Super Famicom - Enix - Quintet - 1990
ActRaiser successfully combined side-scrolling action with town simulation segments, creating a mixture that to this day
remains original and unique. It was developed by Quintet (founded by some of the top names in Falcom after they left the company)
and set a template that many of their later games would follow. Great graphics (though not so much in the town mode), and an
atmospheric soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro that showed just how far the system's sound capabilities could be pushed. The action is
wrapped up in a narrative that has you taking the role of God in a fight against Satan.
ActRaiser 2 ~Chinmoku he no Seisen~
Super Famicom - Enix - Quintet - 1993
ActRaiser 2 ditches the town segments, focusing entirely on side-scrolling action. Most people tend to ignore it for
that fact alone, which is a shame because this is a great platformer in its own right. It boasts more complex fighting and
platforming mechanics and even more impressive graphics than before, representing some of the finest pixel work around.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack, again by Yuzo Koshiro, is a huge step back, with most of the tracks being quite bland. Storywise
there's more commentary on humanity and so forth, and far more Biblical and religious references.
Advanced Busterhawk Gleylancer
Mega Drive - NCS Masaya - 1992
"Stick to it and believe in your power!" -- or at least that's what I think the Emperor Palpatine-like voice says at the start
of the first stage. Only hardly any power is necessary, since this otherwise cool-looking hori shooter is a cakewalk. Hell, you
don't even have to press fire if you don't want to: simply go into the options and switch the Shot setting to 'Auto'. Regardless,
I still enjoyed blasting my way through this. It feels fast-paced despite all the dead time, and some of the music is inspired --
the stage 2 track is the definition of 16-bit synthpop epicness.
Mega Drive - Sega - Treasure - 1995
Almost entirely made up of boss fights, Treasure's second side-scroller has you dashing across the screen, hovering in the air,
running on ceilings headfirst, repelling enemy shots and blasting right through them as an extremely damaging ball of fire. Your
arsenal of moves allows a lot of liberty in your playstyle, and once you're comfortable with the controls it plays like a 2D
action wet dream. The pumping, sinister soundtrack and the return of the shapeshifting nightmare known as Seven Force can only
mean one thing: NOW IS THE TIME TO THE 68000 HEART ON FIRE!
Arcade/Custom - Atrativa - Yuki - 2006
Many people look down on this game because of its flagrant moe pandering, but give it a few years and it will be
remembered as one of the best 2D fighters ever -- especially if it doesn't get many sequels (highly unlikely). Where to
begin... The arcana system is genius; homing and guard cancels keep the action fluid; the playing field is humongous; the dashing
is so evolved it almost becomes flying -- in the hands of expert players matches look like 2D manifestations of some of the
coolest anime fights you've ever dreamed.
Mega Drive - Sega - 1990
Sub-mediocre horizontal shooter by Sega in which you guide a blue-haired anime chick's transforming spaceship/robot thingy
through a bunch of boring stages. In ship mode the so-called 'arrow flash' (your special weapon) is a six-way laser beam, while in
robot mode it grants you invincibility for a short amount of time. Go into the options menu and change the arrow flash from the
default 'stock' setting (need to pick up items to use it) to 'charge' (unlimited flashes but you charge them up à la
R-Type) for an easy 1CC. Or, better yet, don't even play this game.
ASH -Archaic Sealed Heat-
DS - Nintendo - Mistwalker/Racjin - 2007
A blend of SRPG and JRPG conventions that was a bad idea to start with is only made worse by its wholly incompetent execution.
You move the units of each team around a battle map individually, but when one of them engages the enemy the rest join in, while
everyone else on the battlefield pulls up a chair and watches the fun and fireworks. A totally inane system that almost defeats
the whole purpose of having grid-based tactical combat in the first place. The wonderful illustrations should have been saved for
a better game.
PlayStation - Square - Light Weight - 1997
The most interesting aspect of this 3D weapons fighter is the absence of health meters -- a single well-placed slash will be
the end of an opponent. A quite realistic touch that really defines the game, as combat ends up involving careful maneuvering in
order to penetrate a foe's guard and strike the killing blow. Either that or run around the stage like a madman, hacking wildly.
Sometimes that works as well.
Mega Drive - Data East - 1994
It's games like this one that really make me appreciate the Sonic series, reminding me that it takes more than speed and green
hills to make a fun, absorbing platformer. Apart from the pirate world setting, Lang has a close resemblance to
Sonic in everything it attempts including concept, stage layout and even an anthropomorphic lead character. The difference?
