Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

Finished

AUG
10
2017
0

#49 – Kings of the Beach

No crowns required to be kings in this four-player volleyball game.

Very chill setting!

To Beat: Win a tournament
To Complete: Beat the game on the Difficult setting
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 4/7/17 – 4/13/17
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Kings of the Beach – Tournament Mode Final Matches

I am not good at sports. I still like to play them when I get the chance even though I wasn’t blessed with any ability. If there’s one game I am at least decent at, it would be sand volleyball. I organized a weekly sand volleyball night with a bunch of friends for several years, and that afforded me the opportunity to practice often. Now don’t let me fool you, I’m still not all that good at volleyball. However, I am pretty good at playing video games. Therefore, it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for me to complete one of the few NES volleyball games.

Kings of the Beach is a volleyball game developed and published by Electronic Arts in 1988 on DOS. It was ported to the Commodore 64 in 1989 and the NES in January 1990. Ultra Games published the NES port. However, it is unclear if either Konami or Electronic Arts developed this version of Kings of the Beach. The game was only released in the US.

Kings of the Beach is a two-on-two beach volleyball game. You play as professional beach volleyball players Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos. In single-player mode, you only control one character and your partner is computer controlled. The main draw for single player is the Tournament mode. Here you will play against other pairs of players in five different locations all around the world. To win the tournament mode and beat the game, you must win three consecutive matches at each of the five beaches for fifteen total matches.

Interesting cursor choice!

At the start of the game, you move a green cursor around in an overhead map of the beach. This is your menu. The first place you will want to go is the registration tent, which is the game’s options menu. To start, you can assign either a controller or computer control to Smith, Stoklos, and two other competitors. Kings of the Beach supports up to four players simultaneously using the NES Four Score accessory. Next, you can choose between cooperative play or competitive play. This is only needed for a two-player game to decide if you want to play on the same team or not. You can set the difficulty of computer opponents to either Easy, Medium, or Difficult. You can choose if you want to play either a single set or a three-set match, and you can toggle the sound on and off. Choose Exit to Beach to go back to the main menu.

The other menu options are for practice or setting up a game. At the top of the screen there are three beaches labeled Bump, Set, or Spike. If you choose one, you are put in a practice beach where you get easy setups to practice the basic moves. Press Select at any time to exit the training and go back to the menu. At the lower left of the menu is the Match option where you jump directly into an exhibition match with the defined settings. This is the mode you want for a three or four player game. The bottom right part of the menu starts up the Tournament mode. You can select either a new game, or continue a previous game with a password. After that you jump right into the action.

Kings of the Beach plays by standard volleyball rules. Each side has two players and each point starts with a serve from the back of the court. Each side can hit the ball up to three times before hitting it over to the opponent’s court, and teammates must alternate hits. If the ball lands in your opponent’s court, the opponent hits the ball more than three times, or the opponent hits the ball out of bounds, then you win the point. The serving team is the only team that can score, otherwise the non-serving team gains control of the serve if they win the point. In a single set match, the first team to fifteen points wins. In a three-set match, teams play to twelve points per set. In either case, teams must also win by two points. This means play will continue beyond the required winning score until a team leads by two.

Bump, set, spike!

The basic strategy of beach volleyball is to use your three hits to bump the ball, then set the ball, and finally spike the ball. You will use the D-pad to move your player around the court. Quite often you will move on your own to the spot where the ball will land as it’s heading toward you, but sometimes you need to position yourself properly. The ball casts a shadow on the sand that will guide you toward where you want to stand. Press A to bump the ball in the air toward your teammate. To set the ball, press B. To spike the ball, press both A and B. The spike is a powerful jumping hit toward the opponent. You will need to focus on timing for all hits, but spiking the ball requires the best timing. The idea is to run up to the net and jump, meeting the ball with your hands at the top of your jump. For all hits, you can guide it in a direction using the D-pad in conjunction with the hit.

