Hogan’s Alley NES Review

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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… wait – is there some Deja Vu thing going on? Well anywho games on the NES that utilised the light gun, or the zapper, or however you call the gun that were good were far and few between, with the most recognizable being Duck Hunt. Another game that utilised the light gun was Hogan’s Alley so grab your leather jacket and your shades and prepare to take out the vermin that sprawls the city, or shooting range, hell wherever the bad guys reside these days.

In case you didn't know the difference between good guys and bad guys...

In case you didn’t know the difference between good guys and bad guys…

Again, difference between good vs evil

Again, difference between good vs evil

Hogan’s Alley is a black box light gun game that was released in Europe in 1987, the simple aim is to shoot the bad guys and spare the innocent folk. Sounds easy? Well, in a similar vein to Wild Gunman, you have to shoot the bad guys in a specified tight time limit and if not you record a “miss”. Enough misses and it is game over. Although you don’t get to see your character, it would be nice to think that your character is a Clint Eastwood-type chiselled good-looking rather than an overweight Mario-type character that popped up in a lot of the games that was released at the time, be it as an umpire at Tennis or referee in Punch-Out.

When you pop the cartridge in and turn the console on, you get three options:

Hogan’s Alley A

Three cardboard cut outs will appear on screen – shoot the bad guys with guns and avoid the innocent civilians set in a police training environment. At the top of the screen in green shows a number which relates to how long in seconds you have to shoot the bad guys. Sometimes it may only be one bad guy on screen, however the later in the game you get the more chance you have of trying to shoot more than one character on screen within the allotted time frame.

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Hogan’s Alley B

Same premise of shooting bad guys and not shooting the civilians however this time it is set outdoors where the bad guy cutouts appear in windows and on the street, even in shops. Although there is no timer on screen, you only have a certain amount of time in order to shoot the bad guys on screen. The same characters that appear in game mode A appear in game mode B, so it’s good that you don’t have a different set of characters that you need to try to remember.

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Trick Shot

No bad guys in this game mode, the premise being that you have to shoot cans that fly from the right hand side of the screen, and you need to shoot them onto three spaces that are on the left side of the screen which correlate to differing points value. The top space has the lowest points value but in theory should be the easiest for you to shoot the can into, where the bottom shelf as it were has the most points value but is deemed the most difficult to shoot into, with a short awkwardly-placed block there to hinder you. It makes a nice change to shoot cans rather than cardboard cutouts of people.

Game Mode C

Game Mode C

In all three game modes the most challenging aspect is yourself – how does that work? For game mode’s A or B it’s the pressure knowing that you only have a certain time limit to shoot the required number of bad people (which numerically doesn’t show on the screen), so the first few milli-seconds you’re counting how many bad guys are on the screen and then reacting to this. You need to have sharp reflexes, sharper than a hedgehog eating a ghost chilli pepper washed down with Tabasco sauce. For game mode C, the challenge is trying to let the can get as close to the bottom as possible and shooting it so that you have a chance of getting the can into the bottom shelf. With multiple can’s on the screen at the same time, you need to forget that hedgehog and have your Spidey-senses on high alert.

Hogan’s Alley is a fine addition to the NES library and is more than just shooting bad guys, or cardboard cutouts of them at least. You have to think about what bad guys are on the screen and try to shoot them in a small amount of time, or shooting the cans at the right time so that the trajectory is correct and your can goes into a space on the left hand side of the screen. It’s great that although the premise of game mode A and B are the same, the background differs which gives it a fresh take. Although much cannot be written about Hogan’s Alley, if you’re looking for a variation on the NES on the light gun game then Hogan’s Alley certainly achieves this. It is more similar to Duck Hunt with the game modes than with Wild Gunman but all three are worthy to have in your collection. Copies of the game aren’t that common but it is worth the extra pennies so pick up a copy, I mean how many times can you shoot ducks and get laughed at by a dog?

Rating – 5 out of 5

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Castelian NES Review

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Every now and again, a game will come along on whatever format that will challenge you from the moment you try reading the title – obvious examples being Xeyxz and Cacoma Knight in Bizyland which in a number of different ways roll off the tongue. Another contender for this is the game featured today – Castelian. Is it pronounced Cass-tell-ian or perhaps Castle-Ian, or maybe in fact Caster-leean. It is one of those conundrums that involves a flight-or-fight response – does a game with a title like Castelian make it worthy of your hard earned money and precious time, or make you want to stick to the mainstream and for games whose names are easier to pronounce? Let it be known that for the sake of reviews I am always up for a challenge, so how will this game fare – like a glorious phallic-like tower visible from miles to announce its superiority on the world (or NES console at least), or just a phallic-type game?

Who doesn't find the protagonist cute and adorable!

Who doesn’t find the protagonist cute and adorable!

Castelian, or Nebulus in certain regions, started off life on the Commodore 64, and is a platform game where the idea is to climb to the top of the tower to plant a bomb (stay with me here) which is built in the sea, in order to destroy the tower. The way up to the top is not easy, what kind of game would it be if you were at the bottom of the tower and entered an elevator and pressed the button for the top floor and at the top easily plant the bomb when no one is around? An easy one at that, and everyone likes a challenge supposedly…But anyway in order to reach the top you have to pass enemies and traps that try thwarting your progress. You climb the tower in ledges, and if you get touched by an enemy, you fall to the ledge below to carry on your ascent to the top. If you happen to be on the bottom ledge i.e. at the start of the level, then you fall into the sea and lose a life. As well as being thwarted by enemies and randomly disappearing ledges (more on that later) then you also have a timer as well which unsurprisingly if you don’t reach the top in time you lose a life.

Is there a more sinister-sounding opening level? Maybe, but I can't think of one

Is there a more sinister-sounding opening level? Maybe, but I can’t think of one

So popping the cartridge in your console and powering the beauty up, you’re treated to the main screen, with dare I say funky music being played and the game’s protagonist Pogo, or Julian, or in fact Kyorochan (depending on what version of the game on which console) who looks like an adorable green pig – if you’re playing this game with two players then your cute piggy character is blue which is a nice variation. If you leave the game for a few seconds you then see the staff credits and right at the bottom it says to press Select for the options menu or Start to play the game. Why this couldn’t be on the main screen is anyone’s guess, as when you turn on your console ready for gaming action, you’re going to be mashing the start button and not thinking what hints or tips are going to be on the next screen. Well pressing the select button does bring up the options menu where you can choose between one or two players (which works in the same way as Super Mario Bros 2 player – not co-op and if player one dies the second player then starts), choosing between sound effects and music in game, and the difficulty – Novice or Hero. As natural as it is to select Hero to, well be a Hero like a certain NES reviewer here, it is recommended to start out on Novice, in order to get a feel for the game and the impending trials and tribulations that await you.

So you start the game at the ominously-titled “Tower of Eyes” and then off you go. Within a few moves to the right where the path leads, the ledge gives way and you fall in the water. What kind of BS is that – it reminds you a lot of Dragon’s Lair, where the pitfalls are not obvious unless you have played the game before. Unfortunately in that respect Castelian is reminiscent of Dragon’s Lair a lot, and not in a good way. It is a sure thing you will lose a lot of lives before completing the first tower, as it is trial and repeat which although gives some sort of replay value, for the first level it should ease you in, not trick you like the fake blocks in Simon’s Quest that is only known by throwing Holy Water. With Castelian, you don’t even get that luxury. As a weapon you do get a white projectile to throw at enemies however this has a range of results, it may kill the enemy straight away, it may stun them which makes them turn a different colour, or have no effect at all. Again, it is trial and error, because if you stun the enemy and touch it (thinking it can move), you then fall down a ledge, and with only a certain amount of time to complete the tower, which usually is a measly 100 seconds , time as well as your memory is your greatest enemy.

Blue pigs, green pigs, it almost could be like Angry Birds

Blue pigs, green pigs, it almost could be like Angry Birds

Graphically, Castelian has a simplistic EGA hue of purples and blues which although do the job, does make you wonder why they could not include a better colour palette – the Amiga version had a colourful palette and this is on the console that brought you Super Mario 3 and Rainbow Islands, so it should have been more colourful. One of the good things about Castelian is that when your character moves left or right, he stays visible in the centre of the screen, and the background tower turns, which conveys a sense of depth. It can be confusing at times, when you expect an enemy to go round the back of the tower but instead the enemy is heading towards you and your weapon doesn’t work, but it is still a nice effect. As mentioned, the music has a funky beat however if you’re playing the same level again and again due to the difficulty, it can get jarring especially as the main title music is the same as level one’s music and you will be hearing it a lot – well not unless you mute the televison. Controls-wise, it is straight forward – left or right to move your character, the A button to fire your weapon IF stationary, if you are moving and press A you jump, which again could have been improved as you should have the ability to fire your weapon if moving – why this couldn’t have been mapped to the B button again is anyone’s guess but you’ll have to get used to the projectile being at a angle and being stationary in order to use it.

Now if the NES version had THESE graphics, it would be a start

Now if the NES version had THESE graphics, it would be a start

Castelian is a mixed bag of a game – graphically it had innovations such as the background moving clockwise or anti-clockwise and for a hwile has some funky music which for the NES is only a good thing, however playing the game reminds you of Dragon’s Lair which is a taste that isn’t good. The stingy timer for the level, coupled with the fact it is a game that relies a lot on trial and error means the game at time can be both extremely frustrating, but rewarding if you persevere long enough but how long do you give a game repeating the same level and encountering the same traps before you say enough is enough? What is good is that when you run out of lives you have a continue option, which amounts to 2 continues so although it could have been more continues, it is better then nothing. Overall, Castelian is one for collectors only – it isn’t a game that you would give your precious Sunday afternoon’s for, no matter how adorable the green pig-looking character flashes his eyes in your direction, but a game for those who seek a challenge, which you certainly will get in Castelian. I’m off to find my own micro-pig and climb a tower but not to destroy, hopefully there will be a princess there instead of a mushroom advising the princess is in another castle…

Rating – 2 out of 5