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JUL
21
2017
0

#47 – Gargoyle’s Quest II

Every Gargoyle deserves an adventure.

The dark, foreboding music fits perfectly!

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 3/9/17 – 3/17/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: Gargoyle’s Quest II Longplay

The concept of a spin-off in media makes a lot of sense. A spin-off can take a supporting character from an existing TV show or movie and give them their own story while giving the storytellers an already established base to work from. Spin-offs have naturally made their way into video games too. One notable example is the Wario Land series which started as a spin-off of the Game Boy game Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. Wario was the villain of that game but became the protagonist in his own adventure. On the NES, there aren’t very many examples of spin-offs, but today I am going to cover one. The annoying “red devil” enemy from Ghosts ‘N Goblins gets not only an actual name, but also his own adventure in Gargoyle’s Quest II.

The Gargoyle’s Quest series originated on the Game Boy. All games in the series were developed and published by Capcom. Gargoyle’s Quest was initially released in Japan in May 1990. The US would get the game shortly thereafter in July 1990, and it also saw release in the UK in 1991. The game was popular enough to warrant a sequel that jumped platforms to the NES and Famicom. Gargoyle’s Quest II was named Red Arremer II in Japan, seeing release in July 1992. The US received Gargoyle’s Quest II in October 1992, and the European release was in June 1993. The NES game was also ported to the Game Boy in 1993 under the name Makaimura Gaiden: The Demon Darkness, though only in Japan. The third and final game in the series was named Demon’s Crest in both the US and Europe and Demon Blazer in Japan. This Super Famicom and SNES game was nearly released simultaneously in Japan and the US, coming in late October 1994 in Japan and early November 1994 in the US. The European release was also released last, launching in March 1995.

Gargoyle’s Quest II is a hybrid between a platformer and a top-down RPG. You play as the red devil Firebrand, who upon returning from training, finds his home has been wiped out by the mysterious Black Light. Firebrand sets off on a journey to solve this mystery and save the Ghoul Realm. The game initially looks and feels like an RPG. In this top-down view, you can explore towns, enter buildings, collect items, and talk to other ghouls to gain valuable information for your adventure. These towns and other areas in the game are all connected via a large overworld. However, all the action scenes take place in a side-scrolling view. Here you control Firebrand as you jump and fight your way through various stages of action gameplay.

The overworld ties the action sequences together.

During exploration, you can use the D-pad to travel in four directions. You’ll notice right away that Firebrand moves around very quickly in this view. He goes much quicker than the slow, plodding movement in other NES RPGs around this period. Use the A button to talk to other ghouls and interact with some objects. You will also use A to advance the text when talking. The Start button brings up the menu where you can choose from a few options. The Level menu item lets you view your current status. The Tool option lets you look at and choose certain quest items you will find. The Magic option lets you view and choose which attack you can use during the action sequences.

In the side-scrolling sections, use the Left and Right on the D-pad to walk around. Contrary to the other view, Firebrand moves slowly and deliberately. Press the A button to jump. If you press A again while in the air, Firebrand will flap his wings and hover for a short while. While hovering you can move left and right, allowing you to fly and cover much greater distances than just jumping alone. Press B to attack by spewing a small projectile. The Start button both pauses the action and brings up a sub-menu at the bottom of the screen where you can switch between attacks.

There are two mechanics in the side-scrolling areas that complement each other and form the basis for Firebrand’s movement. First is the hover ability briefly mentioned above. In the game, it is referred to as Wing Level. There is a large bar on screen that indicates how long Firebrand can hover in place, and it depletes quickly. When it runs out, Firebrand will fall, or you can choose to fall before it runs out by pressing A again. This wing stamina will restore to full strength as soon as Firebrand lands on solid ground or clings to the wall. This brings me to the second mechanic which is wall climbing. The Wing Level gives Firebrand extended horizontal movement while wall climbing gives him vertical movement. Thus, the levels extend in all directions to accommodate all his movement capabilities, as well as involving spikes and other such hazards in many places to keep Firebrand on course.

Climbing around spike-laden walls is required often.

There are a few items Firebrand can find during the side-scrolling levels. Hearts restore some of Firebrand’s health. There is a life meter on the status bar indicated by small hearts that show how many hits Firebrand can take. There are also red jars called vials that act as the game’s currency. Every now and then you can find a light-colored jar that will expand the maximum number of hearts.

