Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#160 – Donkey Kong

DK –- Donkey Kong is here!

A well constructed title!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat Loop 6
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 6/16/20 – 6/17/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Donkey Kong Longplay

Donkey Kong is a special NES game for several reasons.  It was Nintendo’s first huge arcade hit.  It was the debut game for Shigeru Miyamoto, who went on to create countless new series and characters, including some of the best games of all time.  This is part of the “Black Box” series of games which were the first set of games released on the NES in 1985.  Large chunks of gaming history can be traced back to Donkey Kong.  I may not be able to do full justice to this pivotal and essential video game, but I am happy to cover it today.

The history of Donkey Kong begins with Radar Scope.  Space Invaders was a gigantic hit in the arcades and companies raced to create their own clones of Space Invaders to cash in on the hype.  Radar Scope was Nintendo’s answer to Space Invaders.  It did well in Japan and they wanted to release the game in North America.  The problem was that the arcade machines took 4 months by boat to reach the US and by then interest had waned.  Nintendo sent 3000 machines to the US but only 1000 sold, with the other 2000 units languishing in a warehouse.  Nintendo’s president Hiroshi Yamauchi had the idea to convert the unused Radar Scope cabinets into a different game, so he tabbed Shigeru Miyamoto to come up with a replacement game, and thus Donkey Kong was born.  

Donkey Kong was first released in arcades in July 1981 in both Japan and North America, with a European version appearing later in 1981.  It was published and developed by Nintendo.  This is one of the few Nintendo games to be ported to other consoles and computers.  It appeared on all sorts of home computers, as well as home console ports for the Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Intellivision.  Coleco developed a mini arcade version of Donkey Kong, and Nintendo made a Donkey Kong Game & Watch handheld.  Donkey Kong was one of three launch titles for the Famicom, alongside Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye.  Those three games and the Famicom console was released in July 1983 in Japan.  Surprisingly, Donkey Kong was not a launch title for the NES in 1985, instead releasing in June 1986 in North America and October 1986 in Europe.  This version of Donkey Kong was re-released several times in various forms.  The NES has a compilation cart, Donkey Kong Classics, that contains both Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.  It was released in 1988.  The game appeared within Animal Crossing on Gamecube in 2002.  It was a downloadable title on Virtual Console for Wii, Wii U, and the Nintendo 3DS.  It has a GBA port as part of the Classic NES series, and it even had an e-Reader version on scannable cards.

Iconic platforming action!

The plot and outline of the game are very simple.  You play as Mario who is ascending a construction site to save Pauline from the clutches of Donkey Kong.  Our antagonist has several traps to thwart Mario, including rolling barrels, fireballs, and bouncing jacks.  The game takes place over three rounds, all single-screen levels.  The original arcade version has four distinct stages, but famously the cement factory stage was omitted from this version of the game entirely.  Clear all three stages to beat this game.

The title screen is a simple one.  It does include a tune that was created new for this port of the game.  You can select from either single player or two-player alternating play, and you can also choose from Game A or Game B.  Mode A is the standard mode, and Game B starts off more difficult.  Press Select to choose which option you want, then press Start to begin the game.

This is a simple game to play.  You use the D-pad to move Mario around.  He can move Left and Right with the respective buttons.  He can climb ladders by pressing either Up or Down, but he must be positioned pretty close to the center of the ladder to move successfully.  You can move partway up or down on the ladder and Mario will hold on.  He can jump by pressing A.  Mario can jump across gaps that are two girder tiles wide — about the width of Mario himself.  He is only permitted to jump down that same distance.  Any falls further down and Mario dies.  He also cannot jump off ladders, only climb up and down.

Some information is displayed at the top of the screen.  The top row contains your score.  The left side, labeled with an I, is score for the first player.  In a two-player game, the second player’s score is shown on the right side, labeled with II, otherwise it is omitted.  The high score for this session is in the center.  On the right side there are three boxes with more information.  The M shows how many extra Marios you have in reserve.  The game begins with two extra lives and you can earn an additional life if you reach 20,000 points.  The bonus is the number of points you get added to your score when you finish the stage.  This acts as a timer as well, counting down from 5000 slowly as you play.  If the bonus reaches 0, the timer runs out and you lose a Mario.  The L is the loop counter.  The game starts off on Loop 1 and this counter increments every time you clear the game.

The final approach in this stage is the hardest.

The first stage is the iconic climb to the top.  Donkey Kong hangs out at the top next to a stack of barrels, dropping them down.  Mostly he rolls them down the slanted girders as they zig-zag down the screen.  Sometimes he throws one directly down, skipping the girders.  He can also throw a barrel that bounces down diagonally.  There is an oil drum at the bottom next to where Mario starts.  When a barrel strikes the oil drum, it catches fire and a flame pops out that patrols the bottom two girders.  There can be two flames going at once, forcing you to climb up quickly to avoid them.  Mario can avoid the rolling barrels by jumping over them, which nets you 100 points.  Sometimes the barrels can roll down ladders instead of continuing on their natural path.  Also, there are broken ladders that Mario can climb up or down partway, but the barrels can fall through no problem.  You always should be prepared for an unexpected barrel drop either down a ladder or thrown down by Donkey Kong.  Mario has a form of attack with the two hammers located in this stage.  Simply jump into it to collect it.  Now Mario will temporarily swing the hammer around, destroying barrels at a 500 point bonus.  The downside is you cannot climb ladders when wielding the hammer, so you have to wait until the effect wears off.  This is a simple screen by appearances but has a lot of complexity to it.

The second stage throws some new tricks at you.  To start, you have an elevator to the right that moves upward.  Mario must jump onto the moving platform as it is rising to cross over.  At the top is Pauline’s parasol that you can collect for an 800 point bonus.  There is another elevator that moves down farther right, and in the island in between are two platforms connected by ladders and a flame that patrols the area.  Mario dies if he touches either the top or the bottom of the elevator.  Once you time your way through this section, now there is another climb up to the top of the screen.  Here you will have to deal with the bouncing jacks that you have watched up above.  They enter the screen from the top left, bounce along the top girder and fall all the way down when they reach the end.  The jack’s path crosses the platforms Mario uses to get to the top.  There is also another patrolling flame along a side path to the purse, another point-netting item.  Once you get to the topmost girder, now you have to time your approach and ladder climb to the top without getting hit by the constantly spawning jacks.

Avoid the fireballs and bring DK down.

The third and final stage takes a different approach.  Donkey Kong is at the top-center, next to Pauline, on a simple screen of straight girders and ladders.  Fireballs appear off the sides of the screen, which wander around the playfield.  There are 8 orange bolts on this screen, and your task is to remove all of them.  Simply walk over them to pick them up, leaving a gap behind.  The gaps also block the fireballs as well, which can sometimes trap them on the edges of the screen.  There are a couple of hammers you can use for some extra protection.  Once all 8 bolts are removed, there is a cutscene where Donkey Kong falls to the bottom and Mario and Pauline are reunited again!

Since this is a short game, the experience is extended through looping the game.  There are six distinct difficulty settings in this game.  Once you get to Loop 7 and beyond, the difficulty caps and you can keep playing for a long time if you are good enough.  In general, the enemies and traps move faster.  On the first screen, Donkey Kong throws barrels more quickly.  You will see them stack up in groups of two or three sometimes, and if there are too many some of them quietly roll off the edge of the screen before they reach the bottom.  In stage two, the fireballs move faster and the jacks appear slightly more often.  That becomes a major issue when trying to reach the top ladder.  In the final level, there are up to four fireballs and they move more quickly.  While the first loop isn’t too difficult, it gets trickier in the higher levels.

Donkey Kong on NES is a game I played a lot.  I got the Donkey Kong Classics cart early on when I was a kid.  As I remember it, we went to visit my aunt and uncle for Thanksgiving, and my cousin had a bunch of NES carts he didn’t play.  I got to take three of them home with me.  I chose Mega Man 2, Ironsword, and Donkey Kong Classics.  I had decent taste!  So, I played a fair amount of both DK games on that cart, never really getting much further than Loop 3 or 4.  This was the first time I tried to grind out the full six loop experience.

Things become a lot more hectic in later loops.

I expected this to be a more challenging goal than it ended up.  I actually completed my goal on the very first try, having not played the game in quite some time.  I reached the second stage in Loop 8. However, some technical issues prevented me from accepting that run.  First of all, I didn’t capture a picture of the Game Over screen in time to show the loop counter.  Second, I had messed around with OBS and accidentally had my voice commentary included in the recorded video.  The following night I played two more times to replicate the feat.  I ended up with a higher score, losing the game at the exact same spot as the first time.  I got my picture this time too.

Both the NES and arcade versions of Donkey Kong have a kill screen, where the game glitches out to the point when you can no longer clear it.  While the arcade version ends in Loop 22, the NES version goes all the way out to Loop 133!  The kill screen in both games happens due to an overflow bug in the bonus point calculation.  You start the game with 5000 bonus points possible, and it increases by 1000 each loop until it gets to 8000 in Loop 4 and after.  The calculation for the increase continues to take place, but after Loop 4 it is intentionally rounded down to 8000.  At Loop 133, the calculated value becomes greater than 255, the maximum value of an 8-bit number, at which point it loops back around 0.  Since this value would set the bonus lower than 8000, it is not rounded down.  In this particular case, Loop 133 begins with the bonus at 400 points.  Since this acts as a timer too, it is impossible for Mario to reach the top before the time runs out, causing Mario to lose all his lives.  There is a video by Tom Votava where he covers the kill screen and gameplay strategies for playing Donkey Kong at the highest level.

The arcade version of Donkey Kong is a timeless classic.  While not the first platformer, it was the first one to reach mainstream and inspired many other classic platformers.  The NES version plays very well, but it does feel incomplete missing the pie factory stage.  When you consider the time this game was made, the NES port was done very well.  The graphics closely resemble the arcade version.  The music is basic, and mostly just sound effects, but it is still iconic in its own right.  The controls work well, though climbing ladders requires a little bit more precision than you might expect.  The game is short and repetitive, but I think it holds up well enough.  There is enough randomness in the game to keep it appealing when the levels stay the same.  All that said, I don’t really recommend the NES version of the game when better, more complete versions of the game are available.

#160 – Donkey Kong

by :
comment : 0

#159 – Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing

Let Nigel guide you through this racing season.

World Championship Challenge may be a better name.

To Beat: Win the Championship
Played: 6/1/20 – 6/13/20
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing Longplay

In a perfect world, I would be able to crank out these reviews roughly in line with when I beat the game.  It turns out I enjoy playing the games more than writing about them, so naturally I’ve fallen behind.  For this game, it may work to my benefit to be behind.  This is the second racing game I have beaten for this project, but between beating the game and writing this review I have already beaten a third racing game.  My struggles with all three games have indicated that I am not good at racing games.  Because of that, in part, I also do not like them very much.  I don’t have to like the game to recognize that this is a solid racing game.

Nigel Mansell had a 15-year career in Formula One racing, active from 1980 through 1995.  His early career started out slow but when he joined the Williams racing team in 1985 he became a real contender for the World Championship.  He finished second overall in both 1986 and 1987 and placed Top 10 for the next several years. After a brief foray with the Ferrari team in 1989 and 1990, he went back to Williams in 1991.  That year he placed second for the third time in his career.  Finally, in 1992, he had his best year and won the World Championship.  Due to some disagreements with his team, he switched over to the CART series for the 1993 season, where he won that as well.  That made him both Formula One and CART champions at the same time, the only racer to ever accomplish this feat.  He returned to Formula One for 1994 and 1995, retiring for good after the 1995 season.

Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing was first released on the Amiga in 1992.  It was developed and published by Gremlin Graphics.  The company changed names to Gremlin Interactive Limited in 1994 and was acquired by Infogrames in 1999 before closing down in 2003.  The game was widely ported to other home computers and game consoles mostly in 1993, including the NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Sega Genesis.  The NES version was released in October 1993, developed by Gremlin Graphics and published by Gametek.  The game was also released in Europe in 1993, slightly retitled to Nigel Mansell’s World Championship and published by Gremlin.

Ready. Set. Go!

Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing is a Formula One simulation game.  You have the option to run single races, but the meat of the game is the full season mode.  This is a 16-race season.  Depending on your placement at the end of each race, you are awarded points that are cumulative throughout the season.  To beat the game, you must complete the season as the points leader.

At the title screen, where the game is named Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Challenge for some reason, press Start to advance to name entry.  The game tells you on screen the controls for entering your name, which is nice!   You can enter your name up to 13 characters, then there’s a forced space, and then the final 3 characters for your country.  One thing to note here is that the character entry is extremely touchy.  You can scroll through characters quickly but you have to tap briefly to advance one at a time.  After entering your name, you go to the main menu.  Here you can choose to run a single race or the full season mode, as well as a training mode called “Improve with Mansell.”  You can also toggle the music on and off.

The driving is very straightforward.  The game takes place from behind the wheel.  Use the D-pad Left and Right to steer the car.  For manual transmission, press Up or Down to shift gears.  There are six gears in this engine.  Press and hold A to accelerate, and press B to hit the brakes.  The bottom of the screen shows all the information you need.  On the bottom left, you see the current lap timer as well as how far ahead or how far behind you are in time from first place.  The middle contains the track map as well as your current position ranking and current lap.  The bottom right shows your speedometer and gear setting, as well as a meter denoting the quality of your tires.

Set up your car for peak performance.

The setup of your car is important to how well it will perform during the race.  You can set the transmission, tires, and the angle of the wing on the back of the car.  First up is manual vs automatic transmission.  Manual transmission translates to faster driving because you can more optimally shift gears, but it requires more skill to pull off.  The tire choice determines how they wear out and the amount of grip they have.  Hard tires wear slower, but they have less grip making it harder to turn.  Wet tires are very useful during rainy weather conditions.  With a wet track, the wet tires wear out same as the hard tires and handle turns well.  In dry conditions, the wet tires wear out the fastest and handle the poorest.  For the wings, the angle determines the acceleration and handling of the car.  A low angle of 10% gives the car the best acceleration but poorest cornering.  The angle of 30% is the opposite: The acceleration is degraded but the cornering is the best.  You can also choose in the middle at 20%.

The single race option is good for trying out the game.  You begin with the Track Select screen.  Each track is represented by the flag of the country it is located, and when you hover over the flag you can see the map of the track below.  Choose a track to go to course information.  You’ll see the name of the course and the map, as well as the distance, fastest lap, weather conditions, and number of laps.  After this screen, you’ll have a submenu.  Setup lets you configure your car for the race.  Now you can either qualify for the race or jump straight into the race.  When qualifying, you run a single lap of the course, and the ranking of times from fastest to slowest among the 12 total racers determines everyone’s starting position for the race.  If you go directly to the race without qualifying, you always begin at the very end of the starting lineup.  After the race, you’ll see how you placed, followed by the full leaderboard of all 12 racers.

May the pits be ever in your favor.

The Improve with Mansell mode functions similarly to setting up a single race.  First you go to track selection, then the circuit information screen.  Next you go straight to the setup screen for customizing your car.  Now you are ready to drive.  You will run the full number of laps with Nigel’s floating head in the upper right the entire time, with no other drivers on the track.  There is a race line arrow that shows you generally how you should align yourself throughout this race.  Nigel will give you tips as you drive, from basic stuff like staying on the track and staying in the racing line, to important information like watching your tires so you remember to make a pit stop.  When you finish the laps, you go back to the main menu.  The purpose of this mode is not to go fast, but to drive accurately.  While it is helpful to learn the basics, you will need to learn how to handle the courses at or near top speed to win races.

The main mode in the game is the full season mode.  Since this is a long mode, there are passwords, which are 14 characters long consisting up all consonants, digits, and the period.  The entry screen also has the same finicky character selection as name entry, making passwords frustrating to input.  Upon either continuing a game or starting a new one, the rest of the mode functions the same as a standard race.  You get course information, you can configure your car, and you can optionally run a qualifying lap before starting the race.  You will run all 16 races one at a time until a champion is crowned.

This was my first time playing Nigel Mansell’s Championship Racing.  This is an uncommon, late release, however I’ve been able to find this one locally several times.  My local store had it at one point for pretty cheap, either $5 or $10, and that’s where I got mine.  I know I bought some locally and at least one more on eBay in a lot.  Loose carts of the game sell for $15 or so.  I think my local store sells it for $20 now.

The wide cars can be difficult to pass.

It’s a small sample size so far, but I have learned that racing games such as this one demand a high level of skill to compete against the computer.  Furthermore, this game is biased against you in some unexpected ways.  Take qualifying as an example.  It is common to make a mistake or two in qualifying and end up in last place by many seconds.  To make this worse, you have to navigate around other cars during your lap.  Qualifying is supposed to be just you and the track, nothing else.  When you bump into a car from behind, your car always drops a gear, which is frustrating when driving manual.  That also drives home the importance of figuring out how to qualify on top in as many races as possible.  Other racers are large on the screen, easy to bump into, and usually tricky to pass.  Probably the biggest hurdle in the game is that the other racers never take a pit stop, where you will always have to take one in the middle of the race.  Moreover, the pit stops take anywhere from 5 to 9 seconds, and it is random.  At least you can take as much time as you want to choose your new tires.  This is not an easy game to beat.

Figuring out the car setup was very important.  I went with manual transmission all the way.  I learned that even though the soft tires wear more quickly, you can still run every race with only one required pit stop.  The better handling of the soft tires was the clear winner.  Of course, use the wet tires if it is raining, obvious best choice there.  For the angle I eventually settled on 20 degrees.  Early on in the playthrough I varied a lot, winning some races with hard tires and 10 degrees, and others with soft tires and 30 degrees.

The best way to win races is to get yourself into first place as early as possible.  With no one in front of me, it was much easier to build up a good lead.  Usually this means qualifying in first place, but sometimes I settled for lower than that, especially on difficult tracks.  Many times I qualified lower but worked my way to first before pitting.  You really want to build up a much of a lead as possible since you will lose time during your mandatory pit stop.  You do need to get lucky to get a short pit time since it is random.  It’s very frustrating to get several seconds ahead, then be behind and unable to catch up because you got stuck with a 9 second pit stop.  But that’s the way it goes.

Sweet victory!

My strategy on racing games with a leaderboard is that I always want to be in first place at every point in the season.  In this playthrough, I mostly accomplished that.  I struggled learning the first track and settled for a second place finish after trying over and over.  Then I won the next two races and earned an 8-point lead.  I maintained the lead the rest of the way.  This was the point in the game that I noticed that the other top racers tend to share the leaderboard points.  There is no clear rival in this game, and any racer can win one race and end up fifth or sixth the next race.  The placements tend to be random.  Sometimes this meant I could place lower than I wanted and still feel comfortable proceeding because I only lost a point or two on the leaderboard between me and second place overall.  Over the 16 races my lead varied quite a lot.  I got down to a 4-point lead, then later built up a 20-point lead, and finally finished 5 points ahead.

There’s one final point I want to make.  My longplay video for this game is just stitched together with the final attempts at each race before moving on.  I spent nearly 11 hours of attempts to come up with the 2.5 hour longplay.  Very few times did I place well enough in consecutive attempts.  I absolutely abused the password system, and I expect that most people that play through this game will do the same.  There’s no sense in accepting bad results when you can just input the previous password and try again.  I set up the video to make it look like I did the whole game single segment, but I assure you that I did not.

Nigel Mansell’s World Champion Racing is a pretty good racer.  This is a good looking game.  The cars are well detailed, the scrolling is smooth, and there are some neat effects such as hills when driving and the accurate rear view mirrors from inside your car.  The tunes that play in the menus and leaderboards are pleasing to the ears.  It doesn’t bother me that there are only car noises and sound effects during gameplay.  The controls during driving work great, and they are annoying and tedious when inputting names and passwords.  The racing itself is well done with good track variety.  The races don’t overstay their welcome at 4-6 laps each.  The game is a little long, but not too bad.  The game does things that are unfair, but it is structured in a way where you can mitigate that.  I still don’t enjoy racing games, but I can’t deny that this one is quality.

#159 – Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing


#158 – Day Dreamin’ Davey

A good game?  In your dreams!

