City Connection

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City Connection

City Connection was a somewhat classic arcade game that debuted in 1985, offering players a fast-paced high-score challenge that demanded intense concentration and twitch-speed reflexes. In 1988, Jaleco published an 8-bit version for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Was the cartridge any better than the cabinet?

Gameplay

City Connection is a platforming puzzle game with a unique premise: The protagonist is off to see the sights that the world has to offer; however, rather than paint the town red, he wants to paint the streets white. This means that the goal is to just drive over every square inch of road that each city has to offer, completing a stage when every blank grid space has been marked in white.

City_Connection_NES

But rather than drive over one single road, presentation is given from a side view, with four tiers. This means that the controlled car must be constantly jumping up to higher levels, falling to lower ones, or hopping across gaps. The A button is used for jumping, as proper, while the directional pad corresponds with movement, of course.

However, the challenge arises in the fact that our mysterious driver does not explore these streets alone. There are always multiple police cars patrolling the byways, along with cats that just sit in the road and instantly take a life if struck. The player begins with three lives, and can earn extras when hitting 100,000 and 300,000 points.

To both foster bonus points and defend against cops, there are oil cans strewn throughout the stages. Picking them up adds them to an inventory, whereas the B button fires them ahead of the vehicle, striking law enforcement vehicles to render them harmless. If the player can stockpile oil cans without using them, 100 bonus points are awarded for each when the city is completed.

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If the player stays on one of the tiers too long, metal spikes begin erupting out of the ground, just one, that will sit there until moving to a different level. The cats, the spikes may disappear if the player simply turns around and lets them go off-screen before returning to their spot; although unlike the felines, the spikes tend to appear much more aggressively.

Thus, the player ends up with a maze-completion type game in the vein of Pac-Man but with platforming mechanics drawn somewhere through the ages from Donkey Kong. This is an arcade-style game, with six stages that endlessly repeat, purely for the pleasure of seeking the highest score. Two players can try in alternating turns.

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Oh, and there are balloons. They are worth bonus points, and grant a city-warp effect when three are collected. Magical warp balloons, yes. Even with those hexing helium semi-spheres, City Connection just poses too many cheap deaths in the player’s direction to really be any fun. This is a “challenge for challenge’s sake” sort of game, where only those who played it without other choice or in search of something utterly difficult and minimally rewarding would ever truly grow fond.

Graphics

In this reviewer’s opinion, the visuals of City Connection on NES are the game’s highlight. The protagonist car has some nifty animation frames, having the policing vehicles appear differently in each city is a nice touch, and the background details for the cities themselves are wonderful, with recognizable sights like Big Ben in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, along with portraying the locations in differing times of day. There is even a faux parallax scrolling effect at work, whereby the background is scrolling by a little bit slower than the streets themselves.

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Then again, this game has some serious flickering problems, with many police vehicles constantly blinking in and out of existence, which can be a distracting nuisance for the eyes. Also, while the arcade original actually used colors to fill in the streets, all NES players get is a bland, tepid, boring, depressing stark white across every roadway. Bleh.

Sound

The sound effects are barely noticeable, and never more than a brief one-note blip across the player’s consciousness. The music, while presenting itself as a decent arrangement of three sound-channel instruments, feels somewhat uninspired and gets repetitive. Eh.

Originality

While arcade-style high-score games have their place, and within their own category have varying tiers of quality, many of them lost something in their porting to home consoles in the 8-bit era.

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City Connection may have been one of them. Whatever the case may be, players are left with a subpar experience that, while not atrocious and certainly representing a game, raises a tough question: “If I had other NES titles to choose from, why would I play City Connection?”

Whomp ‘Em

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Whomp ‘Em

In 1991, when they were not busy releasing another Bases Load sequel, Jaleco released a side-scrolling platformer for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System console called Whomp ‘Em. Following a Native American protagonist named Soaring Eagle on his quest to seek mystical totems, Jaleco put plenty of developer muscle into fine-tuning this title. But in tuning the mechanics so finely, did they miss the big picture?

Whomp 'Em - NES

Gameplay

A seasoned NES player recognizes the formular: The directional pad moves the on-screen character, the A button jumps, and the B button attacks. While Whomp ‘Em begins with this formula, it certainly adds many ingredients. On a minor note, Soaring Eagle can duck.

Whomp 'Em - NES

But in a major way, Soaring Eagle’s attacks can be incorporated into a variety of moves. Holding B while running keeps his spear ahead of him, damaging incoming foes. Holding Down in midair enables him to drop the spear’s tip upon the head of unlucky enemies. The spear can even be used as a shield against certainly projectiles, if held in the right manner and in the right spot. The spear can even be directed upward, by pressing Up when jumping. This gives the player a variety of ways to damage creatures, and many angles to utilize.

Whomp 'Em - NES

Then there are the items, which form quite an in-depth in-game economy. Although the player begins with just a few hearts on the health bar, these hearts can be increased by collecting gourds. But the number of gourds needed to gain a heart of health increases each time, until the player needs 99 gourds to gain the 12th and final heart unit of hit points.

Whomp 'Em - NES

And this is not even to mention the bonus items that add to attack or defense until the player is hit, nor the health-increasing grabs. Perhaps the most intriguing item-driven mechanic, however, is how Whomp ‘Em handles extra lives: The “magic potion” item essentially is an extra life, but the player is limited to holding three at a time. This is a strange, different-from-the-norm way to handle an extra-life mechanic. It does seem to add some tension, as it removes the possibility of simply hoarding dozens of lives, as can be done in other games, while also making it a priority at times to hunt for those crucial hidden potions.

Whomp 'Em - NES

Much like Capcom’s Mega Man series, Whomp ‘Em lets the player select what order he or she would like to conquer the stages in. At the end of each level is an environment boss. Defeating this character gives the player a new selectable weapon type to use; typically, a boss is especially vulnerable to a certain weapon, which gives the player incentive to strategize smartly as to their order of play.

Whomp 'Em - NES

Taken together, these separate elements would seem just fine, quite enough to put together in order to create a formidable video game. Whomp ‘Em does proceed crisply, offering the player well-honed fighting mechanics to use throughout a variety of stages in an experience that proves to be a worthy challenge. However, well-designed items and enemies aside, Whomp ‘Em does have some flaws.

Whomp 'Em - NES

The additional weapon are underwhelming. Most of them just make the basic attack reach a little further, which there is already an item for, and prove to not be any more useful against most regular enemies. This is a strange choice, and could have been for any number of reasons, but it is definitely disappointing to gain the flame weapon – and notice that it only shoots a small fire out of the tip of the spear, like a blowtorch.

Whomp 'Em - NES

Some of the stage designs are questionable. Among Let’s Players and others, the final level has gained notoriety for being rather difficult and just plain cheap. These design errors are evident elsewhere, though: Several areas force the player to make blind jumps, which is hardly ever fun. At least the player can aim the spear downward, likely helping the cause in these cases. There still remain, though, a few spots in which it is tough to tell which elements are mere background and which are needed platforms, along with dubious practices in enemy regeneration.

Whomp 'Em - NES

Then there are the bosses, which range wildly between very cool and a just-right level of difficulty – to ones that are spectacularly frustrating, with such traits that include the ability to instantly take away the player’s extra lives at a single touch. While none of the bosses are impossible, and all are pattern-based, the use of cheap tactics in order to artifically inflate their challenge is a bit eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

Whomp 'Em - NES

Overall, Whomp ‘Em is a pretty good game, and just that. It is not an all-time great. It is rarely seen on top-10 lists, but deservedly so; even then, it has perhaps been overlooked a tad, since it is still better than most 8-bit titles, and while nitpickers can find many flaws, the entirety was made well as a whole.

Graphics

Whomp 'Em - NES

Whomp ‘Em looks great. The enemy designs are fun and varied, while some of them even move smoothly in interesting ways – check out the floating hands in some of the vertically oriented portions. The levels are lush with colors, but better graphical signals could have been used, such as with the bizarre “electric” clouds on the final stage. Also, this game does suffer from some flickering. The pixel artists was skilled, but the execution was not quite fully polished. For instance, that jump animation looks super weird.

Sound

Whomp 'Em - NES

For a video game that feels like it was trying to be The Next Big Thing on NES, the music has a strange strata to it. While the composition mostly maintains a sense of skillful rendering, even summoning a vague Native American sensation at times, but at others falls flat or even gets downright irritating. At least the sound effects are satisfying.

Originality

Whomp 'Em - NES

Whomp ‘Em has been accused of being a Mega Man clone. You can offer the character stage selection right away alone without getting that accusation, or just borrow enemy powers, or have stage-end bosses, or involve pesky precision-jumping puzzles; but combine those, along with elemental weaknesses, and you have a recipe for such reputation. Then again, with a training level to start, the impressive in-game economy of items, the Native American flourishes, and an overall theatrical flair, Whomp ‘Em deserves a look, and is a bit more than a mere clone… even if it still never reaches the heights that a great Mega Man game achieves. Perhaps it would be a little better with a smidge more length, coupled with an adequate password or save function. Alas.

Overall rating: 3.5/5 stars.

Baseball Simulator 1.000

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Baseball Simulator 1.000

Among all the baseball video games released for the NES console, Baseball Simulator 1.000 was certainly among the most transparent efforts to try and be unique, to stand out from the genre crowd. Released in 1990, it was developed by Culture Brain, who produced a handful of other 8-bit titles, such as Kung-Fu Heroes and Scheherazade.

Gameplay

Want to simulate an entire 165-game season among six teams in a pennant race? You can, with Baseball Simulator 1.000. You can even hop in and out of whichever games you choose, or stick to one particular game, or participate in every single match-up. Statistics are tracked all year long, batting and pitching alike.

Baseball Simulator 1000

Want to create your own team, entirely from scratch, down to their individual names and statistical aptitudes? You can with, Baseball Simulator 1.000. The instruction manual even winkingly suggests that you can use this feature to recreate an all-star squad composed of your favorite real-life athletes.

Want to just play a shorter season with one team, such as 5 or 30 games? Want to watch two computer rosters play against each other, just to get a feel for the simulation? Want to track pitcher fatigue over a series, change line-ups, or even shift fielders mid-inning? You can, with Baseball Simulator 1.000.

Baseball Simulator 1000

Really: Baseball Simulator 1.000 is quite a thorough, dynamic 8-bit baseball simulation. Even if you just want to play one simple game, you have options: You can play against the computer, or against a human opponent. You can pick one of six different fields, each visually different for its setting, including one set in space. You can still alter batting order. As you choose the teams, you can select which league they come from – which, intriguingly, affects the use of Ultra Plays, as only teams from the Ultra League can utilize them.

As it turns out, Ultra Plays are the primary hook of Baseball Simulator 1.000, the single biggest gimmick to try and differentiate itself from other sports titles. The premise is that, in additional to the usual nine innings of offense and defense across a standard 8-bit baseball simulator, the players have basically been given superpowers.

Baseball Simulator 1000

Pitchers can, for example, throw a pitch that comes to a complete stop for a moment before continuing its flight. Batters can, to cite one sample, hit a ball that will have multiple shadows on the ground, making it very difficult to field. But fielders, too, can utilize abilities such as leaping impossibly high into the air in order to make a catch.

These Ultra Plays are used by hitting a certain button, such as B as a fielder or hitting Up twice as a pitcher. Once selected, they will be visibly indicated by an icon, but usually also by a sort of special animation. Spectators will note pitchers bursting into flames for fiery pitches and batters whirling like a tornado before smacking an especially thunderous knock. These descriptors, of flames and tornadoes, are not figurative: They are the shapes taken literally in animation, cartoon-like in their appearance.

Baseball Simulator 1000

The Ultra Plays are optional, entirely dependent on whether any Ultra League teams are participating in a given game. As a concept, the Ultras hit a sweet spot: Well-planned, with much variety, and executed in a way that does not break the gameplay entirely. However, as a gimmick, it is one that ends up as annoying just as often as it seems fantastic. In an attempt for balance, teams are limited to how many Ultra Plays they can perform per game, but such effort seems a little futile.

The special plays do lean on the defense a bit, though. Pitchers are favored in Ultra Moves, where pitches are made nearly unhittable. Yet half the time a batter will try to use an Ultra Move, it will be wasted on a short pop fly, or a quick little ground-out to the shortstop.

Baseball Simulator 1000

Maybe the comet strike Ultra Move is the best for batters, but slapping home runs is not too terribly difficult anyway, given how tiny the field is. Seriously, fielding is a nightmare: The ballpark is small, the fielders run terribly slowly, and diagonal movement is a clunky joke. At least even non-Ultra fielders are given a little jumping ability at a tap of the A button, but it proves inconsequential in the face of stacked odds.

The actual batting screen is fine, just fine. As a baseball simulator, those intense pitch-by-pitch at-bats are well-done, and seem to be fine-tuned to a mechanical science by Culture Brain. It is a shame, really, that the fielding is done so poorly, then. When placed head-to-head next to other baseball titles, most of them will shine as being an obvious improvement in the field. However, the real strike against Baseball Simulator 1.000 is that even a new NES player can tell that fielding is wonky, without necessarily any prior baseball-game experience.

This is what dooms Baseball Simulator 1.000 to the middling, not-the-best pile of baseball games, in this reviewer’s mind: The intrigue of the Ultra Plays would be awesome, if they did not backfire half the time; otherwise, the core mechanical make-up of the matches is just not strong enough to completely hold the fort against its opposition, even in the same genre.

Graphics

With its crazy Ultra animations, very mold-breaking character models, and the gorgeous array of different environments to play in, not to mention the absurdly colorful scoreboard model – Baseball Simulator 1.000 is beautiful. The visuals are a strong point, and go a long way towards enjoying this to its greatest possible extent.

Sound

Savvy listeners will notice similarity to Bad News Baseball in the sound department, down to the cadence of a certain background track and its drumbeat section. Those tunes, and the effects, are pretty good, if not as explicitly pleasant as the graphics.

Originality

Well, Baseball Simulator 1.000 certainly goes out of its way to separate itself from the pack of baseball games on NES. To a degree, it succeeds: The Ultra Moves are provocative, the customization options are in-depth, and the ballpark selection might actually be among its best spots. But no matter what selections are made, the actual baseball mechanics still have to be used, and thus are revealed for its weaknesses. A very competent batting set-up cannot make up for piss-poor fielding control and other minor elements that may make the player feel stacked-against. Add the fact that the Ultra Moves are often just as much a hindrance as they are a bonus, and you can look elsewhere for superior baseball action, even if Baseball Simulator 1.000 is serviceable.

Overall rating: 3/5 stars.

Blues Brothers

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Blues Brothers

In 1999, developer Titus Software released a video game for theNintendo 64 console called Superman: The New Superman Adventures. More commonly referred to as simply Superman 64, the title gained widespread notoriety for being among the worst of all time. However, Titus had certainly been producing awful cartridges based on media licenses far before that; for example, Blues Brothers, which dropped in 1992 for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System Console.

Gameplay

Blues Brothers, at first glance, is a fairly typical platformer. The directional pad moves the protagonist left and right, holding down the B button enables a faster movement speed ala Super Mario Bros, and the A button jumps. Two players can play simultaneously, although the implementation has its flaws, such as enabling one player to easily be left behind forever. Otherwise, the only other move is the option to crouch by pressing Down, and possibly crawling back and forth while doing so.

Blues-Brothers-Video-Game

Based on the hit 1980 film of the same name starring John Belushi and Dan Akroyd, Blues Brothers gives the player the choice between playing as Jake or Elroy, although this does not affect gameplay beyond their appearance. The twelve-year gap between the movie release and the game release is interesting, to say the least, and one has to wonder if Titus was truly grasping for the cheapest licenses they could try to take advantage of.

This is a platformer, with the simple goal of reaching the end of each of the handful of levels. Enemies are usually to be dodged rather than defeated, with the exception of goggled sharks and dogs that can be temporarily rode upon, seemingly just for kicks. There are many traps, spikes, pitfalls, and other dangers. Even pausing is dangerous, since there is a delay, which is a spectacularly unusual element for any video game.

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While the formula seems intact, and the game impressively scrolls across all directions across large levels full of different required movements and detailed aspects, the player will soon realize that this is no ordinary NES video game. While three hit points are offered with each life by default, with a couple extra lives to go afterward and a couple continues besides, even all those instances of accident forgiveness can hardly prepare the player for the soul-searing nightmare ahead.

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To put it simply: Blues Brothers is a very challenging game. But to merely put it in such stale words, such simple terms like “extremely hard,” only dulls the true nightmare effect this cartridge provides. Blues Brothers on NES is a master class in awful license games, putting on a clinic of game design choices that artifically inflate both difficulty level and gameplay length through means of platforms the player can only spend a limited time on, invincible enemies, no means of attack, remarkable precision needed for jumps and other maneuvers, “trap” drops where you cannot see oncoming dangers, unclear destinations, slippery physics, and other notable faults.

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Blues Brothers may not be the worst NES game, and several nice quips could be uttered concerning its presentation, but the outright combination of patience for tedium and outstanding platforming skill required to complete it are astounding. Titus really flexed their bad-design muscles on this one, providing 8-bit gamers with something that might be even harder to enjoy than it is to complete.

Graphics

Having said all that, the game does not look terrible. Yes, the color choices can be a bit strange, with the one-color animals and the way the protagonists’ coats often blend into the background, and maybe sometimes the tile-based haphazard sophomore-effort effect of the levels is overwhelming, but at least the pixels are usually placed with care and the entirety obviously took a lot of effort to produce. Actually, it might even be better-looking than Superman 64, if we are being completely honest.

Sound

The effects seem a little limp, achieving a cartoon-like absurdity at their best and an underplayed denouement for the most part. Then there is the music, which might be the best part of Blues Brothers on NES; appropriate, considering that music played a rather prominent role in the film. From the title screen track to the stage backgrounds, the crew at Titus shows off some skill in layering the hardware wave forms nicely, with enjoyable beats over pleasant melodies. The emulated drum kicks well, and it may be a shame that such simply good chip music had to accompany an otherwise crappy game.

Originality

Beyond the strangeness of riding a green goggles-wearing shark for a few seconds, the whole Blues Brothers experience feels stale and overdone. The game feels like the final project of a student tasked with producing a platform games; the levels crawl on endlessly with little self-consideration for the reasons why they proceed in the manner that they do, and completion of each feels so utterly arbitrary. The ending seems to echo this sentiment, with a big shrug from the developers as a single bland congratulations screen marks the finale to a real slog-through session. A platform game can feel utterly cobbled together but still be somewhat fun, like Alfred Chicken, and some license games managed to shine on NES. But not Blues Brothers. Blues Brothers is bad.

Overall score: 1/5 stars.

Double Dribble

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In 1987, Konami released a video game cartridge for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console that was a port of a fairly widespread basketball simulation arcade game called Double Dribble. Could such an early-release title for the young system’s cycle actually live up to its arcade-cabinet origins? ~Eric Bailey

Double Dribble

Gameplay

Double Dribble is a basketball simulation video game sporting (pun intended) five-on-five full-court gameplay. In this particular NES b-ball sim, the developers opted for the control scheme of using B to switch which defender is being controlled or to shoot on offense, while the A button steals on defense, or jumps to contest a shot if the opponent is shooting, or passes the ball. Actually, to clarify, pressing B once on offense makes the player jump, while pressing it again in mid-air releases the ball for the shot. If this is done near the rim, the game shows a dunk-animation cutscene, emphasizing the slam dunk; or, in some cases, getting “hung” when the ball clangs off the rim instead of satisfyingly tearing through the net.

Double Dribble

Other, the gameplay is fairly standard for an 8-bit basketball game, following four periods of play, offering a selection of a handful of cities to pick from for teams, and instituting certain penalties such as out of bounds, traveling (incurred whenever a player fails to release the ball in midair) and backcout violations, humorously called “BACK PASS” on-screen and resulting in a rapid change of possession. There is a tip-off to begin each game, but the computer always wins. Double Dribble does, though, have a few unique quirks: The players retain their momentum if they jump while running, which is already distinctive, but then the player can even change the athlete’s direction in midair. This leads to very interesting maneuvers in the paint, wherein a fairly dexterous player can change direction five or six times before the second B button tap to launch the dunk animation. It could be presumed that this is something akin to digitally throwing down a 1080-degree jam. Also, the game seems to emphasize stealing as the primary strategical element.

Double Dribble

Furthermore, the A.I. moves in the weirdest, most illogical patterns – even on higher difficulty levels, one example would be when an unguarded player has a clear path to the basket, only to turn and take several step back toward the half-court line instead. Finally, one unfortunate deficit of this basketball game is the inability to pass to an on-screen teammate: The computer can pass to an off-screen teammate, but a human player must absolutely only pass to a player that is already visible on screen, lending a certain limitation to available plays.

Double Dribble

The title screen has a voice effect for the Double Dribble name, then after the player chooses to play alone or versus a human opponent, a cutscene launches that shows people (or, at least, very fuzzily rendered pixelated massive blobs) swarming to an arena as a Konami blimp flies overhead. A shortened version of America’s national anthem plays, balloons are launched, and an absolutely enormous flag is raised over the stadium. Finally, one of the most awkward options screens in gaming history is found: Settings such as period length, team, and difficulty level can be altered, but with each button press, rather than simply and instantly scroll through the available selections, an on-screen player actually fires a jump shot at a rim that aligns with the intended option. This makes for an overly tedious selection process, which would be bearable if it were not for the already drawn-out effect of the opening ceremonies screen.

Graphics

This 8-bit basketball sim looks okay. There are better-looking roundball titles, and there are worse-looking ones as well. The players do not differentiate in height; but in classic NES basketball game tradition, there are palette-swapped sprites in two varieties to display white players and black players. Gameplay follows somewhat smoothly, the one animation anomaly being a bit of flickering, even besides the intentionality of the ball-handler flickering as a possession signal.

Double Dribble

Perhaps somewhat humorously, rather than the disappearing act of typical flickering characters, the ball-handler alternates in sprite frames between being caucasian and African-American in appearance. But the visual highlight of the game are the dunking cutscenes, perhaps the best on the console, copied by later titles but never quite equaled in their five or six frames of slam-dunk monochromatic-athlete glory.

Sound

Background music is laid to the wayside in favor of traditional arena organ ditties and the constant repetition of the bouncing basketball, emphasized appropriately for a game called Double Dribble, to the unfortunately annoying result. Some digitized voice effects are used, such as for the aforementioned title screen and certain foul calls.

Double Dribble

There is the usual “swish” sound effect for a made shot (heard often, since it seems very difficult for the computer to miss a jumper), the oomphy dunk noise, and perhaps this reviewer’s favorite, the rattling clang of a missed slam of the rim. Just as with its graphics and its gameplay, the soundtrack of this game is middling for a basketball title on the NES, though Konami does flex its muscles in a few highlight portions.

Originality

Double Dribble cannot get too much credit for creativity, since it is not only an arcade port, but also a title based on a pre-existing sport, basketball. However, Double Dribble did set the basketball video game standard on the NES, considering its early release date in the console’s supported lifespan. The gameplay is actually somewhat impressive in that context, but its most significant contribution to the genre is likely the dunking animations, which would be endlessly emulated by dozens of future basketball titles and series across further console generations, making the switch from gameplay view to a specific up-close dunking shot a staple for roundball games to come.

Double Dribble

In terms of its production quality, programming accuracy, faithfulness to the original sport, and overall place in the NES library, Double Dribble is an average game. This is not a title that will appear on any all-time greatest lists, except perhaps those that allow for sentimental favorites, but nor will this appear on worst-ever lists either. It is what it is: A simplified, arcade-style basketball video game. In fact, it is actually probably a step up from the original arcade iteration, which made players actually press a button for every single dribble. Nonetheless, Double Dribble on the NES scores two and a half stars out of five.

Crash ‘n’ the Boys: Street Challenge

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  All in all, the richness of Crash ‘n’ The Boys: Street Challenge is certainly appreciated, and serves to place it on a level above the usual standard multi-sport fare. Even the introductory cutscene is enough to truly make this cart something special.~Eric Bailey

Crash ‘n’ the Boys: Street Challenge

Developer Technos was best known for their beat-’em-up titles on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System console, including the Double Dragon series and the classic River City Ransom. What would happen when the company tried to take on the multi-sport genre, like the arcade port Tack & Field, straightforward World Games, or distinctively wacky Caveman Games? The result was something called Crash ‘n’ The Boys: Street Challenge.

Crash 'n' the Boys - Street Challenge - NES Gameplay Screenshot - 1

  This was a sports video game on the NES that actually had a story; basically, our hero Crash Cooney and the Southside Boys are rivals with the rich snobby kids that live up on the Hill. After the Southsiders beat the Hillers in the big track meet, whiny brat Todd Thornley III was a sore loser and challenged the Boys to a street-sports gauntlet of various events with minimal rules, while his family secretly plotted to plant superpowered adults on his team in Thornley’s favor.

  Gameplay

To summarize, the Street Challenge consists of five events: 400 Meter Hurdles, Hammer Throw, Swimming (humorously referred to in the instruction booklet as Water Slaughter), Roof Top Jumping, and Fighting Scene. Each has their own distinctive appearance, mechanics, goal, and controls. Gameplay is divided into three modes: Practice, in which the player can pick one event at a time and try it over and over; Short, in which the player progresses through three events; and Normal, in which all five events are attempted through the storyline. This game is also playable for 1-4 people, with alternating controller usage.

Crash 'n' the Boys - Street Challenge

  Once the play mode is determined, the player actually has a choice of four teams to pick from, two of which are the Southsiders from Southside High and Thornley’s school, Washington High. The two others are Lincoln High and Jefferson High, the relational nuances between each of which are awesomely explained in the instruction manual, but the remarkable thing is that each school then has five different characters to choose from, each with their own individual statistical ratings in Power, Speed, and Defense, the usefulness of each of which will depend on the event.

Crash 'n' the Boys - Street Challenge

  Incredibly, and especially so for an 8-bit cartridge, not only is there the tournament of events, but between rounds the player(s) can actually shop for items using both money they begin with and the coins they additionally collect throughout the events. Items can boost stats, heal hit points, or even gain all-new techniques for the next event. This feature definitely adds a level of depth that is not quite seen in other multi-sport titles for the system.

Crash 'n' the Boys - Street Challenge

  Of course, the main attraction is the five events, each of which deviates from the norm and either is not a traditional sport or simply goes for all-out combat in favor of athletic competition. In 400 meter hurdles, the player must tap right on the directional pad to keep up with the opponent, but while jumping or sliding under hurdles, the characters can spin-kick each other or even throw chunks of broken hurdle at the opponent. Hammer Throw is actually Hammer Golf, as the player must throw a heavy weight across a two-dimensional course until getting to the hole in a certain number of strokes, and including trying to avoid hazards. In Swimming, there is not even the pretense of competition, just the goal of trying to kill the other character, and tacking both hit points and oxygen intake. Roof Top Jumping is a fun one, as a mix of tightrope-balancing unicycles and pole vaults is used to traverse rooftops, trying to get to the end of the course.

Crash 'n' the Boys - Street Challenge

  Then there is the Fighting Scene, worth considering on its own for one key reason: This may be the best representation of the fighting-game genre there is on the Nintendo Entertainment System, with the possible exception of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. Not only is character selection with distinctive characteristics intact, which Mortal Kombat could hardly even boast in its original iterations, but there are even special grapple moves per character in addition to the usual arsenal of punches, kicks, rushes, and jumping attacks. Some of the special moves, earned when reducing the opposing character’s stamina bar more quickly in a grapple, are especially funny and/or brutal.

Crash 'n' the Boys - Street Challenge

  All in all, the richness of Crash ‘n’ The Boys: Street Challenge is certainly appreciated, and serves to place it on a level above the usual standard multi-sport fare. Even the introductory cutscene is enough to truly make this cart something special. However, not all is perfect, as the control schemes can be very unintuitive, inconsistent, and even confusing, as there is no real format that connects each event, a different button may jump from one sport to the next, and there is a learning curve involved as well. The curve is welcome, actually, especially to make one-player playthroughs worthwhile, but it can be difficult to gain initial practice when the computer is in constant “must kill the new guy” mode.

  Graphics

Judging Crash ‘n’ The Boys: Street Challenge on its audiovisual merits is an intriguing endeavor, since those aspects are of unquestionably high quality, given the context of the hardware and comparison to the rest of the NES library of carts, but they are also noticeably recycled. This is a later release than their previous titles like River City Ransom and Super Dodge Ball, so you know that many of the graphics are recycled.

Crash 'n' the Boys - Street Challenge

Yet, this may not be the worst thing, since the Technos style of characterization is largely what gives their games their appeal to begin with. Sprites aside, action proceeds smoothly and the backgrounds are gorgeous (in fact, among the best on the console, and somewhat underappreciated, in this viewer’s opinion – check out the city’s layered skyline in the background of the Hammer Golf event and how it reflects in the water hazard), so maybe Technos should just be given the benefit of the doubt here: This game looks great.

  Sound

It sounds great, too, but in the case of the background tracks and effects, the recycling effect is much more noticeable, and hardly bothered to be disguised as all. For example, the hurricane kick sound effect used in the 400 Meter Hurt-les is the same as used in the game Double Dragon II: The Revenge.

Crash 'n' the Boys - Street Challenge

Other combat sounds are taken from River City Ransom, while many of the same short themes and ditties for the music have been conglomerated from the sporting titles like Super Dodge Ball and Super Spike V’Ball. They at least sound very, very similar, but some samples are definitely repeats. Nonetheless, again, this is likely not the worst thing.

  Originality

Crash ‘n’ The Boys is undoubtedly an original, creative, and innovative game. Fans of the multi-sport NES titles absolutely must give Crash a shot if they have not already. Playing alone is fun already, but multiplayer adds a whole new dimension of enjoyment.

Crash 'n' the Boys - Street Challenge

This is a title where the developers really seemed like they had the player experience in mind, and wanted to make it joyous and memorable. This is a four-star game, a rating out of five.

Dudes with Attitude

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As unfair as it may be to those passionate coders, the end result does feels markedly amateurish, and as much as needless bells and whistles should be trimmed from some titles, this is a game that could have used some fancy additions and fine-tuned detail-worked. ~Eric Bailey

Dudes with Attitude

The year: 1990. The developer: American Video Entertainment. This was a company that produced unlicensed cartridges for play on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. Included in their instruction manuals after 1990 was an entire page dedicated to explaining to consumers how they could help bypass Nintendo’s latest consoles that includes a new chip to prevent playing their games, and a somewhat martyr-tinged note of explanation that AVE sought to provide affordable family entertainment, even going so far as to offer free games with a mail-in offer.

Dudes with Attitude - NES

After having put such simplistic efforts like Solitaire and Blackjack onto the market, a quirky interesting game was pushed into existence, apparently thanks to the efforts of Michael and Cam Crick: Dudes With Attitude,” a frenetic action-puzzler hybrid that combined uniquely distinctive innovation with the usual pitfalls and pratfalls of small-time development operations.

Gameplay

Dudes With Attitude on the NES definitely qualifies as being among that category of video games that is much more easily understood when seen in motion, rather than reading an attempt at a worded description. Truly interested readers should probably consider checking out its video entry on NESGuide.com for the full scoop to truly grasp what is going on.

Dudes with Attitude - NES

To try and summarize, though: Dudes With Attitude is an action puzzler, like a fast-paced arcade/puzzle genre hybrid. The player controls a Dude of his or her choices; these are little round head-shaped characters, who then enter play on a one-screen field. The grid-based field takes place on a black background and each level, to varying degrees, is filled with objects. The goal is to collect all the treasure on a particular stage without dying, which means avoiding static hazards and moving enemies. How this is accomplished is through a feat quite distinctive on the console: The Dude relentlessly moves back and forth across the screen, bouncing each time it meets a boundary or wall object, dying if it strikes a hazard or enemy twice (one “free hit” is allowed, visibly reducing the size of the round Dude), and collecting treasures.

These mechanics are all done by color-coding. Certain cups on-screen change the Dude’s color as it hits them. Then, that Dude is immune to enemies and hazards of that color, and can collect like-colored treasures. Remember, this is all done non-stop, as the Dude endlessly slides left and right in the field of play.

Dudes with Attitude - NES

So, a sample level may have a white locked door at the top third and a red locked door at the bottom third of the screen, behind each of which are its like-colored treasures, and in the center are a couple of hazards and/or enemies. In the center of the arena are the white and red cups that change the Dude’s color. Thus, the challenge is for the player to deftly maneuver the Dude in such a way as to change to a certain color, move through the like-colored door, collect all the treasure within, then switch to the other color and repeat. However, of course, that is a very simplified explanation, and the levels rather widely vary in their imaginative varieties of lay-outs in terms of their hazards, obstacles, enemies, and treasures.

Dudes with Attitude - NES

There is also a password option, a level editor, and a two-player mode. The entire experience is rather distinctive, with there being very few games anything like Dudes With Attitude on the NES; the one notable exception is Trolls On Treasure Island, which is just the exact same game, but with the licensed likenesses of Troll dolls used instead of the Dudes (with, granted, a few other palette swaps and level design changes at work), based on the popular toys of the time.

The gameplay emphasizes quick thinking, requiring excellent reaction timing and rapid decision-making skills, along with a some planning in later levels, to the extent required by the fact that there is a time limit for each stage. The odd, bouncing, back-and-forth gameplay may resonate with some, but even when accustomed to, likely grows stale after a while.

Graphics

Dudes with Attitude - NES

With the heavy use of blues, whites, blacks, and pinks, this looks like an old four-color CGA PC game; which, if you could not guess, is a bad thing. Granted, considering the limitations of the small icons being used here, the actual appearance of the title can be forgiven, but not by much: The elements lack detail and, though vary, remain starkly monotone. The “gum” enemies will forever just be a one-color blotch with a few pixels to denote a face, and even the treasures usually just look like crude hearts, poor bricks, or watered-down Mario Bros. coins. This is definitely a case of a video game constructed for function over form, using the bare minimum of gameplay indications to get its mechanics clearly across and not at all aiming for style points.

Sound

The sound effects are simplistic buzzes and beeps; and there is virtually no soundtrack to speak of. The levels are conducted without background music, and simply jolly little ditties mark successful completions. Again: This is a small-team development job, that totally aims for just presenting a playable product, without frills or extras to speak of. Including, it would seem, any semblance of actual music.

Originality

Now, strangely enough, this is actually a somewhat unique 8-bit video game. The constant, frenetic, horizontally oriented gameplay is a marked departure from the vertically oriented, slow-at-times, one-piece-at-a-time material that many old-school gamers may be used to from such classic titles as Tetris or Dr. Mario. This may serve as Dudes’ greatest strength and appeal: For a certain small niche audience, this may be just their cup of tea, and may truly be a favorite among those select few.

Most, in contrast, can expect a disappointment. As unfair as it may be to those passionate coders, the end result does feels markedly amateurish, and as much as needless bells and whistles should be trimmed from some titles, this is a game that could have used some fancy additions and fine-tuned detail-worked. As it stands, it feels more like old PC shareware, something perhaps briefly played as a curiosity but at a noticeable drop in quality from the bulk majority of NES cartridges. The rating is one and a half stars out of five.

Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero

Before he became the governor (or Governator, that is) of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest box-office draws on the planet as the big-muscled action star of such classics as Commando, Predator, True Lies, and the first two Terminator films. However, during a brief foray into such comedies as Junior, Twins, and Kindergarten Cop, Arnie lost his edge a bit for the lighter roles and, arguably, almost ruined his legacy. Among these not-quite-hits was the critically derided meta-movie Last Action Hero.

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But, of course, since it was a big-budget film with a big-name actor, it was worthy enough to have a video game developed for it as released on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console in 1993. And, like so many others, this license title proves to provide low-quality gameplay, the result of publisher Sony Imagesoft wanting nothing more than to turn a quick profit on a media commodity with a low shelf life in the popular culture of the time. This is not a video game that showcases imagination or innovation.

Gameplay

The first mistake this side-scrolling, two-dimensional (not even the third dimension of being able to walk into the “depth” closer to the background, but purely left and right or up and down) beat-’em-up is that the A button attacks and the B button jumps, which is not only in reverse from the legendarySuper Mario Bros. original NES game that set the golden standard, but also serves as a stark reminder as to what camp this cartridge belongs to: The crappy one with all the terrible games.

Oddly enough, though, in addition to the typical movement left and right, the player is also granted a move other than the basic punch: A kick, initiated by holding up when pressing A. This is a nice touch, it could be supposed. The player can also crouch, punch from the crouch, and try to attack in mid-air as well, with mixed results.

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The player takes control of Jack Slater, the movie-star protagonist of the movie-related movie, in a plot that loosely follows the film. It actually, at first, seems to follow it rather closely, down to the oddly rendered cutscene still frames that depict shots from the cinematic experience. However, rather head-scratchingly, the NES game departs from the movie right around the second level, when the boy dreams of a medieval setting involving a Robin Hood-like environment in which the player must then traverse. This seems like a tacky random add-on.

last-action-hero-nes

Now, a rundown of the entirety of the gameplay of Last Action Hero the NES game: There are seven levels. Each ends with a boss. Each consists of either running to the end of a one-way path, or repeatedly going back and forth and ascending to higher levels. The enemies infinitely respawn. There are no points or other rewards for killing enemies, so they are best avoided. The best strategy for bosses is to crouch and repeatedly punch until the boss dies. Some projectiles can be dodged by crouching, some cannot. The player begins with three lives and a six-hit health bar for each, measured in hearts. Occasionally, health refills can be found. Continues are offered if all lives expire. Attacking range is short and hit detection is terrible. This is Last Action Hero on the NES.

Graphics

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This video game actually looks really good for an 8-bit title on the NES; though, by 1993, the console was in its twilight years and developers had little excuse to not know how to best make the on-screen action look. Examples from the first level alone: The police cars are displayed in bright detail, the background cityscape is creatively drawn in little pixels denoting window lighting per building, these windows flicker in moody atmospheric effect to match the rain, the protagonist actually wears a two-color outfit and is thus not prone to the Monochromatic Character Syndrome that many NES figures were drawn in, and the action proceeds fairly smoothly with little-to-no flickering or slowdown. That being said, some portions look better than others, the enemies get repetitive, and no amount of good looks can make up for awful gameplay.

Sound

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The music is not outright awful, but it hardly tries to break boundaries either. You can fairly clearly hear the buzzy and bumpy-grindy notes of the two square-wave channels on the hardware struggling to complement the non-ambitious whines and weak lilts of the triangle-wave piece. The effects are even worse, though; a series of hisses, thuds, and hollow bonks. With such a plethora of previous NES classic titles to have witnessed before, some with truly spectacular soundtracks, it is somewhat remarkable that the developers really did not try to at least grant the background tracks a broader range or add some punch to the punch effects.

Originality

By its very nature, a license game lacks originality. However, there is some flexible wiggle room that allows for potential innovation and creativity to nonetheless still be expressed; unfortunately, there is very little true vision to be found on this cartridge. The beat-’em-up gameplay mechanic is even more monotonous than the usual genre strictures, the lack of reward for dispatching of enemies really breaks the entire motivation for combat, and it may be the worst of the handful of Schwarzenegger-movie NES license games, turning in a magic ticket for one star out of five.

Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout

Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Bugs_Bunny_Birthday_Blowout

In 1990, Kemco released a Warner Brothers licensed video game cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System starring a cast of Looney Tunes characters. This was Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout; a classic, even formulaic, platformer that had the player controlling Bugs Bunny throughout. Was this game any good?

Gameplay

Bugs_Bunny_Birthday_Blowout

This NES adventure follows the two-dimensional 8-bit platform standard: The A buttom jumps, the B button attacks (with a mallet, in this case, as is appropriate for a Looney Tunes cartoon character), and good ol’ Bugs must avoid enemies and hazards like bottomless pits, spikes, and precision-jumping obstacles, often with moving platforms

The “story” is that it is B. B.’s 50th birthday (and he sure is spry for a 50-year-old guy) and, in his rush to get to his big birthday party bash, he seems to run into all kinds of trouble, including all of his famous friends like Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, and others attacking and trying to kill the legendary rabbit.

Bugs_Bunny_Birthday_Blowout

The control is fairly tight, and Bugs is able to jump pretty high, which only makes sense for a rabbit in a cartoon world. There are some enemies he can jump onto and stand on without taking damage, and he can collect carrot icons for points. The end of each stage is a boss battle with another one of the Looney Tunes line-up, though this almost always just consists of the character moving back and forth, possibly also jumping, all in a regular pattern Bugs must merely avoid and counter with mallet attacks. The only exceptions are minor character traits like that Yosemite Sam fires his pistols at Bugs, or that Foghorn Leghorn is big and invincible so you must beat Henery Hen instead.

Graphics

Bugs_Bunny_Birthday_Blowout

For an 8-bit title, Birthday Blowout looks decent. The environments and elements are colorful, the WB toons are recognizable, and the NES could have done much worse. Otherwise, though, this is not a game that stretches the console to its limits or goes anywhere truly revolutionary with its presentation.

Sound

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The sound effects are bland and the music is atrocious, like elevator music given a pep pill and made more annoying high-pitched and upbeat. Reviewers on sites like GameFAQS have humorous comments regarding the music, like “This game is great – if you mute your television.” Seriously, the soundtrack is repetitive, low-quality, and ear-grating.

Originality

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For a license title, Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout actually does deserve some credit for crafting a somewhat potentially fun little platformer. The enemy designs are original in some portions, albeit random, including a selection of foes that consist of inanimate objects made aggressive. One interesting point is that, at certain portions of the game, Bugs Bunny can descend into rabbit holes by pressing the down button, in a sequence similar to the pipes found in Super Mario games.

When all the factors are boiled down (into rabbit stew, you could say), Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Blowout is an average game, almost archetypically so. It is a playable platformer, that actually had some effort put into it as a license-game cartridge, and shows some solid level design; however, the music is nightmarish, the gameplay never progresses to any sort of play experience beyond what you see on the first level anyway, and the bosses are uninspired. In addition, spoiler alert: The ending is notoriously odd and seemingly misguided, with all of Bugs Bunny’s “friends” revealing that they are the ones hosting the birthday party and their earlier attempts to kill them was just a funny joke or something contrived like that. Blowout hammers home two and a half stars out of five. The cartoons were more entertaining.

Sword Master

Sword Master

Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Sword Master - NES

Activision may be best known for their Call Of Duty series, but they have been producing video games for decades across multiple platforms, including a hefty array on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Although some of these cartridges were outright stinkers, like their renditions of Ghostbusters and Super Pitfall, other were decent or even good. Somewhere in the latter mix lies the side-scrolling action title Sword Master, developed by Athena Co.

Gameplay

Sword Master - NES

Sword Master is a side-scrolling action game in which one player controls the protagonist, the Sword Master, is an admittedly generic plotline revolving around rescuing a damsel in distress from the clutches of some evil dark lord who has resurrected an army of undead abominations with which he is now attempting to take over the world. Of course.

There are seven levels, each of which concludes with a boss fight, and typically has a mini-boss somewhere in the middle as well. This title can barely be considered a “platformer” in the literal sense; although there is jumping from surfaces to other surfaces of different elevations, and even some precision-jumping puzzles that involve pattern-oriented enemies, unlike traditional platformers like the Super Mario Bros and Mega Man series, the running and jumping movements are not the emphasis here. The combat system takes the spotlight, and shows some muscular depth.

Sword Master - NES

The player’s character does not move quickly and, in fact, jumps forward in a hop slightly faster than walking movement alone. The A button performs the jump, and the B button attacks with the sword, offering some options for attack depending on which direction is pressed on the D-Pad as well. Pressing Up with the strike will swing overhead, just hitting B along will jab forward with the blade, and holding Down will go to a crouch, offering a low blow with the sword from that position. Also, our hero can move forward while crouching, a neat touch.

Sword Master - NES

Additionally, the Sword Master himself also uses a shield as well. Holding Up will hold the shield up, while pressing Down steadies the shield straight ahead. Neither renders our character invincible, but make it possibly to block oncoming attacks from projectiles such as fireballs or the incoming weapon-swings of other warriors. This will be especially essential for certain boss fights.

The challenge, then, comes in trying to deftly deal with dexterous dastards ranging from leaping wolves, flying bats, floating eyeballs, dark knights, evil wizards, lizard men, and other medieval-fantasy tropes, along with some truly unique (note the flaming flying giant sperm beings in the village). This slowed-down, fight-emphasizing gameplay really turns this into a game of strategy over speed and tactics over tricks. Surviving the onslaught unscathed will require the player to master the swordplay involved; which is perfectly appropriate, given that the name of the game is Sword Master.

Sword Master - NES

This makes Sword Master a sophisticated choice, a gamer’s game, a hardcore old-school brutalization, a test that those saddled with ADHD are going to have a problem with. Now, that prior sentence makes it sound like this is a hipster’s classic, a true all-time great, and a vastly overlooked NES cartridge; however, do not misunderstand, there are certainly some flaws that prevent Sword from being a four-star game or better.

The game is very challenging. Not quite Ninja Gaiden or three-life Contra challenging, but a grueling, despairing gauntlet nonetheless. While difficulty alone is not a bad ingredient, and can even be a strong point, and may even be so here, there are undoubtedly some moments in Sword Master that merely amount to frustration, not tightly honed missives.

Sword Master - NES

Then there is the scroll mechanic. Many 8-bit video games had a scrolling threshold related to the position of the protagonist on the screen. If you play Super Mario Bros., you will notice that Mario tends to stay right in the center of the game. Others games have the character going slightly past the middle before the screen starts slowly. These are fine options, and allow the player time to react to oncoming stimuli. But in Sword Master, the player is punished for well-skilled efforts by having the screen scroll forward even if the Master is four-fifth’s of the way across the play field. This makes for some rather brazenly hard reaction-time conundrums, unless the player intentionally plods forward at a slower rate.

Sword Master - NES

Aside from the black-and-white flaws and strengths, there are a few elements that must be judged on a player-by-player basis. The foremost example may be the level-up system. As the player slaughters creatures and kills people, an experience bar increases, until filling up and gaining a level, which grants a couple more ticks on the health bar. This is an intriguing way of going about things, but later in the same, enemies are doing more damage, while the health pick-ups (a potion) still merely heal a miniscule amount. This discrepancy is questionable, even if nitpicky. One nice note: Enemies that take more than one hit to kill show a health bar of their own, an addition that would be much appreciated in many other NES games that otherwise withhold.

Sword Master - NES

Next for consideration is the transformation element. Yes, Sword Master has a transformation effect in play, after getting a cloak, in which the player can transform into a mage (that is a wizard, for you non-geeks out there) and press Start to bring up a spells menu, with available magics picked up from defeated enemies. The foursome ranges from a classic fireball to vertically oriented lightning bolt. Holding the B button powers up the spells before unleashing. But excited players must consider the cost: Every spell-cast chops down the experience bar, until the original Sword Master form is reverted to. This seems somewhat steep, especially since the mage has no shield and is thus more vulnerable.

Sword Master - NES

Oh, and there are five continues, and a level that entirely consists of projectile-dodging, and believe it or not, the instruction manual refers to the flying flame sperm enemy as “Fire Seed.” No kidding.

Overall, Sword Master is a meaty, well-developed, distinctive game. The sword-fighting takes some getting used to, although the acclimation process is very intentional, even if a total mastery will still lend some “what the-” moments of unexplainable enemy-interaction weirdness.

Graphics

Sword Master - NES

This game looks fantastic. This may sound contradictory, but the motions are smooth, even if the animations are a little stiff. One obvious graphic area in which Sword Master shines is in its background visuals. Oh my. These are among the slickest-lookin’ backgrounds on the console, top-notch stuff. Just check out the gorgeous parallax scrolling two-layer work in the initial forest level as an example, but even in the static background images of the village and the castle, the detail work is solid. Along with some fun turns at enemy design and minimal issues like the flickering and slowdown sometimes seen on other games, this is a decidedly visually appealing game.

Sound

The auditory department of Sword Master I intriguing. The sound effects, maybe for the best, are subdued, striking quick and quiet in their flourishes. But when the protagonist attacks, rather than hear the swish of a sword, the player hears a cheap little voice effect. Okay, maybe trying to be impressive, but any “ooh” or “aah” effect is lost when it is repeated hundreds upon hundreds of times.

Sword Master - NES

The background music is not bad. The sound-engineering folks at Activision & Athena show off their chops by demonstrating a thorough understanding of the NES console hardware limitations, using all available sound channels to the max, and working in some nifty effects. Yet, perhaps humorously, for all their technical prowess, the actual compositional strength is limited, as the melodies are not especially memorable and nothing here stands the test of time as a memorable NES classic background tune or stage music.

Originality

Sword Master is fairly distinctive. While other NES games may have a sword-swinging figure at their core, no other title quite emphasizes the swordplay workings as strongly as the Master. Even though the storyline is incredibly generic, at least the execution is respectable, and makes it clear that this is not a game that was ever supposed to be about the story, but about the gameplay. With some quirks intact, it remains a solid game, and is awarded a score of three and a half stars out of five.

Bucky O’Hare

Bucky O’Hare

Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Bucky O'Hare - NES

Bucky O’Hare was a comic-book character and star of an animated television series that proved to be a popular enough license to eventually lead to Konami producing a video game based on the canon. Concerning the space-faring green rabbit Bucky O’Hare and his ragtag crew of anthropomorphic creature-person heroes and their fight against the dread forces of the toad menace to save the Aniverse.

Gameplay

This one-player game begins with the player controlling the protagonist Bucky O’Hare, whose four shipmates have been captured and stowed on four planets generically named after colors. From an initial stage-select screen, Bucky can tackle the planets in whatever manner he wishes in order to save his comrades before taking the fight directly to the Air Marshal of the frog fighters.

Bucky O'Hare - NES

Gameplay is in the style of a two-dimensional platformer run-‘n’-gun type of title, whereas the A button jumps and the B button fires a blaster. The player can fire directly upward with Bucky’s gun and also fire while crouches. Each level offers their share of pattern-based enemies, precision-jumping puzzles, and fast-paced battle scenarios, all of which end in a nice little boss fight.

Where Bucky O’Hare begins to become somewhat distinctive is in the fact that after each crew member is rescued, you can instantly switch to playing as that character, and scroll through all available cast members by pressing Select. Each squad member has a slightly different weapon (Deadeye’s pistol fires in three directions but at a short range, Jenny has a quick laser that fires from her forehead, etc.) and a special ability activated by holding the B button (Jenny can launch a “crystal ball” attack that the player can control with the directional pad, Blinky can hover for a limited amount of time, etc.). It is this combination of character traits that enhances the challenge of each level as the player must decide which is best for the given situation. What complicates (or makes more tactical, at least) matters is that there are power tokens spread out throughout levels that upgrade each character’s inherent ability, each of which can be upgraded a few times, usually resulting in a longer duration of their particular specialty.

Bucky O'Hare - NES

With the standard platformer formula in place, Bucky adds items and power-ups, character selections, a robust health bar, a smattering of one-ups and continues to go along with a decent password system, and “hidden” levels apart from the initial four offered to form a thorough sci-fi laser-blasting adventure.

Graphics

Bucky O'Hare - NES

The character sprites are big enough to pose distinctive characters against some just-okay backdrops, but in some cases it is the enemy designs that outclass the heroes. For example, there is a portion of the Green Planet (Act 5, specifically, as the levels are divided) when multiple large crafts fly overhead, firing at the character, and all done with minimal flickering and slowdown issues. Then, at the end, a solid boss match with a toadbot who throws enormous boulders that crumble into deadly shards. On that same stage, though, this game shows its occasional “meh” qualities, with running water that is only bothered to be animated at its surface, lending an odd, ethereal appearance as it seemingly hovers a couple feet over the ground, yet landing in it instantly kills the controlled character.

Sound

Bucky O'Hare - NES

This title boasts the usual high-quality Konami effects, many of them recognizable from their library of other NES games (try the Start/pause button in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartridges, or notice the explosion sound of the defeated bosses), along with good background music in place for appropriate ambiance. The skillful renditions reflect painstaking attempt at optimizing what the hardware had to offer, and results in an action-oriented, multi-layered beat throughout.

Originality

While other sci-fi themes had been done before for two-dimensional platform titles, and anthropomorphic protagonists had been seen before, no game was quite like Bucky O’Hare. This does not represent a perfect video game, nor is the experience without its aggravations, flaws, and outright bizarre bits (a spider enemy that drops down from a tree and explodes?!). Nonetheless, this game came late in the support cycle of the Nintendo Entertainment System console, long after Konami had mastered the basics of game-crafting and was able to spin a unique, enjoyable romp here, deserving of a respectable three and a half stars out of five.

Bible Buffet

Bible Buffet

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

NES Bible Buffet

The 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System was a red-hot consumer item throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, with its most popular games selling millions of copies. Part of its spectacular success was because, among a few other significant reasons, unlike its predecessor the Atari 2600, Nintendo did not allow third-party developers to release titles as easily. Every cartridge made for the system had to be officially licensed by Nintendo, and there was a lock-out chip in the unit to prevent terrible carts from being sold to an unsuspecting market, thus preventing another home video game market crash as had happened in the previous generation of gaming.

NES Bible Buffet

However, a select few organizations had the knowledge, resources, audacity, and diligence to successfully produce and sell unlicensed NES cartridges. Among these businesses was Color Dreams, which crafted a few sub-par games, and along with examples like Tengen underwent litigation from Nintendo. Then Color Dreams had a brilliant, bold idea: They changed their branding name to Wisdom Tree, and made video games based on the Bible. That way, any attempt by Nintendo to sue them would result in negative press; after all, what would a white-bread public think of a video game company “attacking” a seemingly Christian organization? Nintendo, amazingly, indeed did stay away, so Wisdom Tree put out a handful of quirky games on the NES console, including Bible Buffet.

Gameplay

NES Bible Buffet

Bible Buffet is a hybrid game that forms a juxtaposition between the board game category and the overhead adventure games as well. With up to four human players (someone can even play alone if they wish to undergo the quest solo), each person sets out across a board with a rather lengthy track, over 100 spaces. A six-sided die is rolled to determine how far a player moves their token on their turn, with certain spots enabling a shortcut forward several spaces, a bonus roll, or even losing a turn.

NES Bible Buffet

The twist is that regular segments of the board have a food theme, such as Dessert Land, Potato Land, Freezer Land, etc., with twelve realms in total, each having between eight and twelve spaces to their designation. Whenever the player lands on a space in one of the Lands, they then undergo the overhead adventure portions, controlling a character that must destroy anthropomorphic food enemies (pizza slices with faces and hands and feet, ice cream cones that zoom across the screen, etc.) while collecting items and searching for the exit. There is a health bar that begins with three hearts, exactly like the classic Legend of Zelda game, and a way of updating the character’s attack throughout the adventure, with an increased spoon count lending to firing more shots on a single screen, and collecting forks making the shots go farther.

NES Bible Buffet

Whoever gets to the last space wins and, considering the length of the board yet most of the time spent in the overhead portions, it can actually take a considerable amount of time for a four-player game to finish. Also, certain spaces bring up a Bible-related quiz (the sole Bible-related aspect of the game), yet without access to the instruction booklet, the player is just left randomly selecting “True” or “False” for the three question-number choices on screen. Why they could not simply print the questions on-screen, as they even did for other titles like King of Kings, is a reasonable question.

Graphics

NES Bible Buffet

The visuals of this game are somewhat crude. The board itself is especially so, though perhaps it is by necessity since the screen has to accommodate all the spaces, land descriptions, and the lower part for roll interaction. Even then, the bland palette sudden switches and the simple toy-man tokens lend this a “cheap” look. The top-down action areas look alright, and some of the enemy designs are inventive, but overall it still definitely looks like a video game that lacked Nintendo’s seal of quality.

Sound

NES Bible Buffet

Another intriguing aspect of this game is the sound. Despite the lack of background music except for short ditties for certain board-game happenings, and very plain-sounding effects, this cartridge boasts among the best voice-synth effects of any NES games, with the announcer’s exuberant cry of “ALL RIGHT!” ranking as perhaps the highlight. This is an appropriate mark of how far developers had come in taking advantage of the NES limits by 1993, yet begs the question: Why is the rest of the game not up to then-current standards?

Originality

For a title that is often derided as “Just one of those stupid Wisdom Tree games,” Bible Buffet is truly unique at least, and among the few NES games to support four-player play, even if not simultaneously. The respective portions of Buffet (that is, the board and adventure parts) may be below-average, but combining them creates something slightly more than a board game and something that is not quite a generic top-down quest.

Among the Color Dreams/Wisdom Tree games there are certainly some that are better than others, yet as arguably one of the best, Bible Buffet is by no means an all-around great game. For a not-quite-complete design, for the bizarre choice to not have on-screen questions in the quiz portion, and the lack of atmosphere in the overhead portions (despite an overwhelming theme), this quirky Buffet eats two and a half stars out of five.

 

Air Fortress

Air Fortress

Air Fortress is a strange name for a video game, but this did not stop HAL Laboratories from developing and producing this odd title, released in North America in 1989. Did the makers of such cult classics as Rollerball and Adventures of Lolo have another lovable hit on their hands?

Air Fortress - NES

Gameplay

Air Fortress has unusual gameplay, formed of a hybrid between shoot-’em-up action and platforming segments. There are eight eponymous Air Fortresses, and they are evil. In fact, they have been destroying entire civilizations, and it is up to our hero character, at the player’s control, to destroy them.

Each stage begins with your standard fare of side-scrolling science-fiction shooter action. While blazing laser cannons with either the A or B button, dodging obstacles, and firing at enemy craft, icons “B” and “E” will also be collected, which form the Bombs and Energy inventory for the next half of the level.

Air Fortress - NES

In those latter halves, the player goes into a multi-directional scrolling platform environment that takes place in the Air Fortress itself. Firing a laser pistol with the A button, or those oh-so-powerful and limited Bombs with the B button, the player must venture further into the depths of the Fortress. There are many sorts of enemies, ranging from free-roving dive bombers to stationary platform guns, for the player to conquer, along with precision-movement puzzles and occasional timing challenges.

Eventually, the core is reached. Much like in Bionic Commando, but unlike Captain Skyhawk, the core is the target to be destroyed, done quickly using those special Bombs, but does not even bother firing back at the player. Once the core is destroyed, the level goes dark, and the player must get back to their spaceship for another round of Fortress-blasting patrol.

Air Fortress - NES

Really, that is about it. A few mechanical flourishes are interesting: The player can have several hundred Energy within the Fortresses, but it slowly depletes no matter whether moving, firing, or even standing still. Furthermore, even those platforming portions take place in zero gravity, allowing the player to jump as high as desired (with the Up button held), along with the neat visual of the player-character jolting backwards with each shot fired in midair.

Overall, however, Air Fortress is a bit dull and tedious. Even though it does show some flair in its design, it just does not feel rewarding enough to make the spent time worthwhile. The shmup segments feel watered down, with the enemies never really mounting an overwhelming attack, while deaths inside the Fortress take forever to accomplish, thanks to the huge amounts of hit-points Energy that can be racked up.

Is this a functional, fully-formed video game? Sure, but one would have to have a special little fetish for hybrid-genre games in order to find Air Fortress landing amongst their favorite NES cartridges. At least there is a password function, accessible at the title screen, for the sake of taking this game in small, healthy chunks.

Graphics

Air Fortress - NES

The pixel placement in this game approaches a hefty level of niftiness at moments, which cool-lookin’ sprites almost like rotating polygons in some segments, and backgrounds expertly designed to match a sci-fi motif. The player-character itself is oddly bland, and some of the color choices do leave a muddled tone strewn across the screen. Not bad, otherwise, ending up a little more appealing than not so.

Sound

Air Fortress - NES

The music is similar to the graphics, in terms of its quality: Composed professionally, and matches the tone of the game, without ever approaching interstellar levels of unforgettability. Above-average, never distracting, no complaints needed.

Originality

Air Fortress - NES

Well, Air Fortress sure is different, but difference alone can hardly guarantee a great gaming session. While HAL has managed to craft an 8-bit shooter/platformer hybrid with loving care, it lacks punch and gravity (ironically?), ending up as just another piece of flotsam floating among the morass of its genre competitors.

Overall rating: 2.5/5 stars.

Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Released in 1989 by Seta Corporation after development by WinkySoft, the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video game Adventures of Tom Sawyer was based on the classic book of the same title, as written by Mark Twain. Would the mischief of a boy in ol’ Mississippi translate well to a gaming experience?

NES_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

Gameplay

Adventures of Tom Sawyer is mostly a two-dimensional side-scrolling platforming game that also scrolls vertically in portions. There are also parts that resemble a shoot-’em-up, in both scrolling orientations, taking place on a river level and a sky stage. There are six areas in total, with boss fights after each, mini-bosses strewn throughout, and plenty of enemies and precision-jumping challenges along the way.

Fortunately, Sawyer is armed with an infinite supply of generic ball-like projectiles, possibly rocks. He throws these with the B button, while the A button jumps. The balls are not thrown straight forward; no, they have a modest arc, and drop quickly, much like his body upon each of his bounds. Every once in a while, Tom may pick up a slingshot, which enables firing perfectly straight forward for a limited time, although it is often just as well not to bother picking up this supposed upgrade.

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There is no hit-point system, no health bar, no armor setting, purely a scenario in which a single hit kills Tom Sawyer. He begins with three lives, though he does have unlimited continues, and all levels except the final have a checkpoint system at which he can reclaim his adventuring spot from there. In two-player mode, the second player plays as Sawyer’s friend Huck Finn, with alternating turns much like the Super Mario Bros series.

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The entire gameplay has a strange, slightly “off” feeling to it, somehow. Maybe it is the standard-breaking discrepancy in the fact that most of the bosses are rather easy, while some parts of the levels are frustratingly difficult to get past without utilizing tedious trial-and-error learning methods. Perhaps it is the opening cutscene, which places the entire game supposedly within a dream, which may explain why the settings seem to try and match the real-life era, until the life-likeness is spectacularly broken by the appearance of an impossibly giant alligator or outright dinosaur creature.

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Warning: There are cheap deaths in Tom Sawyer’s little Adventures. Enemies with erratic movement patterns, enemies that will actually appear right on top of the player if the player is proceeding too quickly, enemies with strangely behaving projectiles, etc. Even for a video game, the creative liberties taken with the laws of physics are truly something amazing to behold. That, and the river level is just friggin’ annoying.

Yet play proceeds without major issues. Even if some parts are annoying, it is rare to feel truly helpless. The ability to duck is a niceand very necessary touch, even if Sawyer can do little else but climb ladders and grab the occasional helpful pelican or red balloon. The boss fight with the enormous zeppelin is a visual spectacle, yet other levels display drab one-color backgrounds. There is minimal flickering or slowdown, but the scrolling is a bit odd in some particular sections, when the screen pauses the action to take a moment to catch up with Sawyer’s movement.

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This a polarizing title, seeming to match of its faults with a stroke of benefit, each of its flashes of brilliance with a mind-numbing design decision. The pace shifts between sudden bursts of frantic panic and moderately long trudges through duldrums. Tom Sawyer is vulnerable, but nimble; the levels tough, but passable; the bosses easy, but captivating; this game is decent, but underwhelming.

Graphics

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Judging the visuals of this game is an odd endeavor. The first level seems bland, with its vast swaths of plain sky, straight-up weird “pirate” archetypes, and other lacking touches; but throughout the game, there are many pleasant surprises, ranging from the massive purple gorilla boss to the seemingly gradual adding of background detail. In the end, once the smoke of dying characters has cleared, this is neither a graphics powerhouse nor an ugly beast. This check-and-balance dichotomy seems to be the theme of the game. The cutscenes are actually pretty darn nice.

Sound

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But the soundtrack is bad. The music, even if at a couple points reaching an admirable level of compositional depth and finally utilizing all of the NES hardware sound channels, is terribly repetitious, with melodies that are minimally pleasurable to begin with. Listening to this game’s music is an exercise in brazen masochism. The sound effects are okay, but typically not memorable. A bloop here, a pop there, a boomf over somewhere else. Conclusion: “Meh.”

Originality

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Okay, well, the source material is undoubtedly an intriguing choice to form an 8-bit video game from. The boss designs are utterly zany. The levels hit a nice variety, even abruptly changing entire genre mechanics at a spot or two. The physics of Sawyer’s projectile weapon are a signature not really replicated elsewhere.

NES_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

But: When boiled down to its base elements, what we have here is an average platformer. While it is somewhat skillfully programmed and would be difficult, at parts, to replicate on the homebrew scene by a small team, nonetheless is the playthrough simply not very fun or visionary in its execution, resulting in its rating of two and a half stars out of five.

Overall score: 2.5/5 stars.

Whomp ‘Em

Whomp ‘Em

In 1991, when they were not busy releasing another Bases Load sequel, Jaleco released a side-scrolling platformer for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System console called Whomp ‘Em. Following a Native American protagonist named Soaring Eagle on his quest to seek mystical totems, Jaleco put plenty of developer muscle into fine-tuning this title. But in tuning the mechanics so finely, did they miss the big picture?

Gameplay

Whomp em

A seasoned NES player recognizes the formular: The directional pad moves the on-screen character, the A button jumps, and the B button attacks. While Whomp ‘Em begins with this formula, it certainly adds many ingredients. On a minor note, Soaring Eagle can duck.

But in a major way, Soaring Eagle’s attacks can be incorporated into a variety of moves. Holding B while running keeps his spear ahead of him, damaging incoming foes. Holding Down in midair enables him to drop the spear’s tip upon the head of unlucky enemies. The spear can even be used as a shield against certainly projectiles, if held in the right manner and in the right spot. The spear can even be directed upward, by pressing Up when jumping. This gives the player a variety of ways to damage creatures, and many angles to utilize.

Whomp em

Then there are the items, which form quite an in-depth in-game economy. Although the player begins with just a few hearts on the health bar, these hearts can be increased by collecting gourds. But the number of gourds needed to gain a heart of health increases each time, until the player needs 99 gourds to gain the 12th and final heart unit of hit points.

And this is not even to mention the bonus items that add to attack or defense until the player is hit, nor the health-increasing grabs. Perhaps the most intriguing item-driven mechanic, however, is how Whomp ‘Em handles extra lives: The “magic potion” item essentially is an extra life, but the player is limited to holding three at a time. This is a strange, different-from-the-norm way to handle an extra-life mechanic. It does seem to add some tension, as it removes the possibility of simply hoarding dozens of lives, as can be done in other games, while also making it a priority at times to hunt for those crucial hidden potions.

Whomp em

Much like Capcom’s Mega Man series, Whomp ‘Em lets the player select what order he or she would like to conquer the stages in. At the end of each level is an environment boss. Defeating this character gives the player a new selectable weapon type to use; typically, a boss is especially vulnerable to a certain weapon, which gives the player incentive to strategize smartly as to their order of play.

Whomp em

Taken together, these separate elements would seem just fine, quite enough to put together in order to create a formidable video game. Whomp ‘Em does proceed crisply, offering the player well-honed fighting mechanics to use throughout a variety of stages in an experience that proves to be a worthy challenge. However, well-designed items and enemies aside, Whomp ‘Em does have some flaws.

Whomp em

The additional weapon are underwhelming. Most of them just make the basic attack reach a little further, which there is already an item for, and prove to not be any more useful against most regular enemies. This is a strange choice, and could have been for any number of reasons, but it is definitely disappointing to gain the flame weapon – and notice that it only shoots a small fire out of the tip of the spear, like a blowtorch.

Whomp em

Some of the stage designs are questionable. Among Let’s Players and others, the final level has gained notoriety for being rather difficult and just plain cheap. These design errors are evident elsewhere, though: Several areas force the player to make blind jumps, which is hardly ever fun. At least the player can aim the spear downward, likely helping the cause in these cases. There still remain, though, a few spots in which it is tough to tell which elements are mere background and which are needed platforms, along with dubious practices in enemy regeneration.

Whomp em

Then there are the bosses, which range wildly between very cool and a just-right level of difficulty – to ones that are spectacularly frustrating, with such traits that include the ability to instantly take away the player’s extra lives at a single touch. While none of the bosses are impossible, and all are pattern-based, the use of cheap tactics in order to artifically inflate their challenge is a bit eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

Whomp em

Overall, Whomp ‘Em is a pretty good game, and just that. It is not an all-time great. It is rarely seen on top-10 lists, but deservedly so; even then, it has perhaps been overlooked a tad, since it is still better than most 8-bit titles, and while nitpickers can find many flaws, the entirety was made well as a whole.

Graphics

Whomp em

Whomp ‘Em looks great. The enemy designs are fun and varied, while some of them even move smoothly in interesting ways – check out the floating hands in some of the vertically oriented portions. The levels are lush with colors, but better graphical signals could have been used, such as with the bizarre “electric” clouds on the final stage. Also, this game does suffer from some flickering. The pixel artists was skilled, but the execution was not quite fully polished. For instance, that jump animation looks super weird.

Sound

Whomp em

For a video game that feels like it was trying to be The Next Big Thing on NES, the music has a strange strata to it. While the composition mostly maintains a sense of skillful rendering, even summoning a vague Native American sensation at times, but at others falls flat or even gets downright irritating. At least the sound effects are satisfying.

Originality

Whomp ‘Em has been accused of being a Mega Man clone. You can offer the character stage selection right away alone without getting that accusation, or just borrow enemy powers, or have stage-end bosses, or involve pesky precision-jumping puzzles; but combine those, along with elemental weaknesses, and you have a recipe for such reputation. Then again, with a training level to start, the impressive in-game economy of items, the Native American flourishes, and an overall theatrical flair, Whomp ‘Em deserves a look, and is a bit more than a mere clone… even if it still never reaches the heights that a great Mega Man game achieves. Perhaps it would be a little better with a smidge more length, coupled with an adequate password or save function. Alas.

Overall rating: 3.5/5 stars.

Twin Cobra

Twin Cobra

Twin Cobra is not officially a sequel to Tiger-Heli, but it sure seems like it. Although Micronics developed the arcade port for the NES for its predecessor, the pleasure of publishing Twin Cobra went to American Sammy in 1990, rather than Acclaim’s work to distribute Tiger-Heli.

TwinCobra

Gameplay

Twin Cobra is a military-themed vertically scrolling shoot-’em-up in which the player controls an advanced attack helicopter and wages a one-craft war against the evil enemy, who fights back with copters of their own, tanks, boats, turrets, in addition to other vehicles and obstacles. There is some horizontal scrolling as well, a bit to the left and right, adding a sense of size to the ten looping levels and an enhanced sense of flying freedom for the player.

The A button launches a devastating bomb, of which the player can hold up to nine at a time and find by shooting various objects for bonus items. The B button fires the primary weapon. Twin Cobra has a very solid variety of weaponry. To begin with, there are four types of ammo: The starting weapon, which has red-orange shells firing forward; a green-projectile weapon, which concentrates fire in a straight direction forward; a white-blue shot, which spreads in a radiated path forward; and a crazy multi-directional brown-ball weapon, which even slightly homes in on hostiles.

TwinCobra

In addition to the variance in weapon types, they can also be upgraded via collecting “S” items, with six total levels of upgrade, resulting in an annihilating amount of firepower. Even though only two shots can be on-screen at once, when fully upgrades, this still represents several projectiles in mid-flight, even up to a couple dozen in certain cases.

The player begins with three choppers, gaining an extra one when 50,000 points are reached; afterward, 150,000 points is required per one-up. Five continues are given. To grant the player a rest between frenetic rounds of bullet-blasting, each stage ends by landing on an aircraft carrier helipad for a brief rest from the firestorm festivities. Bonus points are totaled if the player was able to collect an amount of star items without dying. The white stars, rather than give bonus points, instead grant temporary invulnerability, as does a respawn.

TwinCobra

Twin Cobra does not have the most polished presentation, but it definitely offers a challenge that makes hearty demands on a player’s reflexes and flight tactics. Fans of the genre will enjoy discovering the absolute to-the-pixel limits of the chopper’s hit box, while casual players may be intrigued by the sheer amount of action on the screen at any given moment. There are even boss fights to contend with. Better than the plainest of shooters but not quite as refined in its quality as the better titles, Twin Cobra is quite decent, and will be fancied by some while ignored by others.

Graphics

TwinCobra

Twin Cobra definitely has to deal with flickering and slowdown. With multiple moving enemies firing multiple projectiles while the player-copter itself is firing multiple projectiles of its own, perhaps it is no minor miracles that the NES does not simply give up and freeze during the proceedings. The actual vehicle designs are alright, somewhat par for the course as far as these games go, but presentable. The staging is solid, as the player will find the chopper traversing over ocean naval forces, jungles, and even fighting some enemies on rails. The projectiles can seem a little odd, since most of them are just colored balls, but such lack of realism can probably be forgiven, given its 8-bit setting.

Sound

TwinCobra

Eh. The music is not awful in its composition, but the tonal quality leaves a bit to be desired. Those square-wave channels are a little obvious, and come off as tinny, plain (for digital musicianship), and not as rich as it could be. As for the sound effects, an enemy ship exploding sounds like a soft splash in the ocean, whereas the protagonist definitely suffers from “pew pew pew” syndrome, with very wimpy gunshot sounds. Twin Cobra is not a soundtrack powerhouse. Those wearing rose-colored glasses may find some appeal in its simplicity.

Originality

TwinCobra

Twin Cobra is undoubtedly not the first military-themed vertically scrolling shooter on the NES, and not even the first to feature a helicopter as hero. Thankfully, it features a much greater gameplay variety than Tiger-Heli, especially in the arsenal offered and enemy/boss designs. The basic level-loop, high-score-seeking shell is intact, and the general rule of “your mileage may vary” applies here. One does get the impression of Twin Cobra being somewhat rough around the edges, if anything. Overall, not the most staggeringly innovating 8-bit video game, but it can hardly be accused of being boring. A worse starting point for the shmup category could be found.

Rating: Two and a half stars out of five.

King of Kings: The Early Years

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

King_of_Kings

Wisdom Tree: A developer that produced unlicensed video game cartridges for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console, doing so without Nintendo’s authorization or now-infamous Seal Of Approval. They rather boldly did within the guise of publishing Jesus-themed games, even selling their carts in Christian bookstore-type outlets, with the shrewd knowledge that Nintendo would hesitate to threaten legal action against such an organization, since the resulting press would likely earn them some sort of Jesus-hating reputation and would then realistically hurt their sales.

King_of_Kings

The games themselves were of questionable quality, sporting some flaws in their mechanics despite what could be considered impressive execution at all, given their limited resources as a small-time development group. The notoriety followed them from their days as Color Dreams, however, and their titles under either brand are somewhat derided in the present era. Nonetheless, King of Kings can be considered one of Wisdom Tree’s finest efforts, even if still not quite a spectacular video game. Although such designation is unofficial, it is sometimes thought of as the sequel to Bible Adventures, considering the very similar visuals and nearly identical gameplay mechanics, especially in the Jesus and the Temple portions.

Gameplay

Interestingly enough, King of Kings is actually comprised of three different complete platformer games, all on one cartridge, each dealing with a different segment of the life of Jesus Christ, and selectable from the title screen: The Wise Men, Flight to Egypt, and Jesus and the Temple.

King_of_Kings

In The Wise Men, the player controls one of the three wise man, rotating every couple levels, as they journey across platform levels with Middle Eastern flavor, from barren desert to ornate palace. Realistically, the wise men ride camels rather than travel the whole way on foot; strangely, the character controls the camel directly, including their combative spit. Between spitting at enemies, consuming fruit to launch a more powerful one-time special attack depending on which sort is eaten, and leaping rather tall heights to tackle precision-jumping challenges, the player must eventually make it to the manger scene where infant Jesus awaits, even collecting gifts for the King along the way, in units of frankincense, myrrh, and gold.

In Flight to Egypt, the player controls Joseph, Mary, and infant Jesus atop a Donkey, as they trek up mountainous terrain, presumably somehow toward Egypt, upward and upward, following the Biblical narrative of trying to escape Herod’s edict to kill all infant males, in his misguided attempt to get rid of this “new king” baby he had heard of. Perhaps humorously, the player can attack with the B button as the donkey twists and kicks with his hind legs, the sole way to contend with wild attacking animals, even fierce beasts like lions. Falling boulders and trail gaps pose challenges as well as the family dangerously treks the seemingly endless route to Egyptian safety.

King_of_Kings

In Jesus and the Temple, the player actually controls characters on foot, alternating between Joseph and Mary per level. With gameplay mechanics most akin to the Bible Adventures game, precision-jumping challenges are back, including classic logs-on-a-waterfall bits, ala Super Mario Bros. 2. Once again, wild animals are on the prowl as well, even little frogs. The point is, Joseph and Mary are traversing through this levels in order to find twelve-year-old Jesus, who has gone missing; just as in the Biblical account, he has left his parents to go teach in the temple with great insight.

In all three games, the player has a health bar displayed in terms of scrolls, with each hit from an enemy element usually taking a half-scroll away. Scrolls of health can be regained, however, by way of answering Bible questions encountered when scroll icons are touched throughout the course of the levels. Thankfully, the questions and answers are completely displayed on-screen, rather than in Bible Buffet, another Wisdom Tree game, where multiple-choice answer options are offered, but the questions were contained in a separate book, making any relevant interaction impossible without the instruction manual.

King_of_Kings

Overall, these are fairly basic platformers, each representing a simple goal with little flair or extras to accompany the tedious action. One admirable angle may be the surprising challenge that each choice presents, though, as the difficulty level is actually decent; although these are Bible games, they are not the most kid-friendly, as most children would eventually get frustrated at trying to complete these, especially the latter two. Then again, that can also be construed as a weakness, so really, no matter how you slice it, this is a video game destined for the middle of the road in terms of its place of quality compared to the other titles in the NES canon.

Graphics
King_of_Kings
Admittedly, this game’s graphics are actually not too terrible. Its large, colorful sprites and weirdly impressive backgrounds (well, in certain spots), along with detailed level designs, put King of Kings far ahead of many other 8-bit titles on the NES. Whether this was due to the late-cycle release timing general mastery of the hardware tools, or specific development staff gaining familiarity with generating visuals after prior Color Dreams/Wisdom Tree titles, either way it is not bad. However, the actual animation is what brings the presentation down a notch; as unlicensed games are wont to do, at times the movement is somewhat choppy, stilted, and not as smooth as a player would want, even glitching out in crazy ways at times, such as firing the character forward at warp speed or juggling them around in arcane fashion. In addition, the animated icons, like the words flying around and the item tallies after each levels, are somewhat cool; but “somewhat cool” like a neat animated .gif, in the sense that it looks neat, but is really a cheap effect and nothing truly artistic.

Sound

Give those wacky non-license developers some credit for the unique elements inherent in their work. This is a distinctive NES game in terms of its soundtrack, in that it shows points of brilliance right alongside points of head-scratching oddity. Some of the effects are very enjoyable, like those rapid countdown shots to tally points and item collections after each level, in varying pitches and notes. Then there are the hymn-inspired tunes, that can come across as either annoying or amazing, depending on one’s tastes, it could be supposed. From Go Tell It On The Mountain to We Three Kings, a veritable Christian Christmas Carol is on full display; and decently composed, too, despite mostly sounding like they may have only been taking advantage of two wave-shapes from the NES sound channels rather than a full set. Nonetheless, at least there is a bass line beneath the recognizable melodies.

Originality

Judging the originality of a Bible game, what a proposition. Creating an 8-bit cartridge based on the early life of Jesus Christ was certainly a new idea, and nobody else was likely to touch it. In fact, even in the decades since, King of Kings may truly be the only such game. Even a few of the gameplay touches have strokes of innovation, from the camel-spit attacks to the flying icons on the tally screens to the Wisdom Tree trademark of answering Bible trivia for health boosts.

Yet, overall, undeniably, on the scale of NES platformers, this is a smack-dab center title on the spectrum. What is intact here is a beginning-to-end adventure, in three different flavors, each with their tweak difference in mechanic, and each posing a worthy challenge. That being said, this is noMega Man or Castlevania or Mario or Sonic or other legendary platform game of such stature. Jerky movements, unresponsive controls, and a premise that may make some gamers uncomfortable all add up to a game that, despite Wisdom Tree’s best efforts, still does not quite measure up to the greats, nailing (oops, bad pun choice?) two and a half stars out of five.

Ghostbusters II

Ghostbusters II

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, in the wake of the success of two blockbuster movies and a lengthy, high-quality animated series run, the Ghostbusters were a hot media franchise with the usual action figures, lunch boxes, and other tie-ins. A licensed video game on the most popular console naturally had to follow, and Activision delivered with the Ghostbusters title on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1988.

But it sucked.

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

It was truly dreadful, for many reasons, and for those who loved both the Ghostbusters and the NES machine, it was an outright heart-breaking tragedy. A couple years later, Activision would publish another Ghostbusters cartridge, this time with development work done by Imagineering, Inc. As the first video game was based on the first movie, the second video game would be based on the second film. Would it be superior?

Gameplay

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

This is, indeed, a superior video game to the original Ghostbusters title on the NES, although the second iteration certainly has its shares of flaws. The gameplay engages six levels that very loosely follow the plot of the sequel film, which hinges on the antagonist Vigo, stuck in a portrait though regaining power as the collective evilness of New York streams in a gooey river toward the museum he is in, with the Statue of Liberty posing as the only symbol of hope powerful enough to stop him.

Seriously, that’s the plot of the movie. Go watch it. The original’s better, but II is still worth seeing.

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

The game accomplishes this by, for the most part, varying between two types of gameplay: Driving levels and on-foot levels. Oddly enough, both feature jumping by use of the B button and slime-shooting (good slime, not bad – again, go watch the movie) by use of the A button. The fifth level takes an odd departure from then norm, as the player takes control of the Statue of Liberty with all four Busters in tow, and in a genre-bending style that most closely approximates a good old-fashioned shoot-’em-up, must fire at pattern-oriented flying ghosts overhead, trying to survive long enough to make it to the final battle, which all four guys get to participate in. Ghostbusters II on the NES has a two-player mode available for selection as well, even if it is in the take-turns style and not truly cooperative.

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

The side-scrolling on-foot levels cannot even be called platformers, as there is no surface but the floor to run on. The enemies are crude as well, consisting of pattern-based apparitions that bounce up and down in place, or bounce across the screen. Some are not as pattern-based, flying around, but are able to be beaten with slime blasts. The other must either be dodged to avoid, or eliminated by use of laying a trap, which is used by pressing the Start button, oddly enough. Also odd is the lack of a pause feature. Furthermore, another odd thing is that nowhere in the game can you go backward on a level; while this makes sense on the driving levels somewhat, it would be at least a tiny bit helpful as a possibility for the footpath stages.

Actually, these are not oddies: They are flaws.

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

Depending on perspective, there are a couple other features of the on-foot levels that pose as a tremendous flaw as well, or perhaps they are innovative features. Namely, this is the control scheme for aiming the slime-blaster gun and the implementation of a time limit; the former by using up and down on the directional paid to aim the gun in angled increments for several possible shooting angles, the latter by a spider that starts at the very beginning of the level, just behind the player, and slowly follows. Each time the spider catches up, it jumps onto the player and gnaws at the angle, causing the loss of one life. That is not a made-up story, that is how it works.

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

Fortunately, every time the player collects a Ghostbusters II movie logo (again, not making this up), it goes toward a tally, as every 20 earns an extra life. Collecting most of them will mean getting an extra level about every other level. This is helpful, as the game definitely poses a difficulty curve. Some portions are very challenging; during the second on-foot level, there is a particular section where three red-hued ghosts, right in a row, in a close cluster, move across the screen. Incredibly enough, each poses a different jumping pattern, oriented to differing jumping height, motion, and timing. It is nearly impossible to avoid all three without knowing their pattern, which would seem rather hard to understand without repeated playthroughs. That is the true, underlying nature of Ghostbusters II on NES: The actual levels are fairly short, but in order to conquer them, the player must rely on repeated attempts, memorization, and other tactics of mastering the game, rather than honing true skills.

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

The driving levels provide more examples of this phenomenon. Controlling the iconic ECTO-1 vehicle in a side view, the player can change to any of four lanes, even while shooting slime and jumping. The lane-changing is essential in order to dodge fixed obstacles on the road, and especially to hit the speed boosts necessary to leap large gaps in the street.

On the first level, the player notices three barricades blocking three of the lanes. Now, by their height, it could be supposed that they look low enough to jump over. This would not be an unreasonable guess. However, they are impossible to jump over, resulting in the loss of a life for a player trying that tactic. So then, now knowing to dodge those particular sorts of barricades rather than try to hurdle them, the player immediately comes across another interesting sight: Three more barricades, and the fourth lane, the free lance, has a speed boost on it. The natural inclination is to take the boost. The problem is, if the player does so, he or she will immediately slam into another set of barricades, in the form of yet another trio that leaves just one open lane. That is two lives lost, right away, on the beginning of the second level of a game. For a video game that gives the player only three lives to begin with, this seems rather harsh, even remarkably so, in light of the fact that these two deaths are practically unavoidable for a new player, despite their skill in any other genre or game.

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

Graphics

Perhaps oddly enough, Ghostbusters II is actually a pretty darn good-looking game for the NES. The on-foot stages are rendered in adequate detail, animations run smoothly, and weirdly impressively, the slime gun can fire something like nine projecticles on screen at a time without posing flickering or slowdown issues, an unusually high number not really seen in many other NES titles. The cutscenes, though usually just a single screen with perhaps some text, are a pleasantly nice touch, enjoyable and enhancing to the relevant plot. But it is the driving scenes that show off the true potential of the visuals, as buildings are shown in a gorgeous, comic-book-style skyline, complete with great use of perspective, and not resorting to lazy one-color washovers but instead really digging into the windows, lighting, etc. The drive through Central Park is fun as well, with the lust green scenary accompanied by picnic tables as the ghouls torment the driver.

Sound

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

The music is skillfully composed, offering a rendition of the classic Ghostbusters theme, along with watered-down 8-bit background version of the “Higher, Higher” track featured in the film. There is another theme or two at work as well, which is already a huge step up from the original game, which only had the one theme that played over and over and over and over and over and…

The sound effects are an improvement as well, even if not exactly mind-blowing. The slime-blasting is fleshed out well, the trap is bizarrely quiet, the car crashes sound grindy, the enemies remain astoundingly quiet. Okay, maybe the sound is not great, but it is there, and beyond the buzzy oddity of the original.

Ghostbuster 2 - NES

Originality

Speaking of original, how does one score Ghostbusters II on creativity and innovation? For the pros, we have near-unique weapons implementation in the on-foot levels, an interesting idea for posing a time limit, the always-interesting challenge of combining different styles of play in one cartridge, and inventive use of the source material in transferring to a video game.

But with its flaws in questionable game design choices (no pause, death-trap cheap tricks, very flaccid no-platforms, no-frills gameplay in either fashion) and the status of having a difficulty curve but not practicing it fairly, this cannot, and typically is not, be considered a good game. Then again, it does look pretty good (and, once again, especially in comparison to the original), offers a legitimate beginning-to-end experience, and is not nearly the worst of license titles. For offering a decent game perhaps worth mastery from true Ghostbusters fans or true NES warriors, this middle-of-the-road (literally) cart earns two and a half stars out of five.

A Boy and His Blob

A Boy and His Blob

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
A Boy and his Blob
In 1990, a particularly unique video game from the mind of David Crane (the man who brought Pitfall to Atari) was developed by Imagineering Inc and Absolute Entertainment was released for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System home console. This was A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia, a title that defied many existing precedents, genres, and standards for the NES.

Gameplay

The player controls the titular Boy protagonist as the Blob tags along as a sort of pet/friend/helper character. The goal is to save the planet of Blobolonia from the evil king currently ruling it, though the player must first traverse the realm of Earth in order to gather treasure to buy vitamins (which serve as ammo for the Vitablaster weapon against later enemies, of course) in order to stand a chance of survival in further areas, including planet Blobolonia.
A Boy and his Blob
In terms of genre description, the closest parallel may be the classic point-and-click problem-solving-based adventures on old PC software; albeit, obviously, with a controller instead. The challenge is based on the premise that the Boy starts out with hundreds of jellybeans in an inventory, available by scrolling through with the Select button, and available in several different flavors. Each flavor, when fed to the Blob, transforms the Blob into a different object or even creature, which then can, hopefully, somehow be used to traverse a current obstacle or get to a previously unassailable location.

A Boy and his Blob

These jellybeans are tossed with the A button, and actually require a little care in their aiming, lest they be wasted by falling uselessly to the ground (where they are, presumably, rendered disgusting and no longer acceptable for blob consumption). The B button whistles, which calls the Blob to the Boy, if possible. Following this formula of using different jellybean-flavor functions to solve obstacle-based puzzles, the player tries to advance to the end of the game. Solutions include such choices as turning the Blob into a ladder or trampoline to reach a higher spot, a coconut to roll across certain places, a hole to drop through the floor to a lower level, or even a bubble that the Boy can use to enter underwater regions. It can be very difficult to figure out where to go next, but the cartridge does offer a little flexibility in giving a few different open-ended options for where to proceed.

Graphics
A Boy and his Blob
A Boy and His Blob has an interesting appearance. On the one hand, the screen-by-screen traveling can exude a very static feeling, with some background images (giant cornstalks ‘” yes, giant corn) looking better than others. On the other hand, this title definitely has a very whimsical, original atmosphere about it, with the occasional fun details thrown in among the bizarre “enemies” and obstacles. Perhaps the highlight is how the game uses puns and other wordplay-based jokes, such as the literal cherry bombs, or the fact that using the Apple-flavored jellybeans turns Blobert into a Jack, a reference to the breakfast cereal Apple Jacks. The ending screen is also memorable, providing appropriate closure in evocative fashion. There are also the few visual jokes like the way the Boy runs off a ledge but runs in place for a few moments before falling, much like an old-fashioned cartoon.

Sound
A Boy and his Blob
The music is meager and unambitious. There are only four tracks in the entire game, including the title music and the ending screen tune. Thus, the bulk of the quest is occupied by the endless repetition of one piece for Earth and another for Blobolonia. These melodies are not terrible, but neither are they among the NES’s Greatest Hits. The sound effects are okay; in fact, the Boy’s whistle is pretty darn good. But, again, they are lacking, as there are only a few different sounds throughout the entire gameplay. While the Blob occasionally makes silly sounds for certain transformations, and the cherry bombs burst when they hit the ground, there are no effects for entering water, jumping on the trampoline, etc.

Originality

Despite the technical shortcomings of its audiovisual presentation, A Boy and His Blob is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive titles in the NES library. Its creativity and utter uniqueness lends it a sort of quality that has led it to becoming one of the most fondly remembered and beloved cartridges ever released in 8 bits. For many retro gamers, Boy And Blob holds a distinct sway in nostalgic sentimentality.

Yet, when examined on an objective, holistic basis, this is not a game without its flaws. A Boy and His Blob can be daunting, confusing, and just plain hard; for every fun, rewarding puzzle solved, there is a place of frustrating mystery. For every moment of enjoyable visuals, like the interplanetary rocket ride, there is another of odd vagueness, like the bouncing white squares. The quest is potentially rewarding, but lacks much replay value. It seems that A Boy and His Blob is a video game of dichotomy, where its “meh” gameplay aspects are matched by whimsy and originality. In all honesty, if it were not cleverly written or imaginatively drawn, this might be a downright dreadful title. Its refreshing nature saves it, though mileage will vary from player to player. There is a little wonder still left in Boy And Blob, tucked away within its middle-of-the-road rating of two and a half stars out of five.

Darkman

Darkman

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Darkman

In 1991, Ocean (aka Konami) developed an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System video game, Darkman, based on the comic-book film released in 1990 starring Liam Neeson in what has become something of a cult role.

Gameplay

This is a two-dimensional platformer, with the standard controls of A to jump and B to attack (in this case, with a short-range alternating punch and kick). There is no crouch for the down button on the directional pad nor any secondary effect for the up button. Having no projectile weapon either, the player (including a second if desired, in turn-taking fashion) controls the protagonist Darkman character through many levels of differing scrolling orientations and types altogether in an attempt to satisfy a loose storyline (the opening menu actually has a separate option to read the story) involving a scientist’s experiment gone wrong and his resulting attempt at seeking vengeance on some goons.

Darkman

Darkman the NES game has both good and bad elements to it. In summary, some good aspects: Innovative stages involving photography and differing gameplay goals, differing characterizations based on Darkman’s ability to take on the appearance (and thus, apparently, the other physical traits) of certain foes later met as bosses, and an overall smooth, pleasing appearance. The bad components: Not-quite-polished physics resulting in overly slippery momentum and odd hit detection (battle is somewhat arbitrary in contact), rather difficult precision-jumping sequences throughout, and just an overall license-grade performance.

Graphics

Darkman

In its defense, Darkman does not look too bad. The visuals are colorful, varied, and detailed, with sprawling backgrounds highlighted by the interactive foreground. The cliche Chinatown is a delight, and the sprite animations are slick, along with action bits like the steerable metal mine-cart rails thingies.

Sound

Darkman

The music is slightly annoying, though it does get better, and the effects are standard fare for platform play, with the “bloops” and “swishes” of jumping, sliding, and the occasional “biff” for punches and kicks.

Originality

This video game certainly does contain some creative, innovative ingredients, such as the trio of levels the player must endure as each of a series of different masked-on characters, or the PokemonSnap-like photo portions. These interesting additions, however, do not make up for the general lack of spectacular development consistently present. The enemies are either simplistic and easy or nightmarishly difficult, and the variance in levels seems to give the idea that the creators preferred quantity over quality in their gameplay elements. Even considering its timeframe, it looks a little worse in context; by 1991, the NES was entering the latter years of its life cycle, and many of the issues in Darkman should have been able to have been conquered in its making. Overall, it turns out as an average effort; at least that makes it better than many other licensed games, and good enough for two and a half stars out of five.

Bigfoot

Bigfoot

Bigfoot was a popular monster truck. Thanks to the efforts of developer Beam Software and publisher Acclaim, that famous vehicle in all its car-crushing oversized-tires glory was also a video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System released in 1990.

Bigfoot

During the overhead one-on-one racing portions, does the A button activate nitro, or is it B? Do you have to hold the Up button on the directional pad to move forward, or repeatedly tap it? If you read the instruction booklet for Bigfoot, the answer is never clear. If you actually try to play the game itself, the answer may never be clear at all.

When the basic mechanics for controlling the protagonist in your video game are unclear, whether in the instructions or in the on-screen experience, you have a serious problem. This is only the beginning of Bigfoot’s woes, as it ends up as barely a “game” at all, but more of a digital experience marred with critical issues.

Bigfoot

Supposedly, the plotline (yes, those roaring engines really need an expansive plot for motivation) involves Bigfoot and his rival, The Growler, in a race across the United States of America. At certain stops, they will partake in a top-down race to try to reach a finish line first, whereas other challenges will take on a side view in the form of a drag race, tractor pull, hill climb, or similar straight-line challenges. After each event, the player can spend winnings on vehicle upgrades. When the player loses an event, the game is over. Well, sometimes. Other times, the game just keeps going anyway.

Bigfoot

The overhead races have an arbitrary, pointless feel to them. No vehicle can ever pass the boundaries of the screen; this means that, no matter how good you are, you can never be a full screen ahead of the other vehicle in competition. In fact, being ahead is an explicit disadvantage, since it makes it difficult or even impossible to be able to contend with oncoming obstacles like mud slicks or sudden forests (yes, sudden forests). This is poor game design. And by “poor,” we can accurately say “quantifiably terrible.” The designers failed to pay even basic attention to any detail, and had zero player interest in mind. This was a money grab: A quick little chop job of a game to try and, apparently, capitalize on the famed Bigfoot monster truck racer, or at least sell a few copies based on child impressions on seeing a big ol’ monster truck on the box.

Bigfoot

The side-view races are, arguably, even worse. How do you make Bigfoot move forward? By alternatedly mashing Left and Right on the directional pad, then shifting gears by pressing A, but not doing either of these too much or too little, because it will ruin the engine and bring the suddenly-quite-weak truck to a halt. It is like the developers noticed the popularity and positive reputation of Excitebike, which has an engine-overheating mechanic, and said, “Let’s do that, but even more cumbersome and atrocious.”

Do the upgrade purchases offer any benefit? Maybe; but, even if they did, the opponent gets to purchase upgrades too, even after losing efforts, thus perhaps making any upgrades a moot point. Not only is the computer (or human, if two players actually want to torture themselves simultaneously) opponent upgrading alongside the human player, but the human player actually has to sit there and watch the A.I. make each purchasing decision.

Bigfoot

The game has decent graphics, admittedly, but poor sound quality. Players should be able to tell that the trucks are supposed to be trucks, and there is scenery, and there are big brown swaths of mud and dirt. Most of the gameplay lacks background music; but who needs tunes, when you have the roar of engines? Even the little transitional tracks from scene to scene are a bit beepy-bloopy, reminiscent of Beam Software’s other efforts, such as Fisher-Price Perfect Fit and Family Feud. The sound effects themselves are just bad. The buzz saw weapon (yeah, the overhead races have weapons, whatever) sounds annnoying and not intimidating, while other noises just sound random and silly.

Is there another game quite like Bigfoot? No, not really. But should it be praised for its originality and creativity? No, not really. You can kick a piece of cow poop against the side of a barn for the first time, but nobody should throw you a parade. Bigfoot on NES handles like a one-wheeled hot dog cart and is bad enough to cast a dark, profound shadow against the very idea of video gamesas a whole.

Overall Rating: 1/5 Stars.

Bad News Baseball

Bad_News_BaseballBad News Baseball

Among those familiar with the Nintendo Entertainment System library of cartridges, if you were to challenge them to name a sports game made by developer-publisher Tecmo, odds are they would name a football title. Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl are the popular choices, and deservedly so, as they are well-crafted, excellent video games. However, Tecmo kept their design chops up their sleeve for others as well, one of them being a quirky fun-filled hardball simulation called Bad News Baseball.

Gameplay

Bad News Baseball covers all the bases (boy, we could really have a field day with the baseball puns here; haha, “field day”) that a basic baseball game needs to hit: One-player mode, two-player mode, continuation into a full season beyond just a single outing, some form of stat-tracking, and an engine more robust than Nintendo’s original, and awful, Baseball.

The NES had a lot of baseball games. Even within the genre of sports, the sub-genre of baseball saw more titles than other well-respected categories, such as the JRPG. Now, most people were likely just to find a favorite or two, or perhaps avoid the baseball games altogether; however, getting to know the full roster lends a lot of enjoyable comparison.

Baseball games were programmed so similarly that some of the differences might be slight, but they are there. For example, compared to the R.B.I. Baseball series, Bad News Baseball is more fielding-oriented: Runners are much more likely to be called “OUT!” at the base, whereas in R.B.I., the A.I. is very forgiving, considering a runner safe even if they are barely just touching the plate pixel-to-pixel.

Bad_News_Baseball

Compared to Base Wars, the over-field camera in Bad News Baseball is tighter, more honed-in; which is great, since Base Wars always had a problem tracking line drives, leading to lost fielders and a screen full of green. Compared to Legends of the Diamond, Bad News Baseball has looser hit detection during batting, making it easier to blast home runs. Yet, of course, because of the emphasis on defense and fielders, there is a delightful balance at work, showing Tecmo’s strength in planning.

To put is simply: Bad News Baseball is not only a great baseball game on NES, but a great 8-bit video game altogether. Every baseball game had some sort of celebratory animation for home runs, but Bad News Baseball has several that it can cycle through. Most baseball games, even then, had on-screen umpires – but in Bad News Baseball, they are bright pink rabbits.

Okay, that is a little strange, but it does add distinctive character to what would otherwise be “just” a well-made sports title. Those rabbit umps, along with the Eastern influence seen in the very cartoon-like characters and interstitials, give Bad News Baseball a very distinct identity.

But if silliness is not the player’s thing, the baseball is more than in-depth enough to satisfy even a serious player. Bad News Baseball tracks the statistics for every player , even down to attributes for how well a pitcher’s ball breaks to right and left (yes, each has a separate value), every batter-fielder’s arm strength and running speed, even the stamina of pitchers that not only necessitate in-game substitutions but affect game-to-game readiness as well. Furthermore, every batter-fielder is graded on which positions they should field, with every roster having far more than a simple line-up of nine available, thus granting the player full managerial sway to customize their batting order, fielding positions, and pitching rotation. Good stuff.

Bad_News_Baseball

This is all not to say that Bad News Baseball is without its share of faults, though. Missing out on the MLB license to use real players is a little unfortunate, as fine as made-up players are. Although the graphics are great, all the players look exactly the same: There is never any difference in height, weight, race, etc., only some differing pitching styles, which is a bit bland and unfortunate.

The ability to jump up or slide to the side to catch batted balls is nice, but not executed as well as it could be. Thinking three-dimensionally, if the ball is behind a player in a midair, it can still be “caught” by jumping into its pixel-drawn flight patch. This effect, while exploitable, causes some cognitive dissonance. Worse, though, is the slightly-too-long pause to get down to earth with the jump, as though gravity has been lessened for such mighty leap.

Speaking of physics, every at-bat feels a little “off” upon close examination. It really seems like hitting the “sweet spot” on the bat, dead center of the wood in the middle of a perfect swing, never results in as good of a hit as strange tip shots off the edge of the bat when swinging too late, or a way-inside too-early shot. Also, seeing fastballs up to 111mph can be disorienting, but at least fatigue sets in quickly. Also, does anyone else feel like it is strangely, slightly difficult to move a fielder diagonally?

Bad_News_Baseball

The All Star Mode is a welcome addition for those in need of a harder challenge, but even the basic game is pretty stiff for newcomers or those inexperienced with baseball games. The A.I. is not exactly a deity, but does a computer batter ever, ever swing at a widely pitched ball? Pitching can be tricky, relying on the player to discover exploitable little un-hittable nooks and crannies, rather than truly outduel a batter at the corners of the plate. Trying to take on the mindset of a real baseball pitcher will leave the count full of balls and fastballs crushed out of the stadium.

Making a perfect 8-bit baseball game might be impossible, or at least extremely difficult within the constraints of both time and resources of the period. But if we do not rate on the scale of a high standard, to what purpose do we review through a critical lens? More simply: Bad News Baseball is great, but falls short of being flawless.

Graphics

If you can overlook the just-about-literal white supremacy in the game, the visuals are fantastic. Gorgeous interstitial animations highlight close plays on the bases, while a handful of different animated home run celebrations add more whimsy to an already-whimsical playthrough. Even the details look just fine: The players at the plate, on the field, the field itself, the menus, etc. This is a professional-looking 8-bit video game, oozing with flair and flourish.

Sound

The usual 8-bit baseball-game sound effects are in full gear: The rise-and-fall pitch of the ball in flight, the satisfying smack of a the digital sphere into pixelated leather, and the clap of the bat, among others. The background music is well-composed, and dives into technical exploits of the NES hardware sound channels that few dare to tread (dig that drumline), but – and this might just be reviewer opinion – does not really match the on-screen action. It is oddly disconcerting. Strange.

But the speech effects are fantastic, and part of this title’s appeal; the energetic, confident calls of the umpires truly add to the tension and impact of game-as-sport. Hearing the ump cry “SAFE!” for a close call at home plate brings a real, visceral pleasure.

Originality

The NES had about 20 baseball video games in its library. Some of them tried to gain sales through a weird hook: Base Wars had robot athletes. A Little League game featured children. R.B.I. Baseball 3 not only had the real Major League Baseball teams, but multiple years’ worth of period-accurate rosters to choose from for each.

In the case the Bad News Baseball, the catch is rabbit umpires and goofy cartoon visuals? Maybe, but so is the tight design, in-depth password system (although with an insane range of special characters in its alphabet), and the appreciated option to press Start whenever the player wants to skip a cutscene. All in all, this is simply a great game. Be sure to take advantage of the computer’s bizarre tendency to sprint a baserunner back to first following a tag-out there.

Overall rating: 4.0/5 stars.

Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy

Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy

Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars

flintstones-the-the-rescue-of-dino-and-hoppy

Taito is a video game developer/publisher that has been in the industry for decades, from their work on arcade cabinets in the 1970’s to mobile device diversions in the 2010’s. As part of their somewhat storied history, in 1991, they released a license game called The Flintstones: The Rescue Of Dino & Hoppy, based on the popular animated television show. Oddly enough, the platformer was actually pretty good.

Gameplay

flintstones-the-the-rescue-of-dino-and-hoppy

This is a one-player two-dimensional side-scrolling platformer in which the A button jumps and the B button attacks. This is already a promising formula, but with a lot of room to screw up. Fortunately for gamers everywhere, Taito did not take the somewhat typical route of cheaply, quickly producing the license title to try and take advantage of the fleeting popularity of the name recognition; instead, they packed in enough extras to add some intriguing gameplay dimensions, levels designed at least decently enough to provide a simple challenge, and all done with fairly slick execution.

The player controls Fred Flintstone who, beyond just jumping and swinging a big caveman’s club as an attack, has a few other maneuvers in his repertoire as well. Pressing down causes Fred to drop his head into his shirt, making him able to dodge certain projectiles he will encounter. Holding A during a jump will enable him to grab onto ledges, and pressing up on the edge will enable him to climb up, an essential move to completing the stages. Holding B powers up the club for a more powerful hit, during which Fred humorously waves it above his head until the release strike. There are items to collect as well, such as health items to replenish hearts (begins with three, five max), extra lives, and also including additional weapons. Once one of the three are collected, they can be activated by pressing up and B.

flintstones-the-the-rescue-of-dino-and-hoppy

The ammo system is interesting. The three items are an axe, which is thrown upward in an arc that comes back down; a slingshot, which fires straight ahead; and, amusingly enough, Boomasaurus eggs which are laid then, a few seconds later, “explode” to kill all enemies on the screen or harm a boss. Using one of the weapons takes tokens. The tokens can be found by killing most enemies. The Boomasaurus eggs take ten tokens to use, while slingshot shots and axes take three, but grabbing a token adds five to Fred’s total, offering an economy of use whereby one slingshot projectile per each fallen foe giving a token item results in a net profit of two tokens per enemy, although the amount does max out at 100.

The levels express a diversity in physics effects at a couple points, though perhaps feeling a little contrived. There is the usual ice level, with its slippery surface; but also a neat twist on an underwater level where, rather than swim, it is still a platforming stage, but with reduced gravity. The truly contrived, at worst, comes with the Asian level, complete with stereotypical martial-arts enemies and 8-bit “Oriental” music.

flintstones-the-the-rescue-of-dino-and-hoppy

Then there are the three basketball matches. Huh? Yeah, there is an overworld accessed between levels, offering route choice toward completion, which would be notable enough, but the truly noteworthy feature is the three one-on-one roundball rounds against Hard-Head Harry. The strangest part is that, if the player wins by scoring more points in the one-minute time period, the reward is one of three abilities granted by pressing Start and requesting from the Great Gazoo, who himself is a time-traveling alien who appeared on the show as the resident shark-jumper. The three possible rewards are temporary abilities to Fly, in which Fred dons wings and can head upward until hitting something; Jump, for which he hopes on a dinosaur and jumps a crazy height; and Dive, which is supposedly to help travel through water but is not really necessary, and even only helpful on a single level.

flintstones-the-the-rescue-of-dino-and-hoppy

Oh, the plot, by the way, and forgive this second-person-voice reviewer for slipping into more informal language for the moment, revolves around the two beloved dino-pets being kidnapped by a diabolical evil doctor from the future, who breaks Gazoo’s time machine, spreading its parts across the world, which is the whole point Fred is defeating all the stages to complete the machine to chase the villain down. Along the way, Fred will run into other classic characters from the shoe, like Wilma and Barney, who tend to inform him of an upcoming boss fight, which all the stages end which, featuring enormous monsters and even, at the castle, a Dracula-like character, matching giant Frankenstens throughout.

flintstones-the-the-rescue-of-dino-and-hoppy

The point: This is a solidly designed, thorough, professionally developed platformer, and done well by Taito, standing as a great example of what a license title can be and, dare it be said, approaches the level of Capcom’s license platformers. It does play a little slower, a little more strategic with its Prince of Persia-like edge-hanging, so it is not as much of a fast-paced game, but some players may even dig that. On the other side of the coin, the worst parts would have to be the knockback suffered with every enemy hit, and the sinister traps laid by the designers, including the need to take a couple leaps of complete faith to advance.

Graphics

flintstones-the-the-rescue-of-dino-and-hoppy

Flintstones: The Rescue Of Dino & Hoppy looks pretty, sharp, and pretty sharp. The animated sprites are drawn well, the enemy designs are competent, and the levels vary widely in their appearance. Even the signature style from the show is used for Fred’s walk animation, with his exaggerated leg movements. The way Fred can creep along while holding B for a club strike is enjoyable. Yet among the strengths are a couple noticeable flaws: Primarily, the one-color backgrounds in some bits, startling when jumping across a broad chasm; and, in the game’s ambition, there are some minor flickering issues when dealing with the larger foe creatures.

Sound

flintstones-the-the-rescue-of-dino-and-hoppy

A weak point of the game, in this reviewer’s opinion, but for a very specific reason that not everyone may agree with: The background music tracks very heavily rely on painfully high notes. Even though the compositions themselves are fine, even achieving the right range of zany cartoon mayhem, the melody leans on ear-splittingly high notes. The sound effects are okay; if not difficult to comment on, considering the onslaught of eardrum-burstingly shrill tunes.

Originality

The head-ducking effect, the plot twist that shows an amazingly brilliant use of license property near the end of the game, the tokens-as-ammo weapons system, and other elements add up to this being an admirably creative platformer. Perhaps no one of its ingredients is in itself inherently completely original (for example, there are certainly other basketball games on the NES), but the combination is distinctively unique and proves to be a satisfying experience. The rating goes four stars out of five for this one.

Mappy-Land

Mappy-Land

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Mappy-Land-

In 1988, developer Taxan offered the North American release of Mappy-Land, a port to the Nintendo Entertainment System based on an earlier arcade game. Like many other home console titles of the era, it was a serviceable version of the cabinet unit but with a step down in graphics, featuring never-ending gameplay in an attempt to garner high scores.

Gameplay

Mappy-Land-

The NES video game Mappy-Land follows the action of the protagonist, Mappy the Mouse, a police mouse in fact, as he traverses various areas in a side-scrolling platforming adventure divided into four stages of eight levels each, the eight levels almost identical but with slight differences in each world until they eventually repeat completely. Throughout the first world, Mappy must collect pieces of cheese; then, the second world, rings; then Christmas trees in the third world, before collecting baseballs in the fourth and final.

As he is doing so, he is pursued by small cats called Mewkies, a slightly larger cat on each stage named Goro, and sometimes differing foes depending on the level, such as level three that has monkeys on vines. Getting touched by any of these enemies loses a life, and losing all lives equals Game Over.

