Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#163 – The Lone Ranger

Hi-Yoooooooooo Silver!

With a silver bullet!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 7/20/20 – 8/1/20
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: The Lone Ranger Longplay

Konami is at it again.  This time, they are reviving an old, mostly forgotten property into an NES game.  Normally, I would be reminded right away of similar adaptations such as The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island or Dirty Harry, taking a pretty much dormant property and turning it into a Nintendo game, with little success.  Instead, after exploring this game a bit, my mind went quickly to Laser Invasion.  Both games switch between genres during gameplay.  I liked Laser Invasion quite a lot.  On the other hand, The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island and Dirty Harry did not fare as well.  Let’s see which way The Lone Ranger goes.

The Lone Ranger first appeared on a radio program out of WXYZ in Detroit in 1933, created by station manager George Trendle and writer Fran Striker.  The show blew up in popularity, running until 1954 and surviving the death of the voice of The Lone Ranger, Earle Graser, who died in a car accident in 1941.  The television series, The Lone Ranger, ran for 8 seasons and 221 episodes from 1949 to 1957, starring Clayton Moore for most of the series run.  There were a slew of other media properties starring The Lone Ranger, including 6 films, 18 novels, a long running comic strip, comic books, and some animated adaptations.  The NES game, The Lone Ranger, was released in August 1991 in North America only.  It was developed and published by Konami.

The story is based off of the 1981 film The Legend of the Lone Ranger.  In the Old West, the Texas Rangers were the law enforcement of the day, led by Dan Reid.  His son, John Reid, was also a Texas Ranger.  During a shootout with the Texas Rangers, Butch Cavendish, a bank robber, lost his father to a bullet, and from then on he held a grudge against the Texas Rangers.  Butch and his outlaw gang set up an ambush against the Texas Rangers and had them all killed.  Only they thought they were all killed, as John Reid survived.  A Native American named Tonto found John and got him back to health.  John formed a mask out of his father’s vest and did away with the rules of the Texas Rangers, going at it alone as The Lone Ranger with Tonto as his partner.  Now Butch Cavendish has kidnapped the President and it is up to The Lone Ranger to both rescue the President and get his revenge against the man who killed his father.

Walk on the path, engage enemies, and enter towns

After the initial text scrawl of the story, you start off in the overworld.  Simply use the D-pad to walk around here.  You are forced to stay on the dirt trails but otherwise you can explore the map as you please.  There are several buildings around the map that you can enter that take you into town.  Here you will switch to a more zoomed-in overhead view, where much of the game is played.  You can walk around in all eight directions with the D-pad.  Press A to talk to people, and press B to use your weapons.  Select changes weapons and Start pauses the game.  The towns contain women that you can talk to for information, or bad guys in cowboy hats that you’ll have to shoot before they get you.  Generally, you explore the towns for information to advance the story, or to restock on supplies, typically of many games.

The bottom of your screen shows all the info you need during play.  First up is your life bar, pretty self-explanatory.   You can recover health with the uncommon heart item drop or top it off by paying a doctor in town.  Below that is your money.  Coins are dropped by almost every defeated enemy.  Money is most commonly used to buy more bullets for your revolver, other weapons, and gun upgrades.  The square box with the X in the middle is used in the 3D sections that I will describe later.  Next is your currently selected weapon.  You can fight bare-handed, use a revolver, or TNT.  When weapons require ammo, that is displayed directly above.  Finally, the cylinder of your gun shows how many bullets are loaded and ready to fire.  When empty, you will reload with one of your supply.

There are some special locations inside many towns.  The sheriff’s office is usually a point of interest for gathering critical information on what to do next.  At the gunshop, you can buy normal bullets, silver bullets, and TNT.  You can hold up to 50 clips each of normal and silver bullets, and up to 10 TNT sticks.  Silver bullets cost more but they do twice the damage and pierce enemies so you can hit multiple bad guys with one bullet.  TNT is thrown in an arc and blows up after a short time.  You can also buy upgrades to your gun that let your bullets fly farther across the screen.  The doctor’s office is where you want to go to restore your health bar, at a cost.  A few places in the game even let you play poker for money.  There are other unmarked buildings you can enter, as long as the front door is open.

Even towns aren’t a safe haven from gunslingers.

As teased earlier, there are several types of gameplay in The Lone Ranger.  Aside from the top-down exploring and fighting, there are side scrolling platformer sections.  These parts have standard controls.  You use the A button to jump.  The jumping in this game is reminiscent of Castlevania.  It is a very heavy jump and once you commit to a moving jump you will keep going in that direction, though you are able to slow down a little by pressing the opposite direction on the D-pad.  Another thing I noticed is that you have to be real close to the edge of a platform to make the leap across to another one.  If you press Down while pressing A, you will jump down through some ledges.  The B button attacks with any of your weapons similar to the top-down sections.  With the gun, you can fire in all directions and diagonals except for straight down.  Movement is normal stuff with the D-pad.  You can navigate stairs with Up and Down.

This game also features 3D mazes.  Much like in Laser Invasion, these are Zapper-compatible sections.  At the very start of the game you can choose if you want to use the standard controller or the Zapper for these parts.  You will use the D-pad to navigate the maze.  Press Up to walk forward, Left or Right to turn in that direction, and Down to turn around.  You move in increments through the maze, and at some of these steps you will run into a group of enemies.  You can only fight with your guns in these parts so you better have enough bullets handy.  Use the Zapper to shoot the enemies and collect powerups, including hearts to restore health, packs of bullets, and of course money bags for cash.  Here the X mark in your status bar tells you from which direction the enemies are approaching.  You also get to see the compass direction you are facing to assist in navigation.  You will use the D-pad to turn in the appropriate direction and then shoot with the Zapper.  I had to hold both the controller and Zapper at the same time to play this.  If you are in controller-only mode, instead you move a targeting reticle with the D-pad.  Press B to fire a shot.  Holding a direction and pressing A will turn you in that direction.

Bad guys, money, and Castlevania stairs, oh my!

Early on in the game you will reunite with your trusty horse Silver.  There are a few minor sections in the game where you will ride on horseback.  There are side scrolling sections where Silver runs forward automatically, functioning as an auto-scroller.  You can jump between ledges and fire your gun.  It is different but plays a lot like you are already used to.  You also get into gunfights while on horseback.  These encounters take place in first person similar to the mazes, only you don’t have to wander around, just fight off the bad guys with your Zapper.

To beat this game, you must clear all 8 stages.  Each new level begins at a new subsection of the map and all your money and weapons carry over from one stage to the next.  You typically get an explanation from Tonto on what you need to accomplish next.  This game has a password system to retain your progress, and all your money and weapons carry over through the passwords as well.  Passwords in The Lone Ranger are 16 characters long, comprised of a weird subset of capital letters and the digits 0-9.  In this game there are no lives, and when you die you return back to the start of the current stage.  Some of the stages have several parts and can go on pretty long, so it’s a steep penalty.

This was my first time playing The Lone Ranger.  I was only sort of familiar with the premise and I never knew anything of substance about the character or series.  I bought my copy of the game on eBay for only $6 shipped back in the summer of 2014.  I remember religiously checking new eBay listings for NES games to fill out my collection back then and this one was an instant purchase.  The game was selling for around $10-$15 in 2014, and when I checked the current pricing I was shocked.  The Lone Ranger is now close to a $60 game.  It was averaging around $30 from 2017-2019 and just about doubled in 2020 alone.

Shooty shooty bang bang

This game was a bit more challenging than I would have guessed going in.  Most levels comprise of walking around to get a sense of what to do, and then working through the setpiece parts in that stage.  The difficulty varies throughout the game depending on how many special segments there are and what kinds.  There was only one area that I completed the first time through.  A few times I got lost in identifying the intended route.  When I played this I streamed fairly often, and it took me 8 nights of playing to beat the game.  I made progress every night except one, only to beat that stage the first time the next night.  This was almost a 10-hour playthrough from start to finish, condensed into a video lasting a little over 2 hours.  The last couple of stages were pretty tough, with long segments that really try and whittle away your life.  I want to specifically mention the final boss fight.  When I reviewed my video of it, I had forgotten just how close I was to failing that attempt.  I had sort of found a way to trap the boss but he very nearly took me out on several occasions.  I’m proud to have clutched out victory there!

The Lone Ranger is a game that does a lot of things but does them all well.  This is a very nice looking game, from the character sprites to the detailed portraits at the end of each stage.  The music is all very well done, but to me it is mostly music that could fit any game.  The William Tell Overture certainly is evocative of the time, and the rest of it sounds good, but I am not sure it really fits the game.  The controls are responsive and work well, particularly the Zapper and top-down play.  Konami seems to have a handle on games with multiple genres, and this one is no exception in the gameplay department.  There are only a few things about it that I don’t care about.  The platforming and jumping are a little too stiff for my tastes.  That to me is the least polished bit of this game.  The forced reloading every 7th shot is a pain to handle too.  The difficulty and setback on dying would be turnoffs to some, though I relish the challenge.  This is a very good game that is mostly forgotten or unheard of.  I would suggest checking it out!

#163 – The Lone Ranger


#139 – Wild Gunman

A Wild Gunman appears!

Title text is a little funky but it works.

To Beat: Win 0.4 Round in Game A, Win 0.6 Round in Game B, Win 20 rounds in Game C
What I Did: Beat Game A, Maxed out score in Game B, Beat Game C
Played: 11/2/19 – 11/6/19
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Wild Gunman All Modes Longplay

It’s time for another Black Box game!  This iconic set of early NES titles is 30 games long, and I have now completed five of them.  Considering I’m just over 20% of the library completed, that’s pretty close to average pace.  Four of the Black Box games are Zapper games, and this is the second one of those I’ve played, the first being Hogan’s Alley.  The Black Box Zapper games are distinct from one another in playstyle, though I find it interesting that both Hogan’s Alley and Wild Gunman carry one major similarity between them.  To know what I’m talking about, you will have to read on!

Wild Gunman originally was an electro-mechanical arcade game released by Nintendo in 1974.  The game featured projection video on film of a gunslinger that you shoot when his eyes flash.  Depending on how quick you are to the draw, you will see another video of the outcome.  This version was brought to America by Sega (yes, Sega) in 1976.  The home version was released in a different year in four territories: Japan in February 1984 on Famicom, October 1985 in North America, February 1986 in Canada, and February 1988 in Europe.  This was the first Zapper game released on the Famicom, while it was released in North America alongside Hogan’s Alley and Duck Hunt.  There is a big box Famicom version of Wild Gunman that comes with a revolver-shaped Zapper gun and a holster to put it in for the most authentic experience.  Nintendo knew they could not get away with a light gun that looks like a real gun in America, so instead we received the futuristic looking Zapper light gun we all know and love.

Wild Gunman is a timed shooting game designed to play like an old wild west style shootout.  The first thing you’ll do is hook up your Zapper.  If you want to read more about how the Zapper works, I wrote up some information in my Operation Wolf review.  When you turn the game on there are three modes to choose from.  You can press Select on the controller to toggle between the modes, or you can fire your Zapper off-screen to adjust the cursor.  When you are ready to play, either press Start or fire at the screen.  The only other use of the controller is to pause the game.

I don’t believe I shot his belt off…

Game A is the standard mode most people think of when they know of Wild Gunman.  You are presented with a single gunslinger as he moseys his way to the middle of the screen.  Each gunman has a specified amount of time between when he draws and when he fires, as displayed at the top of the screen.  You have a timer as well that ticks up from 0.0s at the draw.  You wait until the gunman’s eyes light up and he says the word “FIRE!” in a speech bubble.  Then you draw your weapon and shoot.  You will knock him over if you fire first, then you can see how quick you were and how much time you had left to shoot.  Each gunman gives you reward money listed on the bottom of the screen as points.  You also get a thousand bonus points for every tenth of a second remaining.  You have three lives in this mode.  You lose a life if you get shot or if you shoot too early and cause a foul.  One interesting tidbit about this mode is that the game does not check to see if you shot at the screen, only when you pulled the trigger.  I don’t think any other NES Zapper games of the era worked that way, so you can play this mode on your modern TV if you want.

In Game B, you have to fend off two gunmen at once.  The same rules apply as in Game A.  Each bad guy has his own timer for shooting.  You wait until one of them yells “FIRE!” and then you shoot them both in the allotted time.  This go-around you must aim at the gunman you wish to shoot.  Sometimes only one gunslinger fires as you, so you will need to hesitate ever so slightly so you are sure to fire at just the one.  You lose a life if you shoot an unarmed gunman.  Both gunmen have reward money for points and you get the same time bonus as before for each shooter.

Game C is a different mode altogether.  This is a shooting gallery game that is very similar to Hogan’s Alley.  You are facing a saloon that has five entrances where gunmen appear.  One at a time a gunman will appear from a window or door and you need to shoot him as quickly as possible.  In each wave there will be 10 gunmen to deal with.  You get up to 15 bullets as shown on the bottom of the screen.  For each gunman you shoot, you will see a point total appear behind him that is added to your score.  The quicker the gunman shoots, the higher number of points you get, up to a maximum of 5000 points for the fastest shooter.  If you miss and get shot, you lose a life and must replay that wave from the beginning.  As in both the other modes, you get three lives for this one.

Uhhh, I think his head is gone.

This was my first time playing through Wild Gunman.  I’m pretty sure I was too lazy to test this cart out with the proper Zapper setup.  I knew what the game was pretty much, though having a shooting gallery mode did catch me by surprise.  (This is why I enjoy digging into these games, you never know what will surprise you.)  This cart was a tougher one to track down.  I know a local store had a poor condition copy for a decent price that I passed on.  I am pretty sure I snagged this one in a random eBay lot.  This is one of those games where complete-in-box copies are worth far more than just the cartridge.  Expect to pay around $15 for a loose cart and around $100 for CIB.

Wild Gunman does not have a proper ending in any mode.  The game keeps looping for as long as you can last.  When this happens, I get to determine my own winning condition.  I don’t like rolling the loop counter like the NES Ending FAQ suggests.  The high scores for this game are also very low and don’t feel suitable either.  TheMexicanRunner had the best idea for considering Wild Gunman beaten in NESMania, so a modified version of that is what I went with.  In Game A, the gunman with 0.4s timer is the quickest draw, so beating that wave is the requirement.  Similarly, the wave in Game B where the higher timer of the two gunman is 0.6s is the requirement.  It can either be 0.4s/0.6s or 0.6s/0.6s, both are virtually the same if you have to shoot both men.  Both Games A and B are randomized so you just have to play until you get the hardest wave.  Game C has the most proper ending of the three modes.  The text on the saloon sign changes when the wave is beaten.  Normally it says “Good,” however it displays “Nice” when Wave 10 is cleared and “Master” when Wave 20 is cleared.  That’s as far as it goes, so beating Wave 20 is the winning condition for Game C.

For my playthrough, I took things a bit further.  In Game A, I cleared 20 waves before intentionally losing.  Typically, the hardest wave comes after completing 10-15 waves.  I will note that I started off playing this game by attempting to treat the Zapper like a revolver on my hip, just like a traditional wild west shootout.  I was able to clear Game A that way but wasn’t fast or accurate enough for Game B.  For my longplay I pointed the Zapper toward the screen in all modes like I normally would. In Game B, I ended up rolling the high score past one million points before letting it go.  The hardest wave in Game B comes much later, and at that point it isn’t much of a stretch to just go for the million mark.  I stuck with clearing Wave 20 for beating Game C.  I had to record my longplay video for this game in a couple of stitched-together parts.  It may not be noticeable in my longplay video, but it is not a single-segment run.  I was able to clear Games A and B back to back with no trouble, but Game C needed several attempts to get right.  I also had to re-record Games A and B because I forgot to put my name tag on the pictures I took after Game Over.  I want the scores in the pictures to match the scores in the video.

You gotta be ready to handle two gunmen at a time.

Games A and B were pretty easy for me, but Game C really threw me for a loop in how difficult it was.  Some of the gunman in later waves appear to work on the same 0.4s timing as the quickest shooters in the other modes, and that is tough to handle when you also need to aim unpredictably.  But actually, that isn’t true because I realized that the gunmen in Game C do indeed appear from the same locations every time.  There are a few different patterns where the gunmen appear from the windows and doors in the same order for a full wave.  Furthermore, these patterns are tweaked when they reoccur in later waves so that the timing of when a gunman appears from his location is slightly changed.  As an example, there is a pattern where the last two gunmen appear from the lower-left window and upper-right window respectively.  In later waves using that same pattern, the gap in time between the final two gunmen appearing may either increase or decrease.  It was necessary to pay attention to these nuances to beat this mode.  When you have to defeat ten gunmen in each of the twenty waves, mistakes are amplified when you only have three lives to manage.

Some of you know that Wild Gunman made an appearance in the movie Back to the Future Part II.  In the film, Marty jumps ahead in time to October 21st, 2015 and enters an ’80s café where he finds and tries out a Wild Gunman arcade game.  While they nailed the look of the characters in the game footage, the game play looks quite a bit more advanced than the actual game.  Plus, there was never a dedicated arcade cabinet for the Wild Gunman video game, aside from its appearance on Nintendo’s Play Choice 10 system.  Anyway, many people had fun reminiscing and celebrating the Back to the Future series on 10/21/2015, and Nintendo got in on the fun themselves.  Nintendo of Europe released the Wii U Virtual Console version of Wild Gunman on Back to the Future Day where you can use the Wii remote as a makeshift Zapper.  Nintendo of America held back Wild Gunman’s Virtual Console release until early 2016.  NOE got this one right.

Wild Gunman is a simple NES light gun game with some charm.  This has nice graphics for an NES launch game with large, detailed gunman sprites full of personality.  The music is simple in this one, but I think more fondly about the sound effects.  They help carry the gameplay and get you ready to shoot when the time is right.  The Zapper controls are nice and responsive.  I did have a little trouble with certain shots in Game C, but I kind of think that was more my fault anyway.  The gameplay, while novel for its time, is both simple and repetitive.  However, Game C kept me on my toes with its combination of memorization and twitch timing.  I was not expecting to have to develop strategies for this game.  I consider that a nice surprise, even if it meant I needed a couple additional days to clear this game.  I am glad I played the game, but considering the simplicity of it along with the required Zapper setup, I think Wild Gunman is more of a collector piece today.

#139 – Wild Gunman (Game A)

#139 – Wild Gunman (Game B)

#139 – Wild Gunman (Game C)


#127 – Shooting Range

A Zapper game with a strangely accurate title.

The title colors glow until text appears, so lame!

To Beat: Beat the Normal Game
To Complete: Get the best ending in both the Normal Game and Party Game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 5/17/19
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Shooting Range Longplay

Now that I’ve come upon yet another Zapper game already, I decided to do a little digging trying to piece together my own list of Zapper-compatible licensed NES games for tracking purposes. The unlicensed list is easy, just Baby Boomer and Chiller. For licensed games, most lists I’ve found are incomplete. Complicating things are a few games that use the Zapper partially, or worse, at one random spot in the game. Putting everything together, it looks like there are 16 licensed games that utilize the Zapper with most of them being Zapper only. Shooting Range is already the 5th Zapper game played for this blog.

Shooting Range was developed by TOSE and published by Bandai. It was released in June 1989 in North America only and is an NES exclusive. Really, that’s all the information there is on Shooting Range.

There’s no story to be found here but there are a couple of different modes to play. The Normal Game takes place over four stages where you fire at targets that appear in themed scenes. This is the main mode of the game. The other mode is called Party Game and you try and shoot as many targets as you can within the time limit. In both modes, up to four players can play alternating to see who can get the biggest score. To beat this game, you need to clear all stages in the Normal Game. There are also different ending screens depending on how many points you score in the Party Game.

Just a normal day out west.

I think Shooting Range has a double meaning here. Sure, it’s a shooting range where you fire at targets. The primary mechanic in the game is that you use both the D-pad and the Zapper at the same time, using Left and Right to “range” across a wide view while you also aim and shoot at targets. This is a cumbersome setup for me since I prefer to hold the Zapper with both hands to keep it steady. You will need to constantly pan back and forth looking for targets to shoot so you really need to play this with both Zapper and controller in hand simultaneously.

The goal of the Normal Game is simple enough. Various targets will appear on screen holding up a red and white pinwheel which is what you shoot to earn points. The bottom of the screen shows your level score and total score on the right and the level timer and energy bar on the left. You lose energy when you shoot and miss. You lose the game if you run out of time or energy, so you must be both quick and accurate. Each stage has different criteria to finish the stage and move on to the next. Upon completing each level, you earn some bonus points for any leftover time or energy.

When starting up a new Normal Game, first you select either Level 1, 2, or 3. These are not the stages themselves but more like a difficulty level. To my knowledge, the only change is how much time you have to start each stage. Levels 1, 2, and 3 give you 300, 250, and 200 seconds respectively. Next up is the scoring screen. This shows your scoring breakdown per stage, as well as any bonus points that roll up into your total score. The Stage Clearing Point area is what the point threshold is for certain stages. I confused this for actual points on my score at first. Then you go to a screen displaying all the stages in the game. Shoot anywhere to start playing a level.

During the Normal Game, shooting some targets also reveals an item. The same characters tend to drop the same things. Most of the items are just circles with letters in them. Simply shoot it to collect it. The little E boosts your energy by two bars, while the large E gives you four. A reverse E deducts a couple of energy points, so avoid them. The C gives you 100 points, while the W gives you 1000. The W is different in that it doesn’t get dropped by anyone and you will sometimes just find it. There is also an hourglass item that gives you 50 more seconds on the clock.

That middle creature flips back and forth quickly.

The first level in the game is Western themed. The goal here is to earn 5000 points, at which point the level ends abruptly. There are Native Americans, gun-slinging criminals, and flying birds for targets. Some of the birds are worth 500 points, while others are worth much fewer, depending on how they fly around. The second level is pretty similar to the first. Here you need 7000 points to clear it, but this time it is ghost house themed. There are monsters such as witches, vampires, and ghosts. One monster flips his pinwheel back and forth rapidly and it is hard to hit.

The next level is the bonus game. This one is just a single screen with no controller required. There are two rows of bottles on the wall and random ones will flash all white. Shoot them while they are all white to break them. This level ends when either all bottles are broken or you run out of time. You always get sent to the next level no matter how well you do.

The final stage takes place on the moon. There are various types of aliens to shoot at here. Instead of meeting a point threshold, as soon as the timer hits 100 seconds remaining, a large brain alien appears. It’s a boss battle! The brain floats around the whole screen in a wave-like pattern and only fully reveals its pinwheel every so often. This is a tough fight with the limited time left, but if you can beat it then you win Normal Game. If you fail here or in any other stage, you can continue, but you lose all your points in doing so. I think continues are supposed to be unlimited, but I didn’t always see it happen so I’m not sure how the continue system works. This is a short game, so once you get the last boss down you can play through the game again trying for a high score. You can enter your initials on the high score screen and see your accuracy too.

The Party Game is a much simpler mode than the Normal Game. This is just a single screen with some targets to hit. There are no items or energy, just you and the timer. Lights in the background appear and shooting them causes the pinwheel to pop up along the bottom. Shoot as many of these as you can. If you miss a pinwheel, then you need to shoot another light to restart the sequence. It’s too bad you can’t play this simultaneously with another player because it would be fun to compete for targets. Either way, try to score as high as you can before the timer runs out.

Even the floating brain has caught pinwheel fever.

This was my first time playing Shooting Range. I can’t recall if I played any of the game during cart testing. Usually with the peripheral games I boot them up to see if they run without glitches and then I put them away without trying the gameplay. I know that I watched TMR beat this game for NESMania and it was one of the last games he completed for his project. I had some familiarity with the game though I forgot most of it. This cart isn’t too hard to find and sells for around $8-$10.

This was a short game that I cleared within a couple of hours. I needed more than a few attempts to clear the final boss, but that was all. If you score high enough at the end, you earn a medal. The bronze medal is at 30,000 points, a silver is at 35,000 points, and you need 40,000 to get the gold. Now your score for the first two levels is pretty well set since those stages end by point thresholds. One tactic is to stockpile energy and cash them in for bonus points at the end, but that doesn’t always pan out and doesn’t give you near enough points anyway. The other thing you can do is play on the easiest difficulty since more time means more points at the end of the stage, even if that only adds just a tiny amount to your total. The secret to getting the gold is to earn the bonus points as shown on the scoring screen, and the only way to get them is to play the bonus level perfectly without missing. Doing so is challenging. My strategy was to go at the top row first left to right, then the bottom row. After a few bottles gone, the next ones seem to line up well and you can take them all out quickly. On my run I ended up with over 50,000 points which was above and beyond what I needed. In Party Mode, the score you want to aim for is 35,000, which I accomplished on my second try. All those attempts at To The Earth not long ago sure paid dividends!

Shooting Range is a brief Zapper experience that ultimately doesn’t add up to much. It is interesting that it has different themes for each level. Even the Party Game has a different feel than the Normal Game’s levels. The music is mostly forgettable but not bad. The controls are a little wonky for a Zapper game. They aren’t difficult to comprehend by any means, but I simply didn’t find it that comfortable to have to use both the controller for scrolling and the Zapper for firing at the same time. Thankfully the game was easy and short enough that it wasn’t a huge issue until the end boss. However, the controls combined with the short play time makes Shooting Range not that great of a game.

#127 – Shooting Range (Normal Game)

#127 – Shooting Range (Party Game)


#121 – To The Earth

Get your trigger finger ready, you are gonna need it!

Going to Earth? How hard could that be?

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/7/19 – 4/27/19
Difficulty: 10/10
My Difficulty: 10/10
My Video: To The Earth Longplay

Before starting this project, I had a pretty good idea of what the hardest NES games were going to be. I already had 10-20 games earmarked as potential 10/10s. To The Earth was on my radar but I was certain it would end up a 9/10 for me. As I struggled to make progress and the attempts piled up, I was won over to the idea of rating this a 10/10. It stands up as one of the hardest NES games and likely the most difficult Zapper game to beat.

To the Earth released in November 1989 in North America and in February 1990 in Europe. This NES-exclusive game was published by Nintendo and developed by Cirque Verte. There is very little known about the developer of this game. Evidently Cirque Verte was discovered in copyright records as the author of To The Earth. This is the only game credited to them. I can’t figure out if Cirque Verte is a company or if it is a pseudonym for the actual developer. Very strange.

The story for To The Earth takes place in the year 2050. Earth is under a biological attack from the Raggosians. You are in the cockpit of a spaceship called The Tempest. Your mission is to collect resources from Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon so that you can create an antibacterial agent to defend society from the Raggosian attack. The enemy is relentlessly trying to stop The Tempest from its journey, so you must use your Zapper to fend off the enemy. There are four levels in the game that you must clear to beat the game.

Many passive enemies start off this journey.

This is a very simple game to control and play. To start, plug the Zapper into the second controller port and optionally plug a normal controller into the first port. You can control the game entirely with the Zapper. You fire to start the game and fire to begin each mission. The only thing the controller is used for is to pause the game by pressing Start. When enemies appear on screen, shoot them with your Zapper. You can let most enemies go by harmlessly. Many enemies fire missiles that you can destroy with your Zapper.

The game takes place from the perspective of the cockpit of The Tempest. Therefore, the lower part of the screen contains your ship’s data. You can see the score, destination, and how many minerals you have collected. The most important thing to pay attention to is the yellow energy bar in the center of the dashboard. This is your lifeline and primary mechanic in the game. You lose some energy if you get hit by an enemy or a missile. You gain energy back if you shoot an enemy ship. You lose a little bit of energy if you shoot and miss. You don’t gain or lose any energy whenever you shoot and destroy an enemy missile. You are beaten when you run out of energy, so with the way the system is structured your best chance for success is to shoot as many things as possible as accurately as possible.

There are some pickups that will help. Periodically, a friendly ship will fly across the screen from right to left. There is an E icon in the lower left that appears here. Shoot the E to restore half of your energy. Do not shoot the friendly ship! If you do, you lose a ton of energy. Sometimes a comet will appear on the right side of the screen. Shoot the comet to earn a barrier shield. This lets you take several enemy missile hits without losing any energy. The dashboard changes colors as you suffer damage and when it is red it means you have one hit remaining before the shield is gone. The final item is the smart bomb. You earn this after defeating so many enemies when you are at full energy. The bomb appears blinking in the lower right corner when you have one. Simply shoot the smart bomb to destroy all enemies and missiles on screen. You also earn energy for each enemy defeated just like normal, so the smart bomb is best utilized whenever multiple enemies are on screen.

Just shoot the energy capsule, not the ship.

The game starts off gently. The first stage isn’t that difficult. Some enemies here move pretty quickly but many of them don’t attack you. You will get your first taste of enemy missiles and shooting them down to defend yourself. You get some opportunities to refill your energy and get your barrier shield. At certain times, the screen will flash an alarm and display either Condition Yellow or Condition Red. This is the game’s way of giving you a natural pause. You can sit on this screen for as long as you want, then shoot the Zapper to continue playing. Each level ends in a boss fight. These are the only encounters in the game that take multiple hits to destroy. The first boss is Tri-Opticon, which naturally has three segments you have to destroy.

The second level ramps things up a bit. Most enemies shoot missiles, and some enemies fire more than one missile. I found this level provided the best chance of defeating enemies just as they show up but before they fire at you. This level also introduces the asteroid field. These parts generate a series of asteroids. The lower ones will hit and damage your ship, so make sure to identify and shoot those down. The end-level boss is Zambuka, a long space snake. This level can be tricky but I handled it well.

The third level is where the game gets hard. You start off with a lengthy series of ships that all fire missiles. This part can down you in a hurry if you start missing shots. This level introduces the hyper missile, which is hands down the most difficult thing to deal with in the entire game. These missiles look like spiky balls and move about twice as fast as the normal missiles. You can shoot them down but the timing is very difficult and you need to anticipate where they originate from on the screen to have a real chance of defending yourself. The boss here is Gyron that is surrounded by mini-satellites. I’ll say more about the final level a little later but suffice it to say it is incredibly difficult. The final boss and last line of Raggosian defense is Nemesis.

After each stage, you see a screen that contains for each stage your score, number of shots taken, number of hits, and your accuracy percentage. You also get a total of those columns for the entire game and you get your overall high score at the top. You get the same screen if you lose a level by running out of energy. You are allowed to continue two times at the start of the level where you died.

Often it’s best to shoot only the missiles.

To The Earth was a game I had in my childhood collection. We might have bought this game brand new for cheap, but I can’t remember. I played a few levels of it casually. A couple of years ago, in the Nintendo Age forum thread where everyone collectively beats every NES game, this was the last game remaining. I worked on it for a few days until someone else finished it up. My best progress at that time was near the end of Level 3. This is a cheap, common cart that should cost no more than $5.

The difficulty curve in this game is very severe. It is a gentle curve up until the start of the third level. That first onslaught can be tough but I rarely had issues with it. The introduction of the hyper missiles is what bumps this game up to 10/10. There are a few in the middle of the level but you can just take the hit and be alright. Before the boss there are multiple enemies that all fire hyper missiles. Here there are too many to absorb so you have to fire away and hope for the best. If you can make it past that, the final level is the ultimate test. Nearly every enemy fires hyper missiles. If you can’t defend yourself, you will lose energy very quickly and that’s that. That last level is one of the nastiest single levels I’ve ever played in a game.

My past experience gave me a good start this time. In fact, I don’t think I failed out once in either of the first two levels. The final part of Mission 3 was the first place I got stuck. I needed somewhere around five to ten tries from the start to finally clear Level 3. Keep in mind that since you get two continues, that could have meant I took as many as 30 attempts just at that one part. The final level was even worse. Much worse. I had trouble getting through the first part of the stage with just the normal missiles. After that, everything shoots the hyper missiles for the rest of the time. My accuracy in the first three missions was close to 90%, but with the hyper missiles that dropped to about 75% for that final mission. It is a lengthy stage too just like the others. I spent about two weeks making attempts on that final stage. I could consistently reach Mission 4 with all continues intact. I estimate I played that final level 60-80 times before finally winning. This is another case where I wish I kept better track of my attempts. Either way, that is a significant amount of time. My winning run came on my last attempt that session and on my last continue. I had went to sleep early and woke up wide awake in the middle of the night after about four hours of sleep. So, like any responsible person would do, I got up and played some To The Earth. I beat the game at 3:30am and it was tough to fall asleep after riding that victory high.

If you can even reach this boss, you are doing well.

The thing that makes To The Earth beatable is that the game is almost completely predictable. Enemies approach from the same direction, make the same movements, and fire missiles at the same time. Missiles always move at the same trajectory, and subsequent waves of enemies always come in the same order with the same timing. It’s entirely scripted, is what I’m trying to say. You can use that to your advantage to predict when and where enemies appear. A lot of times you can take out enemies when they are just specks in the distance before they get close enough to fire missiles. In some cases that was mandatory to keep from dying. I found that the game was very rhythmic. I would match my movements and trigger timing to the enemy’s approach. That was particularly helpful when trying to defend against a series of hyper missiles. The only thing I found in the game that was not predicable was that sometimes the game would not pause on the final Condition Red in the fourth stage. It was too easy to let my guard down there and that got me in trouble more than a few times.

When I was struggling to figure out the final level, I got some advice from another player who had beaten the game. He recommended I mess around with the settings on my TV. The claim was you can put the settings in a way that makes it much easier to hit the targets. The manuals for Zapper games do recommend adjusting the brightness and contrast on the TV so that the two can work together as intended. The wrong settings can cause the light gun not to pick up on direct hits, which obviously would be frustrating. On my TV, I already had the brightness turned all the way up and there was no contrast setting. I was hoping to introduce some blur to the image that might give the enemies a larger hitbox. After messing with the TV settings for a while, my results were inconclusive. This is a dark game, so it does make sense to turn the brightness all the way up on the TV. Maybe my settings were already optimal from the start since the hitboxes seemed to be generous enough. It’s just something to keep in mind in case you want to play.

Swarms of enemies with hyper missiles are the worst.

Now it’s time to see how this game stacks up against the other 10/10s. This one is tough for me to decide because all games are very different from each other. I have chosen to put To The Earth as #3 on my current list. My first two are set and are probably going to be at the top together for a long time. I am really trying to compare To The Earth and High Speed and these two games aren’t alike in any way. To The Earth is a 20 minute game and High Speed took me over two hours, but To The Earth took so many more attempts at just one singular level. I think that’s the determining factor to me. You have a lot more leeway with High Speed and all the extra balls you can earn, permitting you to make more mistakes and retry some of the boards multiple times to get the win. You don’t get that breathing room with To The Earth. It’s a close call, but I’d say To The Earth is the more difficult game. Here is my current 10/10 ranking board:

Ikari Warriors
To The Earth
High Speed

To The Earth is a very difficult game, but it is a pretty good Zapper game. The graphics are average I would say. The enemy sprites look detailed and there are several frames of size of each one when you see them from the distance. Backgrounds are usually just stars but you do get to see the planets as you approach the bosses. The music is simple and mostly quiet, but it is fine. You really need a good Zapper with a strong trigger to play this game. That is especially evident during the bosses where you have to drain dozens of shots into them. The main drawback to the game is the high level of difficulty, and also have the proper setup of CRT TV and a Zapper. Even casually it is enjoyable for at least the first couple of levels as a pure target shooter. There is enough depth and strategy to it if you really want to dive in. This was a good accomplishment for me. I just hope there aren’t any harder light gun games after this one.

#121 – To The Earth


#75 – Laser Invasion

Ward off the invasion in several different ways!

It’s not every day you see a white title screen on NES.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 2/24/18 – 2/28/18
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Laser Invasion Longplay

I been plugging away at Take On The NES Library for over two years now, and I only have a little over 10% of the library completed. That is still a significant number of games with a wide variety of titles since I insist of having the bulk of these games chosen randomly. Laser Invasion at its core is a multi-genre game, but it just so happens that I’ve already beaten and written about enough games to make some comparisons and approximate what you get out of this game. Laser Invasion is part Top Gun, part Operation Wolf, and part Golgo 13. It’s even one of the few titles to support the Zapper. Let’s jump in and see what this game is all about.

The Famicom game Gun Sight was released in Japan in March 1991. The NES version was localized to Laser Invasion and was released in June 1991 in North America. It was developed and published by Konami in both regions. Laser Invasion was not released in PAL territories and is an exclusive game to the NES and Famicom. The name change for the NES version was likely done to tie this game to Konami’s Laserscope peripheral that launched at the same time.

I had no idea before starting this game that Laser Invasion is the only NES game to fully support the Laserscope peripheral. The Laserscope is a headset controller that functions like the NES Zapper. You start by plugging the Laserscope into the second controller port, and then you plug the attached audio cable into the audio port on the NES itself. The headset has speakers so that you can hear the game audio while wearing it, and the audio cable also powers the Laserscope so you don’t need batteries. It also comes equipped with a microphone. While playing a game, you use the attached sight to line up a target and then yell “Fire!” into the microphone to shoot. Basically, this is a set of headphones with a built-in voice-activated Zapper. It sounds neat, but in practice it doesn’t work too well. The Laserscope fires whenever the microphone picks up any sound so it can misfire often. I bet it has the speaker built in so that the game audio through the TV doesn’t accidentally trigger a misfire. This is just hearsay; I don’t own a Laserscope. Thankfully it is not required to play this game.

See the mission you are forced to accept.

Laser Invasion is a multiple-genre shooter game. The Sheik Toxic Moron (yes, that’s that bad guy’s name taken straight from the manual) is set on world domination with his all-powerful weapon the TechnoScorch Missile. It is up to you, of course, to infiltrate the Sand Storm Command Center and stop these events from happening. To do this, you must take to the skies in air combat as well as engage in gun fights on the ground and search enemy bases to advance your mission. Complete all four missions to beat Laser Invasion.

On the title screen, you can start the game right away or set some options. Press Select to choose and then press Start. Within the option menu, you can turn the music off and on. You can either enable or disable reverse controls for your aircraft. You can also choose the input method. Control Pad is for using the controller only, LaserScope is for using both the LaserScope and controller, and Zapper is for the Zapper and controller. You can also choose if you want to have three, four, or five lives. There is also an option for LaserScope practice. I never tried this, but I think it is a calibration screen for positioning your LaserScope properly. Use the D-pad to toggle all these options to your liking, then press Start to go back to the title screen.

Laser Invasion has three different genres of gameplay, and since all of them are included in the first mission alone, I’ll step you through what that first mission is like. All missions begin with a cutscene providing you with the mission briefing. Then you will go flying in your helijet aircraft, but first you need to choose which missiles you want and which secondary item you want. For missiles, you can choose from either 40 weaker missiles, 20 medium missiles, or 10 strong missiles. The stronger missiles have wider targeting ranges than the weaker ones. For secondary weapons, you can choose one tank of extra fuel, five ground bombs for destroying ground targets, or ten chaff dispenses to temporarily protect you from enemy homing missiles. After everything is set, it’s time for takeoff.

The Top Gun vibe is strong here.

Aerial combat in the helijet is just like it is in Top Gun. This mode is always controller only. Use the D-pad to steer the helijet. Up or Down may be reversed if you chose that option. The B button fires your weapons. Your default is a vulcan cannon with unlimited, although weak, firepower. Hold down B to fire. If you get an enemy in your sights, there will be an arrow pointing at it. Then you can double tap the B button to launch one of your guided missiles at the enemy. You may press Select to toggle between your missiles and your secondary item, and you use your secondary item by also double tapping B. The A button reduces your speed. The default is automatic full speed ahead and the A button acts like your brakes.

The top half of this screen contains all the action and the lower half is your control panel with lots of useful information. On the left is your fuel meter. In the middle there are two kinds of radar. The left one is wide radar that covers the entire playfield and shows points of interest as well as the position and orientation of your helijet. The right radar is local radar which shows where enemies are around you, including from behind and the sides. Below the radar is a long bar that indicates the health of your helijet. The right side shows your missiles, secondary items, ammo for each, and your current flying speed.

As you fly, you are approached by enemy aircraft that you can take out with your weapons. Many enemies fire guided missiles that you need to either dodge or blow up with your own shots. There are also stationary objects that you just dodge. You can also steer left or right and fly in any direction. Each flying area is its own contained open world and you can fly anywhere within the radar screen. On the wide radar, you will see a white circle in the upper left of the first mission. These mark enemy bases and you want to visit them to complete your mission. There is a plus mark around the middle of the map and this is your allied heliport, where you can refill your fuel and weapons if you want.

Hope you like missiles in your boss fights!

In the first mission, when you approach the enemy base you are greeted with an enemy helicopter. This is one of several challenging boss battles. The parts you can shoot are highlighted by the targeting arrow, so you can either use missiles or your cannon on those spots while also avoiding or shooting the enemy’s missiles. Destroy the enemy helicopter to move on to the next part. In this case, you go right back to flying. You want to center yourself over the enemy base and land there. If you fly over a place where you can land, and all enemies are out of the way, you will approach the heliport. Here you want to slam on the brakes and stop above the heliport to switch to the landing sequence. The view switches to looking down over the helipad. Use the D-pad to center yourself and press and hold A to ascend if you need it. You want to land close to the large plus in the center of the helipad, but cross winds don’t always make that easy. Just take your time. It doesn’t matter how fast you are falling because you can’t crash. If you make a poor landing, you get sent back to the skies and you have to try docking with the heliport again. When you land properly, you exit the helijet and move on to the next phase.

Now that you’ve landed, you hop out of the cockpit and get your gun ready. This next playstyle puts you in first person view and you shoot your way on foot to the enemy base. This part of the game is very similar to Operation Wolf. The playfield scrolls slowly to the right and as enemies pop up you shoot them with the controller you chose on the options screen. If you are playing with a controller only, you control a crosshair and can fire with the B button. With either the LaserScope or the Zapper, just aim and shoot. You will see your health meter, ammo count, and any items from the bases on the lower part of the screen. Aside from the different kinds of enemies, there are a few items to help. Crates appear periodically and you can shoot them to reveal either a heart or more ammo. Then shoot the icon to collect it. Hearts refill your entire health meter, and the ammo puts you back at the max of 99 shots. I found out that ammo drops always appear when you have 15 bullets or fewer. You are never in danger of running out of bullets unless you somehow skip the refill. There are also red barrels that destroy all enemies when shot. At the end of this section, you reach the enemy base. The door opens and you automatically enter.

Just blast away!

The enemy base is where the third gameplay style takes place. This is what the manual refers to as the 3-D Confusion Maze. If you remember the mazes from Golgo 13, this is what I’d consider an improved version of them. Press Up on the D-pad to take a step forward, or press Left or Right to turn in that direction. Press A to open doors right in front of you. The top half of the screen shows the corridors in the base from a first-person perspective. The lower left of the screen contains a mini map of the entire base. Each base segment is uncovered on the map as you step from screen to screen. That’s an incredibly helpful feature. The lower right of the screen displays your health, ammo count, items collected, and any messages you might come across.

Occasionally the music changes when you reach certain rooms, which is the trigger for an enemy encounter. Battles are gunfights also using the LaserScope, Zapper, or standard controller, just like in the Operation Wolf style segments. The Zapper is quite cumbersome to use since you have to drop the controller and pick up the gun quickly to transition from exploration to gunfight. Like in the other sections, there are items found in the maze to help you. Some rooms have a crate in them and all you have to do it move next to it to grab the item. You can find more ammo for your gun or rations to restore your health. There are also special quest items such as keys. One difference with maze combat is that you can get in situations where you run out of ammo. If that happens, mash the A button to retreat to the room you came from. Enemy encounters always appear in the same places and the enemies are gone when you clear them out. There is enough ammo within the base to get you through. I never got stuck in a spot where I couldn’t locate extra ammo to proceed.

At one juncture of the maze in the first mission, a time bomb is set and you have to hurry out of the maze. You can’t go back the way you came in, so you have to find a new way. Once you do, you go back into the helijet and take off as the base explodes beneath you. This marks the end of the first mission. But in other missions, sometimes this puts you back in the sky because there are other mission objectives to finish. This means the pacing of the game is a bit inconsistent. The first mission seems lengthy enough, but it is short compared to some of the later missions.

The minimap makes these sections much more enjoyable.

Depending on your option setting, you have either three, four, or five lives to work with in Laser Invasion. If you run out of lives, you can continue up to five times. Where you restart largely depends on where you last died. Continuing within a base is the worst from what I recall since it sends you all the way back to the helijet before even approaching the base. Then it takes several minutes to get back to where you were. You can gain extra lives to help a bit, but these are tough to earn. Laser Invasion has a scoring system and points appear on screen before each mission or after you take a death. Every 100,000 points earns you an extra life, but it takes so long to score that high that you may never get one. I think the highest I scored was 150,000 points.

This was my first time playing Laser Invasion. This is a game I originally took off my main list and pulled back in here. I don’t like flight games and my first impression was that was all Laser Invasion had to offer. I did decide to leave Top Gun in my main list for some reason, and I figured if I could beat that then I could figure out Laser Invasion. I didn’t realize it was also a Zapper game plus had all these other play modes, so consider me pleasantly surprised. It’s not a common game, but it’s not super expensive, selling for around $10 to $15 for a loose cart.

I beat Laser Invasion in only five days. That surprised me. I decided early on that I would play this with the Zapper since I don’t own a LaserScope. There are only 16 licensed NES games that are compatible with the Zapper and it feels wrong to not use it. I did a few attempts with the controller just for practice. I think the controller by itself is the easiest way to play Laser Invasion. Zapper play was a bit more challenging, and I bet the LaserScope works well since you don’t have to keep switching between controller and Zapper on the fly. However, the parts with the Zapper were much easier for me than the flying. The same homing missiles that bogged me down in Top Gun are here again, but they are not as bad this time because they are larger in size and thus easier to shoot down. The boss battles and areas leading up to them ate up the most lives during the learning phase of the game.

I’m happy that landing isn’t that stressful.

Once I got some practice near the end of the game, I fully switched over to Zapper control and the three default lives. I was very close to beating the game on my penultimate attempt, reaching the final boss for the first time on my last life and then immediately dying. In my longplay video, I used two continues to beat the game. I was used to using up all five, so this was a good run. This was my first time recording footage of a Zapper game off my CRT and I think it turned out well.

I have a few tips to share for Laser Invasion. There are three options for the secondary item and the one you want is the extra fuel. The ground bombs were completely useless to me. The chaff can be helpful since it takes homing missiles out of play when you use it, but for the rest of the game you learn to deal with them anyway. The extra fuel is the most important because a couple sections in the game are so long they require the extra fuel to make it all the way through without dying. This is an awful design decision that you normally have to learn the hard way. Outside of those sections, the extra fuel is a good safeguard if you are having trouble lining up on the map to land at a base and need some extra time. I liked using the twenty medium missiles. They are powerful enough to be useful against bosses and there are enough of them that you can get away with wasting a few. To stop above the heliport, all you have to do is hold down A as soon as you begin making the approach. This should stop you early enough so that you can do a release and hold pattern with the A button to inch your way into position. Those tips should get you started with the flying, and the rest of the game falls into place from there.

Laser Invasion is a game that surprised me and I’m glad I played it. It’s a Konami game and they almost always make quality games, including this one. The graphics are excellent and so is the music. The game controls well with the controller, and performs well enough with the Zapper. I found the shooting hitboxes pretty generous to help keep up with the action. It’s a tough task to cover multiple play styles. I think the quality is there, but the pacing and difficulty are unbalanced. The Zapper stages are easy compared to the rest, and yet they drag on much longer than I would like. You can traverse mazes quickly until you get blocked by a lengthy shooting match. The flying is so much more difficult than the rest of the game with things like one-hit kills and boss fights. Trying to trigger a heliport can also be frustrating when enemies just don’t get out of the way. These are valid complaints that hamper the overall experience, but Laser Invasion is still a pretty neat game.

#75 – Laser Invasion


#35 – Hogan’s Alley

Do you have what it takes to shoot cardboard targets?

Take a shot at any mode!

To Beat: Finish Game A Round 30, Game B Round 4, and Game C Round 10
What I Did: Reached Game A Round 41, Game B Round 6, and Game C Round 11
Played: 10/17/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Today we have another Zapper game! It’s not just a Zapper game, but one of the revered “Black Box” NES games as well. The game box features a menacing looking gangster that you just want to blast away! Hogan’s Alley is an early game with some surprising history behind it for a game based on target shooting.

Hogan’s Alley was created in 1984 as a standalone arcade cabinet. The game featured a light gun peripheral attached to the machine that players use to shoot at targets. Hogan’s Alley was ported to the Famicom later in June 1984 and was the third light gun game on the system behind Wild Gunman and Duck Hunt. All three of those games were launch titles when the NES was first released in October 1985. Hogan’s Alley was eventually re-released on Wii U Virtual Console in Europe in October 2015 and in North America a few months later in January 2016.

The name Hogan’s Alley originated from an American comic strip of the same name way back in 1895. Hogan’s Alley is portrayed in the comic as a run-down neighborhood full of odd people. In the 1920s, the FBI opened a rifle training ground at the Special Police School and named it Hogan’s Alley. The school was shut down during World War II. In 1987, a couple of years after the release of the video game, Hogan’s Alley was established in Quantico, Virginia and it is used for tactical training by the FBI and other government organizations. This facility was designed to look and feel like a real small town with a huge fake crime problem. The FBI themselves claim that they chose the name Hogan’s Alley because the rough neighborhood in the original comic strip resembles the style of their training area. I’m just speculating, but possibly the old facility was named after the comic strip and they just carried the name over to the current facility. It is also pretty likely that this was the same reason why Nintendo chose Hogan’s Alley as the name for the video game.

Visual recognition is just as important as trigger speed.

Hogan’s Alley is a light-gun target game that requires the NES Zapper. There are three game modes selectable from the title screen. Game A is called Hogan’s Alley and looks like it takes place inside of a shooting gallery. In each round, three panels will scroll into view sideways so that you cannot see the face of the panels. Once all three come into view they will turn and face you. The object is to shoot each of the gangsters and avoid shooting the innocent bystanders. There are six different people that can appear. Three of them are gun-wielding gangsters that you should shoot, and the others are a lady, a professor, and a police officer that you must leave alone. You only get a short amount of time to fire before the panels flip back to the side. Afterward, the next round begins with three new panels. Each successive round changes the amount of time that the panels face you and this timer gets shorter the longer you play. If you fail to shoot a gangster or fire at an innocent bystander, this you get a miss. The game is over when you accumulate ten misses.

Game B is also called Hogan’s Alley but this time it takes place in what I can only assume is the location Hogan’s Alley. Here you face buildings in the alleyway and the panels emerge from the scenery one or two at a time. The objective is the same. Shoot the bad guys and leave the good people alone. After five panels are revealed, the view will scroll forward to reveal new scenery as well as five more panels. Each round has five different sections of five panels each before looping back to the beginning. Just like in Game A, each successive round has a shorter timeframe for active panels, you accumulate misses when you make a mistake, and the game ends after ten misses.

Keep out! You mean keep the bad guys out!

Game C is called Trick Shot and this game is different from the other two. Cans will emerge from the right side of the screen moving to the left while falling. Shoot the cans to bounce them upward in the air a bit. The goal is to prevent the cans from falling down off the bottom of the screen. On the left side of the screen are three ledges. You want to navigate the cans onto one of those ledges to earn points. The top ledge gives you 300 points, the middle ledge gives you 800 points, and the bottom ledge gives you 5000 points. The lower you go, you get more points at a higher risk of losing the can off the bottom of the screen. The cans will also ricochet off the sides of the ledges keeping them in play longer. There is a tiny safety platform toward the middle of the screen that the cans can land on as well but you only get 100 points for that. Each round has five cans. You get a miss if a can falls off the bottom of the screen and ten misses means the end of the game.

Hogan’s Alley does not have an ending in any of the game modes, so this one has an unclear winning condition. There are a range of potential choices. The easiest condition would be to break the high score of 12,000 in one or all of the modes, but that is a rather low bar to achieve in any mode. The most difficult one would be to loop the round counter. The game can go up to Round 99 before looping back to Round 0. I don’t think this is good either since the difficulty flattens out long before getting that high.

The winning condition I chose has to do with the periodic victory messages that Hogan’s Alley displays on screen. After winning so many rounds, the game will play a little melody and display the phrase “SHARPSHOOTER!” on screen. Play even further and you’ll eventually get the message “SUPER SHARPSHOOTER!” to appear. This is the best possible message you can get and you can see it over and over as long as you keep playing. Obtaining the “SUPER SHARPSHOOTER!” message is what I consider to be mastery of the game for that particular mode. To get this message, you have to complete Round 30 in Game A, Round 4 in Game B, or Round 10 in Game C. I wanted to achieve that in all modes.

Shooting an actual can has to be much more difficult.

My family never owned Hogan’s Alley growing up but I do remember playing it at some point during my childhood. My grandfather likes to hunt and he got into playing several Zapper games at one point, so that is probably where I remember playing it casually. I remember enjoying Trick Shot but that’s the only mode I remember playing.

It didn’t take me very long to beat Hogan’s Alley. I had a much easier time here than when I beat Operation Wolf so that experience probably helped. It did take me two attempts to clear Games A and B and I beat Game C on the first try. I ended up playing until I ended naturally. I reached Round 41 in Game A and Round 6 in Game B before failing out. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture the picture properly when I ended Game C and all I got was the high score. I didn’t take notes either and I’ve already forgotten exactly what I did from several months ago. I did capture an image of the end of Round 10, so I can say I made it to Round 11 for sure.

Hogan’s Alley is a fun Zapper game that doesn’t really offer much once you’ve mastered each mode. It was definitely neat for a launch game and having the novelty of shooting the bad guys (or cans) on the TV. Today, it’s a pretty good game as an introduction to using the Zapper, and that’s about it. I guess it could be fun if you want to chase high scores or compete against someone else. At best it is an average game, but there’s nothing wrong with that in my book.

#35 – Hogan’s Alley (Game A)

#35 – Hogan’s Alley (Game B)

#35 – Hogan’s Alley (Game C)

Operation Wolf Box Cover

#20 – Operation Wolf

Gun down the enemy forces in this Zapper-compatible version of the arcade classic.

Calm yourself before heading into terrorist territory!

To Beat: Beat all six missions to reach the ending
To Complete: Beat four loops
My Goal: Beat the game with the best ending
What I Did: Beat the game with the best ending and reached Loop 3 Mission 6
Played: 3/18/16 – 3/25/16
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10

It’s a landmark day for Take On The NES Library as I have come to the first Zapper game on my list. Operation Wolf is not one of the first Zapper games that comes to mind, but it’s a pretty good one and it looks to be a mostly faithful port of the arcade title.

Most people with knowledge of the NES from its heyday will certainly remember the Zapper peripheral. It was first released on the Famicom in 1984 as a pack-in with Wild Gunman. The Zapper later launched along with the NES in 1985 for use in launch titles Duck Hunt, Hogan’s Alley, and Wild Gunman. Perhaps it is most remembered for being part of the NES Action Set which included the Zapper and the ubiquitous Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo cart. The light gun has a gray color scheme that was changed to orange in 1989. This was done in compliance with changes in US gun regulations requiring toy guns to look like toy guns. The two Zappers are identical aside from the color differences.

The Zapper works by detecting the presence of light through a photodiode within the device. When the gun is fired, the NES draws a black screen on one frame followed by other frames of a black screen with white boxes indicating the location of the hittable objects. The zapper can detect the white light from the box drawn on-screen to determine if a target is hit. In the case of multiple targets, the game will show more frames like this with only a portion of the objects highlighted. This process is repeated until it can narrow down which target was hit.

Honest to goodness this is what the NES screen looks like when you pull the trigger

Honest to goodness this is what the NES screen looks like when you pull the trigger.

That explanation might be a little hard to follow but a possible example may help. Say there are four enemies on the screen and the trigger is pressed. The first frame will be an all black screen and the second frame is a black screen with white boxes placed on top of only two of the four targets. If the Zapper detects light this time, then it knows you shot one of the first two targets but it doesn’t know which one. The third frame draws the black screen and only one white box for one of those two targets. If the Zapper sees light on this frame then you shot the first target, otherwise if it doesn’t pick up light then you shot the second target. Going back to the second frame, if the Zapper doesn’t detect a hit, then it will draw white boxes on the next frame for the other two targets to see if you hit one of them. If so, then it will draw a fourth frame to determine which of those two was shot. If it does not detect a hit here, then it means none of the targets were hit because by this point all four were checked. If that is all still a bit murky, don’t worry! The basic idea is that the game will test half of the targets at a time for a hit and it keeps whittling it down until it can find the one you actually shot.

It’s worth mentioning that the first all black screen is really important. The Zapper can detect light from the television as well as light from other sources such as a light bulb. If the Zapper game doesn’t check for a non-hit at first, then there is nothing to stop you from aiming the gun at a light bulb tricking the game into thinking you are always making contact with a live target. TVs in the US run at 60 frames per second so it would be more or less impossible to shoot at a light bulb while rapidly turning it on and off to fake out an NES Zapper game.

The Zapper technology only works on older tube TVs called CRT TVs; the games are not playable on modern TVs such as LCD, Plasma, or LED televisions. The reasoning is that the Zapper is very dependent on the timing of the individual frames of video displayed on the screen as illustrated above. Newer TVs have additional processing time that results in lag where the actual picture on the TV appears one or more frames later than the NES recognizes. For most other games this slight delay is not noticeable, but since the Zapper is tuned to the timing of older TVs it causes the game to not register any hits at all when played on a modern television. Therefore, I had to use my CRT to play this game.

Now to get down to brass tacks.

Now that the Zapper talk is out of the way it’s time to talk Operation Wolf. Developed and published by Taito, Operation Wolf is an arcade game released in 1987. The arcade cabinet is fashioned with a mock submachine gun used to aim at the enemies and it contains a motor inside of the gun housing to simulate recoil. It was ported to many home consoles and computers, including the NES in 1989. This is the first Taito game covered for the blog. Taito published 26 NES games in total so they are one of the largest publishers for the console.

Operation Wolf is also a game series spanning four games. The second game, Operation Thunderbolt, was released in 1988 in arcades. It would see an SNES release several years later. There were also arcade titles Operation Wolf 3 in 1994 and Operation Tiger in 1998. Operation Wolf was also released in 2005 as part of Taito Legends as well as an NES Virtual Console release in 2008. Sadly, the Virtual Console version does not support the Wii remote as a Zapper.

The object of Operation Wolf is to survive six missions of infiltrating terrorist strongholds in order to save prisoners and take them back home to safety. Each mission has a number of enemy soldiers, tanks, helicopters, and boats that you must defeat before advancing to the next area. Enemies will run across the screen and you shoot them before they shoot you. If you hold B on the controller while shooting with the Zapper then you will fire a grenade that does a lot of damage within a wide range. The game also features controller support by way of a targeting crosshair on screen. Before the start of play you can choose either controller or Zapper, and if you choose controller you can also set the speed of the crosshair from one of five options. Use the D-Pad to aim the cursor, press A to fire your standard weapon, and press B to launch a grenade.

You’ll be under attack from all over.

On screen you will see a bunch of statistics. It shows the score, number of magazines as well as the number of rounds left in the current magazine, number of grenades, number of prisoners saved in later missions, and the number of enemy soldiers, helicopters or boats, and tanks remaining in the level. There is also a damage meter that nearly spans the entire bottom of the screen. The enemy counters represent your progress through the level. The stages keep going until either you destroy the number of enemies remaining or you take too much damage. They also end if you are completely out of ammo.

There are several powerups to help you out. Ammo is limited but you pick up extra magazines and grenades by shooting the icons for them on screen. A power drink with a letter P on it will reduce your damage meter. A bullet with the word “FREE” written on it will give you unlimited rapid fire for 10 seconds. Barrels explode just like grenades when they are shot. There are also crows, pigs, and chickens that travel across the screen in some of the levels. You can’t kill them but you can shoot them and they will occasionally drop extra ammo to help you out. There are also civilians and prisoners that run across the screen trying to head for safety. Don’t shoot them because if you do it will increase your damage meter.

There are six missions: Communication Center, Jungle, Village, Ammo Dump, Prison Camp, and Airport. In the arcade version you can play the first four levels in any order you like. Clearing all four will unlock the Prison Camp followed by the Airport. The NES version is linear so you must beat all six missions in order. There is also a sort of a seventh mission that appears randomly in between stages. If you see the message “Warning! The enemy has located you!” then that means you have to survive another round of enemy forces before reaching the next stage.

The levels are clearly laid out so you know what to expect.

Each level has something slightly unique about it. The Communication Center is the exception as it acts a little bit like a tutorial level. The Jungle has a boss fight at the end. An enemy is holding a civilian hostage and uses her as a body shield so you must be careful to aim for just the enemy. Completing the Village level heals you up quite a bit, and completing the Ammo Dump rewards you with a full complement of 9 magazines and 9 grenades. The Prison Camp features prisoners that run across the screen calling for help. Your task is to lead them across the screen to safety. There are five prisoners in total and each one will be chased by a knife soldier. He should be your primary target since he kills the prisoner if he reaches him. You can kill the prisoner with your weapons as well so be mindful of that. The game keeps track of each one you save. In the Airport mission, you must lead each prisoner to safety again that you helped in the prior mission. The ending you get depends on how many prisoners you save and you will lose the game if you survive all the missions without saving a single prisoner. The Airport ends with a final boss battle where you must destroy the enemy Hind helicopter. These things would all be spoilers if they weren’t spelled out clearly in the manual.

The game ends if you suffer too much damage, but you are allowed to continue once if you are defeated in any of the first four missions. There are no continues given for the last two stages. It’s frustrating to die at the end of the game but it is pretty short so it doesn’t set you back as much as it first seems. The manual indicates that Operation Wolf has four levels of six missions each. It means that the game loops right after you beat it and there are four total playthroughs of increasing difficulty. There is no difference in the ending when the game is beaten for the fourth time and it restarts the game at Loop 4 difficulty when finished, so it’s not really essential to beat the game four times in a row. One thing I noticed is that if you get Game Over and have to restart the game, then it will start you at the same difficulty loop you were on before. That acts like a continue in its own way.

This was my first time playing through Operation Wolf. I set up my CRT from out of storage whenever I started the blog so I haven’t played any Zapper games in a very long time. I have several Zappers but the one I was using has a loose trigger which didn’t feel great while playing. I recently purchased a R.O.B. set on eBay with all the parts for Gyromite for an excellent price, and that set included a Zapper that felt like it had never been used. I switched to that while playing and it will be my go-to Zapper from now on.

Do the right thing and help that man out!

It took me awhile to warm up to playing Operation Wolf with the Zapper. I simply was not all that good with it to start and it was wearing me out physically after a couple of attempts in a row. Firing grenades in particular was difficult to get comfortable with. I would aim and shoot with both hands which caused me to stumble around with my free hand looking for the controller’s B button whenever I needed to let off a grenade. I could get away with it because I played while sitting, but it would have taken me a lot longer to beat the game if I had to stand up and shoot the gun with just one hand. With two hands I could shoot both faster and more accurately.

Overall it took me around ten tries before considering Operation Wolf finished. I think I advanced farther and farther with each attempt. The game is pretty short and the health bar is generous enough to absorb some mistakes made with shooting, so I figured average difficulty is appropriate for completing one loop of the game to get the ending. The first time I beat it I managed to save three prisoners which rewarded me with the second best ending. My accuracy wasn’t quite up to snuff with just the zapper and I would shoot too many prisoners. I decided to play through again using the controller and the slowest cursor setting in hopes that I would be more accurate overall. I beat the first loop and saved four prisoners which was good enough for the best ending, and during my second loop I saved all five. That was the picture proof I kept. During the third loop I made it most of the way through the airport stage before running out of grenades. That left me too vulnerable to attack when I focused on the helicopters with just the standard weapon. I really had no chance and that leads me to believe that doing all four loops is best accomplished with the Zapper. And really, a Zapper compatible game should be played with it if possible.

Ugh did you really mean to shoot him!?

My intention from the beginning was to beat one loop of the game with the best ending since I knew there was no other reward for playing four times. It can be argued pretty easily that it should take all four runs to beat Operation Wolf considering it is called out that way in the manual, and I’m fine with that criticism if you happen to take that stance. In my opinion the game is long enough to justify a single loop.

Operation Wolf on NES looks to me like a well done port of the arcade game. Using the Zapper makes this one of the better ports by default and this game is quite playable and fun using it. The controller is okay in a pinch but not the best way to play the game. The graphics are alright. The brief story images between levels are well detailed and everything is clear during gameplay when it matters. There is not much sound to speak of which may be a turn off. There are only sound effects during game play, and the brief songs on the title screen and between levels are not that notable. For me, gameplay rules the day, and Operation Wolf is a fun game where that is concerned.

Operation Wolf Ending Screen

#20 – Operation Wolf