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#159 – Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing

Let Nigel guide you through this racing season.

World Championship Challenge may be a better name.

To Beat: Win the Championship
Played: 6/1/20 – 6/13/20
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing Longplay

In a perfect world, I would be able to crank out these reviews roughly in line with when I beat the game.  It turns out I enjoy playing the games more than writing about them, so naturally I’ve fallen behind.  For this game, it may work to my benefit to be behind.  This is the second racing game I have beaten for this project, but between beating the game and writing this review I have already beaten a third racing game.  My struggles with all three games have indicated that I am not good at racing games.  Because of that, in part, I also do not like them very much.  I don’t have to like the game to recognize that this is a solid racing game.

Nigel Mansell had a 15-year career in Formula One racing, active from 1980 through 1995.  His early career started out slow but when he joined the Williams racing team in 1985 he became a real contender for the World Championship.  He finished second overall in both 1986 and 1987 and placed Top 10 for the next several years. After a brief foray with the Ferrari team in 1989 and 1990, he went back to Williams in 1991.  That year he placed second for the third time in his career.  Finally, in 1992, he had his best year and won the World Championship.  Due to some disagreements with his team, he switched over to the CART series for the 1993 season, where he won that as well.  That made him both Formula One and CART champions at the same time, the only racer to ever accomplish this feat.  He returned to Formula One for 1994 and 1995, retiring for good after the 1995 season.

Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing was first released on the Amiga in 1992.  It was developed and published by Gremlin Graphics.  The company changed names to Gremlin Interactive Limited in 1994 and was acquired by Infogrames in 1999 before closing down in 2003.  The game was widely ported to other home computers and game consoles mostly in 1993, including the NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Sega Genesis.  The NES version was released in October 1993, developed by Gremlin Graphics and published by Gametek.  The game was also released in Europe in 1993, slightly retitled to Nigel Mansell’s World Championship and published by Gremlin.

Ready. Set. Go!

Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing is a Formula One simulation game.  You have the option to run single races, but the meat of the game is the full season mode.  This is a 16-race season.  Depending on your placement at the end of each race, you are awarded points that are cumulative throughout the season.  To beat the game, you must complete the season as the points leader.

At the title screen, where the game is named Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Challenge for some reason, press Start to advance to name entry.  The game tells you on screen the controls for entering your name, which is nice!   You can enter your name up to 13 characters, then there’s a forced space, and then the final 3 characters for your country.  One thing to note here is that the character entry is extremely touchy.  You can scroll through characters quickly but you have to tap briefly to advance one at a time.  After entering your name, you go to the main menu.  Here you can choose to run a single race or the full season mode, as well as a training mode called “Improve with Mansell.”  You can also toggle the music on and off.

The driving is very straightforward.  The game takes place from behind the wheel.  Use the D-pad Left and Right to steer the car.  For manual transmission, press Up or Down to shift gears.  There are six gears in this engine.  Press and hold A to accelerate, and press B to hit the brakes.  The bottom of the screen shows all the information you need.  On the bottom left, you see the current lap timer as well as how far ahead or how far behind you are in time from first place.  The middle contains the track map as well as your current position ranking and current lap.  The bottom right shows your speedometer and gear setting, as well as a meter denoting the quality of your tires.

Set up your car for peak performance.

The setup of your car is important to how well it will perform during the race.  You can set the transmission, tires, and the angle of the wing on the back of the car.  First up is manual vs automatic transmission.  Manual transmission translates to faster driving because you can more optimally shift gears, but it requires more skill to pull off.  The tire choice determines how they wear out and the amount of grip they have.  Hard tires wear slower, but they have less grip making it harder to turn.  Wet tires are very useful during rainy weather conditions.  With a wet track, the wet tires wear out same as the hard tires and handle turns well.  In dry conditions, the wet tires wear out the fastest and handle the poorest.  For the wings, the angle determines the acceleration and handling of the car.  A low angle of 10% gives the car the best acceleration but poorest cornering.  The angle of 30% is the opposite: The acceleration is degraded but the cornering is the best.  You can also choose in the middle at 20%.

The single race option is good for trying out the game.  You begin with the Track Select screen.  Each track is represented by the flag of the country it is located, and when you hover over the flag you can see the map of the track below.  Choose a track to go to course information.  You’ll see the name of the course and the map, as well as the distance, fastest lap, weather conditions, and number of laps.  After this screen, you’ll have a submenu.  Setup lets you configure your car for the race.  Now you can either qualify for the race or jump straight into the race.  When qualifying, you run a single lap of the course, and the ranking of times from fastest to slowest among the 12 total racers determines everyone’s starting position for the race.  If you go directly to the race without qualifying, you always begin at the very end of the starting lineup.  After the race, you’ll see how you placed, followed by the full leaderboard of all 12 racers.

May the pits be ever in your favor.

The Improve with Mansell mode functions similarly to setting up a single race.  First you go to track selection, then the circuit information screen.  Next you go straight to the setup screen for customizing your car.  Now you are ready to drive.  You will run the full number of laps with Nigel’s floating head in the upper right the entire time, with no other drivers on the track.  There is a race line arrow that shows you generally how you should align yourself throughout this race.  Nigel will give you tips as you drive, from basic stuff like staying on the track and staying in the racing line, to important information like watching your tires so you remember to make a pit stop.  When you finish the laps, you go back to the main menu.  The purpose of this mode is not to go fast, but to drive accurately.  While it is helpful to learn the basics, you will need to learn how to handle the courses at or near top speed to win races.

The main mode in the game is the full season mode.  Since this is a long mode, there are passwords, which are 14 characters long consisting up all consonants, digits, and the period.  The entry screen also has the same finicky character selection as name entry, making passwords frustrating to input.  Upon either continuing a game or starting a new one, the rest of the mode functions the same as a standard race.  You get course information, you can configure your car, and you can optionally run a qualifying lap before starting the race.  You will run all 16 races one at a time until a champion is crowned.

This was my first time playing Nigel Mansell’s Championship Racing.  This is an uncommon, late release, however I’ve been able to find this one locally several times.  My local store had it at one point for pretty cheap, either $5 or $10, and that’s where I got mine.  I know I bought some locally and at least one more on eBay in a lot.  Loose carts of the game sell for $15 or so.  I think my local store sells it for $20 now.

The wide cars can be difficult to pass.

It’s a small sample size so far, but I have learned that racing games such as this one demand a high level of skill to compete against the computer.  Furthermore, this game is biased against you in some unexpected ways.  Take qualifying as an example.  It is common to make a mistake or two in qualifying and end up in last place by many seconds.  To make this worse, you have to navigate around other cars during your lap.  Qualifying is supposed to be just you and the track, nothing else.  When you bump into a car from behind, your car always drops a gear, which is frustrating when driving manual.  That also drives home the importance of figuring out how to qualify on top in as many races as possible.  Other racers are large on the screen, easy to bump into, and usually tricky to pass.  Probably the biggest hurdle in the game is that the other racers never take a pit stop, where you will always have to take one in the middle of the race.  Moreover, the pit stops take anywhere from 5 to 9 seconds, and it is random.  At least you can take as much time as you want to choose your new tires.  This is not an easy game to beat.

Figuring out the car setup was very important.  I went with manual transmission all the way.  I learned that even though the soft tires wear more quickly, you can still run every race with only one required pit stop.  The better handling of the soft tires was the clear winner.  Of course, use the wet tires if it is raining, obvious best choice there.  For the angle I eventually settled on 20 degrees.  Early on in the playthrough I varied a lot, winning some races with hard tires and 10 degrees, and others with soft tires and 30 degrees.

The best way to win races is to get yourself into first place as early as possible.  With no one in front of me, it was much easier to build up a good lead.  Usually this means qualifying in first place, but sometimes I settled for lower than that, especially on difficult tracks.  Many times I qualified lower but worked my way to first before pitting.  You really want to build up a much of a lead as possible since you will lose time during your mandatory pit stop.  You do need to get lucky to get a short pit time since it is random.  It’s very frustrating to get several seconds ahead, then be behind and unable to catch up because you got stuck with a 9 second pit stop.  But that’s the way it goes.

Sweet victory!

My strategy on racing games with a leaderboard is that I always want to be in first place at every point in the season.  In this playthrough, I mostly accomplished that.  I struggled learning the first track and settled for a second place finish after trying over and over.  Then I won the next two races and earned an 8-point lead.  I maintained the lead the rest of the way.  This was the point in the game that I noticed that the other top racers tend to share the leaderboard points.  There is no clear rival in this game, and any racer can win one race and end up fifth or sixth the next race.  The placements tend to be random.  Sometimes this meant I could place lower than I wanted and still feel comfortable proceeding because I only lost a point or two on the leaderboard between me and second place overall.  Over the 16 races my lead varied quite a lot.  I got down to a 4-point lead, then later built up a 20-point lead, and finally finished 5 points ahead.

