Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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APR
13
2017
0

#41 – Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage

A game with surfboarding animals can’t be all that bad, right?

Hear the calming waves and feel the ocean breeze.

To Beat: Finish Round 5 in Street Skate Encounter and Round 1 in Big Wave Encounter
To Complete: Finish Round 12 in both modes
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Reached Round 13 in both modes
Played: 11/29/16 – 11/30/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: T&C Surf Designs Longplay

Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage is an NES game notorious for not being very good. Certainly that was my impression of the game ever since childhood. Now that I have beaten the game, I realize that the game is misunderstood. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it is a good game, but once you break through the shell of bad impressions, there is a playable game here that has a few neat ideas.

T&C Surf Designs is a company that specializes in surfboards, clothing, and accessories. They first opened a store in Hawaii in 1971 and expanded to clothing in 1976. Sometime in the 1980s the company adopted cartoon characters named Da Boys for a line of shirts that became very popular. These characters created by Steve Nazar would form the basis of the NES game. Da Boys would disappear for many years before being revived in 2016 under the name Thrilla Krew. T&C Surf Designs is still in business today.

T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage was released on the NES in February 1988. The game was developed by Atlus and published by LJN. It was only released in North America. There was a sequel to the game named Town and Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari, released in 1992. These two games are the only games bearing the company name or characters.

Just look at that character lineup!

Wood and Water Rage has two distinct modes named Street Skate Encounter and Big Wave Encounter. As you can probably tell by the names, the first is a skateboarding game and the second is a surfing game. There is also a third mode named Wood and Water Rage that combines the two by cycling between levels in both games. To beat the game, you must meet the conditions for both modes either separately or together in the combined mode.

When you begin the game you choose one of the modes with the option of either 1-player or 2-player. Multiplayer is alternating play and otherwise identical to the single player mode. After you choose the game mode you choose which characters you want. There is Tiki Man for skateboarding and he pairs with the surfer Kool Kat. You can also choose Joe Cool for your skateboarder and he teams with Thrilla Gorilla on the surfing side. The characters are purely cosmetic. My favorite is Kool Kat just because he surfs while wearing a tuxedo, which is beyond cool.

In Street Skate Encounter, your goal is to reach the end of the course. Play takes a side-scrolling perspective starting on the left and moving right. You must dodge hazards and obstacles in order to reach the finish line before time runs out. You only get one minute to clear the course but it is a short stage. If you either run out of time or run out of health, it’s Game Over and back to the title screen.

To control your skateboarder, use the D-Pad to move in all eight directions. The game autoscrolls but you can speed it up by moving right or slow down by moving left. You can also tap the B button to push yourself forward. I don’t know if it’s necessary, but I always tap the button repeatedly to maintain speed. You can jump with the A button, but when you do this you jump in the air and your skateboard stays on the ground rolling beneath you. If you want to jump and bring the skateboard with you, hold Left while jumping.

There’s not enough tax money to fix these roads.

This mode has a few interesting mechanics to it. There is a life meter in the bottom right corner of the screen consisting of some round symbols. You earn life points periodically as long as you skate quickly, and you lose some if you crash. Depending on how you crash you either lose two or three life points. If you max out at eight life points the timer freezes, so skating perfectly means you cannot run out of time.

There are ways to earn extra points while skating. There are four different colors of coins that appear at regular intervals in the stage, and collecting them will give you points. Red coins give you the most points and blue give you the least, with pink and green ones in between. If you only collect coins of the same color, then each successive coin gives you double points up to eight times the base value. There are some moving objects in the way such as a toy car or a ball and you get points if you jump on top of them with your skateboard. There are also barriers that give you points if you jump over them and let your skateboard roll underneath. You can also grind on the guardrail at the very top of the playfield and you get points for doing that.

After you clear a round, the next time through is the same level except you begin farther to the left. This means that you gradually expand the beginning of the level and the course gets longer the more times you play it. The fifth time through the course is the first instance of playing the entire level. Hopefully by now you have learned the course well enough to keep going without crashing so that the timer will freeze.

The time both halts and blinks green when you are doing well.

In the other mode, Big Wave Encounter, your goal is to surf long enough to reach the pier on the beach. Just like in skateboarding, play is side-scrolling and moving to the right. You want to surf both to the right far enough to avoid crashing within the big wave tailing you and high enough to avoid crashing on the bottom of the screen. There is no timer in this mode; it is all about surviving to the end. You also have health points in this mode and if you run out it is Game Over.

The surfing controls seem straightforward but they are the cause of all the confusion and misunderstanding of the game. You use the D-Pad to move in all eight directions. If you hold the A button it shifts your balance forward, and holding the B button shifts the balance toward the back of the surfboard. That’s all there is to it, but in practice it seems that no matter what you do you always end up losing ground and getting knocked off your board into the water.

Aside from just trying to stay on top of the water, there are obstacles that can also knock you down. There are people on inner tubes, jumping fish, and birds that you should avoid. You will also come across bananas that you can collect for points. I never bother with them since I am so focused on keeping afloat.

This jerk bird goes out of its way to mess with you.

Your surfing style can also net you some additional points. You earn a tiny amount of points just for staying alive, but if you surf inside the pipeline you get a larger amount of points periodically for as long as you stay on your board. If you surf up off the very top of the wave, you will catch some air and land toward the bottom of the screen and earn even more points. The best way to earn score is to do a turn at the top of the wave. The easiest way to do this is to surf straight up and then turn downward as you touch the top of the wave. If you can pull this off at the very top of the wave you get points as well as an additional life point. You can do this many times in a row to boost your health to the maximum very quickly, so this is the best strategy for survival.

Wood and Water Rage has no ending in any of the modes, and so I get to figure out what it means for me to beat the game. The Street Skate Encounter mode lets you play the full level on Round 5, so clearing that round qualifies as beating that mode. The only difference in the later rounds is that your starting health is reduced. I believe on Round 12 you only get one point of health to start so that is the most challenging round. The Big Wave Encounter has a more unclear ending condition. The level seems to get longer in later rounds but there is no definitive way to tell. It may cap out at five rounds like the other mode, but if you clear at least one level that should be good enough. Just like in skateboarding, the starting health is the lowest at Round 12. To master the game, you should probably complete twelve rounds in both modes.

Wood and Water Rage was a game I had in my childhood collection. I am sure it was a garage sale pickup for cheap since I wouldn’t have been interested in this game on my own. With that in mind, this game did not get much play time. The skateboarding was fine but not all that gripping, and I did not understand the surfing at all. I would occasionally mess with it and then go on to something different.

This is the sweet spot!

Now that I am going through all the NES games, I have finally given it a fair shake and I see that it’s not all bad. The Street Skate Encounter took a few practice runs to learn the controls and layout. Timing jumps off ramps is still something I flub up occasionally, and I will get nailed by one of the moving obstacles sometimes. Otherwise, I didn’t have too much trouble with this mode. The Big Wave Encounter still was as confusing as ever until I had the aha moment of earning life points by turning downward at the top of the wave. Once I did it a couple of times, I saw how easy it was to pull off and I could keep doing it as much as I needed. This little trick makes the surfing easier than the skateboarding, which is something I could have never envisioned. This also led to reducing the difficulty assessment for the game to below average.

I met my goal in both Street Skate Encounter and Big Wave Encounter separately, but I also decided to play the combined Wood and Water Rage mode for my video longplay. Since Round 12 in each mode is where the difficulty is the highest, then clearing Round 24 was my goal here. I only make one attempt at it and I came up short. In Round 21, I crashed right in the beginning of the level and that was that. Mistakes sure are costly in this game. Nevertheless, I am still pleased with how I played.

My big takeaway from playing this game is that it is far too easy to overcomplicate something in my mind. I figured that the surfing would be very difficult to figure out when all along the solution turned out to be both simple and repeatable. The skateboarding by contrast was almost the opposite, requiring a more traditional approach. The game overall is not too complicated with some understanding of the mechanics, and it turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected. However, don’t be fooled. The game is very lean in terms of content, and what’s here is nothing to be excited about. I prefer to lean on the positives, and it’s always nice when a game can surpass my expectations at least a little bit.

#41 – Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage
(Street Skate Encounter)

#41 – Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage
(Big Wave Encounter)

 
DEC
04
2015
0
Mega Man Box Cover

#4 – Mega Man

Despite the iconic horrendous box art, Mega Man is a true classic even if it’s a little rough around the edges.

Mega Man Title Screen

Simple and quiet!

To Beat: Reach the ending credits
My Goal: Beat the game without Game Over
What I Did: Beat the game without Game Over
Played: 12/3/15
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Like many other popular long-running game series, Mega Man got its start on the NES. The series would become a behemoth spanning over 100 games across multiple consoles for almost 30 years, including six installments on the NES alone. Mega Man to date is just barely hanging on to life which is a huge shame, but for now we will look back to brighter days with the game that started it all.

Mega Man was born out of an effort from its developer, Capcom, to make a game specifically for the home console market. Capcom to this point was primarily developing arcade titles and their NES efforts were all ports of existing arcade games. Mega Man was the sixth NES release for Capcom so they were pretty busy churning out these ports to this point. By making an original game the development team was able to create a gameplay style that caters to home play. This led to the decision of having the first set of levels available to the player to play in any order they choose. Mega Man is believed to be the first game to utilize a non-linear level selection.

You decide!

Mega Man is a run and gun style platformer. The game starts out with a choice of six different levels highlighted by the Robot Master boss at the end of the stage. Mega Man starts out with just a basic shot but upon defeating each boss Mega Man gains that robot master’s weapon and adds it to his arsenal. So Mega Man gets stronger as you go and he develops quite the repertoire. These additional weapons prove to be extra useful because each boss has a weakness to a particular weapon and it is up to you to figure out how to exploit that weakness and turn the tables to your advantage. Think paper-rock-scissors on a bigger scale. Once all the robot masters are taken out and Mega Man is fully powered up, you then take on a series of final stages as the ultimate test. This formula is very well known and spans all of the mainline Mega Man titles.

Mega Man also collects some powerups along the way to help out. His special weapons each have an individual gauge that indicates how much juice is left for the particular weapon. You can collect weapon energy refills to recharge the weapon of your choice simply by equipping the weapon before grabbing the refill. There are also health drops, tiny orbs for points, and extra lives in the shape of Mega Man’s head. A little morbid, perhaps, but that smiling severed head brings a lot of joy whenever you find one! There is also a bonus Magnet Beam upgrade that must be found and collected. This isn’t a weapon but it is equipped and used like a weapon. It allows Mega Man to shoot his own custom temporary platform that can be used to cross gaps or climb up larger walls that are unable to be scaled alone. This item is mandatory to complete the game but if you miss it you can go back to previously beaten stages to find it.

Noooo not my extra head!

Let’s take a look at each robot master and his stage in a bit more detail.

Cut Man: The stage is pretty generic but briefly features some kind of machine that chucks out falling blades constantly. Cut Man throws a Rolling Cutter, which is a blade that is thrown straight and then arches upward before returning to Cut Man. When defeated, Mega Man earns the Rolling Cutter which behaves exactly the same way.

I’m not sure scissors will be all that effective here.

Guts Man: One annoying feature of this stage is a moving platform carried on a wire. The wire has breaks it in so when the platform runs over them it collapses until it moves back across the stable part of the wire again. You are required to time your jumps so you can land back on the platform when it becomes available again. This obstacle appears right at the beginning of the stage and it’s tough to navigate. At the boss fight, Guts Man hops around shaking the ground which stuns Mega Man. Occasionally a large block will fall from the ceiling that Guts Man will grab and immediately throw at Mega Man. When defeated, Mega Man receives the Super Arm which allows him to grab certain blocks off of the ground to then throw as a weapon and optionally clear the path forward.

I get knocked down, but I get up again…

Elec Man: This is mostly a vertical stage that features embedded turrets that fire off timed horizontal beams of electricity. There is also an enemy that fires electricity shots fitting the theme. This level also features the disappearing/reappearing block gimmick that is present in pretty much every single Mega Man game afterward. During the boss fight, Elec Man tosses out Thunder Beams which are huge arcs of electricity that are as tall as Mega Man. When defeated, Mega Man receives the Thunder Beam for himself, which not only launches forward but also splits off two shots vertically.

This almost seems unfair!

Ice Man: Well this is an ice level, which means slippery ground all over for Mega Man. Not only that, but it also has a couple screens of the reappearing/disappearing blocks, and it features an even worse gimmick than that. Toward the end of the level there is a huge gap that Mega Man must cross along the back of these floating platforms. The platforms are pure evil. They randomly ascend and descend as they move back and forth, but they also shoot bullets out of either side that will certainly knock Mega Man off to his untimely death. Generally the Magnet Beam is used here to skip it outright. Ice Man jumps and fires off his Ice Slasher that Mega Man must dodge through the small gaps between shots. When defeated, Mega Man receives the Ice Slasher that shoots straight but freezes enemies in his path.

Wow so many projectiles!

Fire Man: This level has quite a few fire and flame related gimmicks in it. Most notably are the pillars of fire that slide up and down. Mega Man can freeze these with the Ice Slasher and jump on top of them to get by safely. There are also fire cannons akin to the electricity shooters in Elec Man’s stage and there is one screen with fireballs that zip along a path that Mega Man must time extremely well to get through unscathed. Fire Man launches the Fire Storm which is a tall fire shot that leaves a damaging flame behind right underneath where Mega Man is standing. When defeated, Mega Man earns the Fire Storm which features a smaller straight shot but also generates a fireball that briefly and quickly spins around Mega Man for extra damage to enemies in very close proximity.

Fight fire with ice! Makes sense!

Bomb Man: This is a generic and uninspiring stage compared to the others. The only bomb-related gimmick is an enemy that explodes when shot causing damage Mega Man if he is too close. This level does introduce the Sniper Joe enemy that will reoccur in many future titles. Bomb Man hops all around the screen and tosses out Hyper Bombs that leave that same wide explosion radius as the aforementioned enemy. When defeated, Mega Man gets the Hyper Bomb that when thrown bounces to a brief stop before it explodes.

Is he throwing a bomb or jump kicking?

To find out more about what happens after each of the robot masters are defeated, well, play it for yourself and find out! 🙂 I don’t want to give everything away!

The Mega Man series has always been a favorite of mine and I have owned all six NES releases since way before I started collecting NES. This was good for me since all the games now are highly sought after and will cost some money to acquire. Back in the 90s when NES games were cheap the first game was still a little bit difficult to find. I think my original copy was bought from a video store. This game may very well be the most difficult of the NES releases in part because of the lack of password option that is available in later releases. Even though there are fewer stages I believe they are harder individually to make up for it. This was a common tactic anyway to extend the time spent on the game until gaining the ability to finish it for yourself.

It has been quite awhile since I’ve played through Mega Man but it sure didn’t seem that way. I had an awesome run. The only times I got in trouble were during moving platform sections, namely in Guts Man’s stage, Ice Man’s stage, and the first Wily stage. Other than that I died a few times elsewhere, maybe 7 or 8 times altogether, but the game was very generous with extra lives and I kept pace with what I lost all throughout the game. This might be the first time I’ve beaten the game without continuing. I believe the game is quite a bit more difficult than I made it out to be.

This part is seriously hard and then they add flying penguins!

There is a reason why Mega Man is blue that I just learned while researching this game. It has to do with the NES color palette. There are 64 pre-defined colors that can be used in any NES game. Now many of them are indistinguishable shades of black, but interestingly the most used color is blue. Nearly a quarter of the NES color palette is just different shades of blue. So for this reason, a blue Mega Man could have more detail and that was the direction the development team chose.

Each NES Mega Man game has some kind of tweak to it that sets it apart somewhat from all the others. Mega Man is the only game in the NES series to feature six robot masters instead of eight. The scoring system present here was never used again in the series, and as I mentioned above, it is the only game in the series without a password feature. The series takes quite a step forward in the second installment and it leaves the first game feeling just a bit unpolished and rough. Just my opinion!

Mega Man is a perfectly fine standalone game that paved the way for the series to take off in popularity just a few years later. You know a game does something right when other games copy it in some way so that makes Mega Man a groundbreaking game for its time. The series only gets better from here!

Mega Man Ending Screen

#4 – Mega Man

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