Tag Archives: NES

Bella 73 Quart Container Review

BTBellaTitle

No, your eyes do not deceive you. I’m going to talk about a plastic tub. But this is one of the best plastic tubs you can find. A plastic tub that can, and should be used for storing something it was probably never intended to store: Video game collections. Yes really. Read on, and see if it isn’t something you’ll want to look into.

PROS: Stores, many, many games whether on cartridge or optical media.

CONS: Plastic can be cracked if you don’t take proper care of it.

PERFECT: Dimensions for those of us low on space.

Let’s face it. Many of us who collect old games can build quite the collection. What starts out as the 15 NES Game Paks from your childhood, can easily balloon to 200-300 over the course of a few years. There are tag sales, flea markets, pawn shops, retro video game stores, thrift stores, internet dealers, and even conventions to attend. Before long, you have a huge stack of video games on the floor waiting to be catalogued, and placed somewhere ideal.

But for those of us with a small room to devote to our collection, or for those of us who live in a small dorm or apartment we have to be a bit more selective about what we pick up. More importantly, we have to get a bit creative about just how to store our games. Enter the Bella container.  This plastic tub was probably never intended for gaming, but it’s something you’ll probably want to pick up for yourself. Especially if you’re in a situation where space is an issue.

BTBellaAtari

The container is the perfect width, depth, and height for most cartridges, and it even works nicely for DVD cases, and jewel cases. It can also easily slide underneath a bed thanks to the wheels embedded in each corner. Or you can stack a few of them if you have a storage closet available to place them in. Over the last several months I’ve found they’ve been great for storing my NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis, and loose 2600 games.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had to spend a big chunk of my time cleaning, and downsizing where possible. These have made that process a lot easier. My aforementioned libraries all exceed 100 games, and being able to fit them conveniently, and neatly is an impressive feat. These may also be something worth looking into if you’re a used games vendor who often sells product at conventions. The blend of low footprint, and large capacity might work wonders for your table.

BTBellaAtari2

The only real issue with this tub is that they’re made of the same acrylic plastics most other storage containers are. This makes them lightweight, but it also means they can’t be slammed around. You’re not going to want to drop the thing carelessly when you’re reorganizing your room, as there’s a good chance you’ll crack the plastic. If you’re fairly gentle with your stuff you should be fine. But it is something to be aware of.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with them though. They can be found fairly affordably at Bed Bath & Beyond, although other retailers, and internet sites likely sell them as well. If you’ve got quite the Nintendo 64 collection, or you’ve come into a massive lot of Colecovision games. But now you have no idea how you’re going to store them, these plastic container bins may be the solution for you.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Advertisements

Alien Syndrome Review

nwz6xjy

Throughout the 1980’s Sega was making its mark in arcades. It pushed what was possible in racing games, and rail shooters with Outrun, Space Harrier, and After Burner. It gave us the awesome Golden Axe, and the visually impressive Altered Beast. Unsurprisingly many of these games were ported to its own consoles, the Master System, and the Genesis. But there is one of their IPs that came, and went in this period. Something so familiar, and so different. Something so difficult, and yet addictive. I’m talking about Alien Syndrome.

PROS: Great visuals, atmosphere, music, and control (most versions).

CONS: Obscenely difficult. Dark Souls difficult. In deep space.

ALIENS: One of many blockbuster influences that can be seen here.

At its core, Alien Syndrome seems like a typical overhead shooter. You move either Ricky or Mary, depending on which player you are. As you go along, you kill various creatures for big points. But it isn’t so simple. Where previous overhead run n’ guns like Commando, or Ikari Warriors had you kill enemies, and charge to the end of a linear level, this doesn’t. Alien Syndrome is unrelenting about its premise. Your mission isn’t a simple matter of killing things, and getting to the end. Each stage is a ship, and on each of these ships are a number of survivors you have to rescue. Not only do you have to rescue these survivors, (who are stuck in cocoons the way the ones in Aliens were portrayed) you’re timed. Because each ship has initiated a self-destruct sequence a la Captain Kirk.

 

This is to ensure that the menacing invaders cannot make it to Earth in the event you fail your mission. Also because each stage is a ship, there are no straight runs to the north. Instead, each of the stages is a maze, with its own distinct layout. So you have to explore every last nook, and cranny looking for survivors. The survivors are represented by a row of heads. As you rescue them, they’re depleted from the bar. If things get tough, or confusing (which they will) each of the ships have a few maps. Finding these on the wall will pull up a map on  the screen. On the map are flashing pixels, that represent the survivors.

hqgaron

Once you find all of the hostages, the game will prompt you to get to the exit so you can escape. But in each of the airlocks is a boss alien. These are large, and diverse. Each of them is imposing. Each of them has a powerful attack, and the later bosses employ some very tricky patterns. The bosses all look really cool too. For a title that has fallen into obscurity, it has some of the most memorable bosses in arcade game history. Even the very first boss, is the sort of thing you’ll wish were made into an action figure or statue. These designs are that good.

But, run n’ gun games are often only as exciting as their weaponry, and enemies. Alien Syndrome has a great many of each. Again, taking influence from the Alien movies, there are flame throwers, fire-ball guns, and grenade launchers. But there are others, like the blaster that shoots laser beams like the Imperial blasters in Star Wars. There are also temporary shields, and chess pieces you can find for points.

ybzi1vm

How do you get these things? There are cubby holes on walls, marked with the appropriate letter for the weapon. For example L is the laser. The enemies are also varied throughout the game. In earlier stages you’ll fight brain slug creatures, but you’ll see everything from aliens to creatures that shoot their eyes as projectiles. Quite honestly, everything on display is really cool. Every ship has its own decor. So you won’t see a lot of the same tiles in subsequent levels. Some of the ships are what you would expect to see in a space-themed game. Steel floors, technical circuitry patterns for walls, and other touches. But other stages are completely alien (no pun intended.). Some ships seem like they’re made of flesh, others are like stone. Many of the stages have some really cool parallax scrolling effects on floors to represent pits or other pitfalls. And fall you will if you walk over them.

Alien Syndrome is quite the challenge too, because there isn’t a single moment where you aren’t attacked by a horde of aliens. You have to be quick on the draw, as well as quick to react. Dodging projectiles, enemy creatures, while trying to rescue people at the same time. The difficulty especially ramps up after the first stage, and the bosses will often hand you your own behind on a silver platter. There are also no continues, making your performance all the more important. It really does give you the visceral action of the genre, while providing other challenges.

t5hwemb

There are many ways to play Alien Syndrome as it was ported to a lot of platforms. Interestingly enough, the ports to Sega’s own Master System, and Game Gear resulted to almost entirely new games. The scrolling is gone. Instead things work on an almost flip-screen mechanic, only scrolling when reaching the end of the screen in a Castlevania door style transition. The other major changes are almost entirely different maps, and new bosses. The core concept is the same, and it retains the songs from the arcade machine. But these changes make for arguably the worst version of the game. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t play Alien Syndrome on the Master System. It is still a pretty good iteration. It’s brisk. It gives you the same style of gameplay in a new, and unexpected way. Rather, it isn’t the best option for those looking for a replicated experience on a retro console. If you do pick this one up though, you’ll want something other than the Master System Control Pad, because the sometimes mushy d-pad will have you accidentally walking into an alien, or projectile. I recommend the Sega Control Stick. It just seems more responsive in this game. For whatever reason, this game won’t see a Genesis controller properly, so the Sega Control Stick is the next best thing.

rtayz3t

The other two major versions I happen to own ate the Unlicensed Tengen NES port, and the Commodore 64 port. Both of these are pretty good, getting the stage layouts, enemy types, and overall feel pretty nicely. The Commodore 64 version fares especially well though, as it’s the most responsive version I own. Everything is fast, and smooth most of the time. While there can be a bit of slowdown when an awful lot is going on, it still performs better than the NES version overall. The C64 doesn’t have as large a color palette as the NES, but it somehow gets closer to the arcade experience in terms of visuals. The C64 also has the arcade cabinet’s animated attract mode, and a really good original soundtrack. It’s another example of the staying power of the computer’s SID sound chip.

But Tengen’s NES port is no slouch either. It still looks pretty good most of the time, and even manages to add some pretty cool cinema screens to amp up the experience. I should also note that while the C64 has the better soundtrack, the NES version also tries to replicate the arcade’s songs rather than experiment with them, or add new ones. While it isn’t as responsive or quite as fluid as the C64 version, it is the only one of the three to offer continues. On the C64, and SMS you’ll need to clear the game on a handful of lives. For those out there who don’t own a vintage computer, but you have an NES, and a SMS it’s a pretty close race. For authenticity the NES port wins, but the SMS version looks a bit nicer.

4wbzwkt

Of course, all of this is moot if you have Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 or PS3 though. Because the arcade ROM was included in the compilation. You’ll have a nearly 1:1 experience at that point. Be that as it may, most of the home ports all offer a pretty great send up of the original. Alien Syndrome also appeared on the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Sharp X68000, MSX computers as well as MS-DOS.

It’s a shame this IP has lied so dormant over the years, aside from a brief, largely ignored game on the PSP, and Wii that played nothing like the original. Alien Syndrome is a fun, if difficult run n’ gun. If you have any of the platforms it appeared on, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy. If you’re blessed to live near an arcade that has a working cabinet, do yourself a service, and put in a few quarters. With its challenge, memorable characters, and insane bosses, Alien Syndrome is one arcade classic you’ll never want to forget.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Shatterhand Review

w2pho36

The NES was a haven for action platformers by the early 90’s. Castlevania, Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden had all become mainstays. So companies were desperately trying to get in on the trend. Some of the games that came out of this trend became system sellers, while others went under the radar. Natsume, who is known mainly for the Harvest Moon games these days, were unsung heroes of action games back then. Known for stuff like Shadow Of The Ninja, and S.C.A.T. But some of their titles didn’t get the fanfare.

PROS: One of the best action platformers you can find for the NES.

CONS: High difficulty.

TUNAGE: This game has some of the memorable chip tunes on the console.

Abadox was one such game. It was a very good shmup that outside of a wild commercial, didn’t get much attention. This game didn’t either. In fact, Shatterhand was given almost no advertising by Jaleco, and I only found out about it back when it was coming out because I frequently read Nintendo Power. But those of us who did get a copy back in the day got a big win.

For those who missed it back then, or those who are into discovering old games, Shatterhand is definitely a game that should be on your radar. In Japan, it was called Super Rescue Solbrain , and based on a show in the Metal Hero series of TV programs there. It centers around a team of police cyborgs that can power up, and fight super criminals.

g9zztik

The shows weren’t released in any form in North America, or Europe at the time. So when the game was released outside of Japan the story was changed, the game retitled, and one of the stages was replaced with an entirely new one in its place. The game’s intro was also changed, as well as some of the character sprites. But the gameplay itself remains unchanged.

In Shatterhand the hero is renamed to Steve Hermann. The retooled story goes that a group of Military renegades form a terrorist organization called Metal Command. In 2030 they take over the world by unleashing their army of robots, and cyborgs upon the Earth. Streetwise cop Steve Hermann loses both of his arms in a fight with some of these terrorists, and a new agency called the Law, and Order Regulatory Commission (or L.O.R.D.) gives Steve new cybernetic appendages. So he becomes Shatterhand, and goes on a one man army mission to take down Metal Command.

ywtporw

Right away you’re going to notice how good this game looks. Visually it’s held up very well over the years. Sprites are very detailed, with some really nice animations on everything. Characters, background objects, enemies, everything looks really cool. The tile sets, and parallax scrolling work really well, and every stage oozes with atmosphere.

The stages themselves also have really clever layouts, with power ups placed in great risk/reward positions. Of course sometimes this makes things seem masochistic. Like when you’re going up an elevator with missiles coming at you from the bottom, and the top of the screen while guys in Cobra Flight Pods come gunning for you. You spot that crate you need to get to  in order to build a robot companion only to escape with a single hit point left.

ombbymp

But there are a wide range of power ups to help you. The main ones are robotic companions. But it isn’t a case of simply picking them up. Peppered throughout the stages are crates. Many of them have two different types of boxes inside, each with one of two letters. Along the top of the screen are three spaces. Each time you collect a letter it takes up one of the spaces. Grab three letters, and then a robot companion will beam in to help you. The robot that shows up depends on which letters you collected. You could get one that throws grenades. You could get one that uses a flamethrower. There are a few different robots. The key is knowing what combination is the best for each stage.

You can also become an invincible super robot if you collect the same sequence twice. This is only temporary, but if you can pull it off at the end of a stage, it will really help out in boss fights. Some of the bosses in the game have an insane amount of health, and so being able to deal high damage, without taking any helps a lot. Of course you can also destroy them by learning their patterns, and moving accordingly.

j4vdcba

Rounding out the power ups are an upgrade for your punches, health, a 1-Up box, and bags of gold. Which you will need because the power up punches, health, and extra lives cost money. You can also get money by beating certain enemies to death. But what adds to the challenge is that aside from the robot companions, you have only your fists. You have to kill everything in this game with your literal bare hands when you have no pick ups.

