Retro Round-up for July 10

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posted 7/10/2009 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
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Every week Cyril Lachel comes down from his giant castle in the hills to provide the final word on all of the classic downloadable games and retro compilations. This is the Retro Round-Up, your official guide to the best (and worst) in classic gaming for the Nintendo Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Join us as we shed some light on what games are worth your five or ten dollars, and what games you should avoid at all costs. For more information about these games (and retro gaming in general) we invite you to check out Defunct Games.

Thanks to my two week absence (due to traveling to San Francisco and then a nasty illness), we have a lot of ground to cover in this episode. Look for reviews of Fantasy Zone II, California Games, SimEarth, Family Mini Golf, Battlefield 1943 and a half dozen other games. This is a packed episode, full of big reviews, haikus, limericks and more. So get ready to spend a few months reading through another exciting episode of the Retro Round-Up!

California Games (Epyx)
What Is It?
A week after traveling to San Francisco, Nintendo surprises me with California Games for the Commodore 64. If you're an older gamer, then chances are you've heard of this game. Not only was this a C64 release, but you can find it on just about every other system released in the late 1980s and early 90s. The concept is simple, take three "extreme" sports and make a compilation out disk out of them. You get skateboarding, roller skating, surfing, BMX biking, hacky sack and flying disc (aka Frisbee). As you might imagine given the limitations of the hardware and original diskette, each event is extremely simple. When you select skateboarding, don't expect Tony Hawk's Pro Skater with bad graphics. What you get is a slice of skateboarding culture, mainly the half pipe part of skate competitions. Sadly, even that isn't very exciting. With so many sports to choose from, it's easy to see how the developer's time was split. Instead of making one or two really fun events, the game gives you six mediocre activities. Couple that with some bad control problems and ugly graphics, and you have one extremely disappointing game.

Does It Still Hold Up?
If you think Wii Sports is limited, wait until you get a load of California Games for the Commodore 64. I know I shouldn't complain about a 22 year old sports compilation, but I had the hardest time finding the fun in any one of these events. The controls are beyond terrible, which is a recipe for disaster when dealing with a sports game. I can handle ugly graphics and annoying sound effects, but at least get the gameplay right.

Is It Worth The Money?
You can't go back to California Games, that's for sure. With its poor presentation and terrible controls, California Games is one of those titles that was better on paper. Instead of focusing on so many disparate sporting events, I would have preferred a game with only two or three fun sports. I can do without hacky sack and Frisbee, for example. Both of those things are cheap and much more fun to do in real life. Spend that time working out the kinks in skateboarding and roller skating, two games that actually have potential. But that's not what happened, so it's hard for me to recommend buying California Games ... even at $5.


Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa (Sega)
What Is It?
I make no apologies for it, I'm an unabashed fan of Sega's wonderful <a href="" target="_blank"><b>Fantasy Zone </b></a> franchise. I loved the original Sega Master System, so by law I'm forced to love this 1987 sequel. Granted, this game is almost identical to the first game. It offers the same Defender-like gameplay, making you fly from left to right shooting down insects and other baddies. The game retains the Timothy Leary acid trip visuals. But despite these similarities, what you're really paying for is additional levels. This is nothing more than a mission pack, similar to buying Doom 2 or Final Doom. It's not going to change your opinion about Fantasy Zone, but it will give you a bunch of new content to play through. And at five dollars, it's hard to argue with the value of getting more levels for such an enjoyable shooter.

Does It Still Hold Up?
Fantasy Zone 2: The Tears of Opa-Opa is a strange, strange game. After playing dozens and dozens of me-too shooters on the Virtual Console, it's genuinely shocking to find one that is so radically different. It's not just the graphic scheme (which often reminds me of that Beatles cartoon, Yellow Submarine), but just the way the game plays. At its core this is nothing more than a fancy version of Defender, but that's not one of those games that has been beamed up to the Virtual Console.

Is It Worth The Money?
If you already love Fantasy Zone, then this is a no-brainer. Five dollars for another group of levels isn't too much to ask, especially with a game of this quality. However, if you're not a fan then you aren't going to be swayed by this sequel. The only thing that I don't like about this game is how long it's been since Sega has done anything with the franchise. Hey Sega, forget Sonic the Hedgehog and get to making a brand new Fantasy Zone game!


SimEarth: The Living Earth
(FCI)
What Is It?
After the success of SimCity, Maxis was desperate to duplicate the success on an even grander scale. Instead of taking the next step and making SimCountry, the developers decided to go ambitious and give us SimEarth: The Living Earth. And who can blame them? Who wouldn't want to play a God-like figure that can micromanage everything that happens on this wonderful planet? At least, that's what I thought before plugging SimEarth into my Super NES. Apparently what they don't mention is that after the planet is created, there really isn't a whole lot left for you to do. The game attempts to give you objectives and allow you to micromanage just about everything, but none of it is as engaging as SimCity. It's easy to relate to SimCity, since most of us are used to living in some sort of town or city (even if it's not a massive megalopolis). However, the things you do in SimEarth are more abstract. I never really felt connected with SimEarth, which is probably why I feel that this game is as much fun as watching grass grow.

Does It Still Hold Up?
Much like SimCity, SimEarth is a PC game that was designed for a mouse and keyboard. Maxis does a reasonable job mapping the buttons and menus, but it's not the same as playing it on the PC. SimCity could get away with this because it was a simple game. Sure it was a deep and involving game, but you weren't really sifting through that many menus or options. Here you are overloaded with menus. Throw in some performance issues and you have a game that doesn't feel like it was meant to be shrunk down to fit in the Super NES.

Is It Worth The Money?

Let's be honest with ourselves for a few minutes, the only good "Sim" franchise is SimCity. Some may argue that The Sims is also good, but it's not the same thing. While SimAnt, SimIsle and SimEarth are interesting, they just aren't good enough to actually own. SimEarth is especially bad, mostly because the game never really delivers on the intriguing (and ambitious) nature of the idea. With a little more structure and a few tweeks, SimEarth could be something amazing. As it is, it's yet another SimCity spin-off that fails to live up to the original.

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