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#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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#57 – M.C. Kids

This fun, golden platformer isn’t kidding around!

This screen doubles as a little playground to move around in.

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat all stages and collect all puzzle cards
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 8/27/17 – 8/29/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: M.C. Kids 100% Longplay

McDonald’s is one of the most iconic and ubiquitous brands in the world. Ronald McDonald is a household name, and just about everyone recognizes the golden arches. It’s no surprise that there are licensed video games based on their cast of characters. What may be surprising is that the NES game is quite good. M.C. Kids channels the spirit of Super Mario Bros. 3 with some clever twists that makes it a great NES platformer.

McDonald’s is an American fast food restaurant that was first founded in 1940 by Richard and Maurice McDonald as a barbecue restaurant. In 1948, they changed over to a hamburger stand and subsequently expanded to other locations. Ray Kroc purchased the chain from the McDonald brothers in 1955 and established McDonald’s Corporation. Today, McDonald’s has vastly expanded worldwide approaching 40,000 total restaurants in over 100 countries.

The character Ronald McDonald may have been created by Willard Scott. The former NBC Today Show’s weatherman was the original Ronald McDonald in three television ads in 1963, and he claims to have created the clown character himself. McDonald’s expanded their advertising by introducing McDonaldland in 1970-1971. Many new characters came and went over the years to accompany Ronald. McDonaldland was officially phased out of advertising in 2003.

Something tells me the kids weren’t part of McDonaldland.

A few video games were created using the McDonaldland characters. The Famicom exclusive Donald Land was released in Japan in 1988, and was both developed and published by Data East. The NES game M.C. Kids was released in North America in January 1992. It was both published and developed by Virgin Games. The European version was renamed McDonaldland and was published by Ocean Software in 1993. In a strange twist, the Game Boy port of this game was released as McDonaldland in Europe and rebranded as Spot: The Cool Adventure for North America. A Sega Genesis follow up named Global Gladiators was also released in 1992. Another Genesis game, McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure, was released worldwide in 1993 by the developer Treasure.

M.C. Kids (pronounced “Em-Cee” Kids) is a side-scrolling action platformer. The Hamburgler has stolen Ronald’s magic bag, and Ronald asks the kids Mick and Mack to help him track it down. To do this, the kids must locate some of Ronald’s puzzle cards from the levels in the world. When you collect enough puzzle cards, the path to the next world is open. This cycle repeats until you track down the Hamburgler and recover the magic bag.

On the title screen, you take control of Mick. This is a great place to get a basic feel for movement and jumping in a safe environment. There is a signpost pointing to the left labeled 1up, and another pointing to the right labeled 2up. Walk off the appropriate side of the screen to activate either one-player or two-player mode. Above the signposts are moon blocks. Bumping your head into the block changes you between Mick and Mack. They control the same, so simply pick the one you prefer. For two-player mode, the second player gets the other character. Two-player mode is alternating play.

This map style reminds me of some other game…

After the introductory story, you are taken to the world map. Use the D-pad to walk on the predefined paths between stages. Press A to enter a stage or house. Each stage is noted with a flashing M with a signpost next to it indicating the level number. At the top of the screen, you see the name of the world you’re in, as well as the level name if you are standing on a stage tile. You also see how many puzzle cards you need for this stage, the number of lives remaining, and how many arches you have collected. The puzzle is on the top right of the screen in a rectangle of six tiles. The cards not yet collected are displayed as M tiles. For each puzzle card you find in the levels, a tile is flipped over revealing part of the puzzle for this world.

The levels themselves are large side-scrolling levels where you control the kid directly. The controls are easy to understand but movement takes time to master. You move with the D-pad and use A to jump. You can duck by holding Down. You get a higher jump by jumping while ducking. You run automatically by walking on the ground in one direction for a while. Movement is momentum based and you maintain your speed well while jumping around. There are slopes that can either boost or reduce your speed accordingly. Running at full speed or close to it produces the highest jumps.

The B button is used to pick things up. The most common thing to grab are blocks that you hold above your head and use as weapons. Walk into a block and press B to lift it, or you can stand on a block, duck, and press B to grab them that way. You then throw the block with B. You can throw the block up or down, or press B without a vertical direction to throw the block forward. Thrown blocks will bounce once or twice before dropping off the screen, and sometimes you can hit more than one enemy with the same block.

Well, I need health, so this little bird has got to go!

At the top of the screen in a level you see a few indicators. The M stands for how many arches you have. These are floating M’s within the levels that you collect just by touching them. The L shows how many lives you have. Underneath that are hearts that represent your health. You begin each new life with three hearts. You lose single hearts when colliding with enemies, and you die when all hearts are depleted. There are no item drops or health pickups in M.C. Kids, but you can restore hearts in a couple of ways. Defeating ten enemies will restore one heart, and if you defeat two enemies with the same block you also recover a heart. You start with three hearts but can go up to four. Health also carries over between stages which is something to keep in mind.

The most important item in M.C. Kids is the puzzle card. They are solid blocks with an M on them and you collect the card by picking up the block. To keep the card permanently, you need to finish the level after grabbing it. You end a level by touching the goal line situated between two goal posts. There is a floating M across the line that will give you some arches if you touch it while breaking the string. When the level ends, you will high five your friend and see a message indicating which puzzle card you acquired, if any. Some cards in a world are for a puzzle in a different world, and some levels have two cards instead of one. The cards can be well hidden or stashed in hard to reach places, so it’s crucial to explore the levels thoroughly.

