Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

american

OCT
02
2017
0

#53 – American Gladiators

You can sort of get the experience with this lovely home version!

A contestant runs around the copyright page before the title.

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 6/26/17 – 7/2/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: American Gladiators Playthrough

It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about Rollergames, and today we have another game based on a 90’s TV show that is right out of the same mold. They were both live-action shows that ran on TV at the same time. Both shows received an NES game to piggyback off the hype. Also, although American Gladiators on NES does a little better in this regard, both NES games deviate somewhat from the source material.

American Gladiators is a US TV show that aired in syndication from 1989 to 1996. It pits two men and also two women against each other in several events culminating in a final obstacle course called the Eliminator. All the events involved the Gladiators, who are recurring athletes that have their own roles in the events to prevent the contestants from scoring. The show eventually featured many different events that came and went through the run of the show, and each episode consisted of different combinations of events. Later, there was a remake of American Gladiators that ran for two seasons, both in 2008.

I’m genuinely disturbed by the concept of lives here.

American Gladiators on NES was released in October 1991 only in the US. It was published by Gametek and developed by Incredible Technologies. This game resembles the show but does not follow its format. There is a different American Gladiators game that is much more faithful to the show. That version was developed by Imagitec Design Inc and also published by Gametek on the Sega Genesis, DOS, and Amiga in 1992. The SNES port was released in 1993.

Similar to the TV show, in the NES game you have to compete in five different events which are modified versions of specific games that appeared on the show. You have to clear all five events within so many “lives.” The events are Joust, The Wall, Human Cannonball, Powerball, and Assault. Once you clear all five events, the game advances to the next level where you get a more challenging set of these same five events. In all, you must clear four different difficulty levels of five events each before moving on to the final event, the Eliminator. If you can clear the Eliminator, then you win the game.

Let’s look at each event. First I will explain how the event is played on the show, and then I will describe how it was converted to the NES game.

Stick and move.

In Joust, a contestant and a gladiator attempt to knock each other off a raised platform with pugel sticks. In the NES version of Joust, you square off against four gladiators one at a time instead of just the single battle featured in the show. During a face-off, you can move around a bit on the platform by tapping Left or Right on the D-Pad. Press A to thrust your pugel stick at the gladiator. You can press B to thrust too but this will also inch you a step toward the gladiator. Just pressing A or B does a middle thrust, and you can also do a high thrust by holding Up or a low thrust by holding Down when you strike. You can also block by holding Left and pressing either A or B. You exchange blows with the gladiator until you knock him off the platform. Then the event briefly switches to a platformer as you must move forward jumping from platform to platform to engage the next gladiator. After you win the third fight, a super pugel stick will fly into play. If you grab it your stick will light up, then if you can land a first strike on the gladiator you will knock him off instantly. If you get hit first then you lose the super pugel stick, so make it count! If you get knocked off or fall off at any time, you lose a life.

Tap it out while making quick decisions.

In The Wall, two contestants race up a climbing wall. After a few seconds, the Gladiators will pursue the contestants attempting to pull them off the wall, preventing them from reaching the top and scoring points. In the NES event, your goal is also to climb to the top of the wall, but this time there are several gladiators that appear at various locations along the wall that you must avoid. The controls for this event are tricky and unlike anything else I’ve ever played. The idea is that the B button moves your left hand and the A button moves your right hand. You combine this button press with a direction to move that hand in all eight directions. There are handholds covering most of the wall and as long as you have at least one hand on one you will stay on the wall. The consequence of this control scheme is that you need to tap buttons quickly to move fast. For instance, to move straight up, you must rapidly alternate between pressing A and B while holding Up. It takes practice to get the hang of it. You can find a glove on the wall that lets you move very fast with just the D-Pad instead of having to tap out A and B, but it only lasts for a few seconds. Each of the four levels is a completely different layout on the wall, and you need to have mastered the control scheme to clear the last wall. If you lose the grip on both hands, or you come in contact with one of the gladiators, then you fall down and lose a life. Plus, you have to start at the very bottom of The Wall.

He doesn’t stand a chance.

The Human Cannonball event begins with a gladiator standing on a small elevated platform holding a foam pad for protection. The contestants swing on a rope from their own platform and try to knock the gladiator down to score points. The NES event requires you to jump from your platform, grab the swinging rope, and then let go at the right time to knock the gladiator down. Like Joust, there is a series of four gladiators that you knock down to finish the event. Both the starting platform and the gladiator’s platform move up and down, making the timing more difficult. At the start, you can walk left or right a bit on the platform, and then press A to jump toward the rope. If you grab onto it, then you automatically swing back and forth and you must press A again to let go and launch yourself. In some levels, during the third gladiator a glove will fly into play, and if you grab it you can move up and down the rope. Normally where you first grab the rope is where you stay until you jump off. The glove comes in handy on the fourth gladiator because there can be a trophy at the top of the rope that gives you an extra life. In this event, it is very easy to lose lives. You can fall off the platform, miss the jump to the rope, miss the gladiator on the launch, or hit the gladiator when he is blocking.

Always score in the center when it is clear.

In Powerball, there are bins filled with balls on both ends of the playfield, and there are five empty pods guarded by three gladiators. Both contestants play simultaneously by taking a ball and putting it into the pods, if they can get by the gladiators to do so. The players must cross to the opposite end before grabbing a new ball, and the object is to score as many points as possible within a time limit. The NES version of Powerball is mostly faithful to the original event. You grab a ball at either end of the playfield with either A or B. Then you have to run around the gladiators and place the ball into the pod by standing next to it and pressing the button. Just like on the show you must cross to the opposite side to grab a new ball. The difference in the NES game is that you are only allowed to put one ball in each pod. If you score on all five pods, you are awarded an extra life as well as free up all the pods so you can continue scoring anew. If a gladiator touches you, he always knocks the ball out of your hand and you have to go get a new one. This is the only event where you don’t lose a life. Just score as much as you can before the timer runs out!

Weird gladiator scrolling, but a fun game mode at least.

The Assault features a gladiator manning a tennis ball cannon, and there is a target on the wall behind him. The contestants run through the playfield dodging the fired tennis balls and reaching the safe spots. Each safe spot has a weapon used to hit the target. The contestant wins if they hit the target or reach the end of the course before time runs out, and they lose if the gladiator hits them with a tennis ball. The NES version of the game plays a bit differently. The gladiator moves back and forth at the top of the screen with the cannon no matter where you are in the course. You scroll the playfield upward and seek out weapons near a safe spot. Neither you nor the gladiator can shoot through barriers on the field. Grab a weapon by standing on the weapon icon and pressing B, then press A to launch a shot upward. Each icon gives you three shots. The gladiator will fall if you shoot him enough times, and you lose a life if he hits you three times. Alternatively, you clear the event if you reach the top of the course before time runs out. This is the only event that you can lose if the timer expires.

Platforming with random projectiles!

Once you clear all 20 events, then you begin the Eliminator. This is a long, slowly scrolling platforming level essentially. You start out by hopping between balance beams with the A button and advancing to the right. During the event, medicine balls will spray out from the bottom of the screen randomly. If they hit you then you fall, but you can save yourself by pressing Down to duck in time and shield yourself from the hit. Be careful when jumping as you can’t block hits. Eventually you come to the hand bike. Press Left or Right to move along the rail and dodge the balls. Past the hand bike are conveyor belts, and then after that is another hand bike section. Finally, the balls go away and you take a series of zip lines to the end of the course. You must time your jump off each zip line to grab the next one. If you get all the way to the end, congratulations!

Finally, here is some miscellany about American Gladiators. Across all events, there is a scoring system in place. You typically earn points by either getting past a gladiator or redeeming each second left on the timer at the end of the event. Once you clear a level of five events, you get 100 points as well as an extra life for the next level. You can also earn a continue by clearing either Level 1 or 2. When you lose all your lives, you get a password, provided you have already cleared Level 1. The password is eight characters long and the only characters are A and B. You enter the password by pressing the corresponding button, which is super convenient. There are only three passwords, one for each level from two to four. Lastly, the game features a two-player mode, but it is alternating play so it isn’t that useful.

