Author: kerr9000

150 SNES games reviewed: #3 The Combatribes

The Combatribes started off as an arcade game which came out in 1990. It was a beat ’em Up of the walk along variety released by Technos Japan.

A lot of you might not have heard of The Combatribes, but most of you are far more likely to have heard of Renegade and Double Dragon. Technos made a game called Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun which Taito converted into the game we know as Renegade (basically by removing the Japanese related stuff and changing the theme of the game to one they thought would do better over here) Technos also made Double Dragon but again Taito distributed it over here.

The Combatribes has a lot in common with these games, but you get the feeling that Technos had looked at some of its competitors and picked up a trick or two from them. When I first came across the arcade machine in a local pizza parlor I had no idea that it was in any way connected to the above games, what struck me was that it was in a nice big cab and it had three joysticks each one was for a different character. This is where it started to remind me of the likes of Final Fight a little bit.

You had the blue player Berserker, a blond-haired man in a blue outfit, he is very much your Mr Average, he has an even split between speed and strength, so in Final Fight terms I guess he is the Cody of the piece. Then there was Bullova, a black man in a yellow outfit who is all about strength but is also very slow. The third and final member of the team is Blitz, a long-haired man in a red outfit, who is weak but very fast. He is one of those characters who you’re supposed to get the first hit with and just keep peppering away at your enemy so quickly they don’t have the time to strike back.

I suppose this leaves me with two questions to address, one being now I have given you a little history how does the SNES game compare to the arcade machine, with the other being which is better, Final Fight or The Combatribes?

The SNES version of The Combatribes made a few changes to the game.  Some of them can be seen as attempts to add to the game, some can be seen as ways of getting around some of the machine’s limitations and then there are the usual Nintendo reasons.

The SNES version features story sequences before and after boss battles, as well as an opening intro explaining the plot. It also has a different ending. I think all of this is just basically an added layer of polish it’s nice but it’s not the important bit.

The gameplay itself remains more or less the same, In the arcade version the characters’ health was represented by a bunch of numbers. Here it is represented by the standard life bar method. In the SNES version, the stages are also simpler, there are also enemies missing and the final boss is different.  None of this is really going to matter though unless you’re a big fan of the arcade machine and played it enough to know every little piece of it.

A one-on-one versus mode has been added to the game in it you can perform standard one-on-one beat ’em up moves (Street Fighter II type-stuff fireballs and and the like with some characters). The game’s enemies and bosses can also be used in this mode. You gain passwords by playing the regular mode which you input here to unlock them. It’s no Street Fighter, the moves are a lot clunkier, and on its own I wouldn’t really rate it, but as a bonus mode a bit of knock around fun you’d have to be a bit of a Scrooge to complain about it.

The game was ‘cleaned up’ in lots of ways from its arcade counterpart. Blood splattering effects were removed. Blood was removed from cut screens and both characters and gangs were renamed to less violent names. I am also sure one of the bosses in the arcade had some sort of racist or taboo name but what it was exactly escapes my mind.

As for comparisons to Final Fight well the graphics are very different. The characters in The Combatribes are a lot smaller, the backgrounds are colourful and there’s a lot going on. The buildings look tiny but then you get to see a lot of them and a lot of neat flashing signs. The first thing people will pick up on is that The Combatribes can be played by two players, it also has all three of its arcade characters in its SNES port unlike Final Fight which only managed two of them. Both games have their selling points and I won’t take it further than that or I will give away so much of my opinion on Final Fight that my upcoming review of that will be pointless.

The control scheme of The Combatribes is simple, which means you can pick it up and play it in seconds, as far as beat ’em ups go though there is not a massive selection of moves. It also has a few issues with the fact some of the bosses can be a little bit unfairly difficult. It often seems like they can move faster than you and to put it simply at times they are incredibly cheap. So this game can be fun if you like this sort of game but it can also occasionally make you want to scream a little bit now and again.

