Tag Archives: Rare

Super NES Classic Edition Review

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Well, although I’m up, and around again I still haven’t been medically cleared to leave the home on my own, or return to employment yet. So what to do? What to do? Well, when you’re shut in between the rainy weather, and waiting to go in for your follow-up, there’s little you can do. So why not take inspiration from my good friend Peter, and open something some people wouldn’t?

PROS: Respectable build quality. Play Star Fox 2 legitimately!

CONS: Light on extra features. Cannot play Star Fox 2 right away.

SAVINGS: The unit has a number of games that cost a lot on the aftermarket.

To be fair I actually opened up this system a few weeks ago. I won mine at RetroWorld Expo 2018 thanks to the raffle held by the always great Super Retro Throwback Podcast. So do give them a listen, they do some terrific interviews, and discussion with a nice radio morning show feel. In any event, now that I’ve spent some more quality time with it, I figured I would give my impressions.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Deviot, you’re so late to the party on this one. We know it’s pretty damned cool.” But that discounts the plethora of people who still don’t have one, as they were on the fence, or wanted to wait until they saw how the scalper phase went. (It went pretty fast. You can find these things everywhere now.) For those who were on the fence, you’re probably wondering about things like input lag, filters, or simply how well are these games emulated. All of which I’ll get to in due time.

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For the five people who don’t already know about the device, it’s the second of Nintendo’s all-in-one plug, and play consoles. Atari’s Flashback, and AtGames’ continuation of the series led to a slew of players in the market. And while AtGames hasn’t done so well with their emulated take on Sega consoles, their takeover of the Atari Flashback line went fairly well. From there they did an Intellivision plug, and play, a Colecovision plug, and play, along with others. Other companies jumped in, and so Nintendo capitalized on the craze by introducing the NES Classic. Which was infamously short-packed, and under-produced leading to the majority of them being scooped up by scalpers. Many thought the Super NES Classic would follow suit, but thankfully it hasn’t, and Nintendo re-released the NES version too. So you can pick either of these up now.

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The mini console comes in a box that is very reminiscent of the one the original Super NES came in, with a black background, and grey striping along with stylized lettering. The company did an excellent job of making geezers like me, remember what it was like when we finally got our hands on one back in 1991. Upon opening the kit, you’ll find a poster, and documentation packet. Obviously the mini Super NES control deck, a HDMI cable, a USB cable, a USB Power adapter, and two Super NES controller replicas.

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I have to say, I was really impressed with the build quality of the device. Granted, I know there isn’t much to it, as it’s mostly one resin plastic shell in the shape of a Super NES. Still, considering how the company could have opted to go with a flimsy, or brittle plastic to cut costs, they didn’t. It feels very much like the same build as an actual Super Nintendo Entertainment System. So kudos on the presentation. Note that when you actually want to use the thing, the front of the unit is actually a face plate that comes off. It’s tethered to a plastic ribbon so it doesn’t get lost. Behind the faceplate are your controller ports. These are the same ports that you’ll find on the Wiimote controllers for the Nintendo Wii. Which means that if you should ever lose, or break one of these Super NES replica controllers, you can use a Wii Classic controller. It also means that if you have a Wii, or a Wii U with Super NES games you’ve purchased on it, you can use the Super NES Classic’s controllers with those as well. With this in mind you might just want to get the spare controllers for the mini just to use on your Wii U if you find you own most of the included games on it on your Wii U already.

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As for the controllers, they feel exactly the same as the ones made for the Super NES back in the 1990’s. The same textured surface. The same glossy buttons. The attention to detail here is wonderful. If you sold or gave away your Super NES years ago, this will feel very familiar to you if you pick one up. It even has the same rubberized Select, and Start buttons. Some have derided the length of the cables, and, I’m not going to lie. They really could stand to be a bit longer. You can buy extension cables, but realistically most of us will have to sit closer to the TV like we did as teenagers.

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As for the interface it’s simplistic, but nice. There’s a brief setup where you pick your language, and then your thrust into the home screen. If you go poking around though, you will find an options menu. Here you can choose display options like the aspect ratio, filters, and borders. Really the sole filter is a CRT filter which emulates scan lines, and color bleeding. It’s okay if you really prefer the look of an old TV. There’s also the standard 4:3 that doesn’t have the filter, and then there’s pixel perfect, which basically makes the games 4:3, and crisper. But that also means you’ll see every last square that makes up every character, and background. It’s interesting because some games look completely fine, while others like Super Castlevania IV have a bit of inconsistency. My Brother who isn’t nearly as into game collecting as I am noticed this when visiting. There’s nothing wrong with the game, but you can see the backgrounds, and enemies have more details in this display mode, than Simon Belmont appears to. Of course the bigger the TV the more noticeable it is. Still, if this level of crispness turns you off, you can always opt to play the game with the CRT filter on. It really will come down to personal preference.