Mappy-Land-

The control is non-traditional, with the B button used to jump and the A button used to set traps, which are kept in an inventory amount at the top of the screen and can temporarily distract moving Mewkies when laid. Otherwise, this is a very vertically oriented game, with dozens of trampolines throughout that Mappy must use to choose which floor of different structures to traverse in order to find the necessary items in each realm needed to advance to the next stage. There is also a time limit, though not overtly shown; however, there are two warning sounds given before enemies increase or one outright kills Mappy. Sometimes a level, like level six with obtaining a cross to get past the vampire cat at the end, requires a secondary objective. Play continues as Mappy collects the needed items and advances to the end of each stage.

Mappy-Land-

Sometimes the trampolines are a bit touchy, and the third-level vines especially so. In fact, this entire game has a very distinct feel to its controls that takes some getting used to. Once you get used to it, you will find yourself smoothly traveling between the floors, using the trampolines, setting the in-level traps, grabbing the items, and traversing along as you conquer level after level, until the welcome reprieve in the castle side-level (like the church or haunted house on level six) of level eight when you race to try and gather the items in time for Mappy’s family member’s birthday party, etc. This is among the most obviously arcade-inspired of the NES games.

Graphics

Mappy-Land-

This cartridges looks okay in play, but not great. The colors are a bit washed out, to the extent that it can take a few moments to find a needed on-screen item at times, as they lack proper outlines and detail. It is of average appearance, taking the usual step down from the graphics of the arcade counterpart.

Sound

Mappy-Land-

Like other early titles, especially arcade-inspired renditions, Mappy-Land has upbeat, high-pitched background music. It is not as grating as some other examples, but is certainly not going to win any awards any time soon, either. The effects are simple, though very appropriate, such as the little ghost gun on level six, or the heavy noise of the bowling ball traps as they bounce along.

Originality

Mappy-Land-

The original concept is interesting, in that the characters have names and there is even a loose plot involving Mappy collecting items for his family members. The gameplay itself is just the natural, organic arcade advancement of previous item-finding, time-sensitive, high-score-seeking titles like Pac-Man, but with a heroic mouse and some more colors.

Overall, Mappy-Land is a very average game, if that “very average” phrase makes any sense. It will have its loyal adherents that have fallen into deep fondness with its mechanics and have mastered them, and it will also have its detractors who only grow further frustrated and annoyed with its play that can be downright difficult and annoying if you are not used to it. Its one endearing value is, pointedly, this learning curve: In a way, this video game is unique, and those who break it down into its basic foundational aspects may find the same satisfaction that other gamers have found when conquering Donkey Kong, Centipede, etc. But even if it is considered a tightly developed, perfectly challenging arcade-style port cartridge, its shallow play and inability to break any spectacular boundaries of quality lands it two and a half stars out of five.

Beetlejuice

Beetlejuice

Overall Rating: 0.5/5 Stars

Beetlejuice - NES

Before this review even begins, let me spoil the ending for you: This game sucks.

Beetlejuice was a movie license made into a video game for the NES, published by LJN (responsible for other film-related garbage like the horrendous Friday the 13th) in 1991. Keep in mind that, in 1991, the Nintendo Entertainment System had seen dozens of high-quality cartridges come and go, along with the usual tripe as well. Amazingly, some of the programming for this turd of a title was done by Rare, who would later make masterpieces like Goldeneye.

But Beetlejuice the video game was no masterpiece. Let us do this quickly and get it over with.

Gameplay

Beetlejuice - NES

The player controls protagonist Beetlejuice, an undead (yet has a life count) scary dude who wants to marry this living chick named Lydia and get a family out of a house and some other bits of plot that ultimately do not matter and are not made very clear. The B button stomps, the A button jumps, and this NES cartridge was not fully developed, as there are several places in the game where common sense would dictate something looks like a solid surface, but it is not, and you walk right through it and die.

Stomping is only good for little beetles, which pop out of beetle holes scattered throughout this sordid little adventure. Stomping them gives you health and money, the money which can be used to buy scares. A “scare” is a temporary metamorphosis into an alternate form that breathes fireballs, used to defeat bosses and clear certain obstacles. The scares are super lame and incredible disappointing, with hardly any true differences between them besides appearance, length of activation, and one lets you jump a little higher.

You cannot kill most enemies, and the environment is hostile, so you spend the majority of the game hopping around like a maniac trying not to die (even though you are undead already, remember?). This would be fine, except for two major flaws in this video game’s design: The control is terrible, making accurate jumps a process you need to learn by trial-and-error rather than intuitive gamer instincts; and the game has this one nightmarish feature, where the levels often scroll left and right, and up and down, but at many, many points, if the level scrolls up, you cannot go down. In other words, if you jump from one platform to a slightly higher one, and the previous platform disappears beneath the screen, you cannot jump back down to it. You die when you hit the bottom of the screen. Apparently, the developers wanted this “video game” to be as frustrating and difficult as possible. Supposedly, this is a platform game, but half the platforms are more hurtful than helpful.

Graphics

Beetlejuice - NES

This game looks okay. There are some still frames that look like characters from the movie, and one particularly creepy face shot of Beetlejuice that is reused every time something happens. But the actual gameplay graphics are not indicative of a producer that cared about its product, as the insect enemies look a little worse than generic and even the bosses are uninspired and bare-minimum. The highlight may be the infamous “snake” villain, which is truly frightening; though, this could just be because it is impossible to kill.

Sound

The music throughout is oddly upbeat, like those annoying background tunes in the Bugs Bunny games or what you would expect from a Capcom-developed Disney title. Bubbly, relatively high-pitched, and at a fast tempo, the music does not fit the on-screen visuals at all. Perhaps that was intentional, but whatever effect was being hoped for is clearly not achieved. The sound effects are dull and not worth mentioning further.

Originality

Beetlejuice - NES

The idea of collecting scares that lead to temporary transformations is the best thing this game has going for it, yet it is executed horribly and does not meet its potential. It is like gathering the best ingredients for a fantastic meal, only to throw them against a wall and scrape off what sticks. Sure, it is better than the worst options out there, but it really could have been put to better use. The transformations could have been more powerful, made Beetlejuice a different size, had an effect other than breathing fire (seriously, why the heck do most of them have the exact same effect yet cost varied amounts to buy from those stupid stores manned by the shrunken head guy?), or something, anything, other than the plain-vanilla, brief, underwhelming benefits we see.

The Beetlejuice NES game is bizarrely random and randomly bizarre, and this may be its final, lasting flaw. Certain parts faithfully recreate elements from the Tim Burton film, while others deviate whimsically. Some enemies can be killed, but others cannot. Sometimes you have to find a key or flip a switch to open a door, other times you just wander aimlessly hoping you find an exit. It is a haphazard, lazily developed, uninspired, completely below-par waste of time video game. Do you remember sorting through the discount bin at your local rental place as a child and finding those NES cartridges that were like 50 cents or cheaper, even when almost brand-new, and the labels were faded or missing or torn or written on? This is the definitive bargain bin game, the prototypical example of an attempt to quickly capitalize on a movie license without truly caring about the end result. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, go to the hereafter and stay there this time with your half star out of five.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

In 1991, the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was released in North America, heralding a new age of video gaming, where the home console machine was now a legitimate industry enterprise, and edgy new company Sega placed its Genesis system into heated competition, pittingSonic the Hedgehog against the famed Mario franchise.

The next couple of years would see a rapid-fire stream of new classics enter the video gaming fray, while the former 8-bit consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System would gradually phase out of production and first-party support. In the twilight years of the NES, developers had by then largely mastered and exploited the limits of the hardware, but demand was decreasing for their cartridges, no matter how excellent their gameplay happened to be. Perhaps sadly, a few gems were lost in the shuffle, and are nowadays somewhat rare. One of these titles was The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, based on the television show and general mythos of the Indiana Jones films, and happened to be a solid game in its own right, as published in 1992 by Jaleco.

Gameplay

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

The player controls Young Indiana Jones, a courageous, adventurous protagonist who has an appreciation for history and a taste for dangerous situations. The game, interestingly enough, actually begins with a cutscene of an older Indiana Jones offering to tell the player about his younger glory days. The festivities then start in Mexico, where Indy gets involved in helping the villagers combat the oppressive regime of Pancho Villa.

Like any good platformer, the A button jumps while the B button attacks. Indiana begins with his trusty whip, which has a decent range as a melee attack. By attacking crates, he may potentially find other weapons; in fact, there are eight different weapons for his weapon slot while he adventures on foot, such as the knife, pistol, rock, and grenades. Each differs in their projectile characteristics; for example, the rock can bounce down across the ground, while the pistol fires its rounds straight forward across the entire screen, and the knife slowly descends with gravity after being thrown.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

Along with the weapon slot, Indy also has a shield slot, though taken by headgear such as his classic hat, or the gas mask in France and Germany. While held, it allows Indy to take one hit before dying; and, if found when Indiana Jones is already wearing one, grants an extra life, hopefully adding to the three he begins with. Last is a slot for helpful items that have a temporary effect, like the enchanted necklace that grants invincibility, or the lamp that lights up the dark caves of the silver mine.

The game provides a decent pace of action; not quite Ninja Gaiden or Mega Man, but a respectable clip nonetheless, while traversing through the historical context of such areas as World War II-era Germany. There is even a flight level where Indy participates in dogfights with enemy planes, zeppelin, and even fights the Red Baron. Touches like that add to the appeal as Indy ends up killing a few actual historical figures; though, in classic NTSC-region censorship, there is no outright reference to Nazis or swastikas to be found.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

Overall, this is a very solid platformer, worth playing, and as implied earlier, a hidden gem of the late-cycle NES library. Although the biplane stages in the middle of the game seem a little out of place and not as well done as the straight platforming, the overall experience is still worthwhile, enjoyable, and appropriately challenging.

Graphics

The areas are presented well, with each level and their sub-stages richly detailed per their location. The backgrounds are rendered very pleasantly, though perhaps the underground portions are easy enough, given their blank black background. The foregrounds are done well too, though, as are the animations. The sprites themselves are nice, but perhaps a little large, or could have at least done with more detail; this is one of those NES games that seems to have One-Color Character Syndrome, a disease with the symptom of all the characters being drawn in basically one color. Even the Super Mario Bros. had a two-color protagonist and some multi-hued enemies, but for whatever reason, many 8-bit platformers drew their heroes and bad guys in one dominating shade.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

 

Otherwise, the game certainly looks like a 1992 release; good for the console, but not stretching its limits beyond what was fairly standard for the time. The cutscenes that pan from one character to another are perhaps the most polished element intact, not to mention the iconic sight of Indy cracking his signature bullwhip.

Sound

Honestly, the background tracks and sound effects are not memorable. But they are composed with more punch than many titles, with the music providing the atmosphere needed for a world-spanning adventure. The explosion for the grenades and dynamite is nice; but, beyond the fun grandeur of the title screen, with its clever flame-fill of the logo, there is nothing here that qualifies as an ear-worm, although there is nothing venomously annoying, either.

Originality

The two-frame whipping animation looks suspiciously like a certain Belmont character’s stroke from the Castlevania series, and this game is based on a pre-existing media license. Otherwise, though, the three item slots, multitude of weapons, historical context, and just-plain-good platforming action set this apart as a worthy cart. One notable highlight of the gameplay are the physics: The way the rock weapon bounces a few times down inclines, or the brief time it takes to stop when running, even if some players would prefer a lack of inertia altogether.

In the end, this is a fine job by Jaleco, in the footsteps of Shatterhand, and a pleasant departure from the inundation of their sports library. Although it probably deserves something more like a 3.75, the quirky “why?” behind the flight level and a more-than-normal tendency to glitch out make this a three and a half stars out of five sort of game.

Demon Sword

Demon Sword

Overall rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Sword - NES

Released in 1989 by Taito, a developer perhaps best known for their arcade ports, Demon Sword was a rollicking foray into classic Japanese martial arts action for the Nintendo Entertainment System. With a mysterious warrior set against gorgeous backdrops fighting relentless horde of demon foes, this was a title that implemented some great ideas in a slick package.

Demon Sword was also remarkably similar to an earlier Taito release, The Legend of Kage, which was produced in 1986 from the arcade game of the same title. Both feature identical controls for throwing weapon, sword, and jumping, with storylines featured around lone fighters against out-of-nowhere enemies en route to boss fights and power-ups, and even the same flair for tree-jumping and background-climbing. In fact, the two games were so similar that pirate copies of Demon Sword were often re-labeled and marketed as Legend of Kage 2. It can only be assumed that Kage had such success that Taito decided to reload a the similar development engine to create Demon Sword.

Gameplay

Demon Sword - NES

Demon Sword boasts fast-paced high-flying gameplay that feels like playing a video game version of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (though, in fair credit, that film paid homage to earlier Asian epics). Some may say that giving Demon Sword four stars out of five is awfully high for a cartridge clone of a game that was already an arcade retread, has sub-par presentation, holds limited depth, and offers a quirky difficulty level, but Demon Sword passes the fun test and gives us a game that is truly wondrous the first time you pick it up. If you have not tried it in a while, fire it up again, and remember how awesome it felt the first time you realized you could leap an entire screen upward and from treetop to treetop in one jump.

Demon Sword - NES

The player controls the hero Victar, who wields an old weapon, the titular “Demon Sword,” with which to battle the malevolent forces of the generically named Dark Fiend. Battling across three worlds of two levels each before the final world stage, this game utilizes the somewhat distinctive control scheme of having the up button on the directional pad jump, while the A button is a sword slash and the B button throws a dart. Whereas dozens of other platforms would harbor one button for jumping and one for attacking, Demon Sword instantly offered two buttons for attacking. This delivers wonderfully combative gameplay, and rather than marginalize the jump feature, it is quite

the leap, as the character seamlessly glides across the screen at superhuman speeds and heights. In addition to using the Select button as activation for spells that get collected, it is truly remarkable that so few NES title used a similar control scheme, when this one so clearly works to enormous enjoyment.

Demon Sword - NES

This can be a difficult game to master, especially some of the boss fights, but once you get the hang of the patterns of the infinitely generated hordes of enemies, it becomes a fun little romp. Victar can collect different power-ups; some that increase his life or respawn, others that change his speed or the speed of his darts, one that shortly allows him to throw darts in four different directions at one time, and keys that open special areas that reward miniboss-beatdowns with devastating special spells.

Demon Sword - NES

Demon Sword is one NES game that defies description: It is simply difficult to portray, in words, the b.a. awesomeness of being aiming to slash a sword, throw a dart in eight different directions, and jump like only a handful of other characters have ever jumped before, all while casting spells and collecting power-ups to defeat the relentless demon horde. It may not be for everyone, but this game is to arcade-style platformers what Guerilla War is to overhead shooters: A well-honed near-perfection that learned its lessons from previous, similar titles.

Graphics

Demon Sword - NES

The looks of the Demon Sword game are a step up from Legend of Kage, and intriguingly stylized, with colored outlines on the characters for example. Some of the background elements are perhaps too obviously tiled, almost to a distracting extent, but they are certainly colorful. Games like Ninja Gaiden boasted better and more dynamic level designs; however, Demon Sword definitely delivers in the “wow this game plays really fast and fluid without many flickering or sprite problems” department. A slick, somewhat-polished experience.

Sound

Demon Sword - NES

The musical accompaniment is nothing legendary, but provides an appropriately up-tempo beat for the levels, perfectly complementing the face-paced action. Otherwise, the music here is standard: The boss tracks sound like boss tracks, etc. The effects are simple, not understated or overwrought, and are standard without complaint with one exception: The sword-slash effect is very metallic, and sounds like contact is made even when you are swinging at air. You get used to it, but until then, it can give a moment or two of cofusion.

Originality

Demon Sword - NES

The control scheme for Demon Sword was masterful, seeming to provide an additional layer of gameplay that other NES titles could not offer. It may have been adopted from Legend of Kage, along with other elements, but no matter where it comes from, that control scheme should be lauded somehow, with the up button failing to catch on as a jump effect until the practice became nearly universal in the fighting game genre. Otherwise, the power-up system is well-done, if not completely 100% innovative; it is fun to know that some power-ups are immediate, while the magic spells must be earned in secreted areas and have limited use. The enemy designs are noteworthy as well, especially the bosses (one difficult-to-forget example: the old man boss on 1-2 that lobs overpowered bombs at you).

Demon Sword has its flaws: Quick play-through, learning curve difficulty, a hit detection radius that takes some getting used to, perhaps a penalty for following in Legend of Kage’s footsteps almost too literally, and a lack of polish in its audiovisuals. However, for taking the proven formula of the Kage game and refining it to provide one of the best, most intense martials-arts epic experiences on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Demon Sword throws four stars out of five.

1943: The Battle of Midway

1943 - The Battle of Midway

1943: The Battle of Midway

In late 1988, Capcom released a vertically scrolling military-themed shoot-’em-up called 1943: The Battle of Midway, based on a popular arcade machine. How would the home release for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System console compare to the stand-up cabinet?

Gameplay

At the risk of spoiling the entire review by getting straight to the point: 1943 set the golden standard for scrolling shooters on the NES. That is the thesis statement at work here, and it is supported by the tight, richly enjoyable gameplay on hand in the cartridge.

1943 - The Battle of Midway

The player controls a P38 fighter plane over the seas by the Midway Islands in the midst of a World War II setting, complete with several types of enemy aircraft with opposing seacraft as well. The B button fires the cannons, while the A button executes a special screen-blasting special attack, at the cost of using up energy. Energy is metered via a counter at the bottom right-hand side of the screen, and costs about 10 to use a special attack, generally speaking. However, it slowly decreases anyway, just from making forward progress, necessitating refills be gained from certain defeated enemy types.

Fortunately, the P38 has quite an armanent at its disposal. Holding the B button for a couple seconds elicits a sound indicating that, upon release of the B button, a more powerful shot will be fired, handing for taking down bigger planes quicker and generally just having at-ready. Pressing A and B together will perform a defensive “loop-de-loop” maneuver to dodge tense situations; perhaps a godsend, considering that the amount of enemy rounds fired and overall on-screen sprites makes this feel like an early “bullet hell” shmup at times.

1943 - The Battle of Midway

In fact, this game is somewhat renowned for its toughness, and the evidence supports the reputation. There are a couple dozen meaty levels to be conquered, each with a boss ship or mini-boss challenge to defeat. While power-ups such as more powerful main gains, multi-directional shot, or even little sidearm ships for additional firepower can be gained, they can also be quickly lost as well.

Getting hit by enemy fire or craft does not instantly kill, unlike in other shooters such as 1943’s predecessor, 1942. But they do whittle away at that energy meter, which gets an amount refilled after each level. Adding to the gameplay complexity is the fact that the protagonist plane is rated on a handful of specifications, such as offensive power, defensive strength to offset damange, special attack strength, maximum energy count, etc. These statistics can be given an extra point at designated battleship stations blown up near the end of a level, in addition to a few being designated at the beginning ot the game, too.

1943 - The Battle of Midway

The player is offered passwords upon death for later entry; that being said, 1943 is still definitely a challenging game. The good news: It is very fun. This is a fast-paced, relentless, thumb-cripplingshooter, offering as much pure action as any other, yet without any of the usual NES hardware issues concerning flickering and showdown.

This game offers a true test, even for shoot-’em fans. The design is tight, the waves approach with just the right mix of anxious panic without seeming completely impossible, and the entirety feels appropriately tense, even desperate, maybe adrenaline-pumping. The projectiles fly fast, there are pleasant little pacing cuts between levels, and points are kept for those old-school arcade-style high-score seekers. In fact, some bonus items occasionally emerge to be picked up for a tidy allotment, such as a cow or strawberry. Seriously.

Graphics

1943 - The Battle of Midway

This game looks fantastic. As mentioned, the flow is quite smooth, quite pleasurably so. The frenetic action is never interrupted by distracting flickering problems or other graphical headaches. The ship designs are sweet, managing to give each craft a distinct flavor, even with the limited number of pixels available for use. The carrier-sized seafaring ships truly feel huge, as the player fights just a portion of them at a time. Medium-sized green planes might drop miniature black planes. The backgrounds are even gorgeous, with a few different scrolling backdrops of oceanic appearance, and the lazy gliding of puffy clouds passing by. Especially considering the relatively early release of this game in the NES life cycle, kudos to Capcom for managing to seemingly master the palette and animation techniques of the resources provided.

Sound

The sound, however, is another matter from visuals entirely. Now, that is not to say that the soundtrack of 1943: The Battle of Midway is terrible or atrocious. No, this is not the case at all. But there are a couple of unfortunate tracks; namely, primarily, the high-pitched wince-worthy nightmare tune that plays whenever the player’s energy level drops to a life-threatening level. There is another background melody that emerges at some points that, although maybe intentionally, manages to offend the senses with a bizarrely arranged minor key, despite the catalogue otherwise showcasing skillful rendering of the available sound channels. The effects themselves are fine enough, giving just enough oomph and noise to support the urgent mood of the game, though not altogether mind-blowing in their delivery.

Originality

1943 - The Battle of Midway

In terms of originality, this game cannot quite be cited as especially visionary, considering that “military-themed vertically scrolling shoot-’em-up” was already pretty much an established sub-genre by the time this cart arrived, which itself is an arcade port. Even in examining the in-game mechanics, there are some nuanced brushstrokes of innovation, but nothing groundbreaking.

But if the formula works, why tweak it too much? This game, 1943, feels like a near-masterful workshop on the shmup trop, a clinic delivered for old-school fans of the scene. To speak on a first-person note, I think the always-decreasing energy meter is a poor design choice that makes more sense in a quarter-sucking arcade than as a home game that shold be encouraging survival and diligent replay, but other than that, there are no major flaws here. This title truly set the bar, and shoots down four stars out of five for its valiant efforts.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

Barbie

Barbie

Overall Rating: 0.5/5 Stars

Barbie-nes

In 1991, Hi Tech Expressions developed a video game for Mattel called Barbie, based on the popular doll of the same name. If someone were to read this review and think, “I have never heard of Hi Tech Expressions,” there is a reason for that: Barbie was a terrible video game. To repeat, for emphasis: Barbie is an absolutely dreadful video game.

Gameplay

In this one-player horizontally side-scrolling two-dimensional platformer with loose run-and-gun elements, precision-jumping obstacles, and item-gathering, the sole controller controls titular protagonist Barbie, a blonde female who embarks on what the game’s opening narration describes as a “glamorous quest full of fun, magic and adventure.”

Barbie-nes

Instead, the player is rewarded with a bore chore full of ineptitude, impossibility, and irreconcilable flaws. The slow-moving, low-jumping Barbie is an enormous on-screen presence, which is quite a detraction considering that every object and being in the universe is trying to kill her. There are harmful elements that are literally impossible to avoid, the first of which is a bouncing tennis ball being batted down at the floor repeatedly by a floating tennis racket possessed by demonic spirits. Actually, it is technically possible to pass without being harmed if you begin walking and time your passage precisely, but the exactness required just to pass under a freakin’ tennis racket is far out of line.

Graphics

Barbie-nes

The title screen is easily among the top ten worst-looking NES video game title screens of all time, featuring a horribly mutilated/pixelated Barbie doll with splotchy, patchy skin and hair and clothes and whatever, it just looks gruesome. The actual gameplay does not get much better, but at least there are cutscenes in which Barbie performs exciting feats like sleep and read books.

Sound

Barbie-nes

The music is not rendered with skill, instead relying on repetitive sound that just thump-thump-thump a rhythm while too-high notes try to sting the ears of players. Perhaps somewhere within the level tunes was a worthwhile melody that merely got butchered by an incompetent development team, but what resulted was merely a notable fast-paced boogie there and a weird techno-pop track here. Players had better like boops and beeps and squealing bubble-gum melodies because Barbie serves it up non-stop.

Originality

Barbie on the NES is not even the best NES video game based on a toy, considering the G. I. Joe games and other examples. Perhaps its only visionary quality is that t could be lauded for being among the earliest video games to feature a female protagonist, even if Metroid could claim that feat three years prior.

Barbie-nes

The true tragedy of this game is that it could have been a championing lightning-rod title for female gamers and girl geeks everywhere, except that it was a terrible game with a shallow message, underworked theme, and bland storyline. The result is a Barbie video game that still gets rightly made fun of, since insulting it is at least a thousand time more enjoyable than actually trying to play it. Being seen as a potential challenge for die-hard NES enthusiasts, and the bizarre quirk of that weird “weapon” you can see Barbie throwing around from the beginning of the game, is the only reason this even gets a half star out of five.

Alpha Mission

Alpha Mission

Alpha Mission was originally an arcade cabinet, produced in 1985, before being released on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) home console by SNK in 1987. Cribbing from the earlier shoot-’em-up mechanics of Xevious, this title is perhaps best remembered as a cartridge for shooter purists only.

alpha mission-nes-gameplay-screenshot-1

Gameplay

Alpha Mission is a vertically scrolling shoot-’em-up with the typical science fiction flavoring of alien landscapes, starfield backdrops in space, big alien bosses, and starships sporting formidable firepower. Like Xevious, the player can fire at airborne enemies or ones affixed to the ground. The B button fires the laser that hits fellow aircraft (spacecraft?), while the A button launches missiles for fixed ground targets. The environment automatically scrolls, and the player is given free reign to fly about the entire screen.

There are twelve stages, which repeat in true arcade style toward the goal of just getting a high score, and loosely grow more difficult, beginning with new flight-tracking enemies in Area 2 and proceeding toward the eventual all-out madness of double-digit stages. The end of a level has a juicy fight with a big, bad alien boss.

alpha mission

Power-ups can be gained via colored letters found on the battlefield, primarily by destroying ground targets. These can provide upgrades such as increasing the strength of the laser, increasing the strength of the missiles, and enabling faster movement speed.

Along with the score, there is also an energy meter, which grows by increments of 2 each time the letter “E” is gathered. Increasing the energy meter total unlocks additional types of weapons and other options which, when can be afforded, are selected by entering a selection screen with the Select button. Examples include an eight-way shot and a short-range-but-constant flamethrower.

These elements, in and of themselves, do not necessarily comprise bad game design. A very workable, playable shooter can be formed from these components. In fact, ingredients such as power-ups and differing weapons have been combined to create some of the greatest shooters of all time. However, rather than content to introduce these items and merely tweak them closer to perfection, Alpha Mission instead tears itself off the hinges with some poor choices along the way.

alpha mission

Case in point: There are power-downs; in other words, not all of the gainable items are beneficial. There are items that decrease weapons power, items that decrease movement speed, and even a letter just to throw the player back to an earlier point in the level. This only makes the game less possible to enjoy, to a potentially downright irritating extent, and takes quite the imaginative stretch to defend as a good idea.

Furthermore, the mechanic for weapon selection is maddening. It can be admirable to make this a player choice, rather than simply shift the weapon as the protagonist ship passes over a power-up. But the mechanic used here is terrible: Pressing the Select button opens up a black background, onto which are pased icons for different power-up, depending on what the player can afford. There is, too, the icon of the ship itself. The player actually has to take the time to maneuver the ship over to an icon and, once over it, press Select again. The effect is not always smooth; during a boss fight, this can cause the boss to reappear. Also, pressing Select again will suddenly cancel the power-up out and return to that selection screen, which can be dubious depending on the weapon being used, since different ones use up the energy meter at different rates and may not be immediately available again. This method of choosing weaponry is slow, clunky, buggy, and just plain bad.

alpha mission

Alpha Mission already suffers a blow in being ported to a television setting, since vertically scrolling shooters are much more apt to their original arcade screens, oriented to provide an optimal perspective and taller screen. With so much working against it, and forcing the player to deal with a ship that begins so slowly and existing under the constant threat of downgrades (which, by the way, actually serves to discourage quickly going after power-ups, which seems outrageously philosophically counter-intuitive of shooter design), this video game is just not good. Even worse, it is not fun.

Graphics

Aside from decent production values and the nifty way missiles accelerate to full speed a moment after being fired, not only is Alpha Mission graphically unimpressive, but even has some noteworthy issues. The flickering and slowdown problems in this game are atrocious. Enemies constantly blink in and out of existence, some projectiles cannot exist on-screen at the same time as others, and the slowdown happens often enough to truly be a drag. Even if some of the boss designs are interesting and the backgrounds crafted with pixel-precise skill to an extent, these potential visual treats are muddied and muffled by the display problems.

alpha mission

Sound

The background music is too repetitive to be considered high-quality, and the sound effects lack any sort of crunch, punch, power, gravity, or oomph. What more needs to be say? This is a video game that provides only a bland little snack for the ears, and does not manage any aural feats worth mentioning, despite the best efforts of those who composed the basic tracks. In fact, if you hate the music, you are completely out of luck, since it even plays when the game is paused.

Originality

At first glance, Alpha Mission seems like the average 8-bit shoot-’em-up with a generic premise and arcade-style gameplay. At its core, the formula presented is not completely awful. The lesson to be learned here is that execution is everything, and the execution here misses the mark. This game is not original, visionary, or innovative in any discernible way, save for maybe its stupid weapon-selection screen mechanic.

This is an example of a game where nothing about it seems great and everything about it seems to have a problem. There are worthy complaints to air about Alpha Mission. For its crimes against the shmup genre, arcade ports, and the act of gaming in general, this mess gets one and a half stars out of five.

Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.

Archon: The Light and the Dark

Archon: The Light and the Dark

Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars

archon_nes_gameplay_screenshot

Activision is among the most prolific video game developers in history, spanning several decades of production for retro and modern systems alike, responsible for titles like the infamously atrocious Ghostbusters cartridge for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) yet also for the explosively popular Call Of Duty series. Somewhere in between, in terms of quality, lies the 1989 video board game Archon.

Gameplay

Archon is a unique game. It is like chess, in the sense that it is played on a similar grid of a board, and strategy heavily lies on most advantageously using pieces with different abilities. However, there is one enormous difference: Rather than instantly taking an opposing space when you move your piece onto a square occupied by an opponent, you must fight to earn it.

Yes, every single time a player moved into a space that is already occupied, the screen shifts to an arena, and the two pieces then fight to the death. It is even possible for both pieces to die in battle. Either way, the lack of a guaranteed takeover makes every skirmish of tantamount importance.

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This also adds to the depth of the variety of pieces; not only do they move in certain ways, but they are also different in their battle mechanics, sporting health meters of different sizes, melee or projectile attacks, even differing in the speed, strength, and rate of reload per those projectile attacks.

If that were not enough to make the game interesting, the pieces are divided into the Light side and the Dark side. They are stronger if on a square of their side; for example, if a Dark piece is on a dark space, its health meter is longer. But rather than simply have a grid with every other space sporting an allegiance to Light or Dark, there is also a swath of spaces that fluctuate their coloration. After the second player’s turn, they turn a shade darker or lighter, cycling through four shades until reaching the maximum saturation, then going back toward the other extreme. Being in one of these spaces, then, means constantly shifting between a position of power and that of weakness.

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There is no concept of “check” or “kinging” in this board game. The victory condition is to either obliterate every opposing piece, or occupy the five special Lumina spaces on the board. Of course, these five spaces are all of the color type that shifts from darkness to lightness, forever back and forth.

One other quirk applies. Each side has a magician; for the Light side, a wizard, and for the Dark, a sorcerer. Not only are they powerful in combat, with a very strong projectile attack, but they can also cast a spell on the player’s turn instead of moving a piece. These spells range from Teleport, which moves a piece (of either allegiance) to a different space on the board; to Revive, which brings a previously defeated piece back onto the playing field; to Heal, which recovers a piece’s health, since drops in health do stay in play, unless the piece is allowed a few turns to heal naturally; Summon Elemental, which basically attacks an opposing piece with a one-use powerful being in hopes of earning the kill; and a couple others, all of which are good for one use.

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The directional pad obviously moves the cursor from space to space and the pieces once selected with the A button, with the B button canceling an unwanted or accidental selection. Also useful to know is that the Down button is what is used to scroll through available spells, and the Up button speeds up the opening scene of piece-placement and any in-game text. Combat is handled by pressing the A button to attack and using the d-pad to maneuver.

Archon exists within a medieval fantasy motif, with the Light side commanding a phoenix, knights, and unicorns, while the Dark side commands a dragon, trolls, and even manticores, among other fiends. The battlegrounds may appear as a slimy dungeon, or a fiery hellhole, or a spooky graveyard set. It truly manages its own distinctive experience for a video board game, and with the option to play either against the computer or against a human opponent, a couple decent chunks of replay value present themselves.

Graphics

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The battle scenes look darn good, with enough 8-bit graphical quality to appropriately fit in to another genre if it ever tried. The board itself looks alright, though the flickering of the five power spaces is a little off-putting. The pieces look alright, rendered as two-tone icons, and slightly enlarge during battle. The playscreen is cast onto an odd purple-brick background, though manages to not massively offend the senses. The animations are smooth, action proceeds at a satisfactory clip, the menus are legible; really, overall the game looks fine, its only “flaw” being that it never really takes it up a notch in its visuals, since the vast majority of the video game takes place on either the board screen or the battle screen. Also, one complaint is that the tones of blue used for the Lumina spaces are, honestly, difficult to discern in terms of which is darker than another. Grayscale may have been preferable. Speaking of grayscale, the title screen looks sweet, split into black and white, with two serpentine dragons hissing and claying at each other over a strange geometric figure.

Sound

archon_nes_gameplay_screenshot

The strange, dual-layer background music that comprises the gameplay gets old fast, and it may be preferable to play this game muted. Or, rather, it would be, except that the game makes the sound absolutely essential: During battle, a chime lets the player know when their projectile is reloaded and ready to fire again, using a lower tone for the Dark side and a higher tone for the Light. The more upbeat battle track is solid; though, again, gets repetitive. The tones, at least, are delivered with solid fidelity and clarity. Fire attack buzz like cackling flame, arrows slash through the air – those are the auditory highlights. The music is the worst part, in listening terms.

Originality

One thing Archon can certainly say is that it is a one-of-a-kind video game for the NES. There were plenty of other board games to choose from, whether classics like Monopoly and Othello, or hybrid-genre titles like Anticipation and Bible Buffet. By inherently linking battle attributes to its pieces, Archon adds a unique layer of tactics.

Unfortunately, enjoying those tactics may be difficult, because this game has one big deficiency: There is no choice for computer difficulty level. Yep, the same computer that seems to have masterful control over their weakest pieces will always relentlessly hound human opponents in battle, while having the same projectile-timing weaknesses every single fight. Perhaps obviously, Archon is best played with another player, yet decades later, can an interested player find a second?

The concept is sound, and not executed badly, but the lack of gameplay depth, beyond the foundational rules, is a big hindrance to replay appeal. At least the pieces in battle can both move and fire in eight different directions, which is cool. In fact, “cool” may be the perfect word to describe a neither-hot-nor-cold rating score of three stars out of five.

Wayne’s World

Wayne’s World

Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

waynes_world

Wayne’s World was a 1992 film based on a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch centered around the public-access television program hosted by Wayne Campbell, as played by Mike Myers, and Garth Algar, as performed by Dana Carvey. The two long-haired metalheads would provide humorous commentary on recent events, people they knew, bands, and chicks. The movie was popular enough to not only place new catch phrases into pop culture, but to spawn a video game, as released in 1993 on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. The game is a side-scrolling platformer developed by THQ.

Gameplay

Alternating between laser-gun-wielding Garth and kung-fu-kicking Wayne, this one-player game has the respective protagonists traversing bizarre side-scrolling environments in which they are attacked by such enemies as living musical instruments and nefarious human beings. The A button jumps and the B button attacks. The levels have multiple stages, requiring the player to go through one area to find a door to go through to the final portion, or perhaps defeat a mini-boss.

waynes_world

In typical THQ fashion, the level design is less than extraordinary. On the first level, for example, Garth literally just has to walk to the right while firing his gun in order to reach the finish, despite the fact that there is an upper level of bounceable drums to travel across if he wished to. Other stages feature precision-jumping parts, annoying fly-over type enemies who bomb the character, and occasional items dropped to replenish the health bar. This is a bare-bones, minimalist, very basic platformer effort, and tellingly behind the times for a 1993 release. There are also amusing screens between the levels where Wayne and Garth engage in witty banter.

Graphics

waynes_world

This is a THQ product, so the visuals are subpar. Vast expanses of background are cast in a single-color palette, and usually an unappealing one. The enemies flicker, the level elements look like they were drawn by a grade-schooler in Microsoft Paint, and the entire experience feels like a narcotics-induced hallucination. Perhaps that was the intention. The highlight may be the shadowy green hues in which Wayne and Garth are cast for their cutscenes; which are hardly so, even, as they consist of a single static image with on-screen text accompanying.

Sound

waynes_world

The sound effects are dull, one-note renditions of the simplest degree possible, outdone even by many Atari 2600 titles. The background music seems underdeveloped; not only is it not skillfully composed and repeats far too quickly, but of the few tracks available, they do not even seem to take advantage of the full array of sound channels available on the hardware, instead content to pump out just one or two synth instruments in plainly orchestrated barely-there background “music.”

Originality

waynes_world

Yes, this is a license game; that is, a video game based on a pre-existing pop-media license, simply designed to be published in an efficient manner in order to capitalize on the fleeting popularity of the franchise at hand. The NES was a console that was particularly notorious for these releases. Although some of them were actually fairly good (Konami’s Ninja Turtle games, Capcom’s Disney titles), many were base-level dross that sought the money of gullible suckers. To its credit, Wayne’s World does present a beginning-to-end challenge, and its faults with hit detection and frequent glitches could perhaps be seen as adding to the difficulty.

Nonetheless, the programming faults resulting in random damage taken and the general lengths required to dispatch of enemies is more annoying than refreshing, and the overall experience deserves absolutely no higher than one and a half stars out of five.

Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones

Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Double Dragon III - The Sacred Stones - NES - Gameplay screenshot

Published by Technos, this time with Acclaim providing development work, the third game in the Double Dragon series on the NES console was released. Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones continued the storyline with Billy and Jimmy Lee (or, as a humorous typo in the two-player intro names them, Bimmy and Jimmy) now master senseis teaching at their own dojo. However, they are attacked, and in the dying words of their student Brett, discover that not only has Marion gone mysteriously missing, but powerful forces have once again reared their ugly heads and picked a fight with the Lee brothers.

Gameplay

Double Dragon III - The Sacred Stones - NES - Gameplay screenshot

One or two players can try to conquer the five levels of globe-trotting martials arts beatdown with the Lee brothers. The third Double Dragon iteration borrows some gameplay aspects from the first and second games, culminating in the most challenging of the trio by far. The A button punches, the B button kicks, and the fighting mechanics work similarly to the first two titles, whereas the player is given a health bar (though it seems to deteriorate more rapidly this time around), and the enemies can be grappled with and taken advantage of (get your mind out of the gutter for just a moment here) while there are elbow-dropped and kicked within a headlock.

Double Dragon III - The Sacred Stones - NES - Gameplay screenshot

Pressing A and B together jumps, while pressing a button on the way down performs a jump kick; pressing A and B together at the apex performs the classic Cyclone Spinning Kick, a devastating move for enemies on either side; and pressing a button on the way up initiates the “somer-assault,” a sweet little tricky move that grabs an enemy’s head before tossing them violently out of the way. Other combinations are available as well, such as jump-kicking off a wall for a more powerful jump kick, or even two players combining for mid-air moves, like the ultimate double spinning kick.

Double Dragon III - The Sacred Stones - NES - Gameplay screenshot

As with any good old-fashioned beat-’em-up game, dozens upon dozens of enemies will attack the protagonist(s), typically in waves of two. The levels tend to conclude in boss fights, although in Double Dragon III they pose an interesting twist: Defeating a boss recruits them onto the Lee team, meaning that when the player dies, they can now control one of the new characters instead, like the slow fat powerful guy or the quick high-jumping ninja guy. Before picking up any additional allies, the player just has the one life, adding to this title’s brutal difficulty.

Graphics

Double Dragon III - The Sacred Stones - NES - Gameplay screenshot

This is a lush, gorgeous game. This characters sport a new fluidity of movement unseen in the prior two games; with, perhaps, the herky-jerky exception of the “somer-assault” flipping animation. Otherwise, though, the punches look cleaner and the enemies move with more convincing appeal. The backgrounds are rendered very pleasantly, stretching the NES palette to its max to get the levels right as the Lee brothers travel across the world. The visuals of the game are fantastic for an 8-bit rendition.

Sound

Double Dragon III - The Sacred Stones - NES - Gameplay screenshot

It is the opinion of this reviewer that the soundtrack of background music offered in Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones is inferior to the prior two games in the series. With that being said, the music is still fairly good for a cartridge title on the NES, exploring a wide range of harmonic arrangements and beat-’em-up-appropriate beats. The title track is a little cheesy (not to mention the scrolling-color effect of the “III” featured), but the overall effect works well. The sound effects are still great, with meaty punch and kick effects providing the satisfying “oomph” of every hit and point of contact. Does any other sound effect matter on a beat-’em-up? The answer is no.

Originality

Double Dragon III - The Sacred Stones - NES - Gameplay screenshot

Double Dragon III shows interesting progression for the franchise: The light-RPG move-unlocking aspect of the first entry continues to be abandoned, while the direction-based controls of the second game are given up as well. Instead, the use of a single life per character is nonchalantly introduced, along with multiple characters, and the new foe-swinging “somer-assault” attack. The actual plotline is notable as well, providing a remarkable ending twist that will not be spoiled here.
Double Dragon III - The Sacred Stones - NES - Gameplay screenshot
However, perhaps the most noteworthy shift in design choice is the difficulty level. This is a noticeably very hard game, with its degree of challenge prominently noted in other reviews, videos, and features across the Internet. Not only is the single-life restriction a harsh restraint on the player, but enemies attack more vicious, more quickly on average, and generally seem to have a “smarter” artificial intelligence, though in the 8-bit days this just means broken movement and attack patterns in their programming.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSL7fTupMUY[/youtube]

This is a brutal video game, but brutal because the computer is relentlessly unwaveringly tough, the move set boils down to only a couple of effective options at most in any given situation despite the expanded repertoire, and there is no real saving grace to make up for the shifts upward in difficulty, as even the weapons seem fewer and far between. Some side-scrolling action NES video games such as Battletoads, Mega Man, and Ninja Gaiden are notably difficult, but for reasons of tight stage design, a mix of precision-jumping puzzles and enemy encounters, and bosses that gradually ratchet upward on the difficulty scale. Then others, like The Adventures of Bayou Billy and Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, are hard because the player is wedged into a corner of limited gameplay opportunities, broken A.I., and a winning strategy that strays toward move spamming instead of allowing fluid creativity throughout a satisfying playthrough. A challenging game can be an excellent game; but, in the end, Double Dragon III boils down to a less-fun, less-pure, frustratingly quirk-tough take on the Dragon franchise, kicking two and a half stars out of five.

Werewolf

Werewolf

Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars

werewolf - nes- gameplay screenshot

In 1990, a video game was published by Data East for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System console, developed by Takara, called Werewolf: The Last Warrior. This unabashedly epic action platformer stars a titular werewolf protagonist out to defeat the nefarious world-conquering schemes of the evil Dr. Farya by ruthlessly slaughtering every foe in his blood-splashing path.

Gameplay

werewolf - nes- gameplay screenshot

The player controls the werewolf, who begins the game as a man but, after defeating the first mini-boss character very soon into the game, collects a token to become the werewolf; afterward, the state of man or werewolf is determined by health. In either state, the game takes a rebellious stance against traditional NES platformers by having the A button attack and the B button jump. As a man, the player jumps, punches, and can launch a projectile attack by holding the A button and releasing. As a werewolf, the character is a tougher, meatier, nastier beast, slashing with long claws, leaping through the air, and using the holding-A-button attack to level the entire screen, at the cost of some units on the heath bar.

Gameplay continues through challenging platformer levels, moving from an outdoor scene in the woods to more inner, fiery realms of inner lair sanctums; fighting dozens of enemies, ranging from quick blue-robed ninjas to tough boss bouts; gorgeous cutscenes, including the spirit of Kinju serving at the werewolf’s guide throughout, and the iconic transformation sequence. This is a fast-paced, action-packed, fairly difficult, hack-and-slash, unapologetic scrolling-screen monster of a video game.

Graphics

werewolf - nes- gameplay screenshot

To put it simply: This title looks great. Between the hues both subtle and stunning of the cutscenes, the intimidating guardian characters, and the constant onslaught of precision-jumping obstacles or knock-’em-down foes, the entire experience is bathed in pleasurable visuals.

Sound

werewolf - nes- gameplay screenshot

The music is real solid, with the synth providing layers in bass notes, treble, and some kicking drum shots. The sound effects are wet, punchy, and effective, even if Data East is just as guilty of reusing noise from other titles; although, in cases such as the complex, classic pause effect, this is surely excusable. The only complaint may be that the background music does not always seem to fit the on-screen action, such as in the case of some of the boss rounds, with an oddly mellow track.

Originality

werewolf - nes- gameplay screenshot

This is a video game that knows exactly what it is and delivers it without watering it down: Rip-roaring, body-tearing, bash-and-grab, smash-mouth action. This is not your grandfather’s werewolf: This title character has enormous claws for hands, can move while crouching, and can use the claws to hang from certain ceiling sections, boasting quite an impressive array of moves compared to most NES protagonists. Even details such as the background visuals, appropriately atmospheric or claustrophics, to the boss fights, challenging but pattern-based in demanding a player both cerebral and nimble-fingered, are tightly developed and well-honed.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1MbvxHYay8[/youtube]

Thusly, though the basic formula (transformation-gimmick protagonist in two-dimensional action platformer) may not be 100% original, the presentation is thoroughly deep, rich in character, and very distinctive. This is a wonderful video game, whether as a testosterone-fueled guilty pleasure or a scientific case study of how to develop a great cartridge, very much deserving its four stars out of five.

Bomberman II

Bomberman II

Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars

The original Bomberman video game on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console was released in 1989 by much-beloved developer Hudson Soft and launched a franchise that would see many subsequent sequels and spin-offs on future systems. It did take four years to see Bomberman II take shape, though, as it came out in early 1993.

Bomberman 2 - NES - Gameplay screenshot

Gameplay

Bomberman II is an action puzzle game, where completing stages means using strategy while also making split-second decisions for survival. The best way to beat a level is not always the fastest, and as the game progresses, it grows in complexity. There is a thin plot involving a rival Bomberman framing our hero Bomberman for a bank robbery, necessitating a prison escape and eventually attaining freedom through traversing cave, forest, and other areas as well.

From the top-down perspective, the player maneuvers Bomberman through the grids using the directional pad. Pressing A lays a bomb. Each bomb explodes after a couple seconds; unless Bomberman has gotten the Detonator item, which allows the player to explode bombs by pressing the B button, and they will no longer explode by timing. The Start button pauses the game.

That is it, as far as controls go. The bombs explode a flame horizontally and vertically outward, destroying “soft blocks” in the path of the explosion. Permanent “hard blocks,” which can never be blown up, are distributed evenly throughout every level, forming the resulting grid corridors that Bomberman must walk through. The goal of every stage is to destroy all enemies and find the exit, which begins hidden in a soft block.

Bomberman 2 - NES - Gameplay screenshot

Every level also has one hidden power-up item, such as the aforementioned Detonator, found on stage 1-4. These items vary from a simple upgrade to blast radius or amount of bombs to lay, from powerful advantages like being able to walk through bombs or soft blocks. However, just as Bomberman grows stronger and more sophisticated in his techniques, so too do the enemies, moving in differing patterns at varying speeds and often able to move through bombs and soft blocks.

There are six areas in the Normal Mode game, each with eight levels, meaning that Bomberman II has 48 stages in total, with 6-8 being the final. Each area usually begins with a few levels that just occupy the entire screen, but later levels within that area will go beyond the border, scrolling to reveal more blocks and enemies on a wider scale. Bomberman always begins the level in the upper-left corner. He may start out on his jailbreak adventure with only a single bomb with a measly blast, but will soon grow to be quite formidable.

Bomberman starts out with a few lives, and upon losing them all, is given a password for the level, which can be entered as an option at the title screen. Score is also kept, and is increased by defeating enemies, including special “Bonus Round” stages about once per area as an interstitial portion, during which Bomberman is immune to fire, there are no soft blocks, and the goal is just to blow up as many of the generated enemies as possible within the time limit. Every level, in fact, has a time limit, although it should only be significant to new players on the first few levels, as the frenetic intensity of later stages largely renders it a moot point.

Bomberman 2 - NES - Gameplay screenshot

Although this action-puzzle hybrid is a little more action-oriented that someone as cerebral as, say,Solomon’s Key, Bomberman is still a very tactical, method-focused game. Its unique formula distinctively delivers challenging puzzles of timing, concentration, pixel-perfect maneuvers, and other nuances, all of which just happen to be packed with lovable explosions. The Bomberman games definitely have a signature legacy, and as such a unique entity, are going to fall into the “not for everyone category”: Some people may never quite understand the appeal, but many fans will continue enjoying the grid-based pyrotechnic demolition within.

Bomberman II includes the addition of multiplayer gaming, which was not found in the original title. Vs Mode pits one human player against another, in a one-screen simple grid that starts them off with minimal firepower and demands they find upgrades and kill the other first in a best-of-5 head-to-head series. Battle Mode is tweaked to offer more firepower on the front end, since it includes a third human player and grows very heated very quickly.

For better and for worse, Bomberman II’s main gameplay remains remarkably similar to the original 8-bit Bomberman game. This means that newcomers can saddle right up and dive in without really having missed much in terms of introductory experience needed, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it also represents a sad failure to tweak some of the flaws of the original. For example, both games have a fun feature where, if the exit door is revealed, it will generate a handful of enemies whenever it is inadvertently blasted. This makes sense and adds a thoughtful element; however, due to the timing of the explosions in chain reactions from one bomb detonating another, it is still possible to, in a split-second, have one bomb reveal a hidden item only for another to blow it up, all before the player has a chance to retrieve the item.

Bomberman 2 - NES - Gameplay screenshot

This is a fundamental design flaw, in that it discourages the player from forging ahead in explosive exploration, discovering the most efficient ways to eliminate clusters of soft blocks, and playing against the time; instead, it forces bombers to make sub-par placement decisions and play over-cautiously if they absolutely wish to avoid such frustration. A very simple solution: Have items be invincible for a moment upon their appearance. While, ultimately, this is not a crippling issue, there are other minor flaws like this throughout, or some matters that are debatable (example: some levels begin with an enemy that can move through blocks moving straight toward Bomberman, which results in a cheap death or two until the player learns to immediately deal with the threat – is this ploy cheap or clever on the part of the developers?) as to their merit. Essentially, if you strip away the visual updates, the gameplay is not only very similar to the original, but so identical as to still have its flaws as well, to which one can ask: Within those four years time, did nobody think to at least examine the core gameplay and try to improve it, rather than provide what basically amounts to just a reskin?

Graphics

Of all the tweaks to the original Bomberman NES game, major and minor, the most noteworthy is probably the visuals. From the in-your-face title screen to the overhaul of the main quest looks, Hudson shows off their artistry with crisp, colorful, cool pixel pieces from beginning to end. Every eight-stage Area has a different theme, which determines the color and appearance of the soft blocks, permanent blocks, border, and background color. There are still-frame cutscenes between each areas, showing Bomberman’s continued progression to true freedom. Many of the enemy designs from the original game return fairly faithfully but with an appropriate touch-up. While other elements shine as well, like the fantastic frame-by-frame explosion animation, there is definitely a bit of slowdown when a lot is going on at once on-screen. This is unfortunate, especially later in the game.

Bomberman 2 - NES - Gameplay screenshot

Sound

Bomberman II sounds great. Hudson was among the highest-quality developers for quite a while, with many player-favorites among that repertoire in the NES days that includes classics like the Adventure Island series, the platforming powerhouse Felix the Cat, etc. One mark of their production value is their sound, which is engineered with pop, precision, and proper pacing in Bomberman II. The main Bomberman theme is back, and the music changes with on-screen events, like discovering the hidden item and signaling additional urgency.

Whereas in many other NES games, the soundtrack sounds as though the programmers had a lot of trouble dealing with the console’s hardware limitations, Bomberman II sounds like the composers were genuinely able to have fun rocking the available channels to their limits. Each Area has its own theme, effectively enhancing the setting and fully encapsulating the environment presentation. The sound effects are subtle, with the exception of the actual bomb explosion, a wonderfully rich effect that sounds like a classic PC-gaming .wav file, multi-layered and complex in its throaty execution. Basically: The sound in Bomberman II is delightful.

Originality

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ar_Kr_UKQ0Y[/youtube]

Outside of its visuals and multiplayer additions, Bomberman II can hardly be considered original, since it is basically the same game as the original Bomberman on NES; however, it should not necessarily be penalized for such lack of innovation either. The Bomberman formula works: It is a fun way to present the player with action elements in a manner that demands thought, and at a rapid rate of speed at times. The series went onto cross-platform multi-generational success for a reason.

Fans of the original Bomberman game will be unable to find any true reason to dislike Bomberman II, while those who never “got” or liked the first outing will not have much incentive to like the second. It does look much better, but at the cost of what feels like a little more slowdown. It does introduce multiplayer, though in a very basic, experimental sense. The plot of the original was much more compelling: A mining robot escaping his subterranean captivity in its desire to become human. In the sequel, we have a Bomberman framed for a bank robbery; which, while thematically intact, is not quite as grand. Then again, do gamers care about storyline?

All nuanced nitpicks aside, Bomberman II remains a very solid 8-bit video game. Critics will cite repetitive gameplay, fans may see it as the ideal NES action puzzler, and gaming historians can note its firm place within the hallowed legacy of the Bomberman canon. The sequel, the stepping stone to the franchise becoming a true series, blows up four stars out of five.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

In the 1970’s, the first of a series of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes flicks was released, providing a send-up of classic B-movie horror films. Years later, kids would enjoy an animated series. Then, in the 1990’s, the 8-bit Attack of the Killer Tomatoes video game was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System console. Published by somewhat notorious gaming company THQ in 1992, with development work by Imagineering Inc., this was a one-player platformer based on the cartoon.

Gameplay

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The player controls Chad Finletter, the only resident in the town of San Zucchini courageous enough to fight the killer tomatoes. This game features the classic platformer controls: A jumps, hold B to dash (on levels 3 and later, which is bizarre), the directional buttons move back and forth. The enemies, for the most part, consist of a variety of different sized tomatoes, along with creatures such as bats, spiders, worms, little pudgy-shaped things, etc. The only attack is to jump on enemies, but the jumps must be exactly on the head or midsection of a foe to defeat it, demanding precision-jumping not only to traverse levels but to beat the baddies.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

There are some mini-boss battles in which the player engages the larger, named tomatoes, such as Tomacho, Beefsteak, Fang, etc., along with unique stages such as the main mad scientist boss not being fightable but conjuring a wave of enemies instead, or the mysterious hooded figure who plays a sewer organ that Chad must destroy one pipe at a time with rocks (yeah, hooded figure playing a pipe organ in the sewers, right).

Otherwise, this is a fairly typical platformer ‘” much of it is very linear, moving left or right, avoiding or defeating enemies, interacting with certain background elements like switches and the cliche acid drop in the sewers, etc. This is an average title, made less-than-average by some odd design choices, such as levels three, five, and the “bonus” level post-credits being maze-like, making them painful and unenjoyable to navigate.

Graphics

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The visuals may actually be the high point of the game. The backgrounds are colorful, the animations are smooth, there are few clipping/slowdown issues, certain background elements are animated, the characters look distinctive, and many sprites are handled at once. A couple highlights are the lighting effects under the streetlights in the first level, and the tomato-throwing effects during the opening and the credits. However, there are a couple flaws, such as the infamous switch that must be activated in one level, which reverses the gravity; while the gravity-reversing feat is always great fun on the NES when it is found, the switch very much just looks like a background element and can be easily missed.

