Friday, September 11, 2015


I've had mixed thoughts about the Playstation brand since its American launch in 1995, but it's been around for twenty years now, and like it or lump it, it will likely be a permanent part of the gaming culture. Besides, I'd rather celebrate twenty years of Playstation domination than some other anniversaries I could mention. So with this in mind, here are a handful of titles for the first Playstation game console, currently available on the PSN digital store.


Not shown: nausea.
(image from Emuparadise)
I was a huge, huge fan of this tube shooter at the turn of the century, but fifteen years later, it's easier to find the flaws buried under its wild psychedelic visuals. As a matter of fact, the graphics are a big part of the problem with N2O. Some stages buckle and sway in a loving tribute to motion sickness, and this coupled with the blinding lens flares provides excellent cover for your enemies, which frequently ambush you as you race through the game's garishly colored tunnels. N2O also seems intent on using every button on the Playstation controller, when four would have been plenty. A jump button is helpful when you're on the edge of the tube, like in Tempest 2000, but not so much when you're inside it. Having said all that, this game is still a rush after all these years thanks in large part to a remix of The Crystal Method's Vegas, which sounds even better than the official album.


"I am Gato
I have silver joints
Beat me up
and earn fifteen points
then kill me in the sequel
that disappoints"

~ anonymous Twitter post

What... is even going on here?!
(image from
Good grief. Even calling this a sequel to Chrono Trigger stretches the definition of the term to the point of snapping. It doesn't look anything like the first game, with 3D character models and an art style far removed from the work of Akira Toriyama. It doesn't play anything like the first game either, shackled to a confusing menu-based combat system where light attacks can be chained into stronger blows, which can be chained into magic spells, but only if the gauge at the top of the screen is a solid color and what the fuck am I even doing? There are rumors that Chrono Cross started development as its own game, unrelated to the Super NES classic, and it really shows. It's vaguely entertaining if you can push the tenuous ties to the original out of your mind, but there are so many superior RPGs on this system that it's hardly worth the effort.


The Killer Bee comes standard with
driver side airbags.
(image from Emuparadise)
I had this for the Sega Saturn back in the 1990s, and I'm happy to report that it's pretty much the same experience on the Playstation, right down to the... er, Japanese text. I guess Capcom didn't see the point in an English translation for a six dollar download, but the unintelligible dialog won't stop you from enjoying this fun if insubstantial beat 'em up. Your towering mech has just two strengths of attack, coupled with a long range weapon and a boost that lets you dart across each futuristic playfield. Battles are fast-paced and incredibly tense, and they're presented with some of Capcom's best visuals from the CPS2 era. You're sure to have a good time with Cyberbots, as long as you don't expect the depth of Tekken or Capcom's own Street Fighter series.


Our dashing hero, Ashley Riot. Wait, Ashley?
(image from Emuparadise)
Slow, detail-obsessed, and more than a little awkward to play, Vagrant Story isn't for everybody. It doesn't help matters that this late Playstation release demands more from the system than it can deliver. One look at the chunky textures and angular monsters in this castle will make you long for what might have been on the more powerful Playstation 2. Once you've learned to accept the quirky interface and the relentless brown of your surroundings, however, you'll discover the hidden pleasures of Vagrant Story. Your knight can target specific areas of his opponents to exploit their weaknesses, or just switch to a long range weapon like a crossbow to nail them from a safe distance. Your strategic options only grow as you progress, making Vagrant Story a safe purchase for players old enough to remember when RPGs were all about number-crunching and polyhedral dice.


Andor Genesis... still annoying,
but now annoying in 3D!
(image from Hardcore Gaming 101)
"You like Xevious, eh? Well, have all the Xevious in the WORLD!" Okay, not all the Xevious, but probably as much Xevious as anyone who isn't from Japan would need in their lifetime. Included in this collection is the original arcade game, the slightly enhanced Super Xevious, the 16-bit revival Xevious Arrangement, and the headliner Xevious 3D/G, which offers more complex gameplay than its predecessors along with breathtaking cinematography made possible by a polygonal graphics engine. It looks a little plain next to, say, Raystorm, Soukyugurentai, or Radiant Silvergun on the Sega Saturn, but at least it's more merciful than the other three games in the collection! Seriously, if you can beat the Andor Genesis in Xevious Arrangement, give yourself a pat on the back with that bionic hand of yours.


Knuckle under.
(image from Emuparadise)
Curiously, this game can't be played on any of Sony's handheld systems, making it less pocket-friendly than advertised. That's a shame, too, because aside from the incredibly weird, incredibly unnecessary Edit Fighter mode, it's a great port of one of the lesser known games in the Street Fighter series. Between the big-headed characters, the simpler control scheme, and a reliance on auto combos, you'd be tempted to call this a kid's game, and indeed, it probably would make a good introduction to Street Fighter for younger players or newcomers. However, with new gameplay elements like block breakers and throwable items, and zany sight gags referencing everything from Mega Man to Elvis Presley, there's plenty here for both devoted Capcom fans and those who'd like to join their ranks.


The kind of odds you face when
you play Mega Man X4.
(image from US Gamer)
Mega Man X4 is probably the best game in the series, with the big, bold graphics and CD-quality sound that were beyond the grasp of the Super NES. (There were later games too, but the series fell off the rails after X5 and never really recovered.) Beyond that, it's a reminder of how rotten I've gotten at video games in the eighteen years since it was released. I was able to reach Sigma (but not beat him, because come on) in my twenties, but now, I need the Ultimate Suit to make any progress at all! I've got to give props to Capcom for offering this crutch to less skilled players like myself... or would, if it weren't for the falling ceilings in Split Mushroom's stage. Or that stupid hoverbike race that seems to last an eternity in Jet Stingray's stage. Or any one of a number of scenes that seem less like a fun challenge and more like bamboo under my fingernails now that I'm older and my reflexes have dulled.

Sony/Whoopee Camp

Farting peaches. Sure, why not?
(image from US Gamer)
Designed by one of Capcom's most talented developers during his brief departure from the company in the late 1990s, Tomba seems like the kind of game I would really enjoy... yet it doesn't work out that way. As a platformer, it's slightly wonky and way too infatuated with physics. Your pink-coiffed hero swings from tree branches, runs along sagging bridges, and awkwardly pounces on pigs. I think he's supposed to be attacking them, but from the way he wraps himself around their backs, you'd be tempted to think he had something kinkier in mind. As an adventure game, it's puzzlingly obtuse, in the tradition of early NES titles like Castlevania II. Although Tomba can jump into the background, it's hard to tell when he's allowed to do this, and it can be just as challenging to figure out how to finish some of the game's many fetch quests. Tomba is a well-intentioned but clumsy hybrid of genres that ultimately misses the mark on both fronts.


  1. Nice selection sir :) Thanks for reminding me of N20, I need to give that one a proper play some time.I used to love Tomba (or Tombi or I knew it) too.

    1. Thanks much! What brings you to this neck of the woods?

      I still like N2O; just not as much as I did. Tomba, though... eh.

  2. Nice round up of games here, Jess! I've long wanted to play Tomba, Vagrant Story and Devious 3D+G. Maybe this post finally will spur me to playing at least two of them. (Although I still want to play Tomba sometime--despite your warnings to the contrary.)

    I haven't wanted to Chrono Cross, by the way. Ever since I first laid eyes on it back when it was first announced I've found it to be an utter eyesore. What were the folks at SE thinking? And it sounds like it doesn't play any better than it looks...

    1. I'm not as emotionally invested in Chrono Trigger as most people (I grew up with a Genesis after all), but it still strikes me as incredibly cynical to call this game a sequel, as it doesn't look or play anything like it. Sure, you get occasional references to past characters and events, but those as easy to shoehorn into the dialog. The soul of Chrono Trigger is notably absent.

      Careful with Xevious! It's a harsh mistress.

    2. The story's dumb and the battle system's kinda just there, but Chrono Cross is a game I like more for its aesthetics than for its gameplay or story. It's got a great soundtrack, the backgrounds are very colorful and really sell the tropical setting, and occasional box hands aside the character models are far more competently constructed than most RPGs (or games) on the PSone.

      There's also an absurd amount of variety in party member designs. There's definitely too many party members, but with characters like a skeleton clown, a space alien with his own mecha, a dancing straw doll with a nail through his chest, a luchador priest, a doll-faced plant monster, a mushroom man, a chef who turns into a demon, a mother of two, and more, you can tell somebody at least had a lot of fun coming up with character designs. I wish modern games had even half the variety present in Chrono Cross's playable roster.

      Speaking of SNES games, Chrono Cross was a greatly expanded adaptation of Radical Dreamers, a visual novel for the Super Famicom. There are some significant differences (Serge talks, Magus tags along as Magil, the entire game takes place inside a significantly different Viper Manor, "battles" are fought by selecting one of a list of actions relevant to the situation, no dual world nonsense), but things like characters (Serge, Kid, Lynx) and the battle music first appeared there and it doesn't have a lot of the more offensive baggage from the PS1 title.

      It's still more serious in tone than Chrono Trigger, but it's arguably better than the game it spawned. If you have the time, check out the fan translation.