Monthly Archives: June 2013

“Next Gen” There is Hope After All


Now-a-days, we gamers are constantly being bombarded by the term “Next Gen.” It’s “Next Gen” this and “Next Gen” that. We hear the term in gaming publications, on internet forums, on promotional websites, in game previews, press conferences, game revels, etc. etc.. We hear “Next Gen” so often that by now it has taken on a life of its own. It has become synonymous with the latest in cutting edge technology, mind blowing graphics, innovative hardware, the latest in gamer interaction, device interconnectivity and the most epic of gaming experiences. It is a catch-all term that encompasses a world of unknown possibilities and limitless potential. Am I right? Are you excited yet?!

Well, up until a week ago I was NOT AT ALL excited. I had grown tired of all the hype. Plus, with all of the horror we were hearing from Microsoft and the XBOX One, I was very nervous about the upcoming trends in gaming. I was really having some serious doubts whether this next era in video gaming was going to be worth it. Then I saw the Sony press conference and I felt a renewed sense of hope for this “Next Gen”, or at least for the PS4. With what looks to be a solid lineup of games and a pretty robust spec list, there is a good chance that Sony will reclaim some of their former PS2 glory. I know a lot of us PlayStation gamers are rooting for them.

But, despite all the good news from the PS4 camp, the truth is that our consoles today might be starting to suffer from something very similar to the law of diminishing returns. Meaning, even though these companies are hyping their wares and throwing a boatload of money at their new “Next Gen” devices, we might not be seeing that many HUGE, graphical, game changing, improvements. Instead, we might just start to see more subtle, incremental enhancements, like the addition of reactive smoke, cleaner visuals and more dynamic environments.

Take a look at Tom Clancy’s: The Division. It looks like a great RPG that utilizes some awesome visuals and the latest in “Next Gen” hardware. I know I am VERY excited about this game, but I can’t help but wonder if the graphics are really THAT much of a night and day difference. When we compare them to the BEST, most recent graphics on our PS3s, sure they are cleaner and less muddy, but they are still very similar. The same goes for Watchdogs, great graphics, but I have a feeling they are only slightly better then our current gen.

I know many of my friends are very excited about the how “cool” these new games are going to look and I too, think that these graphics are going to look awesome! I’ve even gone out and pre-ordered my Watchdogs/PS4 bundle. But, the question is, should we be expecting such DRASTIC, game changing visual improvements right out of the “Next Gen” gate? Personally, I think the systems will need some time to find their stride.

I know a lot of gamers are going to be more than happy to play some new games on new hardware, but I’m sure most of us will still be playing on our LCD/LED screens, running at 1080p.  So unless you have a new t.v. that is 4K 2K, which is probably unrealistic, I don’t think there will be such an immediate WOW factor as what some of us have been expecting.

I will say that I AM looking forward to these new consoles and I am sure that they will pump new life into the industry, but as far as graphics go, I’m just not yet as BLOWN AWAY as I was expecting to be. I am impressed for sure, but it might take some time before they completely knock our socks off. For now, I am perfectly fine with a slower, incremental progression of visual improvements. Since I have taken the plunge and pre-ordered the PS4, I’d rather have a greater emphases on stability, reliability, longevity and user interaction, than a gigantic leap in graphics. Make the system as bombproof and as stable as possible, with plenty of internal cooling since my guess is that these things are going to run hot. I don’t want an overheated and dead system within a few short years, at the cost of graphical perfection.


GentleBen’s Favorite Games of All Time (SNES)

Super Nintendo

When the Super Nintendo came out in 1991, Nintendo fans were ecstatic. Everyone I knew went out as soon as they could and picked one up. Of course, monetarily speaking a SNES was WAY out of reach for me, but boy did I want one.

Towards the end of the Summer of ’93, I was finally able to buy the very basic SNES set. I had saved every cent I could: birthday money, Christmas money, allowance money…every dime I could get my hands on. It might have just been the bare-bones control set, with one controller and no games, but I finally had a Super Nintendo to call my very own! I remember I was SO excited to join in all the fun (even if I WAS a bit late to the party).

Picking out just 5 of my top favorite SNES games is not an easy task. I have played so many awesome titles that narrowing them down seems a bit like blasphemy. Never the less, I’ll give it a shot. So here are my personal, top 5 SNES games.

#5: Super Mario World

I don’t know about you guys, but Saturdays in the early 90s were always spent over at a friend’s house, playing outside, swimming, riding bikes, hanging out, being lazy and of course… gaming. We would take turns playing action games, co-op games, side-scroller games, arcade games, shooting games… you name it, we played it. It was a GREAT time to be a kid.

I had one friend in particular (we’ll call him SAZ), that always had the newest games, latest accessories and coolest toys.  He would usually, invite me over Saturday afternoons and we would hangout, rent a few games and together eat a large pepperoni pizza and polish off a 2 liter bottle of Pepsi. In all honestly, most of our attention focused around gaming and it was a pretty awesome way to spend a weekend.

One Saturday, in 1992, he introduced me to his brand-new Super Nintendo. That was a real eye-opener. The only game he had was Super Mario World, but that game alone blew my mind. The sounds, the graphics, the game play…it was all a feast for the senses.  Once Mario World entered into the picture, Saturdays became all about exploring that wonderful game, beating stages and discovering secrets. It was a blast! We never got tired of it, even after we had beaten Bowser, completed all of the Star Road and the Special Stages and even started over a few times. There was something awesome about Mario World that really held our attention.

As far as Mario games are concerned, this is one of the all-time greats. It took everything that I liked about Super Mario 3 and made it bigger and better. It was the type of game that fostered a feeling of lighthearted fun and kick-ass adventure, without being overly childish or simplistic. It added new characters like Yoshi, Wigglers, Monty Moles, Swoopers, and Magikoopas. It added a save feature, different types of attacks and a few new power-ups. It added locations like the Star World, the Special Stages and even the infamous Ghost Houses. For many old school Mario fans, it was the quintessential, 2D Mario game.

For a lot of SNES owners, Super Mario World was their FIRST SNES game (it often came with the console), but for me, it was one of the LAST games I ever collected for my system. It wasn’t until 1995, that I finally got my hands on a copy. It became one of my most cherished titles and I loved every moment playing it. Most of the Mario titles released AFTER Super Mario World never really held my attention in quite the same way. It wasn’t until the Wii U’s New Super Mario Bros. game that I felt anything close to that old Mario love. But for me, Super Mario World was THE best Mario game and it really helped to shape all of my future gaming experiences. Long live Super Mario!

#4: Pilotwings

I have loved airplanes since I was a kid. There’s something about them that just speaks to me. When I was growing up, I was a bit obsessed with flight. I built airplane models, l studied books about all different types of aircraft and tried to play as many flight games as I could. So as you can imagine, the game Pilotwings for the SNES, was right up my alley.

The game’s premise was simple, pick a stage, gain points by passing tests and advance to the next level. Each stage was organized with certain events like flying and landing a bi-plane, skydiving through rings, piloting a jet pack and even hang gliding. You were awarded points depending on how you performed. If you did well, you advanced to the next stage. If you crashed or ran out of time you’d have to redo that stage. It was a lot of fun and extremely addictive.

This was another one of those titles that I always played at my friend SAZ’s house. We would spend hours trying to beat every event and earn all of the licenses. I especially loved the jet pack events and I got quite good at them.

As the years passed, SAZ and I eventually turned our attention to other things, besides gaming (namely girls and music), and we lost a lot of dedicated gaming time. Pilotwings was one of those unintentional casualties. For some strange reason, I’ve never sought out a copy to call my own, even though I loved that game dearly. It would have been nice to own a copy when the SNES was still relevant, but I might still have to go out and pick one up. It would be a lot of fun to relive some of the old Pilotwings greatness.

Looking back, for an early simulator game, Pilotwings was sheer magic. It’s presentation, control, music and visuals were all stunning. It was a treat to play and loads of fun. Any fan of classic gaming or retro games should really give this one a try. Plus it’s always nice to see some of the old Mode 7 graphics.

#3: Final Fantasy 3(6)

Back in the early 90s, I was a big fan of any game considered a side-scroller. They felt like the perfect combination of adventure, action, simplicity and control. Games like Castlevaina, Super Mario Brothers and Mega Man made up the majority of my regular gaming fare. Honestly, they were all I knew. I really hadn’t had ANY prolonged experiences with any other types of games. It wasn’t until Final Fantasy 3 (Final Fantasy 6 in Japan) that my eyes were finally opened to a whole new world of gaming possibilities. It really was my gateway RPG and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I first played FF3 back in 1994. A very good friend of mine offered to let me borrow it, complete with strategy guide, copious notes and a detailed two hour explanation of the game mechanics and story.  He painted such an amazing mental picture of the game that I felt compelled to try it out. Of course, there was a bit of a learning curve involved with that game, since it was nothing like a side-scroller. It didn’t have an attack button, a jump button, set levels or a real time battle system. You wondered the landscape, explored and had random encounters with unseen foes. You could cast magic, summon creatures, use special skills, gain experience and level up. It was all very strange and very foreign to me. I didn’t fully understood how I was supposed to play the game, but after awhile I got the hang of it.

