Axelay, Blue’s Journey, Volleyball


Super Nintendo Entertainment System

The game: Axelay
Its cost: 800 points


Lucas DeWoody – If you haven’t ever played Axelay, then boy have you been missing out. This baby ranks in the elite class of shooters, and that’s saying something with as many as there are already on the VC. It’s a Konami shooter, so you should know what to expect: tons of enemies, bullets everywhere, and bosses that fill the screen with enough visual and audio tricks to fill a cartridge. Axelay plays like a cross between Salamander and Star Fox without the polygons. Some levels scroll horizontally like a traditional Konami shmup, and others scroll vertically with some insane Mode 7 effects. As you progress through the game, more and more weapons are unlocked on the select screen where you can swap out your various tools of destruction between stages. Some of the bosses are just plain unbelievable in their complexity and animation, not to mention creativity (Ed209 Pretender, a flying witch hat, lava devil, oceanic spider robot). Axelay was an SNES technical wonder. Early SNES shooters were plagued by slowdown. You’ll find a little here, but there is so little it’s pretty amazing. Everything is moving, multiple background layers and shifting and spinning, shots are blazing, and everything keeps chugging along. Konami put their best people on this one (including a few future Treasure employees). Use of Mode 7 is everywhere with morphing enemies and full 3D multilayer vertical sections that simulate some pretty funky (though amusingly unrealistic) depth of field illusions and/or the curvature of planets effects. Among Axelay’s many astounding features is its sound. This was one of the earliest SNES games to put the Genesis’s sound capabilities out to pasture. The music ranks in the industry’s top class, the voice clips are crystal clear, and the sound effects are badass and bountiful. The challenge is heavy in the later stages, but balanced thanks to adjustable difficulty settings. You never feel like you’ve been cheated by the game. Even the opening story is awesome. The only thing to complain about is the length. This is truly a classic shooter and among the best of all time.

Innovative progressive weapons unlocking system; Jaw-dropping 16-bit graphics and animation; Standout music; Ridiculously awesome bosses

The experience is over way too fast with only six levels; Mode 7 effects are more fun to watch than they are realistic

Neo-Geo

The game: Blue’s Journey
Its cost: 900 points


Lucas DeWoody – Blue’s Journey is an innocent little platformer from the people at Alpha Denshi (now part of SNK) who brought you World Heroes and Magician Lord. You are miniature hero named Blue (in a big costume) trying to save your home world of Raguy from the Daruma Empire. All the characters wear insect costumes (including hats), so the character design and art direction is original, funny, and totally original (like a cross between Mario and Parodius). Don’t expect dramatic storytelling though. This is a happy hop ‘n bop in the vein of Mario or Bonk. As all good platform games do, Blue’s Journey has a gameplay gimmick lifted from a couple of others. Your elf can throw leaves at enemies to stun them, then either jump on their heads or pick them up and throw them at others. One of your moves lets you shrink to fit through narrow passages and secret routes with opens up some alternate paths and gives the game some replay value. You can buy items and mild power-ups in shops scattered throughout the stages to help you along as well. The difficulty level is below that of most quarter munching arcade hop & bop games so beginners shouldn’t be too scared of facing instant annihilation (like they would in something like Magician Lord or Metal Slug). While the game would look nice on the TurboGrafx-16 or first-gen SNES, this is the beastly Neo-Geo and Blue’s Journey never even tries to push the hardware in the slightest. The sprites are small, and the music is catchy FM synth with sometimes hysterically funny, and other times very annoying sound effects. It’s not to say Blue’s Journey isn’t colorful, bright, cheery, and welcoming. It’s just never awe-inducing. The gameplay is pretty generic and borrows some concepts from Super Mario Bros. 2, but the character design and setting really help to make things feel bright and fresh. Blue’s Journey does everything it does well, even if it’s been done before, and it will make you laugh regularly throughout the adventure (and the “heavily” endowed girl in the item shop helps a LOT). Hop n’ Bop fans can feel safe downloading this not-so-commonly-remembered little game. Gameplay is your standard platforming fare, and graphics are in the GBA range, but it’s a fun ride regardless.

Good clean platforming fun; Awesome character & art design; Great sense of humor and music; 2-player simultaneous mode

Generic in design; Visuals are on par with a GBA game instead of Neo-Geo; Tons of Engrish errors

Nintendo Entertainment System

The game: Volleyball
Its cost: 500 points


Lucas DeWoody – Can you smell the stench? Yes, it’s another NES sports game hanging in the air, and this one is among the worst. Volleyball is about as low as an NES game can sink and still qualify as 8-bit. The gameplay is loose and disjointed. Your control over the players is very poor and you never feel like you have a real grasp on anything. The ball has a clearly defined shadow beneath it, but the players do not. This flaw nearly kills the game by itself. It’s extremely difficult to line up your players with the ball when you can’t tell exactly where they are standing in proportion to the ball (which moves pretty quickly). The volleyball players have only two frames of animation, and they honestly look like they are doing “something else” with their pelvis and fists other than hitting the oversized volleyball (which is considerably larger than their heads). The graphics are about as poor as the NES can realistically muster without dragging down to Atari 2600 levels. It’s hard to believe this came from 1987—the same year as such advanced classics as Mega Man. At the very least, there is no sprite flicker. There’s like only one song as well, so the music isn’t even worth mentioning. Seriously, this one is an easy red flag. If you’ve got nostalgia for the game—fine, but don’t even bother watching a video of it otherwise. Volleyball is just another random entry in Nintendo’s ancient 8-bit sports catalog that should have been forgotten.

The title screen looks inviting; Never suffers flicker with a lot of players of screen

Horrible controls; Poor shadowing further inhibits player control over ball; Near-Atari 2600 quality graphics

some images courtesy of vgmuseum.com