August 22, 2012
Billed as Nintendo’s first video board game, the Rare developed NES game Anticipation has become one of my go-to multiplayer games since I stumbled upon it at a local game store. I was immediately drawn and disgusted by the game’s dated box art and expected little but was surprised to discover an entertaining multiplayer competition.
Like most board games, in Anticipation players are represented by little figurines. The goal is to correctly guess what the game is drawing and do so on each of the game’s three levels; the winner is the one who completes all three levels first. This can become tricky because the game requires a correct answer from four different themes before moving on to the next level. When it comes down to needing a correct answer from that last theme, it’s not uncommon to go on a lengthy dry spell where landing on the needed space is annoyingly elusive.
When advancement became elusive, I found that I could initiate a level of strategy that emphasized a risk and reward principle. Buzzing in when the dice roll would work out favorably allowed others to buzz in before me, but if they were stumped, I had the opportunity to roll the dice so I’d land on the theme I needed. When all players realize this strategy, the bluffing and screwing of your competition becomes part of the fun.
Of the many games of Anticipation that I’ve played, I’ve noticed that the backend tends to drag on as the drawings get tougher and inevitably, someone requires that last theme to advance or win. Sometimes, I’d rather just turn the game off then sit through a potentially laborious dry spell where no one makes any progress, but for the most part, Anticipation is good fun.
November 3, 2011
For Halloween, my friend and I compiled a list of related games and played them, usually for a short period of time. One that we devoted more time to was Fester’s Quest for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was developed and published by Sunsoft and released in the USA in 1989. The game stars uncle Fester from the TV show The Addams Family as he attempts to prevent an alien invasion.
My friend and I took turns playing, handing off to the other when we died. We saw Fester via a top-down perspective as we explored the city around him. We were quickly greeted by enemy aliens whom Fester had to shoot to defeat. Often times they would drop pickups. These pickups varied; we most commonly came across money, but there were also weapon upgrades and downgrades, as well as usable items.
Money would allow Fester to buy hot dogs and restore his health, but he had a very limited amount of health; two hits and it was game over. Another item we came across frequently was keys. Keys allowed Fester to get into houses where family members were taking shelter. They would provide Fester with important items. One my friend and I liked was the TNT which was very helpful in defeating stronger enemies.
It didn’t take long for my friend and me to explore to small area available to us. To progress, Fester had to go underground and get to an otherwise inaccessible area of the city. We only made it out once though. The underground consisted of corridors which made it very difficult for us depending on how upgraded Fester’s gun was.
As we accumulated upgrades, Fester’s gun got stronger, faster, and sometimes had a wider bullet spread. This combination of wide bullet spread and narrow corridors was bothersome. Luckily, our enemies would sometimes drop weapon downgrades which allowed us to “fine tune” Fester’s gun to our needs. We spent a lot of time accumulating enemy drops so we maxed out a few items, but we never maxed out Fester’s gun.
So my friend and I didn’t get very far in Fester’s Quest. We both thought the game was tough, but that our deaths were mostly our fault. I wish we could’ve maxed out Fester’s gun and maybe that would have helped us underground, but I guess Sunsoft didn’t want people to max out everything very quickly. Fester’s Quest is supposed to have first-person dungeon-crawling so that makes me want to give it another go. Unfortunately, Fester’s Quest doesn’t have a save feature and each time we died, Fester began with the same amount of items and upgrades, but he always started at the very beginning, so completion is unlikely.
June 9, 2011
Acclaim’s Double Player System is a unique set of controllers for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I wouldn’t consider myself the most versed in the accessories released for the NES, but I know the Double Player System is one of the few options for wireless controllers for NES gamers. Include the turbo and slow motion functionalities and the set seems like a no-brainer, but I did run into some issues.
The Double Player System utilizes infrared technology, the same concept implemented in television remotes. To work, the controllers must point at a receiver plugged into the NES. I initially tested them out by turning on Star Soldier, holding a button, and moving the controller around to see when they lost contact. My radius was very limited and playing with them required a steady hand at all times. While in the thick of Star Soldier however, I noticed that I didn’t move around that much. I remained focused and only lost the signal on a few occasions.
The controllers were quite useful for playing Star Soldier as they had added functionality compared to a standard NES controller. Besides being wireless, the controllers also had turbo and slow motion functionality.
I was not impressed with the slow motion as I couldn’t get it to work. I tried it with both controllers but to no avail. Whenever I’d press the button enabling slow motion, the game would rapidly pause and unpause. I tried it with multiple games as well. Perhaps it was my controllers malfunctioning, I mean these are twenty year old controllers (released in 1988) and who knows how well they were taken care of.
The turbo functionality on the other hand was stupendous. To be fair, these are the only controllers for the NES that I own having turbo functionality so I don’t have anything else to compare them to, but unlike the slow motion, turbo actually worked. The turbo functionality was perfect for Star Soldier where I just mashed the fire button to shoot. To enable turbo I clicked in the turbo button above either the A or B button and that button was now rapid-fire. Instead of mashing on the fire button, all I had to do now was hold the fire button to blow fools away.
While Star Soldier was my primary test subject for the controllers, I did play Guerrilla War with a friend to test both controllers at once. We didn’t encounter any interference between the two controllers, but my friend and I had a bit of trouble figuring out who was player one and player two, even after making the selection on our controllers.
With The Double Player System I had little leeway; if I moved slightly and the controller and receiver lost each other, it could turn out terribly. Terribly, like the slow motion functionality. Maybe it’s the games I chose or maybe my controllers were busted, but the slow motion just didn’t work for me. The turbo functionality however worked like a charm and I can foresee myself picking the Double Player System over a standard controller depending on the game I’m playing, a shoot ‘em up for instance. Multiplayer brought about a slight problem, but one that could be overcome. Playing without wires is nice, but the only reason I’d choose the Acclaim Double Player System over a standard controller is for the turbo functionality.
May 26, 2011
Instead of weaving an interesting tale of space intrigue and drama, Star Soldier for the Nintendo Entertainment System focuses on gameplay that requires memorization and quick reflexes.
Developed by Hudson Soft and published by Taxan in 1989 for the NES, Star Soldier is a vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up set in space. While the plot is never touched upon in the game, there is a single paragraph in the manual that sets the stage. Starbrain, an evil computer is roaming space with waves of enemy ships and robot creatures and are destroying anything in their path. The Galactic Empire decides to send in their best star soldier along with the best ship in their Galactic Fleet, Caesar to take care of Starbrain. And that’s the plot. It’s basically identical to any other space shoot ‘em up, but I didn’t purchase Star Soldier for the story, no, I purchased it for the gameplay.
Piloting Caesar I flew through space (vertically mind you) shooting down Starbrain’s waves of minions, of which there were plenty. And instead of simply palette-swapping enemies (same enemy design, different stats and color) Hudson Soft created a large array of enemies that had their own patterns that I needed to memorize to be successful.
Every enemy type moved and attacked me differently which means I had to deal with nearly every enemy type in a different way. And with the exception of a few, the enemies weren’t kind enough to attack me one at a time, they attacked me in waves. Each wave was wholly composed of one enemy type, but a lot of that enemy type. With each stage lasting at least a few minutes, I had to deal with many waves that required unique strategies. The key to success was learning how to cope with each enemy type, and if that didn’t pan out I could try and hide from them.
One of the things that I found polarizing about Star Soldierwas the stage design. While the game takes place in space, I wasn’t just flying through twinkling stars. Each stage had something more to it; some had stage-long space stations in the process of being built while other stages had me flying around floating landmasses. I had the ability to fly under most of the construction and most of the floating landmasses, but not every single one. This was confusing and added another level of memorization to the game. Why would I want to fly beneath these structures though?
Well, when I flew underneath them I could avoid enemies and enemy fire, but I’d lose my ability to fire too. This mechanic was helpful when I confronted a wave of dive bombing enemies that moved very fast as they would fly over the structure while I was under it. Coming out from underneath these structures was difficult to time however and I lost many lives running into stray bullets or just crashing into enemies. I ended up avoiding flying underneath structures as much as I could because it messed with the rhythm I had built up and usually led to easily avoidable deaths.
Star Soldier required a lot of memorization and for the first hour, it was more about learning how the enemies act and how I should react than actual stage progression. I didn’t get very far until I had that understanding, then I was able to get a little farther in the game each time I played. I had to build that base knowledge of how Star Soldier operated, and then learn each stage and apply the tactics I developed. Sometimes I’d have a good rhythm going and get far without losing lives, but once I began doing bad, it was hard to get back in that rhythm. I wasn’t able to complete the game though; of the sixteen stages I only made it to the seventh, but I was extremely satisfied making it that far. One thing that helped me get that far was earning extra lives.
I was awarded extra lives at fifty-thousand points, two hundred thousand points, and beyond that I’m not sure. Killing enemies aided in accumulating points, but what really helped was finding hidden enemies. On the half-built space stations and floating landmasses were hidden enemies that would appear after I shot the space they occupied a few times. Instead of giving me a standard amount of points, I got a larger reward for each one destroyed. I initially got five hundred points, but this moved up to one thousand, four thousand, ten thousand, forty-thousand, and so on for each one found. This added yet another element of memorization to the game.
After I understood the enemies, the stage design, and had plenty of lives I could finally defeat Starbrain and this brings me to the last thing I want to talk about: the boss fights. At the end of each stage I fought Starbrain, and at the end of each fourth stage I fought Big Starbrain. Defeating Starbrains and Big Starbrains wasn’t that difficult of a task. Their attacks were easily avoidable as were their movements. Big Starbrain was a little more difficult as I had much more to destroy, but I rarely lost a life in these battles. However, if I didn’t defeat them quickly enough, they would escape and I would have to attempt the stage over again. This didn’t concern me too much though as it only happened once.
