Hogan’s Alley NES Review

halleybox

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

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

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

Again, difference between good vs evil

Again, difference between good vs evil

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

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

Hogan’s Alley A

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

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Hogan’s Alley B

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

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Trick Shot

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

Game Mode C

Game Mode C

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

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

Rating – 5 out of 5

Ice Climber NES Review

ICBoxArt

It seems as though spring is finally rearing itself and with that we wave goodbye to dark mornings, cold blustery winds and the daily thought of snow, to then give a hearty handshake and a quintessentially British cheerio to winter. It therefore may be a peculiar time to focus a review on something that encompasses all that is associated with winter, but they say in life in order to move forward you have to look back – or in this instance trying not to look down in order to move upwards, so what better way of doing this than with the help of the wonderfully named Popo and Nana (no, not your grandma who sucks on Werthers Originals and always smells like the contents of a cat’s litter tray) and their mighty mallet. So does this game make you want to drink luxurious warm hot chocolate or eat yellow snow?

13 is unlucky for some, hope it isn't for you

13 is unlucky for some, hope it isn’t for you

Ice Climber is a black box NES game released in Europe in September 1986, that is a vertical platforming game where you control Popo in his gorgeous blue parka jacket and climb the mountain on 8 different platforms getting to the top. Standing between you and the top of the mountain are ice blocks that you need to smash with your head Mario-style, jumping onto the next platform and using your mallet to whack seven bells out of ice monsters and birds that attack you. When you get past the 8th platform you get to the bonus stage, where for extra points you collect the vegetables set on the level, and if you reach the top quick enough you meet the overhead condor who has a passion for stealing vegetables so try to jump and hang on to the mighty condor for extra points.

So when you pop in the game and turn the game on you get three options to pick from – whether to start the game with one player (starting as Popo) or two players (where both Popo and Nana are on screen – Nana in her lovely pink parka) and curiously a early level select option. The game has 32 mountains for you to ascend, so if your feeling brave and want to start on level 16, or even just curious to see what the final level is about then this is a good opportunity to do so. So you start the level, you see the condor take the vegetable up the mountain and then away you go. Every level is the same – climbing up the mountain bashing the ice blocks with your head and jumping up accordingly. Some blocks cannot be broken and some blocks act like travelators so you’ll have to use your retro gaming cunning and reflexes of a spider that’s ate a mouldy piece of bread and is feeling the effects of it. When you complete the platforms as mentioned earlier, your given 40 seconds to complete the bonus stage so collect as many vegetables as possible, and reach the top jumping up reaching the condor. The level ends should you do this, or you run out of time, or you fall down past an icy platform. The score for the level takes into account whether or not you met the condor, the number of vegetables you collected, enemies hit and the blocks broken. As per most of the black box games there isn’t a story to complete it’s just a question of gaining the highest score. Yet again like the other games of the time, there is no battery back up so it’s not as if the score gets saved, all you need to do is write it down on a piece of paper or take a screenshot with your camera to prove you are the manliest at the game, or womanliest (if that is a word).

Now remember to eat your vegetables kids - don't they look delicious?

Now remember to eat your vegetables kids – don’t they look delicious?

The controls are very simple – the d pad moves your character left and right, you jump the character with the A button and whack the enemies with B – nothing more complicated then that. A slight issue is that when you jump and move, the control feels very rigid and doesn’t feel like your jumping fluidly. It doesn’t matter how hard you press the d pad left or right you don’t move that far at all, and this gets more infuriating in later levels when the platforms get shorter and move across the screen quicker. The music is simplistic yet effective, and the sound effects do their job properly – you won’t need to grab your record player and suitable LP’s so by all means leave the music on whilst you play. Without climbing a mountain myself I cannot say if the sounds are realistic when I jump on top of a icy platform or whack birds out the air, but they serve the game well.

YOU ARE WINNER!

YOU ARE WINNER!