The music, the graphics, the story, the characters…everything about FF3 was amazing. It opened the floodgates for a ton of other RPG titles. Games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana,  Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, Crono Cross, King’s Field… the list can go on and on. After FF3, I was definitely a fan of the RPG.

Sadly, I was never able to finish the game with my own set of characters. When I did finally make it to the last fortress, I realized that my guys were NOT ready for the onslaught that awaited me in Kefka’s Tower. It was going to take a few more hours just to level up to the appropriate strength and I became really discouraged. Plus, I had kept the game for WAY too long and my friend was getting a little perturbed about that.

Luckily, after I returned the game, he took time and showed me the ending, playing it with HIS saved game and characters. I didn’t like having to do that, but what a great story for a video game. Years later, I ended up buying the Final Fantasy Anthology for PlayStation 1 and I gave it another shot, but by that time other games were taking up my attention and I couldn’t regain the same momentum that I once had had. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy 3 was one of my favorite RPGs on the SNES and it opened my eyes to a world of new games. Truly, it is one of the all time greats.

#2: Actraiser

When I look back across video games from the early 90s, two games usually stand out in my mind as the epitome of classic console gaming. They are so intertwined with my childhood, that I can’t envision my adolescence without them. One of those games is Actraiser.

I first came across Actraiser in 1992, about a year after it’s North American release.  It was a unique title that blended elements of a side-scroller, action/adventure game AND a top-down, simulation, city building game. I have never seen anything like it since. Even its sequel didn’t follow the same format and many fans were outraged by this. Actraiser changed my entire preconception of what a video game could be. It was awesome.

Back in ’92, my friend and I rented this game on a mere whim. Neither of us had any idea what it was like or if it was any good. However, from the very beginning, we were amazed at just how much fun and empowering this game really was. Everything about it seemed epic. It combined awesome music, beautiful graphics and a novel and challenging approach to game play. What more could you want?

First off, you play as a character called The Master, an obvious reference to God. Your followers pray to you and give you offerings in exchange for protection and guidance. They build where you tell them to build, they grow what you tell them to grow and explore where you tell them to explore. You have complete control over their entire world.

However, with great power comes great responsibility, and the Master must fight to protect his followers. You take on a corporeal body and risk it all, wielding sword and magic and fighting your way through evil monsters, demons and powerful mythical beasts. You visit lush forests, desolate deserts, jungle ruins, icy tundras and even a fiery volcano. The entire world’s survival depends on you. Now, doesn’t that sound awesome!?

Actraiser’s musical score was one of the best of it’s generation and you will often see it listed right next to other stellar game soundtracks like Final Fantasy 3/6, Secret of Mana and even Chrono Trigger. Trekking through each level and listening to that soundtrack was a real treat. Along the way, you fought evil knights, ogres, goblins, beasts, snakes, minotaurs, cloaked wizards and even dragons. You created thriving environments and brought peace to each land you visited. By the very end of the game, you felt like you had been on an epic journey and I loved it.

Sure, the sim element was very simplistic, but it WAS the early 90s and I think that the game did a wonderful job of letting the player feel like they had direct control over their city’s development.  You helped to shape the land by using your godly powers to clear forests, destroy rocks, water fields, dry up marshes and even melt snow. Then you would direct your followers where to build and they would do the rest. As simple as it was, that mode really became one of my favorite parts of that game.

Actraiser was fantastic. It had everything an adolescent boy would want in a video game: magic, swords, knights, armor, monsters, action, adventure, great music and beautiful graphics. It also had a very user-friendly control scheme, making the game a pleasure to learn.  So why is this not my #1 pick? Well, the only thing keeping it out of the top place is that (until recently) I never owned a copy of the game. In fact none of my friends or family did. While growing up, I only played this game two or three times. Despite all of that, I still developed a deep emotional attachment to Actraiser. To love a game so much, after only a few moments behind the controller really shows just how engrossing and well done this game really was. I did finally purchase a used copy of Actraiser back in 2012 and I have now spent many hours playing through it. I can honestly say that this game still holds up as an awesome experience. It immediately takes me back to those carefree days of my childhood. Everything from the music to the controls feels great. If you haven’t played it, go give it a try. You won’t be sorry.

#1: Super Castlevania IV

Like I said before, when I look back across video games from the early 90s, two games usually stand out in my mind as the epitome of classic console gaming. One of those games I’ve already mentioned, Actraiser the other is Super Castlevania IV. I’m not even sure how to begin with this one. This game means so much to me, that it is difficult to fully explain my attachment to it. It really holds a special place in my heart and on my gaming shelf.

Not only was it was the VERY first 16-bit game that I ever owned, it was also the main reason why I wanted a SNES. I spent more hours playing and replaying this game, then any other Castlevania game to date. Everything about SC4 was awesome: the music, the level design, the bosses, the control, the graphics… it was all spectacular. I became so good at Castlevania 4, that I could beat the entire game without taking a single hit of damage or dying at all. I absolutely loved it.

I have so many wonderful memories wrapped up with SC4: beating all the bosses for the first time, spending hours exploring each level, looking for secret areas, making homemade code-books for each level and each new game+ level, even recording some of the music to listen to while I rode my bike. Embarrassingly enough, I EVEN suggested playing Super Castlevania 4 to my High School girlfriend, on one of our “dates” (facepalm). I was a tad bit obsessed.

I first played Super Castlevania 4 back in early 1992, actually the same day that I first played Actraiser. My friend and I ended up renting both of these games and we quickly realized that we had found something special. It wasn’t like Castlevania was unheard of, we had grown up on the series. I even owned a copy of the original game for the NES, but the 16-bit title was very new to us. Once we played it, we were both hooked. I developed a sort of intangible attachment to the game, even though I only played it once and none of my friends owned a copy. I knew that I had to own Super Castlevania IV and I made a conscious decision to save all the money I could and one day buy both a SNES and the game. That day came in 1993 and I can still remember my friend and I riding our bikes down to the local game store and being so excited to pick up a copy. That was one of the greatest feelings of my early gaming life.

The game itself was actually a remake of the original NES Castlevania, but vastly improved. The game’s control was spot on, really giving you a feeling of complete control over Simon Belmont. You still had your whip and 5 basic sub-weapons, but now Simon was able to attack in all 8 directions, control his jump in mid-air, crouch while walking, swing from his whip and even jump up onto stairs.

In terms of weapons, your whip was more powerful, had a longer reach and could even be used as a shield. Some players felt that this took away from the need to use sub-weapons, but I found that I utilized them far more in SC4 than in any of the original games.

The music was a big reason why I loved this game so much. Every track was awesome and really pulled you into the different levels. I STILL listen to the soundtrack and I love it!

The look of the game was amazing for it’s time, but as the SNES evolved and the system’s graphics kept improving, SC4 started to look a bit dated. However, at it’s release the graphics were awesome. The dark and muted color palette fit perfectly with the ominous feel of the game, the backgrounds were rich with hidden details and animations and the level designs were truly some of the best of the early side-scroller Castlevania games. My only complaint was that Simon’s outfit seemed rather skimpy for fighting demons’ vampires and monsters. I much prefered the look of Richter from Dracula X / Rondo of Blood. Otherwise SC4 was a perfect game for me.

Even though I’m not as good as I used to be, Super Castlevania IV is still a joy to play. It is so intertwined with my childhood that I can’t picture the early 90’s with out it. Just hearing the introduction music and playing the first few levels takes me back to those carefree days of 16-bit awesomeness. Today, many Castlevania fans list Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as the best of the side-scrolling Castlevania games. While it’s true that Symphony of the Night was a great game, it went for a different approach to game play, world design and character interaction. It changed many of the more traditional Castlevania elements that I grew up on. For me, Super Castlevania IV will always be the best, traditional, nostalgic Castlevania out there and I cherish every memory that I have from playing this game. If you haven’t tried this one, I highly recommend that you do. I doubt you will be disappointed. If you are interested check out my YouTube channel for some classic gaming fun and some additional thoughts on Castlevania 4 and the other early 16-bit entries.

Final Thoughts:

Of all the systems I’ve ever owned, the SNES is my all-time favorite console. I have so many happy memories associated with that system, how could I NOT like it? I experienced some of the best hours of my early gaming life on my SNES and I owe it a debt of gratitude. The Super Nintendo was a huge part of my childhood and even though this list was very difficult, I hope you have enjoyed this look back at my top 5 favorite SNES titles. I know there are a ton of games that aren’t on this list and I am sorry about that. Rest assured, this was not easy. I would like to mention that all 5 of these games were so close to one another in the running, it was almost impossible to rank them. One or these days, I think that I might have to do an expanded list and include some of my other favorites like Zelda: A Link to the Past, Alien 3, Star Fox, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Castlevania: Dracula X, Mega Man X, Mario All-Stars, etc. ect…  It would have to be quite a list.

Next up, I think I’ll work on my top 5 favorite games on the PlayStation One. I’m not sure if that will be any easier, but we’ll have to wait and see.


We’ll see ya then.