Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

kid

JUN
29
2017
0

#45 – Rollergames

Maybe this game should have been called Skate or Die instead.

They aren’t even shy about this being a Konami game.

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 12/30/16 – 1/2/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: Rollergames Longplay

I used to go roller skating often growing up. The local roller rink was the place to be for young kids on a Friday night, and even though I was not particularly good at skating I still enjoyed being there with my friends. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about the contact sport roller derby, and it just so happens there is also an NES game based on the sport. With a library this vast, I guess I should not be so surprised!

The sport of roller derby originated in the 1930s. The game is played with two teams of skaters who skate laps around a banked track. The object of the game is to score points by having a designated member of the team lap opposing players. The sport grew in popularity during the 1940s and 1950s. As interest started to decline, and as television became more prominent, the sport shifted more toward storylines and theatrics and away from pure competition. Since then the sport has shifted back toward its competitive roots. Roller derby has seen a resurgence beginning in the early 2000s, predominately in all-female leagues.

In the middle of all this is Rollergames, a 1989 TV show that went all in on the theatrical approach to roller derby. There were changes made for Rollergames, such as introducing a figure eight shaped track instead of the traditional banked oval track. Rollergames is like the WWE with a heavy focus on rivalries and storylines. The show was quite popular, but despite that it only ran for one season because some of the show’s producers when bankrupt.

Complete with broadcasters!

There are two video games based on Rollergames. The first is an arcade title of the same name developed by Konami in 1990. The gameplay is modeled closely after the TV show. The second name is the NES version of Rollergames, also developed by Konami and published under the Ultra Games label. This version is also influenced by the show, but it plays more as a classic beat-em-up game. It was released in the US in September 1990 and in Europe in October 1991. It was not released in Japan or ported to any other systems.

Rollergames is a side-scrolling beat-em-up game with some platforming elements included. Members of a criminal organization have corrupted three of the Rollergames teams leading to the capture of the league commissioner, and the only people that can save him are the members of the other three good teams. The introductory cutscenes frame the game as a storyline fitting of the TV show. You must complete all six levels to save the commissioner and win the game.

At the start of each level, one of the sideline reporters asks you which team you would like to choose. You can pick either Ice Box of the Thunderbirds, Rolling Thunder of the Hot Flash, and California Kid of the Rockers. Each character plays differently so that you want to choose the team best suited to clear the current level. Ice Box is the slow but powerful character, while Rolling Thunder is the weak, but speedy character. California Kid is naturally the balanced choice.

You can knock down the bad guys quickly.

The controls are very natural. Use the D-Pad to skate in all eight directions. The A button is for jumping and the B button is used to attack. The standard attack is a basic punch, but you can do a jump kick by pressing B during a jump. You also have a special attack that you trigger by pressing both A and B at the same time. Each character has a slightly different special move. Ice Box does a body slam, Rolling Thunder does a spinning jump kick, and California Kid has a double jump kick. The moves are powerful but you are limited to only three per level, so use them wisely.

The levels all play from a side-scrolling perspective, but there are two different types of levels. The normal levels can scroll in all directions and you progress linearly through the level. There are many slopes to navigate and pits to jump across, as well as other enemies and traps that stand in your way. These can be quite tricky to clear while on roller skates! As you go, you will run into groups of enemy skaters and you must beat them all up before moving forward. Three normal levels revolve around each of the bad teams, which are the Bad Attitude, Maniacs, and Violators, and these levels have two sections each. The final level is in this normal style but it has four parts.

The other type of level is an auto-scrolling level. The skater of your choice is always moving forward here and the goal is to survive to the end. These levels follow along a broken highway so there are many gaps to cross. Of course, there are also various obstacles, traps, and enemies to contend with. These levels also feature boss-like encounters, but all you need to focus on is dodging the attacks until they go away, ending the stage.

Roads are always under construction!

At the top of the screen, there is a timer in the middle. This countdown only applies to the normal stages where you have to move ahead on your own pace. At the lower left is a vertical health bar. Your skater can suffer several hits before losing a life, though falling down a pit or landing on spikes results in immediate, swift death. The lower right area shows markers that indicate how many special attacks are remaining for the stage. There is a separate screen at the start of each stage that displays your score, high score, current level, and number of lives remaining. There are no powerups in the game for replenishing any of these elements. However, you can earn an extra life when reaching either 20,000, 50,000, or 80,000 points.

