Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#155 – Magic Darts

So magical!

It’s darts but magical!

To Beat: Win each mode
To Complete: Win each mode with the high score against computer opponents
What I Did: Completed 301, beat the others
Played: 5/10/20 – 5/11/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Magic Darts Longplay

The game of darts is a pretty good metaphor for this project.  The random nature of the order I’m playing the games is equivalent to just tossing up darts at a dartboard and seeing where it sticks.  That’s true for novice darts players like myself, anyway.  I just came off of completing two long games to get this nice, short game, so it is true that just about anything can go at any time.  Naturally, since the NES library is so diverse, sure enough there’s a darts game.

The game of darts has origins dating back hundreds of years.  It is said that English soldiers would throw knifes or spears at the bottom of a wine cask and they began competing among themselves.  Later on, slices of tree trunks were used instead, and the natural rings of the trunk became an easy way of seeing who was closest to the center, spawning a rudimentary scoring system.  The game was played in pubs for years and years, and even nobles enjoyed the game.  In 1896, Brian Gamlin is widely considered to have created the scoring layout on the common dartboard that is used today.  There are a couple of organizations, the World Darts Federation and the Professional Darts Corporation, that host the best of the sport’s players in various tournaments.

Magic Darts was released on the Famicom and the NES in the US.  The game was developed by SETA and was published by SETA in Japan, releasing in April 1991.  The US version was published by Romstar and released in September 1991.  To my knowledge, this is the only game developed by SETA that appeared on the NES, though there were a few Famicom titles from them that were not localized.

Plenty of options in the game, including these game modes.

Magic Darts uses a standard dartboard that is used all around the world, one that you are probably already familiar with.  The board is round and broken up into twenty pie-shaped segments of alternating colors red and black.  Numbers along the perimeter designate the point value for placing a dart within its associated segment.  An outer ring around the board is worth double the points, and the ring splitting the center of the segments is worth triple score.  The two small, concentric rings in the very center are the bullseye target.  The outer ring of the bullseye is worth 25 points while the inner ring in the very center is worth 50 points.

To get started playing this game, you’ll have to wade through a slew of options, game modes, and settings.  First up after the title is the game mode screen where you’ll pick from one of six game modes.  Press Up or Down to go through the selections, and you can also press Left or Right to toggle the background music off and on.  Press either A, B, or Start to proceed.  Depending on the game mode, you may have to choose the in and out rules next before moving on.  Next, choose the number of players from 1-4 or the Watch Mode to watch the CPU players go at it.  Players 1 and 3 use Controller 1 and the others use Controller 2.  For each player, choose from one of twelve player avatars, then press A to go to name selection for that character.  Press Up or Down to cycle through each letter of your initials and press A to lock in each one.  After initials, then you select your dart weight from either Light, Medium, or Heavy.  After all players are entered, if there are any open slots remaining, you can choose Extra Player to set CPU players.  Now you are done and ready to begin playing!

Most of the game takes place actually throwing the darts.  The largest panel at the top left contains the facing of the full dartboard.  The score table is to the right of that with a section for each player’s scoring along with the round number and game name.  The bottom of the screen shows the player character and dartboard from a side view.  You can see the darts thrown from that angle during gameplay along with the associated controls for aiming the dart.  This layout is a pretty good use of screen space in my opinion.

Position and set meters for accurate throws.

The basic controls for throwing darts are pretty straightforward.  On your turn you’ll see a dart appear at the bottom of the board.  You can position this dart with Left and Right while at the same time a meter marker pans from left to right.  This represents the horizontal angle of your shot determined by pressing A with the proper timing.  Next, at the bottom, you will see a wedge shaped meter appear with a line segment than waves up and down.  This represents the vertical angle of your shot.  When it lines up where you want it, press A to lock it in.  After that, you will need to set the power of your throw using the vertical meter in the bottom right corner.  Again, when you get the power you want, press A with good timing to set it.  Once you set all these meters and positions, you’ll finally throw the dart as inputted.  It seems like a lot of hassle, but it gives you a ton of control over your throw, plus it goes quicker than you think once you get into it.

The first three game modes, 301, 501, and 701, all play the same.  In these games you will decide before starting what you want to do with the ins and outs.  Double in means you must hit a double first to open the scoring, otherwise any throws are invalid and worth 0 points.  Double out means you must end on a double.  Open in or open out means any scoring is valid at that end of the match.  In this mode you start off with points, either 301, 501, or 701 depending on which game.  The object of this game is to get your score down to 0 exactly.  On your turn you get three throws.  After the three darts are thrown, your scoring for the round is deducted from your total.  If your score at any time would drop below zero, you bust and any points you would have deducted in that round are instead forfeited.  For example, say your score is 10 and you throw a 5 and a 9.  That 9 would put your score into the negative, so your round ends and your score goes back to 10.  The first player to 0 wins, and all other players continue until all but one finish their game.

The other three game modes have different rule sets but are pretty simple.  In Count Up, you play eight rounds and try to see how many points you can earn in total.  In Round the Clock, you have to hit numbers 1 through 10 sequentially, using as many rounds as needed to hit all 10 in order.  Half It has somewhat more complicated rules.  You start off with 40 points.  In each of the eight rounds, there is a target value that you must hit to score points.  The targets are 16, double, 17, 18, triple, 19, 20, and bullseye.  Only hitting those targets in the assigned round add to your total.  If you miss the mark in all three darts in the round, then your total score is cut in half.

Thank you dart monkey!

This is my first time playing through Magic Darts.  I have played real darts before a few times but with nothing approaching actual skill.  I don’t spend a lot of time in bars, and that is where darts are typically played.  As a kid, I really wanted an electronic dartboard, the ones with the tiny holes all over that you throw plastic-tipped darts into.  I didn’t end up getting one until I rented an apartment, and even then I didn’t bother actually hanging it up proper.  Knowing me, I would have ended up with a bunch of holes in the wall anyway so maybe I dodged a bullet there.  Good thing I have my cart copy of Magic Darts anytime I need a darts fix.  The game isn’t too common but it’s not expensive.  Typically it is around a $5-$7 game cart only, but they are teetering closer to $10 right now.

In beating this type of game, it makes sense to play through every mode just to see if there’s something unique about beating each one.  So that’s what I did.  Taking it a small step further, after reading through the manual I noticed that, while a little cumbersome to configure, you can play against CPU opponents.  For 301, I played with double in, double out rules against three CPU opponents, choosing the self-proclaimed expert player and the next two in line.  (I see now re-reading the manual I missed choosing the expert female player.  I think that’s a big miss and I should have played against her too.)  I did play a little bit before recorded attempts just to get a feel for the game.  After that, I went right into this setup of 301 and ended up winning in Round 6 on my first try.  For the remaining games, I played them all solo.  The winning screen is pretty much the same for all modes regardless of number of players or CPU opponents.  The winning player has his or her picture displayed along with the placings of each participant.  For Count Up and Half-It, a high score is also displayed.  I assume the default is 100 points for the high score; it only shows up after finishing the mode.  In Count Up I scored 466, but in Half-It I only got 96 points on my first go which fell just short of 100 points.  I played again and had a much more robust 300 score the second try.  I don’t think there’s much left to do other than beat CPU opponents in every mode.  It would not be hard to accomplish, but I don’t think it’s strictly necessary as far as completion goes.

You can fly solo for a more leisurely game.

I developed some minor strategies with this game.  I always made sure to hit center on the first meter indicating horizontal curve.  For the vertical angle and power, I roughly set those proportional to how high on the board I was aiming.  For instance, to hit dead center I would aim for middle angle, middle power, adjusting both meters higher to aim higher and both lower to go lower.  It wasn’t an exact science but it tended to get me close.  Since it is a lot easier to aim horizontal than vertical, when I needed a double, I aimed for the ones on the far left and right of the circle, giving me the tallest band of vertical space to aim for.  It would have made more sense to go after the double 11 on the left, but I preferred the double 6 on the right during gameplay.  Maybe because I’m right-handed.

This game has a few interesting secrets.  A few of the characters have secret trick shots.  My player character was the robot, and in 301 I inadvertently triggered the trick shot.  It seems to have to do with hitting the center angle both ways just to get the random chance to do it.  I was aiming for the double 6 on the right.  The trick shot has the robot stretch his arm out all the way across the room to place the dart directly on the board, which is definitely cheating!  The shot ended up on double 9, almost on the complete opposite end of the board.  I needed a double to start, so I’ll take it.  Sometimes there is a fly buzzing around the board.  The alien character has a trick shot allowing you to freely point to where you want the dart placed on the board.  Pulling the trick shot off to nail the fly changes your character to some weird looking dude.  It’s strictly a cosmetic change.  You can actually play as the weird looking character from the start by entering SEX as your initials.  So there you have it.

Magic Darts is a well made adaptation of video game darts for the NES.  It is quite similar to Championship Bowling, also published by Romstar.  This is a game pretty much about setting timed meters, just like in bowling.  The graphics are both functional and clear, with nice window dressing in the different characters and their throwing animations.  The music is done well, nothing too memorable but blends in well with the gameplay.  The game controls accurately and responsively, leaving it all down to setting the right timing to make your best throws.  The gameplay includes much of what you could ask for, with multiple game modes and ways to play them with friends or against the computer.  I suppose there could have been additional gameplay modes added to fill the game out even more, but as it stands it is a well-made darts game done as well as I think can be done on the console.  

#155 – Magic Darts

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comment : 4

#54 – Championship Bowling

The lone NES bowling title gave me more than I bargained for.

A cute penguin also runs across this screen!

To Beat: Score 250 or higher
To Complete: Bowl a Perfect Game of 300
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 7/12/17 – 7/17/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Championship Bowling Perfect Game

Have you ever played a game expecting one thing and then got something significantly different? I have experienced that a little bit in this project so far. Take The Immortal as an example. I expected an adventure game with puzzles, but I wasn’t anticipating combat resembling Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! at all. Championship Bowling is clearly a simple bowling game, but as I sought the highest score it morphed into a puzzle game, requiring me to look for patterns and techniques to crack its code.

Championship Bowling was released on the NES in December 1989. It was published by Romstar and developed by Another Ltd. The Black Bass is the only other NES release developed by Another, though they did release a couple of adventure games on the Famicom in their brief history. This was the second game published by Romstar on the NES, just a couple of months after Twin Eagle. Championship Bowling was also released on Famicom in 1991, published there by Athena. It is the only bowling game on the NES.

Championship Bowling emulates a standard, regulation round of bowling. There are ten frames each consisting of ten pins arranged in a triangle, and the object of the game is to roll the bowling ball down the lane trying to knock down as many pins as possible. You get two throws per frame unless you get a strike by knocking them all down on the first throw. Strikes are the way to get the best scores, but you can do well by picking up the spare on the second throw. After the 10th frame is completed, the game is over. You can see your score, high scores, and choose to play another round if you wish.

At the title screen, you can choose the number of players and which bowling lane you want. Championship Bowling supports up to four players! You can also choose from five different lanes. Each one has a different color scheme in game as well as unique effects on the ball path such as speed and curve of the ball. You press Left or Right to change the number of players, and press Up or Down to choose the lane. Then press Start to advance to the character selection screen.

There’s a good selection of options.

On the next screen, each player makes further selections. You can choose from one of four bowlers and each one has some slight differences in gameplay. Use the D-Pad to highlight the desired bowler and press A. Then enter in your initials. Press Up or Down to cycle through letters and press A to choose each initial. Finally, choose which bowling ball you want. You can pick a 7 pound, 9 pound, 11 pound, 13 pound, or 15 pound ball. Again, each ball handles a bit differently and each one is a different color. One weird thing here is if you play multiplayer, Championship Bowling requires two controllers. Odd numbered players use controller 1 and even numbered players use controller 2. One controller is all you really need since play is alternating, so this is a strange choice. Once all players make their selections then it’s time to bowl!

At the start of each frame, your player stands at the bottom of the screen. Use Left or Right to set where you want your bowler to stand, then press A. Next, the Control meter on the left will show a ball automatically moving in a half-circle arc. This determines the kind of spin placed on the ball. You must press the A button with good timing to get the spin you want. After spin is chosen, then the power meter bar quickly moves up and down. This determines how hard you throw the ball, and like the Control meter this also requires good timing with the A button. After all that, the bowler will go ahead with those selections and throw the ball. If you bowl a strike, you get a little celebration and play moves on to the next player or next frame in single player. Otherwise, you get a second throw to try and clean up the remaining pins.

There is some other useful information on this screen. You can see the high score in the upper-left which defaults to 200. The lower left shows which player is bowling, the current frame, and the scoring for this frame. On the right side, you see a top down view of the lane which is useful for lining up shots. Above the pins is a display that lights up the number of each remaining pin after the first throw, just like something you would see on the display at a real bowling alley. Additionally, before you start your timing selections, you can press B to see the scorecard for your entire round thus far.

After everyone has finished bowling, you are taken to the high score screen. Initials and score are added for every player that scores well enough to place on the board. There are trophies displayed here with scores underneath them that suggest you should be aiming for those scores. When you are finished, you go back to the title screen. Championship Bowling is a simple, straightforward experience.

Here you line up your shot and time the meters.

I think this is my first time playing through Championship Bowling. I have cleaned and tested every cart in my collection, and it’s possible that I played a whole round when I tested this game. This was definitely my first time playing this game seriously. It’s a common cart and I don’t recall when I bought the game. I know I have picked up some in game lots over the years so that’s likely where my copy came from.

The manual has a topic about getting the perfect strike, and the idea proposed there is the same as actual bowling. You want to aim the ball between the front pin and either one of the pins in the second row. Not only that, but you also want to hook the ball between those two pins to get the best possible pin action and best chance to get a strike. In the game, you want to do the same thing. Position your bowler to the right of the pins and curve the ball to the left. (Do the opposite if the bowler is left handed.) With the right positioning, angle, and power, you can hit the sweet spot and get a strike most of the time. I say most of the time because the same shot doesn’t always work.

I mentioned the trophies on the high score screen. The lowest one reads 250 points, then 275, and lastly the perfect 300. Championship Bowling has three different ending screens for meeting each one of those thresholds. The way the scoring system works, you must score several strikes in a row to best increase your score. I was able to find the sweet spot that gives me a strike most of the time, and then I was able to pick up the spare on the frames where pins were remaining. It took many games to find this spot as well as home in on the timing to hit it every time. After playing for some time, I could play a round that let me have enough consecutive strikes to score well within the 250s. That was good enough to get one of the endings and consider the game beaten, but that wasn’t good enough for me.

This was the point where the game turned into this larger puzzle of how to narrow down my options and sequence the events to bowl a perfect 300, and I’m proud to report that I achieved it. I have bowled at least five perfect games with my strategy and it does seem to be consistent. So now I will reveal the ultimate strategy for the perfect game in Championship Bowling. This is the official spoiler alert. You can jump down to the closing paragraph now if you want this game to remain shrouded in mystery.

Strikes are very exciting!

There really are many variables at play here that can change everything, and I narrowed some of them down pretty quickly. I tried just about every position, angle, and speed. Before bowling even begins, I tried all the different lanes, all the different characters, and all the different balls. Right away I put a focus on powerful shots, and in turn I could eliminate three of the five lanes that slow the ball down considerably. Lane 1 is the right lane for this strategy. I also knew a strong hook was important, so I read the manual and it says the upper-right character has the best hook. It’s tough to tell, but I believe the characters do have minute differences and so I stuck with that character. This is the base that I started with.

My next discovery was the semi-consistent strike shot. There are lane markings shaped like triangles arranged in an upside-down ‘V’ pattern. You want to position your bowler to the left of the second lane marker from the right so that the right side of his head is just barely to the left of that lane marker. For the spin control, you want to stop the cursor on the far bottom-left. For the power, you want the bar all the way to the top, or one notch below full power also works. The best ball for this is the 13 pound ball. This exact shot with this ball is 100% effective for the first three frames, while any other sized ball has a small chance of failure.

The fourth frame is where this strategy falls apart. Using my shot technique here causes the ball to hook more sharply, leading to missed pins. To make matters worse, sometimes the game waits until the fifth, sixth, or seventh frame to start missing. Now somewhere around here I did figure out another shot variation that gives occasional strikes, and that’s good and important, but I still have the problem of not knowing when I can deploy this other weapon. This leads to my next discovery. The longer you play, the more randomized the game becomes. I got into the habit of hitting the reset button when I missed a strike to start over and eventually I realized that puts the game into a slightly different state than starting from power on. Once I resorted to shutting my NES off and turning it back on for each new game, I began to get consistent results! Now I could put everything together and get the perfect game I’ve been working toward!

Oooh, I wonder what my prize is!

Here is the complete strategy. Choose Lane 1 and the upper-right bowler. Choose whatever initials you want and select the 13 pound ball. There are only two shots you need to learn. The first shot is the same one I covered above. Position your bowler so that the right side of his head lines up with the left side of the second lane marking from the right. Angle the ball as far left as possible, and go for either full power or one notch below full. Let’s call this Shot A. The other shot I will call Shot B, and it is nearly identical to Shot A. You want the same lane positioning and the same power for both shots, however the angle for Shot B is at a 45-degree angle on the left. Use Shot A on frames 1, 2, 3, and 5, and use Shot B for all remaining frames. If you mess up Shot A a little bit, there’s a chance you can still get a strike. However, you need to be precise on each Shot B or you won’t get a strike. It took me a long time to figure this out because Shot A magically becomes effective again once you make a mistake, so I was led down the wrong path of using it way more often than I should.

I recorded video of bowling the 300 game, but Championship Bowling had one final, bizarre trick up its sleeve. I had been playing the game on my CRT with my AV-modded top-loading NES that I use for quick games or testing carts, but I record gameplay using my flat screen TV and the AVS system. There was a bit of a timing difference that I eventually got used to, but it turns out that my shot sequence above fails on the fifth frame while using the AVS. I suspect that the starting states of the top-loading NES and AVS are not exactly the same. Like I said, it’s completely strange and unexpected. While playing from a fresh boot of the AVS, I needed to use Shot A on frames 1, 2, 3, and 6 while using Shot B on the others. It’s just swapping shots on frames 5 and 6. That sequence is what I recorded in the video. Perhaps different consoles or emulators have a different shot sequence.

For not having any other NES releases to compare it to, Championship Bowling stands on its own anyway as a solid bowling game. The game has good controls and even though it only has as a few songs and melodies, they are catchy and well done. The graphics are nice and clear, although some lanes had poor color choices for the power meter making it hard to see. Each bowler has several frames of throwing animation and the pin action is pretty good considering what the NES is capable of. I’m also thankful the game is not completely random or otherwise I would have given up by now. It’s far from flashy, and the experience wears off quickly, but Championship Bowling is a capable NES game disguised as a surprise puzzler.

#54 – Championship Bowling


#52 – Sky Shark

If only it were literally a sky shark!

Good music and developer info works for me!

To Beat: Finish Level 5
Played: 6/6/17 – 6/12/17
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
Video: Sky Shark Playthrough

Today’s game is a port of an arcade shooter. I have covered a few arcade ports of shooters already. One of them is MagMax, which although it was true to the arcade game, it was ported far too late and wasn’t that much fun to begin with. On the other extreme, I played Gyruss and found the expanded NES port to be a better experience than the arcade version. BreakThru sits somewhere in between the two. It was like the arcade game, but was a decent port and reasonably fun to play. Of those three games, Sky Shark sits pretty close to BreakThru.

Flying Shark is an arcade shoot-em-up released in 1987. It was developed by Toaplan and was published in North America by Romstar. The game was ported to many different home computer systems in Japan, North America, and Europe. Flying Shark was renamed to Sky Shark in North America. Toaplan also developed the 1989 sequel to this game called Fire Shark. The NES version of Sky Shark was released in September 1989. This port was developed by Software Creations, and Sky Shark was their first NES game. Despite being based in England, Sky Shark on NES was only released in North America. You may also remember them as the developer of Pictionary that I played last year. The NES version was published by Taito, who also published the arcade version of Flying Shark in Japan.

Sky Shark is a top-down vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. You play the role of the best fighter in the best squadron of the US forces in World War II. He is given the nickname of the Sky Shark, and according to the comic in the game’s manual, even his plane is painted to look like a flying shark. I guess the name makes sense now! Your task is to fly through enemy forces and rescue your POWs. The mission is broken up into five stages separated by landing your aircraft. Don’t worry, the game does this for you. Survive through all five levels and you have beaten Sky Shark.

Plenty of planes and tanks early on in the game.

This is a simple game with equally simple controls. Use the D-pad to fly in all directions. Press A to fire your machine guns. Ammo is unlimited, but there is no autofire so you have to mash away at the fire button. The B button drops bombs. The Start button begins the game and pauses the action during play. Select is used to choose between one or two player mode on the title screen. Two-player mode is alternating play. That’s all there is to it!

Each aircraft comes equipped with three bombs, and dropping one inflicts heavy damage over a large portion of the screen. Bomb blasts absorb bullets too, so they can get you out of a tight spot if used defensively. Some enemies leave behind a B icon when defeated. Fly over this icon to collect an additional bomb. You can hold up to eight bombs, so you might as well use one before trying to grab a ninth. If you are interested in getting a high score, save up some spare bombs because at the end of each level you earn 3,000 points for each bomb in your inventory.

During play, the status bar is located at the bottom of the screen. You can see the current score for both players in addition to the high score. Underneath the score, you see icons that indicate how many additional fighters and how many bombs you have. Like bombs, you can have up to eight lives. There are no extra lives found on the battlefield, but you earn one every 50,000 points. It’s pretty unlikely you would reach the maximum number of lives, but it could happen!

Red planes are about the only welcome sight in Sky Shark.

One recurring feature in the stages is a wave of eight planes. They all fly in together in one of several formations and leave the screen quickly. Destroying all eight planes of the wave gives you a bonus. If the planes are yellow, you earn 1,000 points, but if the planes are red they leave behind an S powerup. The S flies around in loops on the screen so it can be tricky to grab, but you want to grab it because it powers up your machine gun. You can upgrade your weapon six times total. The first upgrade increases your gun from two shots to four, and you eventually work your way up to the fully powered gun giving you seven shots at once with a slight spread. Any time you die by taking a hit, your weapon reverts to the basic double shot. The S powerups tend to be spread out, so it takes a long time to power up all the way if you can survive that long. The sad thing is that the best weapon is not nearly as powerful as you would like.

Both the levels and enemies are generic, World War II styled elements. The stages do not distinguish themselves very well. Each level is composed of several of the same kinds of locations stitched together. There are jungle, ocean, and desert segments dispersed throughout the stages. The best level type is the trainyard area. Each level ends in an airstrip where you land the plane and get your bomb bonus. The enemies are all planes, tanks, and boats. In the ocean sections, you will pass by huge ships with cannons that you can destroy. Tanks emerge from the sides of the screen and behind buildings, and plane formations fly in often. There is not much variety overall.

There are a few bosses in the game. The Super Tank shows up at the end of the first stage. You don’t have to blow it up though because it will eventually run out of driving room and you can leave it behind. There is an upgraded version of the Super Tank that appears in a few places in the middle of stages, and just like the first boss they don’t follow you very long. There are also some large planes that act the same way, but it’s not exactly correct to call them bosses. There is also a giant final boss near the end of the fifth level.

Giant planes and battleships together at last!

When you are shot down, you resume play from the nearest checkpoint. Each stage has several hidden checkpoints, and I’d say the length between them is just about right. Some areas are harder than others so a checkpoint is a nice relief. When you run out of lives, you can continue up to three times. On the Game Over screen, you see the number of credits remaining and a countdown timer with some ominous music for an accompaniment. Press Start to continue your game from the nearest checkpoint, just as if you lost a life. You do lose your score when you continue. If you run out of credits or choose not to continue, you are taken to the high score screen where you can enter your initials.

This was my first time playing Sky Shark. I don’t remember how I acquired the cart, but it is a common game that I probably got in a bulk lot somewhere. It’s worth about $3 today, so hopefully I didn’t pay much for it. At least I knew it was a shoot-em-up, so that alone got me interested to see what it was all about.

Sky Shark is a tough game. I spent about a week playing the game over maybe a dozen attempts before I reached the end. I wanted to beat the game without continuing, but by the time I beat it I was ready to move on. The game overwhelms you early on with several tanks and aircraft at once, many of which fire aimed shots at you. Tanks appear and start firing right away, so you are forced to be on your toes and keep moving. You really need to know where enemies appear to stand a chance. Enemies have a bad habit of firing off one last shot just before they despawn off the sides of the screen. Even though the enemy bullets are large and change colors, they are often hard to see in the thick of the fight. Your only gun fires mostly straight, limiting its effectiveness, and bombs tend to be used to extend a life just to reach the next checkpoint. Thankfully the game has a continue system, otherwise I would have rated the game either an 8 or a 9.

Busy backgrounds mean it is hard to identify everything going on.

Sky Shark does not have an ending. Once you fight the final boss and reach the end of level five, the game loops seamlessly. In a small twist, the game restarts from level two, so if you keep looping the game you will just repeat levels two through five without every playing level one again. Luckily, there is a way to tell if you have finished the game. I left this little tidbit out intentionally until now. When you enter your initials on the high score screen, there is also a two-digit value displayed on the right-hand column. I can’t confirm this for certain, but that value appears to be a percentage of how much of the game was completed.

There are two quirks about this value that make me doubt my theory a bit. The first thing is that this value is more heavily weighted toward the end of the game. For example, you could Game Over deep in level two and only get a value in the teens when you would expect that you’ve completed nearly 40% of the game by then. It seems to increase more quickly at the end of the game. The other thing about it is that it never reaches 100 but stops at 99. I haven’t seen any evidence that you can achieve 100 here, so the assumption is that a value of 99 is the max value and indicates that you have seen all there is to see in Sky Shark. Capturing a picture of the final landing doesn’t seem to be conclusive, so I also took a photo of the high score screen.

Perhaps the best element of Sky Shark is the music. Tim Follin is the game’s composer and he is one of the best on the NES. I gushed over his music in my Pictionary review. While he does not hit the highs of that sweet Pictionary title theme, the music is still very enjoyable. I think the title screen music is my favorite. It is also played during some of the levels, so you get to hear it often enough.

Aside from the music, Sky Shark is a mediocre game. It does nothing in gameplay to set itself apart from other NES shooters. There’s not much variety here. The levels are generic, and so are the enemies and bosses. There aren’t many enemy types, and they all shoot the same type of bullet. I’ve already outlined the problems in gameplay in light of its difficulty. Now, Sky Shark is not a bad game per say. It controls well, the hitboxes are fair, and there aren’t any glitches to speak of. The graphics are a downgrade from the arcade version, but are still fine for the NES. It’s a game that doesn’t quite match up in quality when compared to other releases of its time. I expect a little more technical prowess from an NES game from 1989, especially when Taito is attached to it.

#52 – Sky Shark

#52 – Sky Shark