Top Gun


Ahhh, the 80’s. Great action flicks and short, but difficult video games.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site in various reviews, Nintendo games usually had a tough learning curve. Sometimes the games were outright bugged and unbeatable, while other times the developers made increasingly hard to beat.

I think Top Gun is a mix of both worlds.

The first level seems like cake. The objective is simple: fly missions loosely based on the Tom Cruise movie of the same name, shooting down enemies before they shoot you.

The premise is simple. The presentation, flying first-person in a cockpit, is actually top notch for 1987.

The rest of the game is a frustrating mess!

As you may have guessed, once you beat the first level, the second one increases in difficulty. I remember there are bosses and whatnot, but geez if this game doesn’t get under your skin: including a necessary refueling in mid-air and a landing on an aircraft carrier – both of which can be stupidly frustrating to execute…

Especially since you only have three lives for the entire game.

Of course, there’s only four levels, but finding that out can be a challenge in and of itself. Top Gun harkens back to a time where you parted with your hard-earned money and expected to be challenged much in the same way arcade games did.

This day and age, if you blew through four levels of a game, you’d feel cheated.

Back in 1987? Top Gun became one of the highest selling games of its time – and even garnered a sequel!

The game is fun for nostalgic purposes and a fun challenge. Just be forewarned that you may feel compelled to hurl a controller at your TV screen!

Cruis’n USA


Anyone who grew up as arcades were all the rage can attest to the buzz surrounding the jump from Nintendo’s 16-bit SNES to the next generation.

The promotional hype began in those very arcades as Nintendo worked with Midway to release a few titles under the “Ultra 64” name, which was the operating codename for the company’s Super Nintendo successor.

Of those games, a racing game named Cruis’n USA was born.

The arcade version was incredible at the time. You could race through loosely-based “real life” locations with a number of other generic versions of vehicles also rooted in reality. According to Wikipedia:

The four vehicles featured in the game are generic vehicles based on their real life counter parts which consists of a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette labeled as a 1963 Muscle Car, a 1991 Ferrari Testarossa labeled as the Italia P69, a 1940 Ford V-8 De Luxe labeled as “La Bomba”, and a Hyundai HCD-Epoch II labeled as “Devastator IV”. Bonus cars consist of a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice police car, a school bus, and a Jeep Wrangler labeled as an All Terrain Vehicle.

The graphics and sound were ahead of its time, competing mostly with Sega’s racing games of the era, complete with a booth that had a racing wheel, gears and pedals.

Unfortunately, the hardware that Cruis’n USA was based on did not become the hardware that transitioned to the N64. (That would actually be the case with another Ultra 64 arcade game, Killer Instinct, however.) Therefore, the N64 port, which arrived over two years later from the arcade release, would appear dated and was also pared down in areas.

I still found the game to be fun, and it was financially successful too.

You’d have to play it in order to see the faults, but it was a brave new world playing a racing game with the “trident” N64 controller’s analog stick. The digitized models who raise the checkered flag were cutting edge – believe it or not – and the graphics were great, though jerky at times depending on what all was on the screen at once.

In summation, Cruis’n USA was Nintendo’s next-gen answer to Sega’s OutRun. While you may have been compelled to avoid it for $60-70 way back when, its something worth revisiting for at least a historical perspective.

Mario Paint


This one took me wayyyyyy back! How many of you cool kids had the SNES Mouse back in the day? No? Well, I was one of them.

As I write this in 2022, I imagine most kids would look at this and think, what’s the big deal? Back in 1992, however, we didn’t have access to home computers in the same way we do with electronics today, such as PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

Therefore, Mario Paint was a HUGE deal!

I remember always going to stores, some that were even electronics specialty stores too, and just perusing the devices on display. Back then we’re talking the days of Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1, which I believe had the “Paint” program on it. (Or at least something crude like it.)

I could sit there for hours, if my mom would’ve let me, and played on it, as art was a big deal for me in my formative years. However, having a multi-thousand-dollar machine at home wasn’t in the budget – we’re talking the era of having maybe a single color TV in the entire house!

But one day, Mario Paint came home. I don’t recall if it was a gift or an expenditure from my lawnmowing side hustle, but boy was this thing the best ever.

For those looking at the in-game shots below, you’ll likely recognize several precursors to Super Mario Maker, which would release over 20 years later on the Wii U. The “Undo Dog”, the rocket ship which wipes the board – there are so many things here where the foundation was laid for the later creator-style games, that I had forgotten about.

