SNES WEEK: Day 6
1) Chrono Trigger
2) Donkey Kong Country
3) Yoshi's Island
1) Chrono Trigger - Rob Bowker (hankwangford)
When it came to the clash of the 16-bit titans, the Megadrive and SNES were both able to trade punches in almost every genre, except for the RPG. Whilst the Megadrive certainly had its fair share of quality role playing titles, support from both of the RPG heavyweights – Enix and Square – ensured that the Super Nintendo more or less had fans of story driven gameplay in the palm of its hand. However, as the sun began to set on Nintendo’s seminal console, there was a cry for something a little bit fresher, and to that end, Square produced Chrono Trigger, a production of a so-called Dream Team. Uniting the producer of the Final Fantasy series, the designer of Enix’s Dragon Quest games, and famous manga artist Akira Toriyama, Chrono Trigger had supporters of both games and anime frothing at the mouth for a production that would change many perceptions on RPG gaming.
Chrono Trigger is a sci-fi story with a heavy focus on time travelling. Crono, a silent protagonist, and his friends from past times find themselves accidentally thrown into the future to witness a horrific, world-destroying apocalypse by a creature known as Lavos. They soon find themselves embroiled in a desperate bid to right the wrongs of the past and the future in order to face off against Lavos and prevent the horror from ever happening.
Chrono Trigger looks like a very traditional Japanese RPG from the surface - a topsy turvy story that wouldn’t feel much out of place in a manga, an overworld packed full of secrets, items to collect to further progress through the game - but underneath there are several features that set the game apart from other titles in the genre. The narrative has an incredible depth to it. With Crono himself being mute throughout, there is a strong reliance on the supporting cast to deliver the story, and as a result, the connection with these characters is very poignant and enlightening. With each of them coming from a different time period, their ideologies and use of language vary greatly in their pursuit for their own outcomes. Few characters in the game are generic as even the NPCs vary from area to area. It’s a very refreshing approach to defining characters that have evidently had a lot of time put into their personalities and artwork.
The core party of sword wielding Crono, the technical minded Lucca and feisty tomboy princess Marle are soon joined by cavegirl warrior Ayla, the tragic amphibian knight Frog, futuristic robot Robo, and – if you so choose – the dark sorcerer Magus, and together the party makes quite an impact both in their own side stories and the battlefield. Each of the characters have been written with real passion to achieve what they have set out to do, and very soon become embroiled in the bigger picture, be it with or against their will. Rarely in an RPG are a cast as likable and believable as this.
As with all RPGs, a lot of time is spent crossing swords with the enemy. The battle system gives Chrono Trigger a little edge when it comes to the endless fighting. Random battles are replaced in favour of respawning on-screen enemies, and encountering one of these sets off an ATB (Active Time Battle) arrangement where players have to wait for their gauge to build before performing attacks. This means that battles are not strictly turn based, but they rely on the player to input their commands through a menu system. Forward and quick thinking has to be applied in order to make sure your characters have enough energy to withstand any potential attack whilst you wait for your turn, as well as give yourself extra time to launch more powerful aggression. Throughout the game, different combinations of characters can learn a number of team attacks, which can be a crucial game-breaker in some situations. Finding the best possible teams for certain enemies and fighting in such a formation long enough to learn a tech is a challenge in itself, and a very enjoyable one at that. The great thing about Chrono Trigger’s ATB system is that it keeps the player engaged at all times. It’s crucial to keep your mind sharp and open at all times, and for that, concentration is absolutely paramount.
Part of Chrono Trigger’s charm comes in its enemy design. Regular enemies range from the common rat all the way up to fully mechanised industrial machinery. Each time zone has a very distinct feel to its enemies, harbouring a cross between the real presumptions and fantasies. For example, going back several million years will find you up against lizards, dinosaurs and dragons, the middle ages will have you facing royal knights, skeletal warriors and goblins, and the futuristic world will find rogue robots and mutants after your blood. The wide variation available will ensure that you will never be too far away from facing something completely different to the last set of nasties you tackled.
The dungeon maps particularly deserve being singled out for outstanding effort. Not all of them wind up being cold and dark affairs – in fact, most of them are very colourful, and thoughtful. There are even elements in some dungeons where you are taken from the usual overhead perspective into a pseudo 2D one to cross a bridge or chasm. Dungeon puzzles are the usual “push this to open that” affair, although again, there are plenty of secrets locked away in each wall to satisfy true adventurers.
There is a distinct ability to play Chrono Trigger in the exact way you want it; taking part in the numerous mini games isn’t just a one shot experience as almost all of them are accessible again quickly. There is also no need to take part in all of the story quests; you can sidestep the ones you feel less important if you’re not a completist. Despite its shortness for an RPG – 15-20 hours – there are several endings, and also a New Game+ option so that you can play straight back through with the equipment and level you earned.
On a technical level, Chrono Trigger is nothing short of amazing. The game was developed late in the SNES’ life, and it shows. Everything here is bright and colourful, and makes good use of the SNES’ resolution to produce convincing and well-animated sprites. In addition, the overworld and assorted settlements are all very large locations that fully embrace the atmosphere already created by the other elements of the game. The soundtrack is simply one of the most beautiful and emotive ever composed, and it’s something that is very easily passable as a classical CD you could listen to outside of the game itself.
Chrono Trigger is a very engrossing game. Its very design and layout sings a song of a labour of love, and it is a thought provoking, addictive RPG whose legacy will last long after the 16-bit era has been forgotten. It provides something new, and will easily please both fans of RPGs and those just looking for something a little deeper than your average arcade game. Its influence in other games is very evident, and often goes up against Final Fantasy 7 for the honours of Square’s best game. It’s not an undeserved comparison.
2) Donkey Kong Country - Marty Greenwell (MartyG)
If history is to be believed, when Rare first revealed Donkey Kong Country to the masses, jaws dropped. People thought they were watching an N64 demo and were shocked to find it was actually running on the SNES. It is a plausible story as DKC is still a great looking game more than ten years on, and even better, it’s still as immeasurably fun as it ever was.
Through Nintendo, Rare got into bed with Silicon Graphics and Alias Research to produce a technique called “Advanced Computer Modelling”, animating every pixel of every sprite in a computer environment, including anything that was previously performed outside the hardware. This led to some amazing results that pushed the 16-bit SNES to the limits.
The premise was pretty thin: Donkey Kong and his side kick Diddy, having lost their horde of bananas to the thieving King K. Rool, mount an operation to recover them all, but that didn’t really matter: it led to one of the finest 2D platform games this side of Super Mario World.
The game is set across six sections of the DKC Island each usually having five or six levels, and of course a boss battle; these increased with difficult as the player ventured further through the game. Levels themed as jungles, oceans, ice worlds, mines and caverns, rewarded the player with delightful musical arrangements, and taught them they had to master more than just timing jumps. Blast-barrels, rope swings and the ever popular mine cart travel, also required precise control over the SNES gamepad. It could be very unforgiving at times, scolding poor judgement with untimely death, but it was never overly unfair.
Platforms and walkways were explored controlling either Diddy or Donkey, each having a slightly different characteristic. Donkey, being large and heavy, was able to knock out the bigger enemies more easily when jumping on them. Diddy, being writhe and light, was able to run faster and jump further, allowing the sometimes seemingly impossible bonus areas and items to be reached.
Working as a team across the level, the two could be switched between at anytime. If one got knocked out, the other would take over giving a second chance. A mid level save point also gave the player a bit of breathing space; if Diddy and Donkey both saw their demise, they wouldn’t have to return to the beginning of the area. The pair would enlist the help of a toad, rhino, dolphin and ostrich in certain areas, each aiding the double act with their extra ability; jumping, charging, swimming and flying.
With the amount of hidden areas in the game containing bonus lives, and the ability to revisit any level via Funky Kong airlines, the game over screen was rarely seen. Extra lives could be gained by collecting the letters K O N G across each of the levels, or by accumulating a hundred bananas, scattered across the landscapes. If that were not enough, golden statues of the four helper creatures could be gathered along the way; amassing three of the same kind led to a mini game resulting in yet more lives. So although tricky in places, it meant that most people got to see the end credits.
It is delightful to find that DKC can hold a candle to the platform games of today. Beautiful to look at, delightful to listen to and all wrapped up in an addictive gaming experience. It’s worthy of spending a few hours game time on, if for nothing else but to remember when Rare really were living up to their name.
3) Yoshi's Island - Jamie Davies (spatial101)
Picture the scene.
It's the present day. On message boards the length and breadth of the Internet, people are ruminating on whether Nintendo has lost the plot. Two camps have emerged; those who feel the developer is still one of the best around and others that think they have stalled, struggling to find their feet amidst the modern hardware driven market.
Flashback in rose tinted tones to the early 90s. No such discussion or argument exists. We're all a lot younger… and the Internet hasn't really been invented yet...
As one of its longest running franchises, the big N has tried to keep the Super Mario games fresh. While it can be argued that this originality has waned in recent years, that's a debate for another time and place. The Super Famicom launch title Super Mario World saw the addition of a new member to the Mario family, that lovable scamp Yoshi the Dinosaur. Whether intentional or not Yoshi went on to become something of an unofficial mascot for the system, firmly planting him in the hearts and minds of players.
After four long years, and much begging by fans, during the twilight years of the console Nintendo finally relented and produced a follow up to their smash hit title. But those expecting (and even simply wanting) more of the exact same were left disappointed. This was a title that had been left to marinade in a vat of freshness.
Super Mario World 2:Yoshi's Island is as far removed from the original as they could make it, given that it had to stick to just two key rules; it was required to be a platformer and centre around the Mario universe. After that, anything else seemed fair game. From the moment the game starts, it’s clear that this is no simple follow up. This is a prequel before prequels became cool.
Featuring Baby Mario, with only glimpses of Baby Luigi, the tables are turned. Whereas Yoshi played second string during Super Mario World, here he takes centre stage, attempting to reunite the separated infant siblings, all the while preventing them from being kidnapped by the evil wizard, Kamek. Or in a further twist that should be Yoshi's, since during the course of the game Mario is passed from Dinosaur to Dinosaur like a meaty, nappy wearing baton in a bizarre Jurassic relay race.
Taking the skill's given to Yoshi during Super Mario World, this time around the Yoshi's are a lot more capable. By swallowing enemies, digesting them in super quick time and then defecating them in egg form, the Yoshi's are able to use the eggs as projectiles. These prove essential for knocking things out of the sky, destroying blocks, or even obtaining out of reach items. While unable to fly, the Yoshi's can frantically pump their legs and hover for a split second, making it easier to correct mistimed jumps and reach elevated platforms. At certain points, some are gifted with the ability to progress by turning into Helicopters and Excavators for a limited time.
If any of the Yoshi's come into contact with an enemy, the babe is knocked flying from their back, giving the player a minimum of 10 seconds to recapture him before the wizard's minions swoop from the sky (in a Wizard of Oz style), carrying him away and resulting in game over. This ensures some frantic moments as the player battles to recapture the wailing child before the timer expires.
For those with even limited experience of platforming games the title can prove a bit of a doddle, making it surprisingly easy to hoard extra lives for the more punishing sections. The game is certainly a lot shorter than the 100 level boast of its predecessor, but Yoshi's Island is clearly a case of quality over quantity. For those that wish to put in the extra time and effort, the inclusion of the ability to collect coins and flowers and achieve a percentage for each level adds replay value.
Making full use of the Super FX2 graphics chip the game is blessed with a sumptuous, childlike elegance, a handrawn appearance that oozes charm and character. The sights on display in both foreground and background are still a joy to behold in an age of textured polygons and High Definition TV. Bright, vibrant colours are prevalent, put aside only briefly during the traditional darker castle interiors.
While it may have been relatively overlooked due to its late release, it's reissuing on the Gameboy Advance and in a more tinkered-with form for the DS, shows just how well this title has aged. However, it is on its original release platform, free of small LCD screen or Stylus that the game begs and even deserves to be played, even today.
SNES Week: Day 1
SNES Week: Day 2
SNES Week: Day 3
SNES Week: Day 4
SNES Week: Day 5
SNES Week: Day 6