Visually The Combatribes is a little bit mixed. I think the characters themselves look pretty darn good and are animated pretty well. The backgrounds are also quiet bright but a bit repetitive. The presentation is not too bad with nice little cut scenes.

So what about the game’s sound? Well the music in the game is pretty darn catchy and I think you could definitely claim it has its own original sound. The sound effects are also very well done.

Whether you like The Combatribes or not will depend on what kind of games you like. If you don’t like walk along beat ’em ups, well The Combatribes is not going to change your mind. If you love them then you will most likely eat this up. If you can forgive a game a few flaws and want to smash heads with a buddy then this game gets a reasonably hearty recommendation. There are far better walk along beat em ups on the system but there are also a heck of a lot worse games. I wouldn’t recommend this as the first and most important beat ’em up to grab but if you’re looking for one you haven’t tried before and you can find this then I would give it a bash.

I would score it six out of 10. If my memory is correct reviewers back in the day were a lot harsher some scored it as low as 30%. I think the highest I remember seeing it get was 65%. Maybe my opinion of it is a little more positive than others because playing it takes me back to a time in my life when I would go to the local one screen cinema, watch a film and then head to the takeaway pizza joint after to enjoy virtually kicking thugs in the head while a man made me and my buddies a takeaway pepperoni pizza – but that is one of the best things about retro games is it not? They all come from a time in the past and have all sorts of stories and histories connected to them.

From a little bit of research it looks like you would be lucky to get a cart of it for about £15. It never came out in Europe to my knowledge so you’d have to either get an US or Japanese copy, again meaning that you would need an import or modified machine or to have an import converter.

150 SNES games reviewed: #2 Bombuzal (aka Ka-Blooey)

The game I am reviewing today (18 August 2014) was originally called Bombuzal and was made by a company called Image Works.

It was originally released for the Amiga, Atari ST and Commodore 64 but in 1990 they brought out a SNES version. For a reason unknown to me the US version which is the one I own was retitled Ka-Blooey. I don’t have any opinion if one title is better or not and as I never played this as a kid there is not a name I am more used to.

Image Works didn’t usually make games. They were usually known for being publishers. They published around 40 games and only made about four games themselves, and this is the only one which made its way to the SNES. So this is the last time I will be mentioning them in this series. Strangely enough despite being mostly known for publishing games they didn’t actually publish this on the SNES. This game was in fact published by Kemco, whose name is an abbreviation of Kotobuki Engineering & Manufacturing Co. They were a Japanese video game developer and publisher established in 1984. Kemco is probably best known by SNES owners as the publisher of the Top Gear series but that’s a story for another day.

The whole idea of Ka-Blooey is to try to set off every bomb on a level without killing yourself. At first this seems a little easy – you step up to a bomb, you hold a button, a countdown starts and then you move out of the way just before detonation. I know this sounds very simplistic but think about most good puzzle games. Tetris is just a game where you spin blocks around and form lines and yet that was probably one of the most popular puzzle games ever wasn’t it? Yes, the game starts off very simplistic but more or less every level something new is thrown in to the mix, and new problems are presented for you to try and overcome by using your grey matter to formulate a plan using everything you have learned up to this point.

There are apparently more than 130 levels and they get more and more challenging as you go. The graphics at the time were trying to be all 3D and cool, your sprite is large and has quite a bit of characterisation but in this regard the game hasn’t aged well. The water for example is just made up of blue rectangles. Sure everything is functional and easy to see so you can never blame the graphics for your failure so at least it has that going for it. The music can best be described as what elevator music must sound like to a man on acid. Add to this the fact that there are only something like five actual in game sounds – a teleporter sound; an explosion sound; a sliding sound; a dying sound; and a voice saying ”get ready”. The game is far from being either an audio or visual treat.

If you’re into games with a story then it is important to note this game has literally no plot at all. Sure a lot of great puzzle games don’t have plots but with this game having a central character you look at I do think a tiny bit of a story would help push you to make your way through the levels.

As you get further you will see that there are different kinds of bombs and you need to get used to how they blow up, how you can use this to your advantage and how to make sure you don’t end up blowing yourself up. On later levels there are enemies such as boulders and some weird looking things (I have no idea what they are actually supposed to be) which go around and which you need to blow up. There are also obstacles like ice blocks that make you slide and cracked blocks that fall after you walk over them and hard blocks that can’t be blown up.

The game controls OK, but it moves very slowly which doesn’t work in its favour. I never once found myself being particularly excited by it. At times you felt smart for working a problem out, but really from my perspective there was far more grind than there was enjoyment and that’s not the sign of a good game.

If I am to be totally honest I rate the game smack down the middle five out of 10. If you want to buy retro games there are a lot of better games out there to spend your money on.

It’s a functional puzzle game which both frustrates and rewards but at the end of the day it is deeply forgettable. I think I would have been a lot happier if I had played this game back on the Commodore 64 or the Amiga as it probably would have been a reasonably cheap game but if I had paid the price of a standard SNES game for this at launch I would have felt pretty darn annoyed.

As far as I can tell this game never got a PAL release, so if you want to play it then you’re going to have to buy an American Ka-Blooey or a Japanese Bombuzal cart. There is no real need to read anything for this game so either would probably be fine as long as you have either an import machine, a modified machine or a convertor. The price for this game cart only seems to be around £7 to £10. I got mine years ago when I was in Canada in what can best be described as a giant charity store for about CAN$3 after tax was added (they add tax at the till on top of the price you see on the shelf/tag, unlike ours which is included in the price you see).

My project to review 150 SNES games (plus Hook reviewed)

A few years ago I thought I would set myself an interesting little challenge. I was  going to play 150 SNES games in 150 days – one a day.

I wasn’t going to try and to complete them all but I wanted to play enough of each title so that I could give each and every one a nice little review. I figured it would be challenging, but at the time I found myself unemployed and was trying to find things to do which would keep me sane while I tried my best to get a job.

Unfortunately it was not all that long before I actually failed the challenge. Partly this was down to the fact that I got a new job and found it hard to find time for playing games as much, I then lost my new job because while I was still in my trial period they decided to make cutbacks.

After this I sat around feeling sorry for myself for a while, found another new job, and then my partner of six years left me and I just didn’t feel much like doing anything at all.

Now, as pretty much anyone who does a long project will learn, it’s hard to set yourself goals which have no room in them for flexibility – especially when life kicks you square in the guts. I found myself at a crossroads where I could do one of several things. I could try and get back on the horse and go back into the project at full tilt boogie, I could give up completely or I could slow down and take my time. I choose the latter, and as a result I have continued playing SNES games but at a slower pace.

There have been many occasions during my life where I have had to deal with mental health issues and to a degree they have come in to play during this project. Both in terms of slowing things down, but also at times talking about some of these games and their place and effect on my life has proved to some degree therapeutic. Unfortunately I have taken such a degree of time with this project that some of the places it originally started have since shut down. The host for my original blog shut down, and two forums who supported me have also come and gone (one of them being SONM). So I wanted to bring this project to a new place, I wanted to bring it to GRview in the hope that I will both see it through to the end with everyone’s support but also so I can repost and look back on everything I have done so far refine and add to it. I would like this chance to thank those who have previously followed my work but also to welcome those who are going to be reading these reviews for the first time.

So lets get down to business The whole idea is for me to play and review 150 SNES games using both real carts and real hardware. I own both a SNES mini and an Everdrive and although I tinker with them and talk about them everything I review will be reviewed on a real SNES using a real cartridge.

When I started the project I owned 130 carts and intended to buy the other 20 along the way, this is something I have done. In fact, I have probably grabbed a whole bunch more than that. I do appreciate recommendations and know certain people probably want to see certain reviews but I am a man with a budget so to speak, so if a game is worth an absolute pile of money I wont be reviewing it. I do use carts from all regions but I try to let people know what particular region I have used, so if I do not mention it then you can assume that review is speaking about the PAL version.  As for my review SNES, I mostly use a European model I have converted to run at 60hz although from time to time I will use a regular PAL machine either due to issues with the games being run at 60hz or for the purpose of comparison.

I have to admit that my reviews can go off in all kinds of directions, sometimes I will compare a game to its Mega Drive counterpart, sometimes I will give historical information on the publisher or developer and sometimes I will end up just talking about the game’s place in my own life and my own experiences. I will always try to give the game a score out of 10, and try to say what I think you should look to pay for them. You might find some of my data to be a little outdated when I say for example a game is regularly available for under £10 but all I can say in response to this is that it was true to the best of my knowledge when the review was originally written. I am always open to questions and look if you don’t agree with me don’t worry these are just my own opinions if you love a game you love it never let anyone change that for you.

Review #1: Hook (Sunday 17 August 2014)

I started this project playing Hook, the game was made for the SNES by Sony Imagesoft (later to be known as Sony Computer Entertainment). They took the basic plot of the film, and then went off in their own direction. Hook the video game only shares a very basic level of plot with Hook the movie

Basically Peter Pan grew up had kids and became a chubby businessman forgetting all about Neverland. Captain Hook kidnaps Peter’s two children, Maggie and Jack, and holds them hostage. So Tink the fairy fetches Pan and carries him to Neverland. In the film there is a whole big thing of Peter becoming the pan again but in the game Tink sprinkles him with fairy dust and bang he is in green tights ready to go. The first level is basically Pan proving he is the pan to the lost boys by kicking their ass and from there on in he is kicking the arse of anything he can reach while making tricky jumps and avoiding enemies through level after level.

The game is basically your standard 2D platform game but it’s a good one, not one of those hastily thrown together cash-ins which is surprising really with it being a movie tie-in. The levels are challenging and well designed. The graphics, although not stunning, suit the game and are filled with nice little touches. Peter’s hair and clothes blowing in the wind being one example. The character of Pan kind of does look like a cartoon Robin Williams even though they apparently didn’t have the rights to peoples’ likenesses, everyone kind of looks like a simple anime inspired version of their real life counterpart.

The film had a John Williams’ orchestral soundtrack and most of this seems to have been converted into digitised 16 bit versions which really adds to the feeling that this is a quality production. I won’t say that Hook is perfect though. There are some issues with its difficulty balance. As a game intended for kids it is just too hard. I remember never seeing very much of this game as a child, as an adult though this is no real problem I have given this game about two hours today and I am just a little bit away from the end, really it is a short game which is hiding the issue of its length behind a difficulty wall which would obscure this from its original customer base. I wonder how many kids threw their pads in anger and declared this game sucked just because it was a touch too difficult. Still their parents would have been annoyed if their kids had managed to finish it in two hours.

I guess I would give it a seven out of 10. I like it a lot but I don’t think its an all-time classic.

I brought this game from a market, just the cart itself. I can’t remember the price but I know it was somewhere between 50p and £3. Having taken a quick look the cart now seems to be going for anything from £15 to £25. If you’re into chasing retro games I would say its worth £15, but I personally wouldn’t spend £25 on it unless it was boxed and in good condition.

So obviously I wrote this around four years ago and I would feel bad if I didn’t point out that since I wrote this the great Robin Williams has passed away.  Just like all of us here he was a gamer. In particular he was a great fan of the Legend of Zelda for this and a million other reasons for a lot of people his passing felt like the passing of a friend or a kindred spirit. On reflection I still feel pretty much the same way I did about this game back when I wrote the review. I wouldn’t score it any differently but I guess I hold the game, the film and the whole thing just that little bit closer to my heart since Robin’s death. May he rest in peace and be forever alive in our hearts.

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