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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

NES Reviews S

Grade: B
Publisher: Natsume (1991)
Posted: 2021/11/23

SCAT BoxI've received multiple requests to review S.C.A.T. over the years but the cart was always cost-prohibitive - at least until the good folks at Limited Run re-released it! My friends were quick to point out "scat" is another word for fecal dropping, but for the purpose of this game we'll say S.C.A.T. stands for Special Cybernetic Attack Team.

This shooter turned out to be worth the wait, dishing out some truly impressive rapid-fire mayhem. S.C.A.T. stars two "part human, part machine" warriors in jetpacks by the name of Arnold and Sigourney. Eighties much? You can fire your main weapon left or right as two secondary weapons oscillate around you. You can let them shoot randomly or fix their trajectory to focus ahead, back, or up and down. This unique play mechanic is fun and adds a lot of strategy.

The quality of this title is evident from the start, beginning with crystal-clear voice synthesis you rarely hear on the NES. The first stage is a fine example of how simple 2D graphics can depict something grand in scope. As you fly through a dark, post-apocalyptic city you begin at ground level and eventually work your way upward. The sense of elevation is uncanny as buildings appear smaller and more distant as you rise. Lightning bolts in the clouds add to the ominous atmosphere.

Each stage provides just the right amount of resistance. In addition to wall-mounted cannons there are jumping ED-209 robots and excavation arms that reach out to you. Be on the lookout for the small football-shaped hover ships that release tiny heat-seeking missiles. Your life indicator is a series of six dashes at the top, and when things get hectic you'll lose them in a hurry. It's hard to tell when you're taking damage.

To its credit, S.C.A.T. can handle some intense co-op gameplay with nary a hint of slowdown. I highly recommend the two-player mode since it makes the game a lot easier. Unlike many games that toss twice as many enemies at two players, this one doles out the same whether playing solo or with a friend.

After a memorable opening stage the levels begin to wane in terms of detail and imagination. You basically just find yourself traversing cookie-cutter space stations. Stage three has you flying up an endless vertical shaft at a high speed, and the sequence lasted so long I began to feel ill.

S.C.A.T. is a good choice for collectors and co-op minded shooter fans. Technically the game is rock solid and its challenge is formidable. I wouldn't break my piggy bank for it, but if you land a copy you probably won't be disappointed. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 27,260
1 or 2 players 

Section Z
Grade: F
Publisher: Capcom (1987)
Posted: 2006/4/17

screenshotAm I missing something here, or is Section Z just awful? I can't comprehend how anyone could derive enjoyment from this lame-ass side-scrolling shooter. Section Z not only features endless tunnels that all look the same, but the enemies are equally forgettable. Button B fires right and button A shoots left, but you'll need to tap them constantly to fire repeatedly (ugh).

As you blast formations of generic objects, it's possible (but difficult) to acquire power-ups that boost your speed, energy, or firepower. Your spaceman (in a jet-pack) can absorb several hits, but remarkably, your health isn't displayed anywhere on the screen! You'll find two exits at the end of each tunnel, but while these are meant to make the game less linear, they're actually very annoying.

Determining where each exit leads requires trial and error, and you'll often inadvertently return to areas you've already completed! Talk about aggravating! And instead of gradually increasing in difficulty, Section Z places you in impossible situations in the early going. The game doesn't make much sense, and the instruction manual is equally incomprehensible. I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in this clunker. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Shadow of the Ninja
Grade: B+
Publisher: Natsume (1990)
Posted: 2008/11/5

screenshotHere's an absolute gem that collectors would be wise to take note of. Shadow of the Ninja looks like your standard platform game, but it's extremely well executed and offers some very exciting two-player coop action. The game looks great, beginning with its slick intro that shows a very cool view of the Statue of Liberty at night with the twin towers in the background. The cargo ship stage looks amazing as you battle ninjas in the pouring rain, and the rooftop stage features gorgeous views of the skyline. Even less inspired locations like the sewers are colorful, detailed, and designed for maximum playability.

The controls are crisp and forgiving, so you can attack, climb, and leap with precision. When playing alongside a friend we were able to keep up with each other just fine - even while bounding full-speed through each level. Your default weapon is the Katana, but white crates reveal ranged weapons like throwing stars and sickle-chains. Enemies include boomerang-tossing brutes and humanoid robots that break in two, forcing you to deal with their running legs and flying torsos.

Then there are those hyperactive ninjas who attempt to push you around the screen. You'll be wise to avoid these guys whenever possible! Additional hazards include steam vents and mechanical mice. The stages are challenging but mercifully short. If there's one problem with Shadow, it's the lack of a score. Forging through the game is fun, but it would be nice to have a way to gauge your performance when you fall short. Still, for non-stop action you can enjoy with a friend, Shadow of the Ninja is a blast. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Grade: C-

screenshotThis point-and-click adventure induced flashbacks of a game I reviewed last year called Uninvited (Icom, 1991). The clunky interface is exactly the same. Shadowgate is a medieval/horror game of mystery and intrigue. It requires you to issue one-word commands to interact with items, solve puzzles, and fight monsters. The first-person view of each room is small but nicely illustrated. You begin at a door on the edge of a forest, where you become almost immediately stuck. It seems like every combination of commands results in "you seem to be wasting your time". Yeah - no kidding!

The FAQ revealed I had to do the most illogical thing imaginable (spoiler alert: "open" the skull above the door). As you venture deep inside there are dangers lurking everywhere. In addition to deadly traps you'll contend with monsters like cyclops, werewolves, and demons. Critical items must be obtained in the most roundabout manner, including a key being held by a skeleton standing over a shark-infested pool.

The gameplay is largely trial and error, but as you collect dozens of items the possibilities increase exponentially. You are always one false move away from instant death. You'll perform the most innocuous action which sets off a chain of events that leaves you staring at the grim reaper. Shadowgate would be impossible if not for the unlimited continues and your ability to save at any time (pretty awesome for an NES title).

The game doesn't always make sense but as you inch further along it's fun to see what lies around the next corner. The audio/visual style has a certain ambiance and the music is melodic. As a child my buddy Chris sunk endless hours into Shadowgate without making much progress. Well, 25 years later he got the last laugh. Shadowgate may be tough but it doesn't stand a chance against a gamer armed with an FAQ!

With Brent at the controls and Chris directing, I watched them complete the game in about an hour and a half. It's amazing how cryptic some of the puzzles are. Open a bucket? Use a torch to light a carpet on fire?! Who would have thought of this stuff?! The funny thing is, they still had a good time, rating it a solid C. I'm not so generous, but Shadowgate has a certain Halloween charm that's hard to deny. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Battery
1 player 

Grade: A
Publisher: Jaleco (1991)
Posted: 2010/4/3

screenshotI want to thank all of the readers who highly recommended Shatterhand. Some NES games grow on me over time, but this platform/action title immediately won me over. When I first laid eyes on that initial factory stage with the crane silhouettes and red flames against that deep blue night sky, I was like, "Whoa, that looks really good!". The stage locations aren't terribly imaginative, but they are artistically rendered with subtle color combinations and layered to convey the illusion of depth. Likewise the characters are crisply defined and realistically proportioned.

