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An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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JAN
17
2018
0

#63 – Kiwi Kraze

A fun platformer with a somewhat unfortunate name.

Nice graphics AND catchy music!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 10/22/17 – 12/1/17
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Kiwi Kraze Longplay

I haven’t traveled all that much in my life. I have only flown a few times and never over the ocean. I guess I have just as much fun staying at home playing all these NES games. New Zealand seems like it would be a lovely place to visit if I ever decide to go overseas. The country is beautiful and many notable movies have been filmed there. It stands to reason that it would also make a great setting for a video game. It also makes sense that a game based in New Zealand would use the native kiwi bird as the basis for the protagonist. Kiwi Kraze is a fun game that is often overlooked among the glut of NES platformers.

The NewZealand Story started as an arcade game both developed and published by Taito and released in September 1988. The game was later ported to a wide number of home computers and consoles worldwide over the next few years. The NES version of the game was renamed to Kiwi Kraze, A Bird-Brained Adventure! in North America and is the only version of the game that was renamed. Kiwi Kraze was developed by Software Creations and published by Taito, and was released in March 1991. In Europe, the NES port retained the name The NewZealand Story and was published by Ocean sometime in 1991. The NewZealand Story was later included in the 2005 compliation Taito Legends. New Zealand Story Revolution is a Nintendo DS remake of the game released in 2007. That game was developed by Taito and published by Ignition Entertainment in North America.

In Kiwi Kraze, you play the role of the Kiwi bird named Tiki. Wally Walrus has captured Tiki and all his friends, but Tiki was the only one who managed to escape. Wally then sells all the Kiwi birds to various zoos across New Zealand, so Tiki sets off on a grand adventure to rescue all his friends, including his girlfriend Phee-Phee. Tiki’s journey spans five separate worlds, each containing four levels. In each level, one of Tiki’s friends is locked in a cage and you must reach and free them to move on to the next stage. You win the game after you have completed all twenty stages.

Yep, definitely New Zealand!

Kiwi Kraze is a side-scrolling platformer game. On the title screen, you can press Select to choose either a one-player or two-player game. It is alternating play so it’s not that useful. You use the D-Pad to move Tiki around during gameplay. Jump by pressing the A button. You can control the height of the jump a little bit by how long you hold the button. When descending, you can tap the A button to flap Tiki’s wings which slows down his fall. The B button is for attacking and the default weapon is a bow and arrow. You can fire quite a few of these straight-shooting arrows at one time to quickly mow down a row of enemies. Pressing Start to pause the game also displays a mini map overlayed on the screen that displays the relative size of the level, your current location, and the exit location. There are no walls or anything else displayed on the map, but it can be a handy reference at times to gently guide you in the right direction.

There are two main mechanics that distinguish Kiwi Kraze. The first is that Tiki can jump up through any floor. This must be a Taito thing because this is also how things work in Bubble Bobble. You can even jump through walls from underneath. You only land on a ledge successfully if Tiki isn’t stuck partway within a wall. When airborne within a wall, you are only allowed to move laterally away from the wall. Otherwise you will fall through the wall back to where you started. I know I’m not explaining it very well, but when you play the game for a little while it starts to make sense. These details of the movement are important because it has a direct effect on the level design. Stages scroll in all four directions. Moving sideways is straightforward, but it is much easier to climb to the top of the level than to get back down. The level design takes advantage of this by creating many paths that look closed off at a glance, but can be entered through some shrewd jumping. The stages also contain many winding pathways and often include multiple paths to reach the end of a level.

The other important mechanic is that Tiki can fly around the stages. Kiwis are flightless birds and Tiki uses balloons to fly. These can occasionally be found on their own, but most often you will acquire a balloon by stealing one from an enemy. Shoot the enemy and then jump on top of its balloon to take it for yourself, but aim carefully because you can also pop the balloon with your weapon if your aim is too low. You can even jump on a balloon while an enemy is still standing on it, which will knock the enemy to the ground and let you take control. Balloons fall under Tiki’s weight and you hold the A button to slowly raise the balloon and move upward. You can still use the D-Pad for horizontal movement and fire your weapon while flying. Press Down while resting on the ground to dismount. You can also lose your balloon if it gets popped by an enemy projectile or hits a spike. Any case where you require a balloon to progress is accompanied by an enemy spawn point so that you can commandeer a new balloon.

I’m gonna need that balloon, thanks!

Some levels contain water and Tiki can swim through these portions. He will don a snorkel while underwater and it’s pretty cute. At the bottom left of the screen, you will normally see your score counter alternating with your lives display. When underwater this display switches over to an air meter that slowly dwindles away. You swim with the D-Pad in all eight directions and the A and B buttons do nothing. Floating on the water’s surface allows you to breathe again, and you can also press the B button to spit water at an upward angle to attack enemies. Spitting water like this also refills your air meter much faster. For long water sections, you must find pockets of air and stop to take a breath before moving on.

There are many different kinds of enemies in Kiwi Kraze. Most enemies are not deadly to the touch, which is a departure from most platfomers. The ones that don’t hurt you will occasionally fire projectiles that do hurt. Bats are particularly sneaky because they toss out a projectile whenever you are directly underneath them, causing them to act like an enemy that kills you on contact. All other enemies telegraph their attacks in some way. Tiki is pretty fragile so a single hit kills him instantly, and you also lose lives by touching spikes and drowning.

One special enemy that can appear in any stage is the red devil. This is the invincible “hurry up” enemy that will chase you around if you are taking too long to finish a level. He can move freely through walls and you can’t get him to go away. You will receive an actual Hurry Up message prior to his appearance. Unlike most enemies of this type, he keeps a steady speed and you are able to keep away from him if you have enough space to maneuver.

There are several different items in the game. Some levels hold extra lives in the shape of a tiny Kiwi bird. The most common item you find are apples. These are dropped by defeated enemies and are worth 500 points each. If you come across a secret room, apples there are worth 5000 points. You need 100,000 points to earn an extra life. Sometimes an enemy will drop something other than an apple. These items are either different weapons or magic items.

Just about every enemy drops something.

There are three different weapons Tiki can use. The default is the bow and arrow which you can reacquire if you collect the red arrow powerup. The bombs are a downward-moving attack, and I find these have limited usefulness. The best weapon in my mind is the green laser gun. This gun fires straight shots like the arrows, but they move quickly and can also travel through walls. It’s great to blast an enemy on the other side of a wall so you don’t have to deal with them later. You keep your weapons until you lose a life or exit the stage.

There are four magic items. The magic book is a single-use screen-shaking attack that defeats all enemies. The magic watch freezes all enemies in their tracks for several seconds. Likewise, the magic staff gives you invincibility flashing for a little while. Perhaps the most interesting item here is the magic joystick. This gives you direct control over either your current or next balloon. You no longer have to toggle A to either rise or fall, rather you use just the D-Pad to move precisely in all directions. If you dismount the balloon or pop it, you lose the powerup. There are some locations where you can take shortcuts with some precise movements that are only possible with the magic joystick.

There are also different balloon types that have slightly different capabilities. The most common one looks like the head of a sheep, and you will use this one most of the time. There is a tall, red balloon that is very slow to accelerate upward, however the tradeoff is that this is the only balloon that is immune to spikes. Another balloon looks like a green ostrich and it accelerates the quickest. The last balloon looks like a carriage. This is the very first balloon you find naturally in the game, but you also get it automatically after you die while on a balloon. All balloons appear to have the same horizontal movement.

Most worlds end in a boss battle. The very first fight is the cleverest one, where you get swallowed and have to defeat the boss from the inside. That concept was also used in one of the bosses in Yoshi’s Island on the SNES, but Kiwi Kraze does it here first. The other bosses play more like a shootout and you have to land a lot of attacks to take them down. One world uses a complicated maze section in lieu of a boss fight. There is a least a little variety here, as well as using a different type of challenge than what is derived from the level design.

The best boss in the game.

