Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#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

Gyruss Box Cover

#34 – Gyruss

Go ahead … give it a spin!

Yay starfield!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Complete 2 Loops (maybe 3?)
My Goal: Beat 2 loops
What I Did: Reached about halfway through Loop 2
Played: 10/16/16 – 10/17/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Gyruss Longplay

One way I have seen people try and describe a game is by forming it in terms of one or more other games that have shared elements. For instance, the term Metroidvania is widely used to describe a game that contains elements of both Metroid and Castlevania. Even though these comparisons may not always be the best, I think I can sum up Gyruss in this way. A cross between Galaga and Tempest, Gyruss is a fun shoot-em-up that is unlike anything else on the NES.

Gyruss originally is a 1983 arcade game developed by Konami. It was designed by Yoshiki Okamoto. He worked on only two games for Konami, Gyruss and Time Pilot. The arcade version was also published by Konami in Japan and Centuri in the US. Gyruss was later ported to five other home platforms by Parker Brothers. The NES version is not an arcade port, but a complete remake of the game by Konami. It was first released in Japan on the Famicom Disk System in November 1988 and in North America on the NES in February 1989, published by Ultra Games.

This is probably a good time to explain the relationship between Konami and Ultra Games. Nintendo decided to implement strict licensing agreements with companies that wanted to release games on the NES, and one of their policies was that companies were allowed to produce no more than five titles on the system per year. These policies were not in effect on the Famicom and some companies such as Konami were releasing many more titles. To get around the restriction, Konami created a separate publishing label named Ultra Games that received its own allotment of five games per year. So when you see Ultra Games on a cart you know the game is really developed and published by Konami. Nintendo certainly did a lot of hand waving here to let Konami release extra games, but I won’t complain since for the most part it works to our benefit!

Quite the generic story!

As I mentioned earlier, Gyruss borrows elements from both Galaga and Tempest. The game play is similar to Galaga in that each level has a few waves of enemies that enter in and all of them must be eliminated to proceed to the next stage. However the style is a tunnel shooter very reminiscent of the arcade hit Tempest. Your spaceship can orbit in a fixed circular path around the screen and enemies sit in the center of the screen moving outward toward your ship.

To beat the game, you must clear all 39 levels. You do this by planet hopping every four levels starting from Neptune going all the way to Mercury, and finally finishing off at the Sun. You can logically break down the level structure in groups of four. The game begins as you approach Neptune with the text “3 Warps to Neptune.” This level is the basic level type where four waves of enemies fly into the stage and you must defeat all of the enemies to warp to the next level. The second level “2 Warps to Neptune” has the same four enemy waves but with four enemy bases stationed in the middle of the screen. These take a lot of firepower to destroy so this type of level takes a little longer. The third level is “1 Warp to Neptune” which mirrors the first stage and includes a boss battle at the end. After reaching Neptune, the fourth level is a Chance Stage which plays out just like the Challenging Stages in Galaga. Here you get different enemy formations than the previous levels but the enemies cannot hurt you and your only goal is to defeat as many of them as you can for a point bonus at the end of the stage. This set of four stages repeats with the approach to each planet. There is no Chance Stage after the final boss so that sets the level count at 39.

When you begin the game you have the option of selecting either Control A or Control B. These determine how your control the movement of your ship. Control A boils down to pushing the D-pad in the direction you want to move regardless of where you are on the screen. So if you want to move to the left, you press left and you will travel the shortest path to the left side of the screen. If you keeping holding left you eventually will lock your ship in the farthest left position which can be handy at times. You can use up, down, left, and right to move to whichever side of the screen you want. Control B only utilizes left and right on the D-pad. Press left to move clockwise and press right to move counter-clockwise. Up and down do not do anything in this control mode. I have always used Control A and in my opinion I find it way more intuitive and useful than Control B. I think the only benefit to Control B is that you get continuous movement all around the screen by only having to hold down one direction on the D-pad.

Knowing where the enemies spawn helps you clear stages quickly.

You have two different types of attacks in Gyruss. The standard unlimited bullets are fired with the B button. You have a limited-use phaser attack by pressing A button. The phaser is a concentrated blast of fire at one position on the screen that plows through just about anything in its path. When you fire a phaser the screen pauses briefly for you to charge up and fire off the shot which is a nice touch to demonstrate the power of this attack.

There are a few powerups to help along the way. During the standard levels, a formation of three enemies in a row will appear on screen. The two outer enemies are cross shaped and the middle one is generally a powerup. The blue cross item upgrades your standard shot to a double shot. The orange cross item adds an extra phaser shot to your reserves. There is a round item with an orange center that gives you points. The round item with a blue center automatically destroys all enemies on screen aside from the enemy bases in the “2 Warps” levels. There is also a 1-up item that gives you an extra life. You also earn an extra life at 50,000 points and for every 100,000 points after that. You can have a maximum of seven lives and seven phaser shots in reserve.

The Chance Stages all have five formations of eight enemies for forty enemies in total. A few of the enemies in these formations will be a different color than the rest. These enemies bestow a powerup when destroyed so these bonus levels are good for upgrading if you get lucky enough with the item drops. You also get 100 points at the end of the level for each enemy you destroy. If you get all 40 enemies you get a 20,000 point bonus instead. Performing well at these stages goes a long way toward earning lives at a fast enough pace to keep going in the game.

That hairy blob enemy is really annoying.

The approach to each planet typically contains a unique enemy type or two in addition to the standard set of enemies across all levels. As an example, the approach to Neptune has indestructible asteroids that fly in a straight path at you. These special enemies can complicate clearing levels because they also must be dealt with before you can finish the stage. Several of them are shielded or have complicated movements, and that means they tend to linger around for awhile until you can defeat them. Others you simply have to wait out until they go away. You will have to learn what to do for each enemy to make progress in the game.

As mentioned previously Gyruss has a boss battle before warping to each planet. About half of these bosses are the same type consisting of a core surrounded by pods. These pods open up to shoot at you and that’s the only time they are vulnerable. The boss is defeated when all of the pods are destroyed. The remaining bosses are unique from one another and they are the ones I enjoy fighting the most.

Gyruss is a pretty difficult game on its own merits, but it is made more challenging due to the lack of continues. If you run out of lives you have to start over at Level 1. It is also frustrating that the stock of lives has a hard cap at seven. Granted, if you are maxed out on lives you are likely playing well enough to make a deep run, but it would be nice to have a larger buffer. I have had runs come crashing to a halt even with a full complement of lives. Gyruss has a lot of stages but they typically go fast so it isn’t that costly timewise to put in several attempts in a row to try and get the hang of it. I thought about going higher with the difficulty assessment, but perhaps fittingly I decided to give it a 7/10.

This boss has waving arms that are difficult to avoid.

Gyruss is one of the games I had in my childhood collection and I had played it enough to beat it many years ago. I had also beaten the game a few months earlier as part of the NintendoAge contest. Combining both of those experiences left Gyruss relatively fresh in my mind.

My first run of the game was one of those where I lost all of my lives in one spot. The boss at Jupiter I find to be very troublesome. Sometimes I can defeat him pretty quickly, and other times I simply can’t do anything to him and burn through all my lives. This time he wiped me out completely. Starting over, I managed to beat that boss and the entire rest of the game without much trouble.

Gyruss starts over after the final boss with increased difficulty. The enemies shoot more often and some of them move more quickly. The real problem for me is that one of the recurring boss attacks becomes significantly more deadly. I wanted to clear the second loop but I was not successful. I understand that some of the Konami games that loop like this actually have three distinct difficulties, and considering that Gyruss is basically a Konami game it figures that it could follow that pattern. Unfortunately I have not found any evidence of how many difficulty loops are in Gyruss, and I was not able to clear the second loop to find out for myself. I believe that completing all the levels once and getting the ending is sufficient for completion.

Hello, recurring boss of death!

I had recorded my winning run on video, but when I went back to watch it later I found out that the recording had a glitch in it near the beginning. It bothered me enough that I played through the whole game again to get a better capture. This time it worked and I managed to set a personal best in progression on that second loop. I was doing great until I had a complete meltdown on one of the bosses. It’s so bad that it almost looks like I was trying to fail out on purpose! I might end up going back to beat both loops one day just for my own personal benefit, but for now I’m satisfied.