The obvious gimmick to Rollergames is that you play the entire game while on roller skates. As a result, your character controls in a fitting manner. It’s akin to playing a game with nothing but ice levels and ice physics. The skaters are generally slow to accelerate and slow to come to a stop. Often, I found myself making quick turns in a different direction than where I was moving to keep myself from falling. The game has various sections of platforming where you need clear gaps of different sizes. Not only that, but there are falling platforms, moving platforms, and crumbling floors to deal with. It’s a tough combination to work with and there is much trial and error involved to learn the right moves.

Slopes and tiny jumps on roller skates don’t mix.

The game balances this difficulty out in several ways. The levels tend to be reasonably short with checkpoints after every sublevel. The hand-to-hand combat is simple and the enemies themselves don’t pose much of a threat. Lastly, there are infinite continues in the game, so you can keep banging away at each level until you clear it. You always start at the beginning of each sublevel if you die, so once you reach the checkpoint you don’t have to play past sections again.

Seeing as it’s a Konami game in the middle of the NES lifespan, Rollergames is a quality title. Not only do the controls make sense, but the game has good graphics and some excellent music. It’s the soundtrack that really stands out overall. In my mind, it has a similar sound to TMNT II and III. Maybe that is because both games are beat-em-ups, but regardless it sounds good and it suits the game well.

I first played Rollergames last year for the NintendoAge weekly contest. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to play that week and I only reached Stage 2. That was barely any experience so this was the first time I seriously played Rollergames. This was one of those filler titles that I acquired in a random NES game lot that I purchased back in my collecting heyday. When it showed up on the list, I knew that Rollergames was a pretty good game that is easily overlooked, so I was happy to play through it.

This part is particularly devilish.

I beat Rollergames over two days and those two days just happened to fall on either side of New Years, making this the first game I have played for the project over two separate years. On the first attempt, I reached Stage 5-1 and this is where I got stuck. The first part of level isn’t all that bad, but the section right before the checkpoint is pretty nasty. You have to cross along the edge of a cliff where the ground periodically crumbles away in front of you. It forces you to move slowly to reveal the hidden gaps, and then you must back up enough to get the momentum to leap to the other side. But you must be careful not to go too far past the hole or you will fall into the next one. It wouldn’t be so bad if the controls weren’t slippery, but here it’s a pretty evil little section under the game’s ground rules. After several attempts at Stage 5-1 I turned the game off for the night.

The next time I sat down to play, I performed decently up to 5-1. After many new attempts, I reached 5-2 and from there I pushed my way through to the very end. I recorded my playthrough on video, but it was the ugliest playthrough I have recorded so far. There are several sections that must be practiced, and without any of that experience I died a bunch of times until I made it through. There are enough problem spots that I would have to beat the game a few times just to record a decent run. However, a game finish doesn’t have to be pretty to count, so I’ll accept this one and move on!

Rollergames is a fun game that I enjoyed playing. It’s got that Konami standard level of polish to it with solid controls, good gameplay, nice graphics, and catchy music. The one problem with the game is that there’s a significant amount of platforming that doesn’t properly fit the game’s slippery physics. It makes this game less accessible than other NES games of similar style right off the bat. If you can get by the initial hurdles, I think you would enjoy playing the game. It’s also an inexpensive cart for the collector or player insisting on the original cart. It’s too bad that it is overlooked because I think it deserves more recognition than it receives.

#45 – Rollergames

 
SEP
20
2016
0
Kid Icarus Box Cover

#26 – Kid Icarus

As long as you don’t fly into the sun, you will probably enjoy this game!

Nice cheery title screen music is an excellent way to start!

Nice cheery title screen music is an excellent way to start!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Get the best ending
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Got the best ending
Played: 8/22/16 – 8/29/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 6/10

It’s always a good day whenever one of the classic NES titles comes up in my list! It can be a little rough around the edges at times, but Kid Icarus has a lot of neat ideas that come together well for a game this early in the library.

Kid Icarus was first released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan on December 19, 1986 under the name Hikari Shinwa Parutena no Kagami which translates to Myth of Light: The Mirror of Palutena. It was co-developed by Nintendo R&D1 and Tose with R&D1 handling the design and Tose handling the development work. The game took advantage of the expanded capabilities of the FDS by including more game content than what was previously done on cartridge, a save game feature, and enhanced audio. Kid Icarus was later ported to a cartridge for release in Europe in February 1987 and a few months later in North America in July 1987.

