Evercade Sunsoft Collection 2 review

Every console generation has seen a fad or two, be it gratuitously violent beat’em ups, dancing ‘n singing party games, casual titles with motion controls, or predominantly beige first-person shooters. In the early ‘90s, the biggest craze was mascot platformers, fuelled by the astonishing popularity of Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. This seven-game strong cartridge not only gives a taster of that era, but also takes us beyond that to sample Sunsoft’s 32-bit debut.

This collection is curiously Nintendo-centric, featuring six titles originally released on Nintendo hardware. The studio’s first PlayStation game fills the final slot – a title so rare it’s doubtful many will have heard of it. Playing through this collection’s games in order of release and seeing how Sunsoft transitioned from 16-bit to CD-based 32-bit tech, while riding current trends, is genunely interesting. It was a turbulent time for publishers with many stumbling, Sunsoft included.

Before that, this collection takes us back to 1990 with the previously import only Pri Pri Primitive Princess on Game Boy. Starring a rugged caveman out to save the titular Princess, it’s a platform puzzler not unlike Lode Runner, Catrap, et al. Our hero can swing a hammer to make stone platforms appear and vanish, with the goal being to kill all enemies and climb ladders to reach an exit. Only a certain number of platforms can be removed and rebuilt per stage, and as such, you’ll likely make headway only to realise you’ve messed up somewhere…resulting in hitting the restart button. It’s an unforgiving experience based on trial and error, with a stiff learning curve and no tutorial. While it’s pleasing to see a puzzle game here, giving this collection some needed variety, this is far too challenging for its own good.

Evercade Sunsoft Collection 2 review

Then we have a quartet of mascot platformers, spanning 1991 to 1994. Ufouria: The Saga (NES) is an interesting thing, and for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s the debut of Herbeke – the bobble hat wearing penguin that went on to star in nine Sunsoft games. Secondly, it’s a non-linear experience – Herbeke needs to explore and find his friends, and then swap between them, with each having unique abilities. There’s a twist to all this, though – this is the western iteration, which was reskinned. Sunsoft’s US arm believed the characters were too quirky, and so asked for Herbeke to be changed to a snowman, while O-Chan the cat was redrawn as a reddish lizard and rechristened Freeon-Leon. The innovative open-ended gameplay remained intact, thankfully. Ahead of its time, Ufouria is often regarded as a cult-classic, making it a highlight here. It recently gained a modern sequel, so it’s also interesting to revisit the series’ roots.

The Iguana developed Aero the Acrobat 2 was a step up from the original, featuring better visuals, less irritating music, and tighter controls. To call it a classic though is off the mark. I’ve tried to get into the original and this sequel, but it isn’t long until frustration creeps in. Performing diagonal jumps feels finicky, and while it’s possible to throw projectiles, stock must be collected first – and usually, Aero is greatly outnumbered. Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel – also by Iguana – launched the same year (1994) and is a spin-off, with said squirrel appearing in Aero 2. This is more of a typical side-scrolling platformer, with Zero able to double-jump, throw ninja stars, and use nunchucks. The graphics are bright and appealing, and it controls well enough. The level design isn’t anything special though, and ultimately, it’s no better than the majority of mascot platformers released around the same time. (Although it is perhaps a lot cheesier!)

Daze Before Christmas is one retro collectors may be familiar with – it’s notoriously expensive to acquire physically, with the Mega Drive version being an Australian exclusive. The SNES version, meanwhile, only made it to Europe. This snow-covered caper was developed in Norway and is even based on Nordic folklore with Santa able to turn into the horned beast Krampus. It’s easy to imagine US gaming critics mistaking Santa’s doppelganger for Satan, which may have put Sunsoft in hot water. This colourful endeavour was clearly aimed at younger gamers, being fairly simplistic and forgiving. Don’t let this put you off as it controls well, and there’s a lot of variety, including a stage with rising water and a quest to drop presents down chimneys. The animation isn’t bad either, which was presumably why Sunsoft picked it up – they were renowned for their detailed pixel art.  

The PlayStation’s Galaxy Fight dates to 1995, taking the form of a one-on-one brawler similar to examples found on the NeoGeo. Also available on SEGA Saturn, it had a small print run in Europe – copies can sell for as much as £100 nowadays. A hidden gem this isn’t. Neither is it a dud – it’s above average at best. The presentation is basic and the cast of characters is a real mishmash, including a stocky robot, a hulking green alien, a duo of typically ‘90s street punks, and a cartoony cat girl with exaggerated features. Stages scroll indefinitely to left and right, with this being its sole gimmick, but the backdrops aren’t designed around this, mostly having a focal point in the centre and empty space around them. Often matches end with a ‘time out’ as it’s possible to continuously back away, and most attacks only cause minimal damage. This is the kind of game rented once from Blockbuster and forgotten about the moment it was returned.

This leaves us with 2000’s Blaster Master: Enemy Below – a Game Boy Color reimagining of the cult classic NES original. It has the look, feel, and sounds of the NES game, only the levels have been redesigned. Save states come in use here, as it’s a tough nut to crack. It’s often recommended to those looking to collect GBC games, offering a novel experience – the platformer-style stages are explored by tank, which you can exit and continue on foot. Top-down sections with larger sprites also feature. As NES-to-GBC games went, this was one of the better examples.

That’s our lot for this collection: four platformers of varying quality, a puzzler of the curio status, a middling obscure one-on-one brawler, and a shrunken iteration of Blaster Master – the original version of which is available on Sunsoft Collection 1. Usually, an Evercade collection will have a few games that can be revisited and enjoyed several times over, but the pickings here are a little slim. Ufouria and Blaster Master are the only games present I can wholeheartedly recommend playing, and even then, there’s a better way to play the latter. Being nostalgic for Aero the Acrobat 2 and Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel may swing things, though, and if you fancy playing the better-than-expected Daze Before Christmas then it becomes a slightly more appealing package.

Evercade Sunsoft Collection 2 is out now.