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The 10 Best... Err... Least Bad LJN Games

Silver Linings #15

Hello, and welcome back to Silver Linings, where I find the positives in the forgotten, the maligned, and the VERY despised.

The third and fourth console generations provided some of the greatest games of all time.  I'm not just talking about the first-party stuff, either.  Companies like Konami and Capcom provided lots of outstanding games at the time.  Unfortunately, there was a ton of unplayable crap as well.  Though many companies were responsible for tragedies on the Nintendo consoles around then, there was one company that gained true infamy that way.  That company was LJN.

LJN was a toy company founded in 1970.  They broke into the video game market in 1987.  Their pattern was to (a) throw out a bunch of money to snag a buzz-worthy license, (b) throw one of a few frequently hired development studios (one of which was, surprisingly, Rare) to cobble together a game as quickly as possible, and (c) throw it into stores, hoping it'll sell on the strength of the license alone.  That plan was successful during the NES era, but the trick started failing them during the Super Nintendo era as gamers wisened up.  

The company went defunct in 1995, though Acclaim, who bought the company in 1990, did release one more LJN game on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000.  Despite that, retro gamers remember the company as one of the most deplorable game publishers in history.

However, as I didn't get to play a lot of the Nintendo consoles at the time, I wanted to give the company a chance to see if their games were truly that horrible.  So, I played absolutely every game with the LJN logo on it.  

To no one's surprise, I found the majority of their library to be terrible.  However, I was able to find 10 games that managed to be decent.  I wouldn't call them forgotten classics by any means, but they did manage to escape LJN's horrible reputation and should be recognized for that.  Here they are in the order in which they were published.

'Jaws' - NES

LJN's first game, surprisingly, was one of their best. Jaws is mostly a basic shooter where Brody goes underwater to shoot various sea creatures, including the titular shark. The basic shooting mechanics are sound, and there's some light RPG elements as you level up your power by selling shells. It's basic but enjoyable enough.

'Gotcha! The Sport!' - NES

This was one of the best games made for the Zapper light gun not made by Nintendo themselves. Taking its title from the 1985 movie that revolves around paintball wars (which I will review soon), Gotcha! The Sport! is basically a huge game of "capture the flag". Though there are only a few environments, the visuals are some of the console's best, and the action plays very well. If you still have a working Zapper, give this one a shot.

'A Nightmare on Elm Street' - NES

I reviewed this game a few years ago. Go there for the whole story. Suffice to say, despite the lack of originality, this platformer plays well enough and provides decent atmosphere for Halloween. Freddy Krueger could've been in a worse game.

'The Punisher' - NES

The Punisher is one of the easiest comic characters to put into a game. After all, we're talking a guy with a death wish emptying heavy weapons on tons of crooks. Not even LJN could screw that up. The NES game is a simple rail shooter that controls well and looks good for the time. The action gets intense without becoming unfair. Though the game on the Playstation 2 and Xbox is the definitive Punisher game, the NES game is not a bad alternative.

'The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback!' - Game Boy

See? LJN could even get The Punisher right on the lowly Game Boy! While also a rail shooter, this one has different stages from its NES counterpart and even has some cameos, including one from Spider-Man. There are worse games to play on the bus.

'Bill & Ted's Excellent Game Boy Adventure' - Game Boy

Here's a case where the Game Boy game absolutely annihilated its NES brother. While the NES game based on the Bill & Ted films was a horrendous adventure game, the Game Boy game is a simple Donkey Kong clone. Fortunately, it's just as addictive as Donkey Kong. Check this one out! Party on, dudes!

'Alien 3' - Super Nintendo

While it does play fast and loose with the plot of the third Alien film, the Super Nintendo game was surprisingly very polished. It plays very much like Metroid with the ability to explore Fury 161 at your own pace. The visuals are very stylish, and the gunplay is solid. While it doesn't top some of the later Alien games, Ripley did well with this one.

(At least, it's better than Aliens: Colonial Marines.)

'The Incredible Crash Dummies' - Super Nintendo

This was one license that LJN amazingly got right big time. The Incredible Crash Dummies is a simple platformer that could've inspired Super Meat Boy with its endless supply of booby traps. It's actually amusing to watch your character lose pieces as he takes hits until he's just a bouncing torso. I actually had a blast playing this one...

'The Incredible Crash Dummies' - NES

But the NES version, released a year after the Super Nintendo game, was just a bit better. The game plays faster and is a bit more chaotic. Fortunately, the stages were well-designed to accommodate the faster platforming. It reminded me pleasantly of the Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Genesis which is definitely high praise.

'Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage' - Super Nintendo

A beat-em-up based on one of the Webhead's best comic storylines? Yes, please! Maximum Carnage followed the plot of Spider-Man and Venom teaming up to take down Carnage very well, and the gameplay provided some great variety. It's even looked fantastic. This is an LJN game that even Stan Lee can call, "Excelsior!"

Are there any LJN games that you will defend?  Let me know, and game on!

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