Publisher: Capcom (1987)
Am I missing something here, or is Section Z just awful
? I can't comprehend how anyone could derive enjoyment from this lame-ass side-scrolling shooter. Section Z not only features endless tunnels that all look the same, but the enemies are equally forgettable. Button B fires right and button A shoots left, but you'll need to tap them constantly to fire repeatedly (ugh). As you blast formations of generic objects, it's possible (but difficult) to acquire power-ups that boost your speed, energy, or firepower. Your spaceman (in a jet-pack) can absorb several hits, but remarkably, your health isn't displayed anywhere on the screen! You'll find two exits at the end of each tunnel, but while these are meant to make the game less linear, they're actually very annoying. Determining where each exit leads requires trial and error, and you'll often inadvertently return to areas you've already completed! Talk about aggravating! And instead of gradually increasing in difficulty, Section Z places you in impossible situations in the early going. The game doesn't make much sense, and the instruction manual is equally incomprehensible. I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in this clunker. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Shadow of the Ninja
Publisher: Natsume (1990)
Here's an absolute gem
that collectors would be wise to take note of. Shadow of the Ninja looks like your standard platform game, but it's extremely well executed and offers some very exciting two-player coop action. The game looks great, beginning with its slick intro that shows a very cool view of the Statue of Liberty at night with the twin towers in the background. The cargo ship stage looks amazing as you battle ninjas in the pouring rain, and the rooftop stage features gorgeous views of the skyline. Even less inspired locations like the sewers are colorful, detailed, and designed for maximum playability. The controls are crisp and forgiving, so you can attack, climb, and leap with precision. When playing alongside a friend we were able to keep up with each other just fine - even while bounding full-speed through each level. Your default weapon is the Katana, but white crates reveal ranged weapons like throwing stars and sickle-chains. Enemies include boomerang-tossing brutes and humanoid robots that break in two, forcing you to deal with their running legs and
flying torsos. Then there are those hyperactive ninjas who attempt to push you around the screen. You'll be wise to avoid these guys whenever possible! Additional hazards include steam vents and mechanical mice. The stages are challenging but mercifully short. If there's one problem with Shadow, it's the lack of a score. Forging through the game is fun, but it would be nice to have a way to gauge your performance when you fall short. Still, for non-stop action you can enjoy with a friend, Shadow of the Ninja is a blast. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Icom (1989)
This point-and-click adventure induced flashbacks of a game I reviewed last year called Uninvited (Icom, 1991). The clunky interface is exactly the same. Shadowgate is a medieval/horror game of mystery and intrigue. It requires you to issue one-word commands to interact with items, solve puzzles, and fight monsters. The first-person view of each room is small but nicely illustrated. You begin at a door on the edge of a forest, where you become almost immediately stuck. It seems like every combination of commands results in "you seem to be wasting your time". Yeah - no kidding!
The FAQ revealed I had to do the most illogical thing imaginable (spoiler alert: "open" the skull above the door). As you venture deep inside there are dangers lurking everywhere. In addition to deadly traps you'll contend with monsters like cyclops, werewolves, and demons. Critical items must be obtained in the most roundabout manner, including a key being held by a skeleton standing over a shark-infested pool. The gameplay is largely trial and error, but as you collect dozens of items the possibilities increase exponentially. You are always one false move away from instant death. You'll perform the most innocuous action which sets off a chain of events that leaves you staring at the grim reaper. Shadowgate would be impossible if not for the unlimited continues and your ability to save at any time (pretty awesome for an NES title). The game doesn't always make sense but as you inch further along it's fun to see what lies around the next corner. The audio/visual style has a certain ambiance and the music is melodic. As a child my buddy Chris sunk endless hours into Shadowgate without making much progress. Well, 25 years later he got the last laugh. Shadowgate may be tough but it doesn't stand a chance against a gamer armed with an FAQ! With Brent at the controls and Chris directing, I watched them complete the game in about an hour and a half. It's amazing how cryptic some of the puzzles are. Open a bucket? Use a torch to light a carpet on fire?! Who would have thought of this stuff?! The funny thing is, they still had a good time, rating it a solid C. I'm not so generous, but Shadowgate has a certain Halloween charm that's hard to deny. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
Publisher: Jaleco (1991)
I want to thank all of the readers who highly recommended Shatterhand. Some NES games grow on me over time, but this platform/action title immediately won me over. When I first laid eyes on that initial factory stage with the crane silhouettes and red flames against that deep blue night sky, I was like, "Whoa, that looks really
good!". The stage locations aren't terribly imaginative, but they are artistically rendered with subtle color combinations and layered to convey the illusion of depth. Likewise the characters are crisply defined and realistically proportioned. You play a police officer fitted with cybernetic hands. These allow you to literally shatter the cyborg soldiers you punch, and it's satisfying! Shatterhand has a distinct Metroid flavor, with tight controls and frequent power-ups. Collecting three Greek symbols gives you a floating robot sidekick outfitted with one of eight weapons (depending on the letter combination). The robot wears out over time, and if you're lucky he'll still be around when you encounter the next boss. The detailed animation is superb. When your character drops down a platform, he crouches slightly to lessen the impact. There are seven stages, and all but the first and last can be played in any order. Locations include a refinery, submarine, a fire-ravaged city, and a filtration plant which my friend Scott likes to call the "forest moon of Endor". You'll explore disorienting anti-gravity chambers and creepy labs with floating embryos. Shatterhand is simple in concept yet very challenging. The game offers limited continues and a slick high score screen. Last but not least, the music is pure 8-bit gold. Shatterhand's gameplay doesn't diverge much from the standard formula, but its superb execution makes this one of my favorite NES games. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 61,100
Publisher: Data East (1987)
It's best not to think of Side Pocket as a pool simulator, but more as a billiards-themed puzzle game. Its physics is rudimentary to say the least and the breaks are particularly weak. Once you get a feel for the controls however Side Pocket can be surprisingly fun and addictive. Shooting the ball is performed using a simple meter, and while your angles are limited, you can compensate for that by applying spin to the ball. With practice, it's even possible to make the cue ball curve or pop into the air! The two-player variations (pocket and nine ball) are okay, but the single player mode is where the real fun is. It challenges you to scale the ranks by attaining certain scores in a series of one-player contests. You earn 100 points for each ball pocketed, and you game ends after a certain number of missed shots. Bonus points are earned by sinking consecutive shots or balls in sequence. After each round there's a trick shot opportunity performed on a table with strategically placed wine glasses. By applying the proper angle, spin, and power, you must sink the balls without hitting the glasses - in a single slot. Side Pocket's graphics feature shiny rotating balls but little else. The soundtrack has a jazzy, old-fashioned piano sound that's definitely unique but won't appeal to everybody. I was always a big fan of Side Pocket on the Genesis, and I'm happy to report that this version is nearly as good. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 12,300
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Ultra (1988)
Here's a likeable collection of skateboarding events similar in style to California Games. In Skate or Die you'll race through a park, navigate a back alley, and perform tricks on a half-pipe. There's a high-jump challenge and even a head-to-head "jousting" event in an empty built-in swimming pool. As the title would suggest, Skate or Die has a zany attitude and some funny wipeout animations. The scenery is bright and appealing, and I especially like those palm trees on the half-pipe screen. The racing events offer varied scenery and you can take shortcuts (like cutting through a backyard) if you're feeling adventurous. Events can be played individually or in a competition, and a record screen tracks the best scores. You can go head-to-head with a friend but a confusing "ranking" system makes it really hard to tell who in the heck won! But Skate or Die's main problem is its controls. It seems like each event has its own scheme. In one you hold the directional pad for speed, and in the next you need to tap buttons. Making matter worse, there are two ways to ride your board (normal and goofy), and they basically reverse the controls. As you can imagine, it can be confusing as hell. Once you get over the learning curve Skate or Die is moderately fun. Since the events are short, you'll find yourself replaying them again and again. Skate or Die also has a laid-back, fun-in-the-sun vibe that's well suited to the warm summer months. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Freestyle
Our high score: CJS 4,271
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1990)
Skate or Die 2 is more ambitious and better looking than the original, but its gameplay has a whole new set of issues. The "adventure mode" features a "radical" storyline about a bunch of skaters who want to raise money to build a half-pipe in their neighborhood. The first stage takes place in the bustling town of Elwood, and the bright urban scenery is appealing. Unfortunately navigating the streets and sidewalks is a nightmare
because they are so narrow and touching anything
puts you flat on your ass. It doesn't help that the controls are so stiff and unresponsive. After collecting odd items like CDs and tacos, you'll face off against an old lady boss
to complete the stage. Later stages challenge you to deliver packages on a boardwalk and in a mall, but sluggish controls ruin the whole experience. Fortunately Skate or Die 2 also has a "ramp mode" that's far more enjoyable. It expands on the half-pipe event in the original game with larger characters and wider ramps that scroll the screen sideways. It's not easy to pull off tricks but it is satisfying when you successfully execute a "rocket air" or a "McTwist". Once I got the hang of it I found myself playing again and again trying to top my high score. Over-the-top wipeout animations add to the fun, including one instance where I was decapitated
(sweet!). In terms of audio, Skate or Die 2 has some decent tunes and laughable voice effects like "no way dude!" and "major bummer!" As with original Skate or Die, this is a flawed game but there's fun to be had if you look for it. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Ramp mode
Our high score: 23,621
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Ultra (1990)
After playing the Skate or Die
games on my NES last summer I was pretty psyched up for this cold weather edition. Ski or Die does a nice job of conveying the atmosphere of an inviting ski resort. The snow-covered evergreens and scenic mountain backdrops are appealing, and I love the cozy ski shop and working chair lifts on the main screen. Each of the game's five events is unique. In the snowboarding half-pipe you not only perform elaborate stunts but also collect penguins while avoiding chainsaw-toting bunnies. It's a perfectly reasonable premise but those pixelated bunnies are hard to make out. The second event is called snowball blast, and it's basically a target-shooter where you take aim at "brats" (kids), polar bears, and even the abominable snowman. Its wintry snow-scapes look terrific and knocking brats off their feet is satisfying. Downhill blitz is a lot like Skiing
(Intellivision, 1980) where you guide a skier down a mountainside. Unfortunately it's harder than it should be due to confusing directional controls and narrow trails. In "acro-arials" you soar off a large ski ramp and perform tricks in mid-air before nailing the landing (like the "hot dog" event in Winter Games). It's fun to experiment but sometimes you'll get stuck in an awkward position and end up doing a face-plant. Five judges rate your performance, and the fourth one is a real bastard
. The final event is a head-to-head tubing battle, and while you'd expect it to be the best of the bunch, it's surprisingly slow and laborious. Four players can compete, and you can play the events individually or play through them all in just a few minutes. Quirky music and bad voice synthesis just add to the fun. Ski or Die is no classic but if Mother Nature isn't delivering the white stuff you can always live vicariously through this. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Half-pipe
Our high score: 7966
1 to 4 players
Skull and Crossbones
Publisher: Tengen (1990)
on video games with pirate themes, and Skull and Crossbones fits the bill nicely. The game features large wooden ships, sword fighting, cannons, eye patches, rum, and plenty of booty. What more could you want? Speaking of booty, your goal is to rescue a shapely princess from an Evil Wizard. Why is there a wizard in a pirate game? Probably the same reason there are mummies and ninjas. Video games are crazy like that, so work with me here!
Amusing cut-scenes show the wizard in his cave apparently trying to hypnotize the princess' chest!
One or two players assume the role of swashbuckling pirates, with a split-screen accommodating the co-op action. The action is frantic as you hold off the onslaught of bandits while gathering ubiquitous treasure. Your default attack is a sword, but you also have a gun and throwable knives at your disposal. Most enemies can absorb multiple hits, causing them to spurt purple blood. The fortress stage culminates with an encounter with an executioner
, and how cool is that?
Icons reveal bonus items, but be careful - they sometimes they materialize into poison. That's almost as irritating as the pesky rats that overrun certain stages. It's possible to stomp on the rodents, but it's hard because they hop around like fleas. Technically, Skull and Crossbones is impressive, with large characters and bright, meticulously detailed scenery. The action is fluid, although the split-screen makes things noticeably slower (hey, you can't have everything). The six diverse stages can be played in any order, and when the game is over, you're rated on your performance. Skull and Bones has its share of platform cliches, but it really hits the spot if you're in the mood for some swashbuckling fun. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Taito (1988)
Sky Shark is an exciting vertical airplane shooter along the lines of 1942. As you fly over jungle, sea, and desert environments you fire exclamation marks
at tanks, boats, planes, and cannons. Your P-40 fighter plane has modest firepower (initially) and a set of bombs that can decimate a large area. The first stage features some attractive jungle scenery, and you really need to keep an eye out for tanks hiding in the foliage. Shooting down a squad of eight red planes reveals a power-up that incrementally increases your firepower. Go for it
, but avoid the corners of the screen whenever possible - they're a death trap!
It's easy to let your guard down after dispatching the tank boss, but stay alert because there are still a few straggling enemies left before the end of the stage. The second stage takes place at sea, and frankly it looks awful with that solid blue background. Readers told me I overrated Sky Shark the first time around (grade: A-), and they were probably right. Unlike most shooters where enemy missiles are red and clearly visible, the missiles here tend to blink and blend into the scenery. The problem exists in most stages, and most notably in the desert where yellow missiles disappear over yellow sand. It doesn't help that the collision detection is so unforgiving. The lack of a rapid-fire option can be a serious issue for those not lucky enough to own an NES Advantage joystick like I do. Its precision joystick coupled with an auto-fire option really elevated my enjoyment of this game. My friend Chris and I were determined to beat Sky Shark so we stuck in the Game Genie and set it for maximum power and infinite lives. You'd think that would be enough, but we actually had to resort to slow motion
to get through some of the more treacherous stages. We didn't even realize when we reached the end because the game starts over!
Sky Shark has its flaws, but its intense, white-knuckle action is sure to keep you coming back. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 64,120
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Rare (1986)
I'm a big fan of snow games, and Slalom has a cheerful winter vibe that's appealing. You select between three mountains of increasing difficulty, each offering a series of eight trails to conquer. You're racing the clock, and to reach the finish line in time you'll need to ski through gates and avoid a myriad of obstacles like snowmen, pine trees, and kids on sleds. It feels like an obstacle course, but the handy jump button lets you soar right over many of the hazards. Racing against the clock is fun, and a handy icon moves across the top of the screen so you can easily tell how close you are to the finish. Your goofy skier assumes the tuck position at the bottom of the screen, and his enormous ass is not
something I need to see. The distant scenery looks nice with the purple mountains superimposed over a deep blue sky. It looks like you're skiing at night! Unfortunately, the trail itself looks like a white road on a gray landscape. I guess the programmers wanted to clearly delineate the trail, but it makes Slalom look like a car racing game! The controls are squirrelly and lack the precision required to comfortably weave between the gates. It's not great, but Slalom still makes for a good seasonal game to play on a cold winters' night. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Acclaim (1991)
It's easy to tell this game was designed by the guy who created Robotron 2084 (Eugene Jarvis), because Smash TV is a logical evolution of that frantic shooter. The premise is similar to the film The Running Man starring Arnold Schwartzenegger. You play a contestant on a futuristic game show who must survive a series of rooms swarming with shooting robots and club-swinging thugs. Like Robotron, the control scheme is designed for dual-joysticks so you can move independently of your aim. You may be surprised to hear that this scheme is supported
on NES, facilitated by allowing each player to use two controllers. It works surprisingly well, partly because you hold the controllers vertically which makes them more comfortable to grasp. Smash TV is an action-packed shoot-a-thon that will have you scampering around like a chicken
as enemies pour out of the woodwork. Power-ups appear early and often, including three-way shots, piercing missiles, and heat-seeking cookies! Despite the frenzy of activity I never noticed any drop-off in the frame-rate, and that's admirable. Most characters tend to be small and ill-defined, but bosses like Mutoid Man are impressively large. I love how his mechanical body parts fall off as you wear him down. As you progress a cheesy talk show host (with babes in his arms) jeers you via rough voice synthesis. At one point he exclaims, "Good luck - you won't need it!" Huh? I won't
need it? Compared to the arcade version of Smash TV, this NES edition compares favorably. It may lack the wonderful gore of the arcade, but not having to worry about those pesky mines improves the gameplay. This is a fun game to play for high score, but frequent bonus lives tend to extend the length of the game. And if your hand doesn't get numb from the non-stop carnage, your brain just might. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 1,609,515
1 or 2 players
Snake Rattle and Roll
Publisher: Rare (1989)
This game must have quite a following, because readers have been begging me to review it for some time. While I can understand its appeal to some extent, I found Snake Rattle and Roll's gameplay to be below average. I will admit that the game is beyond reproach in terms of presentation. Its crisp, colorful stages are presented from a psuedo-3D, isometric point of view not unlike Marble Madness. The upbeat soundtrack is a likeable collection of piano tunes, including the oldie "Shake
Rattle and Roll". Guiding the head of a snake, you consume colored balls in order to generate body segments. Be careful - some of those bouncing balls are actually bombs in disguise, so keep an eye out for fuses. You'll also need to contend with bouncing manhole covers, giant stomping feet, and marauding toilet seats! One button is used to activate your snake's tongue for eating and attacking, and the other button is for jumping. A jumping snake? Yeah, this game is positively madcap. Once your snake is full-grown, you can access the exit door and move on to the next stage. Snake Rattle and Roll's graphics are vibrant, but its heavy emphasis on platform jumping is its downfall. The slippery controls are definitely not
up to the task, sending your snake sliding off of narrow platforms and sometimes headed in the wrong direction! The frustration factor is through the roof. I tried the two-player simultaneous mode, but my friends complained about the same issues. Snake Rattle and Roll is likeable enough on the surface, but poor controls prove to be its undoing. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 82,850
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Nintendo (1985)
The first time my friends and I played this game, we couldn't figure out what country code FRG stood for. It turned out to be the Federal Republic of Germany - the name for West Germany before it unified with the east! Wow, that really puts some perspective on things! Anyway, Nintendo Soccer isn't bad for a bare-bones soccer title. Much like Nintendo's Ice Hockey
(NES, 1988), it delivers simple, no-frills action. The players look like a bunch of little kids running around, and the goalies appear to be wearing Devo hats. The players are slow, and sometimes it feels like the action is unfolding in slow motion. Dribbling the ball and aiming at the goal is intuitive enough, but weak passing makes it hard to move the ball up the field. Those pesky off-sides penalties don't help matters. Playing against CPU-controlled players isn't too exciting (they often pause for no reason), but competing against a friend can be exciting. When a goal is scored, the players run around the field waving their arms as if they're being attacked by a swarm of bees. My friend Scott would always exclaim, "GOAL! Unleash the killer bees!!
" and everyone would crack up. Too bad I don't have a killer bee icon for my reviews. I was impressed that Soccer includes a pretty elaborate half-time show with dancing cheerleaders. Heck, even the new Madden
doesn't have that! A happy-go-lucky song plays throughout the game. Soccer is primitive but you can't deny its brand of simple fun. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Rare (1990)
A lot of readers have recommended Solar Jetman over the years, but I'm sorry to say this game is severely overrated! Solar Jetman expands upon the Lunar Lander-style of gameplay, which frankly was never so hot to begin with. You control an egg-shaped "jetpod" traveling from planet to planet while searching for parts. Your pod is very well-rounded (literally) and it looks very cool when it rotates. Enjoy that, because it's the best part of the game! Each planet offers a set of scrolling caverns lined with cannons, aliens, and items to collect. One button engages your thrusters and the other fires your weapon. When your pod is destroyed, your pilot emerges in a jetpack, allowing him to trek back to the base for a new pod. Navigating the expansive caverns is confusing because they all look the same. Methodically collecting items and towing them back to your base requires a monumental amount of skill and patience, mainly because the gravity is so [expletive] strong!
