WWF Wrestlemania Challenge NES Review

WMCbox

There is something natural and organic about wrestling games over the years. Starting off with the very most basic Pro Wrestling (which has been reviewed here), the games have developed into multi-faceted beasts with such advanced complex controls and game modes that would render the most fussy of wrestling gamers salivating with choice. It wasn’t always like this though, for professional wrestling (or should that be sports entertainment?) video game fans. Sometimes you had to just make do with whatever game mode the game developers gave you. Case in point? Today’s review – WWF Wrestlemania Challenge on the NES.

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WWF Wrestlemania Challenge is a professional rasslin’ (Sorry, Wrestling) game released in 1990 for the NES and features nine of the hottest stars in the WWF at the time: Macho Man Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior, Ravishing Rick Rude, Brutus Beefcake, Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Big Boss Man, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and finally Yourself! Yes, for the first time in a professional wrestling video game you can play as yourself, but not being able to customise any part of the character. Still, it is a nice feeling that you, the player could go one-on-one in the ring with a wrestler and have a chance of winning. The point of the game, like any sport (sorry, “professional entertainment”) is to beat your opponent and win the match. How, well by mashing buttons and beating seven bells out of your opponent of course and pinning them for the win. Or, you could throw your opponent out of the ring, pummel them there and get back in the ring before the bell counts for 10.

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When you turn on the cartridge you’re treated to a lovely visual of the Ultimate Warrior which to be fair graphics-wise is a good likeness. Yes the game was released in 1990 after such visual treats as Super Mario Bros 3 was released, but up to this point in terms of realism and graphics it wasn’t the strongest point of the NES. When pressing the start button you get treated to the first set of options, whether you want to play 1 player vs the computer, 1 player vs 2 player or 1 AND 2 player vs the computer. It’s great when an NES game allows two players simultaneously on screen but the added bonus of the two of you versus the CPU is an added treat. When you have chosen your option, you get to choose one of the nine wrestlers listed above and then what type of match it will be: Singles match, tag match or survivor series which is three-on-three. There is a variation between you picking Yourself as a character or a named wrestler. If you pick Yourself, one of the game modes you can pick is Super Challenge, consisting of you going against every wrestler one after the other in order to win. This feature is not available if you picked a named wrestler, instead the Super Challenge is replaced with a singles match against an opponent of your choice.

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When playing the match, the camera angle is of an isometric view, favoured by such games as Marble Madness and Snake Rattle N Roll (both of which were Rare games, such as WWF Wrestlemania Challenge – sensing a pattern here…). As a result, when controlling your character pressing the right button on the d-pad makes your character go bottom right, pressing down on the d-pad makes your character go bottom left and so on. Personally, it’s not a favoured control scheme and would like the option of choosing whether you control at a 45 degree angle or 90 degree angle like you can pick on Marble Madness. However, the controls are more advanced than previous wrestling games at this point. The A button does a physical move such as a punch or headbutt and the B button grapples the opponent to a more advanced move. Double tapping left or right makes your character run and then do a running move by pressing A, and pinning the opponent is with the B button. So controls-wise it is a welcome improvement on previous incarnations. As touched upon earlier, graphics wise the game has gone up a belt (every pun intended) and look a lot better than WWF Wrestlemania. The characters have a resemblance to them and even in-ring you can see a likeness which does make you think you are watching Hulk Hogan or the Ultimate Warrior. The crowd do have generic faces but with different coloured hairstyles but it’s nice to feel you are preforming in front a crowd that isn’t faceless. You’ll notice a stamina meter as well on the bottom of the ring – every time you get attacked your stamina meter goes down. However by running around and attacking your opponent your stamina meter can be replenished. In some respects this is good as you have a chance of getting back into the match if you have been attacked but as a result this can lead to matches been longer and more drawn out which some gamers may not enjoy as much. It is difficult as this was one of the first wrestling games that had this feature so the decision had to be made whether the stamina meter goes down and never gets replenished or whether this does go back up over time.

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So overall how does the game fare in the passages of time? To be honest, the fact the moves became more advanced, the graphics became better and the choice of nine characters to pick makes it one of the better wrestling games on the console. At times the game can be tough and challenging with no password option or save feature so it is a game with which you have to sit down in one shot and defeat the other eight wrestlers to become the best in the business. The game is better than WWF Wrestlemania from 1989 but is it as good as Pro Wrestling? That is a difficult choice, it comes down to whether you like playing as made up characters or those you recognise from the TV. It is the same question that football fans had when playing a game such as FIFA with real names compared to games like Sensible Soccer which had made-up names due to licencing. Overall though if you wanted to play a WWF game on the NES then certainly with the different game modes and different characters then this would be the game of choice to pick up compared to it’s previous entry on the console, and coupled with Pro Wrestling makes a great tag team of wrestling games on the NES.

Rating – 4 out of 5

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Skate Or Die! NES Review

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After what seems an eternity in the world of game reviews and it’s reviewers, this one is back with a bang – not a literal one but a metaphorical one. If you were to relate the bang to anything in particular it could be one of two things – 1. The sound of a skateboard constantly hitting the floor, or 2. The sound of an NES controller constantly hitting the floor. But after all this time, why the need for such violence and anger from a video game – is it something truly bad? Is it something that will induce cursing and the surrounding air to turn blue? That would be a matter of opinion but for now, let’s take a look at Skate or Die! (And no, the exclamation mark is not of excitement, but the game title – honest).