This was my first time playing American Gladiators. I have owned the game since childhood and probably got it from a yard sale. It only took one try playing it to discover I wasn’t all that interested in the gameplay. I’m not sure why that was because I enjoyed watching the TV show on cable whenever I saw it was on, and I played NES often as a kid. I’m glad I’m doing this completion project because it gives me the motivation to play through games such as American Gladiators that I’ve owned for over half my life.

This guy is super tough for some reason.

It took me three or four days over a week to solve American Gladiators. Initially I found Powerball to be the easiest event because I always filled up the pods, only to find out later that it truly is the easiest one since you cannot lose regardless. Assault was the next easiest game for me because I am good at dodging, although that was tested during the final level. The Wall tends to be difficult for people due to the weird, exhausting controls, but I took to it quite well. Joust was the event that gave me so much trouble until I figured out how it worked. Human Cannonball to my surprise ended up being the most difficult event as the later levels had me almost pulling my hair out.

Once I got all those games figured out, it was time for the Eliminator. This event was challenging, but it was even harder to learn because I could only use what lives I had remaining after clearing all the Level 4 events. The best shot I had at the Eliminator came from playing the game from the start and accumulating as many lives as possible along the way. I had a few runs that I almost completed before recording anything, and once I sat down to record I ended up completing the game for the first time. I even beat it without continues. I had close to ten lives starting the Eliminator but I used nearly all of them up to beat it.

You really need to master the controls to solve this one.

Here are some pointers for a few of the events that tripped me up in the game. Spoilers apply here, so if you want to try the game yourself and keep your experience pure, now is the time to look away! As I mentioned earlier, Joust was my first major hang up. That was because I was playing it wrong. The opponents also strike with low, medium, and high thrusts, and you can counter each one. You counter a low strike with a medium one, a medium strike with a high one, and a high strike with a low one. The gladiators also strike in a pattern that loops, so once you see it you can predict and counter every hit. If you are fast and don’t know the pattern, you can also counter by observing his strike and attacking quickly. Moving on to the Human Cannonball event, there are a few gladiators that seem impossible to knock down because they always block you. The only way I figured out how to get past them is to swing on the rope back and forth a few times before launching yourself. In other words, if they block on your first swing, try knocking them down on your second swing. You can stay on the rope for as long as you like once you grab on. I won’t tell you which gladiators or how many swings you need to wait. If you need to know, you can see my strategy in the longplay video. Finally, a couple of basic tips for The Wall. Make sure to spend some time in a clear space learning how to move in all directions. Take it slow. This becomes very important in later levels where each incremental movement is critical. Also, it is best to set the controller in your lap and use your pointer and middle fingers to tap out the A and B buttons. The game manual recommends this since you can move around on The Wall much quicker and with less fatigue in your hand.

I’ll say that American Gladiators is an interesting NES game, but I don’t know that I would recommend playing it. It’s a novelty to see how they adapted the show into an NES game, but it’s not quite reminiscent of the show enough to invoke the nostalgia factor. The music is fine, but nothing special, and notably the iconic theme song is not in this game at all. If it is, then it wasn’t recognizable enough for me to notice it. The graphics are decent and every important element is clearly defined. It’s a mish-mash of a game. I had fun with it, but of course I always say that.

#53 – American Gladiators

 
JUN
06
2017
0

#44 – R.B.I. Baseball

Crush monster home runs in this quintessential NES baseball game!

Not shown is the giant baseball and corresponding *pling* sound effect at power on.

To Beat: Win 9 Games
Played: 12/29/16 – 12/30/16
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: R.B.I. Baseball Longplay

The NES library holds a large collection of sports games. While Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! and T&C Surf Designs could be loosely classified as sports games, I feel comfortable saying that today’s game is the first major sports title covered on the blog. There are more baseball games on NES than any other sport. So not only is it fitting that this first sports game is a baseball game, but it also happens to be one that I really enjoy and have spent a lot of time playing over the years.

R.B.I. Baseball is the first in a long series of baseball games developed by Namco for release in Japan. There it is known as Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium. Subsequent games on the Famicom were released yearly spanning 1986 through 1994. The 1989 installment was called Famista as a play on the name Famicom, and the series has been named Famista ever since. R.B.I. Baseball on the NES was released in June 1988 and was published by Tengen. This is one of three licensed NES games published by Tengen. It was also released as an unlicensed black cart version that seems to be much more prevalent than its gray cart equivalent.

The Famista series in Japan would carry on to many other consoles such as the Super Famicom, MSX, and Game Boy, as well as modern versions on the 3DS and Android/iOS. Not related to Famista, the R.B.I. Baseball name would be used in a brand new series developed by Major League Baseball (MLB) themselves in 2014. This separate series has received new entries every year. Also unrelated to both this new series and Famista are two R.B.I. Baseball games on NES. Developed by Atari Games and published by Tengen, R.B.I. Baseball 2 was released in 1990 and R.B.I. Baseball 3 came out in 1991. These games share a similar style as the original game but with all MLB teams and rosters included. They are not officially licensed by Nintendo and so they will not be covered in the main project, though I will probably play and write about them one of these days.

Choose your abbreviation and let’s get started!

R.B.I. Baseball lets you play a typical nine-inning match against either a computer opponent or another human player. When you begin, you get a list of ten teams and you can choose the team you want. The list only consists of two letter abbreviations and only a fraction of the teams are covered. The last two teams in the list are the American League All-Stars and National League All-Stars, and their rosters are comprised of best players not already included within the other eight teams. Once teams are selected, choose from one of four pitchers. Then the game begins!

The gameplay for R.B.I. Baseball breaks down nicely into pitching and fielding on the defensive side, and batting and baserunning on the offensive side. The one common thread between everything is base selection. On the controller, Right represents first base, Up is second base, Left is third base, and Down is home plate. Most baseball games will use this same scheme because it is both sensible and intuitive.

Player 1 is always the away team, meaning he bats first. While batting, the pitcher is shown at the top of the screen and the batter on the bottom. When batting you can position your player anywhere within the batter’s box with the D-Pad. Press the A button to swing the bat. You can hold the button down to do a full swing, and you must press A again to bring your bat back if you swing way too early. If you tap the A button the bat will immediately stop at whichever point it lies during the swing path, and if you get the bat to stop over the plate you can bunt the ball. The B button is used for sending your baserunners on a steal attempt. While the pitcher is winding up to throw, you press B along with the direction of the base you want to steal. For instance, if you have a runner on first base, press B and Up to have the baserunner start running toward second base.

It doesn’t look like it but this is good swing timing.

When a batted ball is put into play, the perspective shifts to an overhead view of the field and now you control the baserunners. Here the A button is used to go back and the B button is used to go ahead, and you combine this with a D-Pad direction to direct a specific runner to the nearest base. This is the same as baserunning while batting. For example, say you hit a ball all the way to the outfield wall. When your batter reaches first base, you can press Up and B to advance the runner to second base. Now if the throw from the outfielder is going to beat you to second base, you can send the runner back to first by pressing Right and A and avoid making an out. As long as the ball is hit fair and the screen remains in fielding mode, you can move runners around as much as you want, though you run the risk of getting tagged out for being careless on the bases.

In the bottom half of the inning you control the pitcher and defense. To pitch, you start by positioning your pitcher on the mound with either Left or Right. Press the A button to start your windup and throw a pitch. If you hold Down with A, you will throw a faster pitch, and if you hold Up with A you will throw a slower pitch. The slow pitch plays a different sound effect than that other pitches and sometimes it will bounce off the ground, causing the batter to swing right over top of it. After the pitch is thrown you can steer it with Left or Right to curve the pitch. Finally, the B button in combination with a D-Pad direction lets you do a pickoff move toward a base.

If the opponent puts a ball into play, then you play defense from the overhead view. Depending on where the ball is hit, the game will automatically give you control of the nearest fielder. Actually, you get to control most fielders simultaneously. Just run your fielder into the ball to pick it up, or you can follow the ball’s shadow if it is hit into the air. Once you have possession of the ball, press A and a direction to throw the ball to the desired base. If you press A without a direction the throw goes to first base which is useful for infield grounders. If you press B with a direction then your fielder will run toward the base with the ball in hand. This is useful for running down baserunners. The game goes back to pitching once the fielder has the ball without any controller movement for a while.

Sometimes you have to make a long throw to get an out.

The team rosters are very simple. As selected at the start, there are only four pitchers per team. The first two pitchers are the starters and the other two are relievers. This is important because the starters maintain their stamina longer than the relievers. Also in consecutive games, the prior game’s starter is unavailable. You can change pitchers in the middle of the game by pressing Start to call timeout while pitching. You can then bring up a menu of available pitchers and get a fresh arm into the game right away. The same goes for hitting if you want to bring in a pinch hitter. Each team has four pinch hitters on the bench and they can be swapped anywhere into the lineup regardless of position. Just like in a real game, if you pinch hit for the pitcher, then you must select a new pitcher at the start of the next half inning.

Players have different attributes that are not always spelled out in the game. For pitchers, you can see their ERA. Typically, the lower the ERA the better the pitcher. What the ERA doesn’t indicate is that some pitchers throw faster, some have better curves, and a few even throw sidearm for a different look. On the hitting side, you can see a hitter’s batting average and home run count. Hitters with high batting averages tend to hit the ball more often in places it can’t be fielded easily, and hitters with high home run totals have more power. The hitters also have different speeds while baserunning with no visible stat to suggest how fast they run. Finding skilled players in certain areas requires trial and error.

Love that 32 home run power!

R.B.I. Baseball was one of the few sports games I had growing up and I played it often. I owned both the unlicensed black cart and the licensed gray cart and those same copies are still in my collection today. This game was particularly popular in college and people would drop in to play matches all the time. I haven’t lost to the CPU in ages but I lost quite a few games in the two player mode. Our preferred house rule was “straight pitch” style where we always threw pitches right down the middle, focusing just on hitting, fielding, and baserunning.

Despite all those years of playing R.B.I. Baseball, it turns out I learned something new about the game when I set out to beat it. I was expecting that I would have to win a single match to consider the game beaten. However, there is a different ending screen if you win nine matches, one against each opponent. The downside to that is that there are no passwords or saving in the game, so you must complete all nine games in a single sitting. The upside is that the game has a mercy rule which can shorten games significantly. If you lead by 10 or more runs at the end of an inning, then you win immediately.

My favorite team in the game is the National League All-Stars, but similar to college it’s not quite fair to play as one of the teams completely stacked with talent. I would have definitely picked my favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, except they aren’t represented in the game at all. So I decided to play as my backup team Detroit. They are a very good offensive team which aligned with my desire to score a bunch of runs to win quickly by the mercy rule. Since I have the game mastered already, it was a breeze to beat all nine teams.

It’s true! Chicks dig the long ball.

Here are some stats about my 9-0 run of the game. I outscored my opponents 112-4, and I allowed all four of those runs in one inning of my first game. Every game I won by the mercy rule and I averaged a little over 5 innings per game. I pitched two separate three inning no-hitters and struck out 90 batters total. I got 145 hits, including 28 home runs, and I only allowed 23 hits. It was a pretty thorough bashing of the other teams, but I expected nothing less!

One interesting tidbit about R.B.I. Baseball is that it is the first console baseball game that uses actual MLB player names. This is because the game is the first baseball game officially licensed by the Major League Baseball Players Association. However, the game is not licensed by MLB, and as a result it cannot include the names of the actual teams. So here you have the names of the players but not the name of the team, leaving only the city names to represent the teams.

It may not be easy to see just looking at the game, but R.B.I. Baseball is a classic title that is still fun to play today. Appearances can be deceiving, since the characters are large, chunky sprites and the movement feels slow. The music, while catchy, can get repetitive over a long play session. What really matters is that R.B.I. Baseball is simple and easy to play. It may be a trimmed down experience, but it is so intuitive and quick to start playing that it has maintained its popularity for all these years. If the formula is good enough for a modern remake, then it is good enough here.

#44 – R.B.I. Baseball