Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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OCT
09
2017
0

#54 – Championship Bowling

The lone NES bowling title gave me more than I bargained for.

A cute penguin also runs across this screen!

To Beat: Score 250 or higher
To Complete: Bowl a Perfect Game of 300
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 7/12/17 – 7/17/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Championship Bowling Perfect Game

Have you ever played a game expecting one thing and then got something significantly different? I have experienced that a little bit in this project so far. Take The Immortal as an example. I expected an adventure game with puzzles, but I wasn’t anticipating combat resembling Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! at all. Championship Bowling is clearly a simple bowling game, but as I sought the highest score it morphed into a puzzle game, requiring me to look for patterns and techniques to crack its code.

Championship Bowling was released on the NES in December 1989. It was published by Romstar and developed by Another Ltd. The Black Bass is the only other NES release developed by Another, though they did release a couple of adventure games on the Famicom in their brief history. This was the second game published by Romstar on the NES, just a couple of months after Twin Eagle. Championship Bowling was also released on Famicom in 1991, published there by Athena. It is the only bowling game on the NES.

Championship Bowling emulates a standard, regulation round of bowling. There are ten frames each consisting of ten pins arranged in a triangle, and the object of the game is to roll the bowling ball down the lane trying to knock down as many pins as possible. You get two throws per frame unless you get a strike by knocking them all down on the first throw. Strikes are the way to get the best scores, but you can do well by picking up the spare on the second throw. After the 10th frame is completed, the game is over. You can see your score, high scores, and choose to play another round if you wish.

At the title screen, you can choose the number of players and which bowling lane you want. Championship Bowling supports up to four players! You can also choose from five different lanes. Each one has a different color scheme in game as well as unique effects on the ball path such as speed and curve of the ball. You press Left or Right to change the number of players, and press Up or Down to choose the lane. Then press Start to advance to the character selection screen.

There’s a good selection of options.

On the next screen, each player makes further selections. You can choose from one of four bowlers and each one has some slight differences in gameplay. Use the D-Pad to highlight the desired bowler and press A. Then enter in your initials. Press Up or Down to cycle through letters and press A to choose each initial. Finally, choose which bowling ball you want. You can pick a 7 pound, 9 pound, 11 pound, 13 pound, or 15 pound ball. Again, each ball handles a bit differently and each one is a different color. One weird thing here is if you play multiplayer, Championship Bowling requires two controllers. Odd numbered players use controller 1 and even numbered players use controller 2. One controller is all you really need since play is alternating, so this is a strange choice. Once all players make their selections then it’s time to bowl!

At the start of each frame, your player stands at the bottom of the screen. Use Left or Right to set where you want your bowler to stand, then press A. Next, the Control meter on the left will show a ball automatically moving in a half-circle arc. This determines the kind of spin placed on the ball. You must press the A button with good timing to get the spin you want. After spin is chosen, then the power meter bar quickly moves up and down. This determines how hard you throw the ball, and like the Control meter this also requires good timing with the A button. After all that, the bowler will go ahead with those selections and throw the ball. If you bowl a strike, you get a little celebration and play moves on to the next player or next frame in single player. Otherwise, you get a second throw to try and clean up the remaining pins.

There is some other useful information on this screen. You can see the high score in the upper-left which defaults to 200. The lower left shows which player is bowling, the current frame, and the scoring for this frame. On the right side, you see a top down view of the lane which is useful for lining up shots. Above the pins is a display that lights up the number of each remaining pin after the first throw, just like something you would see on the display at a real bowling alley. Additionally, before you start your timing selections, you can press B to see the scorecard for your entire round thus far.

After everyone has finished bowling, you are taken to the high score screen. Initials and score are added for every player that scores well enough to place on the board. There are trophies displayed here with scores underneath them that suggest you should be aiming for those scores. When you are finished, you go back to the title screen. Championship Bowling is a simple, straightforward experience.

Here you line up your shot and time the meters.

I think this is my first time playing through Championship Bowling. I have cleaned and tested every cart in my collection, and it’s possible that I played a whole round when I tested this game. This was definitely my first time playing this game seriously. It’s a common cart and I don’t recall when I bought the game. I know I have picked up some in game lots over the years so that’s likely where my copy came from.

The manual has a topic about getting the perfect strike, and the idea proposed there is the same as actual bowling. You want to aim the ball between the front pin and either one of the pins in the second row. Not only that, but you also want to hook the ball between those two pins to get the best possible pin action and best chance to get a strike. In the game, you want to do the same thing. Position your bowler to the right of the pins and curve the ball to the left. (Do the opposite if the bowler is left handed.) With the right positioning, angle, and power, you can hit the sweet spot and get a strike most of the time. I say most of the time because the same shot doesn’t always work.

I mentioned the trophies on the high score screen. The lowest one reads 250 points, then 275, and lastly the perfect 300. Championship Bowling has three different ending screens for meeting each one of those thresholds. The way the scoring system works, you must score several strikes in a row to best increase your score. I was able to find the sweet spot that gives me a strike most of the time, and then I was able to pick up the spare on the frames where pins were remaining. It took many games to find this spot as well as home in on the timing to hit it every time. After playing for some time, I could play a round that let me have enough consecutive strikes to score well within the 250s. That was good enough to get one of the endings and consider the game beaten, but that wasn’t good enough for me.

This was the point where the game turned into this larger puzzle of how to narrow down my options and sequence the events to bowl a perfect 300, and I’m proud to report that I achieved it. I have bowled at least five perfect games with my strategy and it does seem to be consistent. So now I will reveal the ultimate strategy for the perfect game in Championship Bowling. This is the official spoiler alert. You can jump down to the closing paragraph now if you want this game to remain shrouded in mystery.

Strikes are very exciting!

There really are many variables at play here that can change everything, and I narrowed some of them down pretty quickly. I tried just about every position, angle, and speed. Before bowling even begins, I tried all the different lanes, all the different characters, and all the different balls. Right away I put a focus on powerful shots, and in turn I could eliminate three of the five lanes that slow the ball down considerably. Lane 1 is the right lane for this strategy. I also knew a strong hook was important, so I read the manual and it says the upper-right character has the best hook. It’s tough to tell, but I believe the characters do have minute differences and so I stuck with that character. This is the base that I started with.

My next discovery was the semi-consistent strike shot. There are lane markings shaped like triangles arranged in an upside-down ‘V’ pattern. You want to position your bowler to the left of the second lane marker from the right so that the right side of his head is just barely to the left of that lane marker. For the spin control, you want to stop the cursor on the far bottom-left. For the power, you want the bar all the way to the top, or one notch below full power also works. The best ball for this is the 13 pound ball. This exact shot with this ball is 100% effective for the first three frames, while any other sized ball has a small chance of failure.

The fourth frame is where this strategy falls apart. Using my shot technique here causes the ball to hook more sharply, leading to missed pins. To make matters worse, sometimes the game waits until the fifth, sixth, or seventh frame to start missing. Now somewhere around here I did figure out another shot variation that gives occasional strikes, and that’s good and important, but I still have the problem of not knowing when I can deploy this other weapon. This leads to my next discovery. The longer you play, the more randomized the game becomes. I got into the habit of hitting the reset button when I missed a strike to start over and eventually I realized that puts the game into a slightly different state than starting from power on. Once I resorted to shutting my NES off and turning it back on for each new game, I began to get consistent results! Now I could put everything together and get the perfect game I’ve been working toward!

Oooh, I wonder what my prize is!

Here is the complete strategy. Choose Lane 1 and the upper-right bowler. Choose whatever initials you want and select the 13 pound ball. There are only two shots you need to learn. The first shot is the same one I covered above. Position your bowler so that the right side of his head lines up with the left side of the second lane marking from the right. Angle the ball as far left as possible, and go for either full power or one notch below full. Let’s call this Shot A. The other shot I will call Shot B, and it is nearly identical to Shot A. You want the same lane positioning and the same power for both shots, however the angle for Shot B is at a 45-degree angle on the left. Use Shot A on frames 1, 2, 3, and 5, and use Shot B for all remaining frames. If you mess up Shot A a little bit, there’s a chance you can still get a strike. However, you need to be precise on each Shot B or you won’t get a strike. It took me a long time to figure this out because Shot A magically becomes effective again once you make a mistake, so I was led down the wrong path of using it way more often than I should.

I recorded video of bowling the 300 game, but Championship Bowling had one final, bizarre trick up its sleeve. I had been playing the game on my CRT with my AV-modded top-loading NES that I use for quick games or testing carts, but I record gameplay using my flat screen TV and the AVS system. There was a bit of a timing difference that I eventually got used to, but it turns out that my shot sequence above fails on the fifth frame while using the AVS. I suspect that the starting states of the top-loading NES and AVS are not exactly the same. Like I said, it’s completely strange and unexpected. While playing from a fresh boot of the AVS, I needed to use Shot A on frames 1, 2, 3, and 6 while using Shot B on the others. It’s just swapping shots on frames 5 and 6. That sequence is what I recorded in the video. Perhaps different consoles or emulators have a different shot sequence.

For not having any other NES releases to compare it to, Championship Bowling stands on its own anyway as a solid bowling game. The game has good controls and even though it only has as a few songs and melodies, they are catchy and well done. The graphics are nice and clear, although some lanes had poor color choices for the power meter making it hard to see. Each bowler has several frames of throwing animation and the pin action is pretty good considering what the NES is capable of. I’m also thankful the game is not completely random or otherwise I would have given up by now. It’s far from flashy, and the experience wears off quickly, but Championship Bowling is a capable NES game disguised as a surprise puzzler.

#54 – Championship Bowling

 
SEP
27
2016
0

New Developments and Other Thoughts

The last couple of weeks have brought about some things that will lead to some major changes to my project and this website. Let me be clear that I am not stopping anything and these changes could be very good! I have also had a few other thoughts that I might as well air out now and get some discussion going. Even though this is my pet project I do want to keep this interesting for you and everyone else that has been reading and following along thus far. With all that in mind, let’s get started!

I have recently made two purchases that directly impact Take On The NES Library. The first purchase is the brand new RetroUSB AVS console! I have been using it for a week and a half and I really like it! In case you haven’t heard about it, the AVS is a brand new HDMI based NES console. This is great for me because aside from a few exceptions I do all my NES gaming on a flat screen TV. It displays games in clear 720p and it has a good amount of customization options to the video to make it look just about as nice as possible on my TV. Some other features that I really like about it are the Famicom slot, PAL region support, and the Scoreboard for uploading high scores on dozens of games. It has held up very well with every game I have tried so far. I am planning to use it as my primary system for playing NES games going forward.

Even though the AVS is a great system, I do have a couple of concerns around legitimacy. The AVS contains a built-in Game Genie for applying cheats without using any extra peripherals. Unfortunately with that as part of the firmware it’s not easy for me to prove that my playthroughs are cheat-free. Up until now I have played on a top loading NES and I have included a picture of my TV screen and console when I beat the game. From there it will be obvious if I am using a cheat device and that approach will not cut it with the AVS. The only way to really prove it is with video. Otherwise, legitimacy is only as good as my word. Though my detailed reviews and stories may be good enough for most readers, I am certain there is at least one person out there that would be willing to call me out and claim that I have not cleanly beaten some game. It may never happen but I don’t exactly have a leg to stand on in an argument if it comes up. The other concern is about accuracy. It has come to light recently that the AVS plays games a tiny bit slower than on an original NES console. Informal testing has shown that the AVS plays about a second behind an original console for every 10 minutes of play. It is a very small imperceptible difference, but it’s there. Both of these issues in my mind are not enough for me to stay away from using the AVS for my primary console. If I am able to win on an AVS, certainly I can win on a normal console and I would be able to back that up and prove it in some extreme case of doubt.

