Gargoyle's Quest II (NES)

I cleared this game in two, maybe three hours; that's not a bad amount of time for a straight platformer on the NES, though ideally that should be how long it takes to complete the game once you're good at it, not the first time you play it. But Gargoyle's Quest II tries to combine platforming with RPG towns, and instead of making the Demon Realm feel more alive it just makes the game feel undernourished. Also, a chunk of that was spent game overing to a very tight jump after getting the wing upgrade from that blind witch and having to run through the same section of the world map and a platforming level to get back to it.

It was interesting to see the powerups that would later be used in Demon's Crest, though. And while I think that game is kind of overrated, that game's world somehow felt more fleshed out despite not having the towns (or maybe only having one, I forget).


Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

This is another staple from my childhood, so I'm probably biased as all hell towards it. Then again, nostalgia didn't save Donkey Kong Country 3, but we'll get to that shortly.

Admittedly the bosses aren't great, and I think a few too many secrets are hidden in walk-through walls, but DKC2 still offers a solid experience. The environments are always changing, and nearly every level offers a unique spin on its base ideas, whether it's adding strong winds, having you play through tranformed into an animal buddy, or having the level slowly fill with water containing a predatory fish (then upping the ante further with a level slowly filling with acid). And while you can charge through each level, unlike the first game DKC2 gives you an actual reason to scour the levels for the bonus stages, as you need the tokens to get the last five levels and real ending. Add to that an intense soundtrack, and you've got one hell of a ride.

Well, mostly. I want to know who was drunk on what when they came up with Glimmer's Galleon. I already kind of dislike underwater stages, but then we get one where you can only see a cone in front of you. THEN they make it so the screen flashes every time you turn around. And the DK coin is one of the most obtusely hidden in the game, so I had to play this damn level something like five times before I just went to GameFAQs.


The LEGO Batman Movie (G)

I seem to enjoy Batman media more when it's taking the piss out of him (see also Batman: The Brave and the Bold). LEGO Batman may open with Batman singlehandedly kicking his rogues gallery's collective ass, but soon the movie is calling him a tosser, reimagining the Joker as a little kid who just wants his senpai to notice him, and slapping a retro Batsuit on Alfred and letting him join the fray. Things go proper off the rails when the Joker gets to the Phantom Zone, and instead of a huge DC baddy like... I dunno, Gorilla Grodd? he releases fucking Voldemort, Sauron, and a velociraptor. But while The LEGO Movie was a satire on Hollywood's overzealous protection of its IP, LEGO Batman doesn't seem to have much to say beyond "Even Batman needs a friend."

By the way, if you're watching this on a huge HDTV I imagine the action scenes and highly detailed set pieces would be damned impressive. But I was watching on a small 13-inch SD television, so a lot of this movie wound up being a cluttered mess.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (G)

There's actually a decent movie here under the gargoyle bullshit. As far as A/V porn goes it just might be the most impressive of the Disney films I've seen recently, as the architecture of the Notre Dame cathedral and the colorful Feast of Fools give the Disney animators plenty to work with. The score is also pretty damn impressive, and combine the two and you get the brilliant "Hellfire" scene. The actual story is a "Who's the real monster here" thing you see in The Hulk a lot, but eh, I guess it's done passable.

But just as I'd start to become absorbed into the movie it would suddenly go "We now interrupt this film to bring you something completely stupid." Guess they had to throw in something for the little kids most of this movie would be lost on. But there's some issues that I think could have been sorted out if they'd dedicated the film and production time to them that they spent squandering Jason Alexander. Like... I don't understand why the crowd suddenly turned on Quasimodo? Did they just let their antics get out of hand? And if the gypsies are scorned by the Paris citizens as thieves, why is there a festival dedicated to them? Esmerelda and Phoebos' relationship could have also used more time.


Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

You really need me to tell you about Super Mario Bros. 3?

Okay, since my score's lower than most people would give it (i.e. 5/5), let me say why I'm docking it a bit; by the time I got to the sky zone, the levels started to blur together, with the occasional gimmick levels to break them up like the ice zone level where you have to fly a turtle shell onto a ledge to clear the way to the exit, that pipe zone fortress with the hidden exit, and of course the battleships in the dark zone. I guess I could have taken a break, or turned the game off and used a warp whistle to get back to where I was, but the latter would cost me all the items in my inventory (which, admittedly, was glutted with P-wings and clouds by the time I got to World 8).


Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (SNES)

How does this game manage to feel needlessly shaken up and tired at the same time?

I'm sure a lot of it has to do with DKC3 being caught in an awkward position between Nintendo wanting to milk the Donkey Kong Country franchise for all it was worth (I've read that it actually saved them from bankruptcy?) and a console generation shift. So we've got a competent platforming game riddled with phoned-in garbage like having Donkey AND Diddy get kidnapped, then teaming Dixie up with a screaming baby with all the charm of a moldy fish and chip dinner. Rambi's been replaced with an elephant named, uh, "Ellie," (if these people named the previous animals, we would have had "Riney" the Rhino, "Tarry" the Tarantula, and "Swordy" the Swordfish) most of the enemies are replaced with inferior clones (Team Zinger, bitches), the Brothers Bear don't really add that much, and you now progress through the game world by getting vehicles from Funky instead of, you know, just unlocking zones as you go. And Squirt has got to be the most pointless boss in a Donkey Kong Country game; I don't think even Boss Dumb Drum is that worthless.

I guess as its own thing the soundtrack isn't bad, but man is it wimpy compared to DKC2's. Turns out, there's a reason for the extreme change in style: the first Donkey Kong Country's soundtrack was more or less split between David Wise and Evaline Fischer. DKC2's soundtrack was all Wise, while 3's soundtrack was predominately Fischer. Guess which one did the more ambient songs in DKC1.

I think I actually would have been kinder to the game if they had cut the Banana Bird bullshit and just given you another ending when you beat the K. Rool rematch, like DKC2 did. The ending you get for all those rounds of Simon feels like the game saying "What, you were expecting this trilogy to go out on a bang? Well, fuck you."


Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)

It may be heresy to bag on a classic like Super Mario 64, but there's something about this game that, in the years since it came out, I have lost my patience for:

The camera sucks eggs right out of the chicken's ass.

I want to give it some leeway because it was early in 3D platforming and they were still figuring stuff like cameras out (although I have to ask why they made the same damn mistakes in Sunshine and Galaxy) but I literally yelled "I can't see what I'm doing!" at the screen multiple times. Sometimes it was angles that made it impossible to tell where shit was in relation to other shit. Sometimes it was shit blocking my view of other shit. And sometimes I'd finally set up an acceptable view of shit only to have the game yank control away because it thinks it knows better than I do how I want to view that shit. Or I'd be on a narrow catwalk and have the camera swing around as I'm crossing it, and since Mario walks in relation to the camera he'd start veering off. I kept thinking back to a Port Saiid post about how MDK2's camera and controls were so precise you could walk across narrow beams, but some Turok game's controls were so clunky you could be walking across huge platforms and still be at risk of falling off.

... oh god, I just thought about scaling that cooling tower with SM64's camera and controls and scared myself...

Yeah, the game gave us memorable levels like Jolly Roger Bay, Bowser In the Sky, and the Hazy Maze Cave. And the main level might be a pain in the ass, but I've always liked that flooded village in Wet Dry World. But by Baast, trying to play through them with that camera was uncomfortable.

I didn't think I was going to have the stomach to get all 120 stars this time, but call it insanity or determination, I did it. Funnily enough, the star I was dreading was the 100 coin one for Rainbow Ride, but it turned out to be the 100 coin star for Tick Tock Clock that drove me up the wall. Having to listen to that awful background music while doing it didn't help.