Thursday, 30 October 2008

Legend of Zelda (US)

Now at last we come to one of my old favourites and also one of the most ridiculously priced games I’ve ever seen. Prices for this seem to change at random on eBay. One minute its £5 then the next it’s hitting as high as £15 and that’s not even mentioning the boxed cart prices. Lucky for me I was able to get my hands on a US copy quite cheaply from a forum.

I should start with the most memorable part of this game. Who doesn’t remember the theme from Zelda? It still sends a chill down my spine whenever I think back to all that time over the years spent hunting for rupees, searching for those well known weapons and killing the all too familiar monsters. The Zelda games are famous for drastically changing worlds and game play between incarnations yet still retaining the same familiar core parts that keep the series great. I’m sure every Nintendo fan has a favourite Zelda moment and mine has always been leaping the fence at Lon Lon Ranch on the back of Epona in Ocarina of Time.

But what’s it like going back to where it all began? Starting a new game for the first time and taking Link on the beginning of his adventures? Well I’m glad to say it’s all good and the game can still be said to hold up to play today. Most of the world map can be explored right from the off and none of the enemies are too taxing. The meat of the game so to speak is centred in the 8 dungeons where you get chance to find several pieces of Triforce, battle a dungeon boss and gain a brand new weapon. Out of all the weapons I find myself returning to the boomerang often as it can be a lot of fun firing it out in one corner then running across the screen as it slices through your enemies.

The puzzles are a bit lacking and mostly involve blowing a hole in a wall with a bomb, pushing a few blocks about or finding some keys. Yet you can still see where the idea’s for future games started (such as the ladder for crossing small pools, raft for crossing lakes) as just about everything that appears in the later part of the series is shown here in some way. I did find the game a bit easy and I was able to complete 3 dungeons in just one sitting (barely a couple of hours) though I did find having a download of the top world map came in handy. It’s very easy to get lost when it comes to finding locations as there’s not many directions compared to later games. During play I kept thinking to myself that this was more Zelda light but it’s certainly worth playing to see where it all started.

I actually made the effort to complete this in a few sittings and once complete you do have the option to replay a much harder version. So there’s plenty of fun to be had from the cart. One thing I’ve always wondered (and despite searching the net couldn’t find an answer) is to why the Zelda carts were released in gold, if there was a specific marketing campaign that pushed this or even if any other games were released in similar cart colours. It also leaves me wondering if there are similar games on the NES.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Wizards & Warriors III

Since the mid 90’s I’ve always been a big fan of RPG’s and the one game that drew me into this fold was the PC Baldur’s Gate series. So I decided to try and find the equivalent for the NES and despite the Ultima games (which I think are US only) there aren’t many that might appeal. However there are plenty of hybrids and W&W III falls into the category of RPG. I’ve never really got on with the Ultima games in the past besides VII on PC (which was a God send) but there is at least 1 Ultima game for the NES and if readers want me to pick a copy up then drop a line in the comments section and I’ll see what I can do.

It’s a strange mix between platformer, action and RPG with elements that cross over all three categories. You start the game as Knight returning from his quest of the previous game in charge of killing some evil wizard Mongo or Mongoid or something similar and a cut scene of sorts is played before the main title screen. The game opens in a town that is built mainly of stilts with each level working its way up towards the Wizards castle. Carrying your trusty sword you can work your way up through the levels by jumping and slashing at various town folk (who tend to retaliate so be careful. Inside the various buildings are guilds that you can join working your way up to becoming a stronger knight, a thief or even a Wizard.

I didn’t have the manual for this and despite searching online I couldn’t find one to download so I was pretty much on my own. Controls wise I couldn’t complain as the main character responds quite well, responsive jumping and using the sword seemed easy enough. But without a manual I was a bit lost and just spent most of my time wandering around the town trying to find something to do. At one point I almost joined the thieves’ guild after picking up some random statue in a house so I must have been doing something right!

A bit of internet research later and I discover that the game is quite detailed with various dungeons, tunnels etc to explore and that you can join 3 different guilds each letting you build a character class. With a bit of time spent exploring further and perhaps concentrating on each guild at a time it should be possible to build an amazing character. It seemed quite accessible but certainly not as pick up and play as other NES titles, one for long rainy nights. I think I’ll be returning to this one quite a lot.

