Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!
NOV
06
2017
2

#57 – M.C. Kids

This fun, golden platformer isn’t kidding around!

This screen doubles as a little playground to move around in.

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat all stages and collect all puzzle cards
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 8/27/17 – 8/29/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: M.C. Kids 100% Longplay

McDonald’s is one of the most iconic and ubiquitous brands in the world. Ronald McDonald is a household name, and just about everyone recognizes the golden arches. It’s no surprise that there are licensed video games based on their cast of characters. What may be surprising is that the NES game is quite good. M.C. Kids channels the spirit of Super Mario Bros. 3 with some clever twists that makes it a great NES platformer.

McDonald’s is an American fast food restaurant that was first founded in 1940 by Richard and Maurice McDonald as a barbecue restaurant. In 1948, they changed over to a hamburger stand and subsequently expanded to other locations. Ray Kroc purchased the chain from the McDonald brothers in 1955 and established McDonald’s Corporation. Today, McDonald’s has vastly expanded worldwide approaching 40,000 total restaurants in over 100 countries.

The character Ronald McDonald may have been created by Willard Scott. The former NBC Today Show’s weatherman was the original Ronald McDonald in three television ads in 1963, and he claims to have created the clown character himself. McDonald’s expanded their advertising by introducing McDonaldland in 1970-1971. Many new characters came and went over the years to accompany Ronald. McDonaldland was officially phased out of advertising in 2003.

Something tells me the kids weren’t part of McDonaldland.

A few video games were created using the McDonaldland characters. The Famicom exclusive Donald Land was released in Japan in 1988, and was both developed and published by Data East. The NES game M.C. Kids was released in North America in January 1992. It was both published and developed by Virgin Games. The European version was renamed McDonaldland and was published by Ocean Software in 1993. In a strange twist, the Game Boy port of this game was released as McDonaldland in Europe and rebranded as Spot: The Cool Adventure for North America. A Sega Genesis follow up named Global Gladiators was also released in 1992. Another Genesis game, McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure, was released worldwide in 1993 by the developer Treasure.

M.C. Kids (pronounced “Em-Cee” Kids) is a side-scrolling action platformer. The Hamburgler has stolen Ronald’s magic bag, and Ronald asks the kids Mick and Mack to help him track it down. To do this, the kids must locate some of Ronald’s puzzle cards from the levels in the world. When you collect enough puzzle cards, the path to the next world is open. This cycle repeats until you track down the Hamburgler and recover the magic bag.

On the title screen, you take control of Mick. This is a great place to get a basic feel for movement and jumping in a safe environment. There is a signpost pointing to the left labeled 1up, and another pointing to the right labeled 2up. Walk off the appropriate side of the screen to activate either one-player or two-player mode. Above the signposts are moon blocks. Bumping your head into the block changes you between Mick and Mack. They control the same, so simply pick the one you prefer. For two-player mode, the second player gets the other character. Two-player mode is alternating play.

This map style reminds me of some other game…

After the introductory story, you are taken to the world map. Use the D-pad to walk on the predefined paths between stages. Press A to enter a stage or house. Each stage is noted with a flashing M with a signpost next to it indicating the level number. At the top of the screen, you see the name of the world you’re in, as well as the level name if you are standing on a stage tile. You also see how many puzzle cards you need for this stage, the number of lives remaining, and how many arches you have collected. The puzzle is on the top right of the screen in a rectangle of six tiles. The cards not yet collected are displayed as M tiles. For each puzzle card you find in the levels, a tile is flipped over revealing part of the puzzle for this world.

The levels themselves are large side-scrolling levels where you control the kid directly. The controls are easy to understand but movement takes time to master. You move with the D-pad and use A to jump. You can duck by holding Down. You get a higher jump by jumping while ducking. You run automatically by walking on the ground in one direction for a while. Movement is momentum based and you maintain your speed well while jumping around. There are slopes that can either boost or reduce your speed accordingly. Running at full speed or close to it produces the highest jumps.

The B button is used to pick things up. The most common thing to grab are blocks that you hold above your head and use as weapons. Walk into a block and press B to lift it, or you can stand on a block, duck, and press B to grab them that way. You then throw the block with B. You can throw the block up or down, or press B without a vertical direction to throw the block forward. Thrown blocks will bounce once or twice before dropping off the screen, and sometimes you can hit more than one enemy with the same block.

Well, I need health, so this little bird has got to go!

At the top of the screen in a level you see a few indicators. The M stands for how many arches you have. These are floating M’s within the levels that you collect just by touching them. The L shows how many lives you have. Underneath that are hearts that represent your health. You begin each new life with three hearts. You lose single hearts when colliding with enemies, and you die when all hearts are depleted. There are no item drops or health pickups in M.C. Kids, but you can restore hearts in a couple of ways. Defeating ten enemies will restore one heart, and if you defeat two enemies with the same block you also recover a heart. You start with three hearts but can go up to four. Health also carries over between stages which is something to keep in mind.

The most important item in M.C. Kids is the puzzle card. They are solid blocks with an M on them and you collect the card by picking up the block. To keep the card permanently, you need to finish the level after grabbing it. You end a level by touching the goal line situated between two goal posts. There is a floating M across the line that will give you some arches if you touch it while breaking the string. When the level ends, you will high five your friend and see a message indicating which puzzle card you acquired, if any. Some cards in a world are for a puzzle in a different world, and some levels have two cards instead of one. The cards can be well hidden or stashed in hard to reach places, so it’s crucial to explore the levels thoroughly.

Most puzzle cards are a little harder to find.

There are several types of blocks in M.C. Kids. Blocks with a 1 on them are extra lives, and you will see many of them in the game. The reverser is a left-facing arrow block that sends you flying and flipping all the way back to the start of the level. Sometimes you will see a block outline moving around in a level. If you find a similarly shaped fill-in block and touch it to the outline, it will make the block solid and you can use it as a platform. A boat lets you float on water and you can climb in it and use the D-Pad to move the boat across water left and right. You can even grab this boat like a block and throw it into a different body of water. There are also porous blocks that float in the water and drift forward on their own. There are sand tiles that you can dig through like in Super Mario Bros. 2.

One of the neatest elements in M.C. Kids is the spinner block. It is a solid, fixed block that is located at the end of a long platform. You want to get a running start and run right over the spinner block. Do this and you will run around to the underside of the block, letting you walk on the ceiling with reversed gravity. You can reach high areas this way. One thing to note with reversed gravity is if you fall off the top of the screen, you lose a life just as if you fell down a pit.

There are also several different springboards and lifts found in stages. Small springboards let you jump high. These are usually found in the open but sometimes are hidden behind grabbable blocks. Super springboards require you to carry a block with you to spring very high. The travel lift is a platform that begins stationary and starts moving when you jump on it. The continuous lift winds around in a predefined pattern and you have to watch it for a while to see its path so you can reach it safely. The conveyor lift shows up near the end of the game. It travels along a guidewire and you move it yourself by standing in the center of it and walking either left or right. Walking left moves it forward and walking right moves it backward. This lift is particularly tricky to learn. The zipper is neither a springboard or lift, but it comes up often. Press B while standing in front of it to transition to either a new room or different location within the level.

This path for this lift winds around a lot.

As you play, you will accumulate arches. You will lose some whenever you collide with an enemy. If you manage to collect over 100, the arch counter rolls over and starts blinking. If you finish the level from here without dying, then you get to play a bonus game. This is a small level containing four blocks on upward rails. One of the four will light with an up arrow, and then shortly after the rest will display downward arrows. You want to jump quickly to the one with the up arrow to slide it upward a little bit before the down arrows activate and lower the block you are standing on. The idea is to lift at least one block high enough to reach a ledge at the top with a couple of zippers. Use the zipper to go to a 1up room with several 1up blocks suspended over a pit. Grab as many as you can! If you fall off the blocks in the bonus game, there’s a moon block on the floor you can use to switch characters if you want.

When you collect enough puzzle cards, you can go to the house in that world and speak with its owner. He or she will then provide you a path to the next world. If you are missing cards for a particular puzzle, you can drop by the house for a hint. Collecting all the cards for a world and visiting the house may provide some other benefits. There is nothing on the map to indicate if a completed level still holds a card, which makes it more difficult to track down missing cards. However, you don’t need every card to beat the game. You may also find secret cards. There is an optional secret world in the game that you can find that only opens if all secret cards are collected.

This was my first time playing through M.C. Kids, though I have owned the game for quite a while. I bought it during a brief collecting phase I had around 2009 or so. There was a deal on eBay where you could pick 10 games for either $20 or $30, and M.C. Kids was one of the games I chose. Those kinds of deals make me wonder if I had missed out on another game that would eventually become more expensive. M.C. Kids sells in the $10-$15 range these days, so it ended up being a good purchase.

This bonus level features multiple fake goal markers.

It took me a couple of days to beat M.C. Kids. The first night I streamed gameplay on Twitch, and I was doing decently until the end of the third world. I was really struggling to figure out a few different sections, and after 90 minutes or so I called it a night. The next night I pushed my way through to the end of the game in a near three-hour session. It wasn’t pretty but I got the job done. However, I wasn’t recording my attempt, and I also beat the game without visiting the special world at all. Once you get to the ending, there’s no way to go back. I also missed two puzzle cards that weren’t necessary to play all the levels and I looked online to find out where they were hiding. I had ideas on where both cards were located, but I don’t think I would have found them on my own unless I grinded out a few more hours of playing. With all that in mind, I beat the whole game again on my third attempt and captured video this time. I had to play the special world blind, but it went relatively well for the toughest stages in the game.

The deeper I get into this project, the harder time I have figuring out how to rate games on difficulty. If you can keep your NES running for a long time, then you could probably beat M.C. Kids. There are unlimited continues, and beyond that there are several places where you can grind out extra lives to not even need to continue. There is at least one level that has two extra lives right at the beginning, so by grabbing both and dying right away, you can slowly build up a stock at any time. I also found a cache of eight lives or so in a level in the first world, which is even better for grinding. Therefore, lives are not much of an issue in beating the game. The two things that make the game challenging are the momentum-based physics and locating some of the trickier-to-find puzzle cards. This seems like an average difficulty game to me, but I decided to tick up the rating to a 6 since I had trouble the first night I played.

M.C. Kids is a fun NES game that I recommend playing. The levels are often sprawling with many things to do, and the game introduces many different elements along the way that keep the experience fresh. The reverse gravity gimmick works well and it is used in clever ways. The graphics are very clean with some nice animation, and the music is equally great. I had this track stuck in my head for several days after playing. It’s no Mario 3, but it resembles it enough that it’s an easy game to recommend. The AVGN video on M.C. Kids has raised awareness of the game, but it’s been long enough since that review that the game has backed up a bit into mild obscurity. Now that I’m shining some light on the game, make sure you don’t skip this one.

#57 – M.C. Kids

 
OCT
23
2017
0

#56 – Mendel Palace

Shuffling panels has never been this much fun!

The baddies look far less menacing in the actual game.

To Beat: Reach the Ending
To Complete: Beat both the game and the Extra mode
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 8/7/17 – 8/18/17
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
Videos: Mendel Palace Longplay and Mendel Palace Extra Mode Longplay

There are a lot of weird video games out there, especially today when the barriers to development and distribution are much lower. The NES was around in a time when some gaming conventions were being defined, so developers had the liberty to make some weird games too. Ghoul School is one that comes to mind that I’ve already played. I classify Mendel Palace as a weird game, and in this case I mean it in a good way. Mendel Palace is a frenetic action game that is dripping with character.

Mendel Palace was released in North America in October 1990. The game was developed by Game Freak, who are best known as the developers behind Pokémon. This was the first game they developed. The NES version was published by Hudson Soft. This game debuted first on the Famicom under the name Quinty. There it was released in June 1989, over a year earlier. Quinty was published in Japan by Namco. Mendel Palace has not been re-released, nor are there any sequels.

Mendel Palace is a single-screen action game. You play the role of Bon-Bon. The princess Candy has become trapped in a dream that she cannot escape, and so you might fight all her dolls that have come to life and free Candy. It’s the typical save the princess trope. The object of the game is to defeat all the enemies in each stage. There are 100 total levels spanning several different worlds. If you clear all the stages, then you save Candy and win the game. You can go at it alone or play with a friend in the two-player mode.

It’s a block party!

The main gimmick to Mendel Palace is how you attack enemies. Each stage is in a top down perspective consisting of a 7×5 grid of large panels on the floor. You can walk around in the four cardinal directions using the D-pad. When you press the A or B button, you will shuffle the floor panel in front of you. It is a little tricky at first to determine which panel you will move. If you stand on the edge of the panel facing the middle of it, you will shuffle the one you are standing on. Otherwise, you will shuffle the next tile over in the direction you are facing. The idea is to shuffle tiles when enemies are standing on them, which causes the baddies to get pushed away a short distance. Enemies are defeated when they get shoved into the side of the screen or against a solid object. Sometimes enemies can push you into the wall as well, but if an enemy touches you then you can also die that way.