Yes I will...

Yes I will…

Skate or Die! was released on the NES in 1988, or rather the port of the game was. The original game came out on home cpmputers such as the Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum and others to boot. As may be obvious in the title, Skate or Die! is a skateboarding game which in the same vein as it’s winter-themed successor Ski Or Die or even California Games (which is not winter-themed) it is a multi-event game for you to compete it and either beat an opponent or get a high score in. There are 5 events which will be explained in further detail below, but are: Joust, Race, Jam, Highjump and Freestyle.

Joust – You and one of three computer opponents go into a large skating bowl armed with what looks like a giant cotton bud in order to knock your opponent off their skateboard, like Gladiators but on a skateboard. Aim towards your opponent with the d-pad and mash any button to try and knock them off – it is a guessin game what button does what so mash away and hope that you get to knock your opponent off.

Joust

Joust

Race – You race against…yourself to try and get a highscore. The controls are severely delayed and feel like you have to press hard on the d-pad to try and turn your character. Rather than up to make your person move, this time it is down so for the first few seconds you’ll be trying to decypher this and wasting valuable time. It is very easy to fall off the skateboard with the natural terrain and trying to jump with the A or B button causing you to easily crash.

Race

Race

Jam – No not an eating contest trying to eat as much jam-covered skateboards as you can, but a race with another person! Yes it really is! Again the controls are delayed but not as severe as “race” mode. The down button makes your boarder move, A + B buttons make the character punch which you can do against your opponent and the Up D-Pad makes you jump and do a 180, some of the time.

Jam

Jam

High Jump – move your character up and down a skate ramp trying to get him to jump on his board as high as possible. You try moving your character with the up key and it does….nothing. Try doing the down keypad and….again nothing happens. No, on this one you have to waggle the d-pad left and right to get him to speed up – the incosistent controls are getting a bit tedious, and to be honest this is 5 minutes you’ll never get back, wiggling the controller back and forth hopeing to get above a 5 or 6 meter mark.

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Freestyle – Again, your located on a ramp and using any button possible you have to try and do tricks. Another boring inconsistent mashup where more often than not you’ll be on your knees (not in a good way) with your board skating past you wondering where it all went wrong.

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Before you get to experience these fabulous events you get a main menu which is unlike any that you’d come across before. You move a cursor not of a mouse but with the game’s title written there and when it hovers a certain item on screen it causes the character, Rodney to quote a phrase such as “Doncha like my ‘do’ or “Semper Fi’ Or Die” – y’know such cool and rad expressions that only late 80’s and early 90’s skater dudes can say and pull off. You get the chance to practice these events or registering your name and competing for realsies. An innovative menu but alas it seems this is the only aspect of the game worth noting.

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It was with a heavy heart to review this game as having played California Games and the sequel to this game Ski Or Die, having put the game into the console and turning it on, the need to like it was obvious and had kept an open mind about it, but it seems the three multi-event games on this console suffer the same fate. With Skate Or Die in particular, it suffers from unimaginative competition, uninspiring competition and sometimes invisible competition and has severely delayed controls which will cause an imprint of the d-pad to be etched on your thumb. It was a good idea in theory (what isn’t?) but the execution for this port doesn’t come off well. The graphics, well for the NES they are ok, it is this and the fact you get to choose your poison..ahem event that would mean it doesn’t get a lower score than what is noted below. But if you’re looking for a half-decent sports game to play on the NES then steer clear of this, anything that is multi-events can only mean one thing – multi-disappointment and that is not rad or not cowabunga….

Rating – 2 out of 5

Double Dribble NES Review

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In the 80’s, a wave of American culture landed on UK shores that would influence and shape a generation, things such as MTV, The Simpsons and American sports like Baseball, Ice Hockey and the sport for today’s review, Basketball. First played in the late 19th Century in a town named Springfield (not where Jebediah first founded) it would only have been a matter of time before a video game was based off the sport – why get kids out playing the real sport when they can put on their Nintendo and play the video game of it? Konami hit on this brainwave and released Double Dribble, so how does it fare – is it a 3 pointer or a non-starter?

Someone call pest control - we gotta problem!

Someone call pest control – we gotta problem!

Double Dribble started life as per a number of early NES titles as an arcade game released in 1986. Due to the popularity of this, Konami thought (and rightly so) that it should be ported to home consoles, which it duly released in 1987. Double Dribble is a basketball game in which as per most sports, the idea is to score more points than your opponents. The rules and scoring of basketball won’t be covered here however there are plenty of fine resources out there that would describe the sport, so let’s assume you know the basics of the game.

The slowest options menu on the NES

The slowest options menu on the NES

When you pop in the game you can choose between one player game versus the computer or playing against a friend in local multiplayer which is always favourable – online multiplayer at this stage was not fully designed or implemented on the NES…so you choose which mode you wish to play and then you’re treated to an opening scene of what looks like hoards of moles burrowing underground make their way to a Kremlin-like building (such is the graphics in the opening segment)  whilst the US National Anthem plays in the background. A nice touch and adds to the charm and appeal of the game.

Kick off! I mean, let's start

Kick off! I mean, let’s start

You then get to pick your options before the match starts, which was common for sports games on the NES at the time however to choose your options your player shoots the ball into the net to change the setting. Firstly it’s time, so you can play a 5/10/20 or 30 minute match, then which team out of 5 to choose from you want to be (surprisingly no option for a London basketball team – maybe London wasn’t glamorous enough at the time…). Then you get to pick the level of difficulty from 1, 2 or 3 before starting the match. The one criticism here is that it takes too long to cycle through the options – what is wrong with pressing left or right to choose your team or match length? Instead your waiting for the guy to shoot the hoop which draws out the process.

Will he? Won't he?

Will he? Won’t he?

So the match starts, and the graphics suit the game well and are of good quality, which isn’t surprising as Konami were the publishers of the game. There are the odd quirk here and there, such as in game the player’s skin colour can change (which is more evident when the player you are in control with “flashes”) but in the background you can define the crowd and is a nice touch when you can see them pumping their fists in the air like they just don’t care and supporting team. The centre piece of the game is when you go in to the dunk the ball into the basket, a cut scene appears – for the time this was mightily impressive and felt realistic. It doesn’t matter how many times you see the cut scene, it always does bring a smile to the face and the following shouting at the TV wanting the ball to go in the basket to get your two points.

BOOMSHAKALA! Oh, wrong game...

BOOMSHAKALA! Oh, wrong game…

The controls are responsive and tight, with the d pad (unsurprisingly) moving your player, the A button passing the ball and the B button changing the player you are controlling and also shooting. Although there may be a button to press to tackle the ball from the player, having tried all combinations it is difficult to know what this is, which for a sport’s game as much as the offense is good, you need to know how to defend. The sound effects at times can sound like they were direct from the Atari 2600 however hearing the beeps go up in pitch when you are in control of the ball is a nice touch, the ball being bounced is a nice effect and there is some voice sampling which is always a welcome especially on a console like the NES.

From behind

From behind

Overall, Double Dribble is an average basketball game with which it’s postives and negatives equal out in measure. The positives include the Star Spangled banner at the start of the game, the cut scene when dunking a basket and the tight and responsive controls which for a sports game is always important. The negatives is the hard difficulty of the game – it does seem tricky to tackle the ball from your opponent and feels like every chance they are at your basket they score whereas when you attempt to score, more often that not it doesn’t go in. Maybe the difficulty gradient you choose at the start from 1, 2 or 3 means 1 is the most hardest and 3 is the easiest? Who knows, it is not explained in game but a solid title from the Konami team, heaven knows what it would have been like if it was a black box game by Nintendo as a launch title. Maybe then the mighty USSR and Great Britain may have been involved…but do pick up the title, just so that two of you on local multiplayer on a Tuesday night can compete against each other pretending to be Michael Jordan. Copies of the game are plentiful in your preferred method of purchasing games, so do try it and don’t be tempted to shout BOOMSHAKALA – wrong generation of console my friend……

Rating – 3 out of 5

Lunar Pool NES Review

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After a hard day saving mushroom kingdoms, stomping on enemies or acquiring new powerups from bosses to destroy a demented Doctor, what better way of relaxing then with a nice game of pool. Set in the the future. Isn’t that every person’s dream? Well dream no further as the game developer’s Compile knew what we we’re all thinking and what we wanted, and created a pool game set in the future with futuristic tables and the ability to control gravity. So grab your moon boots, your futuristic cue and hustle like its 2099 as we head into the realms of Lunar Pool.

The options

The options

Lunar Pool as the name suggests is a pool game set in the realms of outer space. If the rules of pool defy you then it may be worth checking out Wikipedia but in a potted condensed version, you pot the balls into the pocket and….that’s it. Pool games are simplistic in themselves but the twist is the theme of the game with which the clue is in the title. With the ability to control the amount of friction that the balls travel round the table on, and the weird and wonderful table designs, it certainly makes for a more unusual pool game. With Lunar Pool as the player if you fail to pocket a ball in three consecutive shots, or if the cue ball is pocketed then you lose a life. With only a certain amount of lives you need to have the eye of the tiger and ensure your accuracy is up to speed. If the game is played against another player or the computer, players take turns shooting the cue ball but if one player fails to knock at least one of the balls into a pocket, or pocket your own cue ball, then it will be the opponent’s turn, so bear that in mind players.

Interesting...

Interesting…

So when you power the game up, you get the option of playing one player (against no opposition), two players in a local co-operative game or intriguingly a Vs Comp mode, which is not as exciting as it sounds but is you versus the computer. So regardless of whether you want to play with yourself (no sniggering at the back), with a real life friend or a computer friend, there is something for everyone in Lunar Pool. So as well as choosing what game mode you play, you also get to choose which round you start at, with up to 60 tables to choose from although the numbers won’t mean much unless you remember that table number x relates to a certain design. You also get to choose the friction of which the balls travel round the table at, starting at 0 which feels like you’re playing pool in mud, to 255 which is like playing pool on ice. So depending on the friction, you may need to change strategy in order to win.

Very interesting...

Very interesting…

The colours for the game are bold and defined, though the pockets do look like sink holes. However, as the graphics are well defined and colourful, for a pool game it certainly is a treat for the eyes. The controls are about as simple as they can get for a pool game, with the left/right d pad moving the cross-hair which would indicate which direction the cue ball will travel in. Moving the up/down d pad supposedly controls another part of the cross-hair however having compared when the cross-hair is near and when the cross-hair is far, it doesn’t seem to affect the trajectory or spin of the ball. So as of yet the result of the up/down d pad is unknown. The A button launches your ball into the other balls, like a supersonic comet smashing into the planets knocking them out of alignment. The game has basic jaunty music and sound effects which to be fair belong to the Atari 2600 but pool isn’t the most audio-friendly of games, it may be worth putting on your mini-disc and listening to the latest Beastie Boys record, or whatever the youth listen to these days.

As interesting as clouds...

As interesting as clouds…

Lunar Pool is a decent enough pool game, in which the developers took a simple idea and done it very well, adding a number of twists to keep the gamer interested and ensure replayability. With the different game modes such as one player, local co-op and playing against the computer, with upto 60 different tables and the ability to change the friction on the table, that equates to a whole number of differing combinations that keeps the gameplay fresh. Copies of the game can be found at all your local retro game retailers and online auctioneers at a nice price so it is worthy to add to your collection. Although there are other pool games available, namely Side Pocket, Lunar Pool is certainly a fresh take on the pool game genreso grab your space chalk and start hustling, I for one am off to sell my copy of the game for scratch money…

Rating – 4 out of 5

Punch-Out!! NES Review

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Not always, but in life it can sometimes be good to go back, to go back to the past and play those…well games from yesteryear. Nintendo thought so, because with the release of the 8th generation console the Wii U, Nintendo developed and released two games that drew upon the games from the NES era and added challenges in order to gain stars. The more stars you got the more games it unlocks. The first game, entitled NES Remix was launched in Europe December 18th 2013 and the second game entitled NES Remix 2 was released 25th April 2014 which as a game that challenges were based on, included Punch-Out!! (The double exclamation mark being the title, not my excitement about the game). So looking back at the game did it deliver a knock out blow to floor it’s rivals or leave you on the mat counting to 10 for it to be over?

What a handsome chap, almost looks Stallone-like in nature...

What a handsome chap, almost looks Stallone-like in nature…

Punch-Out!! was released in Europe in December 1987 and is a port of an arcade game developed by Nintendo themselves in 1984. Punch-Out!! is a boxing game where you control the character Little Mac, as he works his way up through the boxing circuit, starting out at the bottom on the Minor Circuit working your way up in difficulty to the man himself Mike Tyson, though in later versions was Mr Dream. As per normal standard boxing rules, you have to beat your opponent to a pulp, either by knocking him to the mat three times to get a triple knock-out (TKO) in one round, or if you hit your opponent hard enough, and the ref counts to 10 whilst the opponent is on the mat. With the arcade version, the characters were larger and had wire framing for the main character, so as the NES could not replicate the powerful arcade graphics and processing, the development team made the characters smaller, in order to see more on screen, and added passwords to save progress and animated cut scenes.

Mario AGAIN? Is there not a sport he is involved in, maybe American Gladiators...?

Mario AGAIN? Is there not a sport he is involved in, maybe American Gladiators…?

 On screen, Little Mac can jab, do body blows and when he has the ability to, to do a powerful uppercut. The uppercuts are limited, as in order to perform this, you need to have earned a star – typically from counter-attacking the opponent’s punches. Though not always, the uppercut when timed right can inflict a powerful punch that will send your opponent to the mat regardless of the health he has. On screen it shows the number of “stars” you have, your health which starts at 20 and goes down with every punch you make or the damage you have incurred, the enemies’ health bar and also the timer, being a standard 3 minutes a round. You can dodge your opponents attack, which when timed right can give you the ability to get a few punches on your opponent draining his energy. If you run out of health, you turn purple (something that wouldn’t look amiss from Bart Vs The Space Mutants) and have to mash the buttons as quickly as possible so that your opponent doesn’t knock you out. If that should happen, it’s that moment where you close your eyes and imagine your playing Track and Field and hopefully, you might live to fight another round.

How do you knock out a guy 3 times as tall as you? Blow him over! Erm... #xrated

How do you knock out a guy 3 times as tall as you? Blow him over! Erm… #xrated

The controls are fluid and responsive – The A button punches with the right arm and the B button punches with the left arm. When you hold the Up d-pad button with A or B, you perform a normal uppercut, whilst holding the down d-pad and A or B does a body blow. You can dodge attacks with the left or right d-pad, which as mentioned above you will need to familiarise yourself with in order to dodge attacks. The start button is where the powerful uppercut comes into play, but only if you have a star in order to do this. The graphics are bright and bold and although the crowd do look the same, that’s not why we play this game, right? The characters you control and play are colourful and varied, and even Mario makes an appearance as the referee – as if saving the Princess didn’t take up enough of his time, nor playing golf or tennis at the weekends… The music is upbeat and the sound effects suit the game well, this certainly wouldn’t be a time to put on your headphones and listen to 1970’s disco, so let the sounds form the cartridge enhance your experience.

Catch the spit, put it on eBay, it'll be worth a fortune

Catch the spit, put it on eBay, it’ll be worth a fortune

Punch-Out!! is a game worthy enough to be in anyone’s NES collection. The controls are smooth and responsive, and the characters quirky and charming which make you remember them. A lot of the game has had an enduring legacy from character names such as Glass Joe and King Hippo, down to a particular meme that is popular after winning the Minor Circuit. Although games can be bad and have moments that last through the years, the fact that Punch-Out!! has varied legacies shows the appeal of the game. If you have 30 minutes then it certainly is worth popping this into your console and with the help of the password system, it doesn’t feel like you have to start playing with Glass Joe every time you pop the cartridge in the machine. Copies are common in all good game shops and online auction sites, so although you may not agree with violence, how can you not fall in love with this game? I’m off to get big boy pants in purple and train hard though I’m more a lover than a fighter…

Rating – 5 out of 5

Volleyball NES Review

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Volleyball, as the name may suggest, is a Volleyball game released in Europe in November 1986. You control a team of 6 characters, not all individually but in clusters closest to the ball, in order to return the ball over the net. Get to 15 points and you win the match, winning the respect of your opponents – well in your mind that’s how it feels. In the game you can control one of 8 countries – USA, China, Cuba, Japan, Brazil, South Korea (where was North Korea when they thought of good Volleyball nations?),  Tunisia and those all time retro sports game favourites the USSR. On screen there are no statistics showing the difference between each country, not that it makes any difference anyway so it all depends on who your favourite country is. Pick between one or two players, and whether you want the match to be with men or women (again, no difference is play style but aesthetics) and away you go.

 

Title screen

Title screen

 

The game is played on a sand-coloured court surrounded by a sea of blue, with two officials and the referee in the background, though the referee in Volleyball disappointedly isn’t Mario which makes you wonder if Mario is more of a tennis fan then Volleyball – years later Mario Tennis was released on the Nintendo 64 so maybe these black box sports games were a sign of things to come?… Anywho back to Volleyball, you start off with your player seemingly humping the ball, you press the A button to serve the ball and then the match begins.  The ball seems to fly back and forth across the screen at a fast pace and you need to have quick reflexes to just get under the ball. Not only do you need to get under the ball but you need to press the A or B button so that the ball stays in the air, to knock it over the net on the third attempt. This is when you start to realize the problems with Volleyball.

 

The subtle nuances between the male and female players - the curves...oh the curves

The subtle nuances between the male and female players – the curves…oh the curves

 

Forget that the ball travels faster than a DeLorian attempting time travel, you only have a small dark shadow flying across the court where you have to try and guide your player and press any button to keep the ball in the air. The shadow is too small to guide your player in a timely manner, and when you get under the ball you have no control as to where the ball will go – if you are directly in the shadow you may have a chance of the ball going in a good location for the next player however the chances of that are slim. Whenever you win a point you get to serve, however the chances of you serving are even slimmer and you will have to get used to the fact the opponent serves and you spending the rest of the match trying to return the ball. Occasionally the ball may land in the opponent’s side however you have to win two points consecutively before it registers that you have won a point, so you’ll have to do repeat all the good work done in winning the first point again before it registers on the score board. It’s been said before and it has been said again, what is lacking in the gameplay is control – control in games cannot be stressed enough. Without control, it doesn’t matter how good the graphics are, or even having a choice of 128 different countries to play as, if you cannot control the return of the ball, everything else is negligible, and this is the biggest criticism of Volleyball. Although you may have good reflexes in order to move yourself under the shadow of the ball, and can press the button to hit the ball, where the ball goes is anybody’s guess, and that cannot be excused.

 

For what it’s worth, the d-pad controls the character closest to the ball when it is in the air in your own half, though the first 3 players closest to the net all move together if it is closest to them. The A button seems to return the ball whilst the B Button makes your character jump so that you can spike the ball, though good luck in trying to spike the ball! The graphics are bold and simplistic, which is standard for the black box games on the NES at the time. What is good is that you can differentiate between the male and female teams, with the female team having longer hair and, well more curves – maybe it’s through innocent eyes this is noticed however it’s good the graphics reflect this however the background crowd seem to move their heads back and forth even though no action is happening and like other black box games, the crowd have the same haircut and look like they could form a Beatles tribute band. The music is upbeat and is relentless throughout the match, whilst the sound effects are basic and do their job.

 

The crowd look excited as always

The crowd look excited as always

 

Volleyball is a game that on paper sounds good and is a good fit for the NES library, however in reality suffers from one major flaw – control. The ball speeds past the players at a high pace and you have a short amount of time to react and press the button in the hope that the ball may go to another player on your team. Due to this lack of control it ruins the game and ends up the computer continually serving and you hoping to get a sniff of a hope of returning the ball. There is no difficulty setting with the game however with no tournament mode, it’s a series of individual matches that like Soccer on the NES, doesn’t mean much. What is good is the subtle differences between the male and the female players and you can choose your country (though why isn’t the United Kingdom in this game is anyone’s guess) however this is the only redeeming feature of the game. If you have a second player, good luck having a meaningful match – you would have a more meaningful match if you were both blindfolded and a third person generated the electricity to power the console on a exercise bike with the friction at it’s most intense. Copies of the game are rare, rarer than Golf or Soccer on the NES so it’s one for collectors only, so if you want to get into Volleyball and are too lazy to go to your local sports club, pick up Super Spike V’Ball instead. I’m off to sulk that you can’t choose the UK as a country to be in the game, though being the USSR is always tempting…

 

Rating – 1 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

Super Sports Challenge NES Review

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Today being Father’s Day, what better way of spending the day then with your son or daughter, picking up that NES controller and playing a 2 player co-op game? Today isn’t the day to be a lone hero playing Die Hard, or carrying on with Super Mario Bros 2, no today is the day of the offspring (not the US punk band). Yes you could pop in Contra or Super Mario Bros where your partner in crime will let you down due to their inexperience, so why not relax with a compendium of sports to play together with no hint of competitiveness whatsoever! And while your at it, why not play it on a cartridge that looks nothing like a regular NES cart?

I'll leave it to you to decide where to stick this...

I’ll leave it to you to decide where to stick this…

In 1991 Codemasters released Super Sports Challenge for the NES in Europe (or Quattro Sports if you’re in the US, released by Camerica), and wasn’t the most aesthetically-pleasing of carts. Codemasters in the early days published games by Camerica, who had a habit of designing games that bypassed the security chip on the console which irked a few people at Nintendo. As a result of this, Codemasters didn’t release their carts in gold or shiny silver, they designed the game so that you had to have an official cartridge placed on top and then inserting the behemoth into your console thus bypassing the lock-out chip. So was the result worth it? The game is split into 4 sports:

Baseball

Baseball

BMX

BMX

Football (NOT Soccer!)

Football (NOT Soccer!)

Tennis

Tennis

Starting with Baseball, you can choose from a number of worldwide teams to be and what is also good is that from the main menu you can view the stats of each time – that is if you know your stats, with points here and averages there. The rules of the game need no explanation but to win at the game can be quite difficult as it is hard to hit a home run. The graphics look bold and with good contrasting colours, and the animation with the pitcher is done well, however there is no detail in the faces of the players which may be something minor, but that coupled with the difficulty of hitting a home run it may be a game for statisticians only. Pick up Bases Loaded instead.

BMX Simulator takes you in control of Jason, Larissa or Bud depending on the number of players you have (with a maximum of 3) and choosing the difficulty of the game. The graphics here unfortunately do look bland and can strain the eyes with its brownish bland hue and at times difficult to navigate which way you are supposed to race in. There seems to be no clear signs unless you follow the competitors around. The bike can be difficult to steer if going at full speed, meaning your more likely going to crash into the walls than racing at full throttle. An average game but Super Off Road is better.

Soccer (or better known as Football) is your standard football game that graphically looks and plays like Super Kick Off with the overhead view. Although it doesn’t have USSR (instead having Russia with the Soviet Flag) it does have West Germany so being that the game was released in 1991 it may have needed to update the selection of countries. The game again is an average footballing game, personally Goal! is better however the game is very playable and what is nice is that every now and again it flashes on the screen that “Remember – A is to pass and B is to shoot”, I don’t know if takes pity on you or is an example of on screen controls that is now characterised in today’s games?

Pro Tennis unfortunately shares the same issues as baseball – bold yet bland details and bad controls – it’s difficult enough to serve the ball let alone having a full rally. It has been said before and it has been said again – graphics are not the be all and end all of a game as long as you have solid controls and good gameplay. Pro Tennis has none of this, which is a shame but you’re best off even with black box Tennis rather than this version.

I'm not sure Clough and Souness would sit down and slog out a match on this game

I’m not sure Clough and Souness would sit down and slog out matches on this game

As different as the sports are on this game, they all share the same characteristics: Bland average graphics, upbeat jaunty music, broken controls and the distinct inability to actually win any of the matches you compete in. Finally, if you wanted to change the game you’re playing, rather than pressing the reset button to get back to the main menu, you have to turn the console off and turn it back on. You could argue that with stand-alone games you reset and it takes you back to that game’s menu, however with this game, it would be nice to make the selection without turning the console off and sometimes blowing into the cartridge to make it work!

Overall, although the idea of having 4 games on one cart is a great idea (Super Mario All Stars anyone?…), in reality Super Sports Challenge was executed badly. There are better alternative sports games to play, and your not saving time by swapping carts, as you need to go to the console to turn it off rather than resetting the machine when you want to play a different game. Yes there are better 2 player games (ahem Contra ahem Battletoads) to play but if you like the idea of a challenge, then this game is it – a challenge trying to hit a freaking home run or serve a tennis ball! Get out the black box gaming collection and have fun with them instead, I’m off to play with R.O.B and try to get him to call me Dad.

Rating – 2 out of 5

WWF Wrestlemania NES Review

WWFWrestlemaniaBox

On a Saturday afternoon there was nothing better than devouring a big bag of Skittles whilst tuning in the latest wrestling action from across the pond. Despite numerous warnings and messages not to repeat the moves you see on TV, impressionable children still tried to piledrive and suplex each other on the parents bed much to the disdain of parents all over the country. So thank goodness when Acclaim and the WWF linked together to create video games based off the heroes that were seen on screen each Saturday. Although there were other wrestling games at the time, the chance to play as our favourite heroes was an opportunity not to miss. The first licenced game released was WWF Wrestlemania, back in 1989, so after 24 years does this game deserve a gold belt or to be beaten into submission?

Certainly beats the MGM lion, or does it...

Certainly beats the MGM lion, or does it…

WWF Wrestlemania is, as common sense may dictate, a wrestling game giving the player the opportunity to play as 6 licenced characters from the most famous wrestling organisation out there (and not the WWF charity, a confusion made clear years later) and fight till the death. Or rather the 3 count bell rings. You can choose to play one off matches or compete in a tournament facing off against the other 5 opponents in order to be crowned the champion. The characters to select from are: The Million Dollar Man TedDiBaise, Bam Bam Bigelow, Honky Tonk Man, Randy “Macho Man Savage”, Andre The Giant and Hulk Hogan. Certainly makes a difference than playing as King Slender or as Star Man.

Turning on the game your greeted with the option to select the number of players you wish to have participate in the game. If you are by yourself or with a friend, for 2 players you can choose to play one-off matches or compete in a tournament. If you have 3 or more players you can only compete in the tournament. There is no tag teaming games or steel cage matches, just mano y mano in the ring. You then get the chance to enter your name, which is quite useful unless your name was Gertrude or something longer than 6 letters but you could abbreviate to Gertie right? Who wouldn’t want to play with a Dirty Gertie?… Anywho deviating slightly, after entering your name you then choose your wrestler from the 6 listed and your then ready to fight.

Ted looks really annoyed at something, I can't quite figure out what

Ted looks really annoyed at something, I can’t quite figure out what

Usually at this point is where I would say the A button does this and the B button does that, however bearing in mind it’s a wrestling game the best way to experience the game is to mash buttons, in different combinations in order to win. There is something satisfying in just mashing the buttons without thinking, and having to worry about strong grapples and weak grapples and pressing a million different combinations to inflict damage. Bearing in mind the limited number of buttons on the controller, moves are restricted to basics however the developers did try to do the best with the limited options you have. Characters have their standard punching, kicking and headbutt moves, but as well each character can perform a “back attack”, kind of similar in Double Dragon where you can attack where your back is turned. It’s also worth noting that characters can perform an aerial move from the bottom turnbuckles only, and some characters perform moves unique to them, for example Randy Savage can perform elbow smashes rather than normal punches which is a nice touch customising the characters rather than just colouring in different pixels, calling them different but having the same move set. In the game as well you may stumble across icons that go from left-to-right across the screen so do collect them as it improves your health bar on the screen helping you last longer. The icons differ for the differing characters, again Bam Bam Bigalow has a fire icon go across the screen, and these icons can only be used by the specific wrestler, so Hulk Hogan cannot collect the item for Bam Bam.

Graphically, the game is set upon a black background so there’s no crowd cheering you on, and does seem quite simple. They did do well trying to recreate the faces of the wrestlers which are displayed on screen but the colours are very simple and do not inspire. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as there’s always a debate that gameplay should outweigh graphics but as mentioned the graphics won’t tantalise or tittilate. The music although upbeat doesn’t seem to quite fit the gameplay, in menus it’s fine but in game the noise of the crowd and the sound effects of fighting should outweigh, but no the music repeats on a loop in game. Due to limitations the character’s theme music isn’t heard at any point in the game which is a shame but is understandable but it would have been nice if there was some effort put into the music. As well the sound effects do sound as if they were ported directly from the Atari which given this was in the last year of the Eighties, more effort could have been made.

It's almost as if Andre himself was playing this game...

It’s almost as if Andre himself was playing this game…

So overall, WWF Wrestlemania was a forgettable debut for WWF games on the NES console. It’s a shame as kids growing up on the WWF would have rushed the stores parting their parents cash so quick knowing they could fight as the heroes they see on TV, but aside from button mashing there’s no grace or elegance in the game. Yes it’s nice that 6 people can play on the one cartridge but the developers could have put more effort into this game to make it more memorable. Given that 2 years prior to this game being released, Pro Wrestling was released in Europe and was a much better effort without the usage of the characters, so that could have been a benchmark to improve on but sadly it wasn’t. Wrestling fans may want to add this to the collection for nostalgia sake, to see how the genre has moved on from the beginning here to what is on offer now but for the casual fan, my advice is to pick up Pro Wrestling instead, and pretend its the WWF superstars instead.

Rating – 2 out of 5

 

California Games NES Review

cgbox

Think of California, and what do you think of? Perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger running the state flexing his ridiculously large biceps, perhaps the sun-kissed beaches and ridiculously attractive tanned women roller blading around. Maybe it’s the word-of-the-day toilet roll made in California in which today’s word is “ridiculously” that filters through subconsciously into day-to-day speaking… But whatever your perceptions, to a middle-class British boy who had to stay indoors due to rain and not getting dirty in the mud, thoughts of sunnier climbs of California never strayed far from the minds of the gaming youth. Those perceptions must have played on the mind of Epyx, the gaming company that brought multi-sports event games Summer and Winter Games for Atari 2600 and other home consoles, as in 1987 they brought out California Games for the NES as well as other consoles. So how does the game stack up, is it ridiculously good or ridiculously bad?

Not even the Bear's would feed on this game

Not even the Bear’s would feed on this game

California Games like other titles released by Epyx at the time is a sports game which rather than have one sport to focus upon such as soccer or golf, is split into 6 events that was deemed to be popular in California at the time – Half Pipe, Foot Bag, Surfing, Skating, BMX and Flying Disk (or Frisbee in laymans terms). The idea of the game is to score more points than your competitors by doing tricks and stunts depending on the vent your competing in, and taking the crown and a rather spiffing trophy. You can choose to play with up to 8 people, so if there was a group of you, then you can all play albeit one at a time on one controller but it’s better than having to pay for two NES Four Score and plugging in 8 controllers. You can choose to compete in all 6 events sequentially, to compete in certain events of your choosing or to practice the events, and boy will you need to practice the events in order to get anywhere with the games. If you choose to compete in events, you can enter your name on a screen that looks exactly the same as the name entry screen on Marble Madness (seeing as both are licenced by Milton Bradley that would make sense) and also be sponsored by 9 different companies such as Casio and Milton Bradley themselves.

Jaws is less fussy than the Bear's and would eat anything on this game

Jaws is less fussy than the Bear’s and would eat anything on this game

Starting with the Half Pipe, your character goes up and down on a half pipe in order to perform tricks for points however try as you may and no matter what button you press it always ends up the same way – your character falling flat on his derriere and the skateboard hitting you on the way back down. In Foot Bag your character is kicking a hackey sack up and down and you have to perform tricks whilst the bag is in the air, this is one of the better events although your character turns and moves like he’s in warm treacle. Surfing is pretty explanatory although how you score points is anything but simple, even though your running away from the big wave and occasionally meeting Jaws at the bottom of the screen, it’s just a question of how long you can survive from the wave and nothing else. Skating takes the form of roller blading on a pavement alongside the beach which does look pretty but the gameplay is not. You tap the A button to move and B makes your character jump whilst your dodging flying beach balls and rubbish strewn on the ground. You can spin round whilst your skating which is as useful as a glass hammer and you will be falling down a lot here so get used to having stumpy fingers repeatedly tapping A. BMX is your character on a BMX bike repeatedly tapping the A button to move, and B makes you jump which is similar to the skating event however when you jump if you press the d-pad it makes you do tricks which gets you extra points. Again, similar to skating event, there is rocks and debris on the course in the hope of knocking you off your bike so here you’ll need the reflexes of a ant scurrying away from jam splodges and caramel. Finally, the flying disk event (i.e. Frisbee) is where using the left and right d-pad you throw the frisbee to your friend halfway down a park, where you then control the character and pressing the A button to catch the Frisbee, however catching the frisbee is more trouble than it’s worth. It’s easier to find a needle in a rather large haystack whilst your blindfolded and spun around a hundred times so although you can perfect the first part of the event, the second more important part of the event lets you down.

These guys have a lot to answer to

These guys have a lot to answer to

So where the gameplay lets the game down, the graphics do not. In each event, the colours and surroundings are well defined and feels like you are completing in California, be this under the famous Hollywood sign in half pipe or skating along the beach through to throwing frisbees in the park under the mountains, it all looks really good and diverse with bold colours and detailed backgrounds. Each event has it’s own music as well that is upbeat and gets you in the mood well, and although there are no sound effects, the music makes up for this and surely it’s better to have no sound effects than ruin the ambiance of the song with effects that come direct from an Atari or worse?

If anyone was curious, this character was based on me - it's my double

If anyone was curious, this character was based on me – it’s my double

In the life of video games, there will be times where the gameplay is absolutely fantastic and the controls are responsive whilst it may not be as aesthetically pleasing to the eye and damaging your hearing with it’s atrocious music. Sometimes you get the complete opposite, and this is the category that California Games falls into. The graphics and the music are on par with the triple A titles on the console which is a pleasure to behold when looking at the backgrounds and listening to the music, however what lets the gameplay down spectacularly is the controls and gameplay. Although which events you prefer is entirely subjective, personally the BMX and the Foot Bag events shine above the other events due to being able to perform tricks and stunts without rocking the d-pad all over making your thumbs hurt by pressing any buttons in a random order. It’s good that you can have upto 8 players playing on the one game however do yourself a favour and go out get some BMX bikes or a frisbee, put on some headphones with the music from this game and get some fresh air and compete in the events in real life, your body will thank me for it but please, don’t send me proof of this…

Rating – 2 out of 5