Follow posts tagged #super game boy in seconds.Sign up
The credits music from Donkey Kong ‘94 when played on a Super Game Boy. It was the first game to be designed to have Super Game Boy enhancements, and one of the very few games to have a Super Nintendo sound format song coded on a Game Boy cartridge.
Fuck the Super Game Boy: Kirby's Dream Land 2
The story of the Super Game Boy ends tragically.
Kirby’s Dream Land 2 isn’t particularly exceptional. I’m rather fond of it,1 and playing it in SGB mode is what inspired this whole series, but all in all, it’s a fairly disappointing sequel to Kirby’s Adventure that doesn’t quite capture the magic, and has an almost completely standard use of monochrome palettes. Nevertheless, for the most part, its colourization works very well.
Every level gets its own palette, which the game mostly sticks to (although it does mix them up occassionally, especially in boss rooms). It especially works well for Kirby, since his sprite is mostly white; meaning the screen colouring largely only affects his shading.
What about the colourization of static screens?
But what’s really cool about each level getting a unique palette is that this also transfers to the level select screen. All the unselected islands just get coloured like the rest of the background, but the selected one is shown with its level’s palette. It’s not technically a static screen, it’s just that it only applies the colourization when the screen scrolling has finished.
So that’s neat.
Of course, the menus are all super-colourful too, but what’s more impressive is that at the start of each level, you get a short cutscene featuring Kirby’s friends, which take advantage of the fact that they’re static to use multiple palettes for the terrain. It’s simple, and pretty obvious how it’s done, but it’s nevertheless a pretty dramatic effect.
It’s pretty similar to Donkey Kong ‘94’s colourful worldmaps: they leave a strong impression even afterwards, and after about twenty minutes you go the next level and get another one.
So where’s the disappointment?
As you go through the last couple levels, it becomes clear that the game’s palletes are building up to something. You go from bright colours to cold blue, then stark red, and then finally, the last level is a deep purple.
Dramatically, this continuity works really well. You can tell that things are getting darker as you go along. The penultimate boss, Dedede, has a sinister pink palette, which works great for the storm clouds in the sky.
Immediately after this, Kirby will fly off into the sky, chasing Dark Matter. It’s obvious that it’s building up to something dramatic for that final boss fight. In the prior Kirby game, Kirby’s Adventure for the NES, the final boss stage is absolutely beautiful, bombarding you with rapidly changing dark psychadelic colours.
What crazy colourization DOES it use? What’s this all building up to?!
Are you fucking serious?
The final fight with Dark Matter is entirely in a grayscale monochrome. That’s what the game’s awesome colourization has been building up to: absolutely nothing.2
That’s what Kirby’s Dream Land 2 is all about: disappointment. It does a lot that’s neat, but it doesn’t really ever go far enough to be actually amazing. There’s simple wasted opportunities left and right.
What could it have done differently, then?
I don’t want to be an asshole here; what I’m going to get to in a little bit is why HAL, and every other Game Boy developer, didn’t go to great lengths to do anything amazing with the SGB. There is good reason and I sure don’t fault them for it.
Nevertheless, now that we understand pretty well what the Super Game Boy can do, I’d like to apply that to a few parts of Kirby’s Dream Land 2. The colours may be a bit off,3 and ultimately, I’m not really an artist. I’d just like to inspire your imagination with a few mock-ups.
First off, only one of the boss fights has a scrolling screen in the entire game. So what if we did the same thing to the terrain that the cutscenes do, and colourize the terrain differently?
We could also swap palettes for dramatic effect in the same way that the level select screen does, during fights. The sky lightens and darkens during the fight between Mr. Shine and Mr. Bright. But what if it also changed palettes?4
With Dark Matter, there’s a lot that could be done. If you wanted to be really dramatic, you could include a different background and just gradually shift the palette darker. Or you could use OBJ mode to draw Kirby and Dark Matter different colours.
But even if you didn’t do either of those things, you could still go crazy with the colours.
What I’m trying to get at here is that there’s a lot of unused potential here.
You said there was a good reason! What the fuck could that possibly be?
The sad truth of the matter is that nobody was willing to spend a lot of time or money on doing Super Game Boy work, other than the flagship Donkey Kong ‘94. Most, they just didn’t bother. There’s a few5 other good looking games that I haven’t had the chance to mention. But not many.
The purpose of the thing always seemed kind of unclear. The selling point of the Game Boy was always its portability, and the Super Game Boy obviously runs contrary to that. People got the impression that all it could do was apply a single palette to the entire screen, because that’s all it could do with pre-Super Game Boy games. Nintendo didn’t help this impression at all by suggesting that players change palettes manually in games like Metroid II. And it didn’t sell terribly well initially.
This basically turned into a feedback loop. Nobody bought an SGB because nobody knew that the SGB could do anything neat because few games did anything neat because too few people bought an SGB to make it worth spending a lot of money on. So everyone associated it with shitty colourization and nothing else, and therefore didn’t buy one.
Nintendo learned a pretty valuable lesson when the Game Boy Color came. The official developer’s manual6 says that Game Boy Color developers had to specifically prove that their games fully took advantage of the system’s colour capabilities, with a strict set of guidelines: Differentiation, simulteneous colour use, appropriateness of colour use, variety of colour, and contrast/saturation. You can tell that Nintendo specifically had the failure of the Super Game Boy in mind when they wrote the section on differentiation:
>Differentiation - If a game is to be considered CGB-compatible, then it must appear significantly more colorful than a monochrome Game Boy game when “colorized” by the CGB hardware.7
Long story short; they were serious about making sure developers took advantage of everything available because they didn’t with the Super Game Boy.
Now, imagine you’re a Game Boy developer. You want to add the bullet point “Super Game Boy compatible!” to your box, because it’ll help sell a few more copies. But not many people own one. If you want to do something really neat, it’ll add entire days to the project, require changing some art resources, and doing extra testing on a completely different system. Going that extra distance is going to cost a lot of money, and won’t help that much because most people don’t own an SGB to see it. What are you going to say?
Man, fuck the Super Game Boy!
Being both the first video games I ever bought with my allowance and one of the first games I ever beat as a child, it holds a pretty special place in my heart. I enjoy it a lot, and the fact that it’s objectively pretty mediocre will never change that. I am pretty biased here, but I think I can look past that. ↩
Also, it’s painfully difficult and not at all fun, but that’s not the Super Game Boy’s fault. ↩
Specifically, I didn’t make the palettes strictly line up with what’s available on the Super Game Boy; that would be really difficult with the tools I have available. But all the palettes I’ve used are close enough to what’s available that I don’t feel there’s anything misleading here. ↩
For both fights, I’m using background data that’s already available on the cartridge; just with a different palette applied. ↩
As above, see page 5. ↩