Not pictured is Davey’s PogChamp face.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 5/24/20 – 5/31/20
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: Day Dreamin’ Davey Longplay

When I was building my licensed NES collection, I would always get excited when I saw a new game I had never seen before.  I browsed eBay lots of NES games looking for deals, so I saw plenty of games all the time.  I knew of the really rare games and what to look for, but there were also uncommon games that don’t demand much value but are hard to come by when you are looking to add them to the shelf.  Day Dreamin’ Davey is a game that immediately takes me back to that phase of my collecting days.  It has an interesting, kind of goofy cover, the kind that really piques my curiosity.  In this particular case, the allure of owning it exceeded the quality of the game found inside.

Day Dreamin’ Davey was released on the NES in the US only in June 1992.  The game was developed by Sculptured Software and published by HAL Laboratory.  I was surprised when I researched that Sculptured Software developed 10 NES games, by my count.  This is the first game by this developer that I have played for this project.

In this game you play the role of Davey.  He is a boy in school who has trouble focusing and staying awake in class.  During class or even when talking to people like the school principal, he will doze off, taking whatever discussion is going on into his daydreams.  The game takes place inside of Davey’s dreams as he travels in his mind to various locations.  Your goal is to get Davey through his school day by navigating through all his dream scenarios.  There are 11 levels to play to beat the game.

First things first, you gotta jump the rocks.

Day Dreamin’ Davey is a top-down action game.  You move Davey with the D-pad in four directions throughout the large, free-scrolling stages.  Press the Start or Select button to bring up the menu.  Here you can see your items in columns sorted by B button items, A button items, and consumable items.  Navigate with the D-pad and select any item per column with either the A or B button.  Typically, the A button is for your permanent melee weapons like swords, while the B button weapons are limited by the ammo you carry.  You can also jump by pressing A and B together.  While being able to jump is not intuitive, you can hold down A and press B to jump while repeatedly attacking, making things a bit easier.  (The inverse is not true, holding B and pressing A does not jump.)  Sometimes you will talk to people in your adventure and you can progress through their words by pressing A.

The first area you’ll come across is the Medieval World.  You begin with only a short sword that attacks straight ahead with A.  You’ll need to use your jumping skills to jump out of the rock circle you start in and talk to the first white knight you see.  You might mistake him for your enemy, and you can actually defeat him if you really want.  The goal for this level is to find you a better sword, Excalibur to be exact, and defeat the dark knight Lumper.  Explore through the woods maze to complete these objectives.

There are other items you can pick up here.  Sometimes enemies drop them and sometimes you find them in dead-end or other nooks and crannies.  There are spears that you can throw as a consumable weapon.  There are two kinds of potions you can find that look the same but appear in different spots in your inventory.  One of these is a healing potion and the other damages you, so beware.  An hourglass freezes all the enemies in their tracks, while a magic bag of fairy dust makes Davey invincible for a short time.

Here’s the *checks notes* John Smith building.

When you complete your goal and wake up from your daydream, you’ll advance the story via cutscenes before slipping into your next daydream which brings you to the Western World.  Our hero dons a cowboy hat and carries a whip as you explore an Old West town.  There are gunslinger enemies as well as other desert hazards such as rattlesnakes and tumbleweed.  This area has several buildings and you can go into some of them for different things.  The first goal should be to find the sheriff’s office where he will give you a mission and some cash.  There are some stores in the town.  The gunsmith shop lets you buy different firearms as well as ammo for them.  At the Trading Post, you can exchange items you find for cash as well as purchase random items like deer tails and spirit powder.  Some of the items you buy have good effects, while others have negative effects.  You can find some items on the ground as well, such as ammo, snake skins, and TNT.

The goal in the Western World is to defeat a specific gunslinger found somewhere in town.  You’ll follow the directions from the sheriff to figure this out, plus you’ll need to acquire a gun for the shootout.  When you encounter the enemy, the perspective changes to a screen with the bad guy in full view facing you.  He will tell you to “draw” and then you have to shoot the gun out of his hand before he blasts you first.  It costs you a life if you lose.  You can fight this battle in one of two ways.  The most straightforward way is to use the controller to aim a targeting reticle at his gun, then press A to fire.  In a neat twist, the other way to defeat him is to use the Zapper gun, specific to just this fight.  When you first encounter him, you will have pick up the Zapper quickly, then shoot the gun to beat him.  Nowhere in the manual or on the box does it tell you that this is a Zapper-compatible game, but it works and that’s how I played this game.

The third area in the game is the Greek Mythology World.  Here you don’t start with a weapon but you can punch with either A or B to start.  You will need to speak to various Greek gods and goddesses for tips on how to clear this area.  You will need to acquire both a bow and arrow and a shield.  Along the way you will fend off guards, eagles, and satyrs with whatever you have on hand.  Droppable items include apples, some of which heal you while others hurt you, and sundials to freeze time.  The goal of this stage is to find and defeat a cyclops.  There are several temples to enter as well as gates that connect different sections of the stage together.

Shoot his eye out!

The rest of the stages are in one of the three above themes.  The neat thing is that you will go back to the same areas you were before but this time you will have access to different portions of the stages.  Some areas expand further out to brand new sub areas.  For instance, in the Greek Mythology world you go down into the Underworld and meet with Hades himself.  This means that the later levels are longer than the earlier ones, even with the benefit of having been to those stages before.

You start the game with one extra life and there’s no way to earn any more.  This is the only game I’m aware of that has a lives system with only one spare life.  Losing a life lets you keep any items you’ve acquired, but when you continue after your next death, then you have to start the level all over again.  A few of the stages are long enough that it is a pain to have to go back and replay, but having one retry is better than nothing.  Thankfully, the game is long enough that there are passwords.  The codes are short, five-letter codes made up of all consonants.

This was my first time playing through Day Dreamin’ Davey.  I am pretty sure I picked up my copy of this game at my local game store.  It would have sold for either $5 or $8.  I didn’t keep any records of local purchases, but I believe that to be correct.  I do know that I sold a double of this at some point, but I don’t remember where I got the other one either.  I would not be surprised if I picked up both locally.  In fact, I think there might be another copy at my local store now, though I have not been there in months.  They raised their prices a few years back across the board so I suspect they have it listed at either $15 or $20.  This is an uncommon game that sells for around $15 cart only.

Zapper this varmint’s gun right out of his hand!

My playthrough of this game was not notable except for one thing.  This was the first game I successfully streamed in its entirety!  Of course, since it was Zapper-compatible, that meant I recorded in standard definition off my modded top loader and CRT in the other room, but everything went well.  It took me four nights of streaming to beat the entire game, taking a little over 5 hours total.  I was expecting the game to last longer than that.  I went back later and recorded the entire game from start to finish for YouTube, which lasted about 80 minutes.  That took two tries over two separate nights because I accidentally started the game over instead of continuing when I was in Stage 8.

Despite the interesting premise and late release date, this is not a good game.  The biggest issue with the game is the lack of any polish, like the game feels rushed to completion.  Enemies often disappear for no reason, sometimes glitching through solid walls.  Sometimes an enemy can get stuck to you and deal crazy damage.  It is often hard to tell if you are damaging the enemy because damage flashes are inconsistent and there’s no clear sound effect to show that you are hurting the bad guys.  A few places in the game have invisible quicksand where you need to mash A and B to jump out of them lest you die.  Having one extra life was a strange decision.  Collision detection feels off.  It’s a shame because the theme of the game is interesting, so there could have been a good game here.  With mediocre graphics and music, the gameplay needed to be strong for this to have been a fun game, and that is definitely missing.  It feels to me like they spent their entire development budget on the voice samples found throughout the cutscenes.  I would say skip this one unless you are desperate to try something different on the NES.

#158 – Day Dreamin’ Davey


#157 – Guerrilla War

Ikari Warriors can be really good if you give it a different name.

Reset the NES to see this screen longer than a frame or two.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 5/14/20 – 5/17/20
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 1/10
My Video: Guerrilla War Longplay

Ikari Warriors is still a game I think about often.  It’s hard not to when you spend 100 hours of mostly frustrating attempts trying to beat the game once.  I have yet to play either of the two NES sequels, but I got something better here with Guerrilla War.  The similarities in the two games are obvious just by looking at them.  We will cover all of that below, but I want to draw attention to the one major difference between the two games.  Ikari Warriors might be the hardest NES game to beat straight up, while Guerrilla War is close to the easiest game on the system.  How could things have changed so drastically?  It’s time to dig deeper and find out.

Guerrilla War was both developed and published by SNK.  It was first released in arcades in 1987, following the same game format and same rotary joystick controls as Ikari Warriors.  The game was ported to various home computers, as well as this NES version.  Japan receive the game first on Famicom in December 1988, then the NES got its version in June 1989.  In Japan this game is called Guevara, where you play the role of Che Guevara and second player Fidel Castro in their overthrow of the Cuban government in the 1950s.  That hits a little too close to home for the North American market, so the game was renamed to Guerrilla War with all historical references removed during the localization.

Guerrilla War is a top-down run-and-gun shooting game.  While the story was very clearly related to the Cuban revolution in Japan, it was watered down so much that it becomes a generic story for the US release.  A small island is under rule by an evil dictator.  You, and optionally your partner, must sneak onto the shore of the island and make your way across the island to the dictator’s headquarters so that you can overthrow him.  He has the full weight of his military behind him in an attempt to stop you.  There are ten areas in this game, culminating in the final battle against the dictator.  Beat the final boss to beat this game.

This evil dictator means business.

On powering on the game, you get an introductory cutscene briefly covering the story and your approach to the island.  The game goes right into the attract mode showing off the gameplay, or you can press Start to go to the title screen.  Here you’ll press Start and then choose from either a single-player or two-player game.  This has simultaneous play, so grab a friend and get to blasting.  If you hold either A or B on the screen before pressing Start, you then go to another options menu.  Here you’ll set the difficulty level from either Easy, Normal, or Hard, and you can even set your starting level anywhere from Stage 1 through Stage 9.  The default settings start you off from the beginning on Easy difficulty.

This game has simple controls.  You can walk in all eight directions with the D-pad.  Play typically moves from the bottom to the top, though the playfield can scroll left and right during some portions of the game as needed to follow the level layout.  The B button fires your standard machine gun, while the A button throws grenades.  You have infinite ammo, plus you can hold the buttons down for autofire.  You have two different pause buttons in the game, for some reason.  The Start button is the standard pause feature, while Select brings up the score and lives for both players and the high score.  Each button has a different pause sound effect as well.  It’s quite the luxury!

You’ll come across different waves and formations of enemies.  Similar to Ikari Warriors, soldiers all look the same but have different behaviors at times.  Green soldiers are the most common.  They can defend one location, they can emerge from the sides of the screen running across, they can run while occasionally stopping to shoot, they can lay on the ground and lob grenades, and so on.  Red and yellow soldiers are similar but they drop powerups for you when defeated.  You will also have to deal with enemies in tanks that can absorb several hits before going down.  Every now and then there are mini-bosses to fight, and there is some kind of boss encounter at the end of each stage.

Enemies blocking you? Blast your way through.

There are quite a few upgrades and powerups to use.  They are almost all indicated with a square icon with a letter inside.  The L item is a missile launcher that replaces your default weapon with a rocket launcher.  Rockets reach all the way across the screen, only stopping for either an enemy or a solid object.  The F is a flamethrower, which fires a wide band of flame ripping through anything in its path.  B is an upgrade for your standard grenades, making the explosion a little bit wider.  The S weapon is a simple 3-way spread shot using your standard bullets.  The T weapon is a cross between the L and S.  It fires rockets that explode on contact into a spray of three bullets, but it does not have the long range the L powerup does.  All these weapon upgrades above last until you die or collect a new powerup.  The C powerup is a clearing grenade that you hold until you press A to throw it.  It flashes the screen white and destroys all enemies.  The K is another smart bomb that detonates immediately when you collect it.  The N is just for bonus points, while the icon with a face on it gives you an extra life.  Also, there are plenty of prisoners to free.  Every prisoner you set free gives you 1000 points, but if you accidentally kill the prisoner then you lose 500 points.  They really don’t want you to be careless with your weaponry.

This game includes rideable tanks.  These are essentially temporary upgrades.  The tanks are clearly marked with the flashing word IN written on them, inviting you in to wreak some havoc.  Press A while standing over the tank to climb inside, and press A again to exit.  Because the tanks remove the use of the A button for grenades, you can only use your B button weapons.  The good news is that weapons are upgraded while inside the tank.  The rockets appear normal, but the standard bullets are much larger and more powerful, making the spread shot an ideal weapon for tank combat.  While inside the tank you can absorb smaller enemy bullets and run over soldiers with ease, but larger shots or grenades will send the tank into self-destruct mode.  This also happens normally over time.  Good things don’t last forever!  Make sure to exit the tank with A before it explodes and takes you down with it.

Now we come to the reason why this game is so easy.  You start the game with four extra lives, not counting the one you start with.  When you run out of lives you can continue.  In Guerrilla War, not only do you get infinite continues, but you get to continue from exactly where you left off.  When you resume play on a new life, you get a generous amount of invincibility time as well.  There is nothing stopping you from forcing your way through the game as fast as you can, abusing deaths at every turn through all the levels and bosses.  All you need is the time to sit through it.

Can’t have clean shirts in the middle of a fight.

This was not my first time playing through the game.  I did not own it as a kid but I played through it several times at a babysitter’s house.  When I completed my final collection push, I remembered the game and wanted to pick it up early on in that stretch.  I thought maybe I had bought the cart individually, perhaps at my local store, but I am not sure.  I know I have sold at least one copy of the game that I probably picked up in a lot.  This is roughly a $10 game today and I am pretty sure I paid around $5 for my copy.

My playthrough of Guerrilla War marks what may be an important inflection point in my completion journey.  Occasionally I have streamed attempts of games on Twitch, but my capture card software does not let me record and stream at the same time without a compromise in quality that I can’t accept.  When streaming I can only record locally at 30 fps, instead of the 60 fps rate I desire.  I did some digging and, using OBS for streaming, I was able to both stream and get my local recording at 60 fps.  Guerrilla War was my inaugural stream with my new setup.  As it turns out, the recording I got and the streaming quality itself was a disaster.  I needed some additional tuning to get the stream to not be choppy garbage while having the local recording at the proper framerate and quality.  I recorded a later playthrough with my old capture setup and no streaming while I worked out the kinks.  The next game and the several to follow that I’ve already beaten have all been streamed to Twitch.  Streaming has become a lot of fun and it’s another way to help validate my completions, so I intend for this to be the way I tackle the rest of the project going forward.

Rope as many prisoners as you can.

My recorded playthrough of the game was nothing exciting.  I started out on the first stage on hard difficulty, playing through the game that way.  My intent was a low-continue run, not really focusing on a pure single credit clear, but also not spamming death abuse as a way to press through the game.  The result was a slower, more careful playthrough, giving the game the respect it deserves.  I counted using six continues, mostly near the end of the game and especially the final boss.  This game would have been quite the challenge without continues, but instead it was a delightful romp.  Of note, in my longplay video I cut out about five minutes of dead time in the second to last stage.  I had to pause the game because my wife needed some help with the kids who were supposed to be sleeping.  Though this project is important to me, family comes first.

By implementing continuous play through the continue system, Guerrilla War is an excellent game for players of all skill levels to blast through alone or with a friend.  The graphics in this game are very nice.  Sure, there are lots of green, brown, and gray, but the environments are all varied and objects are clear and easy to see.  The soundtrack to the game is excellent as well, with music to suit the theme of each stage and lots of snappy snare drums.  The controls are responsive and handle the game well in the midst of constant attack.  The gameplay is really fast and frenzied a lot of the time with so many enemies of different behaviors around every turn.  This is a top tier NES game in every respect.  The only knock against it I can think of is that there is major sprite flicker.  Between all of the enemies, bullets flying, and large explosions, it is just something to be expected underneath the constraints of the NES.  For what it’s worth, the game runs fast with virtually no slowdown that I experienced.  Definitely check this game out.

#157 – Guerrilla War

by :
comment : 0

#156 – Millipede

Bug hunting on your NES!

More text than title.

To Beat: Beat Wave 16
To Complete: Beat Wave 16 in Game Modes A and B
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 5/12/20
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Millipede Longplay

It’s another day and another arcade port.  Centipede was an arcade smash hit and still holds up today as a fun game to play, even if it is a product of its time.  Millipede was not as popular of a follow up.  I think it is a more interesting game, expanding on the base action of Centipede with more enemy types and various effects on the playfield.  The translation of this trackball game to the NES and its controller loses the precision movement and feel of the arcade game.  There was no trackball accessory for the NES so this was the best we could get.  While the game is hampered a little by standard controls, it still carries plenty of action.

Centipede is a 1981 arcade game from Atari Inc.  It was designed by Donna Bailey and Ed Logg.  It was a big hit for Atari, eventually making its way to various home consoles and computers in the years following.  A sequel, Millipede, was released in 1982 in arcades.  This game had a few home releases on Atari computers and consoles, as well as a port on the NES.  This version was developed by Hal Laboratories.  It was first released on Famicom in October 1987 and received an NES release in October 1988.  It was published by HAL in both regions.

Casual bug blasting at first.

While Millipede is a simple arcade-style game, there is a story listed in the manual.  You play the role of an archer lost in a dark forest, when a giant millipede appears and starts moving toward you.  Fortunately, you are able to fire magic arrows that transform a segment of the millipede into a harmless mushroom.  You need to defend yourself for as long as possible against the millipede as well as from the other creepy crawlies that inhabit the forest.  Sadly, we all know how this will end as there’s no ending in this game, but the story does serve to raise the stakes a little.

First things first, you need to select which kind of game you want to play.  Press the Select button to move the marker between options on the title screen.  You choose from either a 1-player or 2-player game, either in Game A or Game B, for the four total options.  Two players play in alternating turns.  Game A is the standard game mode, while Game B starts you off at a higher difficulty.  For the purposes of my challenge, I decided to tackle both Game A and Game B.  Press Start when you make your choice to get started!

This is a simple game to play and control.  Your character is the archer at the bottom of the screen.  You can move in eight directions with the D-pad.  Press A to shoot an arrow.  You can only have one arrow on the screen at any given time, but you can do “rapid fire” by holding down A, which fires an arrow as soon as the other one exits the screen or hits something.  The bottom portion of the screen has a gray background which is where your movements are limited.  Enemies can come and go within that space, but you cannot.

Be careful, it can get crowded at the bottom.

The main attraction in this game so to speak is the millipede itself.  It’s behavior, and many of the enemy behaviors in this game, come directly from Centipede.  The millipede comes down from the top of the screen, moving one row at a time.  The playfield is littered with mushrooms that help divert the millipede on its way down.  Whenever the millipede collides with something, it moves down a row and toward the opposite horizontal direction, always moving one space horizontally through objects if they are in the way at the start of the new row.  The millipede is made up of a head segment and several body segments.  You can blast any part of the millipede away with one arrow, splitting it into multiple millipedes if body segments are left without a head.  You can also have a single head segment go off on its own.  If the millipede reaches the bottom of the screen, it will start working its way back up but it is now locked into the same grey area you are restricted to.  Later waves of the game start off with the new millipede split off into smaller parts.  Once all the millipede is destroyed, the next wave begins with a brand new millipede from the top.

The mushrooms in the playfield play a vital role in the flow of this game.  Obviously the millipede is steered down the screen due to the layout of the mushrooms.  The mushrooms themselves are solid and absorb hits from your arrows.  Sometimes they get in the way of reaching the enemies, but thankfully you can blast them away.  Each mushroom takes four hits to remove and the size shrinks with every hit until it’s gone.  Plus you get an entire point for removing one completely!  When you lose a life, all partial mushrooms are restored to full and you get 5 points for each one.  A difference in this version of the game compared to others is that there is no enemy that poisons mushrooms.  When the millipede touches the poison mushroom, it wiggles down directly to the bottom of the screen.  It is weird that this does not exist in this port of the game.

Another enhancement from Centipede is the DDT bomb.  These are very clearly marked on the playfield, appearing with the mushrooms from time to time.  When you shoot them, they explode into a large cloud that sticks around on the screen for a second or two.  Any enemy that touches the DDT is defeated.  What you want to do if possible is to shoot the bomb as the millipede is approaching so that it heads directly into the cloud.  You will destroy most or all of the millipede this way and you get a lot of points in doing so.

Don’t worry too much about the long term effects of pesticides.

There are quite a few other enemy types in this game you can categorize as either ground enemies or flying enemies.  The ground ones are the most disruptive so we’ll start with them, beginning with the ubiquitous spiders.  They appear low from each side of the screen and move across the screen zigzagging vertically, occasionally stopping horizontally.  You need to pay the most attention to these as they are very likely to collide with you.  You earn points depending on how close you are to them when you shoot them.  Scoring is from 300 to 1200 in 300 point increments.  Ladybugs are another nuisance.  They move slowly from the edge of the screen, moving down, then across, then back up and out.  Shooting them moves all objects on the playfield down a row, same as when you clear a wave.  Any mushroom they touch turns into an indestructible flower which can be quite bothersome.  The other two ground enemies are easy to deal with and can’t hurt you.  Caterpillars crawl across the center of the screen and they slow enemies down if you defeat them.  Longicorns (yes that’s their name) move across the top of the screen and give you a lot of points if you can reach them with a shot.

The flying enemies are all similar to each other.  Mayflies simply move in a straight line down the screen.  Mosquitos move down the screen in small zig-zags making them slightly harder to hit.  Dragonflies move diagonally down the screen bouncing off the sides of the screen only.  This game has special waves every four waves featuring just the flying enemies.  Wave 4 is a swarm of mayflies, wave 8 is a swarm of mosquitoes, and wave 12 is a swarm of dragonflies.  That pattern repeats every four waves thereafter.  Dying in the special wave moves you up the next wave on your next life.

Beating this game requires determining an end condition as this game does not have an ending.  The first stage starts with a full length millipede and you get smaller, segmented millipedes through the first 16 waves, starting over at Wave 17.  So beating 16 loops makes sense for the winning condition, and I decided to do that on both game modes just for completeness sake.  Getting there for me required some extra lives, which this game provides as you play.  The text at the bottom of the screen kindly lets you know how many points you need to earn your next free life.  It goes every 20,000 points until 100,000 total points, and then you get extra lives at every 50,000 points afterward.  The screen shows up to eight extra lives but I am not sure if you can earn beyond that.

Gameplay becomes fast and frantic in a hurry.

Millipede on NES was a game I had in my NES collection very early on.  I don’t remember how I got it exactly but it was most likely a yard sale buy from the 90s.  I played it off and on as it fits the bill for a game to play for a few minutes.  I may have beaten the game before by my standards but I have no way of knowing for sure.  This is an inexpensive game that is easy to find, and I’ve had a few copies of it go through my hands.

Beating this game wasn’t really that difficult, but I often seem to have some hiccups along the way.  Starting with Game A, I got through Wave 16 on my second try.  I wanted to capture the Game Over screen for documentation here, but it does not stay up long and I completely whiffed on taking a picture.  I moved on to Game B anyway and met my goal on the 5th try.  Everything starts off harder, which isn’t terrible early on but becomes a bigger problem in double-digit waves.  Then after that I beat Game A again, this time getting the picture I needed.  The entire run of playing, including the Game A replay, took about 45 minutes.  Short, quick, and fun games are always welcome here!

The NES port of Millipede was fun to play through, but I’m not sure I would say it is a great port of the game.  The graphics are very simple, with basic border tiles, solid color backgrounds, and tiny objects and sprites.  The music in this game is all sound effects, save for the catchy jingle on the title screen.  The soundscape gets pretty grating after a little bit.  The controls are solid, as they should be for a simple game like this.  The gameplay is fast paced and it plays well.  There are some missing features here that I have noticed in other versions, such as the poison mushrooms and backward playfield scrolling.  My favorite version of this game is the Game Boy Arcade Classics version, which seems to be closer to the arcade version just on a smaller scale.  The NES port is a step back from that.  It’s still fun, but there are better ways to play this game.

#156 – Millipede (Game A)

#156 – Millipede (Game B)


Big Delays (9/4/2020 Update)

It is all too soon, but here’s another one of these “where have I been” update posts. In short, I have fallen way behind on my writing again. I used to have several drafts written ahead of time and then polished them up with screenshots and everything just before posting so that I more easily stay on a regular schedule. Now I’m not even doing that like I used to. I have just barely started the next review. I think I am learning that I am not as excited about the writing as I used to be, at least in terms of getting motivated to get started. At the same time, I’ve come so far that I don’t want to give it up either. So I won’t quit! But things may still be slow for awhile as I struggle to get caught back up.

There are a few things I have been doing instead of writing blogs. The biggest thing is that I have been practicing for the Big 20 speedrun race. The fine folks at Best of NES have been putting on regular events for several years now. One is a speedrun marathon of all NES games, and the other is the Big 20. This is a speedrun race where contestants all run the same series of 20 NES games in a row. I have been very interested in these ever since I learned of them, and this was the best possible time for me to hop in and give it a try. The theme was Viewer’s Choice where NES games were voted on and the Top 20 made up the overall list. This means that virtually all the classic NES titles everyone loves is on this list. I had already beaten 17 of the 20 games so learning this list was going to be much easier for me than any other race they could have. I have kind of become obsessed with learning and practicing these games for the race, so that has been where the bulk of my time has gone. You can see the game list for the Big 20, and you can watch me speedrun these games on my Twitch channel on Saturday, 9/12 at noon CT. I am hoping for a four hour time in total, which will not be among the top racers but ought to be somewhat competent at the very least!

As far as NES completions go, I was splitting time between Big 20 practice and soldiering through Days of Thunder. Now until the race ends, I am suspending any more playtime on Days of Thunder. That game has been a struggle, to say the least. Racing games were never my strong suit anyway, and in some ways this one might be the hardest one so far. I am confident that I will beat the game, but I am not sure how much more effort or how many more attempts it will take. I say this will give me time to help get caught back up with writing, but we all know how that has turned out in the past. Maybe it will stick this time!

This year has been far from normal. I just hope I can get back to normal pace on my project here real soon, preferably long before the year is out. Once the Big 20 is over I expect that I will have more time to dedicate to the blog again. Thanks for reading and putting up with some of my new antics!

by :
comment : 1

#155 – Magic Darts

So magical!

It’s darts but magical!

To Beat: Win each mode
To Complete: Win each mode with the high score against computer opponents
What I Did: Completed 301, beat the others
Played: 5/10/20 – 5/11/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Magic Darts Longplay

The game of darts is a pretty good metaphor for this project.  The random nature of the order I’m playing the games is equivalent to just tossing up darts at a dartboard and seeing where it sticks.  That’s true for novice darts players like myself, anyway.  I just came off of completing two long games to get this nice, short game, so it is true that just about anything can go at any time.  Naturally, since the NES library is so diverse, sure enough there’s a darts game.

The game of darts has origins dating back hundreds of years.  It is said that English soldiers would throw knifes or spears at the bottom of a wine cask and they began competing among themselves.  Later on, slices of tree trunks were used instead, and the natural rings of the trunk became an easy way of seeing who was closest to the center, spawning a rudimentary scoring system.  The game was played in pubs for years and years, and even nobles enjoyed the game.  In 1896, Brian Gamlin is widely considered to have created the scoring layout on the common dartboard that is used today.  There are a couple of organizations, the World Darts Federation and the Professional Darts Corporation, that host the best of the sport’s players in various tournaments.

Magic Darts was released on the Famicom and the NES in the US.  The game was developed by SETA and was published by SETA in Japan, releasing in April 1991.  The US version was published by Romstar and released in September 1991.  To my knowledge, this is the only game developed by SETA that appeared on the NES, though there were a few Famicom titles from them that were not localized.

Plenty of options in the game, including these game modes.

Magic Darts uses a standard dartboard that is used all around the world, one that you are probably already familiar with.  The board is round and broken up into twenty pie-shaped segments of alternating colors red and black.  Numbers along the perimeter designate the point value for placing a dart within its associated segment.  An outer ring around the board is worth double the points, and the ring splitting the center of the segments is worth triple score.  The two small, concentric rings in the very center are the bullseye target.  The outer ring of the bullseye is worth 25 points while the inner ring in the very center is worth 50 points.

To get started playing this game, you’ll have to wade through a slew of options, game modes, and settings.  First up after the title is the game mode screen where you’ll pick from one of six game modes.  Press Up or Down to go through the selections, and you can also press Left or Right to toggle the background music off and on.  Press either A, B, or Start to proceed.  Depending on the game mode, you may have to choose the in and out rules next before moving on.  Next, choose the number of players from 1-4 or the Watch Mode to watch the CPU players go at it.  Players 1 and 3 use Controller 1 and the others use Controller 2.  For each player, choose from one of twelve player avatars, then press A to go to name selection for that character.  Press Up or Down to cycle through each letter of your initials and press A to lock in each one.  After initials, then you select your dart weight from either Light, Medium, or Heavy.  After all players are entered, if there are any open slots remaining, you can choose Extra Player to set CPU players.  Now you are done and ready to begin playing!

Most of the game takes place actually throwing the darts.  The largest panel at the top left contains the facing of the full dartboard.  The score table is to the right of that with a section for each player’s scoring along with the round number and game name.  The bottom of the screen shows the player character and dartboard from a side view.  You can see the darts thrown from that angle during gameplay along with the associated controls for aiming the dart.  This layout is a pretty good use of screen space in my opinion.

Position and set meters for accurate throws.

The basic controls for throwing darts are pretty straightforward.  On your turn you’ll see a dart appear at the bottom of the board.  You can position this dart with Left and Right while at the same time a meter marker pans from left to right.  This represents the horizontal angle of your shot determined by pressing A with the proper timing.  Next, at the bottom, you will see a wedge shaped meter appear with a line segment than waves up and down.  This represents the vertical angle of your shot.  When it lines up where you want it, press A to lock it in.  After that, you will need to set the power of your throw using the vertical meter in the bottom right corner.  Again, when you get the power you want, press A with good timing to set it.  Once you set all these meters and positions, you’ll finally throw the dart as inputted.  It seems like a lot of hassle, but it gives you a ton of control over your throw, plus it goes quicker than you think once you get into it.