Shatterhand is a seven stage affair. The game borrows a bit from Mega Man in that after the first introductory level you’ll be able to choose your mission order. The first stage gets you acclimated with how things work. You’ll discover the basics of running, jumping, and punching bad guys, and obstacles. You’ll figure out how the letter combinations for robot assistants work, and you’ll face a pretty easy boss. But from this point on the game becomes brutally difficult.

kvfm7sm

The submarine stage for instance has some very annoying enemies in its top-secret mad science lab area. Floating aliens that are hard to hit. Monsters that leap from the chambers you have to destroy have almost as much health as some of the boss characters. The city stage is especially tough because everything is on fire, bombs constantly fall from the sky, and it will easily have you using continues like crazy when you first play it.

These are just two of many insanely difficult moments in the game. After you clear the five stages in whatever order you choose, you’ll go onto a final level. This stage is a medley of the earlier levels’ mechanics. Including a boss rush with three of the bosses you already defeated earlier. Thankfully the last stage is a bit forgiving in that it will let you continue from the middle if you lose all of your lives.

16f3v9n

While on the subject of continues you do get a lot of them. But you have to remember to push the start button after the first few Game Over screens to bring up the option. If you don’t do it before the sad music of failure ends, it just assumes you quit. Also know that if you’re looking to beat the game with any respectable score, you’d better beat the entire game on three lives. Because continuing erases your score. It is possible to beat the game on three lives, but it isn’t easy. Particularly if you get to a boss without a robot, or without the suit of temporary invincibility. Because at that point you have to know the boss patterns to a pixel perfect T. Compounding this is that General Gus Grover is a massively huge cheater. First, he dons a power suit similar to the one you get for getting the same robot satellite twice. Second, he starts to blow up chunks of the floor, causing them to engulf themselves in flames. This makes parts of the floor impossible to walk on. So you have to act fast to kill him before you have nowhere to stand.

As much as it may sound like I’m complaining about the difficulty on display, I’m really not. For the most part the difficulty is still pretty fair. You know it’s your own fault when you die. The game isn’t overly long either, the stages can be cleared pretty quickly once you’ve figured out exactly what you need to do. The thing is, it is also the kind of game that requires a lot of practice, and a lot of patience in order to win. You won’t beat it on your first attempt without using any continues. You may not be able to clear the game on your 500th attempt without continuing either. But you’ll have a lot of fun trying to.

gkjdqqp

Shatterhand is awesome. Beating the low-level enemies to death is a blast. Managing to even get to the bosses feels like an accomplishment. Defeating a boss will make you feel like a superhero. And after weeks of practice when you finally kick General Gus Grover’s ass you will want to celebrate with anyone who will listen. What sets the game apart from stuff like other hard games though is that again, doesn’t feel cheap. Except for the final boss setting the floor on fire. But even still, keep playing, and you’ll persevere.

Of course a lot of collector’s have discovered this one over the years, so it isn’t going to be a low-priced Game Pak. But unlike the terrible games that cost a fortune because of their rarity Shatterhand is a really good game. One that you’ll definitely want to keep in your collection once you find it. It’s one of the best action-platformers on the NES.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Werewolf: The Last Warrior Review

gdc75s5

Last week I looked at a rare, expensive, and weird shmup from Meldac on the NES. Well the Nintendo Entertainment System was home to many oddball ideas. As we get closer to Retro World Expo, I thought I’d dig through my collection for another NES game to showcase. Werewolf: The Last Warrior is not only a little strange. It’s also very cool, and is a game every NES collector, and owner should play.

PROS: Graphics, and sound. Very challenging.

CONS: Some will find it too challenging. This is definitely NES Hard.

RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE: Aside from one similarity it’s nothing like Sega’s Altered Beast.

Werewolf: The Last Warrior is awesome. You play a human who collects items, and then gets to turn into a werewolf, and mess people up. I know I’ve just described Altered Beast. But this is nothing like Sega’s arcade cab turned Genesis launch title. Because it isn’t a beat ’em up game. It’s an action platformer.

But many of the best NES Game Paks were action platformers. In fact many of the best video games of the era were action platformers. So what sets Werewolf apart from the pack? (I think I just made a pun.) A number of things. Right away one thinks of the RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE moments. Throughout the game you’ll find power ups that beef you up, grow your attack power, and of course let you be a werewolf.

4tvopms

As a werewolf, you do a lot more damage to enemies, and you can do cool stuff like climb walls, do awesome backflips, and more. You become the werewolf by collecting enough red *W* symbols you find. They’re often hidden on pedestals you have to punch. You can actually become a super werewolf that the game names Warwolf. You can become Warwolf by finding enough orbs. Giving you an even bigger reminder that Altered Beast is a thing.

When you’re a super werewolf, you’re practically unstoppable. The game instantly feels like a Dolph Lundgren movie. You dispatch enemies quickly. You can super jump into areas you couldn’t before. But there is a kryptonite to your furry Superman. They’re blue colored *W* symbols. If you touch one you’ll go back to being a human.

vlwbh1v

You do not want to be a human for very long in Werewolf. Everything, no matter how weak, will ultimately kick your ass. The game throws a ton of stuff at you. The roster of enemies on display is actually pretty large, even if they aren’t necessarily the most original. You’ll run into ninjas, goons reminiscent of the ones found in Rolling Thunder, soldiers, bad guys with jetpacks, and more.

Every one of the game’s five stages are broken up into two parts. Sometimes they’ll be straight forward. Other times they’ll be a maze you have to explore your way out of. At the end of the first part of any given stage you’ll fight a mini boss who kind of resembles Street Fighter’s Zangief. After you defeat him, you’ll move onto the second half. If you can beat the second part of the stage, you’ll go on to fight the boss.

g8tnnlb

Each of the five stages also has something kind of archaic about them. The first time you play it you’ll try punching any where a power up may be, and this is how you’ll most often hit a blue power down, and screw yourself over. There are also some holes in the cut scenes you can nitpick. The story is that a mad scientist named Dr. Faryan has assembled a group of super-villains to take over the world, and you have to stop them. It’s the paper-thin B-movie plot you’d expect, but it isn’t air tight. For instance, in one scene you climb up the right side of a building to chase a Juggernaut knock off. The next portion of the stage you move left, and have to jump off of the left side. Yet the following cut scene has you falling off of the same side you climbed!

rydyhjt

Nitpicking  aside, the game is really challenging thanks to the cues it takes from Castlevania. It has the same slow, plodding movement as that game, and a lot of enemies showing up right when you need to make a pivotal jump. Blend that with some of the moments where the game kind of expects you to know to do something when it hasn’t shown you how, and it can get frustrating. That’s really the only major criticism here. Werewolf can be quite cryptic at times, and it will take you many attempts at it to figure things out. Especially if you manage to find the game cartridge, but not a manual.

jbebfmu

And no, it isn’t the biggest deal in an age where you can pretty much run an internet search for instructions, or a walk-through. But it does make one wonder what the thought process was when putting the game together. Still, Werewolf is a really enjoyable game in spite of the difficulty, and being sometimes unclear. The soundtrack isn’t particularly long, but the handful of chip tunes are really thumping speed metal send ups, with catchy melodic hooks. Which goes with stabbing jet pack wearing mercenaries,  countless henchmen, and ninjas very well. Just make sure you’re grabbing not just health, from fallen enemies, and mystery places. Grab any hourglass too. Each stage has a time limit after all, piling even more pressure onto you in this high difficulty contest.

eftq89e

Between the music, mostly solid platforming, and the detailed sprite work on display it is one of the more engrossing games in the NES library. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t get as much attention as some of the more expensive games of its ilk these days. If you’re collecting NES games, and have been eyeing stuff like Power Blade, and Vice: Project Doom, you should have this on your radar. It isn’t quite as polished as V:PD. There are some times where the cryptic nature forces a restart. But it is still a terrific game nonetheless.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Zombie Nation Review

qujuxam

Over the course of video game history, there have been a number of titles that have fascinated us. Sometimes they gave us something we never experienced before. Other times they tweaked or perfected an existing formula. Some of them pushed the idea of storytelling. But sometimes a game will surprise us with just how bizarre it can be. Zombie Nation is one of those games.

PROS: A fun shmup. Nice graphics.

CONS: Hit detection could be better. Brutal difficulty may turn off some.

A CAR PAYMENT: Is about how much this NES Game Pak will set you back. It isn’t cheap.

Released in 1990 by Meldac, Zombie Nation (or Samurai Zombie Nation as the title screen suggests) is a peculiar shoot ’em up. Instead of a space ship, or a fighter jet you pilot a disembodied head. The original Japanese version was called Abarenbou Tengu, and was released on the Famicom. In that version you play as a disembodied head as well. But in that version, the head is the mask of a Tengu.

In Zombie Nation the story goes, that a meteor crashes somewhere in a Nevada desert, and unleashes an alien creature named Darc Seed. Darc Seed takes over the world using magnetic rays somehow, and everyone is turned into zombies as a result. So the literal head of a samurai named Namakubi flies from its body, and goes on a mission to the USA to kill Darc Seed, and save the world. As well as regain his sword.

a37f9vk

Zombie Nation takes one idea from Capcom’s Mega Man series, by letting you select which stage you want to begin the game on. You can’t choose stages after that, they’ll play sequentially from that point on. So for example if you choose Stage 4, after you clear that stage, you’ll play Stage 1, then 2, and finally 3. If you manage to clear all four of the stages you’ll go to a 5th stage where you fight Darc Seed one on one.

Zombie Nation is a really short game. But what is going to keep you playing it for hours is its high difficulty. Even if you play the game on the easy setting, it is still very unforgiving. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the head of Namakubi is a very large character. Being this is a shmup, that means it is going to be very hard to dodge the enemy firepower, and obstacles. The game doesn’t follow the typical shmup health formula. In many of the most popular shmups like R-Type, getting shot by anything will kill you. No matter how many power ups you have, one hit, you die.

r6ggrld

Zombie Nation opts to give you a health bar instead. So getting shot will slowly reduce your bar until you die. You’ll also get continues when you run out of health, though these are limited. But you’re still going to want to avoid as much as humanly possible. Because not every attack, or projectile damages you equally. Case in point; the lightning. In nearly every stage there is lightning, or an equivalent. During which, cloud to ground lightning will appear. If one of the bolts so much as grazes you, your life bar goes down to one hit. A single hit by anything after that will finish you off.

The saving grace here is that you can try to replenish your health by eating people. The very people you’re trying to save will act as your nourishment. Floating heads are not the strangest part of Zombie Nation. You find this nourishment by destroying the scenery. Not only do you shoot eyes from your eye sockets at enemies, but at backgrounds as well. All while also puking up grenades. Destroy enough of a building? A hostage flies out to be eaten. Blow up enough of a mountainside? A hostage flies out to be eaten. But with the lightning, and hundreds of projectiles headed your way, getting these meals isn’t very easy at all.

wrqgcaf

But there is another reason to eat hostages. Eventually you’ll upgrade your shots to be more powerful. Things that took five or six bullets to destroy before may take one or two. After you eat enough people you’ll even get a one-time use smart bomb.  One you use it however the power up shots reset, and you’ll need to feast on more hostages.

The four bosses are pretty zany too. Stage 1 pits you against a Gorgon version of the Statue of Liberty. Stage 2 has you facing Atlas. Stage 3’s boss is part of the scenery. In this level you fly through a sentient power plant, and have to blow up the core. Stage 4 throws you up against two snakes. Beat all of these foes, and you’ll go on to the final battle with Darc Seed. Who is just a giant grey, who just kind of lies there while you avoid marbles. An underwhelming affair to be sure. Especially after so many high stakes battles.

The bosses have difficult enough patterns to memorize, and move through. But what makes them even harder is that there are no health bars or other information on the screen. So you can’t tell how hurt you are, or how close you’ve gotten to victory. When you do defeat a boss it’s always a surprise. Even if you’ve become really good at Zombie Nation.

ljycwis

But whether you’re good or bad, there is enough to like to recommend the game. It’s hard. But not as hard as a lot of other NES shmups. At least not once you figure out how to effectively avoid some of the more devastating things in it like the lightning. The hit detection could have been a bit better. Sometimes things you don’t think hit you actually did, and the inconsistent damage output of projectiles can get annoying. Still, the experience is mostly pretty fun, and it is worth experiencing the oddity of it all.

Be that as it may, Zombie Nation is also one of the more expensive NES Game Paks these days. It came out near the end of the NES’ life span. While not as rare as something like Power Blade 2, or The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak, it is a scarce game. So expect to pay an exorbitant amount of money to add it to your collection.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Cybernoid: The Fighting Machine Review

vtw0li4

Hewson. That isn’t a name that many people remember but it was an important one. Back in the mid 1980’s home computer gaming was on the rise. Computers were more capable than game consoles, and did more than play games. Families were opting into them as parents could figure out their finances on them, as well as work on them. Their children could do homework, run educational software, and of course play games.

Many developers cropped up out of this environment, as they could affordably code their own software. In the USA home computers would spare Activision from the console market crash, as well as allow Electronic Arts to slowly build its empire. It gave way to independent publishers too like Cosmi who would put out a lot of great budget titles. Japanese companies like Konami, Capcom, SEGA, Technos, and Taito would see official ports of their games on computers. But in Europe computers would prove arguably even more popular. Time Warp, Rare, Firebird, Codemasters, and Hewson are but a handful of European developers who would make a lasting legacy on these machines.

Hewson Consultants was one of the smallest of these studios. But it managed to put out some of the most memorable titles for the European market. Their biggest strength was arcade shooters. Over the years they would put out things like Paradroid, Tower Toppler, and  Uridium. But today’s game was one of their most noteworthy titles published.

PROS: Style. High difficulty. The C64 version’s glorious soundtrack.

CONS: May be TOO difficult for some. Short. Some versions have control issues.

DTV: Cybernoid, and its sequel are bundled in the C64 DTV Games in a controller system!

Cybernoid came out around the time when arcade shmups had transitioned to scrolling stages. But instead of going along with the likes of Gradius, and R-Type, Cybernoid retains vintage flip screen gameplay. That isn’t really a bad thing. The result is something that feels different, even if it is technically inferior. Cybernoid is a game that uses the flip screen mechanics to implement characteristics of an adventure game.

The story is pretty cut, and dry. You’re a pilot for a federation army sent into an asteroid belt to stop pirates from stealing your resources. Cybernoid is a tough game through, and through. When you fire it up, you’ll immediately have the sense things are going to be difficult. As the game doesn’t scroll between screens, each screen is its own puzzle, adventure shooter. Some areas will be a fire fight. Other areas will have a bunch of death traps you’ll need to carefully navigate. Sometimes you’ll find a combination of the two.

lehpj1g

The game becomes extra challenging when you realize that you’re also being timed. If you fail to complete a stage in time you die. In fact, many things will kill you. If your ship grazes a bad guy, you die. In true bullet hell fashion, the screen will be filled with projectiles. If a single one touches you, you die. If you crash into certain parts of the scenery, you die. But there is something really satisfying about Cybernoid in spite of the steep learning curve. When you finally solve a room, you will feel ecstatic. Then crushed when you lose your last life in the next room. But restart you will.

The game does give you a pretty high number of power ups to help you. How do you find these power ups? By killing everything you possibly can. Destroying enemies will allow you to salvage the wreckage for items. You can find missiles, force fields, option shields, and more. You’ll also want to conserve a lot of the power ups because in some rooms you’ll need them to destroy some of the obstacles. If you run out of supplies when you get to these rooms, you’ll be stuck watching the timer count down to your demise.

liboeoq

Cybernoid isn’t very long either just clocking in at three stages. But those three stages will likely take you days of committed gaming to beat. Cybernoid was also released on several platforms, and depending on where you are in the world, some versions may be easier to find than others.

The 8-bit versions of the game are largely similar. Most of the ships, characters, and background textures are the same. The color palettes, and screen modes differ mildly between the versions. The ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC versions look closest to each other while the Commodore 64 version probably has the best look of any of the 8-bit computers. Interestingly the Commodore 64 version also has an entirely different soundtrack than the other computer versions. The legendary Jeroen Tel wrote his own score for the C64 while the other computers had the original soundtrack by Dave Rogers.

z9dit8r

Here in the states though, most people are probably most familiar with the Nintendo Entertainment System version published by Acclaim. This version was done by a small developer called Studio 12. The NES version looks like it was based off of the C64 version, even the color palette used is similar. The NES version also has its own original soundtrack that is decent, but nowhere near the earworm level of the C64 version. The two versions also play pretty close to each other, though the C64 version feels a lot more responsive. On the C64 things feel a lot more fluid, and you’ll have an easier time trying to avoid huge swaths of projectiles. Though again, by no means will the game be easy.

This doesn’t make the NES version bad, but it isn’t the preferred version. This is because of a number of small things that hold it back. Things feel a little clunky when compared to the C64 version. Getting around a couple of the obstacles is harder as a result. A couple of enemy types were shrunk in size to compensate for this but it doesn’t help all that much. There are also a couple of minor bugs that rarely come up. But when they do, they can really annoy you. However, the NES version does have one advantage, and that is you can select between three difficulty levels. They don’t change the level of challenge dramatically, but if you’re getting creamed you can make things mildly easier. The NES version also has a cinema screen that plays upon your death, as well as an ending. Other versions simply restart the game with your current score intact.

qgemvwh

Cybernoid did find its way onto the Amiga, and Atari ST as well. These versions have better graphics than the 8-bit versions. But I can’t really tell you much about them as I haven’t spent any time with them. In my research I’ve found that many people who have played them aren’t particularly all that fond of them. They have a much lower reputation in terms of play control, and balance than their 8-bit counterparts.

No matter which version you go with though, you’ll be presented with a high level of challenge. Cybernoid isn’t particularly long, and may not have the constant action of classic shmups. But the blend of bullet hell, and flip screen adventuring make for a unique, classic. One that belongs in your classic gaming library.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Mighty Final Fight Review

0yseogh

Toward the end of the original Nintendo Entertainment System’s run there were a number of great (and not so great) titles that came out as the Super NES was coming into its own. Capcom put out a number of these games as the console began to fall by the wayside in the last few years. Mega Man 6, Rescue Rangers 2, Duck Tales 2, and of course Mighty Final Fight.

PROS: All of the protagonists are here. Action translates well.

CONS: Short. A sharp difficulty spike near the end.

LEVEL UP: There is an NES Double Dragon style EXP system.

Mighty Final Fight came out at a time when the Super NES was seeing a number of arcade beat ’em up, and tournament fighter ports. Capcom had already ported the Final Fight arcade game to the console albeit with a number of things removed to be able to fit onto the cartridge.

xzeieg0

Knowing that the NES couldn’t handle the game, Capcom made this an entirely new game set in the same universe. Even though it is technically far less capable as the cut down Super NES port of Final Fight, in many ways it is a much better game.

Mighty Final Fight has an almost identical storyline. Mayor Mike Haggar’s daughter Jessica is kidnapped by the Mad Gear street gang. So he decides to take matters into his own hands, beating the crap out of every last criminal he sees. Until he gets to the boss of the entire Mad Gear operation. Joining him again is Jessica’s boyfriend Cody, and Cody’s friend Guy who was absent in the initial Super NES arcade port.

befidtf

So the NES game already has one leg up on its younger brother here. Game play is also pretty close to the Super NES. Characters can be grappled by approaching them diagonally, then they can be dispatched by any number of moves. All of the throws, pile drivers, and special moves are back.

Once, again pressing the attack, and jump buttons at the same time will execute a special move. Using these moves also takes away some of your life bar just like it does in other versions of Final Fight. But here is where the game begins to veer off into spin off territory. Mighty Final Fight takes a page from the NES port of Technos’ Double Dragon. You will see a meter on the lower right section of your HUD. Next to that is an experience counter.

53tvksv

As you pummel bad guys you will raise the number of experience points. When you get to the maximum number, the bar will fill up further. Each bar within the bar you fill increases your health meter, your damage output, and decreases the amount of punishment you take upon being hit. Using grapple moves will give you more points. So playing as Haggar means you’ll want to be using pile drivers. Using Cody or Guy you’ll probably be doing a lot of throws. Interestingly enough, choosing Haggar starts you out with three full bars of experience, while choosing either Cody or Guy will start you out with one.

Leveling up to a certain point will also unlock an additional move for you to use. Unlike the arcade version of Final Fight or its ports, the weapons you can find in oil drums are character specific. Haggar will always have a hammer. Cody will always have a knife, and Guy will always have shurikens.

sltj2j5

Of course Mighty Final Fight also differs in the actual stage layouts. They keep the general theme of the arcade machine’s stages. The game even has a map similar to the arcade game’s in between levels. But you’re getting an entirely different run of levels. In the first stage you’re fighting through the streets, then a rooftop. Stage two you’re fighting your way to an area that resembles the next to last stage in the arcade version. Stage three is a section called Old Town which has some minor similarities to the arcade’s West Side stage.

At least in terms of style. Here there are sections with giant pits in the road, and the action leads to wrestling arena like the arcade machine’s second stage finale. Stage four feels entirely like an alien experience. It is supposed to be the factory district, but instead has a warehouse area. You also end up on an elevator leading to a bar. This brought me back to The Simpsons Arcade game moment near the end of that game’s graveyard level. The final stage is called the Bay Area but has little to do with the arcade game’s. Instead, it’s a hodgepodge of the arcade’s Uptown, and other parts of the game.

gkuogpt

Mighty Final Fight also rearranges the order of the bosses, and even replaces a couple of them. You’ll still fight Damnd at the end of the first stage. But after that you’ll see Abigail, then Sodom, then a palette swap of Sodom who is supposed to be his relative. You’ll still fight the same final boss in Belger, except this time he is a cyborg. Mighty Final Fight also makes you rematch two of the bosses on the way.

The game has a super deformed look, and goes for a bit more humor. Don’t get me wrong, this is one of the nicest looking games Capcom put out on the NES. But it might throw you off coming into it from any of the other Final Fight games. Everything looks like it was inspired from the Technos Double Dragon NES ports. Big heads with detailed, yet tiny bodies rule the character designs, and stages are incredibly short, yet filled with challenges. Many key enemies return for this installment, though not all of them. You’ll see Poison (who was edited in the Super NES port of Final Fight), Andore, J, among others. As I said before, the game play is almost identical, though you’ll only ever see two enemies at a time. That doesn’t make them any less cheap though. They’ll still try to sandwich you, and force you to memorize exactly when to throw an attack at them.

ti6gzvo

The music in the game is pretty good. None of the arcade game songs show up, but the original songs here fit the action very well. Unfortunately they aren’t very memorable or iconic the way the mainline game’s soundtrack is. Sound effects are about what you would expect. Similar smacks, and smashes you’d hear in River City Ransom, Double Dragon, or Bayou Billy are here, and sound great.

There isn’t too much to complain about with Mighty Final Fight. Some might feel it could be a little bit longer.  It is also fairly challenging if you don’t remember exactly how to read enemy patterns in the series. Enemy attacks tend to hurt you a lot, and they’ll even use the environments to their advantage, kicking you into pits, or off of ledges. They’ll also sandwich you, forcing you to use your desperation moves.

rdjgkmm

But over time you can become acclimated to these patterns, and once you start decimating them with enough of your grapple moves the game becomes a lot easier. Still, some may balk at the initial difficulty. The other thing to keep in mind is the cost if you’re a purist. In most cases an NES Game Pak will cost you at least $150. That’s just the cartridge. Expect to pay several hundred dollars if you find it with a box, and manual.

Fortunately there are other legitimate ways to play this. The Capcom Classics Mini Mix compilation on Game Boy Advance included it. This can be had for around $7. Or if you have the 3DS or the Wii U, the ROM is on the eshop as a download for a mere  $5.

pcztmdg

Mighty Final Fight is easily worth a recommendation for any fan of Beat ’em ups. It controls well. It retains the game play of the arcade cabinet it is loosely based off of. It’s one of the nicest looking games in the NES library. It also happens to be as fun, and interesting as later Final Fight games.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Spiritual Warfare Review

You probably know all about Wisdom Tree by now. An unlicensed publisher called Color Dreams changed its focus from making typical games into religious edutainment. In some cases, under its new badge, Wisdom Tree simply reskinned its Color Dreams games. Many of them panned as being badly made, while a lot of others were merely competent.  In other cases they were original titles ranging from bad to passable. But there was one game that was a stand out.

PROS: A Zelda clone with Christian overtones that actually fit its premise.

CONS: Biblical trivia interrupts the flow.

OKELY DOKELY: This game could be a Ned Flanders sight gag at times.

Spiritual Warfare is a stand out in the Wisdom Tree roster of games. It’s the lone attempt at an action RPG, and it borrows liberally from Nintendo’s flagship Zelda series. From the starting position, it’s patently obvious that it is going to. In Zelda walking into a cave introduces you to an old man who gives you a sword. In this game, you’ll find an angel in a building who gives you a pear. Shortly thereafter you’ll find canisters that work the way the bombs in Zelda do. Just like Zelda, you’ll scroll through an overhead perspective taking on enemies, and pushing objects to find secrets. There is a pretty key difference in the overall goal though. In Spiritual Warfare you’re going on a quest to find physical representations of allegorical pieces of armor. Why? Because you’re also going on a quest to save souls, and kill the Devil in the process.

The game starts you out in a park filled with criminals, and bullies. After getting your pear you’ll be able to defend yourself by throwing fruit at them. Throughout the game you’ll find other fruits of the spirit. Tossing them at enemies doesn’t kill them. Instead, it causes them to repent from their ways, and pray to God. Some of these people are actually possessed, and so this process will cast out a demon. You have to then kill the demon with the fruit of the spirit. Throughout the game the areas become more diverse. You’ll go through a metropolis, a section of suburbs, the slums, an airport, a forest, a beach, a prison, and Hell itself. All the while saving souls, and trying to survive.

Along that process you’re going to find extra heart containers to expand your life, and other items. There are also storefronts run by angels who sell you other fruits, or power ups with a currency called spirit points. How do you get spirit points? The enemies whose hearts you’ve changed will drop them. You’ll need to have them on hand for many of the game’s power ups, and even some of the pieces of spiritual armor. You can also use them to restore health by going under the inventory screen, and selecting the praying hands. You can also gain spirit points by answering biblical trivia questions. Every so often you’ll see an angel fly around the area you’re in. If they touch you you’re taken into a game show setting where you’ll be asked random questions about the bible. This is where the game is a little bit flawed. Because instead of working this information into the actual game world, it takes you out of the game to take these quizzes.

The problem isn’t that there is bible trivia. The game is a Christian focused game. One would expect any edutainment title to have some sort of educational aspect of the subject matter to be there. In this case Christianity. The thing is, it would have been much more effective to have these moments come out in the gameplay somehow. Meeting an important character, who quotes a line of scripture that can be applied to that moment in the game whenever running into them would be more effective. Instead, this just takes you out of the game, and feels like homework given to you by a religious educator. Plus if you ignore the angel, you won’t have to take the quiz. So it defeats the purpose of having them there. The only time you might want to take the quiz is if you are low on health or spirit points. Because if you ace it with a perfect score your health will replenish, and you’ll get a decent number of points.Toward the end of the game, you may find yourself taking quizzes more as enemies begin getting quite difficult, and your energy tank equivalents running low. But instead of feeling invited to learn more about the bible you end up feeling forced. Which can make a player feel more resentment than welcome.

Thankfully the core gameplay is good enough here you may want to try it out anyway. The game controls well enough, and there are a lot of surprisingly well thought out puzzles. Boss fights are surprisingly good too. Many of them are more than a simple act of shooting fruit. Many require pattern memorization, dexterity, or puzzle solving skills. Many of the pieces of armor are guarded by bosses too. The boss rooms also require keys you can find throughout the game. The keys also open up secret areas locked away in buildings or other areas that have highly needed items inside.

When you finally do find your way to Hell, you’ll find one of the most challenging dungeons you’ll likely ever play. Newer, monstrous enemies appear, and take a lot more damage to go down. Other times the game will throw waves of low-level grunts at you in these areas relentlessly. The dungeon also has a door maze element to it, as you continually end up going back, and forth through floors. This culminates with a showdown against the Devil himself.

Spiritual Warfare also has a password system like the one found in Metroid. The game has one major flaw in it though, some of the passwords will easily be written down wrong due to the fact that some of the characters are so similar. You can get through large chunks of the game, only to jot down a single character wrong, and have to restart the entire game. So be especially careful when writing these down. Spiritual Warfare isn’t an exhaustively long game, but it does have a duration that most won’t complete in a single sitting. Though there are speed runners of the game who have managed to blast through it in 20 minutes or less.

The game was initially an NES game, but it did make its way over to the Game Boy, Genesis, and computers as well. It isn’t as rare as some of Wisdom Tree’s other bible games. But it is still uncommon, and fetches a bit more than typical NES Game Paks these days. Still, if you’re a collector, or a Zelda fan you might want to check it out. If you’re not terribly religious you can skip the quiz portions, and if you are you can probably ace them to your benefit. Either way, you’ll probably get a laugh out of seeing the Devil go down from a pear to the face. Not bad for something that could pass for a Ned Flanders sight gag on The Simpsons.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Abadox Review

Shoot ’em ups these days seem to focus a lot on the bullet hell approach. A subset of the shmup involving hundreds of projectiles, and enemies on the screen at any moment. Where touching anything at all killed you instantly. There is certainly merit in that approach, where completing the challenge is a badge of pride.  But in the days  where the genre was exiting its single screen infancy there were many other takes on the genre. Some games like Gradius, and R-Type would slowly veer into that direction. Others like Cybernoid would add a touch of trial, and error puzzling to the mix. As time went on, even the stories would take action sci-fi elements in addition to visual styles.

PROS: Inventive. Challenging. Beautiful visuals.

CONS: Short.

SALAMANDER: Abadox is often compared with Life Force due to the similarities.

One such game was crafted by Natsume. These days they’re primarily known as the house of Harvest Moon. But throughout the 1980’s, and 1990’s they would put out many, many well crafted action games. Action platformers, and of course shmups. Abadox at first glance is often mistaken for a Salamander (Life Force in the U.S.A.) clone. It has some similarities. You fight in an alien beast. You have power ups that beef up your attack power. It also had horizontal, and vertical perspective stages. But to its credit, Abadox has a lot more going for it. The gameplay while still a shooter, has its own feel. Things feel heavier in Abadox. Not so much slower, but heavier. This is partly due to the large characters throughout the game.  Even the smallest, grunt enemies are almost as large as your character. Because of this the game also doesn’t get into bullet hell territory. The game doesn’t need to. One hit from any given weapon can take you down unless you have some sort of power up. Suddenly, dodging 8 lasers, and three pellets goes from not being a big deal, to a pretty big challenge.

The story of Abadox isn’t a very complicated one, and doesn’t need to be. You play one of the few survivors of a planet that was eaten by an interstellar creature that is one part Galactus, and one part Death Star. You learn that your world’s Princess (Now a Queen) has survived, and is trapped in the bowels of the monster. So you take a page from Man-At-Arms, and go into the belly of the beast to free the monarch, and destroy the creature so it can’t digest another world.

The game starts with you skimming along the surface of the monster, and gets you acclimated to its formula. Each stage is a two-part affair, with each half pitting you against a mini boss. As you plow through enemies, in an attempt to survive there are symbols that join the enemy ranks. Destroying them allows you to collect a power up. Among them are better guns like spread guns, lasers that take down grunts in one hit, and shields that orbit you. There are also temporary invincibility moments if you play your cards right.

Abadox has some of the best visuals of any game on the NES. Every character in the game has intricate details, and many of the stage backgrounds are even animated. Years later, seeing the backgrounds of flesh contracting, and expanding as muscle spasms will impress you. Not only that but everything is memorable. Especially the boss encounters, some of which can even take up most of the screen. Also memorable is most of the game’s soundtrack. Composed by Kiyohiro Sada, many of these songs are catchy, and fit the action perfectly.

Abadox isn’t a particularly long game. It’s only seven stages long, but is still in line with most shmups of the time. It is also notoriously difficult, but in a good way. When you die you’ll often chalk it up to your own ineptitude. But if you have the patience to learn from your mistakes you’ll find a very good game that is both cruel, and fair. The game also has cheat codes for those who can’t seem to persevere. Though it’s recommended you do persevere because winning legitimately here feels very rewarding. Just know that even after you win it isn’t over. Because the game has a challenge that might just require you to break out the bullet hell skills if you manage to rescue your fearless leader.

Even if the genre isn’t your cup of tea, Abadox is highly recommended. It’s easily one of the best Game Paks available for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game controls responsively, dishes out a lot of pattern memorization, as well as require the hand & eye coordination needed for the genre. It is certainly a challenge, but not impossible. That isn’t to say it’s all roses. The large sprites lead to slowdown in a number of places in the campaign. Playing for long periods as you try, and fail, can feel understandably repetitive.  Still, despite being mentioned by some of the more prominent bloggers, and internet video producers over the last few years, as of this writing it hasn’t skyrocketed in price yet. The game can be had for a few dollars loose. Not a bad proposition considering what the aftermarket values are with a lot of other shmups.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Vice: Project Doom Review

The best Castlevania clone not called Ninja Gaiden.

PROS: Excellent graphics. Varied gameplay. Cinema screens.

CONS: One stage is almost Ninja Gaiden stage 6-2 difficult.

WTF?: Is Hart played by digital Mel Gibson?

Originally released for the NES in 1991, American Sammy published Vice: Project Doom. With excellent cinema screens, synthesized music, graphics that pushed the NES toward it’s limits, and combining 3 action genres into one beefy game, VPD was a recipe for victory.

Oddly, though not a lot of people played this gem when compared with other action platformers of the era. While one could be forgiven for this, as it does borrow quite heavily from gameplay introduced in Konami’s Castlevania Trilogy, and Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (Both on the NES), it is a shame. Because Vice: Project Doom is easily one of the best games on the system.

Not uncommon in the 80’s, and 90’s, game publishers often used movie covers as inspiration for package, and label art, sometimes even making their characters altered versions of a popular action hero. Power Blade’s cover donned a hero clearly inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Vice: Project Doom’s cover seems to resemble Lethal Weapon star, Mel Gibson.

Anyway, whatever you think of the cover or actors or movies, Vice is pretty awesome.

Vice focuses a large portion of the experience on its story. Much like Ninja Gaiden, stages are divided up by cut scenes. This game however, goes further into trying to make the experience feel more like an action, science fiction movie. It begins with a cinematic introducing the main character, Detective Hart. Hart gets into his car, and is forced to track down a trucker who is a known suspect. Right from this point the game puts you in a top down Spy Hunteresque stage where you will be driving around, gunning down ships, cars, and other enemies. Pressing A shifts gears, while B shoots machineguns. At the end of the stage you confront the truck, chasing it down as it shoots back. Upon destroying the truck (Essentially the game’s first boss) you are thrown into another cut scene in which you find the driver’s hands resemble claws. You find out the truck was hauling a mysterious gel, and as you ponder what will happen next , you then see the title screen before immediately being tossed into the second stage.

The story is the typical stuff you’d expect out of a B Movie. It will hold your interest long enough to complete it, but not everything in it adds up or makes sense. Hart goes from stage to stage talking with other characters, and stumbling upon evidence when at one point he finds an old friend named Reese has been turned into a cyborg. A scant few stages later his girlfriend, Christy is turned into a horrible creature, and somehow Hart ends up tracing this trail of drugs, and deaths, across the globe, then back. Finally it leads to a mysterious company called BEDA where he finds out it’s a front for an alien civilization that survives by cloning itself, and killing people with gel. The story culminates with one of the coolest bosses in all of video games. Yet it also culminates with one of the most unintentional jump the shark bosses in all of video games.

Hokey tales aside, Vice gets mostly everything right. There are around eleven stages to go through, each ending with an epic battle with an over the top boss. One boss is a wolf creature who throws giant steel girders at Hart. Another is a Korean Black Magician. There’s a tank like vehicle boss. A giant mech boss. A bluish-green Swamp Thing boss. Then of course, we have the earlier mentioned boss you’re not ready for. Even after you see the screen caps.

Most of the stages are side scrolling action levels. As I mentioned earlier the gameplay feels a lot like early Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden. Hart contends with all sorts of jumps in the midst of airborne enemies, including condors that act suspiciously like the crows Ryu Hayabusa fights. Enemies come at you from any direction. High. Low. It doesn’t matter. The stages really require those Ninja Gaiden skills you’ve honed playing that game. But there are differences as this is not a complete clone. Hart does not stick to walls, or do wall jumps. Instead he contends with floors crumbling beneath him while enemies from either side try to ensure he falls. In vertical stages he has to be sure to keep ground visible, for if it isn’t, and he falls, he dies.

Character designs are another high mark for this game (Even if some of the characters are sort of weird.) Bosses feel grand, and threatening. Regular enemies are mostly bad ass, from giant knights holding clubs, to soldiers with plasma guns, to clerics throwing fireballs, to Rottweilers, to giant robots there is something for everyone here. Stranger moments involve slime creatures, giant mutant rats, Pumpkin head (Really!), and oddly shaped mechs. Probably the strangest moment is going through a mansion filled with deadly ninjas everywhere but then being assaulted by a clown.

All of these baddies can be dispatched by your whip, but you can also fire a gun, as well as toss grenades. Part of the gameplay that differs from other action platformers though is the switching between these in certain situations. In most situations, the whip is more than sufficient. In sections with minimal jumping you will rarely use your other weapons because the whip has pretty great range. There will be times however where you will need to clear a platforming area with grenades because in these areas they will knock you into a bottomless pit 99% of the time. The gun is more powerful than the whip, but it also has a fairly short-range. As you progress, killed enemies also drop health potions, prime rib, to heal you, as well as ammo for the pistol in addition to grenades. All of which you will need for the final boss in this game. Like many games from back then he’s a two parter. Hard, and Nigh impossible.

The first form is the classic kill your evil twin boss fight. He has all of the same moves as you, and can anticipate what you are going to attempt to some degree. You’ll spend a lot of time figuring out just exactly what you need to do to bring him down. Much of it is hit, and run. It’s a lot harder than you probably expect going in. But as I said earlier, there is a second form. A form that is both very cool, and very silly at the same time.

This battle is going to take you several tries to learn the pattern. Even after you know what you have to do, things will still prove very difficult. It requires a lot of grenades, pixel perfect placement, and a lot of luck. But, if you can manage to kill the jumping shark, you will be treated to one of the better endings on the NES.

As you can likely tell from the screen captions, VPD is a very pretty game. It uses nearly every visual trick in the book to really push the NES to its limit. Stage textures do a lot to make each level feel different from the last too. You’ll see city stages, jungle stages, a military installation base, sewers (Because hey, they’re in every game right?), a science lab, and even a mansion. There is also a third game type in the game I didn’t go into yet. The other gameplay type that shows up a couple of times is a first person rail shooter. It plays a lot like Operation Wolf, or Mechanized Attack did when playing with a D-Pad. These stages, work exactly as those light games did. You’ll shoot enemies by moving the cursor over them, then firing your gun. You can also throw grenades. Shooting background objects sometimes reveals more ammunition, and health power ups. This is key, as you can run out pretty quickly. Fortunately both these, and the driving stages do fit rather seamlessly. While not the best parts of the game, they do keep the game from getting too repetitive.

Vice: Project Doom is a sleeper hit in every classic sense of the phrase. Anyone looking for a challenging action game that rewards them with a sense of accomplishment should definitely track down a copy. One can only hope it resurfaces on a digital download service in the not too distant future. As of this writing the NES Game Pak has recently started spiking in aftermarket value. Still, if you find a copy, at a reasonable price you should add it to your NES library.

Final Score: 9 out of 10 (Buy it now!)