Gyruss has a secret bonus! During the Chance Stage, if you manage to defeat the same number of enemies as the current level, you are awarded with 30,000 points. For instance, the first Change Stage is Level 4, so if you destroy 4/40 enemies then you get the bonus. This is more lucrative than the point bonus for shooting all of the enemies, and in some cases it is easier to pull off too. In my run I tried for the bonus every time as well as trying to hit as many of the powerup-giving enemies as I could. I only missed the bonus one time during the first loop. I abandoned that strategy during the second loop because I was more interested in the powerups.

I think Gyruss is a really fun game to play. I have always enjoyed Galaga so I already like the play style, but with the gameplay perspective, additional enemy types, powerups, and bosses, it makes it a more complete experience with significantly more depth. The graphics are very nice and the music is catchy as well. The game performs well with only the occasional slowdown, and when it does go slow it’s actually welcome. Finally, Gyruss is still a cheap cart to buy if you’re into cart collecting. If anything about the game sounds the least bit appealing to you, I think that Gyruss would be worth your time.

#34 – Gyruss

Super Mario Brothers Box Cover

#1 – Super Mario Bros.

Let’s get it started with the game that got me started on Nintendo.

Super Mario Bros Title Screen

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this screen!

To Beat: Finish World 8-4
My Goal: Beat both 1st and 2nd quests
What I Did: Beat both quests
Played: 11/23/15
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 2/10

Super Mario Bros. is a game that needs no introduction, or at most a short one. It is classic, iconic, and beloved to this day.

This is the game that got me hooked on Nintendo for good. I don’t exactly remember when I first played but whenever I did I knew we had to have a Nintendo at home. I believe my grandparents purchased the NES Action Set for my family for Christmas when I was 5. Everyone was hooked and we played for months. We even called the Nintendo tip hotline because we couldn’t figure out how to do running jumps. I was the only one in the family to beat the game and I did it at age 6. Since then I’ve beaten this game dozens of times and I know just about every secret and trick from memory. This was an easy choice for the inaugural game of Take on the NES Library.

My run this time was pretty ordinary. I was hoping I could do a no-death run but that ended in World 4 because I foolishly decided to try jumping on top of a platform while it was moving up and couldn’t reach it. I have done a no-death run before but I have only done it once, and interestingly enough I did it as Luigi! A friend wanted to play SMB 2-player style. I took over after he lost his life in World 1-2 and I ran the table after that. I really coasted through the game that time and it was pretty neat to do that if only once!

This time however I was pretty rusty and died 4-5 times on the 1st quest and quite a bit more during the 2nd quest. As a matter of fact, I nearly got Game Over toward the end of the 2nd quest. I was trying to sprint through World 7-3 and bit the dust several times in a row. I was down to only two lives before I hunkered down and made sure I wouldn’t make any more mistakes. Fortunately I made it through the rest of the game unscathed and sealed the victory!

Super Mario Bros Killing Bowser

I didn’t actually kill Bowser with fireballs but that’s okay!

Some other miscellaneous highlights of this run included pulling off the infinite 1-up trick in the first quest, performing an unintentional wall jump, and visiting the Minus World the third time through just for fun.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about the game that isn’t very well known. The first level of each world holds an invisible block with a 1-up mushroom inside. Sometimes the 1-up block is completely missing and there’s a reason for that. To ensure that the hidden block is there, you need to either warp to that world or collect all the coins in the 3rd level of the previous world. For example, to trigger the hidden 1-up block in World 3-1 you must collect all the coins in World 2-3. That is a pretty clever and obscure secret that I’m surprised anyone was able to figure out.

Update 5/27/16: I’ve played this game so many times that it’s really a breeze for me to play, but the game as a whole is actually quite challenging and I would consider the game to be slightly above average in that department. Without using the continue code, there are only so many lives to collect and it takes some practice to be able to clear the whole game. It’s just that so many people have played this game so many times that I don’t think many people realize that the game is not a cakewalk.

I really enjoyed sitting down and playing this classic game from start to finish once again. I think this was quite an appropriate way to hit the ground running. One down, only hundreds more to go!

Super Mario Bros Ending Screen

#1 – Super Mario Bros

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