Video Works by Jeremy Parish

Welcome to Virtual Boy Works! This brief journey through the entire worldwide library of Nintendo's least-beloved system begins here, with the Mario crew's first outing on the tennis court. It's a decent game whose flaws are outweighed by its strengths—a perfect example of the Virtual Boy itself, and a great example of this series' central premise: Virtual Boy may not have been a great system, but its library was better than most people realize.

Direct download: Marios_Tennis_retrospective_Doubles_vision___Virtual_Boy_Works_2301.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 11:57am EDT

Japanese publisher Taito makes its NES debut with a pair of games that, in stark contrast to the games that immediately precede them, quite faithfully recreate their arcade predecessors rather than reinvent them. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but given the ambitious design of the games released on either side of this duo, it does cause Taito to feel a bit behind the curve. (They'll sort it out eventually.)

Young Kevin McAllister had it rough being stuck all by himself with a house full of crooks for Christmas, but really that was nothing compared to the suffering experienced by anyone who played his game. Home Alone leads into the final run of 1991 Super NES games, and... they aren't great.

Capcom continues its diligent efforts to overhaul its arcade games for NES with a revamp every bit as admirable as Tecmo's fresh take on Rygar. A liner 1985 corridor shooter becomes a complex space labyrinth demanding patience, persistence, and a willingness to plot out some complicated connections, in effect becoming an all-new game—one diminished in history by its close proximity to Nintendo's Metroid and an unfortunate decision by Capcom USA to remove the save feature present in the Japanese release.

Direct download: Section-Z_retrospective_Tunnel_visionary___NES_Works_23045.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 11:45am EDT

Tecmo delivers its third game almost immediately on the heels of Solomon's Key and Mighty Bomb Jack, and it's a doozy. Rygar kicks off a couple of trends we're going to see a lot of in the coming years on NES: It radically reinvents an arcade game for the console, and it's pretty much a proto-metroidvania action title. Good stuff here that deserves to be enshrined in history.

Category:Video Games -- posted at: 5:21pm EDT

The first of Nintendo's major releases for 1987 arrives, bringing with it some new technical innovations that will play a huge part in allowing U.S. releases for the system to maintain parity with titles that ran on pricey expansion hardware in Japan—and to go even further beyond that in the years to come. Oh, and the game itself is pretty good, too. Just be sure to take care when writing down those passwords...

Direct download: Kid_Icarus_retrospective_A_stygian_Pit___NES_Works_043.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 5:20pm EDT

A new third-party challenger has appeared! Tecmo arrives on NES with two simultaneous launches, both of which more or less fall into the puzzle-platformer genre. Solomon's Key and Mighty Bomb Jack are full of arcane secrets and high difficulty levels. Just the kind of thing a growing video game boy needs in his diet.

Future console first-party SNK makes its NES debut this week, and... well, let's just say there's room for improvement. Ikari Warriors was good and fun in the arcades, and on NES, it exists and doesn't cause your console to self-destruct. So that's something.

Also, a half-look at Bandai's first Power Pad title, Athletic World.

We looked at the original Castlevania for NES; now here is its Super NES remake. Sort of. Super Castlevania IV is kind of like a remix of Castlevania 1 and 3 (which does add up to IV!), but it makes some pretty big changes to the core mechanics of controlling Simon Belmont. On the other hand, it carries over a lot of elements from the NES, too. It's an odd duck in the Castlevania series that doesn't always work but has so much loving detail invested into it that it holds up regardless of its flaws.

Yeah, it's another Konami game... but not just any ol' Konami game. Castlevania is huge for both the publisher and the platform. A compact, challenging, six-stage adventure, Castlevania manages to be one of those rare works that nails its concepts on the first go. It may owe its basic concept to Ghosts ’N Goblins, but this adventure is so much more than its inspiration. The first NES third-party masterpiece.

Direct download: Castlevania_retrospective_Vlad_tidings___NES_Works_040.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 9:58am EDT

Another double-header of sports-themed games, but this time the works under the microscope don't adhere quite so rigidly to genre standards. Instead, both Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball and Super Off-Road take more inventive approaches to their subjects in pursuit of fun... though one of these is definitely more successful in that objective than the other.

