NES Reviews O-P

Operation Wolf
Grade: C
Publisher: Taito (1989)
Reviewed: 2002/4/24

screenshotHere's something you don't see everyday: a light gun game that's best played without a light gun! Strange but true, Operation Wolf is far more enjoyable when you mow down bad guys by moving a cursor around the screen. Each of the game's six stages is a war-torn battle zone, with locations including a jungle, command center, airport, and prison camp. One button is used to shoot, and the other throws grenades that inflict heavy damage.

You'll have to constantly replenish your ammunition by shooting icons that appear in place of fallen soldiers. At any given moment there are plenty of vehicles and soldiers running across the screen to fire at. The action is frantic, but take care not to shoot the occasional prisoner or medic squad. So what's wrong with using the Zapper light gun? Well, besides the constant clicking noise, the gun causes too much flashing on the screen. Stick with a normal controller however and you'll definitely have a good time. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

P.O.W.
Grade: B
Publisher: SNK (1989)
Reviewed: 2017/2/21


screenshotP.O.W. was one of many Rambo-inspired games to appear on the NES in the late 1980's. You play a soldier escaping from a jungle camp rendered with lush scenery and an attention to detail. The wooden floors have texture and moss can be seen growing around cell doors. There's one point in the first stage where you climb a tower and are treated to a breathtaking view over the canopy of trees. If the visuals don't get you pumped, P.O.W.'s spirited musical score should do the trick.

The fighting action feels pretty standard as you punch, back-punch, and kick your way through waves of soldiers that appear two or three at a time. The key to beating these guys is keeping them separated. If you get sandwiched you're going to take some hits. Keep kicking and punching until enemies fly off the screen. I found the jump-kick to be hard to perform and not very effective. One unique feature is how you can enter huts, trucks, and caves in the background. If you clear them out you're awarded a prize like brass knuckles or a bullet-proof vest. Unfortunately when you lose a life you also lose any items acquired.

Occasionally you'll face a soldier with a machine gun, and it's satisfying to take it from him and shoot the guy with his own gun! Some soldiers have grenades but they are so dumb they tend to throw them in the wrong direction. I noticed some graphical breakup in P.O.W. (especially during boss encounters) but it doesn't affect the gameplay. A bigger issue is that enemies and tactics don't change appreciably over the course of the game. That said, I found myself returning to P.O.W. quite often, always looking to top my best score. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 27,500
1 player 

Pac-Man
Grade: B-
Publisher: Tengen (1984)
Reviewed: 2018/7/30

screenshotPac-Man was past his prime when he arrived on the NES yet he still managed to represent. This is a pretty faithful rendition. You get the title screen introducing each ghost, intermissions between levels, and a maze that looks exactly like the arcade. I did notice that Pac-Man and the ghosts are slightly oversized, just barely fitting within the lane boundaries of the maze. The sound effects are fair but lack that resonating quality you're used to hearing when you chomp a power pill.

Pac-Man is timeless fun but in this case I feel like the controls could be better. As much as I love the NES control pad it totally sucks with this game! I found myself constantly missing turns and colliding with ghosts head-on. Using a quality joystick like the NES Advantage helps a little, but it still feels a little off during advanced levels when the action gets hectic. If you're looking for Pac-Man, you'll find it here, but this is not the best Pac-Man. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 22,880
1 or 2 player 

Pac-Mania
Grade: B-
Publisher: Tengen (1990)
Reviewed: 2018/7/30

screenshotPac-Mania feels like a logical 3D extension of the original Pac-Man formula. No longer limited to two dimensions, Pac-Man appears round as he moves around a scrolling 3D maze with a slightly diagonal overhead view. This not only gives the visuals more pizzazz, but also incorporates the concept jumping. That's right - when surrounded by ghosts you can just hop over one (or more) to escape. Just keep in mind that in advanced stages the ghosts can jump too!

Each stage offers a completely different layout, although several tend to be influenced by the classic 2D games. The white one is my favorite; it looks like a winter wonderland! Since the mazes are more sprawling the game feels slower because you have a lot of ground to cover. Alerts are displayed when a fruit or power-up is available, since the center of the maze may not be in view at the time.

There are up to nine ghosts (!) in each stage, but they seem less tenacious than the four in the original Pac-Man. You can rack up some insane multiplier bonuses by chomping them all up. When the eyes of an eaten ghost travel the same path as Pac-Man, it looks like he's wearing glasses! In addition to bonus fruit there are power-up pills. Most of these have subtle effects, save for the speed demon icon that lets you move twice as fast.

Each game begins with the option of skipping to an advanced level a la Millipede (Atari 2600, 1984). The fact that you earn a big fat bonus up front for doing this (up to 150K) seems a little unfair. The game has happy-go-lucky music in the tradition of the series but the intermissions are not particularly memorable. That's the problem with the game in general. Despite all the extra bells and whistles I'd be just as happy to play the original Pac-Man instead. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 175,770
1 or 2 players 

Paperboy
Grade: B+
Publisher: Tengen (1988)
Reviewed: 2016/8/25

screenshotI really miss the innocent days of old when every video game didn't involve saving the entire universe. In Paperboy you're just trying to deliver some damn newspapers for Pete's sake! The screen scrolls diagonally as you ride your bike through attractive suburban neighborhoods with inviting scenery. If that doesn't put you in the mind of a sparkling summer morning, the happy-go-lucky music should do the trick.

Your goal is to toss a paper on the doorstep of each subscribing house, or toss papers directly into their mailboxes for bigger points. The houses are conveniently color-coded with subscribers in light-colored homes and non-subscribers in ominous red houses. What makes the game extra fun is how you earn points by breaking windows, hitting gravestones, knocking over trash cans, and just creating chaos in general. Your paper supply is limited but you'll find extra bundles at random.

Paperboy is challenging because you're confined to the lower right corner of the screen with little room to maneuver and a small turn radius. Riding on the street gives you little time to react to oncoming cars and storm drains. The sidewalk has its own share of hazards like dogs, construction crews, and runaway lawnmowers. There's one house where a crazy woman bolts out of the front door with a knife! If that's not alarming enough, you'll encounter death himself - the grim reaper!

At the end of each street is an obstacle course. I'm glad this is just a bonus stage, because it's hard to line up your bike correctly with the ramps. Paperboy's gameplay is super fun and loaded with surprises. And even if you fail, at least it's not the end of the world. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: CJS 29,950
1 or 2 players 

Pinball
Grade: C+
Publisher: Nintendo (1983)
Reviewed: 2001/8/12


screenshotIt's easy to pass this off as a shallow, generic pinball game, but with repeated play it proves surprisingly addictive. There's only one table, and it's theme is... well, it really doesn't have a theme, but that's okay. The game switches between two screens that display the top and bottom halves of the table, each with their own sets of flippers. You get all the standard pinball trappings, including bumpers, spinners, flippers, and traps. The graphics aren't anything to write home about, but the action is smooth and the physics is realistic enough. You only control the flippers - there's no "nudge" button. Pinball may not be much to look at, but it's challenging, well-balanced gameplay is more than respectable. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 38,910
1 or 2 player 

Pinball Quest
Grade: B
Publisher: Jaleco (1990)
Reviewed: 2017/5/5

screenshotI was so impressed with Pinball Quest on my Retro Bit Generations console I decided to pony up for the real McCoy. The cartridge offers three distinct tables: Pop Pop, Viva Golf, and Circus. Pop Pop has a recreational theme with bowling and billiard elements. Viva Golf is obviously golf-related, and Circus has a clown motif that's only mildly creepy. The physics is not terrible and the tables scroll smoothly as the ball shoots from bottom to the top.

As with all pinball games, the action begins slowly but once you get into a groove you can rack up some serious points. Each table features mini-games like pool, slots, and a "catch the animals" challenge. These offer a nice change of pace but they kick in too frequently, disrupting the flow of the pinball action. One innovative feature is the ability to relocate your flippers to the high and low areas of the table by simply pressing up or down. That's kind of cool (I guess) but far too easy to do accidentally.

