Pacing the Cage

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Archive for the ‘NES’ Category

R.O.B., My Long-Lost Friend

Posted by ptcgaming on June 9, 2009

R.O.B. could have been great, had Nintendo done more for him. (Photo from Wikipedia)

R.O.B. could have been great, had Nintendo done more for him. (Photo from Wikipedia)

R.O.B., Nintendo’s Robotic Operating Buddy, could have very easily been one of the greatest creations in the history of video gaming, unlike NES flops like the Power Glove and U-Force. But the folks at Nintendo forgot to make more than two games for R.O.B. (“Gyromite” and “Stack-Up”), and it went the way of “E.T.” cartridges from the Atari 2600. Of course, none of this might matter today since R.O.B., as well as the NES Zapper, require a CRT-based television to work. This means R.O.B. can’t be your friend on your fancy plasma screen, either.

R.O.B. was the lonely gamers’ friend before the invention of online gaming. He was your buddy before “World of Warcraft” and “SOCOM.” There was no downloadable content in R.O.B.’s world, just you, he, and the old man from “Gyromite.”

So how exactly did R.O.B. function as your gaming friend? Well, that’s easy. In “Gyromite,” R.O.B. used Controller 2 (really), and with your help using Controller 1, he pushed the A and B buttons to move the pillars on the screen. Pretty cool for 1985, huh?

In “Stack-Up,” well, I never played it, so I’m not sure what R.O.B. did for you. I think he helped you match colored blocks or something like that. This game is a rare find in the U.S., anyway.

Today, you can find many R.O.B.s for sale on eBay. It’s a shame so many people want to part ways with this original gaming friend. It’s also a shame Nintendo didn’t do more with this technology. A real working robot that correctly functioned with a home gaming console sounds like a win-win situation to me. But unfortunately this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Then again, once my CRT television set finally dies it won’t matter.

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Posted in Accessories, Famicom, NES, Retro Gaming | 3 Comments »

Retro Game Review: Super Mario Bros.

Posted by ptcgaming on May 30, 2009

It's amazing how well this game has stood up to the test of time. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

It's amazing how well this game has stood up to the test of time. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Released: 1986 (in North America)
Developer: Nintendo EAD

Background: For more than 20 years, “Super Mario Bros.” has stood up against the test of time as a pioneer of platform gaming. Although it wasn’t the first platforming game, the sequel to 1983’s “Mario Bros.” catapaulted the genre’s popularity. This side-scroller set the precedent for Mario games to come, eventually evolving from 2D to 3D in the 1990s. In the meantime, Mario’s adventures against Bowser and his band of bad guys spanned the likes of not only the NES, but also the Super NES and Game Boy systems. Though other games, even on the NES itself, eventually surpassed SMB’s graphics and simplistic gameplay, the original remains a classic still enjoyed today. If you own a Wii, it’s definitely worth the $5 download.

Graphics: 3/5
I remember the very first time I set my eyes on this game back in the 1980s. I was still a gamer of the classic Atari age and had never seen a game quite as complex. The NES brought top-notch graphics (for the time) to the home console market, and this was eye-candy for gamers. This game’s visuals surprisingly held up well throughout the NES’ lifespan. This game was greatly detailed for its time.

Sound: 3/5
Aside from the several sound effects throughout Mario and Luigi’s adventure, there are five man songs that play during the game. And when the timer falls below 100, the tempo picks up. The main theme is still popular, so much I know people who have it in their list of cell phone ring tones.

Controls: 4/5
Like I said earlier, I was an Atari gamer until this time. So the concept of a D-pad and two face buttons was quite complex to me. But this dynamic (at the time) control scheme was an awesome discovery. Even today, the NES’ now-simplistic controls make this game easy to enjoy.

Gameplay: 4/5
I’d like to say this game is difficult for me, but it really isn’t. I’ve completed the first quest and others that follow on several occasions. But this game is still fun, and the fact this one can be quickly completed makes it ideal for those times when I only have a small window for gaming. Gameplay is simple: run right, jump on enemies, jump on the flag. Yet somehow it’s still fun.

Overall: 3.5/5
Anyone who has ever played SMB knows why this game’s a classic and why it has stood up for so many years. With its simplistic gameplay but perfect level of difficulty for the casual gamer, SMB remains a staple in the classic gaming world.

Posted in NES, Reviews | 2 Comments »

Five quick-hit reviews

Posted by ptcgaming on May 4, 2009

river-raid-atari-26003

“River Raid” (Atari 2600/1982/Activision)
Overall score: 3.5
“River Raid” to this day is one of my favorite Atari 2600 games. The graphics are outstanding for that console, the sound is exceptional and having to worry about refueling adds an extra challenge. Too bad that challenge gets a bit repetitive after awhile.

bases-loaded

“Bases Loaded” (NES/1988/Jaleco-TOSE)
Overall score: 4
“Tecmo Baseball” and “RBI Baseball” might come close, but this was the best baseball franchise on the NES. The TV-camera batter/pitcher screen and great animation (including the “phantom glove” catcher) were great, as was the speech (any spoken dialogue was a gift on the NES). But am I the only one who thought this game was pretty tough?

keith-courage

“Keith Courage in Alpha Zones” (TurboGrafx-16/1989/Hudson Soft)
Overall score: 2

Even fantastic 16-bit graphics couldn’t prevent this from being the worst pack-in game for any console – ever. While the graphics are great, the music on this Mario/Zelda/Gundam hybrid is too repetitive, and the gameplay is boring. There are some really good titles for the unappreciated (in North America) TG-16, but this sure isn’t one of them.

f-zero1

“F-Zero” (Super NES/1991/Nintendo EAD)
Overall score: 3.5
How they get the screen to keep up while racing that fast is beyond me. Nevertheless, “F-Zero” is fun and challenging at the same time. Of course, it’s best when played with a friend. The controls take a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of them you’ll enjoy this one a lot.

madden-931

“John Madden Football ’93” (Sega Genesis/1992/Looking Glass Technologies)
Overall score: 4.5

This is by far my favorite “Madden” ever. I remember the days before passing cones and football IQ, when passing windows ruled the world. I recall some intense Thurman Thomas vs. Barry Sanders battles, diving catches and cheesy touchdown dances. This game even looks great, and the players move and act like real football players do. This is the one game I wish I had held on to over the years. Sadly, I did not.

Posted in Atari, Genesis, Madden, NES, Reviews, SNES, TG16 | Leave a Comment »

Character File: Ryu Hayabusa

Posted by ptcgaming on April 13, 2009

 

"Gee, that looks really far!" (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

"Gee, that looks really far!" (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

First appearance: “Ninja Gaiden” (Arcade/NES, 1988)

So your dad has disappeared and now you have to seek revenge on those who may have done him wrong. What is a ninja to do? How ’bout slap on the ol’ ninja getup and start kicking some serious tail, of course!

From the beginning, Ryu Hayabusa’s adventures haven’t just been full of butt kicking and wall jumping. They’ve also been pretty hard. The original NES trilogy has been deemed one of the most difficult series of games ever developed for the console.

Ryu is definitely one bad… dude. Using his mighty sword and the occasional Spirit Clone, Ryu can literally defeat demons and darkness. The problem is once he completes one game-long mission, circumstances require another one to begin. Of course, this leads to great job security.

In fact, Ryu is still a video game staple today. While his roots began at the arcade and with the NES and Sega Master System, he’s still trouncing foes today via the Xbox 360. The 3D environments on the 360 of course allow his character to appear more dynamic and much more detailed. He’s also been featured in the “Dead or Alive” video game series.

Ryu fans who also like “Halo 3” should be happy to hear there is an unlockable armor called “Hayabusa” in the game. The pieces of armor are earned by collecting all hidden Skulls in campaign mode. The “Katana” body piece can be earned by achieving a 1,000/1,000 gamerscore.

