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#175 – Skate Or Die

If I have to choose, I’m choosing to skate.

Fine, fine, let’s skate!

To Beat: Get the high score in all events
Played: 5/17/21 – 5/18/21
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Skate or Die Longplay

Skateboarding and video games seem like a perfect match with each other.  I did some looking into early skateboarding history and I noticed some similarities.  Skateboarding began as a niche hobby, really blew up in its early days, then had a very quick downturn for several years, dismissed as a fad.  Video games had a similar trajectory early on.  Computers were inaccessible to all but engineers, researchers, and educators because they were so huge and costly, but that didn’t stop them from designing games on early hardware.  As video games got bigger and bigger, they too had a very quick rise and quick fall from the infamous video game crash in the US.  But both activities recovered quite nicely and are still very popular.  A match made in heaven, indeed.  Today’s game is one of the earlier attempts to capture the essence of skateboarding into video game form.

For as popular as video games and skateboarding were in their early days, the first skateboarding video games didn’t appear until around 1986.  Atari Games’ 720 is considered the first skateboarding video game, which had an NES port that I will cover in the future.  Skate or Die followed not too long after, first released on the Commodore 64 in 1987 by Electronic Arts, their very first game developed in-house.  The game was ported to various computers in 1988 and 1989, such as DOS and the ZX Spectrum.  Skate or Die came to the NES via Konami in December 1988, published under their Ultra Games label.  It was also released in PAL territories in 1989.

Skate or Die is a collection of five skateboarding themed mini-games.  They are the Freestyle Ramp, High Jump, Downhill Race, Downhill Jam, and Joust.  You can play them solo or all of them back-to-back in the Compete All mode.  Up to 8 players can play the events in alternating play, except for one competitive event.  This game does not have a traditional ending screen, so the next best thing is to get the high score in all events, as well as defeat your opponent in Joust.

Not intimidating at all!

The first thing you’ll need to do is visit Rodney Recloose in his skateboarding shop.  This is the launching area for the game.  Move your “Skate or Die” themed cursor with the D-pad.  You can hover over various things in the shop to get some commentary from Rodney.  At the bottom of the screen, there are options for Go Practice and Go Compete.  You can select Go Practice at any time to jump straight into game selection, but if you want to Go Compete solo or with friends, you’ll need to register on the Sign In sheet.  There you can name up to 8 players, one at a time.  In single player, if you want to Compete All, you need to enter just your name as Player 1.

Outside of the shop, you can control your skater on the street to choose an event.  The events are broken up by where they take place.   The right side leads to the Ramp where you can choose the Freestyle Ramp or the High Jump.  The downhill events, Downhill Race and Downhill Jam, are off the bottom of the screen.  To the left is the Pool where you can Joust, or you may choose the Compete All option.  Just move your skater down the road toward the event you want to try to get started.  I’ll get more into controls in a bit, but your skater on the map screen uses Goofy Foot controls, which are from the perspective of the skater, not the TV screen.

I’ll cover the events in the same order as Compete All, beginning with the Freestyle Ramp.  The goal of this mode is to score as many points as you can by completing as many tricks as you can.  You get 10 tries, 5 from each side of the half-pipe, to pull off these tricks.  To get started, press the A button to enter the ramp.  You can press Up and Down to move in and out of the pipe.  The trick you perform is determined by how many times you press the A button while down in the ramp, plus an optional direction when you reach the lip of the ramp.  There’s a table in the manual that describes each trick you can do.  If you want to simple soar high, press A multiple times in the ramp plus no direction at the top of the ramp.  You’ll fly up into the air and you can turn your skater with Left and Right to spin, just be careful to line up properly when you land back on the ramp.  If you press a direction, either into the ramp or away from the ramp (i.e, press Right when moving right, or Left when moving right), you’ll do a different trick, depending on if you pressed A once, twice or more, or not at all.  Each successful trick nets you points, but if you mess up, then you’ll slide down in shame with no points that try.  After 10 trick attempts, you’ll finish up with bonus points that scale up very quickly the more different types of tricks you do successfully in the run.

Show off your moves, as many as you can.

The next event is the High Jump, also taking place at the ramp.  Press A to start your descent down the ramp.  For this one, you need to mash the D-pad and the B button as fast as you can to gain speed through the ramp.  You can go back and forth up to 10 times to try and record the best jump you can.  The manual says that once you’re ready, you want to press A at the edge of the ramp to soar high, then press A again at the very apex of your jump to “kiss the sky” for a little extra height.  Once you do that, you’ll go back to the left side and automatically dismount.

Next up is the Downhill Race.  This is an obstacle course where your goal is to skate to the finish line at the bottom of the course.  Here, and in the Downhill Jam, you can choose your control method of either Regular Foot or Goofy Foot.  Regular Foot essentially amounts to reverse controls, but those controls line up from the perspective of the TV screen.  For example, pressing Left turns your skater to the right, but since you are moving down, your skater will turn toward the left side of the screen.  In Regular Foot, the Up and Down controls are reversed too; press Down to go faster and Up to slow down.  Goofy Foot is the same controls as the map screen, which are from the perspective of the skater character instead of the TV screen.  It’s confusing to describe, but maybe that made sense.

Anyway, on to the Downhill Race.  First choose your control method, and off you go!  Navigate the obstacles the best you can and try not to crash.  You can earn points by doing tricks as you go.  You can jump by holding Up and pressing A, and you can duck by holding Down and pressing A.  The jumping and ducking controls are the same for both Regular Foot and Goofy Foot.  You can jump off ramps or duck through tunnels for extra points.  Crashing only gives you a slight time penalty as you get yourself back on the board.  The bulk of your score is awarded at the end of the course depending on how quickly you finish.

Love to leave Lester in the dust!

The fourth event is the Downhill Jam.  This one is a different kind of obstacle course, only this time you compete against another skater.  In single player, you’ll go up against the computer-controlled Lester, but in a multiplayer game you compete against each other!  Movement controls for this mode are the same as the Downhill Race, including choosing either Regular Foot or Goofy Foot.  The Downhill Jam is a glorified race to the end of the course.  You can earn points along the way by knocking over small objects like cans, and you’ll crash if you stumble into anything sturdier than that.  Running through a chain link fence and crumbling to pieces is pretty funny!  The other thing you can do for points is to beat up your opponent.  There are surprisingly sophisticated controls for the attacks.  When your opponent comes alongside you, press the D-pad toward him and A to punch.  If you press away and the A button instead, you’ll do a kick.  Furthermore, you can do a high kick with a diagonal Up and away with A, and a low kick with diagonal Down and away with A.

The fifth and final event is the Joust.  It takes place inside of an emptied out pool.  At the start of this mode, you can choose your computer-controlled opponent.  Poseur Pete is the easiest opponent, Aggro Eddie is medium difficulty, and Lester is the toughest, coming right out saying the title reference: “Skate or Die!”  In this mode, players take turns between offense and defense.  The offensive player needs to use the jousting stick to knock the opponent down, while the defensive player must move to avoid getting knocked out.  The defensive player gets five passes across the pool, and should he survive that, then he becomes the aggressor and the players switch roles.  At the edge, press A and toward the pool to enter, then you can use Up or Down to position yourself inside the pool.  You can slide along the top edge of the pool as well.  As the attacker, press A to swing your joust and knock the opponent down within range.  Each knockdown is a point and the first to three points wins!  This mode also has competitive multiplayer where you can square off against your friend.  If you play with more than two people, the mode becomes a single bracket tournament, for up to 8 players, which is a pretty cool addition!

This was my first time beating Skate or Die, at least I think so.  I didn’t play this one until adulthood, but it was one of the old NintendoAge weekly contest games and so I played it for that.  I only remember giving it an hour max, probably not even that long, just enough to post a respectable score on the board.  This is an affordable game, around $5 for a loose cart, not hard to find at all.  It’s weird that I didn’t come across this one as a kid, but I know I picked up multiple copies from buying lots as an adult collector.  It’s the type of game you’ll find bundled with other games you were going after.

Jousting is tough, try to get close and strike.

I stated above that to beat this game you need to get the high score in all events and win Joust, which is only partially true.  You can do all events in a row using the Compete All option, taking them in the order I reviewed them above.  The thing is that there aren’t really high scores for this.  The game keeps track of the top three scores in each event but the lists start off empty, so any score is good enough for the top score.  In the Compete All mode, you are awarded a separate, overall score of 5 points for clearing each event in single player.  I assume when playing with multiple people you earn fewer points the lower you place among your friends.  Now you do not earn the 5 points if you lose Joust, so winning that one is required, but the other ones don’t matter at all.  There’s no ending screen for this game, but the ending blue screen for Joust showing the full 25 points is good enough in this case.

I did want to try to perform reasonably well in each event, so here’s how I did that.  In the Freestyle Ramp, if you play it properly, most of your points are earned from the bonus points at the end.  You need to perform as many unique tricks as you can to boost the bonus points.  My run wasn’t perfect by any means, but I scored a little over 6000 during the round and earned another 6000 points in bonus.  For the High Jump, I just tried to mash as much as I could.  When the jump felt right, then I performed the “kiss” move for a little extra height to end the event.  I don’t think pushing A at the top of the ramp really did anything to improve my height, in fact I think it slowed me down as it threw off my mashing rhythm.  The Downhill Race doesn’t have too much strategy other than trying to avoid crashing.  There are some stunts you can do on certain obstacles to get to the end faster and earn a few style points, but it’s not necessary.  I only crashed once in my attempt which is fine.  For the Downhill Jam, I didn’t bother attacking Lester at all.  I focused on clearing the event as smoothly as possible.  You can gain time on Lester by leaving him behind, as the game will pull him forward automatically and give him a small time penalty.  In my run I crashed once through a fence, but so did Lester so no big deal.  The Joust was the hardest event for me.  My offensive strategy was to wait until he went, then enter and hit him right away on my side, which worked often enough.  Defensively though, I think I just got lucky.  What I wanted to do was stay right behind him so that we only cross paths at the top where he isn’t likely to land an attack.

The speedrun World Record of Skate or Die is currently at 2:16.9 by OldSchoolMcFly.  The run itself looks quite straightforward.  Do the bare minimum to clear the two half-pipe events, and get to the end of the course as quickly as possible in the two Downhill events.  There was a pretty neat route to the Downhill Jam that I wouldn’t have known about before the speedrun.  The Joust is where the run is made.  The runner chose the middle character, Aggro Eddie, perhaps because he is actually more aggressive and enters the pipe more quickly than the others.  Two of the offensive points were scored the same way as my strategy above.  For the third point however, the runner waited out the clock in the pipe until he could go on offense and then timed it to where he was already overlapping the opponent so he could score the point immediately.  That’s definitely not easy to do and I bet it requires a lot of luck to set it up.

For me, Skate or Die is a basic skateboarding game that doesn’t have a lot to offer.  It does have a variety of events that are pretty fun to play, but they are so short and it starts to lose appeal for me quickly.  The graphics are basic, with simple backgrounds and tiny sprites, but the animation is quite smooth and nice to look at.  The music is pretty catchy, in line with other Konami developed games.  The controls are responsive, but they don’t feel very responsive at times due to the momentum based movement and turning in the Downhill events.  These are nitpicky complaints.  This is a good game; I just got my fill of it pretty fast.

#175 – Skate or Die


#175 – Skate or Die


#173 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

Turtle Power! This time at home!

The cursor stares into your soul.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/20/21
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game Longplay

A lot can change in just a few years.  It was four years ago when I beat the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the site.  I wouldn’t have guessed that I would end up learning the speedrun for this game and getting a pretty decent time for my efforts, as well as making good friends in the speedrunning community at large.  I don’t speedrun too many games and not any more of the TMNT games, but I do like them quite a bit.  Last April, I played TMNT II: The Arcade Game, a familiar game that got a lot of play over the years.  Now this April, I am finally working the backlog and starting to write up this review.  (Yes, I realize it is now June, I’m not exactly sprinting through things to get fully caught up.)  Purely by coincidence, it is very fitting that April has become the de facto Turtle month for me!

For more information about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, check out my review of the first NES game.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a smash hit in the arcades after its 1989 release.  Tens of thousands of arcade cabinets were sold and shipped worldwide, and Konami had trouble keeping up with the demand.  Naturally that demand was high enough that home versions were created and released on various home computers, as well as a port to the Famicom and NES.  The Famicom version was released first as just Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then a week later Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (TMNT II for short) arrived on the NES.  Both releases were in December 1990.  The game was developed and published by Konami worldwide, except for North America where it was published under the Ultra Games label.  The PAL release, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles II: The Arcade Game came out in November 1991.  The arcade version was released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2007, and both the NES version and arcade version of the game are a part of the newly announced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection coming later in 2022.

How did they get the wrecking balls upstairs?

The NES port of the TMNT arcade game is notable for adding two brand new stages to the mix.  While the story of the game is rather basic, there was some detail added in the NES manual to cover for the new stages.  This game plot-wise is a follow up from the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.  At the end of the movie, Shredder is thrown off the roof of a building into a garbage truck and crushed.  But as it turns out, Shredder was saved from death by his titanium-laced helmet, so he is able to escape unseen and rebuilds in secret.  During this, he recruits two bounty hunters, Tora and Shogun, who star in their own brand new levels.  With everything lined up, Shredder captures April O’Neil again, putting our heroes on the rescue path once again.
Let’s get started with playing the game.  TMNT II has two-player simultaneous play, so you can choose from 1 Player or 2 Player mode to get started.  Next, each player will choose their turtle of choice.  Each turtle is shown in their own square in grayscale and selecting the turtle you want will brighten him up in full color.  After all players have chosen their turtle, another cutscene plays before launching into the game proper.

TMNT II is a side scrolling beat-em-up.  Use the D-pad to move your turtle around the screen.  Stages typically move from left to right, and you can use Up or Down to move in and out.  Press A to jump.  Some stages have elevated floors and you can jump up ledges to higher ground.  The B button attacks.  While standing or moving, this does a simple attack with your weapon.  While airborne in a jump, press B to do a jump kick.  This move is great for quick attacks or as a defensive maneuver if you need a short burst of speed.  Perhaps the most helpful move in the game is the jump attack.  To do this, press A and B at the same time.  If performed correctly, you’ll do a short hop immediately into an attack.  I usually perform this move by rolling my thumb across A then B, pressing B just a little bit after pressing A.  This prevents me from accidentally attacking before jumping which doesn’t do the proper move.  The jump attack does extra damage and defeats many basic enemies in a single strike, and there’s no penalty of any kind to use it, so I do this pretty much the entire game.

The top of your screen contains a few stats for each turtle.  You see the name of your turtle, your score, your remaining health, and the number of lives in reserve.  Scoring in this game is very basic; each enemy defeated is worth one point, including bosses.  Your health bar starts off all the way across your status box and ticks down as you suffer enemy attacks.  Some stages have pizza on the ground that you can collect to restore your health fully.  You begin the game with two extra lives, and you earn another life every 200 points, a fairly tall order given the slow rate of scoring.  There are no other powerups or anything else.  There is a limited continue system.  You get three continues to beat the game, and each one brings you back to the beginning of the current stage.

The orange glow means you’re about to win.

This is a very straightforward game.  There are 10 total scenes in the game across 7 stages.  In each scene, you defeat all the enemies that appear on the screen before continuing to move to the right.  Most stages end in a boss fight against one of Shredder’s big baddies.  Most of the enemies in the game are the standard foot soldiers, with standard attacks.  As the game progresses, they come in different colors with some different abilities.  For instance, yellow foot soldiers throw boomerangs.  Even the default purple color enemies can vary sometimes, like the enemies that throw sticks of dynamite.  There are other types of recurring enemies like the tiny mousers.  The turtles themselves are pretty much interchangeable as there aren’t any turtle-specific special moves and there doesn’t appear to be any benefit to one turtle over the next.  I do have fun with this game, but there’s no denying that it sticks to the same formula throughout.

TMNT II: The Arcade Game was one of the NES games I had growing up.  I was big into TMNT for a few years as I was just the right age for that.  I know I played the arcade release a few times but the NES version is what I remember the most.  This was a multiple time rental before I got my own copy of the game.  I’ve since beaten the game many times over the years.  My collection copy now is not the same one I had as a kid.  I loaned my cart out to a friend at school, he stuck it in his backpack, then later slipped and fell down hard.  The cart inside his bag got cracked and a corner of the plastic broke off entirely.  Thankfully I am not super nostalgic about having the exact same copies I grew up with, even though for the most part I took good care of my things.  This is a pretty common game, but it is desirable, so it goes for about $20 for a loose cart.

This was an easy clear for me.  The game came up once, maybe twice in the NintendoAge contests. (They are still going on now at videogamesage.com, though I haven’t participated in a year or two at this point.)  The ruleset was to get as far as you can on one credit, with lowest score as the tiebreaker.  Some stages have interactable elements that you can hit into enemies to kill them, without earning points.  Grinding out attempts for a week, even years ago, got me trained up to play through the game well.  For this playthrough, I did two attempts and won both times without continues.  I wanted to see if I could go deathless, but that will take some effort to accomplish.  In my video longplay, I actually died to Rocksteady, the Stage 1 boss, then got all the way to Krang at the end of the game before dying again.  I died quite a few times to Shredder too.  I would have to clean that fight up significantly.  This was a clean enough run and I’m happy with it.  Maybe someday I’ll go back and work on a deathless run.

Home sweet home

I bet a lot of retro gamers my age will remember the cross promotion between the NES game and Pizza Hut.  Most notably, there was a coupon on the back page of the NES manual for a free, personal pan pizza.  There was advertising for this plastered on the front of the game box, and Pizza Hut is referenced a few times within the game itself.  I lived in a small town growing up, and the only pizza place we had in town was Pizza Hut.  Those personal pan pizzas were one of the greatest things ever.  My local place also carried a few arcade cabinets, and while I don’t know for sure, it’s certainly possible that there I got to play the arcade version while waiting for the cheesy goodness.  While my original copy is long gone, and I’ll never know if I redeemed that coupon or not, I now own a CIB copy of TMNT II with the coupon still intact.  It’s only 30 years expired at this point!

TMNT II: The Arcade Game sits in an almost overlooked place these days.  I believe TMNT III is the better game of this style.  The original NES TMNT game is so weird and wonky, but also unique and challenging, and I really like what it offers.  The arcade version is a beautiful game and still looks amazing today, and it plays so well with different moves and 4-player simultaneous action.  I think the NES port is really well done considering the limitations of the console, and after looking into it, I say it fared better than its computer ports.  This game has a clean graphical style with recognizable characters and detailed sprite work.  The music is great, as you would expect from Konami, and faithful to the Turtles theme.  Controls are rock solid, and the gameplay is equally solid action.  There are plenty of tense boss fights and scenes to keep things engaging.  The only criticism I see is that the game is pretty long for just fighting enemies and moving to the right.  You literally need to defeat hundreds of enemies in one sitting to beat this game.  That can be tedious for some, certainly.  Some people are really disappointed in this game, and others would claim its average, maybe above average at best.  I say this is quite a good game, one of the better NES games out there.

#173 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game


#142 – Metal Gear

Get your cardboard box ready.

One of the most briefly shown title screens ever.

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

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

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

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

It’s always important to have good communication.

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

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

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

Sneaking isn’t easy in close quarters.

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

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

Be someone’s hero today.

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

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

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

There are plenty of traps, some often unseen.

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

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

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

Don’t get run over like I did.

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

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

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

#142 – Metal Gear


#124 – Marble Madness

This classic arcade game is right at home on the NES.

Simple title screen, saving the graphics for later.

To Beat: Finish Level 6
My Goal: Beat the game without dying
What I Did: Beat the game with 2 deaths
Played: 5/6/19
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Marble Madness Longplay

There are some games on the NES where there is a large gulf in perception of difficulty. Marble Madness is one of these games. I’ve played this game a lot and have gotten pretty good at it. I know a few people that have put in a lot of time to get high scores and know this game like the back of their hand. I have also had a few people tell me that this game is too hard and they haven’t gotten very far. One thing I do know is that from either crowd, this game is always a popular pick.

The original arcade release of Marble Madness was in late 1984. It was developed and published by Atari Games. Mark Cerny was the lead designer and Bob Flanagan was the primary developer. The original run of 4,000 arcade machines was deemed a success, though interest tapered off a few weeks after release. Marble Madness would be widely ported after that to many home computers and game consoles. The NES port of Marble Madness was released in North America in March 1989 and in PAL regions also in 1989. It was developed by Rare and published by Milton Bradley.

Marble Madness is a simple game to pick up and play. The object of the game is to guide your marble through each of six courses to the goal line at the end. The entire game is played from an isometric perspective. Use the D-pad to move your marble in any direction. Press and hold A to move faster. You can pause the game by pressing Start. You will have to pass through all kinds of obstacles, traps, and enemies along the way, but your biggest enemy is the timer. The game ends when the timer hits 0. If you can clear all six courses before running out of time, you win the game.

A nice easy course to get things started.

You begin the game by selecting one or two players. Marble Madness features two-player simultaneous play with one player controlling the blue marble and the second player moving the red one. Then each player enters his name up to six characters long. Next, choose with directional option you want. The 90-degree option is the standard control scheme where you move in the direction you press. For the 45-degree option, you will rotate your controller clockwise at an angle so that the primary D-pad directions point diagonally. While the 45-degree option makes sense given the perspective, I have always used the 90-degree setup.

Death is a very common occurrence in this game. There are several enemies that will get rid of your marble or knock you around. There are many pits for you to fall into. Your marble is also fragile and breaks if it falls from too high. The good thing is that you have unlimited lives. The bad part is that each death and restoral takes precious time away. Some deaths are worse than others in the time department. Falling off the side, for instance, is a brief setback and you get back to the action quickly. If your marble gets crushed from falling too far, you must sit through a short animation of a broom sweeping up the marble dust left behind. You can survive shorter falls but your marble will spin out a little and it becomes difficult to control for a second. Some death animations from being killed by enemies are longer than others. Obviously, you want to avoid dying if you want to get through this game, but you can suffer many deaths and still win.

The clock may be the major enemy in the game but there are some ways to add precious seconds to the timer. At the start of Level 2, you are given a bunch of time to start off with. You are awarded added time at the start of each subsequent course. Every now and again, a magic wand will appear. Your marble will stop dead in its tracks and the wand bestows you with 10 added seconds. It is a welcome sight that seems to be completely random. For experienced players, you might see your timer capped at 99 seconds.

These worm sucker enemies aren’t too scary.

Marble Madness is a brief experience from start to finish, so it is quite popular as a score attack game. You can earn some points from obstacles on the course. There is a black marble enemy that you can get 1000 points from if you knock if off the side of the ledge. Chutes suck in your ball to transport them, giving you points for doing so. Most of your score is earned from the time bonus at the end of each level. If you beat the game, you also earn a bunch of points depending on how much time is remaining on the clock and how many marbles you lost along the way.

Each course in the game has a name and some features specific to that course. The first course is called the Practice Race. You start with 60 seconds but this is a very short level. I normally clear it in 6 seconds. It’s just meant to give you a little time to play and get accustomed to the controls, movement, and physics. Even so, this level has an additional bonus. There is a half-pipe-like structure at the bottom and if you speed your marble into it and cross the pit to the other side, you can hit what looks like a tic-tac-toe puzzle on the ground and earn some points.

Level 2 is the Beginner Race. Your time from the first level does not carry over. You start off with a fresh 65 seconds. There are a couple of enemies at the first part of this level. The infamous black marble appears right off the bat. I don’t think it is too difficult to get past. After that are these green worms that hop and suck your marble up if they land on it. Near them is a panel that pops up and prevents you from crossing until it goes down. Past that, you have a branching path. The left side is longer but easy to clear. The right side you have to take a chute down and then cross some narrow hilly ledges. It’s significantly tougher this way, but you get points for the chute and it is faster. The final obstacle is this deep net with a hole on the other side. I go along the very edge so I don’t fall in.

This is one of those iconic images in gaming.

The third course is the Intermediate Race. You get 35 seconds of time added to your clock that carries over from the previous stage. A new acid puddle enemy appears here. They appear to move randomly but I always seem to pass by them the same way every time. Don’t touch them at all or you lose your marble and some time. Near the end of the stage is another branching path. The quick way is across a conveyor belt that has a wave in it that shoves you off.

Course 4 is the Aerial Race. You have 30 more seconds added on. This level has several new traps and gadgets. First up are the vacuums that appear along a straight stretch early on. You have to go fast to get by them. There is another branching path after the catapult. The way I go takes you through these pistons that pop up out of the ground and throw you in the air. As always, the fast way is the trickier way. The final obstacles are these hammers that pop up along a narrow stretch of track just before the goal line. There is a pattern to them that is hard to discern early on. This level was my first roadblock when I was learning the game years ago.

