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Intros be damned! Today is a special day because I only have four words for you. The same four words that have become a personal battle cry anytime I spot a douchebag recklessly swerving between traffic on his little pathetic Honda. YOU. ARE. MACH. RIDER.
Mach Rider, as is the case with a few of the launch day NES titles, has curious beginnings. The name and concept debuted as a Japanese exclusive toy way back in 1972. Children were given the choice of a red, yellow, or blue car that was propelled at high speeds from a launcher that came with it. One of the rare instances where Nintendo didn’t create an intellectual property first, it was licensed from Hasbro and Nintendo distributed it. The toy itself was a bomb so around the time the powers that be at “The Big N” were looking for new titles to draw people into their debuting system, the Mach Rider license was bought on the cheap and re-packaged into the game we know.
In an uncharacteristically dark story for 1985 Nintendo, the setting is a post apocalyptic Earth in the year 2112 after an alien invasion of the evil Quadrunners. Whether the programmers were Rush fans or randomly picked that year is a mystery that may never be solved. Mad Max’s pixelated brother in spirit, Mach Rider, is the protagonist who rides like the fury of vengeance on the aptly named Mach Bike to different parts of the Earth. His main goal to begin with is simply finding a new spot to call home but along the way finds other humans that need assistance being liberated from the alien’s tyranny.
As with most early NES games, there are a few different modes of play. The main story mode is the Fighting Course, where you are presented with the troubles of the sector you are in and given the choice between two tracks to race on, giving it a feeling of variety which is pretty neat. “You are Mach Rider!” crawls across the screen before each mission and gets you amped for the upcoming hellride. The game itself has more advanced controls than most in this era of the NES as you can upshift or (if you are feeling suicidal) downshift all while firing a finite number shots at the Quadrunners who try to not only run you off the road but post-invasion, decided to litter the road with as much shit as they could find.. The feeling of speed is well executed here for the paltry 5 frames per second and there weren’t many mistakes on turns that I couldn’t recall the next time I tried and could correct my previous errors. The sound is great as a frantic tune accompanies the journey and the bike gives you a different sound when an upshift is needed as opposed to many games where you have to look at your dashboard while a pebble in the road somehow atomizes your entire vehicle. It really gets my goat when racing games do that.
The difficulty of the bike’s controls and the Quadrunners themselves are decent, but the relentless amount of crap in the road can make things quite unforgiving at times. More often than not a little puddle of water will send you directly into a barrel on the shoulder which can’t be avoided or shot. When an obstacle is plowed into, you oddly break completely apart and pull yourself together not unlike a blocky T-1000. After a few hits, the game ends and it’s time to try, try again. My major complaint with this mode is that Mach Rider’s story is never resolved. If you beat the 10th sector (after a load of practice), you are transported back to the first sector to start it all over again. It would’ve been nice to know if the poor guy ever found a crash pad to live out his life.
The second and third modes are almost exactly alike. Almost. Given a set number of kilometers to make it to in a predetermined amount of time, the second mode, Endurance is basically Fighting Mode without the storyline and an infinite amount exploding/reassembling, only costing precious time required to advance. This mode was used personally as a way to practice for Fighting Mode, as it gives you a great feel for the courses and how to avoid certain ways to go kaboom. Solo Course is the same as Endurance except everything on the course has been removed, so once again, if practice is needed, this is the place to go if you’re struggling with some of the high speed turns. As with Excitebike and Wrecking Crew, the unusable Design Mode rears it’s ugly head. Recently, I’ve gotten messages about the Virtual Console versions of the Programmable Series now being able to save/load so that’s awesome. However, for the sake of the original carts being the ones I’m reviewing, it’s a disappointment we couldn’t do it over for 25 years.
THE FINAL VERDICT
7/10 A really fun romp to kill a few hours with, the mastering of the controls can take a little while and even then there will be death, death, and more deaths. The premise is very Road Rash-ish and as great as I think this title could’ve been, there are a few control issues, like the puddles, and being read-ended to oblivion can make it seem more cheap than fun at some points. It does have the distinction of feeling very different than others of its era as a futuristic story featuring machine gun shooting biker vigilantes wasn’t standard Nintendo material at the time and is worth checking out for that alone. YOU. ARE. MACH. RIDER!
Sadly, the story of Mach Rider was never resolved even in the “Vs” arcade version released the following year. In interviews, it has been brought up more than once that the F-Zero is the spiritual sequel of Mach Rider and Captain Falcon has a few of the same traits our mysterious wasteland wanderer possessed. Still, one can only wonder what became of him. Did he find peace in a new home that we never saw? Did the looping sectors mean he was only destined to ride and avenge until his eventual end via exploding barrel? Seeing as we all say we love a mystery yet deep down don’t, I elect a revival of the Mach Rider franchise!
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A title fondly remembered by any and all who played it. Introducing the thrill of motocross to millions who were years away from even thinking about a drivers license is one of the most popular and beloved of the Black Box titles, Excitebike!
Conceived in Tokyo late 1984, Excitebike was the first NES title that gaming gods Shigeru Miyamoto and Toshihiko Nakago worked on together. These two along with Takashi Tezuka are often regarded as Nintendo’s “Dream Team” and have worked together for over 25 years, developing titles you may have heard of like Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda.