The endless amount of time I blew playing Mario Paint was likely in the hundreds if not thousands of hours. It wasn’t truly a “game”, as you can see, it allowed for drawing within a canvas. You could, however, save your work – and continue later.

That was crucial because Mario Paint was super detailed for its time. A plethora of colors, patterns, and stamps – many featuring Mario-specific pieces – were available. But the title really shines with the ability to create animations, custom stamps, and even soundtracks.

Yes, this truly was a precursor to creating your own Mario games, although they were simply animated clips and not a “game” you could play. I recall having Mario, and Yoshi, stomp on Goombas and also adding some other custom 16-bit pixel art.

The icing on the cake was a time-killing minigame packaged under the “coffee break” icon, where the SNES Mouse piloted a flyswatter as you killed gnats, hornets, flies, and yes, there’s even boss levels. The game helped kids at my age get more adept at using a mouse peripheral, that’s for sure!

And who could forget the title screen? Each letter in the word “Mario Paint” created a different effect, from inverting colors, to a bomb which blew everything up, to making Mario small or even clicking on “N” to see the Nintendo dev staff credits.

Quite honestly, I wasn’t expecting to have this much fun playing Mario Paint in 2022. I was instantly lost in nostalgia, and oftentimes revisiting those memories don’t age well. Yet, Mario Paint is still a tremendously fun walk down memory lane that I highly recommend to anyone who owned the game, or anyone else who has had a curiosity in the past.

Mortal Kombat: Deception


I’ve long vented my frustrations and disappointment with the Mortal Kombat series’ move from 2D to 3D. Unfortunately, Mortal Kombat: Deception doesn’t move the needle much for me in the advancement of the series department, as it continued to make MK feel more like an annual update in the vein of John Madden Football or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (of course, after they milked the cow too many times!)

Deception really feels like an MK 5.1 and not MK 6 in the lineage of things. Sure, there’s new characters, new arenas, and a new boss (a pretty cool one too, Onaga). But it also features all of the old characters, arenas, and bosses as well.

There’s only so much you can rehash here and I still never got into the weapons-based combat, which has a larger spotlight here and is the “update” to the previously used arenas.

Yes, there’s Konquest Mode, and some other add-ons, but I’ve always felt those were secondary – not even – to the main meat of a fighting game. I suppose the pressure was on after the fall of the arcades and the rise of consoles to make these games more “worthwhile” for a $50-60 purchase, tacking on replay gimmicks. I seldom count them in my own reviews, as single player is where it’s at most of the time.

That would include Chess Kombat and Puzzle Kombat. Say what you will, but I never cared about these features.

No, I cared about some pure fighting and fatalities. MK has always delivered on the violence and usually created unique characters we care about, but aside from the main boss Onaga, this game has no one truly memorable that debuted in this title.

Instead, that came with redesigns of existing characters, many of whom anchored the series since its beginning such as Sub Zero, Scorpion, and Liu Kang.

While this game sold like hotcakes back in 2004, some reviewers were harsh on it like I was. Actually, some more than others.

I understand the love, especially for the legacy of the MK series, but personally I still feel as if Deadly Alliance and Deception still hadn’t delivered from the game’s transition to three planes.

Excite Truck


Have you heard of Excite Truck? If not, you may not be the only one.

A title which flew under many radars on the underpowered Nintendo Wii, Excite Truck is a successor to Excitebike series on previous Nintendo consoles, except this time motorbikes have been swapped out for offroad inspired trucks.

That may sound like a mess, but in application, Excite Truck totally blew me away – and the game play is totally on par with the things that made the motocross series popular.

First, there’s plenty of jumps, plenty of speed, and plenty of crashes. If you can remember overheating your bike on the NES, or having missed the timing of a jump and needing to collect yourself from the ground, then you’d be on board with Excite Truck’s spin on all of the above.

Single player mode sees you race against computer opponents in timed tracks. The main goal, however, is to collect stars, which is done by performing many tricks to perfection.

Some of those tricks include getting air, perfect landings from jumps, or successfully navigating an area full of trees without crashing.

The tracks are based on real life locations, such as China, Scotland, Mexico, Fiji, Finland and Canada, with a fictional Nebula level tossed in. The locales are detailed and lush, with most of the terrain able to be navigated (for better or worse!)

The trucks are based on real-life variations too, with more vehicles and paint jobs unlocked as you progress through the game. That’s a neat feature which reminds me of Mario Kart. You begin by picking the truck that fits your style and then choosing the color of it. You may pick on with better acceleration, for example, over handling.

