Pinball NES Review

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

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

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

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

Top screen aquatic fun

Top screen aquatic fun

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

Bottom screen 7-numbered casino fun!

Bottom screen 7-numbered casino fun!

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

Close to all numbers orange but no cigar

Close to all numbers orange but no cigar

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

Rating – 2 out of 5

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Mach Rider NES Review

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

No 2-player? The swines

No 2-player? The swines

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

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

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

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

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

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

MMM...Spaghetti

MMM…Spaghetti

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

I crashed in real life and this is EXACTLY what happened

I crashed in real life and this is EXACTLY what happened

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

All evil plans start with straight lines

All evil plans start with straight lines

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

Rating – 4 out of 5

Hogan’s Alley NES Review

halleybox

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

Volleyball NES Review

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Volleyball, as the name may suggest, is a Volleyball game released in Europe in November 1986. You control a team of 6 characters, not all individually but in clusters closest to the ball, in order to return the ball over the net. Get to 15 points and you win the match, winning the respect of your opponents – well in your mind that’s how it feels. In the game you can control one of 8 countries – USA, China, Cuba, Japan, Brazil, South Korea (where was North Korea when they thought of good Volleyball nations?),  Tunisia and those all time retro sports game favourites the USSR. On screen there are no statistics showing the difference between each country, not that it makes any difference anyway so it all depends on who your favourite country is. Pick between one or two players, and whether you want the match to be with men or women (again, no difference is play style but aesthetics) and away you go.

 

Title screen

Title screen

 

The game is played on a sand-coloured court surrounded by a sea of blue, with two officials and the referee in the background, though the referee in Volleyball disappointedly isn’t Mario which makes you wonder if Mario is more of a tennis fan then Volleyball – years later Mario Tennis was released on the Nintendo 64 so maybe these black box sports games were a sign of things to come?… Anywho back to Volleyball, you start off with your player seemingly humping the ball, you press the A button to serve the ball and then the match begins.  The ball seems to fly back and forth across the screen at a fast pace and you need to have quick reflexes to just get under the ball. Not only do you need to get under the ball but you need to press the A or B button so that the ball stays in the air, to knock it over the net on the third attempt. This is when you start to realize the problems with Volleyball.

 

The subtle nuances between the male and female players - the curves...oh the curves

The subtle nuances between the male and female players – the curves…oh the curves

 

Forget that the ball travels faster than a DeLorian attempting time travel, you only have a small dark shadow flying across the court where you have to try and guide your player and press any button to keep the ball in the air. The shadow is too small to guide your player in a timely manner, and when you get under the ball you have no control as to where the ball will go – if you are directly in the shadow you may have a chance of the ball going in a good location for the next player however the chances of that are slim. Whenever you win a point you get to serve, however the chances of you serving are even slimmer and you will have to get used to the fact the opponent serves and you spending the rest of the match trying to return the ball. Occasionally the ball may land in the opponent’s side however you have to win two points consecutively before it registers that you have won a point, so you’ll have to do repeat all the good work done in winning the first point again before it registers on the score board. It’s been said before and it has been said again, what is lacking in the gameplay is control – control in games cannot be stressed enough. Without control, it doesn’t matter how good the graphics are, or even having a choice of 128 different countries to play as, if you cannot control the return of the ball, everything else is negligible, and this is the biggest criticism of Volleyball. Although you may have good reflexes in order to move yourself under the shadow of the ball, and can press the button to hit the ball, where the ball goes is anybody’s guess, and that cannot be excused.

 

For what it’s worth, the d-pad controls the character closest to the ball when it is in the air in your own half, though the first 3 players closest to the net all move together if it is closest to them. The A button seems to return the ball whilst the B Button makes your character jump so that you can spike the ball, though good luck in trying to spike the ball! The graphics are bold and simplistic, which is standard for the black box games on the NES at the time. What is good is that you can differentiate between the male and female teams, with the female team having longer hair and, well more curves – maybe it’s through innocent eyes this is noticed however it’s good the graphics reflect this however the background crowd seem to move their heads back and forth even though no action is happening and like other black box games, the crowd have the same haircut and look like they could form a Beatles tribute band. The music is upbeat and is relentless throughout the match, whilst the sound effects are basic and do their job.

 

The crowd look excited as always

The crowd look excited as always

 

Volleyball is a game that on paper sounds good and is a good fit for the NES library, however in reality suffers from one major flaw – control. The ball speeds past the players at a high pace and you have a short amount of time to react and press the button in the hope that the ball may go to another player on your team. Due to this lack of control it ruins the game and ends up the computer continually serving and you hoping to get a sniff of a hope of returning the ball. There is no difficulty setting with the game however with no tournament mode, it’s a series of individual matches that like Soccer on the NES, doesn’t mean much. What is good is the subtle differences between the male and the female players and you can choose your country (though why isn’t the United Kingdom in this game is anyone’s guess) however this is the only redeeming feature of the game. If you have a second player, good luck having a meaningful match – you would have a more meaningful match if you were both blindfolded and a third person generated the electricity to power the console on a exercise bike with the friction at it’s most intense. Copies of the game are rare, rarer than Golf or Soccer on the NES so it’s one for collectors only, so if you want to get into Volleyball and are too lazy to go to your local sports club, pick up Super Spike V’Ball instead. I’m off to sulk that you can’t choose the UK as a country to be in the game, though being the USSR is always tempting…

 

Rating – 1 out of 5

Tennis NES Review

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As the Righteous Brothers once sang, “Time can do so much”. Between the last review of The Simpsons (which can be found here) and now, a lot has happened so apologies for the lack of reviews, however there will be more regular reviews, as well time was needed to wash the horrors away from The Simpsons. But in that time between the last review and now, Nintendo have launched a curious title entitled NES Remix. Put simply, a number of NES games have been updated slightly in order to complete certain challenges for achievements, well more stamps than anything else. One of the games where challenges have to be completed is Tennis, which was launched on the NES console as a black box launch title in Europe in 1986. So how does the original game stack up, is it grandslam-worthy or does it contain more double faults than you could shake an amateur boys match against?

Tennis is a game that can’t go wrong in describing exactly what it is – it was Nintendo’s first foray into the world of Tennis and as mentioned was launched as a black box title in 1986 in Europe. If you don’t know what Tennis is or how to play it, then chances are you may stop reading this so click at the top to see other reviews on the site. When you pop the cartridge into your console, you’re treated to the same jaunty music on the introduction screen that befell other sports games that was released on the black box labels. You then get to choose between playing a Singles game or Doubles game, the level of difficulty and then you go straight to the game – no character no selection, no entering your name, no choosing what type of surface you want to play on – straight to the action. You really can’t fault games that don’t mess around with options and selections – two presses of the start button and away you go.

Wimbledon it is not - but it's as close as people got in 1986 to it

Wimbledon it is not – but it’s as close as people got in 1986 to it

So you’re dressed in duck egg blue and black shorts whilst your opponent is in a green that matches the court and can camouflage well whilst (supposedly) Mario is sitting on his high chair umpiring proceedings. Back with the launch titles, Mario sure did have a lot of jobs – a demolitions expert, a tennis umpire, a platforming superstar. When did he get time to get on with his job of going under peoples’ sinks and repairing leaky pipes or reaching around a U-bend unclogging the toilet? Well nevertheless he sits there keeping score and shouting “Out” every now and then. The rest of the graphics are simple yet bold – the standard green grass of the court and the contrasting brown around the edge of the court. Ok, there is no definition in the crowd but even now 27 years later the detail in the crowd has not improved that much!

