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!

Batman Forever: The Arcade Game

Batman forever

Batman Forever: The Arcade Game

Many will not-so-fondly remember the “other” Acclaim Batman Forever game, a disaster of imprecise controls, illogical level designs, and visuals so sub-par, it was hard to make out what you were doing. That mess found its way onto countless game consoles, including the lowly Game Boy, the last place it should have ended up.

Batman forever

However, on the PlayStation and Saturn, Acclaim published the arcade version (ports by Iguana), hence the title Batman Forever – The Arcade Game. Instead of falling into the platform genre, The Arcade Game was a simple beat-em-up, but one completely lacking in direction, logic, or thought, in addition to the problems of 16 and 8-bit platformers.

Batman forever

The games co-op play only made things more confusing, as the muddy, pixelated digitized visuals caused Batman to blend with the background, and Robin to somehow look like some of the more colorful enemies. Instead of establishing a flow or pacing, BF – TAG just tossed everything onto the screen. Power-ups are everywhere, and the game randomly seems to stop as the superheroes suck in their the newly found abilities. Other times, it stops so either can explode into an explosion of lightning (?) to clear the screen. Various combo counters took up valuable areas of screen real estate, making an already difficult to see game even worse. Of course, they can also shrink (??). Why, for what purpose, is anyone’s guess.

Batman forever

Controls are impossibly slippery, while limited animation makes it seem as if characters are skating around the backgrounds instead of walking on them. For the record, they are. Everything moves so fast (the complete opposite of the other Forever game), it becomes impossible to grab the basics of punching or kicking. The epic and certainly expensive soundtrack is culled from the films, unintentionally hilarious considering the absurdities occurring on-screen.

BF – TAG is a Batman game with zero focus, an attempted showcase of the advancement of digitized visuals, which when done well, could work in favor of the developer. When done poorly, you end up with this, a game where the budget is so squarely focused on the graphics, nothing was left for the gameplay.

Burnout

Burnout_arcade

Burnout (2001)
By: Criterion Games / Acclaim  Genre: Racing  Players:  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: Infinity
Also Available For: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Burnout_arcade

As many regular readers here may know, the demise of Sega’s fantastic Dreamcast took with it my enthusiasm for all ‘modern’ gaming as well. Consequently, a vast majority of systems and games released since then went largely ignored by me. Still to this day I’ve used a PS2 only very briefly, and I’ve never used an Xbox, but the GameCube is a bit different. My appreciation of racing games is also well-known and it was these games that consumed the bulk of my time with my shiny Dreamcast so my interest in modern gaming was again briefly piqued by a magazine cover I saw. The magazine was Edge whose cover was only usually awarded to notably important or prestigious subjects so when I saw one dominated by a new racing game called Burnout, I took immediate notice, particularly when I saw the text accompanying the image – “OutRun meets 3DO Need For Speed”…

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That said, any interest I had in video games at all during my post-Dreamcast depression was intermittent so it took me a good while to get around to playing Burnout, but when I finally did it was the GC version that I plumped for and my first impressions were mixed. It certainly isn’t a game to bog you down in exposition – as far as I can tell there’s not even a basic outline of your objectives beyond the obvious goal of being ‘number one’ (snigger), never-mind anything as radical as a backstory, but that isn’t too important with games like this. All the game does give you is a choice of several play-modes – Championship, Single Race, Head to Head, Time Attack, and Special. The first two consist of races against three CPU-controlled cars over ‘street’ courses which of course are crammed full of civilian vehicles. Single Race (arcade mode, basically) give you a choice of five fictional cars – Supermini, Sports Coupe, Saloon, Muscle, and Pickup – and three courses to race them on.

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Doesn’t sound like much I agree, so luckily more cars and courses can be unlocked by racing (well) in the Championship. This is the mode you’ll probably spend by far the most time with and it consists of two types of race – Grand Prix and Marathon races. There are four Grands Prix, which are each a series of three races over several laps of circuit-based courses (the number of laps depends on the length of the circuit), and two Marathons, which are single races over one long point-to-point course. Both types of race have a fairly strict time-limit to reach the numerous checkpoints but successful completion of each unlocks subsequent Championship races, more courses, more options for the Special Mode, and Face Off races. There are four of the latter which are head-to-head races against a CPU-controlled opponent in a new car. Win the race and you unlock the car for future use!

