The Simpsons Bart Vs The World NES Review

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Readers to this blog may remember that in January of this year, I reviewed the first Simpson’s game that was released onto the Nintendo Entertainment System – Bart Vs The Space Mutants. For those who haven’t read it, click here to read it. Without revealing the ending, it wasn’t the best game on the system. Far from it in fact. So what better way to try and redeem themselves than by to release a sequel to the first game, but rather than focusing on just aliens, why not focus on everyone’s favourite cartoon family going global? It’s a win win for the publisher – guaranteed sales as it’s the Simpsons, and overall “acclaim” (word play on the publisher, Acclaim I assure you) that it’s better than the first game, how could the game be as bad as Vs The Space Mutants?

*sigh*

I'd rather sail on that golden boat than go back on the pirate ship, away from this game

I’d rather sail on that golden boat than go back on the pirate ship, away from this game

Bart Vs The World was released onto the NES in 1991, and is a side-scrolling platform game in parts that act similarly to Bart Vs The Space Mutants. The plot of the game, which is probably the best thing if not the most believable part of the game, is that Bart wins an art competition on Krusty The Klown’s show that has been rigged by Smithers. Why would Smithers rig a meager art competition? Well, he is doing this in order to help Mr. Burns dispose of The Simpson family once and for all. Mr. Burns gets friends and family from all over the world to help dispose of Bart (which makes a change from getting friends and family round for a friendly game of Trivial Pursuit) whilst Bart travels the world in a scavenger hunt. So the plot can’t be faulted, it’s more plausible than alien’s taking over the world and hindering them by collecting hats and purple objects. Confused? Read the previous review!

Congratulations on making a s****y sequel!

Congratulations on making a s****y sequel!

So you turn on the cart and get presented with two options – start or practice. Without knowing what in fact you’re practicing, and with the thoughts of “practice” making the player have horrendous flashbacks of Ski and Die with its “practicing”, naturally you’re going to pick Start. Bart looks remarkably like he did in Vs The Space Mutants, to which this should be the first sign of danger, of a sense of deja vu, that feeling in your stomach that maybe the developers didn’t learn from their previous wretched incarnation. You’re then treated to the plot of the story before you come to another menu screen. You find you’re located in China and have the option of four different game modes – junk (which ironically sums up the game), a sliding puzzle game, a card match game and also a Simpsons Trivia section.

The sliding puzzle game is a mini game that should be on the Game Boy, or anywhere else just not on the NES – trying to get the images in the correct location to form the image is not only tedious, but get’s boring incredibly quickly – how it benefits the game I do not know. The card matching mini game is one that is similar to the card matching game in Mario 3 – if you pick an incorrect pair 5 times then it finishes. Don’t worry, the game isn’t that cruel inasmuch you cannot replay it, but it’s best to bring a pad and pen with you to write down the locations of card’s you’ve uncovered. Why should gaming have to come to this – resorting to pen’s, pads and a certain amount of luck – what is wrong with just the controller in your hand and your gaming skills and reflexes, akin to a flamingo whose had a triple espresso and a vindaloo curry. The trivia section is the best of a bad bunch, if like me you’re a Simpsons fan then it’s good to refresh the grey matter on classic moments from the early seasons of the game. Finally, oh boy, we have “Junk”, and what an apt name it is for the mini game. This is the part of the game that resembles Vs The Space Mutants, a shoddy platformer with bad controls, bad jumping and an overwhelming desire to throw the game into the nuclear chimneys at the Springfield Power Plant. You have to collect items on the screen, that may include Squishee’s for health but more importantly Krusty-brand souvenirs. It is a tedious process combing the levels for these souvenirs and items, and as mentioned your hampered not by the difficulty, but by the bad controls.

Can you think of anything better to do on a lazy Sunday than sliding puzzle games? Yes, yes I can

Can you think of anything better to do on a lazy Sunday than sliding puzzle games? Yes, yes I can

In terms of controls, well the d-pad moves Bart in the action/platforming levels, the A button makes Bart jump and the B button shoots a projectile should you have any balls to throw. To do a running jump in something like Super Mario Bros, you hold the B Button to run fast and then the A button makes Mario jump. Nice and simple and is a standard that is set as a benchmark for others to follow. Did Bart Vs The World follow this tried and tested method? Of course they didn’t – holding B doesn’t make Bart run, whilst pressing the A button makes Bart jump normally. No, by accident you will find that if you hold the A button and B button together, you’ll then run, and have to skillfully try to press the jump button at the right time to make ledges or collect certain items. It is still pointless and unnecessary, and could have easily been remedies from Bart Vs The Space Mutant, but they didn’t. For the mini-game, the A button is used for selection which comes as no surprise.

The sound effects sound like something that could easily have originated from the Atari 2600 – now for an Atari 2600 game they were nice sound effects, although often recycled. Bearing in mind this game was made in 1991 and after the advent of Mario 3, you’d think that more effort would be made. Music wise, you hear the Simpson’s theme tune done in 8 bit, which although is ok, to hear it over and over again, I may as well stick a Simpsons DVD on, let the main theme loop constantly, which would be more fun.

I threw everything at my TV like Bart's throwing that ball when playing this

I threw everything at my TV like Bart’s throwing that ball when playing this

Bart Vs The World had every chance to improve on everything that was poor about Bart Vs The Space Mutants, such as the dodgy storyline, the controls, and more beside. Granted, they improved the storyline, and is nice that you do seem to go over the world, with levels ranging from China, the North Pole, Egypt and Hollywood, but as mentioned in previous reviews, that pales in comparison to having decent controls and good gameplay, which this game sadly lacks. The trivia is restricted to a few early seasons of the show, and the mini games, well they were unnecessary to add onto an action/platformer cartridge, especially when they are poorly executed which the sliding game is. Grab a controller and shoot everything in sight, stomp on enemies, anything but slide puzzle tiles around! It is such a shame with a brand like The Simpsons, because after the debacle of Bart Vs The Space Mutants, the developers had a chance to improve the game and to also make the game feel it was lovingly crafted and developed, not just rushed knowing people would buy it regardless of the quality because it has the Simpson name attached to it. Copies of the game are slightly rarer than the previous title, so for Simpson’s fans its worth checking out, but as described earlier you would have more fun whacking in DVD’s of the show and watching the title screen. One can only hope that Krusty’s Fun House is any better…

Rating – 1 out of 5

Mario Is Missing! NES Review

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Once every so often, a game will be released on a console and be this at the time of release, or years afterwards looking back retrospectively, it will divide opinion. Games that in one camp, people will love it and denounce those who hate it. On the other side, people who feel the game is an oddity to the series and wasn’t worthy of gracing such fine specimens such as the NES console. For example, Zelda II, which will be crossed on a future occasion. Another game that divided opinion was Mario Is Missing! (no the ! wasn’t added for heightened excitement and pleasure), which featured everyone’s favourite plumber. Is it really as bad as people say it is, or will it go do warmly like a smooth scotch or Irn Bru on a cold winter’s morning?

How does Luigi fit wonders of the world in his inventory?

How does Luigi fit wonders of the world in his inventory?

Mario Is Missing was released in 1993, and developed not by Nintendo’s R&D department but by Radical Entertainment.  As such, it is described as an “educational game”, which does bring a shudder to gamers ears who don’t want to learn whilst playing games, they want to forget about the world and educating themselves.  The premise of the game is that Bowser instructs his Koopas to go around the world stealing world artifacts for his mail order company, and whilst Mario goes to the castle to protect them, he is in fact kidnapped (hence Mario is Missing) so it’s up to Luigi to rescue not only Mario, but the artifacts as well. Quite how Koopas can pick up Eiffel Towers and Pyramids is anyone’s guess however it’s a video game, it’s not supposed to be based upon reality, is it?

When you turn the game on, the first thing that strikes you out about the game is that graphically it looks like Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo. That’s not a bad thing whatsoever as Super Mario World was a great game, so it’s good the developers based the graphics on a proven winner rather than what the CD-I did to Zelda games. You enter the castle, and have to go through doors which although have lock’s on them you can quite easily enter but are nondescript in where they go, and are presented with pipes to go down. When you go down a pipe, then you’re playing the game.

Tax-Free cash? That's almost as exciting as Wall Street Kid!

Tax-Free cash? That’s almost as exciting as Wall Street Kid!

So as Luigi, you go around town hunting the Koopas, stamping on their head to get a bag, which is a clue to where Luigi is in the world. You get the three clues, then realise you cannot go to the information desk without Yoshi. When you then speak to the lady at the counter, she gives you clues about the item that you are supposed to be returning, to which you have to then select the item in your inventory before talking to her again. IT seems unnecessary and a drawn out process for something as simple as returning an artifact. She then asks you an educational question, for example “What does the word Sistine mean in Latin?”. If you get the question wrong you can’t return the item – you have to answer another different question. Depending on how smart you are this could be a quick process or a drawn out long process. So you answer the question with subtle references to Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and you get your reward – tax free cash! I ask you, when has a game rewarded you not only with cash, but being tax free? It’s not as if as a player you file tax returns when achieving high scores or obtain monetary reward. So this goes on and on, over different cities in different countries and different continents. Don’t forget this was back in the days before the internet so you have to rely on your parents who make you mess up more than anything else, or your Encyclopedia Britannica, so whether it was the on screen graphics or the feeling you’re at school, this game made your brain think and head hurt.

The controls of the game are slightly different to your standard Mario game. The B button makes Luigi jump, the A button when pressed whilst Luigi is moving makes him seem to walk slightly faster. The select button cycles through the on-screen menu whilst the start button selects the item. The menu items that it cycles through includes a map of the city, a world map where Yoshi can traverse quite easily through vast oceans with consummate ease, and the items which you have collected along the way. Music and sound effects wise, it does sound remarkably like Super Mario World, with nice sound effects and decent 8-bit music. Bearing in mind that the characters were licensed and it was a different company that developed the game, it would have been very easy to neglect the importance of the Mario brand and instead have basic music and even worse sound effects. Instead, if ever you were to play this with your eyes closed (which would be a feat in itself), then you would not be mistaken in thinking it was a Mario game you were playing, so put away those headphones and enjoy the 8-bit music instead.

It's not quite as nice as Mario 3's overworld granted

It’s not quite as nice as Mario 3’s overworld granted

Mario is Missing will always divide gamers, from those who say it’s not a good Mario game and that the educational aspect shouldn’t have been played on, but in theory what better way of getting kids to learn than with characters from video games that they recognize more than they do historical figures from text books they read in school? Yes the game is annoying in that you have to answer a number of different questions about the city you are in, with 6 different multiple choice answers, but on face value, the game isn’t as bad as people make out. What is important is to take the game at face value and to not treat it as a Mario game in the truest sense and think of it as a sequel to Mario 3, or a prequel to Super Mario World. Instead, take it as a game that aimed to help children learn, whilst using characters they grew up with and enjoy. Even I learned something whilst playing the game for this review, I mean come on who really thought Donatello painted the Sistine Chapel? Copies of the game, both NTSC And PAL aren’t cheap but it is worth it, and what is also good is that rather than having a save feature to track your progress, there is a password system which you can enter on the main screen. So if you’re looking for a treat for your collection, do think about Mario is Missing, I mean the chance to play a game where Luigi is the star AND to learn something? Why miss out, and put away your encyclopedia’s, you won’t need those with Luigi around!

