Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

software

JAN
17
2018
0

#63 – Kiwi Kraze

A fun platformer with a somewhat unfortunate name.

Nice graphics AND catchy music!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 10/22/17 – 12/1/17
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Kiwi Kraze Longplay

I haven’t traveled all that much in my life. I have only flown a few times and never over the ocean. I guess I have just as much fun staying at home playing all these NES games. New Zealand seems like it would be a lovely place to visit if I ever decide to go overseas. The country is beautiful and many notable movies have been filmed there. It stands to reason that it would also make a great setting for a video game. It also makes sense that a game based in New Zealand would use the native kiwi bird as the basis for the protagonist. Kiwi Kraze is a fun game that is often overlooked among the glut of NES platformers.

The NewZealand Story started as an arcade game both developed and published by Taito and released in September 1988. The game was later ported to a wide number of home computers and consoles worldwide over the next few years. The NES version of the game was renamed to Kiwi Kraze, A Bird-Brained Adventure! in North America and is the only version of the game that was renamed. Kiwi Kraze was developed by Software Creations and published by Taito, and was released in March 1991. In Europe, the NES port retained the name The NewZealand Story and was published by Ocean sometime in 1991. The NewZealand Story was later included in the 2005 compliation Taito Legends. New Zealand Story Revolution is a Nintendo DS remake of the game released in 2007. That game was developed by Taito and published by Ignition Entertainment in North America.

In Kiwi Kraze, you play the role of the Kiwi bird named Tiki. Wally Walrus has captured Tiki and all his friends, but Tiki was the only one who managed to escape. Wally then sells all the Kiwi birds to various zoos across New Zealand, so Tiki sets off on a grand adventure to rescue all his friends, including his girlfriend Phee-Phee. Tiki’s journey spans five separate worlds, each containing four levels. In each level, one of Tiki’s friends is locked in a cage and you must reach and free them to move on to the next stage. You win the game after you have completed all twenty stages.

Yep, definitely New Zealand!

Kiwi Kraze is a side-scrolling platformer game. On the title screen, you can press Select to choose either a one-player or two-player game. It is alternating play so it’s not that useful. You use the D-Pad to move Tiki around during gameplay. Jump by pressing the A button. You can control the height of the jump a little bit by how long you hold the button. When descending, you can tap the A button to flap Tiki’s wings which slows down his fall. The B button is for attacking and the default weapon is a bow and arrow. You can fire quite a few of these straight-shooting arrows at one time to quickly mow down a row of enemies. Pressing Start to pause the game also displays a mini map overlayed on the screen that displays the relative size of the level, your current location, and the exit location. There are no walls or anything else displayed on the map, but it can be a handy reference at times to gently guide you in the right direction.

There are two main mechanics that distinguish Kiwi Kraze. The first is that Tiki can jump up through any floor. This must be a Taito thing because this is also how things work in Bubble Bobble. You can even jump through walls from underneath. You only land on a ledge successfully if Tiki isn’t stuck partway within a wall. When airborne within a wall, you are only allowed to move laterally away from the wall. Otherwise you will fall through the wall back to where you started. I know I’m not explaining it very well, but when you play the game for a little while it starts to make sense. These details of the movement are important because it has a direct effect on the level design. Stages scroll in all four directions. Moving sideways is straightforward, but it is much easier to climb to the top of the level than to get back down. The level design takes advantage of this by creating many paths that look closed off at a glance, but can be entered through some shrewd jumping. The stages also contain many winding pathways and often include multiple paths to reach the end of a level.

The other important mechanic is that Tiki can fly around the stages. Kiwis are flightless birds and Tiki uses balloons to fly. These can occasionally be found on their own, but most often you will acquire a balloon by stealing one from an enemy. Shoot the enemy and then jump on top of its balloon to take it for yourself, but aim carefully because you can also pop the balloon with your weapon if your aim is too low. You can even jump on a balloon while an enemy is still standing on it, which will knock the enemy to the ground and let you take control. Balloons fall under Tiki’s weight and you hold the A button to slowly raise the balloon and move upward. You can still use the D-Pad for horizontal movement and fire your weapon while flying. Press Down while resting on the ground to dismount. You can also lose your balloon if it gets popped by an enemy projectile or hits a spike. Any case where you require a balloon to progress is accompanied by an enemy spawn point so that you can commandeer a new balloon.

I’m gonna need that balloon, thanks!

Some levels contain water and Tiki can swim through these portions. He will don a snorkel while underwater and it’s pretty cute. At the bottom left of the screen, you will normally see your score counter alternating with your lives display. When underwater this display switches over to an air meter that slowly dwindles away. You swim with the D-Pad in all eight directions and the A and B buttons do nothing. Floating on the water’s surface allows you to breathe again, and you can also press the B button to spit water at an upward angle to attack enemies. Spitting water like this also refills your air meter much faster. For long water sections, you must find pockets of air and stop to take a breath before moving on.

There are many different kinds of enemies in Kiwi Kraze. Most enemies are not deadly to the touch, which is a departure from most platfomers. The ones that don’t hurt you will occasionally fire projectiles that do hurt. Bats are particularly sneaky because they toss out a projectile whenever you are directly underneath them, causing them to act like an enemy that kills you on contact. All other enemies telegraph their attacks in some way. Tiki is pretty fragile so a single hit kills him instantly, and you also lose lives by touching spikes and drowning.

One special enemy that can appear in any stage is the red devil. This is the invincible “hurry up” enemy that will chase you around if you are taking too long to finish a level. He can move freely through walls and you can’t get him to go away. You will receive an actual Hurry Up message prior to his appearance. Unlike most enemies of this type, he keeps a steady speed and you are able to keep away from him if you have enough space to maneuver.

There are several different items in the game. Some levels hold extra lives in the shape of a tiny Kiwi bird. The most common item you find are apples. These are dropped by defeated enemies and are worth 500 points each. If you come across a secret room, apples there are worth 5000 points. You need 100,000 points to earn an extra life. Sometimes an enemy will drop something other than an apple. These items are either different weapons or magic items.

Just about every enemy drops something.

There are three different weapons Tiki can use. The default is the bow and arrow which you can reacquire if you collect the red arrow powerup. The bombs are a downward-moving attack, and I find these have limited usefulness. The best weapon in my mind is the green laser gun. This gun fires straight shots like the arrows, but they move quickly and can also travel through walls. It’s great to blast an enemy on the other side of a wall so you don’t have to deal with them later. You keep your weapons until you lose a life or exit the stage.

There are four magic items. The magic book is a single-use screen-shaking attack that defeats all enemies. The magic watch freezes all enemies in their tracks for several seconds. Likewise, the magic staff gives you invincibility flashing for a little while. Perhaps the most interesting item here is the magic joystick. This gives you direct control over either your current or next balloon. You no longer have to toggle A to either rise or fall, rather you use just the D-Pad to move precisely in all directions. If you dismount the balloon or pop it, you lose the powerup. There are some locations where you can take shortcuts with some precise movements that are only possible with the magic joystick.

There are also different balloon types that have slightly different capabilities. The most common one looks like the head of a sheep, and you will use this one most of the time. There is a tall, red balloon that is very slow to accelerate upward, however the tradeoff is that this is the only balloon that is immune to spikes. Another balloon looks like a green ostrich and it accelerates the quickest. The last balloon looks like a carriage. This is the very first balloon you find naturally in the game, but you also get it automatically after you die while on a balloon. All balloons appear to have the same horizontal movement.

Most worlds end in a boss battle. The very first fight is the cleverest one, where you get swallowed and have to defeat the boss from the inside. That concept was also used in one of the bosses in Yoshi’s Island on the SNES, but Kiwi Kraze does it here first. The other bosses play more like a shootout and you have to land a lot of attacks to take them down. One world uses a complicated maze section in lieu of a boss fight. There is a least a little variety here, as well as using a different type of challenge than what is derived from the level design.

The best boss in the game.

Hidden within some levels are warps. These are invisible and are revealed by shooting their location several times. If you are firing arrows that vanish in mid-air, keep shooting. Then hop into the warp block to go to a new place! Some of these will lead to special rooms where you can find apples and maybe extra lives. Others take you to a location one or more levels ahead. You normally see a map of New Zealand with the level number before each stage. Take a warp, however, and you don’t see where you end up. Like extra lives, these are hidden in out of the way places. I only found a few of these and I’m sure there are many more that I didn’t find.

You begin Kiwi Kraze with three lives, and they can go by quickly. You can continue with a fresh set of lives, but you can only do this three times before being bumped back to the title screen. It’s the kind of game where you progressively learn the levels and usually get a little farther the more times you play. Kiwi Kraze has a wrinkle to this to make it more challenging. Typically, when you lose a life, you resume play from right where you died with an invincibility period. That safety net goes away when you reach World 4. For the rest of the game, a death sends you back all the way to the start of the stage. I was able to beat World 3 within my first few tries and then the rest of the game felt like wading through mud.

This was my first time playing Kiwi Kraze. I know the term is overblown these days, but I have considered the game a hidden gem. I bought my copy in the back half of collecting licensed NES games and it was one I was looking for specifically once I knew what it was all about. My cart is a very clean copy too, courtesy of a seller on Nintendo Age. I played through the first world right away and knew this was a game I would really like. But, it went back on the shelf like most others and I didn’t get into it until now.

Paths between spikes are slightly less dangerous than they look.

You might have noticed from the start of this post that it looks like I spent nearly six weeks playing Kiwi Kraze. Those dates are not what they seem! I had a little bit of free time on a Saturday afternoon and spent it on my first couple of attempts at the game. That following Monday was the beginning of the year-end tournament of an NES contest hosted on the Nintendo Age forums. That tournament lasted four weeks and I didn’t play Kiwi Kraze at all while that was going on. It didn’t take much to pick back up from where I started. I still needed around ten tries or so before I beat the game. Then another few days went by before I could record my full run.

I really like Kiwi Kraze. I think it’s a fun game with a lot of character. There are just a couple of things about it that I’m not entirely sure how I feel about. First off, the hitboxes seem a little off. Any balloon you ride on becomes the focal point of contact, and you can scratch your head on some spikes and enemies and not be hurt. Without the balloon, that kind of contact gets you killed. At least it feels that way. It’s just something you have to be actively aware of during play. Your instinct while on the balloon is to protect Tiki, but it needs to be on the balloon instead when gliding around spikes. The other thing is that the level design has a different feel that I don’t experience much. Most games like this rely on a larger 16×16 pixel tile, but the levels in Kiwi Kraze are based on tiny 8×8 tiles. This give more space for very detailed structures and challenges that are more puzzle-like. So you have these dense little areas connected together with wide open spaces where you can fly more freely, since the levels are still reasonably large. They chose to incorporate many narrow tunnels to connect all these pieces as well, not to mention the ability to jump through any floor like I already mentioned. I think it’s neat how it all comes together, but I can also see how this kind of design might be off-putting to someone else.

If you like platformers, cute characters, or both, I think you should try Kiwi Kraze. It’s a brightly colored game with neat, intricate design. The graphics are highly detailed with many neat drawings and backgrounds that add character. The downside here is that some of the tiny spikes don’t stand out. This music is catchy, which is no surprise given that the Follin brothers ported the music to the NES. However, they chose to use one song for every level in the game. It’s a good song, but it can get stale. The maze-like design might leave some players frustrated too. This is a flawed game for these few reasons and others, but I can easily look past them. I was really excited to spend some time with Kiwi Kraze, and I still have good feelings about this game now that I’ve seen it all for myself.

#63 – Kiwi Kraze

 
NOV
06
2017
2

#57 – M.C. Kids

This fun, golden platformer isn’t kidding around!

This screen doubles as a little playground to move around in.

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat all stages and collect all puzzle cards
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 8/27/17 – 8/29/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: M.C. Kids 100% Longplay

McDonald’s is one of the most iconic and ubiquitous brands in the world. Ronald McDonald is a household name, and just about everyone recognizes the golden arches. It’s no surprise that there are licensed video games based on their cast of characters. What may be surprising is that the NES game is quite good. M.C. Kids channels the spirit of Super Mario Bros. 3 with some clever twists that makes it a great NES platformer.

McDonald’s is an American fast food restaurant that was first founded in 1940 by Richard and Maurice McDonald as a barbecue restaurant. In 1948, they changed over to a hamburger stand and subsequently expanded to other locations. Ray Kroc purchased the chain from the McDonald brothers in 1955 and established McDonald’s Corporation. Today, McDonald’s has vastly expanded worldwide approaching 40,000 total restaurants in over 100 countries.

The character Ronald McDonald may have been created by Willard Scott. The former NBC Today Show’s weatherman was the original Ronald McDonald in three television ads in 1963, and he claims to have created the clown character himself. McDonald’s expanded their advertising by introducing McDonaldland in 1970-1971. Many new characters came and went over the years to accompany Ronald. McDonaldland was officially phased out of advertising in 2003.

Something tells me the kids weren’t part of McDonaldland.

A few video games were created using the McDonaldland characters. The Famicom exclusive Donald Land was released in Japan in 1988, and was both developed and published by Data East. The NES game M.C. Kids was released in North America in January 1992. It was both published and developed by Virgin Games. The European version was renamed McDonaldland and was published by Ocean Software in 1993. In a strange twist, the Game Boy port of this game was released as McDonaldland in Europe and rebranded as Spot: The Cool Adventure for North America. A Sega Genesis follow up named Global Gladiators was also released in 1992. Another Genesis game, McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure, was released worldwide in 1993 by the developer Treasure.

M.C. Kids (pronounced “Em-Cee” Kids) is a side-scrolling action platformer. The Hamburgler has stolen Ronald’s magic bag, and Ronald asks the kids Mick and Mack to help him track it down. To do this, the kids must locate some of Ronald’s puzzle cards from the levels in the world. When you collect enough puzzle cards, the path to the next world is open. This cycle repeats until you track down the Hamburgler and recover the magic bag.

On the title screen, you take control of Mick. This is a great place to get a basic feel for movement and jumping in a safe environment. There is a signpost pointing to the left labeled 1up, and another pointing to the right labeled 2up. Walk off the appropriate side of the screen to activate either one-player or two-player mode. Above the signposts are moon blocks. Bumping your head into the block changes you between Mick and Mack. They control the same, so simply pick the one you prefer. For two-player mode, the second player gets the other character. Two-player mode is alternating play.

This map style reminds me of some other game…

After the introductory story, you are taken to the world map. Use the D-pad to walk on the predefined paths between stages. Press A to enter a stage or house. Each stage is noted with a flashing M with a signpost next to it indicating the level number. At the top of the screen, you see the name of the world you’re in, as well as the level name if you are standing on a stage tile. You also see how many puzzle cards you need for this stage, the number of lives remaining, and how many arches you have collected. The puzzle is on the top right of the screen in a rectangle of six tiles. The cards not yet collected are displayed as M tiles. For each puzzle card you find in the levels, a tile is flipped over revealing part of the puzzle for this world.

The levels themselves are large side-scrolling levels where you control the kid directly. The controls are easy to understand but movement takes time to master. You move with the D-pad and use A to jump. You can duck by holding Down. You get a higher jump by jumping while ducking. You run automatically by walking on the ground in one direction for a while. Movement is momentum based and you maintain your speed well while jumping around. There are slopes that can either boost or reduce your speed accordingly. Running at full speed or close to it produces the highest jumps.

The B button is used to pick things up. The most common thing to grab are blocks that you hold above your head and use as weapons. Walk into a block and press B to lift it, or you can stand on a block, duck, and press B to grab them that way. You then throw the block with B. You can throw the block up or down, or press B without a vertical direction to throw the block forward. Thrown blocks will bounce once or twice before dropping off the screen, and sometimes you can hit more than one enemy with the same block.

Well, I need health, so this little bird has got to go!

At the top of the screen in a level you see a few indicators. The M stands for how many arches you have. These are floating M’s within the levels that you collect just by touching them. The L shows how many lives you have. Underneath that are hearts that represent your health. You begin each new life with three hearts. You lose single hearts when colliding with enemies, and you die when all hearts are depleted. There are no item drops or health pickups in M.C. Kids, but you can restore hearts in a couple of ways. Defeating ten enemies will restore one heart, and if you defeat two enemies with the same block you also recover a heart. You start with three hearts but can go up to four. Health also carries over between stages which is something to keep in mind.

The most important item in M.C. Kids is the puzzle card. They are solid blocks with an M on them and you collect the card by picking up the block. To keep the card permanently, you need to finish the level after grabbing it. You end a level by touching the goal line situated between two goal posts. There is a floating M across the line that will give you some arches if you touch it while breaking the string. When the level ends, you will high five your friend and see a message indicating which puzzle card you acquired, if any. Some cards in a world are for a puzzle in a different world, and some levels have two cards instead of one. The cards can be well hidden or stashed in hard to reach places, so it’s crucial to explore the levels thoroughly.

Most puzzle cards are a little harder to find.

There are several types of blocks in M.C. Kids. Blocks with a 1 on them are extra lives, and you will see many of them in the game. The reverser is a left-facing arrow block that sends you flying and flipping all the way back to the start of the level. Sometimes you will see a block outline moving around in a level. If you find a similarly shaped fill-in block and touch it to the outline, it will make the block solid and you can use it as a platform. A boat lets you float on water and you can climb in it and use the D-Pad to move the boat across water left and right. You can even grab this boat like a block and throw it into a different body of water. There are also porous blocks that float in the water and drift forward on their own. There are sand tiles that you can dig through like in Super Mario Bros. 2.

One of the neatest elements in M.C. Kids is the spinner block. It is a solid, fixed block that is located at the end of a long platform. You want to get a running start and run right over the spinner block. Do this and you will run around to the underside of the block, letting you walk on the ceiling with reversed gravity. You can reach high areas this way. One thing to note with reversed gravity is if you fall off the top of the screen, you lose a life just as if you fell down a pit.

There are also several different springboards and lifts found in stages. Small springboards let you jump high. These are usually found in the open but sometimes are hidden behind grabbable blocks. Super springboards require you to carry a block with you to spring very high. The travel lift is a platform that begins stationary and starts moving when you jump on it. The continuous lift winds around in a predefined pattern and you have to watch it for a while to see its path so you can reach it safely. The conveyor lift shows up near the end of the game. It travels along a guidewire and you move it yourself by standing in the center of it and walking either left or right. Walking left moves it forward and walking right moves it backward. This lift is particularly tricky to learn. The zipper is neither a springboard or lift, but it comes up often. Press B while standing in front of it to transition to either a new room or different location within the level.

This path for this lift winds around a lot.

As you play, you will accumulate arches. You will lose some whenever you collide with an enemy. If you manage to collect over 100, the arch counter rolls over and starts blinking. If you finish the level from here without dying, then you get to play a bonus game. This is a small level containing four blocks on upward rails. One of the four will light with an up arrow, and then shortly after the rest will display downward arrows. You want to jump quickly to the one with the up arrow to slide it upward a little bit before the down arrows activate and lower the block you are standing on. The idea is to lift at least one block high enough to reach a ledge at the top with a couple of zippers. Use the zipper to go to a 1up room with several 1up blocks suspended over a pit. Grab as many as you can! If you fall off the blocks in the bonus game, there’s a moon block on the floor you can use to switch characters if you want.

When you collect enough puzzle cards, you can go to the house in that world and speak with its owner. He or she will then provide you a path to the next world. If you are missing cards for a particular puzzle, you can drop by the house for a hint. Collecting all the cards for a world and visiting the house may provide some other benefits. There is nothing on the map to indicate if a completed level still holds a card, which makes it more difficult to track down missing cards. However, you don’t need every card to beat the game. You may also find secret cards. There is an optional secret world in the game that you can find that only opens if all secret cards are collected.

This was my first time playing through M.C. Kids, though I have owned the game for quite a while. I bought it during a brief collecting phase I had around 2009 or so. There was a deal on eBay where you could pick 10 games for either $20 or $30, and M.C. Kids was one of the games I chose. Those kinds of deals make me wonder if I had missed out on another game that would eventually become more expensive. M.C. Kids sells in the $10-$15 range these days, so it ended up being a good purchase.

This bonus level features multiple fake goal markers.

It took me a couple of days to beat M.C. Kids. The first night I streamed gameplay on Twitch, and I was doing decently until the end of the third world. I was really struggling to figure out a few different sections, and after 90 minutes or so I called it a night. The next night I pushed my way through to the end of the game in a near three-hour session. It wasn’t pretty but I got the job done. However, I wasn’t recording my attempt, and I also beat the game without visiting the special world at all. Once you get to the ending, there’s no way to go back. I also missed two puzzle cards that weren’t necessary to play all the levels and I looked online to find out where they were hiding. I had ideas on where both cards were located, but I don’t think I would have found them on my own unless I grinded out a few more hours of playing. With all that in mind, I beat the whole game again on my third attempt and captured video this time. I had to play the special world blind, but it went relatively well for the toughest stages in the game.

The deeper I get into this project, the harder time I have figuring out how to rate games on difficulty. If you can keep your NES running for a long time, then you could probably beat M.C. Kids. There are unlimited continues, and beyond that there are several places where you can grind out extra lives to not even need to continue. There is at least one level that has two extra lives right at the beginning, so by grabbing both and dying right away, you can slowly build up a stock at any time. I also found a cache of eight lives or so in a level in the first world, which is even better for grinding. Therefore, lives are not much of an issue in beating the game. The two things that make the game challenging are the momentum-based physics and locating some of the trickier-to-find puzzle cards. This seems like an average difficulty game to me, but I decided to tick up the rating to a 6 since I had trouble the first night I played.

M.C. Kids is a fun NES game that I recommend playing. The levels are often sprawling with many things to do, and the game introduces many different elements along the way that keep the experience fresh. The reverse gravity gimmick works well and it is used in clever ways. The graphics are very clean with some nice animation, and the music is equally great. I had this track stuck in my head for several days after playing. It’s no Mario 3, but it resembles it enough that it’s an easy game to recommend. The AVGN video on M.C. Kids has raised awareness of the game, but it’s been long enough since that review that the game has backed up a bit into mild obscurity. Now that I’m shining some light on the game, make sure you don’t skip this one.

#57 – M.C. Kids

 
SEP
25
2017
0

#52 – Sky Shark

If only it were literally a sky shark!

Good music and developer info works for me!

To Beat: Finish Level 5
Played: 6/6/17 – 6/12/17
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
Video: Sky Shark Playthrough

Today’s game is a port of an arcade shooter. I have covered a few arcade ports of shooters already. One of them is MagMax, which although it was true to the arcade game, it was ported far too late and wasn’t that much fun to begin with. On the other extreme, I played Gyruss and found the expanded NES port to be a better experience than the arcade version. BreakThru sits somewhere in between the two. It was like the arcade game, but was a decent port and reasonably fun to play. Of those three games, Sky Shark sits pretty close to BreakThru.

Flying Shark is an arcade shoot-em-up released in 1987. It was developed by Toaplan and was published in North America by Romstar. The game was ported to many different home computer systems in Japan, North America, and Europe. Flying Shark was renamed to Sky Shark in North America. Toaplan also developed the 1989 sequel to this game called Fire Shark. The NES version of Sky Shark was released in September 1989. This port was developed by Software Creations, and Sky Shark was their first NES game. Despite being based in England, Sky Shark on NES was only released in North America. You may also remember them as the developer of Pictionary that I played last year. The NES version was published by Taito, who also published the arcade version of Flying Shark in Japan.

Sky Shark is a top-down vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. You play the role of the best fighter in the best squadron of the US forces in World War II. He is given the nickname of the Sky Shark, and according to the comic in the game’s manual, even his plane is painted to look like a flying shark. I guess the name makes sense now! Your task is to fly through enemy forces and rescue your POWs. The mission is broken up into five stages separated by landing your aircraft. Don’t worry, the game does this for you. Survive through all five levels and you have beaten Sky Shark.

Plenty of planes and tanks early on in the game.

This is a simple game with equally simple controls. Use the D-pad to fly in all directions. Press A to fire your machine guns. Ammo is unlimited, but there is no autofire so you have to mash away at the fire button. The B button drops bombs. The Start button begins the game and pauses the action during play. Select is used to choose between one or two player mode on the title screen. Two-player mode is alternating play. That’s all there is to it!

Each aircraft comes equipped with three bombs, and dropping one inflicts heavy damage over a large portion of the screen. Bomb blasts absorb bullets too, so they can get you out of a tight spot if used defensively. Some enemies leave behind a B icon when defeated. Fly over this icon to collect an additional bomb. You can hold up to eight bombs, so you might as well use one before trying to grab a ninth. If you are interested in getting a high score, save up some spare bombs because at the end of each level you earn 3,000 points for each bomb in your inventory.

During play, the status bar is located at the bottom of the screen. You can see the current score for both players in addition to the high score. Underneath the score, you see icons that indicate how many additional fighters and how many bombs you have. Like bombs, you can have up to eight lives. There are no extra lives found on the battlefield, but you earn one every 50,000 points. It’s pretty unlikely you would reach the maximum number of lives, but it could happen!

Red planes are about the only welcome sight in Sky Shark.

One recurring feature in the stages is a wave of eight planes. They all fly in together in one of several formations and leave the screen quickly. Destroying all eight planes of the wave gives you a bonus. If the planes are yellow, you earn 1,000 points, but if the planes are red they leave behind an S powerup. The S flies around in loops on the screen so it can be tricky to grab, but you want to grab it because it powers up your machine gun. You can upgrade your weapon six times total. The first upgrade increases your gun from two shots to four, and you eventually work your way up to the fully powered gun giving you seven shots at once with a slight spread. Any time you die by taking a hit, your weapon reverts to the basic double shot. The S powerups tend to be spread out, so it takes a long time to power up all the way if you can survive that long. The sad thing is that the best weapon is not nearly as powerful as you would like.

Both the levels and enemies are generic, World War II styled elements. The stages do not distinguish themselves very well. Each level is composed of several of the same kinds of locations stitched together. There are jungle, ocean, and desert segments dispersed throughout the stages. The best level type is the trainyard area. Each level ends in an airstrip where you land the plane and get your bomb bonus. The enemies are all planes, tanks, and boats. In the ocean sections, you will pass by huge ships with cannons that you can destroy. Tanks emerge from the sides of the screen and behind buildings, and plane formations fly in often. There is not much variety overall.

There are a few bosses in the game. The Super Tank shows up at the end of the first stage. You don’t have to blow it up though because it will eventually run out of driving room and you can leave it behind. There is an upgraded version of the Super Tank that appears in a few places in the middle of stages, and just like the first boss they don’t follow you very long. There are also some large planes that act the same way, but it’s not exactly correct to call them bosses. There is also a giant final boss near the end of the fifth level.

Giant planes and battleships together at last!

When you are shot down, you resume play from the nearest checkpoint. Each stage has several hidden checkpoints, and I’d say the length between them is just about right. Some areas are harder than others so a checkpoint is a nice relief. When you run out of lives, you can continue up to three times. On the Game Over screen, you see the number of credits remaining and a countdown timer with some ominous music for an accompaniment. Press Start to continue your game from the nearest checkpoint, just as if you lost a life. You do lose your score when you continue. If you run out of credits or choose not to continue, you are taken to the high score screen where you can enter your initials.

This was my first time playing Sky Shark. I don’t remember how I acquired the cart, but it is a common game that I probably got in a bulk lot somewhere. It’s worth about $3 today, so hopefully I didn’t pay much for it. At least I knew it was a shoot-em-up, so that alone got me interested to see what it was all about.

Sky Shark is a tough game. I spent about a week playing the game over maybe a dozen attempts before I reached the end. I wanted to beat the game without continuing, but by the time I beat it I was ready to move on. The game overwhelms you early on with several tanks and aircraft at once, many of which fire aimed shots at you. Tanks appear and start firing right away, so you are forced to be on your toes and keep moving. You really need to know where enemies appear to stand a chance. Enemies have a bad habit of firing off one last shot just before they despawn off the sides of the screen. Even though the enemy bullets are large and change colors, they are often hard to see in the thick of the fight. Your only gun fires mostly straight, limiting its effectiveness, and bombs tend to be used to extend a life just to reach the next checkpoint. Thankfully the game has a continue system, otherwise I would have rated the game either an 8 or a 9.

Busy backgrounds mean it is hard to identify everything going on.

Sky Shark does not have an ending. Once you fight the final boss and reach the end of level five, the game loops seamlessly. In a small twist, the game restarts from level two, so if you keep looping the game you will just repeat levels two through five without every playing level one again. Luckily, there is a way to tell if you have finished the game. I left this little tidbit out intentionally until now. When you enter your initials on the high score screen, there is also a two-digit value displayed on the right-hand column. I can’t confirm this for certain, but that value appears to be a percentage of how much of the game was completed.

There are two quirks about this value that make me doubt my theory a bit. The first thing is that this value is more heavily weighted toward the end of the game. For example, you could Game Over deep in level two and only get a value in the teens when you would expect that you’ve completed nearly 40% of the game by then. It seems to increase more quickly at the end of the game. The other thing about it is that it never reaches 100 but stops at 99. I haven’t seen any evidence that you can achieve 100 here, so the assumption is that a value of 99 is the max value and indicates that you have seen all there is to see in Sky Shark. Capturing a picture of the final landing doesn’t seem to be conclusive, so I also took a photo of the high score screen.

Perhaps the best element of Sky Shark is the music. Tim Follin is the game’s composer and he is one of the best on the NES. I gushed over his music in my Pictionary review. While he does not hit the highs of that sweet Pictionary title theme, the music is still very enjoyable. I think the title screen music is my favorite. It is also played during some of the levels, so you get to hear it often enough.

Aside from the music, Sky Shark is a mediocre game. It does nothing in gameplay to set itself apart from other NES shooters. There’s not much variety here. The levels are generic, and so are the enemies and bosses. There aren’t many enemy types, and they all shoot the same type of bullet. I’ve already outlined the problems in gameplay in light of its difficulty. Now, Sky Shark is not a bad game per say. It controls well, the hitboxes are fair, and there aren’t any glitches to speak of. The graphics are a downgrade from the arcade version, but are still fine for the NES. It’s a game that doesn’t quite match up in quality when compared to other releases of its time. I expect a little more technical prowess from an NES game from 1989, especially when Taito is attached to it.

#52 – Sky Shark

#52 – Sky Shark