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Showing posts from January, 2021

NES 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

NES Soccer: Stay for the 8-bit half-time show

Soccer on NES is a lot like  Baseball  on NES: little, identical sprites play a rudimentary facsimile of the sport in question. Nevertheless, among the sports launch titles, I found Soccer the most enjoyable. NES Soccer offers you something approaching the level of control you want in a sports game. When in possession of the ball, you use the d-pad to cycle through players, then press B to pass to the selected player. On defense, B cycles through which player you control with the d-pad. The goalie always moves up and down with whichever player you control, so you don't need to switch to him. When shooting, the d-pad moves a target arrow displayed inside the goal up and down. All this is a stark contrast to Baseball, where you can't even control the fielders! Options! As in Baseball, you choose your team, though this is purely graphical. But in Soccer you can also choose the difficulty of the opponent. I was barely able to beat level 3 (of 5). You also choose the length of the g

NES Pinball: Basic ball bouncing, but a bit boring

I owned both Pinball and Pin-Bot as a kid, both given to me by my dad. The latter was more interesting, but I'd sometimes play Pinball just for the simplicity of it. The fun never lasted long, and 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 a bonus area. Now you control Mario, who carries a 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 will open up and she'll fall. If Mario catches her and guides her safely to the ledge, you'll 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 machine. They're f

Ice Climber: Cool concept, clumsy controls

It looks cute, but beware. Ice Climber is oft spoken of as if it were an NES classic, but playing it today 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 that Popo (and Nana for player two) must ascend, five of which are on screen at a time. Parts of each level are made of ice, which Nana and Popo can smash with their hammer when they jump. The premise of the game appears to be that a condor keeps stealing their eggplants and carrying them away to mountaintops. At the top of each stage/mountain lies a bonus area, where they retrieve the vegetables. Why do so many early NES games involve eggplants? What ruins this cute game is the atrocious jumping mechanics. When jumping from standing still, Popo and Nana can move left or right only a single block, which is 1/32 of the screen. While this may be more realistic than Mario's jump, it&

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 Game A, 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 Game B, you are in the eponymous Hogan's Alley ( police shooting range ), whic

NES Golf: Silent swinging simulation

Golf, like the NES's other sports launch titles, is a primitive though competent simulation of its namesake. In Golf, if you have a human opponent, you choose between match play (one point per hole you win) and stroke play (total score). When playing alone, Golf gives you no choices at all. There are no golfers to choose from. You must play as Mario (if he were just some schmo). There are no courses to choose from: every time it's the same eighteen holes. There are no difficulty modes or customizations. The golf simulation itself is basic but good. It doesn't suggest an appropriate club for you, so you need to know the basics of golf. I don't mind this because it makes you think instead of using whatever you're handed. The manual includes a chart of the maximum distance each club hits. Woods (W) drive the ball far down the fairway, whereas irons (I) hit the ball higher into the air for shorter distances. The lower the club number, the farther the distance. The stron

Duck Hunt: Primal pleasure

Duck Hunt may be the most famous NES game that doesn't have Mario in it. The ability to play games in which you shoot a gun at targets on your TV 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 really to do it.  Wii U remote Unfortunately, the Light Gun ("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 Duck Hunt on the Wii U, 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 you place below or above your TV. This approximates the original gameplay, but it doesn't feel as satisfying as pointing a gun directly at your TV. Duck Hunt is extr

Excitebike: Not that exciting

Excitebike is a beloved NES launch title. It was one of the 30 games included on the outstanding NES Classic. It even has a level in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe ! But does it hold up well today? First the good news: the concept of racing off-road motorcycles (motocross) still works, and the controls are simple and smooth. This alone ensured Excitebike 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. When going over a ramp, you press ↑ to tilt the bike up for extra height. When you land, you need to make the bike's tires even with the ground or it will crash and the rider will fly off. If this happens, he 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"). Mode A is good for practicing

Clu Clu Land: Pac-Man's weird cousin

Clu Clu Land is a strange game I had never heard of until I played NES Remix . It's a maze game (kind of like Pac-Man) in which you control Bubbles, a fast-moving blowfish with hands, who can change directions only by grabbing poles and swinging around them. Moving Bubbles is counter-intuitive. You can't just push ← to go left or ↑ to go up; instead you have to press and hold the absolute direction you want to turn in, 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. When she does so, she swings in that direction. For example, if you're moving upward, you could press ← to grab a pole to the left of her (regardless of whether she's moving upward or downward at the time), then quickly release it to make a 90 degree counter-clockwise turn. To make a u-turn, keep holding the direction until she's passed the 90-degree mark, then release. Describing this in words is about as confu

NES 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, in which you complete mini-game 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 enou

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