Rating – 4 out of 5

WWF Wrestlemania NES Review

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On a Saturday afternoon there was nothing better than devouring a big bag of Skittles whilst tuning in the latest wrestling action from across the pond. Despite numerous warnings and messages not to repeat the moves you see on TV, impressionable children still tried to piledrive and suplex each other on the parents bed much to the disdain of parents all over the country. So thank goodness when Acclaim and the WWF linked together to create video games based off the heroes that were seen on screen each Saturday. Although there were other wrestling games at the time, the chance to play as our favourite heroes was an opportunity not to miss. The first licenced game released was WWF Wrestlemania, back in 1989, so after 24 years does this game deserve a gold belt or to be beaten into submission?

Certainly beats the MGM lion, or does it...

Certainly beats the MGM lion, or does it…

WWF Wrestlemania is, as common sense may dictate, a wrestling game giving the player the opportunity to play as 6 licenced characters from the most famous wrestling organisation out there (and not the WWF charity, a confusion made clear years later) and fight till the death. Or rather the 3 count bell rings. You can choose to play one off matches or compete in a tournament facing off against the other 5 opponents in order to be crowned the champion. The characters to select from are: The Million Dollar Man TedDiBaise, Bam Bam Bigelow, Honky Tonk Man, Randy “Macho Man Savage”, Andre The Giant and Hulk Hogan. Certainly makes a difference than playing as King Slender or as Star Man.

Turning on the game your greeted with the option to select the number of players you wish to have participate in the game. If you are by yourself or with a friend, for 2 players you can choose to play one-off matches or compete in a tournament. If you have 3 or more players you can only compete in the tournament. There is no tag teaming games or steel cage matches, just mano y mano in the ring. You then get the chance to enter your name, which is quite useful unless your name was Gertrude or something longer than 6 letters but you could abbreviate to Gertie right? Who wouldn’t want to play with a Dirty Gertie?… Anywho deviating slightly, after entering your name you then choose your wrestler from the 6 listed and your then ready to fight.

Ted looks really annoyed at something, I can't quite figure out what

Ted looks really annoyed at something, I can’t quite figure out what

Usually at this point is where I would say the A button does this and the B button does that, however bearing in mind it’s a wrestling game the best way to experience the game is to mash buttons, in different combinations in order to win. There is something satisfying in just mashing the buttons without thinking, and having to worry about strong grapples and weak grapples and pressing a million different combinations to inflict damage. Bearing in mind the limited number of buttons on the controller, moves are restricted to basics however the developers did try to do the best with the limited options you have. Characters have their standard punching, kicking and headbutt moves, but as well each character can perform a “back attack”, kind of similar in Double Dragon where you can attack where your back is turned. It’s also worth noting that characters can perform an aerial move from the bottom turnbuckles only, and some characters perform moves unique to them, for example Randy Savage can perform elbow smashes rather than normal punches which is a nice touch customising the characters rather than just colouring in different pixels, calling them different but having the same move set. In the game as well you may stumble across icons that go from left-to-right across the screen so do collect them as it improves your health bar on the screen helping you last longer. The icons differ for the differing characters, again Bam Bam Bigalow has a fire icon go across the screen, and these icons can only be used by the specific wrestler, so Hulk Hogan cannot collect the item for Bam Bam.

Graphically, the game is set upon a black background so there’s no crowd cheering you on, and does seem quite simple. They did do well trying to recreate the faces of the wrestlers which are displayed on screen but the colours are very simple and do not inspire. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as there’s always a debate that gameplay should outweigh graphics but as mentioned the graphics won’t tantalise or tittilate. The music although upbeat doesn’t seem to quite fit the gameplay, in menus it’s fine but in game the noise of the crowd and the sound effects of fighting should outweigh, but no the music repeats on a loop in game. Due to limitations the character’s theme music isn’t heard at any point in the game which is a shame but is understandable but it would have been nice if there was some effort put into the music. As well the sound effects do sound as if they were ported directly from the Atari which given this was in the last year of the Eighties, more effort could have been made.

It's almost as if Andre himself was playing this game...

It’s almost as if Andre himself was playing this game…

So overall, WWF Wrestlemania was a forgettable debut for WWF games on the NES console. It’s a shame as kids growing up on the WWF would have rushed the stores parting their parents cash so quick knowing they could fight as the heroes they see on TV, but aside from button mashing there’s no grace or elegance in the game. Yes it’s nice that 6 people can play on the one cartridge but the developers could have put more effort into this game to make it more memorable. Given that 2 years prior to this game being released, Pro Wrestling was released in Europe and was a much better effort without the usage of the characters, so that could have been a benchmark to improve on but sadly it wasn’t. Wrestling fans may want to add this to the collection for nostalgia sake, to see how the genre has moved on from the beginning here to what is on offer now but for the casual fan, my advice is to pick up Pro Wrestling instead, and pretend its the WWF superstars instead.

Rating – 2 out of 5

 

Ice Climber NES Review

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It seems as though spring is finally rearing itself and with that we wave goodbye to dark mornings, cold blustery winds and the daily thought of snow, to then give a hearty handshake and a quintessentially British cheerio to winter. It therefore may be a peculiar time to focus a review on something that encompasses all that is associated with winter, but they say in life in order to move forward you have to look back – or in this instance trying not to look down in order to move upwards, so what better way of doing this than with the help of the wonderfully named Popo and Nana (no, not your grandma who sucks on Werthers Originals and always smells like the contents of a cat’s litter tray) and their mighty mallet. So does this game make you want to drink luxurious warm hot chocolate or eat yellow snow?

13 is unlucky for some, hope it isn't for you

13 is unlucky for some, hope it isn’t for you

Ice Climber is a black box NES game released in Europe in September 1986, that is a vertical platforming game where you control Popo in his gorgeous blue parka jacket and climb the mountain on 8 different platforms getting to the top. Standing between you and the top of the mountain are ice blocks that you need to smash with your head Mario-style, jumping onto the next platform and using your mallet to whack seven bells out of ice monsters and birds that attack you. When you get past the 8th platform you get to the bonus stage, where for extra points you collect the vegetables set on the level, and if you reach the top quick enough you meet the overhead condor who has a passion for stealing vegetables so try to jump and hang on to the mighty condor for extra points.

So when you pop in the game and turn the game on you get three options to pick from – whether to start the game with one player (starting as Popo) or two players (where both Popo and Nana are on screen – Nana in her lovely pink parka) and curiously a early level select option. The game has 32 mountains for you to ascend, so if your feeling brave and want to start on level 16, or even just curious to see what the final level is about then this is a good opportunity to do so. So you start the level, you see the condor take the vegetable up the mountain and then away you go. Every level is the same – climbing up the mountain bashing the ice blocks with your head and jumping up accordingly. Some blocks cannot be broken and some blocks act like travelators so you’ll have to use your retro gaming cunning and reflexes of a spider that’s ate a mouldy piece of bread and is feeling the effects of it. When you complete the platforms as mentioned earlier, your given 40 seconds to complete the bonus stage so collect as many vegetables as possible, and reach the top jumping up reaching the condor. The level ends should you do this, or you run out of time, or you fall down past an icy platform. The score for the level takes into account whether or not you met the condor, the number of vegetables you collected, enemies hit and the blocks broken. As per most of the black box games there isn’t a story to complete it’s just a question of gaining the highest score. Yet again like the other games of the time, there is no battery back up so it’s not as if the score gets saved, all you need to do is write it down on a piece of paper or take a screenshot with your camera to prove you are the manliest at the game, or womanliest (if that is a word).

Now remember to eat your vegetables kids - don't they look delicious?

Now remember to eat your vegetables kids – don’t they look delicious?

The controls are very simple – the d pad moves your character left and right, you jump the character with the A button and whack the enemies with B – nothing more complicated then that. A slight issue is that when you jump and move, the control feels very rigid and doesn’t feel like your jumping fluidly. It doesn’t matter how hard you press the d pad left or right you don’t move that far at all, and this gets more infuriating in later levels when the platforms get shorter and move across the screen quicker. The music is simplistic yet effective, and the sound effects do their job properly – you won’t need to grab your record player and suitable LP’s so by all means leave the music on whilst you play. Without climbing a mountain myself I cannot say if the sounds are realistic when I jump on top of a icy platform or whack birds out the air, but they serve the game well.

YOU ARE WINNER!

YOU ARE WINNER!

So all in all, this game is certainly  a worthy launch title (which it was for the NES console in the US) and plays like a good arcade game, something that would be worth pumping in nickles and dimes, or 20ps here in the UK to play and top the high score set by a humourist with a dirty 3 lettered name on the high score. The characters have had a longevity and appeal thanks to the Super Smash Bros series as they are playable characters, and a testament of how good the game is shows in the rereleases on the Virtual Console and Game Boy Advance to name but a few. The minor criticisms of the game is the stiff control when jumping and the repetitiveness of the levels in collecting vegetables at the end and jumping onto the next platform, but aside from that, take it for what it is – a decent arcade-style vertical platform game and eat those vegetables like never before. Not that the subliminal stuff works for me though I am hankering to raid a greengrocers…

Rating – 4 out of 5

Excitebike NES Review

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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

Megaman 2 NES Review

Megaman2box

Last week, I received a message on Twitter from the owner of Futureretrogamer and pointed out that this week was the anniversary of a special character deeply entrenched in retro gaming. A character that played an important role in my childhood gaming, that I spent hours upon hours playing and although was completed, regretfully have not played any of the sequels since then, nor gone back and revisited. So what better way of celebrating an important anniversary, namely the 25th anniversary of the character known in Japan as Rock Man but changed to Megaman for Western releases. Thanks once again goes to the guys at Futureretrogamer, so do give them a check out, but more important, happy anniversary Rock Man!

Today’s review is based upon the second game in the series that was released for the NES here in Europe in 1989 – Megaman 2, or what was known in Japan as Rockman 2: The Mystery of Dr Wily. For those not in the know about Mega Man, it is a platform game where the hero completes different stages and defeating the boss of that stage, acquiring a special powerup that will help in the following levels. Like its predecessor that was surprisingly called Megaman, after completing the various stages, you then move to the final boss and his stages – Dr Wily, who reminds you an awful lot of Albert Einstein.

All the good futuristic happens in 200X - nice it's specific!

All the good futuristic happens in 200X – nice it’s specific!

So with the stage set, when you turn on the game your treated to the back story should you choose to watch it of course,  in which in the year 200x (which sounded so futuristic and far away back then) Megaman is created to stop Dr Wily from doing something terrible, like taking over the world perhaps, or inflicting more terrible music like One Direction who knows, but can always skip this by pressing start.  At the main screen you get your first glimpse of the 8 bosses and the stages you can choose to play through, its not linear so you have to complete a certain stage first. It can be daunting at first in not knowing which stage to complete first, but it’s nice your given the chance to pick. When you pick a stage, the level resembles the characteristics of the boss you see on the main screen – for example, the Wood Man stage you make your way through the level thats designed like a forest. As well, when you complete the level and defeat the boss your then rewarded with a special weapon that was relevant for that level. Again using the Wood Man stage as an example, when you defeat the boss your then given the power of a shield made of leaves. It’s interesting to note that certain bosses have certain weaknesses which make them much easier to destroy with the newly acquired weapons than if you used a normal standard gun, however you wouldn’t necessarily know this the first time round.

You'd need a big bag of chips with that piece of fish

You’d need a big bag of chips with that piece of fish

So for an action / platform game, you’d want good controls and good gameplay would you not? Well fear ye not, for the developers ensured that both go hand in hand – the controls are responsive and solid which in turns make the gameplay even better than what it already is. The d-pad moves Megaman, the A Button jumps and the B button shoots your weapon. Pressing the start button not only pauses the game, but also makes you select your special weapon – this will be blank at first but as the game progresses the special weapons are listed here. As well, over the course of the game you also get special items, three in total, that allow Megaman to access areas he couldn’t before, due to the platforms being too high for instance, so you are handsomely rewarded for your efforts.  Finally, a new feature that was implemented in the second Megaman was a password system, so unlike Festers quest where you had to sit through the whole game with no saves, after each stage is completed a password can be displayed, in the form of grids and placing blobs in the co ordinates, so again its nice not to have to type in 32 characters of both lower case, upper case, numbers AND symbols!

The graphics themselves are bold, bright and well defined from the start screen where MegaMan is in top of a building in the city with the mountains in the distance, right down to the levels themselves. The only gripe about this though is that sometimes when there’s lots of action going on, the game can lag a little bit, and on one of the levels that has a waterfall if you stare at it long enough it could screw your eyes over so you look like Clarence the cross-eyed lion, but that is minor imperfections on the graphics. Given the constraints of the cartridge, the developers did a great job with the music in the game – right from the main menu screen to the final battles with Dr Wily, the music is memorable and still hummed on a quiet day 25 years on, with the sound effects equally as good – a far cry from the lasers and the explosions that was on every Atari game regardless of the genre.

Want to play fetch with this dog?

Want to play fetch with this dog?

Megaman 2 has been regarded by many as being the best in the series, and it’s very easy to see why. Having built upon the moderate success of the original MegaMan, the team developed the game further and tweaking the not-so-good stuff and enhancing what was already a solid start to the franchise. This is evident in which the game ranks within the top 100 games not only of the console, but of all time. Everything in the game seems to work perfectly, the controls are simple yet knowing which special power to use on what level keeps you playing the game time and time again. The music is memorable and you’ll be humming the main screen tune and other level’s music well after you shut the game of. Copies of the game can be expensive with the cartridge alone worth at least £25 on all good auction websites and local retro game stores, but for serious collectors and also those who may have lost faith with more recent offerings in gameplay. If you do anything in the new year, I implore you to check out Megaman 2, see the blue robot in action and thank me later. I’m off now to stop chuckling at the name Wood Man, being the mature kind of guy that I am…

Rating – 5 out of 5

Kickle Cubicle Review

The hero in video games can take the form of many guises – they may appear as Italian-American mustachioed plumbers, or those dressed like Peter Pan sent hurtling back and forth through time and even animals such as Bear’s and Squirrels. But back in 1990, the makers of Kickle Cubicle thought differently and set aside a hero who wasn’t a plumber, or dressed all in green, no they decided the hero in this game would be a character wearing black dungarees and wearing red Dr Dre beat headphones – and whyever not? Developed by a company called IREM, makers of quality hits such as the video game adaptation of Hook and the more impressive R-Type, how does this game fare this days, could Kickle have been the hero this video game city deserves and needs?

In-game screen

Kickle Cubicle is classed as a puzzle game, but as well it can be seen as an arcade based game as well that wouldn’t look out of place in the arcade halls of the late Eighties early Nineties. You control Kickle, who according to the background story wakes up to discover his kingdom is covered in ice and that the King has imprisoned people in so called “dream bags” to which you have to rescue these people from each level to progress to the next level. How do you do that I hear you ask? Well, the levels are set in an overhead perspective, to which you see the red dream bags glowing that you need to collect. On the icy levels are spaces in the ground to which you need to freeze the enemies on screen with your icy breath, and push them towards the gaps in the ground, that gives you the ability to walk across the squares to collect the dream bags. Along the way you’ll find enemies that although can be frozen, they cannot be pushed as icy blocks, you can only destroy them.

Talking sweetcorn? Whatever next, mushrooms that make you grow?…

There are four lands in the game that you need to complete – Garden Land, Fruit Land, Cake Land and Toy Land, all of which at the end you need to defeat a boss to progress. Once this has been completed, you unlock the special game mode which has 30 challenging puzzles that need to be completed. So there is a lot here to keep the player going, getting your money’s worth (unlike Mario in which that can be completed in 5 minutes!). There is also a bonus stage that first is encountered on Garden Land, which takes the guise of a ring that appears on screen at a random time. This takes you to a level that’s full of flowers which give you extra points, so try to collect them as quickly as possible as they are only on the screen for a limited time.

The controls for the game are quite simple – the d-pad moves Kickle, the B button makes Kickle blow his icy breath that freezes the enemy whilst the A button creates an icy pillar on that particular square. The use of this is that if you need to guide an enemy to a certain location, then raising these pillars blocks the enemies path, which makes it easier for them to go in a direction you would like them to go in. So the controls are simple yet effective, you don’t need to press the d-pad in certain ways whilst holding the other buttons to do something that might be deemed crucial to the game. The music in game is quite upbeat and jolly, and on the first level of Garden Land it reminds me of the music from Simon’s Quest – no matter the faults of that game it had some decent music. There are differing sound effects such as when Kickle dies and when you freeze enemies and push the blocks into the sea, so again it’s a game that doesn’t require muting and sticking on the latest Culture Club record to drown out the noises. The graphics is one of the game’s strongest points – the colours are bright and vivid and makes a nice change to the game pallette rather than using pastel greens and browns that often look turgid. Even when you complete a level and are surrounded in a circle of vegetables, the contrasts between say the orange of the carrots and the blue of the sea are striking and is a fine game graphically for the console.

Never dismiss the flower power movement

Bearing in mind the length of the game, with 4 differing worlds with multiple levels in each world AND the fact there is a special stage with 30 additional levels, you certainly get your money’s worth with Kickle Cubicle. Seemingly having learned from other long games in the past that didn’t have any form of save system or passwords, there is a password system so you don’t have to play the game in one sitting and can go outside and smell the sea air, or nature at its finest giving your eyes a break. The password can be entered on the main menu, though for some reason they omit vowels from the codes, relying on the consonants instead like a really bad round of Countdown. The game will make you think, and at times will make you curse like a sailor and throw the controller on the floor, but in Kickle Cubicle’s case it is in a good way and not frustratingly bad like in Turtles or Silver Surfer both for the NES. The controls are basic yet responsive and the colours make it a more colourful title for the NES library. The one drawback is that it can seem quite repetitive in freezing enemies and pushing the icy blocks around to collect the dream bags however that is the one drawback in a solid title. Copies in the wild seem bountiful and a PAL copy isn’t that expensive – as well do check your good local retro game store (links to stores in the UK are on the top navigation bar), so if you do get the opportunity, do pick up a copy of the game. It’s certainly one to while away with in the wee hours, I mean who wouldn’t want to assist the hero who wears such funky Beat headphones?

Rating – 4 out of 5

Kung Fu NES Review

When the NES was launched, one thing that stood out in the launch titles of their games was the use of the black box design. Marking on the failures of games released in years prior to the black box games, the NES games had an enlarged pixellated picture of the game you was about to play, rather than using photo realistic graphics on the game labels, and large bold lettering. The most well known of the black box games would be Super Mario Bros, however in total there was at least 20 games that had this design for the games, and one of the better black box games was Kung Fu, a port of the arcade game Kung-Fu Master that was released on the NES in Europe in 1985. So after all this time, how does this early beat-em-up game compare to its peers, is it more Chop Kick or more Chop Suey?

In Kung Fu, you take control of Thomas, a fine young man who as per normal video gaming folk lore, has to rescue his own princess by the name of Sylvia. Is she locked up in a high towering castle guarded by fire-breathing dragons, knights in impenetrable armour and a staircase that would cause anyone to pass out through exhaustion? Well no, but on the 5th and top floor of the wonderfully named Devil’s Temple. Anything that is called that can’t be good surely? It would be simple if you could take the lift up to the fifth floor, but then we wouldn’t have this video game if it was that easy. To get to your beloved, you’ll need to use all of your kung fu skills, encountering a variety of enemies and finishing with the final boss. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
With all the hugging, the Love Festival wasn’t quite what our hero expected…

Turning on the game you have the option of choosing Game A or Game B, for 1 or 2 players. The difference in the two game modes seems to be that in mode B, you face more enemies making your quest to reach Sylvia that much harder. When selecting the 2 player option, unfortunately it is not both players on the screen at the same time, but similar to Super Mario Brothers in which you take it in turns to complete the level, so it’s nice to have that little bit of competition seeing who can go further in the game without losing lives and really who is a Kung Fu master. You’ll also notice the lack of music on the menu screen – it seems with other black box titles your treated to some jaunty ditty to set you in the mood. So has this be forgotten about for Kung Fu? Fear ye not, for when you choose your game mode, your treated to a short, opening themed music and then away you go with Thomas.

A cheaper alternative for facial plastic surgery

The idea is to go from one side of the screen to the other, stopping you on each level is a number of different enemies that get progressively more difficult as the game goes on. On the first level for instance you encounter relatively mild thugs who want to hug you, draining your energy bar, and also knife wielding thugs hell bent in stopping you from completing the level. In later levels you encounter enemies that drop from the ceilings and from the sky, dragons appearing from the balls that drop and snakes that crawl along the floor, so a variety of enemies to tackle on with your mad skills. At the end of each level you’ll encounter the level bosses – it’s not always immediately clear how to defeat the boss. For example, without giving too much of the game away, the boss on the third level if you try punching and kicking his body you’ll do hardly any damage, you’ll need to find his weak spot. It certainly is a nice challenge after each level to work out to defeat the boss without the need for solidly mashing buttons.

There’s nothing like a good fashioned love story (with a short skirted lady) to help entice you to rescue the girl

Speaking of mashing buttons, the controls of the game are incredibly simple – the A button is used as a punch and the B button kicks. You can also jump with up button of the d-pad and pressing the A or B button provides a jumping punch and jumping kick which can be more powerful and useful for certain bosses *ahem not level 3 boss ahem*. You can also duck and attack, with the down d-pad button and A or B. The controls are fluid and responsive, and makes it easy to attack swarms of thugs that approach you on each level. The music in the game is in an Oriental style that fits the game perfectly, making you feel like your making your way through the temple and set in China or other Far Eastern locations. The sound effects are relevant for the game, a differing noise for when you punch to when you kick. The music and the sound effects in the game are good enough so that you don’t need to mute your television when playing, it seems to enhance the game.