Each item you pick up seems to weigh a ton, and some require a good 15 seconds of continuous thrusting just to lift them off the ground! And just when you gain a little momentum, the item swings on its tether, sending you crashing into the nearest wall. Advanced levels complicate matters by incorporating gravity generators!
Just what we need - more gravity!
At least the collision detection is forgiving, and you can activate a shield at any time. Sadly this causes you to drop the item you've been towing! I was hoping that power-ups like "efficient engines" might ease the pain, but I soon realized I was fighting a losing battle. Some gamers will relish the challenge, but even the first level pushed my patience to the limit. Solar Jetman has a unique visual flair, but its fun factor is crushed under the weight of its outrageous difficulty. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 827
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: Broderbund (1985)
In Spelunker, you control a little miner in an underground area loaded with tunnels, elevators, and ropes. You can jump over obstacles, climb ropes, collect items, and even blow up boulders. Colorful and detailed, Spelunker's graphics are pleasing to the eye, and the stages are so well-designed that you'll want to explore every passage. Unfortunately, the awful controls will have you throwing down your controller in frustration. The main problem is the tricky, unforgiving jumping controls. Even fallling one inch
is deadly! That's a shame, because Spelunker should have been a lot of fun. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 10,700
Spiderman Return of the Sinister Six
Publisher: LJN (1992)
Is it true that this weak platformer is the only
Spiderman game for the NES?! That's pretty sad. Return of the Sinister Six is bogged down by awkward controls, dull stage designs, and predictable gameplay. And what's the deal with Spiderman's huge noggin?! He looks like a six-year old in a Halloween costume! Each of the game's brief six stages offers a new villain, including Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, Vulture, Hobgoblin, and Dr. Octopus. I enjoyed the outdoor environments with their bright blue skies and towering skyscrapers, but the indoor areas are dull and cramped. I especially hate the warehouse with its hard-to-see mines and rats that are constantly nipping at your heels. I was hoping that the house of illusion (stage three) might spice things up, but that was just as forgettable. As you forge through this by-the-numbers adventure, you'll engage in altercations with bad guys dressed in bright green suits. When punched or kicked, they explode into meaty chunks, which is probably the highlight of the game. It's hardly necessary however, because you can breeze through most stages by simply running past these goons! The worst part of Sinister Six is definitely the controls. The whole web-slinging mechanism is so confusing and frustrating that you'll want to avoid
using it whenever possible. The collision detection is terribly sloppy, making it hard to kick or punch an enemy without "overlapping" him. Spiderman Return of the Sinister Six isn't a total loss though. The music is okay, and the gameplay is fairly easy and straightforward. But compared to most other Spiderman titles I've played, this one is far from impressive. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3,950
Publisher: Sunsoft (1987)
Compared to the arcade original, this NES Spy Hunter boasts faster action and better graphics, yet it pales in terms of fun. I can't say I'm surprised. Whenever you tinker with a classic formula, you're just asking for trouble. Spy Hunter is a vertical, overhead racer with a focus on car-on-car violence. Driving is a challenge as you navigate forking roads and jump bridges which happen to be under repair. Aren't they always? Evil automobiles are in hot pursuit, including "tire slashers", "bullet-proof baddies", and limos that fire from the side windows. You can incapacitate most of these using your machine guns that fire forwards. Red trucks periodically appear to outfit your car with more effective weapons like oil slicks and smoke screens. Eventually you'll contend with bomb-dropping helicopters, and you'll need a special missile weapon to take them out. Spy Hunter for the NES should have been a lot
better. Your car only moves at two speeds: too slow and too fast! Slow driving lets bad guys sneak up from behind, but going fast makes you prone to rear-end collisions. It's infuriating when you crash into one of those motorcycles, which seem to be all over the road! Spy Hunter offers an initial two-minute "grace period" that provides unlimited lives, but after that ends, the party's over. The gameplay feels erratic and even when making progress you feel like a fish swimming upstream. Spy Hunter for the NES isn't a total loss, but it's close. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 19,505
Publisher: Kemco (1988)
I fondly recall playing this game on my Atari 1200XL computer in the early 80s, when its graphics were absolutely cutting-edge. Who would have guessed that a silly Mad magazine cartoon would translate into such an innovative video game? Thankfully, this NES version is just like the one I remember. Played on a split-screen, the white spy patrols the top while the black one explores the bottom. Both spies freely move around a maze of rooms while searching furniture for items and planting traps for each other. These traps, which trigger some wonderfully humorous animations, include bombs, springs, and electrified water buckets over doorways. There are tools to disable traps, including umbrellas and pliers, but you can only carry one item at a time. A handy map lets you track your position, but keeping an eye on your opponent is tough. Occasionally you'll both enter the same room, resulting in a quick brawl as you beat each other over the head with sticks. The spy who collects four special items in a briefcase can win the game, and there's a great ending animation showing him flying away. But while Spy Vs. Spy's gameplay is certainly original, it's also rather difficult and confusing. It's very easy to accidentally trigger your own traps, and collecting the items can be tedious. In addition, there's nothing to stop your opponent from waiting by the exit door and mugging you for the items! Spy Vs. Spy's background music is unforgettable, perfectly matching the whimsical theme. Despite its flawed gameplay, Spy Vs. Spy is extremely entertaining and a nice addition to any NES collection. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Lucasfilm (1991)