So all in all, this game is certainly  a worthy launch title (which it was for the NES console in the US) and plays like a good arcade game, something that would be worth pumping in nickles and dimes, or 20ps here in the UK to play and top the high score set by a humourist with a dirty 3 lettered name on the high score. The characters have had a longevity and appeal thanks to the Super Smash Bros series as they are playable characters, and a testament of how good the game is shows in the rereleases on the Virtual Console and Game Boy Advance to name but a few. The minor criticisms of the game is the stiff control when jumping and the repetitiveness of the levels in collecting vegetables at the end and jumping onto the next platform, but aside from that, take it for what it is – a decent arcade-style vertical platform game and eat those vegetables like never before. Not that the subliminal stuff works for me though I am hankering to raid a greengrocers…

Rating – 4 out of 5

Excitebike NES Review

excitebikebox

This review is dedicated to @Tracker_TD who has the honour of becoming my 1000th follower on Twitter. Follow me here, but thank you so much to everyone of my followers, you all mean the world to me! Just some background, to celebrate the 1000th follower whoever it was they got the choice of NES game to review. Lucky old Liam chose Excitebike so this is for him – thank you!

Excitebike is a motocross racing game, which features the distinctive black box design on the cover that was used in the early titles, and Excitebike is no exception, as well it was one of the launch titles of the console in Europe back in 1986.  The idea is that your racing either on your own or against competitors, in order to complete the track within a time period. If you finish within the top 3 based on your time, you progress to the next track and carry on through the game.  The game was originally released in Japan for the Famicom system in 1984, and made use of the Famicom Data Recorder, which was used to record user-created tracks (which will be discussed later) but as this was a Japanese-only accessory, this featured was not utilised in the American and European release of the game.

You know with a thumbs up, everything will be A-OK

You know with a thumbs up, everything will be A-OK

So when you turn on the game, your presented with a simple yet very blue title screen to which you can choose from 3 options. Selection A is where your rider is racing against the clock on his own. Selection B is where your rider is still trying to beat the time set but there are other riders on screen – you start off with 3 others but as the level progresses they are everywhere, not intentionally causing a nuisance but nevertheless not a good advert for drinking and riding. Finally, there is a Design section, where users can create their own custom made tracks to race on. As mentioned briefly earlier, in Japan this feature was utilised with the Famicom Disk System, a saving device that used normal audio cassettes and worked in the same way that the C64 had with its Datassette.  It was even stated in the manual that the save and load features of the Design aspect were programmed in for “potential product developments”. oo-er indeed, however it’s nice to create your own tracks even if you cannot save these for your friends to see. With 19 different parts of scenery and track to include in your laps, and up to 9 laps,you could certainly make it as simple or as difficult for your friends to compete on. It is a shame however there is no multiplayer option on the game, but trying to beat the times of your friends is good incentive enough.

So controlling your motorcycle couldn’t be simpler – the A button accelerates your bike, and the B button, well that accelerates faster which you might think is the obvious button to use however, it comes at a price. At the bottom of the screen is a Temp bar, for temperature (in case those of you were clever enough to think it meant temporary) and when should that bar fill up, you temporarily stop at the side of the track waiting for your engine to cool down, so when your racing do keep an eye on that – if it gets too high then release the accelerator for a bit or drive over the right arrows that are on the ground, to reduce the temperature of the bike. The up and down d-pad moves your bike between the 4 lanes on screen, and the left and right d-pad button will change the angle of your bike both on the ground and in mid-air, allowing you to look cool and do wheelies throughout the course. If you are in mid-air and land at an unnatural angle, then you’ll bounce on the ground and go to the edge of the screen – this happens if you crash into another rider in Selection B.

Can I have a P please Bob? All you get is green grass from it

Can I have a P please Bob? All you get is green grass from it

The music and sound effects are impressive for a game released in the console’s infancy, with the music upbeat and setting a positive mood for the upcoming races. Although there is no music when racing, this is replaced with impressive sound effects ranging from the start of the race building up to its climatic start, to the sound of the engine when racing and when you overheat a shrill noise repeats. It’s certainly a game where you don’t need to mute the sound and put on the latest offerings from whatever band or artiste the youth of today listen to, the music and sound effects set the game well and serve as a nice addition and get you in the mood to race. The graphics are clear and bright, although it does like at times in the course be this dirt or someone vomiting, perhaps a scared rider afraid of you beating him in the race, is a somewhat putrid olive colour, but nevertheless the track stands out well against the green background and your character looks well drawn. It’s also nice to see a cameraman in the background filming the race giving an ever more illusion that the race is being shown on TV, similarly to the cameraman that shows in Pro Wrestling. Maybe at the time Nintendo liked the idea of realism and having cameraman filming sports events?

Is not quite A WINNER IS YOU but it's good enough

Is not quite A WINNER IS YOU but it’s good enough

Excitebike is a game worthy enough to be in anyone’s collection, and is a fine launch title for the console. Although the concept of motocross games isn’t a usual choice for game developers, the fact that Nintendo released this (along with Mach Rider) shows there was demand for these types of games. As a result of this, and the amount of care and attention given to the game, if you have a spare 15-minutes and don;t want a game too involved, Excitebike is certainly one to pop in and play. PAL copies of the game are plentiful and at a decent price, so even if you don’t own many black box games aside from the obvious of Super Mario Bros, be sure to check this title out. It won’t have anything humourous like WINNER IS YOU, but it’s nice completing the tracks using your skill within the alloted time. This version of the game has been made on to future consoles such as the Gameboy Advance, within Animal Crossing on Gamecube and as a Virtual Console download but as always, play the game on the original console, put on your leathers and get your helmet on and experience Excitebike in its true splendour. I for one am of to try and get the oil slicks out the carpet and paint the bike a pinker shade of red…

Rating – 4 out of 5

Kung Fu NES Review

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

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

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

A cheaper alternative for facial plastic surgery

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

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

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

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

Rating – 5 out of 5

 

Pro Wrestling NES Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos to whoever put pink and green into a wrestling ring

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

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

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

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

Rating – 4 out of 5

Clu Clu Land NES Review

When you think of games being under the sea, you may think of such timeless classics as Jaws or the underwater stages from Super Mario Bros, but one of the more unusual games that was released based underwater was Clu Clu Land. Although there isn’t a blue pixellated drop of water in sight, and no sailing boats full of tanned tourists, how does this game released 25 years ago fare up today? Is it ships ahoy to golden treasure or does it deserve to buried deep in Davy Jones’ locker?

Clu Clu Land, or Kuru Kuru Land as it could of been named in Japan (Kuru meaning to go “around”, so literally could have meant around-and-around Land but we won’t confuse matters here) is a game in which you control Bubbles who looks quite cute and adorable, as much as once can when you look like a tomato with a propeller at its rear. The aim of the game is to swim in a square-type level uncovering gold treasure by swimming over them, whilst running away and destroying the 2 enemies on the screen and not falling into the black hole that is ever present on the screen.. There is a certain target of coins to uncover, which is displayed on the top left of the screen. Collect the target and you move onto the next level, where the levels get faster and harder.

So how on earth do you move around? Well pressing the corresponding d-pad button moves Bubbles in the direction, and when she turns, she holds onto the fried eggs on the screen, I mean “poles”. If  you hold the button down, she will keep spinning around and around – hence Kuru Kuru ergo Clu Clu Land. It’s always nice knowing how titles of games come around isn’t it? Anyway, Bubbles will spin on these poles until you release the button so off she swims. Pressing the A or B button launches her sole attack – a sonic wave that turns the enemies into a ball that you can push off the screen for extra points. If you get touched by the enemies, or fall down the holes then you lose a life. You can also lose a life if you run out of time, with the time remaining being displayed on the top of the screen Like most of the black box games there isn’t an end game screen but getting a high score. Once again though a drawback is that when you turn the console off the high score doesn’t save, so take a photo as proof of your million point score. Extra points are on offer for collecting the various on screen bonuses similar to Pac-man to help bump up your score.

