Publisher: LJN (1989)
When it comes to ready-made video game licenses, it's hard to top Marvel's X-Men. The popular franchise, originally called The Uncanny
X-Men, provides an instant assortment of colorful heroes and villains, each with their own unique powers. Boasting co-op gameplay, X-Men lets two friends team up to fend off random baddies over five selectable stages. I like the comic book-style instructions and can picture some kid in 1989 riding in the backseat of a car, opening his new game and thumbing through its manual in anxious anticipation. The joy would be short-lived.
Before each mission you select from six X-Men: Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Iceman, Nightcrawler, and Cyclops. The overhead stages are ugly, confusing mazes and it's not clear where you can or can't go. Our heroes aren't detailed at all and enemies seem completely random: centipede, spiders, bubbles, skeletons, mice, butterflies... Why in the hell are the X-Men fighting butterflies?!
The combat is a [expletive] joke. You'd expect Wolverine to be the fighter of choice with those long claws of his, but in this game any character that can't shoot is worthless. Melee attacks equate to rubbing up against an enemy until they go away. Is this X-Men or Dirty Dancing? Is Wolverine incurring damage as he's freaking that skeleton? One can only hope.
Even projectile-firing heroes like Cyclops are wildly ineffective. Half the shots pass harmlessly through their target, and those you kill are quickly replaced by new creeps that respawn from thin air. Holes in the ground open all around you, firing projectiles in crossfire patterns. There are icons to collect all over the place but they are worthless! I frequently find myself inexplicably paralyzed for seconds at a time while being shoved around by various creatures and missiles.
In single-player mode the CPU controls the second X-men who just bumbles around while getting caught up on every edge possible. Even the music blows, sounding like a random sequence of beeps. X-Men is an utter atrocity. LJN really should have had their game license revoked on grounds of sheer incompetence. X-Men is so bad it's uncanny! © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (1988)
It'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
Publisher: Hudson Soft (1989)
Composed 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
Publisher: Capcom (1990)
For the benefit of those not yet born in 1990 the "Noid" was an animated character created by Domino's Pizza to represent bad pizza or something like that. Considering their slogan was "Avoid the Noid" it's kind of odd they'd celebrate this ugly little troll in a video game. Apparently Capcom incorporated "Yo!" into the title to give the game some instant street cred. So is this Noid just as obnoxious as the one in the old commercials? You bet!
The first stage takes place on a pier over rising and falling water. The platform action seems perfectly acceptable with its responsive controls, colorful scenery, and playful music. Whipping out your yo-yo lets you knock seagulls and Elmer Fudd-types off the screen. But why do I keep dying? Oh I see
- that rising and falling water line is more than just a visual effect. If that water creeps up over your platform by even a millimeter
you're one dead noid. If you think that's harsh, wait until you play stage two. It's the obligatory "ice stage" where you're expected to perform unlikely feats like hopping between floating ice cubes. You'd think they'd save something that aggravating for stage five or six, but you must understand - in Yo! Noid every stage
is aggravating. It's like the designers tried to come up with every conceivable way to screw over the player. Between stages you play a simple "pizza eating" card game which provides a brief respite from the frustration. Yo! Noid is one of those games that can't be enjoyed - only endured. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 25800
Publisher: Nintendo (1992)
You 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
Publisher: Nintendo (1993)
Coming 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
Publisher: Pony (1986)
As 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
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Publisher: Nintendo (1989)
This 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
Zelda, The Legend of
Publisher: Nintendo (1986)
This 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.
Publisher: Kaze (1991)
This 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
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