Monday, August 13, 2012

NESquest #24 - Popeye

(Popeye, June 1986, Nintendo)

One of the most regonizable figures in American pop culture as well as the original premise for the game that became Donkey Kong, today we take a nice, long look at a game that was another arcade port of a Miyamoto smash hit, Popeye.

Unlike the many revamps other character go through nowadays, Popeye remains practically unchanged from his very first appearance.

Popeye began as the brainchild of writer/artist E.C. Segar. Making his debut in 1929 in the popular Thimble Theater newspaper strip, he was a minor character at the start. Popeye was just a sailor hired by Olive Oyl's current boyfriend, Harold Hamgravy to captain a ship to an island to thwart an evil casino operator. His adventures were meant to end there, but readers took such a huge liking to the oddball that he was quickly brought back. 

Popeye easily sported one of the most unusual, yet awesome supporting casts. Not just of his time, but ever.

As the years went on, the strip evolved as Olive left Hamgravy for the goofy sailor, a baby named Swee'Pea was introduced, and Thimble Theater quickly became the Popeye show. A plethora of weird shit began debuting as well such as Eugene The Jeep, the Sea Hag, and the burger hoarding Wimpy. The comic strip and the cartoon that followed had little in common as in the funny pages, Bluto was only featured once and spinach was a rare plot device. Both being commonplace for Popeye mythos shows how powerful the medium of television was at the time. The animated version was done by Fleischer Studios, the same crew who also created the most beloved of Superman cartoons right around the same time. Strangely enough, Popeye debuted in that form alongside the famous Betty Boop in 1933. To this day he remains a household name having his unique mug plastered on everything from lunchboxes, t-shirts, and even his own line of spinach. Robin Williams portrayed the live-action version in 1980 and to this day, the town built as the set of the movie stands tall and is one of the largest tourist attractions of the Island of Malta.

Did that motherfucker just TIGER UPPERCUT me?!?!

Should it be any suprise that Shigeru Miyamoto loved Popeye? Weird met weird to create awesome in the NES port of a 1982 arcade classic. You control the affable sailor throughout three repeating levels, catching whatever icons Olive Oyl throws your way. While she is dropping either hearts, notes, or the letters that spell out "HELP ME", Popeye catches a set number while attempting to steer clear of Bluto, who was renamed Brutus here for reasons unknown. Later levels add the Sea Hag, who drops objects to make life difficult as well. Popeye is given a weapon the Marios and Kongs didn't have at the time as he can swing his mighty fists at anything that moves with the exception of "Brutus". To take that huge, burly tub of fatfuck down, there is one can of spinach per level that will make our hero red-dog mad enough to knock the big man halfway across creation. The stages are varied enough to stay fun and there is even a cameo by Swee'Pea. The music is excellent and when the third stage is clear, you are treated to the signature song, complete with the toot-toot, which is a nice touch and causes the 'Quester to smile everytime. It is obvious that Miyamoto loved the source material and wasn't going to create anything that didn't have the same feel of the classic cartoons he grew up adoring. As with Donkey Kong Jr, this is another port that could've easily been made in 1986 and still been a hit. 

You don't always need to hide and re-load different styles of guns for a game to rock. A great songwriter said it best. All you need is love.

9/10 If that's too high, then create your own blog and reviews and feel free to adjust as you see fit, but I appreciate this game even more now than I did as a kid. The graphics and tunes scream out Popeye and the challenge is balanced enough to make me want to play for hours instead of hitting the road block alot of the ports do where it goes from head-ache inducing to requiring the X-gene. 

"That paycheck you cashed on the gorilla game was MINE!!!"

Thanks to Mason V. for seeing my post and contacing me about having a double, thereby saving my ass on this one! Folks like you are the ones I do this for. Fuck you Ebay! (Until you are the only place I am able to run to in the future. I'm an honest hypocrite like that.)

Like a boss.

Friday, August 10, 2012

NESquest #23 - Gumshoe

(Gumshoe, June 1986, Nintendo)

Suprisingly, the Light Gun titles to this point have trumped the Sports Series in both quality and fun, two very important factors when deciding the purchase of a new game. Let's see if the streak stays alive with the most original of the titles to date, as well as the first Black Box game NOT released for the Famicom, Gumshoe.

What's this nonsense I see? A storyline in an early NES game?

In Gumshoe, you take on the role of the grzzled Mr. Stevenson, a bearded, flasher looking chap who thought highly enough of the FBI that he quit and became a detective. Intresting note, the designer, Yoshio Sakamoto (Metroid, Kid Icarus, Wrecking Crew), pulled a fast one on Gunpei Yokoi and purposefully made Mr. Stevenson a close resemblance, so when the game was being tested, things got uncomfortable quick. Yokoi and Sakamoto were close friends so the squirmness was mostly brought on from programmers and testers being paid to blast their boss in the ass in his presence. So the storyline goes, as with every FBI agent unlucky enough to have a daughter, she was kidnapped and held for ransom by King Dom. How every major comic company didn't come up with something as corny as King Dom in the 60s and 70s escapes me. The don is willing to exchange Mr. Stevenson's pride and joy, Jessica, for 5 "Black Panther" diamonds and we are off and running.

