Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!


Castlevania Box Cover

#8 – Castlevania

Whipping your way through a horror movie is certainly no picnic!

The film strip is such a nice touch!

To Beat: Reach the end credits
To Complete: Beat both loops
My Goal: Beat the game without continuing and see how far I can get in the second quest
What I Did: Beat the game with continues and made it halfway through the second quest
Played: 1/2/16 – 1/3/16
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 6/10

Castlevania is yet another classic game series that got its start on NES, though technically I should say it really made its debut on Famicom under the title Akumajou Dracula. It was released in Japan in 1986 on the Famicom Disk System and the game made it on a NES cartridge for US release in 1987. It is the 4th NES release from Konami following Gradius, Rush ‘N Attack, and Track & Field.

I couldn’t really track down much history on the development of the game or the series, although some information can be gleaned based on a sort of companion release to Castlevania just a month after its Famicom debut. Bearing the same title Akumajou Dracula, a different take on this game was released on the MSX2 computer in Japan and it was also released in Europe renamed as Vampire Killer. Castlevania is a very linear game and Vampire Killer took a more open-ended approach. In Vampire Killer, the player must find keys to progress to the later levels which I believe are hidden in alternate paths in the levels. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest refined upon the open-ended concept that Vampire Killer started. The series as a whole after that had more or less two separate phases. Beginning with Castlevania III, the games were mostly linear stage-based affairs, and then Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997 for Playstation firmly pointed the series into the open-ended platformer style again. It’s really interesting that the series started off not really knowing which way to go before ultimately going both ways over a long period of time.

The one thing nearly all the games have in common is candle desecration.

Castlevania on NES is a stage-based platformer game. You play Simon Belmont traveling through the different areas of Dracula’s Castle as he fights his way toward a battle with Count Dracula himself. He is armed with his trusty whip that can be upgraded twice along the way. He also acquires subweapons through item-bearing candles or as an occasional enemy drop. The subweapons available to Simon are the dagger, axe, cross, holy water, and stopwatch. Subweapons have limited ammo and this is represented by hearts that can be picked up along the way. Simon can only equip one subweapon at a time –- grabbing a second one causes him to lose the one held previously — and having the right subweapon in his inventory at the right time can really sway the difficulty of the game. The game has 18 levels in total and they are broken up nicely into six areas of three levels each. Each level serves as a checkpoint and each area ends with a boss encounter. Dying puts Simon at the start of the level, but if all lives are lost Simon can use a continue though he has to start back at the beginning of the area. Fortunately there are unlimited continues and it’s a good thing because this game is quite difficult. The game is not all that long so the difficulty is ramped up to make up for it. So typical of NES!

Holy water is great, but triple holy water is best!

Similar to the Mega Man series, the Castlevania games have been a fixture of my NES collection for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to have acquired most of the major NES game series very early on before NES collecting got crazy popular and expensive. Even though I have owned all three NES Castlevania titles for a long time, the first one is the one that I have played the most over the years. It’s been awhile since I have played it but I more or less remember the game well enough that I figured I could make it through without too much trouble.

Now having said that, Castlevania beat me up way more than I expected going in. I’m not sure if I have ever done this before, but I thought after a try or two I should be able to 1CC the game. In two different attempts I knew I had virtually no chance without a lot of extra practice. The first night I played I had to continue in Level 6, and I stalled out in Level 15 and decided to drop it and come back fresh later. I got as far as the Grim Reaper fight but I wasn’t able to get past it. It may be a little unfair, but a good strategy is to spam holy water right on top of where Grim Reaper first spawns so that he never has a chance to attack if you have enough holy water. Otherwise, the fight to me is the hardest in the game. For the life of me, I couldn’t get there with holy water. I would either lose it to another weapon drop or die before I could get to the boss. My best chance came with about 3/4 health and double crosses. In a straight fight, the crosses are very useful for taking out the sickles that float around the screen, but even then it is so hard to move consistently in a way to avoid everything while still damaging the boss. I believe I took out half his health bar on that shot and I never got particularly close in this session otherwise.

This fight is just flying pain everywhere.

The next night of playing was when I was able to beat the game. I ran out of lives and had to continue in Level 9, but this time I got holy water all the way to the Grim Reaper and beat him with the stun lock strategy. It’s shameful, yes, but it’s not against the rules! It took me a few attempts to get to Dracula, and then I completely forgot the strategy for beating him once I got that far. I did end up figuring it out again and beat the game. Even that wasn’t without some fault as I failed to capture a proper picture of the ending screen. After the credits roll and you see the message “Thank You For Playing,” the game drops you off right back at the beginning pretty quickly with no way of stopping or delaying it. I figured this had to happen at some point, but in this case I snapped a picture of the victory stance at the end of the Dracula fight so that is proof enough to me that I did indeed beat the game. I messed that up too because I forgot my name tag in the picture. It’s been rough going for me lately! 🙂

Mmmm wall meat, my favorite!

Now not many people realize this, but Castlevania has a sort of a second quest or hard mode that amps up the difficulty even further. The only way to get to it is to beat the game and keep on playing afterwards. The level layouts are unchanged, but enemies do more damage and there are generally more enemies thrown at you. I noticed in the first area that the zombies appear more often, and there are sections of the game that spawn infinite medusa heads that do not appear in the same locations the first time through. Furthermore I don’t think anything special happens when the game is beaten the second time. I still think a complete run of the game would include beating both quests. I am sure I could have beaten it if I had enough time to play, but since I have never done it before I decided instead to see just how far I could make it. I played until midnight which on that night gave me about 40 minutes or so to play the hard mode. I got to Level 29, or about halfway through the 4th area before I stopped. I only got through Level 28 one time though. The enemy spawns were tweaked and I kept getting knocked into the water by a specific enemy and I only made it through that part once somehow.

So you may have already picked up on this, and I kind of alluded to it above, but this is the first game for my project where I failed to meet the goal I set for myself. I guess this is a good of a time as any to clarify my intentions on my project. Ultimately, my goal is to beat as many NES games as I can, so the “to beat” criteria at the top of each post is the absolute minimum to consider the game done. However, I want to get the most out of these games and so I will try to meet the “to complete” criteria where it makes sense. This is very much on a game-by-game basis, but this will generally include getting the proper ending or best ending, winning on the highest difficulty level, and playing every level and mode in the game as is reasonable. The real end though is to beat the game – the rest of it is icing on the cake.

Castlevania whipped me more than I expected *groan*.

For Castlevania, I decided that beating the game once is good enough. Hard mode has no apparent different ending and there is no way to reach it other than beating the game first, so I would have to start from scratch every time just to maybe make some progress if I am struggling. This is where I decided to draw the line for this game. If there was a hard mode code or a unique ending, I would have worked through it. I don’t intend to be lazy here, but I am working with a limited time budget and I have hundreds of games left to play, so I think this is a good way to go about things. Trimming just a little bit for the sake of overall forward progress is something I will value here and in the life of this blog.

