Great Stories From A Great System
The SNES was undoubtedly one of the greatest systems ever created. It drastically improved the home console video game scene with better graphics, game changing Mode 7, addicting games and so much more. But something it also did that forever changed the way many people viewed gaming was the integration of in-depth and immersive storylines that did not stand in the way of a game’s progress, but actually helped a title achieve its fullest potential. This is not to say that the NES or any other classic system did not include great stories in their games (they did indeed, with sometimes terrific results), but let’s face facts: the NES was an amazing system and truly an innovation, but do any of us remember those games for the story? Sure, The Legend of Zelda had us traversing an epic landscape in search of the demon Ganon in order to slay him and bring peace to the land, but what many gamers mainly remember from that adventure was going around with a sword and shield, laying waste to any monster that stood in their way. It was just plain good old fashioned fun. The SNES took that baton and ran with it. With the updated technology, Nintendo realized that creating games that were fun to play was always the most important objective, but now they could truly take the games to the next level. They could not only now provide gamers with something fun to play, but they could also provide games with storylines that rivaled top Hollywood movies. Players didn’t just play games now; they experienced them. So with that said, here are the top five SNES storylines. Bear in mind that this list is opinionated and in no way is supposed to be taken as the absolute.
Although I have tried to not reveal too much about key moments or endings, read further with only the strongest SPOILER WARNING stamped firmly in your brain.
- Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past
A Link to the Past is game of great importance. Not only is it probably the best game for the SNES in terms of well-roundedness, it is one of the best games ever. You slay monsters, travel your way across a vast kingdom, explore dangerous dungeons, fight epic boss battles, and save princesses. But where this game truly shines is its story. Now although it is true that the general gist of every Zelda game is Link fighting Ganon to save the Princess and all of Hyrule, ALTTP differs in how the information in displayed to the player, and by the speed and direction of the story. The backstory doesn’t take too much of the player’s time, as most of it is explained at the beginning of the game. You learn more as you advance, saving kidnapped maidens who tell you pieces of the overall history. There are bad guys, good guys, evil secret identities, alternate multi-dimensional worlds, magic swords, trapped princesses, old wisemen and young warriors, talking Rupee-hungry monkeys, a giant catfish who demands gifts, and twists and turns around every corner. The story essentially has everything that we now expect from Zelda games. It redefined a series and did so with an unbelievable amount of flare. If you are one of roughly five people left on the planet who hasn’t played this masterpiece, do so now. You won’t regret it.
What do you call a game that features an alien invasion, evil cultists, zombies, a martial arts master named Poo, dinosaurs, monsters, and an intergalactic time-travelling boss battle that is essentially an alien abortion? You call it Earthbound. Earthbound is the second game in the Mother series, in which the player controls a boy named Ness. After investigating a meteorite crash site, you discover that the world is being invaded by an alien force named Giygas who transformed most living things into horrible monsters. You travel through deserts and swamps, a seaside resort and even the innermost depths of the protagonist’s own mind. The story is amazing from start to finish, and the setting and characters only add to the depth. It is goofy and lighthearted on the surface, but the game has dark and mature undertones and no other game in history has been able to replicate, a perfect balance of light and dark.
- Chrono Trigger
Placing this one on the list was the hardest decision of my week. If this was just a top ten SNES games list, it would have been a lot easier. Right off the bat I would have placed it as number two, although it has every right to be number one. Chrono Trigger is simply incredible, but placing it on this list was a little bit harder. Although the story is a rollercoaster filled with high-inducing ups and mind-blowing lows, it suffers from one major downfall. As one of the first games to incorporate time travelling and multiple endings effectively into its plotline and gameplay, you play as a silent protagonist named Chrono who travels forward and back and forward and back and so on and so forth on his quest to prevent the Apocalypse in 1999. The time travelling feature is brilliant and how it is implemented into its story and the gameplay is great. Its only shortcoming is just how intense and complex it is. At times, it can be hard to follow, and players often get lost in the twists of a time central plotline, myself included. When I first played this game as a child, I was flabbergasted. The scope and range of the game mixed with the entertaining battle mechanics were virtually unheard of at the time. By the end of the game, I was astonished and exhausted by the journey. However, I was also confused. Some parts of the game left me scratching my head. After a replay, I understood more. And after a third time, I was still discovering more. Replaying a game that many times is usually a good thing, but in this case, if the replaying is more fueled by frustration than it is fun, it can take away from the player’s experience. More often than not, people find themselves returning to Chrono Trigger over and over again because of how good the game is, and don’t get me wrong, it is as close to a masterpiece as something can get, but because there are just as many people forcing themselves to replay it just to understand the story as there are those who play it for fun, I have to rank the game third. The complexity is also what places this game so highly, as no other game at that time had such a brain-scratcher of a narrative.
- Mega Man X
It is easy to tell that placing Mega Man X above Chrono Trigger is going to infuriate some people, but hear me out. What is the ultimate goal of a Mega Man title? To shoot things and have fun while pulling the trigger on your blaster. The gameplay is simple. Run, jump, shoot. If even one thing gets in the way of that, the very spirit of the series would crumble and nobody would even touch the leftovers. That is the beauty of what Mega Man X’s plot brings to the table. It is a basic action story, filled with bits of drama and comedy, served on a sci-fi plate and topped with a huge helping of fun. You play as X, a sentient robot whose blueprints are used to create replicants of himself called Reploids. Shortly thereafter a virus is unleashed causing the Reploids to turn on humans. Called Mavericks, they quickly declare war on the human race. X joins a group called the Maverick Hunters and begins to fight back. In short, it’s a story about a robot rebellion. Although fun and interesting, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. What makes it great, however, is the way it perfectly complements and captures the spirit of the series. It provides excitement and goals that never interfere or get in the way of the game’s natural feeling. The story is a nice side dish to an already perfect game. If a story can be that fun and engrossing without tainting the gameplay or the time the player spends with the game, then it has done its job.
- Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI is without a doubt, hands down, the most unique and fulfilling video game storyline not only of the SNES, but can probably be ranked among the best of all time. Right from the start you are thrown into a deeply structured steampunk world filled with magic and technology. Using the skills of the Magitech, the outcome of the aforementioned fusion, you embark on a mission to take down a cruel dictatorship and end the war of the Espers (humans transformed into magical beings and used as soldiers) and the Emperor Gestahl. Along the way, there are crazy plot twists and side quests. Simply reading an explanation of this game does it an incredible injustice. If you played this game three times, each experience would never mirror another. Unlike Chrono Trigger, one playthrough gets the story across on a basic level, and so you won’t be left feeling like you missed out on something crucial to the plot. Instead, you will be left feeling like there is so much more to discover about the characters, the world, the Espers and the Magitech. The game completely engulfs you and holds you tightly, never wanting to release its grip. A great story, a great game, and a great experience unrivaled on the SNES.
So there it is, one person’s opinion on the Top Five SNES Storylines. Agree or disagree? Let me know, we welcome any and all feedback.
M. T. McDonald
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
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