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.

City_Connection_NES

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?”

The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island

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The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island

Gilligan’s Island is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Though it’s hard to believe someone wanted to make a video game based off of it. Though Bandai had that idea and did so in 1990. The Adventures of Gilligans Island hit the NES about 23 years after the show ended
The Adventures of Gilligan's Island - NES
The game is (obviously) set on the tropical island Gilligan and all his friends are stuck on. Well except Ginger for some reason. Tina Louise, the actress that portrayed her had clashed with creator Sherwood Schwartz because she thought she’d be the central character. She failed to return in most of the reunions, and I guess the same applied to her 8-bit self.
The Adventures of Gilligan's Island - NES
The game instead has the Skipper as the central character with Gilligan as your sidekick. You basically walk across the jungle looking for the other castaways. On the way the duo are attacked by birds, warthogs, and other animals of the jungle. The Skipper has the ability to punch (which doesn’t seem to do anything), but running away is more effective. Gilligan is so mindless that he often falls behinds or into pits. Leaving you to have to rescue him time and time again.
The Adventures of Gilligan's Island - NES
Overall Gilligan’s Island is often listed as one of the worst NES games ever made. It was a game nobody asked for, and even less people thought it was fun. It had unclear objectives, terrible combat, sub-par graphics, and some things made little to no sense. And to make matters worse, Gilligan isn’t even wearing the right shirt.

10 Yard Fight

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10 Yard Fight

So far in the NES Sport Series, we’ve taken looks at both Tennis and Baseball with less than stellar results. Could this be the savior to ascend the series out of complete poopdom? Let’s open up another Black Box and sneak a peek at the system’s first ever football game, 10 Yard Fight.
10 Hard Fight
And who are the three guys in the back blocking exactly?
Initially released in the arcades in 1983, 10 Yard Fight was the brainchild of the good folks over at Irem who made their name from the classic Moon Patrol. This would mark it as one of the few early titles to be created by another company, yet published by The Big N. How did a team of Japanese programmers wrap their heads around American Football in enough time to get a game made you ask? Well, since 1971, Japan has had the X-League, their own version of the NFL complete with a championship game dubbed the (I’m not making this shit up) Rice Bowl.
The X-League also showcases some of the gnarliest team names ever witnessed such as the All-Tokyo Gas Creators, the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers, and the Panasonic Electric Works Impulse. The Buffalo Bills doesn’t sounds quite as bizarre when placed next to those odd squads. I digress. Fast forward two years later and Nintendo was up to their ears trying to get games ready for the launch so instead of depleting the already limited manpower to create a new football title, they struck a deal with Irem to publish their established arcade hit.
10 Hard Fight
SEE?
For its era, 10 Yard Fight was certainly the most advanced available football game on the market. That doesn’t necessarily make it good. I’m sure if I was a castaway on a lonely island faced with the choice of either dung-beetle and squirrel for dinner, the squirrel will look like a 32 oz Porterhouse. The gameplay is 9 on 9, not automatic grounds for a game to be rated subpar due to Tecmo Bowl having the same limitation. No playbook is available as you can either lob the rock to a running back and call it a running play with the B button or pass to an open receiver with the A.
The problem is that you’ll find that unless you’re certifiably insane, you’ll never want to pass. The cornerbacks were all apparently cloned from Spider-Man and it is doubly bad as there was no depth given to the ball. That means if you throw the pigskin anywhere in the vicinity of these little bastards, its an instant interception. Running isn’t as broken but at times you’ll need the extra blocker to make his way into position which takes FOREVER. When I say forever, I mean you can probably get through a battle on any given JRPG in the time it takes the blocker to stumble to where needed.
The game clock is divided into two fast counting thirty minute halves, which I appreciate since I’d probably still playing the game of Baseball I began if I didn’t say to hell with it. The difficulty is ranked from high school to Super Bowl and is presented well with different uniform and endzone graphics for each. On a sour note, it gives the illusion that it is similar to a career mode, as any other team you defeat gives you the message “You are on your way to the Super Bowl!” but guess what? NESquester kicked the Super Bowl team’s candy asses before this review was started and was greeted by the screen below…
10 Hard Fight
…but…I…just…

THE FINAL VERDICT

4/10 Even giving the benefit of the doubt that it was 1986 like every game was given thus far, this just wasn’t a very good game then and is more than likely played in psyche wards to study how ADHD medication works now. Originally, it looked like a million bucks in the 1983 arcade market but already showed its age by the time the NES rolled it out. My friends and I were game critics in our own rights in 1986 on the schoolgrounds of Houston and while we could never quite agree on which He-Man character was the strongest, we were unanimous in the fact that 10 Yard Fight fucking sucked.
10 Hard Fight
But it sure made for one sweetass looking cabinet!

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.

Mach Rider

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Mach Rider

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_NES
Badass in name only. YOU. ARE. MACH. RIDER. Sort of.

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.

Mach Rider_NES
Seriously, if you’re weaving between cars on some of the busiest freeways in the country and I catch you, this gets yelled in your direction full blast. For reasons unknown, I can’t help it.

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.

Mach Rider_NES
Dodge puddle. Shoot down both dirt bike riding aliens. Make turn. Don’t crash into barrel. Do Chinese algebra.

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.

Mach Rider_NES
Nintendo sure had a thing with all their games having weird score systems that noone took very seriously in the early days.

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.

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Glitch Death!!!

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.

Mach Rider_NES
Only 4 buttons to press and still couldn’t make heads or tails of how to design a course. Guess that’s why I’m just a lowly reviewer.

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!

Mach Rider_NES
In the future, one man is bold enough to sport a Mario/Spider-Man hybrid color scheme, Road Warrior shoulder pads, and the fabled Excitebiker’s helmet. HE. IS. 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!

Monster Party

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Monster Party

When I was a kid, once I had my own NES, I was able to rent a game for it at least once a month or so. At the local All The Best Video where I lived, they had a surprisingly decent game rental selection for a small town, and their NES stock was, I’d wager, at least 100 or so games deep at one point in time. Sufficed to say, from about late 1990 to mid-1995, I rented myself a fair share of games. I’d even go so far as to say that over that time I probably rented well over half of what they had available. Every once in awhile we’d rent from a different store, but it was usually All The Best, and so I got well acquainted with their rental section.  
I was the kind of kid that would check something out just to check it out, and playing game roulette was pretty much like any other form of gambling: sometimes you won big, sometimes to lost hard.

monster party - NES

The worst game I ever rented, hands down, was “Defenders of Dynatron City”. Now mind you, I rented some really shitty games, games that were barely playable, crappy stories (if there even was one), you name it, but I almost always stuck with them and tried to beat them if I could. I didn’t mind if a game was “bad” as a child, I just loved playing video games. But there was one in particular that stuck out as just pure, unadulterated horseshit, and even in my childhood innocence and tolerance, this was one stinker that I just couldn’t put up with. It was so bad, I only played it one time after renting it, and only for about an hour before I probably literally said “fuck it” (to myself, quietly of course). Honestly, I might have to do a whole article on that shit-fest someday, as obviously I’m already having flashbacks and going on about it way too much.

But of course, for every stinker I rented, I’d have to say that there were at least two decent games I’d also get, I lucked out in usually having some pretty good taste. A lot of times, all you had to go on to key you off on what you should try, was box art. Box art back in the 8-bit era genuinely was ART, literally it was typically hand-drawn, some cool image to draw you in. Sometimes the image was a total lie and the game was crap. Other times you lucked out and the image was a preview of how awesome the game was going to be. Every once in awhile, I’d really strike gold, and get a game that, at least to me, was pure awesomeness. One such game was an obscure little nugget by the title of “Monster Party”.

monster party - NES

Just look at that box art. One quick glance at it should be all you’d really need to see why I was instantly attracted to this game. Hell, if I’d never played this game in my life and saw this cover today, it’d STILL draw me in. To be fair, not all those monsters pictured are actually in the game. I’m not sure there was a Gillman, nor a Yeti/Sasquatch/Whatever that thing is, or Dracula. But that hardly matters, what matters is that that art is freakin’ awesome, and seeing it at 10 or 11 years old, I absolutely HAD to play it.


For a bit of background, the game was developed by a group called Human Entertainment, creators of the equally bizarre NES game “Kabuki Quantum Fighter”, as well as the Japan-only Fire Pro Wrestling series, and the slightly more well known Clock Tower series which would later appear on the original Playstation. It was published by toy company Bandai, who had a video games division mostly used to promote their properties like Mobile Suit Gundam.  The game originally released in the states in June 1989, but I didn’t personally play it until probably around 1992 or 1993, I’m going to say. As for the game itself, in a nutshell, the story features a young kid named Mark, who is on his way home from a baseball game, when he was suddenly happened upon by a gargoyle of a fellow called Bert. Bert needs his help in ridding his home world of evil monsters who are out of control. Mark says “No thanks”, but Bert convinces him it’s totally kosher, grabs him, magically fuses with him so they are one being, and away we go to “Dark World”.

monster party - NES

One look at the title screen, with it’s weird but oddly cheery music, that toothy-grinned monster face, and a parade of monsters that pass by the screen if you wait awhile (all of which are bosses later in the game). Just look at that green slime, and even the Jack O’Lantern icon with which you choose “Start” or “Continue”. This game right from the get go just kind of screams “Halloween Game!”, which is why I’m here talking to you about it now. Catchy music? Check. Cool looking title screen? Check. Jack O’Lantern? Check. Parade of interesting monsters that makes me want to see more? Check. Everything in order to make me super interested in this game, right from the first screen. So you press start and…….

monster party - NES

As you can see, this is the very next screen you get after pressing start. I must tell you, as a kid I had never ever seen anything like this in a game before. I was so momentarily shocked to see a dripping blood-filled screen with bloody skeletons, that I’m pretty sure I must’ve done a double take, and then looked over my shoulder to make sure my grandmother didn’t see. Because if she had, it might’ve been game over before I even got to really play the thing. Deep down inside, I was probably excited (if not also a little scared) by this image, but even though I should have known better, seeing this didn’t prepare me for what would come…

monster party - NES

So the very NEXT screen you get to, is the first level, and you are immediately smacked in the face by an overdose of bright and colorful and cute. I was probably as genuinely surprised by this as I was by the bloody screen before. The music is bright, chirpy and bouncy, there’s hot pink in the background, the platform blocks are smiling at you. I mean what’s a few flaming ninjas trying to kill you and human legs sticking out the ground trying to kick you between friends? Even the first boss encounter is fairly tame, a talking plant that spits bubbles at you. The gameplay was solid, it seemed fun, I could get over the weirdness of going from bloody bones to happy faces. What the hell, I was digging this game. And thus I was totally suckered in, just like the game wanted me to be, totally unprepared for what happens when you reach the screen above….

monster party - NES

So like I said, you get to this huge, weird looking tree with happy faces all over it, which comes at about the stage’s half-way point, everything seems normal, hunky dory, no problem. Then you take a few steps from left to right on the screen, and suddenly the game has a flashing lights seizure. When the lights stop flashing, it goes from cute to what you see above. Gooey, gory, grotesque and just….goddamn. Again, as a kid, I had never seen anything like this in a game before, and even that “Round 1” bloody bones screen before had not prepared me for the “GOTCHA” transformation moment this game pulls on you in the middle of the first level. It isn’t just that bright colors and happy faces are replaced by slime and bloody skulls and melting zombie faces. The happy, bouncy music also changes, to a slow, dark, brooding (and awesome) piece that really sets the change in tone, even more so than the graphics. Just so you know, this is the only time anything like this happens in the game. The rest of the levels, while all unique and bizarre in their own right, stay what they are the whole time. But then again, to be fair, I’ve never played any other game where something like this happens. So just for this first level shake-up alone, the game is noteworthy. But that is hardly all.

monster party - NES

This is one of the “bosses” from the game, in fact the second one you happen upon before the level goes batshit. This one picture pretty much tells everything you need to know about Monster Party. It has a quirky but dark, sense of humor that pervades throughout, and an overwhelming (but still cool) cloud of “What the hell?” weirdness that just kind of hangs over everything. The way the game works, is that you play as Mark most of the time, but can change into Bert buy getting the occasional “Dr. Mario” looking pill capsule, that will temporarily transform you. Of course, you WANT to play Bert as often as you can, because he’s a cool dragon/gargoyle man who can fly and shoot beams from his eyes. Mark is cool too, but I mean, really, he is just a kid with a baseball bat. As Mark, you hit things with your bat, or as you quickly learn is better for boss encounters, you hit projectiles that some enemies shoot back at them. As Bert, of course, you flap around and try to shoot them from a distance with your beams. As for those boss encounters, the way this game handles bosses is a bit different from most, as with the exception of the very last boss, there are no real “end of level bosses”. Instead, there are rooms scattered throughout the level you can enter. Some have nothing in them, but a few (usually 3-4) in a given level will hold a boss you must defeat. You have to destroy all the bosses in a level to get the key to open the gate at the end and move on. And of course, all of the bosses are very, very strange.

monster party - NES

The “Sorry I’m Dead” monster is more of an in-game joke than a “boss”, as it’s already dead when you get there, and you get a little question mark power up from it (usually) for doing nothing. But the other bosses in the game, with only one real exception, you actually have to fight. Some aren’t so bad. Others, like this Jerk O’Lantern above, can take some real effort (and patience) to beat. He in particular jumps around the room and shoots tiny pumpkins at you in various directions. The bosses in this game vary wildly, and most are weird as hell.

monster party - NES

The picture above shows a boss encounter from the second level. The background is a visual homage to the 1980s “The Fly” remake, and the boss itself consists of three different kinds of giant friend Japanese food that you must fight one at a time, as they bounce around the screen trying to kill you. Other bosses include a mummy that throws it’s wrapping at you, a giant spider that wants to drink your blood, a zombie rock star with a killer mohawk, a super annoying dragon, the Grim Reaper, and even an adorable kitten that turns evil and throws TINY KITTENS at you, which you have to bat back at it to kill it. Yup.

Another thing about the game’s bosses that should be noted, is that each of them says something right before the battle starts, and a lot of the quotes are very off-kilter or even cheesy. For instance, at one point you fight a Sphinx statue that complains it’s legs have fallen asleep. There is a giant Samurai ghost who tells you he’s a slowpoke, which he is. A minotaur that yells “MOOOOVE IT!” (get it, MOO?), before hurling cows at you.  A giant Pharaoh head that exclaims “Oh boy, Mark soup!”. And perhaps the most dastardly of all, a pair of zombies that rise up out of the ground, and tell you to “Watch My Dance”. The reason this is dastardly, is because you naturally assume that like all the other bosses, you have to beat the shit out of this boss until it dies. Problem is, you beat it and beat it and beat it, and they just keep getting back up and dancing some more. Quite frustrating. It isn’t until you give up in exasperation and just sit there for a minute, that you realize these zombie guys never once attack you. Literally all they do is dance. And if you watch them dance long enough, their song will end, they’ll melt back into the ground, and you get your reward. “Watch My Dance” indeed.

monster party - NES

It kind of goes without saying by this juncture that Monster Party is one of the single oddest and most outrageous games ever made. The fact that so few gamers have probably ever heard of it, let alone played it, makes that both better and also worse. Better because it’s like this awesome secret that only you and a few others have shared. But also worse because it’s a good enough, and weird enough game that you know it’s a secret other people NEED to get in on. Any gamer worth their salt, as far as I’m concerned, needs to check this game out. It’s hard as hell (especially towards the end). And it’s even sadistic at times if you don’t know what you’re doing (such as with the goddamn haunted house maze level). As you can see, you’re able from level one to build up a lifebar that stretches the whole length of the screen almost. But the trick is, it’s harder than hell to actually KEEP it anywhere near full, and you don’t regenerate much health between levels. This game is, in fact (while I kinda hate the phrase), the epitome of “NES hard”. But it’s still totally worth playing. It puts you through eight stages of hell. But it’s a hell that if you’re persistent enough, and also a bit lucky enough, you’ll maybe get through, and be glad for it.

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.

Excitebike

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Excitebike

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!

Excitebike
Excitebike, October 1985, Nintendo

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.

Excitebike
Part of the Un-Programmable Series. Is this is first instance of the title screen not being black other than Mario? The less black on your splash screen, the higher the rating!

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.

Excitebike
Look Ma! And you said dropping out would make me become a nothing! WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

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.

Excitebike
So…which one of you assholes played Road Rash?

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.

Excitebike
WHY GOD WHY? This mode would’ve been the standard bearer for mods years before they became as popular as they did.

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.

Excitebike
“It isn’t that Nintendo didn’t want to make more games starring me, my Lloyds of London insurance agents were PISSED when they got a copy of the original!”

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.

Excitebike
Ah, the classic Mario Excitebike we all piled into the stores for back in 1997 to add to our growing SNES collec…wait, WHATTHEUNHOLYFUCK???

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
Such an awesome find that I had to share two pictures from it. Hear that sound? That’s Nintendo still flushing money down toilets today for not releasing this publicly.

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.

Total Recall

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Total Recall

Video game developer Acclaim who put out games like Mortal Kombat, Smash TV and Spiderman Return of the Sinister Six released this licensed game in 1990.  The movie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid and Sharon Stone as his violent wife Lori.  If you haven’t seen the movie it’s a sci-fi movie that involves a lot of crazy things like traveling to Mars, having new memories implanted into the brain and Douglas’ loving wife who starts trying to kill him.  Problem is with the new implanted memories, he doesn’t know which ones are real and which ones are the fake memories so he’s on a quest to find out what is real and what isn’t.  Sounds like a crazy movie that should have a cool game right?? In theory yes, but what Acclaim delivered was just a frustrating piece of junk that adds in a bunch of stupid things that weren’t in the movie.

Total Recall - NES

You start the game playing as Schwarzenegger’s character Douglas.  The sprite is slightly accurate and it is a big guy who could be based on Arnie, but overall it’s a pretty bad looking game with some serious problems with its animation.  It’s a 2D action platforming game, where you have to get Doug to a certain part in the level while you kill people along the way.  Normally I love games like this but Total Recall has poor controls, tons of enemies and is just frustrating making it very difficult. There is a variety of different stages like city streets, the sewer, subway, concrete factory and sometimes you will have battles in little apartment rooms.  Unfortunately most of my time was spent in the sewer, since every time you walk past an alley you get hit by someone and dragged down there.  Then you need to work your way out and start by the alley again, the one nice thing is the alley seems to have a lot of energy drinks for you to replenish your health a bit.

Total Recall - NES

You can jump and punch (then shoot when you get a gun).  One of the most annoying things is when your enemies are constantly jumping over you making it incredibly hard to hit them while other baddies are attacking at the same time.  Oh and since when were there pink mutant midgets attacking Arnold in the movie?  Maybe I just have a bad memory, but it seems very odd to me.  It’s hard to kill these guys too since they are short and you have to duck to have a chance of hitting them.  It reminds me of playing Goldeneye on the N64 when someone would take Oddjob and it was much harder to kill them when they are shorter than you. Plus you have to fight rats. Ya, I don’t remember Arnie punching rats in the movie…

Total Recall - NES

While you are playing and trying to figure out what exactly is going on you will have a happy bubbly soundtrack to listen to. This game is supposed to be a gritty, and dark at moments but the music definitely doesn’t represent that.  It’s very off putting, it seems like they pulled a music track from some other happy game and just dumped it in here.  The sound effects are also bad with a lot of thud sounds and a weird buzzing type sound.

Total Recall - NES

There are just too many things wrong with this game.  The game feels unfinished with hit detection problems and flickering sprites just to name a few problems.  Ultimately the choices made by the game designers are confusing at best.  Why have a theatre where you can earn a life by watching the Total Recall movie credits then follow it up with a death scene of Arnold saying “I’ll be back!”  Did they not do any research and realize this was from a different movie? I love cheesy Schwarzenegger movies but seriously this is a huge disappointment, and there is nothing about it I can recommend.  Why couldn’t it have been a good movie adaptation like Batman?  It’s not even worth playing to see how bad it is, that is why I consider it one of the worst games on the NES!

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.

Blues-Brothers-Video-Game

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.

Blues-Brothers-Video-Game

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.

Blues-Brothers-Video-Game

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.

Stack-Up

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Stack-Up

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”.

Stack-Up NES

 

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.

Stack-Up NES
“Yes, I saved gaming by being unplayable. Suck it Atari!”

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.

 

Stack-Up NES
But…I thought the game was named…

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.

Stack-Up NES
If you think this is too much extra shit for a gaming controller, wait until Gyromite.

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.

Stack-Up NES
My first walkthrough for GameFAQS will be for Stack-Up and will read like this. “Press start. The end”. You read it here first foks!

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.

Stack-Up NES
To prove how hardcore R.O.B. was marketed, he is in this old UK advert not once but twice!

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.

Stack-Up NES
“If my brother, Johnny Five, could see me now…”

 

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.

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters

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One of the knocks on this game is that it’s too repetitive, and I’ll grant that it really is. ~Jesse Moak

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters

If you’ve been following my blog, you might have figured out by now, via my site logo, and various graphics employed on the Twitter and Tumblr pages, etc., that I’m a pretty big Godzilla fan. In fact I pretty much decided from the moment that I began Retro Revelations, that Godzilla was going to be the unofficial mascot. When I created the logo banner graphic, I did so with several thoughts in mind. The foremost among them, was that having a depiction from a video game would help convey my love for video games, Godzilla, and film in general, as well as helping to convey what this blog site is all about: All things Retro and Classic. Plus I felt that utilizing that particular pic, which is actually from the ending of the game I’m about to talk about, was especially poignant, because the blog slogan is “Revisiting the Past, One Blog at a Time”, and I felt the image of Godzilla and Mothra looking at the Earth from the Moon, was especially evocative and kind of helped drive that home. So there ya go, a free peak into the creation of this site!
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I grew up loving Godzilla, and while I have yet to get around to writing about the classic movies I love so much, trust me, it’s going to happen.  I do not clearly remember which Godzilla film I saw first, as I grew up in a (better) era of television, when local stations would often show old monster movies late at night. But the first G-film I do clearly remember, is the first one I ever got on VHS tape. It may well have been the first VHS tape of my childhood that was actually “mine”, and not just the family’s. That movie was “Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster” (1966), which is still my second favorite Godzilla movie to this day. My first, of course, being likely the second movie I ever got on VHS, “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero” (1965). Regardless, from at least the age of 8 or so, I was a Godzilla fanatic as a child. In fact it sucks that there were several Godzilla/Toho films I didn’t get to see as a kid, because they were never on TV or I never saw them on tape, that I wish I could have just because I would have enjoyed them so much more as a child, when everything generally felt more awesome. You know, before we all grow up and die a little inside. But sufficed to say, being a kid obsessed with both Godzilla, and Nintendo, discovering there was a Godzilla NES game was bound to lead to love at first sight.
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The game in question is “Godzilla: Monster of Monsters” for the NES. It was actually published by Toho, the studio who created Godzilla and produced his films. It was developed by a little known (now defunct) studio known as Compile, mainly known for their classic shoot ’em up games such as Aleste, Gun-Nac, Blazing Lasers, and The Guardian Legend. But with this game, they took a crack at the side-scrolling action game, and it certainly is a unique take on the genre. As an adult, I have heard many negative things said about this game, and to be fair, it’s not the greatest game I’ve ever played. But to also be fair, for what it is it’s also pretty solid, and doesn’t deserve some of the shit that the internet retro gaming community has heaped upon it. As you can see in the pic above, in the game you travel to different planets, trying to stop the forces of Planet X, and each world map is depicted as a kind of chess board, with hexagonal spaces. In a way, the game plays out, at least on the surface, similar to a turn-based strategy game, as both monsters you control (Godzilla and Mothra) get a turn to move on the board, and then the enemy monsters also get a turn. Though that’s about as far as that goes, as there is literally no other real strategy to the board, you simply have to move across it, defeat the enemy monsters, and take out the enemy base on each planet (the space with the satellite dish thingy). 
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Each space on the board that you move to, represents a short side-scrolling level that you must play through as either Godzilla, who can move two spaces per turn, or Mothra, who can move four. Godzilla is stronger, with punches, kicks, a tail whip, and of course his “destroys everything” thermo-nuclear breath. But Mothra is faster, can fly, and attacks with eye beams and “poison wing dust”. Basically, it’s a lot easier getting through shit as Godzilla because he’s a living wrecking machine, but Mothra is able to fly over many of the ground enemies, so it is technically possible to get through some stages faster with her. Once you reach a space on the map next to an enemy monster, or they move next to you, it initiates a more fighting game style one-on-one battle. For each monster you defeat, your power and life bars upgrade a bit. After you defeat the monsters, and take out the enemy base, which consists of just getting to the end of that stage, you have beaten that world, and move on to the next. One of the knocks on this game is that it’s too repetitive, and I’ll grant that it really is. There is a bit of variety to the stages, with moon levels, weird alien jungle levels, firey volcano levels, strange subspace levels, and of course the robotic enemy base stages. But that’s about it, and they all pretty much play out the same, move left to right, destroy enemies, get to end of stage, move on to the next. So in that sense, for that part of the gameplay I can see how some could get turned off by it. But as a kid, I didn’t give a single shit. This was GODZILLA, on NINTENDO, and I actually received it as a gift for my (if I remember correctly) 9th birthday, along with several other games such as Loopz and Spy vs. Spy. But Godzilla was the one I cared about, naturally.
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After apparently traveling throughout the solar system or at least some of their moons, the final destination is Planet X. In the film “Invasion of the Astro Monster” (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), the only Godzilla film to actually feature him going into space (and in my mind the best Godzilla film ever made), Planet X is depicted as a small, barren, rocky planet. But in the game, it’s depicted kind of like the Death Star from Star Wars, as every stage on the board is now an “enemy base” stage, complete with non-stop guns and missiles and ships firing at you from above that you must trudge through. It’s worth noting, for fellow Godzilla fans out there who would know what the hell I’m talking about, that while the game does feature several generic enemies, such as that goofy space dragon and fiery phoenix bird in that screenshot further up, many enemies from the game are also taken from other Godzilla/Toho films. Some of these include the Moonlight SY-3 ship from “Destroy All Monsters” (1968), the Gotengo ship from “Atragon” (1963), the Super X ship from “Return of Godzilla” (1984), and Planet X flying saucers from “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero”. There were also generic missile launchers and electric “Masers”, etc., featured in various classic Godzilla films.

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On Planet X, as with the previous worlds, you have to face all the monsters you previously faced, plus of course the game’s final boss, King Ghidorah, who also naturally happens to be the hardest monster in the game. If you can manage to take his three-headed ass out, and destroy the final enemy base, you have saved the Earth, send the Planet Xians packing out into space exile, and get to enjoy the end credits. One thing that has to be said about this game, is that while the gameplay is “so-so”, and the graphics are decent, the one area that really shines, is the music. “Godzilla: Monster of Monsters” features one of the best NES soundtracks I’ve ever heard in my life, I mean the tunes in this game genuinely rock. Every planet has it’s own tune, as does every monster (with the exception of Moguera and Baragon sharing a tune). The ending/end credits theme, is honestly up there with the Super Mario Bros. 2 end credits theme as one of the coolest and most satisfying “I just beat the game” songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. And similarly, it’s very soft and somber, kind of a nice closer to the game.

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If you’ve never played “Godzilla: Monster of Monsters”, while it’s not the BEST game in the universe, if you’re a Godzilla fan, merely curious, or just want to enjoy some great “chip tunes”, I highly suggest checking this game out. It brought me a lot of great memories (and a few frustrating game deaths) from my childhood, and I still to this day consider it a “classic” in it’s own right. Cheers!

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.

Popeye

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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

Popeye

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.

popeye
Unlike the many revamps other character go through nowadays, Popeye remains practically unchanged from his very first appearance.
Popeye began as the brainchild of writer/artist E.C. Segar. Making his debut in 1929 in the popular Thimble Theater newspaper strip, he was a minor character at the start. Popeye was just a sailor hired by Olive Oyl’s current boyfriend, Harold Hamgravy to captain a ship to an island to thwart an evil casino operator. His adventures were meant to end there, but readers took such a huge liking to the oddball that he was quickly brought back.
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Popeye easily sported one of the most unusual, yet awesome supporting casts. Not just of his time, but ever.

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.

popeye

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.

popeye
You don’t always need to hide and re-load different styles of guns for a game to rock. A great songwriter said it best. All you need is love.

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.

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“That paycheck you cashed on the gorilla game was MINE!!!”

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.)

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.

NES Baseball

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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

Baseball

nes baseball

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.

nes baseball
Baseball spelled with it’s namesake is pretty sweet. The title screen music is used for about 5 other games as well. Nintendo must’ve paid their composers per tune and not per usage.

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.

nes baseball
“After carefully considering offers from A, M, G, and X, I’ve decided to take my talents to H! I can’t wait to be a major part in the H vs Y feud and plan to play here at least two long years!”

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.. 

nes baseball
Kansas City Royals, falling flat on our asses since 1993!

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.

nes baseball
Throw so much as one pitch right down the middle and this will happen 90% of the time.

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. 

nes baseball
That isn’t 3 left fielders, my fucking PITCHER is chasing a ball that far!

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.

nes baseball
I tried to exact revenge for the ’88 World Series but by the 2nd inning, I was getting spanked. Sorry Oakland, better luck next baseball review.

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.

nes baseball
When I think baseball, I think of these all-time great teams!

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.

nes baseball
If you’re one of those fans who just wish the Yankees lose everytime they hit the field, in this game all you have to do is play as them. Instant gratification!

 

THE FINAL VERDICT

nes baseball
Exactly how I’d have felt if I spent 50 bucks on this title on launch day…

3/10

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.

Batman

Batman - NES - gameplay
While Batman has had a few video games before this on computer platforms, many remember the NES game as the Dark Knight’s first digital adventure. This one was not surprisingly based on the 1989 movie and came out less than year after the film’s release.
Batman - NES - gameplay
 Since it was based on the movie, there were plenty of impressive (for NES anyway) cut-scenes featuring key moments of the movie and some just for the game.
Batman - NES - gameplay
 Except the plot of the game is shortened to Batman just trying to reach the Joker. Doing so he must go through chemical plants, caverns, and even a cathedral to meet the insane clown. I guess a lot of the areas weren’t in the movie but were you expecting a dating mini-game with an 8-bit Vicki Vale?
Batman - NES - gameplay
I guess you could say the game was Batman meets Ninja Gaiden. You could wall jump in addition to using batgear like the batarang. Fans usually have a very positive opinion of Batman for NES, but I don’t think it’s aged too well. I played a little awhile back, and it couldn’t keep my interest for long.

Mighty Final Fight

Mighty Final Fight
Feel the hi-top of Justice

 The Nintendo Entertainment System certainly had a rather wide variety of game types during it’s 10 year existence. From platformers, to action games, to shooters, to puzzle games, sports games, role playing games, you name it. But the one genre we’re here to talk about today is a fine little slice of gaming known as the “Beat ’em Up”. What defines a “Beat ’em Up”, as opposed to a “Fighting Game”, is that in fighters, your objective is to beat the snot out of the guy across the screen from you, and the person who takes the most rounds wins. But in a “Beat ’em Up”, the objective is to beat the snot out of every single thing that moves on the screen, and to do so until you beat all the bad guys in every single level, and finally save the day. So in other words it’s the difference between a Mohammed Ali fight, and a Jackie Chan film. The NES had it’s share of this fine genre, which enjoyed it’s “boom” period in the late 80’s and early 90s. Double Dragon, Renegade, River City Ransom, Toxic Crusaders, and of course Battletoads all graced the classic console. But I’m here today to tell you about one such game, released late in the NES’ life, years after the Super NES had launched, that may have gotten passed over by many. I’m here to correct that, because it just might be the best of the bunch….

Mighty Final Fight
Back when almost everything Capcom made was gold…..

Most gamers worth their salt know that the first game to truly establish the conventions of the genre known as the “Beat ‘Em Up”, was 1987’s Double Dragon. Developed by Technos, DD became an arcade smash hit that spawned a franchise, and the rest is history. Most gamers worth their salt are ALSO aware of the fact that while Double Dragon started it, another game that came along in 1989, pretty much perfected it. And that would be Capcom’s Final Fight. Originally meant to be a semi-follow up to their first (and terribly obscure) Street Fighter game, this classic was originally going to be called “Street Fighter ’89”. But once they realized it had really nothing to do with their first foray into one-on-one fighting, they renamed it “Final Fight”, and it was off to the races.

Mighty Final Fight

Now, Final Fight was an amazing arcade game, which received a very good port for Super Nintendo, and believe it or not even a solid one for Sega CD. The game was also popular enough to spawn two SNES only sequels, which saw it change characters, but kept the overall look and feel. WELL, around the same time that FF2 came out in 1993, another little known gem also released, for the by then fading-but-still-awesome original NES. And that game, was called “Mighty Final Fight”. Mighty Final Fight is a strange but wonderful beast. It is a fairly comical retake on the arcade original, complete with “chibi” (small, cartoony) versions of the main characters and enemies, and a goofier feel over all. But with the goofieness also came something that most wouldn’t expect, especially out of an NES “port”, and that is the fact that while the SNES version was a great game although lacking 2-player, this NES “remake” was actually superior in a lot of ways, even to the arcade original.

Final fight
The arcade lineup, as seen in the Sega CD version.
Mighty Final Fight
The lineup as seen in the NES. Notice the differing art styles.

For one thing, unlike the better known SNES port, where you could only play characters Cody and Mike Haggar for some strange reason, in MFF you get to choose between all three from the arcade, which includes the ninja characer Guy. Like the SNES version, MFF is only single player, but honestly, that’s small potatoes compared to what they added to the game. Not only does the overall action feel even “meatier” with a superior sense of hit detection, but Capcom also took a page out of the NES port of Double Dragon’s book, and added an rpg like element wherein your character gains experience for every baddie he thrashes, and eventually you “level up”, with each level unlocking new and cooler attacks, as well as extending your life bar.

Final fight
The game’s first boss, “Damnd”, also known as Thrasher.
Mighty Final Fight
Thrasher as seen in the NES version. Aren’t they adorable?

The game also includes most of the content from the original, though it only has 5 stages instead of the arcade’s six, in this case missing the “Subway” area. That aside, it’s got everything the arcade did with a bit more besides, and beyond that, even has one hell of a bad ass 8-bit soundtrack. And again, the soundtrack is arguably superior to the arcade or even SNES versions. All around, Mighty Final Fight is one hell of a game, loads of fun, and a perfect example of why the NES lasted an amazing 10 years in North America, because up through 1994 it kept getting sprinklings of high quality games such as this. In fact, 1993 was a huge year for the ol’ NES all around, as it not only got Mighty Final Fight, it also saw the releases of games like Kid Klown, Zen the Intergalactic Ninja, Duck Tales 2, Battletoads & Double Dragon, and of course Kirby’s Adventure.

Mighty Final Fight
An example of the upgraded moves you get with each level, in this case Cody’s uppercut.

So there you have it folks! If you haven’t ever gotten a chance to get your hands on this true “Beat ‘Em Up” classic, or haven’t even ever heard of it until now, please do yourself a huge favor and do so.You really can’t do much better in it’s genre, and as far as I’m personally concerned, it’s one of the greatest games ever crafted. So fire this bad boy up, and have a great skull-knocking time, on me! Cheers!

Donkey Kong Jr.

Donkey Kong Jr.

Donkey Kong Jr - NES
I remember playing Donkey Kong 64 many moons ago, and I’m pretty sure they included the first game in there as an easter egg for fans to find and enjoy. I found it, and thought it was pretty sweet. I also played the version they included in the Gamecube version of Animal Crossing.
Donkey Kong Jr - NES
However despite all that, I never got to play the sequel Donkey Kong Jr. A notable but forgotten classic. While the first game had you playing Mario trying to save his girlfriend, the roles are reversed this time around. You play as Donkey Kong’s son, who must save his father from the obviously unforgiving Mario.
Donkey Kong Jr - NES
The game plays remarkable similar to the original, yet with a new twist. Instead of being a short Italian dude with concrete shoes, you’re a monkey that can barely jump but can grab hold of vines, ropes, and chains. The game has a few levels to enjoy and can be replayed for high score record keeping if you’re into that.
Donkey Kong Jr - NES
Though I admit it’s pretty short game even though you can have fun playing it multiple times. It’s 4 levels of fun, but that don’t last too long. Yet I can overlook the fact that it’s an Arcade-to-NES game and forgive some it’s natural faults.

Kung Fu

Kung Fu - NES
Kung Fu, October 1985, Nintendo

Kung Fu

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?

Kung Fu - NES
I’m a sucker for digitized dragons. Game B is just a fraction tougher than A.

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.

Kung Fu - NES
Jackie Chan didn’t hit it big here until 1995’s Rumble In The Bronx but we had unknowingly played a game for years that featured him in it and noone knew!

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.

Kung Fu - NES
RIP Mitsuharu Misawa 6/18/62 – 6/13/09. Never forgotten.

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.

Kung Fu - NES
Tell me this screenshot doesn’t make you just want to pop this fucker in

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?

Kung Fu - NES
“What you got on my 40 homie?”

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.

Kung Fu - NES
“Hmm, then again, I’ve been trying to dump her for a month now…”

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.

Kung Fu - NES
The, um, intimidating Mr. X

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.

Kung Fu - NES
Only disappointment follows this here title screen.
This one was for one of the coolest cats I’ve ever had the honor of working with. Good luck in your upcoming future endeavors Chivo!

Dragon Power

Dragon Power

So recently, I wrote up a nice big review on Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection for the Sony PlayStation 3. Seeing as this game was a remake, it was only natural that I would have some nostalgia toward Dragon Ball Z games. This is especially true when you consider that Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 was my favorite Dragon Ball Z game of all-time, and remains so today despite its years.

Funny thing is, this got me looking back even further than the PlayStation 2. My first encounter with the Dragon Ball franchise actually took place way back in 1988 before I knew anything at all about Dragon Ball. This happy accident came in the form of Dragon Power, which released on the NES in North America back in March of that year. This game, along with Joust and Elevator Action was among my very first titles.
Dragon Power NES

It sure doesn’t look like Goku…

Obviously this was back well before Dragon Ball Z got popular along with a handful of other anime programs, so the rather curious decision was made to change many of the actual references to Dragon Ball. Even the titular objectives – Dragon Balls – was changed to ‘Crystal Balls’. There are a lot of things I did not remember from this game, only that there was a very loose connection between this game and Dragon Ball Z, starting with the main character named Goku.

Probably the most curious item was that while the cover art makes this look like an average martial artist, the game character was made to look more like a monkey than how Goku looked in the Japanese version of the game.
Dragon Power NES

US Version…

Dragon Power NES

Japanese version…

At least the your main character’s name remains Goku, but basically every other name gets changed around for the US release. Even the famously overused Kamehameha move is replaced with Wind Wave. As you can see in the above pictures however, most of the characters (in this instance ‘Nora’ in the US version and ‘Bulma’ in the Japanese one) look the same. The exception to this appears to be Master Roshi, who got a complete overhaul.
Dragon Power NES

US version, with ‘sandwiches’

Dragon Power NES

Japanese version with ‘panties’

If you notice the captions, the character art was not the only difference, but some of the more Japanese themes (such as Master Roshi being a pervert) were taken out to set better with US audiences

The game itself? Not very good. At an age where the word ‘dragon’ usually meant something awesome to a kid (Double Dragon anyone?), this game suffered from poor controls and collision detection and tough difficulty. The story itself made very little sense, but given that the localization was not only changing the language, but also in may places the content, I guess that is not a huge surprise.
Dragon Power NES
The majority of the game played out in a 3/4 overhead view like The Legend of Zelda or Deadly Towers, though boss fights switched over to a side view. These boss fights were tough too, because your attack types were so limited while they just kept plowing into you head-on with their weapons/moves.
Dragon Power NES

Oh this looks promising…

Matters are further made worse by the fact your health is constantly depleting even when you are not getting hit by enemies, a sort of timer that makes the game inherently more difficult with every passing second.
Even though this game really is not very good, it was one of the first NES titles I got to play as a kid. It was still leagues ahead of what I had experienced to date and showed me that there was a world of more complex games waiting to be discovered (let’s face it – Elevator Action and Joust were cool enough arcade games at the time, and they translated well enough to the NES, but they were endless loop games originally built to take your quarters. This was probably, along with Super Mario Bros, my first video game that had a true set of objectives or ‘end game’ to strive for). For that I will likely hold a soft spot for Dragon Power in my memory, despite its shortcomings.

That it turned out to be my first brush with the Dragon Ball Z universe was an amusing realization years later.

Kid Klown

Kid Klown

Kid Klown

Welcome back to another look into gaming’s obscure, but awesome, past. Today’s exhibit? A little known NES gem entitled “Kid Klown in Night Mayor World”. Developed and published by Japanese studio Kemco, the company that brought such NES classics as Spy vs. Spy, Deja Vu, Shadowgate, and the Bugs Bunny games, this title, like certain others (Super Mario Bros. 2, Yo Noid!), started out as somewhat of a different beast. Originally titled “Mickey Mouse III: Yume Fuusen” (Mickey Mouse III: Balloon Dreams),  it was essentially the same game, only part of a Mickey Mouse series of games. In fact, this game was called “Mickey Mouse III” in Japan because they had done this before, with what Americans know as Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle. Crazy Castle originally featured Roger Rabbit in Japan, but they later made a version with Mickey Mouse after losing the rights, along with the Bugs Bunny version for the states.
Kid Klown
The Game Boy versions of Crazy Castle 1 and 2 are known as Mickey Mouse I and Mickey Mouse II in Japan, hence this game was somehow the third in that series. Confused yet? Well that’s okay, because Kemco would continue the series as Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle in the states, until Crazy Castle 5 for the Game Boy Advance, which wound up starring Woody Woodpecker. For those counting along at home, that makes 4 different characters from 3 different animation studios (Disney, Warner Bros., and Universal) that Kemco had to license from. But hey, the series DID see a total of 10 releases (at least in Japan, one of which was made into a Real Ghostbusters game in NA and a Garfield game in Europe, if you can grasp that), so I suppose ultimately it paid off right?
Kid Klown
ANYWAYS, disregarding the somewhat messy (but intriguing) history of the series that the original Japanese version originated from, what WE here in the U.S.of A got, was a peculiar, but fun, game called Kid Klown. The original Mickey game was released in Japan in 1992. Our version with the righteous Klown dude (first name Kid), arrived in April 1993, what happened to be a very good year for the NES (Kirby’s Adventure anyone?). So, focusing on OUR version here today, the setting sees a family of clowns traveling with their circus, when they run across a mysterious magician named Night Mayor. I want to take a moment, first off, to comment on the fact that the pun-name NIGHT MAYOR is, in my humble opinion, fucking fantastic.
Kid Klown
It’s just the right amount of cheese to tickle my “Man That’s Awesome” bone. So, as you might surmise given his name (and his nefarious mustache), Night Mayor is up to no good, and he asks Kid to help him open a magical treasure vault. Kid, having been warned NEVER to talk to strange and creepy magicians out on the highway at night by his wise and loving parents, basically tells Mr. Mayor to “piss off”. So, in a fit of indignation, said bad fellow uses his wicked magic to kidnap the Klown family, and challenges Kid to follow and find them, if he ever wants to see them again. And thus it’s off to the races we go!
Kid Klown
If you hadn’t noticed by now, I’ll reveal the silly pun. Night Mayor = Nightmare! Get it? Awesome right? Indeed. Moving on!
So as far as the game proper is concerned, here’s the scoop. You’ve got yourself six major areas (plus the opening level), each one having a different theme. I can definitely see how in the Mickey version, you were traveling through some kind of magical dream world. But it fits with a kooky game where you play a balloon-wielding clown fighting a guy named Night Mayor as well! The thing that stands out about this game the most, of course, is in fact said balloons. The graphics are solid (in fact there’s some very inventive sprite effects at points), and the soundtrack is cheery if not unremarkable. But where the game enters the “kicks ass” arena, is in the gameplay. Why it kicks is, is because Kemco really did a number on inventing balloon mechanics the player can employ.
Kid Klown
In no particular order, you can use these inflated bags of fun as: weapons, a means of floating for longer jumps, a platform to bounce off of performing high jumps, a shield from certain enemy attacks, etc. Talk about versatile. And it doesn’t end there. You can aim balloon fire directly overhead, as well as choosing to toss short-range balloons, or hold the B button down to throw them further. And of course you can even drop the balloons straight down, as a weapon or a platform to jump to higher places, or you can even just hold it out in front of you like a shield. If you ask me, that’s pretty damn ingenious, especially for the 8-bit era, not to mention the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a similar set up in any other game I’ve ever played. So Kemco deserves major kudos for really taking the Mario “run and jump” platforming standard, but making it their own.
Kid Klown
The other area that this game really stands out, for anyone who has ever played it, is that while on the surface it seems very much like an “easy kids’ game”, it also packs some serious punch in the difficulty department in a few areas once you get deeper in. The different areas include a charming forest, a crazy toy factory, a giant beanstalk land complete with an evil Cyclops giant at the end, a land of snow and ice, a stage made up of living (and dangerous) candies and pastries, and finally Night Mayor’s gigantic castle. The game really does ramp it up the further you get, as well. I just recently played through it again myself, and god damn, there are some parts that’ll make you cuss out the game like nobodies business.
Kid Klown
For instance, in Stage 3, the beanstalk stage, you have to climb vertically, but are bombarded while doing so by swarms of enemies that include among other annoyances, evil clouds that shit lightning all over you. Then you’ve got Stage 4, with it’s slippery ice, but worse yet, snow drifts that you actually get stuck in, which makes getting across super fun, while being attacked by enemies. and then of course, there’s Castle Night Mayor, which takes the SMB1 concept of having a maze-like castle with plenty of wrong ways to go, and cranks it up to 11, by having doors that make you fight previous bosses, doors that take you right back to the beginning of an area you just got through, or even all the way back to the beginning of the castle. And unlike Bowser’s final castle in that hallowed NES standard, Night Mayor is more of a dick, so his castle is bigger, with plenty of genuinely fucked up moments, most especially the final area, which is a room of doors which, you guessed it, all but one lead you to other areas, including the very damn beginning of the level. So have fun choosing the wrong door several times (unless of course you CHEAT and use the internet).
Kid Klown
All in all, this game is well worth playing in my expert opinion. It controls well, is fun to play thanks to the inventive balloon mechanics, has a lot of replay value in spite of a few throw-your-controller moments, and the game just honestly exudes fun. From the gameplay, to the level design, right down to the carnival-like minigame between stages that allows you to throw balloons at targets to gain back health, 1up, etc. Plus, as I’ve already mentioned, the bad guy’s name is NIGHT MAYOR, and that right there should be worth the price of admission. The game actually turned into a series, but the SNES and PS1 entries, for instance, were weird “always moving” games that saw Kid on a rolling ball, rolling and dodging through levels. None of them showed the same cool gameplay mechanics or sense of fun-ness the original had, so in my personal view they’re really not all that worth checking out.