Posted in Arcade, Characters, NES | 1 Comment »

Character File: Pit

Posted by ptcgaming on November 5, 2008

The cover for the Japanese Famicom Disk System version of “Kid Icarus.”

First appearance: “Kid Icarus” (Famicom Disk System/NES, 1986/87)

For many of us gamers in the 1980s, “Kid Icarus” played second fiddle to “Metroid,” which featured Nintendo’s bounty-hunting heroine Samus Aran. But “KI” was actually similar to “Metroid” in gameplay, with the hero being an Icarus/Cupid hybrid named Pit (and I’ll bet you thought his name was actually “Kid Icarus”). In his gaming debut, the “little angel” used his magical bow to defeat Medusa in the Underworld. Pit’s first adventure can be found in several “best game” lists.

But then he disappeared. Where did he go?

Well those of you (like me) who remember the cartoon “Captain N: The Game Master” remember Pit was a character on the show, and in fact named – you guessed it – Kid Icarus! He also appeared in the Captain N comic book series. Then after a long hiatus as a major playable character, Pit made his triumphant return in 2008’s “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” for the Nintendo Wii. The original “Kid Icarus” is also available through the Wii Virtual Console.

Otherwise, he’s made cameos in other games such as “Tetris,” “Super Smash Bros. Melee,” “WarioWare: Twisted!” and “WarioWare: Smooth Moves.”

Posted in Characters, NES | 2 Comments »

Zeruda no Densetsu and the strange case of when classic gaming meets foreign languages

Posted by ptcgaming on October 17, 2008

Once you hear the music and take a look at the background, there’s no doubt as to what game you’re playing. The numeral “1” was added to the Famicom Mini version to clearly distinguish this was the first Zelda game in the series.

There’s a saying I heard several years ago that if you speak two languages you’re bilingual, if you speak three you’re trilingual and if you speak one you’re American. Now I know there are many people here in the States who speak more than one language, but how many people who were born here speak those other languages well? I mean I’ve learned some French, Italian and Latin in my time, but I’m in no way ready to have an in-depth conversation with the Pope.

And even though I can’t speak or read Japanese, I recently purchased the Famicom Mini version of “Zeruda no Densetsu: The Hyrule Fantasy,” commonly known here as “The Legend of Zelda.” The Mini version is a direct port of the 1990s version of the cartridge-based version for the Japanese Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES). It was originally released for the Famicom Disk System peripheral (only available in Japan) in 1986, long before we were introduced to Zelda here in the states. Not only did both have better package and label art than its North American counterpart (a common theme in Nintendo’s 8-bit era), but the FDS version was able to utilize the Disk System’s extra sound channel for better sound effects in some cases. Another reason I ordered this copy as opposed to the NES Classic Series version was price: it was cheaper to order the Japanese version and have it shipped from Hong Kong than it was to order a new or used copy from anywhere stateside.

Now if you’re afraid of playing this version of the game because you can’t read Japanese, don’t worry too much – if you fall into a certain group. Anyone who has played this game on their NES can make it through this version with little or no problem. Many parts of this version are actually in English. However, all of the in-game dialogue is in Japanese, so if you fall into the category of someone playing this for the very first time, you’re better off finding a North American version that’s completely in English. Check out eBay or Amazon for one.

You have to either know or remember what the old man, medicine woman or that bad guy in Level 7 is saying so you can solve some of the puzzles or obtain some of the items. (By the way, all the Japanese text on the menu screen says is “USE B BUTTON FOR THIS)

