Haunted Halloween '85
Publisher: Retrotainment (2016)
For a Halloween fanatic like myself Haunted Halloween '85 is a dream come true. This well-crafted platformer embodies the Halloween spirit like few other games. You play a kid trying to save the fictional town of Possum Hollow by punching out phlegm-gurgling zombies, dive-bombing crows, and jumping jack-o-lanterns. For an NES title the sheer artistry of this game is amazing. The backgrounds employ striking colors and vivid silhouettes to dramatic effect. Scenes of a deserted playground or grain silo against the waning sunset are truly haunting yet beautiful at the same time. Fun minor details bear out the 1985 timeframe, including an "NES Club" poster in the school and a Suncoast Video-style "VHS store" in the mall - complete with purple neon lights. Haunted Halloween's gameplay is a satisfying mix of punching and platform jumping. It's satisfying how zombies crumble to dust after you beat them down, but those diving crows are a pain. Why doesn't my uppercut work on them? Some of the super-narrow platforms would be ridiculously hard to traverse if not for the excellent controls. Instead of a life bar, taking hits gradually transforms you into a zombie, adding a layer of tension. Seek out candy corn to reconstitute your health. The minor-key "chip-tune" music is eerie but a little shrill for my tastes. The first-rate packaging offers a glossy box, colorful manual, and "zombie green" cartridge. Overall I am thrilled with this. Classic gamers have a new reason to celebrate Halloween this year - like it's 1985! © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 139
Haunted Halloween '86: The Curse of Possum Hollow
Publisher: Retrotainment (2017)
If you thought Haunted Halloween '85
(Retrotainment, 2016) was a treat this amazing sequel will likely make your head explode. Haunted Halloween '86 offers more sophisticated platform action with a fresh new set of creepy stages. The game kicks off in cinematic style with a series cutscenes which you will learn to quickly skip through. The action begins in a dank dungeon with zombies and skeletons twice the size of the monsters in the first game. By delivering a well-timed uppercut you can punch zombie heads clean off!
It's a great feeling, and as the final insult you can pick up the disembodied head and hurl it at other foes! Another new feature is the ability to toggle between a guy and girl character using groundbreaking new Tag Team Technology (TM). This gives you a new lease on life when one of your characters is starting to look a little green (if you know what I mean). Prior to each stage you can select from a list of special moves including a dodge, charge attack, and defensive shockwave. I always go with the double-jump first since it gives me a fighting chance against those pesky stalactites in the cave. Stages like the mineshaft have multiple platforms but it took me forever to figure out how to drop downwards
. It turns you need to double-tap down. It makes sense, but I totally missed it in the manual because it was listed as "platform hop". Anyway, like the first game the scenic backdrops make excellent use of vivid silhouettes to create scenes you wouldn't expect to see on the NES. I also found the frenetic music to be an improvement over the first game. Imaginative new locations include a river, train, and boiler room. There's also a handy password feature. Haunted Halloween '86 lacks that small-town 80's vibe that made the original such a charm, but considering all the new features I'd have to say that this game is one year better. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 87
Save mechanism: password
Publisher: Data East (1990)
This one-man-army shooter is a total Commando
(NES, 1986) knock-off, and it's a damn good one!
This game kicks so much ass, they might as well call this Heavy Mother [expletive] Barrel. You can team up with a friend as you attempt to infiltrate a series of well-fortified strongholds. In addition to legions of troops, you'll face tanks, helicopters, and a robot on rails with extendable claws. Unlike most games, your default weapon is pretty effective, allowing you to shoot rapid-fire in any direction with good range. It's tricky to hit the diagonals at times, so play it safe and spray bullets like a madman!
Power-ups let you temporarily unleash flames or a 3-way shot. A hefty supply of grenades is also available, but they deal minimal collateral damage. It's pretty easy to mow down oncoming enemy soldiers, especially since they pause before taking aim. Sometimes this game feels like an old Arnold Schwarzenegger flick as one goon after the next steps into your line of fire. The ones in bright green outfits look like a bunch of Riddlers, but you'll want to pay closer attention to the red ones which drop keys to open lockers. Some lockers contain power-ups, but others contain parts of Heavy Barrel itself. As you construct this weapon, you'll see pieces fall into a gun-shaped template at the bottom of the screen. The first few pieces are pretty big, but the next few are so tiny you start to wonder if you'll ever
get the frickin' thing. But once you hear that horrible voice synthesis, you know you're strapped with one big bad killing machine. It lets you spray waves of destruction for 99 blissful seconds. The gun actually looks more like an oversized rolling pin, but Heavy Rolling Pin would have sucked
as a title. Heavy Barrel's graphics are average at best, and sometimes it's hard to tell where the floors end and the walls begin. The music however features multi-part electronic melodies that get your adrenaline pumping. It sounds like every NES tune I've ever heard, and it's great. Heavy Barrel isn't very original, but takes a winning formula and adds a cool twist. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 32,200
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1989)
Snowboarding was a relatively new sport in 1989, and at that time Parker Bros. didn't have a very good grasp of the whole extreme sports
scene. Heavy Shreddin' could have just as easily been a skiing title. The game's idea of doing a "stunt" involves stopping in the middle of a slope to do a handstand! Wow, that looks really stupid! Most of the game involves racing against the clock while weaving around trees and rocks. You view your boarder from a side angle, but the scrolling abruptly changes switches between diagonal and horizontal. The effect is so jarring it almost always
causes you to crash. The controls are so poorly designed that my friends would routinely ask "Why did my guy just do
that?!" Adding insult to injury, the collision detection is so unforgiving that merely brushing against a tree causes your boarder to fall, forcing you to restart the entire stage! Just completing the opening stage requires a flawless run - at full speed no less!
The half-pipe stage is a complete sham - a shameful place where terrible graphics collide with incomprehensive controls. Heavy Shreddin' has a few quirky tunes and some bright winter scenery, but these are wasted in a game that most will deem to be worthless. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 4,106
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
While simplistic, this light gun game does add a few wrinkles to the standard "Duck Hunt" formula. The first variation places you in a shooting gallery with cardboard figures that appear three at a time. You'll want to shoot the dirty crooks but hold your fire against the woman, professor, and policeman. In general it's pretty dull affair. The second variation places the figures in side-scrolling urban scenery, which spices things up a bit. But the third stage really steals the show. In this one you repeatedly shoot tins cans that appear on the right side, keeping them in the air long enough to have them land on ledges on the left. Each ledge has a different point value, so it's a nice combination of skill and strategy. Hogan's Alley isn't bad for a light gun game, but it certainly won't have you hooting and hollering and keeping the neighbors up all night. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 40,000
Publisher: THQ (1991)
The first time you play Home Alone on the NES, you'll probably think it's a piece of junk. There's just not that much to it. You control little Kevin McCallister on the run from two roving bandits in an expansive three-story house (not counting the basement). The house is nicely detailed and decorated for Christmas. Kevin's mannerisms are faithful to the character in the movie, especially the way he scuttles up the stairs. You can even exit through windows to climb down rainspouts or escape to your tree house. Like the movie, the object is to keep two bandits at bay by planting household items as traps. To win the game you'll need to avoid these guys for 20 minutes (until police arrive). I could only last for a few minutes but still enjoyed playing for high score. As you scamper around the house you'll pick up well-defined "trap" boxes labeled with icons that symbolize spiders, Christmas bulbs, toy cars, tacks, and other hazards. The instruction manual implies there's some strategy involved in planting traps, but that wasn't my experience. You can lay them anywhere around the house, and when bad guys run into them they'll pass out for a few seconds. You'll want to keep one (or two) traps on hand for when the crooks are hot on your tail. And that happens a lot because these guys run about twice as fast as you do! The controls seem reasonable until you need to navigate stairs, which can be a nightmare. It seems like most of my "deaths" were the result of getting stuck on the edge of those God-forsaken stairs. The pause (and game over) screens show a nice map of the house, indicating where you caught the bad guys. Like the film, Home Alone provides some light family fun. It's a little shallow but I enjoyed the simple premise and holiday theme. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 31,390
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Publisher: THQ (1992)
This poorly-constructed sequel tries to be more sophisticated than the first game. Once again you play the rambunctious little Kevin McCallister, this time on the loose in New York City. You'll raise havoc in the fancy Plaza hotel, Central Park, a townhouse under construction, and finally Rockefeller Center. The opening cut-scene looks pretty bad, and Tim Curry's concierge character looks more like Lando Calrissian. Kevin is pursued by bell hops, maids, store merchants, and jumping old ladies with umbrellas. As if they weren't annoying enough, the programmers incorporated suitcases, mops, and vacuums that move around on their own accord as if they were possessed by demons. The Plaza Hotel looks attractive enough with its elegant chandeliers, marble floors, and posh furniture. Unfortunately the remaining stages didn't get nearly as much attention and look pretty shoddy. In addition to jumping, Kevin can perform a knee slide "attack". He'll collect plenty of items like cookies and necklaces but it's often unclear how these are supposed to be used. And you won't get far unless you take some mandatory hits to obtain the toy gun at the start of each stage. Home Alone 2 is a really sloppy game. You need to ride elevators in the hotel stage, but it's not clear how to call for them. Worse yet, the elevator "chimes" blend in with the awful, repetitive music. The platform action in later levels is marred by collision detection issues. And even if you stock up on weapons, they may have no effect on the end-of-stage bosses. There's not even a score. Much like the movie, Home Alone 2 on the NES feels like a rushed, by-the-numbers money-grab. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (1984)
Many Nintendo fans consider Ice Climber a legitimate classic, but I don't see it. This is a very generic platformer, and its gameplay is middle-of-the-road at best. You control one of two small hammer-wielding Eskimos attempting to scale a series of breakable floating platforms. Some platforms extend all the way across the screen, so you'll need to punch holes in them by banging them from below. Red and white birds attempt to thwart your efforts, but these are slow and easy to knock down with your hammer. Boy, it sure is frustrating when they fill in the holes I've worked so hard to make! Ice Climber's screen scrolls vertically as you make your way up, and reaching the top initiates a short bonus stage. Ice Climber's bright graphics are cute and arcade-like, but the droning background noise is monotonous. Even more annoying are the unforgiving controls. Jumping straight up is no problem, but jumping sideways enough to catch the next ledge is hard unless you have some momentum. Maybe that's just how the controls were designed, but that doesn't mean I have to like them. Ice Climber does offer two-player simultaneous play, but I didn't find it to be any better than the single player mode. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 13,980
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Nintendo (1988)
It's not in the same league as Blades of Steel, but Nintendo's Ice Hockey offers its own brand of entertaining gameplay. It's a kinder, gentler hockey game with simple graphics and small, cartoonish players. Before each game, you can customize each of your player's physiques to be skinny, fat, or medium. The skinnier guys are faster but less powerful, so you'll want to build a team that best reflects your playing style. The bright, attractive ice rink scrolls from side to side. Passing and shooting the puck is fairly easy, but it's hard to tell what players you control on the defense, since he only flashes faintly. Controlling your goalie is surprisingly easy, even in the midst of the frantic action. Ice Hockey's gameplay is wide-open and fast-paced, and the computer opponent is tough. The game is also famous for its catchy background music and zambonis that polish the ice during intermissions. It may take a back seat to Blades of Steel, but Ice Hockey is still a winner. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1986)
This addictive vertical shooter plays much like Rambo (Sega Master System) and Front Line (Colecovision). One or two buff soldiers forge their way through enemy-infested jungle environments while laying down fire, tossing grenades, and commandeering vehicles. Your bullets are large and somewhat slow, but the responsive controls allow you to spray them with extreme prejudice. The grenades make it possible to destroy bunkers and vehicles, but the real mayhem occurs when you hop into a tank or helicopter and recklessly unleash missiles. In terms of difficulty, Ikari Warriors is no cakewalk, and I'd advise you to keep moving forward. Enhancing the action are lush jungle scenery and a superb musical score that's sure to bring back memories for many long-time gamers. The only poor aspect of the game lies in its embarrassing "death" animations, which are hands-down the worst
ever seen in a video game! When shot, the pudgy enemy soldiers appear to float away
while shaking their extremities as if they're dancing! My friend Scott best described them as "Pillsbury dough boys on crack". Besides that aberration, Ikari Warriors is a fine shooter that spawned two sequels. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 8,100
1 or 2 players
Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road
Publisher: SNK (1988)
After all the jungle-shooting action of the first Ikari Warriors, imagine my surprise when I discovered this sequel takes place on distant planets
! The gun-and-grenade gameplay is the same, but the appearance of the game has changed drastically. Apparently our heroes spent a lot
of time in the gym since the first game, because they look absolutely huge
! But while their increased size makes them look more intimidating, it also makes them bigger targets. And if you thought the first game was hard, this one is nearly impossible! And get this - you only get one life
! Hey, at least it's realistic. Don't worry - there's a simple button sequence that allows you to continue indefinitely: A, B, B, A. Ikari Warriors II is much deeper than its predecessor. You can purchase items at shops and you'll occasionally employ strategy like blasting through a rock wall. There are even a few bonus levels that resemble skeet-shooting. The graphics are more detailed with larger sprites, but there's ample break-up and it's hard to figure out what some of the "aliens" are supposed to be. The music is first-rate, but that voice synthesis is incomprehensible! Who can understand them with all of that static? And another thing - why is it necessary to sit through black screens between stages? Is the game loading
? Ikari Warriors II is an ambitious title, but it can't quite match the first game in terms of fun. Note: For a good laugh, check out the screens appear after the game ends. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Ikari Warriors III: The Rescue
Publisher: SNK (1990)
This third and final chapter of the Ikari Warrior saga provides yet another dramatic turn. This time our heroes are back on earth, but they are completely unarmed and forced to perform hand-to-hand combat
. At first it seems to work pretty well, using one button to punch, one to kick, and both to execute a jump kick. One thing that stinks however is the fact that you can't
attack diagonally. Punches seem much more effective than kicks, and the action is repetitive. The soldiers in the later stages differ from the earlier ones only in that they require more punches to defeat. Occasionally several enemies will leap out in unison in what appears to be a choreographed dance number! Cheesy! I was hoping my soldier would acquire a permanent weapons somewhere along the line, but it never happened. The graphics are noticeably cleaner than previous Ikari games, with more lifelike characters that appear less pudgy. The awesome first stage looks spectacular with its green jungle scenery and sparkling blue water, but after that you have to forge through endless warehouse stages! What's the deal with that? Ikari 3's soundtrack is also lackluster. Unlimited continues are provided, perhaps in response to the overwhelming difficulty of the previous games. I think it's safe to say that Ikari Warriors 3 is my least favorite chapter of the trilogy. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom
Publisher: LucasArts (1988)
Unlike most Indiana Jones fans, my favorite film of the trilogy is the dark, brooding Temple of Doom
. So you can imagine my disappointment when I sat down to play this ill-conceived crock of [expletive]. The stages are a series of underground caves full of platforms, conveyer belts, mine carts, and lava pits. Equipped with his trusty whip, Indy fights the bad guys, rescues kids, and tries frantically to locate an exit. It's mildly amusing to ride mine carts and swing between ledges using your whip, but the fun ends there. The controls are abysmal. When you jump up or down, you never quite know where you're going to land, but it's usually red and rhymes with java. Indy's movements are so slippery
that even climbing a frickin' ladder
without falling off is hard! Your primarily objective is to free enslaved kids, but your escape route is usually a mystery. Sometimes you'll appear to have stumbled across the exit, only to discover you've returned
to the previous
stage! Ugh! Temple of Doom's graphics are butt-ugly, with repulsive color schemes and pitiful animation. The Michael Jackson-impersonating thugs mindlessly fall from platform to platform, and often hurl themselves directly into the lava. The fighting aspect of the game feels like a complete afterthought. Switching weapons is awkward (hold select while moving the directional pad?!), and firing your gun will instantly kill a bad guy anywhere on the screen
! I also find it odd how you can grab the same item
over and over again to rack up points. Indiana Jones Temple of Doom is so bad that it made me want to rip someone's heart out, tie them to a metal rack, and lower them into a lava pit. But wouldn't you know it - it turns out that's illegal
in Maryland! Temple of Doom's only saving grace is the horrible Last Crusade game for the NES, which makes this look almost respectable by comparison. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 33,750
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Taito version)
Publisher: Taito (1990)
How hard could it be to program a half-way decent Indiana Jones game?! This is one of two
Last Crusade games for the NES, and I prefer this one only because it doesn't suck
quite as much as the other. The structure of this game is good, with selectable stages that combine elements of fighting, racing, and puzzle solving. You'll trade punches with thugs in a German castle, on a freighter at sea, and on a moving tank in the desert. The graphics look very sharp and detailed, but the animation stinks. Indy's movements are erratic, and you'll struggle to escape from regenerating thugs just because you can't get up the frickin' ladder! Indy can punch, kick, or jump-kick, but these moves look unintentionally hilarious
. If Indy's jacket were red instead of brown, he'd look just like Michael Jackson doing a dance number. The enemy soldiers are hard to fight because they tend to hop around like fleas! Also amusing is how Indy's little legs wiggle as he scurries up and down ladders. The German castle stage is particularly painful, with its never-ending maze of hallways and doors that all look the same! I can't tell you how long I languished in this stage, but it felt like days
. The most bizarre stage is the catacombs, which amounts to one of those "slide the square" puzzles. I was never any good at those, so I really hated this stage. Last Crusade's highlight is the motorcycle chase stage. As you zoom up a vertically-scrolling road, you'll need to carefully adjust your speed to avoid hazards and leap over chasms. Best of all, you can whip soldiers that pull up alongside you. The final stage is pretty good too, taking you through the three challenges of the grail. Intermissions are displayed between stages with nice illustrations and text dialogue from the movie. In terms of audio, the suspenseful music that plays in the castle scene is good, but the rendition of the Indiana Jones theme sounds totally off-key. The less said about the techno music in the ship stage, the better. Last Crusade has a lot of issues, but at least it makes an effort. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Ubisoft version)
Publisher: Ubisoft (1993)
When I showed this to my friend Chris, his incredulous reaction was, "Wait a second - is this a GameBoy
game?!" Yes, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is an atrocity of outrageous proportions. Not only are the graphics horribly grainy, but the first stage is rendered in about two colors!
Okay, maybe three
- if you count black! This is definitely the most hideous
game I've seen on the NES. Indy looks even goofier than he did in Temple of Doom, if that's at all possible. The film provides for plenty of interesting stage ideas, but this shoddy game even makes jumping the cars on a circus train
seem dull! The first stage, entitled "Exploring the caves", is about as unimaginative as you can get, with all the obligatory cheap hits including falling stalactites. It's hard to grab onto ropes, and fights with bad guys amount to trading punches until somebody falls over. The controls are so stiff that I might as well be controlling C3PO
. Last Crusade is one truly pathetic piece of trash, and for a 1993 game (by LucasArts no less), it has absolutely no excuse. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 7,900
Publisher: Vap (1990)
This high-octane isometric shooter has some of the finest visuals I've ever seen on the NES system. Not only is the game exceptionally fun, but I can't recall playing anything quite like this before. You control the heavily-armed dude named Max Maverick defending a planet invaded by aliens. Amassing crazy firepower as you progress, you'll systematically blast your way through hordes of monstrosities and robots of all shapes and sizes. You start off on foot, but later get to ride motorcycles and hovercraft. Navigating each stage is tricky, as your path is strewn with ruins, pits, and acid pools. In addition to rapid-fire shooting, you can somersault out of harms way, and unleash a barrage of bombs while in mid air. Power-ups are all over the place, so apply them liberally. Aliens assume a wealth of interesting forms so the game never feels repetitive or monotonous. The graphics are crisp and the frame-rate holds up very well. The electronic musical score is equally outstanding, with its upbeat rhythm and catchy melody. Isolated Warrior features seven lengthy stages, and provides both passwords and continues. For most stages, a fully powered-up "wide-angle" weapon will practically obliterate everything in sight, and I have to admit it feels a bit cheap as you wipe the screen with that thing. For boss encounters, you'll want to switch to the more-concentrated "straight fire" weapon. Isolated Warrior is one of those tight NES shooters that draws you back again and again. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 472,100