Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#91 – Jordan vs. Bird: One on One

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

They look a little too kind on the rebound here.

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

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

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

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

Power past Bird and go for the dunk.

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

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

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

You can play tough defense.

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

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

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

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

Everyone wants to dunk like Mike.

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

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

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

Shoot as quickly and accurately as possible.

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

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

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

#91 – Jordan vs. Bird: One on One

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

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

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


#85 – Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat

Bringing the heat!

Even the logo is heating up!

To Beat: Finish 9 races
My Goal: Get the high score
What I Did: Finished three loops with a score of 544
Played: 5/17/18 – 5/18/18
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 1/10
My Video: Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat Longplay

As evidenced by my review of Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge, I am not a fan of racing video games. Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat is a bit of an outlier in that I find it mostly enjoyable. The differences between the two games are clear. Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge focuses on realism and the grind of a full season. Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat is a pick-up-and-play arcade style game. If I have to play a racing game, I’d rather do it the Danny Sullivan way. It helps too that this game is unbelievably easy.

Danny Sullivan is a former racer who primarily competed in open-wheel car racing. His career began overseas competing in Formula Three and Formula Two racing. In 1982 he debuted in the PPG Indycar series in the US, and the next year he was recruited by a team in Formula One, which is the highest level of open-wheel auto racing in the world. He only competed there in 1983 before returning to the US and the PPG Indycar series in 1984. He won the Indianapolis 500 in 1985, the premier race in North American auto racing, and he also won the PPG Indycar series championship in 1988. Danny Sullivan briefly dabbled in NASCAR in 1994 before retiring from auto racing for good in 1995.

Danny Sullivan was well known enough to star in his own game, Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat. It was originally a 1991 arcade release, developed and published by Leland Corporation. The game was ported to the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, and Commodore 64 in 1992 in Europe. Those versions were developed and published by Sales Curve. The NES version was released in August 1992 in North America, and also appeared in Europe in 1992. This port was developed by Rare and published by Tradewest.

Is that a Transformer in his glasses?

Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat is a top-down single-screen racing game. You compete with four other racers, including Danny Sullivan in the yellow car, across multiple laps of nine different tracks. In single player mode you control a red car. The game continues to loop over all nine tracks again until you lose too many races, and sadly there is no real ending to the game.

The controls are simple. While driving, you hold A to accelerate and release A to brake. The B button uses a turbo for a quick speed boost. You steer with Left and Right on the D-pad. Up and Down have no function in the game so there’s no need to worry about shifting gears. You also use Left and Right to enter your initials at the beginning of the game or to select any upgrades later on. Both the A button and B button are used to confirm selections. The Start button starts the game and pauses the action during a race. That’s all there is to it!

The first thing you’ll do in the game is press Start on the name entry screen. Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat supports up to four players at the same time with the NES Four Score accessory. First player gets the red car, second player blue, third player green, and fourth player white. Danny Sullivan is always the yellow car for a total of five players. Each race has five drivers going at once and computer opponents fill in all remaining slots. You will first enter your initials and then the driver you want. The driver selection is just cosmetic so pick the one that looks the neatest or most like you or whatever. The game proceeds once all players have made their selections.

Make Danny do all the work.

From here the game shows the location of the next race, but before you get to the action you can select upgrades for your car. You begin with $100,000 to spend on your vehicle any way you want and you win more money the more you play. The easiest way to jump into the action is to let Danny choose your upgrades for you. Danny’s Choice is pre-selected, so press A or B if you want him to choose. He will spend as much available money as possible on what he considers the best upgrades automatically. Then you can press A to begin the race.

Here are the upgrades you can pick from if you want to decide yourself. Turbos cost $30K for a pack of 10. These are quick bursts of speed you can engage at any time during a race by pressing the B button. You begin with 60 of them and can hold up to 200. All remaining options are permanent upgrades for your car. Brakes cost $30K and let you stop faster when you let go of A. Tire upgrades cost $40K each and better tires let you reduce skidding on the track and give you better turning speed. The Crew option costs $40K and lowers the amount of time you will spend in pit lane. MPG costs $50K per upgrade and gives you better gas mileage so you don’t have to make pit stops as often. Finally, the Engine upgrade increases your acceleration for $50K each. You start at level one across the board and can upgrade each option as high as level ten over many races.

Now it’s time to race! Gameplay is in the top-down view and you can see the entire race all at once. The action is very straightforward, simply drive along the track in the direction everyone else is going. Left always turns your car left and Right always turns your car right relative to the direction you are driving. It might be a little disorienting to turn your car while heading downward, but with a little experience it becomes second nature. If you need a little burst of speed for any reason, simply tap B to use a turbo.

I don’t know why the highway runs across the track.

The bottom of the screen displays specific information color-coded within a small box for each player. The left side of the box is the condition indicator of the car. This lets you know if you are okay or if you need to make a pit stop. The middle contains an indicator for your RPMs and what gear you are driving in. The right side displays a bar on top for fuel and a bar on bottom for your turbos. Fuel decreases as you drive, and turbos decrease as you use them. Even though you can purchase many turbos, your car can only hold 25 at a time, so the bar indicates how many you have while in the car.

Somewhere on the track is a large sign that displays other information common to all drivers. The top part of the sign shows who is winning the race. The sign displays which lap each driver is on, color-coded to match the race car, as well as the position order. If your color is on top, you are leading the race. The final lap is displayed as F. Below that shows how many total laps are in the race along with the time elapsed for the current race.

You will need to make pit stops in the game. The indicator on the bottom of the screen lets you know if you need to pit, and also a member of your pit crew in your matching color will hold up a sign on the race track letting you know that way. To pit, simply drive onto the spot in pit lane of your color. You don’t have to let go of the gas or anything. You will stop automatically and your pit crew will go to work, repairing any damage to your car, refueling the car, and maxing you out on turbos. Keep in mind that the race is still going on while you make your pit stops, so make them count.

Pit stops allow you to refuel, repair, and replenish turbos.

Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat has a damage system as well. If you collide with a wall too hard or another racer rams into your car, you will see small pieces fly off. If this happens too many times, either the front or back of your car will catch on fire, reducing your driving performance dramatically. You can make a pit stop to fix the damage, but this will set you behind a lot if you need to make an extra unscheduled pit stop because of this. This can also work to your advantage because you can intentionally damage Danny or any of the other drivers, putting them in the same predicament and giving you the upper hand.

There are nine tracks in all. They are Western Canada, New Jersey, Southern California, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Eastern Canada, Colorado, and the Tradewest Speed Bowl. All tracks are five laps long except for eight laps in Illinois and twelve laps in the Tradewest Speed Bowl. The two longer races are simple, round tracks, while the other ones can have several twists and turns.

At the end of each race, you earn both points and money depending on how well you do. First through fifth place earns you 20 points and $100,000, 16 points and $90,000, 14 points and $85,000, 12 points and $80,000, or 10 points and $75,000 respectively. You will see the standings for the current season of nine races. Then you have the opportunity to spend the money you just earned on more upgrades for your car. For the Tradewest Speed Bowl, both the points and dollar amounts are doubled. In addition, there is a bonus dollar award after this race depending on the final standings from the entire season of nine races. This award money is also double the purse for any individual race. You end up with a huge influx of cash for finishing the season that you can put toward the first race of the next season.

Get knocked around too much and your car catches fire.

If you are unable to win a race, you lose a life. You get three lives to start the game. You can’t earn any more of them, and there’s no way to see how many you have remaining. If you lose all three lives, you can continue up to three times. Losing a life always puts you at the next race no matter how badly you do. When all lives and continues are exhausted, your final score is shown and ranked against the high score chart.

I have played Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat before as part of the NintendoAge weekly contests. I only played a couple of times that week and performed reasonably well for a new player. I bought my copy at a game store for $8 sometime in 2014. I had never been to this game store about an hour away from home, so I made the most of it and bought a small handful of games for solid prices. This is an uncommon game, so I was happy to snag a copy the first time I saw it for sale. The game sells for around $20 now, mostly due to relative rarity.

I knew I could beat the game again since I did it once before during those contests. I decided I would play through the game twice, once to warm up, and again to record. I set a soft goal for myself of reaching the top score on the high score list, so I had to earn over 500 points to do that. I had not reached that score when I played the game for the contests, and on my first attempt this time I still fell short. Lucky for me, during my longplay video I earned 544 points over exactly three seasons of racing. I lost the Tradewest Speed Bowl on my last life, meaning I earned a bunch of bonus money that I wasn’t able to put to use. That didn’t matter anyway since I had maxed out on upgrades late in the third season. I was happy getting that far in the game with a nice score.

Danny becomes too much to deal with at the end.

One aspect of the game that can be really annoying is Danny’s aggressiveness level. If you are behind in the race, Danny eases up and goes slowly. He gets more aggressive if you start closing in on him, and if he is behind you he goes all out. This is often referred to as rubberbanding, as if you and Danny are connected by an invisible rubber band and he is easily able to close the gap between you two if he is behind. There is a tricky balance when making games to build this kind of effect into the game without making it visibly appear to be unfair. In this game, the developers didn’t come up with a good way to balance the difficulty other than to give Danny impossibly high speed when he is trailing. The rubberbanding here is one of the more severe cases I’ve seen. Losing a race because Danny drives faster than you possibly can is both frustrating and unfun. The best technique I found was to stay just ahead of Danny at all costs so that he will at least keep pace with you. Earlier in the game I could skip a pit stop late in the race and just turbo my way through the course if I ran out of fuel. Later on, Danny will become too much to handle unless you can play perfectly for a long time.

Having said all of that, you might be wondering why on earth I could rate Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat a 1/10 in difficulty. If you have been paying close attention and done the math, you may have figured it out already. You can see all the races and effectively beat the game without doing much of anything at all. The key is that you don’t have to repeat levels in this game if you lose a race. With three continues of three lives each, plus the three lives you start with, you can have up to twelve lives total. With only nine races, you can lose every race and still go partway into the second season. I tried it for myself and it works. Start each race and put the controller down. Coming in last each race still gets you 10 points and a trip to the next race. Make sure to continue when given the option. You don’t even have to buy upgrades. With the bonus points from the final race, you can earn 130 points and 8th place on the high score list by barely lifting a finger. I’m not saying you should play the game this way, but if you wanna stick it to that rubberbanding cheat I can’t say I blame you.

Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat is a fun racing game. For a single screen game, there is plenty of variety in the race tracks and there’s enough room to get around them. The tiny car sprites are well detailed and animated. I didn’t notice much flickering where I might have expected to see some. The track details are also well drawn. The music is solid as well. Four player games don’t come around often, and I imagine this would be a fun one to try with a group of people. The only real downside is the frustrating rubberbanding AI of Danny Sullivan. In the long run of this NES completion project, this game will only be memorable for how simple it is to see everything in the game without actually needing to play the game. That only affects me, and I certainly don’t mind an easy clear on occasion. For everyone else, this game is worth at least one try.

#85 – Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat

#85 – Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat (High Score)


Happy 1st Anniversary!

Today marks the one year anniversary for Take On The NES Library!

What started off as an idea to get some play out of my NES collection has turned into something really good thus far. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it off the ground at all due to the long time with building the website and structuring everything in a way I could be happy with. I spent about four months off and on figuring out WordPress and the design I wanted for the website, as well as randomizing and working the master game list. Finally on November 23rd, 2015, it was time to pop in Super Mario Bros. and take off on this long journey. The next day I furiously wrote and published my first of many blog posts and I have been sprinting ahead ever since. So far things have gone just as well as I could have hoped for. I have a very long way to go, but the fact that I am still going strong after a full year makes me feel pretty good about seeing this all the way through. I’m excited to sit down and play each and every new game and I hope to continue that enthusiasm for years to come.

Just for fun, I ran some numbers to get a glimpse of just how long this whole project may take. Though I have only written and published posts for 30 licensed NES games, I have actually beaten 38 games total. Now 2016 was a leap year so that makes 38 games beaten in 366 days, which comes out to roughly 9.6 days per game finished. I count 669 unique licensed NES games, so I am on pace to finish Take On The NES Library in 6,443 days. That makes the last day July 14th, 2033. Only 16 1/2 years to go! Of course there will still be other NES games to play aside from just the licensed games, so there is opportunity here for this site to never really have an ending if that’s what I want to pursue.

I also want to do some kind of special year in review post, and since I started this close enough to the end of the year I think that will be something I will write up in January. I think it could be fun to treat it like an award show and hit all the high points and low points of this project. But that’s for another day, so for now here’s to one year of Take On The NES Library and let there be many more to come!