Pucker up and kiss the screen!

When you run over a part of the level to uncover a coin (in later levels you need to run over the same spot twice to uncover the gold) it remains on the screen, so it’s easy to see the patterns being displayed on the screen and see where you need to aim for to complete the pattern and complete the level. If you look carefully and know your Nintendo games, you may recognise the gold treasure as the rupee coins from The Legend of Zelda, which is a nice tip-of-the-hat to this game. However there are some negatives to the game, one of them being that Bubbles moves rather quickly, so when your spinning around and around a pole or whizzing along, you need to have fantastic reflexes, otherwise its somewhat easy to lose your life. You do get 5 lives but they do run down quickly with black holes and the enemies, and when you first start the game the controls do take some getting used to, its hard controlling Bubbles and making her go the direction you want.

In terms of graphics, the colours are bright and bold with rupees from Zelda and poles that look suspiciously like fried eggs and menacing looking sea urchins skulking their way across the screen. Each level the colours change, so it doesn’t feel like Urban Champion where the same pastel colours were regurgitated so it didn’t feel different between levels.  The music is jaunty and the sound effects do sound great, when you fire your sonic wave and uncovering the coins. Typically 8-bit in style the sounds are not annoying enough where you would play this game with the sound off. The controls, well they’re good, but not great. Although simple, the fact that Bubbles darts over the screen and when your turning you collide directly with the enemy, you need to get to grips with the controls quickly otherwise you won’t get far in this game.

Not as photogenic as Pikachu but beggars can’t be choosers

Overall, although Bubbles won’t go down in gaming history as the cutest video game character, Clu Clu Land is a cute game, and a black box game worthy of being in any collection. The game had somewhat of a legacy, with the sequel being an unlockable game on Animal Crossing, with the imaginatively titled Clu Clu Land D, a trophy of Bubbles appearing in Super Smash Brothers Melee, and being in a couple of WarioWare games. Admittedly the controls do take some getting used to, and even then when you master the controls, its not the easiest game and Bubbles is a somewhat fiery character. Copies are available in the wild, it isn’t cheap but when we’re black box games cheap, aside from Golf?  This was released on the Virtual Console for the Wii back in 2009 however the best way to play this as always is sticking the original NES cart into your machine, grabbing the controller and whatever beverage is close to hand (beer, Cherry Coke, peppermint tea) and playing it how Nintendo intended, so as autumn approaches, why don’t you imagine your under the sea collecting coins, I hear its wetter down where its better, take it from me…

Rating – 3 out of 5

Slalom NES Review

If you remember from the last review, in which souls were sacrificed just to get through to the other side, we discussed how the game was made by the same folks who brought us Goldeneye and Banjo Kazooie – Rare. Maybe it is with a sense of British pride and biased from myself that they made some great stuff, however  they also made some absolute spawn of camel’s discharge, a shining example of this being  “Anticipation”. *Shudder*  But where did it all begin for Rare, was there a big-bang type event or a spin-the-bottle evening with blue-sky paradigm-shifting business-waffle speak ideas? Well, in the UK at least back in October 1987 here it is where it all began, with this game – Slalom for the NES. So nearly 25 years on, how does this game developed by Tim and Chris Stamper fare up, will it leave you wanting to book your next holiday in Aspen or leave you feeling “piste” off?

Slalom is a skiing game in which the character who looks suspiciously like a cooked turkey on the box and in the game, has to ski his way down 3 different types of slopes in varying increasing difficulty, skiing past flags, dodging mounds in the snow and other seemingly suicidal middle-class pretentious skiiers and sledders who really can’t ski but try to keep up with Joneses eating their Gruyere sipping Cabernet Sauvignon in their wooden lodges…ahem sorry about that… The course has to be completed within a certain time limit, to which you progress to the next level so your skiier has to dodge these obstacles or face the risk of losing time and not completing the course, which is pretty much all there is to the game. When you start the game you get the choice of 1 or 2 players, before then choosing the slope you wish to start from – Snowy Hill, Steep Peak or Mount Nasty, names that wouldn’t seem out of place in adult films or WWE characters. Snowy Hill is the beginner course, Steep Peak intermediate and Mount Nasty living up to its title. For veterans of the game,  it is a nice feature that you don’t always have to start from the very beginning and can choose which course to start from.

It’s hard to know why his head and his arse have swapped positions

As the levels progress, aside from dodging the obstacles on the run, the player needs to ski in between the flags like a slalom (hence the name of the title), which if you miss these flags will slow your speed down. Your speedometer is in the top left hand corner, the time remaining in the top right, and just below that a progress bar showing how far you’ve skiied and what is remaining. The game screen is nice and big, and you get to see what is coming in front of you, giving you time to dodge the obstacles. On later levels, when your hurtling down at 180km/h, your reaction times need to be like that of a raccoon eating left-over ice cream, as those obstacles come thick and fast with any hint of hesitation or missing the flags, will make you crash or slow your player down, costing valuable time.

Going off-piste is never as fun as it seems, leaving you with skids in more than just the course title…

The controls are fluid and responsive, holding up on the d-pad will make your skiier travel faster, holding down slows him down, left and right makes him turn the respective ways and the A/B button causes him to jump. It is written that you can do tricks when your character is in the air, however one of the disadvantages of buying just cartridges and not manuals for games is not knowing the full set of controls. The graphics are reminiscent of a VGA-hue from the 1980’s on PC’s, with purples and cyan’s all over the palette. There are some nice touches with the mountains looming in the background and the snow-capped green forests in the distance, it makes you feel like you are lost in the Alps skiing your way down. The music is very catchy and is a nice soundtrack for your run, lesser games and companies would have just had no sound and bad sound effects, but David Wise did a fantastic job with the music on the game which after a while you’ll be humming long after you’ve turned the console off.

Would rather eat a Swiss Roll than a Swiss tree

With 24 levels in total, and the difficulty ratched up with each run you complete, Slalom is a fine game to add to your collection. For their first game, Rare did a sterling job, and is a simple yet fun game. It is one of those games that if you had a spare 15 minutes before going out socialising, then its one of the lesser known titles to play. One of the downsides is that when the game is over, your time is displayed and saved as a high score, however with no memory pak as soon as the console is turned off, so do the scores, so unless you write this down on a scrap of paper or go through the lengths of recording your best runs on a VHS/DVD then you won’t remember your best times. With the 2 player option as well its a nice addition, and a worthy title in the black box series, even if it s unfortuanate that the skiier constantly has his derriere protruding on screen. Copies are rare on eBay UK however always check your local retro shops for this, you never know where one may lurk in the wild. All this talk of skiiing is making me pine for hot cocoa and looking up trips to the Val D’Isere wearing yellow nylon shellsuits dodging the Joneses on a mountain peak somewhere…

Rating – 4 out of 5

Wild Gunman NES Review

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, and for me this one is one of the finest. Released in Europe in February 1988, a full 4 years after Japan, what did Japan love for those 4 years that we missed out on?

Well, as the name suggests, this game is set in the Wild West, and your character takes part in a showdown seemingly in the middle of the desert, with cactus and an overgrown termite hill or dirt mount for company. Although you never get to see your character, it seems natural to think of yourself as somewhat of a Clint Eastwood type character, clearing the West of the varmints that pollute the place.  It pays to have imagination you see, otherwise I could imagine the character is a dumpy Mario-type character like from the Golf game.

So firing up this game, your treated as per most of the black box games on the NES with a jaunty though short opening music, before being greeted with 3 options. Game A, intriguingly called 1 Outlaw, Game B that even more mysteriously is called 2 Outlaws, and finally Game C, with just the word “Gang”. Now that final option wouldn’t be out of place if the game was released today and was set in certain parts of the UK but for a Wild West game sounds pretty cool, unless the gang was Kool and the Gang, or Gary Glitters “gang” *gulp*

It’s hard to shoot someone who has a poncho to die for

So you choose your option, and this is where the fun begins. No controllers needed, just you, your gun, your cat-like reflexes and your Nintendo. After suitably jaunty yet slow music, your first outlaw meanders across the screen. You’ll notice you have a time on the top right hand corner, the time in which you have to shoot the enemy. As with all good games it starts off at an easier time, but gets progressively quicker. Don’t shoot until he shouts fire, otherwise you lose a life and the screen turns purplish, with your opponent running off shouting “foul”. In this game you get 3 lives, before its game over. The other instance of you losing a life is if your too slow in firing your gun, when your time goes beyond the gunman’s time. So as long as your quick on your reflexes, youll progress to the next level – how simple is that? A nice touch is when you lose a life, your treated to a rendition of Chopin’s Funeral March. Never forget, with these games its the little touches that go the extra mile. An interesting fact as well is that when the enemy shouts Fire, this was the first instance of voices in a NES game, which is impressive for the technology at the time, and something that is taken for granted these days with today’s games.

Game Mode A

Game B – 2 Outlaws, does exactly what it says. Instead of having one varmint you get double the trouble to defeat within the allotted time period. A hint, that was pointed out in video reviews, is to shoot the guy with the lower amount of time first before shooting the second guy, though you may have only 0.x seconds between each character. It’s certainly more of a challenge, but for those playing it who think they’re right sharpshooters and laugh in the face of 2 flying ducks, it certainly provides a challenge. Again, it starts off with a more than manageable time to shoot both in, gradually getting quicker and quicker. Same rules apply, 3 lives and thats it.

Finally, we have the intriguing Game C – Gang. Here, you have 15 bullets, and in waves, shoot the enemies in a setting not in the middle of a desert, but at a saloon. Its a good twist, and nice to have a change in scenery. Be warned though, you need to bring your “A” game to tackle this mode, its unforgiving and without a timer running down, you need to be a dead -eyed dick more than ever before. If you miss a target, you don’t forfeit the round, just lose a bullet so use sparingly, theres more targets than you realise.

The graphics are cartoony and colourful, and give a damn-good representation of the lawless Wild West that your helping to clean up. The scowls on the enemies faces when your shot, the ram’s head above the saloon on mode C, the scenery and the detail in the different enemies rather than them looking the same makes you feel like your cleaning a whole town rather than the same face over and over again. The music is jovial and upbeat, well aside from Chopin and his maudlin Funeral March, and sets the scene of the game nicely. Control wise, all you need is your gun, and if you don’t know how to shoot a gun maybe it’s worth checking out Barbie on the NES.

So all in all, its a darn good rootin-tooting ol’ shooter, making good of the light gun, or zapper, or however you call your funky grey (or sometimes orange) gun. The only downside is the lack of a 2 player option, but to try and topple your friend’s score is just enough incentive for a mate to try and compete but alas the score doesn’t save on the cartridge so you’ll lose your score when you turn your console off. If your looking for escapism, and the chance to reenact Dirty Harry and mutter that famous quote, something about being lucky then this is a great game to add to your collection. Carts are still out there in the great retro shops of the UK, with eBay having more PAL-B carts, so if you got your zapper to hand and tire of ducks and dastardly dogs, give this a whirl and get practicing with your Dirty Harry impression. I mean, how can you go wrong with a game that’s featured on Back to the Future 2?

Rating – 4 out of 5