Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



New Developments and Other Thoughts

The last couple of weeks have brought about some things that will lead to some major changes to my project and this website. Let me be clear that I am not stopping anything and these changes could be very good! I have also had a few other thoughts that I might as well air out now and get some discussion going. Even though this is my pet project I do want to keep this interesting for you and everyone else that has been reading and following along thus far. With all that in mind, let’s get started!

I have recently made two purchases that directly impact Take On The NES Library. The first purchase is the brand new RetroUSB AVS console! I have been using it for a week and a half and I really like it! In case you haven’t heard about it, the AVS is a brand new HDMI based NES console. This is great for me because aside from a few exceptions I do all my NES gaming on a flat screen TV. It displays games in clear 720p and it has a good amount of customization options to the video to make it look just about as nice as possible on my TV. Some other features that I really like about it are the Famicom slot, PAL region support, and the Scoreboard for uploading high scores on dozens of games. It has held up very well with every game I have tried so far. I am planning to use it as my primary system for playing NES games going forward.

Even though the AVS is a great system, I do have a couple of concerns around legitimacy. The AVS contains a built-in Game Genie for applying cheats without using any extra peripherals. Unfortunately with that as part of the firmware it’s not easy for me to prove that my playthroughs are cheat-free. Up until now I have played on a top loading NES and I have included a picture of my TV screen and console when I beat the game. From there it will be obvious if I am using a cheat device and that approach will not cut it with the AVS. The only way to really prove it is with video. Otherwise, legitimacy is only as good as my word. Though my detailed reviews and stories may be good enough for most readers, I am certain there is at least one person out there that would be willing to call me out and claim that I have not cleanly beaten some game. It may never happen but I don’t exactly have a leg to stand on in an argument if it comes up. The other concern is about accuracy. It has come to light recently that the AVS plays games a tiny bit slower than on an original NES console. Informal testing has shown that the AVS plays about a second behind an original console for every 10 minutes of play. It is a very small imperceptible difference, but it’s there. Both of these issues in my mind are not enough for me to stay away from using the AVS for my primary console. If I am able to win on an AVS, certainly I can win on a normal console and I would be able to back that up and prove it in some extreme case of doubt.

The other device I bought is a brand new Elgato Game Capture HD. This is very exciting! With this device I can connect my console with my PC and record video of my playthroughs, and combining that with the AVS will produce high-quality video for personal use. It’s obvious there are some great possibilities for enhancing the site with this. One thing I want to try is uploading games to my YouTube channel. I’m not that big on video editing but it shouldn’t be too difficult to create longplay videos for games I finish. I imagine there are quite a few obscure NES games that don’t have a lot of video on the web and I will be able to generate some archival footage that may prove useful. Videos will also provide me proof of victory that could come in handy! The video quality is so good with the AVS that I can grab my own screenshots from the captured video for use in my blog posts. I have resorted to extracting images from emulators or finding them on the web, so the ability to generate my own screenshots on console is really going to enhance my reviews as well.

Another benefit of the capture device is that I can stream gameplay on my Twitch channel. This is actually the main reason why I bought it, but for a non-obvious practical application. My wife likes to watch me play but it’s been difficult to set it up when my young daughter isn’t sleeping well. Streaming lets me play downstairs while she watches and lays in bed upstairs! We have already tried it a couple of times and it works well. The Elgato makes it easy to stream and I should be able to broadcast a few times a week whenever I get to play. My schedule makes it difficult to stream at a convenient time, so when I do it will generally be after midnight for up to an hour on a good night. Despite that it’s another way to expand my reach for the site!

Since I started the blog I have kept a tight lip on what games I am playing until I reveal my review. I have wanted to keep things a surprise in the same way that the next game I play is a surprise to me. Obviously if I am going to start live streaming that will be impossible. I have had more than one person show interest in my current progress and I suspect it will be better overall if I am more transparent with my progress especially if that information is going to be out there anyway. Therefore I am going to start revealing more about what’s happening here on places such as my Twitter account and my Nintendo Age discussion thread. I hope these things may spark some more interest and discussion in what I’m doing here.

In the spirit of transparency, I am revealing today that I have been working a bit on the side learning to play piano using the NES Miracle Piano Teaching System. A little over a month ago I bought the CIB Miracle Piano set from a collector that was selling off all of his games. The set is a bit challenging to track down and I jumped at the opportunity to obtain a good condition set for what I think is a good price. This appeared on my list immediately before Ikari Warriors but at that time I didn’t have the set so I couldn’t even show it off. Good thing I put it off! I have the entire setup connected to my CRT TV in my office for the near future so that I can work on the teaching program a few times a week. Now, I have no music experience in any form whatsoever so I am learning from scratch. From what I have done so far I think the program is quite good, but it is also shaping up to be a very difficult endeavor. It may be harder to finish than Ikari Warriors! I have just started Lesson 8 out of 36 total lessons and this new lesson really beat me up when I first started. It will take a lot of effort to finish everything but I am dead set on completing it. I estimate that it will take me at least a year to finish the program but at this point I won’t be surprised if it takes two or three years to complete.

A part of my project methodology has been bothering me for awhile. When I first created my master game list I bumped a number of games that I wasn’t interested in trying to beat down to the bottom of my list. That mini-list mostly consists of sports games, strategy games, and flight simulation games. There were 83 games that got this treatment which is really a significant portion of the library. I’m starting to regret that choice. There’s really no point in delaying these games considering my goal of beating them all. I did that initially to minimize the chance of losing interest in the project if I got stuck with a long uninteresting game. I think I have proven by now that I am willing to spend a lot of time working through any game so I want to reintroduce those skipped games in some way. The most likely option is to periodically sprinkle one of these games into my master list. Another possibility is to work on two active games, one from each list. If I decide to go that route I will defer that until after I finish Miracle Piano since that is already my alternate game!

Since I’ve been working on the website and project I have always been thinking of doing things to expand my reach and get the word out about Take On The NES Library. I am getting ready to take a big step forward with attempting to expand my content to Twitch and YouTube. I am wondering if I should take it even further and set up dedicated channels and accounts for the blog, or if it is fine using my personal accounts for that. I even wonder if I should bother trying to market the site in the first place and just stick to word of mouth and keeping things small. I don’t really have the bandwidth in my life to have a dedicated streaming schedule or upload schedule. I have a hard enough time keeping up with posting reviews every couple of weeks. It’s probably best right now to stick with my foray into video and see how that goes first!

I think that’s all that has been on my mind. I would love to hear from you! I know my blog comments have barely been used, but please feel free to try them out and send something my way if you have any suggestions for how I can further improve this site. You can also find me on the Nintendo Age forums as arnpoly as well as that active forum thread there specifically for this project. Keep your eyes peeled for more frequent updates!

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