Road Fighter NES Review

roadfighterbox

Dear readers, alas the reviews have taken a back foot due to real life, however rest assured your favourite reviewer is back and ready in 2016 to take a continued look at those NES games and confirm whether you should part your hard earned cash on them. The first game is one inspired by a review of the game on the wonderful SkirmishFrogs website and one that until very recently, was yet to grace this reviewer’s collection. The game being one of Konami’s first car racing game that originally came out in 1984 in the arcades. Like a lot of early NES games, arcade games were ripe for porting onto the new home console, so how does today’s game Road Fighter stack up – is it worthy of gracing the console or a car-crash of a game?

On your marks, get set...

On your marks, get set…

Released in Europe in 1991, a full 6 years after it’s release in Japan on the NES, Road Fighter as mentioned above is an arcade-style car racing game, in which you control your red coloured vehicle and overtake a number of cars in order to reach the goal within an alloted time. Sounds simple right? Well, aside from the speeds in which you travel at (more of that in a moment), on the road alongside you are crazy-assed drivers who change lanes and generally cause disruption so you don’t finish the level. Finish the race within the alloted time and you move onto the next stage, of which there are four courses ranging from grass-type levels to ocean-type levels, a real mixture.

What a view...

What a view…

So how do you control the car? Well, pressing the B Button makes your car accelerate but only to a certain speed – on the NES version it is up to around 224km/h. So you may have the precision but it feels like you need more speed in order to get to the finish line quicker – well dear friends that is what the A button is for. With this you can travel up to 400 km/h but this does come at a price – you start off with a level of 100 and that gradually decreases. If you crash into another car or into the wall, you lose 5 units of your fuel. If the fuel counter goes down to zero, it’s game over. Trying to block your path to victory are different coloured cars – yellow cars travel in a straight line, blue and red cars change lanes and you may encounter trucks. If you see rainbow coloured cars, try to collect them whatever you do – they increase your fuel so it’s well worth attempting to collect them. Also on the track you may see oil spills so again try to avoid these because along side hitting other cars you’ll go spinning off the track, losing valuable time and fuel.

Battleships have never looked so good

Battleships have never looked so good

The colours are bold and vibrant, easily differentiating between the different cars on the road and the background from the green grassy based levels to the seashore type levels. Although the detail is not great, the overall graphics are fine for the type of game you’re playing – you should be focussing on getting to the end of the level rather than admiring the view. The music is sparse and the sound effects can be quite jarring with the engine noise, especially with the continuous buzzing when you reach top speed. Yes it is nice that there is a sound effect for screeching brakes and the explosion when you crash into the wall but it is recommended to play this game with the sound off and the soothing sounds of thrash metal should ring in your ears instead.

Checkpoint - YAY!

Checkpoint – YAY!

Road Fighter looks a good game, controls a good game and sounds…well like a game. However, the biggest problem with Road Fighter is the difficulty – there is no option for an easy/medium/hard difficulty but just one level – blooming difficult! When you boot up the game you get the choice of Level 1 or Level 2, with the only difference is that level 2 is slightly harder with different coloured cars more plentiful then jsut the straight line yellow cars but still even without this, the game is difficult with a capital D. A challenge is one thing but Road Fighter can take the biscuit, and you’ll find yourself repeating the first level over and over and over again. With one life before it’s game over, you really need to have quick reflexes and good reactions in order to succeed in the game, but with that in mind is the pay off worth it? That’s down to you to decide, but really the game will cause more frustration then pleasure which is a real shame as the game looks good and controls well, but the steep difficulty will put off casual gamers. Copies are rare in the wild so unless you like a challenge, it may be worth side-stepping this one and picking up R.C Pro Am or Ivan Ironman Stewart instead. Take it from one who knows and has reviewed them….

Rating – 2 out of 5

Galaxy 5000 NES Review

galaxy5000box

In a number of films, the future is often portrayed in a number of ways – be this futuristic towns as in Back To The Future or machines that are out of control in Terminator 2. In games the future is often portrayed with the first two numbers showing and then x’s to show things being mysterious – like in Mega Man games which are set in 20xx, though quite what year they are supposed to be set in is anyone’s guess. So imagine the joy when a game comes along that trounces over the 1990’s and the mysterious 20xx’s and raises the bar by three whole millenia. When you get a game, that can **** all over previous millenia, it deserves attention and respect. So grab your self-tying shoes, your hoverboard and a fresh pair of (under)pants, because we’re going racing in the 51st Century(tm all rights reserved).

