Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

boy

APR
07
2017
0

#40 – Paperboy

Delivering the fun!

The newspaper title screen was a great choice!

To Beat: Complete Sunday to reach the ending
Played: 11/28/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Paperboy Longplay

Today we have another arcade conversion on the NES. These types of ports tend to have varying quality, but I see Paperboy on NES as a well done game. It may not be the definitive version of the game, but I do think that the game is best known on the NES. It is still a popular title today and a fun game to pick up and play anytime.

Paperboy was released in the arcades in 1985. It was both developed and published by Atari Games. The arcade game is housed in an upright cabinet that features a set of handlebars used to control the game. The game was ported to almost twenty different computers, home consoles, and handhelds. The NES port of Paperboy was released in November 1988 and published by Mindscape. There are two sequels to the game. The first is the aptly named Paperboy 2 which debuted in 1991 on home consoles including the NES. The second is the Nintendo 64 game also called Paperboy. There have also been several re-releases of the original Paperboy on systems such as the Game Boy Color, Playstation 2, Xbox 360, and mobile.

In Paperboy, you play the role of a young boy making the rounds on a daily paper route. The object of the game is to deliver newspapers to a series of homes on a two-block street using his trusty bicycle to ensure the deliveries are made in time. There is only one level in the game but you repeat it for every day of the week, which makes for seven levels in total. You win the game if you survive a week’s worth of newspaper delivery.

Get used to this street because you will see it a lot.

When you start the game you see an overhead map of the street. One at a time, blue homes will appear in random locations on the left side of the street. These are subscribers to the newspaper. The remaining spaces on the map are filled in with red houses representing non-subscribers. Logically, you want to deliver papers to the subscribers and ignore the non-subscribers.

The controls are very simple. Use the D-Pad to steer your bike. You can go left and right, speed up by pressing Up, and brake by pressing Down. You can grind and squeal your brakes all you want, but you cannot come to a complete stop and must always keep moving ahead. You toss newspapers with either the A button or B button. The Start button pauses the game, and the Select button only comes into play on the title screen for choosing either 1 Player or 2 Player mode. Multiplayer in Paperboy is alternating play.

The game utilizes an oblique perspective in gameplay which is not often seen. It resembles a three-quarters view a little bit. The street you are riding travels upward while slanting to the right, and the playfield scrolls in that same direction. The houses are all modeled in this view giving them a pseudo-3D appearance. The graphics may not be mindblowing, but they are both presentable and suitable for this game.

As stated above, the objective each day is to deliver papers to subscribers. While the subscriber houses appear blue on the introductory map, during gameplay they are either white, blue, or yellow. The non-subscriber homes are always red, so just by color it is easy to tell if you should deliver a paper to a home. To successfully deliver a paper, you must throw it and land it either at the front door or in the mailbox. If successful, a sound effect will play and you will be awarded points.

The newspaper in the mailbox is the best outcome.

Paperboy is primarily a score attack game, and so there are quite a few ways to earn points aside from successful deliveries. There are several objects in the game that you can strike with papers that will award points. There are garbage cans, tombstones, and lamps that you can demolish to add to your score. The most fun way to earn points is to smash a paper through the window of a non-subscriber. Most homes in the game have several windows facing the street providing many opportunities to cause some damage and pad your score.

Your bicycle can only hold up to ten newspapers at one time. In the upper-left corner of the screen you can see how many papers you are holding, as well as how many lives you have and your current score. There is a balancing act between saving enough papers to serve your subscribers while throwing them at all the various targets and windows for points. As you bike up the street you will occasionally find a bundle of newspapers that you can pick up by riding over them. The bundles always restock you to the full ten papers. These extra newspapers are scarce in the beginning of the week and more than plentiful by the end of the week. It makes sense that early on you want to be more conservative to get a feel of the neighborhood before going all out for points toward the end.

Other than the level layout, there are many obstacles that stand in your way of a successful day. Many houses have static objects in the yard such as fences, doghouses, signposts, and fire hydrants. More dangerous are the moving objects. There are various people and children that either hang out in their yard or move around. There’s a skateboarder that appears quickly down the sidewalk. There’s a runaway tire that comes down a driveway and veers down toward you. One of the more annoying obstacles is a dog that will give chase as soon as you pass by, but fortunately you can stymie him with a newspaper. There is also a mini-tornado and the Grim Reaper himself that appear later in the week. As the game progresses there are more obstacles that appear at once making it more difficult to pass through and finish the day. If you collide with anything you crash your bike and lose a life. You resume play near where you crashed your bike.

