Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#174 – The Uncanny X-Men

The ‘X’ in X-Men is for crossing this game out.

Probably the best part of the game honestly.

To Beat: Clear all stages, including the final secret stage
Played: 4/27/21 – 5/14/21
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: The Uncanny X-Men Longplay

I’ve been looking forward to writing this review.  Long time readers may know that I believe that most NES games are good.  Not just the popular ones or the hidden gems, but any ordinary NES game has something to offer me that I end up appreciating.  To put it another way, if I didn’t enjoy playing most of the games on the NES, I wouldn’t be doing this project.  But that’s not to say that there aren’t any bad NES games, oh no.  With over 70% of the library left to play, I feel comfortable saying that The Uncanny X-Men is a contender for worst NES game ever.  Let’s find out exactly what went wrong.

For me to try and describe the X-Men series and its far reach into all things media would do it a great disservice, but we’re gonna briefly try anyway.  The X-Men comics were created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  The series initially didn’t catch on well and was cancelled in 1970, though it was later revived in 1975 under writer Chris Claremont.  New characters were introduced, and Claremont steered some of the biggest story arcs in the comics for over 25 years.  The X-Men really took off in popularity, spawning more comic series, TV shows, books, films, and of course video games, way too many to mention.  The first X-Men video games were released in 1989, including our game here, The Uncanny X-Men.  The NES game released only in North America in December 1989.  It was published by LJN but the developer is unknown, possibly either Bothtec or Pixel.  Of those two, through cross referencing development credits of other NES and Famicom games from what I could find online, I personally suspect that Bothtec is the more likely developer.  I can also see why no one would want to take credit for developing this game.

The Uncanny X-Men has a basic story.  Magneto and his henchmen and planning to take over the world.  It is up to you and the X-Men to go after them!  The group of X-Men accepting this mission are Wolverine, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Iceman, Colossus, and Storm.  You must clear each of the five stages to stop Magneto’s plans for world domination and win the game, but it won’t be easy.

Fighting for justice in the ruined city or something

At the start of the game, you’ll first choose from either a 1 player or 2 player game, which is simultaneous cooperative play.  Then you’ll choose your starting level.  There is a practice stage where you can get your bearings, or you can select from one of four regular stages.  Next, you’ll be presented with the character screens.  There is a screen for each character and you can toggle between them with Select.  Each screen shows the character’s relative stats in one of four categories: Power, Endurance, Speed, and Willpower.  The manual doesn’t explain what these mean at all, but you can sort of figure it out as you play.  Each screen also displays a character portrait and a short bio.  In both 1 player and 2 player modes, you must select two characters.  In the single player game, you control the first character while the second is AI controlled.

The Uncanny X-Men is a top-down action game.  Use the D-pad to walk around in four directions.  The A button attacks, and each character only has one kind of attack.  The B button can either jump or fly.  The Select button toggles between the two characters in a single player game letting you swap control at any time.  The Start button brings up a status screen.  For each character you can see their name, score, and remaining health.  You also see how many keys have been collected as well as any key items.  This is a vertically scrolling game, most often from bottom to top, though there are some single screen areas and some that go downward instead of up.

While all the X-Men play similarly, there are several distinguishing factors between them.  The most obvious difference is the way they attack.  Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus have short range punch attacks, just a quick thrust forward.  Cyclops, Iceman, and Storm have beam attacks that can hurt enemies from across the screen.  Iceman and Storm can fly around the levels by holding down B.  You can coast through the levels much faster and can fly over damaging floor tiles, however, your health gets drained while you take flight, all the way to your death if you fly too long.   There are a couple of other special abilities.  Nightcrawler has the ability to walk through solid walls, though this also drains his health.  I don’t know if this counts as a special ability or not, but I found that Colossus was quite the tank, and he can get bopped around by the enemies pretty good and barely take any damage.  I used him a lot when I was learning the stages in spite of his short-range attack.

The object of the game is to stop Magneto’s plans by recovering a floppy disk from each stage.  You’ll explore the stages to find them.  Every room has some sort of floor tile that acts as a door to a different screen, and often there are branching paths or a maze to sort out.  There are also physical door barriers that you need to open with a key that you find somewhere in the stage.  Other gates or barriers open and close at random but you need to be very careful here as getting stuck inside the closing door can both trap you and zap you of your health in a flash.  At the end of each stage is a boss encounter.  Defeat the boss to obtain the disk.  This causes a time bomb to start counting down, and you’ll need to backtrack all the way to the beginning of the stage to escape before time runs out.  Often enough there will be a door past the boss that brings you a good chunk of the way toward the exit.

Imagine what manages to live below

Defeated enemies will drop powerups at random and they are vital to your success.  The energy restore powerup has the letter E in it and collecting that powerup restores your health.  A similar looking powerup with the letter S in it is the statis bomb.  This freezes all enemies for a short time.  A powerup with a large lightning bolt on it is a smart bomb, which destroys all on-screen enemies.  The force shield has a weird look, sort of like a worm with a red circle at the bottom.  This makes you temporarily invincible.  The keys and disks I already mentioned, which show up in certain locations and are not random drops.  The final item is actually a power-down and is very dangerous.  The magnet item stuns you for quite a long time.  Enemies will continue to swarm you and knock you around, so many times this item ends up being fatal if you collect it accidentally.

The levels themselves have some differences, but at the end of the day they are all pretty much the same.  Some levels have shorter rooms with lots of doors, others have long stretches with few exits or long branching paths.  It’s up to you to navigate them to find the quickest way through.  All levels have some sort of floor tile that hurts you, as well the gates and barriers I mentioned earlier.  The walls and such are fairly obvious, but the damage tiles are not the clearest to make out, so you may die to them without realizing exactly what happened.  There’s no physical difference to the character upon taking damage, just a low droning sound effect, with some slight knockback if it’s a direct enemy attack.  There are plenty of other quality issues, and some major ones as well, that we’ll cover in the spoiler section shortly.

This was my first time playing The Uncanny X-Men.  I was not a comic book fan and never cared much about the X-Men so I ignored this game, definitely for my benefit.  I only learned of its reputation after I started seriously collecting.  I managed to pick up a loose copy locally for a few bucks.  Right now, it sells for around $10-$15 loose.

Where to begin with all the problems this game has? I guess we’ll start with the most obvious one from playing the game for any length of time: the AI controlled second player.  This game is almost completely unplayable in single player mode in part because the AI just doesn’t work well at all.  The AI has two modes.  When you switch control between characters, the AI goes into a defensive mode, wiggling back and forth and attacking in a tight space for 5 seconds.  Then it switches over to follow mode where it tries to find a path to keep up with you.  In either mode, the AI character is vulnerable to attack.  The hitboxes for collisions and attacks are imperfect, to say the least.  It is very easy to get juggled between two enemies and not be able to counterattack, for both yourself and the AI.  It isn’t very fun to try and swap control around constantly to attempt to defend both characters on your own and make progress, in fact it is harder to play that way.  I could only get as far as maybe two screens of any level with both characters still intact, so inevitably the AI character will die and that’s the end of that character.  Once a character is defeated, they are gone for good.  There are no continues in X-Men.  Since there are 5 stages, you’re pretty much guaranteed to lose a life in each stage, leaving you with only one of the X-Men for the rest of the game.  Of course, you’ll start completely over from the beginning if you fail.

Rare image of a surviving AI companion

Another problem is dealing with the gates.  These things are on most screens of the game and are just awful to deal with.  The AI characters will walk right into them with complete disregard, which is the source of many of their deaths (provided they live long enough to get that far in the first place).  If there’s a pattern to their opening and closing, I couldn’t figure it out.  They don’t seem to stay open long enough to pass through very often at all.  So how do you deal with them?  Thankfully the invincibility powerups keep you safe.  There are enough enemies out there that are easy to respawn that drop powerups most of the time.  But sometimes it takes minutes to get the invincibility drop, and sometimes you’ll end up grabbing a magnet power down by mistake putting yourself in severe danger of dying defenseless.  You will certainly want to play through the game as a character with a ranged attack to mitigate those risks.  It’s telling too how difficult the game is to beat in spite of the fact that there are basically unlimited invincibility and health upgrades as long as you’re willing to grind for them.

So, you’ve put up with all the headaches and the glitches and the AI killing off all your lives for you, and you manage to finish all four stages!  First of all, great job!  But now what?  The game unceremoniously drops you off back at the mission select screen.  Though you can still put your cursor on them, you can’t go back and play already completed stages.  The only thing you can do is to go back to the Practice stage.  There’s no ending to be found.  You might think this is a quirk of the game or perhaps it really is as unfinished as it plays.  It turns out there is indeed a final stage with a very unintuitive way of reaching it.  I went ahead and googled the answer, and well, I was left with as much confusion as when I started.  Here’s the deal.  There is a code printed on the label of the cart.  It’s in very tiny text, on the top row of the copyright text at the bottom of the label.  It reads “+ B + UP together with START.”  On the mission select screen I tried inputting this code, but it does nothing.  That is because the code is incomplete!  So, not only is there no indication about this code hidden in plain sight on the cart label, but also the code is wrong to begin with.  But it’s close, you also have to press Select along with B and Up, then press Start.

With all of this now in place, I was able to beat the game.  It took me a long while to get it done.  I ended up beating all the stages separately and I identified routes through each level that I had committed to memory.  It’s still pretty tricky to clear everything in one shot as it is pretty easy to die from all of the things already mentioned.  The final stage is no cakewalk either.  More than once, I died pretty quickly in the stage, and since you lose all of your lives through the bad AI, it was frustrating setback after frustrating setback.  That’s 20 to 30 minutes wasted on every failure.  The final stage is more cramped, has fewer good spots to grind enemies, and is confusing to navigate, but it’s not all that much harder than the rest of the game.  It took me close to 30 tries from start to beat this game, including a few quick resets, in about 12 hours total to finish the game.

Avoid the blobs and get out

That’s not all there is to this story, however.  I have inadvertently spread some misinformation about this game, including here in this very review to some degree.  Time to set the record straight.  The secret code on the label for the final stage is not incorrect, but intentionally incomplete.  Here’s the scoop.  The game maintains a hidden counter that increases when you defeat some special enemies.  I played the first stage on emulator watching this counter in RAM (located at $0513) to confirm this.  Some of the spawning enemies appear using a different color palette, and defeating these enemies advances the counter.  If you can defeat 30 of these enemies in the stage, the victory text after completing the stage will have some of the words highlighted in red.  What you need to do is complete all four stages with enough special kills, copy down the red text that appears, and piece all four stages together for the secret message.  Now one of the screens takes some liberty here, deliberately misspelling a word and combining it with part of another word elsewhere in the text.  When you combine everything properly, you get the following: “The last mission can be reached from the mission screen by pushing select and seek the advice of the label to make it to the final mission.”  So, there you have it.  I completely missed this in my own playthrough; I don’t recall seeing any red text during any of my attempts.  But indeed everything you need for the code is included on the cart.  Thanks to this article at The Cutting Room Floor for clearing this up for me.  This is extremely clever, but the problem is that it is too clever and gets in the way of an already troubled game.  The crazy thing is that this isn’t the only time something meta like this was done in an X-Men game.  The X-Men game on the Sega Genesis has a section that asks the player to “reset the computer,” which is done by physically pressing the reset button on the console to continue, without any indication that this is the necessary solution.  

The speedrun of this game is pretty quick.  The record is currently 5:54 by TooOrange.  The runner takes full advantage of Nightcrawler’s walking through walls ability to run straight through everything in each stage.  In retrospect, this makes a ton of sense, but I assumed it was impossible to play through the game this way.  Being inside of walls still drains health, and Nightcrawler has the lowest max health of any character.  I don’t remember seeing any intentional grinding of enemies for health drops, so it sounds like it’s the appropriate strategy.  I imagine you need to avoid any damage whatsoever along the way to actually pull it off.  There are only 3 runs on the board and one is from 14 years ago, so this is not a popular game.

Even though I did have something nice to say about this game at the very end, The Uncanny X-Men is truly a horrendous game.  The gameplay graphics are murky and dull, the music is uncomplicated and boring, the controls are both too touchy and also unresponsive at times, and the gameplay is frustrating and repetitive.  The character portraits are drawn well enough, and the hidden secret final stage is a clever, though poorly implemented, idea.  That’s about all the good I can find here.  Bad games are often made more challenging due to their poor design and bugs, which is absolutely the case here.  It’s not a pleasant experience at all, but hey, I took care of this one so you don’t have to!

You’ll notice some changes in the ending screenshot below.  In between games, I bought the Analogue NT Mini Noir and added it to my setup.  I had been thinking about getting one secondhand about the time the final batch of them arrived for sale, really just perfect timing on my part.  I wanted to get away from using the flat screen TV for playing games, both in not having to deal with input lag and having the ability to play Zapper games without compromised recording quality, so the Analogue system with its dual output capability just made the most sense for me.  The streaming and recording setup has moved back into my office room full time, just the way I want it.  The only thing remaining is getting around to playing better games on it!

#174 – The Uncanny X-Men


#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

by :
comment : 0

#123 – WWF Wrestlemania Challenge

The next in the series both added and removed challenge.

This is very detailed for the NES.

To Beat: Win the eight-man tournament
Played: 5/2/19 – 5/3/19
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: WWF Wrestlemania Challenge Longplay

I seem to have hit a steady stream of NES wrestling games. It took almost 100 games to get to the first one, and now I seem to get one every 10-20 games. I am pretty sure this pace won’t keep up and that this will be the last NES wrestling game for a while. I guess I’ll have to wait and see! This was the easiest one of the genre I’ve played so far, which is something I’m always grateful for. Let’s take a look.

WWF Wrestlemania Challenge was developed by Rare and published by LJN. It was released on the NES only in November 1990. The game also saw a PAL release in 1991. This is the second of four WWF Wrestlemania games on the NES. This game, like the first, was developed by Rare. However, different developers would work on the other two games.

There is no story to this game. This is just a good old fashioned wrestling game between several characters featuring several different modes of play. The primary mode is the single-player eight-man tournament. The wrestlers you will face in this mode, in order, are Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Ravishing Rick Rude, Big Boss Man, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Andre the Giant, “Macho King” Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and Ultimate Warrior. When I say you will face them, I do mean you. You will play the role of the wrestler You, taking on each opponent one at a time. It’s too bad that there’s no customization at all, so the role of You is just a generic white guy. Anyway, if you defeat all wrestlers in all matches, you win the tournament and beat the game.

You are the hero this time.

The controls are more simplified in this version of the game. Use the D-pad to walk around in all eight directions. The ring is oriented like a diamond here so there will be quite a bit of diagonal movement. The A button is used for basic strikes. Tap the A button to do a punch. Press and hold the A button to do a secondary move, such as a kick or headbutt. The B button performs a stronger move. The move depends on which direction the opponent is facing. If you are facing each other, B does a bodyslam. If you approach the opponent from behind, then B does a different move. Most wrestlers have a power move that is performed by pressing both A and B together. This can burn your energy faster, so don’t overdo it. If the opponent is laying on the mat, you can press A to attack. You can also press B here to do a pin, but you have to be lined up with the bottom of the fallen opponent to pin. The different moves will vary depending on the wrestler, but these are the basic controls for all moves.

You have some other move options as well. You can climb up on the turnbuckle in any ring corner by walking up to the turnbuckle and pressing A and B together as you press against it. Once you climb up, you can do an attack by pressing A. While airborne, use the D-pad to aim your attack. You can leave the ring the same way you climb on the turnbuckle by walking into the ropes and pressing A and B together. Be careful not to stay out of the ring past the countout or you will be disqualified. You can dodge an opponent’s power move by pressing both A and B together. If you are being pinned or are caught in a submission move, toggle between Left and Right on the D-pad to break out of it.

To win the match, you will have to pay attention to the energy meters of each wrestler. They are displayed on either side of the ring apron, which I think is a nice touch. Each successful move decreases the opponent’s energy meter. Using power moves will deduct a small amount of energy for each attempt. Avoiding attacks for awhile will also slowly increase your energy. To pin your opponent successfully, you have to run him almost completely out of energy. I believe you can force your opponent into submission with certain moves when low on health, but I didn’t see that happen.

Get his energy low, then pin. It’s that simple!

That’s about it for the core gameplay, but there are some different modes to choose from. One is the tag team match. You can control two wrestlers one at a time against a pair of opponents. Here you can switch between the two by going all the way into your corner of the ring and pressing Select. Each wrestler has a separate health meter and the man in reserve slowly gains stamina while inactive. Tag team matches are won when one of the wrestlers in the opposing tag team is pinned or disqualified. It is possible for teammates to both be in the ring together, but one of the two is subject to a countout if he doesn’t return to his corner. There are a couple of special controls here that occur when on top of the turnbuckle. If you are on the turnbuckle of the opposing team, you can kick the opposing, inactive wrestler by pressing B. Similarly, you can attack your own inactive teammate from the turnbuckle by pressing both A and B together. Another similar mode to the tag team match is the Survivor Series. There are two teams of three wrestlers each with only one active at a time. You can tag other teammates into the match. This time, each wrestler must be eliminated from the match individually. When all wrestlers on one team are eliminated, the other team wins.

There are quite a few variations between these different modes. They are broken down in the menu by either One player vs. Computer, Player vs. Player, or Two Players vs. Computer. There are four single player modes. The eight-man tournament is the main mode but you can also play a single exhibition match, you can control both members of a tag team in a match, and you can form a team in a Survivor Series. For two players competitively, you can engage in a one-on-one match, a tag team match, or a Survivor Series. There is only one two-player cooperative mode which is a tag team tournament against four computer-controlled tag teams.

Sometimes you get hit by a super move, that’s life!

You do get an ending screen for each mode. The text varies depending on what kind of match you won. In a way, you could consider any of them an ending, but most people would agree that winning what amounts to a single player campaign is the real criteria for beating the game. To that end, the game makes it a bit easier in this mode by giving you a couple of continues if you lose a match. You get an instant rematch should you lose, but if you lose three matches then you have to start all over.

This was my first time playing WWF Wrestlemania Challenge. This is a game I pulled off the bottom of my list that I wasn’t originally going to play so soon. I don’t recall when I picked this game up. The WWF games were reasonably popular, but only the first game is the one that is most commonly found. Still, I don’t think WWF Wrestlemania Challenge is too tough to track down. It should be easy to find for around $5-$10.

I didn’t have too much trouble with this game, beating it on my third attempt. I figured out somewhat of an exploit on this game. I wasn’t able to do this every time, but it was consistent enough to beat the game. I noticed the opponents either actively chase you or run away from you. If they run away, go get them! I would hit them with my B button move and then slam them when on the mat. If they come after me, I would retreat to either the top or bottom corner. Once in the corner, face toward the oncoming wrestler and mash the B button. It’s something about that corner where the opponent doesn’t line up with you soon enough to attack and you can get your move in first. The opponent then runs away and you repeat the cycle until you pin him with less than one health bar left. Using that method, I beat the game without using any continues pretty quickly.

A corner strategy worked out well for me.

As an aside, this game provides a turning point for my master game list for this project. I’ve mentioned my master list setup a few times but I’ll recap here. I initially removed a large chunk of games from my randomized game list and placed them at the very end. Lots of sports games, these wrestling games, and others were handled this way. About a year into the project I had a change of heart and decided to pull some of those games forward periodically. I’ve been aggressively promoting games lately and I have reached the inflection point where if I keep this pace up, I will have all those back-of-the-list games finished way earlier than the rest. Also, it has been troublesome and time-consuming managing what amounts to two lists. Finally, I have reconsolidated. Those less-desirable games have been spread out through the rest of the list and will appear more organically instead of me deciding on a whim to play one. I am now pleased with the structure of the overall game list, while still managing, for the most part, to keep the remaining games and their order a big secret even from myself.

Back to WWF Wrestlemania Challenge, I think this is a pretty decent wrestling game. It’s not quite as good as Tecmo World Wrestling, but it’s easier to play and much less demanding on my forearm strength and trigger finger. There are several different wrestlers with many modes and variations on game play, including a few different multiplayer modes. Controls are simple for a wrestling game and don’t require memorizing different moves. You still have to remember a lot of controls, but it comes easy in my experience. The graphics are nicely drawn and animated, and the music is decent as well. It is a touch on the easy side, but that is okay with me. It doesn’t quite live up to the name of WWF Wrestlemania Challenge in the difficulty department. That’s really the only complaint I have from this otherwise solid game.

#123 – WWF Wrestlemania Challenge


#106 – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure

This game is not so bodacious, dudes!

It’s one of the longer NES game titles.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 11/5/18 – 11/28/18
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure Final Level

Another day, another video game adaptation of a movie I haven’t seen.  In this case, I have at least played the game before.  Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure seems like a strange choice for a tie-in video game.  It could make for a decent educational game with all the historical figures from different time periods.  Instead, we ended up with a game that’s not much educational but has all the fun of an educational game, meaning it’s not that exciting.  Kudos to the developers for trying, at least.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a comedy from 1989.  In the movie, two high school students from San Dimas, California get access to a time machine that allows them to collect various historical figures to help them complete a history project.  Stephen Herek directed the film which stars Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin.  While not a critical success, it performed well at the box office.  A sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, was released in 1991.  A third installment is reported to be in the works as of May 2018.

The movie spawned several video games that are all unique from each other.  The NES game, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure, was released in August 1991.  It was developed by Rocket Science Games and was published by Acclaim Entertainment under the LJN label.  This wasn’t the first game based on the movie.  The PC version from 1989 was a graphical adventure game.  The Game Boy game, aptly title Bill & Ted’s Excellent Game Boy Adventure, was a puzzle platformer.  Finally, the Atari Lynx version also from 1991 is a top-down adventure game.

Clearly, the stakes are high.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure on the NES is an isometric adventure game with a plot loosely based on the movie.  Rufus from the movie summons both Bill and Ted to help on an important mission.  Space-time rebels have used the time machine to take historical figures and put them in the wrong time periods.  Both Bill and Ted must work separately to find each person and return him or her to the correct time period.  They need to do this because if history isn’t made right again, our heroes will miss the big concert that will launch the career of their band the Wyld Stallyns.  Unfortunately, they only have access to a pay phone that requires coins before they can time travel.  Your job as Bill or Ted is to find both the historical figure and a specific item that you can use to lure them back home.  You beat the game once you finish all six levels.

After finishing or skipping the introductory story segments, you are presented with a phone book of sixteen historical figures.  (Interestingly, none of these people played a part in the film from what I’ve read.)  The last page in the phone book is your password, which is a seven-digit telephone number that always starts with the fictitious prefix 555.  As you thumb through the phone book, you will come across a second telephone number on one of the pages that blinks red.  This is the number for the person you need to locate in the wrong period.  Press Select at any time to bring up the telephone.  Press A to dial digits and press B to undo them if you make a mistake.  When you have the blinking red number entered correctly, press A to connect the call.  You also use this same telephone screen to enter passwords.

Placing a call puts you in the Circuits of Time.  This is a mini-game that allows you to complete the call.  There are circuits in the background along with circled junctions, one of which contains a spinning phone booth.  Most of the junctions contain one digit of the call you are placing.  The idea is to move to the right from junction to junction until you get to the junction with the last digit of the phone number.  If you don’t do anything on this screen for too long, you will automatically transfer the phone booth to the next junction along the circuits.  You want to avoid this if possible because each automatic transfer costs two coins.  You start out with 15 coins but they get spent very fast this way.  What you can do is press A to launch the phone booth out of its junction in the direction it is facing.  This costs no coins and lets you skip ahead digits if you aim properly.  There is also a red floating junction that you can control with the D-pad used to catch the phone booth if it goes in the wrong direction.  Some junctions contain skulls which both deduct a coin and fire off the phone booth in a random direction, often setting back your progress.  When you reach the last digit, you will have to leave things alone and let the call finish.  The circuit ends in a three-way fork, and as the call is finishing you can take the top fork by holding Up, the bottom fork by holding Down, or the center fork without touching the D-pad.  This determines where you land in the next area.

I’d be dizzy in that phone booth.

The main part of the game takes place on the ground in one of five time periods: Medieval World, Western World, U.S. Revolutionary World, Modern World, and Ancient World.  These levels are in the isometric perspective and you can walk around freely.  Use the D-pad to walk around.  Pressing Up moves you to the upper-right and all the other directions follow from that same angle.  It acts just like the default movement in Q*bert.  Press the A button to jump.  You take pretty large jumps and you can leap over some areas you can’t normally walk on.  However, if you land in a non-walkable area you will fall down and get temporarily stuck.  The only way out is to jump your way out, and sometimes it can take several jumps to get back on the path.  Use the B button to toss out your Good Stuff to help ward off some of the angrier locals.

Pressing either Start or Select during gameplay brings up a menu screen where you can see and do a few things.  The upper left shows where you place another call, should you so choose.  Hold Up and press A to bring up the touch pad to place a call.  In the upper right are the keys you need to get you out of jail.  Your Good Stuff is in the middle, along with a red selection box that you can move to choose which item you want to use with the B button during play.  You also see your coin count and which historical items you have collected so far.

As you are exploring the worlds, there are locals also moving around.  There are three types of locals who are distinguished by how they behave.  One type is the standing local.  You can walk up to them and talk to them.  They can give you items, coins, or hints on where items or historical figures might be found.  They also might tell you to leave them alone.  After speaking with them, they turn into the second kind of local which is the walking local.  They move slowly and mind their own business.  Don’t try to talk to them or even walk up to them.  When they are on the move they get angry and standing in their way will cost you a coin.  If you don’t have any coins left, then you get thrown in jail instead.  The third kind of local is the angry local.  They will pursue you directly with arms outstretched.  If you get caught by one of them, you get thrown directly in jail.

Don’t let them catch you!

When locals are causing you trouble, you can use your Good Stuff.  These are four different disposable items that affect the locals.  Press the B button to throw them.  You can throw different distances depending on how long you hold the button.  Pudding cups draw all locals toward them.  You normally want to throw them in the opposite direction you want to go.  Should a local grab the pudding off the ground, all the locals will go back to their original state except for the one who got the pudding.  That person mellows down.  Firecrackers have the opposite effect; when you throw one everyone runs away.  You can also throw a firecracker close enough to someone to blow them up.  Harsh!  Highly dangerous textbooks are smart bombs that clear the screen of locals.  Finally, cassette tapes start up some music that makes everyone dance.  Now you can go freely for a little while, but you still need to keep from running into a dancer or you’ll get tossed in jail.  Also, when the music runs out, any local on screen will switch to angry mode.

At the start, you are dropped off in a world you don’t know while trying to find someone without knowing their location.  You are going to need some assistance from the locals.  Occasionally, a standing local will provide some information on where you might look for items or which direction you should go to find the historical figure.  You will have better luck holding conversations with people indoors, but they aren’t always easy to find.  Throughout the worlds there are several buildings or houses with open doors.  Sometimes the door is locked and you can’t get in.  Other times you come into an empty room.  These rooms often act as warp rooms where you can jump to a different building across the map by leaving through the other door in the room.  Other rooms will have someone standing inside that you can talk with.

You can engage in conversation with a person within their home or building.  Walk up to them to start talking, then press A to advance the dialog.  When it is your turn to respond, you will see some possible numbered responses.  Press A to cycle through the different options, then press B on the one you want to say.  Each person has at least one possible conversation where they will be persuaded to help you out by giving you a hint on where you can find something outside.  Say the wrong thing and you will either anger all the locals outside or even get thrown directly in jail.  You get to learn which things to say to help get what you want.  After you leave, you can’t go back into the building you just left until you enter another one first.

Dialogue choices are uncommon in NES games.

The historical figures will always be located inside one of the buildings, however either they won’t be in the room or the outside door will stay locked until you first hold their historical item to lure them out.  There are both sixteen historical figures and sixteen historical items in the game, and it’s up to you to figure out which item belongs to which person.  All the people and items are listed out in the manual, so I did some pre-work to try and match them up beforehand.  Some pairs make sense right away, like King Arthur and the Holy Grail.  Some of them are silly matchups based on jokes, like Julius Caesar and Salad Dressing.  A few of them had an unexpected match.  For instance, I assumed Elvis would like the CD Player but that’s not the right pairing.

Finding the items is one of the biggest challenges in the game.  The items are located outside in very specific locations.  These are all off the main walking path and you have to reach them by jumping on top of them.  Did I mention they are invisible?  The hints you get for their locations are generally unclear, like “check the last fence” or “there’s something near a rock in the north.”  What helped me the most were the maps listed in the manual.  They give you the general structure of the world as well as a few specific locations marked.  They show you where the jail is, as well as the lower, middle, and upper portals, which correspond to which branch you took entering the world through the Circuits of Time.  The unmarked dots on the map represent either a building you can enter, a hidden stash of Good Stuff, or one of the historical items.  (I deduced that after playing for a while.)  The specific location of those dots on the map are not accurate, but they do help determine how many things you should be looking for between intersections.  You will still have to comb over areas well enough to find the item spots.  When do you find one, write the location down so that you can better find it again later.

The maps also indicate horse paths and canoeing sections.  You can take a canoe or ride a horse by approaching the path from the southmost entrance and hopping on.  Both generally function the same way.  Use Left or Right to steer, press Up to move faster and press Down to move slower.  On horseback you can jump over obstacles with A.  In the canoe you can find items on bubbling spots in the water.  If you make it all the way to the end, you earn some coins.  If you crash, then you don’t get anything.  Falling in the water pushes you all the way upstream, while if you fall of the horse you have to walk from where you landed.  I had a bad habit of missing the jump to the canoe at the start of the path, which also pushes you all the way upstream with no rewards.

Canoeing is a great way to earn coins.

When you find both the item and historical figure, you get a chance at sending them back to their own time.  You speak with the person and select the item the same way you handle conversation dialogs.  Pick the wrong item and you get thrown in jail, plus you have to locate the historical figure all over again.  Choose the right one and they will call a phone booth over so that you can complete the call through the Circuits of Time.  Completing the call returns the person, but if you run out of coins you get returned to the world and must collect enough coins to try again.

I’ve mentioned jail a lot and all the different ways you get sent there.  The concept is simple enough.  You can get out of jail by using one of your skeleton keys and walking right out the door.  It’s weird that the jailer doesn’t confiscate your things.  If you run out of keys, you are stuck there and it’s Game Over.  The worst part of jail is that it’s often located far away from where you need to go.

There are six levels in the game.  In Levels 1 and 2, you only have to return one person.  In Levels 3 and 4 you need to find two people, and in Levels 5 and 6 you get to return three people.  Each historical figure is in a separate world along with his or her corresponding item, so thankfully there are no crossing time periods to match an item up with its historical figure, at least that I noticed.  After completing each stage, you get to see the Wyld Stallyns in concert.  While not great musicians, they do progressively get better the further you get in the game.

I’m not sure how I ended up with this game, but I had just the loose cart in my childhood game collection.  I do remember spending some significant time with the game, but I have no idea how far I got or what I accomplished.  With no manual I had to go at it truly alone.  When you’re a kid who likes video games, you will spend a lot of time playing just about anything.  A loose cart is cheap, but in my experience, it was one I didn’t see much.  I believe my childhood copy is the only one I’ve owned.

Invisible hidden items make this game a chore.

It took me some time to get going on this game.  I managed to clear a couple of levels in the first week mostly by dumb luck.  A few days in I figured out what kind of information I could glean from the maps, so then I started mapping everything I could find.  Most of my time spent playing the game was doing the mapping and carefully examining every stretch of land.  I figured out most if not all of the possible landing spots for the historical figure in each world as well as all item locations but one.  Each world has four historical items but I only located three in the U.S. Revolutionary World.  The last level turned out to be pretty challenging and I just barely finished it in my video.  I ran out of keys after returning two of the three people and had to play super carefully.  The last person was in the U.S. Revolutionary World and the item I needed was found in the third and final position I documented, so I almost got stuck not knowing where the item would be.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure is always perceived as an undesirable NES game.  My view is that the game is essentially video game busy work.  The recipe for success in this game is having a good sense of direction and taking notes all the time, with a side of endless perseverance.  I made progress just about every time I played, no matter how little time I spent.  Every element on the map marked, every conversation I figured out, and every historical item properly associated with its owner helped the next time I played go a little bit smoother.  This makes the game tedious to play, but not necessarily difficult.  The number of angry locals increases in the final stages, but by then you know how to handle them with items or getting yourself off the main path where they can’t reach you.  The person’s location and items are always randomized, but there are only so many places they could be and you will narrow things down.  Sometimes you just get lucky and find what you need right away.  I imagine few people have beaten the game due to the time it takes to build up a knowledge base and catch a lucky streak, while stretching that out over several levels.  I feel comfortable saying it’s an average difficulty game with an above average amount of time and effort needed to see it through.

I will say that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure is mostly a technically solid game.  There aren’t that many NES games with isometric viewpoints, and this game manages that along with a jumping mechanic for veering off the path occasionally.  The graphics are nice, particularly the character sprites and some of the background elements.  The music is pretty good but they didn’t loop any of the tracks, while eventually results in silence a lot of the time.  The controls work well.  The only sticking point is that jumping when off the path only works if you allow Bill or Ted time to stand up first.  The music issue is kind of bad, but other than that the game works well enough.  It’s just that the gameplay is dull, repetitive, and dragging.  It’s like filling out a spreadsheet where the cursor repositions itself at random.  One wrong step and you get thrown in jail, and now you have to backtrack or try a different way.  You are asked to do this history hunting too many times over.  I’m not sure what they could have done to make the game more varied.  Maybe you already knew about this game and just thought maybe you misunderstood it.  I’m here to tell you all your assumptions were true.  I don’t hate this game, but I wouldn’t recommend playing it.

#106 – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure

Alien 3 Box Cover

#32 – Alien 3

Is it a run-and-gun game or a maze game? Well, how about both!

The title fades in a piece at a time which I thought was neat!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game on Hard difficulty
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 9/25/16 – 10/2/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Alien 3 Longplay

Hot on the heels of Bram Stoker’s Dracula comes another licensed NES game based on a movie. Both games are late, obscure NES releases that even share the same developer. I thought that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was pretty fun, so let’s see if the same holds true with Alien 3.

The film Alien is a 1979 science fiction movie about a crew who comes across an old alien spacecraft. One of the crew members becomes the host to one of the aliens who then attempts to kill every living thing on their spaceship, and the crew is forced to come up with a way to get rid of the alien to ensure their own survival. (Hopefully this is a sufficient explanation since yet again I have not seen the movie.) The film was both a box office and critical success and is widely regarded today among the best movies ever made. Later there would be three movie sequels, a prequel movie, and a spin-off series Alien vs. Predator. Currently there is another prequel movie in the works and possibly more in the future.

This popular series made its way into several video games based on most of the movies. Alien 3 was the base of three distinct games. The SNES game was released in 1993 and it is run-and-gun platformer with a mission-based style. The Game Boy game is a top-down survival adventure style game. The Master System version is a run-and-gun platformer with maze-like levels. This version was also released on the Genesis, Game Gear, Commodore 64, and Amiga. The NES version of Alien 3 has the same format as the Master System version but it has a unique set of levels. Because of the different stages it can be considered a fourth unique adaptation of Alien 3. The NES version was developed by Probe Software and published by LJN. Acclaim manufactured the carts and may also have had a role in its publishing. It was released in March 1993 almost a year after the film and also has a PAL version that was released in Europe and Australia.

Let’s get down to business.

In Alien 3 your goal is to guide Ripley through the prison on Fiorina 161. The aliens have taken the prisoners captive and along the way you must seek out and free each of these prisoners as well as escape safely to the next area. There are many aliens that will stand in your way including the guardian alien boss battles. There are eight levels total in the game as well as four boss levels. Clear all the levels and you win the game!

Before starting the game there are some options available on the title screen. You can turn both the music and sound effects either on or off. There is also a Configure menu with more options. Here you can set the difficulty level to either Easy, Normal, or Hard. You can also play any of the songs and sound effects, as well as set the number of lives from one to nine. The defaults are Normal difficulty and three lives.

The game has pretty nice graphics. The backgrounds and sprites are clear for the most part and there is a fair amount of color considering the mostly drab setting of a prison. However, what stands out the most in this game is the music. The soundtrack to Alien 3 was written by Jeroen Tel and the sound to me is both atmospheric and tense. It’s worth listening to outside of the game for sure.

The controls are straightforward. Use the D-Pad to walk around. You can use Up and Down to climb ladders, and Up is also used to open and close doors. The A button jumps and the B button fires your weapon. Weapons can be aimed diagonally upward as well as straight up for a total of five different firing directions. Press Select to change weapons and press Start to pause.

You begin the game with a full assortment of four weapons. The base weapon is the pulse rifle that is weak but has a high rate of fire. It is an effective weapon but burns through ammo very quickly. The flamethrower is an excellent close range weapon with a large swath of flame to engulf nearby aliens. The grenade launcher is a powerful weapon at long range with a lower rate of fire as a trade off. The hand grenades can be tossed and bounced on the ground and they pack a pretty good punch if you can get the timing right. All of the weapons prove useful especially when utilized in the correct situation.

Applying a flamethrower to the face is often useful.

There are a number of pickups as well that will help you out. There are ammo refills for each of the four weapons. First aid kits will restore your health just as you would expect. There is also a radar item that will active the tiny radar in the corner of the status bar. The radar generates a little blip in the direction of a nearby prisoner.

There are only a few enemies that show up in the game. The most prominent enemy is the adult alien though they do have a variety of patterns and moves to mix things up. Some move fast and some move slow. Sometimes they spit acid at you. Other times they latch on to the ceiling and drop down right in front of you if you get too close. The other enemy type is the face-hugger. These are small aliens that burst out of pods and latch onto your face if they touch you. If this happens you need to shake Left and Right on the D-pad to get them off. I never let them latch on to me in all the times I played but that is how the manual describes it. You can also destroy their pods before they come out and defeat them that way which is much easier.

The game is an action game on the surface but it really plays like a maze game. Each level is an arrangement of corridors, shafts, and dead ends. You need to search out all of the paths in order to locate the prisoners and find out which sections are best left ignored. Each stage has a set number of prisoners that you must untie and free, and then once all the prisoners are saved you will need to locate the exit in order to escape.

Don’t worry … I’ll save you!

The aliens in the game are not nearly as scary as the time limit. On the one hand you need to take the time to explore everything in order to find both the prisoners and the proper route through the facility. On the other hand, you need to rush through everything to make it to the end in time. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing the last stretch of the stage just as you run out of time knowing you will need to repeat the level all over again. The one nice thing the game does for you here is that if you missed any prisoners the game pans through the level revealing the location of each missing inmate. However you also get to see that prisoner get murdered right before your eyes as a little mental punishment.

After every two stages there is a Guardian level where you square off against one of the boss creatures. The levels themselves are small battle arenas so the focus is purely on combat. There is still a relatively strict time limit in place so you need to work quickly. You might think the Guardians would actively hunt you down, but instead they have a set pattern that they patrol constantly. The key here is to find where the save spots are and fire away until you defeat the boss. I found these fights to be much easier than the normal levels.

I mentioned earlier that there were three difficulty levels. I only played the game on Hard difficulty and tinkered a bit with the lower settings. As far as I could see, the only difference is that the time limit is lower on the harder settings. I think everything else is the same though I haven’t played enough to see if there are other changes.

It can get a little hairy when time winds down.

This was my first time playing through Alien 3. I remember acquiring this game in an eBay game lot in the summer of 2013. I think it was in the first batch of games I bought whenever I decided that I would pursue NES collecting for good. I would say it’s an uncommon game so that was a good pickup for me at the time. I know I had a double of the game that I sold off at some point as well.

Alien 3 is the type of game where you need to play it over and over again just to make a little bit of progress each time. I finished the game in a week over close to a dozen attempts. I insist on beating the game on the hardest difficulty right off the bat, but in this case I could have benefited from learning the levels on Easy and then putting it all together for a run on Hard. I think there is at least some benefit to learning the levels under a tighter timeframe that probably helped me out a little bit. A week is a good amount of time to spend on a game anyway!

I was able to capture my winning run on video. It was a really solid run with only a few minor mistakes and stumbles, but that is only because I had to hone in my strategy through repetition. It was very close to being a deathless run as well. It was close enough that I decided to leave that death in there as a reminder of how mean this game can be sometimes. Other than that one big mistake it was a nice run for my first time clearing the game.

This was not the best location for a boss battle.

I decided to rate Alien 3 with a 7 on difficulty just because it is a game you have to learn over time. There are no continues so you can’t really grind through the game apart from starting from scratch each time, though you can set up to nine lives for the most opportunities to practice the later stages per attempt. Actually, I was all set to give it an 8 in difficulty but I realize that I only made it harder on myself so that I could clear it on Hard.

Alien 3 is a competent and playable game, but it has a few issues that make the game not as much fun as it could be. The most notable issue is that the screen scrolling only kicks in when you get really close to the edge of the screen. You can hardly see what is in front of you and it is very annoying. I actually wonder if that was done intentionally to introduce the element of surprise when an alien shows up in your face. Either way it is not a fun gameplay element to have so little visibility. The other somewhat related thing is that I don’t find the aliens to be that much of a threat in the first place. I found that unless you play very carelessly you are more likely to run out of time than to run out of health, at least on Hard difficulty. I was more concerned with running recklessly through the stage to outrun the clock and just take damage in places to get through quicker. There are other more minor issues as well. The jumping is kind of loopy and slow, and the screen scrolling stutters sometimes. The boss battles are pretty lame. There are also a lot of dead ends and loops in the stages that are frustrating to pass through.

Alien 3 is a competent and playable game, but it is these issues that really hold the game back from being a better game. I can see that there is a good game there that just can’t shine through like I would want. Mediocre games such as Alien 3 are really not that bad for me in terms of my project, but I would not give them a strong recommendation either. Alien 3 is fine but there are better games out there that are more worth your time. If anything it is worth checking out just for the music!

#32 – Alien 3

Pictionary Box Cover

#13 – Pictionary

Who needs pen and paper when you can play Pictionary on your NES?

That title screen music! So good!

To Beat: Finish the Regular Game
What I Did: Beat the Regular Game and Alternate Game just for fun!
Played: 1/24/16
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 1/10

The NES has several games of game show and board game adaptations so it’s no surprise that one would show up on the blog fairly early. Pictionary plays like the classic board game but it has some surprises in the single player that make the game a little bit more interesting.

Pictionary was released in July 1990 on NES. It was developed by Software Creations and published by LJN. Software Creations developed a dozen NES games and LJN published a whopping 25 NES games by my records. There are only three developers attributed to creating Pictionary. Tony Pomfret was the programmer, Craig Houston created the graphics, and Tim Follin wrote the music. It probably should be four people as Stephen Ruddy’s sound engine was used in the development of the sounds and music. LJN has a reputation on NES for publishing many bad games but in the case of Pictionary I would say the game is pretty decent.

Pictionary on NES is a pretty straightforward board game. Up to four teams compete by drawing pictures and having their fellow team members guess what is being drawn. Correct answers allow the team to roll a die to advance their marker along the board and the first team to reach the end and guess a final drawing wins the game. Simple enough!

It’s the board … yawn.

There are three game modes. Regular Game is the base game with some twists to it that I will explain shortly. Alternate Game is a way to play Pictionary using the NES as the game board, timer, and drawing area but you must supply your own Pictionary word cards (or your own words) to determine what to draw. The players are responsible for inputting into the game which team guessed the drawing correctly so it can handle everything properly for you. Drawing Practice gives you a free area for doodling so that you can get a handle for how the drawing in the game works. The drawing interface simulates a little bit like drawing lines with a pencil and paper. You can aim your cursor in I believe 16 different directions by pushing Left or Right. Press and hold A to draw in the direction of the cursor or press and hold B to move the cursor without drawing. Pressing Up or Down draws either a small or large circle. Select removes the last thing drawn, Start finishes the drawing early, and Select and Start pressed together erases the board. It’s a robust enough system without relying on complete freehand control.

The Regular Game mode plays more like a complete game of Pictionary with the computer providing words to draw for the teams, but most of the game is played out through mini-games instead of drawing out pictures. If there is one player per team then there will be all mini-games, otherwise there will be standard drawing mixed in. You can play single player with just one player on one team which is what I did. There are four mini-games that all play a little bit differently but they all help play out Pictionary the same way. Completing tasks within each mini-game reveal pieces of a pre-drawn puzzle and the object is to reveal as much of the picture as you can within the time limit to give yourself the best chance of identifying the drawing. Let’s get in to each mini-game!

The first one is Attack of the Paint Zombies. This is exactly like Space Invaders except the enemies are on the bottom instead of the top and you control a paint bucket dropping red paint down upon the purple paint zombies. Yeah, paint zombies, I don’t get it either. Each one you knock out reveals a square on the picture and if you get shot with paint you lose a few seconds off the timer. This one is my favorite of them all and I didn’t have much trouble revealing the whole board before time nearly every round.

It's gotta be a mess down there.

It’s gotta be a mess down there.

The second game is The Warehouse Shuffle. I did not understand what to do in this game at all until I checked the manual. There’s just a man you control along the bottom and there are these balls with eyes that bounce around and nothing else was happening. What you are supposed to do is push up against the left side and press Up to grab boxes that are offscreen, then carry them across to the right and drop them off with Down. Each box you deliver knocks off a square and if the balls (called gremlins in the manual) come in contact with a box you lose time. You can carry a huge stack of boxes at once if you wan but you move slower the more you carry so there’s a basic risk/reward system at play. Once I knew what I was doing, I still didn’t do very well at this one.

I appreciate the eagerness but that's too many boxes.

I appreciate the eagerness but that’s too many boxes.

The third game is Four Alarm Rescue. There are eight windows arranged in two rows of four columns and people randomly appear to jump out from one of the windows in the burning building. You control firefighters at the bottom with a net to catch the people as they fall. Catching each person reveals a square and having a person fall to the hard ground below removes that precious time. This game is so unfair. Often two people will jump out at the same time from opposite ends of the screen and it is impossible to catch both. Sometimes multiple people will jump one after the other from the same window but there’s no way to tell until the first person jumps out of the way. You can lose multiple people quickly if you are trying to catch a different person elsewhere. This game is very flawed and I don’t think it’s possible to reveal the whole board with this game unless the randomness is entirely in your favor.

Probably just as messy as the paint game to be honest.

Probably just as messy as the paint game to be honest.

The fourth and final game is Leapin’ Energy Capsules! This is a simple single screen platformer where you control an astronaut who is collecting these capsules or orbs that appear in a few pre-defined spots. Once you collect one or take too much time the next one appears. There are a couple of cannons that shoot a rising and falling bullet and they operate on a slow rhythm. Collect a capsule, reveal a square. Take damage, lose time. The only really annoyance is when a capsule appears in the upper left because you can only climb up to the upper level from the far right. Otherwise, this one is pretty simple and kind of boring.

That upper left one gets the most screen time for certain.

That upper left one gets the most screen time for certain.

Playing through the game is really simple in single player. Play the mini game and try to guess what the picture is. You get 45 seconds to scroll through the alphabet picking out letters to spell out your guess. The game shows the number of words in the answer plus the number of letters in each word just like Hangman, so that helps in solving these drawings. If you are correct, you get to roll a die and move up that many spaces on the board. There is no penalty if you miss so you just keep trying until you guess correctly. Eventually you will run into a solution and move up the board so there is really no way to lose. It took me around 30-45 minutes to reach the end of the board with I’m guessing a 30-40% success rate. And that’s the end!

In my run I tested out Alternate Game just to see what it is all about. I played with one team and it was all drawing. After the drawing phase you get to indicate which team answered correctly and that team rolls the die. I would just end the drawing early every time and say I answered it correctly so that I could always roll and move my marker on the board. It took hardly any time at all to reach the end. You get the same ending either way so you can technically beat the game without identifying a single drawing and no one would know the difference. It was an utter waste of time, but eh, I did it for completeness!

Yay!  You did it!

Yay! You did it!

There was an unexpected casualty that happened while playing Pictionary. It was the weirdest thing. I turned the NES on and I was walking over to the couch when my hands got static shocked through the controller. Getting shocked in my basement is pretty normal in the winter but never through the game controller. Nothing worked when I tried to start the game even after powering off and resetting a few times. I swapped in another controller and that one worked fine, so I guess my controller is dead. It’s too bad because it is a nice condition dogbone controller and they aren’t exactly cheap to replace. I have a few other dogbone controllers in various states so I can probably hack together a nice working controller.

The one really remarkable thing about Pictionary is that it has a really good soundtrack. If you have heard some of the top NES music then you have almost certainly heard Tim Follin’s music and he did some fine work on the music in Pictionary. Tim has two brothers, Geoff and Mike, and all three brothers have worked in video games at some point. Geoff was also a game composer and he would work with Tim on music for several other NES games. The Follin brothers have a very distinct style to their music with very complex sounding pieces that really take advantage of the NES sound chip in ways that not many other musicians did. In Pictionary the title screen music is just awesome, and the Pictionary page on the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation website has links to all six music tracks for your listening pleasure!

Pictionary is a faithful adaptation of the board game and is a perfectly serviceable game on NES, even though it is very easy and barely worth playing even once. It’s fine but there’s so many better games on the NES. You would probably have more fun playing Pictionary with a group of friends on the actual board game but it could be fun at parties or whatever. At least the music is good! Plus, I don’t mind having a short, easy game to check off the list!

Pictionary Ending Screen

#13 – Pictionary