B.O.B. Longplay (SNES)

As played by NOUFuzzy, an action-platformer, B.O.B., developed by Graymatter. I rented this game a few times in the early 90s, but never finished it. I think the video store owner sold the title before I could get to it. Go figure!

I haven’t done a long longplay post in a while. If I can dig up some more information about B.O.B. I’ll update this post.

Final Fight Longplay (SNES)

As played by SCHLAUCHI, Final Fight for the SNES. This longplay is about an hour long, but it’s a nice trip down nostalgia avenue.

This post on RMWC Reviews reminded me of this beat ’em up’s existence, via Castalia House blog. I don’t have the time to dig into this venerable genre’s particulars today, but once these games were arcade staples. I wonder if they could see a revival one of these days?


Liberty or Death Gameplay

I’ve talked about Liberty or Death before. Recall that it’s a game in the Koei “strategic simulation series” from the early 90s; you may have heard of the more famous entries. I read about Liberty or Death in EGM and got hooked on the concept, and was one of the few games I managed to get the day it came out. Preorders were harder in the pre-Internet era. Anyway, I’m learning how to make my own gameplay videos and figured this was a good a place as any to start. I’ve linked to it below. There’s no commentary and very little processing done to it, the actual “battle of Boston” begins around the 12-minute mark if you want to skip ahead to it. Oh yeah, and please like and subscribe my channel.

Liberty or Death Gameplay

Even though I didn’t speak during the game, I had some thoughts. First, the basics: it’s a hybrid turn-based strategy game, resource and map management make up one part, and turn-based combat on a hex grid make up the other. You can play as the Americans or the British, and while the win conditions are the same for both teams (occupy all the districts), the strategy is somewhat asymmetrical. The Americans should expand quickly, whereas the British should hit hard and consolidate as soon as possible. Yes, you can also win by default as the American player if the game reaches the year 1820 and you’re at a stalemate. It’s unlikely that this has ever happened to anybody unintentionally.

I read an article that for the US release, Koei implemented various tweaks to make it more palatable for the masses. This included dumbing down the enemy AI and making the Americans OP. If I remember right, the game manual even told you to play as the Americans since it’s much easier. The quality of the officers determines how good your units are on the board (referred to as Regiments in game). The American officers are far superior to their British counterparts. The only disadvantages on the American side are no navy, little money, and are poorly equipped. This only lasts about a year in game time (24 turns per year), and by that time if you’ve expanded and played the PR game competently you should easily be at parity with the British side.

Resource management consists of arming and feeding your troops. This includes buying them gunpowder, guns, and food (naturally). Each military district provides to your game economy, which is gold. The more popular your cause is in the district (on a 1-100 scale), the cheaper goods will be and the more money the locals will give you. Troops stationed in wealthy districts (i.e., Philadelphia, Long Island, Boston) will get equipped by the local women groups. So as you gain popular support, you won’t even have to worry about spending Gold for your troops.

My Strategy

As I said above, it’s a lot easier to play as the Americans than the British. For that reason whenever I fire up Liberty or Death I always play as the British. But, since this is the Fourth of July (cheap pop) and I haven’t played as old George Washington in ages, I figured I would give the Americans a try again. You get very little money compared to the British, but you do have a better position on the map. You start with at least double the number of regiments, occupying a central position, as you can see in the video. The thirteen British regiments are holed up in Canada and Boston.

Seven regiments, under the command of Thomas Gage, are garrisoning Boston (District 5). They’re surrounded by George Washington’s huge army in Springfield and some others in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut. A dirty trick: if you battle an army commanded by that side’s Commander in Chief, just capture that unit and the battle is over. It just so happens that the board is set up ideally for the Americans to take advantage of this. Now, Gage (and other units) can escape via the fleet, which is also stationed in Boston but if you bottle him up, you should have little trouble capturing him. This is what I do in the gameplay video.

Taking Boston early, on the first turn nets you a couple of thousand Gold to use for your army. You also eliminate over half the strength of the British forces in the North. If you imprison people instead of ransoming them, you also remove many of the high-quality British commanders from the game.

I stopped after getting Gage, but in part two I’ll continue the mop up operation. It’s not over until it’s over. But I give the British very little chance of defeating me after this knockout blow.

