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Showing posts from February, 2021

Pac-Land: An early side-scroller starring Pac-Man

Namco made a wise decision when they passed over Pac-Land in favor of its 1980 predecessor Pac-Man for the NES. I expect Pac-Land attracted a fair amount of attention when it appeared in arcades in 1984. Not only did it feature one of the most popular video-game characters ever, but it introduced an entirely-new and exciting style of gameplay: side-scrolling platforming! Instead of navigating the same maze endlessly while gobbling up pellets, Pac-Man now has arms, legs, and a jaunty little hat! His new, anthropomorphic form was based on the Saturday morning cartoon . The ghosts, Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde, are still around, only now they employ cars, pogo sticks, airplanes, helicopters, and flying saucers in their quest to capture our yellow protagonist. Sue (from Ms. Pac-Man) slowly pursues Pac-Man, acting as a kind of timer. Gameplay is straightforward: Pac-Man runs and jumps over obstacles and ditches, while avoiding ghosts and grabbing fruit for bonus points. The occasional Po

Battle City: War is fun

Battle City was a Famicom sequel to a 1981 arcade game called Tank Battalion. I don't know why it wasn't brought to the US because it's super fun! The gameplay is simple: you control a tank and have to destroy the enemy tanks while protecting your base. There are 35 levels, which loop if completed. There's good variety in the levels; there are forest tiles that obscure tanks, brick walls that can be destroyed, water, and unbreakable walls. As a fun Easter Egg, a few of the maps form an image. Recognize this guy ? To clear a screen, you must destroy twenty tanks, up to four of which appear at a time. Some can be destroyed with a single shot, whereas others are heavily armored. They move around more or less randomly, while making toward your base, which has only a brick wall for protection. If your base is destroyed, it's an instant Game Over, so you have to keep one eye on it constantly. You can only shoot one shot at a time (like in Galaxian ), so the best strategy

Tower of Druaga: Tower of rage

Being an RPG fan, I tried hard to like The Tower of Druaga. A hit in Japanese arcades, it flopped in the U.S. and thus never got an NES version of the Famicom port. I can understand why: playing this game is an exercise in repetitive frustration.  The Tower of Druaga is what you get when you turn Pac-Man into an RPG dungeon-crawler. There are sixty mazes through which you must navigate the mythical hero Gilgamesh while slaying or avoiding enemies. Each stage has a locked exit and a key. Gil can kill enemies with his sword by holding A, but when doing so he puts to one side his shield, which normally protects his front from the projectiles of Magicians and Ghosts. Unlike later RPGs, there are no experience or hit points, so it's a steady stream of one-hit kills. I can only imagine how many 100-yen coins this game devoured. As with  Mappy and Dig Dug , the switch to a horizontal aspect ratio required the Famicom port of The Tower of Druaga to decrease the height of the levels. Where

Dig Dug: One-screen wonder

Now here's a famous one! I played Dig Dug in an arcade in the 2000's, and I'm sure there are still more than a few out there, bringing in the occasional quarter. You can even pick up a modern Dig Dug + Dig Dug II "counter-cade" (arcade machine that sits on your counter) for about $150! Dig Dug debuted in 1982, and Japan got a Famicom port in 1985. Like other early Namco games (save Pac-Man ), it was passed over in the States in favor of its sequel. In hindsight, this was a mistake, as Dig Dug is far more popular. The Famicom cartridge Dig Dug's charm comes from its quirkiness. You control a little guy who digs rapidly through the ground, searching for fire-breathing dragons (called Fygars) and goggle-wearing Pookas to inflate with a pump until they pop like balloons! You can also undermine rocks so that they fall onto enemies (or yourself, if you're not quick!). There are twelve similar levels, which loop continuously. The world record was set by Donald H

Mappy: A great mouse detective game

Next up in my list of Famicom games is Mappy, a cat-and-mouse game. Mappy first landed in American arcades in 1983. It must not have been very popular, as few people today seem to remember it. Mappy is similar to Pac-Man in that you move through a maze-like structure (a house), collecting items (stolen goods), and avoiding enemies (cats called Meowkies). Even though Mappy is a police officer, it kind of feels like you're the one robbing houses, taking electronics, paintings, and safes! The most distinctive part of the game is that Mappy can't jump, but instead bounces off trampolines. These function like elevators and are how you get to the different floors. While bouncing, Mappy is immune to enemies, even if they are bouncing with him. Avoiding the enemies thus involves strategic use of the trampolines. The goal, of course, is to get as many points as possible. One way to do is this is to take out enemies by opening flashing doors. This releases a pulse that moves along that f

Galaxian: In the shadow of Galaga

Galaxian — an improved take on Space Invaders — hit American arcades in early 1980. By all accounts it was a big success but was surpassed the following year by its own sequel, Galaga, one of the most beloved arcade titles ever. Ports of arcade games didn't arrive on the NES until 1986, at which point titles like Galaxian looked awfully dated. So Namco wisely brought over Galaga instead. But in Japan, the Family Computer received a number of arcade ports before the NES even existed. Galaxian launched on the Famicom in the fall of 84. It at last found its way to these shores less than a year ago as part of Namco's Museum Archives collections. Famicom cartridge of Galaxian I haven't played the arcade original, but gameplay footage (such as David Lyne setting the world record of 2,010,000 points in 2016) shows that the port is very faithful, the major change being the aspect ratio. Early arcade games used vertical monitors (3:4), so the screen layout needed to be adapted fo

Wrecking Crew: The forgotten Mario game

As a child I was ignorant of nearly all NES games beyond what I and my friends owned, but I remember seeing pictures of Wrecking Crew (perhaps in Nintendo Power). It was hard to believe there was this janky-looking Mario game no one I knew had ever played! Now that I've played it, it's still kind of hard to believe. Wrecking Crew reminds me of Clu-Clu Land. It's kind of irritating but can suck you in, if you play it long enough. It's addictive, not because it's especially fun, but because you always want to solve the next stage. You want to prove that you can master this old game's weirdness! (Or I did, anyway.) The game it most reminds me of is The Adventures of Lolo , except that game is cute and this thing is ugly af . Visually, I hate it. Mario looks terrible. And why are some of the enemies eggplants!? (What is up with Nintendo and eggplants?) Not the most beautiful game ever created The goal of each stage is to smash all the breakable walls. They are in th

Wild Gunman: The poor man's Hogan's Alley

I recently learned that Wild Gunman is a real Nintendo game and not merely a fiction of the Back to the Future Cinematic Universe. But in a way I was right, since the movie version — in which four gunmen appear on the screen at once at varying depths — does not exist. Comparison: Left is movie version, right is real thing The real Wild Gunman doesn't quite live up. It's almost a re-skin of Hogan's Alley, except worse. Like Hogan's Alley it's a reflex game more than a proper target-practice game like Duck Hunt. In mode A, the game doesn't even check the gun's position, but only measures how long it takes you to pull the trigger after the gunman says "Draw!" Shoot prematurely or too slowly, and you lose. Mode B has two gunmen, and you do have to aim somewhat, as the two figures are on opposite sides of the screen. This mode is harder and comparable to mode A of Hogan's Alley, except the positions of the two (rather than three) characters are stat