Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

bros

NOV
22
2017
0

#58 – Snow Brothers

This game is SNOW much fun!

These brothers slim down a bit during gameplay.

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game without continuing
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 9/11/17 – 9/19/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: Snow Brothers 1CC Longplay

There are several genres of games that I have had a fondness for from an early age. I cut my teeth on Super Mario Bros. and have always enjoyed platformers of that kind. The SNES affirmed my interest in RPGs, and although for the most part that didn’t carry over beyond that, those RPGs are still among my favorite games. The Adventures of Lolo games, as well as Tetris, paved the way for getting interested in many different types of puzzlers. As an adult, my tastes haven’t changed much, but they did get more refined. I discovered that I really enjoy games like Bubble Bobble, a single-screen arcade style platformer with a focus on clearing out all enemies to proceed to the next room. It’s a specific type of experience, but there are several titles that fit the bill. One of my favorite games in this style is Snow Brothers.

Snow Brothers was originally released in arcades in 1990, developed by Toaplan. It was later ported to the Game Boy, NES, Famicom, and the Mega Drive in Japan only. Each version has slight differences and enhancements. The NES and Famicom versions add story cutscenes at the start of the game. The Game Boy port is single player only, but ten levels were added. The Mega Drive version includes an expanded story and twenty additional levels from the original arcade game. The NES version of Snow Brothers was released in November 1991. It was published by Capcom and appears to be developed by Sol. I could not find much information on the web on Sol, but they are also credited with developing both NES Flintstones titles. Toaplan’s final game was Otenki Paradise in 1994, which was localized in the US as Snow Bros. 2: With New Elves. A third game under this name was created by a company called Syrtex Games in 2002 called Snow Brothers 3: Magical Adventure. It was never officially released and could potentially be a hack of the original arcade game.

Always saving the princesses in these games, sheesh.

The story of Snow Brothers is a basic one. King Scorch cursed brothers Nick and Tom by turning them into snowmen, and he also captured the princesses Teri and Tina because of course he does. It’s up to the brothers do to their thing and defeat the king to save their land. You can play Snow Brothers in single player with the blue-clad Nick, or play simultaneous two-player with the other player using Tom dressed in red. To beat the game and save the day, you must clear all 50 floors.

Snow Brothers is a single-screen arcade platformer. Just like Bubble Bobble, the object of the game is to defeat all enemies on screen so you can proceed up to the next floor. Use the D-pad to move Nick and Tom both left and right. The A button jumps, and the B button throws a handful of snow forward. The idea here is to throw enough snow on an enemy to encase it in a giant snowball. Then, you push the snowball and it rolls to the bottom of the screen and defeats the enemy inside. If the pushed snowball collides with other enemies on the ledges below, they also get defeated and will leave an item behind for you to collect.

The gameplay is both simple and straightforward, but there is some nuance to the mechanics that gives you some surprising versatility. You can jump up through floors allowing you to climb higher more easily. A pushed snowball disappears once it hits a wall on the ground level, and it rebounds off any other wall above. Sometimes you can get a snowball trapped within a ledge off the ground level and it will bounce back and forth a bit before vanishing on its own. You can have the snowball hit you and carry you along with it. While riding, you can either jump out early on your own or let the snowball run its course. Once you finish your ride, you will gain some brief invincibility. You can throw a bit of snow on an enemy to start the process of forming a snowball, briefly stunning the enemy in the process. As partially covered enemies sit there untouched, they slowly melt the snow until they can break out and freely move around again. You can defeat an enemy by running it over with a snowball even if it is partially covered, which is an effective strategy. If two full snowballs collide, they rebound off each other and both start descending which can knock out enemies on both sides of the stage if done right. Some levels have slopes and snowballs can roll up these hills with no problems. You can use a stationary snowball as a platform to reach higher ledges, and you can even lift a snowball by jumping into it from below. All these techniques give you plenty of ways to approach any challenge.

This early level has a great setup for teaching the player how to clear many baddies at once.

Bowling over enemies with a snowball will reveal some kind of item once the defeated enemy is removed from play. These stay on screen temporarily, but usually long enough for you to reach them across the stage if you go at them right away. Most of the time you get some sort of money or food item that gives you points, like candy or a slice of cake. What you really want are powerups. The manual for Snow Brothers calls them hot sauce, but they are clearly potions in jars as far as I’m concerned. The red potion gives you speed skates allowing you to move much faster. The blue potion lets you throw larger handfuls of snow so you can cover enemies with fewer shots. The yellow potion increases your throw distance, letting you heave snow over halfway across the screen. All three powerups stack together too, but you lose all of them if you die. Losing a fully powered character is quite a setback, but that’s just the nature of the game.

There are a couple of rare item drops that you should make sure to grab right away if you see one. The first of these is a green potion. Grab it to inflate Nick or Tom like a balloon. You can then fly freely across the level and simply run into enemies to defeat them. You should have plenty of time with this power to clear all enemies on screen. The second rare powerup is a white smiley face. This item changes the color of the background and temporarily replaces the normal enemies with these blue face enemies. Turning the blue enemy into a snowball displays a letter in the word “SNOW” and pushing it lets you acquire the letter. You will see a space at the top of the screen above your score showing which letters you have. Spell out SNOW for an extra life! You can also destroy the special enemies with a snowball for a large 30,000-point bonus.

There are several different enemies in the game. Most of them have some way of climbing around the level. Some enemies will attack you if you come near, a couple breath fire at you, some fly around, and so on. All normal enemies can be covered in snow and must be defeated. One neat thing you can try to do is clear all the enemies by pushing only one snowball. You can do this with a single snowball, or with more than one as long as you set up a chain reaction first. Defeating all the enemies at once causes some paper money to rain down to the bottom of the level. These disappear very quickly, but are worth either 10,000 or 20,000 points each. If you are playing for high score, you want as many of these as possible.

It doesn’t matter how cold it is, we’re making it rain!

There are two enemies that you cannot cover in snow. There is a sumo enemy appearing in the middle levels that doesn’t need to be killed. He sits at the top of the screen and is tough to reach. If you can pelt him with a little snow, he will go away and leave some paper money behind for big points. The enemy that can show up in any level is Pumpkin Head. This is a “hurry up” enemy that appears when you are spending too much time in a stage. He floats around slowly, but freely, and you can’t hurt him at all. After a little while, he will begin spawning invincible ghosts that home in on you. These spell certain death for Nick and Tom. The idea is to clear levels quickly enough so that you don’t have to deal with Pumpkin Head. The only two ways to get rid of him are to defeat all remaining enemies or let him or one of his ghosts kill you.

Every tenth level is a boss stage, so in this 50-stage game there are five bosses. These are your typical large enemies that take many hits to defeat. All of them generate smaller enemies which you turn into snowballs and send flying into the boss to do damage. You can also throw snow at them directly. I don’t know if that does damage or not, but you can earn a small amount of points for each direct hit. After each boss fight is a slot machine mini-game. There are three reels that each give you a bonus depending on where they stop. The reels contain a big X which gives you nothing, each of the four letters in the word “SNOW,” and a figure of Nick that gives you an extra life. Each letter you collect also nets you 10,000 points, and each extra life adds 50,000 points. It is possible to time the slots for specific outcomes, but it’s tricky to do so and I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Each reel needs time to slow down to a stop so you need to anticipate your mark early. It is also difficult to make out specific letters while the slots are going, but extra lives stand out more and that’s really what you want anyway.

You begin the game with only two extra lives. These can go by quickly when you are just starting out. The good news is that you get many continues. The manual states you get four continues, but you actually get nine. Upon losing your last life, the life counter at the top will blink and instead display the number of continues remaining. You resume play with three new lives exactly where you left off. In a two-player game the continues are shared, so lives are more precious here than in single-player.

I’ll take the red speedup potion any day!

I have a little history with Snow Brothers, and actually I give the game some credit for getting me back into game collecting. I first played the NES game as a rental at a babysitter’s house, so I probably played it soon after release. I enjoyed playing it, but that was the extent of my experience for many years. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but in 2013 we bought a house and I could display all my NES games properly for the first time. As I was getting everything set up at home, I got the urge to expand my collection. I owned around 250 NES games then, so there were plenty of fun individual games left to start looking for. My memories started to stir and the first game that came to mind was Snow Brothers. Unfortunately, this was also the exact moment I realized this collecting journey was not going to be cheap. You see, Snow Brothers is among the most expensive NES carts.

The cost of some individual games like Snow Brothers caused me to divert my attention toward buying games in bulk. I focused heavily on games that fell in the $15-$30 price range. I could make consistent progress through the deep middle ground in the NES set and often found these titles bundled with cheaper games to fill that part of the collection at the same time. That strategy paid off immensely because many of the $20 carts I bought soon became $50 titles or higher. I would eventually need a plan to buy all these high-end titles at the end.

I had nearly doubled my NES loose cart collection in what seemed like such a short time. I was doing a good job at tracking my total and noticed I was sitting on 499 total games. Lacking many of the most expensive carts, this was the perfect time to take a bulk-buying break and acquire something special for Game #500. The choice was easy; this was the time I would finally purchase Snow Brothers. My wife gave her blessing, and so I started searching. I am very price conscious and all I found were high-priced copies and sellers that wouldn’t budge. It seemed like a long time, but it only took a couple of weeks to find my mark. A new eBay listing for Snow Brothers showed up at $130 with best offer, and I worked the price down to $117.50 shipped. That was essentially market price at the time and I was glad to pay it. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but this was also the time I first purchased a screwdriver bit to open and clean cartridges. Better late than never! Snow Brothers was either the first or second cartridge I opened to clean those pins nice and shiny. I played through the game three or four times in my first week of ownership and then mostly left it on the shelf until now.

Snow Brothers features some pretty fun boss battles.

I have owned Snow Brothers for three years now, and I had no trouble beating the game again. The entire game takes around 30 minutes to beat. I needed only two continues and so I punched in an easy victory. Because I enjoy this game so much, I set out to beat the game using no continues simply as a fun challenge. This took a bit more effort but I didn’t find it all that difficult. I needed around five attempts and the failed ones all ended within the last 15 levels or so. The only reason it took me so long to finish the game between my first and last attempts was because it took me a week to make time for my next NES session.

To my surprise, Snow Brothers has an extended ending sequence if you clear the game on a single credit. I haven’t seen this distinction called out anywhere specifically, and I only found out about it once I beat the game this way on my own. I always shoot for the best ending on games like this, but I didn’t even know it applied to Snow Brothers until I saw it for myself. I’m sure I will find more secrets like this as I continue my deep dive into the library.

Snow Brothers is one of my favorite NES games, and it’s a shame is so expensive. Games of this nature can get repetitive, but Snow Brothers lasts just long enough to avoid mid-game burnout. The boss fights are fun and a nice change of pace, and the difficulty curve is even and fair. The graphics are clean and the music is good, although some of the tracks are repeated within the different groups of ten floors. The two-player mode is a blast to go through with a friend. It’s a great game for high score challenges too. I don’t like that it’s so expensive to buy, but it does make sense. The game is a true uncommon title that probably had a low print run, it was a later run NES game, and the game is fun. It fits the profile of an expensive game, as I like to say. Definitely check this one out even if you have to emulate it.

#58 – Snow Brothers

 
JAN
04
2017
0
Super Mario Bros. 2 Box Cover

#33 – Super Mario Bros. 2

Jump into the Mario game of your dreams!

You can already tell the game play will be a bit different!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 10/9/16 – 10/10/16
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: Super Mario Bros. 2 Longplay

I was pleasantly surprised to see Super Mario Bros. 2 at a mere 33 games into this project. This is also the first sequel covered on the blog! Despite significantly changing the style from the original game, this one is a classic NES game and a must play for anyone who may have passed on it back in the day.

Normally I would refer to the Super Mario Bros. post to recap the history of this game and series, but I went pretty skimpy on the words in that original entry and so it’s time to make up for it here. Nearly everyone knows about Mario and many people in all walks of life remember the groundbreaking NES platformer Super Mario Bros from 1985. Mario originally debuted in the arcade smash hit Donkey Kong in 1981, though he was known at the time as Jumpman. He joined with his brother Luigi in Mario Bros in 1983, but it was Super Mario Bros that really put Mario in the limelight. The iconic plumber has more or less been the mascot for Nintendo ever since. Mario is the star of around 20 platformer style games but has also been the poster child for the Mario Party series, the Mario Kart series, several sports games, and more. Include the spinoffs games from all the supporting characters and there are dozens and dozens more games based around the universe of the one and only Mario.

Nintendo designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka quickly set out to create a sequel to Super Mario Bros, but this is not the sequel that we know of in the US. Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Famicom Disk System was released in 1986 and expands on the concepts of the original game. Luigi is a playable character here with a higher jump but slippier momentum on the ground. The game is perhaps best known for its high level of difficulty compare to its predecessor. Nintendo deemed it too difficult for American audiences and decided not to release it in the US. They instead decided to take one of their other games, Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic, and update it into a game with Mario characters. This became our Super Mario Bros 2.

No goombas here!

The series in both Japan and the US would converge again with Super Mario Bros. 3 which was identical between the regions. Nintendo would eventually embrace both Super Mario Bros. 2 games in all regions. The original Super Mario Bros. 2 on FDS was eventually released on the Super Nintendo as part of Super Mario All Stars. Here it was named Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. The American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was released on the Famicom in 1992 and renamed as Super Mario USA. Super Mario Bros. 2 also made it to handhelds in 2001 as the Game Boy Advance launch title Super Mario Advance with a few more enhancements.

Now let’s talk about the NES title! Super Mario Bros. 2 is a side-scrolling platformer game. Mario comes across a land named Subcon in his dreams that he eventually discovers is real. He brings along Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool and they set out to save Subcon from the evil frog Wart.

At the start of each level you may choose from any one of the four playable characters. Once a character is chosen you must use that character until either the level is cleared or you lose all your lives. Each character has different traits and abilities that come in handy depending on the situation. Mario is the straight average character. Luigi jumps the highest with a slow, loopy flutter jump but he is a bit weaker than Mario. Toad is both the strongest and the fastest –especially when carrying an item — but he has the weakest jump. The Princess is the weakest character but she has the very useful ability to float in midair for a few seconds during a jump.

The princess’ float ability is very useful!

The game has standard platformer controls. Use Left and Right on the D-Pad to walk. Press Up and Down and climb ladders or vines. You can also press Up to enter doors and press Down to duck. The A button is for jumping and the B button is for running when held down. The B button also lets you pick up an item or an enemy. You can carry it around for awhile and later throw it with the B button. There is also a special move called the Power Squat Jump. Press and hold down to duck and after ducking for long enough you will start to flash. Jump while flashing to perform a very high jump.

In this game you cannot defeat enemies by simply jumping on them. In fact most enemies can be ridden safely with no damage to either you or them. When riding on an enemy you can pick it up and toss it into another enemy to defeat both of them. You will find grass on the ground all over the place in this game. You can stand on top of the grass and pluck it out of the ground to reveal an item. Most of the time this will be a vegetable that you can throw into enemies, and these come in ripe and unripe varieties. Other times it will be a useful item. You can find turtle shells that slide along the ground when thrown killing enemies just as in the original Super Mario Bros. Bombs will detonate after a few seconds so you need to get rid of them quickly, but they are useful for destroying crumbled blocks to open up passages. Occasionally you will find a Bob-Omb enemy that explodes almost instantly. You can also find 1up mushrooms that give you an extra life. If you happen to pull four ripe vegetables in a level, the fifth one will be replaced with a stopwatch that freezes all the enemies in place for a little while.

The most important item you find from a plant is a magic potion. Throw it into the ground to create a door leading to Sub-space. This is a shadowy, mirrored version of the current screen where the scrolling is locked into place. Here is where you will sometimes find a large mushroom that expands your life meter when you pick it up. You start each level with two points of health and there are two mushrooms in nearly every level that help increase your maximum health to four. These mushrooms are always in the same location when you play so you will need to enter Sub-space near where the mushroom is hidden to be able to grab it. Also in Sub-space any plants you pull up will reveal coins which I will explain what they are used for a little later. You can collect coins in Sub-space only twice per stage. Sub-space ends on its own after a short while unless you go back through the door, returning you back to the normal level to continue your journey.

Some places have both a mushroom and a lot of coins.

There are other useful items that are out in the open. Cherries can be found floating all over the levels. Collect five of them to spawn an invincibility Starman which rises up from the bottom of the screen. For every five enemies you defeat, a small heart will appear that restores one point of health. POW blocks shake the entire screen when thrown on the ground defeating every enemy touching the ground. Mushroom blocks can be thrown over and over again. You can use them to defeat enemies or stack them on top of each other to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. There are also keys that will unlock a nearby door, but beware of Phanto chasing you around whenever you carry the key.

At the end of each level, you must grab a crystal ball to open the mouth of a giant bird head. Usually the crystal ball is carried by the recurring mini-boss Birdo, but in some cases you find it alone. Proceed through the open bird mouth to clear the stage. It’s definitely weird the first time! Here you get to play a bonus chance slot machine game to earn extra lives. Each coin you collect in Sub-space gives you a chance at the slot machine. If you match three of the same icon you get an extra life. Cherries show up here and they award a little differently. If you get a cherry in the first slot you get one life, if you get cherries in the first two slots you get two lives, and if you get all three cherries you get five lives. It is possible to skillfully stop the slots in order to get the best prizes, and if you play well during the game you will have dozens of opportunities to try.

The last level in each world contains a boss battle at the end. There are five bosses in total. Mouser is a large rodent that tosses bombs at you. Tryclyde is a three-headed fire breathing snake. Fryguy is a floating plumb of fire. Clawgrip is a crab that throws rocks. The final boss Wart is a giant frog that shoots deadly bubbles at you. You won’t attack these bosses directly but fight them with the means given to you inside the boss chambers. The fights can be difficult but I find them to be interesting to play.

Fight fire with … mushroom blocks?

There are 20 levels in Super Mario Bros. 2 over 7 different worlds. Each world has an overall graphical theme but the levels themselves often deviate into other caves and areas. There are three levels within each of the first six worlds, and World 7 only has two stages to round out the 20 levels. You start the game with three lives and you are only allowed to continue twice if you run out of lives. The game is pretty long with no passwords or saving, though there are four hidden warp points that will bump you ahead in the game if you are able to find them. The lack of lives and continues does make the game pretty challenging overall, though this is mitigated by collecting coins and getting either skilled or lucky at the slot machine.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of the earliest NES games I had growing up, so I have spent a lot of time playing it through the years. I have a relatively good memory of the game overall aside from many of the mushroom locations, but I am good enough at the game that I can get by without them. I knew this one would be pretty easy for me to clear once I sat down to play it.

To spice things up for my run of the game I used a random number generator on the side while playing to help select the character for each level of the game. It made things a little harder as some of the levels are best suited for one particular character. I ended up getting the Princess the most often though each character got a few stages of play. It was not a great run of the game for me as I feel I died far too often, but I managed to spread those deaths out enough that it wasn’t too repetitive. I captured footage of my playthrough and decided to edit out a bit of the backtracking after some deaths for my upload to YouTube. It really wasn’t necessary and maybe only saved a couple of minutes overall on the video.

Toad is not the best suited for tiny jumps like this.

I had a couple of interesting things happen during my run worth pointing out. During the Fryguy boss fight, we both defeated each other at the same time. I got the exit door to spawn during the death animation which was kind of cool. I had to do the battle over again though. I also triggered a glitch that I wasn’t aware of. In the second to last level, I managed to throw a mushroom block inside of a ladder. When that happens the mushroom overwrites the ladder tile but the color palette for that location stays intact, so the mushroom is the same color of the ladder until it is picked back up. I almost got it stuck in a spot where I couldn’t get through. That would have meant replaying the game from the start but I avoided that. A little further ahead I got another mushroom block stuck into the top of the ladder where I could pick it back up. I got it all captured on video!

Super Mario Bros. 2 provided a lot of new characters that persisted in future Mario games, such as Birdo, Shyguys, and Bob-Ombs. It also gave new life and personality to Luigi, Toad, and the Princess. Each of those characters has starred in their own game as well as had major supporting roles in other mainstream Mario titles and spin-offs. This game really left a lasting impression. I don’t think that it is publicly regarded as well as it should be and if true that’s a shame. Super Mario Bros. 2 is not just a good Mario game but a good game period and it’s one that should not be missed.

Super Mario Bros. 2 Ending Screen

#33 – Super Mario Bros 2.

 
MAY
27
2016
0

Loads of Site Updates

One advantage of having the blog format is that it is very easy to make updates to both correct information and add new content where appropriate. I have been focusing so much on writing up my recent game finishes as well as actually playing the games that I have been neglecting several updates to correct and clarify some things. I will always be picking up new and interesting information on NES games and some of that will make its way back to the blog. Now is a good time to post all the updates that I finally got around to writing!

These are the changes I made:

  • Dates played have been added to all completed NES games.
  • Difficulty rankings have been added to all completed NES games. I added them to the posts for Super Mario Bros, Contra, and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! In addition, I added a small paragraph to the end of each of those posts explaining my difficulty assessment a bit. Definitely go back and check them out!
  • The Tetris post has a new paragraph about the documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters. I also included a new paragraph about my decision for the difficulty rating.
  • The Castlevania post has a new paragraph about the difficulty loops.
  • The Lemmings post has a new paragraph about the developer.

 
I am still working every day on Ikari Warriors. I have been getting much better at repeating Level 1 and I am starting to make headway in Level 2. If Level 2 is roughly the same length as Level 1, then I estimate that I have reached the midpoint of the second stage on my best attempt. It’s a little bit sad that I have been playing for a little over a month and I haven’t even beaten the first half of the game yet, but it just goes to show how difficult and unrelenting this NES port really is. Since I started playing I have only skipped one day of making attempts and I am going to try my best to keep at it every day until I beat it.

Next week I will have an all new full length blog post about a new topic. I have decided what the next post will be written about and I think it will be a nice diversion while I keep working on my main goal. In two weeks I will have another progress report on Ikari Warriors with hopefully some good news!

 
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