Monday, 27 October 2008

NES Wish List

Having played various NES games and spotting the odd peripheral that’s been for sale on EBay I think two really stand out for me. They are the Power glove and Aladdin Deck Enhancer. Since watching the Wizard I can only sit back and imagine how truly awesome it must be to wear the Power glove showing how bad I can be with it on...

As for the Aladdin Deck Enhancer I can hardly wait to play the exclusive Dizzy game that comes with it but I’m not too sure about the Quattro sports pak that’s also available.

I’ve also been giving some thought into importing a Sharp Twin Famicom. Basically this is a unit capable of playing Famicom and Famicom Disk System games in one unit. Though a lot of games would suffer from the Japanese language barrier, it was from a time where the majority of games didn’t really require much reading and so should be quite easy to play. It’s just a matter of finding one that doesn’t cost over £100!

Edit. The itch was too great to bare. I've just been and bought a Twin Famicom from Japan and its flying its way over as I type. Will do a full write up with plenty of pics when it gets here!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Kid Icarus (US)

With my NES more than capable of playing any US games I can get my hands on I thought it best to start including broader searches on the likes of EBay. A forumite from Rllmuk came to my rescue and offered to sell a couple of decent US games for a decent price so I found a copy of Kid Icarus and Zelda winging their way through my letterbox. I will say I didn’t know much about Kid Icarus and most of what I did hear was high praise with many fans of the game still screaming for a sequel to do this day.

The label of the game is a basic pixellated in game character type design, something which all of the early NES games tend to have. Which is a shame as a lot of these games would really benefit from a proper artwork treatment. Having no manual I had to rely on a download for the game instructions but luckily it was quite basic when it came to weapons and controls. The whole story seems to be roughly based on ancient Greek legends but I haven’t a clue if any of its accurate with the aim of the game being to find three sacred treasures (Mirror Shield, Arrow of Light, and Wings of Pegasus) then use them to rescue Palutena the Goddess of light from Medusa (some woman in her late 40’s having a bad hair day and turning all the hairdressers to stone).

The game itself seems quite simple though my initial impressions are more being annoyed than actually having fun. The whole thing seems totally unforgiving and way too hard in places especially with the instant death floor that follows Kid Icarus (or Pit as he’s called). But then there does seem to be a very good game hiding beneath it all and despite the numerous deaths, swearing at the screen and threatening to throw the NES out of a window I couldn’t help but be drawn back.

It’s this “just one more go” mentality that really makes the game shine and despite its flaws once you begin to ascend from the pit (the games equivalent of hell that Nintendo don’t seem to want to name properly) everything changes. Instead of scrolling upwards everything goes to the right and you actually get chance to flap Pit’s wings and fly around causing havoc. Although it has a short fire range I had quite a lot fun bouncing around the levels firing Pit’s bow and arrows. It’s immensely satisfying to plant several arrows into a row of enemies as you rush about.

Originally this was a Famicom Disk System release so came with the opportunity to save at the end of each stage. Being such an early stage of the NES’s life they didn’t seem to have the technical know how to install a battery backup save to the cart so you are reduced to inputting mile long codes, something that really gets on my nerves as I always think to myself that surely they could have come up with a better system than this. Ho hum.

After this came a Gameboy sequel but that sadly seems to be the end of the Kid Icarus series. Maybe one day those patient fans will get a sequel but I wouldn’t keep your hopes up.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Cartridge Collecting

Some of you may be wondering why I am sticking to carts when it comes to collecting, well so far all the games I have are just the plain old NES grey carts. I’ve decided not to go out of my way for boxed copies + manuals as the problem with Nintendo games back then was their silly policy of selling all games in cardboard boxes rather than the fantastic clamshell cases the Sega Master System had. As you can probably imagine after 20 years these bits of tatty cardboard don’t last and so in order to get my hands on as many decent titles as possible I will be sticking to carts perhaps picking the odd boxed copy up along the way.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Blades of Steel

In keeping with my run of sports games I wanted to try and find something really special and it seems BoS is such a title. Whether it is different forums, review sites or even YouTube, plenty of folk shout about just how good this game is some even claim it’s one of Konami’s best sports titles. So I eagerly paid a trip to EBay in the hopes of acquiring a copy. It seems to be pretty common thankfully and I had no problems in tracking a cart down for just a couple of quid. The condition of the cart was extremely good with not so much as a scratch on the cart label.

The title screens music is quite catchy and loading the menu for the first time there seems plenty of options from Exhibition to Tournament etc. Being my first play through I select a quick start and go for an Exhibition game, picking 2 teams at random. Now I’ll admit I don’t know a thing about hockey besides it involves skating and big sticks so I had my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t lose my way.

Thankfully it’s pretty straightforward to play and I soon find myself flying across the ice, passing the ball (no idea what it’s actually called) and shooting wildly into the net. There doesn’t seem to be many rules to this game and tackling the other team is a lot of fun. About 5 minutes in I’m constantly pestering another player when the game freezes. A side on view appears and both players throw down their hockey gloves for a fight! Inching forward I start punching the other player and after a few moments he falls flat on his face. For his trouble he gets sent off and the other team is a man down.

I can only think this is all part and parcel of the sport so spend several minutes knocking the hell out of the other team trying to start a fight. Whittling them down by 3 members I’m soon skating round the rink with my team, an unstoppable force as we go on to trounce them. I’m hooked at this point and go on to play several more games, some with less success but overall I’m having a great time with the game.

Just looking at some of the options you can limit the time of the game to 15 minutes down to 5 for some fast play through. A quick glance at the tournament option and I can see I might be on this for hours! There is a 2 player option and sadly I had no neighbour to pester this time (he was out) but I can just imagine how frantic it becomes between two people and it’s no surprise why it’s considered one of the best Konami titles. If I had a recommended list this would be right at the top.

Monday, 20 October 2008

M.U.S.C.L.E. (US)

I felt at this point that I needed to try something sports related and I vaguely remember the wrestling craze from the 80’s so after a quick visit to Rllmukforum I asked what people would recommend. That’s when someone recommended a US release called M.U.S.C.L.E. or Kinnikuman in Japan. Seeing as I was eager to try my modified NES on different regions games I thought what the hell and went to track a copy down from a US seller. The cartridge is dirt cheap over there, working out at about £2 after the currency exchange and the postage didn’t cost much extra on top either.

After almost a week of waiting it dropped through the letterbox I’m not sure what the seller had actually done to the cart label but it looked like it had been stained with coffee either that or it came from a really cheap print run. I had my fingers crossed when I slotted this into the NES as I had no idea if the region mod would even work but lo and behold it fired up perfectly. US games were a go.

Now at this point I had pretty much no idea what this game was about besides the suggestion that it was a fantastic wrestling game....

“Oh dear” is what came to mind when I began to play. You begin by choosing one of several fighters but from my time playing they didn’t seem any different. The main game screen consists of a large, poorly drawn white wrestling ring with a very blocky background audience that don’t seem to react to anything. Each wrestler is capable of hop, punch, clothesline and slam with a special move that can be performed when a referee throws a glittery power pill into the ring. The main problem is that the standard moves don’t do much damage so what tends to happen is both players start hopping around the ring trying to make contact with a clothesline, even the AI does the same.

From what I saw the whole thing consisted of avoiding your opponent until the power pill appears. The game does have one good part and that’s its 2 player mode. The next door neighbour John came round to borrow some milk and I made him a cuppa followed by a few minutes of pestering to play. What followed were 5 minutes of grumbling and “if I must” then 15 minutes of “well it ain’t half bad”.

Taken as a 2 player game for wasting time away it turns out to be a fairly decent title. I wouldn’t recommend it for the single player mode as there just isn’t anything worth playing for, however if you have a neighbour to pester then it might be worth a purchase.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Darkwing Duck

Darkwing Duck was a title I had played back in the day. I couldn’t remember much about it besides it was another platformer and a generally good game. After reading a bit more about it on Rllmukforum I thought I would take the plunge and buy a copy. However prices at the time were silly in most cases, one chap was flogging a cart on it’s own for £30 at EBay. Imagine my surprise when I saw a copy being sold for just £1.50! It was only the cart but had a Buy It Now so I just had to grab it quick.

