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#165 – The Karate Kid

Wax on, wax off!

Some chill vibes here to get focused.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 9/27/20 – 10/1/20
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Karate Kid Longplay

Hello, and welcome to another edition of “NES Game Based on a Movie that I Have Not Seen”!  I know.  This one feels more egregious than some of the others, for reasons I don’t fully understand.  It’s not that I don’t like watching movies, but there are just so many things vying for my time and movies are always at the end of the list.  Especially older movies.  Today some older movies are hard to find in the streaming era.  DVDs are much less common now, and not every classic movie is easily obtainable at the local store.  I guess the other thing is that I was too little to watch 80s movie back at the time of release, and many of them I never got around to checking out when I got older.  Anyway, we aren’t here to talk about movies of the past, we are here to talk about their video games!

The Karate Kid is a film released in June 1984.  It was written by Robert Mark Kamen, directed by John G. Avildsen, and produced by Jerry Weintraub.  The movie stars Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, and William Zabka.  The film was both a critical and financial success.  It had a small budget of only $8 million but grossed well over $100 million, making it a sleeper hit and one of the best performing movies of the year.  This would become a movie series with two numbered sequels plus The Next Karate Kid.  Of current note is the TV series Cobra Kai which had its third season released earlier in 2021.  The film is also said to have increased the popularity of karate in the US.  There were only a couple of Karate Kid video games released at the time, one of which is this NES version.  The Karate Kid on NES was a North American exclusive game, releasing in November 1987.  It was developed by Atlus and published by LJN.  

Despite the game being named The Karate Kid, the plot of the game follows the story beats of The Karate Kid Part II.  The manual is very lean on story, opting for generic platitudes about using his training, practicing self-control, and such.  This side-scrolling platformer game will start you at the karate tournament at the end of the first film, with the rest of the game taking place in Okinawa in line with Part 2.  This game has four stages and you just need to clear them all and beat Chozen to win.

The climax of the first film is a throwaway stage in this game.

On the title screen, you can select either one or two players.  This is alternating play for the two-player mode, nothing to be excited about.  However, there is a one-on-one mode.  This is a simple fighting game for two player simultaneous play only.  Player 1 controls Daniel on the left and Player 2 controls Chozen on the right.  This is a very simple, bare-bones fighting mode.  You could use it to get accommodated with the controls in a safe space, should you choose, but this mode is too lean to be of any value for two players.

Here are the controls for the main game.  You use the D-pad to move.  This includes walking with Left and Right, crouching with Down, and jumping with Up.  Yeah, it’s one of these games.  The A button does a punch, while the B button does a kick.  You can do jump kicks and jump punches, as well as crouching attacks.  You also possess a couple of special techniques.  Crane kicks and drum punches do a lot of damage as well as help you parry attacks.  However, you have a limited number of these you can utilize, as noted at the top of the screen.  You perform a crane kick by pressing B without pressing any direction, and similarly you do a drum punch by pressing A while standing still.  The Start button pauses the same.  Select is only used to choose options on the title screen.

The first stage in the game is the karate tournament.  Here you will face off against four opponents one at a time.  You begin with four crane kicks if you need them.  The health bars of both you and your opponent is displayed at the top, so you can see your progress for these brief encounters.  This stage is short and sweet, and a fair example of how the combat works for the rest of the game.

The second stage takes place in Okinawa.  This is a side scrolling level with the scrolling locked as you go so you cannot backtrack.  You’ll be faced with enemy fighters that are simpler to defeat than who you faced in the tournament.  You’ll notice the enemy health bar has been replaced with a map indicator.  This is a long bar with a small arrow to show how far you have gone in the stage.  The stage also introduces powerups.  You will sometimes see a small yellow letter C or a small letter D floating in mid-air.  Grab one to add one to your crane kicks or drum punches respectively.  You also gain a small amount of health as a bonus.  The only other powerup you’ll find is one of three bonus characters.  You “collect” them and you restore a large portion of your health bar.  Nice!

While it requires precision, I always liked catching the flies.

The side scrolling stages also contain hidden bonus games.  You’ll find these by jumping into doorways and such that appear in the background.  There are three bonus games you will encounter.  The first of these is the Chopsticks Fly Catch.  Six flies will fly around the screen in a loop-de-loop pattern.  Move Daniel Left and Right and press either A or B to pinch the chopsticks together to catch flies.  The second bonus game is the Ice Block Break.  Here your life meter becomes a power meter that waves back and forth.  The size of the power meter is determined by how much health you have entering the bonus game, so to break through them all you really need full health entering the bonus area.  Press A or B when the bar is as far right as possible.  The third bonus game is the Swinging Hammer.  Daniel is on a center platform with a swinging hammer on a rope going back and forth.  You need to face the hammer as it swings down and press A or B with good timing to parry the hammer, allowing it to swing to the other side.  If you miss you get knocked in the water and the bonus game ends.  Depending on how well you do in the bonus games, you can earn points, crane kicks, and drum punches.

While the first two stages are pretty simple, the final two stages up the ante in difficulty.  Stage 3 is the same exact setting and level design as Stage 2, only it takes place during a typhoon.  So that means you have wind blowing you backward the whole time, as well as flying objects to avoid and to fight through.  These new additions are on top of the enemy fighters you always are fending off.  A patient approach is helpful to avoid falling in pits, but the enemies have a knack of bopping you around and pushing you in anyway.  The final stage does away with the wind, and in fact is a different stage altogether.  This stage features the spear fighters that have greater range.  The crane kicks and drum punches help a lot here if you still have some.  There are not as many bonus opportunities in this stage either.  The stage and game ends with the final battle against Chozen.

Despite not seeing the film ever, I have played this NES game before.  I remember playing this game at my cousin’s house as a kid, falling off the stage over and over in Levels 2 and 3.  This might have also been a rental once, though looking back that doesn’t really make much sense not having seen the movie.  For a long time this was a ubiquitous game that always sold cheap, but this game has eased upward in price over the years.  When I was big into collecting the set, this was a $5 game, and now it is trending more toward a $10 game.  I got it as common filler in a lot and I’m sure I’ve had more than one copy of it too.

Wind, pits, and being surrounded can make this game tough.

My difficulty rating of this game might be controversial.  I know when I played this as a kid it felt nearly impossible.  Having not played this game in many, many years, I cleared it on stream on my first try.  There’s a little trick I learned from seeing speedruns of this game.  In the platforming stages, the game can only spawn two soldiers at a time.  If you can get them behind you, they will follow you, leaving the path ahead wide open.  That helps a lot, but even without that, they aren’t too tough to fend off.  Jump kicks or attacks at the edge of your range work well to defeat enemies, and if they gang up on you the crane kicks and drum punches can cut through their attacks.  The patient approach to jumping pits got me through Stage 3 and maintaining a supply of crane kicks got me through Stage 4.  All that said, this game only gives you three lives to get through it, and there are no continues.  You do gain an extra life for every 20,000 points earned.  I feel like the short length of the game is a good enough reason to give this a lower-than-expected difficulty.  But feel free to disagree with me!

There is one, small goof I committed in playing this game.  I ended up playing and beating this the same night that I beat Days of Thunder.  It was an excellent pallet cleanser, and I’m glad my skills kept up to beat the game right away.  The only problem was that I did not have recording enabled.  I stopped the recording when I completed Days of Thunder but forgot to turn it back on for The Karate Kid.  It would be a few days before I was able to sit down and beat the game again, and it took me two more tries to do it that night.  Making weird mistakes off-game like this is one of my superpowers, I think.

There’s not too much more to say about this game.  I liked it well enough.  The graphics are mostly well done, perhaps a little cluttered at times.  Some of the bonus entrances are unclear.  The music is good with some catchy tunes to accompany the action.  The controls work well enough, even with Up jumping.  There isn’t a better control scheme I can think of to trigger the special moves that wouldn’t interfere with the gameplay the way it is.  This is a simple game to get into and quick to replay after Game Over.  The bonus games are fun and you get rewarded well for playing them well.  All in all, it was a good, slightly frustrating, and brief experience.  Just what the doctor ordered, in my case.

#165 – The Karate Kid

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#133 – Casino Kid

It’s gambling that’s wrapped up loosely in an RPG.

Dark and sparkly, just like a real casino.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 8/6/19 – 8/10/19
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Casino Kid Ending

Today we have our first NES gambling game. I’m a little surprised that there aren’t that many of these games on the console. It seems like they would be more plentiful as gambling is quite popular. My guess is that they are too simple to make a full game from, and most people would rather have the thrill of putting money on the line in the hopes of a big payday. From glancing through the short list of gambling games, replicating a huge day at the casino seems to be the common approach. This is what Casino Kid does, using two casino games combined with some light RPG elements. It’s an interesting idea for a game, so let’s take a look and see how it shakes out.

Casino Kid was both developed and published by Sofel. The Famicom release is named $1,000,000 Kid: Maboroshi no Teiou Hen and is based on the manga 100 Man $ Kid which ran from 1986-1988. The game was released in Japan in January 1989. The NES release was localized to Casino Kid in October 1989. It appears the Famicom and NES releases are significantly different. The Famicom version follows the manga, while the NES version has those references removed and contains somewhat simplified gameplay. The NES would later receive an exclusive sequel Casino Kid II in 1993.

In this game, you play the role of the Casino Kid. You step foot inside a prominent casino with only $500. By playing multiple rounds of Blackjack and Poker against several dealers, you earn $1 million dollars and the right to square off against the Casino King. Win against him to become the new Casino King and win the game.

Lots of hustle and bustle here.

Casino Kid starts off looking like a top down RPG. You need to walk around the casino looking for opponents to play. Use the D-pad to walk and press A to talk to someone. There is only one active blackjack dealer and one active poker player at a time. Blackjack dealers appear behind tables and you have to talk to them from across the table, while poker players are just standing around. Talking to the wrong one gets you brushed off, however, sometimes the person will give you a hint to where you might find the opponent you need to play next. Tourists and casino workers also give you some basic hints about the names and personalities of the different players. While walking around, you can press Select to see how much money you have and your password for later play. Passwords in this game are 30 characters long, all capital A-Z. Lengthy, but not bad.

Walking around the casino for your next matchup is just window dressing for the meat of the gameplay, which are the games of blackjack and poker. The screen layout and basic betting structure is the same for both games. Your cards are on the bottom of the screen and the opponent’s cards are at the top. The middle of the screen contains a picture of your opponent along with a textbox for dialog. Below that is the amount of money your opponent has, the current bet, and your total money. Each matchup has a specific betting range. For instance, the first opponent establishes a betting range of $10-$100. During betting, you press either Left or Right to choose the amount of your chip. In the example case, you can choose from either a $10 chip or a $100 chip. Then you can press Up or Down to either add or remove chips for your bet. You will press A to place your bet.

