Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#148 – Gyromite

As they used to say in Good Times, Gy-ro-mite!

People didn’t care about box and title screen discrepancies.

To Beat: Beat Game A and Game B
To Complete: Beat Game A and 3 Loops of Game B
My Goal: Beat the game using R.O.B.
What I Did: Beat the game with R.O.B. and completed the game without R.O.B.
Played: 2/3/20 – 2/16/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Gyromite Longplay

Good old R.O.B., our Robotic Operating Buddy.  This robot toy was something of an icon for Nintendo in its early days in the American market.  Since then, he has mostly faded away, sometimes appearing as a period piece in media or as a reference in some of Nintendo’s own games.  It’s good that he gets to join the battle in Smash Bros. though, that was a nice minor renaissance for him.  Today, R.O.B. will get a little bit of the spotlight back as I review one of his games, Gyromite.

R.O.B. played a key role in both Nintendo’s entrance to the North American market as a return-to-form of video games in the home.   The video game crash of 1983 was still looming large as Nintendo wanted to get a foothold in the gaming market.  Their idea was to brand the NES as an “Entertainment System,” placing more focus on the toys, i.e. the Zapper and R.O.B. than on the games themselves.  R.O.B. was intended to be the centerpiece of the marketing for the NES.  The move worked out for Nintendo as the NES became a massive success throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  R.O.B. though did not fare as well, only receiving two compatible games at launch, Gyromite and Stack-Up, and nothing more.  These games released alongside R.O.B. and NES in October 1985 in North America.  Gyromite also released in Japan as Robot Gyro in August 1985 and in Europe in 1986.

There were a couple of ways to acquire R.O.B. back in the day.  The most common way was through the NES Deluxe Set.  This was a very large box set that contained the NES, TV hookups, two controllers, a Zapper, R.O.B, all the parts required for Gyromite, and boxed copies of both Gyromite and Duck Hunt.  The Deluxe Set retailed for $179.99, which in today’s money closes in on $500.  R.O.B. could also be purchased standalone for $49.99, but he did not come with any parts and couldn’t be used as-is to play a game.  Gyromite has a standalone big-box set containing all the pieces and the game.  This set is really tough to find and very expensive nowadays.

Here’s my good buddy hard at work!

Here is how R.O.B. works in practice.  R.O.B. sits in place with his two arms outstretched.  He has the capability to raise and lower his arms, turn his arms left and right, close his arms, and open them.  R.O.B. is powered by 4 AA batteries, and when you turn him on, he goes through a calibration routine.  He raises his arms and opens them all the way while turning to the right.  Then he rotates back to the left to position himself facing forward.  Now you don’t trigger any movements from R.O.B. directly, rather you send him signals through the TV screen.  The NES generates a series of screen flashes that R.O.B. can read and translate that to his basic movements.  There are some considerations when getting him to work.  R.O.B.’s head must be pointed at the TV screen for this to work.  There is a Test mode within Gyromite to ensure he can read the signals.  If he’s positioned properly, a red LED light on top of his head will be lit.  Furthermore, A CRT TV is required for R.O.B. to work.  Similar to the Zapper, he cannot read the signals from a modern TV.  Certainly, there is a lot of setup required to get R.O.B. up and running in the year 2020.

Getting R.O.B. set up to play Gyromite takes even more work.  There are several required parts that need to be set up.  First up are the gyros.  There are two of them in the set and they are spinning tops.  You can hold the top piece and the rest of the gyro below will spin freely.  Along the robot’s base there are evenly spaced notches numbered 1 through 5 where you attach the parts to R.O.B.  In slot 1 you place the gyro spinner.  This takes 2 D batteries and has a power switch to turn it on.  There’s a motor inside that you’ll hear rev up.  If you place the gyro through the hole on the top it will get it spinning fast.  The next piece goes into slots 2 and 3 together.  It is a rail with blue and red concave buttons and a shallow rectangular slot on the far end.  You take the second controller (don’t forget to plug it in) and stand it up in the rectangular slot.  The arms with the red and blue buttons, when pushed down, also press the A and B buttons on the second controller.  The idea is that once a gyro is spinning up, you can rest it on top of the red and blue button keeping the controller button pressed down.  Another rail goes into the remaining slots 4 and 5.  This is just a holder for the two gyros to get it in R.O.B.’s reach.

Now that R.O.B. and the NES are all set up, it’s time to launch the game and see what we can do with it.  An interesting thing here is that this version of the game is exactly the same in all regions, which is why the title screen reads Robot Gyro, the Famicom’s release name, instead of Gyromite.  After the title screen you get to the main menu.  Press either Up, Down, or Select to choose a menu item, then press Start to select it.  The A and B buttons update the phase number at the top, cycling from 1 through 40.  These are the levels in Game A, so you can choose any stage you want.  The Test mode puts the game on a flashing screen which is used to ensure that R.O.B. is facing the TV correctly and is ready to go.  The Direct mode allows you to test all of R.O.B.’s movements.  You press a directional key to issue Up, Down, Left, or Right commands, A to open his arms, and B to close them.  If the robot responds appropriately to all actions, you are ready to play Gyromite!  Press Select to go back to the menu.

This is probably the most viewed screen in the game.

Game A is the meat of this game.  It be played solo or with a friend in alternating play.  Here you control Professor Hector (or Professor Vector as Player 2) directly to help him remove all the dynamite in the room to prevent a big explosion.  Use the D-pad to move Hector around.  He can climb ropes with Up or Down.  Right off the bat in Phase 1 you are stuck behind a blue column.  To get anywhere in this game you will need to move the red and blue columns littered around the room with R.O.B.’s help.  Press Start to get ready to issue a command to the robot.  This turns the screen a tint of blue and Professor Hector will face the screen awaiting your command.  Press a button after that to do the screen flash and move R.O.B.  You will need to control R.O.B. one movement at a time to grab a gyro and place it on top of the blue button.  While held down, this lowers all the blue columns in the level, giving you a path forward.

There are some other things you’ll need to know to play this game.  The object of the game is to collect all the dynamite to advance to the next stage, simple as that.  This game has one enemy type, named Smick.  He can walk around and climb ropes and is generally in the way.  You lose a life if you touch him.  Smick’s one weakness is turnips, which you can find in the stages.  Use either A or B to grab a turnip off the ground and carry it, then press the button again to set it down.  If Smick finds a turnip he will sit down and eat it for a long time, allowing you to pass by him safely.  You can also fight Smick with the columns themselves.  If timed just right, you can smush him against a wall with a moving column removing him altogether.  You might need some time to strategize how to approach a level.  Press Select to pause the game, then use Left or Right to pan across the entire level.  Be careful when unpausing.  Use Select to resume play or press Start while paused to go back to the main menu.  Each level is timed at a generous 999 that ticks down fairly slowly.  Usually this is more than enough time even with the slow process of using R.O.B.  You get five lives to complete this game.  Lives are kind of useless here because you can select any level you want at any time and the only penalty of losing them all is that your score resets back to 0.

Game B plays differently.  This is another level-based game where Professor Hector is sleepwalking and you have to move the columns to guide him through the level.  Here you control R.O.B.’s movements with the controller exactly like in the Direct mode.  Many of the stages have branching paths, some of which lead the professor directly into a Smick.  Arrow signs along the course help point you in the right direction.  The professor only moves to the right or climbs up a rope any time he finds one.  You can predict where he is going to go and can plan ahead to set up the correct path in front of him.  Some levels even have two exits, a high and low path, that influence where the professor enters the next stage.  This mode has 25 levels, but there are only three lives and you can’t select your starting stage like you can in Game A.  

Sometimes you have to lower both colored pillars together.

I didn’t spend much time with Gyromite prior to playing it here.  I remember playing the game at a babysitter’s house long ago, but there was no robot and I didn’t understand that you needed the second controller to play the game without him.  This is a very common game that is inexpensive, however finding every little thing needed to play this game does not come easy or cheap.  Browsing eBay one day, after I had finished my licensed cart collection, I found a listing for a R.O.B. with all of the Gyromite parts in a lot for $80.  Most sets you’ll see online are incomplete, and the ones that have everything can run you $150 to $200, so this was a very good deal for me.  The Gyromite cart itself also has some more expensive variants.  As an early NES game, some copies have the 60-pin Famicom board inside with a converter to the 72-pin format the NES uses.  You can harvest these converters to play Famicom games on the NES.  These used to be more valuable as these were pretty much the only Famicom-to-NES converters you could find for a long time, but loose Gyromite carts with them still go for around $15-$20.  There is also a 3-screw variant where the Canadian version is relatively common while the US version is quite rare and valuable.

When trying to play this game with R.O.B. for the first time, I soon found out that my robot was not ready for prime time.  During setup he went through all his motions just fine.  During playtime, however, I noticed at times he would struggle to lift a gyro.  I could hear the motors working (My R.O.B.’s motors were particularly loud) so I wasn’t sure what the issue was.  I figured out that if I applied very slight pressure with a finger from underneath his torso when he was going up that I could give him enough of a boost to lift all the way.  I played through several levels this way and was making progress.  I just wasn’t happy with the state of affairs and so I decided to take to the internet and figure out how to go about repairing R.O.B.

The next thing that I learned is that there’s not a plethora of documentation out there on how to do repairs.  I went down just about every rabbit hole I could to figure out the complete picture.  A few links I found led to dead pages.  There were some forum threads and blog posts, some with pictures which was helpful.  Probably the best source is YouTube as I found maybe 8-10 videos of varying quality.  Putting it all together, through many attempts, I was eventually able to get R.O.B. back in order.

Definitely save this stick of dynamite for last.

To the best of my understanding, here is how R.O.B. works internally and how I was able to fix my problem.  There are three motors inside R.O.B.  One is inside R.O.B.’s base.  You can set him upside-down, remove the battery cover, and unscrew the bottom plate.  There’s a covered section inside that you can open up with your screwdriver further that exposes gears and the motor.  This assembly is responsible for twisting his torso left and right.  His control board and wiring are also around here as well.  The remaining two motors and gears are inside of R.O.B.’s body.  For this you still want the robot standing on his head with his arms facing you, but you will also need to support his arms or they will fall out when you open him up, probably scattering several gears on the floor too.  Four NES carts stacked are just the right height to rest the arms while you look inside.  When unscrewed, the bottom cover of the torso has to be held up so you can work inside.  I used a couple of big rubber bands to hold the cover against R.O.B’s base.  Inside here are the remaining two gear sections both connected to an axle in the front.  The left motor opens and closes the arms, while the right motor is responsible for up and down movement.  At first, it’s a little confusing because both motors connect to the common axle.  On the left side, the gear assembly is supposed to be attached to the axle so that it turns the axle which connects to the arm assemblies to open and close the arms.  On the right side, this motor connects to the vertical track that moves the torso vertically, so that gear assembly must spin freely around the axle.  I realize that these text descriptions may not be all that helpful in an actual repair, so please go to YouTube and watch some videos in that case.

The common method for repairing R.O.B. is to super glue some of the gear assemblies together.  The final gear opposite the motor is supposed to be connected to some round metal plates.  Over time the glue can dry out and become brittle, and when it breaks free, it causes R.O.B. to either function poorly or not at all.  The other thing specific to the arm movements is that that gear assembly must also be glued down to the axle for it to work.  That was not my issue, but it is a common one.  This glue fix for the gear assembly connected to the vertical track was what worked for me.  I just applied a few tiny drops of glue to hold together what was supposed to be held together and let it dry for a few hours before trying it out.  I have read however that you really aren’t supposed to do that. There is a thin, curvy metal plate in between some of the parts that is there to apply pressure to help with R.O.B.’s function.  Evidently the proper fix is to get that plate loose and pinch it down a little so that it applies the proper pressure when put back together.  I think those curvy plates are there to help the gears slip if the motors are forced, like if a little kid grabs it and starts pulling or pushing his body or arms the wrong way.  I am probably not explaining that or understanding that correctly.  I’m just mentioning it as a caution that I read about that made sense at the time.  In my opinion, since R.O.B. is so sparingly used as intended these days, the glue fix is fine.  I won’t have any trouble applying more glue if he breaks again down the line, plus I only use him when my kids aren’t around so I’m not worried about forcing the gears.

Do the juggling column act.

My repair experience was not the best, to say the least.  Getting R.O.B. opened up and messing around inside was no trouble at all.  I looked inside before I realized I didn’t have any super glue.  I guess the tube we had dried out.  I made a special trip to the store just for super glue.  (This was before all of the social distancing measures were in effect.)  My wife does not seem to get the importance of repairing a R.O.B. to play NES Gyromite, so explaining this to her was half the battle.  Anyway, I got me a tube of Gorilla Glue.  Unfortunately, I misinterpreted the glue fix and glued the wrong gear assembly to the axle, the one that was not supposed to be stuck to the axle at all.  When put back together R.O.B. didn’t move much at all.  I thought I messed it up for good and was convinced I burned out the motors, which I would not be able to fix or replace.  I took it apart again and managed to break the glue so that gear spun freely again.  At this point I decided to leave things alone as R.O.B. went back to his normal state of good movement but not lifting the gyro.  I got pretty far into the game with giving him lifting assistance like I had been doing.  Then one time out of nowhere, his torso fell all the down and didn’t lift at all.  Great, now he’s broken for real, I thought.  I opened him up one more time, and now I finally saw what came loose.  This time I got the glue in the right spots, put him all back together, and now he works just fine.  I finally have a fully working R.O.B.  I am not a repair kind of guy, so looking back I should have known these tribulations would have happened.

Actually playing all of Gyromite with a functional R.O.B. as originally intended was an interesting experience.  Not necessarily good, just interesting.  You have to train your brain a little to do this.  Getting past the initial blue pillar in Phase 1, for example, takes 10-20 individual movements to pull it off.  Each one requires pressing Start, then a direction or button, then waiting a few seconds for R.O.B. to finish moving so you can trigger the next action.  If you want to spin the gyro for this, that adds another 10 steps or so.  This for me was an obvious strategy, but most of the time you don’t need to spin up a gyro at all.  R.O.B. can hold a gyro and lower it enough in his hands to press the button.  Only in situations where you need both buttons held down together do you need to spin up one gyro, leave it on a button, then go grab the other gyro and hold it down on the other button.  The latter scenario happens far less often than I would have expected. Because of the deliberate nature of the game, I was incentivized to plan ahead and figure out the least amount of movements to grab all of the dynamite. It is also beneficial to play consecutive levels because you may already be set up from the last level to grab some dynamite in the next.  Occasionally there were missteps, such as a gyro falling down or me knocking it over with R.O.B. by accident.  In those cases, I reset the setup by hand and just restarted the stage.

I got the hang of Gyromite pretty quickly and I didn’t think it was a very difficult game.  The first level in Game A is a little bit unfair, especially to kick things off.  Being trapped behind the initial blue pillar is a safe playground to get acquainted with using R.O.B. in a gameplay setting.  Once you get past that though, you are face-to-face with a Smick.  Depending on the timing when you lower the pillar, he might be already on a crash course with you.  At least then the pillar should already be lowered for the next life.  Many levels require only one button pressed to clear the whole thing.  Some later levels have a stick of dynamite placed in a spot where you’ll have to grab it last, otherwise you’ll be stuck and have to reset the level.  A few times you’ll have to set the professor on top a pillar, instruct R.O.B. to raise it, then walk off while it’s moving to grab dynamite in the air before you get squished.  Those parts are a little tricky.  The final level in Game A gave me the most trouble for sure.  It starts with two Smicks nearby and a set of red and blue pipes that require you to juggle two gyros to position them properly to pass.  The way the level is structured you will have to loop through that pipe section twice to get all the dynamite.  This takes a lot of time and I almost didn’t have enough left on the timer to complete everything.  I ended up employing a pause buffering technique to clear it.  Once you issue a command to the robot, you can pause the game to halt the timer while he finishes his seconds-long movement.  I did this for several consecutive moves toward the end of the stage to help keep the timer from running out.  I don’t prefer pause abuse as a strategy in general, but I did it anyway, and I hope this ends up the lone exception across this project.

Game B requires some intuition and some trial-and-error.

Game B is a nice twist that is simpler to play but was more challenging to clear.  Focusing only on moving R.O.B. makes the game more straightforward.  Having only three lives and no level select makes this the harder mode to clear.  In a few stages, I was naturally drawn to the incorrect path leading to a Smick, so I had to memorize those.  Sometimes the professor sleepwalks into a pillar, locking him into place and giving you enough time to open the path for him.  In other cases, you must set up the pillars before he gets there lest you lose him to a Smick.  You’ll have to track out where he is going to end up walking to properly do the necessary setup.  This mode took me a few tries before I cleared it with R.O.B.  The second loop of the game has the professor walking faster.  I only got a few levels in before losing and not trying again.

For my recorded playthrough, I decided to replay the game using both NES controllers by hand and going without R.O.B.  I did borrow his rail and set the second controller into it so I could hit the red and blue buttons.  It just seemed appropriate and a little easier than trying to remember which button does which color.  The game is a lot easier and quicker this way.  I managed to clear all 40 phases in Game A on my initial set of five lives, though I did have to play the last dozen levels on my final life.  I ended up clearing three loops on Game B, though that was on my second R.O.B.-less try.  The professor clearly moves faster between Loops 1 and 2, and on inspection at runtime I thought he also sped up at Loop 3.  I used my recording to time it and found that Loop 3 was 2-3 minutes faster than Loop 2, enough to say that he did walk faster.  Loop 4 did not appear noticeably different and so I let my run end there, but it is certainly possible that he keeps walking faster there too and I just didn’t catch it.  Three loops of Game B are more than enough for me to feel good about completing it.

Gyromite is a pretty good introduction for using R.O.B. despite the fact there are only two games for him.  Gameplay is unique for sure, and I could see how it turned heads at its time.  In reality, the novelty wears off quickly.  Gyromite with R.O.B. becomes tedious.  Without R.O.B., there is really no substance to the game.  As an early NES game, it is a simple game in all aspects that is at least competent in all of them.  The graphics are clear, the music is catchy but repetitive, and the controls work.  That’s really all it has to offer.  For me, it was cool to play this game in its purest form.  It was a neat change of pace from my normal playing and I did enjoy my time with it.  It’s just that there’s no reason to go back to it and no reason for me to recommend playing it.

#148 – Gyromite (Game A)

#148 – Gyromite (Game A)

#148 – Gyromite (Game B)


#147 – The Ren & Stimpy Show: Buckaroo$!

You eeeediot!

Not quite the full title.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 1/31/20 – 2/3/20
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: The Ren & Stimpy Show: Buckaroo$! Longplay

More cartoon NES games!  I’ve mentioned before that we had cable TV growing up and that I ended up a Nickelodeon kid.  The first wave of Nicktoons, i.e. Doug, Rugrats, and Ren & Stimpy, got a lot of play in my house in those days.  I tended to glom on more to Doug and Rugrats, and I didn’t find Ren and Stimpy nearly as appealing to me.  But that didn’t mean I didn’t watch the show.  I think this game did a pretty decent job at capturing the look and feel of the show, and it brought back a lot of memories and references I didn’t know I still carried.  Let’s take a look at the game.

The Ren & Stimpy Show was created for Nickelodeon by John Kricfalusi, debuting in August of 1991.  It stars Ren the chihuahua and Stimpy the cat, following their random adventures.  Kricfalusi voiced Ren while Stimpy’s voice actor was Billy West.  Kricfalusi left the show in 1992 due to contentions with Nickelodeon, and Billy West became the voice for both characters after that.  The show ran from 1991 to 1996, spanning 5 seasons and 52 episodes.  This show was very controversial at the time with its gross humor, use of violence, and adult themes.  In spite of the controversies, Ren & Stimpy translated into high ratings for Nickelodeon as well as critical acclaim, and it had lasting influence in animation for years to come.

The Ren & Stimpy Show garnered several video games bearing its name between 1992 and 1994.  There were two games on Game Boy: Space Cadet Adventures and Veediots!  Two more Sega Genesis titles were Stimpy’s Invention and Quest for the Shaven Yak Starring Ren Hoek & Stimpy, the latter also appearing on Game Gear.  The SNES had four Ren & Stimpy games: Veediots!, Buckeroo$!, Fire Dogs, and Time Warp.  There was just one Ren & Stimpy title on the NES.  The Ren & Stimpy Show: Buckaroo$! released on the NES in November 1993.  The game was developed by Imagineering and published by THQ.  It was not released on NES in other territories.

A machine that prints money, that’s genius!

The story for Buckaroo$! begins with Stimpy’s new invention, the Gametron 5000 Moneymaker.  Long before livestreaming was ever conceived, this new machine pays out money the more you play video games.  It comes with three different games: Space Madness, Out West, and Robin Hoek of Logwood Forest.  Of course, Ren is all about this so that he can make as much money as possible, so he and Stimpy play out these three different games.  These subgames are merely level themes in the actual game as you will transition to a different one from level to level.  There are about sixteen areas in the game of varying theme and length, and you beat the game after clearing them all.

Buckaroo$! is an action platformer game.  You use the D-pad to walk around, as usual.  In some cases, you’ll use Up and Down to climb on poles and such.  You can also use Up and Down to scroll the screen a little bit when it’s needed.  After the title screen, you can pick from one of four button layouts for your main actions.  The actions are jump, use a weapon, or run.  Jump and Weapon are always on separate buttons, but otherwise you can map whatever you want to either A or B with the options.  You can aim your weapons upward by holding Up with the weapon button.  The Select button is used for changing your weapons.  Finally, press Start to pause.

The limited heads-up display is shown in the upper left corner of the screen.  A pink thermometer displays the amount of health you have.  Below that is the weapon selected and its corresponding ammo.  You have a default weapon that doesn’t use any ammo so that won’t show up if selected.  There is different info displayed if you pause your game.  You can see your score, number of lives, and number of money bags collected.  For every 30 money bags you snag, you get an extra life.

Use tools to escort Ren to the exit door.

The first and most prevalent of the three game modes is Space Madness.  In this mode, you control Stimpy guiding Ren on an escort mission to the exit door in the level.  Yep, an escort mission.  Ren walks back and forth like a lemming, occasionally getting into trouble by creating new enemies or not going where you want him to go.  Stimpy’s default attack is a hairball projectile that travels in a small arc.  You can use this to beat up enemies or hit Ren with it to push him around.  You can change his direction by hitting him in the front or you can make him go faster by hitting him from behind.  The special weapons are used to manipulate Ren.  Dirty socks stop Ren from moving, litter boxes turn him around when touched, and springs make Ren do a huge jump forward.

In the first stage, those items are all you need to clear it.  There is a giant teleporter in the middle of the room that blocks Ren’s path.  You need to guide Ren toward a spring you put in front of it so that he’ll jump over it to the other side.  Stimpy, however, when he approaches the teleporter, gets sent off to a space shooting mini-game.  You take control of a very large ship and you have to blast all of the enemies in your path to get through.  Press the weapon button to fire straight fireballs, just about as many as you want.  The enemies will loop around the screen until you beat them all to reveal the next wave.  You can also pick up bags of kitty litter to increase your health, as well as money bags, but you can shoot and destroy them as well.  Once the shooting segment is over, now you can pass across the teleporter and Ren will still be over there.  Use the items to guide him all the way to the door.  There will be more space shooting in the other levels, don’t worry.

Later Space Madness levels have some additional items and elements to them.  Some of the escort levels are in pretty large rooms where you can easily lose track of Ren.  The decoder ring item will slide the camera over to Ren so you can see where he is.  The beaver is a very useful item that chews a hole in the floor that Stimpy and Ren can fall through.  This is an essential item for reaching certain exit doors.  Many Space Madness levels feature these vertical pipes that suck you up or down to different floors within the stage.  A few levels also have these buttons that affect the entire room.  Ren always pushes these on contact but Stimpy can engage them as well.  One button reverses your directional controls, another doubles movement speed, another turns the color off leaving the game in grayscale, stuff like that.  It can get out of hand quickly if Ren is left to his own devices.  Good luck with these levels.

This is definitely fitting of the old west.

The next game mode is Out West.  This is a straightforward type of level where all you need to do is go from left to right.  In this mode you start off as Ren, who only wields a short-range slap attack.  Collect a wanted poster and you can switch characters to Stimpy, who has his normal spitball attack.  You can collect more posters to swap back and forth between characters.  Each character has his own set of items that often mirror each other in effect.  For instance, Ren collects ham to increase his health while Stimpy gets bags of cat treats.  Stimpy gets smelly socks again as a special weapon in these stages, while Ren collects apples.  Many of these stages end with a final enemy encounter, and when you beat them, money bags rain down from the sky for awhile.

The third game mode is Robin Hoek.  Here you play only as Ren.  These are also straightforward stages only you don’t switch characters.  There are a few elements you’ll have to contend with here that are different from the Out West stages.  There’s a large section where you have to climb up a set of buildings by jumping up awnings and landing on window ledges.  You will need to switch buildings to find an awning to bounce you high enough, and it is tough to jump across and land on the tiny ledges.  There are also clotheslines that you have to tightrope-walk on, sort of.  You will fall through if you aren’t moving, otherwise it is treated as a normal ledge.

You begin the game with three lives in reserve.  You can collect more lives by collecting enough money bags.  The Out West and Robin Hoek levels have random checkpoints scattered throughout and you will respawn there upon losing a life.  If you run out of lives altogether, you can continue from the start of the current stage.  You can continue three times before you’ll have to start over from the beginning.

This is the first time I’ve played Buckaroo$!.  The only Ren & Stimpy game I ever remember playing before this was Space Cadet Adventures on Game Boy, and that one I don’t remember all that fondly.  Buckaroo$! is an uncommon NES game but isn’t terribly expensive at around $12-$15.  My first copy had some label issues and eventually I picked up a nicer copy.  I remember having a little bit of a time tracking this game down.  Even though it is moderately priced and readily available, I am always looking out for a deal, and that didn’t come for quite some time.  My first copy came in a lot purchase and I am less concerned about condition when buying in bulk.  Later I caught the game solo for a lower-end price on eBay.

I’m not sure if Robin Hood would have put up with all this.

I can see where this game would give someone a lot of trouble trying to beat it.  The first stage alone is quite unclear on what you need to do.  Without the manual I would have played the space shooting over and over until I realized you need to launch Ren past it so that you can exit the level.  Really all the Space Madness levels can get out of hand if you don’t have a clear plan on what to do and where to go.  The other game modes suffer majorly from not having clear rules on what you can stand on and what you can’t.  A lot of incidental graphics are actually ledges, while such things like doors really stand out but then they aren’t solid at all.  On top of that, many ledges are tiny to land on and the jumping in this game is not exactly precise.  Vertical sections can be tricky.  There is also fall damage done in a sort of unpolished way.  When falling from a tall height, the speed the character falls is faster than the scrolling speed.  If you fall from too high, you go below the bottom of the screen and the game interprets that the same as you falling into a pit.  Anyway, missing jumps is bad.

In spite of all the challenges, I got through this game pretty easily.  On my second day of playing, I cleared the game, and then the next time I recorded a full longplay without using a continue.  I had a few deaths and some backtracking in the larger Space Madness stages, but those were the only blemishes on the run that I remembered.  I beat the game in a little over 40 minutes with only a couple of hours of game time building up to that.  A 6/10 difficulty rating seems right for this game.  That slots in between Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, two other platformers by the same developer.

The Ren & Stimpy Show: Buckaroo$! is a platformer out of the vein of other mascot platformers of the early to mid-‘90s.  It features stylized graphics modeling the characters from the show, and I think it looks pretty good on the NES hardware.  The music is pretty decent and blends in well with the gameplay.  The controls have the same feel as the aforementioned Bart vs. the Space Mutants.  That is not a note of praise by any stretch, but it does feel a little bit better than Bart.  Gameplay in this one is varied with the escort sections, the space shooter sections, and the expansive, pure platforming stages, with a few one-offs in between.  Thankfully the stages aren’t gigantic, sprawling mazes that have frustrated me in similar platformers of the past, though the windy Space Madness stages touch on that pattern a little bit.  The unclear ledges, big jumps to tiny ledges, and escort missions degrade this game in my eyes.  This isn’t a great game, but it ended up better than I anticipated.

#147 – The Ren & Stimpy Show: Buckaroo$!


#146 – Arch Rivals

You gotta beat down before you get beat down.

Punching right through the basketball!

To Beat: Win a game
Played: 1/27/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Arch Rivals Longplay

Prior to this project, the only basketball video game I ever really played was NBA Jam.  I have had a lot of fun with that game, shoving guys around, stealing the ball, and going in for the big dunk.  Now that I have played a few more games that came before it, I am starting to build an understanding of how they paved the way to NBA Jam.  Back when I reviewed Magic Johnson’s Fast Break, I noted how it felt a little bit like NBA Jam but without all the visceral actions.  Arch Rivals is a much bigger step forward and feels a lot like a prototype for NBA Jam.

Arch Rivals originated in the arcades in 1989.  The game was developed and published by Midway.  Jeff Nauman and Brian Colin are credited as co-developers, with Jeff Nauman doing the programming and Brian Colin creating the art.  Dan Forden is listed as the composer.  The NES port of the game was programmed by Rare and published by Acclaim, releasing in North America in November 1990 and in PAL territories in 1991.  In 1992 the game was ported to both the Sega Genesis and Game Gear.  Arch Rivals also re-appeared in a few different Midway game compilations.

After booting up the game, the first thing you’ll do is set up the game on the selection screen.  There are six different teams in the game, but they only amount to a palette swap.  Press B to switch between pairings of teams until you get to the setup you want.  The A button brings you to some instructions screens so you can learn from the game without needing the manual.  Neat!  The Select button switches between single player and two player modes.  The Start button advances you ahead to the player selection screen.

The teams are angry about being palette swaps.

Regardless of team, you can select from one of eight players to control.  Each player has a character portrait and a short description of his attributes.  Tyrone is the defensive giant.  Vinnie is a great player!  Hammer is the rebound king.  Moose is a real champ.  Lewis is a top shooter.  Blade is a crowd pleaser.  Mohawk is tough and mean.  And finally, Reggie is All-American.  Really stirring stuff here, am I right?  Anyway, choose the player you want and press Start.  For my game I chose Lewis because I always like to have a good shooter.

This is a pretty simple basketball game with one big gimmick.  Games are played two-on-two, you only play single games, each quarter is four minutes long, and there are no difficulty levels.  What sets this game apart is that you can hit and shove your opponents freely without fouling.  I mean, this is called out as “A BasketBrawl” after all.  The manual mentions a shot clock violation as the only penalty but I’m not sure even that exists in this game.  Every time someone scores, you’ll see a brief animation of either one of the coaches or a cheerleader, something like that.  I think that serves the purpose of lengthening the game since contests are short and the action is quick.

The control scheme depends largely on who is holding the ball.  On offense, you press A to shoot and B to pass.  When you are near the basket you will dunk the ball instead.  If your teammate has the ball, you can direct him to shoot and pass with A and B respectively.  If you have the ball, you can do a fakeout move by holding down B, then A to shoot.  After shooting the ball, either you or your teammate, you can press A to jump to try and recover a rebound.  On defense, you press A to jump or use B to fight your opponents.  Press and hold B to “charge up,” then release B to deliver a punch, hopefully clocking the opponent and letting the ball loose.  If you hold B and press A instead, you will do a lunge move.  You can use the lunge to steal the ball away, but if you miss you roll on the ground and lose control of your player for a little bit.

Try to knock over the ball carrier.

There are a few minor things during gameplay to be made aware of.  This game scrolls the length of the court, so sometimes you or your teammate will be off-screen.  In this case, an arrow will show where the player is positioned.  The referee is pretty useless in the game with not calling any fouls, and he will often get in the way of the action.  If you collide with the ref, you get knocked down and you’ll lose your ball.  Sometimes people in the crowd toss out trash onto the court and that will trip you up the same way.  Another purely cosmetic thing you can do is that sometimes during a dunk the backboard will shatter.  I loved doing that in NBA Jam.

There are some small events between quarters to break up the action.  In between the first and third quarters, you will get a small word from their sponsors, as well as some brief gameplay tips.  At halftime, you get a very short halftime show from the cheerleading squad.  The end of game features those sweet, sweet statistics.  You can enter your high score on the leaderboard, which is how many points your player scored.  Next, you’ll see stats from the game.  They are points scored, shot percentage, steals, and rebounds, which are compared to some fictitious averages.  Finally, you’ll see where you ranked on the leaderboard.  Very exciting!

This was my first time playing through Arch Rivals, as it was my first time for all these NES basketball games.  I first bought this game at my local store back when they had cheap and plentiful NES games.  I don’t remember for sure if this was a $3 or $5 game, but I bought it with others Buy 3 Get 1 Free which is always nice when you can cherry pick your titles.  I got a few additional copies through buying lots.

This was the start of my comeback.

For this game, I had to use different strategies from my normal approach to basketball games.  My game plan is always to shoot threes, as often as possible.  For my player I chose Lewis as he is of course the “Top Shooter.”  This was the first time that my strategy let me down.  I had a really hard time getting open just to shoot the three, and when I did I missed most of the time.  I can’t tell if it was because I didn’t have a clear shot, didn’t time the shot well, or didn’t find the right spot.  My plan wasn’t working and I was losing badly.  Early in the 3rd quarter, I was down 36-21, which was when I finally figured out the trick.  Naturally it was right in front of me the whole time.  This is a game where you can foul freely, so at every opportunity I started punching the other team.  When they held the ball, I punched.  After they shot, I punched.  While waiting for the rebound, I punched.  When I got the ball, I tried to dunk which seemed to be the most effective method of scoring.  After scoring, when the other team gets the ball, that ended up being the perfect time to punch the ball away and dunk immediately, forming a nice scoring loop.  I mounted my comeback at that point, winning the game 65-54.

Arch Rivals is a little bit different from your normal NES basketball game, and certainly it is the predecessor to NBA Jam.  I would say the game has good presentation, with features like the in-game manual, a nice cast of characters to choose from, and some animated spectators in the background.  The music does not play a main role in the game, but it is fine nevertheless.  The gameplay is fast action.  Two-on-two suits this game well, though there is a lot of flickering especially when the players are all clumped together.  Punching takes a little while to get used to because it triggers when you release the button, not when you press it.  It’s such a vital weapon that you’ll figure it out.  The way I played the game mirrored how I used to play NBA Jam: Constantly knock guys over to steal the ball, then dunk.  In one way it felt right at home, but in another way it felt weird to deviate from my normal strategy that has worked in other NES basketball games.  This is not a bad game at all.  I don’t think it would hold up for repeated play, but one time through was nice.

#146 – Arch Rivals

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#145 – The Magic of Scheherazade

Come with me on a genre-blending adventure.

Always choose Fast!

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 1/9/20 – 1/26/20
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: The Magic of Scheherazade Longplay

I think it’s common to form a pre-conceived notion about a piece of media before you experience it yourself.  This feels especially true about movies with all the teaser trailers and YouTube video dissections going on today, but I think it applies to games as well.  The Magic of Scheherazade on NES isn’t often talked about within retro gaming circles.  Before playing it, from what I could tell, it was regarded as a fun game and looks to play similarly to The Legend of Zelda or Crystalis.  That was enough to pique my interest.  As it turns out, this game still had ways to surprise me.

The Magic of Scheherazade was first released on the Famicom as Arabian Dream Scheherazade in September 1987.  The game was both developed and published by Culture Brain.  The NES version was released over two years later in December 1989.  The reason for that is the game was massively overhauled for the NES release, changing everything such as the graphics, music, level design, and progression.  A sequel was planned but never released, nor has this game seen any kind of re-release.

This game is loosely based on the Middle Eastern folklore collection One Thousand and One Nights.  The set of stories in the collection are all framed around a single story featuring a woman named Scheherazade.  In this story, the king Shahryah discovers his wife has been unfaithful, so he has her killed, marries a virgin every day, and has her killed the next day.  This goes on for 1001 days until Scheherazade offers to spend a night with the king.  She tells him a story but stops halfway.  The king wants to know how the story ends, so he spares her until the next night.  She then finishes the story but starts up another more interesting tale, again stopping partway.  This goes on for 1001 nights, at which point the king spares her permanently and makes her the queen.

You’ll get sucked in!

The story of the NES game centers around the great magician Isfa.  He battles and defeats the great demon Goragora, sealing him and other demons away underground.  The evil wizard Sabaron eventually comes around and frees the demons.  You play as a descendant of Isfa who alone holds the power to defeat Sabaron, but unfortunately, his memory has been lost, his powers are gone, his princess Scheherazade has been captured, and he has been sent to a completely different time period.  Talk about a bad day!  He is found by the time spirit Coronya who can help the hero travel through the time door.  To defeat Sabaron and save Scheherazade, the hero goes on a time travelling journey joining up with many different allies to help him regain his powers.  This is a chapter based game and you beat the game once you complete the fifth chapter.

On the title screen, you can adjust the text speed from either Slow, Normal, or Fast, and then select to Start a new game or Continue an existing one.  When starting a new game, first enter in your name up to four characters long.  Then you choose your class from the choices Fighter, Saint, or Magician.  Fighters are good with swords and can get little fireballs firing from swords later in the game, but they are not skilled with the magic rod.  The magician is the inverse; he is good with the rod but not so much with the sword.  He is also best suited to fight the bosses.  The saint is kind of an in-between character.  He is not that great offensively, but he can make use of special items to reflect enemy bullets and be spared from damage when touching certain ground tiles.  Shopkeepers may give discounts to certain classes as well.  Don’t worry too much about making a bad decision upfront because you can change your class later.

This game controls like a normal action game, for the most part.  You move Isfa in four directions with the D-pad.  No diagonal movement here.  The A and B buttons are for your actions.  By default, A jumps and B lets you speak to people you find.  The Start button brings you to what the game calls the Select screen.  Maybe not the best choice of name.  Anyway, the Select screen lets you reassign the action buttons.  There is a list of items for the A button and a separate list for the B button.  The A button list is mostly dedicated to spells, while the B button is for your weapons, speaking, or other consumable items.  The Jump action can be assigned to either button or both.  Go through the list, then press A to assign that item to its button.  When you’re done, press Start to go back.  Pressing Select during the game brings you to the subscreen.  There’s a lot of information here.  You can see your list of allies, a map for some sections, your spell list, your items, and your equipment, among other things.

That guy’s gonna get a face full of magic.

Most of the time you will be on the action screen.  The bottom display shows some stats as you play.  You see your current class as well as your experience level.  You see which actions you have assigned to A and B.  Next are your Hit Points and Magic Points, labeled H and M.  Then you see your total experience points and how much money you have.  Finally, you see counts of some of your consumable items.  The left items are your keys and amulets, and the right items are your bread and mashroob.  Keys are for opening locked doors in the palaces at the end of each chapter.  Amulets keep you from being transformed by an enemy and are used automatically as needed.  Bread heals HP and mashroob restores MP, and they are consumed automatically if you run out of either one.

Each of the game’s chapters is self-contained, and they often follow a similar structure.  You start off in a town and you can gather information from the townspeople about what is bothering them and what to do next.  You venture out of the town going screen by screen.  Many of these screens contain enemies that you can fight for experience points, using either your sword or rod.  Sometimes defeated enemies drop money, or occasionally health and magic pickups.  Eventually you gain experience levels where you gain more max HP, max MP, and sometimes power upgrades to your rod and sword or new spells.  You find other towns to advance the story and recruit allies to join you.  Out and about, sometimes Coronya will alert you to use the magic of Oprin to reveal a staircase.  One of these staircases leads to a time door.  Depending on the situation, taking the door will either put you back in time or send you ahead in time.  You can move between time periods freely through the door.  The maps in both time periods have similarities but have changed a little due to the passage of time.  By visiting towns and following leads, you will eventually make your way to a temple or palace where you square off against a powerful demon at the end of the chapter.

Sometimes between screens outside of town, you can trigger a random RPG battle against a set of enemies.  From the start, you can choose to fight, try and escape, or try and make peace with the enemy via a charitable contribution of your own cash.  If you can’t get away, you’ll have to fight.  You can choose up to two of your allies to join you in battle.  You may also pick from a pre-determined formation, provided you have already learned about the formation outside of battle and have the allies that are part of the formation.  You can also fight alone if you want.  Before the fight, the game distributes your bread and mashroob automatically between you and your allies only for the duration of the fight.  You can adjust the distribution as you desire.  If you have hired troopers, they will also appear for your fight.  Now you are finally ready to battle.

Gather a team for some RPG battles.

The battles themselves play out like standard turn-based RPG battles.  For your and your allies, you choose to attack with one of your weapons or cast a spell.  Troopers only attack, though their attacks are strong.  If you selected a formation for this fight, you can choose to cast combined magic.  These powerful spells are cast as a team and they work best against specific sets of enemies that you’ll learn about when you learn about the formation.  In winning a battle, you are awarded with experience points and money, and occasionally a free item.  I’ve learned these battles are the best way to earn money, so usually they are worth it.

The towns contain some locations that help you in your journey.  Use shops to buy items.  You can try haggling with the shopkeeper to reduce your cost, but he can threaten you out of the shop and take some of your cash in the process, so be wary.  You can also take out loans from the shopkeeper.  I never took advantage of this in the game, but it can be helpful if cash is tight.  You will have to pay interest, and if you borrow too much you can’t borrow any more.  You can also get locked out of buying items and supposedly lose the game entirely if you don’t pay it back.  Hotels in towns restore all HP and MP for you and all your allies.  You can gamble money in the casino, but not if you set your class to Saint.  The troopers’ office lets you hire troopers for the turn-based battles.  The mosque gives you some additional options.  Here you can change your class or revive allies for a fee, or you can get your password for later play.  The last place you can find in the towns is the Magic University.  This is where you learn about the formations and combined magic for the turn-based battles as well as the Grand Magic that you can learn in each chapter.

