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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Licensed Games That Don't Suck Vol. 1

How's that for a catchy title?

Licensed video games have certainly come a long way. While it is far more common to see some TLC being put into most licensed products these days, there are still stinkers mucking up the video game scene. But we won't be talking about those crappy games here (for the most part, anyway). No, this is all bout the licensed video games that are actually good.

DuckTales (NES)

You have no idea how hard it is to resist singing the DuckTales theme song as I type this. Even back in the NES era and even before that, there were tons of crappy licensed games. Jaws, Back to the Future, Friday the 13th, all of those were on the NES and didn't do their licenses justice at all. That's why DuckTales was such a rare breed. Developed by Capcom using a modified Mega Man engine, players controlled Scrooge McDuck, traveling across the globe to collect even more riches because 3 cubic acres of cash just isn't enough for fiction's greatest cheapskate. Possessing the most durable cane ever made, Scrooge can use what is usually a means to help old folks get around easier to bounce on enemies, travel across spikes and hit blocks.

The pogo stick gameplay mechanic is what players remember the most about DuckTales. So much so that players that used Cranky Kong in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze or played Shovel Knight immidiately flashed back to this 8-bit classic. As simple as it is, using the cane to bounce Scrooge higher or combo off of enemies is truly one of gaming's greatest pleasures. DuckTales is also loaded with hidden money and diamonds to find. The amount of money you finish the game with determines the ending you're rewarded with at the end. Can you believe that? An NES game with multiple endings. They don't differ too much, but the fact that such a game from this era had more than one ending was kind of a big deal.

Like the Mega Man titles on the NES, you can select any of the five levels in the order of your choosing. DuckTales isn't a very long adventure, but it is a great time while it lasts. Also, like the Mega Man games, the music of DuckTales is insanely good.

Batman Returns (SNES)

What, you thought one of the Arkham games was going to be listed here first? Chill, son, I'll get to those down the road. While it is true that the Arkham games are some of Batman's best outings, Batman was one of the few super heroes to have good licensed games before gaming went 3D.

Konami had shown that they knew how to craft successful beat 'em ups in the arcade and on home consoles with The Simspons and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, so placing the Dark Knight in familiar territory was a perfect fit. Batman Returns delivers one of the most hard hitting beat downs on the SNES. The impact of every punch and kick Batman dishes out to the Penguin's circus goons feels like a million bones being broken and it is such a gloriously satisfying sound.

When you're not giving Batman's fists a good workout, you'll be driving through Gotham in the Batmobile with some killer Mode 7 effects or marveling at the game's soundtrack, which takes cues from Danny Elfman's magnificent score. There are several different versions of Batman Returns including one on the NES and Sega CD, but they don't get any better than this one.

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 (PS2, 360, PS3)

The first Budokai was good. Budokai 2 made some additions to the original but was ultimately a disappointment. Budokai 3 is the best of the trilogy. The game avoided the missteps of the previous game while improving upon everything that made the original so good and then some. Budokai 3 has a huge cast of Dragon Ball characters, including a few from before and after the Z era like Kid Goku and Omega Shenron.

Bringing the fighting that much closer to DBZ, Budokai 3 introduces the high speed teleport counter system. If you're on the receiving end of a beating, you can quickly teleport behind your opponent to counter them. Of course, they can counter your counter. This system does an excellent job of capturing the lightning fast fights of the series.

Since the DBZ cast consists of some of the most powerful characters in anime, manga history, you can expect plenty of planet destroying moves like devastating Kamehamehas, the Big Bang Attack and so forth. These moves even come with their own cool cinematics and depending on the massive beam you fire off, you can see the coming destruction via space view.

Budokai 3 was initially released on the PS2 in 2004. The HD re-release. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai HD Collection comes with Budokai 3 and the original Budokai but since DBZ game music artist Kenji Yammamoto had copyright infringement claimed on his music, the HD Collection doesn't have the music featured in the 2004 release so if you want to hear the original themes, you'll have to track down a PS2 copy.

Astro Boy: Omega Factor (GBA)

Super fighting robot! Mega Man!  Oh, wait, wrong character. Nevertheless, Astro Boy is a robot, he does fight and he most certainly is super. You know what else is super? This sweet licensed game co-developed by Hitmaker and Treasure that is not only the best Astro Boy game, but one of the GBA's best titles.

As Osuma Tezuka's most recognized creation, you punch, kick and blast your way through hordes of enemies foolish enough to think they actually stand a chance against Mighty Atom. Released in 2004, one year after the 2003 incarnation of the Astro Boy anime, Omega Factor is largely based of off said anime series, carrying with it the overreaching conflict of humans and robots striving to co-exist.

You power up Astro Boy's system, his Omega Factor by meeting and understanding the many characters Astro encounters throughout the game. Yes, you heard right. Rather than fighting to become stronger as most games would have you do, Astro grows from socializing. Character interaction in this game is quite literally a powerful thing. With it, you can upgrade Astro's laser, his rocket boots, arm cannon and of course, those freaky, but cool butt cannons.

Being a game that was partially developed by Treasure, Omega Factor blends genres extremely well. Most stages are of the action, beat 'em up affair, but there are also shooting areas thrown into the mix. The game also looks and sounds excellent. Omega Factor is one of the most visually stunning GBA games and more than 10 years after it's release, the sprite work still holds up remarkably.

Omega Factor is not only a splendid Astro Boy game, but also serves as a sort of encyclopedia to the characters of Tezuka's works. All of the characters Astro comes across in the game are part of Tezuka's Star System. From Phoenix to Big X, the gangs all here.

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