Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#169 – Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf

Is this the longest NES title?  There may be something to that.

I guess Jack talks to you directly after this screen.

To Beat: Finish a Round
To Complete: Win a match against the CPU
My Goal: Beat Jack Nicklaus
What I Did: Won a skins match and stroke play
Played: 10/22/20 – 11/1/20
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf Longplay

When I think of Jack Nicklaus’ NES golf game, I think about Twitter.  That is probably going to need some explaining, but it’s simple.  I can’t believe it, but Twitter is already 15 years old.  I got in on it about three years after it first launched, so I’ve been around awhile.  The thing about Twitter starting out was that you were restricted to 140 characters per tweet.  Well in 2017 they expanded the limit to 280 characters, and I remember tweeting about how now I wouldn’t have to worry about completing what I think may be the game with the longest name on the NES: Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf.  (Just in case you want proof, here’s the tweet.)  Pretty close to three years later, I finally got to make good on that by playing this game.

Jack Nicklaus is often considered the greatest golfer of all time.  Before turning pro, he won the U.S. Amateur in both 1959 and 1961, and finished 2nd in the U.S. Open in 1960.  He would win the U.S. Open in 1962 after turning pro, the first of his 18 major championship wins, the most all time in professional golf.  In 1986, at age 46, he won The Masters for his final PGA Tour win, capping off at 73 Tour victories.  Only Sam Snead and Tiger Woods have won more, with 82 each.  Nicklaus would move on to the Senior Tour, racking up wins there, and he also made further appearances on the PGA Tour.  He finished his career at The Open Championship in 2005 at St. Andrews, where he had long hoped to play his final professional game.

Jack Nicklaus gave his name to a series of golf games.  The first of these is the game I played here, Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf.  The game initially appeared on various home computers in 1988.  It was developed by Sculptured Software and published by Accolade.  The NES version was released in March 1990 in North America and June 1991 in PAL territories.  The game was ported by the original developers but published by Konami on NES.  This game was also ported to the TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine in 1991 and the Game Boy in 1992.  There are six other games in the Jack Nicklaus series, the latest of which released in 2016.  There were also several add-on discs for the original game that only appeared on home computers, adding many courses and sometimes extra features.

What round hair you have!

As this is the first golf game I’ve covered for this project, I’ll go over the rules of briefly.  This game has only one course of 18 holes, but what is special about this course is that it is comprised of Jack Nicklaus’ favorite holes across every course he’s ever played, a “best of” pack if you will, something that can only be done in video games.  Anyway, to get started you begin with the ball on a tee.  You select a club, a driver in this case, and hit the ball toward the tiny hole at the other end.  Wherever the ball lands, that’s where you will hit from the next time, no matter if it lands on the fairway, rough, or a sand trap.  The idea is to hit the ball as few times as possible to put it into the hole.  Scoring in golf is done by strokes, or how many times you hit the ball, including penalty strokes in certain cases.  Everyone plays golf separately, and the competition is who can complete the course in the fewest strokes.

This game offers two different ways to score golf.  The standard mode is Stroke Play.  Simply keep count of all strokes made over 18 holes.  Each hole has a par score, which is an expected number of strokes per hole.  Score is traditionally tracked by how many strokes you are above or below par.  Professional courses have Par 3, Par 4, and Par 5 holes, and 18-hole courses in whole almost always add up to 72 strokes in par.  The other mode in this game is the Skins game.  Instead of trying to win by strokes, you are trying to win by money.  Each hole is assigned an amount of money, and the player that finishes the hole with the fewest strokes wins the money.  However, if there’s a tie at the top, the money is carried over to the following hole, with that hole’s money added in.  The first six holes are worth a certain amount, the next six holes are worth more, and the final six holes are worth even more, typically in single amount, double amount, and triple amount fashion.  Tiebreaker holes are played for any ties after the final hole to see who wins the last prize.

