Tag Archives: Super Nintendo

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood/Dracula X – Opposing Bloodlines

In the past, we used the Prelude track from Castlevania III to highlight the differences in audio and sound chips between the Famicom and the Nintendo Entertainment System. This year, we will take a look at another song from the Castlevania series that made its debut in two very different versions of a particular title.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was released on the PC Engine Super CD-ROM² System in Japan in October of 1993.  This game was a massive upgrade from previous entries in the series; featuring anime-style cutscenes, hidden and branching level pathways, multiple endings, and an unlockable second character.  In addition to the changes in gameplay, Rondo of Blood was the first Castlevania title to make use of Red Book Audio.  This meant that the game’s soundtrack could feature CD-level sampling along with the PC Engine’s onboard soundchip, leading to higher musical quality in songs like Opposing Bloodlines:

Two years later, Konami would release an alternate version of Rondo of Blood to the Super Nintendo.  Titled Castlevania: Dracula X, this game featured similar graphics and level design to Rondo, but technological differences between the PC Engine and the Super Nintendo led to some drastic changes between the games.  Levels were redesigned, certain pathways were altered, cutscenes were removed, and the unlockable second character became a non-playable character to be rescued.

In addition to the gameplay and design changes in Dracula X, the audio had to be configured to make use of the Super Nintendo’s sound hardware.  Without Red Book Audio for sampling purposes, many songs had to be reworked to exclusively utilize the inherent samples and instrumentation of the Super Nintendo.  This led to new versions of every song on the soundtrack, including the aforementioned Opposing Bloodlines:

While I ultimately enjoy the experience of playing Rondo of Blood over Dracula X, I can still appreciate the music from the Super Nintendo version.  The sharper guitar sounds from Dracula X call to mind countless afternoons spent playing the game as a rental from our local video store; desperately trying to make my way through this particularly difficult game.

Rondo of Blood was re-released once more in 2007 as the Dracula X Chronicles for the Sony PlayStation Portable.  This version of the game featured a 2.5D remake of Rondo, along with the original PC Engine version, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on a single disc. Despite porting nearly every other PSP game to a major home console, Konami has let this penultimate version of a Castlevania classic languish on the now defunct handheld.

So as we imagine a world where all versions of Rondo of Blood are freely available for us to enjoy, please have a listen to a final version of Opposing Bloodlines from Dracula X Chronicles:

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Super Mario RPG – The Dungeon is Full of Monsters

There are game releases that we as players could not have dreamed to ask for; those titles that bring together beloved series, creators, and companies to make a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.  For me, that game is Super Mario RPG.

On paper (or on screen, in this case), Super Mario RPG’s pedigree is mind-blowing.  A Squaresoft developed role-playing game, featuring Nintendo characters, written by Kensuke Tanabe (scenario writer of A Link to the Past and director of Super Mario Bros. 2), and produced by Shigeru Miyamoto.  As the delicious cherry on top of this fantastic digital sundae, the soundtrack was composed by the amazing Yoko Shimomura.


Super Mario RPG falls between Shimomura’s work at Capcom, where she wrote music for Final Fight and Street Fighter II, and her work at Square Enix, where she would create the soundtracks for games like Parasite Eve, Legend of Mana, and Kingdom Hearts.

For Super Mario RPG, Shimomura incorporated arrangements of beloved themes by Koji Kondo and Nobuo Uematsu, and wrote a variety of original music across 73 tracks.  For the dungeons of this game, Shimomura crafted a particularly ominous theme called The Dungeon is Full of Monsters.

Somewhere between a Super Mario Ghost House and a Final Fantasy cavern, the influence of Koji Kondo and Nobuo Uematsu can definitely be heard in this track.  Shimomura composed several other haunting tracks for Super Mario RPG, which enhance the moods of locations like the Sunken Ship and Bowser’s Castle.

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Killer Instinct – Tooth and Claw

When Killer Instinct was released for the Super Nintendo in 1995, there was a compact disc packaged with the game. Aptly named Killer Cuts, this was the first video game soundtrack I ever owned.  Up until that time, my brother and I were ripping game music using a complex combination of stereo equipment and cassette tapes.  It blew my young mind that I could simply buy a game and have the soundtrack included with my purchase.

