I’m struggling to disparage Alleyway. As one of the first four games ever made for Nintendo’s Game Boy, I can see the concept: a game which can be played in short bursts, as to not kill battery life and be easily accessible to all ages.
The problem is, it’s a straight-up Breakout clone, which that game saw better follow-ups it inspired. (Such as Arkanoid.)
Initially released without Mario, the plumber would be slapped on the box in what can only be called out as a cheap marketing tactic.
Regardless, this game serves its purpose and can be fun. The problem I had is that it gets repetitive, and I can only imagine how much worse this was when played on the original green monochrome handheld with cramped controls.
If you’ve never played Alleyway, you’re not missing much. The only innovations here versus others is some of the scrolling stages and Mario-themed bonus rounds.
If that doesn’t sound too exciting to you, this is a game that can be passed on playing in your quest of all things retro.
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!
Sometimes on this site I end up reviewing the same game on multiple consoles. However, as is the case with Tetris, the main concept is so widely unchanged that these extra reviews are unnecessary.
Therefore, which Tetris is the proper introduction for most people? Would it be a computer version? Arcade? The NES version, er, versions, where Atari and Nintendo battled over which cartridge had the correct rights to be played on that console?
Actually, the small screen is where most people my age likely got their block-fitting fix first: on the Game Boy, which was one of the best-selling games of all-time. That’s because Nintendo had reservations about squishing Mario onto the small monochrome screen and instead opted for a pack-in title with the handheld console which could be played in short spells.
This decision proved to be genius, as not only was Tetris an addictive puzzle game which inspired copycats and an entire genre, but it also proved that the monochrome screen and battery life weren’t major limitations of enjoying “gaming on the go”.
But that wasn’t the only thing which made Tetris special on the Game Boy. A Game Link Cable enabled two players, each with their own Game Boy and copy of the game, to play head-to-head.
I have many memories in school of linking to other friends during recess or dead periods during mandated testing – as many as 15 of us had the console and game, enabling tournaments and bragging rights aside from conquering the frantic and fantastic single player version.
I know I haven’t really explained what Tetris is, but to be honest, if you haven’t picked it up and tried it, you should. Basically, you fit falling blocks together, without leaving gaps or spaces, to clear “lines”. As you clear more lines, you move up a level, which increases the speed at which the game moves.
As is typical of smaller “Game Paks” of this era, defeating the game leaves you with a great feeling of accomplishment, but not because of the small congratulations screen you get!
Regardless, players flocked to Tetris like our grandparents play crossword puzzles. It’s a timeless concept which always presents a challenge.
I feel as though the Game Boy version truly owes a debt of gratitude to it’s present day popularity. That doesn’t mean you must run to play this specific version, as minimal tweaks to the main formula offer the same game play with upgraded sound, controls, and graphics (see Tetris 99 for the Nintendo Switch, for example).
However, I feel my site would’ve been incomplete having not reviewed the Game Boy edition of Tetris. I’m sure for those of you who grew up with it, the memories are everlasting.
It’s not uncommon for an NES game to be rough around the edges or brutally difficult – thus is the case for WWF WrestleMania, the wrestling giant’s first foray into a licensed console game.
It all starts off innocently too.
The opening game menus welcome you to the big event style of the real WrestleManias, before leading you to a name entry field (common in that era) and then your selection of wrestlers to use: a whopping six!
The names are some of the big ones from that era, including Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Andre The Giant, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Bam Bam Bigelow, and The Honky Tonk Man.
For an NES game, the graphical presentation is fairly sharp, this coming from renowned Rare Studios (of Goldeneye fame, among many other A+ titles). There’s also theme music with each wrestler, which plays near the conclusion of each match or upon victory.
Game modes are “standard” or “tournament” – the former is more of a free play mode, while the latter is the campaign.
And that’s where things get hairy. I mean, playing a game made in 1989 is hard enough to judge, but I can also go back to my childhood and remember how incredibly frustrating this game is. You want to like it if you’re a wrestling fan, because what else is there to play?
However, moving around 360 degrees makes it difficult to line up with your opponent to strike them. Furthermore, the moves aren’t universal throughout each of the six wrestlers – special moves is one thing (of which, finishers don’t really exist in this game).
It’s pinning your opponent that’s a major hassle. Good luck figuring out the key combination, as your opponent either lies prone or pops up off the mat like a reanimated corpse.
The energy bars, which you must deplete to get them into a pinning predicament, also regenerate – so while you chase your opponent around hoping to land a strike (common move) you rarely connect and then you’re stuck attempting to deplete most of their energy bar once again.
You can run in a direction and off of the ropes, though performing any move from running is also clunky. In fact, the only consistent thing you can do is strike: elbows, kicks, punches, and the occasional headbutt. But, your opponent, even when not facing you, will likely intercept your attempt and hit you before you can land one hit!
Combine this with the typical 8-bit gaming timer, three minutes for tournament matches, and you will end up in a draw more often than not, which starts your match over again until there’s a clear decision.