Let's just say there's a good reason Lang never made it onto the Happy Meal boxes. Dull or cheap are descriptions that
apply to just about everything in the game. It's playable, but just not worth it.
Crying: Asia Seimei Sensou
Mega Drive - Sega - 1992
Organic-themed shooter that's so darn good it should have switched titles with the arcade version of Insector X (which
is so boring it makes you cry, get it?). Weak main shot, so use your charge-up blast and option. Powering-up works like
Raiden, and when you die you power-down one level. This is the way to do power-downs -- not the non-sensical Psykio way,
nor the Gradius style which effectively forces you to one-life the game. Moves lighting fast at times, with lots of huge
sprites on screen and little to no slowdown -- technically impressive, though not exactly beautiful.
Xbox 360 - Bandai Namco - Omiya Soft - 2006
Culdcept makes its 3D high definition debut, while losing none of its charm in the process. What it gains is the robust online
mode that the game has been screaming for ever since it was invented, as well as a few rule changes and a limited
character-customization aspect. It can still be infuriating when you lose because of bad luck, but just approach this as you would
any other board game and you'll be playing for years. The preteen-level story and full-English voice acting suck hard, but Kenji
Ito saves the day with yet another excellent orchestral soundtrack.
Mega Drive - Micronet - 1989
Early Mega Drive horizontal shooter with lifebar and instant respawns that's only worth getting for the cover art and stage 4
BGM. And it's not just the ultra jerky scrolling, flickering, poor hit detection or boring graphics that make this a waste of 1s
and 0s -- it's the fact that if you don't reach the last stage after a few tries you're so hopeless you might as well give up on
games and go back to... I don't know, watching movies or some shit. The final stage is a bit harder (no instant respawns, for one
thing), but by that point I didn't really care.
Genesis - Sega - Novotrade - 1993
Side-scrolling fighter from the creators of Ecco the Dolphin. Construct a cyborg body and duke it out in simple stages
with up to two enemies at a time. Sounds easy, but with the control scheme acting as your most formidable opponent it can become
quite an undertaking. The game tries to be more technical by emulating versus fighters, but in execution it's just a more
elaborate mess with redundant moves. Considering there are plenty of beat 'em ups that take this approach and follow through on
the design much better, it's best leaving Cyborg Justice alone.
Dahna: Megami Tanjou
Mega Drive - IGS - 1991
Rastan-style action title starring a sword-slinging blonde whose white gown remains miraculously unstained despite the
gallons of blood spilled all around her. I'd say this abnormality plus the ogre/horse/griffon-riding segments are the only things
worth noting here. Not that they are well-done or anything -- in fact they feel even clunkier than the regular stages -- but at
least you can't call them boring, like the rest of the game. Unresponsive controls and a barely useful moveset make this harder
than you'd think, and a complete lack of inspiration permeates everything.
Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban
Super Famicom - Sunsoft - 1995
Very much inspired by the SFC versions of Kiki Kaikai, only with more emphasis on melee combat, this is one of the crazier
titles on the system. Choosing between a "Japanese idiot" or a "Western idiot", you go through a series of very creative stages
filled with countless unique enemies and situations, as well as numerous bosses and mini-bosses. You can also transform into a
gigantic "muscle man", which allows you to flex your muscles in a number of different ways -- pointless, but very funny. Remaining
fresh and exciting throughout, Deae Tonosama in many ways even outdoes Kiki Kaikai.
Mega Drive - C.Y.X. - Studio Fazzy - 1991
To be this bad takes a random company called C.Y.X. Console-exclusive shooters don't get any worse than this -- even unlicensed
ones. Ugly, tasteless 8-bit graphics and sound, and a first stage that should come with a special epilepsy warning. There are no
power-ups whatsoever, though I have to admit you don't really need them. Only thing that keeps it from being completely unplayable
are the tiny hitboxes. In fact, you can pass right through bosses without getting harmed. And yes, there are girls stripping after
every stage, complete with odd nipple colors and no vaginas.
Mega Drive - Sega - Treasure - 1994
Underappreciated action platformer by Treasure starring a puppet with the ability to smash his dismembered head into enemies.
Wacky Japanese humor and presentation are key features here, but the varied and fast-paced action does a good job supporting these
elements, and compares well to many of the best examples in the genre, Ristar included. In the end, however, it is
essentially its show-offish technical wizardry and superb aesthetics that truly bring Dynamite Headdy to life, with a
peculiar yet immensely captivating atmosphere and careful attention to every detail.
