Danny Sullivan's Indy Heat
Publisher: Tradewest (1992)
As a late arrival on the NES, many gamers missed out on this overhead racer the first time around. With its toy-sized cars, screen-sized tracks, and quick races, Danny Sullivan's Indy Heat is like a dream come true for old-school fans. Despite its small scale, Indy Heat boasts better visuals and more strategy than most NES racers. The tracks are rendered exceptionally well from an isometric point of view, giving them a distinct sense of depth. Each of the nine courses sports a different configuration, and there's plenty of eye candy among the crowds in the stands, trucks, trees, and buildings. A tall scoreboard in the center clearly shows the lap count of each racer, and a tiny man waves the white and checkered flags. There are even men that hold up "PIT" signs when it's time for maintenance. Each race consists of five cars, and if you have a multi-tap, you can connect four controllers and challenge a group of friends! Can you guess who's driving that yellow car that always seems to win? Yeah - that's Danny Sullivan! The controls are simple as can be, but there's plenty of strategy involved with timing your turbo boosts and using the pit stops in the most efficient manner. The tracks tend to be narrow, so there's a lot of bumping going on as you jockey for position. In the pit area, tiny crew members leap out to work on your car, which looks funny but impressive at the same time. This is one of the few games where pit stops really do make a difference! Between races you can easily and quickly use winnings to upgrade your vehicle. Expertly designed and programmed with care, Indy Heat sets the high water mark for old-school racing fun. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 148
1 to 4 players
Publisher: HAL (1988)
Known as Stargate in the arcade, Defender II never approached the popularity of the original. This is a good-looking translation, but many key features are missing. Why is it that when you catch a humanoid, you don't have to return him to the planet surface? And what happened to the inviso-shield and hyperspace controls? Considering they were included on the Atari 2600 version, their absence here is glaring. Defender II also tends to be too fast, making it difficult to avoid collisions, especially when changing direction. If anything, this game makes me want to play the original
Defender. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 27,100
Defenders of Dynatron City
Publisher: LucasArts (1991)
Developed by LucasArts, you'd expect Defenders of Dynatron City to be more than your garden-variety side-scrolling beat-em-up. And it is! You begin by assembling a team of imaginative superheroes. Jet Headstrong has a hammer for a head and Buzzsaw Girl rolls around on a spinning saw. Monkey Boy tosses bananas and Radium Dog can float through the air. Rounding out the roster are Miss Megawatt and a robot named Toolbox. You only control one hero at a time but can toggle between four, and it's fun to experiment. Your first order of business is to rid the streets of pesky silver robots than run, jump, and hover. The fighting action leaves a lot to be desired and that's a serious liability for a fighting
game. It's difficult to line up with the robots and when you're right on top of one your attacks don't even register. The superheroes are poorly balanced. Buzzsaw Girl's projectiles are super effective, but trying to "hammer down" a flying robot with Jet Headstrong is frustrating as hell
. I couldn't get the special moves to work, and the counterintuitive map will have you moving in circles. The best aspect of the game by far is the scenery. The storefronts are meticulously detailed including a drug store, bank, library, nightclub, and auto repair shop. You can even enter
most of the buildings! If you manage to clear the streets the remaining stages take place in a mall, sewers, and factory. It's a shame there's no score, continues, or password. I love the concept behind Defenders of Dynatron City and its eye candy is off the charts. But man, its fighting action leaves a lot
to be desired. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Taito (1989)
My initial review of Demon Sword was pretty harsh, which I blame primarily on my short-ass attention span. Several readers requested I give it another shot, especially after my favorable review of Legend of Kage
(Taito, 1986). Kage was the direct predecessor of Demon Sword, and both games feature very similar gameplay. You control a ninja warrior leaping between bamboo treetops while attacking enemies that come flying in from every direction. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon has nothing
on this game! One thing I hate about Demon Sword is your ninja's outfit. He appears to be wearing a red dress with a slit up the side, and that's not
a good look for him! You can throw stars in any direction and slash with a sword that's remarkably effective considering how tiny it is. Careful - you could poke somebody's eye
out with that thing! Eventually you'll acquire fragments which elongate your sword, and this gives the game a sense of progression. Your ninja can jump a country mile, and while gliding through the air is fun, it's possible to land in spikes, fire, or a bottomless pit. That's not cool. I really like the skeletal enemies you face - especially the dogs. Foes struck by your stars will get back up after a few seconds, and I'm not crazy about that. The controls are better than those in Kage, and the scenery is far more detailed. Unfortunately, it's also very repetitive, and you'll often have the uneasy feeling that you're moving in circles. Each level features several locked doors, some of which hold treasure or a sub-boss. When you obtain magic (like the ability to hurl fireballs) you'll want to save it for the end-of-level boss, because killing a boss with normal weapons takes too long. Speaking of bosses, the second one is a dead-ringer for George Washington, and I'm pretty sure
the third boss is the Pope. Demon Sword doesn't display your score at the conclusion of the game, which is annoying. The in-game music grows on you, but that deplorable intro tune is the video game equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. All in all, Demon Sword isn't so bad. It definitely expands upon the Kage formula, but I wouldn't say it necessarily improves
upon it. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 1150
Publisher: Kemco (1989)
This one came highly recommended by a reader and sure enough it's a winner. Desert Commander feels like the spiritual predecessor of Advance Wars
(Game Boy Advance, 2001). At first glance it doesn't look like much. The graphics are very basic as you move square markers around a scrolling battlefield, setting positions of tanks, infantry, anti-aircraft guns, bombers, fighters, etc. Each army begins on separate areas of the map but once units get within range they can attack each other. The actual battles play out automatically on a split-screen, with random explosions taking out units on each side. The attacker always goes first, and that makes a big difference because you can wipe out half of your adversary before they can even return fire. The interface for managing your units is surprisingly simple and the action moves along at a brisk pace. The CPU opponent is smart and quick at making decisions. Things become more intense as your units dwindle and the turns become shorter. It's interesting how one critical battle can turn the tide. Pressing the start button brings up a map, and select shows the statistics of what's left on the battlefield. That's necessary because it's hard to remember if that generic tank icon represents one lone tank or a whole squad. Keep an eye out for strategic locations you can use to resupply or dig-in. A triumphant military march plays in the background, and it fits the game perfectly. Whether played versus a friend or the CPU you're bound to be enthralled by Desert Commander. It's easy to get into but hard to quit. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Acclaim (1989)
This first-person space shooter may look
better than Star Raiders (Atari 1982), but it's certainly not as fun to play. As with most games of the genre, you first locate your enemies on a galactic map and then hyperwarp to their location. Thankfully, you don't need to switch to a separate screen for the map, and traversing the sectors is pretty easy. Unfortunately, the boring battles that ensue are not
worth the trip. Armed with lasers and completely useless torpedoes, you encounter enemies that resemble imperial transports from Star Wars, and these typically appear one at a time. Earthstar's sloppy animation prevents you from ever feeling in control. Enemies tend to jump across the screen schizophrenically, forcing you to shoot fast and hope for the best before they zoom off. At that point you'll have to slowly turn your ship 180 degrees to get them back in your sights. It takes several hits to destroy anything, making the battles feel long and arduous. The screen contains a slew of gauges on the lower half, but as it turns out, it's mostly just for show. Perhaps a more appropriate name for this lame shooter would have been Destination Bargain Bin. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 6000
Publisher: Namco (1989)
Sometimes it takes more than bright graphics and an innovative concept to make a good video game. The original Dig Dug has that certain intangible quality to it, with gameplay that's aged like wine
. Sadly, Dig Dug II is just the opposite
. It's less
than the sum of its parts. All of your favorite characters have returned, but the gameplay is completely revamped. Wandering freely around a flat island, the idea is to drill into the ground, creating fissures that cause large chunks of the island to break away into the sea, sending your foes to Davey Jone's Locker. It sounds like a blast, but the controls are surprisingly counter-intuitive. You can only drill in certain spots, and it's not readily apparent which half of the island is going the break off. More often than not, it's the side you're
standing on! You can still pump enemies full of air, but blowing them up won't earn you any high scores. As the stages progress and the islands begin to assume odd shapes, Dig Dug II becomes more of a puzzle game than an arcade title. I can certainly appreciate how its sharp graphics and excellent music stay true to the original, but frankly, this game is not very fun. Much of the blame lies with the awful controls. My friend Steve was so unimpressed that he asked me if this was some sort of "bootleg" game! Without an ounce of the magic of the original, Dig Dug 2 has largely faded into obscurity. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 30,800
1 or 2 players
Dizzy the Adventurer
Publisher: Codemasters (1993)
The Aladdin "deck enhancer" was a peculiar add-on for the NES that promised to be "the future in console play". This cartridge-shaped device offered a 64K memory upgrade for "better graphics and bigger games" with an "extensive library of exclusive titles". It never came to fruition, reducing the Aladdin and its handful of small black cartridges to novelty status. Dizzy the Adventurer was an ill-advised pack-in title starring a hero bearing a striking resemblance to Humpty Dumpty. The game is a mildly-fun combination of platforming and puzzle-solving. The platform action is aggravating, as Dizzy has the annoying habit of going into an uncontrollable roll after jumping. When you see a row boat floating your way your first inclination is to jump on it, yet you end up rolling off into the water. Naturally, water is fatal to the touch. I have to admit some of the caves and castles are pretty neat to explore. It's also satisfying when you solve a puzzle and see those flashing point values on the screen. Dizzy can carry up to three items at a time, and when used in the right way these tend to open up new areas. A pickaxe breaks a boulder blocking a cave and a coin grants you a ferry ride, for example. You exchange items with characters just loitering around and the dialog is mercifully brief. Unfortunately the mechanics for using items is a little obtuse. It would never occur to me that dropping a rope and logs next to each other would result in a bridge appearing. Just don't drop them on top
of each other, because that doesn't do anything. The three item restriction is a real drag, forcing you to constantly backtrack to retrieve something you were forced to drop much earlier in the game. And throughout the entire game you're subjected to high-pitched, whining music that can't be shut off. I like the puzzle element of Dizzy the Adventurer, but the game demands a lot of patience and a pair of earplugs. Note: This game only runs via the Aladdin Deck Enhancer. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 15,300
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
This is a superior home version of the Donkey Kong arcade game, boasting crisp, vibrant graphics and perfectly responsive controls. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise considering Nintendo invented
the game in the first place. Each of the three screens involves scaling girders while avoiding hazards in order to rescue the hottie held captive by Kong. Grabbing the hammer lets you to smash barrels and fireballs, but don't get cocky because it will not
make you invincible. Lucrative bonus points are earned by grabbing out-of-the-way items like umbrellas and pocketbooks. This edition has all the subtle details of the arcade including barrels that bounce and hammers that gleam. Everyone recognizes the hero as Mario, but many mistake the damsel in distress as Peach or Princess Toadstool. According to the manual, her name is actually Pauline! The game's audio is actually more robust than the arcade, and Mario's shoes are as squeaky as ever. The one thing missing is the fourth "conveyer belt" screen, and frankly I'm surprised it was left out. Donkey Kong on the NES is a title that embodies platform gaming at its purest. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 39,900
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
Some of you may be thinking, "What? There was a Donkey Kong 3?!
" The unfortunate answer to that question is yes
, and this ill-conceived abomination nearly sent the ape to a premature retirement. A radical departure from its predecessors, DK3 is less groundbreaking than it is disappointing. Mario is nowhere to be found, which turned out to be an excellent career move on his part. Instead the game stars Stanley, Mario and Luigi's illegitimate brother. The screens are configured with Donkey Kong hanging from two vines at the top, aggravating bees' nests on either side. The bees swarm down and steal flowers lined across the bottom of the screen. To protect them you move side-to-side while firing bursts of bug spray
at the oncoming insects. Shooting Kong pushes him higher up the vines, and the stage ends when you push him to the very top. Not many games advocate spraying pesticides on live animals!
Where the [expletive] is PETA
when you need them?! Donkey Kong 3 doesn't feel like a Donkey Kong game at all. Chris speculated that this was originally a dead side project until somebody at Nintendo said, "Hey, if we put a monkey in this we can call it Donkey Kong!
" Playing DK3 is about as fun as drinking non-alcoholic beer. Annoying worms block your shots and constantly tapping the fire button is hard on the wrist. More of a curiosity than anything else, Donkey Kong 3 was one ill-advised experiment I'm sure even Nintendo would like to forget. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Our high score: SLN 49,600
1 or 2 players
Donkey Kong Classics
Publisher: Nintendo (1991)
You can't go wrong with both Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. on one convenient cartridge. Both of these games are superb adaptations of the arcade originals, and both offer two skills levels. There's nothing here you won't find on the individual carts however. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
You don't see many sequels as inventive or enjoyable as Donkey Kong Jr. This underrated title maintains the flavor of the original game while introducing a completely new style of play. The jungle graphics look especially lush in this version as Donkey Kong's diminutive son attempts to save the caged ape from the clutches of Mario. Instead of traversing steel girders, junior climbs vines and hops on grass-covered platforms. The vertically hanging vines are easy to move between and fun to scuttle up and down on. Complicating matters are egg-dropping birds and small munching "jaws", but you can dispose of these pests by strategically dropping hanging fruit. Donkey Kong Jr. is far more challenging than the original Donkey Kong, but this version is more forgiving than most. The four screens include the blue "electric" platform stage, which my friend Chris maintains is just silly and doesn't fit the theme. The chains screen doesn't include the breaking ropes (as seen in the Colecovision version), but you do get a sweet "ending" animation of Donkey Kong falling and being caught by his son. Imaginative and fun, Donkey Kong Jr. is a worthy sequel to one of the greatest video games of all time. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Our high score: CJS 28,900
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Trade West (1988)
Double Dragon popularized the side-scrolling, beat-em-up genre, eventually spawning a line of sequels. The game kicks off with a shocking scene of a gang leader punching a beautiful girl and carrying her off. Brutal!
Playing as Billy Lee you set out to take back the mean streets from these lawless thugs. You'll face a wide variety of unlikely goons including aerobic instructors and Frankenstein looking-dudes. It's satisfying to rapidly punch them until they keel over before blinking into oblivion. As you progress you'll acquire new moves like uppercuts, jump-kicks, and head butts. Enemies catch on to your tricks however and will learn to duck under jumps and roundhouse kicks. I like how you can throw objects, smashing barrels over their heads. And when you brandish weapons like nunchucks or baseball bats, you can actually hold onto them for some period of time to inflict major damage. Heck, you can even transport them up ladders. One way to quickly dispatch foes is to knock them off ledges. There's a few graphic glitches here and there but nothing that detracts from the fun. The only thing missing from Double Dragon is the "double". The two-player mode is turns-only, but it's not so bad considering how much fun the single-player mode is. The game has a cinematic flair, like when the first boss meets his demise by falling off a conveyor belt. The familiar Double Dragon theme is great but some of the later music is a little "out there". I wasn't expecting Double Dragon to age this well, but rest assured it still packs a punch! © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 37410
1 or 2 players
Double Dragon II: The Revenge
Publisher: Acclaim (1989)
Double Dragon II: The Revenge offers better graphics, more realistic fighting, and most importantly, two-player simultaneous action! The opening cut-scene depicts the murder
of Billy's girlfriend! Pretty heavy stuff for an NES game. Our heroes Billy and Jimmy Lee look really sharp with those stylish bouffant hairdos! The controls take some getting used to. One button attacks left, and the other attacks right. Depending on which way you're facing, the same button might execute a forward punch or back-kick. I guess the idea is to let you defend yourself from both sides as enemies converge. Once again the city is being terrorized by aerobic instructors. Some baddies even enter the screen doing cartwheels!
When will the cardio carnage end?! And what's with the boss that disappears and reappears in the same spot? Worst. Superpower. Ever. Unlike the first game special moves like throws and spin kicks are available up front so you can get right down to business. I love those one-two combos - especially when you finish with a mighty uppercut! What I dislike is how the weapons suddenly disappear from your hands after just a short period of time. Double Dragon II has good variety including climbing buildings to get a nice view of the skyline. Just make sure you don't fall off a ledge! According to a recent CDC study falling off ledges is the number one cause of death for ninjas who fight in public! One dramatic stage features a fight aboard a helicopter, and when the boss gets sucked out of the door it feels like a scene from an action movie. Later stages include an underwater lab with environmental hazards like spikes on ceilings, so watch your head. The two-player action is enjoyable despite some noticeable slowdown and flicker. There are three skill levels to choose from. Double Dragon II is just as solid as the first game, but the two-player action puts it over the top. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 16290
1 or 2 players
Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones
Publisher: Technos (1990)
The first two Double Dragon games were easy-to-play beat-em-ups but Double Dragon III pulls no punches. I can't get over how frustrating this game is. Not only is the difficulty dramatically increased, but you only get one life!
Just making it to the first boss feels like a major accomplishment. The gameplay feels substantially different from the others but not in a good way. Yes, the moves are a little more sophisticated with more frames of animation. You can grab a dude, vault over him, and throw him a mile. But your basic punches and kicks are much less effective. Bad guys also tend to sprint onto the screen and jump-kick you before you can react. Get stuck between two thugs and it's game over. On top of everything, the bad guys now work together to orchestrate team attacks!
I might think that was cool if I wasn't getting my ass kicked so badly. I did notice I could hit select and choose a nunchuck weapon via a confusing interface. This works great but only lasts a short period of time. Some of the bad guys look a little too much like the good guys, which confuses the two-player action. The scenery is fairly uninspired, and the fact that there's no score makes it even less satisfying when "game over" appears. I've never felt less guilty over using a Game Genie, and even with that it's a struggle. You get multiple characters to toggle between after mission two, but how many people will make it that far? Double Dragon III was a potentially good game ruined by an unreasonable difficulty. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (1987)
Double Dribble is a arcade-style, four-on-four basketball title. The action is fiercely competitive with two players, and the CPU serves as a worthy opponent with three skill levels. On offense you simply shoot or pass, and on defense you steal or block. There's no turbo button (that wasn't invented yet), but the swift players move with fluid motion. The passing controls are crisp, but the highlight of the game occurs when a player goes up for a dunk. This causes the to screen to switch to a close-up showing a huge
player slamming the ball down. It's very satisfying, despite the fact that the graphics are rendered in black and white. I also love the well-designed foul-shooting system, consisting of a simple ring moving up and down over the hoop. It requires good timing, and is far superior to the overcomplicated schemes employed by modern basketball games. The court itself looks terrific, but it can be hard to determine which player you're controlling. Defense is especially tough because there's no audible cue when a steal occurs. Once the player with the ball blows by the defender, he's home free, violating the unwritten rule stating "the defender should always be slightly faster than the man with the ball". Double Dribble's audio is rough, mainly limited to the basketball pounding against the hard wooden floor. The teams are uneven, providing a convenient excuse when you're getting your ass handed to you (not that this ever happened to me
). As you might expect from Konami, there's a terrific halftime show complete with cheerleaders and mascots. Although somewhat uneven, Double Dribble still provides for a very fun and easy-to-play game of hoops. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (1990)
This is one of those simple, unassuming games that quickly becomes an obsession. It's like a drug!
In the tradition of Tetris, your goal is to clear out red, blue, and yellow "viruses" by piling up falling pills. The viruses actually look like little animated gremlin heads. Each pill has two colored halves, and lining up four halves of the same color will make the whole set disappear. If you play your cards right, you can trigger some slick chain reactions. Dr. Mario isn't much to look at, with featureless backgrounds and a lot of small moving pieces. The single player mode is enthralling however, and the head-to-head mode lets each player set his own difficulty level. The audio isn't anything to write home about, with only two corny melodies available that are bound to get your nerves after a few refrains. Dr. Mario must have been a hit on the NES, because it was later re-released for the SNES and N64. Despite being one of the few video games my wife enjoys playing, she was rather critical of this NES version. Compared to the N64 edition, the visuals look indistinct and even I have to admit the difference is pretty dramatic. There are better versions out there, but Dr. Mario is inherently fun on any platform. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 10/Med
Our high score: MM 18,000
1 or 2 players
Dragon Spirit: The New Legend
Publisher: Bandai (1990)
This NES edition of Dragon Spirit is less challenging than the Namco arcade version, but that turns out to be a mixed blessing. New Legend incorporates a storyline between stages, but you'll be wise to skip past these brainless cut-scenes. The overcomplicated intro almost suggests an RPG, but rest assured Dragon Spirit is a straightforward vertical shooter. You control a flying dragon blasting monsters with your fiery breath over islands, jungles, caves, and even deep in the sea. Much like Xevious, you can shoot missiles at foes in the air and bomb those on the ground. Unlike the arcade version of Dragon Spirit however, you can't shoot and bomb at the same time. I think it's better this way, since it adds a bit more strategy. Your missiles and bombs are unleashed in a rapid-fire manner, which is great for spraying pterodactyls or carpet-bombing deadly plants on the ground. There are ample power-ups which tend to drift toward you, including some that let you grow a second or third head to double or triple your firepower. Dragon Spirit's graphics are colorful and vibrant, but while some creatures look great, many appear to be shapeless blobs. You're bound to confuse some of them with the pixilated background scenery. While I enjoy Dragon Spirit's rapid-fire shooting, I found this version to be a bit easy. Each of your three dragons can withstand a number of hits before dying, and your enemies don't stand much of a chance against your considerable firepower. Also, there's never more than a few enemies on the screen at a time. If you're looking for a standard shooter, Dragon Spirit will do the trick, but it probably won't set your world on fire. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 92,740
Publisher: SSI (1992)
You'd expect a game sponsored by Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to be a complex dungeon crawler, but Dragon Strike is an exception to the rule. This is actually an overhead shooter that puts you in control of a fireball-hurling dragon. In each large rectangular stage you fly in all directions while ridding the countryside of wizards, giants, beholders, catapults, fortresses, ships, and dragons. Since the areas are more tall than wide, you typically work your way up the screen. You can select between three dragons (red, blue, gold) and it really does make a difference. Each has different armor ratings along with unique primary and secondary weapons. The landscape beneath you varies in elevation, and advanced stages are more like mazes. The control pad lets you toggle between high and low planes, but the abrupt scaling looks bad. Judging the geography is difficult, and often you won't know you're hitting ground until you get "knocked up" to the higher plane. The cliffs look okay but the water is just a bunch of squiggly lines. The dragons flap their wings with fluid motion, but when defeated they spin around like a top, and that looks cheesy. Enemies drop icons that let you replenish your strength, but I really wish the game restored your health between stages. You'll need full health facing a boss, especially one like the giant Kraken that requires about 25 hits to defeat! There's no score but there is a password feature. Dragon Strike has originality going for it, but it didn't exactly set my world on fire. I like the concept but it's just too awkward to play. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Nintendo (1989)
Special report by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk"A slime approaches!"
Known by many as the granddaddy of console RPGs, Dragon Warrior was nothing less than a trendsetter for its time, even though some of its elements were represented in earlier games. Known as Dragon Quest in Japan, the series was known to shut down the country
with each new release as citizens would line up to buy it. In this first chapter you play the role of a nameable hero descended from the mighty Erdrick. Your ancestor thwarted great evil once before, and now it's time to accept your lineage and save the world once again. You are the only playable character, a party of one. The game sports a top-down view for exploration, and there's no world map, so get used to walking around a bit. You must bring up a menu for common actions like talk, search, and "stairs", and this naturally slows things down. The sprites are colorful and imaginative as you stroll through towns, desert, ruins, swamps, and of course dungeons. The game's simple music is enjoyable if not repetitive, and it changes in different locations. The encounters are random, and the combat is turned-based and first-person in nature. Boy howdy
is there a lot
of it. I remember playing this as a child, but now I wonder how I had the patience to suffer through all the grinding
(that's killing monsters to level up, for you non-RPG fans). At least the illustrations of the monsters are pleasant, thanks to the handiwork of Akira Toriyama (known also for Dragonball and Chrono Trigger). Your only roadblock to exploring the world as you please is the increasingly difficult monsters you face as you stray far from home. But get this: there are no
boss fights! As you level-up your character receives a small arsenal of spells such as sleep, heal, and "hurt". You can periodically upgrade your sword, armor, and shield. I find it very convenient how your new piece is automatically equipped and the old one is automatically sold. You can buy items but sadly lacking is one that restores magic points. If you die (and you will), you awaken before the king with half the gold you've acquired (mugged by monsters, no doubt). This instills in the player a fear of death, which some games lack entirely. One slightly aggravating limitation is how you can only save your progress in a single location - by speaking to the king. The plot itself is simple, and there are really no story points aside from "rescue the princess" and then "defeat the big bad guy". There are benefits of a simple story with few quests however, like not having to remember what you were doing after you walked away from the game for too long. To sum up, Dragon Warrior was challenging but becomes repetitive as the game draws on, and that save feature is a hassle. It's fun though, and absolutely a trailblazer in the world of console RPGs. As a child, this was the game that turned me on to the genre, and sent me out into the back yard to fight imaginary monsters for gold and experience. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bluth Group (1990)
It's ironic that an arcade game known for its ground-breaking graphics and audio is probably the worst game ever to grace the NES. A 2D adaptation of the famous (infamous?) laserdisc game, Dragon's Lair excels in terms of presentation but is an utter nightmare
to play. You assume the role of Dirk the Daring, a knight attempting to rescue a princess in a mysterious castle. The graphics are beautifully illustrated, with very large characters and detailed castle interiors. Impressive classical string music also complements the theme. It's a shame that the game is practically unplayable. Like the arcade version, cheap hits abound and only through tedious trial and error will you forge ahead. Actually, it's worse
than the arcade because you have a lot more options available at any given time. It doesn't help that Dirk is so freakin' unresponsive - it takes a full second
for him to duck after
you press the directional pad down. The stage objectives are completely counter-intuitive, and luck plays a critical role. The very first screen involves crossing a bridge to enter the castle, and I was so baffled that I had to resort to a walk-thru
just to survive it. Dirk is so fragile that even jumping into a wall causes him to shatter into a pile of bones! Dragon's Lair for the NES is a complete debacle, and I can't imagine anyone deriving any degree of enjoyment from this. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 210
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
Few video games are as distinctive and memorable as this old favorite, with its goofy fluttering ducks and that wacky dog hiding in the hedges. As one of the original NES "pack-in" games, there's not much substance to Duck Hunt, but its simple gameplay and comical graphics make it likeable nonetheless. The first variation challenges you to shoot one duck at a time, and you get three shots per duck. If you make the quota, you'll advance to a slightly harder round. A cartoon dog adds comic relief by holding up ducks you shoot down or laughing at you when you miss. The sparse scenery consists of a tree and bush, and it never changes. Although the instructions claim the NES light gun has a range of up to six feet from the TV, the optimal distance seems more like three or four feet. To be honest, the difficulty of the game is largely a function of how close you're sitting to the screen. The first variation (one duck at a time) bored me to tears, but the second variation is better, tossing out two ducks at a time. A two-player option lets the second player control the ducks, but there's really no point to that. The best variation is the clay shooting, where you take aim at pairs of small gray disks launched into the sky. Duck Hunt hasn't aged particularly well, but it's just the ticket if you're looking for some simple shooting action, or maybe just a stroll down memory lane. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2 ducks
Our high score: 178,800
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Capcom (1989)
Many gamers have fond memories of the Duck Tales television series, which no doubt helped earn this title a devoted following. It's notable is that this Disney game was produced by Capcom - making it extra attractive to collectors. The game puts you in the role of Uncle Scrooge out to save his nephews in exotic places like Transylvania, the Himalayas, the Amazon, African Mines, and even on the moon!
The fact that you can select from one of five "lands" gets things started on the right foot. The graphics are remarkably sharp and vibrant, and festive harmonized music perfectly sets the mood. Adversaries include bats, apes, bees, ghosts, aliens, snow bunnies, and even mummified ducks! Uncle Scrooge's main attack is hopping around on his cane like a pogo stick, bouncing creatures right off the screen. You can hop around continuously, but this really makes you vulnerable to flying enemies. You will also discover that some enemies (like the flowers) are impervious to attack. Your pogo stick also allows you to reach high ledges and elevated treasure chests. Collecting diamonds increases your point total, and ice cream cones replenish your health. Both of these items have exactly the same shape, which is confusing. The branching stages feature alternate routes and even some Super Mario World-style hidden areas. As in Quackshot
(Genesis, 1991) you must find a key item in one stage to make progress in another. Vines and chains take you underground or up into the sky, but you can't jump from these, just awkwardly fall from them. In general the game is surprisingly tough and unforgiving. Duck Tales won't cut you much slack, but it will ultimately win you over with its good humor and Disney charm. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: CJS 432,000
Dudes with Attitude
Publisher: American Video (1990)
It tries to be offbeat and convey a hip attitude, but Dudes with Attitude feels more like a lame puzzle game concocted by a few clueless executives in a boardroom. My friend Scott had a few choice adjectives to describe this, but I'll spare you the profanity. Each screen is a configuration of walls, obstacles, and "treasures" to collect. You control a smiley face with sunglasses, constantly moving from side-to-side while bouncing off walls. You can nudge him up and down, but pressing sideways causes the game to emit an obnoxious buzzing noise. You'll collect gems, diamonds, hearts, and coins, but you need to be the correct color
to snatch them up. You change colors by touching "attitude converters" which look like colored mugs. If you clear a screen before time runs out, you receive a password and advance to the next screen. Since the basic concept is so weak, the developers decided to complicate matters by incorporating invisible walls (ugh!) and special icons that wreak havoc on the controls (gah!
). It's impossible to cross "water blocks" without first touching a boat icon
. Who in their right mind could have possibly thought this was a good idea? The game quickly progresses from a mindless romp to a full-blown headache, and the "hip attitude" is unconvincing to say the least. Dudes with Attitude has an option to create your own levels, but even if I were stranded on a desert island with this game I could find something better to do with my time. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
1 or 2 players
Dusty Diamonds Softball All-Stars
Publisher: Broderbund (1990)
Dusty Diamonds is a real gem of a baseball game. You construct a team from a set of comical characters with oversized heads that include witches, goblins, and aliens. Dusty Diamonds plays 95% like regular baseball, but are a few minor rule changes. Foul balls are considered outs, and it's possible to catch the ball well beyond the "home-run line". Unlike regular baseball, the gameplay is fast and entertaining. You get a behind-the-batter view during the pitches, and a wide angle view of the field once the ball is hit. Perhaps the best part of the game is its wacky playing fields, located in six interesting locations including a cliff, an island, and a schoolyard. Each has its own little quirks that add an element of unpredictablity. Fun and easy-to-play, Dusty Diamonds puts the fun back into baseball. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Eliminator Boat Duel
Publisher: Electrobrain (1991)
Eliminator Boat Duel delivers fun-in-the-sun racing thrills as you go head-to-head against a friend or a series of relentless CPU opponents. Each race is like three games in one. At the starting line you get a side angle view of the two impressively large speedboats. Getting off to a fast start means hitting the accelerator the split second
the bikini babe waves the flag. From there the course seamlessly switches between a 3D perspective and an overhead view not unlike Micro Machines. The 3D view gives you a slick behind-the-boat angle as you race between flags in the open water. There's a nice sense of speed and the layered clouds overhead look lovely. The overhead view plays completely different as you weave around obstacles in bayou, wharf, and open water environments. The rich scenery includes shimmering water, swimmers, and cabins on the shore. Being in the lead gives you the first crack at nitro or money icons, but you're also more vulnerable to sharks, whirlpools, and hull-damaging logs. Nitros play a strategic role in the game, as a well-timed boost can allow you to narrowly edge out your opponent. The action becomes especially intense as the boats jockey for position near the finish. The game returns to the close view in order to show the boats crossing the finish line as bikini babes jump and cheer. If it's really
close, you're treated to a super-slo-mo instant replay! Winnings can be used to repair and upgrade your boat, much like Super Off-Road. The CPU opponents are some colorful (and very sarcastic) characters including a Jerry Garcia look-alike named Aquarius Rex. The game only has one glaring flaw, and that's how it abruptly ends after a player loses three races. A score or some indicator of your performance would have been nice, but instead you just see an ugly "GAME OVER" screen. It's a blemish on an otherwise first-rate boat racer. Eliminator Boat Duel is a somewhat obscure title that should intrigue classic gamers looking for some wet-and-wild entertainment. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: normal
Our high score: 11 wins
1 or 2 players
Empire Strikes Back
Publisher: Lucasfilm (1991)
Compared to the first Star Wars game for the NES, Empire Strikes Back represents a huge
step forward. At the very least, Empire makes an effort to capture the spirit of the saga, with graphics and music that are faithful to the film. Stages range from the snowy terrain of Hoth, to the green swamps of Dagobah, to the modern building architecture of Cloud City. The first stage places Luke on a Taun-Taun (a creature resembling a kangaroo) as he investigates a mysterious transmission on the ice planet Hoth. Hoth's snowy scenery is featured prominently, and it looks terrific. Upon entering some icy caverns, Luke can dismount from his Taun-Taun and explore the more narrow caves on foot. Here, Luke locates his lightsaber and begins acquiring his Force powers. There's some tedious jumping (including the ubiquitous "floating" platforms), but the controls tend to be forgiving. What stinks is how the game sends you all the way back to the beginning
of each stage when you die - even when you've reached the boss
! Although small, the characters are realistically proportioned and nicely animated. One particularly useful new move is the "power jump", which is charged by holding back on the directional pad. Most of the action in Empire is standard platform fare, but there are two exceptional shooting stages, including a battle against the AT-AT Walkers on Hoth which looks fantastic. Reminiscent of the original first Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
(Atari 2600, 1982) game, you fire at Walkers with your snowspeeder, and can even employ tow cables to trip them! It looks awesome when they collapse, and you can even go back and "finish" them! I love the way the snowspeeder is animated as it "loops around" for another run. Upon getting shot down, Luke can still run around the planet surface on foot, blasting incoming Snow Troopers. A second cool shooting stage takes place outside of Cloud City where you must blast a certain number of enemy aircraft. While both stages certainly look impressive, their gameplay is slightly compromised by the fact that the objects are so large you can't easily see what's coming. Despite the flaws, LucasFilm was clearly headed in the right direction, as the SNES versions would ultimately prove. Note: Although it was once under development, Return of the Jedi was never released for the NES. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
Excitebike's graphics and sound won't win it any awards, but its tight control and addictive gameplay are hard to resist. The side-scrolling tracks feature hills, obstacles, mud, and ramps. Crisp control allows you to accelerate, turbo, and adjust the angle of your motorbike in the air (which affects your distance and landing). You can either race against other motorbikes or go solo. Racing against other bikers is more exciting, but it's also harder because touching another racer can knock you off your bike. There's no score here - the goal is to achieve the best time so you can advance to the next track. There are only five tracks included, but you also have the option to construct your own! That's right, there's a track editor
although the save
function does not work. Excitebike is a quality game, and the only thing missing is a split-screen, two-player mode. This addictive motorcross game was recently "updated" for the Nintendo 64. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.