The gameplay screen is where you will play golf.  The game is played from a sort of 3D perspective where the game draws out your view before taking every swing.  It is a neat idea, except for how slow and long the drawing takes, every single stroke.  Like you can say the entire, full name of this game more than once in the time it takes to render the screen.  The top of the screen shows where you are aiming, designated by a golf ball shaped cursor.  Move the ball cursor with Left or Right to aim.  A flag will show where the hole is, particularly useful if the hole is too far away to see from where you are.  There are bars on either side of the aiming cursor.  If you cross these bars, your golfer will turn in that direction and the view will redraw completely.  This is so you can aim in any direction, 360 degrees, should you desire.  The left hand side has a color bar which is your swing meter.  The bottom of the screen contains all other pertinent information.  You can see the wind measured in both direction and strength on the bottom left.  The bottom right shows your club selection and difficulty level, as well as arrows showing your button presses, for some reason.  The bottom middle shows all other stats, such as player name, hole number, stroke number, par, and distance to the hole.

It’s golf!

When it’s time to swing the club, pay close attention to the swing meter on the left-hand side.  Swinging the club is a three step process.  First press A to start the cursor moving upward.  To set the power, press the A button again.  Now the cursor will go back down.  Press A once more to set the angle of the ball.  The swing meter is scaled differently here than in most golf games I played.  Normally hitting the ball with full power uses the full strength of the club, and all other power settings in between have a linear effect in regard to power.  For instance, setting power in the middle of the meter gives you a half-swing.  This game has a non-linear power bar, which is confusing for the first time player.  The green portion of the meter represents 0% to 100% power.  A red line most of the way up represents 50% power, and the white lines in between break up the power meter into 10% segments, with smaller-sized segments appearing at the top of the power bar, meaning you need to be more precise if you want accuracy on longer shots.  The red area at the top of the power bar is for an overswing.  Setting the cursor in the red hits the ball harder than 100% power at the cost of some left-to-right variance.  If you must hit the ball straight, don’t go into the red.  To set the angle straight, you want to press A for the last time at the line between the green and the brown.  Press early and your ball will hook left, press late into the brown area and your ball will slice right.  Sometimes this is what you want depending on if trees or other obstacles are in the way.

Putting the ball is pretty much the same as swinging.  The swing itself is still a three-part process, same as above.  There are two considerations you will want to make before putting.  The angle of your shot is pretty important.  The ball cursor at the top still determines that angle.  If the green is flat, you will want to line up the shot so that your ball, the hole, and the ball cursor all fall in a straight line on screen.  Which brings me to my next point, reading the slope of the green.  Here the wind meter is replaced with the break meter, which behaves in a similar way.  The arrow shows the direction of the slope and the red and green break meter shows how steep it is.  The more red showing, the steeper the slope.  Upward directional arrows indicated you are putting downhill, and downward facing arrows mean you are hitting uphill.  Downhill shots are tricky in that if you overshoot, the ball will roll and roll a long way.  Take your time.  One other interesting aspect of this game is that the hole position itself on each hole is set randomly every time you play.  You may approach certain holes differently depending on where the hole is on the putting green.

Be sure to read the break on the green and take your time.

You will set up and configure your game on the menu screen before golf.  Right after the title screen, you’ll select your game mode between Skins and Stroke Play, as well as the number of players for each, either 2-4 players for Skins or 1-4 players for Stroke Play.  On the next screen you will set up each player.  Use the arrow keys to move around the highlighted cursor and press A to make selections.  You can choose either Male or Female as well as if this player is CPU controlled or not.  If you choose a CPU player, Jack’s name is populated in the name field.  You can press Left or Right to cycle between the CPU players and all the other settings are updated to match the particular CPU player. Otherwise, you can enter a human player’s name up to 8 characters and set the gender manually.  Next is the Skill setting, either Beginner or Expert.  On Beginner the game auto selects the best club for you considering your current distance to the hole, and also it shows on-screen the max distance for that club.  On Expert you choose clubs on your own with no on-screen indicator for club distance.  It’s unnecessary, seeing as you can use the distance table provided in the manual, but I played on Expert anyway.  Finally, you choose which tee you’ll play from, either Pro, Men’s, or Ladies’.  This sets the initial distance from the hole, with the earlier settings starting you farther away.

There are 8 computer players, named Jack N, Nancy D, Lars X, Babs R, Art M, Natasha, Eddie C, and Sally C.  Each character has their own personality more or less as listed in the manual.  Since their settings are pre-populated in-game, you can get a sense of how well each character plays just from the menu.  You really can’t tell though how they compare to each other, and the names aren’t in any discernible order.  Jack is clearly the best player available.  From the manual descriptions Eddie C seems to be next best, and Natasha seems like the best female player.  I played against these three players only through my various attempts.

This was my first time playing through Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf.  By my count there are 7 golf games on the NES, and I had played about half of them before, but not this one.  This is a common game, among the cheapest NES carts you can find.  As of this writing, it is worth about $3 on Price Charting loose and $10 CIB.  I imagine it isn’t hard to find in a lot, that’s how I got mine.

Most of the time is spent watching this slow rendering.

It turns out that beating this game is completely free, hence the 1/10 difficulty rating.  Simply finish any round, win or lose, to get the same ending screen no matter what.  According to the manual, after 50 strokes on any one hole, the game pushes you along to the next hole, so it is truly 100% free.  Playing the game against the CPU is harder but not too hard if you pick an easy opponent.  The difficulty ramps up a lot with the more challenging players.  After a few rounds I discovered it was gonna take perfect, and I mean perfect, play to beat Jack Nicklaus.  I abandoned that idea rather quickly.  Eddie C was a real challenge himself.  I managed to squeak by him in Skins play in a back and forth match that went to sudden death.  But I was no match for him in Stroke Play.  On one particular round he shot a 59, a massive 13 strokes under par, and it was then I decided to find a different CPU player to beat.  I settled on Natasha who also gave me some real trouble.  After a few tries I shot a 65 and beat her by one stroke, which included an eagle (two strokes under par) on the final hole to come from behind and seal the deal.

Of all the NES golf games I’ve played, in this project or not, I think Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf is probably the weakest one.  The graphics are a little bit hard on the eyes, and some of the views don’t line up well visually with where your ball is.  That’s the cost of essentially rendering the graphics at run time from wherever your ball is.  While a really neat trick, the NES can’t quite pull it off convincingly.  There’s little music to speak of here, just menu music, end of hole music, and some voice samples and sound effects.  The controls are responsive and simple, just what you would expect in a golf game.  The gameplay itself suffers from the rendering issues I mentioned above.  Lining up putts can occasionally be a challenge.  It’s also interesting how easy it is to hit the pin from a great distance.  Hitting the pin often ensures you’ll have just a short putt to finish off the hole.  The modes in this game are interesting, and there are plenty of AI options.  This is definitely not a bad game, but it’s not great either, so this is why it is a bargain bin type of game.  Sorry, Jack.

#169 – Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf (Skins Game)

#169 – Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf (Stroke Play)


#159 – Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing

Let Nigel guide you through this racing season.

World Championship Challenge may be a better name.

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

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

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

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

Ready. Set. Go!

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

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

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

Set up your car for peak performance.

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

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

May the pits be ever in your favor.

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

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

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

The wide cars can be difficult to pass.

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

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

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

Sweet victory!

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

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

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

#159 – Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing


#54 – Championship Bowling

The lone NES bowling title gave me more than I bargained for.

A cute penguin also runs across this screen!

To Beat: Score 250 or higher
To Complete: Bowl a Perfect Game of 300
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 7/12/17 – 7/17/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Championship Bowling Perfect Game

Have you ever played a game expecting one thing and then got something significantly different? I have experienced that a little bit in this project so far. Take The Immortal as an example. I expected an adventure game with puzzles, but I wasn’t anticipating combat resembling Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! at all. Championship Bowling is clearly a simple bowling game, but as I sought the highest score it morphed into a puzzle game, requiring me to look for patterns and techniques to crack its code.

Championship Bowling was released on the NES in December 1989. It was published by Romstar and developed by Another Ltd. The Black Bass is the only other NES release developed by Another, though they did release a couple of adventure games on the Famicom in their brief history. This was the second game published by Romstar on the NES, just a couple of months after Twin Eagle. Championship Bowling was also released on Famicom in 1991, published there by Athena. It is the only bowling game on the NES.

Championship Bowling emulates a standard, regulation round of bowling. There are ten frames each consisting of ten pins arranged in a triangle, and the object of the game is to roll the bowling ball down the lane trying to knock down as many pins as possible. You get two throws per frame unless you get a strike by knocking them all down on the first throw. Strikes are the way to get the best scores, but you can do well by picking up the spare on the second throw. After the 10th frame is completed, the game is over. You can see your score, high scores, and choose to play another round if you wish.

At the title screen, you can choose the number of players and which bowling lane you want. Championship Bowling supports up to four players! You can also choose from five different lanes. Each one has a different color scheme in game as well as unique effects on the ball path such as speed and curve of the ball. You press Left or Right to change the number of players, and press Up or Down to choose the lane. Then press Start to advance to the character selection screen.

There’s a good selection of options.

On the next screen, each player makes further selections. You can choose from one of four bowlers and each one has some slight differences in gameplay. Use the D-Pad to highlight the desired bowler and press A. Then enter in your initials. Press Up or Down to cycle through letters and press A to choose each initial. Finally, choose which bowling ball you want. You can pick a 7 pound, 9 pound, 11 pound, 13 pound, or 15 pound ball. Again, each ball handles a bit differently and each one is a different color. One weird thing here is if you play multiplayer, Championship Bowling requires two controllers. Odd numbered players use controller 1 and even numbered players use controller 2. One controller is all you really need since play is alternating, so this is a strange choice. Once all players make their selections then it’s time to bowl!

At the start of each frame, your player stands at the bottom of the screen. Use Left or Right to set where you want your bowler to stand, then press A. Next, the Control meter on the left will show a ball automatically moving in a half-circle arc. This determines the kind of spin placed on the ball. You must press the A button with good timing to get the spin you want. After spin is chosen, then the power meter bar quickly moves up and down. This determines how hard you throw the ball, and like the Control meter this also requires good timing with the A button. After all that, the bowler will go ahead with those selections and throw the ball. If you bowl a strike, you get a little celebration and play moves on to the next player or next frame in single player. Otherwise, you get a second throw to try and clean up the remaining pins.

There is some other useful information on this screen. You can see the high score in the upper-left which defaults to 200. The lower left shows which player is bowling, the current frame, and the scoring for this frame. On the right side, you see a top down view of the lane which is useful for lining up shots. Above the pins is a display that lights up the number of each remaining pin after the first throw, just like something you would see on the display at a real bowling alley. Additionally, before you start your timing selections, you can press B to see the scorecard for your entire round thus far.

After everyone has finished bowling, you are taken to the high score screen. Initials and score are added for every player that scores well enough to place on the board. There are trophies displayed here with scores underneath them that suggest you should be aiming for those scores. When you are finished, you go back to the title screen. Championship Bowling is a simple, straightforward experience.

Here you line up your shot and time the meters.

I think this is my first time playing through Championship Bowling. I have cleaned and tested every cart in my collection, and it’s possible that I played a whole round when I tested this game. This was definitely my first time playing this game seriously. It’s a common cart and I don’t recall when I bought the game. I know I have picked up some in game lots over the years so that’s likely where my copy came from.

The manual has a topic about getting the perfect strike, and the idea proposed there is the same as actual bowling. You want to aim the ball between the front pin and either one of the pins in the second row. Not only that, but you also want to hook the ball between those two pins to get the best possible pin action and best chance to get a strike. In the game, you want to do the same thing. Position your bowler to the right of the pins and curve the ball to the left. (Do the opposite if the bowler is left handed.) With the right positioning, angle, and power, you can hit the sweet spot and get a strike most of the time. I say most of the time because the same shot doesn’t always work.

I mentioned the trophies on the high score screen. The lowest one reads 250 points, then 275, and lastly the perfect 300. Championship Bowling has three different ending screens for meeting each one of those thresholds. The way the scoring system works, you must score several strikes in a row to best increase your score. I was able to find the sweet spot that gives me a strike most of the time, and then I was able to pick up the spare on the frames where pins were remaining. It took many games to find this spot as well as home in on the timing to hit it every time. After playing for some time, I could play a round that let me have enough consecutive strikes to score well within the 250s. That was good enough to get one of the endings and consider the game beaten, but that wasn’t good enough for me.

This was the point where the game turned into this larger puzzle of how to narrow down my options and sequence the events to bowl a perfect 300, and I’m proud to report that I achieved it. I have bowled at least five perfect games with my strategy and it does seem to be consistent. So now I will reveal the ultimate strategy for the perfect game in Championship Bowling. This is the official spoiler alert. You can jump down to the closing paragraph now if you want this game to remain shrouded in mystery.

Strikes are very exciting!

There really are many variables at play here that can change everything, and I narrowed some of them down pretty quickly. I tried just about every position, angle, and speed. Before bowling even begins, I tried all the different lanes, all the different characters, and all the different balls. Right away I put a focus on powerful shots, and in turn I could eliminate three of the five lanes that slow the ball down considerably. Lane 1 is the right lane for this strategy. I also knew a strong hook was important, so I read the manual and it says the upper-right character has the best hook. It’s tough to tell, but I believe the characters do have minute differences and so I stuck with that character. This is the base that I started with.

My next discovery was the semi-consistent strike shot. There are lane markings shaped like triangles arranged in an upside-down ‘V’ pattern. You want to position your bowler to the left of the second lane marker from the right so that the right side of his head is just barely to the left of that lane marker. For the spin control, you want to stop the cursor on the far bottom-left. For the power, you want the bar all the way to the top, or one notch below full power also works. The best ball for this is the 13 pound ball. This exact shot with this ball is 100% effective for the first three frames, while any other sized ball has a small chance of failure.

The fourth frame is where this strategy falls apart. Using my shot technique here causes the ball to hook more sharply, leading to missed pins. To make matters worse, sometimes the game waits until the fifth, sixth, or seventh frame to start missing. Now somewhere around here I did figure out another shot variation that gives occasional strikes, and that’s good and important, but I still have the problem of not knowing when I can deploy this other weapon. This leads to my next discovery. The longer you play, the more randomized the game becomes. I got into the habit of hitting the reset button when I missed a strike to start over and eventually I realized that puts the game into a slightly different state than starting from power on. Once I resorted to shutting my NES off and turning it back on for each new game, I began to get consistent results! Now I could put everything together and get the perfect game I’ve been working toward!

Oooh, I wonder what my prize is!

Here is the complete strategy. Choose Lane 1 and the upper-right bowler. Choose whatever initials you want and select the 13 pound ball. There are only two shots you need to learn. The first shot is the same one I covered above. Position your bowler so that the right side of his head lines up with the left side of the second lane marking from the right. Angle the ball as far left as possible, and go for either full power or one notch below full. Let’s call this Shot A. The other shot I will call Shot B, and it is nearly identical to Shot A. You want the same lane positioning and the same power for both shots, however the angle for Shot B is at a 45-degree angle on the left. Use Shot A on frames 1, 2, 3, and 5, and use Shot B for all remaining frames. If you mess up Shot A a little bit, there’s a chance you can still get a strike. However, you need to be precise on each Shot B or you won’t get a strike. It took me a long time to figure this out because Shot A magically becomes effective again once you make a mistake, so I was led down the wrong path of using it way more often than I should.

I recorded video of bowling the 300 game, but Championship Bowling had one final, bizarre trick up its sleeve. I had been playing the game on my CRT with my AV-modded top-loading NES that I use for quick games or testing carts, but I record gameplay using my flat screen TV and the AVS system. There was a bit of a timing difference that I eventually got used to, but it turns out that my shot sequence above fails on the fifth frame while using the AVS. I suspect that the starting states of the top-loading NES and AVS are not exactly the same. Like I said, it’s completely strange and unexpected. While playing from a fresh boot of the AVS, I needed to use Shot A on frames 1, 2, 3, and 6 while using Shot B on the others. It’s just swapping shots on frames 5 and 6. That sequence is what I recorded in the video. Perhaps different consoles or emulators have a different shot sequence.

For not having any other NES releases to compare it to, Championship Bowling stands on its own anyway as a solid bowling game. The game has good controls and even though it only has as a few songs and melodies, they are catchy and well done. The graphics are nice and clear, although some lanes had poor color choices for the power meter making it hard to see. Each bowler has several frames of throwing animation and the pin action is pretty good considering what the NES is capable of. I’m also thankful the game is not completely random or otherwise I would have given up by now. It’s far from flashy, and the experience wears off quickly, but Championship Bowling is a capable NES game disguised as a surprise puzzler.

#54 – Championship Bowling