Sunday 24 May 2009

Secret Doom Castle

I've been watching episodes of AVGN recently. Why? I'm... not sure. I suppose good home-made video reviews aren't released in healthy numbers, and certainly not that many are released that cover things such as the 1972 Magnavox Odessy. That system is just crazy.

Two things I thought I'd pick up on that I somewhat disagree with though

First, Milon's Secret Castle

A 1986 platformer game by Hudson Soft. Hudson liked it enough to give it a couple of SNES sequels that have nothing to do with a secret castle (and are henceforth better), plus a few cameos in other Hudson games (though seeing as the western world only got to see Milon in this form... it makes you wonder why). It's one of those NES games that hasn't aged well, but... it was released in 1986, which was still fairly early on in the NES's lifespan. It's aged better than things like Ice Climbers and Urban Champion.

People say it's a lot like Super Mario Bros. due to its colour scheme and looks but honestly I think it fits the role of a Metroid clone a bit better. You go back and forth looking for powerups to get... to the top I assume. The problem with MSC is that its learning curve is non-existant. You start off confused and you finish confused. That's probably the main reason it never caught on, but once you get the hang of it it's not too bad I suppose. It has a lot of nice ideas, they're just not executed properly.

Well, until you realise that the engine sucks.

Milon's acceleration is terrible and he(?) has no deceleration at all. Basically, it takes a few seconds to get up to full speed while walking, and as soon as you take your thumb off the D-Pad you'll instantly stop, no slowing down needed. And seeing as Milon's top speed isn't very fast, well... yeah. You'd have to play it to understand fully. Also the camera seems to have more fun following the large chunk of pixels behind Milon than following Milon. A slow game with a bad camera... ouch. Good job there's not masses of scrolling.

Furthermore everything's out to kill you, and with only one life... you're pretty much screwed unless you can play a perfect game somehow. Sure you have health but you don't start up with a full supply (did Hudson decide to break Milon's arms before he starts or something?). You shoot bubbles though they have limited range and don't fire in straight lines, and basically you've got to hit everything in hopes of finding a door or a key.

Now this process wouldn't be so bad if you weren't doomed to failure by the god-awful engine and hoards of enemies. Every now and then you fight a boss, and then you progress up the castle. Oh and also the music sucks. Lets not forget about that.

But it's not as terrible as people say. Fix up the engine and there's a passable game to be had here. But of course the ROM hacking community is a strange beast - it'll quite happily mess around with games that are already great, e.g. Super Mario Bros. but it won't fix the stuff that's been broken for 20 years. The icing on that cake is that apparently this game has a cult following (which is understandable since people do like those "search for x to unlock y" sorts of games.

Thing is, it's old and outdated now. Not so much in 1986. And lord knows there were much worse games on the market then. At least this shows some effort. But then again it never got to Europe so even Hudson didn't believe in it that much. If it had been released in, say, 1992, it may have been the NES's swan song, assuming Hudson learned from Super Mario Bros. 3.

Second, Doom on the 32X

People knock this one quite a bit and don't understand why.

When Doom was released in 1993 it was probably the most advanced PC game of the time. Some things to note about that sentence - 1993, a good three years after the release of the Super Nintendo and a good half decade after the MegaDrive, the two leading home consoles at the time. The 32-bit generation was coming up and both consoles were starting to show their age a bit. PCs are constantly improving and by this stage they were once again more powerful than the home consoles, so any port of Doom would have been gimped. In fact, with a 32X port in 1994 and a Super Nintendo port in 1995, these consoles were due to be replaced within a matter of months.

Arguably the Super Nintendo version is a better port but it's not without its issues. For one, the walls and floors have no textures. It's got all the enemies of the PC original but everything is a lot more pixellated (though I do prefer the HUD). And though yes, it's music is closer to the PC original... it's still far off. If you're a Doom fan, you probably wouldn't want to play either port.

Issues with the 32X port include the borders and the low quality sound... both space saving measures. Yes sadly even a 32X cartridge had problems storing this game fully. I assume any graphical problems on the SNES were down the limits of the Super FX2 chip. I mean you can only take these things so far. On the other side of things, the Atari Jaguar port, often labeled as the best official home console "port" lacks the soundtrack altogether! It seems to be a case where better graphics = worse sound and vice versa. So all three versions are probably on par with each other. The deciding factor is obvious though - the Jaguar died almost instantly and the 32X was awful. But if you were unlucky enough to buy a 32X instead of a SNES, you've still got a decent Doom.

And lets not forget, the Saturn and Playstation ports that followed dropped Bobby Prince's soundtrack in favour of ambient garbage and lighting effects, and Doom 64 is just... wrong (though it's not a terrible game). The really good ports of Doom are the fan-created ones. There's even one on the ZX Spectrum of all things.

Point is though, Doom 32X is not bad. Sure the SNES version probably has an edge but at the time it was still worth paying for. The 32X console on the other hand... probably not.

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