The above moves are mostly offensive moves, but you do have a couple of defensive moves at your disposal. If you know the opponent will spike the ball, you can move up against the net and press A and B together to jump up and attempt a block. Sometimes you can repel the ball right back into the opponent’s court for a quick point. Stoklos has his own signature block called the Kong block, which is very powerful. The other defensive move is called the dig. This happens automatically whenever the ball is just far enough out of reach normally. You will make a dive toward the ball to bump it back up into the air. I didn’t seem to put myself in good positions to do this very often, so in my experience it was left to chance.

Serving the ball effectively is a vital skill. When it’s your turn to serve, you can move up and down the line to put yourself in the position of your choice. There are three different ways to serve the ball. The easiest method is the underhand serve. Simple press A and B together to lob a slow serve at the opposite court. You want to pay attention to the flags that indicate wind direction because an underhand serve may come up short if the wind is blowing in hard. The overhand serve is more powerful. Press A to toss the ball straight up, wait for the ball to come down, and then press B to do a standing, overhand hit. You can use the D-pad to aim the ball while serving. The most powerful serve is the jump serve. Like the spike, it’s the most difficult serve to perform. Press A to toss the ball just before, but this time press A to jump and hit the ball. The more powerful the hit, the more likely the opponent will be unable to return the ball.

With the right timing, the jump serve is the best one.

One neat thing you can do is argue a call with the referee. Every now and then the line judge will make a mistake on a ball that lands near the lines. If you think a bad call went against you, then you can run up next to the judge’s stand and press Start to dispute the call. You will see your player make a scene as persuasively as possible. If you are successful, the referee reverses his call and you get the ball! If the judge disagrees, then he will shake his hand no and hold out a penalty card. This can be either a yellow card or a red card. The yellow card is just a warning, but if you lose a second disputed call in a set the referee will give you a red card instead and you lose a point off your score. Your opponents and even your partner can dispute a call on their own. One key thing is that if you want to dispute a call, you need to decide quickly and get over to the referee right away to plead your case. You lose your opportunity to argue a call if play advances to the next serve.

As stated earlier, to complete Tournament mode you must win fifteen total matches broken up into groups of three. After you win three consecutive matches on the same beach, you get a password for the next beach. The passwords are up to eight characters long and are normal words that are easy to write down or remember. I noticed that the passwords are the same for each beach no matter what difficulty or length of match. For instance, you can win the first round of matches on the Difficult setting with three-set matches, and the next time you play with the password you can select Easy difficulty and single set matches. You can play however you want!

This was my first time playing Kings of the Beach. The game was a later addition to my collection, but it is pretty common and inexpensive so I have had a few copies pass through my hands. I am not a huge fan of sports games even though I enjoy playing a little volleyball. Chances are I would not have given Kings of the Beach much of a chance if not for this project. Chances are I will also say this same thing about many other future games!

Digs are done automatically. This one was successful!

For my playthrough, I decided on playing single set matches on Medium difficulty. I played as the default Smith and let the computer play Stoklos for me. My intent was to learn the game on Medium difficulty and then go back and play the game again on the Difficult setting. At first, Medium difficulty was enough of a challenge. I understood the fundamentals early on, and other than some mistakes with spiking I was already playing well enough to make some progress. My struggles came in the third match of any beach. I could play well enough to win the first two matches, and then I would lose the third and have to start over at the top. That is awfully frustrating. Kings of the Beach became a fight of attrition and required some good old fashioned grinding to seal the win.

It seems like many sports games have some kind of exploit or tactic that makes life much easier. I found one such tactic that helped me win points much more often. The first thing is I needed is the setup to spike the ball myself. Usually this required getting the first hit on the return so that I could get the third hit and spike, but sometimes I would take the spike myself on the second hit instead. It’s a little riskier but it can catch the opponent off guard. My spike position was up against the net either slightly above or below the center. I would spike toward the corner of the net and the closer side line. For example, if I set up below center, I would aim for the lower line near the net, and do the opposite when closer to the top. The opponent tended to favor guarding the larger area so I could sneak it in on the other side close to the line without either player getting to it. That trick does not always work, but it works often enough to be useful.

My partner is disputing a call unsuccessfully.