There’s one final point I want to make.  My longplay video for this game is just stitched together with the final attempts at each race before moving on.  I spent nearly 11 hours of attempts to come up with the 2.5 hour longplay.  Very few times did I place well enough in consecutive attempts.  I absolutely abused the password system, and I expect that most people that play through this game will do the same.  There’s no sense in accepting bad results when you can just input the previous password and try again.  I set up the video to make it look like I did the whole game single segment, but I assure you that I did not.

Nigel Mansell’s World Champion Racing is a pretty good racer.  This is a good looking game.  The cars are well detailed, the scrolling is smooth, and there are some neat effects such as hills when driving and the accurate rear view mirrors from inside your car.  The tunes that play in the menus and leaderboards are pleasing to the ears.  It doesn’t bother me that there are only car noises and sound effects during gameplay.  The controls during driving work great, and they are annoying and tedious when inputting names and passwords.  The racing itself is well done with good track variety.  The races don’t overstay their welcome at 4-6 laps each.  The game is a little long, but not too bad.  The game does things that are unfair, but it is structured in a way where you can mitigate that.  I still don’t enjoy racing games, but I can’t deny that this one is quality.

#159 – Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing


#112 – Tecmo World Wrestling

Wrestling with my first Tecmo sports game!

Basic title screen, but great title theme!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 1/5/19 – 1/13/19
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
My Video: Tecmo World Wrestling Longplay

Today we have another NES wrestling game. I am surprised at how many of them are on the system. There are four WWF games and a smattering of others, even a first party Nintendo title. I know that Tecmo Bowl and Super Tecmo Bowl are highly regarded football games and Tecmo makes good games in general. That alone made me hopeful that Tecmo World Wrestling would be a solid entry. Let’s see how it fared.

Tecmo World Wrestling was released in Japan, North America, and Europe. The initial version was on the Famicom. In Japan it was named Gekitou Pro Wrestling!! Toukon Densetsu and was released in September 1989. The NES version came out in April 1990 and the PAL release was in November 1990. The game was developed and published by Tecmo in all regions.

There isn’t much story to go along with this game. You are competing in a tournament to become the champion of Tecmo World Wrestling and win the title. The matches feature a live announcer, Tom Talker, who will provide commentary throughout the game. There are ten wrestlers to choose from, each with special techniques that not all other wrestlers use. Win matches against all the other competitors to win the game.

Choose your wrestler from this instructional pamphlet.

At the title screen, you select between single-player or two player mode. Multiplayer only has one-on-one matches where each opponent chooses a wrestler. Choosing single player mode presents you with a booklet featuring two wrestlers per page. Press either A or B to flip pages to view two more wrestlers. There are ten wrestlers in the game: Akira Dragon, El Tigre, Pat Gordon, Rex Beat, Jackie Lee, Boris Chekov, Mark Rose, Julio Falcon, Randy Gomez, and Dr. Guildo. First find the page of the wrestler you want. Then move the star cursor to either the left or right page with the D-pad. Press Start to choose that wrestler. After selection, choose your name. The wrestler’s current nickname is the pre-provided value. Use the D-pad to move the cursor around, press A to choose a letter, and press B to go back a letter. Finally, press Start to play.

Before your first match, you get to do muscle training to get stronger. You also do this after every loss. You can choose between squats, sit-ups, and push-ups. Each choice seems to be the same, just with different animations. This is a button-mashing mini-game where you press A as fast as you can for 10 seconds. You’ll see the workout animation along with the timer, power level, and push meter. The push meter is what fills up as you mash the A button and once it’s filled up all the way you will add a notch to your power meter. You begin at Power 0 but can go all the way up to Power 7. The power meter determines how powerful your moves are when fighting an opponent.

First, let’s cover some basic ground rules. The object is to knock your opponent down and pin him to a three-count to win the match. You can also win by submission by forcing your opponent to give up. Matches are seven minutes long and are considered a draw if there is no winner after time. Wrestlers fighting outside the ring begin a twenty-count and lose by disqualification if one is still outside the ring after the count. If both wrestlers reach the twenty-count, the match is considered a draw. There is also a five-count and associated disqualification for climbing and hanging out on top of the turnbuckle.

Wrestling with commentary just like on TV.

Matches are shown in a split screen view. The top half contains all the action in the ring. The screen can contain the whole width of the ring but slides over a little to show the outside of the ring on either side if one of the wrestlers gets thrown out. The bottom half contains the status bar. You see the match timer and stamina meters of each wrestler. Two player mode also features what is called a biometer underneath the timer. It changes between red for player one and blue for player two. Whichever color is more full on the meter means that player will have better power and defense for a time. At the bottom is the running commentary by announcer Tom Talker. He clues you in on what moves are being performed and makes the matches more entertaining.

I have not yet played Pro Wrestling, but thanks to this article at Hardcore Gaming 101, I have learned that the control scheme between the two games are similar. You can move freely around the ring with the D-pad. Double tap either Left or Right to run in that direction. You can bounce along the ropes until you press the opposite direction to stop. Press Up when in the corner of the ring to climb on the turnbuckle and press Down to get back down. If your opponent is outside the ring, you can walk into the ropes to go down on the floor with him. Move toward the ring to go back inside from the floor. To pin a downed opponent, press B while standing next to him. Mash the A and B buttons to break out of a pin. You can also clinch an opponent simply by walking up to him.

There are a surprising number of attacking moves in the game. You can do basic strikes by pressing A or B. You can do two different attacks with A and B while running. You can do a jumping attack off the turnbuckle. You can also attack an opponent while he is laying on the ground. Most of the moves are done from clinching with the opponent. Simply pressing Left or Right will throw your opponent toward the ropes. The other wrestler is also trying to do a move during the clinch, so I found you have to mash the button to get your move in hopefully. The A and B buttons do different moves, and there are also different moves when combined with a D-pad direction. So there is an Up and A move, a Down and A move, a Left or Right (toward the opponent) and A move, as well as moves swapping in the B button.

Training sure looks intense!

Wrestlers also have special moves. These are moves that replace default moves and only apply to certain wrestlers. For example, the normal Left+A move while clinching is the Back Drop. Akira Dragon and Jackie Lee will do a German Suplex instead, while El Tigre and Mark Rose do the Northern Right Suplex. (That particular move is a mistranslation and should actually be the Northern Lights Suplex.) Furthermore, most of these special moves only are used when the wrestler is low on stamina and the common, default moves are used with higher stamina. It’s all very complicated and the manual is really important in detailing what moves you have available. I think the high/low stamina moves make the matches more interesting as the stronger, more exciting moves will occur toward the end of the contest.

Tecmo World Wrestling features what the manual calls Zoom Mode. These are cutscenes that occur whenever a wrestler does one of his signature moves against an opponent with little or no stamina remaining. They are just like what you see when scoring a touchdown in Tecmo Bowl. These scenes flow freely during the match, replacing the action briefly while leaving the bottom half of the screen with the timer and commentary intact. They are very well animated and neat to look at. I think they serve as a nice little break from the action but do get repetitive after a while.

In the single-player mode, you will match up against each other wrestler in order. Each win advances you to the next wrestler. Losing a match or a draw puts you back to the previous wrestler instead of a rematch. You are forced to put on a big winning streak to make progress in the game, and of course each wrestler gets more difficult the farther you go. Being able to do some training and increasing the power meter after each setback helps you do more damage in subsequent matches, plus you can keep playing and continuing for as long as you want. After winning against all nine wrestlers, there is one more wrestler remaining known as the Blue Mask. He was disqualified from preliminary matches in the competition, but he is the strongest wrestler in the game with all the best moves.

Detailed cutscenes provide a break in the action.

This was my first time playing Tecmo World Wrestling, as will be the case with all other wrestling games on the NES. I was surprised to find out that this game is really cheap online. It should only cost around $5 and is probably cheaper bundled with other games. I’ve had an extra copy or two through all my game buying, but it doesn’t seem quite as common as the pricing would normally indicate.

A good way I would describe this game is exhausting. It’s not on the level of Super Team Games, but it wears my forearms and fingers out for sure. The controls are complex enough so that there is some nuance to the action, but ultimately most of the time is spent button mashing. The obvious button mashing occurs during the training. It is very easy to go up one power level during training and very hard to go up two levels at once. My button mashing technique is to lock my arm and vibrate it to rapidly tap the button. I can keep that up for the ten seconds but usually I fell one notch short of that second power level. In the matches, later ones especially, I reserved that technique for when I needed to pull off a well-timed move or kick out of a pin with no stamina left. This game can be beaten quickly, but lose a few matches and all of a sudden it takes a while to complete. It really wore me out, and losses were demoralizing.

My completed run of the game on my longplay video is bad. I think it’s one of my worst videos. I was able to beat the game one time before when I wasn’t recording and just chipping away a couple matches at a time over a day. The next time I played, I set up the recording and got all the way up to the Blue Mask but failed over a few tries before calling it quits for the night. After a day of rest, I got up early in the morning on a Sunday and grinded out a win. It took me two hours to finish the game. I reached the Blue Mask about four or five times and each match progressively got better. It shouldn’t have been that way since I know I got more tired as I played, plus my power meter dipped down to level 4 at one point and I was too tired to possibly upgrade twice per attempt. I had to take a ten-minute break near the end of the game and didn’t bother editing it out as I feel the resting is part of the experience. My family was waking up and I was running out of time for playing, but I managed to beat the Blue Mask by disqualification with a perfectly timed pile driver on the outside. Any way I can get a win in a game like this, I will take it.

The Blue Mask won’t fall easy.

My wrestler of choice was Dr. Guildo and I had a decent strategy to progress in the game. I picked Dr. Guildo simply because he was the only US wrestler and I get a kick out of representing my country in games like this. Plus, he’s the biggest wrestler and looks pretty cool. I highly abused his Giant Swing move. Knock the opponent down any way you can, and press toward the opponent and B when he is on the ground to grab him by the legs and swing him around. This move often throws the opponent directly out of the ring. At about half stamina or less, he would lay down long enough to do an attack from the top of the turnbuckle to the floor, which does some of the highest damage I found in the game. The Giant Swing is a sure thing when you can get your opponent down, but it causes issues with trying to pin your opponent with him usually getting thrown out of the ring where he can’t be pinned. Once I get the opponent with almost no stamina, I would do some kind of knockdown move, do an elbow drop or two while knocked down, and go for the pin. Often that was enough to win though the later opponents were more likely to kick out.

This is a challenging game, but I have a theory on how it works so that I decided to reduce its difficulty rating a little bit. This is just a theory based on my own experience and may not be accurate at all. I get the feeling that this game intentionally gets easier the longer you play and that it also uses the two-player biometer in the background so that the opponent ends up stringing a bunch of moves against you no matter how well you are playing. My first match with Blue Mask in my video I got destroyed, even with a full power meter. After several other attempts that got a little better each time, I dominated that final match. While out of stamina, Blue Mask then got into a stretch where I could not do anything against him. At that point I’m sure I was working off a bit of adrenaline that could have increased my finger speed. I was not at max power since it decays the more you lose and I couldn’t build it back up. With a partial power level and general fatigue, it doesn’t make sense to me that I could hit every move at the start of the match and then not be able to do anything productive at all for a time. In my mind the dynamic balancing has to be intentional. Just keep playing and grinding. This game would benefit greatly if it had passwords. As it turns out, the Japanese version does have a password system that was removed for the US and PAL releases. Maybe the difficulty does slide down as some sort of counter measure. I’m getting into conspiracy theory territory now, so I better quit while I’m ahead.

Tecmo made another great game with Tecmo World Wrestling. This is an early contender for best NES wrestling game. The graphics are excellent with great animation and detail. I’m particularly fond of the text font. The cutscenes do get repetitive, but they look great and I welcome the small break to rest up for the rest of the match. The music is equally excellent. The title screen theme doesn’t usually get heard the whole way through and that’s a shame. It’s not so much underrated as it is under heard. The controls, while complex, are responsive. The least impressive part of the game is in the gameplay loop. Matches tend to get repetitive and for me it devolved into both explicit and implicit button mashing. I suppose that just comes with the territory and I will have to live with that, but it wore on me and got me more irritable the longer I had to play. The presentation is right and the gameplay at its core is solid, so for a wrestling game you can’t go wrong with Tecmo World Wrestling.

#112 – Tecmo World Wrestling


#92 – Whomp ‘Em

The name is a terrible pun, but the game is fun.

I wonder how much thought was put into the name.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 7/1/18 – 7/5/18
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: Whomp ‘Em Longplay

I know this is cliché, but first impressions aren’t always what they seem. I played Whomp ‘Em many years ago on an emulator on one of my first computers. I wish I could remember what led me to play this game in particular, but whatever it was, I got a solid recommendation. I had a great time working through the game, that is, all the way up to the very end. The final boss completely wrecked me, and after a few failed attempts, I quickly decided that seeing the ending was not worth the effort required to learn how to beat the boss. I let it lay there until now. When Whomp ‘Em came up, the first thing I remembered was that final boss and my past struggles. My second impression was more favorable than the first impression. Read on to see how it all shook out.

Whomp ‘Em has an interesting origin, which begins with the game Saiyuki World on Famicom. Saiyuki World is a port of the game Wonder Boy in Monster Land. The Wonder Boy series is perhaps one of the most confusing series of games to try and deconstruct, and I’m not touching that here. Anyway, a sequel, Saiyuki World 2: Tenjokai no Majin, was released on Famicom in December 1990. This was brought to the NES as Whomp ‘Em, with the main character changed to a Native American. Whomp ‘Em was released in March 1991 in North America. The game was published and developed by Jaleco in both regions.

Whomp ‘Em is a side-scrolling platformer. There is virtually no story to this game, which really is a breath of fresh air if you ask me. You play the role of Soaring Eagle, a young Native American who is seeking out totems for his magical pouch. That’s it. There are eight levels and you beat the game if you complete them all.

Good start for a kabob.

This game has simple controls. You use the D-pad to walk around. Press the A button to jump. Soaring Eagle wields a spear. You can attack above you by holding Up while you jump, and similarly attack below by holding Down while jumping. Press B to attack forward with your spear. He thrusts the spear ahead of him a short distance. You can duck by holding Down, and you can raise your staff by holding Up. Ducking lets you attack low against the ground, but holding your spear above your head seems to serve no purpose in the game, other than a visual cue that you are holding Up. The Select button pauses the game this time, while Start lets you switch between your totems after you collect them.

You are thrust into the action right away when you start a new game. This is a special introductory stage to get you accustomed with the game. You work your way to the right and come to a screen where you must go upward to proceed. Later in the level you encounter another vertical subsection where you go back down. Most if not all levels in the game travel in different directions like this. When you complete the level, you are presented with a map screen. This contains the next six levels in the game. You can play these stages in any order you want. The eighth and final stage is available once the other stages have been beaten.

The top left corner of the screen is your on-screen display. At the top is the current totem you have selected. To the right of that there may be some magic potions. These act as your extra lives. If you run out of health, the potion kicks in automatically if you have one, restoring some of your health back. Below the totem is your health meter in the form of hearts. You begin the game with a maximum of four hearts but can earn up to twelve throughout your adventure.

Vertical sections are a good place for downstabbing.

There are quite a few items you can collect in the game. You can get these from defeated enemies or from touching certain locations in the levels to make items appear. The most common pickup is the gourd. When you pause the game, you get a display saying “More” along with a number. This is how many gourds you need to collect to increase your maximum health meter. You’ll want to defeat a lot of enemies to get these. The small heart restores a heart and the large heart refills your health to the max. There is a flint spearhead that boosts your attack power temporarily. You will see this hover in the bottom corner when you collect it and it goes away after four spear strikes. Similarly, the headdress gives you a temporary boost in defense. The deerskin shirt makes Soaring Eagle invincible for a few seconds. Certain enemies in each level drop a spear which gives you a longer reach to your default weapon for the rest of the stage. Finally, you can find those magic potions. You can hold up to three at one time. One bad thing about the potions is that some bosses can steal them from you. That’s awfully unfortunate and something to be aware of.

Whomp ‘Em has a little bit of Mega Man to its structure. Not only can you play stages in the order you want, but you also earn a new weapon by defeating the boss at the end of each stage. Press Start to cycle through the totems you have collected. Most of these are more like tools than weapons. Beating the Sacred Woods gives you the Spear Whirlwind. You spin the spear in front of you to break certain blocks. The Fire Wand is your reward for completing the Fire Test. This makes flames come out of the tip of your spear that is useful for melting ice blocks. You get the Cloud by completing the Ice Ritual, which summons a cloud that you can jump on and ride with the D-pad. Beating the Water Test gives you the Ice Crystal, which can freeze enemies. You obtain the Web from the Magic Forest. This lets you capture an enemy in a web and you can then throw the trapped enemy. You earn the Dart from beating the Secret Cliff. This is a weak projectile attack that shoots darts, which can then stick into the wall and be used as makeshift platforms. The manual states that using the totems and their abilities cost you health, but all of these weapons can be used as much as you want without penalty.

Fire is sometimes used to melt ice.

There’s one final level remaining after all six selectable stages are beaten. This is your typical “use all of your abilities” stage and it is quite a bit harder than the rest of the game. One neat tidbit about the last level is that all the enemies are miniature versions of the bosses you fought in the previous six stages. You also get one last totem for this final stage as well. This attack fires a large dragon head forward. It is the most powerful weapon in the game, however this totem does cost you a full heart of health each time you use it.

Whomp ‘Em is somewhat forgiving when it comes to failure. Since you get healed with magic potions when you exhaust your health, you get to keep going as if nothing happened. Losing all your potions and health means Game Over. Then you get sent back to either the level select screen or the start of the final level if you died there. Repeating the full level can be a bit frustrating, but you do get unlimited continues.

I finally got to beat Whomp ‘Em for the first time. This is a game that used to be much more affordable. I am certain it has been featured many times as a hidden gem which would account for the price hike. I was able to grab a couple copies of this game locally for around $8-$10 each a few years ago, in combination with either buy two get one free, or buy three get one free, back when my local stores didn’t realize the value of this game. Loose carts sell for around $35 these days so those were great value buys for me.

Poke bosses, get totems.

I had sat down to record Jordan vs. Bird and then had enough time to start looking at Whomp ‘Em. Not even two hours later I beat the game for the first time. It was mostly a leisurely romp through the bulk of the game, aside from a couple bosses that took more than one attempt. The final level wasn’t all that bad, though it included one random section of anti-gravity with some strange movement controls. I finally got to face that final boss again, and I can see why I gave up before. He has an attack that damages you anywhere on screen and it is not obvious at first that this is happening. The trick to the fight, unfortunately, is to cheese the boss. I entered the fight with as much health as possible and all three potions, and then used the dragon attack to whittle his health down, in effect trading one heart of my health for one of his. It was a bit of a letdown that strategy was thrown out the window, but what can you do when the boss is unfairly designed? I am relieved that I figured it out this time, anyway. I beat the whole game again a few days later and captured it on video. This was a no-continue run with only using a few potions, mostly on the final boss battle.

Whomp ‘Em is a fun game that bears some flaws. I like the graphics in this game. Everything is nicely detailed and the enemies and bosses were animated well. The music is hit or miss. Most songs are good but there are a few that get on my nerves. I spent a lot of time in the final level and that song could have been a little less painful. The gameplay is exactly what you want out of a platformer. The controls are tight and being able to attack in all directions keeps the action going. I found the special weapons almost entirely useless until the final level where they are forced upon you. I am disappointed that the final boss went from too hard to too easy after employing a now-obvious strategy. My second impression of Whomp ‘Em took a much different turn than my first. Most of the ride through the game is great fun and I’m glad I got to play through it here.

#92 – Whomp ‘Em


#69 – Desert Commander

A nice introduction to turn-based strategy on the NES.

Not pictured is the tank that blew up.

To Beat: Win any scenario
To Complete: Win all scenarios
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 12/30/17 – 1/4/18
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Desert Commander Final Scenario

Hot off the heels of the Power Pad running game Super Team Games, I completely switched gears and played a relaxing, low-key NES strategy game. Desert Commander and other similar strategy titles were once relegated to the end of my game list. Here I thought it was fitting to go from a physical game straight into a more cerebral experience, and Desert Commander slots in perfectly. I wrote off Desert Commander as not for me almost instantly. I do like puzzle games and the occasional RPG, but strategy games are just different enough from those to dissuade me from playing. Once I gave it a chance, I actually had fun. Without anything else to compare it to, I believe Desert Commander was the right choice for my first NES strategy title.

Desert Commander was first released in Japan under the name Sensha Senryaku: Sabaku no Kitsune. There it was released in late April 1988, both published and developed by Kemco. The setting for the game is World War II and is based on the North African Campaign. In the Famicom version, you can choose either the Axis or Allied side, but that was removed in the US release in favor of a more generic setting. The NES release of Desert Commander was in June 1989, also by Kemco.

Desert Commander is a turn-based strategy game for one or two players. Each side gets a specific amount of units and an initial setup on one of several maps. On your turn, you may assign up to one command for each available unit. For instance, you may move units to a different space on the map or engage a nearby enemy unit in combat. When you command each unit or decide to end your turn, your opponent may do the same. Each player has a special unit called Headquarters, and if you can defeat the enemy headquarters you win the battle. There are five scenarios to choose from and winning any one of them is good enough to get the ending.

It’s a hot day at the battlefield.

The controls are straightforward. Use the D-pad to move a cursor around the screen when it is your turn in the battle. Move the cursor toward any edge of the screen to scroll in the desired direction. Press A when the cursor is above one of your units to bring up a unit status display and menu. Use the D-pad to choose an item from the menu, press A to make your selection, or press B to go back. You cannot view the enemy units, only yours. Press the B button to automatically move the cursor on top of the next available unit. This is especially handy if you have many units spread out on the map. The Select button brings up a screen showing how many units of each kind both you and the enemy still have available on the battlefield. The Start button brings up a map of the entire battlefield.

Before starting the game, each side may determine which units they want to deploy for the battle. The screen shows all possible units and how many of them are allocated to each player. Next to the number of units are plus and minus buttons. Move the cursor to a button and press A to add or subtract to the number of units. Each battle has a maximum number of units already preconfigured, so if you want to add units of one type, you must first remove units of another type. For example, if you want more fighter jets, you might decide to reduce the number of tanks. You can make as many of these swaps as you want. The counter at the bottom labeled Units Left shows how many units are unassigned. The second controller modifies the units for the second player, and you can also use this in single player to redistribute the opponent’s side if you want.

There are several different types of units, and they can most easily be grouped together as air units or ground units. The two types of air units are fighters and bombers. The remaining units are ground units: tanks, armored cars, troop transports, infantry, field cannons, anti-aircraft guns, supply trucks, and the headquarters. For the most part, ground units are more effective in combat against ground units, and the same goes for air units. The exceptions are bombers and anti-aircraft guns which are more effective against the opposite types. The different unit types vary by how many spaces they can move per turn and how much ammo they can hold. There is a handy chart in the manual for these figures and you can also pull up this information directly in a game.

You can customize both your army and your opponent’s army.

When you choose a unit, you get both a status display and a small command menu. The status display shows ammo, fuel, the unit number, and the type of terrain it is currently occupying. Ammo dictates how many times you may attack the enemy. Each combat reduces this amount by one and if you run out you can’t deal any damage. Each space you move on the map reduces your fuel by one and every unit begins with one hundred fuel points. The unit number represents both the health of the unit and its attack power. For example, if your unit number is ten, you get to attack ten times on your turn in combat. You lose units when you get attacked, and the unit is destroyed when the unit number goes down to zero. I’ll explain more about terrain shortly.

The command menu has four options: Movement, Attack, Power, and Change. Movement, naturally, lets you move the unit to a new space. For ground units, the terrain determines how far you can move in one turn. It makes sense that you can move better on easier terrain. You can move the furthest on roads, less so in the desert, and the least in the wilds such as mountains or the oasis. You can press B to cancel movement anytime until you move the maximum amount of spaces. If you move a unit adjacent to an enemy unit, your movement stops immediately and the game asks if you want to attack the enemy. Say yes to fight, or say no to end movement. Attack lets you engage in combat with an adjacent enemy. Most units may only attack ones directly next to them, but field cannons and anti-aircraft cannons have a wider radius to attack more distant targets. Choose Power to bring up a box that shows how many spaces you can move on each terrain, the maximum ammo and fuel, and its attack range. The Change option lets you end your turn manually. You will end your turn automatically if you move or attack with all your units.

Combat is really simple and plays out automatically. During the attack phase, a new screen appears showing your unit on the left and the enemy unit on the right. You will see individual attackers on each side corresponding with the unit number. The side initiating combat strikes first, and then the other side counterattacks with the number they have remaining. You need one ammo to either attack or counterattack. Certain units are more effective against other types of units, even within air and ground units. I think it’s difficult to tell exactly which units are best suited for a situation. Combat is like a hidden dice roll and the amount of damage you either deal or receive is luck-based after strengths and weaknesses are considered.

Lots of combat in this game.

There are some spaces on the map that have effects on the battle. Towns replenish ammo and fuel when ground units occupy the space. You see a special screen and animation when someone moves onto the space. In fact, all of these special spaces have their own screen like this. It gets annoying after the first time but you can get out of them quickly. Aircraft can refill fuel and ammo by landing on an air strip. A palm tree is an oasis and it gives occupying ground unit a boost in defense. There is also a wall that provides greater defensive help.

Two units provide additional capabilities. The supply truck replenishes both fuel and ammo for other units when it is placed next to them. You can arrange your units in a way where two or three of them can be filled up at the same time. Curiously, the supply truck cannot refill its own ammo or fuel. The troop transport can load up infantry to greatly increase their range. First, place an infantry unit next to the troop transport to bring up a dialog box asking if you want to load them into the troop transport. Then both units combine into one unit with a different color to indicate they are combined. Later when you move the troop transport, you get the option to unload your infantry and then they can have a turn.

There are five scenarios in single player mode to choose from. Later scenarios increase in difficulty but maybe not in the way you would expect. The AI almost always performs the same way, but they get more units than you do in later scenarios. All things are even in the First Battle scenario, but by the last one the computer has more than double the number of units you get. Speaking of the map, it turns out it is one gigantic map and each scenario focuses on some subset of this global map. You will see some map overlap between scenarios. I know at least once I saw a town on the edge of the map that I couldn’t get to because the game prevents you from utilizing the fringes of the scenario map.

Nice looking scenes, but they show up all the time.

