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M.U.L.E.
Grade: A-
Publisher: Mindscape (1990)
Reviewed: 2001/4/22

screenshotAs yet another game I originally played on my Atari computer in the early 80's, M.U.L.E. is a classic strategy title that employs the laws of economics. It's sounds boring, but it's not at all! The graphics and sound are only average, but M.U.L.E.'s turn-based gameplay is totally original, combining elements of Warcraft and Monopoly. It begins as four creatures are dropped into an empty plot of land on a distant planet. Each creature is controlled by a player or the CPU, and the goal is to earn the most money over a set number of turns. During each turn a player can stake out land and buy robotic "mules" to mine, grow food, and create energy. At the end of each round, the resources are calculated for each player and auctions are held so players can sell their surpluses to other players in need. Random natural events such as earthquakes and tornadoes add an element of unpredictability. It takes a while to appreciate all of M.U.L.E.'s complexities, but once you finally "get it", you'll be hooked! My only complaint is waiting for those auction timers to run out - man those things are slow. Otherwise M.U.L.E. is a fascinating and competitive strategy title. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Magmax
Grade: C+
Publisher: Nihon (1988)
Reviewed: 2008/1/15


screenshotAlthough definitely cheesy, this side-scrolling shooter has some cool little features that make it worthwhile. In the crowded field of NES shooters, it's the little details that make all of the difference. You begin Magmax by gliding a ship over a green landscape with angular brown roads that remind me of Xevious. As you blast cannons and spinning metal objects, you'll find parts that latch onto your ship, augmenting its size and firepower. When fully "assembled", you'll be controlling a large walking robot that can fire five shots at a time. He looks like Ultraman! Be sure to cherish the time he's on the screen, because it's hard to dodge missiles when you're that big! Fortunately, taking hits only wears you down one piece at a time. Be sure to shoot those floating "cupcakes" which send black projectiles flying in all directions. Not only does this clear out enemies, but it awards big points in the process. In addition to shooting everything in your path, you can fly over gray circles which transport you to underground areas. Here you'll contend with erupting volcanoes and falling stalactites, but if you can shoot the stalactites down into oncoming enemies, you'll earn mega points! Magmax's generic enemies are somewhat redeemed by its awesome boss - a metallic multi-headed dragon! The game's quirky, playful tunes are somewhat irritating at first but tend to grow on you. Magmax isn't a great shooter, but it has an addictive quality that keeps you coming back for "one more game". If you appreciate NES shooting action, you're bound to find something to like about Magmax. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 74,400
1 or 2 players 


Major League Baseball
Grade: F
Publisher: LJN (1988)
Reviewed: 2013/9/8

screenshotBoasting a Major League Baseball license, this game offers all the teams and real players.... from 1987. The players are unnamed (referred to by number), but you do get their actual stats. Sports fans enjoy playing with real players, but the game itself is wretched. You begin by selecting a team and painstakingly stocking your lineup from the available roster. You would think a default lineup would be available, but no, the game forces you to select position-by-position via a user-hostile interface. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, the teams take the field. You'd assume a licensed game would be at least somewhat realistic, but the short, squat players look like they were taken from South Park for Pete's sake! The batter looks like he's holding a freakin' rolling pin, and the uniforms aren't even the right color! When you hit the ball, the entire screen blanks out for a second before the field appears. Get used to these annoying pauses, because they happen a lot! The game does a poor job of selecting your fielder. A batter can lay down a bunt right in front of home plate, yet the game will force you to field it with your pitcher! Even when you field the ball cleanly, there's no way you're throwing out the runner at first. Thrown balls glide through the air like a UFO, slowing down and speeding up in a herky-jerky manner. You'll be rubbing your eyes in disbelief! The game also has a tendency to forget what a force-out is, or call a runner out who is obviously safe by a mile. Major League Baseball is reprehensible. I can only assume the programmers figured gamers would be so giddy with delight over the MLB license that they'd overlook the ugly graphics, rampant glitches, and general lack of fun. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Maniac Mansion
Grade: D+
Publisher: Jaleco (1986)
Reviewed: 2007/10/15

screenshotThis should have been called Mystery Mansion, because it basically boils down to a lot of little puzzles solved by manipulating lists of items. Part graphic adventure and part text, you use a cursor to build simple sentences like "use key on door" and "give cheese to Jeff". Maniac Mansion's storyline involves three kids trying to save their friend being held hostage by a mad doctor in a large mansion. Before starting, you can select three of six cartoonish characters to play as. These include the obligatory nerd, the gnarly surfer dude, the prostitute (nice dress), and the token black guy. You only control one character at a time, and each has a catchy theme song. The music is great for the NES, but it can still get on your nerves after a while. You can switch it off, but that causes the game to become uncomfortably silent. Maniac Mansion's graphics are pretty good, offering a wide array of well-furnished rooms - including an arcade. It's amusing to explore the house and solve puzzles, at least until you get stuck. Using the cursor is somewhat tedious, but the handy select button lets you easily cycle through the most common commands. The game maintains a whimsical tone, with simple dialogue sprinkled with juvenile humor. The most infamous aspect of the game is how it's possible to explode a hamster in the microwave. The main problem with Maniac Mansion is its complexity, which will turn off all but the most dedicated gamers. There are dozens of items to juggle, and figuring out how each is used requires a lot of trial and error. Some solutions tend to defy logic (give the plastic fruit to the tentacle??) The order in which you complete tasks is critical, and timing is sometimes a factor as well. Last time I checked, video games were supposed to be fun, not work! My cartridge contained a battery back-up that allowed me to skip ahead to the previous owner's spot to get a peek at the advanced stages. That's right - 17 years old and the battery is still working! I know a lot of gamers have fond memories of Maniac Mansion, but I don't think this adventure has aged particularly well. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Mappy-Land
Grade: B
Publisher: Taxan (1988)
Reviewed: 2012/11/24

screenshotMy friend Brent brought this game to my attention while reminiscing about how much fun he had playing it as a kid. My previous experience with Mappy was limited to the original arcade game, which can be found on the Namco Greatest Hits collections for various systems. The original Mappy featured a gray mouse using trampolines to reach platforms on a single screen. This NES incarnation takes the concept to the next level by incorporating eight colorful side-scrolling stages. The scenery looks remarkably crisp and vibrant as you explore a railroad, jungle, pirate ship, castle, and haunted graveyard. The soundtrack is loaded with excellent little upbeat tunes. The idea is to collect items (like cheese) in each stage while avoiding a gang of white cats. Some stages feature weapons you can use (like a cannon or bowling ball), and you can also drop toys to distract your adversaries. The arcade-style stages are short and sweet. You're not vulnerable to enemies while in mid-air, even if they overlap you. Some of my friends had a really hard time wrapping their mind around the concept. The game has a few surprises up its sleeve, including a vampire guarding the exit in the graveyard stage (hint: find the cross). The jungle stage is really tough with its moving trampolines, but I enjoyed its Donkey Kong Jr-style vine climbing. Mappy-Land has a family-friendly, wholesome style that should appeal to a broad range of gamers. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: BSC 31,570
1 player 


Marble Madness
Grade: A
Publisher: Tengen (1984)
Reviewed: 2003/6/8

screenshotAn old favorite in the arcades, Marble Madness has made a very smooth transition onto the NES. Each stage challenges you to navigate a marble through a maze of platforms, ramps, bridges, tubes, and obstacles. It requires a great deal of finesse to traverse the narrow bridges, and a timer keeps the tension high. The psuedo-3D stages feature numerous interesting gadgets like catapults and vacuums that help or hinder your progress. The graphics are easy on the eyes, and your large marble is no problem to control. Thanks to its relatively short stages, Marble Madness has that "just one more time" quality that keeps you coming back for more. Also included is a terrific head-to-head two-player mode which adds a whole new dimension to the game. And be sure to turn up the volume, because the music is absolutely incredible. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 21,300
1 or 2 players 


Mega Man
Grade: B
Publisher: Capcom (1987)
Reviewed: 2013/3/5

screenshotMega Man was the first in a long series of platform shooters that continues to this day. This irresistible side-scroller stars a little guy in a blue suit who acquires new weapons from the bosses he defeats. The six selectable stages are ruled by robots with names like Cut Man, Guts Man, Elec Man, Ice Man, Fire Man, and Bomb Man. Since each stage has its own unique look and feel, Mega Man feels like six games in one. Each level is teeming with dangerous but predictable enemies with names like Flying Shell, Screw Bomber, and Killer Bullet. Mega Man can only fire sideways, but his ability to shoot while climbing ladders comes in handy. This game does so many things right, like letting the player tackle the stages in any order. This adds replay value, although experienced players know that taking on the bosses in a certain order will make your life a lot easier. Mega Man is tough, but as you amass weapons the difficulty becomes more manageable. Of course, no matter how good your firepower is you'll still need to perform a lot of death-defying leaps. The stages are intelligently designed but I don't care for those "disappearing blocks" that force you to memorize patterns before executing perfectly timed jumps. Slowdown runs rampant in certain areas, and there's a preponderance of spikes and bottomless pits. Mega Man's simple graphics make good use of color and the soundtrack is pure 8-bit gold. The lack of a password feature is glaring, despite the unlimited continues. It's easy to nit-pick (the box art is atrocious) but it's also easy to see why this game is cherished by so many NES fans. Note: After six Mega Man titles were released for the NES, the series continued on the SNES, the Playstation, and Xbox Live. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: SLN 176,300
1 player 


