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)
Publisher: Icom (1989)
Save mechanism: Battery
Publisher: Jaleco (1991)
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: Arcadia Systems (1990)
Our high score: 56,500
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)
Recommended variation: Half-pipe
Our high score: 7966
1 to 4 players
Skull and Crossbones
Publisher: Tengen (1990)
Publisher: Taito (1988)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Publisher: Hudson Soft (1988)
The Star Soldier series is held in high regard by shooter fans, so you'd expect the original NES game to be a classic right? Not really!
To its credit, this vertical space shooter lets you amass some considerable firepower. As you fly over platforms and girders you're attacked by waves of swarming robotic insects. You can employ an alternating-tap technique (a la Track and Field) to engage rapid-fire, although personally I use my Nintendo Advantage joystick with the turbo cranked up (duh
- I know, right?). The platforms are engraved with images of snakes, faces, and eye symbols you can shoot for points. I like how those faces change expressions when you hit them. There are some super annoying enemies in this game. The blue X things can absorb an awful lot of shots and there are annoying orbs that are basically indestructible. Star Soldier's gameplay seems straightforward until your ship inexplicably disappears beneath
a platform. You stop shooting under there, giving the impression you died. Then you suddenly emerge and resume firing. This feature sucks so bad you would not believe it. You never know what platforms you'll disappear under. The stages are reasonable in length (read: short) but you'll always face that same "star brain" boss at the end of each stage. The Star Soldier series hit its stride in the 16-bit era, but this NES outing is nothing to write home about. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 74,800
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)
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)
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.