Thursday, 27 November 2008

Vice: Project Doom (US)

Every time I look around the internet trying to find the best NES games to get my mitts on, one title keeps cropping up, Vice: Project Doom. However for such a well loved title it’s strange to see that it only had a US and Famicom release, skipping the UK and Europe entirely. With this in mind I would bet any money that there are a lot of people in the UK who have never even heard of this game before so let me shed some light on it for you.

I could start off by describing the plot but lets be honest it’s an action game so not many will care, having said that it involves aliens, clones, the police and some dodgy illegal substance so the least said in this case the better. The game itself is split between three distinct playing styles the first being a top down view of a car (like A.P.B. or SpyHunter in the arcades) where you have to speed through the streets firing at enemies and avoiding obstacles before taking on a vehicle/boss. This usually deposits you at the scrolling platform stage which is the same sort of style you see in the Contra games. Running, gunning and avoiding enemies with the odd difficult jump thrown in, finally followed by a shooting section where enemies pop out and you have to shoot them.

All three are completely different styles and each could be a game in their own right. The driving sections control extremely well with some brilliant collision detection. Nipping round the front of and down the side of enemy vehicles is possible without damaging the car then firing a load of bullets up their tail pipe to watch them explode is satisfying to say the least. As I mentioned earlier the platform sections could have been taken straight from the Contra games, as you scroll from one side of the screen to another your police officer character is incredibly nimble and with the choice of grenades, laser whip (don’t ask me, its the future) and .44 magnum there’s not much that can stand in your way. The laser whip actually reminds me of the Castlevania games with the benefit being you can jump from stairs!

The shooting sections are quite detailed for a NES title with the controls responding well as you flush the cursor around screen. I don’t have a NES zapper due to my TV (it’s a HD TV so no gun games for me at all) not working with one so I wasn’t able to test if the game lets you use this as an alternative controller for that section. Maybe a reader could help out?

Vice seems to borrow heavily from other games, coming close to becoming a Master of them all this is a huge benefit as it’s so well put together that you end up with a fantastic game within its own right. I would like to mention something else about the game I received it came with a shiny, blue plastic Nintendo cart case. I’ve never seen anything like this before and with it being a US game I’m not sure if it’s because of it being an ex rental title or even if Nintendo actually supplied all of their games like this.

I was able to import this from the US for next to nothing, it came to about £5 for the game itself (including the snazzy blue case and manual) topped off with £4 shipping. If you are tempted to buy yourself or even modify a NES then you couldn’t go far wrong with a copy of this.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Sharp Twin Famicom

Back in October I posted a NES Wish list and one of the items that I decided I wanted (and shortly after caved in) was a Sharp Twin Famicom. The Famicom is the Japanese equivalent of the NES and due to it being the home country of Nintendo received a lot more games over its lifespan of 20 or so years. Just delving into the Famicom’s long lifespan shows a system that was well loved past the turn of this century with production only halting around 2003/4 because parts were no longer available. What we are left with is a legacy of games (and pirate titles, practically an industry itself) that spans 2 decades. Nintendo aren’t one for licensing their hardware out to other companies but it seem in the mid 80’s they decided to offer such an opportunity to Sharp who went on to build the Twin Famicom unit I now have sitting in my living room.

The TF comes with a Famicom Disk Drive built in as well as the cart slot so you can pretty much play any game available for the Famicom. Much better than buying a Famicom on its own, followed by the expensive Disk Drive add on later.A chap known as Andy-games-Japan on eBay has been my main stay for Famicom goods so far especially a great benefit being that he can understand English. Asking a lot of Japanese importers about the stuff they have for sale can sometimes be a right pain when it comes to crossing the language barrier so Andy has been my choice of call each time. I also went on a bit of a spending spree during my initial Famicom excitement, buying around 12 games, mixed between cart and disk but all of which will be covered here on the blog in due time with Andy more than happy to provide plenty of (cheap) games to keep me going.

You will have to forgive the mobile phone snaps of the box being opened but it felt like Christmas morning peeling back all that cardboard and Japanese newspapers (there’s some in the picture, look at those fancy letters, amaze at the pretty paper) I didn’t want to waste time digging out the proper camera. The box even came with a Panda on the side; consider this my cultural exchange for the year! Finally pulling the console free everything was well packaged and in order. I then spent several minutes slotting in different carts and disks just trying to check they all worked.