Mega Man 2
Grade: A-
Publisher: Capcom (1989)
Reviewed: 2013/3/5

screenshotThe original Mega Man was great, but this second edition is where the platform-shooting series really hit its stride. The game begins with a cool intro showing a city skyline with Mega Man perched on the roof of a skyscraper. The background story sheds some light on why our hero is constantly forced to fight robots. Mega Man 2 introduces eight new bosses: Wood Man, Clash Man, Quick Man, Heat Man, Metal Man, Air Man, Flash Man, and Bubble Man. The graphics are a little more sophisticated than the first game and the memorable music is some of the best in the series. The multi-layered scenery is crawling with memorable foes like carrot-tossing bunnies and teddy bears with fans in their chests. Larger adversaries include the fire-breathing Hot Dog, Atomic Chicken, Crabbot, and a lantern fish that belches shrimp. Aiding Mega Man on his quest are special items like levitation platforms, elevators, and even a flying sled. The scoring system has been ditched but the game now includes a much-needed password feature. The passwords are coordinates of a grid (A-5, C-2, etc) so they are easy to write down. Like the first game, there is still a preponderance of instant deaths, fatal falls, and areas that require memorization. These are offset however by a lower difficulty and more health icons. Mega Man 2 delivers first-class platforming fun and is arguably the best entry in the NES series. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Password
1 player 


Mega Man 3
Grade: B-
Publisher: Capcom (1990)
Reviewed: 2013/3/5


screenshotI hate to badmouth a video game icon like Mega Man, but I'm left with the impression that Capcom "mailed it in" with this third installment. Right off the bat you'll notice the plain title screen with no introductory sequence and no difficulty select. The eight new bosses are Magnet Man, Snake Man, Needle Man, Hard Man, Top Man, Gemini Man, Spark Man, and Shadow Man. Magnet Man's stage features floating magnets that affect your jumps (for better or worse), and Shadow Man's stage blacks out periodically. In Gemini Man's space stage you blast alien eggs to forge through caverns. The cast of supporting villains includes hilarious little pole-vaulters, spiked dinosaurs, and annoying bee swarms. Mega Man 3 has flashes of brilliance but it feels more generic and less polished than the previous game. Case in point is Snake Man's stage which is awfully repetitive and unimaginative. I will give Mega Man 3 credit for introducing the slide move, allowing our hero to quickly pass through narrow openings. Another new addition is his dog Rush, who functions much like the special items of the previous game. Mega Man 3 exhibits quite a bit of slowdown and graphic break-up, and the level designs can be frustrating. The fat cat in Top Man's stage is impossible to beat without a special weapon, and the disappearing blocks in Magnet Man's stage pushed my patience to the edge. Even the tunes sound like outtakes from earlier games. It may be a lukewarm effort, but a second-rate Mega Man game is still better than most NES platformers. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Password
1 player 


Mega Man 4
Grade: B+
Publisher: Capcom (1991)
Reviewed: 2013/3/7

screenshotAfter the underwhelming Mega Man 3, Capcom decided to put a little more effort into their prized franchise. Enter Mega Man 4, which kicks off with a fancy intro shedding more light on Mega Man's origins. As usual, the nefarious Dr. Wily has constructed eight new adversaries: Toad Man, Dust Man, Pharaoh Man, Bright Man, Dive Man, Drill Man, Skull Man, and Ring Man. Mega Man 4 builds upon the solid foundation of its predecessors and incorporates one major new feature: the Mega Buster. Yes, Mega Man can now charge up his weapon to unleash a single powerful shot. The stage designs are accessible yet full of surprises. Dive Man's stage has a bright summer theme with inviting waters and a mechanical whale that fires missiles from its mouth. The torch-lit tombs in the Pharaoh's stage look beautiful and contain mummies that unwrap themselves and toss their own heads! The torrential rain of Toad Man's stage can affect your jumps, so don't forget to use your dog Rush to help elevate. The fossils embedded in the walls of Skull Man's stage is a neat concept. Some elements of the game can be more aggravating than fun. In Bright Man's stage, shooting light bulb-shaped enemies will leave you in the dark temporarily, and Ring Man's stage features rainbow bridges that disappear as you walk over them. The game contains plenty of alternate routes that create a nice risk/reward dynamic. Mega Man 4 was a strong effort on Capcom's part, delivering some of the best platforming action the series has to offer. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Password
1 player 


Mega Man 5
Grade: B+
Publisher: Capcom (1992)
Reviewed: 2013/3/7

screenshotMega Man 5 took the series to the next level with richer graphics, larger bosses, better music, and more eye candy. You'll be treated to snowy mountain peaks in Stone Man's level, lush green jungle in Napalm Man's stage, and brilliant pastel colors in Crystal Man's stage. As usual, there are a nice variety of enemies flying around, including many recycled from previous games. When you shoot those little "hard hat" guys, three miniature versions appear in their place (accompanied by some slow-down). I enjoyed the inventive stages, especially Gravity Man's which frequently reverses the field of gravity. It's the first time I've ever climbed up a ladder while hanging upside down! Like all Mega Man games, it's important to know when to shoot and when to make a dash. It's often wise to pick off enemies at a distance, because once they gang up on you, you're in trouble. When an enemy is lingering just above or below your shots, be sure to use your Mega Buster which unleashes a much wider shot. One thing I don't like is how enemies quickly regenerate when you briefly retreat a few steps. Mega Man 5 features some really cool weapons like one that generates a wave of water and another that reverses gravity so enemies fall off the screen. The game is tricky but the driving 8-bit tunes will keep you forging ahead. A well-rounded platform-shooter, Mega Man 5 is pretty much everything a fan could ask for. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Password
1 player 


