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FGC #311 Town & Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari

GrrrrrOn the surface, Town & Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari is an unremarkable NES game. It’s another cash-in release from the popular (at the time) Town & Country Surf Designs company, and another opportunity to ream the last few dollars out of that bizarre surf ‘n skate rage of the late 80’s. While the previous game could charitably be described as a sports title, this is an actual platformer seeing Thrilla Gorilla, the hip-hop surfing gorilla, venturing through deepest Africa to rescue his girlfriend, Barbie Bikini.

… Okay, yeah, there’s nothing unremarkable about that.

But everything else about the game is remarkable and absolutely horrible.

This game is one big Turbo Tunnel

KapowLet’s start with the gameplay. There are seven “worlds” in Thrilla’s Surfari, and each world contains four stages and a boss. Pretty straightforward NES thinking there, but it all goes downhill the minute Thrilla starts to… go downhill. There are five different kinds of stages available, and three of those are almost completely impossible right off the bat. Desert and jungle stages see Thrilla skateboarding across the dirt and sand, while surfing stages get some mild paddling in across randomly occurring rivers. Skateboarding-a-stage has occurred in other games before (the Ninja Turtles were all about it for a level or two), but most of the time, that’s a way to make “normal” gameplay seem exciting by adding a scrolling background. Here, it’s an excuse for Thrilla to die horribly and often.

Technically (and only technically) Thrilla has a lifebar. However, those extra hits are not going to do the guerilla any good, as the most common obstacles are instant-death logs, rocks, and bottomless pits. And every death guarantees a one-way trip back to the start of the stage, progress be damned. While you can slow down to avoid many traps, Thrilla has a need for speed, and that “need” is a necessity because those bottomless pits are long and numerous. In short, this makes nearly every a stage a memorization challenge on par with Battletoad’s Turbo Tunnel. And at least the Turbo Tunnel had checkpoints! Every mistake here is an excuse to start the stage over again, and, should you miss a single jump, you know what you have to do all over again.

I’m assuming most people who dared play this game never got past the first stage, which is a shame, because it’s not even the most terrible experience available on this cartridge…

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

WeeeeeeDo you remember Mega Man 2’s spikey wall pit of doom leading to the Guts Tank? Or when it appeared again in Mega Man 3’s Spark Man Doc Robot stage? Was that your favorite part of the game? Or was that a terrifying drop into the unknown where you knew that gently nudging the crosspad in the wrong direction would spell instant death and a complete loss of progress? Do you still have nightmares about those death canyons? I do. I lose sleep over all the little metal boys I’ve killed in those drops.

And the waterfall stages of Thrilla’s Surfari are just that, forever, without the “warning” screen scroll. They are free falls where your action buttons do nothing (no swimming up the current for you), and your only hope is to steer Thrilla away from rapidly encroaching rocks. On the plus side, these stages are short, but on the minus side, they will eat up all your lives before you make it past the first strata.

Memorize, use “slow motion”/save states, or die. These are your only options in waterfall stages. Which is kind of a shame, because the waterfalls usually precede…

I’m on a shark!

I'm not the only one that sees that, right?Against all odds, the water stages of Thrilla’s Surfari are the best. Thrilla forsakes his beloved board for a shark, and suddenly the game becomes an underwater shooter. And, what’s more, it’s a really forgiving shooter.

I’m pretty sure this whole section of the game is programmed wrong. Every time Thrilla steers his shark up to a pocket of air, his health replenishes to something like 8 HP, which is considerable compared to his normal 2 HP (health may be expanded by collecting bananas in normal stages. Note: we have no bananas). With air restoring health to previously unseen levels, it would be natural to assume that the shark stages use a Super Mario 64-esque “health as air” system, but… nope. Your health descends only thanks to random jellyfish attacks, and that’s about it. So, for shark stages, you’ve got an enormous amount of health, and an easy way to replenish it all at the tap of a button. It’s… basically the opposite of the rest of the game. And that’s a welcome change.

The bosses are MS Paint fever dreams

Seven worlds, so seven bosses. The big final boss is unique (and like a lava slug monster), but his underlings are all recycled at least once, so we wind up with three bosses, and each has their own recolor. Pretty simple so far, let’s take a look at our first boss…

Charge!

Oh Jesus Christ what am I looking at here? That’s… a double rhino? With wings? And of course it shoots its horns at you, because what else would it do? Thrilla lobs back exploding coconuts in turn, but is that really going to do any good? Does this… creature have thick rhino skin? Or feathers? How does it fly? How does it… poop? Is that the purpose of the projectiles? This monster should not be!

There’s also a giant scorpion that is comparatively very tame, but before you fight that, there’s this fellow…

Sharky!

This is some “intern’s first day” pixel work going on here, and I’m pretty sure someone noticed, as this shark shoots toilets at its enemies. That can’t be a coincidence, right? That it is trash shooting literal garbage and bathroom equipment? Someone on the staff knew they were looking at crap, and planned accordingly.

Oh, and all of these bosses are, naturally, completely impossible, and Thrilla lacks any invincibility frames to even grant the player a moment’s respite amidst the projectile deluges. But I figure I don’t even have to note how wildly unfair this game is at this point.

The plot isn’t better than the gameplay

And when I say “isn’t better” I mean “is racist as hell”.

Thrilla’s girlfriend is Barbie Bikini, and she’s kidnapped by an evil god (or something) that wants to toss her into a volcano, because, I don’t know, I guess it’s going to keep the Double Rhino happy. And, in its own primitive, NES way, that’s fine. The whole kidnapped princess thing worked for Mario, it can work for Donkey Kong’s little brother just as well. Unfortunately, Barbie was kidnapped by a literal Witch Doctor, and that means a trip to Africa. And who is hanging around Africa? Spear-chucking natives of course! And there are no signs of civilization in darkest Africa, but there are stages named for native cannibals! Not okay, guys!

Luckily, all of Thrilla’s friends moved to Africa, too, so we’ve got the assistance of…

Tiki room

Tiki Man…

So cool

Joe Cool. And, of course, our favorite surfer-cat…

AHHHHH

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

The game delights in trolling the player

So the third world is entirely desert based. The first two stages are pretty straightforward, but then the third is “the blue desert”. And it’s littered with coconuts, the items that allow you to play a completely annoying bonus game at the end of the stage. To be perfectly clear, every stage contains maybe a total of five coconuts, while this area has upwards of forty. The first thought of any given player is likely that this is some manner of bonus stage, a level made just to make you feel good, and, at the end, you’ll be able to earn a number of extra lives. It was very common in the NES days, and even Battletoads had the occasional stage that was just a pleasant breather.

But, nope…

WHAT?!

Ha ha. It was all a mirage. You stupid monkey.

So way to go, Thrilla’s Surfari, you’re memorable for all the wrong reasons.

FGC #311 Town & Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. Like our other Town & Country release, I really doubt we’ll see this one revived for any reason.
  • Number of players: You can’t even die repeatedly with a buddy. One player only, suckers.
  • Say something nice: The game has a stupid difficulty curve, with the first level easily being the absolute worst (save waterfall stages). While it would have made an equally lousy impression for aesthetics, the game should start with the vastly easier desert environs. That would almost make the game…. At least playable.
  • An end: Despite the proliferation of cinema scenes throughout the game, the ending is short and to the point. It’s… fanservice.

    Teehee

    There. That’s the thirstiest image ever displayed on the NES.

  • Sidenote: Barbie Bikini appears to be the only woman in this entire game. Well, unless the double rhino is a lady double rhino.
  • Did you know? Town & Country Surf Designs is still a major manufacturer of surfboards, and they relaunched Thrilla and the Thrilla Krew branded merchandise last year. You too can finally own a Thrilla Gorilla t-shirt! Please note that Tiki Man has been rebranded as Wave Warrior, and Kool Kat is nowhere to be found.
  • Would I play again: Not for all the coconuts in Africa.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tomba for the Playstation! Do I smell bacon? Please look forward to it!

Cowabunga
At least there’s lava surfing

FGC #227 Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage

Let's go surfin' nowHere’s your game development tip from someone that has never developed a game, but at least knows how to surf.

