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Showing posts from March, 2021

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

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels: Mario misstep

Given the enormous success of  Super Mario Bros. , Nintendo naturally wanted a sequel. It seems they wanted it so bad that, to quote Dr. Ian Malcom, they "were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Super Mario Bros. 2 landed on the Famicom Disk System in June of 1986, a mere nine months after the original. In English it was later given the name The Lost Levels since it was never released on the NES. The prematurity of the sequel shows as soon as you boot the game. It looks almost exactly like the original, down to the same title screen (with a 2), same sprites, and same backgrounds. There are a few visual tweaks, such as new ground tiles and faces on the clouds, trees, mushrooms, and moving platforms. The game has no new power-ups or enemies (except more aggressive red Piranha Plants). There are a few new elements, but they aren't very good. The Poison Mushroom hurts Mario (or Luigi); Super Springs propel him far ab

Mysterious Murasame Castle: Non-stop ninja frenzy!

The Mysterious Murasame Castle is a bit of a lost treasure. It's a frenetic samurai-and-ninja game set in feudal Japan. The real mystery is why Nintendo didn't bring it to the West (until 2014), where I'm confident it would have been a hit remembered alongside Ninja Gaiden . Look familiar? This game is a sort of fraternal twin to The Legend of Zelda . Both were made from the same game engine, and it really shows. They both launched on the Famicom Disk System in early 1986, taking advantage of its save feature. However, whereas Zelda is an open-world game with nine dungeons, The Mysterious Murasame Castle is stage-based. You control Takamura through four pairs of two levels each: an above-ground section followed by a castle. The ninth and final stage is the titular Murasame Castle. Although there are branching pathways, stages are mostly linear, like the dungeons in The Legend of Zelda. The Mysterious Murasame Castle Famicom disk The main gimmick of the game is that, wheneve