Crashes are pretty painful!

At the end of the street is a training course that acts as a bonus stage. You get unlimited papers and there are targets that you can hit with them that bestow a few points. Aside from that, there are ramps, puddles, walls, and a moving ramp that is tricky to get the hang of clearing. There is also a timer that begins at 45 seconds, but it is more than enough time for the course. If you crash here you don’t lose a life, but you end the level right away. If you make it to the end you meet a small crowd cheering you on and you are awarded 100 points for each second remaining on the timer.

After the training course the map of the street appears displaying all the houses on your route and your results for the day. If you fail to deliver a paper to a subscriber or accidentally break one of their windows, you lose them as a subscriber and their house blinks on the map to indicate their change in status. The residents get so sad when they don’t get their paper that they not only cancel their subscription, but they paint their entire home red so that you know not to give them a paper anymore, unless you want to put some through their window for points! If you retain all your subscribers for the day, then you get a new subscriber and their house changes color from red to one of the other colors.

For the entire game, you get three additional lives to work with, and there are no ways to earn extra lives. This makes the game challenging to beat even though you get used to the few house layouts very quickly. If you lose all your lives, the game ends with a newspaper and the headline “Paperboy Calls It Quits.” You also lose the game if you lose all your subscribers. You are taken to the high score screen where you can put in your initials and try again.

What a show-off!

I have owned Paperboy since childhood, so it has gotten a lot of playtime over the years. We got it secondhand and I don’t remember how we acquired it. It is a common cart and I have had several copies of it that I pick up in lots. I don’t remember if I ever beat the game as a kid, but if not I did get deep into the game at least. Paperboy came up as a game in the NA weekly contest, and during those plays I have beaten the game a few times and have gotten increasingly better at improving my score.

My official Paperboy finish for this project was the best run I have ever had to date. I got to Saturday in my first attempt and then cleared the game on the next try. I had a couple of lame crashes early in the game and then I got on a roll and breezed through the rest of the game. My final score was 152,250 and that is a personal best! I do wish I had a crashless run, but maybe that is something I can tackle in the future. There’s room for score improvement as well.

While trying to play this game for points, I learned of a few tricks to optimize scoring. Since both the A button and B button throw papers, you can press both buttons at almost the same time to throw two papers very close together. Doing this, it is possible to land both papers inside the mailbox for double points. This works in some other places as well, such as the training course targets. I do some of this in my run to boost my score. There are some houses where you can get two in the mailbox and at least one paper at the door, but I didn’t try doing that myself.

Paperboy is a classic arcade game that is right at home on the NES. It is a simple game that has a surprising amount of depth for someone interested in going for high scores. The graphics are simplistic, and there is only one song that loops continuously, but I don’t find that they detract from the game. Paperboy is great for picking up whenever there’s time to kill. This is another example of a game that would be a good fit in any NES collection.

#40 – Paperboy

#40 – Paperboy (Final Score)

 
JUL
01
2016
0
Crystal Quest Box Cover

Game Boy #2 – Crystal Quest

I thought I was getting some kind of RPG, but I ended up with an arcade game instead!

The title screen is misleading too, but it works!

The title screen is misleading too, but it works!

To Beat: Set the high score
To Complete: Beat Wave 99
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 6/28/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Crystal Quest caught me a bit by surprise in a number of ways. I was not expecting to be writing a Game Boy post right now, but circumstances can be a funny thing sometimes and so here we are. I didn’t know anything about the game until just last week, but when I saw the cart I figured it would be something I would want to have for my collection. When I ended up with was not the game I was guessing I would get, but it turned out to be a fun little diversion that took me almost no time at all to complete.

It all started last week while looking at game lots for sale on eBay. I am always keeping an eye out for good deals as well as games to add to my ever growing collection. One listing I found was for a small Game Boy lot that included Crystal Quest. This was the first time I had ever seen the game while looking at Game Boy games over the last several months. It looked intriguing just based on the cover art alone. I put it in my watch list and hemmed and hawed about buying it before deciding to let the auction end without placing a bit.