Once you choose your cup level and stage, the game kicks over to the Wii’s main gimmick: motion controls. There’s no thumbstick, nunchuk or classic controller options here, as Excite Truck forces you to steer by tilting a sideways Wiimote controller side-to-side like a real steering wheel.

When executing jumps, you can turn your car sideways, or tilt forward or backward to help execute a better landing. Gas and brakes are handled by buttons 1 and 2, and the only other button truly used is “down” on the D-pad to use the speed boost feature – but be careful, you don’t want to overheat the engine!

While most won’t like using the motion controls they’re actually great. The game couldn’t be any easier to play and who hasn’t jerked side-to-side or pulled back when playing the original NES game? Now those movements mean something!

However, I would’ve liked to have seen a few additional controller options, as we saw in Mario Kart Wii.

Overall, Excite Truck is a very pleasant surprise which I feel deserves a follow up too. The only true shame is that more people don’t know of this game and that the Wii didn’t have HD graphics, as tweaking an emulated copy shows how this game really shines even over 15 years later.

Eternal Champions


I will preface this review by saying, if I’m in the present day and age when this game was released, and a proud owner of a Sega Genesis, I’m likely a happy camper.

However, that’s not the case judging this game many years later.

Sega jumped aboard the fighting game craze in 1993 with their own original title, releasing Eternal Champions directly to the Genesis with no arcade presence prior.

This gives the game some exclusivity but also walls it off from many of its more mainstream competitors like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter II. The latter of those games played well in arcades and translated well to consoles, but I feel as if Eternal Champions is missing that “it” factor which truly makes games standout.

EC has some really good things going for it. It borrows the six-button layout from Street Fighter II, with weak, medium, and strong kicks and punches: however, this is also its demise, as a six-button controller is required to play it, and pulling off some of the moves (like pressing A+C or X+Y+Z simultaneously) are difficult in the heat of battle.

The way this is balanced is by using a special moves meter, which depletes depending on the severity of each move. New players will come into EC not knowing these moves, so their competition is can’t cheaply beat them by being that more experienced.

Blocks, jumps, everything else works similarly to other fighting games, so it’s a welcome portion of the game, but you’re still not likely to win many matches without mastering the characters.

And in the 2020’s I have no patience to do so for such a redundant title.

Don’t get me wrong, the available characters are diverse. They each have styles that may fit specific players, with the females moving/jumping faster than some of the larger male counterparts who plod along with heavier hitting strikes. The back stories on each of them is unique, and the plot overall is missing a “big bad” altogether, opting for different branching endings.

The stories are so front and center they can be accessed directly from the game’s main menu too.

Each character has their own stage, own moves, and yes, even a knockoff on MK’s fatalities otherwise called overkills.

Overall, the visuals are impressive for the lesser powered Genesis too. Characters are large and in charge, but unlike knowing that a game like Mortal Kombat had better visuals in the arcade, that were then pared down for consoles, what you see in EC here is what you get. Nothing more.

I feel like this game would be far better played with an arcade stick too – and yes, Sega’s little-used Activator add-on was also supported – but in the end, if you have to play with a gamepad, especially the 3-button (which used “start” to toggle the kicks/punches) then you are pretty much sunk.

For retro gamers who grew up with EC, the trip down memory lane may be better than approaching this for the first time. I feel this game is good enough for its era, but not something you’re going to want to sink a lot of time into playing when better fighters, even others developed by Sega, exist.

Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six


Once upon a time Nintendo games challenged the patience of young kids everywhere. Video games used to present a repeating challenge, such as Pac-Man or Space Invaders, with the idea being each level gets more difficult so the arcade machine sucks more of your quarters.

The 8-bit home console era brought about more linear gameplay, with many games amping up difficulty because there were only 6-8 levels in them – and I assume, you wanted a bit of a challenge so it didn’t seem as if you wasted your hard-earned $50-60 on a game you could beat within hours.

In this light, I’ve long since forgiven some games with stupid difficulty curves. Yet, there are others that are nigh impossible to beat, such as Battletoads. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made by Ultra Games (not to be confused with the fantastic Konami arcade version, ported as Turtles II: The Arcade Game) is yet another of those frustrations I had as a child, only to learn that one area was literally a bug within the title that was hard to get past regardless of skill level.

Over the years I’ve played my share of games with gimmicks, such as Ninja Gaiden, which ratcheted up the toughness with very little health, no continues, and/or a timer to beat. (Gaiden had all three!)

But never did I suspect that I’d run into a game so haplessly thrown together that it would make me enjoy those aforementioned torture fests more than what I was playing.

Enter Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six, a game I sought out during the current Spider-Man multiverse craze, thinking that it might be a cool, lost title of the early 90’s.

Little did I know how far from the truth that statement might be.

Spider-Man looks cool on the screen, and can use his web shooters: getting around the two-button NES controller by using both B and A buttons simultaneously, you can shoot the webs.

But can you use them? Not really.

The distance doesn’t go far, it doesn’t stick to much, and the web-swinging motion is easily canceled out by what I can only describe as the worst controls in nearly any game I’ve played from this era.

You see, you can jump with B. But you can’t really jump in a direction easily. Then all of a sudden you summersault, a la Metroid, but you can’t control where you toss to. And while jumping, you can’t attack.

Actually, you can’t attack while moving whatsoever. And while attacking, Spider-Man moves haphazardly on the screen, oftentimes through or past his intended target, which takes a nice cheap shot at your 4 blocks of health.

You can kind of get that health back, but not easily – and once you die, that’s it. You get one life, and one continue.

That makes the game challenging to say the least, but the collision detection goes beyond that, as every stray bullet (which travels the entire screen) can hit you with ease, while you can’t easily crouch and hit smaller rats which respawn to jump at and kill you. As you attack, you might punch – or jump kick – it’s totally random as to what you do, and if it will hit your enemy. But it will move Spidey, sliding him into more precarious positions, ultimately to kill you and have you start over.

I threw on some cheats to see if I could get further in this game than humanly possible, and well, you can’t really do that either. There are pits where you can’t jump high enough to get out, can’t directionally jump to get out of, can’t sling your webs to catch anything, and pretty much have to die to restart the level – or the game.

Worse, someone decided that Spidey shouldn’t just stop at the top of a ladder, and so he just falls down, to start again, as if it were greased up by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.

Since ladders are used everywhere, the jumping mechanic supersedes any need for web-slinging, the primary function of our web-slinger. And since jumping sucks, and you can’t attack in mid-air (like Turtles or Battletoads) you die – and if you have infinite health cheats, you kind of just jump around aimlessly, hoping to stick to something that’s part of a climbable part of the level and not a wall you can’t get past.

Beyond that, there are objectives where you must acquire items to get to the next part of a level. If you’re fortunate enough to find a boss, good luck, because you won’t be able to hit them or they spawn off-screen, or worse, on top of you.

It isn’t a wonder this game was made by the factory of misery known as LJN, famous for acquiring licenses but making terrible games.

Even with my Spider sense of nostalgia, this is a game best avoided at all costs – and easily a contributor to why parents and kids avoided anything licensed from comics, TV, or movies for many years. It was seriously so bad that I couldn’t even attempt to finish it with cheats.

My heart sincerely goes out to anyone who was given this as a kid and forced to play it!

Battletoads


For years I’ve heard the urban legends of Battletoads, a game considered to be one of, if not the hardest ever created for the NES.

I have some vague memory of playing this as a youth, and at some point around the time I started to found this site. For some reason I fell off of playing it, and decided to finally return to see what the fuss is about.

I recall getting stuck on a particular section, and I think I lost interest. That’s all. Granted, I’m not very good at games, and the NES had a punishing selection of titles that would make many kids cry. (I’m looking at you Mega Man 2!)

Heck, this game was founded on the popularity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of which, the first Ultra Games version on the original Nintendo was a tough, tough game. Little did us kids know that it was actually bugged and the jump in the third stage was nearly impossible to achieve.

That didn’t stop us though! No, many of kids just accepted the fact that these 8-bit games were hard. We didn’t know any better.

And then there’s Battletoads… straight up F this game!

There I said it. I was holding back, but I can’t imagine the tools who designed this game actually believed that it would crush the souls of many children when it was unleashed on the public in 1991. I can’t even imagine that someone bug-tested or play-tested this game, and allowed it past QA.

And I’m saying this with the benefit of save states and cheats thirty years later!

Yes, even with those advantages, this game is pure bullsh*t!

From the jump, if you’re using the tried-and-true NES cartridge and playing this old school? Good luck!

The game starts you with three lives. Each life has six health blocks. There are no continues and seldom are there checkpoints, meaning if you die – and you certainly will – you then start over and have to face the same crap over… and over… and over…

Until you break a controller. Or throw the game out the window.

I wish I could say there was anything redeemable about this experience, but let’s face it: the game is tarnished by its difficult and repetitive nature.

The premise of the Battletoads is cool, but it’s clearly lifted from TMNT and feels like a cheap parody at times. It’s a shame, because Rare, the famed developer, did some really cool stuff here too. The graphics and detailed touches, included some animation scenes that are top notch for the NES, is really top of the line stuff.

But it’s marred by how hard the game is. I know I’ve said it a few times, but when your toad throws a punch and the timing is off, only to get hit by enemies – remember those six health bars? Yeah, the enemies might take more than one block off your health.

Then there’s health drainers that appear flying around the screen that will certainly take up to four blocks of life from you at certain stoppages in the game.

It’s a super cheap mechanism that steals from the variety of moves and follows the pattern of similar beat’em up games.

Truthfully, we can all sympathize with Double Dragon or Ninja Gaiden being tough, but this game becomes impossible to pass certain points – most of which include side-scrolling levels where your toad hops aboard a vehicle and the obstalces speed up incrementally to where, unless you’ve played the level a hundred times – and you won’t because of lack of health/continues – you just end up quitting. Forever.

This difficulty even crept through to using cheats within the game, which of course are introducing bugs that will then introduce more bugs. The side-scrolling levels can’t be passed with cheats for the most part, and yes, I am complaining about cheating to experience this game, because it’s damn near required to do so.

Later on there’s a snake block level, that also becomes stupid hard. A water tube level places spikes beneath floor drops that you can’t see from the upper levels. And more and more, it’s almost too much to talk about it. It’s rather clear the developers wanted to punish gamers in every way imaginable and make their game one that only the top 1% of pros could complete.

I’m not sure that any eight-year-old kid needs that sort of challenge, and into adulthood, neither do I!

If you like to waste your time with an unrewarding, difficult, frustrating, repetitive, and downright impossible game to play, then Battletoads is your calling.

If you would rather spend your time watching raindrops dry on a sidewalk, I would suggest that could be more fun – and you may still get to see a toad in the process anyway! Way more fun… avoid this one folks, I’m not kidding!

Excitebike


Fondly remembered as a launch title on the original NES, Excitebike was in many of kids’ video game libraries and represented something that wasn’t the norm for its time: a smooth side-scrolling racing game.

The game was designed by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Super Mario Bros., so it should come as no surprise that the game has lived as a cult classic since it’s American release in 1985.

The game features a few modes including a solo race, a race against another computer and a track design mode. The track design mode made Excitebike a killer app for 80’s kids, as you could create any dirt bike track your heart desired.

And who can forget the classic animation of crashing, falling off of your bike and having to trot back, pick it up, and get back to racing!

I also believe that the other killer aspect of this game was the basic nature of the NES controller. We often forget that gaming consoles had joysticks and other crazy button layouts, while the NES controller had a simple d-pad and two main buttons – this made Excitebike accessible for anyone to play. It was crazy simple, yes, but the game was nuanced enough that you couldn’t just jam on a single button to accelerate and win.

No.

You had to make sure your engine didn’t overheat, alternating when you hit the gas or not. Going to fast would also lead to bad spills off of jumps, so timing and strategy were integral to such a basic game. (Yet another reason it became a timeless classic.)

NFL Quarterback Club


I’m sure that everyone who say the NFL Quarterback Challenge back in the 90’s thought it was a cool, friendly concept. Many of the league’s top stars dueled it out, throwing footballs as moving targets and aiming for bullseyes in a number of events.

When NFL Quarterback Club dropped the Super Nintendo, many of us were already starting to get our feet wet with John Madden Football. Marrying the two concepts would make too much sense at a time when football video games were lacking all of the necessary licensing as it was.

NFL Quarterback Club actually had a few things going for it.

Most of the league’s top passers leant their name to the title, along with the NFL licensing having real team names, logos, and likenesses, we were almost there when it came to a fully licensed pro football game.

However, QB Club ultimately feels like a cheap Madden imitation, right down to the play-calling, controls, and even the visual presentation. If you can get past the slow pace of the games (even slower than Madden of that era) and the ridiculous AI, then maybe you’d enjoy this – or you may have only had this to play by default.

And you would’ve gotten by.

The shining gem for this game should’ve been the QB Challenge aspect, which pits your chosen quarterback against four others in a variety of skills tests.

I surmise these tests are better suited for not breaking a controller – or worse, your TV – because trying to figure out how the controls work are half of the battle in a frustratingly clunky game.

Don’t get me wrong, for this era, there’s a lot of cool stuff here. But coming back to this game decades later shows how wrong this one got it out the gate. I may have to attempt the sequels, all made by the same team who brought you the NBA Jam home conversions as well as Turok.

I’ll give this a middle of the road grade and assume that the sequels sold on something other than name value alone. However, this game? A strong pass for me to ever look at let alone waste another moment playing ever again!