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This does of course bring the total number of cars available in the game to nine – the un-lockables are (skip this part if you want it to be a surprise!) – Roadster, Saloon GT, Tow Truck, and a Bus! Each vehicle is modeled on a real world equivalent (unofficially, of course) and differs with regards to its acceleration, top speed, and handling. The first two don’t matter too much as your opponents will generally be of an equal standard anyway – i.e. if you choose a slow car, they’ll be slow as well, so finding a car that handles according to your preferred driving style is most important. Some of them stick to the road like glue and obey your every command without question; others skid and slide around all over the place! Everyone knows it’s way more fun going for the fastest, craziest option though, and to that end I would recommend the Dodge Viper. Ermm, I mean the ‘muscle car’ – it’s big, heavy, and a challenge to control around corners, but it’s fast!

Burnout_arcade

There are a total of fifteen named courses through the game but only five of them are wholly unique – Interstate, Harbor Town, River City, Hillside Pass, Gridlock USA – the others are made up of sections taken from these courses, sometimes reversed or at different times of day (or night). Although they’re all comprised of public roads, there’s still a reasonable variety of types and features. Their names should give you a good idea or what they’re like but you can expect to tackle inner-city areas, motorways, coastal roads, quiet country lanes, and various others featuring undulating surfaces, tunnels, long sweeping corners, sharp right-hand turns, bridges, and lots of other stuff. As mentioned, all roads are filled with normal road-users as well, including everything from normal cars to buses, petrol-tankers, and big trucks, and these are predictably involved in much of the action.
Burnout_arcade

Travelling the sort of speeds typical of this game, it doesn’t take too much contact to cause a crash. Indeed, hitting stationary objects like walls and barriers is normally enough but touching any other vehicle that isn’t travelling at a near-identical speed (i.e. your opponents) will result in a usually-spectacular accident, often involving numerous other vehicles as well. Whilst it was almost certainly the often-leisurely drives around attractive locales that Edge magazine had in mind when they compared Burnout to OutRun, it was surely the huge crashes that made them mention the original Need For Speed. I guess Criterion were rather proud of them too – each is replayed from several angles and gives a damage figure in dollars. There’s even a ‘biggest crash’ category in the records screen, tempting you to cause them on purpose in pursuit of the record for each course!
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This can be tremendous fun as you might imagine, but believe it or not there is actually some incentive for avoiding accidents where possible, and that it what gave the game its name to begin with – the Burnouts! This is represented by a meter in the bottom-left of the screen and there are a few ways of gradually filling it – getting ‘air’ by driving over bumps and hills fast enough, driving on the wrong side of the road without crashing, drifting around corners, and by ‘near misses’ – in other words, nearly hitting civilian cars. Once the meter is full it’s available to use by pressing the relevant button which causes a significant increase in speed for… about thirty seconds if memory serves. This does of course greatly increase the likelihood of a crash as not only do the other cars come at you faster, but it also makes cornering a lot more difficult. When they do come though, they can be among the most spectacular crashes of all!
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They certainly do look impressive as well, whether you cause them on purpose or not! In fact, everything looks good here really – the cars, courses, roadside, and scenery are all fantastic and superbly detailed, but this kind of stuff is the least we expect from 21st century gaming – what impressed me the most was the smaller stuff. You can change the color of your chosen vehicle and the races take place at various times of day so the lighting there is great as well, and the attention to detail is superb – weather effects, your car’s shiny windows and bodywork reflecting the sky and parts of the scenery, its drive wheels kicking up dust if you veer off track, its headlights reflecting off the road surface during wet night races, your indicators flashing when you turn corners, shadows appropriate to the sun’s position, other road user honking at you if you get in the way… it’s all here!
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Even better is the sense of speed which was the best I’d experienced at the time and still impresses now, especially when using the ‘bumper cam’, and even more so when using a ‘burnout’ – everything gets a tinge of blurriness as your pace immediately increases, reflections pass over your car faster, tunnels approach scarily, it’s pulse-quickening stuff! And then there’s those crashes… The crashes are undeniably a visual high-point – sometimes your car will just stop dead, other times roll numerous times down the street, it can get wedged under trucks, stuck between two buses; hitting a crash barrier or something can even send you spinning through the air, but the results are usually the same for all vehicles involved – smashed windows, dents and scratches all over, and a million different types of crumpled bodywork. I’m no physicist but I’d say the vehicles also behave exactly as they should in these high-speed collisions too which is perhaps even more impressive.
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As entertaining as the crashes are though, I always found them a bit overrated. Games like Destruction Derby were created specially with crashing in mind but Burnout, however good its crashes may be, was designed as a racing game first and foremost, and in this regard it’s fantastic. The Championship mode probably won’t take too long to complete but all the courses and cars unlocked therein are available for use in Single Race and Head to Head modes which helps prolong the lifespan of this fine game, and then there’s the hitherto unmentioned Special Mode. To start with this only offers race replays and a music player but it’s also possible to view the credits, access a Survival mode (challenges you to race for as long as possible without crashing), Free Run (lets you race a course without any other traffic around), Free Run Twin (two player version of Free Run), all of which is unlocked in much the same way as the courses and cars.
Burnout_arcade

Even all these play modes will only last so long though. As with any other driving game, the thing that will or won’t keep you playing after you’ve seen everything is simply how enjoyable it is to play, and this is probably Burnout’s greatest strength. Part of the reason for this is the racing system which is surprisingly fair – if you race well but crash occasionally, your opponents will usually be very close by, constantly jostling for position, although not too violently. If you race really well and rarely or never crash, they’ll be way behind, and if you crash every thirty seconds you’ll never catch them up, or at least the leader! Something else that’s very welcome here is the fallibility of the other racers – they all make mistakes and frequently crash, often right in front of you, leaving you with a pile of wreckage to try and steer around unscathed! Possibly a tougher enemy than your opponents though, is the rather harsh time-limit which necessitates fast but careful driving in order to make each checkpoint. This, however, may sometimes seem impossible due to the design of the courses.
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They’re not badly designed you see, just realistically, and since real roads are not designed for 150mph races, there’s lots of potential problems. As well as the many, many normal road users who move around as real drivers would, changing lanes, turning at junctions, stopping at traffic lights, etc, there are plenty of tight (and often blind) corners, and even things like crossroads to try and catch you out as well, frequently successfully. The control of the cars is one of my favorite things about this game though. Each is noticeably different and testing the limits of them all is great fun – push any of them too hard and they’ll complain! The floopiest one is also, not in-coincidentally, my favorite, but even the weediest ones will give in eventually. What all this basically means is, although it can often seem like a tough or even unfair game, it’s more than possible to navigate each course quickly and safely. It’s definitely not a game to simply hold down the accelerator and bash your way around each course, but careful as well as skillful driving make playing it a thoroughly entertaining experience.

First impressions of Burnout are ultra fantastic – the very superb presentation, flashy graphics, eye-melting speed, and of course the crashes! Criterion definitely nailed it from an aesthetic point of view, although the oft-criticized in-game music is very much background music and quite inconspicuous. Get past the initially dazzling exterior though, and second impressions of the game may put you off a little. It seems as though you crash every thirty seconds without being able to do anything to prevent it and numerous angry shouts are sure to leave your mouth while playing. Stick with it though, and you’ll soon see that practice absolutely pays dividends. Time spent with the challenging courses and flawlessly-handling cars soon becomes immensely enjoyable, you’ll start finishing races without having crashed at all, laps times will continually come down, and Burnout soon becomes one of the most exciting, addictive, edge-of-the-seat racing games ever seen at the time.

RKS Score: 8/10

South Park

SouthPark

I wanted to do a review that had something do to with Thanksgiving even if it was a stretch and behold I found South Park. Published in 1999 from Acclaim this first person shooter features your four favorite characters from the show all voiced by the original actors, but sadly there is little else than that to mark as a bright spot for the game.

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The story is that a comet is heading towards South Park and apparently that has caused all kinds of crazy things to happen. From evil turkeys to living toys it is up to the boys to stop them. Now first off, the game at the time looked great and that is most likely because it was not too difficult from a programing standpoint to turn the 2D paper characters into 3D. Along with the bright colors of South Park the game at the time was a visual treat.

south park game turkey

During the single player campaign you are treated to cut screens featuring original dialog from many South Park notables including Chef who gives you your “mission briefings”.  Sadly, the first person aspect of the game is lacking. One reason is because even back then the AI was pretty weak. It was almost impossible to get taken out unless you got swarmed by a ton of enemies. The weapons were also way underpowered which makes sense considering they are kids, but so many of the enemies and especially the bosses took so many hits to kill it got boring real fast.

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Another thing that gets old is the repetitive voices when running around in mission mode or multiplayer. At first it is cool to hear the characters react to being hit or finding things, but after hearing it 100 times you almost want to mute the game. One bright spot in the game for me personally was the multiplayer. Not because it was much better than the single player, but because of the dancing gun which you can see an example of in the video below.

The game was made on the Turok 2 engine and was released for the N64, Sony Playstation and what I played it on, the PC. South Park is just good enough to give it a run through once if nothing else than to experience the graphics and original dialog, oh and the dancing gun. Beyond that it was a weak shooter where most of the enemies ran straight at you and the boss had patterns a video gaming noob could detect. The game did feature the boys killing turkeys and having Thanksgiving dinner and so it has found a place as a legit Thanksgiving themed game.

Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones

Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graphics

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

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

Sound

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

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

Originality

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

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

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

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

Airwolf

Airwolf - Box - NES

Airwolf

Airwolf was a 1980’s television series that inspired a licensed video game developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Acclaim and released in 1989. Following the mission-oriented adventures of Hawke and his Airwolf military helicopter, the protagonist must undergo several missions in order to defeat the FIRM.

Gameplay

You follow a series of missions, each of them usually consisting of rescuing hostages or destroying enemy fighters. Before each stage, a map is shown, marking locations where you can land the Airwolf craft, including where to land for fuel and where to pick up hostages. It also shows the likely location of enemy aircraft as well.

Airwolf - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

During the mission, you fly about in a rough first-person flight-simulation mode, with the horizon awkwardly lilting back and forth in jerky angles for every adjustment. You can shoot opposing units while tracking your location on the panel display, which also shows the location of the hostages, fuel, etc. When you approach one of these target sites, it switches to a side-view landing screen, where you must carefully guide the Airwolf copter between obstructive structures and softly land without crashing and burning. Doing so at a fuel station reloads your fuel, obviously, whereas landing at the sight of a hostage shows the thankful person boarding your Airwolf vehicle. Once you rescue the hostages, you exit the area and the mission is completed. Occasionally you destroy airfields. You can shoot incoming missiles and get credit for doing so at the end of a mission. Otherwise, that is pretty much it.

Airwolf - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The gameplay, it must be noted, is notoriously repetitive and boring. It is playable, but the bland looks coupled with uninventive missions (put it this way: you rescue a lot of hostages) does not help to enhance any sort of appeal or replay value.

Graphics

Seeming to focus on connecting with the source material of the television show, the game features enormous close-up shots of characters and features (the Airwolf crest must been seen to be believed, and the pocketknife beside the glasses on the sheet of paper that missions get typed onto is a nice touch) between stages, emphasizing the looks of those details rather than the in-game graphics, which are rather crude. The weapon fire is generic geometric shapes, the enemy craft are ill-defined (though decent), and other than the needlessly complex-looking control panel, the entire background is separated into two colors: One for ground, the other for sky, and the colors change every level.

Airwolf - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Sound

The Airwolf theme is present and intact, though likely unrecognized by most. The effects themselves are nondescript and average. Ho hum.

Originality

Some license games have some thought put into them (granted, sometimes too much), and some very little, and this seems to be a case of the latter. It is a simple flight simulator, but makes no effort to stretch beyond very basic mission-based dogfight land-the-craft gameplay.

Airwolf - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Lots of license games for various pop-culture sources were created for the NES, to varying results. Some were overwrought and made, perhaps, needlessly complicated (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Cool World, etc.); others seemed to be more thoughtful and developed but a bit heavy on the challenge side (Die Hard, Fester’s Quest); while still others, among other categories, fell into the group that were sloppily made, lazily pushed to publication, and devoid of any interesting, redeeming qualities. Welcome to your homeland Airwolf, where you languish with a rating of one and a half stars out of five.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UE-YSOmb-8[/youtube]

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

Arch Rivals

Arch Rivals - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Arch Rivals

In 1987, the development publisher team of Acclaim/Midway/Rare pitched in to produce an arcade port of the basketball simulation Arch Rivals, as they would release as an 8-bit video game cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. Would it measure up to its original cabinet counterpart? Well, no, actually; it looked much worse, and simply did not play as enjoyably. However, it did manage to forge its own identity as one of the quirkier basketball-game selections on the ol’ Nintendo system and managed to serve as a bit of foreshadowing to a future blockbuster b-ball franchise.

Gameplay

On its surface, Arch Rivals is a basketball video game on the NES. There are a few features, though, that make it somewhat notable. This is not a five-on-five version; rather, this cart features two-on-two full-court style hardwood action. Additionally, the player only controls one character on the team, rather than the switch of controls used in many other games. However, the player can tell the teammate what to do, in the sense that pressing the pass button (B) not only makes the teammate pass the ball, but the player’s character is actually shown, via speech bubble, telling the teammate to do so, or to shoot by pressing the A button (also used to jump on defense).

Arch Rivals - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

On defense, though, the claim to fame for this video game is in using the B button to punch opposing players. There are no fouls in Arch Rivals, and in fact no other penalties either, as it is impossible to move out of bounds or travel, for example. Thus, gameplay devolves (evolves?) into a cat-and-mouse chase across every possession, as the offense struggles to set up an open shot or dunk before the defense can punch them out and get the ball back. Holding the B button sets up for a punch, during which the character’s arm is visibly withdrawn and the player can move about the court, until it is released to unleash the punch. Or, while holding B, the player can press A to perform a weird diving, somersault-rolling “swipe” move to try and steal the ball and retain motion. This move is much more difficult to pull off.

Arch Rivals - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Once past the humorous title screen, displaying up-close face shots of two “arch rival” players plainly irritated with each other, with a basketball in the middle until a fist bursts forth from its round orange skin, the options are presented. Weirdly enough, there are only four tongue-in-cheek teams to choose from (Los Angeles, Brawl State, Chicago, and Natural High), and even of these four, only very specific match-up configurations are available, scrolled through with presses of the B button. The A button moves to a hints-giving session, screen by screen, providing helpful instructions. After the options comes the character selection, giving eight different players the player can choose from, or two players in a head-to-head game with each choosing their own character. They supposedly have different characteristics, such as one being a top shooter, one being the best brawler, etc., but in reality, the actual gameplay results of most of them is similar enough to be unintelligible from the other.

Arch Rivals - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The play control is a little off-kilter, especially when compared to other basketball games. For example, the physics programmed into this game demand a bizarre momentum, whereas defensive players without the ball move notably faster than ball-carriers; akin to the “catch-up” boost a losing kart may receive in a Mario Kart game. In fact, if the player pauses the game will running at full tilt, the player actually continues to move until their inertia runs out, even though the other athletes are frozen still. Not since Kid Kool has an on-screen character sprite had so much trouble coming to a stop.

Then there are the truly distinctive factors behind Arch Rivals. For one, players can trip over the little referee. Also, eventually in the game, random garbage and stuff gets strewn about the court, tripping players that run over them. Furthermore, one interesting aspect is that, on the occasional slam dunk, the backboard breaks, bringing glass shards down to the floor and remaining broken for a little while. This, along with the two-on-two action, one-character control with teammate commands, emphasis on knocking the opposing team over, and arcade-style gameplay are very reminiscent of Midway’s later basketball series, the more famous NBA Jam franchise. In this sense, Arch Rivals can be seen as the direct predecessor to Jam.

Graphics
Arch Rivals - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

Another early NES basketball game is Double Dribble, which surprisingly only looks a little worse than its original arcade iteration. Arch Rivals, on the other hand, looks decidedly worse than its upright cabinet original. While it would be nice to say that this is primarily due to the superior graphics of arcade Arch Rivals over arcade Double Dribble (which, in itself, is an opinion that may merely be a matter of taste), the visuals of the console cart have unusual choices throughout, the prime example being just the eerie, not-quite-right way the actual players are renders, with single white pixels as eyes. There are a handful of different “cutscenes” that are seen after every successful score, ranging from the ref standing there with a whistle, to the possibility of one coach or another seen barking at their players off-screen, or even a cleavage-bearing cheerleader. However, despite the graphical goofiness of these potentially appealing scenes, they pose a very telling problem: Pausing the action after every single made shot makes Arch Rivals much more slowly paced, which removes from its otherwise zany charm of punching and rushing back-and-forth action. It can be confidently stated that, without these needlessly overdone cutscenes, Arch Rivals would be a better game.

Sound
Arch Rivals - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

It could be argued as admirable that the background music is not distracting, but surely the programmers could have done better than a bass-rhythm, quick-hits-otherwise ditty that seems to make the player feel like the developers were unaware that the NES had more than two channels for music. The sound effects themselves are barely noticeable either, which is a more disconcerting issue. Even with the somewhat obvious limitations of the 8-bit NES machine, the backboard-shattering surely could have been rendered with more punch and circumstance. Perhaps this reviewer is just dreaming, but Arch Rivals is decidedly not a game that reached for the stars in its audio department, merely settling to service the gameplay mechanics.

Originality

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

As mentioned before, though its gameplay is not quite satisfying for basketball purists and merely suffices are a zany diversion for everyone else, unfortunately coupled with the gameplay flaw of stop-and-go rhythmic issues, Arch Rivals holds an intriguing spot in console history, one that laid the path for the amazing entries in the NBA Jam series. But historical context itself cannot make a great game, and Arch Rivals must be properly recognized as neither among the best ever created, nor the worst ever suffered through: A two and a half star rating out of five pegs the b-ball sim for good.

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