Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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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

 
FEB
25
2016
0
Spy Vs. Spy Box Cover

#16 – Spy Vs. Spy

Don’t forget your spy gear because you will need it to make your escape!

It’s nice that they are saving the fight for the actual game

To Beat: Win against the computer on any difficulty
To Complete: Beat all 8 difficulty levels
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Complete the game
Played: 2/1/16 – 2/3/16
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 2/10

When playing two-player NES games, I think it’s better to have simultaneous play compared to alternating between two separate one-player games. Most of the time if the game is fun two-player it is probably just as much fun playing single player, however some games are tailor made for two players and Spy Vs. Spy falls in that category. I only player single player for the blog and Spy Vs. Spy left a lot to be desired, although I bet it really shines in two-player mode and I’m looking forward to trying it out sometime.

Spy Vs. Spy is a comic strip that debuted in January 1961 in issue #60 of MAD Magazine. The creator and cartoonist Antonio Prohias fled his native Cuba and pitched the idea of the Spy Vs. Spy cartoon to MAD Magazine in New York. They hired him and he would go on to write Spy Vs. Spy for over 27 years. The comic strip has been passed on to a few other writers over the years and it is still being created today.

The Spy Vs. Spy video game was released in 1984 for a large variety of computer platforms. It eventually made its way to the Famicom in 1986 but it wouldn’t debut on the NES until two years later in October 1988. All versions of the game were developed by First Star Software and Spy Vs. Spy is the only game they would develop for the NES. It was published by Kemco and it was their first NES release.

That briefcase might be up for grabs soon.

Spy Vs. Spy is an action game where you must race both your opponent and the clock to retrieve a set of items and escape the embassy. The embassy is a maze of single screen rooms and you can move to and from the interconnected rooms freely as you choose. This is a split screen game where both the white spy and the black spy are exploring the embassy and racing to meet the same goal. Everything is done in real time so you can see your opponent’s every move while they can also see yours. To escape the embassy and win you must first collect a briefcase, a passport, a bag of money, a key, and secret papers. Each room has a number of objects you can interact with such as furniture, pictures on the wall, doors, and so on. These hide the items you need so you will need to look in and around everything to find what you are looking for. Normally you can only hold one item at a time, however once you have the briefcase you can store all the required items inside of that. When a spy has an item you can see him visibly holding it on screen. You can also hide an item you are holding inside the furniture as well. Once you have recovered all of the items in hand, you must locate the exit door to escape and win the game.

While all this is going on, your opponent is also looking to complete the same objective so he will be actively trying to run your plan. If both spies end up on the same screen then they square off in hand to hand combat. A club and a knife are hidden in the embassy and these weapons can be held alongside one of the required items. The weapons are stronger than the default punch and will certainly swing the tide of combat. The spies don’t have to fight if they are in the same room and sometimes escaping into the next room is a smart strategy. Each spy has a power gauge which indicates health remaining. When a spy runs out of power in combat he is killed and floats up off the screen as an angel. That spy is out of the game for 10 seconds giving the other spy the advantage of free time as well as the ability to recover any items the defeated spy held. There is also a 30 second deduction to the clock when a spy is killed. Each spy has his own clock and whenever time runs out that spy is killed permanently for the rest of the game. Both spies will not necessarily run out of time at the same time which may be all the edge needed in a close game.

There’s nothing like a little slapstick!

The other major feature of the game in which to hurt the opponent is with booby traps. The spies have a seemingly unlimited number of them to use. Holding a trap will cause you to automatically hide any other item you are carrying so that’s something to be mindful of. The traps must be hidden inside the furniture and you can see the spy laughing to himself any time a trap is successfully placed. There are four booby traps at your disposal. Both the bomb and the spring can be hidden inside any of the pieces of furniture except for the room doors. A water bucket must be hidden on the top of a closed door. The time bomb can be hidden in any room regardless of furniture. If a spy peeks into a piece of furniture armed with a trap, that spy is killed with the same penalty as if he died in combat, along with a humorous death animation. The time bomb is a bit special as it kills a spy if he is in the room for too long. You know you are in a room with a time bomb if your face turns blue, so escape right away. There are also remedies hidden in the embassy that disarm traps. A water bucket (not the trap water bucket) is found in a red fire box and disarms a bomb, the wire cutters are found in a white wall-mounted tool box and they disarm the spring, and an umbrella can be found on the coat rack and prevents damage from the water bucket trap. The time bomb is effectively disarmed if you are able to leave the room before it goes off. A remedy for a trap can only be held only if the spy’s hands are empty, so you can’t hold another item and a remedy at the same time.