I beat the entire game on Medium over the course of a few days. Once I accomplished that, I bumped up to the Difficult setting and repeated the final three matches with the last password. If I can beat the last beach on Difficult, then I should be able to beat any other configuration, so I didn’t bother repeating anything else on Difficult. I did not notice any significant changes between Medium and Difficult settings. Perhaps the opponents make fewer mistakes or make powerful serves more often on the higher settings, but I could not tell the difference. With my spiking tactic, I could score more often than not regardless of difficulty. I recorded my video of the final set of matches on Medium difficulty, and then played the final matches again on Difficult unrecorded. The ending is the same on either difficulty.

I would have considered the game more difficult overall if not for the fact that the computer controlled Stoklos handled nearly all the defense for me. Actually, my computer partner played very well in general and handled many situations better than I could have. Most of the time he plays close to the net so he can utilize his powerful Kong block. My job was to back him up and try to get to anything hit past him if I could. We worked together well on the offensive side too. He is a good spiker and serves very well. He’s not a perfect partner and makes mistakes that are unavoidable, but in my opinion he is a more consistent player than I am. It’s a pleasant surprise to have a competent computer player for once!

There are not many volleyball games on the NES to compare, but I think they did well with Kings of the Beach. The game sets itself apart somewhat for having a simultaneous four-player mode. It also performs well as a single player game. The computer controlled players are competent both as opponents and partners. The graphics and music are well done, just as you would expect in a Konami game. The game is a tad lengthy and repetitive, but it’s just the nature of the game so it hard to fault Kings of the Beach for that. If you are looking for an NES volleyball game, you won’t do wrong with Kings of the Beach.

#49 – Kings of the Beach

 
JUL
31
2017
0

#48 – BurgerTime

Build the biggest believable burgers in BurgerTime.

Another plain arcade title screen.

To Beat: Finish 6 Levels
Played: 3/28/2017 – 3/29/2017
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: BurgerTime Playthrough

BurgerTime is another one of the many arcade ports that made its way to the NES. I did not play the arcade version of the game, but I do have some nostalgia for this NES port. I had left the game mostly untouched for the past 25 years as just about all my experience of this game came when I was young. It’s time for me to experience this blast from the past and shed some new light on both this game and its successors.

BurgerTime was first released in arcades in Japan as Hamburger, and then the name was changed over when it came to the US. It was originally released in 1982 by Data East as part of the company’s DECO Cassette System. This was the first arcade system where one could buy a standardized cabinet and load different games to the machine using cassette tapes. BurgerTime also got its own standalone cabinet published by Bally Midway. The game received around ten ports to various computers and consoles, such as Intellivision, ColecoVision, and the Apple II. The Famicom port of BurgerTime was developed by Data East and published by Namco. It was released in November 1985. BurgerTime was brought to the NES in May 1987, this time published by the developer Data East.

There are also a number of sequels and spin-offs for BurgerTime. An Intellivision-only sequel named Diner was released in 1984 where you push balls of food to the bottom of the screen and into enemies. Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory was also a 1984 release in arcades where you build ice cream cones. Super BurgerTime was a 1990 arcade game that is an enhanced version of the original concept. The Game Boy received BurgerTime Deluxe in 1991. Namco released an updated version of the original game for mobile devices named BurgerTime Delight in 2007. Lastly, a 3D version of the game called BurgerTime World Tour was released in 2011 on Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network, with a Wiiware version arriving in 2012.

Who put all this stuff here in the first place?

BurgerTime is a single screen action game. The screen is filled with platforms and ladders, and there are various slices of hamburgers, buns, and toppings across the board. You control the chef Peter Pepper as he must use all the ingredients on screen to build gigantic hamburgers underneath the level. You do this by running across the ingredients causing them to fall to the level below. If an ingredient falls on top of another one, it falls as well potentially setting off a chain reaction. Once all the burgers are assembled, you complete the round and move on to the next stage.

A game like this wouldn’t be complete without enemies, and there are three different types in BurgerTime. They are named Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Egg, and Mr. Pickle. All three enemies behave in the same way by following you around the board. Mr. Hot Dog is the most numerous of the enemy foods. Mr. Egg appears in fewer numbers and he tends to be a little bit smarter as he tracks you. Mr. Pickle appears in the later levels and also tends to be a bit smarter like Mr. Egg. The only way the enemies defeat Peter Pepper is to run into him, so you should always be on the move.

Peter Pepper can use the ingredients to his advantage in dealing with the enemies. If one of the ingredients falls on an enemy, they get squished and you get points. After a few seconds, a new enemy will take his place and join the fray. You can also displace enemies by dropping an ingredient they are standing on. Not only does this knock out enemies for a short time, but it also causes the ingredient to drop more ledges than when dropped alone. You score double points for each additional dropped enemy on the same ingredient, so this is the best way to rack up points in a hurry as well as clear the level more quickly.

A dash of pepper can help if you get trapped like this.

The only weapon our chef has at his disposal is pepper. It is only limited to a few uses but it is incredibly useful to get out of a bind. Simply press A or B to throw a dash of pepper in the direction you are facing. Pepper stuns all enemies it touches and you can run right through them without getting hurt. It can be used as an evasive move if you get trapped, but you can also use it to stack several enemies together on top of an ingredient and then drop them all at once for huge points. You get five peppers at the start of the game and you can acquire additional ones from powerups that appear in the middle of the level periodically. Depending on the level you will find an ice cream cone, a cup of coffee, or a bag of fries that give you points as well as pepper.

BurgerTime has six levels and it only takes a couple of minutes to clear each one. However, it’s a challenging game. At first, it gets overwhelming being chased around by four or five enemies at one time. After getting used to it, the first couple of levels are pretty straightforward. The third level requires you to work your way up through narrow space to reach the top part of the stage. This is a solid test for understanding how the enemies route their way across the level in order to navigate around them. The fifth stage has long platforms without branching paths, leading you to get trapped easily if you aren’t careful. The final stage is nasty, including several ingredients placed on dead ends. Having several shots of pepper handy goes a long way to clearing it. After all six stages are finished, the game loops back to the first level with faster enemies. It will keep looping until you run out of lives.

BurgerTime was one of the very first games my family owned for our NES. If memory serves it was the third game we owned after Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and Pinball. Therefore, BurgerTime is among my earliest gaming memories. I do remember beating this game as a child by hoarding pepper for the final stage and setting up a super combo with all the enemies included. As we collected new games, I put BurgerTime on the back burner for many years. I played it again in 2015 when it showed up as a NintendoAge contest game. I did not beat the game that week, but now I got to beat the game again for the first time since I was 7 or 8 years old.

The level layouts get tricky at the end.

I beat BurgerTime in one late night, but it wasn’t easy. Stage 6 is the most challenging by far, but Stage 5 is the make it or break it level for me. I typically have to use a lot of pepper because it’s easy to get surrounded on the long platforms, and I need to hold on to as much pepper as possible for the final level. When I did reach the final level, I had some close calls. I was one ingredient drop away from beating the game on my first attempt. On a couple of later tries I botched some near finishes with several lives remaining. I completed the game on my ninth attempt, and I finished it off by playing into the second loop until I lost all my lives.

The one thing I run into trouble with in this game is moving on and off ladders. You have to be lined up with them pretty close to center before you can climb them. To get off, you must be at the very top or bottom before you can move laterally. The inability to make precise movements when you get stuck on an edge makes BurgerTime much more frustrating than it should be. I like it when games automatically nudge you the rest of the way if you start to switch direction just a tad early. That would have really come in handy here.

BurgerTime is a serviceable arcade game port that plays just fine on the NES. As this port is based on an older game, the presentation matches the arcade version. However, on the NES it comes off as a bit sparse. The graphics are plain and include solid black backgrounds. The music is one continuous, droning loop and the sound effects are simplistic. Gameplay is what matters most, and BurgerTime has it where it counts. Rounding up the enemies and dropping them in bulk is satisfying, as is crushing them with a bun or lettuce leaf. It’s fun to play for high scores and it’s fun to work through all the levels. BurgerTime is not a bad choice to consider adding to your NES collection if you are interested in 1980s arcade games.

