Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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MAR
31
2017
0

#39 – Little Nemo: The Dream Master

What dreams are made of!

I usually listen to the good music for awhile here!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 11/27/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Little Nemo Longplay

There are quite a few games I have discovered in the NES library where I play it and immediately realize that I have been missing out for years. Little Nemo: The Dream Master is one of those games for me. I had most of the popular games growing up and many other good games, but there are so many games on the console that some end up being skipped. I am sure I had my opportunities to play the game much earlier since I was definitely aware of Little Nemo long before I played it. Either way, it’s better late than never! Little Nemo is a game that I really like and I am excited to tell you more about it today!

Little Nemo in Slumberland is a comic strip created in 1905 by an American cartoonist named Winsor McCay. It follows the story of Nemo and his adventurous dreams where each strip ends with Nemo waking up out of bed. The comic was published in the New York Herald until 1911 when McCay moved to the New York American. McCay was able to retain the rights to the characters and he brought Nemo to the American under the name In the Land of Wonderful Dreams from 1911 to 1914. In 1924, McCay returned to the Herald and revived Little Nemo in Slumberland until 1926 when it ended due to lack of popularity.

Little Nemo branched out into other forms of media over the years. A play was created in 1907 and another was created much more recently in 2012. There was a film made about McCay in 1911 that involved him creating animations of Little Nemo characters. There was an original opera performed in 2012. There have also been compilations of McCay’s original work, and McCay’s son even tried to bring back Little Nemo after his father’s death with lackluster results. However, the most notable work was the joint American-Japanese film named Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. This 1989 movie serves as the basis for the NES game.

You know you’re in for a treat when one of the first things you see is a giant mushroom!

Little Nemo: The Dream Master was released on the NES in North America in September 1990. It was both developed and published by Capcom. The Famicom release, titled Pajamas Hero Nemo, was released a little later in December 1990, and the European NES release debuted in December 1991. The story of the game follows closely to the 1989 movie. Curiously, the film was not released in the US until 1992, two years after the NES game. Capcom also released a separate arcade platformer simply named Nemo in 1990.

Little Nemo: The Dream Master is a platformer game. You play Little Nemo as he is tasked by a messenger of the princess to rescue Slumberland and King Morpheus from the Nightmare King. Nemo must work his way through eight areas to beat the game and save Slumberland. True to the source comic strip, each area in the game is a separate dream with Nemo hopping into bed to start the level and being woken up by his mother after the level.

On his own, Nemo is not very powerful. He can move around reasonably well, including jumping and ducking, and he can throw pieces of candy. However, the candy can only temporarily stun enemies without dealing any damage. Nemo can feed certain animals three pieces of candy which causes them to fall asleep. He can then take a ride on the animal or sometimes actually become the animal, which gives Nemo the means to clear obstacles and fight enemies. You can press Select to switch back to regular Nemo and from there take control of a different animal if desired.

The Frog lets you make these tall jumps.

There are several animals in the game and each one provides Nemo a set of additional capabilities. For starters, each type of animal has a certain amount of health points that may vary from Nemo’s own health. Enemy attacks deal one point of damage to Nemo and he loses a life when he runs out of health. More important than health are the different animal abilities needed to properly explore the stages. For instance, in the first level Nemo can become a frog that can jump higher than Nemo to reach tall ledges, and he can defeat enemies by jumping on them. Later you come across a mole that lets Nemo dig underground to explore even more. Some animals can climb walls, some can swim or fly, some have useful attacks, and so on. You have to play around a bit to figure out what you can do with a new animal. If there is an obstacle in the level, then there is an animal nearby capable of tackling it. Therefore, the platformer has some puzzle elements to it where you need to track down different animals and experiment with their capabilities.

There are a few items that will help Nemo out. Small bottles restore a single point of health, and first aid kits restore all of Nemo’s health. There are 1up icons that give Nemo an extra life. Finally, the most important items in the game are keys. At the end of most levels there is a locked door with several keyholes next to it. To finish the level, you need to collect enough keys scattered throughout the stage in order to unlock all the keyholes. Unfortunately, you have to reach the end of the level first to see how many keys are required, and you are forced to backtrack if you come up short. Some of the keys are well hidden in alcoves and branching paths. You will need to master all of the creatures in the game and search high and low to meet the level requirements.

There are many different environments in the stages. The first level is a mushroom forest with giant mushroom mountains as well as caves to explore and waterfalls to climb. There is a jungle level, a sea level, and others. There is also an auto-scrolling train level thrown in there for something really different. There is always something new to explore and there is a lot of variety to keep things interesting.

What kind of toy house has crushers like this?

This is a bit of a spoiler, so jump ahead a paragraph if you don’t want to know. Toward the end of the game Nemo gets an actual weapon that he can use to take out the bad guys when he doesn’t have an animal helper. The difficulty gets significantly bumped up here in part by introducing boss battles. Not only do you have to get more used to controlling Nemo on his own, but you have this new weapon to figure out. It may seem like an unnecessary change in the game, but I find it quite a bit of fun.

Little Nemo is typically regarded as a difficult game, and to an extent I agree. The difficulty curve feels a little bit uneven with some levels more taxing than others, and then the game takes a significant bump up in challenge toward the end like I just mentioned. The game has infinite continues which limits the difficulty, however, the whole game is long and challenging enough where you may not be able to grind through it in a single sitting.

I didn’t own Little Nemo until much later in my NES collection, but I remember reading about the game quite a bit. I probably ended up emulating it first but only just to try it out for a bit. One of my good friends has a very small collection of NES games but Little Nemo is one of them, and he would tell me about how good the game is to play. That sold me on the game enough to seek it out. I don’t remember when or how I ended up getting my copy, but when I did I ended up playing through it shortly thereafter. I have played through it at least a couple of times before covering it now.

You can “bee” deadly if you must!

Despite my experience with the game, I don’t know it well enough to just breeze right through it. I remembered enough to beat the game in a single sitting, but not well enough to look good doing it. I recorded my playthrough but it is definitely not my best effort. I had to continue a few times, and I forgot some of the keys and had to go back and find them. Thankfully this blog is about finishing the games regardless of skill or style, so I’m satisfied with getting to the ending of the game.

I want to take a moment to praise the soundtrack. Capcom games tend to have really memorable music, and Little Nemo follows that trend. The soundtrack is often upbeat and I think it really captures that dreamy feel that should accompany a game like this. Some of my favorite tracks are right at the start, including the prologue, title screen, and Mushroom Forest theme. You can listen to all the songs at the VGMPF website.

Little Nemo: The Dream Master is one of those games that should be in any NES library. The graphics, music, and gameplay are all top-notch. There is quite the variety of animals, level layouts, and obstacles for a game of this length. Despite that fact that each animal behaves differently, the controls feel good and make sense all around. This is a title that is still affordable for any cart collector. The only negative I see is the uneven difficulty and the endgame challenge, but I welcome it so that’s not a problem for me at all. If somehow you missed playing this game like I once did, I would recommend giving it a try!

#39 – Little Nemo: The Dream Master

 
MAR
13
2017
0

#38 – Spy Hunter

Take pursuit of the top score as the bad guys pursue you.

The font is a bit hard to read.

To Beat: Complete the Winter season and the River section
Played: 11/21/16 – 11/23/16
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Spy Hunter Longplay
Bonus Video: Spy Hunter Glitch

This is another first for Take On The NES Library with the first racing game covered on the site. However, if you know anything about Spy Hunter then you’ll already know that this is a loose claim at best. Since Spy Hunter is less about racing and more about combat, survival, and high scores, we will have to save the first true racer for another day.

Spy Hunter is originally an arcade title released by Bally Midway in 1983. It was supposed to be a James Bond game and it carries that kind of vibe. Spy Hunter was popular enough to spawn a pinball game bearing the same name in 1984. Later the game was ported to a host of home computers and other consoles. The sequel Spy Hunter II was released in 1987 and featured more of a 3D perspective from above and behind the car as opposed to an overhead view. The NES port of Spy Hunter was also released in 1987 and was both developed and published by Sunsoft. In 1991, Sunsoft released a Famicom title called Battle Formula which plays as a racing shooter game similar to Spy Hunter. When they brought the game to the NES, they obtained the Spy Hunter license from Bally Midway and released the game as Super Spy Hunter in 1992.

