Clint Eastwood once said: “A man’s got to know his limitations” – and I know mine (at least when it comes to Batman). This is certainly not the most difficult game in the NES library, but it is almost certainly one I will never be able to finish. And that’s OK – there is still a lot here I like, so let’s get started with that.
For one thing, this game has a wonderful soundtrack – among the best on the system. The opening level’s background music is fast paced and amps me up every time I hear it. Sunsoft became well known for their music during the NES generation, and it shows here.
Gameplay is certainly difficult, but it also fits the game and license perfectly. I have never been Batman, but I imagine that it would be a difficult job – practically impossible even. And perhaps to its detriment, the game follows suit. The controls here are precise to a degree I rarely experience in platformers; the closest comparison I can make is Super Meat Boy. When you die (and you will) it is because your reaction times or fingers were just not fast enough or you made a lapse in judgement. Like all games of the era, enemies follow set patterns and learning their weaknesses is part of the fun.
The game is not without fault of course. First in my mind, and definitely the most petty is that Batman is purple. I suspect it has to do with the NES color pallet and the developers not wanting constant sprite flickering, but it’s a distraction. And just as I suspected in my previous entry, there is no save or password system. In a game that is this difficult, that’s inexcusable. To add insult to injury, lose all your lives and back to the main menu with you – no continues.
Overall, I didn’t hate my time with this, but the difficulty makes me reluctant to return. Perhaps I’ll play through it in an emulator where I can do save states and scum my way through it.
Batman is the next title up for long play. I never played this as a kid – in fact, this will be my first go at this game ever. I know that it is famously difficult and supposedly has a great soundtrack, Sunsoft did some great soundtracks in the NES days so I’m excited to hear what they do with Danny Elfman’s famous Batman theme. The difficulty does intimidate me a bit I’ll admit – especially since this era has a lot of games with no save or password system and punishing diffuculty. I’m a huge Batman fan in general, so I’m hoping I’m in for a treat here. I expect to play this over the month of October and move on to something else in November.
Sesame Street A-B-C (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is an educational game released for the NES and contains two ‘games’, each with several modes that change the game play a bit. Designed for children, and to cash in on the success of the NES I’m sure, it is really basic and contains little replayability. I don’t say this to knock the game – it delivers on what it aims to do without a doubt – but an educational NES game isn’t where I would typically spend my time.
Gameplay consists of first selecting which game you’d like to play of the two included (Letter Go Round and Ernie’s Big Splash). Letter Go Round has you select one of six modes, which are all minor variations of the same basic game. A merry go round rotates with six letters – hit A when the matching letter hits the bottom of the rotation. That’s it – pretty basic. Ernie’s Big Splash is a little more complex, but only a little. You have a starting point indicated by a faucet and rubber duck, and your goal is to place tiles to route the duck to Ernie. There are ten or so different tiles and you rotate through them using the d-pad and select by hitting A. Once you’ve successfully routed the duck to Ernie some music plays as the duck traverses the course you’ve laid out. There are only three modes in this one, and the other two only differ from the basic by placing a tile randomly on the board containing another sesame street character. Because these games are so basic, I played each one in about 20 minutes – I guess I could say at this point that I beat the game since there isn’t anything else for me to do in it.
Visually, there isn’t a ton going on here. While there are some impressively large sprites used in Letter Go Round when you finish a stage, there is no scrolling or parallax and both games exist on static backgrounds. This is not a great looking game – I’d put it near the bottom of the range of acceptable for an educational title.
Sound effects were acceptable, and music was shockingly good. That’s not to say that it was good enough to hang with the greats on NES, but for an educational game of that era it was definitely above average.
Verdict: Back on the shelf. I can see breaking this out for my daughter when she’s a little older, but I have no more interest in it.
Gauntlet II (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is an early arcade game ported to the NES featuring 4 player support via a multitap. Like its arcade ancestor, it is a top down dungeon crawler where your goal is to gather food and loot and make it to the end of the level. Food increases your health which slowly ticks down, and money simply adds to your score. Most levels have some sort of gimmick – the exit may move, the walls may be invisible, or there may be hidden tiles that stun you. This certainly adds some variety to what is a simple game. You can move using the d-pad and attack using the B button, but that’s it. Enemies are not very bright and simply swarm towards you. To be honest, playing this by myself was a bit of a bore – I imagine when it was new it was fairly fun, but the gameplay is very simplistic, repetitive, and not very interesting.
Visuals were fair, with sprites relatively small and lacking detail but enough to identify them at a glance. The system did seem to manage to keep lots of enemies, even of different types, on screen at the same time without issue. I will also say this – I did not see any sprite flicker at all when I played, which is a rarity on NES titles.
Sound was sub par here. Stages did not have any music – in fact, the only music I heard in the game was at the title screen and between stages. Sound effects ranged from acceptable to screechingly loud and obnoxious.There was also some digitized voice work that was quite good. Overall though, sound is pretty bad here.
Verdict: Back on the shelf. Not very fun with just one player, and the simplistic gameplay and sometimes jarring sound effects mean I probably won’t go back.
Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is based on a Japanese manga character who (from what I understand) has some similarities to James Bond. The game is notable for a few reasons – one, it has a diverse set of gameplay types and is fairly competent in all of them. It also has probably the most cinematic presentation I’ve ever seen on an NES title – there are full screen cut scenes with large detailed sprites. Also, it is notorious for being one of the few NES titles to feature sex – when injured, you can regain health by ‘visiting’ a female associate at a hotel. Growing up, I never heard of this game nor did I know anyone that had it – one of my favorite aspects of 8 and 16 bit systems is that there are a ton of titles waiting to be discovered, just like this.
Gameplay is a strong suit of Golgo 13, and it’s hard to describe – it does act like several different games in one. The primary mode acts as a platformer where you walk around a street and fight the occasional enemy – this mode reminds me of Rolling Thunder. Occasionally when walking, you’ll be interrupted with a first person shooting gallery mode, where you need to shoot down helicopters and ground based assailants who are shooting at you. There is also a side scrolling shmup style mode. All of this is impressive in that it all works fairly well. There are some issues with the normal platforming mode – mainly, you can’t duck and shoot at the same time even though enemies can so some damage is not avoidable. If you do manage to die (and you will – a lot), the game places you back at a recent checkpoint – a nice touch. I would have appreciated it if the developers had included a save slot or password system, but they didn’t. Bummer.
Graphically, we have a mixed bag. The title screen, cut scenes, and story telling sections look great – in fact, I’m impressed they pulled it off on the NES. The side scrolling mode you’ll spend most of your time is – well, only ok. The character sprites lack any kind of detail and the backgrounds repeat far too often to not notice.
Music and sound effects are very good. Music wasn’t catchy enough to stick in my head the rest of the day, but that’s hardly a criticism. Sound effects were fairly standard for NES titles – nothing to complain about but not amazing either.
Verdict: Play again. The check points keep the frequent deaths from being frustrating and I can’t imagine this is a particularly long game.
Who doesn’t love beat ’em ups? Simple to get into, oddly satisfying, and a great way to play cooperatively – it’s one of my favorite genres to go back to and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is an early example on the NES.
Believe it or not, I never played this game until the writing of this article. I had played the original TMNT NES game back when it was new, but the sequel eluded me. Never owning an NES growing up, I never had the chance to try it, until a friend recently traded me a copy (thanks Mark!). Compared to some 16-bit and arcade beat ’em ups, TMNT 2 is definitely… more primitive. You start by selecting one of the four turtles and jump right in. You can use the d-pad to move the character up and down on the screen and advance to the right once all enemies are defeated – this is standard fare for the genre and it made me feel right at home. Since the NES controller only has 2 buttons outside of the d-pad and start/select, you have limited options – B attacks and A jumps. You can do a jumping attack as well, but as far as I could see that was pretty much it. I understand it’s a hardware limitation, but it makes the gameplay a little less interesting than it could be.
Graphics are quite good for an NES title – sprites are very large for the system and well detailed. I didn’t notice any slowdown at all and colors were good. I did notice that only one enemy type will ever be on screen at once – again, this is a hardware limitation but a bit disappointing. Scrolling was smooth which is something you don’t always see in NES titles. Overall, I would rate the graphics excellent for the time and platform.
Sound is also quite good – there are some 8-bit renditions of the classic TMNT theme, and the sound effects are fitting. There was some attempt at digitized voice work, but it was pretty bad – something I see a lot in older games, specifically on the Genesis.
Overall, this is a great example of the genre on the NES and a must own for any TMNT fan. I think the real value for me personally here is the 2-player coop option, but it was definitely fun as a single player as well.
Verdict: Play again! I think this would be great with a friend.
American Gladiators (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a licensed game based on the popular TV show of the same name. American Gladiators was published on several platforms including the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, NES, and Amiga – I played the NES version which is missing the ‘Atlasphere’ level that is in the other versions according to the Giant Bomb wiki.
American Gladiators consists of 5 events and then a final level. The 5 events are: Assault, Human Cannonball, The Wall, Powerball, and Joust. I was able to finish all events except The Wall, where you are forced to mash the A and B button as well as the D-Pad to climb as fast as possible. It was just too difficult for me to get used to the controls. As for the other events, they were decent enough (my favorite being Assault), but none of them would keep anyone entertained for more than a few minutes.
The graphics were fine for the era (this released in 1991), but the music and sound were quite bad. There were some acceptable music tracks, but the main theme is dreadful.
Verdict: Back on the shelf. Since I played this game almost to its entirety in just 30 minutes, I doubt I’ll go back to it.