From the Green Hill Zone up through the Labyrinth Zone, there’s been a steady increase in difficulty. You might even say Labyrinth Zone cheated a little by not only taking away Sonic’s speed, but even inhibiting his normal movement. Thankfully, the Starlight Zone gives us a little bit of a breather by easing way up on the challenge level. It also continues the trend of the zones alternating between “fast and open” and “slow and linear” by taking things back to the speedy, exploration-based style seen way back in Green Hill.
And boy, does it ever. Starlight Zone bring back the hills and loops we haven’t really seen since Green Hill, and it’s probably the most speed-oriented zone in the whole game. It’s also very large and open, allowing for multiple pathways through the zone. The upper path, as usual, takes a little more work, but clever players can find some stashes of ring monitors.
The theme of the zone seems to be some kind of construction site after hours. There are a lot of girders and unstable platforms, as well red street cones. The lower part of the background seems to be an unfinished building. As the name of the zone suggests, the night sky is filled with stars, continuing on from the Spring Yard Zone’s dusk sky (Labyrinth Zone was completely enclosed).
Enemies consist of the generically named Bombs, whose fuses light when you get too close, resulting in a small explosion and some flying debris . I assume their practical use would be demolition. There are also some Uni Unis that are left over from Labyrinth Zone.
Obstacles include seesaws with spiked balls that Sonic must use to launch himself to higher platforms. Wind from fans either prevent Sonic from moving forward or give him a boost of speed, depending on the direction. There’s also one unique obstacle: a large half-sphere with spikes that swings back and forth. Sonic can stand on the upper part like a platform, but it doesn’t help you reach anything except for a few rings. It’s interesting, because this object doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game (that I know of ), so it seems a little random.
The battle with Robotnik isn’t quite as bad as chasing him up a shaft full of spikes and fire-spitters while being chased by rising water, but it’s still a little tricky. There are three seesaws on the ground, and Robotnik flies back and forth across the top of the screen dropping spiked balls on them. This actually gives Sonic two methods of attack: either leveraging the seesaws to launch himself up, as he has done previously in the zone, or just use the spiked balls, themselves. The tricky part is that there really is no safe spot. Where Robotnik drops the spiked balls is random, although he never drops more than one on a seesaw. But if you wait too long, the spiked balls explode in a similar fashion to the Bombs, so the debris can reach you just about anywhere. The key here is to be quick.
All in all, the Starlight Zone is like a reward for trudging through the Labyrinth Zone. Speeding through loops at high speed is likely why we’re playing Sonic the Hedgehog in the first place. The only problem is that because it emphasizes speed, it goes by just a bit too quickly. Still, it kind of brings the pace of the game full circle before throwing you into the final challenge.
Screenshots taken from a longplay video by RickyC.
In the near future, TV game shows will evolve beyond simple quiz questions and embrace a more reality-based format in which contestants are openly hostile towards each other. Don’t believe me? Well, get ready, because the year 1999 is just around the corner!
Smash TV is an arena shooter that is often seen as a follow-up to the arcade classic Robotron: 2084. You play as a contestant in a violent game show in which your objective is simply to survive an onslaught of relentless enemies, all of whom are trying to kill you. If you make it, you’re rewarded with big money and big prizes like toasters and VCRs.
One of the best things about Smash TV is how well it uses its theme as a TV game show being filmed in front of a live studio audience. The crowd cheers and groans with your successes and failures, and the host (seemingly modeled after creator Eugene Jarvis) pops up to taunt you every now and then. The satirical edge of it works quite well.
Fortunately, the gameplay is also really good. Just like in Robotron, the classic dual joystick controls allow you to run and shoot in different directions simultaneously, which is a must, as you’re constantly surrounded by enemies. Unlike in Robotron, new enemies are always entering the play field, so the intensity is sustained for much longer periods of time. There are also plenty of power-ups and the ability for two-players to help you survive the hoards. The challenge level is extremely high, but Smash TV is the kind of game where you can “get into the zone,” and it becomes almost hypnotic.
I admit I prefer Smash TV over Robotron (and the lesser known follow-up Total Carnage), but I actually didn’t play it a lot in the arcade. I spent most of my time on the SNES port, which is actually really good. I got good enough at it to get to the coveted Pleasure Dome and finish the game on its limited continues. Unfortunately, I no longer have my SNES cartridge.
Still, Smash TV was ported to many home consoles and computers. The arcade version is also part of Midway Arcade Treasures on the GameCube, PS2 and Xbox.
Eugene Jarvis talked about doing another twin-stick shooter for years. What’s interesting is that his current company, Raw Thrills, has made a lot of arcade games that could be seen as spiritual successors to classic Midway games, yet he still hasn’t returned to the arena-shooter genre. I think it’s time for a true follow-up to Smash TV.
Until then, be prepared.
The future is now.
You are the next lucky contestant!
Hardcore Gaming 101 – Smash TV/Total Carnage
Screenshots captured from a longplay by Schlauchi.
I hate to say it, but I think I have mixed feelings about Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I mean, I always look forward to playing it. After all, it’s a return to the straightforward action of the original Castlevania while adding in branching paths and multiple playable characters. It sounds great, but the problem is that I come away from it feeling more frustrated than satisfied.
At its worst, Dracula’s Curse suffers from poor design decisions that are even more irritating than anything in Simon’s Quest. Granted, most of this is because the game came out at a time when videogame rentals were becoming popular, and some publishers decided they had to increase the difficulty of their games for the North American release to make sure players couldn’t easily finish it in a day or two. In the case of Castlevania III, it affected the amount of damage you took from enemies and where you re-spawned after losing a life. Couple this with some really aggravating stage gimmicks, like having to wait for blocks to fall from the top of the screen in order to reach a high platform, and you end up having to replay the same tedious sequences over and over. It really tries my patience, and it’s just not fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good challenge, but this isn’t the good kind. I sorta wish Konami would go back and re-translate the Japanese version of the game and release it as a kind of “director’s cut.” I imagine it’s a more balanced experience, not to mention it would have the extra sound channels for the music and a few better special effects. But oh well.
At it’s best, Dracula’s Curse has some really cool bits in it. It is fun playing as the different characters, and the branching paths add a lot of replayability.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish Dracula’s Curse before the end of October. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to pick away at it until I do, but as it is, I managed to play at least a little bit of Castlevania every day of the month. That included beating Dawn of Sorrow, Dracula X, the original NES game, and Simon’s Quest. So, I’d say it’s been a successful Castlevania-thon.
And now we return to your regularly scheduled blog posts.
Outside of a couple of genuinely nonsensical puzzles, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest really doesn’t seem that bad to me. Admittedly, it is the weak link in the original NES trilogy, suffering from some really poor design decisions and sloppy programming. Maybe I’m just familiar enough with the game that its curve balls don’t catch me off guard, or maybe my gamer instincts are subliminally guiding me. But it’s not quite the impossible mission that its reputation suggests.
The two sticking points to me are: 1) having to equip a crystal and crouch next to a “lake” to make a secret path appear (this is actually done twice in the game), and 2) equipping a crystal and crouching next to a dead end to make a tornado appear and sweep you to another part of the game world. But if you have these two parts memorized, it’s not too hard to fumble your way to the end of the game. Even the invisible pits in the mansions aren’t really that bad. Early on, they line up with background objects, like columns and gates, so you can easily guess where they might be, and enemies don’t walk over them, providing yet another clue. Even when they do catch you off guard, they never drop you to instant death (as far as I’ve experienced), so it’s not entirely unfair.
Simon’s Quest is generally considered the precursor to the “metroidvania” formula (if not the first) that would eventually become the norm for the series. In a way, however, it sort of feels more like it’s modeled after Zelda II: The Adventure of Link rather than Metroid. It doesn’t have an overworld, but it does have dungeons in the form of mansions, towns with people you can interact with, and some awkward RPG elements. Interestingly, Koji Igarashi (who did not work on Simon’s Quest) once mentioned that when he was working on Symphony of the Night, he thought he was imitating Zelda instead of Metroid.
Simon’s Quest is a flawed game, to be sure, but I wouldn’t call it bad. It’s mechanically sound, and even though I’m always reluctant about going into it, I still usually come away satisfied.
In any event, I’ve finished Simon’s Quest. I didn’t try to do anything special for this playthrough, so I didn’t go for the best ending or anything. But now I’ll move on to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, and it will probably be the final game in this year’s Castlevania-thon. I’ve never beaten it with recruiting Alucard before, so I think I’ll give that a go.