Sooner rather than later, those cute balloons are replaced with certain death.

Of all the Zapper games, Gumshoe seemed the most promising at first glance. Mr. Stevenson moves in constant motion towards the right not stopping for anyone or anything. The only way to make him move is to shoot him, causing him to jump, which would be cool if it were easier to gauge where he would land. Sometimes, he will come down to Earth safle, but most of the time will shoot directly into floating skull heads or lightning quick birds that can be gunned down. By the time you hit one of these avian assholes, it's usually too late and the detective is well on his way towards cement at terminal velocity. As if that wasn't hell on earth enough for the player, later stages throw out some of the cheapest deaths seen by human eyes with sharks, airplanes, and a sort of dog/armadillo that must be shot multiple times to kill littering the playing field. Limited ammo is given but never becomes an issue as it doesn't subtract when Stevenson is hit, only if you miss or shoot at an obstacle. None of this makes any kind of a shit in the long run, because the game ranges from unholy fucking hard to unplayable. I'll be the first to admit for the first time ever during a review, I tried to cheat my ass off and still only made it to level two. It's harder to give an honest review of a game when the physics behind it are simply indescribable. Sure, he hops when you hit him, but the gun recognition (non-emulator) hardly ever reads a hit half the goddamned time and EVERY shot here is crucial. ROM junkies, want to impress the NESquester? Show me a picture of the end of this game and I'll ship you an old school Marvel No-Prize.

If it wasn't for Youtube, I couldn't ever be convinced that this screen isn't a myth.

3/10 As original of a concept as this was and kudos to Sakamoto for thinking outside the box, this game is of my least favorite genre, the fucking impossible. Conquerable with a deep learning curve and hours of trial and error like say, Ghosts N' Goblins or Ninja Gaiden is one thing but unable to get through no matter how much I shoot directly at the screen, press shift+1, or go to the "Genie" is inexcusable. Admittedly, I am curious how this style of shooter would fare today but in 1986, it was an experiment that failed bringing no shock to me why Gumshoe was all but forgotten.

Fuck the Slender Man, if this wasn't attached to a game, it would easily be the creepiest picture ever.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

NESquest #22 - Donkey Kong 3

(Donkey Kong 3, June 1986, Nintendo)

A world without Nintendo in a gamer's eyes is impossible to fathom, however in 1982, it very nearly happened. The president of Universal Pictures, a crusty, cranky codger named Sid Sheinberg, was alerted to the presence of Donkey Kong and felt it mirrored the tale of King Kong too much for his liking. His head lawyer was dispatched to investigate and came back with many solid arguments for Universal to attempt to cash in on the game's success. Steinberg first threatened to convince every company who had licensed DK, such as Coleco, Ralston-Purina, and Milton Bradley to cough up some dough lest they get sued out of existence. Coleco immediately caved and gave 3% of the port's royalties to Universal, unbeknownst to Nintendo. Arnold Greenberg, the president of Coleco, without informing The Big N what he had already gone down, met with Nintendo heads to try and coerce them into giving up some royalties as well. Howard Lincoln, Nintendo's attorney at the time, first thought to reach an agreement with Universal but after discussing the plight with the higher-ups, decided to meet with Mr. Sheinberg and in the nicest way possible, told him to get fucked. Sheinberg, believing he was heading into a sit-down where the result would be a seven-figure check signed over, was incensed and the war was on. Lincoln hired a heavyweight in the lawyer world, John Kirby, to represent them in court.

It didn't look favorable for our favorite gaming company one bit.

So it went in front of Judge Robert W. Sweet in a U.S. District Court for seven long days. Universal, the mega corporation gave a case that made Nintendo, the small rising company, seem doomed. Miyamoto himself stated during examination that he was even going to name the game King Kong, because in Japan, that is a common generic name of any large ape, similar to how people in the South call every soda Coke no matter what the can holds. Coleco's settlement didn't help matters either as even they claimed that the two stories were alike in many ways. A massive gorilla kidnapping a helpless female who requires saving while scaling large structures certainly was King Kong in a nutshell and it was starting to look like Nintendo was done for. One problem, Universal themselves didn't even own the rights to Kong and went so much as to state in a previous suit against RKO Pictures that their license had expired and that the Kong license was in the public domain. Major fucking oops. Once Kirby alerted Judge Sweet to this fact, Universal knew they had screwed the proverbial pooch. Not only did Nintendo win the lawsuit but since Universal and specifically the asshole tactics of Sheinberg had bullied and threatened so many on their way to the main suit, were ordered to pay Nintendo $1.8 million dollars in legal fees. Judge Sweet also ripped Universal a new one on their way out the door about their tactics and their knowing full well beforehand that they owned zero likeness and story rights to King Kong. David had successfully slayed Goliath. As a reward for the landmark victory, Howard Lincoln was offered a position as the president of Nintendo of America and John Kirby was given the right to name any sailboat he owned the "Donkey Kong". Mr.Kirby also had a cute puffy pink character named after him a few years later you may have heard of. 


Once the smoke cleared from the lawsuit, the third and final installment of the Donkey Kong arcade trilogy was released in late 1983. Unlike the previous entries, DK3 came out on the home console the same time as the cabinet version debuted. In a radical departure from what brought the Donkey Kong franchise to the dance, the game left its platforming roots behind and was revamped into more of a shooter. Stanley The Bugman is the hero of this one as Mario was gearing up for his spin-off debut later in the year. The story goes that Donkey Kong, presumably just bored out of his skull, picked a lone greenhouse to get some bugs good and pissed enough to want to steal Stanley's plants. As bizarre as the other two storylines were, this one just makes NO sense. My only educated guess is that Kong rocks the ganja and the borders were shut down too long for his liking. Taking matters into his own hands, he convinces some seriously 'roided up insects to fetch the happy plants that Stanley is hoarding. Otherwise, who wants to explain to me why a fucking gorilla would need potted greenery? Stanley in the arcade version is dressed rather similar to Mario with a red and blue suit but for the consoles, his appearance is more in common with Urban Champion wearing a Gracie Ju-Jitsu gi. 

You think there's a chance he may be enjoying it?

The goal is to blow Donkey Kong's high by shooting him repeating up the ass until he reaches the top of the screen, where Kong will either run off to the next stage or have a honeycomb fall on his head in what is meant to be comical. Along the route up the steps of the greenhouse are flies, bigger flies, and worms to contend with. The larger species of fly must be hit twice and upon the second shot, spreads like he was smuggling a gun from Contra. They become the biggest challenge and easilly stand out against the rest of the foes, who mostly fly in patterns that are rather easy to figure out. Every now and then, Kong himself will make life difficult by launching hard-to-avoid coconuts at Stanley. Certain stages will present an upgrade to Stanley's bug-spray making Kong fly up the wines much faster than the initial spray, so perhaps these are reaching somewhere close to yet more painful than his hairy buttocks. I can't help but laugh at the thought of Stanley's face when he realizes his bug spray has limited uses and now is face to face with a gigantic gorilla he's been peppering in the ballbag and asspipe repeatedly. I'd say he's fucked either way. At the end of every stage, the plants left are tallied up and it's onto the next stage that just resembles the last. Graphics are presentable but lacking the imagination of DK and DKJ and the sound comes off with the same uninspired feeling. I know a major lawsuit was cooking at the time but did another game that was obviously of poorer quality than the others really need to be released? The game screens don't even look anything close to a greenhouse. Also, I can't help but to ponder as to how the NES version of DKJ was so faithful to the arcade but this one had  alot more cut from it. The only cut I can see making sense is the arcade's death sequence as the bugs surround Stanley and seemingly eat him alive before flying away leaving only his spray can behind. Understandably, that was creepy stuff for the era but whole enemies and level designs were removed that noone could ever convince me would've eaten more memory than DKJ. Keep in mind, Junior was also an FC launh title, whereas DK3 was not, so the programmers had more time to learn the hardware.

This could've given kids a nightmare or two.

7/10 While I can see how this title has it's fans who could prefer this style of gameplay, it just doesn't feel like Donkey Kong to me. Given the benefit of the doubt, that doesn't make it a bad game at all either. While DK and DKJ may only present 4 levels a piece, none of them have the same feel to each stage like this one does. The colors of the trees change and a platform to stand on is cut from time to time but that doesn't count as progress to me. To put my opinion in a better perspective, do you like Mass Effect? Well, imagine playing 1 & 2 and for the third entry of the franchise being stuck on one planet doing one thing. Fans would flame harder than Perez Hilton at a Chippendales. Finally getting to directly attack Kong IS pretty kickass though, and shooting his gorilla arse to kingdom come probably gave this one an extra point. As an aside, Stanley The Bugman as a character was no match for the Italian plumber and was never heard from again.

Say hello to Mach Rider for me!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

NESquest #21 - Donkey Kong Jr.

(Donkey Kong Jr, June 1986, Nintendo)

As wise blacksmith once stated, "strike while the iron is hot" and Nintendo had no problem jumping head-first into the sequel of the seminal 1981 classic Donkey Kong with a sequel starring the original mascot's son. Was it the Empire Strikes Back of sequels or the Highlander II? Continuing with the gorilla love, let's look at Donkey Kong Jr.

Seriously, DK was everywhere after 1981. Is it just me or does this look like a bowl of Cheetos? Also, should I be worried that Mario's own Mjolnir hammer can't even dent that shit?

Circa 1982, looking to capitalize on the success of the previous year's game-changer, Shigeru Miyamoto wasted zero time in working on the sequel. One of the first ideas that came to mind were to flip the perceived "good and bad" principles around, marking the only time in history that Mario was portrayed as an antagonist. Interviews since have shown that Miyamoto was visualizing the sequel the very second the original had launched and became apprehensive about fans viewing Donkey Kong as a mindless vicious creature. For the next project, he wanted to tell the new chapter from Kong's side of the story by using a newly created son as the hero due to Poppa's sprites being far too large for the desired type of game. The unbelievable popularity of the landmark first title also gave Nintendo the confidence to let the mad professor work without Gunpei Yokoi on his new vision and the results were equally as spectacular. More sprites, more animations, more enemies, and more of pretty much everything else introduced the year prior made Donkey Kong Jr just as popular, financially and critically as his old man.

As easily identifiable a stage as any in gaming history.

Everything Donkey Kong did, Junior does better. Another Famicom launch title, the port over to the NES is damned near perfect, only missing the opening and between stage cutscenes. Again, you are given only a jump button but this time the items around you can be used as weapons instead of points, making for intresting new strategies. Two levels of difficulty are selectable but no worries because this one is nowhere near as hard as DK. All four levels from the cabinet version are not only present and accounted for, but translated wonderfully. This is precisely what a port is supposed to accomplish. While playing, I truly felt like I was playing this at the arcades all over again. The story is simple as Mario wants revenge for the traumatizing of his nookie and captures his former pet, locking him in a cage to prevent another incident. His son, a smaller version sporting a wifebeater wth a J on the front, does what any good offspring should do and launches a rescue mission. The first level has Junior traversing vines while Mario sends Snapjaws, a mobile self-aware bear trap, to end your attempt at rescuing Poppa. To truly get the feel of the arcade, play Game B and marvel at the amount of shit Mario sets loose on you. Controller launching hard? Hell yeah, but unlike parts of Donkey Kong, somewhat beatable with a sense of accomplishment upon doing so. Speaking of, level two is almost a call-back to the first game with a strangely timed jump onto a moving platform that must be performed before the meat of the stage truly takes place. Once across the tricky leap, flying gencodial birds named Nitpickers fly across the screen using their offspring as weapons at an astonishing rate. One can only assume the poor creatures have genitals the size of their heads to constantly be able to shoot out eggs. The next level is just awesome as Junior must reach the top of a what can only be described as electrified conveyor belts dodging sentient sparks that Mario unleashes. Of the early NES titles, the music offered in this section stands above most, as it's almost dubstep without being dubstep. Skrillex is the bane of musical existence but if he ever tried his hand at bittunes, I'd probably convert. The final stage is where the keys to unlock the cage holding Kong are moved upwards by a climbing push with Nitpickers once again trying to avoid the responsibility of extra mouths to feed with their incessant egg dropping. It is a nice sense of balance with the last stage easily being the hardest because not only are the Nitpickers up your ass, but the Snapjaws return to make life fairly difficult. Even death has its own strange reward because DKJ's demise is one of the most memorable in gaming history with his crazed looking eyes still cracking me up 30 years later. 

One may safely assume DK mated with a living, breathing steroid needle for his offspring to be so damned strong. Miyamoto was strange enough that the fact of that scenario not being totally out of the question is insane in and of itself.

9/10 Donkey Kong Junior is far and away a better NES port than the original. The graphics are gorgeous along with being well conceived and ahead of their time enough to hang with games developed a few years later. My honest opinion is that this title could have come out in 1985 and easily withstood much of the competitition it would've had to contend with. This version was beyond faithful and begs the question that if this was also one of the three Famicom launch titles, why was so much cut from Donkey Kong but just about everything present here? Of course, this more than made up for the fucking math game.

"So one night, while sharing a bed with Funky and Lanky, I had a dream that I was climbing vines..."

While DKJ himself wasn't heard from again until the first Mario Kart, his presence is felt to this day as other  than an errant statement by a former Rare employee and a fucked up line in Donkey Kong 64, all signs point to the Donkey Kong of the Donkey Kong Country franchise being Junior's son. Cranky (O.G.Kong) refers to the new DK as his grandson on more than one occasion thereby making his official name Donkey Kong III. Neat-o how the bloodline continued over the years no?

Anyone who ate a bowl recalls one of the best cereals ever released. I tried them both but can barely even remember what I had for breakfast so those memories are long gone I'm afraid. Those bananas sure do make me crave a bag of Runts though.

Monday, August 6, 2012

NESquest #20 - Donkey Kong

(Donkey Kong, June 1986, Nintendo)

Without our next entry in the quest, there wouldn't be the Nintendo we all love and worship today. Their ventures leading up to this ground-breaking title were met with mediocre success at best. This is the one that blew the doors wide open to The Big N becoming a household name. Grab a mug o' your finest joe and kick your feet up ladies and germs. I only have two words for you. Donkey Kong.

This poor thing had no idea it was destined for one mother of an identity crisis...

Gather around the bard's hapsicord kiddies, it is without a doubt history time if there ever deserved one. In 1980, after noticing that American arcade sales were starting to explode, Nintendo decided to ship overseas one of their first games, Radar Scope. It wasn't a horrible game by any stretch, as it played like Space Invaders had a baby with Galaxian. Arcade vendors also felt it was too similar to titles already owned and Radar Scope  flopped. Desperate not to lose their collective asses, then President of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, approached an amibitious young employee named Shigeru Miyamoto about the possibility of creating a new style of game the public might want. To insure everything ran smoothly, one of this blog's heroes, Gunpei Yokoi, was given the task of overseeing whatever new product Miyamoto decided to begin. 

It may shock the everlovin' hell out of you how close we came to this...

Nintendo was actively pursuing the Popeye license (who Miyamoto was a huge fan of) from King Features to base a game off of but couldn't aquire the rights in time. Miyamoto thought using the same dynamic would work and switched the established characters he loved to new unknowns. Popeye was now Jumpman, Olive Oyl became Pauline, and Bluto morphed into Donkey Kong. The outpouring of creativity and the large direction the vision was taking should never be overlooked. Noone had written a story first and a game second at the time. Miyamoto was determined to give the player a true sense of urgency to rescue the damsel in distress. Industry champion Pac-Man provided small cutscenes but the mad scientist's initial game offering was the first where the scenes advanced a story. Being that it was 1980, Donkey Kong was hands down the most massive game anyone had ever attempted, so much so that at points, programmers pitched a bitch as they felt that they were making four games instead of one. While Donkey Kong was definately breaking new ground, some innovations at the time were already present in lesser forms. Common misconceptions are it being the first platform game (Space Panic debuted in '80) and the first to feature multiple levels (space shooter Gorf came out a few months prior), but neither of those were near the scope of this beast.Nintendo was understandably squeamish about the American market after the Radar Scope debacle. so set up two Donkey Kong cabinets in seperate bars close to Seattle, where their U.S. headquarters were located. Within the first week, it became abundantly clear that they had scored a huge hit and went about the batshit insane task of coverting 2,000 Radar Scope units into full-fledged Donkey Kong arcade machines. Nintendo, having confidence in the product but not expecting an overnight phenomenon. had only SIX people to do the coversions. So it goes that in a storehouse in Redmond, WA, somehow, someway, the goal was met and paid off huge. Donkey Kong's rise to the top was nothing short of meteoric. By the summer of 1982, there were over 60,000 Donkey Kong machines in the world, finally cementing Nintendo as a major player for good. 

It's-a me! The LANDLORD! Much more feared than Bowser I think.

There are so many conflicting reports as to where the Donkey Kong name was originated that it's best left up to your imagination. Jumpman, of course, is another story entirely. Having to shift all of their money into the cabinet conversions along with the labor going on in Japan, Nintendo fell behind on rent at the Redmond storehouse and pleaded with the landlord, Mario Segale, to give them some time with the promise rent would be paid. Mr.Segale agreed and his kindness and patience was re-paid by giving Jumpman the now iconic name of Mario. Noone knew at the time that the landlord's namesake would go on to be the most recognizable figure in gaming history. The programming of Mario proved to be the trickiest as a stationary ape and lady wasn't too taxing, but attempting a jumping, running, hammer swinging figure was unheard of. Instead of a mouth, which noone felt looked quite right, a moustache was given. Issues were present in the choices of hairstyle, so the problem was easily rectified with a hat. Last but not least, overalls were designed so the jumping animation came off more realistic. All of these distinctive traits were conjured up within a few months of development and amazingly are all still in place to this day as any changing of the signature look would no doubt be met with extreme rage by The Big N's loyal fans.

If anyone thinks the out-of-place attire on the NA box art was bizarre, check out the weird shit going on with the European Intellivison cover!

Seeing it would've been completely foolish not to bring the smash hit to the new concept of home consoles, Donkey Kong was one of the Japanese Famicom's original three launch titles. In case you've been in Amish country your entire life and just ventured past the fields onto this dazzling internet thing en route to your first arcade, I'll explain further. The gameplay mechanics of Donkey Kong are quite simple. The option other than moving the standard four directions is to jump, which as you can imagine, a guy coined Jumpman will have to do a bit of. There are only three levels on the NES cart (exactly the same game as the FC port) as the "pie level" was cut. It wasn't removed due to a hardware limitation, but rather programmers not knowing exactly how powerful the system was at the time. Sill, Donkey Kong may have been licensed to every major console at the time, but the NES version ruled the roost in terms of faithfulness. Differences other than a missing level are a little less obvious such as cutscenes not taking place, a lack of blue barrels, and the question asked between levels that I couldn't answer until college.'d be suprised

The difficulty of Donkey Kong is a thing of legend. The fascinating documentary, The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters displays this perfectly as even the most battle scarred gaming gods fear and respect the Billy Badass of barrell-chucking gorillas. On the NES version, you are presented with two modes of difficulty, but c'mon it's fucking Donkey Kong, so they could just as easily be labelled "Hard As Fuck" and "Motherfucker" on the title screen. After being welcomed to game by the theme to the classic Jack Webb show, Dragnet (Miyamoto = off the charts weird on his best day), the fun begins. Mario, before his plumbing/construction/referee days was a carpenter who owned a pet gorilla named Donkey Kong. DK feels he isn't being treated right and instead of running away and living out his life being mistaken for Bigfoot, decides to hit his owned where it hurts, his nookie. Pauline is kidnapped and forcefully taken atop steel girders and away we go. The first level is fairly straightforward as the goal is for Mario to ascend ladders while leaping over barrels that can be brutal in their patterns. Grabbing the hammer can help rack up points and alleviate stress but not much else as once it disappears, the onslaught of barrels continues until reaching the top. The second level is personally the toughest. Mario must jump from moving platform to platform with little room for error and the closer to get to Kong, the real bastard diffculty comes into play. Running under the bouncing whateverthehelltheyare's at the top requires a mutant gift of timing and will wear patience thinner than Victoria Beckham in a room stocked with toilets and plastic fingers. Level three is where Mario has an epiphany by realizing that removing all of the girders from the platforms DK stands upon, the gorilla will plummet to his demise until the next level where we do it all over again. On the way up, a different fireball than previous levels will cause you grief but can be taken ou"t with another trusty hammer. If points are your thing, Pauline has dropped a bunch of crap you can pick up on your way to simian revenge such as an umbrella and a handbag. Sound effects are minimal and you'll develop a love/hate relationship with the indescribable sound made when Mario runs.


8/10 As influential as the original Star Trek series may have been, it can appear awfully dated and some of the special effects can even be considered laughable by today's standards. Yet it holds a special place in anyone's heart who was alive in front of a television when it originally aired. That's exactly how I feel about Donkey Kong. I've seen enough summers pass to vividly recall playing the arcade version everytime my mom took me with her to the local laundromat, rewarding my half-assed clothes folding with a shiny quarter that lasted about the time it took for her to get the clean clothes back in the car. It may have been harder than trying to juggle Jello, but I still looked forward to it each and everytime. However by the time the NES rolled out in 1986, it was already five years old and starting to show signs of games passing it by. My heart rates it a 10/10, but my mind says it has three levels when another game released in America eight months earlier, Super Mario Bros, had 32. That's not to say this game doesn't rule, it just isn't a 10.

It doesn't get much more classic does it?

While Donkey Kong remains of the most visible of Nintendo's flagship characters nowadays, it's hard to imagine that he laid dormant for over a decade. Rare, a British video game developer was given the option to resurrect either Kid Icarus or Donkey Kong for an uncoming SNES title and after quite a bit of back and forth, showed Nintendo's original mascot the love he deserved with a title that surpassed anything seen on thar hardware at the time, exactly what he accomplished back in 1981. Dk was brought back as the crusty old codger, Cranky Kong but we'll get to the lineage next time and just be grateful for now that he returned. Besides, Kid Icarus Country doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well does it?

Retro meets retro. Love at first sight so had to share. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

NPC - A.C.Sativa - Caltron 6-In-1

(Caltron 6-In-1, 1992, Caltron)

Ok, here’s what (I hope) will be my first review for NESQuester, Caltron 6-in-1. For those of you who aren’t aware, 6-in-1 is one of the rarest games for the NES, in that special “no way I’ll ever get this unless I win the lottery” club of NES games, like Nintendo World Championships, Stadium Events, and the 3 Panesian 8-bit porno games. It’s widely considered to be the rarest and most expensive NES game that got a full commercial release, with Racketboy quoting it at between $525 and $2,500, and going between $280 and $20,000 (!) on Ebay. Amazon has the Caltron version (I’ll get to that in a second) listing for $1,200 CIB, and $320 loose,  showing either that the collectible market has been affected by the sluggish economy just like everything else, or that people realize that some stupid people were overpaying for games that, while rare, suck ass. I believe that's called a "market self-correction".

"Who's the fucking MORON that ordered our labels smaller than Caltron's?"

Did I mention that there is 2 versions of this game? When Caltron inevitably went under, their remaining stock (the unsold 6-in-1 carts) was sold to a company from Texas called Myriad, who slapped new labels on the carts and packed them in a new box. The Myriad version is for some reason considered to be worth more, despite the two being the EXACT SAME GAME. And not the same game as in “Madden is the same game every year” or “GTA4 for the 360 and the PS3 are the same game”, but physically the same game and same cart, off the same production run. The only difference between the two is that Myriad slapped a different label on their carts, a cheap no-graphics job that was done so poorly that the original Caltron label can still be seen on the right side. Even the game still says “Caltron” on the title screen, and if you do a search on any ROM site for it, it will either come back with no results, or direct you to Caltron 6-in-1.

Does anything REALLY compare to this?

So what about the game itself? As you might have guessed, it’s 6 games on one cart. Because of this, it’s often compared to the bucket of ass we call Action 52. I've heard that this only went for $80, as opposed to $200, though I can’t confirm the MSRP either way. But how does it stack up? Let’s take a look…

Even on the Myriad repackage, the title screen still says Caltron. The Cave Story-esque title music is pretty bitchin' though.