Analysis and Legacy

Upon its release, Liberty or Death got mediocre reviews. I would be surprised if most people have even heard of this game. But it has a special place in my heart. It was one of the first games I discovered on my own in my crowd and followed closely until it came out. It’s not the greatest game in the world, I’ve played a lot of better strategy games for sure. But it has character that a lot of others are lacking. I wish they had expanded on the loyalty system and the political system a bit more. The micromanaging is tedious. I doubt a modern audience would want to give orders to each district each turn and then move all the pieces individually during the battle sequences. That said, I would welcome a modern take on this game, in the Koei-style.

A word about the video: I’m still learning how to capture footage and process the video. I used Adobe Premiere since I have the subscription, but acknowledge it may not be the best tool for the job. If anybody reading this has suggestions, please comment below or the channel. Thanks for reading and watching, and have a good Fourth.

SNES Classic Edition Announced for September 2017

Nintendo created quite a stir yesterday when the company announced the SNES Classic Edition, the long rumored follow-up to last year’s NES Classic. The SNES Classic will launch on September 29 of this year with 21 games and two SNES pads. The unit will retail for $79.99. It should go without saying this will be a rare holiday gift this year. If you plan to get one (or several), you should bump it up on your priority list. While Nintendo says they’re ramping up production to meet anticipated demand, they don’t plan to continue making them after this year. So if you don’t manage to get one on the 29th, it’s likely you’ll have to deal with scalpers on the River and the Bay. If you’re in the US, you can sign-up for an email notice from Amazon now.

Enough of that. Here’s the breakdown of the games:

SNES Classic Games (First Party)

  • Super Mario World
  • Super Mario Kart
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • F-Zero
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • StarFox
  • Yoshi’s Island
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Earthbound

And, of course, StarFox 2 – the finished-but-unreleased sequel to StarFox – will be included on the roster.

If you were to take a survey of all the Nintendo games that anybody owned in the SNES era, you would probably see all of those listed. This is a sampling of the golden age of the Big N’s game development prowess. Two Kirby games seem excessive; I would have rather have seen Pilotwings (yes really), but that’s a small quibble. There’s only one glaring omission to my eyes: SimCity.

SNES Classic Games (Third Party)

    • Street Fighter II Turbo (Capcom)
    • Super Castlevania IV (Konami)
    • Donkey Kong Country (Rare)
    • Mega Man X (Capcom)
    • Contra III The Alien Wars (Konami)
    • Secret of Mana (Squaresoft)
    • Final Fantasy III (Squaresoft)
    • Super Ghouls & Ghosts (Capcom)

The Third party list happens to include three of my favorite games ever. In fact, astute readers of this blog will remember my posts about SFII Turbo from earlier this year. (And didn’t I just write something about Contra?) Again, I challenge you to find somebody who lived through the SNES years and didn’t play, own or hear of any of these games. I’m a little disappointed that Chrono Trigger wasn’t included, but if I’m being honest, I’d take Secret of Mana over that title any day. I had my fingers crossed that Mortal Kombat II would make the list, important as it was to the history of the console, but I’m not surprised it’s not here. That game doesn’t fit in with the tenor of the library anyway.

There are some other third party titles that would have been nice to have: Turtles in Time and Final Fight come to mind immediately. But these are minor, entitled complaints. There’s hundreds of hours of gameplay here. Many of these games appear high on everybody’s “Best of all Time/Greatest of all Time” lists, year after year.

StarFox 2

Game Informer was nice enough to repost a video that breaks down StarFox and StarFox 2. I’ve embedded this video below (about 7 minutes long).

Super Shortage

We’ll close this with a few words about the SNES Classic’s life cycle. Several outlets have noted that Nintendo will produce “significantly more” than the 2.3 million units that ultimately got shipped for the NES Classic. According to the company, it will only ship the system from September 29 until the end of the year. So again, if you’re keen on owning this novelty item, you better plan ahead and set aside significantly more cash than 80 bucks plus tax. I was able to get an NES Classic thanks to my wife, and she admitted she paid “a few times” more than its list price. Frankly it sucks, but this is par for course for the console maker and the aftermarket guys.

From Nintendo’s mouth:

“Our long-term efforts are focused on delivering great games for the Nintendo Switch system and continuing to build momentum for that platform, as well as serving the more than 63 million owners of Nintendo 3DS family systems,” reads the statement. “We are offering Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition in special recognition of the fans who show tremendous interest our classic content.”

Consider that your fair warning. This is truly a limited edition thing. Of course, if all you care about is the games, most of them are already available on the Virtual Console…and other ways. And if you really want to own the authentic article, you can shell out cash for the originals and any of the Retro consoles out there, or even an original SNES.

I wonder if they’re planning to do this for the Nintendo64.

Liberty or Death

Not to be overly morbid, but Death has been on my mind today. It’s a Memorial Day in the US so I was reflecting on the sacrifices of our noble dead, and where I’m currently living I don’t have to go too far to be reminded of those who paid the ultimate price in the service of their country. Yesterday I wrote about Panzer General, and stated that it was the one turn based strategy game that I had spent the most time with. I realized today that’s actually not true I did spend a lot of time with a certain KOEI strategy game during the SNES heydays and beyond: Liberty or Death. Liberty or Death may not be the Civil War game I wished it was back in the day, but the Revolutionary War was a fascinating period nonetheless. It had a staying power with me and as recently as say five years ago I was still booting up the old game to have a go at Gage or Washington, depending on my mood.

Probably built on the same technology as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games, Liberty or Death was a part of KOEI’s strategic simulation series. I don’t recall playing any of the R3K games during their heyday, but I did play P.T.O. – Pacific Theater of Operations – and of course Operation Europe. There were some signs that the those World War 2 games shared the same engine DNA as the rest of the simulation series, just thinking in terms of the aesthetics and the AI logic which seemed to be similar from game to game. But again whether or not this was true is probably bound up in some old foreign gaming magazine interviews.  Liberty or Death was a port from DOS version, I believe, and you could tell from certain artifacts in the game that the programmers simply didn’t have enough time or inclination to remove them from the console games (such as the unused Commissary and Quartermaster dialog that was still visible during the quarterly allocation phases).  And of all of the historic simulation games, it had the strongest flavor. I’ll return to this point in a moment.

As a brief aside: that Liberty or Death even came out on the SNES with its title intact is a little shocking. LoD was released in 1994, pre Mortal Kombat II. As some of you may be aware, Nintendo had (by today’s standards) fairly harsh censorship controls in place. These were designed to protect the Big N’s squeaky clean, family (read: kid) friendly image in the States.  So the journos in those days were wont to opine. Though I think localization issues probably played a larger part in that policy than staying family orientated in the US. Unless I’m recalling it wrong, part of Nintendo’s censorship practices included no death references in the game titles or cover art, no mention of devils or other demonic creatures, and there could be very limited gore and blood. This is how we got the (in)famously sweaty port of Mortal Kombat in 1993 which resulted in a huge fan backlash against the company which Sega was quick to take advantage of, so popular legend goes. But we’ll leave Genesis does what Nintendon’t for another day. The marketing practices in those days were certainly a bit edgier and willing to break kayfabe, so to speak, than they are today. I wonder how many members of my generational cohort used Blast Processing to aid in their school yard console fights. But anyway.

Strong design and clever marketing ultimately was sold me on Liberty or Death way back when. The ads were competently done but it was the positioning of the commanders as characters that made the game appear to be more console friendly than just another staid war game with a limited color palette and an obscure math engine driving the sim.  In the SNES version, you could take on the role of George Washington for the colonial Americans or Thomas Gage, commander in chief of the British North American forces at the time. If you’re struggling to recall your early US history (if you ever took it) General Gage was a transitional figure in the conflict, best remembered for his inept handling of the brewing crisis in Massachusetts. He ultimately bears the responsibility for allowing his forces to be besieged in Boston, leading to the Bunker Hill fiasco which assured his removal from command in late 1775 and causing the Brits to hightail it for Halifax in early ’76. Now, the whole history was obviously a lot more complicated than could have been represented in a 16 bit game but Koei made a strong effort. Boiling it all down to Washington vs. Gage in military terms was an oversimplification to say the least, but it worked brilliantly in terms of video game playability. According to the Wikipedia entry, Stieg Hedlund was one of the designers for LoD. I give him a lot of credit creating such a playable experience with strong historical accuracy. It also wasn’t shocking to me know he was involved with the project, given that Hedlund helped design some PC games later in the 90s which you may have heard of.

One final note of the difference between Liberty or Death and Panzer General: LoD is very much a grand strategy game, whereas PG was focused solely on the turn based aspect. Sure the battles in LoD are turn based and take place on the common hex maps, but what set this game apart was the strategic aspect of occupying key territories, working with military budgets, and even keeping your political supporters appeased. Speaking of politics, by the way, the title is a reference to Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech in which he managed to persuade those in a Virginia Convention to send troops off to fight in the revolution.  This is all covered in the opening cut scenes of the game in case you needed a refresher. Henry appeals directly to Lady Liberty and the Grim Reaper himself.

Come to think of it, I’m a little surprised the Grim Reaper ever made it through Nintendo’s censors at all.