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

Hogan’s Alley NES Review

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

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

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

Again, difference between good vs evil

Again, difference between good vs evil

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

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

Hogan’s Alley A

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

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Hogan’s Alley B

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

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Trick Shot

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

Game Mode C

Game Mode C

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

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

Rating – 5 out of 5

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

Power Blade NES Review

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Here’s a question for you – what do you get when cross an Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike with the makers of Chase HQ? No, unfortunately it isn’t a new version of Chase HQ featuring good ol’ Arnie released on the Playstation Network or Nintendo eShop, but something that many would resemble closest to Mega Man. Unlike Mega Man, today’s game isn’t set in the year 200X where X is an integer that could in fact be a letter and a date that is all futuristic-looking, but set in a specific year namely 2191. Quite why it was so late in the 22nd Century I have no idea but it’s refreshing to see game developers honing in on their attention to detail, but regardless of the year, does it play like a Conan-esque Mega Man or is it another platforming action game consigned to the bargain bins of retro history?

"I'll be back" - not with this game you won't

“I’ll be back” – not with this game you won’t

Power Blade is an action platforming game set in the remarkably accurate year of 2191, which in typical action platforming style, you have to get your character from one part of the stage to the other, however it is not a simple case of going from left to right. The direction of the level can take you up and down ladders over multiple floors, without the cool screen realignment that Mega Man 2 had. You have to retrieve data tapes which were stolen by aliens (what else) from each of the six levels and restore the master computer by defeating the alien master overlord. Of course. In order to do this, you’re equipped with a boomerang which is your weapon of choice (and also the weapon naturally to destroy alien overlords – it’s what I would naturally think of) and is used to destroy the enemies through the stages. During the stages you can get the “Power Suit” which when gotten, your character shoots energy blasts in any of the 8 directions of your d-pad and that can go through most surfaces.

Reminiscent of Seattle, 2191 looks pretty good from here

Reminiscent of Seattle, 2191 looks pretty good from here

So when you start up the game, you get the option of starting the game from the beginning or carrying on from a position using a password system, that curiously using all 10 numbers and only the letters B D F G J and K. Quite why those letters were made who knows, there’s only so much fun that can be had from typing rude words into a password system that has a full alphabet…actually no, on some games typing rude words in is more fun than playing the game. After you choose the start game option you then provided with a normal or expert mode to play the levels – expert mode has more levels on screen and ramps up the challenge, not as intense as something like Contra but still something that will make you throw your controller on the floor.

Similar to Mega Man, you get to choose which sector you start out in, and with 6 to choose from you can pick any to play when you first you’re spoilt for choice. However this is where things start to go south, as you realise when you work your way through the level that at parts, it’s not clear where you should be headed – there’s ladders going up and down, and each way brings you to a new part of the stage. You hope that when your getting lost you can press the select or start button to bring up a map, but no, there’s nothign to suggest where you should be going. What makes it worse is that unlike Mega Man, you can be going down the ladder and to save time, drop off the ladder or not even use the ladder to go to the screen below however with Power Blade, if you don’t use the ladder you lose a life, what kind of nonsense is that? If you need to get to the screen below why not jump down rather than rigidly have to use a ladder?  On the screen you have a health bar which is always good rather than one hit kills a la Contra, and also an enemy meter when you get to the boss of the stage. You also have a power bar meter which doesn’t help but show you how powerful your weapon is, no matter how tempted you are to hold the button down to charge your weapon up or for it to fly further, it still gets thrown the same amount of distance.

6 stages? Gamer's choice? Where has this been seen before...

6 stages? Gamer’s choice? Where has this been seen before…

The gameplay is smooth and responsive, when you press the d-pad your character moves instantaneously, or when you choose to attack and/or jump, there are no delays like in Dragon’s Lair. The A button in typical action platforming makes your character jump whilst the B button makes your character attack with his boomerang. What is good is that your boomerang can be launched in 8 different directions – it’s common place nowadays to have multi-directional shooting but if you grew up playing the NES then you know how frustrating it can be to only be able to attack in two or four different directions. The colours are bold and defined, and from the pixels of your character, it looks like your controlling an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type character down to his bulging biceps and not some generic plain-jane character who doesn’t resemble what is on the main screen. The music and sound effects, well they’re standard fare for a platforming game, but why worry about the audio when your gripped in an intense battle using a wooden stick that returns??

Johnny Bravo rebuilding Berlin/Seattle? What a game that would be!

Johnny Bravo rebuilding Berlin/Seattle? What a game that would be!

Power Blade is a typical action platforming game that graced the NES console in a similar fashion that the other hundreds of action platforming games graced the console. If the SNES was a console for RPG’s then certainly the NES was the console for action platforming. Using a boomerang is a novel idea, however there is nothing better than using guns and projectiles to attack enemies in a manly way – from far away. The best word to describe Power Blade is “average” – there are aspects to the game that make it good, such as the password system and the multi-directional attack however the lack of direction in the level’s themselves and the resemblance to Mega Man, and not in a good way, ensures that Power Blade is a game that apart from the Arnold Schwarzenegger image at the start, is forgettable. If you like the action platforming series it is one to pick up for the collection, but there are better games out there worthy of your frustration and destruction of enemies, so by all means pick up that copy of Contra, and if you see the Taito logo, let’s hope you will be driving a car alongside beaches in the sun…

Rating – 3 out of 5

Volleyball NES Review

vball

 

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

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

Micro Machines NES Review

 

mmbox

If we were to talk about unofficial NES games, what would spring to mind – maybe Bible Buffet, or Action 52, games that were not exactly renowned for their quality however if those type of games left you feeling like the only quality was released on official cartridges (*ahem* read The Simpsons’ games *ahem*) then fear ye not – along came a company that cared about the quality of the games, and one of those games in particular linger long in the hazy memories of the console. The company, well in the UK were known as Codemasters and the game, the miniature racing game Micro Machines. Does the game make you want to vroom off into the sunset or off a large cliff.

Who said it was Zelda that came in gold cartridges?

Who said it was Zelda that came in gold cartridges?

Micro Machines was released on the console in 1991, and like most of the Camerica/Codemasters cartridges it was not on the usual grey NES cart’s, no Codemasters had a habit of putting their games onto uniquely designed cartridges. This could be in the form of large square carts, or small rectangle carts with a triangular piece of plastic drooping down, having to put another cartridge in a slot to ensure it works. There are reason’s that the games were not released officially, with Codemasters being the UK distributor of the Camerica series, however in Micro Machines it was worthy of an official release.

Micro Machines is a racing game based off the popular toys, that has an overhead view in the races. You’re not just racing Formula 1 cars as perceived on the box oh no, you could be racing in speed boats, monster trucks, pretty much anything and everything you can think of. Except a Segway, that’s a disappointment but to be fair they weren’t invented when this game was released. The idea, with pretty much all racing games is to race against three opponents and get to the finish line first having completed three laps. If you win three races in a row, you get taken to a bonus stage where it is just yourself and your driving abilities in order to complete the lap in under the allotted time given – if you succeed you get an extra life, while not completing it means, well, you’re a failure.  Sorry to disappoint you kids.

A fine bunch of racers if ever I saw one

A fine bunch of racers if ever I saw one

When you turn on the game, you get the option of playing a 1 player game or go head-to-head in a two player game, so kudos for actually making a game two player – as mentioned before too few games on the console where two player, and I don’t count games like Super Mario Bros and Wrecking Crew in that as they were turn-based and not co-operative local multiplayer such as Battletoads. When choosing 1 player mode, you then get to choose your character from a surly crew of some stereotypes such as the Chinese character being called Chen and the really cool looking dude being called Spider – it doesn’t say if the differing characters play differently, so for now it seems personal choice who you select. You then enter a qualifying race on a speedboat where you first get to grips with the racing and deal with the simplistic yet effective controls. As mentioned above, over three laps finish second and above and you progress – if you don’t you lose a life, and only having three lives to start with you really should be saving these for the later levels.

With skill and determination that will soon get full - or cheats...

With skill and determination that will soon get full – or cheats…

The controls are typical of racing games released on the NES – simplistic yet effective. The A button accelerates the car, the D-Pad steers your car and to brake, well as much as it’s a presumption it is the B button why would you want to brake? Obviously you might say to slow your car down, but personally it seems more effective to just release the accelerator button and drift round the corner. The controls are reactive and in fact the handling of the vehicle can change depending on the vehicle used in the race, for example, the Warrior-type trucks used in the garage-based levels have slow acceleration but turn really well, whilst the sports cars will race off at the speed of light so turning at full speed will make you drift off the edge losing valuable places to your opponents. Graphically, the colours are bold and contrasting and it feels like the developers took great care designing not only the vehicles (though it is a shame your vehicle is an exotic shade of grey) but in terms of the levels your racing on. Rather than racing around a race track like a Formula 1 car, or in fact dirt tracks like Ironman Stewart’s racing, your treated to everyday environments such as breakfast tables with orange juice slowing you down, garages where globs of glue slow you down and in the bathtub navigating round bubbles and impending doom moments such as the bathplug and swirling around in it. It was a really good touch of the developers to use everyday scenarios for their miniature vehicles, though the thought crosses that when you leave a room, you never know if miniature vehicles will be racing round dodging the mess you left behind!

White cars, where is this game set - Essex??

White cars, where is this game set – Essex??

For an unofficial cart that was never officially endorsed by Nintendo, Micro Machines is a fine example of a game, not just a racing game but a video game in general, done well. The graphics are bold and advanced for the console and are aesthetically pleasing on the eye and makes you feel like you are on the breakfast table racing round. The music and sound effects suit the game well and the controls as mentioned many, many times in the review are responsive and makes you feel that if you do come second or not do as well as you think, it’s due to player error and lack of skill. The game can be found on your favourite online four-lettered word acution sites so if you do get the chance, do add this to your collection and bask in the knowledge your sticking it to Nintendo, with their grey carts and the seal of quality, who needs them when you got games like Micro Machines and Action 52!…wait….

Rating – 5 out of 5

Tennis NES Review

tennisboxart

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

Lemmings NES Review

lembox

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