Track and Field NES Review

With the London 2012 Summer Olympics just starting, now is as good as any time to go back in time to 1983, to go back to the time of Stars Wars: Return of the Jedi, Flashdance and the start of a video game genre that has caused millions of stubbed fingers, strong curse words and broken (track)balls across the land. Although nowadays athletics games are tied to the specific sporting event (Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010 etc), way back before commercialism and tie-in’s came in to practice, there was Track and Field. Originally an arcade game, this was ported to the home consoles and has more sequels than American Pie, so how does the original button-masher stack up today?

Track and Field is as close to a text-book definition of “button-masher” as you’ll ever get. There are 8 events in which to compete in which is done sequentially, The events are:

100-meter dash, Long Jump, 110-meter hurdles, Javelin Throw, Skeet Shooting, Triple Jump, Archery, High Jump

It’s a nice variety of athletic events, rather than the weird and wonderful Taekwando and Water Polo that seems to grace the Olympics these days. With each event you compete in, there is a qualifying time or score that you need to beat before you progress to the next event, and in a number of the events, you get 3 chances to exceed the qualifying score. The only events where if you lose its game over is the 100 meters and 110-meter hurdles. The idea of the game, if ever there was an idea, is to beat the qualifying times/scores, and carry on until the end where you don’t get a lovely congratulations screen but the chance to do the events all over again! Such lucky gamers we are, but this time the scores are higher/quicker, so you need to bring your A game to this. If you don’t want to put the hard graft in, you can also access this second mode, a la Zelda by choosing game mode B from the main menu.

I defy any man to the splits as wide as the bottom player

In terms of controls, you don’t get much easier than what you get with Track and Field. The A button is your power which is represented by a meter, and this is where individual technique comes into play. You could rapidly press the button like a woodpecker on speed, or rub a coin/pen lid over the button, or just cheat and use a turbo controller. But what good is a button-mashing game if your holding down the button on a turbo controller?  It’s a badge of honour to get a stubbed finger, to get shouted at for using a strong curse word or to get splints. The up button is the action button, and is used in the hurdles to jump them, the long jump/trimple jump to set the angle at which you jump and the angle used to throw your Javelin. The only time the B button is used is in the Skeet event to shoot the clay pigeons and to fire your bow in archery. If you get confused with the controls, maybe you need something like Golf to start with on the NES.

The graphics are typical 8-bit with nice clear graphics and bold colours, with your athlete in his nice purple outfit and porn-star moustache. The crowd do look somewhat bland and indistinct, but this isn’t a game to admire the view, its all about the gameplay. What’s good about the game is that your not constrained by how fast you can tap a button. with certain games (namely Atlanta 1996 on the Mega Drive) it seemed as though it doesn’t matter how quickly you smash the buttons, you could only reach a certain time or level and never exceed this no matter how quick you are; it doesn’t reward those with ninja wrists. In this game, your only as good as your wrists, and for those that can fill up the speed meter without a turbo-controller, I salute you, to get over 1500cm/sec takes some effort.

Whose Jonathan Edwards?

For those who read these reviews would start to know certain things I like in games, and for me what makes them great, and what makes this game even better is the 2 player aspect. You and your buddy against each other trying to throw the javelin further than the other, is there a better sight than 2 grown men hunched over their own controllers trying to put each other off the intense concentration of the 100-meter dash? Erm, maybe there is, however the ability to make your friend cry when your tapping with one hand and they put so much sweat and effort is a sight to behold, and as easy as the computer is to beat on the first game mode its not a patch on competing against your friend. Or your sworn enemy after.

So all in all, if you don’t like button-mashing sports games, then obviously this isn’t the game for you. However, for those of you like me who do enjoy testing the strength of your controller with intense gameplay, for a retro game this is definately one for the collection. The game was re-released in 1992 in Europe in time for the Barcelona Olympics, called “Track & Field in Barcelona” which is the same game as this. There are a number of easter eggs in the game that is worth checking out, for a full list of these then check Wikipedia but to give a teaser of this try launching the javelin off the screen, or if both players finish the 100/110 meters in the exact same time. However on a Saturday night, if your looking for a decent retro atheltics game having watched the London 2012 Olympics for its 5000th continuous hour, it’s well worth a look at, just keep the emergency services number on standby – or ibuprofen at least.

Rating – 5 out of 5

Dr. Mario NES Review

Throughout his time at the mascot for Nintendo and all round saviour of the video game industry, Mario’s occupation has always been stated as “plumber”. I for one have never seen him be called out at 3am in the morning to fix a blocked U-Bend or replace a toilet flusher. He has however had differing jobs, such as golfer, demolitions expert, graffiti cleaner to name but a few. However, one of his best roles was when he “graduated” in 1990 as a doctor, to become Dr. Mario. So in a world full of platformers and side-scrollers, how did this puzzle game fare up, does it make us ill or does it get a clean bill of health?

Dr. Mario is in essence a “falling block” puzzle game, as per Tetris or Columns on the Sega systems. The idea is that Mario, sorry Dr. Mario, is trying to remove the viruses on the screen, in blue, red and yellow form. Using your controller you have to line up 4 same coloured blocks in a row, with one of the blocks having to be the virus, to remove it from the screen. Clear the level by clearing the viruses. Simple as that you say? Simple as that it is, however, with all good puzzle games, the rounds get harder and harder, with more viruses appearing on the screen for you to remove.

The Doctor is in the house. Well Doctor/Plumber/All round superstar

So starting the game up, you get the choice between 1 player or 2 players, again another plus, because nothing is better for puzzle games then taking on a friend. But thats for later. When selecting 1 player mode, you can customise your game, choosing the starting virus level from 0 to 20 (thats 4 viruses – 84 viruses on screen to start), the speed in which the pieces fall down (Low, Med, Hi) and 2 differing types of music, Fever which for me is one of my favourite music piece on the NES, and highly recognisable, and Chill. So when you’ve chosen this, away you go. Mario throws the pills down and you control the pill by pressing left and right to move along, down to throw the piece down, and A or B button to rotate the piece. It’s simple controls but then often the best games have the simplest controls. On screen in the bottom left you’ll see the viruses your eradicating, and once that colour has gone, the virus is removed from under the magnifying glass.

Where this games comes in to its own, is with the multiplayer aspect. Grab a buddy for simultaneous action, beginning with setting the game like in 1 player mode. The option is there if one player is better than the other to start at a higher level (with more viruses to eradicate), or setting the drop speeds different, so you can give handicaps where needed. The idea of the 2 player game is to remove the viruses as per normal, and whoever clears their viruses first wins the round. Win 3 rounds and your crowned the winner, the chief of medicine of Dr. Mario. It can quite intense when you both have the same pieces but when your rushing to place the piece down first, you slam it down in the wrong location causing a mandatory curse word and screaming all sorts at your partner. A nice touch as well is if one player remove 2 lines of viruses at the same time on their side of the screen, 2 random blocks falls down on your opponents’ screen, that can help or (inevitably) hinder the opponent.


It’s enough to make anyone turn to drugs – er I mean reach out for Prozac

In terms of graphics, the colours are bold and the viruses are cartoony and animated really well. As your concentrating on the gameplay, you don’t notice them moving around under the microscope, seeming to taunt you for slamming the piece down in the wrong location. There’s nice animation when you eradicate that colour, as the virus falls on his derriere like an upside turtle before clearing off the screen. It seems that Nintendo put a lot of effort into the graphics and its animation, which is displayed really well. The music is catchy and recognisable, and you’ll certainly have the Fever tune in your head before long. It’s no surprise, when you see YouTube videos of the music incorporated into modern outings, which shows the quality and the recognition it has gained. As well the sound effects compliment the game really well and don’t become jarring and annoying, so it’s a certainly a game you don’t want to mute and stick your iPod or other loving music device on – ahem *Zune* ahem.

So all in all, this game ranks high in the NES library, and is no surprise that it has been ported and remade onto every Nintendo console and the majority of portable gaming systems. It’s one of the best puzzle games that I’ve ever played, with the gameplay shining through immensly, making you come back for more. Its also testament to the fact you don’t ultra-realistic graphics, or 20 buttons to play the game properly, just need you, your controller and reflexes of a squirrel. It’s hard to find fault with the game, the only minor irritation is that if your playing the game for a while, the music may become repititive but this really is clutching at straws. It’s a game that can be customized so that it favours not only the brave, but the novice, and can play alongside each other with no disadvantage. Those not into video games can play this with consummate ease and enjoy it for what it is – a darn good puzzle game, one of the best of its kind. Carts are common at all good retro stores and on eBay UK so you won’t need to sell a kidney or liver to pay for this game. My advice as always is to play it on the system it was first on, that it was designed for – not the Virtual Console or Game Boy Advance. So next time your feeling “blue”, don’t be burned up and “red” with illness, turn to Dr. Mario and let him cure you with something, erm, yellow…

Rating – 5 out of 5

Wild Gunman NES Review

Looking at the NES library, when you think of light gun or zapper games the first game that springs to mind is always Duck Hunt, but there was a plethora of fine gun games on the console, and for me this one is one of the finest. Released in Europe in February 1988, a full 4 years after Japan, what did Japan love for those 4 years that we missed out on?

Well, as the name suggests, this game is set in the Wild West, and your character takes part in a showdown seemingly in the middle of the desert, with cactus and an overgrown termite hill or dirt mount for company. Although you never get to see your character, it seems natural to think of yourself as somewhat of a Clint Eastwood type character, clearing the West of the varmints that pollute the place.  It pays to have imagination you see, otherwise I could imagine the character is a dumpy Mario-type character like from the Golf game.

So firing up this game, your treated as per most of the black box games on the NES with a jaunty though short opening music, before being greeted with 3 options. Game A, intriguingly called 1 Outlaw, Game B that even more mysteriously is called 2 Outlaws, and finally Game C, with just the word “Gang”. Now that final option wouldn’t be out of place if the game was released today and was set in certain parts of the UK but for a Wild West game sounds pretty cool, unless the gang was Kool and the Gang, or Gary Glitters “gang” *gulp*

It’s hard to shoot someone who has a poncho to die for

So you choose your option, and this is where the fun begins. No controllers needed, just you, your gun, your cat-like reflexes and your Nintendo. After suitably jaunty yet slow music, your first outlaw meanders across the screen. You’ll notice you have a time on the top right hand corner, the time in which you have to shoot the enemy. As with all good games it starts off at an easier time, but gets progressively quicker. Don’t shoot until he shouts fire, otherwise you lose a life and the screen turns purplish, with your opponent running off shouting “foul”. In this game you get 3 lives, before its game over. The other instance of you losing a life is if your too slow in firing your gun, when your time goes beyond the gunman’s time. So as long as your quick on your reflexes, youll progress to the next level – how simple is that? A nice touch is when you lose a life, your treated to a rendition of Chopin’s Funeral March. Never forget, with these games its the little touches that go the extra mile. An interesting fact as well is that when the enemy shouts Fire, this was the first instance of voices in a NES game, which is impressive for the technology at the time, and something that is taken for granted these days with today’s games.

Game Mode A

Game B – 2 Outlaws, does exactly what it says. Instead of having one varmint you get double the trouble to defeat within the allotted time period. A hint, that was pointed out in video reviews, is to shoot the guy with the lower amount of time first before shooting the second guy, though you may have only 0.x seconds between each character. It’s certainly more of a challenge, but for those playing it who think they’re right sharpshooters and laugh in the face of 2 flying ducks, it certainly provides a challenge. Again, it starts off with a more than manageable time to shoot both in, gradually getting quicker and quicker. Same rules apply, 3 lives and thats it.

Finally, we have the intriguing Game C – Gang. Here, you have 15 bullets, and in waves, shoot the enemies in a setting not in the middle of a desert, but at a saloon. Its a good twist, and nice to have a change in scenery. Be warned though, you need to bring your “A” game to tackle this mode, its unforgiving and without a timer running down, you need to be a dead -eyed dick more than ever before. If you miss a target, you don’t forfeit the round, just lose a bullet so use sparingly, theres more targets than you realise.

The graphics are cartoony and colourful, and give a damn-good representation of the lawless Wild West that your helping to clean up. The scowls on the enemies faces when your shot, the ram’s head above the saloon on mode C, the scenery and the detail in the different enemies rather than them looking the same makes you feel like your cleaning a whole town rather than the same face over and over again. The music is jovial and upbeat, well aside from Chopin and his maudlin Funeral March, and sets the scene of the game nicely. Control wise, all you need is your gun, and if you don’t know how to shoot a gun maybe it’s worth checking out Barbie on the NES.

So all in all, its a darn good rootin-tooting ol’ shooter, making good of the light gun, or zapper, or however you call your funky grey (or sometimes orange) gun. The only downside is the lack of a 2 player option, but to try and topple your friend’s score is just enough incentive for a mate to try and compete but alas the score doesn’t save on the cartridge so you’ll lose your score when you turn your console off. If your looking for escapism, and the chance to reenact Dirty Harry and mutter that famous quote, something about being lucky then this is a great game to add to your collection. Carts are still out there in the great retro shops of the UK, with eBay having more PAL-B carts, so if you got your zapper to hand and tire of ducks and dastardly dogs, give this a whirl and get practicing with your Dirty Harry impression. I mean, how can you go wrong with a game that’s featured on Back to the Future 2?

Rating – 4 out of 5