Welcome to the fourth installment of a semi-regular feature here at GameCritics.com—the Bargain Basement. It’s as sure as death or taxes that anyone who takes up videogaming will find themselves rooting through a bargain bin at one point or another. For those that do, few things feel as satisfying as saving hard-earned cash AND getting a gem of a game at the same time. In order to help you uncover some previously played diamonds (and to avoid lumps of worthless zirconium) this feature is aimed at giving you a heads up on some titles you may have missed while on the New Release racks.
The discs (or carts) covered below can all be purchased nearly anywhere that has a selection of used games—usually for $20 or less in stores or on the web. In my experience, they are easily located by digging deep in picked-over sale racks, or by searching online auction houses. Please keep in mind that since the games recommended in this feature are older and not on the latest hardware, it’s assumed that the graphics aren’t going to be bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a rating which takes that into account, and does not penalize them by comparing them to today’s standards. Gameplay is what we’re talking about here. Happy hunting, and more importantly… Happy Gaming!
To start off this Basement, I went waaaay back into my library and dug up BrainDead 13. I could barely recognize the case through the thick layer of dust on it, but once I cleaned it off and realized what it was, I cracked a big smile. Structurally speaking, it’s almost a carbon copy of the old arcade classic "Dragon’s Lair". For those of you who haven’t played that particular piece of history, you watch a piece of recorded FMV cartoon animation and input simple commands (up, down, left, right) at the correct time to avoid instant death. The gameplay itself is no great shakes (it wasn’t in Dragon’s Lair, either) but the selling point here is the outstanding animation and goofy sense of humor.
The premise is that you’re a computer repair guy tricked into making a service call at a creepy mansion, and you must negotiate the pitfalls and ghouls lying inside in order to escape. It’s a beautifully rendered game that takes advantage of the cliché theme by injecting every classic "haunted house" reference with as much humor as possible. You’ll dodge Frankenstein’s monster in the tower, avoid a bite from the incredibly voluptuous vamp in the barbershop, and eventually face off with the evil mastermind behind the whole dastardly plot while chuckling the whole time. Beating the game is a matter memorizing simple patterns, but seeing the vast number of colorful fatalities alleviates this minor aggravation. If you’re in the mood for a few good laughs and some really nice animation, BrainDead 13 is worth picking up.
Final note: If you’ve got a choice, the PlayStation version has cleaner video but requires swapping between two discs at certain points in the mansion. The Saturn version forgoes this annoyance, but the compression onto one disc causes it to be a bit grainy. You make the call. Rating: 6.0 out of 10
Definitely a sleeper hit for fighting game fans, Destrega is the best Dragonball game I’ve ever played. The funny thing is, it has absolutely nothing to do with Akira Toriyama’s inexplicably long-lived series.
For those who may be confused by my statement, Destrega is a 3D free-roaming fighter that features the same kind of large fireballs, energy beams and hand-to-hand fighting that the Dragonball TV series is known for. However, unlike the videogame efforts to bring the franchise to consoles, Destrega is actually a GOOD game!
Featuring 12 characters with a variety of projectiles that vary in speed and strength, it features a surprisingly balanced hit priority system and the same type of "go anywhere" design seen in games like Power Stone or Ehrgeiz. With multiple height levels and different structures to hide behind, it rises above a simple buttonmasher by requiring a fair amount of technique and timing. A few of the combatants are definitely overpowered, but overall it’s a satisfying and varied mix.
Also, it’s worth noting that the game has a very unusual take on the standard Story mode. Instead of the same old tournament ladder structure to see who’s best, there is a scripted tale of intrigue and revolution divided up into short segments. You start with the game’s main character, but after completing the battle you’ll watch a short cutscene and then use a completely different character in the next part. It’s refreshing because you’re essentially forced to use all of the different characters in script-based encounters instead of simply picking one fighter and using them through the whole game. It adds a bit of welcome sophistication to the plot that most fighting games tend to ignore.
While Destrega replaces the artwork of Toriyama with its signature style of historically-flavored designs (either a good or bad thing, depending on your personal tastes) the graphics overall hold up rather well considering that it was designed for the PSX. The attention to detail on the faces was especially impressive. Koei really scored a hit with Destrega in my opinion, but it strangely never received the acclaim it deserves… blame the cover art, I guess. Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Kirby's Dream Course
Developer: HAL Laboratory
When I first brought this game home, my brother and I went on an all-night binge that worked our fingers and our eyeballs to the point of exhaustion. We were both blown away by how unique the game was, and instantly addicted to the incredibly imaginative design. To this day, I have yet to play a game that touches me quite the same way that Kirby’s Dream Course does. It remains unmatched. One of my greatest wishes as a gameplayer is to see a sequel on a modern console, and if there are any developers out there reading this, please help make this critic’s dream cone true!
The point of the game is to play miniature golf, but with a twist. Instead of using balls, you use everyone’s favorite pink puff, Kirby. For those who are unfamiliar with this character, he resembles a walking marshmallow and is able to swallow enemies and steal their abilities upon digestion. In Dream Course, Kirby brings this ability to the back nine and adds a whole new level to putt-putt.
Playing through the game, it has a very solid golf engine at its core, which is impressive enough considering that the game is on the SNES. However, the real draw here is the ability to add special powers to your shots by absorbing those found on the course. If your shot lands on a hill, it’s possible to use the "spikes" ability to sprout grips that halt your ball in place to prevent any devastating rollbacks. If you overshoot a hole, you can use the "stone" power to make Kirby immediately drop straight downwards once you’re near your objective. Best of all, if you manage to snag the rare "UFO" power, Kirby transforms into an alien vehicle that can be piloted directly INTO the hole from anywhere on the course, provided that you’re skillful enough to fly it.
The two-player mode is especially addictive because the different abilities can also be used to attack the second player’s ball. While in the middle of a putt, you can turn into a fireball to scorch your competition off the course or unleash the "whirlwind" power to blow their ball miles away. Trust me when I say that golf has NEVER been this fun. The only drawback preventing this game from receiving a perfect "10" score is that there aren’t enough courses, so you’re limited to the replaying same few areas. (Which you will joyfully do, many, many times.) However, that’s a pretty minor flaw in the big scheme of things. Trust me when I say that this game alone makes buying a SNES today worth the investment. Rating: 9.5 out of 10
For the nine puzzle game fans who also have a Saturn, your library isn’t complete until you’ve located a copy of the ultra-cute Baku Baku.
Resembling a Tetris clone but feeling like PuyoPuyo, Baku Baku puts its own unique spin on the "falling blocks" formula by having two distinct varieties of pieces: animals and food. The point of the game is to match the correct beast with its favorite fodder. For example, after stacking up a pile of bamboo blocks, you eliminate them by dropping a panda on top. When the two types of blocks connect, the panda block turns into a large Silicon Graphics-type head and devours the blocks off of the playing field with an audible "chomp-chomp-chomp".
While the gameplay itself isn’t anything revolutionary, the game is extremely solid and has a fair amount of strategy to it. Long chain combos are encouraged, and strategic stacking takes a bit of practice. It’s also safe to say there just weren’t that many games for the Saturn in the first place (unless you imported) so something of this quality is a must-own for anyone serious about rounding out their library.
If those reasons still aren’t enough to convince you, there’s just something undeniably appealing about watching a giant monkey head eat a long string of banana squares while hearing a shrill Japanese voice scream out something about scoring big points. How can anyone possibly resist? Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway