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.
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 After Burner, with enemy aircraft that zoom in and scale nicely over the horizon.
Unfortunately, these air stages are lengthy 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.
Initially you're armed with only a whip but it has good range. Soon you'll collect special weapons like knives, axes, holy water, crosses, and a watch that temporarily freezes foes in their tracks. Slashing torches and candles reveal hearts, and while one might expect these to augment your health, they actually allow you to use special weapons.
As you navigate the sprawling castle you'll face zombies, bats, hunchbacks, and leaping lizard men. Floating Medusa heads move in predictable patterns yet are practically impossible to avoid. Be extra careful when jumping platforms with flying creatures nearby, as taking a hit can knock you into an abyss.
One quirky aspect of Castlevania is navigating stairs. To ascend you'll need to press diagonally up at a specific spot. Likewise, when trying to walk downstairs you'll need to press down-diagonally or risk falling right through the floor to the level below. If it's any consolation, the zombies can't figure out how to use the stairs either.
Once you get a feel for its controls Castlevania is a good time. A cautious approach is wise, but once you get the patterns down you'll be navigating those early stages with ease. Each stage has ample checkpoints and the game is full of surprises. This is one timeless classic anyone can pick up and enjoy. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
You begin in a quaint multi-level village, buying items and talking to people who provide cryptic hints. Like the first game, you'll use a whip on skeletons, lizard men, and floating eyeballs. Locations tend to be more exterior this time, including bridge, forest, and graveyard locations.
Pressing the select button reveals a status screen which displays vital information about weapons, items, and the time of day. This is notable because time plays a vital role. Periodically the message "what a horrible night to have a curse" appears, as day turns to night. Suddenly you can't do business with townsfolk and the monsters become much, much harder to kill.
Fighting at night is such a hardship you'll be tempted to just "wait it out" until dawn. Fully half the game is played in complete misery. Hearts to buy critical items in town, but you'll need a lot of them, turning this into a grind-fest.
Then there are those infamous arbitrary blocks you fall straight through. With no identifying features, the only way to detect them (besides trial and error) is by dousing them with holy water. The so-called clues are confusing, and the game requires you perform arbitrary actions you'd never figure out on your own.
Even the graphics and sound are lackluster. There are some cool new enemies werewolves, but the stages lack the artistic detail of the first game. Slowdown is your constant companion and the repetitive soundtrack leaves much to be desired.
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest offers infinite continues and when you respawn you pick up right where you left off. But that's little consolation when there's so much grinding and the very real prospect of becoming hopelessly stuck. With this installment Konami managed to transform a fun gothic romp into a never-ending treadmill of misery. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
As vampire hunter Trevor Belmont you'll journey through a village, swamp, forest, clock tower, and ghost ship before arriving at Dracula's huge castle. Along the way you'll contend with hopping hunchbacks, leaping red lizards, and shambling slime creatures. Naturally the floating medusa heads are back, and they will be the bane of your existence.
The controls are responsive enough although navigating stairs takes a little finesse. In addition, you'll want to give spikes a wide berth. Making contact with one will drain your entire life bar, even the spike is moving away from you. In general the difficulty is fair and there's a password feature.
The fact that the stages branch enhances the replay value considerably. Better yet, you have the ability to play as boss characters you defeat along the way. This innovation feature adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay, making Dracula's Curse the ultimate 8-bit Castlevania experience. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
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.
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.
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.
Cliffhanger was tricky to review, because if you stand still for too long your character simply drops dead. The opening stage is a real hardship. There's one section you need to climb across a rope (hold B), and dammit, Gabe just doesn't want to hang on! Even when you make substantial progress, using a continue sends you way back. What helps you persevere is the fact that when you're hit during a jump, it does not interrupt your jump. This is huge, because the game requires you to make a lot of long running leaps. If you can survive the first chapter, the difficulty eases up and the game gains traction.
Trading punches with henchmen looks silly, but it's satisfying to watch them fall off the cliffs and plummet to their deaths. There are a few surprises, like when you beat up a boss and proceed to ride that bastard down a hill like he's a friggin' snowboard! Sweet! Occasionally you'll acquire a weapon like a knife or gun, but these are rare. I like how your score increases as you collect bags of money. Cliffhanger for the NES may seem like a total dud at first, but if you can overcome the initial frustration, you may find it worth your while. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
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.
The shooting controls are highly responsive and I like how most shots hit enemies directly in the face. Entering doorways allows you hide, reload, and occasionally rescue hostages. These female hostages are hooooot! Occasionally you'll find a tied-up skeleton in place of a hostage, crumbling to the ground. I guess I was a little late! Upon acquiring a grenade, I was like "how do I use this thing?" Turns out it's just something you're supposed to carry with you so you can blow open the exit.
As much as I enjoyed Code Name: Viper I really want to tell the main character to put on some damn pants for crying out loud! This dude is taking this whole "commando" thing waaay too literally! I can't believe he marched into his commanding general's office like that! When he dies he slouches over with his bare ass sticking in the air! That's no way to go.
Oh well, at least it explains his code name. Besides pants this game could also use a stage select. This omission is glaring considering the game displays a map of South America between stages. There are all the typical locations including jungles, docks, castles, etc. You know the game is good when you find yourself cursing like a sailor yet using every last continue anyway. Code Name: Viper is a clear winner, pants-down! Whoops I meant hands-down! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
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.
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.
The game feels terribly sluggish in general, but introducing another character brings the action to a veritable crawl! The constant fluctuations in speed wreak havoc on your ability to target an enemy or leap between moving platforms. Worse yet, there's a tremendous amount flicker that will have you wondering what the [expletive] is going on! The screen often doesn't scroll far enough, so you can't see what's ahead unless you "push" yourself into danger. The collision detection is lousy, and your default weapon has limited range. Even the selection screens are poorly designed and confusing.
The situation is just as dire when playing with a friend, and that's a serious problem considering the Contra franchise was built on coop action. Looking at the positives, the graphics aren't bad and the opening harbor stage offers some nice views. The lively musical score has a definite Contra flavor. I tried giving Contra Force the benefit of the doubt, treating it more like a strategy title than an action game. But even so, its infuriating technical deficiencies had me cursing in disgust. There's no use defending this atrocity. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Hammer throw golf takes place in a park, where you're trying to see how few times you can hurl a ball on a chain to reach a hole 1000 meters away. Button-mashing charges your power meter and it's satisfying to watch your "hammer" soar into the air as the remaining distance counts down. I only wish there weren't so many water and sand hazards. In "water slaughter" competitors swim down a two-lane canal in the center of town. It's not so much about swimming as it is beating the crap out of each other. You can slug it out underwater or jump on your opponent's back and ride him like a bucking bronco! Yes, that looks hilarious.
Next up is skyline scramble, which requires you navigate rooftops using poles (to vault) and unicycles (to ride along tight ropes). If you're timing isn't good with the vault you risk performing a Tom Cruise-style faceplant into the side of a building (too soon?). The final event, judo, is a one-on-one street fight. When clenched, fighters button mash for the opportunity to perform special moves like the "atomic drop" or "fingertip spin throw".
The events aren't always fun but they are consistently entertaining. It took a while but my friends gradually warmed to Crash 'N' the Boys. Unfortunately, even with four players the CPU still insists on participating for some reason. The standings are difficult to read because they use confusing team and character names. A steep learning curve may deter some gamers, but Crash 'N' the Boys: Street Challenge ultimately gets over on its winning personality. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
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 the 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.
Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum