WCW Wrestling

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:

  • Bugged
  • 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.

Dr. Mario

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.

Play Action Football

I can’t believe I spent as much time with this title as I did as a kid. I suppose that’s the price you paid for limited technology on the go in the early 90’s…

Play Action Football is the portable little brother of NES Play Action Football, but lacks, and not sure how I say this kindly, pretty much any of the features or charm that made the Nintendo version a classic.

The first omission is obvious: unlike on the NES, there are no real football players in the Game Boy version. Like it’s bigger brother, it lacks the NFL license and the eight teams to choose from are loosely based on real franchises at the time. Yet, with no player union license, there isn’t even a reference to fake names let alone jersey numbers or any stats whatsoever.

I lauded the NES version for fitting a true 11-on-11 football simulation on the screen. However, the severely underpowered Game Boy could only get us 9-on-9 with a view much like Sega’s NFL Sports Talk Football’s (horrible) blimp view. Even with only nine per side and the dots on screen barely representing players, the game moves at a snail’s pace with the occasional framerate stutter.

Again, how did I play this as a kid?

Well you start with choosing if you’re playing against the computer or a friend, or with a friend on the same team against the CPU (all possible via the game link cable). There’s a “playoff mode” which gives you some semblance of each game meaning something but not a full season – and also continuing via a password input system that wasn’t all too uncommon at the time.

The next screen has you choose between four levels of computer difficulty. Don’t worry, the easiest (Level 1) will suffice the hell you are about to witness attempting to play “football”.

Pick your team and your off to kickoff, which makes the tiny overhead view even smaller (if you can imagine that!)

On offense and defense you have a total of eight plays which include obvious special teams situations with a field goal or punt option. Like the NES version, I think that you blitz on defense if you choose the offense’s play correctly. (i.e. your play choice of “up arrow” is the same as the opponent.)

Playing the game beyond this point presents a challenge. While the NES somehow made things work with only a B and A button (often using select or a combo of keys in coordination to play calling, etc.) the Game Boy version makes it tough to simply switch players and you’ll often find yourself diving on defense, taking your player out of the play and losing key yards.

On offense, pass plays develop in super slow motion as you control the quarterback, then switch to the receiver who must be on the exact spot necessary to make the “catch” from a thrown football that sounds like a dive bomb.

The result?

Nothing that represents football.

Be prepared for lots of 3-and-outs, the same repetitive soundtrack loop (like 5-6s loop) and some static hiss as your “crowd noise” effect. Oh, and a very monotone referee whistle.

Unlike most of the football games I’ve reviewed, this is a true pass for even diehard retro gamers and/or football fans.

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!)

Wrath of the Black Manta

Ever make a big mistake when you were a child?

I did, and this game is that mistake!

Behind a lot of clever marketing which rode the wave of ninjas and karate being cool in the late 80’s and early 90’s, came Wrath of the Blank Manta. More than likely, you never heard of this game and hopefully, this will be the only time you ever have!

I’m really dogging this title, because as a kid, I had very high hopes for it… such hopes, that I do believe I got this title instead of Super Mario Bros. 3 at the time.

I would eventually get SMB3 in due time, but choosing this game (with allowance or whatever money/perks my parents were giving me at that age) was a colossal blunder. The only cool thing about it is the very large boss from the end of the first level, “Tiny”, who is pictured above.

Large enemies like this weren’t commonplace yet in video games due to memory limitations. But having replayed this game, you can also sense that Tiny doesn’t do a whole lot other than jump back and forth.

In fact, that’s all the more you really do in this game too. The levels are designed with constricting spaces which are hard to maneuver through, often leading to ill-timed deaths or loss of life: both of which are crucial to getting to the end of a game in an era where video games were unforgiving.

Granted, this title was unforgiving too, but unlike successful games within the same or similar genres, such as Ninja Gaiden, bad controls and lackluster powerups made it a chore to labor through the title’s five levels: all of which are ported from a Japanese game known a Ninja Cop Saizou.

