Marble Madness NES Review

marblebox

It’s always difficult in reviewing games that have personal meaning to the reviewer – it may be the fact it was the first game you ever played, or the game you played with your best pal when you pinkie swore you’d be friends forever and start braiding each other’s hair before the midnight pillow fight. Well for myself, gladly it was the first reason rather than the second reason, though I can’t deny it is tempting to braid and style my hair. Although in the vague recollections of some long gone psyche the image of Mario and the bright blue sky is etched, the first game I ever played properly was Marble Madness, originally in arcade from 1984 but ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System later on in the 80’s. So taking off the rose-tinted glasses how does the game fare up today, will it drive you to madness or fine as Italian marble?

Never can quite fit my whole name on these games - should just be NESBOY

Never can quite fit my whole name on these games – should just be NESBOY

Marble Madness can be described as a platform game of sorts, in which the player controls a marble around courses and levels in order to get to the finish line before the time runs out. And that’s it really, there’s no end bosses to squish by rolling over them just you and your reflexes as quick as a feral cat on heat finding some tail. There are certain enemies as such that will do everything possible to delay your progress through the level, however what will impede your progress is the physicalities and dynamics of the level starting with ramps or hammers that attack you, through to nuclear green liquid that will melt the marble on its way to the end of the level.

Those numbers are the meanings of life...or are they?...

Those numbers are the meanings of life…or are they?…

So you start the game up, and your presented with the option to play with 1 player, or if you’ve got your buddy with you then you can play 2 player. The beauty of the 2 player option is that unlike other games on the console which has 2 player features but you have to take it in turns doing a level each, in Marble Madness you play simultaneously together on the same screen. If one player reaches the next portion of the screen before the other, than the losing marble is magically teleported to where the winning marble is located, however they are deducted 5 seconds from their time. The winner of the race gets an additional 5 seconds added onto the start of the next level, so it is worth going mano y mano with your compadre for bragging rights. However when you start the game you get to choose your name, upto 6 characters so be creative with the obscenities you write! Then choose the control type, be this at a 90 degree control method or 45 degree method, to which after that away you go on level 1. With 6 levels of ever-increasing difficulty, it certainly is a game where the more you play, the easier you’ll race through the levels and enjoy it the more you play it.

If only real life marbles were as fun

If only real life marbles were as fun

The controls for the game are very simple, and very fluid at that. All that is required is the d-pad to move the marble through the level. As mentioned previously after you’ve chosen your name you can choose the control type – 90 or 45 degrees. The main difference is with 90 degrees the marble will go in the direction of the d-pad, so if you press down the marble goes down, left and right etc. With 45 degrees pressing down makes the marble go diagonal down-left, pressing right makes it go down, so depending on how big a challenge you like, I would recommend playing the game at a 90 degree control setting. The graphics are bold and colourful, especially on a later level entitled Silly which features polka dots and a wacky colour palette. It certainly is a treat for the eyes, and for the ears it’s nothing but fresh and funky all the way in all its 8 bit glory, so no need to put on that Celine Dion album just yet.

So all in all, is Marble Madness a worthy first game memory? Is it worth adding to the collection? Well to answer both questions, yes and definitely yes. The gameplay is smooth and simple, yet later on in the game gets challenging so lots of practice is required. What is good is that it doesn’t take long to get to the later levels, so although there is no password system to reach the later levels, by persevering you’ll certainly go far and complete the game. Even if you don’t have hours to spend playing a game, if you got a spare 15 or so minutes then do pick up this gem of a title, and with the 2 player option as well there’s no need for your friend to sit there watching enviously. Copies of the game are in plentiful supply on all good auction websites so do check out this title and add it to your collection, you must be suffering from “madness” not to…

Rating – 4 out of 5

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Excitebike NES Review

excitebikebox

This review is dedicated to @Tracker_TD who has the honour of becoming my 1000th follower on Twitter. Follow me here, but thank you so much to everyone of my followers, you all mean the world to me! Just some background, to celebrate the 1000th follower whoever it was they got the choice of NES game to review. Lucky old Liam chose Excitebike so this is for him – thank you!

Excitebike is a motocross racing game, which features the distinctive black box design on the cover that was used in the early titles, and Excitebike is no exception, as well it was one of the launch titles of the console in Europe back in 1986.  The idea is that your racing either on your own or against competitors, in order to complete the track within a time period. If you finish within the top 3 based on your time, you progress to the next track and carry on through the game.  The game was originally released in Japan for the Famicom system in 1984, and made use of the Famicom Data Recorder, which was used to record user-created tracks (which will be discussed later) but as this was a Japanese-only accessory, this featured was not utilised in the American and European release of the game.

You know with a thumbs up, everything will be A-OK

You know with a thumbs up, everything will be A-OK

So when you turn on the game, your presented with a simple yet very blue title screen to which you can choose from 3 options. Selection A is where your rider is racing against the clock on his own. Selection B is where your rider is still trying to beat the time set but there are other riders on screen – you start off with 3 others but as the level progresses they are everywhere, not intentionally causing a nuisance but nevertheless not a good advert for drinking and riding. Finally, there is a Design section, where users can create their own custom made tracks to race on. As mentioned briefly earlier, in Japan this feature was utilised with the Famicom Disk System, a saving device that used normal audio cassettes and worked in the same way that the C64 had with its Datassette.  It was even stated in the manual that the save and load features of the Design aspect were programmed in for “potential product developments”. oo-er indeed, however it’s nice to create your own tracks even if you cannot save these for your friends to see. With 19 different parts of scenery and track to include in your laps, and up to 9 laps,you could certainly make it as simple or as difficult for your friends to compete on. It is a shame however there is no multiplayer option on the game, but trying to beat the times of your friends is good incentive enough.

So controlling your motorcycle couldn’t be simpler – the A button accelerates your bike, and the B button, well that accelerates faster which you might think is the obvious button to use however, it comes at a price. At the bottom of the screen is a Temp bar, for temperature (in case those of you were clever enough to think it meant temporary) and when should that bar fill up, you temporarily stop at the side of the track waiting for your engine to cool down, so when your racing do keep an eye on that – if it gets too high then release the accelerator for a bit or drive over the right arrows that are on the ground, to reduce the temperature of the bike. The up and down d-pad moves your bike between the 4 lanes on screen, and the left and right d-pad button will change the angle of your bike both on the ground and in mid-air, allowing you to look cool and do wheelies throughout the course. If you are in mid-air and land at an unnatural angle, then you’ll bounce on the ground and go to the edge of the screen – this happens if you crash into another rider in Selection B.

Can I have a P please Bob? All you get is green grass from it

Can I have a P please Bob? All you get is green grass from it

The music and sound effects are impressive for a game released in the console’s infancy, with the music upbeat and setting a positive mood for the upcoming races. Although there is no music when racing, this is replaced with impressive sound effects ranging from the start of the race building up to its climatic start, to the sound of the engine when racing and when you overheat a shrill noise repeats. It’s certainly a game where you don’t need to mute the sound and put on the latest offerings from whatever band or artiste the youth of today listen to, the music and sound effects set the game well and serve as a nice addition and get you in the mood to race. The graphics are clear and bright, although it does like at times in the course be this dirt or someone vomiting, perhaps a scared rider afraid of you beating him in the race, is a somewhat putrid olive colour, but nevertheless the track stands out well against the green background and your character looks well drawn. It’s also nice to see a cameraman in the background filming the race giving an ever more illusion that the race is being shown on TV, similarly to the cameraman that shows in Pro Wrestling. Maybe at the time Nintendo liked the idea of realism and having cameraman filming sports events?

Is not quite A WINNER IS YOU but it's good enough

Is not quite A WINNER IS YOU but it’s good enough

Excitebike is a game worthy enough to be in anyone’s collection, and is a fine launch title for the console. Although the concept of motocross games isn’t a usual choice for game developers, the fact that Nintendo released this (along with Mach Rider) shows there was demand for these types of games. As a result of this, and the amount of care and attention given to the game, if you have a spare 15-minutes and don;t want a game too involved, Excitebike is certainly one to pop in and play. PAL copies of the game are plentiful and at a decent price, so even if you don’t own many black box games aside from the obvious of Super Mario Bros, be sure to check this title out. It won’t have anything humourous like WINNER IS YOU, but it’s nice completing the tracks using your skill within the alloted time. This version of the game has been made on to future consoles such as the Gameboy Advance, within Animal Crossing on Gamecube and as a Virtual Console download but as always, play the game on the original console, put on your leathers and get your helmet on and experience Excitebike in its true splendour. I for one am of to try and get the oil slicks out the carpet and paint the bike a pinker shade of red…

Rating – 4 out of 5

The Simpsons Bart Vs The Space Mutants NES Review

simpsonsboxart

Back in the early 90’s kids were interested in a number of things that graced our TV screens, but  something came along which kids were mesmerised by watching this new dysfunctional family and their weekly antics. This of course was The Simpsons. Naturally with all popular TV shows came video games, and boy did The Simpsons release their fair share of games on the early consoles. The very first game that was released based off the TV show was The Simpsons Bart vs The Space Mutants, which was released in 1991. It sounds promising enough, so how does it play nowadays – is it a vintage classic a la episodes form the first few seasons, or should it have been put to sleep like the last few years’ worth of episodes?