Killer Cuts featured arranged versions of each fighter’s theme song.  As a kid already obsessed with all things spooky, I gravitated towards the characters Sabrewulf and Spinal, a cybernetic werewolf and reanimated skeleton respectively.  Even though I played more as the perpetually grinning skeletal warrior, it was Sabrewulf’s theme that I really enjoyed.


Composers Robin Beanland and Graeme Norgate wrote a fantastic track to match the mournful werewolf and his gothic abode.  An epic baroque tune with organ samples is the perfect theme for the gothic halls of Castle Sabrewulf.

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Super Mario Kart – Ghost Valley

It must be difficult to take a well-loved song and present it for new technology.  This was the task given to composer Soyo Oka with the release of Super Mario All-Stars.  At only 29 years of age, she was expected to take the iconic themes written for the Super Mario Bros. series by Koji Kondo and arrange new versions to match the upgraded technology of the Super Nintendo.


While this task seems daunting, Soyo Oka already had some experience at taking music composed by Koji Kondo and arranging it for new games, such as the Ghost House Theme from Super Mario World, which was repurposed for Super Mario Kart.

By extending the haunting tones and speeding up the tempo, Soyo Oka managed to turn an already foreboding track into a creepy theme that compels players to drive as fast as they possibly can.

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Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – Haunted Graveyard

The jump from 8- to 16-bit was one of the biggest shifts in video game history.  Many beloved series saw a massive improvement in visuals and sound with the move from the NES to the Super Nintendo.  Sprites were larger and more defined, environments included greater detail and flourish, and classic themes were remastered with the larger set of composition tools.


For example, the main theme from Ghosts n’ Goblins went from this:

To this:

For Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts, composer Mari Yamaguchi took the theme originally created by Harumi Fujita and Ayako Mori to the next level.  The harrying melody and stark tone of the song is enhanced by the use of organ and brass samples.  What was once a sort of arcade action theme transforms into a lively dirge that encourages the dead to rise again.


Of course, the march of technology means that games will continued to be remastered, along with their classic soundtracks.  For the Sony PSP, Capcom released updated versions of many older games, including Mega Man, Mega Man X, and Ghosts ‘n Goblins.  When the Ultimate version of this spooky arcade game moved to handhelds, an updated version of the Level 1 theme came with it.

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Final Fantasy VI – Phantom Forest

The music of the Final Fantasy series covers a wide range of emotions and scenarios.  Each game has a variety of themes to suit epic battles, soulful departures, and boundless exploration.  Some of the strongest melodies composed by Nobuo Uematsu are the ethereal tunes that match mysterious settings like the Phantom Forest.

As one would expect, the Phantom Forest is filled with all manner of spirits.  Many of these spectres are vengeful creatures, bent on attacking the player through random battles.  But some of these ghosts are merely waiting for the arrival of the Phantom Train to take them to their eternal resting place.


The song mirrors the experience of each otherworldly encounter, using haunting sound samples to create a comforting and delicate melody.  For a great cover of this track, along with several other wonderful acoustic renditions of Final Fantasy music, be sure to check out the music of Eiko Ishiwata Nichols.

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Captain Falcon is a Hunter, Not a Racer.

Captain Falcon has become something of a meme hero these days, more iconic for his catchphrases and signature punch than his career of driving futuristic vehicles.  His current status as a cheesy action hero is mostly due to his inclusion in Super Smash Brothers, where his racing skills proved to have no correlation to knocking opponents off of various platforms.  But from the inception of the F-Zero series, Captain Falcon has been portrayed as more of a galaxy-renowned bounty hunter instead of a worlds-class racer.


When F-Zero was released alongside the Super Nintendo in November 1990, it came with a rather hefty instruction manual for a racing game.  This is to be expected, as F-Zero was the first racing game to use the Mode 7 technology built into the Super Nintendo, and the start of the futuristic racing subgenre.  However, there was more than just controller guides and gameplay mechanics featured in this manual.  There was also an 8-page comic that told, “The Story of Captain Falcon.”

Written and drawn by Takaya Imamura, the character designer for F-Zero and Star Fox, this comic showcased Captain Falcon’s prowess as an intergalactic bounty hunter.  Within these few pages, the Captain wins a laser pistol duel, defends his bounty from a rival hunter, and arrests a high-level crime boss.  All of these feats occur mere moments before his first race in the Knight League, the initial competition that players face in the game.