That should be the first sign that something’s wrong, though I didn’t know it back in 1990. Levels were redesigned, sprites were altered, cutscenes removed and other items totally butchered to convert this game into Black Manta. Heck, the Japanese version even has six levels!

Regardless, playing through this game’s storyline, you are supposed to rescue kidnapped children. Doing so has no bearing on if you win and has little impact other than making sure you die, as you receive no bonus whatsoever for rescuing them.

You’re probably thinking then, what’s the point? And that’s what I was thinking as a young kid as I attempted to get through all five stages, the final of which is harder than beejesus and not because it’s challenging like Gaiden or Double Dragon. Oh no, the difficulty is just cheap, with the computer practically cheating to make you start your journey all over again from the beginning.

It’s enough to make me want to take this cartridge and run over it a million times with a steamroller. But I wouldn’t do that, because it cost a lot of bones in 1990 dollars and still has some sentimental value, if only for that marketing that made me choose it over Mario!

Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos

The box art doesn’t lie: “Hard to Beat” is legit!

The original Ninja Gaiden was stupid hard. So naturally, the developers at Tecmo must’ve called the Mega Man design team to ask for tips on how to make the game even more difficult!

Their suggestions: add more fire, spikes, a wind/rain element (that moves your character left/right on the screen) and snow/ice (that makes you slip to your doom).

Oh, and let’s add a storm act, where lightning flashes intermittently allowing you to see an otherwise completely dark board. Throw in some ancient relics which obstruct your view of enemies and other threats too, and you now have Ninja Gaiden on a cocktail of steroids and crack.

Otherwise, the game is fun. Graphically it’s ahead of its time, and the cut scenes add a dimension rarely seen in Nintendo games. (They’re straight out of the action films of that era and cheesy!)

Definitely, recommend playing this unless you’re on blood pressure pills.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan

One of the first games I ever owned for the original Game Boy, this TMNT version was light years ahead of the first NES game and way more faithful as a beat’em up in vein to arcade game.

Or was it?

Yes and no: that’s because of crude Game Boy graphics and being an early title. The turtles on the screen, as well as the enemies, were often too large in some cases, yet the difficulty of the game was easy enough where this didn’t hinder your progress.

There was also an ability to go back and rescue any turtles that were “captured”, that is, losing a life and having to choose one of the other four should you fail to defeat a board.

The game itself is short: there are only five bosses, but at least all of them are culled from the cartoon series unlike the original NES game. In fact, you actually get to fight Foot Clan soldiers as well, a big missing piece in that turd I hate on the NES too!

The game can be rather repetitive and while its short, there’s a small challenge involved if you happen to die and need to start over from scratch – which is about the only “difficulty” you may find playing this.

In all, you could skip this for one of the much more polished sequels that I’ll review soon.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

The NES port of one of, if not my favorite all-time arcade game is this one.

Now for the surprising news: I didn’t own this game until the NES was practically collecting dust. I received a handful of NES games well after I owned my SNES, probably because the games were cheap then. A near pristine version of this cartridge now sits in storage and honestly that’s where it was for awhile even after acquiring it.

I had played this game so much in the arcades that my desire to play it at home was practically nil. Imagine my surprise that many years later I would return to it and thoroughly enjoy the home console 8-bit translation.

First the basics: this is a beat’em up game, which in the arcades, was designed to make you blow through quarters rather quickly. Some of the cheap death stuff was altered for the home version, with a life bar at the bottom. The controls feature a jump and an attack button. You can combine the jump into a jumping diagonal kick that is fairly useful throughout the game and appears to do more damage than your regular attack.

The game is fairly straightforward. It was named TMNT 2 due to the original TMNT produced prior for the NES: a turd of a game that was missing many of the main characters and the charm of this cult classic. While the graphics are altered and more cartoonish in this 8-bit translation, I found that most of the concessions to work with the NES hardware weren’t just slapped onto the box. Sprits that were reduced in size, including the turtles themselves, just simply “work” within the environment.

Just about everything is redrawn, however, giving the game a bit of a different feel than the arcade version. However, the controls are tight and the gameplay is nearly spot-on. Even the timing of some events throughout the levels is identical or felt like it as to the game I came to play quarter-by-dollar-sucking-quarter.

Only a few things changed for the NES version. Baxter Stockman, a villain in human form only in the arcade, appears as “The Fly” in the home version replacing end bosses Beebop and Rocksteady: you still play against each of Shredder’s henchmen, but individually in earlier stages. Where The Fly is the boss now, you would’ve instead played against both henchmen in the arcade as it had a four-player co-op mode.

One stage is extended with a snow level in the city and one of the game’s two original bosses made only for this NES port. Another is like a Japanese-dojo level with a Samurai boss who has a levitating head.

I’m still unsure whether I like these additions. They give the NES game lasting appeal by not being as short of a game, which occurs as the difficulty and cheapness of dying are toned down compared with the arcade. Even the final encounter with Shredder, where he clones himself, is pared down from “3 Shredders” to 2 on NES: his insta-kill ray gun was also a no-show.

Yet one thing that’s really important is that the game is faithful to source material. That was my issue with the first TMNT. All of the bosses, including your never-ending run of minions in arcade version, and even The Fly for that matter, were (mostly) cartoon episode staples. From the Foot Clan ninjas to the mousers, it sure beat the first game’s “frog man” or “fire man” that were sorely out of place.

However, in this game, the polar bear or whatever ice creature boss and the samurai boss take away from that: reminding you of all of the awful and fake creations for the terrible TMNT 1 game… which lacks foot soldiers whatsoever, while this game has palette swap ninjas out the wazoo! That’s unacceptable considering how much source material is available from the cartoons, movies, and comic books, as well as the huge toy line.

I’d even venture to guess that the sound and graphics were fairly cutting edge for its time. This game even features heavy “Pizza Hut” advertising too. Packaged with the ability to actually play “the cartoon” with a game true in both feel and concept, this game lives on in re-releases even to this day as one of the greatest of all-time.

In all this is a port of a great game which is pared down in ways that it enhanced it for the home. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for an hour or two to burn one evening.

Nintendo World Cup

I’m bringing some more complaints to my video game bucket list… this time it’s a game I really enjoyed as a kid, probably because it was the only thing available!

World Cup Soccer is more arcade than realism. That’s the part that made it fun. The only thing is, I didn’t realize just how repetitive the game can be. It’s probably best played with a friend (or more, since it was released with the Nintendo four player adapter in mind).

There are no rules. There are 13 teams with 6 field players and a keeper. You get to tackle and knock players out a la NBA Jam, plus use special shots on goal. There are also special fields that have rocks you can trip over or another that’s entirely ice (and slippery).

This sounds fun, and honestly, I nearly put it on the blacklist because what ends up happening is that you control a single player on the field and try to give commands to your computer teammates. That means your player may not be on the screen most of the time and you find yourself dribbling around in circles to try to win or watch helplessly as your AI teammates get crushed by the better AI opponents.

It works when playing against the first opponent (Cameroon) but you’re sure to get cheated out of victory in later matches. That’s the borderline between fun and frustration, and I found myself more frustrated that I spent my limited time trying to relive this childhood memory.

Otherwise, if I had loads of time and this was one of few games I owned, I could see spending hours trying to master it…

Mega Man 3

I have to admit a few things about the sequel to Mega Man 2:

  • It had some equally crappy portion of the game that were near impossible to beat, but far less of those and a tad easier in difficulty than MM2
  • The bosses (and their corresponding upgrade weapons) were incredibly lame creations (Snake Man???)
  • The easter eggs and storyline were really darn cool
  • The ability to slide added to the game
  • Graphically it raised the bar so high, the remaining games nearly like identical

I’ve played through all six NES Mega Man games now, and if I had to choose, MM2 and MM3 are the “must play” games (in that order too, for reasons mentioned above).

More Mega Man coming soon… because there’s a ton of these games!