This all seems really complex, and it is in the beginning, but it all eventually makes sense. One thing that helps is that each spy can also look at the map of the embassy. The map screen appears after cycling through all the possible traps. It shows the location of both spies, which rooms have items, and which rooms have traps. It is quite helpful but it does have a few shortcomings. It doesn’t show which rooms are connected, it doesn’t indicate if a room has both an item and a booby trap, and it doesn’t show the presence of an armed time bomb. Despite all that, the map is very much appreciated as it makes the levels much more manageable.

The map preview shows what you are up against.

When starting a game there are three modes to choose from. Training mode simplifies the game by requiring only the briefcase and one additional item instead of needing all of them to escape. Vs Com is the main game against a computer opponent, and Vs Player is the main game against a human opponent. You can also choose from one of eight levels. Each level is a different embassy map and they are progressively larger and more complex. The lowest level embassy only has 6 rooms in total while the later levels have 30 or more rooms as well as a second floor in some instances.

I have played Spy Vs Spy before when I was a kid. One of my babysitters had an NES with some games and this is one she had. I sort of remember playing it but that’s all. I acquired the game in a three game lot on eBay around 2009. It came with Stinger and Bump ‘N Jump. It’s an ordinary game lot for sure, but the real reason I remember that lot is because those carts arrived in mint condition. I don’t like how often the word mint is used in describing condition as I feel it is mostly exaggerated whenever it’s used. In this case it’s true. They are beautiful carts and they will be on my shelf for a very long time!

I admit I was not looking forward to playing this game. I felt that it was too complicated after reading the manual and that I was going to struggle completing all eight levels. As it turned out, I more or less breezed through this game. There is a bit of a learning curve to be sure but a quick run in training mode alleviated those issues for me. I started on the levels after that and didn’t lose once. I found the AI to be pretty dumb overall. He moves between rooms slowly and focuses more on setting traps and less on acquiring the items needed to win. In the early levels, it’s possible I guess to lose if you don’t get the hang of combat and run out of time quickly. I can see it happening too if I were to get all the items and get killed right in front of the exit door. Other than that, I’m not so sure if the AI is good enough to win legitimately on its own. The later levels are big but as a result you don’t interact as much so it is more about figuring out the layout of the level and beating the time limit.

Somebody set up us the bomb (sorry)

I developed a successful strategy early on that carried me through, so if you want to try this on your own skip this paragraph. You’ve been warned! I use the map to locate the rooms with items and seek them out as quickly as you can. I would usually acquire the knife during my search giving me the upper hand in combat. The priority is the briefcase so if I come across it, great! If the other spy has the briefcase, then I would go after him right away and take it for myself. I would also make a mental note of where the exit is if I passed by since it doesn’t appear on the map. I barely bothered with traps at all. One time I trapped the other spy in a dead end with the water bucket, and the time bomb is useful at the bottom of a ladder for a guaranteed kill if entering the room from above. I don’t know if this is the optimal strategy but it certainly worked for me!

There were two other Spy Vs. Spy games but neither one made it to the NES. The second game is Spy Vs. Spy II: The Island Caper which takes place on a tropical island. Features include larger rooms that scroll instead of the fixed sized room in the original game. Players must also build their own traps from parts found on the island. The game did receive a release on Famicom. The third and final game is Spy Vs. Spy III: Arctic Antics and it was only released on various PCs. This one obviously takes place in the arctic! A fourth game was planned and would have likely been called Spy Vs. Spy IV: Spies in Space if it had been released.

The black spy may be in the lead but it’s far from over.

You may be wondering what is up with my difficulty assessment on this one. There are two things I want to address. The first is the 1/10 difficulty. I went on and on about the initial complexity and I’m not backing down from that. The game is so easy simply because it is very short. Considering strictly the bare minimum to get the ending, I say the game can be beaten in 15 minutes or less on the first time playing. It takes a little bit of time on training to get used to the controls, how the traps work, and how combat plays out. The first level has a time limit of only 5 minutes and it doesn’t take that much time to finish since that first area is so small. I’m sure it’s possible to luck into a win even if things don’t go too well. The other spy has a bad habit of running into his own traps. The ending sequence is the same after each level and the only difference is the text showing which level was completed.

The other thing you may have noticed is that this is the first time I gave a game a higher personal difficulty than the overall difficulty. I based my difficulty on my goal instead of just the minimum to beat the game. I didn’t find the game to be very difficult, but it does take some trial and error to navigate some of the larger levels. I don’t think Spy Vs. Spy is quite among the easiest NES games when going for completing all the levels.

Spy Vs. Spy is a clever concept that plays well, but it ultimately falls short as a single player experience. I am definitely keeping this game in mind to play with friends sometime. As it stands for me right now, this is just another easy title for me to mark as finished.

Spy Vs. Spy Ending Screen

#16 – Spy Vs. Spy