Jr. Pac-Man

I wonder how many people have never heard of this game?

This game is somewhat lost to the annals of time as Bally Midway created this game without Namco’s permission and is cited as one of the projects which severed the two’s relationship.

Jr. Pac-Man is yet another spin-off of the tried-and-true formula which stormed arcades with the original Pac-Man and its most famous incarnation, and another originally unapproved Namco mod, Ms. Pac-Man.

Junior probably isn’t as well-known because the changes to the classic formula aren’t, well, classic – at least when compared with Ms. Pac-Man.

Instead of a pink bow, Junior wears a beanie. The ghosts are the same, the pellet-eating the same, the cutscenes tell of some weird relationship with a girl ghost, and the items just swap of to being kid-styled.

The goal of the game is the same: eat all of the pellets without losing all of your lives. You start with three lives, the standard, and try to avoid touching any of the four ghosts.

The game looks like a bootleg but plays like a mofo.

Seven total mazes appear in the game, with most of them increasing the power pellets to six instead of four. For the unfamiliar, the energizers allow you a brief amount of time to eat the ghosts. I found Junior to be a lot faster to adapt to, especially with the speed of the ghosts and the lack of time a power pellet (or “energizer”) lasts… sometimes a mere second or two.

By comparison, Ms. Pac-Man feels like you’re playing in slow-motion, even on the first level!

There are no escape tunnels and the boards seem massive compared with its predecessors, as the screen scrolls horizontally rather than showing the entire level on-screen.

Those items? They make the game more difficult if you don’t grab them, as each pellet it touches gets bigger – giving you a higher score but slowing you down further. If the item touches a power pellet, both the pellet and item disappear.

I understand trying to capitalize on the Pac-Man craze with another variation at the time. However, the changes to Junior seem like a “World Champions” type of challenge rather than appealing to the casual gamer.

Years later I now understand why this cartridge was seldom played on my Atari, although, the video game crash of the 80’s saw me pick this up in the discount bin for a mere $3 – likely the reason I didn’t despise the game as much then as I do now in this review. (Plus, games were just understood to be ridiculously difficult to play back then!)

For Pac-Man fans, check it out. For those who want a challenge – check it out.

For all others? Meh, still check it out. I just don’t promise that the trip down memory lane will necessarily be a fun one!

Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japan)

If you ever wondered why Super Mario Bros. 2 was so freaking weird compared with the other SMB games, it’s because it wasn’t the true sequel to the original game, rather, a conversion of a non-Mario game due to decision makers rejecting the release of the much more difficult Mario 2 in North America.

The real sequel eventually found it’s way to the U.S. as part of the Super Nintendo collection “Super Mario All-Stars”. Branded as “The Lost Levels”, this version included revamped graphics and music, much like the other re-released games on the same cartridge.

I wanted to play this original version and not the “Lost Levels” remake. Fortunately, it was recently translated into English language markets via the Wii’s Virtual Console.

The Mario 2 as we know it may be an imposter, but it likely salvaged the franchise (and possibly the video game industry stateside) as this true successor to SMB was graphically and mechanically similar to the original game, but increasingly cheap and difficult in practice.

And I do mean difficult!

I highlighted many of these frustrating changes in the screen captures. Among them are wind (blows Mario off of platforms or makes it harder to jump), enemies in areas you wouldn’t expect (fire, Bloopers, Hammer Bros, Bullet Bills, you name it), gaps which required precise button taps and timing, and possibly the most famous addition, poisonous mushrooms which shrink/kill you!

It’s a great play to see what may have been, but I’m glad I didn’t own this as a child. Save states were necessary to get past many areas (some took me as many as 30 tries for a series of precise jumps). You could also get lost in areas where you’re looking for hidden blocks, warped to the start of the level, or worse, warped back SEVERAL worlds!

The payoff though is a special “fantasy” World 9, where Mario swims through the board as if it were a water level.

There are other secret levels, but I will address those in my review of the Lost Levels remake… as well as some other rare/little known Mario secrets in the near future!

The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is yet another in a long line of titles that have become a cornerstone series for Nintendo.

The original NES title was unique and somewhat bizarre to the uninitiated. Upon opening the box, which had a vague looking shield on the cover, you’d find enclosed a gold painted cartridge and a big foldout map of the entire overworld within the game.

Both were unique to “Zelda” (as it has become known as). Receiving an instruction book is one thing but getting an entire map to nudge you in the right direction of your next step within the game was groundbreaking.

The gold color cartridge was also something entirely new as all Nintendo games were in a drab gray plastic case prior.

As for the game itself, it was not a platformer. Zelda took an overhead approach ditching any jump buttons. Players could move in any direction on a single-screen before moving to another single-screen. Bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece, this is how the game was stitched together. (As opposed to scrolling left-to-right or up-and-down like Super Mario Bros., Metroid, and others.)

The start screen would pause the game but also offer the ability to see and change the assignment of what the A and B buttons did for the various items you would retrieve throughout the game. Those items would be necessary to unlock and/or access further areas.

The dungeons, nine of them, had puzzles and hidden area to access as well. The pause screen, if already found, would also show a dungeon map (or at least your progress if you didn’t already find the map for a specific dungeon).

The level of difficulty was as such that upgrading the hero, Link, would progressively give you the necessary tools to defeat the game. The final dungeon, Death Mountain, is far from a cakewalk yet is one of the more satisfying victories.

That’s after dumping hours of time into the game, which also had a new feature for that era which helped you walk away and continue at a later date: a battery backup. Instead of leaving your NES on as you ate dinner or went to school, you could save your progress and return back to the game at a later date.

Needless to say, if you’ve never conquered this classic, it’s a must-play. Easily one of my favorite games of all time.