These Are The Voyages... III
by Irish

1993
The Year Santa became a RPG star.

Okay 1993, and year III of the SNES's quest to become the best, was probably he most intense year of the 16-bit wars. The year sega really started to take the SNES seriously and began a war of escelation and propaganda (blast processing anyone?). Sega even designed a six button control pad this year that was designed after the Street Fighter II arcade controls far more faithfully than the SNES's typical controller was. They even made sure to develop a 16-meg cartridge just to show capcom that the genny could keep up. Sure Sega got the SFII love later that year, but many poopooed the Genesis SFII due to the inferior graphics and sound. The genny got a real good laugh in at Nintendo's expense later in the year however, the SNES decided buckets of sweat would be an acceptable exception to MK's buckets of blood.

But hey, I'm not here to really get into the war of the consoles, though it was a helluva good time to be young and a video gamer, I'm here, and you're here, to talk about the SNES's year, and how good a year it was. For a time when RPG's were a rare breed in the west, and considered a niche audience, the SNES sure gave some RPG love to it's fans that year. We got the great 7th saga, which was an interesting beast in the sense that the game changed significantly depending on which character you chose to be at the beginning. Lufia & the Fortress of Doom hit near the end of the year and was an all around excellent RPG with colorful graphics, a quality quest and a great story. This is one of those series that kinda fell by the wayside over time, which is a damn shame since it had so much potential. But yah, i'm sure you're aware of another RPG that hit the ground hard and running back in 93. A little known title that has kicked ass and taken names for years, often imitated, referenced, and followed up but never duplicated (save for it's japan only third title). Ladies and Gentlemen (and all creatures great and small that surf this site) please put your hands together for your friend and mine, Secret of Mana.

Applause


Yep, 1993 was the year when SOM hit and at the time it easily took the RPG of the year award and even a few game of the year nods as well. It had the laundry list of qualities notched and even surpassed the norm, It's soundtrack was remarkably atmospheric as were the spectacular and colorful graphics. It had a lighthearted feel that is seldom seen in most RPG's (c'mon, Santa Claus?) and awesome action/rpg action that actually had multiplayer. Yep, an RPG that had multiplayer long before that MMORPG clusterfuck took place. SOM is legend and rightly so as it really was just that good and it's one of the few games Square has not updated and/or re-released. It's inevitable that it will happen and when it does it will probably occur on the DS or its successor, and when it does I just got one thing to say to you Square: I don't want to see any 3-D backgrounds, polygons, or FMV. NONE! Just summarily shoot the tech nerd that even suggests it at the meeting. Oh yah, and just hog tie and lock up Tetsuya Nomura in the cellar when porting the game, I don't to risk him trying to sneak any new character designs into the game. Maybe you should just do that for retribution for Advent Children.

Okay, moving on. It wasn't just RPG goodness in 1993, we got some good Movie based titles as well. Alien III finally got ported over to the SNES. Okay, now I'm sort of wierd and unique in the sense that i actually enjoy movies that people like to bash such as Batman Forever and Spiderman III, and while Alien III the movie gets a lukewarm reaction (say what you will, but it was better than resurrection and AVP) the games were uniformly pretty fun, and the SNES version is probably the best version of the game. Better graphics, sound, and control with a superior level layout, it was a sweet if somewhat predictable good time (hey, it was better than the FPS versions). Oh, and speaking of movie based games, there were more, and surprise surprise, there was some great ones as well (further justifying my 90's Fairy God Mother theory). Batman Returns got a SNES game and it was a Final Fight clone with some sweet bat on cat action. Super Empire Strikes Back was also released and thank you lucas arts for the password option. That god code was something of a bitch for the first game, so passwords made the game slightly easier. Oh, it was also even prettier, with awesome Mode-7 stages for the At-At Hoth level and approach to Bespin level. I personally look back and find that Super Empire was my favorite game in the series.

Early in the year, the SNES also received what had to be one of it's iconic titles. Starfox. Now, I've always been a space shooter fan so this game has a special place in my heart. I used to play this game with specific star wars tracks playing on my CD player and really got into the levels and combat. That said, this game was a further kick to the strike zone for the genesis. Awesome space action fueled by mode 7 and the super FX chip. You know the Genny couldn't let that one go as a year later they had a special graphics chip of their own. However at the time Starfox hit I can imagine a huge board meeting at sega with execs throwing files on this game at the tech guys and budget projection people needing to dig holes and stairs that went three stories deep just to get those profit charts accurate. In the Japanese offices I have no trouble picturing tech guys having to show up in ritual kimono's and enlisting valued coworkers to aid them in seppuku.

So um yah, Starfox. A mascot was born, a legend began, a middle finger extended at the competition, and the console war escalated. Great game as well.

Speaking of icons, lets talk Mario. Better than that, lets talk Super Mario All Stars. Four games, one cart, further acts of seppuku at the Japan Sega offices to cover up. All Stars was in every way a hat trick, that I suspect the only reason some magazines at the time didn't give it a game of year award was that it was banned from the running just to add variety and unpredictability. It included the never before seen stateside Lost Levels, and the nigh legendary Super Mario 3. Not only that but all games with SNES facelifts and battery saves. Oh yah, Nintendo loved it's fans and loved flipping the bird at Sega.

Oh, and lets also discuss not so humble beginnings. You know blizzard right, this was their early days and they released some good SNES games at the time. Specifically a game called Lost Vikings. Three time warped vikings, each with special abilities lost in time and trying to get home. You control each as you figure your way through puzzling environments, outwit and outfight dangerous enemies and use each of your three less than sharp crew members and their specific abilities to get through each level. Even to this day lost vikings is still charming and fun.

On a more niche level, the SNES had good things to offer that year. Plok is an adept platformer with a hero that fights by tossing his limbs. An amusing gimmick but well utilzed and put into a well designed game, it's a fun if not outstanding time killer that has the virtue of being simply a fun game. Geez, I wish games today could get that part right. We also had Rocky & Pocky, a unique shooter involving a little girl and her raccoon. Rocky and Pocky gets it's rep by being cute and filled with personality, as well as difficult and amusing. If you're the sort of open minded gamer that hasn't been desensitized, than you really should get into R&P. And then there's Zombies Ate my Neighbors. A game that referrences and parodies the cheesy Sci-fi films of the 60's in a overhead shooter style that plays quite a bit like Gauntlet. It may not bee all that by todays standards, but back then this was great fun and it just reinforces the sense of fun and laid back gaming style of the 16-bit era. Oh, and finally, there is the ultra amusing Super Turrican. It's the sort of game that takes that contra shooter vibe, and infuses super soldier serum into it and mutates into a freaky yet somehow cool mutation of itself. Super Turrican prides itself on being non stop madness, where the action and powering up never cease. Some may find it's pace and style to be too challenging, but Contra nuts should be able to dig it.

Okay, now I want to discuss some of the iconic and definitive moments of the year. Lets start with the obvious. Street Fighter II: Championship Edition came to the SNES under the monicker "Hyper Fighting Edition." Yes kids, now there's actually a bit of difference between Ryu & Ken. Oh yah, we gave Chun Li a fireball and threw in a few new moves for the characters switching up the combo's and technique. Oi, did this game sell, and I didn't mind all that much until another update hit the next year, but thats next article.

Also a pretty weird game hit that was the lost stop for the gravy train for two franchises that were rapidly losing steam. Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team. It was a well designed, well implemented crossover that had well designed stages and proved to be just good fun and held a ton of variety. It's nothing that inspired seppuku at Sega, but it was still a really cool game and idea that defined the 1993 year for the SNES.

And then there was another unique title. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. It's basically Ninja Turtles in SFII style fighting game. This could easily end up on some of the worst games ever list, if it wasn't for the fact that the game was just so damn fun and well designed. Graphics were dark and spectacular (owing more in design to Peter Lairds artwork than the cartoon) as well as characters that were taken from the archie comic book series (stop snickering, it was a great comic dammit). I had literal fangasms fighting as War (of the four horsemen) and Future Shark Armaggon (this dude beat the crap out of the turtles and took out raphs eye just for fun, told yah it was a cool book). Unique references and cool designs aside, the music and voice work were forgettable (on acct I really can't remember any), and the controls really did make with the SFII controller motions and focus on technique. Turtles in Time was the last stop as far as arcade action went, but Tournament Fighters was truly the last stop for the ninja turtles in terms of quality gaming.

Okay, I've been putting this one off. But I can't avoid it. I'm out of games, and this one is still on the 1993 list. I think you better sit down for this one.

Of all the games released in 1993, No game was as controversial as the one I'm about to talk about. No, not even Mortal Kombat and it's buckets of sweat. It doesn't get mentioned at gaming discussions and most websites refuse to acknowledge it. I personally like it quite a bit, but do see the huge complaints lobbied at it. I guess there is no getting around it, here it is. the last great game of 1993 I'm going to talk about. Actraiser II.

Okay, for those of you that havn't shattered your monitors or hurled your labtops through the air in outrage, thank you and hear me out. This was a time when presentation values were still being explored, and finding new ways to make your game pretty was considered quite a work of programming and enhanced the gameplay. 2D in essence, is still something that can and should never die, and I am of the opinion that awesome 2D artwork can influence a sense of wonder due to artistry in a way that 3D and it's desperate attempts to be realistic cannot. Actraiser II had some of the best damn 2D artwork and designs of the 16-bit era. Oh, and they even tapped Yuzo Koshiro to do the soundtrack. From a presentation perspective, Actraiser II takes no shit from nobody.

It's gameplay that really makes this game the franchise destroying black sheep it turned out to be.

Yah, no more playing god, no more influencing your civilization and accepting tribute. Nope, none of it. Now you're just fighting demons that are threatening your people. You got a cool shield that you can angle diagonally and a sword you can swing in multiple angles and even use in a fricken cool dive bombing move flying with your wings. You even get awesome magic spells that have different effects depending on how long you hold down the button. Simple stuff by todays standards, but at the time this was some unique and fundamentally cool gameplay. The bosses and platforming are tough as nails, really tough. Contra: Shattered Soldier style tough. This is the sort of tough that they make youtube videos about to show you how to survive it.

And thats why I like it.

Yes, it's not the game it's predecessor was. It's not as unique, original, or engrossing. But on it's own, perhaps renamed, it's still a great title for those who's egos can stand a little bruising as they battle through it. I liked it. And it's staying here as one of the best of 1993. Deal with it. And also be aware I have fortified my home from any forms of ninja infiltration, so having me assassinated for my stance is as tough a proposition as beating this game.

Ha fricken ha.

And I'm done for this year. 1994 is only one good night sleep away. See ya there.


Voyages... IV


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