Welcome to the NES era, where the difficulty of 8-bit games often claimed the souls of young children.
None could be truer than the poor kiddo who unpacked this cool looking WCW Wrestling game. It’s wrestling, those are the Road Warriors on the cover (one of the biggest draws outside of the WWF at wrestling’s height) and this should be a blast…
Should be, because it wasn’t made by LJN.
It isn’t, because like every other wrestling game made during this era, its either:
- Too Hard
- Limited By Technology
This is true of WCW Wrestling, which looks cool and lets you move all over the place, including outside of the ring with even an isometric corner view.
There’s also a nice roster of wrestlers to choose from, none of which as any special abilities than the other aside from how they look. Everyone’s here, including Ric Flair, Sting, Lex Luger, Road Warriors Hawk and Animal, Ricky Steamboat, and then maybe lesser knowns outside of the regional territory such as Mike Rotundo, Steve Williams, Kevin Sullivan, Rick Steiner, Eddie Gilbert, and Michael “PS” Hayes.
The boss at the end of the game is a generic masked wrestler called the “WCW Master”, who can be unlocked to play with. (He’s actually based on Andre The Giant’s character “Giant Machine” in Japan, as this game’s engine was originally released there as a totally different wrestling game.)
You can also customize your wrestler’s move set before the match. But good luck using it – or getting any offense in.
As was customary at the time, jamming on buttons was necessary to success. Jamming on them here, however, usually ends up in poor collision detection where you can never land a hit on the CPU controlled opponent.
Despite the custom moves, you’re relegated to kicking and punching – usually landing neither. Your character is at the mercy of watching the CPU do all of the cool stuff, and should you happen to get off of the mat or kickout from a pin attempt, you’re most likely hitting every button known to man as fast as possible, which pressing A+B makes you run.
Then you run into a clothesline. Or a dropkick. Or any other cool moves you can’t do, but the computer performs mercilessly.
Thankfully matches are timed. That will make sure you’re out of your misery soon enough, because no other power bars or meters exist that show you if you’re ahead or behind your opponent health wise. Nope, the only gauge which exists is when you suplex someone out of a grapple, a power bar which eventually lands on full power, flashes the screen, and allows you to execute your special move.
Well, not you, but the computer.
It’s almost as if you’re playing Mortal Kombat in the arcade and were lucky enough to win two matches. Guess what’s next? The cheating CPU that will suck your quarters!
Except there’s no quarters. And there’s no winning – unless you trick the CPU into getting counted out of the ring at 20!
I have a real love/hate relationship with wrestling games from this era, and WCW Wrestling is among the worst of them. While it presents itself as more of a pure wrestling game than LJN’s WrestleMania fare, it’s still a turd that should be long forgotten aside from the cool Road Warriors pose on the cover.
Avoid it unless you enjoy terrible video games.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.)
Let it be known I already wasn’t a fan of the original Paperboy. I always felt like the game was full of cheap, stupid challenges, because it was also short.
I get the premise, which is a cool, and how some folks probably loved it – maybe still to this day.
I’m not one of those people.
I also get that it was an arcade game meant to eat your quarters, which I don’t believe translated well to home consoles. So, tack on my frustration and general dislike for the first game, and multiply it tenfold for the sequel, which is every bit of a money grab.
The developer, Tengen, made sure that Paperboy was available on every imaginable console available at the time. It’s sequel also shows up in places it shouldn’t be too. (I’m looking at you Game Boy!)
The reason is the simplicity of the game. In this NES version of Paperboy 2, nothing has really changed from the original!
Oh hey, the A and B buttons toss papers to either side of the road. Very innovative!
There’s also a “Papergirl” now too! Gee whiz! Golly! Take my money!
They also added an intersection in the road, which, I guess, mixes up the game play from the OG title.
I can’t say enough bad things about this intentional attempt to slap a new cover on an old book. Even looking at older reviews from when this game was launched, most of the gaming magazines panned it – some even worse than I did – stating the gameplay is repetitive, and the audiovisual content is dated compared to other games of its era.
Honestly, this is the type of game you only played as a kid because it was one of the four cartridges you owned, gifted to you for a birthday or holiday. You kept putting it in, trying something other than Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, only to be disappointed and frustrated time and again.
We did that in the 80’s and 90’s… there’s no reason to torture yourself today by even booting this up!
If you were to tell six-year-old me while growing up, that puzzles games would be some of my fondest memories, I’d probably look at you confused – because I’m only six, remember?
Seriously though, puzzle games? The mere mention of the word puzzle brings to mind grandparents doing crosswords or the word jumble in the newspaper. Not video games.
Yet, two of the most influential video games in my life were both puzzle-based. First, there was Tetris which dominated the life of anyone who owned a Game Boy.
Then came Dr. Mario.
Ah, yes – let’s slap the plumber on this box and sell it like hotcakes. Afterall, all things Mario were hot. Nintendo at this time could do no wrong. Super Mario Bros. 3 had released months earlier as a blockbuster larger than some summer movies. The Super Nintendo and another Mario title was on the way with Super Mario World – but somewhere in the middle is where Dr. Mario landed.
Initially this is a game I missed as a kid. Some parents were apparently up in arms over the doctor/drug theme, but for myself, the puzzle game looked like a rip-off of Tetris. (How dare they?!) Little did I know years later how many times I would play the NES original, and its many sequels, with my girlfriend and wife-to-be.
Dr. Mario is considered one of the best NES games ever made and with good reason.
The premise is simple: align four blocks of a single color in a row, either vertically or horizontally. The blocks can be made up for the three colors of viruses, red, blue and yellow, which are randomly placed at the start of each level and must be eliminated to move to the next.
Strategy is incorporated in many ways. Each pill contains only two of the three colors, so you do not want to block your ability to gain four in a row of a single color. You may also use the edge of one pill to eliminate other rows and columns, with the extra piece breaking off and falling lower in the stage.
In this manner, savvy players can clear boards quicker – critical to victory as gameplay speeds up throughout each level to a breakneck pace. The amount of viruses are also predetermined as you level up, but players can also set this, as well as the speed and catchy tunes of the game’s timeless soundtrack, in the main menu.
In two player mode the game remains essentially the same. Players split screens and attempt to beat the other by clearing their stage first. When clearing two or more rows/columns simultaneously, extra one-bit pills fall on your opponent’s stage, which usually clogs up their plans to eradicate the viruses.
Explaining the dynamic might be more difficult than actually seeing the game in action – and there’s a real ending to it as well, which, I’m so far removed from my peak Dr. Mario skills that I prefer to show you a YouTube clip of someone who’s done the hard work for me.
If you’ve never played Dr. Mario, well, you’re missing out. It’s a good solo romp as well as a great game to play in tandem. The are numerous follow ups which build upon one another but retain the same core game play too – in fact, Dr. Mario has appeared on nearly every Nintendo system, with this game spawning yet another subgenre in which the famous plumber printed money for his creators.
If you haven’t indulged, I highly recommend this game – and series – especially if you are a fan of puzzle games.
Now here’s a classic for you 8-bit Nintendo gamers!
I’ll never forget holding this game in my hands for the first time. The shrink-wrapped silver box with a spaceman-of-sorts ready to fire an arm cannon at aliens.
Metroid captured the imagination of the era, which included Sigourney Weaver’s Alien movies. Little did us gamers know that Metroid captured a bit too well, that is, until you saw one of the secret endings or used the infamous “JUSTIN BAILEY” code on the password screen.
Either would reveal that the game’s protagonist, Samus Aran, is a female – a pretty shocking (and cool) revelation at a time when such information was rarely spoiled for gamers.
Metroid (and Konami’s Castlevania) would be so iconic and groundbreaking that the term “Metroidvania” would be coined for a genre of games with a similar premise: unlocking new areas by gaining new items/powers, often which requiring a lot of backtracking throughout the game.
But that wasn’t all that made Metroid unique. Most games of the time scrolled sideways, but Metroid did that and had vertical sprawl to it. You would often have to fall down, or scale, large corridors to get to the next section of the game.
With the exception of requiring certain items to get to certain locations, the game was also open-ended; meaning you could choose to go just about anywhere you wanted. (Though doing so might get you instantly killed if Samus wasn’t adequately equipped!)
The premise of the game is that Space Pirates stole an parasitic organism known as a “Metroid” and planned to replicate them as biological weapons.
Samus is actually a bounty hunter, tasked with hunting down the pirates and their leader, the Mother Brain.
The sci-fi overtones, fleshed out storyline, unique graphical areas, and new open-ended adventure made Metroid stand apart, but that’s not all it was known for. Samus was the first character to “spin jump”, curling into a ball mid-jump, in a video game: something taken for granted now but totally new to gamers in 1987.
There are so many good things I can say about this game, but in summation: combined it made for a helluva action/adventure game that still has a cult following to this day. Not only did it launch an entire series, but it launched an entire gaming genre.
If you haven’t played it, or any of its sequels, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Even with 8-bit graphics, the original Metroid still stands tall as a game that is as accessible and replayable as any to this day.
When you needed a football fix on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, Tecmo Bowl was often the “go-to” title for early gamers.
The first football game to feature real NFL players was a HUGE deal in the world of video games. Unfortunately, it only includes 16 of the league’s then 28 teams – with no licensing and as with other titles, only reference by the city’s names.
The real-life players, however, give the game it’s teeth. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of playing this arcade-style high-scoring affair knows about the Los Angeles Raiders and the unstoppable Bo Jackson at running back, or the San Francisco 49ers offense featuring Joe Montana and his plethora of weapons.
The Bears, Redskins, and Giants, likewise, have great defenses – and of course, the Bears also have Walter Payton.
The Colts’ Eric Dickerson is in the early US versions of the game, the Cowboys feature Herschel Walker, and the Broncos also have Tony Dorsett. And “Miami” has the legendary Dan Marino under center if you prefer to pass rather than run. (Although as many already know, Bo Jackson is literally an unstoppable cheat code!)
But before you even choose your team, it’s up to you on deciding if you play against a friend, or the CPU – you can also choose “coach mode” in which you only pick plays for a team and don’t do any of the heavy lighting, so to speak.
After that, and once you’ve decided on your team, and its strength, it’s time to play!
Games are broken down into four 90 second quarters. The clock always stops, and there’s no real simulation to be found here! Yes, you can run out of bounds, but oftentimes games are broken open by running backwards, and up/down the width of the field on the side-scrolling 9v9 game.
With only four plays (and two NES buttons) you’re quite limited – two run plays and two passes. Running the ball requires you to only continuously jam on the A button to break tackles while moving toward the goal line and/or defenders.
The passing game does allow for some variety, as you cycle through receivers by pressing B before lobbing the ball in the air – and hoping you don’t get picked off in the process!
Sacks and QB pressure are brought in-game when the defense correctly chooses which of the four plays the offense has selected. There are no fancy formations or anything else – just try to break free of blockers with A or make a diving attempt at a tackle with B.
If this sounds mundane and boring you couldn’t be more wrong! With players such as Jackson possessing superhuman qualities, the games breakdown into superstar vs superstar, and particularly playing against friends became the stuff of bragging rights around the neighborhood.
To this day Tecmo Bowl (and its successors) get updated with new teams/rosters through game hacks and specialized cartridges. Its cult following even spawned a TV commercial for the Kia Sorrento, with Bo Jackson beating on everyone as he did in-game, complete with Tecmo’s branding and graphics.
It’s a game that isn’t given due justice unless you play it – and if you are a football and video game fan, you owe it to yourself to check Tecmo Bowl out!
NES Play Action Football
Hot on the heels of reviewing Madden NFL ’94, which introduced many of the staples of the Madden series still in use to this day (and the first to use an NFL license) I wanted to rewind to simpler times when another football game was groundbreaking with a lot of the things you’d see in that Madden title.
NES Play Action Football was one of the top sports games on the 8-bit platform, releasing around the time that the 16-bit consoles were just making waves. Japan would see the SNES in the same year that PAF was released (1990) while US gamers had to hold on another year.
In the interim, PAF brought about a lot of concepts that many casual gamers may have thought were Madden-only concepts. The first were crude audio blurbs, such as “hut, hut” from the quarterback or “first down” from the referee who appears on-screen.
The game is awkward, but also fun.
First of all, it was NFLPA licensed – which means, unlike Madden, that it had the real NFL players in the game. However, like early editions of Madden, it didn’t feature the real team names nor all of the league – Play Action Football only had eight teams!
The cool thing, however, is that you could not only play one-on-one against the computer or a friend, but this title was one of the few NES games that supported the “Satellite” add-on, which expanded games to be played by up to four players simultaneously.
Beyond the crude menus the game would kickoff with a catchy but repetitive background soundtrack, with the occasional audio hiss that would simulate fan noise in a stadium.
The angled “isometric” view crammed all 22 football players on the field at the same time, but I believe it is a similar “flicker” hack in much the same way Atari games skipped frames to get more images on-screen (by alternating frames where those characters are actually removed and then alternating them).
The zoomed out viewed shows all 11 players from each team until it zooms in before the play. That’s when the fun begins.
Play calling and execution are both a bit different than what you might be used to. One cool aspect is that PAF allowed you to obscure your play call from an opponent sitting next to you by using a controller combination to choose from one of eight plays – unfortunately that’s fairly limited (as shown in the screencaps below) but can be expanded by flipping the play on the next screen or choosing to run it “as selected”.
Flipping plays didn’t come to the Madden franchise until ’94…
Executing plays is something else when using a two-button controller. You hike the football and then wait an excruciating amount of time for players to move up-field. As you throw the ball, the computer changes you to the nearest receiver – where an arrow shows you where the ball is landing. Even landing on the arrow exactly never meant a sure catch, which is one of the more frustrating aspects of the game.
Besides the lack of running plays, playing defense can be a “thrill” as well. The computer lacks virtually any AI, leaving the dirty work to yourself. The B button is used for diving and the A button is used for a limited number of speed bursts – this is also true on offense. However, on defense, in order to switch defenders you must press B and A simultaneously, which often sleds to hilarious blunders as you dive, miss, and take players out of the play.
Each play is concluded with a photo of the NFL player, their name, attributes, and what the current play yielded. No other stats are tracked other than score, which shows on a scoreboard after each extra point attempt – which can also be a mess if you screw up the control scheme!
However, these games led to a lot of fun and forced players to use their own skills rather than lob a pass and allow the computer to dictate what happens. Interceptions and other turnovers were commonplace, and injuries were also built into the game.
In fact, you could substitute players at any time and they often ran low on “energy” as well: all features that would eventually find their way into the Madden series but were clearly ahead of their time for consoles.
In my review run I had subbed 49ers great Joe Montana for another legend, Steve Young, only to have Young get injured while attempting to leverage his scrambling ability.
I really felt like this game was too crude, but in all honesty, playing it again brought back some fond memories of fierce competition with friends. There’s no doubt this is one of the classic football video games that’s on a lot of childhood lists – and one that any retro gamer should definitely check out to see how far we’ve come (and how unforgiving those 8-bit games were!)