Games in this post:

-The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past-
-Raiden Trad-
-Home Alone-
-Super Off Road-
-Joe & Mac-
-Chibi Maruko-chan: Harikiri 365-Nichi no Maki-

Now we've almost hit December of 1991, by far the biggest month up to this point for the Super Nintendo. There are so many games released that I'm splitting it into three posts. Before we get there though, there are still two games released in November. One of them is arguably one of the best games in history. I mean who doesn't have fond memories of Raiden Trad? Uh, just kidding.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - Still a 10/10 if it released today

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

The nice thing about doing my own Super Nintendo blog is that I can be totally biased. I can say things like, A Link to the Past is one of the best games ever made. It's execution is near perfect from start to finish. While many people hold a certain ocarina-themed entry up as the best in the series, for me this is the pinnacle of Zelda games. The graphics and animations are crisp and colorful. It's got one of the most recognizable soundtracks ever. The dungeons, enemies, and bosses are varied and excellently designed. The pacing of new skills and challenges is near perfect.

Finding all of these is still exciting.

I doubt anyone reading this is unfamiliar with how Zelda games traditionally work, but just in case you are, here it goes. The concept is for your character to explore a large world, finding the items needed to rescue Zelda. These items are in dungeons, which are really the meat of the game. Dungeons are equal parts action and puzzle, and it's this combination that makes them so fun. There were very few games in the NES and SNES eras that combined different types of gameplay. Combine that with lots of items and secrets to find, and you have a big game that never gets boring. A Link to the Past is superb, and you owe it to the gamer in you to play it. Check out the Virtual Console version here, or man up and track down a physical copy. It's worth every penny of the $35 - $50.
My Grade: A+
Worth Playing: Yes, didn't you read that last paragraph?

Raiden Trad - Tradding familiar waters

Genre: Shooter
Developer: Micronics
Electro Brain (US)
Toei Animation (JP)
11/29/1991 (JP)
April, 1992 (US)

Really terrible puns aside, why do shmups tend to have such strange names? Raiden generally refers to thunder, and all I could find for trad is a shorthand way of saying traditional. So Tradition of Thunder? The Japanese title is Raiden Densetsu, which would be Legend of Thunder, so that's a little better I guess. Anyway, as to the slight joke at this game's expense at the beginning of this post, I'm sure there are people that remember it fondly. It's not a bad game, really. It's just that every part of it really seems like I've been seeing it since the NES days. It's the epitome of an average shmup. The challenge is certainly there, at least until you get homing missiles. It uses a "wait for the power-up to change" system where there is one power-up each for the main and sub-weapons, and they cycle through your options. The problem is that in a hectic game like this, waiting just isn't a working concept, and you often grab a power-up you didn't want. If you're a fan of the genre you'll probably have fun with it, but it's not going to be anything you haven't played lots of times before.
My Grade: C
Worth Playing: Not really

Home Alone - They can make a platformer out of anything

Genre: Action
Publisher: THQ (US)
Dec, 1991(US)

Ah, the notorious "licensed game". In the PS1-PS2 era a game based on a license was almost always bad. There were exceptions of course but it was true enough to be surprising when a game was good. It's turning around a bit nowadays with series like the Batman Arkham games and the LEGO licensed titles. Back in the 8 and 16 bit days it was kind of a mixed bag. Home Alone is an action platformer loosely based around the movie. You play as Kevin and need to collect enough valuables in each level to keep them from the Wet Bandits, who are a small army in addition to the two characters from the film. Other than the setting and main characters, there's not much in common to the movie, unless I just missed the part where Kevin battles a giant spider. The gameplay isn't bad, but eventually you're just jumping around trying to find hidden items. It's not bad though, especially if you're a fan of the film, and there are a couple nice touches like the classic Aaaaah! face every time you die.
My Grade: C-
Worth Playing: No

Super Off Road - As seen from outer space

Genre: Racing
Software Creations
Tradewest (US)
Pack in Video (JP)
Dec, 1991 (US)

Super Off Road is a top-down racing game. I'm thinking a kind of spiritual successor to RC Pro-am on the NES, which was a great game. You can actually see the entire track at once, rather than from behind your car. The viewpoint works pretty well for this game since it allows a lot more bumps and potholes than would have been possible at the time, and the vertical changes are what makes off road racing what it is. The car controls pretty well, and 2 people can play at the same time. There are 4 cars, and you win money as long as you aren't last. If you lose you lose some money and upgrades and have to start over. I can't really say if there's an ultimate goal or not. The game seems to just keep throwing tracks at you. I was 20 races in and was seeing new tracks, when I had already raced on other ones three or four times. Everything looks and plays well, but it gets boring pretty quickly. As is often the case, playing with a second player greatly improves the fun factor.
My Grade: C+
Worth Playing: No

Joe & Mac - Caveman Ghouls and Ghosts

Genre: Action
Data East
Data East
Jan, 1992 (US)

The best way to describe the gameplay of Joe & Mac is Ghouls and Ghosts lite. You run and jump through tricky platforming levels while taking out re-spawning enemies with a variety of weapons. The game can be challenging, but no where near the level of Capcom's game. On its own, Joe & Mac is a solid game. Graphics are big and bright, giving it a cartoony feel. The controls are responsive and there aren't too many cheap deaths. The different weapons add variety, and you can switch between them as you get more. The biggest thing of note is that the game has 2-player simultaneous play, something very uncommon for platformers back then. The game isn't on Virtual Console, and it's pretty rare to find a cart, but its arcade version was released under the Caveman Ninja name in Data East's Arcade Classics for the Wii. From the list of included games in that set it's probably one of the better offerings.
My Grade: B
Worth Playing: If you want some old-school platforming with a buddy

Chibi Maruko-chan: Harikiri 365-Nichi no Maki - What a 16-bit Mario Party might have been like

Genre: Board Game
Developer: SAS Sakata
Publisher:Epoch (JP)
Released: 12/13/91 (JP)

This is a Japanese Board game based on the manga/TV show of the same name. There's a Swedish translation, but no English, so I'm not sure what your options are. The board is a 2D side view, with numbered spaces underneath the characters. Events happen when you land on spaces, adding or subtracting to your score. There are items to use as well that can add to how many spaces you move. It's hard to say how much variety there is to the game. I'm thinking there are different modes but for the most part it's all luck of the spinner and what space you land on. Depending on the audience of the source material it might have been a good game for Japanese kids, but not much else.
My Grade: N/A
Worth Playing: No

Lagoon - The little Zelda that couldn't

Genre: Action-RPG
Developer: Zoom
Publisher: Kemco

Lagoon was released in a really odd situation. It's a top down, action RPG. The comparisons to Zelda must have been immediate. In the US, Lagoon released first, so it probably fared better, but in Japan, Zelda was still fresh in gamers' minds and this game just comes up short in comparison. It's certainly not a bad game. It's just not as polished as is its Nintendo-developed cousin. The biggest issue is the size of the characters compared to the angle. It sometimes looks like your character is standing right on top of an enemy, but you still don't hit it with your weapon. On the plus side, your character regenerates health, and it helps to even out the times when you get hit due to the odd angle. The other thing is that nothing in the game is especially memorable. The graphics, characters and music are all simply "OK". It's unfortunate when a decent game is overshadowed this much by a superior game. If Lagoon had released at a different time, they might have been able to make improvements and come out with a sequel.
My Grade: C
Worth Playing: No

There are still a lot of games to cover from December '91, but all the biggest games have now been released. Thanks as always for reading.