Although the game is relatively short to complete (according to Speeddemosarchive, the record is 3 minutes 54), it is still one of the best black box games on the NES and is fun to pick up and play if time is not on your side. With the fluid controls and fun enemies, you do feel a sense of achievement defeating the level boss and walking up the stairs, making you one step closer to rescuing Sylvia. Copies of the game are still out there in the wild, it’s not too expensive but as always depends on the condition of the cartridge. For those who follow on Twitter you may have heard me say about this as one of my favourite NES games, to which it’s not a term used loosely, however personally aside from Super Mario Brothers, for myself it ranks high up there, so do pick up a copy, get focused and prepared to rescue  Sylvia from the mysterious Mr X – he’s quite a popular enemy in retro gaming by the looks of things…

Rating – 5 out of 5

 

Airwolf NES Review

The 80’s was known for a number of things, big hair-do’s, big shoulder pads and piracy on a rampant scale thanks to the likes of TDK and BASF with their awesome blank audio cassettes. Like me, back in the day you used cassette tapes to record one of two things – songs from the Top 40 off the radio or TV theme tunes that you couldn’t wait until the next week to listen to again. Some of those tunes were more memorable than others, I mean who remembers the theme tune to Lovejoy or Bergerac? One of the more memorable tunes was from 80’s action show Airwolf, which like all good shows and films was turned into a Nintendo NES game, so like other film-based video games how does this game hold up since its release in 1988, a full year since it ended it’s original run – it can’t be as bad as other plane-based games like Top Gun, can it?…

Just call me Goose! Actually…don’t

Airwolf, as proudly displayed on the box as being based off the “hit” TV series, is an action shooter type game where you play the role of Hawke, the protagonist from the series who controls Budgie the Little Helicopter…er I mean Airwolf, a high-tech military helicopter whose missions should you accept them (well, actually you have no choice) is to rescue prisoners, blowing up enemy planes, running out of fuel and taking damage in completing the missions.  The game starts off with Michael Coldsmith-Briggs a.k.a Archangel addressing you lamenting the fact he calls you back from active duty (yeah right) and that your being recalled to complete a number of missions that seemingly only you can do. What missions might hat be? Well, until the game gets underway, it doesn’t say. All Archangel can say is that people rely on you, so hopefully it might be some buxom fair-haired princess locked up in some tower or prison cell at least. So cue the cut scene of Airwolf taking off into the sky and away we go with the first mission.

This would be super-scary and intimidating if it wasn’t for the cute little sheep’s head on top

On the screen, you’ll see nothing but blue skies and lush green fields below, what perfect weather to fly a plane in. Fans of plane-shooter games will recognise the various dials and instruments showing information about the plane – Fuel, Speed and Altitude. There is also a map at the bottom of the screen indicating where you are but also icons appear showing where you need to go to rescue the prisoners and get fuelled up. It’s a decent sized map and it’s nice to know where you’re based in the level rather than flying around aimlessly like some flying games… So you fly your plane to the little man icon and when you arrive the game cuts to a part of the stage where you have to carefully land the plane so that you can rescue the person, where you need patience and reflexes of a bear catching a leaping salmon from the river, for if the plane comes down too hard, it crashes and you lose a life.  The aeroplane icon on the screen takes you to a mini-scene where men run towards their planes and you destroy their base, which should lessen the amount of enemy planes on the screen when travelling. Finally, going to the oil drum refuels your plane and repairs any damage you receive. After fulfilling these 3 objectives, there is no obvious exit where to go, it doesn’t flag up on your map but the end of the level is to fly off screen, where Archangel owes a lot to you for your skill, and does he reward you handsomely for it?

No.

The level then repeats itself with each mission satellite recon finding more trouble (the swines) and the missions more and more dangerous, with Archangel giving you as little love and reward as possible. The colours change to even more funky palettes and the effects of night flying can look pretty cool, but it doesn’t make the game any easier.

Is there anything more sexy and confident than a man with a big bushy greying moustache?

The controls are standard for flying/shooter games, The up and down buttons make the plane go higher and lower, in this instance pressing up moves your plane up (so not in reverse like other confusing flying games where pressing up makes the plane go down), down on the d-pad moves the plane down – or technically speaking “decreases altitude”, the A-button fires your machine gun and B Button fires a missile to blow your enemy into kingdom come. What’s good is that you can control the speed of your plane slowing it down where neccessary and speeding it up where needs must. So what button controls this? That’s right, the two buttons that in no other game are actually used productively aside from pausing – the Select button slows the plane down and the Start button speeds the plane up. How on earth are you supposed to pause the game? Say you need a tinkle or that smoking hot chick you met in the bar decides to text and you have to reply within microseconds otherwise thinking she’ll go straight off you (not that its happened to me – honest), how do you pause the game? The levels are not long no, but still its rare to have a a game that doesn’t pause.

Like most games that were a direct spin-off from the film or TV show they were from, the music is a standard 8-bit rendition of the theme tune from the show, recognizable enough to bop your head along to, that continues through the debriefing with Archangel. It continues all the way through until you start your mission. The sound effects aren’t that bad, but it can be jarring listening to the sound of the plane flying through the skies constantly. The graphics are good enough to show Archangel with his eye-patch and grey hair, but with the block colours and the missiles that look too fuzzy and cute to be capable of destroying military airplanes. IT does the job well for the type of game it is.

