F-1 Race is Nintendo's answer to Pole Position. The gameplay is very similar, with two gears for your racer, a similar perspective, and no rankings in the race, just an infinite field of cars to crash on. F-1 Race does improve in a few ways on the old classic however. There are many tracks to choose from (different ones for each skill level!) with their own challenges. The racing action is smooth, and the opponents are as devious as opponents who are always slower than you and restricted to two lanes can be. One very nice touch is the way that each race changes the time of day. When you first turn on the game, it will be broad daylight, but as you progress through various races, the time changes and it gets darker. Sure it's just a palette swap, but it's a nice palette swap. Speaking of time passing in racing games - let's talk about Enduro for the 2600 for a moment. Enduro was a very ambitious game with two things that set it apart when it came out, and for quite some time afterwards. First of all, Enduro had the time change while you raced. As you drove down the road, it would become dark, then light again. The other innovation was in control. Pressing the sole button on the joystick would cause your car to accelerate. Pulling down on the joystick applied the brakes. The genius part - letting go of the button caused your car to maintain its speed. This gave the ability to have partial acceleration with very simple controls. How many other early driving games have I played with this style of control? None. This is such an elegant way to allow the player to set their speed, and not have to fight with tapping the button to keep a speed around a corner. (If any readers know of other games with this control scheme - please let me know) Overall, this is a solid racer, with the same control quirk that troubled practically every driving game of this era. The graphical touches are nice though, and the courses are varied and challenging. Recommended.
4ninuchi Mahjong - 11/2/84
4ninuchi Mahjong, or 4 player mahjong, is exactly as the name describes. Unless of course you wanted those players to be human. In which case it's 1 player mahjong. Differences between this and Nintendo's offering are: Smaller, squatter tiles. Necessary to fit all of the tiles on screen. Two more opponents. Lack of the dealing animation (which was the neat feature from the Nintendo version). Otherwise, this is just more mahjong. It's hideous, it's utilitarian - it's an NES mahjong game. Two down - fourteen more to go. (Yes, I'm serious - and I'm only counting games with the word "Mahjong" in the title. If anyone got creative, there could be more.)
Devil World - 10/5/84
Pac-Man in hell. That's the quick synopsis of this bizarre game. You are some manner of lizardish thing who must pick up hell-dots while avoiding one-eyed creatures. There are a few important differences from Pac-Man. The first is that your creature can't just pick up dots on his own. He requires the help of Devil World's power pellets - crosses. Picking up a cross allows you to eat dots. They remain even after they are picked up. They also give you the ability to shoot fire, which is the way you can turn the enemies into something that you can eat. The other change is that the playing field scrolls around, restricting your freedom of movement. The devil at the top stamps his foot and the field starts to scroll in a different direction. Getting caught between the edge of the screen and one of the walls will cause a life to be lost. There are a few different kinds of levels. The first is the eat the dots type. The second has your lizard picking up books from the corners of the screen. The books must be taken to the stone in the center of the screen. There are also bonus rounds where you are given only a short amount of time to pick up items for points. This game is one of the few variations on Pac-Man that actually has enough differences to make it a new experience. Keeping track of the scrolling playfield, and having to always have a cross active makes the game a tense experience. Also, the change of having to shoot the enemies mean that just because a power-up is active you aren't necessarily safe. Lots of fun, highly recommended.
Galaxian - 9/7/84
Galaga is one of my favorite games of all time. Seeing the machine (or the re-issue with Ms. Pac-Man) practically causes the change to leap out of my pocket. Galaxian is Galaga's predecessor, but doesn't quite have the same magic. Note the release date above. 1984. This game hit the arcade in 1979. I might add that Galaga hit the arcade in 1981. This game, and even Galaga, were old hat by the time this hit the Famicom. This game features the standard field of aliens at the top, your ship at the bottom, and not much else. Unlike Space Invaders, there are no shields to hide behind. Also, the aliens try and dive bomb you, while shooting. Unlike Galaga, there is no double ship, which is one of the best parts of Galaga. What's wrong with this game? Nothing outstanding really. You do only get one shot on the screen at a time, and they travel a little slowly. Really the big problem is that there just isn't much here to do. Galaga has the ramp in difficulty, the fun of the challenge stages, and the risk of getting the double ship. Space Invaders has the ever increasing speed, and the invaders that start lower and lower on the screen. Galaxian has levels that prety much seem the same. Even in 1984, there were better shooters to play. Should you play it now? Not recommended.
Lode Runner - 7/31/84
Lode Runner is one of those games with simple concepts that become very difficult very quickly. A few basic types of terrain and one type of enemy add up to death after death after death. Your abilities are simple. You can climb ladders, shimmy across ropes, drop from ropes, and dig holes to your left and to your right. It is not possible to dig directly beneath your feet, beneath a ladder, or on the solid blocks. Digging holes is your only defense and offense. Your enemies will charge for you, even if there's a hole in the way. They will fall in, and drop any gold they may be carrying. They crawl out after a moment or so, unless the hole closes up on them. Your enemies chase after you and pick up gold. The gold is your goal. Once every piece of gold is collected, the exit to the level will appear. There is a level select built in to make up for the lack of passwords. One major flaw keeps this game from action-puzzle goodness - the distance of the edge of the screen from your character. In the accompanying screenshot, the player character is moving to the right. Only about a fifth of the screen is in front of you! When your character can't jump, nor can he dig if an enemy is already on a square, the enemies come upon you far too quickly. The game is still playable, but this does add a lot of artificial difficulty. There have been several versions of this game throughout the years, including three more coming up on the Famicom. In fact, the release date for Championship Lode Runner is less than a year away... With the hope that there is a better implementation of this interesting design coming up for the Famicom/NES - Not Recommended.
Nuts & Milk - 7/28/84
Um...ok. This game's name is, well, Nuts & Milk. Why? I don't really know. It's a bad enough title that you'd expect that it was just a bad translation by someone - but it's an English title screen. This game is also notable for another reason. This is the first third-party game released for the Famicom. It's unfortunate that it's not the first third-party game that's actually any good. You play as the little pink blob (whose name for some reason is Milk). Your goal is to collect all of the fruit and then go to the house where another one of you is waiting. Milk can climb the vine-ladder things and jump. Your enemy: the little blue blob(s) that chase after you. The major problem I had with this game is that Milk cannot jump while on the vines. This includes walking across the top of them. That's right - in the screenshot that accompanies this review, Milk would not be able to jump. There is a nice animation that happens if Milk falls too far that makes him/her fall to his/her side and shake the ground with the landing. It requires a press of the jump button to get moving again. There are countless games of the avoid the baddies, collect the stuff variety, and practically all of them are better than this. Not recommended.
Donkey Kong 3 - 7/4/84
Donkey Kong 3 is a fairly radical departure from the previous two games. This game actually plays much more like a shooter than a Donkey Kong. Enemies include small flies which try to fly into you and steal your bonus-point-giving flowers, large flies which explode in to deadly bits after being shot with your bug spray, worms which can only be killed by the super bug spray, and hornets which charge at your exterminator. The object is to shoot Donkey Kong up to the top of the vines which he is hanging from. Of course, you must avoid all the other enemies while doing so. On higher levels, Donkey Kong will throw coconuts at you as well. This game starts out frantic, and only gets crazier as the levels go by. This is a solid game with only one minor irritation - there is not a jump button. Instead, pushing up on the control pad makes you jump. This can lead to moving and jumping being a little more difficult to control than if there were a separate button. Overall, this is a lot of fun, even if it doesn't have much to do with Donkey Kong. Recommended.
Hogan's Alley - 6/12/84
Hogan's Alley is a game that acts like a police training simulation. Your targets are not real villains, but stand-up targets that look like gangsters or innocent people. The challenge is to shoot the bad guys, and to, well, not shoot the good guys. In Game A, three targets are wheeled out in a line, and are then flipped so you can see them. You then have a second or two to shoot the proper targets. Not hitting a bad guy or hitting a good guy counts as a miss. Game B (pictured) is similar, but targets slide in and out of the open areas in the town. Game C offers the opportunity to finally shoot at virtual cans. Yes, the target in Game C is cans, tossed in to the screen, which the player must keep in the air by shooting them. There are ledges on the opposite side of the screen with different numbers of points on them. Points are earned by making the cans land on the ledges. Dropping a can causes a miss. This is an okay light gun game. It does introduce the new skill of determining which targets to shoot at, something which Wild Gunman and Duck Hunt do not offer. Recommended.
Golf - 5/1/84
The title screen has a seemingly innocent line at the bottom - "TOP +28 100". +28? That's a pitiful score! I can beat that easy! And several games later I finally got +10. Still pathetic, but better than the high score. The course is diabolical, and the controls are primitive. There are 16 directions which you can face to take your swing, and quite often none of them are exactly the direction that you want. Fortunately, by using the classic power meter, you can finesse your shot to go the direction it needs to go. The winds are often tricky, and to make things even more difficult, if the ball lands in the trees it is out of bounds and adds a penalty stroke to the ever growing score. Another great difficulty is the lack of distance indicators to tell you how far away from the hole you are. The clubs also have no indication of their range, and the game does not help you select a club. There is only one single player mode, but there is both stroke and match play for two players. The graphics are sufficient in most cases, although the fairways are all flat. The close up shot of the golfer is a nice touch as well. The sound alternates between annoying and acceptable. The slide-whistle effect when the ball goes up and down is not really necessary, although the thud of the ball is fairly decent. For a quick listen to one of the most annoying sounds ever - get a birdie. A high pitched beep sounds in celebration which is almost enough to make you wish you had a bogey. Even though this is a bit of a primitive golf game, it is quite a bit of fun once you get the hang of it. Recommended if you enjoy golf games in general.
Duck Hunt - 4/21/84
Duck Hunt features the most evil, horrible enemy ever put in a videogame. He's completely invincible, although that doesn't stop players from pumping countless shots into him. He even has the gall to laugh at you, just when you're at your worst. This horrible foe is the stupid dog...sure he acts like he's your friend, scaring out the ducks for you, but what a jerk! Game A offers, as the title screen says, 1 duck for you to shoot at a time. In a nice twist, if you have a second controller plugged in, someone else can control the duck while you try and shoot at it. (There is no control option for the dog.) Game B has two ducks at the same time. In each round you must hit a certain number of ducks out of ten to move on - this increases as the level increases until it reaches ten out of ten. The ducks move quicker as well. Game C is Clay Shooting, which has the same style of play, with the same level progression. The difference is, of course, the clay pigeons for targets instead of ducks. They fly off into the distance, making quick shots essential. Duck Hunt is a classic light gun game. Although, had it not been a pack in game with my NES, I doubt it would have been in my home. It served as a great break after losing all of my lives in Super Mario Bros. Recommended.
Wild Gunman - 2/18/84
Amazing graphics and character animation! Where's the game? Most Zapper games are gimmicky at best - but this one completely left out the gameplay. Game A offers one outlaw who saunters out to the center of the screen. In true Wild West style, you wait for him to draw, then shoot. If you shot him before the timer ran out, move on to the next bandit who does the same thing with a shorter timer, otherwise, lose a life. Game B offers two bandits, who walk to their designated spots before turning and attacking. Thrilling. Game C shows the bandits' hideout, where they pop out and you shoot them. Sort of a light gun whack-a-mole game. There is almost no reason to play this game unless you've really got a soft spot for light gun games. The characters are impressive though, too bad there's not much to do with them. Not recommended.
Pinball - 2/2/84
I love pinball games. There's something magical about their simplicity - the battle against gravity. I also love real pinball, but the abstraction of it can supply some entertainment as well. Pinball has a lot of great features, especially for such an early game. The standard two difficulty levels return again, game A and game B. In game B everything moves more quickly and is generally more difficult to keep in play. The table is two screens tall, the lower screen features the standard side drains and triangle bumpers, as well as cards to flip over and little ducks to hatch. The top table has the ever popular slot machine, and a progressive bumper. An extra ball is awarded at 50,000 points, and in a evil twist, your flippers disappear at 100,000! This game is great fun if you enjoy pinball, even though there are more complex pinball games out there, this one is still a ton of fun, with plenty of targets to keep things interesting. The additional difficulty level goes a long way towards keeping it fresh too. Recommended.
Tennis - 1/14/84
Another very creatively named game from Nintendo. ("Hmm...we're making a game that is a simulation of Tennis. What should we call it?" "How about...umm...Tennis, boss?" "Brilliant! Give him a raise!") This game offers two different game modes, singles and doubles. In each mode you are given five skill choices 1-5, which range from the-cpu-can't-hit to the-cpu-can't-miss. The doubles mode actually allows you and a friend to play on the same team. The game follows all the rules of tennis faithfully. All of the matches are played to the best of three sets. One difficulty I had in playing this game was the way you have to stop running before you hit the ball. Modern tennis games tend to stop your character when you hit the button to swing, while this doesn't. This can certainly lead to difficulty. Also, your character doesn't really try for the ball that hard. He won't dive, he won't scoop for a low ball, jump for a high ball, nothing. If the ball is on his side, at the proper height, he will hit it. Otherwise, it's just too much trouble. One other issue with the game is the sound. The sound effects would be better left out. The cartoony slide whistle like effect of the ball going up in the air and the high pitched sound of the ball hitting the racquet are distracting to say the best. With so many other more modern games available that play the exact same sport, it is hard to recommend this game. There is little charm to be had here, other than the doubles option to play on a team with a friend. Not recommended.
Game of the Year Awards - 1983
It's the end of 1983! Time for the Game of the Year awards! Best sound - Donkey Kong Best graphics - Popeye Best arcade conversion - Mario Bros. Best strategy - Gomoku Narabe Best sports (a dubious honor, since there's only one) - Baseball Most surprisingly fun - Popeye And the Game of the Year ... Mario Bros.! A solid all around game that nearly anyone can pick up and have fun with, and is just as fun with two than with one. I'll see you next year!
Donkey Kong Jr. no Sansuu Asobi - 12/12/83
Donkey Kong Jr.'s Arithmetic Playing! There are 3 exciting modes here, Calculate A has Donkey Kong holding up a sign with a number on it - your task (and the task of your hapless friend who you got to play the game with you) is to grab numbers off of the vine and combine them with the arithmetic operators on the islands to add, subtract, multiply, and divide your way to the target number. And that's it. Calculate B throws absolutely no wrenches into the mix, it just makes the target numbers larger. Lastly, the aptly named +-X/ Exercise lets you get math practice by solving problems presented above a set of vines. The height that you climb on the vines before moving to the next one determines which number you want for your answer. That's all there is here. Much like most edutainment games, there's a lot more 'edu' than 'tainment'. Any child old enough to do the math necessary to play this game is smart enough to know that there are better games that they could be playing. Not recommended.
Baseball - 12/7/83
Old sports games fall into two categories. The first is that of the classic - that game that even for all of its shortcomings and omissions is just plain fun. Even though it doesn't have the graphics or the features, it's still as fun (or often times more fun) than the current offerings. Tecmo Bowl is one that comes to mind that falls into that category for a lot of people. The other category are those whose shortcomings fail to endear, and instead grate. Baseball is one of those games. The fact that the infielders are not under your control (and they move soooo s-l-o-w-l-y) is one strike, the simplicity of the pitcher/batter interface, and the general slow pace of play are three strikes against this game. There may be some fun to be had in the two player mode - but surely there are many other games that would be more fun. Not recommended.
Popeye no Eigo Asobi - 11/22/83
So, imagine this scene. You're one of the lucky people who has a shiny new Famicom. You've jumped barrels, climbed vines, caught hearts, and played board games. Every day for two and a half months you've checked the game store to see if there's something new and exciting to bring home. You ask the clerk and he finally says - "Yes! We have a new Famicom game in today!" Excitedly, you hurry to the shelf and look at...Popeye no Eigo Asobi! Or, in English - Popeye's English Playing! Wow. Talk about your disappointments. This is basically hangman, but with Popeye's graphics. In Word Puzzle A you get the word in Japanese katakana and you choose the right letters from below. Thrilling. Also, you may notice in the screenshot that the word - vitamin is spelled incorrectly. Word Puzzle B throws in the exciting twist of removing the clue. Word catcher is more of an arcade challenge, but actually has more problems than fun. A list of three words in Japanese are on the left side of the screen, and Olive is throwing letters from above. The problem is that she's really throwing a lot of letters around - it's hard to catch the letters you mean to without catching the ones you don't. If you REALLY like hangman - give this one a go, otherwise, play the regular Popeye instead.
Mario Bros. - 9/9/83
I have always loved this game. The music, the simultaneous 2 player action, the danger of the fireballs, the fun of hitting the POW block, everything about this game is enjoyable. Although the animation and graphics have been toned down, this classic translates extremely well to the NES (or Famicom as the case may be). The only real problem with this game is the flicker that rears its ugly head throughout nearly the whole game. As you can see in the screenshot, part of the Fighterfly and part of the Sidestepper are missing. While far from a game breaker, it is certainly a noticable part of the game. I guess that's the price that had to be paid for the multiple large enemies on the screen. This game is just as fun and as challenging as when I played it the first time on my lucky friend's NES. (Lucky because he had the NES, not because he was my friend) Highly recommended.
Mahjong - 8/27/83
Mahjong, the staple of Japanese game systems. Nary a new system goes by without a mahjong game (or 2, or 3) coming out at launch time. I am fairly familiar with the rules of classical mahjong, however, the game of Japanese mahjong has some major differences. Mahjong is very similar to rummy, but is played with tiles instead of cards. The object is to get 4 groups of 3 (either a sequence, or 3 of a kind), and a pair. The game is generally played with 4 players, but many mahjong video games are played with 2. The addition to the Japanese game is the concept of fans. Fans are special characteristics of a hand which add to its value. If your hand does not meet a certain number of fans, it is not legal to go out, even if your hand would otherwise meet the requirements. I was unsure what the difference between the menu items are, because I am neither literate enough in Japanese nor familiar enough with Japanese mahjong to tell the difference. One nice graphical touch that I've not seen before is that as the tiles are dealt, some of them come in to your hand upside-down. They are then sorted and placed right side up. This game is basically the same as practically every other mahjong game of this era. The tiles and the points are presented in a no nonsense manner, and there is little else to see or comment on. If you enjoy 2 player mahjong, this is certainly playable, despite its age.
Gomoku Narabe - 8/27/83
Gomoku Narabe is a competent low-frills version of the board game. The object is to try and get 5 of your pieces in a row either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. There are 4 variations on the theme available from the main menu. The first option is a sort of training game. Here, any time the computer is one move away from winning, the group of pieces will flash to draw the players attention to them. The second option is the basic game with nothing fancy. The third option is the same as the second, but there is a 90 second timer added in. The game gives you only 90 seconds to complete all of your moves in the whole game. I'm sure that a more skilled player would make enough moves in a game to make the time pressure actually matter, but I generally lost before the time became a factor. The last option is the obligatory 2 player mode. The sound effects are quite sparse, which is fortunate, because the few that exist get old rather quickly. One nice touch is the ability of the game to determine a hopeless situation, and not force the game to be played out to its obvious conclusion. For example, a row of four pieces which is open on both ends cannot be defeated. The game recognizes this, and moves on to the next game. I'm not sure if this was an attempt to try and capture the market for adult gamers or an attempt to just get more software out for the new Famicom, but this is probably about as good as a game of this type could be.
Popeye - 7/15/83
The last of the launch titles. This one surprised me quite a bit! I didn't really expect to enjoy a Popeye game. This game features Olive Oyl tossing out hearts, notes, or letters of the word 'help' to our daring hero. After a solid rendition of the theme song, Popeye is left to run around and catch the thrown items. If they are not caught, they land in the water, where they must be picked up before they sink. To start with, the only enemy is Bluto, but later birds and skulls are your adversaries as well. Bluto has a surprising number of moves, from chasing you, to punching the level above, leaping down to the level below (complete with a ground shake). He also tosses bottles at you if you stay at the same height with him for too long. Great fun for a game that initially seems like nothing special. Give it a chance and it will pull you in.
Donkey Kong Jr. - 7/15/83
Game number two of the launch games. I have to admit that I've never been a fan of Donkey Kong Jr. The vines and the climbing has never been that exciting to me. One touch that I can appreciate about the game is the way your climbing speed changes based on the vines you are holding on to. Clinging to two vines is better when climbing, but you only want to be on one vine when climbing back down. This adds variety to a game that doesn't seem to have much of it. This is certainly a competent port, but just not one of my favorite games.
Donkey Kong - 7/15/83
One of three games released on 7/15/83, Donkey Kong was part of the opening shots of the Famicom. Why not start out with an arcade classic? Donkey Kong is an enjoyable port of the arcade classic. The graphics are certainly nice, it has as many levels as most of the versions that came before it (no pie factory), and the sound is pretty decent. One thing that I missed was the "How High Can You Go?" screen. The opening of Donkey Kong carrying away Pauline was absent as well, but I figure something like that could get old pretty fast when you've got the game at home and can play all the "quarters" that you want. The option of choosing between "Game A" and "Game B" is something that many of the early releases had. Game A gives you Easy difficulty and Game B gives you hard. Nice option for people who got tired of playing through the easy levels. Of course, there is little motivation other than score to play through these old arcade style games, and when you still start at zero points on Game B...it's obviously harder to get the high scores. Overall, a solid first effort for a console.
Well, I don't know how many people will ever see this blog, but this is going to be my attempt to review each and every Famicom and NES game. I'm going to start with the first games released, and continue through to the last. I'll be using the lists at wikipedia, the links are over on the right. I'd also like to credit mezrabad of Digital Press, who is doing the same thing, except over all the systems he can get his hands on, and is doing it with far more skill than I can muster. There's a link to his Chronogamer blog on the right as well.