Stunt Race FX, Super Nintendo

Released for the Super Nintendo in 1994, this cheerful racing game is another SNES title that employs use of the Super FX Chip – an extra co-processor inside the cartridge which enhances the console’s 3D graphics capabilities (the same chip, as used in Star Fox).

Stunt Race FX was developed by Nintendo EAD, with assistance from Argonaut Software – the creators of the Super FX Chip – and is a bit of a departure from the likes of Super Mario Kart (which was released two whole years before this game).

For starters: as you would expect – Stunt Race FX is presented mostly in 3D. The cars are [kinda] 3D; the tracks are 3D; the surrounds and menus are 2D.

There are five different modes of play in Stunt Race FX: Speed Trax, Stunt Trax, Battle Trax, Test Run, and Free Trax. Speed Trax is single-player only and requires progression up a series of three different classes, each containing four courses and bonus game (making twelve courses and three bonus games in total). Stunt Trax involves driving around four courses exclusive to this mode, collecting every star possible to achieve a perfect score. Again: single-player only. Battle Trax is for head-to-head racing, and splits the screen horizontally to accommodate two players. This mode can be played single-player, but the second joypad must be plugged-in (and left alone), for the computer-controlled car to activate (which is weird). Test Run is designed for beginners to practise, and Free Trax – which only unlocks after completing one of the three available modes in Speed Trax – is both for time-attacking, and also for practise on courses already completed.

The biggest criticism of Stunt Race FX is that the movement of the vehicles (and the screen for that matter) is relatively slow, compared to most other racing games. Obviously Nintendo had a limited frame rate they could squeeze out of the Super FX Chip, and it could be argued that they were trying to do too much too soon with this game. But I feel that the overall high quality of Stunt Race FX supersedes any perceived slowness. When you calibrate your brain to the controls and the frame rate, Stunt Race FX is a lot of fun. You know – it’s a bit like forgiving the slowdown in Knight Lore, because the game’s so good. And Stunt Race FX is a very good game.

Note: Stunt Race FX is known as Wild Trax in Japan.

More: Stunt Race FX on Wikipedia

19 Part One: Boot Camp, Commodore 64

Based on the Paul Hardcastle pop hit of 1985, 19 (“nnnnn-Nineteen“), 19 Part One: Boot Camp is a multi-event action game that is supposed to portray the training phase of a Vietnam solder’s experiences.

Overall, the game is pretty good – if a little on a tough side. There are four sequential events: Assault Course, Shooting Range, Jeep Training, and Unarmed Combat, and the aim is to work your way through them in order to take on your drill sergeant in unarmed combat at the end.

Graphically: 19 is nicely-drawn, coloured, and animated, but isn’t particularly special. The soundtrack – a chiptunes version of Hardcastle‘s hit – was created by legendary C64 composer Rob Hubbard, and is worthy of note. The gameplay is okay – it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. The final beat ’em up section is pretty poor, when compared to the likes of International Karate Plus (which came out a year before this).

19 Part One: Boot Camp was published by Cascade Games in 1988 and was a reasonable success. Unfortunately: there was nnn-no part two. It nnnn-never got made.

More: 19 Part One: Boot Camp on Wikipedia

Rez, Dreamcast

Developed by United Game Artists and released simultaneously for the Sega Dreamcast and Sony PlayStation 2 in 2001, Rez is a trippy, mind-bendingly-original and visually-stunning ‘Rail Shooter’ (meaning: the path you follow is ‘on rails’, like a rollercoaster), with hacking and music influences.

The gameplay is relatively simple – even it seems quite confusing at first. You control a human-shaped avatar travelling inside a computer network. You can’t control the path the avatar takes, but you can control the viewpoint. The basic aim to shoot the oncoming enemies (using an on-screen reticule), and to collect power-ups that ‘evolve’ the avatar to higher levels and change its form. As the avatar evolves levels it slowly works its way towards level ten, and a boss battle. Of the five levels available, the first four follow this pattern, with the fifth being considerably larger, and crowned with a ‘boss rush’ of variations of all the other previous bosses.

What is interesting about Rez is that it also contains a musical ‘Rhythm Game’ element to the gameplay, meaning: events coincide with the soundtrack, and each press of the fire button triggers certain sound effects, in synchronisation with the music. Graphical elements, such as the avatar’s animation, also move in time with the music. The developers of Rez apparently studied the Famicom Disk System game, Otocky, before making this game, and they do share some similarities.

Completing stages – or completing the game itself – unlocks new features, play modes, and colour schemes.

While Rez may not be for everyone, it has to be applauded for its originality – at least in terms of structure and audio/visuals. Rail shooters have never been known for their depth of gameplay, although Rez is one that bravely tries to break the mould.

Rez has also been remade a number of times. A HD remake was released on the XBox 360 in 2008, and Rez Infinite has been available for PS4, Windows, and Android since 2016.

More Rez on Wikipedia

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Game Boy Advance

Released in Japan in 2004 and everywhere else in 2005, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was developed by Capcom and Flagship, with Nintendo overseeing the project. The result is: a fantastically fun handheld adventure game, with beautiful 2D graphics and captivating gameplay.

In The Minish Cap, Link makes friends with a talking, magical cap that guides him into a world of monsters and miniaturisation. A miniature race of people, no less, called The Minish. And – as Link explores and makes progress in the game – his powers increase, as does his arsenal of weapons and tools. Just like in every other Zelda game. And – just like every other Zelda game – The Minish Cap is packed with new ideas and game mechanics that make it a joy to play. The ‘Gust Jar’ is one such example: stand on a floating lilypad and shoot it in the opposite direction to which you want to travel.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the look of The Minish Cap. It has the visual appeal of something like A Link To The Past, but with a unique Capcom twist to it. The Minish Cap is a procession of beautifully-drawn (and incredibly colourful) pixel art, from start to finish, and really shows what the GBA is capable of.

Gameplay-wise: there’s little to fault. There are enough dungeons, puzzles, boss fights, and side quests to keep you going for days. Weeks even – depending on how much you like to take your time.

As Zelda games go, I would put The Minish Cap up there with the best of the 2D adventures. It’s a must-play if you like cute and colourful exploration games.

More: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap on Wikipedia

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time on
100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, Nintendo DS

This 2008 Nintendo DS release from Atlus is up there with the best in terms of top quality level-grinders – it really is superb.

The Etrian Odyssey series is all about mapping and exploration, item drops, boss battles, levelling, and lots of excellent turn-based combat, and this second instalment is a clear evolution of the first game, although arguably not quite as expansive and refined as its remarkable sequel.

Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard is a very easy game to play, but has many hidden elements that take real skill (and a lot of luck!) to unlock. I’m talking specifically about the item drops. Kill a boss or an enemy a certain way and they’ll drop a special item. Take that item to the shop and sell it for big bucks, and also to unlock new weapons and armour. Of course, getting the special item drops is an art in itself. An ‘art’ that is infuriating on a real DS, and somewhat ‘fun’ in a emulator…

Levelling-up and spending Skill Points on your individual characters is also fun. Etrian Odyssey II features detailed and imaginative skill trees, spells, and abilities, and the option of choosing from twelve different character classes when building a party. Even better: you can easily build and use different parties by visiting the Explorer’s Guild. This feature makes the game very re-playable and gives you a chance to experiment with all the different classes without having to have different saves for each. You can have a maximum of five in a party, or a minimum of one, and access to some ‘optional’ hidden areas is only possible with a party of three or less. The flexibility of the party system really gives this game – and all the other Etrian Odyssey games – an edge over much of the competition.

Graphically, Etrian Odyssey II is a pleasing mix of simple 3D graphics (the first-person landscapes in the main view window), and 2D, hand-drawn graphics. The 2D graphics I think are fantastically-drawn and really make the game look great. Again: a common feature of the Etrian Odyssey series and one of the reasons why I love it so much.

Another common feature of the series are the boss battles. Rather than simply meet a ‘boss’ in a set location in order to fight it, the bosses (called FOEs in Etrian Odyssey II) fit into different categories, and follow certain patterns of behaviour. Most FOEs patrol the maze, usually in a set pattern, and avoiding them (at least initially) is what you need to do. On occasion the lower-end FOEs will come after you if they see you, and break off the chase if you escape out of their range. And – rather scarily – the FOEs who chase you will continue to pursue you even if you’re locked in battle. As each turn of a battle passes, you can see the red-lit FOEs on your map get ever closer… and if they reach you they will enter battle. Which you really want to avoid! Especially with low-level characters. The next level of boss is a ‘Stratum FOE‘ – a sort of ‘end-of-level boss’ with hit points and skills designed to test your party to the max at a certain level. And there’s one other level of boss – the ‘Superboss‘ – which are usually hidden away for advanced players to find and take on. Needless to say: the boss battles in this game are phenomenal! They are not only a real test of nerve and skill, but they also force you to plan ahead, and also to employ certain tactics to win – especially if you’re trying to get the special item drops. The general idea with bosses in Etrian Odyssey II is: avoid them if you’re too low-levelled, and return to fight them later, when you’re more capable.

Overall: level-grinding has never been so much fun. While not quite as brilliant as its 2010 sequel, Etrian Odyssey III, Etrian Odyssey II is still a fantastic game. It’s deep, involving, full of detail and charm, and a huge amount of fun if you like level-grinders.

More on The King of Grabs:
Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey II, Etrian Odyssey III

More: Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard on Wikipedia