This was my first time playing Desert Commander. I have some vague memories of seeing someone play the game back when it was released. I do think it was somewhat popular back then. I had a couple of people tell me that they used to play a lot of Desert Commander. I did not buy the game myself until I started actively collecting. I got another copy in a lot not that long ago and it came with the manual, so that was nice to have for this playthrough.

I decided that I would complete all scenarios with the default unit deployment. I wasn’t sure if there was some kind of special ending for beating harder scenarios, plus I like playing all the levels a game has to offer anyway. It turns out you get the same ending no matter which scenario you win. You even get a similar ending if you lose. The first scenario was very easy and I won with little difficulty while I barely knew what I was doing. You will get a scoring screen at the end that shows how many turns you took, along with damage and results numbers. I don’t understand what they mean or how they are calculated. I was happy with beating the game no matter how I scored.

I would say for a first time player that the game has a smooth difficulty curve. I coped well with the increase in enemy forces by using better tactics I came up with through the mistakes and experimentation of past attempts. Both the third and fourth missions took two attempts to beat and I just barely lost the initial attempts on those scenarios. The final scenario is quite the challenge and you are severely outnumbered. I got lucky enough to pick off the enemy headquarters before things got really bad for me. I’m glad for that because the scenarios take a long time when each side issues commands to every unit on the battlefield on every turn.

The default armies leave you vastly outnumbered.

I’m no expert at these kinds of games and there may be a better strategy, but these are the techniques I came up with. The computer tends to send a chunk of their force directly at you, leaving some units behind with the headquarters. Some of the ones left behind will join the offensive as others get defeated. Eventually this leaves an opening to engage the headquarters. I put infantry in troop transports and broke that group off separately, moving them near the enemy headquarters so that they could strike as soon as they got a good opening. In the last scenario, I sent a couple extra units with the transports for protection since the enemy may spread out their advance and start attacking this group. I put my headquarters on a wall to give them the greatest defense and surrounded it with my remaining units. I put my cannons in the back because they can attack anything trying to breach my tightly packed wall of defense. I just tried to survive as long as I could to give my small attack group the opportunity to knock out the enemy headquarters.

Desert Commander has a few quirks that I find annoying. I would like there to be a way to cancel your movement once you hit your max, just in case you come up a little short. You can cancel your movement at any time up to that, so why does your max automatically lock you in? Another similar gripe is that you cannot move past another unit without being forced to stop and ask if you want to battle. This one at least makes logical sense since you would not be able to skip past your enemy like that, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying. Enemy turns are also ridiculously slow. You have to wait for their cursor to slowly scroll across the map to each and every unit, and the order the computer chooses units seems awfully inefficient. You also have to sit through each and every combat screen, and there are also the little cutscenes every time a unit gets placed on a special space. The last scenario takes a long time with the high number of computer units.

I’ve knocked Desert Commander a bit, but it’s a pretty good game. I like the music quite a bit. You can change the background music in one of the menus and all four tracks are pretty good. I liked the first one well enough to keep it playing over all scenarios. The graphics are well defined and I really like the Kemco font. A few of the units look similar enough that it does take some time to distinguish them, but that’s a minor issue. I bet this game is really fun against another human player where you can’t exploit the AI and need to form different strategies. Single player is fun enough, but the way they decided to increase the difficulty is cheap. There aren’t too many NES strategy games, but Desert Commander is a good example of how to do one on the console. I think that’s high praise for a genre I don’t care about much.

#69 – Desert Commander


#66 – World Class Track Meet

Get out the Power Pad and run until your lungs wear out!

Might as well stick the menu under the title.

To Beat: Finish Tournament Mode
To Complete: Finish both Tournament and Olympics Modes
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 12/15/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: World Class Track Meet Tournament and Olympics

This is a special day for Take On The NES Library for two reasons. First, this is the first Power Pad game I have covered here, and with that comes both a history lesson and technical details of what the Power Pad is and how it all works. Second, World Class Track Meet has some history of its own that ties in with the most expensive NES licensed cart, by far, and the only one that I don’t own for myself.

The discussion for World Class Track Meet begins with Stadium Events. Maybe you’ve heard about it? Stadium Events was developed by Human Entertainment and published by Bandai. This developer was known as Sonata at the time of this release and renamed themselves Human Entertainment in 1989. The game was first released in Japan in December 1986, then on the NES in North America in September 1987, and finally in Europe in 1988. It is the second in a series of ten fitness games in Japan called Family Trainer that utilized a special floor mat controller also called the Family Trainer. Bandai branded the controller and game series for the NES as Family Fun Fitness. However, only two games were released under Family Fun Fitness banner: Athletic World and Stadium Events. Athletic World originally came in a big box set with the controller, but Stadium Events was only released as a standalone title and therefore you had to already own the Family Fun Fitness mat to play it.

It was around this time that Nintendo decided to recall both the Family Fun Fitness sets and Stadium Events so that they could rebrand it as a first-party product outside of Japan. The Family Fun Fitness mat became the Power Pad, and Stadium Events became World Class Track Meet. Both the controller and the game function exactly the same just with different names and branding. The Power Pad with World Class Track Meet were quite widespread, selling both separately and bundled with the NES console in the Power Set. Stadium Events however had very limited sales due to both its brief availability and reliance on the Family Fun Fitness set. It is unknown how many copies still exist today. Some have guessed around 200 copies, and though I suspect there may be more it’s still a rare game regardless. A loose cart of Stadium Events is valued somewhere around $10,000 today, while complete and even sealed copies are worth at least three to four times that. I have all the other NES licensed carts, but I don’t plan to buy Stadium Events unless I get some enormous windfall of cash or get ridiculously lucky and find one for cheap.

The infrequently used Side A of my actual Power Pad.

The Power Pad itself is a pretty large floor mat controller. It measures a little over three feet long and a little under three feet wide when completely unfurled, and it is made of two layers of gray, flexible plastic with twelve pressure sensors in between. The sensors appear on the mat as large buttons and are arranged in three rows of four buttons each. Just like the Zapper peripheral, the Power Pad is connected to the NES on the second controller port. When you apply pressure to one of the buttons, usually by standing on it, the NES will detect that the button is pressed. I don’t fully understand the technology of it, but I do know that it is a little more complicated than handling the standard controller because the game has to be programmed to read twelve simultaneous button states on just the one controller port as opposed to eight on the regular gamepad.

The other interesting thing about the Power Pad is that you get a different button layout depending on which side of the mat is facing up. The Power Pad is clearly labeled either Side A or Side B. Side A only uses eight of the twelve buttons. The four corner buttons are neither labeled nor utilized whenever a game is designed for Side A. All the remaining buttons are blue except for the two red center buttons. This side of the Power Pad was not often used. Side B is the one most players remember when they think about the Power Pad. This side uses all twelve buttons and each one is clearly marked with a number from 1 through 12. Blue buttons are on the left side and red buttons are on the right side.

World Class Track Meet is an exercise game that simulates four Olympic events: The 100M dash, the 110M hurdles, the long jump, and the triple jump. This game uses Side B of the Power Pad. Two players can race in the 100M dash and 110M hurdles at the same time by using both the left and right sides of the Power Pad, while both the long jump and triple jump are single player only. Each of these events can be played on its own. There is also a Tournament mode which is for one player against computer controlled runners and an Olympics mode which can support anywhere from one to six players. To beat the game, you must complete the Tournament mode. All other modes are exhibition only, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to also compete solo in the Olympics.

This is Side B, used for this game.

To play, you will need to plug a standard controller in the first controller port and the Power Pad in the second port. The controller is for choosing the game mode and any other information. These controls are not really intuitive. The title screen displays all six possible game modes. Press the Select button to toggle the cursor one at a time between all six options, then press Start on the one you want. If you choose Tournament, it goes directly to gameplay. For all other options, you are brought to a name entry screen. First, choose how many players you want. Use Left and Right to move the selection arrow and press Select to input your choice, then press Start to proceed to the actual name entry. There will be empty names displayed for each player and names can be up to ten characters long. Each player is also assigned a color. On this screen you are controlling two cursors at once. One is the pink selection arrow at the bottom for choosing letters and the other is the blinking cursor underneath one of the characters in the names at the top. Use the D-pad to move the pink arrow and choose a letter, and press Select to input that letter. This writes the letter into the name underneath the blinking cursor and moves that cursor one space to the right. To position the blinking cursor, press A to move it one space to the right and B to move it one space to the left. The idea is to input one name and then press A enough times to position the blinking cursor to the start of the next name in the list. I know I explained it poorly, and like I said it’s not intuitive, but you will get the hang of it. Finally, after all the names are set, press Start to jump into the game.

