Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#131 – Werewolf: The Last Warrior

Ripping straight out of your NES!

Didn’t even realize this game had a 2-player mode!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 7/25/19 – 8/1/19
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Werewolf: The Last Warrior Longplay

I’m just going to say this right away.  I think Werewolf: The Last Warrior is gonna be my favorite NES Box Art of 2019. The obvious element is the giant werewolf ripping out of the cover, but look closely and you will see that he bursts right out of an NES cart.  You can make out the gray lines and the chips on the green circuit board inside.  At this time, very few people took the carts apart to see what was inside because new carts didn’t need to have the pins cleaned. I bet this aspect of the cover was underappreciated.  Some other parts of the cover I like are the red text on yellow background for contrast and the huge claws on the werewolf.  With a box cover so awesome, the game inside has to be equally good, right?

Werewolf: The Last Warrior debuted on the NES in November 1990.  The game was developed and published by Data East, with development credit given to Sakata SAS.  The Famicom release came later in June 1991, published by Takara.  There the game was called Cho Jinro Senki Wourufu, translating to Super Werewolf Chronicle Warwolf.  Europe also saw an NES release in September 1991.

In this game, you play as Chief WarWolf.  The evil Dr. Faryan has created a bunch of bio-monsters that have imprisoned nearly everyone in the world.  Guess who is the only hope for civilization?  With the help and powers of the Great Spirit, you can become Werewolf which will give you the abilities needed to defeat Faryan and save humanity from his evil schemes.  There are five stages in the game, culminating in the final battle with Faryan. Beat all the levels to beat this game.

Most of the cutscenes involve this guy.

This is your typical platforming game with a mostly familiar control scheme. An obvious downside right off the bat is that you attack with A and jump with B.  I have no idea why developers did this as the convention of using A to jump and B to attack was the de facto standard.  I’ve played games long enough to be able to handle it no problem, but otherwise there is this artificial learning curve added for no real reason other than to be different.  The rest of the controls are fine.  Press the D-pad directions to move around.  You can duck with Down and climb ladders with Up.  The A button does a simple punch and you can punch high while standing or punch low while ducking.  You also wield a Power Ray as a charge attack by holding A to charge and letting go to unleash the attack.  Pressing B jumps normally, but you can do a higher jump if you hold Up while pressing B.  Start pauses the game.  While paused, you can press Select to show your score and number of lives remaining. 

At the start of the game, you meet the Great Spirit.  The game switches over to a brief cutscene where the Great Spirit gives you some advice.  Immediately after this you are thrown into a fight with one of Faryan’s death slaves. This enemy has a health bar displayed at the bottom and is a recurring mini-boss throughout the game.  Defeat him and he will leave behind a red W.  Collecting this item turns you into Werewolf.  Then you get another cutscene where you see his transformation.  Don’t worry, this scene only happens the first time you transform.

In Werewolf form, you have several new options available.  You maintain this form until you are at about a quarter of health remaining.  By default, your attacks are twice as strong as normal.  Your Power Ray now attacks everything on screen via a shock wave, but this deals you a lot of damage just to perform the move.  You also get four new movement abilities.  You can crawl into tunnels too big for you to enter normally. Simply walk into the tunnel to start crawling.  You can perform a backflip that makes you invincible to all attacks by pressing both A and B together.  You can climb walls in Werewolf form.  Simply jump into a wall to cling to it.  Now you can climb the wall by pressing either Up or Down.  To get off, you press the direction opposite the wall and press B to jump off.  Lastly, you can cling and hand-walk along ceilings with your claws.  Jump up to the ceiling, then hold Up and press A to dig your claws in.  Then you can use Left or Right to move across the ceiling and press Down to disembark. Getting hooked is tough.  You have to connect just as you are falling from the top of your jump so that you touch the ceiling with the tip of your claws.

This early spot is tough when you don’t know how to ceiling walk.

There is an anger meter at the bottom of the screen.  You collect these tiny, white bubbles that add a notch to your anger meter.  When the meter hits five bubbles, then you transform into Super Werewolf.  In this mode, you have all the same powers and abilities as Werewolf, but your attacks double in strength, you move faster, and you jump incredibly high.  The downside is that this mode is temporary as the bubbles gradually decrease.  (I guess they pop?)  Once you run out of bubbles, you switch back to Werewolf mode until you collect enough bubbles for another transformation.

There are several other items you can collect in this game.  Finding items is weird.  Some of them are dropped by enemies, and others you find by striking objects in the levels.  Sometimes these locations are obvious, like posts or boxes.  Other times you find items by hitting ledges or other places you might not expect.  It doesn’t hurt to attack random things just in case.  Anyway, here are the other items to look out for.  Small hearts heal one health point while large hearts are full health refills.  Little red bubbles defeat all enemies onscreen.  Big red bubbles make you invincible for a little while.  Why bubbles are so powerful in this game, I have no idea.  Hourglasses give you more time, dollar signs add points, and 1ups are obvious. Some enemies drop a bullet behind that gives you a single shot attack of your own with A.

The final item you need to watch out for are the blue W’s.  While red W’s upgrade you to Werewolf, the blue ones downgrade you.  They take you from Super Werewolf back to Werewolf, or from Werewolf back to plain War Wolf form.  If you grab one as War Wolf, it deals a significant amount of damage.  Therefore, you want to avoid these at all costs.  The game puts you in some situations where if you reveal a blue W, you are forced to pick it up to proceed.  Just be careful.  The manual suggests there is a way to somehow use both a blue W and a red W to go directly to Super Werewolf.  I have no idea how or if that works, and I didn’t find any information about that mechanic.

Knock stuff around until you find the good items.

The levels in this game are usually laid out a specific way.  Stages move from Left to Right with a few exceptions. Stages also typically have a high section and a low section.  You can find ladders to climb between sections and sometimes you can choose between the upper path or lower path all the way through the stage.  This can add some replay value if you want to try a different path and it lets you experiment to find the best way through a level.  All levels end in a boss fight with one of Faryan’s stronger creatures.

This game treats lives as continues.  When you fall into a pit or run out of health, it is Game Over.  If you have any lives remaining, then you can Continue from the Game Over screen or select End to start over.  When you run out of lives, the game puts you at the same screen only you are forced to choose End.  You start the game with three lives.  You can earn more by collecting 1up items or for every 50,000 points earned.  Every time you die your score goes back to 0, so you are incentivized to play well enough early to earn more lives for later.

This was my first time beating Werewolf: The Last Warrior.  I sort of remember testing this game out one time and playing until I died, which didn’t take too long that time.   I might have went further if I knew the controls.  I bought my cart copy of the game at a game store about an hour away from home that I have only visited one time.  I think I paid either $7 or $8 for it.  The game sells now for around $10 which I believe is the same as the going rate was when I bought mine.

Boss fights are much better as Super Werewolf

Beating this game was yet another installment in the series of “making incremental progress each playthrough.”  The first stage has at least a couple of spots that are tough to pass until you get a grip of the controls and all the moves you have available. The worst stopping point was the waterfall stage.  This is one of those two-tiered horizontal levels where the lower section is all water. Evidently, in this universe, werewolves cannot swim, so once you fall in you have to watch yourself drown.  There are leaping fish that can easily knock you in the drink, in part because you have a tough time hitting enemies in the air. Their placements are not quite consistent either.  It makes for a tough section and you can bleed your remaining lives away in a flash. Some other parts of the game aren’t much easier, but the waterfall was the worst I experienced.  I could have knocked the difficulty down a point or two if that stage were easier.  Still, completing the game in a week isn’t all that bad and it was a straightforward game to boot.

What I will remember most about Werewolf: The Last Warrior is how janky the game is.  I’ve already mentioned a few of these instances of jankiness, such as B button jumping, tricky ceiling clinging, and the seemingly random locations of hidden items. There are plenty more.  The backflip maneuver is very helpful in crossing some parts where taking damage is eminent, since you are invincible during the flip.  One downside of that is that there are two forced jumps associated with the move, and if you didn’t plan carefully, you could leap right into a pit.  Another quirk is that during a backflip, the screen does not scroll ahead.  You can backflip all the way to the right and then walk against the right side of the screen, leaving you completely defenseless to the dangers right in front of you.  Bosses soak up a lot of damage before going down and end up being very repetitive as a result.  Super Werewolf status makes them pretty manageable, but you may only build up to that state once or twice in the whole game.  If you are plain War Wolf, forget even trying to fight a boss.  Your attacks have one-fourth the power of Super Werewolf, and even if you play the fight perfectly you will probably run out of time before winning anyway.  There are still other minor nuisances that don’t even make a blip compared to these issues.

Werewolf: The Last Warrior is a game that falls short of most other NES platformers. I would say the graphics are just average.  Most of the sprites are large and detailed.  The Werewolf character has a lot of different poses and such for all the moves available. The music is pretty decent.  My favorite song is the one that plays when you are normal War Wolf, but unfortunately the more you hear that song the worse you are playing.  The controls take some getting used to with the B button jumping and handling specific moves like backflips and wall climbing.  The gameplay has some notable flaws.  The jumping is rather stiff and favors more vertical leaping than horizontal, which is tough considering most of the game is horizontal scrolling. Bosses and some enemies take way too many hits to defeat, leaving the timer as more of a threat here than in other games. You can tell that Ninja Gaiden was an inspiration for this game with things like its interstitial cutscenes and wall climbing moves.  Those are some huge shoes to fill, and in my opinion, Werewolf isn’t half as good as Ninja Gaiden.  It’s not terrible and there are sure to be some people that will go to bat for the game, but I’d rather play something else.

#131 – Werewolf: The Last Warrior


#128 – Tag Team Wrestling

It’s the Ricky Fighters versus the Strong Bads … over and over again.

Scores look so weird on this screen

To Beat: Win 35 matches to become Super Champion
Played: 5/18/19 – 5/23/19
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: Tag Team Wrestling Longplay

Well, I was wrong. Here is yet another NES wrestling game. I am starting to wonder if these games ever end. I mean, I know they do of course, but I have been receiving what feels like a steady diet of these titles for a little while. As soon as I get a bit of a breather, bam, another NES wrestling game. Tag Team Wrestling naturally turned out to be a real grind of a game too.

Tag Team Wrestling was first an arcade game that released in late 1983/early 1984. It was developed by Technos Japan and published by Data East. The game was ported to a few different home computers, as well as to the NES and Famicom. The Famicom version came first in April 1986. There it was called Tag Team Pro Wrestling and it was published by Namco. The NES version released in October 1986, published by Data East and developed by both Data East and Sakata SAS. The NES port was only released in North America. Tag Team Wrestling is very likely the first third-party title released on the NES in North America.

Wrestling yay!

Tag Team Wrestling is just what it sounds like. You play as the team Ricky Fighters against the bad guy team the Strong Bads. You can also play a two-player game where each player controls one of the teams. To win a match, you either need to pin your opponent, have them tap out by submission, or have them lose by countout when out of the ring. As you win matches, you rise in rank and eventually earn some titles. You beat the game by rising all the way to the top by becoming Super Champions, but you need to win a whopping 35 matches to be the very best.

The controls in this game are different from other wrestling games I’ve played. You move around the ring with the D-pad. You use the A button to punch and grab the opponent. Grab your opponent and initiate the grapple. Now you must select your move with the B button via a pop up menu. Tap B quickly to cycle through the moves and then press A on the one you want. There are eight different moves for each wrestler but there’s only a three second timer to enter your move before the opponent does a counter move himself. I learned pretty quickly to rhythmically tap out the button to get the move I wanted. Once the opponent is low enough on health and knocked to the ground, close in on him and press A to pin.

Seeing as this is Tag Team Wrestling, you can call on your partner to pitch in. Simply walk over to the lower left corner and press B to tag him in. Each wrestler has his own health bar displayed when he is activated. Naturally your opponents can do this too, so try and finish the job quickly when he is at low health. Your partner can also step in and break up a submission hold by pressing A when you are stuck. He will run in and smash the other guy so you can get back in the action. This is the only way I found to get out of the move.

Picking moves from a real time menu seems advanced for 1986.

You can also fight outside of the ring. This happens automatically if someone is hit with a move into the rope, typically by being either flipped or slammed toward either side. The referee begins a 20 count and you fight as normal with a few changes. First, you are locked on the same plane so you can’t run circles around each other. Instead of eight moves, there are only three moves available on the outside. You still need to tap B seven times to get to the last move. Sometimes there is a chair lying on the ground that you can pick up and slam into your opponent. Press Up to get back into the ring before the ref finishes the 20 count or you automatically lose the match. If you leave your opponent out there and get back in in time, then you win by disqualification.

The Strong Bads have a special anger mechanic that you will contend with all the time. After some time, one of the opponents will turn red. When this happens, you will always be grappled and attacked no matter what you do. A lot of the strategy in the game revolves around managing the opponent’s anger. One little trick I learned is that if the opponent becomes angry while laying on the mat, you can pin him and that mellows him out somehow. He also never gets angry while outside of the ring. That may not be realistic, but sure, whatever. As play continues and you win more matches, the time between angriness decreases, making those matches much harder to win.

There are a couple of special instances that occasionally come into play. Each wrestler has an original super move. This move is the last in the move list, and you can only do the move against the opposite wrestler from the start of the match. The Strong Bads also have super moves in that same manner. The Ricky Fighters have an occasional, unique ability of their own that goes against the Strong Bad anger. During certain rounds, if you tag your partner in a number of consecutive times, you will flash for the duration of the match. I believe this makes your attacks more powerful. It’s too bad this can only be done a few times a game.

You won’t like them when they’re angry.

Beating the game requires winning 35 matches. Along the way you will obtain smaller titles on the road to Super Champion. After each victory, you see a screen showing the next title you are going after and how many wins you need to get there. The listing of titles in the game manual is incorrect. Clear Round 3 to become Regional Champion, Round 8 for American Champion, Round 15 for European Champion, Round 25 for World Champion, and Round 35 for Super Champion. Winning a title serves as a checkpoint and you don’t lose rank. For example, winning the first three matches earns you the Regional Champion title. If you lose a match while gunning for American Champion, you go back to Round 4 at the start of the American Champion ladder. You have unlimited continues, making the quest for Super Champion a little easier.

This was my first time playing through Tag Team Wrestling. I am not much a fan of wrestling anymore and I never cared for wrestling games at all. This is a common cart that can be found for a few bucks. I have had several copies of this game on my journey to own them all.

The exploit for winning this game became evident after a while. Early on I play the matches straight up. I got a feel for the right amount of opponent’s health to shoot for. You need it low enough to successfully pin but not too low so that he doesn’t go back to tag his partner in with a full health bar. This works for several rounds but eventually the anger kicks in faster and you need a new strategy. Knowing that the opponent never gets angry on the outside, the goal becomes to shift play out there as soon as possible. I can get him out there in two moves. The first knocks him down to set up the suplex that throws him out. From there, do a post smash to move him into the corner. With good timing when he gets up, you can always win the grapple for another attack. Then I establish a cadence of moves to set up the timing so that I can knock him down as close to a 19 count as possible. That gives me enough time left to get back into the ring so that I win by disqualification. This is not an easy setup, but I was able to do it enough through repetition that it became easy.

“Always grab the weapon on the floor” is some sound advice.

I had a few struggles and close calls. I am not a perfect player so mistakes will happen in my routine. Normally this isn’t an issue until the final matches. The Strong Bad anger becomes constant only a few grapples into a match. Should that happen, either I get lucky and get knocked out of the ring to stage a comeback or I’m toast. This came into play on my final attempt one night. After almost two hours of grinding, I finally reach Round 35. Right away it turns into disaster when I miss the suplex that would throw him outside. The anger loop happens, and I’m done for. After kicking out of a pin, miraculously I get knocked out of the ring. I start working my outside strategy, but my cadence is off. At the end of the count, I panic and fire off a move only to struggle getting back into the ring. I get called out as my feet are hovering above the mat. Game Over. I’m pretty sure after my shock wore off, I threw the controller, turned the game off, and went to bed. Two nights later, I’m back at Round 35 after almost 90 minutes of attempts. It starts off well enough, however somehow I miss a grapple on the outside and get beat up for a little bit before we both head back into the ring. This time I kept my composure enough to grapple him just before he tags his partner. Lucky for me, Strong Bads aren’t in anger mode when attempting to tag in their partner. I attack and get the win by pinfall. It wasn’t how I drew it up, but it works just the same. I ended up playing a couple more matches. You always get the Super Champion message past this point, and naturally I didn’t have any issues winning the extra matches. Looking back, I’m glad the ending was a little bit exciting since it’s a better story.

Tag Team Wrestling is more notable for its influence than for its gameplay. Not only was it probably the first third party NES game, but it also directly inspired the Strong Bad character from Homestar Runner. Aside from that, this is a lackluster game. The graphics and music are simplistic, though that’s not too unusual considering it is such an early effort on the NES. The menu-based move system is a novelty at first that soon becomes tedious. Matches are quick but the road to Super Champion seems to go on forever with very few opportunities to spice things up. The Strong Bad anger is absolutely unfair by the endgame. I don’t think it would be entertaining for a two-player game beyond a match or two. Tag Team Wrestling, while completely playable, is not fun to play. There are far better wrestling games on the NES.

#128 – Tag Team Wrestling


#119 – Boulder Dash

This action-puzzler gives you more than you bargain for.

Clouds rolling in and Rockford running around!

To Beat: Beat World 24 to reach the ending
Played: 3/16/19 – 4/3/19
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10
My Video: Boulder Dash Longplay

Boulder Dash and I go way back. All the way back to high school, that is. I was very mathematically minded and so I joined the math team. As part of the deal, all of us on the team were loaned a TI-85 graphing calculator. It had some capabilities, including being programmable, so naturally I started tinkering around making small games on it. Things really blew open when we found that some smart people had hacked into the calculator and wrote programs in assembly language that took full advantage of the hardware. I purchased a computer-to-calculator cable, hacked it myself, and started downloading fun games. One of those was Boulder Dash and I spent a lot of time playing it. Now, years later, I finally beat the game on the NES.

Boulder Dash was originally released for Atari 8-bit home computers in 1984. It was originally developed by Peter Liepa and Chris Gray and the game was acquired by First Star Software in 1983. The company is still around and continues to hold the license to Boulder Dash. The game has been widely ported to various home computers, consoles, handhelds, and mobile phones. The NES version of Boulder Dash was released first on Famicom in March 1990. The NES release followed in North America in June 1990 and in Europe sometime in 1990. This port was licensed by First Star Software but was developed by Data East, specifically Sakata SAS. The Japanese version was published by Data East, the North American version by JVC, and the European version by Nintendo.

The story for the game is a simple one. An old explorer named Stoneford is on his death bed. Before he passed away, he called over his son Rockford and handed him a map. He tells his son to do the adventure he couldn’t complete and find the secret jewels among the six worlds. You play the role of Rockford as he plans to fulfill his father’s wishes. Each of the six worlds contains four levels that the game manual calls towns. Within each world, you can play each level in any order you choose. When all levels are completed, you proceed to the next world. Your task is to complete all the worlds.

There’s even a World Map!

Boulder Dash is an action game, occasionally containing puzzle elements. The object is straightforward. Each level contains gems and there is a counter of how many remaining you need to collect. Once the minimum is gathered, a door will open up somewhere in the level and you need to enter it to complete the level. As you move through the levels, you will clear out dirt that is in your path. There are solid boulders that will fall if they are unobstructed by dirt or other objects. You must take care not to get hit in the head with a falling boulder or you will lose a life. Gems fall by the same rules as boulders and you can be killed by a falling one too.

The controls are easy. This is a top-down game with levels that scroll in all directions. Simply press and hold the D-pad to move around. You can only move in the four cardinal directions and the game is grid based. You move from space to space and you can hold a direction down to move multiple spaces consecutively. You move plenty fast. Everything else in the game plays by the same rules moving one space at a time but with much more rigid movement. You can move through dirt freely as well as into spaces occupied by gems. If you press up against a boulder from the side, as long as there is space on the other side, you will push the boulder one space at a time. Holding down either the A or B button combined with pressing a direction allows you to interact with an adjacent space. You can collect gems, dig dirt, or push rocks the next tile over without moving using this technique. Sometimes you will get trapped where you cannot move at all. You can let the timer run out, or you can hold down A and B to suicide.

There are two primary types of enemies in this game. In the original game, they are fireflies and butterflies, but here they take the form of enemies graphically depending on what world you are in. I’ll refer to them by fireflies and butterflies because even if that’s not what they look like, you can tell them apart by their behavior. Both enemies move around the level by hugging the walls. Fireflies move clockwise while butterflies move counter-clockwise around the walls. You can defeat these enemies by dropping either a boulder or a gem on top of them. They explode and clear out all spaces around them in a 3×3 area. Defeated butterflies generate a 3×3 area of gems instead. You need to take advantage of this right away in the first world where you can only harvest gems from the butterflies. The enemies will defeat you not only if you touch them, but also if they occupy the space next to you. You really have to be careful around the enemies.

Wait for the enemies and knock ’em cold!

There is another special enemy type called an amoeba. This one does not hurt you at all, but instead it tries to take over the entire level once space at a time. It begins as a single tile and expands to an adjacent open space or dirt tile. It has some special properties. Fireflies or butterflies are defeated when they touch the amoeba, exploding into either empty space or gems as if you defeated them with a boulder. If the amoeba gets too big, it will transform into all boulders which is disastrous. However, if you can enclose the amoeba to where it is unable to expand, it will transform into gems. Levels featuring amoebas usually require you to turn them into a large pile of diamonds.

Some other levels appear impossible to clear at first look. There aren’t enough gems within the level, there is no amoeba, nor enough butterflies. That means the level probably contains a magic wall. The manual for the NES version calls this a Special Stone Wall. The magic wall takes falling rocks and transforms them to gems on the other side of the wall. The first rock to fall into the wall activates the magic wall and then it wears off automatically after some time. You need to make sure there is enough space underneath the wall for the transformed gems, and boulders must fall at least one space into the wall before it will transform. Otherwise rocks will sit there and potentially block other rocks from falling through.

As levels get more complicated, some techniques begin to emerge. Though the enemy movements may seem erratic at first, they are very predictable. Since they hug the walls, by cleverly digging dirt as they pass, you can get them to loop around constantly within a small area. You can blow holes in the wall by defeating an enemy next to the wall. There can be gems in blocked off areas that you can now access. A little trick I picked up is that you can use Rockford himself in place of a boulder to help block off an amoeba. This also provides you an entry point into the new pile of gems once it transforms. On that note, using your “grab” technique with the A button gives you the ability to harvest gems out of a large pile while helping you stay just out of harm’s way. Some parts of the game require meticulous digging through the middle of a large pile of gems and boulders. These are puzzles that you have to reason your way through in order to collect as many jewels as possible without getting trapped or killed.

Good luck getting through that pile later.

Boulder Dash has a dirty trick up its sleeve. When you clear all levels in the six worlds, you get a pseudo ending but not a complete one. Then the game continues with Worlds 7-12. This is a second loop of the game with all the same levels but with higher gem requirements to reveal the exit. There is also a third and fourth loop of the game that you must complete before getting the actual ending to the game. Altogether there are 24 worlds. The third loop is particularly devious in that some of the level layouts have been slightly tweaked to make them much harder. The very first level in that third loop is a good indicator of what’s to come. That level is normally a quick clear, but this time the walls go all the way across, sealing off the bottom. You have to dig out a firefly and quickly try to defeat it along the floor so that you can blast a hole to the middle section, then you have to do that again to reach the lower section. Aside from layout changes, some of the gem requirements are even more strict. The fourth loop introduces more changes. Sometimes you have to harvest every possible gem in the level to move on. It gets very challenging.

At the start of the game, you get three spare lives. You get to change the color of your character to just about any color the NES offers. You get a map where you can choose which level in the world you want to try. If you die, you go back to the map and you can choose a different level if you want. Rockford earns a new life every 2000 points, which are a little tough to come by until the later levels. You have unlimited continues but you have to replay all already-completed levels within the world. Boulder Dash has a password system and you can get the password for any world, all the way up to World 24. That’s essential for beating this game. Passwords are simple six-digit codes that are easy to jot down.

This game combines elements in interesting ways.

I have played a lot of Boulder Dash casually, but never made a true effort to clear every level in the game until now. I picked up my cart copy of Boulder Dash many years ago. It was a game I knew I had to have. I played a fair amount of it back then but never really got very far. The last time I played Boulder Dash was in 2014 for the Nintendo Age contest. That time I reached World 13 with a strong score from replaying levels and earning enough points to keep up with lives. That was way farther than I ever made it before.

My complete run of the game took a few weeks to complete. I got through the first two loops fairly quickly and then stalled out on the other two loops. I don’t think I spent more than a couple of hours on any single world in the game, even the difficult ones at the end. I just had to keep at it and chip away. Due to my schedule, I cleared about a world a day toward the end, so that’s why it took so long. The whole game was probably a 20-hour completion. For my longplay video, I recorded just Worlds 19-24. It was too much to do the entire loop at once, so I recorded each world individually and just stitched them together into one video. There is plenty of failure there even without seeing any Game Over screen.

After all I went through to beat the game, I would still say Boulder Dash is a great game. I don’t necessarily think it is a great NES game. The graphics are pretty nice with different settings for each world. It is evident what each element is just from looking at it even though they can vary graphically. The music is good. The controls are simple but work just like Boulder Dash is supposed to work. The level design is good and provides you with varied challenges from pure action to puzzle solving. The problem with Boulder Dash on NES is that the game design is from an earlier time and it doesn’t really fit what an NES game should be like. The action is completely tile based with only the player character moving smoothly. There is some stiffness in the controls as well to match the gameplay. You can put a fresh coat of paint on it, but you can’t change the fundamentals of the gameplay and have it work right. This is the way Boulder Dash has to be to succeed as a concept. It’s not your typical NES game, but it is a good one if you can live with its limitations.

#119 – Boulder Dash


#108 – RoboCop

Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!

I don’t usually see a “subtitle” before the title like this.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/9/18 – 12/14-18
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: RoboCop Longplay

Usually when I play a game based on a movie, I always end up saying something about how I never saw the movie because my childhood was deprived and all that stuff.  This time I actually have seen the original RoboCop.  It’s just that it was several years ago and even then I barely remember anything about it.  RoboCop is one of those gritty late 80’s action movies that is ripe for a video game.  I would say it’s a pretty decent one.  Let’s take a look.

RoboCop is a 1987 action movie written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner and directed by Paul Verhoeven.  The film is about a dystopian, run-down Detroit, Michigan that makes a deal with a huge corporation, giving them control of the police department in exchange for renovating part of the city.  RoboCop was born out of an idea from one of the company executives where a recently-deceased person would have most of his or her body replaced with cybernetics, transforming the person into RoboCop who will help drive down crime.  The movie was a financial success and had relatively positive reviews from critics.  RoboCop would become a big media franchise including three feature films, a 2014 remake, two live-action TV series, two animated series, and several runs of comic books.

There were also several video games based on RoboCop.  All three feature films received a video game adaptation.  There was a RoboCop vs. The Terminator game based on the comic mini-series.  There is a Game Boy Color game that appears to have been released only in Europe.  A PlayStation 2 and Xbox RoboCop game came out in 2003.  There were also two mobile games.  The NES received three RoboCop games while a RoboCop vs Terminator NES port was developed but never released.  The NES RoboCop game was released first on the Famicom in August 1989.  The North American version came in December 1989, and the PAL version launched in April 1991.  The game was developed by Sakata SAS who ported many Data East games to the NES.  The game was published by Data East except in PAL territories where it was published by Ocean Software.

Just casually punching thugs on the street.

This game loosely follows the plot of the film.  You play as RoboCop over six different assignments.  Your first missions don’t seem to be based on the movie.  You follow RoboCop as he cleans up the streets, takes out some bad guys, and deals with a hostage situation at City Hall.  Later, you encounter and go after Clarence Boddicker and Dick Jones, both villains from the movie.  You beat the game once you complete all six missions.

RoboCop is a side-scrolling action game with basic controls.  Use the D-pad to walk around Left and Right.  You can’t jump in this game.  The B button punches while the A button fires weapons.  If RoboCop doesn’t have a weapon drawn, the A button also punches.  RoboCop can take the stairs by pressing either Up or Down while standing near the stairs, but the positioning for this is a little tricky at first.  You can press Down to duck and fire low.  You can press Up to enter doorways.  RoboCop can fire his guns in any direction including diagonals by pressing the desired direction when shooting.  The Select button with the Down arrow is used to block punches.

The lower portion of the screen contains your useful information.  The left side shows your energy level and your power level.  Below that is your score.  Your currently selected weapon is in the center followed by your ammo count and maximum ammo.  You can switch between weapons by pressing either Up or Down when the game is paused.  The four boxes on the right side are your function indicators.

One of the main mechanics in the game is the connection between the energy and power meters.  The energy meter corresponds to your battery while your power meter is more like your health meter.  When you take damage from enemies, it always drains your energy meter a little bit.  Some enemies also deal damage that affects your power meter more drastically.  Your energy slowly drains away as you play, acting like a timer.  You die when either meter is depleted so you need to manage both as you play.

Both the lower indicator and wall flashing make this obvious.

The four indicators at the bottom of the screen will blink to notify you of certain things during the game.  The first is the infrared indicator which blinks whenever your infrared vision is turned on.  When this happens, part of the stage will blink and you have to attack it with punches.  The second indicator is the punch indicator.  When blinking, it means the enemies on screen can only be defeated with punches.  The third is the foe detector which blinks faster the closer you get to the end-level boss.  The final indicator is the energy and power alarm.  This indicator blinks either when you are low on energy or power or when either meter has dropped quickly.

There are a couple of different weapons you will acquire through the game.  Your default gun is the Auto-9, a handgun with unlimited ammo.  It is basic but effective.  There is a machine gun with rapid fire capability that burns through bullets very fast.  The best weapon is the cobra gun.  It launches huge bullets that do massive damage.  However, you don’t find the gun until late in the game, and when you do it can only be fired a few times before it’s gone.  Use it wisely!

There are a few pickups during the game that help you out.  Sometimes defeated enemies drop them, but mostly you will find them lying on the ground.  Walk over them and duck with Down to bend over and pick them up.  A lightning canister fills up part of your energy meter, while the canister with the letter P on it restores part of your power meter.  You can also find machine guns and cobra guns on the ground to give you more ammo.

Pickups aren’t usually this plentiful.

RoboCop is quite a straightforward game.  The levels are relatively small and self-contained.  You usually travel to the right with only a few stages that have different paths through.  There are simple enemies that run at you.  Guys with guns fire out of windows and you have to aim your guns to defeat them.  RoboCop does not always have access to his gun.  At certain points, RoboCop will either draw his gun or put it away.  This means you have to get used to punching, but often the enemies you get are suited to your weapon loadout at the time.  All levels end in a boss fight.  Simple stuff.

After the second and fourth missions, you get to play a shooting mini-game.  This is a first-person style game where you move a targeting reticle with the D-pad and press A or B to shoot.  Targets appear and you have to blow away as many open ones as you can.  You will get a feel for which ones appear quickly and which ones take a while to set up.  If you manage to take out all the targets, you will earn an extra life.  You also get a bunch of points here during the mini-game if you care at all about your score.

RoboCop has only one life in the game.  Your extra life is extremely valuable because when you die you get all your energy and power restored right away and can keep playing from that same spot.  Otherwise, you can continue up to three times.  You will continue at the start of the current mission with just your base equipment.  Normally you get to keep your weapons from level to level, but continuing is better than starting over.  One really annoying thing about this game is that when you run out of continues, the game freezes on the Game Over screen and you have to physically reset the console to start over.

Just a handgun? No problem!

I have played RoboCop many years ago as a kid.  I remember a babysitter had the game with her NES and I’m pretty sure that I even beat the game back then.  This was my first time playing the game in probably 25 years, so it might as well have been a new game to me.  I don’t think I owned a copy of the game until during my collecting days, though it is a common one and I have owned several copies.  You could probably get a copy yourself for around $5.

I only needed a few attempts to complete the game.  It wasn’t until the end that I managed enough shots in the target game to earn an extra life.  That pushed me over the top.  I can handle each level on its own well enough except the final level, but with the extra life I can make it.  Nowadays, I tend to play through games like this twice.  The first playthrough is casual, and then I do another one for video.  My casual playthrough and my recorded longplay ended up just about identical from what I remember.  I think I needed the extra life a little earlier in the longplay but it’s not a big deal.  Even with limited continues and no lives to start, the fact that I can now beat the game quickly after only a few tries makes this game a little bit below average difficulty in my view.

RoboCop is kind of a no-frills, average action game.  The graphics and music are pretty decent.  There are some animated cutscenes that are nice.  The controls are stiff and triggering the stairs could have better hit detection.  I like that you can fire in all directions and that shooting is responsive.  I think the boss encounters are pretty neat.  The energy and power meters maybe don’t make the most sense in gameplay, but it forces you to play quickly and effectively which I think is okay.  I like this game, but I admit that it is average and doesn’t really stand out so much.  It is far from an essential game and can probably be skipped, but I feel it’s worth a look anyway, especially if you don’t have to spend much on it.

#108 – RoboCop


#74 – Sqoon

Who needs a yellow submarine when you can pilot a pink one?

One of the busiest title screens ever.

To Beat: Finish Phase 8
What I Did: Completed two loops
Played: 2/19/18 – 2/23/18
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: Sqoon Longplay

This is not the first case in this project where I play a game that is linked to something else that I recently finished. However, this particular connection might be the most esoteric. What could Chubby Cherub and Sqoon have in common? After all, they are in different genres and created by different developers. I mentioned in my Chubby Cherub review that it is one of the few NES games that is exclusively in the 5-screw form factor, and Sqoon is another one. There’s only a handful of games like that, and here we have two of them nearly back to back. I find these nearby relationships fascinating even if it is purely meaningless. Allow me then to make another comparison. Even though Chubby Cherub is an early platformer and Sqoon is an early shoot-em-up, both games have some interesting ideas for their respective genres that don’t resurface very often.

Sqoon, pronounced “skoon,” is an original Famicom game released in Japan in June 1986. It was developed by Home Data and published by Irem. The NES version came out in North America in September 1987. It was not released elsewhere. Most of Home Data’s games stayed in Japan and therefore they are not well known outside of their home country. They made several Mahjong games as well as a baseball series named Koshien. Irem has a surprisingly small presence on NES, publishing only four games on the console.

Sqoon is a side-scrolling underwater shoot-em-up with a deeper back story than I expected. The inhabitants of Neptune, aptly named the Neptunians, are facing a planetary crisis. They are an underwater race, but meteorites are destroying their land and they are losing their food, Man-ham livestock. That’s their name for humans, I suppose. (I know it’s weird but it’s in the manual!) They hatched a plan to invade Earth where they will be able to find plenty of food. When they arrived, they melted the ice caps and flooded the world. Earth’s only hope for survival is the pirate Narikeen and his trusty submarine named Sqoon. A desperate plea was just barely enough to entice Narikeen to defeat all the Neptunians and save the Earth.

The shrill warning noises add to the story for sure.

To beat the game, you must pilot the submarine through eight phases. Each one represents a location on Earth that you must secure from the Neptunians. You begin in New York and kind of circumnavigate the globe, ending at the North Pole. Unfortunately, Sqoon doesn’t have an ending, but if you can complete all eight phases and loop back to the beginning, that is good enough.

Sqoon has simple controls. You use the D-pad to move in all eight directions. You are limited to traveling underwater only, but this takes up most of the screen so you have a lot of room to work with. The A button fires your missiles. This is the default, straight-shooting weapon, and you can have several missiles on screen at once. The B button fires your ice ball gun. This shot arcs downward and is useful for taking out ground targets. You have unlimited shots of both weapons and you will be doing a whole lot of button mashing in Sqoon. The ice ball gun is a little harder to use and you can only have one ice ball on screen at a time, but some enemies can only be destroyed by it. The Start button pauses the action. When paused, the game plays a different song instead of silence like in most other games.

The primary mechanic to Sqoon is the fuel system. You begin with 60 units of fuel as indicated on the lower left of the screen. Fuel is consumed quickly, but there are a couple of ways to refuel. The main method is to get a fuel drop from the motorized island that can appear on the surface. You have to exchange either nine humans or one human plus a piece of gold to get a drop. There are pods on the ocean floor that hold humans and you can release them if you strike it with an ice ball. The people will spread out and you can collect them into your submarine. An indicator will briefly appear next to your sub showing how many people you have inside. Gold comes from the recurring crab also on the ocean floor. Bop him with an ice ball, and he will jump backward and turn into a gold piece. You can then grab it but you must be quick. He will turn back into a crab if you leave him alone too long and he is deadly to the touch. Once you meet either requirement, the island will appear above you. Navigate to the surface and mash the B button to drop off gold or people and get your reward. The other way to refuel is to take a death, either by colliding with an enemy or running out of fuel. Naturally, you want to avoid this if you want to get far in this game.

Save the helpless people!

By taking nine people to the motorized island, your fuel drop also doubles as a weapon powerup for your missiles. The default missile is the horizon missile. Grab one weapon powerup to turn that into the Bow-wow missile, and grab another one to turn that into the Adenoid missile. The horizon missile is consumed whenever it hits an enemy. The Bow-wow missile has the same straight trajectory but a single missile can defeat many enemies in a row. The Adenoid missile is a narrow three-way shot that has piercing bullets like the Bow-wow missile. The one bad thing with the Adenoid missile is that you can only fire one shot at a time, though it is powerful enough to still be useful under that limitation. If you lose a life, you go back one weapon, as well as lose any people you have saved up to that point.

There are a bunch of different underwater enemies in this game. There are fish, snails, shrimp, shells, and frogs, just to name a few. Despite the graphical variety, they use just a few distinct movement patterns. The most common movement is a loop-de-loop. It’s really an annoying pattern to deal with, but since you see it so often you eventually get used to it. Other patterns are more typical like a zig-zag or coming at you in a straight line. A few enemy types stand out. Sharks are non-lethal to Sqoon, but they will eat people floating around. Tall, pointy shells emerge from the ground and move straight up. These are indestructible and just get in the way. There are also minefields of little bobbing mines that you can take out with the ice ball gun for 1000 points each.

The levels themselves are quite plain. Each Phase begins with a cityscape in the back. It’s not super nice looking but pretty well detailed for such an early title. You will regularly pass by factories. These are large structures that have a lot of moving parts to them. Those parts can be destroyed with a direct hit of your ice ball gun. They also have at least one pod that releases humans. Near the end of the phase, you pass through a minefield as mentioned above. Then, unless you are in Phase 1, you reach the enemy base. Here the scrolling stops for a little while and you have to fend off swarms of enemies. It’s not mandatory to take out parts of the base but I always do. Other than these events, the rest of the levels are just plain backgrounds and are only distinguished by enemy patterns and the layout of the occasional ground factories.

The cities are about the only background decoration.

The very first enemy in each stage is a special one. It’s a sea slug sitting on the ocean floor. You can hit it with an ice ball for 200 points, but it doesn’t die. You have to hit it on the back of the slug for this to work, but if you hit it exactly ten times it will transform into a necklace. Grab this necklace to get an extra life. If you hit the necklace with the ice ball gun it turns back into the slug. It’s nice to find this extra life every stage. There are also extra lives of various shapes that you can find in the game. Usually they are near the city at the start of the phase but sometimes appear elsewhere. What is special about the necklace is that you can trigger a weird event with it. If you have the necklace and can defeat an entire factory without dying, it turns the whole background to one solid, bright color. Play continues as normal except you don’t use any fuel during this time. It all feels like a glitch but it appears to be intentional. The screen eventually goes back to normal and you start consuming fuel again.

This was my first time beating Sqoon. I had played it once before in 2015 as part of the Nintendo Age contest. Looking back, I must not have had time to play that week because I didn’t get past Phase 2. Sqoon is an uncommon cart, but I have had two copies. I bought one at a nearby game store for either $10 or $12 sometime in 2014, and then I bought another copy online for around $30 in early 2015. Sqoon has an unusually fragile label. I picked up the second copy sight unseen in hope of a label upgrade and it wasn’t any better. The one I kept has a large rip in one of the corners. Either way, it was a good value buy. Sqoon has similar selling characteristics as Chubby Cherub. A loose cart sells for around $75 now, but the box and manual are even more hard to come by and are much more expensive. While values can be fluid, expect to pay $250 or higher for a complete copy. If I really want a label upgrade down the road, then I’ll have to pay for it.

These shelled enemies are awful.

It took me just a few days to beat Sqoon. It’s a tough game, but it seems like it gets easier more quickly than other games like this. The hurdles are coping with the enemy patterns, acquiring the items, and constantly staying refueled. A lot of enemies can simply be avoided, and once you get the hang of adding fuel you will always be prepared for your next drop well ahead of time. The middle levels seem to pose the biggest threat. There is a shelled enemy that shows up here which takes many hits to beat and has that curly movement pattern. There are enough extra lives in the game to keep afloat (sorry) and I can survive a few deaths in the harder sections and still be okay. The fuel recovery loop clicked with me at the same time I figured out the secret to getting the pendant from the slug.

Once you get the hang of the game, seeing it through to the end is a slog. It’s a slow scrolling game and some of the levels drag on a lot longer than they should. There’s not much variety throughout the game. It’s fun for a little while, but it grows old. The only other thing out of the ordinary in Sqoon appears at the end of the seventh phase. After passing the base, the screen switches over to a message from the Neptunians indicating that reinforcements are on their way. It’s jarring when it shows up so unexpectedly, but then you don’t get any other message when you finish the final phase.

When I first beat the game, I wasn’t recording anything. I left my NES on throughout the day and chipped away at the game. I played through the second loop, which only consisted of a few minor graphical changes. I took a peek at the NES Ending FAQ and the author indicated you get a special message near the end of the third loop. I completed that, but I didn’t see anything different. I went as far as to examine the ROM on my computer and look for text to see there were any other messages in-game. I was able to locate all the main text within the game, but nothing else. Perhaps this secret message is embedded into the background tiles somehow, instead of using the normal letter tiles that are used for all other text. I couldn’t find any other evidence online of anything in Sqoon past the second loop. In my opinion, completing one loop of Sqoon is good enough. I played through two loops in my longplay video just to show off the minor differences.

You want to collect the necklace at every opportunity.

There’s one more bit of trivia about the Famicom version of Sqoon. Famicom carts are interesting in that they come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. One notable trait of Irem’s early games is the inclusion of a red LED light on the front of the cart that lights up when the game is turned on. The Famicom is a top-loading console and lacks any power light like the NES has, so this was a neat little feature. I assume it became too expensive to include the LED on the carts, so later printings of Irem’s games do not have the LED. The non-LED Sqoon variant is harder to come by and therefore more valuable to collectors. I bet you thought I couldn’t come up with anything more obscure than NES cart variants.

Sqoon is a pretty good NES game for its time. It has many enemies with complicated patterns, and some interesting mechanics that don’t appear often in shooters. The graphics aren’t great by today’s standards, but they are suitable and have some nice detail under the early limitations of NES carts. The music is nice. The gameplay does suffer a bit in its hit detection with the ice balls, but it is something you can compensate for with some experience. I’d say it is one of the weaker NES shooters overall. It’s okay to pass on it, especially if you insist on having an expensive hard copy.

#74 – Sqoon


#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


#48 – BurgerTime

Build the biggest believable burgers in BurgerTime.

Another plain arcade title screen.

To Beat: Finish 6 Levels
Played: 3/28/2017 – 3/29/2017
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: BurgerTime Playthrough

BurgerTime is another one of the many arcade ports that made its way to the NES. I did not play the arcade version of the game, but I do have some nostalgia for this NES port. I had left the game mostly untouched for the past 25 years as just about all my experience of this game came when I was young. It’s time for me to experience this blast from the past and shed some new light on both this game and its successors.

BurgerTime was first released in arcades in Japan as Hamburger, and then the name was changed over when it came to the US. It was originally released in 1982 by Data East as part of the company’s DECO Cassette System. This was the first arcade system where one could buy a standardized cabinet and load different games to the machine using cassette tapes. BurgerTime also got its own standalone cabinet published by Bally Midway. The game received around ten ports to various computers and consoles, such as Intellivision, ColecoVision, and the Apple II. The Famicom port of BurgerTime was developed by Data East and published by Namco. It was released in November 1985. BurgerTime was brought to the NES in May 1987, this time published by the developer Data East.

There are also a number of sequels and spin-offs for BurgerTime. An Intellivision-only sequel named Diner was released in 1984 where you push balls of food to the bottom of the screen and into enemies. Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory was also a 1984 release in arcades where you build ice cream cones. Super BurgerTime was a 1990 arcade game that is an enhanced version of the original concept. The Game Boy received BurgerTime Deluxe in 1991. Namco released an updated version of the original game for mobile devices named BurgerTime Delight in 2007. Lastly, a 3D version of the game called BurgerTime World Tour was released in 2011 on Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network, with a Wiiware version arriving in 2012.

Who put all this stuff here in the first place?

BurgerTime is a single screen action game. The screen is filled with platforms and ladders, and there are various slices of hamburgers, buns, and toppings across the board. You control the chef Peter Pepper as he must use all the ingredients on screen to build gigantic hamburgers underneath the level. You do this by running across the ingredients causing them to fall to the level below. If an ingredient falls on top of another one, it falls as well potentially setting off a chain reaction. Once all the burgers are assembled, you complete the round and move on to the next stage.

A game like this wouldn’t be complete without enemies, and there are three different types in BurgerTime. They are named Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Egg, and Mr. Pickle. All three enemies behave in the same way by following you around the board. Mr. Hot Dog is the most numerous of the enemy foods. Mr. Egg appears in fewer numbers and he tends to be a little bit smarter as he tracks you. Mr. Pickle appears in the later levels and also tends to be a bit smarter like Mr. Egg. The only way the enemies defeat Peter Pepper is to run into him, so you should always be on the move.

Peter Pepper can use the ingredients to his advantage in dealing with the enemies. If one of the ingredients falls on an enemy, they get squished and you get points. After a few seconds, a new enemy will take his place and join the fray. You can also displace enemies by dropping an ingredient they are standing on. Not only does this knock out enemies for a short time, but it also causes the ingredient to drop more ledges than when dropped alone. You score double points for each additional dropped enemy on the same ingredient, so this is the best way to rack up points in a hurry as well as clear the level more quickly.

A dash of pepper can help if you get trapped like this.

The only weapon our chef has at his disposal is pepper. It is only limited to a few uses but it is incredibly useful to get out of a bind. Simply press A or B to throw a dash of pepper in the direction you are facing. Pepper stuns all enemies it touches and you can run right through them without getting hurt. It can be used as an evasive move if you get trapped, but you can also use it to stack several enemies together on top of an ingredient and then drop them all at once for huge points. You get five peppers at the start of the game and you can acquire additional ones from powerups that appear in the middle of the level periodically. Depending on the level you will find an ice cream cone, a cup of coffee, or a bag of fries that give you points as well as pepper.

BurgerTime has six levels and it only takes a couple of minutes to clear each one. However, it’s a challenging game. At first, it gets overwhelming being chased around by four or five enemies at one time. After getting used to it, the first couple of levels are pretty straightforward. The third level requires you to work your way up through narrow space to reach the top part of the stage. This is a solid test for understanding how the enemies route their way across the level in order to navigate around them. The fifth stage has long platforms without branching paths, leading you to get trapped easily if you aren’t careful. The final stage is nasty, including several ingredients placed on dead ends. Having several shots of pepper handy goes a long way to clearing it. After all six stages are finished, the game loops back to the first level with faster enemies. It will keep looping until you run out of lives.

BurgerTime was one of the very first games my family owned for our NES. If memory serves it was the third game we owned after Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and Pinball. Therefore, BurgerTime is among my earliest gaming memories. I do remember beating this game as a child by hoarding pepper for the final stage and setting up a super combo with all the enemies included. As we collected new games, I put BurgerTime on the back burner for many years. I played it again in 2015 when it showed up as a NintendoAge contest game. I did not beat the game that week, but now I got to beat the game again for the first time since I was 7 or 8 years old.

The level layouts get tricky at the end.

I beat BurgerTime in one late night, but it wasn’t easy. Stage 6 is the most challenging by far, but Stage 5 is the make it or break it level for me. I typically have to use a lot of pepper because it’s easy to get surrounded on the long platforms, and I need to hold on to as much pepper as possible for the final level. When I did reach the final level, I had some close calls. I was one ingredient drop away from beating the game on my first attempt. On a couple of later tries I botched some near finishes with several lives remaining. I completed the game on my ninth attempt, and I finished it off by playing into the second loop until I lost all my lives.

The one thing I run into trouble with in this game is moving on and off ladders. You have to be lined up with them pretty close to center before you can climb them. To get off, you must be at the very top or bottom before you can move laterally. The inability to make precise movements when you get stuck on an edge makes BurgerTime much more frustrating than it should be. I like it when games automatically nudge you the rest of the way if you start to switch direction just a tad early. That would have really come in handy here.

BurgerTime is a serviceable arcade game port that plays just fine on the NES. As this port is based on an older game, the presentation matches the arcade version. However, on the NES it comes off as a bit sparse. The graphics are plain and include solid black backgrounds. The music is one continuous, droning loop and the sound effects are simplistic. Gameplay is what matters most, and BurgerTime has it where it counts. Rounding up the enemies and dropping them in bulk is satisfying, as is crushing them with a bun or lettuce leaf. It’s fun to play for high scores and it’s fun to work through all the levels. BurgerTime is not a bad choice to consider adding to your NES collection if you are interested in 1980s arcade games.

#48 – BurgerTime

Crystal Quest Box Cover

Game Boy #2 – Crystal Quest

I thought I was getting some kind of RPG, but I ended up with an arcade game instead!

The title screen is misleading too, but it works!

The title screen is misleading too, but it works!

To Beat: Set the high score
To Complete: Beat Wave 99
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 6/28/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Crystal Quest caught me a bit by surprise in a number of ways. I was not expecting to be writing a Game Boy post right now, but circumstances can be a funny thing sometimes and so here we are. I didn’t know anything about the game until just last week, but when I saw the cart I figured it would be something I would want to have for my collection. When I ended up with was not the game I was guessing I would get, but it turned out to be a fun little diversion that took me almost no time at all to complete.

It all started last week while looking at game lots for sale on eBay. I am always keeping an eye out for good deals as well as games to add to my ever growing collection. One listing I found was for a small Game Boy lot that included Crystal Quest. This was the first time I had ever seen the game while looking at Game Boy games over the last several months. It looked intriguing just based on the cover art alone. I put it in my watch list and hemmed and hawed about buying it before deciding to let the auction end without placing a bit.

I still wanted to know more about the game so I did a little bit of research about the gameplay. Surprising to me, this game with the word Quest in the title was actually an arcade shooter. I hopped on over to eBay and found a copy for under $7 shipped, and when researching prices it seemed to be worth around $10, so that was enough for me to take the plunge and pick up a new game for the collection.

Yep, definitely not an RPG!

Yep, definitely not an RPG!

I received the cart earlier in the week along with a few other games I had ordered. I opened up and cleaned the carts like I always do, and then later on I fired the games up to test them out. When I got to Crystal Quest, I played through a few levels only to lose all of my lives rather quickly. Rather than putting it away, I decided to go for one more try. All of a sudden, I had that beautiful moment where the game clicked with me. I played and played and I got to the point where I could play indefinitely, which is about as good as it gets for an endless game like Crystal Quest. It started with cart testing time, and it ended up with the base for a new blog post!

Crystal Quest was originally released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh and the Apple IIgs. It was developed by Patrick Buckland and published by Casady & Greene. The game is notable for being the first game in color for the Macintosh. Crystal Quest is loosely based on the Atari 800 XL game Crystal Raider, which is a platformer instead of a shooter style game but with a similar premise. There would later be a sequel released in 1993 named Crystal Crazy, and much later in 2006 Crystal Quest was ported to the Xbox 360 on the Xbox Live Arcade. A Kickstarter was launched in 2015 to create a new version of the game, but unfortunately it did not meet its funding goal. The Game Boy version I played was released in September 1991, published by Data East, and developed by Novalogic.

Crystal Quest is a top down arcade shooter with a very simple goal. You pilot a spaceship inside an arena that is scattered with crystals. The goal is to collect all the crystals and escape through the hatch that opens at the bottom of the screen. That sounds simple, but of course there are obstacles designed to prevent you from easily clearing the room. Randomly strewn on the screen are mines that will explode the ship if touched. There are also two hatches. One is on the left side of the screen and the other on the right side, and they spawn various types of enemies. Each wave consists of a single screen of randomly placed crystals and mines, and the enemies will keep flowing until you escape to the next wave.

Death is pretty common in this game.

Death is pretty common in this game.

The controls are really simple. Use the D-pad to move in any direction. Press the A button to fire a bullet, and press the B button to use a bomb. The movement in the game is very inertia heavy so it is pretty easy to slide around all over the place. Pressing in the opposite direction to slow down is an essential skill. The shooting in this game is unique in that the bullets go in exactly the same direction as the ship is moving. For instance, to fire right means having to move to the right. That makes it challenging to attack enemies coming directly toward you. Even more strange is that shooting without moving at all will place a stationary bullet as sort of a makeshift mine.

The bombs are very powerful weapons that wipe out all of the enemies on the screen. Of course bombs like this can only be used a limited number of times so they must be used conservatively. There are bomb icons in the levels that can be collected to add a bomb to the supply. These turn out to be crucial in keeping alive through as many waves as possible.

There are several different enemy types that will stand in the way of completing the level. They are very tiny sprites and it is typically difficult to distinguish exactly how they will move and attack by sight alone. I just observed them for a second to see how they would attack instead. Some enemies shoot, some enemies home in on you, some enemies drop mines, some randomly bounce around the screen, and so on.

Ride the wave!

Ride the wave!

Crystal Quest is primarily a score attack game and as a result there are several ways to earn points. Collecting crystals and killing enemies give a small amount of points. There are diamonds sometimes dispersed in the level that are there to provide a nice point boost. Occasionally a large diamond will appear that appears to be an enemy at first, but it can be collected and it is worth a lot of points. After the wave is completed, there is a time bonus that depends on how long it takes to complete the wave. The score starts out adding up slowly but it really ramps up after about a dozen stages or so.

There are 99 Waves total in Crystal Quest. I know that because I got to Wave 99 and after beating it the game just loops Wave 99 over and over until you quit or run out of lives. Every 15 waves or so there is a small cutscene where a bug gets shot and explodes, and you are rewarded with a one-word attaboy like “Radical” or “Awesome.” Eventually these cutscenes cease once the Wave 99 loop starts. At some point, the escape hatch start moving back and forth along the bottom of the screen which adds a little extra challenge to slipping out of the arena at the end.

I found that the game takes a little bit of practice to get used to, but after that the Waves become really short. It doesn’t take long to start making good progress into the game. Crystal Quest is also very generous with extra lives doled out at a regular pace. I couldn’t discern any sort of pattern of when I would get an extra life but I would earn one at least every other level, and so I could earn lives faster than I could spend them. At the very least I could maintain roughly the same number of lives. The bombs worked the same way so I never ran out of them or even got particularly low.

The high scores may seem out of reach but they are managable.

The high scores may seem out of reach but they are managable.

I developed a good strategy for playing Crystal Quest. I would sweep each level counter-clockwise starting with the right side of the screen. Early on I stopped shooting altogether in favor of collecting the crystals and exiting the stage as quickly as possible. If I got into any trouble I dropped a bomb and kept moving. This was tricky when collecting crystals around the side enemy hatches. Usually activating a single bomb as I approached the left hatch and quickly flying through seemed to do the trick most of the time.

With repeating that strategy, I reached Wave 99 in a little over a half hour with about 5 million points. I figured that the score would either cap or loop at 9,999,999 so I kept going until then. As it turns out the score keeps tallying above 10 million points, so I called it quits shortly after that. There’s no way I wanted to spend several more hours in an attempt to max out the score just to see what happens!

Endless games are always a challenge to pin on a winning condition. There are several options and there’s a good argument for every one of them, but I had to choose something so this is what I decided. I like to choose the point where all the levels are completed, but that does fit well here since the level layouts are completely random. Beating Wave 99 seems a little excessive to me, so I opted to use that as the Completed winning condition. The next option is either setting the high score or finding where the difficulty maxes out. I decided upon setting the high score as the winning condition since Crystal Quest looks to be all about getting a high score. The high score on the hall of fame screen is 1,750,000, so exceeding that score is the minimum to consider the game beaten in my opinion.

Crystal Quest is a fine option to pick up and play for a few minutes every now and then, but there’s not really enough to the game to want to play it any more than that. It’s a competent game for sure, but I feel that it’s not worth seeking out unless it’s really cheap. I had a fun time with it however so it was worth the cost to me!

Game Boy #2 - Crystal Quest

Game Boy #2 – Crystal Quest

Game Boy #2 - Crystal Quest (High Score)

Game Boy #2 – Crystal Quest (High Score)

BreakThru Box Cover

#15 – BreakThru

The title of the game is a pretty fair assessment of what to expect here.

It’s not really a breakthrough of title screen design (sorry!)

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 1/30/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

For as many classic NES titles as there are, there have to be others that fall on the other side of the coin. I’m sure there are many poor NES games that I will get to, but then there are others that are just kind of okay and don’t really stand out in any significant way. BreakThru seems to be exactly that kind of middling game that is buried deep within the NES library.

BreakThru was developed and published by Data East in 1986 as an arcade game. It was released on the Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64 before making its way to the NES in November 1987. Data East was responsible for publishing over 20 NES games between 1986 and 1992 covering most of the NES lifespan. There really aren’t exact dates for NES game releases but from what I found BreakThru was released in the same month as Kid Niki: Radical Ninja and Side Pocket.

BreakThru is a side-scrolling shooting game where you take control of some kind of armored car. Your mission is to plow through enemy territory in order to recover a stolen aircraft. Your vehicle is equipped with a cannon that lets you shoot forward, and I guess it also has some sort of advanced hydraulic system that lets you jump. You can also speed up and slow down by moving backward or forward. Adjusting the speed more or less affects the scrolling speed of the game but you do need to speed up fast to make some jumps across obstacles. The jumping is also useful as a dodging mechanic since you can’t take any damage from enemy fire whenever the car is in the air.

Shoot the crates!

Shoot the crates!

There are five stages in total: Mountain, Bridges, Prairie, City, and Airfield. There are various enemy tanks, soldiers, and other hazards that stand in your way. There are no bosses in this game so levels end whenever you reach the end. The closest thing this game has to a boss is a giant helicopter that appears a few times through the course of the game. There are a few powerups that drop down on parachutes occasionally but there’s not much variety here. There are three powerups that all give you a three-way spread shot with the only difference being how long you have the weapon. There is also an extra life to grab. I found the powerups to look just about the same so I couldn’t really tell what the differences were without the manual, and they are also kind of tricky to grab in the first place. I think I had to jump to pick them up because they floated too far away if I stayed on the ground.

I picked up my copy of BreakThru a long time ago from a used game store. I bought it solely on the name. What I was really after was a breakout-style game and Arkanoid was too expensive for me. At that store the NES games were in a case with only the end labels showing so I didn’t actually get to see the game cart until after I paid. I think it was only $5 so it wasn’t that much, but unfortunately the cart had a huge crack in the back covered with tape. It’s the only copy I’ve ever had so it’s still in my collection. I took it home, played it once, and put it away for years. I wouldn’t pick it up again until it showed up in the NA weekly contest last year.

Did they blow up the lines on the road too?

Did they blow up the lines on the road too?

My run of BreakThru was really simple. In the prior contest, the object was to score as many points as you can before you start your last life. You only get three lives to start and they don’t show up in the levels that often, but you can also earn additional lives by reaching certain scores. I know you get one life for getting 20,000 points but that’s all I could reach. Under those conditions, I got roughly halfway through the second level. When I played this time obviously I could play however I wanted and it was much easier to get through. There are unlimited continues and each level has a pretty generous amount of checkpoints. You get to restart at those checkpoints after each death, even when continuing after Game Over. The game must be beaten in one sitting but you can just keep chipping away at it until you beat it. When I sat down to play I only intended to play for a little while just to get used to the early part of the game. I ended up finishing the game in a little over 30 minutes.

After the ending scene plays out, the game starts over from the beginning. I played the first level again just to see if it is more difficult the second time but it looked exactly the same to me. Because of that I didn’t bother completing the second loop. Now in the arcade version, I read that after beating all five levels you get to choose which level to start on the second time through. The game ends after the second loop. On the NES version, I couldn’t find any evidence of anything different after winning the second loop and there was no level select after the ending like in the arcade version. I didn’t want to spend any more time playing the game just on the chance of there being something more. If there actually is a true ending, then I guess I’ll have to go back to it sometime later!

Stay above 50!

Stay above 50!

The game may be on the short side with unlimited continues and checkpoints, but it does pose a moderate challenge. I could see there being several sections of the game that would take some practice to pass even though I got through it quickly without much trouble when I played. For instance, there are some large jumps from one bridge to another in the second level and they roll right into a first helicopter attack that catches you off guard the first time. It’s these kind of sections that put the difficulty near average. Now, if you are a purist that believes these games must be beaten on a single credit, then that bumps the difficulty quite a few notches higher. For my purposes, I think my difficulty assessment is appropriate based on what I’ve played, but of course that’s always true for these rankings!

BreakThru isn’t that bad of a game, especially as an early NES title. By today’s standards, the game doesn’t really stand out all that much and it shows its age. I haven’t played the arcade version but I’m betting it’s the superior experience of BreakThru. Either way, it’s a nice little game to check off of my list!

BreakThru Ending Screen

#15 – BreakThru