Level 5 is the Silly Race. This time you only get 20 additional seconds. This is the only level in the game where you go from the bottom up to the top. It takes some getting used to. Up the initial slopes takes you to a section that looks like a miniature version of the game, complete with tiny little enemies that you can crush and get a few seconds of time added. Up the branching chute always pushes you to the left side in a single player game. This section is nasty because the gravity is weird here and it is hard to parse how you need to navigate the slopes. Past that are these endless flying birds that destroy your marble.

The final course is the Ultimate Race. You only get 20 more seconds here for the end. This level features an ice surface that causes your marble to slide and a grooved surface that causes you to move slowly against the grain. Some familiar traps make a reappearance here. The final section is a brutal gauntlet of appearing and disappearing ledges that puts your skills to the test. It is the Ultimate Race after all!

This obvious looking trap is not so predictable.

I have played a lot of Marble Madness before but I didn’t start on NES. I grew up owning the Game Boy version and that was what I was familiar with. Probably due to space limitations, the Game Boy port only has the first five levels in the game. I was always interested in playing that mysterious final level. I am not sure if I ever beat the NES version before 2014 when I first played it in the Nintendo Age contests. Since then I have beaten the game many times over.

For this playthrough, I wanted to see if I could beat the game without dying. It is not an easy task. I set aside about an hour to play and took the best attempt out of that hour of recording. I usually end up dying 15-20 times, so I figured, if I’m careful, I should at worst come up with a run around 5 deaths. Pretty early on, around the 5th try or so, I managed a two-death run with a nice score of 156K. To get the big scores, you need to go quickly but also get lucky with some wands so that you have a bunch of time remaining at the end. You can get up to three wands if the luck falls your way. I had two of them in my run, so combined with only two deaths I came away with my personal best high score. I could have had 160K if I had tried for the bonus points in the Practice Race. I kept on playing and had a couple more two-death runs but with lower scores because of no wands. It probably wouldn’t take much longer for me to get that no-death run, but this is good enough for now.

Marble Madness is a classic arcade game that I think should be in every NES collection. It is a very short game but with good action and it is fun to replay over and over. The controls are not ideal without the trackball from the arcade version, but they are good enough. It is nice to have two control options. The graphics are kind of plain but in a good way. The tracks are clear and the slopes are shaded differently to help you see them better. The game casts a lot of shadows too which gives it a more realistic look. The music is very good as well. This is a cheap cart to own that is very common, which is always appreciated for good games. This is a game that has wide appeal to all demographics, so if you haven’t played it before, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

#124 – Marble Madness


#93 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

More like the Temple of Pain, Suffering, and Doom.

The top title text is usually cut off on old TVs

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 7/5/18 – 7/12/18
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10
My Video: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Longplay

I’m here to talk about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on NES, but what I really want to talk about is La-Mulana. I’ve long thought the game La-Mulana is secretly the best Indiana Jones game, or at least the best interpretation of that concept. In La-Mulana, you play as the archaeologist Lemeza as you seek to follow your father’s footsteps in exploring and discovering the secrets of the ruins of La-Mulana. It’s a Metroidvania game with a huge emphasis on solving complex, intricate puzzles spelled out through cryptic textual monuments. You really need a pencil and notebook as you gather clues and piece them together throughout the journey, while also collecting various artifacts, battling huge bosses, and avoiding constant death traps. This is not a game for everyone, but I fell hard for it and it is one of my favorite games, both the original freeware version styled like an MSX game, and the newer remake available on Steam and elsewhere. Actual Indiana Jones games seem to take a safer stance in terms of gameplay. There are several Indiana Jones games on the NES that are standard platformers. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, on the other hand, is less of a platformer and a lot closer to my La-Mulana-like ideal than I originally thought.

Indiana Jones is a well-loved film franchise. There have been four major films to date: Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, Temple of Doom in 1984, The Last Crusade in 1989, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008. A fifth movie is slated for production beginning in early 2019 with a tentative release date in 2021. A TV series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, ran from 1992-1993, and that series was followed by four made-for-TV movies between 1994 and 1996. There have been plenty of books, comics, video games, toys, and attractions revolving around Indiana Jones.

There are two video games based on Temple of Doom. The first was a 1985 arcade game that was later ported to various home computers. The NES game, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, was released in 1988. It was developed by Atari Games and published by Tengen. In December 1988, Temple of Doom was licensed by Mindscape, so that’s the version I played for the project. Both the unlicensed Tengen version and the licensed Mindscape version are identical games. This version was also ported to a few home computers.

Whip it, whip it good!

I have seen all of the Indiana Jones movies, but it’s been a few years and I don’t remember much of anything about Temple of Doom. From what I’ve read, the story and gameplay both follow the movie. You play as Indiana Jones who, along with his companions Willie and Short Round, reach the village of Mayapore. The Sankara Stones have been stolen and the children of the village have been captured by evil people from the Pankot Palace, led by the high priest Mola Ram and his Thuggee guards. The children have been forced to mine for the missing Sankara Stones, so Indy sweeps in to save the children and recover the stones. The game consists of twelve levels, or waves, that you need to beat to complete the game.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is an action game from what I’ll call a near top-down perspective. You use the D-pad to move in all directions. Indy is armed with his trusty whip that you wield with the A button. You can whip in all eight directions by holding the direction and pressing A. The B button is for jumping. A for jumping was a standard convention by now, but nope, it’s B. If you just press B, you will jump downward. If you want to jump in a different direction, hold the D-pad in that direction and then press B. The Start button pauses the game and brings up a status screen. Use the Select button to switch weapons. You hold Select and press either Up, Down, Left, or Right to switch between the four weapons in the game.

You will spend a lot of time in this game saving children. They appear within holes along the cave walls. Simple walk or jump up to them to save them. You will earn some points and they often will leave weapons behind that you collect. Usually, they drop either a gun or a sword. These are limited use weapons that have secondary functions. In the first room of Wave 1, you can use the sword right away. There are small tunnels boarded off by wooden planks. If you slash them with the sword, they will reveal TNT to collect. These are your base weapons in the game that you switch between with Select. Left is for the gun, Right for the sword, Up for TNT, and Down to go back to your whip.

I’m coming to save you! (For equipment and points)

There is limited information on-screen during play. There is a countdown timer at the top of the screen that counts down from 99. The timer speed varies depending on the level. If it goes down to 0, Mola Ram appears, which causes you to lose a life and you have to start the wave over. Below the timer is an icon for the current weapon equipped if it’s something other than the whip. When you switch weapons, you briefly see the ammo count next to Indy. The Status screen when pausing the game gives you a lot more information. You are shown your current score and lives remaining. Below that are all your weapons and ammo accumulated. You also see any special items you’ve collected. Next are the number of children remaining in the wave and how many map pieces are remaining in the game.

There are other items to collect from the children. Some children have map pieces that you hold onto until a later event in the game. An arrow may be left behind. You can pick this up for points, but it’s main purpose is to point the way toward a warp room. Small jewels restore your level timer. Hats are extra lives, and they play a familiar tune when you earn a new life. The key opens the locked door to the next wave.

Most waves in the game follow a similar pattern. Each wave has two rooms. One is a cave room, and the other is a mine cart room. You can switch freely between the two rooms within a wave. The cave rooms have open doors that lead to the mine cart room, and the mine cart tracks may end in tunnels that lead back to the cave room. Each room has a locked door leading to the next wave. To open the locked door, you first obtain the key from the opposite room. The key in the cave room opens the locked door in the mine cart room, and vice versa. Each room has its own key so it is up to you how you want to approach clearing each wave.

Come along for a ride.

The movement mechanics allow for some complex scenarios that the game takes full advantage of. The rooms start getting really large within just a few waves. They also loop around in all directions, which makes them seem even bigger than they really are. Sticking to the main paths will not get you very far, especially in the mine cart rooms. You are going to have to leap from ledge to ledge to explore every nook and cranny of the rooms. Jump while holding Up to jump on the same ledge you are standing on. Otherwise, you fall through all solid objects until you reach a walkable area. The mine cart rooms have a bunch of disconnected conveyor belts so you need to jump to get around those for sure. You also must contend with lava rivers all over these rooms too. Falling onto a lava tile is instant death, so you have to be smart and not just jump all willy-nilly through the rooms.

The mine carts add some additional movement options within those rooms. First, you must jump onto the mine cart to climb in. Then you get to ride around! Carts move from left to right and you can slow them down by pressing Left and speed them up by holding Right. Press Up to lean the cart to the left and Down to lean the cart to the right. Sometimes lava or something is obstructing part of the path and you can lean one way to get through. Be careful as other mine carts appear periodically and they can get in your way, causing you to crash and die if you collide. Tracks sometimes merge which also facilitates collisions. Getting the mine carts to appear in the first place can also be a hassle. Usually you need to scroll the screen horizontally to get one to appear from the left side. In later waves, enemies are in the carts and you need to whip them or defeat them some other way before entering.

The enemies in this game as a huge nuisance. They don’t typically kill you, rather they stun you. This pushes you somewhat and often forces you to fall to the ledge below. Those falls can drop you to your death or leave you vulnerable in other ways. The most common enemy is the Thuggee guard. You can kill them with other weapons or stun them with the whip. You can knock them into the lava for an easy kill. Once a guard is whipped, he becomes an attacker and will kill you outright with a hit. There are bats, rats, snakes, and spiders that move erratically and stun you. Retractable spikes and lava pools kill you. Some guards drop boulders in the mine cart rooms that kill you if they drop on you, but the rocks also provide the benefit of temporarily stopping the movement of conveyor belts.

Whipping guards into lava seems excessive.

Indy has his set of weapons to help out. Furthermore, all of them have secondary uses for moving around the levels. The whip is your primary weapon for stunning guards and killing minor enemies. You will find hooks on the walls that you can latch onto with your whip to swing over gaps. The gun does not actually fire bullets, but instead does instant damage to the first object within its line of sight. There are skulls on the wall that you can shoot with the gun to reveal hooks for swinging with your whip. Swords kill guards and enemies, while they are also used to open up blocked caves containing TNT. The TNT can be thrown in eight directions and leaves a blast that kills enemies. This explosion removes spikes and certain lava tiles that obstruct walkable paths. I found myself switching weapons all the time for each need as it appears.

Another use of the TNT is to reveal hidden rooms. In waves 1, 4, and 6, some children will hold arrows that point in the direction of a hidden room. When you think you’ve found the spot, bomb it to hopefully reveal the door. This takes you to a warp room, which is its own unique stage. Pass through any door in the warp room to advance to a future wave. Doors farther out in the warp room advance you further along in the game. As a bonus, you earn all the map pieces in a wave where you don’t rescue any children, including the waves you skip via warp. Waves without a warp room also have hidden doors revealing either a large cache of normal items or a special item.

The first eight waves all follow the two-room structure and get difficult fast. Wave 9, however, is where the game takes a turn into a devious direction. This wave contains only one room called the Chamber of Kali. Your goal is to reach the Statue of Kali and the three Sankara Stones at the top of the room. You have to forge a path across the lava river to get there. There are several locations where lava monsters appear randomly out of the lava. Hitting a monster with either the gun or TNT turns the monster to permanent stone and you can walk across. The idea is to find the area with the most lava monster activity so that eventually you will clear a path across. You are at the mercy of randomness as you wait for the monsters to line up properly. Once you get to the other side, retrieve the stones and then locate the exit door to Wave 10.

Building your own lava bridge is excruciating.

This is where the map pieces you have been collecting come into play. Before starting Wave 10, you are presented with a crude map of one of the rooms in the wave. There are 25 pieces of the map in all so you may see a partial map excluding sections at random representing map pieces you did not collect. The map shows skulls, doors, children, and an X indicating the exit door for the wave. This is the only time you see the map, so commit what you need to memory or make notes before proceeding.

Wave 10 consists of six large rooms with several doors connected to other rooms. Your task is to use the map to determine which room contains the exit and where the exit is positioned within the room. The exit door itself is hidden and must be revealed by TNT. Each room has four possible locations for the exit door, so there are 24 possible exits. When you find the exit door, you will not be allowed to exit the wave unless you are holding the three Sankara Stones. Unfortunately, if you die in Wave 10, you drop all the stones you are holding. Each room has three large skulls in it and these are where the stones are placed should you drop them. It would really behoove you to get all three stones back in your possession before moving to a different room. God help you if you drop stones in two or even three different rooms at once. All the while, you have to deal with lava pits, lava monsters, conveyor belts, swarming enemies, and all that good stuff. Without a doubt, this is one of the nastiest challenges I’ve experienced in this project to date.

