Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#126 – Xenophobe

Not nearly as menacing as it looks.

This music makes this creepier.

To Beat: Beat Level 8
Played: 5/12/19 – 5/15/19
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Xenophobe Longplay

Appearances can be deceiving. In the case of Xenophobe, I assumed that this game would be challenging to beat. In what little I’ve tinkered with the game before, I got beat up pretty badly. Navigating the levels are confusing and there are strong enemies everywhere I turn. I know the game is a two-player game, so I figured maybe it was just harder for a single player to manage. Well, after spending a little more time on the game, it turns out it is not that tough at all. I’ll keep saying this: I always appreciate when an easy game comes up on my list. Let’s take a closer look at Xenophobe.

Xenophobe was first released in arcades in 1987. The game was published and developed by Bally Midway. It was designed by both Brian Colin and Howard Shere, and the music was written by Michael Bartlow. There were many ports of the game to home computers, Atari systems, and the NES. The NES port was developed and published by Sunsoft and was released in December 1988 in North America only.

There isn’t much of a story in this game. You are tasked with clearing out various starships, bases, and cities from aliens known as Xenos. They have invaded these locations and you must destroy as many as you can. You also try and recover various artifacts from these areas and bring them back with you. There are eight areas in the game and you beat the game once you finish them all.

There are items to collect! Hop to it!

The main draw of Xenophobe is that is has two-player cooperative play. The screen is split in half horizontally. Each player occupying one half of the screen with shared information appearing in the center. Each player can explore the base separately or meet up and tackle the enemies together. You can play the game single player as well, in which case the bottom part of the screen does nothing but display the name Xenophobe. I’ve seen a similar setup before in Spy vs. Spy. At the start of the game, you get to pick from one of three characters: Dr. Kwack, Mr. Fogg, and Dr. Zordirz. All characters play exactly the same, but they have very distinctive and interesting designs and so they are easy to tell apart in a two-player game.

The controls for the game are a little bit wonky. It starts off simple enough. Use the D-pad to walk around either Left or Right. The B button fires a short-range gun with infinite ammo. The A button is primarily used for jumping, however there are many other operations that also require pressing A. You can crouch by pressing A when Down is held. You can fire low and do a slow crouch walk in this state. Press A to stand back up. If you hold Down and press A while already crouched, you will throw a grenade if you have one. You can pick up items by pressing A while on top of them. Sometimes a small critter enemy will latch on to you and you can get them off by pressing A. You can also interact with some of your surroundings with A. Small buttons on the wall will warp you if you stand by them and press A. You can also take an elevator appearing in the middle of certain rooms. Press A to initiate the elevator, then press either Up or Down to take the elevator whichever direction you are permitted.

The layout of each level is similar. Each floor of the base you are on is eight rooms across. The rooms on the end are blocked off by waves of electricity that hurt you and are impossible to cross. There are warp buttons that transport you to a different room. There are also elevators to take you between floors. Each level has a different number of floors to explore. The first level has only one floor but others can have as many as four floors. Each room contains one or two enemies specific to that room. As enemies are defeated, other ones will appear to take their place. Fresh enemies can show up in any room.

It might not be obvious this is an elevator room.

You begin the game with 1000 health points, and naturally, enemies and traps reduce your health. There are only five types of enemies here. Critters are tiny creatures that crawl and you have to duck to shoot them. If they touch you, they latch on to you and you have to press A to throw them off. Snotterpiller is the biggest, toughest enemy in the game. It makes large jumps back and forth across the screen, occasionally stopping to spit acidic slime. Laser balls are floating orbs with a tiny turret on them. They fly in small bursts around the room and occasionally fire. Slimes are low, slow-moving enemies that don’t post much of a threat. Finally, Spiderion is a tall enemy that hangs from the ceiling and tosses bombs when you get close. Other traps include dripping slime from the ceiling and the electric bars that prohibit you from passing through.

There are a bunch of pickups for you that the enemies drop. Perhaps the most important are the weapon pickups. The standard phaser is a slow, single shot, so any upgrades improve on that. Laser pistols fire at a very high rate. The lightning gun has reduced range and speed but deals more damage. The smoke gun is the strongest gun by far, but it has such a short range that it almost functions more like a melee weapon than a gun. These guns all have unlimited firepower and are retained until the end of the level. You can also pick up grenades which deal the most damage when tossed. Weapons aside, there are about a dozen other objects to grab. Some of them like the medicine or coffee cup add health, while the rest are just for points.

The way to clear each level is to defeat as many enemies as possible. You explore to look for weapons, items, and enemies to defeat. After killing enough enemies in the level, an orb appears that you grab to get beamed out of the space station and finish the level. There is a hidden timer going that helps keep track of one of two outcomes at the end of the stage. If you beat enough enemies fast enough, the space station is declared “cleared of Xenos” and you are awarde and end-of-level point bonus. Otherwise, the station is “overrun by Xenos” and you get no bonus. The bonus is both points and some additional health, so it is something you want to strive for. You also get bonus points for each item recovered during your run. The bonus points for items increase between levels as you acquire more items because the game keeps track of all past items collected, so your bonuses scale quickly once you have cleared multiple levels successfully.

These snotterpillars are really annoying enemies.

This was my first time playing Xenophobe. As mentioned in the intro, I’ve tinkered with the game in testing but that’s all. I didn’t play the arcade version because I don’t think I ever saw a cabinet for it. This is a common, cheap cart that I have owned at least a few copies of while collecting.

This seems at first to be a difficult game for a few reasons. You only get one life in this game and there are no continues. The big Snotterpillers can overrun you in a hurry and they constantly respawn. The levels are confusing to navigate. It seems much worse than it is. Here is my strategy and secret for dealing with this game. I guess this is the spoiler warning if you want to try and figure it out for yourself. Since the goal of the game is to defeat enemies, you don’t have to explore much at all if you don’t want to. Each room can only hold two enemies at once, including the dripping slime. Only the first two or three enemies in a room drop items, so you might want to explore a little bit, but otherwise you can stick around in the same room and keep defeating enemies as they spawn. I like to explore until I find a better blaster, but it’s not strictly necessary. The trick to fighting Snotterpillers is to jump over them as they land, then you can follow them to the wall and blast them from behind. You can do this with the normal gun with slow, rhythmic firing; a better gun simply makes it easier. If you get a bad spawn point or start to get overwhelmed, just leave the room and try from a fresh one. If I get a room emptied out, I can usually take out a new Snotterpiller before the next one spawns. From there, it’s just repeating that consistently until you get the orb to finish the stage. It might be dull playing this way, but it is effective.

While Xenophobe is probably a challenging, more engaging game in the arcade, I found the NES port to be a bit underwhelming. The graphics in the game are decent. I like the character designs a lot. I think the backgrounds can get a little too busy at times, but there are some interesting looking rooms if you search around. Sunsoft doesn’t really do wrong in the music department, but here there’s only the title music and end-of-level music. During gameplay there are only ambient sounds of the space station along with standard sound effects. The controls are sometimes cumbersome to use. The floaty jumping is both a benefit for aiming at airborne targets and a hindrance for delaying your next shot if you miss. The gameplay would have been more fun if I had more of an objective than just defeating enemies over and over. It didn’t take long for me to figure out how to effectively kill enemies, and the game became a drag once I reached that point. Xenophobe is definitely not a bad game, but it’s not an essential game either.

#126 – Xenophobe

#126 – Xenophobe


#108 – RoboCop

Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!

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

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

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

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

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

Just casually punching thugs on the street.

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

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

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

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

Both the lower indicator and wall flashing make this obvious.

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

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

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

Pickups aren’t usually this plentiful.

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

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

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

Just a handgun? No problem!

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

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

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

#108 – RoboCop


#91 – Jordan vs. Bird: One on One

I’ve already played two-on-two basketball, now it’s time for one-on-one!

They look a little too kind on the rebound here.

To Beat: Win a single match
To Complete: Win all game modes
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 6/23/18, 7/1/18
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Jordan vs. Bird: One on One Longplay

I like watching sports but I don’t follow them too closely. The one exception is the Chicago Cubs. I became a baseball fan and Cubs fan somewhere between the 1994 baseball strike and the 1998 home run chase, and I’ll for sure be a dedicated fan for the rest of my life. Being tuned into the Cubs back then led me into recognizing what the Chicago Bulls were doing at that same time. Now the Chicago Bulls dynasty in the 90s would have been hard to miss anyway, and I’d like to believe I was aware of how special that run was, but I may have been too naïve to truly appreciate it. However, there’s no denying how special Michael Jordan is as an all-time great basketball player. I don’t have a similar connection with fellow hall of famer Larry Bird as I missed seeing him play in his prime. Those two were among the biggest names in basketball of the time, so I can see why they made a game featuring the two of them.

Jordan vs. Bird: One on One originally released for the PC and Commodore 64 in 1988 and was developed and published by Electronic Arts. This game is a sequel of sorts to the 1983 computer game One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird. The NES version of Jordan vs. Bird released in August 1989. The port was developed by Rare and published by Milton Bradley. This was a US release only. In 1992, the game was ported to both Game Boy and Sega Genesis.

Jordan vs. Bird, for the most part, is a simple basketball game. You get to choose either Michael Jordan or Larry Bird and square off against the other. There are several options for customizing your game and you can play against the computer in single player or play against a friend in simultaneous two-player mode. In addition to a standard basketball game, you can play a couple of mini games. You can play as Michael Jordan in a slam dunk contest or as Larry Bird in a three-point shooting contest. To beat the game, you simply need to win a single game. If you want to do more, you could also aim to win both the slam dunk and three-point shooting contests.

Power past Bird and go for the dunk.

In this game, the controls on offense and defense are similar so I will cover them here together. You move around in all directions by using the D-pad. On offense, you will always face toward the basket, whereas on defense you will face either up toward the basket or down toward the screen, depending on where the ball handler is in relation to you. If you hold the B button down while moving, you will turn your body in that direction and move. On offense, you can lock yourself into facing away from the basket by holding B, pressing Down, and letting go of B. The A button shoots the ball. Press and hold A to jump, then let go of A to release the ball. Jordan can dunk by shooting with A as you move near the basket. You can also press A on defense to jump if the opponent is shooting. Press B while on defense to attempt a steal. You can hold the B button down and continuously try stealing so long as you are standing still. If the offensive player has not yet moved once he has gotten possession of the ball, you can press Select to take a timeout and pause the game. Pressing Start exits the game and takes you back to the Options screen.

The Options Screen is the main menu of this game. For a one-on-one game, you can select from a full game, a game to either 15 or 11 points, and a warm up for practicing. For the slam dunk contest, you can select from the main contest, warm up, or a follow the leader game to help you learn the dunks. For the three-point contest, you can select either the main event or a warm up.

Starting a one-on-one match brings up another options screen. First, select who you want to be. Press B to toggle Larry Bird’s setting and press A to toggle Michael Jordan’s setting. For each player, you can cycle through first player, second player, or computer player. The Play to 11 option lets you choose from either an 11-point game or 15-point game, provided you chose that option from the main menu. You can set the computer’s skill level anywhere from one to four. Winner’s outs determines who gets the ball after scoring. The default of no gives the ball to the defensive side. Fouls can be toggled on or off. Finally, for a full game, you can select the length of the four periods. Selections are two, five, eight, and twelve minutes.

You can play tough defense.

Now you can start shooting some hoops! The basket is in the middle with details written on the scoreboards on either side. The left side shows Bird’s score, followed by the period number, and the 24-second shot clock. The right side shows Jordan’s score, followed by the time remaining in the period, and a repeat of the shot clock. The view pans side to side as you move toward the edges of the screen, leaving part of one scoreboard off screen if you move all the way to the opposite side.

There are only a few differences between the two types of one-on-one modes. We already know the full game is a timed game with four periods, while the other mode is a race to either 11 or 15 points with no time limit. The only other difference is in the scoring. The full game follows standard basketball scoring, with two points for a field goal and three points from beyond the three-point line. In the 11 or 15 game, field goals are worth one point and three-pointers are worth two points.

Both modes display a results screen at the end of each period. This is the same screen that appears when you take a time-out with Select during the game. For each player and period, you get stats like total points scored, shot attempts and percentages, steals, and blocks. You also get some nifty profile pictures of our two stars.

In the Slam Dunk Contest, you can show off Jordan’s dunking ability. You can play this mode with one to four players. In a single player game, the first player is computer controlled and you play second player. For multiplayer, only controller one is used and shared by all the players. At the start, you get a screen where you can choose from one of ten dunks to perform. Move the cursor and select the one you want. Here’s a tip. The dunks on the left side of the list are initiated from the left side of the basket. Same thing for the dunks in the center column and right side of the list. Now you control Jordan alone on the court. Approach the basket from the appropriate direction and hold A to start the dunk. If you hold A the entire time, you will make the basket but not score very high with the judges. A panel of five judges replaces the right scoreboard and your dunk is scored from zero to ten from each judge. The slam dunk contest is secretly a timing game. You want to release the A button as far away from the basket as you can while still successfully dunking. Let go too early and you miss the dunk, but let go too late and you lose points. This mode just takes repetition to learn. Each player gets three dunks and the highest cumulative score wins.

Everyone wants to dunk like Mike.

The other two slam dunk modes are just for practice. Warm up plays just like the normal contest, only you play solo. In Follow the Leader mode, first the computer player selects a dunk at random and shows you how it works. Then, you get a chance to perform the same dunk. This is a useful mode to see what the dunks look like and how to perform them, but it is annoying that you don’t get to pick the dunk you want to follow in this mode.

The three-point contest puts you in Larry Bird’s shoes as you try and score as many shots as you can. In this format, you get 60 seconds to shoot up to 25 basketballs. There are five racks of five basketballs each positioned around the three-point line. You first shoot all five balls in the rack to make the next one appear, and then you walk over to it and start shooting. The judges’ scoring is used to show how many basketballs remain in each rack. The left scoreboard shows the total score and the time remaining. The shooting controls are different in this mode for some reason. You press A to grab a basketball and start your jump, then press B to release and shoot the ball. You get one point for each basket made, while the last basketball in each rack is worth two points. You can play this mode with multiple players or single player against the computer over three rounds. A quirk about this mode is that once you grab a basketball from the rack, the one you previously shot disappears even if it is in midair on the way to the basket. Just make sure you know the outcome of your last shot before you start the next one.

This was my first time playing through Jordan vs. Bird. I know I’ll say this for just about all sports games, but I enjoy watching sports more than playing video games about sports. This is a cheap, affordable game, although it’s one I’ve only owned once out of the many games I’ve had in my house.

Shoot as quickly and accurately as possible.

This turned out to be a game that I figured out on the first day of trying. Unfortunately, I wasn’t recording my trial run and it took me a week before I was able to get some free time and play again. Normally in a basketball game I will look to shoot as many threes as possible, but this time I figured out an exploit right away that goes a little differently. I started off with the main game as Jordan, two-minute periods, and computer level 1, which is said in the manual to be the hardest setting. On offense, I immediately go around Bird and dunk for an easy two points every time. On defense, Bird will start sliding in one direction. If you follow him to the back corner, you can get him trapped there. I hold the B button to steal and make small positional adjustments until I steal the ball, then take it to the basket and dunk. In the worst-case scenario, he will make the three-pointer from the back corner with 3 seconds left on the shot clock. If he misses it, you can hold him back until the ball lands and then recover the rebound easily. I won my game with no trouble. I also played to 11 using Larry Bird. The defensive technique remains the same. On offense, I moved toward the top-right corner and shot the three for two points. Another easy win. Between modes, I switched the computer player level from one to four and I didn’t see any noticeable difference in difficulty.

I found the two mini games harder than the main game. Neither one is particularly easy to win, however attempts are short so eventually one will come through in your favor. In the slam dunk contest, the computer player often seems to score around 35-40 points out of 50 per dunk, while I am usually good for 25-30 points. In my longplay video, after several failed attempts, I won with an above average round for me and a below average round for the computer. On my initial, unrecorded playthrough, I saw the computer outright miss dunks, so it does happen and that can lead to an easy win. The three-point shooting contest goes much the same way. The only advantage you have against the computer is in your shooting speed. The computer player does not finish the final rack, while if you play as fast as possible, you should be able to shoot every single ball. With some of these games, you just have to take every edge you can get!

Jordan vs. Bird is another mediocre basketball game. I don’t mean that in a bad way. On a technical level, it plays well. There isn’t any noticeable flickering or slowdown and the gameplay is clear. The graphics are music are fine but don’t stand out in a meaningful way. It’s the slam dunk contest and three-point contest that make this game stand out. While not enough to base an entire game on, they fit pretty well within the confines of a simple one-on-one basketball game. I would rather play Jordan vs. Bird again than I would want to play Roundball again, but I am also happy enough keeping them both on the shelf. I’m starting to wonder now if there is a truly good basketball game on the NES. It seems that Jordan vs. Bird was ported over because the NES could support one-on-one basketball better than with full teams on either side, which could easily devolve into a flickery, unplayable mess. I suppose we will find out after I play more basketball games.

#91 – Jordan vs. Bird: One on One

#91 – Jordan vs. Bird: One on One (Game to 11)

#91 – Jordan vs. Bird: One on One (Slam Dunk Contest)

#91 – Jordan vs. Bird: One on One (Three-Point Contest)