Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

tom

NOV
22
2017
0

#58 – Snow Brothers

This game is SNOW much fun!

These brothers slim down a bit during gameplay.

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game without continuing
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 9/11/17 – 9/19/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: Snow Brothers 1CC Longplay

There are several genres of games that I have had a fondness for from an early age. I cut my teeth on Super Mario Bros. and have always enjoyed platformers of that kind. The SNES affirmed my interest in RPGs, and although for the most part that didn’t carry over beyond that, those RPGs are still among my favorite games. The Adventures of Lolo games, as well as Tetris, paved the way for getting interested in many different types of puzzlers. As an adult, my tastes haven’t changed much, but they did get more refined. I discovered that I really enjoy games like Bubble Bobble, a single-screen arcade style platformer with a focus on clearing out all enemies to proceed to the next room. It’s a specific type of experience, but there are several titles that fit the bill. One of my favorite games in this style is Snow Brothers.

Snow Brothers was originally released in arcades in 1990, developed by Toaplan. It was later ported to the Game Boy, NES, Famicom, and the Mega Drive in Japan only. Each version has slight differences and enhancements. The NES and Famicom versions add story cutscenes at the start of the game. The Game Boy port is single player only, but ten levels were added. The Mega Drive version includes an expanded story and twenty additional levels from the original arcade game. The NES version of Snow Brothers was released in November 1991. It was published by Capcom and appears to be developed by Sol. I could not find much information on the web on Sol, but they are also credited with developing both NES Flintstones titles. Toaplan’s final game was Otenki Paradise in 1994, which was localized in the US as Snow Bros. 2: With New Elves. A third game under this name was created by a company called Syrtex Games in 2002 called Snow Brothers 3: Magical Adventure. It was never officially released and could potentially be a hack of the original arcade game.

Always saving the princesses in these games, sheesh.

The story of Snow Brothers is a basic one. King Scorch cursed brothers Nick and Tom by turning them into snowmen, and he also captured the princesses Teri and Tina because of course he does. It’s up to the brothers do to their thing and defeat the king to save their land. You can play Snow Brothers in single player with the blue-clad Nick, or play simultaneous two-player with the other player using Tom dressed in red. To beat the game and save the day, you must clear all 50 floors.

Snow Brothers is a single-screen arcade platformer. Just like Bubble Bobble, the object of the game is to defeat all enemies on screen so you can proceed up to the next floor. Use the D-pad to move Nick and Tom both left and right. The A button jumps, and the B button throws a handful of snow forward. The idea here is to throw enough snow on an enemy to encase it in a giant snowball. Then, you push the snowball and it rolls to the bottom of the screen and defeats the enemy inside. If the pushed snowball collides with other enemies on the ledges below, they also get defeated and will leave an item behind for you to collect.

The gameplay is both simple and straightforward, but there is some nuance to the mechanics that gives you some surprising versatility. You can jump up through floors allowing you to climb higher more easily. A pushed snowball disappears once it hits a wall on the ground level, and it rebounds off any other wall above. Sometimes you can get a snowball trapped within a ledge off the ground level and it will bounce back and forth a bit before vanishing on its own. You can have the snowball hit you and carry you along with it. While riding, you can either jump out early on your own or let the snowball run its course. Once you finish your ride, you will gain some brief invincibility. You can throw a bit of snow on an enemy to start the process of forming a snowball, briefly stunning the enemy in the process. As partially covered enemies sit there untouched, they slowly melt the snow until they can break out and freely move around again. You can defeat an enemy by running it over with a snowball even if it is partially covered, which is an effective strategy. If two full snowballs collide, they rebound off each other and both start descending which can knock out enemies on both sides of the stage if done right. Some levels have slopes and snowballs can roll up these hills with no problems. You can use a stationary snowball as a platform to reach higher ledges, and you can even lift a snowball by jumping into it from below. All these techniques give you plenty of ways to approach any challenge.

This early level has a great setup for teaching the player how to clear many baddies at once.

Bowling over enemies with a snowball will reveal some kind of item once the defeated enemy is removed from play. These stay on screen temporarily, but usually long enough for you to reach them across the stage if you go at them right away. Most of the time you get some sort of money or food item that gives you points, like candy or a slice of cake. What you really want are powerups. The manual for Snow Brothers calls them hot sauce, but they are clearly potions in jars as far as I’m concerned. The red potion gives you speed skates allowing you to move much faster. The blue potion lets you throw larger handfuls of snow so you can cover enemies with fewer shots. The yellow potion increases your throw distance, letting you heave snow over halfway across the screen. All three powerups stack together too, but you lose all of them if you die. Losing a fully powered character is quite a setback, but that’s just the nature of the game.

There are a couple of rare item drops that you should make sure to grab right away if you see one. The first of these is a green potion. Grab it to inflate Nick or Tom like a balloon. You can then fly freely across the level and simply run into enemies to defeat them. You should have plenty of time with this power to clear all enemies on screen. The second rare powerup is a white smiley face. This item changes the color of the background and temporarily replaces the normal enemies with these blue face enemies. Turning the blue enemy into a snowball displays a letter in the word “SNOW” and pushing it lets you acquire the letter. You will see a space at the top of the screen above your score showing which letters you have. Spell out SNOW for an extra life! You can also destroy the special enemies with a snowball for a large 30,000-point bonus.

There are several different enemies in the game. Most of them have some way of climbing around the level. Some enemies will attack you if you come near, a couple breath fire at you, some fly around, and so on. All normal enemies can be covered in snow and must be defeated. One neat thing you can try to do is clear all the enemies by pushing only one snowball. You can do this with a single snowball, or with more than one as long as you set up a chain reaction first. Defeating all the enemies at once causes some paper money to rain down to the bottom of the level. These disappear very quickly, but are worth either 10,000 or 20,000 points each. If you are playing for high score, you want as many of these as possible.

It doesn’t matter how cold it is, we’re making it rain!

There are two enemies that you cannot cover in snow. There is a sumo enemy appearing in the middle levels that doesn’t need to be killed. He sits at the top of the screen and is tough to reach. If you can pelt him with a little snow, he will go away and leave some paper money behind for big points. The enemy that can show up in any level is Pumpkin Head. This is a “hurry up” enemy that appears when you are spending too much time in a stage. He floats around slowly, but freely, and you can’t hurt him at all. After a little while, he will begin spawning invincible ghosts that home in on you. These spell certain death for Nick and Tom. The idea is to clear levels quickly enough so that you don’t have to deal with Pumpkin Head. The only two ways to get rid of him are to defeat all remaining enemies or let him or one of his ghosts kill you.

Every tenth level is a boss stage, so in this 50-stage game there are five bosses. These are your typical large enemies that take many hits to defeat. All of them generate smaller enemies which you turn into snowballs and send flying into the boss to do damage. You can also throw snow at them directly. I don’t know if that does damage or not, but you can earn a small amount of points for each direct hit. After each boss fight is a slot machine mini-game. There are three reels that each give you a bonus depending on where they stop. The reels contain a big X which gives you nothing, each of the four letters in the word “SNOW,” and a figure of Nick that gives you an extra life. Each letter you collect also nets you 10,000 points, and each extra life adds 50,000 points. It is possible to time the slots for specific outcomes, but it’s tricky to do so and I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Each reel needs time to slow down to a stop so you need to anticipate your mark early. It is also difficult to make out specific letters while the slots are going, but extra lives stand out more and that’s really what you want anyway.

You begin the game with only two extra lives. These can go by quickly when you are just starting out. The good news is that you get many continues. The manual states you get four continues, but you actually get nine. Upon losing your last life, the life counter at the top will blink and instead display the number of continues remaining. You resume play with three new lives exactly where you left off. In a two-player game the continues are shared, so lives are more precious here than in single-player.

I’ll take the red speedup potion any day!

I have a little history with Snow Brothers, and actually I give the game some credit for getting me back into game collecting. I first played the NES game as a rental at a babysitter’s house, so I probably played it soon after release. I enjoyed playing it, but that was the extent of my experience for many years. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but in 2013 we bought a house and I could display all my NES games properly for the first time. As I was getting everything set up at home, I got the urge to expand my collection. I owned around 250 NES games then, so there were plenty of fun individual games left to start looking for. My memories started to stir and the first game that came to mind was Snow Brothers. Unfortunately, this was also the exact moment I realized this collecting journey was not going to be cheap. You see, Snow Brothers is among the most expensive NES carts.

The cost of some individual games like Snow Brothers caused me to divert my attention toward buying games in bulk. I focused heavily on games that fell in the $15-$30 price range. I could make consistent progress through the deep middle ground in the NES set and often found these titles bundled with cheaper games to fill that part of the collection at the same time. That strategy paid off immensely because many of the $20 carts I bought soon became $50 titles or higher. I would eventually need a plan to buy all these high-end titles at the end.

