Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#170 – Flight of the Intruder

A very long flight.

I have no idea what this is supposed to look like.

To Beat: Reach the ending
What I Did: Cleared every mission with 2nd highest rank overall
Played: 11/8/20 – 11/17/20
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Flight of the Intruder Longplay

It seems at first that the NES is littered with flight-based games, the ones that take place either from inside the cockpit or just behind the plane, and you can fly around in 3D space with enemies approaching from all angles.  They must have been somewhat popular as none of them are rare games.  Despite that, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, these games are just not for me.  I attempted to count up how many games fit this description just to see where I stand at 170 games in.  I have counted about a dozen or so, and Flight of the Intruder is the 4th completion of the bunch.  We are spreading these out nicely!  The first two games of these I’ve played, Top Gun and Laser Invasion, are both high quality, twitch action Konami affairs, while F-117A Stealth Fighter took a more tactical approach.  It’s not all bad, but Flight of the Intruder is clearly the least enjoyable of these titles.  Let’s break it down and see what it has to offer.

Flight of the Intruder is a novel written by Stephen Coonts.  He had previously served as a naval aviator during the Vietnam War, and he used those experiences to begin writing a novel.  The book Flight of the Intruder was released in 1986, and the main character, Jake Grafton, would be the protagonist in many future books in the series.  Coonts has written dozens of books since then, up to the present day at the time of this writing.  Flight of the Intruder was adapted into a film in 1991, releasing to poor reviews and not making enough money at the box office to cover its $30 million budget.  A video game was also created in 1990, developed by Rowan Software for PCs.  Flight of the Intruder was released on the NES in May 1991, ported by Imagineering and published by Mindscape.  The game also came out in Europe under the name Phantom Air Mission, where it appears to be limited to only a release in Spain.  It is an extremely expensive game due to its rarity.

The plot of Flight of the Intruder, the novel and film, follows Jake Grafton throughout the Vietnam War.  The plot of the game as listed in the manual doesn’t include any of that story, opting for a more general take.  The only common bond is that both take place during Operation Linebacker in 1972 in Vietnam.  In the game, you play the role of an unnamed pilot who takes to the skies in both an F-4 Phantom and an A-6 Intruder across 12 missions throughout Vietnam around the timeline of Operation Linebacker.  Each mission in broken up into a series of waypoints that you will need to clear to complete your mission.

Just like Metroid, we start out going left.

Upon starting a game, the first thing you will come to is the Map Screen.  After receiving your mission briefing, you see the map zoomed in and the next waypoint blinking.  This will indicate what kind of encounter you will have.  Sometimes you can press Select to skip to different waypoints, whatever the mission necessitates.  Press either Start or A to take on this waypoint.

The next screen is the Takeoff and Landing screen.  This takes place from a side view of the aircraft on the carrier, with the aircraft facing left.  After a short animation of the crew on the ground, it’s on you get the plane off the ground.  Doing so is very easy, simply press and hold Left to increase thrust to 100% and you will automatically begin flying.  There are other points of data on the screen that are show during takeoff that only come into play when you are landing later on.

The starting waypoint in the game is one of the two main modes of action, the cockpit view.  From this first person perspective, you will dogfight with MiG 21 jets using your F-4 interceptor.  This game uses flight controls, meaning you press Up to fly downward and press Down to fly higher.  Left and Right bank your fighter in that direction.  The A button fires your weapons.  Your standard weapon is a machine gun.  You have unlimited ammo, but if you fire too much at once you will overheat and need to cool down a bit before you can fire more.  The Select button can switch between your machine gun and missiles.  The missiles have very limited ammo but are radar guided and will home in on the enemy.  You will need to get an enemy in your sights and lock on before you can get them with the missile.  The B button is used to adjust the thrust of the aircraft.  Hold B, then press Up to increase thrust or Down to decrease thrust.

There are all sort of instruments and things on screen.  The top half is your outside view through the window, where can see air, land, and approaching enemies and missiles.  In the center of that view are your crosshairs for aiming the machine gun.  Two numbers display on either side of that.  The left side value is your airspeed and the right display is your altitude gauge.  The lower half of the screen is the inside of the cockpit.  On the left you will see your thrust as a percentage.  Below that is the artificial horizon.  A circle is broken up into segments that are filled in to show the ground relative to your aircraft in the center of the circle.  For example, if you are flying straight and level, the bottom half will be filled in since the ground is below you, whereas if you are flying straight down the entire circle will be lit up to indicate you are flying directly toward the ground.  The center of the cockpit view is your radar that shows enemies as dots as they approach you.  The top half of the radar shows enemies in front of you that you could see above, and the bottom of the radar displays enemies behind you.  The right side is the message display that shows various information as you play.  When you switch weapons to missiles, the text display changes over to a missile indicator.  A triangle is drawn representing your ship along with small vertical lines to indicate each missile available.

Line em up, blast away, you know the drill.

The other gameplay view you have is in the bombing and strafing missions.  Here you see your A-6 Intruder from behind the aircraft.  Enemies will approach from the horizon as you fly overhead, and you are to blow up as many as possible.  The controls here are similar to the first person flying segments.  Use the D-pad with flying controls to steer, press A to fire air-to-ground missiles, and press B to shoot radar guided missiles.  The angle of your ship toward the ground determines where your bombs will land.  You have to compensate a bit for the time it takes for the bomb to strike.  There are no crosshairs for this mode, though the nearest target will highlight a bit on the approach and the hitboxes of the enemies are reasonably generous.  Much of the time these missions are just to fly through and survive, but some of them require you to defeat a primary target.  The mission itself will let you know.  If there’s   a primary target, the music will change a bit to indicate the upcoming targets are mandatory.  Fail to destroy them all and you will need to repeat a portion of the mission and approach again.

There’s other information on this screen you’ll need to understand.  The large number at the top is your score.  This carries over throughout the game, and it is also shown between missions.  There are three other numbers displayed in the row under the score.  The far left number is your strength value, essentially your hit points.  Enemy strikes deal multiple strength damage so avoidance is critical.  The center number is the DEFCON number.  Every target you let pass by subtracts one from the DEFCON number.  When it reaches 0, then any target that gets by will fire a guided surface-to-air (SAM) missile at you.  These are avoidable but are very dangerous and they deal a bunch of damage.  They often lead to more missed enemies and even more SAMs.  The far right number is how many missiles you have.  As you can imagine accuracy is important in these missions, and to that point there are certain targets in these missions that will restore a strength point when destroyed.  You want these if you hope to keep alive.  If strength is maxed out at 9, then it will restore a DEFCON point, and if that reaches 9 then an extra missile is added instead.  Furthermore, if you destroy all targets within a wave, each of those three will increase by one.  Nice!

Once the mission is over, it is important to land your fighter safely.  Landing takes place in the same side view as takeoff, only this time you need the measurements on display to help you land properly.  Left increases thrust and Right to lowers it.  A thrust value of 50% helps you maintain height, whereas higher numbers fly you upward and smaller numbers lower you.  The altitude shows how high you are, and the range shows how much farther to fly to reach the aircraft carrier.  The vertical velocity is important as you need to keep that value from going beyond -10 when landing to touch down safely.  To land, you will use the measurements and adjust thrust to lower your fighter and fly slowly down onto the aircraft carrier.  Press B to release your landing gear, you won’t get far without that.  You want to touch down as soon as you are overhead, then as you cross a series of four cables on the deck, press A to lower your hook to grab a cable and come to a complete stop.  If you don’t hook a cable, you will have to fly through and approach again.  I believe too many misses will cost you a life so make sure you don’t mess up too much.  The game also encourages you to grab the third cable with the hook as evidently that’s what the best pilots do and you are awarded more points that way.

Bombing runs require some calculated aiming.

This was my first time playing Flight of the Intruder, which is no surprise.  I barely remember putting this game into my console to test it prior to this.  I’m not entirely sure but I think someone gave me this game, like a “here I found this in my house you can have it” kind of find.  I might have the box and manual for this somewhere too.  This game isn’t very common but it’s affordable, coming it at around $12 or so for a loose cart.

I did not have an easy time with this game at the start.  The first mission is one of the first person missions and the combat feels a little bit slow and is hard to come to grasps with quickly.  Notably, the gun lags behind a bit, meaning you have to shoot in front of the enemy to hit it.  It’s probably realistic but is a bit frustrating to play.  The enemies also take quite a few hits to go down, and you’ll run out of missiles in the later missions which one-shot the enemies after you lock on.  There’s also fuel to worry about and if you take too long in a mission you’ll crash, which happened a lot later on in the game when there were more enemies.  I had to fly around a lot to try and get behind the enemy, while also avoiding their missiles, and it’s just a lot to handle under a time limit.

The good thing is I did come up with a strategy.  It almost feels like an exploit.  The trick is to fly sideways.  I turn 90 degrees to the right, lining up the horizon vertically in the center of the screen.  Then I just fly up the entire time.  This accomplishes a few things.  First, it keeps the enemies from getting behind me.  Second, when they end up in front, they tend to fly in the same direction attempting to get away and so they sit in front of you long enough to blast away and you can deal a ton of damage.  Third, if they fire a homing missile, it won’t hit me from behind because I’m constantly spinning, and for the ones in front, I’m either in good position to shoot them down or just keep flying up to dodge them.  It’s really the perfect strategy.  

Land softly, then hook the wire to stop.

The other gameplay modes I didn’t have much of a problem with.  Bombing runs are pretty straightforward even though they appear awkward initially.  You can tell by the animation frame of the fighter how low you will land your bombs, so it’s just a matter of learning the timing of aiming.  You will also need to swerve out of the way of enemy fire at the same time, but that sounds harder than it actually is.  At least after lots of practice.  Takeoff is super simple, and I eventually got the hang of landing pretty much every time.  Practice makes perfect, as they say.

The worst thing about this game is how long it is.  There are 12 missions in total, each one longer than the last.  And I mean longer in terms of both number of waypoints and number of targets in each waypoint.  The skirmishes themselves don’t get much more challenging, just more missiles and such to deal with.  It’s mostly more and more enemies to kill within the same time limits, fake difficulty at its finest.  My full playthrough covering every possible waypoint took nearly two and a half hours.  I didn’t realize you could skip sub-missions until after I had finished, and I wouldn’t have regardless, but two-plus hours of the same repeated gameplay is tedious, to say the least.  You only get a few lives and continues to get you through the game, but as long as the losses are occasional, you’ll be fine.  There is also a scoring system here complete with ranks for how many points you have scored across the missions.  I ended up with the Admiral rank, the second highest rank, despite completing every mission and sub-mission along the way.  I had 1,868,600 total points but needed 2,000,000 to get Fleet Admiral.  The scoring system is more nuanced than I would have expected and that is why I didn’t get the best rank.  It does not affect the ending in any way.

I would say this is a competent game that’s just not very fun.  Graphically, it looks okay.  There is good detail to the fighters in the landing and takeoff sequences.  The enemies you fight are distinct but kinda muddled looking.  The music is also just okay, filling up space.  There are no tunes during the first person areas, only the constant beeping of approaching homing missiles.  The other songs aren’t awful but not super catchy or fun either, probably because I got sick of them through the long play time.  The controls are responsive and easy to use, maybe a little bit cumbersome in first person but nothing too bad.  The gameplay is good enough, what you would expect out of a game like this, and there’s just a touch of variety along the way.  There’s nothing really bad here I would say, it’s just that this game is so boring.  It goes on way too long if you intend to see it through.  I play pretty late at night and I’m surprised I managed to stay awake during the entire game.  An hour of this would have been more manageable, and honestly still too long, but two and a half hours of this is just exhausting.  Hopefully this one ends up the worst of all the flight games.

#170 – Flight of the Intruder

#170 – Flight of the Intruder


#164 – Days of Thunder

Here we go ‘round the race driving track so early in the morning.

One of the few songs in the game is here!

To Beat: Finish 8 Races
To Complete: Win the Championship
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 8/16/20 – 9/27/20
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10
My Video: Days of Thunder Longplay

I can’t say if this is true of all NES racing games, but the ones I have played and beaten so far have been awfully hard.  Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge was surprisingly puzzle-like in configuring the car properly for top speed, and it also had a low threshold for failure that made the game very challenging.  Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing had more arcade style racing but required near perfection to post top times and win races.  That game also had randomness in the pit stops that often made good finishes next to impossible.  Days of Thunder has a pretty strong claim for being the hardest of these three games and was very close to earning a surprise 10/10 difficulty rating.  Read on to discover why this game is so hard and I had to do to clear it.

Days of Thunder was a Summer 1990 racing film.  It stars Tom Cruise, was directed by Tony Scott, and produced by both Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer.  Production on the film seemed troubled with many reported arguments between the director and producers on how certain scenes were shot.  As a result, the film went way over budget, coming it at around $55 million.  Despite all the issue involved, the movie ended up a financial success, grossing over $150 million worldwide, plus tens of millions more in rentals.  The film was received by mixed reviews critically.

Days of Thunder was adapted into a couple of video games.  The initial version was a PC release in 1990, developed by Argonaut Software and published by Mindscape.  This version was ported to many other computers, as well as the NES.  The NES version of Days of Thunder was released in October 1990.  This port was also published by Mindscape but was developed by Beam Software.  PAL versions were released in April 1991.  A Game Boy version also followed in 1992.  The 2nd Days of Thunder game was a PS3 and Xbox 360 release in 2011 for the 20th anniversary of the film.  This game had very few critical reviews, but of those it had it was received poorly.

You can pull right up to the front of the place.

The story of this game follows in line fairly well with the source material.  You play the role of Cole Trickle, a rookie driver who has never driven in stock car racing before.  Even still, he has his eyes on winning and winning big.  To win the championship, he will need to win many races including beating his rivals Rowdy Burns and Russ Wheeler, both characters from the film.  This game features an eight-race series with a leaderboard and you will need to perform very well if you expect to win.

The racing controls are very straightforward.  All races in this game are run on circular tracks driving counter-clockwise around the track.  You use the A button to accelerate and the B button to brake.  After accelerating you can let go of the A button and maintain speed without pressing anything.  Tap the B button to brake.  Once you initiate the brake, you will continue to slow down until you press A again.  Naturally, you will use Left and Right to turn.  The Select button pauses the game.  

While racing in this game takes place from behind the car, you still see different indicators about the car along the edges of the screen.  The top left shows your fuel gauge, nice and big.  The top right side shows which lap you are on, as well as either timings for qualifying or your position in the current race.  The two round meters are your speedometer and tachometer respectively.  The speedometer indicates how fast you are going, while the tachometer shows how many RPMs your engine is running.  You may notice during driving that your acceleration and braking most directly affect your tachometer.  The lower right shows a top down image of your car, with color coded damage and wear indicators.  You can see the condition of your tires, engine, and fuel tank.  Green is good, yellow means some wear, purple means significant wear, and red is extreme wear.  Condition is affected both by normal driving over time, as well as collisions with other drivers or the sides of the tracks.  Your driving performance is reduced once components begin to wear.

Before competing in each race, you must run qualifying laps first.  The first thing you’ll see is a top down overview of the racetrack along with a text scrawl at the bottom of the screen.  Move past this screen and you go directly into the action.  Each course requires you to drive four qualifying laps first.  The bottom text as the laps begin show you the target time you are trying to beat in any one lap of the four.  On the right side you will see your current lap timer as well as your best completed lap, which starts off at 0.  It turns out the lap you want to focus on the most is the second lap because the first lap begins with you not at top speed, and by the third lap you will start having tire wear which reduces your performance just enough to make a difference.  Your best lap determines where you begin the race.  Beat the target time to start in pole position, tie the target time to start second, and then you lose a place for every tenth of a second slower than that.  At worst, you’ll start the race in eighth place.

Just you and the track. Go fast!

Now that qualifying is finished, it’s time to race.  You will first see the same top down view as before, but also you see your starting position.  If you pay attention to the text on this screen, it will tell you how many laps the race is, which is very important to know.  Press Start to immediately begin the race.  Now the real fun begins as you try to handle the turns, weave around other drivers, and avoid collisions to keep your car in tip-top shape.  You earn points for completing each race that are reflected on the overall leaderboard.  The scores from 1st through 8th place are 175, 170, 165, 160, 155, 150, 146, and 142.  No matter how many cars are in the race, it seems you cannot do worse than 8th place if you finish the race.  If you are unable to finish the race, you get no points, which is disastrous.  There is also a 5 point bonus for leading any individual lap, as well as another 5 point bonus to the driver who led the most laps in the race.  The leaderboard is cumulative over all races.

Racing is tough, and sometimes you don’t drive all that well and finish poorly.  Eventually, your team and sponsors have had enough of bad driving and demand that you run additional time trials to prove your mettle.  If this happens, after a race you will receive a telegram expressing disappointment along with a goal time they want you to meet.  This part functions the same as qualifying, only the goal time is an average of your laps, not just the best lap.  If you average ahead of the goal time, they allow you to continue racing, but if you fail, it is Game Over and you must restart from the beginning.  This sequence can happen up to three times in the game with stricter goal times each time.  Poor enough racing to trigger this for a fourth time is automatic Game Over as well, though I never saw this scenario.

A unique, and frustrating feature of this game are what happens in the pit stops.  Pit lane appears on the left side just before the lap finishes.  You must slow down and drive left into pit lane.  Go too fast and you will drive right through, wasting time and putting you at risk if you are in a dire situation with the car.  In the pits, you can refuel, replace your tires, and repair your engine, but you must do so manually.  Upon entering, fresh tires and jacks are in position, as well as your crew members.  There are three roving crew members that handle tires, one dedicated refueler, and one dedicated engine mechanic.  One at a time you control the pit crew members, putting them into place and performing actions.  Press the B button to cycle between the pit crew members.  You control the flashing person directly with the D-pad.  Press the A button to perform a context-specific action.

Pit stop management can be super tedious.

Juggling all the pit crew members around to perform the actions you need while under the clock can absolutely make or break your race, so you need to have a plan and execute quickly.  Replacing the tires is the most complicated, time consuming, and necessary procedure.  First off, you need a person in front of the jack, then press A to lift up that side of the car.  Next, switch to another roving member, put them in front of the old tire, and press A to start replacing it.  You will do the same thing with the other tire while this is taking place.  The tire replacement happens completely without any further interaction, and the pit crew member automatically backs away when finished.  To complete this, you need the center person to unjack the car and set it back down.  Now if you need to replace the right side tires, which you most likely will do, you need to run those same members one at a time around the car to the opposite side and perform the same procedure as above.  The positioning in front of the jack and tires is very precise and they won’t do the work unless they are just in the right spot.  Crew members can also get stuck on the sides of the car while running around, adding to the frustration.  Refueling is more simple, just move the refueler to the right and press A to start fueling.  However, the car must be lowered on that side.  Similarly, move the mechanic to the left to start fixing the engine, however in this case the car must be raised on the right side to perform the repairs.  You will often want to do everything in the pits, and there is a flow to it once you do it enough.  You have to do it fast as the race keeps happening and you lose position the longer you spend in the pits.  The most effective pit stops with all repairs take between 18-22 seconds, often it ends up longer than that due to the controls.

Something special happens at the end of the game that lines up well with the events of the movie.  Before the final race, you receive a telegram that says Rowdy, the leaderboard champion, has suffered some serious injuries and cannot compete in the final race.  You have been asked to drive his car in his stead, presumably to allow him to remain sponsored or something like that.  For this final race, you will be driving his Mello Yello car.  This helps a lot because he won’t receive any points for the race, allowing you to come from behind and become the champion if you are also able to fend off Russ.  This also means for the duration of the game you only need to worry about maintaining second place overall.

Feels good to pull out in front!

Beating this game is one of those nebulous situations.  Just completing all the races is difficult enough, with the threat of getting kicked out for driving too poorly looming all the time.  But with a little practice, you can finish all the races and get an ending screen.  It turns out it is the same ending screen you get if you win the championship.  Does that make it a bad ending or a normal ending?  I suppose that is up for debate, though it is clear in my mind.  Considering it is a racing game, and that most of the other racers I’ve played on the NES require winning the title, that’s what I settled on here as well.  It doesn’t feel right to simply finish without being the best, plus there is a congratulations sequence for getting first place, an actual good ending.  Making this difficult is that this game has no continues or passwords whatsoever.  It is only 8 races, but there is little room for error over a full season.

This was my first time playing Days of Thunder.  I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but I don’t care for racing games at all, and also I never saw this movie.  This is one of those cheap, filler NES games that is not super common but easy to come across eventually in a game lot, for instance.  The one thing I did remember about my time from testing my cart was that the track animation as you are driving looks really nice.  That was my only memory of this game.

This game works against the player in several ways.  The driving mechanics seem straightforward enough.  You don’t have to hold A the entire time and slowing down in the curves is a matter of tapping B to slow down a bit and tapping A to maintain speed.  If you do it correctly, by holding left throughout the turn and starting low, you should move slightly toward the outside and finish the curve near the edge without touching the outside wall.  This is the standard technique that you will do over and over.  Navigating around the cars while doing this isn’t too bad, until you get to Rowdy in 1st and Russ in 2nd.  Their AI is different than all the other drivers.  Russ in particular is really a jerk as he always moves to get in front of you.  Rowdy tries to do the same but always holds the line in the curves, giving you a little more room to get around him.  There isn’t much room to squeak by them, so you need to get in close and sort of slingshot around them without touching them.  Any kind of bumping will add extra wear to your tires, and what’s worse is that if your fuel tank or engine gets degraded at all, there’s really nothing you can do to advance until you pit.  Pitting pretty much always loses you position even if you are on top of your game.  And that’s another thing, planning out when you should pit is also important.  Usually you will need to pit twice per race and you need to space them out as much as possible so as to keep in good running shape while also properly managing fuel usage.  Running out of fuel is a lost race and an automatic reset if you are set on winning the title.

It can feel hopeless attempting to pass your rivals.

My trajectory through this game to completion was about what you might expect.  I didn’t get very far for the first couple nights, struggling through pit stops and ending with poor results.  You can get decently far into the game even when you drive badly; the third time trial is really tough without proper seasoning but it takes several races to trigger that.  Within a few days I was able to finish 3rd in a lot of the races, enough to get through the game 2nd overall due to Rowdy dropping out.  This is where I stalled out for a long time.  I was always losing ground in the turns but couldn’t get the hang of taking them properly.  I spent one entire night grinding the first track just to see what kind of edge I could find, ultimately finding nothing.  After 10 hours total and over half of that with no progress, I decided to research proper strategies, and the answer was pretty simple.  I needed to start braking before the turn, not into the turn.  You don’t need to brake that much, just a little bit slower going into the turn and I took the whole thing at a higher speed than I was before.  Before I could do turns with the tachometer pointed between 3 and 4, now I could have it pointed at the 5 and still handle the turns perfectly.  This was the edge I needed.  Now I can get right behind the lead car just before the turn starts, and then whip around the outside and get in front.  On my winning attempt, I was able to win both of the first two races, setting the pace.  I didn’t do nearly as well from then on, even a 5th place finish in there, but by the end I edged out Russ by only five points on the board.  It was a hard fought victory for sure.

In early to mid-2020, the Video Game History Foundation acquired development materials from the late Chris Oberth, such as old computers and floppy disks.  Among these items was the source code for a completely different NES version of Days of Thunder that had never saw that light of day.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of these video game preservationists, the source code was compiled, and they managed to create a working build of this long lost title.  You can watch a gameplay video right here, the source code has been made public, and you can find a downloadable ROM floating around the Internet.  This version of the game features qualifying laps in the first-person perspective, with races taking place in a side view.  The pit stop mechanics are also different but do carry over the “do it yourself” feel from the released version.  I am so glad that things like this are still being found today.

While it’s no surprise that I was less than thrilled about playing this game, I can definitely respect the work that went into making it.  The graphics in this game are well done.  The way the track redraws as you approach curves really gives the game a sense of depth, done in a different way than other racers.  The music, like many racing games, is all sound effects during the races, but the smaller tunes in between parts sound good.  The game controls well during the actual racing and the driving feels right.  The controls during the pit stops are both finicky and challenging, not in a good way.  This is what sets this game apart, but also what leads to frustration and guaranteed time loss no matter how efficient you are.  That part could have been improved for certain.  Having no password or retry system really pushes the difficulty near the max.  As far as movie adaptations goes, this one is just fine.  I think it has some good qualities as a racing game.  I am happy this one is in my rearview mirror.

#164 – Days of Thunder


#114 – Dirty Harry

Go ahead, make my day.

There’s another title screen but this is clearly the better one.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 2/8/19 – 2/23/19
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Dirty Harry Longplay

Dirty Harry shares something in common with Gilligan’s Island. Trust me, these are comparisons I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be making on this blog. Nevertheless, this is a trivial one at best. One of the dates on Dirty Harry’s copyright screen is 1971, the year the film came out. It is the second earliest year displayed on an NES game that I’ve seen so far, several years after Gilligan’s Island’s 1964 debut. While Gilligan’s Island is still a weird choice for an NES game, Dirty Harry was timelier at least and would seem to make for a decent game. In reality, the game is at best passable.

Clint Eastwood stars in the film Dirty Harry. It was released in 1971 and was produced and directed by Don Siegel. It follows the story of inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department as he tracks down a killer named Scorpio. The movie was both a critical and financial success and is regarded as one of the best movies of 1971. There were four Dirty Harry sequels: Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool. The final film released in 1988, which is inside the NES life span and could explain why an NES Dirty Harry game was made.

Dirty Harry on NES was released in December 1990 in North America only. It is sometimes referred to as Dirty Harry: The War Against Drugs though I cannot figure out where that subtitle originated from. It is not listed in any of the packaging, manual, or screens within the game. Dirty Harry was developed by Gray Matter and published by Mindscape.

Punching thugs in the streets like a boss

The game has a unique story from any of the other Dirty Harry films, though there are scenes borrowed from some of the movies for this game. The Anaconda is a new drug kingpin hailing from Colombia who has taken out The Dealmaker, the most successful criminal in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Anaconda is also taking over all the drug gangs in the city and killing anyone else who stands in his way. Not to be deterred by the police chief, Harry Callahan sets off on a mission to find and capture the Anaconda. The game takes place over three stages: The city streets, the waterfront docks, and Alcatraz Island. If you can capture The Anaconda on Alcatraz, you win the game.

Dirty Harry is a side-scrolling platformer. The controls for this one are a little clumsy. Use the D-pad to move around as usual. Up lets you climb ladders, enter doors, and walk up alleyways. Down does the same thing under or in front of you, otherwise you use Down to crouch. The B button punches. If you hold Up and press B, you kick instead. The A button is used for your gun. First press A to hold out and aim your gun, then press A again to shoot. Firing only work if you have both feet on the ground. You can press Up and Down to adjust the angle of your gun prior to firing. To jump you have to press A and B together. It sounds bad, and it’s not the best control, but jumping is surprisingly responsive. You can either jump straight up and down or jump forward at a fixed distance.

Press Start to pause the game and bring up the inventory screen. The top row of items are selectable with Left and Right. Put the cursor over the item you want and unpause to equip that item. Some items can only be used in certain situations and you default to the gun if that item can’t be used. If you run out of bullets, you can still hold out the gun but cannot fire. The second row of items cannot be selected and are used automatically as needed. Following the items are your score, health meter, and number of lives remaining.

Cops stroll on fire escapes in alleyways all the time.

You will spend most of your time in the first level if you are playing this game. The game starts out in the city streets. The layout here is parallel city streets connected by alleyways or sometimes doorways. For example, you start on one street, then you can go down the alley to another screen, and finally go out the alleyway on the other side onto a different street. All of these sections are side scrolling and there’s no map or compass to guide you. You must also enter buildings. Inside buildings, there are doorways and hallways you move through. Sometimes you can exit a building from the opposite side onto a different street. Other times there might be side doors that lead back into an alley. There is also a sewer system. These are side-scrolling sections with several different entry points on the streets. Passageways are typically blocked off by sewer grates and you have to locate switches to open them up so you can pass. The description here doesn’t really do justice on how tough this level is to navigate.

The buildings are where you find most of the items in this game. Once you enter through a hallway door, the rooms within are purely side-scrolling with no depth or other exits aside from the opposite end of the room. Some rooms have boxes in the background or on the floor. Kick the boxes in the background to break them and collect their contents. You can open boxes on the floor by jumping on top of them. There are also safes that can only be busted by blowing them up with explosives.

There are many items to collect. You can find bullets for your gun, either a small pack of 10 bullets or a large pack of 25 bullets, which is the max Dirty Harry can hold. Plastic explosives blow up safes. Select the explosive and then press A to set one up that explodes shortly after. You can also hurt enemies with these. Chili dogs restore half of your health meter and you get a little eating animation to go with it. The harpoon gun and missile launcher are powerful firing weapons that have limited ammo. Grappling hooks are used for swinging over treacherous areas. Bulletproof vests absorb enemy bullets for a while. The gas mask lets you survive in poisonous rooms. The flashlight lets you see while exploring the sewers. Crowbars are used to open locked doors within the buildings. You can find money bags or stashes of drugs that you confiscate for points. You can also find badges for extra lives that are sure to come in handy.

Sewers are merely door mazes with poison, shocks, and death water.

With all the ways you can go, the first stage is one gigantic maze. The city streets often have large walls that are too high to jump over. Sometimes you can do some platforming across ledges high enough where you can cross over the walls. There is some honest-to-goodness level design here where you need to plan out your movements so that you don’t fall. Since jump distance is fixed, you can get a feel for what you can do and it will always be consistent. The problem is there are some sections of forced high ground traversal where if you fall, you have to backtrack through the city to get back to where you were. It’s laughably easy to get lost when everything kind of looks the same.

There are many enemies in this game and they are all out to get you. Gang members run the streets and roam the halls. Some bad guys hang out on the rooftops and throw out grenades, bricks, or nets that trap you. Some just go straight to shooting. Enemies pour out of windows and bash you with punches or pipes. There can only be I think two enemies on the ground at once, but when you defeat them they will keep appearing. Buildings have huge snakes that guard drugs and money. You can jump on them to either stun them or kill them; the outcome seems to be random. Some rooms have lasers sliding across the floor. The sewers also have traps such as dripping sewer sludge, electric shocks, giant rats and cockroaches, and even remote-controlled cars. Falling into sewer water is instant death. All of these dangers are just in the first stage alone, though you will see other similar threats in the other two stages.

Dirty Harry faces several bosses in this game. Many of them are really large people that pack a lot of firepower. Usually you need to use your best weapons to take them out most effectively. Some of them require different tactics where you need to either trap them somehow or figure out how to pierce their defenses. There can be more than one boss in a level, so you can’t really tell from those encounters that you are at the end of the level. A good thing is that many defeated bosses give you three lives for winning.

This is one large guy!

Levels 2 and 3 are, thankfully, more straightforward affairs. There’s little exploration but more challenging enemies and tricky platforming. In the first level, you get nearly all your items from inside the buildings. After that, you don’t go into buildings any more, so sometimes defeated enemies will give you items. The item drops appear to be scripted and sometimes you can use that to your advantage.

Dirty Harry includes a password feature and continues. The passwords are five characters long A-Z. In this game you only receive two passwords that are simple words that are easy to remember. There is a third password I’ve found online that I believe gives you unlimited lives. I didn’t use it, but I found it easily just by doing some basic research on this game. If you’re not into passwords, some continues might help. The system in this game is a little weird. In the first stage only, you can continue up to three times with a fresh set of lives. You continue exactly from where you died if you ran out of health. In the other two levels, you are only given one continue. It doesn’t matter if you survive the first level with all continues intact or use them all up. Continues do refresh your gun ammo back to the maximum.

This was my first time playing Dirty Harry. Surprise, surprise, I haven’t seen any of the movies either. I’m sure I would like them if I ever gave them the chance. This is not an expensive game but is not commonly found either. It costs around $6-$8. I believe my collection copy is the only one I’ve owned, though I have seen it in stores on occasion.

As you could imagine, I spent most of my time figuring out the first stage. It is truly a nightmarish level. There are loops in the map that I had to take several times before I realized I was just retracing my steps. It’s not clear right away that you have to do platforming without falling on some streets to reach new areas. The sewer system is confusing and complicated with all the traps and switches you need to find. I couldn’t figure out one of the bosses and had to look up the solution online. I normally hate doing that but I’m glad I did here. I spent maybe a week and a half of playing before I learned how to clear the level. Things proceeded much more quickly after that. I beat the second level in about 30 minutes. The last level was pretty challenging but I beat it in a couple of days anyway.

Other levels are straightforward, except for this part.

There are some really bad design choices in the first level alone that are sure to turn people off of the game. Some people will hate the forced platforming sections, but I like them. I think it is one of the few elements of the game that has real design to it. They are a lot like jumping puzzles and you have to reason your way through the jumps. What I don’t like is falling down and having to backtrack because those sections always lock you away so that you just can’t go back directly and retry. You also get to cope with enemies that are trying to knock you down. A particularly egregious example of this is at the end of the first stage. There is a large expanse you must cross by hand-walking your way across a power line. Enemies are shooting at you and one bullet knocks you down. For a large portion of that section, if you fall the only way out is through the sewers. There you are led down into a one-way section that puts you all the way back to the start of the level. It takes at least five minutes of real time to backtrack to where you can try again, plus you will likely lose several lives along the way. It’s complete trash, but not as trash as the “ha ha ha” room. One building contains a room with the words “ha ha ha” written on the side. The room doesn’t contain an exit door so once you go in you are stuck. The only way out is to reset the console and start over. This room is deep in the level too. I can’t tell if maybe this was a default room and the developers neglected to link the door to an actual room, or if the developers left this in as a dumb joke. I tend to believe the latter, but who knows?

I ended up beating Dirty Harry four times. I realize this is way too many times to beat this game, but I have my reasons. The first time was playing normally, and right after that I beat the game from the start just to see how I would fare in a complete run. I started doing a little research and discovered a claim about a secret ending that was eluded to in both this FAQ and the game manual. From what I gathered, the idea is that if you recover all the items in the game, you will receive a special medal from the police chief at the end. I haven’t found any further evidence and didn’t find a video of said ending, but I had to give it a try for myself. My third time through the game was a failed attempt at the best ending. I used a map I found to make sure I didn’t miss any of the buildings in the first stage, which did lead to some rooms I missed on my own, but it wasn’t enough. I even tried poking at the game on an emulator with a debugger to see if I could discover anything and got nowhere. Chalk this one up to a rumor I suppose. The fourth time through was for finally recording a proper longplay video. I thought I would try cutting straight to the chase in the first level and that was a bad idea. I skipped a bunch of items and lives, and then due to some bad mistakes in the run I ran out of lives. I needed to start the final level over a few times before I could beat it with the password. It’s not my best effort, but it’s a documented completion at least which is always my goal.

I’m sure the Dirty Harry movies are great, but this game is not very good. The graphics are passable with a lot of samey-looking buildings. Some of the building residents are interesting looking, and I dig the security lasers in the buildings, so it’s not all bad. The music has some decent depth to it, though the base sounds are so low that I barely heard them while playing with a relatively low volume. The controls work okay. I’m not a fan of two-button jumping but it works fine. I found the controls a little bit sluggish at times, like when pointing and firing weapons. The gameplay is challenging but not in a good way. The forced backtracking when making mistakes is bad, you can easily get trapped between two enemies and get knocked around, and the navigation around the city is both confusing and frustrating. I sort of appreciate the jumping puzzles centered around Dirty Harry’s fixed jump length, but I reckon it is more of an inconvenience for many players. For all the warts this game has, the ending is unique and was one of the neatest parts of the entire game. Even then, it’s not exactly a suitable award for putting up with the difficulties of playing Dirty Harry.

#114 – Dirty Harry


#109 – The Terminator

I’ll be back.

You’re missing the whole three frames of zooming out.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/17/18 – 12/19/18
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
My Video: The Terminator Longplay

I wasn’t actually supposed to play The Terminator yet.  I had a different game scheduled for this slot that I could not get running on my AVS.  It was a weird case where I could get the game to play on a stock console but not the AVS.  That’s what I use to help record my longplays, so not having it playable there was a temporary dealbreaker.  I skipped ahead one game to The Terminator, which conveniently puts it right next to RoboCop, another 1980’s gritty action film franchise that is tied together through the RoboCop vs. the Terminator series.  RoboCop did well enough in its conversion to the NES, so let’s see how The Terminator fared.

The Terminator film was released in 1984.  It was the first major film both directed and written by James Cameron.  The movie is about a cyborg sent from 2029 back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor.  The future intelligence network known as Skynet plans to initiate a nuclear holocaust but would be foiled by John Connor, Sarah’s son.  A Resistance soldier, Kyle Reese, also goes back to 1984 to save Sarah from the Terminator so that John can be born and eventually lead the Resistance to victory.  The movie was made on a small budget with little hope for success, but the reception was positive and the film was a financial success.  The Terminator became a franchise, spawning five feature films with a sixth movie slated for 2019, many comic books, and a television series.  Of course, there have been many video games based on the series and franchise.

There were several games based on the first Terminator movie.  Sunsoft was set to create the first Terminator video game for the NES, but the license expired before the game was finished.  Sunsoft would go on to retool and release the game anyway as Journey to Silius.  The first Terminator video game was an action-adventure game on DOS in 1991.  There were later games on the SNES, Sega Genesis, and Sega CD.  The NES version was released in December 1992, created by Radical Entertainment and published by Mindscape.  The game had a PAL release also in 1992.

The future is so slimy.

The Terminator on NES more or less follows the plot of the movie.  You play as Kyle Reese, the resistance soldier from 2029 on a mission to save Sarah Connor from the Terminator.  You go through several missions.  You start in 2029, then you go back to 1984 and find Sarah, then you escape from the Terminator, and finally head into a factory where The Terminator is destroyed.  There are six missions total and you beat the game once all are finished.

The Terminator is a side-scrolling action platformer, mostly.  There are a couple different modes of play that appear periodically in the game, so the controls vary as well.  The platforming sections where you play as Kyle usually have the same controls.  You use the D-pad to move around.  This is a game where the B button is used for jumping.  When standing still you do a taller jump than when you are moving, and there is also a slight animation that occurs before you go airborne.  The A button uses weapons, which are typically either punches or kicks but can be guns, grenades, etc.  You can press Select to switch between weapons.  There is an icon at the top that shows which weapon is active, along with any required ammo.  The Start button pauses the game.

Sometimes there are items on the ground that you can pick up.  Just like in RoboCop, you have to stand over them and press Down to duck and pick them up.  Mostly you will find hearts that restore some of your health.  You can also find pickups like grenades or other special items that are stage specific.  Enemies don’t drop these so you have to keep an eye out in the stages.

Wow! Two grenades!

The first stage has some unique considerations from most of the other stages.  Kyle Reese starts out with a machine gun when he is in 2029.  Press and hold A to fire the gun.  You will automatically squat down before letting off firepower, so like with jumping you have to allow time for the animation to complete.  Bullets are unlimited.  While holding A to fire, you can press Up or Down to aim your gun at a different angle.  You also get grenades for use on distant targets.  First Select the grenades, then press A to lob them.  The longer you hold A, the farther you throw.

Near the end of the level, you have to hop in a pickup truck and avoid attacks from Skynet as you approach the base to time travel.  This is an auto-scrolling segment moving to the left.  Press Left to speed up and Right to slow down.  The truck is equipped with a gun and you can adjust its angle by pressing Up and Down.  The A button fires the gun.

The second level puts you in 1984 without any of your equipment you had in 2029.  You have to rely on punches and kicks to make it through, in fact you are stuck without a gun or grenades for the rest of the game.  Press Select to choose which weapon you want and press A to attack.  You also find baseballs in this stage alone that you can throw to ward off enemy dogs.  They don’t do damage but act as a distraction.

In Levels 3 and 5, instead of traveling on foot you drive vehicles.  Unlike the truck section in Stage 1, these are top-down driving sections.  You use the D-pad to steer your vehicle Left and Right.  Press Up to speed up and press Down to slow down.  These are looping stages and all you have to do is travel far enough to eventually end the stage.  There is a counter on screen that shows how much further you have to go.  When it reaches zero, the level is complete.  Of course, you will be pursued by the Terminator in a vehicle of his own.  You take damage when he bumps you or shoots you.  You can fire back if you want for points, even though I don’t think it slows him down any.  Press B to fire to the left and press A to fire to the right.

I was surprised to see driving in this game.

You begin the game with two extra lives.  Falling off the stage or running out of health costs you a life.  When you run out of lives, it’s Game Over and there are no continues to bail you out.  The only way to earn extra lives is through scoring.  You get a new life every 50,000 points.  Scoring is slow enough where you will only gain a life or two through casual play.  Every little bit helps with this one.

This was my first time playing through The Terminator.  I didn’t mention it up above, but this is one movie I have actually seen.  I haven’t watched all of The Terminator films but I think I have seen the first three or four.  This was one of the first NES games I picked up in the summer of 2013 when I decided to get back into NES collecting for good.  It was in the same lot of games where I got Alien 3.  Each game averaged out to $5 in that purchase, which is much better than the $20-$25 a Terminator cart will cost today.

This game has a reputation for being difficult.  One review I read said the game is impossible.  It is a difficult game but not nearly as bad as it was made out to be.  After all, I completed it for the first time after three days of playing.  I can see where that impression comes from just from the first level alone.  I’m confident that the first stage is the hardest part of the whole game.  First things first, you have to cope with the jumping.  The collision detection is pretty bad.  You have a large character sprite and the exact bottom-center pixel of the character is where you need to touch a ledge in order to land on it.  Inevitably you will miss ledges and fall to your death.  Furthermore, you are pursued by enemies that appear at random and can knock you down or drain your health fast.  You have to allow time to get your gun out, and the grenades are both limited and difficult to aim properly.  Early in the stage you have to navigate some small conveyor belts with these enemies, and you can fall off into the pit while you have your gun out firing.

This truck part is just awful.

All that is just the first half of the stage.  The rest of it is even worse.  At the top level, you first need to jump across moving platforms that inhibit and influence your jumping in unexpected ways depending on which direction they are moving.  Later are these ankle-biting turrets.  Some you can duck under and fire, while others are too low to handle that way.  You can take them out with grenades and the tricky aiming.  Or you can go toe-to-toe with them with your gun and lose a bunch of health in the process.  If you survive that, then you have to do the truck section.  I can’t for the life of me figure out how to dodge the attacks from above.  Since you can’t jump here, you have to rely on changing speeds to dodge.  The terrain is hilly and you are always bouncing around and can’t reliably aim your gun.  It’s really tough and I got stopped here my first day after many tries.  Survive that part, and you have to outrun another machine with the truck.  I don’t believe it is possible to dodge this at all; I survived through attrition.  You would think that would be the end of the stage, but nope, there is one more platforming section.  This features retractable spikes and platforming across single tile ledges with pits underneath.  This is where the collision detection flaws are most evident.  This game was not designed for precision jumping but you have to do it anyway several times over.  You are also limited on lives since you’ll probably lose at least one life just getting this far.  While not super easy, the game lets up a lot after beating this stage.

There’s one trick that really helped me figure out this game.  I learned it from the Angry Video Game Nerd in his The Terminator review.  There’s a great spot in the first stage where you can camp out with your gun and defeat unlimited enemies without suffering any damage.  Get set up properly and hold down the A button to rack up the points and lives.  I know this was deliberate and I don’t know why, but you max out at only six extra lives.  It takes about two to three minutes per extra life and it gets tiring to hold the button down for the ten or fifteen minutes needed to grind.  The Nerd used a monkey wrench and clamped down the A button on his controller instead.  I am not a handy guy at all, but I do have a monkey wrench, though I have no idea where I left it.  I improvised by finding something heavy and stable enough to set down on top of the controller to keep the button pressed.  Having six lives each attempt gave me the leeway I needed to learn the rest of the game quickly.

The Terminator also features a door maze with cops.

By the time I beat the game initially, at best I could get through the whole game with only losing two lives.  I spent one in the truck part of Stage 1 and another in the driving portion of Stage 5.  Playing normally without grinding gave me enough points for two extra lives, so I had a couple extra to spare anywhere else just in case.  While recording my longplay video, I died both in Stage 1 and Stage 5 as expected.  I burned one spare life in the final stage, giving me a somewhat comfortable win.  Once you know what to do, the game is short.  I finished my playthrough in about 20 minutes, which is about half the time it would take if I needed to grind for lives.

The Terminator is a lackluster NES game.  The character graphics in-game are kind of dopey looking.  The environments look just okay.  The best graphics are the digitized character portraits between the stages.  The music and sound effects are bland where they exist at all.  The controls are okay and you can get used to the floaty jumping.  However, the poor collision detection makes the already loose controls much more difficult to manage.  The vehicle sections, while a nice break from the platforming, are not that interesting or involved.  The high level of difficulty right out of the gate is a big turn off as well, and no continues and few lives mean you may not be spending much time with this game.  As far as Robocop vs. Terminator is concerned, on the NES, Robocop wins in a landslide.

#109 – The Terminator


#93 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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

The top title text is usually cut off on old TVs

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

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

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

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

Whip it, whip it good!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come along for a ride.

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

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

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

Whipping guards into lava seems excessive.

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

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

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

Building your own lava bridge is excruciating.

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

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

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

This just gets ridiculous.

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

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

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

Identifying the hidden exit is a huge relief.

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

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

#93 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


#87 – RoadBlasters

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

Pretty nice tune here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orange cars sometimes leave behind fuel pickups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It gets tense when fuel is running low.

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

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

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

#87 – RoadBlasters

#87 – RoadBlasters (1,953,567 Points)


#77 – Roundball: 2-on-2 Challenge

The name pretty well sums it up, save the “challenge.”

Another very highly detailed title screen!

To Beat: Win the Tournament (3 rounds)
Played: 3/6/18
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Roundball: 2-on-2 Challenge Tournament Longplay

It has been some time since I played a sports game! Roundball 2-on-2 Challenge is the first basketball game covered on this site. I don’t care for most sports video games and the NES is just littered with them. Maybe you like basketball more than I do, and if so you might know the answer to this question. How many NES basketball games are there? I spent five minutes thinking about it and I came up with six games. There are ten basketball games on the console, and I’m surprised I didn’t think of so many of them. I guess we are going to find out which ones are good and which ones are truly forgettable. For now, Roundball may have been a decent introduction to the genre on NES, but let’s reach in and see how it stacks up.

Roundball: 2-on-2 Challenge was developed by Park Place Productions and published by Mindscape. It was released in North America in May 1992 and was also brought to Europe in 1992. It’s an NES exclusive. Park Place Productions was a short-lived company that primarily developed sports games. This was their only NES release. Mindscape, on the other hand, is one of the bigger publishers on the NES with 24 titles. This is their second release that I have beaten for this project.

Roundball is a basketball game played on a half-court. As the title suggests, games are meant to be played two-on-two. You can choose to play one-on-one instead if you want and there are a bunch of customization options for structuring a match the way you want. There is also a roster of 24 fictitious players to choose from, each with his own stats and named after one of the developers. The two main modes are Exhibition and Tournament. To beat the game, you must win the tournament. Rounds of the tournament are the Semi-Finals, Finals, and Championship. You only have to win three total matches to win the tournament.

Look at all the options!

The main menu contains several different options for customization. You will see a box on the left containing the options, and then the box on the right will display the choices for that option. Press Up or Down to scroll through the options. Pick an option and press Right to point to the choices panel. Press Up or Down to select your choice and then press A to lock in it. This moves the cursor back over to the options window and also writes down your selection at the bottom of the screen. When you are done, press Start to advance to player selection.

Here are the options you can pick from. Team Size lets you pick between either a one-on-one or two-on-two game. Players lets you pick from one to four human players. This game supports the NES Four Score for a full four-player game. The Teammates option is for a two-player game only to decide if you want the two players on the same team or on different teams. Mode is for selecting either Exhibition or Tournament modes. Steals lets you decide both your effectiveness at stealing the ball and the opponent’s effectiveness at stealing from you. You can pick from Easy, Normal, or Hard. Time lets you choose how long each quarter of the game is. You can pick from 4, 8, 12, or 16 minute quarters. Outs means who gets the ball after a basket, either the team the made it or the other team. The Control option is for single player only with a two-on-two team size. Primary means on offense you always control the teammate holding the ball. Same Guy means you always control the same player the entire game.

The player selection menu differs if you are playing either Exhibition or Tournament mode. For Exhibition mode, you can pick from any of the 24 players. Highlight the player you want and he will appear on the left side of the screen. You see the player’s portrait and his associated statistics. The first three stats are percentages. 3PT is for three-points shots, FG means field goals, and FT is for free throws. The remaining five stats are all per-game average numbers. RBD are rebounds, STL are steals, BLK are blocks, AST are assists, and PF are personal fouls. The bottom part of the screen shows already chosen players as well as which person is making their selection currently. You may pick a player with A or assume the default player with Start.

Hanson is a great player in this game.

If you chose Tournament mode, first you have to pick if you want to start a new tournament with A or resume a previous tournament with B. If you press B, you go to the password screen. Passwords are only three characters, nice and short. It also seems a little unnecessary since there are only three tournament matches anyway. You can also cancel out of the screen if you don’t have a valid password. Then you proceed to the team selection screen. There are eight preset teams to choose from. You may also highlight an individual player in the menu and view his stats. The same rules for selecting players also apply here.

Before starting a game, you have to shoot for outs. Each team has one player stand behind the three-point line and take a shot. To shoot the ball, hold down A to jump and let go to release the ball. You want to shoot the ball at the top of the jump to get the best chance of scoring. Then the opposing player makes his shot. The player who makes a shot while the other misses gets the ball first. If there are too many ties eventually the computer decides who gets the ball. I didn’t win outs in any of the games I played.

Now the game starts for real. On the gameplay screen, the score for each side is displayed at the top. Standard NBA scoring applies here, so two points are scored on a shot from the field, three points if made beyond the three-point line, and one point for a successful free throw. The bottom of the screen shows the rest of the details. First is the shot clock, which is how many seconds you can maintain possession. Next to that is the time remaining in the period. The period indicator shows which quarter of the game you are playing, and the ball handler is the name of the player currently holding the ball.

I don’t understand why I missed this shot.

There are several things you can do while on offense. Use the D-pad to run around the court. Press A to shoot the ball, just like when shooting for outs. If you are moving near the basket and press A, you’ll do a layup. You will actually perform one of several kinds of dunks or layups automatically just for show. Press the B button to pass the ball to your teammate in a two-on-two game. You can pass the ball while taking a shot if you press B while you are still holding the ball. The Start button pauses the game. When paused you can press Select to toggle the music on and off. There are also pre-set plays you can use during the action by holding Select and pressing a direction on the D-pad. Up clears the forward away from the defender, Right sets up a pick play, Down puts both players under the basket, and Left puts both players in three-point range.

There are fewer actions for playing defense. The most common action is attempting to steal. Rapidly tap the A button when you are near the ball and you might steal it away. If you press the A button and hold it a bit, you will jump and try to block the ball. You can block a shot from the field or underneath the basket. Press the B button to switch control to the other defender. You can also try and rebound the ball if the opponent misses a shot. When you get the ball back, you aren’t allowed to score until you first take the ball past the top of the key. If you fail to do this and try and shoot anyway, the game yells at you to “take it back!” It’s considered time out until you take the ball out.

The referee may call fouls in this game and a player will go to the line to shoot free throws. This takes place from the perspective of behind the backboard. There will be a white cursor that jiggles around near the basket and you want to press A to shoot when the cursor is over the basket. After free throws are completed, play resumes as normal.

The free throw perspective is quite nice.

At the end of each quarter, a detailed stats screen is displayed. It shows stats for every player both for the last quarter and the full game thus far. You’ll see number of field goals made, number of steals, number of rebounds, and so on. It’s a nice touch, but it’s a little bit of information overload and the stats don’t persist after the game is over.

This was my first time playing Roundball. I don’t even remember trying it. Maybe I didn’t make it through the menu. It’s not a rare game, but it’s not one I see around often. I’m pretty sure I bought my copy from a nearby game store. It sells for around $8 to $10 now, which sounds about right for this kind of game.

Just like I did with my last game, The Rocketeer, I tried this one out very early in the morning and went ahead and beat it later that night. I started by playing an exhibition match with the default settings, and I ended up winning by something like 90 points. I imagined I wouldn’t have too much trouble with the tournament, and I was right. I did notice that the competition got better in the later rounds of the tournament, but I was never close to losing any of the three rounds. I won 180-82, 195-116, and 177-134 and got the simple ending screen I wanted.

Rinse and repeat.

I don’t think that Roundball is necessarily an easy game, but it sure is exploitable. The first thing I decided was that I wanted to find the player with the best three-point shooting. I also wanted a player good at stealing. This is because it’s one of the few defensive moves you can do and there’s even a setting controlling stealing success, which leads me to believe it’s one of the more important features in the game. The best players between those two stats are Hanson and Lyndon. In the tournament, you can’t have them on the same team, so I went with the team Hanson and Belanger, a solid player in his own right. On offense, I only shot threes. On defense, I tried stealing every chance I got and tried to rebound any missed shots. That strategy alone gave me comfortable wins in each match. It makes me wonder if the other basketball games have similar strategies, at least offensively.

The rest of the game isn’t all that thrilling. It’s a slow-paced game, especially the timer. When it says four-minute quarters, that’s a reasonably accurate time in the real world. When playing it feels even longer. I can’t imagine sitting through sixteen-minute quarters, so I didn’t. I’m confident I would have been successful no matter how long the games took. The other things slow are layups. Each opponent almost exclusively did layups and I had to wait for him to take his time making each shot. Fouls slowed the game down too, but that’s part of the game and they didn’t happen too often anyway. Aside from the timer, my other major issue was defense. When stealing didn’t work, my opponent could drive to the basket and there was nothing I could do about it besides sit back and watch. Roundball has its problems, but I can look past them because I had little trouble beating it.

For my first basketball game, I think I did okay with Roundball. A four-player basketball game makes sense with managing NES sprite limitations, and four player games are few and far between on the NES anyway. The graphics aren’t too bad, and the voice samples are very clear to hear. I got tired of hearing “take it back!” all the time though. The music is decent but unmemorable. The game controls fine, except for maybe having to hold down A to block. Most importantly, the game was easy to beat with a sensible approach that was simple to pull off. That’s the kind of game I can get behind for this project. I wouldn’t recommend playing it otherwise. I’m willing to bet I will play some better NES basketball games before this is all said and done.

#77 – Roundball: 2-on-2 Challenge


#40 – Paperboy

Delivering the fun!

The newspaper title screen was a great choice!

To Beat: Complete Sunday to reach the ending
Played: 11/28/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Paperboy Longplay

Today we have another arcade conversion on the NES. These types of ports tend to have varying quality, but I see Paperboy on NES as a well done game. It may not be the definitive version of the game, but I do think that the game is best known on the NES. It is still a popular title today and a fun game to pick up and play anytime.

Paperboy was released in the arcades in 1985. It was both developed and published by Atari Games. The arcade game is housed in an upright cabinet that features a set of handlebars used to control the game. The game was ported to almost twenty different computers, home consoles, and handhelds. The NES port of Paperboy was released in November 1988 and published by Mindscape. There are two sequels to the game. The first is the aptly named Paperboy 2 which debuted in 1991 on home consoles including the NES. The second is the Nintendo 64 game also called Paperboy. There have also been several re-releases of the original Paperboy on systems such as the Game Boy Color, Playstation 2, Xbox 360, and mobile.

In Paperboy, you play the role of a young boy making the rounds on a daily paper route. The object of the game is to deliver newspapers to a series of homes on a two-block street using his trusty bicycle to ensure the deliveries are made in time. There is only one level in the game but you repeat it for every day of the week, which makes for seven levels in total. You win the game if you survive a week’s worth of newspaper delivery.

Get used to this street because you will see it a lot.

When you start the game you see an overhead map of the street. One at a time, blue homes will appear in random locations on the left side of the street. These are subscribers to the newspaper. The remaining spaces on the map are filled in with red houses representing non-subscribers. Logically, you want to deliver papers to the subscribers and ignore the non-subscribers.

The controls are very simple. Use the D-Pad to steer your bike. You can go left and right, speed up by pressing Up, and brake by pressing Down. You can grind and squeal your brakes all you want, but you cannot come to a complete stop and must always keep moving ahead. You toss newspapers with either the A button or B button. The Start button pauses the game, and the Select button only comes into play on the title screen for choosing either 1 Player or 2 Player mode. Multiplayer in Paperboy is alternating play.

The game utilizes an oblique perspective in gameplay which is not often seen. It resembles a three-quarters view a little bit. The street you are riding travels upward while slanting to the right, and the playfield scrolls in that same direction. The houses are all modeled in this view giving them a pseudo-3D appearance. The graphics may not be mindblowing, but they are both presentable and suitable for this game.

As stated above, the objective each day is to deliver papers to subscribers. While the subscriber houses appear blue on the introductory map, during gameplay they are either white, blue, or yellow. The non-subscriber homes are always red, so just by color it is easy to tell if you should deliver a paper to a home. To successfully deliver a paper, you must throw it and land it either at the front door or in the mailbox. If successful, a sound effect will play and you will be awarded points.

The newspaper in the mailbox is the best outcome.

Paperboy is primarily a score attack game, and so there are quite a few ways to earn points aside from successful deliveries. There are several objects in the game that you can strike with papers that will award points. There are garbage cans, tombstones, and lamps that you can demolish to add to your score. The most fun way to earn points is to smash a paper through the window of a non-subscriber. Most homes in the game have several windows facing the street providing many opportunities to cause some damage and pad your score.

Your bicycle can only hold up to ten newspapers at one time. In the upper-left corner of the screen you can see how many papers you are holding, as well as how many lives you have and your current score. There is a balancing act between saving enough papers to serve your subscribers while throwing them at all the various targets and windows for points. As you bike up the street you will occasionally find a bundle of newspapers that you can pick up by riding over them. The bundles always restock you to the full ten papers. These extra newspapers are scarce in the beginning of the week and more than plentiful by the end of the week. It makes sense that early on you want to be more conservative to get a feel of the neighborhood before going all out for points toward the end.

Other than the level layout, there are many obstacles that stand in your way of a successful day. Many houses have static objects in the yard such as fences, doghouses, signposts, and fire hydrants. More dangerous are the moving objects. There are various people and children that either hang out in their yard or move around. There’s a skateboarder that appears quickly down the sidewalk. There’s a runaway tire that comes down a driveway and veers down toward you. One of the more annoying obstacles is a dog that will give chase as soon as you pass by, but fortunately you can stymie him with a newspaper. There is also a mini-tornado and the Grim Reaper himself that appear later in the week. As the game progresses there are more obstacles that appear at once making it more difficult to pass through and finish the day. If you collide with anything you crash your bike and lose a life. You resume play near where you crashed your bike.

Crashes are pretty painful!

At the end of the street is a training course that acts as a bonus stage. You get unlimited papers and there are targets that you can hit with them that bestow a few points. Aside from that, there are ramps, puddles, walls, and a moving ramp that is tricky to get the hang of clearing. There is also a timer that begins at 45 seconds, but it is more than enough time for the course. If you crash here you don’t lose a life, but you end the level right away. If you make it to the end you meet a small crowd cheering you on and you are awarded 100 points for each second remaining on the timer.

After the training course the map of the street appears displaying all the houses on your route and your results for the day. If you fail to deliver a paper to a subscriber or accidentally break one of their windows, you lose them as a subscriber and their house blinks on the map to indicate their change in status. The residents get so sad when they don’t get their paper that they not only cancel their subscription, but they paint their entire home red so that you know not to give them a paper anymore, unless you want to put some through their window for points! If you retain all your subscribers for the day, then you get a new subscriber and their house changes color from red to one of the other colors.

For the entire game, you get three additional lives to work with, and there are no ways to earn extra lives. This makes the game challenging to beat even though you get used to the few house layouts very quickly. If you lose all your lives, the game ends with a newspaper and the headline “Paperboy Calls It Quits.” You also lose the game if you lose all your subscribers. You are taken to the high score screen where you can put in your initials and try again.

What a show-off!

I have owned Paperboy since childhood, so it has gotten a lot of playtime over the years. We got it secondhand and I don’t remember how we acquired it. It is a common cart and I have had several copies of it that I pick up in lots. I don’t remember if I ever beat the game as a kid, but if not I did get deep into the game at least. Paperboy came up as a game in the NA weekly contest, and during those plays I have beaten the game a few times and have gotten increasingly better at improving my score.

My official Paperboy finish for this project was the best run I have ever had to date. I got to Saturday in my first attempt and then cleared the game on the next try. I had a couple of lame crashes early in the game and then I got on a roll and breezed through the rest of the game. My final score was 152,250 and that is a personal best! I do wish I had a crashless run, but maybe that is something I can tackle in the future. There’s room for score improvement as well.

While trying to play this game for points, I learned of a few tricks to optimize scoring. Since both the A button and B button throw papers, you can press both buttons at almost the same time to throw two papers very close together. Doing this, it is possible to land both papers inside the mailbox for double points. This works in some other places as well, such as the training course targets. I do some of this in my run to boost my score. There are some houses where you can get two in the mailbox and at least one paper at the door, but I didn’t try doing that myself.

Paperboy is a classic arcade game that is right at home on the NES. It is a simple game that has a surprising amount of depth for someone interested in going for high scores. The graphics are simplistic, and there is only one song that loops continuously, but I don’t find that they detract from the game. Paperboy is great for picking up whenever there’s time to kill. This is another example of a game that would be a good fit in any NES collection.

#40 – Paperboy

#40 – Paperboy (Final Score)