Monday, July 26, 2010

Bad News Baseball (1990, TECMO, NES)

Sports games really aren't my thing. My mentality is that the sport is a actual game. I mean, jeez, go outside and play it. Another thing is how they basically release the same sports games every year aside from a few very minor changes. But I always had a soft spot for sports on the classic consoles, especially the NES. My favorite sport is Baseball (playing Baseball, not watching or tracking it), so naturally I started to play baseball games on the NES. Most are decent, some are flat-out putrid, but there is one that is probably my favorite sports game: Bad News Baseball.

BNB released in '90 by Tecmo alongside Ninja Gaiden II. At first glance the game wasn't geared toward an American audience, sporting anime-style graphics and several occasions of surreal humor. But this is a good old-fashioned baseball game with simple, arcade-like design, and nice cinematic touches, taking a page from Ninja Gaiden's cinematics. There are several teams, all based off of American cities (New York, L.A, etc.)
but unfortunately the game isn't licensed by MLB, so the teams and players are fake. But it doesn't seem to detract from anything, so it's a minor quibble. There is also supposedly a option to play girls teams, but I don't know how to access it.

The graphics I can already tell will be a turnoff to some retro players. The players are quite cartoony, with goofy expressions and exaggerated motions. Also I discovered that the umpires are.........bunny rabbits?
Yep. Rabbits. BNB was clearly geared to a younger audience, but I find the graphics and surreal touches to be quite charming. The music is the same way, being nothing worth listening to on a MP3, but enjoyable for what atmosphere it's trying to convey. There's also alot of stuff to do in the game, you can play by yourself , with a friend (best way to play), play a harder "All-Star" mode, play 2-player with the All-Star teams, or just relax and watch a game.

However it does have issues.  The main problem is the computer. If you hit the ball into the air, almost every single time the outfielders will catch it. Almost every time. It's as frustrating and cheap as it sounds, but it does add a dash of challenge to the game. But BNB is most enjoyable being played with two players, making quick and intense matches that are based on skill. Another issue is the speed on the outfield: if you miss catching the ball after a hit, the batter will already be at the 3rd base by the time you get the ball to the catchers.

While imperfect, BNB is one of the most enjoyable sports games in the market. It's charming animated graphics, cute music and sound, surreal humorous touches(What the hell is Mr. T doing in there?), and amazing two-player action. It's on the cheap, too. I found a copy for about three bucks at a local game store.
If you want arcade-style baseball with a funny twist, you could do far, far worse than Bad News Baseball.

Bad News? Anything but.

+ Charming Anime-style graphics
+ Amusing cinematic shots and music themes that convey a good atmosphere.
+ Best two player sports action on the NES.
+ Surreal Humor adds a funny feel to the action.

- CPU outfielders are quite cheap and unfair.
- Slow action where the outfield is involved.
- Cute appearance may be a turn-off to some.

?: Why is MR.T in the dugout?

Ranking: 8 freaky Mr. T's out of 10

Thursday, July 8, 2010

NINJA Gaiden Shadow (TECMO, 1991, Gameboy)

Ninjas. Ninjas are cool. Ninjas are awesome. Everyone knows this by now, and if you don't, Ninjas probably snuffed you out already. Or you're just lame.

Anyway moving on. The Ninja gaiden series is held in high regard by it's fans, including myself, and it's easy to see why: Intense, fast paced gameplay, energetic and catchy soundtracks, a surprisingly EPIC storyline conveyed with comic-like cutscenes (In fact, Ninja Gaiden was the 1st game to use in-game cutscenes to convey a story.) One thing to note about the series is it's insanely difficult nature. You really need ninja-like reflexes, a sharp mind, and a lot of patience to master these beasts. But with practice, a lot of practice, the games are beatable. Plus aside from NGIII the games offer unlimited continues so there not impossibly tough.

There's one game in the franchise that a lot of fans don't know about. It's a Gameboy game called Ninja Gaiden Shadow, which released in 1991, the same year that Ninja Gaiden III released.

There's some history behind it too. In 1990, a game company called Natsume released another action game very similar to Ninja Gaiden called Shadow of the Ninja. Natsume had plans to port over Shadow of the Ninja to the Gameboy. Sometime during the development, TECMO purchased the rights to the game and reworked it into a Ninja Gaiden game, set to be a prequel to the trilogy of games already released at this point.

The storyline is short, bittersweet, and to the point. In 1985, a "generic evil dictator" named Garuda takes over a skyscraper in New York City and turns it into his HQ. The series hero, Ryu Hayabusa, goes out to stop him.
Unfortunately the usually epic storyline is very downplayed and in fact not even mentioned during the course of the game, only in the intro. This is common in games of this type, but it's a Ninja Gaiden game. Story should be a crucial part of it. A insignificant quibble, yes, but it's worth noting to long-time fans of the series.

The gameplay is a little different than the NES games, since it wasn't supposed to be a Ninja Gaiden game in the first place. You can run forward and backward, jump, swing your sword, etc etc.
But it's slower paced than the NES titles. You have six life units instead of twelve, you have only one Ninpo (Ninja magic) attack: The Art of the Fire Wheel. Spiritual energy which was for being able to perform a ninpo attack, is measured with Japanese symbols instead of a number count.

There are six levels (?) each ending with a boss fight, pretty basic as far as action games go. The difficulty is somewhat easier. It's still quite hard, but it feels softened from the other Ninja Gaiden games. There is usually next to no way to get knocked into a bottomless pit (the most common way to die in a Ninja Gaiden game),
enemies are typically kinda easy to evade for the most part, there is a surprising abundance of life powerups and ninpo charges, and the boss encounters are a little too easy aside from the end boss. Good news for newcomers, I suppose. The music is standard Ninja Gaiden stuff, but there are songs ripped from Shadow of the Ninja, such as the title jingle and the final boss theme. On the same note the villain of this game, Garuda, is also the villain of Shadow of the Ninja, in appearance and in story context, I think.

Ninja Gaiden Shadow really isn't a Ninja Gaiden game. It wasn't supposed to be. So we are left with a  relatively mediocre Ninja Gaiden game, but a pretty sweet action game in it's own right (a lot better than Ninja Gaiden III in my opinion). There are no glaring flaws in the game aside from the lack of a coherent story. It's worth checking out for Ninja Gaiden fans for curiosity's sake, but action game fans who want some challenging action gaming on the go will get the real kick out of this one. Be warned, however, obscurity often leads to rarity, meaning this game may be expensive. Emulators are always an option, though..........

7.6 out of 10