The Game Gear Directory (WW-Z)

The final instalment... barring a couple of mop-ups.

WWF Raw (1994)

Ten wrestlers to choose from is pretty keen - I was expecting six, at most. I was also expecting this to suck, but it's actually alright. Nothing amazing, but a game that knows to prioritise its feel over any kind of authenticity, by which I mean movesets are very limited outside of each character's finisher - and that's okay. Picking your favourite wrestler is pretty much entirely about just that, favourites, because you'll all be doing pretty much the same things in the ring. This makes things fun and fair, which is a blessing because most wrestling games to this day have me bellowing "BULLSHIT" at the CPU on the reg. There aren't many match types - one fall, tag, Survivor Series and a few variants - and a basic tournament mode to complete in either single player or tag matches. It's far from amazing, and it's pretty slow, but the wrestler likenesses are good, the music isn't annoying and overall it's just a pretty decent time. A surprise. *** 

WWF Wrestlemania: Steel Cage Challenge (1993)

A much faster-paced game, Steel Cage Challenge unfortunately stumbles with its handling. See, like with every other grap game on the planet I had to go and read the manual - this is fine, I'd never expect two games in this genre to have remotely similar controls - but when I went on to attempt to, er, play this one, it seemed like none of the commands did what they were supposed to. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation why pressing both buttons absolutely didn't make the wrestlers lock up, or why my attempts to climb out of the titular steel cage were futile to the last, but it doesn't really make for a very enjoyable time. Additionally, this is a graphically appalling game, though I suppose the utterly bizarre perspective was necessary to create the illusion of being trapped in the cage while not obscuring player visibility. The wrestler likenesses are okay, but they don't even have their finishers, meaning everyone plays exactly the same. Yes! I did say that was a good thing in the WWF Raw coverage, but like... you also need for the controls to work, and not having the Big Moves - Hulk Hogan with no friggin' leg drop! - is just dereliction of duty. My favourite bits were the Game Gear takes on the wrestlers' theme songs that you get on the select menu. Rubbish. *

X-Men (1994)

Ah, couldn't complete the Game Gear Directory without another multi-game series of pure meritless bollocks, now, could we? There are three X-Men games, all designed fundamentally identically, none of which offering anything of quality besides a few meagre crumbs of reasonable presentation. They all follow much the same template, with large, sprawling levels filled with platforms that feel like they've been placed randomly, with enemies that just sit there taking pot-shots from off-screen until you approach and defeat them. You can play as a number of mutants across the different stages, but the gameplay doesn't really change or improve in any meaningful way - you'll still take innumerable unfair hits and still get irritated with the labyrinthine, interest-empty stages. There are two more of these, and they're basically exactly the same, and I've got to try and think of things to write about them all. Spare me a thought once in a while, eh. It's not all fun and games, this lark. *

X-Men: Gamesmaster's Legacy (1995)

I suppose both the previous game and this near-identical follow-up deserve at least a little bit of praise for their sprite work; the mutants and their opponents are inarguably quite well-rendered, but that is the extent of the praise I am prepared to give either game. This one is actually quite a bit worse, with many more instances of unfair enemy placement guaranteeing you will take hits that you didn't really have a chance of doing anything to avoid, but other than this lapse it is, as far as I could tell, identical to the original X-Men game in every way. That is to say, it's terrible, fundamentally boring and not even remotely worth playing even for X-Men superfans. Believe me, I like the X-Men. I have many years of X-Men trade paperbacks on my shelf to gesture to as proof, not to mention the copies of UK reprint mag Essential X-Men. I know my X's from my Y's (chortle) and I know good games from bad, and this is very, very bad. *

X-Men: Mojo World (1996)

This was initially marginally promising. Nothing threatening the big leagues, but enough to maybe scrape two stars out of five, you know? The sprites have been overhauled and made bigger and the level design has changed from the sprawling maze to a more linear style to account for the shift in perspective, in a manner that could tentatively be described as approaching "thoughtful". It still isn't fun, though, with the now-linear levels being similarly empty of interest with enemies that - again - unload projectiles into you from off-screen with no chance of dodging them until you take that first hit. The use of mutant powers is somewhat thoughtless, with the likes of Rogue being given the ability to fly despite the stages offering no meaningful advantage for doing so. Unfortunately my aspiration to give this a generous two star rating was dropped when I discovered a secret area in the second level - I know, that sounds good, but hear me out. I pressed Up on the D-Pad in front of an open door and was initially pleased to find myself warped to an interior area full of power-ups. I then left the area via the opposing door and found that I had been warped back to the start of the level. My reward for curiosity was to replay a large chunk of an already shite game. Cheers for that, Mojo World. Don't play this garbage. *

Yogi Bear in Yogi Bear's Gold Rush (1994)

I'm cheating slightly here, because this game was never actually released. It was intended for late '94 but for some reason got pulled. It's out there, though, in both monochrome Game Boy and dumped ROM form for Game Gear, and - without mincing words - it's quite sincerely one of my favourite games on the system. It's an incredibly simplistic platform game that sees you switching between Yogi and Boo-Boo to take advantage of their respective strengths, making your way through secret-packed levels collecting pic-a-nic baskets. And it's a joy, from start to finish, because it's been designed by fun people who like fun. Yes, it's from the creators of Alfred Chicken, you do not want to get me started on that. But at any rate, for Christ's sake play this, if you like platformers. *****

Zool: Ninja of the "Nth" Dimension (1993)

Big fan of Zool here - I mean, of course I am, I'm British - but this port just ain't it. The screen is far too zoomed-in, even taking into account to totally redesigned levels, and the apparent decision to have enemy sprites travel behind foreground objects means you'll take cheap hits. You can't even just run and gun through the stages to account for this, because many monsters are so wee that you've got to crouch to hit them. It's a shame, because the basic collecting and bouncing action remains enjoyable. It's just hamstrung by the issues mentioned and a few others, such as the sticky wall jumping and irritatingly sparse music. It looks nice and the game feel is mostly there, but I just can't recommend this version over any other that I can think of. **

Zoop (1995)

Hmm. This is the video game as busywork, a title with seemingly no goal besides filling time. And that's OK, there's nothing really wrong with that, but it does leave a sense that your time may be being squandered. Having said that, Zoop can fill time like a mother, which is a pretty admirable feature when you take into account interminable car rides, for example. See, what you do here is control a sort of central ship-type-thing which is beset from all sides by multi-coloured blocks. Shoot a block when you're the same colour and it vanishes. Shoot it when you're not and you'll switch colours with it. There's very little in the way of meaningful thought here, it's all action all the time; the barest notion of a puzzle game. But the thing is, it's addicting. It's very, very addicting. So while it isn't particularly good by most standards, it delivers on being pretty much the perfect mindless experience for long journeys. So I have to give it credit for that. Simplicity itself. ***

(Next: Mopping up the games I missed!)