Since this initial glimpse into Captain Falcon’s life outside of the races, Nintendo has greatly expanded the universe of F-Zero through a 51-episode animated series and various bits of storytelling in game sequels and cameo appearances.  In spite of creating a rich science fiction world full of colorful characters and scenarios, there has not been an F-Zero game released since 2004.

Personally, I would love to see a F-Zero game with a combination of different gameplay styles.  Instead of just sticking to tournament races, there could be action portions where players can take control of Captain Falcon as he hunts down the scum of the universe.  The money earned through bounty hunting could be used to upgrade his signature racer, the Blue Falcon, as Captain Falcon tries to balance his careers as a renegade champion for justice and a Formula Zero racer.

As I continue to dream about a hybrid action/racing F-Zero game, be sure to check out the Video Game Art Archive, where “The Story of Captain Falcon” has been lovingly scanned and archived for your reading pleasure.  There is plenty of other amazing official video game artwork featured on this site, most recently including rare EarthBound and Kirby’s Dream Land 2 scans.  Please follow the Video Game Art Archive for plenty of gaming goodness, and if you’ve got a few bucks to spare, please support the VGAA through Patreon.  Great archival work deserves some support.

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Visiting Mario’s World in Weekly U-Pick Broadcasts

Keeping with our New Year’s resolution, the U-Pick Crew has been streaming fresh batches of games every week. These casual broadcasts are rehearsals for the bigger charity event on June 12th-14th.  Every Sunday at 4pm EDT (8pm UTC), we play hours of interesting and enjoyable games for our beloved viewers.

This week, U-Pick will be playing some of the big hitters from the hallowed halls of gaming.  We will explore the remote reaches of the galaxy with Samus in Super Metroid, join forces with Disney and Square-Enix to battle the Heartless in Kingdom Hearts, and take a nice vacation to Dinosaur Land in Super Mario World.


To prepare for our journey with the Mario Brothers, the U-Pick Crew has been enjoying videos like the one covered in this article from February 2014.  Please be sure to check our Watch Now page today at 4pm EDT for some gaming goodness!

My earliest experiences with the Mario Brothers were not spent playing, but reading the instruction manual while my younger brother rushed through the very first game on our Nintendo Entertainment System.  As I scoured over the game controls and characters, my brother would enjoy this relatively new experience with the ease of a much older player.  All of Mario’s moves seemed natural to him, as if he had traveled these fantastic worlds for years.  The reality of the situation is that my brother has better eye-to-hand coordination than I do, but the level design of Super Mario Brothers had something to do with his genius as well.

Think back to that very first level, World 1-1.  There was no tutorial, no overt guidance for the player; only a stubby little plumber standing on the far left side of a screen.  Any attempt to travel further left would result in the player hitting a wall, so to the right we must go.  Oh no, there’s an angry mushroom heading your way.  Quick, try one of those red buttons on the controller.  Okay, ‘B’ doesn’t do anything… what about ‘A?’  Ooh, you made Mario jump!  Try to stomp that mean looking guy.  Hey, you squished him, good job.  No time to celebrate though; there is a timer counting down up there.  Let’s get going.

The design of these early Mario games provided levels that taught players the rules without beating them over the head with exposition and hand-holding.  Almost all of the necessary skills could be communicated through visuals and the experience of play.  To sweeten the deal, these games had a reliably steady difficulty curve.  Each concurrent stage added new challenges, but they hardly ever put the player in a situation without the resources to learn and grow.  This trend of difficult but fair level design has continued in the Mario Brothers series to this day.

Over the years, I have enjoyed many titles in the Mario series.  I would consider myself a rather advanced player; not a genius like my brother, but someone who has played enough of these games to acquire skills beyond the average level.  I have put in the hours, completed dozens of stages, and stomped many a koopa troopa.  In other words, I am pretty damn good at Mario.  However, I recently witnessed a charity event that humbled me to my very nerdy core.

Awesome Games Done Quick 2014 started on January 5th and featured some of the most amazing speed-runners playing games and accepting donations for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.  Over the course of seven days, 115+ games were played continuously for charity, including a hearty block of titles from the Super Mario series.  I just happened to tune in right at the start of a race between two players in the SNES classic, Super Mario World.  What I saw in that livestream blew me away:

Just look at these guys- they never seem to stop running!  They are using tricks within the game design that I have never seen before.  It seems like every level is not merely a slog from left-to-right, but a challenge to discover new and inventive ways to speed through the game.  While they do exploit some glitches over the course of play, the meat of their performance comes from intentional secrets and layouts within the level design.  This is particularly noticeable in the stages made up of platforms or mushrooms suspended above bottomless pits.  It looks like the placement of enemies was designed to be vaulted upon for a quick trip through difficult levels.  It’s as if the designers wanted to reward dedicated players with the means to bypass the usual routes and discover entirely new ways for Mario to travel.  This intention from the designers is made even more clear through the Super Play videos included in the more recent Mario titles.

That is the lesson I have come to realize in between the moments of actually playing games with the Mario Brothers.  There is an amazing balance in the design of these levels so any player can pick up the controller and have a worthwhile experience.  The novice players can discover a new hobby that eases them into the game with intuitive controls and a steady difficulty curve.  World 1 will prepare them for World 2, which will prepare them for World 3 and so on.  Behind the scenes, these levels have expert routes carved into the background; perfect paths with a hidden time limit that provides a challenge to the expert who is looking for something new in a beloved game.  For every level that made good use of my instruction manual studies, there is a stage that provided a seamless flow of play for my brother.  It seems that across the long list of games in the Mario Universe, there is a level for every player.

For the record, the level for me is World 1-7 from Yoshi’s Island: Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy.  But that’s just because I am a sucker for trippin’ dinosaurs.

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Super Metroid is Worth the Hype

Hype is an odd beast.  Too much or too little praise can push a piece of media into the realm of total avoidance.  This trend doesn’t simply apply to public opinion at large.  If my friends dramatically recommend a certain movie or book, a part of me will assume their admiration is exaggerated; as if their enjoyment of an experience simply cannot be as wondrous as they say. I know this notion is particularly foolish.  My peers are intelligent people who enjoy things for apt reasons.  But there is some media I have completely avoided due to an excess of hype.


When it comes to video games, a solid example is Super Metroid.  This Super Nintendo classic is considered a masterpiece which has yet to be topped by other entries in its series.  Every one of my friends who played Super Metroid enjoyed it from beginning-to-end, often replaying it more than once.  This title even serves as the progenitor of some of my preferred games, forming one half of the “Metroidvania” sub-genre (the other half being my favorite game of all time).  In spite of this resounding resume (and numerous eShop offerings), I did not make any effort to track down and play Super Metroid until this year.

Since Nintendo announced they are closing their rewards program, the publisher has thrown up over 100 games that can be redeemed using coins on Club Nintendo.  I had a healthy wallet full of the virtual currency, so I decided to invest in the Wii-U version of Super Metroid.  I figured since the game was practically free (and I hadn’t heard any hype in ages), it was a fine time to sit down and see if the years of praise heaped on this title were well-deserved.  Sure enough, they were.


Super Metroid is one of the finest examples of environmental storytelling in video games.  Where so many other titles rely on overwrought dialogue and lengthy cutscenes to tell a story, Super Metroid uses gameplay cues and understated details to present its narrative.  The game rarely wrests control from the player, allowing exploration of the haunting planet of Zebes at their own pace.  When the protagonist Samus comes across the corpse of a scientist, there is no break in the gameplay for a tight camera focus to reinforce the current situation.  The player can take in all of the plot details organically, without being hit over the head with exposition.

The flow of gameplay is also fantastic.  Since there are no forced tutorials for the items Samus acquires, the player is free to experiment with abilities at their leisure.  This did cause a bit of a problem during my playthrough, particularly due to my lack of expertise with the Wall Jump and Space Jump.  To my credit, the controls for these techniques are rather precise and take a bit of practice to become proficient.  However, since I didn’t have to complete a preliminary test of skill to use these abilities (a common and frustrating trope of modern gaming), I could deal with challenges as they arrived.


In spite of excellent narrative structure and solid flow of play, Super Metroid is far from perfect.  The third act of the game drags quite a bit, featuring frequent use of the game’s trickier moves and quite a bit of aimless wandering.  There are several areas that punish the player for even the slightest mistake, leading to a dragged out death for Samus.  These high risk zones are alleviated with the use of save states in the Wii-U version, but I can imagine being severely frustrated if I had to start from an in-game save point after a cheap death.  Many of the bosses can be defeated using individual strategies, but I often found myself resorting to simply tanking through each encounter- relying on being able to take more hits than my foe to ensure victory.

Putting these minor complaints aside, Super Metroid definitely holds up 21 years after its initial release.  The detailed sprites and moody soundtrack have aged quite well, remaining crisp and impressive compared to later polygonal offerings.  The somber and well-integrated narrative expresses an interesting science fiction tale with more power than most modern titles.  A lack of forced tutorials or cluttered interfaces means players can enjoy excellent play without interruption.  At the risk of further hyping this game into the realm of total avoidance, I would highly recommend Super Metroid.  After all, some experiences are truly worth the praise they are given.

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The Lost Moments of Cartridges

I have just finished playing through Super Metroid for the first time.  I had dabbled in this title during its original release on the Super Nintendo in 1994, but I didn’t make it past the first minutes of play until now.  I chalk it up to never owning a physical copy of the game.  During the recent boon of downloadable offerings from Club Nintendo, I picked up a digital copy of Super Metroid for the Wii-U.  While I do enjoy being able to play anywhere in GIMMGP Headquarters thanks to the Wii-U GamePad, there are certain qualities of the Super Nintendo version that I miss.


For example, I will never be able to loan this game to a friend.  If someone wants to play the copy of Super Metroid I own, they would have to borrow my console or come over to play.  This also means that the remnants of other people’s play will not show up in my game.  So I will not get to experience interesting moments like this one I previously shared in November 2011.


Back in my day, my brother and I used to walk fifteen miles in the snow to buy our video games.  We would work 26 hours a day in the steel mill, save our pennies for months on end while only eating old newspapers soaked in rainwater as food.  Eventually, we would earn enough money be able to afford our precious Super Nintendo games.   We also used to save our games on the cartridges themselves, and we were grateful, dag’nabit!


That is how I feel going into this story.  Old and senile towards todays video game youth (who definitely don’t know how good they’ve got it).  In reality, my brother and I were rather fortunate to have a father who also enjoyed video games for a time.  After the Super Nintendo came out, my Dad’s interest in playing games declined sharply (I think it was the addition of the X, Y, L, and R buttons that he found to be frustrating).  But his love for his children meant we were spoiled by getting a new video game on each of our birthdays.  One year, my brother and I had our little hearts set on the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.


At this point, a little explanation of how memory on video games has evolved over the years might be necessary.  You see, modern games utilize a hard drive that is built into the system for saving your game progression.  Most of them even save the game automatically as you play, just to make sure you don’t lose any progress due to a freak power outage (or glitchy game design).  But back in the days of the Super Nintendo, there was no hard drive built into the system itself.  We didn’t even use the memory cards that became common with the advent of the Sony PlayStation.

The cartridges that Nintendo produced would actually contain your game progresssion.  This way, whenever you would rent a game from Blockbuster (a store that used to exist where one could rent movies and video games), you often got to see the previous saved games of those who had rented before you.  This left me with a feeling of seeing history laid out before me or gave me a sort of digital rival to work against.


As my brother and I placed the third tale of Link into the Super Nintendo, we discovered something odd.  This brand new game our Dad had just given to us already had saved data on it.  It was like something out of a horror story, as if the game was cursed or haunted by a malevolent spirit who adventured before us.  Not only were there games in progress on our cartridge, but one of them had already completed the entire game and collected all the heart pieces!  Needless to say, my brother and I were perplexed by this mystery.  These were before the days of buying games used, where the titles you purchased may have several owners before you, thus explaining any previous game saves.


To this day, we have not figured out exactly how phantom data made its way onto our copy of A Link to the Past.  Maybe we somehow got a test copy from Nintendo.  Maybe the employees of Toys R Us repackaged this game after taking it home to play.  I still think it may have been ghosts.  Some spectre who had completed our game before us, and needed us to beat her legacy to lay his soul to rest.  The game data has been long since deleted, in order to make room for each of our own saves, but the story still lingers; a secret never quite resolved.

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