Mario and Yoshi NES Review

mandybox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such, advanced options, head…spinning….

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

Rating – 2 out of 5

Tennis NES Review

tennisboxart

As the Righteous Brothers once sang, “Time can do so much”. Between the last review of The Simpsons (which can be found here) and now, a lot has happened so apologies for the lack of reviews, however there will be more regular reviews, as well time was needed to wash the horrors away from The Simpsons. But in that time between the last review and now, Nintendo have launched a curious title entitled NES Remix. Put simply, a number of NES games have been updated slightly in order to complete certain challenges for achievements, well more stamps than anything else. One of the games where challenges have to be completed is Tennis, which was launched on the NES console as a black box launch title in Europe in 1986. So how does the original game stack up, is it grandslam-worthy or does it contain more double faults than you could shake an amateur boys match against?

Tennis is a game that can’t go wrong in describing exactly what it is – it was Nintendo’s first foray into the world of Tennis and as mentioned was launched as a black box title in 1986 in Europe. If you don’t know what Tennis is or how to play it, then chances are you may stop reading this so click at the top to see other reviews on the site. When you pop the cartridge into your console, you’re treated to the same jaunty music on the introduction screen that befell other sports games that was released on the black box labels. You then get to choose between playing a Singles game or Doubles game, the level of difficulty and then you go straight to the game – no character no selection, no entering your name, no choosing what type of surface you want to play on – straight to the action. You really can’t fault games that don’t mess around with options and selections – two presses of the start button and away you go.

Wimbledon it is not - but it's as close as people got in 1986 to it

Wimbledon it is not – but it’s as close as people got in 1986 to it

So you’re dressed in duck egg blue and black shorts whilst your opponent is in a green that matches the court and can camouflage well whilst (supposedly) Mario is sitting on his high chair umpiring proceedings. Back with the launch titles, Mario sure did have a lot of jobs – a demolitions expert, a tennis umpire, a platforming superstar. When did he get time to get on with his job of going under peoples’ sinks and repairing leaky pipes or reaching around a U-bend unclogging the toilet? Well nevertheless he sits there keeping score and shouting “Out” every now and then. The rest of the graphics are simple yet bold – the standard green grass of the court and the contrasting brown around the edge of the court. Ok, there is no definition in the crowd but even now 27 years later the detail in the crowd has not improved that much!

The controls are simple – the d-pad moves your character around somehow at the speed of light with twinkletoes on his feet where us mere mortals have feet. The A button does a typical forehand/backhand shot whilst the B button does a lob. The one flaw in the control system is that you cannot aim the ball properly when making your shot – if you try pushing the d pad in the direction and pressing the A or B button to make your shot, your character flies away from the ball swinging wildly and missing the ball, conceding a point. In that respect, when you hit the ball, all you can do is just hit the ball and hope it stays on court. The music, well aside from the jaunty piece at the start of the game, there is a distinct lack of this in the game. However, it always feels wrong to have music in sports games so there is no great loss in this, and certainly you wouldn’t need your Minidisc player full of college rock whilst pretending your Boris Becker.

No faults with this game!

No faults with this game!

So all in all, black box Tennis marked a change in sports games – it was a vast improvement to the Atari 2600 tennis games but still had a lot of flaws that could have been ironed out in development, but instead other Tennis games (such as Jimmy Connors Tennis) improved upon these flaws. The controls are simplistic yet you don’t feel like you have control of the shots you are doing – only if you could lob the ball or do a normal forehand shot. In sports games, control is key – whether it’s Football or Tennis, anything that needs precision in order to score a point or a goal. Graphics wise, it does the job well for a launch title, and any game that has a two player option is a bonus in my opinion. There wasn’t a huge number of titles that were either two players or even two players on the screen at the same time, so for you and your friend to play either co-operatively or against each other is certainly a bonus. It is an average game that won’t captivate or illuminate, but won’t disappoint – it will do exactly what it says. Copies of the game are common place, in your local game shop or on your favourite websites that may or not have auction elements to it. For sports enthusiasts, it certainly is worth checking out, to see how far tennis games have come since then until now with the likes of Top Spin and celebrity endorsements. I’m off to get out of these tennis whites and hang up my racket ready for a game that has more fire power, more oomph, more…. adventure, on islands, so maybe I should keep these shorts on then…

Rating – 3 out of 5

Tiny Toon Adventures NES Review

TTABOX

It’s been known through various gaming reviewers than NES games based upon films were not the best in the library – typical examples cited are games based off of films such as Back To The Future, Jaws and anything that the glorious rainbow of LJN happened to produce in the late 80’s / very early 90’s. Video games based off of TV shows on the other hand, well unfortunately it is luck of the draw. Take Airwolf for instance, an earlier review here gave it an average 3 out of 5, or you could be fortunate enough to play American Gladiators or Win Lose or Draw and have a whale of a time. The third side of the coin if ever there was one would be to play something as moribund as The Simpsons. So based on another cartoon that debuted in 1990, we have Tiny Toon Adventures featuring the characters off the same show. So could this be another Simpsons piece of dirge, or could the rainbow around the cover be nicer than anything LJN had to offer?

