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Review – Contra (NES)

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Contra, why would we want to review a game that is like ten Twenty years old? I mean why not do the SIMs Second Life? or Lord of Destruction World of Warcraft? Or Half Life Half Life 2 – Episode 2, or whatever, the list goes on, the idea is why not something current. Well sometimes a game is just too go to be considered too old. When you can spend an entire night playing a ten year old game over and over you know it’s got to be a pretty decent game.

You see back before 3D everything there was 2D everything. Back before war games were all first person shooters, they were side scrolling platform games. The platform game is almost a lost art. Occasionally they still get released, great games like Strider 2, Silhoette Mirage or of course the immortal (literally) Mega Man series. Or you could also count the 1000 pieces of shit cranked out daily for the GBC (Trust only those made by Komani and Capcom, and sometimes not even those). Anyway Contra beget Wolfenstein, beget Doom, beget Half Life . When someone asks what the best game ever is be sure to reply River City Ransom, but when someone asks what the third best game ever is be sure to say Contra (Half Life being number 2 duh.)

So the plot for Contra is, you are the military’s elite commando and its your job to combat the entire Red Faction army. At least its probably something like that, I don’t have the instruction book around and there is no real in game story. For 6 levels you fight Red Faction forces and break into their main base only to suddenly be fighting a bunch of aliens. Where the hell did that plot point come from?

Anyway after killing the Alien leader, A.K.A. the “Obligatory Konami Brain Boss” you helicopter off the island (where did the chopper come from anyway?) and the island explodes. You can always tell a great game because at the end the hero will fly away in a helicopter or a space ship as the island or planet they were fighting on completely blows up for no real apparent reason. Then you’ll get a nice congratulatory message about saving the world then the credits roll then the best part comes. The game starts over. Back to level one.

There are literally hundreds of these Red Faction islands around, all of them identical except that each time the soldier will have a bit more ammo (as in they shoot you more). After blowing up one island where does the chopper go? Why it flies off to the next island. Good work soldier, you saved the universe, from one threat, now it’s back to work on the next island. This gives the game great replay value. Just put in the KONAMI CODE for 30 lives then see home many times you can complete the game before loosing all 30 lives and 3 continues (90 lives +extra lives from points). How’s THAT for a great way to waste an afternoon or a whole day.

But wait, what about your buddy, he want’s some of the action too? Well sometimes the military sends its marines in by the pairs. You can play two players in this game simultaneously. Which is twice the fun, expect when the Spread gun appears, because everyone always wants the spread gun.

Review – Back to the Future (NES)

Ok, let’s cut to the chase, this game sucks.

I have long pushed this game as the worst game I have ever played, though I’m not so sure about that anymore.  Back to the Future is was a pretty bad ass awesome film, even back when it was new when this game came out.  You’d think that some of that would translate to the game on SOME level but it didn’t.  It’s essentially a bastardized version of Skate Or Die that has almost zero to do with Back to the Future.

So admittedly, the expectations of what makes a video game was somewhat different back in the days of the NES.  There weren’t highly detailed cinematics and for the most part, gameplay was pretty straight forward and unvarying for most games once it got rolling.  The whole idea of the stages mixed with mini games presented here is actually pretty dynamic and an interesting idea.  If only it didn’t feel so divided from the plot of the movie it’s based on.

Marty traverse across Hill Valley battling foes straight out of the film such as giant killer bees, and guys with panes of glass and armies of bullies.  He fends them off with his trusty bowling ball.  I’m not sure there were ever any bowling balls in any of the movies even as background items.  But then yeah, it’s an 80s video games, so some liberties with the plot are probably needed.  There really isn’t a genre of game that would really work for a Back to the Future Game.  Most people just want to drive the Delorean, which these days is best accomplished with a GTA Mod.

The real killer on this game, has to be the excruciating difficulty.  A lot of old school NES games are pretty difficult.  Blaster Master, Ninja Gaiden, these are all pretty tough games which require some skill to beat.  Completed Back to the Future takes a miracle.  The first issue is the dual timers.  Each stage has a timer, this isn’t too bad, it keeps the player from lollygagging through the stage and encourages being reactive.  The game also has a second timer in the form of the fading photograph.  The photograph lasts between stages but is refilled by these little clocks.  The issue is that these two mechanisms often work completely against each other.  Picking up enough clocks to keep the photo alive will often result in the stage timer running out.

There is also the whole deal of powering up to the Skateboard.  Marty starts out on foot but can pick up a much faster skateboard.  Losing the board is pretty much a guaranteed loss vs the timer.

If you can manage to keep your skateboard and beat the timer, you get to face off against some ridiculously tough mini game “boss” stages.  Throwing beers at bullies or catching kisses and musical notes.

The icing on the cake in this excruciating run is the music.  The exact same 30 second crap repeats endlessly from more or less the moment you turn on the console to the moment the game ends.  It’s like Chinese Water torture for video games. 

The whole package is just one big terrible mess.  Probably the only reason I played it as much as I had was that at the time I owned something like 5 NES titles.  It’s a pretty crappy game, but it’s still one I remember very well for this very reason.

Review – Bionic Commando (NES)

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NES – 1 Player – Capcom

If you ever hear someone complain about the “difficulty” of modern games, tell them to go play almost any NES classic.  Not only will they find many extremely difficult games, but they will be difficult games by design, not because the computer uses cheap AI to “always win”.

Bionic Commando is one such game.  Honestly, this, and any game in the Ninja Gaiden series, are some of the toughest NES games out there.  Possibly one of the toughest games ever.  The one major pitfall of this game is its lack of password or save features.  Yeah, having to write down a 16 digit set of random letters and numbers is a pain but it’s better than starting fresh each time.  Of course, a battery back up save file would be even better.

Honestly though, the modern philosophy of save everywhere, save often isn’t something I’ll cry about.

But enough about save files and passwords, let’s get to the game itself.  There’s actually quite a bit of variety at work here.  On the surface, Bionic Commando is a pretty straight forward side scrolling shooter.  It also has this clever gimmick in the Bionic Arm.  Your player can’t jump, instead he must use his quick grabbing arm to climb platforms and swing across pits.  It’s a lot of fun and ads a lot of interesting twists to the standard philosophy of shooter game play.

The arm isn’t the only thing about this game that helps it shine though.  If it was, Bionic Commando would just fall into the category of gimmick game.  No, the game play method and philosophy isn’t pretty in depth as well.  Between areas or levels, one must traverse an over head map.  Levels don’t have to be played in sequential order, in fact, it’s impossible to finish the game if you try to do so.  I’m pretty sure there are some levels you have to enter, collect an item, then leave for a different level.

Additionally, some levels are “neutral zones”.  You have full regular control, but shooting in these areas will bring down a mass of opponents on both sides of the war.  Essentially, you enter these areas to collect information or items.

On top of the standard levels, the map is full of mobile “levels”.  These are more like bonus rounds.  They play for a top down perspective similar to the older game Commando.  Truth is, this game is actually a pseudo sequel to the game Commando, these missions are meant as a throwback to it’s predecessor.  If you navigate the map well, you can often avoid these encounters but more often than not, you’ll get stuck in one or two.

Game play isn’t always set out with the standard “finish the level” either.  As mentioned, sometimes you simply need to collect an item to proceed.  There’s often a communication link you’ll have to hack into in order to gain access to a future area.  If you fail to break through, enemy forces will detect you and attack in mass.  This ads some level of covert operation to the game play.  It’s beneficial to avoid attracting the enemy.

All of this complicates things quite a bit.  Add in to this a fairly high base difficulty and a pretty long length and it makes for a game that’s hard to complete.  Completing it rewards you with the classic video game scene of, Hitler’s head exploding.  Ok, in the US version he’s not technically “Hitler” but the uncensored Japanese version is full of Swastikas and Hitler.  In the US version you’re fighting the Badds, in the Japanese version, they are Nazis, of the FUTURE!

Despite its high difficulty, Bionic Commando’s sheer variety of game play makes it a lot of fun to play.  Even if you can’t finish it, it’s still worth playing.  Heck, the Bionic Arm can be used for all sorts of random fun by itself.

Review – Time Lord (NES)

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Time lord | NES | Milton Bradley | 1989

This game, for me, was a bunch of disappointments, right from the start.  Every year, like any good greedy kid, I would provide my parents with a list of things I wanted for Christmas.  A friend of mine had this pretty neat overhead RPG titled Times of Lore.  I loved to play Times of Lore and really wanted my own copy to play at my leisure, so of course, I put it on my Christmas list.

I later realize that the best explanation is that my parents misread what I had written or misinterpreted it and bought Time Lord.  In hind sight, my dad, being a Dr. Who fan, probably was rather stoked for the idea of a game called Time Lord, despite that this game really has nothing to do with Dr. Who.  I was a good sport about it and I’ sure my 10 year old self didn’t really make the connection between the similar titles of Times of Lore and Time Lord.

Of course, how can you go wrong with that box?  There is a knight, holding a space helmet.  That’s like, total win!  There’s even a dragon!

This game actually has an interesting concept, you travel through various eras of time collecting orbs and defeating bad guys.  The isometric viewpoint is pretty neat and the Orbs themselves have some little tricks which must be accomplished to collect them.  You get different weapons depending on the era, swords for the Medieval age, Guns for the Western Age, etc.  You also have a set timer to complete the game, as there is a clock ticking up in the future till the destruction of the world.  Apparently Time travel isn’t an exact science since time in the future still rolls onwards.

I never did save the future, I could never complete the third stage, the Western era.  I don’t know if my copy of the game was buggy or if there was some trick where the boss would regenerate health but I could spend 20 minutes pounding the giant Mexican dude at the end with bullets and yet, he would never ever die.  I think there was a Pirate themed level but I never played it.

So, once again, disappointment.  Not only did i get stick with a game i didn’t really want and had never heard of, it turned out to be impossible to beat.  I’m sure there is some trick to it that I just could never get down, shoot him in the back maybe, or just constantly shoot without letting up, who knows, it still left a bad taste.

Review – King’s Knight (NES)

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1989 Squaresoft | 1 Player

Graphics 6/10
So so graphics.  They are OK, but this is for NES standards.  It is a Square game, and
they tend to have pretty good graphics for their games when they are released, and this
is one of their first games so it’s pretty early.  Some of the monsters are easy to tell
what they are supposed to be but others seem like random blobs.

Sound 3/10
I don’t remember anything that really stands out in this game and being an early NES game
this area isn’t too great.  Nothing spectacular or too memorable like some of Square’s
later games.

Gameplay 6/10
Kind of fun and interesting gameplay.  Thing “really slow overhead shooter”.  The screen
scrolls along and you walk along up the screen shooting enemies and blowing away trees and
such.  All the characters have ranged weapons and there are four characters.  I don’t have
the instructions so I’m not sure what everything does.  You get four lives, and when one
character dies you come back as a different one on a different level.  I’m not sure about
how these characters intertwine or anything, I really wish I had some instructions for this

Overall 5/10
Nothing great, about the only reason really to get this (and the reason i got it) is if
you are a Squaresoft completionist.  It’s probably one of the harder to find Square games
since it’s such an early one.  I found mine used at Babbages (where I’ve bought my last
several games).

Tip: I can’t think of anything really.  The up arrows heal you, the down arrows hurt you,
I had to figure this out since I didn’t have a book.