Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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OCT
02
2017
0

#53 – American Gladiators

You can sort of get the experience with this lovely home version!

A contestant runs around the copyright page before the title.

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 6/26/17 – 7/2/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: American Gladiators Playthrough

It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about Rollergames, and today we have another game based on a 90’s TV show that is right out of the same mold. They were both live-action shows that ran on TV at the same time. Both shows received an NES game to piggyback off the hype. Also, although American Gladiators on NES does a little better in this regard, both NES games deviate somewhat from the source material.

American Gladiators is a US TV show that aired in syndication from 1989 to 1996. It pits two men and also two women against each other in several events culminating in a final obstacle course called the Eliminator. All the events involved the Gladiators, who are recurring athletes that have their own roles in the events to prevent the contestants from scoring. The show eventually featured many different events that came and went through the run of the show, and each episode consisted of different combinations of events. Later, there was a remake of American Gladiators that ran for two seasons, both in 2008.

I’m genuinely disturbed by the concept of lives here.

American Gladiators on NES was released in October 1991 only in the US. It was published by Gametek and developed by Incredible Technologies. This game resembles the show but does not follow its format. There is a different American Gladiators game that is much more faithful to the show. That version was developed by Imagitec Design Inc and also published by Gametek on the Sega Genesis, DOS, and Amiga in 1992. The SNES port was released in 1993.

Similar to the TV show, in the NES game you have to compete in five different events which are modified versions of specific games that appeared on the show. You have to clear all five events within so many “lives.” The events are Joust, The Wall, Human Cannonball, Powerball, and Assault. Once you clear all five events, the game advances to the next level where you get a more challenging set of these same five events. In all, you must clear four different difficulty levels of five events each before moving on to the final event, the Eliminator. If you can clear the Eliminator, then you win the game.

Let’s look at each event. First I will explain how the event is played on the show, and then I will describe how it was converted to the NES game.

Stick and move.

In Joust, a contestant and a gladiator attempt to knock each other off a raised platform with pugel sticks. In the NES version of Joust, you square off against four gladiators one at a time instead of just the single battle featured in the show. During a face-off, you can move around a bit on the platform by tapping Left or Right on the D-Pad. Press A to thrust your pugel stick at the gladiator. You can press B to thrust too but this will also inch you a step toward the gladiator. Just pressing A or B does a middle thrust, and you can also do a high thrust by holding Up or a low thrust by holding Down when you strike. You can also block by holding Left and pressing either A or B. You exchange blows with the gladiator until you knock him off the platform. Then the event briefly switches to a platformer as you must move forward jumping from platform to platform to engage the next gladiator. After you win the third fight, a super pugel stick will fly into play. If you grab it your stick will light up, then if you can land a first strike on the gladiator you will knock him off instantly. If you get hit first then you lose the super pugel stick, so make it count! If you get knocked off or fall off at any time, you lose a life.

Tap it out while making quick decisions.

In The Wall, two contestants race up a climbing wall. After a few seconds, the Gladiators will pursue the contestants attempting to pull them off the wall, preventing them from reaching the top and scoring points. In the NES event, your goal is also to climb to the top of the wall, but this time there are several gladiators that appear at various locations along the wall that you must avoid. The controls for this event are tricky and unlike anything else I’ve ever played. The idea is that the B button moves your left hand and the A button moves your right hand. You combine this button press with a direction to move that hand in all eight directions. There are handholds covering most of the wall and as long as you have at least one hand on one you will stay on the wall. The consequence of this control scheme is that you need to tap buttons quickly to move fast. For instance, to move straight up, you must rapidly alternate between pressing A and B while holding Up. It takes practice to get the hang of it. You can find a glove on the wall that lets you move very fast with just the D-Pad instead of having to tap out A and B, but it only lasts for a few seconds. Each of the four levels is a completely different layout on the wall, and you need to have mastered the control scheme to clear the last wall. If you lose the grip on both hands, or you come in contact with one of the gladiators, then you fall down and lose a life. Plus, you have to start at the very bottom of The Wall.

He doesn’t stand a chance.

The Human Cannonball event begins with a gladiator standing on a small elevated platform holding a foam pad for protection. The contestants swing on a rope from their own platform and try to knock the gladiator down to score points. The NES event requires you to jump from your platform, grab the swinging rope, and then let go at the right time to knock the gladiator down. Like Joust, there is a series of four gladiators that you knock down to finish the event. Both the starting platform and the gladiator’s platform move up and down, making the timing more difficult. At the start, you can walk left or right a bit on the platform, and then press A to jump toward the rope. If you grab onto it, then you automatically swing back and forth and you must press A again to let go and launch yourself. In some levels, during the third gladiator a glove will fly into play, and if you grab it you can move up and down the rope. Normally where you first grab the rope is where you stay until you jump off. The glove comes in handy on the fourth gladiator because there can be a trophy at the top of the rope that gives you an extra life. In this event, it is very easy to lose lives. You can fall off the platform, miss the jump to the rope, miss the gladiator on the launch, or hit the gladiator when he is blocking.

Always score in the center when it is clear.

In Powerball, there are bins filled with balls on both ends of the playfield, and there are five empty pods guarded by three gladiators. Both contestants play simultaneously by taking a ball and putting it into the pods, if they can get by the gladiators to do so. The players must cross to the opposite end before grabbing a new ball, and the object is to score as many points as possible within a time limit. The NES version of Powerball is mostly faithful to the original event. You grab a ball at either end of the playfield with either A or B. Then you have to run around the gladiators and place the ball into the pod by standing next to it and pressing the button. Just like on the show you must cross to the opposite side to grab a new ball. The difference in the NES game is that you are only allowed to put one ball in each pod. If you score on all five pods, you are awarded an extra life as well as free up all the pods so you can continue scoring anew. If a gladiator touches you, he always knocks the ball out of your hand and you have to go get a new one. This is the only event where you don’t lose a life. Just score as much as you can before the timer runs out!

Weird gladiator scrolling, but a fun game mode at least.

The Assault features a gladiator manning a tennis ball cannon, and there is a target on the wall behind him. The contestants run through the playfield dodging the fired tennis balls and reaching the safe spots. Each safe spot has a weapon used to hit the target. The contestant wins if they hit the target or reach the end of the course before time runs out, and they lose if the gladiator hits them with a tennis ball. The NES version of the game plays a bit differently. The gladiator moves back and forth at the top of the screen with the cannon no matter where you are in the course. You scroll the playfield upward and seek out weapons near a safe spot. Neither you nor the gladiator can shoot through barriers on the field. Grab a weapon by standing on the weapon icon and pressing B, then press A to launch a shot upward. Each icon gives you three shots. The gladiator will fall if you shoot him enough times, and you lose a life if he hits you three times. Alternatively, you clear the event if you reach the top of the course before time runs out. This is the only event that you can lose if the timer expires.

Platforming with random projectiles!

Once you clear all 20 events, then you begin the Eliminator. This is a long, slowly scrolling platforming level essentially. You start out by hopping between balance beams with the A button and advancing to the right. During the event, medicine balls will spray out from the bottom of the screen randomly. If they hit you then you fall, but you can save yourself by pressing Down to duck in time and shield yourself from the hit. Be careful when jumping as you can’t block hits. Eventually you come to the hand bike. Press Left or Right to move along the rail and dodge the balls. Past the hand bike are conveyor belts, and then after that is another hand bike section. Finally, the balls go away and you take a series of zip lines to the end of the course. You must time your jump off each zip line to grab the next one. If you get all the way to the end, congratulations!

Finally, here is some miscellany about American Gladiators. Across all events, there is a scoring system in place. You typically earn points by either getting past a gladiator or redeeming each second left on the timer at the end of the event. Once you clear a level of five events, you get 100 points as well as an extra life for the next level. You can also earn a continue by clearing either Level 1 or 2. When you lose all your lives, you get a password, provided you have already cleared Level 1. The password is eight characters long and the only characters are A and B. You enter the password by pressing the corresponding button, which is super convenient. There are only three passwords, one for each level from two to four. Lastly, the game features a two-player mode, but it is alternating play so it isn’t that useful.

This was my first time playing American Gladiators. I have owned the game since childhood and probably got it from a yard sale. It only took one try playing it to discover I wasn’t all that interested in the gameplay. I’m not sure why that was because I enjoyed watching the TV show on cable whenever I saw it was on, and I played NES often as a kid. I’m glad I’m doing this completion project because it gives me the motivation to play through games such as American Gladiators that I’ve owned for over half my life.

This guy is super tough for some reason.

It took me three or four days over a week to solve American Gladiators. Initially I found Powerball to be the easiest event because I always filled up the pods, only to find out later that it truly is the easiest one since you cannot lose regardless. Assault was the next easiest game for me because I am good at dodging, although that was tested during the final level. The Wall tends to be difficult for people due to the weird, exhausting controls, but I took to it quite well. Joust was the event that gave me so much trouble until I figured out how it worked. Human Cannonball to my surprise ended up being the most difficult event as the later levels had me almost pulling my hair out.

Once I got all those games figured out, it was time for the Eliminator. This event was challenging, but it was even harder to learn because I could only use what lives I had remaining after clearing all the Level 4 events. The best shot I had at the Eliminator came from playing the game from the start and accumulating as many lives as possible along the way. I had a few runs that I almost completed before recording anything, and once I sat down to record I ended up completing the game for the first time. I even beat it without continues. I had close to ten lives starting the Eliminator but I used nearly all of them up to beat it.

You really need to master the controls to solve this one.

Here are some pointers for a few of the events that tripped me up in the game. Spoilers apply here, so if you want to try the game yourself and keep your experience pure, now is the time to look away! As I mentioned earlier, Joust was my first major hang up. That was because I was playing it wrong. The opponents also strike with low, medium, and high thrusts, and you can counter each one. You counter a low strike with a medium one, a medium strike with a high one, and a high strike with a low one. The gladiators also strike in a pattern that loops, so once you see it you can predict and counter every hit. If you are fast and don’t know the pattern, you can also counter by observing his strike and attacking quickly. Moving on to the Human Cannonball event, there are a few gladiators that seem impossible to knock down because they always block you. The only way I figured out how to get past them is to swing on the rope back and forth a few times before launching yourself. In other words, if they block on your first swing, try knocking them down on your second swing. You can stay on the rope for as long as you like once you grab on. I won’t tell you which gladiators or how many swings you need to wait. If you need to know, you can see my strategy in the longplay video. Finally, a couple of basic tips for The Wall. Make sure to spend some time in a clear space learning how to move in all directions. Take it slow. This becomes very important in later levels where each incremental movement is critical. Also, it is best to set the controller in your lap and use your pointer and middle fingers to tap out the A and B buttons. The game manual recommends this since you can move around on The Wall much quicker and with less fatigue in your hand.

I’ll say that American Gladiators is an interesting NES game, but I don’t know that I would recommend playing it. It’s a novelty to see how they adapted the show into an NES game, but it’s not quite reminiscent of the show enough to invoke the nostalgia factor. The music is fine, but nothing special, and notably the iconic theme song is not in this game at all. If it is, then it wasn’t recognizable enough for me to notice it. The graphics are decent and every important element is clearly defined. It’s a mish-mash of a game. I had fun with it, but of course I always say that.

#53 – American Gladiators

 
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