#48 – BurgerTime

 
JUL
21
2017
0

#47 – Gargoyle’s Quest II

Every Gargoyle deserves an adventure.

The dark, foreboding music fits perfectly!

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 3/9/17 – 3/17/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: Gargoyle’s Quest II Longplay

The concept of a spin-off in media makes a lot of sense. A spin-off can take a supporting character from an existing TV show or movie and give them their own story while giving the storytellers an already established base to work from. Spin-offs have naturally made their way into video games too. One notable example is the Wario Land series which started as a spin-off of the Game Boy game Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. Wario was the villain of that game but became the protagonist in his own adventure. On the NES, there aren’t very many examples of spin-offs, but today I am going to cover one. The annoying “red devil” enemy from Ghosts ‘N Goblins gets not only an actual name, but also his own adventure in Gargoyle’s Quest II.

The Gargoyle’s Quest series originated on the Game Boy. All games in the series were developed and published by Capcom. Gargoyle’s Quest was initially released in Japan in May 1990. The US would get the game shortly thereafter in July 1990, and it also saw release in the UK in 1991. The game was popular enough to warrant a sequel that jumped platforms to the NES and Famicom. Gargoyle’s Quest II was named Red Arremer II in Japan, seeing release in July 1992. The US received Gargoyle’s Quest II in October 1992, and the European release was in June 1993. The NES game was also ported to the Game Boy in 1993 under the name Makaimura Gaiden: The Demon Darkness, though only in Japan. The third and final game in the series was named Demon’s Crest in both the US and Europe and Demon Blazer in Japan. This Super Famicom and SNES game was nearly released simultaneously in Japan and the US, coming in late October 1994 in Japan and early November 1994 in the US. The European release was also released last, launching in March 1995.

Gargoyle’s Quest II is a hybrid between a platformer and a top-down RPG. You play as the red devil Firebrand, who upon returning from training, finds his home has been wiped out by the mysterious Black Light. Firebrand sets off on a journey to solve this mystery and save the Ghoul Realm. The game initially looks and feels like an RPG. In this top-down view, you can explore towns, enter buildings, collect items, and talk to other ghouls to gain valuable information for your adventure. These towns and other areas in the game are all connected via a large overworld. However, all the action scenes take place in a side-scrolling view. Here you control Firebrand as you jump and fight your way through various stages of action gameplay.

The overworld ties the action sequences together.

During exploration, you can use the D-pad to travel in four directions. You’ll notice right away that Firebrand moves around very quickly in this view. He goes much quicker than the slow, plodding movement in other NES RPGs around this period. Use the A button to talk to other ghouls and interact with some objects. You will also use A to advance the text when talking. The Start button brings up the menu where you can choose from a few options. The Level menu item lets you view your current status. The Tool option lets you look at and choose certain quest items you will find. The Magic option lets you view and choose which attack you can use during the action sequences.

In the side-scrolling sections, use the Left and Right on the D-pad to walk around. Contrary to the other view, Firebrand moves slowly and deliberately. Press the A button to jump. If you press A again while in the air, Firebrand will flap his wings and hover for a short while. While hovering you can move left and right, allowing you to fly and cover much greater distances than just jumping alone. Press B to attack by spewing a small projectile. The Start button both pauses the action and brings up a sub-menu at the bottom of the screen where you can switch between attacks.

There are two mechanics in the side-scrolling areas that complement each other and form the basis for Firebrand’s movement. First is the hover ability briefly mentioned above. In the game, it is referred to as Wing Level. There is a large bar on screen that indicates how long Firebrand can hover in place, and it depletes quickly. When it runs out, Firebrand will fall, or you can choose to fall before it runs out by pressing A again. This wing stamina will restore to full strength as soon as Firebrand lands on solid ground or clings to the wall. This brings me to the second mechanic which is wall climbing. The Wing Level gives Firebrand extended horizontal movement while wall climbing gives him vertical movement. Thus, the levels extend in all directions to accommodate all his movement capabilities, as well as involving spikes and other such hazards in many places to keep Firebrand on course.

