10-Yard Fight NES Review


As you may recall from the Ski Or Die review, growing up in a suburban town there’s only so much sports you’re exposed to, the regular culprits being Football (Soccer for the readers across the pond), Rugby and at times the quintessentially middle-class Golf and Rugby. So imagine the surprise and excitement when suddenly as if being blindsided, American Football was introduced to our screens. Reminiscent of rugby, but with a lot more crash bang wallop and rules that were much more complex to fathom with play being stopped every few seconds, as per all good sports there was a glut of video games to tie in with this – the most common games being John Madden. But way back before then, Nintendo unleashed their own American Football game onto the NES to unsuspecting British gamers in the form of 10-Yard Fight, so how does this game fare up now – is it more of a crash, a bang or just want to wallop with gusto and might?

10-Yard Fight is an American Football game which was the first semi-realistic game to be made especially after the Atari era of gaming. It started life as an arcade in 1983, but was ported over to the NES in 1985 and was released as a black box game in December of 1985. The game is viewed form above, a sort of eye-in-the-sky viewpoint that oversees the action rather than a horizontal viewpoint such as other black box sporting games such as Excitebike and Soccer. Although the rules of American Football are long and require further reading that what this review can muster (as always Wikipedia would be a good start) the general idea of the game is to run with the oval-shaped ball from one side of the pitch to the other, scoring a touchdown to amass points, whilst all the while being thwarted by the opposition who will do anything to stop you scoring a touchdown. So yes, it is similar to rugby and although what has been described is distilled to its simplest form, the purist’s will vouch it’s two completely different played sports. Hmm….

The readings of Sun Tzu's Art of War came in handy for the blue team's attack

The readings of Sun Tzu’s Art of War came in handy for the blue team’s attack

So turning on the cartridge as with the other black box games your straight at the menu, no messing around however with a distinct lack of sound, nothing jovial to welcome you to the game. You can choose between 1 or 2 players, so you can slug it out alone or grab a buddy and pretend you’re having your own Superbowl. If you choose 1 player, you then choose your difficulty of the CPU, starting with High School Team working up in difficulty to the most hardest being Super Bowl Team. Should you win your match the next game you play is at the next difficulty, unless your hardcore enough to start on playing on the hardest difficulty – then your just epic. However you don’t select a team like in later American Football games such as the Miami Dolphins or the Pittsburgh Steelers, when you pick your difficulty you then go straight into the game. The opposition kicks off and away we go.

The bright colours excite like a firefly dancing in a wooded forest...

The bright colours excite like a firefly dancing in a wooded forest…

The graphics of the game do their job without getting into the difficulties of trying to create crowds and make it overly complicated. It looks like a typical American Football field pitch with the green grass and the markings in the ground at every 10 yard intervals. What is also a nice tough is that on the right hand side of the screen you have a mini map which shows not only relevant markings and the touchdown points in red and green (depending on which colour side you are) but also where on the map you are and where the action is. It sound’s silly to include that as a feature but the number of games that have an intelligible map which hinders the player is quite refreshing, especially based on the fact this game was released early in the console’s library. The controls are very simplistic with the d-pad moving your guy and the A/B buttons being used to either throw the ball to one of your teammates should you be attacking, or if defending you control which set of guys you want to move to help defend the opposition from getting past you. It’s touches like this that was enhanced upon for future games but it is nice it was introduced in 10-yard fight which makes you think tactically about what the opposition may be planning up their sleeves. In terms of music there really isn’t any aside from when the game kicks off and at intervals, it’s solid enough but won;t win any Grammy’s for it, however it does it’s job. The sound effects do sound something from an Atari as in when the balls fly through the air and when your tackled, it reminds you of white noise from a TV that doesn’t have the channel tuned in properly so you might want the radio on when your playing.

It was a rescue mission that Willy Wonka dressed parachutist couldn't turn down

It was a rescue mission that the Willy Wonka dressed parachutist couldn’t turn down

So all in all, 10-Yard fight sets the scene well for future American Football games, it sets a precedent for future American Football games to build upon, with the features such as picking different strategies and tactics by playing the different buttons on the controller. There are times when playing that do start to get jarring, for instance when your on the offence and the guy runs across the line of guys before play starts which takes an absolute eternity for him to run past – you can press button to play early but then it tactically is not as astute as it could be. All this time, it drains the time, with every footstep taking a second off the 30 minute accelerated timer that your given per half. It isn’t easy to score touchdowns either even on the easiest setting as when you tackle or when the opposition tackles it is not always guaranteed they will tackle properly and so your man skips right past. It’s pedantic and nit-picking yes however if it was a perfect game it wouldn’t have these faults but then wouldn’t be the grounding to improve on for future releases. Copies are not too expensive, so if you want to see how American football all began on consoles then this is a good start as any and worthy of being in your collection. But maybe your patriotic enough to prefer a good game of Rugby instead – me, I’m off to California see what Games are out there…

Rating – 3 out of 5

Excitebike NES Review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating – 4 out of 5

Ski Or Die NES Review


Sport games are common place in the video game market, from the standard sports of football, golf and Ice Hockey to name but a few however there were more extreme sports, some of which include skateboarding and winter sports – especially skiing. Being a young boy in a suburban town of England there wasn’t the opportunity to partake in such dangerous extreme sports in real life like rolling around in the snow and skiing however thank goodness for companies like Enyx and Ultra games, who knew kids like me would love the thought of such dangerous pursuits without leaving the comfort of our own homes. One of these games in particular, Ski or Die (a question I really hope isn’t asked of me in my life) was released for the NES in 1990, so how does the game play – is it more gold medal or Eddie the Eagle type novelty hogswash?

And they say drugs were bad fo you...

And they say drugs were bad for you…

Ski or Die is made by Ultra Games (or Palcom for the European PAL market), and is a winter sports game that follows on the same concept, design and execution as Skate or Die, but based on winter sports. For those not in the know about the game, rather than have one type of level and progressing your way through the game, it is in fact split into 5 mini-games for you to master and succeed in: Snowboard Halfpipe, Innertube Thrash (which doesn’t remotely sound like anything to do with babies in pregnancy), Acro Aerials, Downhill Blitz and Snowball Blast. However before you strap your skis and your horse riding helmet to protect the old noggin with, you need to get acquainted with our friend Rodney Recloose, who was in the Skate or Die game as well. When the game is turned on your treated to fantastic digitised voices saying Ski or Die without knowing if it was in fact a high pitched child saying it or a mild schizophrenic. Either way your then treated to the main menu which can’t be faulted for its craziness.

You meet Rodney with his wild bug eyes, purple “do” as he likes to call it and apparent jazz hands, from which you control the cursor to choose where to go and what to do. Placing the cursor on certain locations makes Rodney react often to bewildering effects but sometimes advises you of how to proceed. The first thing you’ll want to do is enter your name on the register like your back at school, where you can have 6 players playing on the game, which is fine if you didn’t have your copy of Anticipation to hand. After entering your name, you then have the opportunity to practice any one of the 5 events that is in the game, or to go for gold and compete in the events with competition. Naturally it makes sense to practice first of all so clicking on practice will bring you to the level select screen, where you “ski” your character to which ever event takes your fancy, where the fun really begins.

S'no way? That's not an "ice" thing to say is it, bro?!

S’no way? That’s not an “ice” thing to say is it, bro?!

Starting with Snowboard Halfpipe, you control the character down the course going from side to side mashing any button in any direction in the hope of doing tricks that earn points, while some jackass down below criticises your every move. Innertube Thrash much to my chagrin, has nothing to do with pregnancy but with your character riding an inflatable tyre-looking tube down against a computer opponent seemingly never getting more points than your opponent. Acro Aerials resembles a very short ski jump where you push your character off the edge and randomly mash buttons so that your character can perform tricks to earn points to impress the judges – the round is very short and you need to land perfectly which isn’t that difficult. Downhill Blitz is a standard downhill skiing race, completing the course in the quickest time, jumping off ledges again randomly pressing buttons to do something exciting but more often than not falling flat on your face. The controls seem simpler this time compared to the other events. Last but not least, that well known Olympic event Snowball Blast, which is exactly as it sounds like where your having a snowball fight, reducing the number of enemies from 50 to 0 in a certain amount of snowballs, looking at four different view points where the enemies can be found. If you beat the level the number of enemies increases whilst keeping the snowball level the same so you need to have good aiming as the levels increase.

It puts the Isle O' Hags overworld to shame

It puts the Isle O’ Hags overworld to shame

The copy of the game that I have did not include a manual to read if it showed the controls on the differing events, however the most common complaint I found with the game is that it is not clear what the controls are or how to perform tricks and moves on certain events. For example with the snowboarding and aerial game, your reduced to mashing buttons like your doing the 100m on Track and Field, to which inevitably you’ll fall flat on your face with your legs in the air trying to pull off a good move. The downhill event is standard controls, with the down button making your skier go faster and at random points yet again pressing different buttons to try and do something off the ledge. The Snowball Blast level is interesting inasmuch that to the bottom right the map is split in to four sections, and to view each section you hold the d-pad in that direction and press A, where it shows how many enemies are on that part of the screen, and B button throws the snowball being aimed by the crosshair that is controlled by the d-pad. But how on earth would you know any of this, because without any controls on screen or any in-game advice, it’s a question of trial and error that could have been avoided.

The colours are a standard wintery hue of various blues and whites, so at least it keeps some sort of relevant theme, although my recommendation is to not play this in a darkened room with the brightness of your TV set to extreme otherwise you’ll suffer from snow blindness, an affliction rarely seen outside of a mountain. The music is upbeat and jolly throughout, it does differ between the mini games however is always the same bars of music on the main menu and level select screen. The sound effects are standard collision noises and whooshing noises at points, though the digitized voicing leaves a lot to be desired. It’s understandable that for the time there would be no full voice acting, but when starting a level it’s hard to know what the voice is saying, sounding like “Death Star” but maybe that’s because I got Star Wars on the brain. As mentioned the controls are clunky and without either a manual or the patience to replay each level, it’s hard to know what the controls are or how to get good scores in the different games.

Who could throw a snowball at that cute face? Well, I guess you could throw stones at it instead...

Who could throw a snowball at that cute face? Well, I guess you could throw stones at it instead…

All in all, Ski or Die is a game that should only be played if all other multiplayer games are exhausted and your looking for a challenge that may or may not induce winter-based medical injuries. Even if you practice your heart out and decide to compete for 1st place in the game, you get the feeling that time could be spent doing better things, such as learning to ski properly or going up to a big hill and in an inflatable dinghy hurtling down an icy hill. Copies of the game are plentiful in all good retro shops and on our favourite auction website eBay at reasonable prices, so although there may not be a sudden rush for this game, you can easily pick up a copy to add to your collection. Saying that not even Rodney and his bulbous eyes and his hair stuck up with wood glue and shaved at the sides can help this poor game, so try it if you want a challenge and do enjoy winter sports based games, but without many winter-based games to choose from the NES unless you like Ice Hockey, so if it’s a question of Ski or Die, unfortunately it doesn’t seem like I’ll be skiing anytime soon…

Rating – 2 out of 5

Pro Wrestling NES Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos to whoever put pink and green into a wrestling ring

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

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

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

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

Rating – 4 out of 5

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

Ice Hockey NES Review

Let’s start this review with a quick video-game word association game to get the grey matter going. With each sport think of the first game that comes into your head – ready? Football (soccer) perhaps Fifa Soccer, Golf maybe Tiger Woods (insert year here) and ice hockey well NHL I’d expect. If there was a retro version of this word-association game, then for ice hockey the first game that would come to mind is Blades Of Steel made by Konami that was released in 1990. Good old Nintendo released there own version of the game two years prior to Konami’s take on the game in 1988 so is it as n-ice as Blades of Steel or should it be relegated to the sin bin?

Ice Hockey is, if you hadn’t guessed already, a video game based on the sport of the same name. The idea for those not in the know is to hit the round black puck into the goal scoring more points than the opposition. Nintendo’s version of the game is a stripped down back-to-basics affair, much like how the black box sports games such as Golf and Soccer were just stripped down basic versions of the game. When you pop this sucker in, your treated to the main menu with jaunty music, a line of ice hockey players dancing for your enjoyment with guys above shooting pucks, and the option to select 1 or 2 players. Then you get straight to the menu screen. In the PAL version there are 6 countries’ to choose from. The countries’ involved are:

USA, Sweden, Poland, Canada, USSR and Czechoslovakia, although in the NTSC version Japan is there instead of Sweden. It’s surprising that the United Kingdom isn’t included, being the ice hockey power-house that we are. Set the speed level and how long you want to play for, from 7, 10 and 15 “minutes” and your then ready to talk tactics.

For two country’s associated with the colour red, it’s a distinctive looking Luigi influence on their shirts

Your then faced with the option of selecting what type of player you want in the different positions of your team. You have 4 outfield players, and get to choose whether the player is a thin wiry player who can skate quick but can be weak, an average all-rounder player, or a heavier/stronger player yet is slower. Without rosters and real players included in these games, if you wanted big beefy mountains in your team then so be it – or if the strategy is to out play the opposition with speed then you can select that too. In fairness, none of this matters because the gameplay is what matters, and you could have the best team and best players, and still lose to the opposition who don’t know their arse from their elbow but can outplay you. After this screen, it’s time to hit the ice.

The gameplay itself plays exactly like the older black box sports games played on the NES – simplistic with minimum controls. The d-pad moves the player, the A-Button passes the puck and the B Button shoots. There is no button to tackle should the puck lay with the opposition, just charge into them mashing any button you can. There is also no option to change the player, it is whoever is closest. The goalie has a small area in which he is the king of that domain and can pass the puck. You can aim the d-pad to where your player is and press the A button to pass, and thankfully to shoot is not like other ice hockey games in which an arrow goes up and down the goal which you have to aim then shooting goes in that direction – you can press the direction and shoot. It seems hit and miss as to whether the puck is hit powerfully or not. If you hold the B -button down to shoot it makes your player “prepared” to shoot, but at a risk of getting tackled, is not always guaranteed to be powerful, nor be on target.

That Canadian flag looks like someone flipping the middle finger. Maybe at the bad gameplay

The graphics is a standard 8-bit fare, with the rink well designed, though the crowd are salmon coloured and everyone there resembling a member of the Beatles. They don’t even have the decency to be looking at the match in progress, just at each other! When you score a goal the crowd colour changes from salmon to green, but otherwise the colours are blocky and contrast well with the white of the rink, especially if you play this in the dark it may cause snow-blindness. Saying that why Poland and Canada are in green is anyone’s guess, as countries that typically are red by nature. The sound effects do get repetitive and can jar after a while, speaking of which although the music is quite upbeat and positive, it’s the only song in the game, which loops over and over and over again, now if your playing this for a 15 minute match or play this with your mates, it can get very annoying, so this is an occasion you may want to put on a Men at Work CD, or whatever music the kids listen to these days.

If there is one word that describes Ice Hockey, is average. Its very rare that you get to encounter any form of physical violence which for me is what makes Ice Hockey games good. When this happens you are relegated to the sin bin, but this happens far too rarely. The music and sound effects are not the best you’ll hear, and there are much better retro ice hockey games to play. For Ice Hockey fans, it is worth adding to your retro collection, however prices are quite expensive for PAL copies, it seems this was much more common in the US. If your not a fan of the sport it isn’t a game your going to rush out to purchase, or “snipe” like mad on eBay for a copy so look at acquiring NHL 94 on the Mega Drive instead, or enjoy the splendour of digitized voices on Blades of Steel. I’m off now to congratulate the Polish and the Canadian’s on their superb choice of moss green rather than the more obvious choice of red…

Rating – 2 out of 5

Track and Field NES Review

With the London 2012 Summer Olympics just starting, now is as good as any time to go back in time to 1983, to go back to the time of Stars Wars: Return of the Jedi, Flashdance and the start of a video game genre that has caused millions of stubbed fingers, strong curse words and broken (track)balls across the land. Although nowadays athletics games are tied to the specific sporting event (Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010 etc), way back before commercialism and tie-in’s came in to practice, there was Track and Field. Originally an arcade game, this was ported to the home consoles and has more sequels than American Pie, so how does the original button-masher stack up today?

Track and Field is as close to a text-book definition of “button-masher” as you’ll ever get. There are 8 events in which to compete in which is done sequentially, The events are:

100-meter dash, Long Jump, 110-meter hurdles, Javelin Throw, Skeet Shooting, Triple Jump, Archery, High Jump

It’s a nice variety of athletic events, rather than the weird and wonderful Taekwando and Water Polo that seems to grace the Olympics these days. With each event you compete in, there is a qualifying time or score that you need to beat before you progress to the next event, and in a number of the events, you get 3 chances to exceed the qualifying score. The only events where if you lose its game over is the 100 meters and 110-meter hurdles. The idea of the game, if ever there was an idea, is to beat the qualifying times/scores, and carry on until the end where you don’t get a lovely congratulations screen but the chance to do the events all over again! Such lucky gamers we are, but this time the scores are higher/quicker, so you need to bring your A game to this. If you don’t want to put the hard graft in, you can also access this second mode, a la Zelda by choosing game mode B from the main menu.

I defy any man to the splits as wide as the bottom player

In terms of controls, you don’t get much easier than what you get with Track and Field. The A button is your power which is represented by a meter, and this is where individual technique comes into play. You could rapidly press the button like a woodpecker on speed, or rub a coin/pen lid over the button, or just cheat and use a turbo controller. But what good is a button-mashing game if your holding down the button on a turbo controller?  It’s a badge of honour to get a stubbed finger, to get shouted at for using a strong curse word or to get splints. The up button is the action button, and is used in the hurdles to jump them, the long jump/trimple jump to set the angle at which you jump and the angle used to throw your Javelin. The only time the B button is used is in the Skeet event to shoot the clay pigeons and to fire your bow in archery. If you get confused with the controls, maybe you need something like Golf to start with on the NES.

The graphics are typical 8-bit with nice clear graphics and bold colours, with your athlete in his nice purple outfit and porn-star moustache. The crowd do look somewhat bland and indistinct, but this isn’t a game to admire the view, its all about the gameplay. What’s good about the game is that your not constrained by how fast you can tap a button. with certain games (namely Atlanta 1996 on the Mega Drive) it seemed as though it doesn’t matter how quickly you smash the buttons, you could only reach a certain time or level and never exceed this no matter how quick you are; it doesn’t reward those with ninja wrists. In this game, your only as good as your wrists, and for those that can fill up the speed meter without a turbo-controller, I salute you, to get over 1500cm/sec takes some effort.

Whose Jonathan Edwards?

For those who read these reviews would start to know certain things I like in games, and for me what makes them great, and what makes this game even better is the 2 player aspect. You and your buddy against each other trying to throw the javelin further than the other, is there a better sight than 2 grown men hunched over their own controllers trying to put each other off the intense concentration of the 100-meter dash? Erm, maybe there is, however the ability to make your friend cry when your tapping with one hand and they put so much sweat and effort is a sight to behold, and as easy as the computer is to beat on the first game mode its not a patch on competing against your friend. Or your sworn enemy after.

So all in all, if you don’t like button-mashing sports games, then obviously this isn’t the game for you. However, for those of you like me who do enjoy testing the strength of your controller with intense gameplay, for a retro game this is definately one for the collection. The game was re-released in 1992 in Europe in time for the Barcelona Olympics, called “Track & Field in Barcelona” which is the same game as this. There are a number of easter eggs in the game that is worth checking out, for a full list of these then check Wikipedia but to give a teaser of this try launching the javelin off the screen, or if both players finish the 100/110 meters in the exact same time. However on a Saturday night, if your looking for a decent retro atheltics game having watched the London 2012 Olympics for its 5000th continuous hour, it’s well worth a look at, just keep the emergency services number on standby – or ibuprofen at least.

Rating – 5 out of 5