I still wanted to know more about the game so I did a little bit of research about the gameplay. Surprising to me, this game with the word Quest in the title was actually an arcade shooter. I hopped on over to eBay and found a copy for under $7 shipped, and when researching prices it seemed to be worth around $10, so that was enough for me to take the plunge and pick up a new game for the collection.

Yep, definitely not an RPG!

Yep, definitely not an RPG!

I received the cart earlier in the week along with a few other games I had ordered. I opened up and cleaned the carts like I always do, and then later on I fired the games up to test them out. When I got to Crystal Quest, I played through a few levels only to lose all of my lives rather quickly. Rather than putting it away, I decided to go for one more try. All of a sudden, I had that beautiful moment where the game clicked with me. I played and played and I got to the point where I could play indefinitely, which is about as good as it gets for an endless game like Crystal Quest. It started with cart testing time, and it ended up with the base for a new blog post!

Crystal Quest was originally released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh and the Apple IIgs. It was developed by Patrick Buckland and published by Casady & Greene. The game is notable for being the first game in color for the Macintosh. Crystal Quest is loosely based on the Atari 800 XL game Crystal Raider, which is a platformer instead of a shooter style game but with a similar premise. There would later be a sequel released in 1993 named Crystal Crazy, and much later in 2006 Crystal Quest was ported to the Xbox 360 on the Xbox Live Arcade. A Kickstarter was launched in 2015 to create a new version of the game, but unfortunately it did not meet its funding goal. The Game Boy version I played was released in September 1991, published by Data East, and developed by Novalogic.

Crystal Quest is a top down arcade shooter with a very simple goal. You pilot a spaceship inside an arena that is scattered with crystals. The goal is to collect all the crystals and escape through the hatch that opens at the bottom of the screen. That sounds simple, but of course there are obstacles designed to prevent you from easily clearing the room. Randomly strewn on the screen are mines that will explode the ship if touched. There are also two hatches. One is on the left side of the screen and the other on the right side, and they spawn various types of enemies. Each wave consists of a single screen of randomly placed crystals and mines, and the enemies will keep flowing until you escape to the next wave.

Death is pretty common in this game.

Death is pretty common in this game.

The controls are really simple. Use the D-pad to move in any direction. Press the A button to fire a bullet, and press the B button to use a bomb. The movement in the game is very inertia heavy so it is pretty easy to slide around all over the place. Pressing in the opposite direction to slow down is an essential skill. The shooting in this game is unique in that the bullets go in exactly the same direction as the ship is moving. For instance, to fire right means having to move to the right. That makes it challenging to attack enemies coming directly toward you. Even more strange is that shooting without moving at all will place a stationary bullet as sort of a makeshift mine.

The bombs are very powerful weapons that wipe out all of the enemies on the screen. Of course bombs like this can only be used a limited number of times so they must be used conservatively. There are bomb icons in the levels that can be collected to add a bomb to the supply. These turn out to be crucial in keeping alive through as many waves as possible.

There are several different enemy types that will stand in the way of completing the level. They are very tiny sprites and it is typically difficult to distinguish exactly how they will move and attack by sight alone. I just observed them for a second to see how they would attack instead. Some enemies shoot, some enemies home in on you, some enemies drop mines, some randomly bounce around the screen, and so on.

Ride the wave!

Ride the wave!

Crystal Quest is primarily a score attack game and as a result there are several ways to earn points. Collecting crystals and killing enemies give a small amount of points. There are diamonds sometimes dispersed in the level that are there to provide a nice point boost. Occasionally a large diamond will appear that appears to be an enemy at first, but it can be collected and it is worth a lot of points. After the wave is completed, there is a time bonus that depends on how long it takes to complete the wave. The score starts out adding up slowly but it really ramps up after about a dozen stages or so.

There are 99 Waves total in Crystal Quest. I know that because I got to Wave 99 and after beating it the game just loops Wave 99 over and over until you quit or run out of lives. Every 15 waves or so there is a small cutscene where a bug gets shot and explodes, and you are rewarded with a one-word attaboy like “Radical” or “Awesome.” Eventually these cutscenes cease once the Wave 99 loop starts. At some point, the escape hatch start moving back and forth along the bottom of the screen which adds a little extra challenge to slipping out of the arena at the end.

I found that the game takes a little bit of practice to get used to, but after that the Waves become really short. It doesn’t take long to start making good progress into the game. Crystal Quest is also very generous with extra lives doled out at a regular pace. I couldn’t discern any sort of pattern of when I would get an extra life but I would earn one at least every other level, and so I could earn lives faster than I could spend them. At the very least I could maintain roughly the same number of lives. The bombs worked the same way so I never ran out of them or even got particularly low.

The high scores may seem out of reach but they are managable.

The high scores may seem out of reach but they are managable.

I developed a good strategy for playing Crystal Quest. I would sweep each level counter-clockwise starting with the right side of the screen. Early on I stopped shooting altogether in favor of collecting the crystals and exiting the stage as quickly as possible. If I got into any trouble I dropped a bomb and kept moving. This was tricky when collecting crystals around the side enemy hatches. Usually activating a single bomb as I approached the left hatch and quickly flying through seemed to do the trick most of the time.

With repeating that strategy, I reached Wave 99 in a little over a half hour with about 5 million points. I figured that the score would either cap or loop at 9,999,999 so I kept going until then. As it turns out the score keeps tallying above 10 million points, so I called it quits shortly after that. There’s no way I wanted to spend several more hours in an attempt to max out the score just to see what happens!

Endless games are always a challenge to pin on a winning condition. There are several options and there’s a good argument for every one of them, but I had to choose something so this is what I decided. I like to choose the point where all the levels are completed, but that does fit well here since the level layouts are completely random. Beating Wave 99 seems a little excessive to me, so I opted to use that as the Completed winning condition. The next option is either setting the high score or finding where the difficulty maxes out. I decided upon setting the high score as the winning condition since Crystal Quest looks to be all about getting a high score. The high score on the hall of fame screen is 1,750,000, so exceeding that score is the minimum to consider the game beaten in my opinion.

Crystal Quest is a fine option to pick up and play for a few minutes every now and then, but there’s not really enough to the game to want to play it any more than that. It’s a competent game for sure, but I feel that it’s not worth seeking out unless it’s really cheap. I had a fun time with it however so it was worth the cost to me!

Game Boy #2 - Crystal Quest

Game Boy #2 – Crystal Quest

Game Boy #2 - Crystal Quest (High Score)

Game Boy #2 – Crystal Quest (High Score)

 
JUN
03
2016
0
Super Mario Land Box Cover

Game Boy #1 – Super Mario Land

Let’s begin this spinoff series with the first handheld Mario adventure!

Mario sure looks ready to get going!

Mario sure looks ready to get going!

To Beat: Reach the end credits
To Complete: Beat both difficulty loops
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game

Take On The NES Library is bringing Game Boy games into the fold! This is the first of many games I will be covering that fall outside my overall goal for the site. Now there are plenty of NES games to choose outside of just the US licensed set, and I have many unlicensed, homebrew, PAL exclusives, and Famicom games to pick from. Game Boy games may seem like an odd choice at first blush, but they are true 8-bit games that often run alongside NES counterparts. They are also much easier for me to pick up and play in between other games. Lately, I have been working on my Game Boy cart collection and so I have some momentum to try out and play through some of my recently acquired finds.

My plan for secondary content such as this runs similar to my posts on NES licensed games in content, though the aim is to make these shorter entries. (Though I tend to ramble on when I get writing, so maybe not!) I will still be beating the games before writing about them. The big difference here is instead of going off of a preset, random list, I am picking whatever I want to play! I will however play game series in order and I will hold off on selecting games that have NES versions until after I cover the NES game. For instance, I won’t be playing through the Famicom exclusive Gradius II until after I write about Gradius on NES. There are plenty of exclusive games that aren’t bound by that restriction so I won’t be short of options.

For playing Game Boy games, my handheld of choice is the Game Boy Advance SP. In particular, I have the later version model AGS-101 that has a backlit screen instead of the early version front light model. The screen is very bright and clear and I find it hard to play Game Boy games on any other model after using it. From the Game Boy Color system on up, you can select a color palette to use for older Game Boy games by way of a button combination on system startup. There are 12 pre-defined palettes. My preference is the grayscale palette and that is selected by holding Left and B before the game starts. These are the same colors that the Game Boy Pocket screen displays and I find it to be the most natural look.

I think that covers what my plan is. With all that out of the way, it’s time to dive into Super Mario Land!

A tiny world and a tiny adventure awaits!

A tiny world and a tiny adventure awaits!

Super Mario Land was a launch title for the Game Boy worldwide. It was released in April 1989 in Japan, August 1989 in North America, and September 1990 in Europe. The game was developed by Nintendo’s R&D1 department and was the first Mario game not developed by its creator Shigeru Miyamoto. The game was originally slated to be the pack-in game with the original Game Boy system, but Nintendo changed direction and included Tetris instead. Super Mario Land sold incredibly well with over 18 million copies purchased in spite of the fact that Tetris seems to be the main reason for moving Game Boy hardware.

Super Mario Land is set in the world of Sarasaland where Mario sets off to save Princess Daisy from the evil Tatanga. The game plays very much like Super Mario Bros but quite literally on a smaller scale. Several early Game Boy games used very tiny character sprites to maximize the miniscule Game Boy screen’s real estate, and that is the case in Super Mario Land. There’s plenty of room to see what’s ahead and you never feel crowded. There are many familiar mechanics here that fall in line with the NES games. Pipes will occasionally hide coin rooms. There are mushrooms to make Mario big and fire flowers to provide additional attack power. Invincibility stars are here and they work the same as in the NES games. It looks and feels just like a console Mario game.

Nintendo’s R&D1 team implemented a number of tweaks to the core gameplay that differentiate Super Mario Land from the other Mario platformers. For instance, there are Koopa Troopas in the game but when you jump on them you cannot kick the shell. Instead, it explodes like a bomb causing damage to Mario. His bouncing fireball attack is replaced with a Super Ball. It reflects off surfaces at a 45-degree angle and flies around without being affected by gravity. It also collects coins on contact which is useful for grabbing coins far out of Mario’s reach. The end-of-level flagpole is replaced with a pair of exits. The top exit is harder to reach but the reward is a bonus game where you can collect extra lives or a fire flower upgrade.

Every Mario game needs an underground level.

Every Mario game needs an underground level.

There are 12 levels in the game with three levels in each of the four worlds. Just about every level is in a unique location which keeps the game fresh. There is an Egyptian themed tomb level, a Moai-head level, a spider-infested cave, and even a Japanese themed level. The most unique levels are the final levels in Worlds 2 and 4 where the game switches from a platformer to a side-scrolling shooter. In 2-3 Mario guides a submarine underwater and in 4-3 Mario takes to the skies in an airplane. They play quite well and the levels are an interesting change of pace from the typical action.

The last level of each world contains a boss battle at the end. Each of the bosses are unique, however the four of them fall into two basic types. The World 1 and World 3 bosses are the Bowser-style fights where you just have to get behind them and hit a switch. The World 2 and World 4 bosses are in the shooter stages and there you get to gun them down and dodge shots. There is a final boss fight with Tatanga as well.

Super Mario Bros may be the quintessential Game Boy game but it was one that I did not own for quite a long time after getting a Game Boy. I was able to borrow it from friends often enough that I got very familiar with the game without owning it. With so many copies out there it is one of the easiest Game Boy games to find so I did eventually get one of my own.

The shooter segments are pretty neat!

The shooter segments are pretty neat!

I haven’t played Super Mario Land in many years, but as the old adage goes it is just like riding a bike. The game isn’t all that challenging and I was able to clear the game in 20-30 minutes. I did make a lot of mistakes leading to deaths which probably shouldn’t have happened, but even then I ended the game with double-digit lives remaining. Once the game is beaten, you can restart the game and play it at a higher difficulty. The level layout is the same but the enemy placements have changed with more monsters to deal with overall. I think some of the moving platforms were shrunk down too but I’m not completely sure. The second playthrough is only just a bit harder than the first in my opinion. After the second time through the game, there is a stage select option on the title screen. I’m not sure why you would want to play the stage of your choice after playing through the game twice in one sitting, but the option is there! I always used it to play the airplane stage over and over.

One notable quality of Super Mario Land is the music. Each song is just great and even more impressive coming from one of the earliest games on the Game Boy. Here is a video that covers the entire soundtrack and it’s worth a listen for sure.

Super Mario Land is an excellent Game Boy game and one of the essentials to any Game Boy collection. The game is a lot of fun to play and it holds up very well all while maintaining its own identity with mechanics and such not seen in many other Mario games. It’s too bad the game is on the short side and fairly easy to beat, but that makes it a great choice for a game to pick and up play once in awhile.

Super Mario Land Ending Screen

Game Boy #1 – Super Mario Land