The other side effect with shuffling panels is that you can reveal other panels underneath. This is not merely a binary flip. Sometimes there are three or more different layers underneath each panel that continuously cycle as long as you keep shuffling. There are many kinds of tiles that can appear in Mendel Palace, including several different item tiles. The most common item tile is the star. You must stand exactly on the center of an item tile to collect it. Stars are accumulated through play and you can see how many you have in a counter at the bottom of the screen next to the amount of lives remaining. The final star tile in a level will blink and you get 10 stars if you grab that one. Collecting 100 stars awards you an extra life, and it also makes you walk faster.

There are two more item tiles that are not as abundant as the star tiles. The first of these is the roulette tile. This cycles between four different items and you get whichever one is face up when you collect it. You can get either a puny 10 point bonus or a generous 10,000 point bonus. You can get a 10 star item for more precious stars. The best award is the 1up! Aside from star collection, this is the only other way to gain lives. The other item panel is the time panel. This is labeled FIVE SEC when you see it in the game. Each level has an invisible timer that causes the enemies to become very aggressive when it runs out. Grabbing these panels extends that timer.

The smile on the sun panel is quite appropriate!

There are a few panels that can affect nearby panels. The most common of these is the cross panel. When you step on it, the tiles in all four cardinal directions will shuffle chain reaction style. If you can get an enemy caught up in the shuffle wave it almost always sends them all the way to the wall. There is a similar panel that does not show up often called the clock and time panel. This one looks like the cross panel but with only one direction lit up at a time. Like a clock, the lit direction changes rhythmically. Stepping on this panel causes a wave in only the direction it is pointing. The sun panel is the most powerful of these in that it shuffles all tiles on the screen radiating outward from the sun panel. Most of the time this wipes out all the enemies in one shot, so it can be very nice to find.

There are a couple of bonus panels that transform the game board in ways that can be helpful. The more common of these two is the moon panel. This one dims the lights in the level and replaces all walkable tiles with stars. There is a tradeoff with this one however. Solid panels remain solid but you cannot see them in the dark. If you are being pursued by enemies in a level with now invisible solid panels, it may not be worth the extra stars. The better bonus panel is called the special bonus panel. It has a swirl design on it and flashes colors. Run into this panel and you will be whisked off into a bonus screen filled with stars and no enemies. There will be an additional counter at the bottom of the screen indicating how many stars are available in the bonus area. Sometimes you need to shuffle panels to reveal stars, but most of them are visible from the start. There is a time limit indicated by faint color changes in the small tiles around the border of the level. If you collect all the stars before time runs out, then you get bonus stars. Play proceeds to the next level, so using the special bonus panel is an easy way to clear a stage for free.

Special bonus panels flip you right into star paradise.

Here are the remaining panels in Mendel Palace. The metal panels are solid panels that appear raised on the screen. You cannot pass through them, but you can shove enemies into the metal panels to defeat them. Some enemies can smash through the metal panels leaving behind a broken panel, which acts like the standard blank panel. The lock panel has screws in the corners indicating that this square can no longer be shuffled. The attack panel is an orange panel with the same swirl design as the special bonus panel. This launches you forward in the direction you enter the panel. It’s called the attack panel because you can defeat enemies if you collide with them after this panel pushes you. It spins for a little while so you can run back into the panel to do more damage. The final panel is the game is the enemy panel. It looks like a warp portal, and it acts like one too. New enemies will spawn from the enemy panel if there is room for them in the level, and then the panel transforms into a blank panel. Revealing these panels can keep the level going even if all other enemies have been defeated.

At the start of the game, you are shown a map screen with nine different houses. You can choose any of the houses except for the one in the center which is saved for last. Each house is based around a specific enemy type and consists of ten levels. The enemies themselves may have multiple variants, and the more difficult versions appear in the later levels of the house. The final level in each house is a boss fight that somehow incorporates the base enemy for that house. Let’s talk about each one!

This is the best choice for the new player.

The upper left area is the house of Moko-Moko, and this is the recommend level to begin the game. Moko-Moko is a rather plain enemy that doesn’t do anything other than walk around. The second form of Moko-Moko has light blue coloring, and he splits into two smaller enemies whenever you push him.

C’mon get hoppy!

The upper area is the house of Dragon. This enemy moves by making small jumps across the board. You can only push Dragon whenever he lands on the ground, so you have to time your shuffles to fight them. There are three different versions of Dragon. The normal one wears pink pants. The second version wears green pants and they don’t start hoping around until you approach them. The third version wears red and makes longer jumps.

Their drawings are so life-like!

The upper right area is the house of Vinci. These are often referred to as doodlers. They move slowly around the level and will occasionally stop on a panel to draw on them. This leaves them vulnerable to attack. If the finish their drawing, that panel becomes locked. The normal doodlers wear pink, and the green ones can also generate a ghost enemy upon completing a drawing. One interesting tactic is that is it possible to leave every tile in the level locked by either doodles or lock panels. If this happens, you win the level automatically and get a large point bonus to boot.

They can take your frustration to new heights.

The right area is the house of Toby. These enemies take a long jump straight up if you try and shuffle the panel beneath them, but they are vulnerable when they land. While waiting for one to land, you can easily get surrounded by other ones. The ones with red hair jump higher than the ones with brown hair.

Taking Follow the Leader too seriously.

The lower right area is the house of Mira. They attempt to imitate your movements. They take a step forward when you do, and they shuffle panels when you do. They will even move if you simply turn your body in another direction. If you stand still they don’t move at all and the music even stops. They can shove each other so you can get them to defeat themselves sometimes. The red versions move faster than the yellow ones.

Just keep swimming.

The lower area is the house of Wasser. They are swimmers and are often referred to as such. They will walk around the perimeter of the level and then swim straight across the stage when they line up with you. As they swim across, they shuffle the panels behind them with their feet. Wasser is a clever enemy type in my opinion. The regular version of Wasser is colored green and they swim in straight lines, while the harder blue version swims at angles and can also turn toward you mid-swim.

I like the flowing stage music here.

The lower left area is the house of Tako. These enemies are dancers and resemble ballerinas. Most enemies cannot move diagonally, but Tako can. They glide around the level homing in on you, but they take time to turn around if they pass you. Eventually they wear out and stop for a break before moving again. The normal Tako is orange, and the red ones move much faster and can break through metal panels.

These heavy enemies may take several pushes to defeat.

The left area is the house of Sumo. These are large, slow enemies that only get pushed a short distance, so the idea is to keep pushing them several times consecutively. After a Sumo is shoved, he will attempt a sumo stomp that shuffles a wave of panels away from him. The white Sumo is the regular type, and the purple one is heavier and takes more shuffles to move.

One final enemy type for good measure.

Once all eight houses are finished, Mendel Palace in the center opens. This stage features ten more levels that use all the enemy types so far. After that, there are ten final levels that feature one last enemy type.

Mendel Palace is a difficult game to take on all at once. The enemies swarm constantly and it takes either good technique or luck to get the breathing room to start defeating them. The difficulty is mitigated heavily by unlimited continues. After Game Over, the title screen displays the word Continue and all you have to do is press Start to resume play at the same level you lost. As long as you keep the NES powered on, you can brute force the entire game one level at a time. Holding the A button causes the Continue text to disappear, so if you want to start all over you have to press Start with A held down. It’s very kind of the developers that they made it simple to continue and you have to go out of your way to start completely over.

I have played some Mendel Palace before for the NintendoAge contest. I got a taste of each of the houses as I tried to figure out the best way to score the most points. The later part of the game was all new to me. Mendel Palace is not exactly common, but it is not hard to find online. I picked up my copy at a local store during a buy two, get one free promotion. I believe I bought Mendel Palace, TaleSpin, and Whomp ‘Em together for $16 total. That is a little more than what Mendel Palace is worth alone at the time of this writing, and I did particularly good on Whomp ‘Em given its current price.

I intended to play Mendel Palace for about an hour, but like most good intentions of mine that turned into me beating the game over about two hours. Some of the later levels are very challenging and it made me want to keep playing until I could surpass them. However, not only was I not recording my playthrough, but I also forgot to take a picture of the TV when I finished. It took me about a week before I got the time to play through the game with everything set up. I think I played the second time a little better but I still died plenty.

This level still gives me nightmares.

Mendel Palace has a secret Extra mode containing 100 new levels. Nothing in the manual or the game mentioned this mode. To play Extra mode, first make sure the NES is powered off. Then hold down Start and Select and turn on the NES. If successful, you will see the word Extra on top of the title as well as a different color on the title text. This mode has a few differences over the normal game. The biggest change is that there is no map or level selection. Instead you play all 100 rounds in the same order. There are stars but there is no counter displayed like in the normal mode. The number of extra lives caps out at five and even the lives display is different. You will get different enemies from level to level instead of grouped together. This mode is significantly harder than the normal game. It took me almost three hours to finish all the levels and I stayed up way too late to get it done. The ending you get is the same as the normal game, so this is purely an optional mode. I beat it anyway because I really like Mendel Palace and I’m not going to leave new levels on the table.

Mendel Palace is a very fun game and one that I give my full recommendation. There’s not another game quite like it, and all the different enemy types, stage layouts, and the action all bundle together nicely. The music is upbeat and catchy, and the graphics have a pastel and almost cell shaded look to them. There’s a lot of stuff going on at one time, from the multiple panel shuffling animations to the marble spray when an enemy bites the dust. Mendel Palace manages to run fast despite all the action on screen. There is a lot of sprite flicker, and that’s a negative you have to accept for a game like this on the limited NES hardware. A few stages and bosses are very frustrating in their difficulty too. Aside from those complaints, Mendel Palace is this weird game that’s a blast to play.

#56 – Mendel Palace

 
OCT
16
2017
0

#55 – Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode

Demonstrating that assassins for hire must be versatile to be effective.

The intro screens are even better than this title screen.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 7/24/17 – 7/27/17
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode Longplay

When I was a kid, I would read whatever gaming magazine or tip guide I could get my hands on. Golgo 13 was a game that would show up often and it always looked like a fascinating game, but maybe too advanced for my age. Later, when I got a copy to try, I didn’t really give it much of a chance. I wrote it off as not my style of game, and I don’t think I was ready for it anyway. Now I’m old enough to give it a fair shake. Golgo 13 is rough around the edges, but it turned out to be a fun game with significant variety.

Golgo 13 is a Japanese manga series written by Takao Saito. It centers around the assassin for hire Golgo 13, who is also known by his pseudonym Duke Togo. The manga began in October 1968 and it is still an ongoing series nearly 50 years later. The series has expanded into various other forms of media, such as a live-action movie, two animated movies, an animated TV series, and several video games.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is an NES game released in North America in September 1988. It was published and developed by Vic Tokai. It is both the first NES game published by Vic Tokai as well as the first Vic Tokai game I have played for this project. The Famicom version of the game is the original version, released in March 1988. In Japan, it was named Golgo 13: Dai 1 Shou: Kamigami no Tasogare. There is also a sequel on the NES named The Mafat Conspiracy, which I will cover in the future.

You might as well just fire away.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is an espionage action game. You play the role of Golgo 13 who is framed for the explosion of a helicopter containing a biological weapon named Cassandra-G. A vaccine and plans for Cassandra-G were taken from the wreckage and Golgo 13 is blamed for the whole thing. An international organization named FIXER believes that the DREK empire is ultimately responsible for the event. The FIXER group recruits Golgo 13 to investigate a lead on recovering the vaccine, eventually leading him to assassinate the leader of DREK.

This game takes on several play styles that appear as needed through the course of the game. The first of these is the horizontal side-scrolling mode where you directly control Golgo 13. Here you use the D-Pad to walk left and right. You may encounter people on the streets. Some pass by, some will talk to you, and others are enemy agents that will shoot at you. Contrary to most action platformers, you use the B button to jump and the A button to attack. At first you don’t have any weaponry, so A deploys a jump kick instead. After defeating an enemy, you will acquire bullets and you shoot them with A instead of kicking. You can kick by pressing A while jumping, or you can shoot with A by standing on the ground. You can also press Up to either enter doorways or progress to other areas you see in the background.

In all play modes, on the top left of the screen you will see two displays. The first is labelled L and this is your health meter. You begin with the maximum 200 health that dwindles away like a slow timer. You also lose health when you take damage from enemies. The second display is noted with the letter B and this indicates how many bullets you have. For every enemy you defeat, you automatically gain both health and bullets. How much you recover differs by enemy. You can hold as many as 400 bullets so you are encouraged to shoot everything.

This first-person mode shows up all the time in Golgo 13.

As you move around in most modes, sometimes a gun will rise from the bottom of the screen or an explosion will appear in front of you. This engages the play mode called pan and zoom. In this mode, the action switches to a first-person perspective and you control a crosshair. Use the D-Pad to move the crosshair in all eight directions and press A to shoot. The screen scrolling loops all the way around to the left and right, and also scrolls partway upward. At the bottom of the screen, you see an indicator showing one or more enemy types and how many of each enemy type there are. You must defeat them all to continue play in the prior mode. There is also a meter that shows which compass direction you are aiming. When there is only one enemy remaining, arrows are shown indicating the direction of the final enemy threat. Some enemies will appear for a brief time and fly off in the distance, and others stay on and keep attacking. Some enemies fire missiles at you that you can shoot before they hit you. They do a lot of damage so it is best to shoot them first if you can.

Another recurring feature in Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode are the cutscenes. You find these when you enter certain locations. They always begin with a close-up of Golgo 13 facing the screen. Press A and he will turn toward the background. If no one is there, play goes back to the previous screen. Otherwise a person will walk up and start talking to you. At the end of each text block you are prompted to press either A or B. The prompt for A means press A to advance to the next block of text. The prompt for B indicates the end of the cutscene, so pressing B will return you to the action.

Golgo 13 also gets to assume control of a helicopter, and this play mode is like a horizontal scrolling shooter. In these sections, you automatically scroll to the right with the goal of surviving until the end of the scene. You can move the helicopter in all eight directions with the D-pad. The helicopter moves faster going left or down and slower going right or up. Press A to shoot the gun. Like Golgo 13’s pistol, it only shoots a single shot straight ahead, but here you can rapid fire many shots quickly.

Golgo 13 is also a professional scuba diver, evidently.

Another play style appears in the underwater sections. Golgo 13 takes to the water with scuba gear and is armed only with a spear gun. Use the D-pad to swim in all eight directions and press A to fire spears. Golgo 13’s sprite changes significantly between swimming horizontally and swimming vertically. This is important when guiding him through narrow passages. It is also important in that Golgo 13 can only fire spears when swimming horizontally. You can fire either to the left or right. Here there are other enemies with scuba gear as well as aquatic creatures to fend off. Mines are a recurring nuisance that bob up and down underwater. They cannot be destroyed and they do heavy damage if you touch one. There are also plants that look harmless but actually damage you on contact.

Finally, perhaps the most involved play style of any in the entire game is the action maze. This play mode takes place from a first-person perspective and you explore a series of corridors. Most areas like this have multiple branching paths like an actual maze but some are more linear. You navigate the maze step by step. Every time you either take a step forward or switch direction, the screen goes blank very briefly before displaying the new location. This is a bit jarring when moving quickly through the maze, but under the restrictions of the NES it’s about the only way to do it quickly. Since every step is deliberate it helps you plot your course more accurately.

You will use the D-pad to move through the maze. Press Up to advance one step forward. Pressing either Left or Right will turn you in place. Pressing Down will let you face directly behind you also keeping you in place. Up is the only button that moves you to a different square in the maze. There is a compass along the bottom of the screen indicating which direction you are facing. This is invaluable to let you map your way accurately through the maze.

Enemies appear suddenly, but they are easy to dispatch.

The mazes have enemies. As you perform movements, sometimes an enemy soldier will be standing in front of you. Press A to bring up a crosshair. There are only three positions you can aim, either in the middle, to the left, or to the right. Use the D-pad to choose one of these locations and press A to shoot. You have to be quick to take out a soldier when you see one or you will take some damage. Many enemies will leave behind a grenade that you will pick up automatically. You can hold up to three of them and they are displayed at the bottom of the screen. They are not used for attacking like you might think. I will explain what the grenades do shortly.

Mazes can be complicated to navigate for several reasons. There are multiple doors that appear in the maze. Just walk into them to move to the room behind them. I had a hard time keeping my bearings after moving through doors while trying to go without a map. There are also ladders. Yes, the mazes can have multiple floors. Each level of the maze is in a different color to help distinguish them and you use the ladders to switch between floors. Sometimes when taking a step, a wall will appear right in front of you. If you have a grenade, you can throw it near the wall to break a hole through it allowing you to pass. The worst aspect is the trap door. Some squares of the maze will reveal a trap door and you fall to the floor below. Typically, the top floor holds what you are looking for within the maze, so falling always represents a step backward.

Contrary to the other modes, there are some pickups in the maze. You can find a life potion that fills your health and an ammo box that replenishes your ammo. You can find a key that lets you unlock a locked door. All doors look the same and a blinking key icon is displayed at the bottom of the screen if you are trying to go through a locked door without the key. There is a set of infrared goggles needed to go past the laser walls. This is yet another obstacle you will encounter within the maze. If you are equipped with the goggles, you can see the lasers beaming down. You can try to walk through the laser wall without the goggles if you wish, but you will suffer heavy damage by doing so. With the goggles and proper timing, you can pass through unscathed. I found the timing tricky to master and there is little room for error.

The lasers deploy randomly, so you need good reflexes and timing.

You can continue playing if you die in this game, and Golgo 13 has an interesting way of representing the continue system. Each life for Golgo 13 is represented as an episode of a TV series. On the title screen, there is a #1 written on the left at the start of the game. If you die, you get a screen saying “To Be Continued…” instead of the traditional Game Over screen. You go back to the title screen and now you see #2 meaning Episode 2. You can keep continuing all the way to #52, but if you die there you must start the entire game over.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is a long game. Naturally, there are 13 acts in the adventure. Some of them go by quickly, and others, like the ones with mazes, last a long time. There are no passwords and no saving in the game, and you are left at the mercy of the continue system. Completing Golgo 13 is more than just an endurance test; it has some challenging moments that take learning and practice.

This was my first time playing Golgo 13. It’s a common cart and one I picked up early on during one of my waves of collecting. With cart in hand, I remembered my impressions of the games from those old magazines. When I finally got to try it out, I was less than impressed with the first few minutes of the game. I would not have sat down and tried to get into it had I not started this project.

What doesn’t Golgo 13 do?

Golgo 13 started to impress me the more I played it. The first scene has you walking on the streets of Berlin. I thought the first-person shooting segments were a neat diversion. Soon you play a helicopter portion, and I had no idea that Golgo 13 had shooter sections. Each mode is a little bit clunky in its own way, but the game does a noble job of including several variants of game play. It’s a surprisingly deep game for the NES in 1988.

The manual is invaluable for this game because it contains maps of the mazes. Only the basic layouts are included, but all you need is a few missing details you can fill in yourself and you have a complete map. I got stuck in a maze on my first time playing, and I come to find out that it’s meant to be a fake base that is not necessary at all. If I had read the manual first more clearly, I would have known that.

One night I ended up with a lot of free time and I was able to complete the entire game with some continues to spare. It took me around three and a half hours to beat Golgo 13 on that playthrough. I didn’t think I’d be able to beat the game that night so I didn’t have any of my recording equipment set up. I had to play through the entire game again the next night to get it captured. It took me half the time to beat the game a second time with many fewer deaths. I’m satisfied with that result from only playing the game for a few days total.

Suggestive content was toned down for the US release.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode had some content censored for the US version. The most significant change is that the Japanese version features brief nudity. In an early scene of the game, Golgo 13 meets with a female agent in a hotel room and at the end she sheds her clothes. In the US version, the scene cuts away to an outside view of the hotel where you can see the two characters get close and the lights go down. Golgo 13 then has his life refilled to the max, which clearly suggests what they were up to.

There are a few other things included in the NES game that the censors missed. Some of the enemies in the mazes briefly show bleeding when they are shot. In one act, Golgo 13 can find a pack of cigarettes on the ground and he helps himself to a life-refilling smoke. There is also a stray swastika that should have been removed. My guess is that since these events are deeper in the game, the censors didn’t play long enough to notice them.

There are many things happening in Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode that are worthwhile, but sadly the game suffers from a lack of polish. The hit detection is off in several places, such as when landing jump kicks or shooting targets in the first-person mode. The jumping is a little too slow and his jump arc doesn’t feel right. Enemies attack faster and with more complex patterns than you, causing frustration. You can shoot bullets right through enemies in the helicopter, which makes it appear you are not doing damage when you actually are. Now the graphics, music, and presentation are overall good, especially considering the age of this game, and there is a deep story with many different characters. Kudos to Vic Tokai for making a huge game with so many different play modes that all play well enough. For that, I can look past these issues and say that I enjoyed Golgo 13.

#55 – Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode