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Lunar 2: Eternal Blue

This one still baffles me, honestly. The first one is a genre-defining classic, but the second is shunned or outright hated by a lot of fans. I'll admit it's not as good as its predecessor, but it's still an engrossing game with a memorable cast of characters and a fun storyline. The biggest weakness, in my view, were the villain characters, who were never really given a proper back-story or any real motive besides "they're evil." Regardless, it was good to see old Ghaleon in action again, and his betrayal and redemption was one of the best moments of the story.

Advance Guardian Heroes

It's easy to write this off as an "inferior" game to the original, as it lacks the non-linear aspect and the gameplay and overall style of the game bears very little resemblance to Guardian Heroes on the Saturn. Judged on its own merits, though, it's a very fun, action-packed brawler with some of the craziest action the platform has to offer. Hell, the final boss alone is worth the price of admission; disassemble a colossal android limb-by-limb, then deflect a sun-sized fireball right back in his face as the ultimate poetic justice? Hell yeah.

Castlevania: Dracula X (SNES)

If you're comparing it to the TGCD version, then yes, this is one of the worst "ports" ever; it has almost nothing in common with the game it's allegedly a down-port of. If you're expecting more of Castlevania IV's 3D effects and gameplay innovations, well, you're going to be disappointed there too. But if you can distance it from both of those games and judge it on its own merits, it's actually a pretty damn good game. The graphics and music are stellar, and the gameplay and challenge are both up to Castlevania standards. Although I will admit some areas seem custom-tailored just to frustrate the living hell out of you. One that comes to mind is an area where you have to cross a large gap on a floating platform and take out an Axe Armor on the far ledge while evading Medusa Heads at the same time; take one hit from anything and you fall off and you get to backtrack a pretty long way just to take another shot at it.

Super Mario Sunshine

Again, I'm not sure where all the flak for this one comes from; I've heard claims that "the camera is awful" or "all you do is clean sludge", which are both total horseshit (and you'd know this if you'd played the game for any length of time; hell, there's hardly any missions requiring you to clean up slime). I think a lot of it comes from some of the more annoying stages in the game - you're usually traversing extremely tricky terrain or operating on a very strict time limit, and making one or two mistakes usually results in your death (rather than SM64's policy of just forcing you to exit and restart the stage). Still, it's all very managable with some good old-fashioned practice. Super Mario Galaxy's hellish purple coin challenges and "fly the bird that doesn't respond to the goddamn controller" stages (shades of Final Fantasy X... uggghhh) caused me a LOT more grief than this game ever did.

But for the record, I will admit that having to hunt individual Blue Coins for the last fifteen or so Shines was pretty damn tedious. Should have just added two more levels, guys!

Streets of Rage 3

Another one that has a lot of hate directed at it for reasons I can't really fathom. I mean hell, it's a fun side-scrolling beat-em-up with some pretty good graphics and music for the platform, what's not to like? Well, the dumb storyline, perhaps (evil robot clones replacing city officials, ooo!), but since when did you play a brawler for its plot? You could also argue that its predecessors were better, I suppose, but that's still no reason not to give this one a chance.

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

I'll admit Phantasy Star III has its faults - the visuals are nothing special, the music ranges from bland to downright horrid and the mechanics aren't very refined - but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it regardless. It has an interesting setting, the branching storyline and multiple endings were something that were very rare in console RPGs at the time (and are still uncommon today), and the automated combat system made the frequent random encounters go by significantly faster than in most RPGs - instead of having to tap through five characters' option menus, you could just click once and they'd all attack continuously until everything onscreen was dead. Convenient!

I guess the lesson here is to not go in expecting it to be a golden followup to the dark, nihilistic Phantasy Star II, because it's definitely not. In fact, just ignore the words "Phantasy Star" in the title and try to judge it on its own merits - it has very little connection at all to the rest of the series.

Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones (NES)

The arcade version of Double Dragon III was widely panned by fans for its sloppy programming and "feature" of forcing you to pay more quarters to get special weapons and health powerups, and rightfully so. The NES port, on the other hand, was equally disliked for its sheer difficulty - you get one life and one continue to take on some of the most aggressive and ruthless foes in any brawler seen to date. You could get some "extra lives" in the form of two recruitable characters along the way, but of course that assumed you could last that far (which most players didn't). Mastering the controls and finding and exploiting patterns in the enemy AI were both absolutely essential to survival in this game; bringing along a second player to prevent enemies from ganging up on you wasn't too shabby an idea either.

Bionic Commando (Xbox/PS3/PC)

Bionic Commando is fondly remembered as an innovative platformer for the NES and Arcade platforms where, rather than a jump button, you'd have to navigate stages via creative and carefully-timed use of a bionic arm that allowed you to climb and swing around. Which is why it surprises me that the 2009 sequel wasn't nearly as well received. I suppose you could argue that it's got a few too many third-person-shooter elements in it, or that it has some annoying gameplay decisions (having to complete inobvious and sometimes annoying tasks to "upgrade" your character), but I still found it to be a very enjoyable game. Hell, once you mastered the controls, it was just great fun using it to swing past a group of soldiers, drop a grenade in their midst, shoot another guy dead in mid-flight, then take out an attacking bio-mech with a series of aggressive stomping kicks. It also had an excellent soundtrack; easily among the best of this entire console generation. I will concede two points, however: A) Radd Spencer's redesign is fucking atrocious and B) Bionic Commando - a game lauded as an example of humorous 8-bit camp - shouldn't be turned into a dark, angst-fueled war story.

* Fortunately, if you've played Bionic Commando Rearmed, you can unlock a skin that changes him back to the familiar NES-era design.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Nintendo tried to take the series in a new direction with Zelda II, with mixed results. On one hand, the game does provide an interesting change of pace with its RPG elements and side-scrolling, platforming gameplay. On the other, it has annoying elements like aggressive enemies that quickly drain your health while blocking almost every attack you throw yourself, enemies that steal experience points when they hit you, losing ALL of your current experience points when your last life is gone (forcing you to start all over again) and being dropped back at the start point as punishment for losing your last life, forcing you to walk all the way back to the last dungeon you were in to take another shot at it. Overall, though, I think it did more right than it did wrong, and it's worth a try. Just be prepared for a challenge, and be ready to do a fair amount of experience grinding and retracing your steps.

Deus Ex: Invisible War

Ah yes, Invisible War, a game which was dismissed almost immediately by Deus Ex fans for its lousy game engine and some really dopey design decisions ("let's have all weapons draw from the same ammo supply, I don't see how this could possibly be a bad idea!"). There was still much to like, though - the story was an enjoyable followup to the original and the nonlinear gameplay was still in full force, granting the player several ways to play through the game, as well as four different endings to see. Biomods were still as fun as ever, allowing you to, among other things, hack electronics for various means, turn robots against your enemies, regenerate health and - my personal favorite - run ridiculously fast and jump ridiculous distances like in the Matrix. If nothing else, it's also the only game I've ever seen where you can throw grenades that summon lightning-throwing mechanical spiders to your aid. The game is definitely inferior to its predecessor, but it's still worth playing through at least once.
 
 
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