NES Reviews E-F

Eliminator Boat Duel
Grade: A-
Publisher: Electrobrain (1991)
Reviewed: 2010/8/21

screenshotEliminator 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.

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Recommended variation: normal
Our high score: 11 wins
1 or 2 players 

Empire Strikes Back
Grade: C+
Publisher: Lucasfilm (1991)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18

screenshotCompared 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.

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1 player 

Excitebike
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
Reviewed: 2000/5/14

screenshotExcitebike'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 motocross game was recently "updated" for the Nintendo 64. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy, The
Grade: D-
Publisher: Codemasters (1993)
Reviewed: 2018/4/16


screenshotThe original Dizzy the Adventurer (NES, 1993) was a mildly amusing platform/puzzle game with some really irritating flaws. This sequel addresses those flaws the best it can before promptly replacing them with brand new flaws! Fantastic Adventures is larger in scope but that's not always a good thing. Its sprawling world offers diverse, colorful environments including forests, treehouses, beaches, and mining tunnels. Sadly, the user interface is actually worse than the first game. You still can only carry three items but you constantly have to cycle through them to locate the one you want. There are more items to collect but that just translates to a lot more backtracking.

Dizzy now has a damage meter, but instead of draining it grows when you take a hit. It's not the only part of this game that doesn't make sense. Why can't Dizzy climb a ladder? Why can't Dizzy ride this elevator? Deadly adversaries include birds, spiders, and baby triceratops. A drop of water can prove fatal, despite the fact that Dizzy can swim. There's zero dialog in this game, which seems like good news until you stumble upon some chump and wonder what the [expletive] he's just standing there for.

Certain puzzles defy logic. Who would have thought that piece of wood in your inventory could be used to span a 20-foot gap! The game does offer a few fun action sequences including a mine cart ride. When you collect stars in this game I notice it flashed strange point values like 239. Then it dawned on me that this was counting down the number of stars I was supposed to collect. Are you telling me I need to collect 239 more of these [expletive] things?? For an awkward, slow-paced game like The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy, the prospect is terrifying. . © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 492
1 player 

Final Fantasy
Grade: B
Publisher: Square (1990)
Reviewed: 2019/4/14

screenshotReview contributed by ptdebate of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
Inspired by the success of Dragon Quest and the pencil-and-paper role playing games of its time, Final Fantasy was an early Japanese RPG set in a Tolkienesque world of monsters, magic, and lost treasure. The name is ironic considering the game ushered in a long-running franchise with no end in sight. Final Fantasy begins with the selection of four adventurers of various classes. A successful party needs balance and flexibility, with members able to dish out physical punishment along with others who can heal or deal magical attacks. The ability to alter your party's composition adds tremendous replay value.

The graphics and music are sparse yet elegant as you freely explore varied environments teeming with nicely-illustrated monsters. The combat is turn-based, presenting a side view with our heroes on the right and monsters on the left. The battles are straightforward but unpredictable. You'll experience glitched spells, underperforming attacks, and actions that do the opposite of their intention. Spells are powerful but limited in how many times a day they can be used, so resting at an inn is essential.

Success in combat results in money, experience, and story progress. Special vehicles expand the scope of the game, letting you traverse rivers, oceans, and even fly over mountains! The plot involves taking down four elemental fiends with a dash of time travel for good measure. Its simplicity is actually charming given how overwrought and verbose the latter-day sequels have become. That said, surviving the harrowing dungeons requires earning experience points by fighting random battles aka "grinding".

This staple of early Final Fantasy games has been the subject of many complaints. Parties lacking enough experience for a particular dungeon will be steamrolled even by weak monsters. Luckily progress can be saved anywhere outside of dungeons and towns. Final Fantasy may be one of the most re-released games in history, but the original NES version is arguably the best. Subsequent releases tend to water down the difficulty which lessens the tension. The game requires persistence, but if you crave back-to-basics RPG fun Final Fantasy is a fine place to start. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: battery
1 player 

Fist of the North Star
Grade: C
Publisher: Taxan (1989)
Reviewed: 2016/12/7


screenshotI once wrote down a list of the things I loved more than anything else in the whole world, and ninjas came in at #5. Granted, I was only 39 when I put that list together. Fist of the North Star is one of those awesome ninja side-scrollers with enemies flying off the screen and bosses bursting into chunks. Apparently the game is based on an old Japanese manga series. You play our hero Ken, attempting to save your people from the tyranny of Emperor Heaven. I love Ken's blue outfit - he looks like Sub-Zero!

It's fun to frantically unleash kicks and punches on the large enemies. You can jump really high in this game, and go figure - you can actually jump faster than you can run. The dull military style scenery features a lot forts, caves, and ruins. A gradient is used to render the sky but it flickers in an unsightly manner. I found myself hopelessly stuck until an FAQ told me how to enter doorways. Apparently you have to press A+B+right at the same time! What the [expletive] is that all about? I can't believe the instructions fail to mention this key tidbit of information. Moving between vertical areas is also a thoroughly disorienting experience.

Despite its glaring flaws Fist of the North Star packs a wallop. The action is non-stop as you contend with knife-tossing soldiers and annoying midgets that leap all over the place. Boss encounters occur early and often, and it's suspenseful as you watch both health meters wear down on each end of the screen. I recommend a cat-and-mouse approach. If defeated at the hands of a boss you'll need to restart the entire level, and that hurts.

