Tag: retro games

150 SNES games reviewed #39: James Pond’s Crazy Sports (aka The Super Aquatic Games)

You have your Sonics and your Marios, then there are all the lesser-known platforming heroes – some of which are in games which could rival the likes of the above and others who are in games that are poor, pale imitations.

If you owned an Amiga there were certain characters you were bound to know and love, and one of these was James Pond. He was a well-loved star of several games but they weren’t Amiga exclusive. In fact I think all of them ended up on the Mega Drive, and the SNES got everything apart from his first game. (James Pond 2: Codename Robocod was released on the SNES under the name Super James Pond, almost ignoring that there was a previous game.)

Now you might think that I am going to be talking about Super James Pond or its sequel James Pond 3: Operation Starfish but actually the game I am going to be talking about today is James Pond’s Crazy Sports (known as The Super Aquatic Games in the US, and just The Aquatic Games on Mega Drive). Basically this game took the character of James Pond and used him to front  an aquatic-themed parody of the sports mini games joystick wigglers like Konami’s Track & Field.

This game is the only James Pond title not to be a platformer. You can’t help but think the developers had the idea they could spin the character off in to other genres and in doing so might help him to grow in fame and begin to approach Mario levels.

The first thing I noticed when booting this game up was that I knew the opening music. I more than knew it, it was something I have found myself humming before and then it hit me it was a particularly cheery eight-bit version of Ode to Joy (from Beethoven’s ninth symphony). I have to say this was a good start as I put a smile on my face before I had even pressed a button.

Now in talking about James Pond’s Crazy Sports, I have to admit some of these issues are not really raised in relation to the game but to the whole genre at that time. There’s only so much you can do when it’s bang buttons like mad till you win or lose. It tires your fingers, you get blooming scared you will break the pad. The game does nothing to teach you how to play it so you end up spending so much time just messing around working out what you are supposed to be doing. Sure back in the day you would have had the manual and that would have helped but it wouldn’t have been that hard to put some in game instructions – some text on the screen – before an event? All of the games are really basic and despite my best efforts I couldn’t come anywhere, I admit I didn’t hammer the pad as hard as a kid would have done back when this came out but who really wants to risk breaking a joypad from an old system when the number out there is finite?

I loved the three James Pond platformers as a kid. I found them funny charming and enjoyable. I even enjoyed picking up the Nintendo DS re-release of the second one so the problem here is I was and am invested in the character. I think James Pond rules and if you can’t manage to sell a spin-off to someone who clearly loves the original franchise then you are clearly barking up the wrong tree.

It’s just a shame. The game’s bright, has good music, but just doesn’t deliver. It feels souless and shallow and well I feel I need to give it 2.5 out of 10 – a sad, sad day for James Pond.

At first I thought it didn’t even hit these shores as all the copies I saw were American and between £10 to £15. Add to the fact that a modfied machine wont even play it without a heavy-duty Datel Universal Adapter and it’s expensive. But then I realised that in the UK it had a different name and it’s about £8 to £10 for a PAL game, but it’s still not worth it.

150 SNES games reviewed #36: Super Strike Eagle

Super Strike Eagle for the SNES was both developed and released by MicroProse. Yes, that MicroProse.

MicroProse was a US video game publisher and developer, founded in 1982 by Bill Stealey and the one and only Sid Meier. It developed and published numerous games, many of which are fondly remembered either to this day as groundbreaking or as titles with huge cult status, examples being the Civilization and X-COM series. The majority of its internally developed titles were often either vehicle simulation games or strategy titles.

The name MicroProse still exists today but it has basically nothing to do with the original company, all of the big names and talent from the original MicroProse left and formed Firaxis Games in 1996. The name MicroProse was acquired through the original company having been bought up when it was struggling and the people who brought it at Hasbro have since sold the rights to the name and various other assets which have been sold on and on till they ended up in the hands on someone who wanted to use it.

The basic story behind this game is that you are a fighter pilot flying for the United Nations whose overall objective is to bring various governments around the world back into cooperation with the UN basically by blowing the crap out of them. Yes this could be termed as diplomatic negotiations James T Kirk style, or at least it could be if there was a mini-game involving sex with hot alien women, but I digress.

The game uses three different perspectives. When you take off the game starts you off in third person, utilizing its Mode 7 graphics to give you an interesting interactive take off. Then once you’re up in the air the view switches to an overhead world map, where the plane can be moved between objectives. In this view you can see enemy jets and missiles and if you can keep your distance then you’ll stay in this view. When enemy planes get close to you the game switches briefly to a first-person cockpit mode. This is kind of like Wing Commander, in that you chase the planes and try to get them in your sights. This is kind of the most realistic looking part. When you find yourself near to mission-critical targets (ones which you have to bomb) then the game again switches view, this time to an overhead bombing mode, this is where the game uses its Mode 7 scaling and rotation abilities the most.

