Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

miyamoto

JAN
04
2017
0
Super Mario Bros. 2 Box Cover

#33 – Super Mario Bros. 2

Jump into the Mario game of your dreams!

You can already tell the game play will be a bit different!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 10/9/16 – 10/10/16
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: Super Mario Bros. 2 Longplay

I was pleasantly surprised to see Super Mario Bros. 2 at a mere 33 games into this project. This is also the first sequel covered on the blog! Despite significantly changing the style from the original game, this one is a classic NES game and a must play for anyone who may have passed on it back in the day.

Normally I would refer to the Super Mario Bros. post to recap the history of this game and series, but I went pretty skimpy on the words in that original entry and so it’s time to make up for it here. Nearly everyone knows about Mario and many people in all walks of life remember the groundbreaking NES platformer Super Mario Bros from 1985. Mario originally debuted in the arcade smash hit Donkey Kong in 1981, though he was known at the time as Jumpman. He joined with his brother Luigi in Mario Bros in 1983, but it was Super Mario Bros that really put Mario in the limelight. The iconic plumber has more or less been the mascot for Nintendo ever since. Mario is the star of around 20 platformer style games but has also been the poster child for the Mario Party series, the Mario Kart series, several sports games, and more. Include the spinoffs games from all the supporting characters and there are dozens and dozens more games based around the universe of the one and only Mario.

Nintendo designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka quickly set out to create a sequel to Super Mario Bros, but this is not the sequel that we know of in the US. Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Famicom Disk System was released in 1986 and expands on the concepts of the original game. Luigi is a playable character here with a higher jump but slippier momentum on the ground. The game is perhaps best known for its high level of difficulty compare to its predecessor. Nintendo deemed it too difficult for American audiences and decided not to release it in the US. They instead decided to take one of their other games, Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic, and update it into a game with Mario characters. This became our Super Mario Bros 2.

No goombas here!

The series in both Japan and the US would converge again with Super Mario Bros. 3 which was identical between the regions. Nintendo would eventually embrace both Super Mario Bros. 2 games in all regions. The original Super Mario Bros. 2 on FDS was eventually released on the Super Nintendo as part of Super Mario All Stars. Here it was named Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. The American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was released on the Famicom in 1992 and renamed as Super Mario USA. Super Mario Bros. 2 also made it to handhelds in 2001 as the Game Boy Advance launch title Super Mario Advance with a few more enhancements.

Now let’s talk about the NES title! Super Mario Bros. 2 is a side-scrolling platformer game. Mario comes across a land named Subcon in his dreams that he eventually discovers is real. He brings along Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool and they set out to save Subcon from the evil frog Wart.

At the start of each level you may choose from any one of the four playable characters. Once a character is chosen you must use that character until either the level is cleared or you lose all your lives. Each character has different traits and abilities that come in handy depending on the situation. Mario is the straight average character. Luigi jumps the highest with a slow, loopy flutter jump but he is a bit weaker than Mario. Toad is both the strongest and the fastest –especially when carrying an item — but he has the weakest jump. The Princess is the weakest character but she has the very useful ability to float in midair for a few seconds during a jump.

The princess’ float ability is very useful!

The game has standard platformer controls. Use Left and Right on the D-Pad to walk. Press Up and Down and climb ladders or vines. You can also press Up to enter doors and press Down to duck. The A button is for jumping and the B button is for running when held down. The B button also lets you pick up an item or an enemy. You can carry it around for awhile and later throw it with the B button. There is also a special move called the Power Squat Jump. Press and hold down to duck and after ducking for long enough you will start to flash. Jump while flashing to perform a very high jump.

