Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!
JUL
11
2017
0

#46 – Bases Loaded

Better hope you are loaded with free time!

The music is upbeat, at least!

To Beat: Win 80 Games
Played: 1/2/17 – 3/1/17
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: Bases Loaded Final Game and Ending

Bases Loaded is a game that has a reputation for being a very long game, which I can now confirm to be true. I am not the biggest fan of sports video games, so this is exactly the type of game that I wanted to avoid playing if I could. I originally came up with the idea in my Methodology to shuffle undesirable games like this to the end of the list and most likely skip them altogether. I have since had a change of heart and decided that if I really want to beat all the NES games, I shouldn’t make excuses against any game at all. So occasionally I will be pulling a game off the top of my “snub list” and playing that one instead. Bases Loaded is the first game off of that list, and actually it came at a good time because I had been building a large backlog of game posts and needed a long game to help me catch up with writing.

Bases Loaded is known in Japan as Moero!! Pro Yakyuu and was originally an arcade title in Japan only in 1987. It was published and developed by Jaleco. That same year the game was ported to Famicom by the developer Tose, and it was brought to the NES in 1988. A Game Boy port was released in 1990. Bases Loaded had several other installments. In all there are four NES games, three SNES games called Super Bases Loaded, and Bases Loaded ’96: Double Header for the Sega Saturn and Playstation. The original Bases Loaded was also released for Virtual Console on the Wii, 3DS, and Wii U, all in both Japan and North America.

When you start the game you choose from either Pennant mode or Vs. Mode. Pennant mode is the single player game and Vs. Mode is for a two-player game. If you select Pennant mode you are brought immediately to the password screen where you may continue your game. If you leave the password as the default or enter the wrong password, the game assumes you are playing a new season. You get to pick your team from the 12 teams in the league. In two player mode both players will choose their team. From there you go right into a baseball game!

I spent a lot of hours looking at this screen.

The pitching perspective is similar to how baseball games are shown on TV. You see the pitcher from behind looking toward the batter and catcher at home plate. Before throwing a pitch, you can tap Left or Right on the D-Pad to position the pitcher where you want him on the mound. To throw a pitch you press A while pressing directions on the D-Pad to choose your pitch. You can throw a fastball by holding Up or a breaking ball by holding Down before you throw. You can also hold Left or Right to target one side of the plate if you choose, and you can hold diagonal directions for both pitch type and direction. As the pitcher winds up to throw, you can then hold down any direction on the D-Pad to curve the pitch toward that direction. The breaking pitches are slower in speed than the fastball but have more curve as they approach home plate. The two step process of pitching allows you to throw many different types of pitches. Also, if there is a runner on base, you can press B and the direction of the base before throwing to do a pickoff move to try and get the runner out. Here, Right represents first base, Up represents second base, and Left represents third base. I never used this because I couldn’t figure out the timing for the pickoff.

When a batter puts a ball into play, the perspective shifts to an overhead view. You take control of the fielder that is closest to the ball. Use the D-Pad to move your fielder in any direction. You pick up the ball whenever you come in contact with it, and from there you the throw the ball by holding the D-Pad at the base you want and pressing A. Throws automatically go to first base if no direction is held. Any subsequent defender with the ball can run and throw to bases in the same way. If you don’t press anything at all when the ball is put into play, the fielders will automatically run toward the ball which is a nice touch. They will usually end up catching weak fly balls for you in the outfield. If the ball gets past an outfielder then it is best to take matters into your own hands.

The batting uses the same perspective as the pitching. You press A to swing at the pitch. As you swing you can hold down a direction on the D-Pad to swing toward a specific area. For instance, hold Up to swing high or Down to swing low. You can also swing toward the left or right and also in the middle by not pressing anything. Essentially you have to aim your swing toward the pitch right before the catcher grabs it if you want to make contact. If you want to bunt, press B before the pitcher starts his delivery to go into the bunting stance. When bunting you use the D-Pad to move the bat around to try and bunt it. You can also attempt to steal bases if you have a runner on by pressing B and the direction for the base during the pitcher’s windup.

It’s fun juggling several baserunners when you get a base hit like this.

Baserunning takes place from the overhead view. You press B and a direction to advance that runner ahead a base or press A and a direction to go back toward a base. You can move all the runners by pressing Down and either A to move them back or B to move them ahead. I found this a little confusing so here’s an example to explain how it works. If you have a runner either at first base or between first and second, you use Right on the D-Pad to control that runner. Hold Right and press B to move the runner toward second, or press Right and A to move the runner toward first. I am very used to the R.B.I. Baseball style of A plus direction to retreat to a base and B plus direction to advance to that base, and I never really did get used to the different method here.