The story goes that Miyamoto wanted Mario to ride a dinosaur right out of the gate but neither one thought the NES was capable of producing the exact feelings of accurately launching off ramps at high rates of speed and attempting to right your center of balance in mid-air. Determined to create a game that proved the NES was one malleable beast, they gathered that the physics for motorbikes was similar to what they were trying to accomplish with the unnamed Mario dino and Excitebike was born.
The game itself is a time tested classic. The graphics are bright, the variety of colors seem well thought out, and the music is classic NES fare, especially the catchy title screen tune. There are a total of two modes and 5 tracks but the action never feels dull or repetitive for a second. The first mode is a time trial where you are given a par time and must best it while dodging obstacles, aiming for ramps that shoot you into the stratosphere, and keeping an eye on your temp gauge to insure you don’t overheat. Overheating is one of the first challenges to overcome as having to wait for your bike to cool off can add precious seconds to your time. What’s awesome is that while A is your normal speed and B is your high speed, the game makes it impossible to not want to lean on B the entire time. There is definately strategy involved as to when to haul ass safely to your next opening in the action and when to slow things down so your don’t wreck or have to sit on the sidelines pissed off for a spell. Icons are laid out on the track as a sort of “instant cool down” for your engine and blend into the ramps, dirtpiles, and water puddles in a way to keep things intresting. The mechanics are simply amazing for the time as you can lean yourself forward or back in mid-air and it just feels right. Call it a lazy description but that is Excitebike as a whole, it just…feels…right.
The second mode is just as fun but three times the white knuckle inducing challenge. You play the same five courses, but now have other “Excitebikers” to contend with. Sometimes, if you do much as scratch them, you’re picking yourself and your bike up off the ground. In real motocross, I imagine even a tenth of a second worth of impact can be catastrophic for the racers so it adds a feeling of true danger to the game. It isn’t difficult in a way that feels cheap as much as it feels like the challenge dares you want to try again an hour after you turn it off, the mark of any great game.
Design Mode is exactly what it sounds like. You get your own NES canvas and get to paint it however you like. Starting with a completely bare track, there are 19 ways to litter it with shit that would drive anyone who tested your tracks out insane. The only bummer here is that it required the Famicom Data Recorder to save and load the tracks, which was never released outside Japan.
In the actual Excitebike manual, it states “Save and Load menu selections are not operable in this game; they have been programmed in for potential product developments.” Seeing as this isn’t part of the Sports Series of the Black Box titles and one of the Programmable Series, not having the peripheral that would’ve made an already epic game into an even bigger landmark title is kind of a let-down. Thankfully, the rest rules and eventually Miyamoto got to use the lessons learned here to create one of Nintendo’s top mascots of all-time, Yoshi.
THE FINAL VERDICT
9/10 A must have for every NES library, Excitebike is easily a title you can pop into the old grey box and still have a blast with. The physics are spot on, the fun factor is off the charts, and the challenge can go from beginner to ready to kick down walls. Good news is that Excitebike is one of the common carts, so this one can probably be found from $3 to $6 on average and worth every cent.
The Excitebike series, for as popular and endearing to the fans as it was, laid dormant until 2000’s Excitebike 64 here in North America. HOWEVER, there was a little invention called the Sattellaview that hooked in through the Super Famicom in Japan (it would take all night to go into detail exactly what it was, think Sega Channel, but Nintendo), and in 1997, they released the most mind-blowing version of Excitebike ever.
Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium was a SNES port of Excitebike featuring characters straight from the Mushroom Kingdom! It is a fucking travesty that more people don’t know this game exists as the gameplay and all-around Excitebike awesomeness is 100% intact. This will be a first for me because I’m all about original carts but since this bad boy had no cart, I highly recommend emulating this unknown piece of history. Excitebike with updated graphics starring Mario characters? How they could pass up the millions of dollars this could have sold is way beyond me.
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Since 1967, there has been a major event held showcasing the latest in technology called the Consumer Electronics Show (CES for short). It was so popular in fact, that for awhile, the powers that be held two a year, one in the summer and one in the winter. In 1984, Nintendo entered the CES with flyers of a grey box flanked by out-dated looking Atari games boasting the slogan “The evolution of the species is now complete”.
Inside that grey box was the Famicom, an institution in Japan for over a year at that point. Due to the crash of 1983, they couldn’t muster one single order at the event as consumers and retailers had zero to little intrest in risking one cent of hard-earned spending money on video games ever again.
Enter R.O.B., the greatest Trojan Horse in gaming history. At a time when noone was willing to part with their funds for a video game system, Nintendo unveiled the Robotic Operating Buddy along with the Zapper the following year and explained to retailers that it wasn’t a video game console, and instead marketed it as a toy robot and a toy gun. What kid didn’t see this and automatically start erasing shit off their Christmas list? They even went to the lengths of downplaying the televisions in the advertising to focus everything on the accessories.
It worked and on October 18, 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System along with 18 available games were launched in a few markets in New York City. The rest as they say is history. By the end of the first fiscal year, R.O.B. was discontinued and sole focus was put on the gaming aspect of the NES but by then, they had already sold one million units and blew the asses off of people used to Atari’s simple graphics and sound. The moment impressionable youth first popped in Super Mario Bros after spending precious and frustrating time trying to figure out the robot’s nuances, it was too late. North America was hooked. The following year, 3 million more units were sold and people never spoke of the robot again. The Zapper had legs however, but that’s a story for a later review.
How are the game themselves? Let’s start with Stack-Up, or as it is called in Japan and in the title screen, Robot Block. The reasoning the title on the splash differs from the name on the box is because Nintendo was trying to cut costs and instead of overriding the 10NES lockout chip with new code, they simply created an adapter so basically you had a Famicom game(60 pin circuit board) being converted into a NES(72 pin) game when played. The 10NES chip was the enemy of many collectors who wanted to play games shipped from overseas, so a good deal of R.O.B. games were bought and broken apart for the converter alone, making both titles in the series very collectible. While Gyromite was a pack-in game at first, Stack-Up wasn’t. Being marketed solely to children at the time would be another reason complete sets are hard to come by as God knows what the fate of many of the required pieces were.
It comes with five pedestals and five “blocks”, which resemble nothing close to a block. Think more along the lines of Tonka Truck wheels without treading. So, you turn R.O.B. into a deranged looking electronic star and sit the blocks in a pre-arranged pattern. From there, you control Professor Hector (for some reason they put Professor Vector on the box) and jump onto tiles instructing R.O.B. to place them into the pattern the game asks you to. This would be the earliest example of the NES using a digitized voice in a game as the Professor actualy says “up”, “left”, and the like. That’s where the all fun times end. To start, R.O.B. moves in such a lackadaisical fashion, you’d swear he spent all the time confined to his box hitting on the reefer. It takes about twenty seconds for him to turn right and grab something, not counting the time it takes for him to turn back around and put the blocks where they are supposed to go. That, by the way, NEVER happens because while R.O.B. does an admirable job of picking up the blocks, transporting them with any sort of balance where they need to be is lost on the poor fellow. You’re going to spend half your time getting up and picking these damned blocks up and the other half wondering how they thought this game was ever going to be playable. Oh wait, see above, they already knew R.O.B. was a total piece of shit.
Parents still bought it for their kids, who all eventually popped in a real game and threw R.O.B. in the closet forever. There is another mode where you play Bingo while trying to instruct R.O.B. what to do by avoiding eneimies and hopping on directional buttons but in all honesty, it’s even worse than the original game. With alot of luck, you might be able to get the robot moving once every two minutes or so. The weirdest part of this game isn’t even the controller, it’s the fact that there is no way for the Nintendo to know what exactly R.O.B. has accomplished so all you have to do is press start and you the level is complete. No bullshit, my 6 month old son beat a level of Stack-Up.
THE FINAL VERDICT
2/10 Well, it has barely better controls than my current bar for complete shit, DKJrM, which is saying something for that poor game. However, the game isn’t as unplayable and, not meaning to go out of order, R.O.B. is a little easier to use here than with Gyromite. A video game that operates on a trust system is a pretty worthless one indeed when we as gamers look for any and every cheat available to us to see the end. I can see this being played once if only to try out the awesome looking peripheral, trying out say, Kung Fu, or Clu Clu Land, and then never even recalling having owned it until a closet clean-up and an Ebay auction a decade later. No denying the little fellow has a cult following as he has made as many if not more cameos in gaming than just about any other character in the history of NES.
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You control the affable sailor throughout three repeating levels, catching whatever icons Olive Oyl throws your way. While she is dropping either hearts, notes, or the letters that spell out “HELP ME”, Popeye catches a set number while attempting to steer clear of Bluto, who was renamed Brutus here for reasons unknown. ~Mike NESquester Wright
One of the most regonizable figures in American pop culture as well as the original premise for the game that became Donkey Kong, today we take a nice, long look at a game that was another arcade port of a Miyamoto smash hit, Popeye.
As the years went on, the strip evolved as Olive left Hamgravy for the goofy sailor, a baby named Swee’Pea was introduced, and Thimble Theater quickly became the Popeye show. A plethora of weird shit began debuting as well such as Eugene The Jeep, the Sea Hag, and the burger hoarding Wimpy. The comic strip and the cartoon that followed had little in common as in the funny pages, Bluto was only featured once and spinach was a rare plot device. Both being commonplace for Popeye mythos shows how powerful the medium of television was at the time. The animated version was done by Fleischer Studios, the same crew who also created the most beloved of Superman cartoons right around the same time. Strangely enough, Popeye debuted in that form alongside the famous Betty Boop in 1933. To this day he remains a household name having his unique mug plastered on everything from lunchboxes, t-shirts, and even his own line of spinach. Robin Williams portrayed the live-action version in 1980 and to this day, the town built as the set of the movie stands tall and is one of the largest tourist attractions of the Island of Malta.
Should it be any suprise that Shigeru Miyamoto loved Popeye? Weird met weird to create awesome in the NES port of a 1982 arcade classic. You control the affable sailor throughout three repeating levels, catching whatever icons Olive Oyl throws your way. While she is dropping either hearts, notes, or the letters that spell out “HELP ME”, Popeye catches a set number while attempting to steer clear of Bluto, who was renamed Brutus here for reasons unknown. Later levels add the Sea Hag, who drops objects to make life difficult as well. Popeye is given a weapon the Marios and Kongs didn’t have at the time as he can swing his mighty fists at anything that moves with the exception of “Brutus”. To take that huge, burly tub of fatfuck down, there is one can of spinach per level that will make our hero red-dog mad enough to knock the big man halfway across creation. The stages are varied enough to stay fun and there is even a cameo by Swee’Pea. The music is excellent and when the third stage is clear, you are treated to the signature song, complete with the toot-toot, which is a nice touch and causes the ‘Quester to smile everytime. It is obvious that Miyamoto loved the source material and wasn’t going to create anything that didn’t have the same feel of the classic cartoons he grew up adoring. As with Donkey Kong Jr, this is another port that could’ve easily been made in 1986 and still been a hit.
THE FINAL VERDICT 9/10 If that’s too high, then create your own blog and reviews and feel free to adjust as you see fit, but I appreciate this game even more now than I did as a kid. The graphics and tunes scream out Popeye and the challenge is balanced enough to make me want to play for hours instead of hitting the road block alot of the ports do where it goes from head-ache inducing to requiring the X-gene.
Thanks to Mason V. for seeing my post and contacing me about having a double, thereby saving my ass on this one! Folks like you are the ones I do this for. Fuck you Ebay! (Until you are the only place I am able to run to in the future. I’m an honest hypocrite like that.)
The worst part of this game, and the main reason is gets such a low mark is the goddamned fielding. The controls are just anarchy. Any fielder you control moves about the speed of a mudslide and the game has no concept of who is closest to the ball whatsoever. ~Mike “Nequester” Wright
MLB: The Show, Ken Griffey Presents Major League Baseball, MVP Baseball, and Baseball Mogul. Over the years, there have been a few excellent baseball games that have stood the test of time. These revered titles can be popped in to this day and still retain some of the magic that made them a blast. That being said, the first baseball game released for the NES is clearly not one of them. Today, we take a peek at the initial rendition of the Summer Classic to grace us in 8-bits, the creatively named NES Baseball.
This is normally where I throw some history for the readers to soak in but c’mon folks, it’s baseball! Other than MMA, my personal game of choice. 9 players hit the field, 4 balls is a walk, 3 strikes and you’re out, 3 outs and you switch sides. The rules are well known to almost anyone and in that regard, it’s an easy game to pop in and instantly get going. Did Nintendo faithfully translate “America’s Pastime” into an enjoyable experience for kids to lose themselves in? It saddens me to say, not even close.
Let’s begin with the team names. Granted, when a publisher doesn’t have the license to use real MLB logos and names, they normally run with the city name and the uniform colors. Usually, from that, we automatically gather that if the team’s name is “Bos” and the colors they sport are red and white, good money is on them being the Boston Red Sox. Baseball said “fuck all that noise” and gave us the legendary squads of A, C, D, P, R, and Y. Further examination will reveal the teams as the Athletics, Cardinals, Dodgers, Phillies, Royals, and Yankees judging by the color schemes. Nowadays, we equate the Royals to a team that has had one winning season since 1993 and akin to the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NL, sort of a running gag. Seeing as this was launched October 18, 1985, Baseball was two days removed from George Brett and the Royals defeating Ozzie Smith’s Cardinals in the World Series, justifying their inclusion in this cart. What I don’t understand is if all 6 teams are EXACTLY the same with only uniform swaps, why couldn’t we just have all 28 teams at the time and add even one letter to the teams name so we could tell the Astros from the A’s? Also of note, did all the black and latino players go on strike before they hit the field? In these days and times, little details like that become rather noticable. One could attempt to argue that the game was made in Japan, however the MVP of the Nippon League in 1984, when Baseball debuted in the arcades, was Greg Wells, a black man..
There is only one mode so anyone wanting a full season and deep stat tracking just had to make use of their noggin and create a custom schedule as well as track their own stats. One problem, you never knew who was up to bat. Every hitter has the same exact appearance and attributes, so it could be your catcher at the plate or your left fielder. There was no indicator as to who was 0-5 so far in the game or who had 4 homers, nor did it even matter.. Same with pitching as it made zero difference if you got rocked for 10 runs in your first inning, there are no substituions, the poor guy just has to deal with life and continue to get slaughterred trying to lower his 77.00 ERA futilely. Really, there should be a “swallow cyanide” menu option, because if there is anyone I feel for in this game, it’s the poor pitcher.
Other than frustration, the only other emotion this game can seem to conjure up is a deep sympathy for the pitcher. It truly is like Nolan Ryan on the mound with a gang of stoned sumo wrestlers in the background trying to field. Pitching is tolerable as you have 3 speeds to work with and the only complaint is after you hit A, he throws it pretty much whenever the hell he wants to. At times, it is instantly pitched to the batter and other times, he shakes off a sign and stands there mean-mugging the batter a few seconds before the wind-up, adding more time to an already long as hell game.
The worst part of this game, and the main reason is gets such a low mark is the goddamned fielding. The controls are just anarchy. Any fielder you control moves about the speed of a mudslide and the game has no concept of who is closest to the ball whatsoever. A routine pop-up was missed by my third basemen and instead of the game allowing me to control the left fielder and try to get to the ball, it makes my 3B run (more like freshly twisted ankle hobbling) after the ball all the way to the warning track. As if it could be worse, the fielder and the ball are often moving the same speed meaning you aren’t getting to shit until you make it all the way to the wall and pray the ball ricochets in your direction. Three fucking times a simple play was turned into something really damaging to my chances of a fair game. The routine groundball that rolled through my second baseman’s legs that turned into an inside the park home run almost costed me a controller.
Hitting is easy enough. A baseball is hurled towards your batter and you try to hit A at the right time. Simple, yet effective, as is hitting in most baseball games. That is, until you actually reach first base. Even if you get the perfect slicer down the third base line for what should be an easy triple, your player grows fucking roots at first. I beat the everloving piss out of my buttons to no avail attempting to light any kind of fire under my players ass, yet all he could muster was to blankly stare at me and remain planted where he was. This game’s rules have no rules. The one time I got my guy to accomplish forward motion, it was by complete accident and I couldn’t get him to turn back around nor know why I even tried. Any semblance of strategy that might be thought up is just an exercise in futility. Your choices are pretty much limited to either knocking it out of the park everytime or having your ass handed to you on a silver platter. Good luck with option A.
As for the sound, most titles of the “Sports Series” work extremely well without any background tunes, but this is one game that sorely needed it. Seeing as this was the only baseball title at the time, the poor consumer had to endure the rousing sound of nothing while the game was droning on. It’s as slow moving as it gets and I timed a full game at 58 minutes, far too long for the 6 or so sound effects to keep things intresting or me distracted from what a clump of 8-bit shit this is. As a matter of fact, when you are called out, it is the exact same sound that Punch-Out on NES gives when you press start and the boxing glove breaks through the screen. Noone can blame me for nstantly making me want to pop that classic in when I hear it. The tiny ditty when you hit a home run is also the theme when you win a fight in the arcade version of Punch-Out, giving a strange link to both versions of the greatest boxing game ever created on any console. Later for that one though.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Only slightly above Donkey Kong Jr. Math as an unplayable piece of NES history that should stay buried never to see the sun or be touched by civilization again. I spent 3 days mulling it over and trying like hell to give it the benefit of the doubt as the first baseball game and still can’t go any higher in good conscience. Nintendo squandered a great opprotunity here as launch day, noone knew what the hell an Ice Climber, a Clu Clu, or a Goomba was. We all knew what baseball was and, sadly, they completely dropped the ball. I’m sure the five superstar outfielders from Team Y is still chasing that bitch to the wall today.
Where can you find a game loosely related to Jackie Chan, All Japan Pro Wrestling, every major Neo Geo fighting game, freaky oriental threesomes, and Tiny “Zeus” Lister? Grab your dogi, throw on your favorite slippers, and strap yourselves in because we’re in for a wild ride today Nintendo lovers! Who’s ready for some good old fashioned Kung Fu?
Originally released in the arcades as Kung Fu Master, this was one wildly popular game. If you were alive, had a spare quarter, and were able to hold a joystick in the early 80s, you played Kung Fu. Everyone of age who experienced the thrill of kicking three baddies in a row hauling ass towards you never forgot it. The things about this game we DIDN’T know are easily just as interesting to say the least.
Launched in Japan as Spartan X, Kung Fu was actually based on the 1984 Jackie Chan film of the same name. Martial arts legend Chan played Thomas, the protagonist of the movie and game, who is attempting to save his girlfriend Sylvia from the most generically named baddie ever, Mr. X. The movie was released here in the U.S. as Wheels On Meals. No, that isn’t a typo, they actually thought that title was going to bring movie-goers out in droves. What the goatfuck you ask? Get this, the last two films the Golden Harvest studio shat out were named Megaforce and Menage A Trois. The executives got the oogy boogies about their next venture starting with the letter M, so Meals On Wheels got flipped on its ass and became Wheels On Meals instead. I couldn’t make this insipid shit up if I tried.
Excuse me a moment for an out of character pause. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the main theme for Spartan X was used as the entrance music for Mitsuharu Misawa, one of the greatest professional wrestlers of any era who tragically passed away in the middle of the ring in June 2009. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word and a true ambassador to the sport. Rest in peace Emerald Warrior. I miss you.
Beat ’em ups seemed to be released every week in the late 80s/early 90s with some legendary titles like Golden Axe, Double Dragon, Streets Of Rage, and Final Fight at the forefront. These and every game like it owe everything they are to Kung Fu. The first of it’s kind, they made it count (unlike Dk Jr Math) and it spawned more games that ate quarters than can be mentioned in one review. The lead programmer, Takashi Nishiyama, went on to Capcom where he was the head of a little game named Street Fighter. He could’ve been quite content with his legacy left at that but the guy went on to even greater heights when he was hired by SNK and designed a cutting edge contraption called the Neo-Geo System Board. This mad professor of gaming could’ve stopped THERE but what did this under-appreciated genius do as an encore? He created every major SNK fighting IP as he went along. Yes, the head programmer on Kung Fu is responsible for all-time heavyweights Fatal Fury, Art Of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, & the epic King Of Fighters franchises. Quite the fucking résumé no?
Onto the game itself, this is definitely one of the better Black Box games. By today’s standards, it would seem pedestrian but if you look at it in the same vein you’d hear a garage band’s first album before they refined their sound, there isn’t alot to complain about. You play as Thomas, going from floor to floor kicking and punching your way to the level boss. The true innovation here was that no two bosses were the same, a feat even Mario didn’t pull off. They aren’t just lazy palette swaps either as one throws a boomerang, another resembles Deebo from Friday, and Mr. X himself looks like Deadpool unmasked to reveal an 8-bit Owen Wilson. Even more awesome is the way they will laugh in your face if you grind through the level only to be defeated at the end. Oh, will it ever piss you off proper until you have the sweet joy of handing them their ass. In my opinion, alot of games today are missing that type of motivation to move ahead. Could be just me, but I’ll lose sleep to beat you if you laugh at me for failure digitized or not.
Some may cavetch the game is too short but it’s in the vein of quite a bit of the older NES games in that when you see the ending, it’ll just throw you back onto level 1, ramping up the difficulty until you can’t handle it anymore. Sure, it’s possible to save the girl within a day of first playing but try to save her 5 times and watch controllers explode through windows. There is only one music track as you plow through the level but it is note for note faithful to the arcade version and doesn’t distract from the hectic action. Only negative I can think of is the unevenness of the challenge. Stage 2 is twice as hard as any of the other levels. If you can survive the falling snakes that take a third of your life and disco balls that explode into a 5 way spread shot the 2nd floor offers, this game is your bitch.
THE FINAL VERDICT
8/10 All beat ’em ups should look up at Kung Fu as their granddaddy and shower it with the respect it deserves. Hell of a challenge (bite me stage 2), original bosses, and a fun factor that forces you to get that much further each time you play. There was a sequel released only in Japan as Spartan X 2, but it didn’t capture very much of what made the original so special. One measure of a game to me is the ability to pick it up and play it without having to memorize a moveset, read a long-winded manual, or spend hours learning the controls a la Clu Clu Land. You moved forward and fucked shit up until the stairs, climbed up, and commenced to fucking more shit up, which sometimes, is all the good dumb fun you need. After all, it’s meant to be a game, not a college course, and this one hit the new concept it brought out of the park.
Donkey Kong Jr. Math
Well, it was bound to happen. Time to review a stinker. Not just a stinker, mind you, but a post-Taco Bell chased by black coffee with a side of Taco Bell for dessert type of stinker. Light a candle and say a prayer because here is the unwashed skidmark of the Black Box games, Donkey Kong Jr. Math. Heaven help us.
First, a quick history lesson in what I mean by “Black Box” since there has been a question or two on the definition. The Nintendo Entertainment System launched in small quantities on October 18, 1985 in selected areas of New York City. Due to the video game crash of 1983 (thanks Atari!), noone was willing to entertain the thought of selling home game consoles ever again. Therefore, Nintendo, steadfast in their resolve, changed the name of the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom) instead to an “entertainment system”. How this actually worked when it is obviously a game console, I’ll never understand. Anyway, on the day of the initial launch, there were 18 titles ready to go. They all came in a black box and in the lower left hand corner, they were marked with te type of game it was.
If you look at the Clu Clu Land and Super Mario boxes in my prior reviews, you’ll notice the symbol for the “Action Series” and “Light Gun Series” with Hogan’s Alley and so forth. Hence, “Black Box”. The NES had a true launch in February of 1986 with more titles and after that is when the third party publishers started releasing games and didn’t want to conform to the labels of their games, so the idea was scrapped. Hindsight 20/20, it was a good move, because what the hell could you label something with multiple genres in it like a Battletoads or Guardian Legend? One of the categories was “Education Series” and while it probably had good intentions and may have had some legs in future titles, it only had one game ever attached to it. Why? It sucked so fucking bad that it killed off the idea completely.
Which brings us to Donkey Kong Jr, Math. Seriously, all I want to type here is what a pile of shit it is, journalistic integrity be damned. But with heavy heart and mind, there is no choice but to roll my sleeves up and stick my hands deep into the doo-doo and pray I come out of it with a filth that can be washed away.
The game sure looks like DK Jr. from the arcades but that’s where the similarity ends. There are 3 modes to “play” but the only difference between A and B are that B uses negative numbers. The gist of it is that Papa Kong gives you a number and you have to jump to a vine with a number (you can only hit one at a time), then travel to the mathematic symbol you want, then hop to another number, etc, until you have the total Donkey asks for. Example, Papa gives me the number 77, you have to jump to 9, then the times symbol, then 8, then hop your baby gorilla ass back to the plus sign, then back to the 5 and you “win”. That is IT. The game booklet never lets on that it is 2 player only so you have this poor, pathetic looking pink DK Jr. off to the right who dies when you complete a problem. What the shit is that? Be great at math so you can slaughter your own kind ruthlessly? Wait, maybe this game did teach a 1%er a thing or two growing up.