Most puzzle cards are a little harder to find.

There are several types of blocks in M.C. Kids. Blocks with a 1 on them are extra lives, and you will see many of them in the game. The reverser is a left-facing arrow block that sends you flying and flipping all the way back to the start of the level. Sometimes you will see a block outline moving around in a level. If you find a similarly shaped fill-in block and touch it to the outline, it will make the block solid and you can use it as a platform. A boat lets you float on water and you can climb in it and use the D-Pad to move the boat across water left and right. You can even grab this boat like a block and throw it into a different body of water. There are also porous blocks that float in the water and drift forward on their own. There are sand tiles that you can dig through like in Super Mario Bros. 2.

One of the neatest elements in M.C. Kids is the spinner block. It is a solid, fixed block that is located at the end of a long platform. You want to get a running start and run right over the spinner block. Do this and you will run around to the underside of the block, letting you walk on the ceiling with reversed gravity. You can reach high areas this way. One thing to note with reversed gravity is if you fall off the top of the screen, you lose a life just as if you fell down a pit.

There are also several different springboards and lifts found in stages. Small springboards let you jump high. These are usually found in the open but sometimes are hidden behind grabbable blocks. Super springboards require you to carry a block with you to spring very high. The travel lift is a platform that begins stationary and starts moving when you jump on it. The continuous lift winds around in a predefined pattern and you have to watch it for a while to see its path so you can reach it safely. The conveyor lift shows up near the end of the game. It travels along a guidewire and you move it yourself by standing in the center of it and walking either left or right. Walking left moves it forward and walking right moves it backward. This lift is particularly tricky to learn. The zipper is neither a springboard or lift, but it comes up often. Press B while standing in front of it to transition to either a new room or different location within the level.

This path for this lift winds around a lot.

As you play, you will accumulate arches. You will lose some whenever you collide with an enemy. If you manage to collect over 100, the arch counter rolls over and starts blinking. If you finish the level from here without dying, then you get to play a bonus game. This is a small level containing four blocks on upward rails. One of the four will light with an up arrow, and then shortly after the rest will display downward arrows. You want to jump quickly to the one with the up arrow to slide it upward a little bit before the down arrows activate and lower the block you are standing on. The idea is to lift at least one block high enough to reach a ledge at the top with a couple of zippers. Use the zipper to go to a 1up room with several 1up blocks suspended over a pit. Grab as many as you can! If you fall off the blocks in the bonus game, there’s a moon block on the floor you can use to switch characters if you want.

When you collect enough puzzle cards, you can go to the house in that world and speak with its owner. He or she will then provide you a path to the next world. If you are missing cards for a particular puzzle, you can drop by the house for a hint. Collecting all the cards for a world and visiting the house may provide some other benefits. There is nothing on the map to indicate if a completed level still holds a card, which makes it more difficult to track down missing cards. However, you don’t need every card to beat the game. You may also find secret cards. There is an optional secret world in the game that you can find that only opens if all secret cards are collected.

This was my first time playing through M.C. Kids, though I have owned the game for quite a while. I bought it during a brief collecting phase I had around 2009 or so. There was a deal on eBay where you could pick 10 games for either $20 or $30, and M.C. Kids was one of the games I chose. Those kinds of deals make me wonder if I had missed out on another game that would eventually become more expensive. M.C. Kids sells in the $10-$15 range these days, so it ended up being a good purchase.

This bonus level features multiple fake goal markers.

It took me a couple of days to beat M.C. Kids. The first night I streamed gameplay on Twitch, and I was doing decently until the end of the third world. I was really struggling to figure out a few different sections, and after 90 minutes or so I called it a night. The next night I pushed my way through to the end of the game in a near three-hour session. It wasn’t pretty but I got the job done. However, I wasn’t recording my attempt, and I also beat the game without visiting the special world at all. Once you get to the ending, there’s no way to go back. I also missed two puzzle cards that weren’t necessary to play all the levels and I looked online to find out where they were hiding. I had ideas on where both cards were located, but I don’t think I would have found them on my own unless I grinded out a few more hours of playing. With all that in mind, I beat the whole game again on my third attempt and captured video this time. I had to play the special world blind, but it went relatively well for the toughest stages in the game.

The deeper I get into this project, the harder time I have figuring out how to rate games on difficulty. If you can keep your NES running for a long time, then you could probably beat M.C. Kids. There are unlimited continues, and beyond that there are several places where you can grind out extra lives to not even need to continue. There is at least one level that has two extra lives right at the beginning, so by grabbing both and dying right away, you can slowly build up a stock at any time. I also found a cache of eight lives or so in a level in the first world, which is even better for grinding. Therefore, lives are not much of an issue in beating the game. The two things that make the game challenging are the momentum-based physics and locating some of the trickier-to-find puzzle cards. This seems like an average difficulty game to me, but I decided to tick up the rating to a 6 since I had trouble the first night I played.

M.C. Kids is a fun NES game that I recommend playing. The levels are often sprawling with many things to do, and the game introduces many different elements along the way that keep the experience fresh. The reverse gravity gimmick works well and it is used in clever ways. The graphics are very clean with some nice animation, and the music is equally great. I had this track stuck in my head for several days after playing. It’s no Mario 3, but it resembles it enough that it’s an easy game to recommend. The AVGN video on M.C. Kids has raised awareness of the game, but it’s been long enough since that review that the game has backed up a bit into mild obscurity. Now that I’m shining some light on the game, make sure you don’t skip this one.

#57 – M.C. Kids