They gathered round, they couldn't believe a game was as bad as this

They gathered round, they couldn’t believe a game was as bad as this

The game puts you in control of Bart, which isn’t surprising since he was deemed the most popular at the time featuring in games such as this and invading the charts with “The Bartman”. The story goes that aliens descend to earth planning to rule the earth by taking over people’s bodies and making humans their slaves. Naturally Bart is the one who sees the aliens hatching their plan, he has taken it upon himself to help save the planet. So the story is plausible somewhat, and thusly move swiftly onto the first level, where the objective is to find any purple objects on the level, and spray them red or get rid of them. Quote why the aliens have a fascination of the colour purple I don’t know – maybe the designers got the idea from watching Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple too much, and this is where the game starts.

When the game starts you’ll notice along the bottom a sort of status bar, which gives information about what item your carrying, how many lives you got, the time limit and also “goals”, which means on the first level you need to collect 24 purple items, or spray them from purple to red. You come across the first item which is a purple trash can, but how do you make it change colour? Pressing A makes you jump, pressing B does nothing, pressing the select button changes the item your carrying and pressing start executes that action. But nowhere does it show the item needed to change the colour of the trash can. So you explore the level and find on a really high shelf the spray can. You then have to go back past the enemies that seem impervious to any form of attack, and finally spray the can with the B button. So throughout the level you have to find other ways of covering the purpleness, be that climbing on washing lines or finding inventive ways of spraying the colour purple away.

Not even Jebediah could save this game

If only you could get some Shaman to cast a spell to control a big towering monument to control…

One of the most infuriating aspects of this game that you may have encountered in the first level alone, are the controls. The backbone to any half decent game is having solid controls, which this game sadly lacks. Even when you move Bart, it does not happen straight away, there seems to be a delay that makes you push even harder on your d pad trying to get him reacting quicker, but it doesn’t work. To do a super run, to get the speed high enough to make you jump onto higher ledges requires a difficult combination of holding A+B in a way that doesn’t make you use up your spray can, and then having to press A at the right time to jump – why couldn’t they put B to sprint? The jump doesn’t work when you want it to, so to actually spray and remove all purple items in the level is just a pain, and to do a super jump where your sprinting with A+B and then A to jump again was unnecessarily difficult which it shouldn’t have been.

Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, you realise you don’t have a health bar, but 2 hits from enemies and your dead. That’s right, you graze the thigh of an enemy, scraping their head, do that twice and your back at the start of the level. It does remember the fact that you’ve sprayed certain things red or removed certain purple items, so you don’t need to redo these parts but your lack of any real health means you’ll go back to the beginning more than you realise. Fans of the game will enjoy the 8 bit digitsed version of the theme tune however to have it constantly playing the background is a bit jarring – it’s like anything in life it’s nice in small bursts to have it loop constantly, you’ll wish it was the Bartman on loop. Forget that, no one wants that.  The sound effects are standard 8 bit fare, typical of a platforming game with jump noises and that’s about it. It’s nice they attempted some form of digitized voicing that says “Eat My Shorts” and something at the start of the level that at one point resembles “Cool Man”. Alas, the music and sound effects do not help improve the quality of the game, which coming from Acclaim was a surprise, as they made some jolly decent games such as Turok and NBA Jam, who knows maybe they were having an off day and had too much radiation poisoning but regardless, it’ll take an insubordinate amount of time moving off the first level.

Wonder if Space Mutants 4 is better than this? Book your tickets now!

Wonder if Space Mutants 4 is better than this? Book your tickets now!

Fans of the Simpsons will no doubt have been excited that their favourite show was made into a game on the biggest console of the time. Imagine the joy going into your local store, treating yourself over the weekend to a rented game, seeing your favourite show on Nintendo, the two biggest things for a child coming together in some holy matrimony, but instead after attempting the first level over and over again, what better use of your time you could have used with your weekend – like doing homework. The second level (should you get there) involves collecting hats from a shopping centre, something equally as important as removing all purple items. For something as big as the Simpsons, there shouldn’t have been the need to rush the game, the developers would have known how much kids would have loved a game of their favourite TV show, so to have this pile of dung served to them is an insult to gamers and to fans of the show everywhere. Copies of the game are common in the wild so do try it just to see how bad it is, and to add to your collection. I just hope that other games on the system aren;t as bad such as Bart vs The World…

Rating – 1 out of 5