Kid Icarus received a sequel on Game Boy in North America in November 1991 and Europe in May 1992. Curiously it was not released in Japan until appearing on the Japanese 3DS Virtual Console. The gameplay is very similar to the NES version but it is an all new game. The series would then go into hibernation for over 20 years aside from seeing a Virtual Console release in 2007. The newest title in the series is named Kid Icarus Uprising released in 2012. In that same year the original game received a 3D Classics remake on the Nintendo 3DS.

Kid Icarus is a side-scrolling platform action game. You play as the angel Pit in his quest to save the goddess Palutena and Angel Land from the evil Medusa. The game takes place over four main areas: Underworld, Overworld, Skyworld, and the Palace in the Sky. The first three areas are comprised of four sections each and the final section is a fortress that plays differently than the rest of the game. The object is to recover one of the sacred treasures in each of the three fortresses and use all three of them for the final battle against Medusa.

Thus begins the long ascent...

Thus begins the long ascent…

The first thing you’ll notice when playing Kid Icarus is that play advances upward with vertical scrolling. This is one of the few early NES games to employ vertical scrolling like this as a main component of the game right from the start. Unfortunately the game only handles one-way scrolling upward, and if you happen to fall back down you will die regardless of what platforms you left behind. This is why Kid Icarus seems to be regarded as a difficult game because the early game platforming must be completed with minimal mistakes. The reasoning behind the vertical level is symbolic as Pit begins at the bottom of the Underworld and must ascend upward to reach the Overworld. Stage 2 switches to more traditional horizontal scrolling before going vertical again in the Skyworld. The overall idea here makes sense from a storytelling perspective but it tarnishes the initial impression of the gameplay experience.

One neat aspect about the vertical levels is that Pit can loop around the screen horizontally. You can leave the screen on the left and reappear on the right, and vice versa. This leads to some interesting level design in a few places where you will need to take advantage of the looping mechanic to overcome some obstacles.

Pit can walk left and right and jump typical of a normal platformer game. He can fall through some thin flooring by pressing Down, which can sometimes lead to unintentional falling to your death. He can also shoot arrows from his bow to the left, right, and upward. Pit also has a health bar and he can take a few hits from enemies before defeat. The enemies tend to appear in groups though there are stray single enemies every once in awhile. When they are defeated they leave hearts behind and these are used as currency. Small hearts are worth one, large half hearts are worth five, and large full hearts are worth ten. Pit can hold up to 999 hearts and there are many items that can be found or purchased with these hearts. You can track just about all of the items on the subscreen that is displayed when the game is paused with the Start button.

Kid Icarus sure doesn't pull punches early on.

Kid Icarus sure doesn’t pull punches early on.

There are several types of chambers that appear throughout the levels by way of open doors. Among the most common rooms are two different kinds of shops. The basic shop has items that are fairly priced. The mallet is the cheapest item and is a limited use subweapon that can be equipped by pressing Select during play. It is very strong but each mallet acquired only allows for a single swing before it is depleted. They have a special use in the end of level fortresses that I will cover later. The Water of Life chalice restores some health, and the Water of Life in a bottle will automatically deploy its health boost as soon as Pit runs out of energy. The Angel Feather lets Pit survive a fall off the bottom of the screen by initiating a brief period of flight to recover onto a ledge. These are very useful but are pretty expensive and therefore are not as easy to acquire when you really need one early in the game.

The other kind of shop is the Black Market. This shop is overpriced compared to the normal shop, but these are worth visiting in some situations. The Water Barrel item can only be purchased on the Black Market and it allows Pit to hold more than one Water of Life bottle at a time. If you don’t already have a Water of Life it gives you one for free, otherwise the one you are carrying gets saved in the barrel. There are also some other special items that show up here under special circumstances that I will also mention later.