The final game mode makes zero sense from any sane perspective. You choose the type of problem you want to do and then Kong presents you with one. Sort of. To solve it, all you need to do is push a block up past the Nitpickers who never seem to touch you and that’s the game! This mode can be beaten within 5 minutes and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it is supposed to accomplish. If I watch numbers be added for me, it will instill a photographic memory strong enough to always remember what these two numbers added up equal to?
THE FINAL VERDICT
1/10 Widely regarded as one of the worst launch titles ever. Probably started out as a decent concept, but something seriously got fucked up in the development process. That or Nintendo had no beta testers at the time because this game just feels rushed and broken. It killed Donkey Kong Jr so dead that the only other appearance he made was in 1992’s Super Mario Kart for the SNES. The 1 point is for the decent graphic port but to go higher than that simply isn’t possible. The idea was for kids to want to mix games and learning, but who is going to pop this shit in when you have ANY other game laying around? Brain Age this isn’t. They couldn’t give this craptastic cart away. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a shower. I feel violated having played this…
Now these are the exact moments that make me glad I began this project. I went into this thinking there was no way this game was going to have any kind of history other than being a memorable Black Box title and left my research blown away. Ladies and germs, I present to you a game steeped in more links from the past than just about any out there, Hogan’s Alley.
Let’s dig into the history for a moment because it’s so damned captivating to me. The original Hogan’s Alley was presented back in the 1890’s and starred one of the country’s earliest comic strip stars, The Yellow Kid. The strip was written and drawn by the famed Richard F. Oucault and featured in the pages of New York World, owned by publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who is presently more well known for the Pultizer Prize, an award for journalistic excellence. Hogan’s Alley was popular enough to be on billboards and a ton of merchandise for the time but quite a bit of legal wrangling between Pulitzer and another famous publisher, William Randolph Hearst caused the Kid to quietly fade away.
Fast forward to 1920, two years removed from the World War I, and the FBI learned through a survey conducted throughout the major police departments at the time that marksmanship was becoming a lost art. Out of the all cities surveyed with over 25, 000 residents, only THIRTEEN had marksmanship programs. Obviously, this needed work so Hogan’s Alley was established at Ohio’s Camp Perry by the Army and the NRA.
Beginning in 1924, there were national contests held at the camp for sharpshooters and the like. There was no blank ammunition laying around so instead they opted to use real live ammo on cardboard cutouts set up around their virtual city, hence why the game’s targets are presented as they are. World War II brought an end to the contest but in 1954, the camp re-opened and in 1987, they took it a set further and went absolutely batshit with the idea, creating an actual small town for simulated combat.
But yes, there IS a game to discuss isn’t there? Hogan’s Alley was one of the first Light Gun games (or “Zapper” if you will) to be released and like most Black Boxers, was released to the arcades prior to the NES launch date. There are 3 modes you can get your Elliott Ness on with, which seems to be par for the course for the Zapper series, but who’s going to bitch when they could’ve easily put out one mode and called it good?
Game A is your standard 3 target shooter. This would be one of the rare times I enjoy no kind of musical track because if you’re an FBI agent trying to concentrate, the last thing you want is bouncy chiptunes blasting in your ear. There are 3 types of townsfolk in the sim you can shoot and 3 you can’t or else it registers as a “MISS!” and your game is over at ten. The tricky part is that the professor is colored just like a baddie and the grunt with the shotgun is colored like the stand-alone ‘stache sporting policeman, so it does take a bit of skill not to accidentally send Professor Sad-Shit to hell.
My favorite was always Game B. It takes you right into Hogan’s Alley and feels trickier and better paced. Still a lack of music except for a groovy little number in between rounds which is fine by me. If you’ve ever played this mode, the words “fuck!” and “shit!” will enter even the cleanest vernacular after you just pumped poor Miss Nobody full of lead. Second verse, same as the verse, 10 misses and it’s ce la vie!
The third option is lame compared to the rest of the awesome goings on. You simply try and bounce tin cans into a side wall with point values. Not too easy but not impossible either. When compared to the other 2 modes, this will be the one most likely to collect virtual dust.
THE FINAL VERDICT
8/10 A really great launch title and on a personal level, I always enjoyed Hogan’s Alley more than Duck Hunt. Not the popular opinion, but three very distinct modes when DH only adds an extra duck and some clay pigeons make this one rise above. The controls seem a bit sharper here as well as there aren’t as many cases of “OH BULLSHIT, I SHOT THAT FOR SURE!” going on. Pile those onto a fascinating history and Hogan’s Alley is a title that shouldn’t have been looked over.
For more information about the Yellow Kid and the origins of Hogan’s Alley, check out Brian Cronin’s INCREDIBLE blog at CBR here:
And for the most surreal site I’ve seen in awhile here is an actual link to the FBI’s real life Hogan’s Alley. It exists to this day as a training facility and I’d sell my soul to Zarathos to walk through here one good time:
Clu Clu Land
6/10 This really wasn’t a bad game at all. The controls have a high learning curve and can run you ragged, but it wasn’t Kid Kool or anything (shudder). At times it was very addicting and you get a real sense of accomplishment when you uncover the picture of the level.
Those wondering what may have happened to Bubbles, she has popped up over the years in various places. The most well-known would be as a trophy in SSBM, but fuck, everyone from the Black Box era is represented there so no big surprise. Her most prominent role since Clu Clu Land was as a hidden character in the GBA game Donkey Kong : King Of Swing. Along with Ms. Pac-Man, she would be also be one of the first female starring roles in early gaming which makes me wonder why more people don’t know about this game? Oh yeah, goddamned box art.
Super Mario Bros
Perfection. That is perhaps the only proper word created to describe Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi “Ten Ten” Tezuka, and Koji Kondo’s realized vision of a sequel to the original Mario Bros. When it comes to the “Black Box” titles, none come close to this magical tale that whisked many a young mind away far off into a land unlike any we had ever seen before. Super Mario Bros. Perfection.
Who else makes the Mario face with these blocks?
As for the story, when you say it out loud, it sounds like you may have just left the Guggenheim with Tim Leary on enough LSD to kill a rhino. At the base level, it’s two dudes saving a princess from an evil dragon. That’s where the logic ends and the kick-assery begins. Aforementioned “dudes” turn out to be two plumbers who starred in the previous title (Mario Bros, apropos) who eat magic mushrooms, jump like Lebron on a sugar high, and throw fireballs. There were power-ups in games before but one that doubled your size? Another that shot fire out of your hands? One that turned you into an invincible Goomba destroying machine? Never before had anyone seen anything like this and it was just captivating. Every world has 4 stages, with the fourth being a castle controlled by a fake version of Bowser until World 8. The stages are greatly varied with only two stages being re-hashes of the previous ones. My personal favorite is what I called as a kid “The Void” because it was alot like 1-3 but all in black and white. It was the perfect adventure for young gamers, you ran through grassy plains, made your way through dark caves, swam to your next destination, and avoided flying fish and shit-kicking beetles the whole way.
My personal fav, “The Void” 5-3
Let’s not forget the music. Holy mother of God, the music. Everyone, and I mean everyone knows the Mario 1-1 Theme (officially known as “Ground Theme”) created by Mr. Kondo. When you think that just his royalties on ringtone sales for that one theme alone have him set for life, it is staggering, considering he also did work on the soon-to-be reviewed Legend of Zelda. No bullshit, and I’ve done this, you can walk practically anywhere, start whistling the Mario Theme and people will follow suit. It is like a gamer handshake. We only think of it as what it is, but if you told me as a kid “Hey, that’s a Calypso beat with steel drums!”, you would’ve been looked at like you just puked on my feet while I was wearing flip-flops. Calypso my balls, that’s simply the Mario Theme.
The controls couldn’t be more spot-on. If you died, it was your own damned fault, pick your head up little soldier and try, try again. The magnificent part of it is that at the time, these guys were creating the mold as they went and did so in ways that would re-define gaming forever. Sure, you had Metroid, Zelda, Contra among others that were just as great in their own ways but there is something about Mario that is more than can be described but I’ll give it a go. You are CONSTANTLY doing shit in Mario. In just 1-1 alone, you meet the Goombas, Koopas, Mushrooms, 1-Up, Fire Flower, Star Man, break blocks to find hidden goods, keep watch on your coin counter, make sure you beat the timer, duck on top of every pipe to see if it will take you anywhere, and try to figure out how the fuck you just made fireworks appear after you grabbed the flag. THE FIRST LEVEL!!! That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of unlocking the rest of the secrets that I had to test out after hearing about it at school due to no internet in the early 80’s. Secrets exist like the -1 World, an infinite water stage glitch that I never thought was real until I saw it in Nintendo Power. One of the funniest things I’ve read was an interview with Miyamoto about the Inifinite 1-Up trick at the end of 3-1. He was asked about the glitch and he replied that there wasn’t one. He purposefully put that there and couldn’t believe people found it. Honestly, I’ve done it and the guy that figured it out had to have accidentally pulled that off, I mean, how the hell would you know?
The only negative I can even possibly find with this game is the 2 player. If you are Mario, you have to die in order for it to be Luigi’s turn. If the person playing Mario was good, go to the store, take a shit, balance your checkbook, develop a written language for Sea Monkeys, and make a LEGO fully functional house and THEN, it might be your turn. In one of those weird “I’d never think anyone else would do this but me” things, I used to boot up 2 player, immediately feed Mario to a hungry Goomba, and rock the whole game as Luigi. Recently, I spoke to two other people who did the same thing. Awesome.
In what will be I’m sure one of the longest reviews of a game, no other game deserves it more. SMB is the benchmark of the Black Box games to this day is beaten by me at least twice a year. In an era where acheivements were real trophys on your dresser, noone cared which voice actors were used, and “X Box” was more likely to be the name of a seedy porn store on Westheimer, Super Mario Bros was the king. It has been ported and thrown on more systems than any other game besides Tetris and shows no signs of slowing down.
The first final boss I ever met. I heart Bowser.
10/10. No other way this one was going. This game is mandatory to play.