Tag: 150 SNES Games Review

150 SNES games reviewed: #4 The Duel: Test Drive II


New day, new game, I figured I would do something I haven’t done so far; I would review a driving game. I picked the game via a simple method; it was the first driving game I pulled out of my box of SNES carts.

The Duel: Test Drive II is a racing game developed by Distinctive Software and published by Accolade, a name I am sure most of you have heard of. It came out between 1989 and 1992 on the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple IIGS, Apple Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, MSX, SNES, Sega Mega Drive and ZX Spectrum. So just about everything you can think of at the time but I will be focusing on my experiences of the SNES version (which came out in 1992).

The presentation on the game strikes me as a little bare bones. There is very little to choose from and very little you can alter. It gives you the impression this is very shallow for a game people were paying £40 for back in the day. You start the game and you are given a choice of three cars. They are basically extremely popular sports cars from back in the day – a Lamborghini, a Porsche and a Ferrari (I can’t remember the exact models). Your choice of difficulty determines whether the car will use automatic or manual transmission. You get to choose one of four courses to race on, each labeled with an indicator of its level of challenge. You then either pick one of the games three cars to race against or you pick a stopwatch to merely treat it like a time trial.

You control the car from an internal view, so you can see all of the dashboard and it is different depending on the car you pick. Once you start the game you race along a highway stopping for petrol when a big stop indicator tells you to. If you don’t stop for petrol you will run out of gas and lose a life, and if you hit another car you will also lose a life. Each level also has one or more police cars along the course who I assume try to either crash in to you or arrest you causing you to lose a life. I am not sure because in all honesty I was never caught by them, I  didn’t even seem to see them. If you’re going above the speed limit at a set point on the road then you will hear a siren, but every time this happened I just kept my finger on the gas until the noise disappeared.

I am going to cut straight to the chase with this game If I had been reviewing it back in 1992 then it might have scored better, but as it stands I think I need to give the game a three out of 10. Some people hold the SNES up as a golden era when everything was great, and in some genre’s this might be the case, but I don’t think semi-realistic racing simulations was one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not awful to play – it looks decent enough and it controls well enough – but it commits a huge cardinal sin of gaming with the simple fact that it is just boring. There is no music, the graphics are functional and the choices of cars and tracks are just too limited for me to recommend it.

The game feels a bit more like some kind of tech demo. It feels like there are things there which you would want to see in a full game but the ideas just haven’t been pushed far enough. If I had paid full price for this on release I think I would have soon found myself very bored of it, especially if it was the case that I had the money to grab this game and then had to wait and save again for my next game. I guess that this was probably better if you were an Amiga, Atari ST, or other home computer user as it was a whole lot less cash on release on those formats. I am starting to think that the SNES is at its best when getting games designed specifically for it instead of various ports.

As for the price you might pay for this now, copies seem to be quiet thin on the ground. There is currently a boxed UK copy on Amazon at the time writing for £15, and I can’t see any others elsewhere to compare it with. I can’t remember what I paid for mine, it’s an NTSC cartridge only and I have had it since my childhood. I can’t really recommend anyone spend more than £5 on this game I am afraid. There are many better games out there both retro and modern especially in the racing category.

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).

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