Pinball NES Review

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After what seems an eternity, time has permitted to sit down with NES controller in hand and play some NES – alas real life can get in the way of playing games and reviewing them which is no excuse, however at times this is reality. But enough on that, on with the review. With limited time what is the best game to pick up from the NES library? One of the benefits of the early NES games is that most were arcade ports of existing games or in fact arcade-based games with no discerning plot or story to try and work through, it was a simple case of getting a high score, having a certain amount of lives and aim for the high score. One game in particular that could fit the bill is Pinball, released as a black box title. So will it reach a high score or sink down the proverbial hole with no regret?

Who doesn't love big pink balloon-type text?

Who doesn’t love big pink balloon-type text?

Pinball is, as obvious as it sounds, a pinball game released on the NES in 1985 based on a Game & Watch title of the same name released in 1983. The idea is to aim for a high score. Um….yes that’s it – no rescuing princesses who may be in other castles, no eating fungi and special flowers to obtain special abilities, just good ol’ pinball. Bounce the ball of bumpers, walls and other objects to increase your score in the hope that the ball doesn’t go dead centre down the hole or to the side out of the reach of a flipper to prevent the ball from going down the side into oblivion.

Top screen aquatic fun

Top screen aquatic fun

Upon booting the game, like a lot of the black box NES games you get the choice of 4 modes – you can choose from Game Mode A or Game Mode B, and of which this can be one player or if you got a buddy next to you and you’re aiming for the high score then two players. The difference between mode A and B is that B seems faster and also it doesn’t remember progress made in the round when you’ve hit certain items so you have to start again and is more of a challenge. You do get a jaunty piece of opening music when booting up the game and then that’s it, no further music just sound effects. What’s disappointing however is that there is only one table to play on which is split over two screens – a top and bottom screen. The top screen has penguins and seals which don’t do anything however on the left hand side if you collect all the Pac-man pellets the seals start bouncing a ball on their nose which is okay but nothing spectacular. If the ball falls down the middle in between the two flippers, it goes to a lower screen which has numbers 1-7 on the left hand side to hit, three eggs which you hit to hatch (rather cruel one thinks…) of which if you hit them again, hitting all three you get plus that appear on the side of the table so that the ball can fall down the side, hit this plug to make sure the ball goes back in play rather than go in to oblivion. There are five playing cards as well which never got the chance in all the playthrough to turn over but will get more points no doubt. Finally, if the ball goes into the top right hand corner of the bottom screen, you get to a bonus game featuring everyone’s favourite heroine, Pauline! You bounce the ball off the paddle over numbers which change colour (of which was unable to make every number appear in the same colour) but if you destroy the platform she is on, then catch her for even more points – if you don’t then you lose, which is always nice.

Bottom screen 7-numbered casino fun!

Bottom screen 7-numbered casino fun!

In terms of controls, it is a bit bizarre in that the A/B button controls one paddle, and the D-button control the other paddle. It would have been assumed that say the A button controls the right paddle and the the B button controls the left paddle but no, why have that when you can use the d-pad too! The graphics are very average, very-pastel and nothing out of the ordinary which although isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t evoke excitement in gamer’s eyes, the graphics are simple and do the job effectively and to be fair the penguins do look “totes adorbs” as the youth of today would say. The music well as mentioned earlier there is the jaunty opening music and then nothing. No game over music, no interludes in the gameplay, just basic sound effects. This reviewer is no game programmer and appreciate there may not have been enough room for much however surely more music even if looped would be better than nothing? Take out your headphones and listen to whatever passes as music these days because you won’t find much inspiration here.

Close to all numbers orange but no cigar

Close to all numbers orange but no cigar

Pinball is a very standard game, with no music to listen to, very standard sound effects, standard graphics and a simple control system which could have been made easier with the buttons being remapped. Although the bonus game with Pauline and Game mode B is a welcome challenge and runs at a faster speed, there is limited appeal to this game due to only having one table to play (even though it’s split on two screens) and no music to keep you entertained whilst you press the buttons in the hope the ball doesn’t randomly fall down the hole. Yes it is very easy to write this game off being 30 years old however there are other black box games which hold well now and are much more enjoyable if you had free time to wile away on – Pinball isn’t one of them. This is one for collectors only and with other pinball games available on the console, my recommendation would be to play a real pinball table – it is more of a treat to the eyes and ears than this.

Rating – 2 out of 5

Skate Or Die! NES Review

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After what seems an eternity in the world of game reviews and it’s reviewers, this one is back with a bang – not a literal one but a metaphorical one. If you were to relate the bang to anything in particular it could be one of two things – 1. The sound of a skateboard constantly hitting the floor, or 2. The sound of an NES controller constantly hitting the floor. But after all this time, why the need for such violence and anger from a video game – is it something truly bad? Is it something that will induce cursing and the surrounding air to turn blue? That would be a matter of opinion but for now, let’s take a look at Skate or Die! (And no, the exclamation mark is not of excitement, but the game title – honest).

Yes I will...

Yes I will…

Skate or Die! was released on the NES in 1988, or rather the port of the game was. The original game came out on home cpmputers such as the Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum and others to boot. As may be obvious in the title, Skate or Die! is a skateboarding game which in the same vein as it’s winter-themed successor Ski Or Die or even California Games (which is not winter-themed) it is a multi-event game for you to compete it and either beat an opponent or get a high score in. There are 5 events which will be explained in further detail below, but are: Joust, Race, Jam, Highjump and Freestyle.

