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Showing posts from January, 2021

Tennis: Yet another sports title

Tennis is the last sports launch title I'll be playing (sorry, 10-Yard Fight, no one likes you), and it's not awful. As with Soccer, I had such low expectations that I was not disappointed. Bits of Tennis are found in the game NES Remix, so I knew what to expect. I mean, it's tennis, so you're bouncing a ball back and forth across a net. The action is fast paced and challenging, which is why it's still somewhat enjoyable. Tennis mostly does what you'd expect: you control a player, who runs around hitting a ball back and forth over a net against a computer-controlled player. If you're quick enough, you can volley (hit the ball back without letting it bounce), but I found this usually resulted in the computer scoring against me. Eventually, either you or the computer will miss, and it's on to the next serve. I struggled to figure out how to actually get the ball to go where I wanted, so the whole experience felt random. You can choose the difficulty level

Soccer: Not that bad

Soccer is a lot like  Baseball . It's exactly what you'd expect: little, identical sprites play the sport in question, with few frills. Nevertheless, among the sports launch titles, I found Soccer the most enjoyable. Soccer offers you something approaching the level of control you want in a sports game. When you're in possession of the ball, you can use the d-pad to cycle through players, then press B to pass the ball to the one selected. On defense, the B button cycles through which player you control. The goalie always moves up and down with whatever player you're controlling, so you don't need to switch to him specifically. When shooting, you move a target arrow within the goal up and down in the same way. All this is a stark contrast to Baseball, where you can't control the outfielders at all. I find Soccer more enjoyable as a video-game sport because of its constant back-and-forth action. I played the game single-player, but I'm certain it's more fu

Pinball: Rudimentary fun

I owned both Pinball and Pin-Bot as a kid, both given to me by my dad (who I'm guessing liked pinball). The latter was more interesting, but I'd sometimes play Pinball just for the simplicity of it. The fun never lasted long, and unfortunately it's no more enjoyable today. Pinball has a top screen and a bottom screen, so as to simulate a full-length pinball machine. The most engaging part of the game is the bonus stage. Whenever the ball goes into the hole on the bottom screen, the screen switches to it. Now you control Mario, who carries a Donkey Kong girder over his head to keep the ball up as it bounces around furiously. Pauline (nowadays the mayor of New Donk City) paces overhead. Keep the ball alive long enough, and the floor below her opens up and she falls. Catch her and guide her to the ledge to hear a triumphant tune and gain 10,000 bonus points. The evolution of Pauline The rest of the game is standard pinball features, with bumpers, poker cards, and a slot machi

Ice Climber: Cool concept, atrocious execution

It looks cute, but beware. Ice Climber must be somewhat beloved because Popo and Nana have been characters in multiple Super Smash Bros. games. But playing the original game is an exercise in frustration. Which is a shame because the concept is cool. Instead of the usual left to right platforming, in Ice Climber it's vertical . Each stage is a mountain of eight levels (five visible at a time) to ascend. Parts of each level are made of ice you can smash with your hammer when you jump, thus creating gaps to jump through. The premise of the game appears to be that a condor keeps stealing your eggplants and carrying them away to the top of mountains! The top of each stage is a bonus area where you retrieve your vegetables (which, despite the singular animation, aren't always eggplants). Why do so many early NES games involve eggplants? What ruins this cute game is the atrocious  jumping mechanics. When jumping from standing still, your ice climber can move left or right only a sing

Hogan's Alley: It's no Duck Hunt

I once played Hogan's Alley in a Chuck E. Cheese's (back when it was primarily an arcade ). Years later, I sought to buy an NES copy, but never found one. Well, I have finally fulfilled that childhood wish (albeit on Wii U Virtual Console, using the Wii Remote). But after two decades, it was a bit of a letdown. Hogan's Alley launched alongside fellow "shooting gallery" games  Duck Hunt  and Wild Gunman . I'm sure I wasn't the only one who found the idea of shooting bad guys on my TV appealing. As in all these early arcade-style games, you can choose between multiple modes. In the first, you have a certain amount of time (sometimes less than a second!) to shoot the bad guys from a line-up of three. There is always at least one good guy (Lady, Professor, and Police) that, if you shoot, counts as a miss. Ten misses and you're done. Pretty simple, and not especially engaging. In the second mode, you are in the eponymous Hogan's Alley ( police shooting

Golf: Not great

Golf for the NES is a lot like Baseball : primitive. It is a solo-player game, you can't choose a character (supposedly the golfer is Mario, but he looks like some schmo), and there is only one eighteen-hole course. And there's no music . In terms of golf simulation, it is basic . First, you choose your club. It doesn't suggest a club for you, so you'd better know the basics of golf! In a way, this is better, because in later golf sims most players just use whatever club the game assigns. When you aim (except for putting), you have to choose between discrete options: straight ahead, left, father left, right, or farther right. Needless to say, this sucks. It sometimes necessitates using hooks (hit A a bit after the cursor returns to zero) and slices (hit it a bit before) to get the ball to go where you want. As with the lack of club suggestion, you can almost see this as a positive in that it forces you to be creative and thoughtful. Being golf, the goal is to set a low

Duck Hunt: Primal pleasure

Duck Hunt may be the most famous NES game that doesn't have Mario in it. For the 1988 holiday season, Nintendo created a combined cartridge of Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt that, together with a Light Gun, was bundled with the NES. The ability to play games in which you shoot a gun at targets on your television screen must have seemed exciting and innovative in 1985. And, frankly, it still holds up in 2021. Target practice is a basic human activity, and the NES does not so much simulate it as offer a medium on which to really do it.  The Light Gun (aka "Zapper") doesn't work on modern TVs because its light sensor depends on the timing of a cathode-ray tube drawing the picture line by line . Not wishing to see this beloved classic forgotten, Nintendo in 2015 re-released it on the Wii U by taking advantage of the Wii Remote's optical sensor. It doesn't sense the light from your TV, but rather infrared light emitted by a sensor bar (or, in a pinch, a lit candl

Excitebike: Not that exciting

Excitebike is one of the more beloved NES launch titles. It was one of the 30 games included in the fantastic NES Classic. It even has a level in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe ! But does the game hold up well today? First the good news. The basic concept of racing motorcycles off-road (motocross) works, and the controls are simple and smooth. This alone ensured it would be a hit in 1985. You hold A to go at normal speed, or B at turbo speed (but don't let the engine overheat!). Tracks have hurdles and rough patches to avoid, as well as speed boosts you can hit. When going over a ramp, you press ↑ to tilt the bike up for extra height. When you land, you need to make your tires even with the ground, so you don't go flying off. If this happens, your racer scrambles to get back on the bike, costing you several seconds. Regrettably, there is no two-player mode. You either play solo ("Selection A") or against computer-controlled racers ("Selection B"--who named these!?). Th

Clu Clu Land: Pac-Man's weird cousin

Clu Clu Land is a strange game. I never heard of it until I played NES Remix. It's kind of similar to Pac-Man. You control a fast-moving blowfish with hands (apparently named Bubbles) that turns by swinging around through a grid of poles. Moving Bubbles is frustrating. After a couple hours of play, I'm still not even close to having mastered controlling her. You can't just push ← to go left or ↑ to go up. You have to press and hold the absolute direction you want to turn in (up, down, left, or right-- not her left or right like turning a car). As long as you hold the button, she extends a hand in that direction and will grab the next pole and start swinging in that direction. For example, if you're moving upward, you could press ← to grab a pole, then release it to make a 90 degree counter-clockwise turn. To make a u-turn, hold it down a little longer till she's passed the first turn, then release. At the higher levels, she moves quickly, so it gets tricky.  So wha

Baseball: Bare-bones

Baseball was one of the NES's more popular launch titles because, well, it's baseball! A baseball simulator, no matter how primitive, was bound to be a success. But man is it primitive . My first encounter with Baseball was in the fantastic NES Remix  for the Wii U. You had to complete various mini-challenges, like hitting a home run. That was fun, but playing a whole game of NES Baseball is another matter. There is just so little to it. In particular, you can't even control the fielders. When pitching, you have to wait for a computer-controlled player to get the ball. Sometimes the outfielder closest to the ball just gives up pursuing it and turns back, leaving it to a farther-away player! Because the tiny, faceless, identical sprites don't change sizes regardless of their depth from the "camera," they often appear to be barely moving. Once someone finally gets the ball, you can control which base he throws it to. You can control pitching and batting well eno

Super Mario Bros.: Platforming perfection

There's no better place to start reviewing classic Nintendo games than with the original Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). My wife got me the new  Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch for Christmas, and the first thing I did with it was play through all 32 levels of Super Mario Bros. I've played this game so many times since I got my first NES as a young child that it's a breeze now, more muscle memory than anything else. And once you've played  Super Mario Bros. 35  on Switch and had to fight off screens absolutely full of Lakitus, the original seems absurdly simple! Super Mario Bros. is the first NES game I ever played, around the age of 5. And 35 years later, it's lost nothing of its original splendor and joy. I hope I won't offend any Atari fans, but I've always felt that games from that era (before the crash of '83 ) don't hold up today in the same way that some NES games do. Maybe that's nostalgia-induced bias an