Star Soldier was a challenging, but fun shoot ‘em up that employed some interesting mechanics. I appreciated that there was a large amount of unique enemies instead of palette-swapped versions. Dealing with each type was challenging, but rewarding once I took out an entire wave. The ability to interact with the stages was interesting, but as is the case with the story, I was ambivalent towards it. Having the same two bosses repeated throughout the game wasn’t a sticking point for me, I was glad that I knew what to expect at the end of a level and would have to restart or learn another boss’ patterns. The manual contains helpful information and tips for the game and I found a complete copy for the NES cheap, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to enjoy the game. And I did enjoy Star Soldier; after half a dozen hours of play I’d gotten enough out of it, but I would recommend it for anyone looking for a classic shoot ‘em up.
High Score: 408, 200
April 22, 2011
I completed The Legend of Zelda a few weeks ago. I originally purchased it something like five years ago at a garage sale along with a Nintendo Entertainment System and some other games. At that time I was beginning to realize I really liked what The Legend of Zelda games offered. I played The Legend of Zelda and probably got halfway through it but gave up. But I recently decided to compose an encyclopedia dedicated to the franchise and thought I should begin with the first installment. Besides playing through the game, I crafted graph paper maps of the overworld and each dungeon, as well as an item list, a bestiary, and a synopsis.
The Legend of Zelda has no intricacy to the story. Ganon has captured princess Zelda and wishes to rule Hyrule. Link saves Zelda’s nursemaid who tells Link of this and he decides to save Zelda by completing the Triforce of Wisdom, which Zelda broke into eight shards to prevent Ganon from getting them. Akin to the story, Hyrule itself is rather sparse. There are towns in Hyrule, occasionally caves will house merchants or some helpful elderly citizens, but that’s it. The Legend of Zeldais a lonely adventure.
That’s not to say there isn’t much life in Hyrule, to the contrary. There is a plethora of enemies throughout the kingdom, as well as in the many dungeons. There’s actually a wide variety of enemies too. Sure some are variations of other monsters, e.g. red and blue versions, but defeating all these different enemies requires many weapons and items.
So now that Link has an objective, complete the Triforce of Wisdom and save princess Zelda, and he has enemies in between him and his goal, it’s quest time proper! But what’s an adventurer without a weapon? Well Link receives a sword at the very beginning of the game, the first screen to be precise, from a helpful old man. But besides the trusty sword, there are many additional weapons throughout Hyrule that are necessary to progression.
Even though I feel Hyrule is very sparse because of the lack of towns or humans, it’s a wonderful place to adventure through. Exploring Hyrule was often very satisfying, made more so as I completed another screen of my maps. With each screen, I stumbled upon a new arrangement of enemies, the screen itself a battle puzzle, and once I finished off the remaining enemies, I’d explore my surroundings and see if anything was out of place. At some point the areas of Hyrule I could reach would force me to battle through a new dungeon, obtaining a new weapon or item, and clue, that would help me defeat more enemies, reach new places, and hopefully, set me on the path to my next destination.
Once in a dungeon, the object is to reach the boss, defeat it, and claim the shard of the Triforce. Each dungeon has a dungeon map that reveals the layout and a compass that shows where the Triforce shard is located. In most dungeons, there is a secret item that is necessary to defeating that dungeon’s boss, or a subsequent dungeon’s boss. Also located in nearly every dungeon is an old man who gives a hint as to Link’s next steps. Some of the clues were vague, but it was enjoyable deciphering them and figuring out for myself what to do next.
I found the first half of the game quite easy. The areas of Hyrule I had access to at this stage was limited, due to the items I had at the moment, so the enemies weren’t too difficult. As I got closer to completing the Triforce though, I was able to explore Hyrule more fully, and not only that, but the dungeons began growing in size and becoming much more troublesome. The enemies took more hits to defeat and there was a greater quantity of them in the later dungeons. In many of the later dungeons I’d often get stuck on one room in particular, usually because it contained a lot of enemies that would take multiple hits to defeat. The layouts were more confusing as well; instead of obvious room to room progression, there’d be more dead ends or secret paths that opened when bombing walls. That aspect didn’t bother me at all however. It would be annoying when I ran out of bombs to try and find some more, but finding secret paths made me feel like I was mapping a world unseen.
Finding paths, deciphering clues, and mapping the world in general was very appealing to me. Completing The Legend of Zelda was fun, but much of my enjoyment came from making my maps and learning Hyrule. The combat got difficult in some areas, but it was also simple and fun. At some point, mapping dungeons or the overworld would become necessary to complete the game, but doing it from the beginning adds an extra sense of accomplishment and I will always have these maps to look back on.