A Look Back at SOS (SNES)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing the video game and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Back in the 1990s when cable TV was not yet popular in the local community I lived in here in the Philippines, I got to watch on free TV a late night showing of the old movie The Poseidon Adventure. That movie, which included Gene Hackman and other stars, was about a huge passenger ship that got capsized as a result of a huge wave that hit it so hard. The survivors in that film had no choice but to band together and find their way out through countless obstacles.

That creative concept was reused by game developer Human Entertainment for a video game I played on the Super NES (SNES) a few years later…SOS (titled in Japan as Septentrion).

Released for the SNES in 1994 by Vic Tokai, SOS was an adventure game that had players take on the role of one of four characters (each with a different story plus different endings) who must escape the ship within sixty minutes in real-time. Along the way, the player must avoid obstacles, get to the hard-to-reach places and escape the ship before time runs out.

How good or bad the game is, you can find out in this look back at SOS.

The misadventure begins on the Lady Crithania with the disaster.

Early story

The story begins in the luxury passenger ship called Lady Crithania. Depending on which character you choose, Capris is an architect who has a sick sister; Luke is a crew member of the ship whose superiors don’t take his warnings about harsh sea conditions seriously; Jeffrey is a doctor who is traveling with his wife and Redwin is a counselor who is traveling with a family.

A cut scene emphasizing the story of one of the characters.
This is what the ship looks like after the disaster. At this point, the struggle for survival truly begins.

Regardless of which character was selected, a massive wave hits the Lady Crithania so hard it got capsized. The interiors suddenly turned upside down causing lots of damage and deaths. The protagonist is challenged with the chaotic interiors, obstacles, interacting with some survivors and reach the boiler room to survive.

Gameplay and Quality

As it is a 2-dimensional (2D) game, SOS is a side-scrolling adventure with some platform gaming elements mixed in. You can have your character move and jump most of the time with the occasional action of helping passengers (by means of reaching) travel with you (with some commands to communicate with them). While the design made sense, playing SOS always turned out to be a tiring chore and a test of patience due to the lack of precision when it comes to control response.

Adding further to challenge is the occasional shift of the capsized shift which changes the angles of the interiors which instantly alters the difficulty on moving around and jumping to the essential platforms (to progress to the next place). The shifting was visually done using the SNES’ Mode 7 feature. For the newcomers reading this, Mode 7 is the graphics mode unique to the SNES which enables scaling and rotating of the background image. While the sprites and 2D art in this game lacked punch, it is the Mode 7 feature that really added some quality to SOS’ visuals temporarily.

The more survivors you help and take with you to the very end, the better the ending will be.
You can also swim through flood sections.

More on the difficulty, the artificial intelligence (AI) programmed for the survivors that you can choose to rescue is pretty low which leads to a lack of response whenever your character calls them to follow you to get to the next level and survive. Not only were there times the other characters did not respond, some got even stuck in tight places.

As this game has 1-hour countdown in real time, making a mistake is costly. For example, you jump but fail to reach a crucial platform and fall down into the abyss and die will lead to your character respawning but with a noticeable amount of time reduced. Considering the lack of precision on controls and other factors, this made SOS challenging and frustrating to play.

If only the other survivors were more responsive to your calls…

And then there is the challenge to get the best possible ending you could by means of rescuing as many other survivors as you could and reach the very end with them. To put it this way, if you decide to be completely self-centered, disregard all the other survivors and make your way to the end without them, will result a really bad ending. You rescue more and make it alive with them, then the ending will get better.

Conclusion

If you fall and die, your character will respawn but with an amount of time reduced.

SOS has a very nice concept of adventuring that focuses mainly on survival and involves no combat and certainly no clear enemies to encounter. It is just too bad that the flaws of this game made it more frustrating to play and very few people will actually get to enjoy it.

If you own a working SNES and you are thinking about buying an existing copy of SOS, I do not recommend buying it with your precious money. Better rent it instead.

+++++

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A Look Back at Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

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Luke Skywalker going up against the game’s final boss – Emperor Palpatine. 

By the middle of 1994, gamers and Star Wars fans who owned a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super NES) were treated with more 2D side-scrolling fun with Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Developed by Sculptured Software and LucasArts and published by JVC, the game was the conclusion of the so-called Super Star Wars trilogy of the 16-bit era of console gaming.

Like its predecessor Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, this game is a 2-dimensional side-scrolling adventure game released just months before Sega and Sony respectively released the Saturn and PlayStation consoles (which eventually made 3D polygonal gaming popular). The game itself is based on the 1983 movie Return of the Jedi: Luke and his friends go out to save Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt and the Rebels prepare its strategy to defeat the Imperial Forces now armed with a new Death Star with the personal presence of Emperor Palpatine.

Here’s my review of Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Early story (and some notable differences from the movie)

The game begins with a quick look at Darth Vader’s arrival at the new Death Star setting up the stage for the Emperor’s arrival. On Tattooine, Luke and his companions travel to the temple of Jabba the Hutt to somehow save their friend Han Solo (who got frozen in carbonite at Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back).

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A still cut-scene at the beginning of the game.

In order to get to the palace, Luke/Leia/Chewbacca (you get to pick which character to use) have to travel through a lengthy stretch of land filled with several forms of wild life, monsters and even Jawas blocking their way. Once inside, your character has to fight until the end of the next few levels (note: there was a boss or powerful enemy to beat) to make the story progress.

Once you have defeated Jabba and rescued Han Solo, your team regroups with the Rebels in space to start your next series of missions with the moon of Endor (with the 2nd Death Star in orbit).

Notable differences from the movie include fighting a large monster (which used a large ball as a weapon) did not appear in the film. Also notable was Leia (in her sexy slave outfit) having to move from end of the stage to reach Jabba the Hutt who serves as the level’s boss. Jabba’s sail barge in the game looks and feels longer than in the movie.

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Leia, Jabba is right behind you!

Gameplay

Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi plays a lot like its predecessor. As typical with most games of the era that used 2D sprites for visuals, the game is an action-packed side-scroller wherein you have to control your character from left to right, go up and down and complete the level by either defeating the end-level boss or by simply reaching the end (some levels have no boss). As you move on, you all get to collect power-ups and icons.

Along the way, you get to fight a whole bunch of enemies that appear to fight and stop you.  This include not only the Imperial forces that appeared in the movie but also now additions like machines and even flying robots. You never saw Luke fight any flying robot in the movie? In this game, he gets to fight them at the Imperial facility on the moon of Endor.

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Han Solo blasts the Stormtroopers!

Given the story structure of the movie, the game developers were able to let players pick a Star Wars character to play as before starting a level. This particular feature was prominent in 1992’s Super Star Wars but was heavily toned down (due to story structure) in Super Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. Back to the selectable characters, there are key differences between them such as Luke using his lightsaber and some Force powers, Han Solo with his blaster and grenades, Chewbacca with his crossbow and his spin attack (he does NOT do this in the movies so it’s funny), and Leia who uses different weapons as she appears (based on the story structure) as a disguised hunter and as a sexy slave to Jabba. Quite odd here is the addition of Wicket the Ewok as a playable character whom you must guide fighting the bad guys in two levels that emphasized the village of the Ewoks up those tall trees.

Like the previous two games, the game designers implemented levels that play differently from the standard side-scrolling adventuring. I’m referring to the Mode 7 level in which you fly the Millenium Falcon on a makeshift 3D environment on the surface of the 2nd Death Star needing to destroy a number of TIE Fighters in order to progress. I should that this particular level lacked depth although it was cool to use the Falcon and just imagine Lando and his team inside operating it.

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The Millenium Falcon in the Mode 7 3D environment set on the surface of the Death Star.

In what is a clear attempt by the game makers to push the hardware of the Super NES, they created a standalone level in which you use the top turret of the Millenium Falcon to shoot a required number of TIE Fighters while flying in space heading towards the 2nd Death Star (complete with a 3D background showing the Imperial Star Destroyers in the distance on the opposite side). This was a very short yet cool sequence to play even though the darkness of space makes spotting the TIE Fighters a bit challenging. I liked the fact that the console’s processor was pushed hard to allow the TIE Fighters look 3D and detailed using several frames of animation as they fly around and right close to the Falcon (which itself looked detailed).

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This 3D shooting segment in the game was fun and too short.

And then there is the speeder bike chase sequence that took place through the forest of Endor. This one is pretty shallow and has not aged well.

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Nice visual detail on the speeder bikes but everything else felt shallow.

Finally, the game’s last stage is another hardware-intensive level that offers gamers the opportunity to experience the challenge and speed (as far as the hardware could push) of piloting the Millenium Falcon into the tunnels of the 2nd Death Star to reach the core, blast it and then escape on the way out (being chased by intense flame caused by the explosion). This level shows lots of repeating visual elements that are supposed to be the mechanical interiors of the tunnels and you can movie the Falcon in 1st-person view, speed up or down, rotate the view and tilt the direction as you move forward. Along the way, there are TIE Fighters who appear in front of you for you to shoot at. While the intention of the developers to replicate the memorable sequence of the movie is clear, the hardware limitations (and design limitations) could only go so far to make the gameplay experience solid.

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This sequence must be seen in motion.

Conclusion

While it is indeed a more polished game than the memorable Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was indeed a fun and engaging game but still falls short of its immediate predecessor. For one thing, this game noticeably was less challenging and the return of the password system makes it even easier to finish. The boss battle with Darth Vader showed the iconic villain being much easier to beat with even on the standard difficulty level. I still remember how surprising it was during my first time playing the game.

The non-side-scrolling levels of the game created good variety for playing. I just wished that the 3D space shooting sequence of the Falcon (with its top turret) lasted longer and the visuals of the final level looked more detailed and had less lag. As for the Mode 7 level with the Falcon, that one pales in comparison with lengthy and memorable Battle of Hoth (which has the grand experience of taking down the AT-AT walkers with the tow cable).

Overall, Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is recommended.  By today’s standards, this game is a classic and was one of the best ever Star Wars video games of not only of its console generation but among all Star Wars games that were made with 2D sprites and pixel art. If you have a Super NES console or Nintendo’s Virtual Console, play the game once you have it.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com