If somehow you survive Wave 10, there are still two more waves to finish. These are more straightforward challenges, but you still need to hold all three stones to exit the wave and you must collect them from skulls if you die in the wave. These scenes are meant to follow the movie as you destroy the rope bridge and keep Mola Ram from escaping. The good thing is that you have unlimited continues throughout your entire journey. The bad thing is that once you get past Wave 9, you go back to Wave 9 when you continue. Still, it’s better than starting from scratch.

This just gets ridiculous.

This was my first time playing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I do remember that this game seemed awfully challenging when I tested out my carts, and I have heard that this is one of the most difficult games on the NES. This is an inexpensive game, but it’s not one I see a whole lot, either in licensed or unlicensed form. I think I owned the Tengen unlicensed version before I owned the licensed Mindscape version. Both versions cart only are worth around $8-$10.

I had what I consider an unusual path to completing this game. I struggled the first couple of times I tried. Wave 1 is really small, but after that, the rooms seem to increase in size drastically up through either Wave 5 or 6. There are several doors connecting each room together and I couldn’t keep track of where I was. I had a couple attempts where I gave up around the middle of the game, but it felt like I was on the brink of getting the hang of this game. One morning I got up early and tried again, and I finally reached Wave 9 without warping before I had to stop. I was able to leave the NES on all day and chipped away at attempting the end of the game, and then before bed I was able to beat the game. I didn’t expect to finish it, so I wasn’t recording, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the prospect of playing through the entire game again. So it goes. I was able to block out a few hours during the evening on another night to set up the recording and play through the whole game again. Sadly, this game is a little buggy. It crashed on me somewhere around Wave 7. I was able to jump straight to Wave 9 with the continue code but all my item counts were screwed up. I started over and then it crashed on me again in Wave 10. This time I was able to continue from Wave 9 with everything normal. I ended up going to bed and came back early in the morning before work to finish the game on video. I was running low on time but I managed to beat the game again with all the proper documentation.

There are a couple of optional special items that make this journey a lot easier. These are called out in the manual directly. There is a hidden door in Wave 7 that hides the special key, and another hidden door in Wave 8 that hides a secret idol. Both these items have their locations randomized at the start of their respective waves. The special key unlocks any locked door in the game but you can only use it once. There is a locked door in Wave 9 that can only be opened with the special key. It takes you to an island partway across the lava river in that wave, saving you a lot of time. The secret idol is much more useful. If you have it, the secret idol will appear within Wave 10 on top of the hidden door to Wave 11. It takes much of the guesswork out of where the exit is hidden. The secret idol item is permanent too. In my opinion, the secret idol might as well be mandatory to finish the game. The map, even a full map, is far too sparse and lacks enough detail to be useful. With enough plays, I suppose you could learn how to connect the map data to the location you need to search, but believe me, I’d rather not. If I have to find something hidden, I’d rather bomb around the two rooms of Wave 8 than the six rooms of Wave 10, especially since I can keep continuing on Wave 8 for as long as I need to.

Identifying the hidden exit is a huge relief.

Lastly, I want to discuss the difficulty rating. A fellow who goes by Electric Frankfurter helped compile a list of the Top 30 most difficult NES games. My two 10/10’s so far, Ikari Warriors and Q*bert, are both featured on the list, and so is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Make no mistake, this game is hard, ridiculously hard, with what is asked of you to complete the final stretch of the game along with unlimited enemies that are all over you all the time. It falls short of 10/10 for me because of the infinite continues. I have many of the 10/10 games already in mind, and I’m really going to have to take a deep look at the ones that have infinite continues to see if they are truly deserving of the hardest of the hard. The fact is that if you can reach Wave 9 with a good number of items (and hopefully the secret idol), you can just keep hammering away with the exact same item loadout until you beat it. Total play time is another factor I consider. I beat the game twice within a week and I don’t think I spent any more than 10 hours total. That’s not quite 10/10 for me either. I don’t do fractional scores, but I would say the game is more challenging than most of its peers in the 9/10 area.

I am more impressed with the idea of this game than how it actually turned out. There are some clever concepts here with collecting pieces of a map, locating secret items, and using multiple weapons that double as tools. Randomization adds some replay value to the mix. The rest of the game is kind of a mess. The rooms are huge, complex, and tough to successfully navigate under constant enemy threat. Whip swinging has poor hit detection, both on hooking with the whip and landing on the other side of the swing. The jump mechanics are confusing and many jumps to below ledges don’t make physical sense. Locating hidden doors are all trial and error that require limited resources to reveal. The controls for switching weapons don’t always trigger correctly, which always happens when I am in a rush. The graphics are okay and the music is poor, aside from the Indiana Jones theme. There is bad programming that can occasionally lead to crashes. The game is playable, but for the most part it is more frustrating than fun. If you are looking for a new challenge, this game certainly has it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go play some La-Mulana.

#93 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


#87 – RoadBlasters

Do what the title says and blast your way through this action driving game.

Pretty nice tune here.

To Beat: Reach the ending after Level 50
To Complete: Beat the game and play all levels
What I Did: Completed the game without dying
Played: 5/28/18
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: RoadBlasters Longplay

I’m noticing that a lot of video game names are long and complicated these days. Part of that is because modern games are also longer and more complicated, and they do seem to trend that way all the time. It’s tough to sum up modern games with short names that can also carry the idea of the game itself. The other part is that most of the simpler names are already taken. With early games especially, the ideas are simple enough to sum up in a word. I’m thinking of games like Asteroids or Centipede where you don’t need to go any further in explanation to know what they are about. RoadBlasters has a straightforward name and you know what you are getting into when you play it.

RoadBlasters originated as an arcade title in 1987. It was both developed and published by Atari Games. The arcade version came in both a standard upright cabinet and a large, cockpit-style cabinet. This game was ported to various home computers and game consoles, including the Atari Lynx and the Sega Genesis. The NES port, released in January 1990 in North America, was published by Mindscape. PAL versions were released in Europe sometime in 1990. A lot of what I read said that Atari Games or Tengen developed the NES version, but I believe it was Beam Software as they are mentioned on the title screen for producing the game.

RoadBlasters is a driving game that’s more of a shoot-em-up than a racing game. There’s no story here for a change. You drive an armored car that is outfitted with guns on the front. Simply drive ahead and blast away anything that stands in your way. Your task is to reach the end of each course before running out of fuel. There are 50 courses in RoadBlasters and you beat the game when you reach the end of the final course.

Blow them up! It’s more of a shooter than a driving game.

This game has simple controls. You use the D-pad to drive. Press Up to accelerate and Down to brake. If you let go of both Up and Down, your car will maintain speed as long as you stay on the road. Press Left or Right to steer in the desired direction. Press the A button to fire your main guns. You have unlimited shots! The B button is used to launch any special items you have. The Start button pauses and unpauses the game.

The game screen mostly consists of the open road and your car with the view from behind your vehicle. The bottom part of the screen contains all pertinent information. The left side shows your score multiplier. The small, vertical rectangle to the right of the multiplier is an indicator light that flashes when you are approaching mines. Next to that is your fuel gauge, both your normal fuel and your reserve fuel tank. You also see your current speed as well as your score. The round number is displayed in the upper-right corner of the playfield.

One of the main mechanics to this game is the score multiplier. It begins at one and can go as high as ten. You accrue points rapidly just by driving and the multiplier determines how quickly your score increases. Every way you can earn points is influenced by the multiplier, whether it is from shooting enemies or earning a bonus at the end of each course. You increase the multiplier by one when you shoot down an enemy, but it decreases by one if you miss with a shot. You really need to work on your accuracy and not just spew fire all over the road if you want to have a high multiplier.

Orange cars sometimes leave behind fuel pickups.

Another mechanic is the fuel system. Naturally, you use fuel in this game as you drive and you don’t want to run out before reaching the end of the course. There are a few ways to earn fuel. Sometimes there are fuel globes on the road and all you have to do is drive over them to add fuel. There are green ones that appear on the course that add a tiny amount of fuel, and there are orange ones you get by blasting certain cars that add more fuel than the green ones. Many levels have a checkpoint halfway through that automatically refills your main fuel tank back to the starting amount. You also have a reserve fuel tank. Only when you run out of fuel in the main tank will you automatically draw fuel from the reserve tank. When you complete a course, you get a point bonus that doubles as a reserve fuel refill. The more bonus points you get, the more reserve fuel you get. This is the real reason why you want to keep your multiplier as high as possible. A multiplier of ten at the end of the level fills up your reserve tank all the way.

There are some special items available. Periodically, a support plane will fly above and drop off some special gear containing one of four items. The item name will appear on the bottom of the screen after you collect it. The U.Z. Cannon mounts a turret on the top of your car. There is an ammo meter and the U.Z. Cannon is lost as soon as you run out of ammo. Firing the U.Z. Cannon does not affect your multiplier so you are more at liberty to fire at will. The other items can be used three times each. Round icons at the bottom show how many uses are remaining. The Electro Shield causes your car to flash colors for a while and you can drive through anything on the road unscathed. The Nitro Inject gives your car a huge speed boost. Normal max speed is 212 but you can get up to 298 with it. The Cruise Missile destroys everything on the road. Be careful because it also removes fuel globes on screen. All items are lost when either you use them all up or you crash your car.

Speaking of crashing, that’s another interesting thing about RoadBlasters. In most games, you would normally lose a life or lose a bunch of time when you crash. Here you can crash just about as often as you want and you come right back. The only penalty is a slight loss of fuel since you have to accelerate from a standstill each crash. I wrecked my car plenty of times when playing through RoadBlasters. It’s nice that the game is lenient in this regard.

The U.Z. Cannon is helpful against these off-road turrets.

There are several types of enemies and hazards on the road. The most common enemy is the orange Stinger car. These are taken down with one shot and can hide precious fuel globes. Small motorcycles can also be shot down, but they are a narrower target. Blue Command Cars aren’t damaged by normal fire and are often in your way. You can take them out with Cruise Missiles or the Electro Shield. Rat Jeeps are annoying enemies that only show up on a few courses. They drive in front of you from behind and then slam on the brakes to try and crash into you. You can blow them up but be quick. Gun Turrets sit on the sides of the road and shoot at you. They are difficult to shoot because of their positioning and are best left alone in my experience. Mines are telegraphed by the flashing indicator light but are tough to see on the road even if you know they are coming. Just avoid them. There are also rocks on the road that cause you to crash. Finally, oil slicks cause you to spin out and lose control when you drive over them. They are not deadly on their own if you manage to stay on the road.

The fifty stages in the game are grouped into twelve regions. At the start of the game, you may select from any of the first three regions, skipping some levels if you choose. When you complete a region, you are brought back to the select screen and you can choose a new region. This is really nice for practicing certain sections or getting to the end of the game faster. If you want to play every course in the game, then you must select the next region manually each time you get the opportunity.

You lose a life anytime you run out of fuel and are unable to reach the end of the stage or a checkpoint. You can continue from the start of the current course. After two continues, you have to start all over.

It gets tense when fuel is running low.

I have beaten RoadBlasters many times before. This was one of the earliest NES games my family owned and one of the few that was purchased new. I still have the same cart we bought back then and that’s what I used to play this time. I also beat RoadBlasters a couple of years ago for the NintendoAge NES contests. This is an affordable NES game that only costs around $5.

RoadBlasters isn’t exactly what I’d call an easy game. Some of the levels are very dependent on fuel globes and you need to be almost perfect to get through, even with a full reserve tank. You also have to do the dance of driving without shooting unless it’s necessary to keep the multiplier up so that you can top off your reserve tank for later. My past experience paid off big time, for I had no trouble beating RoadBlasters this time around. I played through every course and didn’t lose a life. My final score was a little over 1,950,000 which was better than I scored during the last NintendoAge contest. There were a few close calls in some of the later levels where I just barely survived, but overall I am very pleased with my run and my video longplay. It takes about an hour and a half to do a full run and it was good to get it done on my first try.