It’s great to look back at what games were like in 1989, but this is one trip down memory lane that can be skipped altogether. This game is simply NOT fun outside of the menu screens, even if you were a major fan of the WWF/E back in its heyday.
Ever play a game that was so great when you were a child only to come back to it and not have as fond of a memory of it years later?
Well, that’s not the case with DuckTales, an NES title which should’ve easily been the usual “slap the license on the box and sell it” game that was anything but. In fact, this particular game even saw a high definition remake years later, but for now, I’ll concentrate on the original… as this game was so successful it not only spawned a sequel, but was also ported to the Nintendo Game Boy and became Capcom’s bestselling title on both consoles!
The premise follows a key element of the cartoon series: Scrooge McDuck has lots of money and is the richest person on Earth. He wants to expand his fortunes and thus you travel around the world to exotic locations such as the Amazon, Transylvania, and the Moon in search of loot. Along the way he faces obstacles, such as rescuing his nephews or the random boss (some of which are or aren’t lifted from the cartoon series).
What made this game a classic is Scrooge’s “pogo stick” jump from his cane, which added a unique jumping element to the game, along with non-linear (think not side-to-side, like Super Mario Bros) levels. Throw in text (speech) lines and cameos which remained faithful to the already immensely popular TV program, and its not difficult to see why this game was a winner.
Even the opening screen hums an 8-bit instrumental rendition of cartoon’s opening song, sending nostalgic goosebumps along one’s skin!
If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing this game and were a fan of the cartoon growing up, I would drop everything and check this out. You won’t be disappointed!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Ask anyone who grew up with this game as a kid about it, and the likely reaction is repressed feelings and nightmares.
Unlike it’s (far) superior arcade cousin, the first TMNT game on the NES was a total disaster. Most of the non-boss enemies were not taken from the cartoon or comics, completely ripped out of nowhere. That would be so bad if the collision detection and controls weren’t horrid.
Some of the regular bosses took multiple hits to kill – and they would respawn soon as you went back in a stage, something which is vital on many of the boards. Worse, some of the bosses had second variations where they’d die and then something would float around the screen waiting to be killed. You could not duck or dodge from many of them, resulting in death.
Oh yeah, you can choose between each of the four turtles to play with, but once one died, that was it – unless you braved rescuing one in the scant few areas you can do so in the game.
Then of those four turtles, those with the shorter weapons (especially Raphael) were useless because you couldn’t get close enough to an enemy to hit them, resulting in damage (and more death).
Adding to the frustration are areas which require a precise jump despite imprecise controls and respawned enemies, resulting in you falling and starting over. And if that’s not enough, the frame rate drops to stuttering slow and unresponsive when there are too many enemies on the screen at once!
Then there’s a stage where the boss isn’t always in the same location, causing more backtracking through frustratingly difficult areas.
If you can make it to the final battle with Shredder, a feat in and of itself, he can instantly kill you with his ray gun.
When anyone brings up hard games of my childhood, this is among the top of the list. If you’re brave enough to try it, use save states and cheats – or else “say your prayers Turtles!”
Super Mario Land
Warning: this will not be a popular take.
I am not a fan of this game whatsoever. I’ll play it, but it’s far from even landing in my top five Super Mario Bros. games if it even makes the top ten.
Yes, it was immensely successful. It was the only Mario game for the Game Boy at the time, so how could it not be?
Now, SML wasn’t terrible by any means. But it’s so largely inconsistent from the other Mario titles of its era that it stands out in a not-so-good way. One reason is that Shigeru Miyamoto did not work on this game. That led to some dubious elements, to say the least.
In short, think of Super Mario Land to be a departure from the main series very much like Super Mario 2’s US version was (but nowhere near as startling of a change).
First, Mario is in a new environment known as Sarasaland. I suppose its intended to be a desert-like world, as there are Egyptian-style overtones with the overall style of the game and its enemies. However, the main boss is supposed to be a “spaceman” and therefore you’ll also see UFOs in some stages.
Goombas, Piranha Plants, and Koopas are still around, though the later act as bombs that explode after a few seconds when stomped on, rather than being able to kick their shells around. The bees from the original Mario Bros. arcade game make an appearance, Princess Peach is replaced by Princess Daisy, and the rest of the game fills in the blanks with fire-spitting dragons and other original enemies.
Also missing: the old flagpole, which is replaced with two exit doors. (One of which will send you to a bonus game to earn additional lives.)
Two of the stages have Mario piloting either a submarine or airplane in shooter game style: which is incredibly awkward. The fire flower power-up has been replaced with a “power ball” that Mario tosses: he can only use one at a time, which is another departure from a Mario series staple.
Mario himself is small on the screen, with everything incredibly condensed. This makes for some difficult jumps, but overall, the game is easier and much smaller in scale (fewer levels) than Super Mario Bros.
I didn’t overly hate this game, but I was never in love with it either. It gets a thumb in the middle verdict from me.