Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!
FEB
22
2018
0

#66 – World Class Track Meet

Get out the Power Pad and run until your lungs wear out!

Might as well stick the menu under the title.

To Beat: Finish Tournament Mode
To Complete: Finish both Tournament and Olympics Modes
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 12/15/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: World Class Track Meet Tournament and Olympics

This is a special day for Take On The NES Library for two reasons. First, this is the first Power Pad game I have covered here, and with that comes both a history lesson and technical details of what the Power Pad is and how it all works. Second, World Class Track Meet has some history of its own that ties in with the most expensive NES licensed cart, by far, and the only one that I don’t own for myself.

The discussion for World Class Track Meet begins with Stadium Events. Maybe you’ve heard about it? Stadium Events was developed by Human Entertainment and published by Bandai. This developer was known as Sonata at the time of this release and renamed themselves Human Entertainment in 1989. The game was first released in Japan in December 1986, then on the NES in North America in September 1987, and finally in Europe in 1988. It is the second in a series of ten fitness games in Japan called Family Trainer that utilized a special floor mat controller also called the Family Trainer. Bandai branded the controller and game series for the NES as Family Fun Fitness. However, only two games were released under Family Fun Fitness banner: Athletic World and Stadium Events. Athletic World originally came in a big box set with the controller, but Stadium Events was only released as a standalone title and therefore you had to already own the Family Fun Fitness mat to play it.

It was around this time that Nintendo decided to recall both the Family Fun Fitness sets and Stadium Events so that they could rebrand it as a first-party product outside of Japan. The Family Fun Fitness mat became the Power Pad, and Stadium Events became World Class Track Meet. Both the controller and the game function exactly the same just with different names and branding. The Power Pad with World Class Track Meet were quite widespread, selling both separately and bundled with the NES console in the Power Set. Stadium Events however had very limited sales due to both its brief availability and reliance on the Family Fun Fitness set. It is unknown how many copies still exist today. Some have guessed around 200 copies, and though I suspect there may be more it’s still a rare game regardless. A loose cart of Stadium Events is valued somewhere around $10,000 today, while complete and even sealed copies are worth at least three to four times that. I have all the other NES licensed carts, but I don’t plan to buy Stadium Events unless I get some enormous windfall of cash or get ridiculously lucky and find one for cheap.

The infrequently used Side A of my actual Power Pad.

The Power Pad itself is a pretty large floor mat controller. It measures a little over three feet long and a little under three feet wide when completely unfurled, and it is made of two layers of gray, flexible plastic with twelve pressure sensors in between. The sensors appear on the mat as large buttons and are arranged in three rows of four buttons each. Just like the Zapper peripheral, the Power Pad is connected to the NES on the second controller port. When you apply pressure to one of the buttons, usually by standing on it, the NES will detect that the button is pressed. I don’t fully understand the technology of it, but I do know that it is a little more complicated than handling the standard controller because the game has to be programmed to read twelve simultaneous button states on just the one controller port as opposed to eight on the regular gamepad.

The other interesting thing about the Power Pad is that you get a different button layout depending on which side of the mat is facing up. The Power Pad is clearly labeled either Side A or Side B. Side A only uses eight of the twelve buttons. The four corner buttons are neither labeled nor utilized whenever a game is designed for Side A. All the remaining buttons are blue except for the two red center buttons. This side of the Power Pad was not often used. Side B is the one most players remember when they think about the Power Pad. This side uses all twelve buttons and each one is clearly marked with a number from 1 through 12. Blue buttons are on the left side and red buttons are on the right side.

World Class Track Meet is an exercise game that simulates four Olympic events: The 100M dash, the 110M hurdles, the long jump, and the triple jump. This game uses Side B of the Power Pad. Two players can race in the 100M dash and 110M hurdles at the same time by using both the left and right sides of the Power Pad, while both the long jump and triple jump are single player only. Each of these events can be played on its own. There is also a Tournament mode which is for one player against computer controlled runners and an Olympics mode which can support anywhere from one to six players. To beat the game, you must complete the Tournament mode. All other modes are exhibition only, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to also compete solo in the Olympics.

This is Side B, used for this game.

To play, you will need to plug a standard controller in the first controller port and the Power Pad in the second port. The controller is for choosing the game mode and any other information. These controls are not really intuitive. The title screen displays all six possible game modes. Press the Select button to toggle the cursor one at a time between all six options, then press Start on the one you want. If you choose Tournament, it goes directly to gameplay. For all other options, you are brought to a name entry screen. First, choose how many players you want. Use Left and Right to move the selection arrow and press Select to input your choice, then press Start to proceed to the actual name entry. There will be empty names displayed for each player and names can be up to ten characters long. Each player is also assigned a color. On this screen you are controlling two cursors at once. One is the pink selection arrow at the bottom for choosing letters and the other is the blinking cursor underneath one of the characters in the names at the top. Use the D-pad to move the pink arrow and choose a letter, and press Select to input that letter. This writes the letter into the name underneath the blinking cursor and moves that cursor one space to the right. To position the blinking cursor, press A to move it one space to the right and B to move it one space to the left. The idea is to input one name and then press A enough times to position the blinking cursor to the start of the next name in the list. I know I explained it poorly, and like I said it’s not intuitive, but you will get the hang of it. Finally, after all the names are set, press Start to jump into the game.

The general idea in all gameplay modes is to run on the mat as fast as you can. For single-player, you will want to use the blue side of the mat. When you choose an event, it doesn’t begin right away. This gives you an opportunity to stretch, rest, coordinate in a group game, or whatever. The event will begin when all active players stand on two buttons of the same color in the same row. Stand still and wait for the starting gun if necessary, then run in place on your two buttons to run in the game. You may choose to run on any of the three rows on the mat, and whichever pair you choose influences your top speed in the game. As player one on the blue side of the Power Pad, your character runs the fastest when you use the top row buttons 1 and 2, the middle row buttons 5 and 6 are average speed, and the bottom row buttons 9 and 10 let you run the slowest. In multiplayer games, you can enforce using certain rows of buttons as a handicap to help even out the competition. Aside from running, you will also need to jump in place for some events.

The 100M dash is the most basic event. The top of the screen shows all the data, beginning with the name of the event and player names. You can also see both a timer and current running speed for each player, as well as a progress bar with tiny runners to show how both competitors match up during the race. At the bottom, you see both runners sprinting into the screen. There will always be two runners shown during this event; if there’s only one player the right side will be computer controlled. After you stand in position on the mat, the referee will appear and fire a pistol to signal the start of the race. Start moving too soon and you get a false start penalty, and three false starts gets you disqualified. Other than all that, just tap those floor buttons as quickly as you can!

Eat my dust, Turtle!

The 110M hurdles is similar in structure to the 100M dash. You race against the computer or another player with all the same on-screen indicators as before. Naturally, in this event you must sprint and then jump over hurdles as they come into view. This can be a little tricky to get the hang of because you need to jump earlier than you might think to properly clear each hurdle. Running into a hurdle just slows you down, so for the best times you shouldn’t knock any over. This is also an event that is more difficult while running in the fastest position simply because the hurdles can come at you so quickly.

The long jump in a single-player only event. Here the second runner’s information at the top of the screen is replaced with the distance for each of three attempts. Stand on the mat with both feet in the desired starting position to trigger the starting whistle. Then run in place up until the white line approaches. Jump in the air just before you cross the line and see how far you go. Successful jumps will display the distance reached and it will be recorded in one of the spaces up top. If you forget to jump, accidentally cross the line before jumping, or fail to plant your feet back on the buttons, it is considered a foul and doesn’t count. Your score for the event is the furthest distance out of those three attempts.

The triple jump is set up the same way as the long jump with one runner only and three attempts. This time when you reach the line, you must jump three times consecutively. I’m not completely sure about this, but I believe the idea of effective triple jumping is to jump, land and jump off one foot, land and jump off the other foot, and land at the end with both feet. That seems easier to do while actually leaping forward versus jumping in place on the Power Pad. Fortunately, World Class Track Meet is pretty lenient with the jumping technique. You can land on both feet each time and jump again even after a noticeable delay and you will still perform a decent jump in the game. The best of three attempts is your score for the round.

The hurdles can present a decent challenge.

The Olympics mode is a competition of all four events for one through six players. The races are run two at a time, and the jumps are done one player at a time. Times and best distances are recorded and given a score from 1 to 100 based on the world records for each of those events as of 1982. Then the sum of all four events for each player is the total score, and the highest score wins. When three or more players complete the Olympics, the winners are displayed on the podium as well as displayed on the final scoreboard, whereas for fewer players you just see the final tallies on the board. There’s no ending in this mode for single-player, so it’s not really required to beat the game even though I did it anyway.

The tournament mode is one player only. You will race against six different competitors: Turtle, Bear, Horse, Rabbit, Bobcat, and Cheetah. The mode starts against the slowest competitor, Turtle, in the 100M dash. Win that race and then you go up against Turtle in the 110M hurdles. If you win both races you get a medal and move on to the next opponent. This continues until all six opponents are defeated or you lose a single race. There are no continues in the Tournament so you need to win all twelve races in a row. You get medals for beating each of the first three racers, and you get trophies for beating the last three runners.

This was not only my first time playing through World Class Track Meet, but also my first Power Pad game completion. I bought my Power Pad for $20 at the monthly flea market in my area several years ago, and it came in a white box with the Power Pad labeling on it. That day I also saw a boxed Power Glove from the same seller for probably the same price, but I passed on it in favor of the Power Pad. That was a mistake looking back, and I wonder if I just didn’t carry enough cash with me that day because I should have just bought both. Still, a boxed Power Pad for $20 is not a terrible price. I didn’t even bother trying it out when I bought it, rather I stuffed it in storage for a couple of years. It’s in good shape and it works fine. I don’t remember where I got the World Class Track Meet cart, but it’s common and cheap anyway.

I wonder how I’ve already cleared almost five meters.

Before playing this game, I broke protocol and looked up what kind of times I needed to achieve in this game to succeed. I try to avoid doing any kind of research like this, but I justified it this time for two reasons. The first is that I wasn’t too sure if I would physically be able to beat the game in the first place. I am by no means an athlete and never have been, plus I just turned 34 years old and I’m not getting any younger. I would say I’m in average shape, maybe a little overweight but not too bad. The other reason is that I have to be considerate of my other family members when I play something like this. I do most of my gaming at night after my wife and daughter are asleep, and it wouldn’t be good for me to be shaking the house and waking them up while I play late at night. My setup at home is favorable for this though, since my gaming TV is in the basement with a concrete floor under the carpet. I can’t be stomping around super hard, but there’s a good chance I could play and be quiet enough to go unnoticed. Anyway, the point I’m really trying to make here is that I don’t want to be experimenting around with this game just in case I disturb anyone sleeping. When I play, I want to get right to it and minimize the possibility of being a bother to my family.

As it turned out, those above points were non-factors. I played the entirety of the game during my lunch hour from work at home while my wife and daughter were out of the house, and I didn’t have any trouble beating the game in one attempt. It all comes down to beating Cheetah at the end. I don’t know if his times are consistent or not, but in my game he ran the 100M in 9.88s and the 110M hurdles in 14.70s. I decided to give my all on each and every race. Unfortunately, I ran out of breath trying to do all these sprints and it took me quite a lot of rest in between tries just to muster the strength to keep going. It’s really an exhausting game to beat even though it wasn’t that tough. I was consistently running the 100M in under seven seconds, so that mode was trivial. The hurdles were tougher but I still managed to win every race by at least a second or so. I started doing the hurdles in the medium speed position to work on my timing, but there I would not have been fast enough to beat Cheetah. For the fifth run of the hurdles I switched over to the super speed position in the top row and clocked in under 14 seconds, which was good enough. There is really no reason in single player to run in either of the slower positions, and there’s no shame in beating this kind of game in the easiest way available.

After the tournament, I also completed the Olympics mode by myself. I scored 379 points out of a possible 400, which I think is pretty good for one attempt. I might have scored better if I played it completely rested. I was gassed by the end of it all and I pushed myself just to have the final event, the triple jump, over with. This is a very short game to complete. My video of it is around 20 minutes long with most of that being unedited footage of waiting while I rested and caught my breath. I thought the game was easy to complete for myself, but what happens if you are unable to do this fast enough? Depending on your fitness level, it could possibly take weeks or longer to improve enough to win at World Class Track Meet. I’m no fitness expert so I’m just speculating on that. I don’t know how to effectively assign a relative difficulty to this game, and so I arbitrarily decided on 4/10.

I was beyond exhausted by this last event.

I played the game as it was designed to be played, but there are a few ways to cheat at the game that I bet many people would think to try. One common technique is to get on your knees and use your hands to slap the buttons. You can cheese the long jump and triple jump by jumping completely off the mat and back on quickly enough to trick the game into thinking you jumped super high. You could also hold onto a bar or piece of furniture or something when you jump to push yourself up higher. Finally, if you are really brave in a two-player game, you could try shoving your opponent off the pad entirely to gain an advantage. I don’t condone this in any fashion and you are entirely at your own risk if you do this!

Another little tidbit about World Class Track Meet is that it is one of the few NES games that doesn’t have a box to go with it. The game cart was bundled with the Power Pad and was not sold separately. The game also appeared as part of a triple combo cart along with Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt as part of the Power Set, which included the Power Pad along with the console, controllers, and the hookups. That combo cart also doesn’t have a box. The manual for World Class Track Meet is also the manual for the Power Pad itself and is branded as the Power Pad manual. These are the kind of oddities that somewhat complicate things for full set collectors.

Today, both the Power Pad and World Class Track Meet are nothing more than a novelty. There just weren’t very many Power Pad games released to go with it, and World Class Track Meet itself is a very basic experience that isn’t all that fun. The idea of fitness games peripherals still lingers on. Dance Dance Revolution would become a huge cultural phenomenon years later, and Nintendo themselves eventually came around to the idea again in the form of Wii Fit and the Wii Balance Board. Therefore, World Class Track Meet has some historical importance, but doesn’t offer much else.

#66 – World Class Track Meet (Tournament)

#66 – World Class Track Meet (Olympics)

 
FEB
08
2018
0

#65 – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Killer Tomatoes seem ripe for an NES platformer.

Oooh, it’s both animated AND detailed!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/5/17 – 12/7/17
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Longplay

I know I’ve mentioned before that I don’t watch much movies or TV, but play video games instead in my free time. So Attack of the Killer Tomatoes comes up on my list to play. I know nothing about it at all, but I just know that this is based off some kind of movie or something. It has to be. I turn the game on and I’m greeted by these introductory story segments, further cementing my suspicion. Now that I’ve finished the game and done the research, yes indeed, this is the game based on a cartoon series that was based on a movie. I guess most people figure these things out the other way around, and I just come about it differently than others. But learning is learning, and now I know something about this strange NES game.

The original Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is, according to the movie poster, a “musical-comedy-horror” movie that debuted in 1978. The concept is well summarized from the movie title alone, and it was meant to be a spoof of B movies. It was produced by Stephen Peace and John DeBello, and also directed by John DeBello. The movie concept was conceived by Costa Dillon, and all three worked together to write the film. It has since become a cult classic and eventually spawned three sequels. Return of the Killer Tomatoes was released in theaters in 1988. The other two films, Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! from 1990 and Killer Tomatoes Eat France in 1991 were both direct-to-video films. An animated series, also named Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, aired on Fox Kids in 1990 and 1991, spanning two seasons and twenty-one episodes. This cartoon served as the base for the NES game.

There are two video games based on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, both bearing this name. The first game came in 1986 for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and MSX, and it is an isometric game. The NES version is a different game that was developed by Imagineering and published by THQ. The game was first released in Europe in 1991, then released in the US in January 1992. It was ported to the Game Boy and was also released in 1992. Japan only got the Game Boy port, where it was renamed Killer Tomato and released in March 1993. Altron published Killer Tomato in Japan.

The tomatoes are killer, and so are you.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a side-scrolling platformer. Dr. Gangrene has evil plans to take over both San Zucchini and the world with the Doomsday Tomato. Young Chad Finletter sets out to stop these plans. A set of huge killer tomatoes called the Gang of Six attempt to stand in his way. Chad travels through the city streets through Dr. Gangrene’s lair and beyond. Stop the evil doctor’s plans and you win the game.

This game has normal platformer controls. Use the D-pad to move Chad. You do a lot of walking left and right, but sometimes you need to climb a ladder or something by pressing Up or Down. The A button lets him jump. The B button is used for a few different actions. You can hold the B button to run, but for unknown reasons this only works in certain areas in the game. Holding B while jumping lets you leap a little farther. You can also hold B while climbing to move faster. In one place in the game, you can also press B to throw rocks. Holding down B and pressing Select lets you toggle the background music if you want. The Start button is just for pausing the game. There’s a weird glitch that happens when the game is paused. You can press Select to advance the game one frame at a time. That sounds like something that could be exploited but it’s not really helpful.

There is a status bar in the upper-left corner during gameplay. It displays your score counter, number of lives, and your health bar. Chad begins each new game with three lives and three bars of energy out of a maximum of six. There are items found in the game that can increase all three of these things. These are found on the ground and are not dropped by enemies. Fertilizer sacks are the most common item that just give you points. Lunch bags restore health and this amount varies depending on the pickup. Sometimes it is just a couple of health points and other times they give you even more than six. The rare lunch box adds an extra life. The design of these pickups is poor because they all look a lot alike. The lunch bag is folded on the top compared to the sack that looks like it is closed by a drawstring. I had to really pay attention to see if it was worth grabbing. I only came across one lunch box in the game and I couldn’t tell you how it differs graphically from the others.

That fertilizer sack is camouflaged!

There are a few enemies that show up in the game and most of them are tomato related. There are tiny little hopping tomatoes as well as larger ones that split into two tiny ones when stomped. There are tomato spiders and other tomatoes that sort of run at you. There are also rats and bats. You can jump on all these enemies to defeat them and you just fall through them when you kill them. A lot of times in platforming games you will bounce off defeated enemies a little, but it makes sense that tomatoes would just get squished. Each enemy deals one point of damage if it hits you, and there are also various stage hazards that can hurt you. A platforming game wouldn’t be complete without bottomless pits that can cost you a life.

The Gang of Six appear throughout the game, but instead of acting as boss battles they are mostly roadblocking enemies and should be avoided. The first one you meet in the game does need to be stomped to get it to run away, but all the other ones stand in your way and try to knock you around. It even hurts to jump on most of them, so don’t even bother. It seems like a strange choice to use these characters as merely stage hazards instead of bosses, but it seems to work fine. You do want to be careful around them because sometimes they can juggle you in the air and hit you multiple times.

Some of the stages in the game are mazes. The manual calls them 3D mazes but that’s a little misleading. These areas are still side-scrolling platforming levels that have a bit of a three-quarters perspective to them. There are branching pathways visible either into the background or into the screen, and you can press Up or Down to walk to the adjacent screen. They may seem difficult but are pretty straightforward as far as mazes go. If you take the wrong path, you won’t have to backtrack too far to figure out the correct way through.

You don’t wanna mess with these guys, just jump over them.

If you lose all your lives, you get to continue. One of the killer tomatoes spells out the message “Try again tomato head” when you lose all your lives. I like that better than the standard Game Over! You get a new set of three lives, but you can only continue twice before having to restart the game.

This was my first time playing Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It was one of the later additions to my collection. In fact, I bought this copy in the same lot that contained the recently-beaten Kiwi Kraze. That lot was five games for $35, so I did well getting the game for essentially $7. It’s not a common game to find and sells in the $15-$25 range today.

Platformers with limited continues are normally the kind of game I would rate as a 7/10 or 8/10 difficulty. There are lots of way to take damage or die, and you have to play the game repeatedly to get the hang of it. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes gets an average rating because the game is very short. During the first night of playing I got majorly stuck during the third level. It doesn’t look like you can go anywhere at first. You need look for something within the stage that lets you proceed and I just completely overlooked it. The next night I saw my way through that part and ended up beating the game directly from there. I wasn’t recording because I didn’t expect the game to end so soon. I recorded a run the next night in around 15 minutes, only dying once in the first level and again near the end of the game.

Mazes aren’t as complicated as they seem.

Because Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is so short, I’ll run you through the whole game. These are all spoilers, so skip this section if you want to try this on your own. You begin on the streets at night working your way to the right. You have to bop Tomacho five times to progress to the manhole on the far right. This takes you to the sewer maze. Work your way past Ketchuk twice and chase the shadowy figure to a room with a large pipe organ. Here you throw rocks and must break each pipe of the organ to move on. You go back to the streets briefly before going into the tomato factory. Avoid Beefsteak on the floor and the roving robotic arm above and work your way to the top where you will flip a switch on the wall that reverses gravity. This was the part I didn’t get at first. You will need to go up through the ventilation shaft and end up in a small room where you need to bop some enemies for awhile until Dr. Gangreen opens the door ahead. This takes you to the tower. Fang and Zoltan will get in your way at various points as you climb to the top of this maze. Reach the Doomsday Tomato and Chad stops it on his own, loading the end credits. Now that game isn’t quite done yet because you get eaten by a huge tomato and need to work your way through the final maze inside. Just keep moving and get past Mummato when you see him and you’ll get to the end. If you hit a dead end you will probably find a lunch bag to refill your health anyway. Grab onto the large stalactite at the end to crush the tomatoes for good!

Imagineering may not have the best track record for platformer games on the NES, but Attack of the Killer Tomatoes plays well enough and has some neat technical moments that helps it stand out a little bit. Thrown tomatoes help spell out the letters during the credits sequences. Street lights illuminate the character palettes in a clever way. The tomato squishing graphics are oddly satisfying, and splitting bigger tomatoes in two is pulled off seamlessly. The platforming and character movement aren’t the greatest, but may well be the best of their games I’ve played so far. The music is good too.

Despite all the neat touches, the game is only average in gameplay and it is over just as soon as it gets started. It would have been disappointing buying this game when it came out at full price. I really have no idea of the popularity of the cartoon at the time and if that had any bearing on the sales of the game. Word of mouth of the short length of the game might have deterred it from selling well. Both of these could be factors for why the game is a bit on the uncommon side. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is merely NES library filler. Though I’m glad I played it, like I feel about most NES games, I would say skip this one.

#65 – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

 
JAN
26
2018
1

#64 – Jeopardy!

It’s an outdated version of the long running TV quiz show!

Includes the iconic theme song!

To Beat: Win a single round
To Complete: Win a single round on the highest difficulty
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 12/1/17 – 12/2/17
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: Jeopardy! Longplay

This is another one of these project milestones, as today I am covering the first game show game on the NES. Well, that’s only true if you don’t count American Gladiators, I suppose. Even at the time of the NES game release, Jeopardy! was already a popular, long-running TV game show. It is still going strong today and I doubt there is an end in sight. This NES game suffers solely because of its age as the questions and answers are now nearly 30 years old, but it holds true to the Jeopardy! formula we are familiar with.

Jeopardy! first appeared on NBC in 1964 as a daytime show. Merv Griffin is the show’s creator. The original version ran until early 1975, which slightly overlapped a brief nighttime syndicated version airing from 1974 to 1975. A new version called The All-New Jeopardy! aired on NBC for a few months during 1978 and 1979. The show would return for good in daily syndication beginning in September 1984. This is the version of the show that is still running today. Art Fleming hosted the first three runs of Jeopardy! with Don Pardo as the announcer for the first two runs and John Harlan for The All-New Jeopardy! The current run of Jeopardy! is hosted by Alex Trebek and announced by Johnny Gilbert. It has won 33 daytime Emmy Awards and is now in its 34th season.

There have been many video game adaptations of the show, ranging from the mid-1980s up to 2017. The first version was the 1987 release on Apple II, Commodore 64, and DOS. The NES has four distinct versions of Jeopardy! with the original release coming in September 1988. Jeopardy! Junior Edition released in October 1989 and Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition followed in June 1990. Super Jeopardy! was the final NES release in September 1991. Rare developed and GameTek published all versions of Jeopardy! on the NES, and all were US exclusives. GameTek published most video game versions of the game show until they filed for bankruptcy in 1998.

The developers got the look and feel right.

Since the NES game follows the same flow as the TV show, it makes sense to cover a basic overview of how Jeopardy! is played. Three contestants play three rounds aiming to earn the most money to win. Clues are given as answers and the contestant must respond with the appropriate question to earn money. The winner, or champion, of the prior game of Jeopardy! returns to play again and can accumulate winnings over multiple shows for as long as he or she keeps winning. The returning champion sits on the left and begins each game by choosing the first clue.

In the first round, the main game board is filled with six categories of five clue each. Each clue is assigned a dollar amount representing a wager. The original run of Jeopardy! had values ranging from $10 to $50, and the current show ranges from $200 to $1000. Typically, the higher the value, the more difficult the clue. One contestant chooses the category and a dollar amount on the board, and the host reads the full answer. Then, contestants can buzz in and provide the question. Correct responses add the dollar amount to that person’s total, while incorrect responses take away the amount. Totals can dip into the negative. The contestant with the correct response may choose the next clue from the board, or if no one answers correctly then the original contestant may choose again. The round ends when all thirty clues have been given.

One clue hides a Daily Double. When a contestant chooses that clue, the Daily Double is announced and only that contestant may give a response. The player must provide a wager of his or her own choosing, ranging from $5 up to their current winnings. If a player doesn’t have any accrued winnings, he or she can choose from any wager remaining on the board. Then the clue is given and the contestant gets a brief time to respond. Dollar amounts are added or deducted just the same as in normal play. Finally, the contestant gets to choose the next clue for everyone to play.

The simple keyboard interface works well.

The second round is called Double Jeopardy! and it plays out the same way as the first round. Six new categories appear but this time the dollar values are doubled. The player with the lowest total from the prior round gets to choose the first clue. This round hides two Daily Doubles. Once all those clues have been given, then Final Jeopardy! is played. Only contestants with a positive score may play this round. Here only the category is given to start and players must wager a dollar amount of his or her choice from $0 up to their current winnings. Then the clue is revealed and each contestant writes down a response within a shared time limit. One at a time, each question is revealed and the wager is added for a correct response or deducted for an incorrect response. The player with the highest total wins the game.

The NES game begins by choosing the number of players. One to three players may compete with computer players filling in any open spots. Use the D-pad to choose and press either A or B to select how many human players will participate. Next, choose the Skill Level 1, 2, or 3. Then, one at a time, each player enters in a name up to six characters long. The D-pad scrolls the cursor and either A or B enters the character. The cursor may wrap around from any edge to the other side. Then a player character is displayed at the stand and the game asks if you want a new character. Choose Yes to swap in a different character as many times as you want, then choose No to lock that character in. The character selection repeats for all human players and is filled in automatically for computer players. Player 2 uses the second controller and Player 3 uses the first controller, if necessary. This holds true for the entire game.

The first round starts with six categories and dollar amounts ranging from $100 to $500. Player 1 gets to pick the first clue. Press Left or Right to select a category and press A or B to lock it in. Then use Up and Down to select the wager and press A or B. Next, the answer appears on screen along with a timer shown in the corner. Players can buzz in at any time. Player 1 must press any key on the D-pad on the first controller to buzz in. Player 2 does the same on the second controller, while Player 3 uses the A or B button on the first controller. I guess you have to set controllers on the floor or on a table when playing with three players.

This was when the match was going well for me.

When a player jumps in, the question entry screen appears. Inputting the question here is the same as entering in your name at the start of the game, but here there is a time limit for submitting your response. This is where the skill level comes into play. Skill level 1 gets 50 seconds, level 2 is 45 seconds, and level 3 is 40 seconds. These aren’t actually full seconds. Unless the skill level also makes computer players buzz in more quickly, the skill level doesn’t mean much at all. Anyway, you will enter in the response and then choose End to submit. You don’t have to phrase your response in the form of the question because the game handles it for you, which is convenient. Other players get a chance to buzz in if the wrong answer is given. Daily Doubles are also handled similarly where you can input the wager you want or choose from one of the preset wagers if you haven’t earned enough money.

Final Jeopardy! is handled a bit differently than the first two rounds. Normally, contestants all submit their wagers and responses at the same time by writing them down. To get around it here, each player submits their response and wager while the other players are asked to look away from the TV. Of course there’s the potential for cheating if players 2 and 3 aren’t honest, but there’s really no other way to do it on the NES. Once the final submissions are resolved and scores are tallied, someone is crowned the winner! The game goes back to the title screen from here.

I’m sure this was not my first time playing Jeopardy! on the NES. I mean, I don’t remember exactly. It’s not a long game and so I may have completed a full round or two just to see what it was like. I imagine this was the first time I won a game. I managed to beat Jeopardy! on my first time playing, though it took me three tries to win. In all games, I had a reasonable score but didn’t have the lead going into the last round. On the first try, I missed the final question, and on the second try I got it right but didn’t wager enough to win. I played better the third game and nailed the Final Jeopardy! round to claim victory.

Maybe you could figure out some of these clues. I couldn’t.

The clear problem with older versions of trivia games like this is that the information is outdated. Sure, there are general questions and answers that are more timeless in nature. It just seems like about half of the categories or clues have to do with musicians, movie stars, or TV personalities of that period, and most of that information isn’t common knowledge anymore. I just had to hope that the computer would miss or ignore the ones I couldn’t answer, while buzzing in quickly on ones I knew I could answer. I also needed to get a good enough mix of categories that catered more to my knowledge. Perhaps I came out a bit lucky to only need three attempts. As an NES game though, it’s an easy one and a relatively quick clear.

If you want to try out NES Jeopardy! for some reason, here are a few tips for success. Both first and last names are required when the clue is about a person. Spaces for multiple word submissions are not required, though spelling is pretty important to get right. For numbers, you can type out the word or just the digits. Be sure to give the plural form of the words if you are responding with “What are” instead of “What is.”

Those are all input related tips and are somewhat useful, but I do have a couple of more helpful trends I noticed about the computer players. Sometimes the computer will buzz in and get the question wrong, and when they do they will enter in gibberish. Their incorrect response is the same as the correct one only with most of the letters replaced by symbols, so from that you know both how long the correct response should be as well as some of the correct letters in the spelling. You can sometimes glean the correct solution from this, and it’s even better because the opponent also loses points from the wrong response that can help you get the right one. It’s also to your benefit to place a full Final Jeopardy! wager unless you have a commanding lead. Most rounds will be decided by Final Jeopardy! anyway and you have nothing to lose but time if it doesn’t pan out. If you have a really big lead, you can simply wager nothing and probably win. I never saw the computer place particularly large wagers anyway.

Jeopardy! on NES is a competently programmed game and a good adaptation of the popular show. You don’t need flashy graphics or presentation here, but what you get is more than good enough. It’s just nothing special, and it’s too bad that the outdated questions and answers make it even less fun to play now. It was an easy clear for me, and for that I am thankful and won’t complain. For anyone else though, I wouldn’t bother with it.

#64 – Jeopardy!