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#175 – Skate Or Die

If I have to choose, I’m choosing to skate.

Fine, fine, let’s skate!

To Beat: Get the high score in all events
Played: 5/17/21 – 5/18/21
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Skate or Die Longplay

Skateboarding and video games seem like a perfect match with each other.  I did some looking into early skateboarding history and I noticed some similarities.  Skateboarding began as a niche hobby, really blew up in its early days, then had a very quick downturn for several years, dismissed as a fad.  Video games had a similar trajectory early on.  Computers were inaccessible to all but engineers, researchers, and educators because they were so huge and costly, but that didn’t stop them from designing games on early hardware.  As video games got bigger and bigger, they too had a very quick rise and quick fall from the infamous video game crash in the US.  But both activities recovered quite nicely and are still very popular.  A match made in heaven, indeed.  Today’s game is one of the earlier attempts to capture the essence of skateboarding into video game form.

For as popular as video games and skateboarding were in their early days, the first skateboarding video games didn’t appear until around 1986.  Atari Games’ 720 is considered the first skateboarding video game, which had an NES port that I will cover in the future.  Skate or Die followed not too long after, first released on the Commodore 64 in 1987 by Electronic Arts, their very first game developed in-house.  The game was ported to various computers in 1988 and 1989, such as DOS and the ZX Spectrum.  Skate or Die came to the NES via Konami in December 1988, published under their Ultra Games label.  It was also released in PAL territories in 1989.

Skate or Die is a collection of five skateboarding themed mini-games.  They are the Freestyle Ramp, High Jump, Downhill Race, Downhill Jam, and Joust.  You can play them solo or all of them back-to-back in the Compete All mode.  Up to 8 players can play the events in alternating play, except for one competitive event.  This game does not have a traditional ending screen, so the next best thing is to get the high score in all events, as well as defeat your opponent in Joust.

Not intimidating at all!

The first thing you’ll need to do is visit Rodney Recloose in his skateboarding shop.  This is the launching area for the game.  Move your “Skate or Die” themed cursor with the D-pad.  You can hover over various things in the shop to get some commentary from Rodney.  At the bottom of the screen, there are options for Go Practice and Go Compete.  You can select Go Practice at any time to jump straight into game selection, but if you want to Go Compete solo or with friends, you’ll need to register on the Sign In sheet.  There you can name up to 8 players, one at a time.  In single player, if you want to Compete All, you need to enter just your name as Player 1.

Outside of the shop, you can control your skater on the street to choose an event.  The events are broken up by where they take place.   The right side leads to the Ramp where you can choose the Freestyle Ramp or the High Jump.  The downhill events, Downhill Race and Downhill Jam, are off the bottom of the screen.  To the left is the Pool where you can Joust, or you may choose the Compete All option.  Just move your skater down the road toward the event you want to try to get started.  I’ll get more into controls in a bit, but your skater on the map screen uses Goofy Foot controls, which are from the perspective of the skater, not the TV screen.

I’ll cover the events in the same order as Compete All, beginning with the Freestyle Ramp.  The goal of this mode is to score as many points as you can by completing as many tricks as you can.  You get 10 tries, 5 from each side of the half-pipe, to pull off these tricks.  To get started, press the A button to enter the ramp.  You can press Up and Down to move in and out of the pipe.  The trick you perform is determined by how many times you press the A button while down in the ramp, plus an optional direction when you reach the lip of the ramp.  There’s a table in the manual that describes each trick you can do.  If you want to simple soar high, press A multiple times in the ramp plus no direction at the top of the ramp.  You’ll fly up into the air and you can turn your skater with Left and Right to spin, just be careful to line up properly when you land back on the ramp.  If you press a direction, either into the ramp or away from the ramp (i.e, press Right when moving right, or Left when moving right), you’ll do a different trick, depending on if you pressed A once, twice or more, or not at all.  Each successful trick nets you points, but if you mess up, then you’ll slide down in shame with no points that try.  After 10 trick attempts, you’ll finish up with bonus points that scale up very quickly the more different types of tricks you do successfully in the run.

Show off your moves, as many as you can.

The next event is the High Jump, also taking place at the ramp.  Press A to start your descent down the ramp.  For this one, you need to mash the D-pad and the B button as fast as you can to gain speed through the ramp.  You can go back and forth up to 10 times to try and record the best jump you can.  The manual says that once you’re ready, you want to press A at the edge of the ramp to soar high, then press A again at the very apex of your jump to “kiss the sky” for a little extra height.  Once you do that, you’ll go back to the left side and automatically dismount.

Next up is the Downhill Race.  This is an obstacle course where your goal is to skate to the finish line at the bottom of the course.  Here, and in the Downhill Jam, you can choose your control method of either Regular Foot or Goofy Foot.  Regular Foot essentially amounts to reverse controls, but those controls line up from the perspective of the TV screen.  For example, pressing Left turns your skater to the right, but since you are moving down, your skater will turn toward the left side of the screen.  In Regular Foot, the Up and Down controls are reversed too; press Down to go faster and Up to slow down.  Goofy Foot is the same controls as the map screen, which are from the perspective of the skater character instead of the TV screen.  It’s confusing to describe, but maybe that made sense.

Anyway, on to the Downhill Race.  First choose your control method, and off you go!  Navigate the obstacles the best you can and try not to crash.  You can earn points by doing tricks as you go.  You can jump by holding Up and pressing A, and you can duck by holding Down and pressing A.  The jumping and ducking controls are the same for both Regular Foot and Goofy Foot.  You can jump off ramps or duck through tunnels for extra points.  Crashing only gives you a slight time penalty as you get yourself back on the board.  The bulk of your score is awarded at the end of the course depending on how quickly you finish.

Love to leave Lester in the dust!

The fourth event is the Downhill Jam.  This one is a different kind of obstacle course, only this time you compete against another skater.  In single player, you’ll go up against the computer-controlled Lester, but in a multiplayer game you compete against each other!  Movement controls for this mode are the same as the Downhill Race, including choosing either Regular Foot or Goofy Foot.  The Downhill Jam is a glorified race to the end of the course.  You can earn points along the way by knocking over small objects like cans, and you’ll crash if you stumble into anything sturdier than that.  Running through a chain link fence and crumbling to pieces is pretty funny!  The other thing you can do for points is to beat up your opponent.  There are surprisingly sophisticated controls for the attacks.  When your opponent comes alongside you, press the D-pad toward him and A to punch.  If you press away and the A button instead, you’ll do a kick.  Furthermore, you can do a high kick with a diagonal Up and away with A, and a low kick with diagonal Down and away with A.

The fifth and final event is the Joust.  It takes place inside of an emptied out pool.  At the start of this mode, you can choose your computer-controlled opponent.  Poseur Pete is the easiest opponent, Aggro Eddie is medium difficulty, and Lester is the toughest, coming right out saying the title reference: “Skate or Die!”  In this mode, players take turns between offense and defense.  The offensive player needs to use the jousting stick to knock the opponent down, while the defensive player must move to avoid getting knocked out.  The defensive player gets five passes across the pool, and should he survive that, then he becomes the aggressor and the players switch roles.  At the edge, press A and toward the pool to enter, then you can use Up or Down to position yourself inside the pool.  You can slide along the top edge of the pool as well.  As the attacker, press A to swing your joust and knock the opponent down within range.  Each knockdown is a point and the first to three points wins!  This mode also has competitive multiplayer where you can square off against your friend.  If you play with more than two people, the mode becomes a single bracket tournament, for up to 8 players, which is a pretty cool addition!

This was my first time beating Skate or Die, at least I think so.  I didn’t play this one until adulthood, but it was one of the old NintendoAge weekly contest games and so I played it for that.  I only remember giving it an hour max, probably not even that long, just enough to post a respectable score on the board.  This is an affordable game, around $5 for a loose cart, not hard to find at all.  It’s weird that I didn’t come across this one as a kid, but I know I picked up multiple copies from buying lots as an adult collector.  It’s the type of game you’ll find bundled with other games you were going after.

Jousting is tough, try to get close and strike.

I stated above that to beat this game you need to get the high score in all events and win Joust, which is only partially true.  You can do all events in a row using the Compete All option, taking them in the order I reviewed them above.  The thing is that there aren’t really high scores for this.  The game keeps track of the top three scores in each event but the lists start off empty, so any score is good enough for the top score.  In the Compete All mode, you are awarded a separate, overall score of 5 points for clearing each event in single player.  I assume when playing with multiple people you earn fewer points the lower you place among your friends.  Now you do not earn the 5 points if you lose Joust, so winning that one is required, but the other ones don’t matter at all.  There’s no ending screen for this game, but the ending blue screen for Joust showing the full 25 points is good enough in this case.

I did want to try to perform reasonably well in each event, so here’s how I did that.  In the Freestyle Ramp, if you play it properly, most of your points are earned from the bonus points at the end.  You need to perform as many unique tricks as you can to boost the bonus points.  My run wasn’t perfect by any means, but I scored a little over 6000 during the round and earned another 6000 points in bonus.  For the High Jump, I just tried to mash as much as I could.  When the jump felt right, then I performed the “kiss” move for a little extra height to end the event.  I don’t think pushing A at the top of the ramp really did anything to improve my height, in fact I think it slowed me down as it threw off my mashing rhythm.  The Downhill Race doesn’t have too much strategy other than trying to avoid crashing.  There are some stunts you can do on certain obstacles to get to the end faster and earn a few style points, but it’s not necessary.  I only crashed once in my attempt which is fine.  For the Downhill Jam, I didn’t bother attacking Lester at all.  I focused on clearing the event as smoothly as possible.  You can gain time on Lester by leaving him behind, as the game will pull him forward automatically and give him a small time penalty.  In my run I crashed once through a fence, but so did Lester so no big deal.  The Joust was the hardest event for me.  My offensive strategy was to wait until he went, then enter and hit him right away on my side, which worked often enough.  Defensively though, I think I just got lucky.  What I wanted to do was stay right behind him so that we only cross paths at the top where he isn’t likely to land an attack.

The speedrun World Record of Skate or Die is currently at 2:16.9 by OldSchoolMcFly.  The run itself looks quite straightforward.  Do the bare minimum to clear the two half-pipe events, and get to the end of the course as quickly as possible in the two Downhill events.  There was a pretty neat route to the Downhill Jam that I wouldn’t have known about before the speedrun.  The Joust is where the run is made.  The runner chose the middle character, Aggro Eddie, perhaps because he is actually more aggressive and enters the pipe more quickly than the others.  Two of the offensive points were scored the same way as my strategy above.  For the third point however, the runner waited out the clock in the pipe until he could go on offense and then timed it to where he was already overlapping the opponent so he could score the point immediately.  That’s definitely not easy to do and I bet it requires a lot of luck to set it up.

For me, Skate or Die is a basic skateboarding game that doesn’t have a lot to offer.  It does have a variety of events that are pretty fun to play, but they are so short and it starts to lose appeal for me quickly.  The graphics are basic, with simple backgrounds and tiny sprites, but the animation is quite smooth and nice to look at.  The music is pretty catchy, in line with other Konami developed games.  The controls are responsive, but they don’t feel very responsive at times due to the momentum based movement and turning in the Downhill events.  These are nitpicky complaints.  This is a good game; I just got my fill of it pretty fast.

#175 – Skate or Die


#175 – Skate or Die


#173 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

Turtle Power! This time at home!

The cursor stares into your soul.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/20/21
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game Longplay

A lot can change in just a few years.  It was four years ago when I beat the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the site.  I wouldn’t have guessed that I would end up learning the speedrun for this game and getting a pretty decent time for my efforts, as well as making good friends in the speedrunning community at large.  I don’t speedrun too many games and not any more of the TMNT games, but I do like them quite a bit.  Last April, I played TMNT II: The Arcade Game, a familiar game that got a lot of play over the years.  Now this April, I am finally working the backlog and starting to write up this review.  (Yes, I realize it is now June, I’m not exactly sprinting through things to get fully caught up.)  Purely by coincidence, it is very fitting that April has become the de facto Turtle month for me!

For more information about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, check out my review of the first NES game.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a smash hit in the arcades after its 1989 release.  Tens of thousands of arcade cabinets were sold and shipped worldwide, and Konami had trouble keeping up with the demand.  Naturally that demand was high enough that home versions were created and released on various home computers, as well as a port to the Famicom and NES.  The Famicom version was released first as just Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then a week later Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (TMNT II for short) arrived on the NES.  Both releases were in December 1990.  The game was developed and published by Konami worldwide, except for North America where it was published under the Ultra Games label.  The PAL release, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles II: The Arcade Game came out in November 1991.  The arcade version was released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2007, and both the NES version and arcade version of the game are a part of the newly announced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection coming later in 2022.

How did they get the wrecking balls upstairs?

The NES port of the TMNT arcade game is notable for adding two brand new stages to the mix.  While the story of the game is rather basic, there was some detail added in the NES manual to cover for the new stages.  This game plot-wise is a follow up from the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.  At the end of the movie, Shredder is thrown off the roof of a building into a garbage truck and crushed.  But as it turns out, Shredder was saved from death by his titanium-laced helmet, so he is able to escape unseen and rebuilds in secret.  During this, he recruits two bounty hunters, Tora and Shogun, who star in their own brand new levels.  With everything lined up, Shredder captures April O’Neil again, putting our heroes on the rescue path once again.
Let’s get started with playing the game.  TMNT II has two-player simultaneous play, so you can choose from 1 Player or 2 Player mode to get started.  Next, each player will choose their turtle of choice.  Each turtle is shown in their own square in grayscale and selecting the turtle you want will brighten him up in full color.  After all players have chosen their turtle, another cutscene plays before launching into the game proper.

TMNT II is a side scrolling beat-em-up.  Use the D-pad to move your turtle around the screen.  Stages typically move from left to right, and you can use Up or Down to move in and out.  Press A to jump.  Some stages have elevated floors and you can jump up ledges to higher ground.  The B button attacks.  While standing or moving, this does a simple attack with your weapon.  While airborne in a jump, press B to do a jump kick.  This move is great for quick attacks or as a defensive maneuver if you need a short burst of speed.  Perhaps the most helpful move in the game is the jump attack.  To do this, press A and B at the same time.  If performed correctly, you’ll do a short hop immediately into an attack.  I usually perform this move by rolling my thumb across A then B, pressing B just a little bit after pressing A.  This prevents me from accidentally attacking before jumping which doesn’t do the proper move.  The jump attack does extra damage and defeats many basic enemies in a single strike, and there’s no penalty of any kind to use it, so I do this pretty much the entire game.

The top of your screen contains a few stats for each turtle.  You see the name of your turtle, your score, your remaining health, and the number of lives in reserve.  Scoring in this game is very basic; each enemy defeated is worth one point, including bosses.  Your health bar starts off all the way across your status box and ticks down as you suffer enemy attacks.  Some stages have pizza on the ground that you can collect to restore your health fully.  You begin the game with two extra lives, and you earn another life every 200 points, a fairly tall order given the slow rate of scoring.  There are no other powerups or anything else.  There is a limited continue system.  You get three continues to beat the game, and each one brings you back to the beginning of the current stage.

The orange glow means you’re about to win.

This is a very straightforward game.  There are 10 total scenes in the game across 7 stages.  In each scene, you defeat all the enemies that appear on the screen before continuing to move to the right.  Most stages end in a boss fight against one of Shredder’s big baddies.  Most of the enemies in the game are the standard foot soldiers, with standard attacks.  As the game progresses, they come in different colors with some different abilities.  For instance, yellow foot soldiers throw boomerangs.  Even the default purple color enemies can vary sometimes, like the enemies that throw sticks of dynamite.  There are other types of recurring enemies like the tiny mousers.  The turtles themselves are pretty much interchangeable as there aren’t any turtle-specific special moves and there doesn’t appear to be any benefit to one turtle over the next.  I do have fun with this game, but there’s no denying that it sticks to the same formula throughout.

TMNT II: The Arcade Game was one of the NES games I had growing up.  I was big into TMNT for a few years as I was just the right age for that.  I know I played the arcade release a few times but the NES version is what I remember the most.  This was a multiple time rental before I got my own copy of the game.  I’ve since beaten the game many times over the years.  My collection copy now is not the same one I had as a kid.  I loaned my cart out to a friend at school, he stuck it in his backpack, then later slipped and fell down hard.  The cart inside his bag got cracked and a corner of the plastic broke off entirely.  Thankfully I am not super nostalgic about having the exact same copies I grew up with, even though for the most part I took good care of my things.  This is a pretty common game, but it is desirable, so it goes for about $20 for a loose cart.

This was an easy clear for me.  The game came up once, maybe twice in the NintendoAge contests. (They are still going on now at videogamesage.com, though I haven’t participated in a year or two at this point.)  The ruleset was to get as far as you can on one credit, with lowest score as the tiebreaker.  Some stages have interactable elements that you can hit into enemies to kill them, without earning points.  Grinding out attempts for a week, even years ago, got me trained up to play through the game well.  For this playthrough, I did two attempts and won both times without continues.  I wanted to see if I could go deathless, but that will take some effort to accomplish.  In my video longplay, I actually died to Rocksteady, the Stage 1 boss, then got all the way to Krang at the end of the game before dying again.  I died quite a few times to Shredder too.  I would have to clean that fight up significantly.  This was a clean enough run and I’m happy with it.  Maybe someday I’ll go back and work on a deathless run.

Home sweet home

I bet a lot of retro gamers my age will remember the cross promotion between the NES game and Pizza Hut.  Most notably, there was a coupon on the back page of the NES manual for a free, personal pan pizza.  There was advertising for this plastered on the front of the game box, and Pizza Hut is referenced a few times within the game itself.  I lived in a small town growing up, and the only pizza place we had in town was Pizza Hut.  Those personal pan pizzas were one of the greatest things ever.  My local place also carried a few arcade cabinets, and while I don’t know for sure, it’s certainly possible that there I got to play the arcade version while waiting for the cheesy goodness.  While my original copy is long gone, and I’ll never know if I redeemed that coupon or not, I now own a CIB copy of TMNT II with the coupon still intact.  It’s only 30 years expired at this point!

TMNT II: The Arcade Game sits in an almost overlooked place these days.  I believe TMNT III is the better game of this style.  The original NES TMNT game is so weird and wonky, but also unique and challenging, and I really like what it offers.  The arcade version is a beautiful game and still looks amazing today, and it plays so well with different moves and 4-player simultaneous action.  I think the NES port is really well done considering the limitations of the console, and after looking into it, I say it fared better than its computer ports.  This game has a clean graphical style with recognizable characters and detailed sprite work.  The music is great, as you would expect from Konami, and faithful to the Turtles theme.  Controls are rock solid, and the gameplay is equally solid action.  There are plenty of tense boss fights and scenes to keep things engaging.  The only criticism I see is that the game is pretty long for just fighting enemies and moving to the right.  You literally need to defeat hundreds of enemies in one sitting to beat this game.  That can be tedious for some, certainly.  Some people are really disappointed in this game, and others would claim its average, maybe above average at best.  I say this is quite a good game, one of the better NES games out there.

#173 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game


#142 – Metal Gear

Get your cardboard box ready.

One of the most briefly shown title screens ever.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/14/19 – 12/27/19
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
My Video: Metal Gear Longplay

Metal Gear is one of those long beloved series in all of video games.  It didn’t really start out that way though.  It didn’t catch on until Metal Gear Solid came out on PlayStation, which in my opinion was the turning point for the series and elevated creator Hideo Kojima to auteur status.  While not normally my kind of game, I have played some of the Metal Gear Solid series.  Therefore, I came into Metal Gear on NES knowing the sensibilities of the Metal Gear series but not so much how to approach or play this particular entry.  How much of Metal Gear Solid and its ideas originated from earlier titles like this one?  I doubt I’ll be able to answer that question, but I can provide some background information and my thoughts on how this game played.

The first Metal Gear released on the MSX2 in Japan in July 1987.  It was developed and published by Konami and designed and directed by Hideo Kojima.  Metal Gear was quickly ported to Famicom for release in December 1987, and it reached the NES in North America in June 1988 and Europe in 1989.  The North American version was the first NES game Konami published under the Ultra Games label.

The overarching story of Metal Gear is already fairly well known, and the NES version does not differ much from it.  You play the role of Solid Snake, a fresh recruit of the special forces unit called FOXHOUND, who is sent on a special mission codenamed Intrude N313 by his commanding officer Big Boss.  FOXHOUND’s best agent, Gray Fox, was previously sent to a fortress near South Africa called Outer Heaven run by an evil dictator.  Gray Fox was to investigate Outer Heaven and neutralize any imminent threats found within, however, FOXHOUND lost contact of Gray Fox.  Solid Snake has been sent to find out what happened to Gray Fox.  I’m jumping ahead a bit, but a little while into the game you find out Outer Heaven is housing a weapon of mass destruction called Metal Gear, a walking tank capable of firing nuclear weapons from anywhere in the world.  Your mission then is to destroy Metal Gear.

It’s always important to have good communication.

Metal Gear, the game, is a top-down action-adventure game.  Solid Snake is controlled with the D-pad and he can move in four directions.  Press the B button to punch.  The A button fires weapons though you do not start out with any.  The Start button simply pauses the game, while the Select button brings up a selection menu.

The game begins with you being airdropped into the jungle.  Upon arriving you are immediately called via your transmitter as the word “CALL” is flashed at the bottom of the screen.  Press Select to bring up the menu, then choose “TRANS” to use your transmitter.  There you will automatically receive a message from Big Boss.  He gives you the frequency on the transmitter where you can reach him again if needed.  After the message is over you’ll hear this super-annoying horn sound.  At this time, you can tune the transmitter to help you send or receive messages.  Use Left and Right on the D-pad to scan through frequencies 120.00 through 120.99.  If someone is already trying to reach you, simply landing on the proper frequency will deliver the message automatically.  If you want to reach out yourself, tune the frequency and then press Up to switch to Send mode.  Solid Snake will call for help and in the right situation with the right frequency you will make contact and get a message back.  As you can imagine, using the transmitter is good for advancing the story and getting tips on forward progress.  When you are all done, press Select to go back to the action.

Your first task is to proceed through the jungle, moving downward through several screens.  Here you get a taste of using stealth to make your way forward without being noticed.  If you walk in front of a soldier, he sees you and puts the game into an alert state.  Firing a noisy weapon also draws attention to you.  Defeating all the enemies on screen or simply moving to the next screen is enough to escape the alert state and go back to quiet.  Until then, all enemies start moving in on you.  Soldiers have guns and aren’t afraid to use them.  If some enemies are left alone long enough, other enemies may start appearing and make things more difficult.  Of course, you can avoid alert state by staying out of line of sight.  You can punch enemies three times without them seeing you to take them out and stay quiet.  You can also wait for soldiers to leave or fall asleep, giving you an edge.  The third screen of the game introduces you to guard dogs that go alert when you get near, which always happens.  I found it is best to be as quiet as possible and avoid confrontation, but it is helpful to know how to navigate the alert state as it is hard to avoid sometimes.

Sneaking isn’t easy in close quarters.

Getting out of the jungle is not an easy task.  Not only is this first part of the game pretty challenging, it was also a little unclear how to get out of the jungle at all.  Go down far enough and you reach a fence locked off by a gate that you can’t open.  It turns out you need to enter a covered truck simply by approaching it from the back.  If you’re like me and didn’t know about that until the end of the section, it’s a good idea to go back and investigate the other ones you passed as some of them contain items or weapons.  When you have something usable, you can go into the menu and equip it.  There are two screens for this, one for weapon selection and the other for item selection.  The weapon selection screen shows all weapons you’ve collected as well as ammo for each.  Simply point the cursor to the weapon you want, then press Select to leave the menu and equip your new weapon.  Choosing an item from the item selection screen functions in much the same way.  Sometimes items, such as rations, must be used from this screen with the A button.  A few items are equipped permanently without you selecting it, but most items need to be selected to be used outside of the menu.  Anyway, one of the trucks in the jungle transports you in front of the first building.

Most of the game is spent inside of buildings.  These can have pretty large layouts with multiple floors, so creating a map might be helpful, or maybe you can do what I did and memorize the basic structure.  To get inside of the initial building to begin with, you need to locate and equip a keycard.  Many of the rooms inside the buildings are behind locked doors that require some keycard.  These secured rooms hold a majority of the weapons and items in the game.  More commonly you will find ammunition for your weapons or rations for restoring your health.  You can also find captured soldiers, who you can free simply by walking up to them.  They will sometimes give you advice or at the very least a thank you.  For every five captured soldiers you free, you go up in rank.  Increasing your rank increases the size of your health bar as well as letting you hold more ammo.  You can go up to four stars in rank, and you need that rank to finish the game.  If you shoot and kill a hostage, then you go down in rank, so don’t do that.

Be someone’s hero today.

There are several weapons in the game.  You can fire standard bullets with either a handgun or machine gun.  The handgun shoots straight while the machine gun fires bullets one at a time in a spread pattern.  A grenade launcher and a rocket launcher fire their respective shots.  Plastic explosives blow up on a timer, while mines explode on contact with an enemy.  There is a remote-controlled missile.  When firing this weapon, you sit still while you set the rocket’s direction with the D-pad.  You can also pick up a silencer for your handgun and machine gun so that you can use them without causing alerts.

You will acquire roughly a screen full of items of all sorts.  Many of these are the card keys, and some of them are items that open up progress in a part of the game, which makes them just like keys.  I won’t go through all of the items but a few of them have different uses.  The binoculars let you peek into an adjacent room briefly to see its layout.  A mine detector lets you see hidden enemy mines in a few screens.  Infrared goggles allow you to see invisible lasers that alert the enemy when touched.  A gas mask lets you breathe in a gas-filled room so that you don’t suffer any damage.  The antidote is good for curing poison if you get bitten by a spider.  Not everything is required to beat the game, but it’s a good idea to pick up whatever you find.

When you die, you can choose to Continue or End.  Continuing puts you at a checkpoint with all of your stuff intact.  Evidently checkpoints are determined by your rank, not by your equipment or by distance reached.  This means a one-star rank puts you back all the way at the start, which is definitely frustrating when you’ve reached deep into the building.  Choose End to see your password.  Passwords are 25 characters long consisting of all capital letters and numbers 1-6.  This is a game where the passwords store all of your information, such as weapons, items, hostages saved, and even your ammo counts.  Part of the password is a checksum just to ensure you have entered a valid password and aren’t just typing in random stuff on the password screen to try and skip ahead.  This game takes several hours to play through for the first time and so passwords are appreciated.

There are plenty of traps, some often unseen.

This was my first time playing through Metal Gear.  I knew about this game and read about it a lot in old gaming magazines.  I never ran into a copy back then, but then later when I got one I didn’t play it past the first few screens.  I was more intrigued by it conceptually than I was interested in actually playing it.  That was how I felt about the Metal Gear Solid games too.  However, years ago I decided to finally buy Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection on PS2 and played through all three games at that time.  I struggled through them but wanted to see them all to the finish.  I suppose that satiated me as I haven’t touched Metal Gear again until now.

Playing through Metal Gear on NES for the first time was an interesting experience.  The first stretch of the game is tough on a new player and the game doesn’t open up until you get through the jungle.  I really got into it once I reached the first building.  At that point, Metal Gear starts to feel like a dungeon crawler.  I explore the building, getting a little bit further each time and picking up new items that make future runs easier.  I caught my groove in the middle part of the game before getting hung up some toward the end.  I have the map that was included with the NES game, and I looked at it once or twice just to make sure I understood the layout of the game.  This wasn’t a spoiler free playthrough because I needed to look up the solutions to the maze zones.  It was frustrating that the game didn’t tell you anywhere what to do there, and I gave up trying to figure it out on my own.  I would say my time with the game was fun with a few annoying parts.

I was able to record a full playthrough of Metal Gear.  My first time through the game took about 8 hours or so.  The second time for my longplay was much faster at around 1 hour and 45 minutes.  The game really isn’t all that big once you know where everything is and how to navigate the buildings.  I wanted to beat the game without dying but I didn’t quite get there.  I died once to the tank by mistake in the middle of the game.  I also died a few times trying to get through the dark rooms with all the holes.  I only cleared that part once in my first playthrough and I don’t think I ever found the right strategy for it.  That section is completely skippable, so after a few deaths, I went the long way around just to get it done.  I’m not completely happy with this run but it is good enough.

Don’t get run over like I did.

It’s hard to play this game without noticing how glitchy and unpolished it is, so I want to list some things I took note of during my time playing.  The most obvious characteristic of the game is its poor English translation.  Some examples are the well-known “I feel asleep!” and “The truck have started to move.”  This lack of grammar and spelling is all over this game, some things more obvious than others.  The card system has a major flaw in that doors require a certain card and only that card can be equipped to open the door.  There’s no indication what card is needed, and there are eight cards total, so you have to go in and out of the menu over and over swapping cards until you find the right one.  It is possible to reach late game sections early in the game and that causes some weird things to happen.  I had my transmitter go off only to pull up the transceiver to nothing.  Something happened to one of the characters and I presumed them dead though you can backtrack and communicate with them as if nothing happened.  There are also hints you can only get once when you rescue prisoners.  If you speed through the text or skip it, then it’s gone, and it might have been a vital clue for what to do next.  All of these things detracted from my enjoyment of the game a little bit.

There’s one more oddball thing about Metal Gear that has nothing to do with the game itself.  I’ve mentioned screw variants before on this blog.  To quickly recap, early NES games had five screws holding both sides of the cartridge together, and sometime in late 1987 the molds changed to a three-screw design for all future licensed NES carts.  Metal Gear was released long after three-screw carts were the standard, but somehow a few copies out there are in the five-screw form factor and I happen to own two of them.  These late five-screw variants are exclusively Konami or Ultra published titles, and all of them are missing the Caution label on the back of the cart.  These carts technically should not exist, but there are a couple of theories.  One is that these are refurbished games that were sent back for repair and they were fixed using leftover five-screw shells.  Another theory is that these were sample carts used for demos or in kiosks.  Whatever the case may be, these are very hard to find, and I am not sure if every Konami game has one of these variants as some have not yet been discovered.  Variant collectors will pay a lot of money for these.  I have a few others in my collection that I’ll mention when I play those games in the future.

Metal Gear is a game that both has a lot going for it and has a lot holding it back.  The graphics are very nice with lots of detail.  Even though the color scheme is a lot of green, brown, and gray, it still looks good to me.  I am not a fan of the font with the empty lines across almost every character.  I think the music is good.  The controls function appropriately with clean design.  The gameplay is fun and engaging, and I enjoyed exploring the buildings and sneaking past the guards.  I can see why this was a popular game for its time.  All the glitches and weird inconsistencies I mentioned before break the immersion a little bit.  Snake only moves and attacks in four directions which feels limiting, though at least the enemies behave the same way.  This is a game that will grab you by its story and its exploration, and it’s safe to say it delivered for me in both those departments.

#142 – Metal Gear


#103 – Baseball Simulator 1.000

Possibly the most detailed and comprehensive NES baseball game.

Pronounced “one thousand,” not “one dot oh oh oh.”

To Beat: Win a season
What I Did: Went undefeated in a short season in the Ultra League
Played: 10/15/18 – 10/20/18
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Baseball Simulator 1.000 Final Game

There are so many baseball games on the NES that each one should have something interesting or unique to offer. At least, I would hope that’s true. R.B.I. Baseball is always the nostalgic choice for all the good memories I’ve had playing games with friends. Bases Loaded emulates the grind of a long season. Baseball Simulator 1.000 hits along both of those lines but dials it up even further in a few different ways. While I did not spend a huge amount of time playing Baseball Simulator 1.000, it is definitely in the running for my new favorite NES baseball game.

Baseball Simulator 1.000 was developed and published by Culture Brain. The Famicom version was first, releasing in October 1989 under the name Choujin Ultra Baseball. The NES version came out in March 1990. There are several other games in this series, all on Super Famicom. The only other game to get a US release was Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 for SNES in 1991. In Japan it is known as Super Ultra Baseball. A direct sequel on Super Famicom was released in 1994. The other three games were Japan-only baseball games named Ultra Baseball Jitsumeiban. These games have the same structure as the others but include licensed rosters from the Japan’s NPB league.

Baseball Simulator 1.000 has several game modes with a wide variety of configuration options. You can play a simple exhibition game by yourself or with a friend, or you can play a full season. There are three leagues of teams to choose from for playing a season, one of which is the Ultra league where players have super skills that can be strategically deployed. You can create your own teams or even your own league. In season play, statistics are calculated for the duration of the season. Things like batting average, home runs, and ERA are tabulated and you can see how your players stack up with the rest of the league. To beat the game, simply be the league champion at the end of a season.

Lots of stats in this one!

The first menu screen presents you with five options that do a pretty good job of outlining what features to expect in the game. Exhibition mode lets you play a simple game. You can play this game with either one or two players. In single player this is just one game, but for two players you can also choose to play a best-of-seven series. Season mode is the primary mode in the game. You can choose the number of games you’ll play in the season from either 5, 30, 60, or a whopping 165 games. Season play is contained in one league of six teams all vying for the best record. Edit mode lets you take an existing team and edit it in many ways to create a brand new team. In the New League option, you can take any six teams you want in the game and combine them together into a new league that you can play in the Season mode. Finally, if you just want to sit back and watch the computer go at it, you can select Watch and just watch a game.

The in-game controls are largely the same as in R.B.I. Baseball, so I recommend reading my review there if you want more detail. I’ll cover the highlights. Batting and baserunning I believe is exactly the game. You can move your batter around the batter’s box with the D-pad and press A to swing the bat, tapping A to bunt. While baserunning, the D-pad points to whichever base you want. Press B with a base direction to advance a runner and use A instead to go back.

On defense, you both pitch and play the field. For pitching, you can move the pitcher left or right prior to starting the pitch with A. You can use the D-pad to influence the direction and movement of the pitch both prior to the pitch and when the pitch is on the way to the plate. A quirk about this game is the “pinch” indicator which sometimes turns on during a crucial plate appearance. The pitcher will start to sweat and can have an effect on his performance, either positively or negatively at random. On defense, you control most of the fielders at the same time, but more specifically the ones closest to where the ball is headed. Move on top of the ball to grab it, then press A and a direction to throw the ball to that base. Press B and a direction to run the ball there yourself. In this game, you can press A to jump or dive for a ball that is just out of reach.

Get a view of some fielding stats and make adjustments.

You can do player substitutions. Before a pitcher winds up, either team can press Start to call time. While batting, you can choose a pinch hitter. He will play the field wherever you sub him, no problem. Well, unless you are hitting for a pitcher, in which case both pinch hitter and pitcher are out of the game and you must choose a new relief pitcher after the half inning. On defense, you can sub out either the pitcher or any fielder. This brings up a view of the entire field with a small table for each player. Select a player, then choose Change from the box on the lower right. One thing you cannot do is swap two fielders already in the lineup; you must sub in a brand new player. If you choose a player and select Move, you can shift the fielder to just about any position on the field you want no matter what position they currently play. So, for example, if you know the batter will probably hit the ball to right field, you can move several fielders out there for a better chance of making a play. The custom fielding positions reset back to default after that batter is finished. There are a few limitations. You cannot move either the pitcher or the catcher, you can’t put a fielder in between the pitcher and catcher, and you can’t put a fielder in foul territory.

The main feature that sets this baseball game apart is included in the Ultra League. In this league, pitchers can use Ultra Pitches, batters can perform Ultra Hitting, and fielders can do Ultra Fielding. These are special, supercharged moves that can really swing the game in an instant. Each team in the Ultra League has a set number of Ultra Points for each game played, and performing an Ultra Play requires spending some of those points. Ultra Pitchers and Ultra Hitting costs 3 points each, while an Ultra Fielding play costs 5 points. To choose an Ultra Pitch, press Up twice before the windup. You will see an icon appear next to the pitcher. Then press Up or Down to choose the Ultra Pitch you want. While batting, press B to show the Ultra Hitting icon, then swing normally with A to use it. To perform an Ultra Fielding move, press B while the fielder is near the ball.

The Ultra moves can be intense

The Ultra moves themselves are fun to use with a wide variety of interesting effects. There are pitches with all sorts of movement, including a snaking pitch and a super fastball. You can throw a stop ball that freezes on the way to the plate by pressing A. You can throw a pitch that splits up into many balls. There’s a pitch that disappears on the way to the batter, and another that is a heavy ball that the batter has to hit just right to put it into play. On the hitting side, you can simply do an Ultra move that hits the ball with more power. There’s a hit that casts multiple shadows on the ground so it’s tougher to see where the ball will land. There’s a hit that spins the ball off in a drastically different direction when it hits the ground. There’s a missile hit that pushes the fielder back far, sometimes even through the outfield wall. For fielding, you can jump super high or do a super dive. You can also throw the ball extra fast to help catch a runner between bases. This isn’t a full list, but a good summary of the kinds of things you can do in the Ultra League.

There are six different stadiums in the game. You can pick which one you want to play in an exhibition game, or in a season you can assign each of the six teams to any stadium you want as their home field. The stadiums have different dimensions and characteristics, just like baseball stadiums in professional leagues. One stadium that stands out from the rest is the space stadium. Graphically it is unique, but here there is less gravity so the ball can really carry. It’s possible to hit some long homeruns, especially in the Ultra League.

Baseball Simulator 1.000 features a full Edit mode where you can build a team. To start, you must pick one of the eighteen built-in teams as a base. When creating an Ultra team, you have to use one of the existing Ultra teams as a base. You also can’t have the original team and the edited version of that team in the same league together. Other than that, there’s a lot you can change. You can rename the team and any of the players. You get to distribute both batting stats and pitching stats. You can a base amount for the entire team in each category and you can distribute those points as you see fit. You can edit things like their contact ability, power, running speed, position on the field, and fielding ability. For pitchers, you can choose if he is left or right handed, pitching speed, stamina, and strength of breaking pitches. Pitchers all have the same, weak hitting stats that cannot be changed. If you are editing an Ultra team, you can also choose and distribute the Ultra moves. You can create up to six new teams altogether.

Good idea to have the ball hit directly to the pitcher.

Season play is also a comprehensive mode. While only one season can be saved at a time, there are many ways you can choose to go through it. For a new season, first select a league. This can be one of the three built-in leagues or the fourth custom league. Then assign home stadiums to each team in the league. Next, choose the season length from either 5, 30, 60, or 165 games. Since there are six teams, each team will play against each of the five other teams the same number of times. For each team, you then select which teams are played automatically by the computer and which ones are played manually by a player. You can play an entire season automatically if you want. The game will generate a schedule of the order of games played and go through them one at a time. If a team is set to Manual, then that game will be played with a player at the helm. If both teams are set to Auto, you can then choose if you want to watch the game or skip it. Skipping a game simulates the contest more quickly than watching the game play out. All stats are kept and calculated from the simulated game.

The season ends whenever a team clinches the league championship. As the season draws to a close, the standings will display the Magic Number. This number is wins by the first place team or losses by the second place team needed to secure the league title. A Magic Number of 0 means that team wins the league no matter how the rest of the games play out. You then see a victory celebration for the winning team. If two or more teams are tied after season play, there will be playoffs to determine the winner. The playoff bracket is set up automatically and are single elimination games. Most likely there will only be two teams tie, so in that case a single game determines league champion.

This was my first time playing through Baseball Simulator 1.000. I do like baseball quite a lot but I’m not so interested in baseball video games, so this has sat on my shelf for some time. This is the first game with a battery backup I’ve played in a little while, and thankfully my battery was still good. I probably picked this game up in a lot of games for next to nothing. A cart-only copy costs around $6, so it’s quite affordable for baseball fans.

This poor fielder is getting knocked into the wall by an Ultra hit.

I figured that if I’m going to play this game, I might as well play in the Ultra League to check out the enhanced features. The ending is the same no matter what. I also decided on a short, five-game season. A friend of mine suggested I play with the team called Heroes, which is the team with the icon of a smiling baseball abbreviated HE. (You can read his review of the game.) This team is likely the best team in the game for a few reasons. The team has the most Ultra points of any team in the league. The starting pitching is very strong and each pitcher can last several innings. This team also has two players that are borderline ludicrous. The leadoff hitter, Boyd, is the fastest player in the game easily. Anything hit on the ground is a guaranteed hit, and usually more. In one game, using an Ultra Hit, I performed an unheard-of infield inside-the-park home run. Yes, he’s that fast. The fifth hitter, Bret, has some of the best power in the game. When combined with Ultra Hitting, you should mostly hit home runs with him. I only hit nine homers with him in five games since I was a bit conservative with spending Ultra points, although he did have one four-homer game.

I went undefeated in a short season and all the games but one were blowouts. This game has the same rule from R.B.I. Baseball where games are called if one team is winning by 10 or more after any inning. The first four games went as follows: A 12-2 win in 5 innings, a 15-1 win in 6 innings, another 12-2 win in 7 innings, and a 14-0 shutout in only 3 innings. I hit nine home runs in both the first and fourth games. Game 2 was the four-homer game by Bret, and Game 4 was played in the space stadium which explains all the home runs there. The fifth and final game of the season was the biggest test by. Both teams were undefeated so it functioned the same as a one-game playoff for the title. I played a full 9 inning game and won 7-4. It got a little scary at the end because I gave up a three-run homer in the bottom of the 9th and they had the tying run at the plate. I just barely held on. That team had really good pitching and they messed up my rhythm. I also played conservatively with the Ultra moves the entire season. I rarely used Ultra Pitches or Ultra Fielding, spending most of my points on Ultra Hitting. Even then, I mostly utilized Ultra Hitting when I had runners on base. The idea was to keep the rally going or go for the big home run. I had an easy time with the game up until that final game, but it still wasn’t too tough.

Sponsored by Kung-Fu Heroes

Baseball Simulator gets a 1/10 difficulty because you can trigger the ending without playing a single game. You are allowed to play a full season with every game played automatically. The winner of the league gets the victory screen no matter who it is. I know this is true because I played out a separate 5-game season automatically, just to make sure. I’m sure you can see the same ending screens if you play a full season and don’t win. The end of my winning season and the end of the simulated season were both completely identical from what I could tell. If you are going to play the game at all, then you might as well try to win it, but here you can lose and just tell people you won, and they would be none the wiser. I try to go about it honestly. The game gets a 3/10 from me because I made the effort to win and it wasn’t too challenging in the Ultra League.

It’s a little early to say, but I think Baseball Simulator 1.000 might well be the best baseball game on the NES. If not, it’s certainly one that is overlooked. The gameplay is rock solid and easy to play. The graphics and music are nice. The controls work well. What sets this game apart is the huge number of features for such a game, such as custom teams, custom league, the Ultra League, statistics tracking, and full season play. I think the Ultra League is the real draw here as you can spice up the gameplay dramatically. Hitting a home run off a tough pitch or spoiling an Ultra Hit with a great play is very satisfying. The only thing I don’t like about the game is how long it takes to simulate unplayed games in a season. Even when skipping a game, it takes about five minutes of real time for it to play out entirely. All you are left to do is watch the scoreboard for updates and twiddle your thumbs. Or look at your phone like I did. I suppose that is the price to pay for tracking every pitch, every hit, and every out, all with cumulative statistics. I did not expect to get all of this out of an NES baseball game, but I’m happy I did.

#103 – Baseball Simulator 1.000


#98 – Defender of the Crown

One must obtain the crown before he can defend it.

The detailed title screen sure looks like a PC conversion.

To Beat: Defeat the Normans to reach the ending
Played: 8/15/18 – 8/19/18
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: Defender of the Crown Longplay

The beauty of this NES completion project is that I get to experience new games and am able to build an appreciation of them I would not have had naturally. Defender of the Crown at first glance lulled me in as something interesting. I mean, it’s a Konami/Ultra game and they make great games, so it ought to be good. Then I booted it up and saw that it was a strategy game with a goal of map conquest. I turned a complete 180 from my original impression in my head. I put the game on my deferred list. Fast forward to now and things are much different. I have now beaten Gemfire, a game that I originally didn’t want to play but ended up liking quite a bit. Defender of the Crown is also more action based than I first realized which is another way the game appeals to my tastes. I started up the game with feelings of intrigue and excitement, rather than an attitude of indifference. Would I have a good experience after all?

Defender of the Crown is a game for the Commodore Amiga that released in 1986. It was developed by Cinemaware as their first release. It was best known for setting the graphics standard in video games at the time of its release. Later the game was ported to various home computers while taking a hit in the graphics and audio compared to the Amiga version. The NES port of the game was released in July 1989 in the US and in PAL regions in July 1991. Ultra Games published the US version and Palcom published the PAL version. Beam Software appears to be the developer but the evidence I have found isn’t conclusive. It’s possible Konami developed it themselves.

Defender of the Crown is a strategy title that includes some action elements. The game takes place in England in the year 1149, mired in a civil war. The king has died and someone has to take the throne. To the north are the Saxons displayed in blue, and to the south are the Normans in orange. You play the role of one of the Saxon lords. Your task is to take over all three Norman castles, thereby ending the war so that you can be crowned king. The other Saxons are your allies, but they too want the crown and may come after you as well. You will beat the game if you turn the entire map to blue.

Hey, it’s Robin Hood!

There are many different modes to this game so the controls change frequently to follow suit. Most of the time you will control a cursor on the map screen. Use the D-pad to move the arrow and press A to make selections. The map shows all the separate regions of England. There are colored shields with symbols on them that denote which lord owns that territory. Your army is displayed as a man on horseback within the region you currently occupy. At the start of the game you are randomly assigned one of the three Saxon castles. This map fills up most of the screen, but there is a white banner in the upper left corner that acts as your menu. Press A while on the banner to bring up the menu. A dagger appears as the menu cursor.

Before starting a game, you get to choose one of four knights as your main character. They are Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Wolfric the Wild, Cedric of Rotherwood, and Geoffrey Longsword. Use the D-pad or the Select button to switch between profiles, then press A on the one you want. Each knight has ratings in Leadership, Jousting, and Swordplay ranging from Weak to Average to Good to Strong. The manual says Wilfred of Ivanhoe is the best knight to start off with, and this is the one I chose to play.

After choosing your knight, and before each turn, you see your status screen. You get to see your character portrait, as well as the portrait of the fair maiden should you rescue her. At the top is the current date, both month and year. Below that is your monthly income and your current gold. Next are the Leadership, Jousting, and Swordplay ratings. At the bottom the current forces of your army are shown. You see the number of soldiers, knights, and catapults in your army. You also see how many soldiers are staying behind to defend your home castle. You always get the first turn every month. You will see the map activity of the other lord’s turns afterward. While you can see the location of your army, you cannot explicitly see where the enemy armies are positioned on the map.

Study the map, then conquer it.

The main menu in the corner of the map screen contains your main commands. Tournament lets you spend five gold to hold a jousting tournament. Conquest is one of your primary commands. It contains sub commands that allow you to move your army and forces around the map. Go Raiding lets you do a raid for gold against one of the castles. Buy Army lets you spend gold to buy more troops. Use the Read Map option to check the stats on any of the provinces. You can also choose to Pass your turn.

With the Conquest command, you can control your army. The sub commands are Read Map, Move Army, Transfer, and Done. Read Map under the Conquest command is the same option as on the main menu. Move Army lets you move your army between territories, but before you can do that, you first select the Transfer command to move troops between your castle and your army. You begin the game at your home castle with 20 soldiers and none are in your army, and you can’t move your army with no one in it! On the transfer screen, you see Soldiers, Knights, and Catapults in the middle. On the left side is the count of each in your home garrison, and the right side is the count of each in your army. Use the D-pad to move the dagger cursor and press A to select a unit type. You can use either Left or Right to move troops between the army and garrison, and then press A again to de-select the cursor. Choose Done when finished moving troops. This action doesn’t cost a turn.

Now that you have troops in your army, you can use Move Army to move them to a new territory. You can move the army to any adjacent territory you already own without losing your turn. You can also move freely through other Saxon territories and you decide if you want to just pass through or attack them. If you move to either an empty or hostile territory, this will end your turn. It’s a good idea to use Read Map to examine other territories. Pull up a territory to see the name of it, who owns it if applicable, the number of vassals, and the monthly income generated from owning the territory. Moving to an empty territory claims it for yourself, and in addition, the number of vassals in that territory are added to your army. Adding vassals only happens when taking previously unclaimed territories and not when taking a territory from someone else. If you move to a territory owned by someone else, and there’s no army or castle there, you claim it. Otherwise you will do battle with the occupant. More on that later. All claimed territories generate income that you earn in gold at the start of every turn.

Try to hit the center of the shield to knock him off.

You can compete in jousting tournaments either by paying five gold from the menu or participating for free in a tournament arranged by someone else. You can either compete for Fame or for Land. If you have no land to gamble, or if the game doesn’t let you choose, you automatically compete for fame. When jousting for land, you get to pick an enemy territory that you want to claim. Then that ruler will choose one of your territories and the winner of the joust gets both. When jousting for fame, select the name of the lord you want to compete against. The tournament can last for three rounds as long as you keep winning, and you can only compete against a lord once per tournament. One key point here is that jousting for fame will increase your Leadership stat if you are successful. In fact, Leadership is the only rating that can either rise or fall depending on actions you make throughout the game.

The joust consists of two phases: The joust and the morning star battle. The joust portion is the face-off on horseback that you would normally think of. Two riders on horseback take opposing sides. The action takes places from a first-person perspective with the opponent approaching from the other side of the low fence. Use the D-pad to adjust the position of your spear. Movement is erratic and stiff, but what you want to do is try and put the tip of the spear as close to the center of the opponent’s shield as you can. Then you see an animation with the results. One man can be knocked off his horse, or neither. If no one falls you try again up to three times. If you are unsuccessful by the third attempt, you automatically get knocked down. The worst possible outcome is if you accidentally spear and kill the opponent’s house. This is considered most dishonorable, and if you do that you lose most of your stuff. The results of this joust play into the morning star battle.

Morning star your opponent into submission.

The other half of the match is the morning star battle. You are the blue knight on the left and the opponent is the red knight. There are health bars at the bottom for each participant. Winning the joust gives you a larger health bar. Use Left or Right on the D-pad to move your fighter. Press the A button to swing your morning star. This does a high strike. You can do a low strike by holding Down when pressing A. You have a shield that defaults to defending low. Hold B to raise your shield and block high. The idea is to hit where he is not blocking by striking when his morning star is pointed the farthest away from you. The winner of this fight wins the round.

Swordfights occur when you go on a raid, or if another ruler approaches you to save the damsel in distress. This takes place from a side view. You approach the castle and must take out three guards outside. Then you go inside to battle with the captain of the guard. Use the D-pad to inch either Left or Right. Press A to strike with your sword, or you can parry by holding Up and pressing A. You can also escape by moving all the way to the left but that reduces your leadership rating. The best strategy is to hit him with as much space between the two of you as possible, then back up a bit and strike again. It’s possible to get through without damage though I haven’t done it. The outside guards have small health bars, but the captain inside has a long health bar plus the advantage of stairs on his side of the room. If you initiate a raid and win, you steal half the gold from the enemy castle.

Raiding a castle for gold isn’t supposed to be easy.

As the main purpose of this game is map conquest, you need to build up a powerful army by spending cash and buying troops. Use the Buy Army command. All troops purchased here are assigned to your home castle, so to use them in your army you need to be able to move the army home and then transfer them over. There are four types you can buy. Soldiers cost one gold each and are the bread and butter of your army. Knights cost eight gold each. Naturally with the price difference you will have far fewer knights than soldiers. Knights are powerful fighters on the battlefield but are not that useful for defending your home turf. Catapults cost fifteen gold each. You must have at least one catapult if you intend on attacking an opposing castle. You can also buy castles here for twenty gold. This option lets you build a castle on a territory you occupy and provides you ten soldiers to go along with it. A castle on a territory gives you an option to defend yourself and makes things more difficult for enemies to claim it.

Battles take place out on the open field between opposing armies. There’s no action here, rather the battles play out automatically via what amounts to invisible dice rolls behind the scenes. The battle screen displays one soldier per every 25 commanded and one knight per every 10 commanded on each side. The actual numbers are displayed at the bottom. There is a menu at the bottom where you can change your tactics. Use the D-pad to position the cursor and A to make your selection. The command may take some time to take effect depending on your leadership level. The idea to battles is that there are different tactics you can try based on the situation. Hold Your Ground is suitable when you have the size advantage and are a strong leader. Ferocious Attack is a risky move that could help if you are outnumbered. Bombard takes advantage of your catapults. The Outflank tactic can be effective if you are a weak leader with the larger army. You can also Retreat, which saves your men but affects your leadership rating. Battles can play out very fast so you need to make quick decisions for best results during battle.

Punch a hole in the enemy’s defenses.

If you have a catapult, you can perform a catapult siege against your enemy. Simply attack an enemy castle with a catapult in your army. This mode is all about timing. You get six times to attack the enemy castle before engaging them in battle, no matter how many catapults you have. Each time you get to choose your ammo from either a boulder, disease, or Greek fire. Then you get a view of the castle from behind your catapult. Press and hold A to pull the catapult back and let go to fire away. The castle has a low wall in the front. What you want to do is hit the top of the wall with a boulder first to break a hole in the castle. You can expand the hole with multiple boulders by hitting the top of the wall each time. Then you can use either the Greek fire or disease shots to fire into the hole in the wall you made. The fire shot defeats 10% of the home army, while the disease can kill enemy soldiers over time, particularly if you score a hit with it early in the siege. After all attacks are made, then you go automatically into a normal battle.

Should an enemy attack one of your castles, you then play yet another mini-game to defend it. This is a crossbow battle played from a first-person perspective from inside your castle. Enemy soldiers will pop up at predefined points on the wall and fire at you. You move the crossbow at the bottom of the screen with the D-pad. It moves freely left and right, while it will sit at only three vertical levels that you can shift between by pressing Up or Down. Press A to fire arrows. The number of hits you can take and the number of enemy soldiers you have to dispatch depend on how many soldiers are in each army. The higher your leadership rating, the faster you can slide the crossbow around the screen. The enemy’s leadership rating determines how quickly enemy soldiers fire. If you lose your home castle, you lose all your territory and the game is over. This goes the same for enemy castles, so if you successfully take the enemy’s home castle you get all of their territories.

Outnumber your opponent for best results.

Finally, in a pinch, you can call on Robin Hood to help you. On your turn, point the cursor to Sherwood Forest in the center of the map and press A to talk to Robin Hood. He will help you out up to three times during the game. He can help you raid a castle, siege a castle, or help you out in battle. To use him, you must perform one of those three actions right after asking him for help, otherwise you forfeit his assistance. For the normal battles, Robin Hood will swoop in and knock out a chunk of the opposing army.

This was my first time playing Defender of the Crown. I’m glad I got to play it since it was something I had ignored for a long time. A cart copy only costs around $5, but even with that price it’s not one I see as often as I would expect.

The 5/10 difficulty rating I gave Defender of the Crown is misleading. If you haven’t played this game before, you will get destroyed quickly and often. Any time I encountered an enemy on the map, I suffered for it heavily. The fights I did win left me so crippled that I didn’t last much beyond that, and the ones I lost were over almost as fast as I could issue any command. I fared a little better with gold raiding and the joust, however, you can’t win a game with those skills alone. I couldn’t maintain territories long enough to have enough gold to afford even a modest army. The castle defense sections were also tough to get the hang of. Several attempts ended swiftly. I combed through the manual several times for help, and against my normal policy, I also read parts of an FAQ I found online. The FAQ really helped to clarify the tips in the manual and steered my focus, rather than tell me outright the best way to win the game. I was now able to put together a successful strategy for beating the game. My first win was a little drawn out, but I played a few more rounds and started to win pretty easily. My experience with Defender of the Crown went just like AD&D: Heroes of the Lance. The game starts off challenging, but soon gets much easier when you learn to make sense of what to do.

Defending your home turf is the most important ability.

Here was my strategy for beating the game. If you want to figure it out yourself, now is the time to look away. The first thing you need to do is learn the map. Take some time to use the Read Map feature and check out the territories to see which ones are valuable. There is one near the middle of the map that is really good and one of the starting positions will allow you to claim it right away. Instead of building up my army early on, I spent my gold on castles to lock down the best territories. To properly defend the castles, you really need a quick crossbow. This leads to the most important piece of advice. The key ingredient for success is maintaining a high leadership rating. As you could tell from reading here, many positive outcomes all throughout the game are born from having high leadership. If no one started up a tournament after sticking castles on two or three territories, I made sure to hold one to joust for fame and build up my leadership. The sooner you get to Strong leadership, the better. Then you’re in the driver’s seat. Make sure you keep ten soldiers in each castle, especially the ones that border enemies. You can use your army to help distribute soldiers all over your territories, all on one turn. Having a bunch of castles and getting good at defending them with the crossbow is what you want to focus on. You can opt to play the long game here and start rolling out castles on more territories, slowly dominating the map that way. My way was a little faster. Once I had a territory in reach of an enemy’s home castle, I then splurged on a single catapult and the biggest army I could get, splitting my money about evenly between soldiers and knights. Sometimes I went on a gold raid against a home castle for a nice cash infusion. You can also borrow soldiers from castles that aren’t at risk from enemies to add to your army. Do the best you can at a catapult siege, but even if it doesn’t go the best, I vastly outnumbered my opponent anyway and just did Hold Your Ground until victory. Taking a home castle can give you other territories all in one shot. It should be easy to win from here.

I guess you could say I had a love/hate relationship with Defender of the Crown. I was never interested in this game. When it appeared on my list, I was excited to try it. I liked it at first, even though I got hammered. Then I started to dislike the game from all the losing. Once I figured it out, then I had a lot of fun with the game. The graphics are pretty decent. They are a far cry from the original Amiga version, but are more than passable. I don’t remember the music very well, which I suppose means it’s forgettable. I found the controls to be slow and stiff, especially in the jousting and sword fighting. I realize that this is not exactly selling the game to you. What I enjoy about the game is the variety. There are several ways to play this game and you only have to work hard at one or two of them. There are different characters with his own strengths, plus some random starting positions that give you some replayability. It’s a quick game too, which is unusual for a map conquest game. I think it’s the ideal pick-up-and-play game of this style and I can see myself playing it through again, which I would have never said just a few months ago.

#98 – Defender of the Crown


#82 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtle power! Times four!

The music starts simple and builds up nicely.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/26/18
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Longplay

If you have been reading along for a while, you probably know that I am all about video games, and not much else. For instance, I don’t watch too many movies and often don’t watch the ones that have NES games tied to them. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were quite the phenomenon in the early 1990s, so much so that even I was all about them for a time. I had a bunch of the toys, I watched the cartoon, I saw the movies, and of course I played a lot of the NES games. The first of these games poses a stiff and often unfair challenge but is still a well-remembered game regardless, owing a debt to the source material for keeping it held in esteem among 90’s kids like myself.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. They first appeared in a 1984 comic book published by Mirage Studios. The two creators were approached by licensing agent Mark Freedman to try and expand the franchise. They teamed up with Playmates Toys to create a line of action figures, and the company insisted on creating a cartoon to help tie in with the toy line. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series began in 1987, and though it took a little while to catch on, it blew up in popularity over the late 1980s and early 1990s. The comic book continued to run alongside the TV show, and several movies and video games followed throughout the 1990s. The series is still going on today, most notably in the Nickelodeon animated series ending in 2017, with a new series slated for the network later in 2018.

The NES game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (abbreviated TMNT) was first released on the Famicom in May 1989. The NES release in North America followed soon after in June 1989, and the PAL release occurred in August 1990. Konami developed the game. It was published by Konami in Japan, under the Ultra Games label in the US, and Konami’s Palcom label in Europe and Australia. The Japanese version was called Geki Kame Ninja Den, meaning Legend of the Radical Ninja Turtles. The European version was renamed Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles to remove references to ninjas, just like with Ninja Gaiden. This version of the game was ported to various home computers, and even appeared in arcades as a Playchoice-10 title.

You can explore the map or get into the sewer.

TMNT is a side-scrolling action game. The plot begins with the standard “save the girl” trope, as Shredder has captured April O’Neil and you have to get her back. Ultimately, your task is to locate and defeat Shredder, the leader of the Foot Clan. The turtles want to retrieve his Life Transformer Gun, which they hope to use on Splinter to restore him back to his human form. This journey will take you through six stages, culminating in a final battle with Shredder himself.

When you start the game from the title screen, you are first dropped into a top-down view of a portion of the New York City streets. You control a tiny Ninja Turtle here. You can walk in four directions with the D-pad, and attack straight ahead with the B button. Right next to you is an opening to the sewer, and you can go inside if you want. There the gameplay changes to the side-scrolling view where the action takes place. You can also walk around the building and take the path on the left but be careful if you do. Right around the corner is a large steam roller that will drive toward you, and if you touch it you get crushed and die instantly, or in this game, get captured. You can explore the map freely and go in and out of the sewers or doorways freely as well. The idea is to locate the end level boss and defeat him to move on.

You can press Start to pause the game. This brings up an information screen. On the left side there is a minimap of the current area. Red squares indicate where you can walk around, and white squares indicate entrances to the side-scrolling areas. There is also a small, flashing plus sign that shows where you are on the map. On the right side is a small profile of each of the four turtles: Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello. You see a small picture of each turtle, his shortened name, a life bar, and what special weapon he has, if any. You can switch between turtles anytime in this game. Press Up or Down to highlight which turtle you want, and you will control him directly when you unpause. The lower part of the screen shows an informational message from one of the other characters, typically master Splinter.

Words of encouragement AND character selection!

Most of the game is played within the side-scrolling areas. You move around with the D-pad, jump with A, and attack with B. The turtles take high, loopy jumps and will curl up into a ball. You can take shorter jumps by tapping the A button. Once you start moving sideways in the air, you can’t stop until you land, making precision jumps on small ledges difficult. The B button attacks straight ahead. You can attack above by holding Up and below by holding Down when you strike with B. Your turtle crouches with Down while standing on the ground.

The lower part of the screen during gameplay holds vital information. The left shows both your current score and high score. The middle part displays your health bar. You begin with eight squares of health and you can get damaged in half-square increments. Below that is an enemy health bar that only appears during bosses or stronger enemy encounters. The right side shows your main weapon, sub weapon, and any other items you may encounter.

Each of the Ninja Turtles is known for mastering a specific weapon and you get to use them as your default weapon depending on which turtle you choose. Leonardo wields a katana. This has the best total range for all directions. Raphael uses sai, which is easily the weakest weapon in the game. It is very fast to deploy repeatedly but has virtually no range and isn’t as strong as you might expect given its natural handicap. Michelangelo wields nunchucks, which have good horizonal range but weak vertical range. Donatello is a master of the bo staff. This weapon has the best reach, but not necessarily the best range. Attacking enemies at your feet is tricky since you either have to attack while crouched, which gives you very little range, or attack downward while jumping. However, the bo is the most powerful of the standard weapons, therefore making it the most useful weapon in the game.

This screen should bring back some painful memories.

There are secondary weapons in the game that you mostly pick up from defeated enemies. They are uncommon drops, but you will see a few of them during play. Shurikens are simple projectile weapons that pack some surprising punch. There is also a three-way shuriken with a much wider range. Boomerangs are slow moving and don’t travel very far, but they come back toward you and you can grab them again to add them back to your stock. There is also the infamous scroll weapon that is not dropped by enemies and can only be found in a few places. This is a wide projectile attack that does heavy damage. Each weapon pickup gives you twenty ammo. Grabbing a new weapon replaces an old one, so typically you will switch turtles to spread the weapons around.

Other items are planted in the levels. Health-restoring pizza is the most common pickup you will find. Slices restore a quarter of your health, half pizzas give you back half of your health, and a full pizza restores it all. This only applies to your active turtle so you may choose who gets health if several turtles are in danger. Missile pickups give you ten missiles for the turtle van in the overhead view of Level 3. Ropes are used in special sections to help you cross large gaps. Finally, there is an invincibility item in the shape of a Ninja Turtle face. Grab it to ball up and swing your weapon all around you for several seconds. Then you can wipe out pretty much any enemy by bumping into them.

There are a lot of weird enemies in this game. Some are TMNT staples, like foot clan soldiers and mousers. There’s an enemy that’s all legs that jumps off ceilings with reverse gravity. There are weird glowing men, and chainsaw-wielding freaks, and flying saucer shaped robots, and men completely on fire, and robot soldiers with detachable heads, just to name a few. Some enemy encounters lock the screen for awhile and one of the stronger enemies will appear with its own dedicated health bar. There’s a weird quirk about the enemies that happens a lot in this game. Most areas have two enemy groups but only one is active at a time. The one you get when you enter a new screen appears to be chosen at random. You’ll find you prefer certain groups over others. Even weirder is that the enemy group can change in the middle of an area if all on-screen enemies are cleared out first. It’s one of the stranger game mechanics I’ve seen, which seems to fit given the equally strange enemies within the groups.

Heads will fly.

Let’s take a brief look at the stages in this game. This is already dipping into spoiler territory, if you care about such things. The first level is a good introductory stage to get used to the map and game mechanics. You will face both Bebop and Rocksteady as bosses here. The second stage is the infamous dam level. In the latter part of the stage you go underwater to disable eight bombs before time runs out. Swim by tapping A to rise and the D-pad to move around. There are electrical barriers and painful seaweed to deal with, but the timer is essentially the boss of this stage. In Level 3, you take control of the turtle van, or party wagon, as you seek out the boss. You can fire small bullets or large missiles that take out barricades in your way. Level 4 takes place at an airport and contain 18 numbered areas to explore. Level 5 has a dark map with searchlights that drop foot soldiers near you if you get caught. The boss is randomly hidden within one of the sewers and the enemies are very difficult. The final area has no map, playing only in the side-scrolling view. This large area contains one of the nastiest stretches of gameplay I’ve witnessed in this project.

You can survive a long time in this game because you manage four full health bars all at once. Inevitably, one turtle will succumb to damage or an instant death trap. In this case, that turtle gets captured and you have to go without him. There is one spot each in Levels 3, 4, 5, and 6 where you can recover a captured turtle, but you can only get one back per level. If all turtles are lost, it’s Game Over. You can continue twice which sends you back to the start of the level.

TMNT was one of the NES games I acquired back in the Ninja Turtles heyday of the early 90s. I have played the game a lot and have beaten it many times before. I remembered all the main points of the adventure despite not playing through the game for a long time. I think the last time I played through the game before now was in college just to show off to my friends. It’s regarded as a difficult NES game for good reason.

Some areas get clogged up with enemies.

It took me two attempts to beat the game. The first time was meant to shake off the rust, so to speak. I almost beat the game anyway. I was able to reach the last level without too much trouble, but that nasty corridor I mentioned earlier reared its ugly head and I couldn’t make it through. That spot is a long area littered with these flying robot soldiers that shoot lasers. They appear constantly throughout the length of the room, while the height of the room gets narrower and you have no room to dodge. They take at least two hits to kill with the best weapons as well. There is a bit of a trick to passing through the area, but it eluded me the first time through. I was successful on my next attempt though I had to use up both continues before figuring it out.

I will defend TMNT as a fun game, but it is kind of a mess in a few regards. The turtles themselves are unbalanced. Raphael is practically useless, mostly serving as either a damage sponge or special weapons expert. Donatello is easily the best character, but the game gets a lot more challenging should you lose him. The changing enemy group mechanic is strange and can hinder you as much as it can help you. I think some enemies take too many hits to beat. I can try and skip some, but that becomes an issue because there is significant slowdown and flicker when too many enemies are stuck on screen. The slowdown isn’t helpful from an enemy avoidance perspective since your movement is on the sluggish side normally. Many areas are too narrow to properly avoid enemies anyway. Another bonus mechanic is that a turtle gets an attack power boost when he is low on health. However, this doesn’t always seem to work, and I don’t think it’s something you can depend on even though it is useful when it happens.

Now that I’ve said my piece on TMNT, I think it is a disappointing game. The technical issues and balancing issues mentioned above hold the game back. I expect more out of a Konami game on NES. TMNT lacks the typical Konami polish, particularly from a 1989 release. By then, Konami had already released several games, including ones I’ve already played like Top Gun, Contra, and Gyruss. All of those games are a better technical experience than TMNT. The game does have some good qualities. The music is really good, and the graphics are solid. I like the overhead map and the variety of the gameplay it provides. The idea of switching between the four turtles each with different weapons is a great idea. I think the difficulty curve is even and each stage is harder than the one before it. The structure of a great game is here, but it falls a tad short of the mark for me. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but I find TMNT to be a fun game anyway despite its flaws.

#82 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


#73 – Q*bert

Our hero teaches you to swear early and often!

Boring screen, but the next one tells you the rules at least.

To Beat: Finish Level 9 Round 4
Played: 2/1/18 – 2/18/18
My Difficulty:10/10
My Video: Q*bert Longplay

If you’re like me, your eyes got wide seeing another 10/10 difficulty rating appear. Indeed, Q*bert on NES is one of those games that doesn’t come up often. We have already seen a previous arcade port, the infamous Ikari Warriors, receive the only prior 10/10 rating. Ikari Warriors was a different case because it is a much more expansive game on NES than in the arcade. NES Q*bert on the other hand is close to the arcade experience. I think it’s neat to see how two arcade ports on NES go in different directions but still retain a very high level of difficulty compared with other NES games. Beating Q*bert is something you can feel proud of if you are one of the few that can conquer it.

Q*bert started as an arcade game that was both developed and published by Gottlieb in 1982. Jeff Lee is credited with both designing the character Q*bert as well as the initial ideas of gameplay. Warren Davis stepped in later as a programmer and further contributed to the game. David Theil was the audio engineer, and his trouble in finding enough time to properly add clear voices to the game led to the idea of having the sound synthesizer read random data, producing gibberish that composes Q*bert’s somewhat iconic swearing noises. The development team also included a pinball device inside the arcade cabinet that slams into the side of it whenever Q*bert falls off the board. Another risky idea was turning the game joystick 45 degrees for diagonal-only movement. All of the above pieces combined to make Q*bert a success for Gottlieb, so the game was widely ported to many home consoles and computers throughout 1983 and 1984.

Q*bert on NES was released in February 1989. It was developed and published by Ultra Games, the alternate publishing label of Konami. It wasn’t released on the Famicom nor outside of the US. This version is closely aligned to the original arcade game, but some later titles expanded on the idea. A unique sequel, Q*bert’s Qubes, was released in arcades in 1984. It is a more complex game and wasn’t as widely distributed. Q*bert on MSX was released in 1986. This version doesn’t feature Q*bert at all, but does include 50 different stage layouts. The Game Boy port of Q*bert in 1992 goes back to starring the original character while also introducing new stage layouts. Q*bert 3 on SNES in 1992 also has different levels. Q*bert also had different versions on Windows, mobile, and other platforms more recently.

Most of what you need to know is evident from the start.

Q*bert is a single screen action game with puzzle elements. You play as Q*bert on a triangular pyramid of cubes. It holds seven rows of cubes containing 28 total cubes. You hop along the top faces of these cubes changing the color of any one you step on. To complete each level, you must switch all the tiles to a specified target color while avoiding other enemies that try to get in your way or disrupt your progress. There are nine levels of four rounds each, so you have to complete 36 pyramids to beat the game.

The controls are simple and can even be customized, which is great because by nature of the game Q*bert’s hops are always diagonal. On the title screen, first select one or two players. Multiplayer is alternating play so this might as well be a single player game. The first thing you get to see is the control customization screen. It includes a demonstration of Q*bert hopping so you can see clearly which direction you are setting, and there is also an image of the NES controller. First you choose what direction on the D-pad you want to press to make Q*bert jump up and right, then down and right, down and left, and finally up and left. The initial setting is Up on the D-pad to move Q*bert up and right. You can press A to lock that in or press B to turn 45 degrees clockwise. You can keep pressing B to pivot this selection around to any direction you want. If you want inverted controls or something really bizarre, you can do it. After you make selections for all four directions, you must press A one more time to confirm. If you press B instead, then you have to re-enter all four directions again from the start. My recommendation is setting the default controls by mashing the A button right away. This locks controls to the main cardinal directions of the D-pad, so visually if you were to turn the controller 45 degrees clockwise the D-pad perfectly aligns with Q*bert’s movement on screen. The other common control scheme is locking in all diagonal D-pad inputs, but I didn’t bother with this because pressing diagonals isn’t always precise enough.

When you are playing the game, just use the D-pad. Press the direction you set to hop in the desired direction. Q*bert’s jumps are always deliberate and take time to finish. You may tap the direction you want to move when you are standing still. If you hold a direction while Q*bert is in mid jump, he will go ahead and jump in that direction after he lands. This acts as an input buffer so you can hold the direction you next intend to go early and Q*bert will transition as quickly as possible. Finally, the Start button pauses the game if you need a break in the action.

Q*bert’s biggest fan helps out with control customization.

There are several enemies that stand in your color changing ways. The rule of thumb is you can safely come in contact with green enemies, but any other color enemy kills you when touched. The one enemy that appears in every stage is Coily. He first appears as a purple ball falling from the sky and landing in the second row. He hops randomly downward until he reaches the bottom row and comes alive as a snake. Now he will follow you around in hot pursuit. The only safe way to deal with Coily is to use disks that can appear on either the left or right side of the pyramid. Q*bert is allowed to jump completely off the pyramid to his death if you aren’t careful, in which case you lose a life and he respawns on the topmost tile, just as he starts every level. Hop off the pyramid onto one of those disks, and it will carry Q*bert to the top of the pyramid. During this transport, if Coily was close enough to you he will also jump off the pyramid, and as a bonus this also removes all enemies from play, plus you get 500 points. You may only use a disk once and there are only a handful per level.

Ugg and Wrong Way are two similar enemies that have a strange movement pattern. Unlike other enemies, they appear from the bottom of the screen and hop on the sides of the cubes instead of on the top. Wrong Way begins on the bottom left and will either jump up or right. Ugg begins on the bottom right and only jumps up or left. Maybe it’s the opposite, I don’t know. Either way, when they reach the side of the pyramid, they jump completely off and go away. Because they don’t land on the top tiles, it takes a while to completely understand how to safely move around them.

The remaining enemies all move like Coily’s purple ball and they all jump off the bottom of the board. However, each one has other characteristics. Red balls are called Whammy Balls. They are simple, common enemies that hurt when you collide with them. The remaining enemies are green and can be touched safely. The green ball is a powerup. Grab the green ball to both freeze all enemies on screen and make Q*bert invincible. This lasts for several seconds which is perfect for flipping a bunch of tiles the way you want them. You also get 100 points from the green ball. The final two enemies are Sam and Slick. I can’t tell the two of them apart mid-game, but Slick wears sunglasses and Sam doesn’t. Like Q*bert, they change tile colors every step they take, and so they have a bad habit of undoing all your hard work. You can take them out of play if you grab them and you get 300 points for your efforts. I believe Sam advances each square one color ahead and Slick always turns tiles one of the non-target colors. Maybe their characteristics are level dependent and not character dependent. Either way, these are very annoying non-lethal enemies.

Early levels already have a lot going on.

Other than the enemies, there are some other ways to earn points. Flipping a tile earns you 30 points. You also get a bonus after each round. Any remaining disks give you 50 points, and then you earn the main round bonus. This begins at 1000 points for completing Level 1-1, and it steps up an additional 250 points for subsequent rounds. Around Level 5-1 it stops at 5000 points per round but then goes up to 6000 points for Level 8 and 8000 points for each round in the final level. Points let you earn extra lives. You get your first extra life at 6000 points, and then you get another one for every 12,000 points after that.

The main objective is coloring tiles, and this gradually gets more complex. Each level begins with a demonstration of how colors change when Q*bert hops on tiles. Levels can feature up to three colors which I’ll call Colors A, B, and C. The colors themselves vary just for aesthetic reasons. All levels begin with all Color A tiles, and the target color is B for two-color levels and C for three-color levels. Level 1 just has two colors with only A flipping to B. Color B is locked in for the round unless Sam or Slick get involved. Essentially, step on every tile once. Level 2 goes to three colors, with A flipping to B, B flipping to C, and C stays locked. Just step on every tile twice. Level 3 is only two colors, however, A goes to B and B goes back to A. Uh-oh. The puzzle element shows up here, but it’s gets better with experience. Level 4 goes A to B, B to C, and C to B. It’s more hopping, but eventually boils down to the same as Level 3. Level 5 and onward is just nasty, and I bet you can already guess where this is going. Here, A flips to B, B flips to C, and C flips back to A. This is the last pattern, but you have to suffer through 20 rounds of this if you are set on beating NES Q*bert. Each subsequent level gets faster too.

Now it all starts to come together why Q*bert is one of the hardest games to beat on the NES. The game does provide a bit of extra assistance. Each game of Q*bert begins with four additional lives. You can continue when you run out of lives, but only three times. The extra credits help tremendously, but this is still a steep mountain to climb.

I always like these stages with the black cube sides.

I had a little previous experience with Q*bert. I believe I mentioned this in my Snow Brothers review, but I originally played that game at a babysitter’s house long ago as a rental. The other rented game that day was Q*bert, and I remember getting as far as Level 3. I sought it out specifically when I got back into game collecting. I ended up buying a nice, clean copy with manual on eBay for $6 shipped. This is a silly reason, but I wanted to get it early on because one of my collection milestones was collecting all NES games that start with each letter of the alphabet. Q is the easiest to finish since it’s only Q*bert and Qix, at least for licensed NES. I do like the game though, so I was happy to own it. Nowadays a cart copy costs around $8-$10, same as it did around 2014 when I bought my own.

I’ve done a lot of research into the NES library and I already know several games that project to be among the most difficult. Q*bert was absolutely on my radar as a Top 10 candidate. Because of this, I kept track of my attempts including milestones anytime I reached a new stage for the first time. I was looser with this than my Ikari Warriors tracking, so I neglected to note exactly which attempts reached which stages. I also didn’t keep track of how many hours I spent playing. The stats I did collect are interesting enough. I beat Q*bert on my 67th attempt over 18 days of playing. I’d say I reset early on maybe a dozen or more attempts, especially toward the end of my grind when I knew I needed to play well early to have a better shot at the end. Later attempts took as long as 45 minutes, and earlier attempts were at least 20-30 minutes long. I’m pretty comfortable guessing that I played 30 hours of Q*bert before I won.

The road getting there was pretty long, despite what I consider a condensed timeframe. I started out very strong, reaching Level 5 on my first day playing. This is no small feat. The first two levels are challenging to start, but straightforward. Level 3 is the first big step up where you have to contend with pathfinding and Sam and Slick really hindering progress. It gets a little worse in Level 4, but Level 5 is where the gloves truly come off. I think it was huge for me to do well enough reaching Level 5 so early in the process. Who knows how long I would have spent playing Q*bert if I struggled earlier, like I’m sure many players do. But that’s where things stalled out for quite some time. I reached Level 6 on my third day and then got stuck for a few days. I was getting angry about losing in those later levels, and solving them more felt like I was lucky than I was skilled. After the first week of attempts, I had something of a breakthrough, reaching 8-4 in one of those magical runs. Following that were three days of heavy playing over the weekend where I didn’t come all that close. My Level 5+ technique was gradually coming together, and by the next weekend I was routinely reaching Levels 7 and 8, and even Level 9. Finally it all came together and I beat Q*bert!

Getting the jump on the green ball is huge.

My winning run was an attempt that I nearly threw away. I was gauging attempts based on how many lives I had entering 5-1. I had gotten there a couple of times with ten lives, but usually I had six to eight lives. This time I broke even and only had the starting four. I decided to try anyway and things were really clicking for me, at least until Level 8. From 5-3 on, both the disk layout and Sam’s tile flipping behavior are always the same. Later levels do speed up, but aside from that there’s no reason why Level 8 would be unique in its difficulty. Anyway, that’s where things looked bleak. I used all three continues here: One in 8-1, another in 8-2, and my last in 8-4. I wanted to at least get to Level 9, but I ended up playing very well and beat 9-4 with several lives to spare. I didn’t have any notes for 9-4 but I didn’t need them. It was a huge relief to mark Q*bert off the list!

The best advice I can give for beating Q*bert is this: The enemy movements are random, but the order in which enemies appear is fixed for each level. Armed with this knowledge, it is possible to map out exactly when certain enemies appear, especially the green ball. I had a few notes for the first three levels that I didn’t really use, but from Level 4 on I wrote down about when I expected the ball to show up. My strategy for those levels was to start clearing out the lower left corner, particularly the three corner tiles. Wait there for Coily to approach you and then take the disk in that corner. Repeat that step for the other corner. After that, try and work the board from the bottom on up. If you can stop Sam, by all means do it, but it’s not absolutely critical. Occasionally, Sam will hug one side of the board and mess up the corner, so when that happens I fix that as soon as possible. My notes indicated about how many times I could bait Coily off the edge with a disk before the green ball appears. I had to improvise somewhat since Coily can end up too far away from where I’m waiting, but for the most part I made it work. The green ball often follows a Whammy Ball in the sequencing, so I tried using that sometimes as a visual cue.

One super annoying thing from Level 5 on is that sometimes the board gets caught in an unwinnable state temporarily. This happens when all squares are the target color except the one you are standing on, which is one hop away. There are a few things that you can do to fix it. What I like to do is massage that final square up to the very top of the pyramid. This is generally a safe tile aside from Coily and, in rare cases, Ugg and Wrong Way. If Coily isn’t an eminent threat, wait here for Sam or Slick to show up. When he does, immediately land on his square before he gets away. His landing shuffles the corner enough so that you can finish it. You can also use a disk to flip the top tile and fix it, but this has to be one of the disks in an odd-numbered row for it to work. Finally, if you can work the final square to one of the tiles adjacent to the topmost tile, simply jump off the board. This method costs you a life, so keep that in mind. Q*bert respawns on the top tile but doesn’t shuffle it, so then you can hop directly to the last square and clear the board.

Even in the final levels, the same tricks apply.

There’s one last tidbit I have on NES Q*bert. After you beat the game and view the ending sequence, you start all over at Level 1. Q*bert gets even harder during the second loop, if you can believe that. The speed overall is increased, and if I’m not mistaken, the speed can fluctuate mid-level. If that’s not true, it sure seemed that way while I was playing. That adds a little extra unpredictability to a game that does not need to be any more complicated. Considering this is a Konami game, many of their games that repeat have three distinct difficulty loops. It would not surprise me if Q*bert also does this, although good luck finding out. I captured video of my winning run, and when it looped I decided to play it through to the end, reaching 5-1 on the second loop before biting the dust. I’m really happy I have video proof of this achievement to share.

I’m going to address the difficulty here, because I know I’m going to be asked about it. Q*bert is the second game I’ve given a 10/10 rating. Out of the entire NES licensed set, I expect to hand this out to around 20 games. Q*bert is deserving of the 10/10, no doubt in my mind. This should be reserved for the cream of the crop, the ones that take an extraordinary amount of effort to beat. The question I’m sure I’ll be asked is “How does Q*bert compare to Ikari Warriors?” That answer is crystal clear. Ikari Warriors is much, much harder than Q*bert. Within the timeframe it took me to beat Q*bert, I had not yet beat the first level in Ikari Warriors. I think it’s okay to have two games far apart in difficulty within this space, and I don’t want to get into half-ratings or anything like that. What I will do is rank the 10/10’s relative to each other as I beat new ones. This will be a glacially slow list to compile, but I think this is something people want to know. Maybe it will be worth the wait.

Q*bert is a game that, despite its rage-inducing difficulty, I had a good time with. Action games with puzzle elements are right up my alley. Now this is not a flashy game. The visuals are basic, but colorful aside from the plain black background. The soundtrack is almost non-existent. The developers opted for having sound effects as the main audio driver instead, but it is pretty helpful to have audio cues for enemies when your eyes are busy keeping Q*bert alive elsewhere. Considering this is based on an early arcade title, this is all to be expected. The controls are great, both responsive and accurate, within the limitation of Q*bert’s deliberately designed movement, at least. Q*bert is a well-designed game and the NES version hits all the right notes. It’s a fun game to pick up and play, and if that’s all you want out of it, you will have some fun. Beating it, however, is grueling and unforgiving. That will have you swearing more than Q*bert does.

#73 – Q*bert


#49 – Kings of the Beach

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

Very chill setting!

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

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

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

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

Interesting cursor choice!

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

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

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

Bump, set, spike!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digs are done automatically. This one was successful!

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

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

My partner is disputing a call unsuccessfully.

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

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

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

#49 – Kings of the Beach


#45 – Rollergames

Maybe this game should have been called Skate or Die instead.

They aren’t even shy about this being a Konami game.

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 12/30/16 – 1/2/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: Rollergames Longplay

I used to go roller skating often growing up. The local roller rink was the place to be for young kids on a Friday night, and even though I was not particularly good at skating I still enjoyed being there with my friends. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about the contact sport roller derby, and it just so happens there is also an NES game based on the sport. With a library this vast, I guess I should not be so surprised!

The sport of roller derby originated in the 1930s. The game is played with two teams of skaters who skate laps around a banked track. The object of the game is to score points by having a designated member of the team lap opposing players. The sport grew in popularity during the 1940s and 1950s. As interest started to decline, and as television became more prominent, the sport shifted more toward storylines and theatrics and away from pure competition. Since then the sport has shifted back toward its competitive roots. Roller derby has seen a resurgence beginning in the early 2000s, predominately in all-female leagues.

In the middle of all this is Rollergames, a 1989 TV show that went all in on the theatrical approach to roller derby. There were changes made for Rollergames, such as introducing a figure eight shaped track instead of the traditional banked oval track. Rollergames is like the WWE with a heavy focus on rivalries and storylines. The show was quite popular, but despite that it only ran for one season because some of the show’s producers when bankrupt.

Complete with broadcasters!

There are two video games based on Rollergames. The first is an arcade title of the same name developed by Konami in 1990. The gameplay is modeled closely after the TV show. The second name is the NES version of Rollergames, also developed by Konami and published under the Ultra Games label. This version is also influenced by the show, but it plays more as a classic beat-em-up game. It was released in the US in September 1990 and in Europe in October 1991. It was not released in Japan or ported to any other systems.

Rollergames is a side-scrolling beat-em-up game with some platforming elements included. Members of a criminal organization have corrupted three of the Rollergames teams leading to the capture of the league commissioner, and the only people that can save him are the members of the other three good teams. The introductory cutscenes frame the game as a storyline fitting of the TV show. You must complete all six levels to save the commissioner and win the game.

At the start of each level, one of the sideline reporters asks you which team you would like to choose. You can pick either Ice Box of the Thunderbirds, Rolling Thunder of the Hot Flash, and California Kid of the Rockers. Each character plays differently so that you want to choose the team best suited to clear the current level. Ice Box is the slow but powerful character, while Rolling Thunder is the weak, but speedy character. California Kid is naturally the balanced choice.

You can knock down the bad guys quickly.

The controls are very natural. Use the D-Pad to skate in all eight directions. The A button is for jumping and the B button is used to attack. The standard attack is a basic punch, but you can do a jump kick by pressing B during a jump. You also have a special attack that you trigger by pressing both A and B at the same time. Each character has a slightly different special move. Ice Box does a body slam, Rolling Thunder does a spinning jump kick, and California Kid has a double jump kick. The moves are powerful but you are limited to only three per level, so use them wisely.

The levels all play from a side-scrolling perspective, but there are two different types of levels. The normal levels can scroll in all directions and you progress linearly through the level. There are many slopes to navigate and pits to jump across, as well as other enemies and traps that stand in your way. These can be quite tricky to clear while on roller skates! As you go, you will run into groups of enemy skaters and you must beat them all up before moving forward. Three normal levels revolve around each of the bad teams, which are the Bad Attitude, Maniacs, and Violators, and these levels have two sections each. The final level is in this normal style but it has four parts.

The other type of level is an auto-scrolling level. The skater of your choice is always moving forward here and the goal is to survive to the end. These levels follow along a broken highway so there are many gaps to cross. Of course, there are also various obstacles, traps, and enemies to contend with. These levels also feature boss-like encounters, but all you need to focus on is dodging the attacks until they go away, ending the stage.

Roads are always under construction!

At the top of the screen, there is a timer in the middle. This countdown only applies to the normal stages where you have to move ahead on your own pace. At the lower left is a vertical health bar. Your skater can suffer several hits before losing a life, though falling down a pit or landing on spikes results in immediate, swift death. The lower right area shows markers that indicate how many special attacks are remaining for the stage. There is a separate screen at the start of each stage that displays your score, high score, current level, and number of lives remaining. There are no powerups in the game for replenishing any of these elements. However, you can earn an extra life when reaching either 20,000, 50,000, or 80,000 points.

The obvious gimmick to Rollergames is that you play the entire game while on roller skates. As a result, your character controls in a fitting manner. It’s akin to playing a game with nothing but ice levels and ice physics. The skaters are generally slow to accelerate and slow to come to a stop. Often, I found myself making quick turns in a different direction than where I was moving to keep myself from falling. The game has various sections of platforming where you need clear gaps of different sizes. Not only that, but there are falling platforms, moving platforms, and crumbling floors to deal with. It’s a tough combination to work with and there is much trial and error involved to learn the right moves.

Slopes and tiny jumps on roller skates don’t mix.

The game balances this difficulty out in several ways. The levels tend to be reasonably short with checkpoints after every sublevel. The hand-to-hand combat is simple and the enemies themselves don’t pose much of a threat. Lastly, there are infinite continues in the game, so you can keep banging away at each level until you clear it. You always start at the beginning of each sublevel if you die, so once you reach the checkpoint you don’t have to play past sections again.

Seeing as it’s a Konami game in the middle of the NES lifespan, Rollergames is a quality title. Not only do the controls make sense, but the game has good graphics and some excellent music. It’s the soundtrack that really stands out overall. In my mind, it has a similar sound to TMNT II and III. Maybe that is because both games are beat-em-ups, but regardless it sounds good and it suits the game well.

I first played Rollergames last year for the NintendoAge weekly contest. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to play that week and I only reached Stage 2. That was barely any experience so this was the first time I seriously played Rollergames. This was one of those filler titles that I acquired in a random NES game lot that I purchased back in my collecting heyday. When it showed up on the list, I knew that Rollergames was a pretty good game that is easily overlooked, so I was happy to play through it.

This part is particularly devilish.

I beat Rollergames over two days and those two days just happened to fall on either side of New Years, making this the first game I have played for the project over two separate years. On the first attempt, I reached Stage 5-1 and this is where I got stuck. The first part of level isn’t all that bad, but the section right before the checkpoint is pretty nasty. You have to cross along the edge of a cliff where the ground periodically crumbles away in front of you. It forces you to move slowly to reveal the hidden gaps, and then you must back up enough to get the momentum to leap to the other side. But you must be careful not to go too far past the hole or you will fall into the next one. It wouldn’t be so bad if the controls weren’t slippery, but here it’s a pretty evil little section under the game’s ground rules. After several attempts at Stage 5-1 I turned the game off for the night.

The next time I sat down to play, I performed decently up to 5-1. After many new attempts, I reached 5-2 and from there I pushed my way through to the very end. I recorded my playthrough on video, but it was the ugliest playthrough I have recorded so far. There are several sections that must be practiced, and without any of that experience I died a bunch of times until I made it through. There are enough problem spots that I would have to beat the game a few times just to record a decent run. However, a game finish doesn’t have to be pretty to count, so I’ll accept this one and move on!

Rollergames is a fun game that I enjoyed playing. It’s got that Konami standard level of polish to it with solid controls, good gameplay, nice graphics, and catchy music. The one problem with the game is that there’s a significant amount of platforming that doesn’t properly fit the game’s slippery physics. It makes this game less accessible than other NES games of similar style right off the bat. If you can get by the initial hurdles, I think you would enjoy playing the game. It’s also an inexpensive cart for the collector or player insisting on the original cart. It’s too bad that it is overlooked because I think it deserves more recognition than it receives.

#45 – Rollergames

Gyruss Box Cover

#34 – Gyruss

Go ahead … give it a spin!

Yay starfield!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Complete 2 Loops (maybe 3?)
My Goal: Beat 2 loops
What I Did: Reached about halfway through Loop 2
Played: 10/16/16 – 10/17/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Gyruss Longplay

One way I have seen people try and describe a game is by forming it in terms of one or more other games that have shared elements. For instance, the term Metroidvania is widely used to describe a game that contains elements of both Metroid and Castlevania. Even though these comparisons may not always be the best, I think I can sum up Gyruss in this way. A cross between Galaga and Tempest, Gyruss is a fun shoot-em-up that is unlike anything else on the NES.

Gyruss originally is a 1983 arcade game developed by Konami. It was designed by Yoshiki Okamoto. He worked on only two games for Konami, Gyruss and Time Pilot. The arcade version was also published by Konami in Japan and Centuri in the US. Gyruss was later ported to five other home platforms by Parker Brothers. The NES version is not an arcade port, but a complete remake of the game by Konami. It was first released in Japan on the Famicom Disk System in November 1988 and in North America on the NES in February 1989, published by Ultra Games.

This is probably a good time to explain the relationship between Konami and Ultra Games. Nintendo decided to implement strict licensing agreements with companies that wanted to release games on the NES, and one of their policies was that companies were allowed to produce no more than five titles on the system per year. These policies were not in effect on the Famicom and some companies such as Konami were releasing many more titles. To get around the restriction, Konami created a separate publishing label named Ultra Games that received its own allotment of five games per year. So when you see Ultra Games on a cart you know the game is really developed and published by Konami. Nintendo certainly did a lot of hand waving here to let Konami release extra games, but I won’t complain since for the most part it works to our benefit!

Quite the generic story!

As I mentioned earlier, Gyruss borrows elements from both Galaga and Tempest. The game play is similar to Galaga in that each level has a few waves of enemies that enter in and all of them must be eliminated to proceed to the next stage. However the style is a tunnel shooter very reminiscent of the arcade hit Tempest. Your spaceship can orbit in a fixed circular path around the screen and enemies sit in the center of the screen moving outward toward your ship.

To beat the game, you must clear all 39 levels. You do this by planet hopping every four levels starting from Neptune going all the way to Mercury, and finally finishing off at the Sun. You can logically break down the level structure in groups of four. The game begins as you approach Neptune with the text “3 Warps to Neptune.” This level is the basic level type where four waves of enemies fly into the stage and you must defeat all of the enemies to warp to the next level. The second level “2 Warps to Neptune” has the same four enemy waves but with four enemy bases stationed in the middle of the screen. These take a lot of firepower to destroy so this type of level takes a little longer. The third level is “1 Warp to Neptune” which mirrors the first stage and includes a boss battle at the end. After reaching Neptune, the fourth level is a Chance Stage which plays out just like the Challenging Stages in Galaga. Here you get different enemy formations than the previous levels but the enemies cannot hurt you and your only goal is to defeat as many of them as you can for a point bonus at the end of the stage. This set of four stages repeats with the approach to each planet. There is no Chance Stage after the final boss so that sets the level count at 39.

When you begin the game you have the option of selecting either Control A or Control B. These determine how your control the movement of your ship. Control A boils down to pushing the D-pad in the direction you want to move regardless of where you are on the screen. So if you want to move to the left, you press left and you will travel the shortest path to the left side of the screen. If you keeping holding left you eventually will lock your ship in the farthest left position which can be handy at times. You can use up, down, left, and right to move to whichever side of the screen you want. Control B only utilizes left and right on the D-pad. Press left to move clockwise and press right to move counter-clockwise. Up and down do not do anything in this control mode. I have always used Control A and in my opinion I find it way more intuitive and useful than Control B. I think the only benefit to Control B is that you get continuous movement all around the screen by only having to hold down one direction on the D-pad.

Knowing where the enemies spawn helps you clear stages quickly.

You have two different types of attacks in Gyruss. The standard unlimited bullets are fired with the B button. You have a limited-use phaser attack by pressing A button. The phaser is a concentrated blast of fire at one position on the screen that plows through just about anything in its path. When you fire a phaser the screen pauses briefly for you to charge up and fire off the shot which is a nice touch to demonstrate the power of this attack.

There are a few powerups to help along the way. During the standard levels, a formation of three enemies in a row will appear on screen. The two outer enemies are cross shaped and the middle one is generally a powerup. The blue cross item upgrades your standard shot to a double shot. The orange cross item adds an extra phaser shot to your reserves. There is a round item with an orange center that gives you points. The round item with a blue center automatically destroys all enemies on screen aside from the enemy bases in the “2 Warps” levels. There is also a 1-up item that gives you an extra life. You also earn an extra life at 50,000 points and for every 100,000 points after that. You can have a maximum of seven lives and seven phaser shots in reserve.

The Chance Stages all have five formations of eight enemies for forty enemies in total. A few of the enemies in these formations will be a different color than the rest. These enemies bestow a powerup when destroyed so these bonus levels are good for upgrading if you get lucky enough with the item drops. You also get 100 points at the end of the level for each enemy you destroy. If you get all 40 enemies you get a 20,000 point bonus instead. Performing well at these stages goes a long way toward earning lives at a fast enough pace to keep going in the game.

That hairy blob enemy is really annoying.

The approach to each planet typically contains a unique enemy type or two in addition to the standard set of enemies across all levels. As an example, the approach to Neptune has indestructible asteroids that fly in a straight path at you. These special enemies can complicate clearing levels because they also must be dealt with before you can finish the stage. Several of them are shielded or have complicated movements, and that means they tend to linger around for awhile until you can defeat them. Others you simply have to wait out until they go away. You will have to learn what to do for each enemy to make progress in the game.

As mentioned previously Gyruss has a boss battle before warping to each planet. About half of these bosses are the same type consisting of a core surrounded by pods. These pods open up to shoot at you and that’s the only time they are vulnerable. The boss is defeated when all of the pods are destroyed. The remaining bosses are unique from one another and they are the ones I enjoy fighting the most.

Gyruss is a pretty difficult game on its own merits, but it is made more challenging due to the lack of continues. If you run out of lives you have to start over at Level 1. It is also frustrating that the stock of lives has a hard cap at seven. Granted, if you are maxed out on lives you are likely playing well enough to make a deep run, but it would be nice to have a larger buffer. I have had runs come crashing to a halt even with a full complement of lives. Gyruss has a lot of stages but they typically go fast so it isn’t that costly timewise to put in several attempts in a row to try and get the hang of it. I thought about going higher with the difficulty assessment, but perhaps fittingly I decided to give it a 7/10.

This boss has waving arms that are difficult to avoid.

Gyruss is one of the games I had in my childhood collection and I had played it enough to beat it many years ago. I had also beaten the game a few months earlier as part of the NintendoAge contest. Combining both of those experiences left Gyruss relatively fresh in my mind.

My first run of the game was one of those where I lost all of my lives in one spot. The boss at Jupiter I find to be very troublesome. Sometimes I can defeat him pretty quickly, and other times I simply can’t do anything to him and burn through all my lives. This time he wiped me out completely. Starting over, I managed to beat that boss and the entire rest of the game without much trouble.

Gyruss starts over after the final boss with increased difficulty. The enemies shoot more often and some of them move more quickly. The real problem for me is that one of the recurring boss attacks becomes significantly more deadly. I wanted to clear the second loop but I was not successful. I understand that some of the Konami games that loop like this actually have three distinct difficulties, and considering that Gyruss is basically a Konami game it figures that it could follow that pattern. Unfortunately I have not found any evidence of how many difficulty loops are in Gyruss, and I was not able to clear the second loop to find out for myself. I believe that completing all the levels once and getting the ending is sufficient for completion.

Hello, recurring boss of death!

I had recorded my winning run on video, but when I went back to watch it later I found out that the recording had a glitch in it near the beginning. It bothered me enough that I played through the whole game again to get a better capture. This time it worked and I managed to set a personal best in progression on that second loop. I was doing great until I had a complete meltdown on one of the bosses. It’s so bad that it almost looks like I was trying to fail out on purpose! I might end up going back to beat both loops one day just for my own personal benefit, but for now I’m satisfied.

Gyruss has a secret bonus! During the Chance Stage, if you manage to defeat the same number of enemies as the current level, you are awarded with 30,000 points. For instance, the first Change Stage is Level 4, so if you destroy 4/40 enemies then you get the bonus. This is more lucrative than the point bonus for shooting all of the enemies, and in some cases it is easier to pull off too. In my run I tried for the bonus every time as well as trying to hit as many of the powerup-giving enemies as I could. I only missed the bonus one time during the first loop. I abandoned that strategy during the second loop because I was more interested in the powerups.

I think Gyruss is a really fun game to play. I have always enjoyed Galaga so I already like the play style, but with the gameplay perspective, additional enemy types, powerups, and bosses, it makes it a more complete experience with significantly more depth. The graphics are very nice and the music is catchy as well. The game performs well with only the occasional slowdown, and when it does go slow it’s actually welcome. Finally, Gyruss is still a cheap cart to buy if you’re into cart collecting. If anything about the game sounds the least bit appealing to you, I think that Gyruss would be worth your time.

#34 – Gyruss