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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A Not Top 100 PS1 Review: Gauntlet Legends (1999)

Starts Mediocre, Ends up Tedious.

There is only one good things about this game: a floating caricature of death. 

Title screen guantlet legendsLesLites’ Ranking#63/100
My Rating: StarStar

*Originally, I played this version to write a review for the N64 thinking the two ports couldn’t be that different (I couldn’t get a hold of an N64 version). After looking at some Youtube videos comparing the versions, it’s clear that the PS1 version is way worse and would be unfair to use as the basis for the N64 game review.*

Remembering Gauntlet Legends fondly for its accessible two-player mode and RPG elements, I was excited to give this game another look. Little did I know that the PS1 version played like doing a waterfall with skunked beer left out in a woodshed during a hot and humid Southern Summer.

Everything started out okay. It’s a little mindless as you button smash your axe throw and occasionally use power ups, but at least it didn’t bog you down with anything taxing like inventory or equipment management. There were some light puzzles to keep you thinking. It felt like a low-thrill but entertaining amusement park ride reminiscent of the Egg Scrambler or Merry-Go-Round.

However, its only solution for increasing the difficulty level was by increasing the length of the stages. Instead of being asked to master a particular skill, it wants you to instead just stick around doing the same old things for a longer period of time. It’s a test of your attention span more than anything, and with how sparse the gameplay diversity is, you’ll be asking for an early death…

…which death might be the only reason to play.

Gauntlet Legends n64 Death Again

Continue reading “A Not Top 100 PS1 Review: Gauntlet Legends (1999)”

Top 100 SNES Review: #24 – Zombies Ate My Neighbors (1993)

Plays like an Arcade Game… But It’s Not One.

I thought for sure this game was designed to take my quarters. 

Zomebies Ate My Neighbors Title ScreenSydlexia’s Ranking: #24/100
My Rating: StarStar

There are only so many two-player games in the world. Sure, everyone knows about about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Contra III or Super Mario Kart for the SNES, but the pickings quickly get thin. Zombies Ate My Neighbors (or ZAMN) seemed to be a viable remedy: a self-aware and irreverent top-down adventure with B-grade movie tropes should be easy enough to enjoy.

Everyone was willing to give it a try, but no one was willing to stick around.

ZAMN isn’t a bad game per say, but it doesn’t do anything to earn your undivided attention. Every attempt with different people followed the same crescendos — immediate interest, followed by a lull, ending with a let’s move on. I attempted a one-player go through thinking it might have just been my company, but I found that I solitarily followed the same peaks and valleys.

The reason is mostly in the gameplay; it uses an arcade design with lots of repetitive levels that are disconnected and has steep difficulty curves. There is plenty of weird but not enough substance.

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Top 100 PS1 Review: #18 – Final Fantasy VIII (1999)

So Conflicting.

A convoluted, mish-mashed story with amazing moments nestled in a beautiful world full of culture which has a completely broken fighting system that is also immensely addicting… this game is nothing but contradictions. 

Final Fantasy VIII Title ScreenApe’s Ranking: #18/100
My Rating: StarStarStar

Final Fantasy VIII is such a hard game for me to unravel. It’s full of problems start to finish, but I can’t untangle that from the peaks of sweet experiences and nostalgia. The only way I felt like I could address this was by presenting all the problems alongside a twenty year perspective from three different vantage points: 2000, 2010, and 2020. These were the three times when I beat this game, and while Final Fantasy VIII might not have changed in those 20 years, I sure have.

There are amazing moments in this game, exquisite experiences where we feel it in our gut. It’s the reason we are willing to toil for a 40 hour adventures: the sense of wonder and connection that FF8 occasional provides. So no matter how silly and broken everything becomes, there are still pieces and parts that propel it forward.

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Top 100 SNES Review: #18 – Super Mario Kart (1992)

This Game Makes Me Dizzy.

And other musings from an out-dated racer.

Super Mario Kart SNES TItle ScreenSydlexia’s Ranking: #18/100
My Rating: Star.jpgStar.jpg

I’m exhausted.

Currently, I just finished off a 50 hour work week, but it doesn’t stop there: I have residency mid-terms in a couple of weeks; a paper that I’m trying to get published; research articles that needs to be read; and notes to be typed.

Needing to hit a restart, I decided to keep Friday night and all of Saturday completely to myself. I’m going to waste away laying around, playing video games, writing, guitaring, and whatever else fits my fancy.

I wanted something easy to kick it off. I preferred to avoid going through the hassle of learning something new, nor did I want to get pulled into a long adventure (here’s looking at you Final Fantasy). Mario Kart seemed to fit the bill. I could drink my Sam’s Club diet soda and do short three-minute races while taking breaks for instagram and self-reflection.

While having more content than F-Zero, Mario Kart SNES still seems pretty bare. The programming for certain situations also became very predictable (Need a star? Eighth place it is! About to pass Luigi? Guess who now has a star!). Not to mention the vertigo-inducing graphics where Donut Plains turns into a pixilated seizure of poop stains.

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Top 100 SNES Review: #92 – Secret of the Stars (1995)

A Ghetto Final Fantasy 2.

A game in 1995 should not look, feel, or play like this.

Secret of the Stars SNESSydlexia’s Ranking: #92/100
My Rating: Star

Secret of the Stars is the throwback game you would never want. Given a North America release of ’95, you would think it would boast some of those late system features. Instead, Secret of the Stars seems more apropos as an NES game.

It’s most readably comparable to Final Fantasy 2/4; it has a similar feel in art direction, gameplay, and horrible mistranslations. It just somehow does everything way worse than a game released four years prior.

I’m not sure there is anything good about this game. It’s massively slow in every facet including walking, battles, conversations, and menus. The music reminds me of Methodist church hymns. The one creative twist, controlling two separate parties, is a complete failure.

It’s actually quite impressive but not in a good kind of way.

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Top 100 Album Review: #88 – At Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash (1968)

The Only Live Album I’ve Ever Found Worth A Damn.

Cash performs songs about prison life in front of actual prisoners as they whoop and holler — it’s surreal!

91cgDY8ocrL._SL1500_Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #88/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar

My mom gave me Chaka Khan’s Greatest Hits Live as some kind of cruel joke. I was on an R&B kick and made a playlist that featured a few of her songs, and after hearing it, she proceeded to give me one of the worst albums I’ve recently heard.

“This is just awful,” I said. “Isn’t it though?” she replied.

But who should really be surprised? Live albums are traditionally awful. Favorite songs are mashed together with poor recording quality, long solo’s by unknown band members, and the realization that musicians aren’t perfect. The gap in talent between the recording studio and the live audience can be too large to bear; it breaks the transcendent spell music is supposed to put us in.

At Folsom Prison is the only live album I know where the format actually bolsters the performance. That’s because the audience isn’t a faceless mob hollering for an encore; it’s prisoners listening to music that reflected their life. Cash’s musical set was intimately linked to everyone in the room with songs that could have been a personal testament from countless in the room. Hell: one song he performed was WRITTEN by one of the inmates!

It becomes a surreal meta-narrative. As Johny Cash sings about the ennui of prison life, you get to hear those in the room reverberate with complete understanding. Then between tracks, a Warden drones out prisoner numbers to report to somewhere for something. The setting reflects the music which reflects the lived experience of those present.

It’s completely amazing. Continue reading “Top 100 Album Review: #88 – At Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash (1968)”

Top 100 Album Review: #14 – Abbey Road, The Beatles (1969)

HOW DID THEY KEEP DOING THIS?

The artistic fountain continued to gush all the way into The Beatles’ last album. 

The-Beatles-Abbey-Road-Album-cover-web-optimised-820-820x600.jpgRolling Stone’s Ranking: #14/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar

This is my last album to review from peak Beatles. Those six albums (starting with Rubber Soul and ending with Let It Be), are so full of material, range, and imagination. Abbey Road is just another pit stop — they don’t miss a beat.

My favorite thing about the best band of all time is how accessible their music is while pushing the boundary. It’s not untethered hippie rock with disjointed lyrics (which sometimes befalls Jimi Hendrix’s later albums). Instead, it has one foot on both sides of the fence; there’s always something avant-garde, but it’s crouched in enough familiarity and pop for it to be enjoyable.

Abbey Road’s schtick is that it ends on an 8 song medley of bits and pieces. It introduces songs at rapid pace with some only lasting little more than 60 seconds. It completely lives up to their reputation: it’s different and highly artistic but so tastefully done.

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Top 100 Album Review: #89 – Dusty in Memphis, Dusty Springfield (1969)

A Sweet, Tender Album.

This Sultry Blue-Eyed Soul Album hits a nice niche. 

513Hd7rRvEL._SY450_.jpg

Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #89/100
My Rating: StarStarStar

If I were to describe this album with one musical reference, it would be Burt Bacharach: it oozes his bubble pop feel with anthems of love over bossa nova beats. However, only one song is penned by him with the rest coming from Gerry Coffin, Carol King, Randy Newman, The Bergmans, and more.

I was genuinely surprised the album grew on me. At first glance, Son of a Preacher Man was the only track I recognized, and while a certified smash, I was hoping there would be others of its ilk lurking. Instead, I found what seemed to be a bunch of middling songs. None too high, none too low, none too memorable.

After getting out of my own way, I started to really appreciate the subtle moves of the  and Springfield’s ability.

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Top 100 SNES Review: #93 – Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (1992)

95% Awful With A Couple Good Midi Tracks.

I didn’t expect much from the backend of this Top 100 list, and it still disappointed. 

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Title Screen Sydlexia’s Ranking: #93/100
My Rating: Star

I’ve seen Instagram accounts for models that have more depth than this game.

Made to attract North American kids to the new genre of RPGs in the early 90s, Square gutted anything that might have raised the difficulty level a microgram. ANYTHING. Not wanting to risk us getting lost, the locations are named things such as ‘Aquaria’ and ‘Windia’ and ‘Fireburg.’ The world map is more like Super Mario Bro’s 3 forcing you into predetermined sidewalks of adventure. There is an option to allow autobattle where the computer takes over your sole companion’s commands because hitting the A button for two party members would be too much.

The game makes sure we avoid strategy, story, exploration, or anything else that might be kind of like, ya know, the things we enjoy from RPG games.

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