Saturday, December 3, 2011

Twelve Months, Sixty Dollars and a GameBoy Advance: November

LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game
by Eidos

LEGO's can somehow make anything easier to swallow, even abominations like the series of films created by George Lucas which are in no way related to, despite having a common main title, Star Wars.  That is to say, when I bought this, I did not realize what I was getting.  Fool that I am, I thought I was buying a GBA version of LEGO Star Wars: The Original Trilogy, like I have, and love, for the Gamecube.  Fool.  That is not what LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game turns out to be.  Instead it turns out to be about those other movies. Naturally, I was disheartened because I love Star Wars, but I was not to be defeated.  Subject matter aside, this was a GBA game, it was $5, and I bought it for those reasons.  I was going to play it.

Turns out my thesis was pretty much right: LEGO's can somehow make anything easier to swallow (except the LEGO's themselves, remember kids: not for swallowing).  So far I have not met a LEGO game I could not enjoy.  LEGO Batman, LEGO Indiana Jones (the original, not the one with the other levels that have nothing to do with the THREE films that comprise the ENTIRE body of Indiana Jones films), LEGO Star Wars: The Original Trilogy, the list goes on and on.  While this game, LSW, was not going to be as thrilling as those previously mentioned, I held out hope that the LEGO action could save the day; and it did.

Thanks to the general silliness of LEGO games, there is a lot of fun to be had here, mostly in the form of mowing down enemies as a tiny LEGO Darth Maul in Free Play Mode. Yes kids that is the entire reason to play this game and play through the Story Mode.  Darth Maul (one of the only cool things to come from these films) is a LEGO badass and can take down just about anyone with little effort.  Plus he looks cool with his double lightsaber slashing around. Plus, you get that always anticipated Darth Maul v. Darth Maul showdown at the end of the first chapter!  If you must play this game, unlock DM and then go apeshit.

The rest of the game is pretty standard LEGO goodness, which if you are unfamiliar, means wandering through a themed world as a character, building things out of LEGOs to help you traverse the level, solve puzzles, or rack up bonus points (in the form of LEGOs), and fighting enemies, also made of LEGOs. The game overall is pretty short, you can take it out in about 5 hours, but there is still plenty of challenge.  Some levels require great care in how you take out the enemies and if you just blunder in expecting to wreck general mayhem, chances are good you will be blown to pieces.  It is for this reason that the Jedi characters are your best to use.  They can use their lightsabers to deflect enemy laser fire either harmlessly away, or back at the source.  Characters armed the blasters can attack long range, but they also have no defense.  This makes for some sticky situations if you are not careful in how you tackle a level.  The levels aren't as deep as they would be on a console, but that is to be expected.  They are, however, just long enough to be fun to play through.

Since the films that this game is based on are pretty forgettable, I have no real idea if the game follows the plot very closely; I assume it does.  You play in various settings including a space ship, a factory of some kind, a volcano area and a forest (I know this to be the Wookie homeworld only by name), but none of them really strike me as significant like those rich settings from the original films.  There are short cut scenes that move the story along, but much like the source material, lack the charm and heart that is characteristic of most LEGO movie adaptations.  You know something is wrong when you think the scene depicting Shmi Skywalker's death is kind of hilarious.

Overall, though, I have to admit, I had $5 worth of fun from LEGO Star Wars.  It wasn't a game I was excited to play, but it was fun enough to burn a few hours on, based entirely on my enjoyment of LEGO-styled games.  I would not buy this game on purpose, nor would I ever consider paying more than $5, but for what it is you could do worse, somehow.

Next month, our final installment


the announcement of 2012's exciting monthly feature, it is going to be cool!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Twelve Months, Sixty Dollars and a Gameboy Advance: October

F24 Stealth Fighter
by Majesco

The fun thing about this project is the opportunity to discover great new games for a beloved system that are inexpensive.  The real joy is uncovering a DK: King of Swing or Sword of Mana.  The exact opposite of that is F24 Stealth Fighter.

I was dismayed last month when the Pirates of the Caribbean game turned out to be a pile.  Thanks to F24 Stealth Fighter, those look like the salad days.  Oh how I wish for a game as playable as Pirates...

As I might have mentioned, I'm not a big cockpit fighter gamer.  I like Blazing Angels for the Wii.  I like Rogue Leader and Rogue Squadron.  If it's going to be a cockpit fighter game for me, it needs to be intuitive and easy to control.  The fancier you get and the more complicated you make the controls the faster you lose me.  And if you are going to make the controls really complicated, you need to ease me into it so I get a chance to learn (the same goes for race car games, Alfa Romeo...) and then master.  Majesco didn't get this memo.  Either that or they simply do not love me.
Maybe less cockpit and more sky would help...

Oh sure, the first mission seems simple enough: take out some enemy fighter jets in straight combat over the ocean.  Easy.  Excepting that it is next to impossible to maneuver your stealth fighter, or if it is possible to maneuver it, it is impossible to know that you are doing it right.  Oh sure, I read the 4 pages of in-game instructions on how to pilot the craft (you only have to hold 2 buttons simultaneously to alter your thrust, you know, intuitive).  I realize that all you have to do is bank left or right and climb or dive.  It sounds simple enough.  I get where the radar is and what it says.  Heck, I even get the targeting system.  But "getting" those things and putting them to use are two very different things.

Once in the air, I was lost.  Turn this way or that, fine, but it is impossible to tell if you are moving forward and if so at what rate.  A point of reference would be great, anything, a big cloud, cresting waves in the water below, I'll take it.  Instead, nothing.  But, wait, here comes an enemy jet!  That's fine, focus on it and forget about the disorienting environment.  Here it comes....WHOOOOSH!  there it goes.  Turn, turn, turn!  Quick!  Turn around and get behind it.  No wait, don't roll!  Turn damn you.  Turn!  Wait, where did it go?  Did I turn? I know I rolled, but I think I turned.  I should at least be able to see it somewhere on the screen.  The radar says it should be right there.  Maybe if I speed up, I can catch it.  Which two buttons increase speed again?  There.  Did I do it?  No way to know.  Oh, wait here comes the jet again!  Shoot!  Shoot!   WHOOOOOOOSH.  There it goes again!  Turn!  Turn!  No!  NOT ROLL!  Dammit!  Now I'm upside down.  Great.  Where is the enemy jet now?  No way to know.  Radar says it is nearby.  Maybe it is under me.  Dive!  Get that bastard!  THUMP!  Shit.  Something shot me from behind!  Turn!  Turn!  Where is it?  This is stupid.  Wait, am I still diving?  Uh-oh....

And that was about all I could take.  I spent 3 more attempts very eerily similar to the one described above in an effort to learn how to play this game.  The game fought back hard and eventually won.  I tried to use the targeting display in the hopes that it would take some of the guess work out.  Chuck Testa with another realistic mount.  (yeah, I know it's an annoying meme, but it cracks me up).  Maybe it was the game, but I just couldn't crack this one.  So I spent about 30 minutes tops (as much as my $5 was really going to buy if the game didn't grab me) and then decided it was time to move on.

Speaking of things that crack me up and moving on, let's forget the horrible waste of $5 that was F24 Stealth Fighter and look forward to Thanksgiving coming up by watching this bizarre video:

See you at the end of November....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Twelve Months, 60 Dollars and a GBA: September

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
by TDK

Here is exactly, word-for-word, how the meeting at TDK went about two months before this game was released:

Big Boss:  Great news folks!  We landed the rights to the new Disney movie based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  Test markets suggest that this movie will be big.  If that is true, then a Pirates game will sell huge!

Mid-Level Executive:  Uh, sir.  Two months isn't anywhere close to enough time to create a tie-in game for this movie.

Big Boss:  Hmm. Yes, that is true.  Even with developers working around the clock, we wouldn't make it.  The bad news is, I already have the boys down in marketing working on the ad campaign.  Do we have any development teams already working on a pirate-themed game?

Mid-Level Executive:  Well, those guys down at Pocket Studios were working on a Sid Meier clone.

Big Boss:  Perfect!  Get them on the phone!  How far along is their progress?

Mid-Level Executive:  I think they are almost to playtesting.

Big Boss: More perfect!  Call down there and tell them that we need to make a few minor cosmetic changes to the game.  See how fast they can get me a demo.

Mid-Level Executive: Uh, sir?

Big Boss:  You're right, screw the demo, just take whatever they've got and get it over to the manufacturer. I want this game on the shelves in two weeks.

Mid-Level Executive: Yes sir.

Move along, nothing to see here.

There is a moral to this story:  Do not buy Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl for the Game Boy Advance.  Even if you see it for $5, or even $2.95 like I did.
Basically it's like a kids' game that really sucks.  Slow, low on action, and riddled with boorish tasks that create the illusion of a story where there really is none, and a virtually non-existent relationship to the movie that it is supposedly based upon.

I'll waste no more of your time this month, or mine: the wife wants me to play Earthbound (I'm a virgin)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Twelve Months, Sixty Dollars and a GameBoy Advance: August

DK: King of Swing

You reach a point where you feel like you know a little something about video games, about their history, and about the general world that they exist in.  You know all about things like the Konami code, you know about the easter egg screen in Adventure, and you can rattle off the names of all of the robot bosses in the Mega Man franchise in chronological order by game.  When it comes the the mainstream stuff, you feel like very little can surprise you.  Then, you are wandering around your local second hand and WHAMMO! there is it: DK: King of Swing.  I honestly felt like I knew about all of the games in the Donkey Kong franchise, even stuff like Donkey Kong Jr. Math, but here was a game bearing the beloved DK trademark, that was completely foreign to me.  Socrates, you humble me yet again.
 So what is this bizarre little oddity tucked away in the GBA library and how is it that I had not heard of it?  $5 would easily reveal the answer.  As non-traditional as it can be, DK KoS is a platforming game that lives up to its name in every possible way.  Those evil Kremlings are at it again and Donkey Kong (Jr) must pursue the dastardly reptiles through various worlds to put an end to their machinations.  But not by running and jumping and rolling into things as he normally would, no in DK KoS you navigate the entire game by swinging.  You see this jungle is peppered with little pegs and DK must use his powerful arms to propel himself across perilous chasm, over deadly spikes, and past ferocious enemies if he is to complete his quest.  That's right the entire game is played by swinging DK around on these pegs.

It sounds odd I agree, but after about 5 minutes of playing, the charm of this game takes over and you get totally in to it.  Everything else from the world of Donkey Kong Country is there: launcher barrels, bananas, bouncy tires, those horrid horrid bees, even secret coins, bonus levels, and the familiar tunes!  The theming is right in line with everything you love from the SNES Donkey Kong games.  Only the style of the game play has changed.  Each level is made up of 5 chapters (and you can usually pick from two) and then a final boss fight that grants access to the next level.  Due to the unconventional control scheme and game play, the boss fights are very fresh and inventive and avoid repetition that one might suspect in a game that strays from the norm.

When I say unconventional control scheme, I mean it.  The entire game is played using nearly only the left and right shoulder buttons.  With these you control which hand DK grabs the peg with and therefore which directions he swings.  Press both and he will jump straight up.  Hold both and charge for a powered jump that can also take out most enemies.  The A and B buttons are used only for power ups to either regain lost hit points or give you a temporary invincibility with which you can take out the toughest enemies or jump extra high.  That's it.  It might take a while to get used to this non-traditional control set-up (early on I nicknamed the game Donkey Kong Hand Cramps), but once you adjust, you will be swinging through the levels in no time.

That is not to say DK:KoS is not without its challenge.  While the game is on the shorter side, it is not a breeze.  Getting a handle on the controls takes time, and then mastering the skills to clear each level will ask for patience and practice and LOTS of bananas.  And of course this would not be a DK game without secrets, and there are plenty.  At the time of writing this my file is a little over 50% and I am going back to look for more secrets.  It is nuts how easy the earlier levels are, even the ones that gave me fits, after playing the more advanced levels, but the good news is, the fun doesn't really diminish, and for me that is the true strength of the SNES Donkey Kong Country games.  DK: King of Swing carries on that tradition in a most peculiar way on the GBA and is WELL worth the measly $5 I paid for it.  If you see it, pick it up!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a GBA: July

Sword of Mana
from Squaresoft


If you like a good RPG with solid game play, plenty of depth and a LOT of story, you can do no better than Sword of Mana for the GBA.  I kid you not.  For $5 this game is an absolute steal.  I am not a big Secret of Mana fan (I know, gasp all you like), and when I saw this game in the case at Must Have Movies and More (they changed their name, don't look at me like that) I was curious, but not hopeful.  Word of mouth had confirmed my fears and said that the game wasn't very good.  So I hesitated.  For 6 months, I looked at this game in the case and passed.  I passed it up for winners like A Sound of Thunder.  I was an idiot.

Sword of Mana is an incredible RPG that follows the adventures of a pair of youths whose fates are inexorably intertwined with the Mana Tree.  A great evil is trying to bend the power of Mana to its own dark purposes and it is the destiny of these two adventurers to prevent that from happening.  It's an old story, but it's tried and true.  When your adventure begins you may select from either the male or female character and your story will unfold accordingly.  Right off the bat, this means you get two games for the price of one.  I selected the girl story because I'm like that.  As the game unfolds you do normal RPG stuff, traveling from town to town and battling various enemies.  The battles are real time action battles, not turn based, which is kind of nice.  Turn based battling can be tedious if not properly executed.  As your adventure progresses you'll build experience and obtain different weapons.  You'll also befriend mana spirits that will enable you to use different kinds of magic based on the weapon you are wielding. 
It's all fairly standard RPG stuff, but it is a lot of fun.  There is also a surprising amount of depth in unexpected places.  Around the world, you can find different materials with which you can forge and temper your weapons and armor to improve them and give them different elemental properties.  You can also grow and harvest special fruits and vegetables that will change your weapons' attributes.  Exploring the powers and abilities of each weapon and mana spirit makes the normal grinding associated with RPG's much more enjoyable. There is plenty of fun to be had just toying around with this aspect of the game.
I will warn you, however, Sword of Mana is very story heavy.  There are sections of the game where you will spend upwards of 15 minutes just pressing A to advance the plot.  While this isn't terrible, there are a couple of places where you spend this time, enter a boss fight, lose and then have to repeat the button pressing to get back to the battle.  A save point would be nice after long swaths of story like that.  If you are into story-driven RPG's, then I can imagine no better game for you.  I did my best to follow the plot along, but it is very dense and I get the sense you cannot casually observe and get the full story.

Overall, Sword of Mana is an incredible steal for only $5.  There are easily 40 hours of game play here(80 if you play both stories) and pretty much every bit of it is engaging and fun. The story runs a bit long in parts, but this game has the good feel of a Square product (you know, pre-FFX) and promises to be a good time for RPG fans.  If you see this game for $5 like I did, do not pass it up, like I almost did!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Girl on Girl Games: Lovely Lisa

I'll admit it: I usually come down on the side opposite staunch feminism, because I feel the extreme view robs femininity of its inherent value in favor of masculine attributes. I celebrate the things about womanhood that enrich our lives and, in turn, the world. I like skirts, nail polish, and sewing. I generally do all the cooking here in the Electric Frankfurter kitchen. But, I also salute the strides made by women throughout history that have made it possible for me to also enjoy things beyond that sphere--like job opportunities, generalized education and birth control.

I think I usually give "girl games" more of a pass because I know there are bigger battles out there. If a girl likes a Barbie doll, what's the harm? Barbie has had all kinds of careers and drives a Corvette. She's had lots of wedding dresses, but somehow, she's never settled down. Barbie is practically an independent woman. 

Then, there's Lovely Lisa. No game, not even Chronotrigger, has so successfully pulled off time-traveling in such a thorough way.

Lisa appears to be a doll, but a thirty-five second internet search only revealed other dolls and a few porn websites, so I'm forced to assume this doll doesn't exist in this country. She, and her doll-like family are here to help young girls, ages 5 and under, learn to be nice young ladies. That's not my choice of words: it's the game's own parlance.

Lisa's world is represented as a town. From the town, you may access Lisa's home to perform household chores, the "career center" to try out "fun jobs", or the "charm school", where you can learn ladylike talents. Other options from this screen allow you to buy or design outfits for Lisa with points earned in the other activities.

 First, home. Lisa's mom looks a little tired to me, like perhaps she's been downing a lot of little yellow pills while running for the shelter of her "mother's little helper." And who could blame her? She's been busy, what with having six children under the age of 6, buying them all matching outfits with ribbons and bows. Dad seems like a nice guy, though; a little young for the father of a large family, but what the heck? I'm sure he can afford it.

From here, Lisa can choose various household tasks that are appropriate for a girl to do. When she helps mom, she can do the laundry, the cooking, or the shopping! Helping out with her younger siblings yields cleaning and babysitting chores--and finally, helping Dad allows her to build furniture. This is Dad's only possible chore.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Conclusion

Well folks, it has been one crazy month.  You have to know it was a real challenge for me to bring you such witty, well written diatribes on a daily basis for 31 consecutive days.  I'm not smart like most bloggers who write the month's worth of articles in about 3 days and then just post one each day, my stupid ass wrote a new article every day.  I want to thank anyone and everyone who followed along both here and on facebook.  I hope this has been as much fun for you to read as it has been for me to bring to life.  In closing, I thought I would put the entire list together in one spot to save you from having to look back through a month's worth of pages.  I will also share some observations I have regarding the list.  Finally, I would like to mention a couple of games I find to be particularly perplexing that did not make it into the project.  So without further ado, because the above has been more ado than most of us can really stand...I present to you the Official Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever.

1. Ikari Warriors (SNK)
2. Starship Hector (Hudson)
3. Q*Bert (Ultra)
4. Star Voyager (Akklaim)
5. Gauntlet (Tengen)
6. Battletoads (Tradewest/Nintendo)
7. Castlequest (Nexoft)
8. Solomon's Key (Tecmo)
9.Mutant Virus (ASC)
10. Overlord (Virgin)
11. Dragon's Lair (Imagesoft)
12. Magician (TAXAN)
13.Snake Rattle and Roll (Rare/Nintendo)
14.Adventures of Dino Riki (Hudson)
15.Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Tengen)
16. Ninja Gaiden III: Ghost Ship of Doom (Tecmo)
17. Gyruss (Ultra)
18. Adventure Island (Hudson)
19. Conan (Mindscape)
20. Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road (SNK)
21. Klax (Tengen)
22.Double Dragon III: the Sacred Stones (Akklaim)
23. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Ultra)
24. Ghosts n' Goblins (Capcom)
25. Silver Surfer (Arcadia)
26. Kid Kool (VIC TOKAI)
27. Adventures of Bayou Billy (Konami)
28. Abadox (Milton Bradley)
29. Defenders of Dynatron City (JVC)

Wow. Quite a list.  Most of the major companies are there, Konami, Capcom, Tecmo, Tengen.  Strong showings by Hudson and Ultra, but overall a very strong showing across the board.  No single company dominates the list and no single company appears twice in the top ten.  I think this list exemplifies just how strong and diverse the NES library is.  To my mind, the NES has the strongest catalog of games of any classic system.  Of the 341 NES games I own, I would wager than 85% of them are fun and playable.  Some more than others of course, but I believe there are at least 85% that I could pop in and play and have a good time in the doing, even maybe Ikari Warriors....maybe.

The list is also a good sampling of the kinds of games that really shine on the NES. Scrolling shooters, action platformers, puzzle, and adventure games are all present .  The NES was the first gaming console I played that really showed what home video games could be.  Don't get me wrong, I am an Atari2600 kid, but the NES was from a whole other world.  I think if you play all of the games in the list above, not only will you get one hell of a challenge, but you'll get to see the ol' NES really shine.

A few personal notes:  This list held several surprises for me.  Going into the project, I had probably only played 2/3 of the games on the list.  I was pleasantly surprised by Conan and Mutant Virus, two games I had barely heard of and never played.  Both turned out to be surprisingly good games with steep learning curves.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of depth in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Adventures of Bayou Billy, two games that are far more intense than their first few levels really indicate.  The biggest disappointments on the list were Star Voyager and Overlord.  Both games promise epic adventures and depth, but both fail to deliver.

There were two games I lobbied hard to get on the list for this project that were ultimately shot down by the panel.  The first game is Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants.  This game has plagued me since it was created.  I think I have beaten level 2 all of three times in my life.  For whatever reason, the jumps in the mall level are absolutely killer and I cannot get ol' Bart to land where I want him to.  If I do get past those jumps I am so excited that I inevitably screw up somewhere immediately after and have to do it all over again.  Trust me, I know level 1 by heart.  I felt that S:BvSM was well deserving to be on this list and probably would have made my top 10 at the very least.  I have logged far more than 5 hours on that game in my time and it still beats my ass.

The other game I wanted on this list was Gradius.  The Konami killer, Gradius is much like Starship Hector or Ikari Warriors, and probably falls somewhere between those and Silver Surfer on my list.  I don't know what it is about Gradius that is so very difficult for me, but I cannot clear that stupid volcano in the first level.  I know I have done it a couple of times, but not consistently enough to remember much of level 2.  I think there is probably a learning curve involved and given more hours I could probably make better progress, but I get very frustrated by that volcano and end up playing something else, quickly.  I do not think I like Gradius very much.

Alright, I have taken enough of your time.  I really appreciate everyone who stopped by, commented, or just enjoyed taking this trip with me. If you enjoyed this feature, please, I would love to hear from you!  I have other ideas like this one in the works, but would love to hear what you people think about my efforts.

In closing I would also like to thank the remaining 25 signers of the Declaration of Independence who did not get face time in this feature, as well as the 31 who did .  It wasn't always easy putting words into your mouths, and by about July 17th, I was running short of good material, but because I am dedicated to the bit, you moldy old historical figures stuck with me and I actually managed to learn a little something along the way.  So thank you, Abraham Clark, Benjamin Harrison V, Edward Rutledge, Francis Lewis, George Taylor, George Walton, John Adams, John Hancock, John Hart, John Morton, John Penn, Lyman Hall, Matthew Thornton, Oliver Wolcott, Richard Henry Lee, Richard Stockton, Robert Treat Payne, Samuel Huntington, Thomas Lynch Jr., Thomas McKean, Thomas Nelson Jr., William Ellery, and William Hooper.  You all signed the document that lead to the freedom of the great country that brought you this blog, for better or worse.  I was going to include a photo collage of these remaining men, but I really want to go play some Tiger Woods on the Wii, so maybe some other time...

Thank you all.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 30

And the #1 Hardest NES Game Ever is....

Ikari Warriors

I played Ikari Warriors for five hours and barely made it 1/3 of the way to the end of the first level.  Now granted there are only four levels, but if it takes 5 hours to get to the third pole of the first level, and we presume the levels get harder, then this game is officially the hardest NES game of all time.


Your Ikari warrior is made of absolute paper and is instantly killed by interacting with anything in the environment.  I can understand being shot and killed (I mean you are shirtless), but if you touch an enemy soldier, you are dead.  If you are near an explosion, you are dead.  Everything in this game kills you, and kills you fast.  You might even be able to overcome your absolute defenselessness, excepting that there are so many enemies and they come at you from all directions shooting rifles, lobbing grenades, firing mortar rounds, and dropping bombs, that it is impossible not to get caught in the confluence of artillery.  Right from the get go you are swamped by a stream of enemy soldiers and then scattershot by a gunner in a pillbox.  I cannot tell you how many times I died before seeing what was past that pillbox, and this is literally 10 seconds into the game play.
Take a good long look.  This is probably the last time Ikari Warriors will find itself in my NES.  I hate you SNK.

Now generally, the standard tactic in these situations is to go into button mashing mode and just wash the field with gun fire.  Sadly, that strategy does not work in Ikari Warriors because you have a limited ammo supply.  And since touching anything in the game kills you, once you are out of ammo you are effectively dead.  So you have to make every bullet count and firing indiscriminately only leads to your demise.  More ammo can be obtained, so all is not a total loss, but if you get in a tight spot and get panicky, you can very easily end up empty.

The only saving grace in Ikari Warriors are the vehicles.  If you can penetrate deep enough into the jungle, you can acquire a tank and a helicopter.  These vehicles give you increased fire power and a handful of hit points.  While inside you can wreck some serious havoc,  but you have to be careful because your vehicles can run out of fuel or get destroyed by enemy fire.  When that happens you have to jump out quick and run like hell, or you will be killed when the vehicle explodes.  There may be other surprises deeper in the game, but only getting near the half way point in level 1, I may never know what they are.
Where am I in this shot?  Dead, of course.

Because your character is made of paper, and because you only get two lives and no continues, and because the game throws a million enemies at you from all directions in a never ending stream, I declare Ikari Warriors to be the hardest NES game I have ever played.  Anyone who claims they can beat this game without the ABBA code must immediately sit down in front of a TV and prove it.  I suppose the game could be learned if you were able to take it inch by inch, enemy by enemy, and shot by shot, and you had a couple hundred hours to spend, but I honestly cannot imagine anyone who can take that kind of punishment.  It was hard enough for me to sit through that damn plane crash and the first 30 seconds of the game, over and over and over, just to put in my five hours.  Five hours and only 1/3 of the first level completed.  Seriously.  Ikari Warriors, you win.  I suck at video games and you are the master of difficult video games, therefore you are king.  I cannot imagine a game out there that is harder than this one.
Thanks William Whipple!  Couldn't have said it better myself!  See you back here tomorrow kids!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 29

Starship Hector

That's right.  From out of nowhere, harder than Battletoads, Gauntlet and Silver Surfer (way harder than Silver Surfer) comes Starship Hector, a game you may not have even heard of before, but a game that is absolutely brutally hard.

Our list thus far has been a good blend of action/adventure games (including platformers), puzzle games, and, of course the scrolling shooter.  There are no two ways about it, scrolling shooter games are tough.  They feature lots of enemies attacking from many directions, many obstacles to avoid, and fast paced action that puts your reflexes to the test.  Starship Hector is a game that exemplifies the form and demonstrates just how difficult the scrolling shooter can be.

A hidden gem in the vast, offbeat, and incredibly diverse Hudson library, Starship Hector doesn't really offer us anything new in the genre, but it shines a bright light on many of the smart things about scrolling shooters.  For starters, the game features dual level battle.  You will face foes both in the air and on the ground and you must attack each with a different weapon.  Again, not new, we've seen this in games like Fantasy Zone, AD&D Dragonstrike, and Super Cobra.  But in SH it is done in a way that makes the game viciously difficult.   There are times when 85% of the attacks are coming from the ground.  Then, from out of nowhere an aerial bombardment begins, or a killer mini-boss pops up and wipes you out.  SH comes at you from both levels full tilt and right from the very beginning of the game.  There is no learning curve in Starship Hector, you just have to be good, immediately.  And just hitting A and B at the same time doesn't cut it, smart guy. The enemies in this game take multiple hits to kill, so a blanket strategy will not yield you many kills.  You'll have to make tough decisions about which targets are priority and which are less deadly.  And you will have plenty of targets to choose from.  Starship Hector has no shortage on enemies.  There are times when the screen is filled with land and air targets.  You will be wishing for the slow, plodding, methodical enemies of Silver Surfer.

Starship Hector also features vertical and horizontal scrolling much like in Legendary Wings.  But unlike many games with this aspect, SH demonstrates mastery of both styles.  You will not get a break when the direction of the scroll changes like you will in some games which have a clear bias toward one style or the other.  SH beats you both ways and smiles while it happens.  (I would love to give you a screenshot of this, but in going back and trying to get screenshots I was not able to clear level 1, and I played for about 30 mins.)

Bomb the statue, or kill the two squid things?
There are some other really nice things in Starship Hector that make it a lot of fun, even if it is repeatedly kicking your ass.  Some of the larger ground targets are usually remotely controlled by a hidden panel.  If you can find and destroy the panel, all of the targets will self-destruct.  That may not sound like much, but it is a nice little bit of attention to a logical detail.  There are also bizarre statues on the ground that, if bombed repeatedly, will replenish your ship's power to help you stay alive.  The trick is having enough time to give the statue proper attention without being wiped out by the relentless waves of enemies.  Likewise, there are hidden bonus panels on the land as well that spell out HECTOR when you shoot them.  Oh, if only you had time for such silly side tasks...

But Starship Hector will not give you that time.  It will beat you down, over and over, with endless waves of enemies great in number and power.  And even though you have a hit point meter, some enemies hit so hard, and others so often, that having a lot of HP will not really save your ass during a thick spot.  Your only hope is to learn the levels inside and out and hone your reflexes until you are like a cat who is also a ninja.
Told you.

In five hours, I did make it to level 3 a couple of times, but it was not easy and I didn't last long.  Starship Hector features six levels.  While I cannot see a huge increase in difficulty from level to level, if the remaining levels are as hard as levels 1 and 2, then this game might be impossible to beat.  Oh, someone out there can probably beat it, as with any game, but Starship Hector is not for the feint of heart.  Of the 29 games I played for this project, it is second only to our final game, to be announced tomorrow.  Can you stand it?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 28


I'll keep this short and sweet: Anyone who claims that have beaten Q*Bert (without cheating) is a damn dirty liar and you should punch them in the face.

Yes, that little green bastard!
Honestly, I believe the game is beatable and maybe there is a true Q*Bert master out there somewhere who can beat this game.  Maybe.  But brother, we are talking about the elite 0.01%.  Q*Bert is freaking impossible.  It starts out innocent enough, but by level 4, you can just forget it.  Too many enemies attacking from too many directions, the solution for changing the cubes in each pyramid becomes too complex to achieve given the quantity of enemies, and there simply aren't enough extra lives and continues to give you a fair fighting chance. And just when you think you have finally worked out a win, that little green bastard shows up and wrecks the whole damn thing.  You may as well just jump off the edge and start over.

I made it to level 5-1 ONCE.  In 5 hours.  You can play a LOT of Q*Bert in 5 hours.  And to only get to level 5-1 out of a total nine levels?  Screw this.  Q*Bert is stupid, ridiculous hard.  There is nothing more to say.  I'm still annoyed by Q*bert and I haven't played it since last year.  Here, look at some screen shots:


Just frustrating.
Even William Paca is at the end of this rope.
Is it tomorrow yet?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 27

Star Voyager

This is as exciting as the graphics get, kids!

Akklaim takes a lot of flack for being "Ak-lame" and while I think they have made some really good games that I enjoy, Star Voyager seems like a strong argument for the derogatory appellation. Basically a Star Raiders clone with about half the complexity, none of the fun, and far more difficulty than a game of this sort needs, I was originally convinced that this game was broken and could not be beaten.  As a matter of fact I lobbied hard for it to be expelled from the project based on the pure fact that after more than 5 hours of playing it, I was unable to take even the first step toward victory.  Obviously I was overruled and the game stayed.  Not only did it stay, but it found itself here at #4.

Lost in Space!
What makes Star Voyager so damned difficult is the learning curve.  I have no doubt that someone with infinite patience could learn how to beat the game, but I don't know anyone with that kind of patience.  Much like other Star Raider-esque games, your job is to wipe out an imposing enemy fleet and defend your galaxy.  In Star Voyager, enemy fleets are made up of mother ships and fighters.  You must wipe out the mother ships to successfully destroy the fleet.  The fighter ships run interference and can't take much damage, but the mother ships are armored to the teeth.  First, you must locate the enemy fleets as they spread out into your sector of space.  Once located, you engage in battle.  You have shields and guns and all of the usual space combat stuff at your disposal.  The fundamental game is not much different than a TIE Fighter sequence from Star Wars The Arcade Game.  What is different is just how freaking hard it is to defeat a fleet.  The fighters hit you hard and full throttle from the minute you enter their sector of space.  The mother ship hits twice as hard and takes a ridiculous amount of punishment before it can be destroyed.  Your ship is not so well equipped.  Unless you keep moving, you can be taken out completely in about 2 minutes.  Sadly, maneuverability is not your strong suit either.  The enemy ships dart in and out of your sights with unnerving speed and adroitness.  Just locking on to an enemy ship is an act of god.  I have never played a game where dog fighting combat is this one-sided.  In all honesty, I played this game for nearly 7 hours and never once did I destroy an enemy fleet.  You can count the mother ships I destroyed on one hand.  It is just brutally hard.
The game does feature things to assist you in your mission.  Scattered throughout the galaxy are friendly planets and if you land on the right ones, the denizens of that world can upgrade your engines, your shields, or your lasers.  The tough part is finding the right worlds.  You can waste a lot of time and energy planet hopping and not come up with any improvements.  All the while, the enemy fleet is encroaching on your home base.  So it is great to go looking, but waste too much time and all of the upgrades in the world cannot save your game.  There are also star bases located around the galaxy that you can dock at to repair your ship and refuel.  These are vital as you are going to be taking a LOT of punishment.  The tough part is that every retreat takes you away from where the action is and wastes valuable time and energy you need to spend pounding the enemy.  It is also difficult if the enemy hits your engines because the trek back to a star base can be extremely difficult and sometimes futile.  These two aspects are meant to help you take down the enemy fleet, but more often than not they are a source of frustration and waste valuable time.
If you are lucky, Space Jesus will come and make your ship more powerful!  Start praying now!

I think I was destroyed every way possible during my time with Star Voyager.  I was blown to bits by the enemy, I was stranded when I ran out of fuel, and I lost the home world while I was away searching planets for upgrades.  The only thing I did not do in Star Voyager was anything remotely connected to beating the game.  My general sense is that there is a learning curve in there somewhere, and once you get past that the game opens up and becomes much easier.  However, I must conclude that after 7 hours of play, that learning curve is so deep into the game that few will ever find  and overcome it.  The game just flat out beats the hell out of you and doesn't let up.  I'm not saying I am the master gamer over here, but if I played Star Voyager for over 7 hours and never beat a single fleet, then it must be pretty tough, and that for me is top 5 Hardest NES games material.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 26


A game so hard that even though they give you codes it is still in the Top 5 Hardest NES games of all time.  That's right, Gauntlet is a son of a bitch.