It's easy to be dismissive of a game like this but my friend Dennis gave Fist of the North Star a serious workout and had a blast. He especially liked the power-up that transformed Ken into a double ninja! The game has some memorable 8-bit music, and as with so many NES titles, its cheesiness only adds to its appeal. After a stint on the NES Fist of the North Star would re-emerge several generations later on the Xbox 360. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 77,000
1 player 

Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy
Grade: C-
Publisher: Taito (1991)
Reviewed: 2016/8/25

screenshotThe Flintstones opens with a nice rendition of the TV show theme which has that cool resonating quality you hear in many NES tunes. The intro tells the tale of a time traveler who kidnaps the Flintstones' two pet dinosaurs. To rescue them Fred must collect parts of the time machine scattered around various locations. The colorful opening stage looks appealing with its rock houses, brown cliffs, and green foliage. Fred looks a bit odd however with those black "doll" eyes of his.

As you hop across buildings, waterfalls, and trees you'll use a club to beat the crap out of pterodactyls, cavemen, snakes, and cute dinosaurs. Periodically you'll encounter characters from the TV series including the mega-hot Betty and that freaky green Kazoo guy. Special weapons like axes and slingshots let you throw projectiles in a manner similar to Castlevania (Konami, 1987). These weapons make the boss encounters a hell of a lot easier.

The platform action uses the "jump, hang, and pull yourself up" technique - or should I say over-uses. It wouldn't be so bad if Fred automatically hung on to each ledge, but instead you have to keep holding up while pressing the jump button. It will kill your hands - especially during difficult jump sequences. I hate how Fred stumbles backwards for a second or two whenever he takes a hit. Not only is it irritating to temporarily lose control, but sometimes Fred stumbles backwards over a cliff!

Otherwise the Flintstones is a pretty serviceable game. After the first stage you get a stage select map and you return to this whenever you use a continue. The game also includes basketball bonus stages which play very similar to Atari Basketball (Atari 2600, 1978). I really wish this game had a score and/or password feature. Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino and Hoppy isn't particularly memorable (or good) but fans of the show may want to give it a try. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: CJS 60
1 player 

Frankenstein: The Monster Returns
Grade: C-
Publisher: Bandai (1990)
Reviewed: 2010/11/6

screenshotNo, you do not play as the Frankenstein monster in this game. Instead you assume the role of a noble warrior attempting to rescue a beautiful girl who was carried off by the creature. Ever notice how the damsel in distress is always an attractive babe? If she were ugly, would all the knights just say "too bad" and go back to drinking their mead? Wouldn't it be refreshing to see a hero risk life and limb to save a girl with a nice personality? How many butt-ugly video game maidens have gone unsaved? Won't you help?

Speaking of ugly, Frankenstein shows his mug in the opening cut-scene but doesn't truly emerge again until the final boss battle. In his pursuit you'll travel through townships, forests, graveyards, castles, and hell dimensions. You'll battle lizards, trolls, floating eyeballs, and even jumping gravestones! Yes, that is stupid. You'll defend yourself with swords and small clubs which look more like chicken legs.

The controls are a little stiff and I had a hard time explaining to my friends how to do the jump-kick. You'll spend a lot of time fighting bosses, mainly because they can absorb an endless number of hits. Some of these creatures are mythological in nature (demon horse, medusa), but you'll also face a floating head, a werewolf, and a vampire. At least the game has variety going for it. Bosses tend to say boss-like things, like "Only a fool would dare to challenge me! Prepare to meet your doom!"

Unfortunately the dialogue is displayed letter-by-letter, and it's so slow you feel as if you're watching a daisy wheel printer. Get on with it, man!! The tone is somewhat dark and the music is in minor-key, but the game isn't particularly spooky. You get several continues and a password, and there's a nice high score screen. It's not bad, but Frankenstein: The Monster Returns feels more like a run-of-the-mill side-scroller than a horror epic. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: CJS 21,600
Save mechanism: Password
1 player 

Freedom Force
Grade: B
Publisher: Sunsoft (1988)
Reviewed: 2001/6/30

screenshotFreedom Force is a light gun game that's a cut above the rest. Your mission is to shoot terrorists that have taken over an airport. Fortunately, the terrorists all wear the same colored outfits, making them pretty easy to distinguish from the civilians (when will they learn?). Freedom Force features some nifty graphics. I love how the bad guys fall out of windows when shot, and the tied-up hostages also look exceptional. The gun control is dead-on, and the difficulty ramps in a gradual manner. The stages are linear, but enemies tend to pop-up at random, so you can't just memorize the game. A two-player mode is included, but you'll need to take turns. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 12,250
1 or 2 players 

Friday the 13th
Grade: D
Publisher: LJN (1988)
Reviewed: 2007/10/15

screenshotI happen to be a fan of the Friday the 13th slasher movies, and although this game is surprisingly sophisticated, it lacks the tension that made the films effective. You control six camp counselors that you move individually around Camp Crystal Lake. When you're not rushing to the aid of children in danger, you're exploring cabins to gather notes, weapons, and other helpful items. The start button brings up a helpful map that makes it easy to navigate the campgrounds. In addition to cabin-lined trails around the lake, there are also cave and forest areas that hold secret items.

The gameplay is pretty original, but a few ill-conceived elements put a damper on the fun. When wandering around, you're constantly attacked by zombies popping out of the ground. Not only are these irritating, but they destroy any sense of suspense by making you numb to being attacked. I will admit however that I jumped a mile the first time a zombie jumped out of the lake! I wasn't ready for that one. Another problem with Friday the 13th is the first-person perspective used to explore the cabin interiors. Instead of making you feel "in the game", it just makes you feel like a rat in a cage.

Jason is large and menacing during his frequent appearances, and you'll need to mix dodges with attacks in order to turn him away. I like how the time of day changes as you play this game, and if you're good, a single game can extend over several days. Friday the 13th is tough, but as you learn specific strategies you'll discover hidden rooms and encounter new dangers like Jason's mother. When all the counselors are deceased, the message appears "You and your friends are dead. Game Over." I guess "Thank you for playing" would not have been appropriate in this case. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


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