However disaster struck! Within 2 days of plugging the system in it refused to work. At first I was in a panic, having spent close to £100 on importing the console it lay there in front of the TV laughing at me and no matter what I seemed to do it wouldn’t switch on. In the end I had to buy a multi-meter (thanks to 133MHz at the Famicom World forums, linked to in the right of this blog, for his help and constantly walking me through every step despite my pestering) a small device that can measure the voltage passing through electrical items. On closer inspection it turned out that the Japanese power convertor I was using had simply blown. Phew the TF was safe. One Universal adaptor later and we were back in action!

Once everything was back to normal and I could finally stop tearing my hair out I thought I’d take a closer look at the system itself. I quite like the design, its sleek for something from the 80’s to one side there’s an expansion port for what I think is a RAM disk, a way of using the TF with a standard Famicom effectively as a Famicom Disk Drive. There’s also a slot for what I think takes extra pads though the description beneath it is in Japanese so I’m only guessing. A quick glance around the back there seems to be an input for S Video but I have vague recollections of a Famicom keyboard add on so it could be solely for that. If anyone knows then please drop a line in the comments section below.

The console itself has the usual reset and power buttons on the front add to this a huge eject button for cartridges which forces them out so fast its like using a toaster as well as a button which forces you to choose between disk or cartridge. This is a bit annoying you can’t leave a cartridge in whilst you use the disc drive as it locks the cart slot out whilst the drive is in use but I’m sure it made sense to someone at Sharp. Now for my main gripe about the console the controller leads. The pads are stored/connected to the back of the console so when you pick them up to play you loose a good chunk of the cable as it stretches forward add to this the cable is around 12 inches long and you practically have to sit on top of the system just to use it. I’m afraid I’m a bit lazy when it comes to playing games and lounge back in my seat but with these short leads I was right in front of the TV (which is a nightmare on a 32” screen).

My answer was to go back to Andy and import a plug in pad, one with a couple of metres long cable. I’m sure you are all worried about the Disk loading times which to be honest depends entirely on the game. Some titles load in a few seconds with others taking up to 30 depending on how big the game actually is follow this by the need to switch from Side A to B of the Disk and it can become a little frustrating with changes required mid level in at times however the main benefit of having a game on Disk is the ability to save straight to the media which usually requires battery backup when it comes to cartridges.

I consider the Famicom a close cousin of the NES they are for all intents and purposes the same system with a very different look. I have no ability to read Japanese so the games will have to be simple/easy to control without the need of instructions. So those epic RPG’s are definitely out. So I aim to treat the Twin as I would the NES and hope to post as many blog entries as I would the other, it will be the perfect chance for us all to learn about some more games from Japan and maybe even discover a few you lot wont of heard of which means plenty of recommendations for future entries please!

Edit: One thing I would like to add is a quick note about the Disk Drives belt, a small black piece of rubber that is prone to melting, breaking with relative ease and sadly quite often. These are usually only available to buy from Japan as they are used quite specifically with the Famicom. I decided to import 2 spare belts as they appear to be relatively easy to replace but thankfully Andy-games-Japan fitted a brand new belt before sending the TF over and even added a few for an extra $6.99 each (about £3.50. A bargain as these things can cost as much as £12 a time).

Friday, 21 November 2008

Donkey Kong Classics

Pretty much the title that started that started it all for everyone’s favourite game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The main character Jumpman was later realised to be Mario and I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t know him by now. Starring in over a hundred games it’s interesting to pay a visit to what started it all and see if the game still holds up today.

The NES version of Donkey Kong is one of many ports to home systems of the DK Arcade game however it does miss one of the later stages, the cement factory. It does make up for this by having a couple of difficulty options from the main screen reminiscent of the old hard switches on the Atari 2600’s, game A or B. Game A is the standard game running about, jumping over barrels whilst game B changes the dynamic of the whole game by having lots of floating fireball enemies and turning all of the barrels that hit the furnace at the base of the screen into these as well.

It adds quite a bit of variety as game A can be played by concentrating on the timing of barrels, whilst B requires some skill to work your way past the fireballs that aren’t restricted by floors or objects, they go anywhere they please often resulting in a complete change of tactics or even having to run to earlier parts of the stage to avoid them. Being a port of its arcade cousin the game is bound to be limited at least visually but what’s on offer isn’t anything to turn your nose up at the graphics are simple but functional lacking the sharpness of the arcade yet everything is still as it should be (bar the missing stage!). Jumpman/Mario is just as nimble as his arcade counterpart and the speed of the game may be slightly off in comparison it does more than an adequate job of replicating the arcade machine you never really find yourself thinking it’s anything less than the same game.