Perhaps the game that defines the genre "dungeon crawler," Gauntlet is a brutal mish-mash of action adventure, puzzle solving, and role playing that pits you as a legendary character (your choice of 4) who must navigate a hellish dungeon in order to find the mystical orb stolen by the Evil One.  This is a game that goes beyond being a classic to being one that is a cornerstone of all classic gaming.  Without Gauntlet you wouldn't have half of the MMORPG's (that is what they are called, right?) that wither the dating potential of millions of awkward  male twenty and thirtysomethings these days.  Everyone knows Gauntlet and everyone has played Gauntlet, at least a little bit, if they are at all familiar with games made before 1995.  But how many people do you know that have actually finished Gauntlet?  Furthermore, how many have finished it solo?  Exactly, and do you know why?  Because the game is hard. (you do realize why we are here right?  Top 30 Hardest NES games...?)

The difficulty in Gauntlet is a beast of many faces.  The straightforward action is hard enough.  There is a never-ending supply of bad guys who pour forth from monster generators with a single-minded goal of draining your life force.  There are tons of traps to stumble into and even Death himself lies in wait for you to set him free that he may drain your very existence with his deadly touch.  Gauntlet would be difficult enough on the back of that alone.  But wait, there's more!  Level design is another aspect of the game that can drive you to madness.  Each level is a maze, some with more than one exit, but all designed to waste time and get you so turned around that you aren't even sure where you are when you are looking right at the screen.  Some levels have invisible walls (these are pure evil), others have strategically placed enemies or traps that force you to either think around the bad guys or rush right in head first and hope for the best, still others have locked barriers that can only be undone with a key hidden somewhere in the level.  Many have false exits or teleporters that keep you guessing.  So while you are fending off the galloping hordes, you will also have to do some on the fly puzzle solving.  But wait, there's more!  Remember when I said levels were designed to waste your time?  Well in Gauntlet, time is not something you have a lot of.  Your hit points are constantly counting down from the moment you set foot in the dungeon.  Run out of hit points and GAME OVER.  You can keep yourself healthy by finding food and water, but you cannot stop that timer.  So each level becomes a mad dash to the finish to preserve as much life as possible for the next level.

But wait, there's more!

All of the things above describe what is going on within the levels, but you also have to mindful of your main goal, to locate the orb.  Well, guess what Bingo, that orb is sealed away behind a locked door that only a certain combination can unlock.  To figure out the combination, you must locate "clue rooms" in the dungeon and piece together the correct combination.  The combination is different for each player so there will be no cheating. (well at least not for purists, you can find the codes on this blasted internet these days, if you are a sissy).  And don't think you'll automatically find yourself in each of the clue rooms, either.  Many rooms have multiple exits and it is easy to clear a whole level and not go through the clue room.  So plan to play each level over and over, and many of the rooms over and over, until you figure out the right exits to take that ensure you find all of the clues. You do NOT want to get to the final level with half of the combination.

So while you are fighting off a million minions, racing against the clock, you are also trying not only to find the exit, but to find the right exit that will take you to the right rooms so that you can beat the game.  Easy right?  Hardly.  The last two levels are absolutely evil.  By the time you reach them, your HP is already low, the enemies are tougher and tougher and the puzzles are down right mean.  Level 4 is the water level and most of the walls are invisible.  You must feel your way around the room to find the exit.  And level five, Volcana, well, let's not talk about level 5, let's just say you'll be seeing a lot of Death.
Your only saving grace is the generous code system that allows you to start over after any treasure room for which you have a code.  You can see the code for your progress on the pause screen.  But just because you have the code doesn't mean the game is easily beaten.  You'll start the room over exactly how you entered it, so whatever conditions you were operating under before, you'll be operating under again.  The password just saves you the work of playing previous levels ad infinitum.  Although that is not always a bad thing either. If you get better at the early levels you can put yourself in a better position on the later ones and therefore increase your chances of winning the game.
The dude's name is freakin' Caesar! Look at that cat!

Gauntlet is a complex game that offers challenges on many levels.  The greatest difficulty stems from the need to find exactly the right exits to locate the clue rooms.  This means you'll be playing a lot of rooms over and over until you find the correct path.  Even then, once learned, getting the job done, solving the individual puzzles and beating back the relentless monsters, in the time allotted, is nearly impossible.  I have no doubt there are Gauntlet experts out there who can zip through the game in their sleep, but for the average gamer, this bad boy is Everest.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day25


Another shoe-in for #1 comes tumbling down the list and finds its way to #6, of all places!  Battletoads is so hard that at the 2010 Cleveland Classic Gaming Convention a group of vendors held a contest: the first person to sit down and beat Battletoads at the show, would win a sweetly decorated Battletoads custom NES console. 

No one won that console.

Battletoads' difficulty is infamous.  It is heralded in many circles at THE hardest NES game ever.  And that reputation is not unjustified.  Battletoads features some of the most difficult platforming levels you are going to find in the 8-bit era.  The game doesn't pull any punches.  Level 3, the dreaded Turbo Tunnel, is a madcap race through an obstacle course on a hover jet-ski looking thing.  The action is fast paced, the obstacles are just plain mean, and even top gamers can easily find themselves at the GAME OVER screen as a result of this level.
That was one friggin' sweet system!

The level designs in Battletoads are what give the game its core difficulty.  Some levels throw lots of tough enemies at you, others ask you to race to the finish on surfboards or navigate vertical tunnels on the back of burrowing robot snakes.  Variety is the spice of life in Battletoads and you'll need all of your skills if you are to see the end of this game.  Making matters worse, your Toads have plenty of hit points and you can score extra lives to keep going (not to mention a generous helping of continues), but there are lots of ways to die from a single mishap like falling in a hole, running into something while on the hover bike or surf board, and so on.  There are also some enemies that hit really hard and can take half of your life in one shot.  This greatly reduces the amount of careless hits you can take, particular during the more standard levels.  It also means you have to learn the levels inside and out if you are going to clear them without major loss of life.
Most players get this far and go home.  The Dreaded Turbo Tunnel is only three levels deep into the game.
Due to some of the more ball busting levels there is some added difficulty, at least for me, from the amount of frustration that can build up from not making it through that damn turbo tunnel again!  Or the surf board level, or the stupid snakes.  Plus, once you feel like you have a handle on some of the early levels, it is easy to get miffed by stupid deaths (jumping off the screen in the combat part of the Turbo Tunnel level, or getting zapped by the robots in level 2, for instance).  Battletoads is one of those games that gets my anger management sponsor a few extra phone calls during dinner and may or may not have cost me the start button on one of my controllers (don't ask).  The point here being: Battletoads is hard.

There are a few things about the game that keep it from being number one on my list.  First, the warps.  There are plenty of warps in this game that, once learned, can have you near the end pretty quickly.  There is one at the start of the very first level, another near the end of the Turbo Tunnel, as well as others scattered about.  Finding these can catapult you over some annoying levels and put you closer to the end with more lives and continues in tact.  Speaking of which, there are also a few ways to scum yourself up some extra lives.  The crows in level 2, for instance.  If you can keep juggling their corpses as you descend the tunnel, you can rack up some serious extra lives.  And I don't have to tell you why that is important.  And if the lives weren't enough, Battletoads is surprisingly generous with the continues as well.  Therefore, if you can master the early levels via repetition,(of which you will get plenty), utilize the warps to your advantage, and exploit the system for some extra lives, you can get pretty near the end of the game with a decent stockpile and cushion yourself against the worst the game has to offer.

I came very close to beating Battletoads several times and I think if I did more yoga to keep my anger in check I could probably take it down.  But that is going to have to wait for another day, somewhere in the distant future perhaps.  There is no doubt that Battletoads belongs in the top 10 Hardest NES games ever, it has earned its place, but I dare say there are 5 games that are even harder...
To this day, Thomas Stone refuses to play any video game that features mild violence, Battletoads included...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 24


Exactly how hard is Castlequest?  The developers give you 50 extra lives to start AND a complete map of the game that shows the location of ever single item and enemy, and the game is still in the top 10 of the Hardest NES Games.  That is one tough mother.

Castlequest is the last true puzzle game on our list and any puzzle game that is going to oust Solomon's Key had better bring its A game. Castlequest brings that and more. The game is the sum total of its design and that is the entire reason it ranks so high on this list.  Castlequest is the definition of a game that demands a perfect run because the game is designed around using exactly the right item at exactly the right time. Nothing can be wasted and nothing in the game is thrown away.  Even with the map, this game is going to take hours to figure out and complete.

If you are not familiar with Castlequest, you should be.  The game is super common and can be found in most second hand stores for around $5-8 (don't expect to get the map, though, you'll have to search the internet for that one.  Here's a hint: in your search window backspace over "porn" and type in "Castlequest map"). Assuming you don't have the time for all of that right now, let me give you a quick breakdown.  In Castlequest, you are a young prince determined to rescue a princess from an evil wizard.  Pretty standard stuff really.  The princess is trapped somewhere in one of the one hundred rooms of the evil wizard's castle.  You must search each room and seek out the princess, but your task will not be an easy one.  The wizard's castle is a treacherous maze filled with deadly traps, menacing minions, and many, many locked doors.  These doors are the source of your undoing, for each door is color coded and only the key of the correct color can unlock the door.  No big deal, right?  Wrong. For you see, the real difficulty lies in the fact that there are more doors than there are keys.  Open the wrong door and you have wasted a key you will need somewhere else in the castle later.  How do you know which doors to open?  There is no way to know apart from trial and error.  So prepare to start the game over and over and over.  A lot.

And right there is the cornerstone of Castlequest's difficulty.  There are a finite number of keys and more doors than keys to open them.  Furthermore, other helpful tools in the castle, like the aqualung that allows you to breathe underwater, do not regenerate once used. So when you use that aqualung to swim through the submerged part of the castle's lower depths, you better be sure you don't need to go back that way.  That aqualung is a one way trip.  This is what I mean when I say that Castlequest demands a perfect run.  There are no backsies.  Oh sure, you can afford to be crushed by an elevator or destroyed by a goblin here and there, the 50 extra lives help absorb some of that damage, but if you use that pink key now and find out there is nothing on the other side of that door worth a pink key, it doesn't matter if you have infinite lives, your game is over.
Gonna grab that aqualung and go swimming?  Better be sure...
 Now for the truly bizarre thing about Castlequest: in all honesty you can, and should, beat the game without ever turning on your NES.  Playing the game is more of a formality than a necessary part of beating it.  If you want to beat Castlequest, what you should do is spend about 8 hours pouring over the map, locating all of the necessary doors and the keys needed to open them.  Once you have done that, plot out your course so that you know the correct order to visit the rooms in.  After you have done all of that work, then you can plug in the game and execute your plan. The actual game itself is pretty simple once you know what you need to do.  Some of the enemies are a pain, but practice makes perfect in taking them out and once you get the hang of how to kill them you will start mowing through them with little trouble.

50 extra lives and a complete map means beating Castlequest is an exercise of planning and patience.  Needless to say there was no way to beat this game in 5 hours.  Heck, I would wager I didn't complete 20% of the game in 5 hours.  I have no doubt it can be done, if you use the method I detail above.  Beating it without the map is probably also possible, but only if you are willing and able to map out the castle on your own.  Without a map at all, I'll go so far as to say Castlequest is impossible.  You simply cannot luck into the solution.  Castlequest's difficulty has more to do with design than it does with the game play, but that does not mean it is any less worthy of its spot here at #7.