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An 8-bit Extravaganza!

entertainment

JAN
04
2018
0

#62 – Tiger-Heli

Another day, another overthrown terrorist regime.

The long gray screen before the title just screams quality.

To Beat: Finish Level 4
To Complete: Beat three loops
What I Did: Beat two loops
Played: 10/19/17 – 10/20/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Tiger-Heli Longplay

I have seen so many copies of Tiger-Heli in my life. It seems like every time I have seen someone’s NES collection, there is Tiger-Heli. Okay, maybe in a more curated collection you won’t see it, but as far as random NES games go it might as well be ubiquitous. I really wonder why there are so many copies of this game around. It’s not a flashy title, and not one that everyone has fond memories of. Maybe I am seeing the same set of copies passed around all the time. I will get to the bottom of it and see how Tiger-Heli plays on the NES. Then maybe these answers and more will be revealed!

Tiger-Heli was first released in arcades in 1985. The game was developed by Toaplan and published by Taito. In December 1986, the game was ported to Famicom. This port was developed by Micronics and published by Pony Canyon. The NES version came in September 1987 and was published in North America by Acclaim Entertainment. The NES box and manual also point to Taito, though they were not involved with the NES version. The European version of Tiger-Heli was delayed until early 1990. A spiritual sequel, Twin Cobra, was released in the arcades in 1987 and on the NES in 1990, and Twin Cobra II is its direct sequel that came out in arcades in 1996. That same year, both Tiger-Heli and Twin Cobra were released on a single disk for Playstation in Japan only named Toaplan Shooting Battle 1.

Tiger-Heli is a vertical scrolling shooter where you take control of an advanced “jetcopter” of the same name. This game has a typical shooter plot of one man attempting to defeat a terrorist regime. This time it is the fictitious country of Cantun with designs of taking over the world. The Tiger-Heli was specifically constructed as the ultimate stealth helicopter and is the only attack vessel that can sneak in to Cantun and destroy everything. The game takes place over four levels and if you can survive that long you have beaten Tiger-Heli.

Everyone remembers blowing up the houses just for fun.

The controls are simple. Use the D-pad to move Tiger-Heli in all eight directions. The B button fires missiles which are your standard unlimited weapon. Each shot is four tiny missiles wide and they only travel about half the height of the screen, but you can fire several shots at one time. The A button drops bombs which deal splash damage to a large area below Tiger-Heli. You can only hold two bombs at once and you can see them flanked on either side of your helicopter. If an enemy bullet hits a bomb, it will deploy automatically. This acts as a shield and it is typically worth the cost of a lost bomb. On screen, you see your score at the top, your remaining lives on the lower-left, and the number of bonus blocks you have destroyed on the lower-right. You begin the game with two extra lives and both bombs.

There are crosses on the ground that give you powerups when destroyed. They cycle between three different colors and the color determines what you get. Destroying either a red or gray cross generates a support helicopter at the top of the screen that drifts down slowly. Pick this up and now you have a small helicopter on your left that gives you extra firepower. The red support copter shoots to the side and the gray one fires straight ahead. You can collect a second one that flies to your right for triple firepower, and you can have both a red and a gray one at the same time. Support copters can be destroyed by enemy bullets, so you have to manage having a much larger hitbox to maintain full power. The green crosses generate a B powerup that restores a bomb when it’s collected. Acquiring another support helicopter or bomb when you are maxed out gives you bonus points.

A one-man wrecking crew!

There are also red bonus blocks in the stages. These are red diamonds that fade in and out and you can shoot them when they are visible. They give you points and add to the counter at the bottom. After you destroy ten bonus blocks you get an extra life. You also earn extra lives by reaching score milestones. You get your first extra life by reaching 20,000 points, and then you earn another life for every additional 80,000 points after that.

Enemies in the game are turrets, tanks, and boats. Turrets don’t move, tanks may or may not move, and boats always move. What they all have in common is their firing capability. Each enemy shoots at a steady pace and can only fire in eight directions. There is also a large tank that takes many bullets to destroy, and you get points for each shot landed so you can really rack up the score. There are many types of non-violent structures that you can blow up for points just because, such as cars, buildings, train cars, etc.

There are four levels in Tiger-Heli, and each one ends by landing automatically on a helipad. Here you are awarded 5000 bonus points for each support helicopter and bomb you have. At the start of the next stage, you get your bombs replenished. You also get your bombs back after you take a death. Sadly, there is no ending to the game and you may keep looping over the game until you lose all your lives. Just like with Sky Shark, loops begin at Stage 2.

Shoot the red blocks to help gain extra lives.

This was my first time trying to beat Tiger-Heli. I was one of those weird kids that did not own a copy of the game until adulthood. I had friends who owned the game and I did get to play it some, but it wasn’t a game that we played very much. I was familiar with the first stage or so, but that’s all.

I had some free time after lunch one day and decided to try out Tiger-Heli just to see what I was up against. Turns out that wasn’t much, for I beat all four levels on my first try. I don’t think Tiger-Heli is exactly an easy game, but I picked up on it quickly. The next day I played a practice run, and then right after that I recorded my video. On the practice run I reached the beginning of the third loop, but I didn’t quite make it that far on video. The first loop is not that bad, but the difficulty picks up fast the second time around. The enemy’s rate of fire is much faster and therefore it is harder to avoid bullets and line up a shot. The little bit I played of the third loop was even faster. I suspect the third loop is the difficulty cap and if you can complete that you have mastered Tiger-Heli. I could have pushed myself to beat that third loop, but I’m satisfied with completing two loops and moving on to the next game on my enormous list.

The basic strategy for Tiger-Heli takes advantage of the enemies’ poor aiming capabilities. Enemies fire toward you but only in eight directions, so the idea is to sit inside the areas where they are unable to hurt you. Once they fire and miss, you then have a brief window to line up and destroy them. I found the red support helicopters quite useful because they fire sideways and then you can approach the bad guys from either the sides or below. The quicker you can take out enemies, the easier time you have dodging other attacks.

The game is very flickery and it’s virtually impossible to get decent screenshots when there is a lot going on. Case in point!

Here’s a fun little side note. As I mentioned earlier, Toaplan created the “Tiger” trilogy of Tiger-Heli, Twin Cobra, and Twin Cobra II, and the first two games received NES ports. I discovered this while I was writing up my review on Sky Shark a little while ago. One of my quirks of this project is that I switched games around on the master list so that sequels always come after I have played the previous installments. In this case, I had no idea Tiger-Heli and Twin Cobra were related at all. I normally avoid looking at the full list as much as possible, but here I had to see where both games landed on the list and swap them if necessary. Of course, Twin Cobra originally slotted here at Game #62 instead, so I had to switch them. I ended up with a free peek just a few slots ahead by coincidence. I also know now where Twin Cobra will appear on my list. I won’t spoil when that will be, but let’s just say it will be a very long time before I get around to it.

Micronics has a reputation for creating poor ports of NES games, but I think Tiger-Heli is one of their better ones. Now it’s not a great game, but it plays just fine. The gameplay seems to resemble the arcade version close enough. The graphics are a step down from the arcade version, but are passable on the NES. The music is neither notable nor annoying. Gameplay is on the slower side, but there are no performance issues like slowdown. There is a massive amount of flickering whenever there’s a lot going on, but they seemed to work around it about as well as they could without some of the more advanced techniques programmed into later NES games. I may sound a little down on Tiger-Heli, but the fact is that it is a simple game that is competent on the one hand and unexciting on the other. According to Steve Kent’s book The Ultimate History of Video Games, Tiger-Heli on NES sold over a million copies. That’s astounding to me. It also answers why I’ve seen the game so frequently. Today, it’s nothing more than a filler NES title, but you could do much worse than playing Tiger-Heli. Besides, you probably already own it!

#62 – Tiger-Heli

 
MAY
02
2017
0

#42 – The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island

Getting lost takes on a whole new meaning.

Seeing the year 1964 feels so bizarre.

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 12/4/16 – 12/6/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island Longplay

As a rule, I tend to be overly optimistic in my impressions of NES games. Even the worst of the games I have played so far have had redeeming qualities and I have had fun with them. However, even my constant optimism can’t save the fact that The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island is an unpleasant experience. I made the best out of it anyway and now I can share what I feel is the worst NES game I have played yet.

Gilligan’s Island is a sitcom that ran on CBS for three seasons spanning 1964 to 1967. It was created and produced by Sherwood Schwartz. The premise of the show is that a Hawaiian tour boat gets caught in a bad storm and wrecks on an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean. The castaways work together to try and escape the island only to almost always be thwarted by Gilligan’s antics. The show was reasonably popular during its initial run but it grew in popularity later in syndication. This late popularity is likely what inspired a trio of Gilligan’s Island made-for-TV movies and a pair of animated series all in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island is the NES game based on the sitcom. It was developed by Human Entertainment, Inc. and published by Bandai America, Inc. Released in July 1990, not only was it an NES exclusive game, but it is the only video game based on the show. While not a video game, there was a pinball machine based on the sitcom. Named Gilligan’s Island, the machine was manufactured by Bally Midway in 1991.

If Gilligan thinks this is a good spot, it probably isn’t.

In The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island, you play as the Skipper with Gilligan following you along during your adventure. The game is broken up into four levels which are cleverly referred to as episodes. The levels act like a separate episode of the show each with their own self-contained story. Here you explore the island from a side view as you venture out to locate both your fellow castaways and items in order to progress the story to its conclusion.

The game has simple controls. Use the D-Pad to walk around in eight directions. The A button is for jumping, and the B button is used to attack. The Select button pulls up the in-game menu. In the menu, A is used to select the options and Select returns control back to the gameplay. Start is only used to start the game on the title screen.

Exploration is the main objective in this game. You are provided with a map that you can pull up from the menu that really helps. Each section of the map is its own side scrolling area and exits to other areas are located on either the top or the bottom of the screen. Capital letters are located on the map that indicate the locations of one of the other castaways. Typically, you will want to talk to them right away to find out what is going on and what they want you to do. The levels are all timed encouraging you to keep moving along.

The main mechanic in the game is that Gilligan must go along with you as you progress. However, you do not control Gilligan directly, rather he automatically follows behind you trying to keep up with you. The game is essentially one giant escort mission. Gilligan controls much like you expect his character would move in that he bumbles behind you and can often get stuck or left behind in some way. Despite your best efforts, it is assured that at some point you will lose track of Gilligan. When this happens, the clock temporarily changes over to a special two-minute timer. If you don’t locate Gilligan before the timer runs out, it’s Game Over. You need him with you to advance the story, so find him as soon as possible.

Gilligan forgot to follow me again.

One interesting aspect in the game is that the Skipper and Gilligan have conversations that carry on throughout the action. There is a lot of empty space at the bottom of the screen next to the life indicator and timer, so it is constantly filled with scrolling text. The banter is typical of what the characters would say on the show. This also applies to the conversations with the other castaways. I found myself talking to the characters again after each event just to see the different dialog.

There are enemies and traps that stand in your way. Most enemies are wild animals that are annoying. For instance, birds dive bomb you from overhead, and leopards run you over. You can attack the enemies but I find they are best ignored. There are also rolling and falling boulders and other similar obstacles that hurt you. Many screens have rocks that you can jump over, but if you land on one you can trip and take damage that way. There is also running water and quicksand that slows you down instead of dealing damage. In these places, you have to mash the jump button in order to get through. Sometimes you can get swept away to a different part of the map altogether. These places can be useful to jump closer to the next objective or alternately force you to backtrack several minutes.

There are several items available in the episodes. Many of them are quest items that you need to carry in order to progress the story, and these items are specific to a particular episode. One recurring item is the club that gives the Skipper better attack capability and this is often found early in the episode. There are also random item drops that occasionally appear on the ground. The banana restores two hearts of health when used from the menu. The hourglass adds a minute to the timer. A rope is a very useful item as this lets you immediately bring Gilligan back to you if you get separated no matter where he is.

Seeing an item on the ground is always a nice surprise!

The levels also include a cave system. Generally, you enter the caves by falling down a hole. These can be the biggest annoyance of all. If you want to go through a hole, Gilligan needs to go down first and you must walk around in a way to guide him into it. If you don’t want to go that way, then you should tread carefully so he doesn’t fall in by mistake. There are ladders but some of the holes are one-way without a ladder and that can set you in the wrong direction. Moreover, the caves are not always charted on the map, leading to getting lost.

Each episode features at least one boss encounter. These are simply larger enemies that try and beat you down. You want the club for these skirmishes and you fight them by hitting them before they hit you. The bosses take several hits to defeat and the fights themselves become repetitive and tedious. It’s also tough to tell if you are even damaging the boss or not.

At the end of each episode, you are greeted with a cutscene that completes the storyline. Then you are taken to a score screen where you get points based on your time, health, and items remaining. I have no idea why this game has a scoring system since this is the only time points are visible in the entire game. More useful than the scoring screen is the password screen. The game has only four levels, but they are lengthy enough that passwords are welcome. Passwords are simple sequences of eight capital letters A-P, which are still too long for this game but acceptable.

Gilligan is a boss fight spectator too.

This was my first time playing The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island. Before beating the game, I had only seen brief amounts of gameplay a few times, so the game was mostly a mystery for me. For collecting purposes, the cart itself isn’t common but not that expensive either. Today it sells in the $10-$20 range. I bought my cart off eBay in 2014 for about $9 shipped. I remember seeing this game at my local game store for I think $18 when I was actively buying. Eventually it sold but I’m glad I passed on it.

It only took me a couple of days to finish the game. I am good at mental mapmaking and so exploring the maps only taxed me a little bit. I was quick to latch onto using the rivers as warps, so that helped me clear the game more quickly. I only had to repeat levels once or twice before I had it figured out well enough to complete it in time. The pathing does get complicated in Episode 4 and writing my own map for some segments could have proven handy if I weren’t so stubborn.

I neglected to take video of my run through the game the first time, but I suppose I felt the need to have it recorded so I sat down and completed the entire game a second time. The length was just barely short enough to justify recording a longplay. The problem with doing this is that all the levels blend together because the graphics are consistent throughout the game. I know that I got turned around a few times and had to resort to the map much more often than I would have liked, but that was a necessity to getting it all completed in one attempt. I ended up dying once in Episode 3 and again in Episode 4, but in retrospect I think that’s actually a pretty good outcome.

The stream, mud, rocks, and bats all at once!

The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island is misleading in that it has the appearance of being a decent game. The graphics and music aren’t special, but they are adequate. The character portraits and cutscene graphics are nice, and the theme song sounds fine on the NES sound chip. The writing is probably the best thing about the game. I think the writers nailed the personality of the characters and dialog to the point that it feels like an episode of the show. The boss fights can be a bit tricky, but aside from those the game is easy enough that anyone with enough patience and a willingness to map out the levels can finish it. By all appearances, the game is a competent one.

The failing is entirely in the gameplay. This is the most boring game I have ever completed. The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island is window dressing surrounding a myriad of dull, lengthy fetch quests. You talk to people, you find an item, you talk to more people back and forth, you fight a boss, you talk to more people, and so on ad nauseam. You constantly need to wait for Gilligan to catch up to you lest you leave him behind. Nuisances surround you at every twist and turn. A single misstep can lead to several minutes of tedious backtracking on top of the normal backtracking already required. Death is particularly painful and is most likely to lead to shutting the game off, putting it back in storage, and never looking back. I would only hesitantly recommend this game to someone who is trying to complete all NES games, looking for something with easy difficulty, and possesses either elite patience or a glut of free time. Appreciating bad games would be a plus, too. That subset of people is tiny, and I would still feel bad recommending it even if all those boxes are checked. If you happen to be a fan of the show, just watch the longplay I posted. But if you do, don’t blame me if you come to realize it wasn’t worth your time after all!

#42 – The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island