Update 5/27/16: I had a discussion with NES master Tom Votava and he told me that Castlevania actually has three distinct difficulty loops instead of just two. He said most Konami games that let you restart upon completion loop three times before the difficulty stop increasing, and Castlevania is one of those games. It’s hard enough just beating it once, but three times through is something I could accomplish with enough practice.

Castlevania is a great game and worthy of its status as an NES classic. It has that “Nintendo hard” difficulty, great atmosphere, a nice assortment of weapons and enemies, great boss battles, and just the right amount of length. It’s a quality game particularly for an early title in the NES catalog. It’s not a perfect game, but it has a lot going for it and I’m glad I played through it again and at least started to play the game a little bit differently than I have ever done before.

Castlevania Ending Screen

#8 – Castlevania

The Legend of Zelda Box Cover

#7 – The Legend of Zelda

Pick up your sword, young man, it’s time for adventure!

Doooooooo do do do d-d-doooooooo!

To Beat: Reach the end credits
To Complete: Beat both quests
My Goal: Complete the game with all items
What I Did: Completed the game with all items (11 deaths)
Played: 12/21/15 – 12/31/15
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

The back of the NES box has the written line “Experience the Challenge of Endless Adventure.” While this game certainly has an ending, the Legend of Zelda series as a whole has no end in sight. Dozens of adventures and spinoffs have been created as a result of the success from this classic NES title. The original title is one of the first great examples of an “open world” style of gameplay and it also launched a formula of game design that is still revered and refined upon today.

The Legend of Zelda is the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka and was developed alongside Super Mario Bros. Their aim was to make a game that was different from the linear Super Mario Bros, and so The Legend of Zelda took the opposite approach as an exploratory, open world game. The game was inspired by Miyamoto and his memories of exploring the fields, woods, and caves near his home, and all of these elements are present in the world of Hyrule. The game was released in 1986 as a launch title for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, which had higher game data storage compared to Famicom carts of the time and the capability to save progress directly to the disk instead of utilizing complex passwords, thus making for a large complex game compared to other console games. The Legend of Zelda was released on the NES in 1987 in a unique gold colored cartridge and was the first NES game to feature battery backed saving. The game’s popularity in the US was just as big as its reception in Japan, paving the way for the series to continue to the present day.

Some fine players can go without the sword! I’m not quite there yet.

The Legend of Zelda is a top-down action-adventure game featuring Link in his quest to recover the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom and banish the evil Ganon from the land of Hyrule in order to save the princess Zelda. The game features a large overworld map that players must explore to find treasures and items to aid in the quest, as well as discovering the nine underground dungeons that Link must clear along the way. Link begins the quest with a simple wooden sword (if you remember to pick it up on the first screen!) for short ranged attacking and Link augments this with other weapons and items to add to his arsenal. Several of the weapons double as tools that help Link explore more effectively. For example, Link finds bombs that can be used to hurt bunches of enemies, but these bombs can also reveal hidden alcoves in the overworld and destroy walls in the dungeons. Each underworld dungeon contains one or more of these items and often these are required to either find or navigate later dungeons, which provides a sense of progression but also makes Link much more versatile for the challenges ahead. Once the first eight dungeons are cleared, the ninth dungeon is opened up for Link to take Ganon head-on. After the game is completed and Zelda is saved, a second quest is revealed that is quite a bit more difficult. The locations of the dungeons and other rooms are rearranged and the dungeons are completely different. The game also introduces a few new mechanics that are unique to the second quest. I won’t spoil them here except for one in the next paragraph. 🙂

The Legend of Zelda was a game that I owned new when I was a kid. I think I got it for either my 7th or 8th birthday. I don’t remember much about playing it way back then but I do remember poring over guides to learn where all the pverworld secrets were located, and those memories have carried over to my current playthrough. Back then, those tips helped me out a lot but took away my opportunity to try and figure things out fully for myself. Even with Link at full strength the game isn’t all that easy, however. I do remember figuring out one particular secret in the second quest all by myself that I didn’t see in a guide. One of the new mechanics in the second quest is the ability for Link to walk through certain solid walls in the dungeons. The first time it is needed in the game, I deduced that there must be one path to get into a specific room but bombing the wall did nothing, so out of frustration I just charged in and lo and behold I passed right through to the next room. Well, that blew my young mind that’s for sure!

This one is no brain teaser!

To truly finish The Legend of Zelda, both quests should be completed and so that was my intention from the very beginning. It took me some time playing in small chunks over a couple of weeks but I was able to complete everything from memory without a whole lot of trouble. Between both quests, I died a total of 11 times which is reflected in the ending screen. I’m not sure what my lowest death count is but it is probably in the single digits. In this case, it should have been that low because I had some really pointless deaths. For fun, I took note of each death and I’ll summarize them here:

  • Three deaths during early game overworld grinding. These were the most pointless deaths of all. The overworld can be dangerous at times but I have enough experience and capability early on to handle all that with relative ease. Really I died because I was playing late at night and was so tired that I kept nodding off during the game! This is not a reflection on the quality of the game in any way, shape, or form. It just shows that I can fall asleep during just about anything. Not many people can say they fall asleep in the middle of playing a video game so I guess I have that going for me!
  • Also comes in three-headed and four-headed varieties.

  • Two deaths in Level 6. This is the first dungeon to introduce Wizrobes which are the most difficult enemy for me to handle, specifically the blue ones. They fire magic across the screen if they have line of sight to Link, they can faze through solid blocks, and they change direction randomly at will. I believe the only way to damage them is with either the sword or bombs which both require close range, making them risky to attack, and there are always multiple of them when they show up in rooms. These deaths could have been prevented though because I could easily have utilized the healing potion but I didn’t bother to buy it until my third attempt through the dungeon.
  • I’m telling you, these blue guys are just awful.

  • Two deaths during Level 1 Second Quest. These deaths were legit as it is tough to clear this dungeon just starting out. The blue ring (cuts damage in half) would help here immensely but it is equally difficult to farm enough money up front to afford it.
  • Two deaths in overworld grinding in the second quest. After dying twice in Level 1 I decided to buy the blue ring before taking on Level 2, but with low starting health and the time it takes to farm money death will happen.
  • Hmmm what a suspicious bush!

  • One death in Level 6 Second Quest. Another Wizrobe death here plus I ran out of potion before making it back out to get more. I could have done better but I could have done much worse.
  • One death in Level 9 Second Quest. Same as the death above. I don’t know the second quest dungeons nearly as well as I do the first quest dungeons so I was doing a little bit too much wandering and risking death in the process. The fun thing about this dungeon was that I completed it during a New Year’s Eve party at my house. I didn’t want to get too wrapped up in some board gaming while hosting the party so when several people started a game I decided to play in the background and see if I could beat the game before the end of the year, which I did. My friends were getting into it so it was worth it!

The Legend of Zelda has a lot of little interesting tidbits that are known to various degrees, but there is one that I find quite interesting. The dungeons maps have a variety of shapes but they were all designed in a way that they could all fit together like a puzzle. Internally to the game code, they are laid out in a large square similarly to how the overworld is laid out but they are chopped up to make the dungeons themselves have a more interesting shape. The designer, Tezuka, was so good at piecing the dungeons together he only utilized half the space he was given, so the team decided to utilize the other half of the dungeon space to make the Second Quest. The story of this was covered in a session of Iwata Asks, and also this article has some neat images showing how the dungeon maps are stored.

The Legend of Zelda may have left the framework for future Zelda titles to follow, but the first NES entry has an identity all of its own. Future Zelda titles would evolve the formula by making the complex dungeons the real centerpiece of the experience, but by doing so the dungeon order is mostly locked down to guide the player along the desired upgrade path. Aside from a few dependencies, the player can work out the game on his own and take on the challenges out of order, so to speak. It is an approach to game design that is largely abandoned in modern gaming, but it gives the first NES game a distinct flavor and it is very much worth playing today.

The Legend of Zelda Ending

#7 – The Legend of Zelda


#6 – Tetris

Pack ’em tight and clear ’em out in the most famous puzzle game of all time.

Tetris Title Screen

From Russia With Fun!

To Beat: Set the high score in A-Type and finish Level 9 Height 5 in B-Type
To Complete: Score at least 120,000 in A-Type for the best ending and finish all combinations in B-Type
My Goal: Complete the game while scoring at least 250,000 in A-Type
What I Did: Completed the game and scored 288,320 in A-Type
Played: 12/9/15 – 12/14/15
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 2/10

I am reasonably confident in saying that most people that have ever played at least one video game have played Tetris. When people think of a puzzle video game Tetris is nearly always the first one that comes to mind. It’s the perfect example of a game that is simple to pick up and understand but that is tough to truly master, and it’s that accessibility that makes Tetris one of the best games ever conceived.

Tetris has a very long and complicated history and I can’t properly do it justice, so I’ll view it here from a very high level. Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov while he was working at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He made it just as a fun little game to test out the capabilities of new computer hardware and it became popular with his colleagues at work. A couple of co-workers ported the game to PC and it exploded in popularity almost from the start. The game was picked up and ported all over the place unoffically. The rights to the game were eventually given to the Soviet government for 10 years and during this time Nintendo was able to license Tetris and make versions for both the Game Boy and NES.

The other interesting bit of history of Tetris on NES is the legal dispute between Nintendo and Tengen. Atari Games had the license to make the arcade game while Nintendo held the licenses for their home consoles and handhelds. Tengen comes into play because they are the division of Atari Games responsible for home console games. Already holding the arcade license, they also decided to apply for a console license and went ahead and developed and released their version of Tetris on NES. Nintendo caught wind of this and argued that they held the rights instead. Atari Games sued, they went to court, and Nintendo was awarded rights by the courts. This forced Tengen Tetris off of store shelves after only four weeks. As I have read, in the early days of NES collecting Tengen Tetris was considered to be one of the rarest if not the rarest NES release. This has proven false as there are quite a number of copies out there for sale even though Tengen Tetris is uncommon and a bit on the pricey side these days.

I bet you can hear the music in your head already

So for those of you living under a rock, I will explain how Tetris is played. Tetris is a puzzle game where blocks made up of four tiles each fall from the top of the playfield. The player has control of the falling block and can rotate and shift the block and set it into place at the bottom of the playfield where it is locked down permanently. Whenever complete rows are put together on the board they are removed and the rest of hte stack is shifted down to make room for more blocks. The blocks are called tetrominoes because they consist of four small tiles, and there are seven types of blocks tetrominoes that cover all possible arrangements of those four individual tiles. The game ends when the playfield fills up and the new block is obstructed from entering play. The speed of the falling blocks increase as more lines are cleared and eventually the speed becomes too much to handle for all but the most advanced players. The falling speed is also tied to how many points are awarded from clearing lines and also you get more points for clearing multiple lines at once, so Tetris is just as much a scoring challenge as it is a survival challenge.

This version of the game contains two different modes called A-Type and B-Type. A-Type is exactly as described above. You choose a starting speed and plays until the stack fills up. There are a number of fun ending sequences with a rocket liftoff that play out depending on the final score. B-Type is a race to complete 25 lines. You not only set the starting speed but you can set the height of a set of junk blocks that are initialized on the board. The height can be set to 0 however removing all the junk blocks from the start. Removing 25 lines results in another set of fun ending sequence where different things fly or run across the screen depending on the speed level, and the higher the starting height the more of them show up. They don’t really add much to the game but they are neat to look at.

Wow Russia looks like a scary place!

Wow Russia looks like a scary place!

I’m pretty sure I still have the copy of Tetris that my parents bought for their NES. We had maybe a dozen games by that point but of course Tetris fever hit and it got a lot of play in our house. I remember having a high score sheet taped up somewhere in the house tracking our personal high scores and seeing who had the best score in the family. I seem to remember having the highest score but both my Mom and Dad got pretty good at it too.

For my run, I first played all of B-Type and decided to win all 60 combinations of speed level and height in order. With 25 lines each that’s 1500 lines so that took me awhile. I chipped away at it over the course of several days. I didn’t really have any trouble. Some of the levels at the end took a couple of tries each before I had a good enough layout to win and I even beat Level 9 Height 5 on my first try. After that I was ready to take on A-Type with a pretty lofty goal of scoring 250,000 points while starting from Level 0. This is over twice the number of points required to get the best ending sequence, and I would have been okay if after a few tries I made it reasonably close to my goal. As it turns out, I beat my goal score on my very first try. I got all the way to Level 19 where I think the game drops pieces one space every two frames or something crazy quick like that. At that speed I can’t recover from any mistakes and that’s where it all ended. I am really happy with how things unfolded and I’m satisfied to put Tetris to rest for awhile.

Looks like a lollipop

Looks like a lollipop

Last year I read an article called Applying Artificial Intelligence to Nintendo Tetris which is a highly technical but fascinating look at not only the design of an AI bot that plays perfect Tetris but also the inner workings of how the NES version of the game operates. One very interesting tidbit I gleaned from this article is that this version of the game contains a hidden, working 2-player mode that was left in the game code but is incomplete. Multiplayer is the one significant feature missing in Nintendo’s version of Tetris compared to Tengen’s game, so it is both neat to see that Nintendo was working on 2-player and also disappointing that it wasn’t finished.

This is not related to the NES version, but high level Tetris play is mind-boggling to watch. There are a series of arcade games released in Japan called Tetris: The Grand Master that feature rating systems and a complex set of requirements to reach the highest rank of Grand Master. There are three installments with a fourth on the way, and each successive game has stricter requirements to reach Grand Master rank. To get an idea of how ridiculous this is, the 3rd game was released in 2005 and as of this writing in 2015 there are only 6 people in the world to achieve Grand Master status in that game. One of the craziest gimmicks in this series is during the credits roll where the player must survive a new game while the playfield is invisible while visible blocks continue to fall at high speed. I saw a successful demonstration during Awesome Games Done Quick and there are hardly any words to describe how insane it is to see it done. Here is an article on the latest player to achieve Grand Master rating in Tetris: The Grand Master 3.

Update 5/27/16: It was brought to my attention that I completely omitted any reference to the documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters. Released in 2011, it covers the search for the world’s greatest Tetris players to compete against each other in the 2010 Tetris World Championship. Now, I can’t do the film any justice since I haven’t seen it for myself, but I know I definitely need to make the time to watch players that are way better than I will ever be.

Update 5/27/16: I wanted to draw attention to my relatively low difficulty ranking I gave to Tetris. That score is based solely on the parameters I chose for beating the game, which is relatively simple to do. It requires some practice on B-Type 9-5 but there is the opportunity to play so many games in a row since each run can be very short. Some people have argued for much more strict parameters to consider the game beaten, such as maxing out the score or reaching Level 29 where the speed can’t go any higher. If that’s the condition for beating Tetris, then that is an easy choice for 10/10 difficulty as there are only a small handful of people in the world that have dedicated themselves to accomplishing that feat. Another thing I overlooked is that the Tetris manual outlines the method for choosing Levels 10-19 from the menu, and it’s not much of a stretch from there to suggest that it is necessary to beat B-Type 19-5 as well. I am perfectly fine with taking the easy way out in this case!

Tetris is probably most well known as the game to launch as a pack-in with the Game Boy, and the two paired together so perfectly. The NES version of the game is still a great game on the NES and a solid port of the ubiquitous classic puzzler.

Tetris Ending Screen (A-Type)

#6 – Tetris (A-Type)

Tetris Ending Screen (B-Type)

#6 – Tetris (B-Type)

Kirby's Adventure Box Cover

#5 – Kirby’s Adventure

One of the true gems of the NES library, Kirby’s Adventure is a satisfying journey for all ages.

Kirby's Adventure Title Screen

This is one of my favorite NES opening sequences.

To Beat: Reach the ending credits
To Complete: Beat the game with 100% completion and complete all bonus modes
My Goal: Complete the game without finishing bonus games
What I Did: Complete the game without finishing bonus games
Played: 12/4/15 – 12/6/15
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10

In 1993, the NES heyday was over and the system was slowly dwindling away in the public eye as the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were busy duking it out for the top spot. However, Nintendo still had a few tricks up their sleeves for the NES and arguably the greatest game published by them in the late NES lifespan was Kirby’s Adventure, a sprawling, bright, and colorful platformer that pushed the NES to its limits. The game is great fun and very playable today even if it is a bit on the easy side.

Kirby’s Adventure is the second game in the Kirby series that would eventually go on to span dozens of fun and creative games. But in it’s humble beginnings, the series debuted with Kirby’s Dream Land released on the Game Boy in 1992. Even in the original, Kirby has a very interesting moveset. His main feature is the ability to suck up enemies temporarily and shoot them back out as a star to defeat other enemies. Kirby can also inhale air giving him the ability to fly anywhere, and even the air puff he breaths out can also hurt enemies. As a platformer, the ability of flight renders pits as vaguely minor threats instead of the instant death traps they are typically. In addition, the original game was very short containing only 5 levels, the last of which rehashes the previous 4 bosses and features a final showdown with King Dedede.

Don’t even bother taking challenges head on!

Kirby’s Adventure takes the base formula of the original and expands on it in an substantial way. The main enhancement here is that Kirby can swallow certain enemies and copy their abilities to use for himself, which would become the core tenet of the series. Kirby’s Adventure features 25 unique abilities in total and he can use these abilities to take out enemies and in some cases provide some additional mobility for navigating the levels. Some examples of these abilities include Fire which allows Kirby to blow fire on his enemies, Spark which surrounds Kirby with electric shocks, and Wheel which lets Kirby travel really quickly over rough terrain.

The game features seven different worlds and nearly 40 levels so there is a much larger amount of content here compared to the Game Boy game. Each world is basically a large room containing doors to the levels as well as access to additional bonuses opened up along the way, and each world ends in a boss fight. Each level ends with a little bonus game where Kirby must time his jump off a spring-loaded platform to reach bonuses that get better the higher you go. Some levels contain a large button that Kirby can hit to open up a new path to some of these extras, but these are optional and are there either for the completionist or some extra help. Many of them are cleverly hidden in alternate paths or behind hidden doors, and some require using a specific copy ability.

Kirby already discovered the secret here but that’s okay!

The extra doors on the world maps hold several different types of rooms to aid Kirby in his quest. Museums feature either one or two passive enemies that Kirby can swallow to gain the ability that enemy holds. Arenas contain a fight with one of the mini-boss enemies. You can lose a life here but if you win you can swallow the enemy to get the power and as a bonus you are awarded with a maximum tomato for full health. Warp Star Stations allow Kirby to skip to any world where the Warp Star Station is revealed, allowing Kirby to skip around the map much easier. There are also three types of bonus games. Crane Fever is just like the carnival game where you have to position a crane over a Kirby figure that awards extra lives if you can grab it properly. Egg Catcher features King Dedede tossing out a stream of both eggs and bombs. Kirby just sits there and can only open and close his mouth. The idea is to eat eggs and ignore bombs, letting them bounce of Kirby without effect. Quick Draw is just like the old Western showdown where you must draw your weapon quicker than your opponent to win and Kirby must take on 5 different opponents to get the best reward. Each of the bonus games also has three different difficulty levels. Whenever the game is done, the door is blocked off so each bonus can only be attempted once.

Egg Catcher is the other way, Kirby! It’s fun!

Kirby’s Adventure is one of the games I grew up owning and playing, so I can get through it easily and I didn’t really have that much trouble on my run. The game is pretty easy anyway considering Kirby’s flight ability, his large health bar, many opportunities for extra lives, and his wide array of powers. There are only a few spots that are just a bit tricky. The boss encounters can be difficult the first time through, and many of the secrets for 100% completion are tough to find, but just playing through the game to the end credits shouldn’t pose a problem for anyone familiar with NES games.

The game has a decent length from start to finish so I am thankful it has a save battery for recording progress along the way because this is the first game I’ve played for Take On The NES Library that took me longer than one day to work through. I am sure this will be the norm going forward! I was able to beat the game over the course of three days, and it could have been done in two but I stopped right at the end because I needed to go to bed. 🙂

Once the game is beaten, there are additional options available on the file select screen that aren’t required to beat the game but are necessary if you want to do everything. Each of the three bonus games can be played on each of the difficulty levels to get practice. Both Quick Draw and Egg Catcher are very timing sensitive and I find them unplayable on my LCD TV. I probably should have given them a try on my CRT but I didn’t bother to do it. I have always had trouble on Quick Draw and I’m inclined to believe that it isn’t possible to win on higher difficulties without cheating a little on the timing of your shot. I didn’t feel like trying to grind it out on what would be strictly luck and I think that’s fine.

Superhuman timing PLUS drawing a cannon!

The next additional option is Vs. Boss — a boss rush where you must defeat each of the main bosses in order on one life without any opportunity to heal up. This might be the hardest mode to clear in the game and I handled it extremely well, beating it on my first try. I only took two hits of damage on the Meta Knight fight and I have never been able to beat him without taking a hit anyway so that worked out well.

There is another option that only appears if you find all the hidden rooms for 100% completion in the main game and that is the Extra Game. It is a complete replay of Kirby’s Adventure with only three bars of max health instead of the normal six, all the bonus games are set to max difficulty, and there is no saving at all so you have to beat it all in one shot. Those are the only changes to the game that I noticed. I would not normally have had the time to attempt the Extra Game but I was able to have an evening of a couple hours of uninterrupted playtime, plus I stayed up a little bit late so I could make it all the way through. The hardest part for me on the Extra Game was the Meta Knight fight which took me 8-10 tries to make it through with the shortened health bar. I have the game almost completely figured out except for that one fight, but at least in this case I was able to grind my way through it with the surplus of extra lives I gathered. Winning the Extra Game unlocks the sound test so you can check out all the sweet songs and sound effects the game has to offer.

Meta Knight is tough but even more difficult to fight when facing the wrong way!

A neat little easter egg hidden in the game is called the HAL room. All it is is a room with the developer’s name HAL written out in blocks. Several Kirby games have a room like this hidden in the game and Kirby’s Adventure is the first game to have one of these rooms. It appears in World 1 Stage 2 just beyond the warp star that appears at the end of the first part of the level. Normally you must touch the star to jump to the rest of the stage and the screen quits scrolling at this point to indicate that you have to grab the star to move forward, but there is a way to get the warp star to disappear allowing Kirby to move further on to the HAL room. I tried getting into this room myself when I played the Extra Game but I wasn’t able to trigger it, but maybe someday I’ll find it out for myself!

Even if the game is on the easy side it is still worth playing just to see all the neat things the development team was able to stretch out of the NES. Figuring out all the bonus areas isn’t exactly a walk in the park either so there is something here for everyone. If Kirby’s Adventure can be considered a sendoff to the NES, then it was quite a way to bow out. You could even call it’s a shooting star, burning bright, although this star never really fades away.

Kirby's Adventure Ending

#5 – Kirby’s Adventure

Mega Man Box Cover

#4 – Mega Man

Despite the iconic horrendous box art, Mega Man is a true classic even if it’s a little rough around the edges.

Mega Man Title Screen

Simple and quiet!

To Beat: Reach the ending credits
My Goal: Beat the game without Game Over
What I Did: Beat the game without Game Over
Played: 12/3/15
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Like many other popular long-running game series, Mega Man got its start on the NES. The series would become a behemoth spanning over 100 games across multiple consoles for almost 30 years, including six installments on the NES alone. Mega Man to date is just barely hanging on to life which is a huge shame, but for now we will look back to brighter days with the game that started it all.

Mega Man was born out of an effort from its developer, Capcom, to make a game specifically for the home console market. Capcom to this point was primarily developing arcade titles and their NES efforts were all ports of existing arcade games. Mega Man was the sixth NES release for Capcom so they were pretty busy churning out these ports to this point. By making an original game the development team was able to create a gameplay style that caters to home play. This led to the decision of having the first set of levels available to the player to play in any order they choose. Mega Man is believed to be the first game to utilize a non-linear level selection.

You decide!

Mega Man is a run and gun style platformer. The game starts out with a choice of six different levels highlighted by the Robot Master boss at the end of the stage. Mega Man starts out with just a basic shot but upon defeating each boss Mega Man gains that robot master’s weapon and adds it to his arsenal. So Mega Man gets stronger as you go and he develops quite the repertoire. These additional weapons prove to be extra useful because each boss has a weakness to a particular weapon and it is up to you to figure out how to exploit that weakness and turn the tables to your advantage. Think paper-rock-scissors on a bigger scale. Once all the robot masters are taken out and Mega Man is fully powered up, you then take on a series of final stages as the ultimate test. This formula is very well known and spans all of the mainline Mega Man titles.

Mega Man also collects some powerups along the way to help out. His special weapons each have an individual gauge that indicates how much juice is left for the particular weapon. You can collect weapon energy refills to recharge the weapon of your choice simply by equipping the weapon before grabbing the refill. There are also health drops, tiny orbs for points, and extra lives in the shape of Mega Man’s head. A little morbid, perhaps, but that smiling severed head brings a lot of joy whenever you find one! There is also a bonus Magnet Beam upgrade that must be found and collected. This isn’t a weapon but it is equipped and used like a weapon. It allows Mega Man to shoot his own custom temporary platform that can be used to cross gaps or climb up larger walls that are unable to be scaled alone. This item is mandatory to complete the game but if you miss it you can go back to previously beaten stages to find it.

Noooo not my extra head!

Let’s take a look at each robot master and his stage in a bit more detail.

Cut Man: The stage is pretty generic but briefly features some kind of machine that chucks out falling blades constantly. Cut Man throws a Rolling Cutter, which is a blade that is thrown straight and then arches upward before returning to Cut Man. When defeated, Mega Man earns the Rolling Cutter which behaves exactly the same way.

I’m not sure scissors will be all that effective here.

Guts Man: One annoying feature of this stage is a moving platform carried on a wire. The wire has breaks it in so when the platform runs over them it collapses until it moves back across the stable part of the wire again. You are required to time your jumps so you can land back on the platform when it becomes available again. This obstacle appears right at the beginning of the stage and it’s tough to navigate. At the boss fight, Guts Man hops around shaking the ground which stuns Mega Man. Occasionally a large block will fall from the ceiling that Guts Man will grab and immediately throw at Mega Man. When defeated, Mega Man receives the Super Arm which allows him to grab certain blocks off of the ground to then throw as a weapon and optionally clear the path forward.

I get knocked down, but I get up again…

Elec Man: This is mostly a vertical stage that features embedded turrets that fire off timed horizontal beams of electricity. There is also an enemy that fires electricity shots fitting the theme. This level also features the disappearing/reappearing block gimmick that is present in pretty much every single Mega Man game afterward. During the boss fight, Elec Man tosses out Thunder Beams which are huge arcs of electricity that are as tall as Mega Man. When defeated, Mega Man receives the Thunder Beam for himself, which not only launches forward but also splits off two shots vertically.

This almost seems unfair!

Ice Man: Well this is an ice level, which means slippery ground all over for Mega Man. Not only that, but it also has a couple screens of the reappearing/disappearing blocks, and it features an even worse gimmick than that. Toward the end of the level there is a huge gap that Mega Man must cross along the back of these floating platforms. The platforms are pure evil. They randomly ascend and descend as they move back and forth, but they also shoot bullets out of either side that will certainly knock Mega Man off to his untimely death. Generally the Magnet Beam is used here to skip it outright. Ice Man jumps and fires off his Ice Slasher that Mega Man must dodge through the small gaps between shots. When defeated, Mega Man receives the Ice Slasher that shoots straight but freezes enemies in his path.

Wow so many projectiles!

Fire Man: This level has quite a few fire and flame related gimmicks in it. Most notably are the pillars of fire that slide up and down. Mega Man can freeze these with the Ice Slasher and jump on top of them to get by safely. There are also fire cannons akin to the electricity shooters in Elec Man’s stage and there is one screen with fireballs that zip along a path that Mega Man must time extremely well to get through unscathed. Fire Man launches the Fire Storm which is a tall fire shot that leaves a damaging flame behind right underneath where Mega Man is standing. When defeated, Mega Man earns the Fire Storm which features a smaller straight shot but also generates a fireball that briefly and quickly spins around Mega Man for extra damage to enemies in very close proximity.

Fight fire with ice! Makes sense!

Bomb Man: This is a generic and uninspiring stage compared to the others. The only bomb-related gimmick is an enemy that explodes when shot causing damage Mega Man if he is too close. This level does introduce the Sniper Joe enemy that will reoccur in many future titles. Bomb Man hops all around the screen and tosses out Hyper Bombs that leave that same wide explosion radius as the aforementioned enemy. When defeated, Mega Man gets the Hyper Bomb that when thrown bounces to a brief stop before it explodes.

Is he throwing a bomb or jump kicking?

To find out more about what happens after each of the robot masters are defeated, well, play it for yourself and find out! 🙂 I don’t want to give everything away!

The Mega Man series has always been a favorite of mine and I have owned all six NES releases since way before I started collecting NES. This was good for me since all the games now are highly sought after and will cost some money to acquire. Back in the 90s when NES games were cheap the first game was still a little bit difficult to find. I think my original copy was bought from a video store. This game may very well be the most difficult of the NES releases in part because of the lack of password option that is available in later releases. Even though there are fewer stages I believe they are harder individually to make up for it. This was a common tactic anyway to extend the time spent on the game until gaining the ability to finish it for yourself.

It has been quite awhile since I’ve played through Mega Man but it sure didn’t seem that way. I had an awesome run. The only times I got in trouble were during moving platform sections, namely in Guts Man’s stage, Ice Man’s stage, and the first Wily stage. Other than that I died a few times elsewhere, maybe 7 or 8 times altogether, but the game was very generous with extra lives and I kept pace with what I lost all throughout the game. This might be the first time I’ve beaten the game without continuing. I believe the game is quite a bit more difficult than I made it out to be.

This part is seriously hard and then they add flying penguins!

There is a reason why Mega Man is blue that I just learned while researching this game. It has to do with the NES color palette. There are 64 pre-defined colors that can be used in any NES game. Now many of them are indistinguishable shades of black, but interestingly the most used color is blue. Nearly a quarter of the NES color palette is just different shades of blue. So for this reason, a blue Mega Man could have more detail and that was the direction the development team chose.

Each NES Mega Man game has some kind of tweak to it that sets it apart somewhat from all the others. Mega Man is the only game in the NES series to feature six robot masters instead of eight. The scoring system present here was never used again in the series, and as I mentioned above, it is the only game in the series without a password feature. The series takes quite a step forward in the second installment and it leaves the first game feeling just a bit unpolished and rough. Just my opinion!

Mega Man is a perfectly fine standalone game that paved the way for the series to take off in popularity just a few years later. You know a game does something right when other games copy it in some way so that makes Mega Man a groundbreaking game for its time. The series only gets better from here!

Mega Man Ending Screen

#4 – Mega Man

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Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! Box Cover

#3 – Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

The hits just keep on coming here at Take on the NES Library with Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! Title Screen

867-5309 doesn’t work since I don’t know the area code

To Beat: Win all matches and reach the credits
My Goal: Beat the game without a single loss
What I Did: Beat the game with one loss
Played: 11/27/15
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 5/10

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is probably the most recognizable sports game on the NES. It’s my personal favorite but it’s not quite honest enough to call Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! a sports game. It’s more like a pattern-recognition brawler and even that description is a little bit disingenuous. It may be hard to qualify but nevertheless it is still a beloved classic and still incredibly fun and challenging today.

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is actually the third game in the series. There were two prior arcade releases, Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!!, that came out in 1983 and 1984 respectively. I have not seen either machine in person so I don’t know too much about those games. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! came out in 1987 and was re-released in 1990 as simply Punch-Out!! without Mike Tyson. When Super-Punch-Out!! was released in 1994 the visuals very closely resembled the arcade versions. That means the NES version is a downgrade visually but even then the game still looks great by NES standards. To cap off the brief history, the Wii got its own version of Punch-Out!! in 2009 as well. I have played all three of the home versions and I am very well acquainted with them except for the Wii Punch-Out!! that I have only played through once when it was released.

I want to spin back around to the NES re-release. In 1990 Nintendo did not extend their licensing agreement with Mike Tyson to put his likeness into the game. That decision coincided with Tyson’s loss of the heavyweight title to James “Buster” Douglas. Evidently the game was still selling well for Nintendo so they re-tooled the game to remove Tyson. The box art was redone and the game replaced Mike Tyson with the character Mr. Dream. Gameplay-wise he is functionally equivalent to Tyson. This version of the game was the one I grew up with. My memory is a little bit fuzzy on this one but at some point I received a catalog from Nintendo Power and my mom ordered a couple of games for me. One was Startropics and the other was Punch-Out!! (Those turned out to be good choices!) It wasn’t until I started collecting NES games in earnest that I obtained a copy of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Even though the games are the same and the re-release seems to be a bit harder to find, the 1990 variant is cheaper to buy.

Mr. Dream Introduction

Don’t you just want to knock his perfect teeth in?

Even though this game is pretty familiar to NES enthusiasts it’s worth covering the gameplay. You play as Little Mac, an up-and-coming diminutive boxer that starts from the bottom to work his way up to fame and fortune in the World Video Boxing Association. Along the way Little Mac squares off against a colorful cast of characters culminating in a showdown with Kid Dynamite himself. Little Mac can do jabs and bodyblows that do just a tiny bit of damage compared to the damage received when he takes a hit. If Little Mac can find an opening he will sometimes be rewarded with a star that can be used to throw an uppercut, his strongest punch by far. He also has stamina represented by a number of hearts and when Little Mac runs out of stamina he turns purple in color and can’t punch until he briefly rests up by avoiding contact.

Soda Popinski hits pink Little Mac

This is what it looks like to have the wind knocked out of someone.

There are three circuits: The Minor Circuit, Major Circuit, and World Circuit. The Tyson fight stands alone at the end as the ultimate test. Little Mac must work his way up the ranks to knock off the champion of each circuit before proceeding onward to the next fighter. The actual fights play more like puzzles. Little Mac can get basic hits in but this quickly becomes a bad strategy just a few boxers in when they can block nearly everything. The way to victory almost always is to dodge punches and counter with rapid fire punches. The boxers leave themselves vulnerable to quite a few hits after a miss and that is how Little Mac can make up ground in the fight despite his relatively weak strength. Each boxer has his own set of punches to avoid and some have their own special attacks that Little Mac must figure out to dodge or counter. Often it’s these specials that pave the way for Little Mac to take advantage quickly. For example, the first boxer Glass Joe will occasionally back up and give a little taunt before coming forward with a punch. When timed properly, Little Mac can sneak a punch in just as he approaches for an instant knockdown. The game allows these tricks to be exploited while also allowing the player to win just by playing it straight with the dodge-then-counter-attack approach. Victory requires either three knockdowns within the same round (a TKO) or a single knockdown where the opponent cannot stand back up by the end of a 10-count. Each match has three rounds of three minutes each so there is ample time to determine the outcome of the match, and if time expires the judges will decide the winner of the match.

Glass Joe wins by decision

Seriously, don’t let this happen to you!

I played the game just a few months ago and I learned something very important regarding this game. My primary television for playing games is an LCD flatscreen TV which introduces a tiny bit of lag when displaying the picture on screen as opposed to an older model CRT TV. Normally this is a non-issue but Punch-Out!! is very timing sensitive and those few frames of lag make all the difference. I was able to make it through the first half or so of the game without any trouble and then all of a sudden I was getting knocked down all over the place. Despite all that I was able to somehow defeat all of the boxers except Tyson and even then I got awfully close to winning the game a couple of times. It sounds weird but it’s something you have to experience in person to understand. I have had a CRT TV stored away in my house unused for a long time and I knew I needed to get it up and running. The first game I played was Punch-Out!! and I put in the password to put me straight into the fight with Tyson as a test of both the TV and my reflexes. I was able to beat Mike Tyson on the first try but he brought me all the way to the end of the third round. I was on the ropes for almost the entire third round but I just barely made it through and won. Armed with that knowledge and that tiny bit of practice I finally felt good enough to take the game on from the very beginning.

I was very close to going undefeated but I fell just short. I was pretty shaky on both Piston Honda fights and I have no idea why. There is a way to end both of those fights quickly and my timing was off and I missed it. Then both fights went on way longer than they should have but I pulled through. Other than that I was on my game for nearly the entire rest of the run. I beat Soda Popinski without taking a hit and I knocked out Super Macho Man in the first round. But as it could be expected, I didn’t quite make it past Mike Tyson on my first try even though I was awfully close. I was just a sliver of health away from getting a TKO at the end of the second round, and then in the third round I got a little over-eager with dodging and ended up getting knocked down twice and couldn’t recover. Losing to Tyson is an instant Game Over. However, when you go back to the title screen and continue it pre-loads the last password received. That brought me back to Super Macho Man. I beat him again and then in the second round of the Tyson rematch I took him out for the victory. Curiously, I ended up with a 15-0 record on the ending screen even though there are only 14 fights in the game. I figured out why. The password you get from beating Super Macho Man records the win even though it puts you back before that fight to begin with, so it did not count the Tyson loss and double-counted the Super Macho Man win. It looks nice, but don’t be fooled. I wasn’t better than perfect on this run!

Little Mac training with Doc Louis

Training all day and all night eventually pays off

I am so familiar with this game that I know a lot of little minor details that escape most other players. I mean stuff like whenever an opponent is knocked down and gets up at the count of 1 it means an uppercut will instantly knock him down again no matter what his health bar says. During the second Bald Bull fight, whenever he is knocked down he always gets up on 9. Every single time. There are some things though that are not so obvious or easy to find, and there is one particular secret that was revealed a few years ago that was not publicly known for over 20 years. Back to Bald Bull, his signature move is the Bull Charge where he backs up to the ropes, takes three hops forward, and throws an uppercut that means an instant knockdown. The move can be countered by landing a body blow right before he strikes which is an instant knockdown right back. The secret is that there is a member of the audience on the right side that takes a picture with the flash on and if you punch as soon as you see the flash you will have the perfect timing to knock Bald Bull down every time. It does make sense that a player would almost certainly never notice this as all the attention and focus are on making the perfectly timed hit, but it does make me wonder if there are any other secrets like this here or in any other games that are out there clearly in the open that no one has figured out or revealed yet. I really hope that there is!

Punch-Out!! Famicom Gold Cart

This is just as shiny as Bald Bull’s head!

In Japan, the Famicom version also had a release and subsequent re-release although they are backwards. A fancy gold-colored Punch-Out!! cart was given out to winners of a contest and it is quite collectible and expensive as far as Famicom carts go. The game did not include Mike Tyson, ending instead with Super Macho Man. Not long afterwards the standard release of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was launched in Japan.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the neatest feats I have ever seen in gaming and that is Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! beaten completely blindfolded. It’s a long video but it has to be seen to be believed. The game is so well made that it can be mastered solely with audio cues. I first saw this done live on the stream of Awesome Games Done Quick 2014 but the runner was unable to beat Tyson at that time. Now it has been completely dominated blindfolded and even though I have watched it I still can’t completely wrap my brain around it.

Update 5/27/16: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is one of the more difficult games to beat on the NES. The game is both short enough to beat in a single sitting, and hard enough where it takes hours and hours of practice on each opponent to learn the patterns and how to effectively win. Then, when you finally get to Mike Tyson, all of your past skills and reflexes are put to the ultimate test and then some. Even a Punch-Out!! veteran can have some trouble in the final fight. I know it happens to me when I play and I’ve beaten Tyson dozens of times. I put it at a 9/10 difficulty rating but I think it’s not that hard to make a case of bumping it up to the elusive 10/10 difficulty.

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is worthy of its spot high up on my list of games to beat. It has tight simple controls and it is a great exercise in hand-eye coordination and reflexes. It is certainly worthy of digging up a CRT TV just to have a fighting chance at playing effectively. I am also insistent on properly including both exclamation points every time I reference Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! because the game is that exciting to play!

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! Ending

#3 – Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

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Contra Box Cover

#2 – Contra

One of the most popular games on the NES is regarded that way because it is still one of the best games around.

Contra Title Screen

Musical accompaniment by the sounds of controller mashing for the Konami Code.

To Beat: Reach the ending
My Goal: Loop the game twice
What I Did: Reached Loop 3, Stage 7
Played: 11/24/15
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 2/10

Konami was responsible for many of the best NES games made and Contra may very well be the cream of that crop. It is based on the arcade game of the same name that released in 1987 but the NES version of Contra is widely regarded as the better version at a time when arcade machines were at the bleeding edge of video game technology. I played through the arcade Contra earlier this year and I can personally attest that the NES version is much more fun to play. The main difference is in the physics and in particular the jumping. The jumps in the arcade have more float to them than the NES port and it is more difficult to dodge anything oncoming since the hangtime is longer. If I remember right the NES port has a bit more content as well.

One of the most famous things about Contra is the Konami Code. It did not make its first appearance in Contra but it is almost certainly used most often in this game to get started with 30 lives. This is nearly essential for the new player because with bullets flying all over and one hit kills it means death is all too common. The Konami Code definitely helped me when I was younger. I haven’t used the code in years in single player because I don’t really need it but it would have been a lot harder to get good at the game without using it early on.

Contra has 8 missions in total: Jungle, Base 1, Waterfall, Base 2, Snowfield, Energy Zone, Hangar, and Alien’s Lair. I recited that from memory! I would say that most players could get enough practice quickly to make it up to the Waterfall level, which is where the game bumps up in difficulty mostly because the screen only scrolls up and falling back down gets you killed. That happens a lot.

Contra Base Level

There is nothing more “video game” than shooting at walls

The base levels are played with a behind-the-shoulder perspective instead of the side view in all the other levels. It can be a bit tricky to dodge attacks from that perspective but fortunately the levels are short enough that it’s not too bad. Well, the first base is short. The second base feels at least twice as long as the first!

The latter half of the game features some sort of gimmick in each level. The snowfield mission’s background chucks these weird baton-shaped grenades all over the place. The Energy Zone has plumes of fire that blast out of the background pipes conveniently timed to when you are in the way. The Hangar has spikes that drop down and spike walls that pop up. Finally the Alien’s Lair features a fight against a huge alien head right off that bat. That one is especially intimidating and awesome the first time you see it.

Contra Alien Fight

This isn’t even the final boss!

Contra also has a pretty nice set of special weapons that usually fly in on these little pods. There’s a machine gun, a spinning fire shot, a laser, and a spread shot. There is also a bullet speed upgrade, temporary invincibility, and a smart bomb that kills all enemies on-screen. Surprisingly to me there is debate about which weapon is the best and frankly I don’t get that at all. Spread shot is my weapon of choice and the others don’t come close.

I have played this game dozens of times over the years and I expected it to be a cakewalk this time, and I was sorely mistaken. For the first 15-20 minutes I played downright awful by my standards. I got Game Over in the Waterfall stage TWICE! It was some kind of rust I had to shake off and I hope this is not a trend going forward. I simply don’t accept using continues on a game I am so familiar with so I chose to start all over. The third time was indeed the charm and I cruised through the game after that.

Contra Energy Zone Boss

Just one of the huge memorable boss fights

When you beat the game and go through the credits the game starts over with your lives and score intact (maybe your weapon too but I don’t recall what happened to me on that) and a corresponding bump in difficulty. I had not played through the game more than once at a time until this run. As I understand it it takes a few loops before the difficulty becomes evident. For me the second time through wasn’t that much different than the first, and the third time through I only noticed it getting harder a few times. I think the game pushes out more enemies each time through and the bosses require more damage. I noticed it for sure at the end of my run at the end of the Hangar level in the third loop. I got pinned between a turret gunner and enemies constantly spawning from behind and I wasn’t able to take advantage of a brief window in between attacks to finish off the gunner.

Contra Famicom Level Map

This is what we missed out on in the US

Contra was also released on the Famicom about the same time it was released on NES. The Famicom version is even better than the NES version if you can believe that. It has extra cutscenes between levels and some other visual effects not present in the NES version. The difference has to do with a custom chip on the Famicom cart not present on the NES cart that allowed for the extra content. I have yet to play it but I hope to own a cart of my own someday for the best possible experience.

Lastly, Contra was released in PAL regions in late 1990 but this is the weakest of the releases in my opinion. It was renamed as Probotector and the human sprites were replaced with robot sprites. The game is still the same fun but with different visuals. I guess it does make more sense for defeated robot enemies to explode instead of human enemies.

Update 5/27/16: Contra has a reputation as a difficult game, and while the game is challenging I don’t think it’s nearly as hard as the general perception says it is. With limited lives and limited continues, it does take some practice to learn how to deal with the enemy spawns and bosses. I believe many people, myself included, made themselves better at Contra by using the Konami Code to have enough lives to beat the game. It’s a good method of practice and after a few runs through it that way, I imagine many players are equipped to take on the game with the normal allotment of lives.

It’s really no secret why Contra is just as fun today as it was back in the NES heyday. It has a good amount of challenge, impressive visuals and effects, fun powerful weapons, and awesome boss battles. It’s also really fun in 2-player mode that I completely failed to mention until now. I had a blast going through the game again just like always.

Contra Ending Alt

I like this shot better than the end of the credit roll.

Contra Ending

#2 – Contra

Super Mario Brothers Box Cover

#1 – Super Mario Bros.

Let’s get it started with the game that got me started on Nintendo.

Super Mario Bros Title Screen

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this screen!

To Beat: Finish World 8-4
My Goal: Beat both 1st and 2nd quests
What I Did: Beat both quests
Played: 11/23/15
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 2/10

Super Mario Bros. is a game that needs no introduction, or at most a short one. It is classic, iconic, and beloved to this day.

This is the game that got me hooked on Nintendo for good. I don’t exactly remember when I first played but whenever I did I knew we had to have a Nintendo at home. I believe my grandparents purchased the NES Action Set for my family for Christmas when I was 5. Everyone was hooked and we played for months. We even called the Nintendo tip hotline because we couldn’t figure out how to do running jumps. I was the only one in the family to beat the game and I did it at age 6. Since then I’ve beaten this game dozens of times and I know just about every secret and trick from memory. This was an easy choice for the inaugural game of Take on the NES Library.

My run this time was pretty ordinary. I was hoping I could do a no-death run but that ended in World 4 because I foolishly decided to try jumping on top of a platform while it was moving up and couldn’t reach it. I have done a no-death run before but I have only done it once, and interestingly enough I did it as Luigi! A friend wanted to play SMB 2-player style. I took over after he lost his life in World 1-2 and I ran the table after that. I really coasted through the game that time and it was pretty neat to do that if only once!

This time however I was pretty rusty and died 4-5 times on the 1st quest and quite a bit more during the 2nd quest. As a matter of fact, I nearly got Game Over toward the end of the 2nd quest. I was trying to sprint through World 7-3 and bit the dust several times in a row. I was down to only two lives before I hunkered down and made sure I wouldn’t make any more mistakes. Fortunately I made it through the rest of the game unscathed and sealed the victory!

Super Mario Bros Killing Bowser

I didn’t actually kill Bowser with fireballs but that’s okay!

Some other miscellaneous highlights of this run included pulling off the infinite 1-up trick in the first quest, performing an unintentional wall jump, and visiting the Minus World the third time through just for fun.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about the game that isn’t very well known. The first level of each world holds an invisible block with a 1-up mushroom inside. Sometimes the 1-up block is completely missing and there’s a reason for that. To ensure that the hidden block is there, you need to either warp to that world or collect all the coins in the 3rd level of the previous world. For example, to trigger the hidden 1-up block in World 3-1 you must collect all the coins in World 2-3. That is a pretty clever and obscure secret that I’m surprised anyone was able to figure out.

Update 5/27/16: I’ve played this game so many times that it’s really a breeze for me to play, but the game as a whole is actually quite challenging and I would consider the game to be slightly above average in that department. Without using the continue code, there are only so many lives to collect and it takes some practice to be able to clear the whole game. It’s just that so many people have played this game so many times that I don’t think many people realize that the game is not a cakewalk.

I really enjoyed sitting down and playing this classic game from start to finish once again. I think this was quite an appropriate way to hit the ground running. One down, only hundreds more to go!

Super Mario Bros Ending Screen

#1 – Super Mario Bros

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