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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Game 4 - Kung Fu

Our hero, Thomas, battling through purple and blue enemies.
System: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Release Date: 1985
Genre: Beat 'em up (side scroller)
Publisher: Nintendo

For Starters:

    Ah Kung Fu...who could forget this staple NES game? A classic side scrolling beat 'em up on Nintendo. I recall playing this game over and over, usually when we had grown tired of playing Castlevania or Mario Brothers. This game served as a fun and challenging distraction from the regular games in our Nintendo diet.
    The premise of this game is simple enough. You are a Kung-Fu warrior (Thomas) trying to rescue your girlfriend (Sylvia) from some evil jerk (dubbed Mr. X in the game). Most of the games I recall playing (i.e. Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers) always seemed to involve this simple plot. There is just something about beating the crap out of strings of henchmen and mini-bosses in the name of love and glory that never seems to get old.

The Good:

    There is a simplistic satisfaction found with this game. The game is designed in a basic side scrolling fashion, that provides ample amounts of enemies to kick and punch in to oblivion. Most of the enemies are defeated with 1 or 2 hits, and the manner in witch they fall off the screen is just delightfully fun. When you
add the simple yet harmonic music and sound effects to this mix, it only sweetens the deal. Yes, the sound effects of kicking and punching are cheesy, but without them this game would lose some of it's humble charm.

The Bad:

    Even though my overall opinion of this game is good, there is an element of difficulty that boarderlines on frustrating. I guess that's kind of the point of video games though right? To be challenging, and provide a certain level of frustration? After all thats what keeps us coming back to them time and time again. So I guess what I am saying is that this is the type of game that provides a challenge that increases with each level you conquer.
    First off, lets talk about the controls. Due to the limits of the controller design, they had to use up on the d-pad to get the character to perform a jump. The A and B buttons were reserved for executing punching and kicking moves. Most games of the era used the A and B buttons, one for attacking, and the other for jumping. Even though this is a deviation from what was normally used, it was a necessity. And this necessity is a minor flaw in an over all decent game. It takes some getting used to, and the controller is responsive, but sometimes when you have enemies coming at you from both sides, and are using d-pad left and right to switch back and forth, the jumping maneuver can get missed, and you end up being gang raped from both
    And speaking of enemies....let's now discuss them. As you would expect, the enemies get progressively harder as you advance through the levels. Level 1 consists of basic soldiers in this kidnappers kung-fu army. They are dressed in glowing bright purple vests, and baby blue pants. The two difficult enemies on level 1 are
the knife throwers, and the end boss.
    The knife throwers appear in other levels, and are notorious for being able to throw both high and low knives at our hero. Sadly there does not seem to be a pattern, so you will inevitably jump when you should have ducked, and vice versa. The other ball buster, is when you have 2-3 of the regular enemies coming at you from behind, when the knife thrower appears. You can only hope to reach him before he throws his knife, and sweep kick him in time to still have room to turn around and dispatch the ones coming at you from the other direction.
    The level 1 end boss is just a guy in a green suit who tries to bash your skull in using a stick. The biggest gripes are that even while ducking, you get hit, and take damage, and that the reach of this guys weapon is just as long as the space you require to sweep kick him. Sometimes you have to just go in, duck, sweep kick
about 900 times, and hope he runs out of energy before you do. There is a strategy to sweep kick him be fore he uses his weapon, and then move out of the way, but it still seems to work about 50% of the time.
    Level 2 is where the surprises begin to come out of the woodwork. Level 2 is a simple game of duck or die. Random items drop from the ceiling, and will contain one of 3 things; a snake that can only be killed from a ducking position, a dragon that shoots fire from his mouth, or a ball that hovers, then explodes, hurling
projectiles towards you. All 3 of these dropping items can be killed by executing a well-timed  jump kick however.
    If you manage to make it through this gauntlet, and defeat the boomerang wielding level 2 boss, you can then proceed to level 3 to take on bands of roving midgets. Thats right I said midgets. Actually, I am not sure what they are supposed to be, maybe kids? Although I don't know what is worse, beating up midgets, or
beating up kids. Either way, these mini enemies will come at you, and sometimes do a jump flip, and strike you on the head, causing damage, and aggravation. Once you manage to work your way through level 3 and the giant honey bear at the end, it's on to level 4, filled with killer swarms of bees or moths, or whatever the hell those things are that come flying out of the walls.
    Ok I have made enough about the different enemies on each level. I think you get the idea. This game gets progressively harder with each level, as expected.


    This game only consists of 5 levels. But with each level getting progressivley more difficult, it's not an easy journey. Yes, I have seen some speed runs online, and can see how it can be beaten quickly. However, my experience with this game was during a time where there was no YouTube or the internet. I had to rely on my own skills, and previous experiences to guide me.
    Overall, Kung Fu is fun enough to keep you going, challenging enough to not seem simple and easy, and frustrating enough to make you throw things in a fit of rage. Add the music and sound effects in, and this makes for a truely classic console experience.

Up next......Karnov

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Game 3 - Excitebike

System: Nintendo
Release date: 1984
Developer: Nintendo
Genre(s): Racing Game

For Starters:

    Excitebike is an often overlooked original Nintendo game from the 80's. The truth is, this is an easily forgettable game in the original Nintendo library. I remember playing this game both on the Play Choice 10 arcade cabinet, as well as playing it on my Friend Ryan's NES.
    The game itself is simple. Racing a motorcycle in a series of side-scrolling tracks, trying to beat the best time, so as to advance to the next race. Each track consists of jumps of various sizes, shapes, and placements. It also has mud pits, and other obstacles used to try and slow you down. There is also a feature that allows you to design and race on your own track. Sadly enough, the design your own was the funnest part of this game for me.

The Good:

    With a game as simple as Excitebike, there is not a lot of things to draw from when compiling a list of good and bad features. The music is catchy, and in today's modern age, makes a great ringtone. The funnest part of this game, as mentioned before, is the ability to design and race on your own tracks. The controls are simple, and responsive, and it's easy to maneuver your way through the tracks.

The Bad:

    The graphics are 8-bit, and are therefore very simple. The crowd animation for the background grandstands are simple, and rather boring, and mundane. The only differences between each track are the combination of jumps/obstacles, and the color. It is really easy to get bored of this game, and it usually happens rather quickly.
    As far as game play is concerned, there is not a whole lot to nit pick about, but the biggest complaint I have is with the overheating feature. The temperature gauge rises quickly when you are running through the course like a maniac using the Turbo acceleration, but they can be reduced by hitting the turbo strips located randomly throughout the course. The turbo strips are common enough to find, but sometimes can be placed in areas where you can miss them. With some practice though, you can learn to use the turbo acceleration sparingly, and place at least 2nd in each race. When you do overheat though, you are forced to the side of the track to cool down. This of course takes up precious time. And with a time limit needed to advance, it makes it difficult to beat the lowest track time and advance further. They could have shortened the cool down time a little bit, or at least added a 2-3 second time penalty to the timer. It only takes about 6 seconds to return to normal operating temperatures, but those 6 seconds can sometimes be the difference between 1st and 4th place.


    Excitebike is a classic Nintendo game, and is one that still holds a place in people's hearts. There has been re-releases and sequels to Excitebike (including Excitebike64), plus remakes that have been developed for the Wii, and virtual consoles. Maybe I will eventually get around to playing the N64 version again, and post a review, but that will be determined at a later date.
    Overall the NES version of Excitebike will probably remain somewhere between a classic, and a forgotten gem. Due to the game's ability to get old quickly, and it's low replay value, it will probably only be removed from the shelf, and dusted off on occasion. But on those occasions where it is selected, the player will be treated to about 15 minutes of primitive 8-bit fun before the game is once again returned to the shelf and left to continue it's dust collecting.

...up next, Kung Fu

Monday, September 5, 2011

Game 2 - Super Mario Brothers

System: Nintendo
Release date: 1985
Developer: Nintendo
Genre(s): Platforming
Series: Mario Brothers

For Starters:

      This game is a classic. It was THE game that defined Nintendo back in the mid-80's. Sadly it was not my first Nintendo experience, but it was the 2nd NES game I even played growing up.
      I am going to try and be honest with this, and try not to get too carried away. This isTHE classic NES game, that really put Nintendo on the map. Nintendo packaged their system with Super Mario Brothers, and in doing so,created an immiediate phenomenon. Super Mario Brothers was THE game to play when I was growing up. All the talk at school was about what level you got to, and if you used the warp zones. Weekends consisted of getting together with friends and playing Super Mario until the late hours.

      I did play the original Mario Brothers on the Atari, but I was still young enough when Idid, that I really didn't understand video games at the same level as I would later in life. It was one game of many that my brother had available on his old Atari 800 system, and not one of the ones I would play as frequently as Dig Dug or Joust, or Pharaoh's Curse. Unfortunately, I must confess, that even to this very day I have never beaten Super Mario Brothers. I remember watching all my friends beating it, by using the various warp zones within the game. I guess being a little bit of a perfectionist, even back then, I never really believed

in utilizing these warp zones. I was of the mind set that a game should be conquered one level at a time, in order. I did not believe in skipping levels, just to achieve victory. So while my friends would all skip to world 4, then 8, I would be back trudging through each world in sequence. My friends would beat the game, and then be done, and I would usually be somewhere in world 2 or 3. Even when I finally got a NES of my own, I would still revisit this game on my own, and try to beat it one world at a time. I could never do it. I will continue to try, and I know it will only be a matter of time, before I too can declare that I have defeated Bowser.

The Good:

    This game has everything a young eager gamer could want. Two player mode, chances to earn extra lives all throughout the game, warp zones, secrets, and  ample power ups. Anyone who has played this game more than a few times will quickly learn where to find the 1up mushrooms, that 100 coins will give you an extra life, and that repeadtedly bouncing a turtle shell against a nearby wall will eventually provide you with a butt-load of extra lives in a few moments time. Yes Super Mario Brothers provided the player a multitude of ways to earn extra lives.

    The goal of this game is to conquer 8 worlds, each with 4 levels, in order to rescue a princess being held hostage by a mutant turtle dragon named Bowser. Each level provides growth mushrooms, and fire flowers as power ups, however you must first get the growth mushroom before getting a fire flower. Fire flowers make life a hell of a lot easier as you work your way through each stage, allowing you to pummel the enemies with fireballs that kill in one shot! Without the fire flower, you have to rely on jumping on each enemy, squishing them flat. The only opponents that will not die by fire balls are the spiked turtles, buzzy beatles, or the bullet bills.....but that's why the invicibility star was created.
    The other secret, although kinda pointless, is to reach the end of each level, with the number displaying on the timer ending in a 1, 3, 6, or 9. This will of course cause the level to end with 1, 3, 6, or 9 fireworks erupting from the little castle.

The Bad:

    While there are numerous good points to this game, this game is not perfect, and does have it's flaws. While most of the enemies are easy enough, there are a few that are a pain in the ass to deal with. The most prevalent one in my mind is of course the Hammer Brothers. The bullet bills are also a pain in the ass, since they often times will come at you from different heights. You can duck one, only to be hit by a lower-flying one that comes in from the right slightly after. The Piranha Plants are also sometimes annoying in that they will sometimes pop out of the pipe when you are least expecting it. It also seems to happen whenever you are working your way through a board where thare are lots of pipes all in a row, and you are jumping from pipe-top to pipe-top.

    The game controls are pretty simple, but the ability to make jumps across higher or wider gaps can be difficult. World 6-3 for example, has multiple gaps, and platforms that will drop straight down when you jump on them. This makes advancing to the next platform difficult, since it's usually located at a higher spot on the screen. You really have to learn to master the "B-run" technique, in order to avoid falling to your death.

    Yes this game is the Nintendo Franchise game. It is a classic, that has seen it's progression on to each new console that Nintendo has released. Sadly enought though, the game is usually only replayable a few times before you do feel like it's been done to death. The sequels to this game (Super Mario 2 and Super Mario 3) did things differently enough that even to this day I find them highly re-playable. While Super Mario Brothers is a classic game, that does provide some nostalgia for a retro gamer, and may even provide a common thread amongst old school gamers and the younger generation gamers, it is still a game that, once beaten, often times finds itself placed up on shelf gathering dust, both literally, and figuratively.

Up next.......Excitebike (NES)