There is a treasure room that contains eight pots each with a question mark on them. You can destroy a pot to reveal an item but it costs five hearts per pot. You may destroy as many pots as you want. Collecting a revealed treasure removes all the remaining pots but you can grab all the items you found. However one of the pots contains the God of Poverty and if you find him you lose all of the items and are booted from the chamber empty handed. If you break all the pots and leave the God of Poverty for last, the final pot instead contains a more substantial treasure. The bonus treasure can be an Angel Feather, a Water of Life Bottle, a Water Barrel, or the Credit Card. This is the only way in the game to obtain the Credit Card. You can use it in the Black Market to buy items that you cannot afford. Of course if you do so you will be in his debt and are unable to buy any more items until you pay off what you owe him.

Decisions, decisions!

Decisions, decisions!

Another type of room is the Sacred Training Chamber. A God in this room will summon a bunch of randomly moving enemies that look like floor tiles. The object here is simply to survive, and if you do so you are rewarded with your choice of one of three special weapons. The Fire Arrow adds a little fireball to the standard arrow that deals extra damage to an enemy. The Sacred Bow increases the range of Pit’s arrows. The Protective Crystal spawns two crystals that spin quickly around Pit and give him a way to easily defeat weak enemies up close. Over the course of the game you can acquire all three at once, however you cannot use them until you have enough health. There are some enemies in the game that will steal one of these weapons if they collide with Pit. You can recover the stolen weapons by buying them for very inflated prices in the Black Market, or you can earn it back by completing the training again in a later chamber.

The other three chambers you can encounter are more straightforward. The enemy lair contains a swarm of enemies that all drop big hearts for a quick money boost. The Strength Upgrade chamber contains a God that will give you a stronger arrow. There are five levels of arrow strength and you increase it by one for each God you find in this chamber. However, there are some special hidden requirements defined by how well you play that determine if you qualify for the upgrade at all. Finally there are hot springs that restore your health slowly just by relaxing inside!

To cap off the normal item list, sometimes in the levels you will find a harp that turns all of the enemies into mallets for a brief period. This is the easiest way to collect lots of mallets. You can also find the chalices here that restore health.

There is a scoring system in place as well. The score for the current level and the total cumulative score appear on the subscreen. You get points for defeating enemies, although the enemies inside the enemy lairs do not give any points at all. After each section is completed your points are added to the total score. Reaching specific point intervals here will trigger the message Power Up and Pit is awarded an increase to his maximum health. You begin the game with one segment of health and can get up to a maximum of five.

More health makes the journey more manageable.

More health makes the journey more manageable.

As mentioned above, the last section of the first three levels is a fortress that mixes up the formula of the game. The fortress is a non-linear maze that contains a boss hidden within. There are even more items here that assist in exploring the fortress. The check sheet is a blank map of the fortress that draws a grid on the subscreen. It must be found in a specific location in the fortress. The pencil can be bought in a shop and marks off each room on the check sheet that you enter for the first time. The torch must also be bought in a shop and it highlights the current room Pit is in. These items are helpful to show both where you are and where you have been so that you can narrow down where the boss is located.

There are a couple of interesting elements in the fortresses. There are statues scattered all around the fortress that can be broken with the mallet revealing a centurion. Each centurion saved here flies away for now but shows up later during the boss fight to aid Pit in the battle. On the flip side, there is an awful enemy type unique to the fortress called the eggplant wizard. They toss eggplants around that turn Pit into an eggplant himself should he be struck by one. While in eggplant form Pit is unable to fire arrows at all and it is a permanent state that leaves Pit defenseless. The goal from here is to find a nurse inside the fortress who will restore Pit back to normal at no cost. The eggplant wizards are often placed along the critical path to the boss and it is a huge hassle to go back and find the nurse.

When each fortress boss is defeated, one of the sacred treasures is left behind inside a treasure chest. When all three chests are collected all treasures are revealed and equipped for the final level and showdown against Medusa. Here the game switches play to an auto-scrolling shooter that is unique to this last area.

A nightmare scenario...

A nightmare scenario…

Just like Metroid before it, Kid Icarus was updated to include a password system for its NES cart release. The passwords are 24 characters long and comprised of many different characters. The long passwords allow a lot of information to be stored within them. When you continue your game with a password, it saves the level you last played, your heart balance, and all your items, weapons, and upgrades. Even though they are tedious to document and input, it works just as good as a save game and makes it much easier to slowly work though the game a stage or two at a time.

