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


#144 – Wheel of Fortune


You get to hear it here, too.

To Beat: Win the Bonus Round
To Complete: Beat the Game on Difficulty 3
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 1/6/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Wheel of Fortune Longplay

Game show games were quite popular on the NES with over a dozen titles on the console.  Looking at the list, I would say there is a good mix of games here.  Some of them are from short-lived game shows that just happened to be airing at the time.  Others were from shows that I suppose were only popular enough to generate exactly one NES game, even though some of them have had the staying power on TV up to the current day.  The bulk of NES game show games come from two juggernauts of TV game shows.  Both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune generated four NES games each, and both series are still running strong as ever.  I have completed one Jeopardy! game to date and now I get to see what Wheel of Fortune on NES has to offer.

Wheel of Fortune has had a somewhat complicated history.  The show was created by Merv Griffin and premiered on NBC daytime TV in 1975, shortly after the first run of Jeopardy! was cancelled.  Chuck Woolery was the original host, Susan Stafford was the original hostess, and Charlie O’Donnell was the original narrator.  The daytime version ran until 1989, switched to CBS until 1991, then back to NBC briefly until it was cancelled for good later in 1991.  Meanwhile, a nighttime syndicated version debuted in 1983 with Pat Sajak as the host and Vanna White as the hostess.  This version of the show is still running with the same two hosts.  Pat Sajak, as of September 2019, is now the longest running host of any game show.

There has been a slew of Wheel of Fortune games based on the familiar syndicated TV version, too many games to list.  The series almost started out on the Atari 2600 in 1983, but that version was cancelled.  The first video game adaptation appeared in 1987 on personal computers, developed by Sharedata and published by Gametek.  This version was ported to the NES by Rare and published by Gametek for release in September 1988.  The NES version is exclusive to North America.  There would be three more NES versions of Wheel of Fortune released between 1989 and 1992.

Samantha and Rachel don’t stand a chance.

Wheel of Fortune is pretty much a game show version of hangman for three contestants.  A word puzzle is placed on the main board with all letters hidden and a clue is provided, such as person, phrase, thing, etc.  Each player on her turn may spin the wheel to determine a potential cash prize value.  When a dollar value is spun, the contestant guesses a consonant.  If the letter is found in the puzzle, she wins that amount of money for each occurrence of that letter as that letter is revealed on the puzzle.  From there, she may spin again, spend some of her winnings to buy a vowel, or choose to solve the puzzle.  Any miss passes control to the next player.  When a puzzle is solved, only the winning player’s money for the round is added to her total.  After several rounds, a speed-up round is played with slightly different rules.  The contestant with the most money goes on to the bonus round, and she wins a fabulous prize if she guesses the final puzzle.  To beat this game, you need to win a single game as one of the contestants, including the bonus round.

First you need to set the options to start the game.  This starts with choosing the number of players from 1 to 3.  Players 1 and 3 share controller 1 while Player 2 gets controller 2.  Computer players will cover any remaining players so that all games are three player games.  In that case, you also choose a difficulty level from 1 to 3 of the computer players.  Next, each human player enters a name up to 8 characters.  Use the D-pad Left or Right to move the cursor and press either A or B to enter a letter.  An arrow at the end of the letter list is the backspace, and you will select End to lock in your choice.  Gameplay starts after all names have been entered and randomly selected names for computer players appear at this time.

Typically, on your turn, you will want to choose spin, which brings up the big wheel on the screen.  A power meter is displayed and you press A or B to spin when it reaches the desired power level.  As the wheel spins there is a box at the top that shows what is on the current space on the wheel.  Most of the time this is a dollar amount ranging from $150 to $1000.  If you land on Miss a Turn, play passes to the next contestant.  The bankrupt space is the same as missing a turn, only you also lose your accrued winnings for the round.  It does not affect any money won in prior rounds.  There is also a Free Spin space.  You can hold your free spin and redeem it any time you lose your turn to try again.  If you spin a dollar value, then you get to choose a consonant.  The list of letters appears along with the puzzle and any letters already chosen for that round are removed from possible selection.  You do have a short time limit to choose your letter, else you forfeit your turn.

Try and aim for the big dollar values.

The other two options on your turn are to buy a vowel or solve the puzzle.  It costs $250 of the current round’s winnings to buy a vowel and you earn nothing no matter how many times the vowel is in the puzzle.  Missing with a vowel also ends your turn.  When solving the puzzle, you get 45 seconds to choose letters filling in all the missing spaces in the puzzle.  Take care to spell everything correctly because it has to be an exact match for you to win.  Choose End when you are confident you solved it correctly.  A correct solving ends the round, while a miss moves play to the next contestant.

While the TV version may play a different number of rounds depending on time, the NES version has set rounds.  Rounds 1 and 2 are handled the same way.  An empty puzzle is displayed and players take turns until the puzzle is solved.  In Round 1, player 1 goes first, and in Round 2, player 2 goes first.  Round 3 is the Speed Up round.  To start, the wheel spins until a dollar amount comes up.  That dollar amount is fixed for the duration of the round for all contestants.  Player 3 starts this round by choosing any letter.  Consonants are awarded money same as normal, and vowels award no money but can be chosen for free.  After selection, the contestant has a few seconds to decide whether or not to solve the puzzle.  As long as the puzzle remains unsolved, play continues immediately to the next player and keeps going until someone gets it right.

The player with the highest total winnings over all three rounds gets to play solo in the bonus round.  Before playing, you get to choose what prize you want to shoot for.  The selection for this is a little strange.  You see the first prize, a sports car, and you decide if you want to choose a different prize or not.  Choose Yes to go to the next prize and choose No to select.  Seems like it should be the reverse.  Anyway, after prize selection, you get a brand new puzzle and you get to choose five consonants and a vowel.  Any of the chosen letters are revealed in the puzzle and you get your one chance to solve the puzzle.  Get it right and you are the big winner!  After some brief fanfare, you go back to the title screen.

I still don’t know who he is.

It’s possible I have beaten Wheel of Fortune before.  I think I played it when I was younger, at least one of the NES versions.  It is a fun enough game and it is also very common.  Due to the ongoing popularity of the show I imagine it sold very well.  I’m pretty sure I have a few extra loose copies of this game around my house that I need to get rid of.

Wheel of Fortune is an easy clear.  A playthrough takes around 10 minutes depending on how the puzzles go.  Just keep trying until you win.  For my playthrough, I set the difficulty to 3, the highest level.  The game manual doesn’t elude to the difficulty levels at all, but I suspect it means that computer players are more likely to solve puzzles with fewer letters revealed on harder modes.  It took me five attempts to win the game.  Most of the time, I figured out the answer to a puzzle about the same time the computer solved it.  I didn’t win a single puzzle until my third try when I won all three puzzles and lost on the bonus round.  I chose RSTLNE, just like the default letters in the current show, but it didn’t do much help when the answer was Windshield Wiper.  On my winning run I got really lucky.  I knew the answer in the second round without any letters revealed, which was quite an exciting feeling.  In the bonus round I had 7 of 10 letters revealed for an easy finish.

A cousin of mine was on Wheel of Fortune years ago.  I think it was in 2004 or so.  I know I was in college at the time.  Her taping was on air on a Friday night and I stuck around a mostly empty dorm to watch it on TV.  The only place I could watch it was on the common room TV and the signal to the screen was just horrible.  People on the first floor used to splice the cable signal from the common TV to their own rooms, which didn’t help me out at all.  But it was good enough to watch the show.  The best part is that she won the game and the bonus round.  It is something special to watch a game show when the stakes are raised personally because you know the person playing.  I won’t forget it.  We were all very proud for her for being on the show at all and it was icing on the cake when she won.  I talked to my grandparents the next day.  My grandpa taped the show and made a bunch of copies and my grandma said she cried every time she watched it because he had to test out all the tapes.  Good stuff.

Wheel of Fortune on NES is a good adaptation of the show.  The rules and gameplay are mostly unchanged from current day, but there are plenty of new features in the show that obviously wouldn’t have appeared on the NES cart.  It represents a snapshot in time of how the game was played back then and you can see clearly how it has evolved since.  The game itself plays well, it has nice graphics and sound, and it can give you a challenge if you want one.  There are voice samples of the crowd yelling out the title.  You get a power meter to strategize how hard you want to spin.  Even the alerts of consonants only or vowels only are included.  The only downsides I see here are that some of the puzzles are outdated and that you eventually will see repeats among the 1000 or so puzzles in the game.  It’s not a modern way of playing the game, but it still works.

#144 – Wheel of Fortune

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#71 – Prince of Persia

This classic PC game does okay on the NES hardware.

Both the look and music are almost calming.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 1/8/18 – 1/19/18
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
Video: Prince of Persia Longplay

When you play as many video games as I do, there are bound to be some games that seem like a perfect fit but you just never seem to get around to them. One such game is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, or any of the other games in that series. I get it. I really like 3D platformers, action games, and charting my way through these kinds of spaces. I’m sure I would love it, but at the same time I feel that ship has sailed. I haven’t played any of the Prince of Persia games until now. At least I can right one of my gaming wrongs. Prince of Persia is a carefully crafted experience that plays well enough on the NES.

Prince of Persia was created and developed by Jordan Mechner. To fully understand and appreciate the history, let’s back up a bit and talk about his first game. Karateka is an action and fighting game originally released for the Apple II in 1984. You play an unnamed hero and want to rescue a princess from a mountain fortress. Enemy encounters play out like an early one-on-one fighting game and you punch, kick, and dodge your way to victory. It is notable for its animation by rotoscoping, which is a technique where drawing is done over top of video. In this case, Mechner used footage of his karate instructor to draw the characters in Karateka. It was a huge success and one of the best-selling games on the Apple II. It was also widely ported to many computers and consoles, including the Famicom version from 1985.

Prince of Persia was Mechner’s next game, released on the Apple II in 1989. It also contains rotoscoped animations and hand-to-hand combat, but is a much more expansive game than Karateka. Despite critical acclaim, it did not sell well at the start. This is likely because the Apple II was not a viable platform for game development anymore. Sales really took off after its various ports. The original version was both published and developed by Broderbund. The NES version was released in November 1992, published by Virgin Games and developed by Motivetime Ltd.

The game looks even better in motion.

The game went on to spawn sequels and a new series. Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame was released for MS-DOS in 1993. It was also a big success. The next game, Prince of Persia 3D in 1999, was not. The Prince of Persia franchise was soon sold to Ubisoft, who went on to develop many games in a new series and several spinoffs. The aforementioned Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released in 2003 for PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, and Windows. It brought the series firmly back into the limelight. Sands of Time was quickly followed by Warrior Within and The Two Thrones over the next two years, and a fourth game The Forgotten Sands came out in 2010. There was also the film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time released the same year.

The story for Prince of Persia takes place in a faraway land. While the Sultan is away fighting in war, his Grand Vizier Jaffar has taken power. Meanwhile, the Sultan’s daughter has fallen in love with an adventurer. Jaffar has this adventurer arrested and thrown into prison, while giving the Sultan’s daughter an ultimatum. She can marry Jaffar or be killed, and she is given an hour to decide her fate. You play the role of the adventurer as you seek to recover your sword and battle your way out of the dungeons within the hour to save the Sultan’s daughter.

Prince of Persia is a side-scrolling action-adventure game. Each level of the dungeon is its own maze with possible branching paths. The objective is to find the staircase to the next level which is hidden behind a locked door. Some of the floor tiles contain switches that open or close gates within the dungeon, and one of these switches opens the exit stairs. Find the switch and reach the exit while avoiding traps and enemies. There are twelve levels in the dungeon and when you reach the Sultan’s daughter you win the game.

Floor switches aren’t always this obvious.

The controls are a bit complex for a side-scrolling game. Use the D-Pad to walk left and right. You can tap one of those directions to turn yourself around and face the other way, and you can hold Left or Right to run in that direction. Press the A button to jump. You can do a running jump while you are moving. If you are standing still and press A, you will do a large leap forward a couple of tiles. The B button is used to tiptoe. While standing still, press B and he will take a small step forward. You can use the tiptoe method to walk right up to the edge of the platform. Position yourself underneath the edge of a ledge and hold Up to jump, grab onto the ledge, and pull yourself up. You can also press Up to jump in place. If you are standing beneath a breakable tile, you can bonk it from underneath which causes it to fall and gives you a new path to climb. You can descend from the edge of a ledge. Tiptoe up to the edge of a ledge, turn around, and hold Down to lower yourself gently. Hold either the A or B button to dangle off the ledge if there’s no floor underneath. If you want to jump across a large pit, hold the A or B button after leaping to grab the far ledge if you come up short. You can cross gaps three tiles wide by tiptoeing to the edge, jumping with A, holding either A or B to grab the ledge, and pulling yourself up. Enter the exit door at the end of each level by pressing Up. You can also press Start to pause the game. As you can see there is nuance to the controls that give you a lot of versatility when you learn it.

Your health is represented by red triangles in the lower left corner. You start out with three health points. Most traps in the game kill you outright. There are trap tiles where spikes pop out if you step on them and that instantly kills you. Spiked gates open and close and you die if you are caught in between when it closes. Falling down three or more tiles is also instant death. Falling two tiles knocks off one health point. Some floor tiles crumble away when you walk over them, which often leads to plunging to your death.

There are potions within the dungeons that can have several different effects. Most potions will restore one health point. There are some of these potions that look the same but reduce your health by one instead. Another potion, one that looks slightly different from the health potion, fills your health entirely and increases your maximum health by one. If you can survive to the end of the level, the max health carries over to the next stage. One quirky thing about the health is that you can get up to six total health points, but then it always goes back to five if you die or finish the level. There is one other potion in a later stage that has a level-specific effect.

Ah yes, a sword! This should help!

Another feature of the game is the sword combat. You begin the game without a sword and have to find it within the first stage. When you enter a screen with an enemy, his health is shown with purple triangles in the lower right of the screen. Approach the enemy to automatically draw your sword. You can inch either left or right with the D-Pad. The A button lets you strike with your sword, and the B button lets you parry and deflect an enemy strike. The manual says you can also parry with Up and put your sword away with Down, but I don’t think they work in this port. Each hit reduces one health point for either side. I found swordplay to be awfully tricky and inconsistent. Sometimes I could rally several consecutive hits, and other times every move I made got countered.

Besides the control scheme, the other major gimmick to Prince of Persia is the timer. You are indeed given an hour to finish the game. The bottom of the screen will occasionally display the number of minutes remaining. You can press Select to force the time to appear and see how well you are doing. Dying sends you back to the start of the current level and you don’t get any of that time back. Once time has expired you have to start all over again.

Prince of Persia has a password system that helps alleviate the time constraint. Each level gives you an eight-digit password once completed. This saves which level you are on and the total amount of time remaining. You can use this to help you work through the game. First, take your time and figure out how to solve the level. Then, start over with your last password and try to finish it on the first try. That way you will have more time left for the later stages. I gotta say, I think the password screen in this game is clever. You enter in the password with the D-Pad and press Start when finished. Your guy will then drink a potion on the ground in front of him. If you get the password right he goes ahead through the door to the proper level. Type in the wrong password and he immediately dies from the potion.

Sword combat is randomly tricky.

As I mentioned above, this was my first time playing Prince of Persia. The NES port is a later release and not common. It runs close to $20 for a loose cart but it is readily available online. At one point I had two copies of the game. One I remember buying in a small lot where The Krion Conquest was the highlight, but I don’t recall where I got the other one. My double sold quickly when I listed it for sale.

I took a different approach than what I outlined above for beating the game because I knew I wanted to try and beat the whole game in one shot. I approached each level casually with no real regard to the overall timer, recording my passwords each time and noting how much time was remaining. Once I ran the timer out, I used the latest password to learn that level before starting over entirely. On each subsequent playthrough I updated my passwords if I had more time remaining. This way I could make overall progress, improve my passwords, and keep sharp on already completed levels all at once. I think it was a good strategy for my overall goal. I started over five or six times before beating the game the first time on my final minute. My recorded longplay went really poorly but I managed to beat the game just barely.

The good thing about passwords is that I also used them to practice certain levels I would have trouble with. If a level involved multiple swordfights, it was probably one that gave me a lot of trouble. I was just too inconsistent. There were a few difficult jumps that necessitated a running start and these gave me the most trouble. The last jump in the game was by far the hardest. I finally figured it out by standing in a very specific position before taking the running start and jumping at the last possible moment. I was pulling my hair out trying to make that jump, but I did it.

The graphics don’t vary much further from this.

I noticed the controls and movement of Prince of Persia are in direct conflict with the goal at hand. This game is all about battling the timer. To minimize the amount of time spent, you have to move as quickly as possible. However, moving too quickly is sure to get you killed. Some ledges end immediately when moving to the next screen, which seems like a major design issue but might be a screen-size issue only appearing in the NES port. This makes running quite dangerous unless you know exactly what is on the next screen. Once you know where you are going, there is more than enough time to beat the game. You just have to learn to be fast while also making precise movements. There are some buttons that activate timed gates where the timing is very tight, and you have to map out exactly where to stand, when to run, when to stop, when to jump, how to dodge traps or unwanted switches, and so on. This war with the timer is always present, but for some reason it just works. By the end of the game you know exactly how to move and how to put yourself in position to clear just about any trap or jump. These difficult sequences are very rewarding to clear and most of the time there is a consistent strategy by using all the types of movement and climbing available to you.

Two things stand out to me that really annoyed me in this version of Prince of Persia. The first is that there is a problem with the font and the digits 6 and 8. The best I could tell, there are only two pixels different between the two numbers. This is a problem because the passwords are all numbers and it’s easy to cross them up if you aren’t paying close attention. I didn’t make any mistakes writing passwords down but I can see where it might be a problem. The other issue I had with the game is inconsistent ledge grabbing. There are at least a couple of places in the game I could recall where you make a jump and your foot just catches the ledge enough so that you stumble off it but somehow bypass the ledge grab. Sometimes you just miss altogether for no apparent reason. I can’t prove it but I suspect that this is an issue with just the NES port of the game. Free running seems like it puts you in pixel positions where edge cases don’t give you expected results. If you do careful steps and jumps you can usually put yourself in position for more consistent success. It’s a minor quibble that occasionally becomes a major problem when time is most precious and setbacks are most costly.

Prince of Persia is a beautifully rendered, timeless game in its own right. The NES port is reduced in quality but it still fun to play. The controls work well for the most part. The music is repetitive but is okay and doesn’t really get in the way. The graphics look good though there are only two kinds of tilesets and two enemy types used throughout the game. Thankfully the animation is excellent because the graphical variety just isn’t there. While I haven’t played any other versions of the game, I do know that both the in-game story and level layouts were compromised in the conversion to the NES. Some screen transitions are poor enough that you will easily die if you don’t know or remember what’s ahead. This is not the ideal way to play Prince of Persia. But if the NES version is all you’ve got, it’s still worth playing.

#71 – Prince of Persia


#65 – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Killer Tomatoes seem ripe for an NES platformer.

Oooh, it’s both animated AND detailed!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/5/17 – 12/7/17
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Longplay

I know I’ve mentioned before that I don’t watch much movies or TV, but play video games instead in my free time. So Attack of the Killer Tomatoes comes up on my list to play. I know nothing about it at all, but I just know that this is based off some kind of movie or something. It has to be. I turn the game on and I’m greeted by these introductory story segments, further cementing my suspicion. Now that I’ve finished the game and done the research, yes indeed, this is the game based on a cartoon series that was based on a movie. I guess most people figure these things out the other way around, and I just come about it differently than others. But learning is learning, and now I know something about this strange NES game.

The original Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is, according to the movie poster, a “musical-comedy-horror” movie that debuted in 1978. The concept is well summarized from the movie title alone, and it was meant to be a spoof of B movies. It was produced by Stephen Peace and John DeBello, and also directed by John DeBello. The movie concept was conceived by Costa Dillon, and all three worked together to write the film. It has since become a cult classic and eventually spawned three sequels. Return of the Killer Tomatoes was released in theaters in 1988. The other two films, Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! from 1990 and Killer Tomatoes Eat France in 1991 were both direct-to-video films. An animated series, also named Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, aired on Fox Kids in 1990 and 1991, spanning two seasons and twenty-one episodes. This cartoon served as the base for the NES game.

There are two video games based on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, both bearing this name. The first game came in 1986 for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and MSX, and it is an isometric game. The NES version is a different game that was developed by Imagineering and published by THQ. The game was first released in Europe in 1991, then released in the US in January 1992. It was ported to the Game Boy and was also released in 1992. Japan only got the Game Boy port, where it was renamed Killer Tomato and released in March 1993. Altron published Killer Tomato in Japan.

The tomatoes are killer, and so are you.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a side-scrolling platformer. Dr. Gangrene has evil plans to take over both San Zucchini and the world with the Doomsday Tomato. Young Chad Finletter sets out to stop these plans. A set of huge killer tomatoes called the Gang of Six attempt to stand in his way. Chad travels through the city streets through Dr. Gangrene’s lair and beyond. Stop the evil doctor’s plans and you win the game.

This game has normal platformer controls. Use the D-pad to move Chad. You do a lot of walking left and right, but sometimes you need to climb a ladder or something by pressing Up or Down. The A button lets him jump. The B button is used for a few different actions. You can hold the B button to run, but for unknown reasons this only works in certain areas in the game. Holding B while jumping lets you leap a little farther. You can also hold B while climbing to move faster. In one place in the game, you can also press B to throw rocks. Holding down B and pressing Select lets you toggle the background music if you want. The Start button is just for pausing the game. There’s a weird glitch that happens when the game is paused. You can press Select to advance the game one frame at a time. That sounds like something that could be exploited but it’s not really helpful.

There is a status bar in the upper-left corner during gameplay. It displays your score counter, number of lives, and your health bar. Chad begins each new game with three lives and three bars of energy out of a maximum of six. There are items found in the game that can increase all three of these things. These are found on the ground and are not dropped by enemies. Fertilizer sacks are the most common item that just give you points. Lunch bags restore health and this amount varies depending on the pickup. Sometimes it is just a couple of health points and other times they give you even more than six. The rare lunch box adds an extra life. The design of these pickups is poor because they all look a lot alike. The lunch bag is folded on the top compared to the sack that looks like it is closed by a drawstring. I had to really pay attention to see if it was worth grabbing. I only came across one lunch box in the game and I couldn’t tell you how it differs graphically from the others.

That fertilizer sack is camouflaged!

There are a few enemies that show up in the game and most of them are tomato related. There are tiny little hopping tomatoes as well as larger ones that split into two tiny ones when stomped. There are tomato spiders and other tomatoes that sort of run at you. There are also rats and bats. You can jump on all these enemies to defeat them and you just fall through them when you kill them. A lot of times in platforming games you will bounce off defeated enemies a little, but it makes sense that tomatoes would just get squished. Each enemy deals one point of damage if it hits you, and there are also various stage hazards that can hurt you. A platforming game wouldn’t be complete without bottomless pits that can cost you a life.

The Gang of Six appear throughout the game, but instead of acting as boss battles they are mostly roadblocking enemies and should be avoided. The first one you meet in the game does need to be stomped to get it to run away, but all the other ones stand in your way and try to knock you around. It even hurts to jump on most of them, so don’t even bother. It seems like a strange choice to use these characters as merely stage hazards instead of bosses, but it seems to work fine. You do want to be careful around them because sometimes they can juggle you in the air and hit you multiple times.

Some of the stages in the game are mazes. The manual calls them 3D mazes but that’s a little misleading. These areas are still side-scrolling platforming levels that have a bit of a three-quarters perspective to them. There are branching pathways visible either into the background or into the screen, and you can press Up or Down to walk to the adjacent screen. They may seem difficult but are pretty straightforward as far as mazes go. If you take the wrong path, you won’t have to backtrack too far to figure out the correct way through.

You don’t wanna mess with these guys, just jump over them.

If you lose all your lives, you get to continue. One of the killer tomatoes spells out the message “Try again tomato head” when you lose all your lives. I like that better than the standard Game Over! You get a new set of three lives, but you can only continue twice before having to restart the game.

This was my first time playing Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It was one of the later additions to my collection. In fact, I bought this copy in the same lot that contained the recently-beaten Kiwi Kraze. That lot was five games for $35, so I did well getting the game for essentially $7. It’s not a common game to find and sells in the $15-$25 range today.

Platformers with limited continues are normally the kind of game I would rate as a 7/10 or 8/10 difficulty. There are lots of way to take damage or die, and you have to play the game repeatedly to get the hang of it. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes gets an average rating because the game is very short. During the first night of playing I got majorly stuck during the third level. It doesn’t look like you can go anywhere at first. You need look for something within the stage that lets you proceed and I just completely overlooked it. The next night I saw my way through that part and ended up beating the game directly from there. I wasn’t recording because I didn’t expect the game to end so soon. I recorded a run the next night in around 15 minutes, only dying once in the first level and again near the end of the game.

Mazes aren’t as complicated as they seem.

Because Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is so short, I’ll run you through the whole game. These are all spoilers, so skip this section if you want to try this on your own. You begin on the streets at night working your way to the right. You have to bop Tomacho five times to progress to the manhole on the far right. This takes you to the sewer maze. Work your way past Ketchuk twice and chase the shadowy figure to a room with a large pipe organ. Here you throw rocks and must break each pipe of the organ to move on. You go back to the streets briefly before going into the tomato factory. Avoid Beefsteak on the floor and the roving robotic arm above and work your way to the top where you will flip a switch on the wall that reverses gravity. This was the part I didn’t get at first. You will need to go up through the ventilation shaft and end up in a small room where you need to bop some enemies for awhile until Dr. Gangreen opens the door ahead. This takes you to the tower. Fang and Zoltan will get in your way at various points as you climb to the top of this maze. Reach the Doomsday Tomato and Chad stops it on his own, loading the end credits. Now that game isn’t quite done yet because you get eaten by a huge tomato and need to work your way through the final maze inside. Just keep moving and get past Mummato when you see him and you’ll get to the end. If you hit a dead end you will probably find a lunch bag to refill your health anyway. Grab onto the large stalactite at the end to crush the tomatoes for good!

Imagineering may not have the best track record for platformer games on the NES, but Attack of the Killer Tomatoes plays well enough and has some neat technical moments that helps it stand out a little bit. Thrown tomatoes help spell out the letters during the credits sequences. Street lights illuminate the character palettes in a clever way. The tomato squishing graphics are oddly satisfying, and splitting bigger tomatoes in two is pulled off seamlessly. The platforming and character movement aren’t the greatest, but may well be the best of their games I’ve played so far. The music is good too.

Despite all the neat touches, the game is only average in gameplay and it is over just as soon as it gets started. It would have been disappointing buying this game when it came out at full price. I really have no idea of the popularity of the cartoon at the time and if that had any bearing on the sales of the game. Word of mouth of the short length of the game might have deterred it from selling well. Both of these could be factors for why the game is a bit on the uncommon side. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is merely NES library filler. Though I’m glad I played it, like I feel about most NES games, I would say skip this one.

#65 – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes


#49 – Kings of the Beach

No crowns required to be kings in this four-player volleyball game.

Very chill setting!

To Beat: Win a tournament
To Complete: Beat the game on the Difficult setting
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 4/7/17 – 4/13/17
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Kings of the Beach – Tournament Mode Final Matches

I am not good at sports. I still like to play them when I get the chance even though I wasn’t blessed with any ability. If there’s one game I am at least decent at, it would be sand volleyball. I organized a weekly sand volleyball night with a bunch of friends for several years, and that afforded me the opportunity to practice often. Now don’t let me fool you, I’m still not all that good at volleyball. However, I am pretty good at playing video games. Therefore, it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for me to complete one of the few NES volleyball games.

Kings of the Beach is a volleyball game developed and published by Electronic Arts in 1988 on DOS. It was ported to the Commodore 64 in 1989 and the NES in January 1990. Ultra Games published the NES port. However, it is unclear if either Konami or Electronic Arts developed this version of Kings of the Beach. The game was only released in the US.

Kings of the Beach is a two-on-two beach volleyball game. You play as professional beach volleyball players Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos. In single-player mode, you only control one character and your partner is computer controlled. The main draw for single player is the Tournament mode. Here you will play against other pairs of players in five different locations all around the world. To win the tournament mode and beat the game, you must win three consecutive matches at each of the five beaches for fifteen total matches.

Interesting cursor choice!

At the start of the game, you move a green cursor around in an overhead map of the beach. This is your menu. The first place you will want to go is the registration tent, which is the game’s options menu. To start, you can assign either a controller or computer control to Smith, Stoklos, and two other competitors. Kings of the Beach supports up to four players simultaneously using the NES Four Score accessory. Next, you can choose between cooperative play or competitive play. This is only needed for a two-player game to decide if you want to play on the same team or not. You can set the difficulty of computer opponents to either Easy, Medium, or Difficult. You can choose if you want to play either a single set or a three-set match, and you can toggle the sound on and off. Choose Exit to Beach to go back to the main menu.

The other menu options are for practice or setting up a game. At the top of the screen there are three beaches labeled Bump, Set, or Spike. If you choose one, you are put in a practice beach where you get easy setups to practice the basic moves. Press Select at any time to exit the training and go back to the menu. At the lower left of the menu is the Match option where you jump directly into an exhibition match with the defined settings. This is the mode you want for a three or four player game. The bottom right part of the menu starts up the Tournament mode. You can select either a new game, or continue a previous game with a password. After that you jump right into the action.

Kings of the Beach plays by standard volleyball rules. Each side has two players and each point starts with a serve from the back of the court. Each side can hit the ball up to three times before hitting it over to the opponent’s court, and teammates must alternate hits. If the ball lands in your opponent’s court, the opponent hits the ball more than three times, or the opponent hits the ball out of bounds, then you win the point. The serving team is the only team that can score, otherwise the non-serving team gains control of the serve if they win the point. In a single set match, the first team to fifteen points wins. In a three-set match, teams play to twelve points per set. In either case, teams must also win by two points. This means play will continue beyond the required winning score until a team leads by two.

Bump, set, spike!

The basic strategy of beach volleyball is to use your three hits to bump the ball, then set the ball, and finally spike the ball. You will use the D-pad to move your player around the court. Quite often you will move on your own to the spot where the ball will land as it’s heading toward you, but sometimes you need to position yourself properly. The ball casts a shadow on the sand that will guide you toward where you want to stand. Press A to bump the ball in the air toward your teammate. To set the ball, press B. To spike the ball, press both A and B. The spike is a powerful jumping hit toward the opponent. You will need to focus on timing for all hits, but spiking the ball requires the best timing. The idea is to run up to the net and jump, meeting the ball with your hands at the top of your jump. For all hits, you can guide it in a direction using the D-pad in conjunction with the hit.

The above moves are mostly offensive moves, but you do have a couple of defensive moves at your disposal. If you know the opponent will spike the ball, you can move up against the net and press A and B together to jump up and attempt a block. Sometimes you can repel the ball right back into the opponent’s court for a quick point. Stoklos has his own signature block called the Kong block, which is very powerful. The other defensive move is called the dig. This happens automatically whenever the ball is just far enough out of reach normally. You will make a dive toward the ball to bump it back up into the air. I didn’t seem to put myself in good positions to do this very often, so in my experience it was left to chance.

Serving the ball effectively is a vital skill. When it’s your turn to serve, you can move up and down the line to put yourself in the position of your choice. There are three different ways to serve the ball. The easiest method is the underhand serve. Simple press A and B together to lob a slow serve at the opposite court. You want to pay attention to the flags that indicate wind direction because an underhand serve may come up short if the wind is blowing in hard. The overhand serve is more powerful. Press A to toss the ball straight up, wait for the ball to come down, and then press B to do a standing, overhand hit. You can use the D-pad to aim the ball while serving. The most powerful serve is the jump serve. Like the spike, it’s the most difficult serve to perform. Press A to toss the ball just before, but this time press A to jump and hit the ball. The more powerful the hit, the more likely the opponent will be unable to return the ball.

With the right timing, the jump serve is the best one.

One neat thing you can do is argue a call with the referee. Every now and then the line judge will make a mistake on a ball that lands near the lines. If you think a bad call went against you, then you can run up next to the judge’s stand and press Start to dispute the call. You will see your player make a scene as persuasively as possible. If you are successful, the referee reverses his call and you get the ball! If the judge disagrees, then he will shake his hand no and hold out a penalty card. This can be either a yellow card or a red card. The yellow card is just a warning, but if you lose a second disputed call in a set the referee will give you a red card instead and you lose a point off your score. Your opponents and even your partner can dispute a call on their own. One key thing is that if you want to dispute a call, you need to decide quickly and get over to the referee right away to plead your case. You lose your opportunity to argue a call if play advances to the next serve.

As stated earlier, to complete Tournament mode you must win fifteen total matches broken up into groups of three. After you win three consecutive matches on the same beach, you get a password for the next beach. The passwords are up to eight characters long and are normal words that are easy to write down or remember. I noticed that the passwords are the same for each beach no matter what difficulty or length of match. For instance, you can win the first round of matches on the Difficult setting with three-set matches, and the next time you play with the password you can select Easy difficulty and single set matches. You can play however you want!

This was my first time playing Kings of the Beach. The game was a later addition to my collection, but it is pretty common and inexpensive so I have had a few copies pass through my hands. I am not a huge fan of sports games even though I enjoy playing a little volleyball. Chances are I would not have given Kings of the Beach much of a chance if not for this project. Chances are I will also say this same thing about many other future games!

Digs are done automatically. This one was successful!

For my playthrough, I decided on playing single set matches on Medium difficulty. I played as the default Smith and let the computer play Stoklos for me. My intent was to learn the game on Medium difficulty and then go back and play the game again on the Difficult setting. At first, Medium difficulty was enough of a challenge. I understood the fundamentals early on, and other than some mistakes with spiking I was already playing well enough to make some progress. My struggles came in the third match of any beach. I could play well enough to win the first two matches, and then I would lose the third and have to start over at the top. That is awfully frustrating. Kings of the Beach became a fight of attrition and required some good old fashioned grinding to seal the win.

It seems like many sports games have some kind of exploit or tactic that makes life much easier. I found one such tactic that helped me win points much more often. The first thing is I needed is the setup to spike the ball myself. Usually this required getting the first hit on the return so that I could get the third hit and spike, but sometimes I would take the spike myself on the second hit instead. It’s a little riskier but it can catch the opponent off guard. My spike position was up against the net either slightly above or below the center. I would spike toward the corner of the net and the closer side line. For example, if I set up below center, I would aim for the lower line near the net, and do the opposite when closer to the top. The opponent tended to favor guarding the larger area so I could sneak it in on the other side close to the line without either player getting to it. That trick does not always work, but it works often enough to be useful.

My partner is disputing a call unsuccessfully.

I beat the entire game on Medium over the course of a few days. Once I accomplished that, I bumped up to the Difficult setting and repeated the final three matches with the last password. If I can beat the last beach on Difficult, then I should be able to beat any other configuration, so I didn’t bother repeating anything else on Difficult. I did not notice any significant changes between Medium and Difficult settings. Perhaps the opponents make fewer mistakes or make powerful serves more often on the higher settings, but I could not tell the difference. With my spiking tactic, I could score more often than not regardless of difficulty. I recorded my video of the final set of matches on Medium difficulty, and then played the final matches again on Difficult unrecorded. The ending is the same on either difficulty.

I would have considered the game more difficult overall if not for the fact that the computer controlled Stoklos handled nearly all the defense for me. Actually, my computer partner played very well in general and handled many situations better than I could have. Most of the time he plays close to the net so he can utilize his powerful Kong block. My job was to back him up and try to get to anything hit past him if I could. We worked together well on the offensive side too. He is a good spiker and serves very well. He’s not a perfect partner and makes mistakes that are unavoidable, but in my opinion he is a more consistent player than I am. It’s a pleasant surprise to have a competent computer player for once!

There are not many volleyball games on the NES to compare, but I think they did well with Kings of the Beach. The game sets itself apart somewhat for having a simultaneous four-player mode. It also performs well as a single player game. The computer controlled players are competent both as opponents and partners. The graphics and music are well done, just as you would expect in a Konami game. The game is a tad lengthy and repetitive, but it’s just the nature of the game so it hard to fault Kings of the Beach for that. If you are looking for an NES volleyball game, you won’t do wrong with Kings of the Beach.

#49 – Kings of the Beach