But do yourself a favor, and get your hands on a cart of the NES original if you can, or find “other” means to play it if you have to, but play it. Or else the Night Mayor will give you…….unpleasant dreams!

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

Bugs_Bunny_Birthday_Blowout

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

Bugs_Bunny_Birthday_Blowout

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.

Ufouria: The Saga

Ufouria-The Saga

Ufouria: The Saga

I’ve been known in the past to complain about games & systems that Australia never got & how much better the Americans (& the Europeans in some respects) have it than us. Yes I am somewhat of a whinger, but let’s look at the history. When I think of games that never made it to Australia I think of:

Final Fantasy 2 & 3 – SNES
Megaman Collection – GC
Cubivore – GC
Megaman 64 – Nintendo 64
Hey You Pickachu – Nintendo 64…

Ufouria-The Saga

… actually that last one isn’t a bad thing… My girlfriend still has nightmares about yelling into that microphone & having the little electric puffball do either nothing or something else. ANYWAY, let’s save that for another review. As it happens, there were a few English releases Australia did get that the American’s did in fact NOT get. Sounds strange I know. Traditionally games come out in Japan first, then get translated for North America, then if they feel like it we might see a PAL release. That was not the case for Ufouria, which for some unknown reason was released in Europe & Australia, but not the US.

Ufouria-The Saga

Ufouria is a platformer that is similar to Wonderboy 3. It offers one big world to play in rather than individual levels & includes different areas that only certain characters can access. Seeing the similarities so far? The only real difference is that Ufouria features 4 seperate characters & Wonderboy 3 features changes to the 1 character, but from a gameplay perspective that hardly matters. For those not familiar with Wonderboy 3, let’s have a look at what makes this a great game.

Ufouria-The Saga

The game starts with Bop Louie (I’ll get to the names later) who has been transported from his homeworld of Ufouria to this mysterious world with 3 of his friends who he has been seperated from. Bop Louie has the ability to bop his head into enemies to defeat them. All the characters start off with one ability, but upgrades for each character are available. For example, later in the game Louie can gain the ability to climb calls.

Ufouria-The Saga

The first thing Louie needs to do is to rescue his friends. The problem is that when you find one of Louie’s friends they start to attack you. I’m probably giving away part of the storyline here, but each of Louie’s friends has been brainwashed & must be defeated to knock some sense into them & have them join your party. Freeon Leon is the first candidate for some brain wash bashing. He has the ability to swim on top of the water & walk on ice, which will lead you to Shades who can float, then Gill who can swim underwater. You can change characters are any point in the game which you will need to do on a regular basis.

Ufouria-The Saga

Aside from battling your friends, there are also bosses in the game who each offer a different challenge. While they can be difficult (particularly the one in the submarine) you never feel like they’re impossible to beat.

Ufouria-The Saga

The music is very boppy & enjoyable. At the recent Ultracade event I got to hear a remix of the main tune which surprised me as I didn’t think the game was popular enough for that sort of attention. Sound effects are your standard Nintendo platform affair, so there’s nothing that really stands out.

Ufouria-The Saga

The controls are brilliant. One thing Nintendo systems are good at is platform games & this is no exception. All the characters move just as they should. You feel the bump as a character slips on the ice & falls over. You feel the inertia as you slowly start moving in the water & progressively speed up.

Ufouria-The Saga

Now onto the names. In Japan there is a series of games based on a character called Hebereke. Ufouria is one of the Hebereke games rebadged for the Western market. Not only the names have changed, but the character sprites have been modified from the Japanese original for some strange reason. Bop Louie is actually the “Westernised” version of Hebereke himself. This doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way shape or form however.

Ufouria-The Saga

To make things even wierder, the Australian & European versions differ slightly. The main character sprites look the same, but the health status & a few other minor things were changed. The bulk of the game is the same, which begs the question: why?

Ufouria-The Saga

If you have difficulty the handy password option is there to allow you to continue your game. The only problem with this is you always start in the same spot, so if the boss is a fair distance away you have to go all the way back to them, but everything you’ve done up to that point is unlocked.

Overall if you owned a NES but loved Wonderboy 3, this was a great alternative. The controls are outstanding, there is minimal sprite flicker with the graphics & the music is brilliant. So it’s time to be patriotic people. Put your hand on your heart & declare to the world just how proud to be Australian. After all, we got Ufouria & the US didn’t.

5/5

 

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.

Donkey Kong Jr. Math

donkey kong

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.

donky kong
“I can either play this or a math game like it? Kiss my Huggies!”

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.

donkey kong
“I warned him if he starred in that goddamned math game, I’d disown his ass for Diddy Kong. Junior is dead to me. There is no Junior”

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.

Donkey Kong Jr. Math
More like calculate how long before this game gets thrown into traffic.

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.

Donkey Kong Jr. Math
The unnamed pink twin of DK Jr tugs at my heartstrings. Math = genocide

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?

Donkey Kong Jr. Math
No bullshit, this took me about 2 seconds to beat.

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…

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.

Hogan’s Alley

Hogan's_Alley

Hogan’s Alley

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.

Hogan's_Alley
Nice touch with the bullet in the logo.

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.

Hogan's_Alley
An early strip feautring the original Hogan’s Alley. How many video games do you know with roots dating back to the 1890s?

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.

Hogan's_Alley
Have a nice day indeed!

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.

Hogan's_Alley
No. Fucking. Way.

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?

Hogan's_Alley
Shirtless gangsters on what appears to be the surface of Mars. MISS!

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.

Hogan's_Alley
Seriously, look at the sour puss on that professor. Should we shoot out of mercy or not? Or do we shoot because he looks like Walter White and we really don’t know what a criminal looks like always?

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!

Hogan's_Alley
Game B FTW

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.

Hogan's_Alley
About as fun as it looks. A solid 15 seconds of entertainment.

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.

Hogan's_Alley
Nintendo and FBI mash-up!

For more information about the Yellow Kid and the origins of Hogan’s Alley, check out Brian Cronin’s INCREDIBLE blog at CBR here:
http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2009/05/28/comic-book-legends-revealed-209/

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:
http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/training/hogans-alley

Ninja Gaiden 2

Ninja Gaiden 2

Ninja Gaiden 2

So it’s another week of a retro gaming pick. This time around, we have a classic for the NES. It’s Ninja Gaiden 2 for the NES. This is actually the first one I played for the console. I remember renting the game and getting fed up due to its difficulty. The Ninja Gaiden series are one of the most challenging series for the NES.
Ninja Gaiden 2
The music of the game is classic. It’s upbeat and fun! The sounds are pretty much the same as the ones from the first game but it doesn’t matter, it’s still catchy to your ears.
Ninja Gaiden 2
The graphics of the games are just awesome. The cut-scenes are pretty awesome and cinematic. They are quite memorable you know. It was our first glimpse at seeing movements and story-line in between stages.
 Ninja Gaiden 2
The gameplay is tough! If you really want an old school 8-bit challenge, then this is it! Look no further unless you want something even more difficult like Battletoads. You’ll be trying to beat this game for hours, days, even weeks! Once you do, you’ll feel so accomplish and will never want to play through it again!
Ninja Gaiden 2
If you are willing to replay this game again, you have guts! It’s quite difficult so the average gamer will definitely put it down once it’s finished. The hardcore gamer would come back to it from time to time but the wizard gamer will try to beat it without taking any damage in the entire game!

This game is a must have for your collection. This is just awesome! The game itself is a classic and it’s not that expensive. The replay value is debatable as it varies depending on your gamer blood. In all honesty, get it!!

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

Double Dragon 2

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

Honestly I haven’t played much of it since I was a kid, but I found an old copy of mine and took it for a spin.
Double Dragon 2

Double Dragon was a decent version on NES, but it had it’s own share of problems. Like a huge hit in the graphical department, and the complete lack of 2 player co-op in the main mode. Luckily they must of learned a few tricks for the 2nd game because you can play with a friend if you wish. The graphics are a little better this time around as well.

Double Dragon 2

The combat is also a lot faster and smoother than the first NES game. They also have a decent control set-up where one button hits/kicks opponents on one side, and the other button takes care of the other side. It’s a shame some of this is ruined by awkward platforming.  It’s a shame to lose one life because you got too close to an edge, or messed up a jump.

Double Dragon 2

It’s a pretty good game, however I don’t have someone who can play with me, so half of the experience is gone already. They also give very little lives which means you’ll have to be real good and play the game over and over until you can endure the countless hordes of thugs. It’s aged for sure, but it holds up better than I expected.

Score: 7 out of 10

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.

 

Clu Clu Land

Clu_Clu_Land
Clu Clu Land, October 1985, Nintendo

Clu Clu Land

Now here is an strange one. This is one you’ll either love to death and spend quality time daydreaming about how to conquer the next level or you’re going to throw this sumbitch right off a balcony and never think twice about it. Either way, let’s dig into this oddball Black Boxer, Clu Clu Land!
Clu_Clu_Land
Most of the early games have this sort of black title screen.
Let’s start with the box art. If you were a strapping young lad wishing to rent a new game, what the holy shitstain would you even think this one is about if you hadn’t seen it in the arcades prior? It looks like two Rupees in between a fried egg on the left and a first year graphic designer’s interpretation of Mr.Krabs holding a fried egg balanced Rupee while mentally talking to Professor Xavier via 1960’s psychic wave drawings on the right. In other words, no fucking clue what is going on on the box.
Clu_Clu_Land
Unlike the US version, the Famicom box art perfectly illustrates everything you need to know before popping it in.
Onto the meaty part of the burger. You’re a fish named Bubbles trying to collect coins while avoiding the Unira, a nasty type of sea urchin. Without the game manual, I wouldn’t have clue one that this was even a fish. She’s fairly badass in her own way because she has these extendable arms with claws that grab onto poles and turn however you grabbed them via momentum. Black holes can suck you in and bounce walls will send you eyeballs first to your doom but your main enemy in this game? The fucking timer. That’s right, you thought 8-1 of Mario forced you to haul ass through a level? This game is brutal with it’s timer and even if you die, the fucker doesn’t reset! Up the ass with Mobil gas I say! It’s biggest comparison would be Pac-Man but in reverse. Imagine Pac-Man’s mazes but instead of grabbing the power pellets, you need to uncover them while incapacitating the Unira. That’s the whole of it. Recover all the coins of a level (which usually creates a picture of some sort) and you move onto the next stage.
Clu_Clu_Land
We all live in a yellow submarine…
Graphics are nice and bright as they are in most of the launch games. There is never so much going on that you lose track of Bubbles and the Unira don’t blend in to the background in any way that would lead to cheap fishy-death. The sound is my favorite part about the game as it presents some catchy bittunes that  really get you bobbing in your seat like a kid again.
Clu_Clu_Land
One red, one green? Hmm, familiar 2 player color scheme there!
Bad news for those hoping for two straight 10 scores, these controls are the drizzling shits. I spent almost 90 minutes playing through and still had trouble making a simple left turn at times. The timer is a bitch and in some levels Bubbles moves normally, and some she smokes a fat bag of crank right before the level starts, so the pacing seems screwy. It looks simple enough becomes an untamed whoredoggie to say the least. The “sound wave” she shoots always hits it’s mark but ramming the Unira into the wall to kill them can take way too much valuable time. In other difficulty news, this becomes impossible around level 12, as you have to go over the coins twice to reveal them. I like impossible so stuck with it and was rewarded by having levels where if you uncovered the coin, you couldn’t touch it again or it flipped over and didn’t count. SADISTS!
Clu_Clu_Land
Is this Bubbles or Meatwad from ATHF?
THE FINAL VERDICT

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.

Clu_Clu_Land
Bubbles seems like she should’ve been more popular than she was. Cute as hell and just what NES fans seemed to love in their characters.

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.

Clu_Clu_Land
I’ll just say it, BRING BACK BUBBLES!!!

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.

NES Baseball

 nintendo baseball

NES Baseball

The Nintendo sport series on NES was pretty bad, and Baseball is not much different.
nintendo baseball
The game really is not that bad in a technical sense. It’s baseball….and not much else. It’s got different teams and a 2 player mode but that’s about it.
nintendo baseball
The problem with the game are really three things. The first is the speed of the game, it really goes far too slow for it’s own good. The second are the controls which aren’t so hot when you’re trying to throw it to the right base. Lastly is the difficulty when playing against the computer. It’s far too good getting easy home runs while you struggle to get pass any base.
 nintendo baseball
It may be slightly better in some ways compared to some other sport games on NES, but it’s still garbage. Do not buy this game from anywhere.

Score: 3 out of 10

Super Mario Bros

Super_Mario_Bros
(Super Mario Bros, October 1985, Nintendo)

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.
Super_Mario_BrosAll hail!

 What some don’t know is that SMB (as I will refer to it henceforth) was actually created as kind of a “goodbye” to the original Famicom system to make way for the Famicom Disk System, which was a huge motherfucker of a contraption that fit in underneath the original Famicom. The Famicom (FAMIly COMputer), for the uninitiated, is the Japanese version of the NES with little differences such as controllers hard-wired into the console and different sized cartidges. Little did they know that this platform/shooter they were working on (yes, a freakin’ shooter!) would become the landmark of a generation. Thankfully, we were spared “Mario With Big Muthafuckin’ Guns” as they could only map the A button to either jump or shoot the gun. Alas, cooler heads prevailed and a-jumping we all went!
Super_Mario_Bros

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.
Super_Mario_Bros
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.
Super_Mario_Bros

Firework mystery, talk of the playground.

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?

Super_Mario_Bros

Gaming’s first catchphrase!

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.

Super_Mario_Bros

Oh, 8-3 how I hate thee.

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.
Super_Mario_Bros
The first final boss I ever met. I heart Bowser.

FINAL VERDICT
10/10. No other way this one was going. This game is mandatory to play.
Super_Mario_Bros

THE JOURNEY WILL NEVER BE OVER!!!!!

Special thanks to N-Styles for the info about the gun. If you think it’s bullshit, there are original archived documents from Miyamoto himself! Check them out here:

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.

NES_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

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.

NES_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

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.

NES_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

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.

NES_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

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

NES_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

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

NES_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

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

NES_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

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.

Baseball Stars 2

Baseball Stars 2 - nes

Baseball Stars 2

So this week we have an awesome title. The second entry of the Baseball Stars series for the NES. Many of you might remember this as being the RPG baseball of the NES. Why RPG? Because you could actually level up your team to make them better hitters, better pitchers, and even faster and lucky. The game was so addictive that one could only wonder how great the series would’ve been on the SNES. Sadly, SNK took their talents on their own console and we never saw such a thing happen. Nevertheless, we have this beauty to remember it by so lets check it out.

Baseball Stars 2 - nes

The music of the game is actually pretty awesome. As with any baseball game on the NES or at least most of them, it would change as the mood of the game changed. For example, if you had a double and were on second base you are already in scoring position so the change and even the mood of the pitcher will change as he is thinking about stopping you from scoring. The rest of the sound effects are the usual baseball ones. Nothing that amazing but enjoyable at best.

Baseball Stars 2 - nes

The graphics of the game are great. They don’t make you wonder what’s going on and best of all it has barely any flicker on it. NES games had a lot of problem with flickering when there is a lot of stuff around the screen but this one was great at holding that off. The stadiums are your usual baseball stadiums although with different fields. They still feel like the same stadiums but we’ll let the slide. The NES could only do so much after all.

Baseball Stars 2 - nes

The gameplay of the game is nothing but wonderful. If there is a strong point of this game is the gameplay which is what makes you want to come back for more. Not only is it challenging at times, but it’s just a wonder to go through your noobie team and turn them into professionals. From beginning to end, you’ll end up powering through some tough challenges and it’ll definitely want to do it all over again.

Baseball Stars 2 - nes

Due to the long length of this game you are welcomed to come back to it at any time. It’s also a great game to play with friends especially if you use created teams. The length of the game can be changed to your liking so maybe playing a season of ten games is good enough for you? You can even play the long 100+ game seasons here. Of course, no official MLB teams but who cares, it’s a great game with amazing gameplay!

Any baseball fan should have this game in their collection. Let me rephrase that, any retro baseball fan should have this game in their collection. You just don’t know what you are missing! The game itself is beautiful, the music is amazing, and the gameplay will keep you coming back for more. This game hits everything bad about a baseball game out of the park!

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.

Power Blade

Power Blade

Power Blade

Format- NES

Genre- Side scrolling action game

Pretty much forgotten, Power Blade is actually a surprisingly assured action game. It’s a little too difficult for my tastes, but for those who love a challenge this is worth investigating.

I realise that the above sounds a bit like a conclusion, but there’s a few things else I still want to note about Power Blade.

First, is that it has dated in ways that have nothing to do with the actual game itself. The cartridge and box art, for example, looks so cheap and tacky you couldn’t blame someone for simply overlooking or choosing not to play the game.

Nova (the hero of the game) for example, looks ridiculously ‘macho.’ With his John McClane-esque vest he looks horribly out of place in todays gaming world. For Nova’s dignity, perhaps it’s best if he remains forgotten in the mists of the time.

Power Blade

Especially considering the lawsuits he might have on his hands from Gameloft.

The game itself though, is of the solid blade hurling action variety, with a decent range of enemies and obstacles to avoid/destroy. You can choose any of the levels from the main hub in any order you wish, except for the final boss’ lair. I’ve not made it that far though, admittedly.

Some of the enemies however, such as faces that are bolted onto walls, don’t quite fit into the future-setting of the game. They feel like something more out of Castlevania or Megaman. Odd.

The graphics are cutscenes are pretty damn impressive for the NES, and are fortunate enough to hold a certain retro-charm about them. I can certainly see why Power Blade has a little cult audience all of its own.

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.

The Jetsons

The Jetsons

The Jetsons

This week we take a look at a very fun title called The Jetsons Cogswell’s Caper! for the NES. Other than cartoon related games by Capcom, there were other cartoon style games that were actually good from other publishers. You have the Flinstones and Jetsons series for example. This game in particular is quite fun and hilarious at times. George’s way to take a hit says it all just experience it for yourself. Anyways, the game has a lot to offer and it’s a title you shouldn’t ignore!
The Jetsons
The music is decent for this game. It definitely doesn’t make you feel like you are in the future but there is nothing more amazing like an 8-bit soundtrack especially if it’s upbeat and fun. The sound effects are also pretty decent as well. There is no voice acting although it’s possible in the NES but you do have some classic sounds. The music would be above average and some of the tunes actually mimic the cartoon’s music.

The Jetsons

The graphics are pretty kewl. This game definitely doesn’t look like it has recycle graphics from other games. The levels are very large and interesting. They definitely look what they are supposed to look like. The robots, bosses, and even items are quite delicious looking! Putting that aside, it’s a well polished looking game.

The Jetsons

Just like over 80 percent of the NES games from that era this was a platformer. The game is the usual going left to right or right to left. There is a lot of jumping, throwing, and more jumping in it. But it’s quite fun! I only wish George had a gun or something!

The Jetsons

The game is your average platformer with a futuristic spin and it’s definitely a game to come back to. It’s one of those games you can beat under an hour and have lots of fun with it. NES was and still is the master of such replay value. Play it till your satisfaction is achieved!

In the end, the game is quite fun and one that should be in your collection. It is quite pricey but I’ll be sure to pick it up if I ever see it. Other than that, it should be a great hour or so of fun and one you can come back to whenever you have a Jetson urge. There is not much to say except that there is no wrong way to see this game. It’s not the greatest but it goes beyond average on every category.

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.

Kickle Cubicle

Kickle Cubicle

Kickle Cubicle

Format- NES

Genre- Puzzle/Action

Kickle Cubicle. It’s not a name that exactly rolls off the tongue.

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to give this one a proper review actually. My copy seemed to freeze every time I reached the third level, but fortunately an enthusiastic puff of the cartridge connectors saw it bought back to life.

Kickle Cubicle

You playing as the titular Kickle (a pale baby with earmuffs), going around grids freezing enemies and using them as climbing blocks, etc. It’s a bit like the Adventures of Lolo.

Added elements of interest are thrown in as well of course – such as roving enemies that need to either be dispatched or avoided, springs, and walls that are impossible to get around.

Kickle Cubicle

Pretty standard puzzle ingredients then, but it’s all done with a colourful art style and a bouncy soundtrack, helping it to lift it above your average puzzler.

There’s something quite refreshingly odd about it as well. The opening world is named ‘vegetable land,’ yet apart from veg circling you in celebration at the end of a stage there isn’t a sight of produce anywhere else. Plus, a tomato is spotted in one level – rookie error Irem.

Kickle Cubicle

The boss fights and the cutscenes are also a sickening broth of the saccharine and cutesy, but they are certainly endearing. Although how Kickle manages to jump from cloud to cloud in one cutscene, yet can’t jump over a small river in game is beyond me.

This is a pretty solid puzzle actioneer, all told. The whole thing is done with enough style and user friendliness (a helpful password system is in place) to make you keep coming back for seconds – I may even attempt to finish it one day. That’s a high recommendation indeed.

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.

Little Samson

Little Samson

Little Samson

There are lots of NES games we missed from Japan because they didn’t think we were ready for them. This is one of the few gems that made it even though the NES was well past its prime as the SNES was already taking over the world. Little Samson is not only a hard to find game, but it’s a good one. In most cases, when the game is really hard to find it, it’s mainly because of low production numbers while other reasons would be popularity.

Little Samson

This one is a case of low production numbers due to the fact that the NES was long gone. Many people missed this gem but thanks to wonderful tools like eBay and emulators we can enjoy what we missed. I do remember playing this game back when the NES was still around and it was quite amazing. I had no idea it would be worth so much all these years later. Enough of this history lesson, lets check out the game in the different basis of review.

Little Samson

The music is marvelous. Each character has their own musical number that defines their character. It’s quite enjoyable for your ears. The game is also packed with great sound effects as well as music other then the character’s music. You’ll definitely enjoy this one if you are an 8-bit sound fanatic.

Little Samson

The NES was already past its prime but developers knew every trick there had to be for the console. Programming a beautiful game was no problem due to the experience developers had. In other words, since this game came out in 1992 and was developed by a brilliant team, it means the graphics are awesome! Each character looks as exquisite as the other. The backgrounds are live and vivid and the enemies are just as lively as everything else on the game! Well done!

Little Samson

The gameplay is probably the best part of this game. This game is just amazing to play with. Each character has their own abilities which will help you through the game. You have the mouse that can climb all over and drop bombs Metroid style, then you have the powerful stone warrior with enough strength to destroy anything. The dragon comes in handy as it can fly for a short period of time and then of course the main hero which has a little bit of everything. A great balance of characters makes the game ever so enjoyable.

Little Samson

This game is so enjoyable that it’s great to come back to. You can’t say no to another round especially when you get to use the cute little mouse!! The dragon is also awesome, well all of them are!! You’ll definitely come back to this game for another round because this platformer is just amazing!

The game itself is a gem but it won’t come cheap. I highly suggest you try it on an emulator and then decide if you want to buy it or not. It goes for around 100 dollars cart only. In the end, it’s just an amazing game that having a physical copy of it will look amazing in your collection. There is nothing more to say except that this game is amazing!! I think I’ve said that before but it’s just that enjoyable. Everything in it will give you hours of joy whether it’s the music, characters, and most of all the gameplay.