Climbing around spike-laden walls is required often.

There are a few items Firebrand can find during the side-scrolling levels. Hearts restore some of Firebrand’s health. There is a life meter on the status bar indicated by small hearts that show how many hits Firebrand can take. There are also red jars called vials that act as the game’s currency. Every now and then you can find a light-colored jar that will expand the maximum number of hearts.

Firebrand can expand his capabilities by items he acquires on the overworld. These are generally given to Firebrand after completion of certain stages or by talking to creatures. They are pretty weird items that slot into a few different categories. There are nail items that increase his Jump Level so that he can jump higher. There are wing items that increase his Wing Level which lets Firebrand hover for a longer time. There are armor items that increase Firebrand’s Life Level which gives him more hearts on his life meter. There are magic items that provide him new attacks. Finally, there are tools which are passive items that are needed to interact with certain characters to advance the story.

The magic items are the most interesting as they both give Firebrand new attacks as well as expand his capabilities in interesting ways. Firebrand starts with the Fire attack that launches a small projectile for attacking enemies. Next is the Buster attack that is a bit stronger than Fire but also can break blocks. The Tornado attack generates a small temporary platform that Firebrand can land on and restore his wing stamina. The Claw attack can form a protective surface against a wall of spikes, giving Firebrand a way to cling to them temporarily. There is also a final magic ability that is useful at the end of the game.

Creating your own platforms sure comes in handy!

I mentioned the vials earlier as the currency in the game. It turns out they are only used for one thing. There are certain creatures throughout the game that will allow you to exchange your vials for the Power of Maelstrom. It is the game’s fancy way of saying an extra life! They do come in handy for tricky areas. However, they get more expensive later in the game.

One more optional item you can find in the game is the Essence of Soulstream. To get it, you have to find two different items in the world and bring them to a person who can combine them into the Soulstream. This item can be used in the platforming levels from the menu. It can only be used once but it lets you restore your health all the way to the maximum. The best place it comes in handy is during one the boss fights that occurs at the end of some stages.

There are some ghouls on the overworld that will provide you with a password if you talk to them. Not only do you get the password, but you also set a checkpoint here that you will return to if you lose all your lives. The passwords are 16-digits, all 0-9, with a mandatory dash in the middle for readability. The passwords have just the right amount of complexity to save all your items and vials, yet they are not unwieldy to use.

Gargoyle’s Quest II has fun boss fights, including this difficult one.

I have played all the way through Gargoyle’s Quest II a few times before this run. Like many late NES Capcom games, it is pretty expensive at around $75 or so. This was one game I bought long before the prices skyrocketed. I had learned of this game in college and I decided to search it out on eBay. It may well be the game that got me to create my eBay account in the first place, I’m not sure. I found a copy for $6, and I even remember the seller was only 30 minutes away from me. I played through the game when I got it and I went back to it periodically over the years.

I’m not incredibly familiar with the game but I was able to work through it without a lot of trouble. The game takes several hours to play through the first time, and I can get through it in around two hours. I played it over three separate nights just due to time constraints. There was only one spot in the game where I lost all my lives and had to restart, but otherwise I think I played well. This is the kind of game where I normally would not record an entire longplay, but I was good enough at the game that I captured one this time. So, if you would like to see the game in its entirety, you may!

Gargoyle’s Quest II is a quality platformer that is fun to play. When you see the Capcom logo on an NES game, chances are it’s a good one and this game is no exception. It has detailed graphics, sprawling stages with good platforming, a haunting soundtrack, and a large overworld that ties it all together. There are only a few things I don’t like about the game. The overworld can be dull to traverse, and there is a bit of a difficulty spike early in the game where you need to cross over a fiery river. There is also some slowdown when many enemies are on the screen. Frankly those are minor complaints. The game is solid and I find it fun to play through every now and again. I’m glad I had the good sense to seek out this game many years ago!

#47 – Gargoyle’s Quest II