Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#170 – Flight of the Intruder

A very long flight.

I have no idea what this is supposed to look like.

To Beat: Reach the ending
What I Did: Cleared every mission with 2nd highest rank overall
Played: 11/8/20 – 11/17/20
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Flight of the Intruder Longplay

It seems at first that the NES is littered with flight-based games, the ones that take place either from inside the cockpit or just behind the plane, and you can fly around in 3D space with enemies approaching from all angles.  They must have been somewhat popular as none of them are rare games.  Despite that, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, these games are just not for me.  I attempted to count up how many games fit this description just to see where I stand at 170 games in.  I have counted about a dozen or so, and Flight of the Intruder is the 4th completion of the bunch.  We are spreading these out nicely!  The first two games of these I’ve played, Top Gun and Laser Invasion, are both high quality, twitch action Konami affairs, while F-117A Stealth Fighter took a more tactical approach.  It’s not all bad, but Flight of the Intruder is clearly the least enjoyable of these titles.  Let’s break it down and see what it has to offer.

Flight of the Intruder is a novel written by Stephen Coonts.  He had previously served as a naval aviator during the Vietnam War, and he used those experiences to begin writing a novel.  The book Flight of the Intruder was released in 1986, and the main character, Jake Grafton, would be the protagonist in many future books in the series.  Coonts has written dozens of books since then, up to the present day at the time of this writing.  Flight of the Intruder was adapted into a film in 1991, releasing to poor reviews and not making enough money at the box office to cover its $30 million budget.  A video game was also created in 1990, developed by Rowan Software for PCs.  Flight of the Intruder was released on the NES in May 1991, ported by Imagineering and published by Mindscape.  The game also came out in Europe under the name Phantom Air Mission, where it appears to be limited to only a release in Spain.  It is an extremely expensive game due to its rarity.

The plot of Flight of the Intruder, the novel and film, follows Jake Grafton throughout the Vietnam War.  The plot of the game as listed in the manual doesn’t include any of that story, opting for a more general take.  The only common bond is that both take place during Operation Linebacker in 1972 in Vietnam.  In the game, you play the role of an unnamed pilot who takes to the skies in both an F-4 Phantom and an A-6 Intruder across 12 missions throughout Vietnam around the timeline of Operation Linebacker.  Each mission in broken up into a series of waypoints that you will need to clear to complete your mission.

Just like Metroid, we start out going left.

Upon starting a game, the first thing you will come to is the Map Screen.  After receiving your mission briefing, you see the map zoomed in and the next waypoint blinking.  This will indicate what kind of encounter you will have.  Sometimes you can press Select to skip to different waypoints, whatever the mission necessitates.  Press either Start or A to take on this waypoint.

The next screen is the Takeoff and Landing screen.  This takes place from a side view of the aircraft on the carrier, with the aircraft facing left.  After a short animation of the crew on the ground, it’s on you get the plane off the ground.  Doing so is very easy, simply press and hold Left to increase thrust to 100% and you will automatically begin flying.  There are other points of data on the screen that are show during takeoff that only come into play when you are landing later on.

The starting waypoint in the game is one of the two main modes of action, the cockpit view.  From this first person perspective, you will dogfight with MiG 21 jets using your F-4 interceptor.  This game uses flight controls, meaning you press Up to fly downward and press Down to fly higher.  Left and Right bank your fighter in that direction.  The A button fires your weapons.  Your standard weapon is a machine gun.  You have unlimited ammo, but if you fire too much at once you will overheat and need to cool down a bit before you can fire more.  The Select button can switch between your machine gun and missiles.  The missiles have very limited ammo but are radar guided and will home in on the enemy.  You will need to get an enemy in your sights and lock on before you can get them with the missile.  The B button is used to adjust the thrust of the aircraft.  Hold B, then press Up to increase thrust or Down to decrease thrust.

There are all sort of instruments and things on screen.  The top half is your outside view through the window, where can see air, land, and approaching enemies and missiles.  In the center of that view are your crosshairs for aiming the machine gun.  Two numbers display on either side of that.  The left side value is your airspeed and the right display is your altitude gauge.  The lower half of the screen is the inside of the cockpit.  On the left you will see your thrust as a percentage.  Below that is the artificial horizon.  A circle is broken up into segments that are filled in to show the ground relative to your aircraft in the center of the circle.  For example, if you are flying straight and level, the bottom half will be filled in since the ground is below you, whereas if you are flying straight down the entire circle will be lit up to indicate you are flying directly toward the ground.  The center of the cockpit view is your radar that shows enemies as dots as they approach you.  The top half of the radar shows enemies in front of you that you could see above, and the bottom of the radar displays enemies behind you.  The right side is the message display that shows various information as you play.  When you switch weapons to missiles, the text display changes over to a missile indicator.  A triangle is drawn representing your ship along with small vertical lines to indicate each missile available.

Line em up, blast away, you know the drill.

The other gameplay view you have is in the bombing and strafing missions.  Here you see your A-6 Intruder from behind the aircraft.  Enemies will approach from the horizon as you fly overhead, and you are to blow up as many as possible.  The controls here are similar to the first person flying segments.  Use the D-pad with flying controls to steer, press A to fire air-to-ground missiles, and press B to shoot radar guided missiles.  The angle of your ship toward the ground determines where your bombs will land.  You have to compensate a bit for the time it takes for the bomb to strike.  There are no crosshairs for this mode, though the nearest target will highlight a bit on the approach and the hitboxes of the enemies are reasonably generous.  Much of the time these missions are just to fly through and survive, but some of them require you to defeat a primary target.  The mission itself will let you know.  If there’s   a primary target, the music will change a bit to indicate the upcoming targets are mandatory.  Fail to destroy them all and you will need to repeat a portion of the mission and approach again.

There’s other information on this screen you’ll need to understand.  The large number at the top is your score.  This carries over throughout the game, and it is also shown between missions.  There are three other numbers displayed in the row under the score.  The far left number is your strength value, essentially your hit points.  Enemy strikes deal multiple strength damage so avoidance is critical.  The center number is the DEFCON number.  Every target you let pass by subtracts one from the DEFCON number.  When it reaches 0, then any target that gets by will fire a guided surface-to-air (SAM) missile at you.  These are avoidable but are very dangerous and they deal a bunch of damage.  They often lead to more missed enemies and even more SAMs.  The far right number is how many missiles you have.  As you can imagine accuracy is important in these missions, and to that point there are certain targets in these missions that will restore a strength point when destroyed.  You want these if you hope to keep alive.  If strength is maxed out at 9, then it will restore a DEFCON point, and if that reaches 9 then an extra missile is added instead.  Furthermore, if you destroy all targets within a wave, each of those three will increase by one.  Nice!

Once the mission is over, it is important to land your fighter safely.  Landing takes place in the same side view as takeoff, only this time you need the measurements on display to help you land properly.  Left increases thrust and Right to lowers it.  A thrust value of 50% helps you maintain height, whereas higher numbers fly you upward and smaller numbers lower you.  The altitude shows how high you are, and the range shows how much farther to fly to reach the aircraft carrier.  The vertical velocity is important as you need to keep that value from going beyond -10 when landing to touch down safely.  To land, you will use the measurements and adjust thrust to lower your fighter and fly slowly down onto the aircraft carrier.  Press B to release your landing gear, you won’t get far without that.  You want to touch down as soon as you are overhead, then as you cross a series of four cables on the deck, press A to lower your hook to grab a cable and come to a complete stop.  If you don’t hook a cable, you will have to fly through and approach again.  I believe too many misses will cost you a life so make sure you don’t mess up too much.  The game also encourages you to grab the third cable with the hook as evidently that’s what the best pilots do and you are awarded more points that way.

Bombing runs require some calculated aiming.

This was my first time playing Flight of the Intruder, which is no surprise.  I barely remember putting this game into my console to test it prior to this.  I’m not entirely sure but I think someone gave me this game, like a “here I found this in my house you can have it” kind of find.  I might have the box and manual for this somewhere too.  This game isn’t very common but it’s affordable, coming it at around $12 or so for a loose cart.

I did not have an easy time with this game at the start.  The first mission is one of the first person missions and the combat feels a little bit slow and is hard to come to grasps with quickly.  Notably, the gun lags behind a bit, meaning you have to shoot in front of the enemy to hit it.  It’s probably realistic but is a bit frustrating to play.  The enemies also take quite a few hits to go down, and you’ll run out of missiles in the later missions which one-shot the enemies after you lock on.  There’s also fuel to worry about and if you take too long in a mission you’ll crash, which happened a lot later on in the game when there were more enemies.  I had to fly around a lot to try and get behind the enemy, while also avoiding their missiles, and it’s just a lot to handle under a time limit.

The good thing is I did come up with a strategy.  It almost feels like an exploit.  The trick is to fly sideways.  I turn 90 degrees to the right, lining up the horizon vertically in the center of the screen.  Then I just fly up the entire time.  This accomplishes a few things.  First, it keeps the enemies from getting behind me.  Second, when they end up in front, they tend to fly in the same direction attempting to get away and so they sit in front of you long enough to blast away and you can deal a ton of damage.  Third, if they fire a homing missile, it won’t hit me from behind because I’m constantly spinning, and for the ones in front, I’m either in good position to shoot them down or just keep flying up to dodge them.  It’s really the perfect strategy.  

Land softly, then hook the wire to stop.

The other gameplay modes I didn’t have much of a problem with.  Bombing runs are pretty straightforward even though they appear awkward initially.  You can tell by the animation frame of the fighter how low you will land your bombs, so it’s just a matter of learning the timing of aiming.  You will also need to swerve out of the way of enemy fire at the same time, but that sounds harder than it actually is.  At least after lots of practice.  Takeoff is super simple, and I eventually got the hang of landing pretty much every time.  Practice makes perfect, as they say.

The worst thing about this game is how long it is.  There are 12 missions in total, each one longer than the last.  And I mean longer in terms of both number of waypoints and number of targets in each waypoint.  The skirmishes themselves don’t get much more challenging, just more missiles and such to deal with.  It’s mostly more and more enemies to kill within the same time limits, fake difficulty at its finest.  My full playthrough covering every possible waypoint took nearly two and a half hours.  I didn’t realize you could skip sub-missions until after I had finished, and I wouldn’t have regardless, but two-plus hours of the same repeated gameplay is tedious, to say the least.  You only get a few lives and continues to get you through the game, but as long as the losses are occasional, you’ll be fine.  There is also a scoring system here complete with ranks for how many points you have scored across the missions.  I ended up with the Admiral rank, the second highest rank, despite completing every mission and sub-mission along the way.  I had 1,868,600 total points but needed 2,000,000 to get Fleet Admiral.  The scoring system is more nuanced than I would have expected and that is why I didn’t get the best rank.  It does not affect the ending in any way.

I would say this is a competent game that’s just not very fun.  Graphically, it looks okay.  There is good detail to the fighters in the landing and takeoff sequences.  The enemies you fight are distinct but kinda muddled looking.  The music is also just okay, filling up space.  There are no tunes during the first person areas, only the constant beeping of approaching homing missiles.  The other songs aren’t awful but not super catchy or fun either, probably because I got sick of them through the long play time.  The controls are responsive and easy to use, maybe a little bit cumbersome in first person but nothing too bad.  The gameplay is good enough, what you would expect out of a game like this, and there’s just a touch of variety along the way.  There’s nothing really bad here I would say, it’s just that this game is so boring.  It goes on way too long if you intend to see it through.  I play pretty late at night and I’m surprised I managed to stay awake during the entire game.  An hour of this would have been more manageable, and honestly still too long, but two and a half hours of this is just exhausting.  Hopefully this one ends up the worst of all the flight games.

#170 – Flight of the Intruder

#170 – Flight of the Intruder


#106 – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure

This game is not so bodacious, dudes!

It’s one of the longer NES game titles.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 11/5/18 – 11/28/18
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure Final Level

Another day, another video game adaptation of a movie I haven’t seen.  In this case, I have at least played the game before.  Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure seems like a strange choice for a tie-in video game.  It could make for a decent educational game with all the historical figures from different time periods.  Instead, we ended up with a game that’s not much educational but has all the fun of an educational game, meaning it’s not that exciting.  Kudos to the developers for trying, at least.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a comedy from 1989.  In the movie, two high school students from San Dimas, California get access to a time machine that allows them to collect various historical figures to help them complete a history project.  Stephen Herek directed the film which stars Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin.  While not a critical success, it performed well at the box office.  A sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, was released in 1991.  A third installment is reported to be in the works as of May 2018.

The movie spawned several video games that are all unique from each other.  The NES game, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure, was released in August 1991.  It was developed by Rocket Science Games and was published by Acclaim Entertainment under the LJN label.  This wasn’t the first game based on the movie.  The PC version from 1989 was a graphical adventure game.  The Game Boy game, aptly title Bill & Ted’s Excellent Game Boy Adventure, was a puzzle platformer.  Finally, the Atari Lynx version also from 1991 is a top-down adventure game.

Clearly, the stakes are high.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure on the NES is an isometric adventure game with a plot loosely based on the movie.  Rufus from the movie summons both Bill and Ted to help on an important mission.  Space-time rebels have used the time machine to take historical figures and put them in the wrong time periods.  Both Bill and Ted must work separately to find each person and return him or her to the correct time period.  They need to do this because if history isn’t made right again, our heroes will miss the big concert that will launch the career of their band the Wyld Stallyns.  Unfortunately, they only have access to a pay phone that requires coins before they can time travel.  Your job as Bill or Ted is to find both the historical figure and a specific item that you can use to lure them back home.  You beat the game once you finish all six levels.

After finishing or skipping the introductory story segments, you are presented with a phone book of sixteen historical figures.  (Interestingly, none of these people played a part in the film from what I’ve read.)  The last page in the phone book is your password, which is a seven-digit telephone number that always starts with the fictitious prefix 555.  As you thumb through the phone book, you will come across a second telephone number on one of the pages that blinks red.  This is the number for the person you need to locate in the wrong period.  Press Select at any time to bring up the telephone.  Press A to dial digits and press B to undo them if you make a mistake.  When you have the blinking red number entered correctly, press A to connect the call.  You also use this same telephone screen to enter passwords.

Placing a call puts you in the Circuits of Time.  This is a mini-game that allows you to complete the call.  There are circuits in the background along with circled junctions, one of which contains a spinning phone booth.  Most of the junctions contain one digit of the call you are placing.  The idea is to move to the right from junction to junction until you get to the junction with the last digit of the phone number.  If you don’t do anything on this screen for too long, you will automatically transfer the phone booth to the next junction along the circuits.  You want to avoid this if possible because each automatic transfer costs two coins.  You start out with 15 coins but they get spent very fast this way.  What you can do is press A to launch the phone booth out of its junction in the direction it is facing.  This costs no coins and lets you skip ahead digits if you aim properly.  There is also a red floating junction that you can control with the D-pad used to catch the phone booth if it goes in the wrong direction.  Some junctions contain skulls which both deduct a coin and fire off the phone booth in a random direction, often setting back your progress.  When you reach the last digit, you will have to leave things alone and let the call finish.  The circuit ends in a three-way fork, and as the call is finishing you can take the top fork by holding Up, the bottom fork by holding Down, or the center fork without touching the D-pad.  This determines where you land in the next area.

I’d be dizzy in that phone booth.

The main part of the game takes place on the ground in one of five time periods: Medieval World, Western World, U.S. Revolutionary World, Modern World, and Ancient World.  These levels are in the isometric perspective and you can walk around freely.  Use the D-pad to walk around.  Pressing Up moves you to the upper-right and all the other directions follow from that same angle.  It acts just like the default movement in Q*bert.  Press the A button to jump.  You take pretty large jumps and you can leap over some areas you can’t normally walk on.  However, if you land in a non-walkable area you will fall down and get temporarily stuck.  The only way out is to jump your way out, and sometimes it can take several jumps to get back on the path.  Use the B button to toss out your Good Stuff to help ward off some of the angrier locals.

Pressing either Start or Select during gameplay brings up a menu screen where you can see and do a few things.  The upper left shows where you place another call, should you so choose.  Hold Up and press A to bring up the touch pad to place a call.  In the upper right are the keys you need to get you out of jail.  Your Good Stuff is in the middle, along with a red selection box that you can move to choose which item you want to use with the B button during play.  You also see your coin count and which historical items you have collected so far.

As you are exploring the worlds, there are locals also moving around.  There are three types of locals who are distinguished by how they behave.  One type is the standing local.  You can walk up to them and talk to them.  They can give you items, coins, or hints on where items or historical figures might be found.  They also might tell you to leave them alone.  After speaking with them, they turn into the second kind of local which is the walking local.  They move slowly and mind their own business.  Don’t try to talk to them or even walk up to them.  When they are on the move they get angry and standing in their way will cost you a coin.  If you don’t have any coins left, then you get thrown in jail instead.  The third kind of local is the angry local.  They will pursue you directly with arms outstretched.  If you get caught by one of them, you get thrown directly in jail.

Don’t let them catch you!

When locals are causing you trouble, you can use your Good Stuff.  These are four different disposable items that affect the locals.  Press the B button to throw them.  You can throw different distances depending on how long you hold the button.  Pudding cups draw all locals toward them.  You normally want to throw them in the opposite direction you want to go.  Should a local grab the pudding off the ground, all the locals will go back to their original state except for the one who got the pudding.  That person mellows down.  Firecrackers have the opposite effect; when you throw one everyone runs away.  You can also throw a firecracker close enough to someone to blow them up.  Harsh!  Highly dangerous textbooks are smart bombs that clear the screen of locals.  Finally, cassette tapes start up some music that makes everyone dance.  Now you can go freely for a little while, but you still need to keep from running into a dancer or you’ll get tossed in jail.  Also, when the music runs out, any local on screen will switch to angry mode.

At the start, you are dropped off in a world you don’t know while trying to find someone without knowing their location.  You are going to need some assistance from the locals.  Occasionally, a standing local will provide some information on where you might look for items or which direction you should go to find the historical figure.  You will have better luck holding conversations with people indoors, but they aren’t always easy to find.  Throughout the worlds there are several buildings or houses with open doors.  Sometimes the door is locked and you can’t get in.  Other times you come into an empty room.  These rooms often act as warp rooms where you can jump to a different building across the map by leaving through the other door in the room.  Other rooms will have someone standing inside that you can talk with.

You can engage in conversation with a person within their home or building.  Walk up to them to start talking, then press A to advance the dialog.  When it is your turn to respond, you will see some possible numbered responses.  Press A to cycle through the different options, then press B on the one you want to say.  Each person has at least one possible conversation where they will be persuaded to help you out by giving you a hint on where you can find something outside.  Say the wrong thing and you will either anger all the locals outside or even get thrown directly in jail.  You get to learn which things to say to help get what you want.  After you leave, you can’t go back into the building you just left until you enter another one first.

Dialogue choices are uncommon in NES games.

The historical figures will always be located inside one of the buildings, however either they won’t be in the room or the outside door will stay locked until you first hold their historical item to lure them out.  There are both sixteen historical figures and sixteen historical items in the game, and it’s up to you to figure out which item belongs to which person.  All the people and items are listed out in the manual, so I did some pre-work to try and match them up beforehand.  Some pairs make sense right away, like King Arthur and the Holy Grail.  Some of them are silly matchups based on jokes, like Julius Caesar and Salad Dressing.  A few of them had an unexpected match.  For instance, I assumed Elvis would like the CD Player but that’s not the right pairing.

Finding the items is one of the biggest challenges in the game.  The items are located outside in very specific locations.  These are all off the main walking path and you have to reach them by jumping on top of them.  Did I mention they are invisible?  The hints you get for their locations are generally unclear, like “check the last fence” or “there’s something near a rock in the north.”  What helped me the most were the maps listed in the manual.  They give you the general structure of the world as well as a few specific locations marked.  They show you where the jail is, as well as the lower, middle, and upper portals, which correspond to which branch you took entering the world through the Circuits of Time.  The unmarked dots on the map represent either a building you can enter, a hidden stash of Good Stuff, or one of the historical items.  (I deduced that after playing for a while.)  The specific location of those dots on the map are not accurate, but they do help determine how many things you should be looking for between intersections.  You will still have to comb over areas well enough to find the item spots.  When do you find one, write the location down so that you can better find it again later.

The maps also indicate horse paths and canoeing sections.  You can take a canoe or ride a horse by approaching the path from the southmost entrance and hopping on.  Both generally function the same way.  Use Left or Right to steer, press Up to move faster and press Down to move slower.  On horseback you can jump over obstacles with A.  In the canoe you can find items on bubbling spots in the water.  If you make it all the way to the end, you earn some coins.  If you crash, then you don’t get anything.  Falling in the water pushes you all the way upstream, while if you fall of the horse you have to walk from where you landed.  I had a bad habit of missing the jump to the canoe at the start of the path, which also pushes you all the way upstream with no rewards.

Canoeing is a great way to earn coins.

When you find both the item and historical figure, you get a chance at sending them back to their own time.  You speak with the person and select the item the same way you handle conversation dialogs.  Pick the wrong item and you get thrown in jail, plus you have to locate the historical figure all over again.  Choose the right one and they will call a phone booth over so that you can complete the call through the Circuits of Time.  Completing the call returns the person, but if you run out of coins you get returned to the world and must collect enough coins to try again.

I’ve mentioned jail a lot and all the different ways you get sent there.  The concept is simple enough.  You can get out of jail by using one of your skeleton keys and walking right out the door.  It’s weird that the jailer doesn’t confiscate your things.  If you run out of keys, you are stuck there and it’s Game Over.  The worst part of jail is that it’s often located far away from where you need to go.

There are six levels in the game.  In Levels 1 and 2, you only have to return one person.  In Levels 3 and 4 you need to find two people, and in Levels 5 and 6 you get to return three people.  Each historical figure is in a separate world along with his or her corresponding item, so thankfully there are no crossing time periods to match an item up with its historical figure, at least that I noticed.  After completing each stage, you get to see the Wyld Stallyns in concert.  While not great musicians, they do progressively get better the further you get in the game.

I’m not sure how I ended up with this game, but I had just the loose cart in my childhood game collection.  I do remember spending some significant time with the game, but I have no idea how far I got or what I accomplished.  With no manual I had to go at it truly alone.  When you’re a kid who likes video games, you will spend a lot of time playing just about anything.  A loose cart is cheap, but in my experience, it was one I didn’t see much.  I believe my childhood copy is the only one I’ve owned.

Invisible hidden items make this game a chore.

It took me some time to get going on this game.  I managed to clear a couple of levels in the first week mostly by dumb luck.  A few days in I figured out what kind of information I could glean from the maps, so then I started mapping everything I could find.  Most of my time spent playing the game was doing the mapping and carefully examining every stretch of land.  I figured out most if not all of the possible landing spots for the historical figure in each world as well as all item locations but one.  Each world has four historical items but I only located three in the U.S. Revolutionary World.  The last level turned out to be pretty challenging and I just barely finished it in my video.  I ran out of keys after returning two of the three people and had to play super carefully.  The last person was in the U.S. Revolutionary World and the item I needed was found in the third and final position I documented, so I almost got stuck not knowing where the item would be.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure is always perceived as an undesirable NES game.  My view is that the game is essentially video game busy work.  The recipe for success in this game is having a good sense of direction and taking notes all the time, with a side of endless perseverance.  I made progress just about every time I played, no matter how little time I spent.  Every element on the map marked, every conversation I figured out, and every historical item properly associated with its owner helped the next time I played go a little bit smoother.  This makes the game tedious to play, but not necessarily difficult.  The number of angry locals increases in the final stages, but by then you know how to handle them with items or getting yourself off the main path where they can’t reach you.  The person’s location and items are always randomized, but there are only so many places they could be and you will narrow things down.  Sometimes you just get lucky and find what you need right away.  I imagine few people have beaten the game due to the time it takes to build up a knowledge base and catch a lucky streak, while stretching that out over several levels.  I feel comfortable saying it’s an average difficulty game with an above average amount of time and effort needed to see it through.

I will say that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure is mostly a technically solid game.  There aren’t that many NES games with isometric viewpoints, and this game manages that along with a jumping mechanic for veering off the path occasionally.  The graphics are nice, particularly the character sprites and some of the background elements.  The music is pretty good but they didn’t loop any of the tracks, while eventually results in silence a lot of the time.  The controls work well.  The only sticking point is that jumping when off the path only works if you allow Bill or Ted time to stand up first.  The music issue is kind of bad, but other than that the game works well enough.  It’s just that the gameplay is dull, repetitive, and dragging.  It’s like filling out a spreadsheet where the cursor repositions itself at random.  One wrong step and you get thrown in jail, and now you have to backtrack or try a different way.  You are asked to do this history hunting too many times over.  I’m not sure what they could have done to make the game more varied.  Maybe you already knew about this game and just thought maybe you misunderstood it.  I’m here to tell you all your assumptions were true.  I don’t hate this game, but I wouldn’t recommend playing it.

#106 – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure


#65 – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Killer Tomatoes seem ripe for an NES platformer.

Oooh, it’s both animated AND detailed!

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

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

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

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

The tomatoes are killer, and so are you.

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

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

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

That fertilizer sack is camouflaged!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mazes aren’t as complicated as they seem.

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

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

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

#65 – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes