Review by emister

Reviewed: 10/14/03

The good, the bad, and the battle with a BALD HITLER.


Last night, I finally ended a long, confusing, and emotionally draining journey through the endless mazes of Wolfenstein 3D for the Super Nintendo. As I sort through the cluttered file cabinets of my mind for an organized strategy for writing this review, the best I can come up with is the following: Because this game has a lot of things wrong with it, I will get those out of the way first in a section known as THE BAD. However, because Wolfie (as I will hereafter affectionately call it) also has a lot of elements that make it a good game, there will be a following section known as THE GOOD. I will also be quoting from time to time, from other reviews I have read, in the hopes of summarizing some of the intense feelings that result from playing this game. So let's begin, shall we?

Introduction

As you, dear reader, should well be aware, Wolfenstein 3D was a seminal game released for the PC by a company known as id in May of 1992. It is a First-Person Shooter, and at the time was the only game in this genre worth mentioning. The id release was a smash success, and is credited with being the true beginning of the FPS game. id's games are also known for their almost comically brief plotlines, relying instead on brilliant level design and fast action to satisfy their audience. The story in Wolfie for the PC places the character in the role of B.J. Blazkowicz, a US soldier in World War II. You have been captured by the Nazis and stuck deep within their massive prison fortress, Castle Wolfenstein. Using a knife you have managed to conceal, you lure a guard into your cell, kill him, take his gun, and begin your escape. That's it. Just enough to make the subsequent slaughter of Hitler and his Nazi hordes a little more plausible.

The game's popularity eventually resulted in various recreations on a number of consoles as other companies scrambled to get a slice of Wolfie's tasty pie. To date there have been versions of the game on the Atari Jaguar, The Game Boy Advance, and (the subject of this review) a 1994 SNES version released under the auspices of console software developer, Imagineer. None of these ports is an exact copy of the original, and the SNES version has its own liberal dose of changes. Before I list these though, it is important to make one thing crystal clear. The SNES version of this game should not be judged as good or bad by comparing it to its more handsome older brother on the PC. In any way. This doesn't mean that the two should not be compared at all. Objective comparison is informative and interesting. However, to say something like, ''This game sucks because its way suckier than the computer version,'' is just unfair. We are talking about two totally different games here, both in terms of technology and content. First off, the resolution in the original is incomparably higher than the SNES version. Second, the original version contains twice the number of levels (60) than its SNES counterpart (30). The original levels are much larger. So, although I will catalogue how this game was changed from its PC namesake, my score is not based on how one game stacks up to the other, but instead on how well the SNES game stands on its own two (slightly crippled) feet.

Of the changes made on the SNES port, cosmetic changes are the most prevalent. Nintendo wanted Wolfie, but they didn't want the undisguised brutality that so characterized it, so they took it out. They started with the story. I played through the Japanese release of SNES Wolfie (I live in Japan), and my translation of the story goes like this: You are an agent who has been sent to investigate a huge castle complex somewhere in Europe (I think). At any rate, the castle is a fortress where some huge army trains its troops and weapons are developed. Before you arrive however, deep within the castle there is a huge accident. A mad scientist/doctor working in the castle had been developing a potion that would grant immortality to whoever drank it. His experiments caused a massive explosion and everyone in the castle was killed. However, the immortality potion spread through the castle and resurrected all the soldiers in the form of ''vengeful ghosts'' (no, I am not joking).

So not only is there no mention of Nazis, or even Germany or WWII for that matter, but all of the killing to be done in this game (and there is plenty) is no longer even killing since all of the soldiers are technically already dead. Lovely. Okay, so with the story sufficiently watered down, they moved on to the in-game graphics. The copious amount of blood that spilled from the enemies of the original was simply pulled. It's just not there. Banners of swastikas that hung from the walls are now just banners of plus symbols. Huge portraits of Hitler which also decorated the walls of the original have been replaced by some bald guy who strongly resembles Hitler's lesser known, hairless twin brother. Guards no longer shout in German as they did in the original, but instead speak English. Giant attack dogs have been replaced with giant attack mice. Pools of blood have been replaced by pools of water. Other smaller changes abound. There are also a few technical changes of note. The first has to do with the actual size of the game. The original is separated into six episodes with 10 levels in each for a total of 60. The SNES version has six episodes as well, but each contains only 4,5, or 6 levels that are reduced in size quite a bit. For whatever reason, the SNES version contains a larger selection of weapons than the original. In addition to the knife, pistol, machine gun, and chain gun available in the PC version, SNES Wolfie also offers a flame thrower and a rocket launcher. Finally, while the original contains four levels of difficulty (can I play daddy?, don't hurt me, bring 'em on, and I am death incarnate!), the SNES version has only three (easy, medium, and hard). The bottom line on the changes is that they were all made to either 1)dull down the violence and eliminate any connection to Nazis or 2)shrink the game to a size manageable for the SNES' comparably meager processor. That weapons change is kind of an anomaly that doesn't really fit, but oh well.

Easily the worst game I have ever played. -dtm666

While playing this game I nearly died of anger. -Schlave

THE BAD

A quick sweep through the reviews of this title reveals one thing. A lot of people love to hate this game. And hey, I will be the first to admit, after 10 years of continually improving FPS games, going back to play a bastardized version of the Grand Daddy of them all is going to leave a funny taste in your mouth. But remember, in order to give this game a fair shake, we have to let it stand alone. This baby is not runnning on Pentium III or even a 386. It is running on the ever-lovin Super Nintendo.

The first and foremost of a number of flaws that Wolfie has is its low, low resolution. Enemies become exponentially less recognizable the further away they are. I have stood across a large room shooting at a foot soldier dressed in brown, wondering why it will neither move or refuse to die. Approaching cautiously, I discover I have been attacking a potted plant. The eye does grow accustomed to this ''blur-factor'' after a while, but this doesn't mean that anything becomes any more pretty.

Even though the graphics will give you a major headache... -Vegetaman

More than a few of the reviews for this game mention some kind of warning against head aches or motion sickness. I actually got a couple light head aches at first (this never happens to me with games), but after that I think my brain adjusted. Yes, Wolfenstein 3D has permanently altered my brain. A couple of other minor graphical annoyances (which also existed in the original) are the lack of any texture on either the floor or ceiling, and the inability to approach enemies from any direction other than head on. In other words, enemies have no rear or side sprites, and can only be shown facing you. From these graphical flaws, we move on to problems with the sound. I have no complaints about the music as I will mention later, but sound effects leave quite a lot to be desired.

[It] sounds like all of the characters have pillows strapped to their faces... -majikmonkee75

The digitized voice in this game amounts to three phrases. Soldiers will yell either ''Stop!'' or ''Halt!'' and all six bosses will remark, ''Comin' For Ya!'' upon first sighting the character. Although this lack of variety (not to mention clarity) can wear on the nerves, it is not the game's auditory low point. That award goes to the poor, poor sound effects chosen to represent the firing of the game's weapons. For example, my weapon of choice, the chain gun, produces a sound that isn't so different from the sound my fingers make on the keyboard as I type this review. The sound of the rocket launcher more closely resembles the flush of a broken toilet than the destructive weapon it aspires to be.

That's about it for the bad. Which means its time to move on to...

THE GOOD

So, I gave this game 6 out of 10, which means I think there is more good in it than bad. Its kind of like when Luke confronts Vader in that scene in Jedi: ''I can feel the good in you father.'' Yeah, anyway... What it breaks down to is this: The bad things in Wolfie have to do with its surface appearance; any way you slice it, it just does not look or sound good. Its good qualities though, are a little more difficult to see. These are subtle elements like creative use of the minimal graphical tools the programmers had available to them, a high level of challenge brought on by some decent enemies, and brilliant level construction.

Back in Wolfenstein's day, we did not have levels with multiple floors, high ceilings, or dark forbidding passageways. All of the levels have walls that are all at 90 degree angles, and the ceiling is always at the same claustrophobic height. In addition, becaue the team at id couldn't afford to spend precious memory in putting texture on the ceilings or floors, they invested a lot of detail in the texture of the walls. An astute player will notice a change in atmosphere when they move from a big room with basic brick walls into a confusing maze where the wall panels are suddenly all blue steel. There are probably 20 different wall textures in the game, and if you are paying attention at all, they provide good clues about when things are going to get serious. For example imagine opening a door and being faced with a long, narrow corridor where the walls are made up entirely of floor to ceiling portraits of fake, bald Hitler. Simply menacing.

By the way, the musical tracks in SNES Wolfie do not detract from it at all. Despite some repetition (but what game from the mid 90s doesn't have some of this?) and a lack of variety, the music is clear, and fast paced enough to match the action.

The different enemies and their placement make for a good challenge in this early FPS. Brown foot soldiers that move and shoot slowly are employed heavily in the early levels to ease the beginner in. Blonde SS guards in blue uniforms move a little faster, carry machine guns and take more shots to take down. Officers dressed in white move in quick erratic patterns, and can shoot while they move. Mutants (grey skinned zombie freaks in green jumpsuits and black boots) can shoot you with the gun implanted in their chest or chop you to bits with their knives if they get close enough. Don't even worry about the giant attack mice... These enemies each have different strengths, and are introduced into the game gradually. After the player has learned how to deal with them one on one, they are encountered in increasingly larger numbers and sometimes all at once. The result is a continually rising level of difficulty that requires a fair bit of strategy to overcome in its more nasty stages.

SNES Wolfie's strongest point though, is its creatively designed levels. This is another aspect of the game where the observant player can't help notice the quality at work here. It is a testament to John Romero, id's famous level designer, that the levels of Wolfenstein 3D even in their scaled down SNES form survived virtually intact. Level design in a game like this includes obvious aspects like layout and level size, but also less obvious traits like enemy and item placement. In the early stages levels are small, health recovery items are plentiful, enemies are few and inhabit the center of rooms making them easy to see. As the game progresses, the difficulty curve rises. Levels become larger and more complex, keys to locked doors must be retrieved from enemy filled rooms, the number of enemies increases dramatically and they now lay in wait behind every blind corner. The final element of level design that adds to Wolfie's enjoyment are the secret rooms. At the end of each level, the player is taken to a stats screen that displays the percentages of enemies killed, the amount of treasure found, and the percentage of secret rooms opened. This adds a layer of investigation to an otherwise straightforward game. Seemingly normal patches of wall, secret rooms are opened when a player approaches and presses the ''invesigate'' button. These rooms can house anything from extra ammo and health items to enemies, other secret rooms, or even entrances to secret levels.

THE LONG AND SHORT

Just don't compare it to the PC version and you might actually have a good time with it. -magikmonkey

Couldn't have said that one better myself. The chance that anyone will actually have read this entire review is quite small. Its not as small though, as the chance that anyone on planet earth (besides me) will be playing Wolfenstein 3D on their Super Nintendo tonight. This is a fairly obscure game I think, and you will be hard pressed to find a copy of the cart in even the used section of any game store. You would also almost assuredly not download the ROM and play this game on an emulator for the simple reason that if you are using a computer, you would be playing the unmistakably superior PC version... or Quake or Half Life, or ....

But just so it's said and done, as long as you take this game as it is, and don't base your opinions of it on an unfair comparison, you are likely to enjoy it. And if you take it all the way to the bitter-sweet end you will learn the truth that I learned: Hitler was a bald, cyborg, who had two giant machine guns for arms. I know its true, I've seen it. VICTORY!




Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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