Remember the scene in Star Wars where Luke was exploring a cave, got hit with some dripping green stuff, and was vaporized when he jumped on a spike? I don't either, and that's what I hate about this game. Instead of being inspired by the Star Wars universe, it feels like a generic platformer! You play the role of Luke Skywalker, but look more like a little kid. In fact, all of the characters have been given the "kiddie" treatment, and they look awful. I like how you can travel between areas in your Landspeeder (via a nifty overhead view), but the poorly-designed stages are appalling. All of the "worst practices" of video game design are at work here. There are creatures you can't see until you make a blind leap. Endless spike-laden pits spell instant death. Falling even modest distances inflicts serious damage, and you're constantly being knocked off of narrow ledges. The first few stages take place in bland cave environments, with generic enemies that have nothing to do with Star Wars. The Sandcrawler and Cantina stages are more interesting visually but just as frustrating to play. A few well-done cut scenes attempt to convey the film's storyline, but the music is awfully generic. There's no score, but there are plenty of continues to extend the agony. Star Wars for the NES is widely detested by most fans of the films, and deservedly so. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (1990)
Similar to Zelda, Startropics is a charming action-adventure that won me over almost immediately. You play as a generic kid exploring tropical islands in search of your lost uncle. You'll travel between islands via a special submarine, and chat with villagers while enjoying bright scenery and festive steel drum music. Each island features caves that contain dungeons very much in the Zelda tradition. Wielding unusual weapons like a yo-yo and a baseball bat, you'll battle ninja monkeys, pirate ghouls, and belligerent starfish. There's even a mutant ostrich who thinks he's the boss of me! You are not
the boss of me mutant ostrich!! Each room has a secret that will reveal the exit. Sometimes you'll need to clear out the monsters, and sometimes you'll need to activate a hidden switch. Since your character is relatively large, you're an easy target for converging snakes and raining fireballs. Some of the hits are pretty cheap, and some seem downright mandatory!
But the real problem with Startropics is its stiff controls. You can't move diagonally, and there's a slight pause while turning 90 degrees. That's inconvenient when you want to side-step a swooping bat. Since your angles of attack are limited, you're forced to compensate by predicting your enemies' movements. Fighting is awkward, but the jumping controls are a breeze, and hopping on panels to activate switches is surprisingly fun. The game automatically saves your progress at designated spots, and my battery still works! Startropics is a tough game, and I couldn't get through a dungeon without lashing out with a few expletives. I curse because I care
, people (you know that). Upon losing a life not only does the game set you back a few rooms, but you lose your weapons and only get half
of your life back! Give me a break!
The magic items help a lot
, but they can be pretty hard to come by. Startropics may test your resolve, but if you don't give it a try you're just letting the best things in life just pass you by. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1989)
This first-person air combat title attempts to be realistic, but is a complete mess. The object is to destroy a certain number of enemy planes before returning to your base. Unfortunately, the graphics are pitiful and the framerate is hopelessly choppy. Your first-person view is little more than a flat horizon with some black enemy aircraft that occassionally flash across the screen. Your Stealth fighter is equipped with cannons and a limited number of missiles, but the rough animation make it hard to get a bead on anything. Your best bet is to keep an enemy in view and hope you accidentally hit it. Should you actually complete a mission, you engage in a separate landing sequence where you view your plane from a side angle. You need to adjust you speed and angle of descent perfectly or risk blowing up. And you will
blow up - again and again. When you lose a dozen planes in a row just trying to land, something is very, very wrong! As frustrating as it is ugly, Stealth is one to avoid. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (1990)
Contra was a tough act to follow, but this excellent sequel delivers the same brand of one-man-army shooting fun while incorporating a few surprises of its own. As Super C begins you are attacking a well-fortified stronghold, and the side-scrolling mayhem is practically identical to Contra. In fact, the graphic style and sound effects are almost exactly
the same. Once you defeat the helicopter boss at the end of stage one however, the game shifts to an overhead, vertically-scrolling view. The action never lets up as you run from room to room blasting tanks and cannons. Super C offers a few new weapons, but my favorite is still the multi-shot "spray". The awesome two-player simultaneous mode is back, and Super C has its own cheat code (right, left, down, up, A, B) that allows you to stock up with ten lives. If you enjoyed Contra, this killer sequel is a must-have! I do wish they could have come up with a better name though. Even Contra 2 would have been better than "Super C". © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: BSC 66,080
1 or 2 players
Super Dodge Ball
Publisher: Imagesoft (1988)
is an original concept, and I think I like it! Super Dodge Ball is a contest between two teams playing in two connected boxed areas. Each box holds one team's "target players", with offensive players lining the perimeter. The goal is to knock out all of your opponent's target players, each of which has his own life meter. You can pass the ball around, jump, duck, and catch a ball thrown at you. There's nothing more satisfying than nailing an opponent in the back of his head! Graphics are not Super Dodge Ball's strong suit. There's a terrible amount of flicker, and the scrolling is extremely choppy. When you don't have the ball, your control is alternated between your players, which is confusing. But despite its flaws, this innovative game has become somewhat of a cult classic over the years. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Super Mario Bros.
Publisher: Nintendo (1985)
Not only did this game define
platform gaming as we know it, but few games have ever surpassed Super Mario Bros in terms of fun and addictiveness. The game's imaginative levels, tight control, and sheer variety are simply amazing for a 1985 release. Its familiar music and bright, inviting graphics are permanently etched into so many childhood memories. Mario can bash blocks, dash, swim, pounce on enemies, and kick turtle shells into groups of oncoming foes (sweet!). With the help of power-ups, he can double in size, hurl fireballs, or gain temporary invincibility. There's ample room for technique and numerous secrets to discover. Coins are found all over the place, and collecting 100 earns you an extra life. You can't save your game in progress, but this is partially remedied by secret warp areas that allow you to skip ahead to advanced stages. In addition, you can continue by holding the A button when you restart a game. Each world consists of four stages, the last concluding with an encounter with Mario's dragon arch-nemesis, Bowser. In addition to seeing how far you can get, the game is also fun to play for high score. If you haven't played this brilliant game in a while, you owe it to yourself to see how Super Mario Bros has withstood the test of time like few others can. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: CJS 391,850
1 or 2 players
Super Mario Bros. 2
Publisher: Nintendo (1988)
After the phenomenally successful first Super Mario Bros game, you might have expected Nintendo to stick with the same winning formula, but this second edition has a very different look and feel. It's far more challenging and complicated than the original, but still retains the charm and quality gameplay you would expect from Nintendo. No longer limited to moving just right or left, vines, chains, and ladders allow you to climb areas up high, where you can hop between mountains or clouds. You collect cherries instead of coins, and most adversaries are decked out in masks. Jumping on an enemy causes you to stand upon it, but by pressing the B button you then can pick it up to use as a projectile. It's a very unique control mechanism I don't recall seeing in any other game. You'll also see the tufts of unripened vegetables sticking out of the ground. Picking these usually reveals a radish you can toss at foes, but they can also reveal power-ups, bombs, or doors to hidden areas. My personal favorite item is the "POW" block which triggers an earthquake, knocking all enemies off the screen. Other innovative elements include flying carpets and bonus "slot machine" screens. Heck, you don't even have to play the game as Mario! Before each stage you get to select between Mario, Luigi, Princess, and Toad, each with their own distinct jumping and "picking" abilities. Decidedly more complex that the first game, some stages require you to solve puzzles by blowing up walls or stacking blocks. Three continues are available, along with warp areas and shortcuts. It might not be exactly what you'd expect, but Super Mario Bros 2 is still outstanding in its own unique way. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Publisher: Nintendo (1990)
After taking a detour with Super Mario Bros 2, Nintendo got "back to the basics" with this third edition, giving gamers what they really wanted. Super Mario Bros 3 uses the same gameplay as the first, but there's a lot
more to discover here, with eight huge "worlds" to explore, each with its own collection of stages and bonus games. This was one of the first video games to employ interactive maps, allowing the player to move freely between the stages. New power-ups allow Mario to transform into characters with special abilities including Racoon Mario, Fire Mario, Frog Mario, and Tanooki Mario. Numerous mini-games add variety and supply bonus items you can activate between stages. The stages themselves are expertly designed and many feature multiple routes. You can't save your game, but there are continues available and "warp whistles" that let you skip ahead. Like the first game, the graphics and music are simple but brimming with personality. It's no surprise that most NES fans regard Super Mario Bros 3 as the greatest Mario Bros game of all time. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 143,300
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Tradewest (1990)
Super Off Road was an arcade racer known for its four-player action. Although each track fits on a single screen, they sport plenty of detail with steep hills, sharp curves, and ramps. The racing trucks look like little toys as they bounce over hills and slide around corners. This NES rendition is arguably superior to its 16-bit cousins. That's because it supports four-player simultaneous action so you can play this game how God intended. Each player is prompted to enter his initials and choose a country. An upgrade screen appears before each race, allowing players to soup up their vehicles. In addition to standard upgrades (acceleration, shocks, tires) you'll want to keep a healthy supply of turbos on hand. The races are rough and tumble as the trucks bump into each other and sometimes even appear to ride over
each other. It's advantageous to remain ahead of the pack because you usually have first dibs on power-ups that appear randomly around the course. I've seen CPU trucks double-back to snag these, but wouldn't recommend trying that. A race ends when one racer completes the required number of laps - no need to wait for the stragglers. The victory screen shows the top three winners with babes in arm, but the chicks all look alike. There seems to be an inexhaustible supply of tracks. Racing against CPU opponents is good practice but not very challenging. As a pure head-to-head racer however, Super Off Road is a classic, and this is the version to own. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 2040
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Activision (1987)
In an attempt to resurrect its biggest hit, Activision gave Pitfall Harry a Nintendo makeover for this ill-advised "update". Sadly, the only thing Super Pitfall accomplished was to make people want to play the original Pitfall
(Atari 2600, 1982). In this version Harry is short and pudgy with a bright blue outfit. Initially the scenery consists of ruins and pyramids, but it soon degenerates into a dreadful maze of generic underground platforms. The waterfalls that looked so inviting in Pitfall 2 look like blinking blue blobs in this game. The jumping controls are dreadful, and the collision detection is utterly horrendous! You're armed with a gun, but too often your shots pass right through their intended targets! Cheap hits and bad background music apply the finishing touches to this disappointing debacle. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 73,000
1 or 2 players
Super Spike V Ball
Publisher: Technos (1989)
Here's a decent volleyball game that attempts to improve on Kings of the Beach, but comes up a little short. The players are large and muscular, and the side-scrolling courts are finely detailed. I really enjoyed the variety of backdrops, ranging from sunny Daytona to flashy Las Vegas. Super Spike wisely employs the same basic control scheme as Kings of the Beach, making it easy to set, jump, and spike the ball. And boy can these guys jump high! Super Spike's action is smooth enough, but sometimes it's hard to tell if the ball has been blocked or if it hit the net. A visual marker is used to show where the ball will land, and while this makes the ball easier to track, it also eliminates much of the suspense. The music and sound effects are pretty lame. Super Spike is a respectable effort overall, but for sheer playability it can't quite match Kings of the Beach. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tengen (1989)
You'd probably expect an old-school gamer like myself to love Super Sprint, but I'm not a fan. Each track consumes a single screen, and you get an overhead view of the action. There are four racecars that are small but easy to make out. The idea is to win races, rack up points, and gradually upgrade your car. Races tend to be short and the courses become more sophisticated as you progress, eventually incorporating overpasses and shortcuts. You'll face hazards like oil slicks, water puddles, and small tornadoes. The controls are very responsive, and navigating the courses seems almost too
easy. Upon crashing, you're placed back on the road immediately, so there's not much of a penalty. When a track criss-crosses, cars seem to pass through
each other, which is pretty lame. After each victory you'll view a screen showing a close-up of your car with the racer inside turning his head and giving the thumbs-up. If you collected any wrenches along the course, you have the option to upgrade your traction, acceleration, or top speed. So what's not to like? Well, although you'd expect this to be a kick-ass four-player game, it only supports two players. As a one-player game Super Sprint lacks challenge, and I got really tired of lapping my brain-dead CPU opponents. The courses feature a few scattered trees, but more imaginative scenery would have been nice. The background music is kind of goofy and repetitive. Super Sprint is one of those games that looks like pure fun but fails to deliver on its promise. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 59,200
1 or 2 players
Super Spy Hunter
Publisher: Sunsoft (1991)
The original NES Spy Hunter was super lame, but this sequel feels completely different. Super Spy Hunter incorporates flashy visuals and more frenetic shooting action. The game is set in the year 2525, and apparently the only thing that's changed in 500 years are the installation of high-tech guardrails! The cars, helicopters, and 18-wheelers look exactly the same!
Who would have guessed? While racing up the screen you're under constant attack from missile-firing helicopters, roadside cannons, and drill-equipped cars. The crumbling highway provides precious little room to maneuver, and touching the guardrail incurs damage to your health meter. Nifty visual effects convey smooth turns and swinging suspension bridges, but these take their toll on the frame-rate. Unlike the original Spy Hunter, you don't drive into a red truck to collect a power-up, but instead you blast the damn thing
to release a power-up. It doesn't make any sense, but I like the fact that there are no lulls in the action. An icon on each truck cycles through several possible items, allowing you to effectively select
your power-up. This adds a much-needed strategic element. The weapons tend to be pretty weak, but I like the ability to fire in multiple directions. Each stage ends with a boss encounter, but these are far too long and difficult. The rest of the game almost feels like a joy ride by comparison. Super Spy Hunter isn't a great game, but its challenge and variety are an addictive combination. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
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