The cart starts off with a pretty generic title screen, and music that will stick in your head long after you’re done playing, the type of music that will instantly get any nostalgic NES fan’s attention, even if he’s never seen the game. You know NES music when you hear it… Anyway; your 6 choices are Cosmos Cop, Magic Carpet 1001, Balloon Monster, Adam and Eve, Porter, and Bookyman.

Space Har...Cosmos Cop is already better than anything on that shitstain released by Active Enterprises.

Cosmos Cop: Right off we get a proper title screen (a title screen inside a tile screen, like some kind of 1992 video game version of Inception or something). This is a clone of Space Harrier for the Master System. It’s a sort of behind the shoulder first/third person shooter. Your player looks like some kind of Transformer, and the playfield moves toward you, while you can move your ship (I’m going to call him a ship for typing convenience) in any direction (2D wise). All kinds of flying ships and saucers move towards you, firing shots that split off in 4 directions and cover a good portion of the screen, and then they bring in meteors too. It’s actually not too bad, though this game is a bit too advanced for the hardware it’s running on. Gotta give credit for ambition, I guess. A turbo controller really helps here, hold down the B button (B shoots your gun, A shoots some bombs that if they make contact will blow up anything near them, you get 20 bombs per stage and unlimited gun fire) and just try to avoid all the enemy’s shots. What’s really unique about this is that you only get 2 lives. I’ve never seen an NES game, or any game for that matter, where it’s game over after 2 lives.

No shortage of crazy shit flying at you in this one!

Magic Carpet 1001: A Gradius/R-Type style shooter, only instead of being a ship flying through space, you’re a kid with a turban on a magic carpet in a desert shooting a bow-and-arrow. Damn, that’s kind of racist. Anyway, it’s easily the best game one the cart, and wouldn’t really be out of place as a stand-alone cart. Unlike Gradius and R-Type, there’s very few power-ups, and that combined with the barrage of enemies makes this game HARD, but in a good way. Again, this is taxing the hardware, often times there are way too many sprites on screen than the NES can handle, with quite a bit a slowdown and flickering. The slowdown will help though, believe me. This is the only game (SPOILER ALERT!) that isn’t a blatant clone.

Blowing more Bubbles than MJ! What fuckers? Too soon?

Balloon Monster: From best to worst, this is a clone of Buster Bros. Idea is that you’re a kid (not a chipmunk, as the box art will tell you) with a shotgun. A big bubble (not a balloon) falls from the top of the room, and you gotta shoot it. Every time you shoot a bubble it breaks up into 4 smaller pieces, and the pieces start bouncing on the floor. The bubbles you’re not shooting bounce lower and lower until they’re rolling into you and killing you (you can only shoot upwards, not to the sides). It’s pretty much unplayable, a bad concept with ass controls. It’s still better than every game on Action 52 put together.

Ah, my folks used to always tell me the tale of Adam, Eve, and snakes with...balloons

Adam and Eve: This is a clone of Balloon Fight, which itself is a clone of Joust. Yep, it’s a clone of a clone. Basic premise is that you’re a little kid with a balloon strapped to him, and you have to float up and land on top of some floating snakes (also with balloons) twice to kill them, though the snakes look more like the Berkley Power Bait scented fake worms that you’ll find at any tackle shop. If a snake lands on you, or you hit the points of the bamboo-like structure that makes up the stages your balloon gets smaller. 3 hits and you’re dead, but there’s yellow balloons that float around that when landed on cough out what I’m guessing is helium tanks, land on those to make the balloon bigger, thereby recovering lost health. The yellow balloons also spit out apples that give you points. The controls suck, and the “snakes” tend to hang out at the top of the screen, making this a lot harder and more time consuming than it really should be.

Porter must be the sound Lolo makes when he cops a squat.

Porter: A puzzle game, where you have to put boxes into squares marked with an “X”. This is also a clone, though the name of the game they’re ripping off escapes me at the moment. Pretty hard because you can only push the blocks (by holding A), not pull them. Comes with a handy self-destruct button if you fuck up, but the programmers fucked up by putting it on the B button, instead of Select or some other place you won’t constantly hit it by accident. That’s about it. Oh, the graphics suck, especially by 1992 standards.

If the game didn't resemble feces already, welcome to a game slathered in fiberous brown!

Bookyman: What the fuck kind of title is that? This is a pretty much direct copy of the old Williams arcade game Make Trax. Only here you’re a beetle. You have to cover the entire maze while avoiding the enemies. It’s sort of like Pac-Man, I guess. There’s some comb looking things on every stage, and if you hit them they shoot you up the path and kill any enemy in your way. It’s a bit harder than the old arcade game, but otherwise it’s pretty faithful to the original. For some reason you get 9 lives. What is with this cart? It’s was pretty much accepted at this point that you get 3 lives in a video game (a precedent established a long, long, long time ago by fucking pinball games in the 70’s), but here you get 9 for this game, 2 for Cosmos Cop, 5 for Magic Carpet 1001 and Balloon Monster… Makes no sense…

If you find this in your garage, do ALOT of fucking. You now can afford children and college. Fuck away!

Overall Score: 5/10. Had this game been released in 1987 or so, we probably would have called it “the shit”, had that expression existed at the time. But it came out in 1992. The SNES came out in 1990, the Genesis was 4 years old by this point. Shit, the PlayStation was only 2 years away. Even so, Magic Carpet 1001 alone is better than half of the NES games, and 2 other not-horrible games on the same cart means that this game doesn’t deserve the reputation it gets. On the scale of unlicensed garbage (defining “unlicensed garbage” as any non NOA-approved game not made by Tengen or Codemasters) it gets a 9/10. Chiller and Krazy Kreatures might be better than this, but it’s better than anything else made by AVE or AGC, and totally blows away any of the trash made by Color Dreams/Wisdom Tree or Sachen. I just chose a random unlicensed game hoping I could shit all over it with lots of f-bombs (still got plenty of those in) and what not. Seems I picked the wrong one… Maybe next time, there’s always Wally Bear and the NO! Gang.

*sniff sniff* I can smell it from here!

(Everyone give it up to guest reviewer A.C. Sativa for a killer review! I sincerely look forward to seeing more from him. I was going to refrain from any credit but it would kill me if he got blamed in case the picture captions sucked, so those were done by me. Again, big ups for knocking it out of the park on this one because if you didn't, I was going to ban your IP from my site forever and link you to a goat-fetish site everytime you tried. All kidding aside, awesome shit! Anyone else want a crack? Email me

Saturday, August 4, 2012

NESquest #19 - Urban Champion

(Urban Champion, June 1986, Nintendo)

Everything has a beginning. A polite smile met across a table can be the earliest sign of love, a single seed is possibly the start of a fruitful garden, and the entire Taco Bell menu is ususally the genesis for some white-knuckled, sweaty, "why God why" screaming shits. Today's Black Box offering is where Nintendo's 2D fighting genre's roots lie, Urban Champion. Welcome to a full 8 months after launch day as "Wave Two" is upon us.

Think this looks antique? Trust me, it doesn't get a whole hell of alot better.

Urban Champion has roots of its own planted in the classic Game & Watch series. These were handheld portable games created by Gunpei Yokoi, who has gotten plenty of love here, designed to give the feeling of an arcade title in the palm of your hands. They were great fun for the time and even got recognition as a very strange character in Super Smash Bros in later years. The Game & Watches strongly resembled the much later design of the DS, proving that Yokoi was from the future and we weren't quite ready for him. One such title was Boxing, later changed to Punch-Out to cash in on Nintendo's at-the-time arcade phenomenon. Lightbulbs went off aplenty at Nintendo's R&D 1 department and the think tank decided to attempt to translate the controls of Boxing to the recently launched NES with Urban Champion.

"All hail the BAMF of all bookstores!" 

Cutting right to the chase, this game is notorious for being the equivalent of someone opening the cart, shitting in it, closing it back up, and shoving it inside your console. Is it really that bad? In short, yes. You begin with two nameless fighters who have a humongous unknown beef  with each other and wish to settle it using good old fashioned fisticuffs. You're given a light punch, hard punch, and two levels of block, which are worthless. A stamina meter also is present but never comes into play because your goal is not to lay your foe out like any other game normally involving pugilism ends. Instead, we must master an ancient technique perfected and taught in front of Japanese barber shops and discount stores for centuries where you hit your target so hard, they do a 7.9 Olympic backwards roll into the next screen. This continues ad nauseum until you send the grasshopper on your right flying into a manhole cover. Along the way, crazed dwellers of the properties you're fighting in front of wish to reclaim their street and attempt to drop flower pots on your noggin. If life was low enough to where I'm living on the second floor of a fucking barber shop, free UFC in my front yard would be more than welcome, but that's just me. Adding to the absurdity are the random visits by the police, prompting both fighters to walk to either side of the building and stare at the sky innocently until the lawdogs have safely passed by. Could you imagine this crap going on in Mortal Kombat? "GET OVER HERE! Wait, the po-po's". The graphics are just as uninspired as the scenery ever really changes except the palette swaps and signs on each building. As unoriginal as those get, the fighter variety is even worse as there isn't any whatsoever. You fight the same green haired clone from round one to round one million. Audio is just as bad as a lazy tune accompanies the "action" while an out of place happy melody plays inbetween rounds. Like most the early titles, there is no ending, but unlike Mach Rider, after round 99, I still could give two fucks what happened to this character after the dust settled.

If it were for comedic effect, I would've died laughing. But it wasn't. So I didn't.

2/10 A complete misfire by Nintendo in every way. The game is just goddamned boring and while it may be fine to waste 5 minutes or so on today, this was a time where games were major purchases and kids got stuck with what they had. The Big N knew this and still unleashed this fecal folly onto the world. There exists no sense of anything more than button mashing until your brain hits that special point where it stops and asks you "why the hell are we doing this?" Urban Champion may as well have been named "Paper, Rock, Scissors". The fighter you control was never seen in any form or fashion other than being a level in Tetris DS and good riddance, you worthless shitstain of a great era.

If Mario hadn't eaten the mushroom first, I shudder to think...