Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

box

JUN
29
2017
0

#45 – Rollergames

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete with broadcasters!

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

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

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

You can knock down the bad guys quickly.

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

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

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

Roads are always under construction!

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

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

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

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

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

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

This part is particularly devilish.

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

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

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

#45 – Rollergames

 
FEB
10
2017
0

#35 – Hogan’s Alley

Do you have what it takes to shoot cardboard targets?

Take a shot at any mode!

To Beat: Finish Game A Round 30, Game B Round 4, and Game C Round 10
What I Did: Reached Game A Round 41, Game B Round 6, and Game C Round 11
Played: 10/17/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Today we have another Zapper game! It’s not just a Zapper game, but one of the revered “Black Box” NES games as well. The game box features a menacing looking gangster that you just want to blast away! Hogan’s Alley is an early game with some surprising history behind it for a game based on target shooting.

Hogan’s Alley was created in 1984 as a standalone arcade cabinet. The game featured a light gun peripheral attached to the machine that players use to shoot at targets. Hogan’s Alley was ported to the Famicom later in June 1984 and was the third light gun game on the system behind Wild Gunman and Duck Hunt. All three of those games were launch titles when the NES was first released in October 1985. Hogan’s Alley was eventually re-released on Wii U Virtual Console in Europe in October 2015 and in North America a few months later in January 2016.

The name Hogan’s Alley originated from an American comic strip of the same name way back in 1895. Hogan’s Alley is portrayed in the comic as a run-down neighborhood full of odd people. In the 1920s, the FBI opened a rifle training ground at the Special Police School and named it Hogan’s Alley. The school was shut down during World War II. In 1987, a couple of years after the release of the video game, Hogan’s Alley was established in Quantico, Virginia and it is used for tactical training by the FBI and other government organizations. This facility was designed to look and feel like a real small town with a huge fake crime problem. The FBI themselves claim that they chose the name Hogan’s Alley because the rough neighborhood in the original comic strip resembles the style of their training area. I’m just speculating, but possibly the old facility was named after the comic strip and they just carried the name over to the current facility. It is also pretty likely that this was the same reason why Nintendo chose Hogan’s Alley as the name for the video game.

Visual recognition is just as important as trigger speed.

Hogan’s Alley is a light-gun target game that requires the NES Zapper. There are three game modes selectable from the title screen. Game A is called Hogan’s Alley and looks like it takes place inside of a shooting gallery. In each round, three panels will scroll into view sideways so that you cannot see the face of the panels. Once all three come into view they will turn and face you. The object is to shoot each of the gangsters and avoid shooting the innocent bystanders. There are six different people that can appear. Three of them are gun-wielding gangsters that you should shoot, and the others are a lady, a professor, and a police officer that you must leave alone. You only get a short amount of time to fire before the panels flip back to the side. Afterward, the next round begins with three new panels. Each successive round changes the amount of time that the panels face you and this timer gets shorter the longer you play. If you fail to shoot a gangster or fire at an innocent bystander, this you get a miss. The game is over when you accumulate ten misses.

Game B is also called Hogan’s Alley but this time it takes place in what I can only assume is the location Hogan’s Alley. Here you face buildings in the alleyway and the panels emerge from the scenery one or two at a time. The objective is the same. Shoot the bad guys and leave the good people alone. After five panels are revealed, the view will scroll forward to reveal new scenery as well as five more panels. Each round has five different sections of five panels each before looping back to the beginning. Just like in Game A, each successive round has a shorter timeframe for active panels, you accumulate misses when you make a mistake, and the game ends after ten misses.

Keep out! You mean keep the bad guys out!

Game C is called Trick Shot and this game is different from the other two. Cans will emerge from the right side of the screen moving to the left while falling. Shoot the cans to bounce them upward in the air a bit. The goal is to prevent the cans from falling down off the bottom of the screen. On the left side of the screen are three ledges. You want to navigate the cans onto one of those ledges to earn points. The top ledge gives you 300 points, the middle ledge gives you 800 points, and the bottom ledge gives you 5000 points. The lower you go, you get more points at a higher risk of losing the can off the bottom of the screen. The cans will also ricochet off the sides of the ledges keeping them in play longer. There is a tiny safety platform toward the middle of the screen that the cans can land on as well but you only get 100 points for that. Each round has five cans. You get a miss if a can falls off the bottom of the screen and ten misses means the end of the game.

