Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#152 – John Elway’s Quarterback

John Elway is probably in here somewhere.

Not shown is a football spiraling across.

To Beat: Win a Single Game
Played: 3/13/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: John Elway’s Quarterback Longplay

There are so many sports games on the NES, but so far the balance of them for this project is way off.  I have played several basketball, baseball, wrestling, and even volleyball games already, but most other sports have received very little or no representation yet.  For instance, I have yet to play either a golf game or a tennis game.  Until now, I had yet to play a football game either.  For one of the most popular sports in America, it is finally time for football to get its due on Take On The NES Library.  And so, for this special occasion, we are starting off with … John Elway’s Quarterback.

This game was originally released as Quarterback in the arcades in 1987, developed by Leland Corporation.  In 1988, John Elway agreed to endorse the game and so it was renamed to John Elway’s Quarterback.  The game was ported to various PCs, as well as the NES in North America only.  The NES port of John Elway’s Quarterback was released in March 1989, developed by Rare and published by Tradewest.

John Elway’s Quarterback is a straightforward football game.  It can be played solo or with two players.  At the start, you select your team out of 14 total teams.  That seems impressive but the only thing it appears to change is the name of the team on the scoring at the top.  Player 1 is always the blue team and Player 2 is always the red team.  Once you press A or B to lock in your team, play begins automatically with a kick off from the red team to the blue team.  There are no other modes or anything in this game, just single matches.  Win one game to beat the game.

Kickoff time!

The controls are pretty simple.  You use the D-pad to move around.  You always control the player with the 1 displayed over his head (or 2 as the second player).  The A button is basically the jump button.  Without touching the D-pad, A jumps straight up which is useful for intercepting the ball.  With a D-pad direction held, the A button does a dive move.  You can use this to tackle the ball carrier or sneak out a yard or two on offense when surrounded.  The B button is for throwing the ball on offense.  First hold the B button down and a cursor will be displayed.  You can move this cursor freely to aim your throw.  When you have the direction you want, let go of B to throw the ball.  On defense, B is used to switch control to a different player.

Before each down, on both offense and defense, you will choose which play you want to run.  The offense has nine different plays to run, as well as kicking a field goal or punting.  You can also select Reverse Play by pressing A when Normal Play is highlighted.  I didn’t know about this when I played, but I think it might just flip each formation from left to right.  It’s not documented in the manual at all.  The defense can choose from one of six regular plays, as well as a punt return formation and a blocked kick formation.  Use the D-pad to select the play and press either A or B to choose the play.  There is a timer and the highlighted play will be automatically chosen if you don’t make a selection.  After the snap, the other players will move in line with the play you selected.

The only other unique play element is the kick, whether it is an extra point, kickoff, or punt attempt.  At the start of the play, a cursor appears at the edge of the screen at a random position.  Before the player automatically kicks the ball, you can move the cursor with Left or Right on the D-pad to adjust the angle of the kick.

Line the arrow up to kick the extra point.

There’s really not much else to say about this game; it is a simple game of standard, exhibition football with few features.  There are four quarters of 15 minutes each, though in real time it is much shorter.  In single player, you receive the kickoff at the start of the game and kickoff to the other team after halftime.  All possessions are four downs to gain 10 years or you turn over the ball to the opposition.  I don’t believe there are any penalties of any kind.  I don’t think you can fumble the ball, but the ball can be intercepted during a wayward pass.  There are basic stats displayed at the top of the screen, from the current down and yardage, time remaining, team names, and score broken down by quarter.  Like I said, it’s a simple, no frills kind of experience, to the point where I’m struggling to be any more verbose about this game than I usually am.

This was my first time playing through this game.  This is one of those super common NES games that you see all the time when buying game lots, and the cart only price is low.  I’m not sure why you would want to buy one individually.  That said, I didn’t have this game for quite awhile when collecting.  I got it around the middle of the pack in terms of the entire licensed NES set.

My playthrough of the game went really well.  I am not sure if this was just beginner’s luck or if it is just not that hard to win.  On my first try of the game, I played for about a quarter and a half just to get the feel of it.  The score was tied 7-7, so I could have kept going and would have won, but just to be sure I started over.  I finished the new game 28-0, a shutout on my first full playthrough of the game.  I scored one touchdown each quarter.  In terms of strategy there really wasn’t much to it.  On defense, I sort of followed around whoever was open.  Then once the pass was thrown, I pressed B to switch to the nearest defender to the ball and pressed A to try and jump in front of the ball to intercept it.  That worked often enough to keep them from scoring.  On offense, I messed around with different passing plays to find an open man and then zig-zagged up the field to dodge defenders.  With the right timing and movement, it seems possible to avoid a diving defender most of the time if not all of the time.

Sneak a peek at the screen and lookie at all the plays to draw from!

When doing research for this blog post, I stumbled upon what appears to be a glitch to help make this easy game even easier.  On the offensive play screen, put your cursor on top of Normal Play and leave it there until the play selection timer expires.  Normally whatever play is highlighted when time expires is the play you get, but since Normal Play isn’t actually a play that you can select, it gives you some sort of default play to run.  For this play, you need to get space to pass right away because the defenders come at you quickly.  If you can do a successful pass to a teammate, for some reason he has incredibly high speed and should score easily.  I tested it out once just to see and it is hilarious how fast he goes.  The next time I tried it I allowed a safety, so you do want to perform this carefully in a game.

I have little experience with NES football games so it’s hard to say how this one measures up to the rest, but I would guess that this is not a very good football game.  It is competent enough at it’s best but that’s about it.  The graphics are very basic, a step up from Atari graphics but only by a little bit.  There’s no music during the game, just organ sounds and sound effects, and the little songs across other parts of the game are nothing to write home about.  The controls are the best part of this game as they are simple enough to play the game effectively.  The gameplay is bare bones with just enough there to resemble a game of football.  In whole, while this is an underwhelming game, I wouldn’t call it a bad game or shovelware or anything like that.   It’s a functional NES football game, it’s just that the NES is capable of much greater things than this.

#152 – John Elway’s Quarterback


#146 – Arch Rivals

You gotta beat down before you get beat down.

Punching right through the basketball!

To Beat: Win a game
Played: 1/27/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Arch Rivals Longplay

Prior to this project, the only basketball video game I ever really played was NBA Jam.  I have had a lot of fun with that game, shoving guys around, stealing the ball, and going in for the big dunk.  Now that I have played a few more games that came before it, I am starting to build an understanding of how they paved the way to NBA Jam.  Back when I reviewed Magic Johnson’s Fast Break, I noted how it felt a little bit like NBA Jam but without all the visceral actions.  Arch Rivals is a much bigger step forward and feels a lot like a prototype for NBA Jam.

Arch Rivals originated in the arcades in 1989.  The game was developed and published by Midway.  Jeff Nauman and Brian Colin are credited as co-developers, with Jeff Nauman doing the programming and Brian Colin creating the art.  Dan Forden is listed as the composer.  The NES port of the game was programmed by Rare and published by Acclaim, releasing in North America in November 1990 and in PAL territories in 1991.  In 1992 the game was ported to both the Sega Genesis and Game Gear.  Arch Rivals also re-appeared in a few different Midway game compilations.

After booting up the game, the first thing you’ll do is set up the game on the selection screen.  There are six different teams in the game, but they only amount to a palette swap.  Press B to switch between pairings of teams until you get to the setup you want.  The A button brings you to some instructions screens so you can learn from the game without needing the manual.  Neat!  The Select button switches between single player and two player modes.  The Start button advances you ahead to the player selection screen.

The teams are angry about being palette swaps.

Regardless of team, you can select from one of eight players to control.  Each player has a character portrait and a short description of his attributes.  Tyrone is the defensive giant.  Vinnie is a great player!  Hammer is the rebound king.  Moose is a real champ.  Lewis is a top shooter.  Blade is a crowd pleaser.  Mohawk is tough and mean.  And finally, Reggie is All-American.  Really stirring stuff here, am I right?  Anyway, choose the player you want and press Start.  For my game I chose Lewis because I always like to have a good shooter.

This is a pretty simple basketball game with one big gimmick.  Games are played two-on-two, you only play single games, each quarter is four minutes long, and there are no difficulty levels.  What sets this game apart is that you can hit and shove your opponents freely without fouling.  I mean, this is called out as “A BasketBrawl” after all.  The manual mentions a shot clock violation as the only penalty but I’m not sure even that exists in this game.  Every time someone scores, you’ll see a brief animation of either one of the coaches or a cheerleader, something like that.  I think that serves the purpose of lengthening the game since contests are short and the action is quick.

The control scheme depends largely on who is holding the ball.  On offense, you press A to shoot and B to pass.  When you are near the basket you will dunk the ball instead.  If your teammate has the ball, you can direct him to shoot and pass with A and B respectively.  If you have the ball, you can do a fakeout move by holding down B, then A to shoot.  After shooting the ball, either you or your teammate, you can press A to jump to try and recover a rebound.  On defense, you press A to jump or use B to fight your opponents.  Press and hold B to “charge up,” then release B to deliver a punch, hopefully clocking the opponent and letting the ball loose.  If you hold B and press A instead, you will do a lunge move.  You can use the lunge to steal the ball away, but if you miss you roll on the ground and lose control of your player for a little bit.

Try to knock over the ball carrier.

There are a few minor things during gameplay to be made aware of.  This game scrolls the length of the court, so sometimes you or your teammate will be off-screen.  In this case, an arrow will show where the player is positioned.  The referee is pretty useless in the game with not calling any fouls, and he will often get in the way of the action.  If you collide with the ref, you get knocked down and you’ll lose your ball.  Sometimes people in the crowd toss out trash onto the court and that will trip you up the same way.  Another purely cosmetic thing you can do is that sometimes during a dunk the backboard will shatter.  I loved doing that in NBA Jam.

There are some small events between quarters to break up the action.  In between the first and third quarters, you will get a small word from their sponsors, as well as some brief gameplay tips.  At halftime, you get a very short halftime show from the cheerleading squad.  The end of game features those sweet, sweet statistics.  You can enter your high score on the leaderboard, which is how many points your player scored.  Next, you’ll see stats from the game.  They are points scored, shot percentage, steals, and rebounds, which are compared to some fictitious averages.  Finally, you’ll see where you ranked on the leaderboard.  Very exciting!

This was my first time playing through Arch Rivals, as it was my first time for all these NES basketball games.  I first bought this game at my local store back when they had cheap and plentiful NES games.  I don’t remember for sure if this was a $3 or $5 game, but I bought it with others Buy 3 Get 1 Free which is always nice when you can cherry pick your titles.  I got a few additional copies through buying lots.

This was the start of my comeback.

For this game, I had to use different strategies from my normal approach to basketball games.  My game plan is always to shoot threes, as often as possible.  For my player I chose Lewis as he is of course the “Top Shooter.”  This was the first time that my strategy let me down.  I had a really hard time getting open just to shoot the three, and when I did I missed most of the time.  I can’t tell if it was because I didn’t have a clear shot, didn’t time the shot well, or didn’t find the right spot.  My plan wasn’t working and I was losing badly.  Early in the 3rd quarter, I was down 36-21, which was when I finally figured out the trick.  Naturally it was right in front of me the whole time.  This is a game where you can foul freely, so at every opportunity I started punching the other team.  When they held the ball, I punched.  After they shot, I punched.  While waiting for the rebound, I punched.  When I got the ball, I tried to dunk which seemed to be the most effective method of scoring.  After scoring, when the other team gets the ball, that ended up being the perfect time to punch the ball away and dunk immediately, forming a nice scoring loop.  I mounted my comeback at that point, winning the game 65-54.

Arch Rivals is a little bit different from your normal NES basketball game, and certainly it is the predecessor to NBA Jam.  I would say the game has good presentation, with features like the in-game manual, a nice cast of characters to choose from, and some animated spectators in the background.  The music does not play a main role in the game, but it is fine nevertheless.  The gameplay is fast action.  Two-on-two suits this game well, though there is a lot of flickering especially when the players are all clumped together.  Punching takes a little while to get used to because it triggers when you release the button, not when you press it.  It’s such a vital weapon that you’ll figure it out.  The way I played the game mirrored how I used to play NBA Jam: Constantly knock guys over to steal the ball, then dunk.  In one way it felt right at home, but in another way it felt weird to deviate from my normal strategy that has worked in other NES basketball games.  This is not a bad game at all.  I don’t think it would hold up for repeated play, but one time through was nice.

#146 – Arch Rivals

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#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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#143 – Snake Rattle N Roll

Sneaky snakes slither surrounding slippery slopes.

Look at those good snake-y boys!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/29/19 – 1/5/20
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Snake Rattle N Roll Longplay

I love 3D platformers.  It’s one of my favorite genres of games that I know I don’t play near enough of given my interest level.  I have completed all of the mainline 3D Mario games 100% multiple times over, and I was also big into the N64 collect-a-thon games like Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo Kazooie.  Some NES developers went out of their way to implement pseudo 3D effects in games, some more explicit like in Marble Madness and some more subtle like the areas in Contra.  Snake Rattle N Roll is the closest thing the NES has to a true 3D platformer, so it may not be a big surprise to you that I really enjoyed this game.

Snake Rattle N Roll was released on the NES in July 1990.  It was developed by Rare and published by Nintendo.  The PAL version was released in March 1991, while a Mega Drive port was released in 1993 in Europe only.  Rare released a Game Boy game Sneaky Snakes in 1991 which has similar gameplay to Snake Rattle N Roll but as a 2D side-scrolling platformer.  Snake Rattle N Roll also appeared on the compilation Rare Replay that was released in 2015.  Another random tidbit is that this appears to be the first NES game released with the text “Nintendo Entertainment System” written on a red stripe across the top of the box.  That was the standard for NES releases published by Nintendo for the rest of the lifespan of the NES.

Snake Rattle N Roll has a story section in the manual without having any sort of real story.  Two snakes named Rattle and Roll are on a journey and you get to help them.  Rattle is the orange snake and Roll is the purple one.  In single player you play as Rattle, while in the simultaneous two-player mode you play as either Rattle or Roll.  To beat the game, you have to finish all 11 stages.

Tiny body, long tongue.

This game is an isometric platformer that has pretty simple controls.  You move Rattle in all eight directions with the D-pad.  The translation of the D-pad directions is just like the default 45-degree movement in games like Marble Madness and Q*bert.  Down moves you both down and left, and all other directions follow suit.  The A button jumps.  With the default speed of Rattle and the floaty nature of the jumps, you can cover a lot of ground laterally.  Press B to lash out your tongue.  You can use your tongue to eat things or attack enemies.

To clear each level in the game you need to leave through the exit door, but that’s not always as easy as it sounds.  First off, you need to grow Rattle and Roll.  There are these colorful balls that appear in the levels called Nibbley Pibbleys.  You eat them with your tongue and there’s a brief chewing animation where you can’t open your mouth again right away.  The Nibbley Pibbleys come in orange, purple, and yellow varieties.  The Nibbley Pibbley that matches your color is worth two units, while the alternate color is only worth one.  Yellow ones are worth three units for either snake.  For every four units you consume, your snake grows by one segment.  You must eat enough to grow your snake to the maximum size. When this happens, your tail segment starts flashing.  There is a weighted platform somewhere in the level with a bell on it.  When you are at full size, sitting on the platform rings the bell which opens up the level exit.  Now you proceed through the open door to clear the stage.

Fortunately, Nibbley Pibbleys appear all over the place in different ways.  The most common way to find them is to find a Nibbley Pibbley generator.  It is like a giant box with a couple of horns on it like an old-time phonograph.  It spits out Nibbley Pibbleys one or two at a time in a random direction.  You have to wait for them to land before they come alive so that you can eat them.  The Nibbley Pibbleys take on a different form depending on what stage you are on.  They start off just as simple balls that bounce around short distances, but they can grow legs and run away or sprout wings and fly around.  Later variants are harder to catch than earlier ones.  The generators sometimes spew out bombs that look like Nibbley Pibbleys at first, so you have to be a little careful.  

They don’t like staying still, that’s for sure.

This game features plenty of powerups for our heroes.  All items are worth 1000 points and have some kind of effect.  Diamonds give you temporary invincibility.  Clocks add 25 seconds of time shown at the bottom of the screen.  A rectangle with a fork on it is a tongue extension.  You can grab a few of these to gradually increase the length of your tongue.  The speed up item looks like the knob of an old wind-up toy.  A tiny arrow item reverses your controls for a little while, making it more of a power-down item.  A flashing snake head is a 1up, while a flashing snake head with its mouth open is good for a continue.  There is also a fish tail item that shows up in one level that lets you swim up a waterfall.

In addition to the powerups found out in the open, there are also many items hidden under lids.  To open a lid, stand on top and press B.  The item will fly upward a distance before falling down so you can grab it.  Be careful that sometimes the lids hide enemies or traps as well.  If you see a snake head that is not flashing, it is actually a bomb decoy and you will want to get out of the way.  Sometimes you will find the entrance to a bonus room underneath a lid.  Here you have to try and collect all five Nibbley Pibbleys before they leave the room for a nice 5000-point bonus if you nab them all.  Plus, you get to keep the added length to your snake.  There are also hidden lids out there that conceal warps.  I didn’t find any of these when I played, but they are out there.

It wouldn’t be a platformer game without enemies and traps.  Some enemies can be defeated by either jumping on them or by hitting them with your tongue a few times.  You get more points for bopping than you do for tongue lashing.  Some sharper enemies are vulnerable to the tongue but are immune to jumping on.  Sharks pursue you in the water in the first couple of stages.  There are also blades that pop out of the ground, pushers that try and shove you off the edge, and falling anvils that try and smash you.  One enemy you want to pay attention to is a Big Foot.  Literally.  It tracks around the stage and you have to hit it many times consecutively with your tongue to beat it.  If you let up your attack for just a little while, it gets all its health back.  You don’t get to see how much health it has remaining.  If you keep up the attack and defeat it, you are often rewarded with an extra life or less often rewarded with a bomb posing as a fake life.  I tried to beat the feet up wherever reasonable.

Uhh, this picture speaks for itself.

Death is a frequent occurrence in this game.  Getting damaged by an enemy or trap causes you to lose a segment of your snake, setting back your progress.  You die if you get hurt with no segments remaining.  You die if you fall too far off a ledge.  You die if you jump on top of spikes, including spiked enemies, or if you get crushed by something.  You also lose a life if the timer runs out.  The good news is that death doesn’t set you back any distance; you simply respawn near where you died.  You also respawn if you use up a continue.  You’ll see the Game Over message followed by a message to Play On if you have continues left.  When all is said and done, you are brought to the final score screen.

I wasn’t completely new to Snake Rattle N Roll before beating the game.  There was a small game store that was very close to where I lived at the time that I only visited once or twice before it closed down.  I wasn’t a full-blown collector at that time and now I really regret not visiting that store more often.  But one of the times I shopped there I picked up a loose copy of Snake Rattle N Roll.  I played it casually for a day or two and then put it away.  I know I have played the game some more since then but I’m not sure how much.  I don’t think I got anywhere past the third stage.  I no longer have the copy I bought from the store since it had some damage to it.  It took until my third copy before I acquired a cart in a condition I am happy with.

This is a hard game to beat, but I feel like it was right in my wheelhouse and so it didn’t take me as much effort to win than it could have.  The game starts out slow.  There’s not much jumping needed and the Nibbley Pibbleys are easy to snack on.  Reading the manual first helped me understand the systems at play.  The difficulty gradually ramps up from there.  The end of the second stage introduces what I call corner jumping, where you need to go in two different directions in a single, floaty jump.  These kinds of jumps become the standard for reaching new ledges.  I picked up on all of this rather quickly, reaching the halfway point of the game within the first couple of tries.  Things escalate majorly in the last few stages, and this was where I struggled the most.  Overall, it took me 13 tries to clear this game, but it could have easily been 20, 30, 40 attempts or more.  I’m happy I knocked this one out relatively quickly.

In this stage, you need a water spout boost.

Looking at the game as a whole, I really appreciate how they tied all the levels together.  This paragraph will spoil some late game elements, just a warning.  The entire game map is a mountain and across all the stages you are climbing to the top.  You begin at the bottom of this mountain that is surrounded by water, giving you a temporary safe place to land in case you fall.  As you work your way up, things start to get steeper and more treacherous.  In some areas of the game you can see pieces of levels you have already cleared, giving you a sense of progress.  Waterfalls become a more common feature as the inclines get steeper and the climbing and jumps get more difficult.  This comes to a head at Level 9 when the difficulty spikes near the top of the mountain.  Icy conditions make your path slippery, and to make matters worse there are now slopes to deal with as the ledges get narrower toward the summit.  Even enemies get a defensive boost from the cold as they form icy armor.  The final climb is very tough, but thematically this all make sense.  The final boss encounter takes place on the summit and it demands both precise control and aggressive attacking.  You’ve been groomed for it, you’re ready, but it doesn’t make it easy.

I enjoyed Snake Rattle N Roll quite a lot.  I like the graphics in this game.  There’s a nice use of colors and the characters are well animated.  The viewpoint is about as clear as you can get for an NES isometric game, though I admit it’s one of those things that you either grasp cleanly or you don’t get it at all.  This game has good music as well, opting to use music either from old 1950’s songs or tunes inspired by some of the classics.  The game controls well and I am able to pull off corner jumps without much trouble.  I did consider the speed up powerup more of a power-down since that was much harder for me to control, though that can be considered personal taste.  Gameplay is strong.  I appreciate the different ways the Nibbley Pibbleys move around and how some stages have unique elements in them.  Though the main gist is the same, there’s plenty of variety.  This is not a game for everyone, but I think it’s worth a try just to see if you might like it.

#143 – Snake Rattle N Roll

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#135 – Cabal

Shoot the background and the enemies within.

Skulls with wings make for very attractive title screens.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 9/27/19 – 10/2/19
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Cabal Longplay

Cabal turned out to be a pleasant surprise for a couple of reasons. First, it has a style of gameplay that is not commonly seen on older consoles like the NES. I don’t think it’s wholly unique on the console, but it is underrepresented at least. The second reason is it turned out to be an easier game than I anticipated going in. With so many games to play, I’ll always appreciate that. It’s always a good time blowing stuff up, and you’ll get a lot of that in playing Cabal.

Cabal first released in the arcades in 1988. The game was developed by TAD Corporation, published in Japan by Taito, and published in North America and Europe by Fabtek. The game was successful enough to be ported over to the NES and various computers. The NES version released in June 1990 in North America only. Here it was developed by Rare and published by Milton Bradley.

The story here is a simple one. You play the role of a soldier ordered by Major I.M. Havoc. The Dreaded Republic of Allied Terrorists, i.e. D.R.A.T., is planning a massive terrorist assault and you are the one tasked to diffuse the situation. You get to go in alone, or with a partner, into the terrorist camp and destroy it from within. Leave no man standing, that sort of thing. Your mission covers five levels of four scenes each. Complete each level to win this game.

Duck and cover.

Cabal is a shoot-em-up from a third-person perspective. Your character sits along the bottom of the screen shooting into the background while various enemy soldiers fire at you. Your attention is divided two ways. You shoot at the enemy via a targeting reticle on the screen and you move this around freely. When you are shooting you stand in place, leaving yourself open to attack. When you stop shooting, then you control both yourself and your crosshairs. To succeed in this game, you need to juggle between shooting at the bad guys and getting out of harm’s way.

Here are the controls for Cabal. Use the D-pad to move your crosshairs in all directions. Press and hold the A button to fire your machine gun and its unlimited ammo. Holding down A locks your feet into place. If you tap and release A quickly, you will lob a grenade. It has to be a very light tap. You have limited grenades as displayed on the bottom of the screen. Holding down the B button gives you some advanced movement options. B with Left and Right lets you run. If you press diagonally up with B held, you will jump and dive into a roll, while diagonally down with B does a duck and roll. While rolling, you can change directions a little bit to help dodge.

In addition to the perspective, another neat thing about this game is all the things you can destroy. Different enemies appear constantly, sometimes hiding behind parts of the background. With enough firepower, you can destroy many of the obstacles in the way. Buildings, towers, walls, stationary vehicles, all are fair game. For larger objects, they might go through several phases of damage before crumbling entirely. Sometimes it is helpful to remove the hiding spots in order to defeat enemies more quickly. Most levels begin with walls in front that give you some temporary protection from enemy fire. I say temporary because they will fall to firepower eventually, including from your own shots if you aim too low.

Many background features are destructible.

There are some powerups that aid you. Sometimes enemies drop these when defeated, while others are revealed from your various acts of destruction. The most common pickups are stars that are just for points. You may find extra grenades for your stash. You can also pick up some temporary enhancements for your machine gun in the form of a red rifle and a blue rifle. I believe the red rifle gives you wider crosshairs while the blue one gives you faster rapid fire. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between the two, though the extra firepower certainly did help take down more stuff.

This game has a common flow over its five stages. You need to defeat a certain number of enemies per scene to clear it. There is a long Enemy bar at the bottom of the screen that shrinks for every enemy you defeat. Once you defeat enough bad guys to empty the bar, the level ends immediately. All remaining destructible objects are knocked down while you run gleefully forward toward the next scene. Completing the fourth scene in each level opens up a boss battle. The boss’s health bar is displayed at the top, simply shoot the boss enough to take it out. The bosses are damage sponges so this will take some time.

There are several types of enemies that appear throughout the stages. Standard green soldiers are the bulk of what you’ll see. They walk across the screen, eventually stopping to fire at you. The white soldiers are really annoying. They behave similarly to the green soldiers, only they stop to lob grenades that you can shoot to detonate while airborne. They also roll out of the way when shot. They take quite a lot of firepower to defeat. Tanks sit still for a while before driving forward and shooting. A direct grenade takes them out, or a lot of machine gun fire. Helicopters swoop across the top of the screen and fire a stream of bullets. Bombers quickly appear to drop bombs straight down. You can blow up the bombs before they land just like grenades. Soldiers in scuba gear pop out of the water briefly to shoot you. There are also harmless medics that pass by. They don’t appear often and I always avoided shooting them so I don’t know what happens if you shoot them.

Scuba divers don’t give you much advance warning.

This game has both lives and continues. You begin with four lives. You get an extra life for beating the end-of-level boss, but that’s all. When you run out of lives, you can continue three times. Continues are essentially an extra set of lives and you keep playing right from where you died with no interruption or setbacks. If you are score chasing, keep in mind that continuing resets your score back to 0, but that’s the only drawback.

This was my first time playing through Cabal. I’ve only played this during cart testing and only played just a few scenes. I don’t think I did very well playing. This is not a super common cart, but it isn’t terribly hard to find and it’s not that expensive, selling for around $6 or so.

I expected this game to be much harder to beat than it was, considering my brief experience from the past. It turns out, at least for me, that the first few stages are pretty challenging compared to most levels in the game. I found a good strategy that was most helpful for the middle levels in the game. It took me four attempts total to beat the game. On the third attempt, I got all the way to the final boss and lost. I had no trouble on the fourth try, only needing to use two out of my three continues to beat the game. A couple days later I sat down to record my longplay video and that time I needed all three continues to win. Still, it was a pretty comfortable victory considering that.

Hiding behind walls in the corners was my best strategy.

I have some observations about the game that led me to discovering a solid strategy. It didn’t take long to see that the enemies always appear from the same locations at the same intervals. Soldiers often walk in from either side of the screen. Once you clear out the obstacles and take out a few soldiers close together, they will reappear in the same order. I got into a rhythm where I could empty out the screen and figure out about when the next wave would walk in. I positioned my guy on the side of the screen where the most soldiers appeared so that I could blow them away right when they appeared, before they could stop and fire. Often, I had enough time to get the ones on the other side of the screen too. Levels with mostly green soldiers are easy with this strategy, but it gets trickier with enemies like white soldiers and the scuba divers. What helps with that is I noticed that rolling on the ground is very effective at avoiding standard fire. Either you can’t get hit while rolling or your hitbox is very small. I got into the habit of rolling constantly anytime I was under fire until I found a safe spot to open up and fire. This is not a foolproof strategy, but it kept me from dying enough to beat the game.

Cabal is a fun shoot-em-up on the NES that I enjoyed played. The graphics and animations are pretty good. There can be a lot of activity going on the screen at once, from destructible buildings to grenades exploding to blankets of bullet fire, sometimes all at once. Unavoidably, the sprites flicker, but the game whistles along and I didn’t remember any slowdown. The controls might seem cumbersome at first, but I adapted to them quickly. Controlling both your player and the crosshairs takes some getting used to, and I can see it not clicking with everyone. I don’t remember much at all about the music, which usually tells me that it wasn’t that great anyway. The boss battles are pretty well done but tend to drag on a bit. The levels can drag on too. This is a repetitive game by nature, but it is a short enough game that it is okay by me. There is a mix of good and bad things here, but overall it is a fine game.

#135 – Cabal


#124 – Marble Madness

This classic arcade game is right at home on the NES.

Simple title screen, saving the graphics for later.

To Beat: Finish Level 6
My Goal: Beat the game without dying
What I Did: Beat the game with 2 deaths
Played: 5/6/19
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Marble Madness Longplay

There are some games on the NES where there is a large gulf in perception of difficulty. Marble Madness is one of these games. I’ve played this game a lot and have gotten pretty good at it. I know a few people that have put in a lot of time to get high scores and know this game like the back of their hand. I have also had a few people tell me that this game is too hard and they haven’t gotten very far. One thing I do know is that from either crowd, this game is always a popular pick.

The original arcade release of Marble Madness was in late 1984. It was developed and published by Atari Games. Mark Cerny was the lead designer and Bob Flanagan was the primary developer. The original run of 4,000 arcade machines was deemed a success, though interest tapered off a few weeks after release. Marble Madness would be widely ported after that to many home computers and game consoles. The NES port of Marble Madness was released in North America in March 1989 and in PAL regions also in 1989. It was developed by Rare and published by Milton Bradley.

Marble Madness is a simple game to pick up and play. The object of the game is to guide your marble through each of six courses to the goal line at the end. The entire game is played from an isometric perspective. Use the D-pad to move your marble in any direction. Press and hold A to move faster. You can pause the game by pressing Start. You will have to pass through all kinds of obstacles, traps, and enemies along the way, but your biggest enemy is the timer. The game ends when the timer hits 0. If you can clear all six courses before running out of time, you win the game.

A nice easy course to get things started.

You begin the game by selecting one or two players. Marble Madness features two-player simultaneous play with one player controlling the blue marble and the second player moving the red one. Then each player enters his name up to six characters long. Next, choose with directional option you want. The 90-degree option is the standard control scheme where you move in the direction you press. For the 45-degree option, you will rotate your controller clockwise at an angle so that the primary D-pad directions point diagonally. While the 45-degree option makes sense given the perspective, I have always used the 90-degree setup.

Death is a very common occurrence in this game. There are several enemies that will get rid of your marble or knock you around. There are many pits for you to fall into. Your marble is also fragile and breaks if it falls from too high. The good thing is that you have unlimited lives. The bad part is that each death and restoral takes precious time away. Some deaths are worse than others in the time department. Falling off the side, for instance, is a brief setback and you get back to the action quickly. If your marble gets crushed from falling too far, you must sit through a short animation of a broom sweeping up the marble dust left behind. You can survive shorter falls but your marble will spin out a little and it becomes difficult to control for a second. Some death animations from being killed by enemies are longer than others. Obviously, you want to avoid dying if you want to get through this game, but you can suffer many deaths and still win.

The clock may be the major enemy in the game but there are some ways to add precious seconds to the timer. At the start of Level 2, you are given a bunch of time to start off with. You are awarded added time at the start of each subsequent course. Every now and again, a magic wand will appear. Your marble will stop dead in its tracks and the wand bestows you with 10 added seconds. It is a welcome sight that seems to be completely random. For experienced players, you might see your timer capped at 99 seconds.

These worm sucker enemies aren’t too scary.

Marble Madness is a brief experience from start to finish, so it is quite popular as a score attack game. You can earn some points from obstacles on the course. There is a black marble enemy that you can get 1000 points from if you knock if off the side of the ledge. Chutes suck in your ball to transport them, giving you points for doing so. Most of your score is earned from the time bonus at the end of each level. If you beat the game, you also earn a bunch of points depending on how much time is remaining on the clock and how many marbles you lost along the way.

Each course in the game has a name and some features specific to that course. The first course is called the Practice Race. You start with 60 seconds but this is a very short level. I normally clear it in 6 seconds. It’s just meant to give you a little time to play and get accustomed to the controls, movement, and physics. Even so, this level has an additional bonus. There is a half-pipe-like structure at the bottom and if you speed your marble into it and cross the pit to the other side, you can hit what looks like a tic-tac-toe puzzle on the ground and earn some points.

Level 2 is the Beginner Race. Your time from the first level does not carry over. You start off with a fresh 65 seconds. There are a couple of enemies at the first part of this level. The infamous black marble appears right off the bat. I don’t think it is too difficult to get past. After that are these green worms that hop and suck your marble up if they land on it. Near them is a panel that pops up and prevents you from crossing until it goes down. Past that, you have a branching path. The left side is longer but easy to clear. The right side you have to take a chute down and then cross some narrow hilly ledges. It’s significantly tougher this way, but you get points for the chute and it is faster. The final obstacle is this deep net with a hole on the other side. I go along the very edge so I don’t fall in.

This is one of those iconic images in gaming.

The third course is the Intermediate Race. You get 35 seconds of time added to your clock that carries over from the previous stage. A new acid puddle enemy appears here. They appear to move randomly but I always seem to pass by them the same way every time. Don’t touch them at all or you lose your marble and some time. Near the end of the stage is another branching path. The quick way is across a conveyor belt that has a wave in it that shoves you off.

Course 4 is the Aerial Race. You have 30 more seconds added on. This level has several new traps and gadgets. First up are the vacuums that appear along a straight stretch early on. You have to go fast to get by them. There is another branching path after the catapult. The way I go takes you through these pistons that pop up out of the ground and throw you in the air. As always, the fast way is the trickier way. The final obstacles are these hammers that pop up along a narrow stretch of track just before the goal line. There is a pattern to them that is hard to discern early on. This level was my first roadblock when I was learning the game years ago.

Level 5 is the Silly Race. This time you only get 20 additional seconds. This is the only level in the game where you go from the bottom up to the top. It takes some getting used to. Up the initial slopes takes you to a section that looks like a miniature version of the game, complete with tiny little enemies that you can crush and get a few seconds of time added. Up the branching chute always pushes you to the left side in a single player game. This section is nasty because the gravity is weird here and it is hard to parse how you need to navigate the slopes. Past that are these endless flying birds that destroy your marble.

The final course is the Ultimate Race. You only get 20 more seconds here for the end. This level features an ice surface that causes your marble to slide and a grooved surface that causes you to move slowly against the grain. Some familiar traps make a reappearance here. The final section is a brutal gauntlet of appearing and disappearing ledges that puts your skills to the test. It is the Ultimate Race after all!

This obvious looking trap is not so predictable.

I have played a lot of Marble Madness before but I didn’t start on NES. I grew up owning the Game Boy version and that was what I was familiar with. Probably due to space limitations, the Game Boy port only has the first five levels in the game. I was always interested in playing that mysterious final level. I am not sure if I ever beat the NES version before 2014 when I first played it in the Nintendo Age contests. Since then I have beaten the game many times over.

For this playthrough, I wanted to see if I could beat the game without dying. It is not an easy task. I set aside about an hour to play and took the best attempt out of that hour of recording. I usually end up dying 15-20 times, so I figured, if I’m careful, I should at worst come up with a run around 5 deaths. Pretty early on, around the 5th try or so, I managed a two-death run with a nice score of 156K. To get the big scores, you need to go quickly but also get lucky with some wands so that you have a bunch of time remaining at the end. You can get up to three wands if the luck falls your way. I had two of them in my run, so combined with only two deaths I came away with my personal best high score. I could have had 160K if I had tried for the bonus points in the Practice Race. I kept on playing and had a couple more two-death runs but with lower scores because of no wands. It probably wouldn’t take much longer for me to get that no-death run, but this is good enough for now.

Marble Madness is a classic arcade game that I think should be in every NES collection. It is a very short game but with good action and it is fun to replay over and over. The controls are not ideal without the trackball from the arcade version, but they are good enough. It is nice to have two control options. The graphics are kind of plain but in a good way. The tracks are clear and the slopes are shaded differently to help you see them better. The game casts a lot of shadows too which gives it a more realistic look. The music is very good as well. This is a cheap cart to own that is very common, which is always appreciated for good games. This is a game that has wide appeal to all demographics, so if you haven’t played it before, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

#124 – Marble Madness


#123 – WWF Wrestlemania Challenge

The next in the series both added and removed challenge.

This is very detailed for the NES.

To Beat: Win the eight-man tournament
Played: 5/2/19 – 5/3/19
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: WWF Wrestlemania Challenge Longplay

I seem to have hit a steady stream of NES wrestling games. It took almost 100 games to get to the first one, and now I seem to get one every 10-20 games. I am pretty sure this pace won’t keep up and that this will be the last NES wrestling game for a while. I guess I’ll have to wait and see! This was the easiest one of the genre I’ve played so far, which is something I’m always grateful for. Let’s take a look.

WWF Wrestlemania Challenge was developed by Rare and published by LJN. It was released on the NES only in November 1990. The game also saw a PAL release in 1991. This is the second of four WWF Wrestlemania games on the NES. This game, like the first, was developed by Rare. However, different developers would work on the other two games.

There is no story to this game. This is just a good old fashioned wrestling game between several characters featuring several different modes of play. The primary mode is the single-player eight-man tournament. The wrestlers you will face in this mode, in order, are Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Ravishing Rick Rude, Big Boss Man, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Andre the Giant, “Macho King” Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and Ultimate Warrior. When I say you will face them, I do mean you. You will play the role of the wrestler You, taking on each opponent one at a time. It’s too bad that there’s no customization at all, so the role of You is just a generic white guy. Anyway, if you defeat all wrestlers in all matches, you win the tournament and beat the game.

You are the hero this time.

The controls are more simplified in this version of the game. Use the D-pad to walk around in all eight directions. The ring is oriented like a diamond here so there will be quite a bit of diagonal movement. The A button is used for basic strikes. Tap the A button to do a punch. Press and hold the A button to do a secondary move, such as a kick or headbutt. The B button performs a stronger move. The move depends on which direction the opponent is facing. If you are facing each other, B does a bodyslam. If you approach the opponent from behind, then B does a different move. Most wrestlers have a power move that is performed by pressing both A and B together. This can burn your energy faster, so don’t overdo it. If the opponent is laying on the mat, you can press A to attack. You can also press B here to do a pin, but you have to be lined up with the bottom of the fallen opponent to pin. The different moves will vary depending on the wrestler, but these are the basic controls for all moves.

You have some other move options as well. You can climb up on the turnbuckle in any ring corner by walking up to the turnbuckle and pressing A and B together as you press against it. Once you climb up, you can do an attack by pressing A. While airborne, use the D-pad to aim your attack. You can leave the ring the same way you climb on the turnbuckle by walking into the ropes and pressing A and B together. Be careful not to stay out of the ring past the countout or you will be disqualified. You can dodge an opponent’s power move by pressing both A and B together. If you are being pinned or are caught in a submission move, toggle between Left and Right on the D-pad to break out of it.

To win the match, you will have to pay attention to the energy meters of each wrestler. They are displayed on either side of the ring apron, which I think is a nice touch. Each successful move decreases the opponent’s energy meter. Using power moves will deduct a small amount of energy for each attempt. Avoiding attacks for awhile will also slowly increase your energy. To pin your opponent successfully, you have to run him almost completely out of energy. I believe you can force your opponent into submission with certain moves when low on health, but I didn’t see that happen.

Get his energy low, then pin. It’s that simple!

That’s about it for the core gameplay, but there are some different modes to choose from. One is the tag team match. You can control two wrestlers one at a time against a pair of opponents. Here you can switch between the two by going all the way into your corner of the ring and pressing Select. Each wrestler has a separate health meter and the man in reserve slowly gains stamina while inactive. Tag team matches are won when one of the wrestlers in the opposing tag team is pinned or disqualified. It is possible for teammates to both be in the ring together, but one of the two is subject to a countout if he doesn’t return to his corner. There are a couple of special controls here that occur when on top of the turnbuckle. If you are on the turnbuckle of the opposing team, you can kick the opposing, inactive wrestler by pressing B. Similarly, you can attack your own inactive teammate from the turnbuckle by pressing both A and B together. Another similar mode to the tag team match is the Survivor Series. There are two teams of three wrestlers each with only one active at a time. You can tag other teammates into the match. This time, each wrestler must be eliminated from the match individually. When all wrestlers on one team are eliminated, the other team wins.

There are quite a few variations between these different modes. They are broken down in the menu by either One player vs. Computer, Player vs. Player, or Two Players vs. Computer. There are four single player modes. The eight-man tournament is the main mode but you can also play a single exhibition match, you can control both members of a tag team in a match, and you can form a team in a Survivor Series. For two players competitively, you can engage in a one-on-one match, a tag team match, or a Survivor Series. There is only one two-player cooperative mode which is a tag team tournament against four computer-controlled tag teams.

Sometimes you get hit by a super move, that’s life!

You do get an ending screen for each mode. The text varies depending on what kind of match you won. In a way, you could consider any of them an ending, but most people would agree that winning what amounts to a single player campaign is the real criteria for beating the game. To that end, the game makes it a bit easier in this mode by giving you a couple of continues if you lose a match. You get an instant rematch should you lose, but if you lose three matches then you have to start all over.

This was my first time playing WWF Wrestlemania Challenge. This is a game I pulled off the bottom of my list that I wasn’t originally going to play so soon. I don’t recall when I picked this game up. The WWF games were reasonably popular, but only the first game is the one that is most commonly found. Still, I don’t think WWF Wrestlemania Challenge is too tough to track down. It should be easy to find for around $5-$10.

I didn’t have too much trouble with this game, beating it on my third attempt. I figured out somewhat of an exploit on this game. I wasn’t able to do this every time, but it was consistent enough to beat the game. I noticed the opponents either actively chase you or run away from you. If they run away, go get them! I would hit them with my B button move and then slam them when on the mat. If they come after me, I would retreat to either the top or bottom corner. Once in the corner, face toward the oncoming wrestler and mash the B button. It’s something about that corner where the opponent doesn’t line up with you soon enough to attack and you can get your move in first. The opponent then runs away and you repeat the cycle until you pin him with less than one health bar left. Using that method, I beat the game without using any continues pretty quickly.

A corner strategy worked out well for me.

As an aside, this game provides a turning point for my master game list for this project. I’ve mentioned my master list setup a few times but I’ll recap here. I initially removed a large chunk of games from my randomized game list and placed them at the very end. Lots of sports games, these wrestling games, and others were handled this way. About a year into the project I had a change of heart and decided to pull some of those games forward periodically. I’ve been aggressively promoting games lately and I have reached the inflection point where if I keep this pace up, I will have all those back-of-the-list games finished way earlier than the rest. Also, it has been troublesome and time-consuming managing what amounts to two lists. Finally, I have reconsolidated. Those less-desirable games have been spread out through the rest of the list and will appear more organically instead of me deciding on a whim to play one. I am now pleased with the structure of the overall game list, while still managing, for the most part, to keep the remaining games and their order a big secret even from myself.

Back to WWF Wrestlemania Challenge, I think this is a pretty decent wrestling game. It’s not quite as good as Tecmo World Wrestling, but it’s easier to play and much less demanding on my forearm strength and trigger finger. There are several different wrestlers with many modes and variations on game play, including a few different multiplayer modes. Controls are simple for a wrestling game and don’t require memorizing different moves. You still have to remember a lot of controls, but it comes easy in my experience. The graphics are nicely drawn and animated, and the music is decent as well. It is a touch on the easy side, but that is okay with me. It doesn’t quite live up to the name of WWF Wrestlemania Challenge in the difficulty department. That’s really the only complaint I have from this otherwise solid game.

#123 – WWF Wrestlemania Challenge


#113 – High Speed

High Speed, high stakes, and high scoring.

Featuring voice samples!

To Beat: Board the rocket to beat the system
To Complete: Beat the game and get the high score
What I Did: Beat the game with a score of 62,356,760
Played: 1/14/19 – 2/2/19
Difficulty: 10/10
My Difficulty: 10/10
My Video: High Speed Longplay

It’s another milestone here at Take On The NES Library. Game #113 is the first NES pinball game. There are a grand total of six NES pinball games, so I’m not that surprised the first one took some time to show up. Pinball machines are always a good time, even though I tend to fail out after only a few minutes. I have only been a casual player but I’ll play every time I see a machine. I know I would have to dedicate myself to playing a pinball game for a long time to get good at it. That’s what I had to do here to play High Speed. I don’t know if it’s due to my lack of experience, but this was a very challenging game to beat and another 10/10 in difficulty.

The High Speed pinball machine was released by Williams in 1986. Designer Steve Ritchie was inspired to make the game by his own police chase in California where he was supposedly driving at 146 mph. High Speed was a popular machine with a production run of 17,080 machines, which is well above the average of 2500 machines per run. The NES game was developed by Rare and published by Tradewest in North America in July 1991. PAL regions received the game in 1994. This was the final NES pinball game released by date.

The controls are simple. Any direction of the D-pad flips the left flipper, while the A button triggers the right flipper. There is an upper flipper on the right side of the playfield that also is triggered by the A button. The Select button nudges the table from the right while B nudges it from the left. In my experience, Select directs the ball slightly to the left and B nudges it to the right. The Start button pauses the game but you have to hold it down for a little bit before pausing kicks in.

It only looks like standard pinball.

Begin your game by launching the ball from the plunger on the bottom-right. Hold the A button to pull the plunger down and release the button to launch the ball. You can control the strength by how long you hold the button down. I like to launch at a little greater than half-strength so that I have better reaction time for hitting the ball with the upper-right flipper.

The bottom of the screen displays the text that would normally appear at the top of the actual machine. You can see your score on the left and miscellaneous text on the right for different events during game play. The score display only contains seven digits but the game maintains score up to one hundred million. A neat feature of this game is the split-screen effect. The playfield is too tall to see the whole screen at once. There is a screen split at the bottom of the screen so that the flippers are always visible. The top part of the view scrolls upward enough so that you always see the lowest ball.

High Speed also contains voice samples. These are like the ones on the actual pinball machine. The downside is that playing the samples freezes the board entirely during its duration. They are short clips, but in a long game you will hear them all the time. Fortunately, you can disable them if you want. On the Pause screen, there are two boxes you can toggle with the A button. The left one toggles the music and the right one toggles the voices.

The playfield contains a long lane on both sides that the game calls highways. They connect at the top and you can loop the ball all the way around. There is a smaller lane left of the right ramp that contains an eject hole. The ball is held briefly before being sent down the right lane in front of the upper flipper. There is a ramp in the middle of the playfield. It is best hit from the upper flipper. The top of the ramp connects to two return lanes, one on either side of the playfield, that drop the ball above the corresponding flipper. The ramp also exits by the upper flipper again, creating another loop. There is a set of three pop bumpers below the ramp as well as some targets indicated by stoplights. At the bottom by the flippers, each side has a slingshot and two lanes. One leads the ball to the flipper and the other leads the ball down the drain.

You’ll see the ball go up the ramp a lot in this game.

As you play the game, the stoplights will go from green to yellow to red. You can advance the stoplights by hitting the targets or more commonly by taking the ramp. When the light is red, take the ramp to start the police chase. This triggers two voice samples along the ramp loop. During the police chase, hit the ramp again to initiate multi-ball. The ball is locked and you get two more to launch from the plunger for up to three-ball multi-ball. This also triggers the jackpot. It starts out at 250,000 points and increases as you score points on the board. The jackpot maxes out at two million points. Hit the ramp one more time during multi-ball to claim the jackpot. This also locks the ball until all other balls are either locked in the same way or lost down the drain. Going back to one ball stops this sequence and the lights go back to green.

The inner lanes near the flippers light up the two outer lanes at the top of the playfield. These are only lit for a little while. Take the lane to get the highway bonus. The highway bonus points increase the more you take those lanes. Once those points max out, you can then trigger the hold bonus feature which maintains your main bonus score to the next ball after you lose one. Advance one more time to trigger the extra ball. You then have to shoot the ball into the eject hole to collect the extra ball. It is best to maintain both multi-ball and the extra ball for as long as you can.

The NES version takes the standard game play up a notch. There are items appearing on the board that you collect by hitting them with the ball. Money bags give you points and subsequent money bags give you progressively higher amounts. There are also safes and helicopters that eventually trigger a couple of mini-games. Those are fine, but in an evil twist, there are also several enemies on the board you have to deal with that mess with your ball or flippers in various ways. Enemies stay away while you have multi-ball enabled, which is another fine incentive. You can also fight back.

Bombs and other enemies make your life difficult.

Here are each of the enemies. Water puddles just slow your ball down. You can destroy it by hitting a ball over it quickly. Tumbleweed will grab your ball and drop it directly down the drain in the middle. You can destroy it with a fast ball or by shaking the table as it descends. Rust balls attach to your flipper mountings and destroy the flipper completely. Supposedly you can shake them off the flipper but I never got that to happen. A simple touch of the ball removes them from play. Should you lose a flipper, you will automatically trade a previously collected safe or helicopter to recover your lost flipper after a short time. Heli-bombs float toward your flipper and blow them off when they detonate. You can touch the bomb with the ball to destroy it. To foil the bomb, you can flip them up briefly with the flippers. If it explodes while not touching your flipper, it does no damage. Acid patches grab your ball and try to dissolve it. You can shake the playfield when held to remove the acid. The manic mechanic chases your ball and slows it down, eventually destroying it if contacted too many times. You can damage the mechanic with a fast ball and eventually drive it away. Barriers block the two upper lanes. You can destroy the barrier by hitting it twice from the front or once from behind. Finally, the magnetic helicopter pulls your ball toward the middle of the playfield. Eventually it will collect the ball and try to carry it away. When held, shake the table quickly to destroy it. All enemies are defeated when you start up multi-ball.

There are two mini-games that take place on separate screens. These appear by collecting either three safes or three helicopters. Collecting three of each will interrupt whatever mode you are currently on except for active multi-ball. Three safes create one large safe in the center. Hit a ball inside when it opens to take that ball to the pachinko mini-game. If multi-ball is in effect, you can send multiple balls to the game. The mini-game starts once all balls either enter the safe or are lost. Similarly, three helicopters send in a big helicopter with a dangling rope ladder. Send a ball up the ladder to board the helicopter for a racing mini-game.

Let’s start with the racing mini-game. It takes place on a miniature pinball table. There are four cars and you are the red car. The idea is to win the race by hitting the red car to speed it up or hitting an opposing car to slow it down. Every ball you bring in is included for the duration of the race. Losing a ball down the drain sends it back up to the playfield for free after a brief delay. There is a 59-second timer. The race ends when either time expires or one car has completed nine laps. There is a lap counter at the bottom and the cars are ordered by their place in the race. There are some objects on the field like rocks or trees. You can destroy them and sometimes they drop a powerup. You can get a timer increase or a bomb that spins out all opposing cars. There are also nitro boosts that appear at random and you get a big speed burst by collecting that. To beat the race, you need to place either first or second. You earn some points based on how well you completed the race. You only play one race at a time. Beating three separate races triggers a nice fireworks sequence.

Racing in a pinball game? Well Rare did make RC Pro-Am.

The other mini-game is pachinko. Instead of flippers, you control a mini-cannon at the bottom of the table. Use Left or Right to aim the cannon and press A to shoot a ball upward. There are pegs and cups on the board and to beat the table you have to collect a ball in each cup. There is a drain at the bottom that collects the balls and puts them back into the cannon. You get either 59, 79, or 99 seconds to complete the board depending on how many balls you brought into the mini-game. There’s a ball meter at the bottom and I don’t fully understand how it works. You can’t run out of balls but when it is low you can’t shoot as many at once. The meter slowly fills back up all the time. Sometimes, a clock will appear that adds time if you collect it. Every two pachinko boards completed starts up a fireworks sequence. You also get points for how well you played the mini-game.

The fireworks sequences from either game unlocks some special bonuses features. You collect these special bonuses by getting the ball into the eject hole. In total, there are eight pachinko boards and six races for a total of six sets of fireworks and six bonuses. The bonuses are, in order, Kickback, Ball Return, Saucer, Drive Again, Lightning Bombs, and Rocket. Kickback lights the two outer flipper lanes to kick up and recover a ball heading down the drain. Ball Return acts like an extra ball by sending the lost ball back into play right away. The Saucer bonus sends a UFO onto the playfield and you can send a ball into it. This takes you to a screen where it claims you “beat the system so far” and gives you a cool one million points. Drive Again is an extra ball. Lightning Bombs are really powerful. You get three of them and you can activate them by pressing A, B, and any D-pad direction. It sprays lightning across the screen that both collects powerups and defeats any enemy on the playfield. Too bad you get them so late in the game. The Rocket is a lot like the saucer. Board the rocket and you get a screen claiming “you’ve beaten the system this time” and earn two million points. After all that, the sequence starts over again.

I have played a little bit of High Speed in the past. It was a Nintendo Age weekly contest game back in 2014. That week I struggled with the game and scored about 3.4M on my best attempt. The winning score that week was over 18M. I like playing pinball, but on actual machines and not so much video game versions. This game sat for several years until I beat it now. High Speed is a relatively common game that sells at around $8 or so for a loose cart.

I have three main sources of information I use to determine when to consider a game beaten: The NES Ending FAQ, NA’s “Can NA Beat Every NES Game” yearly thread, and TheMexicanRunner’s website. In this case, all three sources had different ideas for considering High Speed beaten. The NES Ending FAQ says there is no ending and to max out the score at 99,999,999. The NA thread says to get first place on the game’s high score chart, which is surpassing 51,627,910 points. TMR’s goal was to beat the system twice by completing every mini-game. My take is that TMR got this one right. Beating the system twice ensures you have gotten all possible bonuses and beaten all distinct mini-games, plus you get a screen saying you “beat the system this time” which is pretty clearly an ending to me. Certainly, it’s possible to max out the score without beating all the mini-games, but I think you have to see and clear all the unique content to consider the game beaten.

Without extra balls, I would still be playing this game.

TMR had High Speed as one of his ten toughest NES games, and I would have to agree with that. This is certainly worthy of the coveted 10/10 difficulty rating. I would guess I spent about 20 or so attempts where I scored under 4M points. I had some sudden improvement and then went another 20 attempts hovering between 7M and 16M for most tries. I needed around 10 more attempts to put me over the edge. It seems to me that if a game takes me around 50 tries or more to beat, then it is probably going to be a 10/10. This is now my 3rd 10/10 game along with Ikari Warriors and Q*bert. I would slot High Speed below both the other two in difficulty comparatively.

This is a challenging game for a few reasons. For pinball in general, you have to be good at making shots you want while also keeping the ball from situations where you are likely to lose it. In real life, I will have balls come right down the middle through the flippers. I found that didn’t happen all that often in High Speed, at least with a single ball in play. I was more likely to lose balls down the side, particularly the left side. (Left side kick back is often enabled when the right side is not, meaning balls may favor falling to the left if caught in between.) You have to constantly nudge the table to your advantage, for example, when that kick back is missing. There were two shots I had issues with when hitting the ball with the very edge of either flipper. Hitting the edge of the left flipper sends the ball off the right side, off the left side, and then right down the center. The edge-of-right-flipper shot goes off the left side, off the right side, and directly down the outside drain. I had to recognize those shots right away and start shaking the table to try and recover early. The left flipper shot can be saved with some Select button shaking, but the right flipper shot will sometimes go down the drain no matter what you do. Multi-ball causes complications too, since ricochets go down immediately or I don’t notice balls falling down the side drains. You also need to be careful not to shake the table too quickly or frequently so that you don’t cause a tilt condition and the table stops working. Just like a real machine! It is a necessity at times when the ball gets caught by an enemy. You just have to be aware of when you get in danger that you try and ease up on shaking for a while. These were specific issues I needed to grasp to beat this game.

The pinball part is hard enough to learn, but the pachinko boards are on a whole other level. They seem harmless at first but soon they start to feel impossible. There seems to be some randomness, but even after beating the game I am not so sure. I can fire a string of balls in a row that all fall down the same way. There is a trick to this that is not mentioned in the manual or anywhere written that I saw. You can speed up a ball by holding down the A button. You can visually see smoke behind the ball when it is going really fast. This will allow you to change up some of the ricochet angles and make some cups possible to reach. Even knowing that, often it is hard to tell how to reach certain cups on the board. I know for one shot I first had to tap A to clear a peg, then hold A to send it to a distant cup. Another issue is that some of the lower pegs are put in places where they end up blocking most of your shots. You would think that would help narrow down possibilities, but that wasn’t the case for me. If you fail, you have to collect three safes and try again. You can do this as often as necessary. It just puts more risk on you keeping things up on the pinball side.

These later pachinko tables are a huge test of patience.

My winning run was something magical. Before that, I mustered a 26M run and a 44M run. The 44M game was particularly infuriating in that I was one pachinko game away from getting the rocket. In fact, I was one cup away that I just could not figure out how to reach. I had four tries at that last board and always came up short. The winning run was as close to perfect on the pinball side as I could have possibly hoped. I needed the help of several extra balls for sure. I just happened to counter and save nearly every bad shot. I also found the timing for the left-hand lane. I had started avoiding it because if I missed to the left the ball would find the drain way too often. I couldn’t believe how many times I hit that lane this time. I ended up beating all the mini-game boards and scored 55M all on Ball 1. At least two pachinko games were won after time ran out on my last ball or two. I spent over two hours playing on a Saturday morning, and I had to lose intentionally just to appease my family and get on with our weekend. I finally ran out at over 62M points but I think I could have maxed out the score on that attempt if I wanted to and had more time.

One thing that helps is that when you really get good at the game, you’ll find that extra balls are plentiful. The extra ball you get from the eject hole can only be collected one at a time, but you can get it again after losing a ball. There are some other ways to earn extra balls that stack on top. Collecting Drive Again from the bonus features gives you an extra ball. The Ball Return bonus feature is like a hidden extra ball since it comes into play immediately instead of awarding bonus first. There is also a sun-shaped powerup that bestows an extra ball. The enemies’ appearances are scheduled by a lengthy sequence and the extra ball shows up at the very end of that sequence. Any time you lose a ball, you get the right to earn it back from the eject hole, no matter how many other balls you have saved up. I was able to stack up a bunch of extra balls and keep them going for a long time. It’s too bad that getting that far requires a lot of time, patience, and learning.

I believe that High Speed is a really good NES pinball game. The graphics are nicely drawn. The music is pretty good even though you will hear the same couple of tunes a lot while playing. If you don’t like it you can just turn it off. The voice samples sound a bit muffled, but it’s the type of sound quality you would expect to hear from a police radio, so in that way it fits perfectly. Unfortunately, the samples interrupt game play so often that I know it used up several minutes of a two-hour run. The gameplay is good and varied with the mini-games. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the enemies on the table, seeing as they caused me much hardship that I could have done without. However, it’s something you don’t see often in a pinball video game, and it makes for an interesting feature that you can employ only in a video game. One problem I have with the game is that the balls move very slowly if two or more are at the flippers at the same time. Perhaps the game was not programmed for handling multiple calculations with the angles. What happens is you will hit one ball and then the other ball goes full speed, meaning it goes through the flippers unless you react instantly. Multi-ball is so important that I feel cheated if I lose it due to technical issues. This is a very difficult game to beat and a big one checked off my list. For casual play or even longer sessions like I had, it is a competent pinball game with some unique features. It’s worth checking out.

#113 – High Speed

#113 – High Speed (Final Score)


#96 – WWF Wrestlemania

Whatcha gonna do brother when Hulkamania runs wild on you?

Shiny colors!

To Beat: Win the Tournament
Played: 8/6/18 – 8/8/18
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: WWF WrestleMania Longplay

I was a teenage boy and for a season I was really into professional wrestling. I happened to get interested in WCW during the time when it overtook WWF in popularity, and then I unceremoniously got out of it sometime before WWF acquired it. The NES wrestling games vastly favored the WWF license over WCW with four NES titles to one. I am familiar with many of the WWF stars from this period as they eventually crossed over into WCW. Hulk Hogan on the cover of NES WWF WrestleMania, for instance, was a huge part of the nWo and his entry into that group was very shocking for me as a young fan. Playing this NES game rekindled a lot of nostalgia for that period in my life. Of course what matters now, nostalgia aside, is if the game is any good.

The current WWE began in 1952 as Capitol Wrestling Corporation and was created by Jess McMahon and Toots Mondt. It was part of the broader National Wrestling Alliance, or NWA. The owners at that time, Mondt and Jess’s son Vincent, withdrew from NWA in 1963 over a dispute and created the WWWF, which eventually rejoined in NWA in 1971 and was renamed to the World Wrestling Federation, or WWF, in 1979. Vincent McMahon Jr. created Titan Sports in 1980 and bought Capitol from his father in 1982. Vince Jr. helped usher in the WWF Golden Age in the 1980s. WWF acquired its main competitor, WCW, in 2001. In 2002, WWF was renamed to World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE, after a dispute with the World Wildlife Fund. WWE is currently the biggest professional wrestling promotion in the world.

WWF WrestleMania is the first of four WWF licensed NES games. The other three games are WWF WrestleMania Challenge, WWF WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge, and WWF King of the Ring. WWF WrestleMania was developed by Rare and published by Acclaim Entertainment. It was released in January 1989 on the NES in North America only.

Awww yeah, wrasslin’!

WWF Wrestlemania is a straightforward professional wrestling game. There are six characters to choose from: “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Bam Bam Bigelow, The Honky Tonk Man, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, and Hulk Hogan. Matches take place between two wrestlers in the ring until one of them wins by pinfall. The game supports up to six players though only two may play at one time. One or two players can play a standard match, or one to six players may compete in a Tournament format. To beat the game, you have to win the Tournament mode in single player.

At the start of the game you will choose the number of players and the corresponding mode. A name entry screen appears for each player after the mode is chosen. Use the D-pad to move the cursor and press A to make selections. Names are up to six characters long. For multiple players, odd numbered players use the first controller and even numbered players use the second controller. After name entry, choose from one of the six wrestlers. Press Up or Down to choose. You will see his profile picture and some short stats. Press A on the one you want. After all selections are made, you will see the Pre-Bout screen with the participants of the next match. Now the fun begins!

Fights take place on a single screen with the stats on top and the match on the bottom. On each side of the top of the screen are the character portraits and the vertical energy bars for each player. In the center is the match timer and the bell that rings at the end of the match.

Bam bam on Bam Bam.

The controls are a little more complex than they first appear. You walk around the ring with the D-pad and you can walk in all directions. You can press either A or B to do some basic strikes against your opponent. From here it gets more complicated as some wrestlers can’t perform certain moves. I won’t go into all these details, but the manual has a couple of charts detailing all this and I suggest you look that up before trying this game. One more thing all wrestlers have in common is running mode. Press and hold either Left or Right, and then hold A to engage running mode. You can let go of the D-pad, and then let go of the A button to stay locked into running mode without touching any of the buttons. You will rebound back and forth between the ropes until you press a button to get out of the mode or your opponent gets in the way.

The remaining moves can only be performed by some wrestlers. While in running mode, you can press A or B to do a running attack. You can do a different move by pressing either A or B while holding Up or Down. One of these, usually with the B button, is how you pin your opponent when they are laid out on the mat. If you have your back to the opponent and press A and B at the same time, you will do a strong back move. If you are facing your opponent and press A and B together, you can do a bodyslam. However, you need to have more energy than your opponent to pull off the bodyslam, otherwise you will default to the back move. Finally, some wrestlers can do a move off the turnbuckle. To climb up on the turnbuckle, you need to engage running mode while all the way at the bottom of the screen. Just as your approach the corner, press B. If your timing is good, you will climb onto the turnbuckle and then dive off all in one move. Even though there are turnbuckles at the top of the screen, you can’t climb on those. Weird, I know.

To win a match, first you need to drain all of the energy from your opponent. When he’s down, you need to pin him. Stand next to him and press either Up or Down combined with either A or B depending on your wrestler to pin. A three-count will start, and if your opponent is still down at three, the bell rings and you win the match. Often, just getting the energy bar emptied is not quite enough to keep him pinned down. Sometimes he will get up right away and other times he will stay down for quite some time. You can get a feel for when he will stay down longer than usual with some experience. On the flip side, your opponent is also trying to drain your energy and pin you too. You will rise automatically if you are knocked down with energy remaining, but if you don’t, mash the Up button on the D-pad to get up as quickly as you can.

High octane pinning action!

There are a few additional mechanics and things to look out for in the game. Energy meters slowly grow over time. You have to keep up the offensive or your opponent can get back into the game. There is an additional way to earn back some energy in the form of a powerup. That’s right, this game has a powerup called the energizer. Each wrestler has his own energizer listed in the game manual. Energizers appear from the top left of the screen, go across the top of the ring, and then exit on the right side. You want to collect your energizer if you are near it, and likewise you want to keep your opponent away from his. There is also an anger mechanic. If someone gets hit a bunch, his skin will change color from pink to red. Moves do more damage while in this angered state.

The timer is of some importance as well. There is no timer in a standard match, either single player or two-player. In fact, a two-player match with one person is a great environment for practicing moves and timing, all without worrying about the timer. The timer runs in tournament mode only. It counts up to three minutes, and if there isn’t a winner to that point, the match is considered a draw. You will get an instant rematch, and these will continue until there is a clear winner.

To win single-player Tournament mode, you pick a wrestler and then you have to win against all other wrestlers in order. You can tie via the timer as many times as necessary, but lose once and you’re out. A multi-player tournament functions more like an actual tournament. The computer controls the remaining wrestlers and everyone plays each other once for a total of fifteen matches. Whoever wins the most matches wins the tournament, and the tiebreaker is whoever has the quickest average match time over matches won.

Ooooh, that’s gonna leave a mark.

This was my first time playing WWF Wrestlemania. This game was originally on my deferred list, but I can’t remember why I put it there other than my general disinterest in sports games. This is one of the most common NES games out there. Right now, I have four extra copies I haven’t bothered to sell yet. It only costs a few dollars if you want a cart.

I did not have the easiest time beating this game. I decided to go with “Macho Man” Randy Savage (RIP) as he was one of my favorite wrestlers growing up. Taking the wrestlers in order means The Million Dollar Man is the first wrestler, and he really is a pushover for the most part. For a while I couldn’t beat anybody else. I found trying to beat anyone else in a fist fight is useless. Those guys can rifle off back moves quickly before I could barely get out one. Running attacks are more useful especially if you can knock the guy down with them. You can go right into another running attack and knock him down as soon as he gets up. This strategy doesn’t work on the heavier wrestlers. My path to victory was abusing turnbuckle moves. The problem then is getting the opponent into the corner with you to get in range for the move. I try to get the opponent to run after me into the corner so I can climb the turnbuckle. Knocking him down gives me enough room to back up and run again. I tried to time it so that I was climbing up when he got up. That way he will chase me into the corner, trying to take advantage of having my back to him. I can get into a loop, but it doesn’t always last. Your timing has to be really good too so that you don’t miss the turnbuckle climb. I think the presence of the timer, combined with energy regeneration, encourages repeating powerful moves over and over to win. It might be a cheap way to win but it worked for me. I can win most of the time with this strategy, but even then, winning all five matches was a little harder than it seemed.

Take this opinion with a grain of salt because I haven’t played any other wrestling games on NES, but I don’t think WWF Wrestlemania is all that good. Rare usually makes fun games but not this time. The level of presentation and polish from a Rare game is still there. There are some nice graphical effects on display. The character portraits look pretty good on the NES. Everything up to the gameplay is solid, and then the annoyances begin. I had a tough time lining up properly with the other wrestler, and when I did I would get beat down before I could get enough hits in. Movement around the ring is cumbersome and slow. It’s easy to get trapped in the corner and hard to get back out. The act of pinning a wrestler is a lot harder to perform than it should be. The timer gets in the way of a more thoughtful match, resulting in exploiting moves just to win in time. These control and balancing issues add up to a more frustrating experience than a fun one. I hope later games are better than this one.

#96 – WWF Wrestlemania


#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)