WedNESday: Blaster Master (1988): A Very (Very) Quick Review

See the source image It’s been difficult for me to find time to write an NES article lately but I felt I needed to get something online.  I decided on writing a very quick review of Sunsoft’s Blaster Master a Metroidvania action platformer released in 1988.  I’ve discussed Blaster Master before and have a certain nostalgia for the game as I think it was one of the first games of its kind that I actually beat, and I was absolutely captured by the seamless melding of genres: A platformer in the overworld, a top-down shooter in the dungeons.

In the game you play a kid driving a tank around a strange world.  Leaving the tank outside you are vulnerable, but you must enter dungeons to find upgrades and face each level’s boss, after which you will obtain an upgrade that allows you to traverse deeper into the world.  Each level contains distinct obstacles that require new abilities to overcome and the game uses difficulty progression quite well. The player is also forced to backtrack at times, with level entrances located inside of areas from previous stages that were inaccessible without specific abilities; a core staple of the Metroidvania genre.  The dungeons are short top-down action segments in which you control the hero as you collect gun upgrades to power yourself up before facing off with the level bosses.

I wouldn’t exactly call Blaster Master hard.  It is a lot like other titles such as Simon’s Quest and Rygar.  Once you know where to go, the game is actually quite direct and simple.  What saves it from mediocrity is that it is a well-crafted action game and it easily ranks among the best titles on the NES.  I believe one of the challenges a game like this faces at its age of nearly 30 years is falling into obscurity. Fortunately, Blaster Master Zero does exist for the 3DS and it is effectively a remake of the original, with a few improvements to the world to made the game longer and add some more exploration and depth and just add some necessary modernization.For collectors, Blaster Master is a pretty easy find.  It typically doesn’t run more than $10 and is certainly worth adding to any NES collection.  Chances are if you’re already collecting, you either have this one or it's on your list. For everyone else, the original game is definitely worth checking out on its own, even if you already have played through the remake.

WedNESday - Rockin' Kats (1991)

See the source image The NES has no shortage of quality action platformers.  Contra, Ghosts n' Goblins, the Castlevania and Mega Man series, all while being among the most well-known action entries on the 8-bit behemoth, only scratch the surface of the assemblage of titles that are really worth playing.  There are a host of lesser-known classics available that deserve their time in the spotlight.  So, let's start with a simple-but-fun title developed by Atlus in 1991 named Rockin' Kats, released on the Famicom as the cringingly-titled N.Y. Nyankies.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.92" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/rockinkats3.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" always_center_on_mobile="on" force_fullwidth="off" show_bottom_space="on" /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.92" background_layout="light"]

In Rockin' Kats, you play as Willy, who is pushing pavement trying to rescue his girlfriend from a brutal mobster.  Armed with a spring-loaded cartoon fist, Willy can punch bad guys, pound the ground to bounce higher into the air and grapple and swing from ledges ala Bionic Commando, although the feel of the swinging is more akin to Ristar.  You select your stage at the start by choosing from a list of TV channels, and then you begin your adventure.  The levels are mostly standard platforming fare, but there are a few auto-scrollers, and we all know how great those are...

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.92" background_layout="light"]

In terms of overall quality, Rockin' Kats fits squarely in the fun-but-quaint category.  There was obvious effort put into this game but it does show its age a little more than something like Mega Man 2, with it never really taking any risks but still succeeding in providing a fun platforming experience that keeps me coming back.  It is the sort of retro game that naturally encourages you to improve your skill over time.  Some platformers, by the nature of their design, are more successful at this than others.  What makes Kats interesting is the grappling mechanic, which adds a layer of technicality that requires some skill to master and can open the door for some swift tricks to speed through levels and skip sections of each stage.

There are some notable differences between the NES and Famicom versions of Kats and it really just comes down to performance.  To me, the Famicom cart seems to play a little better.  This isn't uncommon for faster games or games that require a lot of timing as the Japanese versions can occasionally have slightly differing framerates and controller latency.  Emulation can often mask this, but if you play a Famicom and NES copy of Super Mario Bros. back-to-back, on-hardware, the difference is subtle, but it's definitely there.  The Famicom option is certainly worth going for here anyways considering the cost hurdle for the North American release.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.92" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/rockinkats1.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" always_center_on_mobile="on" force_fullwidth="off" show_bottom_space="on" /][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.92" background_layout="light"]

For collectors, the NES cart of Rockin' Kats remains in the gap between "very uncommon" and "rare".  It's a subtle place for games that aren't exactly hard-to-find on the market, but still fetch a high price due to demand (see: Fire n' Ice).  This game is sought-after and regularly brings with it a hefty $100+ price tag but you can generally find several on sale on marketplaces like eBay.  The Famicom cart is significantly-cheaper, though, provided you have the necessary hardware to support it, so for most serious collectors who focus on simply being able to play the game on original hardware over their collection's total monetary value, the import is probably the way to go  This is generally the case with very uncommon or rare games from Japan due to a lot of these imported games having been either shipped to North America in limited quantities (as was the case with Rockin' Kats) or ported very late in the NES's cycle after a majority of the gaming market had since migrated to contemporary 16-bit platforms.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

WedNESday: Winter Games

See the source image Do you have Olympic Fever?  I have Olympic Fever (two vaccines later and all I have is a rash at the injection site).  I enjoy the overblown bombast and moments of individual triumph that permeate the games.  However, after nearly six decades of video games, and about 10 winter games events since the start of the golden age of gaming in the late 70’s, we have yet to see one title that actually captures the event well.  There were a few that landed and were good enough to sell well, however.  One such game was Winter Games from Epyx, released in 1985 on the Commodore 64.  It received fairly high praise for its graphics and quality, with multiple game modes and eight events.  So, a few years later, the NES saw a port of the hit title published by Acclaim.

The NES release of Winter Games wasn’t good. It isn’t the worst sports title on the NES, but as is usually the case with these sorts of sports games, it is very hard to really nail down the controls, and honestly, how do you simulate figure skating with two buttons and a D-pad?  Even excluding the limited control options, the port on Nintendo’s titanic console was inferior in graphical and sound quality due to hardware limitations and also featured only four of the original's eight events. It was almost literally half the game! The controls are occasionally bizarre and often counter-intuitive.  Instead of having one button that executes tricks, for-instance, these are done by pressing and holding one of eight directions on the D-pad while in the air or on the ice.  This doesn’t work!  This style of limited control options has never worked!  Without a button to execute the trick (ala, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater), just pressing a direction feels off and the game fails to consistently register the directions when they're pressed.  At the time it was released Winter Games on the NES was bad, but not insufferable because at least it tried to do a few things differently on consoles by giving the player freedom to execute big tricks offering a sort of risk-versus-reward design.  Still, not only has Winter Games not aged well, it really is mostly just boring.  These sorts of sports games have evolved so much that a title like this feels like a college student's first software programming project.

Figure Skating is frustrating, with most button presses feeling as though they aren’t doing anything and once you finally do hit the air it’s almost as though you have no control over what is happening.  While it is possible to land a successful trick, good luck trying to master this thing!  Speed skating is dull, ultimately amounting to pressing left and right back and forth in rhythm to keep up your speed and even then it just too frustrating and inconsistent to be really fun.  Bobsledding is the most intuitive entry but it falls flat for being boring.  The only one of the four events I actually really enjoy is Hot Dog Aerials, a ski jump game that is honestly pretty addictive.  This is due to the controls being far more intuitive and things just feeling like they make more sense when you are playing.  Press ‘A’ to take off, hit the air and use the D-pad to chain together a few tricks before you have to land safely.  Not too bad and, honestly, fun for a few go-'rounds to try and beat your best score (those judges are jerks!).

Winter Games is comparable to other, similar “multi-sports” titles like California Games, Gold Medal, Caveman Games and the significantly-superior Crash ‘n’ the Boys: Street Challenge.  The NES port isn’t unplayable; it just isn’t all that fun outside of the aerials.  I have always felt that being bland is far worse than being dreadful because at least I often remember playing a truly terrible game.  Winter Games is little more than an afterthought.  Still, I don’t hate it in its complete form released on other platforms and I have a fondness for the aerials minigame that just makes me want to pick it up and try again (I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything above about an 8.6); It’s simple-yet-satisfying.  Even the worst of these multi-game event titles seem to have a few segments that are at least a little enjoyable.  If you are going to get this one, I’d say try to find a copy of the Commodore 64 release because it is significantly better, and if you are an NES collector like myself, chances are you already have this cart, but if not, it’s a scrap; pick it up.  It really won’t cost you much and the aerials are more fun than your average mobile game distraction, assuming you can get a handle on the still-clunky gameplay.

WedNESday: Tiger-Heli

Less than a year after its release, the Nintendo Entertainment System was a hot ticket item in the US.  Finally it appeared there was a savior for the dying games industry, which by 1985 had lost roughly 95% of all market value since its 1983 revenue peak!  After Nintendo almost single-handedly revitalized the gaming market by labeling the NES as an “entertainment system”, not a “video game system” (hence the famous “toaster” model not having a top-slot), more and more companies were encouraged to fill up the NES library.  For many publishers, ports of popular arcade titles seemed a safe bet.  Even during the games market collapse titles like Dig Dug, Pac-Man and Galaga were doing well on home PC electronics such as the Tandy machines and later the Commodore 64.  So, naturally the big brands who were limping along in Arcades sought to get as much of their software NES-ready as quickly as possible.  The question was, “How do we get all of these games ready for the NES by next Christmas?!”  Outsourcing, of course!  By 1986 (less than a year after the NES’s North American launch) there were dozens of ports of classic arcade games on the console, many developed by unnamed, third-party contractors.  Some were reworked from Famicom ports of arcade cabs that either had very limited releases in the US from Japan but others were pretty solid 1-to-1 ports of the most internationally-popular arcade games of the time; as best as the NES could manage anyway, due to the obvious hardware limitations of the console versus its arcade contemporaries.  Still, weaknesses of the console hardware aside, many of these arcade ports were very, very well done. Taito’s 1985 arcade classic Tiger-Heli received its NES port (redesigned by the short-lived Micronics) this very same year.  Micronics is an interesting company, having done NES and SNES ports of arcade games not only from Taito but Capcom, SNK and Activision.  They were not originally credited for their ports but Kazzo Yagi, the principal software engineer for Micronics, was open about the company’s involvement.  Nintendo, as well as a few of the major brands such as Capcom, felt that having the copyright owner’s label on the game (despite not actually developing the NES port) would help the game sell as many of the games they published from Japanese arcades actually did not receive a wide US release.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.92" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Tiger-Heli2.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" always_center_on_mobile="on" force_fullwidth="off" show_bottom_space="on" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="P3 & 4" _builder_version="3.0.92" background_layout="light"]

Tiger-Heli is a very simplistic vertical shooter in the vein of Capcom’s 1942 (another Micronics port from the same period) in which you pilot a tiny helicopter through very long gauntlets of bullets and waves of enemies.  That said, I  believe Tiger-Heli is harder than 1942.  In fact, this is a prime example of “Nintendo-hard”.  Tiger-Heli’s difficulty stems from the slow-moving chopper you have to negotiate through scattering bullets and a global timer that often has all enemies on screen firing at the same time.  In terms of bullet hell games, this might seem like something that would make things easier, but not here.  You just do not move fast enough sometimes to get through the waves of bullets and your chopper’s hitbox is pretty large compared to that of other NES SHMUP’s.  

There are a few things to help you, though.  Your tiger doesn’t go “splat” on a single hit.  You have three health per life and when you are struck, bombs scatter around the place you were damaged, hitting enemies in a radius near where you were hit.  Powerups are also plentiful and include health pickups and support choppers who fly by your side firing either upward, expanding the width of your shots, or sideways to support taking out enemies who creep from the left or right.  Tiger-Heli also has destructible environments, so you can enjoy the comedy of flying over an unnamed suburban landscape and mindlessly blowing up all the denizens’ cars that are parked haphazardly in the grass near their tiny, 8-bit homes!

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.92" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Tiger-Heli3.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" always_center_on_mobile="on" force_fullwidth="off" show_bottom_space="on" /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text admin_label="P5" _builder_version="3.0.92" background_layout="light"]

Graphically Tiger-Heli doesn’t do much to impress.  It’s certainly more impressive than the endless waters of 1942 or the grey, black and blue anti-landscapes of Xevious, though.  There are just far more varied environments and slightly more detail to parts of the world.  This doesn’t stop things from getting repetitive, however.  Still, the game looks fine compared to its arcade counterpart.  In fact, the objects have an almost vector-style to them, a visual theme that was common in arcades at the time, but no so much on consoles.  The sound is also fine, but I hope you like the music you hear, because there are four songs you will hear in every stage, over and over again, and that’s it!  In terms of the sound, we are definitely not talking Konami-levels of audio variety and quality here.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.92" background_layout="light"]

I would call Tiger-Heli a fun “score attack” game.  Pick it up and see how far you make it and see if you can improve upon your score.  There are two sequels as well.  The first, Twin Cobra, received an NES port but the third title, Twin Cobra II, did not.  In fact, the only port the final entry in the series ever saw was for the Sega Saturn in Japan that today ranks among the rarest and most valuable games on the system, and for the Saturn that is saying something!  Tiger-Heli on the NES though is a very, very common game.  You can typically find these lying in piles for a few bucks and, honestly, if you do not have it and you do see it, pick it up!  It’s certainly worth owning and is one of the better deals in terms of challenge and replayability in the “very-common” category.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

WedNESday- The Simpsons: Bart vs. The Space Mutants

See the source image 1991 was an excellent year for quality video games.  We got Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter II, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and the Simpsons arcade game!  Also released in 1991 was The Simpsons: Bart vs. The Space Mutants, a lackluster platformer from Imagineering and Arc Developments and released on the NES by Acclaim, who was primarily known for localizing mediocre imports and aggressively acquiring otherwise-talented developers such as Iguana (NBA Jam and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter).  They closed down in 2004 after shifting the focus of operations primarily to sports games, a fight it obviously lost to EA, and one it probably shouldn’t have ever picked in the first place.

As for Bart vs. the Space Mutants on the NES, Acclaim’s title of “First Company to License and Release a Simpsons Game” didn’t last very long as Konami’s aforementioned Simpsons arcade game was released months later and made Space Mutants look like Space Invaders by comparison.  Bart vs. The Space Mutants is a fairly traditional platformer for the time, and while it showed promise with its idea, the execution left much to be desired.

Aliens have invaded Springfield and it is up to Bart to rescue his family and thwart the interstellar aggressors’ very, very stupid plans.  Each stage is a collectathon with a quota and once that number is achieved, you walk right for a very long time, and fight a boss.  It’s simple on paper, but playing it is another story.  This game is hard; very, very hard.  Bart’s hitbox is insanely big given some of the obstacles with moving objects lined up so perfectly you can barely fit under them and jumps that are clumsy and easily misjudged.  Getting items is also a crapshoot as they are often hidden in strange places.  Good luck ever beating this game without a guide.  Possibly with some trial and error you could figure parts of the game out, but it is designed with no clarity as to what you have to do much of the time.

The worst of all of the stages is the very first one.  The mission laid out for you is to get rid of all of the purple objects in the world.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, Iguana decided to be jerks, adding special items to use to clear certain objects out.  For instance, an unreachable bird in a tree can only be scared off by using a bottle rocket that you have to buy from a store using coins you collect in the world.  You have to prank call Moe from a payphone and you have to walk across clothes lines to drop hanging sheets over purple toys in backyards.  It all resembles a point and click adventure game at times, and while I would say that is a good thing, it just doesn’t fit with the style of game that frames the concept.  To make matters worse, the first stage is really the only level like this as the rest of the levels are just straightforward collect quests with objects you have to pick up strewn clearly throughout each stage.  The decision to make a cryptic puzzle platformer for only one stage is baffling to me.

Other problems exist as well, such as wonky, floaty controls that simply do not feel right.  Jumping can cause you to feel like Bart is drifting to the side at times, which is frustrating when you are trying do dodge projectiles or land precision jumps.  Also, it is not uncommon to come across platforms that seem like they shouldn’t be platforms at all, such as the top of a small door window or the base of a sign.  Other nonsensical design decisions include sentient ballet slippers that flutter up and down and a character resembling Principal Skinner riding inside of a giant boot!  Even the plans make little sense.  Aliens do not stop at randomly placing purple objects in the world.  No, they also place horrific monstrosities such as hats and balloons!  The people of Springfield will never know what hit ‘em…

Bart vs. the Space Mutants is bad.  It has a few good ideas that could have worked in the right hands, but what we got was a frustratingly-difficult platformer that is overlong and repetitive.  There is no excuse for an NES platformer like this to be this long, but the trek to the end of the stage after collecting all of the items seems like an eternity.  Making matters worse are repetitive visuals that do recreate the world of Springfield but still do not convey any form of interesting game design.  It just doesn’t work as a platformer.  The controls are off and the missions are just too vague.

For collectors this game is a scrap.  Bart vs. the Space Mutants will run you around $5 if you buy it at value.  Even then, there’s a good chance you’ll see this one for as low as $2-3 online at times.  It’s a perennial dust-collector at retro games outlets, and it is regarded by those of us who grew up at the time as one of the most villainous NES titles ever released as it taunted you to try to beat it, but for most of us this just wasn’t going to happen…

 

WedNESday: My Favorite NES Boss Battles – A New Year “Special”, Part 2

See the source image

5. Jagger Froid - Super C

Big bosses are an iconic trope in gaming.  The bigger, the badder, the better!  Jagger Froid (a truly odd name) is one of those legendary 8-bit bosses whose face you’ve seen time and again on box art and in reference to other creatures in the Contra series.  In Contra III, his horrific visage was the inspiration for the first phase of the final bout with the “vile Red Falcon”.  The multi-faced array of the first phase to the (I would call it ‘goofy’) sub-boss theme leads into a rumble followed by the tense boss theme as Jagger’s face emerges from a gaping hole.  It’s not a tough boss for being so late in the game, but it is a memorable fight with a pretty intimidating lead in for its time.

4. Jaquio - Ninja Gaiden

Like the Castlevania games, Ninja Gaiden is far more well-known for the difficulty of its stages rather than its bosses, but the final boss rush of the first title in the series will certainly test you.  This multiphase fight consists of a few simple engagements followed by a creepy alien beast that seems like it’s out of an entirely different game.  The fight is straightforward, but dodging Jaquio’s barrage of fireballs is quite the task, even for a seasoned gamer.

3. Gamma - Mega Man III

The first time I faced Gamma as a kid I swore it was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in a video game.  This massive mech that marks the final challenge of the Blue Bomber’s third outing is one memorable engagement.  The only reason he’s not higher is, despite its size and presentation, there really isn’t much to him!  The first phase has you quickly dispatching a weak small robot resting on the lower half of Gamma’s head, and when it’s dead, the massive mech’s horned helm drops revealing the full, brutish face of Wily’s new prized creation.  Watch out for its spiked fist, jump up the platforms and give a few Hard Punches and that’s all she wrote.

2. Tutankhamunattack - Life Force

I’m no Egyptologist, but I would hazard a guess it isn’t written that somewhere inside the body of a remote interdimensional alien planet-sized organism in space lies an Egyptian temple with a massive Tutankhamun head!  That’s okay though, because Life Force rocks and after a pretty tough fifth stage (with epic theme music), the famous boss beat kicks in as you slow down and find yourself at a dead end against a wall.  Tut’s lifeless face protrudes from the wall when suddenly the entire room begins to quake.  The boss music intensifies as the walls and ceiling begin to crumble brick-by-brick, forcing you to think fast and dodge the deadly falling objects and after the wall is gone and it is only your ship and Tut’s head against the blackness of space, color returns to the gilded monstrosity and as his eyes open a ring of floating orbs spin wildly around him, blocking your attacks as he spits clusters of bullets towards you.  This is an NES boss!  The build-up, the execution and the challenge are all there and it all works so well… and speaking of build-up...

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.92" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/1.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" always_center_on_mobile="on" force_fullwidth="off" show_bottom_space="on" /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.92" background_layout="light"]

1. Mecha Dragon - Mega Man 2

You’ve successfully shut down Dr. Wily’s eight robot masters and you are ready to face him in his menacing mechanical domicile but before that, you get two things: The greatest theme music on the NES and arguably the greatest boss battle on the platform, too.  When you finally get indoors inside a dark hangar, you leap across platforms to find the pace shifts.  You are no longer in control as the screen slows into an auto-scroller and from below a giant robot dragon shatters the sparse blocks behind you and proceeds to chase you across a row of isolated platforms until you reach the end of the line; three small, floating blocks separate you from instant death and the merciless Mecha Dragon begins his barrage of fireballs that are as big as you.  Fortunately, refuge lies at the top block, where knock back sends you safely to the block below and it puts you in prime position to get the most out of the boss’s ultimate weakness: Boomerangs!!!  I remember vividly my first encounter with Mecha Dragon and it remains one of my fondest gaming recollections, as such this fight tops my list of favorite NES boss battles

This concludes this series!  I will have another review next week of an obscure title that will likely be more confusing than anything.  In the meantime, thanks for reading.  What are your favorite NES boss memories?  Please share them as I would love to hear what you think.  Until then, Happy New Year!

WedNESday: My Favorite NES Boss Battles - A Year-End "Special", Part 1

See the source image December has been a crazy month for me so I apologize for the lack of articles.  I had planned a year-end special to be published after Christmas but I wasn’t entirely sure what to do.  I landed on a simple list of some of my favorite boss fights to be published in two parts.  I wouldn’t call this a “definitive” list.  Rather, it’s some of the best boss fights I feel are the most intimidating, creative or memorably on the NES.  I could easily expand this list in the future as well with more options from a variety of other games.

Now, just a quick note before I begin:  It’s important to keep in mind that when I was a kid playing NES games regularly, there wasn’t a lot out there to really spoil these fights for me, so nearly all of them were experienced for the first time by playing the game, so I will try my best to convey just how I remember the moment I first encountered these fights.

Without further ado, here are the first five entries in my year end list!

10.

Robot Squares - Blaster Master

The unceremoniously-named “Robot Squares” from the classic NES masterpiece Blaster Master is one of the most interesting bosses, especially fighting this baddie as a kid, I was captivated by its design.  The fight starts simple enough, with the square-shaped robot sliding around the room evasively, but then it clones itself, .leaving a deactivated shell of itself on the ground!  This continues several times with each spawn of the boss leaving another husk and moving faster and faster as the active, killable husks shift between each other and move around the screen.  For a first-time fight, it can feel a little frenetic and kind of insane but the mechanics and design lend themselves well to Sunsoft’s signature top-down game design.

9.

King Koopa - Super Mario Bros. 3

The final battle in Super Mario Bros. 3 is somewhat of a staple moment in Nintendo’s games long history of memorable gaming scenes.  It isn’t as downright terrifying as the final fights from Yoshi’s Island or Majora’s Mask, or as explosive and intense as the final duel from Star Fox, but it does leave its mark.

8.

Nyudo Monster - Jackie Chan’s Action Kung-Fu

The elusive Jackie Chan’s Action Kung-Fu is a surprisingly-fun little action platformer and while it is short on the boss fights, The Nyudo Monster, a giant purple cloud beast is certainly a memorable terror.  I have an affinity for big bosses and this cyclops is titanic.  The fight isn’t too difficult, but this beast left an impact on me.  

7.

Shadow Beast Entrance - Contra

This towering icon of the 8-bit era is a fight I worked on perfecting for a long time.  Contra is one of my favorite NES games and this fight is easily my favorite boss in terms of design and scale.  The sneering xenomorph grin, the shifting tentacles, the constant threat of getting a ring of fire to the face makes this fight a pivotal memory from my gaming youth.

6.

Dracula - Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

The multiphase final duel of the legendary Castlevania III is not only one of the greatest final bosses from the NES era, but it’s also comprised of some truly creepy monster designs.  The first phase is pretty straightforward and reminiscent of the final fight from the classic first title in the series.  From there, things take a turn for the disturbing when a now-decapitated Dracula’s head joins a floating mass of purple flesh that hovers to the left and right sporting five faces, each individually destroyed with well-placed axes leaving only lifeless skulls in their places.  The final phase finds the Prince of Darkness taking the form of friggin' Pazuzu shifting the floor blocks around the room while firing lasers from his eyes!  I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself when I finally made it past Death, but when I found this gauntlet waiting for me at the end, I didn’t really know what to think.  I was understandably shocked by this fight considering the previous final battles in the series were not exactly epic.

Retro Game Review: Color a Dinosaur- A Jurassic Waste of Time!

[et_pb_section fb_built="1" _builder_version="3.0.47"][et_pb_row _builder_version="3.0.47" background_size="initial" background_position="top_left" background_repeat="repeat"][et_pb_column type="4_4" _builder_version="3.0.47" parallax="off" parallax_method="on"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71"]

"Ages 3 to 6" is printed on the hideous box for Color a Dinosaur. "3 to 6"... That alone should be a brontosaurus-sized red flag on its own for any video game, but this is not a video game. Color a Dinosaur is a distraction at best; A pointless, boring, hideous distraction.

Developed by FarSight Studios and published by Virgin Games in 1993, Color a Dinosaur is an art program released for the NES where you do just what the title suggests. You pick from a list of pre-drawn coloring-book-style dinosaurs at the start, and you are taken to a menu where you have 10 patern options to fill the dino in. You can also change the color filter from a small palette, but it does little to reduce the monotony. When you are done, pressing start returns you to the dinosaur selection screen.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version="3.0.47" background_size="initial" background_position="top_left" background_repeat="repeat"][et_pb_column type="1_3" _builder_version="3.0.47" parallax="off" parallax_method="on"][et_pb_image src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Color.dino2_.png" _builder_version="3.0.71"][/et_pb_image][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="2_3" _builder_version="3.0.47" parallax="off" parallax_method="on"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71"]

That's really all there is to this "game". It is simple, bland, and is hands-down one of the worst flops on the system. This also an interesting successor to another piece of bad FarSight art software for the NES called Videomation, which I may do an article on in the future. So, the question is: Why do an article on something so bland? Well, let's start with a little backstory...

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version="3.0.47" background_size="initial" background_position="top_left" background_repeat="repeat"][et_pb_column type="4_4" _builder_version="3.0.47" parallax="off" parallax_method="on"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71"]

As a company, FarSight does not have the best track record. They're history revolves primarily around party games, casual fare and sports games that nobody else wanted to make such as the "Backyard" sports titles of the late-aughts, the pathetically-dull Game Party series and, most interestingly, the notorious Action 52 (the Genesis version, anyway), a title infamous both for being one of the worst video games of all time, and for intrudcing gamers to the failed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles knockoff Cheetahmen. The story behind Action 52 is so insane and so baffling that I would say it alone justifies an an entire article on FarBright Studios' strange legacy that goes all the way up to the United States House of Representatives (I wish I were kidding).

Color A Dinosaur can only be described as hot-garbage, and if it weren't for its shocking rarity, it would be a scrap among scraps. However, as of my writing this article, this dull, ugly, anti-game sits just over $100 in value just for the cartridge on the collector's market. It is indicative of how strange and unpredictable the retro game collectors' market is, especially considering just ten years ago this game was going for less than $20. Somewhere between then and now, this strange video game anomaly has skyrocketed in price in a dramatic fashion and is still trending upwards. It is likely to be one of those titles that plummets in value with the collector's bubble, but something this odd going for so much is telling of just how finicky game collectors are as a greater market.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

Halloween MadNESs: Maniac Mansion (1990)

[et_pb_section bb_built="1"][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"] Alright!  Last Halloween entry for 2017!  Here we go...

In the 80’s, Lucasfilm Games (later to branch off in the 90’s to who we now know as LucasArts) had built up a reputation as a quality games studio and were growing in fame for a number of adventure and puzzle games.  Maniac Mansion was the brainchild of one Ron Gilbert, who is now a legend in the annals of game designers having led the development of some of LucasArts most famous point-and-click adventure games including The Secret of Monkey Island and would also become lead designer at PC game house Humongous Entertainment.  Before all of these big leaps though, he made a strange horror/comedy adventure game inspired loosely by concepts from horror films from the 50’s and 60’s, drawing ideas from many of the same sources as his famous colleague, Double Fine’s lead designer Tim Schafer.

 

 

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

Maniac Mansion was ported to our favorite plastic grey toaster in 1990 amidst a bit of controversy.  PC games generally did not translate well to consoles, especially then.  The development process was different, controls were more complex on the PC, and the hardware was generally more powerful.  So, a lot of PC games never saw ports to consoles.  In fact the bevy of ports we see today is a trend that is relatively recent, due to the blending together of PC and console gaming over the years in terms of design and control structure.  Back in the early 90’s though, this was a big, scary deal.  Now, if you were to ask me, I’d say a point-and-click game with a controller is a failed idea at conception.  I personally hate moving a cursor around with a D-pad and even some games that I like do not implement this very well (I’m looking at YOU SNES SimCity).

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.71" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Mansion1.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

Controller complaints aside, the conversion is actually quite good in Maniac Mansion.  Compared to the Commodore 64 version of the game it is a lot slower, and clunkier, but it is a more-or-less faithful recreation of the game from a design perspective.  The writing is the same, albeit somewhat toned-down to meet Nintendo’s stringent content standards, and there is a somewhat unique feel and mood you get from playing the game on the TV, as opposed to the old-school, yellowing 80’s monitor with that awful on-board sound chip (Sound Blaster gods be-praised!).

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.71" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Mansion2.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

The story follows Dave, who resolves to enter the mansion of the mad scientist Dr. Fred to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend.  You can bring along two allies from a group of friends outside, each having their own skills.  The different skills allow the characters to interact with objects in different ways, and allows those characters to open different paths.  This forces you to base how you play through the game around the skills the allies you bring with you possess.  Like Sweet Home, it allows you to switch out allies, but only of one of your cohorts dies at the hands of the mansion’s many horrific baddies.  If an ally is captured and thrown into the dungeon, you are able to rescue them, if you can risk it.  Run out of allies and it’s game over!

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

When it comes to visuals, Maniac Mansion looks great and I would contest it is one of the top games on the NES when it comes to graphics.  There is an attention to detail you do not see in a lot of NES titles, especially in ports.  Innocuous background dressing has lines and shadows that go above and beyond what is really needed, making the world feel more real.  The soundtrack is also top-notch, as to be expected from a LucasArts game, but there is something more sophisticated to everything aesthetically, as though it belongs somewhere outside the library of schlock movie licenses and cheap knockoffs in the NES library.  Everything sounds great, and the layers to the sound keep things from being too repetitive.  It never elevates to the level of a title like Castlevania III, but it is a well-made game and there was obvious effort put into making this things look, feel and sound as close to the PC version as possible.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.71" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Mansion3.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

The good news for collectors is this game is pretty common.  It’s trending up in price due to some newly-found demand, but you can still net a copy of Maniac Mansion in solid condition for about $15.  There is a lot of interest in recent years due to the original’s 30th anniversary, and also because of the recent resurgence in popularity of the point-n-click adventure genre.  Still, if you’re looking for a fun adventure game that will make you think, laugh and even occasionally panic, you can’t really go wrong here, barring the slow-moving cursor doesn’t grate on you too much.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

Halloween MadNESs – Sweet Home (1989)

[et_pb_section bb_built="1"][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"] When it comes to the survival horror genre, a few popular franchises come to mind for most gamers; in-particular, Resident Evil and Silent Hill.  However, there is a game that predates these entries by several years.  Released by Capcom in 1989 on the Famicom in Japan, Sweet Home is a survival horror game that makes it unlike anything else released on the platform at the time; a violent, creepy, unsettling experience from the mind of Japanese horror icon Kiyoshi Kurosawa, based on his film of the same name.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.71" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/sweethome4.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

Sweet Home combines top-down dungeon crawling with a traditional turn-based combat system very similar to that of the Mother series (the second of which would later be released in NA as Earthbound on the Super Nintendo).  The game focuses on party-play and exploration.  You can proceed with up to 3 party members at a time and can switch in different locations.  You move in groups, splitting up and then rejoining, then dividing your party up again with a new combination of characters.  There are five characters in-total, and you can split the groups to use each of their strengths to solve a variety of puzzles and avoid or disarm dangerous traps.  With your parties split up, you can freely swap between your groups as they navigate different areas of the mansion.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

If Sweet Home does one thing correct, it’s atmosphere.  The unsettling music, knowledge of the feeling of isolation and high risk of combat with the truly dangerous monsters makes this a harrowing experience.  Every step into a new area brings with it a feeling of dread and the random battles open with a fade to black that lasts a random amount of time followed by a jump-scare-esque audio sting as some monsters will slide or jump into view.  Battles with creepy dolls, zombies, beds of worms and enraged skeletons are frequent and sometimes, running is the best option.  Alternatively, if you aren’t in a full party, you can call one of your allies to run to your aid in combat if they offer a particularly-useful skill.  Other times, special, non-combat events will occur that prompt you to choose one of four actions with a chance of success, the consequence can vary from damage to your party’s HP or even death.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.71" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/sweethome3.jpg" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

The one major downside to Sweet Home is the same that is often the downfall of any game with random battles: The encounter rate.  The amount of times you will end up in combat with enemies is absurdly-high and can occasionally throw off the flow of the game, especially in areas where you need to focus on solving challenging puzzles.  Fortunately, the enemies are graciously-easy compared to what you will often find in other turn-based RPG’s of the era, so running into a battle is not quite as punishing as it is in a game like Dragon Warrior III.  

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.71" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/sweethome2.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.71" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

Sweet Home never saw an official release outside of Japan due primarily to Nintendo’s strict policy of blood and other disturbing themes outside of their home country, and while some NES games sort of tread this line, Sweet Home is pretty explicit in its depiction of gore and description of horrific events.  However, fan-translated mod versions of Sweet Home exist both online and as an unofficial cartridge to play on your console.  It is worth trying if you are a fan of horror and can tolerate the turn-based battles and brutal number of fights you will run into between points A and B.  It will likely run you around $40-50 for a custom cartridge running a translated ROM.  It is certainly unique enough as well, with items persisting in rooms and a sort of shortcut-unlocking metroidvania world design that makes it come off as a precursor to games like 2016’s Salt and Sanctuary.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

Halloween MadNESs - Monster Party

Like in movies, horror games have long been part of the medium through the years.  From Haunted House on the Atari 2600, to 2016’s Salt & Sanctuary, horror is a common and very traditional genre, varying in style and tone.  If something like, say, Friday the 13th is too normal for you though, if you can dig it up, Monster Party on the NES is just the right blend of head-scratching strangeness and hair-pulling frustration! Released by Bandai in 1989, this early NES title centers on a young boy named Mark who is, out of nowhere, approached by a talking gargoyle who pleads with him to bring his legendary weapon (baseball bat) back with him to the Dark World to help him combat evil, then proceeds to abduct the kid and merge with him against his will.  It’s nonsensical, but who knows?  Maybe this will be a fun adventure…  Upon arriving in the graveyard, Mark is faced with dagger-tossing schoolkids, half-buried bodies with their feet stuck out of the ground and, upon entering the first door, a bubble-shooting plant boss that intro’s the fight withe line “Hello baby…”, an obvious reference to the musical play and movie Little Shop of Horrors.

Each stage has multiple boss fights and you have to clear all of them to get the key to the next area.  This is where the game is infamous.  The first stage bosses are weird (especially a spider boss that is already dead when you enter the room and immediately grants you credit for beating him) however they are nothing compared to what is around the corner.  The second boss in stage 2 is legendary!  It is a three-phase boss that starts you off fighting a giant piece of fried shrimp, followed by an onion ring, then the final form I believe is supposed to be kushiage (deep fried meat or vegetables on a stick).  The weirdness continues throughout the game.  For every normal monster-themed boss you encounter (Medusa, the Mummy, a giant snake, ect.), you will fight an oddity like a group of Taiko-drumming zombies, a slug that awakes from a normal bed, and a well that launches dishes (an out-of-context reference to a Japanese folktale about Banchō Sarayashiki, a ghost who drowned in a well).

Monster party’s greatest weakness is Mark himself.  His bat attack is very difficult to land without taking damage and unless you are used to the strange movement, it can feel like a struggle to beat even the simplest fight.  The goal is often to find the monsters that drop the orange pills.  These transform mark into the gargoyle who can fly and spit fireballs.  He is far more mobile and his attacks do much more damage.  It is sometimes necessary to transform to fight some bosses reasonably, but without knowing which enemy to kill, you have to run around aimlessly slaughtering every poor enemy near a boss room to find it.

Monster party is gracefully-short, though.  It does not take long to knock this game out, but it is challenging, mostly due to its faults.  In fact, it suffers from a lot of the same problems as the platforming sections of Friday the 13th.  Floaty jumping, enemies that are often far too fast to dodge, ineffectual attacks and hitboxes that seem to be designed to ensure you take a hit whenever you engage a monster with Mark.  These issues lead to an incredible imbalance in the game that can feel more frustrating than fun.

Interestingly, while Monster Party has numerous Japanese references that would make little sense to the American market, it was never officially released in Japan.  It was made for the US specifically due to Bandai’s acknowledgement of America’s fondness for horror.  However, a prototype Famicom cartridge is believed to exist somewhere, with a Japanese ROM popping up on the Internet in more recent years but its authenticity has been called into question.  However, if anyone does own an original Monster Party cart for the Famicom, protect it with your life, preferably inside a vault with a laser grid and pressure-sensitive floor.

Bandai’s Monster Party has become somewhat of a fascination in recent years, having been featured on numerous popular YouTube gaming channels.  It mostly stands out due to its strangeness, being too mediocre (at best) as a game to really stand on its own.  If it weren’t for the bizarre ideas and presentation, this would be a very common scrap in the Nintendo stacks, but due to gamers’ and collectors’ morbid curiosity, it has begun to trend upwards in price.  It is not an uncommon game, but it is becoming harder to find at a reasonable price.  It has more than quadrupled in price over the last 4 years and is still showing an upwards trend, currently resting around $15, setting at the “moderate” price range for an NES game, being anything over $10 and under $30.  This range is reserved for high-demand games that are not rare like Mega Man 2, Contra, Final Fantasy and Super Mario Bros. 3.  However, unlike those titles, Monster Party is not exactly… good.  It’s not a disaster like some horror titles on the NES, but it is just too frustrating to be fun.  If you want to absorb the weirdness, there are plenty of solid playthroughs on YouTube.  You’ll save yourself fifteen bucks and a countless hours of frustration.

8-bit Disney: Darkwing Duck

[et_pb_section bb_built="1"][et_pb_row _builder_version="3.0.62"][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="P1" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"] The Disney Afternoon is a nostalgia mainstay in the hearts and minds of many young people who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s.  As the block progressed it evolved, becoming more focused on action-centric programming after spending a few years showing childish tripe like The Wuzzles.  The success of Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers and (most of all) DuckTales gave us yet another entry in the Disney Afternoon lineup: Darkwing Duck.  A superhero-inspired comic animated action series, DW was exciting funny and honestly still holds up today in my not-so-humble opinion.  It is at least as good of a series as DuckTales and as a kid it was easily my favorite until the premiere of Animaniacs a few years later.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.62" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/DW2.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text admin_label="P2" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

As far as NES adaptations of animated series go, Darkwing Duck is one of the absolute best.  After from the masterful DuckTales, it is arguably the second-best Disney game on the NES.  Obviously taking its inspiration from my favorite NES franchise, Mega Man, Darkwing Duck is a platformer shooter where the player makes use of a variety of weapons and skills as well as a handy grappling hook that lets you hang from and grab onto certain objects in the world.  The grapple is what makes this game stand out.  It sort of blends a simplified version of the climbing element from Capcom’s Bionic Commando with Mega Man-style platforming and sets those in multi-tiered, complex levels like the ones found in Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.62" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/DW3.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="P3" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

The strongest element of Darkwing Duck on the NES for me is the nostalgia factor.  Instead of doing what a lot of these licensed games do and give us vague interpretations of the worlds that inspired them, DW takes its characters and ideas straight from the series.  You get to duke it out with the most famous villains in the series with one exception: there is a strange absence of DW’s arch-nemesis Negaduck, which I can only attribute to the game’s development overlapping with the introduction of the character, leaving him too new to make the cut.  The boss battles are simple-yet-challenging and do well to complement the characteristics of each recognizable supervillain.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.62" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/DW1.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text admin_label="P4&5" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

As for the music, the soundtrack to Darkwing Duck is only “okay”.  Despite being composed by Fujita “Bun Bun” Yasuaki (composer of the spectacular OST for Mega Man 3), Darkwing Duck lacks the memorable character of many of the themes from that game, going for more of a 60’s spy action soundtrack that attempts to recreate the tone of the series and it really doesn’t resonate as well with me as other games, especially when compared to the music from DuckTales.  Sound design as a whole is fine, though.  The game favors the music over world sound effects, which is common for Capcom, and has the appropriate feel, I just wish the themes had more of a hook.

The graphics, however, are spot-on.  Sprites and animations look like the characters and have a lot of expression for NES actors.  Animation frames are numerous and attention was paid to give the world a sense that it is lived in, as opposed to just being an obstacle course to traverse on the way to the boss.  Also, smart graphical choices like thick outlines and brighter colors do well to distinguish objects in the foreground from those in the back, a marked improvement over the flawed world design in TaleSpin.  

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="P6" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

In all, Darkwing Duck is an excellent platformer for the NES.  It has the right pacing and challenge to be a fun game to learn to speedrun and in that area it has grown steadily in popularity over the last few years.  The release on the Disney Afternoon Collection gives it its first official rerelease since its launch on the NES nearly 25 years ago, so it’s easily available for a new generation of players to enjoy!  This is good news because since 2014, Darkwing Duck has seen a dramatic spike in price, going from just under $20 to well over $40 in the span of just a few years.  There will be some stabilization of this price due to the release of the aforementioned Disney Afternoon Collection but collectors really want this game.  It has been in high demand for some time but it is possible to pick it up cheaper (I’ve seen it show up for as low as $10 in recent years) and is definitely worth a look if you are in the market for an exciting platformer to play on your NES hardware and given its accessible design elements, the game is a solid introduction to NES action games for younger audiences today, so it’s a great game to pick up and share with your kids.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

8-Bit Disney: TaleSpin (1991)

[et_pb_section bb_built="1"][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="p1" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"] Apologies for the late post.  It has been a hectic week...

The games released under the Disney Afternoon brands up to this point had been quite good.  DuckTales and Rescue Rangers both are solid platformers for the NES that deserve their praise.  TaleSpin, however, was Capcom’s attempt to bring the Disney license into the realm of the scrolling shooter and it seems as if it were doomed from conception.  That said, Capcom isn’t really known for excellence in the SHMUP genre.  Eco Fighters, Forgotten Worlds and 1942 are solid games in their own right but compared to their contemporaries they are decidedly mediocre.  TaleSpin itself is a failed attempt to recreate the 80’s Sega classic Fantasy Zone and mix it with scrolling arcade action but we instead got a poorly-constructed game based on a bland animated series.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.62" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/TaleSpin1.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="p2" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

The meat of TaleSpin is pretty straightforward;  You scroll to the end of the stage dodging enemies and bullets and pick up upgrades and points along the way.  Where everything goes wrong is the gameplay.  The problems are numerous but first, the fire rate is atrocious.  The shear weakness and slowness of your weapon makes defending yourself against nearby targets incredibly difficult and frustrating.  To make matters worse, any vertical movement forces you to aim diagonally in that direction, so dodging bullets and navigating the world force you to disengage your target and for players like myself who focus on taking targets down quickly, this is extremely counterintuitive.  The next (and certainly not the last) problem is the movement itself.  Flight is incredibly slowly and there are a lot of areas where it can be difficult to judge your movement to that of incoming threats.  Then there’s the hitbox.  In good shooters, the hitbox is small, usually about half or a quarter the size of your ship; this is to allow for more careful navigation of the world and its threats.  However, in TaleSpin your plane is a massive sprite compared to the size of the levels and your hitbox is far larger than your bullet radius, putting you at a huge disadvantage when taking on targets that tend to fire numerous bullets at a time or when attempting to navigate narrow gaps in the levels.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text admin_label="p3" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

The final major gameplay issue is, over everything else I’ve listed, the real killer for this game.  I mentioned it bears (no pun intended) similarities to Fantasy Zone in some respects.  This is because, even though there is really only one direction to go in each stage, pressing the A button flips you upside down and forces you in the opposite direction.  The screen also scrolls back to the left up to the point where the scrolling began at the beginning of the level or level segment.  All of the remaining firing and movement rules still apply facing the other direction and the only reason to use this is to reposition yourself by scrolling the screen back to set yourself up for an offensive.  This design choice is so baffling and so outside the purview of quality arcade shooters that I simply cannot imagine why Capcom and the team behind TaleSpin could have possibly considered this to be a good idea.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.62" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/TaleSpin3.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="p4" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

Graphically TaleSpin looks okay.  However, Baloo’s seaplane is actually pretty well-designed in the animated series, having a sort of World World II era look to it, but in the game you see the tiny plane with a giant Baloo popping out of its top and makes you feel less like you’re piloting a plane in an arcade shooter and more like you are flying a Happy Meal toy from the 80’s, which isn’t too far from the truth (I’m pretty sure that toy existed).  This design also applies to many of the enemies but at least the biplanes they piloted in the series actually justified this stylistic idea.  The level design is a messy mishmash of different visual tones that looks fine in pieces but the whole is more or less nonsensical, with random floating objects and out-of-place background sprites.  Also, many of the background objects can often appear part of the world and it can be difficult to tell at times what is and isn’t collidable without advance knowledge of the levels and maybe a little trial and error.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="1_4"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.62" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/TaleSpin2.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="3_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="p5" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

On to another thing TaleSpin does badly: The sound design.  Pings and beeps flood the soundtrack over music that sounds like bad covers of songs that would have been contemporarily performed by the Muppets.   There is no real theming to the flow or mood of any of the music outside of “this sounds kind of cartoony”.  At least when Rescue Rangers did this it was somewhat cohesive and the songs had an occasionally-memorable hook.  Here it’s just a jumbled mess of musical ideas lacking any cohesion or direction.  What’s shocking is the composer, Minae “Ojalin” Fujii is the composer for Mega Man 4!  Tragically she hasn’t really been responsible for a solid video game soundtrack since then.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="p6" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

Overall this is a bland game that borders on bad due to some outrageous design decisions but if you are willing to put in the effort to get used to the awkward controls it may bring some enjoyment.  It’s certainly novel in a lot of ways unfortunately it doesn’t execute any of the things it is attempting to very well if at all.  TaleSpin is common-to-uncommon in the collector’s scene with it steadily trending upwards in price; probably due to lack of interest in its time.  It does have fans and thus there is a demand, usually going for around $10 online.  If you want an alternate way to play it is featured in the Disney Afternoon Collection alongside DuckTales, Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck, so that is a plus.  However, I cannot recommend TaleSpin.  There are a lot of great shooters on the NES so there is really no reason to seek this out unless you are an NES completionist or a masochistic Disney fan.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

8-Bit Disney: Adventures in the Meh-gic Kingdom

[et_pb_section bb_built="1" _builder_version="3.0.62"][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="Paragraph 1" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"] By 1990, the NES already had a few years on it and there was a demand for games with a little variety.  There were a surprising few games that really worked to feature multiple styles of gameplay and give players something a little different, however even most of these weren’t very good (at best).  The problem was that at the time programming a video game on a console was a lot different than it is today and it was difficult to find a programming staff that was good at many different styles of games.  Rather, they were often “specialized” in a sense.  This is why certain companies were most well-known for very specific genres, often sharing a very similar framework for their games.  This is largely because it wasn’t always easy to take an established engine and change the way it plays entirely.  Even Nintendo, who did release a wide variety of titles on the NES, had numerous production houses with different specialties to build different games.  I bring all of this up because one game from a major developer did attempt to create a diverse game complete with multiple gameplay experiences in a single package, and that game was Disney’s Adventures in the Magic Kingdom release in 1990 by (Who else?) Capcom.  

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.62" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Magic-Kingdom-1.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="1_4"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.62" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Magic-Kingdom-2.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="3_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="Paragraphs 2 & 3" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

The story of the game doesn’t really matter, but simply it’s time for the big parade... But wait!  Goofy lost the key to the Castle Gate, and they need to get that key from the castle, but to get into the castle you need six more keys that Goofy lost as well!  So, you have to travel to six locations across Disneyland in order to get the parade started!  This is where 8-bit Mickey Mouse breaks the fourth wall and makes you do the dirty work.  So, it begins…

You start by entering the Magic Kingdom and here you will have to go to 6 locations on a world map depicting the park.  Each stage has a specific goal and you must complete all six to open the castle to get the Golden Key.  The Pirates of the Caribbean is a platforming stage where you must fight through angry pirates and creepy skeletons in order to find the lost villagers and make an escape.  In Space Mountain, you fly a first-person spaceship through the stars pressing the  buttons as you are prompting making for what is essentially and over-long quicktime event.  Next up, The Haunted Mansion finds you in yet another platforming stage with the goal being to get to the top floor and fend off the raging ghoul.  Autopia is a pretty generic racing level that plays very similar to Spy Hunter, only without the guns).  Lastly, Big Thunder Mountain is an aggravating maze where you ride a minecart down the mountain and must switch paths, find the correct route and slow down to avoid closing gates and rolling boulders; it is by far the worst of the six levels.  After gathering all six keys, you then just walk up to the entrance to the castle and you’re done.  The game just sort of ends there after showing a single, barely-animated screen of Mickey standing amidst a very small marching band.  Along the way you can gather stars to use in the pause menu to purchase power ups, but with the exception of refilling your life bar, there isn’t much use for this feature.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="Paragraphs 4 & 5" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

This game has a number of problems that keep it from being a solid experience.  First off, the platforming stages are okay in their design but the hero controls very poorly.  The jumps do not really seem to always reach the heights they feel like they should and every movement feels like there is something pulling you back making the general flow of the game just feel like one of those clunky PC platformers that were released in that period trying to bring the Mario-mania market to the world of home computer gaming.  

Also, in all of its attempts to look like a good game, this is really just an ugly NES title.  From the over-bright, pastel world map to the repetitive, fuzzy sprites that make up the levels and the stiff animations…  It all just looks and feels like a rush job.  It is important to point out as well that this game was produced by Tokuro Fujiwara, who helmed some of Capcom’s best games of the 80’s and 90’s, most notably most of the Mega Man and Mega Man X titles released on the NES and Super Nintendo.  He even worked on a few of Capcom’s good Disney licenses, so this doesn’t come from a lack of talent.  No, this was laziness.  Everything in this game reeks of something being taken from a different, better game, which would make it little more than a reskinned clone.  The soundtrack is bad too, which is shocking because the sound team was head by the composer for Street Fighter II!  It’s like listening to Bohemian Rhapsody then suddenly your music app just randomly starts playing Milli Vanilli.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="2_3"][et_pb_text admin_label="Paragraph 6" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

Now, vitriol aside, Adventures in the Magic Kingdom isn’t all bad.  It is playable, you can actually beat it (which is more than I can say for Total Recall and just about any game featured in Action 52) and it’s mercifully-short, meaning a casual playthrough for someone who knows the game could last between 15 and 20 minutes.  All-in-all, this is a perfectly-serviceable product.  Though, I do not fully understand who this was made for.  It’s too bland for hardcore gamers and a little too challenging for younger ones, though most of the difficulty comes from the shoddy gameplay.  It just appears as though something was hanging over Capcom’s head that forced them to push out a completely random NES title.  This isn’t based on a movie so it wasn’t timely.  I am not sure if we'll ever know the full story behind why this game was even made in the first place.  It is a mediocre, soggy wad of nothing.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="1_3"][et_pb_image _builder_version="3.0.62" src="http://www.playsomevideogames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Magic-Kingdom-3.png" show_in_lightbox="off" url_new_window="off" use_overlay="off" sticky="off" align="left" always_center_on_mobile="on" border_style="solid" force_fullwidth="off" /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="Paragraph 7" _builder_version="3.0.62" background_layout="light" text_orientation="left" border_style="solid"]

For collectors, Adventures in the Magic Kingdom lives on the shelves as it does inside the console: a perfectly average piece of grey plastic that fills an empty space.  It is one of the more common NES titles and one that is more-often-than-not disregarded and discarded as a “scrap”.  It’s the game you find on eBay with a buyout price of $0.50 and a shipping cost higher than what the game is actually worth.  Not to say completionists will not want a copy on their shelves, though.  However, casual NES fans can just pass on this one.  If you aren’t buying to collect, there is nothing you will get out of playing Magic Kingdom that you can’t get from a host of better NES games around the same price point.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]