Joust – You and one of three computer opponents go into a large skating bowl armed with what looks like a giant cotton bud in order to knock your opponent off their skateboard, like Gladiators but on a skateboard. Aim towards your opponent with the d-pad and mash any button to try and knock them off – it is a guessin game what button does what so mash away and hope that you get to knock your opponent off.

Joust

Joust

Race – You race against…yourself to try and get a highscore. The controls are severely delayed and feel like you have to press hard on the d-pad to try and turn your character. Rather than up to make your person move, this time it is down so for the first few seconds you’ll be trying to decypher this and wasting valuable time. It is very easy to fall off the skateboard with the natural terrain and trying to jump with the A or B button causing you to easily crash.

Race

Race

Jam – No not an eating contest trying to eat as much jam-covered skateboards as you can, but a race with another person! Yes it really is! Again the controls are delayed but not as severe as “race” mode. The down button makes your boarder move, A + B buttons make the character punch which you can do against your opponent and the Up D-Pad makes you jump and do a 180, some of the time.

Jam

Jam

High Jump – move your character up and down a skate ramp trying to get him to jump on his board as high as possible. You try moving your character with the up key and it does….nothing. Try doing the down keypad and….again nothing happens. No, on this one you have to waggle the d-pad left and right to get him to speed up – the incosistent controls are getting a bit tedious, and to be honest this is 5 minutes you’ll never get back, wiggling the controller back and forth hopeing to get above a 5 or 6 meter mark.

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Freestyle – Again, your located on a ramp and using any button possible you have to try and do tricks. Another boring inconsistent mashup where more often than not you’ll be on your knees (not in a good way) with your board skating past you wondering where it all went wrong.

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Before you get to experience these fabulous events you get a main menu which is unlike any that you’d come across before. You move a cursor not of a mouse but with the game’s title written there and when it hovers a certain item on screen it causes the character, Rodney to quote a phrase such as “Doncha like my ‘do’ or “Semper Fi’ Or Die” – y’know such cool and rad expressions that only late 80’s and early 90’s skater dudes can say and pull off. You get the chance to practice these events or registering your name and competing for realsies. An innovative menu but alas it seems this is the only aspect of the game worth noting.

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It was with a heavy heart to review this game as having played California Games and the sequel to this game Ski Or Die, having put the game into the console and turning it on, the need to like it was obvious and had kept an open mind about it, but it seems the three multi-event games on this console suffer the same fate. With Skate Or Die in particular, it suffers from unimaginative competition, uninspiring competition and sometimes invisible competition and has severely delayed controls which will cause an imprint of the d-pad to be etched on your thumb. It was a good idea in theory (what isn’t?) but the execution for this port doesn’t come off well. The graphics, well for the NES they are ok, it is this and the fact you get to choose your poison..ahem event that would mean it doesn’t get a lower score than what is noted below. But if you’re looking for a half-decent sports game to play on the NES then steer clear of this, anything that is multi-events can only mean one thing – multi-disappointment and that is not rad or not cowabunga….

Rating – 2 out of 5

Road Fighter NES Review

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Dear readers, alas the reviews have taken a back foot due to real life, however rest assured your favourite reviewer is back and ready in 2016 to take a continued look at those NES games and confirm whether you should part your hard earned cash on them. The first game is one inspired by a review of the game on the wonderful SkirmishFrogs website and one that until very recently, was yet to grace this reviewer’s collection. The game being one of Konami’s first car racing game that originally came out in 1984 in the arcades. Like a lot of early NES games, arcade games were ripe for porting onto the new home console, so how does today’s game Road Fighter stack up – is it worthy of gracing the console or a car-crash of a game?

On your marks, get set...

On your marks, get set…

Released in Europe in 1991, a full 6 years after it’s release in Japan on the NES, Road Fighter as mentioned above is an arcade-style car racing game, in which you control your red coloured vehicle and overtake a number of cars in order to reach the goal within an alloted time. Sounds simple right? Well, aside from the speeds in which you travel at (more of that in a moment), on the road alongside you are crazy-assed drivers who change lanes and generally cause disruption so you don’t finish the level. Finish the race within the alloted time and you move onto the next stage, of which there are four courses ranging from grass-type levels to ocean-type levels, a real mixture.

What a view...

What a view…

So how do you control the car? Well, pressing the B Button makes your car accelerate but only to a certain speed – on the NES version it is up to around 224km/h. So you may have the precision but it feels like you need more speed in order to get to the finish line quicker – well dear friends that is what the A button is for. With this you can travel up to 400 km/h but this does come at a price – you start off with a level of 100 and that gradually decreases. If you crash into another car or into the wall, you lose 5 units of your fuel. If the fuel counter goes down to zero, it’s game over. Trying to block your path to victory are different coloured cars – yellow cars travel in a straight line, blue and red cars change lanes and you may encounter trucks. If you see rainbow coloured cars, try to collect them whatever you do – they increase your fuel so it’s well worth attempting to collect them. Also on the track you may see oil spills so again try to avoid these because along side hitting other cars you’ll go spinning off the track, losing valuable time and fuel.

Battleships have never looked so good

Battleships have never looked so good

The colours are bold and vibrant, easily differentiating between the different cars on the road and the background from the green grassy based levels to the seashore type levels. Although the detail is not great, the overall graphics are fine for the type of game you’re playing – you should be focussing on getting to the end of the level rather than admiring the view. The music is sparse and the sound effects can be quite jarring with the engine noise, especially with the continuous buzzing when you reach top speed. Yes it is nice that there is a sound effect for screeching brakes and the explosion when you crash into the wall but it is recommended to play this game with the sound off and the soothing sounds of thrash metal should ring in your ears instead.

Checkpoint - YAY!

Checkpoint – YAY!

Road Fighter looks a good game, controls a good game and sounds…well like a game. However, the biggest problem with Road Fighter is the difficulty – there is no option for an easy/medium/hard difficulty but just one level – blooming difficult! When you boot up the game you get the choice of Level 1 or Level 2, with the only difference is that level 2 is slightly harder with different coloured cars more plentiful then jsut the straight line yellow cars but still even without this, the game is difficult with a capital D. A challenge is one thing but Road Fighter can take the biscuit, and you’ll find yourself repeating the first level over and over and over again. With one life before it’s game over, you really need to have quick reflexes and good reactions in order to succeed in the game, but with that in mind is the pay off worth it? That’s down to you to decide, but really the game will cause more frustration then pleasure which is a real shame as the game looks good and controls well, but the steep difficulty will put off casual gamers. Copies are rare in the wild so unless you like a challenge, it may be worth side-stepping this one and picking up R.C Pro Am or Ivan Ironman Stewart instead. Take it from one who knows and has reviewed them….

Rating – 2 out of 5

Double Dribble NES Review

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In the 80’s, a wave of American culture landed on UK shores that would influence and shape a generation, things such as MTV, The Simpsons and American sports like Baseball, Ice Hockey and the sport for today’s review, Basketball. First played in the late 19th Century in a town named Springfield (not where Jebediah first founded) it would only have been a matter of time before a video game was based off the sport – why get kids out playing the real sport when they can put on their Nintendo and play the video game of it? Konami hit on this brainwave and released Double Dribble, so how does it fare – is it a 3 pointer or a non-starter?

Someone call pest control - we gotta problem!

Someone call pest control – we gotta problem!

Double Dribble started life as per a number of early NES titles as an arcade game released in 1986. Due to the popularity of this, Konami thought (and rightly so) that it should be ported to home consoles, which it duly released in 1987. Double Dribble is a basketball game in which as per most sports, the idea is to score more points than your opponents. The rules and scoring of basketball won’t be covered here however there are plenty of fine resources out there that would describe the sport, so let’s assume you know the basics of the game.

The slowest options menu on the NES

The slowest options menu on the NES

When you pop in the game you can choose between one player game versus the computer or playing against a friend in local multiplayer which is always favourable – online multiplayer at this stage was not fully designed or implemented on the NES…so you choose which mode you wish to play and then you’re treated to an opening scene of what looks like hoards of moles burrowing underground make their way to a Kremlin-like building (such is the graphics in the opening segment)  whilst the US National Anthem plays in the background. A nice touch and adds to the charm and appeal of the game.

Kick off! I mean, let's start

Kick off! I mean, let’s start

You then get to pick your options before the match starts, which was common for sports games on the NES at the time however to choose your options your player shoots the ball into the net to change the setting. Firstly it’s time, so you can play a 5/10/20 or 30 minute match, then which team out of 5 to choose from you want to be (surprisingly no option for a London basketball team – maybe London wasn’t glamorous enough at the time…). Then you get to pick the level of difficulty from 1, 2 or 3 before starting the match. The one criticism here is that it takes too long to cycle through the options – what is wrong with pressing left or right to choose your team or match length? Instead your waiting for the guy to shoot the hoop which draws out the process.

Will he? Won't he?

Will he? Won’t he?

So the match starts, and the graphics suit the game well and are of good quality, which isn’t surprising as Konami were the publishers of the game. There are the odd quirk here and there, such as in game the player’s skin colour can change (which is more evident when the player you are in control with “flashes”) but in the background you can define the crowd and is a nice touch when you can see them pumping their fists in the air like they just don’t care and supporting team. The centre piece of the game is when you go in to the dunk the ball into the basket, a cut scene appears – for the time this was mightily impressive and felt realistic. It doesn’t matter how many times you see the cut scene, it always does bring a smile to the face and the following shouting at the TV wanting the ball to go in the basket to get your two points.

BOOMSHAKALA! Oh, wrong game...

BOOMSHAKALA! Oh, wrong game…

The controls are responsive and tight, with the d pad (unsurprisingly) moving your player, the A button passing the ball and the B button changing the player you are controlling and also shooting. Although there may be a button to press to tackle the ball from the player, having tried all combinations it is difficult to know what this is, which for a sport’s game as much as the offense is good, you need to know how to defend. The sound effects at times can sound like they were direct from the Atari 2600 however hearing the beeps go up in pitch when you are in control of the ball is a nice touch, the ball being bounced is a nice effect and there is some voice sampling which is always a welcome especially on a console like the NES.

From behind

From behind

Overall, Double Dribble is an average basketball game with which it’s postives and negatives equal out in measure. The positives include the Star Spangled banner at the start of the game, the cut scene when dunking a basket and the tight and responsive controls which for a sports game is always important. The negatives is the hard difficulty of the game – it does seem tricky to tackle the ball from your opponent and feels like every chance they are at your basket they score whereas when you attempt to score, more often that not it doesn’t go in. Maybe the difficulty gradient you choose at the start from 1, 2 or 3 means 1 is the most hardest and 3 is the easiest? Who knows, it is not explained in game but a solid title from the Konami team, heaven knows what it would have been like if it was a black box game by Nintendo as a launch title. Maybe then the mighty USSR and Great Britain may have been involved…but do pick up the title, just so that two of you on local multiplayer on a Tuesday night can compete against each other pretending to be Michael Jordan. Copies of the game are plentiful in your preferred method of purchasing games, so do try it and don’t be tempted to shout BOOMSHAKALA – wrong generation of console my friend……

Rating – 3 out of 5

Jurassic Park NES Review

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There are a number of things in life that go well together – Cheese and onion, Vanilla and Coca Cola perhaps even Del Boy and Rodney…but imagine if you could combine THREE of the most beautiful things in the world (warning sarcasm may be approaching) – that is Nintendo, film-based video games and Ocean Software. Imagine the unadulterated joy of those three things mashed together to create something unique so mind-blowing it barely gets repeated. It’s well known within certain game reviewers that in the late 80’s at least, movie-based NES games were developed by the wonderful LJN who provided their own, erm, “unique” take on the films for which they developed the tie-in game for. So how would those bastions of fine gaming (!) Ocean handle something as monumental as Jurassic Park – is it 65 millions in the making for something golden or just something that should be fossilised deep under the earth?

Slanted moving developer logos? Whatever next

Slanted moving developer logos? Whatever next

Jurassic Park is a movie-based video game in which you control the film’s main character Alan Grant as he completes six levels ranging from rescuing people to destroying certain types of dinosaurs, but without the panache of someone saying “ah ah ah you didn’t say the magic word”. Jurassic Park is a top down shooter of which you must collect cards, eggs and destroying dinosaurs in order to progress through the game. Throughout the game you may encounter mystery boxes, which as the name suggests contains a mystery effect – like a Kinder egg but not as fun. Power up’s can range from more health, to another life however on the flip side of the coin you may lose energy or lose a life so the choice really is yours whether you collect the mystery box.

Nothing more sinister than.....Music+SFX

Nothing more sinister than…..Music+SFX

So you power on the game, and having chosen your language (bearing in mind this is the European PAL version so language select may not be present in NTSC versions of the game) you are then faced with an intro screen which can be somewhat terrifying – especially if you have the lights off and the tv volume up. From the bottom of the screen comes a Tyrannosaurs Rex with it’s eyes dilated ready to eat the player up. His mouth is wide open with saliva dripping from it’s mouth as you get to choose how many players should play, if music and SFX should be on and also the hi-score. A nice start to the game but nice starts may not equate to nice finished articles. Upon starting the game your first mission notes dinosaurs have taken over Jurassic Park and that you have to find Tim and rescue him from a herd of giant triceratops.

You can run but you can't hide

You can run but you can’t hide

The game begins from a top down point of view, and although the graphics are bold and defined which for a NES game is good, the colours are somewhat dull and turgid – lots of greens and browns. Oh and those “giant” triceratops are nothing more than pint-sized red baby dinosaurs, though you do get to encounter larger dinosaurs later on. It’s something your poor heart may not be able to cope with, with all the anticipation and excitement of waiting so if you are of a nervous disposition this isn’t for you. So you wander round destroying dinosaurs collecting eggs and keycards wondering if this is what the game will be like, to which it is safe to answer….yes, yes it is. You reach terminals, find out you have the wrong key card for the terminal and then out you go collecting more eggs, more power ups and it is a monotonous circle where you can easily run out of bullets for your gun, so be prepared to jam the d pad down as hard as you can and run away from dinosaurs the size of a dachshund. Beware though that the enemies can come out of nowhere and if they touch you, your health bar goes down quicker than you can say Diplodocus so you’ll need to have the reactions of a Stegosaurus whose had laxatives and lots of raisins.

Continue? Please God no!!

Continue? Please God no!!

As mentioned earlier, for an NES game that was released later in the lifetime of the console the graphics are bold and can easily distinguish what is the tree with the ground to the dinosaurs but the colours leave a lot to be desired. On screen it displays a health counter to the top left, the number of bullets remaining in your gun, and on the top right a score counter, because what game would not be complete without a score counter! The controls are responsive, with the d-pad moving Alan about, the A button moving him around, the B button firing your weapon, the select button cycling through the weapons Alan has, and the start button being as fascinating as pausing the game.

Walk through walls, like David Blaine?

Walk through walls, like David Blaine?

Having played this game for well over an hour and getting nowhere fast, just repeating the same level over and over again collecting the same items time and time again, it’s difficult to know if the game just sucks or this reviewer sucks. The consensus is on the former rather than the latter, and the game is highly forgettable, monotonous and certainly not worth the £40 you would have paid at the time of launch. This game could have been from the masters of film-bases video games LJN, to which applause should be given to Ocean for making a game worthy of their low standards. It simply isn’t worth the time or effort in rescuing Tim and shooting dinosaurs up the proverbial bottom so do yourself a favour, rent the movie instead and enjoy that rather than collecting keycards a la Doom on here, or running away from dinosaurs. Even if this game was 65 million years in the making it wouldn’t have helped…

Rating – 2 out of 5

Lunar Pool NES Review

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After a hard day saving mushroom kingdoms, stomping on enemies or acquiring new powerups from bosses to destroy a demented Doctor, what better way of relaxing then with a nice game of pool. Set in the the future. Isn’t that every person’s dream? Well dream no further as the game developer’s Compile knew what we we’re all thinking and what we wanted, and created a pool game set in the future with futuristic tables and the ability to control gravity. So grab your moon boots, your futuristic cue and hustle like its 2099 as we head into the realms of Lunar Pool.

The options

The options

Lunar Pool as the name suggests is a pool game set in the realms of outer space. If the rules of pool defy you then it may be worth checking out Wikipedia but in a potted condensed version, you pot the balls into the pocket and….that’s it. Pool games are simplistic in themselves but the twist is the theme of the game with which the clue is in the title. With the ability to control the amount of friction that the balls travel round the table on, and the weird and wonderful table designs, it certainly makes for a more unusual pool game. With Lunar Pool as the player if you fail to pocket a ball in three consecutive shots, or if the cue ball is pocketed then you lose a life. With only a certain amount of lives you need to have the eye of the tiger and ensure your accuracy is up to speed. If the game is played against another player or the computer, players take turns shooting the cue ball but if one player fails to knock at least one of the balls into a pocket, or pocket your own cue ball, then it will be the opponent’s turn, so bear that in mind players.

Interesting...

Interesting…

So when you power the game up, you get the option of playing one player (against no opposition), two players in a local co-operative game or intriguingly a Vs Comp mode, which is not as exciting as it sounds but is you versus the computer. So regardless of whether you want to play with yourself (no sniggering at the back), with a real life friend or a computer friend, there is something for everyone in Lunar Pool. So as well as choosing what game mode you play, you also get to choose which round you start at, with up to 60 tables to choose from although the numbers won’t mean much unless you remember that table number x relates to a certain design. You also get to choose the friction of which the balls travel round the table at, starting at 0 which feels like you’re playing pool in mud, to 255 which is like playing pool on ice. So depending on the friction, you may need to change strategy in order to win.

Very interesting...

Very interesting…

The colours for the game are bold and defined, though the pockets do look like sink holes. However, as the graphics are well defined and colourful, for a pool game it certainly is a treat for the eyes. The controls are about as simple as they can get for a pool game, with the left/right d pad moving the cross-hair which would indicate which direction the cue ball will travel in. Moving the up/down d pad supposedly controls another part of the cross-hair however having compared when the cross-hair is near and when the cross-hair is far, it doesn’t seem to affect the trajectory or spin of the ball. So as of yet the result of the up/down d pad is unknown. The A button launches your ball into the other balls, like a supersonic comet smashing into the planets knocking them out of alignment. The game has basic jaunty music and sound effects which to be fair belong to the Atari 2600 but pool isn’t the most audio-friendly of games, it may be worth putting on your mini-disc and listening to the latest Beastie Boys record, or whatever the youth listen to these days.

As interesting as clouds...

As interesting as clouds…

Lunar Pool is a decent enough pool game, in which the developers took a simple idea and done it very well, adding a number of twists to keep the gamer interested and ensure replayability. With the different game modes such as one player, local co-op and playing against the computer, with upto 60 different tables and the ability to change the friction on the table, that equates to a whole number of differing combinations that keeps the gameplay fresh. Copies of the game can be found at all your local retro game retailers and online auctioneers at a nice price so it is worthy to add to your collection. Although there are other pool games available, namely Side Pocket, Lunar Pool is certainly a fresh take on the pool game genreso grab your space chalk and start hustling, I for one am off to sell my copy of the game for scratch money…

Rating – 4 out of 5

Galaxy 5000 NES Review

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In a number of films, the future is often portrayed in a number of ways – be this futuristic towns as in Back To The Future or machines that are out of control in Terminator 2. In games the future is often portrayed with the first two numbers showing and then x’s to show things being mysterious – like in Mega Man games which are set in 20xx, though quite what year they are supposed to be set in is anyone’s guess. So imagine the joy when a game comes along that trounces over the 1990’s and the mysterious 20xx’s and raises the bar by three whole millenia. When you get a game, that can **** all over previous millenia, it deserves attention and respect. So grab your self-tying shoes, your hoverboard and a fresh pair of (under)pants, because we’re going racing in the 51st Century(tm all rights reserved).

Space...the final frontier...in the year 5000

Space…the final frontier…in the year 5000

Galaxy 5000, published by Activision is a “futuristic” racing game – futuristic in that it is set on far away planets in the galaxy and the setting is space. So expect lots of black backgrounds, random dots to signify the stars and random coloured balls to signify the planets. Not quite as futuristic as one would expect being set in the 5th Millenia but this may change in the scope of this review. The premise of the game is straight-forward, you control a ship which can fire weapons in order to battle for first place. Nothing too complex however such as other racing games on the NES at the time, you can upgrade your vehicle so that it can get shields or have more powerful weapons, and that’s never a bad thing, is it?

On the road to greatness

On the road to greatness

Slamming the cartridge (or gently inserting it) into the console and turning it on, you’re presented with Activision’s idea of the Year 5000, with severed blue helmets, parts of the ship scattered on the planet and aliens popping out from the ground like futuristic moles to greet you. Pressing the start button you are then presented with the options for play and thank goodness the game allows two players to play, and also what control system you can use. The game classes the controls as alpha or beta – alpha controls is where holding down the corresponding direction on the d-pad makes your ship go in that direction. The downside to this is that say your ship is facing the immediate left ( <- ) and you want to go diagonal bottom right, by pressing the bottom right direction on your d-pad the ship turns ever so slowly and you may find yourself crashing into the wall. The other direction system, the beta controls seems much simpler but you may get an aching thumb from it. You hold the up d-pad direction for your ship to accelerate and then hold down the left or right button to turn the ship. Personally, this is more preferable however either control style is an innovative way of moving and not consigning the player to the standard “holding the A button” to move. In this game, the A button makes your ship jump and the B button fires your weapon to try and disrupt your competitors. What you find with the game as you progress is that it is the same level, however with each stage you complete more obstacles appear on the stage such as spikes which can hinder progress so you’ll be familiar with the caveats of the track within a few races.

With the two player option, it is not set like Super Mario Bros where one player at a time takes a turn, no this is the better two player expereince where both ships are on the screen at the same time and you are both racing mano y mano, fighting for first place. So what happens if one player is falling behind and struggling, do they crash out of the race or does the game punish the player(s) in anyway? Not at all, all that happens is that the player rushes back to where the other human controlled player is, so at least it gives the last place player a chance to catch up, but doesn’t cause a slingshot effect where they can overtake past the more skilled player on the course. So if you are playing this round a friend’s, don’t expect to slob out playing Snake on your phone, both players will be on screen at the same time.

As Charles Bronson would say "Hey" "Watch it"

As Charles Bronson would say “Hey” “Watch it”

The graphics in the game are bold and colourful, though it is very stereotypical of the space theme, having black backgrounds and coloured dots to represent stars and the planets. However with this in mind the ships are varied in colour and the race track is in stark contrast to the black background so it is a game you’re not going to squint your eyes at. What is nice is that on the track it has detail that you wouldn’t neccessarily find on other NES games, especially racing games which gives it a realistic edge – again, realistic as your imagination allows for a game being set in the year 5000. In terms of music and sound effects, the music is not too bad and the sound effects suit the game well, so you don’t need that Saturday Night Fever soundtrack ringing in your ears. What was good in terms of the sound effects is that when the ships collide, primitive voice effects say one of three phrases – “Hey”, “Watch it” (from the school of Charles Bronson in Deathwish…) and “Excuse Me”. Although it may not sound much and these days we take it for granted that games will have voice acting, it was a good step and one that would get any gamer excited at the time as to the future of voice acting in a video game.

You suck

You suck

So how does Galaxy 5000 fare – ship-shape or consigned to the eternal hangar in the (futuristic) sky? Well, Galaxy 5000 is a fairly decent futuristic racing game that differed from it’s peers such as Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart or R.C Pro AM by being set in space but allowing your vehicle to be customised as long as you win races. There are a couple of drawbacks to the game, such as the clunky alpha controls but as well the difficulty – this can be jarring as when you race around on the track, if you hit the edge of the track or cut into the turn too quick, this allows the computer players to race past and it is VERY difficult to catch up. With practice you can learn to navigate the track without crashing into the walls or the sides of the track or even be prohibited by the spikes that appear later however with the timer on top of the screen as well (oh yes there is a timer as well to add to the fun), if this counts down to zero then it’s game over so bear in mind this game can be difficult. If you like a challenge then do pick up a copy, copies in the wild are not that expensive and take advantage of the good control system, the start of voice sound effects and a blooming steep difficulty curve. If you’re not a fan of challenge but like the idea of racing games and upgrading your vehicle then stick to the Ironman himself. I’m off to the Year 3000, I hear nothing’s changed but they live underwater…

Rating – 3 out of 5

American Gladiators NES Review

agboxart

When you’re young and the world was a more greener innocent place, Saturday nights was held in suc hhigh esteem, in part due to the power of television. The UK was greeted by someone hosting a house party, “our Graham” and a Scouse lady trying to pair off the single people of the country and also this – muscle-men and muscle-women in tight lycra fighting off the peons of the land in one great spectacle. With AWOOGAS here and the Wolf there, Gladiators was an important aspect of any childhood of this generation which was ripe for being in a video game. The UK did not get the joy of a Gladiators video game however those fine folks across the pond got American Gladiators on NES so how does it fare up – is it a hearty awooga or a-waste of time?



Shakespeare, eat your heart out

Shakespeare, eat your heart out

American Gladiators was released on a number of platforms in 1991 and is based on the television show of the same name (to note, not the UK version). It would be difficult for this reviewer to comment on how much the game is similar to the television program but for those not in the know, contestants compete in various events which would test speed, agility, strength and a whole host of other qualities to defeat the Gladiators. The game, akin to California Games or Skate or Die is a multievent game in which you choose which event out of 5 to compete in. They are:

 

The five forces of **** - make your own word there

The five forces of **** – make your own word there

 

Joust 

Your character whose dressed in royal blue has to pugle fight his way through a number of Gladiators, mashing the d-pad and the B button in order to knock the Gladiator off the stage. After you knocked the Gladiator off you have to jump on various platforms with the A button until you reach the next Gladiator. This is all against the clock so you have to mash that button and be as powerful as a snake eating a tub of butter.  Defeat 4 of the Gladiators and you win the stage, twirling it like a cotton bud (or Q-tip for those across the pond). Sorry, should have said **SPOILERS** – you twirl the pugle around at the end. Sorry about that. #notsorry. Not the hardest mini game but has solid controls.

 

Joust

Joust

 

Wall

Bring on the Wall!! Well, a yellow-bricked wall where you mash the A and B button like you’re competing in the final of Track and Field whilst pressing the d-pad in the corresponding direction. Oh yeah, to try and put you off Gladiators swarm around you – if they touch you then your character falls off. No safety net. Mashing the A and B buttons will cramp the hand or your fingers and at times you need to be precise in where your character goes – the bricks on the wall are unforgiving. A more challenging mini game.

 

Bring on THE WALL!!

Bring on THE WALL!!

 

Human Cannonball

Your character jumps on what looks like a firebar from the Mario Series, to which this swings until you press the button and your character jumps. To what purpose? Who knows, tried making the character jump before the platform and he fell in. Tried making him jump afterwards to jump over the Gladiator but if you hit the platform you bounce straight off. Jumping off the firebar is with the A button but without an instruction manual it is difficult to know what to do. You could have patience and maybe with luck you would get how this minigame works but this one is lamentable and should be passed.

 

Firebar, how I miss you in Mario

Firebar, how I miss you in Mario

 

Powerball

No, not the lottery but Powerball – similar to a game of Bulldog but you run from one side of the screen to the other to collect a ball to then deposit this in one of 5 baskets around the pitch or field. Frustration doesn’t begin to describe this minigame – the Gladiators are unpredictable, they are faster than your character and in fact your character doesn’t fight back – you have to dodge the unpredictable Gladiators which is not easy. If they touch you once whilst you hold the ball, the ball flies off and you have to grab it from the other side of the screen. The worst aspect? The colours – dear me the colours and the background give you two things – a headache and nausea. Words cannot begin to say the effect the background has on your eyes (screenshots do not do this justice) so good luck not having paracetamol after this infuriating game. The music? Dreadful. Avoid.

 

Headache Central. I mean Powerball

Headache Central. I mean Powerball

 

Assault

A man in a tank firing cannons at you which you have to dodge in order to win the round. The round is long – not quite as long as a round of Ikari Warriors but bad enough, and the Gladiator’s cannon fire is unrelenting. The A and B buttons again don’t work, like Powerball it is all about reflexes and speed which doesn’t come easy and the background, it’s just as nauseating as Powerball. Wear sunglasses, look at the horizon just don’t look at the background whatever you do. 3 hits on this one and you lose a life so be careful.

 

Contra. I mean Assault

Contra. I mean Assault

 

Experience with multi-event games have left this reviewer feeling disappointed, as most multi-events game are mediocre at best. American Gladiators is no different – five events of which two will give you headaches, one is not playable and the other two are button mashing exercises. In some ways it is like being on an episode of Gladiators which can be physically and mentally though. It must be said that without the instruction manual, a mini-game like Human Cannonball is difficult and frustrating, but the last two mini games noted above will make you wish you hadn’t reminisced to Saturday nights gone by and played something better instead. The background colours are headache-inducing and naff, the background music sounds like squealing insects being burned by the power of a magnifying glass on a sunny day. What happens when you win all 5 events? That is the power of YouTube because honestly, it was bad enough trying to play this game for more than 20 minutes without feeling frustrated (in a bad way) and wanting to lie down through exhaustion. The only redeeming feature is the two player option…oh wait, no it isn’t. Do yourself a favour, pick up Action 52 instead because 52 mini games in one can’t be bad can it?….

 

Rating – 1 out of 5

Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll NES Review

srrbox

Playing the NES, or any console for that matter, there are times when you wish you could actually be the character you’re controlling on-screen, be it an Italian plumber who headbutts bricks, collecting gold and having pet dinosaurs. Maybe you want to be a Rambo-type character with a big machine gun, a knife the size of an umbrella and a headband going round killing bad guys. But it never occurred to be controlling a snake but would you believe it, those guys and girls at Rare go ahead and develop a game where you’re controlling a snake. So how did this game fair up, was it rattle and roll or toilet roll?

Sparkle Sparkle!

Sparkle Sparkle!

Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll is a platforming game released in Europe in 1991, developed by the fine folks at Rare. The game features two snakes who are called Rattle and Roll who have to make their way through the level. The object is to navigate through the level eating enough enemies called “Nibbley Pibbleys” (how adorable) so that at the end of the level you sit on a weigh-in bell which if heavy enough will release the door to escape. A good feature of this game is that it can be played by one or two players, and what is even better is that the two player option you play simultaneously – none of this take-it-in-turns like a certain platforming game bearing the name of an Italian-American plumber…

The waterfalls, the beauty, the HOLD

The waterfalls, the beauty, the HOLD

Your snake grows in length when it eats a Nibbley, but the length in which your snake grows (no sniggering at the back) depends on what colour Nibbley you eat. If you eat a Nibbley of the same colour as your snake (bearing in mind Rattle and Roll are purple and pink) then it grows slightly longer. If you manage to eat a yellow enemy then your snake grows even longer – imagine the excitement! When your snake reaches a certain length, it’s tail flashes meaning you can exit the level so be on the lookout.

The game features 11 levels set from an isometric perspective (at an angle to you and me) that is similar in camera view to Marble Madness. What is also similar to Marble Madness is a strong bold colour scheme and also the control system. Because of the isometric viewpoint, it is not a simple case that you press the right button on the d-pad and Rattle (or Roll) goes to the right. In fact, when you press right on the d-pad your snake goes diagonal down right. If you press diagonal down right on the d pad you go straight down. It is a control scheme that you have to get used to – at least with said Marble Madness you could choose whether to control at a 45 degree angle or 90 degree angle, but with Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll you have to use the control scheme that the game provides you with.

Aww shucks, I'm Brilliant?

Aww shucks, I’m Brilliant?

However, when you do get used to the control scheme, you find yourself playing a decent platforming game with a simple premise that you can’t help but enjoy. Along the way you find enemies such as jumping tyres and if you are in the water long enough you might encounter a shark to gobble you up so you have to navigate your way through the enemies if you are going to survive. As well as the enemies, you have to contend with the environment, with it’s hills and spikes that can provide damage to your snake. With this game, you don’t have a health meter such as Mega Man, or go from being a big snake to a little snake, to death. No, when you take damage from an enemy then you lose part of your tail (that you have eaten), and when you lose all your segments of your tail then it is game over however you do have continues to, well continue the fun.

With the controls, the d-pad controls have already been discussed, with the A button making your snake jump and the B button making your snake use his tongue, to gobble up the Nibbley Pibbley’s and to attack the enemies. As noted with the graphics, they are bold and well defined – it is a good palette that does the NES justice. As it has been mentioned before, you can have a game with great graphics but the gameplay might be poor, so what is the point? On the other side you could have a game that is of poor quality and great gameplay like Action 52…. In terms of music and sound effects, for a NES game it is of a decent quality – in fact you may recognise parts of it, as part of the music is taken from a song from the 1950’s and also when your snake is in the water, the music pays homage to Jaws by playing music similar to it. So you don’t need to break out the Greatest Movie Soundtracks vinyl out and put it on the gramophone, the music in this game will make you want to save the 45 for another day.

Mushroom mushroom

Mushroom mushroom

Overall, Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll is a gem worthy of being in any NES collectors collection. The drawside of the game is the lack of choice with the control system in terms of the d-pad – it would be nice if as per Marble Madness you could choose whether the control scheme is at a 45 or 90 degree angle. If you can overlook this, then you find yourself with a decent platforming game where you cannot just dodge everything that comes your way – you have to swallow the Nibbley Pibbley’s and attack the enemies for more Nibbley’s. Located throughout the game are lids (in the shape of manhole covers) in which players can open to uncover Nibbley Pibbleys, items and extra lives, entrances to bonus levels, and sometimes enemies. Copies of the game are plentiful and can be found in any retro game store or on your favourite online auction house, so do yourself a favour, shy away from the plumber’s and men welding weapons, pick up a colourful snake and go hunting for the cutest-named enemies you find on the NES.

Rating – 4 out of 5

Mach Rider NES Review

machriderbox

When you’re younger and you think about what you want to be, obvious choices may be footballers or race car drivers, maybe an actor/actress who one day gets to star in a remake of the Super Mario Bros Super Show. Some people however look to video games for inspiration, wanting to be someone like Mega Man, or an American-Italian plumber who does every other job under the sun rather than unclog and fix u-bends for Mrs Moggins and her prune-filled diet. But who wanted to be a Mach Rider? If you did then kudos to you, but for those who don’t understand what a Mach Rider is then come on a journey to the year 2112…

No 2-player? The swines

No 2-player? The swines

Mach Rider is a “futuristic driving game”, or to explain it more accurately, is a bike-driving game which is set in the future, where Earth has been taken over by evil forces. Your job should you choose to accept it, is to travel from sector to sector, or in this case race through the map, shooting the bad guys and dodging oil and oil cans. Mach Rider was also a Black Box game initially released on the console’s launch. If you’re unsure what a Black Box game is, then there is lots of information on your favourite search engine however those NES games that are classified as Black Box are distinctive by having by design, erm….Black Boxes.

When you turn on the game, you get four different modes you can experience:

Fighting Course – Similar mode to a story mode, you have to race through 10 different tracks, which you can choose at the start of the race by pressing A for one route, or B for the other route. In this, you have to dodge oil spills, enemies and oil cans which you can destroy, however you can be destroyed yourself, getting split into numerous fragments and put back together again – like a futuristic Humpty Dumpty. If you complete the 10th race, you don’t get some emotional ending, journeying the highs and lows of your experience up to now. You go back to the beginning, to start another 10 rounds. The swines.

Endurance Course – You have to race a certain distance in a certain amount of time with enemies and obstacles to slow you down. The swines.

Solo Course – See above, but without enemies. The programmer swines.

Design Mode – In the same vain as Excitebike you can design you’re own tracks to play on, however outside of Japan if you reset the console then BAM they are lost. In Japan NES users had the Famicom Data Recorder to save their creations on, which wasn’t released outside of Japan. The swines.

MMM...Spaghetti

MMM…Spaghetti

The controls of Mach Rider are slightly more complex than normal Black Box games however not to the point it get’s difficult or require a PhD to decipher. The A button accelerates, the B button fires your weapon, the up and down d pad buttons change gears up to the fourth gear, and the left and right d pad button moves your bike. Sounds simple enough, but like good racing games the key is control not flat out holding the A button and hoping for the best. You can hammer the B button to destroy the enemies and the oil cans however you will be going faster than the bullets fly from your bike, so more often than not your bike will disintegrate.

I crashed in real life and this is EXACTLY what happened

I crashed in real life and this is EXACTLY what happened

Graphically, the game looks solid and well defined with different backgrounds depending on the level you are racing. It’s reminiscent of Enduro on the Atari 2600 where every so often the background changes colour, white for example to reflect winter settings or green for a environmentally-friendly level. The controls are responsive and feel natural, and feels good that unlike say Rad Racer where you hold the accelerator button and nothing else, you have to change gears which is done in a simple manner and is not of detriment to your gameplay – I mean who would try to accelerate from a stationary position in fourth gear?! Not certain reviewers that’s for sure… You get music at the menu’s and music during the race, which whilst although not memorable it certainly means you don’t need to bring out your Now That’s What I Call Music 50,000 compilation. The sounds effects match the game well and again adds a certain charm to the game.

All evil plans start with straight lines

All evil plans start with straight lines

Mach Rider is a game worthy of being in anyone’s NES collection, with solid gameplay, responsive controls, bold graphics and music that get’s you in the mood to race. It really doesn’t matter whether this game was set in 2112 or 1982, the game plays well and that is all that matters. The difficulty gradually increases in modes such as Endurance Course is one that will appeal to both novices and experienced gamers alike, and doesn’t get too difficult too quickly. With the different modes and also the Design Mode, there is something for everyone in this game and means you’re gameplay can be as fresh the tenth time you play it compared to the first time. Only negatives is that there is no two player mode which is always a shame with NES games, however could be argued with technical limitations and also for gamers outside of Japan without the Famicom Disk System your creations don’t save. As well the music, although nice to have, is not as memorable as say Mega Man music but for a Black Box game it is more than sufficient. With copies of the game plentiful and also the game being released on eShops and Virtual Console’s galore, there is no excuse not to be able to pick this up. Right now having completed the 10th level I’m off to party like its 2099, proclaiming I AM MACH RIDER – perish the thought…

Rating – 4 out of 5