Publisher: Rare (1988)
Here's an interesting shooter similar to Nam 1974 (Neo Geo), although not nearly as good. In Cabal, you move a soldier side-to-side across the bottom of the screen, shooting and ducking behind barriers as enemies open fire in the background. By aiming a crosshair and holding the fire button, you blast enemy troops, tanks, trucks, and helicopters. Two people can play at the same time. Cabal would be pretty cool if not for the awkward control scheme that moves both your soldier and
crosshairs. Not only do they move at the same time
, but also at different speeds
! Still, it's satisfying to mow down enemy troops and lob grenades at tanks. Each stage provides some interesting scenery, including an enemy fort, a murky swamp, and an exotic beach. I like the concept of the "enemy meter", which keeps you posted on how many more enemies you need to defeat to advance to the next stage. Sometimes Cabal doesn't make much sense. For example, when you complete a stage, all
of the scenery on the screen collapses into a dusty heap. I can understand buildings collapsing at a fort, but is it really necessary for the swamp
to cave in as well? It's equally strange how at the end of each stage your soldier celebrates by running around and waving his gun like a bow-legged hillbilly! Cabal isn't great, but if you're looking for a unique shooter, it has its moments. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 25,170
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Milton Bradley (1989)
I wasn't very familiar with Captain Skyhawk when I began this review, but judging by the tons of copies at my neighborhood Funcoland, I'm guessing it must have been pretty popular at one time. And it's easy to see why, because this is a first class shooter with pseudo-3D visuals that represent the cutting edge for the NES. You guide a large, nicely rendered fighter plane over planets with geometric surfaces and triangular mountains. The landscapes don't look particularly realistic, but the crisp visuals convey a nice sense of depth. That's important, because you can adjust your altitude and even land to refuel during some missions. As you weave through valleys, you'll blast cannons, tanks, and helicopters. The animation is fast and smooth, with explosions that are modest but still satisfying. Enemy missiles can be hard to see, but moving side-to-side helps avoid these slow-moving projectiles. The diverse mission objectives include rescuing a scientist, dropping off supplies, and destroying strategic enemy bases. In addition to the planetary missions, there are also some air-combat and space station docking stages. The air-combat stages play like Afterburner, with enemy aircraft that zoom in and scale nicely over the horizon. Unfortunately, these air stages are lengthy and and tend to wear out their welcome. The docking stages are short but require precision and timing. Once docked, you can load up with several secondary weapons, including lock-on missiles. The game provides several continues. Be sure to check out the title screen music which is exceptionally good. Captain Skyhawk is an ambitious shooter that delivers with quality visuals and surprising depth. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 59,809
Publisher: Konami (1987)
It's interesting to go back and play the original Castlevania - the game that started it all. I was particularly impressed with the soundtrack, which manages to be both melodic and haunting - a tall order for the NES. You assume the role of a vampire hunter attempting to slay Dracula in his castle. Initially armed with only a whip, you'll find special weapons which are unleashed by pushing up on the directional pad while pressing the attack button. These include knives, axes, holy water, crosses, and a magical watch that temporarily freezes foes in their tracks. Establishing the formula that will continue for all of eternity, you'll slash torches to reveal hearts, leap between ledges, and battle legions of evil creatures from skeletons to zombies to jumping fish-men. Castlevania's simple, arcade-style gameplay is compelling but slightly tainted by its preponderance of cheap hits. Being touched by a little bat can send you plunging into the nearest abyss, and many traps spell instant death. Castlevania's graphics are better than you might expect, with meticulously detailed walls that look properly aged. On the downside, some of the creatures are not well defined, and smaller creatures can be hard to discern. But despite its rough edges, Castlevania is a fun game that stands the test of time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 23,950
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
Publisher: Konami (1988)
You'd expect the first Castlevania sequel to expand on the solid gameplay of the original, but Simon's Quest took an ill-advised new approach. In an apparent attempt to make the gameplay "richer", Konami incorporated all sorts of RPG elements, transforming an exciting action adventure into a tedious exercise in collecting hearts, talking to characters, and killing time. Your quest begins in a quaint town, one of many you'll visit to collect items and gather information. Pressing the select button reveals a status screen which displays weapons, items, and other vital information - including the time of day
. This is worth noting because time plays a vital role in the game. You'll need to purchase and trade items in order to progress through the game, but you can only do business with townsfolk during the day. At night, the villages are crawling with ghouls you slay to earn hearts. The idea is to rack up hearts before sunrise, and then use them to purchase items during the day, but it rarely works out so neatly. You need a lot
of hearts to buy critical items, and too often I found myself waiting impatiently for the sunset or sunrise. Simon's Quest lacks the arcade flavor of the first game, but its graphics and sound are very good. The monsters include the usual suspects like skeletons, swamp creatures, and werewolves, but there are also new surprises like web-slinging spiders and hands that reach out of graves. The soundtrack is high quality, but much like the gameplay, it is repetitive. Simon's Quest is far more expansive than the first, so a much-needed password feature is provided. The game has three different endings, but don't expect much from them. Castlevania II just isn't as fun as the original game, and its new RPG elements weigh it down. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Publisher: Konami (1990)
When it comes to NES side-scrolling action, it doesn't get much better than Castlevania III. After a brief misstep with Simon's Quest, the series gets back on track with this action-packed gothic adventure. As vampire hunter Trevor Belmont, you'll journey through a village, swamp, forest, clock tower, and ghost ship before finally arriving at Dracula's huge castle. The graphics are remarkable, from the vine-laced ruins in the foreground to the soaring mountain peaks in the distance. Unlike most NES titles, the characters here actually look somewhat realistic. An amazing variety of creatures include floating medusa heads and pesky little hunchbacks. The controls are responsive enough, but navigating stairs takes a little finesse. The difficulty is fair, and a password feature allows you to save your game. Unlike Castlevania II, no separate status screen is required since all the vital information is displayed across the top of the screen. Perhaps Castlevania III's most innovative feature is the ability to play as boss characters
you defeat along the way - an ingenious concept. The stages are separated by branching paths, adding even more replay value to an already extraordinary game. The first-rate musical score brilliantly captures the flavor of the game. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is a "must-have" NES game if there ever was one. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1990)
With its humorous visuals and competitive head-to-head action, Caveman Games has an intriguing premise but is aggravating to play. Like a prehistoric version of Summer Games, it contains six individual "sports" events that pit two cavemen against each other. Events can be played individually or sequentially in one big tournament. The graphics feature impressively large sprites rendered with a comic flair. The action kicks off with the "clubbing" event, where two Neanderthal men beat the heck out of each other on an elevated stone platform. It sounds like a good time, but stiff controls and choppy animation take its toll on the fun factor. The "Mate Toss" event is inspired by the Olympic hammer throw, but in this case you swing a cavewoman by the leg and hurl her for distance. It looks pretty hilarious, and is probably the most entertaining contest of the bunch. In "Dino Vault", you attempt to soar over a hungry T-Rex, but the unforgiving controls make this event too frustrating. "Dino Race" is one of those split-screen, button-tapping foot races with rock obstacles to jump over. It would have been a lot better if the controls weren't so confusing and unresponsive. "Saber Race" is another split-screen affair, but this time both players are chased by a Sabertooth Tiger. Players can push and shove each other as they head toward the safety of a tree. In "Fire Start", both cavemen are sitting next to each other in front of a pile of sticks. For readers who aren't Eagle Scouts, igniting the sticks involves rubbing sticks together and blowing on them. Not only is this event time-consuming and hard on your hands, but your opponent can also reach over and club you in the head just
as you're about to get a flame going. That sucks! I reviewed this game with several friends, and although we shared a few laughs, I think we were all pretty relieved when it was over. I usually enjoy head-to-head competitions, but Caveman Games is too hard for its own good. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SLN 686
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Exidy (1986)
Whoa - this is the most bizarre
NES game I've ever seen. Chiller is a gruesome, unlicensed light gun game created by twisted minds for twisted minds. The first thing you notice is its oddly-shaped cartridge that does not
easily fit into the console. Once you get that working, you'll struggle with the controls. Configuring the game to work with the NES light gun is not easy. You'll need to plug the gun into the right port, but it's hard to tell if it's working because it's so unresponsive
. You have to keep it within a few inches of the screen for your shots to register, and even then the accuracy is just not there. But as bad as the gun control is, it's actually a step up