RoadBlasters is a fun action game that plays well on the NES. The controls are simple and work well for this kind of game. You can start out with easy levels or fast forward to some more difficult levels right away. This makes RoadBlasters a good game to play for just a few minutes or for longer stretches. The graphics are good and the roads curve quite a lot without any technical issues or slowdown. The sound is lackluster. All you hear during the game are car noises and sound effects. That can be exhausting for such a long game. The few songs that do play on the title screen and after each course are catchy and provide a nice sound break after the droning of the main action. One knock against RoadBlasters is that it’s a long game that is very repetitive if you take on all fifty courses. There’s also little room for error with only two continues to draw from. I’d say this a good NES game and a fun one to try out, even if you don’t care for racing games.

#87 – RoadBlasters

#87 – RoadBlasters (1,953,567 Points)


#82 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtle power! Times four!

The music starts simple and builds up nicely.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/26/18
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Longplay

If you have been reading along for a while, you probably know that I am all about video games, and not much else. For instance, I don’t watch too many movies and often don’t watch the ones that have NES games tied to them. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were quite the phenomenon in the early 1990s, so much so that even I was all about them for a time. I had a bunch of the toys, I watched the cartoon, I saw the movies, and of course I played a lot of the NES games. The first of these games poses a stiff and often unfair challenge but is still a well-remembered game regardless, owing a debt to the source material for keeping it held in esteem among 90’s kids like myself.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. They first appeared in a 1984 comic book published by Mirage Studios. The two creators were approached by licensing agent Mark Freedman to try and expand the franchise. They teamed up with Playmates Toys to create a line of action figures, and the company insisted on creating a cartoon to help tie in with the toy line. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series began in 1987, and though it took a little while to catch on, it blew up in popularity over the late 1980s and early 1990s. The comic book continued to run alongside the TV show, and several movies and video games followed throughout the 1990s. The series is still going on today, most notably in the Nickelodeon animated series ending in 2017, with a new series slated for the network later in 2018.

The NES game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (abbreviated TMNT) was first released on the Famicom in May 1989. The NES release in North America followed soon after in June 1989, and the PAL release occurred in August 1990. Konami developed the game. It was published by Konami in Japan, under the Ultra Games label in the US, and Konami’s Palcom label in Europe and Australia. The Japanese version was called Geki Kame Ninja Den, meaning Legend of the Radical Ninja Turtles. The European version was renamed Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles to remove references to ninjas, just like with Ninja Gaiden. This version of the game was ported to various home computers, and even appeared in arcades as a Playchoice-10 title.

You can explore the map or get into the sewer.

TMNT is a side-scrolling action game. The plot begins with the standard “save the girl” trope, as Shredder has captured April O’Neil and you have to get her back. Ultimately, your task is to locate and defeat Shredder, the leader of the Foot Clan. The turtles want to retrieve his Life Transformer Gun, which they hope to use on Splinter to restore him back to his human form. This journey will take you through six stages, culminating in a final battle with Shredder himself.

When you start the game from the title screen, you are first dropped into a top-down view of a portion of the New York City streets. You control a tiny Ninja Turtle here. You can walk in four directions with the D-pad, and attack straight ahead with the B button. Right next to you is an opening to the sewer, and you can go inside if you want. There the gameplay changes to the side-scrolling view where the action takes place. You can also walk around the building and take the path on the left but be careful if you do. Right around the corner is a large steam roller that will drive toward you, and if you touch it you get crushed and die instantly, or in this game, get captured. You can explore the map freely and go in and out of the sewers or doorways freely as well. The idea is to locate the end level boss and defeat him to move on.

You can press Start to pause the game. This brings up an information screen. On the left side there is a minimap of the current area. Red squares indicate where you can walk around, and white squares indicate entrances to the side-scrolling areas. There is also a small, flashing plus sign that shows where you are on the map. On the right side is a small profile of each of the four turtles: Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello. You see a small picture of each turtle, his shortened name, a life bar, and what special weapon he has, if any. You can switch between turtles anytime in this game. Press Up or Down to highlight which turtle you want, and you will control him directly when you unpause. The lower part of the screen shows an informational message from one of the other characters, typically master Splinter.

Words of encouragement AND character selection!

Most of the game is played within the side-scrolling areas. You move around with the D-pad, jump with A, and attack with B. The turtles take high, loopy jumps and will curl up into a ball. You can take shorter jumps by tapping the A button. Once you start moving sideways in the air, you can’t stop until you land, making precision jumps on small ledges difficult. The B button attacks straight ahead. You can attack above by holding Up and below by holding Down when you strike with B. Your turtle crouches with Down while standing on the ground.

The lower part of the screen during gameplay holds vital information. The left shows both your current score and high score. The middle part displays your health bar. You begin with eight squares of health and you can get damaged in half-square increments. Below that is an enemy health bar that only appears during bosses or stronger enemy encounters. The right side shows your main weapon, sub weapon, and any other items you may encounter.

Each of the Ninja Turtles is known for mastering a specific weapon and you get to use them as your default weapon depending on which turtle you choose. Leonardo wields a katana. This has the best total range for all directions. Raphael uses sai, which is easily the weakest weapon in the game. It is very fast to deploy repeatedly but has virtually no range and isn’t as strong as you might expect given its natural handicap. Michelangelo wields nunchucks, which have good horizonal range but weak vertical range. Donatello is a master of the bo staff. This weapon has the best reach, but not necessarily the best range. Attacking enemies at your feet is tricky since you either have to attack while crouched, which gives you very little range, or attack downward while jumping. However, the bo is the most powerful of the standard weapons, therefore making it the most useful weapon in the game.

This screen should bring back some painful memories.

There are secondary weapons in the game that you mostly pick up from defeated enemies. They are uncommon drops, but you will see a few of them during play. Shurikens are simple projectile weapons that pack some surprising punch. There is also a three-way shuriken with a much wider range. Boomerangs are slow moving and don’t travel very far, but they come back toward you and you can grab them again to add them back to your stock. There is also the infamous scroll weapon that is not dropped by enemies and can only be found in a few places. This is a wide projectile attack that does heavy damage. Each weapon pickup gives you twenty ammo. Grabbing a new weapon replaces an old one, so typically you will switch turtles to spread the weapons around.

Other items are planted in the levels. Health-restoring pizza is the most common pickup you will find. Slices restore a quarter of your health, half pizzas give you back half of your health, and a full pizza restores it all. This only applies to your active turtle so you may choose who gets health if several turtles are in danger. Missile pickups give you ten missiles for the turtle van in the overhead view of Level 3. Ropes are used in special sections to help you cross large gaps. Finally, there is an invincibility item in the shape of a Ninja Turtle face. Grab it to ball up and swing your weapon all around you for several seconds. Then you can wipe out pretty much any enemy by bumping into them.

There are a lot of weird enemies in this game. Some are TMNT staples, like foot clan soldiers and mousers. There’s an enemy that’s all legs that jumps off ceilings with reverse gravity. There are weird glowing men, and chainsaw-wielding freaks, and flying saucer shaped robots, and men completely on fire, and robot soldiers with detachable heads, just to name a few. Some enemy encounters lock the screen for awhile and one of the stronger enemies will appear with its own dedicated health bar. There’s a weird quirk about the enemies that happens a lot in this game. Most areas have two enemy groups but only one is active at a time. The one you get when you enter a new screen appears to be chosen at random. You’ll find you prefer certain groups over others. Even weirder is that the enemy group can change in the middle of an area if all on-screen enemies are cleared out first. It’s one of the stranger game mechanics I’ve seen, which seems to fit given the equally strange enemies within the groups.

Heads will fly.

Let’s take a brief look at the stages in this game. This is already dipping into spoiler territory, if you care about such things. The first level is a good introductory stage to get used to the map and game mechanics. You will face both Bebop and Rocksteady as bosses here. The second stage is the infamous dam level. In the latter part of the stage you go underwater to disable eight bombs before time runs out. Swim by tapping A to rise and the D-pad to move around. There are electrical barriers and painful seaweed to deal with, but the timer is essentially the boss of this stage. In Level 3, you take control of the turtle van, or party wagon, as you seek out the boss. You can fire small bullets or large missiles that take out barricades in your way. Level 4 takes place at an airport and contain 18 numbered areas to explore. Level 5 has a dark map with searchlights that drop foot soldiers near you if you get caught. The boss is randomly hidden within one of the sewers and the enemies are very difficult. The final area has no map, playing only in the side-scrolling view. This large area contains one of the nastiest stretches of gameplay I’ve witnessed in this project.

You can survive a long time in this game because you manage four full health bars all at once. Inevitably, one turtle will succumb to damage or an instant death trap. In this case, that turtle gets captured and you have to go without him. There is one spot each in Levels 3, 4, 5, and 6 where you can recover a captured turtle, but you can only get one back per level. If all turtles are lost, it’s Game Over. You can continue twice which sends you back to the start of the level.

TMNT was one of the NES games I acquired back in the Ninja Turtles heyday of the early 90s. I have played the game a lot and have beaten it many times before. I remembered all the main points of the adventure despite not playing through the game for a long time. I think the last time I played through the game before now was in college just to show off to my friends. It’s regarded as a difficult NES game for good reason.

Some areas get clogged up with enemies.

It took me two attempts to beat the game. The first time was meant to shake off the rust, so to speak. I almost beat the game anyway. I was able to reach the last level without too much trouble, but that nasty corridor I mentioned earlier reared its ugly head and I couldn’t make it through. That spot is a long area littered with these flying robot soldiers that shoot lasers. They appear constantly throughout the length of the room, while the height of the room gets narrower and you have no room to dodge. They take at least two hits to kill with the best weapons as well. There is a bit of a trick to passing through the area, but it eluded me the first time through. I was successful on my next attempt though I had to use up both continues before figuring it out.

I will defend TMNT as a fun game, but it is kind of a mess in a few regards. The turtles themselves are unbalanced. Raphael is practically useless, mostly serving as either a damage sponge or special weapons expert. Donatello is easily the best character, but the game gets a lot more challenging should you lose him. The changing enemy group mechanic is strange and can hinder you as much as it can help you. I think some enemies take too many hits to beat. I can try and skip some, but that becomes an issue because there is significant slowdown and flicker when too many enemies are stuck on screen. The slowdown isn’t helpful from an enemy avoidance perspective since your movement is on the sluggish side normally. Many areas are too narrow to properly avoid enemies anyway. Another bonus mechanic is that a turtle gets an attack power boost when he is low on health. However, this doesn’t always seem to work, and I don’t think it’s something you can depend on even though it is useful when it happens.

Now that I’ve said my piece on TMNT, I think it is a disappointing game. The technical issues and balancing issues mentioned above hold the game back. I expect more out of a Konami game on NES. TMNT lacks the typical Konami polish, particularly from a 1989 release. By then, Konami had already released several games, including ones I’ve already played like Top Gun, Contra, and Gyruss. All of those games are a better technical experience than TMNT. The game does have some good qualities. The music is really good, and the graphics are solid. I like the overhead map and the variety of the gameplay it provides. The idea of switching between the four turtles each with different weapons is a great idea. I think the difficulty curve is even and each stage is harder than the one before it. The structure of a great game is here, but it falls a tad short of the mark for me. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but I find TMNT to be a fun game anyway despite its flaws.

#82 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


#73 – Q*bert

Our hero teaches you to swear early and often!

Boring screen, but the next one tells you the rules at least.

To Beat: Finish Level 9 Round 4
Played: 2/1/18 – 2/18/18
My Difficulty:10/10
My Video: Q*bert Longplay

If you’re like me, your eyes got wide seeing another 10/10 difficulty rating appear. Indeed, Q*bert on NES is one of those games that doesn’t come up often. We have already seen a previous arcade port, the infamous Ikari Warriors, receive the only prior 10/10 rating. Ikari Warriors was a different case because it is a much more expansive game on NES than in the arcade. NES Q*bert on the other hand is close to the arcade experience. I think it’s neat to see how two arcade ports on NES go in different directions but still retain a very high level of difficulty compared with other NES games. Beating Q*bert is something you can feel proud of if you are one of the few that can conquer it.

Q*bert started as an arcade game that was both developed and published by Gottlieb in 1982. Jeff Lee is credited with both designing the character Q*bert as well as the initial ideas of gameplay. Warren Davis stepped in later as a programmer and further contributed to the game. David Theil was the audio engineer, and his trouble in finding enough time to properly add clear voices to the game led to the idea of having the sound synthesizer read random data, producing gibberish that composes Q*bert’s somewhat iconic swearing noises. The development team also included a pinball device inside the arcade cabinet that slams into the side of it whenever Q*bert falls off the board. Another risky idea was turning the game joystick 45 degrees for diagonal-only movement. All of the above pieces combined to make Q*bert a success for Gottlieb, so the game was widely ported to many home consoles and computers throughout 1983 and 1984.