Kid Icarus was one of the titles I have held onto since childhood. I know that I spent some time with it growing up but I could never quite remember if I had played the game all the way through for myself. I definitely beat the game with a password taking me straight to the final level, but I imagine I pulled that out of Nintendo Power or a guidebook. As an adult I have picked it up casually a number of times and I always would stall out prior to the first fortress. The first level is quite difficult with the vertical layout combined with a lack of powerups and abilities for starting out. It took me a dedicated effort this time to finally mark it off as complete.

During my playthrough I really struggled to get through Level 1-3. I did not earn enough points in the first two levels to increase my health bar which really made things harder on myself. I also insisted on clearing the first Sacred Training Chamber since I didn’t how many opportunities I would have later on in the game. It was tough but I made it through after nearly a dozen attempts.

Of course there also has to be fire pits to deal with while you climb.

Of course there also has to be fire pits to deal with while you climb.

From the first fortress onward, the game eased up in difficulty considerably. In the fortresses all the enemies respawn any time you leave the room. I found an area near the boss that had a hot spring a few rooms away from a room full of enemies that left behind big hearts. Between those two rooms I maxed out on hearts plus I managed to earn enough points to max out the health bar at the end of Level 1. Having full health allowed the weapon I earned prior to kick in which also helped. I focused more on the platforming and I was able to beat the game without too much trouble. I would say the third fortress was the hardest challenge remaining and that took some practice with some of the eggplant wizard placements.

Once I completed the game, I decided to investigate how to get the best ending. I had collected everything except for the credit card and I was missing two strength upgrades. I figured that had something to do with it and it turns out my suspicions were mostly correct. Here is how the endings work. There are four separate goals to complete: Have the maximum health bar, have maximum strength, have all three special weapons, and have the maximum number of hearts. You get a different ending for how many of those goals are completed at the end of the game. I got the middle of the road ending by having all the health and all three special weapons. I would have had enough hearts had I not spent some on a Water of Life right before the third fortress boss, but I missed out on two of the strength upgrades and I couldn’t understand why I missed them.

The easiest way to get the best ending is to start a new game immediately after winning. You will restart at Level 1-1 with everything carried over from the end of the previous game. Since I already had found two of the strength upgrades the first time through I earned those again which put me at maximum strength. Then it was only a matter of making sure I had enough hearts before the final level to meet all the requirements.

The boss encounters were among the highlights of the game for me.

The boss encounters were among the highlights of the game for me.

Now this replay wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Upon beating the game the first time, I killed myself off in Level 1-1 and saved my password to play later on. When I started up the next day and input my password, I began at Level 1-1 but I had lost all of my progress. It was the same as starting a brand new game. I thought that I had either messed up my password or the passwords don’t work on subsequent playthroughs. I found out there is a glitch in the game where it does not save your data on any password starting in Level 1-1. If I had gone on to at least Level 1-2 and took my password there, then the data would carry over. I suspect that when the game loads the first stage it always runs the code to initialize the game state even if the game is loaded from a saved password. I had actually started to replay the game from scratch for a little while before using my old password to resume at the start of the final level.

There are some interesting technical tidbits I think are fun to examine for a little while. Some fine folks have deconstructed the system by which you qualify to earn the strength upgrades. It really is based on how well you play. There is a hidden scoring system calculated behind the scenes in each stage and you need to earn a certain number of these “skill” points to trigger the god to appear in the Strength Upgrade Chamber. Some actions add skill points and others take away points. I won’t go into all of them. You earn points for things like defeating enemies, collecting hearts (but not when you are maxed out), buying an item, or just entering any chamber. You lose points for taking damage, shooting arrows, or breaking pots in the Treasure chamber. Typically all you need to do is take your time and kill many enemies and that will be enough to earn the upgrade.

The password system retains all of the data associated with a playthrough, but it also contains information that determines if the password is legitimate or not. The first 22 characters of the password translate to all of the data the game tracks between sessions. For instance, some of the characters relate to the saved score, some of the characters track how many hearts you have, and so on. The final two characters are called the checksum. Basically the game runs some kind of formula against the password and generates the checksum and adds it to the end of the password. Upon submitting a password on the continue screen, the game runs the same calculation and sees if the last two characters of the submitted password matches the checksum. The password is accepted if it matches and rejected if it doesn’t. Many of the more well-known passwords are not hard coded in the game but are just a byproduct of how the password system works.

The final area mixes up the gameplay one last time.