Mega Man 6
Grade: B+
Publisher: Capcom (1993)
Reviewed: 2013/3/7


screenshotIt's evident that the fighting game craze of the early 90's (Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat) influenced Mega Man 6. The Capcom logo is accompanied by that little jingle most people associate with Street Fighter. The background story tells of a "robot tournament" (held in 20xx of course) which has brought together eight of the world's most powerful robots. The sponsor, Dr. X, proceeds to take control over the robots to facilitate his scheme to take over the world (this guy needs a hobby). When you select a stage you'll view the boss's vital statistics (strength, agility, etc). And if you thought the development team had run out of fresh ideas, think again. Mega Man 6 features some of the best looking stages of the series. Better yet, they tend to be less frustrating and more fun. I love the bright snowy mountains of Blizzard Man's stage, the undersea utopia of Centaur Man's stage, and the shimmering desert sunset in Tomahawk Man's stage. Flame Man's stage has an exotic, Middle-Eastern vibe with floating candles that drop flames into pools of oil, setting them ablaze. I really wish spikes and fire didn't cause instant death, but hey, that's just Mega Man. As usual, the enemies are all over the map including robotic sea lions, pelicans that drop flopping fish, and giant rock monsters with treads. The red fish in Yomato Man's stage always scare the crap out of me. Mega Man 6 marks the end of the Mega Man's reign on the NES, and it's a fitting send-off for an amazing series. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Password
1 player 


Metal Gear
Grade: D
Publisher: Konami (1989)
Reviewed: 2005/2/21

screenshotMy first experience with the esteemed Metal Gear series was Metal Gear Solid (Playstation, 1997). That game absolutely blew me away, and I still regard it as one of the greatest video games ever made. Playing this original Metal Gear on the NES is interesting because it sheds light on how certain Metal Gear traditions originated. For example, your special ops soldier "Snake" begins his adventure in a jungle with nothing but a pack of cigarettes. Like subsequent Metal Gear titles, the emphasis is on sneaking by guards and employing a wide range of weapons and items. How do you sneak by guards in a 2D game? You simply walk by them when they're facing the other direction, since they tend to move in predictable patterns. Avoiding detection is supposed to be key, but when spotted by an enemy guard, all you have to do to quell the commotion is exit the current screen. The graphics are lousy, with single-colored guards that barely flinch when punched. You can't move Snake diagonally and you're constantly getting stuck on the scenery. Poorly translated dialogue results in grammatically incoherent lines like "I feel asleep!" and "Attempt to contact missing our Gray Fox". There are plenty of supply trucks to investigate, but half of them automatically transport you to a different area ("Uh Oh, the truck have started to move!"). Cheap hits (including trap doors) will frustrate you to no end and send you back to the jungle where you started. I will give the game credit for is its intense, pulse-pounding musical score. It's truly mpressive for the NES. In the final analysis, Metal Gear did a fair job of establishing some original concepts that would define the series in years to come, but only nostalgic gamers will want to relive this tedious adventure. A sequel by the name of "Snake's Revenge" also appeared on the NES. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Metalstorm
Grade: F
Publisher: Irem (1990)
Reviewed: 2008/1/15


screenshotThis side-scrolling shooter is very unique, and by "unique" of course I mean absolutely horrible. Metalstorm puts you in control of a large "mech" who navigates corridors while blasting cannons and two-legged robots that look like something from Robocop. Metalstorm's gimmick is your ability to "flip gravity" by pressing the jump button while holding the directional pad up or down. This gives you the power to walk and jump on the ceiling, as if you were playing the game upside down. This adds strategy, allowing you to reach new areas and target enemies otherwise out of reach. The opening stage is easy and straightforward, allowing you to gradually get comfortable with the controls. You might even start to think that Metalstorm isn't so bad. Oh, it's bad all right! Starting with stage two, the environments become more mazelike, incorporating one-way floors, hidden spikes, and traps like walls that crush you from the sides. Unlike most NES shooters where you can actually enjoy yourself, Metalstorm has you constantly racking your brain to figure out where you can or can't go. The jumping controls are also problematic. Holding down the jump button gives you more height, but in some areas you need to leap with precision, and the platform designs are unforgiving. A password feature is provided, along with a generous number of continues. The game's electronic music is catchy in the first stage, but like the rest of the game, it's all downhill from there. Metalstorm's gravity-flipping gameplay could have been interesting, but thanks to its poorly designed stages, the game has little to offer aside from a splitting headache. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 37,150
1 player 


Metroid
Grade: B
Publisher: Nintendo (1986)
Reviewed: 2002/4/24

screenshotIt's hard to believe this classic platformer was released way back in 1986. The title screen features ominous tones and a barren landscape that sets the atmosphere perfectly. Controlling a character named "Samus" decked out in an astronaut suit, you explore dark caverns of a mysterious planet infested with strange and dangerous life forms. You can fire sideways and straight up, but unfortunately you can't squat down to shoot close to the ground. The aliens seem to know this and tend to crawl just under your range. Metroid features a lot of platform jumping, but you can also roll up into a little ball to squeeze through tight openings. The aliens come in all shapes and sizes, each the sooner you recognize their distinct movement patterns, the better. There are several sub-bosses and a huge "Mother Brain" waiting for you at the end of the game. Metroid is tough, and its regenerating aliens can gang up on you in a hurry. Fortunately there are all kinds of weapons that you can obtain to augment your firepower. The game features good graphics, memorable music, and creepy sound effects. I have a few minor gripes. Many of the areas look very similar, so backtracking can be confusing. Also, there's nothing worse than having to jump for your life out of the dreaded "sea of fire". A long password is provided after you die, and some of the letters are not English. The game's ending is regarded as of the more memorable ones in video game history. A highly acclaimed sequel, Super Metroid, was released for the SNES in 1994. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Micro Machines
Grade: A-
Publisher: Camerica (1991)
Reviewed: 2009/12/29

screenshotHaving played so many Micro Machines games over the years, I was pretty psyched to finally experience the original NES version. This cartridge is highly sought-after, and it's easy to see why. Micro Machines delivers pure arcade joy as you race toy vehicles through familiar household environments. You'll drive jeeps along a kitchen table, powerboats in a bathtub, formula one cars on a pool table, fly helicopters through the garden, and bounce dune buggies around a beach. Variety is the name of the game, with nine different vehicles and 32 unique tracks! You view the action from overhead and score points when your opponent can't keep up and falls out of view. The scenery sports interesting details like a box of Toppies cereal in the kitchen, sand castles on the beach, and rubber duckies in the bathtub. Micro Machines employs effective scaling techniques to heighten the sensation of jumping ramps or falling off a ledge. A lengthy challenge mode is available for the solo player, but it's rather easy and long. The game is better suited to head-to-head action, lending itself to thrilling races and unabated trash talking. Each tournament consists several randomized stages. You'll be tempted to lean on the accelerator button, but after falling off the kitchen table a few times, you'll learn to take a more cautious approach. To be honest, memorizing the track layouts gives you a huge advantage. The game generally looks great, but for some reason the menu screens are subject to jitters and unsightly artifacts along the edges. On the back of the golden cartridge is an A-B switch, but this didn't seem to have any effect. It doesn't really matter, because Micro Machines represents some of the best racing action you'll find on the NES. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Micro Machines (Aladdin version)
Grade: A-
Publisher: Codemasters (1992)
Reviewed: 2009/12/29

screenshotMicro Machines was re-released on a "compact cartridge" that fits into an Aladdin Game Enhancer. As a cartridge-shaped device that fits into your NES, the Aladdin purportedly upgrades your system's memory to 64K for "better graphics and bigger games." It doesn't appear that Micro Machines benefits from this upgrade. For the life of me I can't tell any difference between this and the original NES cartridge! My friend Chris insists that the visuals are slightly cleaner, but the rest of my friends were not convinced. At the very least I would have expected that glitchy menu screens to have been fixed, but they look exactly the same. It's hardly an upgrade, but Micro Machine's first-class racing action cannot be denied. The frenetic fun of racing toy cars around a house never gets old, especially when competing against a friend. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Grade: A+
Publisher: Nintendo (1987)
Reviewed: 2009/7/4

screenshotPlaying this game really opened my eyes to the greatness of the NES. As fun to play now as it was in 1987, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out has aged like wine. Gamers usually associate NES games with relatively small sprites, but the fighters in this boxing game are surprisingly large and well defined. Superbly animated with subtle mannerisms, each endearing character conveys a distinctive personality. I especially love how knocked-out opponents stumble back before hitting the canvas - it looks amazing. The only element that had to be sacrificed for this home version was the size of your fighter, Little Mac. He's about half the size of his opponents, but at least his height gives you a nice view of the action. He'll face ten colorful characters from around the globe, including Glass Joe, Von Kaiser, Piston Honda, Don Flamenco, and King Hippo. Superb controls let you punch high or low, block, and dodge. Unlike other boxing games, this isn't a button-mashing affair. Each fighter exhibits telltale signs that they're about to punch, and the key is to dodge these moves and retaliate with a flurry of counterpunches. Timing is important, but the process of breaking down your opponent's weaknesses is paramount. Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! is full of surprises, like Mario playing the role of referee and cut-scenes showing Little Mac running in front of the New York skyline as trainer Doc Louis rides alongside him on a bike. What's up with that pink jumpsuit, Mac? The music is so terrific that you never tire of hearing it, and crisp audio effects include Soda Popinski's mocking laughter. I recently played this game with friends Steve and Chris (who played it as kids) and we all had a blast. They taught me that if you press the select button at just the right time after a round ends, you can restore a chunk of your health. A pass code is offered after every few fights, so you don't always have to start at the beginning. I've never faced Mike Tyson, but if you watch the intro screens, you'll see a picture of him with his toothy grin. I really can't get over how similar this game is to the new Wii version, but as my friend Chris put it, "you can't get any better than perfection." Note: This game was later re-released as "Punch-Out!!" after Mike Tyson got into legal troubles. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Millipede
Grade: D+
Publisher: Hal (1988)
Reviewed: 2000/4/26

screenshotThe NES library is chock-full of early-80's arcade classics, but not all of them lived up to the originals. In this case, Hal managed to screw up Millipede by making the screen too small! Only about one-third of the screen is dedicated to the actual gameplay, with the other half containing scoring information and empty space! There's really no excuse for this. Millipede's gameplay is still fun, despite a noticeable pause whenever the mushrooms scroll down. But this hardly does justice to what was an outstanding arcade title. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 35,754
1 to 2 players. 


Monster Party
Grade: C
Publisher: Bandai (1989)
Reviewed: 2007/11/12

screenshotMonster Party is a weird, side-scrolling platformer that tries to adopt a Halloween theme. The game's shoestring budget is evident by its cheesy intro about a boy returning from a baseball game who spots a bright star in the night sky. According to the game, "The beauty of the star made his eyes moist so he didn't notice that the star fell and landed right in front of him." Wow, that is just awful. The first stage features an ugly, pastel-colored landscape comprised of boxes painted with smiley faces. Your "enemies" include punk Asian kids (I swear my friend Tuan is in this), dogs with people faces, bats, and legs kicking up from the ground. You can attack these creeps with your bat, but since your bat is short and foes require multiple hits, it's hard to avoid taking damage. Half way through the stage, the smiles abruptly transform into ugly zombie faces (yikes!). Cave entrances are scattered throughout each stage, but many just say "Empty" when you enter. One contains a dead giant spider along the text "Sorry I'm dead". No problem! Some caves trigger boss encounters, and the key to beating these guys is to deflect their projectiles back at them using your baseball bat. It's a clever concept that's employed effectively throughout the entire game. Periodically your kid will transform into a rapid-firing half-dragon creature, looking like the one in the film Jeeper Creepers. You'll want to be in this "monster" form when you face-off against the jack-o-lantern monster in the first stage, since he holds the key to the exit. Between stages you're presented with the worst passwords ever devised, mixing uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and punctuation marks! Most of the seven stages are set in boring caves, but you will face some memorable monsters including a green Minotaur that unleashes tiny cows (hey - nobody ever said this game made sense). Tuneful melodies play throughout the game, which I'm sure will bring back memories for those who played this years ago. Monster Party is a very cheesy, low-budget platformer, but if you find its quirks more endearing than irritating, you might like it. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 57,100
1 player 


Monster Truck Rally
Grade: F
Publisher: INTV (1990)
Reviewed: 2008/2/12


screenshotDespite adopting a visual style similar to R.C. Pro-Am (Rare, 1987), Monster Truck Rally is an absolute mess of a game. Your view of the track is often bewildering, the physics is ridiculous, and the control scheme makes absolutely no sense. And to think - I was expecting to like this game. I assumed Monster Truck would offer equal parts racing and destruction, but all it delivers is confusion and frustration. The tilted overhead perspective conveys a sense of depth, but the dips and turns of the track are not rendered clearly at all. Not only do hills often resemble turns, but the road often appears to come to an abrupt dead end! Is it any wonder my friends and I were constantly plowing into guardrails? Even crushing rows of cars is lame - about as exciting as crawling through the mud. Then there's the awful control scheme, which only uses one button and yet still manages to mystify!! I could try to explain how the A button is supposed to both accelerate and shift gears, but I'm trying to limit this review to one paragraph. And if you expected the two-player mode to save the day, you'd be sadly mistaken my friend. When your opponent falls behind, the computer forces him back onto the screen, often giving him enough of a boost to overtake you. I actually played the two-player game with the second controller sitting idle on the floor, and almost lost. You'll catch some air over hills, but that often sends you crashing into invisible walls. But those are the least of your worries. Making contact with another truck sends you into a tailspin, and you usually wind up facing the wrong direction. That certainly doesn't promote a smash-up style of play. I tried a number of the "events" like the "sled pull" and "draw bridge", but each was worst than the last. Never play Monster Truck Rally. It will crush your very soul. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


NARC
Grade: A
Publisher: Acclaim (1989)
Reviewed: 2002/5/14

screenshotNARC combines rapid-fire shooting action with gratuitous gore to create a first-rate NES side scroller. I was instantly hooked on NARC, playing it until my thumb was sore. Judging by the non-stop shooting mayhem, it's no surprise that Eugene Jarvis (Defender, Robotron, Smash TV) had a hand in this. Allegedly an "anti-drug" game, the title screen actually says "Say No To Drugs". And what better way to say no to drugs than by mowing down scores of look-alike drug dealers? You also have the option of "busting" them should you get within arms' reach, but that's not nearly as fun. The well-designed control scheme uses a "double-tap" mechanism to simulate four buttons: jump, duck, shoot, and fire rocket. You have to love how the rockets blast those drug-dealing scumbags into meaty chunks. Some scenes feature attack dogs that can maul you into a bloody mess. Yes, this game is awesome! Add in a two-player co-op mode, and it is ON! Say no to drugs! Say YES to violence! Wahoo!! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


NES Open Tournament Golf
Grade: A
Publisher: Nintendo (1991)
Reviewed: 2002/2/13

screenshotNES Open's simple gameplay and clean graphics make for a fast-paced, addictive experience. A slick user interface makes it easy to set up shots, and you can even apply backspin or topspin. The swing meter is the standard "three-press" variety, but before each shot you select from a slow, medium, or fast meter. The faster meter provides more power, but it's more difficult to hit your shot accurately. NES Open is mainly played from a high overhead perspective, but you do get a close-up of the green, complete with arrows to indicate hills and valleys. A niftly close-up camera angle is employed as the ball approaches the cup, much like Hot Shots Golf (Playstation). One or two players can compete on three different courses. NES Open is one terrific golf game that was well ahead of its time. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Nightmare on Elm St
Grade: C+
Publisher: LJN (1989)
Reviewed: 2000/3/15

screenshotIt's not great, but I will give this game credit for capturing a bit of the surreal atmosphere of the Nightmare on Elm Street films. It's difficult to believe this was done by LJN, who produced the dreadful Friday the 13th game a year earlier. Nightmare of Elm Street puts you in the role of a kid on a dark street lined with large, foreboding houses. As you walk down the sidewalk, you're accosted by a slew of annoying pests including snakes, dogs, bats, etc. I know what you're thinking, but bear with me - it gets better. When you finally enter a house, you're challenged to collect a set of bones while being pursued by all sorts of grisley creatures much like those in the films. The one exception is the ninja, who seems to be in the wrong game (sorry dude, this isn't Double Dragon!). Your kid can jump and punch, and pressing select initiates special attacks. Nightmare on Elm Street has one very effective gimmick. Periodically your surroundings magically transform from the real world to a dream world, with entirely different creatures and new challenges. It's a cool concept that reminded me of Soul Reaver (Playstation 1999). Upon clearing each house, you are confronted with a Freddie "boss" in one of his many freaky forms. Nightmare on Elm Street's graphics are very good, and the soundtrack is faithful to the movie. Its gameplay is standard platform fare, but the horror angle makes it more interesting than most. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 34,025
1 player 


Ninja Gaiden
Grade: B-
Publisher: Tecmo (1989)
Reviewed: 2004/7/27

screenshotNinjas are awesome, and when I say awesome, I mean totally sweet. If you don't believe me, check out the The Official Ninja Web Page and see for yourself. I can't stop thinking about ninjas, which is why I dig Ninja Gaiden so much. It's all the nonstop jumping, slashing, and star throwing that you see ninjas doing all the time in real life. Gaiden's characters are small, but the stages and enemies are diverse and interesting. Besides jumping and fighting, your ninja can also cling to walls. You can use this ability to vault to high places, but it's annoying how you can't actually climb most walls unless there's a ladder. In terms of difficulty, Ninja Gaiden is hard as nails. Like many old platform games, most deaths are caused not from running out of health but from missing jumps and falling off the screen. There are some very frustrating sections where it's difficult to make a jump while avoiding projectiles. Like Castlevania (another popular NES side-scroller), numerous objects line the walls, and slashing them reveals items and power-ups. There's no shortage of items, but most are pretty worthless, and the more effective ones (like throwing stars) are short-lived. The background scenery is a mixed bag. The city streets look plain, but later stages like the castle ruins and mine cart tunnels look very cool. Cinematic cut-scenes between stages tell an intriguing (but cheesy) tale of revenge, borrowing elements from more movies than I care to name. Interestingly, this game won an award back in 1989 for "best ending in a video game". Ninja Gaiden also features a kick-ass soundtrack that's sure to get the testosterone flowing. Once you exhaust all of your lives, "Game Over" appears of the screen, but it doesn't tell you your score, and that stinks. From there, you can hit the start button to continue on the current stage. Ninja Gaiden spawned a number of sequels, including a recent 3D version for the Xbox. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 43,700
1 player 


Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos
Grade: B-
Publisher: Tecmo (1990)
Reviewed: 2004/7/27

screenshotTecmo didn't waste any time releasing a sequel to Ninja Gaiden, its popular jump-and-slash martial arts game. You ninja looks exactly the same, but Gaiden 2 offers more variety and richer background graphics. Once again, dramatic cut scenes are used to convey a storyline between stages, and these are interesting to watch as our hero Ryu encounters mysterious characters he's never met but follows their instructions anyway. Gaiden 2's improved scenery includes beautiful cityscapes and snow-swept mountains. The controls have improved as well, but not as much as I had hoped for. You can now climb walls, but can't pull yourself up to the top. Instead you'll need to vault to a nearby ledge. Gaiden 2 offers far more effective power-ups that the first game, including a "shadow warrior" that fights by your side (yes, it can be confusing). Unfortunately, the one power-up you need most - health - is extremely rare. Your adversaries include some creepy crawling things that look like bugs wearing red coats. Despite its improvements, Ninja Gaiden 2 suffers from some annoying design flaws. The snowy mountain levels use a randomly generated "wind" to help or hinder your jumps, and it'll drive you nuts. Imagine jumping a chasm and having a sudden wild gust send your character plunging to his death. Also, whenever you're struck by a projectile, you automatically lunge back, often sending you plunging into the nearest abyss. Like the previous game, your score is not displayed when the game ends, so what's the point? Ninja Gaiden II is a good looking, challenging game, but its gameplay could still use some refinement. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 74,800
1 player 


Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom
Grade: C
Publisher: Tecmo (1991)
Reviewed: 2004/7/27

screenshotI had high hopes that Gaiden III would take the series to the next level, and it did - at least for the first stage. This chapter begins with a shocking cut-scene depicting our hero Ryu shooting Irene - the same chick he spent the two first games trying to save! As you might have guessed, it was really some other ninja impersonating Ryu, and that's how the story begins. The first stage is everything I was hoping for. It takes place in a lab with all sorts of grotesque life forms in huge tanks of liquid. Ninja Gaiden 3's visuals have clearly been upgraded from the previous games, with detailed scenery that's remarkably crisp and colorful. Imaginative enemies now include metallic spiders and creatures that resemble those from Alien movies. Control has been improved so you can now easily climb ledges and you also have the ability to hang off the bottom of platforms and move hand-over-hand. After enjoying the excellent first level, I was thinking Gaiden 3 was a surefire "A" title, and the culmination of a great trilogy. Alas, it was not to be. In fact, the second stage is the most frustrating thing I've ever experienced on my NES. It begins with a painful trek through the desert, with quicksand all over the place and monsters that swarm you relentlessly. If you survive, your perilous journey takes you into an underground area flowing with lava. In one agonizing section the lava rises continuously, so you must constantly jump to higher ledges to avoid it. Unfortunately, soldiers are waiting on the ledges above to knock you into the lava. You must execute a specific sequence of jumps to even have a chance. Considering it's only the second stage, I felt this was way over the top in terms of difficulty. Incredibly, the third stage isn't much better. Set in a jungle, you'll spend most of the time hanging from platforms and swinging by your arms while creatures knock you off. By this stage my patience was exhausted. Ninja Gaiden III looks, sounds, and controls great, but its level designs are far to unforgiving. I can only recommend this game to Ninja Gaiden die-hards who want to know the meaning of pain. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: NS 195,900
1 player 


Nintendo World Cup
Grade: D-
Publisher: Technos (1990)
Reviewed: 2009/8/15

screenshotWorld Cup tries to be a sophisticated soccer title, but the programmers bit off more than they could chew. The game is deeper than Nintendo Soccer (1985), but much less playable! Before each game a special page is presented that lets you configure four strategic aspects of your game. On the field, the first thing you'll notice is the goofy-looking players, which reminded me of those in Super Dodge Ball (NES, 1988). I can't decide if they look more like Frankenstein or Arnold Schwartzenegger. When you tackle one, his eyes bulge for some bizarre reason - like Arnold Schwartzenegger in Total Recall! The field is expansive and scrolls in all directions. You control the same player for the entire game, and you'll often need to consult the "radar" on the bottom of the screen to track down your location. Your teammates are CPU-controlled, but you can cue them to tackle, shoot, or pass. Pressing both buttons lets you initiates a bicycle kick, and it's satisfying to score in this manner. When trying to perform a header, it looks like your guy is hopping along the ground like a frog. Technically, World Cup is deficient, suffering from a massive degree of flicker and breakup - especially with four players. The screen is a mess! I also have a problem with the CPU controlled teams, who tend to take naps on the field in the later part of each half. The unorthodox controls have a major learning curve. About five minutes into one game my friend Chris asked "which button is to kick?" That's never a good sign for a soccer game. Nintendo World Cup tries to take the sport to the next level, but it's too awkward and sloppy. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 



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