Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Family Computer 1983 – 2004 History Book

I wanted to mention something special for the blog over the Xmas break and by chance I managed to get my hands on the Family Computer History Book a few weeks beforehand. Consisting of 200 pages it reveals every Famicom title ever created with a brief description for most and a picture of each game from cart to Disk. Every title revealed is shot before a black background giving a full view of what each game actually looks like and I don’t think anyone could place even an approximate value of what the collection would cost. Produced by the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography the books aim is to celebrate the 20th active year of the Famicom phenomenon.

Some of you might be confused by that statement but in Japan Nintendo has a policy of providing spare parts/support for a system up to 20 years after its initial release so this book was produced to provide a good look at that 20 year history as well as some publicity for the Museums Level X Video Game Exhibition that ran from December 2003 to February 2004. Sadly despite mentioning the exhibit we are only treated to a brief mention and the pictures included are only of the games.

A shame perhaps but the overall content included more than makes up for it. Usually in this sort of Japanese book the only text provided is in the home territories language but thankfully they decided to branch out and provide full English translations throughout. As can be seen in the pictures the blue text is Japanese and the pink is English. I should probably warn those of you reading that the English isn’t by far perfect and some of the sentences can be a little confusing often making me wonder why they didn’t pay for someone with a greater knowledge of English translations. However you can usually figure out what point is being made and each short paragraph actually provides a small insight to each of the games. In fact I used this a few times to pick some Famicom games which should be coming to the blog sometime in the future.

Starting with a foreword by Hiroshi Yamauchi (Director Executive Advisor for Nintendo) the book is littered with several small interviews from famous Famicom staff/designers over the years. The most prominent being Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima with the likes of Shigesato Itoi (creator of Mother which will be appearing the blog soon) each providing their own views on what the Famicom made to gaming also making several points of what programming/design was like for the system.

It makes for some interesting reading and one thing I did find fascinating was the similarity between the 80’s British programming scene and the Japanese one. With a handy bit of kit called the Family Basic cartridge plus keyboard just about anybody could learn how to program for the console and several of the programmers interviewed actually admit to starting out this way. Though it may have been much harder to have a game actually released by a company the likes of games like Quinty showed that the home programming scene had its successes.

I can’t recommend this book enough it’s a wonderful look back at the life of the Famicom and includes lots of information that I’m sure even the most ardent fans won’t know. The translations might be a little off in someplaces and the pages of several game pictures without pointers to the text below can cause a bit of confusion but the fact is theres a wealth of facts worth anyones time.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Bird Week (Famicom Cart)

Eventually I was bound to come across a game that makes no sense and it should come as no surprise that it is a Famicom title. Browsing eBay one day I came across the Bird Week cartridge and went on to try and find out a bit more about it. From descriptions I could find the game is known as a bird life simulation game so with my curiosity peaked I had to import a copy.

I picked a cart up in rather good condition; the connectors didn’t even seem to require much cleaning besides a quick rub down with Ethanol. Costing just £2 and with several carts from the same seller the shipping costs were minimal so I felt I wouldn’t be losing much even if it was a bad game.

The first names to stand out on the title screen in plain text were EMI/Toshiba/Lenar I was greeted by a plain blue title screen. To say 3 companies created the game you would think they could have at least made some effort on the title screen even if it was only 1986. I promised I wouldn’t judge so soon for the price so decided to get started. Faced with 2 choices Game Start and Study Game I went for the first wondering just what I would find.

Controlling a blue sparrow you have full movement around a scrolling screen which consists of a field, several flying bugs, hawk, and a tree with nest and baby sparrows. Using the pad moves the sparrow quite quickly up, down, left and right with either button causing the legs to squirm. The squirming legs as I call them allow the sparrow to grab mushrooms or rocks and drop them onto the hawks head. Knocking it to the ground and stunning the poor thing for long enough to catch several bugs without being pestered. The whole game involves catching bugs to feed to the baby sparrows that then fly away once they are well fed. I presume this is the life simulation part of the game because once they leave you begin the whole process from scratch in a different area.

Each area has its own unique background from a dry autumn hue, spring time green fields and even an ocean to fly over. A few new enemies do appear throughout each area the hawk is constantly flying back and forth whilst a cat spends time jumping from tree to tree, an unfriendly mole sticks his head out of the ground so it can become quite busy as you try to stay on top of things. You are given 3 lives so even if you are caught by the hawk there’s always chance to carry on.

I had a look at the Game Study option on the main menu but I couldn’t understand what it was meant to be about. It’s basically the game except you never leave the starting area and still feed the baby sparrows. With the study indicated I thought it might be a chance to watch the bug collecting without interaction but it’s just the same game seemingly looped. The whole game is more of a curio, there’s nothing really special here and I can hardly recommend it as anything more so if you want to experience some of that odd Japanese gaming culture then maybe this is the place to start.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Bart vs. the Space Mutants

If there’s one thing the Simpson’s games have brought to the world of gaming its money. From arcade cabinets to every known console known to man each either has their own Simpson’s game or one of many multiport releases. So it’s no surprise that the NES received one of the earliest and probably oddest games. I received this in exchange for several Retro Gamer magazines of which I’m sure some of you are horrified at the though of losing several issues from such a collection but after the publishers released the magazine compendiums on DVD it felt pointless to me to keep them. Besides I need the space for all my NES goodies!

From the picture I’m sure you can all see that the box is a bit tatty but the manual and cartridge are actually in very good condition. Released in 1991 prior to the entire X-Files craze it seems Bart is in a spot of bother. Space Mutants/Aliens are trying to take over Springfield and only Bart can see them thanks to his trusty X-Ray glasses. The aim of the game is to find all the aliens, beat the boss on each stage and basically save the world. No small order for a 10 year old.

Each level is populated by bouncing aliens that serve no other purpose to get in Bart’s way. Every so often you can use a different weapon (such as the spray can in level 1) to change the colour of purple objects which the Super Mutants can use to take over the world becoming sillier as the game continues with everything from hats to balloons. Bart controls really well and I don’t think the game would be playable at all if the character responded slowly to button presses. Super Mutants are usually in fixed positions floating up and down so pixel perfect timing is key though Bart can take a couple of hits before losing a life. Once you lose all 3 lives the game is over so players might want to make some real effort to grab those extra lives as they play.

The main question for Simpson’s fans is whether or not the game actually covers much of Springfield itself. In that regards the 2D world does a pretty good job of recreating downtown Springfield and the Power plant whereas places like the Shopping Centre seem a bit generic and thrown together. Which is a shame with so many guest stars appearing, all of the Simpsons are included as well as Barney, Grampa, Moe and Nelson the game world is populated with lots of characters but not the general level design/planning isn’t really up to much. The list just goes on and on.

Up to the time of writing this blog I barely made it to level 3, Krustyland. The game is difficult and with some skill need to avoid the aliens on numerous jumps. Having to be as a careful as a balloon in a pin factory is the games greatest fault with the frustration level reaching pad throwing levels throughout. Every level has its own theme playing throughout but not the most enjoyable of tunes they do the job well with the main title screen having the shows theme in a good rendition for an 8Bit system.

I’m still not sure what to make of this game. On one hand its too hard in places and even level 1 can be a tough nut to crack but there are parts like the prank call on Moe, the X-Ray spec vision that reveals humans to be Super Mutants and the way various members of the Simpsons family help out to the end of each level (assuming you collected each of the letters of their name mid level). There’s a lot of fun to be had if you can see past its fault but those with a short fuse might want to stay clear.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Low G Man

Thanks to a few trades on a couple of forums I have managed to pickup several bundles of games which may include lots of good or even bad games. One game I received was Low G Man, neither a title I had ever heard of or even had a clue as to what it was about. Published by a company called Taxan in 1991 I literally had my fingers crossed when I turned the game on.

Faced with probably the greatest game opening line I’ve ever seen in 25 years of gaming experience “It was a robot producing exploration planet like any other, large cities, and beautiful sunsets. But then they came. We’ll send in the Low G Man”. That’s it in all its glory, a faultless delivery of the plot, nothing more and it left me wondering if the manual had as much imagination in its opening pages.

The G in the main characters name stands for gravity and when you first start to play you can understand why. Holding down A lets you jump to extreme heights with the chance to upgrade this to even sillier heights thanks to a handy pickup and a quick tap of the B button fires off the currently selected weapon several of which can usually be found after killing an enemy. What we have here is the usual run and gun side on scroller, similar to Contra (these type of games must have been ridiculously popular back in the day, it’s the only explanation I have for there being so many) the only difference it offers is the chance to actually steal an enemy vehicle. Jumping onto an enemy and attacking downwards lets you scramble inside a choice of 3 vehicles Robot suit, Hover craft and Spider...legs. Each has its own weapon from a spray of missiles to a flung curve bomb yet none of them seem to be required and I often find myself hitting Select just to abandon the vehicle and carry on foot.

