Low G Man NES Review

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It is not the first time this has been said about the NES system, but if there is one type of game that the NES was famous for was it’s platform games. It divides in to two different categories, the “normal” platforming games and the futuristic platforming games, neither of which is more beneficial than the other. At the end of the day, as long as a game is done well, with tight controls, half decent graphics and most of all very decent gameplay then it can be set in the past like Time Lord, or set in the future. So with today’s game, what category do you think this game falls into? You know it’s going to be awesome where on the box it proudly displays a password feature (akin to MegaMan being proud on the box of it’s state-of-the-art graphics), so how does Low G Man game fare in today’s gaming?

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Low G Man, or the full title as Low G Man: The Low Gravity Man is an action-platforming game set in the future, in which the idea of the game is to go from one side of the stage to the other, and defeating a mini boss at the end of each level to progress. Nothing too complicated but then you don’t need a complicated premise for the game to be good. The plot of the game again is nothing too crazy or unique – aliens take over a futuristic robotic planet and it is your job to save the world. What is unique to this game is that as soon as you turn the game on you’re immediately treated to the plot of the game – no developer logos and no straight to main menu like those other dastardly games. Thankfully you can press start to skip the intro scenes and go straight to the main menu, where you can start the game or enter a password. which is weird in that vowels and certain letters do not show – whether this is to stop rather “adult” passwords being used and spelling naughty words it is unknown however at the time battery back-ups were expensive and only certain games at the time had them so to have a password is nothing bad whatsoever, better that then nothing, having to sit through the whole game without a way to record progression.

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So when you start the game you’ll notice two things – firstly that you character can jump really high (which makes sense given you are the Low Gravity Man, which isn’t the best superhero name that could be given…) but second of all you have a gun projectile that doesn’t kill enemies. It doesn’t matter how many times you shoot at the enemy, they are frozen but are not killed, so it does take some thought to realise you cannot kill the enemy with the projectile. This is certainly a unique feature but seldom seen in games where it is the norm to kill enemies with projectiles. What it is is that the projectile is in fact a freeze ray which freezes the enemies – in order to kill them you have to press up and down and the attack weapon to spear the enemy to death – it resembles the weapon Donatello has from Teenage Mutant Ninja* (*Hero for those sensitive folk..) Turtles with a spear at the end. Throughout the game, you can pick up various weapons and power ups however the one issue is that when the power ups fall to the ground, they fall through the ground. It’s not like Contra in which the items are on the ground ready to be picked up – if you don’t collect the power up mid-air you lose it. This is slightly annoying as when you defeat an enemy more often than not they drop something however unless you have the reflexes of an eagle chasing a vole then you’ll lose the item never to be seen again.

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The controls are slightly more complicated than a normal NES action-platforming game. The A button jumps, however if you lightly press the button your character does a small jump whereas holding the button down does a big, low-gravity jump. The B button either on it’s own or pressing left/right and B fires your freeze ray or other power up you may have, up/down B wields the Donatello-type weapon to kill enemies and the start button not only pauses the game but brings up a weapon select screen. You choose from one of four weapons that when you start you have the freeze ray but can pick up boomerangs and other weapons. It’s nice to have more variety than just a standard A button jumps, B button fires a weapon and leave it at that – there is nothing wrong with simplistic controls because it can make or break a game but every once in a while it is nice to have something more advanced. The graphics resemble the future well with it’s bleak landscapes and defined graphics, but who knows what the future looks like? The enemies look different and although are killed pretty much the same way, it is good that there is variety in the enemies even though they can get pretty fiendish and you need to freeze your enemies to kill them. The music well that is okay, nothing that will get you humming to after you have turned off the game but it serves its purpose well and has various sound effects which compliment the gameplay. No sound effects for jumping but various sounds when firing your projectiles or hitting an enemy which is always good.

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So all in all, Low G Man was a surprising game to play and review. When you first turn on the game and start playing, you do wonder why you cannot kill enemies with your projectile weapon and find your health bar going down quickly. When you get to the grips with the game, with the low gravity and freezing the enemies or if you’re feeling braver to kill them with your up/down B attack without freezing, you find yourself enjoying the game more than you thought you would. There are a couple of issues with the game, firstly as noted earlier the fact if you don’t collect the power up in the air and let it drop then it disappears forever. Second of all it is a difficult game – not fiendish like other notorious titles on the system but it has a steep difficulty curve. You get enemies on the ground and enemies in the air so you have to have your wits about you and use your freezing ray well before killing them with the up/down attack. If you can get past this then you find yourself playing a half decent game that goes for cheap as chips online and in local retro stores so if you fancy a challenge and not want to play the usual titles, pick up the worst-sounding superhero of Low Gravity Man and save the world! Again!

Rating – 3 out of 5

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Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll NES Review

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Playing the NES, or any console for that matter, there are times when you wish you could actually be the character you’re controlling on-screen, be it an Italian plumber who headbutts bricks, collecting gold and having pet dinosaurs. Maybe you want to be a Rambo-type character with a big machine gun, a knife the size of an umbrella and a headband going round killing bad guys. But it never occurred to be controlling a snake but would you believe it, those guys and girls at Rare go ahead and develop a game where you’re controlling a snake. So how did this game fair up, was it rattle and roll or toilet roll?

Sparkle Sparkle!

Sparkle Sparkle!

Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll is a platforming game released in Europe in 1991, developed by the fine folks at Rare. The game features two snakes who are called Rattle and Roll who have to make their way through the level. The object is to navigate through the level eating enough enemies called “Nibbley Pibbleys” (how adorable) so that at the end of the level you sit on a weigh-in bell which if heavy enough will release the door to escape. A good feature of this game is that it can be played by one or two players, and what is even better is that the two player option you play simultaneously – none of this take-it-in-turns like a certain platforming game bearing the name of an Italian-American plumber…

The waterfalls, the beauty, the HOLD

The waterfalls, the beauty, the HOLD

Your snake grows in length when it eats a Nibbley, but the length in which your snake grows (no sniggering at the back) depends on what colour Nibbley you eat. If you eat a Nibbley of the same colour as your snake (bearing in mind Rattle and Roll are purple and pink) then it grows slightly longer. If you manage to eat a yellow enemy then your snake grows even longer – imagine the excitement! When your snake reaches a certain length, it’s tail flashes meaning you can exit the level so be on the lookout.

The game features 11 levels set from an isometric perspective (at an angle to you and me) that is similar in camera view to Marble Madness. What is also similar to Marble Madness is a strong bold colour scheme and also the control system. Because of the isometric viewpoint, it is not a simple case that you press the right button on the d-pad and Rattle (or Roll) goes to the right. In fact, when you press right on the d-pad your snake goes diagonal down right. If you press diagonal down right on the d pad you go straight down. It is a control scheme that you have to get used to – at least with said Marble Madness you could choose whether to control at a 45 degree angle or 90 degree angle, but with Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll you have to use the control scheme that the game provides you with.

Aww shucks, I'm Brilliant?

Aww shucks, I’m Brilliant?

However, when you do get used to the control scheme, you find yourself playing a decent platforming game with a simple premise that you can’t help but enjoy. Along the way you find enemies such as jumping tyres and if you are in the water long enough you might encounter a shark to gobble you up so you have to navigate your way through the enemies if you are going to survive. As well as the enemies, you have to contend with the environment, with it’s hills and spikes that can provide damage to your snake. With this game, you don’t have a health meter such as Mega Man, or go from being a big snake to a little snake, to death. No, when you take damage from an enemy then you lose part of your tail (that you have eaten), and when you lose all your segments of your tail then it is game over however you do have continues to, well continue the fun.

With the controls, the d-pad controls have already been discussed, with the A button making your snake jump and the B button making your snake use his tongue, to gobble up the Nibbley Pibbley’s and to attack the enemies. As noted with the graphics, they are bold and well defined – it is a good palette that does the NES justice. As it has been mentioned before, you can have a game with great graphics but the gameplay might be poor, so what is the point? On the other side you could have a game that is of poor quality and great gameplay like Action 52…. In terms of music and sound effects, for a NES game it is of a decent quality – in fact you may recognise parts of it, as part of the music is taken from a song from the 1950’s and also when your snake is in the water, the music pays homage to Jaws by playing music similar to it. So you don’t need to break out the Greatest Movie Soundtracks vinyl out and put it on the gramophone, the music in this game will make you want to save the 45 for another day.

Mushroom mushroom

Mushroom mushroom

Overall, Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll is a gem worthy of being in any NES collectors collection. The drawside of the game is the lack of choice with the control system in terms of the d-pad – it would be nice if as per Marble Madness you could choose whether the control scheme is at a 45 or 90 degree angle. If you can overlook this, then you find yourself with a decent platforming game where you cannot just dodge everything that comes your way – you have to swallow the Nibbley Pibbley’s and attack the enemies for more Nibbley’s. Located throughout the game are lids (in the shape of manhole covers) in which players can open to uncover Nibbley Pibbleys, items and extra lives, entrances to bonus levels, and sometimes enemies. Copies of the game are plentiful and can be found in any retro game store or on your favourite online auction house, so do yourself a favour, shy away from the plumber’s and men welding weapons, pick up a colourful snake and go hunting for the cutest-named enemies you find on the NES.

Rating – 4 out of 5

Castelian NES Review

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Every now and again, a game will come along on whatever format that will challenge you from the moment you try reading the title – obvious examples being Xeyxz and Cacoma Knight in Bizyland which in a number of different ways roll off the tongue. Another contender for this is the game featured today – Castelian. Is it pronounced Cass-tell-ian or perhaps Castle-Ian, or maybe in fact Caster-leean. It is one of those conundrums that involves a flight-or-fight response – does a game with a title like Castelian make it worthy of your hard earned money and precious time, or make you want to stick to the mainstream and for games whose names are easier to pronounce? Let it be known that for the sake of reviews I am always up for a challenge, so how will this game fare – like a glorious phallic-like tower visible from miles to announce its superiority on the world (or NES console at least), or just a phallic-type game?

Who doesn't find the protagonist cute and adorable!

Who doesn’t find the protagonist cute and adorable!

Castelian, or Nebulus in certain regions, started off life on the Commodore 64, and is a platform game where the idea is to climb to the top of the tower to plant a bomb (stay with me here) which is built in the sea, in order to destroy the tower. The way up to the top is not easy, what kind of game would it be if you were at the bottom of the tower and entered an elevator and pressed the button for the top floor and at the top easily plant the bomb when no one is around? An easy one at that, and everyone likes a challenge supposedly…But anyway in order to reach the top you have to pass enemies and traps that try thwarting your progress. You climb the tower in ledges, and if you get touched by an enemy, you fall to the ledge below to carry on your ascent to the top. If you happen to be on the bottom ledge i.e. at the start of the level, then you fall into the sea and lose a life. As well as being thwarted by enemies and randomly disappearing ledges (more on that later) then you also have a timer as well which unsurprisingly if you don’t reach the top in time you lose a life.

Is there a more sinister-sounding opening level? Maybe, but I can't think of one

Is there a more sinister-sounding opening level? Maybe, but I can’t think of one

So popping the cartridge in your console and powering the beauty up, you’re treated to the main screen, with dare I say funky music being played and the game’s protagonist Pogo, or Julian, or in fact Kyorochan (depending on what version of the game on which console) who looks like an adorable green pig – if you’re playing this game with two players then your cute piggy character is blue which is a nice variation. If you leave the game for a few seconds you then see the staff credits and right at the bottom it says to press Select for the options menu or Start to play the game. Why this couldn’t be on the main screen is anyone’s guess, as when you turn on your console ready for gaming action, you’re going to be mashing the start button and not thinking what hints or tips are going to be on the next screen. Well pressing the select button does bring up the options menu where you can choose between one or two players (which works in the same way as Super Mario Bros 2 player – not co-op and if player one dies the second player then starts), choosing between sound effects and music in game, and the difficulty – Novice or Hero. As natural as it is to select Hero to, well be a Hero like a certain NES reviewer here, it is recommended to start out on Novice, in order to get a feel for the game and the impending trials and tribulations that await you.

So you start the game at the ominously-titled “Tower of Eyes” and then off you go. Within a few moves to the right where the path leads, the ledge gives way and you fall in the water. What kind of BS is that – it reminds you a lot of Dragon’s Lair, where the pitfalls are not obvious unless you have played the game before. Unfortunately in that respect Castelian is reminiscent of Dragon’s Lair a lot, and not in a good way. It is a sure thing you will lose a lot of lives before completing the first tower, as it is trial and repeat which although gives some sort of replay value, for the first level it should ease you in, not trick you like the fake blocks in Simon’s Quest that is only known by throwing Holy Water. With Castelian, you don’t even get that luxury. As a weapon you do get a white projectile to throw at enemies however this has a range of results, it may kill the enemy straight away, it may stun them which makes them turn a different colour, or have no effect at all. Again, it is trial and error, because if you stun the enemy and touch it (thinking it can move), you then fall down a ledge, and with only a certain amount of time to complete the tower, which usually is a measly 100 seconds , time as well as your memory is your greatest enemy.