Firebrand can expand his capabilities by items he acquires on the overworld. These are generally given to Firebrand after completion of certain stages or by talking to creatures. They are pretty weird items that slot into a few different categories. There are nail items that increase his Jump Level so that he can jump higher. There are wing items that increase his Wing Level which lets Firebrand hover for a longer time. There are armor items that increase Firebrand’s Life Level which gives him more hearts on his life meter. There are magic items that provide him new attacks. Finally, there are tools which are passive items that are needed to interact with certain characters to advance the story.

The magic items are the most interesting as they both give Firebrand new attacks as well as expand his capabilities in interesting ways. Firebrand starts with the Fire attack that launches a small projectile for attacking enemies. Next is the Buster attack that is a bit stronger than Fire but also can break blocks. The Tornado attack generates a small temporary platform that Firebrand can land on and restore his wing stamina. The Claw attack can form a protective surface against a wall of spikes, giving Firebrand a way to cling to them temporarily. There is also a final magic ability that is useful at the end of the game.

Creating your own platforms sure comes in handy!

I mentioned the vials earlier as the currency in the game. It turns out they are only used for one thing. There are certain creatures throughout the game that will allow you to exchange your vials for the Power of Maelstrom. It is the game’s fancy way of saying an extra life! They do come in handy for tricky areas. However, they get more expensive later in the game.

One more optional item you can find in the game is the Essence of Soulstream. To get it, you have to find two different items in the world and bring them to a person who can combine them into the Soulstream. This item can be used in the platforming levels from the menu. It can only be used once but it lets you restore your health all the way to the maximum. The best place it comes in handy is during one the boss fights that occurs at the end of some stages.

There are some ghouls on the overworld that will provide you with a password if you talk to them. Not only do you get the password, but you also set a checkpoint here that you will return to if you lose all your lives. The passwords are 16-digits, all 0-9, with a mandatory dash in the middle for readability. The passwords have just the right amount of complexity to save all your items and vials, yet they are not unwieldy to use.

Gargoyle’s Quest II has fun boss fights, including this difficult one.

I have played all the way through Gargoyle’s Quest II a few times before this run. Like many late NES Capcom games, it is pretty expensive at around $75 or so. This was one game I bought long before the prices skyrocketed. I had learned of this game in college and I decided to search it out on eBay. It may well be the game that got me to create my eBay account in the first place, I’m not sure. I found a copy for $6, and I even remember the seller was only 30 minutes away from me. I played through the game when I got it and I went back to it periodically over the years.

I’m not incredibly familiar with the game but I was able to work through it without a lot of trouble. The game takes several hours to play through the first time, and I can get through it in around two hours. I played it over three separate nights just due to time constraints. There was only one spot in the game where I lost all my lives and had to restart, but otherwise I think I played well. This is the kind of game where I normally would not record an entire longplay, but I was good enough at the game that I captured one this time. So, if you would like to see the game in its entirety, you may!

Gargoyle’s Quest II is a quality platformer that is fun to play. When you see the Capcom logo on an NES game, chances are it’s a good one and this game is no exception. It has detailed graphics, sprawling stages with good platforming, a haunting soundtrack, and a large overworld that ties it all together. There are only a few things I don’t like about the game. The overworld can be dull to traverse, and there is a bit of a difficulty spike early in the game where you need to cross over a fiery river. There is also some slowdown when many enemies are on the screen. Frankly those are minor complaints. The game is solid and I find it fun to play through every now and again. I’m glad I had the good sense to seek out this game many years ago!

#47 – Gargoyle’s Quest II

 
MAR
31
2017
0

#39 – Little Nemo: The Dream Master

What dreams are made of!

I usually listen to the good music for awhile here!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 11/27/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Little Nemo Longplay

There are quite a few games I have discovered in the NES library where I play it and immediately realize that I have been missing out for years. Little Nemo: The Dream Master is one of those games for me. I had most of the popular games growing up and many other good games, but there are so many games on the console that some end up being skipped. I am sure I had my opportunities to play the game much earlier since I was definitely aware of Little Nemo long before I played it. Either way, it’s better late than never! Little Nemo is a game that I really like and I am excited to tell you more about it today!

Little Nemo in Slumberland is a comic strip created in 1905 by an American cartoonist named Winsor McCay. It follows the story of Nemo and his adventurous dreams where each strip ends with Nemo waking up out of bed. The comic was published in the New York Herald until 1911 when McCay moved to the New York American. McCay was able to retain the rights to the characters and he brought Nemo to the American under the name In the Land of Wonderful Dreams from 1911 to 1914. In 1924, McCay returned to the Herald and revived Little Nemo in Slumberland until 1926 when it ended due to lack of popularity.

Little Nemo branched out into other forms of media over the years. A play was created in 1907 and another was created much more recently in 2012. There was a film made about McCay in 1911 that involved him creating animations of Little Nemo characters. There was an original opera performed in 2012. There have also been compilations of McCay’s original work, and McCay’s son even tried to bring back Little Nemo after his father’s death with lackluster results. However, the most notable work was the joint American-Japanese film named Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. This 1989 movie serves as the basis for the NES game.

You know you’re in for a treat when one of the first things you see is a giant mushroom!

Little Nemo: The Dream Master was released on the NES in North America in September 1990. It was both developed and published by Capcom. The Famicom release, titled Pajamas Hero Nemo, was released a little later in December 1990, and the European NES release debuted in December 1991. The story of the game follows closely to the 1989 movie. Curiously, the film was not released in the US until 1992, two years after the NES game. Capcom also released a separate arcade platformer simply named Nemo in 1990.

Little Nemo: The Dream Master is a platformer game. You play Little Nemo as he is tasked by a messenger of the princess to rescue Slumberland and King Morpheus from the Nightmare King. Nemo must work his way through eight areas to beat the game and save Slumberland. True to the source comic strip, each area in the game is a separate dream with Nemo hopping into bed to start the level and being woken up by his mother after the level.

On his own, Nemo is not very powerful. He can move around reasonably well, including jumping and ducking, and he can throw pieces of candy. However, the candy can only temporarily stun enemies without dealing any damage. Nemo can feed certain animals three pieces of candy which causes them to fall asleep. He can then take a ride on the animal or sometimes actually become the animal, which gives Nemo the means to clear obstacles and fight enemies. You can press Select to switch back to regular Nemo and from there take control of a different animal if desired.

The Frog lets you make these tall jumps.

There are several animals in the game and each one provides Nemo a set of additional capabilities. For starters, each type of animal has a certain amount of health points that may vary from Nemo’s own health. Enemy attacks deal one point of damage to Nemo and he loses a life when he runs out of health. More important than health are the different animal abilities needed to properly explore the stages. For instance, in the first level Nemo can become a frog that can jump higher than Nemo to reach tall ledges, and he can defeat enemies by jumping on them. Later you come across a mole that lets Nemo dig underground to explore even more. Some animals can climb walls, some can swim or fly, some have useful attacks, and so on. You have to play around a bit to figure out what you can do with a new animal. If there is an obstacle in the level, then there is an animal nearby capable of tackling it. Therefore, the platformer has some puzzle elements to it where you need to track down different animals and experiment with their capabilities.

There are a few items that will help Nemo out. Small bottles restore a single point of health, and first aid kits restore all of Nemo’s health. There are 1up icons that give Nemo an extra life. Finally, the most important items in the game are keys. At the end of most levels there is a locked door with several keyholes next to it. To finish the level, you need to collect enough keys scattered throughout the stage in order to unlock all the keyholes. Unfortunately, you have to reach the end of the level first to see how many keys are required, and you are forced to backtrack if you come up short. Some of the keys are well hidden in alcoves and branching paths. You will need to master all of the creatures in the game and search high and low to meet the level requirements.

There are many different environments in the stages. The first level is a mushroom forest with giant mushroom mountains as well as caves to explore and waterfalls to climb. There is a jungle level, a sea level, and others. There is also an auto-scrolling train level thrown in there for something really different. There is always something new to explore and there is a lot of variety to keep things interesting.

What kind of toy house has crushers like this?

This is a bit of a spoiler, so jump ahead a paragraph if you don’t want to know. Toward the end of the game Nemo gets an actual weapon that he can use to take out the bad guys when he doesn’t have an animal helper. The difficulty gets significantly bumped up here in part by introducing boss battles. Not only do you have to get more used to controlling Nemo on his own, but you have this new weapon to figure out. It may seem like an unnecessary change in the game, but I find it quite a bit of fun.

Little Nemo is typically regarded as a difficult game, and to an extent I agree. The difficulty curve feels a little bit uneven with some levels more taxing than others, and then the game takes a significant bump up in challenge toward the end like I just mentioned. The game has infinite continues which limits the difficulty, however, the whole game is long and challenging enough where you may not be able to grind through it in a single sitting.

I didn’t own Little Nemo until much later in my NES collection, but I remember reading about the game quite a bit. I probably ended up emulating it first but only just to try it out for a bit. One of my good friends has a very small collection of NES games but Little Nemo is one of them, and he would tell me about how good the game is to play. That sold me on the game enough to seek it out. I don’t remember when or how I ended up getting my copy, but when I did I ended up playing through it shortly thereafter. I have played through it at least a couple of times before covering it now.

You can “bee” deadly if you must!

Despite my experience with the game, I don’t know it well enough to just breeze right through it. I remembered enough to beat the game in a single sitting, but not well enough to look good doing it. I recorded my playthrough but it is definitely not my best effort. I had to continue a few times, and I forgot some of the keys and had to go back and find them. Thankfully this blog is about finishing the games regardless of skill or style, so I’m satisfied with getting to the ending of the game.

I want to take a moment to praise the soundtrack. Capcom games tend to have really memorable music, and Little Nemo follows that trend. The soundtrack is often upbeat and I think it really captures that dreamy feel that should accompany a game like this. Some of my favorite tracks are right at the start, including the prologue, title screen, and Mushroom Forest theme. You can listen to all the songs at the VGMPF website.

Little Nemo: The Dream Master is one of those games that should be in any NES library. The graphics, music, and gameplay are all top-notch. There is quite the variety of animals, level layouts, and obstacles for a game of this length. Despite that fact that each animal behaves differently, the controls feel good and make sense all around. This is a title that is still affordable for any cart collector. The only negative I see is the uneven difficulty and the endgame challenge, but I welcome it so that’s not a problem for me at all. If somehow you missed playing this game like I once did, I would recommend giving it a try!

#39 – Little Nemo: The Dream Master

 
FEB
02
2016
0
TaleSpin Box Cover

#12 – TaleSpin

A cleverly named Disney cartoon becomes an intriguing NES shooter.

Let's go flying!

Let’s go flying!

To Beat: Reach the end credits
Played: 1/22/16 – 1/23/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Well that didn’t take long to reach another Disney-to-NES conversion courtesy of Capcom! Based on the animated Disney television series of the same name as part of The Disney Afternoon, TaleSpin is unique among its NES counterparts in that it’s not a platformer but an aerial adventure true to the cartoon series.

TaleSpin, the Disney animated series, had a 65-episode run all within a span of a year running from September 7, 1990 to August 8th, 1991. It tells the story of Baloo, a pilot for his freight service, and his navigator Kit as they aim to deliver goods while avoiding and fighting air pirates lead by Don Karnage and other foes that attempt to steal their cargo. I’m simplifying this as it’s a show I didn’t watch and I’m not familiar with it. The NES game was likely developed during the show’s initial run on TV since it was released in December 1991 after the final episode had already aired.

Make those shots count because you only start with one!

Make those shots count because you only start with one!

TaleSpin on NES is a horizontal scrolling shooter with a few interesting mechanics. You can fly Baloo in eight directions and fire bullets with the B button to attack enemies. If you press the A button, Baloo flips around and flies both backwards and upside-down causing the screen to scroll left instead of right. Not many autoscrolling shooters allow you to scroll both left and right at will – this is the only one that I’m aware of. Your only attack is the default shot but you can aim your shots diagonally if you shoot while moving up and down, so altogether you can fire in six directions. It’s an interesting mechanic and it makes sense since the plane banks up and down pretty severely as you fly. However it takes some getting used to and it will cause misfires. This mostly occurs because to fire straight you must not be moving vertically, so to properly aim at something straight ahead you must line yourself up and stop completely before shooting. The game will occasionally scroll vertically and in these parts the scrolling is forced with no backtracking like in the horizontal scrolling areas.

Along the way you will pick up money bags and cargo containers that look like little briefcases. Collecting these will give you money at the end of the stage that can be spent on upgrades for your plane, the Sea Duck. You can buy extra shots for your plane as well as a permanent speed increase and some armor to increase your total health. You can also buy extra lives and even extra continues if you need some additional tries. You start the game with three hearts for health but only one bullet on the screen at a time causing the game to be fairly challenging at the start as every shot counts. Buying an extra shot right away is crucial to help ease the later levels.

Extra shot purchased.  Good player!

Extra shot purchased. Good player!

Enemies when destroyed will occasionally drop fruit on a parachute and this is the only way to earn points during the levels. Some parts of the levels hide pickups and they are revealed if you shoot their hiding spots. These often appears in nooks in the stages or in corners and thankfully you don’t take damage from touching the walls so feel free to look to your heart’s content. Just make sure not to get pinched by the scrolling screen as that will cost you a life. The entrances to the bonus stage are also hidden and revealed when shot. In these areas you switch to Kit who rides on this air surfboard called an airfoil. You can pop balloons that reveal fruit and extra lives and you can really stock up on lives by hitting every bonus area.

There are eight levels in total and each level ends in a boss encounter. There are a variety of locales to journey through and some of them are interesting for a shooter such as a haunted house and a baseball stadium. The bosses tend to be fairly challenging particularly since the Sea Duck is a pretty big sprite with equally large hitbox, the bosses spray a fair amount of bullets and other moving parts around, and also because each boss has an invincibility period after taking a hit.

How many times do I have to tell you?  No flying inside the house!

How many times do I have to tell you? No flying inside the house!

Like I mentioned before I had not watched the cartoon basically at all, and in the same way I did not play TaleSpin on NES until adulthood. I think I bought my copy for $8 as part of a buy two get one free sale at my local game store. The game came up awhile back as part of the NA weekly contest as a high score challenge and I’m pretty sure I beat the game on either my first or second try at that time. I also got acquainted with the locations of the bonus areas back then because they are very point-heavy with all the fruit you can collect, so that experience helped me here too.

My playthrough of the game was fairly ordinary and unremarkable. I was very rusty at the start and I lost all my lives on the first level, but once I started it up again I was cruising through the levels with little trouble until I ran out of time that night and had to turn the game off. Starting over the next evening I beat the game with at least a dozen lives to spare and I didn’t need any continues to get the job done. There was one boss at the end of the fifth stage that gave me some trouble. It’s a crane with a wrecking ball that drops down on you and the boss shoots these bouncing shots so you are being attacked from above and below. It’s just about impossible to not take damage here. The only way I could beat it was to get there with full health and just sit in the middle constantly shooting it while avoiding attacks as best I could and taking advantage of my invincibility period to move to safety. I was able to beat it that way by attrition. With that in mind, here’s a hot tip for this boss! When doing some research for this post I found out that you can destroy the wrecking ball which completely takes out the attack from above. Look at me, I did it the hard way!

This boss is so hard with that wrecking ball intact.

This boss is so hard with that wrecking ball intact.

I had some trouble coming up with a difficulty for TaleSpin. The game isn’t exactly a cakewalk and it takes a few levels for the difficulty to ease up once you get some powerups under your belt. That was the way it went for me but once I got over that hurdle I thought the game was pretty easy. There are so many extra lives available not to mention continues I never had to touch. I decided to place the game just below average difficulty although I could be persuaded to slide the game up or down a notch.

TaleSpin is a solid experience from a good developer based on a quality Disney property, so it’s hard not to recommend the game. The mechanics are neat but they do require some practice and thoughtfulness that takes some time to get used to. Boss fights aside, TaleSpin isn’t all that memorable to me, but that’s not really a negative thing. With Capcom on NES you are pretty much assured of getting a good game no matter what and that is definitely the case here. My advice is if you decide to play TaleSpin, stick it out past the first level and buy that extra shot. I think you’ll have fun with it!

TaleSpin Ending Screen

#12 – TaleSpin

 
12