Music Appreciation (with Contra: Hard Corps)

I never owned a Sega Genesis so I didn’t get to experience many of the amazing games that weren’t multi-platform. Growing up, I always thought of the Genesis as severely lacking aurally. After hearing music from games like Super Castlevania IV, I would shun many Sega Genesis titles merely because of the stark contrast in audio abilities. One of the titles I wrote off happened to be a classic Contra game. To me, it was just “the game that wasn’t Contra III”.

Over in the SNES side, we received Contra III: The Alien Wars which is an amazing game by all accounts. However, on the Genesis side they received an entirely different game, Contra: Hard Corps. Comparatively, Hard Corps is a much bigger game. To name just a few exclusive features: it had more levels, several playable characters, and secret endings . Like most Contra games, Hard Corps is brutally difficult, especially for the US release. Being older, I now appreciate everything it offers in addition to this, it had one hell of a soundtrack.

I recently heard this Contra: Hard Corps song for the first time in as long as I can remember*:

There’s something about this track that feels perfect. It feels Contra-like. This is what the Sega Genesis should sound like.

The Genesis used a couple sound chips that produced a very unique sound compared to what the SNES could offer. In a lesser person’s hands, the Genesis’ sound chip wasn’t used effectively which resulted in a sound I can only describe as grating and industrial. When composed by a skillful artist who knows their way around the Genesis, it was capable of producing beautiful works that the SNES could never hope to recreate.

A game may be fun, innovative and look beautiful but it’s the sounds and music that are the glue that holds the entire experience together. Think about your favorite video games or movies for a second. While many differences, the commonality will inevitably be the masterfully composed and fitting soundtracks. Take a minute to appreciate all the hard work that goes into creating not just a beautiful video game soundtrack but a soundtrack that is engineered for such a specific sound chip as to fully immerse you in the world that is presented.

*I did not upload the video posted. I apologize if the video ever goes down.

Super Space ____ (is ____ing Cool)

Very rarely do I find a game that can instill an uncontrollable sense of giddiness in me. Last year, at the IndieCade game festival, I experienced once of these games. Super Space ____ (pronounced as the word “blank”), a top-down space shooter for Windows*, is the result of relatively simple concepts executed masterfully. The formula to Super Space ____ is basic: take one part asteroids, one part cooperative multiplayer, and an equal part competitive multiplayer. The result is one of the most hilarious, frantic 4-player games yet envisioned.


Let’s Take a Trip Through Space… Together!

Physics-based games are all the rage these days. While I appreciate realistic gravity, ballistics, and whatever else you see in game descriptions these days, it’s no longer something that can set a game apart. In order to have your game stand out, you have to do something interesting. Super Space ____ does just that by taking an extremely simple physics concept, the recoil from firing a gun, and turning it into a core game component. As the player, you control a turret on a space ship. Using this turret, you must shoot asteroids, using the recoil from these same shots to maneuver the ship around. Add another player to the mix and you add another turret to the same ship.

Keep Your Friends Close…

With up to 4-players, you and your friends must work together as members of the same ship to steer your ship through wave after wave of oncoming asteroids and obstacles to dodge. While the asteroids themselves do not hurt your ship (in most cases!), colliding with any red object instantly ends the game. In order to score points and destroy an asteroid, you must hit it at least once and then have it collide with any red object. Each shot that hits an asteroid increases a point multiplier for that particular asteroid. The last person to have shot the asteroid before it collides with a red object will get credit for the points. While getting a higher score than your friends is always a plus, the real target is the gun power-ups.


A brief adventure through space.

There are a total of 4 different power-ups for your turrets to compete for. For your firepower, there are three modifiers: a machine-gun, laser, and shotgun. Each player can have up to 3 different gun power-ups at a time. This means you can have a machine-shotgun, a ultra-fast triple machine-gun, or even a machine-shot-laser gun! Each power up feels unique and completely changes the dynamics of the ship movement.  A player with several power-ups will fire more shots which means they have an increased influence over the ships movement. A reckless player with a triple-shotgun can send the entire ship careening out of control with just a few shots!

… Because You Have No Choice

In addition to the gun modifiers, each player can hold one bomb. Using a bomb destroys all asteroids and deadly obstacles potentially saving your whole team. While initially a last-resort life-saving device, it can quickly become a weapon of revenge or pure annoyance by any player as every time a bomb is used all power-ups for every player will be ejected from them. As the power-ups fly out, each player will frantically fire as fast as they can in an attempt to reclaim their lost upgrades. In order to collect a power-up, that player’s turret must contact the floating upgrade token. As you can imagine, the sight of any power-up, especially after a well-timed spite-inspired bomb, causes the ship to spin wildly as each player attempts to aim the ship with their turret facing any items.

A Delicate Balance

All too often is the scenario that all players are shooting in the same direction, vying for the points and prizes. Remember though, as each shot fired pushes your ship backwards, if your team doesn’t coordinate and cooperate, you’ll all be dead in a matter of seconds. A successful trip though Super Space ____ requires that each player adapt to each other player’s tendencies and influence over the ships movement, the ship itself and the current wave of asteroids.

Each time you start the game, the overall shape of the ship is randomly selected. One ship might be shaped like a square, distributing all four

Although you need to cooperate, it also encourages competition.

Although you need to cooperate, it also encourages competition.

players equally. The next ship might be shaped like a “T” with one player at the bottom. Each ship plays a bit different and alters how your team will have to work together.

Although the waves of asteroids are endless (until you inevitably die), each wave has a special gimmick that you’ll have to overcome. One wave might have you having to push against a wall before it crushes you against the edge. The next wave might have special safe zones that you’ll have to navigate your ship into before a red wave approaches and destroys you. While the waves will repeat if your team is good enough to survive that long, they come in a random order and are all hectically fun.

Refined Simplicity

The concepts in Super Space ____ are not complex but they don’t have to be. The game’s real achievement is in the way it executes these concepts. It feels perfectly engineered for maximum fun with friends. The best part about it is that is is free to download. Head over to right now, grab some friends and start having a blast!

*While I am not sure of the minimum system requirements, it seems like it could run on any half-way decent machine. Also, it is important to note that Xbox 360 controllers are required in order to play.

The Adventures of Rad Gravity (isn’t so Rad)

The problem with dumpster diving is that you need to sift through trash to find the useful things. The Adventures of Rad Gravity is the closest thing to dumpster diving that the NES library contains.  You know that there’s something good in there but aren’t sure if it’s worth digging. There is a reason why some people don’t go dumpster diving and it’s the same reason why nobody ever talks about The Adventures of Rad Gravity: regardless of what you find, it still stinks.

Adventures of Rad Gravity, The (U)_title

Who can resist a game with the word “rad” in the title? You can!

This Could be Rad!

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a planetary exploration 2D platformer featuring a character you’ve never heard of. Rad Gravity is a large-headed, big-chinned space-man who is on a mission to do something you probably do not and will not ever care about.  The game starts off very simple with a traditional side-scrolling level. The first level is not very difficult and is actually pretty fun. The game has all the standard 2D platforming fare such as jumping, shooting, killing things but as you progress it introduces a lot of adventure and exploration elements.

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Level One! Rad’s adventure begins!

Each level in Rad Gravity consists of a different planet. It’s pretty nice as each planet looks different and has different enemies in it. There is also a small level of non-linearity as certain planets can be explored in the order of your choice. Exploring the planets can be fun once you realize that there are plenty of new items and upgrades to discover. Taking a page from the classic NES title Metroid, there are maximum health expansions, armor upgrades, weapon upgrades and multiple different weapons to find.  There is a lot to do and an equally large amount of ambitious gameplay elements. In addition to exploration, there are many interesting novelty elements that spice up the game. One level has a series of doors that need to be unlocked by finding a key and tossing it onto it. Another level is played almost entirely while upside-down! These experiences are frequent, varied and make the game feel less repetitive.

Not only are there several planets to travel to but there are several required story events that pop up. Once one occurs, you are required to complete it before returning to your planet exploration. One involves your computer being stolen requiring you to chase down some thugs to get it back. Another has your ship breaking down requiring that you acquire replacement parts from a nearby derelict ship. These events bring an odd cohesiveness to a rather scattered looking game. In particular, these special levels make you feel as if you are making progress through the game rather than randomly exploring planets.

Have you ever wanted to explode a triceratops? Look no further!

Have you ever wanted to explode a triceratops? Look no further!

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is an ambitious game that has a lot going for it.  You can tell that someone worked really hard on the overall design of the game. It is impressive how many different areas, enemies, items, events and creatures you encounter on this little 8-bit adventure. Every couple years I find myself drawn back to its radical allure in hopes of reliving the planetary exploration goodness. And then at about 45 minutes into the game I begin to remember why The Adventures of Rad Gravity never received a sequel.

Not so Rad…

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a brilliant game about dying over and over again until you shed a single tear, dripping it over the NES controller you’ve already destroyed in anger. This game will upset you. It was frustrate you. It will test your self-control. The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a game that is so frustrating that many will never experience all the “rad” stuff it has to offer. Let’s sift though the refuse:

There is One Song

Yes. Other than the title screen, credits and boss music there is only one song and it plays constantly. Plan on hearing this same song several hundred times. Although it’s not a particularly bad song, it’s seriously the only song in the game for all planets except for the final one (which plays the boss music). Keep in mind that this is not a short game. It will take several hours to beat if you’re willing to stick with it. With all the varied environments and enemies, you’d thing they could at least compose a few songs? Nope. Just listen to this theme over and over and over and over and over…

Movement Acceleration is Terrible

Rad Gravity has a problem with movement. There is acceleration when beginning to move and deceleration when stopping. While this doesn’t seem bad, it makes it extremely difficult to make precise jumps. You have to get a brief running start in order to jump long gaps which is totally fine except for the fact that sometimes you are only given a one block distance to gain this momentum. It makes doing full-speed jumps somewhat annoying. While acceleration is just an annoyance, the deceleration takes the first major step toward ruining the game. When coming to a stop, Rad Gravity slows down before stopping. As you can imagine, this makes jumping onto small blocks incredibly frustrating. You are constantly having to counteract your momentum by press the opposite direction. If you don’t there is a good chance that when you land, you’ll run right off the edge of a block. But you can’t over compensate or else you’ll not jump far enough and might miss the block entirely! Ugh…

Instant Death Pits

Get those tears ready. You’ll be crying in no time!

This is absolutely the worst offender of the game. In a stellar example of poor game design, many levels are filled with pits that kill you instantly, regardless of your health. One wrong move will send you back to the beginning and into a rage. There are several levels that have certain portions designed around tricking you into falling into an instant death pit. This is absurd! Why design a game based on tricking the player into dying? It’s not fun and severely detracts from the game. In particular, the planet Volcania is a lava planet. Everything on this level is designed to knock you into the lava, killing you instantly. This level is terrible. This level is amazingly terrible. Playing this level is the precise moment I decided that The Adventures of Rad Gravity could not be redeemed. It is forever, irrefutably, and officially a bad game.

Confusing Progression

The game occasionally throws you into a situation where you have no idea what to do. While I know how to beat the game, I pity any body who goes into this game blind. In one particular case, there is a part where you must jump up through and off the top of the screen in order to progress. There is nothing telling you that you can do this and if it weren’t for my years of gaming experience, I probably would have never tried that. A few boss fights play more like puzzles than actual fights. During my childhood, I actually thought the first boss had a “random” amount of health as one time it died almost instantly while the next time I spent 15 minutes shooting it with no success. It caused me to give up several times because as it turns out, they are invincible. You can not hurt them with your weapons. I spent far too long shooting them thinking that they just had an absurdly large amount of health. It feels like many situations in this game have a “trick” to it that is not explained. You will get stuck. You will not like it.

Lack of Useful Checkpoints

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a hard game. I like hard games so that’s usually not a problem for me. What I do have a problem with is that when you die, you must start the level all over again. The game is unforgiving in its difficulty and sometimes feels cheap. You can work very hard and on your 15th try, finally make it to the end only to be killed by some dumb, random thing. Seeing you start at the beginning of the level really sucks the urge to continue playing out of you. Only very small number of levels have checkpoints, notably the first and last level of the game. What happened to the middle levels? Those are hard too! You’re probably thinking, “If you just get better at the game you won’t need checkpoints!” That would be true except for the horrible and frequent instant deaths that I’ve already explained.

Progress Resets

Briefly mentioned above, there is a section of the game where you  are forced to enter a derelict space ship to find a replacement part. This level has the horrible habit of completely resetting your progress when you leave ship area. Since the ship is a bit of a puzzle which involves you having to find and place these fuse-like objects into certain sockets, it can be very confusing to figure out, especially initially. What is even more horrible is that upon exiting the main ship area, your fuse-socket progress is completely reset. I am almost positive this was not intentional as it doesn’t make any sense. It is just unfortunate and frustrating when there is a part where you can “fall” out of the ship and have to re-enter, erasing any progress you’ve made in the last 20 minutes.

The Broken Translocator was Intentional
The translocator is slightly more than broken

The translocator is slightly more than broken. Shown here: passing through walls, the Volcania secret, and falling into glitch-land.

At one point, Rad Gravity acquires a totally radical teleporter item which I like to call the translocator (after Unreal Tournament’s item of the same name). This item allows you throw out a small beacon and then teleport back to it at any time. This item completely destroys any semblance of collision detection that the game ever intended. Using this item and using a small series of obvious movements, you can break the game, skipping whole areas, passing through walls, and in one case that I found, crashing the game entirely. In a shocking twist, it turns out the developers actually knew the translocator was broken. In the level Volcania, there is a secret area that can only be accessed by passing through a wall with the translocator. I do not comprehend why a developer would allow their game to have a portion of it based on a potentially fatal programming flaw. Someone please explain this to me because I do not understand.

How to Make Rad Gravity Rad

The Adventures of Rad Gravity has got a lot of cool things going on and has a lot of great ideas are on display but in order to experience those things you’re going to have to look through layers and layers of garbage. It seems for every one great thing to experience there is at least three pieces of garbage. The good news, however, is that much of this garbage could be cleaned up with a surprisingly few number of tweaks.

Remove or Modify Instant Death Pits

Instead of dying, these pits could hurt you instead of outright killing you. Some games implement a design where falling into a pit hurts you and places you back onto the last solid ground before you fell in. This method could keep the challenge of jumps and oncoming enemies but still allow you to be penalized without having to start the entire level over again. With this, you wouldn’t even to change the level design (of which I actually think is interesting and fairly decent).

Tighten Up the Movement

Rad Gravity feels very slippery. Just be glad there is no ice planet or else Rad would completely out of control! The amount and acceleration and deceleration should be greatly lowered. If you could reach top speed or stop from a full run in about 1/4 the time, Rad would be much more manageable. I’m not a physics expert but I’m sure it wouldn’t take much more than some trial and error to find decent settings.

Fix Translocator and other Minor Bugs

This should not be able to happen. Thanks, translocator!

I am not sure how The Adventures of Rad Gravity checks for collision but it sure doesn’t do it correctly. Without getting too technical, many of the translocator bugs could be fixed by making two programming fixes. One would be resetting Rad Gravity’s velocity to zero before he is teleported to the beacon. The other would be to remove and reset the beacon or eject the beacon if it becomes too far embedded into the wall. In addition, the progress reset bug would just be a matter of not resetting a few memory locations when exiting the derelict ship. These are relatively simple concepts that could be implemented by a moderately skilled programmer without too much difficulty.

Compose More Music

This one is obvious. Ideally, give each planet its own theme. It would considerably help the overall presentation of the game. Enough said.

It Should be Rad!

I really, really want to love this game. There are so many little things going on that I adore. Considering how much quality game there is beneath all the trash, I feel as if it’s an experience worth having but just not in its current state. Though it will never happen, The Adventures of Rad Gravity is in need of a remake. If you take the exact game, same levels, same overall graphical design and just improve upon the areas which I mentioned, you might just have one stellar game on your hands.

Ultimately, I admit that I like The Adventures of Rad Gravity. I do, in fact, think it’s a rad game. It’s just too bad I have to be waist deep in garbage to play it.

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I congratulate you on reaching the end! Until next time…