Wrecking Crew NES Review

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There often comes a video game that can’t quite decide what it wants to be and what genre it so delicately plops itself in. Is it action? Is it platforming? Is it action-platforming? Is it “plactioning”, if such a hybrid exists? (For the record, if any game company uses “plactioning”to describe their game then royalties will be gratefully received here…). With today’s technological advancements, the envelope of gaming and the experience of gamers is being blurred more and more, with games being harder to define in one specific genre. Aside from FIFA, everyone knows where they stand with FIFA. But way back when in the mid 80’s, games knew what genre of gaming they were – there was no confusion and no hybrids which sound as awesome as they are #plactioning. As always in life however, there are exceptions to the rules, and today’s review focuses on one such game that that could walk the tightrope between two such genres in a subtle way (which is always the best kind) and was released in the infancy of the NES. The game in question is Wrecking Crew that features everyone’s favourite plumber who never seems to plumb. So looking back now, was the game Crew-sing it’s way to being a classic or heading towards being a Wreck….

 

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Wrecking Crew was released in 1985 as a launch title for the NES and straddles the line of being an action game but in certain aspects also a puzzle game albeit not in a traditional sense. The aim is to control Mario (wearing his fetching all-red overalls) who in the game is acting as a demolition man in order to destroy objects that features in the level with his mighty hammer. This can be in the form of walls, pillars, barrels, bombs etc. As a result of the weight and the power of the mighty hammer, Mario bless him cannot jump therefore there will be occasions where the old grey matter needs to be used in order to destroy every occurrence of that item in the level but the most obvious way of doing this is not clear. There are 100 levels in the game in order to complete so at least there is somewhat of a challenge especially when you can start the game at any level from the title screen, so it is good you don’t have to start over from level one repeatedly in order to progress. The game is also noted for having a level editor, similar to Excitebike so you can create your own levels to amuse and antagonise friends with and store them on the Famicom Data Recorder. The problem with that is that the Recorder was only available in Japan, therefore this feature was redundant outside of Japan but still it was good to have the option, and if you have people over at least they can play your creations even if it cannot be saved for later usage long after they have left.

 

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When you turn on the game on there is no fancy introduction sequence, no developer titles and no faffing about – straight into the main menu. There is something to be said for games that don’t dilly dally and head straight to the good stuff, which seemed to be quite common on the NES. You have the option of starting the game in 1-player mode that features Mario, a 2-player option that features everyone’s second favourite plumber who never plumbs but wears a delicious green number, Luigi. Third and finally, you can go into the level editor mode and create your own levels as noted earlier. With the two player option, this is similar to how Super Mario Brothers played in 2 player, where both players alas are not on the screen at the same time, but is played one character at a time. This does mean the other person sitting round and waiting for their chance to shine, or in this case demolish. As soon as you start the game, you go straight to the good stuff and can start demolishing away, climbing up and down ladders and hammering away. It does seem as though most of the time the idea is to destroy everything, so a piece of advice is to destroy everything you can, but in a thoughtful way in case you need a certain path later… There is something oddly satisfying with destroying the landscape you are in, and starts off relatively simple but progressing in difficulty when trying to find anything and everything to destroy with your hammer in certain parts of the level.

 

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The controls are as straightforward as they come – the d pad moves Mario left and right, and can also climb up and down ladders. The A and B buttons make Mario (or Luigi) wield his hammer and destroy the items on screen. The controls do seem responsive and encounter no significant lag or delay when pressing the button to hammer away and for your character to action this. Although speed of input is not the most crucial aspect of the game, it is still good knowing the controls are as tight and responsive as they are, safe that any deaths that occur are not due to the fault with the controls but of that of the player. It is also noted you can wrap around the stage just by going off-screen and appearing on the other side – a nice trick that certainly does help out when trying to complete the level. Music-wise, there is nothing on the title screen when you boot up the game, but as soon as the game kicks in the music is jaunty and jovial and sets a positive tone and a pleasant gaming experience. It may not be the most memorable music on the console especially within the black box games released, but still it is jaunty and positive enough that you would rather listen to this then some of your old cassettes lurking in the back of your wardrobe. The sound effects too are some of the better sounds that are found in the early NES library, varying in pitch, tone and compliment well to the music playing in the background, so again it is something to behold (or be-listen) when playing the game.

 

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Overall Wrecking Crew is one of the better offerings of the launch titles on the NES that is highly recommended to play. There is enough action going on to keep the gamer interested, with just enough puzzle element to it to keep the brain meats working overtime in order to clear the level of the items that needs to be destroyed. Wrecking Crew may be overlooked for some of it’s more famous black box brethrens that got released *ahem* Super Mario Brothers *ahem* however this shouldn’t detracted from the playability of Wrecking Crew. The control are tight, graphics are bold and striking and has 100 levels to quench your appetite for destruction with good music and sound effects to boot. Copies of the original cart are not the cheapest black box NES game on the market, roughly going for £20 for the cartridge alone on certain auction websites. Support your local retro game shops kids! Failing that, the game was released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007 (which is now sadly defunct) and also on the Wii U Virtual Console so you still have the opportunity to download the game and try this yourself. Time will tell whether it comes to the Nintendo Switch Online service, which one can only hope it will as the game is ripe for local/online multiplayer action and deserves a bigger spotlight shone on it. Yes on the original cart you cannot save the levels, the puzzle element may put of some players who like button-bashing action and two players cannot appear on the screen simultaneously which is a shame, however despite those reasons it is a fun game and one well-worthy of your time. Happy destructing all!

 

Rating – 4 out of 5

 

Fun House NES Review

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“IT’S WACKY…IT’S FUN…IT’S CRAZY – IT’S OUTRAGEOUS!” These aren’t words that would describe a Simpsons NES game or Silent Service, but the introduction to the kids game-show Fun House that was on UK television in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Introduced in the United States before making it’s way to the UK, it was a game-show that had a number of things – it had fun, it had gunge, it had go -karts, IT HAD THE TWINS!! So how can you package all that fun into one little grey NES cart? Did the game make you want to live permanently in the (Fun) House or just sit in a bath full of gunge with the host rather than the twins?

Pat Sharp has had something of a makeover

Pat Sharp has had something of a makeover

Fun House was released on the NES in 1991 in North America only which meant unless you modified your NES, European gamers never had the chance to play this game – with good reason. The game of Fun House is supposedly based on the US version of the show to which this reviewer has not witnessed, but like all popular game-shows that was in the US in the 80’s such as Win, Lose or Draw! and Wheel of Fortune, the transistion was made to an NES game. If you’re not aware of the Fun House television show then this review may be wasted and would urge you to watch clips of it on YouTube but then again that may not be a bad thing. If you’re expecting this to be like the television show, then be prepared.

Do you remember this episode of Fun House??

Do you remember this episode of Fun House??

Upon turning on the game, you’re not greeted by the infamous theme that graced British television sets but a somewhat garbled generic theme, but bearing in mind this game “should” be based on the US game-show then that is understandable IF the tune was based on the US show (it’s not). You’re then greeted not by Pat Sharp but by US host J.D Roth who reminds a little of Tim Allen who advises everyone to “get messy” which am still not sure refers to in-game or in real life and then away we go…

Remember the episode where the audience was replaced with shapes?

Remember the episode where the audience was replaced with shapes?

But anywho you get thrown in to the game with a top down view which instantly reminds you of Smash TV but without the enemies spawning from the sides of the room. Or the intensity. You press the D-pad to move around…and don’t move. You can press up down left and right but you won’t move an inch. By pressing left or right you’ll spin in a circle on the spot, unlike pretty every other NES game where the d-pad moves your character, you have to press the A button. There are other games that may need you to move in this way such as racing games but not action games, well as action as a US game-show can get. There’s no instructions on screen however the idea of the game is to move around throwing red projectiles that look like balls or whatever the programmers decided they looked like at targets and numbers. When you collect the final target or the final number, you collect the key and then you’re then taken to the next stage to do…. the exact same thing. It’s like “Hey kids, do you remember watching Fun House where a guy runs around aimlessly shooting bullets or projectiles at a number and collecting a key whilst being fired at with guns and cannons?” Oh yes, there are enemies in Fun House out to get you, not Contra-style but stationary shooting random projectiles at you in order to stop you shooting at the targets.

It took hours of me posing to get this shot right

It took hours of me posing to get this shot right

So you go through each stage doing the exact same thing, shooting targets and numbers in a sequential order which happened in every single episode of Fun House didn’t it? Bearing in mind I can only go by the UK version of the show so if this happened in the US show then please do comment but in what world does shooting targets in hundreds of stages with which the only thing that changes is the colour palette make good television? But this isn’t about the television show, this is about the action-shooter game Fun House that has NO basis on the TV show. As bad as they were, at least you could argue that Win, Lose or Draw or Wheel of Fortune was a game on the actual show – imagine the furore if Wheel of Fortune was turned into an action-hack and slash game on the NES, the Daily Mail would have been up in arms!

There are 12 stages and 72 levels in total in Fun House, and before each level there is the name of the level such as Four Corners or One, Two or Three. It’s a very loose idea of what to do in the level however the levels all consist of the same action. You move with the A button as mentioned earlier and shooting your projectile with the B button whilst you turn left or right with the D-pad. The controls are not as difficult as other games which is good and could have been a lot worse. Music-wise, it sound’s a mish-mash that reminds you of the music from Action 52 in it’s quality – bad. It doesn’t get you pumped out for go-karting or getting covered in gunge having fun and mayhem… oh wait this isn’t the TV show, this is a generic action-shooter where you shoot numbers! Regardless, the music is somewhat dreadful and is as good as scratching nails down the chalkboard.

This episode is a classic, with it's Columns-tie in

This episode is a classic, with it’s Columns-tie in

Fun House is mediocre at best but the worst aspect of the game is that it has NO BEARING WHATSOEVER to the TV show. As good or as bad American Gladiators is and other NES games that was a US-TV show at least you could argue that they had some bearing to the TV show and felt like you were playing a game-show, but this game has nothing to do with Fun House. It is a mystery why it lent the name of a popular show to an action-shooter game with a top-down view with the only thought being it was for the money. For this review I didn’t manage to get to the final stage which may or may not have been a minute of fun in the House but the game was just too repetitive and boring to keep going for 72 levels. Your character on screen speeds around like he has ants in his pants or just on crack and you forget it is a character shooting projectiles, it felt more like you’re controlling a car. The graphics are bright colours but when did you watch the show and see circles and triangles as the audience? It is highly recommended to stay away from this game and do yourself a favour – build a shed get some gunge and some hot twins maybe a go-kart and make your own Fun House then play this. Or just play a proper action-shooter.

Rating – 1 out of 5

Castelian NES Review

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

Who doesn't find the protagonist cute and adorable!

Who doesn’t find the protagonist cute and adorable!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating – 2 out of 5

Mario and Yoshi NES Review

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As noted in previous reviews and from looking at the long rich library of games Mario has been in over the years, Mario has done a number of jobs in a number of different genre of games, but would one associate Mario with puzzle games? Using the old grey matter to get Mario out of a predicament that doesn’t involve jumping  on Goombas or running under a fire-wielding Bowser? Well Nintendo seem to think so, placing their mascot in a puzzle game involving his dinosaur pal that seems to eat everyone and everything instead of Mario, so how does it fare? It has been noted that puzzle games are great for portable consoles and those on the move (Tetris on the Game Boy springing to mind), so does Mario & Yoshi cause eureka moments, or “You f…” moments?

Mario and Luigi competing in the Mushroom Kingdom's Strongest Man - coming to your NES soon...

Mario and Luigi competing in the Mushroom Kingdom’s Strongest Man – coming to your NES soon…

Mario and Yoshi, or in Japan just Yoshi, was released on the NES in 1992 in Europe and is a vertical dropping puzzle game. The idea of the game is that enemies that we have come to know and love from Mario series past drop down from the top of the screen, enemies such as Goombas and Bloopers, and as the player, you have to stack the enemies vertically to make them disappear from the screen. There is a minimum of two enemies that can disappear, however as with games such as Columns, if you don’t line up the enemies then the screen stacks up, where if the stack goes above the top of the screen it is game over. Yoshi is involved in the bottom right of the screen, and by the top half and bottom half of his eggs (well of eggs in his colour) falling at random points. Connect the top half with the bottom half and you get a bonus, which is nice, though what would have been better is if Yoshi came on screen eating every single monster, doing a dance and then running off screen but you don’t always get what you want.

So pop the game into your machine, and you get the title screen where you get the option of playing 1 player or 2 player. Selecting 1 player you get to choose between game type A or B, though if you’ve not played the game before, you wouldn’t neccessarily know what each game mode does, but that’s the point of exploration. In a menu screen not too similar to Dr Mario, you get to choose the level in which you start at, the speed in which the enemies fall and the background music that plays whilst you endeavour to remove the enemies. After you choose that, you go straight to the game, no back story and no long dialogues of text, just you and Mario that is at the bottom controlling what seems like 4 plates. The enemies fall, and you have to use the d pad to move Mario between two sets of connecting plates, and pressing the A or B button to swap the plates around, which you will need a little bit in the level when enemies are stacked so that you can remove them. It all seems more complicated then it had to, again if looking at Dr Mario and Columns, it feels like you have control of the falling blocks and not fall from random spaces that in Mario and Yoshi you have no control over. If you play 2 player you play split screen, and in essence do what you do in 1 player but just against your friend, it’s not the best multiplayer experience and make you wish you were playing Battletoads instead, friendly fire on as well.

If the green background doesn't cause headache then figuring this conundrum will

If the green background doesn’t cause headache then figuring this conundrum will

The controls are solid where the d-pad moves Mario along the bottom, and pressing down as per other puzzle games makes the enemies fall quicker. The a and B button do the same task, rotating the adjacent stacks what he is controlling which does come in useful, and you do need quick controls because one enemy may fall from the left hand side of the screen whilst the other enemy falls from the far right hand side, so you do need reflexes of a monkey that’s eaten hot gazpacho soup and is burning his tongue. The music is upbeat and done with a lot of care and effort which is always refreshing so you won’t need your Less Than Jake record playing in the background, and makes you question why the best part of a puzzle game is the music? The graphics are bold and clear, appealing to the eye, so the game is treat for the eyes and ears but the old grey matter and your hands may think something different.

Such, advanced options, head...spinning....

Such, advanced options, head…spinning….

Mario and Yoshi could have been a better puzzle game, drawing on successes such as Dr Mario and Columns which used simple yet effective controls rather than a complicated mess where you feel your literally spinning plates. The main criticisms is that you cannot remove enemies horizontally which is always questionable as this seemed to have been the standard fare with other puzzle games. It’s a shame that it doesn’t play Burger Time where you have the bottom half of the shell and have the enemies in the middle and when the top half of the egg comes down it squashes them all, and have to question a puzzle game where the best part of the game is the music – if the game was Rock Band or Guitar Hero that’s different, but it shouldn’t be that for a puzzle game. For collectors it may be worth picking up a copy, with cartridges of the game selling for a decent price on your favourite online auction sites, however for a puzzle game that packs punch, panache and other alliterated P words then steer clear of this game and try out Tetris – the Tengen version of course because that’s available everywhere…

Rating – 2 out of 5

Lemmings NES Review

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Suicidial creatures aren’t usually common in the animal kingdom – if they were it’s highly unlikely that they would find their way into the world of video games. But those masters of the 8-bit gaming (ahem) Ocean clearly though had the foresight and vision to bring these creatures into the video game universe, and released Lemmings on the Amiga. With all successful home computer games, it quickly found it’s way onto a number of consoles including the NES which at the time was sort of popular. In its own way. But with the lack of a mouse how does a puzzle-platforming game like Lemmings transfer over onto the console, did it make you want to hurl yourself a cliff into a watery/lava grave or make you want to save yourself for later?

Lemmings is a game originally designed and released on the Amiga, and due to it’s success on the console it found it’s way being released onto every home console imaginable, like California Games did but with the added hope of it being ported better than California Games. The idea of the game is designating the green-haired lemmings into certain jobs such as digger, builder, stopper and the like in order to reach the exit which is located at another point in the screen. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to determine which role certain lemmings undertake in order to manoeuvre past the obstacles to the exit. If you don’t assign a job to the lemming, it will roam aimlessly going back and forth should it hit a wall, but on the same point if there is a high ledge to fall down, or a lava-type lake to fall into, the lemming will do just that. There are 8 jobs that the lemmings can do:

Climber (to climb things…obviously…)

Floater (to float from great heights without dying)

Bomber (to destroy landscapes and blow itself up)

Blocker (to reverse the direction of a walking lemming and not letting anything pass)

Builder (to build a staircase)

Basher (to bash into walls)

Miner (to dig diagonally)

Digger (to dig downwards)

How do you transfer these colours to the NES?

How do you transfer these colours to the NES?

Like this - swathes of blood mud and grey steel

Like this – swathes of blood mud and grey steel

When starting the cartridge you’ll notice that you cannot skip the main menu – why can’t you do this?! It’s not as if something different happens, you have to sit and wait for the pre-game animation to complete before you can press start, which gets more annoying if you have to reset the game. When you FINALLY get to the main menu, you’re presented with the options to customise your game. You have four difficulty levels but what is a nice touch is that rather than have easy, medium, hard etc, it’s split into Fun (the easiest difficulty) and working it’s way up to Tricky, Taxing and finally Mayhem. If you’ve never played the game before you should stay well clear of the hardest difficulties until you get used to the game, and the controls. Believe me the controls take some getting used to.

3 minutes - can you figure it out?

3 minutes – can you figure it out?

It’s difficult with games that were originally designed for PC DOS or Amiga which utilised the fluid motion of the mouse and clicking the mouse buttons. As much as the d-pad tries to replicate the smoothness of the mouse, it never compares to the feel of a mouse in your hand and being in control. That’s the key word, control. It feels when moving the pointer across the screen that you overshoot the lemming you wish to assign the task to and as a result it may be too late to save that lemming when it walks off the ledge into a nice warm lava pit below. To choose the job that the lemming does, is not a simple press of a button, no they had to make the control awkward by you having to hold the B button down, then selecting the job with the left or right d-pad button and then highlighting the lemming and pressing A to execute the command. The NES control is not blessed with the most amount of buttons for a controller, and it sure is lucky it didn’t take after the Intellivision by having a telephone keypad, but why could the B button not select the job sequentially rather than holding the button down and then pressing left or right. It overcomplicated an issue that should have been relatively straight forward.

As mentioned before, as the game was on Amiga and PC, with the VGA graphics it sure did look colourful. The NES version did try to replicate this but with the limited palette you do find the murky browns and grey’s creeping into a lot of the levels, but due to the limitations the designers did a good job of trying to making it as colourful as possible with atmospheric dark levels, but the main menu does look like swathes of moss and algae and why do the lemmings gave really yellow eyes – are they drunk on moonshine? The music in the level’s are funky 8 bit renditions of songs you may recognise including the can can so it’s worth keeping the music on and your music device off whilst playing – don’t let it distract you though!

Seems a rather large horse has been round these parts...

Seems a rather large horse has been round these parts…

So all in all how does this port fare up? Well the developer’s didnt do a bad job with the game. As mentioned earlier in the review, to port a PC game or any home computer game that used a mouse device onto a home console is never easy, and the developers did seem to take this in mind. I suspect on their lunch break they though about the controls which could have been better but with the scroll of the cursor across the screen is slow so most of the time you do feel in control but in the heat of battle you may find yourself wishing Nintendo released a mouse for the console. Copies of the game are out there in the wild, so for a home console it’s worth picking up a copy of the game to get the old grey matter ticking over, so rather then get frustrated with sudokus and wordsearches, pick up a copy of your favourite suicidal creature and a can of Red Bull and save those lemmings!

Rating – 3 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

Dr. Mario NES Review

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Rating – 5 out of 5