Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#127 – Shooting Range

A Zapper game with a strangely accurate title.

The title colors glow until text appears, so lame!

To Beat: Beat the Normal Game
To Complete: Get the best ending in both the Normal Game and Party Game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 5/17/19
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Shooting Range Longplay

Now that I’ve come upon yet another Zapper game already, I decided to do a little digging trying to piece together my own list of Zapper-compatible licensed NES games for tracking purposes. The unlicensed list is easy, just Baby Boomer and Chiller. For licensed games, most lists I’ve found are incomplete. Complicating things are a few games that use the Zapper partially, or worse, at one random spot in the game. Putting everything together, it looks like there are 16 licensed games that utilize the Zapper with most of them being Zapper only. Shooting Range is already the 5th Zapper game played for this blog.

Shooting Range was developed by TOSE and published by Bandai. It was released in June 1989 in North America only and is an NES exclusive. Really, that’s all the information there is on Shooting Range.

There’s no story to be found here but there are a couple of different modes to play. The Normal Game takes place over four stages where you fire at targets that appear in themed scenes. This is the main mode of the game. The other mode is called Party Game and you try and shoot as many targets as you can within the time limit. In both modes, up to four players can play alternating to see who can get the biggest score. To beat this game, you need to clear all stages in the Normal Game. There are also different ending screens depending on how many points you score in the Party Game.

Just a normal day out west.

I think Shooting Range has a double meaning here. Sure, it’s a shooting range where you fire at targets. The primary mechanic in the game is that you use both the D-pad and the Zapper at the same time, using Left and Right to “range” across a wide view while you also aim and shoot at targets. This is a cumbersome setup for me since I prefer to hold the Zapper with both hands to keep it steady. You will need to constantly pan back and forth looking for targets to shoot so you really need to play this with both Zapper and controller in hand simultaneously.

The goal of the Normal Game is simple enough. Various targets will appear on screen holding up a red and white pinwheel which is what you shoot to earn points. The bottom of the screen shows your level score and total score on the right and the level timer and energy bar on the left. You lose energy when you shoot and miss. You lose the game if you run out of time or energy, so you must be both quick and accurate. Each stage has different criteria to finish the stage and move on to the next. Upon completing each level, you earn some bonus points for any leftover time or energy.

When starting up a new Normal Game, first you select either Level 1, 2, or 3. These are not the stages themselves but more like a difficulty level. To my knowledge, the only change is how much time you have to start each stage. Levels 1, 2, and 3 give you 300, 250, and 200 seconds respectively. Next up is the scoring screen. This shows your scoring breakdown per stage, as well as any bonus points that roll up into your total score. The Stage Clearing Point area is what the point threshold is for certain stages. I confused this for actual points on my score at first. Then you go to a screen displaying all the stages in the game. Shoot anywhere to start playing a level.

During the Normal Game, shooting some targets also reveals an item. The same characters tend to drop the same things. Most of the items are just circles with letters in them. Simply shoot it to collect it. The little E boosts your energy by two bars, while the large E gives you four. A reverse E deducts a couple of energy points, so avoid them. The C gives you 100 points, while the W gives you 1000. The W is different in that it doesn’t get dropped by anyone and you will sometimes just find it. There is also an hourglass item that gives you 50 more seconds on the clock.

That middle creature flips back and forth quickly.

The first level in the game is Western themed. The goal here is to earn 5000 points, at which point the level ends abruptly. There are Native Americans, gun-slinging criminals, and flying birds for targets. Some of the birds are worth 500 points, while others are worth much fewer, depending on how they fly around. The second level is pretty similar to the first. Here you need 7000 points to clear it, but this time it is ghost house themed. There are monsters such as witches, vampires, and ghosts. One monster flips his pinwheel back and forth rapidly and it is hard to hit.

The next level is the bonus game. This one is just a single screen with no controller required. There are two rows of bottles on the wall and random ones will flash all white. Shoot them while they are all white to break them. This level ends when either all bottles are broken or you run out of time. You always get sent to the next level no matter how well you do.

