Tag Archives: Game Boy

Did Multiplatform Releases Hurt Handhelds?

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Photo credit nintendolife.com

Whenever the conversation about traditional handheld game systems comes up these days you seem to either have a lifestyle that suits handhelds or you don’t. It’s driven a rift between people who miss the days of the Game Boy Advance or the original DS and those who could care less about them and would always rather play on a console or PC. The funny thing with me is, I’m probably in the latter camp right now but used to spend much more time with handheld games. Just what is it that makes (or made) traditional handhelds appealing anyway?

The easy answer is portability, and for a lot of people it’s probably the best answer. Some people might commute a lot (in vehicles they themselves don’t drive) or spend a lot of free time away from a console or PC. However, looking back makes me think games that were exclusive to handhelds were just as important as their defining portability. Continue reading

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Examining Iterative Hardware: The Game Boy Color

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Because I like talking about this subject and speculating  about the future, I want to bring up what I think was a pretty good example of a piece of iterative gaming hardware that was successful despite having a limited time in the limelight: the Game Boy Color. Continue reading

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The Game Gear’s Lessons After 25 Years

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There sure are some anniversaries going down in October 2015, so it might look like I’m putting these kinds of posts out in rapid fire. Maybe it’s gonna be like this every fall since that’s usually the biggest season for game releases. Today’s post is about a platform though, and a Japanese release from the early 90’s at that. Continue reading

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Game Boy: What Else Were You Going To Play On The Go In The 90’s?

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Even though the 25th anniversary of the Game Boy in North America isn’t until June, everyone else seems to be going with the Japanese anniversary date here so I guess I’ll write down some kind of account of my experiences with the system. In a way it’s a bit of a reflection of what got the Game Boy to where it was in the market, especially in the years before the platform’s post-Pokémon explosion.

The Game Boy was a really old system by the time Nintendo finally put it to bed. Even counting to the release of the Game Boy Color, the original Game Boy hardware basically dominated handheld video games for nine years. Not only that, it’s top-selling non-packed-in game, the killer app for which it is most remembered, came out at the tail end of its lifespan. The original Game Boy is pretty remarkable not only for what it achieved but also for the environment surrounding it throughout the 90’s.

I actually couldn’t even get a Game Boy of my own until around 1993 or 1994. I spent years watching other people play Tetris and Super Mario Land. When I finally got one, I spent most of my time with it prior to 1998 stuck with the same handful of games: Yoshi, a port of Pac-Man, a port of Killer Instinct, Tom & Jerry, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back From the Sewers.

My mom ended up enjoying Pac-Man and Yoshi more than I did. As bland as those other games were (Okay TMNTII was pretty cool), I still played the crap out of them for nearly four years because there really was nothing else to play while on the go. That’s the story of most of the Game Boy’s lifespan — it had no real competition. The Game Gear was cool for while, but software support for it died pretty quickly, not to mention its ridiculous power issues, leaving me with the same old Game Boy games.

Oh Nintendo released some excellent first party hits in the Game Boy’s early years, just not very many considering the span of time we’re talking about here prior to Pokémon. Plus, I didn’t even own most of them until near or after Pokémon. I occasionally got access to other people’s copies of games like Land, but I didn’t get my own copy of that game until at least 1997, and I didn’t get Land 2 until much later. Link’s Awakening? The Game Boy Color version in 1998 was the first time I got to play that game. I didn’t get a Game Boy copy of Tetris until it came out on 3DS Virtual Console in 2011. Virtual Console is probably how I’m experiencing most of what the original Game Boy had to offer. I still haven’t gotten a chance to touch the Wario Land series. Maybe the Game Boy’s best early games were just unknown to all but the most well-informed Nintendo fans. I don’t think any Game Boy game prior to Pokémon, with the exception of Tetris, got as much exposure.

But man when Pokémon did hit, it was like a revelation. For starters, looking back, there were almost no substantial portable role-playing games available before Pokémon, which is crazy considering how handhelds are a center for JRPGs today. But after that game and the subsequent Game Boy Color it was like development of Game Boy games was reinvigorated despite the GBC not being a quantum leap for the platform. We got subsequent Pokémon games, Pokémon Pinball, Metal Gear, Mega Man Xtreme, Shantae,the Zelda Oracle games, etc. It was like I had actual reasons to play the system, even when consoles were within reach. It’s just weird that the best times for the Game Boy were probably towards the end of a very long lifespan. I guess a system in its position could afford to do that though. Even afterwards, no one was really able to erode Nintendo’s position in the handheld market until Apple came along.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that no matter what happened, Game Boy pretty much was handheld gaming for around a decade. Yeah it had some great games if you knew what they were, but even if you didn’t, no other real options ever stepped up.

BULLETS:

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Back to Koholint

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The Zelda Oracle games are out on 3DS Virtual Console now (along with a lot of other major things on portable devices), and I thought I’d give Link’s Awakening another run. I’ve seen a lot of people put that game at the top of their favorites lists for the series, but I’ve never been able to appreciate it that much.

For some reason, Link’s Awakening has been probably the most difficult and frustrating Zelda game for me excluding the first two games on the NES. The first time I played through Link’s Awakening back in the late 90’s it took me around six years and I died close to 150 times. It’s the only Zelda game where I find both the combat and puzzles to be continually challenging, where with most games in the series it’s one or the other.

In my most recent run I’ve already died around six times trying to beat the first boss, some of which includes just trying to get to him after retrying each time. People tell me the combat in A Link to the Past is more difficult but somehow I’m less frustrated by it. Something about the way enemies move in Link’s Awakening manages to catch me off guard all the time.

Link’s Awakening is also possibly the only Zelda game where I actually get stuck on puzzles and general plot progression for long periods of time. As I’m typing this I’m basically stumped trying to enter the third dungeon. I first beat this game before internet guides were a thing, but I’m pretty sure I had to use Nintendo Power a lot back in the day. I just think Link’s Awakening has some of the most obtuse puzzles and clues in the series.

Where else is there a room where you have to kill enemies in a certain order? Where else do you have to go through a series of trades that are only very lightly explained in order to progress the main plot? Link’s Awakening is the only Zelda game with puzzles I was stuck on for years.

I think the main reason I find this game so uniquely hard and why many favor it is because it seems to have nailed the most even balance between challenging combat and challenging puzzles. Previous 2D Zelda games were mainly combat dungeons with some rudimentary puzzles. The switch to 3D made combat much easier while making the puzzles much more elaborate. The puzzles in Link’s Awakening to me feel even more mysterious than the ones in most of the 3D games while the combat is at least as challenging as that of A Link to the Past. When you think about it Link’s Awakening sort of sits right on top of a split in the Zelda series.

It’s officially the sequel to A Link to the Past but playing through it now I’m seeing predecessors to elements that would appear in Ocarina of Time as well. Presentation elements like the Owl and the focus on instruments in relation to dungeons that are hallmarks of Ocarina really got their debut in Link’s Awakening. Even the white screen with the parting message after the completion of each dungeon features both in Ocarina and Awakening. Gameplay-wise Ocarina’s mechanic of assigning items to buttons seems like a direct evolution of the same system in Awakening. One important adjustment made in Ocarina is one button always being assigned to the sword, which is pretty much what people do anyway in Awakening.

I really don’t know what I’m getting into by buying the Oracle games. I haven’t played any Capcom Zelda games and the Oracle games were made after Ocarina and Majora’s Mask, possibly carrying elements from those games. First though we’ll see how long it actually takes me to finish Link’s Awakening again.

BULLETS:

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Late to the Underground Party: Mole Mania

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You know how some action adventure games have puzzle rooms where you have to do stuff in sequence, and if you make one mistake you gotta exit, then re-enter the room in order to reset the puzzle? Mole Mania — one of the many classic nuggets hidden away on the 3DS eShop, is basically a whole game made of such puzzles.

One of the later original Game Boy games, Mole Mania is one of those unknown classics of the system as well as one of Shigeru Miyamoto’s forgotten accomplishments in game design. It’s also a shockingly difficult game.

When I say “difficult,” I really mean in the cerebral sense. The controls and mechanics are as simple as you’d expect from a first party Game Boy game — you move objects and dig holes to get to the exit of each room, but each room requires a surprising amount of thought and planning in order to solve its puzzle.

Similar to the Game Boy Donkey Kong, Mole Mania manages to take a few simple mechanics and craft them into excellent level design. The central mechanic — digging, is one of those unique features that makes you feel really powerful when you first use it, but the game quickly finds ways to challenge you with it, which I always find impressive. It wasn’t too long though before I learned you have to put some thought into where you dig, making sure to not make an exit unreachable.

What surprises me even more is that each new level in the game seems to introduce some new mechanic or tool that successfully makes the game more interesting in simple yet unexpected ways. When I found barrels — which cover up holes (allowing you to roll wrecking balls over them), I thought that was a great new tool. Then I found that they also block the tunnels you’ve made underground. Things like that just show how much thought Nintendo put into the game.

The thing is though, I find Mole Mania to also be a mentally exhausting game. The game clock shows me that it only takes me maybe 30 minutes to finish a single level but it feels a lot longer than that because of how deceptively complex the puzzles are. I’ve actually only made it to level 4 (of 8) as of this writing, and I’m still kind of shocked at how much farther I have to go. Back in the day I guess they just wanted you to play the Game Boy version in short bursts.

It’s baffling however how this game never got a sequel or follow-up of any kind. The main character doesn’t even cameo in another Nintendo game as far as I know, not even in Super Smash Bros. as a background guest or something. Mole Mania’s underground/above-ground mechanic would even be perfect for dual screen systems like the 3DS and Wii U. Maybe the game wasn’t successful enough for any full retail releases, but Nintendo could at least make a new eShop game or something.

BULLETS:

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Late to the Party: Donkey Kong (1994)

Y’know, I’m starting to gain a little optimism when it comes to Nintendo’s evolving digital distribution infrastructure. My 3DS is quickly gaining legitimacy off of its digital library alone in which I’ve been able to find a lot of value. Part of that has been stumbling upon classics like the 1994 Game Boy version of Donkey Kong.

As of this typing, a download code for Donkey Kong on the 3DS eShop is still free for anyone who has a Club Nintendo account and 100 coins attached. Even I only decided to get my code after people told me it was apparently one of the “staple” Game Boy games. Some say it’s the only really good sequel to the 1981 original.

I ignored Donkey Kong for 18 years because whenever I saw the box at the store I assumed it to be some crappy handheld port of the original arcade game, having the same title and all. Eventually I forgot the game existed altogether. Well, the first four stages of this puzzle platformer basically are the original arcade game… and then it adds nearly 100 more.

I’m still not past the shock of how tightly-designed this edition of Donkey Kong is, and how well the whole package holds up today. Being a Game Boy game it doesn’t throw too many complex control mechanics at you as you try to either make it to Donkey Kong or unlock the door at the end of each stage, but the way it uses its mechanics makes the game eventually become more complex than I remember original Game Boy games being. It’s just typically excellent Nintendo level design. In terms of puzzle platformer structure, it actually reminds me one of the 3DS eShop’s best games – Pushmo.

Actually, what really caught me off guard was seeing what looks like the predecessors to a lot of the abilities Mario uses in his 3D adventures like Mario 64 and Galaxy. Most notable among these is his side jump. Even the way Donkey Kong games the system of earning extra lives is reminiscent of Galaxy, with its various post-level minigames and items to collect.

One of my favorite things about Donkey Kong has been its audio design. Even if this game were made again on a modern HD console, I wouldn’t want Mario’s walking sound to be any different. I swear the noise the game congratulates you with upon jumping over an obstacle is one of the most gratifying noises I can think of in a video game, right up there with the headshot sound from Gears of War.

The only part of Donkey Kong I’d say might look “outdated” is its technical graphics, and even then it displays pretty efficient use of pixels. Donkey Kong himself has just enough detail to show exactly the emotions and animations he needs to in each cut scene of him narrowly escaping Mario in comic book fashion.

So far, this game by itself has been able to draw the bulk of my attention back to a dedicated handheld for the first time in years. If Nintendo can keep things up with more Club Nintendo deals and more sales through this whole 8-bit summer thing, they just might have this whole digital distribution thing down.

BULLETS:

  • I hope Clint Hocking (design lead: Splinter Cell Chaos Theory and Far Cry 2) ends up somewhere that can really make use of his talents after leaving LucasArts.
  • Dishonored is sounding more and more like what a stealth game is supposed to be: http://flpbd.it/vgGWA 
  • I’ve done another custom box art: Assassin’s Creed III: http://t.co/JFEroxuC
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