The first few levels are hard paced and can be quite difficult but strangely the further I went the easier the game seemed to be. Mainly thanks to the numerous weapons like the spear, freeze gun, fireball etc. Not even the bosses remain much of a challenge once you have a decent roster of weapons.

Its fun sometimes to just have a mindless game that doesn’t require much concentration and I found myself able to complete it on the same night I started playing but it doesn’t end there. The game difficulty actually increases after each completion creating a whole new challenge for those of you willing to go all the way. Though it has the dreaded password save system (I hate those things with a vengeance) it does mean you can return at any chapter without starting everything from scratch and with 5.3 chapters on offer there’s plenty of need to keep a note of passwords.

Not a game I would have gone out of my way to play had I known anything about it beforehand and once I begun I simply had to see the end. Overall a bit average but enjoyable enough to pass the time of day and a quick glance on eBay shows the game tends to sell for a couple of quid so you could easily pick up a copy.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Index Page


Cartridge Collecting
Cleaning NES Cartridges
Famicom 1983 - 2004 History Book
NES Wish List
Retro North
Trip to Tokyo, Japan

Famicom Games

Bird Week
Excite Bike

Famicom Disk Games

Famicom Grand Prix: F1 Race
Nazo No Murasamejou


A NES Tale
Gameboy Advance SP NES Retro Edition
Gameboy Color with Tetris, Megaman & Game Genie
Miracle Piano Teaching System
NES Advantage Controller
Sharp Twin Famicom

NES Games

Homebrew titles

The Legend of Zelda: Outlands

PAL Territory

Bart Vs. The Space Mutants
Batman The Video Game
Blades of Steel
Darkwing Duck
Donkey Kong Classics
Ikari Warriors
Jackie Chan’s Action Kung Fu
Kirby’s Adventure
Low G Man
Marble Madness
Megaman 2

Shadow Warriors/Ninja Gaiden
Super Mario Bros/Tetris/Nintendo World Cup
Snakes Revenge
Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles
Wizards & Warriors III

US Territory

Kid Icarus
Legend of Zelda
Vice: Project Doom

Hatris (Famicom Cart)

I seem to be concentrating on action platformers and RPG’s recently so for a change of pace I decided to fire up the Famicom and try a puzzle game. What better way to start than with a Tetris style game, Hatris. My first thoughts on gazing at the cartridge were simply “It’s a Tetris clone” or in other words a rip off of the theme. On the game title screen I was surprised to see that Alexey Pajitnov (the original creator of Tetris) was behind its conception and even features as part of the main screen graphics, holding several hats in a mad dash to escape a...wall. I’m sure it made sense to them at the time.

Released in 1989 I was expecting it to be one of the better looking titles so late in the Famicom’s life but I was presented with a rather basic game with few colours and drab graphics. I shrugged my shoulders at this as with puzzle games the looks don’t matter but the actual puzzle itself. Two hats appear at the top of the screen and begin to fall you have several seconds to switch them back and forth or speed up the descent by pressing down. Every time you make a column of 5 same hats they disappear with points awarded the main aim of each stage to earn enough points and sell a large number of hats.

Easy to pickup I had no trouble learning how to play. There is practically no Japanese text to be seen so anyone can import without worry. In the early stages there isn’t much challenge to stacking the hats however as you complete each stage the hats that haven’t been taken remain. So after several levels the screen can be literally packed full of hats resulting in all sorts of mad dashes to earn points.

One thing I discovered when I decided to do a bit of research on the game is that the Famicom version is completely different to its NES counterpart. On the NES there appears to be a lot more animation around the main puzzle screen with miniature versions of Alexey Pajitnov hitting switches to deliver and take away the completed hat collections. The Famicom version consists of numbers and nothing more than the actual hats. I couldn’t find out why this was the case so I can only assume it was due to a time difference in release dates. The Famicom version coming out first in Japan then the designers perhaps realising they needed to give the look of the game a bit more oomph. I’ve included pictures of both in today’s post. The sad thing is that after viewing a few videos of the NES game on YouTube it actually looks a lot more fun.

The NES Version in all its glory

I received the cart as part of a bundle from eBay so it didn’t cost me more than a couple of quid at best. I really can’t recommend it not that Hatris is a bad game is just feels very generic and a little pointless, give me Tetris any day.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Trip to Tokyo, Japan

For years I have always wanted to visit Japan mostly to see the Ancient world mixed with the ultra modern and what better place to go than Tokyo! After pestering a friend for several days we decided to book a trip with Expedia including all flights, tours around Tokyo (as well as a walking tour of Mount Fuji) and staying at the hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku for 2 whole weeks next August. I won’t say how much but my credit card is having a few sleepless nights.

My reason for posting about it here of course is the chance to get my hands on lots of different Famicom games for what I’m hoping will be for a lot less than what would cost me to import them. So roll on next August!

Friday, 12 December 2008

StarTropics (US)

Several weeks ago whilst I was working through the Legend of Zelda I came across a game that apparently shared a similar look and style to both Zelda games and an RPG to boot. A quick nosey around the web showed StarTropics to be a good title so I thought it would be worth the risk of importing. The game was only released in the US during 1990 by Nintendo themselves which explains a lot of what happens in game (which I will get to later). My first port of call was eBay and even with shipping prices of $10 the game was still pretty cheap at around the same. Coming with cart, manual and box although it had the usual scuff marks and battered corners it was in fairly good condition all told. It wasn’t until it arrived that I realised something was actually missing.
A bit of research via Google revealed that the game should come with a piece of parchment, a letter from Uncle Steve to the main game character Mike. Later in the game you are instructed to actually dip the letter in water to reveal a secret message, a code that you need to continue. Reading a bit more about the letter and it appears that most stores tended to rent NES games out in great numbers so a letter like this tended to disappear or the store removed it completely. Which means these parchments must be like gold dust and I still haven’t been able to spot one on eBay since I picked my copy up on several weeks ago. I was able to find a pretty decent scan of a complete one and have added a picture to this blog.

The game story starts off simple enough with you being invited to visit your Uncle Steve on C-Island for a holiday however once you arrive it seems he has disappeared. Based over several chapters it is your job to hunt him down and find out just what’s going on. For an RPG it’s quaint but silly, you even receive a request to save a young dolphins life from its mother though on my first play through I wasn’t able to find him.

Starting out you are presented with a 2D map which seems to use the exact same graphics tiles as the over world of Zelda II with everything being rearranged to make a totally different landscape. The similarities don’t end there however as you continue on your journey you begin to pick up various items that seem to be pinched right from Zelda 1, such as the compass, map, wand etc. The game does switch to more of a Zelda 1 perspective once you are inside a building, cavern, dungeon etc with all the available weapons being laid out in the item bar below. The weapon of choice that you start with is a Yo-Yo but as the game progresses you are given other chances like a baseball.
A God send to NES games the cart uses the battery backup so no lengthy long password codes here with the game being linear (no vast maps to explore just a straight forward RPG) I often found myself completing a chapter or two before saving. The dungeon sections are quite well designed with each having numerous puzzles most requiring you to jump on certain blocks, find a key or kill a set number of enemies finishing with a boss that requires the use of an item you collected earlier. The first boss you come across involves a rather long snake which requires some good timing and a bit of luck to beat so it still offers a challenge from time to time. Although it sounds very much like the first Zelda (pinching a bit from both Zelda games probably down to the designers wanting to save costs and reuse some of their engines) and does follow its basic design in those ways yet there’s something endearing about it all. It is by no means difficult and even with the story becoming sillier as it goes on it leaves you wanting to see the end.
Not one of my favourite games but certainly up there as one of the more enjoyable US NES titles. I believe there’s a sequel and this has peaked my interest so I’ll be adding it to the purchase list.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

NES Advantage Controller

I have a lot of love for the original D Pad controller, its basic design is still used in consoles to this day and long may it reign. There are always a few games that need more than the standard cross, something special to bring the arcade experience home which brings me to the Advantage controller, released in 1987 a rectangular controller similar in appearance to an arcade cabinet controls and strong enough to take the abuse of frenzied gaming.

As well as the rather sturdy stick it also has a few other optional extras, a choice between slow mode which drops the game on screen to a snails pace handy for boss fights and a turbo dial for rapid fire perfect for shooters. The stick can move in 8 directions and one of the first games I tried it with was Ikari Warriors and it didn’t disappoint. Being able to move in all direction without having to press a direction followed by up means the game takes on a whole other level. No more slow meanderings through battle fields I can do diagonals in a flash!

The slow button works on the principal of pausing and un-pausing the game. So any game that freezes the screen whilst pause is pressed will work perfectly with the pad though it’s not without its drawbacks. A game that loads a menu on pressing start simply won’t work with the Slow button pressed down and a side effect for the games it does work with can be a constant flashing screen when in use. For the brief amount of time you would use the feature I can’t see it being problem but if you suffer from any form of seizures then it won’t end well. There is also an extra plug for connecting to port 2 on the NES console which when selected allows a person to flick between alternative players on games that let 2 players take consecutive turns though I don’t think it will be anything that gets much use for me.

I managed to win an eBay auction for this at the grand price of £5 which I was chuffed to say the least. Many a time I have seen this selling for as much as £10 even £20 in some cases and when I saw it going cheap I just couldn’t resist. I tried it with several games on arrival mostly just to see if it would change the way I play NES games but whilst it’s perfect for the likes of Ikari Warriors when I tried it with Super Mario Bros it felt a little strange and the yearning for a standard pad became too much to bare. I think I will save this for the pure arcade titles and stick to the normal pad for everything else but overall I’m pretty pleased with this as a NES accessory as it will actually be useful.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Ikari Warriors

One of the biggest problems with aiming to collect as many decent games as possible is that some of the really good ones are priced to silly levels. Having recently gone down the Famicom collecting route my wallet was feeling a little sparse this month so in a bid to save some money I posted a message on the Retro Gamer forums asking for NES games in trades for older issues of the magazine. Quite a few people responded and before long I had another pile of (what I hoped were) good games. Ikari Warriors was one of the first games to arrive and actually came in a decent looking box. A quick view on eBay showed it to be quite valuable often hitting the £10 mark for a boxed game with manual so overall not a bad swap for just one issues of RG.

Released by SNK in 1986 Ikari Warriors is an arcade port of the same game. One of my main reasons for trading was a vague memory of playing the arcade game down at the local swimming pool many moons ago. So with this in mind I gave the cart a good clean before slotting it in the console. The first thing I was faced with was a black screen with the game title plastered across with two.....Rambo rip offs (I honestly don’t know what else to call them, both are wearing head bands, one is even red and neither has a shirt on) walk to the middle and begin firing in a circle. Welcome to the gung ho 80’s I guess? You are then treated to a plane crashing in the jungle and our Rambo rip off climbing free. The music for this whole affair is average to say the least.

Usually when I play a NES game for the first time I’m determined to spend a good hour or so working through no matter how bad it seems. However even I had an almost overpowering urge to put the pad down after just a few minutes play. You character moves in a very slow manner with the enemies seeming to be a step or two faster. Being a Space Invaders on wheels type game you would think that the player would need to be quick and nimble but it all feel’s incredibly difficult, much more so than it should be. You start with grenades and a pistol which doesn’t seem enough when you are facing off hundreds of enemies. At least you can hide behind rocks and buildings which you will need to do quite often as one hit kills you. It’s a scrolling shooter from the early days of the NES so I guess you can’t really expect much and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of you decided to stop reading.....But then you find the tank.

A small cube on wheels with a rotating gun, missiles, crummy looking but impervious to several rounds of enemy fire, this cute little box changes the whole feel of the game. Once inside the tank controls in the same way as the main player except this time you have powerful weapons and can survive several attacks but its main bonus is the speed. The tank can drive all over the screen several times faster than on foot and it actually injects some much needed fun into the game. Travelling up screen you often come across gun turrets and stationary tanks but none can stand up to the power of tank Rambo. The game constantly throws enemies at you, the majority are soldiers but when they can come from any direction you always need to stay on your toes. One thing I’m not sure about is the controls the main character can fire diagonally but it feels awkward having to do it on the move with a NES pad. I think I need to get my hands on a NES Advantage joystick before I can comment further.

Rose tinted glasses and nostalgia can often make you remember funny things about games so I decided to have a look around YouTube at the original arcade game to give me an idea of how the NES conversion compares. It’s surprising just how well the NES can mimic the graphics with everything being in a similar location and despite the low colour ability it does a great job even keeping the opening plane crash in tact. The arcade game has a lot more enemies on screen at any one time and moves a lot faster than the NES counterpart but that’s only to be expected.

I’m still not sure what to make about the game. On one hand once I was driving that tank the game seemed to change completely and became a pretty good jungle romp but on the other those walking sections are a bit dire with the tank not appearing as often as I would hope. I have no idea why this sells for so much on eBay and I can only recommend you pick it up if you see it cheap.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Miracle Piano Teaching System

Before I start I know this isn’t a game! It’s a nifty bit of software that teaches kid’s how to play the piano via their NES. The reason I bring it up is because a chap from work overheard me mumbling about NES games and said he had a few stashed away in the attic. The very next day he dropped a copy of this in my lap with an apology as they had binned the keyboard (and the rest of his carts) many moons ago. What I was left with was a cart in excellent condition and a large pullout A3 Miracle Piano poster which I presume was some sort of original advertising. A quick glance on eBay shows it to be one of the rarer titles, even more so when the Keyboard is intact (as much as £100 in some cases)

I couldn’t get it to work properly with the pad so I had to rely on information from the internet to dig any deeper. With the Keyboard plugged in it seems you can play a couple of games with hitting the right notes resulting in an action on screen. The first game is Roboman where every correct note results in a bridge being laid correctly and the second is simply duck shooting. Each right note hitting a duck and scoring points. That’s about all I could find out but it’s an interesting curio to own though I do wonder if the A3 poster is worth more than the actual cart as I can't imagine it appears in the wild often. NES game trades anyone!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Goonies (Famicom Cart)

When I bought my Twin Famicom my first problem with picking games was the language barrier. I can’t read a word of the language and the only word I know is konichiwa which I think is good morning, yep it seems I’m a language Luddite. With this in mind I set out to buy as many text light action games I could get my hands on and the Goonies was in the first pile of games I received. Released by Konami in 1986 I was surprised to learn that the game never made it past the shores of Japan except in the NES Play Choice 10 arcade cabinets. What makes me scratch my head is that the sequel (Goonies 2) was released worldwide and must have confused a lot of kids who couldn’t buy the first game.

The cart itself cost me a couple of pounds and seemed to be in pretty good condition. Although when it came to cleaning the cartridge connecters I had to use 4 cotton buds coated in large amounts of Ethanol. It seemed to be covered in filth but it wasn’t just this game as every Famicom cart I cleaned suffered the same way and seeing as I bought a large amount of games from different eBay sellers I have to wonder just where all this grime came from. So 30 minutes of cleaning later and I finally had chance to play the game!
There is no Japanese text to be seen throughout the game and besides the words Timer, Life and Score on the top bar it’s plain to see that this is a pure arcade platformer.

You play as Mikey, the main character from the film and it’s your job to save all the other Goonies, dodging the Fratelli family, running, jumping, and kicking the various other enemies along the way. Each enemy carries a small blue bomb, by running up to them and planting a kick to the head forces them to drop it. This can then be used to blow open Skull doors that hold a key. The enemies respawn quite often so you only have a few seconds after stealing their bomb and if you don’t pick it up in time another enemy will take it. Once you have 3 keys you can move to the next level but you can also save a fellow Goonie (5 in all) which if you manage to make it to the end of the game with all of them reveals a special ending.

You start in the wooden shack of the film and progress down through to the basement. Each level represents a different part of the story and although it’s limited graphically Konami seem to have the most important sections (such as the waterfalls and caverns) in place with the final level being set on the pirate ship. The game can be quite easy to work through but the aim is to save all the Goonies and make as many points possible so it’s purely a quick pick up and play arcade title. In no time at all I was running through the levels, using bombs, saving the team and all without any form of instructions. It controls really well and reminds me of an old Atari 2600 game (Popeye). I have completed the game several times but it’s more because it’s an enjoyable journey than a need to see the end.

Being my first real entry into the world of Famicom gaming I have my fingers crossed that the rest of the games will be on par with this. I would be interested to know just why this never received a release because there is no translation required as there just isn’t any text that needs it so the only thing I can think that held it back was some sort of license issue. If anyone knows more about this then please feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Snakes Revenge

This probably counts as the first proper request I’ve had to play a game since starting the blog so you all have Szczep to thank on the Rllmuk forums for this one. After the success of MG1 Konami wanted to make a suitable action sequel quickly for the US market and for some reason decided not to bother informing its creator Hideo Kojima. With no Japan release planned for the game I can only assume they didn’t see the need to let him no and it wasn’t until he bumped into one of the people working on Snake’s Revenge that he even knew it existed. The result being that Hideo went on to create a proper sequel to Metal Gear but that’s another story entirely.

I approached this game with low expectations as it’s generally seen as a rather poor offshoot for the Metal Gear franchise and I’m sure I will pick up a copy of the first game in future but for now let’s concentrate on the sequel. My first grumble has to be the password system mainly because I’ve been spoilt recently with the ability to save often on my Twin Famicom and even on the many NES carts with battery backup so it always makes me groan when I have to type in a huge password just to continue a game. Here’s an example of a password the game actually uses:

8#W3 DP7X 4KT? 35

Just look at the size and complexity of it. I have to wonder why the programmers couldn’t have come up with something much smaller and I can only imagine how crazy it must have driven some kid’s having to copy down a long string of characters like that then re-input it just to continue. The game was released in 1990, way past the NES’s early days so it’s not as if installing a battery backup was a new concept so shame on you Konami.

On starting the game a few codec (Snakes portable radio) conversations explain the story with Snake being part of a 3 man team to infiltrate and steal back the plans for a Metal Gear (a walking tank with nuclear weapons). As the game begins your team mates run off into the jungle leaving you to find an enemy complex to infiltrate, all standard stuff for an action game. The main draw of the Metal Gear games is stealth and while it’s a bit basic on the NES you can still sneak around the game world avoiding all enemies and not setting off alarms. Being spotted by an enemy result in the alarm sounding and up to 3 enemy guards appearing to hunt you down which usually involves a mad dash to escape or frantic fight.

For someone sent behind enemy lines by the US government you would think they would provide more than a handgun and knife for poor Snake to defend himself. Thankfully the controls are relatively simple with a weapon assigned to either the A or B button by the menu and a few hits with your own fist or stab of a knife enough to take out most enemies I encountered. The difficulty does seem a bit overboard though and setting off an alarm can happen just by being in the wrong place when you enter a screen. A few sections of the jungle are shrouded in darkness with spotlights scrolling over the ground.

Stepping in one alerts the guards and even though they keep to the same pattern it can be frustrating to walk into one by accident just by entering the area. You might think this would add to the realism but it becomes a frustrating game mechanic that sometimes can’t be avoided. I must have spent a good 40 minutes wandering around the opening jungle as I couldn’t really gain any sense of where to go and asking for help of the codec didn’t offer much. Eventually through sheer luck I managed to free 2 tied Marines and one of them helped me into the complex.

Once inside the game takes on a whole new feel, looking like an industrial complex you really need to work your way past the numerous guards, cameras etc all the while trying to avoid the dreaded alarm going off. The game has been a top down perspective for all of this but changes briefly for a few sections of the compound. Every so often the game flicks to a 2D side on perspective (such as crawling through the sewers) where you can run, crawl, jump and use your weapons. I’m sure it was meant to come across as being more diverse but the side on sections just feel tacked on and simplistic which is a shame considering the top down view is so well done.

An action game wouldn’t be an action game without bosses and this doesn’t hold back. The first boss consisted of 5 guards that move in synch all of them rush towards you and chase you to a limited extent before backing away. Even using a machine gun and several grenades I’d picked up on my travels didn’t help much and I had to try several times to beat this boss, I have the control pad with teeth marks in to prove it! After what seemed a ridiculous amount of shots one of the guards fell then another and so on until I could walk proudly out of the room into an area filled with even more normal guards. Difficult seems to light a word.

Which brings me round to my overall opinion and besides the difficulty I actually enjoyed sneaking through the complex, taking out guards. It does seem to have received a lot of flak over the years mostly from loyal Hideo fans but I can honestly say it isn’t justified. Konami went out to make a suitable sequel for the US market and by that account they succeeded. Yes the game could have been easier but then it would lose a lot of the challenge and the 2D sections could do with being scrapped altogether thankfully they are few and far between.

The game is one of the higher priced NES titles and the cart alone often goes for close to £10, luckily I managed to win this in a last minute auction for £8, eBay to the rescue. If you are a fan of the older Metal Gear titles and have held off trying this because of all the bad comments then I simply say to ignore them. There’s a lot of challenge to be found here and even if it isn’t in line with the rest of the series it’s still effectively a decent attempt to carry on what the first did so well just be prepared for some incredibly long passwords!