I had nearly doubled my NES loose cart collection in what seemed like such a short time. I was doing a good job at tracking my total and noticed I was sitting on 499 total games. Lacking many of the most expensive carts, this was the perfect time to take a bulk-buying break and acquire something special for Game #500. The choice was easy; this was the time I would finally purchase Snow Brothers. My wife gave her blessing, and so I started searching. I am very price conscious and all I found were high-priced copies and sellers that wouldn’t budge. It seemed like a long time, but it only took a couple of weeks to find my mark. A new eBay listing for Snow Brothers showed up at $130 with best offer, and I worked the price down to $117.50 shipped. That was essentially market price at the time and I was glad to pay it. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but this was also the time I first purchased a screwdriver bit to open and clean cartridges. Better late than never! Snow Brothers was either the first or second cartridge I opened to clean those pins nice and shiny. I played through the game three or four times in my first week of ownership and then mostly left it on the shelf until now.

Snow Brothers features some pretty fun boss battles.

I have owned Snow Brothers for three years now, and I had no trouble beating the game again. The entire game takes around 30 minutes to beat. I needed only two continues and so I punched in an easy victory. Because I enjoy this game so much, I set out to beat the game using no continues simply as a fun challenge. This took a bit more effort but I didn’t find it all that difficult. I needed around five attempts and the failed ones all ended within the last 15 levels or so. The only reason it took me so long to finish the game between my first and last attempts was because it took me a week to make time for my next NES session.

To my surprise, Snow Brothers has an extended ending sequence if you clear the game on a single credit. I haven’t seen this distinction called out anywhere specifically, and I only found out about it once I beat the game this way on my own. I always shoot for the best ending on games like this, but I didn’t even know it applied to Snow Brothers until I saw it for myself. I’m sure I will find more secrets like this as I continue my deep dive into the library.

Snow Brothers is one of my favorite NES games, and it’s a shame is so expensive. Games of this nature can get repetitive, but Snow Brothers lasts just long enough to avoid mid-game burnout. The boss fights are fun and a nice change of pace, and the difficulty curve is even and fair. The graphics are clean and the music is good, although some of the tracks are repeated within the different groups of ten floors. The two-player mode is a blast to go through with a friend. It’s a great game for high score challenges too. I don’t like that it’s so expensive to buy, but it does make sense. The game is a true uncommon title that probably had a low print run, it was a later run NES game, and the game is fun. It fits the profile of an expensive game, as I like to say. Definitely check this one out even if you have to emulate it.

#58 – Snow Brothers

 
MAR
25
2016
0
Top Gun Box Cover

#19 – Top Gun

I feel the need … the need for speeding this game back to my shelf!

It's nice to have a white title screen for once!

It’s nice to have a white title screen for once!

To Beat: Finish all 4 missions to get the ending
To Complete: Beat the 2nd loop
My Goal: Beat the game
What I Did: Beat the game and a small part of the 2nd loop
Played: 3/5/16 – 3/16/16
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10

Please forgive me if I screwed up this blog post already with that initial reference. I haven’t actually seen the movie. Now before you leave in disgust, at least stick around to hear about the NES game. But first, and bear with me, let’s discuss the movie.

Top Gun was released in theaters in May 1986. The movie tells the story of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a US Naval Aviator attending the Top Gun school in order to follow in the footsteps of his father who was killed. Maverick is a reckless and aggressive pilot and his techniques eventually lead to the death of his wingman during a training exercise. Despite his struggles with the incident he eventually graduates only to be thrust into an emergency situation right away. Maverick and the team are able to overcome the conflict and make a triumphant return in the end. I hope I summarized that well enough. The movie had mixed reviews by critics, but it was a box office smash. It was the highest grossing film of 1986 with over $350 million earned worldwide. It would spawn several video games including two on the NES. There is also a movie sequel in the works as of this writing.

Top Gun on NES was developed and published by Konami. It was released in the US in November 1987, in Japan in December 1987, and in Europe in November of 1988. It is the first of several flight simulation games on the NES. In Top Gun, you play as Maverick on a top secret assignment spread out over four in-game missions. The game plays from the cockpit view of an F-14. There is a lot of information available here such as your altitude, speed, missile count, missile type, radar, damage indicator, fuel gauge, and plane orientation as shown from behind. Then in the windshield there is a targeting reticule that shows where your cannons shoot as well as the targeting area for launching a guided missile. Enemies will fly in from behind or come right at you and you can use the unlimited shots of your cannon by pressing A to take them out, or you can use homing missiles with the B button. When an enemy is within your targeting area, hit B once to lock on and hit it again to launch a missile.

Line up your shot and take them down!

Line up your shot and take them down!

At the start of each mission you get to choose from one of three different missile types: 40 T-11 Hound missiles, 20 T-22 Wolf missiles, and 10 T-33 Tiger missiles. It’s the typical quantity for damage tradeoff as the T-11’s are weak, T-22’s are average, and T-33’s are strong. You can choose the missiles you deem suitable for the mission at hand.

Now there is more to it than just taking down enemy fighters. At the end of each mission, you must land your plane on the aircraft carrier. The game switches to landing mode and you can control your speed as well as the angle of your aircraft. The radar screen shows the current orientation of your plane as well as giving you recommendations such as “Speed Up!” or “Left! Left!” The idea is to get your plane as close to 200 altitude and 288 speed as you can when you reach the carrier. The game provides a moderate range of acceptable values that will allow you to land successfully so you don’t need to be exact. Too far off from those measurements will cause a crash that is shown in the landing cutscene and it will cost you a life, but if you are successful you get to watch yourself make a graceful landing.

The second, third, and final missions are long enough that you won’t be able to make it all the way through on a full tank of fuel, so in the middle of the mission you’ll hear an alarm indicating low fuel. When that happens, you press Start to call in a refueling tanker. When everything is clear, your jet automatically flies upward, the radar zooms in, and you see the tanker come into view dropping its refueling boom in front of you. There is an ‘X’ on the hood of your jet as shown on the radar screen and you must align your fighter properly to latch on and refuel your plane. This reloads all of your missiles too. This plays out very similar to the landing sequence although this time there’s no numerical range to aim for. It’s more visual and it requires more of a feel for it, but it is similar to getting a feel for landing. If you are unable to refuel the game will resume, however with not enough fuel to survive you will soon crash and lose a life. In a way it’s worse to miss refueling because you have to wait out the inevitable death.

Everybody, get down!

Everybody, get down!

The missions all play out typically the same way. You are approached by a number of enemy formations from the air, sea, or land. You can take them out with your weapons or you can dodge their attacks and keep moving forward. Many enemies are passive and are just there for points. Other fighters will attack with cannons that deal damage to your aircraft and some other fighters launch guided missiles of their own. They seek out your plane and they are fatal. One hit and you are a goner no matter how much damage your jet has suffered. You can maneuver your way around them or if you are really bold you can shoot them down with your cannon. It is practically essential to learn how to destroy enemy missiles to survive this game all the way to the end.

The first mission is a training mission that takes place above the clouds. No refueling is necessary and there are no ground targets so it is a good introduction. The second mission takes place over the ocean so there are boats and battleships to deal with below. The third mission is similar except it is over the desert and there are enemy jeeps and tanks to fight on the ground. The air attack gets more difficult here as well. The fourth mission is a nighttime mission and the difficulty is cranked up to the max. Expect a lot of evasive maneuvers and guided missiles.

Occasionally during the mission an enemy fighter will lock on to you from behind. When this occurs an alarm sounds and you see the enemy’s location in your radar screen. You must shake them off of you by moving from side to side. It takes a more rhythmic rocking back and forth to get them off. At the same time you can still be attacked from ahead so it can get a little frantic sometimes. If you can’t get them off they will shoot you down so getting rid of the rear enemy is always the priority.

Shake it off, shake it off!

Shake it off, shake it off!

Aside from the first mission, there is a target that you are required to take out as part of the mission. It’s a fancy way of saying there is a boss battle at the end. The target is stationary but it has a health meter that appears on screen and it take a lot of damage before being blown to bits. During the fight you are being attacked constantly by enemy fighters while enemies at the target are firing at you as well. Take out the target and your mission is successful after you land the plane of course.

This was my first time playing Top Gun. I don’t care much for flight simulators so it’s not a game that I would normally play. In fact I know I moved several games like this all the way to the bottom of my list for the blog. I only kept it on the normal part of my list since it is developed by Konami and they typically make great games.

Top Gun is a cheap, common game but it took me a really long time to acquire a copy for my collection. If memory serves I had over 500 unique NES carts before I owned Top Gun. I have owned the sequel Top Gun: The Second Mission since childhood and I had multiple copies of that game before I owned the original. It’s just one of those strange, loopy coincidences. Of course, as soon as I finally got one then they started pouring in from all the eBay lots I was purchasing at that time. I was up to six copies before I sold them all off.

