Super Nintendo, NES & GameBoy tomfoolery;

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Boy in Gray

As is internet tradition, all October long I'm going to be writing Halloween-y themed articles. Last year I focused on SNES games with off-brand Frankenstein's Monsters, but for October 2014 I'll be killing two stitched-together corpses of birds with one lightning bolt stone as we look at Classic Black & White Monsters.
It's a double-entendre, you see:
  1. These games star monsters found in the classic Universal Studios monster movies of the 1930s (vampires, ghosts, and the ever-present Frankenstein's monsters)
  2. But these monster-games are all from the original Black & White* GameBoy games!
*: also known as "gray and/or buttugly"
So sit back, stick the top third of Candy Corns onto your canine teeth, and crack open a candy bar of your choice,
(perhaps a Snickers bar, if you have $2,500 to spare)
because here's the first Classic Black-&-White Monster Game of the year, starring...
More specifically, Casper, the friendly ghost -- the friendliest ghost ever to have a movie ported to the GameBoy (probably)! Actually, the release of the Casper movie came at a weird/multi-platformed time for video games: in Nintendo-land, Casper's movie adventure was captured on the Original GameBoy, the SNES and the GameBoy Color; and I think the only thing the games have in common is that no two were the same (or very well-known/good/etc).
Fortunately we only have to think about the Original GameBoy Casper today, and after its spooky-old-house and lightning-bolt-y title screen, it begins with Casper and his human gal-pal wandering in to what I assume to be the mansion from the title screen:
It's the kookiest house on the block!
This architectural niftiness is immediately followed by the incredibly bland "minigame select" screen, because each level in the GameBoy Casper game features four separate minigames.
(And not only is it much blander than those intro rooms, but it fails at the "Pick a Minigame" screen's primary purpose: letting you know which minigame you're picking.
This kind of ambiguity is at least a little bit forgivable in some games where the entrances look very different and/or are somewhat intuitive (for example, Pugsley climbing a rope to get to the attic level).
Here it's kind of a bummer; if you lost at a minigame and want to try another, you have to remember which door you went in to last time. And we all know how much fun that isn't!
We'll look at these minigames in just a minute; but first I have one more piece of background material: Casper's adventures evidently center around finding/collecting/guarding little perfume-sprayers of something called "ooz". It's never revealed if this is some sort of supernatural protoplasm, an incredibly valuable fragrance, or maybe it's just a typo and you're supposed to be gathering the liquid essence of the zoo. (I suppose I'd know if I watched the movie, but if Casper the Friendly GameBoy Game expects me to watch forgotten '90s live-action movies based on old comics which inspired lousy video games, well, this game will have to wait in line).
Anyway, in no particular order (because I've forgotten which door goes to which game and I can't be bothered to go check), I present, the minigames:
Protect the Ooz
Game Style: Missile Command
...if you didn't have to lead your targets, and your shots don't show up unless you hit, and you had to hit on one exact spot, and it was horrible.
Yes, the classic "defend your bases from falling bombs" game gets a supernatural coat of paint (ooz?). As I mentioned above, this plays like Missile Command...after someone exorcised (hiiiyo!) all the fun out of it.
The whole point of Missile Command is having to plan where your counter-shots will fly and explode. But this game gives you a targeting crosshair and the ability to instantly zap the descending...uh, skinny ghost, disembodied arm, and whatever the hell that 3rd thing is supposed to be.
Also if you press the "shoot" button and there's nothing under the crosshairs, the game does nothing: no noise, no lights, no explosion; bupkis. Actually, if you shoot and the crosshairs aren't EXACTLY on the ghost's head (or the ghost's hand in the case of the disembodied arm), the same "nothing" happens. It makes it difficult to know if you're actually pressing the right button, and is quite vexing.
Anyway, after enough dive-bombing blobby things have fallen to the bottom of the screen, to either be shot, disrupt the little OOZ-huts (zoo cages?) or dissipating harmlessly on the empty ground, the level ends. If there's OOZ left, you get points,
I have completed room!
...and you're back to the cryptic "pick a room/minigame" screen. Next, you might happen to play...
Book Return
Game Style: Bounce Books Off The Edge Of The Screen Whilst Collecting OOZ
...actually, the ooz is more important than the books.
A free-floating apparition slowly uh, free-floats across the top of the screen, periodically dropping periodicals hardcover books. When you press a button, Casper turns from his own quick-moving free-floating form into The Friendliest Hovering Book-Sized Trampoline You Know, and the book will bounce up in the air, then come back down.
If the book hits the ground, that's bad; drop a few and you lose a life. If the book flies off the left edge of the screen (where the giant "BOOK RETURN" arrow indicates), you get some points. If you bounce all the books off the edge of the screen without dropping too many, the level ends. Then if you didn't gather enough Ooz-perfume-sprayers (which usually appears right around the time that books are dropped), you lose a life. So you're really supposed to prioritize picking up the Oozes, and just saving enough books so you don't lose; thanks for emphasizing that by having the giant arrow and letters "<- BOOK RETURN" across the bottom of the screen.
Bah; I'd say this was the most disappointing use of a book depository ever, but...wait, did I just make a JFK joke? Hmm; this may be the least topical Halloween article ever. Let's take another look at the European release of Biker Mice from Mars shilling the hell out of snickers:
Seriously, what was that all about?
...then we'll look at another minigame:
Rube Goldberg Machine Puzzle
Game Style: Adventure Game Combine-Items-'Em-Up?
I'm about 70% sure you can get it to tell you the answer.
You have about ten different items, and several different spots where items might be placed. Then you get to grapple with the vague graphics and the incredibly counter-intuitive interface: left and right cycles between "spots", up and down cycles between "items", "B" is pressed to commit an item to a spot, "A" is pressed to get more description of the items (which is fortunate, because they're all pretty vague) AND tell you how many you have in the right spot, "Select" un-commits all items.
As I mentioned above, the "A" button's "What the hell is this item?" subscreen also tells you how many items are currently committed to the correct location. You can ask this at any time, and seemingly as many times as you want. Therefore, I'm pretty sure you can perform this sequence of events:
  1. Place one item in one place
  2. Ask how many items are correctly placed
  3. If the answer is not "1", CHANGE the item you placed and go back to step 2
One would think that they'd want to limit the number of times you can ask how many items are correct, or at least force you to put a few items down at a time before you ask, but in my limited gameplay the only time I lost these levels is when I filled all the slots and said "DONE", without having the right four items.
(And unfortunately you don't even get a "misfiring Rube Goldberg machine" sequence, with the chicken knocking over the bucket or the bowling ball falling on your head. It just flashes "TRY AGAIN" over your incorrect solution).
Actually, now is as good a time as any to mention the "Try Again" sequence you see when Casper loses a life -- or whatever. It's hard to know what his "lives" are really all about; how can Casper lose a life when he's ALREADY dead?
Back on topic, may I present the TRY AGAIN sequence:
Well, Casper's escorted out of the mansion by security another ghost,
This ghost then goes all Little Mermaid, trading in his tapered tail for a pair of legs, for the soul sole purpose of giving Casper a boot to the hinder.
Casper sails across the screen before he comes to a rest at the other edge, contemplating the ramifications of what has just happened. Does this mean that he can some day find a way to wear shoes again? Anyway, Try again!
Ghosts & Ladders & Dissolving Floors & Stuff.
Game Style: Lode Busters!
A perfectly serviceable, if small, 1-screen puzzle game.
Finally there's this minigame, and I'll go out on a (ghostly dive-bombing) limb and say that it's the most developed of the bunch. You have to gather almost all of the mysterious cylinders (I guess the perfume-sprayer design couldn't be represented in 8 pixels or less), then reach the "EXIT" sign which dutifully appears.
Meanwhile, each floor has a mean ghost* prowling around; if you touch them, you die. You can't jump, but you can climb ladders and spit acid(?) which temporarily dissolves the bricks which have either the letter "Z" or dead mice printed on them. And as Lode Runner has taught us, temporarily dissolved brick creates the perfect hole for trapping and temporarily slaying enemies! Unfortunately the ghosts re-spawn just as quickly as Lode Runner's enemies, but Casper's acid spit is his primary way of getting past ghosts, so I guess we're stuck with it.
*: and lord help you if you actually look at the background design: the actual platforms and ladders of the level do a decent job obscuring it, but the evil ghosts also appear in the wall art, making horrible faces.
It's an acceptable platformer/puzzler minigame; one that makes you feel like you're playing a real video game. And it's this game, and the Rube Goldberg Puzzle, which change most noticably from level to level...
Oh yeah, did I mention that when you win all 4 minigames, you go to the next level?
And that means another walk through the creepy mansion, so you know it's gonna be good!
Well anyway, Level 2 (and 3, etc) gives you four NEW versions...of the same minigames. The new "Protect the Ooz" and "Book Return" are basically the same, but they last longer and the enemies move faster. However, you get to face a new Rube Goldberg Machine and different platform layouts in Lode Busters. Yup, it gives it some variety and, dare I say, excitement...?
Well, maybe "excitement" wasn't the word I wanted.
Maybe we should settle for "it makes the game last longer."
And if that doesn't satisfy you, I don't know what will!
Oh, go away already.
— carlmarksguy, 2014-10-03
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