You play a police officer fitted with cybernetic hands. These allow you to literally shatter the cyborg soldiers you punch, and it's satisfying! Shatterhand has a distinct Metroid flavor, with tight controls and frequent power-ups. Collecting three Greek symbols gives you a floating robot sidekick outfitted with one of eight weapons (depending on the letter combination). The robot wears out over time, and if you're lucky he'll still be around when you encounter the next boss.

The detailed animation is superb. When your character drops down a platform, he crouches slightly to lessen the impact. There are seven stages, and all but the first and last can be played in any order. Locations include a refinery, submarine, a fire-ravaged city, and a filtration plant which my friend Scott likes to call the "forest moon of Endor". You'll explore disorienting anti-gravity chambers and creepy labs with floating embryos.

Shatterhand is simple in concept yet very challenging. The game offers limited continues and a slick high score screen. Last but not least, the music is pure 8-bit gold. Shatterhand's gameplay doesn't diverge much from the standard formula, but its superb execution makes this one of my favorite NES games. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 61,100
1 player 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Tengen (1989)
Posted: 2019/12/3

screenshotShinobi is a ninja platformer that perfectly blends fast action with strategy. Compared to the original version on the Sega Master System this one is faster but not as polished. I will admit the uptempo music adds a sense of urgency and the controls feel very responsive. Throwing stars at oncoming soldiers and stabbing goons at close range is great fun.

The graphics are a bit less detailed than the Master System with generic scenery and some minor glitches. The bosses are less imposing and the hostages look like little lambs! There's a lot of campy, unnecessary sound effects. During the port stage frogmen jump out of the water as you leap between pilings. Don't worry if you miss a jump because you can walk right on the water! During the helicopter stage it looks as if you're doing battle with a gang on thin air! I hate how overlapping an enemy causes you to bounce around, absorbing extra damage in the process.

Even so, this NES version has its advantages. You can always see the areas above and below, making it a lot easier to locate hostages and drop in on foes. Enemies are more unpredictable and will even shoot you out of the air. The bonus stages are much easier due to your ability to toss stars in a rapid-fire manner. They let you earn power-ups but these powers can be engaged when an icon is flashing, which is kind of silly. One allowed me to float in the air untouched through an entire stage. Shinobi for the NES is a step down from the original but still delivers quality ninja mayhem. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 59,000
1 player 

Side Pocket
Grade: B
Publisher: Data East (1987)
Posted: 2005/2/21

screenshotIt's best not to think of Side Pocket as a pool simulator, but more as a billiards-themed puzzle game. Its physics is rudimentary to say the least and the breaks are particularly weak. Once you get a feel for the controls however Side Pocket can be surprisingly fun and addictive. Shooting the ball is performed using a simple meter, and while your angles are limited, you can compensate for that by applying spin to the ball. With practice, it's even possible to make the cue ball curve or pop into the air!

The two-player variations (pocket and nine ball) are okay, but the single player mode is where the real fun is. It challenges you to scale the ranks by attaining certain scores in a series of one-player contests. You earn 100 points for each ball pocketed, and your game ends after a certain number of missed shots. Bonus points are earned by sinking consecutive shots or balls in sequence.

After each round there's a trick shot opportunity performed on a table with strategically placed wine glasses. By applying the proper angle, spin, and power, you must sink the balls without hitting the glasses - in a single slot. Side Pocket's graphics feature shiny rotating balls but little else. The soundtrack has a jazzy, old-fashioned piano sound that's definitely unique but won't appeal to everybody. I was always a big fan of Side Pocket on the Genesis, and I'm happy to report that this version is nearly as good. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 12,300
1 or 2 players 

Silk Worm
Grade: B
Publisher: Sammy (1990)
Posted: 2018/11/13

screenshotSilk Worm is an exciting side-scrolling shooter co-starring a helicopter and jeep. As usual there's a melodramatic (and completely unnecessary) background story. According to the intro text scientists of the 1990's constructed an artificial brain which surpassed the intelligence of its creators and subsequently went rogue, conspiring to take over the world. Though designed for two-player coop, I actually prefer playing Silk Worm solo because there's less chaos.

You choose between the two vehicles but I'll take the jeep any day of the week. Its shots are a lot more powerful which is readily evident when you face that recurring green snake-headed ship. The jeep also has the ability to jump, giving the game a distinctive Moon Patrol (Atari 5200, 1983) vibe. You aim your cannon by pressing up and down, and it works great once you get used to it. Holding down the fire button produces continuous fire, but you shoot a lot faster with a turbo-enabled controller.

Once you get into a zone Silk Worm is one of those riveting shooters that makes you forget to blink. Stages include a rolling green countryside and a desert with a gorgeous crimson sky. When the screen gets totally dark you're about to face a boss. Fortunately your ability to neutralize its missiles makes these large robotic beasts fairly easy to defeat. Silk Worm promises intense twitch-shooting action and it delivers. So hunker down with your best joystick and have a blast. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 121,200
1 or 2 players 

Silver Surfer
Grade: F
Publisher: Arcadia Systems (1990)
Posted: 2014/12/9

screenshotAfter receiving so many requests to review Silver Surfer over the years I started wondering if the game had a cult following or was just bad. Now I know! The title screen boasts a slick illustration accompanied by some mind-blowing electronic music. It sounds like someone's cutting a record for crying out loud! The introductory cut-scene is impressive too, although the premise seems a little over the top. You need to find an artifact to save all the life in the entire universe? That's asking a lot of a third-rate hero like Silver Surfer.

You can select between five stages, each ruled by a different villain. This would be a nifty feature if all of these stages weren't hard as balls. Did anybody actually play-test this game?! In Reptyle's water stage the first thing you encounter are helpless-looking orange fish which can absorb about six freakin' shots! Even when you equip the orb (which can be aimed in multiple directions), you'll barely muster enough firepower to defeat a frog!

I like the idea of multiple routes through the stage, but merely touching a wall spells instant death. Mephisto's stage features ghosts that emerge from doors and swarm the screen. Since your firepower is so weak you find yourself playing very defensively, desperately trying not to die. Good luck with that. The overhead vertical shooting stages would provide a nice change of pace except your surfboard is too damned long.

The fortress you navigate is heavily fortified, but even with no enemies the stage would be nearly impossible. Dying sends you all the way back to the very beginning of the stage, and that's just brutal. You can play Silver Surfer for high score but don't expect to make much progress. The manual includes some history and a short comic, but it's little more than a consolation prize for buying a failure of a game that should have been good. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 56,500
1 or 2 players 

Skate or Die
Grade: C
Publisher: Ultra (1988)
Posted: 2011/8/21

screenshotHere's a likeable collection of skateboarding events similar in style to California Games. In Skate or Die you'll race through a park, navigate a back alley, and perform tricks on a half-pipe. There's a high-jump challenge and even a head-to-head "jousting" event in an empty built-in swimming pool. As the title would suggest, Skate or Die has a zany attitude and some funny wipeout animations.

The scenery is bright and appealing, and I especially like those palm trees on the half-pipe screen. The racing events offer varied scenery and you can take shortcuts (like cutting through a backyard) if you're feeling adventurous. Events can be played individually or in a competition, and a record screen tracks the best scores. You can go head-to-head with a friend but a confusing "ranking" system makes it really hard to tell who in the heck won!

Skate or Die's controls are problematic. It seems like each event has its own scheme. In one you hold the directional pad for speed, and in the next you need to tap buttons. Making matters worse, there are two ways to ride your board (normal and goofy), and they basically reverse the controls. As you can imagine, it can be confusing as hell. Once you get over the learning curve Skate or Die is moderately fun. Since the events are short, you'll find yourself replaying them again and again. Skate or Die also has a laid-back, fun-in-the-sun vibe that's well suited to the warm summer months. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: Freestyle
Our high score: CJS 4,271
1 or 2 players 

Skate or Die 2
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1990)
Posted: 2011/8/21

screenshotSkate or Die 2 is more ambitious and better looking than the original, but its gameplay has a whole new set of issues. The "adventure mode" features a "radical" storyline about a bunch of skaters who want to raise money to build a half-pipe in their neighborhood. The first stage takes place in the bustling town of Elwood, and the bright urban scenery is appealing. Unfortunately navigating the streets and sidewalks is a nightmare because they are so narrow and touching anything puts you flat on your ass. It doesn't help that the controls are so stiff and unresponsive.

After collecting odd items like CDs and tacos, you'll face off against an old lady boss to complete the stage. Later stages challenge you to deliver packages on a boardwalk and in a mall, but sluggish controls ruin the whole experience. Fortunately Skate or Die 2 also has a "ramp mode" that's far more enjoyable. It expands on the half-pipe event in the original game with larger characters and wider ramps that scroll the screen sideways. It's not easy to pull off tricks but it is satisfying when you successfully execute a "rocket air" or a "McTwist".

Once I got the hang of it I found myself playing again and again trying to top my high score. Over-the-top wipeout animations add to the fun, including one instance where I was decapitated (sweet!). In terms of audio, Skate or Die 2 has some decent tunes and laughable voice effects like "no way dude!" and "major bummer!" As with original Skate or Die, this is a flawed game but there's fun to be had if you look for it. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: Ramp mode
Our high score: 23,621
1 or 2 players 

Ski or Die
Grade: B-

screenshotAfter playing the Skate or Die games on my NES last summer I was pretty psyched up for this cold weather edition. Ski or Die does a nice job of conveying the atmosphere of an inviting ski resort. The snow-covered evergreens and scenic mountain backdrops are appealing, and I love the cozy ski shop and working chair lifts on the main screen.

Each of the game's five events is unique. In the snowboarding half-pipe you not only perform elaborate stunts but also collect penguins while avoiding chainsaw-toting bunnies. It's a perfectly reasonable premise but those pixelated bunnies are hard to make out. The second event is called snowball blast, and it's basically a target-shooter where you take aim at "brats" (kids), polar bears, and even the abominable snowman. Its wintry snow-scapes look terrific and knocking brats off their feet is satisfying.

Downhill blitz is a lot like Skiing (Intellivision, 1980) where you guide a skier down a mountainside. Unfortunately it's harder than it should be due to confusing directional controls and narrow trails. In "acro-aerials" you soar off a large ski ramp and perform tricks in mid-air before nailing the landing (like the "hot dog" event in Winter Games). It's fun to experiment but sometimes you'll get stuck in an awkward position and end up doing a face-plant. Five judges rate your performance, and the fourth one is a real bastard.

The final event is a head-to-head tubing battle, and while you'd expect it to be the best of the bunch, it's surprisingly slow and laborious. Four players can compete, and you can play the events individually or play through them all in just a few minutes. Quirky music and bad voice synthesis just add to the fun. Ski or Die is no classic but if Mother Nature isn't delivering the white stuff you can always live vicariously through this. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: Half-pipe
Our high score: 7966
1 to 4 players 

Skull & Crossbones
Grade: B+

girl If you're in the mood for swashbuckling mayhem Skull & Crossbones delivers a lightweight, arcade-style experience. The goal is to rescue your hot girlfriend from a horny wizard intent on hypnotizing her boobs. Actually I think he's the one who's being hypnotized. I love the dramatic music which sounds like something from an old-timey movie.

Skull & Crossbones is easy to play. Your buccaneer's movements are so smooth and floaty they're almost slippery. Upon falling off the screen, you automatically tumble right back on! Is there even a penalty? Likewise using one of your five continues lets you pick up immediately where you left off, even in the middle of a boss battle.

You'll fight pirates, skeletons, mummies, and ninja. Tapping a button lets you rapidly swing your sword, fling knives, and fire your musket. I love how enemies spurt crimson blood! Those hopping rats are pesky but it's satisfying to crush them under your feet! Each of the six selectable stage culminates with a frantic boss encounter against a ship captain, ninja master, masked executioner, or Medusa. Save some ammo for these guys and it'll make your life a lot easier.

Collecting booty is tricky. Whenever you walk over a black icon it flashes for a few seconds before revealing its contents. That can be annoying when they're situated in precarious locations, like between two cannons. Why do they make you wait? Because sometimes they reveal a red skull which is fatal to touch.

As a sweet bonus there's a two-player split-screen mode which is practically unheard of for an NES platformer. At the conclusion of each game you're awarded with a title like deck swabber, scurvy dog, or cabin boy. I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure Skull & Crossbones is 100% historically correct, letting you pillage and plunder like a real pirate would. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 54
1 or 2 players 

Sky Shark
Grade: B
Publisher: Taito (1988)
Posted: 2011/2/1

screenshotSky Shark is an exciting vertical airplane shooter along the lines of 1942. As you fly over jungle, sea, and desert environments you fire exclamation marks at tanks, boats, planes, and cannons. Your P-40 fighter plane has modest firepower (initially) and a set of bombs that can decimate a large area.

The first stage features some attractive jungle scenery, and you really need to keep an eye out for tanks hiding in the foliage. Shooting down a squad of eight red planes reveals a power-up that incrementally increases your firepower. Go for it, but avoid the corners of the screen whenever possible - they're a death trap! It's easy to let your guard down after dispatching the tank boss, but stay alert because there are still a few straggling enemies left before the end of the stage.

The second stage takes place at sea, and frankly it looks awful with that solid blue background. Readers told me I overrated Sky Shark the first time around (grade: A-), and they were probably right. Unlike most shooters where enemy missiles are red and clearly visible, the missiles here tend to blink and blend into the scenery.

The problem exists in most stages, and most notably in the desert where yellow missiles disappear over yellow sand. It doesn't help that the collision detection is so unforgiving. The lack of a rapid-fire option can be a serious issue for those not lucky enough to own an NES Advantage joystick like I do. Its precision joystick coupled with an auto-fire option really elevated my enjoyment of this game.

My friend Chris and I were determined to beat Sky Shark so we stuck in the Game Genie and set it for maximum power and infinite lives. You'd think that would be enough, but we actually had to resort to slow motion to get through some of the more treacherous stages. We didn't even realize when we reached the end because the game starts over! Sky Shark has its flaws, but its intense, white-knuckle action is sure to keep you coming back. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 64,120
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C+

screenshotWhen winter finally arrives and the weather lady is calling for the first snow, I find myself reaching for Slalom. It's a light-hearted skiing game that's easy to grasp. You're skiing down a glistening white trail with a view of purple mountains under a deep blue sky. It look like you're skiing at night!

You select between three mountains of increasing difficulty, each offering a series of eight trails to conquer. Your goofy skier assumes the tuck position at the bottom of the screen, and his enormous, well-defined ass is not something I want to see. Where's Lara Croft when you need her?

You're racing the clock and a marker on the top of the screen displays your progress towards the finish line. There are plenty of obstacles along the way including skiers, kids on sleds, trees, and snowmen with icy blue hair. Fortunately a handy jump button lets you soar right over many of them. Taking a tumble will cost you time, especially when one hazard sends you into another, causing a chain reaction that makes it hard to get back up.

The controls could be better. When you're not pushing up on the directional pad you gradually lose speed. As a result I felt compelled to mash it the whole time. The steering feels kind of squirrelly, lacking the precision required to comfortably weave between the gates. Missing a gate subtracts a few seconds from the clock.

Finishing each courses is a serious challenge, and it's exciting to speed towards the finish as those last few seconds count down. The music is kind of catchy and the game exudes a cheerful winter vibe. Though not very realistic, Slalom is a good choice for a cold winters' night when you're hoping for a snow day. © Copyright 2024 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Smash TV
Grade: C+
Publisher: Acclaim (1991)
Posted: 2010/12/26

screenshotIt's easy to tell this game was designed by the guy who created Robotron 2084 (Eugene Jarvis), because Smash TV is a logical evolution of that frantic shooter. The premise is similar to the film The Running Man starring Arnold Schwartzenegger. You play a contestant on a futuristic game show who must survive a series of rooms swarming with shooting robots and club-swinging thugs.

Like Robotron, the control scheme is designed for dual-joysticks so you can move independently of your aim. You may be surprised to hear that this scheme is supported on NES, facilitated by allowing each player to use two controllers. It works surprisingly well, partly because you hold the controllers vertically which makes them more comfortable to grasp.

Smash TV is an action-packed shoot-a-thon that will have you scampering around like a chicken as enemies pour out of the woodwork. Power-ups appear early and often, including three-way shots, piercing missiles, and heat-seeking cookies! Despite the frenzy of activity I never noticed any drop-off in the frame-rate, and that's admirable. Most characters tend to be small and ill-defined, but bosses like Mutoid Man are impressively large. I love how his mechanical body parts fall off as you wear him down.

As you progress a cheesy talk show host (with babes in his arms) jeers you via rough voice synthesis. At one point he exclaims, "Good luck - you won't need it!" Huh? I won't need it? Compared to the arcade version of Smash TV, this NES edition compares favorably. It may lack the wonderful gore of the arcade, but not having to worry about those pesky mines improves the gameplay. This is a fun game to play for high score, but frequent bonus lives tend to extend the length of the game. And if your hand doesn't get numb from the non-stop carnage, your brain just might. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 1,609,515
1 or 2 players 

Snake Rattle and Roll
Grade: C-
Publisher: Rare (1989)
Posted: 2006/7/18

screenshotThis game must have quite a following, because readers have been begging me to review it for some time. While I can understand its appeal to some extent, I found Snake Rattle and Roll's gameplay to be below average. I will admit that the game is beyond reproach in terms of presentation. Its crisp, colorful stages are presented from a pseudo-3D, isometric point of view not unlike Marble Madness. The upbeat soundtrack is a likeable collection of piano tunes, including the oldie "Shake Rattle and Roll".

Guiding the head of a snake, you consume colored balls in order to generate body segments. Be careful - some of those bouncing balls are actually bombs in disguise, so keep an eye out for fuses. You'll also need to contend with bouncing manhole covers, giant stomping feet, and marauding toilet seats! One button is used to activate your snake's tongue for eating and attacking, and the other button is for jumping. A jumping snake? Yeah, this game is positively madcap. Once your snake is full-grown, you can access the exit door and move on to the next stage.

Snake Rattle and Roll's graphics are vibrant, but its heavy emphasis on platform jumping is its downfall. The slippery controls are definitely not up to the task, sending your snake sliding off of narrow platforms and sometimes headed in the wrong direction! The frustration factor is through the roof. I tried the two-player simultaneous mode, but my friends complained about the same issues. Snake Rattle and Roll is likeable enough on the surface, but poor controls prove to be its undoing. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 82,850
1 or 2 players 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Nintendo (1985)
Posted: 2009/8/15

screenshotThe first time my friends and I played this game, we couldn't figure out what country code FRG stood for. It turned out to be the Federal Republic of Germany - the name for West Germany before it unified with the east! Wow, that really puts some perspective on things! Anyway, Nintendo Soccer isn't bad for a bare-bones soccer title. Much like Nintendo's Ice Hockey (NES, 1988), it delivers simple, no-frills action.

The players look like a bunch of little kids running around, and the goalies appear to be wearing Devo hats. The players are slow, and sometimes it feels like the action is unfolding in slow motion. Dribbling the ball and aiming at the goal is intuitive enough, but weak passing makes it hard to move the ball up the field. Those pesky off-sides penalties don't help matters. Playing against CPU-controlled players isn't too exciting (they often pause for no reason), but competing against a friend can be exciting.

When a goal is scored, the players run around the field waving their arms as if they're being attacked by a swarm of bees. Scott would always exclaim, "GOAL! Unleash the killer bees!!" and everyone would crack up. Too bad I don't have a killer bee icon for my reviews. I was impressed that Soccer includes a pretty elaborate half-time show with dancing cheerleaders. Heck, even the new Madden doesn't have that! A happy-go-lucky song plays throughout the game. Soccer is primitive but you can't deny its brand of simple fun. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Solar Jetman
Grade: D-
Publisher: Rare (1990)
Posted: 2010/6/18

screenshotA lot of readers have recommended Solar Jetman over the years, but I'm sorry to say this game is severely overrated! Solar Jetman expands upon the Lunar Lander-style of gameplay, which frankly was never so hot to begin with. You control an egg-shaped "jetpod" traveling from planet to planet while searching for parts. Your pod is very well-rounded (literally) and it looks very cool when it rotates. Enjoy that, because it's the best part of the game!

Each planet offers a set of scrolling caverns lined with cannons, aliens, and items to collect. One button engages your thrusters and the other fires your weapon. When your pod is destroyed, your pilot emerges in a jetpack, allowing him to trek back to the base for a new pod. Navigating the expansive caverns is confusing because they all look the same.

Methodically collecting items and towing them back to your base requires a monumental amount of skill and patience, mainly because the gravity is so [expletive] strong! Each item you pick up seems to weigh a ton, and some require a good 15 seconds of continuous thrusting just to lift them off the ground!

Just when you gain a little momentum, the item swings on its tether, sending you crashing into the nearest wall. Advanced levels complicate matters by incorporating gravity generators! Just what we need - more gravity! At least the collision detection is forgiving, and you can activate a shield at any time. Sadly this causes you to drop the item you've been towing!

I was hoping that power-ups like "efficient engines" might ease the pain, but I soon realized I was fighting a losing battle. Some gamers will relish the challenge, but even the first level pushed my patience to the limit. Solar Jetman has a unique visual flair, but its fun factor is crushed under the weight of its outrageous difficulty. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 827
Save mechanism: Password
1 player 

Grade: D
Publisher: Broderbund (1985)
Posted: 2000/8/6

screenshotIn Spelunker, you control a little miner in an underground area loaded with tunnels, elevators, and ropes. You can jump over obstacles, climb ropes, collect items, and even blow up boulders. Colorful and detailed, Spelunker's graphics are pleasing to the eye, and the stages are so well-designed that you'll want to explore every passage. Unfortunately, the awful controls will have you throwing down your controller in frustration. The main problem is the tricky, unforgiving jumping controls. Even falling one inch is deadly! That's a shame, because Spelunker should have been a lot of fun. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 10,700
1 player 

Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six
Grade: D
Publisher: LJN (1992)
Posted: 2006/4/17

screenshotIs it true that this weak platformer is the only Spider-Man game for the NES?! That's pretty sad. Return of the Sinister Six is bogged down by awkward controls, dull stage designs, and predictable gameplay. And what's the deal with Spider-Man's huge noggin?! He looks like a six-year old in a Halloween costume!

Each of the game's brief six stages offers a new villain, including Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, Vulture, Hobgoblin, and Dr. Octopus. I enjoyed the outdoor environments with their bright blue skies and towering skyscrapers, but the indoor areas are dull and cramped. I especially hate the warehouse with its hard-to-see mines and rats that are constantly nipping at your heels.

I was hoping that the house of illusion (stage three) might spice things up, but that was just as forgettable. As you forge through this by-the-numbers adventure, you'll engage in altercations with bad guys dressed in bright green suits. When punched or kicked, they explode into meaty chunks, which is probably the highlight of the game. It's hardly necessary however, because you can breeze through most stages by simply running past these goons!

The worst part of Sinister Six is definitely the controls. The whole web-slinging mechanism is so confusing and frustrating that you'll want to avoid using it whenever possible. The collision detection is terribly sloppy, making it hard to kick or punch an enemy without "overlapping" him. Spider-Man Return of the Sinister Six isn't a total loss though. The music is okay, and the gameplay is fairly easy and straightforward. But compared to most other Spider-Man titles I've played, this one is far from impressive. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 3,950
1 player 

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (Japan)
Grade: C

screenshotSplatterhouse (Turbografx-16, 1990) was a popular side-scroller but few people outside of Japan are aware of this light-hearted spin-off. Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti offers a similar brand of hack-n-slash mayhem, except with minimal gore and with loveable anime-style characters. My friend Chris refers to this style of game as a "cute-em-up".

I love the layered scenery of the opening graveyard stage and the monsters look pretty good too. When you slash at the pink poodle, she loses her head, which then attempts to get in one last lick. The controls are perfectly responsive, with your jumps having just enough "float". Instead of a machete, you're armed with a butcher knife. You can slash in mid air, which comes in handy when a monster is camping out on the edge of a narrow platform. I use a turbo-enabled joystick to enable constant slashing.

The game has a lot of fun with its subject matter. When Dracula appears in the graveyard, a cast of zombies appears and he performs a Thriller-style dance number. Loaded with surprises, this game manages to spoof a surprising number of horror movies including Alien, The Exorcist, The Fly, and even Jaws! The entire Splatterhouse series is a take on the Friday the 13th series, so of course there's the obligatory lake stage.

There's no score but a counter at the top that keeps track of enemies killed. When you reach the limit (usually 20 or 30), it resets and you notch another bar of energy on your health bar. Pretty neat! Graffiti is fun for a while but its novelty wears thin. In many rooms you're just fighting constantly-regenerating, annoying little foes for an arbitrary period of time.

Obviously there is the obligatory sewer stage, and here you'll do some actual splattering, knocking rats into the pipes. I hate the rat boss in this stage. There's a constant wind blowing you away from it, and it keeps dispensing baby rats. I can never get close enough to hit it! Fortunately an easy-to-use, four-digit password feature makes it easy to access other levels.

In the lab stage there's a girl on a table and spiders burst out of her chest. Pretty shocking, but at the end of the stage she reveals herself to be just fine. Even more disturbing is the church stage. Not only is there an altar with satanic symbols, but the hooded boss turns into a charging black goat. Is that Black Philip?? I can't decide if this is sacrilegious, awesome, or both!

One thing I love about this game is how when you use a continue, you resume almost exactly where you left off. Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti is pretty fascinating, but it strikes me as a one-and-done kind of game. That said, the novelty value is off the charts, making it worth experiencing at least once. Note: Reviewed on reproduction cartridge. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: password
1 player 

Spy Hunter
Grade: D
Publisher: Sunsoft (1987)
Posted: 2010/6/18

screenshotCompared to the arcade original, this NES Spy Hunter boasts faster action and better graphics, yet it pales in terms of fun. I can't say I'm surprised. Whenever you tinker with a classic formula, you're just asking for trouble. Spy Hunter is a vertical, overhead racer with a focus on car-on-car violence. Driving is a challenge as you navigate forking roads and jump bridges which happen to be under repair. Aren't they always?

Evil automobiles are in hot pursuit, including "tire slashers", "bullet-proof baddies", and limos that fire from the side windows. You can incapacitate most of these using your machine guns that fire forwards. Red trucks periodically appear to outfit your car with more effective weapons like oil slicks and smoke screens. Eventually you'll contend with bomb-dropping helicopters, and you'll need a special missile weapon to take them out.

Spy Hunter for the NES should have been a lot better. Your car only moves at two speeds: too slow and too fast! Slow driving lets bad guys sneak up from behind, but going fast makes you prone to rear-end collisions. It's infuriating when you crash into one of those motorcycles, which seem to be all over the road! Spy Hunter offers an initial two-minute "grace period" that provides unlimited lives, but after that ends, the party's over. The gameplay feels erratic and even when making progress you feel like a fish swimming upstream. Spy Hunter for the NES isn't a total loss, but it's close. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 19,505
1 player 

Spy Vs. Spy
Grade: C+
Publisher: Kemco (1988)
Posted: 2000/7/2

screenshotI fondly recall playing this game on my Atari 1200XL computer in the early 80s, when its graphics were absolutely cutting-edge. Who would have guessed that a silly Mad magazine cartoon would translate into such an innovative video game? Thankfully, this NES version is just like the one I remember. Played on a split-screen, the white spy patrols the top while the black one explores the bottom. Both spies freely move around a maze of rooms while searching furniture for items and planting traps for each other.

These traps, which trigger some wonderfully humorous animations, include bombs, springs, and electrified water buckets over doorways. There are tools to disable traps, including umbrellas and pliers, but you can only carry one item at a time. A handy map lets you track your position, but keeping an eye on your opponent is tough. Occasionally you'll both enter the same room, resulting in a quick brawl as you beat each other over the head with sticks. The spy who collects four special items in a briefcase can win the game, and there's a great ending animation showing him flying away.

But while Spy Vs. Spy's gameplay is certainly original, it's also rather difficult and confusing. It's very easy to accidentally trigger your own traps, and collecting the items can be tedious. In addition, there's nothing to stop your opponent from waiting by the exit door and mugging you for the items! Spy Vs. Spy's background music is unforgettable, perfectly matching the whimsical theme. Despite its flawed gameplay, Spy Vs. Spy is extremely entertaining and a nice addition to any NES collection. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Irem (1986)
Posted: 2020/4/8

screenshotSqoon is an obscure little shooter with a funny little name that's developed a cult following over the years. There just aren't too many rapid-fire submarine shooters for the NES. Whoever programmed this game was well-versed in blast-processing (TM) technology; I've never seen such frenetic shooting on the system. Obviously set in the not-too-distant future, each stage offers a submerged city from an exotic location like Hawaii, India, Greece, and Egypt.

Your little pink submarine launches torpedoes like crazy while dropping white bubble bombs. You'll need that firepower because waves of fish and turtles quickly converge on you in swirling attack patterns. It's difficult to keep them at bay until you power-up your weapon. If you manage to land the three-way shot things become considerably easier - for a while anyway. Be sure to dig your favorite rapid-fire joystick out of the closet because otherwise Sqoon can be exhausting.

Your primary goal is to rescue humans by springing them from their prisons on the ocean floor. Orcas are the most annoying creatures in the game, congregating around your sub at all times. They can't harm you but they will carry off a nearby human whenever they have the chance. Upon collecting nine people your sub docks with a "motorized island" to unload them. One source of frustration was my tendency to run out of fuel.

I had to do a lot of research just to figure out how to refuel! First you look for a crab on the ocean floor. Shoot a crab and collect the pink box that magically appears. Transport that box to the floating island and it will drop a refueling icon. Be sure you catch it! Wow, that has to be the most convoluted, non-intuitive refueling process ever devised. Sqoon is a strange game but its rapid-fire mayhem, oceanographic theme, and unusual spelling add up to a very compelling water adventure. Protip: Pass over crosses to earn free lives. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 94,520
1 player 

Stanley: The Search For Dr. Livingston
Grade: D-
Publisher: Electro Brain (1991)
Posted: 2022/8/27

screenshotI have been trying to review this one for years. What's taking so long? Well, first of all I can only review it during the summer for obvious reasons. Next, I could never advance very far, usually giving up in frustration. It's a shame because Stanley: The Search For Dr. Livingston has potential. The graphics have a charming old-school quality. The opening stage boasts sunny docks and a large ship moored at a picturesque port. The music even has a really jaunty swashbuckling vibe. But there's something missing here... oh yeah gameplay!

Our hero moves with personality, bobbing his head like a chicken as he runs and sprouting a little propeller that lets him glide safely from high places. You can walk up to people and chat with them, but they always direct you to speak to someone else. One guy told me I needed to find a grapnel before entering the jungle. What the [expletive] is a grapnel?! I looked it up and apparently it's just some kind of a grappling hook.

I like how the game is broken up into a bunch of small stages and you can plot your course on a map. But once I left the confines of the village I immediately found myself in trouble. In the jungle I was accosted by snakes, bugs, tigers, and tribesmen. They can be defeated by punching them about 20 times each. They'll go down easily if you throw a knife, but you'll be lucky to have more one or two in your possession.

I love the look of the lush jungles and ruins, but it's hard to tell what you can safely stand on. There's a perilous bridge that's easy to fall through, so you need to keep hopping and gliding across it. That would be easier to do if the freaking thing wasn't three miles long.

At least with the bridge you're given fair warning. When I went to the beach area (the one with the crabs falling from the sky) I would suddenly fall through a section of sand and then off the bottom of the screen. It made me wonder if this game was even shipped in a finished state. Suffice to say the Search for Dr. Livingston continues, and at this point maybe it's time to call off the search party altogether. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Star Soldier
Grade: D+
Publisher: Hudson Soft (1988)
Posted: 2016/8/25

screenshotThe Star Soldier series is held in high regard by shooter fans, so you'd expect the original NES game to be a classic right? Not really! To its credit, this vertical space shooter lets you amass some considerable firepower. As you fly over platforms and girders you're attacked by waves of swarming robotic insects. You can employ an alternating-tap technique (a la Track and Field) to engage rapid-fire, although personally I use my Nintendo Advantage joystick with the turbo cranked up.

The platforms are engraved with images of snakes, faces, and eye symbols you can shoot for points. I like how those faces change expressions when you hit them. There are some super annoying enemies in this game. The blue X things can absorb an awful lot of shots and there are annoying orbs that are basically indestructible.

Star Soldier's gameplay seems straightforward until your ship inexplicably disappears beneath a platform. You stop shooting under there, giving the impression you died. Then you suddenly emerge and resume firing. This feature sucks so bad you would not believe it. You never know what platforms you'll disappear under. The stages are reasonable in length (read: short) but you'll always face that same "star brain" boss at the end of each stage. The Star Soldier series hit its stride in the 16-bit era, but this NES outing is nothing to write home about. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 74,800
1 player 

Star Wars
Grade: F
Publisher: Lucasfilm (1991)
Posted: 2005/5/18

screenshotRemember the scene in Star Wars where Luke was exploring a cave, got hit with some dripping green stuff, and was vaporized when he jumped on a spike? I don't either, and that's what I hate about this game. Instead of being inspired by the Star Wars universe, it feels like a generic platformer! You play the role of Luke Skywalker, but look more like a little kid. In fact, all of the characters have been given the "kiddie" treatment, and they look awful.

I like how you can travel between areas in your Landspeeder (via a nifty overhead view), but the poorly-designed stages are appalling. All of the "worst practices" of video game design are at work here. There are creatures you can't see until you make a blind leap. Endless spike-laden pits spell instant death. Falling even modest distances inflicts serious damage, and you're constantly being knocked off of narrow ledges.

The first few stages take place in bland cave environments, with generic enemies that have nothing to do with Star Wars. The Sandcrawler and Cantina stages are more interesting visually but just as frustrating to play. A few well-done cut scenes attempt to convey the film's storyline, but the music is awfully generic. There's no score, but there are plenty of continues to extend the agony. Star Wars for the NES is widely detested by most fans of the films, and deservedly so. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Grade: B+
Publisher: Nintendo (1990)
Posted: 2010/8/21

screenshotSimilar to Zelda, Startropics is a charming action-adventure that won me over almost immediately. You play as a generic kid exploring tropical islands in search of your lost uncle. You'll travel between islands via a special submarine, and chat with villagers while enjoying bright scenery and festive steel drum music.

Each island features caves that contain dungeons very much in the Zelda tradition. Wielding unusual weapons like a yo-yo and a baseball bat, you'll battle ninja monkeys, pirate ghouls, and belligerent starfish. There's even a mutant ostrich who thinks he's the boss of me! You are not the boss of me mutant ostrich!!

Each room has a secret that will reveal the exit. Sometimes you'll need to clear out the monsters, and sometimes you'll need to activate a hidden switch. Since your character is relatively large, you're an easy target for converging snakes and raining fireballs. Some of the hits are pretty cheap, and some seem downright mandatory!

But the real problem with Startropics is its stiff controls. You can't move diagonally, and there's a slight pause while turning 90 degrees. That's inconvenient when you want to side-step a swooping bat. Since your angles of attack are limited, you're forced to compensate by predicting your enemies' movements.

Fighting is awkward, but the jumping controls are a breeze, and hopping on panels to activate switches is surprisingly fun. The game automatically saves your progress at designated spots, and my battery still works! Startropics is a tough game, and I couldn't get through a dungeon without lashing out with a few expletives. I curse because I care, people (you know that).

Upon losing a life not only does the game set you back a few rooms, but you lose your weapons and only get half of your life back! Give me a break! The magic items help a lot, but they can be pretty hard to come by. Startropics may test your resolve, but if you don't give it a try you're just letting the best things in life just pass you by. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: battery
1 player 

Grade: F
Publisher: Activision (1989)
Posted: 2001/4/8

screenshotThis first-person air combat title attempts to be realistic, but is a complete mess. The object is to destroy a certain number of enemy planes before returning to your base. Unfortunately, the graphics are pitiful and the framerate is hopelessly choppy. Your first-person view is little more than a flat horizon with some black enemy aircraft that occasionally flash across the screen.

Your Stealth fighter is equipped with cannons and a limited number of missiles, but the rough animation makes it hard to get a bead on anything. Your best bet is to keep an enemy in view and hope you accidentally hit it.

Should you actually complete a mission, you engage in a separate landing sequence where you view your plane from a side angle. You need to adjust your speed and angle of descent perfectly or risk blowing up. And you will blow up - again and again. When you lose a dozen planes in a row just trying to land, something is very, very wrong! As frustrating as it is ugly, Stealth is one to avoid. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Super C
Grade: A
Publisher: Konami (1990)
Posted: 2005/10/31

screenshotContra was a tough act to follow, but this excellent sequel delivers the same brand of one-man-army shooting fun while incorporating a few surprises of its own. As Super C begins you are attacking a well-fortified stronghold, and the side-scrolling mayhem is practically identical to Contra. In fact, the graphic style and sound effects are almost exactly the same. Once you defeat the helicopter boss at the end of stage one however, the game shifts to an overhead, vertically-scrolling view.

The action never lets up as you run from room to room blasting tanks and cannons. Super C offers a few new weapons, but my favorite is still the multi-shot "spray". The awesome two-player simultaneous mode is back, and Super C has its own cheat code (right, left, down, up, A, B) that allows you to stock up with ten lives. If you enjoyed Contra, this killer sequel is a must-have! I do wish they could have come up with a better name though. Even Contra 2 would have been better than "Super C". © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: BSC 66,080
1 or 2 players 

Super Dodge Ball
Grade: B-
Publisher: Imagesoft (1988)
Posted: 2000/12/3

screenshotNow this is an original concept, and I think I like it! Super Dodge Ball is a contest between two teams playing in two connected boxed areas. Each box holds one team's "target players", with offensive players lining the perimeter. The goal is to knock out all of your opponent's target players, each of which has his own life meter. You can pass the ball around, jump, duck, and catch a ball thrown at you. There's nothing more satisfying than nailing an opponent in the back of his head!

Graphics are not Super Dodge Ball's strong suit. There's a terrible amount of flicker, and the scrolling is extremely choppy. When you don't have the ball, your control is alternated between your players, which is confusing. But despite its flaws, this innovative game has become somewhat of a cult classic over the years. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Super Mario Bros.
Grade: A
Publisher: Nintendo (1985)
Posted: 2003/12/13

screenshotNot only did this game define platform gaming as we know it, but few games have ever surpassed Super Mario Bros in terms of fun and addictiveness. The game's imaginative levels, tight control, and sheer variety are simply amazing for a 1985 release. Its familiar music and bright, inviting graphics are permanently etched into so many childhood memories.

Mario can bash blocks, dash, swim, pounce on enemies, and kick turtle shells into groups of oncoming foes (sweet!). With the help of power-ups, he can double in size, hurl fireballs, or gain temporary invincibility. There's ample room for technique and numerous secrets to discover. Coins are found all over the place, and collecting 100 earns you an extra life. You can't save your game in progress, but this is partially remedied by secret warp areas that allow you to skip ahead to advanced stages. In addition, you can continue by holding the A button when you restart a game.

Each world consists of four stages, the last concluding with an encounter with Mario's dragon arch-nemesis, Bowser. In addition to seeing how far you can get, the game is also fun to play for high score. If you haven't played this brilliant game in a while, you owe it to yourself to see how Super Mario Bros has withstood the test of time like few others can. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: CJS 391,850
1 or 2 players 

Super Mario Bros. 2
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (1988)
Posted: 2003/12/13

screenshotAfter the phenomenally successful first Super Mario Bros game, you might have expected Nintendo to stick with the same winning formula, but this second edition has a very different look and feel. It's far more challenging and complicated than the original, but still retains the charm and quality gameplay you would expect from Nintendo.

No longer limited to moving just right or left, vines, chains, and ladders allow you to climb areas up high, where you can hop between mountains or clouds. You collect cherries instead of coins, and most adversaries are decked out in masks. Jumping on an enemy causes you to stand upon it, but by pressing the B button you then can pick it up to use as a projectile. It's a very unique control mechanism I don't recall seeing in any other game.

You'll also see the tufts of unripened vegetables sticking out of the ground. Picking these usually reveals a radish you can toss at foes, but they can also reveal power-ups, bombs, or doors to hidden areas. My personal favorite item is the "POW" block which triggers an earthquake, knocking all enemies off the screen. Other innovative elements include flying carpets and bonus "slot machine" screens.

Heck, you don't even have to play the game as Mario! Before each stage you get to select between Mario, Luigi, Princess, and Toad, each with their own distinct jumping and "picking" abilities. Decidedly more complex than the first game, some stages require you to solve puzzles by blowing up walls or stacking blocks. Three continues are available, along with warp areas and shortcuts. It might not be exactly what you'd expect, but Super Mario Bros 2 is still outstanding in its own unique way. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Super Mario Bros. 3
Grade: A+
Publisher: Nintendo (1990)
Posted: 2003/12/13

screenshotAfter taking a detour with Super Mario Bros 2, Nintendo got "back to the basics" with this third edition, giving gamers what they really wanted. Super Mario Bros 3 uses the same gameplay as the first, but there's a lot more to discover here, with eight huge "worlds" to explore, each with its own collection of stages and bonus games. This was one of the first video games to employ interactive maps, allowing the player to move freely between the stages.

New power-ups allow Mario to transform into characters with special abilities including Racoon Mario, Fire Mario, Frog Mario, and Tanooki Mario. Numerous mini-games add variety and supply bonus items you can activate between stages. The stages themselves are expertly designed and many feature multiple routes. You can't save your game, but there are continues available and "warp whistles" that let you skip ahead. Like the first game, the graphics and music are simple but brimming with personality. It's no surprise that most NES fans regard Super Mario Bros 3 as the greatest Mario Bros game of all time. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 143,300
1 or 2 players 

Super Off Road
Grade: B+
Publisher: Tradewest (1990)
Posted: 2014/10/3

screenshotSuper Off Road was an arcade racer known for its four-player action. Although each track fits on a single screen, they sport plenty of detail with steep hills, sharp curves, and ramps. The racing trucks look like little toys as they bounce over hills and slide around corners. This NES rendition is arguably superior to its 16-bit cousins. That's because it supports four-player simultaneous action so you can play this game how God intended.

Each player is prompted to enter his initials and choose a country. An upgrade screen appears before each race, allowing players to soup up their vehicles. In addition to standard upgrades (acceleration, shocks, tires) you'll want to keep a healthy supply of turbos on hand. The races are rough and tumble as the trucks bump into each other and sometimes even appear to ride over each other. It's advantageous to remain ahead of the pack because you usually have first dibs on power-ups that appear randomly around the course. I've seen CPU trucks double-back to snag these, but wouldn't recommend trying that.

A race ends when one racer completes the required number of laps - no need to wait for the stragglers. The victory screen shows the top three winners with babes in arm, but the chicks all look alike. There seems to be an inexhaustible supply of tracks. Racing against CPU opponents is good practice but not very challenging. As a pure head-to-head racer however, Super Off Road is a classic, and this is the version to own. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 2040
1 to 4 players 

Super Pitfall
Grade: F
Publisher: Activision (1987)
Posted: 2001/6/11

screenshotIn an attempt to resurrect its biggest hit, Activision gave Pitfall Harry a Nintendo makeover for this ill-advised "update". Sadly, the only thing Super Pitfall accomplished was to make people want to play the original Pitfall (Atari 2600, 1982). In this version Harry is short and pudgy with a bright blue outfit. Initially the scenery consists of ruins and pyramids, but it soon degenerates into a dreadful maze of generic underground platforms. The waterfalls that looked so inviting in Pitfall 2 look like blinking blue blobs in this game. The jumping controls are dreadful, and the collision detection is utterly horrendous! You're armed with a gun, but too often your shots pass right through their intended targets! Cheap hits and bad background music apply the finishing touches to this disappointing debacle. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 73,000
1 or 2 players 

Super Spike V'Ball
Grade: B
Publisher: Technos (1989)
Posted: 2021/8/10

refereree My volleyball allegiance has long been with Kings of the Beach (Ultra, 1998), but damn, Super Spike V'Ball really gives me something to think about. Its graphics are superb, sporting dudes with rippling muscles (sorry, no girls). The bright stages feature beaches lined with surfers, fancy hotels, and monster trucks. The female referee that appears between points has a nice rack. I think I'm in love!

Super Spike is a terrific game to pull out when you have friends over, and it even supports two-versus-one play. The controls make it very easy to set the ball thanks to a shadow marker. Spiking is tricky because you need to time your jump but it's oh-so-satisfying once you get the hang of it. These guys can really get up really high. The action is smooth enough but sometimes it's hard to tell if the ball was blocked or hit into the net.

I love the minor details in this game. When the ball is a little out of reach your player will automatically dive for it. The CPU makes occasional human-like mistakes like hitting the ball into the net, and I like that. The music is pretty good and it increases in intensity when the match point approaches. My friend Brent and Brad just played Super Spike V'Ball for the first time and they went thinking "A" all the way, despite the fact I beat them like a drum. In your face, boys! © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Super Sprint
Grade: D
Publisher: Tengen (1989)
Posted: 2010/2/23

screenshotYou'd probably expect an old-school gamer like myself to love Super Sprint, but I'm not a fan. Each track consumes a single screen, and you get an overhead view of the action. There are four race cars that are small but easy to make out. The idea is to win races, rack up points, and gradually upgrade your car. Races tend to be short and the courses become more sophisticated as you progress, eventually incorporating overpasses and shortcuts. You'll face hazards like oil slicks, water puddles, and small tornadoes.

The controls are highly responsive and navigating the courses seems almost too easy. Upon crashing, you're placed back on the road immediately, so there's not much of a penalty. When a track criss-crosses, cars seem to pass through each other, which is pretty lame. After each victory you'll view a screen showing a close-up of your car with the racer inside turning his head and giving the thumbs-up. If you collected any wrenches along the course, you have the option to upgrade your traction, acceleration, or top speed.

What's not to like? Well, although you'd expect this to be a kick-ass four-player game, it only supports two players. As a one-player game Super Sprint lacks challenge, and I got really tired of lapping my brain-dead CPU opponents. The courses feature a few scattered trees, but more imaginative scenery would have been nice. The background music is kind of goofy and repetitive. Super Sprint is one of those games that looks like pure fun but fails to deliver on its promise. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 59,200
1 or 2 players 

Super Spy Hunter
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sunsoft (1991)
Posted: 2010/6/18

screenshotThe original NES Spy Hunter was super lame, but this sequel feels completely different. Super Spy Hunter incorporates flashy visuals and more frenetic shooting action. The game is set in the year 2525, and apparently the only thing that's changed in 500 years are the installation of high-tech guardrails! The cars, helicopters, and 18-wheelers look exactly the same! Who would have guessed?

While racing up the screen you're under constant attack from missile-firing helicopters, roadside cannons, and drill-equipped cars. The crumbling highway provides precious little room to maneuver, and touching the guardrail incurs damage to your health meter. Nifty visual effects convey smooth turns and swinging suspension bridges, but these take their toll on the frame-rate. Unlike the original Spy Hunter, you don't drive into a red truck to collect a power-up, but instead you blast the damn thing to release a power-up. It doesn't make any sense, but I like the fact that there are no lulls in the action.

An icon on each truck cycles through several possible items, allowing you to effectively select your power-up. This adds a much-needed strategic element. The weapons tend to be pretty weak, but I like the ability to fire in multiple directions. Each stage ends with a boss encounter, but these are far too long and difficult. The rest of the game almost feels like a joy ride by comparison. Super Spy Hunter isn't a great game, but its challenge and variety are an addictive combination. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, NES Player, Moby Games, Universal Videogame List, Games Database, YouTube, Atari Times