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Super Xevious: The Mystery of GAMP: Can you solve it?

The 1984 arcade game Super Xevious received a Famicom-exclusive spin-off of the same name but with the sub-title "Ganpu no Nazo," which translates to "The Mystery of GAMP." GAMP is an acronym for General Artificial Matrix Producer, the final boss of Xevious and Super Xevious. GAMP's "mystery" (or puzzle) refers to how each level requires the completion of a hidden objective to proceed. The level keeps looping until you do it. The first level, for example, requires you to fly your ship (the Solvalou) into a random cloud. The second level requires you to rescue another ship (called Phantom). None of the objectives are off-the-wall, and several are just destroying all the ground targets. As in Xevious, you shoot your gun with B and lob bombs at ground targets with A. The actual shooting part of the game is not too difficult. The enemies never overwhelm you, and there are rarely too many bullets to dodge. That's not to say that the game is easy . I hav

Urban Champion: The first and worst NES fighting game

Urban Champion was the first fighting game to arrive on the NES. (The launch title Kung Fu , though it influenced the fighting genre, is a one-player beat-'em-up.) Within months it was surpassed by a port of the popular arcade game Karate Champ , because Urban Champion is just bad . The word primitive does not do this justice. Urban Champion has even less depth than Tennis , Soccer , Pinball , Golf , and Baseball , and those are all very bare-bones affairs. The game is just two palette-swapped fighters punching each other until one is pushed into a man hole. B throws a hard punch and A a light punch (barely faster). If you hold ↑ while punching, the blow is directed at the head instead of the torso. Holding ↑ or ↓ without attacking blocks the head and the torso, respectively. There is no kicking, jumping, throwing, or special moves. There is a stamina value at the bottom of the screen, but I have no idea what it indicates. The "champions" move back and forth along a multi

Mach Rider: Mad max speed

Mach Rider is another NES game I'd never heard of before beginning this retro quest. It's a post-apocalyptic motorcycle game that was clearly inspired by the Mad Max movies. You ride your bike along desolate highways with ruined cityscapes, shooting at alien invaders in vehicles called Quadrunners. The game is challenging because of the Quadrunners, especially when they come up from behind and ram into the Mach Rider, smashing him to pieces. Weirdly, he re-assembles after being destroyed, which is part of the futuristic storyline. Most video games don't bother to explain how you have multiple lives, so it's kind of neat. After the starter course, you only get three lives but earn a bonus life after every third course. Fortunately, the game includes a "Solo Course" that lets you practice courses without any Quadrunners. You can play this way to get used to the controls and courses. The game's main mode (called "Fighting Course") has ten unique cou

TwinBee: Double your pleasure, double your gun

When I was playing early Famicom games, I accidentally skipped TwinBee (because I saw its later re-release date for the Disk System). It is a port of a 1985 arcade game that never left Japan. TwinBee was Konami's answer to Namco's Xevious . As with many early arcade titles, the NES only got the sequel, Stinger (whose Japanese title translates to "Burning TwinBee: The Rescue of Dr. Cinnamon"!). TwinBee Famicom cartridge TwinBee is a vertical-scrolling shoot-'em-up. It uses a cutesy style ("cute-'em-up"), so the enemies are things like kitchenware and flowers. The game's main gimmick is that power-ups are gained through color-changing bells. When you shoot certain clouds, a yellow bell flies out. If you catch it, at first you get a mere 100 points, but their value increases sequentially to a maximum of 10,000 points. If you let it fall through the bottom of the screen, it resets to 100 points. But you can also "juggle" the bells by shoot

Mario Bros.: Plumbers' pest program

The original Mario Bros. arcade game holds a special place in my heart because I played it once when very young at Chuck E. Cheese. It had already been succeeded by Super Mario Bros. , but it still seemed so cool to me. Mario Bros. introduced Luigi and established the brothers as plumbers (in Donkey Kong Mario was a carpenter). This is shown through iconic green pipes in the corners. The goal of the game is to clear the screen of "pests" by jumping and hitting them from below, then kicking them away before they flip back over. There are three main enemies: Shellcreeper (a turtle, the predecessor of Koopa Troopas), Sidestepper (a crab), who becomes fast when hit and must be hit again, and Fighter Fly, who jumps. Each time you clear a pest, a bonus coin appears. Fireballs also bounce around the screen. A POW Block can be hit three times to flip over all enemies (except Fighter Flies in mid-jump), collect coins, and elminate Fireballs. You can't rely on this, however, as it

Donkey Kong Jr. Math: Ready for some long division?

To market the Famicom in mid-80's America, when video game had become a dirty word to retailers, Nintendo branded it an "Entertainment System." Advertising strongly emphasized the R.O.B. and Light Gun. It wasn't a video game system, it was a fancy robot and video gun toy! Which also happened to play video games. This is also why they redesigned it so that the cartridge went into a hidden slot, so that it looked like a VCR instead of an Atari VCS. Similarly, Donkey Kong Jr. Math was supposed to prove the NES could also be educational. All "Black Box" games were divided into series, but DK Jr. Math ended up being the sole title in the "Education Series"! However, it wasn't Nintendo's only foray into educational gaming. In 1994, they released five educational titles starring Mario for the Super Nintendo, two of which also appeared on the NES ( Mario Is Missing! and Mario's Time Machine ). The main game of DK Jr. Math ("Calculate"

Donkey Kong 3: “Did someone call for an exterminator?”

Donkey Kong 3 may be the video-game equivalent of The Godfather, Part III. After two  Donkey Kong Classics , Nintendo put out something of a dud. It didn't help that DK 3 hit arcades in 1983, the year when the bottom fell out of both the arcade and home-console markets. This bad timing may have doomed an otherwise decent game. DK 3 changes out Mario for an exterminator named Stanley (from the Game & Watch game Greenhouse). The game is unique in that it combines platforming with vertical shooting. Stanley can jump up and down between three platforms. His weapon is a can of bug spray with which to shoot various bees and other critters, but he can only shoot two sprays at a time, and it has limited range. A screen can be cleared either by destroying all insects or by forcing a dangling DK to the top of the screen by spraying him repeatedly. Even if you focus on the bugs, you need to spray DK occasionally or he will fall on you. Bonus points are obtained by preventing the bees from

Donkey Kong Jr.: Family fun

Donkey Kong Jr. may not be as famous as its parent, but as a child I preferred it, perhaps because I identified with the hero being a child himself, on a journey to rescue his father. Or maybe I just liked it because it's easier! Donkey Kong Jr. hit arcades in 1982. As a sequel, it wasn't groundbreaking, and Nintendo sold only a fraction as many as the original. Nevertheless, it mixed up the formula enough to stand on its own. In addition to some platforming, it has a lot of vine-climbing. DK Jr. can climb a single vine or two at once, with his arms spread. He can slide down a single vine quickly, but to ascend quicker, two vines are better. Unfortunately, the vine-climbing is not especially fun, which is probably why this game didn't spawn an entirely-new genre of games called "climbers"! The story is that Mario has DK in a cage, so his son must rescue him. The opening scene (sadly not included in the NES version due to limited storage capacity) actually shows tw

Donkey Kong: Nintendo's $800 million gorilla

Like Space Invaders and Pac-Man before it, Donkey Kong was an incredible success when it hit arcades in 1981. It made Nintendo hundreds of millions of dollars and put them on the video game map. It is the reason Nintendo began working on a home console, with the express purpose that it be able to "play a mean game of Donkey Kong." Ironically, the game was created due to a failure: Nintendo of America had thousands of unsold Radar Scope cabinets, and they asked Japan for a new game that could be put into them. Thus was born Donkey Kong, the first game ever designed by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto. In Donkey Kong — whose bizarre name supposedly results from Miyamoto having looked up the Japanese words for "stubborn" and "ape" in a Japanese-English dictionary — you control a carpenter named Jumpman. During the American release, Nintendo began calling him Mario, the name of their Seattle landlord, Mario Segale . Mario's girlfriend, Pauline, has been kid

Balloon Fight: Joust right

Despite being a very creative company, one of Nintendo's earliest NES games was a blatant rip-off of the 1982 arcade smash Joust (which itself came to the NES in 1988). In Balloon Fight, instead of knights on flying ostriches knocking each other off their mounts, people carried aloft by balloons pop up each other's balloons. An arcade-style game, Balloon Fight takes you through three beginner levels, followed by nine more difficult levels (which then loop). Gameplay never varies: you knock down the other balloon fighters by colliding with them from a higher altitude, then knocking them off a platform before they can re-inflate their balloon. Occasionally, lightning-generated sparks must be avoided. Bubbles come up from the water below, which can be popped for bonus points. Get too close to the water, and a giant fish may spring out and eat you! Every three levels there is a bonus stage where you try to pop twenty balloons coming out of four pipes. If you don't miss any, you


Balloon Fight – 198,150
Balloon Fight (Balloon Trip) – 42,550
Battle City — 40,600
Clu Clu Land – 28,350
Dig Dug – 26,640
Donkey Kong – 26,700
Donkey Kong Jr. – 32,300
Donkey Kong 3 – 161,400
Galaxian* – 20,350
Ice Climber – 40,770
Mach Rider (Fighting) – 27,140
Mach Rider (Endurance) – 70,280
Mappy* – 36,960
Mario Bros. - 95,160
Pac-Land* – 57,100
Pinball (A) – 44,830
Pinball (B) – 81,950
Tower of Druaga – 120,790
TwinBee – 267,550
Wrecking Crew – 84,800

*Famicom version