Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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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

 
NOV
08
2016
0
The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants Box Cover

#29 – The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

All the shorts-eating you could ever hope for!

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants Title Screen

This looks really nice on the NES. I’m impressed!

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 9/5/16 – 9/14/16
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 7/10

I think it’s safe to say that The Simpsons has been the most successful US cartoon of all time. Such success leads to branching out all over the place and particularly into video games. There are many Simpsons games and today I will be writing about the first one!

The Simpsons show was created by Matt Groening and debuted on FOX on December 17th, 1989. The family was actually created two years prior appearing in animated shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show before appearing in their own half-hour show, and the series has lived on ever since. As of this writing, The Simpsons is in its 28th season spanning just over 600 total episodes. It is the longest running American sitcom and is near the top of many other lists of long running television programs. I have watched several episodes of the show but not regularly since I was a teenager.

There are over 20 Simpsons video games spanning the NES all the way to Xbox 360, PS3, and mobile. Bart vs. the Space Mutants was released in February 1991 and it is the first game with The Simpsons license followed just one month later by the arcade game simply titled The Simpsons. The most recent game is Tapped Out on iOS and Android which is still receiving gameplay updates today. The NES had four titles in total: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, Bart vs. the World, Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, and Krusty’s Fun House. Bart vs. the Space Mutants also appeared on the Sega Genesis, Game Gear, and various PCs. The NES version was developed by Imagineering and published by Acclaim. It was also released in Europe in late 1991.

The humor you know and love can be found here!

The humor you know and love can be found here!

Bart vs. the Space Mutants is a sidescrolling platformer. Aliens are attempting to take over the world and Bart Simpson eavesdrops in on their diabolical plan. They need to collect specific items in order to build an ultimate weapon, and so Bart sets out to remove those items before the aliens get them first. The story plays out exactly like this in the gameplay. Each level begins with the aliens discussing what object they need to collect, and then you set out to collect a specific number of that item to help clear the level.

The graphics have a cartoon look to them that is pulled off well on the NES. All the characters are recognizable and there are many objects that only appear once in the game so there is a lot of variety. The main issue with the graphics is that it can be tough to distinguish which background elements you can interact with in some areas. The music isn’t that bad either. The rendition of The Simpsons theme is done quite well, and there are some voice samples included too. However much of the soundtrack isn’t all that memorable.

The controls in this game are more involved than your typical platformer. The D-Pad moves Bart and the A button jumps. Bart can do a super jump by pressing both A and B at the same time and the feel for this is important as this move is used often. The run button is also A, so Bart jumps first and then he runs once A is held down. The run button is not obvious but it does come in handy. The B button is used for specific weapons. The game also has an inventory system. You can cycle through the inventory by pressing Select, and if you hold Down and hit Select the items will scroll in reverse order. Press Start to use the selected item. The Pause option shows up as part of the inventory so you will need to select the Pause option and press Start to pause the game.

Show yourself alien scum!

Show yourself alien scum!

One of the default items is the X-Ray Specs. The aliens disguise themselves as ordinary humans walking the streets, so the X-Ray Specs can reveal if a person of interest is either a normal person or one of the aliens. When you use the Specs the entire screen color changes to sepia tone and the alien heads are revealed if a person is indeed an alien. If it’s an alien Bart can jump on his head to defeat him. However if it is not an alien then Bart takes damage for trying to hurt an innocent bystander. When an alien is bopped a trinket is left behind that represents the proof of their existence. That’s how it’s described in the manual! Collect enough of these proof tokens in a level and one of Bart’s family members will help out in the boss battle at the end of the level. Progress is tracked by spelling out the letters of the name of the family member. For instance, the first level spells out MAGGIE and so six proofs need to be collected, one for each letter in her name. It is not required to do this but it can be helpful.

The other default items are coins. Bart can find these behind objects in the levels by jumping around. Do this in the right places and bouncing coins pop out. These can be spent just like money in certain places in the game. They also grant Bart extra lives if you collect enough. When you earn 15 coins you automatically earn an extra life, but it only costs 10 coins to buy one. I assume this was done so that you will never have fewer than 5 coins at any time unless you intentionally spend them.

There are some other items that appear but are not part of your inventory. Krusty the clown emblems give Bart an extra life and they are most helpful. Jebediah Springfield bestows the power of invincibility if you are able to locate his severed statue head powerup.

This mall definitely would have shoes your size.

This mall definitely would have shoes your size.

The status screen at the bottom has all the necessary information for playing the game. It shows which family member is featured in the stage along with how many letters are currently spelled out. Next to this are tiny Bart heads that show how many hits are remaining. For each life, Bart can take two hits from enemies. If he has been hit once already then one head will display and the next hit will cause a loss of life. Next to that in the status screen is the current inventory item, the score, remaining lives, the level timer, and the number of remaining goal items required to complete the level. If you reach the end of the stage without meeting the goal requirement, then the boss will not appear and you will need to backtrack to find more items. Finally on the far right the current weapon ammo is displayed.

Here are each of the five levels in the game:

Level 1 is the streets of Springfield. Bart must collect (or destroy) purple colored objects. These take all kinds of different forms and there are a number of ways to deal with them. The most common way is to collect the spray paint weapon and change the color of purple items to red, rendering them completely useless to the aliens. Other purple things need to be hidden or removed in specific ways. The first level of the game has a puzzle feel to it that is kind of a novelty for its time. This is also the main level where you purchase items to help with the purple cleanup. For instance, you can buy a wrench and use it on a fire hydrant to spray a stream of water that washes off fresh purple paint from a nearby awning. The level is challenging because there are only a few excess purple items that can be bypassed. Maggie is in this level and she will help by rolling bowling balls that Bart can use to damage the boss.

This is where the difficult platforming is put front and center.

This is where the difficult platforming is put front and center.

Level 2 is the Springfield shopping mall and the goal items are hats. There are stray hats all over the level but you can also lift them off a person’s head if they are wearing one. This is where the game ditches the puzzle elements of the first stage and switches to a more straightforward platforming challenge. There are lots of enemies that walk and fly around and you just need to get by them since there are no weapons in this stage. There are also areas of wet concrete that kill Bart if he sinks in them. These sections have tricky jumps that are pretty unforgiving. Marge is in this level and she will help deflect some of the boss projectiles for you.

Level 3 is Krustyland and Bart must get rid of balloons. There are some carnival mini games that Bart can play as well as one puzzle challenge for free balloons if you can figure it out in time. Bart can find slingshots here. They only damage a couple of enemies but they are most helpful in popping floating balloons that are too high to reach. There are some neat setpieces here and some tough platforming as well. Lisa can occasionally stun the boss to give Bart a breather during the fight.

Level 4 is the Springfield Museum of Natural History and Bart is collecting the exit signs. You only need to deal with six exit signs, so the level is more about surviving the obstacles than any other level in the game. Bart can get a dart gun here that can hurt some enemies as well as blow away the exit signs that are otherwise unreachable. This stage has the toughest platforming with sections that must be navigated perfectly. In some areas it is really difficult to tell what is a platform and what is just background detail, and also some of the platforms are not as big as they appear. I found it very frustrating. At the end of the stage, Homer will drop wet towels that block projectiles and cause the boss to slip up a bit.

These platforms are way smaller than they appear.

These platforms are way smaller than they appear.

The final level is the Springfield Power Plant and Bart must find all of the nuclear power rods. This is a large maze with multiple floors to explore. Bart can take the elevator as well as emergency stairways and he must take every path to explore every nook and cranny of the place. There are doorways here that are blocked off unless you have the keycode to open the door. There are 16 rods to find but Bart can only hold four of them at once. You have to go into the basement and drop them off at the reactor to collect more. All of the family members are here and they assist Bart in their own way. Lisa knows the door codes and she will share one if you talk to her. Marge will take your collected rods to the reactor for you sparing you a trip to the basement. Homer will scare off all the enemies from the screen if you give him a box of donuts that you find throughout the maze. Maggie wanders around but she does help you out in a specific way.

In Bart vs. the Space Mutants, you begin with 3 lives and can collect up to 9 total. There are no continues and no passwords, so the game must be cleared in one try. The challenge here comes in several ways. The first stage requires the most thought initially but it is the easiest level once you know how to do it. The three middle stages have some tough platforming and several instant kill spots. Sometimes you will have to spend all your lives getting the feel for overcoming an obstacle and then you have to start all over again. The final level doesn’t have a map of any kind, so if you miss a rod or two you are up against the clock if you get lost. The penalty for failure is steep and the game is lengthy enough that it takes several long attempts to get good enough to beat the game. I think 8/10 difficulty is a fair assessment.

Lisa wants to help out from as far away as possible.

Lisa wants to help out from as far away as possible.

I have played and beaten Bart vs. the Space Mutants but not since I was a kid. I owned all three of the “Bart” NES games in my childhood collection and I beat all three back then, but I didn’t retain a whole lot of knowledge from prior play. I remembered all of the puzzles in the first stage but that was about all I could recall.

I foolishly thought that my old knowledge would be good enough to clear the game quickly. I beat the first level with relative ease on my first playthrough, but the rest of the game featured the same kind of incremental progress I experience when playing new games. I think it took me around a dozen tries to finish this game. The latter part of the museum level took a lot of practice, and the final maze really got to me. I am generally good with maze levels and mapping things out in my head, but I got down to the last two rods and got completely stuck until I got Game Over. It’s frustrating getting so close to the end like that. Luckily the next run was the winning run and I had plenty of lives left over for a comfortable win.

The Simpsons is such an iconic television series and by extension I think there is a lot of nostalgia for Bart vs. the Space Mutants. The development team managed to put in a lot of Simpsons references in the game and the Simpsons theme sounds nice on the NES. From my playing experience, the game is rough around the edges and not all that fun to play at times, but the first level at least is genuinely clever and holds up nicely today. It’s a mediocre game with a few redeeming qualities.

The Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants Ending Screen

#29 – The Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants