Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#49 – Kings of the Beach

No crowns required to be kings in this four-player volleyball game.

Very chill setting!

To Beat: Win a tournament
To Complete: Beat the game on the Difficult setting
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 4/7/17 – 4/13/17
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Kings of the Beach – Tournament Mode Final Matches

I am not good at sports. I still like to play them when I get the chance even though I wasn’t blessed with any ability. If there’s one game I am at least decent at, it would be sand volleyball. I organized a weekly sand volleyball night with a bunch of friends for several years, and that afforded me the opportunity to practice often. Now don’t let me fool you, I’m still not all that good at volleyball. However, I am pretty good at playing video games. Therefore, it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for me to complete one of the few NES volleyball games.

Kings of the Beach is a volleyball game developed and published by Electronic Arts in 1988 on DOS. It was ported to the Commodore 64 in 1989 and the NES in January 1990. Ultra Games published the NES port. However, it is unclear if either Konami or Electronic Arts developed this version of Kings of the Beach. The game was only released in the US.

Kings of the Beach is a two-on-two beach volleyball game. You play as professional beach volleyball players Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos. In single-player mode, you only control one character and your partner is computer controlled. The main draw for single player is the Tournament mode. Here you will play against other pairs of players in five different locations all around the world. To win the tournament mode and beat the game, you must win three consecutive matches at each of the five beaches for fifteen total matches.

Interesting cursor choice!

At the start of the game, you move a green cursor around in an overhead map of the beach. This is your menu. The first place you will want to go is the registration tent, which is the game’s options menu. To start, you can assign either a controller or computer control to Smith, Stoklos, and two other competitors. Kings of the Beach supports up to four players simultaneously using the NES Four Score accessory. Next, you can choose between cooperative play or competitive play. This is only needed for a two-player game to decide if you want to play on the same team or not. You can set the difficulty of computer opponents to either Easy, Medium, or Difficult. You can choose if you want to play either a single set or a three-set match, and you can toggle the sound on and off. Choose Exit to Beach to go back to the main menu.

The other menu options are for practice or setting up a game. At the top of the screen there are three beaches labeled Bump, Set, or Spike. If you choose one, you are put in a practice beach where you get easy setups to practice the basic moves. Press Select at any time to exit the training and go back to the menu. At the lower left of the menu is the Match option where you jump directly into an exhibition match with the defined settings. This is the mode you want for a three or four player game. The bottom right part of the menu starts up the Tournament mode. You can select either a new game, or continue a previous game with a password. After that you jump right into the action.

Kings of the Beach plays by standard volleyball rules. Each side has two players and each point starts with a serve from the back of the court. Each side can hit the ball up to three times before hitting it over to the opponent’s court, and teammates must alternate hits. If the ball lands in your opponent’s court, the opponent hits the ball more than three times, or the opponent hits the ball out of bounds, then you win the point. The serving team is the only team that can score, otherwise the non-serving team gains control of the serve if they win the point. In a single set match, the first team to fifteen points wins. In a three-set match, teams play to twelve points per set. In either case, teams must also win by two points. This means play will continue beyond the required winning score until a team leads by two.

Bump, set, spike!

The basic strategy of beach volleyball is to use your three hits to bump the ball, then set the ball, and finally spike the ball. You will use the D-pad to move your player around the court. Quite often you will move on your own to the spot where the ball will land as it’s heading toward you, but sometimes you need to position yourself properly. The ball casts a shadow on the sand that will guide you toward where you want to stand. Press A to bump the ball in the air toward your teammate. To set the ball, press B. To spike the ball, press both A and B. The spike is a powerful jumping hit toward the opponent. You will need to focus on timing for all hits, but spiking the ball requires the best timing. The idea is to run up to the net and jump, meeting the ball with your hands at the top of your jump. For all hits, you can guide it in a direction using the D-pad in conjunction with the hit.

The above moves are mostly offensive moves, but you do have a couple of defensive moves at your disposal. If you know the opponent will spike the ball, you can move up against the net and press A and B together to jump up and attempt a block. Sometimes you can repel the ball right back into the opponent’s court for a quick point. Stoklos has his own signature block called the Kong block, which is very powerful. The other defensive move is called the dig. This happens automatically whenever the ball is just far enough out of reach normally. You will make a dive toward the ball to bump it back up into the air. I didn’t seem to put myself in good positions to do this very often, so in my experience it was left to chance.

Serving the ball effectively is a vital skill. When it’s your turn to serve, you can move up and down the line to put yourself in the position of your choice. There are three different ways to serve the ball. The easiest method is the underhand serve. Simple press A and B together to lob a slow serve at the opposite court. You want to pay attention to the flags that indicate wind direction because an underhand serve may come up short if the wind is blowing in hard. The overhand serve is more powerful. Press A to toss the ball straight up, wait for the ball to come down, and then press B to do a standing, overhand hit. You can use the D-pad to aim the ball while serving. The most powerful serve is the jump serve. Like the spike, it’s the most difficult serve to perform. Press A to toss the ball just before, but this time press A to jump and hit the ball. The more powerful the hit, the more likely the opponent will be unable to return the ball.

With the right timing, the jump serve is the best one.

One neat thing you can do is argue a call with the referee. Every now and then the line judge will make a mistake on a ball that lands near the lines. If you think a bad call went against you, then you can run up next to the judge’s stand and press Start to dispute the call. You will see your player make a scene as persuasively as possible. If you are successful, the referee reverses his call and you get the ball! If the judge disagrees, then he will shake his hand no and hold out a penalty card. This can be either a yellow card or a red card. The yellow card is just a warning, but if you lose a second disputed call in a set the referee will give you a red card instead and you lose a point off your score. Your opponents and even your partner can dispute a call on their own. One key thing is that if you want to dispute a call, you need to decide quickly and get over to the referee right away to plead your case. You lose your opportunity to argue a call if play advances to the next serve.

As stated earlier, to complete Tournament mode you must win fifteen total matches broken up into groups of three. After you win three consecutive matches on the same beach, you get a password for the next beach. The passwords are up to eight characters long and are normal words that are easy to write down or remember. I noticed that the passwords are the same for each beach no matter what difficulty or length of match. For instance, you can win the first round of matches on the Difficult setting with three-set matches, and the next time you play with the password you can select Easy difficulty and single set matches. You can play however you want!

This was my first time playing Kings of the Beach. The game was a later addition to my collection, but it is pretty common and inexpensive so I have had a few copies pass through my hands. I am not a huge fan of sports games even though I enjoy playing a little volleyball. Chances are I would not have given Kings of the Beach much of a chance if not for this project. Chances are I will also say this same thing about many other future games!

Digs are done automatically. This one was successful!

For my playthrough, I decided on playing single set matches on Medium difficulty. I played as the default Smith and let the computer play Stoklos for me. My intent was to learn the game on Medium difficulty and then go back and play the game again on the Difficult setting. At first, Medium difficulty was enough of a challenge. I understood the fundamentals early on, and other than some mistakes with spiking I was already playing well enough to make some progress. My struggles came in the third match of any beach. I could play well enough to win the first two matches, and then I would lose the third and have to start over at the top. That is awfully frustrating. Kings of the Beach became a fight of attrition and required some good old fashioned grinding to seal the win.

It seems like many sports games have some kind of exploit or tactic that makes life much easier. I found one such tactic that helped me win points much more often. The first thing is I needed is the setup to spike the ball myself. Usually this required getting the first hit on the return so that I could get the third hit and spike, but sometimes I would take the spike myself on the second hit instead. It’s a little riskier but it can catch the opponent off guard. My spike position was up against the net either slightly above or below the center. I would spike toward the corner of the net and the closer side line. For example, if I set up below center, I would aim for the lower line near the net, and do the opposite when closer to the top. The opponent tended to favor guarding the larger area so I could sneak it in on the other side close to the line without either player getting to it. That trick does not always work, but it works often enough to be useful.

My partner is disputing a call unsuccessfully.

I beat the entire game on Medium over the course of a few days. Once I accomplished that, I bumped up to the Difficult setting and repeated the final three matches with the last password. If I can beat the last beach on Difficult, then I should be able to beat any other configuration, so I didn’t bother repeating anything else on Difficult. I did not notice any significant changes between Medium and Difficult settings. Perhaps the opponents make fewer mistakes or make powerful serves more often on the higher settings, but I could not tell the difference. With my spiking tactic, I could score more often than not regardless of difficulty. I recorded my video of the final set of matches on Medium difficulty, and then played the final matches again on Difficult unrecorded. The ending is the same on either difficulty.

I would have considered the game more difficult overall if not for the fact that the computer controlled Stoklos handled nearly all the defense for me. Actually, my computer partner played very well in general and handled many situations better than I could have. Most of the time he plays close to the net so he can utilize his powerful Kong block. My job was to back him up and try to get to anything hit past him if I could. We worked together well on the offensive side too. He is a good spiker and serves very well. He’s not a perfect partner and makes mistakes that are unavoidable, but in my opinion he is a more consistent player than I am. It’s a pleasant surprise to have a competent computer player for once!

There are not many volleyball games on the NES to compare, but I think they did well with Kings of the Beach. The game sets itself apart somewhat for having a simultaneous four-player mode. It also performs well as a single player game. The computer controlled players are competent both as opponents and partners. The graphics and music are well done, just as you would expect in a Konami game. The game is a tad lengthy and repetitive, but it’s just the nature of the game so it hard to fault Kings of the Beach for that. If you are looking for an NES volleyball game, you won’t do wrong with Kings of the Beach.

#49 – Kings of the Beach


#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