Tag Archives: NES

World Games (NES) Review

Back in the 1980s, there were a series of games known as the Epyx Sports series, consisting of Summer Games, Winter Games, and World Games. These titles found their way onto various platforms, with some versions being considered alright, while others were a little more… disastrous. Perhaps the most infamous ports of the series were those found on the NES, which are notorious for their poor controls.

How bad are the controls in the NES version of World Games? Well, the above usage of the words “poor controls” is probably being generous. Oftentimes, it feels like you have no control whatsoever in World Games. I really wish that were an exaggeration.

The concept of World Games is simple enough, it’s just a series of mini-games based on different sporting events from around the world (you even get an “educational” introduction to each game and its cultural significance beforehand). In execution, however, it’s anything but simple.

The controls are an absolute mess. At their least-offensive, the controls are easy to figure out, but difficult to actually perform, such as in the Caber Toss event, where you have to repeatedly hit left and right on the D-pad. It sounds simple, but it’s utterly demanding, and moving your thumb from one side of the D-pad to the other over and over again might give you blisters.

In the middle of the road are games like the Sumo Wrestling and Weightlifting events, which just feel like button-mashing nonsense. You’ll mash the A and B buttons as well as the D-pad repeatedly. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. I can’t figure them out, but at least something happens if you mash everything enough.

Then, at the very bottom of the lot, we have mini-games that seem uncontrollable. The Barrel Jumping and Slalom Skiing just seem out of the player’s control. There are only so many buttons on an NES controller, but it seems like no matter what you do your character doesn’t react. It’s almost as bad as Dark Castle on Sega Genesis.

The only redeeming aspect about World Games may be that its status as a two-player title means you can have a couple of minutes having a good laugh seeing who manages to pick up a win out of sheer luck (which is more than you can say about Dark Castle). But the humor to be found in the game’s irony can only go so far.

With some of the most abysmal and baffling controls in video game history, World Games on NES serves as little more than a prank to play on your friends.

 

1.5

Win, Lose or Draw (NES) Review

Win, Lose or Draw on the NES is quite possibly the stupidest game I have ever played. It’s not the worst, mind you (though it’s probably somewhere on that list), but it’s almost guaranteed the dishonor of being the stupidest.

What do I mean by “stupidest,” exactly? Simply that, by concept alone, this game never would have worked. But the developers went through with it anyway, and playing it for just a few minutes will prove just how pointless it is.

Long story short, Win, Lose or Draw was an American gameshow that ran from 1987 to 1990, and worked like something of a televised version of Pictionary. A team of men went up against a team of women, with one team member drawing an object, and the other members of the team trying to guess what they were drawing.

It certainly makes sense as a gameshow, but how do you translate such a concept to the NES? As it turns out, not very well.

In the video game, players can select to be a team of men or women (which does nothing but change the genders of the crudely animated characters sitting on a couch on-screen). You have two primary options of playing the game: one in which the computer automatically draws the subject, with players taking turns guessing the answer, and one where one player draws, and the other tries to guess.

The former mode is certainly the easier of the two, but seems to take away the whole point of the game itself. And who’s to say the players can’t just help each other out in guessing the answers?

The latter mode, in which players do the drawing themselves, sounds more ideal in concept, but we’re forgetting a very important detail: you have to draw with an NES controller!

Win, Lose or Draw of course uses pixel art, which you have to draw by using the D-pad. Suffice to say, it’s not ideal for drawing, particularly when the game asks you to draw round objects (my attempts at drawing a ball always ended up looking like diamonds). Sure, it’s not impossible to draw with a D-pad, but it is insanely difficult to draw most of the objects within the allotted time limit and make them even remotely discernible.

What’s even worse is that the game finds a way to make the process even more difficult. You would think that you’d simply have to hold down the button while moving the D-pad to draw, and letting go of the button would give a brief pause in the drawing in case you need to reposition the curser. But no. Instead, you just press the button to activate the “ink” and then move the curser with the D-pad. You then have to press the button again in order to turn the ink off. It sounds like a simple gripe, but it’s an awkward setup that just goes against your basic instincts. Coupled with the already tedious task of drawing using a D-pad, and it becomes disastrous.

Much like how players could potentially help each other when the computer is drawing, there’s really nothing that prevents the guessing player from seeing the word describing what the drawing player is supposed to draw. Players are asked to look away or close their eyes, but again, there’s nothing from stopping the players from helping each other out or cheating by looking at the answer ahead of time. This is just a concept that was doomed to fail.

“There’s nothing preventing you from seeing the answer and then guessing correctly before the picture is even drawn.”