You can choose to bring in a new pitcher or a pinch hitter. While pitching or batting, press Start to call timeout and press A to bring up the scoreboard. You can choose a new pitcher or batter by selecting his number on the board and pressing A, or you can change your mind with B. If you bring in a pinch hitter, sometimes you have to make an additional substitution before going back to defense if the new hitter does not play the same position as the player you replaced. Each pinch hitter is assigned either as an infielder, outfielder, or catcher, but you can’t tell which one they are. Also, the game will not allow you to pinch hit for a batter if there are no available players at that position. You have to keep track on your own as you play to figure out which positions your best pinch hitters play.

Each player in the game has a name as well as some basic statistics. Batters have a batting average and home run total displayed on the scoreboard before batting. You can see the ERA of the pitcher chosen as well when brought into the game. The home run numbers tend to mirror well with batter power and the pitchers with lower ERA can have more curve to their pitches, but this isn’t always true. It takes some playing to figure out who is more useful to the team.

When you finish a game you get a password. These are 7 characters long with only uppercase letters, so they are easy to manage. The passwords contain the number of games you have played along with your number of wins and the team you will play next.

Not looking too good for the outfielder.

Bases Loaded is one of the sports games on the system that requires you to play a full season of games to get the ending. The season consists of 132 games but you can end it early if you win 80 games. I believe this is the only way to get the ending, but I am not about to play 132 games just to see what happens.

This was my first and likely only time playing through Bases Loaded. It is a very common cart that shows up all the time and it’s cheap. As of this writing I have somewhere between 8-10 copies of the game because it is that common and that hard to get rid of short of giving them away. I bet that most NES collectors got this game early on.

When I started the game I picked Omaha as my team. There were quite a few teams in this game where there is not a real-life MLB team in the same city, and Omaha stood out to me. That team is not one of the good teams in the game, and so the beginning of my season got off to a rough start. As usual it takes some time to get accustomed to the gameplay. I have played a few baseball games on the NES but none from the behind-the-pitcher perspective. It made pitching and hitting different which meant it took me longer to get the hang of the game. My first few games ended up closer than I thought they would, but I fell short. The fourth game I played was my first win and then I lost the next, starting off the season with a 1-4 record. That’s when I figured out The Exploit.

One thing the game has going for it is that the pitching is consistent. I am used to games where you have control over the ball in-flight, but here the path of the pitch is already determined when it leaves the pitchers hand. I took advantage of this mechanic. There is a certain spot the pitcher can throw the ball where it is always called a strike if the batter doesn’t swing, and the batter will always miss if he does. Once you figure this out, you can consistently throw strikeouts and the batters will never make contact with the ball.

This is the magic spot for infinite strikeouts!

Not every pitcher has the capability of throwing this super pitch, so you have to find one who does. For Omaha, the pitcher I relied on the most was Foot. Strange name for a pitcher, I know. Here is my exact technique. Hold Down and Left and press A to start the pitch, then hold Down and Right before letting go of the ball. This starts the pitch on the left side and fades it over to the bottom right for a strike every single time. Now this doesn’t last for long. Pitchers get tired the longer they are in the game and at that point the pitch is no longer effective. It takes Foot 40 pitches to get tired, meaning he can get me to the 5th inning with one out and one strike if I execute perfectly. The good news is I can take advantage of his tired state to throw another super pitch. This time just hold Down, press A, then hold Right. A left-handed batter will sometimes have this pitch called a ball, so to compensate I have to slide the pitcher over to the left one tiny step before executing the pitch. This works for another 30 pitches which gets me to the 8th inning. Then I change pitchers over to Waters who can throw the same pitch as Foot does when he gets tired. Between the two of them I can cover more than 9 innings without the other team scoring anything. Armed with this knowledge I won the next 79 games in a row to end my season at 80-4.

With the defensive side completely solved by pitching, there’s not much to worry about on offense. My strategy consisted of scoring one run and then making outs as quickly as I can. For the most part, I decided to swing away at every pitch just to put the ball into play. Sometimes I would make an out the normal way, other times I would get a hit and purposefully get thrown out at first or second, and occasionally I would hit a home run. The homers may be counterproductive, but they are fun!

My lineup was not particularly good but they got the job done. Far and away my best hitter was the number four hitter Lyonse. His stats showed 25 home run power but he probably hit 50-60 for me. He would hit the ball hard almost every time he batted. The rest of the lineup power wise was remarkably consistent. Each other player with the exception of the pitcher had 5-10 homers each regardless of their noted totals. I even had the pitcher hit a home run one time, which I couldn’t believe when I saw it!

On that note I had a few other rare moments documented over the course of the season. In one two-game stretch Lyonse hit five straight home runs. In another game, I purposefully stopped myself from scoring to try and hit a walk-off homer in either the 9th inning or extra innings. I went scoreless through 12 innings and then the game suddenly ended in a 0-0 tie but credited me with the win anyway. I couldn’t find that outcome documented anywhere else, so that was a neat tidbit to discover.

I enjoyed running up the score in my final game!

The problem with Bases Loaded is not so much that it demands you play a large number of games, but it’s that the pace of play for each individual game is terribly slow. The pitching in particular is very intentional. The entire pitch from windup to catcher’s mitt is slow. The catcher then slowly throws the ball back to the pitcher to start the next pitch all over again. It takes a long time for the fielding to end when an out is recorded. The scoreboard showing which batter is coming up to the plate is displayed for a long time. There’s no mercy rule like in R.B.I. Baseball so all nine innings need to be played each game. I get that the idea here is to look and feel like a real baseball game, but trying to play through 80 wins with this pace is agonizing especially when the game boils down to simply executing the same plan over and over. When trying to speed through the game like I did it still took 25-30 minutes per game, and that adds up to about 40 hours over the entire season. That’s a lot of time to spend on an old baseball game, but hey, this is what I signed up for when I started this project!

Bases Loaded has a lot of minor glitches too. Sometimes the outfielders will drop routine flyouts. Sometimes an infielder steps out of the way when the ball is thrown at him. Sometimes the defense forgets who is holding the ball and you can circle the bases for a cheap run while the defense does nothing. When a ball is hit to the first baseman, he will run to the bag in a rapid zigzag pattern instead of running straight to the base. One time I saw an umpire standing on top of the crowd past the left field wall. Once I saw two infielders standing on top of each other throwing the ball back and forth instead of toward the intended base. With the long season, it ended up being a breath of fresh air to see some weird things happen like that.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that there’s really no reason to play Bases Loaded in the single player mode anymore unless you are trying to beat all the games or you are involved in some kind of other larger project. It might be fun for a few games but the whole season is obviously such a drag. The two player mode could still be fun, but I think there are better baseball games on the NES and time is better spent playing them instead.

#46 – Bases Loaded

 
JUN
29
2017
0

#45 – Rollergames

Maybe this game should have been called Skate or Die instead.

They aren’t even shy about this being a Konami game.

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 12/30/16 – 1/2/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: Rollergames Longplay

I used to go roller skating often growing up. The local roller rink was the place to be for young kids on a Friday night, and even though I was not particularly good at skating I still enjoyed being there with my friends. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about the contact sport roller derby, and it just so happens there is also an NES game based on the sport. With a library this vast, I guess I should not be so surprised!

The sport of roller derby originated in the 1930s. The game is played with two teams of skaters who skate laps around a banked track. The object of the game is to score points by having a designated member of the team lap opposing players. The sport grew in popularity during the 1940s and 1950s. As interest started to decline, and as television became more prominent, the sport shifted more toward storylines and theatrics and away from pure competition. Since then the sport has shifted back toward its competitive roots. Roller derby has seen a resurgence beginning in the early 2000s, predominately in all-female leagues.

In the middle of all this is Rollergames, a 1989 TV show that went all in on the theatrical approach to roller derby. There were changes made for Rollergames, such as introducing a figure eight shaped track instead of the traditional banked oval track. Rollergames is like the WWE with a heavy focus on rivalries and storylines. The show was quite popular, but despite that it only ran for one season because some of the show’s producers when bankrupt.

Complete with broadcasters!

There are two video games based on Rollergames. The first is an arcade title of the same name developed by Konami in 1990. The gameplay is modeled closely after the TV show. The second name is the NES version of Rollergames, also developed by Konami and published under the Ultra Games label. This version is also influenced by the show, but it plays more as a classic beat-em-up game. It was released in the US in September 1990 and in Europe in October 1991. It was not released in Japan or ported to any other systems.

Rollergames is a side-scrolling beat-em-up game with some platforming elements included. Members of a criminal organization have corrupted three of the Rollergames teams leading to the capture of the league commissioner, and the only people that can save him are the members of the other three good teams. The introductory cutscenes frame the game as a storyline fitting of the TV show. You must complete all six levels to save the commissioner and win the game.

At the start of each level, one of the sideline reporters asks you which team you would like to choose. You can pick either Ice Box of the Thunderbirds, Rolling Thunder of the Hot Flash, and California Kid of the Rockers. Each character plays differently so that you want to choose the team best suited to clear the current level. Ice Box is the slow but powerful character, while Rolling Thunder is the weak, but speedy character. California Kid is naturally the balanced choice.

You can knock down the bad guys quickly.

The controls are very natural. Use the D-Pad to skate in all eight directions. The A button is for jumping and the B button is used to attack. The standard attack is a basic punch, but you can do a jump kick by pressing B during a jump. You also have a special attack that you trigger by pressing both A and B at the same time. Each character has a slightly different special move. Ice Box does a body slam, Rolling Thunder does a spinning jump kick, and California Kid has a double jump kick. The moves are powerful but you are limited to only three per level, so use them wisely.

The levels all play from a side-scrolling perspective, but there are two different types of levels. The normal levels can scroll in all directions and you progress linearly through the level. There are many slopes to navigate and pits to jump across, as well as other enemies and traps that stand in your way. These can be quite tricky to clear while on roller skates! As you go, you will run into groups of enemy skaters and you must beat them all up before moving forward. Three normal levels revolve around each of the bad teams, which are the Bad Attitude, Maniacs, and Violators, and these levels have two sections each. The final level is in this normal style but it has four parts.

The other type of level is an auto-scrolling level. The skater of your choice is always moving forward here and the goal is to survive to the end. These levels follow along a broken highway so there are many gaps to cross. Of course, there are also various obstacles, traps, and enemies to contend with. These levels also feature boss-like encounters, but all you need to focus on is dodging the attacks until they go away, ending the stage.

Roads are always under construction!

At the top of the screen, there is a timer in the middle. This countdown only applies to the normal stages where you have to move ahead on your own pace. At the lower left is a vertical health bar. Your skater can suffer several hits before losing a life, though falling down a pit or landing on spikes results in immediate, swift death. The lower right area shows markers that indicate how many special attacks are remaining for the stage. There is a separate screen at the start of each stage that displays your score, high score, current level, and number of lives remaining. There are no powerups in the game for replenishing any of these elements. However, you can earn an extra life when reaching either 20,000, 50,000, or 80,000 points.

The obvious gimmick to Rollergames is that you play the entire game while on roller skates. As a result, your character controls in a fitting manner. It’s akin to playing a game with nothing but ice levels and ice physics. The skaters are generally slow to accelerate and slow to come to a stop. Often, I found myself making quick turns in a different direction than where I was moving to keep myself from falling. The game has various sections of platforming where you need clear gaps of different sizes. Not only that, but there are falling platforms, moving platforms, and crumbling floors to deal with. It’s a tough combination to work with and there is much trial and error involved to learn the right moves.

Slopes and tiny jumps on roller skates don’t mix.

The game balances this difficulty out in several ways. The levels tend to be reasonably short with checkpoints after every sublevel. The hand-to-hand combat is simple and the enemies themselves don’t pose much of a threat. Lastly, there are infinite continues in the game, so you can keep banging away at each level until you clear it. You always start at the beginning of each sublevel if you die, so once you reach the checkpoint you don’t have to play past sections again.

Seeing as it’s a Konami game in the middle of the NES lifespan, Rollergames is a quality title. Not only do the controls make sense, but the game has good graphics and some excellent music. It’s the soundtrack that really stands out overall. In my mind, it has a similar sound to TMNT II and III. Maybe that is because both games are beat-em-ups, but regardless it sounds good and it suits the game well.

I first played Rollergames last year for the NintendoAge weekly contest. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to play that week and I only reached Stage 2. That was barely any experience so this was the first time I seriously played Rollergames. This was one of those filler titles that I acquired in a random NES game lot that I purchased back in my collecting heyday. When it showed up on the list, I knew that Rollergames was a pretty good game that is easily overlooked, so I was happy to play through it.

This part is particularly devilish.

I beat Rollergames over two days and those two days just happened to fall on either side of New Years, making this the first game I have played for the project over two separate years. On the first attempt, I reached Stage 5-1 and this is where I got stuck. The first part of level isn’t all that bad, but the section right before the checkpoint is pretty nasty. You have to cross along the edge of a cliff where the ground periodically crumbles away in front of you. It forces you to move slowly to reveal the hidden gaps, and then you must back up enough to get the momentum to leap to the other side. But you must be careful not to go too far past the hole or you will fall into the next one. It wouldn’t be so bad if the controls weren’t slippery, but here it’s a pretty evil little section under the game’s ground rules. After several attempts at Stage 5-1 I turned the game off for the night.

The next time I sat down to play, I performed decently up to 5-1. After many new attempts, I reached 5-2 and from there I pushed my way through to the very end. I recorded my playthrough on video, but it was the ugliest playthrough I have recorded so far. There are several sections that must be practiced, and without any of that experience I died a bunch of times until I made it through. There are enough problem spots that I would have to beat the game a few times just to record a decent run. However, a game finish doesn’t have to be pretty to count, so I’ll accept this one and move on!

Rollergames is a fun game that I enjoyed playing. It’s got that Konami standard level of polish to it with solid controls, good gameplay, nice graphics, and catchy music. The one problem with the game is that there’s a significant amount of platforming that doesn’t properly fit the game’s slippery physics. It makes this game less accessible than other NES games of similar style right off the bat. If you can get by the initial hurdles, I think you would enjoy playing the game. It’s also an inexpensive cart for the collector or player insisting on the original cart. It’s too bad that it is overlooked because I think it deserves more recognition than it receives.

#45 – Rollergames

 
JUN
19
2017
0

2016 Year In Review

It’s better late than never, right?

It is already June, but I finally got around to writing and posting the review of R.B.I. Baseball, which was the last NES game I finished in 2016. Now that I have aired out all of my opinions on those games, it’s time to take a look back and reflect on my first full year of Take On The NES Library.

I have had a blast doing this project so far. To recap, I jump-started the blog with the first 10 games being handpicked favorites, and that phase served its purpose of building up my momentum on the project. In mid-January I finished that subset and from there started in on the random game selections. There have been surprises both good and bad, and now that I’ve come this far I don’t plan to stop. 2017 to date has been much slower, but I hope I will catch my stride and churn out a good number of finishes for next year’s review. In the meantime, I amassed a pretty wide variety of new game completions with many fun memories and accomplishments.

For the year in review, I am taking an “award show” approach where I will choose a couple of games in several different categories. It would be really easy to give a lot of these awards to the first ten games, so I am going to skip these. (Most of them were technically finished in 2015 anyway.) Everything from The Immortal to R.B.I. Baseball is fair game. With a little help, I think I have a pretty interesting list of fake awards that should give most games their due. Without further ado, here we go!

The 2016 Take On The NES Library Year In Review

Hardest Game

Ikari Warriors

This should come as a shock to no one. I played this game over a 4-month stretch, clocked in more than 100 hours, and put in over 300 attempts just to beat this game one time without the ABBA code. This is the hardest game I have ever beaten. It’s my crowning video game achievement to date and nothing else really comes close.

Top Gun

Top Gun came in at a distant second place in difficulty, but it’s worth mentioning. The game is pretty short but very unforgiving. It requires memorization, dodging skills, and aiming skills, all with a very tight margin for error. Flight games are not my specialty either, which certainly added to my troubles here.

Easiest Game

Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit

It may be a bit unfair to pick a children’s learning game as the easiest game, but it certainly fits the bill. All you have to do is put various objects and shapes in their right place on the screen under a very generous time limit. Sometimes you have to flip the objects to get them to fit! So yes, it is a very easy game to clear.

The definition of 1/10 difficulty

Pictionary

This game does require more skill than Perfect Fit, however there is no penalty at all for failure so that it’s impossible to lose in single player mode so long as you keep playing.

Shortest Game

Spy Vs. Spy

Spy Vs. Spy takes less than a minute to beat on the smallest stage, and the ending is the same no matter which level you choose. The other stages are interesting enough to give a try which gives the game more substance, but if you want to see a game ending quickly there’s nothing shorter I’ve played.

Archon

I beat Archon on my first try having never played it before, and I was able to complete a full game in around 20 minutes. I beat it even faster the second time playing as the other team, and that wasn’t necessarily required anyway since there are only slight differences between teams. Short and sweet!

Longest Game

Ikari Warriors

A full run only takes an hour, but all my attempts and time spent added up in a major way. It’s been quite a long time since I put more than 100 hours into any game!

Lemmings

Not only did it take me a month to finish the game, but there are 100 levels which is a ton of content to work through. The pace is slow and there is a lot of waiting required, so even if you know exactly what to do it takes several hours to get through it all. The game does permit you to skip the first 75 levels outright, but those final levels take a good commitment and practice to work through. So even then it takes long enough.

Lots of walking and waiting in Lemmings

Oldest Game

Hogan’s Alley

The Black Box titles are usually among the earliest NES releases, and indeed Hogan’s Alley was one of the launch titles released in the US in October 1985.

Archon, Spelunker, and Spy Hunter

These NES ports came several years later, but the original versions of these games were all released sometime in 1983. It’s too bad that release dates are not really nailed down so it’s hard to tell exactly which one came out first. Gyruss was also originally in 1983, but the NES version is more of a remake than a port, so I’m not counting it!

Newest Game

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The NES had licensed releases into 1994 but I didn’t play any of those last year. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released in September 1993 which was the latest release and therefore the newest licensed game I played.

Alien 3

Alien 3 was released in April 1993, which is nearly six months earlier than Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, it was the only other 1993 release I completed last year!

Best Character

Little Nemo: The Dream Master

Nemo’s transformations and versatility are what sets him apart as the best character of the bunch. You can dig as a mole, swim as a fish, and fly as a bee among several other animals. Despite the different control methods, each character controls very well and the abilities are intuitive for the most part.

The bee is my favorite!

The Guardian Legend

I guess character transformation is all the rage these days! The Guardian herself is ordinary in the exploration segments, but her transformation into a fighter jet is super cool. It helps that gameplay in the labyrinth and corridors is fun both ways.

Worst Character

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

Now I’m not saying that Bart Simpson himself is a bad character. I mean, he is still relevant today! That counts for something. He gets the nod as worst character here because of his poor control in this NES game. The jumping is so imprecise when it needs to be tight, and his run capability is delegated to the wrong button for sure.

Lemmings

I really like this game. I think the set of Lemming tasks is just the right combination to provide a real thoughtfulness to the gameplay. But it can’t be denied that the Lemmings themselves are just plain dumb. After all, the entire game is structured around saving these critters from walking willingly into death.

Best Ending

Little Nemo: The Dream Master

I think there is so much to like about this ending. Nemo saves the day, but all he wants to do is wake up in his own bed and go on with his normal life. Not only does he get to do just that, but we get to see it through a lovely ending cutscene. I love the song that plays through the credits roll too. It’s a strong overall package.

Ghoul School

I didn’t spoil the ending in my blog post on the game, but I will do that here. It’s funny to say this, but this ending could easily be described as the worst ending, and I wouldn’t argue it. Spike goes through this whole journey through the school to save his crush. We get to see the restoration of the school. Standing there with the woman he saved, and after all we went through, he goes to put his arm around her and she backs away. Talk about ungrateful! The irony of the whole situation is so comical that it makes this ending so great.

Not cool, man

Worst Ending

Paperboy

I get that many NES games opt for the simple ending, and that can be okay at times. In Paperboy, you have to survive all seven days which is no easy task. Your reward for completion is a screen nearly identical to the title screen which says, “Paperboy Retires In Glory.” Now that would be at least acceptable if that stayed up on the screen for more than a couple of seconds. Let me at least bask in my victory for a little while, sheesh. This especially annoys me when games do this since I take a picture of the ending screen, and it’s hard to get a decent picture when I have almost no time to take one.

Ikari Warriors

For all the time put in to beat this game, this ending was just not worth it at all. It may be better than Paperboy’s ending, but it’s hardly a reward. At least I can “take good rest” in the fact that I am “the very prevailer that protect right and justice.” It’s even possible to skip the ending altogether and immediately begin another loop of the game, in case you want the pain to never end.

Best Box Art

Burai Fighter

Burai Fighter Box Cover

There are two reasons why I like this box art more than all the others. The first is that I really like the bright red and yellow color scheme. There aren’t that many games that use bright yellow and that makes it really stand out. The other reason is that the huge, menacing dragon on the cover is so awesome. The fighter is just getting ready to lay heavy amounts of firepower right on its tongue. I was definitely excited to get to do that myself!

Paperboy

The Paperboy box is very simplistic, but I like it because I believe it is one of the most accurate depictions of the game. The Paperboy is either angry at everything in his way, or ultra-determined to do the best job he can at delivering papers. The main takeaway however is that he has just finished throwing four papers all at once. Thus, the box art establishes right away that you are not to be messed with as you spew newspapers all over the place.

Worst Box Art

The Guardian Legend

I think The Guardian Legend box art is fine, but both the Japanese and European box art are way better than what we got. It’s a real shame that we got the shaft like this. There’s a reason why I never quite pulled the trigger on renting the game back in the 90s, and perhaps the disappointing box art has something to do with that.

Astyanax

Astyanax Box Cover

This is another box art that’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but there’s some weirdness going on here that I can’t ignore. It’s clear that Astyanax has no idea how to be a warrior just by looking at him. His sword isn’t in a great position to attack and he’s also holding the dragon’s arm for some reason I don’t want to know. The dragon himself looks more curious than angry at what Astyanax is attempting to do here. Meanwhile, Cutie is just floating above the scene while Princess Rosebud is doing some kind of mysterious orb dance. Perhaps this is why the game was relegated to the cheap bin.

Best Graphics

Journey to Silius

The folks at Sunsoft created some of the best graphics the NES has to offer, and Journey to Silius is no exception. I really like the look of the giant bosses in the game, and the animation of the flowing lava in the final stage is silky smooth. This is a great game all around.

S.C.A.T.

The graphical style of this game is pretty similar to Journey to Silius, though Natsume is the developer this time. What really make me take notice in S.C.A.T. is the giant spaceship that makes up almost all of Stage 5. It’s a nice-looking piece of spacecraft. It has a nice sheen to it along with all kinds of destructible cannons and whatnot attached to it. I also like the bouncing lasers in the final stage. Graphically they are simple but the animation makes them look sweet on the NES.

Worst Graphics

Ghoul School

I will give the developers credit here that they took the time to add a lot of detail and embellishments to the school so that the different areas of the school look like how they are supposed to look. The locker room looks like a locker room, for instance. The artists also designed many monsters that only show up once. Despite all the apparent effort, the graphics and art style just don’t do it for me here. The details tend to be too plain, and the generic aliens are really ugly looking.

Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit

There aren’t a lot of graphics to speak of in this game, but the issue I have is that I can’t figure out what many of these objects are supposed to be. The letters and numbers are very clear, but most everything else is kind of a mess. Perhaps these are NES renderings of other Fisher-Price toys of the era. I think they would have been better off with some simpler toys.

Best Soundtrack

Pictionary

Tim Follin is one of the more highly regarded video game composers of the era, and for whatever reason he got to write the soundtrack for Pictionary. Now the title song is the only thing that matters here, and even though the music doesn’t fit the game at all it still stands as one of my favorite pieces of NES music ever. I’ve probably listened to it 50 times since I first beat Pictionary, it’s that good.

I spent a lot of time with this screen showing

Little Nemo: The Dream Master

As an overall body of work, the soundtrack for Little Nemo is just about as good as it gets. I think this is some of composer Junko Tamiya’s best work. The dreaminess of the music in the introductory cutscene is perfect, and many of the other tracks are very catchy and make the game better as a whole. This is the kind of music that gets stuck in your head for a long time.

Alien 3

I’m breaking convention here with a third choice. I think I like Journey to Silius soundtrack more, but I wanted to mention Alien 3 here as I believe its soundtrack is criminally underrated on NES. The composer is Jeroen Tel and he really put a lot of effort into the sound. All the music has a darkness to it and many of the sustained notes have this warbling effect to them that makes the song feel uneasy, which is exactly the feeling they wanted to convey in the game.

Worst Soundtrack

Magmax

I had to go back to several games to revisit the music, and I kind of wish I had kept some of these music memories repressed in my brain. There are only two songs in Magmax covering both above ground and below ground, and both of them are more bleeps and bloops than melody. The underground theme is a little better than the above, but not by much. I’m glad I played this game right after Ikari Warriors because I was so happy to move on to something else that I didn’t care how Magmax sounded.

Operation Wolf

This game does not have much music at all since they developers opted to leave it out of the main gameplay entirely. What’s there is not all the bad, but the song at the end of each level has a weird sounding note at the end that sours the whole thing for me. When there isn’t much music in a game to begin with, you would want the music you do have to sound good.

Best Gameplay

Burai Fighter

I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I was pleasantly surprised with how Burai Fighter played. In this autoscrolling shoot-em-up you are permitted to aim in all eight directions and lock your fire in those directions easily. The power-up system gives you a lot of versatility while allowing you to ease the suffering of death by letting you keep your unequipped weapons at the same power level. The scrolling changes speed every now and then for a change of pace. The bosses are fun to fight, and there are even optional hidden areas for the brave and curious. All in all, it’s a great package.

Super Mario Bros. 2

The big draw to Super Mario Bros 2 is that you can play with four characters that either suit your play style or the level layout to make progressing easier. Toad is strong and can move quickly through easy levels. The princess floating capability makes tiny jumps a breeze. Luigi’s powerful jump can enable shortcuts that only he is capable of. And you can’t go wrong with Mario for solid all-around performance. There are also so many different things you can grab and throw which is fun, and the bosses are also great.

I think Toad is my favorite

Worst Gameplay

The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island

Escort missions in games tend to be universally panned for forcing you to take things slow to protect someone that can barely fend for themselves. Gilligan’s Island is essentially one giant escort mission and for that reason alone it has the worst gameplay of anything I played last year. I also hate falling down the wrong hole and taking several minutes to resume where I intended to go in the first place.

Top Gun

The biggest problem I have with Top Gun is how monotonous it gets. The majority of the game consists of blowing up other fighters or those darn homing missiles. I take back what I wrote; the biggest problem is the game is all the homing missiles. You have to deal with dozens of them and if you miss one you are dead, and then you only get three lives to clear the entire game. I think you can survive most the game simply by flying into a corner the entire time, and now I think it might have been more fun playing it that way. The game is just brutal overall. I will admit however that the landing sequence is much less terrible than its reputation would lead you to believe.

Best Moment

Journey to Silius

The ending of my winning run in Journey to Silius still sticks with me over a year later. I told the story in my blog post but I’ll recap it here. I had one death in the first four levels only to burn through everything I had left attempting the final level. On my second to last life I died and somehow also crossed the checkpoint into the boss fight. I ended up beating the final boss on my last life, down to the final sliver of health. I was pretty pumped up to beat the game after very nearly losing it all!

Ikari Warriors

Naturally, seeing the ending of the hardest game I’ve played was a huge moment for me. I remember starting the last play session at 4:00am and getting the victory sometime after 5:00am. I was so excited I was as quietly as possible hopping around and fist-pumping alone in the basement. My hands were shaking as I settled down enough to photograph the ending screen. I remember telling my wife of my victory later in the morning and her mild excitement as she clearly didn’t comprehend the weight lifted off of my shoulders. I am proud of what I achieved and it’s a feeling and a moment I won’t soon forget.

Worst Moment

Pictionary

This moment actually has nothing to do with the game whatsoever. I turned the game on and was jamming to the music when I got static shocked through my controller. This of course fried my controller dead. I play mostly with the Dogbone controller and those aren’t cheap to replace. I’m just glad my console was unaffected!

Gyruss

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to complete the second loop of Gyruss. I never really tried until this project, and now I know I have some work to do. The biggest hurdle in the second loop are the basic boss shots that appear to home in on your ship. It really changes up certain boss fights, but I didn’t really register that thought on my longplay video of the game. I was doing great up until one of the bosses and then I burned through all of my remaining lives in a matter of seconds to the same boss attack. Clearly, that’s not my best moment!

Turns out this is a bad place to sit!

Best Surprise

S.C.A.T.

This game was a lot of fun to play through, and it was a nice bonus to discover that you get a slightly different ending depending on which character you choose to play. That gave me enough reason to play the game again right away, which I gladly accepted!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

It’s a minor moment in the game, but I was really impressed with the first boss. You fight a form of Dracula that advances toward you on one of two vertical levels. The thing is you don’t know where he will appear until he starts moving toward you, and even then you can barely see his shadow approaching. Ultimately this boss is not that difficult, but the graphical effect was so neat and unexpected that it really stuck with me.

Worst Surprise

Gyruss

Playing Gyruss here was the first time I knew of the enhanced second loop difficulty. I’m not bothered at all by swings in difficulty, and certainly I will get used to figuring out how best to avoid those new homing shots I eluded to a bit earlier. What did bother me is that you aren’t allowed to continue once you lose all your lives, and if you try playing again the game reverts back to first loop difficulty. So, I must clear the first loop every time I wish to attempt the second loop. It’s enough of a pain that I won’t be bothered to try very often, and that’s a shame.

Ikari Warriors

This game has plenty of nasty little surprises in the way, and typically the got the best of me until I learned the right way through. The worst one of all occurs at the end of the third level. Here you are faced with the first boss of the game, a zombie general sitting behind a desk flanked on either side by several soldiers. It’s a nasty section and one of the hardest parts in an already unbelievably difficult game. Once you clear out the room and defeat the general, nothing happens. What you have to do next is bomb around the front of the desk to reveal a hidden staircase to the next level. If you don’t find it, you get to deal with raining missiles. I didn’t know this the first time I got this far, and so I was stuck until I lost all my lives. What a letdown!

Don’t get stuck here like I did!

Best Familiar Game

Super Mario Bros. 2

Many consider it to be the black sheep of the NES Mario platformers, but I really like this game. I’ve gone back to it many, many times over the years, and I had just as much fun giving it another run. I like that you can play each level with a different character that switches up how you approach the stage, so you can have a different experience every time through.

Little Nemo: The Dream Master

I’ve spent many words already gushing over this game, so it was a clear choice here. It may be the least familiar of games I’ve already beaten, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to play.

Best New Game

The Guardian Legend

This is a game that I knew enough about that I figured I would really like playing through it. Indeed, The Guardian Legend became my favorite new game of the year. The exploration segments, the item collecting, the various subweapons, the shooter stages, and the huge bosses all combined to create a game that was right up my alley. I even spent a good amount of time playing the Secret Edition romhack, and I really need to go back to it and finish it up.

Burai Fighter

It turns out I am not the best at shoot-em-up games, though I generally enjoy playing them and I end up being impressed by the good ones. Burai Fighter tends to be overlooked online, so I was pleased to stumble into a really impressive game that is a lot of fun to play. The boss fights are particularly enjoyable, and the password system helped me ease my way through the game.

Finally get to shoot the dragon in the mouth

Worst Game

The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island

This was the only game all year that I gave an outright negative review, so even my general optimism about NES games couldn’t save this one. It ends up being a confusing maze game with a bunch of one-way paths. It’s just dull overall with the frustrating escort mission overlaid on it. Bleh.

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

The first level in the game is by far the most interesting, creative portion of this game. It has its flaws too, but it’s fun to play through and figure out. The rest of the game however is tedious platforming with a poorly controlled character, and to beat the game you have to play these sections multiple times just to make incremental progress on the later stages. It’s too bad the game couldn’t carry its momentum from the start through the rest of the game.

Ignored But Not Forgotten

In closing, here are some final words on the games I played in 2016 that didn’t get mentioned in any of the categories above.

The Adventures of Rad Gravity

It’s a quirky adventure with some really interesting ideas, but it’s just a little too wonky to really set itself apart in any meaningful way.

Balloon Fight

I think this is my favorite black box title. The controls are different and once you get good at it you can maneuver exactly where you want to go. It’s fun though it gets a little long in the tooth after awhile.

It does take practice to maneuver around everything

BreakThru

It’s kind of a bland tank shooter, but a reasonably fun romp anyway due to the very generous checkpoints and infinite continues.

The Immortal

I normally don’t like these kinds of games, but The Immortal has changed my thinking just a bit about similar games I’ll be playing someday. A few of the puzzles were too obtuse which marred my experience somewhat.

Kid Icarus

This is a really fun game! I just couldn’t find a good place to work it into this list. Maybe that’s because I didn’t like having to play through it twice to get the best ending. I think one playthrough was just right.

R.B.I. Baseball

It may be my favorite baseball video game, but at the end of the day it’s just one sports title in a vast sea of them. Sorry sports fans!

T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage

It ended up being more fun that I remembered, but there’s not much substance to the game and it wears out its welcome quickly.

All that surfing…

TaleSpin

This is an overlooked Capcom title that got completely overshadowed on this list in every way by Little Nemo. It is worth a look!

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