from the control pad, which uses a tiny, hard-to-aim crosshair. Chiller's control is deplorable, but I was fascinated by its graphics and sound. This game brings to life so many classic horror images. The first stage depicts a graveyard scene at night with a church in the background. Arms reach out of graves and toss skulls back and forth. Heads and limbs can be seen on the ground, and a mysterious woman pushes a baby carriage in the distance. Your job is to hit a certain number of targets in a fixed period of time. Actually, many targets are revealed by red dots that appear with when the screen flashes as you fire the gun. The second screen depicts the hallway of a haunted house with various creeps and apparitions. You'll see an arm fall from the ceiling and be retrieved by a hungry dog below. Then things get really
twisted. The third stage shows some men strapped down, and you must shoot each part of their bodies until nothing remains. Is this sick or what? Fortunately, the cheesy NES graphics aren't realistic enough to be disturbing. In this final stage, a man is chained to the wall, another is in a guillotine, and a semi-naked woman is trapped in an iron maiden. Chiller is over-the-top by any standard. It provides some novelty value for adults, but it's definitely not for kids. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 10,400
1 or 2 players
Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers
Publisher: Capcom (1990)
In Rescue Rangers, two players cooperatively control Chip and Dale, the two chipmunks of Disney fame. You begin in a back yard, hopping on fences and avoiding dogs while collecting bonuses and power-ups. Boxes can be thrown or used as hiding places. You'd think that being able to play alongside a friend would be a treat, but the two-player mode is annoying and frustrating. You're constantly hitting your partner accidentally, and trying to keep both characters on the screen is a major challenge, especially when jumping between ledges. The one player mode is more playable, but unremarkable as far as these types of games go. Younger gamers might derive some enjoyment from this, but I certainly didn't. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Clash at Demonhead
Publisher: Vic Tokai (1989)
At first glance Clash at Demonhead seems utterly generic, but there's a lot of substance underneath its vanilla surface. You assume the role of a guy named "Bang", and you'll climb mountains, swim, explore caves, and hop between platforms in the sky to save your girlfriend. A branching map
lets you select your stages, and that's an awesome feature. The stage layouts are arranged both vertically and horizontally, so falling and climbing can take you to new areas. I was pleasantly surprised to fall off the screen and not die for a change! Each stage is populated by random zany creatures like flying fish, birds, and robotic animals. Isn't that Mr. Bubbles from the old television commercial? The controls are responsive, and I like how you can shoot while hanging off ladders. Enemies move in predictable patterns and forging through the stages with your default pea-shooter is a pretty ho-hum affair. Once you discover the shop screen however, a world of possibilities opens up. The shop actually comes to you
when you call it, providing instant access to items like boomerang guns, power boots, health drinks, and aqua-lungs. This is where the fun begins! Since defeated enemies drop wads of cash, it doesn't take long to afford the good stuff. You can even "buy" a password, and it's super long so you know
you're getting your money's worth! Experimenting with item combinations adds strategy and dramatically boosts the replay value. The more you play, the more you appreciate the game, and its catchy soundtrack has a way of getting under your skin. Clash at Demonhead feels like an amalgamation of every NES platformer ever made, but as it turns out - that's not such a bad thing after all. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: Data East (1988)
Cobra Command is a second-rate Choplifter clone with uninspired gameplay and awful control. You pilot a helicopter on a side-scrolling screen, attempting to rescue hostages while contending with ground fire and enemy helicopters. With only three shooting angles, it's very difficult to aim. Controlling your sluggish aircraft is a chore, especially when the screen is in the act of scrolling. Cobra Command's background graphics are fair, but the explosions are just pathetic. Incredibly, shooting a helicopter or a soldier produces the same lame explosion. It's hard to find anything to like about Cobra Command. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Rare (1988)
Games like this are the reason you need
to hold onto your old NES console. Cobra Triangle is a compelling speedboat game that's unlike anything I've played before. With eight unique stages, variety is the name of this game. Commanding a small, red speedboat with a mounted gun, the action is viewed from a tilted overhead perspective. The various stages challenge you to race other boats, collect pods, dispose of mines, guard swimmers, and even practice shooting targets on the shoreline. The title screen features a huge green sea serpent, and I was pleased to see this beast brought to life in the impressive boss stage. Only the "jump the waterfall" stages fail to live up to their potential, mainly because the falls look so fake. The stages are very
uneven in difficulty, so be sure to "power-up" your boat in the early going. In general, the stages tend to run less than a minute each, so even if you don't care for a particular one, you won't have to deal with it for long. You can tell that Cobra Triangle was programmed by talented programmers. The graphics are bright and attractive, with smooth animation and minimal flicker. After completing a stage, a tiny propeller sprouts from your boat and flies you to the next stage. Compared to its graphics, Cobra Triangle's music is pretty mediocre. You get three continues, but using a continue does not
reset your score, and that's just wrong
. Still, Cobra Triangle is a quality title that's unlike anything else out there. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 46,000
Publisher: Capcom (1986)
After recently playing this game on the Atari 7800, I can really appreciate the smooth, vibrant graphics of this superior NES version. Commando plays like Ikari Warriors or Rambo, as you control a single soldier forging up the screen into enemy territory. The action is intense as you shoot scores of enemy soldiers and toss grenades into bunkers. The action is smooth but the flicker can be excessive at times, detracting from the otherwise sharp visuals. Commando is extremely challenging, and can be frustrating for the novice. The mobs of regenerating enemies are relentless, and you're more likely to die from touching
one of them than from actually being shot. Trying to aim diagonally can be especially frustrating. If there's a secret to doing well in Commando, it is this: Shoot constantly and keep moving. It turns out that enemies can't fire their guns or catch up to you once you pass them, so just concentrate on those ahead of you. The background graphics depict a bland, brown environment suggestive of Desert Storm. I wasn't terribly impressed with the gameplay, but Commando did keep me entertained for a little while. It's a shame that the two-player mode requires both players to take turns instead of playing at the same time. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 73,350
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Konami (1988)
Contra's rousing theme song is instantly recognizable to many gamers raised on the NES. Most of my buddies played this game religiously as kids, and still love to play it today. Contra set the standard for commando-style, side-scrolling shooters, with top-notch graphics, memorable audio, and a superior control system. Incorporating stages with various points of view and intimidating bosses, Contra keeps you coming back for more. Your Rambo-like character battles soldiers, cannons, and aliens as he traverses jungle, snow, waterfalls, hangars, and a climactic alien lair. The control is dead-on; you can jump, duck, and aim in eight directions. The fact that you can fire diagonally was actually quite a luxury in 1988. Power-ups abound, but the "spray" weapon is by far the most desirable. The finely-detailed, side-scrolling stages are expertly designed to provide multiple routes and allow for strategic crossfire opportunities in the excellent two-player simultaneous mode. You know it's not your typical side-scroller when you fall off a platform into water below, but instead of losing a life, you can wade safely to shore. Well-executed pseudo-3D shooting levels elevate the game to the next level, and the bosses are immense but never frustrating. This game is challenging - the standard three lives is hardly sufficient - so don't hesitate to use the popular 30-life cheat code (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start at title screen). Contra is a classic NES shooter, and one of the definitive titles for the system. Konami released a sequel called Super C. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 3 lives
Our high score: SLN 71,500
1 or 2 players
Publisher: SNK (1990)
This is a likeable action-adventure along the lines of Legend of Zelda (NES, 1986). The game's ominous intro reveals October 1, 1997 to be the "end day" when the earth destructs and becomes overrun with mutated creatures. Thinking back, the only thing I remember from that day is picking up some McNuggets at a McDonalds drive-thru. Oh wait! That's right - I forgot to ask for BBQ sauce.
Damn - I guess that was
a pretty bad day! Crystalis begins in a small township where you gather bits of background information, obtain basic items (like a sword), and begin exploring the surrounding wilderness. Crystalis is easy to play, and the fact that your character walks at a brisk pace minimizes the tedium usually associated with traveling over large expanses of land. Short conversations are initiated by simply walking up to a townsfolk, which is great at first but can get a little irritating when you don't feel like talking. Most of the time you're searching for that next critical item which will unlock a new location or unleash the next boss. There's a nice diversity of locations from green meadows to snowy cliffs to hazy purple swamps. The dungeons are networks of halls and rooms sprinkled with wandering bugs and lizards. Slashing with your sword is easy enough, but stay alert because even smallest creatures can get in a few licks if you let your guard down. Crystalis is generally well designed but I dislike how you must "level up" to initiate key actions or defeat certain bosses. You'll experience the 1990 equivalent of "grinding" as you wander the wilderness searching for unsuspecting mushrooms to slay for the sole purpose of padding your experience points. One excellent feature is the save system, which provides two battery backed-up slots. You'll probably need to replace the battery in your cartridge (it's been 20 years for Pete's sake!) but it's worth the effort. As a potent mix of exploration, problem solving, and combat, Crystalis almost
manages to out-Zelda Zelda
! Note: Always hold in the reset button when powering off your NES system with a battery backed-up cart. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, NES Player, Moby Games