The controls are simple – the d-pad moves your character around somehow at the speed of light with twinkletoes on his feet where us mere mortals have feet. The A button does a typical forehand/backhand shot whilst the B button does a lob. The one flaw in the control system is that you cannot aim the ball properly when making your shot – if you try pushing the d pad in the direction and pressing the A or B button to make your shot, your character flies away from the ball swinging wildly and missing the ball, conceding a point. In that respect, when you hit the ball, all you can do is just hit the ball and hope it stays on court. The music, well aside from the jaunty piece at the start of the game, there is a distinct lack of this in the game. However, it always feels wrong to have music in sports games so there is no great loss in this, and certainly you wouldn’t need your Minidisc player full of college rock whilst pretending your Boris Becker.

No faults with this game!

No faults with this game!

So all in all, black box Tennis marked a change in sports games – it was a vast improvement to the Atari 2600 tennis games but still had a lot of flaws that could have been ironed out in development, but instead other Tennis games (such as Jimmy Connors Tennis) improved upon these flaws. The controls are simplistic yet you don’t feel like you have control of the shots you are doing – only if you could lob the ball or do a normal forehand shot. In sports games, control is key – whether it’s Football or Tennis, anything that needs precision in order to score a point or a goal. Graphics wise, it does the job well for a launch title, and any game that has a two player option is a bonus in my opinion. There wasn’t a huge number of titles that were either two players or even two players on the screen at the same time, so for you and your friend to play either co-operatively or against each other is certainly a bonus. It is an average game that won’t captivate or illuminate, but won’t disappoint – it will do exactly what it says. Copies of the game are common place, in your local game shop or on your favourite websites that may or not have auction elements to it. For sports enthusiasts, it certainly is worth checking out, to see how far tennis games have come since then until now with the likes of Top Spin and celebrity endorsements. I’m off to get out of these tennis whites and hang up my racket ready for a game that has more fire power, more oomph, more…. adventure, on islands, so maybe I should keep these shorts on then…

Rating – 3 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

10-Yard Fight NES Review

10yf

As you may recall from the Ski Or Die review, growing up in a suburban town there’s only so much sports you’re exposed to, the regular culprits being Football (Soccer for the readers across the pond), Rugby and at times the quintessentially middle-class Golf and Rugby. So imagine the surprise and excitement when suddenly as if being blindsided, American Football was introduced to our screens. Reminiscent of rugby, but with a lot more crash bang wallop and rules that were much more complex to fathom with play being stopped every few seconds, as per all good sports there was a glut of video games to tie in with this – the most common games being John Madden. But way back before then, Nintendo unleashed their own American Football game onto the NES to unsuspecting British gamers in the form of 10-Yard Fight, so how does this game fare up now – is it more of a crash, a bang or just want to wallop with gusto and might?

10-Yard Fight is an American Football game which was the first semi-realistic game to be made especially after the Atari era of gaming. It started life as an arcade in 1983, but was ported over to the NES in 1985 and was released as a black box game in December of 1985. The game is viewed form above, a sort of eye-in-the-sky viewpoint that oversees the action rather than a horizontal viewpoint such as other black box sporting games such as Excitebike and Soccer. Although the rules of American Football are long and require further reading that what this review can muster (as always Wikipedia would be a good start) the general idea of the game is to run with the oval-shaped ball from one side of the pitch to the other, scoring a touchdown to amass points, whilst all the while being thwarted by the opposition who will do anything to stop you scoring a touchdown. So yes, it is similar to rugby and although what has been described is distilled to its simplest form, the purist’s will vouch it’s two completely different played sports. Hmm….

The readings of Sun Tzu's Art of War came in handy for the blue team's attack

The readings of Sun Tzu’s Art of War came in handy for the blue team’s attack

So turning on the cartridge as with the other black box games your straight at the menu, no messing around however with a distinct lack of sound, nothing jovial to welcome you to the game. You can choose between 1 or 2 players, so you can slug it out alone or grab a buddy and pretend you’re having your own Superbowl. If you choose 1 player, you then choose your difficulty of the CPU, starting with High School Team working up in difficulty to the most hardest being Super Bowl Team. Should you win your match the next game you play is at the next difficulty, unless your hardcore enough to start on playing on the hardest difficulty – then your just epic. However you don’t select a team like in later American Football games such as the Miami Dolphins or the Pittsburgh Steelers, when you pick your difficulty you then go straight into the game. The opposition kicks off and away we go.

The bright colours excite like a firefly dancing in a wooded forest...

The bright colours excite like a firefly dancing in a wooded forest…

The graphics of the game do their job without getting into the difficulties of trying to create crowds and make it overly complicated. It looks like a typical American Football field pitch with the green grass and the markings in the ground at every 10 yard intervals. What is also a nice tough is that on the right hand side of the screen you have a mini map which shows not only relevant markings and the touchdown points in red and green (depending on which colour side you are) but also where on the map you are and where the action is. It sound’s silly to include that as a feature but the number of games that have an intelligible map which hinders the player is quite refreshing, especially based on the fact this game was released early in the console’s library. The controls are very simplistic with the d-pad moving your guy and the A/B buttons being used to either throw the ball to one of your teammates should you be attacking, or if defending you control which set of guys you want to move to help defend the opposition from getting past you. It’s touches like this that was enhanced upon for future games but it is nice it was introduced in 10-yard fight which makes you think tactically about what the opposition may be planning up their sleeves. In terms of music there really isn’t any aside from when the game kicks off and at intervals, it’s solid enough but won;t win any Grammy’s for it, however it does it’s job. The sound effects do sound something from an Atari as in when the balls fly through the air and when your tackled, it reminds you of white noise from a TV that doesn’t have the channel tuned in properly so you might want the radio on when your playing.

It was a rescue mission that Willy Wonka dressed parachutist couldn't turn down

It was a rescue mission that the Willy Wonka dressed parachutist couldn’t turn down

So all in all, 10-Yard fight sets the scene well for future American Football games, it sets a precedent for future American Football games to build upon, with the features such as picking different strategies and tactics by playing the different buttons on the controller. There are times when playing that do start to get jarring, for instance when your on the offence and the guy runs across the line of guys before play starts which takes an absolute eternity for him to run past – you can press button to play early but then it tactically is not as astute as it could be. All this time, it drains the time, with every footstep taking a second off the 30 minute accelerated timer that your given per half. It isn’t easy to score touchdowns either even on the easiest setting as when you tackle or when the opposition tackles it is not always guaranteed they will tackle properly and so your man skips right past. It’s pedantic and nit-picking yes however if it was a perfect game it wouldn’t have these faults but then wouldn’t be the grounding to improve on for future releases. Copies are not too expensive, so if you want to see how American football all began on consoles then this is a good start as any and worthy of being in your collection. But maybe your patriotic enough to prefer a good game of Rugby instead – me, I’m off to California see what Games are out there…

Rating – 3 out of 5

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

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

 

Pro Wrestling NES Review

One of the gripes about modern gaming is the lack of originality in mainstream games, with limited innovations in gameplay and mechanics, seemingly just updated teams and the same brands churned out. Football fans have FIFA, golf fans have Tiger Woods, and for a number of years, wrestling fans have had to contend with the WWE to experience wrestling on their consoles. Although there is nothing wrong in emulating WWE superstars, it’s nice to look back before licensed names and brands, to a time where the imagination was king and wrestling fans didn’t have the brawn and might of the biggest name in wrestling. Gamers had to contend with whatever characters the big N threw their way. One of the earlist wrestling games for the console was Pro Wrestling, and although technically it was the second wrestling game in the NES library after M.U.S.C.L.E, so is this game down for a 1-2-3 count or is it one to beat violently with the back of a chair?

Pro Wrestling was released in Europe in 1987 and rather than control the Hulk Hogan’s and the Ultimate Warriors’ of this world you get to control one of 6 original dashing characters:

Fighter Hayabusa, Star Man, Kin Corn Karn, Giant Panther, The Amazon, King Slender.

There’s a star man, waiting in the sky… Is this who David Bowie imagined of?

At this stage, without knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each character, at the start it’s a question of picking who you like the look of. Maybe your taken by the All-American-Hero looking King Slender, or part piranha (supposedly) part man The Amazon. So you pick your character and away you go, ready to start your journey towards becoming the VWA (Video Wrestling Association, obviously) champion and becoming a legend amongst NES gamers.