Hogan’s Alley does not have an ending in any of the game modes, so this one has an unclear winning condition. There are a range of potential choices. The easiest condition would be to break the high score of 12,000 in one or all of the modes, but that is a rather low bar to achieve in any mode. The most difficult one would be to loop the round counter. The game can go up to Round 99 before looping back to Round 0. I don’t think this is good either since the difficulty flattens out long before getting that high.

The winning condition I chose has to do with the periodic victory messages that Hogan’s Alley displays on screen. After winning so many rounds, the game will play a little melody and display the phrase “SHARPSHOOTER!” on screen. Play even further and you’ll eventually get the message “SUPER SHARPSHOOTER!” to appear. This is the best possible message you can get and you can see it over and over as long as you keep playing. Obtaining the “SUPER SHARPSHOOTER!” message is what I consider to be mastery of the game for that particular mode. To get this message, you have to complete Round 30 in Game A, Round 4 in Game B, or Round 10 in Game C. I wanted to achieve that in all modes.

Shooting an actual can has to be much more difficult.

My family never owned Hogan’s Alley growing up but I do remember playing it at some point during my childhood. My grandfather likes to hunt and he got into playing several Zapper games at one point, so that is probably where I remember playing it casually. I remember enjoying Trick Shot but that’s the only mode I remember playing.

It didn’t take me very long to beat Hogan’s Alley. I had a much easier time here than when I beat Operation Wolf so that experience probably helped. It did take me two attempts to clear Games A and B and I beat Game C on the first try. I ended up playing until I ended naturally. I reached Round 41 in Game A and Round 6 in Game B before failing out. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture the picture properly when I ended Game C and all I got was the high score. I didn’t take notes either and I’ve already forgotten exactly what I did from several months ago. I did capture an image of the end of Round 10, so I can say I made it to Round 11 for sure.

Hogan’s Alley is a fun Zapper game that doesn’t really offer much once you’ve mastered each mode. It was definitely neat for a launch game and having the novelty of shooting the bad guys (or cans) on the TV. Today, it’s a pretty good game as an introduction to using the Zapper, and that’s about it. I guess it could be fun if you want to chase high scores or compete against someone else. At best it is an average game, but there’s nothing wrong with that in my book.

#35 – Hogan’s Alley (Game A)

#35 – Hogan’s Alley (Game B)

#35 – Hogan’s Alley (Game C)

 
APR
08
2016
0
Balloon Fight Box Cover

#21 – Balloon Fight

Float up, up, and away in this exciting balloon busting Black Box game!

Ready for a fight?

To Beat: Pass Phase 12 in the main game and get Rank 1 in Balloon Trip
To Complete: Roll the score (1,000,000 points) in the main game and get Rank 1 in Balloon Trip
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game with scores of 1,194,750 and 28,260
Played: 3/29/16 – 3/30/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 2/10

Arcade style games such as Balloon Fight pose some interesting questions around what it means to beat the game. On a game that has no ending, how do you determine when you’ve played enough of the game to consider it done? Similar to my dilemma with Tetris, the answer is not always clean cut but I believe a line can be drawn. In this blog I will outline my thoughts as well as cover a very fun black box NES title.

Balloon Fight was originally developed as the arcade title Vs. Balloon Fight released in 1984. It was developed by Nintendo’s SRD division. Later in January 1985 it was released on the Famicom and that port was developed by HAL Laboratories. Balloon Fight came out in the US in August 1986 and in Europe in 1987. All versions of the game were published by Nintendo.

There was a sequel called Balloon Kid that was released on Game Boy in the US in October 1990 and Europe in January 1991. It is a side scrolling platformer game instead of a single screen arcade style game. It was later released on Famicom in March 1992 rebranded as Hello Kitty World. The game is more or less identical to the Game Boy game but with Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters in place of the original characters. Japan would later receive Balloon Kid in the form of Balloon Fight GB for the Game Boy Color in 2000.

Every level gives you many enemies to deal with.