Mega Drive - Soft Vision - 1993
With such amateurish cover art and bearing the logo of some unknown company called Soft Vision, you'd be excused for passing up
on this hori memorizer in a secondhand game shop. Don't. Just don't. It's cream of the crop MD shooting, with some of the most
frantic action outside of the Thunder Force series. It just keeps throwing increasingly bigger and scarier alien hardware at you
non-stop, while cranking the speed up and filling the air with awesome tunes. Not to mention it's very pretty and gets harder by
the third stage than most other MD shooters ever get.
Mega Drive - Sega - Gau Entertainment - 1993
Best looking game on the system, and probably the most detailed one, not just graphically but also concerning laws of light,
energy, physics and so on. Being a mecha shooter, this kind of realism really adds to the experience, and it almost feels like
playing a simulator at times. I hate to tell you, but there are a few undeniable issues too, the biggest one being defensive
strategies that can be exploited if you have the patience. These strategies slow down the pace considerably and do away with most
of the challenge. Shame! Still, this is one of the most ambitious games I've ever played.
Golden Axe II
Mega Drive - Sega - 1991
The engine and graphics of this straight-to-console sequel seem to have been lifted from the MD port of the original, which is
disappointing since it could have been so much more. The only substantial improvements are the abilty to select the power level of
your magic attacks using a charge bar, as well as altered back-attacks which have been downgraded so that they can no longer be
exploited. This alone increases the challenge, as you're forced to use complicated maneuvering instead, such as the "death-jab"
for power strikes, which is harder to time.
Arcade/Custom - Irem - 1991
Irem introduces us to a methodical brand of action shooting that would pave the way for another classic: Metal Slug.
Gunforce creates this with a large speed disparity between the player and bullets, limited ammo, and lack of cues that
something is about to kick your ass. Needless to say, playing this like Contra will only lead to a hasty Game Over. Also notable
is the amount of vehicles available to seize for an added attack or mobility advantage. Sure, the game starts as abuse, but can
become one of the finest shooting experiences around -- for dedicated players that is.
Gunstar Super Heroes
Game Boy Advance - Sega - Treasure - 2005
The sequel to Gunstar Heroes from the supposedly sequel-averse Treasure sets the GBA on fire, with extensive use of
rotation and scaling, giant bosses, crisp sound effects and stirring music, but is severely lacking in challenge, with some bosses
hardly fighting back at all. It also switches between references to older games far too often: one part is an After
Burner-like airborne battle followed by a stage that quotes the old Sega game Flicky. These segments are too short and
sometimes feel forced and random, resulting in a pretty broken flow. Still, enjoyable while it lasts and quite a technical
Super Famicom - Hudson Soft - CA Production/Red - 1994
Amazing side-scrolling action game by Hudson and Red. Very much inspired by Strider, but with plenty of original
elements, Hagane is set in a futuristic Japan and has some incredible art design that is easily its best aspect. Think of
sci-fi cityscapes mixed with feudal Japanese elements -- it's been done a million times before but rarely this good, and the music
is a similar fusion of styles that perfectly suits it all. Stage and boss designs are top notch and the entire game just feels
Mega Drive - Tecno Soft - 1989
Few games can claim to have started a genre, but this one did. Strategy and unit management were combined with frenetic action
for the first time in this largely unknown title by Tecno Soft. Despite being a first-gen game the graphics are solid, and the
soundtrack exceptional. As one of the eponymous two dukes, you are asked to purchase and direct an army composed of eight
different unit types in a quest to annihilate your opponent's base. The true fun comes when you play against a friend -- you'll be
Super Famicom - Hect - Axes Art Amuse - 1993
Original take on the Breakout style of game where you move a character around the field in eight directions while hitting the
ball to break through to the next area. There are however monsters on the field that can attack and damage you, so this is kind of
a cross between Breakout and a standard scrolling action game. You can tackle the story mode together with a friend, and there is
also a multiplayer-focused mode where up to four players can complete against each other in a "sport" that resembles soccer.
Fairly lengthy, and with nice graphics and good variety.