There’s a reason this is called Donkey Kong Classics though and that’s because it also includes Donkey Kong Jr on the same cartridge. Sequel to DK this time you have to contend with freeing DK from Jumpman’s clutches. It sounds like more of the same except the stages are built with climbing in mind with Jr able to scale quickly upwards between vines. Jumpman spends most of his time throwing spring loaded alligators your way in a similar fashion to DK’s barrels but this time round they can move up and down the actual vines. Being a larger character than Jumpman means Jr takes up a lot more space when he jumps but it also has the added benefit of being able to grab vines whilst in the air. Makes for a very interesting redesign of the first game and adds a lot more depth.

I have never played DK Jr at the arcades and without a handy MAME installation I can’t try it but if half the attention in porting it as the first game then I don’t doubt it’s a good version worth tracking down. It’s not that difficult to find either with most copies selling for a few quid on eBay. It’s surprising that there are 2 games on the cartridge and it must have been well worth the money back then with most NES games being short, difficult and quick to play. I may even be tempted to track the third game down at some point.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Help required!

On one of my visits to eBay I noticed one of these for sale, a Mother Ship Nintendo Hand Controller Enhancer:

Now the auction didn't say much about it and it was priced at around the £15 mark so not something I would buy simply out of curiosity. It basically seems to be a bit of plastic that moves against the inserted pad. Have any of you actually owned one of these? If so whats it like? I'm not sure how accurate it would be for playing games but I'd be interested to find out.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu

Jackie Chan + Kung fu. How can you go wrong? I’m a huge fan of Jackie Chan and no matter how poor a film may seem (and God there’s been a lot of them, The Tuxedo comes to mind) there’s always the skill and determination of the man himself in every movie. When I heard of a Jackie Chan game and that it might actually be good I started searching for a copy. My usual haunts are the Retro Gamer forum as a quick request there; I will often get a game I’m after. This time I was out in town when I spotted an Indie DVD shop with a small retro section. Tucked away on a back shelf were several NES games and a copy of JC for just £3. Not bad considering it goes for well over £5 on eBay.

I’m not even sure what the story is about. Something about an evil sorcerer coming back to take over China and kidnapping Jackie’s sister. Along the way you receive help from Jackie’s Kung Fu Master and some weird looking green frogs. At this point I stopped paying attention to the story as it just seemed like some mad cap tale that’s bound not to make any sense. I could only hope the game play would make up for it.

To put it simply I wasn’t disappointed, starting the game with Jackie meditating beneath a waterfall a quick tap of the pad and he’s runs off to the right to be set of on his adventure by his Master (clichéd old wise man with beard, think Miyagi with longer hair). Consisting of 5 levels, each ending with a boss, it’s your job to take Jackie through each stage of this action platformer using his various Kung Fu skills. You can jump, kick, punch and holding up on the pad lets you access a few special moves. The moves I saw ranged from a 360 and 180 degree spin kick, a floating tornado kick and a strange sky attack which attacks an enemy when you leap into the sky. The game controls are delightfully sharp and Jackie acts quickly whenever you tell him to do something. The combat is quite satisfying and killing enemies is never a chore as you send them flying with a well timed kick.

Special mention must go to the bizarre floating cloud bonus stage where you make your way around jumping from cloud to cloud, trying to land on a certain number before the time limit runs out. Accurate, a pain in the backside but a lot of fun, it certainly didn’t make any sense to me either so I’m putting it down to something Jackie had taken. Generally the stages seemed well put together with some tricky jumps and numerous enemies but I quite enjoyed slide kicking my way along the ground, sending a boot in the odd frog’s direction for power ups. Frogs, clouds, parrots, snakes, tigers (yes Mr Chan kicks tigers to death!), soldiers, swordsmen etc a large number of strange enemies get in your way but none of them can stand up to Jackie’s mighty boot.

I love this game and it’s what an action platformer should be all about...well maybe without the drug crazed story. I haven’t played anything like it on the NES so far and its so mad cap and full of odd touches that I’d recommend it to anyone. It might be expensive to buy on eBay but you won’t regret it. Chalk it up as highly recommended by me.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Emulation, to emulate or not

One thing has become apparent to me whilst viewing several forums and that’s the divide between owning actual cartridges and playing game on an emulator. The main benefit of emulation is just how easy it is to pick up hundreds if not thousands of NES games the world over. A quick glance at several sites shows that a full collection of NES games comes to around 1.5GB in total which in this day and age can be practically stored on a USB memory stick.

There’s something to be said about hunting down a game, researching it, finding a cheap copy and then actually having it pop through the letterbox. It makes the whole experience seem real to me and it always means that I spend time with the actual game, sitting down to play it properly. With emulated games the urge to open several in a row diminishes the experience for me. A good example of this is Dragon Warrior 4, now I recently purchased DW 1 (coming in a future blog entry) from the US after hearing good things about the series. It turns out that the 4th game is extremely rare going for at least £60 a time on eBay and I’ve even seen a few clearing £90 with just a box and cart.

I am really tempted to play this due to it being highly recommended over on Rllmuk Forum but the price means it might be a long time off. Now I suppose I could open an emulator like NESter and play the games straightaway but then I would lose the joy of actually buying the cart, holding it in my own two hands etc which to me seems to be sacrificing a lot.

For the sake of the blog I am not trying to build a complete collection of NES games, rather take my time working through as many decent titles with a write up for each. The only time I will use emulation is if I buy a cart and it breaks or refuses to run but even then it will only be as a last resort. It’s an interesting discussion for NES collectors so I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Gameboy Color with Tetris, Megaman and Game Genie

Some of you will be pointing the finger at this point and saying “this is NES blog what’s this doing here?” To which I might usually agree but in this case I was led astray by Kid Icarus. Curious as to how its GB sequel would play I thought I’d venture off in another direction for the blog, besides a different Nintendo related entry once in a while won’t hurt things I’m sure!

There are many versions of the Gameboy available but seeing as I didn’t want to commit myself to the console to any degree I decide to limit myself to spending no more than £10 and managed to pick up a GB Color (no I haven’t gone American, Color is the actual release name here) for £8 with a couple of games, silly case (just look at it) and a Game Genie. The great thing about the GB Color is its backward compatibility with the rest of the GB range capable of playing all the previous black & white titles with a limited but clever colour palette. You might wonder why I claim it’s clever but just try playing an old GB game that has a section with water. The console picks up on this and actually displays the water in blue. It is magic!

The GBC I bought was a bit worse for wear and my first task before playing was to take it apart and clean all the contacts. I’m not sure what the previous owner had been doing with it as there was a sticky residue set round all the controls and I had to spent a good while scrubbing it clean with ethanol before it would work properly again. It never occurred to me at the time to take a few pictures of the insides but all I can say is that it wasn’t a pretty picture.

The first game I fired up was Megaman and I have to say I was a bit disappointed. With only 4 bosses and what felt like an insane difficulty level it just wasn’t a patch on MM2 but at least it was interesting to see Capcom was trying to take the series multiplatform for the first time and I can only hope things improved. Sadly I’m not a Megaman collector so where the series went from here I haven’t a clue. It’s not a bad game but something is missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the way the game plays or the lack of bosses it just didn’t feel the same as Megaman 2 to me.

Next was Tetris but there’s not much that can be said about this. A Simple, wonderful, addictive and time consuming puzzle game. I only meant to have a quick blast but before I knew it I’d wasted 30 minutes and didn’t make it much past level 10. Going back to the late 80’s I have vague recollections of it conquering the known gaming world which isn’t surprising.

Included with the auction was a Game Genie. Now this thing is a beast of a plug in, almost two thirds the size of the GB Color it slots into the cartridge slot with the GB games nestled away on top. The idea is that turning it on gives you a menu screen that you can type or effectively change code into the game you are playing. This can range from altering the number of lives, invincibility or making the game even more difficult. I didn’t do much more beyond turning it on and having a play with the main menu and it wasn’t until after I’d taken the photo for the blog that I released that there was a large bible of game codes slotted into the side of the device, very handy. There’s a full alphabetical list of codes in there and I think it covers most of the GB’s games library failing that you can actually make up your own codes but I’d probably need n instruction manual to even attempt that.

I really bought the GB Color out of curiosity and I probably won’t be buying many games for it. I may even pick something up on the cheap from time to time and type something up for the blog.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Retro North

A few of you may have noticed mention of something called Retro North in my profile. I’d like to interrupt the usual NES blogging and take chance to explain what it was in some detail. It might even inspire some of you to try organising something similar.

A long, long time ago around Christmas 2006 when fuel was 89p a litre (happy times) I sat down with a copy of Retro Gamer and Games TM with an inkling to attend some sort of gaming retro event. To my dismay I couldn’t find a single one and a general wander around internet forums showed a sorry picture with no one planning to hold anything of interest. The 2 years prior to this had offered the Retro Ball and a huge event (which I missed) called CGE UK. It was then the thought struck me that I could try and organise something myself. What followed was a month or two stumbling around forums trying to find out if there would be any interest for a day long event on the 25th August 2007.

