Wario’s Woods Review

*Review based on the NES version of Wario’s Woods, as released on the New Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console*

Wario’s Woods was released simultaneously on the NES and SNES in 1994 (being the last officially licensed game released on the former). Unfortunately for Wario’s Woods, it saw very little attention in its day, seeing as gaming was well into the 16-bit generation, meaning the NES version went under the radar, while the SNES version was released amid many more high profile games. That’s more than a little bit of a shame, because Wario’s Woods brought an interesting twist to the falling-block puzzle genre.

Working as something of a cross between Tetris and Dr. Mario, Wario’s Woods sees players try to eliminate multi-colored monsters from a playing field. Getting rid of these monsters will require the aid of similarly colored bombs. By lining up a row of at least two monsters and one bomb of the same color (either horizontally, vertically or diagonally), you will destroy the monsters. If you can create a stack of at least five objects of the same color (again, with at least one bomb required), the eliminated monsters will leave behind a colored gem. If you line up monsters or bombs with a gem of the same color, every object of that color will be removed from the playing field instantly.

Be weary, if you can’t keep chains of eliminations going fast enough, Wario will appear above the field for a short time, summon more monsters, and lower the ceiling, decreasing the amount of space you have to work with (the ceiling can be raised, as you may have guessed, by completing more rows).

It may sound like standard fair for the genre, but the big twist Wario’s Woods brings to the table is that you manually control an on-screen character. Taking inspiration from Super Mario Bros. 2, Wario’s Woods pits Toad in the spotlight (well before he earned the title of ‘Captain’), who has to pick up and place the monsters and bombs under direct control of the player.

Toad can lift and drop whatever object is in front of him with a push of the B button, and can lift and drop an entire stack of objects with the press of A. Toad can of course only lift things that are level to him, but has slightly more leeway when dropping them (three squares of the playing field above his head). He can even kick an object to the next open space by pressing down on the D-pad along with one of the key buttons. Toad can also drop items/stacks directly underneath himself, and objects Toad is currently holding will also count towards a completed row should it match up. Mechanics like this can really be lifesavers if you find yourself sinking down the board amidst the rising stacks of monsters. Unfortunately, the aforementioned gems are too heavy for Toad to lift, meaning the player will have to get extra crafty if they want to take advantage of their ability.

It sounds pretty simple, but it’s pretty incredible how addicting the gameplay can get. This is one of those games that you can seriously lose track of time with. Wario’s Woods even keeps things fresh as you push further through the game, introducing monsters that can only be eliminated with diagonally-placed rows, and monsters that require to be part of two completed rows in quick succession in order to be vanquished.

The game consists of two different versions of its story mode (oddly referred to as “Round Game”), categorized as “A Mode” and “B Mode.” Both versions feature 100 courses, with the only difference I can tell being that the B game features boss fights. This is a game that doesn’t mess around, either. Wario’s Woods can get brutally difficult at times, with some levels seemingly punishing the player with certain death over one slight miscalculation.

It’s pretty long for a falling-block puzzler, especially on NES. Fortunately, this was one of the few games on the NES with a save function, with every fifth level working as a checkpoint for the player’s progress (with every completed fifth level being selectable thereafter). The downside to this is that if you’ve completed four straight levels and lose on the fifth, you’ll have to go through the previous four all over again. You can obtain continues which can be used to replay the current stage upon defeat, but you can only do so by collecting 30 coins. And you only get these coins if you complete a stage fast enough (every time Wario’s ugly mug shows up, 20% of the stage’s possible coins are deduced). So most continues you get will be obtained in the early stages. Because, again, this is one tough puzzle game. Only the most diehard puzzle fans will consistently claim coins in the game’s later stages.

The difficulty in claiming continues may be off-putting to some, especially considering the game’s already steep learning curve (okay, the basics are simple, but mastering them well enough to finish the stages quickly while avoiding Game Overs is another beast entirely).

One cumbersome element takes place when the objects fill the screen and the ceiling falls to the point that Toad can only move horizontally in a crawlspace equal to his size. You kind of wish, in these specific instances, that Toad could swap positions with the object directly in front of him. Because at this point, the game is essentially over, unless an enemy/bomb spawns in just the right spot to complete a row out of sheer luck. Some might say this is in the same tradition as Tetris picking up speed until you can no longer control it, but Tetris is a game you play as long as possible to beat your high score. Wario’s Woods features stage progression, so it can be frustrating when you get to the point when you know you’re going to have to replay the last few stages over, but just have to watch helplessly as Toad inevitably gets crushed, unless sheer luck buys you an extra few seconds.

Wario’s Woods also features a time attack mode and a VS. mode for two players, which could certainly become intense showdowns. These alternative modes give Wario’s Woods some variety, and can give you a much needed break when the “Round Game” gets too difficult.

One issue with the game is more of a recurring issue with Nintendo itself. And that’s how it’s the NES version of Wario’s Woods that keeps seeing re-releases, as opposed to the SNES version. For an NES game, Wario’s Woods looks great (being released so late in the console’s life, the game’s visuals are comparable to Kirby’s Adventure in how they push the NES), but it still doesn’t look as good (or as timeless) as the SNES version. What’s worse, every stage in the NES version has the same music. And while it may be somewhat catchy, the lack of audial variety does take something away from the experience.

It’s the NES version that has been released on every downloadable service Nintendo has provided, from Wii to Switch. It’s reflective of a weird trend with Nintendo where they seem to constantly be re-releasing NES games, but rarely those from their other systems. And that’s a shame because (unpopular opinion incoming) aside from the Mario and Mega Man games, not a whole lot of NES titles hold up. Meanwhile, the SNES has a timeless quality to the gameplay and aesthetics of so many of its games, that Nintendo’s apparent preference for its predecessor is dumbfounding. At least Wario’s Woods can claim to be among the handful of NES games not called Mario or Mega Man that’s still fun, anyway.

Wario’s Woods is a challenging puzzle game, no doubt. But those with the patience for it will find an incredibly addicting and rewarding experience that will keep them coming back. Now if only Nintendo could remember that this game was also released on Super NES…

 

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Wall Street Kid Review

The very existence of Wall Street Kid is a head-scratcher. Maybe, just maybe, there’s someone out there with an interest in both the stock market and video games who would like to see a game based on Wall Street, but it’s hard to imagine there’s be much of a demand for the concept. And in 1989, when gaming was aimed a bit more at a younger audience, it’s even more baffling to imagine such a concept actually came to fruition. But that’s exactly what Wall Street Kid was, an NES title centered around the stock market. Because what kid would want to delve into the magical fantasy worlds of The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario when they can experience… Wall Street?

Players take on the role of the titular Wall Street Kid, whose last name is actually Benedict (I guess ‘Wall Street Kid’ is his first name). The goal of the game is for Wall Street Kid to turn $500,000 in seed money into $1,000,000 through investments in order to prove himself worthy of inheriting his family’s fortune.

The game is basically a simplistic, point-and-click RPG of sorts. The game mainly takes place in Wall Street Kid Benedict’s office, where you can decide which companies to invest money in, and as the in-game days go by, you can see which stocks go up, and which ones go down. Just like in real life Wall Street, you’ll want to sell your stocks while they’re hot. But naturally, you can’t predict when stocks will begin to plummet, so if you wait too long to sell, you might miss out on your best opportunities.

I have to admit, there is a minor addicting quality in trying to keep up with the stock market and seeing how things play out, but it’s short lived. The game attempts to add a little something extra to the proceedings by means with little elements added to the stock market-based gameplay. You can pay a woman named Connie  for stock market insider tips (which I actually believe is illegal). This can give you a short-term advantage in stocks, though Connie’s insight isn’t always exact, so you could end up wasting money on information that provides no reward in the end (which I guess serves you right). Later in the game, you can even receive loans and go to auctions.

“The game’s primary menu. Click the computer for the stock exchange, the flowers for a date, the phone(?) to go exercise, the newspaper to refresh on that day’s stock market, and the clock to move on to the next day).”

An additional element is added to the game by trying to keep Wall Street Kid’s love life afloat. WSK’s fiancé Priscilla will often require you to take her on dates, as well as keep up your personal health in order to keep her affections. The dating options include picnics, shopping (which doesn’t use any of your in-game currency) and trips to the carnival. Meanwhile, your health options include swimming, going to the gym, and hiking. Though the only real difference between any of these (unseen) activities is that they’ll take up more time on the game’s clock, none of them boost your love life any more than the others. But you have to keep up at these activities pretty regularly, because if you lose your fiancé, the game is over.

So basically, an entire game day should consist of buying/selling stocks, going on a date, and exercising, with an additional stock activity thrown in every here and there. Strangely, there are some days where you can’t partake in one of (or all) of the dating and exercising options, but you can always just do them the next day anyway, so it doesn’t exactly throw a wrench in your plans, making you wonder what the point of these delays is, exactly.

The sub-plot with the fiancé is an…interesting way of trying to add something more to the game. But the idea of trying to keep WSK’s fiancé feels more like the concept of another game, and it really does feel tacked on. The intent to add something else to the game to remove some of the monotony of the stock market may have been well-meaning, but it only add to the game’s tedium in the end.

What hammers the final nail into Wall Street Kid’s coffin, however, is how it cheats at its own game. While the goal is to grow five-hundred grand into a million big ones, the game quickly throws a curveball at you by insisting you buy a new house with one-million dollars in cash. So the purchase of the house sets you back to step one. What’s worse is that the game presents you with the house dilemma within the first in-game month. The game presents you with the option of not taking the house, but you can only refuse it twice. If you refuse it the third time, the game will end because you failed to get the house (can’t you just wait for another house?). But it won’t end immediately after the third refusal, but after another in-game week (I guess to prolong the torture). So you have to spend your goal money on a house in the early game, when making that much money takes more time than it initially gives you. Of course you’re going to want to delay things, but if you delay it too long, you lose.

To make this conundrum worse, your fiancé will ask for a dog and a new car during this whole house debacle, which costs more money. Sure, you can refuse her wishes to save money, but that risks losing your fiancé which, again, loses the game. And a similar scenario (involving a boat instead of a house) occurs shortly thereafter, with similar aspects that work against the player. In a game all about the unpredictability of the stock market, do you really need these additional obstacles thrown at you when the money to solve these problems isn’t a guarantee? Sure, some might say the stock market in real life works in a similarly unpredictable manner, but this is a video game. Shouldn’t it at least try to make the stock market entertaining or something?

Wall Street Kid is ultimately little more than an exercise in tedium. The slight addictive nature early on may trick you into thinking there’s some hope for the baffling concept of a Wall Street-themed video game, but when the game’s sole input of gameplay is selecting the same few items from the same few menus over and over again, the game’s sheer monotony is quickly exposed. And it really doesn’t help things that the same, short loop of obnoxious music plays over the entire game. Yes, I’ve played more technically ‘broken’ video games, but few are as tedious as Wall Street Kid.

Who knows, maybe there actually is someone out there who’s enticed by the idea of a game built around the stock market, though it’s a concept that seems doomed from the start. Maybe with modern gaming hardware, that isolated individual might have a chance at playing a half-decent Wall Street game (though I doubt it). But an NES game built around the stock market was never going to work.

 

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Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles

With my recent overhaul of Wizard Dojo (with a new overall look and new scoring system), I figured I’d ring in this new era of Wizard Dojo-ing with a revised version of the very first ‘top list’ I ever posted here at the Dojo; Top Video Game Launch Titles!

The first time around, I listed five games, plus some runners-up. This time around, I’m upping things to a top 10!

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, a console doesn’t have to wait very long to receive its first masterpiece, with a number of consoles getting one of their definitive games right out the gate. Although it used to be more commonplace for a console to receive a launch title that would go down as one of its best games, the idea of a killer launch title is becoming a rarer occurrence in gaming.

Still, launch games have more than left their mark on the industry. Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most significant video games to have launched their console.

Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles”

Kirby’s Adventure Review

While Mario, Zelda and Metroid are usually seen as the ‘main events’ of any Nintendo console, it’s Kirby who has traditionally performed the curtain-call. Whenever Nintendo’s ‘big three’ are preparing for the next console in line, it’s Kirby who is holding down the established fort to give it one last hoorah. This tradition goes all the way back to the NES, when Kirby’s Adventure closed the book on Nintendo’s trailblazing home console.

The year was 1993, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis were well established by this point. With everyone invested in sixteen bit consoles, Hal Laboratory made the bold decision to release the second entry in their Kirby franchise on the nearly decade-old NES. It’s a gamble that ultimately paid off, however, as Kirby’s Adventure proved to be a fitting swan-song for the NES, one which could hold its own amidst the sixteen bit giants of the time.

Despite being Kirby’s second outing, Kirby’s Adventure feels more like the true beginning of the series. It was here in Adventure where Kirby could gain the abilities from the foes he inhaled. It also introduced the majority of Kirby’s classic rogue’s gallery (including the first appearance of Meta-Knight), as well as establishing King Dedede as a more comical, secondary antagonist, with a greater cosmic threat working behind the scenes (which has since become common place for the series). Dream Land may have been the original template, but Kirby’s Adventure is where Nintendo’s pink hero found his identity.

“Whispy Woods: The perennial first boss.”

Being released at the tail-end of the NES’s lifespan, Kirby’s Adventure brought out the very best in the system’s capabilities.It wouldn’t be a stretch to say it was the most graphically impressive game on the console, with large, lively sprites, colorful environments, and even some special effects you wouldn’t think the NES was capable of (including rotating objects that would look more at home on the sixteen bit consoles of the time). Kirby’s graphical fidelity is matched by one of the NES’s best soundtracks, which includes the origins of many of the series’ most iconic tracks.

It is of course in gameplay where Kirby shines brightest. His newfound copy abilities – of which there were 24 in their debut showing – made the gameplay substantially deeper and more varied than Dream Land. Hal implemented these abilities wisely, making Kirby’s Adventure a platformer that emphasized combat over actual platforming (seeing as Kirby can just fly over obstacles anyway). While later entries in the series would expand upon Kirby’s arsenal (the abilities here are one move apiece), Kirby’s Adventure used what it had to its fullest, even providing some rooms in between stages that simply gave Kirby access to some powers, that he might take one and unleash it upon the stages at his leisure.

The overall adventure is admittedly a bit brief, but pretty deep for an NES title. It will only take a few hours from starting Kirby off on his journey to his final confrontation with the Nightmare that threatens Dream Land. An additional difficulty setting, boss rush and sound test can be unlocked – foreshadowing the series’ eventual love with additional content – but you may wish there were more secrets to uncover in the main story mode other than a few different mini-game segments (Mini-games which, admittedly, might be the weak point of the game).

Kirby’s Adventure may have since been bettered by some of Kirby’s later, well, adventures (with Kirby repeating his ‘late to the party’ excellence on the SNES, N64 and Wii to great effect). But Kirby’s NES outing remains a definitive entry in the series. It’s Kirby in his purest form; blast through stages as the overpowered puffball, steal enemy abilities, and wreak havoc upon Kirby’s foes by giving them a taste of their own medicine. The formula may have been bettered with subsequent entries, but Kirby’s Adventure has aged gracefully, perhaps more so than any NES title that doesn’t have the names ‘Mario’ or ‘Mega Man’ attached.

The NES was a console that introduced the world of gaming to many of its biggest names. Kirby played a bit of role-reversal, however. Kirby began life on the Game Boy, but with his second outing, he gave the NES a new breath of life.

 

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Ninja Gaiden (NES) Review

“Nintendo hard.”

That’s a term commonly used to describe the often brutal difficulty of games found on the NES. From Mega Man to Castlevania to Battletoads, the NES was riddled with games so punishing, that arguably no system has since repeated such consistently high difficulty. Among the most famous of these “Nintendo hard” games was Techmo’s Ninja Gaiden.

Ninja Gaiden is a side-scrolling action game, where players take control of Ryu Hayabusa through six different worlds, each more difficult than the last. Ryu can jump, slash enemies with his katana, and use special items Castlevania-style by pressing up on the D-pad along with the attack button.

Perhaps Ninja Gaiden’s most notable aspect that set it apart from other 8-bit action titles, however, was Ryu’s ability to wall jump (these were simpler times, when a simple new game mechanic could be used as a selling point for a title).

“Though its story is nothing to write home about, Ninja Gaiden’s cinematics were novel in their time.”

For the most part, Ryu Hayabusa is a fun character to control. His jumping feels smooth and responsive, and the simple combat mechanics are quick and fun. On the downside of things, the wall jump – despite being one of the game’s biggest draws back in the day – isn’t nearly as consistent. Ryu sticks to any wall you jump towards, which is fine, but once he’s on there, it can get tough to get him down. You can’t simply drop down, and instead have to use the wall jump (which can get troublesome in enemy-packed areas). Problems arise though, when the wall jumping doesn’t always coincide with your button presses. It’s a strange phenomenon, because while Ryu’s controls otherwise feel completely responsive, you may have to press the jump button several times before Ryu decides to jump off a wall. Playing as a wall-jumping ninja certainly is a cool idea, but I’m afraid time has exposed how unpolished the mechanic was in Ninja Gaiden.

With that said, Ninja Gaiden is still a really fun game overall. The levels are short but challenging, and for the most part that challenge – while it can be steep – is generally fair. And thankfully, the levels feature a decent amount of checkpoints, and even game overs simply take you back to said checkpoints, so this helps keep the frustration down (though it also may make you wonder why game overs were even included to begin with). You even have unlimited continues, which means you have ample tries to learn from past mistakes.

There are two major caveats with the levels, however: the first is that dying during boss fights will take you back to the start of that level, which is a dumbfounding decision, seeing as any other death takes you back to the nearest checkpoint. I’m not even saying you need to start back at the boss door or anything, but why not the closest checkpoint? It’s just a weird inconsistency.

The other problem with the stages are how easy it is for enemies to respawn. Sure, many games feature respawning enemies if you go a certain distance and come back, but it seems like if Ryu moves even an inch backwards, previous enemies will respawn. This can make things kind of annoying when trying to make the game’s trickier jumps, and you need to keep readjusting your position, only for the enemies to respawn and stand in the path of your jump.

So Ninja Gaiden has a few aged elements to it. I suppose that should be expected, considering the NES era will still something of a pioneering time for the medium. But even if it can’t compete with more timeless NES titles like Mega Man 2 or Super Mario Bros. 3, Ninja Gaiden still displays a strong sense of fun and challenge. And hey, it’s still not as tough as Battletoads.

 

 

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Friday the 13th (NES) Review

There really aren’t a whole lot of movie franchises that can keep going strong after more than two or three entries (with Star Wars being one of those exceptions, though even it had the hated prequel trilogy to overcome before the franchise got back on its feet with The Force Awakens). But that doesn’t stop studios from overexposing movie franchises, even long after they’ve wrung dry. Horror franchises in particular, have a long history of never knowing when to quit, and Friday the 13th may have been one of the worst offenders, with ten total films in its original series, plus a crossover and a reboot during the 2000s. That’s a lot of mileage for a series that essentially boils down to little more than a madman killing a bunch of campers. Friday the 13th was one of those horror franchises where, much like its antagonist, it just wouldn’t die.

The 1980s were an exceptionally busy decade when it came to milking horror franchises. Another relic of the 80s came in the form of taking virtually any conceivable movie and turning it into an NES game, whether it had any right to be one or not. It only makes sense that both of these dreadful trends would eventually cross paths. Enter LJN’s NES adaptation of Friday the 13th.

In all fairness, Friday the 13th isn’t the worst LJN game I’ve played, but that isn’t exactly saying a whole lot. This is still a game that seems more cumbersome and convoluted than anything else, and still deserves its frequent ranking as one of LJN’s worst creations. But at the very least I suppose it bears the name of a movie that feels like a product of its time, as opposed to taking a classic like Back to the Future or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and turning it into a monstrosity. The downgrade in quality between movie and game simply isn’t as extreme here, if nothing else.

With that said, the game still isn’t any good. The whole goal of the game is to defeat Jason Vorhees, the ski-masked murderer from the film series, before he kills all the camp counselors. You take control of six different counselors, which have minor gameplay differences between one another (some are faster, others jump higher, or throw offensive rocks in different arcs), and the player will select a different counselor upon the death of the current one.

Admittedly, the “different characters as different lives” setup was original at the time, and some of the game’s other aspects, such as traveling through “3D” space in the different cabins, were also decently bold for their time… even if their execution leaves a whole lot to be desired.

The game revolves around the player moving around the campgrounds, finding lighters to light the fireplaces of the cabins, and slowly chipping away at Jason’s seemingly never-ending health bar whenever you come across him. Most of the game is played in a 2D side-scrolling perspective, with the cabins, once again, having a go at three-dimensional space.

Friday the 13th features a map screen (which you awkwardly open by pressing start and select at the same time), which shows your current location on the campgrounds. Every once in a while, an alarm will sound, informing you that Jason is on the prowl. During these times, you can also see where Jason is on the map, and you have to get to that location and combat him before a timer runs out, otherwise another counselor dies.

Here’s where things really start to get hairy. The time you have to face off with Jason is very limited (I don’t think it usually reaches the minute-long mark), and oftentimes Jason will spawn on the complete other side of the map. And seeing that most of the gameplay is on a 2D plain, discerning which direction during gameplay takes you which direction on the map isn’t always easy (or consistent).

In short, it’s easy to get lost, and even easier to lose multiple counselors to Jason before you even have a fair chance at reaching him.

Should you manage to locate Jason in a cabin, however, you are pitted in a battle against him that looks like something out of Punch-Out!!. You can slowly deal bits and pieces of damage to Jason, but he does considerable more damage to you, meaning you’re far more likely to lose a character to Jason than you are of sending him away for the time being. I will admit though, when you actually run into Jason upon entering a cabin and searching its every corner, his reveal is actually successfully startling.

Sometimes, you can even come across Jason in the 2D sections, in which case you simply try to pelt him with rocks (or knives, should you be lucky enough to hold onto them for a prolonged period of time), while avoiding his attacks. Slowly but surely, you can eat away at Jason’s health with every encounter, in hopes of eventually depleting it entirely and finishing the game.

Dare I say the idea of solely fighting Jason Vorhees may have made for an interesting game under the right hands? Like I said, when you do come across him, it’s probably as scary as the game could have been for its style and time, and the fact that he can run across you just as likely as you can come across him is a pretty suspenseful idea. But of course, this is LJN, so the concept becomes more than a little ruined.

On top of the confusing layout and navigation, the entire process just grows far too tedious. And more likely than not, you’ll probably lose all of your characters before you take out even a fraction of Jason’s health. And even the suspense of Jason possibly being around any corner is ruined by the inclusion of zombies, wolves and bird enemies. Sure, these enemies drop items like the lighters and the knives, but their inclusion seems unnecessary. Like they’re only there to fill out the map. But the game probably would have benefitted from a smaller map with no enemies, where maybe you had to find the items through puzzles or something, all while Jason is on the prowl. But, again, this is LJN. Shouldn’t expect too much.

In the end, Friday the 13th just ends up being another example of LJN’s almost shocking ability to produce rushed and unfinished games. Though some of Friday the 13th’s concepts were novel at the time, the horrendous layout and arduous nature of the game make it a complete bore.

 

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Back to the Future (NES) Review

Ignoring director Robert Zemeckis’ trilogy of uncanny valley heavy motion-capture films released in the 2000s, the famed filmmaker has had a pretty solid resume. Many of Zemeckis’ films have received high praise, and are remembered as classics of their respective decades, such as Forest Gump and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Perhaps the most beloved Robert Zemeckis film, however, is Back to the Future. With its unique blending of genres (a time-traveling/buddy comedy/high school drama), tightly wound storytelling (a movie about time travel that makes sense!), and its memorable characters, Back to the Future is one of the quintessential “80s movies.”

Like so many other beloved films of the 80s and early 90s, Back to the Future received an NES game courtesy of the now-defunct LJN, who became infamous for their ability to take seemingly any movie, and create a rushed, broken game out of it. And LJN’s treatment of Back to the Future frequently ranks as one of their biggest crimes against beloved movies.

Basically, the game works like this: You play as Marty McFly, the hero from the film famously portrayed by Michael J. Fox, and you make your way across rail-like stages, where you have to avoid enemies, collect clocks, and make it to the end of the stage with as much time left as possible. In between each series of walking stages are levels where you have to throw root beer floats at bullies, or collect hearts from love-struck high schoolers (or something).

In other words, it has nothing to do with the movie.

Mistake number one – which has been pointed out time and again – is that Marty bears no resemblance to the film’s main character. Sure, this was NES and developers could only do so much, but when the character’s red life vest and brown hair are replaced with a sleeveless black shirt and black hair, you get the impression they didn’t even try.

That’s actually the least of the game’s faults, however, as the actual gameplay is much, much worse.

In the walking stages, Marty automatically moves forward, with the player needing to guide him away from obstacles and enemies (which range from bees to hula girls) and grab the aforementioned clocks. There are two timers at the bottom of the screen. One of them, the more obvious timer, simply counts down how long you have to reach the end of the level. Every time an enemy hits you, you lose time on this timer. If it reaches zero, you lose a life. And however much time you have left when you reach the end of the level is multiplied into points.

The second timer is presented as a picture at the center of the bottom of the screen, and is suppose to represent the photograph of Marty, his brother and his sister from the movie (the one where each figure in the photo slowly disappears as Marty keeps inadvertently altering time). This timer works over the course of the walking levels, with the pictured characters slowly disappearing. For every 100 clocks you collect, you reset this timer.

Okay, things may not sound all that bad from that description, but where things really begin to fall apart are with the way Marty himself plays. For one thing, Marty’s standard jump is completely useless. If you try to jump over an enemy or obstacle, you just smack right into it, leaving you wondering why the jump was even included. You can, at times, find a skateboard (hey, something from the movie!), which allows you to move faster, and even makes the jump successful in leaping over some obstacles, but it also makes Marty move so fast that it becomes really easy to run into walls, and to miss out on collecting the clocks. So it’s a power-up that actively works against your goal.

To make matters worse, the enemies are all over the place, and most of them move much faster than Marty (of course). The worst are the bees, who will continuously follow you for a good while before they fly away. You can fight back enemies by picking up a bowling ball (remember the bowling scene from the movie? Me either), but if you get hit once, you lose the bowling ball as well as precious time.

As one final middle finger to the players, the clocks, skateboards and bowling balls are often placed directly in front of walls which will knock you down and steal time when touched. No point in even attempting to get those items, since you’ll just be punished for it as soon as you grab them, so then why are they even there? Back to the Future on NES was trolling before trolling was a thing.

Perhaps the worst bit of all is the music, which is just an obnoxious, sporadic loop of noise that repeats throughout the majority of the game. From the title screen and any level that features music (save for the final stage), it’s just the same scratching loop over and over again.

You may think that when you finally manage to get to one of the stages that doesn’t involve automatic walking, you are getting some kind of reprieve (not only are they different, but that awful music is muted as well). Sadly, you’d be wrong, as these stages may be even worse than the walking ones.

In the first such level, the one where you are throwing those root beer floats at bullies, Marty is confined behind the store counter. You can move up and down, and throw the delicious beverages at the oncoming bullies, who will charge towards Marty in different rows. Marty must continuously move up and down to make sure he’s in position to hit the closest bully. The problem is it’s incredibly difficult to make out when you are and are not in the right spot until the bullies are right in front of you. And should even just one of them make it to the counter, you not only lose a life, but go back to the previous walking stage! 

Keep in mind that you have to successfully defeat 50 bullies in order to finish this level alone, and said bullies increase in speed, and even start showing up in packs as you defeat more and more of them. I doubt most players would have the patience to continue with the game past this levels, but if they do, they can look forward to more walking stages, capped off with levels of similar difficulty to the root beer one. It’s a mess.

Back to the Future on NES should rank among the worst licensed games ever made. Up there with LJN’s own Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure. It not only has virtually nothing to do with the beloved film it’s based on (save for the title), but even without the mockery of its source material, it would still be a flat-out terrible piece of game design.

 

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