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Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Gaming: 1996

Welcome to a new weekly feature that I'll be doing throughout the summer dubbed Summer Gaming. In this feature I recall a few of the games I played during the summers of years gone by. This week, we're going back to 1996.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)

Mario has this appeal to him that can make you take interest in anything he stars in. The presents of Mario and company alone in a racing game was a big draw for Super Mario Kart. I wasn't really into RPGs at the time but when news hit that Mario would be taking center stage in one, I knew that I had to take more than a peek.

Simply put, Super Mario RPG is one of the shining examples of why the summer of 1996 was so freaking awesome for me. A few months before my birthday, a friend of mine had gotten the game, came over to my house and we spent hours getting engrossed with this quirky, humorous RPG that was like no other at the time. Super Mario RPG was an RPG for sure, but it still retained elements from the Super Mario series like ? Blocks and plentiful platforming elements. Being able to see enemies in the field and avoid fights meant that it was possible to pick and choose my battles and the familiarity that the Super Mario gameplay characteristics brought to the table kept the game from feeling foreign to me.

When my 15th birthday rolled around, one of the games I asked the folks to get me for my birthday was Super Mario RPG. What better way to spend the summer days than by saving the world from Smithy? Chilling with my friend watching him play his copy was cool and all, but there's nothing quite like having your very own. I even picked up the Nintendo Power Player's Guide for the game, which unearthed a wealth of secrets, so much so, that I think I started my game over from scratch.

Donkey Kong (GB)

My SNES wasn't the only system that I went to for my gaming needs during the summer of '96. Though the game was released in 1994, the year that the big ape made his big come back, I wouldn't make this game my own for another two years, where the game was discounted. For $20, I picked up one the the GB's greatest games. Donkey Kong starts out just like the arcade classic and even plays like it, with one major exception: Mario is far more durable and acrobatic than he was in 1981. Can can do backflips, hand stands and can survive falls as long as the height isn't too great.

The first four levels are straight out of the arcade game and just as it looks like Mario and Pauline are going to live happily ever after once the final stage is completed, DK throws a barrel into their plans by once again kidnapping the lady and dragging her across the world. No longer a four level game, Donkey Kong on the GB transformed into a 96+ level puzzle platformer. Cities, jungles, and glaciers were just of few of the locals Mario pursued DK to rescue Pauline and you had to make make use of Mario's various new jumping abilities to find keys, make bridges and activates switches to finish each stage. Not only did this game bring back Mario's oldest rivalry, but it can be considered the first in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. It's available on the 3DS eShop for chump change and I cannot recommended it enough. In fact, I think I'm gonna fire it up and play it this summer.

Illusion of Gaia (SNES)

I picked up this game at Best Buy where it was marked down to $20. The cover intrigued me and being a Nintendo published game, I was already well aware of the company's knack for quality products. Needless to say, I had a strong feeling about this title. I was still getting a feel for RPGs and Illusion of Gaia being an action/RPG meant that I wouldn't have to sit through any turn based combat, which at the time, was a big turn off for me.

Will was an interesting protagonists for a variety of reasons. For starters, rather than a sword that most heroes wield in this type of game, this teen's weapon of choice is a flute. That's right, a flute. I'm guessing that sucker is pretty strong because he swings that wind instrument around as if it were a blade. Will is also an accomplished flute player and a telepath. Flute playing is usually reserved for advancing the pace and Will's telepathy can be used to help you solve puzzles.

Will can also transform using the powers of Gaia. When he becomes Freedan, the knight, he puts his flute away in favor of the knight's traditional weapon. Freedan can take far more punishment than Will as will as dish it. The other form will can take, Shadow, certainly looks cool, but you don't get him until very late in the game so you end up spending most of your time as Will and Freedan.

Not only did Illusion of Gaia have sweet gameplay mechanics, but the areas the game took you to were some very memorable locations, some of which were based off of real world settings. Places like Anchor Watts and the Great Wall of China are recreated rather well to the point of where they aren't just cheap knock-offs of their real life counterparts. Not too shabby for a 16-bit game to get that much attention to detail.

So what games were you playing during the summer of 1996?

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