Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

Finished

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

 
OCT
09
2017
0

#54 – Championship Bowling

The lone NES bowling title gave me more than I bargained for.

A cute penguin also runs across this screen!

To Beat: Score 250 or higher
To Complete: Bowl a Perfect Game of 300
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 7/12/17 – 7/17/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Championship Bowling Perfect Game

Have you ever played a game expecting one thing and then got something significantly different? I have experienced that a little bit in this project so far. Take The Immortal as an example. I expected an adventure game with puzzles, but I wasn’t anticipating combat resembling Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! at all. Championship Bowling is clearly a simple bowling game, but as I sought the highest score it morphed into a puzzle game, requiring me to look for patterns and techniques to crack its code.

Championship Bowling was released on the NES in December 1989. It was published by Romstar and developed by Another Ltd. The Black Bass is the only other NES release developed by Another, though they did release a couple of adventure games on the Famicom in their brief history. This was the second game published by Romstar on the NES, just a couple of months after Twin Eagle. Championship Bowling was also released on Famicom in 1991, published there by Athena. It is the only bowling game on the NES.

Championship Bowling emulates a standard, regulation round of bowling. There are ten frames each consisting of ten pins arranged in a triangle, and the object of the game is to roll the bowling ball down the lane trying to knock down as many pins as possible. You get two throws per frame unless you get a strike by knocking them all down on the first throw. Strikes are the way to get the best scores, but you can do well by picking up the spare on the second throw. After the 10th frame is completed, the game is over. You can see your score, high scores, and choose to play another round if you wish.

At the title screen, you can choose the number of players and which bowling lane you want. Championship Bowling supports up to four players! You can also choose from five different lanes. Each one has a different color scheme in game as well as unique effects on the ball path such as speed and curve of the ball. You press Left or Right to change the number of players, and press Up or Down to choose the lane. Then press Start to advance to the character selection screen.

There’s a good selection of options.

On the next screen, each player makes further selections. You can choose from one of four bowlers and each one has some slight differences in gameplay. Use the D-Pad to highlight the desired bowler and press A. Then enter in your initials. Press Up or Down to cycle through letters and press A to choose each initial. Finally, choose which bowling ball you want. You can pick a 7 pound, 9 pound, 11 pound, 13 pound, or 15 pound ball. Again, each ball handles a bit differently and each one is a different color. One weird thing here is if you play multiplayer, Championship Bowling requires two controllers. Odd numbered players use controller 1 and even numbered players use controller 2. One controller is all you really need since play is alternating, so this is a strange choice. Once all players make their selections then it’s time to bowl!

At the start of each frame, your player stands at the bottom of the screen. Use Left or Right to set where you want your bowler to stand, then press A. Next, the Control meter on the left will show a ball automatically moving in a half-circle arc. This determines the kind of spin placed on the ball. You must press the A button with good timing to get the spin you want. After spin is chosen, then the power meter bar quickly moves up and down. This determines how hard you throw the ball, and like the Control meter this also requires good timing with the A button. After all that, the bowler will go ahead with those selections and throw the ball. If you bowl a strike, you get a little celebration and play moves on to the next player or next frame in single player. Otherwise, you get a second throw to try and clean up the remaining pins.

There is some other useful information on this screen. You can see the high score in the upper-left which defaults to 200. The lower left shows which player is bowling, the current frame, and the scoring for this frame. On the right side, you see a top down view of the lane which is useful for lining up shots. Above the pins is a display that lights up the number of each remaining pin after the first throw, just like something you would see on the display at a real bowling alley. Additionally, before you start your timing selections, you can press B to see the scorecard for your entire round thus far.

After everyone has finished bowling, you are taken to the high score screen. Initials and score are added for every player that scores well enough to place on the board. There are trophies displayed here with scores underneath them that suggest you should be aiming for those scores. When you are finished, you go back to the title screen. Championship Bowling is a simple, straightforward experience.

Here you line up your shot and time the meters.

I think this is my first time playing through Championship Bowling. I have cleaned and tested every cart in my collection, and it’s possible that I played a whole round when I tested this game. This was definitely my first time playing this game seriously. It’s a common cart and I don’t recall when I bought the game. I know I have picked up some in game lots over the years so that’s likely where my copy came from.

The manual has a topic about getting the perfect strike, and the idea proposed there is the same as actual bowling. You want to aim the ball between the front pin and either one of the pins in the second row. Not only that, but you also want to hook the ball between those two pins to get the best possible pin action and best chance to get a strike. In the game, you want to do the same thing. Position your bowler to the right of the pins and curve the ball to the left. (Do the opposite if the bowler is left handed.) With the right positioning, angle, and power, you can hit the sweet spot and get a strike most of the time. I say most of the time because the same shot doesn’t always work.

I mentioned the trophies on the high score screen. The lowest one reads 250 points, then 275, and lastly the perfect 300. Championship Bowling has three different ending screens for meeting each one of those thresholds. The way the scoring system works, you must score several strikes in a row to best increase your score. I was able to find the sweet spot that gives me a strike most of the time, and then I was able to pick up the spare on the frames where pins were remaining. It took many games to find this spot as well as home in on the timing to hit it every time. After playing for some time, I could play a round that let me have enough consecutive strikes to score well within the 250s. That was good enough to get one of the endings and consider the game beaten, but that wasn’t good enough for me.

This was the point where the game turned into this larger puzzle of how to narrow down my options and sequence the events to bowl a perfect 300, and I’m proud to report that I achieved it. I have bowled at least five perfect games with my strategy and it does seem to be consistent. So now I will reveal the ultimate strategy for the perfect game in Championship Bowling. This is the official spoiler alert. You can jump down to the closing paragraph now if you want this game to remain shrouded in mystery.

Strikes are very exciting!

There really are many variables at play here that can change everything, and I narrowed some of them down pretty quickly. I tried just about every position, angle, and speed. Before bowling even begins, I tried all the different lanes, all the different characters, and all the different balls. Right away I put a focus on powerful shots, and in turn I could eliminate three of the five lanes that slow the ball down considerably. Lane 1 is the right lane for this strategy. I also knew a strong hook was important, so I read the manual and it says the upper-right character has the best hook. It’s tough to tell, but I believe the characters do have minute differences and so I stuck with that character. This is the base that I started with.

My next discovery was the semi-consistent strike shot. There are lane markings shaped like triangles arranged in an upside-down ‘V’ pattern. You want to position your bowler to the left of the second lane marker from the right so that the right side of his head is just barely to the left of that lane marker. For the spin control, you want to stop the cursor on the far bottom-left. For the power, you want the bar all the way to the top, or one notch below full power also works. The best ball for this is the 13 pound ball. This exact shot with this ball is 100% effective for the first three frames, while any other sized ball has a small chance of failure.

The fourth frame is where this strategy falls apart. Using my shot technique here causes the ball to hook more sharply, leading to missed pins. To make matters worse, sometimes the game waits until the fifth, sixth, or seventh frame to start missing. Now somewhere around here I did figure out another shot variation that gives occasional strikes, and that’s good and important, but I still have the problem of not knowing when I can deploy this other weapon. This leads to my next discovery. The longer you play, the more randomized the game becomes. I got into the habit of hitting the reset button when I missed a strike to start over and eventually I realized that puts the game into a slightly different state than starting from power on. Once I resorted to shutting my NES off and turning it back on for each new game, I began to get consistent results! Now I could put everything together and get the perfect game I’ve been working toward!

Oooh, I wonder what my prize is!

Here is the complete strategy. Choose Lane 1 and the upper-right bowler. Choose whatever initials you want and select the 13 pound ball. There are only two shots you need to learn. The first shot is the same one I covered above. Position your bowler so that the right side of his head lines up with the left side of the second lane marking from the right. Angle the ball as far left as possible, and go for either full power or one notch below full. Let’s call this Shot A. The other shot I will call Shot B, and it is nearly identical to Shot A. You want the same lane positioning and the same power for both shots, however the angle for Shot B is at a 45-degree angle on the left. Use Shot A on frames 1, 2, 3, and 5, and use Shot B for all remaining frames. If you mess up Shot A a little bit, there’s a chance you can still get a strike. However, you need to be precise on each Shot B or you won’t get a strike. It took me a long time to figure this out because Shot A magically becomes effective again once you make a mistake, so I was led down the wrong path of using it way more often than I should.

I recorded video of bowling the 300 game, but Championship Bowling had one final, bizarre trick up its sleeve. I had been playing the game on my CRT with my AV-modded top-loading NES that I use for quick games or testing carts, but I record gameplay using my flat screen TV and the AVS system. There was a bit of a timing difference that I eventually got used to, but it turns out that my shot sequence above fails on the fifth frame while using the AVS. I suspect that the starting states of the top-loading NES and AVS are not exactly the same. Like I said, it’s completely strange and unexpected. While playing from a fresh boot of the AVS, I needed to use Shot A on frames 1, 2, 3, and 6 while using Shot B on the others. It’s just swapping shots on frames 5 and 6. That sequence is what I recorded in the video. Perhaps different consoles or emulators have a different shot sequence.

For not having any other NES releases to compare it to, Championship Bowling stands on its own anyway as a solid bowling game. The game has good controls and even though it only has as a few songs and melodies, they are catchy and well done. The graphics are nice and clear, although some lanes had poor color choices for the power meter making it hard to see. Each bowler has several frames of throwing animation and the pin action is pretty good considering what the NES is capable of. I’m also thankful the game is not completely random or otherwise I would have given up by now. It’s far from flashy, and the experience wears off quickly, but Championship Bowling is a capable NES game disguised as a surprise puzzler.

#54 – Championship Bowling