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As for the game selection, it’s a really good one. There are some games I personally may have chosen instead, had I been a Nintendo decision maker. But on the whole, there is a nice variety of games here, covering almost every genre. Final Fantasy III (6), Earthbound, Super Mario RPG, Secret Of Mana, and The Legend of Zelda III: A Link To The Past are here for your JRPG/Action RPG/Adventure fix. You also get a lot of classic platformers. Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby Superstar are all here. Covering your action platforming you have Mega Man X, Super Castlevania IV, and Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts. You’ve got F-Zero, and Super Mario Kart for some arcade racing. Star Fox, and the previously unreleased Star Fox 2 are on the device for rail shooting. Kirby’s Dream Course is the lone puzzle outing, although Superstar does have some puzzle modes. Super Punch-Out!! is an underrated inclusion here, and of course Super Metroid is one of the best exploration games of all time. So naturally that is on here. Street Fighter II’s popularity hit its fevered pitch on the 16-bit consoles, so naturally one of the iterations would have to be included here. Street Fighter II Turbo is the iteration chosen to appear here, and it is definitely one of the fan favorites in the series. Fans who preferred the larger roster in Super Street Fighter II might be disappointed, but there are other inexpensive ways to play the Super NES port of that game elsewhere. Finally, fans of the run n’ gun genre get Contra III: The Alien Wars.

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On paper, picking this mini system is worth it for these games alone. Consider that (at the time of this writing) the original physical Game Paks of many of these titles are expensive. Super Metroid goes between $30, and $40 loose, alone. Earthbound is prohibitively expensive for many people often going for well over $100 by itself. For anybody who simply wants to buy one of these games legitimately, and play it, the Super NES Classic Edition is a pretty good value proposition. As for the emulation of the games, they’re very good. All but the most astute fan can go back, and play these without noticing much of a difference. If you go through the extra work of hooking up the original Super NES on a TV, and standing it next to your new HDTV & Super NES Classic setup, you can notice slight differences. Differences in color that might matter to an absolute purist who will insist on playing the original Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts Game Pak. If you absolutely require a 1:1 experience without exception you’ll want to empty your bank account. For everyone else a .98:1 experience is still pretty impressive.

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As far as input lag goes, I honestly haven’t noticed much of any, and I’ve played my unit on three modern TVs. A 50″ 4K unit by Samsung, a 20″ 1080p Insignia (Best Buy), and my trusty 32″ 720p Element I keep because it has legacy ports. In every case, the games played fine. Any input lag that is there will be noted by only the most scrupulous players. Top-tier speed runners, and tournament level players may want to spend on the original console, and games for those purposes. But again, for those who want to buy these titles legitimately, the Super NES Classic Edition is a wonderful option.

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Even some of those collectors who normally might pass on it may consider giving it a go as it is presently the only way to buy Star Fox 2. And while it won’t wow you the way the original did, or the way Star Fox 64 did on the Nintendo 64, it is still an interesting one. It includes features that weren’t seen until later games in the series. If you’re a big fan of Nintendo’s long running franchise, you may just want one of these for that game. Although it is strangely locked behind the first game’s first stage. You aren’t allowed to actually play it, until you defeat the first boss in the original game. Weird.

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Overall, I quite like the Super NES Classic Edition. While I feel it could use some more visual options for those who don’t like how old games look on new displays, and it could have used a more convenient way to create saves (You have to press RESET.), I do find the build quality quite nice. I also found that they added a cool fast forward, and rewind function to the save state software. So you can pinpoint the moment you want to start from. I also like that they put some of the harder to acquire titles on it, and it is nice that Star Fox 2 finally sees the light of day. The controllers are also versatile for Wii, and Wii U owners, as you can use them with games purchased digitally. It’s also a great proposition for those who want to experience what they weren’t around for without having to invest in a 20-year-old or more console, and cartridge technology. Newcomers can get their feet wet here, and see what the fuss over the 16-bit era is all about. Interestingly, Nintendo has put up PDF scans of the Super NES manuals for all of the games included here.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review

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Earlier this year Nintendo brought back its discounted rerelease line. Nintendo Selects, which has gone by other names on previous consoles includes some great Wii U stuff this time out. Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, and the NES Remix pack being popular choices. But there was another inclusion that doesn’t seem to get as much recognition.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is the follow-up to Donkey Kong Country Returns. A game that came out on the Wii, and has also been re released in this iteration of the Selects line. Both of these games were developed by Retro Studios the studio known for the excellent Metroid Prime Trilogy.  DKCR was met with a lot of praise as well. Tropical Freeze was also lauded, but didn’t make the splash previous Donkey Kong games have.

PROS: One of the best Donkey Kong Country games ever. Possibly the best.

CONS: Some might find the game too brutal under the cute exterior.

SADISTIC: The Snomad penguins. Explosives. Death traps. A Gundam. YES A GUNDAM.

Which is a shame, because Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a really good iteration of the series. In fact in many ways (as blasphemous this may seem to some), it is actually better than the Rare games released on the Super NES. It takes everything that was great about those classic Game Paks, and eschews some of the annoyances. All while having its own feel, and taking some chances.

The first chance the game takes is replacing the antagonist. Donkey Kong is celebrating his birthday with his friends Cranky, Diddy, and Dixie when a chill blows out his candles. Upon looking out the window, the Kongs see a massive army of penguins, walruses, and seals converging on the island. The invaders effectively take over Donkey Kong’s homeland, and so he has to drive back the occupants, and save the day.

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But as in the days of Rare, things won’t be easy in this Retro helmed game. The Snowmads (This is what the antagonists are actually called) have created some of the most difficult platformer stages ever conceived. One thing you’re going to notice right off the bat are how each world has a theme. You’ll also notice each stage within the world has a spin on that theme. In one world you’ll see fruit themed levels, some are jungle stages with a fruit theme. Others have a more science fiction feel, but still incorporating a fruit theme. Giant blades chop up watermelons, and oranges. Watermelons, and oranges you happen to need to walk on to get ahead.

All of this stuff isn’t just for show. Much of it is actually built into the game play itself. An enemy may set a platform on fire. You can put out the fire, but then the platform has a finite number of seconds it can support your weight. Part of a level may sink into the icy ocean, but Donkey Kong needs to follow that sinking part in order to uncover a secret.

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The game has a plethora of secrets too. The number rivals that of the Super NES DKC, games as well as Super Mario World. It even takes a page from SMW by adding secret exits in many of the stages which can then lead to secret stages. The game also has a pretty good variety of things to do. Some stages are your typical horizontal, or vertical platforming stages. Others are rail sections invoking the mine car play of the original games. There are also on rail rocket levels, where you have to control a rocket by pumping a gas button.

Tropical Freeze reuses these mechanics a number of times throughout the game. But each time it does, it finds a way to make it feel different or new. Sometimes this can be a simple perspective change. Other times it can be an excellent use of the world’s theme. Often times you’ll find stages that combine all of the mechanics to make for a really challenging experience.

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Speaking of challenges, on top of the secret stages, the game will give you the optional task of collecting not only the letters K-O-N-G but puzzle pieces too. Finding enough of these will unlock some sketches, and test renders. The letters are usually in plain sight. But the puzzle pieces aren’t. Often times they’re found in hidden pathways, or behind a piece of scenery. There are also hidden mini game rooms in levels. These will take you back to Donkey Kong 64’s numerous ones. Completing these also gets you puzzle pieces.

Normally you might not want to bother with that sort of thing. Except that in this game finding all of that stuff, along with every secret exit will unlock a hidden world, as well as an even more difficult mode. This mode makes you complete the game with a single hit marker, zero checkpoints, and without any help from the other Kongs. It even kneecaps you by shutting down the game’s shop system, which I’ll explain a little bit later.

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While some of the later stages can feel punishing, they don’t usually feel unfair. Save for a few exceptions, you’re going to know it was your own fault for dying. But that doesn’t make it any less difficult. Tropical Freeze is unabashed in its insistence you suck it up. Yet, it still manages to throw you a few huge bones. First of all, it is very easy to earn 1-Ups. There are the expected 1-Up balloons. But there are tons of bananas, and banana coins in every stage. More than enough for you to earn several extra lives. In fact, even the worst player can probably expect to have over 50 lives by the time they reach the final boss.

The other major favor the game provides is the shop. Going in with your banana coins allows you to buy an extra heart for the health meter, Barrels to start with Dixie, Diddy, or Cranky who act as assist characters, and an invincibility potion among other things. There is also the gum ball machine for you to be given randomly selected collectibles. Again, while they might not be something most players care about, those who go for pure completion of their games will. That means in order to play the secret world, and hit up masochism mode, getting those models is worth it.

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Tropical Freeze also has a two player mode. In this mode players work cooperatively to get through all of the game’s worlds, and stages. Both players choose their Kongs, and controller of choice. This mode can be a blessing and a curse. While tackling the bosses may prove easier, some of the levels might actually prove harder. Why? Because like Battletoads, both players are going to need to be at around the same skill level. Particularly when getting to later levels, where being on the same page is paramount. Thankfully, if one of you fails, it doesn’t completely penalize the other player. But in sections where things are easier with say, Donkey Kong, and Dixie Kong, losing Dixie Kong will make it that much harder.

Speaking of the Kongs, each of the three has their own distinct advantages. Cranky Kong, the withered grouchy, old Kong will give you the option to bounce higher off of his cane. Think of him a lot like Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales. The difference being you can’t just hold down the jump button to bounce on forever. Each bounce requires a perfectly timed button press to master.

Dixie Kong has her helicopter blade move where her hair twirls around for flight. She also has an advantage in water stages, as her hair lets her fight water currents that the other Kongs simply can’t compete with. She’s probably the one most players will align with most. I know in my play through, I found her the most versatile character.

Finally you have Diddy Kong, and as expected he has his trusty jet pack. This lets you hover for a few seconds, and it gives you some assistance crossing some gaps in the game. It is even helpful in other areas as well. Overall I didn’t use him as much as Dixie, but there were some cases where hovering did work better than flying.

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That’s another thing about the level design. Some stages are really built around having a specific Kong employed to help you. Don’t get me wrong, each of these stages can be completed without using any of the Kongs. But using a specific Kong is necessary for navigating some areas, or even finding secrets. Case in point, using Cranky to pogo jump off of a spiked ball onto an owl, and into a hidden puzzle piece. Or using Dixie to fight an underwater current to swim to a secret exit. The game has a ton of this stuff, which makes me wonder how some players are good enough to beat the hidden hard mode.

Bosses also follow the fair, but difficult design philosophy. When you first encounter some of the game’s bosses you’ll want to rip your hair out in frustration. But if you persevere, and don’t give up you’ll eventually learn their pattern. With enough practice you’ll realize what you have to do during that pattern, and rise above. Eventually you may even find clearing some of the bosses easy. Except for that fish boss. That thing has to even stress out the masters of Donkey Kong.

But even after you clear it the first time you’ll want to go back to find all of the things you missed. The game has a wonderful amount of creativity behind it. Whether it’s finding new ways to use its mechanics, the music, the art style, or the new characters. Even something as simple as giving the Kongs a new enemy to face really does help the game grow beyond the designs we’ve seen since 1994. For some it may feel like going from Bowser to Wart. But that isn’t a bad way to mix it up.

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I didn’t even talk much about the graphics, and sound. These are both astonishingly well done. While some screen shots in this review or footage on YouTube might give you a good idea of how things are, it looks even better on your TV or monitor. The character models have a lot of small details that you might not appreciate at first, until you realize just how few games really go this extra mile. Even games on more potent hardware. The fur on the Kongs. The engravings, and dings on the Snowmads’ armor. The textures on not only objects, but the terrain. These little touches really do show just how much work Retro’s artists put into a project.

Beyond the graphics, are again, little flourishes in the animation. The expressions on the enemies’ faces changing. The look of water pouring from the background to the foreground. The transitions the game often employs continue the attention to detail throughout the game. You might not have time to look at some of it because you’ll be trying to survive. But if you have 70 lives stored up, risk ten of them to take in some of this stuff. It may not be the flashiest stuff you’ve seen in a game, but it does make the world seem just that much more alive.

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The music, and sound effects are also exceptional, with little grunts, squeals, and other noises going along with the animated characters nicely. The soundtrack also has a wider variety of genres than you might expect. You’ll have the typical tropical island themes, but also some nice instrumental folk music, tribal drum music, some alt-country themes, and the game even manages to throw in some heavy metal now, and again.

If you have a Wii U, and haven’t played this one yet you might want to give this a spin. It’s a lot of fun to play, has a lot of charm, and a lot of challenge. It definitely should hold a place among some of the best platformers in recent years. Retro Studios really did outdo themselves with this one. Though giving that one relentless penguin a Gundam may haunt me the rest of my days.

Final Score: 9 out of 10