The other device I bought is a brand new Elgato Game Capture HD. This is very exciting! With this device I can connect my console with my PC and record video of my playthroughs, and combining that with the AVS will produce high-quality video for personal use. It’s obvious there are some great possibilities for enhancing the site with this. One thing I want to try is uploading games to my YouTube channel. I’m not that big on video editing but it shouldn’t be too difficult to create longplay videos for games I finish. I imagine there are quite a few obscure NES games that don’t have a lot of video on the web and I will be able to generate some archival footage that may prove useful. Videos will also provide me proof of victory that could come in handy! The video quality is so good with the AVS that I can grab my own screenshots from the captured video for use in my blog posts. I have resorted to extracting images from emulators or finding them on the web, so the ability to generate my own screenshots on console is really going to enhance my reviews as well.

Another benefit of the capture device is that I can stream gameplay on my Twitch channel. This is actually the main reason why I bought it, but for a non-obvious practical application. My wife likes to watch me play but it’s been difficult to set it up when my young daughter isn’t sleeping well. Streaming lets me play downstairs while she watches and lays in bed upstairs! We have already tried it a couple of times and it works well. The Elgato makes it easy to stream and I should be able to broadcast a few times a week whenever I get to play. My schedule makes it difficult to stream at a convenient time, so when I do it will generally be after midnight for up to an hour on a good night. Despite that it’s another way to expand my reach for the site!

Since I started the blog I have kept a tight lip on what games I am playing until I reveal my review. I have wanted to keep things a surprise in the same way that the next game I play is a surprise to me. Obviously if I am going to start live streaming that will be impossible. I have had more than one person show interest in my current progress and I suspect it will be better overall if I am more transparent with my progress especially if that information is going to be out there anyway. Therefore I am going to start revealing more about what’s happening here on places such as my Twitter account and my Nintendo Age discussion thread. I hope these things may spark some more interest and discussion in what I’m doing here.

In the spirit of transparency, I am revealing today that I have been working a bit on the side learning to play piano using the NES Miracle Piano Teaching System. A little over a month ago I bought the CIB Miracle Piano set from a collector that was selling off all of his games. The set is a bit challenging to track down and I jumped at the opportunity to obtain a good condition set for what I think is a good price. This appeared on my list immediately before Ikari Warriors but at that time I didn’t have the set so I couldn’t even show it off. Good thing I put it off! I have the entire setup connected to my CRT TV in my office for the near future so that I can work on the teaching program a few times a week. Now, I have no music experience in any form whatsoever so I am learning from scratch. From what I have done so far I think the program is quite good, but it is also shaping up to be a very difficult endeavor. It may be harder to finish than Ikari Warriors! I have just started Lesson 8 out of 36 total lessons and this new lesson really beat me up when I first started. It will take a lot of effort to finish everything but I am dead set on completing it. I estimate that it will take me at least a year to finish the program but at this point I won’t be surprised if it takes two or three years to complete.

A part of my project methodology has been bothering me for awhile. When I first created my master game list I bumped a number of games that I wasn’t interested in trying to beat down to the bottom of my list. That mini-list mostly consists of sports games, strategy games, and flight simulation games. There were 83 games that got this treatment which is really a significant portion of the library. I’m starting to regret that choice. There’s really no point in delaying these games considering my goal of beating them all. I did that initially to minimize the chance of losing interest in the project if I got stuck with a long uninteresting game. I think I have proven by now that I am willing to spend a lot of time working through any game so I want to reintroduce those skipped games in some way. The most likely option is to periodically sprinkle one of these games into my master list. Another possibility is to work on two active games, one from each list. If I decide to go that route I will defer that until after I finish Miracle Piano since that is already my alternate game!

Since I’ve been working on the website and project I have always been thinking of doing things to expand my reach and get the word out about Take On The NES Library. I am getting ready to take a big step forward with attempting to expand my content to Twitch and YouTube. I am wondering if I should take it even further and set up dedicated channels and accounts for the blog, or if it is fine using my personal accounts for that. I even wonder if I should bother trying to market the site in the first place and just stick to word of mouth and keeping things small. I don’t really have the bandwidth in my life to have a dedicated streaming schedule or upload schedule. I have a hard enough time keeping up with posting reviews every couple of weeks. It’s probably best right now to stick with my foray into video and see how that goes first!

I think that’s all that has been on my mind. I would love to hear from you! I know my blog comments have barely been used, but please feel free to try them out and send something my way if you have any suggestions for how I can further improve this site. You can also find me on the Nintendo Age forums as arnpoly as well as that active forum thread there specifically for this project. Keep your eyes peeled for more frequent updates!

 
JUL
01
2016
0
Crystal Quest Box Cover

Game Boy #2 – Crystal Quest

I thought I was getting some kind of RPG, but I ended up with an arcade game instead!

The title screen is misleading too, but it works!

The title screen is misleading too, but it works!

To Beat: Set the high score
To Complete: Beat Wave 99
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 6/28/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Crystal Quest caught me a bit by surprise in a number of ways. I was not expecting to be writing a Game Boy post right now, but circumstances can be a funny thing sometimes and so here we are. I didn’t know anything about the game until just last week, but when I saw the cart I figured it would be something I would want to have for my collection. When I ended up with was not the game I was guessing I would get, but it turned out to be a fun little diversion that took me almost no time at all to complete.

It all started last week while looking at game lots for sale on eBay. I am always keeping an eye out for good deals as well as games to add to my ever growing collection. One listing I found was for a small Game Boy lot that included Crystal Quest. This was the first time I had ever seen the game while looking at Game Boy games over the last several months. It looked intriguing just based on the cover art alone. I put it in my watch list and hemmed and hawed about buying it before deciding to let the auction end without placing a bit.

I still wanted to know more about the game so I did a little bit of research about the gameplay. Surprising to me, this game with the word Quest in the title was actually an arcade shooter. I hopped on over to eBay and found a copy for under $7 shipped, and when researching prices it seemed to be worth around $10, so that was enough for me to take the plunge and pick up a new game for the collection.

Yep, definitely not an RPG!

Yep, definitely not an RPG!

I received the cart earlier in the week along with a few other games I had ordered. I opened up and cleaned the carts like I always do, and then later on I fired the games up to test them out. When I got to Crystal Quest, I played through a few levels only to lose all of my lives rather quickly. Rather than putting it away, I decided to go for one more try. All of a sudden, I had that beautiful moment where the game clicked with me. I played and played and I got to the point where I could play indefinitely, which is about as good as it gets for an endless game like Crystal Quest. It started with cart testing time, and it ended up with the base for a new blog post!

Crystal Quest was originally released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh and the Apple IIgs. It was developed by Patrick Buckland and published by Casady & Greene. The game is notable for being the first game in color for the Macintosh. Crystal Quest is loosely based on the Atari 800 XL game Crystal Raider, which is a platformer instead of a shooter style game but with a similar premise. There would later be a sequel released in 1993 named Crystal Crazy, and much later in 2006 Crystal Quest was ported to the Xbox 360 on the Xbox Live Arcade. A Kickstarter was launched in 2015 to create a new version of the game, but unfortunately it did not meet its funding goal. The Game Boy version I played was released in September 1991, published by Data East, and developed by Novalogic.

Crystal Quest is a top down arcade shooter with a very simple goal. You pilot a spaceship inside an arena that is scattered with crystals. The goal is to collect all the crystals and escape through the hatch that opens at the bottom of the screen. That sounds simple, but of course there are obstacles designed to prevent you from easily clearing the room. Randomly strewn on the screen are mines that will explode the ship if touched. There are also two hatches. One is on the left side of the screen and the other on the right side, and they spawn various types of enemies. Each wave consists of a single screen of randomly placed crystals and mines, and the enemies will keep flowing until you escape to the next wave.

Death is pretty common in this game.

Death is pretty common in this game.

The controls are really simple. Use the D-pad to move in any direction. Press the A button to fire a bullet, and press the B button to use a bomb. The movement in the game is very inertia heavy so it is pretty easy to slide around all over the place. Pressing in the opposite direction to slow down is an essential skill. The shooting in this game is unique in that the bullets go in exactly the same direction as the ship is moving. For instance, to fire right means having to move to the right. That makes it challenging to attack enemies coming directly toward you. Even more strange is that shooting without moving at all will place a stationary bullet as sort of a makeshift mine.

The bombs are very powerful weapons that wipe out all of the enemies on the screen. Of course bombs like this can only be used a limited number of times so they must be used conservatively. There are bomb icons in the levels that can be collected to add a bomb to the supply. These turn out to be crucial in keeping alive through as many waves as possible.

There are several different enemy types that will stand in the way of completing the level. They are very tiny sprites and it is typically difficult to distinguish exactly how they will move and attack by sight alone. I just observed them for a second to see how they would attack instead. Some enemies shoot, some enemies home in on you, some enemies drop mines, some randomly bounce around the screen, and so on.

Ride the wave!

Ride the wave!

Crystal Quest is primarily a score attack game and as a result there are several ways to earn points. Collecting crystals and killing enemies give a small amount of points. There are diamonds sometimes dispersed in the level that are there to provide a nice point boost. Occasionally a large diamond will appear that appears to be an enemy at first, but it can be collected and it is worth a lot of points. After the wave is completed, there is a time bonus that depends on how long it takes to complete the wave. The score starts out adding up slowly but it really ramps up after about a dozen stages or so.

There are 99 Waves total in Crystal Quest. I know that because I got to Wave 99 and after beating it the game just loops Wave 99 over and over until you quit or run out of lives. Every 15 waves or so there is a small cutscene where a bug gets shot and explodes, and you are rewarded with a one-word attaboy like “Radical” or “Awesome.” Eventually these cutscenes cease once the Wave 99 loop starts. At some point, the escape hatch start moving back and forth along the bottom of the screen which adds a little extra challenge to slipping out of the arena at the end.

I found that the game takes a little bit of practice to get used to, but after that the Waves become really short. It doesn’t take long to start making good progress into the game. Crystal Quest is also very generous with extra lives doled out at a regular pace. I couldn’t discern any sort of pattern of when I would get an extra life but I would earn one at least every other level, and so I could earn lives faster than I could spend them. At the very least I could maintain roughly the same number of lives. The bombs worked the same way so I never ran out of them or even got particularly low.

The high scores may seem out of reach but they are managable.

The high scores may seem out of reach but they are managable.

I developed a good strategy for playing Crystal Quest. I would sweep each level counter-clockwise starting with the right side of the screen. Early on I stopped shooting altogether in favor of collecting the crystals and exiting the stage as quickly as possible. If I got into any trouble I dropped a bomb and kept moving. This was tricky when collecting crystals around the side enemy hatches. Usually activating a single bomb as I approached the left hatch and quickly flying through seemed to do the trick most of the time.

With repeating that strategy, I reached Wave 99 in a little over a half hour with about 5 million points. I figured that the score would either cap or loop at 9,999,999 so I kept going until then. As it turns out the score keeps tallying above 10 million points, so I called it quits shortly after that. There’s no way I wanted to spend several more hours in an attempt to max out the score just to see what happens!

Endless games are always a challenge to pin on a winning condition. There are several options and there’s a good argument for every one of them, but I had to choose something so this is what I decided. I like to choose the point where all the levels are completed, but that does fit well here since the level layouts are completely random. Beating Wave 99 seems a little excessive to me, so I opted to use that as the Completed winning condition. The next option is either setting the high score or finding where the difficulty maxes out. I decided upon setting the high score as the winning condition since Crystal Quest looks to be all about getting a high score. The high score on the hall of fame screen is 1,750,000, so exceeding that score is the minimum to consider the game beaten in my opinion.

Crystal Quest is a fine option to pick up and play for a few minutes every now and then, but there’s not really enough to the game to want to play it any more than that. It’s a competent game for sure, but I feel that it’s not worth seeking out unless it’s really cheap. I had a fun time with it however so it was worth the cost to me!

Game Boy #2 - Crystal Quest

Game Boy #2 – Crystal Quest

Game Boy #2 - Crystal Quest (High Score)

Game Boy #2 – Crystal Quest (High Score)

 
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