Today’s game is Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage. If you’re of a certain age, you likely played this game on the NES, because, as we’ve determined, skateboards are cool. And this game is doubly cool! You can skateboard (shred?) and surf! By God, if you were to include bungee jumping, then this would be the coolest game ever created! Is there a gorilla that is edgy, in-your-face, and likes to get bi-zay? Consistently and thoroughly! Yes, this was a game scientifically calibrated to appeal to the late 80’s kids that lived in fear of having their shorts devoured.

But once you actually got the game home, T&C Surf Designs was kind of… limited. First, there’s the skateboarding section (wood rage?). You’ve got your choice of Tiki Guy or Elvis, and then it’s your job to navigate either of those rad dudes through a skateboarding obstacle course. It’s… not that exciting. It’s basically what would evolve into the “endless runner” genre, and, what’s worse, the controls are fairly terrible. There’s a difference between “jump” and “jump with skateboard”, and, while there is barely ever a reason to “just” jump, jump with skateboard requires some extra controller input, and the NES has about a 50% accuracy rate on actually identifying your feedback. Long story short, Tiki Guy is going to fall in the inexplicable gigantic gap in the sidewalk a lot.

WoooooHowever, it is possible to “git gud” at T&C skateboarding. Assuming your d-pad is being responsive today, it’s not that difficult to rack up a continuous “combo”, and, when you’ve avoided obstacles for a set amount of time, the timer stops, and basically everything you do rewards thousands of points. It takes some practice (and a little luck), but considering the tracks are (mostly) preset, you can beat that intimidating high score pretty swiftly with your badical skateboarding moves. It’s not like this is Skate or Die, where there are more events and playstyles to test your skateboard mastery, but it’s a fun little distraction, and could maybe qualify as a full videogame experience back in the day. This was on the same system as MagMax, after all.

And then there’s Town & Country Water Rage, the surfing section. Here is where things get… choppy.

I mentioned before that surfing is inherently cool, but that always took on an extra level for my childhood friends and I. I have (almost) always lived in a shore community, which means two things: tourists and the beach. As a result of that combo, the average shore kid feels a gigantic level of propriety over the local beach that is empty eight months out of the year, and then choked with tourists (we call ‘em “shoobies”) when you actually want to go out and take a dip. This creates a weird, deep-seated hatred of the throngs of people that are just trying to enjoy their vacation, and also, ya know, bolstering the local economy to ludicrous levels. Regardless, nobody that’s local wants to be accidentally identified as a vacationer. That would be like asking a Vietnam Veteran if he lost his legs in a bouncy house.

WooooSo one surefire way to prove yourself as a local was to be good at ocean sports. Oh, dude, I’m a lifeguard at my summer job. Local! I’m captain of the swim team. Local! I can build a sandcastle at a twelfth grade level. Local! And, of course, I surf on the weekends means, yes, you’re a local. Bonus points if you’ve got a wetsuit and catch those swells opposite hurricane season. Sure, it might be deadly, but you’ll be buried in a local cemetery. Assuming they ever find your body…

But for your average young shoreian, none of those options are available. Nobody is going to let a seven year old become a lifeguard, and even sandcastle construction is moot when your neighbor’s older brother has started a booming demolition business. And have you ever actually seen a surfboard in reality? My first board, purchased when I was a teenager, was a 9 ½ Rusty. That “9 ½” stands for 9 ½ feet of surfboard. Can you picture a child towing one of those around? And, more importantly, can you picture a youngster that is tied to that board being dragged (hopefully) to the shore the minute the slightest wave appears? Don’t go chasing surfboards, kids! Stick to the wakeboards and the boogieboards that you’re used to.

So, for a young Goggle Bob, T&C Surfing was the only surfing available. Surely being good at this game would make me cooler than the cool kids.

And then I found out that’s impossible.

OuchThe surfing section of T&C is inscrutable. There is nothing “surfing” about this. The crest of the wave is apparently static, and you’re supposed to, what, do random tricks in this weird ocean simulation? You have to avoid seagulls and tubers, that’s pretty “videogame”, but aside from those obvious obstacles, your goal here is… confusing. You accrue points for every second you’re still on the board, and… how do you do that? You seem to be constantly descending, and you can try to avoid the “fall”, but then you wind up dying in the crest. And, eventually, seemingly completely arbitrarily, you reach the beach, and you get some bonus points before starting it all over again. Thanks for playing?