Super Famicom - Halken - 1991
HAL Laboratory (aka Halken in Japan for some of their early titles) tries their best to show off the impressiveness of Mode 7
graphics in this forgettable rail shooter. Lazily fend off waves of uninspired alien creatures and boring boss encounters over the
course of eight stages worth of pretty visual effects. The few thrills come from momentarily forgetting that what you're playing
I Love Mickey Mouse: Fushigi no Oshiro Daibouken
Mega Drive - Sega - 1990
Charming platformer with great graphics and sound design. It packs in a whole bunch of nice ideas, though none of them are made
use of to the extent which they could have been (the stage 2 screen-flipping segment was later borrowed and further developed by
Treasure in Dynamite Headdy, for example, and needless to say it turned out awesome!). Though not very hard, it features
some pretty shoddy boss attacks that can be quite frustrating and little fun to learn. Overall a competent game, but far too basic
unless you're like six years old.
I Love Donald Duck: Georgia Ou no Hihou
Mega Drive - Sega - 1991
A straightforward platformer in the same vein as I Love Mickey Mouse. It has you seeking treasures and other items back
and forth across the globe, all of which are needed to get past a certain door, wall, ravine or whatever. Nice try, but it really
doesn't do much for the game, which feels just as linear as if the stages were in fixed succession. Individual stage designs
however have been given some extra thought, which is why this feels so much more varied and fair than Mickey's adventure. Now if
only there was some kind of challenge to it...
I Love Mickey to Donald: Fushigina Magic Box
Mega Drive - Sega - 1992
No matter how much you may love these characters, and no matter how gorgeous the presentation may be, there's no denying this
series of Disney platformers by Emirin is missing something essential -- challenge. In the third and last episode this is more
obvious than ever, and I guess that's what Walt (well, his successors) must have wanted. On the other hand, the rest of the game
is well done (especially the two-player mode!), full of surprises that are cute and fun, but still only mildly creative. I think I
might be saving this cart for my future children.
Ikari No Yousai
Super Famicom - Jaleco - K. K. DCE - 1993
This side-scrolling action title starts out in a fairly standard fashion for the genre, but then it begins to slowly unfold a
narrative in a very original and creative way. You must investigate a laboratory that has ceased all communication, and the game
succeeds in immersing you in an aura of mystery. There is no text at all; instead, you discover what has happened via flashbacks
and video recordings of events that happened just before you arrived. A very intriguing and exciting experience that goes beyond
standard 2D action game conventions.
Jet Set Radio
Dreamcast - Sega - Smilebit - 2000
What's the best part of this game? The brilliant art style? The wonderful soundtrack (minus Rob Zombie's "Dragula")? Or the
strangely beautiful idea of a bunch of teenage kids grinding and tagging their way around the neon streets of Tokyo to stop an
evil corporation bent on destroying freedom? Whatever it is, it works. Paint over a rival gang's tags, take on a fellow Jet
Set-er's skate trick challenge, all the while trying to avoid getting caught in the act by Captain Onishima and his crack police
force. For the game that pioneered cel-shading, I can't think of a game that's used it better.
Kidou Soukou Dion
Super Famicom - Vic Tokai - 1992
Vertical scrolling shooter from Vic Tokai, inspired by the PC Engine shooter Spriggan. Fairly unremarkable, with long,
boring stages and graphics that are decent but nothing that great. The most interesting feature is the levelling system used to
increase the power and amount of your weapons, but apart from that it's a fairly sub-mediocre shooting
Kisuishou Densetsu Astal
Saturn - Sega - 1995
My expectations of Astal were obviously quite high: a 2D platformer from 1995 by Sega, with huge hand-drawn sprites and
a beautiful fantasy setting. In spite of protagonist Astal's many moves (including the cool ability to give your bird friend
various commands, like getting you items, or anything else beyond your reach), there's just not enough room for creativity (it
never gets clever nor as fast as I would have wanted). If the basic mechanics weren't solid, I would never have bothered with the
Kuuga -Operation Code- "Vapor Trail"
Arcade/Custom - Data East - 1989
A vertical scrolling shooter that should be recognized for its high speed and manic action, with reasonable hit detection --
quite remarkable for its era. Feels a tad rushed because of all the graphics and music rehashing (there's one, yes one stage song,
which is kind of puzzling considering there were six "sound creaters" working on the game). Ultimately, it ends up in the mediocre
pile due to some pretty cheap bosses and dull stage design overall later on, not to mention a forced weapon system which adds
confusion rather than depth. Cool song though.
Made in Wario
Game Boy Advance - Nintendo - 2003
Wario is low on cash and decides the video game industry is where it can be made. Try your hand at his eccentric twist on game
design by engaging in a slew of fast-paced microgames: from the mundane to the bizarre, you'll find yourself picking noses,
shooting down aliens and revisiting some Nintendo classics, all in the span of about five seconds or less apiece. Very addictive,
with plenty of things to unlock, including a full version of Dr. Mario (now relabeled as Dr. Wario, with some
changes to match). The only real complaint is that it can be beaten in a few hours. Still, what a few hours they are.
Mawaru Made in Wario
Game Boy Advance - Nintendo - Intelligent Systems - 2004
Yes, you really have to TURN the Game Boy. Reacting to rotation angle and speed, and adding a sensitive rumble feedback, the
control scheme feels unusual yet spot-on, and the new microgames employ it in very creative and surprising ways. Ranging from just
tipping the GBA a bit up to hectic 360-degree spins, playing this game is intense, retarded-looking fun. A bit more challenging
than before and with a ton of mostly pointless but adorable unlockables, this is the most honest-to-goodness childish joy you will
ever have with a GBA game.
Mamono Hunter Yohko: Dai 7 no Keishou
Mega Drive - NCS Masaya - 1991
Take any random sword-slinging femme fatale anime chick and give her a flawed platform engine and some dark, lifeless artwork;
you'll either have Telenet's Valis series or this piece of trash! Yohko's sword can be charged up to create a protective force
field around her, which can then be aimed and fired away for some strategic bullet-cancelling action. This great idea makes it all
the more unfortunate that controls and stage designs are a complete mess. But who cares when you have heaps of lifebar,
checkpoints and credits -- right?!
Mario Kart DS
DS - Nintendo - Nintendo EAD - 2005
This game is one hell of a package. It improves the somewhat floaty Double Dash handling, includes massive fan service
with a staggering amount of drivers, kart variations and lovingly recreated tracks, adds solid Wi-Fi multiplayer, refrains from
touch-screen nonsense -- it even has time trial staff ghosts. They just did everything right here. One of the most refined
Nintendo titles ever -- and that, my friends, is saying something.
PlayStation - Konami - KECJ - 1998
Legendary special operative Solid Snake returns on a mission to infiltrate a nuclear weapons disposal facility in Alaska's Fox
Archipelago. Emphasis is again on the sneaking, with unheard-of 3D stealth mechanics for the time (barring Tenchu), though
even more impressive is the extensive plot, a well-layered conspiracy featuring everything from the truth about Gulf War syndrome
(experimental genome testing to create the perfect soldier) to revealing that infamous Watergate informant "Deep Throat" was in
fact a cybernetic ninja.
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Mega Drive - Sega - 1990
As the King of Pop, rummage through music-video-themed stages for kidnapped children while fending off gangsters, zombies and
spiders with your magic moves, or a lethal dance number at the cost of some vitality. Features nicely rendered versions of MJ's
most popular tracks from Thriller and Bad. Despite it's kusogee premise, it's actually very well done,
although short-lived and not too compelling after your first completion. And the final battle is extremely anticlimactic, looking
and playing something like an interactive screensaver.
New Super Mario Bros.
DS - Nintendo - 2006
The first 2D Mario platformer in nearly fourteen years isn't about anything "New" -- it's essentially a calculated cash-in on
nostalgic feelings. Basic polygons instead of sprites, generic stage designs, useless and outright pointless new power-ups hurt
the most, and even including the not-so-secret worlds this is a very easy and short affair. Worst of all, besides perhaps the
meaningless "giant Mario" incidents, nothing stands out as being memorable.
Oneechanbara Vortex ~Imichi wo Tsugumonotachi~
Xbox 360 - D3 Publisher - Tamsoft - 2006
Another completely worthless Oneechan game, only this one costs nearly as much as all the previous ones combined. Aya and Saki
get a few new moves and are joined by the babe-cop Anna, whose guns provide some much-needed variety to the action, but the stages
are still nothing more than glorified keyhunts, and the enemies never compel you to do more than mash a simple combo over and over
again. Even the new co-op mode didn't manage to hold my interest for more than a couple of hours, which says it all really.
Ougon no Taiyou: Hirakareshi Fuuin
Game Boy Advance - Nintendo - Camelot - 2001
This by-the-numbers JRPG is a tired exercise in un-originality. Four generic adventurers set off on a forgettable fetch quest,
with tedious dialogue and level grinding following all the while. Of note however is the Djinn system, which allows you to switch
possession of the twenty-eight different Djinn to be found in the game between party characters, resulting in different skill sets
depending on the set-up. The graphics are admittedly impressive, but that alone is not enough to make the experience