Author
Eric Bailey

City Connection

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. [...]

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. [...]

Baseball Simulator 1.000

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. [...]

Blues Brothers

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 [...]

Double Dribble

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. [...]

Dudes with Attitude

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. [...]

Last Action Hero

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. [...]

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. [...]

Sword Master

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 minuscule amount. This discrepancy is questionable, even if nitpicky. [...]

Bucky O’Hare

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. [...]

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. [...]

Air Fortress

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. [...]

Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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. [...]

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. [...]

Twin Cobra

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. [...]

King of Kings: The Early Years

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. [...]

Ghostbusters II

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. [...]

A Boy and His Blob

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. [...]

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. [...]

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. [...]

Bad News Baseball

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. [...]

Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & 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. [...]

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. [...]

Beetlejuice

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. [...]

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

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. [...]

Demon Sword

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. [...]

1943: The Battle of Midway

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. [...]

Barbie

Each “level” of this “game” is actually a dream that Barbie is having, which is a convenient cop-out way to explain the ridiculous elements in each stage. Nonetheless, Barbie is armed to confront her adversaries with projectiles that never seem to hit anything, despite their somewhat potentially interesting mechanic of traveling a certain distance dependent on how long the player holds the B button. It is a shame that the potential of this degree is play control is wasted on such garbage of a video game. [...]

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. [...]

Archon: The Light and the Dark

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. [...]

Wayne’s 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. [...]

Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones

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. [...]

Werewolf

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. [...]

Bomberman II

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. [...]

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

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. [...]

Amagon

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. [...]

Alfred Chicken

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. [...]

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. [...]

World Games

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. [...]

Adventure Island

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. [...]

The Adventures of Bayou Billy

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

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

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. [...]

Elevator Action

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. [...]

Cool World

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. [...]

Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers

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. [...]

Batman

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. [...]

Toxic Crusaders

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. [...]

Rygar

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. [...]