Hidden within some levels are warps. These are invisible and are revealed by shooting their location several times. If you are firing arrows that vanish in mid-air, keep shooting. Then hop into the warp block to go to a new place! Some of these will lead to special rooms where you can find apples and maybe extra lives. Others take you to a location one or more levels ahead. You normally see a map of New Zealand with the level number before each stage. Take a warp, however, and you don’t see where you end up. Like extra lives, these are hidden in out of the way places. I only found a few of these and I’m sure there are many more that I didn’t find.

You begin Kiwi Kraze with three lives, and they can go by quickly. You can continue with a fresh set of lives, but you can only do this three times before being bumped back to the title screen. It’s the kind of game where you progressively learn the levels and usually get a little farther the more times you play. Kiwi Kraze has a wrinkle to this to make it more challenging. Typically, when you lose a life, you resume play from right where you died with an invincibility period. That safety net goes away when you reach World 4. For the rest of the game, a death sends you back all the way to the start of the stage. I was able to beat World 3 within my first few tries and then the rest of the game felt like wading through mud.

This was my first time playing Kiwi Kraze. I know the term is overblown these days, but I have considered the game a hidden gem. I bought my copy in the back half of collecting licensed NES games and it was one I was looking for specifically once I knew what it was all about. My cart is a very clean copy too, courtesy of a seller on Nintendo Age. I played through the first world right away and knew this was a game I would really like. But, it went back on the shelf like most others and I didn’t get into it until now.

Paths between spikes are slightly less dangerous than they look.

You might have noticed from the start of this post that it looks like I spent nearly six weeks playing Kiwi Kraze. Those dates are not what they seem! I had a little bit of free time on a Saturday afternoon and spent it on my first couple of attempts at the game. That following Monday was the beginning of the year-end tournament of an NES contest hosted on the Nintendo Age forums. That tournament lasted four weeks and I didn’t play Kiwi Kraze at all while that was going on. It didn’t take much to pick back up from where I started. I still needed around ten tries or so before I beat the game. Then another few days went by before I could record my full run.

I really like Kiwi Kraze. I think it’s a fun game with a lot of character. There are just a couple of things about it that I’m not entirely sure how I feel about. First off, the hitboxes seem a little off. Any balloon you ride on becomes the focal point of contact, and you can scratch your head on some spikes and enemies and not be hurt. Without the balloon, that kind of contact gets you killed. At least it feels that way. It’s just something you have to be actively aware of during play. Your instinct while on the balloon is to protect Tiki, but it needs to be on the balloon instead when gliding around spikes. The other thing is that the level design has a different feel that I don’t experience much. Most games like this rely on a larger 16×16 pixel tile, but the levels in Kiwi Kraze are based on tiny 8×8 tiles. This give more space for very detailed structures and challenges that are more puzzle-like. So you have these dense little areas connected together with wide open spaces where you can fly more freely, since the levels are still reasonably large. They chose to incorporate many narrow tunnels to connect all these pieces as well, not to mention the ability to jump through any floor like I already mentioned. I think it’s neat how it all comes together, but I can also see how this kind of design might be off-putting to someone else.

If you like platformers, cute characters, or both, I think you should try Kiwi Kraze. It’s a brightly colored game with neat, intricate design. The graphics are highly detailed with many neat drawings and backgrounds that add character. The downside here is that some of the tiny spikes don’t stand out. This music is catchy, which is no surprise given that the Follin brothers ported the music to the NES. However, they chose to use one song for every level in the game. It’s a good song, but it can get stale. The maze-like design might leave some players frustrated too. This is a flawed game for these few reasons and others, but I can easily look past them. I was really excited to spend some time with Kiwi Kraze, and I still have good feelings about this game now that I’ve seen it all for myself.

#63 – Kiwi Kraze

 
SEP
25
2017
0

#52 – Sky Shark

If only it were literally a sky shark!

Good music and developer info works for me!

To Beat: Finish Level 5
Played: 6/6/17 – 6/12/17
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
Video: Sky Shark Playthrough

Today’s game is a port of an arcade shooter. I have covered a few arcade ports of shooters already. One of them is MagMax, which although it was true to the arcade game, it was ported far too late and wasn’t that much fun to begin with. On the other extreme, I played Gyruss and found the expanded NES port to be a better experience than the arcade version. BreakThru sits somewhere in between the two. It was like the arcade game, but was a decent port and reasonably fun to play. Of those three games, Sky Shark sits pretty close to BreakThru.

Flying Shark is an arcade shoot-em-up released in 1987. It was developed by Toaplan and was published in North America by Romstar. The game was ported to many different home computer systems in Japan, North America, and Europe. Flying Shark was renamed to Sky Shark in North America. Toaplan also developed the 1989 sequel to this game called Fire Shark. The NES version of Sky Shark was released in September 1989. This port was developed by Software Creations, and Sky Shark was their first NES game. Despite being based in England, Sky Shark on NES was only released in North America. You may also remember them as the developer of Pictionary that I played last year. The NES version was published by Taito, who also published the arcade version of Flying Shark in Japan.

Sky Shark is a top-down vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. You play the role of the best fighter in the best squadron of the US forces in World War II. He is given the nickname of the Sky Shark, and according to the comic in the game’s manual, even his plane is painted to look like a flying shark. I guess the name makes sense now! Your task is to fly through enemy forces and rescue your POWs. The mission is broken up into five stages separated by landing your aircraft. Don’t worry, the game does this for you. Survive through all five levels and you have beaten Sky Shark.

Plenty of planes and tanks early on in the game.

This is a simple game with equally simple controls. Use the D-pad to fly in all directions. Press A to fire your machine guns. Ammo is unlimited, but there is no autofire so you have to mash away at the fire button. The B button drops bombs. The Start button begins the game and pauses the action during play. Select is used to choose between one or two player mode on the title screen. Two-player mode is alternating play. That’s all there is to it!

Each aircraft comes equipped with three bombs, and dropping one inflicts heavy damage over a large portion of the screen. Bomb blasts absorb bullets too, so they can get you out of a tight spot if used defensively. Some enemies leave behind a B icon when defeated. Fly over this icon to collect an additional bomb. You can hold up to eight bombs, so you might as well use one before trying to grab a ninth. If you are interested in getting a high score, save up some spare bombs because at the end of each level you earn 3,000 points for each bomb in your inventory.

During play, the status bar is located at the bottom of the screen. You can see the current score for both players in addition to the high score. Underneath the score, you see icons that indicate how many additional fighters and how many bombs you have. Like bombs, you can have up to eight lives. There are no extra lives found on the battlefield, but you earn one every 50,000 points. It’s pretty unlikely you would reach the maximum number of lives, but it could happen!

Red planes are about the only welcome sight in Sky Shark.

One recurring feature in the stages is a wave of eight planes. They all fly in together in one of several formations and leave the screen quickly. Destroying all eight planes of the wave gives you a bonus. If the planes are yellow, you earn 1,000 points, but if the planes are red they leave behind an S powerup. The S flies around in loops on the screen so it can be tricky to grab, but you want to grab it because it powers up your machine gun. You can upgrade your weapon six times total. The first upgrade increases your gun from two shots to four, and you eventually work your way up to the fully powered gun giving you seven shots at once with a slight spread. Any time you die by taking a hit, your weapon reverts to the basic double shot. The S powerups tend to be spread out, so it takes a long time to power up all the way if you can survive that long. The sad thing is that the best weapon is not nearly as powerful as you would like.

Both the levels and enemies are generic, World War II styled elements. The stages do not distinguish themselves very well. Each level is composed of several of the same kinds of locations stitched together. There are jungle, ocean, and desert segments dispersed throughout the stages. The best level type is the trainyard area. Each level ends in an airstrip where you land the plane and get your bomb bonus. The enemies are all planes, tanks, and boats. In the ocean sections, you will pass by huge ships with cannons that you can destroy. Tanks emerge from the sides of the screen and behind buildings, and plane formations fly in often. There is not much variety overall.

There are a few bosses in the game. The Super Tank shows up at the end of the first stage. You don’t have to blow it up though because it will eventually run out of driving room and you can leave it behind. There is an upgraded version of the Super Tank that appears in a few places in the middle of stages, and just like the first boss they don’t follow you very long. There are also some large planes that act the same way, but it’s not exactly correct to call them bosses. There is also a giant final boss near the end of the fifth level.

Giant planes and battleships together at last!

When you are shot down, you resume play from the nearest checkpoint. Each stage has several hidden checkpoints, and I’d say the length between them is just about right. Some areas are harder than others so a checkpoint is a nice relief. When you run out of lives, you can continue up to three times. On the Game Over screen, you see the number of credits remaining and a countdown timer with some ominous music for an accompaniment. Press Start to continue your game from the nearest checkpoint, just as if you lost a life. You do lose your score when you continue. If you run out of credits or choose not to continue, you are taken to the high score screen where you can enter your initials.

This was my first time playing Sky Shark. I don’t remember how I acquired the cart, but it is a common game that I probably got in a bulk lot somewhere. It’s worth about $3 today, so hopefully I didn’t pay much for it. At least I knew it was a shoot-em-up, so that alone got me interested to see what it was all about.

Sky Shark is a tough game. I spent about a week playing the game over maybe a dozen attempts before I reached the end. I wanted to beat the game without continuing, but by the time I beat it I was ready to move on. The game overwhelms you early on with several tanks and aircraft at once, many of which fire aimed shots at you. Tanks appear and start firing right away, so you are forced to be on your toes and keep moving. You really need to know where enemies appear to stand a chance. Enemies have a bad habit of firing off one last shot just before they despawn off the sides of the screen. Even though the enemy bullets are large and change colors, they are often hard to see in the thick of the fight. Your only gun fires mostly straight, limiting its effectiveness, and bombs tend to be used to extend a life just to reach the next checkpoint. Thankfully the game has a continue system, otherwise I would have rated the game either an 8 or a 9.

Busy backgrounds mean it is hard to identify everything going on.

Sky Shark does not have an ending. Once you fight the final boss and reach the end of level five, the game loops seamlessly. In a small twist, the game restarts from level two, so if you keep looping the game you will just repeat levels two through five without every playing level one again. Luckily, there is a way to tell if you have finished the game. I left this little tidbit out intentionally until now. When you enter your initials on the high score screen, there is also a two-digit value displayed on the right-hand column. I can’t confirm this for certain, but that value appears to be a percentage of how much of the game was completed.

There are two quirks about this value that make me doubt my theory a bit. The first thing is that this value is more heavily weighted toward the end of the game. For example, you could Game Over deep in level two and only get a value in the teens when you would expect that you’ve completed nearly 40% of the game by then. It seems to increase more quickly at the end of the game. The other thing about it is that it never reaches 100 but stops at 99. I haven’t seen any evidence that you can achieve 100 here, so the assumption is that a value of 99 is the max value and indicates that you have seen all there is to see in Sky Shark. Capturing a picture of the final landing doesn’t seem to be conclusive, so I also took a photo of the high score screen.

Perhaps the best element of Sky Shark is the music. Tim Follin is the game’s composer and he is one of the best on the NES. I gushed over his music in my Pictionary review. While he does not hit the highs of that sweet Pictionary title theme, the music is still very enjoyable. I think the title screen music is my favorite. It is also played during some of the levels, so you get to hear it often enough.

Aside from the music, Sky Shark is a mediocre game. It does nothing in gameplay to set itself apart from other NES shooters. There’s not much variety here. The levels are generic, and so are the enemies and bosses. There aren’t many enemy types, and they all shoot the same type of bullet. I’ve already outlined the problems in gameplay in light of its difficulty. Now, Sky Shark is not a bad game per say. It controls well, the hitboxes are fair, and there aren’t any glitches to speak of. The graphics are a downgrade from the arcade version, but are still fine for the NES. It’s a game that doesn’t quite match up in quality when compared to other releases of its time. I expect a little more technical prowess from an NES game from 1989, especially when Taito is attached to it.

#52 – Sky Shark

#52 – Sky Shark

 
FEB
05
2016
0
Pictionary Box Cover

#13 – Pictionary

Who needs pen and paper when you can play Pictionary on your NES?

That title screen music! So good!

To Beat: Finish the Regular Game
What I Did: Beat the Regular Game and Alternate Game just for fun!
Played: 1/24/16
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 1/10

The NES has several games of game show and board game adaptations so it’s no surprise that one would show up on the blog fairly early. Pictionary plays like the classic board game but it has some surprises in the single player that make the game a little bit more interesting.

Pictionary was released in July 1990 on NES. It was developed by Software Creations and published by LJN. Software Creations developed a dozen NES games and LJN published a whopping 25 NES games by my records. There are only three developers attributed to creating Pictionary. Tony Pomfret was the programmer, Craig Houston created the graphics, and Tim Follin wrote the music. It probably should be four people as Stephen Ruddy’s sound engine was used in the development of the sounds and music. LJN has a reputation on NES for publishing many bad games but in the case of Pictionary I would say the game is pretty decent.

Pictionary on NES is a pretty straightforward board game. Up to four teams compete by drawing pictures and having their fellow team members guess what is being drawn. Correct answers allow the team to roll a die to advance their marker along the board and the first team to reach the end and guess a final drawing wins the game. Simple enough!

It’s the board … yawn.

There are three game modes. Regular Game is the base game with some twists to it that I will explain shortly. Alternate Game is a way to play Pictionary using the NES as the game board, timer, and drawing area but you must supply your own Pictionary word cards (or your own words) to determine what to draw. The players are responsible for inputting into the game which team guessed the drawing correctly so it can handle everything properly for you. Drawing Practice gives you a free area for doodling so that you can get a handle for how the drawing in the game works. The drawing interface simulates a little bit like drawing lines with a pencil and paper. You can aim your cursor in I believe 16 different directions by pushing Left or Right. Press and hold A to draw in the direction of the cursor or press and hold B to move the cursor without drawing. Pressing Up or Down draws either a small or large circle. Select removes the last thing drawn, Start finishes the drawing early, and Select and Start pressed together erases the board. It’s a robust enough system without relying on complete freehand control.

The Regular Game mode plays more like a complete game of Pictionary with the computer providing words to draw for the teams, but most of the game is played out through mini-games instead of drawing out pictures. If there is one player per team then there will be all mini-games, otherwise there will be standard drawing mixed in. You can play single player with just one player on one team which is what I did. There are four mini-games that all play a little bit differently but they all help play out Pictionary the same way. Completing tasks within each mini-game reveal pieces of a pre-drawn puzzle and the object is to reveal as much of the picture as you can within the time limit to give yourself the best chance of identifying the drawing. Let’s get in to each mini-game!

The first one is Attack of the Paint Zombies. This is exactly like Space Invaders except the enemies are on the bottom instead of the top and you control a paint bucket dropping red paint down upon the purple paint zombies. Yeah, paint zombies, I don’t get it either. Each one you knock out reveals a square on the picture and if you get shot with paint you lose a few seconds off the timer. This one is my favorite of them all and I didn’t have much trouble revealing the whole board before time nearly every round.

It's gotta be a mess down there.

It’s gotta be a mess down there.

The second game is The Warehouse Shuffle. I did not understand what to do in this game at all until I checked the manual. There’s just a man you control along the bottom and there are these balls with eyes that bounce around and nothing else was happening. What you are supposed to do is push up against the left side and press Up to grab boxes that are offscreen, then carry them across to the right and drop them off with Down. Each box you deliver knocks off a square and if the balls (called gremlins in the manual) come in contact with a box you lose time. You can carry a huge stack of boxes at once if you wan but you move slower the more you carry so there’s a basic risk/reward system at play. Once I knew what I was doing, I still didn’t do very well at this one.

I appreciate the eagerness but that's too many boxes.

I appreciate the eagerness but that’s too many boxes.

The third game is Four Alarm Rescue. There are eight windows arranged in two rows of four columns and people randomly appear to jump out from one of the windows in the burning building. You control firefighters at the bottom with a net to catch the people as they fall. Catching each person reveals a square and having a person fall to the hard ground below removes that precious time. This game is so unfair. Often two people will jump out at the same time from opposite ends of the screen and it is impossible to catch both. Sometimes multiple people will jump one after the other from the same window but there’s no way to tell until the first person jumps out of the way. You can lose multiple people quickly if you are trying to catch a different person elsewhere. This game is very flawed and I don’t think it’s possible to reveal the whole board with this game unless the randomness is entirely in your favor.

Probably just as messy as the paint game to be honest.

Probably just as messy as the paint game to be honest.

The fourth and final game is Leapin’ Energy Capsules! This is a simple single screen platformer where you control an astronaut who is collecting these capsules or orbs that appear in a few pre-defined spots. Once you collect one or take too much time the next one appears. There are a couple of cannons that shoot a rising and falling bullet and they operate on a slow rhythm. Collect a capsule, reveal a square. Take damage, lose time. The only really annoyance is when a capsule appears in the upper left because you can only climb up to the upper level from the far right. Otherwise, this one is pretty simple and kind of boring.

That upper left one gets the most screen time for certain.

That upper left one gets the most screen time for certain.

Playing through the game is really simple in single player. Play the mini game and try to guess what the picture is. You get 45 seconds to scroll through the alphabet picking out letters to spell out your guess. The game shows the number of words in the answer plus the number of letters in each word just like Hangman, so that helps in solving these drawings. If you are correct, you get to roll a die and move up that many spaces on the board. There is no penalty if you miss so you just keep trying until you guess correctly. Eventually you will run into a solution and move up the board so there is really no way to lose. It took me around 30-45 minutes to reach the end of the board with I’m guessing a 30-40% success rate. And that’s the end!

In my run I tested out Alternate Game just to see what it is all about. I played with one team and it was all drawing. After the drawing phase you get to indicate which team answered correctly and that team rolls the die. I would just end the drawing early every time and say I answered it correctly so that I could always roll and move my marker on the board. It took hardly any time at all to reach the end. You get the same ending either way so you can technically beat the game without identifying a single drawing and no one would know the difference. It was an utter waste of time, but eh, I did it for completeness!

Yay!  You did it!

Yay! You did it!

There was an unexpected casualty that happened while playing Pictionary. It was the weirdest thing. I turned the NES on and I was walking over to the couch when my hands got static shocked through the controller. Getting shocked in my basement is pretty normal in the winter but never through the game controller. Nothing worked when I tried to start the game even after powering off and resetting a few times. I swapped in another controller and that one worked fine, so I guess my controller is dead. It’s too bad because it is a nice condition dogbone controller and they aren’t exactly cheap to replace. I have a few other dogbone controllers in various states so I can probably hack together a nice working controller.

The one really remarkable thing about Pictionary is that it has a really good soundtrack. If you have heard some of the top NES music then you have almost certainly heard Tim Follin’s music and he did some fine work on the music in Pictionary. Tim has two brothers, Geoff and Mike, and all three brothers have worked in video games at some point. Geoff was also a game composer and he would work with Tim on music for several other NES games. The Follin brothers have a very distinct style to their music with very complex sounding pieces that really take advantage of the NES sound chip in ways that not many other musicians did. In Pictionary the title screen music is just awesome, and the Pictionary page on the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation website has links to all six music tracks for your listening pleasure!

Pictionary is a faithful adaptation of the board game and is a perfectly serviceable game on NES, even though it is very easy and barely worth playing even once. It’s fine but there’s so many better games on the NES. You would probably have more fun playing Pictionary with a group of friends on the actual board game but it could be fun at parties or whatever. At least the music is good! Plus, I don’t mind having a short, easy game to check off the list!

Pictionary Ending Screen

#13 – Pictionary