“A solid game, if a bit rough around the edges and collapsing under its own weight at times…”
– from the full review, which you can read here.
I guess I am on a shooter kick lately.
If you were to shove Abadox and Fantasy Zone in my face and say, “Quick! Pick one to play!” I would have to flip a coin. Both are quirky, visually memorable shooters, and both are satisfying, in their own way. Fantasy Zone is satisfying like the comfort of slipping into a familiar, cozy pair of slippers, in which you can maneuver about easily. Abadox is satisfying like that distinct sensation of clipping a toenail that needed trimming badly, or digging a crusty eye booger out of one’s socket.
Quick trivia: Yep, the same Natsume behind all the Harvest Moon games was behind Abadox, which is kinda surreal. They actually developed a few fine titles for the NES.
That, and infinite continues, although restarting a life without any power-ups becomes decreasingly useful as the game progresses.
Interestingly enough, Abadox is all about rescuing a princess. Go figure.
Read The Full Review For: Commentary on those luscious, delicious graphics, along with great sounds, too. More about the weapon variety, gameplay set-up, etc. Stuff.
NES Gameplay Tips for Abadox: Do not be intimidated by those big, gruesome bosses — not only are they often much easier to beat than the stages that precede them, but some can be beaten by exploiting a single spot on the screen that you will never take a hit from. Otherwise, this is a game where maneuverability is key, so exercise your precision hand-eye coordination and prepare to dodge just as many level elements as you will actual enemies. And those power-ups, those precious power-ups… once you have gathered up a handful and feel strong, I hope you have gotten some good practice in, because you need to treat them as though your chance of survival depends on keeping them intact. Because it does.
This really is a beautiful game (in its own weird way, I guess, but I mean that purely in pixel-art terms), so here are a bunch of screenshots for ya.
It all begins.
Frantic panic right away.
Zombie dog boss? Sure, bring on the undead canine. Giant, too. Or I'm just tiny...
Ah, the ol' "googly eyes" routine.
Look at all those projectiles. LOOK AT THEM.
Lame robot is lame.
I love the background here. That is art.
This game officially has an eye fetish.
Another great image.
This part. Oh man. So fun. So anxious.
But this. THIS MOMENT. This is why we play video games.
Even then, I get the feeling that I tend to like Data East’s NES ports more than most. Honestly, try finding a positive review of Cobra Command. I found one, which positively gushes, but also makes some excellent points.
If anything, Cobra Command is ambitious. I would put it somewhere on That List of Somewhat Difficult NES Games That Stand the Test of Time as True Worthy Challenges for Old-School Players, especially since I genuinely believe games like The Adventures of Bayou Billy are too hard to really be any fun.
Cobra Command strikes a nice chord, when you are ready for repeated sessions in order to memorize tricky portions and gain the experience necessary to master air-to-air combat with those zippy planes and such.
Read The Full Review For: Some phrases I have never used before, a couple quick game comparisons, more in-depth coverage of the graphics and sound, etc.
NES Gameplay Tips for Cobra Command: This is not a blast-through-with-all-guns-blazing game. This is a grueling haul that will take patience, practice, perseverance, and who knows what other odd assortment of p-words.
“Tragically, this was the only North American release that Joy Van ever had, which is unfortunate, given that not only is it a decent outing on its own objective merits, but also given some impressive technical achievements within, most notably parallax scrolling backgrounds on multiple layers. Who knows what wonders Joy Van could have given the world, had they managed to put in work for a more legitimate publisher?”
– from the full review, which you can read here.
This might be my favorite Color Dreams game!
Yes, I did just review a Color Dreams game with Robodemons, and its putrid memory is still fresh upon my delicate gray matter. To be kind to Metal Fighter: It is visually fantastic, with not only some great technical achievements, but also high-quality pixel art, and eye-poppingly diverse settings — even if they are “only” seven of them.
The challenge level is solid, too: The control is precise and tight, without the latency issues or fire-one-shot-at-a-time problems that other shooters can suffer from. Metal Fighter gets downright hectic at parts; and, seriously, during some the item mini bosses and end-of-stage bosses, the slow-motion multi-projectile attacks from the enemies make this game feel like training wheels for anyone looking to get into the “bullet hell” segment of the shmup population.
So, ultimately: This game is made well, and this game is fun.
… the first time or two you play it. Yes, this is one of those “fun for five minutes” titles. Even once you get good at it, master the boss patterns, etc., once you have beaten it a couple times I have to admit the replay value decreases. You could say that about every game, sure, but we all know that some games hold their appeal longer than others. Metal Fighter is one of those nice cities in Florida that makes for a great visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Maybe stay for a week’s vacation, but even by Thursday you are longing for the cozy comforts of home.
That being said, this is far from the worst shooter on the NES library, even if it never approaches Gradius-like quality. It should be noted that Color Dreams published this cartridge, but development was done by the mysterious Joy Van. I count it as a gaming tragedy that we did not get to see more of their work, honestly.
Dare I say it? Metal Fighter is slightly above-average, in my opinion. But if you say “Saying a game is the best Color Dreams game is like saying one piece of poop is shinier than the others,” that is perfectly fair.
A decent horizontally oriented shooter with crazy-far-out visuals? Think of it as Fantasy Zone Lite.
NES Gameplay Tips For Metal Fighter: Okay, listen up, I have some intel. During the scrolling portions, enemy types always spawn from the same place on the side of the screen. In other words: For each level, there is usually one noticeable “most annoying” enemy (the nimble types that flit and flutter around unpredictably, yet at higher speeds). I suggest aiming your cannon at that spot and wiping them out every time they pop out. However, remember: Enemies spawn from both the left and right edge, so never stray too close, lest you suddenly explode. Little tip: Many projectiles can be shot, which is especially nice when you have the full-circle multi-shot power-up, acting as a shield. For the item mini boss, use the hold-B charge shot, alternating your up-and-down movements against theirs. Once you find the power up you favor, remember, you do not have to grab every power-up, just keep the one you like in this game, since the mini boss might be the deadliest danger in Metal Fighter. And, finally, for some bosses, you can take advantage of your right-or-left facing movement freedom by hanging out behind them and drilling them from the rear. Have fun.
Read The Full Review For: A further look into the actual mechanics of this shooter, some stuff that makes Metal Fighter unique, several other-NES-game comparisons for points, more context for its place in the Color Dreams pantheon.
I have lots of screenshots for this game, because I really want people to appreciate the visuals. Check out the amazing use of color and the splendid variety of level themes!
Every life begins walking until an "F" is gained for flight.
Mini bosses guard the items -- fellow Metal Fighters!
Full-circle, multi-directional power-up cannon.
Adding the Double Shot power-up for triple-shot power. My favorite.
Boss! Look at all the projectiles this game handles on screen at once!
Beating the boss.
Next level. Great use of color. Looks great scrolling.
The item mini bosses vary in appearance, weaponry.
Great cityscape background here. Sky has parallax (layered) scrolling.
Cityscape changes color scheme for boss battle! Like nightfall!
Cityscape changes once again when boss defeated -- like it's in flames!
Love the field-of-depth visuals in this level.
You're going down, ugly.
Weird: When this boss is defeated, he drops until halves appear separate wrapped at top and bottom of screen, then explodes. Huh?
An undersea-themed level, oddly enough...
Admittedly, just a palette swap from the previous stage screenshot.
I even made a video for this game, if you care to see the final boss (plus a trick at the beginning, just messin’ around with him) and the ending for Metal Fighter:
“Controlling the character is like trying to ice skate on stilts.” – from the full review, which you can read here.
I really don’t want to become some sort of Color Dreams connoisseur or aficionado.
Yet when I play Color Dreams games, I have played enough of them enough times to recognize when they are sticking with their usual mode and when they differentiate. They definitely stuck to a stubborn, bad game-design formula with most of their titles, but there are some subtle nuances of off-course exploration every once in a while.
When you play Secret Scout, you can tell the same artist(s?!) was used for King of Kings, under their later Wisdom Tree brand. The characters have that seem warped proportion, like wide-eyed cartoons. By the time you play Pesterminator, you learn to recognize that distinctive “clang” sound effect they used for — anything and everything, despite it being so grating. Yet some of their games have differing amounts of flickering issues, or stage navigation philosophy, or other elements. Among their shooter/platformer hybrid library, I would place Raid 2020 a step below Robodemons.
But hear me on this: Robodemons sucks. I am not trying to defend it too heartily (I think some of the pixel art is not bad, and it at least forms a playable video game, kinda), I am just saying that parts of it are better or worse than other Color Dreams titles.
Which makes me feel like the crazy guy in the corner comparing one dead bug to another. Nobody wants to play with the dead spiders, y’know? Go get a nice puppy or something.
Read The Full Review For: One important distinction between this game and, say, Mega Man; along with other distinctions made as well, I guess.
NES Gameplay Tips For Robodemons: Honestly? This: During the shooter portions, it is very important to know the exact trajectory of the boomerang, since you can only fire one at a time. If you miss, you have to sit there and wait until it flies away, then curves up, then flies back, then disappears, all before you can fire again. There are segments when it is absolutely critical to hit an enemy repeatedly (and their projectiles!), before they can hit you, without missing, even if that enemy is barely as tall as the boomerang.
My only other piece of advice: Don’t touch anything. An awful lot of stuff can kill you instantly. It sucks. It really sucks.
Hey, at least I can be proud to offer screenshots of areas not covered on GameFAQs or MobyGames. Behold, the depths of Hell:
“Fantasy Zone has a very unique, distinctive look to it, very fantastical in nature (duh?), utterly colorful, and dripping with saccharine sweetness. It is like Ristar and Little Nemo had a demented space-shooter baby in Candy Land.”
– from the full review, which you can read here.
I think Fantasy Zone is a great game. In fact, it is my pick for Review A Great Game Day 2013! Which officially happens April 8th. Mark your calendars, as this positive celebration of favorite games should become an annual event (along with Review A Bad Game Day, August 8th, which celebrates the catharsis of insulting games we hate).
I have a soft spot for Fantasy Zone. When the Twin Galaxies website recently restored its searchable high-scores database, I immediately looked up my Fantasy Zone mark, for which I still hold the world record, according to their records and rules. If you check, you will notice I tied for the top spot — purposely, as I wanted to make a point about Fantasy Zone being a silly choice for score-chasing, because the enemies regenerate (if you wanted, you could literally just go back and forth on the first level killing the same stuff over and over), yet TG stipulations do not allow “leeching,” which is the idea that if you play for a high score, you should be playing in a way that advances the in-game plot. Some disagree, philosophically, as to whether this really reflects the peak of competition on games (why not take advantage of everything you can for the highest possible score? see also: glitches not allowed in Super Mario Bros speedruns, etc.). Either way, though, it can be a very difficult case to try and determine whether someone was leeching or not. If it were up to me, that game would just be retired on TG. Which, of course, has the added benefit of me having the top spot forever, mwahahahahahahahaha.
Like a boss.
The other reason that Fantasy Zone is a sentimental favorite of mine: Like Crystalis, Fantasy Zone is a game that I bought as a used-games shop, back in the pre-Internet days, as a young’n, when I literally had no idea what the game was like. I still kinda miss that era when you could purchase a cartridge, sight-unseen, and have the excitement of looking forward to discovering what the heck it was. While Crystalis was a mind-blowingly pleasant surprise, Fantasy Zone was a little easier to predict: Right on the label art, you can see that this is probably going to be a weird shooter.
I know lots of other people love this game, too. But, yes, I know, the Sega Master System version is superior. I really do get it, you do not need to tell me or remind me. It is just so much smoother, and looks better. Though, if you really was a visual-feat version of Fantasy Zone, go full 16-bit Sega.
You can scroll to other pages, too!
Is Fantasy Zone perfect? No, far from it, and especially on the choppy NES port. But, if I may be so bold, I think that is one important hallmark of great games: We are fond of them despite the flaws we are aware of. Fantasy Zone has a proper legacy as a quirky shooter, but I think it is enjoyable on many levels: The fantastically trippy dream-world feel, the surprisingly solid shooter mechanics, and the simple old-school Nintendo challenge of trying to beat the game straight through.
Read The Full Review For: More in-depth description and commentary, rather than informal thoughts. Really, that is usually what you can find in the difference between my reviews and my blog posts.
NES Gameplay Tips for Fantasy Zone: There are two types of Fantasy Zone players: Those who abuse Heavy Bombs (as they make half the bosses much easier, some to an absurd extent), and those who do not. Take your pick. Either way, get a speed upgrade early and have fun!
Exciting, right? I know, it's almost overwhelming.
“Some obstacles are permanent, and cannot be destroyed, and kill the player if they are contacted by the bike. Other obstacles can be shot, until they change color, indicating that they are no longer deadly, and can now be driven (hovered?) through. Yet other obstacles will disappear completely if shot enough. Yet still other obstacles can be shot repeatedly and actually moved across the screen slightly with each shot.”
– from the full review, which you can read here.
You may be wondering: “Hey Eric, that publisher sounds familiar. FCI? What else did they make?”
The answer that rises to attention: Hydlide. This is not a good sign.
Excitebike... IN SPAAAAAAAACE! ... maybe! Who knows?!
Seicross is fricking random. Just chaos and arbitrary decisions all around. I tend to dislike a game for being so blatantly, utterly, absurdly random (well hello there, Alfred Chicken), but it can work out well, too. One example of a zany insane crazy-random game that I enjoy: Gun Nac.
But I would still put Seicross under those games, because of what I think is the difference: While randomness sometimes occurs by design, I think in Seicross it happened because they just kept adding crap until the end product no longer made sense.
Why are there spaceships alongside dinosaurs?
Even better, if not as humorous: Why do I have to keep track of my fuel? No, seriously: What gameplay benefit does that give? What enjoyment factor does that provide the player? The elements of tension and imminent danger are already in place from the enemies, projectiles, and obstacles strewn throughout. Why do I have to keep picking up fuel, too?
You could call it the Ghostbusters problem, I guess. Consider that, wow: When your game is compared to Hylide and Ghostbusters, you must have some serious issues. I repeat: Hydlide and Ghostbusters.
Did I rescue them or capture them? Does it matter? Convenient STOP lettering, anyway.
But, lo, next we observe the Honest Gamers page for Seicross on NES, a website full of reviews and other information on old titles. Here, we have two different whole reviews. Again, we are using an out-of-ten scale. And what scores do those two reviews give Seicross? An 8 and a 9.
That is mind-scratchingly bonkers. If you actually read the reviews, the reasoning is unclear for the high scores. The guy who gives the game an 8 admits that the game’s graphics are not good, the sound is bad, and the game is frustrating, but lol whatever.
Look, I am not saying that Seicross is horrible, but the bottom line is this: There should be a huge cavernous difference between a game that is consistently fun throughout and one that only sometimes reaches the level of being any fun at all.
By all my powers of observation, I can only deduce that Seicross is the latter.
Because, seriously, when you get a couple weapon upgrades and you’re blowing away robot dinosaurs across a grid-based alien landscape, it can be pretty cool.
Totally sucks the rest of the time, though.
Read The Full Review For: Humorous insults, a little history lesson, and some not-quite-complimentary game comparisons. I took off the Hat of Formality a bit for this one.
Title screen. Note the lack of iconic font used in arcade original.
“While it still poses a worthy high-score challenge for fans of the old school, can it really offer the same rewarding player experience as a solid RPG, or platformer, or Legend of Zelda, or a multi-player sports title, or other great Nintendo games of the era? The debate can persist, but the conclusion stands: Some will be haters, and some will be fans.”
– from the full review, which you can read here.
I like Joust. Maybe it is the uniqueness, or the challenge, or the easy-to-learn pace, but Joust remains among my favorite arcade ports, even if, objectively, I would have to place it a peg or two below some of the other classics from back in the day.
This is another game, though, that falls into that strange developer habit from the era where they would fail to account for cabinet quirks in the conversion. What I mean by that is this: Joust is tough, and designed to eat quarters. Part of this is the de facto time limit in effect from the pterodactyls.
But for a home release, when someone has bought the full game and brought it to their living room, why not relax the stringent difficulty a bit? I think it is a question worth asking, although I imagine the publisher would have caught a lot of flak if their arcade classics were somehow rendered into more of a “kiddie conversion” or something. Eh.
On a positive note, however, is the difference between Joust and the arcade legends I like less: When I play Joust, I want to be good at it. When I play something like Paperboy or Donkey Kong, I do not care. That is just me, I know. But when I mount my bird (shut up), grab the lance, and go to war — I want to be good at Joust. It is a wordless, intangible feeling, but I dig the whole gladiator-arena, post-apocalyptic feel of this game.
Also: Yes, with Heavy Barrel, I just reviewed two different arcade games on NES, and gave each a rating of three stars out of five. Two very different games, but both worth a second look from people who have never bothered to give them a try, or if it has been a while since you last checked them out.
NES Gameplay Tips For Joust: Maintain altitude? I am not a good enough Joust player to offer tips on this one, sorry. Maybe someday.
Read The Full Review For: Game comparisons, gameplay analysis, my attempts at not using the same words over and over, a few shameless links to prior blog entries.
Title screen. The "Heavy Barrel" text has flashing animation.
“While it may sound like a bold statement, one could say that Heavy Barrel is well-balanced.”
– from the full review, which you can read here.
I would put Heavy Barrel on a list of overlooked, underrated NES games. This is probably more like a 3.25-star game, if rating is your thing, but it also probably holds a warmer, softer place in my heart than it would for most gamers, and I recognize that.
That being said, though, this is a solid old-school overhead run-’n'-gun. I really enjoy the way it incorporate inventory management: Although the more powerful guns have limited ammo, they still give you like 50+ rounds to enjoy, offering plenty of destructive potential before switching to the next one.
Yet, even then, the player is free to explore different strategies. Are you going to destroy everything in your path, blasting the crap out of everything that moves? Are you going to conserve ammo, deftly dodge incoming rounds, and avoid as much as possible? Or will you utilize some sublime combination of these two schools of thought? The good news is: Heavy Barrel allows each and every possibility.
Even if, yes, that “middle ground” balance is going to be the best choice, ultimately.
But look at those visuals! You will never hear Heavy Barrel mentioned in any list of the best-looking NES games, but seriously, check out the pixel placement. Those backgrounds are lovingly crafted, especially for a game on which the developer could have been super lazy in the conversion process. The bolts on the metal plates have rust of them. Three or four colors will be used just to draw a metal pipe extending across the screen. The flamethrower fire expands like a good-feeling flame should, not like some impotent, stale ball-shape that flits toward enemy forces. Grenades pop open then blast into multiple directions. Some of the bosses are enormous.
Really, take a second look at Heavy Barrel. It’s not for everyone, but it is probably a more solid game than you remember, especially when you get a feel for dodging bullets and taking advantage of the dumb AI.
And it has a two-player mode. I mean, seriously.
Data East has a better reputation for its arcade games than for its NES line-up (largely composed of ports of those arcade cabinets), but Heavy Barrel is a great example of a conversion that could have been much worse than what we ended up.
Granted, it is still quite hard.
NES Gameplay Tips For Heavy Barrel: Don’t feel like you have to kill utterly everything, but make an effort to do so. If something is taking more than two rounds to kill, though, then just move on. Aside from the points you’re missing, the game has no penalty for simply skipping enemies. Especially for stationary guns, this often makes sense. And when you reach that third-level boss, the big tank on rails? Stand on the right side of the screen, about three-fourths of the way up, and just fire to the left. Jam that A button hard. The opposing grenades will never touch you.
Read The Full Review For: More specific examples of the graphic splendor, commentary on the soundtrack, some retro game comparisons, and basic overview of the gameplay, among other words.
Now let’s see some screenshots!
Opening animation. Classic material.
Gotta love "hectic bridge" parts in overhead gunner games.
Welcome to the Purple Warehouse. What hues!
Heavy Barrel has a couple infamous elevator portions. Also: Contra's Spread Gun.