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Castlevania: Frightfully fun

The Castlevania series is a mainstay of classic Nintendo games. Strangely, despite there being four, I never saw or played any of them! So I came into the first Castlevania game fresh, and I attest that it lives up to its reputation. Castlevania draws you in as soon as you turn it on. The title screen looks like a film reel, and when you start it plays a little cinematic of the hero, Simon Belmondo, entering Dracula's castle. The music and visuals are dark and realistic, in contrast to the light, cartoony look of Super Mario. Simon has a magic whip (à la Indiana Jones), which he uses to defeat all manner of spooky monsters. Vampire Bats, Zombies, Fish Men, Skeletons, Hunchbacks, Ghosts: this game has every horror stereotype you can imagine. Every three stages Simon faces a classic horror-movie boss: Frankenstein's Monster and Igor, the Mummy, the Grim Reaper, and finally Count Dracula himself. I feel sorry for myself having missed this back in the day because it sounds like eve

Super Mario 64: 25th anniversary

Today is the 25th anniversary of the North American debut of the Nintendo 64 and its headline game, Super Mario 64! Although the N64 didn't sell nearly as well as its predecessor consoles, Super Mario 64 lived up to its own legacy, bringing Mario boldly into the third dimension. Watch a video version of this review I didn't own an N64 as a child, so I only played multiplayer N64 games socially. As a result, I only played this Mario classic a couple times. That's why I was thrilled when it was re-released last year as part of Super Mario 3D All-Stars . I finally got to try it for myself, and I was not disappointed. It was tricky to get used to, though. Moving Mario in three dimensions is a lot harder than in two, especially when you have limited control of the camera! Mario doesn't always move in the precise direction you want, which can be problematic when he's on a tight ledge. And the control limitation has only gotten more frustrating with time, since modern game

BurgerTime: Playing with Peter Pepper and Mr. Pickle

BurgerTime is another classic arcade game that already looked dated when it hit the NES in 1987. I played BurgerTime on a PC a few times when I was a kid, and it definitely seemed primitive even then. Still, it's fun in a challenging kind of way. In BurgerTime you control a tiny chef named Peter Pepper, who is constructing hamburgers that dwarf him, all the while avoiding anthropomorphic food adversaries. They have very creative names: Mr. Egg, Mr. Pickle, and Mr. Hot Dog—whose small size suggests he's actually a cocktail wiener. Peter doesn't cook the burgers (maybe he did that before the game started); he only assembles them by causing their top bun, patty, and lettuce to fall down onto the bottom bun. The ingredients are already vertically aligned along various platforms. To make one fall, he need only walk across it, causing it to fall one platform, which also crushes any enemies below it. If an enemy is on it at the time, it falls down an additional platform and dest

Volleyball: The worst NES sports game?

Volleyball, Pro Wrestling , and Slalom constituted the second wave of games for the NES's sports series, which launched with 10-Yard Fight,  Soccer , Tennis , Baseball , and Golf . These games were popular in the early days of the NES, but they don't hold up today, and Volleyball is no exception. Watch a video version of this review As in those other games, the players are small, identical sprites. You can choose from several different teams, as well as men or women. I'm not sure if these changes are merely graphical, or if the different teams and genders have different difficulty levels. Different sources give conflicting information. It could be carefully tested, but honestly the game isn't worth it and it doesn't matter. This is in large part because the controls are bad. At any given time you control two or three players that move together. There's no easy way to tell who they are, which caused me frequent confusion and missed balls. This is probably the ga

Pilotwings: 30th anniversary

Pilotwings (like F-Zero ) was intended to show off the SNES's Mode 7 scaling graphics. Although its visuals hardly impress today, it looked amazing thirty years ago. How much fun it is to play is another question. Watch a video version of this review The game consists of a series of lessons (or Flight Areas), each of which requires completing objectives. Each objective uses a different vehicle, of which there are four: light plane, skydiving, Rocketbelt, and hang glider. You can do them in any order and are shown the objective, controls, and scoring criteria before you begin. When you complete a lesson, you receive a License Number that is actually a password, which I suppose is clever. The first lesson has two objectives. For the former, you have to fly the plane along a predetermined path (marked with green dots) and then safely land it on the runway. You're graded on accuracy, time, angle, and beam. The first instructor, Tony, tells you that you have 45 seconds, but don'

F-Zero: 30th anniversary

Among its SNES launch titles, Nintendo made sure to include two games that took full advantage of the system's Mode 7 scaling graphics. It needed to prove to parents right off the bat that it was worth spending $200 on a new system that couldn't play all the NES games they had already bought. One of those two games was a racing game called F-Zero (the other is Pilotwings ). Watch a video version of this review F-Zero is a great game. It feels like a classic racer (like Rad Racer ), but with the added gimmick of taking damage. When you hit a wall or other vehicle, not only do you get banged around but you lose some energy on your Power Meter. Your top speed decreases if you lose too much power. When the Meter hits zero, your car explodes! Energy can be regained each lap by driving over a special strip. This is called the Pit Row, so I guess in the 26th century, the pit crew refuels remotely from a ship that hovers overhead. Absorb the healing rays of the Pit Row. The game does a

Super Mario World: 30th anniversary

Thirty years ago today, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) launched in the U.S. Leading its small slate of launch titles was the much-anticipated Super Mario World, which in Japan was called Super Mario Bros. 4: Super Mario World . Video version of this review The SNES was a huge improvement over the NES, which is saying a lot since the NES itself was a revolution compared to the Atari 2600. The sound quality and color palettes mean the games still hold up beautifully in 2021, which is not exactly true of NES games. Granted, it can't do CD-quality music, but the 16-bit graphics have become the gold standard of 2D pixel-based designs and have been imitated in loads of retro titles (e.g., Axiom Verge , Blaster Master Zero , and the Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters). Furthermore, the technical capabilities mean the system can handle many sprites on screen at once without slowdown or flicker. It also has parallax scrolling and the system's signature Mode 7 scaling. Firing

Pro Wrestling: More than a meme, less than a classic

Pro Wrestling was the first and only wrestling game Nintendo ever made. It's become a bit of a cult classic thanks to its victory text: "A WINNER IS YOU." The game is somewhat impressive for 1987 but like many NES games doesn't hold up that well today. First, the good: the game features six playable wrestlers, each of whom has one or two special moves. King Slender, for example, can perform a backbreaker if you press A while grappling. This fact alone places Pro Wrestling well ahead of all the sports launch titles and both early fighting games ( Karate Champ and Urban Champion ). It is by far the best player-versus-player game I've played so far on the NES (though I only played against the computer). Not only are the characters unique, but they have personality and even stats screens that display when you start the game. Several are based on real 80's wrestlers (King Slender = Ric Flair; Giant Panther = Hulk Hogan; Fighter Hayabusa = Antonio Inoki, a famous

Dragon Buster: It's a bust

On paper, Dragon Buster sounds like a great Japanese arcade game: a side-scrolling dungeon crawler in which you (a boy named Clovis) slay monsters and wizards and collect potions, jewels, scrolls, and other treasure. But when I actually played it, I was disappointed. The stages (dungeons) are made up of hallways, monster rooms, elevators, and a few drops and ledges. Smaller enemies roam the hallways, but each room contains a big monster to fight, such as a Golem or the hilariously-misnamed Bishop, who is an ax-wielding fighting-man. When you defeat it, you collect an item, then continue on your way. In a certain room, defeating the monster will produce an exit instead. Some of the stages are labyrinthine. There are a total of twelve worlds (maps), and you have some choice of which dungeons to do. In the last dungeon of each map, you have to fight a fire-breathing Dragon. Each one has a different weak point that flashes red. The number of dungeons on each map varies greatly, from just o

Gradius (Nemesis): Classic space shooting

Gradius is a classic arcade port on the NES, up there with Pac-Man and Galaga . Released with the title Nemesis in American arcades at the end of 1985, it established a new sub-genre: the side-scrolling shooter. Konami brought it to the NES a year later (under its original Japanese title) with an outstanding port. Some compromises were made, such as removing the vertical-scrolling in some stages and the laser not going all the way across the screen, but it still looks and plays beautifully (flickering sprites notwithstanding). Nintendo's promise to bring fantastic arcade games into your living room was fulfilled. Left: arcade; right: NES In Gradius you control a space fighter jet called the Vic Viper that blasts away spacecraft, dodges myriads of bullets, and avoids obstacles. The gimmick of the game is that you choose which power-ups you want. Whenever you pick up a power-up icon, your menu option shifts to the right. The first option is speed-up, an essential first pick as the V