You need this fuel and they will leave you behind if you mess up.

You need this fuel and they will leave you behind if you mess up.

Top Gun is a really hard game. My biggest struggle with the game was dealing with enemy guided missiles. At first, I was always getting hit by them while banking away as far as I could away from it. I eventually learned that I could dodge them by flying away from them either left or right while rocking up and down. It’s harder to hit a more randomly moving target. That strategy failed whenever an enemy straight ahead decided to fire a missile at me. Then I realized I could shoot them down but it took some serious practice to get the hang of it. If you miss then that pretty much spells the end of your fighter and your life. It gets worse. Starting in Mission 2 some enemies fire three guided missiles at once. This frustrated me so much! I did develop a strategy. The set of three missiles always come in the same formation: one high, one low, and one middle-right. I would destroy the top missile, then fly high and left to completely skip the bottom missile and do the up and down wiggle to dodge the right one. If the enemy is just a little bit to the left to start with, then I would have to destroy the top two missiles and dodge the bottom one. The bottom missile was almost never a factor, although one time I managed to destroy all three in a crazy moment of panic.

The real reason this game is so difficult is that you only have three lives to work with for the entire game. There are no extra lives and there are no continues. Not only do you have to contend with so many homing missiles and all the enemy fire, but you also need to learn how to refuel your plane as well as land your jet consistently. Every mistake is magnified. The only saving grace is that the game is relatively short. The missions tend to drone on for quite awhile because the pacing is slow, but the entire game can be beaten in under 30 minutes.

I saw this so many times!

I saw this so many times!

After much frustration and a bunch of attempts I finally managed to beat Top Gun. I wasn’t keeping track of how many tries it took before I won but I am estimating 15-20 attempts. The second mission is a large bump up in difficulty and that is where I cut my teeth on everything the game has to offer. I found the third mission easier than the one before, but the final mission was quite the challenge. The third time I made it to Mission 4 I was completely in the zone and I made it through to the boss with two lives remaining. I lost them both. I was really upset at that loss. By that point I was getting good enough to get to the final mission nearly every run. My real vice in all of this was the second mission. No matter what I did I always lost at least one life there. I said to myself that once I cleared Mission 2 without failure, then that would be my winning run. Wouldn’t you know it, I was right! I no-deathed the game up to Mission 4 only to lose two lives in the first half of the mission. I kept my cool, beat the final boss, and landed the plane without any problems. I’m sure I would have lost my mind if I failed to land the plane at the very end of Top Gun!

Since beating Top Gun I have learned a few additional things about it. The game loops once you beat the game and in my brief experience with it after winning it is indeed harder than the first run. I encountered more guided missiles than the first loop. However, according to the NES Game Endings FAQ there is no different ending upon beating the game again so I am not going to bother with it.

Blowing up enemy fighters feels pretty nice, I have to admit!

Blowing up enemy fighters feels pretty nice, I have to admit!

Another tip is that you can cheese your way through the game by flying up and right the entire time. Doing this will avoid all enemies and missiles so you will only have to deal with the refueling sequences, landing sequences, and the targets at the end of the mission. I didn’t try it so I don’t know for certain. Even if I knew about it before hand, I wouldn’t bother beating the game that way. I suffered through it the right way!

There is another ending of sorts to Top Gun that is quite a bit better and easier to achieve than the actual ending after Mission 4. If you are able to best the high score of 50,000 points, you are awarded the designation of Top Gun indicated by a screen that acts like a certificate of achievement. It’s pretty neat. I’ll include a capture of the screen from my best score during my winning run so you can see what it looks like!

From a technical standpoint, Top Gun is a well made game. It looks nice graphically and it controls and plays well, especially considering that it is one of the earlier NES game made. There is a variety of activities in the game to mix things up a bit. Overall, I don’t really care for it. The difficulty is a big turn off here, and the game eventually get monotonous after playing it over and over again. The first mission amounts to a forced five minute tutorial which is great for just starting out but it doesn’t take long for it to be so dull. This is not really my type of game anyway. Still, I consider beating Top Gun to be quite the achievement. I feel it’s the hardest game I’ve conquered so far. I hope it has prepared me well for playing the sequel whenever it comes up!

#19 - Top Gun

#19 – Top Gun

#19 - Top Gun (High Score Screen)

#19 – Top Gun (High Score Screen)