The venue Glossop Rugby Union Football Club in Derbyshire required a large deposit of several hundred pounds and I needed to see if I could convince enough people to attend to make it worthwhile. The initial interest was huge and well above what I could have hoped even in the early days offers to provide retro gaming gear for all to play on the day were numerous and I could spend several pages just listing names. So another thank you for all those that helped out and apologies for those who I have forgotten to mention, it has been well over a year since it happened!

Leading up to the event I was able to convince Andy from Console Passion to hold a stall, he even provided a large sum in sponsorship money which helped with actually getting the event going and covering some of the cost. One thing you must be prepared for when organising an event like this is the often large amounts needed for hiring equipment, staff (kitchen staff in this case) and other deposits. It was my goal to donate all profits made from the day to the Diabetes UK charity something I have had experience with myself.

Ste Pickford (left) in the Q+A session

Thanks to several people on the Retro Gamer forums I was able to attract a few people from Weekend Gamer TV, RGCD, Cronosoft as well as their lead programmer Jonathan Caudwell. This was all a few months before the actual event so I was pleased as punch to be able to have so many offers of support from them. Of course my main goal was to try and find a guest star that would be willing to just mingle and possibly take part in a Q&A session. Step in Ste Pickford who helped created the likes of Feud on the Speccy and even working on games for the likes of Rare and Nintendo.

Chris Wilkins who organised the Retro Ball events a couple of years back also helped out by bringing along a Space Invaders MAME cabinet which he also went on to sell afterwards, Colin from the Jamma+ forums brought a stand up cab with numerous plug in boards, there were queues all day long to get on both. To make the day pass more smoothly I also setup a projector connected to a Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360, which most of the time had Guitar Hero on. At least that way no one could complain we didn’t have all bases covered.

About half way through the day I held the Q+A session with our special guest star only for the PA system to die a few minutes before we began. The result was a mad scramble to find something we could use as the venue was pretty noisy with all the games being played and people chatting. In the end we had to half connect some cables to a video camera and out to a speaker just to get any sound at all. It sounded as bad as you would think which meant huge chunks of the Q+A became a struggle to hear. Talking to a few folks afterwards though and they all enjoyed what Ste had to say especially being to learn about what it was actually like to work for Nintendo/Rare back in the day.

The venue itself had a huge bar with pretty much everyone getting a bit sozzled, thankfully I had been able to sort out opening the kitchens (it can be seen to the right of the Console Passion stall) for the day and they were on hand to sell chips, burgers etc to keep everyone sober for at least a couple of hours! Besides a few competitions on Guitar Hero and a couple of playoffs on some fighting games we didn’t really have many events throughout the day. One big hit was a quiz organised by Andy from CP who had many prizes from consoles to games which also provided a great boost for the charity fund.

All in all it was a great day even if it was extremely tiring for me and we managed to earn over £500 for the charity which was well above and beyond what I expected. I spent a lot of time on my feet keep things running but I still managed to have a great time and checking various forums after the event it seems that so did everyone else. Due to getting a new job and moving house early this year I simply couldn’t commit the time needed for organising a sequel but that always leaves next year. Who knows maybe there will be a Retro North 2009.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Batman: The Video Game

The world of movie license titles is a bit of a sorry one. Every time a big film hits the cinema there’s usually some rubbish game to match mostly because the studio doesn’t have the time or resources to make anything beyond passable instead preferring to get something out there in order to make some quick cash. Sadly it never seems to fail as year in, year out we still see multi format movie releases most of which are pretty poor and this is as true today as it was in the 80’s. However there are always exceptions to the rule and with a cheap eBay auction in sight (another £1 game!) I ventured into the world of Gotham.

Inspired by the 1989 Batman film the game is based in a dark, gritty world with your role being to fight your way through the levels until the showdown in the cathedral with his nemesis the Joker. To aid you along your way you have a total of 3 different weapons the batarang, bat spear gun and batdisk (the guy probably wears bat underpants too) that can be flung at enemies. The whole game is very similar to Shadow Warriors, even the feel of how you control Batman is the same also sharing the ability to cling and pounce from walls, platforms etc. The difficulty is quite high, another trait of Shadow Warriors. The main difference between the two is that Batman’s world is much darker and gritty based solely at night with levels scrolling in all directions.

Batman is a weighty character and not the fastest when it comes to jumping/dodging enemies so the whole thing becomes a bit run n gun as you try and work your way through each stage. From what I’ve seen and looked up on the net there doesn’t appear to be any driving sections with the whole game putting you in control of Batman. The number of weapons may seem to lack choice and limited ammo supply but the game throws pellets to reload them at you quite often. Boy will you need them, everything from machine guns, robots, flamethrowers. You name it and the games enemies are carrying it.

This is another title that I played back in the day and even back then when my gaming thumbs were up to the task I can still remember having major problems getting just half way through. I can see that this is a very good game but the frustration in parts and the unforgiving difficulty level brings me close to throwing the pad across the room which brings my opinion of it down a bit in my mind.

I may just be moaning because I’ve become used to easier games as the years have gone by but some of the stages in this are rage inducing. So would I recommend this? .....Yes. Frustrating and hair tearing it may be yet there’s something special about it, a lure that brings you back to have just one more go. Who knows one day I might just reach the Joker and topple him over the side of the cathedral, until then there’s always YouTube video endings!

Monday, 10 November 2008

Marble Madness

I’ve never really had an interest in Marble Madness and although I played the arcade game a few times when I was a kid (at a Great Yarmouth arcade) the only really draw for me back then was the interesting control method of the spinning ball to control the marble on screen. I was offered the NES version along with another game for just a few quid so I couldn’t see the harm. Though to be honest I wasn’t expecting much.

Looks wise it’s a pretty decent game and for a NES port of an arcade cab it still manages to keep the same isometric view with all of the levels I played being ones from the arcade. Once the marble starts to roll it does seem quite weighty when you move it via the pad but it still feels slightly wrong playing without a roller ball. If you hold any direction the ball will roll to follow, the physics adjusting depending on speed/momentum and from the first few levels I found it quite easy to work my way through without falling off the side of the mazes. The goal of each maze is simply to reach the exit without dying too many times! Back in the 80’s Nintendo were always releasing various themed peripherals and I can’t see why an extra traction ball wasn’t released.

I did come across a couple of glitches which I expect were down to the NES being a bit underpowered or possibly even dodgy coding. The ball flickered into the shape of a square when close to enemies and the collision detection is off. This isn’t a problem when it comes to just rolling around the landscapes but when you are dependant on a few close encounters and the game glitches or nudges you off in a direction for being close to but not actually touching an enemy then its an issue. Some of the sections are narrow and require some skill to navigate yet when the game designers chose to plop an enemy in the middle that can push you over the edge without actually touching it spoils the fun.

Despite its faults there’s one thing the game has in spades, fun. The problem with bringing arcade games into the home is that the audience is usually a lot different. People don’t want quick fixes or high scores most of the time and want to be able to spend a couple of hours working their way through titles. Marble Madness still retains that unforgiving difficulty of the arcade and it’s this that I think would have pushed people to keep coming back for more.

Since getting my hands on this I’ve actually plugged the cart in several times and I’m tempted to do the same again today which to me makes it a decent enough game to while away the odd 10 minutes. Maybe arcade ports at home aren’t such a bad idea after all and for a game I wasn’t expecting anything from it’s more than delivered. I’ll add this to the return to play later pile that’s for sure.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Kirby's Adventure

Poking around various forums I heard mention of a great series of video games starring a big, pink powdery puffball called Kirby. It seems there was only one Kirby game ever released on the NES and Kirby’s Adventure was the follow up to Kirby’s Dreamland on the Gameboy. A quick glance on eBay and it seems to be one of the much rarer games available reaching silly Zelda prices. I didn’t let this put me off and £8 later I had a copy winging its way towards me through the post.

When it arrived however the damn thing didn’t work and even after cleaning it numerous times I still couldn’t escape the dreaded white screen. In the end I dabbed a few more drops of ethanol onto the cartridge connector and left it over night and this seemed to do the trick! I was greeted by a rather cutesy animation where a circle is drawn, eyes, and shoes and then colour is added. My first impression wasn’t great I have to say as I was left thinking that this was something purely for 5 year olds but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Starting the game I was offered a simple door to walkthrough that leads into the first level and over a couple of minutes you are easily led down a path akin to a tutorial that shows in a very effective way how Kirby’s abilities work. Basically Kirby can eat any enemy and then use their powers of attack. These can range from sword swings, bombs, karaoke (yes everyone on screen dances in time with your singing), lasers, lightning etc the list goes on.

Once hit you do lose the ability so at best they are only temporary as well there is the standard ability to suck in a load of air then flying around the screen. This ability is one of the games worst problems though as it can be used at anytime giving you the opportunity to simply fly over the entire level without encountering a single enemy. But that’s not all in Kirby’s choice of moves he can also spit enemies back out like a canon and in some parts you can’t proceed unless you steal a certain ability such as a hammer to knock a post down into the ground.

Thankfully the platform sections are so engrossing that you would miss out if you decide to take the easy route though it sort of defeats the object a bit when you are really stuck as you can simply float over the troublesome section. On returning to the main map screen there is chance to play a few mini games to earn extra lives, these involve moving a pair of metal arms to pick up various Kirby dolls, each worth a different number of lives but they aren’t as easy to grasp as you might think.

Graphically this is very impressive for a game released in 1993 and I can only out this down to the fact that the NES console was at the end of its life, programmers the world over would have really known how to squeeze every ounce of power out of the machine and I can only hope that other games released around this time would look half as good. The world of the game is very bright, colourful and detailed with a few occasions I could have been convinced I was playing a SNES game.

By the time of writing I had only managed to get as far as world 5 (there are several sections to each) but what’s on offer is simply surprising for a NES game. Numerous worlds (7 in total) and stages with some tough boss fights, yes I found them difficult in some places as you really need to be quick with their patterns not being predictable. I was constantly reminded of the depth of the SNES game Super Mario World due to their being so much to do and I wish there had been a sequel on the NES. I set out to find games that I would really enjoying playing for this blog and so far this has really been the best of the bunch.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Shadow Warriors/Ninja Gaiden

At last we come to my first bought boxed game, a title that I hope will stay special to me as it stands all on its lonesome on the NES shelf like a leper as the other carts seeming to shrink away from this beauty. As I have mentioned earlier in this blog I have no intention of going out of my way to buy boxed games as I want to play as many titles as possible without committing to the more serious parts of collecting. So when it came to my next game of choice I wanted to pick one of the more well known games and Shadow Warriors seemed the perfect match. Prices on EBay vary from small to silly in many cases and I was lucky to find a fully boxed copy with manual for just 50p more than a stand alone cart and at that price I thought it would make a good investment to add it to the gaming collection.

Shadow Warriors or Ninja Gaiden as it’s known in every other country (thanks to the silly 80’s UK censorship view that Ninja’s are somewhat naughty, capable of destroying young minds so the word Ninja was always downplayed no matter the media) is a home version of the arcade game similar to Double Dragon, a simple side scroller with the main Ninja character beating 10 shades out of everyone who gets in his way. However Tecmo seem to have done away with this for the home version, remaking the game into more of a platformer/beat em up hybrid. This pays off no end as the arcade game wasn’t anything special and SW really shines in its new form.

The box boasts of it having movie like graphics, high quality cut scenes and surprisingly for a NES game they do a pretty good job of telling the heroes plight. The story is deep for an 8bit game however it is the usual nonsense of finding a missing father, carrying on his legacy and getting revenge but I guess back in the 80’s such themes were not as hackneyed or over used as they are today. This is the decade that brought us the A-Team after all so it’s understandable that action games were all the rage at the time. We may laugh about it now but when most games story was no greater than “Plumber looks for and saves Princess” then you have to admit that Shadow Warriors was something special.
I start off controlling our hero (Ryu Hayabusa) in the streets of New York, running around slashing enemies with a sword like that from the Strider arcade game and throwing the odd optional weapon as I come across them, there’s even a few special moves that can be used once collected which range from flinging fireballs to a sword spin attack. Control wise it’s pretty tightly put together and the main character responds pretty well to whatever you dole out on the controller. One feature of the game that I quite enjoyed is the ability to cling to walls, firing weapons and even jumping onto other surfaces. You can even climb structures this way just by jumping back and forth, gripping each time. Just like...well a Ninja! Each stage comes with a boss to fight and these can be quite difficult until you learn the pattern, however the bosses aren’t the real difficulty of the game it’s the unforgiving levels. Everything from mad dogs, vampires, punks and all types of maniacs are thrown into the mix so each level always feels different to the last.

You are thankfully given unlimited continues because you will need them. The game is very difficult with lots of enemies and jumps that require almost pixel perfect timing to perform. The great thing is once you achieve them you get that thrill of a job well done which adds to the experience. The artwork and general work of the game is genuinely superb and there are a few moments where I was surprised at just how much detail and work must have gone in to the level design. The last 3 acts are well worth the hours of hard play just to see. Music wise it doesn’t let up either and each section holds something special to listen to. For a game that cost me £7 I’ll certainly be getting my value for money from repeat play.

