MegaMan NES Review

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After a number of month’s, this site is back to doing what it does best – occasionally updating! But it is a new year with new goals and new challenges, so what better way of celebrating nearing the end of the first month by looking back at a classic game that started a franchise. It is easy with successful franchises like Mario and Legend of Zelda to look back and scoff at the simplistic graphics, gameplay and how it is inferior to it’s recent outputs. But what about a series such as Mega Man, how does it fare up today? Would it start off being mega, or anything but?

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Mega Man, also known as Rockman in Japan was unleashed onto the NES system in 1987 with it’s box depicting high resolution (but not HD) graphics and state-of-the-art….something. The box itself looks harrowing to say the least, with an Albert Einstein-inspired character in the top left looking pensively at a human-looking character firing a cannon out his arm. Mega Man is an action-platforming game in which if you didn’t know Mega Man then the plot isn’t necessarily easy to guess, as there is nothing when you turn on the game as to what the plot is about. But, for the sake of this review, the plot is that Dr Light who is a good guy created six humanoid robots who go crazy and being bad thanks to Dr Wily a.k.a Albert Einstein lookalike. You need to destroy these six humanoid robot bosses having passed through the stage, before a final show down with Dr Wily.

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So when you turn on the game, there is no developer’s titles, no schmaltzy backdrop and story to show you what is going on, you just get the title screen. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with this, as when you turn on the game you want to get straight into the action. You press the start button and you’re presented with six stages to do choose from: Cutman, Gutsman, Iceman, Bombman, Fireman and Elecman. You could hazard a guess what type of level each one is with Elec/Fire/Iceman but what kind of level is Gutsman, or Cutman? There are no clues but then life is full of surprises so why should the player be fully briefed what type of level is what? So having picked your level you then progress through the level until you get to the boss. Having completed the boss you then acquire the special power from that level, so for example with Bomb Man having defeated him you then acquire the power of the bombs which can be useful against enemies and certain bosses.

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If ever you know one thing about Mega Man it’s that is *balls hard*. It is that important that asterisks have to proceed and follow that statement but it is as hard as the asterisks make it seem. Mega Man is not a game for casual gamers, you will find a lot of time you will be shouting, swearing and wanting to throw your controller out the window. The problem is that unless you memorise the levels and the enemies within it, you don’t know what is coming up – you jump across a gap and then an enemy flies out of nowhere to knock you into the hole in the ground instantly killing you. Or, an enemy is on the ground so you cannot kill it by standing next to it and shooting, you have to jump on the platform below, jump up and shoot which you find doesn’t kill the enemy but paralyses them for a moment. What doesn’t help is that Mega Man’s moving physics resemble Luigi from Super Mario or if you run on ice in games – you start running but when you stop you carry on a little bit further. This doesn’t help when you have enemies that spring up from the ground and wasn’t expecting it, or on the ice level which you carry on moving even when you stop moving the d-pad, right into an oncoming enemy. Your reflexes and reactions have got to be sharp with this game, it isn’t one you can play lightly and without giving it your full concentration.

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In relation to the game’s controls, they are simple and straight forward enough – the A button jumps whilst the B button shoots your weapon. The d-pad makes Mega Man move which is straight-forward enough so who says that you need multi-button combinations to have a good game? The graphics of the game match the bosses well, moving from the deep reds and yellows depicting fire from Elecman stage, to the blue and white hues from Iceman stage. The colours are bold, bright and well defined – they pop off the screen and are great graphics for a game released early in the NES system. The music and sounds, well they are on point if ever there was – although you will find yourself repeating parts of the stage over and over again due to the difficulty, inadvertently you’ll find yourself humming the music which is memorable and classic.

Mega Man is a difficult game to review, inasmuch the graphics, music and overall gameplay is great, but boy is hard. As noted above, the game is certainly not for casual gamers with plenty of swearing and shouting, and even with gamers who pride themselves on liking challenges, there will certainly be a lot of deaths and retry’s in order to get to Dr Wily for the final battle. If you can overlook the difficulty, then Mega Man is a great game and a wonderful start to the franchise, as were Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda. Copies of the game are not the cheapest you’ll find for NES titles now, but certainly not beyond the realms of affordability, being cheaper than a title for current-gen consoles. It is a game worthy of your time and attention, with which if there was one piece of advice to give, then it would be to be patient. Try not to rush the game and take your time, with your reward being a completion of the stage, and your controller not being hurled out of the window or towards a loved one….

Rating – 4 out of 5

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Nintendo World Cup NES Review

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With the World Cup happening presently in Brazil, what better way of celebrating the tournament not with the latest incarnation from Electronic Arts, but with Kunio-ken characters representing 13 different countries fighting your way to the top. Kunio-ken characters I hear you ask? Well, back in the early days of the NES a company by the name of Technos Japan created a series of games for the NES that featured similar types of characters in different types of games, such as River City Ransom, Super dodge Ball and one that might be familiar to gamers, Double Dragon. So with that in mind, rather than controlling the likes of James Rodriguez and Neymar, you’re instead controlling characters such as John, Kunio and many more. So how does it fare up, is it as good as Goal! or does it make you wishing you was on the first flight home?

You know s*it gets real when quadrants are involved

You know s*it gets real when quadrants are involved

Nintendo World Cup is a football (that’s right, not Soccer) game where you control one character with the d-pad but partially control the rest of the team by pressing the A or B button to command the player and request an action, such as tackle or shoot. Score more than the other country then you progress. If not, well, it’s game over. It really is nothing more complicated then that – it’s football (not soccer) so how complicated is that?

Tackle? OK!

Tackle? OK!

So when you start the game up you get to choose whether to start the tournament mode with 1 or 2 players, or if you don’t have the time nor inclination to do a full tournament then you can have a one off match with up to 4 players. Yes that’s right, you can grab your Four-Score out and have four people play a football match which is always a good social event. It’s common with football (NOT SOCCER!) games to have four players on screen, maybe even more and signing into profiles and all that nonsense, but Nintendo World Cup offered the chance for four players on one console to play a match. It certainly beats a four player match of anticipation. So you choose the country you want to be, which disappointingly doesn’t include the USSR but does include West Germany so it’s not all bad. You then choose which players from your team play in which position, and also what strategy your team will use in 4 quadrants. You know s*it gets serious when you decide strategies in “quadrants”. After that, the match kicks off.

Play on Ice? How reckless! How naughty!

Play on Ice? How reckless! How naughty!

As mentioned above, you control one character as you would with any football match, moving him over the pitch and pressing the A button to pass the ball, or shoulder barge if you don’t have the ball and the B button shoots, and slide tackles when you don’t have the ball. Football games do not need to be complicated like they seem nowadays, and Nintendo World Cup is a great example of this. Pirouetting with the ball and doing rainbow flicks may be OK for some, but for a good football gaming experience, it wasn’t needed in NWC and it benefited from this. If one of your team members has the ball, you can command that they pass the ball, or shoot or tackle using the same A and B button commands for when you do have the ball. It is good when your halfway down the field, and you press the A button to pass, and your team mate launches the ball to your head. Finally, you can press the A+B button together to do a special shot or header which can help decide a match, and is useful to have up your sleeve (or shorts) in later rounds when the computer gets more difficult.

It's like playing in the ocean

It’s like playing in the ocean

Nintendo World Cup is a worthy sports game on the console, and with the Kunio-ken characters it makes for a unique game on a common game theme. The best comparison to make is with the Mario games that deviate away from the usual platforming fare and have Golf, Tennis, Charged Football games, where the series deviates into other genres, this is the same for NWC. The graphics are simplistic yet bold and who doesn’t enjoy having four players on one football match? Even if you don’t have four players to hand, if you got another person you can both play in the Tournament mode, and with 13 different teams there’s always something different whenever you play. Add into this mix is the number of strategies you can employ and the different players in different positions, and you get a cake, or game that results in one worthy of being in any collection. The game is common to get from your local gaming store and online auctioneer so this summer, with England currently on a rowing boat back to the UK then grab a copy, grab some friends, throw that copy of Anticipation away and prophesize the final of the world cup and be West Germany!

Rating – 4 out of 5

2013 in review

Thank you so much for everyone who read the reviews in 2013 – expect more in 2014!

 

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Crackout NES Review

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It’s been 6 weeks since the last review due to technical difficulties so as way of apology, today’s review is a game released only for the European PAL area and published by a subsidiary of a company that may be familiar to gamers, Konami.

Due to third- party game publishers at the time only allowed to release 5 games per year for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Konami had the ingenious method of creating subsidiary companies to release more than the 5 games they were allowed to per year. In North America the company was named Ultra, whilst in Europe it was Palcom. Palcom specialized on releasing games that were not released in America, games such as Road Fighter and this one, Crackout.

Breakout has come a long way from this...

Breakout has come a long way from this…

To this.

To this.

So what is Crackout? Crackout having been released in 1991 is in fact a clone of Breakout. For those not in the know, Breakout was introduced originally in 1976 by Atari, in which you have to destroy rows of bricks with a ball with the help of a paddle that you control at the bottom of the screen. It deflects the ball back onto the bricks and as a guard so that the ball does not go out of play. Crackout works in exactly the same way, but improved on Breakout by adding features that was not present on the original game.

Crackout is split into 4 zones (like the Crystal Maze), of which there are 11 levels (somewhat similar to the Crystal Maze). The zones are the Cubic Zone, Mirror Zone, Tube Zone and Final Zone (not quite as fun as the Crystal Maze. Progression is made either by destroying all the bricks on the screen or on the rare instance you would encounter “The Konami Man” who would fly from the top to the bottom of the screen transporting you to the next level. Assisting you along the way are power-ups which can come in the form of 1-ups, launching missiles that can destroy enemies, or multiple balls. Although this is common-place in Breakout clones now, for the type this was a welcome addition to a classic concept. It makes the game more interesting and makes you want to destroy the enemy on the screen to get the power up to help complete the level. Every few levels, you encounter a boss which again adds a different dimension to the game play and keeps it interesting.

How could you destroy the bunny? Quite easily actually...

How could you destroy the bunny? Quite easily actually…

In terms of controls, well you use the left and right d-pad to move the barrier at the bottom to ensure the ball does not go out of play. To launch the ball, you press the button B, and that button is used should you get a projectile power up to use. The controls are easy to use and responsive, which is good for a game that can build up speed and requires the player to have the reflexes of a lynx that’s had a vindaloo curry. It’s not the same as using a trackball or paddle akin to the Atari 2600, but it’s the next best thing. There is unfortunately no music in the game so you would need to put on your iPod or TDK cassette to entertain your ears, however the sound effects are crisp and relevant to the game, so all is not lost however some music would have been nice.

Wear glasses? You'll need to if you keep looking at the screen!

Wear glasses? You’ll need to if you keep looking at the screen!

So to sum the game up, yes it is a Breakout clone however it is a jolly good Breakout clone. It isn’t a game that you can write reams of paper about, as it is in essence a simple yet classic game that added a twist with power-ups and weapons to keep the game fresh. If you do get the chance to find this game out in your local retro game stores or on your favourite online retailer (ahem eBay) then it is worth grabbing. If you have 15 minutes to spare and don’t want to complete Super Mario Bros again in under 6 minutes (like we all do) then pick up Crackout. Whilst you’re at it, get your parents involved as it is a game suitable for all ages and is easy to pick up and play. Who said games had to be about powering up guns or playing repetitive football matches…

Rating – 4 out of 5

Trojan NES Review

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Before we get into today’s review, let’s have a quick history lesson (which is I’m sure why you’ve come to this site). After the 1983 video games crash, one of the points learned was that it was foolish to have pictures and ultra high realistic designs on game cartridges and box art of games such as those on the Atari, when the gameplay itself had less than impressive graphics. The reason I mention this? Well looking at the box art of today’s review, Trojan, is it infeasible to think the graphics that are shown on the box can match those in game? Nintendo did learn from mistakes of years yore with their black box designs and having enlarged pixellated characters from in -game onto the box, so how will Trojan fair, even with its one megabit memory, will the NES handle the awesome graphics with the fire and shining sword? Read on dear reader, read on…

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Our character is the same size as hell – someone save us all…

Trojan is a side-scrolling action game, a genre that the library of the console has in plentiful supply. Originally it was an arcade game which was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987 and although arcade ports of games to the console do not always convert well (controls for Marble Madness…) how can side-scrolling hack and slash games go wrong? The game is set in what seems to be a future world which isn’t described as 200x like in Megaman or some random date hundreds of years in the future, however your character looks like someone that could have come directly from the medieval era, or even worse a character from Dragon’s Lair! Armed with a sword and shield as a primary form of attack, if this fails your character does possess martial art skills so all is not lost. The idea of the game is to go through the levels from left-to right (which makes me wonder what games go from right to left? Hmm…) hacking and slashing your way past the enemies to get to the level sub-boss. There is an end of level boss as well that you will need to fight to progress through the game, and with 6 levels in total you will need all your Contra-training hack and slash experience for this and the reflexes of a snooker player thats hyped up on sour Skittles.

The poor burnt Beetle - it didn't deserve that

The poor burnt Beetle – it didn’t deserve that

So turning on the game it brings you straight to the main menu, no dithering and no developers logo’s. You get the option of playing 1 player, 2 player or a versus option. The 1 player is pretty self explanatory in that you complete the levels yourself, whereas the 2 player mode is not both players on the screen at the same time like Streets of Rage or Battletoads, it’s more akin to Super Mario Bros where the player completes the level and carries on until he dies to which the second player then starts the game. Finally there is a versus mode, which was not in the arcade version. The two of you slug out mano y mano in a creepy wooded dungeon, or brown-coloured stone dungeon who knows, but its winner takes all in a 2 out of 3 victory fight. It’s good that you have the option of not always doing the main quest together if all you want to do is slug it out.

As mentioned you start off with a sword and shield to attack and defend with, which provides an effective way of defeating the enemies. At some points where magic fire balls are thrown at you, the sword and shield are out of your possession which although can be collected later, you have to rely on your bare hands and fists to attack with. Although you cannot choose to fight with bare fists, if you have a big samurai sword and a shield that would be the envy of Kokiri folk why would you want to fight bare fisted? You also can collect special power ups along the way, such as boots that make you jump high (but only if your standing still and jump, you cannot diagonal jump) or hearts that restore your health. What’s good about your character is that he has a health bar rather than hit them once or twice than die however it is easy to lose health when the enemies start beating seven bells out of you, you don’t temporarily become invincible you can easily have your health drained.

Certainly a fighter not a lover...

Certainly a fighter not a lover…

So in terms of the controls, attacking wise it’s pretty straight forward where the A button raises your shield and the B button makes you attack with your sword. You move your character with the left and right buttons and duck with the down d pad. However it is one of those games where to jump isn’t the A or B Buttons, no it is in fact the up button. This doesn’t help when on the first level you soon come across a manhole cover to which rather than jump, you fall through it. Fortunately it is another room where you obtain the jumping boots however it seems you won’t know what jump is unless you mess around the buttons. The music seems to be a mish mash of notes and noises with no clear pattern, it certainly keeps you on your toes but can cause irritation after a while so keep your music device ready on standby, because with the music and the sound effects, which are nothing exciting but does the job to a standard level, you may need your music device. In terms of the graphics, there are blues and brown colours a plenty which again do the job adequately with the buildings in the background and the enemies defined boldly and are quite colourful, so Capcom did a put a lot of effort into this port and the graphics definitely show this.

So all in all, Trojan is a nice game to add to your collection and certainly had time and attention devoted to it. The controls are nice and responsive and even now it is very satisfying to slash the enemies with your sword and defend yourself with the sword. The game itself is one where if you had an hour or two spare, it certainly is one to dedicate your attention to as it is well crafted and made. Although it is a shame that the multiplayer is not both players on the screen at the same time, this was a game released early in the console’s lifespan so it is safe to assume that having both players on screen as a co op would come later and not developed at that time. It’s a shame there isn’t a save feature or a password system so do be careful and get your gaming experience on, as your going to need it. Copies of the game aren’t that cheap however certainly not too expensive that it is out of reach for collectors. So go on, get your sword and shield out and head back to the future and show them how it’s done and do me a favour – please tell the developers to not use up for jumping in games in the future, my thumb’s gone all weak now…

Rating – 4 out of 5

Popeye NES Review

There are certain games than when you grew up, in those arcades of yore when they didn’t cost a fortune to play and kids would crowd round the latest game amazed at how far Little Jimmy got on one credit, it was hard to imagine these games being transferred and ported from the arcades to the home console because they were that good on the arcade. I always remember for some reason not only X-Men at the arcades, but as well Popeye with its distinctive theme song from the cartoons we know so well. It seems Nintendo had the idea of porting this to the NES as a black-box game under the “Arcade” series, so how away from the bright lights and loud noises of the arcades, how did the game fare up, will it make you big and strong, or sickly green like the spinach that gets eaten?

Popeye is the quintessential text-book definition of an “arcade” game, ported over to the Nintendo Entertainment System (if that wasn’t made clear by the “arcade classics series” on the box and the graphic of a gamer hunched over an arcade cabinet). As per most of the early arcade games, played either on the console or in it’s original format at the cabinet, there is no end screen and not a point where the game is completed, your playing to attain the highest score possible so to keep playing until you run out of lives. Popeye is no different, and plays like Urban Champion in which you have to keep going further and further, the enemies becoming more difficult and the player needing the reflexes of a dog consuming too many Mars Bars.

Maybe after, you three can make sweet music together *wink wink*

Popping in the game and turning the console on, your treated to an 8-bit rendition of the theme tune and you know what? It certainly is not a bad effort at it, it’ll have you singing along before any button is presses and you won’t want it to end. You get the option of playing game mode A, or game mode B, and that is both for 1 or 2 players. The difference between game mode A and B is that Game Mode B starts with a creepy old witch throwing skulls at you making your game more difficult. The 2 player option unfortunately is not the option to play co-operatively, but taking it in turns to completing the levels – bearing in mind this game was released in 1982 then it certainly is no loss to not being able to play side-by-side with your buddy. The idea of the level is to collect whatever Olive Oyl throws your way, in the first level this is hearts but later levels it can be musical notes or letters that spell the word “HELP”. Sounds easy enough right? Well, trying to stop you collecting and saving is good ol’ Bluto ready to punch you hard into the ocean. In terms of weapons, all you have is your fist ready to punch him out, however you cannot do this unless you’ve eaten (drumroll please…no guesses needed) a can of spinach – that’s right nul points to you if you thought it was a mushroom or rupees. Well collect 24 hearts and you make your way to Level 2, where the scenery changes and musical notes are the items to collect, and so wash, rinse and repeat.

From level 2 onwards, minor characters from the cartoon do make an appearance, to the top left of the screen sits Swee’ Pea upon some hover board going up and down holding a balloon, directly below him a see saw. Hit the see saw right to hit Swee’ Pea (nothing sinister about uppercutting a hovering raft a baby is on, is there?) and claim extra bonus points. It’s a nice touch that Bluto can hit that same see-saw and try to hit Swee’Pea but nothing happens when he does. Level 3 is set upon a ship, and when you collect the letters it builds a ladder for you to rescue Olive, but at this stage you get a vulture dive bombing at you, this time you can whack it right in the face (no need to call the RSPCA then) to get points and stop it attacking you costing a life.  So there is some variety in the levels colours and design however after level 3, although it states it is level 4, in terms of graphics and enemies it reverts back to Level 1 but the levels get tougher so you really need your wits about you to get further. As mentioned, although the top score gets saved, as soon as you turn the console off you lose your top score so get ready with your camera.

It could be worse – those hearts could be round Bluto…

The control’s are simple but responsive, which is what you need when being chased by Bluto. The d-pad moves Popeye left and right through the level, up and down to traverse the ladders, the A button is the punch and the B button does…well nothing. But the controls are simple enough for what needs to be accomplished in the level. There is no jumping in the game (either by pressing up or whatever button usually is jump in games) and there’s no ducking either, its a question of using your fantastically honed reflexes, and the ability to walk past the walls to the other side of the screen, with an arrow saying “thru” to helpfully point out where to go.. It’s good that your not penned into the 2 sides of the level in the effort to evade Bluto. The music, well what can you say? When you turn the game on, and before the level starts your treated to that famous music – it certainly does add some oomph into the game, and its not like Superman 64 that uses stock music and possess none of the characteristics of the movie.

Bluto never looked so attractive

Arcade ports certainly fared well when they were ported to the Nintendo early in the NES catalogue, and although nothing can recreate the feeling of pumping coins into a smoke-filled loud arcade machine, Nintendo done a good job porting this to the console to recreate the gameplay you’d expect at the arcade. The controls are responsive and like most things in life, its easy to get the basics right however will take a lifetime to master. It’s doubtful you’d get to the point where you beat the world record of over 3 million, but there’s nothing to stop you practicing – pretending to pump coins in to top that score! The game is definitely one to have in the collection, however copies in the wild are uncommon but it is worth the price – its not often uncommon games are worth the money but in this instance it really is worth it. Even for non-Popeye fans the gameplay alone makes it a classic for the console, and the challenge of old witches throwing skulls at you makes you more determined to plant a kiss with your fist right in his kisser, so grab a can of spinach, holler your best A-GA-GA-GA-GA-GA-GA-GA and get ready for some retro arcade action! I’m off to recover from the copious amounts of spinach I ate whilst writing this episode, I have some big blokes to go and hit…

Rating – 5 out of 5

R.C. Pro-Am NES Review

If you were to think of racing games where you race against other cars, collecting power ups along the way and obtaining weapons to use against opponents – hang on wait a minute. Racing around laps in circuits? Collecting power ups? WEAPONS TO USE AGAINST OPPONENTS? What does this sound like?…it sound’s somewhat like Mario Kart does it not? Or Ivan Stewart’s Off-Road Racing, maybe for the pacifists something like Micro Machines? Well before all those, came along a game that didn’t involve monster trucks, or Formula 1 cars, but radio-controlled cars out of everything in the world to race. Given that it was made by Rare, who according to these reviews struck somewhat dull gold with Slalom and faeces with Anticipation, will it be third time lucky for the boys from Twycross?

With rims like that who’d mess with you at traffic lights?

R.C Pro Am is a racing game where the cars themselves are remote controlled cars, with the idea (surprisingly for a racing game) is to race round circuits, finishing within the top 3 to progress to the next level. When you turn on the game, your treated to the funkiest opening music you’ll ever hear in your NES library. Pressing start takes you straight into the game – no options menu customising your buttons, no dilly dallying or shilly shallying, just straight into the track conditions for the first race and where you’ll be able to view the customisations you make to the car – but thats for later. It’s time to buckle up (as much as you can in a remote-controlled car) and get ready for your first race!

The controls are as simple as they can be for an 8-bit racing game. Pressing the B button makes your car accelerate, and the A-Button fires your weapon when you collect them, and the left and right d-pad steers the car. When racing, especially when turning the car drifts momentarily before it turns the car, so you need to time the turning well otherwise you’ll be racing alongside the wall, slowing you down and letting your opponents pass you by.  However, along the way, there are power ups to improve your vehicle, which you will need for the later levels. You can collect tyres to help grip your car to the track better, higher top speed for the car and finally turbo acceleration. There is also wads of cash to help improve your score rather than to purchase more items like Iron Man. On the track is oil slicks and water puddles as well as rainy clouds above you that will cause your car to spin and crash off so be mindful of these whilst driving. There are arrows on the track indicating which way to go, which is useful so it helps you prepare to turn without being surprised by a sharp hairpin bend.

Slightly more trophies in that cabinet than at Arsenal…

In the game there are 24 tracks to complete, and along the way if you collect bonus letters to spell the word NINTENDO then your car gets upgraded, helping you complete the game. If alas you do get to the game over screen, you do have the opportunity to continue where you left off with 2 continues, without having lost all your upgrades and power ups, which is good rather than getting to the latter stages and then having lost everything, getting your rear handed to you on a plate in a basic car. As well, you’ve got a high enough score then you can input your initials to be stored so you can show to your friends….if they are round. Like most of the NES games that had a high score table, unfortunately as soon as the console is turned off, all your hard work and achievement is erased.

Even remote-controlled cars have “accidents” sometimes…

The graphics in the game are bold and well defined, there’s no need to guess what the green pixels outside the track are, or the power ups your collecting, or what hazard your driving over. It’s also a nice touch and somewhat rewarding after each race to receive a trophy for the place you finished in (gold for 1st place, silver for 2nd, bronze for 3rd). The map at the bottom is a good representative of the track your driving on, your location indicated by a dot, its not a vague graphic that doesn’t represent well like on other games. The music is fresh and upbeat, after a while they will linger on the mind after you have turned the console off, especially the music when you get to the game over screen that is still upbeat but with a wistful tone. The sound effects are typical racing effects, with the accelerating engines, the squealing tyres and firing the weapons.

Tell me who doesn’t write humourous 3 letter obscenities on the high score table??

When this game was released 1987, no one knew the impact that the game would have not only on the NES console, improving on existing racing games such as Mach Rider, but on the racing genre on games to come. Although not directly, it does seem like this game inspired titles such as Super Off Road and the more famous Mario Kart, with the usage of weapons to cause damage to opponents. If you have time to spare in the afternoon and looking for a game to lay that doesn’t get too involved, then RC Pro Am is certainly a title worthy of wiling that afternoon away with. It’s easy to pick up and play, it doesn’t require you to have the driving skills and reflexes of Lewis Hamilton and before you know it, an hour or two has gone in the quest to perfect your car. Although it’s disappointing that your stats and scores are not saved and that the game does not have a 2 player option, it is something that future games learnt from, where the whole map is shown on the screen rather than the car following the oversized track, but nevertheless, there’s nothing stopping you passing the controller to a friend to complete the next level. Copies of the game are plentiful so there shouldn’t be any reason not to pick up a copy from your local store, so go on, treat yourself to one of Rare’s finer retro games.

Rating – 4 out of 5

Ice Hockey NES Review

Let’s start this review with a quick video-game word association game to get the grey matter going. With each sport think of the first game that comes into your head – ready? Football (soccer) perhaps Fifa Soccer, Golf maybe Tiger Woods (insert year here) and ice hockey well NHL I’d expect. If there was a retro version of this word-association game, then for ice hockey the first game that would come to mind is Blades Of Steel made by Konami that was released in 1990. Good old Nintendo released there own version of the game two years prior to Konami’s take on the game in 1988 so is it as n-ice as Blades of Steel or should it be relegated to the sin bin?

Ice Hockey is, if you hadn’t guessed already, a video game based on the sport of the same name. The idea for those not in the know is to hit the round black puck into the goal scoring more points than the opposition. Nintendo’s version of the game is a stripped down back-to-basics affair, much like how the black box sports games such as Golf and Soccer were just stripped down basic versions of the game. When you pop this sucker in, your treated to the main menu with jaunty music, a line of ice hockey players dancing for your enjoyment with guys above shooting pucks, and the option to select 1 or 2 players. Then you get straight to the menu screen. In the PAL version there are 6 countries’ to choose from. The countries’ involved are:

USA, Sweden, Poland, Canada, USSR and Czechoslovakia, although in the NTSC version Japan is there instead of Sweden. It’s surprising that the United Kingdom isn’t included, being the ice hockey power-house that we are. Set the speed level and how long you want to play for, from 7, 10 and 15 “minutes” and your then ready to talk tactics.

For two country’s associated with the colour red, it’s a distinctive looking Luigi influence on their shirts

Your then faced with the option of selecting what type of player you want in the different positions of your team. You have 4 outfield players, and get to choose whether the player is a thin wiry player who can skate quick but can be weak, an average all-rounder player, or a heavier/stronger player yet is slower. Without rosters and real players included in these games, if you wanted big beefy mountains in your team then so be it – or if the strategy is to out play the opposition with speed then you can select that too. In fairness, none of this matters because the gameplay is what matters, and you could have the best team and best players, and still lose to the opposition who don’t know their arse from their elbow but can outplay you. After this screen, it’s time to hit the ice.

The gameplay itself plays exactly like the older black box sports games played on the NES – simplistic with minimum controls. The d-pad moves the player, the A-Button passes the puck and the B Button shoots. There is no button to tackle should the puck lay with the opposition, just charge into them mashing any button you can. There is also no option to change the player, it is whoever is closest. The goalie has a small area in which he is the king of that domain and can pass the puck. You can aim the d-pad to where your player is and press the A button to pass, and thankfully to shoot is not like other ice hockey games in which an arrow goes up and down the goal which you have to aim then shooting goes in that direction – you can press the direction and shoot. It seems hit and miss as to whether the puck is hit powerfully or not. If you hold the B -button down to shoot it makes your player “prepared” to shoot, but at a risk of getting tackled, is not always guaranteed to be powerful, nor be on target.

That Canadian flag looks like someone flipping the middle finger. Maybe at the bad gameplay

The graphics is a standard 8-bit fare, with the rink well designed, though the crowd are salmon coloured and everyone there resembling a member of the Beatles. They don’t even have the decency to be looking at the match in progress, just at each other! When you score a goal the crowd colour changes from salmon to green, but otherwise the colours are blocky and contrast well with the white of the rink, especially if you play this in the dark it may cause snow-blindness. Saying that why Poland and Canada are in green is anyone’s guess, as countries that typically are red by nature. The sound effects do get repetitive and can jar after a while, speaking of which although the music is quite upbeat and positive, it’s the only song in the game, which loops over and over and over again, now if your playing this for a 15 minute match or play this with your mates, it can get very annoying, so this is an occasion you may want to put on a Men at Work CD, or whatever music the kids listen to these days.

If there is one word that describes Ice Hockey, is average. Its very rare that you get to encounter any form of physical violence which for me is what makes Ice Hockey games good. When this happens you are relegated to the sin bin, but this happens far too rarely. The music and sound effects are not the best you’ll hear, and there are much better retro ice hockey games to play. For Ice Hockey fans, it is worth adding to your retro collection, however prices are quite expensive for PAL copies, it seems this was much more common in the US. If your not a fan of the sport it isn’t a game your going to rush out to purchase, or “snipe” like mad on eBay for a copy so look at acquiring NHL 94 on the Mega Drive instead, or enjoy the splendour of digitized voices on Blades of Steel. I’m off now to congratulate the Polish and the Canadian’s on their superb choice of moss green rather than the more obvious choice of red…

Rating – 2 out of 5

Balloon Fight NES Review

Continuing the theme of black box games on the Nintendo Entertainment System comes Balloon Fight, launched on the system in Europe in March 1987, the same month that bought us such Appetite for Destruction by Guns N Roses, and Michael Jackson released Bad, none of which I’m listening to whilst writing this.

Based on the 1982 arcade game Joust, this game as well was released in 1984 in arcades before being ported to the NES. The idea is that you are a balloon fighter, in your fancy Mario-esque coloured outfit with 2 balloons, hitting the enemies balloons in rounds or “phases”. So you cannot hit them straight on, but burst their balloon that is above them. Once this has been achieved, the enemy will float down gracefully, waiting for you to attack their dying carcass once more. Failing that, at the bottom of the screen in the middle is a lake where a fish, who for the purporses of this review we will call Gertrude, eats the enemy for you. Pretty sweet! However if you hover over Gertrude, she’ll rise from the water chomping on you, thus losing a life. Not sweet. Occasionaly lightning will strike from the clouds on screen, so be mindful of that as well. If the enemy falls into the lake, a bubble will rise, collect that for extra yummy points.

As per all good arcade games, the levels get harder and harder but provides a good challenge, like Urban Champion did once you reached level 15 onwards. More platforms, ergo more enemies appear, so you’ll need reflexes of a cat, or a toddler high on E-Numbers to progress. However every 3 rounds, just to take a break from popping balloons comes the bonus round, where you destroy clowns knocking them into man holes. If only, no, its collecting balloons – 20 will rise from the pipes and all you have to do is collect them all. Do that for a sweet-ass perfect bonus. A tip I can reccommend is when the level starts, you have approx 3 seconds before the enemies take to the skies, so try destroying them as quickly as possible as they take 1 hit to kill, whilst when in the air, you need to pop their balloon, then strike them a second time to finish them off. What makes this game great, like all games, is the co-op play. Grab a buddy and start popping those balloons, working together taking half the screen and sharing the rewards, or go for glory yourself reigning supreme and smugly over your chum, either way Ol’ Gertrude won’t mind double for lunch!

Gertrude preparing for lunch

The graphics are your standard 8 bit fair, however has nice colours, nothing to bland and pastel, with nice touches with the stars twinkling and the splash when you or the enemy hurtle into the lake. The sounds are various, and music jaunty, especially in the bonus levels. The sounds are not bad enough where you want to mute the system, with certain sound effects very much from the Atari 2600, especially when you crash into the enemy’s balloon. But hey, we’re not here for GTA style radio stations playing 80’s cheese, we’re all about the gameplay right?

But for all the pacifists out there thinking why should I part good money for this delicious slice of retro goodness, there is a 3rd option accesible on the main menu entitled Balloon Trip. Reminiscnent of the Space Zone stage of Super Mario Land 2 on the Game Boy, your man rides from right to left, collecting what else but balloons, whilst avoiding the stars that will kill you in one hit. Starting off stationary, they start moving for your inconvinience. Hover around the lake enough and Gertrude makes a somewhat unwelcome appearance. Its a welcome distraction if popping enemies isn’t your bag, and tests your reflexes well.

So all in all, Balloon Fight is a worthy addition to any retro collection for the NES. The simplistic controls and well executed gameplay ensures that you’ll have hours of fun toppling your high score, or relaxing by collecting the balloons. Nowadays carts can be rare, with scarce appearances on eBay UK and on foreign sites the PAL-B versions going for at least 12 Euros. It was released on the Wii’s Virtual Console back in 2007, but as always its reccommended to play this on the system it was designed for. I’m not opposed ot the whole VC as its a great way for new gamers to experience those retro games from the past. But if the chance becomes available to own this exquisite title then I implore you to do so, and hey, when has this UKNESBoy steered you wrong before? Well…

 

Rating – 5 out of 5

Urban Champion NES Review

Way back when, before Final Fight and Streets of Rage took the street fighting market en mass to the home, what did gamers have to satisfy their lust for violence and urge to beat seven bells out of one another? Well of course, there was Urban Champion, one of the black box launch titles on the NES, released in the UK in 1986. So how does this game fare up 26 years since its inception?

Well thrusting this bad boy into the console, your treated to the main menu, with its jovial if not short theme music, provides 2 options, game mode A where its you vs the computer, or game mode B where you and your good buddy go mano y mano against each other for fighting supremecy.

As for the game itself, the idea is not as per a conventional fighting sense of having a health bar, diminishing this to zero, but to knock your opponent to the other side of the screen, to which your treated to a spectacular backwards roll which I doubt you’d ever see in real life street fighting (as cool as this would be). After winning the round twice, on the 3rd time, you need to knock your opponent into the open sewer manhole, to win a jaunty confetti-rain to fall down. There’s no kicking, no headbutting, just pure unadulterated punching will do here. The A button does a light quick punch that deals your opponent moderate damage, with the B button a more powerful yet slower punch, knocking your opponent to the floor. Pressing Up plus a corresponding button does a head punch, whilst Down+a button deals a body punch, so variety ensues rather than just mashing the buttons as fast as possible. By pressing the up button provides a block to the head, whilst button down blocks opponent punches to the body. You have a timer of 99 seconds and energy of 200 points. By recieving a light punch, your character loses 4 stamina, whilst a heavy punch loses 10. But 200 is adequate enough for the level.

Set against a city backdrop of lit skyscrapers, the pastel colours make the whole setting look serene, rather than a bloody duel to the manhole. You will notice the same shops in the background, from the snack shop to the discount shop to the book depository, on an endless cycle, but its nice for some differences. Although the colours and graphics are pleasant and easy on the eye, its nothing spectactular, but for the mid 1980’s coming out of a video game slump, what do you expect? Saying that, you are controlling some of the least colour-co-ordinated characters in the history of gaming, with your player fashioning a stylish blue top, green trousers and purple shoes. Its almost as if the developers wanted you to fall into sewage, the colours might then match if your covered in the waste of the cityfolk. But hey, this isn’t a critique on the style of an urban fighter, but if I was going one-on-one, purple shoes wouldn’t be my choice of footwear.

So you know the aim, the controls, and the graphics, so whats the end result? Having knocked your opponent into the next screen twice, to then punch them straight into an open manhole, the cycle keeps repeating, with no designated end in sight. Once he is in the manhole, your treated to the sight of a vuluptuous blue-haired maiden upon yonder windowsill throwing confetti your way as if it were rain is a welcome way to finish the duel, but theres no romance a la Kung Fu, mores the pity.  The game starts off off easy enough, knocking the opponent into the netherworld, however getting to Round 15 and beyond, you need endurance, skill, and to ensure the police don’t catch you. When that happens, both players are taken to opposite sides of the screen, looking up to the sky non-chalontly before resuming battle. Although a nice touch, with the faces drawn well for this part, it is infuritating if your about to send your opponent downtown (well to the next screen) to then be split up and start all over again, with reduced time and stamina to do this with.

So all in all, how does this stack up with its other black box releases? Well, for the time, it was a good start to the fighting genre, and gave gamers the sense of beating 7 bells out of your opponent, but time has not done this game well. When this was released for the Wii’s Virtual console, amongst the reviews of this was that it was bland, boring with clunky controls and not worthy of a VC release. True, its not the best release on the NES, and ocmpared to today’s games, may seem slow and boring, but as with all games of its time, you have to remember this was the first of its kind on the NES, so of course it wouldn’t be perfect. As long as you take it for what it is, a basic one-on-one game with decent controls, you and your buddy will have a whale of a time. Well not a whale, more a starfish of a time. But grab a copy if you can of this, stick on the two player, and chortle as you man hurtles down a manhole, and I’m sure you won’t want to copy what you see on screen and do this outside.

Rating – 3 out of 5