The final stage takes place on the moon. There are various types of aliens to shoot at here. Instead of meeting a point threshold, as soon as the timer hits 100 seconds remaining, a large brain alien appears. It’s a boss battle! The brain floats around the whole screen in a wave-like pattern and only fully reveals its pinwheel every so often. This is a tough fight with the limited time left, but if you can beat it then you win Normal Game. If you fail here or in any other stage, you can continue, but you lose all your points in doing so. I think continues are supposed to be unlimited, but I didn’t always see it happen so I’m not sure how the continue system works. This is a short game, so once you get the last boss down you can play through the game again trying for a high score. You can enter your initials on the high score screen and see your accuracy too.

The Party Game is a much simpler mode than the Normal Game. This is just a single screen with some targets to hit. There are no items or energy, just you and the timer. Lights in the background appear and shooting them causes the pinwheel to pop up along the bottom. Shoot as many of these as you can. If you miss a pinwheel, then you need to shoot another light to restart the sequence. It’s too bad you can’t play this simultaneously with another player because it would be fun to compete for targets. Either way, try to score as high as you can before the timer runs out.

Even the floating brain has caught pinwheel fever.

This was my first time playing Shooting Range. I can’t recall if I played any of the game during cart testing. Usually with the peripheral games I boot them up to see if they run without glitches and then I put them away without trying the gameplay. I know that I watched TMR beat this game for NESMania and it was one of the last games he completed for his project. I had some familiarity with the game though I forgot most of it. This cart isn’t too hard to find and sells for around $8-$10.

This was a short game that I cleared within a couple of hours. I needed more than a few attempts to clear the final boss, but that was all. If you score high enough at the end, you earn a medal. The bronze medal is at 30,000 points, a silver is at 35,000 points, and you need 40,000 to get the gold. Now your score for the first two levels is pretty well set since those stages end by point thresholds. One tactic is to stockpile energy and cash them in for bonus points at the end, but that doesn’t always pan out and doesn’t give you near enough points anyway. The other thing you can do is play on the easiest difficulty since more time means more points at the end of the stage, even if that only adds just a tiny amount to your total. The secret to getting the gold is to earn the bonus points as shown on the scoring screen, and the only way to get them is to play the bonus level perfectly without missing. Doing so is challenging. My strategy was to go at the top row first left to right, then the bottom row. After a few bottles gone, the next ones seem to line up well and you can take them all out quickly. On my run I ended up with over 50,000 points which was above and beyond what I needed. In Party Mode, the score you want to aim for is 35,000, which I accomplished on my second try. All those attempts at To The Earth not long ago sure paid dividends!

Shooting Range is a brief Zapper experience that ultimately doesn’t add up to much. It is interesting that it has different themes for each level. Even the Party Game has a different feel than the Normal Game’s levels. The music is mostly forgettable but not bad. The controls are a little wonky for a Zapper game. They aren’t difficult to comprehend by any means, but I simply didn’t find it that comfortable to have to use both the controller for scrolling and the Zapper for firing at the same time. Thankfully the game was easy and short enough that it wasn’t a huge issue until the end boss. However, the controls combined with the short play time makes Shooting Range not that great of a game.

#127 – Shooting Range (Normal Game)

#127 – Shooting Range (Party Game)


#43 – Spelunker

This cave exploration game has depth in more ways than one.

There is very foreboding music here that is completely opposite in tone from the main theme in game.

To Beat: Reach the Ending Screen
To Complete: Complete 6 Loops
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 12/16/16 – 12/26/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Spelunker Longplay

Derek Yu’s Spelunky is one of the most popular indie games of the last several years. In Spelunky, you descend through a series of randomly generated caves trying to seek out the grand treasure at the end of the adventure. The game is a favorite of mine that I have not given near enough time to playing and learning. Naturally Spelunky was inspired by the classic game Spelunker, and when you dive into the game you can clearly see how the indie title leans on the classic game as its base.

Spelunker is a computer game developed by MicroGraphicImage. Designed by Tim Martin, it was released on Atari 8-bit computers in 1983. Broderbund primarily published later ports of the game. The Commodore 64 version was released in 1984, and the arcade and Famicom ports were released in 1985. The MSX got a port in 1986 and Spelunker came to the NES in 1987. There was a Famicom-exclusive sequel named Spelunker II: Yūsha e no Chōsen also released in 1987. Spelunker has also appeared on Virtual Console. There are a few modern versions too. Spelunker HD was a PS3 downloadable game from 2009 that features 100 brand new levels. Spelunker World is a 2015 PS4 and Vita game, and a brand new game based on Spelunker World is set for release on the Nintendo Switch in 2017.

Spelunker is a side-scrolling cave exploration platformer. Your task is to find the great treasure hidden in the deepest reaches of this cavern. You begin the game on an elevator you control with several paths you can take. The idea is to look around and figure out a way to the bottom. The game consists of one giant level that is broken down into four sublevels separated by checkpoints. You win the game when you reach the final sublevel and locate the stash of treasure.

The initial elevator is as safe as it gets.

Like most platformers, you use the D-Pad to move around. You can use Left and Right to walk as well as climb ropes and ladders with Up and Down. These controls also move the elevator vertically at the start of the game. The A button is used to jump and the B button uses your items. If you just press the B button you fire an air cannon that takes out the ghost enemies. Hold Up and press B to fire a flare upward. These take out the bats, but you only have a limited amount of them. Hold Down and press B to drop a bomb. These are limited just like the flares. Use them to blow up tall rocks that stand in your way, but make sure to stand away far enough from the blast because it can kill you.

The first thing you notice while playing Spelunker is that your tiny adventurer is awfully fragile. You will die if you fall even a tiny distance, and there are many opportunities for this to occur. On the very first screen of the game, you can miss the jump off the elevator and fall to your doom. Past the main elevator is an auto-scrolling elevator. The side closer to you moves downward, so if you try and hop on too low it will kill you. If you can get on the other side, be careful not to ride the ascending side too high while passing through or that fall will also kill you. Spelunker is quick to teach you that death is swift and careful play is necessary.

There are a few enemies and traps in the caves that should be avoided. Ghosts will randomly appear on occasion and they can move freely through the walls of the cavern to hone in on you. Even if you don’t see the ghost you will know it is coming because the music changes as it approaches. You can defeat it by waiting until it is nearby and firing your air cannon. The other recurring enemy is the bat which guards an area with its deadly droppings. Firing a flare will temporarily remove the bat so that you can pass by. There are also stationary traps such as holes in the ground and geysers that spray periodically.

Ghosts emerge from the sides of the screen.

The cavern is littered with ropes for climbing, and these are notorious among Spelunker players for being problematic to deal with. Mastery of rope navigation is a crucial skill to beating Spelunker. When you jump toward a rope, you will automatically grab on to it. You can climb up and down, but you can also move left and right a small amount when on a rope. There is a narrow range of horizontal movement that lets you stay on the rope, so it doesn’t take much lateral movement to fall off the rope leading to instant death. To properly jump off a rope, you need to press Left or Right and the jump button at the same time. If your timing is off, you will either miss the jump or slide off the rope and fall to your doom. Moreover, if you are jumping from one rope to another, you want to take your fingers off the buttons mid-jump so that you auto-grab the center of the next rope. There are several places in the game with multiple rope transitions where you also need to adjust your position vertically in between hops to properly make the jump. There is a feel to good rope movement that is easy to lose the hang of in the middle of a game. Practice makes perfect!

Another important game mechanic is the air meter. As you play your air meter slowly dwindles away, acting as a timer. Firing your air gun to ward off a ghost will also deplete some of the air meter. If you run out of air, you lose a life, but you also start again with a full air meter. There are also items you can find that restore your air.

Speaking of items, Spelunker has several. The most important items for progression are keys. There are blue keys and red keys, and there are corresponding red and blue doors that you can open with them. There are additional flare and bomb pickups. The air meter refill item looks like a stack of rings and fills you up to the max. There are money bags and coins that just give you points. The most interesting pickup is the miracle item. It resembles a snowflake and when you collect it you get a random award. Sometimes you only get points, but other times you may get a flare, a bomb, or an air meter refill. They can also give you an extra life which is most appreciated!

I find it worth going out of my way for the Miracle just in case.

There are also some special hidden items. You reveal them by jumping at certain spots in the cave. These places are often tucked out of the way and more challenging to reach than the normal path. When you trigger one of these spots, you hear a chime and the item will appear somewhere else visible on the screen. These item drops are random and are unique from any other item in the game. You can find the x2 item to double your score for a brief time. Another item either looks like a potion or a shoe, and it doubles your movement speed for a little while. The next one looks like a bracelet and it makes you temporarily invincible from enemies. Finally, the Spelunker head gives you a valuable extra life. There are also hidden diamonds that boost your score, but you find them from bombing specific walls inside the cave instead of jumping. I never knew about these while I was playing so I didn’t collect any.

I found it challenging to pin a difficulty on Spelunker for several reasons. The game has a reputation for being difficult and I can certainly agree with that. The main issue is that the game has touchy and particular physics, so it takes some time to get the feel of the controls and understand your limits with the jumping. Spelunker also introduces a few unique setpieces and obstacles throughout the adventure that I had to fail a few times before getting it down. On the other hand, the game length is quite short. It only takes 10-15 minutes to get to the end. I waffled between giving Spelunker a 7 or an 8 in difficulty before settling on 7 due to the short game length.

This is one of the few times I don’t have much interesting to say about my history with Spelunker. This was my first time attempting a run through the game, and I have no idea where or how I ended up with the cart. The game is common and not very expensive, but the copy I have in my collection is the only one I’ve owned. I suppose I have spent so little time looking at the game that it hasn’t made an impression on me until now!

So near, yet so far!

Spelunker proved to be an interesting game to run through. At the start, it took me a few days of practice before I could reliably get deep in the game. I don’t know how many attempts it took to beat the game but it was probably a 20-30 times. Beating the game one time was a pretty standard experience, but the real fun begins when you start playing subsequent loops of the game. You quickly catch on that something is different the second time through because the cave walls change to a completely different color. As it turns out, Spelunker has six distinct difficulty loops if you want to be considered a master. I was able to beat all six loops in one attempt which I believe very few people have done.

Here is the breakdown of what is different in each loop of the game. If you want to try the game and figure it out on your own, consider the next paragraph a spoiler. The first loop of course is the standard game with golden colored cave walls. The second loop changes the cave color to a dark forest green and also introduces invisible keys. In all the loops, the keys are in the same locations, so once you realize what’s happening this time through is not too bad. The third loop has gray walls and invisible keys along with a new key collection method. This time you must jump where the keys sits to collect it. It’s important to memorize the exact positions of the keys here because you won’t grab them unless you are standing directly on top of them. The fourth loop has yellow walls and this time to collect the invisible keys you must fire a flare while standing on top of the key. This loop is very tricky because if you run out of available flares and miss just one key you must reset and start all over. Also, the gameplay shifts significantly where you should learn how to get past the bats without using a valuable flare. The fifth loop is the same as loop four except the ghosts move much faster. The sixth and final loop is the most devious of them all. To collect the invisible keys, you must jump and fire a flare at the same time. The timing for this maneuver is precise and it is easy to accidently waste a flare by firing it without jumping. The geysers spray faster too. From here the game continuously repeats the final loop’s difficulty and you can keep playing if you want to keep boosting your score.

Spelunker was not very well received in the US, but it gained much more popularity in Japan. There it gained a reputation as a “kusoge,” which is a Japanese compound word that literally means “shit game.” It received that classification due to the slippery controls and the high level of difficulty. Still, there is a subset of people that really get interested in a game like this, and I too thought Spelunker was a fun game. Certainly, it is a product of its time with the controls, physics, and primitive graphics. It’s the kind of game that can grow on you if you are willing to put some time in and see it for what it is. I like that the level design is structured around the movement and limitations of the player, so with that in place I can better appreciate Spelunker for what it offers.

#43 – Spelunker