Pinball NES Review

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

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

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

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

Top screen aquatic fun

Top screen aquatic fun

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

Bottom screen 7-numbered casino fun!

Bottom screen 7-numbered casino fun!

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

Close to all numbers orange but no cigar

Close to all numbers orange but no cigar

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

Rating – 2 out of 5

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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

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

Lemmings NES Review

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

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

Climber (to climb things…obviously…)

Floater (to float from great heights without dying)

Bomber (to destroy landscapes and blow itself up)

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

Builder (to build a staircase)

Basher (to bash into walls)

Miner (to dig diagonally)

Digger (to dig downwards)

How do you transfer these colours to the NES?

How do you transfer these colours to the NES?

Like this - swathes of blood mud and grey steel

Like this – swathes of blood mud and grey steel

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

3 minutes - can you figure it out?

3 minutes – can you figure it out?

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

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

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

Seems a rather large horse has been round these parts…

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

Rating – 3 out of 5

Burai Fighter NES Review

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There are certain games that are played, where you might have a knife as a weapon or a gun, and just wish that during the game you could improve the gun, making it more powerful or changing the bullets of the gun. Well, game designers clearly thought the same, so rather than keeping the player subjected to the same gun through (even though the monsters become more powerful), there were games where using power ups in game, it allowed you to make your gun more powerful or even change it completely.  Obvious examples of this are Contra and Ghouls and Ghosts, but what if this idea was made for a game set in space? With jet packs and enemies far beyond the perimeters of Earth, a Contra in Space kind of game? There was a game like that released in 1990 by the name of Burai Fighter, so is it any good? Let’s check it out!

Burai Fighter is a side scrolling game as mentioned previously similar to Contra, where the idea is to move your character, who being in space would naturally have jetpacks – and shoot everything inside. Nothing more complicated then that. The story goes that there are seven bases of Burai, being clever clogs cyborgs and you have to destroy it – of course, and here was me thinking you might have to save the bases. Well in another game I suppose you could. So you pop the game in turn it on and are greeted with two options – new game or password. New game is pretty self explanatory, and the password system is quite handy for when you complete a level your giving a four character password. No 30 digits including capital letters, little letters and symbols no just 4 characters, which when entered you can progress with the game without having to keep the NES on due to the lack of a save state. So pick the difficulty from Eagle, Albatross and Ace which is a novel touch from easy, medium or difficult, and then away you go.

Why can't all passwords wbe as simple as this?

Why can’t all passwords wbe as simple as this?

The idea is to go from left to right on the stage destroying everything in sight, although sometimes you do have to go downwards rather than simply to the right. You start off with a weak laser that takes several bullets to kill enemies, but along the way you’ll notice that there are power ups waiting for you to collect – L which improves your laser, R which stands for ring, and M is for missile (no not murder). You can’t change weapons without collecting the relevant lettered power up, however the power up does come along quite frequently so if you didn’t like using the missiles than it’s easy to use the rings again or just the normal laser. There are also S power ups to collect though and also what looks like red drops, which when collected to a certain level you can unleash a devastating super bomb on the screen destroying whatever is on there. At the end of the stage is a mini-boss which generally aren’t too difficult as long as you got your wits about you and have the reflexes of a crocodile chewing a heron in the middle of summer.

The purple and green colours are subtle, yet illuminating

The purple and green colours are subtle, yet illuminating

The controls of the game are quite simple, you use your d-pad to move the character in any of the 8 different directions available to you and use the A button to shoot your weapon whilst B will release the supercharged attack should you have sufficient power to do this. What you have to be careful of is when you move your character, the direction that the gun is pointed at will change direction to. So if your facing right and shooting, then you go left to run away from enemies chasing you, you cannot move back with left and still have your gun pointing run – the gun changes direction which can get annoying. This happens whichever direction your character goes in. There is a solution – if you hold the A button down which makes the gun fire rapidly and move your character, it “locks” that direction which is more useful, especially if you want to scatter your bullets everywhere. The graphics are bright purples and greens which although aren’t the most tasteful of palettes, they do their job. Sometimes it can be quite confusing knowing what is the background that will block you, and what will let you pass over it with no difficulty, it’s more a case of trial and error. The music sounds quite funky and upbeat, it sounds well on the 8 bit console and the sound effects, well they do their job, making nice noises when you collect power ups or shooting the gun, so you might find yourself rocking out with the music on the game without needing to reach for the mute button.

They say in space no one can hear you scream - man up!

They say in space no one can hear you scream – man up!

If you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes and not a lot else to do, then Burai Fighter is certainly a game worthy of your limited time. It’s nice to occasionally blow everything up on screen and collect power ups and not have to think of puzzles and how to escape certain rooms or worry about slow gameplay. It is only 1 player though which is disappointing as it would be even better with 2 players on screen. As well what can be annoying is what was mentioned earlier in regards to your gun pointing in the direction your facing in – if your running away and need to turn and shoot then you’d better have really good reactions otherwise you’ll get killed. It’s a one hit kill for you, though the later in the level you get you do start half way through or just before the boss battle – failing that you’ll start at the beginning of the level and have to work through it again having lost your power ups.  Copies of the game go for peanuts on all your favourite auction sites so if your bored and you’ve completed Contra for like the millionth time without using the Konami code, then pick this title up for your collection and give it a whirl.

Rating – 4 out of 5

 

Marble Madness NES Review

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It’s always difficult in reviewing games that have personal meaning to the reviewer – it may be the fact it was the first game you ever played, or the game you played with your best pal when you pinkie swore you’d be friends forever and start braiding each other’s hair before the midnight pillow fight. Well for myself, gladly it was the first reason rather than the second reason, though I can’t deny it is tempting to braid and style my hair. Although in the vague recollections of some long gone psyche the image of Mario and the bright blue sky is etched, the first game I ever played properly was Marble Madness, originally in arcade from 1984 but ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System later on in the 80’s. So taking off the rose-tinted glasses how does the game fare up today, will it drive you to madness or fine as Italian marble?

Never can quite fit my whole name on these games - should just be NESBOY

Never can quite fit my whole name on these games – should just be NESBOY

Marble Madness can be described as a platform game of sorts, in which the player controls a marble around courses and levels in order to get to the finish line before the time runs out. And that’s it really, there’s no end bosses to squish by rolling over them just you and your reflexes as quick as a feral cat on heat finding some tail. There are certain enemies as such that will do everything possible to delay your progress through the level, however what will impede your progress is the physicalities and dynamics of the level starting with ramps or hammers that attack you, through to nuclear green liquid that will melt the marble on its way to the end of the level.

Those numbers are the meanings of life...or are they?...

Those numbers are the meanings of life…or are they?…

So you start the game up, and your presented with the option to play with 1 player, or if you’ve got your buddy with you then you can play 2 player. The beauty of the 2 player option is that unlike other games on the console which has 2 player features but you have to take it in turns doing a level each, in Marble Madness you play simultaneously together on the same screen. If one player reaches the next portion of the screen before the other, than the losing marble is magically teleported to where the winning marble is located, however they are deducted 5 seconds from their time. The winner of the race gets an additional 5 seconds added onto the start of the next level, so it is worth going mano y mano with your compadre for bragging rights. However when you start the game you get to choose your name, upto 6 characters so be creative with the obscenities you write! Then choose the control type, be this at a 90 degree control method or 45 degree method, to which after that away you go on level 1. With 6 levels of ever-increasing difficulty, it certainly is a game where the more you play, the easier you’ll race through the levels and enjoy it the more you play it.

If only real life marbles were as fun

If only real life marbles were as fun

The controls for the game are very simple, and very fluid at that. All that is required is the d-pad to move the marble through the level. As mentioned previously after you’ve chosen your name you can choose the control type – 90 or 45 degrees. The main difference is with 90 degrees the marble will go in the direction of the d-pad, so if you press down the marble goes down, left and right etc. With 45 degrees pressing down makes the marble go diagonal down-left, pressing right makes it go down, so depending on how big a challenge you like, I would recommend playing the game at a 90 degree control setting. The graphics are bold and colourful, especially on a later level entitled Silly which features polka dots and a wacky colour palette. It certainly is a treat for the eyes, and for the ears it’s nothing but fresh and funky all the way in all its 8 bit glory, so no need to put on that Celine Dion album just yet.

So all in all, is Marble Madness a worthy first game memory? Is it worth adding to the collection? Well to answer both questions, yes and definitely yes. The gameplay is smooth and simple, yet later on in the game gets challenging so lots of practice is required. What is good is that it doesn’t take long to get to the later levels, so although there is no password system to reach the later levels, by persevering you’ll certainly go far and complete the game. Even if you don’t have hours to spend playing a game, if you got a spare 15 or so minutes then do pick up this gem of a title, and with the 2 player option as well there’s no need for your friend to sit there watching enviously. Copies of the game are in plentiful supply on all good auction websites so do check out this title and add it to your collection, you must be suffering from “madness” not to…

Rating – 4 out of 5

Kickle Cubicle Review

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

In-game screen

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

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

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

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

Never dismiss the flower power movement

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

Rating – 4 out of 5

Kung Fu NES Review

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

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

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

A cheaper alternative for facial plastic surgery

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

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

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

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

Rating – 5 out of 5

 

Airwolf NES Review

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

Just call me Goose! Actually…don’t

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

Night time reconnisance missions have never felt so romantic

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

Rating – 3 out of 5

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