The general idea in all gameplay modes is to run on the mat as fast as you can. For single-player, you will want to use the blue side of the mat. When you choose an event, it doesn’t begin right away. This gives you an opportunity to stretch, rest, coordinate in a group game, or whatever. The event will begin when all active players stand on two buttons of the same color in the same row. Stand still and wait for the starting gun if necessary, then run in place on your two buttons to run in the game. You may choose to run on any of the three rows on the mat, and whichever pair you choose influences your top speed in the game. As player one on the blue side of the Power Pad, your character runs the fastest when you use the top row buttons 1 and 2, the middle row buttons 5 and 6 are average speed, and the bottom row buttons 9 and 10 let you run the slowest. In multiplayer games, you can enforce using certain rows of buttons as a handicap to help even out the competition. Aside from running, you will also need to jump in place for some events.

The 100M dash is the most basic event. The top of the screen shows all the data, beginning with the name of the event and player names. You can also see both a timer and current running speed for each player, as well as a progress bar with tiny runners to show how both competitors match up during the race. At the bottom, you see both runners sprinting into the screen. There will always be two runners shown during this event; if there’s only one player the right side will be computer controlled. After you stand in position on the mat, the referee will appear and fire a pistol to signal the start of the race. Start moving too soon and you get a false start penalty, and three false starts gets you disqualified. Other than all that, just tap those floor buttons as quickly as you can!

Eat my dust, Turtle!

The 110M hurdles is similar in structure to the 100M dash. You race against the computer or another player with all the same on-screen indicators as before. Naturally, in this event you must sprint and then jump over hurdles as they come into view. This can be a little tricky to get the hang of because you need to jump earlier than you might think to properly clear each hurdle. Running into a hurdle just slows you down, so for the best times you shouldn’t knock any over. This is also an event that is more difficult while running in the fastest position simply because the hurdles can come at you so quickly.

The long jump in a single-player only event. Here the second runner’s information at the top of the screen is replaced with the distance for each of three attempts. Stand on the mat with both feet in the desired starting position to trigger the starting whistle. Then run in place up until the white line approaches. Jump in the air just before you cross the line and see how far you go. Successful jumps will display the distance reached and it will be recorded in one of the spaces up top. If you forget to jump, accidentally cross the line before jumping, or fail to plant your feet back on the buttons, it is considered a foul and doesn’t count. Your score for the event is the furthest distance out of those three attempts.

The triple jump is set up the same way as the long jump with one runner only and three attempts. This time when you reach the line, you must jump three times consecutively. I’m not completely sure about this, but I believe the idea of effective triple jumping is to jump, land and jump off one foot, land and jump off the other foot, and land at the end with both feet. That seems easier to do while actually leaping forward versus jumping in place on the Power Pad. Fortunately, World Class Track Meet is pretty lenient with the jumping technique. You can land on both feet each time and jump again even after a noticeable delay and you will still perform a decent jump in the game. The best of three attempts is your score for the round.

The hurdles can present a decent challenge.

The Olympics mode is a competition of all four events for one through six players. The races are run two at a time, and the jumps are done one player at a time. Times and best distances are recorded and given a score from 1 to 100 based on the world records for each of those events as of 1982. Then the sum of all four events for each player is the total score, and the highest score wins. When three or more players complete the Olympics, the winners are displayed on the podium as well as displayed on the final scoreboard, whereas for fewer players you just see the final tallies on the board. There’s no ending in this mode for single-player, so it’s not really required to beat the game even though I did it anyway.

The tournament mode is one player only. You will race against six different competitors: Turtle, Bear, Horse, Rabbit, Bobcat, and Cheetah. The mode starts against the slowest competitor, Turtle, in the 100M dash. Win that race and then you go up against Turtle in the 110M hurdles. If you win both races you get a medal and move on to the next opponent. This continues until all six opponents are defeated or you lose a single race. There are no continues in the Tournament so you need to win all twelve races in a row. You get medals for beating each of the first three racers, and you get trophies for beating the last three runners.

This was not only my first time playing through World Class Track Meet, but also my first Power Pad game completion. I bought my Power Pad for $20 at the monthly flea market in my area several years ago, and it came in a white box with the Power Pad labeling on it. That day I also saw a boxed Power Glove from the same seller for probably the same price, but I passed on it in favor of the Power Pad. That was a mistake looking back, and I wonder if I just didn’t carry enough cash with me that day because I should have just bought both. Still, a boxed Power Pad for $20 is not a terrible price. I didn’t even bother trying it out when I bought it, rather I stuffed it in storage for a couple of years. It’s in good shape and it works fine. I don’t remember where I got the World Class Track Meet cart, but it’s common and cheap anyway.

I wonder how I’ve already cleared almost five meters.

Before playing this game, I broke protocol and looked up what kind of times I needed to achieve in this game to succeed. I try to avoid doing any kind of research like this, but I justified it this time for two reasons. The first is that I wasn’t too sure if I would physically be able to beat the game in the first place. I am by no means an athlete and never have been, plus I just turned 34 years old and I’m not getting any younger. I would say I’m in average shape, maybe a little overweight but not too bad. The other reason is that I have to be considerate of my other family members when I play something like this. I do most of my gaming at night after my wife and daughter are asleep, and it wouldn’t be good for me to be shaking the house and waking them up while I play late at night. My setup at home is favorable for this though, since my gaming TV is in the basement with a concrete floor under the carpet. I can’t be stomping around super hard, but there’s a good chance I could play and be quiet enough to go unnoticed. Anyway, the point I’m really trying to make here is that I don’t want to be experimenting around with this game just in case I disturb anyone sleeping. When I play, I want to get right to it and minimize the possibility of being a bother to my family.

As it turned out, those above points were non-factors. I played the entirety of the game during my lunch hour from work at home while my wife and daughter were out of the house, and I didn’t have any trouble beating the game in one attempt. It all comes down to beating Cheetah at the end. I don’t know if his times are consistent or not, but in my game he ran the 100M in 9.88s and the 110M hurdles in 14.70s. I decided to give my all on each and every race. Unfortunately, I ran out of breath trying to do all these sprints and it took me quite a lot of rest in between tries just to muster the strength to keep going. It’s really an exhausting game to beat even though it wasn’t that tough. I was consistently running the 100M in under seven seconds, so that mode was trivial. The hurdles were tougher but I still managed to win every race by at least a second or so. I started doing the hurdles in the medium speed position to work on my timing, but there I would not have been fast enough to beat Cheetah. For the fifth run of the hurdles I switched over to the super speed position in the top row and clocked in under 14 seconds, which was good enough. There is really no reason in single player to run in either of the slower positions, and there’s no shame in beating this kind of game in the easiest way available.

After the tournament, I also completed the Olympics mode by myself. I scored 379 points out of a possible 400, which I think is pretty good for one attempt. I might have scored better if I played it completely rested. I was gassed by the end of it all and I pushed myself just to have the final event, the triple jump, over with. This is a very short game to complete. My video of it is around 20 minutes long with most of that being unedited footage of waiting while I rested and caught my breath. I thought the game was easy to complete for myself, but what happens if you are unable to do this fast enough? Depending on your fitness level, it could possibly take weeks or longer to improve enough to win at World Class Track Meet. I’m no fitness expert so I’m just speculating on that. I don’t know how to effectively assign a relative difficulty to this game, and so I arbitrarily decided on 4/10.

I was beyond exhausted by this last event.

I played the game as it was designed to be played, but there are a few ways to cheat at the game that I bet many people would think to try. One common technique is to get on your knees and use your hands to slap the buttons. You can cheese the long jump and triple jump by jumping completely off the mat and back on quickly enough to trick the game into thinking you jumped super high. You could also hold onto a bar or piece of furniture or something when you jump to push yourself up higher. Finally, if you are really brave in a two-player game, you could try shoving your opponent off the pad entirely to gain an advantage. I don’t condone this in any fashion and you are entirely at your own risk if you do this!

Another little tidbit about World Class Track Meet is that it is one of the few NES games that doesn’t have a box to go with it. The game cart was bundled with the Power Pad and was not sold separately. The game also appeared as part of a triple combo cart along with Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt as part of the Power Set, which included the Power Pad along with the console, controllers, and the hookups. That combo cart also doesn’t have a box. The manual for World Class Track Meet is also the manual for the Power Pad itself and is branded as the Power Pad manual. These are the kind of oddities that somewhat complicate things for full set collectors.

Today, both the Power Pad and World Class Track Meet are nothing more than a novelty. There just weren’t very many Power Pad games released to go with it, and World Class Track Meet itself is a very basic experience that isn’t all that fun. The idea of fitness games peripherals still lingers on. Dance Dance Revolution would become a huge cultural phenomenon years later, and Nintendo themselves eventually came around to the idea again in the form of Wii Fit and the Wii Balance Board. Therefore, World Class Track Meet has some historical importance, but doesn’t offer much else.

#66 – World Class Track Meet (Tournament)

#66 – World Class Track Meet (Olympics)


#36 – The Adventures of Rad Gravity

A “Rad” adventure that may or may not pull you in.

Rad floats around and points at which option is selected. Neat!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game with all health upgrades and items
What I Did: Beat the game
Played: 10/17/16 – 11/1/16
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10

One of my favorite game styles is the open world platformer, more commonly known as a Metroidvania. The Adventures of Rad Gravity does not feel like a Metroid game but it is sort of a similar experience, which took me by surprise when I started to get into the game. While the Metroid series is one of my favorite game series, this particular game is not nearly on the same level though it does have some moments that are really quite interesting. Let’s take a deeper dive so you can better understand what I mean.

The Adventures of Rad Gravity was developed by Interplay and published by Activision. It was released in December 1990 on the NES in the US and it later made its way to Europe and Australia in 1991. The Australian version was distributed by Mattel. The game is an NES exclusive since it was not released in Japan and had no ports to any other system.

The story of Rad Gravity starts with a colonization effort long ago between nine planets. During this effort Compuminds were developed that could communicate instantly between all the colonized worlds. At some point, a wizard named Agathos was transformed by some kind of weird space magic into a huge brain. Because of this, Agathos came into power and decided that he wanted to take over the colony and shut down all the Compuminds, leaving the worlds to fade away and decay. Some time later, one of the Compuminds named Kakos was discovered and turned on. He came up with a plan to restore the rest of the Compuminds and bring back the former colony to glory. Kakos cannot physically explore the planets and must employ Rad Gravity as the best space cadet suited to travel to each world and restore both the Compuminds and the colony.

Rad gets stuck doing the dirty work.

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a side-scrolling platformer game where you play the role of Rad. You team up with Kakos to explore each of the nine worlds. The game begins in your spaceship where you can select an available planet from your monitor and Kakos will beam you down to the surface. Here you control Rad directly from a side-scrolling view. At the start of the game you only know the location of one planet, but as you explore you will come across the coordinates for other worlds. You will also accumulate different kinds of equipment to help you explore later levels. You can travel to almost any unlocked world at any time. Thus the item and level progression is how the game resembles Metroid.

The controls are simple. When controlling Rad use the D-Pad to move around, press A to jump, and press B to use a weapon or item. The Start button pauses the game and brings up the item selection bar at the top of the screen. Press either Left or Right to select the item you want to equip and then press Start to unpause the game with the item you selected. You can press Up on the D-Pad to enter doors or interact with computer terminals, and you press Down to duck. You can also jump down through certain floors by holding Down while jumping with A.

When inside your spaceship looking at the map, there are colored circles that indicate places you can reach by teleporting. Use the D-Pad to choose a teleport location and press A to go there. If you choose one of the planets you will zoom in on it to see either one or more possible landing spots. There are also stargates on the map that will warp you to a different part of the colony where you can see different planets. I found that the map can be pretty confusing to navigate when the stargates are used, so sometimes I had to bounce around for awhile just to figure out what areas were available to me, but it’s something I eventually got used to.

Enter your coordinates and get going!

There is a menu bar at the top of the screen displayed during the platforming sections. You can see which item is equipped as well as Rad’s health bar. There is also a score counter that is completely frivolous because you only earn points when collecting items. There are no points awarded for defeating enemies which seems pretty unusual for an action game.

Rad collects many items along the way to help in his quest. You begin the game with three very useful items. The Communicator item is your method to travel from a planet back to your spaceship. You can use it at any item to leave a level whether you are done looking around or if you get into a bad spot. When you teleport back to your ship your health is completely restored. That sounds really nice but there really isn’t much of a penalty if you die. Actually you can teleport out during the death animation and you still get full health back, making death a personal choice! The second item is the Translator which allows you to read messages found on computer terminals. The third item is a Laser Sword for close range combat.

The rest of the items are found along the way. The most common upgrade is the health upgrade. The item itself looks similar to a chunk of your health meter. Collect it to add another bar of health to your maximum. There are 15 of them in the game and some of them are well hidden. The teleport beacon is a neat item with some really clever uses for the resourceful player. It comes in two parts. Press B when equipped to throw one on the ground, and press B again to teleport to the exact spot you dropped it. The beacon location is lost whenever you go back to your ship, but you can use to teleport back no matter how far away you go or how many screens away you are. Another item is the Energy Disk that acts like a hoverboard. Deploy it with B and hop onto it and you can float on it while moving left or right. You can move downward with it but you cannot go up. If you jump off then it vanishes. This item does force you to spend a bar of your health to use it so you will only use it in a few cases. There are also three different levels of armor upgrades that lower the health loss when taking damage.

Oh boy oh boy oh boy a health upgrade!!

The rest of the items are weapons. There is a sword upgrade called the Super Sword that gives slightly longer range and more attack power than the base sword. You get a Power Pistol that fires bullets horizontally across the screen. You can upgrade it to the Vertigun that lets you also fire vertically, and you can later find the Maxigun that gives it a power boost. Saurian Crystals act as bombs that you toss in an arc ahead of you, and you can find the Crystal Bombs to power them up even further.

There are ten levels in The Adventures of Rad Gravity. Cyberia looks like a cityscape with a few buildings to explore. Effluvia is the garbage dump of the colony. Sauria is a jungle styled level with some vicious baby dinosaurs. Turvia is flipped completely upside down for a unique experience. Vernia is another city high up in the clouds. The Asteroid Belt contains an abandoned spaceship. Utopia is a planet with two sides and an underground factory. Odar contains an underground maze. Volcania is a burning planet with active volcanoes as you might expect from the name. Telos is the final planet shrouded in mystery!

There are quite a few enemies and traps that stand in Rad’s way. Most of them are your run of the mill enemy types that can be killed with a few attacks. However there are quite a few obstacles that have some kind of unique behavior attached to them. Some enemies you can kill and they explode after a short pause sending shrapnel across the screen. Other enemies cannot be killed but they can be manipulated by how you shoot them. Some enemies can be pushed around if they are blocking a critical path. Sometimes an enemy can push Rad through small spaces that he cannot walk through by himself. There are some enemies that Rad can safely ride on top of. These enemies tend to be put in places where you have to think more about what to do to get past them rather than just engaging in pure combat.

Weaving and bouncing through the asteroid belt can be really taxing.

By the same token, there are certain kinds of mechanics that only appear in a single area in the game. In one level, you have to place a peg inside a hole on top of a gate that opens it. One levels has keys to find. There are blocks you can push that you need to use as stepping stones to clear certain jumps. In the Asteroid Belt you need to navigate between obstacles by firing your gun in the opposite direction to push Rad around as he floats in space. The game does have a variety of things to do in all kinds of environments that make the game interesting.

The Adventures of Rad Gravity does feature a few boss battles mostly in the second half of the game. Similar to the enemies, the bosses tend to have some kind of unique gimmick associated with them where you have to figure out what to do to effectively fight them. These solutions are not always obvious and there was more than one moment where I was left scratching my head.

While not overly long, this is not a game you can finish in a single sitting unless you have already played through it a few times. Fortunately the game has a password system! The only way to trigger the password screen is to actually die in a level without teleporting out of it, which is a little annoying to do. The passwords themselves are 20 characters long and they track all of the items collected and planets unlocked.

Hmmm I wonder how to fight the green blob?

This was my first time playing The Adventures of Rad Gravity. I did not really know about this game until I started my big push for collecting NES. The only way it really stood out at all early on is because of the bright orange label. I ended up buying this cart individually on eBay in 2014 for a little over $7 shipped. While not a terribly expensive game, that cart had the best price I have seen on it so I snagged it right away. The game now sells typically in the $15-$20 range and that price is not too much higher than it was when I bought the game.

I started playing Rad Gravity when my wife was out of town for a couple of days. I was able to put in about 4-5 hours of play time and that got me about halfway through the game. The latter half of the game took longer and I spent two weeks grinding through it. Some of the difficulty stemmed from not knowing which area was the correct one for my current item loadout and some of it came from figuring out how to best clear the areas themselves. I struggled some on the bosses too. I am happy to report that I managed to beat the entire game without looking up anything in a walkthrough. Some of the solutions are obtuse enough that it was no small feat to clear the game on my own. Now this was not a 100% complete run because I missed some health upgrades as well as one of the powered up weapons if I recall correctly. I watched a longplay of the game with all items and some of the ones I missed I probably would not have found on my own. There is only one ending regardless of item completion so reaching the credits is enough to consider the game beaten.

Here’s a tip that helped me get through the game. I found the manual to be particularly helpful for a specific reason. Toward the back of the manual is a section called Top Secret Clues. These hints in and of themselves were only occasionally helpful. The clues are grouped by planet and the order of the planets listed in this section is the same order you can play through the levels. It turns out you do not have to follow this exact order but this way definitely works if you want to take the guess work out of where to go next.

Trying to figure out this stage had me running on fumes.

I have mixed emotions about the game. There are some really neat elements to the game that I have already mentioned, but the whole package doesn’t add up quite right. If I had to describe my experience in a single word, I would choose clumsy. The jumping physics feel really heavy most of the time, meaning you can jump pretty high and then fall down hard. In contrast, the level design is often claustrophobic with long tight horizontal corridors. The jumping combined with the level design can lead to missed jumps and a lot of unnecessary frustration. The sword is not really a great weapon and you are stuck with dealing with close combat and hardly any health at the beginning of the game. The backgrounds can be very unclear on which blocks are solid and which ones are just decoration. The way to make progress is not always obvious making it easy to get fed up with the game, at which point you might drop it altogether or dip into a walkthrough at the slightest hint of getting lost. But I have to say, there were some moments where I figured out something that was so cleverly done that it will stick with me for a long time. It is really hard for me to pick a side here!

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a really tough game for me to give a strong recommendation. It’s not a great game, it’s not a hidden gem, and it’s not really even an average game. Instead it is a combination of varying highs and lows. I think this is a game that you have to play to know if it’s something you will like. Watching videos or looking at screenshots do not convey well what this game is all about. And frankly reviews don’t do it much justice either. It seems to me that most reviews give up on the game before some of the neat stuff starts. My hope is that this post will highlight the game just enough for you to decide if you want to seek it out on your own and form your own opinion.

#36 – The Adventures of Rad Gravity

Journey to Silius Box Cover

#14 – Journey to Silius

This is one journey that is well worth going on!

Another sweet title screen tune!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 1/25/16 – 1/29/16
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10

Okay, now we’re talking! Probably the biggest thrill of Take On The NES Library is whenever a random game shows up that I’m really excited to play and Journey to Silius fits the bill completely. Appearing on many “hidden gems” NES lists over the years, I think the cat is let out of the bag on this one. It’s a little pricey as a result but not too expensive and it’s a game that fits well in just about any NES collection.

Journey to Silius was released in the US in September 1990, just after the Japan release in August 1990 named Raf World. It was developed by Tokai Engineering and published by Sunsoft. Tokai Engineering developed three games for the NES: Blaster Master, Journey to Silius, and Super Spy Hunter. Their first game was a Famicom only game called Ripple Island and their fifth and final game is Albert Odyssey on the Super Famicom.

Journey to Silius is a run-and-gun action game. You play the role of Jay McCray as he fights a terrorist group responsible for the death of his father. You can jump and shoot a basic hand gun and you can also duck and shoot low. There are six weapons total but you only start with two and have to acquire the other four along the way. The initial special weapon is the shot gun that is a three-way shot useful for reaching high enemies. The machine gun is like the hand gun with rapid autofire. Homing missiles target the enemy for you. The laser gun shoots a beam that blasts through enemies. The grenade launcher is a single but powerful straight shot.

Quite a few enemies pose a challenge even early on.

Jay has both a health bar and a gun energy bar indicated on the upper left of the screen. The hand gun has infinite shots but the other weapons drain your gun energy gauge. This is shared between all the weapons and when it runs out you can only use the hand gun. Enemies will occasionally drop a blue power up that refills a portion of your gun energy, and enemies can also drop a red powerup that restores some health.

This is kind of an aside, but one criticism I have about the game is the low drop rate on the powerups. The blue ones show up often enough but the red ones drop far less often. In most playthroughs I see maybe two or three health drops total, and I bet someone could play the whole game without seeing a single one. They pop up so infrequently it’s hard to believe that they exist at all. I once encountered two in a row and I didn’t know how to handle it! It would have been nice if I actually needed the health at that time.

There are five levels in total: Outside a deserted space colony, an underground tunnel, the enemy headquarters, the enemy spaceship, and the enemy factory. These are all horizontal scrolling levels with the occasional brief vertical section mixed in. Each level except the last has a mini-boss at the end that drops a new special weapon when defeated and there is also a main boss at the end of each one. The mini-bosses are unique enemies a bit larger than the normal ones but the end level bosses are huge and fill up the screen. You only have three lives with no way to gain any extra lives which contributes to the overall difficulty. The levels have checkpoints scattered about so there isn’t a ton of ground to gain back if you die, but if you lose all your lives you have to continue back at the beginning of the stage. You are only allowed three continues before having to start all over from Stage 1 so it’s important to take your time and preserve as much health as you can as you progress deeper into the game.

Some serious firepower here!

I remember renting and playing Journey to Silius when I was a kid. I overlooked it quite a few times in favor of something else and once I did rent it I don’t think I got very far in the game. I was really into games that had score at the time and Journey to Silius doesn’t have any points, so looking back I’m surprised I gave it a chance at all.

Journey to Silius was one of the first games I tracked down individually when I hunkered down to pursue the rest of the NES licensed set. I learned an interesting thing today. When doing some research on the game I Googled it and it pulled up my eBay order for the game in the search. I guess Google searched my gmail and noticed I had ordered it, so you can use Google to look up past orders. It’s a little unsettling that they can do that. Anyway, I won it in an auction on eBay in 2013 with no picture for $5 plus shipping. A few weeks after that my local store got a copy of the game in and I bought it for $3 which was a great deal so why not! I ended up with a third copy that I bought in an eBay lot in practically mint condition and that’s the one in my collection.

I have played the game in the past couple of years but I never committed to beating the game before. That recent experience did give me a bit of an edge for the first half of the game. Overall it took me four attempts to beat the game. My first two runs ended at the Level 4 boss and Level 5 boss respectively, and on my third try I regressed a bit and died earlier in Level 5. My fourth and winning run was quite the rollercoaster of emotion … at least it was for me. I will be spoiling the endgame so if you’re looking to avoid spoilers just skip the next two paragraphs. It’s okay, I don’t mind!

Huge boss, huge claw, huge pain!

My final run started out as just about the perfect run. Mind you, I’m not saying that I’m so good that I can get far without taking damage, but on this run I limited it enough to keep alive. I made it all the way to the Stage 4 mini-boss before I took my first death and I finished the level on my next life, so I reached the final level with the two lives remaining and all three of my continues. Of course, this is where the wheels fell off. The first four levels I found myself taking things slow and focusing on killing the enemies quickly and with this strategy the game is pretty straightforward after enough attempts. The last level completely changes things. It’s an auto-scrolling level with a heavy emphasis on platforming with no enemies to shoot at all. You are fighting against the level and the level is just brutal. There are crates that fall, lava that flows down from the ceiling, conveyor belts, moving crushers, you name it. I find the jumping to be a little bit inconsistent and that becomes a problem when every jump matters. The game expects you to jump off of moving crates as well. There’s one part in particular where the best way to get through is to jump on a moving crate as soon as it scrolls on screen. Missing that, which you absolutely would the first time through, leaves you only one more narrow opportunity to get through or you have no choice but to die. It takes a lot of practice to get through this level and being the last level you have to work hard to get that far in the first place.

Pretty soon I burned through my lives and had to continue. Pretty soon I used up all of my continues too with nothing to show for it. The worst is when you are interacting with a moving platform and you somehow get pinched and immediately die. It feels like such a cheap death and this happened to me two or three times. In times like this my emotions can really vary. I can get pretty frustrated at time but here I wasn’t even angry. I first laughed it all off and accepting all these weird deaths and that shifted to getting despondent. I was already thinking about having to start the game all over again. My last continue started off better. I got a good start to the level before dying and on my second life I was finally clearing some difficult obstacles but draining health quickly in the process. At my last sliver of health I got hit by a falling crate for my second death, but somehow during the death animation I teleported into the boss room and finished dying there. I wish I knew how that happened, but I’ll take it. My last life began at the boss and I had a game plan after dying there once before in a prior attempt. It didn’t go the best but it was okay. However after the boss there is a second, final boss which is a tall humanoid robot. There is no refilling of your health and weapons before the fight so I was left with no gun power and about a third of a health bar left. I got backed into the corner and ducked, which turns out to be a safe spot since the boss stops advancing that far against the side and is unable to punch you when you duck. I got him stuck in a loop! After observing the timing for awhile I could jump up to shoot him in the face and resume ducking while missing his punches. It took a bit of time and I got down to my very last sliver of health but I beat the boss and beat the game. Whew! That was one of my best wins in quite awhile!

Falling crates on conveyor belts while scrolling. It’s tough!

After the ending and credits, you go back to Level 1 exactly as you ended the final boss fight. So I started over with no weapons and that sliver of health. I kept going and it didn’t take long before I ended up dead and back at the title screen. From what little I played it didn’t seem to be any more difficult, and I couldn’t find any information on it so it looks like there is no hard mode here.

I think this has sort of become well known regarding this game, but originally Journey to Silius was supposed to be a licensed game based on the movie The Terminator. Somewhere during development Sunsoft lost the Terminator license so they took the work that was already done and retooled it into the game we got today. There is a licensed Terminator game on NES that I haven’t played much, but I think Journey to Silius is the better game of the two. Also, the game has a really good soundtrack. Naoki Kodaka is the composer for the game and his style tends to revolve around using the NES DPCM sound channel to play bass samples. The Stage 2 music is a deep, moody track and is a favorite among NES music enthusiasts.

Journey to Silius is a lot of fun to play and I’m glad that the game is getting more recognition in NES collecting circles. It feels good to beat this one having tinkered with playing it off and on!

Journey to Silius Ending Screen

#14 – Journey to Silius