Top 100 NES Review: #37 – Willow (1989)

What A Rabbit Hole. 

Playing this led to the movie which led me to Ron Howard which then led to the universe. 

Title Screen Willow NESSydlexia’s Ranking: #25/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

It all started with the typo 36: Paperboy37.

Looking over my top 100 NES list for my next plaything, paperboy37 sounded odd and intriguing…until I learned that it was a mistake. 37 just didn’t carry to the next line with Willow. Wow — I’m an idiot. I knew what a paperboy was, but what the hell was a Willow? What the hell indeed. 

Willow is an adaptation of a George Lucas film of the same name for the NES. Capcom took this IP and made something akin to a Zelda game. It took me several days to realize that this wasn’t a stand alone product. I was in awe of this quirky game with a rich, albeit weird, story and music. The intro alone was overwhelming for an NES game and probably took up half the cartridge.

None of this prepared me for the movie. In one salient scene, Willow casts fire on a troll that then gets ripped apart by cerbellum-looking branches which turns into a big ball of brain tissues before two dragon heads rip through the film-covered gyrus to morph into Siskel and Ebert.

Here we go!

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Top 100 NES Review: #20 – Mega Man (1987)

I Don’t Think I Like Mega Man.

I’m not looking forward to playing four more identical games to close out the series. 

Mega Man NES Title ScreenSydlexia’s Ranking: #20/100
My Rating: StarStar

I finally submitted my final “big” thing due for residency — a journal club review discussing Bell’s Palsy. If you think that’s boring enough, wait for what I used for entertainment in between revisions.

In theory, a more complex game of rock-paper-scissors should pique my interest. A break from the linear, ossified train tracks of other side-scrollers should be a welcome sight. A robust inventory of weaponry ought to make me squeal with joy. But, Mega Man just doesn’t. This is my second iteration (Mega Man X being the first), and it is all. the. same.

The biggest allure central to the plot is the order. There are initially six stages, and at the end of each one is a special boss. Defeating it garners you a new weapon. Each boss is super weak to one of the other weapons, so there is a particular order of stages that makes the most sense for you to run roughshod over the competition.

This is the kind of game that gets wrecked when there is a backlog of games in the queue.

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Top 100 NES Review: #16 – Ninja Gaiden (1989)

Campy Just Like An 80s Movie.

But I’d rather watch “16 Candles” than actually beat this game. 

Ninja Gaiden NESSydlexia’s Ranking: #16/100
My Rating: StarStarStar

I came down with an unconfirmed fever last Tuesday. I was sweating up a storm, feeling febrile and achey, but every temperature recorded was below <100 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless, I was sent home to self-isolate and await the results of my COVID test. Since then, I’ve fully recovered but still no test results. Waiting this out has been a monastic experience and makes me appreciate those who truly self-isolated for all these many weeks as I have continued to work.

Prior, I was pounding away on 5th generation games (PS1 and N64). Even more specifically, it’s been a lot of Final Fantasy, which also means it’s been a lot of time. SO. MUCH. TIME. Playing a backlog of RPGs is a Sisyphean task, and every time I got that boulder to the top of the hill, it would roll right back down with the next entry.

I decided to take this new found idleness to blast through some NES games. I didn’t want to allot the same amount of copious time spent on FF7 or FF8.  The original Nintendo should be perfect for quick in-and-out games… until Ninja Gaiden hit me with a shuriken to the forehead.

This game is something else. Every ledge is perfectly placed near an avian threat more than willing to hit you into the abyss. Making things harder, trying to share these tiny footholds with sword throwing ruffians makes it almost impossible.

While excruciatingly hard, it does come with a caveat. Dying only means you restart at your current level. This means you only have to complete three stages of impossible tasks and defeat a boss before your starting point resets. And just like the lottery, this is where Ninja Gaiden gets you: you always think “I just need ONE more try”. Instead of being hopelessly out of reach, Ninja Gaiden is forever crushing your soul in a tantalizing, different way than most NES games.

Let’s just say, I gave up.

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Top 100 PS1 Review: #2 – Final Fantasy 7 (1997)

Story Telling Matters. 

The Remake with all the bells and whistles can’t compete with pure polygonal poetry. 

Final Fantasy 7 PS1 IntroApe’s Ranking: #2/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar

There is a scene in the Final Fantasy 7: Remake where the line is clearly drawn in the sand between new and old. It’s in Shinra HQ where the president is making a lengthy speech about destiny, fate, environment, power, and money. It has the double sin of being lengthy WHILE not saying anything important. It’s like squeezing a dry lemon: lots of movement but no juice.

This is endemic to the entire Remake. More dialogue, more graphics, and more action that ends up being less emotional. It’s no different than when I watched the bloated Star Wars prequels and realized that just because you have “more” doesn’t mean it’s going to make things better. Meeting the president in the original is super impactful, and he doesn’t even bother saying a word (for those who know why – 🥰).

But, was I giving the original too much credit? Nostalgia is a helluva drug, and it must have been at least 15 years since I last heard the whir of a PS1 in the middle of the night as I roamed the streets of Midgar. Were things really better with those horrendously looking blocks?

Yes. Yes they were.

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Top 100 PS1 Review: #21 – Final Fantasy Anthology (1999)

Reintroducing Final Fantasy To America.

Taking advantage of the popularity of FF7, Squaresoft rereleased almost every game they ever made for the PS1.

Final Fantasy V Final Fantasy Anthology Title ScreenApe’s Ranking: #21/100
My Rating: StarStarStar

RPGs were not mainstream until Final Fantasy 7 dropped on the PS1 in 1997. Even though Squaresoft and Enix released several iterations of their popular in Japan Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy  games, it was still a pretty niche market in America. Hell, Squaresoft didn’t even bother releasing all of their games in America leading to a unique numbering system that wouldn’t be corrected until the late 90s.

With FF7 being a blockbuster hit, Squaresoft wanted to capitalize with repackaging their catalog to a North American population now clamoring for more RPGs. Final Fantasy Anthologies was the first to release containing FFV and FFVI. Final Fantasy Origins (FF I and FF II) and Final Fantasy Chronicles (FFIV and Chrono Trigger) would soon follow for a total of 6 games being released for the PS1 which were ports of older NES or SNES versions.

Very little new content was added to these games. For the NES ports, the graphics were updated to SNES level. For the rest, short opening and ending CGI sequences were included. For those of us who already owned the originals (i.e: me), there was little benefit from buying these redundant ports…

…except when it comes to the never before released American titles.

Final Fantasy Anthologies includes such a title: Final Fantasy V. Only released in Japan, it is unique for having a diverse job system where characters aren’t pigeon-holed into a class type. Instead of the static characters in FFVI and FFVI, you can mix and match classes together to make unique skill sets.

I was more interested in the history aspect: every Final Fantasy is part of lineage where motifs, themes, and ideas build upon one another. This scaffolding is more apparent with the more titles you play by seeing how the series has grown over time. Having played the games that bookend FFV, I was interested to see where it stood. Was it more like FFIV with old-school conundrums or forward thinking like FFVI with a fantastic narrative?

Well, it ended up being a little of both. While FFV’s job system is THE thing that makes the game stand out, it’s not fantastically done. The other elements, mainly the story, are a disappointment and never reach the level I expected.

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Top 100 N64 Review: #7 – Banjo-Kazooie (1998)

And Reward for Best Sound Effects Goes To…

…the bird in the backpack.

Banjo-Kazooie Title Screen n64LesLites’ Ranking#7/100
My Rating:StarStarStarStar

Actually, it’s not just the bird: every sound in this game is perfect. From Mumbo Jumbo’s tribal speech to Banjo’s rural mumbles, this game offers plenty of value just from one second audio clips.

The rest of the game is pretty good, too. It hits a sweet spot between Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong 64 in regards of collectibles. Music notes, puzzle pieces, mumbo jumbo tokens, and the weird/useless species called jinjos are just enough to keep up with while not being tedious. I spent most of April putting my financial house in order (thank you Listen Money Matters!), and I juxtaposed in my mind that the increasing music note total was correlated with future returns in my Roth IRA. Time will only tell if this was the right investment strategy or whether Banjo & Kazooie were appropriate hedgefund managers.

Banjo-Kazooie suffers from being too easy then all of sudden too hard. There are a total of 9 worlds to explore with only the last three really being a challenge. You know how Netflix asks you if you are still watching, and all you have to do to get the sweet reward of more content is clicking yes? That’s about as difficult as it gets for most of this game. Until, all of sudden, the game repeatedly suffocates you in oil-slicked water. So much for being rated E.

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Top 100 N64 Review: #76 – Quest 64 (1998)

Still A Disappointment.

At least its consistently bad no matter what decade you play it in.

Quest 64 Title ScreenLesLites’ Ranking#76/100
My Rating: StarStar

Being of elementary school age meant that I wasn’t in control of my discretionary spending. Whatever momma bought was what sonny was going to play. However, I could steer her in the right direction with a few not so subtle hints. Riding the hype from Nintendo Power, I knew I had to have Quest 64.

I was yearning for a new RPG  — I was still replaying FFVI for God’s sake! The previews looked like it was the right game for the first RPG entry into the N64 catalog. The vistas were chocked full of things to explore. The battle system intricate. The stat system innovative.

After playing for a very short time, I became frustrated. The game was a grind. The people and places hallow. The story non-existent. It was a nasty, brutish, and short experience. Soon after, I acquired a ps1 where my RPG gaming life was about to change for the better.

Revisiting this game now only brings up feelings of what could have been. There are plenty of bright spots (the combat system and stat system were intricate and innovative), however, everything else pulls it down. The grind really wears on you, and with no story to buoy your interest, the final stages are a test of perseverance.

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Top 100 N64 Review: #29 – Diddy Kong Racing (1997)

Diddy Kong Racing > Mario Kart.

And my angry thoughts about Bumper the Badger.  

Diddy Kong Racing title Screen n64LesLites’ Ranking#29/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar

Diddy Kong Racing (DKR) is everything you could want from a racing game. While Mario Kart 64 is just a straight up race for first, DKR has multiple-layers where it ratchets up the difficulty a notch at a time. As the game continues to tie your hands behind your back, you have to get more skilled and adept — no star power ups to save you here.

And it has adorable creatures to boot…except that piece of trash badger.

Bumper the Badger

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Top 100 PS1 Review: # 35 – Alundra (1997)

The Hidden Gem of the PS1.

AND NO. IT’S NOT A ZELDA CLONE!

Alundar Psone Title ScreenApe’s Ranking: #35/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

Okay, maybe it is kind of a Zelda Clone. There are bombs, arrows, gloves that allow you to pick up boulders, and something called a “life vessel” that is nothing more than a heart piece. It’s easy to to confuse Inoa, the village in Alundra, with Kakariko or mistake the open world with the fields of Hyrule. However, what the game does within this framework is wholly unique…

… and hard as holy hell! This is quite possibly one of the hardest games I have ever played. Even considering this as something akin to Zelda is a sin after you experience the beatdown of the perfect this game requires. The game’s only downfall is how much it expects of you. The satisfaction of solving a hard and difficult puzzle is quickly extinguished when you realize that it’s only been replaced with an even harder challenge which is followed by another — it’s turtles all the way down.

The grind is worth it, though. Alundra has impeccable world building. Its mature themes are nestled in a world chocked full of unique of experiences. You’ll want to explore and talk to everything as it captures the spirit of adventure so well.

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Top 100 NES Review: #44 – Gradius (1986)

Prepare to Die.

A Game Nietzsche would be proud to play.

NES Gradius Title ScreenSydlexia’s Ranking: #44/100
Rating: StarStar

Few things can suck away your spirit to live like an opaque Nihilistic quote or a game designed to steal your pocket change. If I had to choose between reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra or playing Gradius for a day,  I’m not sure which I would choose.

Gradius is more worthy as a portal through time than a game. It harkens back to a day where video games were enjoyed in the public sphere, not in the private seclusion of your own home. These big boxes the size of caskets were tucked away in every nook and cranny and were only momentary diversions while waiting for a pizza or friend. They were not meant to be prolonged and protracted affairs.

This arcade game ported to the NES is no different. Death comes early and often, an obvious ploy to guzzle more quarters. The difficulty ramps to obscene heights. What’s scary is how quickly the dial gets turned up: getting through stage 1 is somewhat of an achievement. As your ship explodes from an array of stray laser fire that dots the screen in a potpourri of projectiles, you will be asking yourself….

…does anything matter?

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