There's nothing worse than inadvertently moving the flippers out of the way just as the ball heads down the drain. Why not just have two sets of flippers? The three tables offer substantial replay value but it's the RPG mode that puts this cart over the top. Featuring a slew of fantasy tables with impressively textured landscapes, you'll take aim at mythical creatures and bosses, purchasing power-ups between encounters. Pinball Quest is a pinball title that goes beyond the call of duty, offering an original twist you won't find anywhere else. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: Pop Pop
Our high score: 142,640
1 to 4 players 

Pirates
Grade: C
Publisher: Ultra (1991)
Reviewed: 2020/6/19

screenshotPirates was originally released in 1987 as an historical simulation for the Commodore 64. The game places you in the role of a young pirate captain in the Caribbean during the mid-1500s. I love how this shoehorned NES version makes it easy to get a ship with a full crew up and running. You'll sail your tiny ship around a huge map of the "new world", frequently encountering foreign vessels.

I like the look of those shimmering blue waters. While engaged in a sea battle you must carefully maneuver your ship to avoid incoming cannonballs while launching your own. Invading an unfriendly town involves exchanging fire with forts. Interior land battles require you to strategically position groups of your men, although the actual fighting seems mostly automatic.

Many battles culminate with a sword fight between you and the opposition's leader. The duels aren't much to look at, and like the sea battles they tend to drag on for too long. The graphic depictions of towns and taverns are well done, but the images appear in small windows that leave little room for detail. I was disappointed that when I visited the tavern in the Spanish city of Santiago I talked to the same blonde bartender I met in Fort Royale.

The game is text-heavy and sometimes you're presented with an entire screen of text to read. Patient gamers will savor the layers of strategy which provide ample opportunity to spread influence, betray treaties, marry a wench, and discover buried treasure. Less patient gamers however are likely to lose interest due to the sluggish sea battles and repetitive nature of it all. Fighting the wind at sea or moving men across land can be painfully slow.

The cartridge offers eight slots of saves, and wouldn't you know, mine are full from the adventures of previous owners! How long do these batteries last anyway? Pirates has remarkable depth for an NES title, but I'd advise pirate lovers to pursue subsequent versions of the game with faster gameplay and better eye candy. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: battery
1 player 

Platoon
Grade: F
Publisher: Sunsoft (1988)
Reviewed: 2003/6/8

screenshotPlatoon features well-defined soldiers and rich, dense jungle environments, but its gameplay can be described as "missing in action". Playing Platoon is more irritating than it is fun. In the first stage you explore endless jungle screens, jumping over wire traps and shooting an endless parade of brainless enemy soldiers. There's precious little technique involved, and the action gets terribly repetitive in a hurry. You'll also find yourself absorbing an excessive number of mandatory hits thanks to enemies that leap out suddenly from trees or behind bushes.

Worst yet, you'll pull your hair out trying to navigate the endless labyrinth of jungle screens, which all look the same and contain numerous dead ends. Just completing the first stage will test the patience of even the most seasoned gamer. Subsequent levels contain some good-looking first person shooting action, but these prove equally frustrating and hardly worth the effort. Platoon looks great, but Sunsoft should have gotten someone to play test this thing before inflicting it on the masses. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Play Action Football
Grade: C-
Publisher: Nintendo (1990)
Reviewed: 2006/1/7


screenshotAlthough probably nifty in its time, this old football game has not aged particularly well. Upon turning on Play Action Football you're treated to an elaborate performance of the national anthem, although that black guy playing the trumpet doesn't really match the electronic notes you hear. The game itself features an overhead view with the field running diagonally across the screen.

Play Action Football's play-calling screens are well designed, letting you select from eight plays and four formations. A high-angle view of the players moving into formation is accompanied by an annoying helicopter sound effect. A "high" view is used for passing plays, but a closer angle is employed for running plays.

The action on the field unfolds slowly, thanks to the players' turtle-like speed and passes that float in the air for an eternity. The controls are pretty good however, borrowing a page or two from Tecmo Bowl. You can tap the A button to avoid tackles on offense, or speed up on defense. Pressing both A and B switches you to the nearest defender. The kicking game is solid, but the football looks absolutely huge as it sails through the goal posts. No wonder there are so many bounces off the posts!

My first game of Play Action Football got off to an inauspicious start as both the CPU and myself ran back kick-offs for touchdowns. And if that wasn't unrealistic enough, we both missed our extra points as well! Play Action Football tries to incorporate voice synthesis, but it's unintentionally comical. When the referee yells "First down!" it sounds like he's saying "Prison!" And before each snap, instead of "Ready, set, hut!" the QB seems to be shouting "Goodie, set, hut!"

Surprisingly, Play Action is equipped with an NFL Player's Association license, so actual player names and faces are displayed on the bottom of the screen! I have to give Play Action credit for incorporating some cool bells and whistles you don't even see in some modern football games. For example, when a player gets hurt, trainers come out onto the field with a stretcher.

And when a first down is in doubt, the officials bring out the chains to measure up close! There's even some cheerleader action during halftime. As usual, Nintendo incorporates a lot of little musical jingles into the game, which are actually quite catchy and memorable. There's no way this can possibly compete with excellent Tecmo Bowl games, but Play Action Football represents a decent effort on Nintendo's part. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Popeye
Grade: A
Publisher: Nintendo (1986)
Reviewed: 2008/11/5

screenshotA reader recently alerted me to this game, and frankly, I'm astounded at the quality of it. I've played Popeye on a number of the classic consoles (Atari 2600, Colecovision), but this version seems arcade-perfect. The vibrant graphics are very high in resolution and exhibit no hint of flicker. The characters are faithful to their cartoon roots, even conveying trademark expressions and mannerisms.

Popeye must traverse three screens of platforms in an attempt to collect items tossed out by Olive Oyl at the top of the screen. In the first screen it's hearts, in the second it's musical notes, and in the third (pirate ship screen) it's letters that spell out "HELP". Making your life harder are bouncing skulls, swooping buzzards, and a marauding bully by the name of Brutus.

Avoiding Brutus is largely a game of cat-and-mouse, but eating your spinach lets you turn the tables on him, delivering a mighty punch that sends him bouncing around the screen. Just be sure to keep moving because Brutus is quite nimble for his size, and can pounce on you unpredictably.

Each screen offers its own unique elements, like a trap you can trigger or a teeter-totter that catapults you to a higher platform. The music is also first-rate. Not only does each screen feature its own catchy jingle, but a lively rendition of the Popeye theme plays when you eat your spinach. Some might contend Popeye is a second-tier platform title, but I haven't had this much fun on my NES in a while. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 31,320
1 or 2 players 

Power Blade
Grade: B
Publisher: Taito (1991)
Reviewed: 2019/1/27

screenshotThis run-and-gun shooter should bring joy to the hearts of Contra (Konami, 1987) fans. Power Blade takes place in 2191 where the future looks just like Seattle! The dude on the title screen is a dead ringer for Arnold Schwarzenegger - the archetype hero of the 1990s. Your mission is to recover computer tapes - a storage media that apparently makes a big comeback (I knew it!)

The stage select screen lets you choose between six locations including an atrium, sewers, and a space shuttle launch pad. The stages tend to look very similar but I like how there are alternate routes and secret areas. A few (like the waterfalls) have flickering scenery that's kind of unsightly.

Your primary weapon is a boomerang. Not only does it inflict serious damage but you can throw it in any direction - including diagonally! Once powered-up you can unleash them in a rapid-fire fashion that's very satisfying. The ability to knock down drones while hanging off ladders is especially fun. The fluid controls make it easy to traverse platforms and leap to and from ladders. Just be sure you're on the very edge on a platform before initiating your jump. This game is not forgiving.

About halfway through each stage you'll rendezvous with a team member to obtain an ID card. Why is his face blue? An onslaught of enemies include soldiers, pink gorillas, and robots that look like ED-209 from Robocop. Many adversaries have shells that make them frustratingly impervious to attack. Instead of clearing out each room you'll be wise to make a quick exit as converging enemies nip at your heels.

Power Blade could use more checkpoints. It's infuriating when you travel deep into a stage only to fall and have to restart from the beginning. Still, the tuneful NES synth music keeps your adrenaline flowing. I wish the game had a score but at least there's an easy-to-enter password which allows you to make progress in small chunks, stage by stage. You can really get into a zone playing Power Blade, especially once you get familiar with the layouts. I'm not saying you should break your piggy back for it, but you probably won't regret it. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: password
1 player 

Predator
Grade: F
Publisher: Twentieth Century Fox (1988)
Reviewed: 2014/7/20

screenshotWhen you fire up this game you'll want to pay attention to the amazing introduction. It shows Predator traveling to Earth in a pod deployed from his hawk-shaped spaceship. That's like watching a deleted scene from the film! You're then treated to a title screen that alternates images between Arnold and Predator over menacing music and the subtitle "Soon the Hunt Will Begin". I love it! At this point most critics would have slapped an "A" on this bad boy and called it a day, but I happened to be in the mood for some improbable jungle shenanigans.

In the opening stage Arnold appears to be decked out in pink pants and white boots. Wait what?! Oh that's right - this was made in the 80's! Falling into the first pit will leave you hopelessly stuck, despite the breakable wall and a supply of grenades! Apparently somebody forgot to test this level. It was probably the same guy who forgot to test all the other levels. In fact, the stages are so poorly constructed that a "self destruct" mechanism had to be included. But since it's accessed from the pause screen, you're more likely to accidentally blow yourself up (gah!).

Some stages offer multiple paths but I'd recommend taking the high road to avoid crawling rocks, scorpions, and crazy people. Subterranean areas force you to jump between narrow ledges, but the jumping controls aren't bad. Enemies occupy some ledges, but if you wait they tend to fall off on their own. The initial encounter with Predator is anti-climatic, as you simply shoot him 14 times as he somersaults around.

After every few stages you're subjected to what the instructions call "the big mode". These stages were clearly developed as a separate game, but the manual tries to rationalize them as some kind of "ethereal zones." The oversized characters look impressive but the orb-dodging gameplay is pointless. Predator has no score but there is a continue option. This game is technically deficient, but Predator fans may still want to check out this so-bad-it's-bad film adaptation. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom
Grade: F
Publisher: Hudson Soft (1990)
Reviewed: 2019/4/14

screenshotThe Hudson Soft logo is normally a sign of quality but I guess they can't all be winners. I've received numerous requests to review Princess Tomato over the years. It turns out that this cartridge is pretty rare so I had to settle for a reproduction. Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom is a whimsical text adventure set in a magical place inhabited by personified vegetables. You play the role of Sir Cucumber trying to save the princess (naturally).

The game screen consists of a picture window in the center, text commands lining each side, and a dialog box along the bottom. Typical commands are move, look, check, talk, take, use, give, and buy. Less obvious options are hit, praise, dump, and "Percy". The game is broken up into chapters, with passwords allowing you to save your progress between them.

The well-designed user interface makes it easy to enter commands, using one button used to select and another to back out. I found the illustrated cartoon graphics somewhat endearing, but there's minimal animation and the happy-go-lucky music got on my nerves.

I could have embraced a quirky game like this if it made any sense but it does not. Most of the puzzles are illogical. To extract a coin from a fountain you need to "check" the fountain and then "hit" it? How did people ever make progress before the internet? Like Infocom's classic Zork text adventure series, your actions are heavily constrained ("don't give anything away now").

Even when you choose the right action it's often necessary to execute "talk" or "check" multiple times to get the desired result. In one case I had to check a trash can in a bathroom twice to discover a donut! What is this - a Seinfeld episode?? Princess Tomato is a cute, innocent adventure but its trial and error gameplay is impenetrable without a FAQ. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: password
1 player 

Punch-Out!!
Grade: A+
Publisher: Nintendo (1987)
Reviewed: 2009/7/4

screenshotThis outstanding boxing game was originally released for the NES in 1987 as "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" Unfortunately, Mike got himself into legal problems, so Nintendo was forced to drop him from the label. This new version is identical except the final challenger (Mike Tyson) has been replaced with a white guy by the name of "Mr. Dream". From what I've heard, Mr. Dream is easier to defeat than Mike Tyson originally was. So if you want to be the ultimate Punch-Out champ, you may want to track down a copy of the original. See review of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! for further details. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


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