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!

Tecmo Super Bowl

The sequel to the immensely popular Tecmo Bowl on the NES followed through with flying colors as Tecmo Super Bowl dropped on the Super Nintendo in 1991, complete with not only real players, but now with real teams.

According to Wikipedia:

…it is the first sports video game that was licensed by both the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association, thus allowing the game to use both the names and attributes of real NFL teams and real NFL players. Prior games use either the real teams, the real players, or fictional substitutes, but not real teams and real players together.

Yet, that wasn’t the only excitement surrounding a game which is still competitively played to this day.

Starting up a copy of this title showed you that Tecmo meant business immediately. As with almost all “Super” upgrades on the 16-bit Nintendo console, TSB boasted superior graphics, sound, and controls to its 8-bit counterpart.

Being able to play with more teams, and almost all of the real players (several were still not part of the NFLPA’s marketing deal, including Jim Kelly, Randall Cunningham, and Bernie Kosar) was just the icing on the cake.

The traditional side-scrolling, arcade style football action was as good as ever. Several modes showcased a quick exhibition (preseason) game to play with friends, or a full season mode was also available. Additionally, the NFL’s all-stars were available on the two conference Pro Bowl teams, and you could even set the season mode to play out as a coach (limiting you to play calls and no on-field action) or the CPU, totally played out by the computer.

Some elements of the roster and playbook could be edited, but unlike the forthcoming Madden series, those had to be setup prior to kickoff: there’s no in-game modes to speak of here.

Still, TSB is one of the greatest football games created. It captures an innocence and magic of playing sports games before realistic simulations were all the rage. Anyone could pick up the controls and play a quick game, and the classic animated cut scenes still give chills as to whether a catch would be completed, or not – or intercepted by the opposing team!

While TSB spawned sequels with more features, this is the title that really encapsulates a sequel which superseded its predecessor. It is a must play for any true football fan.

Metroid II: Return of Samus

One of the greatest Game Boy games, heck one of the greatest games period to ever be made is Metroid II: Return of Samus.

The sequel to the cult classic NES title of the same name was smooshed into the tiny handheld screen and released for everyone to see in various shades of green back in 1991. Thankfully, Game Boy Color colorization saves my eyeballs whilst playing one of my favorite childhood games.

But does Metroid 2 still stand up to this day?

As we all know by now, Nintendo “reimagined” this game a few years ago with a totally overhauled “Samus Returns” remake on the 3DS. That game came about after numerous fan projects applied Super Metroid graphics to the Game Boy classic – but it should be noted the 3DS remake is NOTHING like the original. (There are so many reasons I can’t even list them here. So take my word for it!)

Metroid 2 builds upon the exploration and upgrade aspects of its predecessor. This time, Samus is alerted to a Metroid presence on a remote planet.

Unlike the space station style exploration of the original, Metroid 2 has a few subtle differences. First, there’s no true bosses in the game until the final confrontation with the Queen Metroid. Instead, you must clear the planet of evolving Metroids, a variety of which include the puny Alpha type up to the far deadlier Omega Metroids.

Areas of the game are once again obstructed. You cannot continue unless you eliminate a certain number of Metroids (which causes flooded areas to drain as the queen rampages at losing her babies) or until you find certain power-ups, of which several new ones are introduced for the first time.

Some of the debuting items include the plasma beam, space jump, spider ball, and screw attack.

Quite honestly, I’m not sure how I played any Metroid game without several of those items!

Metroid 2, however, lacks an internal map or inventory system. This becomes relevant as backtracking and trick walls come into play throughout the game, extending the campaign somewhat unnecessarily. (If you decide to play this, look up a guide!)

Samus can only carry a single beam at a time still, which by the game’s conclusion is another necessary evil: finding the ice beam again to defeat the Metroids. (Luckily a second drop of this crucial weapon isn’t too far away from the final portions of the game.)

Samus’ space ship is also front and center in this game, and has been a hallmark ever since.

The biggest changes or omissions, besides the bosses, are a lack of air-lock doors and elevators, which are seen in almost every other game in the Metroid series. However, unless this is pointed out to you, you wouldn’t even notice it as the game plays much like the first.

With the noted updates, Metroid 2 stands out as a sequel that’s often thought of as better than the original, even with the lack of audiovisual limitations on a handheld console. (It also stayed much closer to the source material than other Nintendo franchises, such as Mario 2 and Zelda 2!)

If you’re a Metroidvania connoisseur, you owe yourself a treat by playing this game. Even 30 years later it holds up as a timeless classic – but be sure to turn on the colorization if its available to you!

Final Fight

This might be hard to believe for modern gamers, but once upon a time the arcades were the golden standard for gaming. Often, a coin-op title would test its mettle there first, before being released to home consoles – which were also vastly underpowered compared their cabinet counterparts.

I liken those days to how we see blockbuster movies in theaters before watching at home – with 4K media and TVs, along with home sound systems closing the gap between going out to see a movie versus watching one at home, some think theaters will become obsolete someday.

That’s the way it was with consoles. 8-bit systems like the NES or Master System couldn’t accurately translate the more intense games of the mid-80’s to early 90’s.

The onset of the 16-bit wars saw better ports to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, though there were still limitations with the hardware – and Nintendo’s family-friendly policies often neutered games which came to the console.

Capcom, the publisher of Final Fight, was at one time a Nintendo-exclusive partner. As such, it appeared on the SNES and not the Genesis. A Sega CD version was eventually ported two years later but still suffered many of the same limitations noted by Wikipedia:

The SNES port removed the two-player co-op option, the Industrial Area level and playable character Guy. Most of the scene transitions were also edited out.

Due to hardware limitations the SNES version could only display two or three enemies on-screen, in contrast to the CPS arcade version, which could display up to nine or ten enemies on-screen; to make up for this difference, the SNES version features more stopping points than the arcade version and the enemy placement is vastly different.

The English localization of the SNES port was censored for its content and features several differences from its Japanese Super Famicom counterpart…

Regardless, the SNES version was the one to have, and nearest to the arcade counterpart at its time. Final Fight, in my opinion, is a forgotten series – much in the vein of Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, it was a brawling beat’em up, but had its uniqueness.

The plot is the usual: some vigilantes up against a gang syndicate looking to do harm to someone.

As noted, Nintendo’s version has two playable characters: Cody and Haggar. The characters were much larger on-screen than the competition and bared an artistic resemblance to those of the Street Fighter series. (Including when you incidentally catch on fire, which was a straight copy of the same sprites.)

I always liked Haggar for his pro wrestling inspired moves (including a power bomb type slam) and thus I played through the game with him exclusively.

The home version replaced pumping quarters into a machine by giving you a set amount of continues in addition to the standard life bar. One thing I found neat with Final Fight is that you see the enemy’s name and life bar on-screen when near them too.

As with other brawlers, you can smash through and/or pickup objects, including weapons enemies drop. Bigger, badder bosses are at the end of each stage, and they too wield weapons, sometimes picking them back up before you get a chance to!

While you can adjust the difficulty of the game, it has the usual cheapness found in coin-op ports, where the bosses can become annoyingly ridiculous to land a hit on. One in particular shoots a gun and backs away from you as soon as you move in any direction – with the bullets landing hits full screen!

Aside from this, the only other noticeable annoyance is the limitation of three enemies on-screen, as with other ports you end up fighting opponents who are “off-screen” and not in view.

Oh, and the timer. Did I mention this game carries the worst brawler idea known to man? I hated it in Ninja Gaiden, and the cheapness of bosses as well as off-screen enemies makes some of the time limits stupid too.

However, the variety of the usual palette swap characters is better than most games of this era. The combo moves and the “hold” feature were also attractive versus the competition.

Final Fight would spark several sequels and was a commercial success across several platforms. It may feel a bit dated but its still a fun button masher if you enjoy this genre of gaming.

Out Run

Out Run is a 3D driving video game in which the player controls a Ferrari Testarossa Spider from a third-person rear perspective. (From Wikipeida.)

That’s all you really need to know. The rest is icing on the cake.

Controlling the car onscreen, with a male driver and female passenger, you race in excess of 200mph speeds (with high and low gear shifts) while avoiding other cars and various obstacles in order to beat a timer and get to the goal.

The world map is split into “stages” and each has the timed checkpoint. After clearing a checkpoint, and near the end of each stage, the road forks left or right, giving you a new stage and style of scenery.

For as simple as this game is, the premise offers tons of replay as each stage is placed in a cliché locale (such as a desert) and it takes practice to master drifting through curves and accelerating just enough to beat the timer.

Each fork means a different path to one of five goals – also with their own style and ending. The variety makes you want to replay the game to the point of breaking controllers, but in a totally good way.