In this game you cannot defeat enemies by simply jumping on them. In fact most enemies can be ridden safely with no damage to either you or them. When riding on an enemy you can pick it up and toss it into another enemy to defeat both of them. You will find grass on the ground all over the place in this game. You can stand on top of the grass and pluck it out of the ground to reveal an item. Most of the time this will be a vegetable that you can throw into enemies, and these come in ripe and unripe varieties. Other times it will be a useful item. You can find turtle shells that slide along the ground when thrown killing enemies just as in the original Super Mario Bros. Bombs will detonate after a few seconds so you need to get rid of them quickly, but they are useful for destroying crumbled blocks to open up passages. Occasionally you will find a Bob-Omb enemy that explodes almost instantly. You can also find 1up mushrooms that give you an extra life. If you happen to pull four ripe vegetables in a level, the fifth one will be replaced with a stopwatch that freezes all the enemies in place for a little while.

The most important item you find from a plant is a magic potion. Throw it into the ground to create a door leading to Sub-space. This is a shadowy, mirrored version of the current screen where the scrolling is locked into place. Here is where you will sometimes find a large mushroom that expands your life meter when you pick it up. You start each level with two points of health and there are two mushrooms in nearly every level that help increase your maximum health to four. These mushrooms are always in the same location when you play so you will need to enter Sub-space near where the mushroom is hidden to be able to grab it. Also in Sub-space any plants you pull up will reveal coins which I will explain what they are used for a little later. You can collect coins in Sub-space only twice per stage. Sub-space ends on its own after a short while unless you go back through the door, returning you back to the normal level to continue your journey.

Some places have both a mushroom and a lot of coins.

There are other useful items that are out in the open. Cherries can be found floating all over the levels. Collect five of them to spawn an invincibility Starman which rises up from the bottom of the screen. For every five enemies you defeat, a small heart will appear that restores one point of health. POW blocks shake the entire screen when thrown on the ground defeating every enemy touching the ground. Mushroom blocks can be thrown over and over again. You can use them to defeat enemies or stack them on top of each other to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. There are also keys that will unlock a nearby door, but beware of Phanto chasing you around whenever you carry the key.

At the end of each level, you must grab a crystal ball to open the mouth of a giant bird head. Usually the crystal ball is carried by the recurring mini-boss Birdo, but in some cases you find it alone. Proceed through the open bird mouth to clear the stage. It’s definitely weird the first time! Here you get to play a bonus chance slot machine game to earn extra lives. Each coin you collect in Sub-space gives you a chance at the slot machine. If you match three of the same icon you get an extra life. Cherries show up here and they award a little differently. If you get a cherry in the first slot you get one life, if you get cherries in the first two slots you get two lives, and if you get all three cherries you get five lives. It is possible to skillfully stop the slots in order to get the best prizes, and if you play well during the game you will have dozens of opportunities to try.

The last level in each world contains a boss battle at the end. There are five bosses in total. Mouser is a large rodent that tosses bombs at you. Tryclyde is a three-headed fire breathing snake. Fryguy is a floating plumb of fire. Clawgrip is a crab that throws rocks. The final boss Wart is a giant frog that shoots deadly bubbles at you. You won’t attack these bosses directly but fight them with the means given to you inside the boss chambers. The fights can be difficult but I find them to be interesting to play.

Fight fire with … mushroom blocks?

There are 20 levels in Super Mario Bros. 2 over 7 different worlds. Each world has an overall graphical theme but the levels themselves often deviate into other caves and areas. There are three levels within each of the first six worlds, and World 7 only has two stages to round out the 20 levels. You start the game with three lives and you are only allowed to continue twice if you run out of lives. The game is pretty long with no passwords or saving, though there are four hidden warp points that will bump you ahead in the game if you are able to find them. The lack of lives and continues does make the game pretty challenging overall, though this is mitigated by collecting coins and getting either skilled or lucky at the slot machine.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of the earliest NES games I had growing up, so I have spent a lot of time playing it through the years. I have a relatively good memory of the game overall aside from many of the mushroom locations, but I am good enough at the game that I can get by without them. I knew this one would be pretty easy for me to clear once I sat down to play it.

To spice things up for my run of the game I used a random number generator on the side while playing to help select the character for each level of the game. It made things a little harder as some of the levels are best suited for one particular character. I ended up getting the Princess the most often though each character got a few stages of play. It was not a great run of the game for me as I feel I died far too often, but I managed to spread those deaths out enough that it wasn’t too repetitive. I captured footage of my playthrough and decided to edit out a bit of the backtracking after some deaths for my upload to YouTube. It really wasn’t necessary and maybe only saved a couple of minutes overall on the video.

Toad is not the best suited for tiny jumps like this.

I had a couple of interesting things happen during my run worth pointing out. During the Fryguy boss fight, we both defeated each other at the same time. I got the exit door to spawn during the death animation which was kind of cool. I had to do the battle over again though. I also triggered a glitch that I wasn’t aware of. In the second to last level, I managed to throw a mushroom block inside of a ladder. When that happens the mushroom overwrites the ladder tile but the color palette for that location stays intact, so the mushroom is the same color of the ladder until it is picked back up. I almost got it stuck in a spot where I couldn’t get through. That would have meant replaying the game from the start but I avoided that. A little further ahead I got another mushroom block stuck into the top of the ladder where I could pick it back up. I got it all captured on video!

Super Mario Bros. 2 provided a lot of new characters that persisted in future Mario games, such as Birdo, Shyguys, and Bob-Ombs. It also gave new life and personality to Luigi, Toad, and the Princess. Each of those characters has starred in their own game as well as had major supporting roles in other mainstream Mario titles and spin-offs. This game really left a lasting impression. I don’t think that it is publicly regarded as well as it should be and if true that’s a shame. Super Mario Bros. 2 is not just a good Mario game but a good game period and it’s one that should not be missed.

Super Mario Bros. 2 Ending Screen

#33 – Super Mario Bros 2.

 
JUN
03
2016
0
Super Mario Land Box Cover

Game Boy #1 – Super Mario Land

Let’s begin this spinoff series with the first handheld Mario adventure!

Mario sure looks ready to get going!

Mario sure looks ready to get going!

To Beat: Reach the end credits
To Complete: Beat both difficulty loops
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game

Take On The NES Library is bringing Game Boy games into the fold! This is the first of many games I will be covering that fall outside my overall goal for the site. Now there are plenty of NES games to choose outside of just the US licensed set, and I have many unlicensed, homebrew, PAL exclusives, and Famicom games to pick from. Game Boy games may seem like an odd choice at first blush, but they are true 8-bit games that often run alongside NES counterparts. They are also much easier for me to pick up and play in between other games. Lately, I have been working on my Game Boy cart collection and so I have some momentum to try out and play through some of my recently acquired finds.

My plan for secondary content such as this runs similar to my posts on NES licensed games in content, though the aim is to make these shorter entries. (Though I tend to ramble on when I get writing, so maybe not!) I will still be beating the games before writing about them. The big difference here is instead of going off of a preset, random list, I am picking whatever I want to play! I will however play game series in order and I will hold off on selecting games that have NES versions until after I cover the NES game. For instance, I won’t be playing through the Famicom exclusive Gradius II until after I write about Gradius on NES. There are plenty of exclusive games that aren’t bound by that restriction so I won’t be short of options.

For playing Game Boy games, my handheld of choice is the Game Boy Advance SP. In particular, I have the later version model AGS-101 that has a backlit screen instead of the early version front light model. The screen is very bright and clear and I find it hard to play Game Boy games on any other model after using it. From the Game Boy Color system on up, you can select a color palette to use for older Game Boy games by way of a button combination on system startup. There are 12 pre-defined palettes. My preference is the grayscale palette and that is selected by holding Left and B before the game starts. These are the same colors that the Game Boy Pocket screen displays and I find it to be the most natural look.

I think that covers what my plan is. With all that out of the way, it’s time to dive into Super Mario Land!

A tiny world and a tiny adventure awaits!

A tiny world and a tiny adventure awaits!

Super Mario Land was a launch title for the Game Boy worldwide. It was released in April 1989 in Japan, August 1989 in North America, and September 1990 in Europe. The game was developed by Nintendo’s R&D1 department and was the first Mario game not developed by its creator Shigeru Miyamoto. The game was originally slated to be the pack-in game with the original Game Boy system, but Nintendo changed direction and included Tetris instead. Super Mario Land sold incredibly well with over 18 million copies purchased in spite of the fact that Tetris seems to be the main reason for moving Game Boy hardware.

Super Mario Land is set in the world of Sarasaland where Mario sets off to save Princess Daisy from the evil Tatanga. The game plays very much like Super Mario Bros but quite literally on a smaller scale. Several early Game Boy games used very tiny character sprites to maximize the miniscule Game Boy screen’s real estate, and that is the case in Super Mario Land. There’s plenty of room to see what’s ahead and you never feel crowded. There are many familiar mechanics here that fall in line with the NES games. Pipes will occasionally hide coin rooms. There are mushrooms to make Mario big and fire flowers to provide additional attack power. Invincibility stars are here and they work the same as in the NES games. It looks and feels just like a console Mario game.

Nintendo’s R&D1 team implemented a number of tweaks to the core gameplay that differentiate Super Mario Land from the other Mario platformers. For instance, there are Koopa Troopas in the game but when you jump on them you cannot kick the shell. Instead, it explodes like a bomb causing damage to Mario. His bouncing fireball attack is replaced with a Super Ball. It reflects off surfaces at a 45-degree angle and flies around without being affected by gravity. It also collects coins on contact which is useful for grabbing coins far out of Mario’s reach. The end-of-level flagpole is replaced with a pair of exits. The top exit is harder to reach but the reward is a bonus game where you can collect extra lives or a fire flower upgrade.

Every Mario game needs an underground level.

Every Mario game needs an underground level.

There are 12 levels in the game with three levels in each of the four worlds. Just about every level is in a unique location which keeps the game fresh. There is an Egyptian themed tomb level, a Moai-head level, a spider-infested cave, and even a Japanese themed level. The most unique levels are the final levels in Worlds 2 and 4 where the game switches from a platformer to a side-scrolling shooter. In 2-3 Mario guides a submarine underwater and in 4-3 Mario takes to the skies in an airplane. They play quite well and the levels are an interesting change of pace from the typical action.

The last level of each world contains a boss battle at the end. Each of the bosses are unique, however the four of them fall into two basic types. The World 1 and World 3 bosses are the Bowser-style fights where you just have to get behind them and hit a switch. The World 2 and World 4 bosses are in the shooter stages and there you get to gun them down and dodge shots. There is a final boss fight with Tatanga as well.

Super Mario Bros may be the quintessential Game Boy game but it was one that I did not own for quite a long time after getting a Game Boy. I was able to borrow it from friends often enough that I got very familiar with the game without owning it. With so many copies out there it is one of the easiest Game Boy games to find so I did eventually get one of my own.

The shooter segments are pretty neat!

The shooter segments are pretty neat!

I haven’t played Super Mario Land in many years, but as the old adage goes it is just like riding a bike. The game isn’t all that challenging and I was able to clear the game in 20-30 minutes. I did make a lot of mistakes leading to deaths which probably shouldn’t have happened, but even then I ended the game with double-digit lives remaining. Once the game is beaten, you can restart the game and play it at a higher difficulty. The level layout is the same but the enemy placements have changed with more monsters to deal with overall. I think some of the moving platforms were shrunk down too but I’m not completely sure. The second playthrough is only just a bit harder than the first in my opinion. After the second time through the game, there is a stage select option on the title screen. I’m not sure why you would want to play the stage of your choice after playing through the game twice in one sitting, but the option is there! I always used it to play the airplane stage over and over.

One notable quality of Super Mario Land is the music. Each song is just great and even more impressive coming from one of the earliest games on the Game Boy. Here is a video that covers the entire soundtrack and it’s worth a listen for sure.

Super Mario Land is an excellent Game Boy game and one of the essentials to any Game Boy collection. The game is a lot of fun to play and it holds up very well all while maintaining its own identity with mechanics and such not seen in many other Mario games. It’s too bad the game is on the short side and fairly easy to beat, but that makes it a great choice for a game to pick and up play once in awhile.

Super Mario Land Ending Screen

Game Boy #1 – Super Mario Land

 
JAN
05
2016
0
The Legend of Zelda Box Cover

#7 – The Legend of Zelda

Pick up your sword, young man, it’s time for adventure!

Doooooooo do do do d-d-doooooooo!

To Beat: Reach the end credits
To Complete: Beat both quests
My Goal: Complete the game with all items
What I Did: Completed the game with all items (11 deaths)
Played: 12/21/15 – 12/31/15
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

The back of the NES box has the written line “Experience the Challenge of Endless Adventure.” While this game certainly has an ending, the Legend of Zelda series as a whole has no end in sight. Dozens of adventures and spinoffs have been created as a result of the success from this classic NES title. The original title is one of the first great examples of an “open world” style of gameplay and it also launched a formula of game design that is still revered and refined upon today.

The Legend of Zelda is the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka and was developed alongside Super Mario Bros. Their aim was to make a game that was different from the linear Super Mario Bros, and so The Legend of Zelda took the opposite approach as an exploratory, open world game. The game was inspired by Miyamoto and his memories of exploring the fields, woods, and caves near his home, and all of these elements are present in the world of Hyrule. The game was released in 1986 as a launch title for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, which had higher game data storage compared to Famicom carts of the time and the capability to save progress directly to the disk instead of utilizing complex passwords, thus making for a large complex game compared to other console games. The Legend of Zelda was released on the NES in 1987 in a unique gold colored cartridge and was the first NES game to feature battery backed saving. The game’s popularity in the US was just as big as its reception in Japan, paving the way for the series to continue to the present day.

Some fine players can go without the sword! I’m not quite there yet.

The Legend of Zelda is a top-down action-adventure game featuring Link in his quest to recover the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom and banish the evil Ganon from the land of Hyrule in order to save the princess Zelda. The game features a large overworld map that players must explore to find treasures and items to aid in the quest, as well as discovering the nine underground dungeons that Link must clear along the way. Link begins the quest with a simple wooden sword (if you remember to pick it up on the first screen!) for short ranged attacking and Link augments this with other weapons and items to add to his arsenal. Several of the weapons double as tools that help Link explore more effectively. For example, Link finds bombs that can be used to hurt bunches of enemies, but these bombs can also reveal hidden alcoves in the overworld and destroy walls in the dungeons. Each underworld dungeon contains one or more of these items and often these are required to either find or navigate later dungeons, which provides a sense of progression but also makes Link much more versatile for the challenges ahead. Once the first eight dungeons are cleared, the ninth dungeon is opened up for Link to take Ganon head-on. After the game is completed and Zelda is saved, a second quest is revealed that is quite a bit more difficult. The locations of the dungeons and other rooms are rearranged and the dungeons are completely different. The game also introduces a few new mechanics that are unique to the second quest. I won’t spoil them here except for one in the next paragraph. 🙂

The Legend of Zelda was a game that I owned new when I was a kid. I think I got it for either my 7th or 8th birthday. I don’t remember much about playing it way back then but I do remember poring over guides to learn where all the pverworld secrets were located, and those memories have carried over to my current playthrough. Back then, those tips helped me out a lot but took away my opportunity to try and figure things out fully for myself. Even with Link at full strength the game isn’t all that easy, however. I do remember figuring out one particular secret in the second quest all by myself that I didn’t see in a guide. One of the new mechanics in the second quest is the ability for Link to walk through certain solid walls in the dungeons. The first time it is needed in the game, I deduced that there must be one path to get into a specific room but bombing the wall did nothing, so out of frustration I just charged in and lo and behold I passed right through to the next room. Well, that blew my young mind that’s for sure!

This one is no brain teaser!

To truly finish The Legend of Zelda, both quests should be completed and so that was my intention from the very beginning. It took me some time playing in small chunks over a couple of weeks but I was able to complete everything from memory without a whole lot of trouble. Between both quests, I died a total of 11 times which is reflected in the ending screen. I’m not sure what my lowest death count is but it is probably in the single digits. In this case, it should have been that low because I had some really pointless deaths. For fun, I took note of each death and I’ll summarize them here:

  • Three deaths during early game overworld grinding. These were the most pointless deaths of all. The overworld can be dangerous at times but I have enough experience and capability early on to handle all that with relative ease. Really I died because I was playing late at night and was so tired that I kept nodding off during the game! This is not a reflection on the quality of the game in any way, shape, or form. It just shows that I can fall asleep during just about anything. Not many people can say they fall asleep in the middle of playing a video game so I guess I have that going for me!
  • Also comes in three-headed and four-headed varieties.

  • Two deaths in Level 6. This is the first dungeon to introduce Wizrobes which are the most difficult enemy for me to handle, specifically the blue ones. They fire magic across the screen if they have line of sight to Link, they can faze through solid blocks, and they change direction randomly at will. I believe the only way to damage them is with either the sword or bombs which both require close range, making them risky to attack, and there are always multiple of them when they show up in rooms. These deaths could have been prevented though because I could easily have utilized the healing potion but I didn’t bother to buy it until my third attempt through the dungeon.
  • I’m telling you, these blue guys are just awful.

  • Two deaths during Level 1 Second Quest. These deaths were legit as it is tough to clear this dungeon just starting out. The blue ring (cuts damage in half) would help here immensely but it is equally difficult to farm enough money up front to afford it.
  • Two deaths in overworld grinding in the second quest. After dying twice in Level 1 I decided to buy the blue ring before taking on Level 2, but with low starting health and the time it takes to farm money death will happen.
  • Hmmm what a suspicious bush!

  • One death in Level 6 Second Quest. Another Wizrobe death here plus I ran out of potion before making it back out to get more. I could have done better but I could have done much worse.
  • One death in Level 9 Second Quest. Same as the death above. I don’t know the second quest dungeons nearly as well as I do the first quest dungeons so I was doing a little bit too much wandering and risking death in the process. The fun thing about this dungeon was that I completed it during a New Year’s Eve party at my house. I didn’t want to get too wrapped up in some board gaming while hosting the party so when several people started a game I decided to play in the background and see if I could beat the game before the end of the year, which I did. My friends were getting into it so it was worth it!
  • PATRA HAS THE MAP

The Legend of Zelda has a lot of little interesting tidbits that are known to various degrees, but there is one that I find quite interesting. The dungeons maps have a variety of shapes but they were all designed in a way that they could all fit together like a puzzle. Internally to the game code, they are laid out in a large square similarly to how the overworld is laid out but they are chopped up to make the dungeons themselves have a more interesting shape. The designer, Tezuka, was so good at piecing the dungeons together he only utilized half the space he was given, so the team decided to utilize the other half of the dungeon space to make the Second Quest. The story of this was covered in a session of Iwata Asks, and also this article has some neat images showing how the dungeon maps are stored.

The Legend of Zelda may have left the framework for future Zelda titles to follow, but the first NES entry has an identity all of its own. Future Zelda titles would evolve the formula by making the complex dungeons the real centerpiece of the experience, but by doing so the dungeon order is mostly locked down to guide the player along the desired upgrade path. Aside from a few dependencies, the player can work out the game on his own and take on the challenges out of order, so to speak. It is an approach to game design that is largely abandoned in modern gaming, but it gives the first NES game a distinct flavor and it is very much worth playing today.

The Legend of Zelda Ending

#7 – The Legend of Zelda