Fist of the North Star
Publisher: Taxan (1989)
I once wrote down a list of the things I loved more than anything else in the whole world, and ninjas came in at #5. Granted, I was only 39 when I put that list together. Fist of the North Star is one of those awesome ninja side-scrollers with enemies flying off the screen and bosses bursting into chunks. Apparently the game is based on an old Japanese manga series. You play our hero Ken, attempting to save your people from the tyranny of Emperor Heaven. I love Ken's blue outfit - he looks like Sub-Zero! It's fun to frantically unleash kicks and punches on the large enemies. You can jump really high in this game, and go figure - you can actually jump faster than you can run. The dull military style scenery features a lot forts, caves, and ruins. A gradient is used to render the sky but it flickers in an unsightly manner. I found myself hopelessly stuck until an FAQ told me how to enter doorways. Apparently you have to press A+B+right at the same time! What the [expletive] is that
all about? I can't believe the instructions
fail to mention this key tidbit of information. Moving between vertical areas is also a thoroughly disorienting experience. Despite its glaring flaws Fist of the North Star packs a wallop. The action is non-stop as you contend with knife-tossing soldiers and annoying midgets that leap all over the place. Boss encounters occur early and often, and it's suspenseful as you watch both health meters wear down on each end of the screen. I recommend a cat-and-mouse approach. If defeated at the hands of a boss you'll need to restart the entire level, and that hurts. It's easy to be dismissive of a game like this but my friend Dennis gave Fist of the North Star a serious workout and had a blast. He especially liked the power-up that transformed Ken into a double ninja! The game has some memorable 8-bit music, and as with so many NES titles, its cheesiness only adds to its appeal. After a stint on the NES Fist of the North Star would reemerge several generations later on the Xbox 360. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 77,000
Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy
Publisher: Taito (1991)
The Flintstones opens with a nice rendition of the TV show theme which has that cool resonating quality you hear in many NES tunes. The intro tells the tale of a time traveler who kidnaps the Flintstones' two pet dinosaurs. To rescue them Fred must collect parts of the time machine scattered around various locations. The colorful opening stage looks appealing with its rock houses, brown cliffs, and green foliage. Fred looks a bit odd however with those black "doll" eyes of his. As you hop across buildings, waterfalls, and trees you'll use a club to beat the crap out of pterodactyls, cavemen, snakes, and cute dinosaurs. Periodically you'll encounter characters from the TV series including the mega-hot Betty and that freaky green Kazoo guy. Special weapons like axes and slingshots let you throw projectiles in a manner similar to Castlevania
(Konami, 1987). These weapons make the boss encounters a hell
of a lot easier. The platform action uses the "jump, hang, and pull yourself up" technique - or should I say over
-uses. It wouldn't be so bad if Fred automatically hung on to each ledge, but instead you have to keep holding up while pressing the jump button. It will kill
your hands - especially during difficult jump sequences. I hate how Fred stumbles backwards for a second or two whenever he takes a hit. Not only is it irritating to temporarily lose control, but sometimes Fred stumbles backwards over a cliff! Otherwise the Flintstones is a pretty serviceable game. After the first stage you get a stage select map and you return to this whenever you use a continue. The game also includes basketball bonus stages which play very similar to Atari Basketball
(Atari 2600, 1978). I really wish this game had a score and/or password feature. Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino and Hoppy isn't particularly memorable (or good) but fans of the show may want to give it a try. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Frankenstein: The Monster Returns
Publisher: Bandai (1990)
No, you do not
play as the Frankenstein monster in this game. Instead you assume the role of a noble warrior attempting to rescue a beautiful girl who was carried off by the creature. Ever notice how the damsel in distress is always an attractive babe? If she were ugly, would all the knights just say "too bad" and go back to drinking their mead? Wouldn't it be refreshing to see a hero risk life and limb to save a girl with a nice personality?
How many butt-ugly video game maidens have gone unsaved? Won't you
help? Speaking of ugly, Frankenstein shows his mug in the opening cut-scene but doesn't truly emerge again until the final boss battle. In his pursuit you'll travel through townships, forests, graveyards, castles, and hell dimensions. You'll battle lizards, trolls, floating eyeballs, and even jumping gravestones!
Yes, that is
stupid. You'll defend yourself with swords and small clubs which look more like chicken legs. The controls are a little stiff and I had a hard time explaining to my friends how to do the jump-kick. You'll spend a lot of time fighting bosses, mainly because they can absorb an endless number of hits. Some of these creatures are mythological in nature (demon horse, medusa), but you'll also face a floating head, a werewolf, and a vampire. At least the game has variety going for it. Bosses tend to say boss-like things, like "Only a fool would dare to challenge me! Prepare to meet your doom!" Unfortunately the dialogue is displayed letter-by-letter, and it's so slow you feel as if you're watching a daisy wheel printer
. Get on with it, man!!
The tone is somewhat dark and the music is in minor-key, but the game isn't particularly spooky. You get several continues and a password, and there's a nice high score screen. It's not bad, but Frankenstein: The Monster Returns feels more like a run-of-the-mill side-scroller than a horror epic. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: CJS 21,600
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: Sunsoft (1988)
Freedom Force is a light gun game that's a cut above the rest. Your mission is to shoot terrorists that have taken over an airport. Fortunately, the terrorists all wear the same colored outfits, making them pretty easy to distinguish from the civilians (when will they learn?). Freedom Force features some nifty graphics. I love how the bad guys fall out of windows when shot, and the tied-up hostages also look exceptional. The gun control is dead-on, and the difficulty ramps in a gradual manner. The stages are linear, but enemies tend to pop-up at random, so you can't just memorize the game. A two-player mode is included, but you'll need to take turns. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 12,250
1 or 2 players
Publisher: LJN (1988)
I happen to be a fan of the Friday the 13th slasher movies, and although this game is surprisingly sophisticated, it lacks the tension that made the films effective. You control six camp counselors that you move individually around Camp Crystal Lake. When you're not rushing to the aid of children in danger, you're exploring cabins to gather notes, weapons, and other helpful items. The start button brings up a helpful map that makes it easy to navigate the campgrounds. In addition to cabin-lined trails around the lake, there are also cave and forest areas that hold secret items. The gameplay is pretty original, but a few ill-conceived elements put a damper on the fun. When wandering around, you're constantly attacked by zombies popping out of the ground. Not only are these irritating, but they destroy any sense of suspense by making you numb to being attacked. I will admit however that I jumped a mile the first time a zombie jumped out of the lake
! I wasn't ready for that one. Another problem with Friday the 13th is the first-person perspective used to explore the cabin interiors. Instead of making you feel "in the game", it just makes you feel like a rat in a cage. Jason is large and menacing during his frequent appearances, and you'll need to mix dodges with attacks in order to turn him away. I like how the time of day changes as you play this game, and if you're good, a single game can extend over several days. Friday the 13th is tough, but as you learn specific strategies you'll discover hidden rooms and encounter new dangers like Jason's mother. When all the councelors are deceased, the message appears "You and your friends are dead. Game Over." I guess "Thank you for playing" would not have been appropriate in this case. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Taxan (1990)
My friend Ken recommended this from his childhood, explaining how it was based on a cartoon series. Sure enough G.I. Joe is a winner! You begin by selecting a squad of three colorful commandos. There's Rock-N-Roll (well armed), Snake Eyes (ninja), Captain Gridiron (hand-to-hand), and Blizzard ("arctic warfare"). The opening stage impressed the heck out of me as you forge through a jungle in a storm. The wind whips the tree leaves around and lightning illuminates the entire screen. In addition to shooting sideways you can fire upward and even downward while jumping. Most stages offer typical platform fare, but some let you blast red chunks of rock to reveal secrets and alternate routes. Some characters can jump very high but take care not to hit your head on dangers lurking above. Your characters represent your three lives, but you can switch between them at any time. It's fun to scour each stage for power-ups and ammo. There's variety too, including missions that require you to plant explosive charges in marked locations. The bosses come early and often but aren't overly difficult. Hell, I was able to punch
one jet fighter right out of the sky!
Bringing the fun factor down are minor annoyances like manta rays that leap out of the water to disrupt your jumps. If you hang out in a certain area too long enemy soldiers can materialize right in front of you. And that indoor stage where every platform is a conveyer belt is ridiculous. What could they be making in a factory like that? Conveyer belts?
There's no score on the main screen but it is displayed on the character select and game over screens. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is one action-packed romp that never gets old. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 305,720
Save mechanism: password
G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor
Publisher: Capcom (1991)
My friends were quick to dismiss this side-scrolling shooter as a Contra wannabe, but they say that about every game!
G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor is one heck of game. This time the soldiers are fighting through the partially-submerged city of Atlantis. A little H2O is no problem when you're decked out in wet suits and armed to the hilt! I love the look of this game with its mysterious ruins and high-tech facilities rendered in alluring blue hues. That frantic musical score really puts you in the mood to kick some ass. At first glance the character selection screen elicits cause for concern. It presents a grid with options like "move" and "cancel". Huh? Relax, this is not
a turn-based strategy game, only the most complicated character selection screen ever devised.
Three of the menu options are "select", "decide" and "end". What the [bleep] is the difference?
Once you pick your guy (there's only one to begin with for Pete's sake!) Atlantis Factor delivers in a big way with crisp platform jumping, soldier-punching, rapid-fire shooting mayhem. Wait a minute - why can't I shoot up and down? Did my soldiers forget that move from the last
G.I. Joe game?! I do like how enemies spin around when hit, and sometimes even get back up. You can power-up your gun but sometimes your fists are the best way to dispose of a boss. New characters are introduced as you progress and you can summon them for help using your radio. That's a pretty advanced concept for the NES. The game offers selectable paths which improve the replay value. A password is presented between missions, but get this: it takes the form of fourteen 3x3 grids
containing letters, digits, and even special characters
. For a game with about 20 stages (if that) this has got to be the most overblown password screen ever!! The number of possible permutations must be in the billions!
GI Atlantis Factor is clearly guilty of making things more complicated than they need to be, yet it still manages to be fun in spite of itself. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 13,460
Save mechanism: password
Publisher: Namco (1988)
It would be hard to give Galaga anything less than an "A" considering it's practically identical to the classic arcade version. In fact, until I noticed some very
subtle differences I thought I was playing an emulated
version of the original! In case you're not familiar with this mega-popular shooter, it features bug-like aliens that circle around the screen before settling into formation. One distinctive feature of the game is the double-shot power-up, which was really the first of its kind. In order to obtain it, you must first allow one of your ships to be captured. It's a risky proposition, but rescuing that ship effectively doubles your firepower, allowing you to breeze through the "challenge" stages and earn crazy bonuses. This game is noticeably easier than the arcade version, so Galaga veterans are likely to tally some big scores. Holding down the fire button will allows for continuous shooting (and less wear on your thumb), but you'll fire twice as fast by tapping it. If you have a Nintendo Advantage joystick, this is an ideal game to use it with. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 66,570
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Tengen (1987)
In the early 80's Gauntlet was a legendary arcade game. Not only did it offer expansive dungeons to explore, but you could join forces with three friends to battle ghosts, grunts, and demons. You get an overhead view as you collect keys, gather treasure, and clear out rooms teeming with wall-to-wall creatures. To fully exterminate them you'll need to destroy the portals that spawn the creatures. Or, if you have a bomb handy, you can obliterate them with the press of a button. The colorful title screen shows evil creatures peering around corners of a decrepit dungeon as renaissance-style music plays. Once the character selection screen appears, you may be alarmed to discover the game only supports two
players! For fans of the arcade game, this is heresy. If you play with a friend you might understand why the number of players is so limited. The characters are poorly-defined and sometimes it's even hard to locate your own character
on the screen! Slow-down is a frequent problem. You need to stick close to your partner, which is not easy when one of you is a speedy archer and the other is a slow dwarf. Ironically the game is far more playable solo. I like the fact that there are alternate paths and levels seem to be connected in different ways. The music is fine but the voice samples are comically bad. Gauntlet doesn't even attempt deliver the multiplayer experience of the arcade, but it's not a bad little dungeon crawler if you're willing to go it alone. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 112
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Mindscape (1990)
After being disappointed with the first Gauntlet on the NES, my friends were relieved that this sequel supports up to four players and looks a lot like the arcade game. Once we began exploring the first dungeon however, we wondered aloud if Gauntlet was really as good as we remembered. Sure, it's cool to team up with friends while obliterating demons, gathering treasure, and snatching up food. The problem is, everyone wants to go off and do their own thing. Invariably somebody ends up getting stuck in some odd corner and the other guys have to work their way over to him so he can rejoin the party. You almost need to appoint one player as the leader. It doesn't help that the game has so many narrow corridors which defeat the purpose of working as a team. Many of the new features in Gauntlet II actually detract
from the experience. For one thing, the overhauled graphics look grainy and objects are actually harder to make out. Are those supposed to be sheep
latching onto me? It's bad enough that I can't kill them, but those squealing sounds are the worst
. With so many glowing areas of the floor, you wonder where it's even safe to walk. The invisible walls are obnoxious, forcing you to methodically "feel your way" around. Like the first NES game, Gauntlet II is best played alone. That way you don't need to coordinate movements, fight over food, or apologize for the poor gameplay. The dungeons are more elaborate, but some feel like puzzles, and it's possible to become hopelessly stuck. Gauntlet II is a bust, and a good example of a franchise that was moving in the wrong direction. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 4030
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Activision (1986)
People who played games in the 80's will probably recall how disappointed
they were by Activision's Ghostbusters. With all apologies to David Crane (the mastermind behind Pitfall), this game seems more geared towards wasting time than having fun. The main screen is an unimaginative grid of city blocks, and you freely move a Ghostbusters logo to your desired location. Places of interest include the Ghostbusters headquarters, a shop to purchase upgrades, a gas station, and the Temple of Zuul. When a city block is blinking red, there are ghosts to be captured. After selecting your location, you're subjected to an extended and very boring driving scene. Moving your car up the vertically-scrolling road makes you go faster, but also makes you vulnerable to collisions with generic gray cars. You can run over barrels to replenish your gas - just like in real life!
If your car is equipped with a "ghost vacuum", you can suck in wandering ghosts for cash. Unlike the home computer editions where the ghosts struggle to escape the device, in this game they just gravitate to it. Adding insult to injury, upon arriving at your destination, your car goes into this long, slow-rolling stop. Your vehicle looks nothing
like the white hearse in the movie, by the way. When you arrive at a haunted location, you'll see four generic ghosts flying in front of a building. Using the most non-intuitive control scheme ever devised, you position two Ghostbusters and fire proton streams to "push" the ghosts into traps. The ghosts are harmless to the touch, yet if you cross your proton streams both Ghostbusters become slimed!
The guy who programmed this thing probably should have watched the movie first! Eventually the Stay-Puft Marshmallow appears and you're told to enter the Temple of Zuul. There, you'll find yourself on a 22-floor staircase where you must tap buttons
(ala Track and Field) to move up the stairs while avoiding wandering ghosts. This stage really takes the misery you're already experiencing to the next level!
The game usually concludes with some unceremonious text and doesn't even bother displaying a score or rating. The Ghostbusters theme plays non-stop throughout the entire game, and while it's a decent rendition, it will chip away at your sanity. I've known dozens of people who have played Ghostbusters, yet none have had the intestinal fortitude to successfully complete the damn thing. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1989)
The original Ghostbusters game landed on the NES with a resounding thud
, but this sequel feels surprisingly fresh! Ghostbusters 2 kicks strategy to the curb and focuses on shooting action. There are three unique stage varieties: running of foot, driving the Ecto-mobile, and controlling the Statue of Liberty. The running stages are classic old-school platform fare, as you rapidly fire slime at ghosts, snatch power-ups, and duck under hazards. Is it just me, or do those slimer ghosts look like green hams floating around? The driving stages have a Moon Patrol
(Atari 5200, 1983) flavor as you steer your hearse around hazards in the road while firing both forward and up!
In the Statue of Liberty stages you simply fire at objects in the sky. The game's detailed locations including a sewer, subway, park, museum, and the streets of New York. These areas are meticulously rendered in high resolution, sporting subtle details like cracks in the walls and fire escapes on the buildings. The controls are fairly intuitive, and the gameplay is challenging as hell! Even with a handful of continues I had a heck of a time just surviving stage two! My friend Chris and I pulled out the old Game Genie so we could play through the whole thing, but we found the later stages disappointing. The Statue of Liberty scenes are agonizingly long and horribly repetitive. By the time you find yourself shooting at invisible ghosts
, the whole thing starts to feel like an ordeal. The game's excellent musical score features a number of upbeat tunes in addition to the obligatory Ghostbusters theme. Ghostbusters 2 is not high concept, but its back-to-basics gameplay suits the franchise well. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Ghosts 'N Goblins
Publisher: Capcom (1986)
Ghosts and Gobliins is practically an institution
on the NES. It launched a popular series that continues to this day, although many would argue that the franchise peaked with Ghouls 'N Ghosts
(Genesis, 1989). You play as a comical knight who can fire projectiles forward and backward. It's a shame you can't fire upward, because many stages feature multi-tiered platforms with enemies above and below. Zombies, skeletons, crows, and demons pour out of the woodwork as you forge through graveyards, burning villages, mountains, castles, and caverns. This is side-scrolling mayhem at its purest and the action moves at a frantic pace as the soundtrack plays a heroic refrain. If you check out the background of the first stage, you'll notice a preview of what's to come with a majestic castle nestled in the mountains. Ghosts and Goblins is best known for its difficulty. Diamonds
aren't this hard! Despite its short stages and unlimited continues, you'll struggle to make progress. Part of the blame can be placed on the controls, which are rigid and unforgiving. It's very easy to get stuck in a crouch position or become caught up on the edge of a gravestone. Taking a hit knocks you back, sometimes sending you into a pit! The checkpoints could be better placed, as sometimes you'll need to restart large stretches after dying. It's tough, but Ghosts and Goblins has a distinctive arcade style and whimsical medieval/horror theme that never gets old. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: ER 82,700
Publisher: Electro Brain (1989)
As much as I wanted
to like this game, my conscience prevents me from grading it higher than an F. Ghoul School looks great on paper but doesn't play well at all. You control a punk kid trapped in a school crawling with all sorts of creepy monsters. A few of these tend to be quite imaginative and detailed, like the red creature with the huge eye. A toe-tapping tune plays as you wander the halls and classrooms, collecting the items needed to defeat various monstrosities. Unfortunately, the school is a confusing maze consisting of hallways, stairs, and doors that all look exactly alike. The room numbers aren't even consecutive or logical! As a result, you end up wandering aimlessly until you stumble upon a key item (like spring shoes) or weapon (bat, towel, gun). The combat aspect is awful. The pathetic weapons have such an incredibly short range that you'll be limited to repetitive "hit and run" attack patterns. Adding insult to injury, the controls are less than responsive and you're constantly being tossed around. I like the concept behind Ghoul School, but the execution is a mess. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Jaleco (1989)
My friend Brent swears this is the greatest soccer game for the NES. I will admit that its realistic players are a nice change of pace from the cartoons in most NES soccer titles. Goal is played on an diagonally-scrolling field, so going "straight" requires you press diagonally, which is not exactly easy on the thumb. I also tend to blame the perspective when I accidentally pass the ball in the wrong direction. The field is expansive and the lack of a radar makes it hard to tell where you are. Fortunately if you just kick the ball ahead you'll usually find another player in the vicinity. The B button switches to your closest teammate but if you accidentally hit it twice you'll select somebody else, causing your "close" player to run away
from the ball. Still, Goal has a lot to offer with brisk pacing, clean visuals, and upbeat background music. One amazing feature is the ability to curve your shots while they are in the air. Not only does this let you "bend it like Beckham", but it's also quite useful for prevently long passes from veering out of bounds. After goals and between periods you're treated to cinematic intermissions of celebrating players and cheerleaders. Wait a minute...I'm pretty sure there are no cheerleaders in soccer! Nice try Jaleco. Goal may well be the best NES soccer game out there, but I'm not convinced the bar was very high to begin with. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Toho (1988)
I've always been a fan of those old Japanese monster movies, but Godzilla for the NES is just plain bad
. The graphics are decent (despite some serious flicker), with characters pulled straight from the films, including Mothra (your weak ally), Gigan, Mech-Godzilla, and that big squid-looking thing. The gameplay involves taking turns moving Godzilla and Mothra around a hex-map (huh?) while attempting to wipe out all the enemies on the board. When you move to an empty space, you're forced to play a side-scrolling "city" level with everybody and their mother bombarding your slow ass with missiles. Your best bet is to just keep moving, because the missiles don't inflict much damage - they just slow you down. Get used to this ordeal, because you'll have to endure this painful stage every turn! That's right - even when you land on a monster's location, you must relive the same painful experience before the actual confrontation ensues. The battles themselves are a joke, consisting of both monsters floating in black space and smacking each other until somebody runs out of life. Even the music is dull and repetitive. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
It would be easy to be critical of this relic of a golf game. You can only aim in 45 degree increments. All trees are out of bounds. The screen doesn't indicate the range of your club, or even the ball's proximity to the hole. But despite having to perform the distance calculations in your head, Golf is actually pretty fun! The swing meter is not unlike those found in modern golf games, and you can at least partially compensate for the coarse aiming controls by applying a draw or fade to your shot. Putting is tricky however, because the greens tend to be very
fast. The overhead view of the hole is terrific, and the course is challenging and interesting in design. The game moves along at a brisk pace, allowing you to play 18 holes in just a few minutes. Not bad, all things considered. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 117
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Konami (1987)
This title is kind of confusing considering there was only one Goonies movie. I enjoyed the film and the original Goonies game (Atari XE, 1985), but this NES adaptation is a travesty. Part platformer and part puzzle, Goonies II manages to offer the worst
of both worlds. You control the red-haired Mikey trying to rescue his six Goonie pals from the evil Fratelli family. You begin in a decrepit house before descending into monotonous underground caverns. I gave Goonies II the benefit of the doubt until I stumbled upon the slippery "ice" area, complete with walruses, Eskimos, and penguins! I sure as hell don't remember that
from the film! There are many doors you can open, revealing perfectly square rooms. In this first-person mode you'll find items, uncover clues, and talk to mysterious figures who don't seem to know why they're in the game ("I'm Eskimo. There's nothing here.") Some rooms are connected to others, but navigating between them is confusing! After making limited progress I consulted the FAQ which reveals the true extent of this game's absurdity. You need to punch walls
to make objects to appear. You use keys
to open safes with combination locks
. You need to strike an elderly woman in the face five times
to obtain a candle. Great, now we have a whole generation of kids who grew up thinking it was acceptable to punch old ladies in the face. Some of the items are bizarre. A transceiver? Magic locator? Key holder? WTF? The dialogue may be the unintentional highlight of the game ("Get out of here, if you have nothing to do.") The platform action is the most annoying kind, populated with pesky creeps like bats, spiders, and snakes that continuously materialize out of thin air. Worse yet, they camp out in places like the top of ladders and front of doors. At least the game is forgiving, offering endless continues that let you resume right where you left off. The soundtrack offers a fair rendition "Goonies R Good Enough", but I'm afraid Goonies II is not
good enough. Not even close. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
Gotcha! The Sport
Publisher: LJN (1987)
Do the words "Best light gun game ever made" mean anything to you? That's exactly what was running through my mind while playing this innovative and genuinely fun shooter. With its "capture the flag" gameplay, Gotcha The Sport is not unlike paintball (was that even around
in the 80's?). The control scheme is unique, requiring you to use the control pad with one hand while firing the gun with the other. The pad is used to scroll the screen until your opponent's flag comes into view. Once you acquire it (by shooting it), you must scroll all the way back to return it to your base. In the process, you're constantly being shot at by enemies ducking behind obstacles and hiding in trees. Picking these guys off can be tricky, although the lack of accuracy can be partially attributed to the Nintendo light gun. The game is over when you run out of ammo, so be sure to shoot any "ammo packs" you come across. Keep in mind that enemy soldiers can also snag your
flag! Use your scanner to locate the guy who has it, and shoot him to get it back. It's interesting how LJN went to great lengths to downplay the violence angle. For one thing, all your opponents wear protective gear (including goggles). When shot, orange paint splatters across their chest, and they simply run off the battlefield. Oddly enough, when you
get shot, you see a big red
splotch (I told you to wear that protective headgear - but noooo!). Gotcha's three stages include some colorful scenery, including a lush green forest level with scenic waterfalls, and a city stage with boarded-up buildings. But the third stage is by far the best, with its bright white snow and gorgeous blue mountains. The lounge music on the intro screen sounds a bit out of place, but otherwise the soundtrack is absolutely superb. Gotcha is a fun game that rekindled memories of playing "guns" as a kid. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Intermediate
Our high score: 31,580
Publisher: Konami (1986)
This influential side-scrolling shooter takes you through caves with hopping robots, mobile cannons, and incoming ships that weave in hard-to-avoid patterns. The first time you play Gradius you'll be lucky to last two minutes. Success hinges on your ability to collect pods and redeem them for power-ups and weapons. You will risk life and limb
to grab these things! The pods seem elusive at first. You must destroy a complete set of four orbs to earn a pod, and that last orb will flee the screen like a bat out of hell! Your rate of fire is slow, but that can be rectified with a rapid-fire controller like the Nintendo Advantage. Once I unleashed that thing my scores went through the roof!
Loading up on lasers, missiles, and options makes you feel unstoppable, making it all the more heart-wrenching when you take a cheap hit and lose it all. One thing that's kind of lame about Gradius is the boss, which is always the same hunk of metal with that flimsy vent protecting its core. This game was designed before every boss had to be epic in scale. Gradius has a few cheap elements including a volcanic section that overwhelms you with with spewing rock just before you reach the first boss. Likewise near the end of the second stage cubes materialize from thin air and converge on you. I found myself exclaiming "you gotta be [expletive] kidding me!
" all the time
while playing Gradius. It's hard to put down though and over time its catchy musical score will fuse with your very soul. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 178,100
Publisher: SNK (1989)
SNK's knack for creating fast-action shooters is on full display in the amazing Guerilla War. I've always been a fan of Rambo-style games like Ikari Warriors, but this one-man-army game really ups the ante with tight controls, lush graphics, and pacing best described as "frantic". You are a soldier forging his way through well-fortified beaches, villages, rivers, and sewers. Like Rambo, you gun down legions of enemy troops, toss grenades to clear out barriers, and commandeer tanks. Guerilla War plays almost exactly like Ikari Warriors and Rambo, but it's about ten times faster
. Some of my friends thought it was too
hectic, but not me. The action never lets up despite a crazy amount of sustained screen activity. There's no shortage of firepower, as even the default gun lets you spray bullets liberally. Other weaponry includes machine guns, rocket launchers, and devastating flamethrowers. Side effects of the ample mayhem include occasional flicker and "break-up" in the graphics. It's a small price to pay however, as Guerilla War delivers one of the most exciting shooting experiences you'll find on the NES. The only thing preventing you from blasting everything to oblivion are the tied-up hostages that frequently appear. Picking them up will net you a cool 1000 points, but accidentally shooting them deducts 500 points from your score. Some enemies are a bit cheap, leaping into the fray as if they were on pogo sticks! If you grab a friend you can double the mayhem and compete for high score (which is not displayed until after the game). Guerilla War's musical score isn't great, but its chaotic layered melodies are still impressive. You may have a tough time going back to Ikari Warriors after playing this buck-wild blast-a-thon. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 124,900
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Capcom (1988)
Gunsmoke is a highly playable but flawed vertically-scrolling cowboy shooter. Armed with a pistol in each hand, you fire two bullets at a time, which is awesome. One button aims upward left and the other upward right. Pressing both lets you fire straight, but that's hardly necessary. Tapping the buttons lets you fire rapidly, and it's satisfying to watch gangs of bandits fall as you rain bullets upon them. A game like this screams for turbo control, so you'll want to dust off that old Nintendo Advantage joystick. Sometimes your cowboy will mount a horse which amounts to having an extra life. Shooting barrels reveal bags of gold that can be used to purchase better weapons like shotguns, magnums, and machine guns. Frankly your default weapon is so effective that upgrades seem unnecessary. And since your money doubles as your score, it doesn't pay to spend it. Gunsmoke reeks of old school charm. Not only can you purchase smart bombs, but there are even Super Mario-style "pow" icons! What gamer doesn't get excited at the sight of a pow icon? Enemies gang up on you, but their bullets have limited range. I was loving Gunsmoke until it dawned on me that I was walking through the same sections of town over and over again. Consulting the literature I discovered I had to first locate a "wanted poster" before I could meet the boss. Not only is the poster invisible and located in an "empty area" of the screen, but you'll need to shoot it eight times
to reveal it. That's pretty much the dumbest thing I've ever heard. If it's any consolation, the posters seem to be in the same spot each time you play a particular stage. Also, the vendors will eventually feel sorry for you and sell you
the God-forsaken thing. Why do game designers sabotage their own games like that? It's shame because Gunsmoke has plenty of originality and better firepower than most NES shooters. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: CJS 34,900
Publisher: Nintendo (1985)
NES systems were originally packaged with "ROB the Robot", a mechanical add-on that enabled Nintendo to market their system as a toy
. As gimmicks go, this one was pure genius
, since many stores were relunctant to stock video games after the crash of 1983. By finding an imaginative way to get their system onto shelves, Nintendo captured the hearts of kids everywhere. Only recently did I personally get a chance to experience ROB first-hand, and I was pleasantly surprised! ROB can manipulate spinning tops by recognizing instructions flashed on the screen (literally). He can rotate his body, grasp things, and lift his arms. I think it's safe to say that in the 24 years that have passed, no gaming accessory has surpassed this contraption in terms of coolness. Not even close!
ROB's replay value may be questionable, but his novelty factor alone is through the roof!
Gyromite was the "pack-in" game designed to show off ROB's capabilities, and it requires a bit of setup. Plastic pieces need to be mounted around ROB, including a pair of spinning tops called "gyros". The premise of the game is to navigate a professor over platforms to collect bundles of dynamite while avoiding chubby bird creatures. Some platforms are blocked by red and blue barriers, and by having ROB drop gyros on color-coded pads, the barriers move up and down. For situations where both
buttons must be depressed, a special device is used to "spin up" one gyro to alarming speeds. Once ROB places a spinning gyro on a button pad, the thing can spin on its own for quite a long time! It's amazing!
My buddy Scott theorized that an army of ROBs could single-handedly solve
our country's energy crisis! The game also has a satisfying "squish factor", as it's possible to drop barriers on your bird-like adversaries. Gyromite features a catchy soundtrack and a handy stage select, but I wish your score remained displayed after the game ends. My friends were utterly mesmerized by ROB, but the novelty doesn't last. The robot moves very slowly and the action gets tedious over time. To compensate, it's a good idea to move him into position ahead of time in anticipation of your next move. But chances are you'll shut off Gyromite long before you exhaust that last life. As for ROB, he is well worth owning, but mainly to show off to friends and display on your shelf. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SLN 68,000
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Ultra (1988)
Ultra took a few liberties with this "semi-classic" space shooter, incorporating oversized sprites, boss stages, and even a special weapon. In this case, it would seem that more is less. Gyruss is played by moving a ship around in a circle as aliens scale in from the edge of the screen before settling into the center. Like Galaga, there are "double-shot" power-ups and "chance" bonus stages. Two control schemes are available, and they both work pretty good. The lively musical score includes a piece by Sebastian Bach, and no, I'm not talking about the guy from Skid Row. Gyruss was challenging and addictive in the arcade, but this watered-down version can't even hold its jockstrap. This NES edition is so excessively easy that it's a bore
. You get five lives, and there's only one lame difficulty level. Unless you absolutely suck, you'll lose interest in the game far before you go through those five lives! The swirling aliens are huge compared to the original game, but that just makes them easier to shoot (it's hard to miss
really). In addition, they are totally harmless
as they make their initial entrance. Every few stages you'll encounter an unimaginative boss, usually taking the form of four connected pods (oh brother
!). You also have a limited number of "super shots", but who even needs them? Ultra was clearly trying to "beef up" Gyruss for the NES, but they inadvertently butchered it instead. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 160,900
Publisher: Data East (1990)
This one-man-army shooter is a total Commando
(NES, 1986) knock-off, and it's a damn good one!
This game kicks so much ass, they might as well call this Heavy Mother [expletive] Barrel. You can team up with a friend as you attempt to infiltrate a series of well-fortified strongholds. In addition to legions of troops, you'll face tanks, helicopters, and a robot on rails with extendable claws. Unlike most games, your default weapon is pretty effective, allowing you to shoot rapid-fire in any direction with good range. It's tricky to hit the diagonals at times, so play it safe and spray bullets like a madman!
Power-ups let you temporarily unleash flames or a 3-way shot. A hefty supply of grenades is also available, but they deal minimal collateral damage. It's pretty easy to mow down oncoming enemy soldiers, especially since they pause before taking aim. Sometimes this game feels like an old Arnold Schwarzenegger flick as one goon after the next steps into your line of fire. The ones in bright green outfits look like a bunch of Riddlers, but you'll want to pay closer attention to the red ones which drop keys to open lockers. Some lockers contain power-ups, but others contain parts of Heavy Barrel itself. As you construct this weapon, you'll see pieces fall into a gun-shaped template at the bottom of the screen. The first few pieces are pretty big, but the next few are so tiny you start to wonder if you'll ever
get the frickin' thing. But once you hear that horrible voice synthesis, you know you're strapped with one big bad killing machine. It lets you spray waves of destruction for 99 blissful seconds. The gun actually looks more like an oversized rolling pin, but Heavy Rolling Pin would have sucked
as a title. Heavy Barrel's graphics are average at best, and sometimes it's hard to tell where the floors end and the walls begin. The music however features multi-part electronic melodies that get your adrenaline pumping. It sounds like every NES tune I've ever heard, and it's great. Heavy Barrel isn't very original, but takes a winning formula and adds a cool twist. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 32,200
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1989)
Snowboarding was a relatively new sport in 1989, and at that time Parker Bros. didn't have a very good grasp of the whole extreme sports
scene. Heavy Shreddin' could have just as easily been a skiing title. The game's idea of doing a "stunt" involves stopping in the middle of a slope to do a handstand! Wow, that looks really stupid! Most of the game involves racing against the clock while weaving around trees and rocks. You view your boarder from a side angle, but the scrolling abruptly changes switches between diagonal and horizontal. The effect is so jarring it almost always
causes you to crash. The controls are so poorly designed that my friends would routinely ask "Why did my guy just do
that?!" Adding insult to injury, the collision detection is so unforgiving that merely brushing against a tree causes your boarder to fall, forcing you to restart the entire stage! Just completing the opening stage requires a flawless run - at full speed no less!
The half-pipe stage is a complete sham - a shameful place where terrible graphics collide with incomprehensive controls. Heavy Shreddin' has a few quirky tunes and some bright winter scenery, but these are wasted in a game that most will deem to be worthless. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 4,106
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
While simplistic, this light gun game does add a few wrinkles to the standard "Duck Hunt" formula. The first variation places you in a shooting gallery with cardboard figures that appear three at a time. You'll want to shoot the dirty crooks but hold your fire against the woman, professor, and policeman. In general it's pretty dull affair. The second variation places the figures in side-scrolling urban scenery, which spices things up a bit. But the third stage really steals the show. In this one you repeatedly shoot tins cans that appear on the right side, keeping them in the air long enough to have them land on ledges on the left. Each ledge has a different point value, so it's a nice combination of skill and strategy. Hogan's Alley isn't bad for a light gun game, but it certainly won't have you hooting and hollering and keeping the neighbors up all night. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 40,000
Publisher: THQ (1991)
The first time you play Home Alone on the NES, you'll probably think it's a piece of junk. There's just not that much to it. You control little Kevin McCallister on the run from two roving bandits in an expansive three-story house (not counting the basement). The house is nicely detailed and decorated for Christmas. Kevin's mannerisms are faithful to the character in the movie, especially the way he scuttles up the stairs. You can even exit through windows to climb down rainspouts or escape to your tree house. Like the movie, the object is to keep two bandits at bay by planting household items as traps. To win the game you'll need to avoid these guys for 20 minutes (until police arrive). I could only last for a few minutes but still enjoyed playing for high score. As you scamper around the house you'll pick up well-defined "trap" boxes labeled with icons that symbolize spiders, Christmas bulbs, toy cars, tacks, and other hazards. The instruction manual implies there's some strategy involved in planting traps, but that wasn't my experience. You can lay them anywhere around the house, and when bad guys run into them they'll pass out for a few seconds. You'll want to keep one (or two) traps on hand for when the crooks are hot on your tail. And that happens a lot because these guys run about twice as fast as you do! The controls seem reasonable until you need to navigate stairs, which can be a nightmare. It seems like most of my "deaths" were the result of getting stuck on the edge of those God-forsaken stairs. The pause (and game over) screens show a nice map of the house, indicating where you caught the bad guys. Like the film, Home Alone provides some light family fun. It's a little shallow but I enjoyed the simple premise and holiday theme. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 31,390
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Publisher: THQ (1992)
This poorly-constructed sequel tries to be more sophisticated than the first game. Once again you play the rambunctious little Kevin McCallister, this time on the loose in New York City. You'll raise havoc in the fancy Plaza hotel, Central Park, a townhouse under construction, and finally Rockefeller Center. The opening cut-scene looks pretty bad, and Tim Curry's concierge character looks more like Lando Calrissian. Kevin is pursued by bell hops, maids, store merchants, and jumping old ladies with umbrellas. As if they weren't annoying enough, the programmers incorporated suitcases, mops, and vacuums that move around on their own accord as if they were possessed by demons. The Plaza Hotel looks attractive enough with its elegant chandeliers, marble floors, and posh furniture. Unfortunately the remaining stages didn't get nearly as much attention and look pretty shoddy. In addition to jumping, Kevin can perform a knee slide "attack". He'll collect plenty of items like cookies and necklaces but it's often unclear how these are supposed to be used. And you won't get far unless you take some mandatory hits to obtain the toy gun at the start of each stage. Home Alone 2 is a really sloppy game. You need to ride elevators in the hotel stage, but it's not clear how to call for them. Worse yet, the elevator "chimes" blend in with the awful, repetitive music. The platform action in later levels is marred by collision detection issues. And even if you stock up on weapons, they may have no effect on the end-of-stage bosses. There's not even a score. Much like the movie, Home Alone 2 on the NES feels like a rushed, by-the-numbers money-grab. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
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