Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#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

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#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)


#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

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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


#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?


#152 – John Elway’s Quarterback

John Elway is probably in here somewhere.

Not shown is a football spiraling across.

To Beat: Win a Single Game
Played: 3/13/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: John Elway’s Quarterback Longplay

There are so many sports games on the NES, but so far the balance of them for this project is way off.  I have played several basketball, baseball, wrestling, and even volleyball games already, but most other sports have received very little or no representation yet.  For instance, I have yet to play either a golf game or a tennis game.  Until now, I had yet to play a football game either.  For one of the most popular sports in America, it is finally time for football to get its due on Take On The NES Library.  And so, for this special occasion, we are starting off with … John Elway’s Quarterback.

This game was originally released as Quarterback in the arcades in 1987, developed by Leland Corporation.  In 1988, John Elway agreed to endorse the game and so it was renamed to John Elway’s Quarterback.  The game was ported to various PCs, as well as the NES in North America only.  The NES port of John Elway’s Quarterback was released in March 1989, developed by Rare and published by Tradewest.

John Elway’s Quarterback is a straightforward football game.  It can be played solo or with two players.  At the start, you select your team out of 14 total teams.  That seems impressive but the only thing it appears to change is the name of the team on the scoring at the top.  Player 1 is always the blue team and Player 2 is always the red team.  Once you press A or B to lock in your team, play begins automatically with a kick off from the red team to the blue team.  There are no other modes or anything in this game, just single matches.  Win one game to beat the game.

Kickoff time!

The controls are pretty simple.  You use the D-pad to move around.  You always control the player with the 1 displayed over his head (or 2 as the second player).  The A button is basically the jump button.  Without touching the D-pad, A jumps straight up which is useful for intercepting the ball.  With a D-pad direction held, the A button does a dive move.  You can use this to tackle the ball carrier or sneak out a yard or two on offense when surrounded.  The B button is for throwing the ball on offense.  First hold the B button down and a cursor will be displayed.  You can move this cursor freely to aim your throw.  When you have the direction you want, let go of B to throw the ball.  On defense, B is used to switch control to a different player.

Before each down, on both offense and defense, you will choose which play you want to run.  The offense has nine different plays to run, as well as kicking a field goal or punting.  You can also select Reverse Play by pressing A when Normal Play is highlighted.  I didn’t know about this when I played, but I think it might just flip each formation from left to right.  It’s not documented in the manual at all.  The defense can choose from one of six regular plays, as well as a punt return formation and a blocked kick formation.  Use the D-pad to select the play and press either A or B to choose the play.  There is a timer and the highlighted play will be automatically chosen if you don’t make a selection.  After the snap, the other players will move in line with the play you selected.

The only other unique play element is the kick, whether it is an extra point, kickoff, or punt attempt.  At the start of the play, a cursor appears at the edge of the screen at a random position.  Before the player automatically kicks the ball, you can move the cursor with Left or Right on the D-pad to adjust the angle of the kick.

Line the arrow up to kick the extra point.

There’s really not much else to say about this game; it is a simple game of standard, exhibition football with few features.  There are four quarters of 15 minutes each, though in real time it is much shorter.  In single player, you receive the kickoff at the start of the game and kickoff to the other team after halftime.  All possessions are four downs to gain 10 years or you turn over the ball to the opposition.  I don’t believe there are any penalties of any kind.  I don’t think you can fumble the ball, but the ball can be intercepted during a wayward pass.  There are basic stats displayed at the top of the screen, from the current down and yardage, time remaining, team names, and score broken down by quarter.  Like I said, it’s a simple, no frills kind of experience, to the point where I’m struggling to be any more verbose about this game than I usually am.

This was my first time playing through this game.  This is one of those super common NES games that you see all the time when buying game lots, and the cart only price is low.  I’m not sure why you would want to buy one individually.  That said, I didn’t have this game for quite awhile when collecting.  I got it around the middle of the pack in terms of the entire licensed NES set.

My playthrough of the game went really well.  I am not sure if this was just beginner’s luck or if it is just not that hard to win.  On my first try of the game, I played for about a quarter and a half just to get the feel of it.  The score was tied 7-7, so I could have kept going and would have won, but just to be sure I started over.  I finished the new game 28-0, a shutout on my first full playthrough of the game.  I scored one touchdown each quarter.  In terms of strategy there really wasn’t much to it.  On defense, I sort of followed around whoever was open.  Then once the pass was thrown, I pressed B to switch to the nearest defender to the ball and pressed A to try and jump in front of the ball to intercept it.  That worked often enough to keep them from scoring.  On offense, I messed around with different passing plays to find an open man and then zig-zagged up the field to dodge defenders.  With the right timing and movement, it seems possible to avoid a diving defender most of the time if not all of the time.

Sneak a peek at the screen and lookie at all the plays to draw from!

When doing research for this blog post, I stumbled upon what appears to be a glitch to help make this easy game even easier.  On the offensive play screen, put your cursor on top of Normal Play and leave it there until the play selection timer expires.  Normally whatever play is highlighted when time expires is the play you get, but since Normal Play isn’t actually a play that you can select, it gives you some sort of default play to run.  For this play, you need to get space to pass right away because the defenders come at you quickly.  If you can do a successful pass to a teammate, for some reason he has incredibly high speed and should score easily.  I tested it out once just to see and it is hilarious how fast he goes.  The next time I tried it I allowed a safety, so you do want to perform this carefully in a game.

I have little experience with NES football games so it’s hard to say how this one measures up to the rest, but I would guess that this is not a very good football game.  It is competent enough at it’s best but that’s about it.  The graphics are very basic, a step up from Atari graphics but only by a little bit.  There’s no music during the game, just organ sounds and sound effects, and the little songs across other parts of the game are nothing to write home about.  The controls are the best part of this game as they are simple enough to play the game effectively.  The gameplay is bare bones with just enough there to resemble a game of football.  In whole, while this is an underwhelming game, I wouldn’t call it a bad game or shovelware or anything like that.   It’s a functional NES football game, it’s just that the NES is capable of much greater things than this.

#152 – John Elway’s Quarterback


#151 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Taito)

A somewhat more pleasant Indiana Jones game this time.

I remember the color gradient is a special programming trick.

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Finish all levels and get the best ending
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 2/29/20 – 3/7/20
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Taito) Longplay

I have seen all of the Indiana Jones movies, even the fourth one that everyone seems to want to forget ever happened.  I watched them all just once, all in a row, probably 10 years ago or more by now.  It was so long ago that I forgot pretty much everything from any of the movies, but not so long ago that I remembered that I enjoyed this one the most.  That seems to fall in line with the consensus of the series.  This movie had to have been well loved because the NES ended up with two video game adaptations of the movie, both bearing the name of the film.  These aren’t just label variants, but two completely different games.  They are distinguished by the publisher, so this game is considered the Taito version and the other is the Ubisoft version.  While the comparison between those two may be more interesting, I can safely say I enjoyed this one more than Temple of Doom, at least.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the third movie in the Indiana Jones saga, releasing in May 1989.  It was a huge success, grossing nearly $500 million.  The film was directed by Steven Spielberg and was co-written by George Lucas.  There were three games based on the film.  One was a graphical adventure game by LucasArts for home computers.  Another was a more action based game that launched the same year for home computers.  This was the version that was eventually ported to the NES as the Ubisoft version.  The third game, the one I played for this review, was an NES-exclusive game that released in March 1991.  It was developed by Software Creations and published by Taito Corporation.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Taito version, is a side-scrolling platformer that loosely follows the plot of the film.  You play the role of Indiana Jones in his quest to find the holy grail.  The game is played out via multiple scenes, leading up to the final scene in the lost temple where Indy chooses the holy grail.  There are cutscenes in between the levels to advance the story and set up future events.  What makes this game interesting is that you can choose which stages you want to play.  Furthermore, the more stages you complete, the more difficult later stages will become.  You can opt to play the minimum amount and skip straight ahead to the final stage.  A regular ending done that way will do for this game, but I achieved the best ending for beating all the stages.

Kick the ship out of these guys.

Considering that there are different stages made available at different times, I’ll cover the stages in the same order I chose for my playthrough, beginning with the search for the Cross of Coronado.  This stage takes place on a ship with a bunch of enemy sailors that you’ll need to fight off.  The captain of the ship carries the cross and you need to make your way over to the left side of the ship to reach him, fighting off the other baddies along the way.  At the top of the screen you’ll see your health bar, number of lives remaining represented as grail icons, and a number of sailors left to defeat before the captain shows up.  Even though the captain may be outside ready for a fight, you might have to beat up extra sailors to reach him.  This mission goes away for good if you complete two other missions ahead of it, so I like to do this one first.  At the start you have to fight 15 sailors, but if you choose this mission second then you have to fight through 30 sailors.  The game is over if you lose this mission.

