Super C (NES)

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Hahaha! Yes! Beat Super C for the first time ever and pulled it off without continuing! This feels amazing!

Unlike the original Contra, I’d never played Super C until last week. Unless you count the first level a couple times in the arcade growing up. Essentially, it’s a whole new game to me.

Overall, it was awesome! Do I like it better than the original? Hard to say. Correcting for nostalgia is hard, but Super C does have many advantages. The graphics are greatly improved, the guns have all been slightly redesigned to be better balanced and more fun, the bosses are generally more dynamic and varied, and levels are lengthier.

Other changes are more subject to personal taste. Some might appreciate that the slower-paced pseudo-3D base levels are replaced with zippier overhead ones that feel ripped from a game like Commando. The game is also harder: Contra allowed players to continue three times, Super C only allows it twice. Essentially, you get three fewer lives. The action in general also seems more intense to me, with tougher enemies and longer levels.

Cons? Level design is a bit simplifed here, I feel. Stages like the first and fifth in Contra had multiple platform levels to jump up to, drop down from, and battle on. Super C’s equivalent levels like one and three lack this verticality and are more straight sprints to the finish. Additionally, level seven has you descending a shaft and clearing away aliens rather slowly and methodically when compared to most other levels and I found it a bit of a bore.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter, since it’s more NES Contra and that rules! Remember, no matter what anyone tells you, you don’t need a shirt to save the world.

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Contra (NES)

My first time beating Contra legit solo. For an all-time classic, the ending is pretty weak.

It’s still right up there with Castlevania for me in the “short but satisfying Konami masterpiece” category, though. It took me only about a half hour but I wasn’t bored for a single second of it! A good reminder that not every game needs to cram in enough play time to qualify as a second job.

It also makes me reflect on cheat codes as inspired game design. Contra features the most well-known code in all of gaming. Contrary to popular belief, though, it didn’t debut it. The code first appeared in the NES port of Gradius the previous year. Although I don’t need to use it myself anymore, the ability to multiply your starting lives by ten turned Contra into a game that anyone could play and beat and its inclusion alone makes the NES version a superior achievement over the arcade original, despite the graphical downgrade. In addition, making this difficulty modifier a “secret” cheat code only added to the schoolyard cool factor at the time. Other great action-platformers left their mark, but Contra is the one that every kid who played games in the ’80s is virtually guaranteed to remember and it’s due in large part to that legendary code.

The Legend of Zelda (NES)

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Shocking gamer confession: I’ve never actually played the more difficult “second quest” in the original Legend of Zelda until this week!

No more! I’m now happy to say that I’ve finally truly experienced all that this pioneering title has to offer and I did it without reference to any outside material: No maps, hints, walkthroughs, or anything else. Just pure exploration. Sure, finding dungeons six through eight was a challenge, but it was more than worth it for the awesome satisfaction of finally bombing just the right cliffside or burning just the right bush, and I wouldn’t trade that time I spent lost in Hyrule for anything. Looking at horribly misguided reviews online for this amazing masterpiece make me so glad that my old guy gaming experience has equipped me with the ability to actively enjoy not having a big glowing map marker telling me where my next objective is at all times.

I’ve also noticed people often write off the combat mechanics in the original Zelda game as overly simplistic and point to various sequels as the point where it got good, but I can tell you one thing: Being sealed inside a room full of darknuts or wizzrobes (especially the dreaded blue ones!) when you’re low on health is one pulse-pounding affair. The action here may be basic on a surface level, but it’s as tricky and compelling as it is simple.

Sometimes it really is about the journey and not the destination.

The Guardian Legend (NES)

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Aww! You’re so sweet, game!

After playing it for the first time, I can report that The Guardian Legend is really, really damn good. The sheer scope of the game is amazing for the NES: 23 space shooting sections linked by hundreds of screens of overhead dungeon levels, ten different weapons that can be upgraded three times each and utilized in both gameplay modes, RPG-like character improvement, moody and memorable music, and stylish graphics.

If you like fast-paced vertical shooters with tons of enemies to blow away and a huge selection of upgradable weapons that you can switch between on the fly, you’ll love this. It’s made by Compile, after all. If you love overhead action-adventure games in the Zelda mold, you’ll…like this.

Yeah, if the game has one flaw, it’s that the adventure segments aren’t as fully realized as they could be. The enemies don’t have much personality and don’t pose much of a threat. More importantly, there aren’t really any cool secret areas or items to be discovered. Everything’s pretty much right out in the open, as far as I can tell, since I was able to get all the weapons and upgrades without uncovering anything resembling a hidden area. Definitely some missed opportunities there. Still, these sections still work fine as a change of pace after the frantic shooting sections. When your heart is pounding after just barely overcoming a tough boss, it feels good to get shuttled back to the labyrinth to chill out and hunt some upgrades at a relaxed pace for a bit. And for what it’s worth, the overhead section are definitely better than Blaster Master’s.

In terms of challenge, it’s only average if you explore the labyrinth throughly for power-ups, but since seeking these out is largely optional, you can also increase your difficulty level (to a potentially extreme degree) just by deliberately avoiding these pickups.

So, in conclusion: The world needs more Guardian cosplay and I need an adorable plush lander.

Castlevania mini-marathon (NES, Super Nintendo, Genesis)

Down for the Count again!

Well, that was quite a marathon: Four classic Castlevania games (the NES original, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, Super Castlevania IV, and Castlevania: Bloodlines) completed for the first time in ten days! I had played them all before in years past and gotten quite far in some cases, but the only 8 or 16-bit Castlevania games I’d ever beaten before this month were Simon’s Quest and Rondo of Blood. Castlevania III is easily the most difficult of the series that I’ve experience so far, although the original has its moments, too.

Overall, I’ve developed a powerful affinity for these games. They really are tense thrill rides that keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Your characters are not as quick or maneuverable as they are in other action games (except perhaps in the relatively forgiving Super Castlevania IV) and you have to master their limited movesets completely and exercise good judgement before committing to each jump or attack.

On the other hand, it has made me somewhat disenchanted with the Metroid style of adventure game that dominated the series from 1997s Symphony of the Night to 2009’s Order of Ecclesia. Playing these titles today, I’m really just pretty bored most of the time. They look great and sound amazing and appeal to the collector mindset that likes to grind easy enemies for hours on end for rare loot drops, but replacing the high stakes action platforming where one false move means death with wandering long, mostly empty hallways filled with paper tiger enemies that look scary but act as annoying speed bumps at worst just doesn’t work for me anymore. Especially when the only incentive is making your overpowered avatar even more needlessly godly. Some of these installments were better than others (Order of Ecclesia does have one of coolest Dracula fights in the series), but for the most part I’m glad this era is over and I’m hoping that some future non-terrible iteration of Konami can bring Castlevania back to its roots and deliver another game like Dracula’s Curse someday.

I can dream, right?

Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (NES)

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Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (NES)

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