NES Reviews U-Z

Ultimate Basketball
Grade: D
Publisher: Sammy (1990)
Reviewed: 2005/8/2

screenshotHere's a full-court, five-on-five basketball game along the lines of Double Dribble. Unfortunately, Ultimate Basketball doesn't offer the same level of playability or arcade charm. The players all appear to be holding their "johnsons", and the controls are awkward. Passing is problematic, and too many inbound passes sail right out-of-bounds, which is inexcusable. Stealing is hard, but drawing underserved fouls seems to be no problem at all! No warning is given as the clock ticks down at the end of each half, which is really irritating. Ultimate Basketball's graphics are very good, with a finely detailed court and even players sitting on the bench. Dunks, three pointers, and foul shots are rendered with impressive full-screen animations. These high-flyers are fun to watch, but it's hilarious when they "forget" to dunk and come down with the ball instead - resulting in a traveling violation! The CPU opponent is excessively cheap, intercepting and stealing at will, so you'll want to stick with the two-player action. Ultimate Basketball offers a half-time show, but it's incredibly boring, so what's the point? One thing Ultimate Basketball does have going for it is the music - it rocks. But despite high marks for audio and presentation, Ultimate Basketball takes a back seat to Double Dribble when it comes to b-ball action on the NES. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Ultimate Stuntman
Grade: A
Publisher: Codemasters (1991)
Reviewed: 2001/12/25


screenshotUltimate Stuntman is absolutely terrific, but its name is somewhat misleading. The game offers a variety of unique and exciting stages filled with fast-paced, non-stop shooting action. The first stage plays like a turbo-charged Spy Hunter, as you careen down a road in a car, flying off ramps and shooting everything in sight. The second stage resembles more of a traditional side-scroller, as you jump between platforms, collect keys, and shoot the bad guys. My advice for this stage is to shoot constantly, even when jumping. Next there's a Crazy Climber-inspired level where you scale the side of a building while avoiding falling objects and giant spiders. Subsequent stages feature additional challenges like bomb disarming, bosses, and more driving action. I had so much fun playing this game that it was hard to stop long enough to write the review. The graphics are outstanding and the control is right on the money. If you want to have a good time on your NES, you can't go wrong with Ultimate Stuntman. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 11,300
1 player 

Uninvited
Grade: C-

screenshotUninvited is an early point-and-click adventure ported from the PC. The story begins with you regaining consciousness after a car crash in front of an old mansion, and your sister is missing from the passenger seat. This opening sequence, in which your car gradually goes up in flames, provides a painful crash course of the clunky, non-intuitive user interface. A first-person view is rendered on the upper left, above an abstract diagram which is supposed to indicate your exit options. On the right is a list of commands and items you can page through (note that the "leave" command means "drop" - not exit). I repeatedly died while frantically trying to escape the car, prompting the message "your laziness has cost you your life and possibly the life of your sister." [Expletive] you, stupid game! Eventually I got out and was able to navigate the mansion - with some difficulty. Unnecessary extra steps are the order of the day, so you can't enter a door unless you explicitly open it first. As you snoop around you'll find all kind of junk that solves problems in the most unlikely ways. It's tempting to grab everything in sight, but if you linger an evil presence envelopes you and saps your life and kills you. Thankfully there's a "quick save" option (pretty sweet) and endless continues that pick up right where you left off. I'm glad Uninvited is so forgiving because frankly it doesn't make much sense. Most items are just red herrings to waste time experimenting with, and some of the objects used to subdue ghosts seem more random than logical. The highlight of the game is the encounter with the Scarlet O'hara ghost, which my friend Scott mistook to be a "cross-dressing skeleton" (understandable). It looks awesome to disintegrate her with the "No Ghost" substance, but be sure to "open the bottle" first, or you will die (dammit!) Uninvited's graphics are clean and well defined but the house isn't particularly scary. The music is repetitive at times, but I like how it changes to signal danger. Uninvited is not the kind of game that translates well to the NES, but those who enjoy problem solving may find this appealing. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
1 player 

Urban Champion
Grade: F
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
Reviewed: 2006/1/7


screenshotIs Nintendo really responsible for this worthless piece of crap? Granted, most old fighting games (especially pre-Street Fighter 2) have aged poorly, but this one-on-one slugfest is pathetic. With its cheesy graphics, hokey music, and unresponsive controls, playing Urban Champion is a colossal waste of time! The two cartoonish fighters look and control exactly the same, except one has blue hair and the other has green hair! Your lame attacks are limited to high and low punches, and you can also block. The fights tend to unfold in slow motion, and the sluggish controls negate any chance of skill or strategy playing a role. The sheer monotony of trading punches with the other guy is only relieved by the occasional police car driving by, or a lady dropping a flowerpot from a window. It's somewhat comical how the fighters strike innocent poses until the cop passes, but that novelty wears thin in a hurry. Once you push your opponent to the edge of the screen, he'll roll off, letting you progress to the next screen. Urban Champion's backgrounds are uninspired to say the least, with generic storefronts that cycle endlessly. You can duke it out against a friend or the computer, but I strongly recommend you don't. Personally, I prefer to play a game with more depth - like Pong for example. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 9,380
1 or 2 player 

Vice: Project Doom
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sammy (1991)
Reviewed: 2003/3/26

screenshotSammy is a first-class game developer, so it's no surprise that Vice kicks some serious ass. In Project Doom's storyline aliens have infiltrated the human race and your team of investigators is trying to expose them. Project Doom has a real cinematic flair. Like a motion picture, you play the first stage before you actually see the title screen! Likewise, well executed cut scenes convey an interesting tale between the stages. Most levels are your standard NES "jump and shoot" fare, but Project Doom is a big step up in terms of quality. Your character, decked out in jeans and a leather jacket, is realistically animated, especially when climbing ladders. He's equipped with short, medium, and long-ranged weapons. Thugs range from spiky-hair creeps, to pumpkin-head freaks, to giant ferrets, to guys in hoods on pogo sticks (huh?). The platform stages are well designed, but occasional narrow ledges account for some cheap deaths, and the only thing worse than falling off a ledge is being knocked off (curses!). Besides the platform stages, there are also break-neck car chases and first-person shooting levels. The car stages play like vertical shooters, with flying cones and roadblocks that are great fun to plow into. The backgrounds look outstanding, with gorgeous city skylines comparable to those in Streets of Rage on the Genesis. With its killer graphics, additive gameplay, and nonstop action, Vice: Project Doom will push your NES to the limit. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Volleyball
Grade: C
Publisher: Nintendo (1986)
Reviewed: 2006/9/3

screenshotIt may look awful, but Volleyball isn't so bad once you get the hang of it. The controls aren't particularly intuitive, so it might take a few practice games before you get comfortable. The teams are six-on-six, and the court is presented from a raised side angle. Behind the court you can see a crowd and scoreboard, and there's even a referee sitting at one end of the net. Between serves there appears to be a lot of "dirty dancing" happening on the court, with players thrusting their hips in a suggestive manner. I have no idea what that's all about. Once the ball is served, one button is used to bump and set, and the other for spike and block. Performing a set requires judging the ball's shadow and carefully positioning your players. Spikes are tough to execute because you need to time your leaps perfectly. It's undeniably satisfying when you execute one though, especially when you nail some poor schmuck in the face. Volleyball is mildly entertaining against a friend or the computer, but I should point out a few issues with the game's design. First, you control three players at a time, but don't know which trio will be selected until the last possible instant. Second, the high-flying ball often goes off the top of the screen, which is seriously problematic when you're trying to time a spike. Volleyball will do in a pinch, but as you've probably guessed by now, there are better volleyball titles for the NES. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Werewolf: The Last Warrior
Grade: F
Publisher: Data East (1990)
Reviewed: 2007/10/15


screenshotIf you let a bunch of chimpanzees program a video game, I'm guessing you'd end up with something like Werewolf - only much, much better! Words cannot describe the heinous nature of this side-scrolling calamity. Werewolf begins with a caveman standing next to a sign that reads "Don't Knock". What the [expletive] is that supposed to mean?! Your first order of business is to defeat a boss. Why? I guess the developers wanted us to think they were some really wild and crazy guys ("What?! A boss already?? No way! This game is freakin' insane!"). The muscle-bound boss isn't hard to beat however, largely because your punches don't even need to make contact to wear down his health meter. That's right - you'll be punching from a safe distance and he'll still be blinking red and taking damage! That's the caliber of collision detection you can expect throughout the game. Upon picking up a red "W" icon, your caveman transforms into a werewolf via an unremarkable cut-scene (a la Altered Beast). As a werewolf, you're equipped with blades attached to your hands used to climb or slice up enemies. Next you must cross a spiked pit, which requires you to latch onto the ceiling. But even when you know exactly how to perform this move, it takes about twenty attempts thanks to the non-responsive, piece-of-[expletive] controls. Aggravating the situation are two bats that continuously fly across the screen and knock your hairy ass down (if you don't swat at them first). Grabbing walls, on the other hand, is something your wolf does easily - usually when you don't want him too. It actually requires quite a bit of button mashing just to make him let go! Werewolf's stages are mainly uninspired mazes of underground passages rigged with electrical beams and other cheap hits. In addition to fighting the obligatory ninjas, you'll face pistol-packing thugs in tights who yell "OH!" for no apparent reason. Icons provide health and power-ups, but some are actually harmful! Werewolf's graphics blow enormous chunks. The animation stinks, and when the screen scrolls sideways unsightly artifacts flash along the edges. Werewolf is a case study in "bad", and the only silver bullet I could find was the "off" switch. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 11,400
1 or 2 players 

Whomp 'Em
Grade: C-
Publisher: Jaleco (1991)
Reviewed: 2009/12/29

screenshotWhomp 'Em is one of those "me too" 2D platformers that ruled the NES back in the day. In this one you play the role of a young Native American venturing into magical lands while seeking lost totems. The gameplay is strictly by-the-numbers. Upon completing the generic opening stage, you can play the next six in any order, and the selection screen has "Mega Man" written all over it. Each stage features a unique theme, and with names like Sacred Woods, Ice Ritual, Fire Test, and Water Test, you can easily imagine what they look like. Whomp 'Em's graphics are sharp but not particularly memorable in any way. The controls are responsive as you hop between platforms and battle bugs, flaming birds, freaky wooden men, and a lot of floating eyeballs. You can thrust your spear straight ahead, but most enemies approach from a high angle, which is not very convenient! And why do all these eyeballs bounce around on thin air? Being attacked by giant eyeballs seems reasonable enough, but this bouncing business crosses the line. Other irritations include enemies that split into two, or worse yet knock you off your precarious ledge (into lava more often than not). Most enemies can sustain multiple hits, and even a lowly snail requires three solid hits to kill. Running through each stage while avoiding the creatures is often your best option. The best aspect of the game is its lively 8-bit soundtrack, which is as catchy as it is nostalgic. Unfortunately there's no score or password feature - just infinite continues. Whomp 'Em is not a bad game per se, but it doesn't offer anything that's already been done in other NES games - and done better. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Wild Gunman
Grade: C-
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
Reviewed: 2007/6/15

screenshotIn the climax of many old western movies, it was common for the hero and villain to face each other in a shootout in the middle of an empty street as the townsfolk looked on. Each man would place their hand near their gun, but neither would draw until the other guy flinched. Wild Gunman recreates the scenario over and over again, trotting out one gunslinger after the next. There are a nice variety of foes including a tall lanky gunslinger and a short Mexican wearing a poncho. When they yell "fire!", you have literally a fraction of a second to get off a shot. Wild Gunman's controls are very forgiving and highly responsive. Your reaction time is actually displayed on the screen after a successful shot, and it's interesting to see how fast your reflexes are, with times as low as .27. A successful shot results in a comical animation, like a hat flying off or pants falling down. The first of the three variations is easy and repetitive, and I played until I was bored. The second variation adds more challenge as you face two villains side-by-side. Sometimes they both shoot, but sometimes only one will draw, so you need to pay attention. The third variation depicts the front of a saloon with various characters appearing in the windows. It sounds like fun, but like the first variation, it's too easy and drags on for too long. While not particularly challenging or addicting, the game does have a certain degree of charm and personality. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 128,300
1 player 

Winter Games
Grade: D-
Publisher: Epyx (1987)
Reviewed: 2009/2/25

screenshotI've played some great versions of Winter Games on other consoles (like the Atari 7800), but this NES edition is a complete flop. There are only four events: hot dog, speed skating, figure skating, and bobsled. Heck, the Atari 2600 version had a better selection! The ski jumping and biathlon events are especially glaring in their absence, and only two players can compete at a time. After watching the uninspired opening ceremony (which looks suspiciously like the one in Summer Games), you begin with the hot dog competition. The idea here is to jump off a ramp on skis and perform tricks in mid-air. Unfortunately, you're only in the air for a split-second so there's not much time to get creative. The second event, speed skating, isn't bad because it lets you go head-to-head with an opponent - the only event to do so! Next we have figure skating (ugh). Playing through one skating routine was the longest single minute I've ever had to endure. As if the unresponsive controls weren't bad enough, jerky animation renders this one unplayable. Bobsled racing is the last event, and even this is boring! Don't bother looking at the big map of the course - just keep an eye on your sled. When it begins sliding up one side of the pipe, just push the other way to prevent it from tipping over. Winter Games unceremoniously ends by returning you to the main menu, without even bothering to mention who won. High scores are recorded on world record screens, but I don't know if that was ever battery backed-up. The best thing about Winter Games is that it's over so quickly. Wow, this is really a half-hearted translation of what should have been a quality game. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Wizards and Warriors
Grade: C-
Publisher: Rare (1987)
Reviewed: 2010/2/23

screenshotIn contrast to the realistic warrior depicted on the game's label, Wizards and Warriors is a somewhat whimsical platformer. You control a goofy-looking knight who hops his way through forests, caves, and castles. I say "hops" because each area is a set of narrow platforms that tend to go up and up. The jumping controls are forgiving enough, but taking a fall can drop you back a long way. As you're falling past dozens of ledges, you might ask yourself, "Am I going to have to climb all the way back up?" Yes, I'm afraid you are. Your knight wields a sword (duh!), but its controls are weird. Pressing a button causes the thing to waggle in front of you. Considering enemies die just by making contact with the blade, you wonder if hitting a button is even necessary! The platform jumping is needlessly complicated by endless birds and bugs that relentlessly swarm you. Why must developers inflict these things upon us? Considering the constant damage I seemed to be taking, I'm amazed I made any progress in this game at all! It's rife with design flaws, but Wizards and Warriors is fun to play for score. There are tons of items to collect, and it's satisfying how they flash point totals as you snag them. The soundtrack has a nice Elizabethan flavor that's not unlike Ghosts 'N Goblins (Capcom, 1986). Wizards and Warriors is not what I had in mind, but it's moderately fun in small doses. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 46,425
1 player 

World Games
Grade: B-
Publisher: Epyx (1986)
Reviewed: 2008/4/5

screenshotI love to play Summer Games (Atari XE, 1984) in the summer and Winter Games (Epyx, 1985) in the winter, but what the hell am I supposed to play during the Spring? Enter World Games: a hodge-podge of traditional events from around the globe. While whimsical in tone, it retains the same style and head-to-head quality of its wildly popular predecessors. The eight events vary in complexity, so you'll want to have a copy of the manual on hand before you attempt any of these. The action kicks off with weight lifting (Russia), which is unfortunate, because it's one of the toughest, most complicated events. After selecting your weight, you need to execute up and down movements in perfect time in order to snatch, clean, and jerk the barbell. You'll experience plenty of faults until you get a feel for it. Next up is the barrel jumping (Germany) - a fun event with ice skaters jumping over rows of barrels. The snow-capped mountains in the background look nice, but the nursery rhyme background music is awful. Don't forget to nail your landing (by pulling down) or you'll crash straight through the ice! The next event is cliff diving (Mexico), and it's most people's favorite. Simple and fun, it features towering cliffs, inviting blue water, and a pelican that watches you from a rock. Be sure to hold left when you enter the water, or you'll hit your head on the sea floor (ouch). Next up is slalom skiing (France), but this one is so difficult that just reaching the finish line without crashing is a challenge. My friend Chris had the right idea, ignoring the gates altogether and making a beeline for the bottom! Another lackluster event is log rolling (Canada). Despite breaking the world record for this, I remain clueless about its controls. Bull riding event (USA) is more straightforward, and I like how you can select your bull (difficulty) beforehand. The caber toss (Scotland) is moderately fun as you try to throw a freakin' telephone pole for distance - while wearing a kilt no less! The bagpipe music in this stage is remarkably well done. The final event is Sumo Wrestling (Japan), which is far more complex than your usual fighting game. Since there's only one round, there's little time to grasp the complex movements. World Sports has a world record screen you can view, but unfortunately it's not backed up. While uneven in quality, World Games is always competitive with friends and usually good for a few laughs as well. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 

Wrath of the Black Manta
Grade: C+
Publisher: Taito (1989)
Reviewed: 2008/1/15


screenshotI remember the 1980's pretty well, yet I never quite realized at the time just how many ninjas were wreaking havoc in the streets! If NES games are any indication, ninja fought openly in public places all the time. It was also common for them to battle generic thugs in sewers and on ledges in front of waterfalls. Wrath of the Black Manta puts your ninja skills to the test as you attempt to take down a drug lord. You begin on a city street with abandoned buildings and broken fences, but naturally find your way underground, where you jump between pipes and crates. There are doors you can enter, but why do the ones marked "Exit" always lead to a dead end? Black Manta is a celebration of all of the cheesy video game clichˇs classic gamers hold near and dear to their hearts. There are only two types of thugs in the first stage, and they blink and disappear when hit. They can only shoot their guns while standing, so all you have to do is crouch and throw stars to defeat them. Your ninja can also employ "Ninpo Arts" (by charging your attack button), and once you master these powerful attacks, the game becomes much easier. You'll gather "clues" by interrogating bad guys or finding notes to the effect of "Go forward and up, then shoot the wall near the pipe." Yeah - my wife leaves notes like those around the house all the time! Wrath of the Black Manta's simplistic dialogue is unintentionally hilarious, like when the drug lord casually mentions, "Don't worry - we'll go to Japan. Ninja are there." Still cut-scenes reveal our hero to be a preppy blonde guy in a purple outfit. The crooks and hostages all sport huge hairdos from the 1970's, and I swear I saved John Davidson at one point. The first boss is named "Tiny", and he looks like a 20-foot tall version of Mini Me. One part of the game that threw me for a loop were the ninja flying around on blankets. When did ninja start doing that? Black Manta features distinctive background music that sounds great at first but gets on your nerves after a while. For those who played Wrath of the Black Manta as a kid, revisiting this game is sure to be very amusing. But even those new to the game are likely to appreciate its "so bad it's good" quality. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 57,000
1 player 

Xevious
Grade: B
Publisher: Namco (1988)
Reviewed: 2004/8/11


screenshotIt's hard to find fault with such a faithful translation of this "semi-classic" arcade game. Xevious was not only the first vertically-scrolling shooter, but offered the ability to fire missiles at airborne enemies while bombing ground installations below. For best results, I suggest holding down the fire button the whole time and concentrate on timing your bombs. By precisely aiming between two closely-positioned ground targets, it's possible to take both of them out with a single bomb. The scenery consists of generic foliage and brown roads, and the buildings lack the 3D illusion they conveyed in the arcade version. Another difference is the difficulty level. The arcade game was relentlessly hard, but this version is far more accessible. The problem is, once you become proficient at the game, you'll still have to sit through the tedious early stages each time you play. Xevious was also one of the first games to incorporate large "bosses", and thankfully they're not very hard to destroy. One thing I don't like about Xevious is those black missiles that seem to materialize out of nowhere. The game includes a two-player mode, but it's alternating turns only. Xevious hardly seems like the groundbreaking game it once was, but this well-designed shooter is still a good time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 59,750
1 or 2 players 

Xexyz
Grade: D+
Publisher: Hudson Soft (1989)
Reviewed: 2010/1/15


screenshotComposed of familiar elements culled from countless other NES titles, Xexyz is the Frankenstein of NES cartridges. Is there anything original here at all? Most NES games try to adopt some sort of theme, but Xexyz is all over the place. There are fairies, stone gods, talking frogs, robots, and space ships. One minute it feels like Zelda clone, and the next it feels like a side-scrolling shooter. Is your character supposed to be an armored knight or some kind of space man? The gameplay is pretty conventional as you jump between platforms, collect items, and destroy enemies. The colorful scenery is forgettable, but the rapid-fire shooting controls are quite good. One of the more effective power-ups is a "bouncing ball" that lets you attack enemies from all sorts of odd angles. Xexyz is cheesy, but in an amusing way. Strangers hand over large sums of cash for no apparent reason, and bosses announce beforehand what you'll win if you beat them. There are side-scrolling, space-ship shooting sections that branch, but if you guess the wrong route you'll have to repeat the entire area. Who in the heck thought that was a good idea?? Probably the same guy who put dead ends in the platform areas! The looping background music is so grating that I actually muted the volume. Xexyz doesn't make much sense, and the dialogue would be unbearable if not for amusing typos like "I can give you some imformation." Xexyz does a lot of things, but does none of them particularly well. Lacking an identity of its own, Xexyz finds itself suspended in the "realm of games that time forgot". © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 23,020
Save mechanism: Password
1 player 

Yoshi
Grade: B
Publisher: Nintendo (1992)
Reviewed: 2008/11/5

screenshotYou might be expecting (and hoping for) a side-scrolling romp, but Yoshi is actually a well-constructed Tetris clone. Easy to learn, this little puzzle game is hard to resist! The game "board" features four slots, with objects like ghosts, squid, eggshells, and plants falling from the top. When you stack two of the same type, they disappear and you score. But instead of moving the falling pieces, you swap the columns using Mario on the bottom of the screen. As with Tetris, the game demands fast reflexes and quick thinking, especially as columns begin to grow. It sounds simple enough, but there's one little wrinkle. If you allow the top half of an egg to fall on a column that contains a bottom half, the two will join and eliminate everything in between - resulting in a nice bonus. This not only adds strategy, but also encourages a certain degree of risk-taking. Yoshi isn't much to look at and the music is only fair, but a game like this doesn't require a lot of flare. Several skill levels and speed variations are available. There's a two-player head-to-head mode, but it's flawed. Instead of competing for score, the winner is the player who lasts longest, which does not encourage competitive play. Even so, Yoshi is a charming little title that should appeal to fun-loving gamers of all ages. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2 Fast
Our high score: 810
1 or 2 players 

Yoshi's Cookie
Grade: B
Publisher: Nintendo (1993)
Reviewed: 2001/9/16

screenshotComing on the heels of the addictive puzzler Yoshi, Yoshi's Cookie provides a completely different challenge. This time you are presented with a grid of cookies of various shapes. You rotate the rows and columns trying to create a complete row or column of the same cookie, which eliminates that row. You must clear all the cookies to advance to the next level. Meanwhile, new rows and columns approach from above and to the right. I like the fact that you can actually "clear" the levels as opposed to playing until you get overwhelmed. I also enjoyed how it's possible to stumble across cool combos accidentally. Yoshi's Cookie is original and fun, but it didn't quite suck me in like the original Yoshi did. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3 Med
Our high score: 10,850
1 or 2 players 

Zanac
Grade: A
Publisher: Pony (1986)
Reviewed: 2006/4/17


screenshotAs Zanac beautifully illustrates, a shooter doesn't need cutting-edge graphics or devastating explosions to be satisfying and fun. This game appears totally generic on the surface, but its addictive gameplay is anything but! A vertical shooter of the highest quality, Zanac excels with crisp controls, clean visuals, imaginative weapons, and rock-solid gameplay. Your ship is quite agile, and despite the barrages of missiles you encounter, a skilled player can always find an escape route. The enemies are simple in shape and modest in size, but since they are generated at random, you'll encounter a different pattern of attacks each time you play. That's a pretty innovative concept for an NES title. Your upgradeable main cannon fires forward, but you also have a devastating "special weapon" that comes in four varieties including a spinning force field and timed smart bomb. Special weapon icons are labeled by number, so you can strategically select the best one for your current situation. The game is a blast to play, and there's no sign of slowdown even when dozens of objects fill the screen. Zanac's background graphics are attractive renderings of planet surfaces and space stations, and the high-energy soundtrack will really get the blood pumping. With little fanfare, Zanac's gameplay achieves that perfect balance few other shooters can match. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 93,600
1 player 

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (1989)
Reviewed: 2008/4/5

screenshotThis sequel replaced the overhead action of the original game with side-scrolling stages, and not everybody was thrilled with the new approach. Zelda 2's overhead view is limited to moving around the expansive map screen. While exploring the wilderness our hero Link can visit villages, and the townsfolk impart wisdom like "Do not go south without a candle". The text is displayed slowly, and most of it is insignificant. One notable feature is your ability to "regain health" by entering the houses of attractive women who invite you inside. Who ever said prostitution and video games don't mix? I bet the Grand Theft Auto developers were heavily influenced by this game! There are also old ladies who invite you inside to give you "magic", but I don't even want to think about that! Like any Zelda title, there's a lot of ground to explore and plenty of surprises. When roaming the countryside, monsters appear at random, and touching them sends you to brief "battle screens". Link will also explore forests, swamps, graveyards, and sprawling palaces with complex labyrinths. Zelda 2 incorporates a number of RPG elements, including experience points, magic spells, and an inventory of items. You can save your place to battery backup, and guess what - mine still works! I do find it odd how the games instructs you to "hold in reset as you turn off the power" to ensure you don't corrupt the memory. Although Adventure of Link is every bit as captivating as the first Zelda, the excessive difficulty is one flaw that even many fans will attest to! I mean, just beating the first boss feels like a monumental accomplishment. I found the controls confusing at times, especially when it comes to the magic. Also it doesn't feel quite right to initiate a conversation with a townsfolk by hitting them with your sword. In terms of presentation, the graphics are well defined and the triumphant musical score is classic stuff. The third Zelda (Link to the Past, SNES, 1992) returned the series to the overhead style, giving some the impression that Zelda 2 was a misstep for the series. It was not. Zelda 2: Adventure of Link is immensely captivating and addictively fun. If not for the steep difficulty, I might even prefer this to the original game. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
1 player 

Zelda, The Legend of
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (1986)
Reviewed: 2004/7/15

screenshotThis revolutionary title brilliantly combined hack-n-slash action with RPG-style adventure, challenging both your mind and reflexes. It was also the first cartridge to feature a battery backup. So has this 1986 classic managed to stand the test of time? Yes! Playing it for a first time in many years, it struck me how unlike contemporary Zelda adventures, this one doesn't "hold your hand" through the first stage or two. No, you're tossed straight to the wolves from the very start! You'll die repeatedly before you gain enough strength to defeat monsters, but stick with it, because the game gets easier and more interesting as you progress. Zelda's world is a rectangular patchwork of screens with forest, desert, water, and mountain environments. Scattered throughout the landscape are wandering monsters, multi-level dungeons, merchants, and wise men that offer advice (like "walk into the water fall"). When your life meter is full, your sword can fire projectiles, making combat a heck of a lot easier. It's fascinating to see how so many of the weapons, monsters, and musical themes in this game have endured throughout the entire series. Legend of Zelda may be timeless, but it does lack the polish of subsequent chapters. It's annoying how monsters materialize briefly after you enter a screen, leading to some really cheap deaths. Upon reaching the edge of the "world", the screens start repeating in a confusing manner. Money is hard to scrounge up, and I would not recommend playing the gambling mini-games. Despite these quibbles, the Legend of Zelda is almost as fun to play now as it was back in the day. Plus, it's kind of refreshing to play a Zelda game that you can finish in a weekend. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

Zombie Nation
Grade: B+
Publisher: Kaze (1991)
Reviewed: 2013/10/29

screenshotThis might just be the most bizarre title I've played on the NES - or any system for that matter. Zombie Nation is a side-scrolling shooter that lets you unload rapid-fire missiles to demolish buildings, tanks, aircraft, and even take down a possessed Statue of Liberty. If you were controlling a helicopter this game would make perfect sense. Instead you're controlling the humongous head of some chubby Asian dude who appears to be hocking loogies at everything in sight. How the "zombies" fit in is anyone's guess. Are those army men firing at me zombies? I don't know, but I like the high-pitched noises they make when I incinerate them. Periodically you'll see a falling body, and catching these will augment your firepower. And firepower is where the game really shines. The degree of destruction you can unleash is truly awesome as you obliterate buildings that instantly go up in flames. Even the game itself struggles to keep up with the carnage, causing your head to flicker badly as a consequence. Take extra care to avoid the laser beams, which pretty much drain your entire life bar. Even those that appear to be in the distance are deadly. The graphics - especially the city skylines - look pretty spectacular. You only get one life, and novice players will find themselves staring at "game over" after just 5 or 10 seconds. You can select among four stages and two difficulty levels. Zombie Nation really took me by surprise. This shooter is so weird, crazy, and downright stupid that I can't get enough of it. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Easy
Our high score: 202,500
1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, NES Player, Moby Games, Universal Videogame List

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