For the record, the original version of this article was probably going to be some ranting nonsense about how T&C Surf Designs is completely impossible, and no one has ever figured out this sphinxlike boloney, and damn you, LJN for once again producing a game that ruined my childhood.

Then I decided to check Gamefaqs And it turns out there’s a real way to play T&C Water Rage!

Here’s the deal: You’re supposed to use A & B on the control pad to “steady” your surfer. And… that’s it! It’s supposed to simulate the (very real, very difficult) act of properly balancing on a surfboard, and that’s the trick to completing this half of the game. If you’re going too far right, tap B, and if you’re sliding back into the crest, tap A. That’s all! You’ll be a surfing pro in no time.

Somehow I played this game for nearly thirty years without this knowledge, and I’m going to blame the designers for that.

WooooooYou could liken this to learning that there’s a jump button in Super Mario Bros. It’s a game changer! It’s the only way to truly win the game! But, in Super Mario Bros, if you ignore that jump button, you’re never, ever going to make it past the first goomba. It’s literally impossible without jumping. In T&C Surf Designs, it is actually possible to finish a surfing stage without having any idea how to play the game. It’s terrible and frustrating, but there’s no clear indicator that something is off, and you can “keep going” without ever having a damn clue that anything is wrong. And, to be clear, even once you know to properly balance, you may be wrecked by the same “goombas” that would ruin a veteran player. So even if you happen on the right way to play by frantically hitting buttons, you might not even notice your success.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes for a bad game. If there’s no feedback on whether you’re doing something wrong or right, you’re playing a bad game. End of story.

Trust me, I’m a local. I know how to surf.

FGC #227 Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, the coolest system for eight year olds ever.
  • Number of players: Two players, alternating. Your friends will get mad if you never die and they can’t play.
  • Save your brain!All Together Now: There’s also a mode that combines the Wood & Water Rage sections into one complete play experience. Unfortunately, it’s just alternating wood and water stages, so there isn’t some amazing cohesion going on here. I always thought it would be cool if, when you fell into a hole in the skateboarding section, your skateboard would morph into a surfboard, and then you’d start that watery section. Also, there should be more robots. With lasers.
  • Itinerant Liar: My buddy Sean claims to have seen the kill screen for the surfing section of the game. Sean is clearly not one to be trusted, one way or another.
  • Favorite Character: There is a surfing cat in a tuxedo. I would very much like to be a surfing cat in a tuxedo. Think about it: cats hate water! And he surfs! In a tuxedo! It’s amazing!
  • What’s in a name: Okay, the actual names of the characters in this game are Tiki Man, Joe Cool, Kool Kat, and Thrilla Gorilla. None of those names required any creativity. There, I said it. Thrilla Gorilla is probably best known for headlining the T&C sequel, Thrilla’s Surfari (sic), which is a completely different, though no less awful, game.
  • Did you know? There are turtles on the skateboarding track (they do not bite). Because of the limited NES palette, the turtles change color according to the selected player. Tiki Man, the Luigi of the adventure, gets green turtles, but Joe Cool, the supposed headliner, gets abnormal, red turtles. I think we all know who should be the real main character.
  • Would I play again: I might just to show my friends that there is an actual way to play this game “right”. Otherwise, no. Tubularly no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64! Aw… ROB? ROB, I thought we were friends. Why you gots to hurt me? Now I’m going to have to hurt some dinosaurs. Please look forward to it!

Go Go Gorilla

FGC #196 Back to the Future

Shouldn't the school and the dance be the same place?Back to the Future, the movie, has surprising origins. For the start of a timeless franchise, BTTF began as simply an idle thought inspired by an old yearbook: “If I knew my parents in high school, what would I think of them? Would I think them nerds? Bullies? … Sluts?” From that simple premise, an ageless trilogy was born, and everything involved (the time travel, the DeLorean, even Doc) was invented to serve a plot that got a teenage boy back to a place where his mom had a different kind of love for her son. It’s easy to forget after trips to the future and the Old West, but the only reason Marty McFly had an adventure at all was to serve a fairly mundane premise (“I bet dad was a nerd!”).

Videogames are forged in much the same fires. I’ve mentioned it before, but some of the greatest games and franchises came from simple concepts like “how about two guys fight” or “here’s an animal that runs fast”. The canon story of the Mega Man franchise involves thousands of years and having to learn the plural of “apocalypse”, and it’s all in the service of explaining why you have to talk to a monkey every time you want to save. The best videogames perfectly integrate their gimmicks with their gameplay and stories, and, sometimes, you get a portal gun out of the deal.

Unfortunately, there are also licensed games. Licensed games, by definition, must properly serve their corporate masters, so, more often than not, you get a big pile of crappy gameplay recklessly duct taped to a movie or book’s original plot. It’s just as rare to see a movie translate well to a videogame as it is to see a videogame transition properly to the big screen. It’s not impossible, but it’s often pretty damn difficult to translate the pacing of a movie to a game where there must be constant “somethings” happening. It can kind of work for an action movie (assuming the action movie features approximately 12,000,000,000 random mooks), but apply that same kind of a thinking to a sci-fi action comedy, and, well, good luck.

NOT FUNSo I don’t envy LJN for having to make a Back to the Future videogame. You could potentially make individual games out of parts of the Back to the Future story, but attempting to tie it all together? Recall that Marty spent an entire day locked in a garage. That is not a good premise for a level! So, while there are a lot of great moments in BTTF, bringing all those moments together in a manner that would be coherent wouldn’t really work for a videogame.

So LJN said, “Hey, screw it, let’s try to cram everything in here anyway.”

It didn’t work out well.

The biggest problem here is that LJN chose to base most of the game on Marty walks around aimlessly. It’s true that, if you really pay attention to BTTF, Marty spends a lot of time just walking between Doc’s place, the high school, and certain modest billboards. Fortunately, not much of the cinematic run time is given over to actually watching Marty walk down suburban 50’s streets while he avoids bees, hula hoops, and conspicuous bowling pins. However, LJN must have loved the idea of Marty on the tough streets of idyllic Hill Valley, because every “world” features at least three stupid segments of, basically, BTTF: The Endless Runner. I’ll give LJN credit for being ahead of its time on this one, but, in a universe that could involve driving a DeLorean, we’re stuck spending 80% of the game hoofing it. Sometimes there’s a skateboard, but the only way that enhances gameplay is by making the stupid game end faster.

NOT FUNLuckily, someone noticed this “gameplay” was about as fun as sitting in a deep fryer, so every few stages are punctuated with another iconic scene from the movie.

And LJN continued to get it wrong.

The first minigame is BTTF Tapper. Marty is at Lou’s Café, and he must repel a fundamental army of bullies with… root beer? As you can probably guess from my glib titling of the area, this bit plays a lot like Midway’s old Tapper game, and the gameplay is simply sliding Marty up and down to properly lob projectiles at approaching malcontents. This is about where every single childhood playthrough ended for Wee Goggle Bob, because you must eliminate, I believe, 20,000 bullies before you’re allowed to proceed. If you fail, you’re forced back to the start of the most recent walking stage, and then, hopefully, you’ll have better luck next time.

This is a weird way to memorialize Lou’s Café in videogame form. You may recall that there is a bully confrontation at Lou’s Café, but the real joy of that scene occurs right outside, when Marty creates a makeshift skateboard, and leaves Biff… in a crappy situation. This thrilling action sequence is ignored so Marty can serve drinks. Huh.

NOT FUNThe next minigame makes a little more sense, but only marginally. I suppose the game had to acknowledge time traveling oedipal complexes eventually, so at “The School”, Marty must attempt to repel the romantic advances of his mother through heart catching. While this could have translated to an X-rated game of Janken, what we wind up with is basically the previous Tapper challenge in reverse. Lorraine Baines produces a series of hearts, and Marty must “block” those hearts by… running straight into them. It is completely unintuitive, and you’re likely to lose a life immediately thanks to the total lack of an explanation beforehand (pop quiz: do you dodge or catch projectiles in every videogame ever made?). However, this challenge is about a million times easier to complete than the Tapper segment, particularly after having completed that gauntlet. Tapper is the Turbo Tunnel of BTTF, Heart Catcher is practically a Kirby game.

But no time for love, Dr. Jones, it’s time for the Under the Sea Dance. Lorraine is finally willing to settle for George, and Marty has to get those cute kids back together through Guitar Hero. I have to give LJN credit here, this primitive rhythm game is pretty alright for its era. You must “catch” music notes to keep the song going and your parents’ libido throbbing, and, if you ROCK OUTunderstand music at all, it’s remarkably easy. Regular notes are always “middle”, flats are always low, and sharps are always high. I can’t speak to how closely the arrangement actually resembles Johnny B Goode, but there are rhythm games even today that have worse interfaces than this ’89 NES game. Good job, LJN, you got one thing right.

Then again, this interpretation of the dance ignores all the other fun stuff that Marty could be doing during this scene, like ducking thugs or helping in a game of Punch-Out with Biff. Still! Good effort! Maybe we can revisit this scene in the sequel (whoops, nope).

And then, finally, we have Marty trying to make his way back to the future. It’s the night of the big thunderstorm, and (finally!) we’re behind the wheel of the DeLorean. It’s time to drive home! And… it sucks.

WINNERThe gameplay here is theoretically sound. You’ve got to hit that iconic 88 MPH, but you have to avoid lesser lightning bolts along the way. Luckily, you don’t have to assist Doc Brown in inventing the zip line, but every little bolt drastically hampers your speed. And it doesn’t matter if you maintain 88 MPH for the entire level, if you whiff at the finish line, guess what happens? That’s right, it’s an instant Game Over, and you’re right back to the beginning of the game. Not the previous level, you have to complete everything all over again. Considering this is the first time you ever see DeLorean gameplay, making the event pass/fail is downright punishing. But don’t worry! You’ll get another chance if you play the entire game again!

I.. don’t think many people spring for that option.

Back to the Future: The Movie is an amazing movie based on a simple idea. Back to the Future: The NES game is dreadful, and based only on pointless greed. Guess which one founded an empire.

FGC #196 Back to the Future

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and don’t expect to see it anywhere else.
  • Number of players: For such a great cast of memorable characters, we’ve only got Marty. Doc is presumably narrating to the player, but he isn’t even seen, left alone an available second player.
  • Just play the gig man: Most of the game has one background track, which is actually a sped up version of The Power of Love. It’s practically unrecognizable, though, so screw that noise.
  • UghSo, did you beat it: This was one of my precious few NES games as a child, and, yes, I actually beat it on the original hardware. And it was on my first go of the DeLorean stage to boot. And then… I never beat it again. I tried to showcase my mad skillz for my friends, but I was never able to complete that stage without save states again. Now I’m old and bitter.
  • An end: Oh, and your reward for completing this game is a single written paragraph about Marty successfully returning to his own time. You don’t even get a cathartic image of Marty living his new, high-rolling 80’s lifestyle.
  • Did you know? Bob Gale, one of the writers of Back to the Future, called this abomination the worst videogame ever, and recommended people not buy it. Another fine Bob from history, folks.
  • Would I play again: No. Never. And that stupid song is going to be stuck in my head forever, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine! I’ve never been able to determine if that is the best title ever, or the worst. Maybe we’ll figure it out. Please look forward to it!

FGC #174 Wolverine

Look at these nutsI don’t need to explain Wolverine. I don’t think I even need to explain Wolverine to my mom (the woman that looks at my Hellboy library editions and worries I may have joined a cult). Wolverine is, without question, the most popular X-Men character (non-Marrow bracket), and has not only appeared in every X-Men movie, he’s also had a fair few spin-offs. I’m pretty sure he had his own animated series in there, too. The odds of you reading this article (or even just being able to read) and not knowing of everyone’s favorite Canadian are so infinitesimally low, I’m disappointed in myself for even entertaining the notion of having a paragraph explaining the little mongrel.

Wolverine is friggen’ Wolverine. The end.

This was, to a point, even true in 1991. At that time, Wolverine hadn’t yet made his bub-laden splash on the X-Men animated series (to be released a year later), but Wolverine was still the most popular X-Men by a pretty significant margin. Like Mickey Mouse or Superman, I literally can’t remember when I first heard of Wolverine, but, somehow I already knew “that guy” by the time he had this solo adventure on the NES. Heck, he’d even already appeared two years earlier in (the abysmal) Uncanny X-Men for the NES. But, obviously, Wolverine’s original home was comic books, where he starred in an estimated twelve billion issues going all the way back to The Incredible Hulk #180. I still don’t completely understand the appeal (maybe it’s the hair?), but, somehow, Wolverine has become Canada’s most popular export over the last (nearly) half a century.

Now, you have any character running around for decades, and they’re going to pick up a few idiosyncrasies, particularly if they’re written NINJA!by Chris Claremont. Wolverine is, for instance, Canada’s first samurai. He’s also fought in every war that has ever been, somehow. He hung out with Captain America, Nick Fury, and Black Widow all before they were famous. He has hunted and eaten dinosaurs. I think at one point he wore a nightdress. It’s been a good (“good”) couple of years for Logan, and his claws have diced up everything from robots to aliens to Nazis.

So there’s a pile of material to draw from for X-Men’s most violent mutant. Videogames, particularly of the NES era, were all about running around and wrecking stuff, so Wolverine would be a perfect fit with his menagerie of monsters. Grab a few issues, slap something together, and Sabretooth’s your uncle, we’ve got a game on our hands. Easy peasy.

Wolverine for NES… I guess it tries.

The first level of Wolverine is straightforward, and pretty much what you might expect for “Wolverine 8-bit Adventure”. We’ve got a bunch of platforms to hop around, some random soldiers with guns, and Silver Surfer-looking dudes that disappear, reappear, and shoot energy blasts. Allowing for the silver creatures to be mini-sentinels (or at least generic robots), this is pretty much Wolverine’s world, albeit one with more of an Arcade bend. Wolverine is trapped in some kind of deadly, tailor-made environment, but that seemed to happen to every other hero of the NES era, so par for the course.

Then Level 2, Trial by Air, is straight up a Mega Man stage. I guess the implication is that you’re on the underside of an airship (which did happen in Wolverine & Canuckles 3… wait, that might not exist), but between the disappearing robots, tiny platforms, harsh winds, and friggen magnets pulling Wolverine in random directions, well, I wouldn’t be surprised if some platforms Blowin' me away!were to cause mouth vs. nose debates a few years later. Why not stick Wolverine on a SHIELD helicarrier, guys? He’s good at those!

Level 3 is Trial by Traps, and it’s a ninja castle. Awesome! Wolverine loves fighting ninja. The game itself doesn’t explain if this is The Hand, Silver Samurai’s hired swords, or just a house full o’ ninja that Wolverine decided had to go, but what’s important are the series of spike traps, guillotines, and dudes in all black tossing around shuriken. This is some amazing Wolverine: Wandering Ronin nonsense, and, honestly, why isn’t this the entire game? We had some good times with ninja in the 80’s, let’s keep that party rolling!

Level 4: Trial by Water kills the momentum and may as well simply be named “The Water Level”. Honestly, as these things go, it’s not absolutely terrible, and I suppose it kind of fits in with the Wolverine motif and themes. He can heal from anything, right? So drowning is a threat, right? I seem to recall Daken having issues with puddles. Only issue is that, for once in all of gaming, Sonic the Hedgehog’s underwater style would make a lot more sense than the typical paddle along, swimming stage. Wolverine has a skeleton made of super dense metal: shouldn’t the backstroke do exactly nothing? The lil’ hairy dude should be sinking faster than Titanic 2: Electric Boogaloo. Bah! Physics aside, though, this is basically a less deadly version of that one Battletoads stage, which, alright, it does make sense for Wolverine to face the same challenges as Battletoads. They’re practically the same characters.

Level 5 is where it goes straight off the rails. Trial by Terror… I don’t know where they got this stage, but it sure wasn’t out of a Wolverine comic. I’ll happily be proven wrong on this, but everything about this stage screams, “transplanted from generic NES game”. There are skull piles, WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING!?skeletons, slime creatures, and what appears to be some unholy mixture of Frankenstein’s Monster and something out of Plan 9 From Outer Space. There is nothing “Wolverine” about this, and… was there a Halloween issue somewhere? Something with Kitty Pride telling a story or something? I’m thinking not, and this was just an excuse to use a whole lot of skull assets.

Unfortunately, Level 5 also drained all the original ideas out of the game, so Level 6 is just “a cave, but on fire”. It’s hot, hot, hot!… and that’s about it. Try not to melt.

And then we’ve got Level 7 and 8, which are both basically remixes of the first level. “Into the Fortress” and “Defeat Magneto” both pick up the narrative that Magneto is out for blood (or metal?) and Wolverine has to infiltrate the malevolent (this week) mutant’s citadel. This means a lot of bottomless pits, spikes, and generic robots. Maybe the robots are being controlled by the Master of Magnetism? I don’t know. But at least we’re back on track for something that seems like a Wolverine game, albeit a fairly generic one. There aren’t any more slime monsters running around, at least.

Oh, and when you defeat Magneto, he just runs away like he forgot to turn the stove off.

Coward!

But that’s okay, because the villain behind everything is Sabretooth, Wolverine’s rival that, depending on the issue, is either marginally brain dead or a Machiavellian schemer that never fails to make Logan’s birthday memorable. I suppose the plot here is that he was responsible for all the tricks and traps (and skeletons?) throughout the game, and now it comes down to Wolverine to end the Sabretooth menace once and for all.

You’re… not going to do that.

The idea here is to push Sabretooth off the nearby cliff (because Sabretooth is invincible, natch. Did you think you’d kill him with some magical sword?), but the NES is really not capable of controlling the AI for such a feat. As a result, please enjoy punching Sabretooth forever, and then having the jerk jump back to square one the minute you accidentally whiff a single punch. If you somehow complete this mission without first running out of lives and continues, you’re rewarded with Sabretooth taking a header off a cliff (which has never killed a villain outside of a Disney movie), and Wolverine taking off his own mask. Thanks for playing!

Die monster!So that’s the entirety of Wolverine for the NES. Is it a Wolverine game? Well, the first and last levels seem to hit that bar, and Level 3’s Ninja Land couldn’t be more Wolverine if it stuck a redhead in there, but aside from that? We’ve got at least half the game that could be any game on the NES (particularly if that game was made by Capcom), and just happens to feature Marvel’s favorite son.

Is that a bad thing? I don’t have any answers on this one. Wolverine has gone through a few mutations of his own over the years, and if Wolverine NES was the next big thing, you better believe those adamantium claws would be slashing up generic gray robots for the next decade of comics. There’d be a crossover with Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and you’d like it, because, hey, Wolverine is in this one.

Wolverine is immortal (except when he’s dead), and, whether he’s fighting Lady Deathstrike or “I don’t know, a fire stage?” he’s always going to be Wolverine. He’s the best at what he does, and what he does ain’t consistent.

FGC #174 Wolverine (NES)

  • System: This may surprise you, but Wolverine (NES) is a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Now you can both be Wolverine! A shame this game predates X-23, because a purple palette swap with no other explanation would be boss.
  • Spooky Details: The haunted graveyard (or whatever) stage features coffins that read “Logan”. Has that ever been scary? Seeing “your” name on a gravestone? I feel like there have been a number of times this has appeared in various media, but it only ever really seems scary when Scrooge McDuck is involved.
  • Thirsty?Past the Censors: Wolverine recovers health by consuming hamburgers and… bottles? What’s in those bottles, Logan? Anything we impressionable children show know about?
  • Support Group: Jubilee and Psylocke appear in this game to offer advice and react to things. We’ve also got Havok, Scott’s brother, who can be summoned if you find like one hidden door in one stage early in the game. I missed him, and I’m going to assume he’s completely useless, just like all Summers brothers.
  • Did you know? Wolverine’s healing factor doesn’t seem to overtly help much throughout the game, as you’ve got limited lives, continues, and drawing the claws drains your health with every swing for some reason. But! Unusually for a NES game, you respawn almost exactly where you died after every defeat, so it’s kiiinda like immediately healing and coming back after every “death”. Kinda.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. It’s not a bad experience, but Wolverine offers nothing new, one way or another. It’s not like I don’t have other X-Men options.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Herc’s Adventures for the Playstation! Let us venture back to an Ancient Greece that featured a number of surprisingly present/pudgy gods. Please look forward to it!