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Psychotic Reviews: Mario’s Time Machine

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Why does this exist? I understand educational games, but throwing in a huge, well-established character just seems like a lazy cash grab. A good educational game should be able to stand up on its own by mixing good teaching tools with fun. Mario’s Time Machine fails as a teaching tool.

Mario’s Time Machine was developed and published by The Software Toolworks for the Super Nintendo and MS-DOS. Radical Entertainment developed the NES port with Nintendo publishing this version themselves. When this game was released in the early 90s, it was not the first Mario themed educational game; it was preceded by Mario is Missing! (which had the same developer). As you might be able to discern from the title, Mario’s Time Machine is a game meant to teach history. However, I find that as a teaching tool the game fails. As an adult who understands and knows the basic historical content presented in this game, it is extremely easy to get through and beat quickly. The basic gameplay involves you having historical artifacts with an attached document with information on it; this document has blanks in it that you must fill. As an adult, you’ll likely know most, if not all, of the answers without thinking too much. However, if you’re a kid, you may have trouble filling in these blanks. Other than context clues in the document, the game does little to actually teach history beyond blind guesswork and memorization.

The historical content in the game involves major figures, most of them Western European. You’ll visit Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Isaac Newton, Marco Polo, Cleopatra VII, Thomas Jefferson, and Plato, among others. The only major Eastern figure you meet up with is Kublai Khan, and he’s not the main target of that trip back in time. Since this game is targeted at young children and is exclusive to North America, it can be forgiven for ignoring most of Eastern history. The intended market of kids are only going to be learning the basics at this age after all.

All of these random, historical figures across all periods of time, from Ancient Greece to Thomas Edison, are pulled together by a crazy narrative. Bowser has built a time machine and steals all of these critical artifacts to build a huge museum in his castle. I have never considered Bowser to appreciate any history other than one where he has the Princess and rules as supreme evil overlord. Apparently, Bowser was bored so he single-handedly did what our scientists insist is completely impossible. If he used this power for good, who knows what kind of damage he could help alleviate!

After finishing your homework assignment, Mario has to set the year and location he needs to go to give the item back to its rightful owner and help prevent too many space-time anomalies. Any date and location you pick will take Mario into a surfing mini game, which is by far the most fun aspect of this game. During this surfing section, Mario needs to collect aquatic mushrooms and then jump into a whirlpool. If you pick the right location and time, then you see an example of juxtaposed visual design.

The locations and characters throughout Earth’s European-centric history are realistic in design. The backgrounds and sprites would be right at home in a Western PC RPG of the time, where each town would have its resident eccentric that would send you out on some fetch quest to find their astrolabe or sculptor’s pick in the bottom of some dungeon. Mario’s presence in these realistic areas just stands out and looks awkward. His sprite is ripped straight from Super Mario World, so there’s a huge contrast between his cartoony look and the realistic looks of all of the historical locations.

Overall, this game is best avoided for all but the most curious or the completionist collector. It lacks any real fun for an adult and lacks the tools to properly teach kids the dynamic nature of history. The gameplay is rigid and you will ultimately obtain the correct answers without understanding the why or the implications of the work of these influential people. For these reasons, I will likely stay away from any educational Mario games from now on, except perhaps Interplay’s Mario Teaches Typing, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for Interplay games!

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5 Best and Worst Examples of Video Game Box Art

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One of my favorite parts about video games, collecting them, and playing them is looking at the art included with the whole package. Your first impression of a game is likely going to be the first part of the package you see, the box art. With thousands of games comes as many examples of box art, and it ranges from artistic genius to as bad as a five year old’s first photoshop. While everybody else is doing their Top Games of 2014 I wanted to do something different. Those that have read me since my earlier blogging days know that most of my lists are usually different from the rest. I want this holiday special to be no different. In no particular order here are five examples of the best, and worst examples of video game box art!

Worst

We’ll start with the worst first, since these are usually hilarious and you’ll get all your gut wrenching laughter out of your system before we get super serious with the great examples of good box art.

Black Belt

I think Sega was trying to convey minimalism with this game, but with such a poorly drawn foot it ends up looking like a toddler’s doodle of daddy’s crusty toes. A positive I have about this example is that you do in fact kick people with your foot in the game, so it gets a few points for being relatively accurate. Sega’s Master System is littered with pieces of awful box art, but there are plenty of great pieces in the libraries as well. Don’t let this one example sour your opinion of a great system.

Bomberman

This one is a double whammy. The Turbo-16 art is pretty awful, but so is the NES art as well! I love how the NES box claims that ‘Nearly 1 million sold in Japan.’ I know the gaming market was smaller back then, but nearly could make one think that its not good enough to be more than a million! Also, the actual word “Bomb!” is used as a sound effect. The Turbo art looks like it could be a buddy comedy about two older and out of shape terrorists trying to get back into the game of blowing stuff up. So they dress up in space outfits and start chucking old tyme bombs all over the city to let the young’uns know who’s still in charge!

Rival Turf

Nothing makes me more frightened than seeing a couple of suburban 90’s kids looking so tough. This is their turf, so you best back off!

Tongue of the Fatman

How many of you reading this could tell, just by looking at the cover of this game, that Tongue of the Fatman is a fighting game? Not only is it a fighting game, but it is a fighting game for various PC systems. Prepare for awful keyboard controls and disgusting character design. There’s no reason at all to play this.

Metro Cross

Remember when I mentioned a five year old’s first photoshop? I wasn’t joking, not entirely at least. Metro Cross is the punchline. For trying to be rad and extreme there is entirely too much safety equipment on this piece of art. Remove your knee and elbow pads chump, we can discuss the blue and orange turtleneck one piece suit afterwards.

Best

Now that you’ve gotten your laughter from these awful, but in some cases hilarious out of your system, check out these pieces and get ready for an awe inspiring tale of talent, vision, and good planning.

Time Soldiers

Consider this the Master System’s redemption. I love the art on this cover, and the game inside is quite fun if you dig Commando or Ikari Warriors. My favorite detail about this art is not just the tank and the dinosaur trying to get through the time portal at the same time, nor is it the guy firing his bazooka at the visible time portal. No, the best detail is the guy firing his bazooka towards the viewer, alluding to the fact that there is something just off to the side that is just as intimidating as a T-Rex and a tank that we can’t see. You have to play the game to find out!

Ys Book I & II

And here is the Turbo’s redemption. These Ys remakes are considered to be the killer apps of the Turbo CD here in North America. They were highly regarded critically upon release, and had some of the best CD quality audio in video games for its time. The soundtrack has held up well, so go give it a listen. This cover makes me think this is a long lost Dio era Rainbow album. I am not disappointed that its not.

Wasteland

There is no other box like Wasteland’s, well except for Wasteland 2’s. Wasteland is considered to be one of the all time classics of PC role playing games, and introduced the gamers for the platform to a post apocalyptic view of the American Southwest. The idea and the setting would be used as the groundwork for a spiritual successor almost a decade later in the more popular series Fallout. No other game at the time took the perspective of the game, in this case top down, and made such a wonderful piece of art for their product.

System Shock 2

Looking Glass Studios is one of my favorite developers of all time. It was loaded with talent that produces some of the most well loved games today, and when it came to quality they were almost unrivaled on their native PC platform. These green eyes and the circuit wiring on the face, with the wires protruding to each side, let alone the space ship on the bottom, just let the viewer know that they are in for a wild science fiction ride.

Awesome

Just look at everything Psygnosis. That’s my advice. I don’t know what to say other than the word that’s already the title of the game.

Composer Compendium: David Wise

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In simpler times there were great melodies driving the music composition of games. When you’re limited to a handful of sound channels it really tests composers to make a piece that fits the game they are working on and is memorable. It also has to survive repeated listens, as many games were short and had only a handful of tracks. Today we look at one of the best Western composers for one of the best European game development companies. David Wise was Rare Ltd’s house composer from 1985 to 2009, and his work stands out like the company he worked for.

His first handful of years were spent with Nintendo’s juggernaut Entertainment System. Rare’s philosophy at this time was to make as many games as they possibly could, and some stand out as great titles for the system, while others are quite smelly. The first games with Wise’s compositions came out in a year or two after his hire, and they were Slalom and Wizards & Warriors. One of the best racing games on the system carries Wise’s compositions, R.C. Pro-Am!.


I like to call Slalom ‘Downhill Butt Simulator’.

The following year saw double the number of Wise compositions, showing that he most likely was not sitting around for the first couple years of his existence at the company. The rest of the year’s work featured game show adaptations in Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Rare’s own video board game Anticipation rounds out 1988.

1989 was a big year for Mr. Wise, and includes almost too many games to list, as does the following year. The Sesame Street games are well known for their high quality digitized voices, which sound almost too good for the NES. Wise helped with those, starting with Sesame Street ABC. It includes such beloved classics as Taboo: The Sixth Sense, Hollywood Squares, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and WWF Wrestlemania. In seriousness though there were great games or ports that Mr. Wise composed or rearranged, those include Marble Madness, Cobra Triangle, Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II. Finally, push your periscopes up and look across the horizon for the best and most valuable game ever made. Silent Service.

The decade changed but the NES still reigned supreme. As a result of this David Wise still had plenty of projects to work on. 1990 was the biggest year yet, with many classics, as well as the first foray onto the Game Boy. The game show adaptations continued with Double Dare being a new challenger. Rare must have had a monopoly on these game show adaptations. On top of these he got to work on some original Rare titles such as Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, Solar Jetman, Super Glove Ball, Time Lord, and Pin*Bot for the NES, with Wizards & Warriors Chapter X: The Fortress of Fear and The Amazing Spider-Man on Game Boy. There were some arcade ports and movie adaptations as well including Captain Skyhawk, NARC, Cabal, Arch Rivals, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Battletoads was the next big and well remembered Rare title that Wise composed the music on. You can thank him for that groovy pause music as well as everything else in the original NES release and the mostly unrelated Game Boy release as well. Sesame Street ABC & 123 released in 1991 alongside the aforementioned Battletoads, Beetlejuice, and super R.C. Pro-Am.

The next year saw Rare stretching its arms onto the up and coming Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, with Championship Pro-Am. They did not completely abandon the Nintendo systems, but did not have him move forward to the new Super Nintendo yet. On the NES there was R.C. Pro-Am II, Wizards & Warriors III, and the port of Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat. Battletoad mania would start in 1993.

Since the original release of Battletoads the series had proven quite popular, so Rare had the first Battletoads ported onto the Genesis and Game Gear. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs and Battletoads & Double Dragon marked the move onto the SNES. The latter also saw releases on the NES, Genesis, and Game Boy. Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World is a proper Game Boy port of the first Battletoads that also released this year. Other than Battletoads Mr. Wise also arranged the 16 bit port of Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll for the Genesis, as well as X The Ball for the Arcade.

The next year may well be the year that solidified Mr. Wise as a truly great composer, as his music got to grace one of the most beloved video games of all times, not just of the 16 bit era, but ever. This was also the year that saw a severe decrease in output from our composer, almost being entirely limited to the series spawned by this game. You may be asking what game I’m getting to. Donkey. Kong. Country. There was also Monster Max and the arcade port of Battletoads, but 1994 was the year of Kong.

For the better part of the next decade Mr. Wise was mostly limited to the Donkey Kong Country series, so his early output of many games in a year decreased to one or two a year until his departure from Rare. Both of the followup games to Donkey Kong Country on the SNES were composed by Mr. Wise, but his contributions diminished with each game. The first Donkey Kong Land on Game Boy features some Wise compositions. Diddy Kong Racing on N64 was the lone game he composed for on the Big N’s system.

There was a three year lull between Diddy Kong Racing and his next game, which was the Game Boy Color port of the first Donkey Kong Country. After that he moved onto his lone Gamecube game, Star Fox Adventures. A couple Game Boy Advance games followed, Its Mr. Pants and Donkey Kong Country 3. Next was the DS games Diddy Kong Racing DS and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise. By this point Rare had been sold by Nintendo to Microsoft. He only worked on one Xbox 360 game before his departure from Rare, War World. After this he went freelance with his own studio, composing the iOS game Sorcery! Retro Studios brought him back to the land of Nintendo earlier this year to return to his most famous series. The Wii U needed help and David Wise delivered with the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. His most recent game is Tengami for iOS and the Wii U.

Composer Compendium: Naoki Kodaka

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Naoki Kodaka is one of the most listened to 8-bit composers. I’m sure most of you have heard some of the music from the games he worked on, but may not have realized how many classics he had a hand in. Kodaka is known for his work at a company called Sunsoft, and he spent the better part of a decade composing soundtracks for the company. His first one was a shooter for the Famicom Disc System, Dead Zone in 1986.

His next game would also be exclusive to the FDS, Nazoler Land. Sunsoft was stepping up in the world and got the rights to port a couple of popular games to the NES. Activision’s PC hit Shanghai and Bally Midway’s arcade smash hit Spy Hunter were both ported to the NES by Sunsoft, and the soundtracks were re-arranged by Kodaka.

Sunsoft soon went international as a result of the success of these ports. In 1988 their Zapper game Freedom Force and first international sensation Blaster Master both had soundtracks composed by Kodaka and his fellow associates at the company. Naohisa Morota developed a sound engine that lead to Sunsoft’s unique bass heavy sound style. This is now known as Sunsoft bass as a result of how much it stands out and the high quality of the company’s soundtracks from the NES era. This year closed out with a port of Platoon and the Japanese FDS exclusive Nankin no Adventure.

The following two years are arguably the golden years of 8-bit soundtracks, with Kodaka and Sunsoft being one of the biggest reasons for this. In 1989 the company released Fester’s Quest and Batman. The next year saw the Genesis/Mega Drive version of Batman, as well as the almost Terminator game Journey to Silius, as well as Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Nantettatte!! Baseball was the last of Sunsoft’s Famicom exclusive games. All of these games had Kodaka at the musical helm.

Sunsoft was rather slow to convert to the 16 bit systems overall. They did release Batman for the Genesis, but continued pouring a great effort into the declining Famicom. Still, some great games and soundtracks came about from this arrangement. In 1991 Sunsoft released Ufouria seemingly everywhere but North America, they developed an updated version of Spy Hunter called Super Spy Hunter, and followed up on Batman with Return of the Joker. 1992 saw the release of Super Fantasy Zone for the Mega Drive. Again, these are all Sunsoft’s games that had Kodaka as the lead composer.

Kodaka’s output finally started slowing down when Sunsoft had him start work on their flagship strategy RPG series Albert Odyssey for the Super Famicom in 1993. The following year would have Albert Odyssey II and Sugoi Hebereke release for the SFC.

A two year break would follow before the third Albert Odyssey game released, Sunsoft moving the to the very popular in Japan Sega Saturn. North America had this game released by Working Designs as Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean. Kodaka’s final composing project before retiring from video games would be Out Live: Be Elimiate Yesterday for the Playstation, and exclusively in Japan.

Composer Compendium: Tim Follin

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Tim Follin is one of the most influential Western composers in the history of the industry. He was rather young to be part of the earliest pioneers, but landed his first job in the video game industry working for Insight Studios at the tender age of 15. During his childhood he had no formal music training but attended a year of Liverpool’s Sandown Music College. That was all he needed.

At first he was making arrangements for ports of arcade games with his first work being on his brother Mike’s game Subterranen Stryker for the ZX Spectrum. He kept working with his brother for the first part of his career. Their second game was a Galaxian inspired shooter called Star Firebirds for the Spectrum, in which he learned how to use a 2 channel driver. His first 3 channel driver game was Vectron. For his fourth game, he also programmed one of the mini games, as well as the sound for Future games.

After these first four games Tim and Mike were hired on at Software Creations. There he worked on arrangements for Spectrum and Commodore 64 games such as Agent X I and II, Chronos, Scumball, The Sentinel, Bubble Bobble, Renegade, Bionic Commando and various others. Many of these were nothing more than arrangements to fit onto the ZX Spectrum or C64 for ports of popular arcade games. One exception is the Agent X games.

This trend would mostly continue as the various computers of the late 80s were filled with arcade ports, and Software Creations did a lot of them. He worked on arrangements for ports such as Peter Pack Rat, Ghouls’n Ghosts, and got his first experienced on the NES with the arrangement for Flying Shark which we know as Sky Shark.

Tim Follin was still spending most of his time with the C64 and Spectrum despite his work with the ever popular NES. This could have something to do with the NES not being as popular in Europe as it was in Japan and North America. These PCs of the time were reigning supreme. He did compose the music for Target: Renegade for the NES, then composed for Chester Field, Magic Johnson’s Fast Break, and Qix before his last PC game came in 1991, Gauntlet III for the C64, Amiga, and Spectrum.

A little bit before this he finally moved to the NES full time, composing the soundtrack for Solstice and one of the best for the entire system, Silver Surfer. Say what you will about whether or not the game is actually good, you cannot say anything bad about the soundtrack. He also worked on Kiwi Kraze, Treasure Master, Pictionary, and the Taito version of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade before mostly moving onto the Super Nintendo.

One last game he worked on before going to the Super full time were the handheld and Master System ports of The Incredible Crash Dummies. For most of the Super Nintendo titles he worked on he was assisted by another one of his brothers, Geoff Follin. His first SNES game he composed for was Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge. Next he would create music for Leland’s Super Off Road, Plok, Equinox, Silicon & Synapse’s (Early Blizzard) Rock N’ Roll Racing, Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, the completed but unreleased Moto-X, and Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball. For the Genesis he also composed the unreleased Time Trax, which managed to leak onto the web in 2013.

After this incredibly busy period of his career it took a downturn. He left Software Creations in 1993 and began freelancing. Despite this incredible resume work was slow and sporadic, with the most done in the following two years. He finished his 16 bit days composing the soundtracks for Batman Forever for Genesis and SNES, and Ultraverse Prime for the Sega CD, then a cancelled PC game Firearm. Afterwards he had a few years off before coming back for the Playstation’s Batman & Robin, in which he only arranged pieces from the film’s score. The 20th Century would end with arrangement for Bust-A-Move 4’s Game Boy Color port.

The 21st Century started with Tim working with Appaloosa Interactive for their revival of the Ecco the Dolphin series, with Defender of the Future for the Dreamcast and later Playstation 2. It would take another few years before his next piece of work, Starsky & Hutch in 2003 for all 3 major systems and PC of the time. Ford Racing 2 and 3
were composed by him as well as Future Tactics: The Uprising. His very last game before he officially retired from video game composition, citing irregular work patterns, was the remake of Lemmings for PSP, released in 2006.

Why Did I Play This? Episode 11: Capcom Fighter Power Stick

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When it comes to retro arcade sticks there are a few which everybody knows about, the NES Advantage, Super Advantage, Sega’s Genesis Stick & Saturn Stick, and then the Capcom Fighter Power Stick. But, it has been 20 years since this bulky controller has released so does it hold up?

You’ll just have to stay tuned and find out!

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Top 5 Finds of 2012

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Title says it all! The best of the best that I managed to scrounge up in the year of 2012. Links mentioned in the video are as follows.

http://tallgrassbeer.com/8bit.html

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