Remind you of a game much? That uses frog suits? Mario 3??

Remind you of a game much? That uses frog suits? Mario 3??

Tiny Toon Adventures is a platform game which “borrows” or utilises a number of features that was prominent in Super Mario 3, when you play the game it will feel like Mario 3 just in the Tiny Toon environment. It was in fact the very first Tiny Toons game released for any home console, so if you’re going to base your first game on anything it’s certainly not a bad decision to base the game on one of the most popular games on the console, if not ever.  So when you turn on the game, you see the map to which there are 6 worlds, which as in all games you start from World 1. The worlds are The Hills, The Wetlands, The Trees, Downtown, Wackyland and Montana Max’s Mansion. As well, you meet Shirley who advises you that you need to choose a partner, from Plucky Duck Dizzy Devil or Furball. Although it’s not clear what powers they possess at this stage and what their for, pick a character and then away we go.

Mmm...pork chop...

Mmm…pork chop…

The idea is to complete each level going from left to right as per most platforming games, stomping on the enemy’s head and collecting not coins, but carrots on each stage. Collect 30 of them and you can exchange them with Hampton at a certain point in the level extra lives, and believe me your going to need them. When you encounter enemies it’s one hit kill – no health bar as such like in Megaman to sap your life.  You can collect a heart, which is not currency as per Castlevania but should you have collected a heart and you get touched by an enemy, you don’t die but the next touch will kill you. It is easy enough to collect carrots on each level so you shouldn’t have any issues in getting an extra life however you may feel your repeating the same stage again when you inevitably die and need to get your extra lives back. During the level, if you encounter a star ball, you then turn into your partner – no not Babs but the character you selected before the level started. Depending on the character you selected, they each have their own unique abilities. Plucky Duck can fly albeit for a short amount of time, Dizzy can spin attack through enemies and walls, and finally Furball can climb up vertical walls and slowly go down them. The only way to turn back into Buster is to collect another star ball, so get acquainted with your partner.

Your ideal Valentine's Day Date?

Your ideal Valentine’s Day Date?

The controls are of the standard platforming fare, the d pad moves Buster, A button jumps and the B button seems to make your character speed up, like in Super Mario Brothers – though that could be my imagination or it did seem in fact that Buster did move faster. The controls are solid enough and responsive however when you go hurtling into an enemy without having collected a heart and knowing your going to lose a life, it can be quite frustrating however this is where you need to demonstrate your reflexes as quick as a mongoose being shot up the ass with a slingshot. The music, well most people would know the Tiny Toons music and able to hum a few bars from it. The game recreates the theme music faithfully, however unlike other games that use the music from the TV or film it’s based on, the same theme repeats over and over and over again throughout the game. If you liked the theme, take my advice and after the first couple of times then mute it, put on your iPod or CD player and do not listen to this because it will drive you insane. It is a shame because the sound effects are not bad either – again a typical platforming fare with the jumps in the right places and when you get killed a short piece of music. If it wasn’t for the same loop of music it would be worth keeping the sound on just for the sound effects alone, but alas they had to ruin a good thing.

So all in all, Tiny Toon Adventures is not a game that will be an exciting addition to your collection, it’s an average platforming game that isn’t the most difficult game, however where the real challenge lies is ensures you don’t fall asleep and that you remain challenged intellectually. The game differs no more than the plethora of platforming games that graced the NES console, however if you are a fan of the classic animation it certainly is one to collect. It differs no more than to say Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Blowout, and if you want a perfect example of a platforming game done well, then the obvious choices would be something like Metroid or the classic Mario 3. Copies of the game can be found at all good retro game stores and on the internet auction site of your choosing, so do check it out as the game certainly isn’t bad, but unless your eating a ghost pepper whilst playing this, it verges on the beige and the average. If it was a colour it would be grey – very uninspiring, bereft of personality, redeemed only by the characters from whence it originated from. In today’s society who wants that, to be grey and bland? Certainly not me…

 

 

Rating – 3 out of 5

Dr. Mario NES Review

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Rating – 5 out of 5