Sound

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The music is nicely layered, playing a few “instruments” at once, and at decent melodic complexity and pace. But after a while, it does grow stale. This would be forgivable, except for one insane soundtrack choice the developers made that really strikes this cartridge down for enjoyment factor: Moving makes noise. In other words: There is a sound effect for just moving the character across the ground; not only is this remarkably unnecessary, but can only be found as annoying.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhwPsgpkaEg[/youtube]

Originality

Overall, this is another one of those platformers in which more effort was put into its presentation of a license than actual gameplay, much like the Simpsons games (Bart Vs. The World, Bart Vs. The Space Mutants, etc.) or Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six. Actually, those are very apt comparisons with several similarities: Background music that can haunt your sleep if gameplay lasts too long, oddly unintuitive jumping mechanics, potential confusion in navigating certain levels, questionable hit detection, and other issues. Nonetheless, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a worthy challenge for retro NES fans, and is at least fairly short, being just a handful of stages. A word of warning: Look out for the floating robotic arm and spark thing. Otherwise, this squashes two stars out of five.

Amagon

Amagon

Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Amagon - NES - gameplay screenshot

In 1989, developer Aicom created a video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System console called Amagon, published by American Sammy. It was a one-player platform game that revolved around the idea of a Marine being stranded on a tropical island and having to fight his way from one side to the other, using his trusty rifle. However, there were a couple twists: The island features quite an eclectic variety of enemies from native wildlife to robots and aliens, and the Marine, Amagon, can occasionally transform into his alter-ego Megagon, a much more powerful version of himself with a punch-blaster form of weapon that outperforms the rifle by far.
Amagon - NES - gameplay screenshot

On the NES, a preponderance of platformers already existed, and Amagon tried to separate itself from the pack by incorporating a somewhat unique storyline and the transformation feature. However, in the end, the title ends up playing like a slower-paced, less-polished version of Adventure Island, which was released two years prior. In what may have been a noble intent spoiled by a lack of any remarkable, spectacular replay value, Amagon collapses under the weight of its lackluster experience.

Gameplay

Amagon - NES - gameplay screenshot

The protagonist, Amagon, is a battle-ready Marine with a limited amount of ammo that must treak across the island he has wrecked upon. This means the actual play style is fairly basic: One button fires, one button jumps, and Amagon instantly dies if he makes contact with any of the various creatures or projectiles.

Considering the patterned movements of many of the enemy obstacles, this already creates the inherent issue of requiring the player to undergo trial-and-error gameplay techniques in order to conquer the game, which provides a very repetitive, unenjoyable time. Even when Amagon is able to transform into the much (much, much) more powerful Megagon, it is still for a limited time, and ultimately a cartridge cannot rely solely on a single appeal in order to make a great game.

Graphics

Amagon - NES - gameplay screenshot

The looks are fairly decent, but nothing extraordinary. The animals are animals, the plants are plants, and the bare-chested, Hulk-like Megagon carves an intimidating presence on the screen. While the appearance is a step up over earlier, cruder NES gaming renditions, and are competently developed, they are still pretty average overall.

Sound

The music is actually not bad, and can even be somewhat catchy at portions. The sound effects themselves are serviceable but, again, nothing too groundbreaking or newsworthy.

Creativity & Innovation

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8GkpRdg8S4[/youtube]

The idea of a platformer sporting a character that must traverse a hostile island was not original, even dating back to the Pitfall series that began on Atari systems. However, the transformation of Amagon into Megagon was certainly the innovating draw here, and perhaps a prescient one when considering later classic such as Altered Beast for the Sega Genesis.

Overall though, Amagon is bland, and not worth too much playtime. Perhaps it is a worthy challenge, as it does have a steep level of difficulty, so gamers may derive some satisfaction with a long session of trying to beat it. Otherwise, though, there is no truly lasting attraction. For being a “meh” platformer on a system already inundated with platformers, Amagon gets one and a half stars out of five.

Alfred Chicken

Alfred Chicken

Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars

alfred_chicken.cover.front

In 1993, an 8-bit video game cartridge called Alfred Chicken was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. It was published by a company called Twilight; which, in retrospect, is not a good sign. The fact that the developer was Mindscape was not the best of signs either.

Gameplay

Alfred-Chicken-nintendo-entertainment-system-gameplay-screenshot

At face value, this is a two-dimensional, horizontally and vertically scrolling platformer puzzle game, in which the player controls a fowl; in this case, a chicken, through multiple levels in an effort to find certain items, all while engaging in precision-jumping challenges and engaging enemies in both battle and avoidance.

In these respects, Alfred Chicken is astoundingly similar to Kiwi Kraze, although Kraze (also known as The New Zealand Story) was released years earlier and, frankly, is a superior cart.

That being said, in Chicken, Alfred must progress through five stages. In each, the goal is to find and peck (by pressing Down) all the balloons. A count of remaining balloons can be given by pressing Start, which also shows how much time is being taken and how many points have been scored. Alfred jumps with the A button and, while in midair, can go into a corkscrew beak-first dive bomb by holding the Down button, which is his primary method of defeating foes and busting ice blocks. Holding the A button is midair slows his descent.

Alfred-Chicken-nintendo-entertainment-system-gameplay-screenshot

There are doors to travel through, which access different areas of the stage, usually going back and forth between a “main” portions. Some enemies can be defeated outright, while others, like the black spiky balls that tend to move in a circular pattern around a green thingy, must merely be avoided. There is a definite emphasis on precision-jumping puzzles, with many spikes to avoid, little hops to make, even springs to bound off of with careful timing of another A button press.

But there are also items to find, which is where the already-odd game begins to get truly bizarre. For example, there is a watering can hidden on every stage, which by collecting earns a 1-up if the player completes the stage. Why a watering can? This is never explained, and seems like an arbitrary, even random designation.

In fact, the entire fricking video game seems completely whacked-out crazy random and arbitrary. Each stage has a loose theme in its graphical presentation, but the variance is insane, from a building blocks level to a book-and-boards area to a science-fiction zone. In between beating stages, Alfred may fly through a blue “space” field to gather bonus-point treasure box items, or fight a “Meka Chicken” in a strange static-screen shooter mode, complete with an enemy health bar and the sudden capacity to fire bullets. There are even a couple underwater portions, which themselves include parts where Alfred must dodge robotic miniature whales.

Oh, but do not forget the occasional wall that can be walked through, the spinning pink feather item that must be gathered from a jumping box as the only way to break certain blockades, toggle switches that make certain block groupings appear or disappear for which the player must figure out the correct pattern in certain cases, the egg in a cup that provides a 1-up when touched and hatched, the snails that may fire a cannon from their back or simply transform into a spiky statue, and the growing unease that perhaps this bizarre game is the result of a bad acid trip, meant to be played while very drunk and/or very high.

Graphics

Alfred-Chicken-nintendo-entertainment-system-gameplay-screenshot

The visuals are not awful, but they lack a certain polish. In a way that is difficult to describe yet obvious the moment you see it, the art used is very “flat,” lacking outlines or layers, giving the human player a “washed-out” sensation for everything. All this, despite the fact that the game prides itself on not having a big single color for its backgrounds, instead plastering little stars and crap across the canvas of the levels. Another instance: The first stage’s color sample is in a yellow and brown theme, even though Alfred himself is yellow and brown, and the whole event just feels stale and yucky.

Sound

Alfred-Chicken-nintendo-entertainment-system-gameplay-screenshot

The sound effects are barely there, and the music? Torturous. Utterly, phenomenally unenjoyable. The same theme plays throughout each stage, and it seems specifically engineered to be thoroughly upsetting and disturbing. Like a carnival tune played off-key, or a carousel spinning slightly too fast, or a too-young child at his or her first violin recital, the background music is the stuff of nightmares. Stay far away. Your ears will thank you. This is, truly and genuinely, among the very select few NES video games that is actually better when muted.

Originality
Alfred-Chicken-nintendo-entertainment-system-gameplay-screenshot

This is the ultimate rental game: If you are not a collector, just a player, you will try this only to realize that you would be very okay with not owning it. It is not a staggeringly horrible game; in fact, some of the puzzle design is clever (like the spring that bounces you into instant death on a downward-facing spike on the ceiling if you are not careful), and it is perhaps maybe potentially possibly creative, but it is short, lacks replay value, and just seems to be aggravating, annoying, and bothersome throughout.

The utter randomness, brain-numbingly bad music, and short length combine to make this a slightly less-than-average game. Really, it executes smoothly and clearly plays according to the developers’ plans. But does it have to be so frantically mind-screwy? Again: Kiwi Kraze is better. This one, Alfred Chicken, gets two and a half stars out of five.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3JxzjuwJ5k[/youtube]

Ugh, that music. Forgive my casual, informal, brief first-person rant, but even as a reviewer who does not usually place much rating weight on a game’s soundtrack, usually just seeing it as a peripheral feature and not a deciding factor – if this game had better music, I would rate it a half-star higher. I am not even kidding. The music is bad enough that it makes the game definitively, quantifiably worse. I hate it. Some NES games are already bad, so the bad soundtrack is to be expected, but this, this abomination, this has no excuse that would be as convenient. Argh.

The Adventures of Lolo

The Adventures of Lolo

Overall Rating: 4/5

the-adventures-of-lolo

Way back in 1988, Hal Laboratories, who would still be churning out quality titles in later decades, released a quirky little cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System called The Adventures of Lolo. The colorful opening scene depicts fun, cartoony characters as Princess Lala gets captured in dramatic fashion and is whisked away through the sky from Lolo.So, as Lolo, the player must certainly control a valiant hero across epic landscapes and use a mighty sword to brutally dispatch of repulsive enemies and enormous bosses, right? Not quite – this title, with its round blue main titular playable character sporting big eyes and a cute little tail, throws a monkey wrench into the traditional adventure game.

the-adventures-of-lolo

Instead of using blades and other violence, Lolo ventures into the dreaded castle and encounters rooms of puzzles. At first, it really seems like it is going to be another box-pushing puzzle game; but the pleasant surprise lies in the fact that this is a true quest, with odd little enemies, environmental perils, and tricks to master and navigate.

Gameplay

As Lolo, the player controls our blue hero amidst a tile-based landscape and has to collect all the hearts in a room in order to open a treasure chest, which opens the door to the room. Even in the first couple of levels, there are enemies to deal with and the controlling person will soon learn that rescuing Priness Lala will involve keen timing, sharp wits, and a measure of diligence.

Graphics

the-adventures-of-lolo

The elements are rendered colorfully, and definitely stand a step above many NES selections from the time period. The animation is somewhat basic at points (watch a flat fireball listlessly glide across the screen from one of the baby dragons), but it also fits the premise of the game: This is not a flashy medieval warfare epic. This is a puzzle game that just happens to throw some enjoyable action ingredients into the brainy mix.

Sound

The music is lighthearted, and even delightful at times, but after a few levels on the same floor of the castle, it can get repetitive. Otherwise, the effects are pretty simple, with little beeps and boops and whooshes narrating the on-screen happenings.

Creativity and Innovation

the-adventures-of-lolo

Even today, this immediately stands out as a brilliant game, a nearly flawless blend of puzzle and adventure. Lolo, at times, has to dispatch of enemies in clever ways, or navigate rocks and rivers and bridges and other level elements. It is not as unabashedly cerebral as Tetris, without offering the mindblowing adventurescape of the first Zelda title released at the similar time.

the-adventures-of-lolo

The true strength of this game, though, is this password feature. Playing through multiple levels, the player progresses through floors of the castle, each floor having several of the one-screen puzzle levels. After the initial handful of lives are depleted, the player is granted a password that can restore them to the same level at a future time. This saves the game from being completely unfun if you had to redo every single stinkin’ level from the beginning to end every time you played.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC344LoZYdQ[/youtube]

Because of that obvious replay factor, the unique and original storyline, the sublime melding of puzzle and adventure, Lolo is a fantastic game overall. It does have a weakness or two, primarily concerning its difficulty, in that some portions of the game (new enemies, new puzzle elements) require new players to use trial-and-error methods to figure out, inevitably leading to lost lives in the process. Even given these frustration, it still commands a solid four stars out of five rating.

World Games

World Games

Overall Rating: 3/5

NES World Games - Gameplay Screenshot

Of the original batch of launch titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System, many were subpar offerings that were limited or even outright flawed in gameplay, such as Gyromite. Others, however, were classic masterpieces that went on to carve formidable legacies, such as Super Mario Brothers and a title called Track & Field.

Track & Field was so successful, with its simple gameplay formula of offering multiple button-mashing or precison events, that it inspired several similar games, such as its sequel Track & Field 2 or the goofy Caveman Games. One of these imitations was a smaller-market cartridge called World Games, an Olympics simulation with many differing events at multiple difficulty levels for one or two players.

Graphics

NES World Games - Gameplay Screenshot

The looks were standard. As far as NES entries go, World Games was neither spectacular nor terrible. Some events, such as Cliff Diving, looked crisp and clean as the long dive down genuinely did create nervous tension. But other events, such as Slalom Skiing, suffered from crude pixilation and questionable contact detection.

Soundtrack

NES World Games - Gameplay Screenshot

The effects were basic, highlighted by breathing noises in Weightlifting and the occasional breaks and shatters of Barrel Jumping, along with the sickening thud of a cliff diver hitting the cliff. Perhaps the best sound, though, belonged to the country selection screen, where the national anthem of each selectable country could be played.

Innovation

NES World Games - Gameplay Screenshot

World Games did not bring an entirely new formula to the table; as mentioned earlier, Olympics-style games with multiple mini-games had been done before. World Games does deserve credit for coming up with entirely new games, and executing them fairly well, with some better than others. Sumo Wrestling was simplistic and had no real strategy, while others like Caber Toss, Bull Riding, and Log Rolling were actually competitive and required finesse skills.

Bonus

NES World Games - Gameplay Screenshot

One odd side item worth mentioning is a humorous glitch in the Sumo Wrestling game: Although normal gameplay would not reveal it, the wrestling ring level wraps. In other words, what goes off one side of the screen will appear on the other. While it is not possible to walk outside the bounds of the ring without losing the match, there is a move that throws the opposing player backwards. If done at the very edge of the ring, the flung opponent will reach the edge of the screen; or, at least, his head will. This means that his body will be laying still on one side, while his head suddenly jumps over to the other, creating the appearance of a decapitation! Other weird visuals can be achieved with other games, such as the weightlifter who holds the barbells too long and falls through the floor after turning blue.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8SdQX52Vj8[/youtube]

Overall, World Games does not establish any fantastic new heights for video games, merely doing a solid job of imitating Olympics-type settings. But it is certainly a piece of fun, especially for two players, thus earning a decent three stars out of five.

Adventure Island

Adventure Island

Overall Rating: 2/5

NES Adventure Island

Adventure Island is one of those early (1987 early) Nintendo Entertainment System games that gamers from the era can still remember sitting on the shelves of so many stores and flea markets. The developer, Hudson, which later formed HudsonSoft, went on to have a hand in the creation of many now-classic titles, and Adventure Island was one of its entries into the foray of home console gaming.Following the exploits of our intrepid explorer Harry, Adventure Island is a fast-paced scrolling platformer in a jungle-type setting with both the appropriate elements (snake and bird enemies) and the eyebrow-raising unexpected features (power-ups like the skateboard or helpful fairy). Does it belong in the famed halls of NES lore?

Gameplay

NES Adventure Island

Borrowing a page from Mario’s playbook, Harry jumps with the A button, attacks (once he finds the hammer) with the B button, and can run while holding B, while also jumping higher. With these moves mastered, the player simply runs to the right, jumping over obstacles and slaughtering any living creature he crosses paths with.

This would be simple (and easy!) enough, except for one very important catch that sets Adventure Island apart: Harry must constantly and continually “eat” the fruit he comes across, to refill and keep his energy at bay, or he will die when his energy bar dips to being empty. This adds a built-in time limit throughout the entire experience, and provides the impetus for moving forward at a torrid pace.

Graphics

NES Adventure Island

Adventure Island looks okay, with the recognizable jungle greens and browns and trees and animals and such, but it does just look okay and not any better. Even Harry, our main character, the protagonist, combative explorer, looks washed-out and minimally rendered. The developers could have spent a little more time creating defining lines and bolder looks. The atmosphere ends up a little bland.

Sound

NES Adventure Island

The music is repetitive, but the track is upbeat, lively, and festively appropriate for fueling a mad dash towards the unknown finish of every stage. The effects, conversely, are rather lacking: Creatures never make a sound, nothing ever rumbles or fires, and beyond the noise of Harry’s jumping, firing, and occasional fairy track, there is very little auditory variety.

Creativity and Innovation

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K70mt9UCam0[/youtube]

The power-ups are interesting, and provide the key motivator. Taking the form of eggs, when they are bumped into, they reveal themselves. The most common is the axe, always gathered first to provide a means of attack. But if Harry runs into other eggs once he has the throwing axes, he can gather further power-ups at the same time, such as riding a skateboard that not only moves forward quicker but also means he can now take an additional hit without dying; or the fairy mentioned before, which provides added protection and a temporary period of differing music. The idea is to make players want to see how many power-ups they can continue getting in a row, until they build into this unstoppable SuperHarry and crash through to the end of the level.Even with the power-ups, the game still suffers from a sharp learning curve. Because obstacles and enemies appear on-screen so quickly, and because Harry must continue gorging himself on island fruits and vegetables, the game demands that a player possess either impossibly fast reflexes, or the patience to try levels over and over until he or she masters them by memorization.

And this, ultimately, is what prevents the game from becoming anything special. Without a password function, this becomes the arena of only the most intrepid and hardcore of gamers, regardless of how many invincibility fairies you may find. For its faults both profound and simplistic, Adventure Island becomes an adventure in mediocrity at two stars out of five.

The Adventures of Bayou Billy

The Adventures of Bayou Billy

Overall Rating: 2/5

The Adventures of Bayou Billy-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

In 1989, Konami released a Crocodile Dundee-inspired title for the Nintendo Entertainment System called The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Hyped as a beat-’em-up that also featured driving and shooting segments, it was thick in Louisiana flavor and unrelenting in its action, even receiving some exposure on the promotional cartoon series Captain N: The Game Master.

The plot centered around our protagonist, Billy, going after swamp-mod hoodlums in pursuit of a girl, Annabelle Lee. How did it fare on the 8-bit scene, and why did it appear on Captain N’s show? Let’s dig in and find out.

Graphics

The Adventures of Bayou Billy-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

The backgrounds were snazzy and seemed to be taken right out of New Orleans. The characters themselves were large and fairly detailed, considering the platform. In some areas, though, the Adventures could use improvement. For example, the driving stages had cloddy-looking cars and a clunky method of lobbing grenades at planes (yes, grenades at planes). Other times, the game was susceptible to be choppy and slow when overloaded with action, but otherwise was a passable romp.

Sound

The Adventures of Bayou Billy-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

The developers clearly wanted an emphasis on the effects, considering the voiceover of the title, The Adventures of Bayou Billy! There were only a scant few other instances of voice work in the game, but for an 8-bit title, any digitized voice work is great. The music was lively and fit the theme, while every hit and blow was keenly effected.

Innovation

The Adventures of Bayou Billy-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

This one tried to set itself up as being revolutionary, since some portions were driving, some were beat-’em-up, and some were shooting; however, in the end, Bayou Billy suffers from the disease of trying too much at once and not doing any of it excellently. Sure, it was okay, but the driving scenes were not as good as Rad Racer, the shooting scenes were not as fun as Hogan’s Alley, and the beat-’em-up scenes were not on the quality tier with Double Dragon II. The developers could have looked to Battletoads for a quality example of how to seamlessly blend different types of experience within the same basic storyline, but Bayou Billy crumbles under its own weight.

Replay Value

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYkChIGEI9c[/youtube]

And now we come to the reason why this game earned notoriety and an appearance on Captain N: It was overwhelmingly difficult! Rumor has it that the Japanese release was too easy, so for the international version they gave the enemies triple the life energy and lowered the ammo on shooting levels. Despite having practice modes for each of the three types of Bayou Billy levels, the entire ordeal is still excruciating and nightmarish. Only hardcore gamers should bother seeking this one out for its ardent, horrifying difficultly level. All others can safely stay away, leaving this to score a mild two stars out of five.

Wolverine

Wolverine

Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Wolverine - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

There was many video games released on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System that became classics beloved by millions and even breaking into pop culture relevance. Other cartridges, however, were piles of utter junk that were hardly playable and gained notoriety for entirely different reasons; developer LJN was somewhat known for being more likely to release a bad title rather than a good one, and among the turds they pushed onto an unsuspecting public was Wolverine in 1991, which was indeed based on the popular Marvel Comics character and member of the X-Men.

Wolverine - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Gameplay

Playing as mutant titular protagonist Wolverine, the player must traverse through several varied stages, each with a differing theme but all of them packed with many forms of the same faceless, lightly colored clone people, somewhat like the Silver Surfer en masse and less powerful. Each of these stages has a name that hints at their features, like Level 2: Trial By Air, which takes place in the sky amidst flying contraptions; Level 4: Trial By Water, which forces the player to master swimming mechanics with a limited air supply; Level 5: Trial By Terror, an oddly dark level that plays more like something out of a Castlevania crypt; and Level 6: Trial By Fire, which is somewhat self-explanatory, and others, leading up to Level 9: The Final Battle.

Wolverine - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

This two-dimensional action platformer also features some bosses between certain stages, in addition to the precision-jumping, enemy-dodging, pattern-memorizing aspects throughout the actual levels. In the comics, movies, and other media, Wolverine is a nearly indestructible beast of a man with claws that can cut through nearly anything. His video game avatar is very different, in this case: The claws can be sheathed or unsheathed, but using them actually reduces his life bar. Whether or not the claws (which are more powerful and have a slightly longer reach than the usual punch) are out, the B button punches and the A button jumps, there is a crouch, and the Select button is used to either toggle the claws or call in Havoc, an ally that lets Wolverine rest, a weird little function.

Wolverine - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The fact that using Wolverine’s claws damages him cannot be forgiven. This is asinine. A game featuring a character most known for ripping his foes to shreds should not be reduced to a fragile, foe-punching nincompoop who cannot use his signature fighting moves. There is no reason to make the design decision to make the claws a consequence rather than a benefit, other than to irritate gamers and X-Men fans. This means that LJN actually intentionally chose to make this a much worse, less enjoyable, stupider game than it could have been.

Wolverine - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

There are other odd flaws as well, such as the way Wolverine takes damage: In many NES video games, such as the Mega Man franchise, taking damage grants the character a temporary moment of invulnerability, wherein the player can use a couple precious seconds’ worth of time to escape the situation and move to safety, or bypass an especially difficult area. In other games, like the Ninja Gaiden series, taking damage knocks the character backward, which can be annoying but at least gives an interesting gameplay mechanic in some samples. For Wolverine, however, you just sit there and take damage rapidly as long as you are touching something. This means that if you are standing in front of an enemy and hit it, which you have to be at close range for, you are fine; but if you are a few too many pixels close, your health bar will be dropping as long as you stand there, along with an annoying buzzing sound.

Wolverine - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Overall, the gameplay shows the usual shoddy development that LJN was reliable for. This was not a tightly honed game with slick controls and an enjoyable experience. It is very challenging, has a few weird quirks (the berserker mode is one, and not worth explaining), and some mind-numbingly ridiculous design decisions (the claws that mystically kill yourself when using). It stands to say, however, that this is definitely a superior game to the X-Men title on the NES, and at least it is a beginning-to-end platformer quest with varied challenging areas.

Graphics

Wolverine - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The visuals for this 8-bit video game are actually decent, with Wolverine’s character being recognizable, most of the animation operating smoothly, not too many flickering or slowdown problems, and fun appearances by some old X-Men foes like Magneto. In this reviewer’s opinion, the clone enemies actually look cool, though it would be understandable to believe they get stale after a while. At least they come in different varieties, such as the annoying jet-pack ones that fire at you from above.

Wolverine - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Sound

The music is alright, the sound effects are okay. The audio for this game is better for many, but not within the upper echelons of the NES experience.

Originality

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqvPi5qE5ZA[/youtube]

The problem with the NES iteration of Wolverine is that the concept itself, of taking a popular license character and producing a below-average game with him or her as the starring vehicle, was not original at all. However, the parts of this game that are “innovative” are dreadful aspects, like having Wolverine’s claws damage him as they are used. This video game actually would have been much better had it been a little simpler: Have Wolverine’s claws out at all times without being self-damaging, fix the hit-detection oddities, and voila, a decent platformer. Instead, we have a very “meh” game that could be worth some replay value as a very challenging action title, but still only merits one and a half stars out of five.

Gyruss

Gyruss-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

Gyruss

Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars

In early 1989, Konami released an 8-bit video game cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System console under their Ultra Games label that would prove to a singularity among the typical shoot-’em-up choices available to a player: Gyruss.

Gameplay

Gyruss-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

Gyruss is a one-player game. Although it exists within the shooter genre, it neither scrolls horizontally nor vertically; instead, this is a “tube shooter,” somewhat like the classic title Tempest, with a fixed viewpoint that provides a faux three-dimensional feel. The player controls the ship by rotating it around a ring formation, always facing the center. Enemy ships not only move around in circles also, but also at different depths, sometimes as far out as the player-ship, while other times so far away they appear as just a couple pixels in the center of the screen.

Gyruss-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

There are two control modes offered, A and B. Control Mode A ensure that pressing Right on the directional pad always moves the ship to the right, no matter which vertical half of the screen the ship is on. In other words, if the ship is at the bottom center of the screen, and the player presses Right until the ship is fixated at the three o’clock position at the right center of the screen, the ship will stop there, at which point the player must start pressing Left to continue the ship’s movement rotation around the screen. While it is nice that the game provides a steering mode that prevents the cognitive dissonance of a D-Pad direction only being “correct” half the time, the effect of each pause halfway up the circle is jarring, and Control Mode B is preferred, in which a continual, smooth motion of the ship is achieved, and pressing a direction on the D-Pad will always go clockwise if pressing Left and counter-clockwise if pressing Right.

Gyruss-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

Of course, there is much more to this video game than simply providing the tube shooter experience, though it is significantly notable for that accolade, considering it is the only example of such a game for the NES. The loose plot, explained in a single frame if allowed past the title screen, only says “Mankind must rid the universe of evil. It’s a death defying risk, and only a hero can succeed.” A foreboding, humanoid figure appears in the background against the starfield as a backdrop to this ominous text.

Gyruss-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

Play proceeds throughout the solar system that human beings are familiar with. Beginning with Neptune, and proceeding through each of the other planets (even Pluto, which must be during a portion of its orbit that takes it inside Neptune’s), the player is aiming to arrive at the Sun for the final showdown. Each planet has a few fairly short levels, that conclude with a boss fight, and then a bonus stage afterward for points.

In order to defeat each “warp” or wave of enemies, the B button fires the blaster cannon, with a maximum of two shots on the screen at a time. Earning a weapons upgrade enables double-fire, which is obviously a great boon to success, and can be achieved by blasting the two side barriers off a bonus orb before hitting the orb directly. The A button fires a special weapon, of which the player only has a limited amount and most slowly earn more throughout the game. This blast plows through everything in front of the player, towards the middle of the screen, and includes eliminating certain objects and projectiles that the normal blaster cannot get rid off.

Gyruss-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

The majority of the obstacles to victory consist of groupings of enemies that fly in, dance around in some form of pattern, then make their way to the middle of the screen. Much like Galaga, a handful of groupings will all form together, and should be dealt with before they begin coming back and dive-bombing toward the player. In fact, similar to other shooters such as even Sky Shark, shooting down all the crafts in a particular squadron before they reach the middle garners bonus points.

Besides the alien spacecraft are other challenging deterrents to deal with, such as asteroids and solar fireballs to dodge, along with the lasers and other weapons fired by various enemies. Some weaponry utilized, like the homing solar flare fireballs used near the end of the game, actually slightly veer toward the player as they come from the center of the screen, placing an enhanced demand on reflexes and reaction time.

Gyruss-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

There are about forty levels in all, with a brief ending afterward before a “second quest” begins. The Konami code is intact, if the player wishes to begin with 30 lives, instead of the usual three extra. Thanks to the deft programming skills of the development staff at Konami, Gyruss proves to be a slick, fun, very enjoyable 8-bit video game. As a shooter, it is a very distinctive title, and although not as tortuously difficult as some, with or without proper endings, still offers a worthy playthrough for shmup fans. That being said, this is not a game for everyone: It is so different that many will balk at its strangeness and simply never quite “get it.” Gamers have tastes, and some may fall in love with this selection.

Graphics

Gyruss-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

Gyruss is a good-lookin’ little vidya game. The action is frenetic and fast-paced, complete with Konami’s signature visuals, even down to the small yellow-and-orange circular-oriented explosions that can be seen elsewhere in such NES cartridges as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Solid ship designs and fancy beam weapon visuals aside, what may be most admirable of Gyruss is the crazy amount of sprites, for an 8-bit hardware machine at least, that it manages to juggle on-screen all at the same time. Granted, this comes with some flickering issues, but surprisingly minor, and without slowdown. The bosses are honestly a letdown at times, being somewhat small and not quite intimidating, but the strictures of the characterization were likely limited by the tube theme—which, in itself, is a graphical feast that mostly makes up for other nitpicky flaws. There is something very appropriate about a shoot-’em-up that strives to make the player feel as though they are shooting through space toward an ultimate destination.

Sound

Gyruss-NES-Gameplay-screenshot

The soundtrack is great. Really, it is a Konami work, so the usual high quality can be expected, complete with the familiar Pause sound effect. The background tunes get away from the period rock of something like Base Wars or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project, and settle into a motif more apropo of the setting at hand, fast-paced enough to keep adequate adrenaline pumping, with skillful composition that will never distract by its badness.

Originality

If one were to look too closely, one would have to frown and conclude that Gyruss is not entirely innovative: The “space shooter” trope has been endlessly retread for decades, down to the spacey designs of pattern-flying enemy squadrons that dive-bomb at a double-firing protagonist against a shooting-starfield background effect. It is, almost exclusively, the tube element that makes this an original, creative entry in the NES canon of gaming.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BF4img_CyM[/youtube]

The most critical of observers could also say that Konami did not seem to try as hard with this one; the level-by-level execution is fairly straightforward, even with some quirky variety at points like the level without enemies where the player only needs to dodge incoming objects. The ending consists of a modest animation and one line of text (note: to be fair, the version on the Famicom Disk System is longer and less stripped-down). However, to purely take on a gaming perspective, that of a fan of video games, that of a human being with a controller in hand ready to take on the villains of the galaxy, that of purely sitting down in seeking a fun way to pass the time, Gyruss deserves its rating of four stars out of five. The five-word review goes like this: This is a great game.

Elevator Action

Elevator Action

Released by Taito in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Elevator Action can somewhat be most accurately categorized as a platformer action game. The home console video game was actually a port from a popular arcade game; though it lost some of the bright-and-shiny looks of the arcade unit, the NES version of Elevator Action still played very similarly.

Elevator Action - NES - Taito - Gameplay Screenshot

Gameplay

The player controls a spy character who has infiltrated a high-rise building with lots of doors and elevators, and must traverse from the top floor to the bottom without falling victim to enemy men-in-black characters, falls, or being squashed by said elevators. Certain doors in the building are red, and must be entered and exited before completing the level by getting to the getaway car.

Elevator Action - NES - Taito - Gameplay Screenshot

After completing a level, the next stage is generated, with exactly the same building, but a randomization of red-door locations. Also, the A.I. gradually become smarter and more sneaky in their tactics (for instance, they may vary between crouching and not crouching when they fire at you), against the sole defense of the player: A semi-automatic pistol that can fire three shots at a time, and kills instantly, much like the one-shot deaths the player may endure.

Graphics

This is a basic, crude little game. Elevator Action for the NES has a cartoony look, to put it nicely and with as positive of a spin as possible. Otherwise, the line drawings are basic, but at least the elements are recognizable. The simple squishing deaths of agents stuck in elevators shafts are even humorous.

Elevator Action - NES - Taito - Gameplay Screenshot

Sound

Although popular opinion varies widely, the general consensus is that the background music for this game is average at best, and mind-screwingly horrifying at worst. Either way, it does not make up for the “meh” quality of the sound effects, other than the somewhat satisfying “thud” of an enemy agent’s body hitting the floor.

Creativity & Innovation

Elevator Action - NES - Taito - Gameplay Screenshot

Perhaps unfairly, this video game cannot claim to have too much originality, only because Elevator Action was already an arcade game. Otherwise, the very foundational premise is interesting, forming something of a hybrid between a puzzler and an action adventure.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=durTn-5IAms[/youtube]

But beyond all other factors, most visibly prominent, is a cripplingly horrific rate of repetition. Being a high-score, arcade-style game, Elevator Action has no ending, and will only continue generating the exact same building schematic over and over. This truly, deeply hurts its replay value; although it is quirky, possibly interesting, and worth a try, its novelty and fun can only last so long before it becomes boring and stale. Almost single-handedly by this flaw alone, Elevator Actions gets its rating of one and a half stars out of five.

Cool World

Cool World

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was an 8-bit home video game console that played host to dozens of licensed titles; that is, cartridges based on pre-existing licenses, such as movies or cartoon shows. These games were usually of sub-par quality, since the developer was typically just trying to turn out a quick game in order to profit on the fleeting popularity of the license itself. In this case, the developer was Ocean and the license was a movie (starring a young Brad Pitt, oddly enough) called Cool World. This NES video game was released in 1992, near the end of the console’s official supported life cycle.

Cool_World_NES-Gameplay-screenshot

Gameplay

The player controls protagonist detective Harris, who needs to collect five pieces of a map that shows the connection points between the real world and Cool World, a cartoon-infused weird doppelganger of Earthly reality. He is after a sultry woman named Holli, whose actions may cause the destruction of both realms. In order to do this, the player must play through four selectable stages in order to unlock the fifth, a tower in Las Vegas on which the Golden Spike is located, which has the power to save the worlds. Or something like that.

Harris is a monochromatically rendered little guy that jumps with the A button, moves as entered on the directional pad, and can use weapons by tapping the B button, but holding the B button makes him crouch. This is as silly as it sounds. The Start button pauses, and the Select button cycles through an on-screen selection of the weapons, such as the Pen, which has to be found in each level and can suck up enemies; the Eraser, which can be thrown in order to eradicate one enemy (and turn it into a life-restoring candy cane); and the Bomb, which is a special weapon that differs in each level, and is needed to defeat the boss.

Cool_World_NES-Gameplay-screenshot

The play control is not good. Harris is remarkably focused and cannot do two things at once. Three examples: He cannot use a weapon in mid-air while jumping; he cannot move diagonally at all, requiring movement in a cardinal direction at all times; and he cannot even use the Select button except when standing still. Thus, rather than create a fun, fast-paced, fluid gameplay experience, the entire ordeal is slow, stilted, and made more difficult than it really needed to be.

The level design is also very questionable. Some require puzzles to be solved, like on Main Street when the player needs to enter the Slash Club, but has to figure out that he has to blow the lid off a green trash can with a bomb, then push it to the left in front of the bouncers, in order for the smell to drive them away from the entrance. Another level is an unforgiving skateboarding level, with lots of one-hit kill opportunities, slightly reminiscent of that aggravating Great Wall of China stage from Bart Vs. The World. Yet another level has a latter part consisting of an enormous, vertically oriented straight-down tunnel that has to be relentlessly navigated. Often, a hidden room must be found; if it is not, then by the time the player reaches the boss, he or she will not have gained enough of the special weapon to defeat the nasty foe.

Overall, Cool World is an intriguing challenge at best. But the most damning aspect of this game is poor design, as though every development decision is made with no further thought or consideration of how it would actually play out. This is not among the all-time most difficult NES video games ever made, neither is it really among the very worst, but it is both hard and bad. In other words, it bads real hard, a phrase which makes just about as much sense as the premise of Cool World itself.

 Cool_World_NES-Gameplay-screenshot

Graphics

The year is 1992. Nintendo Entertainment System video games have been being produced for several years now, and have come a long way in their complexity, stylism, genre breadth, and overall general discoveries of how to stretch the console to its hardware limits. Cool World looks okay visually, and its graphics may actually be its highlight, but it is nothing outstanding for its era, and actually can be seen as evidence of Ocean’s laziness, given the potential for something more striking. Perhaps items like background repetition, palette-swap enemy types, and mindlessly drawn environments can be forgiven, though, in the face of such imaginative surroundings; then again, they were inspired by a movie, and stand merely as a meager attempt at capturing the spirit of the film, which itself was a below-average result.

Cool_World_NES-Gameplay-screenshot

Sound

The sound effects are lame and minimalist. Look no further than the mind-numbing “kssh” effect of the bartender’s bottles hitting the floor, over and over, in such dismal, monotone, uninspired fashion. Then there is the background music, which is amazing in its ability to sound like it has so much potential, yet end up only ear-grating. In all seriousness: Portions of this game sound as though they were actually, purposefully intended to annoy the player. Some of the tracks utilize that same annoying echo-synth layer used in titles like Micro Machines, which seems to only cheapen the quality of the music, not enhance it. A few quick piano-like ditties would usually add some respectability to a soundtrack, but not here, where they only serve as crescendo to an auditory world of hurt. The music never delves into any real depth, and ends up more of a nuisance than an enhancement.

Originality

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XysybtnTzU[/youtube]

The game is based on a movie, so the concept is not original. Some of the play scheme is interesting, like the item-switch function, yet is executed rather poorly, given the many superior iterations of the same function in prior games. Perhaps the most creative function is Harris using a pen to suck up enemies (yeah, it seems counter-intuitive, but there you have it), then finding empty ink vials to dump the ink into, which restores an amount of life respective to the number of enemies that were sucked up.

Overally, though, this is simply a poor game, and not fun, only worth a play-through for those seeking a quirky retro challenge. Cool World draws one and a half stars out of five.

Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers

Disney's Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers - Gameplay Screenshot

Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers

Historically, license video games have been an excuse to rapidly churn out a shoddy product after cutting development corners in order to push a title onto the market that only profits because of its name, without nary a care given to the player experience. In 1990, legendary developer Capcom provided the gaming world with a wonderful exception to the trend when they produced Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System home console system.

Gameplay

Disney's Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers - Gameplay Screenshot

Controlling the player’s choice of either Chip or Dale chipmunk characters, the only pragmatic difference being their appearance, this is a classic two-dimensional platforming game that is tightly honed to near perfection. In addition to the usual left and right to run left and right, the down button crouches. The A button jumps (as it should), with variable height according to pressing length. The B button grabs objects, which can then usually be thrown in straight lines left, right, or directly upward. These grabbable items are key to the entire gameplay experience, and come in different forms; like the basic wooden box that can be hidden in with a crouch and result in defeating an enemy that bumps into it; the metal boxes, that are thrown in a curved trajectory and are reusable, able to stack up to reach otherwise inaccessible areas; and large objects, which cause the protagonist to move a little slower and jump slightly.

Disney's Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers - Gameplay Screenshot

There is a loose storyline involved the literally named villain Fat Cat and his nefarious efforts at small-world domination, and eventual kidnapping of the chipmunks’ friend. As the player defeats levels, he or she can actually choose a course through different stages, with multiple paths available, similar to Bionic Commando. In addition to the Mega Man games, it seems that allowing the player to choose their own path was a Capcom design staple.

Disney's Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers - Gameplay Screenshot

With brilliantly modeled environments, featuring some precision-jumping puzzles with pattern-based enemies and basic problem-solving, Rescue Rangers also has item-finding in the best fashion: Rather than absolutely require the player to search for certain hidden objects in order to advance, which is annoying, this game offers bonus stuff that provides benefits, which is great. There are flower tokens, collecting 50 of which grants a one-up; stars, collecting 10 of which grants a one-up; acorns, which restore a heart to the basic three-heart health bar; and even a friend, Zipper, who for a limited amount of time, zips around the screen destroying enemies while granting the player invincibility, a much-appreciated assistance when battling the animal and robot foes led by Fat Cat, including the appropriate boss characters.

Graphics

Disney's Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers - Gameplay Screenshot

Given an understanding of the context of the time period, this is a perfect example of a 1990 NES video game, since 1990 is roughly right in the middle of the American support run career of the Nintendo Entertainment System (which, itself, was roughly 1986-1993). Rescue Rangers lacks the flaw of early cartridges, like washed-out characters and screen elements without border lines, but retains some of the foibles of the system like flickering and slowdown problems if there are too many sprites on the screen (try the treetop level, in the portion where there are three relatively large flying squirrels on the same screen as your chipmunk, an inchworm or two, and the box you’re throwing).

Disney's Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers - Gameplay Screenshot

Overall, though, this is a game that provides a distinctive experience with its own Disney style. The animation is pretty slick, and the action comes at the player fast. Many have fond sentimental feelings for this game, and its visuals are certainly a part of that nostalgia.

Sound

Disney's Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers - Gameplay Screenshot

The background tracks are good, featuring the usual impressive array of Capcom composing, if not a tad repetitive and too upbeat at times. That could, though, just be the opinion of the reviewer. Regardless, it is certainly fitting, and plainly shows that effort was put into it.

Originality

Disney's Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers - Gameplay Screenshot

This sweet video game from Capcom definitely displayed some innovative gameplay characteristics that set it a step above and apart from the usual formulaic platformer. For example, the ability to crouch in a wooden box and use it as a protective barrier was ingenious, along with the fact that there were multiple types of holdable objects that each presented a different play function. Additionally, Chip and Dale have a relatively small on-screen presence, which is perfect considering the fact that they are chipmunks, and lends a whole new perspective element in light of the pursuit by big robot dogs, screen-gobbling bosses, and the enormous Fat Cat himself in the final confrontation.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82Opm9xGjRA[/youtube]

For turning a Disney license into a very enjoyable video game, for a difficulty level that was neither too easy nor too difficult, for putting actual thought into its mechanics, and for genuinely just being a solid example of a two-dimensional platformer in a genre that could have continued to be stale, Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers rescues four stars out of five from the clutches of Fat Cat.

Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.

Batman

Batman

In 1990, cult-favorite developer Sunsoft published Batman on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console, a video game cartridge based on the original film as directed by Tim Burton with Michael Keaton in the titular role of the caped crusader. Little did Sunsoft know, perhaps, that they would be laying the foundation for what would be among the most prized legacies in license-game franchise history, and authoring the blueprint for what a successful high-quality license game should feel like.

Batman-nes-gameplay-screenshot-1

Gameplay

The controls are definitively sublime: The A button jumps, and the B button punches, as they should. However, the Dark Knight has a few further tricks up his sleeve: Not only can he crouch and jump at varying heights, along with altering his midair momentum, but he can wall-jump rather intuitively, adding a whole new dimension to the classic 8-bit platforming gameplay. Not only are his movement capabilities fleshed out well, but he has a trio of weapons at his disposal: A ‘batarang’ boomerang, a projectile missile that begins with a slow flight before rapidly speeding across the screen, and a powerful triple-shot firing option as well. Each of these items is accessible by toggling through by pressing the Start button, and each with their own respective inventory amount, of which Batman can increase by picking up certain items as he proceeds.

Batman-nes-gameplay-screenshot

Another item he can find is health to boost his life meter, which at full strength allows him to take several hits before dying, although even Batman’s death is impressive, as he bursts into a flash of fire. Suffering damage does not incur knockback, and grants a brief moment of invulnerability. Mastering Batman’s skills in movement, melee combat, long-range weaponry, and inventory management will be key to success, as this Batman game boasts a challenging difficulty curve that will prove to be a worthy conquest for even a seasoned retro gamer.

The stages loosely follows the sets from the movie, as our hero must progress through Gotham, the AXIS Chemical Factory, some Laboratory Ruins, and other locales and sub-levels, before the inevitable final confrontation with his arch-nemesis the Joker. The boss fights after each stage are appropriate, and even innovative, as one finds Batman fighting an inanimate security system.

Batman-nes-gameplay-screenshot

The platformer may have been an almost too-popular genre for the NES console, but Batman proves to be a shining example of how it can give the player a thorough, satisfactory experience, demanding honed reflexes, tactics, patience, and outright gaming prowess to complete, while still remaining as one of the best license video games of all time, even decades later.

Graphics

Batman-nes-gameplay-screenshot

Sunsoft did not skimp on presentational strength. This is a fine-looking 8-bit NES video game. The characters are well-defined, distinctive, and varied, from the shock troops wielding flamethrowers to the robotic spike-armed floor guards and react to Batman’s presence. The cutscenes do justice to Batman’s bold, dark flavor, serving to more fully enrich the in-game plotline. But perhaps, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, the most noteworthy of Batman’s graphical qualities is its level design and background graphics. Even on the very first level, the use of detail in the backgrounds is exquisite, thoroughly pacing the rigors of the NES color palette toward establishing atmosphere, and the way the elements gradually fade into swooping blank swaths of black is stunning in its ingenuity and overall effect. This words may seem overly effusive, but rest assured: The praise is deserved, and those who play the NES rendition of Batman The Video Game are in for a memorable portrait of visceral action gaming.

Sound

Batman-nes-gameplay-screenshot

While some development teams and programmers were bewitched and obfuscated by the inherent difficulties of composing quality music for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sunsoft must have had a very competent team indeed, because the themes present in Batman are among the most earwormy pieces of sound candy the console had to offer. The title screen tune thunders in with a deep taste of bass before adding a layer of melodic meat. The first level may be the most unforgettable for its music, with an intense track that is not only not a stretch to be described at nearly orchestral in its arrangement power, but apparently so fondly recognized that it is revisited in a later level to dramatic effect. The actual effects, in comparison, may even be a letdown, but pack enough punch to satisfy the proceedings as the buzzy chime of item-collecting bumps up against the brief flame-burst of defeated foes.

Originality
Batman-nes-gameplay-screenshot

This is it: The definitive example of a good license game on the NES. Perhaps it is not the only one, or even the very best, but it set the standard, standing out amidst the morass of sub-standard cartridges in the sea of pre-1990 NES games being made. Maybe it was mostly due to its vast distribution and resulting commonality, but this is among the most beloved NES video games, with countless gamers pleasantly recollecting this as among their favorites.

The wall-jumping mechanic may have been the greatest innovation, with the second-level automaton boss being a notable mention as well. The item-toggling system is an interesting touch, but maybe not done as well as it could have been, although it certainly delivered results in real time. Then again, hardcore purists would balk at the concept of Batman carrying such guns anyway.

Batman-Cinematic-Screen

Some gamers, even retro fans, point to Batman as among the pioneering carts that helped define the term “Nintendo Hard,” supposedly representing an era when, since the limited-memory cartridges could not hold a hugely lengthy game, clever developers instead had to rely on steep difficulty levels to properly give gamers a heart replay value, as kids and hobbyists everywhere repeatedly tried to beat the game. While Batman may be tough, it is defensibly so, with the possible exception of the climactic Joker fight, in which the ultimate boss not only packs an enormous pistol but can inexplicably wield lightning bolts as well.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBkdrjLF-Dg[/youtube]

Whether nitpicked for its theoretical flaws, worked over as a title for hardcore fans only, or unappreciated as merely another example of the inundated field of NES platformers, one basic truth strikes at the core of the issue: Batman is a good game. The detective punches four stars out of five to earn its rightful place in the Nintendo pantheon.

Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.

Toxic Crusaders

Toxic Crusaders

In 1992, developer Bandai published a side-scrolling license beat-’em-up cartridge for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). This video game was called Toxic Crusaders, and based on the television cartoon of the same name. Loosely following the plot of the show, the adventure charges the player with cleaning up the streets of Tromaville as Toxie, the eco-friendly protagonist who has been tragically mutated into a hideous Toxic Crusader.

Toxic-Crusaders- nes - gameplay screenshot

Gameplay

This is a standard, basic, formulaic side-scrolling beat-’em-up: A button jumps, B button attacks, the directional pad moves. There are really only one or two pieces of flair to be found otherwise; for example, the player has a life bar, but also has a Mop Meter. The player begins with a mop to swing as a weapon, slightly stronger than fists and with a little longer reach, but loses it in one hit. If the player can somehow manage to keep the mop around, and gain a mop meter point to two, the mop shoots a projectile attack. If the player can get the mop meter to three, then the mop can be thrown like a big boomerang weapon and Toxie can punch as it flies.

Toxic-Crusaders- nes - gameplay screenshot

There are even the usual beat-’em-up elements like a skateboard level (quite essential to any 80’s or 90’s gaming experience) and even an underwater stage. The enemies are pattern-based, as repeated plays will make passing the waves of baddies much easier as the player learns their vulnerabilities, most of which amounts to “do not attack in a straightforward manner; rather, move up or down directly into an attack, or even let them move vertically to you as you are swinging.” Each of the six levels has a boss fight, and there are items hidden in destructible objects that can increase health or mop meter.

Graphics

Toxic-Crusaders- nes - gameplay screenshot

This is one of the NES video games to incorporate parallax scrolling (the appearance of layers of background that move by in differing speeds), which is always a nice touch. To be honest, this is a solid-looking 8-bit game, with large, colorful characters, well-crafted backgrounds, and decent animation performance with less flickering and slowdown than you would expect. The year is 1992, and console developers have certainly learned to push the NES hardware and palette to their max, Bandai being no exception.

Sound

Toxic-Crusaders- nes - gameplay screenshot

The soundtrack is actually somewhat enjoyable, providing appropriate oomphy beat-’em-up tracks begging for some drum-and-electric-guitar remixes, even managing to range the gamut of moods from active inspiration to somewhat creepy in a minor key. The ditties do have some bizarre rapid screeching effects every once in a while, as though to purposefully throw the player off-guard. The effects are okay, but seem somehow a little off. For two examples: The pause noise seems like Bandai’s attempt at the classic effect of, say, Konami, or even Ocean’s superb pause sound in Robocop, only to not quite make it and seem a more sophomoric effort; secondly, check out the dying scream of the first boss for a true trip into weird-effect territory.

Originality

Toxic-Crusaders- nes - gameplay screenshot

This video game is not only based on a pre-existing license, but is so blatantly formulaic that even its one attempt at creativity, the Mop Meter, is just an inferior version of the scaling-weapon functions present in many other, prior existing games. The level designs are okay, but skateboarding and underwater stuff was hardly ground-breaking at the time.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0a5GSasHd4[/youtube]

Toxic Crusaders never achieves deep gameplay mechanics. The first level only has two types of enemies, as one example. This cart would have also benefited, at the very least, from having a two-player mode. Nonetheless, what players have is a watered-down version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the environment-saving overtones of Captain Planet, driven through gameplay mechanics only a step above the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes NES game. Yet another license game that looks pretty good, sounds alright, plays okay, but never really reaches for greatness. This is a very average NES game that serves as a perfect case study of a Typical Early-1990’s NES Video Game, cleaning up a score of two and a half stars out of five. Oh, and expect repeat bosses. Also, try not to get a seizure from the intense flashing greens of the sewer water. Finally, remember: “DON’T BE A PUNK ‘” RECYCLE JUNK!”

Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.

Rygar

Rygar - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Rygar

Way back in 1987, Tecmo released an action-adventure video game called Rygar on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console that was actually an arcade port. Starring a mythical hero seeking to restore peace to his land by vanquishing countless gruesome creatures and utilizing legendary artifacts, was Rygar a bloated mess or a truly epic quest?

Rygar - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Gameplay

Most of Rygar’s gameplay takes place as a two-dimensional side-scrolling plaftormer title, as masculine protagonist Rygar uses his disk-on-a-string (think: giant bladed yo-yo) called a “diskarmor” to kill enemies at close range using the B button. The A button jumps, there is a crouch feature enabled with the down direction and a pause function with the Select button as well.

Pressing Start brings up a status screen that, in short, displays Rygar’s current health (also visible during gameplay), attack power (shown as “Tone”), magic points, spells they can be used on (such as “attack & assail,” available for ten uses and deals damage to all enemies on-screen), and which items Rygar is currently in possession of. Killing monsters gains experience points that will eventually, inevitably, boost Rygar’s attack and defensive stats, along with possibly picking up items that enhance magic points or heal hit points.

Rygar - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

As Rygar advances across the stages, he can encounter doors. Most of the doors bring him to a room with one of the War Gods sitting on an elevated platform, who then provides a helpful message as to what item is needed to progress, where to go, how to get to the next area, etc. However, there is one door in each different realm that leads to a common middle area called Garloz.

Gameplay in Garloz takes place in more of an overhead top-down view, enabling Rygar to move in four directions, jump in eight different directions, and encounter a different set of enemies. Mastering the terrain of Garloz will allow Rygar to discover the gates to the different realms, or even directly gain new items in special War God rooms. There are about a half-dozen different lands to progress through, each ending in a boss fight, and at many points requiring an item such as the crossbow or Wind Pulley to advance.

Rygar - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The doors to single-screen rooms, along with differing types of gameplay, make this game very much feel like an early cross between NES titles Blaster Master and Wizard & Warriors II: Ironsword. It definitely has more of a high-fantasy feel, closer to Ironsword, despite the appearances of robots in later stages; but, like Blaster Master, this game has no password or battery-save feature, despite offering a meaty, chunky adventure. If the player knows where he or she is going, where to get each necessary item in the right order, and which lands to explore in the correct sequence, the game can be completed in under an hour. It is the hours needed to discover this mastery and grow accustomed to the gameplay, though, that will be the more grueling test.

Rygar definitely offers a worthy retro-gaming challenge, a fantastical mythos, action-oriented gameplay, and a deep system mechanic, but does have its share of flaws as well. For example, the game has an odd relationship with the up button on the directional pad. Pressing it while performing other actions, like running forward, causes Rygar to continue running forward even if left or right are not pressed any longer. This can lead to an accidental death in certain precision-jumping portions of the game. Also, once Rygar has the grappling hook, he is able to descend from certain types of platforms via a rope by pressing down and B. The problem is that pressing down and B is also how to attack while crouching; this creates an issue when the player is on those sorts of platforms, wishes to crouch and attack an oncoming enemy, but instead finds himself hanging helplessly off a rope and taking damage instead. Although these “lovable quirks” can definitely be gotten used to, by principle, a player should not have to deal with such a shortsighted control scheme.

Graphics

Rygar - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

This game looks grand, from the multi-colored environments that take Rygar through areas of sandy deserts, snowcapped mountain peaks, and even lush woods, to the varied monstrous enemies he encounters, to the detailed backgrounds that put a finishing touch on enhancing the setting. Gameplay itself proceeds at a smooth clip, despite some definite flickering issues, even with just a couple or a few enemies on the screen. Rygar looks like the rugged hero he should, and one can hardly find complaint with the original canon at work here.

Sound

The sound effects are solid, from the constant “whoosh” of Rygar swinging his weapon, to the delightful tone of picking up an item, it is all fine and very serviceable. The majestic background tracks are the true auditory highlight of Rygar, though, as soaring horn-like notes ascend above staccato beats and a healthy bass line, truly serving to convey a grand, encompassing adventure.

Originality

Rygar - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Much like the aforementioned Blaster Master, Rygar is a rather distinctive experience that remains a sentimental favorite for some NES fans. Although each of its elements, on their own, might be found in other titles, Rygar is a one-of-a-kind combination of those characteristics, and truly perhaps a remarkable gaming feat for its era, even as an arcade port.

Its control scheme issues, occasional odd glitches, and overall lack of polish do hurt it, overall. While this is a fun, challenging, beefy 8-bit video game, it is also perhaps not as accessible as it could have been; debate can rage as to whether that is a fair contention in the field of reviews, but the fact is that even without addressing its issues of who would want to sit down and play such a game without a password or save state, even the overall quality is still not on par with the all-time great Nintendo titles. Not quite overwhelming spectacular, not quite bad, either, resting somewhere above the average game but outside the greats: Rygar snags three and a half stars out of five.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCkTZoDbnTw[/youtube]

Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.