Spy Hunter experienced periods of dormancy sandwiched between a number of reboots. The next Spy Hunter game was released in 2001 along with a sequel, Spy Hunter 2, in 2003. Around that time a Spy Hunter movie was starting up but it has not yet seen the light of day. There was a movie tie-in game called Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run that was released in 2006 anyway despite no movie release to go with it. After another long quiet spell, yet another video game reboot of Spy Hunter was developed for handhelds in 2012. There have been rumors that a Spy Hunter film is still in development as recently as 2015, but at this point it seems unlikely this will ever come to fruition.

Just crusin’ along!

Spy Hunter is a top-down racing and shooting game. You control the G-1655 CIA Prototype Interceptor as you are being chased by a bunch of enemy agents who only want to destroy you. Your task is to take out the enemy agents, protect innocent bystander vehicles, and drive as far as you can.

The controls are simple. Use the D-Pad to steer your vehicle left and right. You go faster by holding up and you slow down by pressing Down. Your Interceptor is armed with a machine gun that you can fire with the B button. If you have a special weapon you can use it with A, and the Select key will switch between special weapons if you have more than one. There is no pause feature with the game which is a significant omission as far as I’m concerned.

When you begin the game you are unloaded by the big brown weapons van and you can start driving right away. Your score counter is displayed on the upper-right of the screen and it increases as you drive. You want to stay on the pavement since you don’t get score while you are riding along the edge of the road. If you go faster you accrue points more quickly while at a higher risk of crashing. There are a number of vehicles and hazards that will get in your way from both ahead and behind so you want to maintain a decent speed. You also earn points by defeating the enemy agents. If you happen to bump into or destroy a non-enemy vehicle your score counter blinks and stops increasing for a little while.

Try to avoid shooting the regular cars.

There is also a time counter on the bottom-right that ticks down pretty fast from 999. The timer ties to an interesting mechanic concerning your lives. As long as the timer is running, you can crash your vehicle and you can get right back on the road with no penalty. The timer runs out quickly and it only counts down once at the start of the game, so this juncture is when you want to be more careful. You want to drive well enough to earn at least 10,000 points before the timer runs out. Fail to reach that score and your next crash ends your game immediately. However, if you reach that mark then you get an extra life that is shown where the timer used to be displayed. If you play really well and get to 30,000 points you get another extra life, and you can earn another life at every 30,000 points beyond that.

The enemy vehicles on the road all share the same deep blue color so you can easily distinguish them from the others. There is a skinny enemy called the Tire Slasher. You can easily shoot it with your machine gun when it is in front of you, but if it gets to your side it will deploy spikes out of its tires and try to collide with you, causing you to lose control of your vehicle completely. The second enemy agent is a thick car called a Bullet Proof Bully. Naturally this vehicle is immune to your machine gun, so the way to take it out is to bump it off the road with your Interceptor. This enemy will try and do the same to you, so be careful. The third agent is a long Limousine. This vehicle attacks you via a backseat passenger firing a pistol out the side windows whenever you run along side of it, so you want to avoid approaching it just as you want to avoid the Tire Slasher. There is a fourth enemy which is a white helicopter. This is the only flying vehicle and you can hear it coming long before you see it. The helicopter drops deadly bombs on the road that create a deadly pothole in the ground should you run over it.

The helicopters are relentless!

To help fend off the enemies, you can find three special weapons. At certain times the same brown van that drops you off at the start appears with a symbol on the top. If you get close to the van it drops a ramp so that you can drive up into the back of the van. If you do this, the van will pull over to the side of the road and drop you off with your new weapon. The weapons are indicated by letters in the upper-left corner of the screen. The one denoted by an S is the smoke screen which lets you spew a wide fan of smoke out of the back of your Interceptor. This pretty much causes everything behind you to crash, including innocent drivers which halts your score counter. The M is a homing missile that is used solely to take out the helicopter. You have to drive in a way to keep the helicopter still long enough so that you can hit it, and getting the hang of it takes some time. The O is an oil slick which drops a car-wide stream of oil behind you. The effect is similar to the smoke screen but it is much easier to target a single enemy. These weapons are useful but if you crash you lose them all.