First, let’s cover blackjack, quick and dirty style. Your goal is to have a higher point value in your hand of cards than the dealer without going over 21. The face value of each card is its point value. Jacks, queens, and kings are worth 10. Aces are worth 11 if the total would be under 21, otherwise it counts as 1. First you place your bet, then the dealer gives you two cards face up, and the dealer gets one card face up and the other face down. Casino Kid shows your total in the corner of your hand of cards. You can decide if you want to Hit and get another card or Stand and go with what you have. If you stand, the dealer plays his or her hand. The dealer always hits on 16 or lower and stands on 17 or higher. Either player loses when going over 21, otherwise the higher value wins and earns the bet. Getting the same total is called a push and no money is exchanged. If you are dealt both an Ace and a 10-point value card, that is considered blackjack and you win automatically. Blackjacks are paid 3 to 2 in this game, meaning you earn your wager plus an additional 50%.

Some of the people walking around give you tips.

There are some additional choices you can make during blackjack in certain situations. If you are dealt two identical cards, you can decide to Split hands. This lets you play two hands at the same time against the same dealer hand. You must play one hand all the way before playing the second hand. If you split Aces, you are only allowed to draw one additional card. If you win both hands, you effectively double your original wager. I believe you can get the additional payout if you get blackjack on a split hand as well. The double down option lets you double your bet while hitting only one card. A common double down situation is a 11-point hand with a high probability of getting a 10-point card on your extra card. A third option is surrender. Immediately and only after the initial deal, you can surrender your hand and forfeit half of your initial wager. I never used this option but it can be helpful to limit your loss if you have a high probability of losing your hand if you tried to play.

Now let’s talk about Poker. Your goal is to get a better five-card hand than your opponent. There are many variants of Poker, but in Casino Kid you play five-card draw. At the start of every hand, both players put a little bit of money into the pot, called ante. Each player is dealt five cards face down. You get to see your cards. Next is a round of betting. Players alternate first move here every hand. You can either place a bet or fold your hand. The opponent can either call the bet and chip in the same amount, raise the bet by throwing more money in, or folding their hand to quit. If play continues, you choose which cards you want to hold and you are dealt replacement cards for the others. You can see how many cards your opponent chooses to hold. Armed with that knowledge, there’s another round of betting before revealing hands. The best hand wins all the money in the pot.

The ranking of hands in poker, from best to worst, are royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pair, one pair, and high card. You may know what all of these terms mean already. If not, many of these hands are self-explanatory but I’ll review a few of the others just in case. A full house is a three of a kind and a pair together. A straight occurs when all five cards are in ascending rank. For example, a 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 is a straight. The ace can either be the low card or high card but doesn’t wrap around. A flush is when all five cards are the same suit. A straight flush then is when you get both a straight and a flush. A royal flush is a straight flush with an Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and 10. Usually the type of hand determines the winner. Ties are broken using the remaining cards in the hand. For example, if both players have a pair of 5’s, whoever has the next highest card is the winner. While uncommon is it possible to tie outright, in which case each player gets their half of the pot back.

Anything you can do to win money faster is worth it.

In both blackjack and poker, there is a hidden menu. Press Select during either placing a bet in blackjack or placing your ante in poker. Your options here are to Bet All Money or Final Hand. Bet All Money does just that, up to either your max or your opponent’s max. However, your opponent may not let you bet everything. Final Hand means you play out that last hand and then go back to the casino floor. You get to keep your winnings as well as maintain your opponent’s cash stash. There may be some strategy here in stopping early to have a better shot at winning a different game. A better use of the Final Hand is to get back to the floor so you can get your password for later if you decide to quit mid-game.

This was my first time playing Casino Kid. I do like card games a little bit. I’m pretty sure when I tested my copy at least I found an opponent and played a few hands before switching to something else. This is a common cart that is only worth a few dollars. The sequel, however, was an uncommon, late release and is much more valuable.

My playthrough of the game ended up being more tedious than fun. Once you’ve played a little bit of blackjack and poker, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer. Beating the game became a test of optimization for me. To that end, my efforts started out poorly. Poker ended up being fairly manageable. Even without making max bets all the time, betting twice per round goes a long way toward exchanging money quickly. After several hands, my opponent offered to go all in and bet everything, to which I gladly agreed. In blackjack, this situation never happens. In fact, for some opponents, the max bet is so small that you have to win about 50 more hands than the dealer to empty them of cash. You can try counting cards to help your odds, but the better option in my mind is the Bet All Money option in the Select menu. After playing awhile, the dealer will accept your request and now your fate rests in one or two hands. I was totally fine with that. The sad thing is that I wasn’t aware of that option until roughly halfway through the game, so I wasted a lot of time. I read the manual before playing these games, but I need to revisit them after playing some because I often end up missing these little tips to speed things up. Armed with a better game plan, I made short work of the rest of the game.

Every once in a while you get extremely lucky.

After playing eight rounds of blackjack and eight rounds of poker, you finally earn the million dollars and get to face off against the king of the casino in poker. This is a long, drawn out match to the bitter end for a couple of reasons. You are unable to bet everything you have, no matter what the situation. This is what sped up the other poker matches. Early poker opponents wore their emotions on their sleeve to where you can figure out if they have a good hand or not. Even later opponents sometimes have a tell in that they can show opposite emotion in trying to bluff you. You don’t get that with the king. You need to make smart bets, fold when hands are bad, and go for broke when you get something good. It took me over 30 minutes to finally overcome the king and beat the game. While it started looking bad at times, I did have a little unexpected help. I ended up getting a royal flush one time, dealt straight up. The odds of that are so low that I felt the game was taking pity on me and did it on purpose. I caught it on video so I have proof it happened. If only I could have that luck for real!

Casino Kid is a fine gambling simulation to play for fun, but offers little beyond that. The graphics are pretty good. Character portraits are a nice touch, and the playing cards are clear to read. One little thing I noticed was that some people in the casino are purely background elements and you have to get an eye for them so you don’t wait around hoping they will walk out of your way. The music is pretty good, in step with the presentation. Controls are accurate, though betting can be cumbersome since you need to switch chip size to place a precise bet. The core gameplay is solid. Betting rounds are done well in poker and there are all the different options in blackjack. The major issue I had with beating the game is that it drags on a long time. I finished the game in maybe 6-8 hours but it’s a lot of repetition. I would have liked pick up and play options to jump straight into the cards. These are fun poker and blackjack games but there’s some rigamarole just to get to playing. This game tries to be something of a gambling RPG, but history would prove that gambling works better as a mini-game in an RPG, making Casino Kid feel quite outdated. You can’t blame them for trying something different though.

#133 – Casino Kid

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#125 – Wall Street Kid

Get ready to continue the adventure of your lifetime.

Featuring over a dozen characters!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 5/7/19 – 5/12/19
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Wall Street Kid Ending

Sometimes I wonder how a game gets greenlit as a concept and makes its way to store shelves. Wall Street Kid is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a stock trading game. How did this game ever come to fruition? Why did someone think this was a good idea? Who is the target audience for this game? Kids probably aren’t interested in stock trading, and why would an adult play a game about a kid getting into the stock market? I don’t think I’ll ever understand how this game was made and put on an NES cartridge, but here we are. It’s a real game, I’ve played and beaten it, so now I get to share it with you.

The history of Wall Street Kid begins with The Money Game, an August 1988 Famicom title published and developed by SOFEL. It must have performed well because a sequel came out the following year. Money Game II: Kabutochou no Kiseki was released in Japan in December 1989. This game was localized in North America as Wall Street Kid. It was released on NES in June 1990. The game was also both developed and published by SOFEL.

You play the role of the Wall Street Kid in this game. Of course. You are set to inherit billions of dollars under the condition that you prove you know how to manage wealth and uphold the family’s standard of living. You start off with half a million dollars in seed money that you must invest in order to spend it on certain expensive items over the course of four months. Basically, you buy and sell stocks strategically to make a profit. There is an overarching story you follow that guides you through the purchases you are required to make and the life events you experience over those four months. If you meet all the requirements through that time frame, then you inherit the big money and win the game.

Just a normal day at my desk.

This game is set up as a point-and-click adventure game. The game begins on a Monday of the first week of April as shown as you sit at your desk. Just by sitting there, time slowly advances 15 minutes at a time. Your business day is from 9am-5pm. You can perform various interactions by moving a cursor around your desk and clicking on objects to do different things. Just move the D-pad around and press A to interact. At the top of the screen you see how much cash you have on hand as well as how much money your stock portfolio is worth. The lower part of the screen is for dialog that occurs when you receive phone calls or do some reading. Each interaction and event eat into a little bit of your allotted time. As soon as 5pm hits, you go straight to the next day.

Every day starts with reading the newspaper. You will want to pay close attention to the news as it gives you clues on how the stock market might perform. The paper tells you about where interest rates are moving, which types of stocks are poised to grow, which specific stocks have been hot lately, and other news about what is going on in the community. All this information is needed to help you make good decisions during your business day.

Most of the icons on your desk let you perform an action. I’ll start with the pink icons on the screen. The dollar icon lets you visit the bank. Ruth, the banker, lets you make loans or pay off loans. This option is not helpful right away because you cannot take out a loan without having collateral and you don’t have any because you haven’t made any big purchases yet. The question mark icon sends you over to the consultant Stanley. For a small fee, he will give you generic advice about stocks, how to purchase them, how to make decisions, etc. This might be nice to do once just to get a feel for how to play the game. The exclamation mark connects you to your advisor, Connie. If she has a hot stock tip for you this day, you can pay her some money to hear it. This tip may or may not be helpful to you and you may have to read into it a little bit to figure out if it is for real or not. Finally, the pink clock at the top lets you finish your day immediately.

You can hang out with your girlfriend instead of making money.

There are two other factors you have to consider while playing the game. First, you have to keep up communication and go out on dates with your girlfriend, Prisila. Click the flower pot icon to choose between going on a picnic, going shopping, or going to the carnival. Each event takes up a few hours of your time. Secondly, you have to keep yourself in good physical shape by exercising. The icon you need looks like a small computer or cell phone, but evidently it is a barometer. Click the barometer to choose between swimming, hitting the gym, or going hiking. You have to keep up with both your girlfriend and your health regularly during the game, otherwise you may lose the game outright due to neglect. It’s not enough in this world just to earn money. You also need to consider what you read in the news to decide which activity to do.

The meat of the game is in stock trading which you can do from your desktop computer. From here you can buy or sell stocks, view your portfolio, and look up information on each available stock. Your portfolio view shows which stocks you own, their current price, starting price from when you purchased it, and how many lots of 1000 you own of that stock. You can only have up to five stocks in your portfolio, including multiple records of the same stock if you purchased them at different times. Selling stocks uses the same portfolio view so you can select which stock and how many lots you wish to sell.

When choosing to buy stocks or view stocks, you bring up a separate screen listing all twenty stocks available to purchase. Here you can see the company name, the current value, and the percentage change of the value of the stock since yesterday. You can tell the development team was really creative with their fictitious companies. Buying stocks is just like selling stocks where you choose the one you want and how many lots you want to buy. The game will calculate the maximum number you can purchase with your current cash. The information screen shows data about the company, the current stock value compared with its initial value from the very start of the game, and the category of stock. There are four stock categories: Blue chip, cyclical, growth, and speculative. There are five stocks in each category.

Who knew YBM was so valuable?

Very early in the game, you receive a phone call from a real estate agent that has the perfect house for you costing a million dollars. He will first call you to let you know the house is getting prepped for sale, then he calls you every week asking if you are ready to buy the house on Saturday. You can choose to accept early or you can keep putting it off a week at a time for a month until you get your last chance to buy. Use the business days Monday through Friday to do your stock trading so that you can earn money toward your big purchase. Sometimes you will get a call from Prisila asking you to buy her something on Saturday. There is no business on Saturday so that is the only thing you will do. For whatever you are buying, you get two different options in price and a third option to not buy at all. I always made sure to buy the most expensive thing. I imagine you can get away with not buying anything a couple of times but that it eventually affects your relationship, so you should try and give her the best as often as possible.

Sunday is reserved for giving you a password. I’m giving this special recognition here because this is a candidate for the worst password in any game I’ve ever played. Passwords are at least 40 characters long, usually mine were 42-43 characters long. The character set is awful. You have numbers 0-9, capital letters A-Z, and capital letters again from A-Z but in reverse colors. Normal letters are white text on black background while the others are white squares with black character text. There are also a couple of punctuation marks in that reverse color. It is truly terrible. Nowadays, since I use my camera to take a picture of the screen to save passwords, it is not that bad. Imagine trying to write that down on paper, though. There is a lot of room here to make a mistake with the password, both in writing it down and entering it in on the screen. You can hold Select and press either A or B to move the password cursor around in case you make a mistake, which will probably happen. On top of everything else, once you get the correct password entered, there is a long loading time for the game to start up. I get that there is a lot of data involved that needs to be parsed out of the password, but still this is a bad, error-prone system that could have been made a bit better with some better characters.

Everyone wants to talk to you all the time.

Once you get to where you are forced to decide on buying the house, one of two things will happen. If you don’t earn enough money or forget to cash in enough money to buy the house on that Saturday, you are scolded and scorned by family, and you get Game Over. The screen is locked here and you have to physically reset or power off. If you do have the money, then you get to buy the house and enjoy a little cutscene about your accomplishment. The game continues from here with another big purchase you have to make. Now you can go to the bank and get a loan against your new house, providing you with extra cash that you can invest smartly for the next thing. The game continues like this the rest of the way, though there are some special events like holidays and such that help break up the monotony a little bit.

This was my first time playing through Wall Street Kid. Point and click games like this are not my style and so I barely even tested this cart out when I bought it. I think this game was a $3 purchase from my local game store several years back. It is still a cheap cart and readily available online.

I did not get the hang of this game at first. I understand the concept of the stock market, that part is fine, but I had difficulty earning enough money for the house that initial month. First, I messed up by trying to buy the house one week earlier than was necessary. The way the game is written they make it seem like you need to buy the house before you miss your chance. I fell for that. Really you get four weeks no matter what. The other issue was that I was just not profitable enough. You need a million dollars but I always ended up in the $800,000-$900,000 range. I picked decent stocks and made some money but not the right ones to earn big. It took me several tries but eventually I figured out the trick. I had no trouble after that. One weird part later on is the auction scene. The way the auction is run and how you bid is not that clear. I ended up bidding against myself most of the time. Once I realized what I was doing, I put the password back in and tried again, only to end up with a higher winning bid once I played the auction straight. Maybe that part is random and I got unlucky the second time. I pushed forward and ended up winning the game from there anyway.

It’s very important to pay all your debts.

Here’s the big trick to beating this game without any trouble. Consider yourself warned in case you are spoiler sensitive. I am not completely sure if what I’m about to say is true, but it worked out this way for me. The stock market appears to be completely scripted. Stocks seem to rise and fall the same way on the same days. With this knowledge combined with the password system, it is easy to take advantage of the market. Run the game for a week and take note of the best stock, either by the stock tables or the newspaper’s hot stocks. If you already put all your money into the best stock already, great! Otherwise once you get to Sunday, reload your game from your old password and invest everything you can into the stock you noted was the best. In every case, that stock performed the same way and I maxed out on what I could possibly earn. If you take it one week at a time like this, you will make it. You can try and save yourself some time and make an educated guess on which stock will be the best earner that week. The newspaper tells you the two stock categories that should do well that week. I looked up all stocks and sorted them into categories. The cheapest stock of those categories is often the best earner, especially since you can buy more of them with your money.

I have a few more minor tips. Always take the bank loan when you can. The more cash you have on hand, the more you can earn! Just don’t forget to pay it back on time or you lose. You can pay off the loan and immediately get a new one too, no problem. Don’t forget to exercise and date your girlfriend every week. It might be a good idea to always buy the best item for Prisila on shopping Saturdays. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, and I always had enough money for my big purchase anyway.

Wall Street Kid was a pretty interesting game, but I’m more happy now that it’s over than I was when I was playing it. The graphics are pretty good, even if most of the game is the same static screen and menus. The music was alright. The game controls very well. Everything is responsive and the simple controls almost always make sense. The gameplay is just simple point-and-click activity with menus. In this case, the game doesn’t do enough to vary the experience so the whole game kind of drags along. It’s not a lengthy game, but it is tedious to work through, especially entering in those awful passwords. Wall Street Kid is definitely a weird game to have on the NES. I’ll file it away as more of a curiosity than something that’s worth playing.

#125 – Wall Street Kid

#125 – Wall Street Kid

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#107 – Isolated Warrior

Taking care of threats from all angles.

Nicely animated title here.

To Beat: Beat all six stages
To Complete: Beat the game without continuing and finish the final special stage
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 11/28/18 – 12/7/18
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: Isolated Warrior Longplay

I will always find it fascinating whenever I play an NES game that has some kind of quality to it that isn’t often seen, and then very soon after I play another game that shares that same quality.  This might be the only time anyone has ever linked Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure with Isolated Warrior, but here we are.  I went from an adventure game with an isometric perspective to a shoot-em-up also in that same view.  The difference is I enjoyed playing Isolated Warrior much more.

Isolated Warrior was released in February 1991 in both Japan and North America.  The Japanese title is Max Warrior: Wakusei Kaigenrei.  This game also had a PAL release in 1991.  Isolated Warrior was developed by KID and published by Vap in all territories.  NTVIC is also credited as a co-publisher on the NES title.  I was surprised to learn that KID developed several NES games, including the already completed Burai Fighter.  That tells me that they know how to develop a good shooter.

Isolated Warrior is a shoot-em-up with an isometric perspective.  It follows the story of the fall of the planet Pan which exists outside of our galaxy.  Aliens have taken over the planet and all are advised to evacuate the planet, including the army.  The commander of the army, Max Maverick, refuses to evacuate and goes to take on the alien forces all by himself.  His journey takes him over six stages of shooting action.  If you play well enough, you may unlock the final seventh stage.  Beating that gives you the proper ending to this game.

Just a casual stroll down the street

The controls here are mostly straightforward.  You use the D-pad to move in all directions.  This game includes some light platforming elements and you can press A to jump.  If you hold the A button down, you will perform a somersault in the air.  Press A again while airborne to launch bombs.  The B button fires your normal weapons with unlimited ammo.  Press Select to switch between two different types of firing modes.  You may also press Start to pause the game.

The obvious gimmick here is the isometric viewpoint.  This game is an upward-scrolling vertical shooter that also pans slightly to the right.  Your normal shooting direction is fixed in the direction of the scrolling, which can make it a little tricky to line up with the enemy at first.  You will get used to it rather quickly.

There is a healthy amount of information on the bottom of the screen.  The left side contains your high score in the first row, and your health bar and number of lives remaining in the second row.  The center portion displays which weapon mode you are using, along with the number of weapon pickups collected of that type.  Below that is the current weapon level.  It’s a little confusing but I’ll clear it all up shortly.  The right side contains your current score.  You also see the power level of your bombs and a meter displaying how many bombs you have at your disposal.

At any time during gameplay, you can toggle between the two firing modes by pressing Select.  One is a straight shot and the other is a wide spread shot.  You can upgrade these as you go by collecting L and W icons, which upgrade the standard shot and wide shot respectively.  The game keeps a counter of how many icons you have collected.  You can go from 1 to 12 for each weapon.  You might think there would be twelve power levels for each weapon, but there are only five.  You have to reach a certain number of pickups to level up the weapon.  You can see both the number of pickups collected and the weapon level on screen, but the power level is what really matters.  Each weapon power level gives you an extra shot on-screen to work with.  For instance, at level 3 wide shot you get a three-way spread shot.  In straight shot mode you can fire both straight ahead and backward.

Five-way shot is useful against waves of smaller enemies

You also get five levels of bomb power.  There are B icons that increase your bomb power level directly.   You can power up to level 5.  Levels 1 through 4 give you a single bomb, three-way spread, five-way spread, and eight-way spread respectively.  For the first three bomb levels you can choose the direction you want to toss bombs with the D-pad as you use them.  Level 5 is a more powerful version of the eight-way spread but you can only use it once before being downgraded back to Level 4.  You can hold up to ten bombs, which is quite a lot of firepower if you can keep it at a high level.

There are other powerups.  The S powerup increases your movement speed.  There are also 1ups appearing on occasion.  The remaining powerups look similar enough that it is tough to tell what they are in the heat of the fight.  A long pill-shaped powerup is called The Bullet, which gives you an extra bomb.  A purple sphere is just for bonus points.  Another purple sphere with a wave on either side restores two points of your health bar.  The Barrier is a football-shaped powerup with waves around it and a white center.  This powerup is often carried on-screen by an enemy group near the stage boss and you get to knock it out of their grasp.  The Barrier puts a shield around you that lets you get hit five times without losing health.  After taking four hits, the shield will start blinking to indicate it is almost gone.

Isolated Warrior’s jump mechanic puts a little bit of platforming in this shooter.  There are various traps you will have to avoid by jumping.  There are simple walls that will crush you against the bottom of the screen if you don’t jump in time.  There are hazards on the floors like lava or electricity where you will suffer heavy damage if you set foot there.  Pits are also common and you lose a life if you fall in.  Jumping mostly keeps you from danger because most of the bullets are fired along the ground and you can just leap over them.  I found it normal to spend a lot of time jumping and weaving my landings around bullets.  Sometimes enemies are in the air and you can only defeat them by jumping and shooting precisely.

The purple goop hurts and is everywhere

While most of the game is spent traveling on foot, there are two stages where you get to drive other vehicles.  The second stage features a hovercraft over a river.  You drive upstream much faster than you walk.  The controls are the same and you can still jump and everything, so it’s really just an excuse to make the scrolling faster.  In the fourth stage, you drive a motorcycle up a destroyed highway.  This level feels the fastest of them all.  There is one slight quirk to the motorcycle.  If you press Down before pressing A, instead of jumping you will perform a wheelie.  This lets you pass through bullets that would normally hit you directly.  You can still fall through holes or crash into walls no matter what.

Isolated Warrior has a power down system in place for when you die.  Your current weapon goes all the way back to Level 1 and you also lose a level of bomb power.  Being able to keep your other weapon at its current strength gives you a fighting chance to get back into the game.  If you take a few deaths close together and lose both of your weapons, well, good luck.  Some enemies take enough firepower to defeat that you start stacking them up with the next set of enemies and it becomes too much.  It’s not full-blown Gradius Syndrome, where powering down means a near-impossible road ahead, but resetting and starting over begins to sound like a decent idea.

To combat the powering down, there are a few things that work in your favor.  Having a life bar really helps you plan ahead a little bit so you can stash away the weapon you really want in case you perish.  The game is also somewhat friendly with extra lives.  You earn lives every 300,000 points on top of the pickups.  If you get pretty far in the game on one life, you should have enough lives to at least learn that level so that you’ll be better off the next time.  This game also features passwords after every stage.  These are four-digit passwords that start you at the beginning of the stage with the base equipment.  I found that I was better off playing from the start every time and that the passwords were only useful for practice.

Hello there giant screen-filling boss!

Reaching the end of stage six gives you an ending, but it’s a crummy one.  You are advised to beat all six stages before the game is over to reach a special seventh stage.  I have read that some people think you have to beat all six stages on one life, but you only need to finish them without continuing or using passwords.  The secret stage is challenging and ends in the true final boss fight.  This gets you the good ending.  I am okay with someone getting the bad ending and saying that they beat it.  I think most players would argue that you really need the good ending on this one.  Of course, that’s what I planned to go for anyway.

I played Isolated Warrior a little bit as a Nintendo Age contest game back in 2016.  I stalled out in Stage 4 but didn’t really give it my full effort.  I bought this game for a cool $7 on eBay in August 2014.  It was a good deal for a $12 game at the time, though there is a tear in the back label.  In February 2015, a Nintendo Age thread was created that hyped the game up as hidden gem.  Sure enough, the game price saw a steady climb for the next couple of years, topping out at over $30 for just a loose cart.  The game sells now for around $20-$25.

I ended up with a pretty good run of this game.  I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble learning the game, but I was a little short on time and I needed over a week before I got it all completed.  The run before I recorded was the first time I reached Stage 7, and I just barely beat it.  I had close to ten lives but piddled them away before beating the final boss on my last life.  Even though the game does give you the Stage 7 password, I didn’t need it.  For my longplay video, I beat the game with four deaths.  The first one was during the Stage 6 boss, and then I lost the remaining ones trying to clear Stage 7.  While not an incredible run, it was one I’m quite happy with.

This part is unfair

There’s only one part of the game I dislike, but it is so flawed that it nearly turned me off from this game entirely.  I’m talking about doing wheelies on the motorcycle in Stage 4.  The problem is that it takes away your jump if you happen to be holding Down.  The level design features huge chunks of highway that are broken up by gaps, so you have to jump.  The level also has the fastest scrolling in the game. Instinctively, you would be moving downward often so that you are at the bottom of the screen which gives you the most time to react.  This results in doing a wheelie and you don’t have enough time to let go of Down and jump again before you fall to your doom.  Even worse, the stage boss is played on a looping section of highway with forced jumps, and the boss itself is tiny and slides around a lot.  It is ridiculously easy to fall here given you have to make so many jumps while you wait to align yourself with the boss.  I had to train myself to jump before pressing Down.  The wheelie itself is a useless move anyway since you can dodge normally or jump in a pinch.  This is a real “what were they thinking?” moment in this game.  No wonder I didn’t get past it in 2016.

Level 4 notwithstanding, Isolated Warrior is a really neat shooter that I’m glad I got to play.  The graphics are nice and unique given the isometric perspective.  I dig the enemy and boss designs, and there’s even cutscenes between stages to advance the story.  The soundtrack is energetic and upbeat.  The controls work great.  I like having two base weapons to work with that I can switch between at will.  The game can be hard but I don’t think it’s too challenging if you stay powered up.  Going for the good ending is a solid challenge.  Isolated Warrior has a good number of stages, but the game itself is on the shorter side and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  One small negative is that there is some noticeable slowdown at times.  There’s a lot to like about this game.  I don’t know that the game is so hidden anymore, but I feel good saying that it is still a gem.

#107 – Isolated Warrior


#99 – Sky Kid

Take to the skies in this lengthy shoot-em-up.

It’s called Sky Kid, not SkyKid.

To Beat: Defeat the spaceship to see the ending
To Complete: Complete two loops
What I Did: Reached the halfway point of the second loop
Played: 8/21/18 – 9/7/18
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10
My Video: Sky Kid Longplay

This project is constantly full of surprises. Most of them are good, and I’d like to think I have hit a nice string of positive surprises. Sky Kid was the kind of surprise that blindsided me a little bit. Here we have a cutesy shoot-em-up game with little airplanes, tanks, and loop-de-loops. It’s just the happiest looking game. Underneath the pretty exterior, however, is something far more devious than I would have imagined. Sure, the missions get more challenging as you go, but Sky Kid just keeps going and going. Just how many missions does this game have? I won’t keep you waiting too long for the answer.

Sky Kid was first released in the arcades in Japan in December 1985. It was developed and published by Namco. It was quickly followed by a sequel, Sky Kid Deluxe, in February 1986, featuring expanded missions, enemies, music, and other features. The original version of the game was ported to the Famicom in August 1986. The NES port came out later in September 1987 and was published by Sunsoft. Both the arcade version and NES versions were released on all versions of the Virtual Console.

Sky Kid is a horizontal scrolling shoot-em-up. You play the role of Baron and the second player is called Max. The names are short for Red Baron and Blue Max. There’s no story here, just fly your plane through the standard missions as they are called out on the screen. Sky Kid features a whopping 26 missions. It may not sound like a big deal, but trust me, it’s quite a lot for a game like this. The goal of the game is to destroy a spaceship that appears in the final mission. Do that to get the ending.

Up, up, and away!

The controls are simple. Use the D-pad to fly in all directions. This game is an auto-scroller so when you fly left or right, you are actually just speeding up or slowing down. The A button fires your machine gun. You have unlimited shots and can have three bullets on screen at a time. The B button lets you perform a loop-de-loop move. If you collect a bomb, drop it with the B button. The Start button pauses the game.

All missions share the same structure. You begin a mission on the runway with the goal of bombing the target. Then the game starts scrolling to the left, instead of to the right like most horizontal shooters. You have to steer upward right away so you don’t crash into the scenery ahead. When you approach the end of the mission, you will see a row of three girls wearing red. Soon after that is the runway with text on the screen telling you to Land Here. Simply touch the runway to land and end the mission, no matter if you actually bombed the target or not. If you skip the runway you will be taken over open water and will automatically crash into the sea. I guess this is the way the game tells you that you have no more fuel. Crashing past the runway does complete the mission, at least.

A game mechanic clear from the start is that you can fire your machine guns in three directions. Shots will fire only in the direction you are facing. Fly up and your plane will angle upward, allowing you to shoot diagonally. Same thing goes for flying down. Hold steady to shoot forward. To take advantage of this style of aiming, the game has both air enemies and ground targets for you to blow up.

You can aim upward or downward toward pesky enemies.

The loop-de-loop is a handy maneuver that you can perform at any time. Simply press B while holding still to fly quickly in a clockwise arc. This moves you backward to the right a fair distance and you can use the move while being tailed to get behind the enemy. You can also perform an upward loop by pressing B while flying up, and a downward loop while flying down. The upward loop pushes you both up and to the right a little bit, while the downward loop pushes you down and slightly forward. Beware that some enemy aircraft can also perform loops. While in the loop, you are invincible to both enemy fire and enemy planes, so this is both an evasive move and a defensive move. You can’t just spam the loop-de-loop the whole time because there is a brief delay between finishing one loop and starting another, not to mention you can still collide with the scenery while looping and die that way. You can loop as many times as you want! You can also shoot your gun while looping. With good timing you can fire backward. In my experience this isn’t something you can reliably count on, rather it’s more of a happy accident if you hit someone behind you.

In addition to the basic air and ground enemies, there are large bases on the ground. You destroy these bases with bombs. As you are flying along you will hear a beeping indicator over the music to tell you a bomb is approaching. The bomb lays on the ground and you pick it up simply by flying into it. Now you will hold the large bomb underneath your plane. You can deploy the bomb at any time by pressing the B button. Now since the B button is used for this purpose, that means you can’t do loops while holding a bomb. Ground bases are comprised of three parts and you want to aim for the center section. Hitting the middle destroys the entire base and gives you more points than if you hit either side of the base.

Sky Kid also has a recovery mechanic for when you get shot or fly into an enemy. When you get hit you start to spin out and descend, and you lose complete control of your plane. You can regain control by holding Up on the D-pad while pressing A and B rapidly. You are bound to hit the loop button after recovering like this, and normally that is okay. It does put you at risk of colliding with something else and spinning out all over again. It takes longer to recover for every time you get hit and eventually you will end up crashing if you take too many collisions like that. During a two-player game, a player can shoot his partner to recover him during a fall instead of performing the button mashing. Teamwork does make a difference!

Enemies come from almost every direction.

There is a wide variety of enemies and enemy types. Air enemies are mostly planes that resemble yours, however there are a few different movement patterns and tactics to deal with, plus they can enter the field from either the left or right side of the screen. Large planes fly in from the right side and drop several slow-moving bombs that you can destroy with normal fire. There are green parachute enemies that have an upper and lower portion. You get a point bonus for destroying both parts before they get away. Ground targets include armored cars that have no guns and tanks that either fire straight ahead or up at an angle. Ground turrets fire large shells that have a spread effect when they blow up, and these shells are even aimed at you a little bit. Boats can fire both normal and large shots. Submarines pop up briefly but give you a point bonus if you take them out. In later levels, if you hang out in the upper-right part of the screen for too long, Kamikaze pilots will come at you and detonate large explosives. There are other hazards that show up in later stages.

At the end of each mission you can earn bonus points. Sky Kid keeps a tally of each air target, ground target, and base you destroy within the mission. For both air and ground targets, you get a medal for every five enemies of each type you shoot down up to a total of six medals for destroying thirty or more enemies. The bonus points are awarded depending on your medal count. You get 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 5,000, 7,000, or 10,000 points for one through six medals respectively. You earn a large medal for each base you destroy which is worth 10,000 points. You must blow up the entire base by hitting the center to earn the medal.

Drop your bomb early so that it hits the center of the base.

Missions 8, 16, and 24 are Shooting Gallery stages. There are no enemies at all, just targets to aim at. These are short levels and are a nice breather from the normal firefights. After the mission you get medals and bonus points depending on how well you do. You can earn up to four medals for a total of 20,000 points. I know you get 10,000 points for three medals. I never scored any worse than that. Interestingly, there is no bonus for shooting all the targets beyond the 20,000 points for four medals. You are allowed to miss either three or four targets and still get the best bonus.

There are a few other fun ways to earn even more bonus points by clever use of loop-de-loops. Some stages will have ladies dressed in blue. Fly above her and loop to cause her to release several hearts. Each heart collected is worth 1,000 points given out in a special scene after the mission. Some levels have large billboards in them. Loop above the billboard to generate either a medal or an explosive. The medal is worth 1,000 points but the explosive will kill you. I think this was more lucrative in the arcade version. In this port it’s neat to try but not worth it. Some stages have background elements that you can interact with by looping. For example, in the second level, you can loop while flying in front of the sun to turn it into the moon. This also changes the entire color palette of the level from day to night. You get a 1,000 point bonus too. There are a few of these one-off type interactions over the course of the game.

Each game of Sky Kid begins with three lives and you can earn more lives through your score. You earn a life at 30,000 points, another at 80,000 points, and one for every 80,000 points thereafter. There are no continues in the game and no other ways to earn extra lives. Every life you can earn and every life you can save from crashing matters in this game.

Break the targets!

This was my first time playing Sky Kid on NES. I know I tested this game when I bought my cart but I only vaguely remembered it. I believe I bought this game at a local game store for cheap. Sky Kid was featured on a James and Mike Mondays episode in February 2016 and the game shot up in value for a short time. It started under $10 and peaked at $25 and above for loose carts only. Now it has settled back down into the $10-$15 range. For some reason, 5-screw variants of Sky Kid tend to sell at $15 while 3-screw copies sell for closer to $10. As far as I know, there’s no real difference in rarity between the two games.

It turns out I was misled a little bit on where the game ends. The very useful NES Ending FAQ states you get the ending by blowing up the spaceship in Mission 11 and every eleven missions after that. It also says later that you have to let it go in Mission 11 and get it when it shows up next in Mission 26. Allow me to clear it all up here. The spaceship does appear in Mission 11 but it is just a tease. You need a bomb to destroy it as your bullets go right through it harmlessly, but the issue is there isn’t a bomb available until after the spaceship leaves. You could theoretically beat the game in Mission 11 if you used some kind of cheat code to get a bomb early, and it sounds like that’s what the author of the FAQ did. In Mission 13 there’s a large blimp that appears and you can shoot it down by dropping a bomb right on top of it. It’s not the spaceship though. It counts the same as blowing up a base and the game keeps going. I had hoped that maybe the game looped after Mission 15, and that Mission 26 was just the second run of Mission 11 with an early bomb. That was wishful thinking too. Indeed, there are 26 unique missions you have to play under normal circumstances.

What a tease!

Playing through the whole game is quite a feat. I really had no idea this game would be so challenging to beat. I wish now that I had better documented my attempts. I estimate that it took me 30-40 attempts to beat the game over 15-20 hours total. Progress through the game was slow but steady. At first I could only beat a couple of missions. By the end of the first day I reached only Mission 7 or 8. Missions 11-14 represented the first major roadblock and a noticeable bump in difficulty. Mission 20 was a particularly challenging one as it introduces a new hazard that appears to be somewhat randomized. The last two missions are very difficult. Once I was consistently reaching the 20’s, it became a matter of getting that far with enough lives in reserve to survive until the end.

I experienced several near misses and heartbreak before finally beating the game. I reached Mission 25 seven or eight times and Mission 26 at least four times. One time I got to Mission 25 with four or five lives in reserve and lost them all in a row. I had a run where I played almost perfectly through the 20s only to have the TV get shut off during the final mission. My AVS console is powered by the TV through USB so that run vanished when I lost power to both. I saw the Mission 26 spaceship for the first time on my last life of a run. I picked up the bomb I needed, but I got shot soon after which causes you to drop the bomb. I watched the spaceship go by hoping the stage would repeat somehow. It turns out the final mission has no runway, just the final expanse of water. Watching my plane crash into the sea was devastating. The next time I saw the final spaceship I kept my bomb and didn’t miss. Sky Kid’s second loop increases the difficulty by making everything fire much more frequently. In my longplay video, I got up to Mission 39 before losing for good. Reaching halfway through the second loop was more than I could have hoped for.

The action can get a little overwhelming.

I have a few tips and observations of the game that might be a little helpful. I appreciate that Sky Kid has some innate risk and reward elements to its playstyle. If you think about it, the safest place for you to be is the top of the screen. Being as high as you can offers you the most time to make a recovery if you are shot down. It also helps you fly over the hills and buildings that often appear in a level’s landscape that force you to the top anyway. Now you don’t want to be in the upper-right corner because that triggers the Kamikaze pilots. I found the safest location on-screen is a bit left of center at the top. There’s enough time to handle threats from the left while keeping distance from everything else. Ground turret shells can still reach you but there’s enough time to react. If you are being pursued by a plane from behind, you can sometimes do a loop at the top of the screen so that they will follow you and despawn. Now you could stay up there the whole game but you will forfeit a lot of points. Bombs must be obtained from the bottom of the screen and blowing up bases is the key to racking up points and extra lives the fastest. Besides, you are in danger at the top of the screen more often than you would think. There’s room here to play the way that fits your style. I like to score a bunch of points anyway, but here it’s a good strategy because I know I’m better off with more lives and more chances. I tend to stay in the middle of the screen where I can just reach the ground targets. Of course, there’s value in learning the mission layouts and being in position to nix enemies before they become threats. You do have to know some of that to have any shot at later challenges. I have proven you can beat the game with an aggressive approach, and I’m sure you can beat the game with a low score and conservative approach as well.

Sky Kid is a cute shoot-em-up that is fun to play. The graphics are cartoonish in quality and lack some detail, but it looks nice for an early NES game. One graphical issue I failed to mention is the white text is hard to read against a light blue background. There are only a few short songs in the game but they are upbeat and happy for the most part. The controls are responsive. Looping is a fun mechanic that can bail you out of a tough spot but can also get you in trouble if you abuse it. There are several neat details and embellishments such as interacting with background elements and all the ways to earn points. This is a game suitable to play casually, with a friend, or just for points. Trying to beat the game will test you for sure and not many are going see it through to the end. Because this is a simple game, I am going to assume that most people interested in NES games will pass over this one in favor of better, more complex games, and I think that’s okay. Even an average NES game can still provide a good time.

#99 – Sky Kid


#45 – Rollergames

Maybe this game should have been called Skate or Die instead.

They aren’t even shy about this being a Konami game.

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 12/30/16 – 1/2/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: Rollergames Longplay

I used to go roller skating often growing up. The local roller rink was the place to be for young kids on a Friday night, and even though I was not particularly good at skating I still enjoyed being there with my friends. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about the contact sport roller derby, and it just so happens there is also an NES game based on the sport. With a library this vast, I guess I should not be so surprised!

The sport of roller derby originated in the 1930s. The game is played with two teams of skaters who skate laps around a banked track. The object of the game is to score points by having a designated member of the team lap opposing players. The sport grew in popularity during the 1940s and 1950s. As interest started to decline, and as television became more prominent, the sport shifted more toward storylines and theatrics and away from pure competition. Since then the sport has shifted back toward its competitive roots. Roller derby has seen a resurgence beginning in the early 2000s, predominately in all-female leagues.

In the middle of all this is Rollergames, a 1989 TV show that went all in on the theatrical approach to roller derby. There were changes made for Rollergames, such as introducing a figure eight shaped track instead of the traditional banked oval track. Rollergames is like the WWE with a heavy focus on rivalries and storylines. The show was quite popular, but despite that it only ran for one season because some of the show’s producers when bankrupt.

Complete with broadcasters!

There are two video games based on Rollergames. The first is an arcade title of the same name developed by Konami in 1990. The gameplay is modeled closely after the TV show. The second name is the NES version of Rollergames, also developed by Konami and published under the Ultra Games label. This version is also influenced by the show, but it plays more as a classic beat-em-up game. It was released in the US in September 1990 and in Europe in October 1991. It was not released in Japan or ported to any other systems.

Rollergames is a side-scrolling beat-em-up game with some platforming elements included. Members of a criminal organization have corrupted three of the Rollergames teams leading to the capture of the league commissioner, and the only people that can save him are the members of the other three good teams. The introductory cutscenes frame the game as a storyline fitting of the TV show. You must complete all six levels to save the commissioner and win the game.

At the start of each level, one of the sideline reporters asks you which team you would like to choose. You can pick either Ice Box of the Thunderbirds, Rolling Thunder of the Hot Flash, and California Kid of the Rockers. Each character plays differently so that you want to choose the team best suited to clear the current level. Ice Box is the slow but powerful character, while Rolling Thunder is the weak, but speedy character. California Kid is naturally the balanced choice.

You can knock down the bad guys quickly.

The controls are very natural. Use the D-Pad to skate in all eight directions. The A button is for jumping and the B button is used to attack. The standard attack is a basic punch, but you can do a jump kick by pressing B during a jump. You also have a special attack that you trigger by pressing both A and B at the same time. Each character has a slightly different special move. Ice Box does a body slam, Rolling Thunder does a spinning jump kick, and California Kid has a double jump kick. The moves are powerful but you are limited to only three per level, so use them wisely.

The levels all play from a side-scrolling perspective, but there are two different types of levels. The normal levels can scroll in all directions and you progress linearly through the level. There are many slopes to navigate and pits to jump across, as well as other enemies and traps that stand in your way. These can be quite tricky to clear while on roller skates! As you go, you will run into groups of enemy skaters and you must beat them all up before moving forward. Three normal levels revolve around each of the bad teams, which are the Bad Attitude, Maniacs, and Violators, and these levels have two sections each. The final level is in this normal style but it has four parts.

The other type of level is an auto-scrolling level. The skater of your choice is always moving forward here and the goal is to survive to the end. These levels follow along a broken highway so there are many gaps to cross. Of course, there are also various obstacles, traps, and enemies to contend with. These levels also feature boss-like encounters, but all you need to focus on is dodging the attacks until they go away, ending the stage.

Roads are always under construction!

At the top of the screen, there is a timer in the middle. This countdown only applies to the normal stages where you have to move ahead on your own pace. At the lower left is a vertical health bar. Your skater can suffer several hits before losing a life, though falling down a pit or landing on spikes results in immediate, swift death. The lower right area shows markers that indicate how many special attacks are remaining for the stage. There is a separate screen at the start of each stage that displays your score, high score, current level, and number of lives remaining. There are no powerups in the game for replenishing any of these elements. However, you can earn an extra life when reaching either 20,000, 50,000, or 80,000 points.

The obvious gimmick to Rollergames is that you play the entire game while on roller skates. As a result, your character controls in a fitting manner. It’s akin to playing a game with nothing but ice levels and ice physics. The skaters are generally slow to accelerate and slow to come to a stop. Often, I found myself making quick turns in a different direction than where I was moving to keep myself from falling. The game has various sections of platforming where you need clear gaps of different sizes. Not only that, but there are falling platforms, moving platforms, and crumbling floors to deal with. It’s a tough combination to work with and there is much trial and error involved to learn the right moves.

Slopes and tiny jumps on roller skates don’t mix.

The game balances this difficulty out in several ways. The levels tend to be reasonably short with checkpoints after every sublevel. The hand-to-hand combat is simple and the enemies themselves don’t pose much of a threat. Lastly, there are infinite continues in the game, so you can keep banging away at each level until you clear it. You always start at the beginning of each sublevel if you die, so once you reach the checkpoint you don’t have to play past sections again.

Seeing as it’s a Konami game in the middle of the NES lifespan, Rollergames is a quality title. Not only do the controls make sense, but the game has good graphics and some excellent music. It’s the soundtrack that really stands out overall. In my mind, it has a similar sound to TMNT II and III. Maybe that is because both games are beat-em-ups, but regardless it sounds good and it suits the game well.

I first played Rollergames last year for the NintendoAge weekly contest. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to play that week and I only reached Stage 2. That was barely any experience so this was the first time I seriously played Rollergames. This was one of those filler titles that I acquired in a random NES game lot that I purchased back in my collecting heyday. When it showed up on the list, I knew that Rollergames was a pretty good game that is easily overlooked, so I was happy to play through it.

This part is particularly devilish.

I beat Rollergames over two days and those two days just happened to fall on either side of New Years, making this the first game I have played for the project over two separate years. On the first attempt, I reached Stage 5-1 and this is where I got stuck. The first part of level isn’t all that bad, but the section right before the checkpoint is pretty nasty. You have to cross along the edge of a cliff where the ground periodically crumbles away in front of you. It forces you to move slowly to reveal the hidden gaps, and then you must back up enough to get the momentum to leap to the other side. But you must be careful not to go too far past the hole or you will fall into the next one. It wouldn’t be so bad if the controls weren’t slippery, but here it’s a pretty evil little section under the game’s ground rules. After several attempts at Stage 5-1 I turned the game off for the night.

The next time I sat down to play, I performed decently up to 5-1. After many new attempts, I reached 5-2 and from there I pushed my way through to the very end. I recorded my playthrough on video, but it was the ugliest playthrough I have recorded so far. There are several sections that must be practiced, and without any of that experience I died a bunch of times until I made it through. There are enough problem spots that I would have to beat the game a few times just to record a decent run. However, a game finish doesn’t have to be pretty to count, so I’ll accept this one and move on!

Rollergames is a fun game that I enjoyed playing. It’s got that Konami standard level of polish to it with solid controls, good gameplay, nice graphics, and catchy music. The one problem with the game is that there’s a significant amount of platforming that doesn’t properly fit the game’s slippery physics. It makes this game less accessible than other NES games of similar style right off the bat. If you can get by the initial hurdles, I think you would enjoy playing the game. It’s also an inexpensive cart for the collector or player insisting on the original cart. It’s too bad that it is overlooked because I think it deserves more recognition than it receives.

#45 – Rollergames

Kid Icarus Box Cover

#26 – Kid Icarus

As long as you don’t fly into the sun, you will probably enjoy this game!

Nice cheery title screen music is an excellent way to start!

Nice cheery title screen music is an excellent way to start!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Get the best ending
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Got the best ending
Played: 8/22/16 – 8/29/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 6/10

It’s always a good day whenever one of the classic NES titles comes up in my list! It can be a little rough around the edges at times, but Kid Icarus has a lot of neat ideas that come together well for a game this early in the library.

Kid Icarus was first released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan on December 19, 1986 under the name Hikari Shinwa Parutena no Kagami which translates to Myth of Light: The Mirror of Palutena. It was co-developed by Nintendo R&D1 and Tose with R&D1 handling the design and Tose handling the development work. The game took advantage of the expanded capabilities of the FDS by including more game content than what was previously done on cartridge, a save game feature, and enhanced audio. Kid Icarus was later ported to a cartridge for release in Europe in February 1987 and a few months later in North America in July 1987.

Kid Icarus received a sequel on Game Boy in North America in November 1991 and Europe in May 1992. Curiously it was not released in Japan until appearing on the Japanese 3DS Virtual Console. The gameplay is very similar to the NES version but it is an all new game. The series would then go into hibernation for over 20 years aside from seeing a Virtual Console release in 2007. The newest title in the series is named Kid Icarus Uprising released in 2012. In that same year the original game received a 3D Classics remake on the Nintendo 3DS.

Kid Icarus is a side-scrolling platform action game. You play as the angel Pit in his quest to save the goddess Palutena and Angel Land from the evil Medusa. The game takes place over four main areas: Underworld, Overworld, Skyworld, and the Palace in the Sky. The first three areas are comprised of four sections each and the final section is a fortress that plays differently than the rest of the game. The object is to recover one of the sacred treasures in each of the three fortresses and use all three of them for the final battle against Medusa.

Thus begins the long ascent...

Thus begins the long ascent…

The first thing you’ll notice when playing Kid Icarus is that play advances upward with vertical scrolling. This is one of the few early NES games to employ vertical scrolling like this as a main component of the game right from the start. Unfortunately the game only handles one-way scrolling upward, and if you happen to fall back down you will die regardless of what platforms you left behind. This is why Kid Icarus seems to be regarded as a difficult game because the early game platforming must be completed with minimal mistakes. The reasoning behind the vertical level is symbolic as Pit begins at the bottom of the Underworld and must ascend upward to reach the Overworld. Stage 2 switches to more traditional horizontal scrolling before going vertical again in the Skyworld. The overall idea here makes sense from a storytelling perspective but it tarnishes the initial impression of the gameplay experience.

One neat aspect about the vertical levels is that Pit can loop around the screen horizontally. You can leave the screen on the left and reappear on the right, and vice versa. This leads to some interesting level design in a few places where you will need to take advantage of the looping mechanic to overcome some obstacles.

Pit can walk left and right and jump typical of a normal platformer game. He can fall through some thin flooring by pressing Down, which can sometimes lead to unintentional falling to your death. He can also shoot arrows from his bow to the left, right, and upward. Pit also has a health bar and he can take a few hits from enemies before defeat. The enemies tend to appear in groups though there are stray single enemies every once in awhile. When they are defeated they leave hearts behind and these are used as currency. Small hearts are worth one, large half hearts are worth five, and large full hearts are worth ten. Pit can hold up to 999 hearts and there are many items that can be found or purchased with these hearts. You can track just about all of the items on the subscreen that is displayed when the game is paused with the Start button.

Kid Icarus sure doesn't pull punches early on.

Kid Icarus sure doesn’t pull punches early on.

There are several types of chambers that appear throughout the levels by way of open doors. Among the most common rooms are two different kinds of shops. The basic shop has items that are fairly priced. The mallet is the cheapest item and is a limited use subweapon that can be equipped by pressing Select during play. It is very strong but each mallet acquired only allows for a single swing before it is depleted. They have a special use in the end of level fortresses that I will cover later. The Water of Life chalice restores some health, and the Water of Life in a bottle will automatically deploy its health boost as soon as Pit runs out of energy. The Angel Feather lets Pit survive a fall off the bottom of the screen by initiating a brief period of flight to recover onto a ledge. These are very useful but are pretty expensive and therefore are not as easy to acquire when you really need one early in the game.

The other kind of shop is the Black Market. This shop is overpriced compared to the normal shop, but these are worth visiting in some situations. The Water Barrel item can only be purchased on the Black Market and it allows Pit to hold more than one Water of Life bottle at a time. If you don’t already have a Water of Life it gives you one for free, otherwise the one you are carrying gets saved in the barrel. There are also some other special items that show up here under special circumstances that I will also mention later.

There is a treasure room that contains eight pots each with a question mark on them. You can destroy a pot to reveal an item but it costs five hearts per pot. You may destroy as many pots as you want. Collecting a revealed treasure removes all the remaining pots but you can grab all the items you found. However one of the pots contains the God of Poverty and if you find him you lose all of the items and are booted from the chamber empty handed. If you break all the pots and leave the God of Poverty for last, the final pot instead contains a more substantial treasure. The bonus treasure can be an Angel Feather, a Water of Life Bottle, a Water Barrel, or the Credit Card. This is the only way in the game to obtain the Credit Card. You can use it in the Black Market to buy items that you cannot afford. Of course if you do so you will be in his debt and are unable to buy any more items until you pay off what you owe him.

Decisions, decisions!

Decisions, decisions!

Another type of room is the Sacred Training Chamber. A God in this room will summon a bunch of randomly moving enemies that look like floor tiles. The object here is simply to survive, and if you do so you are rewarded with your choice of one of three special weapons. The Fire Arrow adds a little fireball to the standard arrow that deals extra damage to an enemy. The Sacred Bow increases the range of Pit’s arrows. The Protective Crystal spawns two crystals that spin quickly around Pit and give him a way to easily defeat weak enemies up close. Over the course of the game you can acquire all three at once, however you cannot use them until you have enough health. There are some enemies in the game that will steal one of these weapons if they collide with Pit. You can recover the stolen weapons by buying them for very inflated prices in the Black Market, or you can earn it back by completing the training again in a later chamber.

The other three chambers you can encounter are more straightforward. The enemy lair contains a swarm of enemies that all drop big hearts for a quick money boost. The Strength Upgrade chamber contains a God that will give you a stronger arrow. There are five levels of arrow strength and you increase it by one for each God you find in this chamber. However, there are some special hidden requirements defined by how well you play that determine if you qualify for the upgrade at all. Finally there are hot springs that restore your health slowly just by relaxing inside!

To cap off the normal item list, sometimes in the levels you will find a harp that turns all of the enemies into mallets for a brief period. This is the easiest way to collect lots of mallets. You can also find the chalices here that restore health.

There is a scoring system in place as well. The score for the current level and the total cumulative score appear on the subscreen. You get points for defeating enemies, although the enemies inside the enemy lairs do not give any points at all. After each section is completed your points are added to the total score. Reaching specific point intervals here will trigger the message Power Up and Pit is awarded an increase to his maximum health. You begin the game with one segment of health and can get up to a maximum of five.

More health makes the journey more manageable.

More health makes the journey more manageable.

As mentioned above, the last section of the first three levels is a fortress that mixes up the formula of the game. The fortress is a non-linear maze that contains a boss hidden within. There are even more items here that assist in exploring the fortress. The check sheet is a blank map of the fortress that draws a grid on the subscreen. It must be found in a specific location in the fortress. The pencil can be bought in a shop and marks off each room on the check sheet that you enter for the first time. The torch must also be bought in a shop and it highlights the current room Pit is in. These items are helpful to show both where you are and where you have been so that you can narrow down where the boss is located.

There are a couple of interesting elements in the fortresses. There are statues scattered all around the fortress that can be broken with the mallet revealing a centurion. Each centurion saved here flies away for now but shows up later during the boss fight to aid Pit in the battle. On the flip side, there is an awful enemy type unique to the fortress called the eggplant wizard. They toss eggplants around that turn Pit into an eggplant himself should he be struck by one. While in eggplant form Pit is unable to fire arrows at all and it is a permanent state that leaves Pit defenseless. The goal from here is to find a nurse inside the fortress who will restore Pit back to normal at no cost. The eggplant wizards are often placed along the critical path to the boss and it is a huge hassle to go back and find the nurse.

When each fortress boss is defeated, one of the sacred treasures is left behind inside a treasure chest. When all three chests are collected all treasures are revealed and equipped for the final level and showdown against Medusa. Here the game switches play to an auto-scrolling shooter that is unique to this last area.

A nightmare scenario...

A nightmare scenario…

Just like Metroid before it, Kid Icarus was updated to include a password system for its NES cart release. The passwords are 24 characters long and comprised of many different characters. The long passwords allow a lot of information to be stored within them. When you continue your game with a password, it saves the level you last played, your heart balance, and all your items, weapons, and upgrades. Even though they are tedious to document and input, it works just as good as a save game and makes it much easier to slowly work though the game a stage or two at a time.

Kid Icarus was one of the titles I have held onto since childhood. I know that I spent some time with it growing up but I could never quite remember if I had played the game all the way through for myself. I definitely beat the game with a password taking me straight to the final level, but I imagine I pulled that out of Nintendo Power or a guidebook. As an adult I have picked it up casually a number of times and I always would stall out prior to the first fortress. The first level is quite difficult with the vertical layout combined with a lack of powerups and abilities for starting out. It took me a dedicated effort this time to finally mark it off as complete.

During my playthrough I really struggled to get through Level 1-3. I did not earn enough points in the first two levels to increase my health bar which really made things harder on myself. I also insisted on clearing the first Sacred Training Chamber since I didn’t how many opportunities I would have later on in the game. It was tough but I made it through after nearly a dozen attempts.

Of course there also has to be fire pits to deal with while you climb.

Of course there also has to be fire pits to deal with while you climb.

From the first fortress onward, the game eased up in difficulty considerably. In the fortresses all the enemies respawn any time you leave the room. I found an area near the boss that had a hot spring a few rooms away from a room full of enemies that left behind big hearts. Between those two rooms I maxed out on hearts plus I managed to earn enough points to max out the health bar at the end of Level 1. Having full health allowed the weapon I earned prior to kick in which also helped. I focused more on the platforming and I was able to beat the game without too much trouble. I would say the third fortress was the hardest challenge remaining and that took some practice with some of the eggplant wizard placements.

Once I completed the game, I decided to investigate how to get the best ending. I had collected everything except for the credit card and I was missing two strength upgrades. I figured that had something to do with it and it turns out my suspicions were mostly correct. Here is how the endings work. There are four separate goals to complete: Have the maximum health bar, have maximum strength, have all three special weapons, and have the maximum number of hearts. You get a different ending for how many of those goals are completed at the end of the game. I got the middle of the road ending by having all the health and all three special weapons. I would have had enough hearts had I not spent some on a Water of Life right before the third fortress boss, but I missed out on two of the strength upgrades and I couldn’t understand why I missed them.

The easiest way to get the best ending is to start a new game immediately after winning. You will restart at Level 1-1 with everything carried over from the end of the previous game. Since I already had found two of the strength upgrades the first time through I earned those again which put me at maximum strength. Then it was only a matter of making sure I had enough hearts before the final level to meet all the requirements.

The boss encounters were among the highlights of the game for me.

The boss encounters were among the highlights of the game for me.

Now this replay wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Upon beating the game the first time, I killed myself off in Level 1-1 and saved my password to play later on. When I started up the next day and input my password, I began at Level 1-1 but I had lost all of my progress. It was the same as starting a brand new game. I thought that I had either messed up my password or the passwords don’t work on subsequent playthroughs. I found out there is a glitch in the game where it does not save your data on any password starting in Level 1-1. If I had gone on to at least Level 1-2 and took my password there, then the data would carry over. I suspect that when the game loads the first stage it always runs the code to initialize the game state even if the game is loaded from a saved password. I had actually started to replay the game from scratch for a little while before using my old password to resume at the start of the final level.

There are some interesting technical tidbits I think are fun to examine for a little while. Some fine folks have deconstructed the system by which you qualify to earn the strength upgrades. It really is based on how well you play. There is a hidden scoring system calculated behind the scenes in each stage and you need to earn a certain number of these “skill” points to trigger the god to appear in the Strength Upgrade Chamber. Some actions add skill points and others take away points. I won’t go into all of them. You earn points for things like defeating enemies, collecting hearts (but not when you are maxed out), buying an item, or just entering any chamber. You lose points for taking damage, shooting arrows, or breaking pots in the Treasure chamber. Typically all you need to do is take your time and kill many enemies and that will be enough to earn the upgrade.

The password system retains all of the data associated with a playthrough, but it also contains information that determines if the password is legitimate or not. The first 22 characters of the password translate to all of the data the game tracks between sessions. For instance, some of the characters relate to the saved score, some of the characters track how many hearts you have, and so on. The final two characters are called the checksum. Basically the game runs some kind of formula against the password and generates the checksum and adds it to the end of the password. Upon submitting a password on the continue screen, the game runs the same calculation and sees if the last two characters of the submitted password matches the checksum. The password is accepted if it matches and rejected if it doesn’t. Many of the more well-known passwords are not hard coded in the game but are just a byproduct of how the password system works.

The final area mixes up the gameplay one last time.

The final area mixes up the gameplay one last time.

The final tidbit I want to share is that the endings differ between the Japanese release and the US release. Not only are the endings a bit different but the way to get them is completely different. The ending calculation in the Japanese version is the number of health bar segments plus the number of strength upgrades minus the number of deaths in the game. This number determines which of the five endings is received. The best ending in the NES version is not present in the Japanese version. Instead of that ending, there is an even worse version of the bad ending that takes its place. The Japanese version does not allow you to replay the game with item carryover, so instead you would have to play near perfectly in one try to qualify for the best ending. The save system in the Disk System version was likely the driver behind the ending criteria. The method in the US version works better for me anyway!

Kid Icarus is one of those classic NES titles that I think belongs in any library. The graphics are not too bad and the music is pretty catchy. The controls are a little slippery at times but they perform well enough. The major thing going against it is the uneven difficulty curve. The game starts out challenging and gets easier the further you go. Too bad many people would likely give up before getting to some of the later parts of the game that are a lot of fun to play. I enjoyed the game a lot and I am glad that I can finally claim for certain that I have beaten this game!

Kid Icarus Ending Screen

#26 – Kid Icarus

Battle Kid Box Cover

Homebrew #1 – Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril

One kid, one fortress, and one big adventure awaits!

Let the peril begin!

Let the peril begin!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game on Unfair difficulty
My Goal: Beat the game on Normal difficulty
What I Did: Beat the game on Normal difficulty
Played: 6/11/16 – 6/13/16
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 6/10

The homebrew scene for the NES seems to be one of the largest and most active of all older consoles. The NES is an intriguing intersection of both complexity and simplicity, representing a relatively low barrier of entry for anyone willing to learn the ins and outs of assembly language, limited pixel graphics, and the NES sound chip. There are dozens of existing game releases and a large number of projects in various states of completion. It’s exciting to see new releases on a console that I enjoy. Picking a game to start off this section was pretty straightforward. Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril was the first homebrew game that grabbed my attention enough to buy a cart, and it remains one of the quintessential experiences on the NES.

Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril was released in early 2010. The game was almost entirely created by a single developer known as Sivak. He tells the story on his website, but I’ll note a few highlights. Development started in 2008 after Sivak created three smaller NES games. This was the first major platformer game released on the NES in almost 15 years, and it is quite a lengthy game with a lot of content. Sivak would go on to make a sequel that came out in late 2012. I own and have beaten that game as well so I will be covering it sometime in the future.

This is one of the more challenging rooms early on.

This is one of the more challenging rooms early on.

Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is an action platformer game. You play the role of Timmy as he invades a huge fortress in order to stop the creation of a Supermech weapon. I have heard the game compared to a mix of both Mega Man and Metroid, and I think that is a pretty good way to start the conversation. Timmy is equipped with a basic forward shot that is reminiscent of Mega Man’s normal weapon, and he also has little to no inertia in his movement which is another quality of Mega Man. Timmy does not gain the abilities of the bosses he defeats, but he will collect various items that will enhance his skills in order to navigate the fortress. This is where the game resembles a Metroid-style adventure. Each collected item gives you more skills in which to battle and avoid enemies, but it also lets you reach certain areas otherwise inaccessible. The fortress is open-ended and you can explore as much as you are allowed to do with your current equipment.

The controls are very simple. You can move left and right, shoot with the B button, and jump with the A button. The game is very easy to control and you can move Timmy exactly how you want. There are also unlimited shots but only three of them can be on the screen at one time.

The game plays out through this large fortress of many interconnected rooms. There is no scrolling in this game but Timmy moves seamlessly from one screen to the next. Each screen is its own tiny self contained challenge. There are only one or two enemy types per room, but they are introduced gradually and they are often combined in interesting ways that present a good challenge. Some rooms have no enemies and act as platforming challenges.

Another Mega Man mechanic at work are the disappearing blocks.

Another Mega Man mechanic at work are the disappearing blocks.

Battle Kid has a flow to it that is worked throughout the entire game. Timmy will need to cross through roughly 10 to 15 screens at a time with checkpoints in between. You can save your progress here if you choose to activate the continue point. After clearing several sections, there will be a boss encounter. These are typically large characters that have several different attack patterns that you will need to learn well enough to win the fight. These boss battles either open up a new path forward or they lead to a new ability for Timmy. There are six bosses scattered throughout the fortress that must be beaten to unlock the final area. Sometimes the path to the next boss is not always clear, so you must search out a way forward with your current equipment.

There are a total of six upgrades to find in the fortress. The Coordinate Display item shows the coordinates of your current position in the game. There is no map feature in Battle Kid but this item helps identify where you are located in the fortress. The Feather Fall item slows down your falling speed by holding Up while in the air. The Infinite O2 upgrade gives you unlimited breathing capability while underwater. There is a High Jump and a Double Jump to find. Finally there is the Damage Amplifier which lets shots deal double damage. This item is available from the beginning on Easy difficulty but can also be optionally found in the fortress in all other difficulties.

The first boss fight is rather prickly!

The first boss fight is rather prickly!

In addition to the upgrades, there are keys to collect. Keys are permanent collectibles that let you destroy key blocks matching the type of key. Most often, the key blocks are barriers that block off various areas of the game map. Sometimes the key blocks are used in clever ways to add to the challenge of some of the rooms.

There are five different difficulty settings in Battle Kid. Easy starts you off with the Damage Amplifier while Normal difficulty does not. Both settings allow for unlimited continues as well as a password system so you can continue your adventure later. The other three settings give you a limited number of continues and no passwords, so you must clear the whole game at one time. Hard difficulty gives 50 continues, Very Hard gives 20 continues, and Unfair has no continues at all.

The number of continues may sound generous, but in reality it is quite limiting. That is because Timmy only has one life and he dies immediately when damaged by anything. So really fifty continues is just fifty lives. Those long stretches between checkpoints become pretty challenging when you need to get through completely unscathed, and the bosses are bullet sponges which make for long, grueling battles. The game map itself is quite large spanning over 550 total rooms, so there is a lot of ground to cover in the game and every continue matters in the higher difficulties.

Reaching the save point is such a relief.

Reaching the save point is such a relief.

As mentioned in the introduction, Battle Kid was the first homebrew NES game I bought, and it would be the only one I would own for a couple of years. I was enamored with the game from the moment I started playing it. Back in 2010, I had a lot more time for gaming so I decided to beat the game for the first time on the Hard setting. That meant restarting the game all over after the 50 continue allotment and making incremental progress every new attempt. Now that I think about it, I am not actually sure I accomplished that. I think I stalled out toward progress at the end of the game and ended up clearing it on Normal difficulty first after working at it for a few weeks. I did keep playing and beat the game on Hard not long after that. The neat thing about the difficulty settings is that there are passwords given after the ending for bonus content depending on the chosen difficulty, so there is reason to keep trying for lower death runs after beating the game.

