Super Monkey Ball Jr.

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You know those moments in the Gamecube version where you couldn’t believe you just managed to avoid death? Well, in Jr, those moments increase tenfold. ~Simon Reed

Super Monkey Ball Jr.

It strikes me as a little odd that I haven’t revisited a Monkey Ball game yet, but that’s probaby as the only ones I own that can be classed as retro are the Gamecube original and this, the GBA incarnation.

The irony of this is that they’re technically the same game in terms of the levels offered. So the real fun is eking out the differences.

The most obvious difference is, of course, the graphics.

Super Monkey Ball Jr - Gameboy Advanced

Jr is still looks as good as you could hope though, with the simple maze layouts losing little in their transition to the GBA in terms of clarity.

After all, Monkey Ball has never been a series that’s relied upon its looks – sure, everything apart from the mazes are flat 2D cutouts, but that doesn’t detract much from your enjoyment.

But that’s the one sad thing about the game – when it was released it was held up as a mini technical marvel, much like other 3D titles on the GBA (Star X anyone?), and therefore may have been treated better by reviewers as a result.

And now, with its ‘technical marvel’ status now firmly a thing of the past, the game has to rely purely on its content.

Fortunately, it still holds up rather well in that department. But boy, is it difficult.

Super Monkey Ball Jr - Gameboy Advanced

For one there’s no analogue control, with the d-pad a workable but hardly satisfying alternative.

You know those moments in the Gamecube version where you couldn’t believe you just managed to avoid death? Well, in Jr, those moments increase tenfold.

Every quickly taken corner feels tougher than it should be, and even the added feature to adjust the gradient of the courses with A and B doesn’t make things much easier.

One nice touch is that you can save during the single player stages though – when you’re trying to scrape you way though expert this is a godsend.

So what about the mini-games? Well, you have to unlock them with points from the single player first of all, which is irritating, but aside from that they’re pretty good efforts.

Super Monkey Ball Jr - Gameboy Advanced

First you have Duel, which is basically the main game but with two players. A solid addition.

Then there’s Fight, which basically sees you bouncing around tiny arenas punching each other with oversized boxing gloves. It’s chaotic, but can get dull suprisingly quickly.

Bowling is impressively similar to its home console counterpart, and Golf is as quietly addictive as you’d expect.

But no, there’s no Monkey Target. Perhaps it may have been too tough to pull off on the GBA, but still, it would have been nice if it had been attempted.

Even if it looked atrocious I would have welcomed it with open arms.

So that’s Super Monkey Ball Jr. As long as you don’t expect it to be as good as the home console version you’ll have fun with it.

And it’s miles better than the recent 3DS outing.

Dark Arena

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

Format- Gameboy Advanced

Genre- First Person Shooter

I’ve tried to revisit the 12 FPS games for the GBA in the order they were released, but have sadly messed it up a bit. Doom came after Ecks Vs Sever – a fact that i’m ashamed I overlooked.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

But i’m putting that right, and the next game on my revisit radar is Dark Arena. Perhaps the most forgotten of the whole flock of GBA FPS – apart from perhaps the too late for the party Ice Nine – this is was actually the first FPS announced for the handheld.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

It’s also the only GBA FPS that isn’t a port or continuation of an existing shooter series, or without any conceivable tie to a movie (Ice Nine was based on the film The Recruit but the licensing fell through).

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

This fact probably didn’t help Dark Arena reach a wider audience, but it’s hard to feel too sorry for it, due to the fact it’s a rather turgid effort all round.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

Perhaps it was rushed to a release in an attempt to be the first GBA FPS, in which case it failed in a truly dismal fashion due to the fact three games beat it to the punch, but ia lack of attention to detail does show through in the final product.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

It’s opening is very effective though, in an adorably budget stricken kind of way. Green text is type out on a black screen, with a sinister soundtrack burbling away in the background.

It recites the plot of Doom pretty much ad verbatim – lone marine stranded in a infested space station, blah blah blah, escaping is a near impossible task, etcetera etcetera – only with a slightly more clunky syntax.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

Only a rubbish looking pic of a red beast attacking a bald space marine sullies the dark-edged tone.

When you enter the first stage though, all the effort gone into this set-up evaporates very quickly indeed.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

This is not a scary game. Not by a long shot. There’s no music here, just the sounds of enemies and gunfire. On a system with more graphical oomph this could have worked – but here it mutes, quite literally, any potential atmosphere.

Controls are simple and work well however. Shooting enemies higher than your current level can be fired at by simply aiming in their vague direction, Doom style.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

Guns are plentiful, but most are ineffectual in terms of their power. You can be tooled up with a rocket launcher, sniper or laser gun, but there’s no real satisfying clunk-click- bam feel to the game – like, say, Doom (sorry for constantly making the comparison).

This is something most of the FPS’ on GBA suffered with actually, but was not a problem in Doom or Duken Nukem Advance – perhaps as much to the way your enemies die more than anything else.

In Dark Arena they simply slump straight to the ground once you’ve pumped enough bullets into them, like sad cardboard cut-outs.

There’s no real sense that you’ve conquered anything evil at all, and this doesn’t help to stimulate you to push on through the game’s fifteen levels.

Most of the alien beasties don’t even carry any tangible threat either. Most can be defeated without you you needing to exert any caution – just walk near them and fire away.

Only the robot mechs and larger aliens near the end of the game can do much damage to you in a straight up firefight. And the final boss of course, is a challenge, as you’d expect.

Dark Arena is miles ahead of, say, BackTrack – it’s got clearer graphics and a proper single player for one – but it does very little to set itself apart from the GBA FPS pack.

Although when I was younger I think I got scared a little for abut 30 seconds in one of Dark Arena’s stages, it was probably because I was at the end of the stage and had to beat several tough enemies – and had to go back to the start if I died, something I was very keen not to do.

Generally, attempting to mimic Doom is unwise at the best of times – but especially when Doom has already been released for the system you’re coming out on.

Xevious

Xevious

Format- Gameboy Advance (but several others as well)

Genre- Top down vertical scrolling shooter

There are certain games you just don’t criticise. Space Invaders. Pong. Chibi Robo. Ico.

I don’t think Xevious can join that group though. There aren’t many people that seem to hold this game with much affection, and as a result the game is mostly forgotten.

‘Mostly’ as it has been re-released a fair bit in recent years, giving the current generation of gamers the (mis) fortune to play it again.

Suffice to say, it doesn’t hold up well nowadays. Enemy design varies from the bland to the mildly acceptable, and when both ground and air based foes are on screen frustration reigns.

Movement vertically is sluggish, like the ship is constantly have to force through an invisible blancmange. Coupled with bullets that are much faster than your ship makes the game unfairly difficult. I’m always up for a challenge, but only when the game plays fair.

The graphics have no retro wow factor either – patches of grass look like they were sketched by a five-year old in a more restrictive version of Mario Paint – it makes you wish for a simple but effective black space background.

I’ve not managed to get very far in the game (the screenshot above is of a level that I will probably never get the chance to play through) but I still think most of these criticisms still stand.

So don’t bother with Xevious. Just let it quietly pass away, and hopefully the game’s developers will do the same.

What does ‘Xevious’ actually mean anyway?

Note – I have a quite cool toy from Japan that is based on Xevious. It makes a sound from the game, and is sadly much cooler than the game itself.

Second note – This review was admittedly a play through of the GBA port of the NES game, which is respectively a port of the apparently superior arcade version. So this revisit shouldn’t be seen as a retrospective of the whole Xevious pantheon, just the poor NES version.

Ode to the Evil Twin

In almost every hero’s journey they come to question their actions and the possible outcome of their quest had they taken a step to the left rather than to the right. Could the world have been saved in a different method? Could the fallen comrade have survived? Could all this mayhem have ended swiftly if they only took the opportunity to finish off the antagonist when the moment presented itself? The darkest parallel thought a hero could imagine is “What if I had fallen to darkness instead of striding upon the path of the righteous?” For some few unfortunate heroes, this “what if” can present itself in a physical manifestation and even become one of the biggest road blocks in their journey.

Kill yourself or die trying
Kill yourself or die trying

Today, we take a look into some of the most iconic evil counterparts in video game history, what they represented to the hero, and the epic battles that proved as pivotal moments in the game’s timeline.

**SPOILERS BY THE WAY**

Dark Samus (Metroid Prime):  Poison has always been a substance that plagued any living organism but it remained passive and indifferent. It was only used for killing in the hands of its user. In Metroid Prime, the poison Phazon is not only deadly but also sentient.  Responsible for the death of two planets, this entity looked to spread its plague further and melded the DNA of Samus Aran and her foe, Metroid Prime to create Dark Samus.  To see your greatest foes taking your form as their avatar would fill any hero with rage. Our heroine managed to disintegrate Dark Samus into particles in the Agon Wastes and then once again by breaching the monstrosity’s Phazon Shield with a charge beam. Though defeated, Dark Samus has the potential to return in the future through the game’s savior by a Mark of Corruption left upon her. Only time will tell if we will ever see this enemy rise again.

Wolf O’Donnell AKA Star Wolf (Star Fox 64): Rival companies are always taking blows at each other. Look at Microsoft VS Macintosh, IPhones VS Droid, PS3 VS Xbox 360 for examples. While they normally dish out retorts via commercials or improving their own technology to eclipse the other, mercenary groups don’t normally play the same game. Star Wolf is the rival mercenary group led by Wolf O’Donnell. Their number one priority is to become the top dog group in the Lylat System. The only foreseeable way to achieve this is simple; recruit old Star Fox members, work for your rival’s mark, and hunt them down till they are left in a smoldering wreckage. While Wolf has been unsuccessful in defeating Fox McCloud he still remains a huge pillar for the team to overcome in every instance he has led an assault. He will be most remembered for telling Star Fox  he can’t do that.

Omega Zero (Megaman Zero series): Zero has always been a hero who walked that fine line between right and wrong but can you blame him? He was Dr.Wily’s greatest creation, he is supposedly responsible for the death of the original Megaman, and is rumored to be the bringer of the end of days. Like a rebellious child, though, Zero forged his own path and strayed away from the road Dr.Wily left for him and became a hero. However, the idea of bringing about total chaos and destruction never left Zero’s mind and weighed heavily upon him. Luckily for him, he isn’t the real Zero but only a copy. What a weight off his shoulders! Turns out Omega Zero is the true body of Zero and guess what? He wants to tear his copy a new asshole and end life as we know it. Finally seeing that dark “What if” version of himself, our hero vowed never to travel down that path and defeated his original body dying along with it.

Dark Link (The Legend of Zelda): Link has defeated zombies, ghosts, witches, blobby things, grand sorcerers, and anything else you can think of in all his journeys. The one enemy though who manages to stop Link in his tracks is his own shadow. Normally appearing in a large desolate and eerie hallway, this abomination knows everything about Link. He even knows what you’re going to do before you do it. Going to spin that sword around? He’s going to evade. Going to charge up a heavy sword slash? He’s going to poke you in the face quickly. Thinking a bomb might work? He will just throw it back at you. The best way for Link to defeat himself is to flail erratically and hope something lands while slowly dwindling away his hit points. To this day, Dark Link remains an iconic foe to add to the Legend of Zelda’s rogue gallery.

Metal Sonic (Sonic the Hedgehog): Thought I’d put Shadow the Hedgehog down? Nope, I don’t consider characters introduced when a series goes to garbage as cannon. Besides, Shadow never fought Sonic like his roboticized counterpart did. He has been used in many iterations in the franchise and has taken many different forms. He is superior to Sonic in every way. His spikes are sharper, his plated skin is more durable, and he is even faster than the series’ hero. His first appearance was in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 where the two would clash in a small enclosed area. He mimicked everything the hero could do and could even shoot projectile spikes to harm the hedgehog. This battle’s level of greatness is paltry compared to his battle against Sonic in Sonic CD. In Stardust Speedway, the only thing keeping Sonic from saving Amy and defeating Eggman is to defeat Metal Sonic in a race. Not only is he faster than our hero, he can destroy obstacles and is invulnerable to damage. The only way to defeat him is to haul ass through loops and leap over spikes while he eats shit behind you. It is like a Tortoise and Hare battle except there isn’t a tortoise and there are two hares. The difference between the two is that the other hare has a jetpack and dies when it barrages itself into a wall. I hope to see Metal Sonic return in some more worthy Sonic adventures in the future and to bring the level of intensity he normally delivers to a new generation of gamers.

There are many more video games out there with evil counterparts but this was just to name a few that I can still remember to this day. Are there any other instances where the hero fought their doppelganger that you remember? Post a comment if you recall any!

Gyruss

Gyruss Arcade
Gyruss Arcade

Gyruss review by Honorabili

One Sentence Review:

“My favorite video game from my early youth”

Overall Score:
10 out of 10

Overview & my history with this game:

This review is specifically for the arcade and c64 versions. I haven’t played the other versions and I know the NES one is different (includes bosses, different music, etc.)

This was the first Konami game I ever saw or played, although it’s not their first game. People were impressed with Pacman but this was the first game that showed me that video games were going to be the future. This is the first game I remember having upgrades and also the concept of getting a “perfect”. This was the first game I played that had bonus stages too.

You take the role of a starship fighter pilot trying to fight your way to earth. The entire solar system has been taken over by a legion of enemy fighters and space stations. Your lone fighter will get swarm attacked by a pack of enemy fighters that will come at you in a specific attack pattern depending on what squadron you’re fighting and what planet you’re traveling to next. Your ship rotates around the center of the screen as you fight your enemies and keep flying forward. You start at Neptune and travel in order of the planets until you make it to Earth.

Gyruss Perfect
Gyruss Perfect

Not only are fighters coming at you at a fast rate but you have to deal with the projectiles they sometimes fire at you, passing asteroids, energy barriers that can rip you apart, and space stations that spawn at the end of a stage. Everything in this game kills you with one shot. If you get touched by an enemy ship or any other object, you instantly die.

At the end of the level, when there are a swarm of enemy fighters circling in the background, 2-3 enemy space stations will appear, one which, if you haven’t picked up the upgrade yet, will make two beams circle around the screen and land on your ship once you kill it, giving your weapon twice the width in spread.

If you kill a certain grouping of enemies in a specifically quick manner and leave no survivors the game also awards you with bonus points. This matters in this game, actually, because you get bonus lives based on your score.

The game loops when you beat it until you run out of lives.

This game has always made me think of the movie The Last Starfighter. In my mind, as a child, I imagined that it took place in that universe and the main character was fighting his way back home.

Gyruss is available originally for the Atari computers as well as 2600 and 5200 consoles, the ColecoVision console, the Commodore 64, and for the NES. The game got rereleased for Playstation, Gameboy Advanced, and Xbox Live Arcade.

Fun Factor:

Gyruss is a ton of fun and my favorite early shooter game. It’s a lot of fun to hear the swarm sound of a group of fighters jumping out at you in a really fast pattern and you blasting away as much as possible trying to kill them all and gain the bonus points while keeping them from ramming you or shooting you as well.

You can see how intense the action is in the following video:

Fun Factor gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Difficulty Versatility:

There is no way to change the difficulty but the game is challenging enough for most gamers as it is. The longer you play it, the harder it gets. The enemies will attack you more often in each passing stage. Overall, the game is tough near the later stages but it’s still playable.

Since you can’t change the difficulty that hurts it but it’s hard enough for most players. I give Difficulty Versatility a score of 7 out of 10.

Value:

Most people will just play this on M.A.M.E. these days so basically the ROM is free. Technically, you’re not supposed to play ROMs unless you own the game already.

The link to download the c64 emulated version is the following from c64.com.

I couldn’t easily find the Playstation and GBA versions for sale as they might be out of print.

Since most people will play the emulated versions, I’d give Value a score of 10 out of 10.

Replayability:

I’ve been playing Gyruss since the early 80s and I visit it often when I’m in a retro arcade/c64 gaming mood. The mix of the music, retro sounds, non-stop gameplay keeps me having fun even though it’s been many years that I’ve been playing this gem. It’s hard for me to get tired of the gameplay. Replayability get a score of 9 out of 10.

Sound:

The sound effects are super retro and they’re brilliant. My favorite sound effects are the blast of the main gun, the teleportation sound from when you warp to the next stage, the gun UPGRADE sound (oh god yes), and the explosion when one bites the dust. The rest of the sounds are great and sound like a perfect blend of retro arcade.

Sound gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Music:

The music to Gyruss is a simplied and sped up version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue is D minor:

To me classical music in games, especially ones with a ton of action is pretty epic.

Music gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Graphics:

For an early 80s game, this game looks simply amazing. Most of the enemies for the main stages look the same but the enemies for the bonus stages look unique depending on which bonus stage you are doing. The game looks like a total evolution over Space Invaders. Graphics get a score of 10 out of 10, considering this is a 1983 game.

Stability/Reliability:

Since the 80s I’ve never seen this game crash or get stuck once, not even after playing it for ours on my old c64. Stability/Reliability are perfect and get a 10 out of 10.

Controls:

On all versions, the controls are really simple. Left rotates you in that direction and right rotates you in that direction. Fire just fires for all versions. Nothing fancy or confusing there.

For the arcade version, the ship will rotate in the direction of where you have the joystick pointed towards. If you keep it towards the top and you keep pointing up, the ship will just stay there once it’s topped out there.

For the c64 version, it’s a little different. Left moves you counter-clockwise, and right moves you clockwise, no matter what.

Controls can’t get simpler than that. Controls get a score of 10 out of 10.

Performance:

Perfect performance, even when the game just came out. Performance gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Conclusion:

Gyruss is a classic arcade game that should be played by everybody, especially retro arcade gaming junkies!

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