Night time reconnisance missions have never felt so romantic

So all in all, when you think of plane shooting games the one game that everybody picks out is Top Gun which is unfair because this game does have better gameplay than it’s more famous stablemate. Where as Top Gun has only 4 levels including a part of the game that scares the heebies out of those who play it (I mean how hard can landing a plane be? Well…), this game has more missions; 30 in fact, has kick-ass music and is nice that when you play each mission before and afterwards, Archangel says differing messages of support and encouragement. It is one of the more under-rated games in the NES library that deserves more recognition than the over-rated *ahem* Maverick and the team. Copies of this are plentiful in the wild on eBay and in all good retro stores (a link to UK stores can be found at the top of the page). So next time you feel like donning your aviators and doing your bit for your country, shy away from the obvious and go for the under-rated Airwolf, and put on that TDK Cassette full of 80’s theme tunes to bop along to, all that’s missing would be consuming vast amounts of Tab Cola…

Rating – 3 out of 5

Wayne’s World NES Review

The Nintendo Entertainment System was known for a number of things in it’s time. It was known for bringing home consoles and the video game industry back from the brink of the well documented 1983 video game crash and restoring pride to the industry. It was known as the starting point for many of video game’s best known characters and franchises such as Mario, Zelda and Metroid to name but a few. For all of this, it was known as well for being a console that had pretty awful games that were licensed off the back of popular films at the time – Jaws, Back to the Future, to name but a few. It seemed even the mighty NES didn’t learn the lessons from such travesties of film games such as E.T on the Atari 2600, but how does Wayne’s World, one of Mike Myers’ most famous creations – released near the end of the console’s life back in 1993 fair up with its competitors, does it party hard or suck as hard?

It’s fair to say that fans of the film, the many of them that there were, would no doubt have been excited about a video game based on the film. It’s highly unlikely you would have played this if you wasn’t. When turning on the game it’s hard not to sing to yourself the intro from the movie, “Wayne’s World! Party Time! Excellent!” anticipating some cheesy yet cheerful 8 bit rendition of this, but what is served is a marker of what to expect in this game – nothing but disappointment. Past the credits the game “starts” by bringing up a still image of a badly-pixellated Wayne and a half-decent looking Garth holding drumsticks – apparently with no bodies attached to them describing how they’d like to do their show as a career – yeah right!

You need a cymbal the size of a UFO to play those drums

After all that, then the game starts. The game is a side-scrolling game, with the most literal meanings from the film interspersed in the levels. The first level starts with you as Garth, who because of his love for music and playing the drums, starts off in a music store. For some reason you have some cosmic ray gun used to destroy – wait for it – cymbals and drums and saxophones all waiting to drain you of your health bar thats in the top left of the screen. Although your health bar is plentiful, coming into contact with enemies makes you lose a chunk of your health a la Megaman, however rather than be immune to being hurt for a brief period of time, like a sadist you come back for more, with the controls slow and clunky and difficult to move away without losing half your life – and that’s just the first level!

Completing this, your treated to another “cut-scene” of sorts, involving the top 10 things Beav says, as though that’s all anyone cares about. After pressing the A-button faster than doing the 100 meter sprint on Track & Field (or pressing Start for quickness) you then control Wayne who possesses no weapons, just a kick like Mortal Kombat that’s about as effective as central heating in an igloo. Again, going through levels of musical instruments, with one of Wayne’s catchphrases plastered through the level, “Way” and “No Way”. Speaking of which, when you turn on the game, your treated to a digitized voice of Wayne saying No Way – and you better get used to it. The enemies you encounter, plus the more than useless weapons you have – especially the lack of weapon in Wayne’s case – your going to hear that voice a lot, for its heard everytime you die.

With images like this, who needs a HD remake?

At random intervals when you’ve completed a level your treated to a bonus stage, though it’s not clear at the start that this is what it is. There’s shelves upon shelves of what looks like fried eggs but could be mistaken for donuts that replenish your health, which does come as a useful bonus, and you have a certain amount of time to collect as many eggs erm I mean donuts as possible. It only seeks to stave off the inevitable, which is an untimely death by contacting enemies and falling down chasms that your supposed to jump. It’s like a snake eating itself, no beginning and no endings, just the same gaining health to then lose it. Great huh? NOT!

The controls of the game are simple enough, d-pad is to move, the A button is to jump and B button to fire your weapon/imitate Skorpion or Reptile from Mortal Kombat with a high kick. Completing the level’s are much easier with Garth giving that he has a gun whilst with Wayne you have to be specific with your kicks by timing them correctly otherwise you lose chunks of your health. The enemies seem to fly and attack too fast, and whack you perpetually to death without any time to turn around, run away and attack them. It is a nice touch if you don’t touch the controller for a few seconds, your treated to the dynamic duo dancing for you on the screen – much better that than some VirtuaGirl dancing on your desktop. But it’s still not enough to save this. The sound effects well its the typical 8-bit fare with the gun sounds and jumps in the right places, and it’s a nice touch to have some form of digitized voices so sound effects wise it’s not too bad however the music is very repetitive with the same 3 notes playing over and over again on a monotonous loop. The music does change, but now would be a good time to get reacquanited your Pearl Jam collection, or whatever melodies the youth of today listen to.

Save yourself from Ribena Purple – watch the DVD instead!

This game was released in 1993, and had the opportunity to go against what Nintendo games based on popular films was – terrible loathesome games that are not a patch on the motion picture. To be fair, the game is not terrible – its just very bad. From the small things such as not being allowed to say The Shitty Beatles and changing it to the Lousy Beatles (what support band would not want to be called that?) because of the Big N and it’s rules and regulations, right to the major flaws of the game, the lack of invincibility when being hit and terrible level design. There’s no variation, just going from left-to-right, fighting bosses of LP records and lazy character design. If ever you were looking for a literal representation of a film in a video game, your right on the money with this one. Copies are scant out in the wild, so unless you want to get drunk and party hard with these two dudes, I’d swerve this game and stick to watching the films, you won’t be disappointed and have more SCHAWING than a children’s playground – not that you want to be hanging round those places…

Rating – 2 out of 5