collection to include another playable character and the only one where this character can be selected from the main menu rather than switched to mid-game as in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (ibid, 1989).

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Morris is a Blemont in all but name.

Choose John Morris and you’ll be in for a traditional Castlevania experience; like his forefathers, Morris wields the Vampire Killer to fend off the forces of evil. Morris isn’t quite as adept with the whip as Simon in Super Castlevania IV, though; he can only attack diagonally and upwards when jumping and can’t let the whip hang loose to freely aim it or block incoming projectiles. Similar to Simon, Morris can use his whip to swing across gaps but the mechanic is noticeably more clumsy and tricky to pull off here as, rather than swinging from hooks or metal rings, Morris dangles from ceilings and, while you can alter the length and speed of his swing, it’s far easier to just drop to your death than clear the gap.

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Lecarde favours a lance-like spear over a whip for a slightly different playstyle.

Pick Eric Lecarde, though, and you’ll get a fresh, new Castlevania experience; Lecarde wields the Alucard Spear, giving him a greater attack range (if slightly reduced attack power). Lecarde can also attack in all eight directions, swinging his spear in a flourish to quickly attack enemies both in front and behind. Lecarde is also slightly faster and can leap higher thanks to his super jump, allowing him to reach platforms and levels Morris can’t, though I actually found him a bit clunkier and his attacks to be slower than Morris’s. Both characters have access to all the classic Castlevania sub-weapons (and even a few new ones), which are now used thanks to the acquisition of jewels rather than hearts. You have no idea how happy this makes me; like the hearts replenishing health in Castlevania: The Adventure (ibid, 1989), having jewels rather than hearts just makes so much more sense. Unlike Super Castlevania IV, there’s only one piece of meat available to replenish your health, but you can still upgrade each characters’ weapon by collecting orbs and even perform an “Item Crash” manoeuvre; this unleashes a more powerful super attack for each sub-weapon at the cost of a substantial number of jewels.

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Platforming is still a risky, tricky business…

Both characters are noticeably faster and more manoeuvrable than their predecessors but still fly backwards upon receiving damage, often to their doom. Thankfully, Castlevania: Bloodlines finally ditches the limit limit of the previous games and is light on the instant-death traps and spikes; often, when you jump or fall into water, your health will be slowly drained as you take damage (presumably to represent the character drowning) rather than immediately dying. That’s not to say that bottomless pits and instant-death spots aren’t present, or that you won’t find yourself just slipping or walking off a ledge when you meant to jump thanks to a slight (but glaring) delay in the game registering your button presses, or that you won’t be tasked with making some difficult jumps or awkwardly swinging across gaps while fending off projectiles or enemies. After two games focused more on rope climbing, the staircases are back! And, what’s more, it’s super easy to climb up and down them, and to stop and attack enemies while on them; there’s no sudden dropping to your doom here…unless you’re stupid enough to jump through the staircases. Like Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania: Bloodlines also uses the power of its 16-bit hardware to render some impressive graphical mechanics; you’ll jump up rotating platforms, traverse the Leaning Tower of Pisa as it sways alarmingly, and hop across floating platforms as the screen auto-rises and auto-scrolls.

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Auto-scrolling is far less punishing than in other Castlevania titles.

Yes, auto-scrolling is a thing in Castlevania: Bloodlines but, for the most part, its far less stressful or annoying than in previous Castlevania titles; not only are there are more opportunities to save yourself from death and far less enemies to contend with, you also don’t die from touching the top of the screen, which is always useful. Castlevania: Bloodlines operates using a simple six-stage formula; you progress across Europe via an automated map screen and, in each unique area, you’ll face different platforming requirements, obstacles, enemies, and, of course, a boss. Of all the Castlevania games I’ve played for this marathon, Bloodlines has the most variety in terms of its graphics, stages, and enemies; rather than simply ploughing your way towards, or through, a gothic castle, you’re exploring a munitions factory or exploring the ruins of Atlantis. Some of these locations have been hinted at before, or served as inspiration for the aesthetic and atmosphere of the Collection’s other games, but nowhere have they been more fully-realised than in Castlevania: Bloodlines. That’s not to say that the game is flawless though (but then again, few games are). Sometimes, the game takes its new mechanics and features a bit too far, asking you to jump across platforms while upside down or your vision is distorted by mirrors. While this wouldn’t be too bad, the developers also threw in erratic Medusa Heads and constantly-respawning skeletal demons to make these sections more frustrating. It doesn’t help that I found myself just as likely to simply walk off a platform to my death or pointlessly hop in place rather than make a successful jump, or that you’re seemingly destined to jump right into the path of an enemy or projectile if they’re onscreen but, thankfully, these sections are few and far between and, for the most part, Castlevania: Bloodlines is a crisp and visually impressive experience.

Graphics and Sound:
Super Castlevania IV set a high standard for the series, dragging it out of the 8-bit era and into the glory of full-colour, arcade-style 16-bit graphics and Castlevania: Bloodlines only builds upon that foundation. Sprites aren’t as big as in Super Castlevania IV but they’re no less detailed for it; both Morris and Lecarde stand out from the game’s many and varied detailed backgrounds, popping out at you thanks to their unique colour palette and sprite art, and enemies are easily spotted and fantastically animated thanks to the game’s 16-bit engine. Simply put: there is a lot going on in this game’s stages. Not only do they slant or flip upside down, they’re also filled with some fantastic blood and gore as corpses and hanged victims litter the background of a lot of the stages.

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Platforms crumble beneath your feet and spiral around you with detail and depth.

You’re also required to pull off some tricky jumps from rotating platforms, gears, and moving platforms and stages are filled with variety and teeming with life and danger alike. Konami borrowed a trick from another of their fantastic titles, the criminally under-rated Rocket Knight Adventures (ibid, 1993), for the water reflection effects seen in stage two, where (as in Rocket Knight Adventures) you’ll use the reflections in the rising and falling water to jump safely across the ruins of Atlantis. You’re also tasked with attacking the crumbling, ancient pillars to create new platforms and jump from others as they collapse beneath your feet and jumping from platform to platform up the swaying Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is a cakewalk compared to having to negotiate the small, annoying, rotating platforms in stage five. Given its more modern setting, you’ll also have to content with conveyor belts, pistons, massive gears, and razor-sharp circular saws in stage four, all of which only add to the game’s more steampunk-inspired aesthetic.

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Some enemies are a part of the environment and even use it against you!

The danger in the stages is compounded further by the way Bloodlines incorporates enemies into each stage; Minotaurs break parts of the marble pillars off and attack you with them in stage three, Fish Men leap from the depths below, Medusa Heads swarm around you as you hop from wooden platforms while the water level lowers, skeletons throw bones at you from behind a chain-link fence in stage four (they also jump over the fence and pop out of barrels without warning) and form (and re-form) from a bloodied water fountain in stage five, where skeletal monkeys wing at you from vines, tossing explosives at you and trying to cut you in half.

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The game mixes the traditional Castlevania gothic with a steampunk aesthetic.

The game returns to its gothic roots by the time you storm Castle Proserpina, the game’s final stage, which sheds the more steampunk-driven aesthetic for a traditional, stone castle familiar with anyone who has ever played a Castlevania before. All of these graphical and gameplay elements, while impressive, do lead to some noticeable slow-down in many areas of the game, however, which can (literally) drag down the otherwise thrilling experience Castlevania: Bloodlines has to offer. This is accentuated further by the game’s impressive and atmospheric soundtrack; the 16-bit games really did put all their power and benefits to the best use possible, allow this game to not only look fantastic but, thanks to Michiru Yamane’s fittingly gloomy soundtrack, sound amazing as well.

Enemies and Bosses:
Castlevania: Bloodlines offers one of the more diverse and varied bestiaries in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection; unlike many of the other titles, which simply recycled the same enemies with some minor tweaks or alterations, I felt like Bloodlines actually put some effort into really giving even the most basic enemies some life and vigour. Sure, all the usual suspects are here (skeletons, bats, ravens, the Pillar of Bones, etc) but even some of these have been spruced up to offer more of a threat. Skeletons wield swords, shields, and whips and there’s a variant that swings a massive axe and another massively annoying one that swings at you from vines. You’ll also encounter Harpies (who attack unevenly from the sky with spears), Mummies (who both float their bandages at you and try to whip you with them), man-eating plants, plants that screw up your controls (which is always annoying), mace-wielding barbarians who leap right in your face, and charging Minotaurs.

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You’ll have to get past some monstrous sub-bosses to progress.

In keeping with the game’s more steampunk-inspired aesthetic, you’ll also face a wide variety of knights; there’s knights that sprint at you, ones that brandish swords (as well as that old favourite, the Axe Knight), ones that fire arrows at you in an arc, and even ones with giant mallets, gatling guns(!), and on wheels! The level of detail in each enemy is impressive and even the most small and seemingly-insignificant enemy can be a threat thanks to their placement, attack patterns, and the limitations of Morris’s whip. Castlevania: Bloodlines also stands out by its use of sub-bosses; you’ll face the likes of Hellbound (a bloodied, half-skeletal beast that haunts the ruins of Dracula’s Castle), two large, armour-plated heavies (one with an axe, one with a mace), sentient faces brought to life by some kind of poltergeist and even a Castlevania custom, Frankenstein’s Monster. Some of these are, honestly, a bit more creative and visually interesting than the stage’s actual bosses, such as the giant suit of armour that barely poses much of a threat at the end of the first stage.

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Some bosses are better than others but they’re all visually impressive.

Things pick up considerably once you reach stage two’s Golem, however; in this fight, you have to first whittle away chunks of the creature’s mid-section before you can attack its vulnerable head and actually do some real damage, all while dodging falling rocks from the ceiling. Stage three’s Gargoyle can also be a bit of a pain without the right sub-weapon (…unless you use Lecarde) as it buzzes around your head, trying to whip at you with its rock-like tail, all while the top of the tower you’re on (and the background) excitingly rotates. The mess of gears and cogs that acts as stage four’s boss is probably the wildest and most ill-fitting of all the Castlevania bosses I’ve fought so far; don’t get me wrong, I love a good bit of steampunk but this…thing…was not only kind of boring to fight (despite its multiple forms and attacks) but also needlessly frustrating. The Princess of Moss from stage five is marginally better but ridiculously easy even after she transforms into a giant…moth…?

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You’ll have to defeat all the previous bosses again before you can face Death.

Once you get to Castle Proserpina, the shit really hits the fan as you have to face a gauntlet of sub-bosses and bosses, each with different forms and attacks at their disposal. First, you’ll battle the Grim Reaper once again; this time, Death surrounds himself with tarot cards and, as you attack, you’ll either spawn a whole mess of health-restoring food, get attacked by a fireball, or be warped to one of the game’s previous bosses. Luckily, these guys are much weaker the second time around but, once you’ve defeated them again, you’ll have to face Death himself once again. Fortunately, Death isn’t anywhere near as formidable or daunting as in previous titles; he glides around above you throwing sickles at you, tries to rush you with his scythe, and sits in the corner throwing his scythe like a razor-sharp frisbee but all of these attacks are easily dodged or avoided and he’ll go down pretty easily (especially if you have the axe).

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Neither Elizabeth or her Medusa are much to fret about…

After that, you’ll battle Medusa; this isn’t like the floating, snake-haired head from previous titles, though. This Medusa is a horrific, snake-like creature that blasts at you with two different types of fireball, tries to whack you with its tail, and then awkwardly crawls towards you to try and throttle you. Each attack is predictable and relatively slow, meaning you can deal massive damage even while the Medusa is attacking, to say nothing of when she shuffles towards you like a slug. Once she’s dealt with, you’ll have to fight Elizabeth Bartley herself; ol’ Liz likes to teleport from one side of the screen to the other and throw a fireball at your head and, if you don’t damage her enough times (the number of hits is determined by the different elemental orbs she summons, though these can’t hurt you), she’ll unleash a powerful attack upon you. This shouldn’t happen, though, as it’s ridiculously easy to duck under her one projectile and hit her no matter which side she choose to spawn on, meaning she will fall without much bother at all.

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Dracula’s final form is intimidating but his attacks are predictable and easy to dodge.

Finally, you’ll face Dracula himself who, despite your efforts, once again awakens from his coffin. Initially, Dracula attacks very similar to Super Castlevania IV, teleporting in through a column of light and tossing fireballs at you with a sweep of his cape. However, his teleport cannot damage you and, while you only have a small window to hit his head, it’s pretty easy to land a hit and still dispose of his projectiles without taking a hit. After you’ve drained his health, Dracula transforms into a floating, cloaked sorcerer form and darts around the screen above your head in an inconsistent pattern. Being as he’s often just out of reach, this can be tricky with Morris as jumping to hit Dracula may cause you to make contact with him and take damage, so it’s best to keep a safe distance and use the axe. Dracula blasts two fireballs at both sides of the screen in this form (these travel down the screen and across the floor and can be tricky to avoid thanks to the game’s janky jumping physics) and drops columns of energy into the arena that can deal massive damage if you’re not standing in a safe area. Still, this form isn’t especially difficult and I found it more than doable to destroy him before he could unleash this more devastating attack. Once bested, Dracula transforms into his largest and more horrific form yet: a massive, Devil-like creature with a fanged stomach, huge devil horns, wings, and claws. As intimidating as it looks, though, this final form isn’t much of a threat; it lumbers around in a clear and identifiable pattern, first throwing sickles at you in a spray, then trying to roast you with fireballs that are easily ducked (in the far corner) or jumped over, and, finally, spewing bones at you. These can be tricky to avoid if you’re caught on the wrong side but there’s a clear gap between them you can dart into and, even with Morris’s difficulty in attacking upwards and diagonally, it isn’t long before Dracula is done in once more. What makes Dracula so difficult this time around is the fact that you have to face all three forms in a gauntlet, with no healing in between and only the health, ammo, and weapons you have on you.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
All is standard in Castlevania titles, you can upgrade the Vampire Killer and the Alucard Spear to increase their reach and damage output. When you fully upgrade the Vampire Killer, it takes on a glowing, plasma-like appearance that looks more like energy or lightning than the usual fire, while the Alucard Spear glows with an ethereal magical power. Sadly, though, you’ll lose an upgrade when you take damage, meaning that you may be left with you bog-standard weapon by the time you reach the stage boss.

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Each character has their own screen-clearing attack.

As always, this means relying on the game’s items to help turn the tide when things get rough; you can grab 1-Ups on the rare occasions that they appear, briefly become invincible, and wipe out all onscreen enemies and grab one of the three sub-weapons: the axe (which travels in a high arc and is perfect for aerial enemies and bosses whose weak points are out of reach), the Holy Water (which travels along the ground in a fiery path), and the boomerang (here an actual boomerang rather than clearly being a cross, this time being razor sharp and travelling high and low to return to you, which is perfect for dealing additional damage). Additionally, as noted, you can perform an “Item Crash” with each of these weapons and each character has a specific “Ultimate Item” they can pick up: Morris has the Water Dragon (which fills the screen with a powerful, homing orb) and Lecarde has the Thunderbolt Spear, which unleashes a torrent of thunderbolts and lightning.

Additional Features:
Castlevania: Bloodlines features thee difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, and Expert) and the ending you get depends on which character you use and which difficulty setting you pick. Finishing the game on Easy takes you straight to the credits, while Normal only gives you a brief glimpse of your character’s ending and challenges you to try the game on Expert in order to earn a more complete ending. The game also employs a password system to allow you to return to the stage where you left of, jump to different stages with different characters, or start the game with extra lives. Castlevania: Bloodlines has two Achievements tied to it; you get one for beating the game as Morris and another for beating it as Lecarde. With the features available in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection you can also save your progress at any time, apply different display filters and effects, and play with one of three different frames around the game screen as with the other titles available in the collection.

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The Summary:
Castlevania: Bloodlines is easily one of the top three titles available in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection; you should purchase this collection for this game alone and see the others as a bonus as it really is a tight and well-crafted videogame. Despite some issues with slipping off platforms and mastering Morris’s awkward whip-swing mechanic, the controls are smooth and generally responsive; Morris and Lecarde both move at a far faster pace than their predecessors and, between the two of them, offer as much versatility as seen in Super Castlevania IV. Bolstered by its incredibly detailed graphics and atmospheric soundtrack, Castlevania: Bloodlines is probably the darkest and most foreboding title collection thanks to the inclusion of blood and gore. This really lends to the game’s atmosphere and the franchise’s tendency towards macabre horror that it is so often stunted by the localisation and restriction these early Castlevania titles had to endure. The steampunk aesthetic is married with the series’ trademark gothic styling which, while it does include in some weird and ill-fitting enemy designs, results in some amazingly detailed sprites and environments and makes Castlevania: Bloodlines a solid successor to Super Castlevania IV.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think of Castlevania: Bloodlines? How do you think it compares to Super Castlevania IV? Were you lucky enough to own an original copy of this game back in the day or did you pay out through the nose to get a copy of it only to find it much more affordable in this collection? Whatever your thoughts on this title, and other Castlevania videogames, leave a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.