Space...the final frontier...in the year 5000

Space…the final frontier…in the year 5000

Galaxy 5000, published by Activision is a “futuristic” racing game – futuristic in that it is set on far away planets in the galaxy and the setting is space. So expect lots of black backgrounds, random dots to signify the stars and random coloured balls to signify the planets. Not quite as futuristic as one would expect being set in the 5th Millenia but this may change in the scope of this review. The premise of the game is straight-forward, you control a ship which can fire weapons in order to battle for first place. Nothing too complex however such as other racing games on the NES at the time, you can upgrade your vehicle so that it can get shields or have more powerful weapons, and that’s never a bad thing, is it?

On the road to greatness

On the road to greatness

Slamming the cartridge (or gently inserting it) into the console and turning it on, you’re presented with Activision’s idea of the Year 5000, with severed blue helmets, parts of the ship scattered on the planet and aliens popping out from the ground like futuristic moles to greet you. Pressing the start button you are then presented with the options for play and thank goodness the game allows two players to play, and also what control system you can use. The game classes the controls as alpha or beta – alpha controls is where holding down the corresponding direction on the d-pad makes your ship go in that direction. The downside to this is that say your ship is facing the immediate left ( <- ) and you want to go diagonal bottom right, by pressing the bottom right direction on your d-pad the ship turns ever so slowly and you may find yourself crashing into the wall. The other direction system, the beta controls seems much simpler but you may get an aching thumb from it. You hold the up d-pad direction for your ship to accelerate and then hold down the left or right button to turn the ship. Personally, this is more preferable however either control style is an innovative way of moving and not consigning the player to the standard “holding the A button” to move. In this game, the A button makes your ship jump and the B button fires your weapon to try and disrupt your competitors. What you find with the game as you progress is that it is the same level, however with each stage you complete more obstacles appear on the stage such as spikes which can hinder progress so you’ll be familiar with the caveats of the track within a few races.

With the two player option, it is not set like Super Mario Bros where one player at a time takes a turn, no this is the better two player expereince where both ships are on the screen at the same time and you are both racing mano y mano, fighting for first place. So what happens if one player is falling behind and struggling, do they crash out of the race or does the game punish the player(s) in anyway? Not at all, all that happens is that the player rushes back to where the other human controlled player is, so at least it gives the last place player a chance to catch up, but doesn’t cause a slingshot effect where they can overtake past the more skilled player on the course. So if you are playing this round a friend’s, don’t expect to slob out playing Snake on your phone, both players will be on screen at the same time.

As Charles Bronson would say "Hey" "Watch it"

As Charles Bronson would say “Hey” “Watch it”

The graphics in the game are bold and colourful, though it is very stereotypical of the space theme, having black backgrounds and coloured dots to represent stars and the planets. However with this in mind the ships are varied in colour and the race track is in stark contrast to the black background so it is a game you’re not going to squint your eyes at. What is nice is that on the track it has detail that you wouldn’t neccessarily find on other NES games, especially racing games which gives it a realistic edge – again, realistic as your imagination allows for a game being set in the year 5000. In terms of music and sound effects, the music is not too bad and the sound effects suit the game well, so you don’t need that Saturday Night Fever soundtrack ringing in your ears. What was good in terms of the sound effects is that when the ships collide, primitive voice effects say one of three phrases – “Hey”, “Watch it” (from the school of Charles Bronson in Deathwish…) and “Excuse Me”. Although it may not sound much and these days we take it for granted that games will have voice acting, it was a good step and one that would get any gamer excited at the time as to the future of voice acting in a video game.

You suck

You suck

So how does Galaxy 5000 fare – ship-shape or consigned to the eternal hangar in the (futuristic) sky? Well, Galaxy 5000 is a fairly decent futuristic racing game that differed from it’s peers such as Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart or R.C Pro AM by being set in space but allowing your vehicle to be customised as long as you win races. There are a couple of drawbacks to the game, such as the clunky alpha controls but as well the difficulty – this can be jarring as when you race around on the track, if you hit the edge of the track or cut into the turn too quick, this allows the computer players to race past and it is VERY difficult to catch up. With practice you can learn to navigate the track without crashing into the walls or the sides of the track or even be prohibited by the spikes that appear later however with the timer on top of the screen as well (oh yes there is a timer as well to add to the fun), if this counts down to zero then it’s game over so bear in mind this game can be difficult. If you like a challenge then do pick up a copy, copies in the wild are not that expensive and take advantage of the good control system, the start of voice sound effects and a blooming steep difficulty curve. If you’re not a fan of challenge but like the idea of racing games and upgrading your vehicle then stick to the Ironman himself. I’m off to the Year 3000, I hear nothing’s changed but they live underwater…

Rating – 3 out of 5

Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road NES Review

ISORbox

As much as we love the NES, the one thing it did lack was the ability to play multiplayer games where both players were on the screen at the same time. The likes of Super Mario Bros had a two player option however this was one player at a time, where the next player plays when the first player died. Of course there were the exceptions, things like Battletoads and dare we say Anticipation (which isn’t said lightly…) which yields mixed results in terms of how good they are. Another game to add to the list is this game, which promises right on the box 4 player simultaneous action so how could you go wrong? Grab some pizzas, some beer and get your leather driving gloves on, we’re going Off Road racing!

 

Thumbs up? Everything is A-OK

Thumbs up? Everything is A-OK

 

Super Off Road Racing, or Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road in its entirety (but is too late to write fully) is a racing game in which you take control of what looks like a miniature off-road car and you race with three other drivers in order to win the race. Unlike R.C Pro AM where you get weapons, this is all about racing – just you, your finger on the A button and the ability to drive like Nigel Mansell. Or The Stig. There are certain similarities with R.C Pro AM such as the miniature vehicle and the ease in which you drive your car, but as we’ll see later, there are some subtle differences.

 

Those lovely lovelies await you for winning the game

Those lovely lovelies await you for winning the game

 

Turning on the game you get the blue-eyed red helmet wearing Ivan Stewart grinning back at you and the ability to play with up to 4 players. That is a big selling point, the fact you can have three other friends with you to race in your vehicles and see who comes out on top. However, due to the NES console having two controller ports you do require a NES Four Score or NES Satellite in order to play with four controllers, however for some additional hardware, it’s good you can have four racers rather than 4 player Super Mario Bros where you have to wait for the first three players to die before you can take your turn. You choose your nationality though there doesn’t seem to be any difference in which nationality you pick, it’s more for nationalistic pride to which you then start racing.

 

Vettel has nothing on me

Vettel has nothing on me

 

A good point with the game is that after each race, depending on where you finish you can customise your vehicle in terms of upgrading parts of your vehicle such as the tyres, the acceleration, the top speed – up to 6 categories. This is done by the money you win depending on where in the race you finish. It is a flat rate for each upgrade which is always good as modern games seem to increase the value of an upgrade with each upgrade you complete. It does seem sometimes that you upgrade the acceleration and top speed but in the next race the computer race past and you cannot catch them up which can be frustrating, as you may rely more on turbos which quickly run out. It’s not often that it happens, but the inconsistencies can be gruelling.

 

Standard race track

Standard race track

 

The view of the race is different to R.C Pro AM, in that you have an overhead view of the whole track where you see all four racers competing – R.C Pro AM the track is bigger than the screen so the camera is focussed on your vehicle. It’s good that you can see the whole track so you can see your competitors and see how far in front you are or how behind you are. The graphics are bold and defined, with the four vehicles in all differing colours and the brown dirt on the road with the red and white walls surrounding the track. On the ground you can pick up extra cash or turbos which increase that aspect but as some retailer once said, every little helps (all rights reserved). On the screen it shows in the top left the name of the nap, the top right how long it has taken you to complete the race and also at the top it shows how many turbos you have left. You start with 25 which do go down quickly if you panic in order to try and win the race, but turbos are something you can buy for £10k each at a time. Although pricey and not something you would focus when you first upgrade your vehicle, by the 10th or 11th race where you’ve upgraded everything else, the only thing you can buy are turbos so you do get the chance to replenish them. The controls in the game are fairly straight forward, you use the A button to accelerate, B butto nto use your turbo and the d pad left and right to turn your vehicle. Nothing more complicated then that, but why would you when the gameplay is good? Sometimes games are ruined when the gameplay and graphics are good, but the controls are overly complicated and unncessary. Fortunately, Ivan Stewart asked for simple controls, and the game is effective because of it*. (* please note Ivan may not have requested this in his game but for artistic licence the presumption is that this was the first thing requested when designing an NES game)

 

A certain Queen song seems appropriate here - not Seven Seas of Rhye

A certain Queen song seems appropriate here – not Seven Seas of Rhye

 

Overall, although the game is similar to R.C Pro Am, there are are differences which enhance the game and make it one worthy to have in your collection. The most obvious appeal is having 4 player simultaneous action so one guy isn’t left waiting 20 minutes for the remaining three to lose their lives so that they can take their turn. The controls are simple yet responsive, and it is always intriguing to see what aspect of your vehicle gets upgraded first in order to win the matches. Although in the end if you’re that good then all parts will be upgraded fully towards the end, but especially with three other people it could make all the difference between winning and losing if one of you upgrades acceleration first for example rather than tyres. Sometimes it does feel like you go from flat out winning a race to being perilously last due to the other cars being significantly faster for no apparent reason but the only time you notice this is if you’re playing the game by yourself. The game is cheap to pick up from your local online retailers or retro game shops, so grab a horse riding helmet, spray it red, strap it on and get set for driving fun because tell me, wouldn’t you rather be placing this than Anticipation?

 

Rating – 4 out of 5

Micro Machines NES Review

 

mmbox

If we were to talk about unofficial NES games, what would spring to mind – maybe Bible Buffet, or Action 52, games that were not exactly renowned for their quality however if those type of games left you feeling like the only quality was released on official cartridges (*ahem* read The Simpsons’ games *ahem*) then fear ye not – along came a company that cared about the quality of the games, and one of those games in particular linger long in the hazy memories of the console. The company, well in the UK were known as Codemasters and the game, the miniature racing game Micro Machines. Does the game make you want to vroom off into the sunset or off a large cliff.

Who said it was Zelda that came in gold cartridges?

Who said it was Zelda that came in gold cartridges?

Micro Machines was released on the console in 1991, and like most of the Camerica/Codemasters cartridges it was not on the usual grey NES cart’s, no Codemasters had a habit of putting their games onto uniquely designed cartridges. This could be in the form of large square carts, or small rectangle carts with a triangular piece of plastic drooping down, having to put another cartridge in a slot to ensure it works. There are reason’s that the games were not released officially, with Codemasters being the UK distributor of the Camerica series, however in Micro Machines it was worthy of an official release.

Micro Machines is a racing game based off the popular toys, that has an overhead view in the races. You’re not just racing Formula 1 cars as perceived on the box oh no, you could be racing in speed boats, monster trucks, pretty much anything and everything you can think of. Except a Segway, that’s a disappointment but to be fair they weren’t invented when this game was released. The idea, with pretty much all racing games is to race against three opponents and get to the finish line first having completed three laps. If you win three races in a row, you get taken to a bonus stage where it is just yourself and your driving abilities in order to complete the lap in under the allotted time given – if you succeed you get an extra life, while not completing it means, well, you’re a failure.  Sorry to disappoint you kids.

A fine bunch of racers if ever I saw one

A fine bunch of racers if ever I saw one

When you turn on the game, you get the option of playing a 1 player game or go head-to-head in a two player game, so kudos for actually making a game two player – as mentioned before too few games on the console where two player, and I don’t count games like Super Mario Bros and Wrecking Crew in that as they were turn-based and not co-operative local multiplayer such as Battletoads. When choosing 1 player mode, you then get to choose your character from a surly crew of some stereotypes such as the Chinese character being called Chen and the really cool looking dude being called Spider – it doesn’t say if the differing characters play differently, so for now it seems personal choice who you select. You then enter a qualifying race on a speedboat where you first get to grips with the racing and deal with the simplistic yet effective controls. As mentioned above, over three laps finish second and above and you progress – if you don’t you lose a life, and only having three lives to start with you really should be saving these for the later levels.

With skill and determination that will soon get full - or cheats...

With skill and determination that will soon get full – or cheats…

The controls are typical of racing games released on the NES – simplistic yet effective. The A button accelerates the car, the D-Pad steers your car and to brake, well as much as it’s a presumption it is the B button why would you want to brake? Obviously you might say to slow your car down, but personally it seems more effective to just release the accelerator button and drift round the corner. The controls are reactive and in fact the handling of the vehicle can change depending on the vehicle used in the race, for example, the Warrior-type trucks used in the garage-based levels have slow acceleration but turn really well, whilst the sports cars will race off at the speed of light so turning at full speed will make you drift off the edge losing valuable places to your opponents. Graphically, the colours are bold and contrasting and it feels like the developers took great care designing not only the vehicles (though it is a shame your vehicle is an exotic shade of grey) but in terms of the levels your racing on. Rather than racing around a race track like a Formula 1 car, or in fact dirt tracks like Ironman Stewart’s racing, your treated to everyday environments such as breakfast tables with orange juice slowing you down, garages where globs of glue slow you down and in the bathtub navigating round bubbles and impending doom moments such as the bathplug and swirling around in it. It was a really good touch of the developers to use everyday scenarios for their miniature vehicles, though the thought crosses that when you leave a room, you never know if miniature vehicles will be racing round dodging the mess you left behind!

White cars, where is this game set - Essex??

White cars, where is this game set – Essex??

For an unofficial cart that was never officially endorsed by Nintendo, Micro Machines is a fine example of a game, not just a racing game but a video game in general, done well. The graphics are bold and advanced for the console and are aesthetically pleasing on the eye and makes you feel like you are on the breakfast table racing round. The music and sound effects suit the game well and the controls as mentioned many, many times in the review are responsive and makes you feel that if you do come second or not do as well as you think, it’s due to player error and lack of skill. The game can be found on your favourite online four-lettered word acution sites so if you do get the chance, do add this to your collection and bask in the knowledge your sticking it to Nintendo, with their grey carts and the seal of quality, who needs them when you got games like Micro Machines and Action 52!…wait….

Rating – 5 out of 5

R.C. Pro-Am NES Review

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

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

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

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

Slightly more trophies in that cabinet than at Arsenal…

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

Even remote-controlled cars have “accidents” sometimes…

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

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

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

Rating – 4 out of 5