The controls for Indy on this ship are shared with some other missions.  They are also the most complex out of all the missions.  You move Indy around with the D-pad.  You can double tap either Left or Right to run in that direction, holding down the directional button on the second press to continue running.  When standing or walking, the A button does a kick attack while the B button punches.  Run and press A to perform a flying kick.  Indy can get his whip out or put it away with Select, which replaces his punch attack.  Indy can duck by holding Down, and you can do low punches, whips, or kicks.  You can climb Up and Down ladders, and even kick enemies from ladders, but this leaves you vulnerable to being knocked off the ship entirely.  Indy has two more attacks.  He can throw a haymaker by holding Up and pressing B and do a jump kick by holding Up and pressing A.  The fighting in this game does not feel very good.  It seems random how you fare when fighting enemies.  Sometimes you land a good hit and knock the bad guys out right away, other times you land a bunch of hits that don’t seem to do anything.  I had the most success with the flying kick, which the manual itself mentions is best.

Hooray a door maze…

The next thing that happens in the story is Indy gets a telegraph stating that both his father is being held captive and his family friend Marcus is missing, so now you have three options for your next stage. I picked going to Castle Brunwald to save Indy’s father.  Indy is controlled in this area the same as on the ship, identical moves and all.  Only this time, you are in a giant maze.  This is a really cumbersome area to figure out.  There are doorways all over this place, some leading into other layers of the castle and some leading to staircases to bring you up and down.  The castle is three floors high and five layers deep, but you only see one layer and two floors at one time.  There are notches on the floors in groups of one through five that indicate which layer you are on, and every floor has its own shield displayed on the wall.  But essentially you are navigating in 3D space, and so this area is pretty difficult to clear.  Making matters worse is that in later difficulty levels some doors are locked.  In that case, there are some hidden passageways revealed by whipping torches on the wall.  The route through the castle is very different per difficulty level.  I had a tough time getting the hang of it on later levels, so I opted to do this one earlier.

From here you have found about where the grail is located, so now you can skip ahead to the final area if you want, but you will have a hard time without knowing what the grail looks like.  So next I went to Venice to the catacombs where a scrambled photo of the grail is found.  However, fire is raging through so you must put the pieces together and get out in time.  This stage is a sliding puzzle level.  There is a 5×5 set of tiles and you move a hand cursor with the D-pad.  Press A or B to slide either a single piece or part of a row or column toward the empty square across from the hand.  While you are constructing the grail photo, a scene below shows the fire catching up to you.  You need to complete the puzzle as best as you can, then escape by pressing Select.  In the following cutscene you will see either a full or partial picture of the grail depending on how much of it you pieced together.  You need this information to pick the proper grail at the end of the game.  You still survive if you don’t leave in time, but you lose the picture and will have to remember what the grail will look like when you make it to the end.  In later difficulties, the puzzle time is shorter and the puzzle gets more scrambled.

The final stage before the end is in the Desert of Iskenderun.  This time you are on top of a tank fighting off enemy soldiers one at a time to save Marcus.  The tank is heading for the edge of a cliff as displayed at the bottom of the screen, so that’s your time limit to complete the stage.  The controls and combat are the same as in the other side-scrolling segments.  This time, if you get knocked off the tank, you lose a life, your health bar isn’t restored, and you lose time while waiting for Indy to climb back up.  In this stage the flying kick is essential to both survival and clearing the stage in time.  There are more enemies to fight in the higher difficulties.

Solve the puzzle while also remembering the picture.

At the very beginning of the game you are entrusted with Indy’s father’s grail diary.  As a result, the enemies are out to get it at all costs.  Aside from the Coronado, if you lose in a level the diary is taken by the bad guys.  You can keep playing stages but if you lose one, it is Game Over.  An alternative is to go to Berlin to take the diary back and make your escape.  The Road to Berlin is a top-down motorcycle driving level.  You’ll have to avoid all kinds of stuff like mines, gun turrets, ravines, and enemy motorcycles as you make your way up the road.  You use the D-pad to move Left and Right as well as speed Up or slow Down.  You can jump with A or whip to the side with B.  Every time you crash, you’ll restart from a checkpoint with a little health loss.  The goal is to make your way to the end before running out of health.  This is not an easy level, but the good thing is you can keep trying as many times as you want without penalty.  For reasons I’ll explain shortly, it is best if you keep the diary for the end of the game.

The final scene in the game is The Lost Temple.  This has a few different parts to it.  First off, you’ll see a map showing a path or two through the temple.  There is an icon at the top if you have the diary, and you’ll want to make a mental note of that.  You move across the floor of the temple one step at a time with the D-pad.  Tiles on the ground have the letters in JEHOVAH and you need to walk the path of God by spelling out JEHOVAH step-by-step several times.  If you step on the wrong letter, you’ll fall and that’s Game Over.  If you happen to go the wrong way you can backtrack.  You are also racing the torch you are carrying.  When it goes out, you can’t see the letters on the floor and you’ll have to guess.  Once you make it to the other side, the next part is to walk across the invisible path as noted by the symbol that was written on the diary.  If you didn’t bring the diary with you, you can guess.  If you pass that, then your final task is to choose the Holy Grail out of a lineup.  Before choosing, you will see your note of what the grail looks like that you put together earlier.  If you choose right, you beat the game, otherwise you lose completely.  No pressure!

This was my first time playing this game.  I remember testing my cart and playing a little bit of the ship, and I didn’t do so well.  While this cart is the cheaper of the two, it is not that easy to find and costs in the $30-$40 range, which is more than I remembered when I was actively collecting.  I bought a copy of this game for about $10 in 2014, only for the seller to cancel the order because it sold too low.  A few months later I bought a different cart for $12 which is in my collection now.

Walk the path of God.

This game started out like a normal playthrough, just testing levels out and figuring the best way through.  The castle gave me the most trouble as I couldn’t find the exit.  After exploring multiple times for a few days, I gave into an FAQ and found that what I was looking for was in a room I had visited a bunch and didn’t recognize the exit.  (Perhaps this is a direct reference to the movie that I didn’t notice?) I also had some struggles with the Road to Berlin.  I could clear it on the easiest difficulties but not on the higher settings.  That became a moot point because I stopped going there when I played well elsewhere.  On either the 2nd or 3rd day I beat the game.  When you know what to do, the game is pretty short.

My next step was to beat the game while recording before moving on to the next.  In theory this should have been easy, but goodness gracious did it go poorly.  I could do the entire game fine up to choosing the grail, and then I failed over and over and over again.  It took nine tries before beating the game again.  In pretty much all attempts, I had it nailed down to two or three grails and I just kept picking the wrong one.  Re-reading the manual finally helped bail me out.  There are, at least, five attributes of the grail to examine: The lip, the handle, the cup shape, the stem, and the base.  It was the shape of the cup that I wasn’t paying close attention to that messed me up the most, though it was a few tries in before I realized I wasn’t noticing the lip of the cup also.  That first time I won I must have really been lucky.  I get that the developers were trying to do something interesting for the end of the game, and the randomized nature of it is a good idea.  It was just so frustrating and maddening to fail completely at the very end of the game to something that doesn’t at all reflect the ending of the film anyway.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Taito version, is a pretty good game that has some issues.  Presentation-wise, this is very well made.  The gameplay graphics are decent enough, but the cutscenes are digitized images from the movie that look nice in a sepia-tone.  The music is pretty good and includes the iconic theme from the film series.  The gameplay provides plenty of variety, including side-scrolling platforming, top-down action, and even a sliding block puzzle.  The controls and feel of the side-scrolling action is rough and is the most obvious issue with the game.  Combat feels clunky and random.  I can swing away at enemies, not sure if I’m doing damage, and sometimes I beat them right away and other times I get knocked around a bunch.  There’s a lot going on with the controls, making things more cumbersome when things don’t go well.  Another thing is the maze design in the castle is brutal at the higher levels.  Once you get used to things, this is a short game, and you can get skilled enough that the combat issues don’t really matter.  Just make sure that if you play this game that you are more observant with the grail than I was.

#151 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Taito)


#150 – Double Dribble

Naming a game after something that can happen in it is all the rage.

I just love being told the name of the game I’m playing.

To Beat: Win a Single Game
To Complete: Win a Game on Level 3
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 2/27/20
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Double Dribble Longplay

Hey, it’s another milestone post!  Finally made it to #150!  The milestones on the 50s have been pretty kind to me so far.  Let’s recap.  Game #50 was Dragon Warrior, which is a very nostalgic game from my childhood and a nice one for that spot on the list.  Game #100 was Milon’s Secret Castle.  While not the most classic title to remember, it was one I played a lot growing up.  Plus, I got to beat the second loop for the first time which was nice.  So, I was pretty excited to get to #150, only for it to be Double Dribble.  Another basketball game!  This is the 5th of 10 basketball games so we are already halfway done.  But the good thing is that this tends to be regarded as one of the best basketball games on the NES.  Maybe this one won’t be so bad.

Double Dribble originated as an arcade game developed and published by Konami.  It was released in Japan as Exciting Basket.  It was Konami’s 2nd basketball game, the first being Super Basketball, and both games were deemed a success by the company.  The game continued on into the home console market.  It was released on the Famicom Disk System in July 1987 as Exciting Basketball, then on the NES in September 1987 in North America and 1988 in Europe as Double Dribble.  The game was ported to a number of home computers in 1990.  The Game Boy got a version in 1991 named Double Dribble 5-on-5, the Sega Genesis had Double Dribble: Playoff Edition in 1994, and iOS got Double Dribble Fast Break in 2010.

Double Dribble is a standard NES basketball game.  One of the defining features here is that it is a full 5-on-5 game, which due to technical reasons is infrequently used on the NES.  (It’s also convenient that my 5th basketball game is played 5-on-5.)  There are some further configurations and settings here to spice things a little bit, but the goal is simple.  To beat this game, just win any game!

There’s enough room here for everyone.

The game starts off in an impressive manner.  A digitized voice greets you with the name of the game, Double Dribble.  On the title screen, select between a single player game or a two-player game.  Next, you’ll see a cutscene of a large crowd entering the stadium while The Star-Spangled Banner plays.  Then you are brought to the options screen.  A basketball player in the corner will help you set the configuration.  You can set the length of every period from either 5, 10, 20, or 30 minutes.  Choose from one of four teams: Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and New York.  This is purely cosmetic for the players.  The uniform colors of each team are displayed in the lower left.  You can also set the difficulty level from either 1, 2, or 3, with Level 3 being the hardest difficulty.  Use the D-pad to move the cursor and press A to update the setting.  The ballplayer will make a shot in the corresponding basket and change the setting.  Once you have things set the way you want, make a final shot by selecting End.  Now you are ready to start a game, going straight into the jumpball.  Time your jump with B, and now the game begins!

Like all basketball games on the NES, the controls differ from offense and defense.  In all situations, use the D-pad to move around in eight directions.  You control the player that is flashing.  On offense, you use the A button to pass and B to shoot.  You use a directional key while passing to pass to the nearest player in that direction, then you assume control of the receiving player directly.  You also use passing to inbound the ball.  You shoot the ball by holding B to jump and release B at the top of the jump to shoot.  On defense, you use A to steal the ball.  Get near the opponent holding the ball to attempt to steal, typically by mashing the button.  The B button lets you change the active player on your team to whoever is closest to the ball.  If you’ve played any other basketball games on the NES, these controls should seem very familiar.

The screen layout is very similar to other basketball games I’ve played on the NES.  The court is laid out horizontally, panning across the court from left to right to follow the ball.  The scoreboard at the top has all the basics.  You see which period you are in, the time remaining in the current period, and the score for both teams.  Also, if you scroll all the way to one side, you can see which team’s hoop it is in the corner.  It’s pointless since the player is already displayed in that corner anyway, but it’s there.

Fouls send you to the free throw line.

This game has some violations and fouls during game play.  Violations include traveling, holding, shot clock violation, not moving the ball forward past half court, and taking the ball out of bounds.  The fouls are blocking and pushing.  Violations simply turn the ball over to the other team for inbounding.  For fouls, the fouled player goes to the free throw line.  A floating ring appears above the rim, moving up and down.  You need to time your shot so that the ring is as low against the basket as possible to make it in.  I didn’t take any free throws in my game but I did foul an opponent once or twice.

I wrote earlier that one of the defining features was the 5-on-5 action, but truly the main defining feature in the game is the dunk cutscene.  When you get close under the rim and shoot, the view changes over to a close-up cutscene of the player attempting the dunk.  These are very simple animations with only a few frames each, but they are so much more detailed in appearance than the standard action.  I found it hard to tell if you actually make the dunk because there’s only one frame or so that actually shows the ball going in.  I picked up the sound effects better and could tell that way.  Dunks are high-percentage shots though so usually they go in.

This was my first time playing Double Dribble.  It was an early NES game and one of the only basketball games on the console for a couple of years, so it is one of those ubiquitous NES titles you see in game lots all the time.  I’ve had many copies of the game before but I’ve since sold them all, so just from that limited sample, it appears to be a popular game to own on the NES.  Even then, it wasn’t a game I had in my collection for quite some time, and even when I did I wasn’t all that interested in playing it.  But now I put all that aside to give this one a try.

Even with low animation, they do look nice in the game.

As you probably know by now, my basketball strategy consists of hitting as many three-pointers as possible.  I try to look for the right spots to shoot from or pick the person with the best shooting capability.  In this game, I did not find out the good three-pointer spots, even though I found out after the fact that they do exist.  My road to victory was very different this time.  In my first game I lost by over 20 points.  I struggled with getting the ball across the court past the Level 3 defenders.  They intercept passes and steal really well.  What I ended up doing was taking shots pretty much any time I was open.  This became a form of passing for me because I could get the ball on my end of the court and either recover the missed shot or steal the ball back and make another shot.  It was an ugly strategy, and I never really found my groove, but it was effective enough.  It was a back and forth game.  I had a decent lead after the first period, and then allowed the computer a decent lead after the third period.  With a little over three minutes to go in the game, I was down 32-24.  Then I had a nice string of lucky shooting and good enough defense to storm back into the game, winning by a final score of 43-36.  I scored more points in the fourth than in the first three periods combined.

I ran across an interesting story about this game while doing some post-game research for this blog.  I looked up scoring exploits for the game and discovered this video showing a trick where you can make just about every three-point shot from a particular spot.  The video ended up being shown during an episode of Family Guy, but in this case they ripped off the footage entirely without credit.  Furthermore, after the episode aired, the original video was incorrectly flagged as infringing copyright and was taken down.  Thanks, YouTube algorithm!  The creator of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane, got involved and fixed the issue so the original creator got his video back.

Double Dribble predated any other NES basketball game by almost a full two years, but there are still reasons why this one stands up as one of the best on the system.  The graphics in this one are nice for the time.  In-game, it is not that special, but the full screen dunk cutscenes still hold up nicely today and have good impact during the game.  For music, the game doesn’t have anything other than sound effects during the game.  However there are some nice tunes on the options screen and during halftime, as well as The Star-Spangled Banner at the start.  The controls are responsive and easy to use.  The gameplay is done well, with passing, shooting, and stealing all working with good feel.  It is pretty impressive on how much Konami got right for this first NES basketball game, and perhaps it sheds some light on why there was such a delay before anyone else tried releasing another one.

#150 – Double Dribble


#149 – Raid on Bungeling Bay

I sure bungled my way through this game.

The bubble text is out of place for this game.

To Beat: Beat 1 Loop in Game A
To Complete: Beat 5 Loops
What I Did: Beat 1 Loop in Game B
Played: 2/17/20 – 2/23/20
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: Raid On Bungeling Bay Longplay

It’s been awhile since I’ve played a game that brought me to a point of real frustration and anger.  I think as I’m getting older, I am mellowing out a little bit and I put up with a lot more in my gaming.  I have to if I’m going to play all these NES games, and I also need to set a good example for my kids.  Thankfully as I played this game alone late at night, I could vent my frustration a little.  I didn’t go full out tantrum or anything, but I spent a fair amount of time visibly upset at this game.  I wouldn’t say this is a bad game either.  Hopefully I have your attention now to read on and see what you think of this game.

Raid on Bungeling Bay was first released on the Commodore 64 in December 1984.  It was designed by Will Wright and this was his first game.  Perhaps this game is best known as the gateway to Wright’s smash hit SimCity as his development tools for Raid on Bungeling Bay formed the base of SimCity’s gameplay.  The Commodore 64 version was published by Broderbund in North America and by Ariolasoft in Europe in 1985.  Other ports from 1985 were for the Famicom, the MSX, and Nintendo’s VS. System.  The NES version was delayed until September 1987.  It was developed by Hudson Soft and published by Broderbund.

Raid on Bungeling Bay has a simple story.  The Bungeling Empire is set to create a war machine to conquer the Earth.  In Bungeling Bay there are six secret factories, and your task is to pilot a lone helicopter around Bungeling Bay to destroy the factories and put the evil plans to rest.  This game is a top-down shoot-em-up where you fly freely across a large, open map.  This is the only level in the game, so once you destroy all six factories you win the game.  Seems simple enough!

You’ll see home base a lot.

You use the D-pad to control the helicopter.  Press Left or Right to rotate your aircraft.  Press Up to go forward and Down to go in reverse.  These are thrust-based controls with momentum similar to Asteroids.  You’ll keep moving in the direction you are going without adjusting any of the inputs and you can change course in a gradual way.  You can move backwards though top speed in reverse is much lower than top speed going forward.  The A button fires machine gun shots and you can keep mashing A to shoot.  The B button drops bombs.  You can only hold up to 9 bombs as indicated on the bottom of the screen.  You may drop bombs at a rate of about one per second.

Destroying all six factories is not an easy task.  First off, you have to locate them on the map.  It is a lot of ground to cover, roughly 10 screens high and 10 screens wide.  There is no in-game map to see where you are, so you’ll have to memorize where everything is.  Most of the map is open water too which makes navigation more difficult.  Once you find a factory, stop yourself over the top of it, and mash the B button to drop bombs.  The regular allotment of nine bombs may not be enough to defeat the factory however.  To reload bombs, you’ll need to go back and land on the initial aircraft carrier where you start.  Come to a complete or near-complete stop above the center of the aircraft carrier, then press A to land.  Doing so refills your bombs and repairs your helicopter back to full strength.  The aircraft carrier is at least easy to find because there is a navigation arrow at the bottom of the screen that always points you toward the carrier.  But going back out and finding the factory again might be difficult.  Making matters worse, the factories are slowly strengthened over time, requiring more bombs to destroy them the longer they are left alone.  This includes ones that you haven’t even seen yet.  You absolutely need a plan to beat this game.

There are plenty of enemies in the game, many of which are interconnected with each other in various ways.  The biggest relationship is that the factories produce nearly all of the enemies.  As factories are damaged, the lights can go out and then they won’t produce any enemies until they repair some.  Here are the enemies a lit factory will produce.  Tanks patrol the various islands.  They do light damage, but their bullets are invisible and seem to always hit you periodically when they are on your screen.  The boats patrol the water and function in the same way with their invisible, low-damage shots.  Boats, however, can relay the location of your aircraft carrier to the enemy and will also damage the carrier upon collision.  Gun turrets are fixed to the land and shoot visible bullets at you.  If the game goes on long enough, the turrets will sometimes fire homing missiles that do some severe damage.  You can blow up the missiles in the air or eventually they run out of fuel and disappear.  Radar dishes don’t do physical damage to you, instead opting to alert the enemy to start deploying fighter jets and bombers.  Fighter jets attack your helicopter with missiles, while the bombers only go after your aircraft carrier.

Bombs away!

The aircraft carrier is vital to your success, so of course the enemies are going to go after it.  Typically, these will be the bombers circling and attacking your aircraft carrier.  When this happens, an ALERT message will blink across the screen.  You will want to drop whatever you are doing, follow the arrow, and defend it.  The alert continues until all bombers attacking the carrier have been dealt with, and when it clears the carrier is repaired instantly back to 100% strength.  You can’t land on the carrier during an attack.  If the carrier ends up destroyed, that is really bad.  Now only do you lose the place to restore health and bombs, but you also lose all of your extra lives so the next time you crash it is Game Over.  There is one location in enemy territory where you can land and get your bombs refilled from the enemy’s supply.  The caveats are that you can only repair your helicopter to only 50-60% damage and it takes longer to land and takeoff versus the aircraft carrier.

One more advanced enemy to deal with in the later levels is the battleship.  A WARNING message appears on screen once as the battleship is getting prepared, and a second time when it leaves port.  If you encounter it, you are greeted by its homing missiles.  You can destroy it but it takes a minimum ten bombs to destroy, so you’ll have to restore bombs at least once.  It moves slowly with the goal of intercepting the aircraft carrier.  Your carrier moves in a slow drift from south to north while the battleship goes horizontally.  When the battleship comes across the carrier’s path, it will wait for the carrier to approach and then destroy it completely in one shot.  The two options are to take out the battleship as quickly as possible or clear out the factories fast enough before the battleship does its thing.

There is only one map in the game but the game increases difficulty for several loops of the game.  On the title screen you can choose from the normal Game A mode or Game B which is equivalent to the third loop in the A mode.  There are several ways the game gets more difficult.  Damage incurred increases, the battleship appears sooner, bombers are more active sooner, enemies fire missiles earlier and more frequently, and the aircraft carrier can be destroyed more quickly.  According to the manual, the difficulty maxes out on the fifth loop.  Considering all the ways it gets harder, plus the fact that you can lose all of your lives when losing the aircraft carrier, it is quite tough to get that far.

If you lose your carrier the game might as well be over.

A neat feature I wanted to draw a little attention to is this game’s two-player mode.  This is just like the single player mode but with a twist.  The first player flies and plays normally, and the second player controls any turrets out on the field.  The second player can rotate the turret with Left and Right and fire both normal bullets and sometimes the homing missiles.  I can see where this might be used both as a competitive element and also a way of making the game a little easier by having the second player do nothing with the turrets.  It’s a neat idea for a second player that is not often seen on the NES.

Here are some miscellaneous tidbits about this game.  In addition to the ALERT and WARNING messages, there is also DESTROY for when a factory is blown up, SUNK! when your aircraft carrier is taken out, and SPECIAL which is for bonus points when destroying a factory that I don’t understand how you earn exactly.  At certain damage thresholds, your copter has different levels of effectiveness.  From 0-49% is normal operation.  50-79% means you fly at about 75% strength while 80-99% is at about 50% strength.  The color of the ocean is another visual indicator of these levels.  At 100% damage or over, you are going to crash.  You can’t control your speed, your steering capability is reduced, and you can’t drop bombs.  The best thing you can try to do is crash land into a factory to damage it.  One time I destroyed a weakened factory by crashing into it, but it was both tough and lucky to pull off.  Damage can go way over 100% as it will take a little time to complete the crash.  It sort of adds insult to injury at that point.

This was my first time playing through Raid on Bungeling Bay.  When I tested the cart, I messed around for a few minutes and didn’t really understand the game.  Reading the manual definitely helped me.  This game doesn’t show up too often but it is not that expensive, roughly costing $10 for a loose cart.  The best way to acquire this cart is in a lot, which is how I got mine.  It doesn’t stand out much and I don’t think it is often sought out.

This is a fun enough game to start playing around with it.  Flying around freely feels pretty good especially for an earlier NES title.  There’s a lot to explore and see.  Targets are easy enough to shoot and aren’t too aggressive.  Alas, appearances are most definitely deceiving.  Once you blow up your first factory, the game begins its sharp ramp up in difficulty.  Factories start cranking out more enemies, enemy fighters circle you and eventually fire homing missiles.  After about three missile hits, you are done for.  You constantly need to return home to defend your carrier, and if you lose it, your run is pretty much dead.  The longer you play, the more enemies appear and the stronger the factories get.  Refilling bombs needed to destroy these strengthened factories means more retreating home, back and forth, often ending up lost or misdirected in the process.  This game is constantly out to get you and is ruthless in doing so.

Defenses get pretty intense by the end.

At the start I had intended to play through five loops of this game, and after about a day or two I abandoned that idea completely.  I just could not build up the momentum or the interest to keep pressing on with this game.  Just too much failing with one or two factories left to go.  Fortunately, there is only the one level and one ending, so beating one round of it is good enough to consider the game done.  When TMR beat the game for NESMania, he beat two rounds of Game A and also one round of Game B.  While I could have followed suit, I figured one round of the more difficult Game B would be sufficient.  Still, Game B, which is 3rd loop difficulty, was tough for me to accomplish.  I didn’t keep track, but it was probably about a dozen tries or more before I finally beat Game B, each attempt more frustrating than the last.  There was no real strategy that saved the day this time.  It was a matter of learning the map, finding the enemy landing location for occasional bomb refills, and brute forcing attempts until I finally cleared it.  I even missed the photo of the ending “Complete” message just as one last frustration. I get the feeling the best way to clear five straight loops is to speedrun the game as quickly as possible with a route of picking off the most difficult factories first before they ramp up enemy production.  I’m not about to figure that out though, I’m done.

I know this is out of character for me to dislike an NES game like Raid on Bungeling Bay, but it’s a shame because there are some great ideas here that are unlike any NES game I’ve played to this point.  On the surface this is a simple game.  The graphics are simple, with crudely drawn backgrounds and recognizable enemy sprites that get the job done.  There is no real music to speak of here, just a jingle on starting a new life and some low base notes during gameplay.  The controls work well to me, though in general momentum-based controls and movement take some finesse.  Though it eventually became frustrating and tiresome, I can appreciate what Will Wright accomplished in terms of gameplay, particularly in terms of world design and interactivity.  Just about everything connects in some way, giving you the sense of a more coordinated and thoughtful enemy attack.  You know bombing an enemy factory means they are gonna try and fix it, and seeing an enemy satellite dish means you know to prepare for an oncoming aerial attack.  These are cool ideas in isolation.  I just found it all too overwhelming when the difficulty spikes in the second half of each mission, to the point where I found it unfair and wanted to quit playing.  It is an interesting game, it’s just not for me.

#149 – Raid on Bungeling Bay