Checking out the Japanese versions of games such as this also gives you some insight into how games are packaged (as mentioned before) and explained in other countries/languages. As I mentioned before, Famicom games featured better, more artistic packaging and labels than those on the NES (which for Nintendo was rather sad, since many of the company’s early NES releases just showed blown-up screenshots on its covers and labels). I mean, a gold-plated Zelda cartridge is cool and all, but the artist in me would take that glorious Famicom box over “Goldie” any day of the week! The instructions for the Mini version did me no good, being in Japanese and all, so if it included the “invaluable maps and strategic playing tips,” I wouldn’t know (I don’t think the Famicom version had all the hints and cheats the NES version had included with the game anyway).
So if you’re looking to scratch that retro game itch while getting a little Japanese culture at the same time, pick up (or order) a copy of one of the GBA’s Famicom Mini series games. A few are still available in stock at Play-Asia.com, including Zeruda no Densetsu and Super Mario Bros. Playing an overseas version actually made the game feel fresh in my opinion, and having to remember what all the dialogue was in English really made me flex my brain muscles quite a bit. I recently completed the first quest and am now working on the second, which I didn’t remember was so difficult!
Side story: In the North American Zelda instructions, it says Pol’s Voice hates loud noises. However, the flute won’t kill them (only the sword or arrows will). The reason for this confusion is that the Famicom’s second controller featured a microphone in place of the Start and Select buttons. In Japan, in order to kill Pol’s Voice, you had to actually scream into the microphone. This was just never omitted from the English instructions. See, Nintendo was utilizing voice recognition in its games long before the DS!

Posted in Famicom, Japanese games, NES, Retro Gaming | 2 Comments »

Retro Game Review: Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Posted by ptcgaming on September 26, 2008

Not exactly the knights who say “Nee!”

Note: This review was requested by my friend Kevin Johnson, an indie artist in the Greater New Orleans area. Kevin recently created his own Webcomic, “Strange City Heroes,” which can be viewed by clicking here.

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Released: 1986
Developer: Capcom

Background: Dust off the ‘ol Game Genie, because if you’re thinking about throwing your NES controller through your TV, you’re probably playing Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Capcom’s brush with the afterlife is a difficult, frustrating game that slaps you right in the face just about the time you think you’ve reached GnG immortality. The story is your run-of-the-mill “girlfriend gets kidnapped by the devil and you have to fight your way through several levels to take on the Dark One and rescue her” story.

Graphics: 2.5/5
Because they’re only half as good as the arcade version (which set the bar high for its time). While the level in the screenshot above is pretty detailed, other levels (I’m looking at you, Stage 6) are nothing more than patterns of equally-sized white and gray blocks. Other stages are much more detailed, but the NES version is so far out of the arcade version’s league it makes me a harsh critic.

Sound: 3.5/5
The sound and music are actually not all that bad for a game in the early days of the NES. The squeaking noises do become annoying after awhile, but the game’s music is some of the best. Capcom games typically featured some of best music on the NES, most notably in the Mega Man series.

Controls: 4/5
You really can’t do more with an NES controller on a side-scroller than run, jump and shoot.

Gameplay: 2.5/5
Let’s just stay in the middle on this one. If you like a game that’ll make you prematurely go gray up top, you’ll give this game high marks. If you don’t, you’ll score it very low. This game is punishing, and if you can complete it without throwing your console out the window, I have a friend who might want to challenge you to a game of Contra with just three lives. And if the game isn’t hard enough, when you do reach Lucifer and defeat him, don’t claim your trophy quite yet – It’s all just an illusion, and now you have to start all over again (Did I mention it’s even harder the second time around?). Then, upon laying the smackdown on Lucifer the second time to rescue your lady, you’re treated to a short ending that features one of the game’s trademark bad English translations (“Congratulation. This game is happy end”).

Overall: 3.125/5
I won’t say anything more about how hard this game is, but despite its difficulty, Ghosts ‘n Goblins is truly a classic. If you’re a glutton for punishment, this is the game for you!

Posted in NES, Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Our Favorite Games: Super Mario Bros. 3

Posted by ptcgaming on September 15, 2008

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System Released: 1990

Raise your hand if you packed into a movie theater to catch the Fred Savage movie The Wizard just to see a glimpse of SMB3. Or do you remember chants of “Mario! Mario!” coming from your TV? It doesn’t matter how you were introduced to its 8 bits of glory, because the game speaks for itself. Fantastic graphics, gameplay and sound make this, in my opinion, the greatest original NES title ever. And there must be some people who agree with me, since SMB3 is the biggest selling game of all-time not originally bundled with a console (18 million copies sold). The game featured the same storyline – Bowser kidnapped the princess, so go get him – and yet so much more. There were world maps to explore, mushroom houses and new power-ups, oh, the number of power-ups. My personal favorite was always the Tanooki suit, even though the Hammer Bros. suit kicked serious butt, too. Eight worlds, each packing more than the four standard levels each, awaited you on your quest. There were some world-specific items (remember Kuribo’s Shoe?), and each world was completely different from any other. In a nutshell, this game is fantastic. And it set the stage for another epic 2D Mario game, Super Mario World, which helped launch the Super NES. Many of SMB3’s innovations (power-ups, world maps) were transferred to Mario’s 16-bit quest, a testament to how groundbreaking this game was.

Posted in Favorites, NES | Leave a Comment »

Fun and excitin’ ridin’, jumpin’, bobbin’ and weavin’

Posted by ptcgaming on August 14, 2008

Excitebike was, in a word, exciting. Even though the number of tracks was limited, the game was still tons of fun.

Crank up the engine, hit the track and go back to 1985! Excitebike was one of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s oldest original titles, and today the game is still enjoyed by many, myself included.

There is no underlying story or character in Excitebike. You take control of an unnamed rider and race him (or her) to the best time possible, hopefully qualifying for the Excitebike race, a replay of the track you just hammered only more difficult. My friend Kevin was disappointed you couldn’t actually win the super-duper Excitebike in the NES version, which I believe you could at the arcade. If anyone knows any different, let me know.

While tackling the predesigned tracks was fun, I spent lots of time building my own tracks. I don’t know if this was changed in any of the game’s re releases, but you could place a bunch of those little ramps on the track, jump out of the top of the screen and come out at the bottom.

One of my favorite things about the game is the graphics. Even though this game was released in 1985 in North America, the track looks pretty sharp and you can tell it’s actually a guy riding a motorbike. The haystacks and camera guys are a nice touch, too.

If you still have an NES, or own a system that allows you to purchase a release of the game, I highly suggest it. It’s unlockable in Excitebike 64 (GCN) and Animal Crossing (GCN). It’s also available for Game Boy Advance.

Posted in NES, Retro Gaming | 2 Comments »

Running on empty: The Power Pad saga

Posted by ptcgaming on August 6, 2008

Games like World Class Track Meet did a great job of showing us how out of shape we were.

Years ago, long before Grand Theft Auto ruled the world, I read that kids who play video games become more intelligent over time.
Smarter, maybe. In shape, I don’t think so.
Years and years before Wii Fit, the folks at Nintendo attempted to chisel young gamers into shape with the introduction of the Power Pad for the NES, technology that would become popular again years later with Dance Dance Revolution. The Power Pad was a simple concept: a two-sided, rug-sized pad multiple players can look like idiots running and jumping on. OK, it’s exactly like Dance Dance Revolution.
While there were around 10 or so games released for the Power Pad in the U.S., Europe and Japan, the only one I ever played was World Class Track Meet. The game featured several Olympic-style events, such as 100m dash, 110m hurdles, long jump and triple jump. And in order to move your player in the game – that’s right – you had to run in place really fast and jump in the air like your feet were on fire.
The game was actually fun, but tiring. I remember many a times playing sandlot sports with my friends and never getting worn out like after an hour of this game. And you have to be the kind of person not easily embarrassed by looking like an idiot while playing video games. This game probably won’t get you any chicks. Of course there were ways to cheat – only moving your heels really fast while keeping your toes on the ground or simply using your hands – but that kinda took the fun out of the game.
All in all, the Power Pad was one of the best accessories for the NES. Along with WCTM, it made you feel like you were actually a track star, even though in reality I could barely finish a short jog just around the block!

Posted in Accessories, NES, Retro Gaming | 1 Comment »