Q*bert on NES was released in February 1989. It was developed and published by Ultra Games, the alternate publishing label of Konami. It wasn’t released on the Famicom nor outside of the US. This version is closely aligned to the original arcade game, but some later titles expanded on the idea. A unique sequel, Q*bert’s Qubes, was released in arcades in 1984. It is a more complex game and wasn’t as widely distributed. Q*bert on MSX was released in 1986. This version doesn’t feature Q*bert at all, but does include 50 different stage layouts. The Game Boy port of Q*bert in 1992 goes back to starring the original character while also introducing new stage layouts. Q*bert 3 on SNES in 1992 also has different levels. Q*bert also had different versions on Windows, mobile, and other platforms more recently.

Most of what you need to know is evident from the start.

Q*bert is a single screen action game with puzzle elements. You play as Q*bert on a triangular pyramid of cubes. It holds seven rows of cubes containing 28 total cubes. You hop along the top faces of these cubes changing the color of any one you step on. To complete each level, you must switch all the tiles to a specified target color while avoiding other enemies that try to get in your way or disrupt your progress. There are nine levels of four rounds each, so you have to complete 36 pyramids to beat the game.

The controls are simple and can even be customized, which is great because by nature of the game Q*bert’s hops are always diagonal. On the title screen, first select one or two players. Multiplayer is alternating play so this might as well be a single player game. The first thing you get to see is the control customization screen. It includes a demonstration of Q*bert hopping so you can see clearly which direction you are setting, and there is also an image of the NES controller. First you choose what direction on the D-pad you want to press to make Q*bert jump up and right, then down and right, down and left, and finally up and left. The initial setting is Up on the D-pad to move Q*bert up and right. You can press A to lock that in or press B to turn 45 degrees clockwise. You can keep pressing B to pivot this selection around to any direction you want. If you want inverted controls or something really bizarre, you can do it. After you make selections for all four directions, you must press A one more time to confirm. If you press B instead, then you have to re-enter all four directions again from the start. My recommendation is setting the default controls by mashing the A button right away. This locks controls to the main cardinal directions of the D-pad, so visually if you were to turn the controller 45 degrees clockwise the D-pad perfectly aligns with Q*bert’s movement on screen. The other common control scheme is locking in all diagonal D-pad inputs, but I didn’t bother with this because pressing diagonals isn’t always precise enough.

When you are playing the game, just use the D-pad. Press the direction you set to hop in the desired direction. Q*bert’s jumps are always deliberate and take time to finish. You may tap the direction you want to move when you are standing still. If you hold a direction while Q*bert is in mid jump, he will go ahead and jump in that direction after he lands. This acts as an input buffer so you can hold the direction you next intend to go early and Q*bert will transition as quickly as possible. Finally, the Start button pauses the game if you need a break in the action.

Q*bert’s biggest fan helps out with control customization.

There are several enemies that stand in your color changing ways. The rule of thumb is you can safely come in contact with green enemies, but any other color enemy kills you when touched. The one enemy that appears in every stage is Coily. He first appears as a purple ball falling from the sky and landing in the second row. He hops randomly downward until he reaches the bottom row and comes alive as a snake. Now he will follow you around in hot pursuit. The only safe way to deal with Coily is to use disks that can appear on either the left or right side of the pyramid. Q*bert is allowed to jump completely off the pyramid to his death if you aren’t careful, in which case you lose a life and he respawns on the topmost tile, just as he starts every level. Hop off the pyramid onto one of those disks, and it will carry Q*bert to the top of the pyramid. During this transport, if Coily was close enough to you he will also jump off the pyramid, and as a bonus this also removes all enemies from play, plus you get 500 points. You may only use a disk once and there are only a handful per level.

Ugg and Wrong Way are two similar enemies that have a strange movement pattern. Unlike other enemies, they appear from the bottom of the screen and hop on the sides of the cubes instead of on the top. Wrong Way begins on the bottom left and will either jump up or right. Ugg begins on the bottom right and only jumps up or left. Maybe it’s the opposite, I don’t know. Either way, when they reach the side of the pyramid, they jump completely off and go away. Because they don’t land on the top tiles, it takes a while to completely understand how to safely move around them.

The remaining enemies all move like Coily’s purple ball and they all jump off the bottom of the board. However, each one has other characteristics. Red balls are called Whammy Balls. They are simple, common enemies that hurt when you collide with them. The remaining enemies are green and can be touched safely. The green ball is a powerup. Grab the green ball to both freeze all enemies on screen and make Q*bert invincible. This lasts for several seconds which is perfect for flipping a bunch of tiles the way you want them. You also get 100 points from the green ball. The final two enemies are Sam and Slick. I can’t tell the two of them apart mid-game, but Slick wears sunglasses and Sam doesn’t. Like Q*bert, they change tile colors every step they take, and so they have a bad habit of undoing all your hard work. You can take them out of play if you grab them and you get 300 points for your efforts. I believe Sam advances each square one color ahead and Slick always turns tiles one of the non-target colors. Maybe their characteristics are level dependent and not character dependent. Either way, these are very annoying non-lethal enemies.

Early levels already have a lot going on.

Other than the enemies, there are some other ways to earn points. Flipping a tile earns you 30 points. You also get a bonus after each round. Any remaining disks give you 50 points, and then you earn the main round bonus. This begins at 1000 points for completing Level 1-1, and it steps up an additional 250 points for subsequent rounds. Around Level 5-1 it stops at 5000 points per round but then goes up to 6000 points for Level 8 and 8000 points for each round in the final level. Points let you earn extra lives. You get your first extra life at 6000 points, and then you get another one for every 12,000 points after that.

The main objective is coloring tiles, and this gradually gets more complex. Each level begins with a demonstration of how colors change when Q*bert hops on tiles. Levels can feature up to three colors which I’ll call Colors A, B, and C. The colors themselves vary just for aesthetic reasons. All levels begin with all Color A tiles, and the target color is B for two-color levels and C for three-color levels. Level 1 just has two colors with only A flipping to B. Color B is locked in for the round unless Sam or Slick get involved. Essentially, step on every tile once. Level 2 goes to three colors, with A flipping to B, B flipping to C, and C stays locked. Just step on every tile twice. Level 3 is only two colors, however, A goes to B and B goes back to A. Uh-oh. The puzzle element shows up here, but it’s gets better with experience. Level 4 goes A to B, B to C, and C to B. It’s more hopping, but eventually boils down to the same as Level 3. Level 5 and onward is just nasty, and I bet you can already guess where this is going. Here, A flips to B, B flips to C, and C flips back to A. This is the last pattern, but you have to suffer through 20 rounds of this if you are set on beating NES Q*bert. Each subsequent level gets faster too.

Now it all starts to come together why Q*bert is one of the hardest games to beat on the NES. The game does provide a bit of extra assistance. Each game of Q*bert begins with four additional lives. You can continue when you run out of lives, but only three times. The extra credits help tremendously, but this is still a steep mountain to climb.

I always like these stages with the black cube sides.

I had a little previous experience with Q*bert. I believe I mentioned this in my Snow Brothers review, but I originally played that game at a babysitter’s house long ago as a rental. The other rented game that day was Q*bert, and I remember getting as far as Level 3. I sought it out specifically when I got back into game collecting. I ended up buying a nice, clean copy with manual on eBay for $6 shipped. This is a silly reason, but I wanted to get it early on because one of my collection milestones was collecting all NES games that start with each letter of the alphabet. Q is the easiest to finish since it’s only Q*bert and Qix, at least for licensed NES. I do like the game though, so I was happy to own it. Nowadays a cart copy costs around $8-$10, same as it did around 2014 when I bought my own.

I’ve done a lot of research into the NES library and I already know several games that project to be among the most difficult. Q*bert was absolutely on my radar as a Top 10 candidate. Because of this, I kept track of my attempts including milestones anytime I reached a new stage for the first time. I was looser with this than my Ikari Warriors tracking, so I neglected to note exactly which attempts reached which stages. I also didn’t keep track of how many hours I spent playing. The stats I did collect are interesting enough. I beat Q*bert on my 67th attempt over 18 days of playing. I’d say I reset early on maybe a dozen or more attempts, especially toward the end of my grind when I knew I needed to play well early to have a better shot at the end. Later attempts took as long as 45 minutes, and earlier attempts were at least 20-30 minutes long. I’m pretty comfortable guessing that I played 30 hours of Q*bert before I won.

The road getting there was pretty long, despite what I consider a condensed timeframe. I started out very strong, reaching Level 5 on my first day playing. This is no small feat. The first two levels are challenging to start, but straightforward. Level 3 is the first big step up where you have to contend with pathfinding and Sam and Slick really hindering progress. It gets a little worse in Level 4, but Level 5 is where the gloves truly come off. I think it was huge for me to do well enough reaching Level 5 so early in the process. Who knows how long I would have spent playing Q*bert if I struggled earlier, like I’m sure many players do. But that’s where things stalled out for quite some time. I reached Level 6 on my third day and then got stuck for a few days. I was getting angry about losing in those later levels, and solving them more felt like I was lucky than I was skilled. After the first week of attempts, I had something of a breakthrough, reaching 8-4 in one of those magical runs. Following that were three days of heavy playing over the weekend where I didn’t come all that close. My Level 5+ technique was gradually coming together, and by the next weekend I was routinely reaching Levels 7 and 8, and even Level 9. Finally it all came together and I beat Q*bert!

Getting the jump on the green ball is huge.

My winning run was an attempt that I nearly threw away. I was gauging attempts based on how many lives I had entering 5-1. I had gotten there a couple of times with ten lives, but usually I had six to eight lives. This time I broke even and only had the starting four. I decided to try anyway and things were really clicking for me, at least until Level 8. From 5-3 on, both the disk layout and Sam’s tile flipping behavior are always the same. Later levels do speed up, but aside from that there’s no reason why Level 8 would be unique in its difficulty. Anyway, that’s where things looked bleak. I used all three continues here: One in 8-1, another in 8-2, and my last in 8-4. I wanted to at least get to Level 9, but I ended up playing very well and beat 9-4 with several lives to spare. I didn’t have any notes for 9-4 but I didn’t need them. It was a huge relief to mark Q*bert off the list!

The best advice I can give for beating Q*bert is this: The enemy movements are random, but the order in which enemies appear is fixed for each level. Armed with this knowledge, it is possible to map out exactly when certain enemies appear, especially the green ball. I had a few notes for the first three levels that I didn’t really use, but from Level 4 on I wrote down about when I expected the ball to show up. My strategy for those levels was to start clearing out the lower left corner, particularly the three corner tiles. Wait there for Coily to approach you and then take the disk in that corner. Repeat that step for the other corner. After that, try and work the board from the bottom on up. If you can stop Sam, by all means do it, but it’s not absolutely critical. Occasionally, Sam will hug one side of the board and mess up the corner, so when that happens I fix that as soon as possible. My notes indicated about how many times I could bait Coily off the edge with a disk before the green ball appears. I had to improvise somewhat since Coily can end up too far away from where I’m waiting, but for the most part I made it work. The green ball often follows a Whammy Ball in the sequencing, so I tried using that sometimes as a visual cue.

One super annoying thing from Level 5 on is that sometimes the board gets caught in an unwinnable state temporarily. This happens when all squares are the target color except the one you are standing on, which is one hop away. There are a few things that you can do to fix it. What I like to do is massage that final square up to the very top of the pyramid. This is generally a safe tile aside from Coily and, in rare cases, Ugg and Wrong Way. If Coily isn’t an eminent threat, wait here for Sam or Slick to show up. When he does, immediately land on his square before he gets away. His landing shuffles the corner enough so that you can finish it. You can also use a disk to flip the top tile and fix it, but this has to be one of the disks in an odd-numbered row for it to work. Finally, if you can work the final square to one of the tiles adjacent to the topmost tile, simply jump off the board. This method costs you a life, so keep that in mind. Q*bert respawns on the top tile but doesn’t shuffle it, so then you can hop directly to the last square and clear the board.

Even in the final levels, the same tricks apply.

There’s one last tidbit I have on NES Q*bert. After you beat the game and view the ending sequence, you start all over at Level 1. Q*bert gets even harder during the second loop, if you can believe that. The speed overall is increased, and if I’m not mistaken, the speed can fluctuate mid-level. If that’s not true, it sure seemed that way while I was playing. That adds a little extra unpredictability to a game that does not need to be any more complicated. Considering this is a Konami game, many of their games that repeat have three distinct difficulty loops. It would not surprise me if Q*bert also does this, although good luck finding out. I captured video of my winning run, and when it looped I decided to play it through to the end, reaching 5-1 on the second loop before biting the dust. I’m really happy I have video proof of this achievement to share.

I’m going to address the difficulty here, because I know I’m going to be asked about it. Q*bert is the second game I’ve given a 10/10 rating. Out of the entire NES licensed set, I expect to hand this out to around 20 games. Q*bert is deserving of the 10/10, no doubt in my mind. This should be reserved for the cream of the crop, the ones that take an extraordinary amount of effort to beat. The question I’m sure I’ll be asked is “How does Q*bert compare to Ikari Warriors?” That answer is crystal clear. Ikari Warriors is much, much harder than Q*bert. Within the timeframe it took me to beat Q*bert, I had not yet beat the first level in Ikari Warriors. I think it’s okay to have two games far apart in difficulty within this space, and I don’t want to get into half-ratings or anything like that. What I will do is rank the 10/10’s relative to each other as I beat new ones. This will be a glacially slow list to compile, but I think this is something people want to know. Maybe it will be worth the wait.

Q*bert is a game that, despite its rage-inducing difficulty, I had a good time with. Action games with puzzle elements are right up my alley. Now this is not a flashy game. The visuals are basic, but colorful aside from the plain black background. The soundtrack is almost non-existent. The developers opted for having sound effects as the main audio driver instead, but it is pretty helpful to have audio cues for enemies when your eyes are busy keeping Q*bert alive elsewhere. Considering this is based on an early arcade title, this is all to be expected. The controls are great, both responsive and accurate, within the limitation of Q*bert’s deliberately designed movement, at least. Q*bert is a well-designed game and the NES version hits all the right notes. It’s a fun game to pick up and play, and if that’s all you want out of it, you will have some fun. Beating it, however, is grueling and unforgiving. That will have you swearing more than Q*bert does.

#73 – Q*bert


#71 – Prince of Persia

This classic PC game does okay on the NES hardware.

Both the look and music are almost calming.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 1/8/18 – 1/19/18
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
Video: Prince of Persia Longplay

When you play as many video games as I do, there are bound to be some games that seem like a perfect fit but you just never seem to get around to them. One such game is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, or any of the other games in that series. I get it. I really like 3D platformers, action games, and charting my way through these kinds of spaces. I’m sure I would love it, but at the same time I feel that ship has sailed. I haven’t played any of the Prince of Persia games until now. At least I can right one of my gaming wrongs. Prince of Persia is a carefully crafted experience that plays well enough on the NES.

Prince of Persia was created and developed by Jordan Mechner. To fully understand and appreciate the history, let’s back up a bit and talk about his first game. Karateka is an action and fighting game originally released for the Apple II in 1984. You play an unnamed hero and want to rescue a princess from a mountain fortress. Enemy encounters play out like an early one-on-one fighting game and you punch, kick, and dodge your way to victory. It is notable for its animation by rotoscoping, which is a technique where drawing is done over top of video. In this case, Mechner used footage of his karate instructor to draw the characters in Karateka. It was a huge success and one of the best-selling games on the Apple II. It was also widely ported to many computers and consoles, including the Famicom version from 1985.

Prince of Persia was Mechner’s next game, released on the Apple II in 1989. It also contains rotoscoped animations and hand-to-hand combat, but is a much more expansive game than Karateka. Despite critical acclaim, it did not sell well at the start. This is likely because the Apple II was not a viable platform for game development anymore. Sales really took off after its various ports. The original version was both published and developed by Broderbund. The NES version was released in November 1992, published by Virgin Games and developed by Motivetime Ltd.

The game looks even better in motion.

The game went on to spawn sequels and a new series. Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame was released for MS-DOS in 1993. It was also a big success. The next game, Prince of Persia 3D in 1999, was not. The Prince of Persia franchise was soon sold to Ubisoft, who went on to develop many games in a new series and several spinoffs. The aforementioned Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released in 2003 for PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, and Windows. It brought the series firmly back into the limelight. Sands of Time was quickly followed by Warrior Within and The Two Thrones over the next two years, and a fourth game The Forgotten Sands came out in 2010. There was also the film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time released the same year.

The story for Prince of Persia takes place in a faraway land. While the Sultan is away fighting in war, his Grand Vizier Jaffar has taken power. Meanwhile, the Sultan’s daughter has fallen in love with an adventurer. Jaffar has this adventurer arrested and thrown into prison, while giving the Sultan’s daughter an ultimatum. She can marry Jaffar or be killed, and she is given an hour to decide her fate. You play the role of the adventurer as you seek to recover your sword and battle your way out of the dungeons within the hour to save the Sultan’s daughter.

Prince of Persia is a side-scrolling action-adventure game. Each level of the dungeon is its own maze with possible branching paths. The objective is to find the staircase to the next level which is hidden behind a locked door. Some of the floor tiles contain switches that open or close gates within the dungeon, and one of these switches opens the exit stairs. Find the switch and reach the exit while avoiding traps and enemies. There are twelve levels in the dungeon and when you reach the Sultan’s daughter you win the game.

Floor switches aren’t always this obvious.

The controls are a bit complex for a side-scrolling game. Use the D-Pad to walk left and right. You can tap one of those directions to turn yourself around and face the other way, and you can hold Left or Right to run in that direction. Press the A button to jump. You can do a running jump while you are moving. If you are standing still and press A, you will do a large leap forward a couple of tiles. The B button is used to tiptoe. While standing still, press B and he will take a small step forward. You can use the tiptoe method to walk right up to the edge of the platform. Position yourself underneath the edge of a ledge and hold Up to jump, grab onto the ledge, and pull yourself up. You can also press Up to jump in place. If you are standing beneath a breakable tile, you can bonk it from underneath which causes it to fall and gives you a new path to climb. You can descend from the edge of a ledge. Tiptoe up to the edge of a ledge, turn around, and hold Down to lower yourself gently. Hold either the A or B button to dangle off the ledge if there’s no floor underneath. If you want to jump across a large pit, hold the A or B button after leaping to grab the far ledge if you come up short. You can cross gaps three tiles wide by tiptoeing to the edge, jumping with A, holding either A or B to grab the ledge, and pulling yourself up. Enter the exit door at the end of each level by pressing Up. You can also press Start to pause the game. As you can see there is nuance to the controls that give you a lot of versatility when you learn it.

Your health is represented by red triangles in the lower left corner. You start out with three health points. Most traps in the game kill you outright. There are trap tiles where spikes pop out if you step on them and that instantly kills you. Spiked gates open and close and you die if you are caught in between when it closes. Falling down three or more tiles is also instant death. Falling two tiles knocks off one health point. Some floor tiles crumble away when you walk over them, which often leads to plunging to your death.

There are potions within the dungeons that can have several different effects. Most potions will restore one health point. There are some of these potions that look the same but reduce your health by one instead. Another potion, one that looks slightly different from the health potion, fills your health entirely and increases your maximum health by one. If you can survive to the end of the level, the max health carries over to the next stage. One quirky thing about the health is that you can get up to six total health points, but then it always goes back to five if you die or finish the level. There is one other potion in a later stage that has a level-specific effect.

Ah yes, a sword! This should help!

Another feature of the game is the sword combat. You begin the game without a sword and have to find it within the first stage. When you enter a screen with an enemy, his health is shown with purple triangles in the lower right of the screen. Approach the enemy to automatically draw your sword. You can inch either left or right with the D-Pad. The A button lets you strike with your sword, and the B button lets you parry and deflect an enemy strike. The manual says you can also parry with Up and put your sword away with Down, but I don’t think they work in this port. Each hit reduces one health point for either side. I found swordplay to be awfully tricky and inconsistent. Sometimes I could rally several consecutive hits, and other times every move I made got countered.

Besides the control scheme, the other major gimmick to Prince of Persia is the timer. You are indeed given an hour to finish the game. The bottom of the screen will occasionally display the number of minutes remaining. You can press Select to force the time to appear and see how well you are doing. Dying sends you back to the start of the current level and you don’t get any of that time back. Once time has expired you have to start all over again.

Prince of Persia has a password system that helps alleviate the time constraint. Each level gives you an eight-digit password once completed. This saves which level you are on and the total amount of time remaining. You can use this to help you work through the game. First, take your time and figure out how to solve the level. Then, start over with your last password and try to finish it on the first try. That way you will have more time left for the later stages. I gotta say, I think the password screen in this game is clever. You enter in the password with the D-Pad and press Start when finished. Your guy will then drink a potion on the ground in front of him. If you get the password right he goes ahead through the door to the proper level. Type in the wrong password and he immediately dies from the potion.

Sword combat is randomly tricky.

As I mentioned above, this was my first time playing Prince of Persia. The NES port is a later release and not common. It runs close to $20 for a loose cart but it is readily available online. At one point I had two copies of the game. One I remember buying in a small lot where The Krion Conquest was the highlight, but I don’t recall where I got the other one. My double sold quickly when I listed it for sale.

I took a different approach than what I outlined above for beating the game because I knew I wanted to try and beat the whole game in one shot. I approached each level casually with no real regard to the overall timer, recording my passwords each time and noting how much time was remaining. Once I ran the timer out, I used the latest password to learn that level before starting over entirely. On each subsequent playthrough I updated my passwords if I had more time remaining. This way I could make overall progress, improve my passwords, and keep sharp on already completed levels all at once. I think it was a good strategy for my overall goal. I started over five or six times before beating the game the first time on my final minute. My recorded longplay went really poorly but I managed to beat the game just barely.

The good thing about passwords is that I also used them to practice certain levels I would have trouble with. If a level involved multiple swordfights, it was probably one that gave me a lot of trouble. I was just too inconsistent. There were a few difficult jumps that necessitated a running start and these gave me the most trouble. The last jump in the game was by far the hardest. I finally figured it out by standing in a very specific position before taking the running start and jumping at the last possible moment. I was pulling my hair out trying to make that jump, but I did it.

The graphics don’t vary much further from this.

I noticed the controls and movement of Prince of Persia are in direct conflict with the goal at hand. This game is all about battling the timer. To minimize the amount of time spent, you have to move as quickly as possible. However, moving too quickly is sure to get you killed. Some ledges end immediately when moving to the next screen, which seems like a major design issue but might be a screen-size issue only appearing in the NES port. This makes running quite dangerous unless you know exactly what is on the next screen. Once you know where you are going, there is more than enough time to beat the game. You just have to learn to be fast while also making precise movements. There are some buttons that activate timed gates where the timing is very tight, and you have to map out exactly where to stand, when to run, when to stop, when to jump, how to dodge traps or unwanted switches, and so on. This war with the timer is always present, but for some reason it just works. By the end of the game you know exactly how to move and how to put yourself in position to clear just about any trap or jump. These difficult sequences are very rewarding to clear and most of the time there is a consistent strategy by using all the types of movement and climbing available to you.

Two things stand out to me that really annoyed me in this version of Prince of Persia. The first is that there is a problem with the font and the digits 6 and 8. The best I could tell, there are only two pixels different between the two numbers. This is a problem because the passwords are all numbers and it’s easy to cross them up if you aren’t paying close attention. I didn’t make any mistakes writing passwords down but I can see where it might be a problem. The other issue I had with the game is inconsistent ledge grabbing. There are at least a couple of places in the game I could recall where you make a jump and your foot just catches the ledge enough so that you stumble off it but somehow bypass the ledge grab. Sometimes you just miss altogether for no apparent reason. I can’t prove it but I suspect that this is an issue with just the NES port of the game. Free running seems like it puts you in pixel positions where edge cases don’t give you expected results. If you do careful steps and jumps you can usually put yourself in position for more consistent success. It’s a minor quibble that occasionally becomes a major problem when time is most precious and setbacks are most costly.

Prince of Persia is a beautifully rendered, timeless game in its own right. The NES port is reduced in quality but it still fun to play. The controls work well for the most part. The music is repetitive but is okay and doesn’t really get in the way. The graphics look good though there are only two kinds of tilesets and two enemy types used throughout the game. Thankfully the animation is excellent because the graphical variety just isn’t there. While I haven’t played any other versions of the game, I do know that both the in-game story and level layouts were compromised in the conversion to the NES. Some screen transitions are poor enough that you will easily die if you don’t know or remember what’s ahead. This is not the ideal way to play Prince of Persia. But if the NES version is all you’ve got, it’s still worth playing.

#71 – Prince of Persia


#68 – Super Team Games

Great, another exhausting Power Pad game!

Some balloons burst to get you started.

To Beat: Win all four events in single player
To Complete: Win all events on the highest difficulty
What I Did: Beat all events on the lowest difficulty
Played: 12/21/17 – 12/28/17
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
Video: Super Team Games – All Events

Another Power Pad game already? I just finished World Class Track Meet not even a week before this. There are only a handful of Power Pad games that reached the NES, and it is just dumb luck that we get two such games almost back to back. This may have been a good thing here since my Power Pad muscle memory from the previous game carried over to this one. I needed that because Super Team Games is significantly more challenging than World Class Track Meet.

Super Team Games was developed by Sonata (who would later become Human Entertainment) for release in Japan in November 1987. It was originally published by Bandai, and it was the seventh game in their Family Trainer series. Nintendo published the NES release in November 1988, branded as a Power Pad game. It did not include any Family Trainer or Family Fun Fitness branding, just like World Class Track Meet. This was the final game of the Famicom’s Family Trainer series to reach North America.

Super Team Games is a running race game where you compete in different types of events and try to beat your opponent. There are several smaller events that are arranged into larger obstacle courses. There are several different modes for single player, two players, and two teams of players. Since multiplayer modes are competitions against each other, only the single player modes count for beating Super Team Games. There are four different obstacle courses in single player mode, and when you win all of them you have won the game.

You gotta start jumping pretty early.

This Power Pad game uses Side B, which contains blue buttons on the left and red buttons on the right, all individually numbered from 1 to 12. In single player, we are only concerned with the blue buttons. The top row buttons are 1 and 2, the middle row buttons are 5 and 6, and the bottom row buttons are 9 and 10. Multiplayer games use the red buttons, so just add two to each button number to get the same mappings for the second player.

The menu controls are the same as World Class Track Meet. On the title screen, press Select to move the cursor and press Start to go to name entry. In the tournament mode, you first select how many teams you want between three and six. Use the D-Pad to move the cursor at the bottom and press Select to lock in your choice. You then move to name entry which is identical for all modes. The blinking cursor at the top part of the screen determines which character in the name you want to choose, and you move that cursor by pressing B to move it left and A to move it right. Use the D-Pad to move the letter selection cursor at the bottom part of the screen. Press Select to write the selected character in the name field. When all names have been entered, press Start to begin.

Now you move to the event screen. There are flags displayed with the names of all the events. Press Select to choose the event and press Start. In 1 Player and 2 Player modes, the events are Super Obstacle Course, Obstacle Course A, Obstacle Course B, and Skateboard Race. The 2 Team Play and Tournament mode events are 6 Legged Race, Tug of War, and Relay Race. More on these modes later. The next screen is the versus screen showing who is competing in the race. If you are playing Tournament mode, you will see a screen in between showing the bracket setup. In single player, the versus screen lets you decide which computer character you want to race against. Press Select to choose from either Ollie, Jimmy, or Jack, and press Start to go to the race. Ollie is easy mode, Jimmy is medium difficulty, and Jack is the fastest.

What lovely flags!

The gameplay screen has the same structure in all events. The left runner, designed as the White team, is displayed on the top part of the screen and the right runner, or Red team, is below. At the bottom of the screen is a minimap that shows how far each player or team has reached in the current race. You also see times for each runner. This timer freezes briefly during checkpoints so you get a better glimpse of how you are doing as you compete. To begin the race, all active participants must be standing on the Power Pad in their designated spots. For single player, stand on 5 and 6. A whistle is blown and soon the referee fires the starting gun.

Let’s look at each of the events first. Then I will explain how they combine into the different courses.

The Log Hop is exactly how it sounds; you run and jump over stationary logs. This introduces the standard controls that apply to many events in the game. Run on 5 and 6 in the middle row to move forward. Take a step back and run on 9 and 10 to back up a little bit if you need to. You can run right up to the log and then jump in the air so that your character jumps as well. The logs are medium height so they aren’t too tough to jump over. You can even land on top of the log and run right off.

No, you can’t run around the ball.

The Belly Bump Ball has the same controls as the Log Hop. Here a giant beach ball is in the middle of the track and you have to bump it forward by running into it. The faster you run into it, the farther down the track it goes. Ideally you want to get into a good rhythm of bouncing it far ahead and then running fast to knock the ball ahead again. If you come at it slow, the ball won’t go very far and then you don’t have the distance necessary to build up speed unless you take a few steps back and give yourself some running room.

Water Cross is similar to the Log Hop. There are pools of water on the track that you want to jump completely over if you can. Run up to the edge and jump to hopefully get across. More than likely you will fall into the water. You can swim by running on 5 and 6, but you will cross very slowly and use up a lot of time.

In the Crab Walk, I guess you wear a crab outfit? It’s weird. You want to put your left foot on the 1 and your right foot on the 9 and then run in place to inch ahead. It’s different than the other events since your feet are much further apart. I could move forward but really couldn’t get the hang of this one like I should have.

The Wall Jump is exactly like the Log Hop. The walls are thin and much taller than the logs. You really need to jump high to get to the top of the wall. Not only that, but there are two different heights of walls just to make things more exhausting.

This is a very sturdy bubble.

In Bubble Run, you first approach an air pump and must blow up your bubble. Hit 1 and 2 in the first row to inflate your balloon. The manual says to hit the buttons with your hands, which makes sense since you are working an air pump. You can run on it if you want, but my legs needed a break! Once the bubble is filled, then run on 5 and 6 and take the bubble to the end.

These are all the basic events that combine to form the larger events that you choose from the menu before play. In the Super Obstacle Course, you run all six of the above events in that exact order. In Obstacle Course A, you do the Log Hop, Water Cross, and Wall Jump, and in Obstacle Course B you do the Belly Bump Ball, Crab Walk, and Bubble Run. The Relay Race in the team play modes is the same as the Super Obstacle Course. Instead of running the whole thing alone, you pass the baton and substitute team members after each pair of events.

That’s not all! There are also three other unique special events:

The Skateboard Race is for one or two players. In this mode you don’t have to run, which is quite the relief! Your front foot position will either be on the 5 or 6, and your back foot position is either 9 or 10. First, stand on 5 and 6 to start with the whistle blow, then put your front foot on 5 and your back foot on 9. I like to face right while on the mat. This will position you in the top row in your course. Move your front foot to the 6 and then move your back foot to the 10 to move your character to the bottom row in the course. You can switch positions one step at a time to slide your skateboarder. You may rhythmically step between positions to slalom and that lets you move faster down the course. You also need to sidestep to dodge obstacles on the course. Some obstacles block both lanes and you must jump to get past them. If it sounds complicated, I’m sure you will get it once you finish the course once or twice.

Try to weave around the obstacles.

The 6 Legged Race is a team event only. You need six players for this event! Each team of three stands back to back on the respective spaces on the Power Pad so that there is a foot on every button. Each team must take left and right steps together as if their feet are tied together. If someone is out of step the racers will fall over and make it harder for the team to continue to walk. There’s no feasible way for me to play this event, but I bet it would be hilarious!

The Tug of War is another team event that can be done with either two, four, or six players against each other. Within a team, the first player stands on 5 and 6, the second player stands on 1 and 2, and the third player stands on 9 and 10. The other team takes the respective positions on the right side of the Power Pad. When the firing gun starts, everyone runs as fast as they can. Whichever side has pulled more of the rope after 30 seconds wins the Tug of War.

I’ve never been a Power Pad player, so this was my first time playing through Super Team Games. All of the Power Pad games tend to teeter between common and uncommon, but they are neither difficult nor expensive to track down if you really want them. Well, aside from Stadium Events that is. I got my original copy in a lot on eBay early on when I had made my big push to collect the other half of the NES licensed set. I remember seeing it and getting pretty excited since I had never seen the game before and thought it might have been worth something. I quickly found out that it was cheap because no one wants it. I’ve had a few different copies come through my possession.

This was a really bad jump attempt.

Super Team Games is a significant step up in difficulty from World Class Track Meet. Naturally, I learned this the hard way. My first time playing I picked the Super Obstacle Course against the fastest computer runner Jack. He completely blew me away. He completed the entire course in under three minutes while I hadn’t even reached the halfway point yet. I had to stop and step away in the middle of the race for a little while to catch my breath. I kept at it just to get through it, but I never did finish the race. After 10 minutes have elapsed, the race just ends. I was at the very end of the course with the finish line in sight when this happened. So annoying. I’m calling it impossible for me to beat this on the hardest difficulty and immediately accepted the idea of beating it on Easy and stopping there.

I moved on to the Skateboard Race next which is the easiest mode and much less strenuous. It still took me two attempts to beat easy difficulty Ollie. The first attempt was learning the course and the controls, and then the second try was enough to win the race. I then switched over to trying Obstacle Course A and managed to win that race too. The only problem is I forgot to hit the record button on my PC. That really upset me and I knew I wouldn’t be happy unless I completed it again. I was completely spent from playing this game to the point where I had to rest for a couple of days before trying again.

I finished all of the modes over the next three play sessions. The Super Obstacle Course took me two tries to win against Ollie. He finishes the race in around six minutes. I was about twenty seconds behind the first try and then I won by more than that the next try. It also took me two tries to beat the Obstacle Course A again. The first try I quit part way because I was too far behind and exhausted from winning the Super Obstacle Course just before. The next try I won the race by just barely passing Ollie on the final stretch. That was way too close for comfort. Obstacle Course B is quite a bit easier than the other two obstacle courses, but I think that took a couple of tries as well. I used the Skateboard Race as a warm up exercise and finished it a couple more times for good measure. I learned from my mistakes and recorded everything the way I wanted.

That’s how close I was to losing Obstacle Course A.

I think Super Team Games requires more consistency and better form than World Class Track Meet. You can be successful by stepping on the Power Pad as quickly as possible, since that’s more or less what I did. However, it does seem that you are rewarded for having proper form in your steps and jumps. I will caution that I cannot be entirely sure about this. The manual tells you what to do, but not how to do it well. It’s not really feasible for me to test any hypotheses either because I can only play a little bit at a time before wearing out. My theories will have to do. I was able to do a really long jump a few times and I never understood how it happened. I’m sure it has to do with the timing of my jump while running with some speed, maybe even by jumping off of one foot and landing on the other. I also noticed that I accelerated sometimes while jogging for some distance. There does seem to be some momentum inherent in the game physics as long as you keep going without slowing down too much or missing any steps on the buttons. Again, these are just theories. I assume there has to be some kind of technique that I didn’t understand that could help me perform at a higher level.

I do have a few observations about racing Ollie that might be helpful if you want to play this game single player. I found that I was about on par with Ollie in all events but two. Ollie does the Crab Walk well, but does the Belly Bump Ball terribly. I have no idea what the secret is to crab walking and I always lost ground during that event. The Belly Bump Ball is best way to take a big lead. Ollie gets no momentum at all and only pushes the ball a short distance while never backing up to get a better shot at it. If you run fast, pause briefly just after you bump the ball, and repeat, you should clear the event quickly. This was the key for me completing the Super Obstacle Course and Obstacle Course B, leaving only Obstacle Course A without an easy exploit. The sad thing is that the game manual tries to make you feel bad for even coming close in a match with Ollie. From the manual: “Ollie: A push over. Shame on you if you lose!” Let me tell you, there is no shame in losing to Ollie. This really is a tough game.

Super Team Games is not fun to play in my opinion, but it is a competent title. The graphics are simple and clean. The music, while not notable, is decent. The controls work well once you learn how to navigate the menu. There is a wide variety of events, especially when you include many players. The real fun of Super Team Games lies in playing this game with someone else. Racing against another player or coordinating large groups for team events are the kind of activities that form memories and build bonds, even in the heart of strenuous competition. Super Team Games is also a good exercise tool for Power Pad owners, so long as you take it easy and don’t worry about trying to outrun the computer players. Trying to beat the game in single player mode is too tedious and exhausting to be fun, and I missed out on everything in the other modes that would have made it enjoyable. I think the best part of Super Team Games was the feeling of relief to check it off the list and move on to the next game.

#68 – Super Team Games (Super Obstacle Course)

#68 – Super Team Games (Obstacle Course A)

#68 – Super Team Games (Obstacle Course B)

#68 – Super Team Games (Skateboard Race)