Sadly, this is a game that is easy to imagine could work on more recent hardware. Imagine a similar game on PC, where one player sees the name of the object they’re supposed to draw, and use a mouse to draw it, while the other player gets a view of what’s being drawn and has to guess from their own computer and keyboard. Or what about a Wii U version, where one player draws the object on the Gamepad’s touchscreen, while the other players look at the drawing from the TV screen and type the answer using their controllers?

Basically, the very concept of Win, Lose or Draw is decent enough fun. But there was never any way that it would ever work on the NES, and it shows. The NES was just too limited to accurately capture the idea behind the gameshow in any sensible way.

I admit that I’ve played worse games than Win, Lose or Draw, and more broken ones as well. But with the exception of Where’s Waldo (also on NES), I can’t think of another game where the developers could have (and should have), at some point, stopped and realized there was just no way the game was going to work out.

 

1.5

Where’s Waldo (NES) Review

Where’s Waldo? on the NES is 8-bit Hell. It’s a game so fundamentally flawed and aesthetically unpleasing that it has to rank as one of the worst video games of all time.

For those unfamiliar, Where’s Waldo were a series of picture books which featured complex images featuring the titular character of Waldo hidden amongst the countless other characters and goings-on on the page. Though his candy cane-striped shirt, cap and coke bottle glasses may lead you to think he’d stand out like a sore thumb, the books were really creative in how they hid the character on each page, with plenty of other characters and objects sharing at least one similar trait to Waldo, to throw the reader off.

The books were a lot of fun, but they don’t exactly scream to be translated into video game form. But that’s just what happened on the NES in 1991, and it was a chaotic mess. But don’t take my word for it, just look at a screenshot of the game.

“Good lord, where IS Waldo?! Where is anything?!”

Under any circumstance, this would be one of the absolute ugliest NES games ever. But this is a case where bad graphics actually do equal a bad game, because the whole point is to find Waldo. But how can you tell what anything is when it looks like this?!

Most of the stages use this setup, and players have to find Waldo by hovering a square cursor over different sections of the picture, and selecting where they think Waldo is. If they find Waldo, they move on to the next stage. If not, time is taken away from the countdown timer. If the time reaches zero, it’s game over. Of course, you can’t pause the game at any point, to ensure you don’t cheat.

At the very least, Where’s Waldo? tried to take advantage of the medium in just about the only way it could, with Waldo switching locations in every playthrough. Something a stagnant picture in a book couldn’t accomplish. Not that it really matters, when the game itself makes finding Waldo an unfair situation with its horrendous visuals.

The game features three different difficulty settings, with the harder difficulties giving you less time, a smaller square, and bigger pictures with more characters.

Players are given a fair amount of time to find Waldo, so you might think about just randomly clicking everywhere until you find him. But that won’t serve you any good in the long run, because the time limit isn’t set to each level, but for the whole game.

As it is, Where’s Waldo would already be an abysmal game, but it’s this time limit for the whole game that really kills it, because the developers were seemingly sadistic in finding ways to cheapen this aspect.

You may notice when starting up the game that Waldo is holding a countdown timer…which is already ticking down. That’s right, before you even “play” the game, the clock is already running. But the worst part of it all is that, in between stages, you are taken to a map screen where Waldo walks to the next stage – where the player has no control and has no ability to skip – with the clock still counting down the whole time. And Waldo doesn’t simply walk to the next stage, either. Instead, he walks around aimlessly, zig-zagging all over the place before making his way to stages. It is an obnoxiously cheap trick that makes the game blatantly work against the player.

Where’s Waldo? does try its hand at some variety, with three of the game’s eight stages featuring different gameplay. But these stages may actually be worse than the rest of the game.

There’s a cave stage which is pitch black, with Waldo only showing up sporadically for the player to find them. If they manage to do just that, players then take control of Waldo (complete with slippery controls) and guide him to the exit. An hourglass icon also appears when controlling Waldo, but it’s actually detrimental and takes away a good chunk of time. It’s not like it’s an enemy that chases Waldo, it shows up and looks like a power-up or something. So it’s basically just another cheap trick for first-time players.

Then there’s the subway stage which – good heavens above – is on par with the telephone booth segments from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure as one of the most unnecessary, convoluted, and downright horrible stages in gaming history. Here’s another screenshot to give you an idea.

The goal of this stage is to guide that tiny, blue box (apparently a subway car) to Waldo and his glasses, and then work your way to the other side. The whole thing just looks like a jumbled mess, and because the game never has the courtesy to tell you what’s going on, I didn’t even realize you could change the directions of each space by pressing the B button until my fourth try. The worst part of this stage, however, is the character other than Waldo. This guy moves around the board, and if you come into contact with him, he will subtract from the timer at an absurd pace. You can blast through the previous stages in a minute’s time (dead serious), and this guy can eat up your remaining time in a brief second.

The final stage also changes things up…with a slot machine. The two slots on the sides move at a pace that you can time, but the middle slot moves so fast that getting all three slots to land on Waldo (the stage’s goal) is nothing more than an act of sheer luck. What’s worse, your cursor on this stage moves so slowly between the three buttons, that you’ll likely lose a lot of time going from one button to the next. It’s a disaster.

In case all this was telling enough about the game’s terrible quality, Where’s Waldo’s title screen features some of the most wretched, ear-piercing, headache-inducing “music” in video game history. So in case the game wasn’t hard enough on the eyes, it also assaults your ears.

Simple put, Where’s Waldo? belongs on a shortlist of history’s very worst video games. The Where’s Waldo? books may be colorful and fun, but the game is anything but.

 

1

The Karate Kid (NES) Review

Like so many other movie-based games to hit the NES, The Karate Kid’s transition to the world of 8-bit video games was provided by LJN, a publisher that has gained infamy in the world of retro gaming, for seemingly tainting every product they touched. The Karate Kid has become one of the most infamous examples of LJN’s 8-bit butcherings of beloved blockbusters, though it isn’t among their worst offerings.

The most immediate issue with The Karate Kid are the controls. As Daniel-san, players can use the A and B buttons to punch and kick, while pressing up on the D-pad makes you jump. The jumping is probably the biggest issue, as it never feels responsive enough to make the game’s platforming elements feel fluid.

Another issue comes in the form of Daniel’s special “Crane Kick” and “Drum Punch.” These moves are performed the same as the standard punches and kicks, but require the player to collect letters in order to perform them (Cs for the Crane Kick, Ds for the Drum Punch). These attacks prove to be self-defeating, since you’ll automatically use them the next time you perform their respective action, but you need to use these actions in order to get the letters to perform the special moves. So you’re basically unable to store up the letters to utilize them at later times, making you wonder why you need to collect the letters to begin with.

Probably the game’s biggest complaint is its often-unfair difficulty. The player is only given three lives with no continues, with game overs sending players back to the start of the game. It is possible to get extra lives, but only by racking up 20,000 points, meaning that unless you have a lot of patience and don’t mind the tedium, getting extra lives is more of a chore than anything. Another issue with the game’s difficulty is that there’s no temporary invulnerability after getting damaged once, meaning that when enemies manage to hit you, they’ll keep doing so and drain your life rapidly. Should you have enemies on both sides of you, forget it. They’ll be smacking you around and you’ll be bouncing about the place like a madman.

One of the most annoying issues, however, is how it’s often difficult to tell which parts of the environment are platforms you can jump on, and which parts are just part of the background. Combine that uncertainty with the aforementioned clunky jumping, and it can get really cumbersome.

Perhaps the developers cranked up the difficulty to try to extend the game’s length, as The Karate Kid only features four stages, which is short even by NES standards.

The first of the game’s four levels recreates the tournament from the end of the first Karate Kid film, where players have to face off against a series of opponents who gradually get tougher, somewhat like a fighting game. Unfortunately, you never recover health in between bouts, and again, you only have three lives to beat the whole game, leaving you at an unfair disadvantage from the get-go.

The rest of the stages are all sidescrolling, and feature waves of enemies that must be overcome, platforms that need to be jumped, and final showdowns to cap them off. These stages are all based on scenes from The Karate Kid Part II. Admittedly, these stages aren’t horrible, but they also aren’t anything stand out, either. The third stage at least tries to add some variety, as Daniel-san has to fight against enemies during a typhoon, which sends birds and debris flying the player’s way, as well as making the jumps more difficult (not that they needed to be). Still, the variety isn’t enough to lift the game above your average, forgettable sidescroller.

Another annoyance in the game are the bonus stages, which are either tedious (like the game where you have to catch flies with a pair of chopsticks), or downright confusing (like the game that tells you to “dodge” a swinging hammer, but you actually need to hit said hammer). What’s worse, these bonus games are found in rooms that are entered by pressing up on the D-pad, and since that’s the same way you jump, you’ll often enter these bonus games by accident when you’re just trying to jump.

It also doesn’t help that the game is pretty ugly to look at. Though it’s easy to blame visual blemishes on aged technology, there are still NES games that are colorful and lively to look at. The Karate Kid certainly doesn’t fit into that category.

In the end, The Karate Kid isn’t the same kind of broken mess as some LJN games were (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure), but its cheap difficulty, awkward controls and  bland level design prevent it from being anything more than another forgettable movie-based NES title.

 

3.0

JAWS (NES) Review

Like so many movie-based NES games, JAWS was unleashed onto Nintendo’s 8-bit console by the now-defunct, ill-remembered LJN. While JAWS is a superior game to most of LJN’s output, its utter monotony still makes it a completely forgettable experience.

One could say JAWS is a sort of pseudo-RPG, as the whole point of the game is to build up your strength to the point that you can defeat JAWS. The game even features a world map and random battles, much in the way old-school RPGs did.

The overworld sees players take their boat from one dock to another and back, over and over again. Going back and forth between two places would already make the game grow stale pretty quickly, but that’s only the beginning of the monotony.

The point of the docks is that they’ll give you upgrades (such as a tracker to find JAWS easier), or boost your power so that you can actually put a dent in JAWS. The only problem is that these docks require you to gather shells for payment for these enhancements.

This is where the random battles come in. As you make your way between docks, you may “hit something,” which initiates a sort of battle segment where your character (I don’t know which JAWS character they’re supposed to be) dives underwater to fight stingrays, jellyfish and smaller sharks. In these segments, you can move horizontally and vertically, and just keep shooting the sea life in hopes that they drop shells, all while avoiding getting hit, because if you get touched by an enemy once, you’re dead, and lose most of the shells you’ve collected. After three deaths, it’s game over.

This is where things get downright frustrating. The stingrays and sharks swim horizontally, while the jellyfish swim vertically as they spawn form the bottom of the screen. What quickly becomes annoying is that the shells will fall from fallen enemies to the bottom of the screen, where they’ll disappear after about two seconds if you don’t collect them. Oftentimes a jellyfish might spawn right where a shell lands, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Similarly, some of the stingrays move much faster than others (with no visual distinction between them to let players know which ones are faster and slower), so if a shell falls towards the sides of the screen, you may be better off ignoring it, instead of risking a fast stingray spawning and immediately taking you out and robbing you of your shells.

Another problem arrises with how the game fails to mention how many shells you need for the next upgrade or power boost. So you’re basically left guessing when you have enough, and if you don’t, you have to look for more random encounters and hope you can get enough shells out of it.

You’ll run into JAWS himself rather frequently, though his encounters are signified with his fin appearing above the water, as opposed to being random (though with that said, he also swims into some of the regular encounters from time to time). While it is possible to some damage to JAWS early on, he heals in between encounters, which is why you need to boost your power enough so you can finish him off in one go.

In between some battles, you’ll enter a bonus game (bizarrely referred to as an “extra scene”), in which you’re in a plane, dropping bombs at jellyfish in the sea (I am at a loss for words). The problem with these bonus segments is that they only control you have is dropping the bombs. The plane itself flies back and forth at its own speed, often at times when it’s impossible to hit any of the spawning jellyfish.

As a whole, JAWS is far from the worst LJN game: The graphics are actually pretty decent, and it controls well enough, which is more than you can say about their Roger Rabbit or Bill & Ted adaptations. But there’s just so little to it, and you just repeat the same things over and over again to the point of madness.

While the LJN catalogue may feature far more abysmal experiences, JAWS is a game that’s still swimming in all-too shallow of waters.

 

3.0

Yoshi Review

Yoshi

With the release of Super Mario World, Yoshi instantly became a Nintendo icon, often rivaling the popularity of Mario himself. It makes sense that Nintendo would want to capitalize on the character’s popularity, and make a number of games that starred Mario’s dinosaur friend.

The earliest game to feature Yoshi’s name was a puzzle game in the vein of Tetris called, well, Yoshi, which was released on the NES shortly after Super Mario World’s release. Though Yoshi can provide some decent puzzle fun, it lacks the greater sense of player input that made games like Tetris so great.

Yoshi is a block-falling game. But instead of blocks, we have Goombas, Piranha Plants, Bloopers and Boos. There are four possible columns these monsters can fall in, with two falling in different columns at a given time. The player taking control of Mario (not Yoshi, ironically), who can swap two adjacent columns with each other, with the idea being to match two of the same monster on top of each other, which lowers the columns, thus preventing them from reaching the top of the screen and ending the game.

Additional, lower and upper halves of Yoshi eggs will also fall on occasion. Connecting two lower halves works like connecting any other monster, but if you connect a bottom half with a top half, you will get extra points. If you can sandwich a few monsters in between the lower and upper halves of the Yoshi eggs, the egg will enclose all of them to give you extra points for each monster.

It’s really simple stuff, and unfortunately, the fact that you control Mario swapping the columns (as interesting as that is at first) means that you have no control over the falling objects in the way you do in Tetris (except the ability to make them fall faster). This ends up making things feel more luck-based, which really takes away from the game’s initial appeal.

There’s really not a lot else to say about the gameplay. It provides some quick fun, but the more luck-based aspects prevent it from being one of the better puzzle games on NES. There is a two player mode, which should add a bit to the game’s fun factor, but the fact remains that there are certainly better block-falling games out there, including others that star Yoshi (such as the exquisite Tetris Attack on SNES).

Still, there is some fun to be had with Yoshi, and the music is simple but enjoyable. It’s just nothing too special, which is a shame, because a game bearing the name of one of Nintendo’s most iconic characters could have been so much more.

 

5.5

The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout Review

Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout

The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout is one of the most empty platformers on the NES. Though it’s marginally less monotonous than Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle, it is nonetheless an overly simplistic gaming experience that lacks depth, and is made all the worse by sickening visuals.

The premise of Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout is simple enough: There’s an upcoming celebrating honoring Bugs Bunny’s 50th birthday, and so Bugs sets out to attend his party. But the other Looney Tunes, jealous that they never got parties of their own, try to stop Bugs from making it to his party.

It’s silly, but I wouldn’t exactly expect a groundbreaking plot from a game called Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout anyway. Where things really go downhill is in the gameplay.

From first glance, Birthday Blowout looks like a mediocre platformer. Bugs runs, jumps, and hits enemies with a mallet. Nothing special, but nothing too bad. Or so it seems. It doesn’t take long before the game shows a great lack of polish.

For instance, Bugs’ jump seems oddly restrictive. Many of the platforms in the game are placed higher than Bugs’ jump can reach, leaving you to think that, just maybe, the developers could have spent a little more time play-testing the game.

Another problem is that, every time Bugs gets hit, stars fly over his head for a good few seconds, preventing him from using his hammer. What’s worse, the hammer is so short-ranged that you often get hit when you’re hitting something.

Even though you’re likely to get hit pretty frequently, don’t expect to die a whole lot. The game is almost insultingly easy, with levels really only amounting to going right and then facing off against an incredibly easy boss fight (which take the forms of other Looney Tunes) before moving on to the next, collecting carrots and hearts along the way.

The hearts obviously refill health, and you come across them so often that you rarely have to worry about being taken out by enemies. Meanwhile, the carrots (which shoddily look like squares with a carrot in the middle) are used to play a bonus game after each stage, with every ten carrots allowing for an extra try in the bonus game for a chance to win extra lives.

"How do you defeat the Daffy Duck boss fights? Just grab the big carrot, you can just ignore Daffy entirely."

“How do you defeat the Daffy Duck boss fights? Just grab the big carrot, you can just ignore Daffy entirely.”

I will say, one thing I do like about the game is how after the carrots are grabbed, they become Warner Bros. logos that can be used as platforms. But that’s about as far as compliments go. Even the bonus game is a bit of a mess, being something of a roulette wheel/Bingo combination, with the goal being to stop the roulette at connecting numbers (connect three numbers horizontally, vertically or diagonally and you get an extra life). The problem is that the wheels fly through the numbers so fast that there’s no way to time it, and you basically just mash the button to stop the wheels and hope to get lucky (thankfully, it seems you can often win extra lives without even looking at the screen, so the randomness doesn’t always work against you).

What really hits the final nail in the game’s coffin is how hard it is on the eyes. Not only are graphics ugly, but the screen has a strange, jarring motion about it every time it scrolls. And jumping often causes this effect to get even worse. It really strains the eyes, and just makes things that much less enjoyable. There’s even a distinct lack of animation, with enemies just kind of dropping of stage after being hit with a hammer, and bosses barely flinching backwards when struck.

In case that weren’t bad enough, several stages in the game feature earthquakes, which makes the screen shake so badly you may get motion sickness. Worst of all are the oil drums in the game’s fifth world, which explode with a bright flash that’s really straining on the eyes.

Of course, the ugly visuals have to be coupled with sickening music, with the soundtrack being repetitive to the point of being obnoxious.

As a whole, Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout isn’t the worst game on the NES, but it is one of the really bad ones thanks to its empty levels, stupidly easy difficulty, grating music and stomach-churning visuals.

Bugs really deserved a better 50th birthday celebration than this.

2.0