Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#121 – To The Earth

Get your trigger finger ready, you are gonna need it!

Going to Earth? How hard could that be?

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/7/19 – 4/27/19
Difficulty: 10/10
My Difficulty: 10/10
My Video: To The Earth Longplay

Before starting this project, I had a pretty good idea of what the hardest NES games were going to be. I already had 10-20 games earmarked as potential 10/10s. To The Earth was on my radar but I was certain it would end up a 9/10 for me. As I struggled to make progress and the attempts piled up, I was won over to the idea of rating this a 10/10. It stands up as one of the hardest NES games and likely the most difficult Zapper game to beat.

To the Earth released in November 1989 in North America and in February 1990 in Europe. This NES-exclusive game was published by Nintendo and developed by Cirque Verte. There is very little known about the developer of this game. Evidently Cirque Verte was discovered in copyright records as the author of To The Earth. This is the only game credited to them. I can’t figure out if Cirque Verte is a company or if it is a pseudonym for the actual developer. Very strange.

The story for To The Earth takes place in the year 2050. Earth is under a biological attack from the Raggosians. You are in the cockpit of a spaceship called The Tempest. Your mission is to collect resources from Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon so that you can create an antibacterial agent to defend society from the Raggosian attack. The enemy is relentlessly trying to stop The Tempest from its journey, so you must use your Zapper to fend off the enemy. There are four levels in the game that you must clear to beat the game.

Many passive enemies start off this journey.

This is a very simple game to control and play. To start, plug the Zapper into the second controller port and optionally plug a normal controller into the first port. You can control the game entirely with the Zapper. You fire to start the game and fire to begin each mission. The only thing the controller is used for is to pause the game by pressing Start. When enemies appear on screen, shoot them with your Zapper. You can let most enemies go by harmlessly. Many enemies fire missiles that you can destroy with your Zapper.

The game takes place from the perspective of the cockpit of The Tempest. Therefore, the lower part of the screen contains your ship’s data. You can see the score, destination, and how many minerals you have collected. The most important thing to pay attention to is the yellow energy bar in the center of the dashboard. This is your lifeline and primary mechanic in the game. You lose some energy if you get hit by an enemy or a missile. You gain energy back if you shoot an enemy ship. You lose a little bit of energy if you shoot and miss. You don’t gain or lose any energy whenever you shoot and destroy an enemy missile. You are beaten when you run out of energy, so with the way the system is structured your best chance for success is to shoot as many things as possible as accurately as possible.

There are some pickups that will help. Periodically, a friendly ship will fly across the screen from right to left. There is an E icon in the lower left that appears here. Shoot the E to restore half of your energy. Do not shoot the friendly ship! If you do, you lose a ton of energy. Sometimes a comet will appear on the right side of the screen. Shoot the comet to earn a barrier shield. This lets you take several enemy missile hits without losing any energy. The dashboard changes colors as you suffer damage and when it is red it means you have one hit remaining before the shield is gone. The final item is the smart bomb. You earn this after defeating so many enemies when you are at full energy. The bomb appears blinking in the lower right corner when you have one. Simply shoot the smart bomb to destroy all enemies and missiles on screen. You also earn energy for each enemy defeated just like normal, so the smart bomb is best utilized whenever multiple enemies are on screen.

Just shoot the energy capsule, not the ship.

The game starts off gently. The first stage isn’t that difficult. Some enemies here move pretty quickly but many of them don’t attack you. You will get your first taste of enemy missiles and shooting them down to defend yourself. You get some opportunities to refill your energy and get your barrier shield. At certain times, the screen will flash an alarm and display either Condition Yellow or Condition Red. This is the game’s way of giving you a natural pause. You can sit on this screen for as long as you want, then shoot the Zapper to continue playing. Each level ends in a boss fight. These are the only encounters in the game that take multiple hits to destroy. The first boss is Tri-Opticon, which naturally has three segments you have to destroy.

The second level ramps things up a bit. Most enemies shoot missiles, and some enemies fire more than one missile. I found this level provided the best chance of defeating enemies just as they show up but before they fire at you. This level also introduces the asteroid field. These parts generate a series of asteroids. The lower ones will hit and damage your ship, so make sure to identify and shoot those down. The end-level boss is Zambuka, a long space snake. This level can be tricky but I handled it well.

The third level is where the game gets hard. You start off with a lengthy series of ships that all fire missiles. This part can down you in a hurry if you start missing shots. This level introduces the hyper missile, which is hands down the most difficult thing to deal with in the entire game. These missiles look like spiky balls and move about twice as fast as the normal missiles. You can shoot them down but the timing is very difficult and you need to anticipate where they originate from on the screen to have a real chance of defending yourself. The boss here is Gyron that is surrounded by mini-satellites. I’ll say more about the final level a little later but suffice it to say it is incredibly difficult. The final boss and last line of Raggosian defense is Nemesis.

After each stage, you see a screen that contains for each stage your score, number of shots taken, number of hits, and your accuracy percentage. You also get a total of those columns for the entire game and you get your overall high score at the top. You get the same screen if you lose a level by running out of energy. You are allowed to continue two times at the start of the level where you died.

Often it’s best to shoot only the missiles.

To The Earth was a game I had in my childhood collection. We might have bought this game brand new for cheap, but I can’t remember. I played a few levels of it casually. A couple of years ago, in the Nintendo Age forum thread where everyone collectively beats every NES game, this was the last game remaining. I worked on it for a few days until someone else finished it up. My best progress at that time was near the end of Level 3. This is a cheap, common cart that should cost no more than $5.

The difficulty curve in this game is very severe. It is a gentle curve up until the start of the third level. That first onslaught can be tough but I rarely had issues with it. The introduction of the hyper missiles is what bumps this game up to 10/10. There are a few in the middle of the level but you can just take the hit and be alright. Before the boss there are multiple enemies that all fire hyper missiles. Here there are too many to absorb so you have to fire away and hope for the best. If you can make it past that, the final level is the ultimate test. Nearly every enemy fires hyper missiles. If you can’t defend yourself, you will lose energy very quickly and that’s that. That last level is one of the nastiest single levels I’ve ever played in a game.

My past experience gave me a good start this time. In fact, I don’t think I failed out once in either of the first two levels. The final part of Mission 3 was the first place I got stuck. I needed somewhere around five to ten tries from the start to finally clear Level 3. Keep in mind that since you get two continues, that could have meant I took as many as 30 attempts just at that one part. The final level was even worse. Much worse. I had trouble getting through the first part of the stage with just the normal missiles. After that, everything shoots the hyper missiles for the rest of the time. My accuracy in the first three missions was close to 90%, but with the hyper missiles that dropped to about 75% for that final mission. It is a lengthy stage too just like the others. I spent about two weeks making attempts on that final stage. I could consistently reach Mission 4 with all continues intact. I estimate I played that final level 60-80 times before finally winning. This is another case where I wish I kept better track of my attempts. Either way, that is a significant amount of time. My winning run came on my last attempt that session and on my last continue. I had went to sleep early and woke up wide awake in the middle of the night after about four hours of sleep. So, like any responsible person would do, I got up and played some To The Earth. I beat the game at 3:30am and it was tough to fall asleep after riding that victory high.

If you can even reach this boss, you are doing well.

The thing that makes To The Earth beatable is that the game is almost completely predictable. Enemies approach from the same direction, make the same movements, and fire missiles at the same time. Missiles always move at the same trajectory, and subsequent waves of enemies always come in the same order with the same timing. It’s entirely scripted, is what I’m trying to say. You can use that to your advantage to predict when and where enemies appear. A lot of times you can take out enemies when they are just specks in the distance before they get close enough to fire missiles. In some cases that was mandatory to keep from dying. I found that the game was very rhythmic. I would match my movements and trigger timing to the enemy’s approach. That was particularly helpful when trying to defend against a series of hyper missiles. The only thing I found in the game that was not predicable was that sometimes the game would not pause on the final Condition Red in the fourth stage. It was too easy to let my guard down there and that got me in trouble more than a few times.

When I was struggling to figure out the final level, I got some advice from another player who had beaten the game. He recommended I mess around with the settings on my TV. The claim was you can put the settings in a way that makes it much easier to hit the targets. The manuals for Zapper games do recommend adjusting the brightness and contrast on the TV so that the two can work together as intended. The wrong settings can cause the light gun not to pick up on direct hits, which obviously would be frustrating. On my TV, I already had the brightness turned all the way up and there was no contrast setting. I was hoping to introduce some blur to the image that might give the enemies a larger hitbox. After messing with the TV settings for a while, my results were inconclusive. This is a dark game, so it does make sense to turn the brightness all the way up on the TV. Maybe my settings were already optimal from the start since the hitboxes seemed to be generous enough. It’s just something to keep in mind in case you want to play.

Swarms of enemies with hyper missiles are the worst.

Now it’s time to see how this game stacks up against the other 10/10s. This one is tough for me to decide because all games are very different from each other. I have chosen to put To The Earth as #3 on my current list. My first two are set and are probably going to be at the top together for a long time. I am really trying to compare To The Earth and High Speed and these two games aren’t alike in any way. To The Earth is a 20 minute game and High Speed took me over two hours, but To The Earth took so many more attempts at just one singular level. I think that’s the determining factor to me. You have a lot more leeway with High Speed and all the extra balls you can earn, permitting you to make more mistakes and retry some of the boards multiple times to get the win. You don’t get that breathing room with To The Earth. It’s a close call, but I’d say To The Earth is the more difficult game. Here is my current 10/10 ranking board:

Ikari Warriors
To The Earth
High Speed

To The Earth is a very difficult game, but it is a pretty good Zapper game. The graphics are average I would say. The enemy sprites look detailed and there are several frames of size of each one when you see them from the distance. Backgrounds are usually just stars but you do get to see the planets as you approach the bosses. The music is simple and mostly quiet, but it is fine. You really need a good Zapper with a strong trigger to play this game. That is especially evident during the bosses where you have to drain dozens of shots into them. The main drawback to the game is the high level of difficulty, and also have the proper setup of CRT TV and a Zapper. Even casually it is enjoyable for at least the first couple of levels as a pure target shooter. There is enough depth and strategy to it if you really want to dive in. This was a good accomplishment for me. I just hope there aren’t any harder light gun games after this one.

#121 – To The Earth


#90 – Bonk’s Adventure

Bonk here, bonk there, bonk everywhere.

What a happy caveman!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 6/12/18 – 6/13/18
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Bonk’s Adventure Longplay

The 1990s in video games were all about the mascot platformer. The success of Super Mario Bros. was a very early frontrunner to this trend, and although mascots wouldn’t really hit their stride until well into the 90s, there are some early examples of games trying to piggyback off the success of Mario. The Sega Master System tried keeping step with Alex Kidd. Sega eventually switched over to Sonic, a formidable rival. You could say Master Higgins of Adventure Island is also a mascot with a platformer. The SNES and Genesis generation brought a lot of one-off type games with mascot platformers like Bubsy, Aero the Acrobat, Sparkster, and Ristar to name a few. The Nintendo 64 and PlayStation era stepped it up even further with big names like Crash Bandicoot, Rayman, Banjo-Kazooie, and Spyro the Dragon. Within the days of Mario vs. Sonic and the Console Wars was Bonk, a humble caveman starring in his own adventure on the Turbografx-16. There wasn’t a whole lot of console crossover in the early days, but for some reason, Bonk’s Adventure did receive a very late NES port.

Bonk’s Adventure was released first on the PC Engine in Japan in December 1989, named PC Genjin. The PC Engine became the Turbografx-16 in the US, and Bonk’s Adventure was brought over in 1990. The game was developed by Red Company and Atlus. A Famicom port called FC Genjin released in July 1993 and the NES version launched in January 1994. Hudson Soft published the NES version, however the developer is not clear. Red is mentioned on the title screen, but development has also been attributed to A.I. Company Ltd. There were three Bonk games on the PC Engine/Turbografx-16 and two on the Super Famicom, as well as some Game Boy ports and spinoffs and mobile games in Japan.

Bonk’s Adventure is a side-scrolling action platformer. You play the role of the caveman Bonk who must save the Moon Princess from King Drool. Just another cliché video game story. Bonk’s journey through Dinosaur Land will take him through many locales over the seven worlds in the game. You beat the game once you clear all the levels and beat all the bosses.

You gotta use your head.

You move Bonk around with the D-pad. Use the A button to jump. Bonk has a very strong head and he can use it to hurt enemies simply by jumping into them from underneath. Bonk will grab onto walls from the side with his teeth. In this state, you can climb the wall by jumping repeatedly. The B button is used to attack in two different ways. Press B while standing to headbutt. You can hit enemies from the side this way. While in the air, you can press B to do a flip. This turns Bonk over so that you can fall onto enemies with your head and hurt them that way. If you press B again while still in midair, he will orient himself upright again. You can do a bunch of midair spins in the air by pressing the B button repeatedly while in the air. This causes Bonk to fall much slower and you can use the increased airtime to make long horizontal jumps.

There isn’t much on-screen information to go by while playing Bonk’s Adventure. The top left corner shows three hearts. This is your health meter. Enemies can knock off your health in quarter-heart increments, but typically you lose health by half or full hearts. You can read a little more information by pausing the game. The pause display shows the current round and stage number, the number of smiley faces you’ve collected, and how many lives you have remaining.

There are several powerups to aid you in your adventure. A recurring enemy in this game is the Bani-Bana flower. They are stationary enemies that you can knock with a headbutt either from the side or above to reveal their contents. There are a few variations of the Bani-Bana flower. There are white ones that don’t give power ups, but instead launch Bonk skyward if he jumps on top of them. There is also an enemy that masquerades as a flower that leaps away when you wake it up. Since you are often left vulnerable while attempting to reveal the flower’s item, this means you will usually get hurt by this enemy if you aren’t careful.

Get powered up and crash through the bad guys.

There are many different pickups you get from the flowers. Fruit that is shaped like a carrot restores a quarter-heart of health, while red hearts give you one full heart and a big heart gives you three hearts back. The rare big white heart adds a heart to your maximum health. You begin the game with three hearts and can earn up to six. Smiling faces are collectibles that are redeemed at the end of each round. There are both small meat and big meat that power up Bonk when you eat them. You can also find little Bonk figures worth an extra life.

The small meat powerups give Bonk a head of steam, changing his form to the Grand Bonk. This is only a temporary transformation that is quite useful. As the Grand Bonk, if you do a midair spin and land on the ground with your head, it shakes the screen and damages all enemies. If you take a hit, you will go back to normal, and the effect eventually wears off anyway. If you collect the big meat, or collect the small meat again while Grand Bonk, you become invincible for a short time. You can really plow through enemies and clear a lot of ground in this state. When the invincibility wears off, you remain Grand Bonk until that wears off or you lose it.

You may see a small flower within a level. Grab it to ascend to a bonus area. There are three different bonus areas that have different rules. In the Jump the Canyons game, simply work your way to the right as far as you can while collecting the carrot-shaped fruits. Falling off or reaching the end completes the bonus game. You can earn smileys or even a 1up by collecting as many fruits as you can. You play the Flip Through the Air game by jumping off a tall ledge and flipping with B as many times as you can. The number of flips are counted up when you land on your feet at the bottom and you can earn smileys or a 1up. You earn nothing if you land on your head. The third game, Beat the Clock to Reach the Top, is the easiest one. Cling to the wall and press A to jump as fast as you can to reach the top. You earn more rewards for every second remaining on the timer.

There are bonus games you can sink your teeth into.

Most of the worlds follow a similar pattern. Many levels begin with a signpost with the round and stage numbers written on it. Levels proceed in one direction and there’s another post with an arrow on it meaning you’ve reach the end of the stage. The final stage within a round ends in an elevator that looks like a skull. Stand in front of it and press Up to take the elevator to the boss. These bosses are all large enemies that need to be bonked many times to defeat. After the bosses are defeated, evidently you knock them back to their senses. They each speak a few words of text after you finish the fight. Then you get health restored depending on how many smileys you picked up within the round.

One nice thing about Bonk’s Adventure is you don’t get set back at all if you lose a life. When you run out of health, you roll around and keel over. You can hang out in the death state for a long time while the game continues around you. Press Start to wake up with a new life and three hearts of health right where you left off. If you run out of lives, you can continue from the start of the round. This is a pretty severe penalty if you happen to lose your lives on the end of round boss. Fortunately, it seems like you can continue as often as you want.

This was my first time playing through Bonk’s Adventure. On the NES, this game is well known as one of the most expensive NES games. It’s the most expensive game I’ve played so far for this project. Here in 2018, loose carts sell for an average of $500 and complete in box copies average $800-$900. Bonk’s Adventure has consistently been in or near the Top 5 most expensive NES carts. I scored my copy in mint condition for $150 in 2014. The value of the cart was around $400 then so it was a killer deal. I just happened to find the listing for it on eBay at the right time within a lot of other NES games. That $150 bought me Bonk’s Adventure and 10 other common games.

The bosses are usually huge like this.

I had an easy time with Bonk’s Adventure. There was a learning curve to the momentum in-air. For the first couple of rounds I often missed my target while attacking from above. Powerups and health pickups were plentiful enough to help mitigate most damage taken from missed attacks. I was also bad at the bonus games at first, aside from the wall climbing one that is virtually impossible to lose. I thought the second round boss was the hardest one. It jumps around a lot and I couldn’t hit it when it jumped up into me, which sadly happened a lot. Those were the main issues I had with playing the game and I didn’t have any significant troubles otherwise. My first time through the game required one continue, but the second game through for my longplay video was a no-continue run. I didn’t check on the pause screen, but I think I ended up with about a dozen lives in reserve by the end.

Bonk’s Adventure is a quality game that is fun to play. The graphics and animation are very well done. The boss fights are really fun, though I feel they take way too many hits to defeat. The gameplay is tight and there are plenty of ways to attack enemies within the simple controls. The game can get a little repetitive, but at the same time there are a few stages where you swim or climb and it’s nice to have something different. I am not a big fan of the music. The soundtrack feels a little moodier and depressing than I would expect out of a game like this. The song during the end credits is something that would have given me nightmares as a kid playing games alone at night. It’s not objectively bad music, it’s just not for me. This is a good NES game all around. I would recommend playing the game, even if it falls short of the Turbografx-16 version like I suspect it does. But there is no reason at all to own this game unless you are a collector, grew up with it and still have your childhood copy, or got lucky and found it for cheap.

#90 – Bonk’s Adventure