Blue pigs, green pigs, it almost could be like Angry Birds

Blue pigs, green pigs, it almost could be like Angry Birds

Graphically, Castelian has a simplistic EGA hue of purples and blues which although do the job, does make you wonder why they could not include a better colour palette – the Amiga version had a colourful palette and this is on the console that brought you Super Mario 3 and Rainbow Islands, so it should have been more colourful. One of the good things about Castelian is that when your character moves left or right, he stays visible in the centre of the screen, and the background tower turns, which conveys a sense of depth. It can be confusing at times, when you expect an enemy to go round the back of the tower but instead the enemy is heading towards you and your weapon doesn’t work, but it is still a nice effect. As mentioned, the music has a funky beat however if you’re playing the same level again and again due to the difficulty, it can get jarring especially as the main title music is the same as level one’s music and you will be hearing it a lot – well not unless you mute the televison. Controls-wise, it is straight forward – left or right to move your character, the A button to fire your weapon IF stationary, if you are moving and press A you jump, which again could have been improved as you should have the ability to fire your weapon if moving – why this couldn’t have been mapped to the B button again is anyone’s guess but you’ll have to get used to the projectile being at a angle and being stationary in order to use it.

Now if the NES version had THESE graphics, it would be a start

Now if the NES version had THESE graphics, it would be a start

Castelian is a mixed bag of a game – graphically it had innovations such as the background moving clockwise or anti-clockwise and for a hwile has some funky music which for the NES is only a good thing, however playing the game reminds you of Dragon’s Lair which is a taste that isn’t good. The stingy timer for the level, coupled with the fact it is a game that relies a lot on trial and error means the game at time can be both extremely frustrating, but rewarding if you persevere long enough but how long do you give a game repeating the same level and encountering the same traps before you say enough is enough? What is good is that when you run out of lives you have a continue option, which amounts to 2 continues so although it could have been more continues, it is better then nothing. Overall, Castelian is one for collectors only – it isn’t a game that you would give your precious Sunday afternoon’s for, no matter how adorable the green pig-looking character flashes his eyes in your direction, but a game for those who seek a challenge, which you certainly will get in Castelian. I’m off to find my own micro-pig and climb a tower but not to destroy, hopefully there will be a princess there instead of a mushroom advising the princess is in another castle…

Rating – 2 out of 5

Power Blade NES Review

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

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

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

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

Reminiscent of Seattle, 2191 looks pretty good from here

Reminiscent of Seattle, 2191 looks pretty good from here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating – 3 out of 5

Adventure Island II NES Review

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They say never to judge a book by it’s cover, and to not always rely on your first impressions. Although it’s not clear at this stage who “they” are, or who “they” refer to in these matters, “they” do have a point. When looking at the back of the box of the gam being reviewed today, it is easy to write it off as another Super Mario clone. It’s not hard to see why game companies in the late 80’s and early 90’s would copy the tried and tested formula of Mario, the whole franchise of Mario games on the NES were popular, had colourful graphics and the gameplay was second to none. However, although it shares similarities with said Mario games, Adventure Island is not a game to easily be written off as a Mario 3 clone. Let’s take a look and see why it’s Adventure Island more than Celebrity Love Island (that was a bad reference – click here for info).

If only we could laze under a palm tree on a tropical island

If only we could laze under a palm tree on a tropical island

Adventure Island II was released in Europe in 1992, and is a side-scrolling platform game that resembles, erm, Mario 3. It was released by Hudson Soft who also developed titles such as Milon’s Secret Castle, but thankfully, is not as secret as being set on a castle. You control Master Higgins, who embarks on saving his favourite lady’s sister from the evil clutches of the Evil Witch Doctor and it’s persistent followers. Like a lot of titles on the NES at the time, when you pop the cartridge in your console, you have the option to start the game, or continue from where you left off. It is not a password based system however which is a shame, instead it is a game in which when you die, you can press continue to pick up from the stage you were at.

So you arrive on the different island’s on your raft and away you go. The idea like all side-scrolling platform games is to get from one side of the stage to the other, defeating nightmare-inducing monsters such as snails and birds and collecting not coins a la Mario but fruit. It is nice for kids playing the game not to worship currency but to worship fruit instead which gives you points. Before the level starts, you can choose to bring any weapons or animal friends you find along the way – this could be in the form of a purple mini-dinosaur that in no way resembles Barney or other creatures. I guess Mario had Yoshi but that was later in the franchise so to use animals as a companion to attack enemies is a nice touch. If you do die, you have to start at the beginning of the level, which differs from Adventure Island I where there were checkpoints in the level so you started from there when you died. At the end of the stage as a bonus you can choose from a set of spinning eggs, choose one for a points bonus. And what do points make? Never mind don’t answer that.

Choosing an egg has never been more fun! No, seriously...

Choosing an egg has never been more fun! No, seriously…

The controls are firm and responsive, in essence the type of controls you would want with a side-scrolling platform game. Certainly not like the stiffness of Ice Climbers. The d-pad moves the character, the A button jumps and the B-button fires your weapon should you have collected one at this point, or to make the animal you ride on fire his weapon. I say weapon like it is a dangerous projectile, but it is in fact a tomahawk-type hammer object. It does the trick however, with the majority of the puny enemies taking one hit to kill. This is good as at times you travel on a skateboard that hurtles you through the level, the last thing you want is to hammer the B button to ensure the enemy is out of your way as you do your impression of Tony Hawk. The one disadvantage of killing enemies with one hit is that they can kill you with one hit too. The music is upbeat and jolly and suits the style of the game, and it’s lush tropical surroundings. The sound effects are crisp and there is a sound effect for everything you do which matches the style well, from the simplest things such as jumping to collecting fruit. So, in that respect, turn the volume up when playing the game and leave your cassette deck empty full of the joys of Now 5 or the like.

Tony Hawk he is not. However, he dresses better than Tony

Tony Hawk he is not. However, he dresses better than Tony

As mentioned at the start of the game, it is very easy to write the game off as a Super Mario 3 clone, just set on a tropical island and rather than wearing overalls, the character wears nothing but a green leafy thing to cover his modesty and to wrap himself in. However, it seems clear the developers took a lot of time to craft the game, from the bold colourful graphics to the music and sound effects that compliments the game perfectly. The controls are responsive and simplistic (none of this, up button to jump and down+B button to perform a certain attack) and from a side-scrolling platform game, that’s all anyone can ask. It really is a game worthy in your collection as an alternative to the more popular mainstream games. Although not always a testament to a game’s popularity or how well it was developed, the game has been released on Virtual Console, firstly on the Wii back in April 2011 and then on the 3DS Virtual Console in November 2011. There are copies available on your favourite auction website or even perhaps at your local retro gaming store, however they are not overly cheap, they are not as frequently found as, once again Mario or Mario 3 however as always would recommend playing it on the console rather than downloading it for the Virtual Console. Not that there is anything wrong with the Virtual Console, it is a great way of playing old games you may not have access to or remember the first time round, however, there is nothing more satisfying than playing a genuinely quality game such as this on your couch with your NES controller in your hand. So get some Malibu and that tropical granola you pretend is healthy for you, pull on some safari shorts and go help Master Higgins rescue his lady’s sister on tropical islands with the heating right up – because isn’t that we all want to do? Save your partner’s sibling whilst your wearing beige safari shorts?…

Rating – 5 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

Ice Climber NES Review

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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

Tiny Toon Adventures NES Review

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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

The Simpsons Bart Vs The Space Mutants NES Review

simpsonsboxart

Back in the early 90’s kids were interested in a number of things that graced our TV screens, but  something came along which kids were mesmerised by watching this new dysfunctional family and their weekly antics. This of course was The Simpsons. Naturally with all popular TV shows came video games, and boy did The Simpsons release their fair share of games on the early consoles. The very first game that was released based off the TV show was The Simpsons Bart vs The Space Mutants, which was released in 1991. It sounds promising enough, so how does it play nowadays – is it a vintage classic a la episodes form the first few seasons, or should it have been put to sleep like the last few years’ worth of episodes?

They gathered round, they couldn't believe a game was as bad as this

They gathered round, they couldn’t believe a game was as bad as this

The game puts you in control of Bart, which isn’t surprising since he was deemed the most popular at the time featuring in games such as this and invading the charts with “The Bartman”. The story goes that aliens descend to earth planning to rule the earth by taking over people’s bodies and making humans their slaves. Naturally Bart is the one who sees the aliens hatching their plan, he has taken it upon himself to help save the planet. So the story is plausible somewhat, and thusly move swiftly onto the first level, where the objective is to find any purple objects on the level, and spray them red or get rid of them. Quote why the aliens have a fascination of the colour purple I don’t know – maybe the designers got the idea from watching Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple too much, and this is where the game starts.

When the game starts you’ll notice along the bottom a sort of status bar, which gives information about what item your carrying, how many lives you got, the time limit and also “goals”, which means on the first level you need to collect 24 purple items, or spray them from purple to red. You come across the first item which is a purple trash can, but how do you make it change colour? Pressing A makes you jump, pressing B does nothing, pressing the select button changes the item your carrying and pressing start executes that action. But nowhere does it show the item needed to change the colour of the trash can. So you explore the level and find on a really high shelf the spray can. You then have to go back past the enemies that seem impervious to any form of attack, and finally spray the can with the B button. So throughout the level you have to find other ways of covering the purpleness, be that climbing on washing lines or finding inventive ways of spraying the colour purple away.

Not even Jebediah could save this game

If only you could get some Shaman to cast a spell to control a big towering monument to control…

One of the most infuriating aspects of this game that you may have encountered in the first level alone, are the controls. The backbone to any half decent game is having solid controls, which this game sadly lacks. Even when you move Bart, it does not happen straight away, there seems to be a delay that makes you push even harder on your d pad trying to get him reacting quicker, but it doesn’t work. To do a super run, to get the speed high enough to make you jump onto higher ledges requires a difficult combination of holding A+B in a way that doesn’t make you use up your spray can, and then having to press A at the right time to jump – why couldn’t they put B to sprint? The jump doesn’t work when you want it to, so to actually spray and remove all purple items in the level is just a pain, and to do a super jump where your sprinting with A+B and then A to jump again was unnecessarily difficult which it shouldn’t have been.

Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, you realise you don’t have a health bar, but 2 hits from enemies and your dead. That’s right, you graze the thigh of an enemy, scraping their head, do that twice and your back at the start of the level. It does remember the fact that you’ve sprayed certain things red or removed certain purple items, so you don’t need to redo these parts but your lack of any real health means you’ll go back to the beginning more than you realise. Fans of the game will enjoy the 8 bit digitsed version of the theme tune however to have it constantly playing the background is a bit jarring – it’s like anything in life it’s nice in small bursts to have it loop constantly, you’ll wish it was the Bartman on loop. Forget that, no one wants that.  The sound effects are standard 8 bit fare, typical of a platforming game with jump noises and that’s about it. It’s nice they attempted some form of digitized voicing that says “Eat My Shorts” and something at the start of the level that at one point resembles “Cool Man”. Alas, the music and sound effects do not help improve the quality of the game, which coming from Acclaim was a surprise, as they made some jolly decent games such as Turok and NBA Jam, who knows maybe they were having an off day and had too much radiation poisoning but regardless, it’ll take an insubordinate amount of time moving off the first level.

Wonder if Space Mutants 4 is better than this? Book your tickets now!

Wonder if Space Mutants 4 is better than this? Book your tickets now!

Fans of the Simpsons will no doubt have been excited that their favourite show was made into a game on the biggest console of the time. Imagine the joy going into your local store, treating yourself over the weekend to a rented game, seeing your favourite show on Nintendo, the two biggest things for a child coming together in some holy matrimony, but instead after attempting the first level over and over again, what better use of your time you could have used with your weekend – like doing homework. The second level (should you get there) involves collecting hats from a shopping centre, something equally as important as removing all purple items. For something as big as the Simpsons, there shouldn’t have been the need to rush the game, the developers would have known how much kids would have loved a game of their favourite TV show, so to have this pile of dung served to them is an insult to gamers and to fans of the show everywhere. Copies of the game are common in the wild so do try it just to see how bad it is, and to add to your collection. I just hope that other games on the system aren;t as bad such as Bart vs The World…

Rating – 1 out of 5