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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Retro Review Tuesday: Mickey's Safari in Letterland

You may be asking yourself what grown people are doing playing and reviewing an educational game intended for 3 to 6 year olds. To you people I say, you clearly aren't having enough fun in life.


Back in the early days of gaming some poor unfortunate souls had parents who thought that the age old justification for playing video games all day, "improves hand eye coordination" was not enough of a reason to let us sit in front of them all day. So these parents with the help of some misguided game companies foisted upon us a slew of "edugames". Some of these games were fantastic like Carmen Sandiego. Some were not so awesome like Mario's Fun With Numbers. Some were somewhere in between, that's where Mickey's Safari in Letterland falls.


Your storyline is simple, Mickey and Goofy have become archaeologists, apparently in Letterland to become an archaeologist one simply need wear the appropriate outfit, no bothering with a degree or any of that pesky education. The impeccably dressed Mickey and Goofy are in the employ of the Letterland museum curated by Ludwig Von Drake. For reasons that aren't completely clear Mr.Von Drake sends them out looking for the ancient letters of the alphabet which have been hidden in 6 different locations across the world.

This is a very basic platformer for the NES so as one would probably guess, the controls are quite simple. Mickey moves side to side with the D-pad, Jumps with and swings his net with B and A. The controls are fairly responsive not hair trigger, but not any sort of significant delay.
Graphically it's lacking a bit. There's a limited color palette a lot of repeating graphics and choppy animations, nothing too terrible, but it was 1993 and there was a Disney budget for this, it could have and should have looked better. The graphics do have a few high points,using the term high point very liberally. The still shots of the of the words you spell feature some hilariously absurd looking depictions of every day animals and objects. Mickey himself has quite a few funny expressions and animations for example, what I like to refer to as sneaky pimp walking Mickey. Send him over an icy pond and you'll see what I mean.

Musically it seems fine at first, just your standard cartoony sounding platformer music. As the game progresses and it endlessly repeats it begins to morph into the sort of obnoxious cacaphony of 8-bit horror that drives men mad. If the music doesn't get you,  Mickey speaks a bit and his laughs and shouts of "oh boy!" can easily send you over the edge and into insanity.However his pronunciation of the individual letters can prove pretty amusing of your the easily amused sort (like me),so you might want to refrain from turning off the sound immediately.


 You start off by selecting your difficulty, Normal, Advanced or Super Advanced. On Normal you only collect a small part of the alphabet and Mickey does a lot of things automatically. On Advanced you collect more of the alphabet(though still not all of it) and have to in control all of your own movements. On Super advanced you have to make all your movements and find the entire alphabet.

After making the tough decision about difficulty you're brought to a map screeen where you choose which area you want to head to. You can go to the Yukon, The Swamp, the Pyramids,  The Caribbean , the Forest and the Jungle. Seems a bit odd that this "letterland" has regions with similar climates, topography and the same names as our earth regions. Though I suppose the  3 continents easily conveys that this is an entirely new and different fantasy land, created by someone just bursting with creativity!

  One you've chosen your destination, you wander looking for the ancient hidden letters the museum is after.  Hidden really being quite subjective as many of the lost letters as sitting in plain sight, though it is covered in some sort of ancient gravy preventing you from seeing what it is before you bring it back to the museum. So you just sidle on up to the sprite which looks like a giant rice crispy treat pull out your net and grab it. I do feel compelled to point out that the letter is stationary so I'm not quite sure why you have to net it. But well I guess it's one of the ancient mysteries of Letterland.

 On your way to the ancient letter you can also net three random letter ballons in each level which will spell a randomly determined three letter word. Strangely you don't have to grab these in order to get your letter relic and continue with the game. Though if you do, Mickey will spell out the word, though not say it, and you'll see a completely ridiculous illustration of whatever animal or object you found. Additional if you're a "make your own" fun sort of person you take bets/make a drinking game out what the word will be before you collect all three. Interesting to note that the game designers apparently thought small children could only spell simple 3 letter words, but though reading words like museum and Caribbean would pose no issues.

Getting these letter can't be all easy of course. So, depending on the region you've chosen you're faced with different adversaries including, but not limited too penguins, anthropomorphic mushrooms, snakes and porcupines. Of course none of these things can actually hurt you or kill you. They just get in the way and push Mickey around like a school yard bully, they'd probably take his lunch money if he  had any. Additionally you can  fall from a significant distance which will slow you down for a bit while you brush yourself off. But more importantly it will cause you to see the Mickey falling on his ass animation, which quite frankly is 80% of the reason I ever play this game.

Whether you bet on your word, or even bother collecting the extra letters for it once you've collected the ancient letter you're taken to a screen where you'll see Goofy operating some sort of letter cleaning machine. You pop the letter in and in a few seconds it pops out clean and readable. This is also a good time to take bets on which letter is would be. After the letter is revealed you have to put it  in the right spot in the alphabet. Then you start the process over again.

So basically you go through each level 4 or 5 times collecting the ancient letter and making words if you feel like it. That's the whole game right there.Once you've made the entire alphabet you take your carefully organized letters and throw them into a pile in front of the museum and Ludwig. Meanwhile the alphabet song plays and the balloon letters cross the screen. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.


Mickey's Safari in Letterland honestly fails in a lot of areas. Educationally it teaches you the alphabet, and then just barely. There's the added spelling words component, but it's optional and even if you choose to do them, Mickey says the letters but never the word, certainly a missed education opportunity, especially given how poorly rendered many of the illustrative representations of the words are. As a game it's boring and tedious. However, if you're willing to look at with the right sort of eye, you can have a lot of fun with this one. My siblings and I had endless fun slamming Mickey on to his bottom and making fun of his less than standard pronunciation and diction. As we've aged we enjoy taking bets on what the net word or letter will be, getting fairly intense about it. The fun is there, you've just got to uncover it.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hmm..just a blog

My title is a reference to Metal gear solid on the PS1. Kudos to you if you recognize what phrase/portion I'm parodying.

I thought it was high time I made just a general blog as I haven't done one of those in a long time. I've mostly been posting  reviews lately and didn't even do one for this week.

Here in the land of Avane, there's a lot of stuff going on right now, most of it not so fun and geeky.  Jennifer is graduating with her accounting degree in May, we're planning a vacation shortly after, we're both working normally and are doing a temp night job for extra cash. So needless to say we've got our hands full we real life action and adventure.

Not helping the stresses of real life adventures situation are the massive changes our store host went through at the end of last month. I still haven't recovered from all the "improvements" so my listing output has been greatly diminished. (On that note I do NOT recommend Highwire Commerce as a provider) Though not to worry store fans, I'm learning to work with the new framework and have updated over 50 items in the last month with more to add soon. :)  If you're a fan of our store go take a look, we've been going through our collections pretty heavy handedly lately. Our toy room/geek room is reaching critical mass and we need clear some of this stuff out soon before our house explodes sending books, video games, dolls and action figures flying. So you might find something fun. If you're looking for something specific be sure to use to talents of Cornelius, our search octopus, he's conveniently located at the top of every page.

In the face of adversity, adversity of course being responsible adulthood, our geeky spirits endure! To keep our geek cred up we've still been working in some time for gaming I've been spending my nights playing Mario 64 DS when I should be sleeping (I'm up to 112 stars, woot!) and  my days, work/life schedule permiting, working my way through Castlevania:Symphony of the Night for the Nth time. Meanwhile Jen's been  finding flags in Assassins Creed in between work and homework. I've also been working in some old episodes of Tom Baker era Dr Who while I work, because as everyone knows vintage ScFi increases productivity. If that geekery weren't enough to keep us on the top of our game,we had planned on attending the geek prom once again this year, but found it was canceled. Luckily the following weekend we're headed to the Video Games Live concert. So all in all I think we're managing to stay true to the geek life, it's kind of like a thug life only much safer and involving more math and electronics.

So to bring it all together we're still around, we're still geeky and we still want you to buy our geeky stuff so we can buy other geeky stuff and talk about it. We're just busy right now. Though we're trying our hand at social networking so you can always try to connect with us via Facebook and Twitter. We're currently addicted to Gaia Online's Ocean party game so we're over there at least once a day. Come say hi if you're so inclined.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Retro Review Tuesday: Pilotwings

It's been awhile since anyone else has worked on a review, but this is one neither Jen nor I were good enough to do. We had to call in our third contributor to work on this title as he's the only one of us who can beat it. This week we salute one of gaming's odd little classics, Pilotwings.


Nintendo is a truly legendary company. They can take a plumber and a mushroom and make arguably the greatest video game of all time. They also do a pretty damn good job with two elves and a pig-shaped thief. And the most magnificent video game company of all time can take a game about earning your Pilot's Wings and make it a super fun, classic, aerial experience. Here you will find the quaint wonders and oddities of this SNES gem, Pilotwings.
Full review after the Jump

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Retro Review Tuesday: American Gladiators Genesis

After last weeks wicked winter sports extravaganza, I was in the mood for something just as EXTREME! So I choose the genesis port of the American Gladiators game. What's more extreme than a bunch of oiled up over muscled athletes competing in absolutely ridiculous events that have little/no true sports value?

If you were born in the eighties there was a good chance you wasted a portion of your childhood watching the ridiculous testosterone fest that was American gladiators. The good folks at Gametek figured this would lead to lots of cartridge sales for them. Little Johnny and Suzy surely would love to take on the role of an athletic underdog working to topple the tyrannical oppression of athletes so powerful only one word names like Nitro, Lace and Malibu could truly convey their power!

Read the rest after the jump


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