As you drive you will occasionally find forks in the road. You have to be careful to pick a side so that you don’t crash in the median. You will also drive across long bridges. When you come out of the other side the background scenery changes. There are four different areas you drive through and each one corresponds to a season. You can bounce around a bit between the different seasons, but usually you go through Spring, Summer, Fall, and then Winter.

If you get really far into the game you will eventually come across a small branching path to the left with a small building at the end. It’s very easy to miss it when you are going fast, and it is completely optional anyway. Drive into the building and you switch over to a boat and drive on the river. There are two types of enemy boats you will encounter and no friendly vehicles to avoid. Cruise boats fire torpedoes both ahead and behind them, and speed boats drop explosive barrels you need to navigate around. Enemy helicopters can also join the fray. You can stay on the water for as long as you want, or eventually you can find a path back to the boathouse and get back on the road.

The water is more dangerous than the road.

Looking around online, it seems a common rumor about Spy Hunter back in the day was that the game eventually has an ending if you play long enough. I can put that rumor to rest: Spy Hunter is an endless game. With an endless game comes deciding on what constitutes a win. The closest thing Spy Hunter has to levels are the seasons and the river. Winter is always the last unique season you will encounter in the game, so my winning condition is to drive through the Winter scene and also survive one loop of the river.

Spy Hunter is one of my childhood games and one that I spent time with on an occasional basis. Play sessions are pretty short so this was a good choice for a pick up and play game. I never committed to it long enough to ever get really good at the game, so this was my first real shot and beating it and seeing everything the game has to offer.

Because Spy Hunter is a pretty short game I ended up recording all my attempts, so I have some hard data on my effort in beating the game. It took me 18 attempts over almost exactly an hour and a half of total playtime. 17 of those attempts took place the first night I played, and the next time I sat down to play I had my winning run on the first try. I took on the river at my first opportunity and ended up getting through it for the first time in my life. The river scene was a childhood gaming nemesis that I was super proud to finally conquer. Going from car to boat or vice versa is the only time the game stops for long enough to capture a proper picture since there is no pause feature. I managed to capture a quick image with my camera even though I hadn’t technically finished the game yet. I was able to drive well enough to pass through Winter and beat the game with a final score of 108,595.

I don’t think many Spy Hunter players have seen this snow!

My 11th attempt was where I got my highest score. I looped through Winter twice and was going pretty well when I decided to go for it and try the River. Unfortunately, I failed out pretty fast. I earned a score of 134,525. I don’t remember what happened after that but I must have been pretty disappointed that I missed my best chance to that point. I stopped recording for a little while and then started back up again a little later. Those last attempts that night were not very good so I smartly cut my losses and went to bed.

During my 4th attempt I unintentionally triggered a glitch that soft-locked my game. I was trying to drive into the weapons van when I bumped into another car at the same time. The game started the sequence of steering the Interceptor into the van without actually putting the car inside. It left my car in a state where it was hovering over the road where I couldn’t move it and no one could touch it. That’s the first time I’ve seen that happen while playing and I had no choice but to reset and start over. I bet the timing of the glitch is really tough to reproduce!

Spy Hunter is a classic game that would be a good fit it any NES collection. There may not be a lot of substance to the game, but it plays well and it is a great game to pop in if you just want to kill a few minutes. I’m just glad to say that after all these years of playing that I have finally seen all there is to see, and it didn’t take me nearly as long as I thought!

#38 – Spy Hunter

 
DEC
14
2016
0
Alien 3 Box Cover

#32 – Alien 3

Is it a run-and-gun game or a maze game? Well, how about both!

The title fades in a piece at a time which I thought was neat!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game on Hard difficulty
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 9/25/16 – 10/2/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Alien 3 Longplay

Hot on the heels of Bram Stoker’s Dracula comes another licensed NES game based on a movie. Both games are late, obscure NES releases that even share the same developer. I thought that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was pretty fun, so let’s see if the same holds true with Alien 3.

The film Alien is a 1979 science fiction movie about a crew who comes across an old alien spacecraft. One of the crew members becomes the host to one of the aliens who then attempts to kill every living thing on their spaceship, and the crew is forced to come up with a way to get rid of the alien to ensure their own survival. (Hopefully this is a sufficient explanation since yet again I have not seen the movie.) The film was both a box office and critical success and is widely regarded today among the best movies ever made. Later there would be three movie sequels, a prequel movie, and a spin-off series Alien vs. Predator. Currently there is another prequel movie in the works and possibly more in the future.

This popular series made its way into several video games based on most of the movies. Alien 3 was the base of three distinct games. The SNES game was released in 1993 and it is run-and-gun platformer with a mission-based style. The Game Boy game is a top-down survival adventure style game. The Master System version is a run-and-gun platformer with maze-like levels. This version was also released on the Genesis, Game Gear, Commodore 64, and Amiga. The NES version of Alien 3 has the same format as the Master System version but it has a unique set of levels. Because of the different stages it can be considered a fourth unique adaptation of Alien 3. The NES version was developed by Probe Software and published by LJN. Acclaim manufactured the carts and may also have had a role in its publishing. It was released in March 1993 almost a year after the film and also has a PAL version that was released in Europe and Australia.

Let’s get down to business.

In Alien 3 your goal is to guide Ripley through the prison on Fiorina 161. The aliens have taken the prisoners captive and along the way you must seek out and free each of these prisoners as well as escape safely to the next area. There are many aliens that will stand in your way including the guardian alien boss battles. There are eight levels total in the game as well as four boss levels. Clear all the levels and you win the game!

Before starting the game there are some options available on the title screen. You can turn both the music and sound effects either on or off. There is also a Configure menu with more options. Here you can set the difficulty level to either Easy, Normal, or Hard. You can also play any of the songs and sound effects, as well as set the number of lives from one to nine. The defaults are Normal difficulty and three lives.

The game has pretty nice graphics. The backgrounds and sprites are clear for the most part and there is a fair amount of color considering the mostly drab setting of a prison. However, what stands out the most in this game is the music. The soundtrack to Alien 3 was written by Jeroen Tel and the sound to me is both atmospheric and tense. It’s worth listening to outside of the game for sure.

The controls are straightforward. Use the D-Pad to walk around. You can use Up and Down to climb ladders, and Up is also used to open and close doors. The A button jumps and the B button fires your weapon. Weapons can be aimed diagonally upward as well as straight up for a total of five different firing directions. Press Select to change weapons and press Start to pause.

You begin the game with a full assortment of four weapons. The base weapon is the pulse rifle that is weak but has a high rate of fire. It is an effective weapon but burns through ammo very quickly. The flamethrower is an excellent close range weapon with a large swath of flame to engulf nearby aliens. The grenade launcher is a powerful weapon at long range with a lower rate of fire as a trade off. The hand grenades can be tossed and bounced on the ground and they pack a pretty good punch if you can get the timing right. All of the weapons prove useful especially when utilized in the correct situation.

Applying a flamethrower to the face is often useful.

There are a number of pickups as well that will help you out. There are ammo refills for each of the four weapons. First aid kits will restore your health just as you would expect. There is also a radar item that will active the tiny radar in the corner of the status bar. The radar generates a little blip in the direction of a nearby prisoner.

There are only a few enemies that show up in the game. The most prominent enemy is the adult alien though they do have a variety of patterns and moves to mix things up. Some move fast and some move slow. Sometimes they spit acid at you. Other times they latch on to the ceiling and drop down right in front of you if you get too close. The other enemy type is the face-hugger. These are small aliens that burst out of pods and latch onto your face if they touch you. If this happens you need to shake Left and Right on the D-pad to get them off. I never let them latch on to me in all the times I played but that is how the manual describes it. You can also destroy their pods before they come out and defeat them that way which is much easier.

The game is an action game on the surface but it really plays like a maze game. Each level is an arrangement of corridors, shafts, and dead ends. You need to search out all of the paths in order to locate the prisoners and find out which sections are best left ignored. Each stage has a set number of prisoners that you must untie and free, and then once all the prisoners are saved you will need to locate the exit in order to escape.

Don’t worry … I’ll save you!

The aliens in the game are not nearly as scary as the time limit. On the one hand you need to take the time to explore everything in order to find both the prisoners and the proper route through the facility. On the other hand, you need to rush through everything to make it to the end in time. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing the last stretch of the stage just as you run out of time knowing you will need to repeat the level all over again. The one nice thing the game does for you here is that if you missed any prisoners the game pans through the level revealing the location of each missing inmate. However you also get to see that prisoner get murdered right before your eyes as a little mental punishment.

After every two stages there is a Guardian level where you square off against one of the boss creatures. The levels themselves are small battle arenas so the focus is purely on combat. There is still a relatively strict time limit in place so you need to work quickly. You might think the Guardians would actively hunt you down, but instead they have a set pattern that they patrol constantly. The key here is to find where the save spots are and fire away until you defeat the boss. I found these fights to be much easier than the normal levels.

I mentioned earlier that there were three difficulty levels. I only played the game on Hard difficulty and tinkered a bit with the lower settings. As far as I could see, the only difference is that the time limit is lower on the harder settings. I think everything else is the same though I haven’t played enough to see if there are other changes.

It can get a little hairy when time winds down.

This was my first time playing through Alien 3. I remember acquiring this game in an eBay game lot in the summer of 2013. I think it was in the first batch of games I bought whenever I decided that I would pursue NES collecting for good. I would say it’s an uncommon game so that was a good pickup for me at the time. I know I had a double of the game that I sold off at some point as well.

Alien 3 is the type of game where you need to play it over and over again just to make a little bit of progress each time. I finished the game in a week over close to a dozen attempts. I insist on beating the game on the hardest difficulty right off the bat, but in this case I could have benefited from learning the levels on Easy and then putting it all together for a run on Hard. I think there is at least some benefit to learning the levels under a tighter timeframe that probably helped me out a little bit. A week is a good amount of time to spend on a game anyway!

I was able to capture my winning run on video. It was a really solid run with only a few minor mistakes and stumbles, but that is only because I had to hone in my strategy through repetition. It was very close to being a deathless run as well. It was close enough that I decided to leave that death in there as a reminder of how mean this game can be sometimes. Other than that one big mistake it was a nice run for my first time clearing the game.

This was not the best location for a boss battle.

I decided to rate Alien 3 with a 7 on difficulty just because it is a game you have to learn over time. There are no continues so you can’t really grind through the game apart from starting from scratch each time, though you can set up to nine lives for the most opportunities to practice the later stages per attempt. Actually, I was all set to give it an 8 in difficulty but I realize that I only made it harder on myself so that I could clear it on Hard.

Alien 3 is a competent and playable game, but it has a few issues that make the game not as much fun as it could be. The most notable issue is that the screen scrolling only kicks in when you get really close to the edge of the screen. You can hardly see what is in front of you and it is very annoying. I actually wonder if that was done intentionally to introduce the element of surprise when an alien shows up in your face. Either way it is not a fun gameplay element to have so little visibility. The other somewhat related thing is that I don’t find the aliens to be that much of a threat in the first place. I found that unless you play very carelessly you are more likely to run out of time than to run out of health, at least on Hard difficulty. I was more concerned with running recklessly through the stage to outrun the clock and just take damage in places to get through quicker. There are other more minor issues as well. The jumping is kind of loopy and slow, and the screen scrolling stutters sometimes. The boss battles are pretty lame. There are also a lot of dead ends and loops in the stages that are frustrating to pass through.

Alien 3 is a competent and playable game, but it is these issues that really hold the game back from being a better game. I can see that there is a good game there that just can’t shine through like I would want. Mediocre games such as Alien 3 are really not that bad for me in terms of my project, but I would not give them a strong recommendation either. Alien 3 is fine but there are better games out there that are more worth your time. If anything it is worth checking out just for the music!

#32 – Alien 3