The first three game modes, 301, 501, and 701, all play the same.  In these games you will decide before starting what you want to do with the ins and outs.  Double in means you must hit a double first to open the scoring, otherwise any throws are invalid and worth 0 points.  Double out means you must end on a double.  Open in or open out means any scoring is valid at that end of the match.  In this mode you start off with points, either 301, 501, or 701 depending on which game.  The object of this game is to get your score down to 0 exactly.  On your turn you get three throws.  After the three darts are thrown, your scoring for the round is deducted from your total.  If your score at any time would drop below zero, you bust and any points you would have deducted in that round are instead forfeited.  For example, say your score is 10 and you throw a 5 and a 9.  That 9 would put your score into the negative, so your round ends and your score goes back to 10.  The first player to 0 wins, and all other players continue until all but one finish their game.

The other three game modes have different rule sets but are pretty simple.  In Count Up, you play eight rounds and try to see how many points you can earn in total.  In Round the Clock, you have to hit numbers 1 through 10 sequentially, using as many rounds as needed to hit all 10 in order.  Half It has somewhat more complicated rules.  You start off with 40 points.  In each of the eight rounds, there is a target value that you must hit to score points.  The targets are 16, double, 17, 18, triple, 19, 20, and bullseye.  Only hitting those targets in the assigned round add to your total.  If you miss the mark in all three darts in the round, then your total score is cut in half.

Thank you dart monkey!

This is my first time playing through Magic Darts.  I have played real darts before a few times but with nothing approaching actual skill.  I don’t spend a lot of time in bars, and that is where darts are typically played.  As a kid, I really wanted an electronic dartboard, the ones with the tiny holes all over that you throw plastic-tipped darts into.  I didn’t end up getting one until I rented an apartment, and even then I didn’t bother actually hanging it up proper.  Knowing me, I would have ended up with a bunch of holes in the wall anyway so maybe I dodged a bullet there.  Good thing I have my cart copy of Magic Darts anytime I need a darts fix.  The game isn’t too common but it’s not expensive.  Typically it is around a $5-$7 game cart only, but they are teetering closer to $10 right now.

In beating this type of game, it makes sense to play through every mode just to see if there’s something unique about beating each one.  So that’s what I did.  Taking it a small step further, after reading through the manual I noticed that, while a little cumbersome to configure, you can play against CPU opponents.  For 301, I played with double in, double out rules against three CPU opponents, choosing the self-proclaimed expert player and the next two in line.  (I see now re-reading the manual I missed choosing the expert female player.  I think that’s a big miss and I should have played against her too.)  I did play a little bit before recorded attempts just to get a feel for the game.  After that, I went right into this setup of 301 and ended up winning in Round 6 on my first try.  For the remaining games, I played them all solo.  The winning screen is pretty much the same for all modes regardless of number of players or CPU opponents.  The winning player has his or her picture displayed along with the placings of each participant.  For Count Up and Half-It, a high score is also displayed.  I assume the default is 100 points for the high score; it only shows up after finishing the mode.  In Count Up I scored 466, but in Half-It I only got 96 points on my first go which fell just short of 100 points.  I played again and had a much more robust 300 score the second try.  I don’t think there’s much left to do other than beat CPU opponents in every mode.  It would not be hard to accomplish, but I don’t think it’s strictly necessary as far as completion goes.

You can fly solo for a more leisurely game.

I developed some minor strategies with this game.  I always made sure to hit center on the first meter indicating horizontal curve.  For the vertical angle and power, I roughly set those proportional to how high on the board I was aiming.  For instance, to hit dead center I would aim for middle angle, middle power, adjusting both meters higher to aim higher and both lower to go lower.  It wasn’t an exact science but it tended to get me close.  Since it is a lot easier to aim horizontal than vertical, when I needed a double, I aimed for the ones on the far left and right of the circle, giving me the tallest band of vertical space to aim for.  It would have made more sense to go after the double 11 on the left, but I preferred the double 6 on the right during gameplay.  Maybe because I’m right-handed.

This game has a few interesting secrets.  A few of the characters have secret trick shots.  My player character was the robot, and in 301 I inadvertently triggered the trick shot.  It seems to have to do with hitting the center angle both ways just to get the random chance to do it.  I was aiming for the double 6 on the right.  The trick shot has the robot stretch his arm out all the way across the room to place the dart directly on the board, which is definitely cheating!  The shot ended up on double 9, almost on the complete opposite end of the board.  I needed a double to start, so I’ll take it.  Sometimes there is a fly buzzing around the board.  The alien character has a trick shot allowing you to freely point to where you want the dart placed on the board.  Pulling the trick shot off to nail the fly changes your character to some weird looking dude.  It’s strictly a cosmetic change.  You can actually play as the weird looking character from the start by entering SEX as your initials.  So there you have it.

Magic Darts is a well made adaptation of video game darts for the NES.  It is quite similar to Championship Bowling, also published by Romstar.  This is a game pretty much about setting timed meters, just like in bowling.  The graphics are both functional and clear, with nice window dressing in the different characters and their throwing animations.  The music is done well, nothing too memorable but blends in well with the gameplay.  The game controls accurately and responsively, leaving it all down to setting the right timing to make your best throws.  The gameplay includes much of what you could ask for, with multiple game modes and ways to play them with friends or against the computer.  I suppose there could have been additional gameplay modes added to fill the game out even more, but as it stands it is a well-made darts game done as well as I think can be done on the console.  

#155 – Magic Darts

by :
comment : 4

#154 – Little Ninja Brothers

Putting the RPG figuratively into Kung-Fu Heroes.

It comes in all wiggly!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/7/20 – 5/9/20
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Little Ninja Brothers Longplay (Part 1) (Part 2)

I was really looking forward to playing Little Ninja Brothers.  It was a game that I knew nothing about when I started collecting NES.  To find an action RPG I had never heard of was very intriguing, since no one talks about this game in various discussions on NES titles.  It wasn’t until I dug a little deeper that I discovered that this was the sequel to Kung-Fu Heroes.  All of these things made my interest grow more and more.  That to me is the real beauty of a long project like this.  Finding interesting, largely undiscussed games and playing through them to find out what they are really like.  On paper this seems like my kind of game, and in the end, I enjoyed my playthrough as I expected.

If you want a little more background on this game, check out my review of Kung-Fu Heroes.  Little Ninja Brothers is the second game in the Super Chinese series.  Super Chinese 2 was developed and published by Culture Brain in all regions.  It was first released in Japan on the Famicom in May 1989.  The North American version, localized as Little Ninja Brothers, came out in December 1990.  The European version released in 1991.  The game also saw a Virtual Console release on Wii U in PAL regions in 2015 and in North America in 2017.

This game has a simplistic story line.  An emergency TV broadcast goes out across Chinaland.  It is from Blu Boltar, lord of the Yoma Clan, who has captured the emperor.  The Little Ninja Brothers themselves, Jack and Ryu, set off on their quest to defeat Blu Boltar.  This adventure will take you all across Chinaland.  Simply follow the events of the story and conquer the Yoma Clan to beat the game.

Oh, his name is Blue because he is blue.

There are several options to choose from when starting the game from the RPG option on the title screen.  You can start from a new game or continue a previous game with your password.  Next, choose either a single player or a two player game.  Player 1 goes as the red-clad Jack, and Player 2 gets to play as the blue-dressed Ryu.  Then you can choose the text speed from either Fast, Normal, or Slow.  Finally, select the difficulty level between Hard, Normal, and Easy.  The neat thing is that you decide from all of these options every time you play the game.  For example, if you want a second player to join your saved game or switch the difficulty level around, you can do that as you see fit.  For all of my play sessions, I did single-player, fast message speed, and hard difficulty.  Finally, if you chose Password, you will enter that in here before play begins.  The passwords themselves are long and variable, usually ranging from 30-40 characters long, with the character set of capital letters, numbers, and some symbols.  Taking photos of the passwords was really helpful for a game like this.

At first, the game looks and feels like a turn-based RPG.  The game begins with an introductory cutscene explaining the base story.  Your adventure starts out on the map where you can walk around and explore.  You emerge out of a temple and there’s a town nearby.  You can go in the town and talk to people to figure out what you are supposed to do next, as well as buy items and equipment there to aid you.  All seems standard until you get into the battle scenes and the real fun begins.

Battles begin with images of the enemies you will be fighting as well as their relative experience level.  You can choose to Fight or Run away.  Should you end up in battle, now you are in a single-screen action arena with enemies emerging from the sides of the screen.  These battles are identical to the fighting in Kung-Fu Heroes.  You can walk in four directions with the D-pad.  The A button punches, causing you to lunge forward.  Holding a direction with the B button performs a moon sault kick.  For this move you leap into the air and hurt enemies by landing on them.  These are the basic moves you have at the beginning and they are more than enough to deal with the enemies at hand.  More enemies will spawn as you defeat them, but once you beat enough enemies the rest will run away and you will collect your experience points and money.

Battles are plentiful and dangers are high.

You can collect some items from your journey within the battle scenes.  Most of the arenas contain rocks that you can bash with your punches.  It is common for some of the rocks to generate items that float around the screen until you collect them with a punch.  Question balls are the most common item you’ll find.  They either give you an M adding to your M count at the top of the screen or a skull which depletes your M count back to 0.  When you have 6 M marks, you can use the Mighty Ball which makes you temporarily invincible.  Rocks may also hide treasure chests that contain various items shown as you collect them.  K marks add 5 Dragon Kicks to your stash.  These are performed by pressing B without any D-pad direction held to start.  Hearts restore some of your HP.  You can also collect throwing stars.  You can hold up to 8 in reserve for later use, but sometimes they activate immediately.  Throwing stars are tossed during punching when activated.  Another item collected in battle is a Boo Bomb.  When used, the screen shakes stunning most enemies in place.

To further enhance your fighting capabilities, you need to go to the towns and buy items and equipment to build yourself up.  There are several recurring stores throughout the villages of Chinaland.  The convenience store lets your perform configurations during your journey, such as changing the number of players, reviving your second player, viewing experience points to the next level, and viewing your password.  The tool shop lets you buy consumable items, such as sweet buns to restore HP, skateboards to allow you to escape during difficult battles, whirlybirds to teleport between towns you’ve visited, and batteries for the Dragstar allowing you to drive across the map quickly without any random battles.  There is also a weapon shop where you can buy equipable weapons and other items.  You can buy things such as throwing stars, punch power increases, robes, shields, amulets, and talismans.  These increase your battle capabilities, give you defense boosts, or debuff your enemies in various ways.  You can pick up a sword that you can swap with your punch attack in battle at any time.  The sword is more powerful and can defeat some enemies unharmed by punches, though you do not gain as many experience points from enemies when using the sword.  Finally, you can buy a few kinds of candles to light up darkened caves.

If you want to use some of your new items or equipment in battle, you can select them from the menu during battle.  Press either Start or A+B to bring up the menu.  You have two choices of Equipment or Items.  The Equipment menu is mainly used for switching between your punch and sword.  You also use this sub menu to summon the Mighty Ball if you have 6 M marks.  The item menu is where you use your consumable items, such as healing buns and throwing stars.  Another technique you have access to through the Item menu is the Surger.  The technique is gained whenever you purchase a new type of throwing star and it requires using a throwing star to activate.  The Surgers have different names throughout the adventure, usually named as some kind of wave.  Activate the Surger through the menu, then punch anywhere in the air to deal damage to all enemies on screen.  I believe you can use it throughout the entire battle multiple times, but I barely used it during my play so I’m not the expert on it.

It’s not a race … slow and steady!

There is also a menu that you can access from the world map screen or within towns and dungeons.  Just press A.  Here you can talk to someone in front of you, call an ally to help in a handful of specific situations, or access the subscreen which contains several options.  You can browse your items and use some consumables like your healing items.  Status displays your experience point, experience level, max HP, base attack power, and your current stash of money.  Equip lists out your equipment, simply enough.  The Treasure option shows some special items you’ve collected.  Finally, you can access the password at any time to continue play later on.

In a few places during the game, you may be asked to participate in some field training.  This takes places in a split screen view with some different controls.  In a two-player game, each player takes one half of the screen, while in single player you take the top half and the computer plays the bottom half.  This is a timed event where you have to run all the way to the right, sometimes collecting items or popping balloons along the way.  The controls are a little different here.  You run by mashing the A button.  You use the D-pad Up and Down to steer a little bit or Left to turn around if needed.  Kicks and dragon kicks are performed as normal.  While it appears you are racing against the other player, you are really just aiming to complete before the timer runs out.  These field events typically give you some kind of special item needed on your journey.  It is just a fun little diversion and I thought they were fairly easy to clear.  (Dragon kicks are your friend!)

As if all the RPG trappings of this game weren’t enough, this game takes it all the way there with the occasional turn-based battle.  Primarily these are boss battles but in some situations you’ll go up against normal strength enemies.  You have pretty much the full complement of moves that you have in the action scenes at your disposal in the turn-based combat.  You can punch, kick, dragon kick, and use items like your sword, throwing stars, surgers, and even the mighty ball.  With two players, both of our heroes get a turn, but in single player you can call your partner to join the battle, which you absolutely should do right away.  This computer-controlled partner mimics many of your choices and will default to an attack otherwise.  The fights are shown animated so you can see which attacks land and which ones miss.

Occasional turn-based battles turn this into a classic RPG.

The progression in this game is straightforward but your journey doesn’t have to be.  The primary objective is to collect seven bells that are used to open up the way to the final boss in order to save Chinaland.  You will most likely go about this in order.  The map is somewhat linear but you do have some freedom to explore.  You can skip towns and caves that are required and save them for later, but you probably won’t want to.  The enemy levels out in the field jump up pretty high if you travel too far, guiding you back to something easier.  Make sure to use all the hints from the townspeople to take the easiest way through by hitting all the major landmarks roughly in order.  This is a pretty tough game as it is, so you don’t want to make it harder on yourself.  There was one place in particular, a dark cave, that I explored way too early and spent a lot of extra time figuring out early.  The only penalty for death is losing half of your money, so if that’s not a big deal to you, feel free to explore as you like.

This was my first time playing Little Ninja Brothers.  As previously mentioned, this was one I was looking forward to trying after not knowing about it before collecting.  This is an uncommon game that has risen in price.  Cart copies sell now for around $50.  I bought mine on eBay for $20 shipped along with Bart Vs. The Space Mutants and Ninja Gaiden, which really was a nice deal looking back on it.

I would say my playthrough of the game was a little rocky.  The first thing I noticed is that gaining levels goes slowly in the game.  You need a lot of experience, the battles can be lengthy, and the reward for winning isn’t that high.  There are other things that slow the game down.  Many battle scenes have water which drains half your health should you fall in.  Losing money on death was a little annoying early on, particularly early in the game when I was grinding for equipment.  It took several failures and losses to earn enough to get what I wanted.  The screen scrolling is a little annoying in the game.  You have to get pretty near the edge to scroll, and there are graphical artifacts on the sides as you scroll before the game engine begins drawing the proper tiles.  You have to go out of your way to reach some dungeon areas that contain items you need.  A few hours in I reached my first turn-based battle and it was a huge upturn in difficulty.  Some bosses have a stun attack that block you from taking turns, and if you have bad luck you can get stuck for a long time.  Once or twice, I got stunned for what felt like a dozen turns, enough to put me in the grave without being able to fight back.  This game is out to get you for sure.

Plenty of sights to see in Chinaland!

With all that said, there were some good things about this playthrough that I am happy about.  The first is minor, but the entire game took me 16 hours to complete, which was fewer hours than I would have expected.  The game has a quirky sense of humor that caused me to legit laugh out loud at least once during my playthrough.  It isn’t common for games of this vintage to not take themselves too seriously.  The best part was at the very end when I beat the final boss.  The last section leading up to the final encounter is a real slog.  Small spoilers ahead.  First you go through a long, winding, dark maze with plenty of tough fights.  Past that you have to go up a mountain path with all new enemy encounters as well as doorways that can send you backward.  Finally, you reach the end, probably depleted of health and items, and have to go up against the hardest boss.  I had to repeat the lead up to this fight a few times, but luck saved me and I only needed one try at the boss.  The start of the fight was rough as both I and my partner got stunned and I took some hits early on.  I didn’t have any healing items left either.  Good thing for me the stunlocks were very short and I put him away when I was one hit away from death.  When I looked up the final boss in an FAQ after I beat him, I saw that he has a healing move that he didn’t use.  He would have beaten me for sure had he healed, so I really got away with one there.

Little Ninja Brothers takes the base game of Kung-Fu Heroes and turns it into an RPG-style adventure, one that I really had a fun time with.  I would say the graphics are average or a bit above.  I like the character portraits during important conversations and some of the enemy designs are cool, some only appearing one time in the game.  The music is upbeat and cheery for the most part, even in the caves.  The controls feel tighter than in the original game and don’t have any touchy controls like unsheathing the sword in Kung-Fu Heroes.  Gameplay has a lot of variety from the field training stages, RPG battles, and top-down action.  The one major knock on this game is that the base fighting gets repetitive and you need to grind out lots of battles to level up.  The difficulty is up there even when you level up a lot, and that may also be a turn-off.  I thought this game was fun and definitely worth playing, living up to the hype I had for it.

#154 – Little Ninja Brothers


The Need For Speed (7/17/2020 Update)

I just want to put out this quick blog post to say that this blog is definitely not dead! It has been three weeks since my last post and I’m just not ready yet to put the next one out, so rather than let the blog lie dormant until then, I’m putting out this small update instead.

The biggest development for me is that I have started streaming my NES playthroughs on Twitch. This is something I had dabbled in a little in the past, but until recently I couldn’t find a streaming and recording setup with the quality on both that I would be happy with. I have been working from home full time since the pandemic shut everything down, and so I have been able to keep tabs on Twitch streams that I like. I suppose that gave me the motivation I needed to figure out things on my end. Now that I’m all set up I am really happy with things. I think the recordings are turning out better now that I switched to streaming software to record gameplay. So far I have streamed six completions including one particularly long racing game. This is going to be the way I play going forward.

The other exciting thing I’ve been working on is speedrunning. I have decided that my long-term speedrunning project will be TMNT. I am mostly doing this just for fun. I have no aspirations of getting a world record in this game, or anywhere close to one really, but just to have something else to play from time to time and have fun doing it. Another positive aspect of doing speedruns is it will allow me some buffer time while I get caught up on my writing. In theory this will work, however it hasn’t proven itself so far. I am already nine games behind as of this writing and have actually fallen further behind since incorporating speedruns. Oops! I have a lot more fun playing games than I do writing about them. I have every intention of getting caught up and can hopefully get back on a more regular schedule soon. I expect to have the next review ready for next Friday, and the next few games after that should be much quicker to write about and should post faster. Please look forward to more regular reviews soon!

If you want to follow along with this new streaming endeavor, check out my Twitch channel.

by :
comment : 2

#153 – Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?

Taking things case by case (by case)

TIME: For the amount of time it takes

To Beat: Solve 80 Cases
Played: 3/18/20 – 4/5/20
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? Longplay (Part 1) (Part 2)

Much like the titular character, I never really got close to Carmen Sandiego.  In grade school, I remember our computer lab consisted of all Apple II’s plus a lone Macintosh computer.  During computer time one student a day got to do activities on the Mac and I do remember that there was a Carmen Sandiego game as an option.  I don’t even remember what I did when my turn came up, and even if I did play Carmen Sandiego, I don’t recall anything about it.  The closest I got to Carmen was occasionally watching Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego on PBS, listening to Rockapella serenade the audience and seeing if the winner could mark off all the countries on the map.  I know there were plenty of educational games bearing her name, but I didn’t seek that stuff out on my own and my parents didn’t force educational games on me.  Much like the main character once more, time has eventually caught up to me and now I am finally playing a Carmen Sandiego game to catch her for myself.

Carmen Sandiego is the lead character in a set of educational video games.  Common to all games, the player’s task is to look for clues and use knowledge to follow her and her henchmen around the world, eventually leading to her capture.  The series was created by Broderbund and began in 1985 with Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  Broderbund continued to make Carmen Sandiego games until 1998 when the company was acquired by The Learning Company, who have continued to make games in the series to the present day.  Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? is the 5th game in the series.  It was first released on Apple II in August 1989, then was ported to various PCs, the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis.  The NES version was released in October 1991 in North America only.  This port was developed by Distinctive Software and published by Konami.

In Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?, you play the role of a fresh recruit to the Acme Detective Agency.  Carmen Sandiego and her team of V.I.L.E. henchmen have gotten a hold of a time machine and have been using it to heist various well-known treasures across history.  Fortunately, the agency has access to a portable time travel device called the Chronoskimmer 325i and has assigned it to you so that you can chase Carmen and her gang across time.  There are time restrictions to the device so you can only use it for a short time.  You will need to gather clues to follow the bad guys around and hopefully arrest them before time expires.  As you are making a career out of this, you will need to solve 80 cases before you can retire.  Buckle in, this is gonna take a while!

Fresh-faced and ready to go!

The first thing you would notice upon buying this game brand new at retail was that it came in an oversized box.  This is because the game comes with a paperback desk encyclopedia.  Coming in at 1374 pages, it is a comprehensive encyclopedia.  In this game you will gather clues that you reference in the encyclopedia to find out when and where one of the criminals has run off.  I made sure to buy a complete copy of the game with encyclopedia so that I could play the game as it was intended.

At the start of the game, you have just arrived at headquarters.  Your view is from the inside of an elevator at the lobby level.  Use the hand cursor to select an elevator button to move between floors.  In the basement, you can view the game’s credits.  The third floor is the lab where you can peek in on a science experiment.  You can grab a cup of coffee (hopefully) on the fourth floor lounge.  These things are just for fun.  The real destination is the personnel department on the second floor.  Here you enter in your name up to eight characters, then a password if you want to continue from a previous game.  Passwords are seven alphabet characters long.  It seems from my list of passwords that not all letters are used even though you can select any of them.  If either starting a new game or continuing, you will power up the Chronoskimmer and get to searching!

All of your time playing will be spent on one screen.  At the top are a couple of boxes that display which country and year you are currently located.  The left side box is your graphical display while the right side box is for text.  In the center columns are buttons to select options as displayed in either window at times.  The bottom of the screen shows the time remaining in hours as well as your main menu options: Travel, Search, Data, and Abort.  You navigate this screen via a simple hand cursor.  Simply use the D-pad to move across each button and press either A or B to press the button.

This is a learning game, so there’s plenty of historical facts.

The first thing you will want to do in your investigation is look for clues.  You can do that with the options within the Search menu.  Select Search and then choose from either Witness, Informant, or Scanner.  Choosing Witness and Informant does pretty much the same thing.  You will question someone at your location, and they will tell you something they heard about where the criminal is going next.  You take that piece of information to the encyclopedia to figure out the country and rough time period that it relates to.  Sometimes the witness or informant will also give you an additional piece of information related to the description of the criminal.  These extra clues are essential for determining exactly who you are pursuing for this case.  More on that later.  The Scanner lets you sweep the environment for objects the crook may have dropped, which can also be referenced in the encyclopedia.  Sometimes you can do additional scans on the object you found to get a more detailed hint.  Every time you ask a witness or informant, or do a scan or follow up scan, it costs some hours off the clock.

The Data menu is helpful for learning more about the different criminals you are chasing as well as logging any descriptions you may have uncovered during your search of the scene.  In the submenu you can pick from either Evidence or Dossiers.  The Evidence menu lets you log the criminal description clues.  There are five categories of evidence: Sex, Hair Color, Eye Color, Favorite Artist, and Favorite Author.  Some of the descriptions you’ll uncover are very straightforward, while others may require some encyclopedia research.  Log whatever you find, then when you have enough clues you can use the Compute function.  This lets you know how many criminals fit the description you have gathered so far.  Once you narrow it down to one criminal, you will receive a warrant for their arrest.  The Dossiers submenu lets you browse the known criminals and read some basic information about each one from which you can glean some of his or her attributes.
When your search turns up enough information to know where your criminal went, now you must to travel through time to catch up with them.  The travel menu pulls up a list of four countries along with a time period displayed on a graph.  The time periods you can travel to are 400-1299, 1300-1699, 1700-1899, and 1900-present.  Sometimes you get the same country multiple times in the list in different time periods, and occasionally there are only three selections in the list instead of four.  When you are confident, click your selection and travel through time.  At your next location, if you have tracked the criminal successfully, once you search for help you will see a cutscene displaying V.I.L.E. Henchman Detected.  Then you look for more clues and keep following leads.  If you miss and travel to the wrong location, the search comes up empty and you will have to backtrack in time to get set on the correct course, wasting your precious hours.

When you see More, you’ll get information about your suspect.

With enough investigation, you will have tracked the criminal through multiple locations and have gathered enough descriptive evidence to have collected a warrant for their arrest.  Now it is time to make your capture.  At your final destination, you simply need to search the location to find them.  There are special cutscenes that play to indicate you are at the final location and time period for this case.  You just need to attempt either two or all three of the search options before you finally see them.  Then you catch the criminal via a cutscene, reveal his or her identity, and see if your warrant matches.  If so, then congratulations, that case is completed!

The game is a very long grind with the 80 cases required to beat it.  There are some milestones along the journey that slightly help to break up the monotony.  As you complete more cases, you advance job titles.  You begin as a Time Cadet, but at certain numbers of cases completed, you will get a promotion to such job titles as Time Investigator and Time Detective, among others.  You get special text upon completing the required case to show your promotion.  Also, at one point during your journey, you will finally catch up to Carmen Sandiego.  Now you would think that this would complete the game, but it only serves as your signature achievement.  You still need to get to the full 80 cases completed to officially retire from the force.

This was my first time playing Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?  As an educational game in a popular series, it seems to have sold well enough.  I wouldn’t say it’s a common title, maybe slightly uncommon, but not too hard to track down.  Finding the game in the big box with the encyclopedia is not as easy to find, but even then it’s not terribly expensive.  Expect to pay around $10 for a loose cart and $35-$40 for the complete set.  I had the loose cart from a lot purchase, and I bought my CIB for around $30 about 3-4 years ago.

Enter in enough evidence to find who your suspect is.

The first thing I needed to do was some research on my potential criminals.  I figured out right away that the criminals themselves have pre-defined characteristics and tastes, so that part is not randomized.  Then, I set out to create a table of names along with their hair and eye color and all that.  There are 16 criminals in the game and four types of each of the five attributes.  It is set up so that exactly four criminals have each specific attribute, such as red hair or Kipling as their favorite author.  Reading through the dossiers, I figured out two or three attributes of each person, and then from there I was able to deduce almost all the rest.  That’s when I figured out that I could have done all this legwork much easier.  If you enter in any arrangement of evidence, even with some left blank, and do the Compute function, then the game lists out every criminal matching that description.  You can build a table more quickly that way, but oh well, my work was already done.

The next step was to do some research on the list of favorite authors and artists.  This part was really straightforward.  I simply looked up each person in the encyclopedia and jotted down notes of every significant mention in the entry.  Specific events, acknowledgements, or works of art included in the encyclopedia were often mentioned in a specific clue in the game, which was huge for setting up the evidence.  It was much easier to use a cheat sheet than to keep referring to the encyclopedia entries every single time.

Even with the best laid plans, there were still clues in the game that I could not find any reference at all in the encyclopedia.  This was true with pieces of evidence as well as location clues for when you time travel.  Other clues could be ambiguous, such as in cases were events or lifespans occurred across two time periods.  In those instances, I kept another sheet of paper keeping track of those clues along the solutions after I deduced them through gathering additional information.  I had documented maybe 15-20 pieces of information like this, which really isn’t that many considering the scope of the game.  Some less obvious clues are just part of the experience.

Arrest made! Just 79 to go…

It bears repeating that this is such a long game to complete.  The first few cases you’ll solve are pretty short with only 5 stops or so.  I actually find these harder than in the later game because you have fewer opportunities to get the clues needed to get the arrest warrant.  The amount of time you have to complete each case is randomized but generally scales up to the size of the case as you go up in rank.  The shorter cases require more questioning of people which cuts into the amount of time you need to solve, track, and arrest.  The animations throughout the game also add a bunch of filler time to the game experience as they are both slow and plentiful.  I moved as quickly as I could once I started to get the hang of it.  I also started to memorize some of the clues which saved a bunch of empty research time.  Each case took me roughly 8-10 minutes each to solve, even as they got larger later in the game due to optimization of research.  The full playthrough lasted a little over 12 hours, in addition to roughly an hour or so of research and early, unrecorded attempts.  In the larger scheme this isn’t a super long game, but boy does it feel longer than that.

There’s one minor quirk of gameplay that I noticed happen a few times.  Normally when you time travel to the wrong location, the criminal will never have been there so you get no hints and you know you have to try and go back. However, it is possible to go to the wrong location in the sequence but be at one of the places you have already hit on your search.  When this happens, you will still see the V.I.L.E. Henchman detected scene which leads you to believe you are on the right track, when in fact you have probably messed yourself up from completing the entire case.  I noticed one time I kept having the same clue come up, while another time I had no idea I was off the path until time ran out.  It all depends on which location in the sequence that you backtrack to.  This is a completely sensible thing to happen and I totally get it.  I was understandably frustrated to have that happen over the course of such a long game.

Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? does exactly what it sets out to do.  It is a solid educational title with tons of historical information inside and plenty to learn about.  The graphics are well drawn and there are so many different scenes and animations from all the different time periods and locations.  There is very little music in the game, which in one way is a shame since there is so much silent gameplay and, in another way, maybe a blessing in disguise if the music were to be bad.  The controls work fine as they don’t need to be complicated in this game.  The gameplay is good enough for what it is, however the decision to make the game so long to reach the end is what drags it down.  The game is already repetitive by nature and 80 cases is such a weird, arbitrary number to choose.  You’ll have to time travel hundreds of times just to see the basic ending screens.  It is hardly worth it, but at least I’ve learned some things along the way.

#153 – Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?

#153 – Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?