Tag Archives: nintendo age

FGC #250 Kid Icarus

You are now hearing this theme songKid Icarus isn’t bad, but there is definitely something “wrong” there. In replaying through the whole of the game for this review, I desperately tried to figure out the problem. Was it the deadly vertical scrolling? No, that’s a pain, but it didn’t offer any challenges that Mario or angel alike couldn’t overcome. Was it the labyrinthine, repetitive dungeons? No, they’re annoying, but a quick trip to the internet made those maps surmountable (I suppose graph paper could have sufficed in a pinch). And the final level is actually kind of a fun reward for completing the rest of the challenges, so that can’t be the trouble.

No, in playing Kid Icarus, I realized where the real problem lies: Every single time a new monster popped on the screen, I said, “Oh great, it’s this butthead.”

Watch out for buttheads

Like, look at these buttheads. Infinitely respawning buttheads? Yep, right here in the first level, and then every level after that.

GAZE

And these buttheads just float wherever they want. Monoeyes? Oh, that’s a clever name… for a butthead.

Grandpa, that's just Maggie

Ah, the grim personification of death, or just another butthead that is going to kill Pit? I think you know the answer.

There are so many buttheads, we might be here a while…

FGC #243 Dragon’s Lair (NES)

Kind of a tubby dragonThis game is pure, focused malice.

I want to be clear about something here: I am not merely using hyperbole to refer to a “difficult” or “poorly constructed” game. No, what we have here is a NES game that, for reasons that shall shortly become clear, was designed by people that vehemently loathe anyone that happened to support the Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was designed exclusively to make the world a worse place, and it was released solely for the purpose of spite. Dragon’s Lair for the NES is hate.

You probably already know about Dragon’s Lair. DL was an arcade game by animation legend Don Bluth, and was, effectively, a playable cartoon. Considering it was released in 1983, a year when most videogames looked like Bobby Is Going Home, Dragon’s Lair was something of a phenomenon. Yes, it was a “controlled” type game, wherein the goal is basically to play Simon Says effectively enough to keep the game “playing itself”, but it was still fun to watch. And, again, this was the age of the Atari, a time when “videogame” could mean anything from Pong to controlling tanks to a game that tests your ability to press up every thirty seconds. Dragon’s Lair was an early example of graphics trumping gameplay, but it was at a time when “gameplay” could be severely lacking and have horrible graphics, so it gets a pass.

THE REAL MCCOYUnfortunately, Dragon’s Lair didn’t get a pass from technology. Dragon’s Lair ran on laserdisc tech, and, suffice it to say, it would be a long time before anything disc-based infiltrated the home videogame market. So Dragon’s Lair (arcade) begat Space Ace (arcade) the following the year, and then… nothing. Dragon’s Lair didn’t see a sequel until 1991. Just a reminder: Dragon’s Lair (1) was a contemporary of the Atari, and Dragon’s Lair 2 was released a year after Super Mario World. That’s practically an eternity in videogame time, and it was during that eternity that Nintendo conquered the gaming market. When Dragon’s Lair launched, it was the most amazing thing many people had ever seen. Dragon’s Lair 2 was practically a footnote compared to “when’s the next Zelda coming out”.

And before Dragon’s Lair 2, there was Dragon’s Lair for the NES.

Dragon’s Lair NES was released in 1990. Just so we’re all on the same page, the NES was good and established by 1990, and other games released that year include Mega Man 3, Adventures of Lolo 2, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, and Solar Jetman. While there are a few oddballs even in that list, they’re all unmistakably NES games, whether they star waddling blue balls or not. By 1990, the NES kids were all well past trying to figure out this whole crosspad thing, and onto jumping and shooting and maybe pushing blocks like a champ. This was not the Wild West of the Atari age, this was a time of the Nintendo Seal of Quality and only being moderately confused when Little Nemo started wearing a live bee like a suit. It was an age of wonders, but it was also an age where we all knew A meant jump.

In Dragon’s Lair NES, B is the jump button. A attacks. Select is pause, and Start triggers a torch “item”. This is an ominous control scheme.

Also ominous? You’re unlikely to make it past the first screen of Dragon’s Lair NES.

ARGH!To say something nice, Dirk the Daring, the star of Dragon’s Lair, has excellent animation. He probably has one of the most complicated walking animations on the NES, and he really does move like a “real” person. He even turns around! This was a time when some sprites weren’t even expected to look in a different direction (hi, Gradius!), and we’ve got a Dirk walking along in a perfectly smooth bit of animation. Good job, Dragon’s Lair!

Unfortunately, this animation doesn’t come cheap, and that price is Dirk moves about as quickly as dried tar. And, fun fact, that problem doesn’t impact any other creature. Or piece of masonry. Or, Bluth-forbid, sea dragon.

Let’s revisit that first screen. There’s a bat swooping forward, and, like the good bats of Castlevania, he will infinitely respawn. Luckily, he only takes off a bit of your energy. Unfortunately, you’re not so lucky with the crumbling bridge, which inevitably leads to a moat of sudden death. If you attempt to jump the crumbling blocks, good luck, because starting Dirk’s ultra-slow jump means he’ll be in the drink before his crouching animation is complete. And turning around is right out, as he’ll slide off the bridge that way, too. However, if you manage to make it past the crumbly bits, you’ll encounter a sea dragon. Touch the dragon, and you’re dead. Touch the fireballs the dragon spews, and you’re dead. Attempt to hurl a dagger (press A) at the dragon, and you’ll lose that fire fight, and be dead. Hop over the dragon, and you’ll find the front gate of the castle has closed, and touching it means instant death. So, what you must do is walk aaaall the way back across the decaying bridge, hide in the corner, and hurl an ungainly number of daggers at the dragon until it finally dies. Also, just for funsies, if you duck to avoid fireballs, the dragon will duck too, and he’s completely out of range during that time. Assuming you survive this gauntlet until the dragon is defeated, you can then attempt to pass the bridge and the bat again, and, finally, make it to the next screen.

DammitOh, and side note? There are no continues in this game, so every time you lose your daily allotment of five lives, you have to do that entire sequence all over again.

And you will lose those lives quickly once you’re in the castle. That bat (which, don’t worry, will appear again and again) is apparently one of the few threats in the castle that will only take off a chunk of life as opposed to, ya know, instant death. Pits? Instant death. Snakes? Instant death. Moving walls? Instant death. Floating skulls? Sometimes lost health, sometimes instant death, with no overt distinction on why. Bosses? You better believe those lead to instant death. And even beyond that, you’ve got Dirk’s anemic jump, and moving platforms that aren’t consistent at all. Some platforms have their own “gravity”, and will ferry Dirk over pits. Other moving platforms move on their own terms, and Dirk has to walk across them to avoid pits below. And you won’t know which platform is which until you’re inevitably a pile of bones at the bottom of the nearest chasm. Oh, I’m sorry, was that your last life? Back to the moat, loser!

And that’s not all, folks! There are a number of subtle bits of malice in this adventure. The main “hub” of the game is an elevator (that will likely get you killed), and if you accidently enter an area you already completed (which, incidentally, aren’t marked at all), you have to repeat the level all over again. You may collect gold to increase your (useless) score, but if you stay still for longer than about a second (which is kind of inevitable with all these instant death traps whirling around), the Lizard King will appear and steal your gold and some health, just for funsies. And, at the (inevitable) end of your game, there’s a high score table that I swear is completely impossible to top. Seriously, you’d have to replay all the levels in this game about ten times to clear the highest score.

DAMMIT!Put all of this together, and it seems pretty clear that the game is actively taunting the player. You will never beat the first screen. You will never see the ending. You will never get the high score. Why are you even playing this game, you foolish Nintendo kid?

And I can’t help but imagine that that is deliberate.

The Nintendo Entertainment System, with its cutesy 8-bit graphics and simple play styles, conquered the home console market for what seemed like forever. There was no place for the big budget, fully animated likes of Dragon’s Lair on the NES, and, honestly, nobody really cared. Contra was fun. Castlevania was fun. Mega Man was fun. Dirk the Daring was a legend in his time, but he was a flash in the pan compared to the turtle-stomper in overalls. The laserdisc fell by the wayside, and the cartridge conquered the land. It must have been… discouraging to be the curator of yesterday’s news, and then be expected to port that masterpiece to the system that vanquished your hero. What was left to do but punish the children that dug Dirk’s grave?

Dragon’s Lair NES is malevolence in cartridge form. It is revenge given plastic. And it’s also kind of a crappy game, so, ya know, try to avoid it.

FGC #243 Dragon’s Lair (NES)

  • System: NES. It doesn’t even have the excuse of being on other systems to explain the wonky controls.
  • Number of players: Technically, it is two player alternating. But, like a two man con, if two people play this game, the odds of someone realizing “hey, this is terrible” immediately shoots up to nearly 100%.
  • Port-o-Call: Turns out the Japanese/European version of the game increased Dirk’s movement speeds to much more survivable levels. Unfortunately, they also added falling boulders to the elevator area, so I’m sticking to my “this game is hate” assessment.
  • So, did you beat it: Yes, with a healthy amount of modern cheating. For the record, your only “reward” is a single “congratulations” screen.

    WINNER!

    Daphne barely appears. Boo.

  • Favorite boss: Death, aka the Grim Reaper, is straight up the boss of a stage. I’m wondering if he just likes hanging around spooky castles. Not like he has anything better to do.
  • Did you know? You can actually reclaim your treasures from the Lizard King in a secret area at the bottom of the elevator. Considering the treasure does nothing but boost your score, and the odds of dying in practically any level in this game are infinitely high, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s not worth it.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. Even with save states, this game is nearly impossible, and I only completed it to see if there was any level of satisfaction in doing so. Spoilers: nope.

What’s next? Random ROB… isn’t being so random next week. In honor of the release of the Switch, I’ll be covering three games that are at least tangentially related to the launch of Nintendo’s latest system. So first up is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Zelda time is here again! Please look forward to it!

Grandpa, that's just Maggie

FGC #238 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

CowbungaI’ve mentioned before that, as a kid, you kind of take everything in stride. Super Mario Bros. is about a plumber that jumps on turtles and saves mushroom people? Yeah, okay. Oh, wait, now he’s a live action dude on a variety show that features cartoons that include a magical elf every Friday? Yeah, that makes sense. Oh, now Mario can fly because he gained the tail of a raccoon, a creature not traditionally known for its flight capability? Whatever, man, as long as it’s fun. Similarly, when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got their first videogame, I was elated, because, duh, Ninja Turtles and videogames: two tastes that go great together (like whipped cream and pizza). And thus did I play TMNT for hours, and I thought very little about its origins or eccentricities.

But now that I’m playing the game as an adult, I’m shell-shocked at how this might be the weirdest game on the NES.

It’s definitely a Ninja Turtle game

First, for anyone that skipped this magical adventure, I want to be absolutely clear that this is certainly a TMNT game. This is not the case of a bizarre localization where Goku became a random Native American or something. This is a radical turtle adventure that starts with an attract screen that is practically off the back of a TMNT action figure. Watch four mundane turtles mutate into awesome teenage ninja with four distinct weapon types! Look out for the evil Shredder! Bebop and Rocksteady are up to no good!

And it’s not just the intro, the overarching plot of this one could be a week-long arc on the cartoon. April is kidnapped. The Foot are going to destroy a local landmark. Splinter is kidnapped. Splinter is rescued, but it’s time to hunt down the Technodrome once and for all. There’s that nefarious Shredder, and we beat ‘em, but will he be back next week? Throw in Krang and maybe a random mutant or two, and you’ve practically got the entire series in one game. They even managed to wedge that silly blimp into a cutscene or two.

And speaking of cameos…

The Bosses are Amazing

Incoming!Bebop and Rocksteady are up to no good, and you personally get to stop them. And their boss patterns make sense: they’re both animal-people known for charging in headfirst, and here is a pair of jerks that do just that. It’s a shame you don’t get to fight them simultaneously, but there is something appropriate about Rocksteady watching Bebop get defeated and then just wandering off. Foot Mutants totally aren’t bros, yo.

But the later stage bosses are the real gems. Metalhead is not “Mecha Turtle”, dammit, he’s clearly the robo-turtle of the TMNT universe. Then we’ve got Big Mouser that, okay, maybe it doesn’t move much, but it is certainly the granddaddy of all mousers. And there’s a fight with the entire Technodrome. Sure, the scale is way off, but it’s probably the best turtle vs. tank battle you’re ever going to see in this or any other medium. It’s bigger on the inside.

The bosses are pretty damn TMNT, and their accompanying Foot Soldiers fit the flunky bill. But things start to go off the rails when you look at…

The Other Guys

Okay, so the Foot Clan are ninja. That can account for a lot of different variations on a theme. I mean, you’ve got all the crazy ninja weapons, and you could have mutant ninja, and maybe like big ninja to accompany nimble ninja. That all makes perfect sense, and this is a robot army of ninja, so even the occasional jetpack or laser gun would be allowed.

LOOK AT MEBut what we have here… uh… did anyone order a crawling eyeball? Or flying manta ray creatures? And are those Human Torch-esque “fire men”, or did some random Foot go full Thích Quảng Đức and decide to immolate around the place? I can deal with the occasional mutant frog monster, that’s practically canon, but “Chainsaw Maniac”? I think you might be a genre off, dude. And then there’s the… thing… that is just a bunch of spikes with legs creeping along the ceiling. That shouldn’t be a TMNT enemy. I’m not even certain that creature should be haunting anyone other than Lovecraft…

Oh, but these random Boomerang Buttheads (you never forget what you named enemies when you were seven) seem eerily reminiscent of Goriya, which reminds me…

Wow, this game is like The Adventure of Link

Back in 1989, videogames hadn’t quite coalesced into the rigidly defined genres of today. So when TMNT seemed a little bit like The Adventure of Link (a game released, in Japan, two years earlier), nobody thought much of it. Nowadays, we’ve had roughly six total games throughout history that can be described as “like The Adventure of Link”, so it kind of sticks out.

Party time!It’s a shame, too, because this set-up works surprisingly well with the level structure of TMNT. Heck, I’d argue that the overworld overhead perspective and underground “connected dungeons” structure of TMNT NES world works better than in The Adventure of Link. And it’s not just because of the Party Van! Let’s face it, you continue in The Adventure of Link, and the trek back to your favorite palace is more of a slog than anything. That huge, wide-open overworld is great in the beginning, but it’s just another stupid obstacle by about the time you acquire the raft. In TMNT, each level is self-contained and, more importantly, ends. Assuming you’ve got a continue remaining, you don’t ever have to cross the sewers of the first world ever again, and that’s a good thing for anyone that cares about their own time.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little disingenuous. You’re going to see the first level again and again, because, frankly…

This Game is Super Hard

It’s a NES game, so it’s a given that everything is trying to kill you. Also, this was before even the concept of “refill stations” or “save points” existed, so good luck rationing enough pizza to guarantee Donny has a full life meter at all times. And, yes, because Konami (Ultra if you’re nasty) is full of vindictive monsters, there are instant kill traps. If you want to count those Foot Tanks, there are instant kill traps on the first screen. Hope you didn’t pick your favorite turtle to inevitably be squished first!

And the platforming in this game is just plain cruel. See this? See this right here?

ARGH

I still have nightmares about this jump. Here’s your fun fact for the day! If you, like many poor, scrubby children of the 80’s, used a Game Genie to secure infinite life for your dear turtles, and you missed that one damn jump, the game would permanently freeze, and you’d have to start the whole adventure over again. What I’m saying is that even when you cheat, TMNT finds a way to punish your subpar ninja skills.

And I’ll remind you that this was a game essentially aimed at seven year olds. Konami, the “NES Generation” was already good at videogames at this point, but not this good.

Maybe I’m being hyperbolic. I mean, it’s not like there was an entire level that nobody ever got past.

Paddle on, bro

Oh, right, never mind.

So this is Turtle Power?

This all adds up to a very confusing game. It’s super hard, but made for children. It features the heroic Ninja Turtles and their mortal enemies, Robot with a Jet for a Head and Spikey Wall Guy. There’s The Adventure of Link gameplay, but with the water level nobody ever asked for! When I was a kid, I thought this was as normal as butter sandwiches (RECIPE: butter bread, put on top of other piece of bread, eat), but now, as an adult, I see this is a game as strange as spreading animal fat on couple of slabs of wheat and calling it lunch. WhoopsI understand licensed games could be anything back in the day, and Konami probably had all of about two hours of lead time to get this project out the door, but it still came out very… confused. Wolverine is a terrible game, but it’s a predictable terrible game. NES TMNT seems to zig every time you might expect a zag, and then you have to fight a mutant hedgehog for some reason.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES is a damn confusing game. It’s also kind of awesome, so, ya know, cowabunga.

FGC #238 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. It was also ported to various home computers of the time. Oh, it was also on the Wii Virtual Console for a hot minute, but it got rescinded due to licensing issues. I wonder how many games have actually left the Virtual Console never to return…
  • Number of Players: Four turtles, but only one player. Quite the let down for Wee Goggle Bob.
  • Favorite Turtle: Donny is best pony. Seriously, is there a reason to use anything other than that enormous bo staff? Donatello can murder Rocksteady without even having to stand up, and that’s to be commended.
  • What are they?Other Influences: The stage leading up to the Technodrome takes place in a series of caves, and there are floating jellyfish monsters. Now, I’m not saying TMNT ripped off Metroid (mainly because TMNT caves look more like “caves” than the caverns of NES Zebes), but it is a damn weird coincidence. Are, like, cave-based jellyfish creatures a thing in Japan? I’ve never been.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes! I even beat it back in the day, but, like Back to the Future, it was one of those deals where I beat the game, saw the very confusing ending (Splinter is human again? Huh?), and then was never able to get back there again (before the advent of savestates). I swear I thought I dreamed that sequence for years…
  • Land of the Rising Fun: In the Japanese version, April is identified as Splinter’s daughter, because why not? It’s not like the turtles would rescue a random woman in a yellow jumpsuit for no reason.
  • Did you know? The DOS port of TMNT contains an impossible jump in the third stage, so it’s technically impossible to beat without cheating/glitching. This is kind of amusing, because the “impossible jump” is not over an instant kill hazard, so it’s very likely that a lot of poor players banged their heads against that particular wall for years. Okay, I at least know my buddy Matt did that, because he talks about it every damn time someone so much as mentions a ninja turtle…
  • Would I play again: This game is weird and confusing, but I kind of love it. I like weird and confusing, evidently. So, yes, I’m probably going to see it back in the NES again before too long.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bobby is Going Home for the Atari! Ah, for the halcyon days of titles giving away the entire plot. Will Bobby make it home? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Not that kind of fun