Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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NOV
22
2016
0
Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit Box Cover

#30 – Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit

Can you make all the pieces fit? I sure hope so!

Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit Title Screen

Could this title screen be any more perfect?

To Beat: Complete any round
To Complete: Win a round on the highest difficulty against the computer
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 9/16/16
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 1/10

As discussed here on this blog before, there were many companies that wanted to get a piece of the NES pie, including popular toy maker Fisher-Price. Developed for kids, Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit was just the game I needed to check off the list as I have been waiting to balance out all that time spent on mastering Ikari Warriors. Contrary to the title, this game isn’t exactly a good fit for the current NES collector or player unless you want to feel that satisfaction of completing any old NES game.

Fisher-Price was founded in 1930 by Herman Fisher, Irving Price, his wife Margaret Evans Price, and Helen Schelle. They originally made wooden toys but eventually switched to plastic in the 1950s which helped the company continue to grow. The Quaker Oats company bought Fisher-Price in 1969 after Herman Fisher retired. Fisher-Price became an independent company once more in 1991 and was bought in 1993 by Mattel.

In addition to their toy lines, there were a number of PC games bearing the company name. Three of these games were ported to the NES: Perfect Fit, I Can Remember, and Firehouse Rescue. The earliest release of these three was Firehouse Rescue but it turned out to be the last of the NES ports so I will be covering that one last. These three games appear to be the only console releases of any Fisher-Price video game. The early Fisher-Price games are all published by GameTek, and Perfect Fit on NES was developed by Beam Software. This was a US exclusive title.

Nice and simple!

Nice and simple!

Perfect Fit is a game meant for young children, so the controls and rules are quite simple. The object of the game is to match up pieces with their places on the puzzle. These pieces can be letters, numbers, toys, and other objects like that. One at a time, these pieces will drop down a chute on the left side of the screen. On the puzzle there will be silhouettes of these objects. You have to move the current piece on top of the matching shadow and press A to put the piece down. Get it right and the next piece will come down, but if you get it wrong you will hear a buzz and you get to try again with no further penalty. Place all the pieces correctly and you win! There are three puzzle boards to solve and you win the game when you complete all three.

There are three difficulty levels. Level One has few pieces to solve so this mode is great for a first time young player. Level Two introduces a flip mechanic. In this mode there are two fields below the chute labelled “Flip Image” with arrows. One field is for flipping the piece horizontally and the other is for vertical flips. If you need to flip the piece to get it to match up, simply place the piece over the appropriate field and press A to flip the piece in the direction indicated by the arrow. This difficulty also introduces a time limit and scoring. In Level Two you get six minutes to finish all the three puzzles and for every second left at the end of the game you are awarded 10 points. Difficulty Level Three is the same as Level Two but with a stricter time limit of three minutes and 20 points awarded for each remaining second at the end.

I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it...

I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it…

This game has a two player mode where players take turns solving their own puzzles and compete for the higher score in the scoring modes. Before starting the game you get to enter your name for display on the level start screen and high score screen. There is also a single player mode versus the computer. The CPU opponent is named Electro. Ultimately this gives no advantage when playing. It’s mildly interesting watching the AI bumble through piece placement. I found while playing that the AI always attempts to place the piece in the correct spot but does not know which way to properly flip the piece, so it will alternate between horizontal flips and vertical flips and test each time to see if the piece actually fits. Despite the slow going it seems to be able to solve all the puzzles in time.

One minor oddity about the scoring system is that the way to get the best scores is through Level Two difficulty. There is a maximum score and points are essentially lost the longer the game goes on. That maximum score is the same for Levels Two and Three but the point loss is twice as fast in Level Three as it is in Level Two. The high score chart is shared between these difficulty levels. I suppose if the game designers really cared about scoring then there would be some kind of point bonus just for playing on the harder level.

His best is not good enough!

His best is not good enough!

This was my first time playing Perfect Fit and there’s a pretty good chance that it will also be my last time playing the game. While playing I completed all difficulty settings both alone and with the CPU player. It was overkill even though the game didn’t take too long. I also played with my daughter in the room to see how interested she would be in the game. She is not quite two years old yet so she’s not really ready for the game yet. She does enjoy holding the controller and pressing buttons for a few minutes, and she also knew what each of the letter and number pieces were. I think the graphics may be a bit too primitive for her to recognize any of the other pieces when I asked her what they were.

There’s really not much else to say about Perfect Fit. It plays well but doesn’t do much to hold your attention. Kids today have much better options for introductory gaming. The only thing perfect about it is that is it a very easy game to clear for the sake of an NES completion project like this one. Perhaps there’s a benefit here for easing a child into using a game controller if he or she is interested in playing NES games. Otherwise there’s really no reason to play Perfect Fit.

I played through Perfect Fit on my NES top loader and not long after that I received my AVS console. Aside from a few exceptions like Zapper and R.O.B. games, going forward I will be playing everything else with my AVS. I also have started capturing footage starting with the next game so there are gameplay videos coming soon. I didn’t make one for Perfect Fit but I don’t think it’s a big loss!

Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit Ending Screen

#30 – Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit

Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit High Scores

#30 – Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit (High Scores)

 
MAY
13
2016
0
Ghoul School Box Cover

#23 – Ghoul School

I’m willing to bet the name of the game was thought of first.

A nicely detailed title screen!

A nicely detailed title screen!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/16/16 – 4/22/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10

With a game library as big as the NES has there are sure to be several interesting games hidden away. Well, interesting is a word that can certainly be used to describe Ghoul School but I’m not sure it’s the best one. There is absolutely an intriguing game here that is pretty creative but ultimately it falls flat in a number of ways. However, just like several other games I’ve covered, it has grown on me and I’m glad to get to share it with you.

Ghoul School was released on the NES in March 1992 and it is exclusive to North America. It was developed by Imagineering and published by Electro Brain. I was surprised to learn that Imagineering developed several games for the NES but having looked at various lists online most if not all of their games are not regarded very well. Their best known games are the three Bart Simpson games on the NES. Electro Brain published six games on the NES and all of them are ones that could be consider obscure.

Ghoul School is a side-scrolling platformer. You play as a high school student Spike who finds a mysterious skull and brings it to school which ends up causing all sorts of nefarious creatures to take over the place. It’s up to you to both rid the school of evil and save the head cheerleader. You start off in the main hallway of the school armed with only a baseball bat, but you can explore the school freely searching for more weapons and items that will help you explore the school. It is very reminiscent of Metroid in this way. Each room is individually numbered and displayed at the top of the screen to help keep track of where you are in the school.

The ghouls look much more terrifying than they actually are.

The ghouls look much more terrifying than they actually are.

There are several weapons to find in the school and you can switch to any collected weapon you want. Everything has unlimited use so fire away. One of the first weapons you will find is the towel which has better range and is also somehow more powerful than the bat. There are also a number of guns that let you attack from a distance though they generally deal less damage. Some weapons fire downward to help you attack enemies on the ground. There is usually one weapon best suited for a particular situation so there will be lots of switching weapons around.

There are also a couple of different pairs of shoes you can equip. You start off with basic sneakers but you will also need to find the spring shoes and suction cup shoes. The spring shoes cause you to jump higher and they also make you taller. These are needed to pass by tall obstacles in order to explore further in the school. The suction cup shoes let you walk along the ceiling provided the ceiling is low enough to reach with a jump.

You will also find apples that restore your health. Green apples restore a quarter of your health and red apples fully restore your health. The best of all is the golden apple. There’s only one of these in the game but it is a permanent upgrade that cuts your damage received by half. Enemies don’t drop any health pickups so you will have to seek out these items as you explore the school. If you play the game for a little while you’ll figure out where you can generally find the healing items.

The school map contains a lot of areas that you would expect to find in a school. There’s a gymnasium, cafeteria, office, library, and so on. These one-off locations are the areas you want to search out because they contain the weapons and shoes you need to progress onward. These areas also feature unique ghouls that are tougher than the standard enemies and they often require specific weapons to take them out. Think of them like bosses. There are several of these unique enemies which is a nice touch.

Other than the deep void of darkness in the background, this does resemble a weight room.

Other than the deep void of darkness in the background, this does resemble a weight room.

Now all of this so far may sound pretty good, but there are a number of things that really hurt the game and make it hard to play. The biggest sticking point is the physics of the character. Spike feels very heavy to control. He takes some time to build momentum and takes even more time to slide to a stop. The jumping is very stiff and doesn’t seem to respect gravity. He falls down just as fast as he jumps, and this makes it very hard to make long-distance jumps. These movement problems are really evident early in the game when you have barely any attack range with the bat. You have to get really close to deal damage and more often than not you will run right into the enemy until you get used to the controls. Some of the early enemies attack really quickly as well leaving you with a small window to get in and hurt them.

The other physics related complication is that colliding with the enemy gives you really severe knockback. Trying to fight enemies with short range attacks is so frustrating in Ghoul School. Either you don’t get close enough to deal any damage or you get too close and get thrown backwards. Now for some reason the developers decided to place enemies right at the entrance to some of the hallways. What happens is that you try to get close enough to attack and if you accidentally touch the enemy then you get thrown back into the previous hallway. Now you have to start all over and try fighting the enemy again. This happens in several locations and it only provides unnecessary frustration. The only solace here is that once an enemy is killed it remains dead. It will only respawn after you travel many rooms away.

I'm pretty sure most of the classrooms are for teaching history.

I’m pretty sure most of the classrooms are for teaching history.

Along the same lines, there are some enemies that are too low for you to properly attack. One little recurring nuisance of an enemy is called Blinky. They scurry around at ankle level and they run super fast. You can’t duck in this game and the majority of the weapons attack too high for you to deal with these critters. The weapons that do reach down don’t shoot downward quickly enough to be effective. For example, the first weapon you will come across that can reach tiny ground enemies is called the Digestaray. It shoots a straight shot that curves toward the ground. To use it against Blinky, you need to have it already equipped and start firing off shots the moment you see it running on screen. If you wait too long you will shoot right over its head and now you have no chance of killing it. Blinky will never leave the screen instead opting to run around you just outside of attack range and it will bounce you all over the place with the knockback. They don’t do much damage at all, but they make it really tough to make any kind of forward progress in the room.

The whole game really boils down to exploring one giant maze. A large portion of the game map consists of similar looking hallways and similar looking classrooms that for the most part don’t hold anything of interest in advancing your quest. The hallways often have doors that lead to isolated classrooms, and the hallways link together via walkways and stairways at the end of the hall. Each end of the hallway can have up to three exits: Forwards, upstairs, or downstairs. Many of the hallways are just empty dead ends. It is very confusing to make sense of the layout. Having every single room in the game numbered is about the only thing that makes rooms distinguishable.

You will see your health bar on the top of the screen as well as the health bar of the enemy you are fighting. There’s also a scoring system that doesn’t really mean anything since there’s no high score keeping. It doesn’t show up during game play, but Spike has five lives in all and you see how many lives are remaining in between lives. There are no extra lives in this game. It’s not obvious but you do continue when you start over. You start back at the school entrance with all of your collected items intact. There’s no saving in this game and no passwords so you will have to beat it all in one shot.

As expected, the science experiment went wrong!

As expected, the science experiment went wrong!

The graphics in this game are more than adequate. It very clearly looks like a school. There are several interesting setpieces that are unique to the areas they are found in. For instance, the weight room has a huge, detailed exercise machine right in the middle. You can walk behind the bookshelves in the library and see yourself peeking behind the gaps in the books. The graphics may not be super great but they are interesting to look at. The character designs are really strange and creepy. Many of the enemy types look like people and they are generally drawn very tall and lanky. Spike changes visibly when switching weapons and shoes for a nice touch. The music isn’t too bad. Perhaps it might be grating to some but I didn’t really mind it.

I bought my copy of Ghoul School on eBay for $10 a couple of years ago. It was selling for around $15 at the time so it was a nice deal, but I missed that the fold on the label was completely torn off so that the end label and front label are split in two. It’s not awful but I’ll want to upgrade it at some point if I ever run into another copy. My local store had one for $10 for a long time but the end label was faded really badly so I kept passing on it. It eventually got bumped up to $18 and since then someone bought it. It’s not a game I’ve seen around much so I’m not surprised someone else snagged it.

Certainly this is punishment for severe misconduct!

Certainly this is punishment for severe misconduct!

This was my first time beating Ghoul School. I had only tried it when I got the cart and I pretty much dismissed the game as weird right away. When I started out this time, I wandered around and almost instantly got lost. I have a good sense of direction overall but this game made me at least question it a little bit! I realized the only way I was going to make sense of this school was to go old school and draw a map. The art of video game map making goes back a very long way but I believe this is the first time I have ever drawn a map for a game. It turned out to be a very good decision since I only had to hit the unnecessary portions of the map once. Each time I played I got a little bit further and it didn’t take that many attempts to complete the game.

Without spoiling a lot of the game, there’s not much more for me to say about Ghoul School. What I will say is that I found the game got more interesting the farther I went. The last quarter of the game in particular did a few things that I thought were really kind of neat. I believe I have almost all of the game mapped out in my notes. After I finished the game I combed over my map and tried to find all the rooms by number and there were some I did not account for. I’m not sure if these are rooms that I missed or rooms that were not used in the game at all. I think I developed a pretty good route through the school and now I can finish the game relatively quickly. I’m toying with the idea of writing up a more thorough walkthrough. If I ever do that, I’ll host it on the blog and link it here. I’ve peeked at a few walkthroughs online and I’m sure I could do a better job.

UPDATE 7/18/16: Indeed, I did create a Ghoul School Walkthrough. Check it out!

It’s hard for me to recommend playing Ghoul School, but after wading through the control difficulties and getting a handle on the map I really enjoyed this game. Metroid-styled platformers are one of my favorite types of games and so now I have a soft spot for this weird little NES adventure. One final thought: It’s too bad that this game didn’t emerge on my list around Halloween as that would have been most fitting.

#23 - Ghoul School

#23 – Ghoul School