The final area mixes up the gameplay one last time.

The final tidbit I want to share is that the endings differ between the Japanese release and the US release. Not only are the endings a bit different but the way to get them is completely different. The ending calculation in the Japanese version is the number of health bar segments plus the number of strength upgrades minus the number of deaths in the game. This number determines which of the five endings is received. The best ending in the NES version is not present in the Japanese version. Instead of that ending, there is an even worse version of the bad ending that takes its place. The Japanese version does not allow you to replay the game with item carryover, so instead you would have to play near perfectly in one try to qualify for the best ending. The save system in the Disk System version was likely the driver behind the ending criteria. The method in the US version works better for me anyway!

Kid Icarus is one of those classic NES titles that I think belongs in any library. The graphics are not too bad and the music is pretty catchy. The controls are a little slippery at times but they perform well enough. The major thing going against it is the uneven difficulty curve. The game starts out challenging and gets easier the further you go. Too bad many people would likely give up before getting to some of the later parts of the game that are a lot of fun to play. I enjoyed the game a lot and I am glad that I can finally claim for certain that I have beaten this game!

Kid Icarus Ending Screen

#26 – Kid Icarus

 
JUN
17
2016
0
Battle Kid Box Cover

Homebrew #1 – Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril

One kid, one fortress, and one big adventure awaits!

Let the peril begin!

Let the peril begin!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game on Unfair difficulty
My Goal: Beat the game on Normal difficulty
What I Did: Beat the game on Normal difficulty
Played: 6/11/16 – 6/13/16
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 6/10

The homebrew scene for the NES seems to be one of the largest and most active of all older consoles. The NES is an intriguing intersection of both complexity and simplicity, representing a relatively low barrier of entry for anyone willing to learn the ins and outs of assembly language, limited pixel graphics, and the NES sound chip. There are dozens of existing game releases and a large number of projects in various states of completion. It’s exciting to see new releases on a console that I enjoy. Picking a game to start off this section was pretty straightforward. Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril was the first homebrew game that grabbed my attention enough to buy a cart, and it remains one of the quintessential experiences on the NES.

Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril was released in early 2010. The game was almost entirely created by a single developer known as Sivak. He tells the story on his website, but I’ll note a few highlights. Development started in 2008 after Sivak created three smaller NES games. This was the first major platformer game released on the NES in almost 15 years, and it is quite a lengthy game with a lot of content. Sivak would go on to make a sequel that came out in late 2012. I own and have beaten that game as well so I will be covering it sometime in the future.

This is one of the more challenging rooms early on.

This is one of the more challenging rooms early on.

Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is an action platformer game. You play the role of Timmy as he invades a huge fortress in order to stop the creation of a Supermech weapon. I have heard the game compared to a mix of both Mega Man and Metroid, and I think that is a pretty good way to start the conversation. Timmy is equipped with a basic forward shot that is reminiscent of Mega Man’s normal weapon, and he also has little to no inertia in his movement which is another quality of Mega Man. Timmy does not gain the abilities of the bosses he defeats, but he will collect various items that will enhance his skills in order to navigate the fortress. This is where the game resembles a Metroid-style adventure. Each collected item gives you more skills in which to battle and avoid enemies, but it also lets you reach certain areas otherwise inaccessible. The fortress is open-ended and you can explore as much as you are allowed to do with your current equipment.

The controls are very simple. You can move left and right, shoot with the B button, and jump with the A button. The game is very easy to control and you can move Timmy exactly how you want. There are also unlimited shots but only three of them can be on the screen at one time.

The game plays out through this large fortress of many interconnected rooms. There is no scrolling in this game but Timmy moves seamlessly from one screen to the next. Each screen is its own tiny self contained challenge. There are only one or two enemy types per room, but they are introduced gradually and they are often combined in interesting ways that present a good challenge. Some rooms have no enemies and act as platforming challenges.

Another Mega Man mechanic at work are the disappearing blocks.

Another Mega Man mechanic at work are the disappearing blocks.

Battle Kid has a flow to it that is worked throughout the entire game. Timmy will need to cross through roughly 10 to 15 screens at a time with checkpoints in between. You can save your progress here if you choose to activate the continue point. After clearing several sections, there will be a boss encounter. These are typically large characters that have several different attack patterns that you will need to learn well enough to win the fight. These boss battles either open up a new path forward or they lead to a new ability for Timmy. There are six bosses scattered throughout the fortress that must be beaten to unlock the final area. Sometimes the path to the next boss is not always clear, so you must search out a way forward with your current equipment.

There are a total of six upgrades to find in the fortress. The Coordinate Display item shows the coordinates of your current position in the game. There is no map feature in Battle Kid but this item helps identify where you are located in the fortress. The Feather Fall item slows down your falling speed by holding Up while in the air. The Infinite O2 upgrade gives you unlimited breathing capability while underwater. There is a High Jump and a Double Jump to find. Finally there is the Damage Amplifier which lets shots deal double damage. This item is available from the beginning on Easy difficulty but can also be optionally found in the fortress in all other difficulties.

The first boss fight is rather prickly!

The first boss fight is rather prickly!

In addition to the upgrades, there are keys to collect. Keys are permanent collectibles that let you destroy key blocks matching the type of key. Most often, the key blocks are barriers that block off various areas of the game map. Sometimes the key blocks are used in clever ways to add to the challenge of some of the rooms.

There are five different difficulty settings in Battle Kid. Easy starts you off with the Damage Amplifier while Normal difficulty does not. Both settings allow for unlimited continues as well as a password system so you can continue your adventure later. The other three settings give you a limited number of continues and no passwords, so you must clear the whole game at one time. Hard difficulty gives 50 continues, Very Hard gives 20 continues, and Unfair has no continues at all.

The number of continues may sound generous, but in reality it is quite limiting. That is because Timmy only has one life and he dies immediately when damaged by anything. So really fifty continues is just fifty lives. Those long stretches between checkpoints become pretty challenging when you need to get through completely unscathed, and the bosses are bullet sponges which make for long, grueling battles. The game map itself is quite large spanning over 550 total rooms, so there is a lot of ground to cover in the game and every continue matters in the higher difficulties.

Reaching the save point is such a relief.

Reaching the save point is such a relief.

As mentioned in the introduction, Battle Kid was the first homebrew NES game I bought, and it would be the only one I would own for a couple of years. I was enamored with the game from the moment I started playing it. Back in 2010, I had a lot more time for gaming so I decided to beat the game for the first time on the Hard setting. That meant restarting the game all over after the 50 continue allotment and making incremental progress every new attempt. Now that I think about it, I am not actually sure I accomplished that. I think I stalled out toward progress at the end of the game and ended up clearing it on Normal difficulty first after working at it for a few weeks. I did keep playing and beat the game on Hard not long after that. The neat thing about the difficulty settings is that there are passwords given after the ending for bonus content depending on the chosen difficulty, so there is reason to keep trying for lower death runs after beating the game.

Now in 2016, it has been roughly five years since I last put serious time into playing Battle Kid, and if my current run was any indication, then I have some work to do if I ever want to get back to the level of play I was at back then. The levels and challenges were very familiar and I picked back up on it much more quickly than if I were playing it completely blind, but I feel I died way too many times considering all that. There is no tracking on Normal difficulty, but I estimate I died somewhere around 150 to 200 times trying to clear the game again. It also took me three straight nights to beat the game, so I am thankful for the password system! I know I have so many other games in front of me, but I would love to put in the time to clear it on Hard and Very Hard. It’s the kind of game you want to go back and play again just to speed through it in style.

This may look impossible, but instead it's just really hard!

This may look impossible, but instead it’s just really hard!

Battle Kid is still on sale at RetroUSB and it is worth every penny. I own the original 1.0 release but the version for sale is the updated 1.1 version and that appears to be the final version of the game. It includes a few tweaks and bug fixes as well as an additional 10-room demo not available in the previous version. Once you have purchased the game and played it to your satisfaction, then you can check out the developer commentary and full walkthrough. Then play the game again and try to improve!

I know that I am gushing just a little bit, but Battle Kid is truly a well made platformer game and I maintain it is one of the best experiences on the NES. The game is a stiff but fair challenge and the level design is top-notch. I didn’t even mention the music, but there are bunch of great songs and sound effects to accompany you on your adventure. I am glad there are games that continue to be made on the NES and I can only hope that the homebrew scene is going to keep getting better and better so that we can play more games like Battle Kid.

Battle Kid Ending Screen

Homebrew #1 – Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril

 
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