A pair of bog-standard sports titles awaits us as the Super NES library makes the transition from November to December 1991. We've already seen takes on these sports (golf and baseball) in very similar formats. What do T&E Soft and Culture Brain have to offer that HAL and Jaleco didn't? If anything!?

Moving on to April and May 1987, three classic arcade games (well, maybe more like two classics and one "whuzzat?") arrive on NES in rapid succession courtesy of Data East and Konami. Konami's two games share a tenuous link in their cold wars roots, while Data East's game is... well, it's weird.

Metroidvania Chronicles gets a new name and look, but it's the same old retrospective journey through the evolution of exploratory action-RPGs and platformers all the same. This time we jump ahead to 1984 and Utopia's treasure-hunting pyramid platformer Montezuma's Revenge. Other games of note this episode: Pharaoh's Curse, Spelunker, Jet Set Willy.

We bid farewell to the Black Box era of Nintendo games even as we welcome an NES powerhouse into the fold. Slalom sees UK developer Rare make its console debut with a high-speed downhill racing game and the most carefully rendered video game man-butts this side of Metal Gear.

Direct download: Slalom_retrospective_Rares_slippery_slope_to_fame___NES_Works_038.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 8:27am EDT

We're reaching the end of Nintendo's Black Box series of releases, and Pro Wrestling shows why: The NES library evolved beyond the basic experiences contained within the early Black Boxes. In this case, we have a remarkably well-designed wrestling game loaded with personality and memorable characters. Quite a change from all those earlier NES wrestling games... Also in this episode: Brief looks at Soccer and Volleyball.

The NES's third year in America kicks off in fine style with Capcom's Trojan, a fairly faithful (and slightly enhanced) conversion of a Kung-Fu style arcade hack-and-slash brawler. It's an interesting nexus for Capcom's history, and a promising start for NES's 1987 lineup.

Direct download: Trojan_retrospective_Apocalyptic_measures___NES_Works_036.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 8:21am EDT

The second volume of Game Boy Works comes to a conclusion (look for the book this fall!) with a look at the system's first Zelda-style game. Uhhh… kinda. Rolan's Curse offers a glancing tangent to the top-down action-RPG, but there's not a lot of substance here — just the appearance of the thing.

Direct download: Rolans_Curse_retrospective_Hackneyed_slash___Game_Boy_Works_112.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 8:19am EDT

Taito arrives on Super NES with a splash. Well, it should be a splash... you know, because of all the fish bosses. But they're actually in outer space? Darius is weird. But that's OK, because this Darius balances its quirkiness with the silkiest, smoothest action yet seen on the console. It's the cure for the common slowdown, and all it took was... not using any of the console's unique hardware features. Oh well!

Another Game Boy follow-up to an NES game appears this week, and it's just as compromised and frustrating as you've come to expect. The Rescue of Princess Blobette consists almost entirely of recycled material from A Boy and His Blob, but it's a much smaller game — and a more limited one. And slower. And more cramped. And it sounds a lot worse. But on the plus side, uh… well, it won't melt down your Game Boy, probably. So that's something.

The Makaimura/Ghosts ’N Goblins series makes its debut on a third Nintendo console, and yeah, it's every bit as harsh as you'd expect. But is the beauty of the game's visuals and the intense satisfaction of finally reaching the next checkpoint enough to make it worth the suffering?

And here at last we reach the end of this retrospective saga with a look at how Final Fantasy's fourth installment reworked the raw materials of its 8-bit predecessor to present a new and completely holistic take on the role-playing genre.

The middle chapter of this in-depth Final Fantasy II retrospective leaps from the game's innovative play mechanics to its equally striking approach to storytelling. By using all aspects of the game to relay its narrative, Final Fantasy II changed the way RPGs (and games!) integrated plots and characters into their design.

This first of a multi-part look back at the original U.S. release of Final Fantasy IV explores the history behind the game and the significance of its innovative combat engine, the Active-Time Battle System.

A fascinating bit of Super NES technology fails to match its one-of-a-kind visual approach with equally unique gameplay. There are probably worse racers on the system, but R.P.M. Racing feels particularly disappointing given the unconventional graphical approach it takes and the impressive legacy that lay ahead for developer Silicon & Synapse. It one-of-a-kind bit of tech for Super NES, and it includes the system's first custom level creator complete with battery back-up, but it just isn't fun.

One of gaming's greatest legacies gets its kickoff here... but it's not quite a slam dunk. More like a weak fly to left field. Um. Football? Yes.

Tengen scored a hit with its home rendition of Atari Games' arcade classic Paperboy, so naturally they wasted no time following up on it. But was this sequel really necessary? Did Tengen improve on a masterpiece, or merely spin their wheels? Find out by watching this video... next time you drop by my apartment unannounced to raid my pantry for cereal.

Game Boy shipped with the ability to allow two systems to link together for multiplayer sessions. But in late 1990, Nintendo took their portable multiplayer options one step further through the Four-Player Adapter, which shipped in the U.S. as a pack-in with the game F-1 Race. This week, we look at both game and peripheral.

NOTE: After uploading this video, I discovered Pac-Man on Game Boy contains a hidden full-screen option, which would somewhat mitigate my criticisms of the game. Unfortunately, since I'm currently traveling and don't have access to video recording equipment, I can't amend the video. Expect a revised look (along with a second chance for Palamedes) once this "season" of Game Boy Works ends. Namco buries the axe with Nintendo long enough to bring its classic maze-chase arcade hit to Game Boy, and the results are… mixed. A strong game gets a slow, cramped rendition here. It's playable, yes, but this icon loses a few vital details in the process of squeezing down to fit Game Boy's limits, which means this is far from the definitive handheld take on Pac-Man… something that was true even back in the day.

Game Boy gets its second quick-iteration sequel to a previous release for the platform, and it's even less noteworthy than Boxxle II. Like the original Trump Boy, this follow-up contains three card game variants based around a pack of 52. The visuals look a little nicer and have some personality this time, and there's a four-player mode (that we'll look at in a different episode), but it's pretty just, you know, Trump Boy. Again.

Direct download: Trump_Boy_II_retrospective_Executive_disorder___Game_Boy_Works_108.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 7:53pm EDT

An interesting spin on the puzzle platformer as only Masaya could deliver: This time, you solve puzzles by blowing up stuff. Unfortunately, the unconventional premise is let down by the clunky tech and programming. It's pretty good, but it should have been great.

Direct download: After_Burst_retrospective_Solve-em-up___Game_Boy_Works_107.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 7:51pm EDT

Another Game Boy puzzler? Yes, but at least this one is different. Rather than involving boxes and tiles, Amida-kun riffs on the traditional Japanese lottery game, amidakuji… the same game that inspired Konami's Amidar. It's pretty basic as games go, but the underlying principle is fun, and challenging, so this one's not so bad.

Another game licensed from a Japanese media property hits Super NES, but this one isn't quite as good as U.N. Squadron. In fact, it's really quite poor: A clumsy fighting game based on Ultraman's short-lived push into the U.S. television market. It might not be all bad if not for the unspeakably boneheaded victory condition requirement, which turns this into a jarring example of a faithful video game adaptation that suffers for its accuracy to the source material…

The Super NES gets its first sports game in the form of an entry in Jaleco's Bases Loaded baseball series, which doesn't offer a whole lot that you couldn't find in Jaleco's simultaneous release for NES, Bases Loaded 3. All this 16-bit iteration really offers over its 8-bit counterpart is a questionable race not for the pennant but rather for a "perfect" game, a task best left to masochists drowning in free time.

Direct download: Super_Bases_Loaded_retrospective_Yer_out___Super_NES_Works_014.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 2:17pm EDT

As if to prove there's no idea so good that you can't do it several times over in mostly identical ways, here is the third Battleship-like naval combat game for Game Boy. This one is from Nintendo themselves, which means that it's less offbeat than Use's Battleship/Navy Blue or NTVIC's Power Mission, but it's a lot more polished. And it includes an entirely original secondary sub combat mode, too! Just be sure to play with a friend, because the computer cheats like crazy in this one… as usual.

Who says Game Boy racing games have to be awful? Not TOSE and Tonkin House, who evidently took the likes of Monster Truck as a challenge. Roadster is everything previous Game Boy racers weren't: Fun, a joy to control, fairly balanced, thoughtfully designed. Will wonders never cease?

It's weird that someone in Japan made a game about the all-American pastime of monster trucks and didn't bring it to the U.S., right? Well, mystery solved: The game is a terrible Excitebike clone with inscrutable mechanics, and it would have bombed terribly here in America. It certainly didn't win many fans in its own home territory…

What a relief: A genuinely great game, and a licensed one to boot!? Yes, Ghostbusters II defies the odds by ditching all connections to Activision's other Ghostbusters games and going with a portable adaptation of HAL Labs' charming-as-heck Famicom game New Ghostbusters II. Sure, it has some rough patches, but it's sweet and entertaining — a nice, breezy, personality-packed rendition of the movie.

Ah, here we go: The second set of 100 Game Boy Works episodes begins with the quintessential Game Boy experience. Yes, it's a mediocre puzzle-ish game that plays better on other platforms. Not an auspicious beginning, perhaps, but at least it's a realistic one. It appears I missed a play mechanic here (clearing rows by pressing down) due to the manuals to this game only being available in German and Japanese, so I will revisit this game in some capacity in the future to make a small note. Just a small one — the added mechanic makes it a little less difficult but doesn't fix the color ambiguity issue.

The series hits its 100th episode and to celebrate… uh, well, it's business as usual. Thankfully, this episode tackles a pretty good (if somewhat unfairly balanced) shooter by none other than Konami: Pop ’N Twinbee. This shooter originally appeared in Japan in 1990 as Twinbee Da! (pictured in the video); the European version showed up four years later and is almost impossible to find complete these days (hence the lack of European packaging photos).

A pleasant surprise this week, as one of the most charming game boxes to have appeared in some time contains… a thoroughly pleasant and enjoyable little game. Astro Rabby turns out to be a little-known Japan-only release that isn't a puzzler, isn't shoddily made, and isn't painful to play. It's a good-natured top-down platformer for flexible controls and a decent difficulty curve that steadily ramps up from breezy to brutal. Not a classic, but in a way it's better than a masterpiece: It's just a fun little diversion with no frills and no expectations attached.

Direct download: Astro_Rabby_retrospective_Lapin_it_up___Game_Boy_Works_099.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Nintendo's lone first-party straggler for Super NES's 1991 post-launch period lands in the form of a game by TOSE and Tonkin House that hews so closely to Tennis for NES and Game Boy that it really does deserve the name "Super Tennis." A fast-paced if visually unexciting take on the sport, Super Tennis finally rectifies the shortcomings of its predecessors by incorporating a full array of single- and multiplayer options, as well as a complete, long-term, bracket-based tournament mode. You might say it's… smashing. Special thanks to Steve Lin of the Video Game History Foundation for providing the game and packaging for this video retrospective.

An in-depth look at one of the most unique games ever to appear on Super NES: The god-sim/RPG/platformer ActRaiser. With its incredible soundtrack, challenging action, and low-calorie simulation mode, ActRaiser manages to be far more than the sum of its decent individual components. It stands as a classic for the ages, and this retrospective attempts to explain why. Special thanks to Steve Lin of the Video Game History Foundation for providing access to the packaged copy of the game for this video.

A look at Nintendo's very own console conversion of Peter Molyneux's god-sim, Populous. Wedged in between the superlative SimCity and the excellent ActRaiser, Populous admittedly struggles a bit to hold its own among its peers. But all credit goes to developer Infinity, who did a bang-up job with the conversion and used this as the cornerstone of a brief but well-intended career transforming Western PC games into forms suitable for Japanese gamers.

Direct download: Populous_retrospective_Foster_the_Papal___Super_NES_Works_013.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 10:05am EDT

Strategy and simulation powerhouse Koei makes its debut on Game Boy with… a strategic simulation game. Nobunaga's Ambition does a pretty respectable job of bringing a huge PC war simulation into a tiny, monochrome format. As the world's first proper handheld simulation game, it's pretty respectable, if not precisely something you'd want to spent a lot of time with today.

Our second Game Boy Gundam game, and can you believe it? It's also not very good. This one is bad in a boring, predictable way: It's a game adaptation of a video series designed in the mold of Dragon Quest. You'd think an obvious formula for success as a video game would present itself based on that pretext, but…