Monday, July 30, 2012

NESquest #15 - Ice Climber

(Ice Climber, October 1985, Nintendo)

Let's face facts. If it wasn't for Super Smash Bros, there are characters that would've gone either forgotten or unknown to most. Today, we look at the game where the cute little kids in parkas more commonly known as "who the hell are they?" made their debuts, Ice Climber.

Remember this face kids. This man = badass

Ice Climber was the first game programmed for the Famicom by the criminally underrated Kazuaki Morita. While Super Mario Bros may have been Miyamoto's vision, without Morita, it would've stayed that just that. Ice Climber was his "warm-up" prior to taking on the lead programming duties of future blockbusters you may have heard of.  All three Super Mario NES titles, both NES Zelda games, Star Fox 64, Ocarina Of Time, and The Wind Waker are just some of what Morita has given to the world. Quite the resume for a rarely recognized genius no? Intrestingly, Ice Climber was a pack-in title for many European NES releases, naturally making it more popular among those regions than anywhere else. Debuting as one of the "Vs" arcade cabinets before its NES release, it didn't exactly set the world on fire even though it seems better suited for that medium with its emphasis on co-op play. 

What was Nintendo's hard-on  for eggplants and hammers early on about anyway?

Onto the premise of the game, you play as Popo, an Eskimo youth attempting to reclaim food from a condor who resides at the top of a mountain. There are eight levels of each mountain to climb and the only way to ascend is to leap through holes you make with a hammer. Different blocks have different purposes as some are breakable with one hit, some are seemingly made of adamantium, and some have the ability to send you flying in certain directions. Of course, since Miyamoto was involved, there's going to be some strange shit going on too  Your enemies are Topis, useless fuzzballs that just get in your way until later stages, Nitpickers, a flying bird that debuted in Donkey Kong Jr, and a surreal polar bear sporting shades and pink shorts. The bear only struts his stuff if you take too much time advancing destroying the lowest current level with a stomp. Once you make it to the top, a timed bonus game takes place, where Popo and Nana, if two players are involved, race the clock to grab their food and get sweet revenge on the condor by jumping into it head first. At least, that's what I got from it.

It's the Icee Bear!

But how is it? Okay, fine, you win, I can't stall forever. Trolls come together, lock hands, and join in unison in a "NESquester bloz" chant, because I really can't stand this fucking game. Oh, it had its fair share of chances too. Ever since this quest began i earnest, I have played the 18 launch games and pretty much only them and gave Ice Climbers at least 100 levels of play time trying as hard as I could to like it. I wanted to be one of the majority but it just wasn't meant to be. The controls are horrible. If Popo isn't standing in a very precise spot, you're not going to come close to where you meant to land. The jumping will really make you want to murder a unicorn in the bonus stages too, where you are given around thirty nine seconds to struggle up a fourty second course, so miss once and the game may as well cut to an 8-bit middle finger. The challenge can be merciless in the later stages and a level select is present at from the outset to show you how hopeless it all becomes. That's not to say that I can't see its charm as the graphics are really well done and the music is up there with the better echelon of launch title tracks. The controls are impossible to get past and I present Clu Clu Land as a game that also had bizarre control but was at the least fun, learnable, and had replay value. 

"Hey Popo! 25 years and still noone has found where we hid the body of that red parka wearing prick who hogged our box art sloplight. Hip Hip HOORAY!!!"

5/10 Not the best but far from the worst, the decent co-op mode and originality save it from a lower score. I realize just because I don't care for it doesn't necessarily make it a bad game and a fiver does seem fair. The jumping mechanics are just too frustrating to get beyond and when a game pisses you off more because you can't make simple jumps than the challenge of the game itself, it's not a fun experience. What else should games strive to accomplish other than fun?

Cosplay for the broke!

Everyone knows these cute lil' boogers returned in a major way as the most oscure of the characters brought back for Super Smash Bros, so there's no point in going into that but if you'd rather one hell of an intresting interview with Morita himself:

No shit, in the original Japanese version, you could club a baby seal!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

NESquest #14 - Mach Rider

(Mach Rider, October 1985, Nintendo)

Intros be damned! Today is a special day because I only have four words for you. The same four words that have become a personal battle cry anytime I spot a douchebag recklessly swerving between traffic on his little pathetic Honda. YOU. ARE. MACH. RIDER.

Badass in name only. YOU. ARE. MACH. RIDER. Sort of.

Mach Rider, as is the case with a few of the launch day NES titles, has curious beginnings. The name and concept debuted as a Japanese exclusive toy way back in 1972. Children were given the choice of a red, yellow, or blue car that was propelled at high speeds from a launcher that came with it. One of the rare instances where Nintendo didn't create an intellectual property first, it was licensed from Hasbro and Nintendo distributed it. The toy itself was a bomb so around the time the powers that be at "The Big N" were looking for new titles to draw people into their debuting system, the Mach Rider license was bought on the cheap and re-packaged into the game we know.

Seriously, if you're weaving between cars on some of the busiest freeways in the country and I catch you, this gets yelled in your direction full blast. For reasons unknown, I can't help it.

In an uncharacteristically dark story for 1985 Nintendo, the setting is a post apocalyptic Earth in the year 2112 after an alien invasion of the evil Quadrunners. Whether the programmers were Rush fans or randomly picked that year is a mystery that may never be solved. Mad Max's pixelated brother in spirit, Mach Rider, is the protagonist who rides like the fury of vengeance on the aptly named Mach Bike to different parts of the Earth. His main goal to begin with is simply finding a new spot to call home but along the way finds other humans that need assisstance being liberated from the alien's tyranny. 

Dodge puddle. Shoot down both dirt bike riding aliens. Make turn. Don't crash into barrel. Do Chinese algebra.

As with most early NES games, there are a few different modes of play. The main story mode is the Fighting Course, where you are presented with the troubles of the sector you are in and given the choice between two tracks to race on, giving it a feeling of variety which is pretty neat. "You are Mach Rider!" crawls across the screen before each mission and gets you amped for the upcoming hellride. The game itself has more advanced controls than most in this era of the NES as you can upshift or (if you are feeling suicidal) downshift all while firing a finite number shots at the Quadrunners who try to not only run you off the road but post-invasion, decided to litter the road with as much shit as they could find.. The feeling of speed is well executed here for the paltry 5 frames per second and there weren't many mistakes on turns that I couldn't recall the next time I tried and could correct my previous errors. The sound is great as a frantic tune accompanies the journey and the bike gives you a different sound when an upshift is needed as opposed to many games where you have to look at your dashboard while a pebble in the road somehow atomizes your entire vehicle. It really gets my goat when racing games do that.

Nintendo sure had a thing with all their games having weird score systems that noone took very seriously in the early days. 

The difficulty of the bike's controls and the Quadrunners themselves are decent, but the relentless amount of crap in the road can make things quite unforgiving at times. More often than not a little puddle of water will send you directly into a barrel on the shoulder which can't be avoided or shot. When an obstacle is plowed into, you oddly break completely apart and pull yourself together not unlike a blocky T-1000. After a few hits, the game ends and it's time to try, try again. My major complaint with this mode is that Mach Rider's story is never resolved. If you beat the 10th sector (after a load of practice), you are transported back to the first sector to start it all over again. It would've been nice to know if the poor guy ever found a crash pad to live out his life.

Glitch Death!!!

The second and third modes are almost exactly alike. Almost. Given a set number of kilometers to make it to in a predetermined amount of time, the second mode, Endurance is basically Fighting Mode without the storyline and an infinite amount exploding/reassembling, only costing precious time required to advance. This mode was used personally as a way to practice for Fighting Mode, as it gives you a great feel for the courses and how to avoid certain ways to go kaboom. Solo Course is the same as Endurance except everything on the course has been removed, so once again, if practice is needed, this is the place to go if you're struggling with some of the high speed turns. As with Excitebike and Wrecking Crew, the unusable Design Mode rears it's ugly head. Recently, I've gotten messages about the Virtual Console versions of the Programmable Series now being able to save/load so that's awesome. However, for the sake of the original carts being the ones I'm reviewing, it's a disappointment we couldn't do it over for 25 years.

Only 4 buttons to press and still couldn't make heads or tails of how to design a course. Guess that's why I'm just a lowly reviewer.

7/10 A really fun romp to kill a few hours with, the mastering of the controls can take a little while and even then there will be death, death, and more deaths. The premise is very Road Rash-ish and as great as I think this title could've been, there are a few control issues, like the puddles, and being read-ended to oblivion can make it seem more cheap than fun at some points. It does have the distinction of feeling very different than others of its era as a futuristic story featuring machine gun shooting biker vigilantes wasn't standard Nintendo material at the time and is worth checking out for that alone. YOU. ARE. MACH. RIDER!

In the future, one man is bold enough to sport a Mario/Spider-Man hybrid color scheme, Road Warrior shoulder pads, and the fabled Excitebiker's helmet. HE. IS. MACH. RIDER!!!

Sadly, the story of Mach Rider was never resolved even in the "Vs" arcade version released the following year. In interviews, it has been brought up more than once that the F-Zero is the spirtual sequel of Mach Rider and Captain Falcon has a few of the same traits our mysterious wasteland wanderer possessed. Still, one can only wonder what became of him. Did he find peace in a new home that we never saw? Did the looping sectors mean he was only destined to ride and avenge until his eventual end via exploding barrell? Seeing as we all say we love a mystery yet deep down don't, I elect a revival of the Mach Rider franchise!

While his SSBM trophy looks awesome and all, my heart lies with the red & blue badass.

Special thanks to the AMAZING beforemario blog for the awesome toy picture!
P.S. If you want permission granted for others to use a pic, throw up some contact info!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

NESquest #13 - Wrecking Crew

(Wrecking Crew, October 1985, Nintendo)

Even though he is commonly known as a plumber, Mario was a man of many trades in the early days of the NES. What happens when he drops the signature fireballs and raccoon tails and returns to his roots of swinging a hammer? Let's take a peek at a title that sadly went forgotten for quite a few years, the launch day classic, Wrecking Crew,

A rare shot on how the poor guy looked in the hour he had between 8 hour shifts.

My educated guess is that before Mario happened upon the Mushroom Kingdom, Pauline was one gold digging piece of work. Look at her later appearances and how high maintenance she came off and judge for yourself. Our favorite Italian plumber on the surface doesn't really look like a guy who gets a ton of action so in order to keep his main squeeze in the habit of squeezing, went out and got about ten side-jobs. The poor guy was a plumber, a tennis referee, a gorilla trapper, and a pinball prop in an attempt to keep up with the manicures, hair upkeep, and dining of the only female to throw him some play at the time. When even that wasn't enough, enter Mario, the third shift construction worker.

The Design Mode Cake is a lie.

All joking side, what I found most intresting about the creation of Wrecking Crew was that the lead programmer was Yoshio Sakamoto, who went on to much greater fame as the co-creator of Metroid as well as the driving force behind Kid Icarus. Wrecking Crew was the first NES title he cut his teeth on after doing pixel work for the Game & Watch version of Donkey Kong alongside the mad scientist himself, Shigeru Miyamoto. As the duo discussed their future seperate projects, Sakamoto was talked into changing the main character, who was originally clean shaved and sporting overalls, into the more recognizable Mario. This could possibly be the reason Luigi is wearing purple as there was no design for him set in stone yet. In later years, of course, there was a Mario style antagonist who went with the purple color scheme in Wario.

It's a good thing they were verified to be Eggplant Men otherwise they kind of resemble...nah, too easy...

Where the hell did my focus go? There is some NESquesting to be done! Your choices are 1 player, 2 player, or Design Mode and again, a la Excitebike, created levels were unable to be saved or loaded. Even though it is 20 plus years since these were released, I still get slightly bummed of the fact that the Programmable Series of Black Box titles were anything but. The possibilities could've been endless and who knows what savant game designers we missed out on in the 80's that could've had their start here? The object is to bash everything in sight while avoiding Gotchawrenches and Eggplant Men, easily two of the most bizarre Mario enemies ever. It definately isn't a mindless romp however, but more along the lines of a puzzle/action hybrid where you are required to calculate what you destroy and when, lest you fuck yourself out of a way to reach breakable objects that may remain. Mario's only tool here is a hammer and in the same vein as Donkey Kong, he can't jump when it is in his possession. The core gameplay differences being that in Wrecking Crew, he has hold of the hammer the entire time and it can't affect anything but brick and concrete. The enemies can be avoided or tricked into doors that confuse them for a set time, leaving you to go hogshit on everything you see. A bonus stage appears every 5 levels and revolves around Mario going head up in a game of chance against the evil foreman, Spikey to find a hidden coin. The controls are tight and every defeat makes you re-think the level until you acheive what I like to refer to as an "a-ha!" moment. The action starts out innocent enough but believe me, the challenge becomes off the charts around level 20. The graphics are somehow dark and vibrant at the same time, giving the feeling of being underground in Nintendo's own twisted world, and what else could you ask for? Sound is just kind of there and doesn't leave a lasting impression nor make you want to kill the speakers so it suffices. As with all the box art on launch day, it is hit or miss and this one was a miss. Why'd they go with a shot that looks nothing like Mario on a game where he is the central character, yet on Pinball's box, he couldn't be anymore recognizable?

I can't confirm whether the game cheats but 12 straight bonus levels until Mario found the coin first!

8/10 While I understand that everything from launch day pales in comparison to Super Mario Bros, I truly am baffled as to why this title wasn't more well known. Memorable characters, an original action/puzzle genre that I can't recall any other game having at the time, and a heaping helping of replayability land Wrecking Crew squarely on the top rungs of the Black Box ladder.

Yet another reason for gamers in the 80s to want Japanese citizenship.

You think Wrecking Crew got lost in the shuffle? Try its only sequel, Wrecking Crew '98! Released only in Japan (of course), Nintendo Power sold flash cartridges that could be taken to any Nintendo store and, for a modest fee, have a custom playlist of games games uploaded complete with on-the-spot manuals of the chosen games printed out. Original titles as well as established games were part of the service and it remained such a popular service that it lasted until 2007. Wrecking Crew '98 was one of the more popular original titles to be attained through this innovation and showcased a few new color schemes, such as fixing Luigi's purple. Not only was the original included but a brand new mode complete with a storyline was added. Mario competes head-to-head with various characters from the first offering and the goal is to fill up his opponents screen by breaking everything set before you faster than they can. Even Spikey got to come back and re-live his glory days in 16-bit fashion. As with Mario Excitebike, there is something wrong with the world that didn't let us get an overseas port of Wrecking Crew '98 because it is just fun, fun, fun.

Seriously, how fucking cool does that look?

To read a fantastic interview with Sakamoto where he goes more in-depth with his time developing Wrecking Crew:

Friday, July 27, 2012

NESquest #12 - Wild Gunman

(Wild Gunman, October 1985, Nintendo)

A game that debuted over a decade before it was released in the manner it is most associated with now and Marty McFly's favorite shooter, it's time to turn the clock way back and review one of the earliest of the Light Gun series, a zany little launch title, Wild Gunman.

Wild Gunman's main menu or how Kristen Stewart decided her nightly adventures when the glittery guy wasn't home?

In the 1970's, a new style of arcade cabinet was invented dubbed "electro-mechanical" games. These were highly advanced games for their time as they featured real moving strips of film on a projection screen coupled with light sensor technology. This innovation became more refined and with time evolved into what we now know as the Zapper. Consumers love nothing more than to shoot the shit out of things and the rail shooter genre remains wildly popular to this day with titles like House of the Dead and Time Crisis.

I'm pretty sure uppity parents would find something to bitch about with this one these days, touting how it felt like such a real gun and all.

Ironically, Sega was the first to produce and market these machines and Nintendo followed suit in 1974 with Wild Gunman. Using 16mm film and realistic guns, Wild Gunman was leaps and bounds ahead of the curve of what was available with the light gun genre. A real actor taunted you on screen as the intructions were given. When your adversaries eyes flashed, you fired. A direct hit was rewarded with real footage of your target flying through a window or a something like it but if you missed, the game was over. Wild Gunman was a hit, however maintenance and upkeep were expensive meaning once one of the cabinets broke, it was pretty much done for as the advanced technology became both a blessing and a curse because not many outside Japan were qualified to repair it.

The reward for being the fastest draw in the Old West is some quality shots of 8-bit gooch. Whee!

Fast forward to 1985 and Nintendo was looking for ideas for launch day Light Gun games and decided to re-haul Wild Gunman. The basics are the same, only presented in a more cartoonish 8-bit style that works out really well. Different variations of opponent walk out to duel with you for who knows why and just as before, when eyes start flashing, you start shooting. Unlike the R.O.B. title, Stack-Up, if you cheat the system here, deep down you're cheating yourself. Simply aiming the Zapper at the television the entire time your foe is taking his spot in the duel rips the fun right out of it. 

How freakin' awesome would it have been to rain that skull right on top of box art boy's noggin?

There are three modes of play, one with one dueler, another with two (think Duck Hunt), and a saloon mini-game which is a free-for-all as you don't have to wait for anyone to yell fire or show off flashy mutant eyeballs, just blast away. Chopin's "Funeral March" is a nice touch when you fail and no complaints can be levied at any of the rest of the soundtrack as it captures the feel of the game perfectly. The challenge of two duelers can be fast-paced and hectic and the saloon is the same wild style of just shooting whatever moves.

"I don't have to take this shit from a fucking Hobbit. One more word and Mr. DeLorean and I are paying a suprise trip to a baby ward around January 28, 1981."

8/10 I had just as much fun with this one as Hogan's Alley so it gets the same score. That being said, it's a completely different monster in that the strategy here doesn't require you to avoid targets. Even now, the moments of tension you get waiting for your future desert stain to yell "Fire!" is still tons of fun. The game is commonly known in pop culture for its inclusion in the hit movie Back To The Future 2 where a young Elijah Wood busts on Marty McFly's balls for using his hands to play it. Even more intresting is that Wild Gunman was never released as a "Vs." console as shown in the movie, making that cabinet a one-of-a-kind oddity to viewers in the know. It's a common cart so if you own Duck Hunt and Hogan's Alley and never got around to Wild Gunman, hunt this one down and you won't be disappointed.

An old advert I found. Hmm, blood duel with Old West badasses in the most realistic game to date or shoot fucking milk bottles off a fence? I'm your huckleberry...

As an aside, if you live in the Houston area and want to try your hand at Wild Gunman, there are reports of a restored working cabinet in an arcade inside the Galleria. Let me know if you are ever in the area if it is still there!

Credit to for the flyer and cabinet information!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

NESquest #11 - Tennis

(Tennis, October 1985, Nintendo)

Back to our regularly scheduled program after that side-quest into the deepest bowels of hell. Why not leap head first directly into a title based on a sport I know next to nothing about? Let's check out one of the launch day Sports Series titles, Tennis.

Same title tune as Baseball and Pro Wrestling. Smell the diversity!

Tennis is a game with deep roots dating back to the 1860's by two British chaps who thought crocquet was boring as hell and required something new. In the same manner of how rounders evolved into the sport we know as baseball, "Sticky" took off and now is one of the most popular sports played anywhere in the world. It involves an unmistakable athleticism and an inhuman cardio that only a great work ethic can provide,  giving its fans countless breathtaking moments and memorable matches over the years. In 1988, it became a permanent fixture in the Summer Olympics and enjoys one of the event's largest crowds on the days it is showcased. Normally, there is a history lesson here detailing the origins of the video game proper, but this title seemed to be worked on by ghosts who broke into Nintendo's offices as I can't seem to dig up a single piece of production notes on it.

Honestly, after Pinball, I'm suprised the box art wasn't Mario sitting his ass in a chair to try to boost sales.

How it work out as a video game? While this game had promise and the rules are simple to learn, the execution itself left tons to be desired. There are only two modes present, singles and doubles, which is just fancy talk for one or two players, so if you were looking to feed a curiosity pertaining to how early NES sports AI worked, the wait sadly continues.

Whoa. Level 5 is NOT fucking around.

Five levels of difficulty are present ranging from "I'm unfair" to "You'll never score one fucking point against me". 3 sets are played to 6 points each and fair warning, if you do commit to the start button, don't make any plans. The games can run excruciatingly long and with no background noise other than hitting the ball and guest referee Mario making a ruling from his perch, they can seem even more time consuming than they really are. A variety of court would've been nice as well as this game doesn't nearly display the level of differing physics that Excitebike did. Alas, you're stuck with one lonely grass court the entire time.

I'm thinking Tennis may not be my game eh?

No tournament mode is kind of a bummer too as it wouldn't have been out of the question at all to throw one in, beginning a new game with the difficulty spiking up one after each victory. Of course, that would've just meant you would have to power through four already nearly impossible rounds to make it to match 5 and watch your 6-0, 6-0 game cause you to rethink ever playing the cart again. It might not be that tough if it wasn't for the controls, which are tricky as all hell to master. The computer rarely makes mistakes but your player can somehow miss a ball that is half an inch away. The speed at which he moves is off the charts and you would think that would make matters easier but trying to hit anything while moving is pointless. If you do manage to return a volley, chances are great that it will go out of bounds, a nuisance that there is apparently no control over. The most important part of Tennis is strategically placing where you want your return volley to land, so why would I want mine to go out of bounds half the time? Another tiny detail that could've been easily worked is that there is no variety on your gender. I don't believe this is a small concession considering the best of the best to play the sport are without a doubt female and could've possibly doubled the fanbase of the cart at the time.

Probably more my speed here...

4/10 While never being a fan of the sport, I can say that with the right programming to the right game, I can certainly understand how a successful translation into the video game medium could be fun as all hell. Unfortunately, wonky controls, an unforgiving difficulty, and lackluster sound and graphics land Tennis squarely towards the bottom of the Black Box titles.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

NESquest #10 - Pinball

(Pinball, October 1985, Nintendo)

What's the only game where the box art is based off of a bonus game and contains a reference to the Nintendo of the 19th century? Let's check out my landmark tenth review (tongue-in-cheek, folks) and take a gander at another Black Boxer, Pinball!

Kind of a neat bubble gum effect on the title.

It's hard to pinpoint the exact origins of the game but traces of it existed as far back as the 1700's in the popular game, Bocce. A ball was rolled down a hill and the object is to bounce it off of certain targets, some good and some not so good. Later on, it evolved into more of what we see today with spring launchers and paddles, creating more of a strategy to go along with it. By the time arcade machines rolled around, pinball machines were very intricate, electronic, colorful, quarter-chomping beastasaurs. While gaming was still in its infant stages, Space Invaders just wasn't as pleasing to the eye as the blinking lights, booming sound effects, and differing levels of challenge that the tabletop pinball games of the era supplied. It had to be like having the choice between a cheese and wine tasting versus hitting a rave. Everyone stuffed a few pieces of Gruyere in their pockets, grabbed a Merlot to go and hit the REAL party! All parties must end, so once the video game boom hit its stride via Pac-Man, Frogger, and the like, the bustling pinball business started to fall off as more consumers wanted to dig into this new hobby where you could do a whole lot more than strategize a hundred different ways to make a steel ball ricochet as intended.

Where can we make the most money guys? State of the art gaming consoles or a hardcore Bridge tournament?

Enter Pinball, an arcade port faithful to the likeness of machines of its day. Everyone knows what pinball is and how it is played, just like Baseball so I won't insult anyones intelligence by explaining the rules at great length. Pull the plunger and try to avoid the virtual steel ball's fate of falling into an enigmatic, bottomless pit located in the abyss-like bottom. There are two levels of this particular table, each with their own bumpers and goals that can be accomplished. The top board has a sort of bizarre sea animal theme with seals and penguins being ways to rack up points. The bottom board is far more intresting as it has an awesome call-back to Nintendo's true roots, playing cards. Some of the casual visitors here may not know it, but Nintendo was founded in Kyoto, Japan as a producer of playing cards, a business they quietly continue to this day complete with an annual bridge tournament. Continuing on with the game itself, the bottom board also contains chicks you can hatch and 7 side bumpers to aim for to release an awesome bonus stage.

"...and don't-a let the door-a hit you in the ass-a on your way out-a!"

The bonus stage was the selling point and if anyone ever needed proof that Mario was their intended golden boy from the get-go, this is it. You play as everyone's favorite Italian plumber in a Break-Out style game to release the damsel in distress from Donkey Kong, Pauline. One may safely assume that this game's events took place before Super Mario Bros because Pauline wasn't heard from for another 19 years as Mario hooked up with Peach and never looked back. Bounce the ball into the walls enough times and she is freed to be caught by the platform, where she is figuratively shown the door until Mario Vs Donkey Kong 2 on the DS. There were two game modes in Pinball, the only difference being that in the second mode, the ball moved faster, adding to the challenge.

Anyone have a clue what happens if you get all the cards? I don't think in all these years I ever have.

7/10 This is an ageless, timeless classic and is one of the easiest early titles to pop in and instantly start playing. The rating is such because even with the hardware's limitations at the time, another table or two could've easily been added. Some reviewers have given lower scores due to it not being like actual pinball, to which I say, no shit. That's like me complaining that I didn't like Super Mario because the mushrooms I eat taste differently and don't make me grow twice my size. The ball mechanics are perfect, the sound effects are sufficient, and it has that magic work that makes a game worth playing, fun. Which is all you really need right?

"You mean I dyed my hair brown, whored myself up in this dress, got implants, and you STILL don't remember me? I knew I should've called Luigi when the gorilla captured me! HE should be the star today you ungrateful bastard!"

Friday, July 20, 2012

NESquest #9 - Excitebike

(Excitebike, October 1985, Nintendo)

A title fondly remembered by any and all who played it. Introducing the thrill of motocross to millions who were years away from even thinking about a drivers license is one of the most popular and beloved of the Black Box titles, Excitebike!

Part of the Un-Programmable Series. Is this is first instance of the title screen not being black other than Mario? The less black on your splash screen, the higher the rating!

Conceived in Tokyo late 1984, Excitebike was the first NES title that gaming gods Shigeru Miyamoto and Toshihiko Nakago worked on together. These two along with Takashi Tezuka are often regarded as Nintendo's "Dream Team" and have worked together for over 25 years, developing titles you may have heard of like Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda. The story goes that Miyamoto wanted Mario to ride a dinosaur right out of the gate but neither one thought the NES was capable of producing the exact feelings of accurately launching off ramps at high rates of speed and attempting to right your center of balance in mid-air. Determined to create a game that proved the NES was one malleable beast, they gathered that the physics for motorbikes was similar to what they were trying to accomplish with the unnamed Mario dino and Excitebike was born.

Look Ma! And you said dropping out would make me become a nothing! WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

The game itself is a time tested classic. The graphics are bright, the variety of colors seem well thought out, and the music is classic NES fare, especially the catchy title screen tune. There are a total of two modes and 5 tracks but the action never feels dull or repetitive for a second. The first mode is a time trial where you are given a par time and must best it while dodging obstacles, aiming for ramps that shoot you into the stratosphere, and keeping an eye on your temp gauge to insure you don't overheat. Overheating is one of the first challenges to overcome as having to wait for your bike to cool off can add precious seconds to your time. What's awesome is that while A is your normal speed and B is your high speed, the game makes it impossible to not want to lean on B the entire time. There is definately strategy involved as to when to haul ass safely to your next opening in the action and when to slow things down so your don't wreck or have to sit on the sidelines pissed off for a spell. Icons are laid out on the track as a sort of "instant cool down" for your engine and blend into the ramps, dirtpiles, and water puddles in a way to keep things intresting. The mechanics are simply amazing for the time as you can lean yourself forward or back in mid-air and it just feels right. Call it a lazy description but that is Excitebike as a whole, it just...feels...right.

So...which one of you assholes played Road Rash?

The second mode is just as fun but three times the white knuckle inducing challenge. You play the same five courses, but now have other "Excitebikers" to contend with. Sometimes, if you do much as scratch them, you're picking yourself and your bike up off the ground. In real motocross, I imagine even a tenth of a second worth of impact can be catastrophic for the racers so it adds a feeling of true danger to the game. It isn't difficult in a way that feels cheap as much as it feels like the challenge dares you want to try again an hour after you turn it off, the mark of any great game. 

WHY GOD WHY? This mode would've been the standard bearer for mods years before they became as popular as they did.

Design Mode is exactly what it sounds like. You get your own NES canvas and get to paint it however you like. Starting with a completely bare track, there are 19 ways to litter it with shit that would drive anyone who tested your tracks out insane. The only bummer here is that it required the Famicom Data Recorder to save and load the tracks, which was never released outside Japan. In the actual Excitebike manual, it states "Save and Load menu selections are not operable in this game; they have been programmed in for potential product developments." Seeing as this isn't part of the Sports Series of the Black Box titles and one of the Programmable Series, not having the peripheral that would've made an already epic game into an even bigger landmark title is kind of a let-down. Thankfully, the rest rules and eventually Miyamoto got to use the lessons learned here to create one of Nintendo's top mascots of all-time, Yoshi.

"It isn't that Nintendo didn't want to make more games starring me, my Lloyds of London insurance agents were PISSED when they got a copy of the original!"
9/10 A must have for every NES library, Excitebike is easily a title you can pop into the old grey box and still have a blast with. The physics are spot on, the fun factor is off the charts, and the challenge can go from beginner to ready to kick down walls. Good news is that Excitebike is one of the common carts, so this one can probably be found from $3 to $6 on average and worth every cent. 

Ah, the classic Mario Excitebike we all piled into the stores for back in 1997 to add to our growing SNES collec...wait, WHATTHEUNHOLYFUCK???

The Excitebike series, for as popular and endearing to the fans as it was, laid dormant until 2000's Excitebike 64 here in North America. HOWEVER, there was a little invention called the Sattellaview that hooked in through the Super Famicom in Japan (it would take all night to go into detail exactly what it was, think Sega Channel, but Nintendo), and in 1997, they released the most mind-blowing version of Excitebike ever. Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium was a SNES port of Excitebike featuring characters straight from the Mushroom Kingdom! It is a fucking travesty that more people don't know this game exists as the gameplay and all-around Excitebike awesomeness is 100% intact. This will be a first for me because I'm all about original carts but since this bad boy had no cart, I highly recommend emulating this unknown piece of history. Excitebike with updated graphics starring Mario characters? How they could pass up the millions of dollars this could have sold is way beyond me.

Such an awesome find that I had to share two pictures from it. Hear that sound? That's Nintendo still flushing money down toilets today for not releasing this publicly.