Now in 2016, it has been roughly five years since I last put serious time into playing Battle Kid, and if my current run was any indication, then I have some work to do if I ever want to get back to the level of play I was at back then. The levels and challenges were very familiar and I picked back up on it much more quickly than if I were playing it completely blind, but I feel I died way too many times considering all that. There is no tracking on Normal difficulty, but I estimate I died somewhere around 150 to 200 times trying to clear the game again. It also took me three straight nights to beat the game, so I am thankful for the password system! I know I have so many other games in front of me, but I would love to put in the time to clear it on Hard and Very Hard. It’s the kind of game you want to go back and play again just to speed through it in style.

This may look impossible, but instead it's just really hard!

This may look impossible, but instead it’s just really hard!

Battle Kid is still on sale at RetroUSB and it is worth every penny. I own the original 1.0 release but the version for sale is the updated 1.1 version and that appears to be the final version of the game. It includes a few tweaks and bug fixes as well as an additional 10-room demo not available in the previous version. Once you have purchased the game and played it to your satisfaction, then you can check out the developer commentary and full walkthrough. Then play the game again and try to improve!

I know that I am gushing just a little bit, but Battle Kid is truly a well made platformer game and I maintain it is one of the best experiences on the NES. The game is a stiff but fair challenge and the level design is top-notch. I didn’t even mention the music, but there are bunch of great songs and sound effects to accompany you on your adventure. I am glad there are games that continue to be made on the NES and I can only hope that the homebrew scene is going to keep getting better and better so that we can play more games like Battle Kid.

Battle Kid Ending Screen

Homebrew #1 – Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril

Burai Fighter Box Cover

#22 – Burai Fighter

That menacing dragon and his friends pose quite a stiff but fun challenge.

Not pictured is the dancing circle of letters in "Burai Fighter"!

Not pictured is the dancing circle of letters in “Burai Fighter”!

To Beat: Finish all 7 stages
To Complete: Beat the game on the highest difficulty
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 3/31/16 – 4/14/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 9/10

I’ve taken on a number of shooter games already for the blog but there has yet to be a more typical style space shooter until Burai Fighter. The game stands out a bit with its bright yellow label, but behind the scenes there is a fun and challenging action game that is worth a play.

Burai Fighter was originally developed for the NES and released in March 1990. It was developed by KID and published by Taxan. It was released on the NES in Europe and Australia later in 1990 and was also released on the Famicom in July 1990, published by Taito. Burai Fighter was also developed for the Game Boy and was released first in Japan just prior to the Famicom version, debuting in June 1990. It would come out in North America and Europe in 1991. The Game Boy game is called Burai Fighter Deluxe even though some elements of the game were lost in moving to the handheld. There was also a Game Boy Color version released in Japan in 1999 as Burai Fighter Color and in North America in 2000 as Space Marauder.

Burai Fighter is one of the first games designed and produced by Ken Lobb. He is perhaps best known as a designer for the original Killer Instinct. After Taxan closed, he briefly worked for Namco contributing on Splatterhouse 2 and 3 for Sega Genesis. Next he would work for Nintendo where he worked on Killer Instinct and other games such as Super Punch-Out!!, Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and many others. He left Nintendo to work at Microsoft Game Studios where he is still employed today. It’s always nice to see where a well known personality in gaming starts out!

Starting off the game with a wall of enemies!

Starting off the game with a wall of enemies!

Burai Fighter is a shoot-em-up where you control an unnamed protagonist in his efforts to defeat the evil Burai and their armies from taking over the universe. You are equipped with a jet pack that lets you fly in any direction as the game scrolls forward. One of the unique features of this game is that the scrolling isn’t just in one direction. The scrolling direction changes in whichever direction the level was designed though it does follow a linear path. It’s important to pay attention to your surroundings so that you can avoid getting trapped if the level veers in an unexpected direction. Because of this scrolling, you can fire your gun in eight directions. Holding down the fire button locks the direction you are shooting so you can maneuver at will while firing in whatever direction you want.

There are three types of weapon enhancements to your standard gun. The Laser changes your standard shot into a high powered beam similar to the Laser powerup in Gradius. The Ring power fires a round projectile in addition to your standard gun and this shot can go through walls. The Missile powerup also augments your standard gun but always fires to the right no matter what direction you are aiming the basic shot. These weapons can be powered up by collecting powerup icons. The letter on this icon cycles between L, R, and M for their respective weapons. You can switch your weapon by grabbing this icon whenever the letter on it changes to which weapon you want. Certain enemies drop these but they are also scattered throughout the levels. There are a couple of other powerups to collect. The S icon increases your movement speed, and there is a spiked ball you can grab that rotates around you killing most enemies when they touch it.

Choose your path wisely because the level can smash you.

Choose your path wisely because the level can smash you.

Each weapon type can be powered up between three different strengths. Collecting 5 icons of the same type gives you the Level 2 weapon, and collecting 10 icons gives you the Level 3 weapon. The Level 2 Laser fires a second laser in the opposite direction of your shot, and the Level 3 Laser shoots in all four diagonal directions plus it restores your basic gun for even more firepower. The Level 2 Ring similarly adds another Ring shot behind you, and Level 3 adds a spread effect in the direction you are aiming. The Level 2 Missile adds missiles that shoot to the left, and the Level 3 Missile adds missiles that fire both up and down giving you four missiles at once. The game keeps track of how many icons of each type you have so you know when you are about to add some firepower. When you die, the weapon currently in use goes all the way back down to zero. However, the other two weapons maintain their current level so this is less of a setback than in many other shooters. Of course if you have to continue then everything resets back to square one.

Lesser enemies will occasionally drop these shards that you can collect in order to fill a meter at the bottom of the screen. This meter has notches in it breaking the meter down into eight segments. Each segment of this bar represents a cobalt bomb that you can fire off by pressing A. This is a very powerful bomb that destroys all bullets and most enemies on screen. However it deals no damage to the bosses. I found it especially useful as a defense move to get out of situations where I was trapped by oncoming enemy fire. If you are able to fill the meter up completely it will award you an extra life but you lose all your bombs in the process.

Burai Fighter has seven levels in two distinct styles. The majority of the levels play out with the multi-directional linear scrolling as described previously. Each level has a boss encounter at the end. They are huge screen-sized bosses with lots of moving parts and they put up quite a fight. These levels also contain hidden rooms that can be found in the gaps on the edge of the screen. When you find a hidden room the level scrolls briefly to reveal the room and all the nice powerups and prizes hidden inside. There are ten hidden rooms in the game and they are difficult to find. I only found two or three of these rooms when I played and I had problems getting in to the room even when I knew where it was. Maybe there’s a trick to it that I didn’t figure out but after awhile I didn’t even bother looking for them.

It wouldn't be a shoot-em-up without needing to destroy all the cores!

It wouldn’t be a shoot-em-up without needing to destroy all the cores!

Levels 3 and 6 deviate by playing from a top-down perspective. These stages were removed from the Game Boy versions. Before you start the level you are presented with a map indicating your starting position and the location of the base that you must destroy. The map shuffles these placements every time you restart the level so some attempts will have a more favorable setup than others. The idea is to head in the direction of the base and destroy all the targets on the base once you find it. If you get lost trying to find the base it is almost always a lost cause since you only see the map one time before the level. The other important element is that you cannot lock the firing direction in these stages. You can only shoot in the direction you are moving. This can be pretty challenging whenever you are being tailed by an ever-growing group of enemies. The level ends whenever the base is completely destroyed. It’s a short stage and it’s a decent diversion from the normal levels.

Graphically the game has very nice visual effects and the coloring is pretty bright and varied for this type of game. The level graphics themselves are kind of non-descript and don’t really stand out much aside from the organic look in Stage 2. I like the music in this game, particularly the track from the first level. This game really shines in visual flair. The game makes heavy use of rotating individual sprites, such as in the swinging arms of bosses and the star splash effect when using a cobalt bomb. It’s even evident from powering on the game and watching the letters in Burai Fighter form a circle and rotate around. This makes the game look really interesting.

There are three difficulty levels in Burai Fighter: Eagle (easy), Albatross (normal), and Ace (hard). Each difficulty level increases the number of enemies and the rate of enemy fire. There are multiple endings based on the difficulty level, so in order to get the best ending you have to take on the challenge of the hardest difficulty. Fortunately to help out there are not only unlimited continues but also stage passwords. The passwords are only four characters long and they are actual English words so they are really easy to memorize and input. The downside with simple passwords is that the game will start you off with no powerups every time.

Meet the rotating arm of death!

Meet the rotating arm of death!

This was my first attempt at beating Burai Fighter, but I had completed the first level on Albatross difficulty when testing out my cart. From that short experience I knew this game was good and I was very excited to take on the challenge. Since I want the best ending I started right off on Ace difficulty. The first level took a bit of time though I learned it fairly quickly, but Stage 2 slowed me down almost from the start. That level goes on for awhile and it winds around with different challenges at every turn. Each continue is a setback as it bumps you back to the start of the stage. About halfway through I got my groove and that led me to finishing the stage. Level 3 is the first top-down level and I died and lost my weapons while trying to get my bearings. After that small setback it didn’t take too long to finish, and Level 4 also went by quickly.

Level 5 was my biggest stumbling block in the whole game. The initial scrolling segment is really erratic with tight quarters and it took a lot of trial and error to figure out the best way through the mess of enemies. This was where I realized I should probably start using cobalt bombs! Even with the bombs I needed lots of practice on this stage. The boss was hard too as there are several moving parts to account for and avoid. Level 6 is the other top-down stage and this time I cleared it on my first try! The final level is the hardest of all but I spent less time here than on Stage 5. The final boss is the Slimedragon that you see on the cover of the game. The best way I can describe this creature is he is an elusive bullet sponge. It’s okay once you figure out the rhythm of the fight but the battle goes on and on for quite some time because he is so hard to hit. Beating that boss was a real feel good moment and a weight off my shoulders.

Now, it’s spoiler time! Skip ahead if you don’t want to know what happens next. After sitting through the ending, the developers felt that it was a great time to reveal that the game actually has a hidden fourth difficulty level labeled Ultimate that contains the true best ending. So it was back to the drawing board for another playthrough. From what I could tell there were no significant differences between Ace and Ultimate. The enemies move a little bit faster and fire more bullets. The bosses have higher health as well. I thought for awhile that the scrolling was a tiny bit faster than before but now I’m not so sure that’s true. This mode was no cakewalk for certain but I got through it quicker the second time around since I already knew what to expect in the levels.

Tough boss fights look really good in full action.

Tough boss fights look really good in full action.

This game was quite a challenge even with continues and a password save. Having to beat the game on the hardest difficulty may have made it seem harder to me than it really was. I don’t think Burai Fighter is in true top tier difficulty but it’s up there. I am guessing clearing the game on Eagle difficulty is still a stiff challenge but much more manageable than the higher levels. My difficulty assessment here is really a gut feeling and may be completely off base. Either way, I am sticking with my choices.

I get the impression that Burai Fighter is an unheralded good game on NES since I hardly ever see it discussed. It’s a great original title that I think would be a lot of fun for shooter fans. I particularly like the bosses and how they are technical showpieces while they also pose a nice challenge. The game has this visual pizzazz to it that doesn’t show up in many other NES games. Plus the game is still very affordable for a loose cart. It’s a mystery to me why this game is not more popular. It’s a fun game and I recommend it!

Burai Fighter Ending Screen

#22 – Burai Fighter

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