Balloon Fight is a single-screen platform action game. You control a balloon fighter who takes flight by flapping his arms and using balloons above his head to take flight. The object of the game is to eliminate all the other balloon fighters on the screen by popping their balloons and subsequently knocking them out. The game plays very similar to the arcade classic Joust by Williams Electronics released in 1982. By ramming into the other enemies’ balloons they will float down and you can bop their parachute to remove them from play. If the enemy lands on solid ground you can still ram into them to take them out, but wait too long and they will reinflate their balloons and attack you more aggressively. The enemies can knock out your balloons as well but you are able to take an extra hit. You start with two balloons and the enemy can knock out one of them leaving you with just one. Flying with only one balloon is more difficult because you need to flap longer to gain momentum. One more hit and you will lose the other balloon and go falling to your death.

There are three different versions of the enemy balloon fighter that you can distinguish by the color of the balloons they carry. The pink balloon fighter is the weakest, the green balloon fighter is stronger, and the white balloon fighter is the most difficult one. More points are awarded for defeating the stronger enemies. There are other obstacles to contend with too. Each stage has water at the bottom that contains a big fish. Swim too closely to the water and the fish will pop up and eat you up. This can also play to your advantage with the enemies can be eaten too. When you knock out an enemy a bubble will emerge and float up from the water that you can pop for bonus points. Some of the later levels contain stationary spinning bumpers that will launch one of the fighters away upon contact. There are also clouds in the background that will periodically generate a lightning bolt that launches a spark. These sparks are tiny but deadly to the touch for the player and they bounce off the platforms and the sides of the screen until they hit either the player or the water at the bottom. The sparks act as a “hurry up” mechanic that appear continuously when playing the same level for a little while, and they appear quite early in later stages.

Look out! Spark approaching!

There are 12 unique level layouts in Balloon Fight. Once Level 12 has been completed the game continues on to Level 13 but it loops back to the Level 4 layout. You can keep playing for as long as you can handle and the game will keep looping through Levels 4-12. You start the game with three lives and that is all you get for the entire game. There are no continues and no way to earn extra lives. Getting a high score in this game is a test of endurance and careful control.

After every three stages there is a bonus round. Here there are no enemies and balloons float up out of four background pipes. You pop the balloons for points and if you can pop all 20 balloons in the stage you are rewarded with a large point bonus. The bonus stage layout is the same but there are three different difficulties each with a different color balloon that floats at increasing speeds. If you play for a long time you will see the fastest balloons every round. The order in which the balloons emerge from the pipes is completely random so you will be on your toes trying to pop them all. Another benefit to the bonus stage is that it will set you back to having both balloons if one was lost earlier.

The controls for Balloon Fight are simple but they take time to master. You press A to flap your arms and you can repeatedly press A to fly higher and higher. Alternately, hold B to auto flap. Balloon Fight is very momentum based and each flap will slightly adjust your velocity. Turning around is challenging because each flap also lifts you up as well as nudging you horizontally. Especially when the sparks are bouncing around with multiple enemies on screen it is really important to be in control of your fighter or you won’t last long.

Too many bonus points getting away!

Balloon Fight can be played in two-player simultaneous mode. Work together with a partner to clear the screen of enemies, or you can attack each other if you want. I believe in the bonus room it is safe to attack each other without losing a life. I’m sure it’s a blast to play this way but I’ve never had the chance to play two-player mode.

Finally there is another game mode called Balloon Trip. This is an endless scrolling level scattered with sparks that send you to your doom. You only get one life in this mode. The game scrolls to the left starting with a short pre-defined level layout. Past that the level consists of random sparks that slowly move around. This is purely about surviving the obstacles and lasting as long as you can. You slowly but continuously rack up points just by staying alive, but there are also random balloons to collect for points. Occasionally a bubble will rise out of the water below and popping it freezes the screen for a short time so you can get yourself in good position to survive. The big fish is hiding in the water as well so it’s important to stay high. If you can collect a bunch of balloons in a row without losing any off the screen scroll, then you get a nice point bonus as well as advancing all balloons to the next level of balloon that awards more points. There are three different balloon colors just the same as the bonus round in the main game. There is also a ranking system that compares your score against the top 50 scores so you can see how you stack up. There’s no way to see the top scores and they reset when the game does, but it is there to kind of track your progress when you play.

Balloon Fight is a game that I have always found interest in but took me a long time to find a way to play. My first experience with the game may have been on an emulator back in the 90’s. I know I unlocked it as one of the NES games you can play within Animal Crossing on GameCube and that was one of my most played games there. Later I would buy it on Wii Virtual Console. However I didn’t own an actual cartridge of it even though I had collected many NES games early on. My local store got a copy for $10 and I bought it the first time I saw it. The only other copy I’ve seen was a really beat up, filthy copy for about the same price and I passed on it.

Balloon Trip gets pretty serious right from the start!

I have played the main game before most recently in 2014 as part of the NA weekly contest. I scored 1,239,250 which was good for 4th place that week. I’ve sunk a bit of time into Balloon Trip but I can’t remember if I have ever gotten Rank #1 in that mode. The score to achieve isn’t all that high so it’s very possible that I’ve met that before as well.

Even though there are only 12 unique levels in the game, I much prefer to keep going until I reach the point of highest difficulty. Unfortunately for Balloon Fight there isn’t any information I could find on how the game ramps up in difficulty. From my experience, it seems that the enemies themselves do not get more aggressive or faster, and the level layouts seem to maintain the same mix of enemies every time. What I did notice is that in later loops, the enemies initially inflate their balloons quicker so that they are airborne sooner. It did seem that I reached a point where that timeframe didn’t go any faster but I can’t be 100% sure. So, in lieu of playing to the unknown point of max difficulty, I decided to aim for maxing out the score. The counter is only six digits and after 999,950 it rolls over back to zero and starts over. I felt a little bit bad about not finishing all the difficulties of Operation Wolf last time so I decided to go a little deeper with Balloon Fight than I would normally.

I was able to max out the score in my 7th attempt over two nights of play. The first night I played three attempts maxing out around 700K. I then tried Balloon Trip and I beat the high score with Rank #1 on my very first attempt. However, I missed my shot at taking the picture so I had to try again. I don’t remember how many more tries I needed but it wasn’t very many. The next night on the main game I nearly rolled the score on my fourth overall attempt but I ended just short at 970K. I had missed a perfect on a couple of the bonus levels and one of those would have bumped my score over the million mark. The next two attempts were not nearly as good but on the seventh and final attempt I surpassed a million points on my last life. I finished with a score of 1,194,750 on Phase 54 and I didn’t miss a single balloon in any of the bonus rounds. Here was when I went back to check my personal best score and I saw that I was just short of surpassing that mark. However, for the purposes of this blog, Balloon Fight is now checked off the list!

Oh no! Fish food!

I base my difficulty rankings on what it takes to simply beat the game, and in this case it makes sense to say it’s beaten whenever the levels start looping again. Since Balloon Trip is never ending, beating the top score is the most logical landmark. Considering all that, this is a pretty easy game once you get used to the controls. Balloon Trip seems harder than the regular game but since each run can be so short it’s just a matter of time before an attempt is good enough to take top honors. I beat both modes on my first try and I only kept playing to max out the score on the main mode.

I mentioned before that the NES version of Balloon Fight was developed by HAL Laboratories, but it was specifically programmed by the late Satoru Iwata. He was developing Balloon Fight alongside the team creating the arcade version, and when they compared versions they noticed that the NES game controlled better than the arcade game. Mr. Iwata explained to the other team he accomplished this by saving the tenth’s place of the character position instead of rounding it off to the nearest integer. To actually locate the character on screen requires ignoring the decimal places, but by keeping that data in the movement calculations it leads to much smoother looking movement of the characters on screen.

Balloon Fight is a simple but well executed and fun early NES title. I think it is one of the better black box titles as it is fun to pick up and play while providing long play for more experienced players. The control is very well done and the graphics are simple but clear. The only negative graphically I find is that it is tough to distinguish between the pink balloon enemies and the white balloon enemies. The sound is very basic as well since it is limited mostly to the sound effects driven by events in the game play. There is a nice tune in the Balloon Trip mode which I find pretty catchy. This game is enjoyable to play and that’s what really matters.

Balloon Fight Ending Screen

#21 – Balloon Fight (Before Score Roll)

Balloon Fight Ending Screen

#21 – Balloon Fight (After Score Roll)

Balloon Fight Ending Screen

#21 – Balloon Fight (Ending Score)

Balloon Fight Ending Screen

#21 – Balloon Fight (Balloon Trip)