You start the game trying to stop some local villains from taking over DD’s city. The map screen starts with a side on view with 3 hot spots for you to save, more are unlocked as you progress. Each hot spot consists of a level with a construction yard, city streets etc that ends with a boss to fight. Where this really shines is DD’s ability of grasping the base of stuff like a roof saving you from falling to your death, a cape that can be used quickly for cover and the changeable weapons. Most are a bit useless but its fun to zap the enemies with a bit of lightning once in a while.

The levels are designed quite well with nothing being too taxing however the bosses more than hold up their own and I found myself stuck from time to time. I didn’t get round to completing the game though I expect one rainy Saturday afternoon I will push through to the end.
Reading up on the game and it seems it uses the original Megaman engine perhaps even having the same number of bosses. All I’m left with is another Bond type theme digging into my brain all day long. Damn, why do these titles tunes have to be so catchy? I can't help saying DD's catchprase "lets get dangerous" to myself repeatedly.

I think I need a rest from platformers so it’s onto something different for my next entry.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Cleaning NES Cartridges

Just a quick tip for those of you planning to get into the world of NES games get down to your local builders yard and buy a bottle of Ethanol and some cotton buds. This stuff basically cleans metal contacts on carts then evaporates within a few minutes. Meaning there’s no risk of moisture affecting the contacts. Great stuff and I’ve used it several times.


Just a brief look at Capcom’s output from the NES era and it seems they were truly the leaders of 3rd party platformers back in the day. At least that’s what Disney must have thought when they signed over the rights to some of their best selling TV shows. Even I can remember the TV adventures of Scrooge McDuck and his nephews. This game doesn’t disappoint as it drops you right into the middle of the action, choosing from several treasure hunt locations it’s up to you to make the old geezer richer, finding treasure along the way. Thanks to Megaman 2 I was really in the mood for another Capcom game and after a bit of web trawling this seemed to be the perfect title to try next.

The game plays well and the controls are pretty precise feeling similar to Megaman 2. The main difference being there is no choice of weapons this time and Scrooge throws himself around the levels bouncing on his walking stick. I hope I’m half as active come his age!
One part that did stand out for me was a brief encounter with Scrooge’s nephews in the mines level.

All 3 are sat in a mine cart waiting for their Uncle to come along. In you jump and send the cart hurtling along, only to jump out at the last minute to avoid some rocks and send the poor kids hurtling into the pit beneath. Social Services eat your heart out.

“Duck tales a whoo hoo” Probably one of the catchiest yet annoying theme tunes of all time and it’s plastered all over the main menu. I couldn’t help but spend all day at work humming the damn thing either. Overall I really enjoyed Ducktales, there’s something captivating about bouncing around on a big wooden stick, killing gorillas with abandon. This is also available cheaply on EBay, managed to get a copy for just £2!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Mega Man 2

Super Mario Bros put me in the mood for some more platform fun so I thought what better way than to look towards the Megaman series. With the recent release of Megaman 9 on all the current gen consoles it seemed only appropriate to be pay a visit to one of the early games.

I won’t lie; Megaman 9 is hard, very hard. Even attempting one of the so called easy levels I had problems so I started to view MM2 as training for 9. MM2 seems to have an easier learning curve and from the few quick plays I attempted it seemed more than possible to beat a few of the bosses with the plain old mega buster weapon. I was able to blast my way through 2 bosses without much effort and with a total of 8 before the evil Dr Wily was faced I decided to take my time.

Over the course of a few days I decided I would complete 1 or 2 bosses to stretch it out; thankfully the game comes with a password selection system. Based on a grid where you insert big red dots its actually quite easy to input codes with none of the messing about selecting numbers and letters that some games require.

The bosses work by each having their own special weapon. Woodman for instance has a leaf shield that surrounds and can be flung at the player, once defeated you can equip the weapon to use for yourself with the idea being that each boss weapon is strong against another.

The game can be frustrating in places with a few tricky platforming sections but it has that special something that makes you want to have just one more go. I think I will be returning to future Megaman games on the NES as I believe they go up to 5! It would probably do my bank balance a favour too as the Megaman games aren’t the cheapest of titles to buy; this alone cost me close to £8 via EBay with the 5th game reaching as much as £15 in some cases. However I’ll give this series a rest for now as there’s a lot more games to play.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Super Mario Bros/Tetris/Nintendo World Cup

To kick start my collection I began with this little doozy. 3 games on 1 cartridge (official too! No dodgy copies for me) with Mario being a ghost of my past. Would I still be able to complete Mario in one sitting? Or would the pad end up thrown across the room in a fit of rage with my fingers bent and twisted? A bit of both it seems! I can remember being able to run through this game and complete the damn thing with just 3 lives. Now I can barely struggle to finish the first level in 3. Hold on though it has been 20 odd years and I’m a lot older.

It takes a bit of getting used to but after bashing the pad for a time the old magic seems to return and I’m firing my way through the levels with ease. Rediscovering the hidden warp pipes and still laughing as I recalled where each was. The physics used for jumps in this is still brilliant with the added weight and draw as you lift off the ground. I feel that a lot of modern platformers could still learn a great deal from this game. It may be basic but what it sets out to do it achieves very well. Overall I’m impressed as I am managing to have a lot of fun in short sharp, sometimes frustrating bursts. But this is a taste of 8Bit gaming at its best.

Next it was on to Tetris and I don’t think anyone hasn’t played this game or at least its Game Boy version. It’s a very addictive and competent puzzler but I’m left with the feeling that it’s more suited to the GB screen. So sadly I may not be returning to this one often. I managed to work my way to stage 12 a few times so I think I may find myself bunging this on when I have a few moments to spare.

Nintendo World Cup was the last title to play on the cartridge and to be honest I found it a bit boring. Fat podgy characters kicking a ball around, certainly no Sensible Soccer but with its two player mode I can see this being a joy to play. Sadly I daren’t ask any of my mates to play as they just wouldn’t understand the joy of retro gaming, plus they’d probably laugh at me!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A NES tale

This will be my first entry in what I hope will become a regular collection of thoughts (random or otherwise) about my growing NES collection. I am in no rush to build a vast catalogue of games as my main interest is to work through a large collection that I love to play. Of course to select these games I won’t be picking them at random but actually doing a bit of research where possible, maybe even taking recommendations from folks that view this blog. Who knows? Only time will tell.

Some of you might even be wondering why I would even pick the NES to collect for. Well for me it goes back many moons to the late 80’s. The NES craze was really starting to take off, kids at school were going nuts to get their hands on them come Xmas morning. I can still remember the frustration of pestering my parents to buy one of the newly released Turtles compilation packs then tearing down the stairs, diving under the tree and tearing off the wrapping to find....a Sega Master System with Enduro Racer.

At the time I was disappointed (I was only 9 years old!) but after a few games on Enduro Racer it was all forgotten. Talking to my folks many years later I was told a sorry tale of how they traversed storm conditions, late night openings and travelling many miles trying to get their hands on a NES yet finding them sold out no matter where they went. I can only compare it to the Buzz Light Year doll of its day. I still have fond memories of that SMS so thanks Mum!

A few months later and a friend of mine managed to get a hold of a NES for a birthday present. It came with Super Mario and Turtles, what followed was months of pestering, hanging round his house and completing whatever game he managed to get his hands on. On a couple of occasions I managed to finish several of his games before he did.

Fast forward 20 or so years later reading the retro section of Rllmukforum and here I was staring at a few listings on EBay at titles I used to own, curious as to what it would be like to play these games again. The problem with the NES on a whole is that hardware wise it’s pretty unreliable. The cartridge connector failing is a well known fault which causes the grey, blinking screens and flashing red light, the 80’s version of the 360’s red rings of death.

Back in August 2007 I organised a retro event called Retro North and whilst there I had a friendly chap called Andy who came along and held a store for his company Consolepassion with a knack for modifying retro systems. Visiting his website I noticed he was selling modified NES consoles with brand new cartridge connectors! A snip at £40 I thought as I wouldn’t have to bother hacking a NES to bits or paying to import the connector. So out came the credit card and one order later the NES was winging its way to me.

Now this modified NES allows me to play any UK or US game, no title is out of reach! So NES games beware, there’s a new blogger in town.