A bit of a snoop around EBay and Wikipedia and it seems there are 3 Ninja Gaiden games available on the NES and the 2 sequels seem to have been US only releases. Which I can imagine being a pain for some but with my modified NES I’ll certainly be picking them up sometime in the future!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Regular updates?

It's been a few weeks since I started writing this blog and I have been enjoying it for the most part though I don't think my bank balance shares my enthusiasm. From what I've seen of gaming blogs they tend to live or die on the amount of updates. I have literally a stack of NES games waiting for write-ups and I hope to keep expanding the pile so my aim is to update 3 or 4 times or week. So keep checking for new updates folks and I'll do my best to give you all something interesting to read!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles

Here is a game that brings back a lot of memories more from the craze of the time rather than its game play. The Turtles ruled supreme towards the end of the 90’s everything from lunchboxes, bed covers, cartoons, bubble bath, action figures, coin collections and even a decent movie. Yes I’m putting myself into the camp of those who loved the movie. Even today I feel it holds up quite well as a dark film that surpasses all of its light hearted sequels and it wasn’t until the recent CGI effort that we were treated to something on par with the original.

Umpteen years later and faced with a rose tinted view I came across a copy on a shelf in my local Gamestation. For a couple of quid I didn’t think I could go wrong. When I got home I was annoyed to find that the game refused to load and I had to clean it several times with vast amounts of ethanol before it fired up, the cotton bud I used turning pitch black with years of filth from the contacts. The Turtles game was an original pack in cartridge with some NES consoles and Christmas of that year (1989) it was the game every one wanted and they were certainly the Pokémon craze of their day. But the main concern was whether or not the game is actually worth playing!

My first irk was the lack of recognisable theme tune on the title screen. I can still clearly remember the music from the cartoon and was surprised it hadn’t been repeated here. Instead we are treated to a rather dull melody that wouldn’t seem out of place in any standard action platformer. However this is the Turtles game and they deserve a decent legacy!
On starting the game you are given the choice of the 4 main characters Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael each having their trademarks weapons with all having their own different reach and strength. My first choice was Leonardo mainly because he was always my favourite Turtle and who doesn’t like swords! The game drops you into the middle of a top down view map with your Turtle of choice taking centre stage. You can walk around the map and visit different buildings but right next to where you start is a small, open manhole. Expecting to be dropped into the Turtles home I ventured inside.

Instead of hanging out with the rest of the Turtles I was faced with a side on sewer platform section with numerous enemies flying around. They are all quite easy to kill and a quick hit from Leo’s Katana soon puts them down. After scrolling for a few screens I spy a ladder leading out of the sewers and clambering up leads me directly onto the map in a different part of town. This is pretty much the main stay of what the game is about travelling through the sewers, visiting buildings trying to hunt down a mission objective, in the first mission it’s to save the yellow banana coated April, which was bad taste even back in the 80’s, from a pig like creature called Rock Steady.

Controls wise it can’t be faulted, each Turtle responds well and despite the flickering enemies (this is the UK edition so maybe the US one doesn’t suffer from this) its very playable and I can understand why it was so popular back in the day. You effectively have 4 lives to complete each mission as every time a Turtle keels over you get to choose another one and from what I saw, continues were plentiful. Something you will no doubt need when you reach the underwater dam sections. Each consists of swimming through various electrified tunnels to defuse a number of bombs. Not the greatest of design decision as the time limit is quite strict and the number large.

From what I can tell this was made by Palcom (who were actually a company created by Konami to cheat Nintendo’s cart licensing rules and release more games than they were allowed) and it’s not a bad effort all told. However I still feel it could do with a bit of tweaking in places. The collision detection can be slightly dodgy at times, the Turtle’s can’t swim in the sewers but they can in the dam, lower difficulty when it comes to bomb disposal and more recognisable characters! None of the enemies (besides the few bosses) are from the cartoon show that I remember and most of the boss fights are a bit easy. With the wealth of baddies on offer in the cartoon you would think they could have made a much better effort. Not bad but I just wish they’d gone on to make a similar but improved sequel. I’m still in 2 minds about this, compared to the likes of Darkwing Duck and Ducktales it just doesn’t have enough going for it, certainly one worth picking up from the top of a bargain bin though.

20 years on the Turtles aren’t Teenagers anymore and more green skinned geriatrics.