I find the game fun. It kind of just leaves you to it though and doesn’t hold your hand much which is either a good thing or an awful thing depending on how you like your games. Also the switching of views is something which some people will probably like, others will probably be confused by. In my opinion though this is one of the things that makes the game really interesting and different. Some of the graphics are amazing for when this game came out but they are a little bit dated now. There is a real sense of effort with this game though, like they tried to throw every trick in the book at it in order to make it stand out. Back in the day I remember this game getting a lot of 65%-type ratings. To me there seemed to be a general attitude of this game not being the kind of thing that belonged on a console. Now days though we have seen just about every type of game possible both on PC and on console. Yes, some might lend themselves to one slightly better than the other but I always feel the need to salute people who try to get a new trick out of an old dog, who try to break convention. For this reason I give this game seven out of 10. Back in the day If I had played this game I would have scored it even higher than that I believe.

I bought this game specifically for this review because I managed to get a US copy boxed with manual for £6 including postage, and at that price I have to admit I am incredibly happy with this game. There are a few copies online now knocking around the £8 to £12 figure for boxed US copies. As for UK PAL versions though they seem to be few and far between with people asking up to £25 for a cart alone. This game is an easy import it played on my modified machine and through a regular cheap converter with no issues at all so it might even be cheaper to get a boxed copy and a cheap import converter rather than go PAL.

150 SNES games reviewed #35: UN Squadron

U.N. Squadron is a side-scrolling shooting game which came out in arcades in 1989. It was programmed by Capcom and released for use on their CPS arcade hardware. I won’t explain what this was but if you look back at my Final Fight review there is an explanation there.

The game was released in Japan under the name Area 88, the same name which was used for the Super Famicom (Japanese version of this game).

The game is a typical side-scrolling shooter, unlike many of Capcom’s other shooters around this time such as their 1940 series which are vertical-scrolling shooters. It was based on a Manga series Area 88 which never really came to these shores. But the game has a nice intro which explains the rough idea behind the story.

Unlike some shooters which are one hit and you’re dead this game is a little different. If you’re hit then your plane is damaged but if you can keep it safe from harm for a little while then you’ll be fine. This actually adds to the excitement, you will find yourself going: ‘OK I have got to keep away from the enemies as you keep trying to dodge incoming fire and hold on’. When you manage it you will thump the air in triumph, and when you fail you will curse yourself for not having quick enough reflexes but the main thing is it always feels like any failures are down to your own lack of skills.

Before starting a level you get the option of purchasing special weapons or added defense options from the shop. As you shoot down enemies you gain cash and at the end of the level any special weapons you purchased and did not use get converted back in to funds and added to your cash reserve. This is a great little addition as once you get better at the early levels you can try to challenge yourself with the added benefit of an easier time in later missions by trying to complete the earlier ones on a strict budget allowing you to hold back enough money to kit your plane out with lots of special weapons for the later missions.

If you were a big fan of Capcom then the SNES was definitely the machine for you to get your arcade fix on back in the day. If you have read my Final Fight review then you might be asking what has been dropped from the original arcade version?

Well the SNES version is not an exact replica of the coin-op. Yes, it is a port and yes, this port does have certain things missing and disappointingly one of these missing things is once again the two-player mode. Some of the game’s levels are different or modified from the arcade version but it is not always in a bad way. It’s not really a worse version. it’s more of a slightly remixed version. In this case they didn’t just strip things from the game, there are actually a few additions including some more weapons and the chance to purchase different aircraft. Ignoring the missing two-player mode this game is no worse than the arcade machine, it’s just a little bit of a different version.

With bright graphics, enjoyable music and epic action it is hard to see what this game could do better. The end of the level will see you meeting some kind of large end of level boss which you will have to defeat. At this point you better hope you have held something back to save the day.

I would have to give this game eight out of 10. It’s a darn good scrolling shooter. The only thing it is really lacking which would make me bump the score up would be a two-player mode, at this point some of you must be wondering if Capcom ever managed to bash out a high-quality SNES game which catered for more than one.

If you want to try this game you will most likely be paying £15 minimum for a cart of it. I managed to get one for £10 but it took a heck of a lot of looking around and waiting. Capcom have actually made quite a few of those classic collections but U.N. Squadron has never seemed to make the cut, and this is probably one of the reasons it holds its price.

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