There are a bunch of spells in this game.  I found this the most confusing part of this game because they have strange names and I found it hard to connect the names with what they do.  The one I used the most was Pampoo, which restores 20 HP during battle or 10 HP in the field.  Bolttor and Flamol are lightning and fire spells that get powered up twice during the game.  Mymy turns enemies during turn-based battles into hamburgers, stopping them for a few turns.  Defenee cuts damage taken in half for the entire turn-based battle.  Sillert is a reflect magic spell.  There are other spells, but this is just an example of how confusing these can be and how the manual really helps sort out what they are.

It’s not nighttime, just the solar eclipse.

There’s another mechanic in the game called the Alalart Solar Eclipse.  This event happens periodically during your adventure, dimming the screen colors a little bit for effect.  There are things you can do only during the eclipse.  In each chapter, you will find a wise man who will give you Grand Magic.  These are single-use spells that can only be cast during the eclipse.  These spells can change the landscape of the map, revive your fallen allies, and other powerful things.  The eclipse is the best time to visit the casino as you will have great luck gambling.  You can also create a money tree.  You need a Rupia’s seed to do this, which you can buy in some shops.  There is a specific place on the map where you need to plant the seed and you need to do so in the past during the eclipse.  When you visit that same place in the future, a money tree will have grown, and you get to collect a bunch of cash when harvesting it.
The end of each chapter culminates in a boss battle against one of the demons.  There are a few things to keep in mind.  You will have to explore a palace that is sort of like a Legend of Zelda inspired dungeon.  If you purchased a map this chapter, this is what it’s for.  Some items you buy are used here specifically.  For instance, keys open locked doors (though many can be opened without them), and horns can help you fight some gatekeepers in some of the rooms.  When you make your way to the demon, often you need a specific ally available to help fight with you or even trigger the demon to appear.  You will want to be in the Magician class since the demons are best fought with the rod and the Magician is the best with that.

The game has a lives system, on top of everything else.  It is kind of a weird choice, especially since you auto-heal with bread.  During the action scenes, you can fall or jump into water which is instant death.  In turn-based combat, sometimes an enemy will hit you or your party with an instant-death spell.  You get three lives with no opportunities to gain more.  Running out of lives gives you a password, which happens to be the most convenient way to get one.  If you keep playing, you will resume at the starting town of that chapter with all of your items, experience, and gold intact.

The password system has some interesting quirks to it.  Passwords vary in length depending on where you are in the game.  I’ve had passwords lengths of 35 characters up to 43 characters.  This is a game where the passwords encode exact amounts of stats.  This is the first game I’ve heard of that has a password failsafe built in just in case you fail password entry three times.  From what I’ve read, the game prompts you for your name and class, then puts you at the start of the chapter you are on with minimal equipment.  Much better than starting over, that’s for sure.

Nothing better than a good boss battle.

This was my first time playing through The Magic of Scheherazade.  I read about this game a little bit in old gaming magazines and it looked interesting.  I did not get a copy of the game until my collecting days in adulthood.  I am not sure where I bought my first copy of the game, but I did track down an extra one later that came with the travel map.  The cart and map cost me $10, not a bad deal at all.  Even though I wanted that map specifically, I didn’t use it at all for my playthrough of the game.

I decided for this playthrough that I would record the entire thing and post up a true longplay on YouTube.  I tend to shy away from that because I often play games in short bursts and there’s a lot of overhead when I have to set everything up for video capture.  I don’t have a dedicated recording or streaming setup at my house.  I set my laptop up in the family room to record, then take it all back down later so my kids aren’t tripping over wires.  Despite all that, it is a good idea to try something different. In the long run, it will be better to have full recordings for long games.  This was a good guinea pig since the game isn’t terribly long, but long enough that I would not be able to beat it on one sitting on my second try.

I would say my playthrough of the game for the first time playing is pretty average.  I spent 10 hours playing through this game, fewer than I thought.  There were a few hangups that I remember, mostly minor things.  In Chapter 3, I got stuck for a little while and kind of wandered the map until I realized I needed to change my class to advance the plot.  Some of the demon fights I did not understand the first time through, so I spun my wheels and messed around until I figured it all out.  I got lost in a few of the maps.  Some of the maze areas have hidden holes that take you out of the maze entirely.  It took quite a few tries on some of them to figure out how to get through.  I often backtrack short distances and test out different branching paths just to be sure I’m not missing anything that I would have a hard time coming back to later.  There was also time lost to context switching.  Because I played in shorter sessions, there was more backtracking to the mosque to get my password, and then the next session I needed a little extra time to reorient myself to my current situation.  These kinds of things are bound to happen in a blind playthrough on my schedule.  I don’t expect anyone to actually watch my longplay, but now that I’ve done a full, long game, I’m happy to have the archive of it available.

The Magic of Scheherazade can probably be classified as a hidden gem on the NES.  The graphics and music are mostly well done, just a little on the simpler side.  The controls work well, and I like that you can configure your action buttons, though being able to assign any command to either button would have been a nice improvement.  Jumping can be a little wonky at time, particularly in the towns around townspeople.  Minor issues aside, the gameplay is where this game really shines.  There are so many different systems at play, and once you break through in understanding how it works, the variety of gameplay and the amount of content really drive the experience.  There’s a wide cast of characters so you can configure your party whichever way you want.  You have plenty of options with the different spells and weapons at your disposal.  There’s time travel!  There are mappable dungeons with cool boss battles at the end.  There’s a lot here, almost too much at times.  The game has just the right amount of length and you are almost always making progress, which sure feels good.  This is a neat game and I’m glad I got to experience it all.

#145 – The Magic of Scheherazade


#144 – Wheel of Fortune


You get to hear it here, too.

To Beat: Win the Bonus Round
To Complete: Beat the Game on Difficulty 3
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 1/6/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Wheel of Fortune Longplay

Game show games were quite popular on the NES with over a dozen titles on the console.  Looking at the list, I would say there is a good mix of games here.  Some of them are from short-lived game shows that just happened to be airing at the time.  Others were from shows that I suppose were only popular enough to generate exactly one NES game, even though some of them have had the staying power on TV up to the current day.  The bulk of NES game show games come from two juggernauts of TV game shows.  Both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune generated four NES games each, and both series are still running strong as ever.  I have completed one Jeopardy! game to date and now I get to see what Wheel of Fortune on NES has to offer.

Wheel of Fortune has had a somewhat complicated history.  The show was created by Merv Griffin and premiered on NBC daytime TV in 1975, shortly after the first run of Jeopardy! was cancelled.  Chuck Woolery was the original host, Susan Stafford was the original hostess, and Charlie O’Donnell was the original narrator.  The daytime version ran until 1989, switched to CBS until 1991, then back to NBC briefly until it was cancelled for good later in 1991.  Meanwhile, a nighttime syndicated version debuted in 1983 with Pat Sajak as the host and Vanna White as the hostess.  This version of the show is still running with the same two hosts.  Pat Sajak, as of September 2019, is now the longest running host of any game show.

There has been a slew of Wheel of Fortune games based on the familiar syndicated TV version, too many games to list.  The series almost started out on the Atari 2600 in 1983, but that version was cancelled.  The first video game adaptation appeared in 1987 on personal computers, developed by Sharedata and published by Gametek.  This version was ported to the NES by Rare and published by Gametek for release in September 1988.  The NES version is exclusive to North America.  There would be three more NES versions of Wheel of Fortune released between 1989 and 1992.

Samantha and Rachel don’t stand a chance.

Wheel of Fortune is pretty much a game show version of hangman for three contestants.  A word puzzle is placed on the main board with all letters hidden and a clue is provided, such as person, phrase, thing, etc.  Each player on her turn may spin the wheel to determine a potential cash prize value.  When a dollar value is spun, the contestant guesses a consonant.  If the letter is found in the puzzle, she wins that amount of money for each occurrence of that letter as that letter is revealed on the puzzle.  From there, she may spin again, spend some of her winnings to buy a vowel, or choose to solve the puzzle.  Any miss passes control to the next player.  When a puzzle is solved, only the winning player’s money for the round is added to her total.  After several rounds, a speed-up round is played with slightly different rules.  The contestant with the most money goes on to the bonus round, and she wins a fabulous prize if she guesses the final puzzle.  To beat this game, you need to win a single game as one of the contestants, including the bonus round.

First you need to set the options to start the game.  This starts with choosing the number of players from 1 to 3.  Players 1 and 3 share controller 1 while Player 2 gets controller 2.  Computer players will cover any remaining players so that all games are three player games.  In that case, you also choose a difficulty level from 1 to 3 of the computer players.  Next, each human player enters a name up to 8 characters.  Use the D-pad Left or Right to move the cursor and press either A or B to enter a letter.  An arrow at the end of the letter list is the backspace, and you will select End to lock in your choice.  Gameplay starts after all names have been entered and randomly selected names for computer players appear at this time.

Typically, on your turn, you will want to choose spin, which brings up the big wheel on the screen.  A power meter is displayed and you press A or B to spin when it reaches the desired power level.  As the wheel spins there is a box at the top that shows what is on the current space on the wheel.  Most of the time this is a dollar amount ranging from $150 to $1000.  If you land on Miss a Turn, play passes to the next contestant.  The bankrupt space is the same as missing a turn, only you also lose your accrued winnings for the round.  It does not affect any money won in prior rounds.  There is also a Free Spin space.  You can hold your free spin and redeem it any time you lose your turn to try again.  If you spin a dollar value, then you get to choose a consonant.  The list of letters appears along with the puzzle and any letters already chosen for that round are removed from possible selection.  You do have a short time limit to choose your letter, else you forfeit your turn.

Try and aim for the big dollar values.

The other two options on your turn are to buy a vowel or solve the puzzle.  It costs $250 of the current round’s winnings to buy a vowel and you earn nothing no matter how many times the vowel is in the puzzle.  Missing with a vowel also ends your turn.  When solving the puzzle, you get 45 seconds to choose letters filling in all the missing spaces in the puzzle.  Take care to spell everything correctly because it has to be an exact match for you to win.  Choose End when you are confident you solved it correctly.  A correct solving ends the round, while a miss moves play to the next contestant.

While the TV version may play a different number of rounds depending on time, the NES version has set rounds.  Rounds 1 and 2 are handled the same way.  An empty puzzle is displayed and players take turns until the puzzle is solved.  In Round 1, player 1 goes first, and in Round 2, player 2 goes first.  Round 3 is the Speed Up round.  To start, the wheel spins until a dollar amount comes up.  That dollar amount is fixed for the duration of the round for all contestants.  Player 3 starts this round by choosing any letter.  Consonants are awarded money same as normal, and vowels award no money but can be chosen for free.  After selection, the contestant has a few seconds to decide whether or not to solve the puzzle.  As long as the puzzle remains unsolved, play continues immediately to the next player and keeps going until someone gets it right.

The player with the highest total winnings over all three rounds gets to play solo in the bonus round.  Before playing, you get to choose what prize you want to shoot for.  The selection for this is a little strange.  You see the first prize, a sports car, and you decide if you want to choose a different prize or not.  Choose Yes to go to the next prize and choose No to select.  Seems like it should be the reverse.  Anyway, after prize selection, you get a brand new puzzle and you get to choose five consonants and a vowel.  Any of the chosen letters are revealed in the puzzle and you get your one chance to solve the puzzle.  Get it right and you are the big winner!  After some brief fanfare, you go back to the title screen.

I still don’t know who he is.

It’s possible I have beaten Wheel of Fortune before.  I think I played it when I was younger, at least one of the NES versions.  It is a fun enough game and it is also very common.  Due to the ongoing popularity of the show I imagine it sold very well.  I’m pretty sure I have a few extra loose copies of this game around my house that I need to get rid of.

Wheel of Fortune is an easy clear.  A playthrough takes around 10 minutes depending on how the puzzles go.  Just keep trying until you win.  For my playthrough, I set the difficulty to 3, the highest level.  The game manual doesn’t elude to the difficulty levels at all, but I suspect it means that computer players are more likely to solve puzzles with fewer letters revealed on harder modes.  It took me five attempts to win the game.  Most of the time, I figured out the answer to a puzzle about the same time the computer solved it.  I didn’t win a single puzzle until my third try when I won all three puzzles and lost on the bonus round.  I chose RSTLNE, just like the default letters in the current show, but it didn’t do much help when the answer was Windshield Wiper.  On my winning run I got really lucky.  I knew the answer in the second round without any letters revealed, which was quite an exciting feeling.  In the bonus round I had 7 of 10 letters revealed for an easy finish.

A cousin of mine was on Wheel of Fortune years ago.  I think it was in 2004 or so.  I know I was in college at the time.  Her taping was on air on a Friday night and I stuck around a mostly empty dorm to watch it on TV.  The only place I could watch it was on the common room TV and the signal to the screen was just horrible.  People on the first floor used to splice the cable signal from the common TV to their own rooms, which didn’t help me out at all.  But it was good enough to watch the show.  The best part is that she won the game and the bonus round.  It is something special to watch a game show when the stakes are raised personally because you know the person playing.  I won’t forget it.  We were all very proud for her for being on the show at all and it was icing on the cake when she won.  I talked to my grandparents the next day.  My grandpa taped the show and made a bunch of copies and my grandma said she cried every time she watched it because he had to test out all the tapes.  Good stuff.

Wheel of Fortune on NES is a good adaptation of the show.  The rules and gameplay are mostly unchanged from current day, but there are plenty of new features in the show that obviously wouldn’t have appeared on the NES cart.  It represents a snapshot in time of how the game was played back then and you can see clearly how it has evolved since.  The game itself plays well, it has nice graphics and sound, and it can give you a challenge if you want one.  There are voice samples of the crowd yelling out the title.  You get a power meter to strategize how hard you want to spin.  Even the alerts of consonants only or vowels only are included.  The only downsides I see here are that some of the puzzles are outdated and that you eventually will see repeats among the 1000 or so puzzles in the game.  It’s not a modern way of playing the game, but it still works.

#144 – Wheel of Fortune

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#143 – Snake Rattle N Roll

Sneaky snakes slither surrounding slippery slopes.

Look at those good snake-y boys!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/29/19 – 1/5/20
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Snake Rattle N Roll Longplay

I love 3D platformers.  It’s one of my favorite genres of games that I know I don’t play near enough of given my interest level.  I have completed all of the mainline 3D Mario games 100% multiple times over, and I was also big into the N64 collect-a-thon games like Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo Kazooie.  Some NES developers went out of their way to implement pseudo 3D effects in games, some more explicit like in Marble Madness and some more subtle like the areas in Contra.  Snake Rattle N Roll is the closest thing the NES has to a true 3D platformer, so it may not be a big surprise to you that I really enjoyed this game.

Snake Rattle N Roll was released on the NES in July 1990.  It was developed by Rare and published by Nintendo.  The PAL version was released in March 1991, while a Mega Drive port was released in 1993 in Europe only.  Rare released a Game Boy game Sneaky Snakes in 1991 which has similar gameplay to Snake Rattle N Roll but as a 2D side-scrolling platformer.  Snake Rattle N Roll also appeared on the compilation Rare Replay that was released in 2015.  Another random tidbit is that this appears to be the first NES game released with the text “Nintendo Entertainment System” written on a red stripe across the top of the box.  That was the standard for NES releases published by Nintendo for the rest of the lifespan of the NES.

Snake Rattle N Roll has a story section in the manual without having any sort of real story.  Two snakes named Rattle and Roll are on a journey and you get to help them.  Rattle is the orange snake and Roll is the purple one.  In single player you play as Rattle, while in the simultaneous two-player mode you play as either Rattle or Roll.  To beat the game, you have to finish all 11 stages.

Tiny body, long tongue.

This game is an isometric platformer that has pretty simple controls.  You move Rattle in all eight directions with the D-pad.  The translation of the D-pad directions is just like the default 45-degree movement in games like Marble Madness and Q*bert.  Down moves you both down and left, and all other directions follow suit.  The A button jumps.  With the default speed of Rattle and the floaty nature of the jumps, you can cover a lot of ground laterally.  Press B to lash out your tongue.  You can use your tongue to eat things or attack enemies.

To clear each level in the game you need to leave through the exit door, but that’s not always as easy as it sounds.  First off, you need to grow Rattle and Roll.  There are these colorful balls that appear in the levels called Nibbley Pibbleys.  You eat them with your tongue and there’s a brief chewing animation where you can’t open your mouth again right away.  The Nibbley Pibbleys come in orange, purple, and yellow varieties.  The Nibbley Pibbley that matches your color is worth two units, while the alternate color is only worth one.  Yellow ones are worth three units for either snake.  For every four units you consume, your snake grows by one segment.  You must eat enough to grow your snake to the maximum size. When this happens, your tail segment starts flashing.  There is a weighted platform somewhere in the level with a bell on it.  When you are at full size, sitting on the platform rings the bell which opens up the level exit.  Now you proceed through the open door to clear the stage.

Fortunately, Nibbley Pibbleys appear all over the place in different ways.  The most common way to find them is to find a Nibbley Pibbley generator.  It is like a giant box with a couple of horns on it like an old-time phonograph.  It spits out Nibbley Pibbleys one or two at a time in a random direction.  You have to wait for them to land before they come alive so that you can eat them.  The Nibbley Pibbleys take on a different form depending on what stage you are on.  They start off just as simple balls that bounce around short distances, but they can grow legs and run away or sprout wings and fly around.  Later variants are harder to catch than earlier ones.  The generators sometimes spew out bombs that look like Nibbley Pibbleys at first, so you have to be a little careful.  

They don’t like staying still, that’s for sure.

This game features plenty of powerups for our heroes.  All items are worth 1000 points and have some kind of effect.  Diamonds give you temporary invincibility.  Clocks add 25 seconds of time shown at the bottom of the screen.  A rectangle with a fork on it is a tongue extension.  You can grab a few of these to gradually increase the length of your tongue.  The speed up item looks like the knob of an old wind-up toy.  A tiny arrow item reverses your controls for a little while, making it more of a power-down item.  A flashing snake head is a 1up, while a flashing snake head with its mouth open is good for a continue.  There is also a fish tail item that shows up in one level that lets you swim up a waterfall.

In addition to the powerups found out in the open, there are also many items hidden under lids.  To open a lid, stand on top and press B.  The item will fly upward a distance before falling down so you can grab it.  Be careful that sometimes the lids hide enemies or traps as well.  If you see a snake head that is not flashing, it is actually a bomb decoy and you will want to get out of the way.  Sometimes you will find the entrance to a bonus room underneath a lid.  Here you have to try and collect all five Nibbley Pibbleys before they leave the room for a nice 5000-point bonus if you nab them all.  Plus, you get to keep the added length to your snake.  There are also hidden lids out there that conceal warps.  I didn’t find any of these when I played, but they are out there.

It wouldn’t be a platformer game without enemies and traps.  Some enemies can be defeated by either jumping on them or by hitting them with your tongue a few times.  You get more points for bopping than you do for tongue lashing.  Some sharper enemies are vulnerable to the tongue but are immune to jumping on.  Sharks pursue you in the water in the first couple of stages.  There are also blades that pop out of the ground, pushers that try and shove you off the edge, and falling anvils that try and smash you.  One enemy you want to pay attention to is a Big Foot.  Literally.  It tracks around the stage and you have to hit it many times consecutively with your tongue to beat it.  If you let up your attack for just a little while, it gets all its health back.  You don’t get to see how much health it has remaining.  If you keep up the attack and defeat it, you are often rewarded with an extra life or less often rewarded with a bomb posing as a fake life.  I tried to beat the feet up wherever reasonable.

Uhh, this picture speaks for itself.

Death is a frequent occurrence in this game.  Getting damaged by an enemy or trap causes you to lose a segment of your snake, setting back your progress.  You die if you get hurt with no segments remaining.  You die if you fall too far off a ledge.  You die if you jump on top of spikes, including spiked enemies, or if you get crushed by something.  You also lose a life if the timer runs out.  The good news is that death doesn’t set you back any distance; you simply respawn near where you died.  You also respawn if you use up a continue.  You’ll see the Game Over message followed by a message to Play On if you have continues left.  When all is said and done, you are brought to the final score screen.

I wasn’t completely new to Snake Rattle N Roll before beating the game.  There was a small game store that was very close to where I lived at the time that I only visited once or twice before it closed down.  I wasn’t a full-blown collector at that time and now I really regret not visiting that store more often.  But one of the times I shopped there I picked up a loose copy of Snake Rattle N Roll.  I played it casually for a day or two and then put it away.  I know I have played the game some more since then but I’m not sure how much.  I don’t think I got anywhere past the third stage.  I no longer have the copy I bought from the store since it had some damage to it.  It took until my third copy before I acquired a cart in a condition I am happy with.

This is a hard game to beat, but I feel like it was right in my wheelhouse and so it didn’t take me as much effort to win than it could have.  The game starts out slow.  There’s not much jumping needed and the Nibbley Pibbleys are easy to snack on.  Reading the manual first helped me understand the systems at play.  The difficulty gradually ramps up from there.  The end of the second stage introduces what I call corner jumping, where you need to go in two different directions in a single, floaty jump.  These kinds of jumps become the standard for reaching new ledges.  I picked up on all of this rather quickly, reaching the halfway point of the game within the first couple of tries.  Things escalate majorly in the last few stages, and this was where I struggled the most.  Overall, it took me 13 tries to clear this game, but it could have easily been 20, 30, 40 attempts or more.  I’m happy I knocked this one out relatively quickly.

In this stage, you need a water spout boost.

Looking at the game as a whole, I really appreciate how they tied all the levels together.  This paragraph will spoil some late game elements, just a warning.  The entire game map is a mountain and across all the stages you are climbing to the top.  You begin at the bottom of this mountain that is surrounded by water, giving you a temporary safe place to land in case you fall.  As you work your way up, things start to get steeper and more treacherous.  In some areas of the game you can see pieces of levels you have already cleared, giving you a sense of progress.  Waterfalls become a more common feature as the inclines get steeper and the climbing and jumps get more difficult.  This comes to a head at Level 9 when the difficulty spikes near the top of the mountain.  Icy conditions make your path slippery, and to make matters worse there are now slopes to deal with as the ledges get narrower toward the summit.  Even enemies get a defensive boost from the cold as they form icy armor.  The final climb is very tough, but thematically this all make sense.  The final boss encounter takes place on the summit and it demands both precise control and aggressive attacking.  You’ve been groomed for it, you’re ready, but it doesn’t make it easy.

I enjoyed Snake Rattle N Roll quite a lot.  I like the graphics in this game.  There’s a nice use of colors and the characters are well animated.  The viewpoint is about as clear as you can get for an NES isometric game, though I admit it’s one of those things that you either grasp cleanly or you don’t get it at all.  This game has good music as well, opting to use music either from old 1950’s songs or tunes inspired by some of the classics.  The game controls well and I am able to pull off corner jumps without much trouble.  I did consider the speed up powerup more of a power-down since that was much harder for me to control, though that can be considered personal taste.  Gameplay is strong.  I appreciate the different ways the Nibbley Pibbleys move around and how some stages have unique elements in them.  Though the main gist is the same, there’s plenty of variety.  This is not a game for everyone, but I think it’s worth a try just to see if you might like it.

#143 – Snake Rattle N Roll

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#142 – Metal Gear

Get your cardboard box ready.

One of the most briefly shown title screens ever.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/14/19 – 12/27/19
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
My Video: Metal Gear Longplay

Metal Gear is one of those long beloved series in all of video games.  It didn’t really start out that way though.  It didn’t catch on until Metal Gear Solid came out on PlayStation, which in my opinion was the turning point for the series and elevated creator Hideo Kojima to auteur status.  While not normally my kind of game, I have played some of the Metal Gear Solid series.  Therefore, I came into Metal Gear on NES knowing the sensibilities of the Metal Gear series but not so much how to approach or play this particular entry.  How much of Metal Gear Solid and its ideas originated from earlier titles like this one?  I doubt I’ll be able to answer that question, but I can provide some background information and my thoughts on how this game played.

The first Metal Gear released on the MSX2 in Japan in July 1987.  It was developed and published by Konami and designed and directed by Hideo Kojima.  Metal Gear was quickly ported to Famicom for release in December 1987, and it reached the NES in North America in June 1988 and Europe in 1989.  The North American version was the first NES game Konami published under the Ultra Games label.

The overarching story of Metal Gear is already fairly well known, and the NES version does not differ much from it.  You play the role of Solid Snake, a fresh recruit of the special forces unit called FOXHOUND, who is sent on a special mission codenamed Intrude N313 by his commanding officer Big Boss.  FOXHOUND’s best agent, Gray Fox, was previously sent to a fortress near South Africa called Outer Heaven run by an evil dictator.  Gray Fox was to investigate Outer Heaven and neutralize any imminent threats found within, however, FOXHOUND lost contact of Gray Fox.  Solid Snake has been sent to find out what happened to Gray Fox.  I’m jumping ahead a bit, but a little while into the game you find out Outer Heaven is housing a weapon of mass destruction called Metal Gear, a walking tank capable of firing nuclear weapons from anywhere in the world.  Your mission then is to destroy Metal Gear.

It’s always important to have good communication.

Metal Gear, the game, is a top-down action-adventure game.  Solid Snake is controlled with the D-pad and he can move in four directions.  Press the B button to punch.  The A button fires weapons though you do not start out with any.  The Start button simply pauses the game, while the Select button brings up a selection menu.

The game begins with you being airdropped into the jungle.  Upon arriving you are immediately called via your transmitter as the word “CALL” is flashed at the bottom of the screen.  Press Select to bring up the menu, then choose “TRANS” to use your transmitter.  There you will automatically receive a message from Big Boss.  He gives you the frequency on the transmitter where you can reach him again if needed.  After the message is over you’ll hear this super-annoying horn sound.  At this time, you can tune the transmitter to help you send or receive messages.  Use Left and Right on the D-pad to scan through frequencies 120.00 through 120.99.  If someone is already trying to reach you, simply landing on the proper frequency will deliver the message automatically.  If you want to reach out yourself, tune the frequency and then press Up to switch to Send mode.  Solid Snake will call for help and in the right situation with the right frequency you will make contact and get a message back.  As you can imagine, using the transmitter is good for advancing the story and getting tips on forward progress.  When you are all done, press Select to go back to the action.

Your first task is to proceed through the jungle, moving downward through several screens.  Here you get a taste of using stealth to make your way forward without being noticed.  If you walk in front of a soldier, he sees you and puts the game into an alert state.  Firing a noisy weapon also draws attention to you.  Defeating all the enemies on screen or simply moving to the next screen is enough to escape the alert state and go back to quiet.  Until then, all enemies start moving in on you.  Soldiers have guns and aren’t afraid to use them.  If some enemies are left alone long enough, other enemies may start appearing and make things more difficult.  Of course, you can avoid alert state by staying out of line of sight.  You can punch enemies three times without them seeing you to take them out and stay quiet.  You can also wait for soldiers to leave or fall asleep, giving you an edge.  The third screen of the game introduces you to guard dogs that go alert when you get near, which always happens.  I found it is best to be as quiet as possible and avoid confrontation, but it is helpful to know how to navigate the alert state as it is hard to avoid sometimes.

Sneaking isn’t easy in close quarters.

Getting out of the jungle is not an easy task.  Not only is this first part of the game pretty challenging, it was also a little unclear how to get out of the jungle at all.  Go down far enough and you reach a fence locked off by a gate that you can’t open.  It turns out you need to enter a covered truck simply by approaching it from the back.  If you’re like me and didn’t know about that until the end of the section, it’s a good idea to go back and investigate the other ones you passed as some of them contain items or weapons.  When you have something usable, you can go into the menu and equip it.  There are two screens for this, one for weapon selection and the other for item selection.  The weapon selection screen shows all weapons you’ve collected as well as ammo for each.  Simply point the cursor to the weapon you want, then press Select to leave the menu and equip your new weapon.  Choosing an item from the item selection screen functions in much the same way.  Sometimes items, such as rations, must be used from this screen with the A button.  A few items are equipped permanently without you selecting it, but most items need to be selected to be used outside of the menu.  Anyway, one of the trucks in the jungle transports you in front of the first building.

Most of the game is spent inside of buildings.  These can have pretty large layouts with multiple floors, so creating a map might be helpful, or maybe you can do what I did and memorize the basic structure.  To get inside of the initial building to begin with, you need to locate and equip a keycard.  Many of the rooms inside the buildings are behind locked doors that require some keycard.  These secured rooms hold a majority of the weapons and items in the game.  More commonly you will find ammunition for your weapons or rations for restoring your health.  You can also find captured soldiers, who you can free simply by walking up to them.  They will sometimes give you advice or at the very least a thank you.  For every five captured soldiers you free, you go up in rank.  Increasing your rank increases the size of your health bar as well as letting you hold more ammo.  You can go up to four stars in rank, and you need that rank to finish the game.  If you shoot and kill a hostage, then you go down in rank, so don’t do that.

Be someone’s hero today.

There are several weapons in the game.  You can fire standard bullets with either a handgun or machine gun.  The handgun shoots straight while the machine gun fires bullets one at a time in a spread pattern.  A grenade launcher and a rocket launcher fire their respective shots.  Plastic explosives blow up on a timer, while mines explode on contact with an enemy.  There is a remote-controlled missile.  When firing this weapon, you sit still while you set the rocket’s direction with the D-pad.  You can also pick up a silencer for your handgun and machine gun so that you can use them without causing alerts.

You will acquire roughly a screen full of items of all sorts.  Many of these are the card keys, and some of them are items that open up progress in a part of the game, which makes them just like keys.  I won’t go through all of the items but a few of them have different uses.  The binoculars let you peek into an adjacent room briefly to see its layout.  A mine detector lets you see hidden enemy mines in a few screens.  Infrared goggles allow you to see invisible lasers that alert the enemy when touched.  A gas mask lets you breathe in a gas-filled room so that you don’t suffer any damage.  The antidote is good for curing poison if you get bitten by a spider.  Not everything is required to beat the game, but it’s a good idea to pick up whatever you find.

When you die, you can choose to Continue or End.  Continuing puts you at a checkpoint with all of your stuff intact.  Evidently checkpoints are determined by your rank, not by your equipment or by distance reached.  This means a one-star rank puts you back all the way at the start, which is definitely frustrating when you’ve reached deep into the building.  Choose End to see your password.  Passwords are 25 characters long consisting of all capital letters and numbers 1-6.  This is a game where the passwords store all of your information, such as weapons, items, hostages saved, and even your ammo counts.  Part of the password is a checksum just to ensure you have entered a valid password and aren’t just typing in random stuff on the password screen to try and skip ahead.  This game takes several hours to play through for the first time and so passwords are appreciated.

There are plenty of traps, some often unseen.

This was my first time playing through Metal Gear.  I knew about this game and read about it a lot in old gaming magazines.  I never ran into a copy back then, but then later when I got one I didn’t play it past the first few screens.  I was more intrigued by it conceptually than I was interested in actually playing it.  That was how I felt about the Metal Gear Solid games too.  However, years ago I decided to finally buy Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection on PS2 and played through all three games at that time.  I struggled through them but wanted to see them all to the finish.  I suppose that satiated me as I haven’t touched Metal Gear again until now.

Playing through Metal Gear on NES for the first time was an interesting experience.  The first stretch of the game is tough on a new player and the game doesn’t open up until you get through the jungle.  I really got into it once I reached the first building.  At that point, Metal Gear starts to feel like a dungeon crawler.  I explore the building, getting a little bit further each time and picking up new items that make future runs easier.  I caught my groove in the middle part of the game before getting hung up some toward the end.  I have the map that was included with the NES game, and I looked at it once or twice just to make sure I understood the layout of the game.  This wasn’t a spoiler free playthrough because I needed to look up the solutions to the maze zones.  It was frustrating that the game didn’t tell you anywhere what to do there, and I gave up trying to figure it out on my own.  I would say my time with the game was fun with a few annoying parts.

I was able to record a full playthrough of Metal Gear.  My first time through the game took about 8 hours or so.  The second time for my longplay was much faster at around 1 hour and 45 minutes.  The game really isn’t all that big once you know where everything is and how to navigate the buildings.  I wanted to beat the game without dying but I didn’t quite get there.  I died once to the tank by mistake in the middle of the game.  I also died a few times trying to get through the dark rooms with all the holes.  I only cleared that part once in my first playthrough and I don’t think I ever found the right strategy for it.  That section is completely skippable, so after a few deaths, I went the long way around just to get it done.  I’m not completely happy with this run but it is good enough.

Don’t get run over like I did.

It’s hard to play this game without noticing how glitchy and unpolished it is, so I want to list some things I took note of during my time playing.  The most obvious characteristic of the game is its poor English translation.  Some examples are the well-known “I feel asleep!” and “The truck have started to move.”  This lack of grammar and spelling is all over this game, some things more obvious than others.  The card system has a major flaw in that doors require a certain card and only that card can be equipped to open the door.  There’s no indication what card is needed, and there are eight cards total, so you have to go in and out of the menu over and over swapping cards until you find the right one.  It is possible to reach late game sections early in the game and that causes some weird things to happen.  I had my transmitter go off only to pull up the transceiver to nothing.  Something happened to one of the characters and I presumed them dead though you can backtrack and communicate with them as if nothing happened.  There are also hints you can only get once when you rescue prisoners.  If you speed through the text or skip it, then it’s gone, and it might have been a vital clue for what to do next.  All of these things detracted from my enjoyment of the game a little bit.

There’s one more oddball thing about Metal Gear that has nothing to do with the game itself.  I’ve mentioned screw variants before on this blog.  To quickly recap, early NES games had five screws holding both sides of the cartridge together, and sometime in late 1987 the molds changed to a three-screw design for all future licensed NES carts.  Metal Gear was released long after three-screw carts were the standard, but somehow a few copies out there are in the five-screw form factor and I happen to own two of them.  These late five-screw variants are exclusively Konami or Ultra published titles, and all of them are missing the Caution label on the back of the cart.  These carts technically should not exist, but there are a couple of theories.  One is that these are refurbished games that were sent back for repair and they were fixed using leftover five-screw shells.  Another theory is that these were sample carts used for demos or in kiosks.  Whatever the case may be, these are very hard to find, and I am not sure if every Konami game has one of these variants as some have not yet been discovered.  Variant collectors will pay a lot of money for these.  I have a few others in my collection that I’ll mention when I play those games in the future.

Metal Gear is a game that both has a lot going for it and has a lot holding it back.  The graphics are very nice with lots of detail.  Even though the color scheme is a lot of green, brown, and gray, it still looks good to me.  I am not a fan of the font with the empty lines across almost every character.  I think the music is good.  The controls function appropriately with clean design.  The gameplay is fun and engaging, and I enjoyed exploring the buildings and sneaking past the guards.  I can see why this was a popular game for its time.  All the glitches and weird inconsistencies I mentioned before break the immersion a little bit.  Snake only moves and attacks in four directions which feels limiting, though at least the enemies behave the same way.  This is a game that will grab you by its story and its exploration, and it’s safe to say it delivered for me in both those departments.

#142 – Metal Gear


#141 – Bases Loaded II: Second Season

The second season went more smoothly than the first.

The logo flashes, that’s as exciting as you can get!

To Beat: Win the World Series
Played: 11/11/19 – 12/12/19
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Bases Loaded II World Series and Ending

Uh oh, here we go again!  The first Bases Loaded was a very easy game that took a really long time to beat, solely because you are required to grind through a full season to get the ending.  Bases Loaded II: Second Season has a similar requirement to the original.  I’m not sure to what end the developers were able to take feedback from the first game to apply it to the second, but I did notice differences between the games that made the entire playthrough of Bases Loaded II more streamlined.  Despite the improvements, this is still a long season and another game to grind.

For more information about this series, check out my review of the original Bases Loaded.  In this review I will be focusing mostly on the changes made to this game.

Bases Loaded II: Second Season was first released on the Famicom.  In Japan the game is called Moero!! Pro Yakyuu ’88 Kettei Ban, which translates to Burn!! Pro Baseball ’88 Decision Version.  The game was developed by Tose and published by Jaleco, releasing in Japan in August 1988.  The NES release in North America was delayed until February 1990.

The first differences are notable before even starting the game.  The title screen contains Start for a new game or season and Continue to resume an existing season.  When starting a new game, you will first decide if this is a 1 or 2 player game.  A single player game always begins a season even if you just want to play one game.  First choose either the Eastern or Western division, then select a team and the opposing team.  For a two player game, you first choose a calendar date sometime from 1989-1993 (I guess they didn’t expect people to be playing this game now), then each player selects any team.  The teams in this game are the same one from the first game with half of the teams in the Western Division and the other half in the Eastern Division.  Teams only play against teams in the same division in the season mode.  The Continue option first prompts you for a password which is in the same format as the first game.  The character entry is slightly changed in that each character has a scrolling animation when moving to the next character.  This is the kind of design decision that infuriates me.  This game is long enough, why lengthen it even a little with unnecessary animation on password entry?  Before starting each game, you have the option to modify the lineup.  The Player Change option substitutes bench players into the lineup, while Line Up rearranges the order of the lineup.  Choose Play Ball to start the game!

Let’s get it started.

The pitching controls are the same: Hold a direction and press A to choose a pitch, hold a direction while winding up to set direction, and press directions while the pitch is moving to adjust it mid-flight.  In this game you cannot adjust the pitcher’s position on the mound prior to the pitch.  The manual has a chart with some detail pitching stats.  Each player’s ERA is listed, top speed in MPH, which role they play, i.e. starter or reliever, and curve ball ability separated by vertical curve, left curve, and right curve.  Curveball scores are from 0-15, which mean 0 being no curve and 15 as maximum curve.  These metrics are not listed in-game (aside from ERA) but are useful to know.

Fielding has a couple of differences.  First is that you can now dive for a ball by pressing B.  Just B alone makes your fielder jump, and B with a direction dives in that direction.  The jumps and dives only work when you are close to the ball.  The other, more significant change is that there are two fielding views.  The first game has the view from up above behind home plate while the second game has views from above both the first base and third base dugouts.  When the home team is batting, the view is behind first base, otherwise it is from behind third base.  This is a very strange decision.  You can plan ahead if you think about it, but I just adapted from game to game. Due to the perspective, I found right field defense tough from the first base view and left field defense difficult from the third base angle.

Hitting has one minor tweak and one hidden feature I discovered.  In the last game you bunt by pressing B before the windup.  This time all batting is done by the A button, so to bunt you tap A to prepare the bunt before the pitch or you do a very quick half swing when the pitch arrives at home plate.  When you set up the bunt early you can aim the bat with the D-pad just like in the original Bases Loaded.  There is an advanced hitting technique I discovered very late in the season that may have been present in the first game, I’m not sure.  There are nine hitting zones you can target with the D-pad, either low, middle, or high combined with left, middle, or right.  As you are swinging in one of those zones, you can shift the D-pad direction to sort of swipe the bat in between those nine zones.  You have to swing toward one of the nine zones with A and then immediately after press a nearby D-pad direction.  It’s tough to explain, hopefully that was sufficient. Sometimes pitchers will throw pitches in between the standard bat zones and they are nearly impossible to hit unless you aim in between zones.

The sweet swing of a game-winning home run is magical.

Baserunning is exactly the same between the two games from what I noticed.  It retains the strange convention where the D-pad direction is the base either behind you or where you are standing.  While holding the direction, you press A to retreat or B to advance.  I didn’t really grasp it the first time around, despite the long season, but I got it this time.

The biggest difference in Bases Loaded II is the introduction of the biorhythm system.  This mechanic attempts to simulate streaks and slumps over the course of a long season.  There are three ratings, physical, sensitivity, and intellectual, that are rated with a score from -8 to +8 for each player.  There are in-game charts of these three ratings for each player that are displayed either after the game for the entire lineup, for a relief pitcher, or a pinch hitter.  Charts are color coded with red for physical, blue for sensitivity, and white for intellectual.  Each space on the grid on the x-axis represents a single game, while each mark on the y-axis represents a point of the stat.  The bottom of the screen shows the actual values of those stats for the next game.  Curvy lines are animated on the grid for each of the three stats going out the next 20-30 games.  When two or all three of those lines come together at the top of the chart, you know that player is going to be a major force for a few games.

The biorhythm ratings mean different things for pitchers and hitters.  The pitcher physical stat relates to stamina and for how long the pitcher can both control his pitches and throw them at a high speed.  Pitcher sensitivity is the adrenaline level and affects how fast pitches are thrown.  The pitcher intellectual rating influences the tightness of the curveball, though it will not suddenly give a curveball to a pitcher whom does not already have one.  The hitter physical stat correlates to getting base hits.  A hitter with a high physical rating will tend to get base hits more easily.  Hitting sensitivity is for power and how far a ball can be hit.  The hitter intellectual rating is for clutch hitting and the ability to get hits with runners in scoring position.  As these stats fluctuate game per game, they determine how well a player will perform in relation to his natural abilities.

It’s a long season and you can see these stats far out.

To beat this game, first you need to win 75 games out of a 130-game season.  This requirement is similar to the first game’s winning condition of 80 games out of 132.  This time, when you win 75 games, you have won the pennant in your division and you get to face off against the winning team from the other division in the World Series.  The opposing Western Division champ is Los Angeles and the opposing Eastern Division champ is New York.  The World Series is a best-of-7 series against one of those two teams.  If you win four of those games, then you win the season and beat the game.  So, you need 79 totals wins, one less than the 80 in the first game.

I had never beaten this game before, but I had a much quicker time finishing the season off in the second game than I did in the first game.  One major contributor was that the pace of play was greatly increased.  Minor actions like throwing pitches back to the pitcher that were very slow in the first game, while still present, take place faster here.  There are a few small tweaks like this that add up to a lot of time savings per game.  In Bases Loaded, games took 25-30 minutes, while in Bases Loaded II matchups lasted closer to 20 minutes each.  Perhaps my favorite new feature in this game is a mercy rule.  If a team is leading by 9 or more runs after at least 5 innings, the leading team wins automatically.  Games won by the mercy rule, if finished optimally, could run closer to 15 minutes total.  I won enough games by the mercy rule to reduce my total game time by a few hours over playing the full 9 innings every game.  I estimate I was able to complete this game in about 25-30 hours as opposed to 40 hours in the first game.  It is still a long, repetitive game, but it was a significantly improved experience.

For my playthrough of the game, my team was Kansas of the Western Division.  The manual has all the stats you need to compare the teams, and Kansas stood out to me for a few reasons.  They have two players appearing in the short list of best players in the league.  Yu is second best in homers and third best in average in the league, while Binder is third best in homers.  (It helped too that the Chicago Cubs have Yu Darvish pitching for them now, who is an incredible pitcher!)  I also wanted to find a pitcher with modest curving ability in all directions.  The pitcher May on the Kansas squad fits the bill for that.  I considered picking Omaha again like I did in the first game, but their team is uninspiring on the stats sheet and none of the same players from the first game show up at all.

In the original game, pitching was so consistent that I was able to figure out a super pitch that the opponent could do nothing with.  I spent a lot of time messing around with the pitching to try and find this game’s version of a super pitch, but sorry to say I did not find one.  I had hoped May would be able to find that sweet spot with his modest curve and throw balls into a dead zone consistently, but it just didn’t pan out.  I had to be more creative in finding exploits for this game.

With a big lead, I sometimes throw down the middle.

For pitching, I eventually settled on throwing fastballs fading slightly down and right.  I wanted to induce groundballs where possible.  I ended up allowing mostly fieldable balls in play, a few strikeouts, some hits, and the occasional home run.  The best exploit I found was my ability to pick runners off base.  With a runner on first, I would do a pickoff throw to second base and have the shortstop run the wrong way toward left field.  Go far enough and the runner will take off toward second.  When the runner reached about two-thirds of the way to second, I would throw to second to get the runner to go back toward first, then I would throw to first to get the runner caught in a rundown.  I would usually make the out at second base as baserunners are slower to take a base than to retreat to their previous base.  If that failed, sometimes throwing a ball home or to first with a runner on second got him to leave his base.  I had a few backup pickoff strategies that mostly worked out.

There is another pitching strategy applicable to this game that also applied to the first game that I forgot to mention in that review.  It has to do with pitcher rest in between games.  Normally, starting pitchers cannot be used for a few games after they have pitched in a game.  The password only tracks wins and losses for your team, so all you have to do is reset the game and apply the latest password, and then you can use whatever pitchers you want in any game.  If you play multiple games per session without resetting, then you have to deal with pitcher rest.  This was much more important in the first game where I needed to constantly use my pitchers with the super pitch.  In this game, I mostly rotated between three starting pitchers.  May was my preferred pitcher, and Holler was really good too.  I used Anders occasionally, but I may have been better off skipping him more often.  In a few cases, I used Antman in relief because he has a decent ERA and a marvelous name.

On the hitting side, I had to play things straight for the most part.  Just put the ball into play and hope for the best.  Watch the opposing catcher’s glove during the pitch to determine where to aim your bat and try to make contact.  I got pretty decent at the timing for stealing bases and with a good baserunner I could take second base easily.  Another minor trick I picked up was with a runner on third, I could distract the fielders into throwing home to get batters to reach either first or second base.  Otherwise, the computer-controlled defense was very good.  Most of the times I got caught in a rundown ended with me getting called out on the bases.  The opponent’s pitching was really feast or famine.  Many pitchers just throw hittable junk near the middle of the plate and often I could score a lot in those games.  A few pitchers found the unhittable zone I was hoping to find when I was pitching.  It was most of the way through the season before I figured out I could put the bat in that zone with just the right touch and hit those pitchers too.  I suppose the opposing batters already could do that when I was pitching.

This resulted in the final out of a winning season!

Over a full season, there were various events I took note of.  My season record at the end was 79-5.  Somehow, I won the very first game I played, I’m not sure how that happened but it did.  I lost the next three games, then I won a game, then I lost another game.  With a 2-4 record, I went 77-1 the rest of the way to finish off the season.  My first mercy rule win came in Game #13, a 9-0 victory after 7 innings.  The next game I hit a grand slam to win 12-1 after 6 innings.  I won 25 games total by the mercy rule, about a third of my total wins.  Two games ended in a tie after 12 innings and I was credited with a win in both.  Game #29 was a walkoff win 1-0.  In Game #44, down 1-0 in the 9th, Norton hit a 3-run homer to win that one for Kansas.  Yu bailed me out with a late two-run homer in a 2-1 win in Game #57.  Every player in my lineup hit at least one home run in the season.  Yu didn’t turn out to be near the offensive powerhouse I expected.  He didn’t hit his first home run until Game #37.  He did have a 3-game stretch where he hit 5 homers.  Saigun had a major hot stretch at one point.  He had a 3-homer game and hit 3 grand slams within a 6-game stretch.  The World Series ended up being a complete joke.  I won 10-0, 9-0, 9-0, and 5-0.  All four games combined were completed in just over an hour, which was easily the quickest stretch of games I played in the whole season.

You might be wondering about what exactly happened in the one random loss I had in the season, and it is so dumb that I have to tell the story here.  It happened in Game #71, breaking a 64-game winning streak.  Once I got good, I still knew that I was susceptible to a loss at any time.  I was vulnerable to the solo home run and any lapses in defense.  I had a few near misses along the way.  Therefore, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but frankly it was upsetting that it happened at all, especially so close to the end of the season where a loss feels like a huge waste of time.  What happened was I ran into a hot team.  Two opposing players were knocking the cover off the ball hitting long fly ball outs and some solo home runs.  The game prior I won 6-4, allowing 4 solo homers.  In this game, I had a 3-1 lead in the 9th when things unraveled, but not in the way you are expecting.  I was getting sleepy and nodding off a little in this game.  I had a runner reach second base, and sometimes you just cannot get him to move off the base on a pickoff attempt, which is what happened here.  A base hit scored him, and then more bad defense brought that runner around to tie up the game.  I woke up then and pushed the game into extras.  I made it to the 11th inning still tied 3-3 in fear of a game ending solo homer.  One of the hot batters stepped up to the plate, and I figured he was gonna go deep.  That’s when I had a revelation.  Why don’t I throw pitches way off the plate to walk him intentionally, then pick him off the bases?  It was so obvious I was surprised it took me that long to think of it.  The next pitch I tried to throw something different.  Maybe I was still tired and my thoughts didn’t translate down into my fingers because I threw a meatball right down the middle that sailed over the fence for the game-ending home run.  I went to bed sad after that loss.  At least it made for a good story!

I thought Bases Loaded II: Second Season was a major improvement over the first game with a few issues.  The pace of play is increased to a more sensible level, making for more engaging gameplay.  The graphics aren’t changed too much from the first game, but they are pretty good.  I like the pitching windup animations, and bunting, though mostly unused, had really smooth animation too.  The music is just okay, nothing memorable to me.  There is good variety in control in both pitching and hitting and everything responds appropriately.  The only minor issues were the timing when you can dive on defense and the silly baserunning controls carried over from the first game.  A gameplay nitpick is the unnecessary view shift on defense, as it is disorienting when suddenly in the next game you might see the field from the opposite angle.  The hitting perspective, while nice to look at, still takes some getting used to.  The second game was a little more difficult to win, but it was still pretty easy overall.  The glitches I found from Bases Loaded were all cleared up in the second game.  While it has a few new issues, this was the better game by far, though that doesn’t mean I ever want to play it again.

#141 – Bases Loaded II: Second Season


#140 – Space Shuttle Project

You decide if things are cleared for takeoff.

Bright blue skies!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 11/8/19 – 11/11/19
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Space Shuttle Project Longplay

I get a lot of excitement out of playing NES games where I don’t really know what to expect, and much of the time I’m delighted with what I end up playing.  I was very intrigued by this game just by name alone because it doesn’t really give you any indication of exactly what kind of game it is.  Is it a space adventure, a simulation game, or something completely different?  Space Shuttle Project turns out to be a little bit of everything and it is one of the more unique NES games I have played so far.

Space Shuttle Project is an NES game exclusive to North America.  It was developed by Imagineering and published by Absolute Entertainment.  The game was released in November 1991.

The best way to summarize Space Shuttle Project is that it is a mini-game compilation.  You play the role of a recently promoted Shuttle Commander.  Your job is to support six high priority missions vital to the space program.  You are responsible for everything from pre-flight checks to space missions to shuttle launches.  To secure your job for the sake of your country, you must successfully complete all six missions.  Of course, you also win the game if you do all those things.

Beginning the game throws you into your first challenge right away.  You are required to pass the security check.  You are given a 4-digit code as well as the name of a shuttle.  Next you enter your name up to 6 characters.  Use the D-pad to choose a character, A to select, and B to backspace, then select End to lock your name in.  Now the code display is cleared and it is replaced by rotating digits.  Hopefully you remembered your code or wrote it down.  For each digit, wait until the corresponding number in your 4-digit code appears, then press A quickly to lock it in place.  You repeat this for all four digits and the shuttle name.  If your code matches exactly, then you pass, otherwise you have to try again.  You get a few tries before you are locked out completely, losing the game before you even start.

Open valves and doors and accompany your crew.

Each mission is broken up into four stages and the first of these is the launch preparation.  This is a side scrolling platformer section where you run around to set up the shuttle for launch.  You begin at the bottom of the long elevator shaft.  Use Left and Right to walk on the platforms and press Up or Down when on the elevator to move it.  First activate the Oxygen pump at the very top.  The lever for the pump is flashing so you know which one it is.  Press A when in front of the pump to activate it.  Now you have to start the Hydrogen pump below it, however activating oxygen now sets a moving obstruction in front of the elevator’s path.  Wait for an opening and try not to bump into the blue piece or you will get briefly stun locked.  The hydrogen pump activates another blocker.  Now you will need to escort each crew member from the bottom of the elevator shaft up to the shuttle door, back and forth for every person.  A message on screen will alert you to when you have brought the last crew member so that you can board the shuttle yourself.  You are on the clock the entire time and if you don’t get everything done you lose a life and have to start over.  The timing for the launch preparation is fairly tight so you need to move quickly while avoiding getting bumped on the elevator as best you can.

The second stage of the mission is shuttle lift off.  You are first presented with a long list of items you will be doing.  Don’t be intimidated by this, you don’t need to memorize this list!  The shuttle launch begins automatically and then you support the different individual steps of the launch via various indicators that play out like tiny mini-games.  In this stage you see a side view of your shuttle, and at the top of the screen is the control panel which shows the different indicators.  Many of these indicator mini-games are simple timing events.  There is a meter shown with a vertical bar that moves left to right.  Press A when the bar is in the white band.  Some operations like thrusting or braking use the thrust indicator.  You control the bottom arrow and you follow the top arrow with Left and Right as it moves back and forth.  These are all you need for the first mission.  Extra steps and different indicators appear in later missions.  During lift off you set your navigation via the tracking indicator.  There is a gray sine wave with a tiny white dot overlaying it.  As the dot slowly passes from left to right, you use Up and Down to keep the dot on top of the sine wave as close as possible.  Valve adjustment is done via the test indicator.  There is a set of six lights that glow in sequence and you have to repeat that order to pass using Left, Right, and A to turn on each light.  Completing this indicator gives you an extra life as a bonus.  Vernier adjustment is done by moving an arrow above and below a bar through a gap that passes back and forth.  The gap moves quickly but eventually does a slow pass which is when you make your move.  The gimbal indicator game is played by bouncing a vertical bar back and forth between two zones on a meter.  When the bar touches the left zone you press B, and when it reaches the zone on the right you press A.

Support the shuttle launch through mini-games.

The third stage is the actual mission that is different every time.  The first of these missions is a satellite launch.  Your job is to carry a satellite by hand from the space shuttle up to its orbital path at the top of the area.  You have limited oxygen which acts as your mission timer.  You control your astronaut’s thrust with the D-pad.  Since you are in zero gravity, you will keep drifting along until you thrust in the opposite direction to slow down and change course.  There are other satellites floating past that you must avoid, as colliding with them costs you a life.  Once you get to the top and place the satellite, it needs a little time to open up its panels.  The best way to avoid a collision during this action is by placing the satellite while moving in the direction of orbit.  Along the way, there are round energy panels that sometimes appear in orbit with the moving satellites.  You can touch these safely for an extra life.  You might also see an oxygen tank that refreshes your oxygen levels.

The second mission has you building the space station.  You have to carry panels from the space shuttle to where they are needed on the space station itself.  This stage scrolls from left to right and has the same movement controls as the previous mission.  As you scan the space station you will see background panels that appear darkened.  These are the missing ones that you have to align with carefully to automatically put the new panel in place.  Then you must move carefully back to the shuttle so that you can re-enter it from the hatch on the top to retrieve a new panel.  The shuttle restores your oxygen level.  You can also restore oxygen from permanent tanks that are on the background.  Just fly over them to restore oxygen.  You need to apply four panels total to complete this mission.  This mission is reprised in both Mission 4 and Mission 6.  The difference is you need to fly farther to place the panels and you have to set more of them in subsequent missions.

For the third mission, you are fixing a satellite already in orbit.  Here the space shuttle is in the lower left corner while asteroids are circling Earth.  Among the asteroids is the satellite.  Approach the satellite carefully, grab it, and take it back to the space shuttle.  You enter from the top of the shuttle like in Mission 2 but here it is flipped so you approach from below this time.  Inside the space shuttle you automatically do the repairs, so now you need to go back through the asteroids to place the satellite back into orbit.  Once that’s done, re-enter the shuttle to complete the mission.

I guess you have super strength in space.

In the fifth mission, you are rescuing a stranded cosmonaut.  This is similar to the first mission where you need to go up the screen, though this time it is much further.  You will need to add some oxygen via floating tanks found on your path.  Once you get to the top, go up and around the Russian spacecraft to retrieve the cosmonaut, then proceed carefully back down to the space shuttle.

Finally, the fourth and final stage in every mission is the re-entry back to Earth.  This plays out the same way as the shuttle launch in the second stage, only there is a different order to the mini-games required to land safely.  There are also a couple of new indicators unique to re-entry.  For setting movements like roll and pitch, you use the maneuver indicator.  This is the same as the normal timing mini-game only with pressing a D-pad direction instead of A.  The other new one is the alignment indicator.  You will see an outline of your shuttle and a second outline will separate from it.  You use the D-pad to guide the two outlines back into alignment, then press A to lock them in.

I’ve casually mentioned this already, but this game has lives, in the gaming sense.  Every time you make a mistake on a mini-game, fail to prepare the shuttle for launch, or crash into something in your space suit, you lose a life.  The penalty varies depending on the stage and mission.  Messing up a timing mini-game proceeds normally.  Crashing in your space suit sends you back to the shuttle.  Failing the pre-check means you repeat the entire process.  I think these penalties make sense given the situation.  You begin the game with five lives and remaining lives carry over from any stage or mission.  You can only have up to nine lives even if you go over.  If you run out of lives, you must restart the entire mission all the way back to pre-check.  You can reset your lives by starting a mission using the password.  Your password is the same format of the 4-digit code and space shuttle name as entered in the opening mini-game.  It’s pretty clever to recycle a game mechanic as password entry.

This was my first time playing through Space Shuttle Project.  When testing out my cart I only cleared the first stage of the first mission.  That meant I was aware of code entry and the shuttle setup, but nothing beyond that.  This game is not incredibly common but not too hard to find.  Loose cart copies are selling for around $15.  I got my first copy from a seller back on NintendoAge with three other games for $30 total, if memory serves.  A friend of mine traded with me for a condition upgrade, which I gladly appreciated.

Welcome home, crew!

This game was not too difficult for me to beat.  In a way the first mission was the most difficult one because you don’t quite know what to expect over all stages.  The shuttle pre-check stage is a little tricky especially in the later missions.  At best, I finish with about 10 seconds to spare so there’s not much wiggle room for error.  Both the take off and the landing stages were the easiest for me to clear.  The mini-games are easy enough, and you play them so much that they become second nature almost right away.  The space missions are not as varied as they first appear.  You move through obstacles and things in every mission, only the layout changes in the odd numbered missions.  After a few missions I had this game down pat, beating it with passwords over a couple of days.

You can probably guess that this game becomes quite repetitive.  There are cutscenes and animations that are repeated every stage during launch and re-entry.  These scenes are well made and neat to see, but only for the first couple of times through.  After that they feel long and drawn out, which is quickly made apparent during a longplay.  My recording of the whole game took over an hour and it could have been sped up by several minutes with some quicker or skippable cutscenes.  It is a boring video to watch, but it is complete and I played well with only minor mistakes.  I did figure out one little trick to save time.  During the even numbered missions, after you place a panel, you can intentionally crash so that you restart back at the shuttle.  If you are holding anything, you lose it, but for the return trip back to the shuttle, since you aren’t holding anything it becomes a nice time saver.  Over the full game I had plenty of extra lives to burn for this.

There’s one bonus tidbit about this game that I want to share.  I didn’t know about this before I completed the game and I would have showed it off if I did.  It’s really simple.  There is a bad ending to the game triggered when you lose all your lives during the opening mini-game.  At the end of most missions, you see a newspaper with a headline detailing your successful mission.  In the bad ending, since you failed to authenticate at the start, the paper announces your arrest for impersonating the shuttle commander.  It’s a nice Easter egg to find that’s right there for the taking.

Space Shuttle Project was a pleasant surprise for me to play.  This is a simple game that takes multiple, unexpected forms as you go.  The graphics and animations are well drawn and nice to look at.  The music is just okay, nothing notable.  The controls are spot on once you know what to do.  Some of the shuttle mini-games are not immediately intuitive but control correctly when you know how.  The gameplay is on the simplistic side and there’s not much meat to each mission, even the ones in space, though those are the most fun.  I really enjoyed the first few missions and then the game was a bit of a drag, slogging through the same things over and over.  Playing a single mission was quite fun for me, but too much more than that is overkill.  It’s too bad the game overstayed its welcome, since this game made me genuinely happy before I got tired of playing it.  

#140 – Space Shuttle Project


#139 – Wild Gunman

A Wild Gunman appears!

Title text is a little funky but it works.

To Beat: Win 0.4 Round in Game A, Win 0.6 Round in Game B, Win 20 rounds in Game C
What I Did: Beat Game A, Maxed out score in Game B, Beat Game C
Played: 11/2/19 – 11/6/19
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Wild Gunman All Modes Longplay

It’s time for another Black Box game!  This iconic set of early NES titles is 30 games long, and I have now completed five of them.  Considering I’m just over 20% of the library completed, that’s pretty close to average pace.  Four of the Black Box games are Zapper games, and this is the second one of those I’ve played, the first being Hogan’s Alley.  The Black Box Zapper games are distinct from one another in playstyle, though I find it interesting that both Hogan’s Alley and Wild Gunman carry one major similarity between them.  To know what I’m talking about, you will have to read on!

Wild Gunman originally was an electro-mechanical arcade game released by Nintendo in 1974.  The game featured projection video on film of a gunslinger that you shoot when his eyes flash.  Depending on how quick you are to the draw, you will see another video of the outcome.  This version was brought to America by Sega (yes, Sega) in 1976.  The home version was released in a different year in four territories: Japan in February 1984 on Famicom, October 1985 in North America, February 1986 in Canada, and February 1988 in Europe.  This was the first Zapper game released on the Famicom, while it was released in North America alongside Hogan’s Alley and Duck Hunt.  There is a big box Famicom version of Wild Gunman that comes with a revolver-shaped Zapper gun and a holster to put it in for the most authentic experience.  Nintendo knew they could not get away with a light gun that looks like a real gun in America, so instead we received the futuristic looking Zapper light gun we all know and love.

Wild Gunman is a timed shooting game designed to play like an old wild west style shootout.  The first thing you’ll do is hook up your Zapper.  If you want to read more about how the Zapper works, I wrote up some information in my Operation Wolf review.  When you turn the game on there are three modes to choose from.  You can press Select on the controller to toggle between the modes, or you can fire your Zapper off-screen to adjust the cursor.  When you are ready to play, either press Start or fire at the screen.  The only other use of the controller is to pause the game.

I don’t believe I shot his belt off…

Game A is the standard mode most people think of when they know of Wild Gunman.  You are presented with a single gunslinger as he moseys his way to the middle of the screen.  Each gunman has a specified amount of time between when he draws and when he fires, as displayed at the top of the screen.  You have a timer as well that ticks up from 0.0s at the draw.  You wait until the gunman’s eyes light up and he says the word “FIRE!” in a speech bubble.  Then you draw your weapon and shoot.  You will knock him over if you fire first, then you can see how quick you were and how much time you had left to shoot.  Each gunman gives you reward money listed on the bottom of the screen as points.  You also get a thousand bonus points for every tenth of a second remaining.  You have three lives in this mode.  You lose a life if you get shot or if you shoot too early and cause a foul.  One interesting tidbit about this mode is that the game does not check to see if you shot at the screen, only when you pulled the trigger.  I don’t think any other NES Zapper games of the era worked that way, so you can play this mode on your modern TV if you want.

In Game B, you have to fend off two gunmen at once.  The same rules apply as in Game A.  Each bad guy has his own timer for shooting.  You wait until one of them yells “FIRE!” and then you shoot them both in the allotted time.  This go-around you must aim at the gunman you wish to shoot.  Sometimes only one gunslinger fires as you, so you will need to hesitate ever so slightly so you are sure to fire at just the one.  You lose a life if you shoot an unarmed gunman.  Both gunmen have reward money for points and you get the same time bonus as before for each shooter.

Game C is a different mode altogether.  This is a shooting gallery game that is very similar to Hogan’s Alley.  You are facing a saloon that has five entrances where gunmen appear.  One at a time a gunman will appear from a window or door and you need to shoot him as quickly as possible.  In each wave there will be 10 gunmen to deal with.  You get up to 15 bullets as shown on the bottom of the screen.  For each gunman you shoot, you will see a point total appear behind him that is added to your score.  The quicker the gunman shoots, the higher number of points you get, up to a maximum of 5000 points for the fastest shooter.  If you miss and get shot, you lose a life and must replay that wave from the beginning.  As in both the other modes, you get three lives for this one.

Uhhh, I think his head is gone.

This was my first time playing through Wild Gunman.  I’m pretty sure I was too lazy to test this cart out with the proper Zapper setup.  I knew what the game was pretty much, though having a shooting gallery mode did catch me by surprise.  (This is why I enjoy digging into these games, you never know what will surprise you.)  This cart was a tougher one to track down.  I know a local store had a poor condition copy for a decent price that I passed on.  I am pretty sure I snagged this one in a random eBay lot.  This is one of those games where complete-in-box copies are worth far more than just the cartridge.  Expect to pay around $15 for a loose cart and around $100 for CIB.

Wild Gunman does not have a proper ending in any mode.  The game keeps looping for as long as you can last.  When this happens, I get to determine my own winning condition.  I don’t like rolling the loop counter like the NES Ending FAQ suggests.  The high scores for this game are also very low and don’t feel suitable either.  TheMexicanRunner had the best idea for considering Wild Gunman beaten in NESMania, so a modified version of that is what I went with.  In Game A, the gunman with 0.4s timer is the quickest draw, so beating that wave is the requirement.  Similarly, the wave in Game B where the higher timer of the two gunman is 0.6s is the requirement.  It can either be 0.4s/0.6s or 0.6s/0.6s, both are virtually the same if you have to shoot both men.  Both Games A and B are randomized so you just have to play until you get the hardest wave.  Game C has the most proper ending of the three modes.  The text on the saloon sign changes when the wave is beaten.  Normally it says “Good,” however it displays “Nice” when Wave 10 is cleared and “Master” when Wave 20 is cleared.  That’s as far as it goes, so beating Wave 20 is the winning condition for Game C.

For my playthrough, I took things a bit further.  In Game A, I cleared 20 waves before intentionally losing.  Typically, the hardest wave comes after completing 10-15 waves.  I will note that I started off playing this game by attempting to treat the Zapper like a revolver on my hip, just like a traditional wild west shootout.  I was able to clear Game A that way but wasn’t fast or accurate enough for Game B.  For my longplay I pointed the Zapper toward the screen in all modes like I normally would. In Game B, I ended up rolling the high score past one million points before letting it go.  The hardest wave in Game B comes much later, and at that point it isn’t much of a stretch to just go for the million mark.  I stuck with clearing Wave 20 for beating Game C.  I had to record my longplay video for this game in a couple of stitched-together parts.  It may not be noticeable in my longplay video, but it is not a single-segment run.  I was able to clear Games A and B back to back with no trouble, but Game C needed several attempts to get right.  I also had to re-record Games A and B because I forgot to put my name tag on the pictures I took after Game Over.  I want the scores in the pictures to match the scores in the video.

You gotta be ready to handle two gunmen at a time.

Games A and B were pretty easy for me, but Game C really threw me for a loop in how difficult it was.  Some of the gunman in later waves appear to work on the same 0.4s timing as the quickest shooters in the other modes, and that is tough to handle when you also need to aim unpredictably.  But actually, that isn’t true because I realized that the gunmen in Game C do indeed appear from the same locations every time.  There are a few different patterns where the gunmen appear from the windows and doors in the same order for a full wave.  Furthermore, these patterns are tweaked when they reoccur in later waves so that the timing of when a gunman appears from his location is slightly changed.  As an example, there is a pattern where the last two gunmen appear from the lower-left window and upper-right window respectively.  In later waves using that same pattern, the gap in time between the final two gunmen appearing may either increase or decrease.  It was necessary to pay attention to these nuances to beat this mode.  When you have to defeat ten gunmen in each of the twenty waves, mistakes are amplified when you only have three lives to manage.

Some of you know that Wild Gunman made an appearance in the movie Back to the Future Part II.  In the film, Marty jumps ahead in time to October 21st, 2015 and enters an ’80s café where he finds and tries out a Wild Gunman arcade game.  While they nailed the look of the characters in the game footage, the game play looks quite a bit more advanced than the actual game.  Plus, there was never a dedicated arcade cabinet for the Wild Gunman video game, aside from its appearance on Nintendo’s Play Choice 10 system.  Anyway, many people had fun reminiscing and celebrating the Back to the Future series on 10/21/2015, and Nintendo got in on the fun themselves.  Nintendo of Europe released the Wii U Virtual Console version of Wild Gunman on Back to the Future Day where you can use the Wii remote as a makeshift Zapper.  Nintendo of America held back Wild Gunman’s Virtual Console release until early 2016.  NOE got this one right.

Wild Gunman is a simple NES light gun game with some charm.  This has nice graphics for an NES launch game with large, detailed gunman sprites full of personality.  The music is simple in this one, but I think more fondly about the sound effects.  They help carry the gameplay and get you ready to shoot when the time is right.  The Zapper controls are nice and responsive.  I did have a little trouble with certain shots in Game C, but I kind of think that was more my fault anyway.  The gameplay, while novel for its time, is both simple and repetitive.  However, Game C kept me on my toes with its combination of memorization and twitch timing.  I was not expecting to have to develop strategies for this game.  I consider that a nice surprise, even if it meant I needed a couple additional days to clear this game.  I am glad I played the game, but considering the simplicity of it along with the required Zapper setup, I think Wild Gunman is more of a collector piece today.

#139 – Wild Gunman (Game A)

#139 – Wild Gunman (Game B)

#139 – Wild Gunman (Game C)