So as you start the match, you’ll notice that for a NES game, the settings in-match look quite detailed. You have the crowd cheering you on fist pumping in the background, and within that crown in the middle you’ll notice the two commentators dressed in black. You have the cameraman at the bottom following all the action and inside the ring you have the ref making sure it’s a fair fight. He will lay down next to you counting upwards when one character is being pinned, and will run over to you rather than just lay down on his stomach the moment you pin.

The idea, either by skillfully pressing the buttons in a rhythmic way at the right time (or by button mashing like a true hero Track and Field style) is to wear down your opponent enough so that when you pin them, the ref counts to 3 and the match is over . You can even venture out of the ring to brawl like some street hoodlum but be careful, if the ref counts to 20 and your still out there you lose whereas both of you are out there, well, you both lose.  However when you win, your treated to your man, arms aloft proclaiming “WINNER IS YOU”, not the worst example of Engrish but nevertheless one of those who love poorly translated Japanese. So with your trusted fighter you climb up the proverbial wrestling ladder fighting each character until you reach our friend King Slender, for a shot at the title. To get this far you’ll need to have been good, but now you’ll need the reflexes of a bumblebee with a dodgy stomach finding the nearest lay-by to relieve himself in.

Kudos to whoever put pink and green into a wrestling ring

So for a NES game the game is colourful, and the characters are drawn well enough to distinguish them between each other, making it easy to relate to the wrestler you’ve chosen and have a favourite. When you turn on the game your treated (as most of the early NES games) to a jaunty opening music before you choose your character. In game the music is the same 4 seconds looped but does throw something different every now and then. The sound effects, well it’s the same sound effect should you kick or punch your opponent, or body slamming them onto the mat. There are slight variations in the sound effects and it’s good enough that you won’t need to mute the TV to put on your latest One Direction LP or whatever the youth of today listen to.

For those not in the know about wrestling video games or for the NES system having simple controls such as one button to run and the other button to jump, the controls are quite advanced and set the precedence for other wrestling games in how the matches are fought. The A button kicks and the B Button does a punch, though with Kin Corn Karn he’s unique in performing a vertical kick like nothing you’ve ever seen before and B does a jumping chop, which is as close as I’d get to explaining it. But where the beauty of the controls lies is when you grapple your opponent (by walking in to them), when pressing a direction and either the A or B button, it performs a different move. For example, in a grapple holding up on the d-pad and pressing will do a suplex, or down and A will do a pile-driver, but only if you’ve worn your opponent down enough – if you haven’t then your character will struggle, and your opponent will reverse the move. So it’s fun to change your character and mixing up the combinations seeing what moves the characters perform. Each character has their own special move too so get to work on those combinations. And finally, as per all good wrestling games should let you to, you can climb onto the top turnbuckle to perform an aerial attack, but don’t miss your opponent otherwise it’ll leave you worse for wear to say the least, like quaffing those Jaegerbombs I hear the youth consuming these days.

Me, the winner? Oh no, not me – the winner is YOU!

So all in all, Pro Wrestling is a damn good addition to your NES library. What makes this game even better is the little things, things that nowadays may be taken for granted and standard in WWE games, however for it’s time and given the limitations of making games on the console was innovative. Having an in-ring referee, cameraman and ring announcers present is a nice touch, as well having the referee come over to you when one character pins the other, which if he is the other side of the ring it does give you valuable seconds to try and recover. There is a 2 player option, in which you and a friend go mano-y-mano to slug it out in a best-of-3 match, and as well you cannot both choose the same character, in case both of you wanted to be King Slender, in all his fabulous quiff-haired glory. Copies of the game are not cheap in the wild but if you get the opportunity to, then do pick up a copy, and live in the resplendent glory of a time before the McMahon’s, and the legacy of the Walls of Jericho, I mean where else can you fight as a half piranha? The kids of today, tsk…

Rating – 4 out of 5