Of course, this version of Out Run is based on the arcade version, and while the Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear both had ports for the 1986 release, they were 8-bit consoles and no match for the Sega Genesis’ power.

The graphics and legendary soundtrack are timeless. And the controls are mostly tight – with the difficulty settings forgiving too. The 3-button layout on the Genesis is also perfect for braking, accelerating and/or changing gears using A, B, and C. (You can still crash, burn, and wreck, which is pretty damn awesome to see in the game – though the drivers are left unscathed from the wreckage!)

Starting the game shows you the wealth of variety in the game, as the title screen will swap to show some of the different locations you could drive through. An options menu is next and then onto the (then) revolutionary radio station swap, which allows you to choose which soundtrack will play during your… commute.

In the arcades, Out Run became Sega’s best-selling cabinet until the Virtua Fighter series released in the mid-90’s. The Genesis version is largely considered the best home version and thus, the one I went with. For anyone with a bit of racing nostalgia in their bones, this game aged very well.

You’ll still have some instances where you can’t make out what’s on the road ahead, forgivable due to the era, but the sense of speed, no stutter and responsive controls to master make this a classic that should be on any retro gamer’s list.

The Simpsons

Here’s a hidden gem for some of you retro gamers out there – The Simpsons Arcade Game.

Developed by Konami, it shares a ton of similarities to their other beat’em up games, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle series. In fact, it’s practically the same exact game with Simpsons paint over it.

And that’s not a bad thing!

Originally made in 1991 upon the advent of the TV series’ popularity, console gamers were given a treat in 2012 when the arcade-only title was ported to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade). This review focuses on the PS3 version specifically.

The first note I want to make is that The Simpsons is not a remake like my earlier review of Turtles In Time: Re-shelled. It’s also not upconverted or altered for HD gameplay. The developers took, what I feel is a wise decision, and simply windowed the game into an HD frame which resembles the original arcade bezel.

The rest is a straight playthrough of the arcade game in all its glory, showcasing one of four characters you can play with: Homer, Marge, Bart or Lisa. With the exception of Homer, each of the other characters uses a weapon in their arsenal. Bart has a skateboard, Lisa has a jump rope and Marge, um, has, a, uh, vacuum cleaner… yeah…

Two players can also team up for tandem attacks, with Bart and Lisa holding hands, screaming like little kids and giving a clothesline to oncoming bad guys.

That’s not all, as the characters can also pickup items such as a slingshot, signboards, bowling balls, or even Santa’s Little Helper to hurl at enemies which range from guy in navy blue suit to guy in gray suit.

Okay, it was a 1991 title, so the palette swap ninja deal is still in effect, but overall, without any real protagonists in the TV series, the game script does a decent job of creating an environment where it makes sense to have the family members beat up on someone else in order to retrieve Maggie – who was kidnapped by Mr. Burns’ lackey Smithers.

While that’s contrived at best for a plot, the game is a lot of fun to button smash through and still relieve nostalgia that’s still applicable to the TV show today.

There are several Easter eggs throughout the game too, with subtle details such as Moe handing out life-replenishing drinks at his tavern in one stage, or a bear escaping in one level only to see it resurface as a boss in another.

In-game options allow you to change characters on the fly if you get bored too.

Upon beating the USA version of the game you also unlock the Japanese version, which is altered for their region in several ways, including being easier to beat – though each ROM type allows for “free play” so you aren’t restricted to a finite amount of continues. (You can see how many quarters were probably eaten up back in ‘91 by playing the free mode too!)

For fans of the show as well as the Konami style beat’em up games, this is a can’t miss game. Unfortunately, it’s been removed from the various console stores, so you may have to find another method of playing it – I’m also lucky enough to have a local arcade nearby which still has a working cabinet.

It’s that enjoyable of a game to seek out and play.

Paperboy 2

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!

Streets of Rage

From the moment the menu screen starts, you realize Streets of Rage isn’t your typical beat-em-up.

Modeled after games such as Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Komami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and its many arcade clones) Streets of Rage is Sega’s take on the genre which has a unique albeit cliche feel from the early 90’s.

The story centers around some type of criminal enterprise overtaking a city, and a group of souped-up cops fighting to take it back.

Honestly, aside from the video game inspirations noted above, scenes and levels throughout the game will remind you of movies such as Big Trouble In Little China and Scarface. Yet, the game feels fresh and not like a complete rip-off.

That’s due to tight controls – as with the others in the genre noted, you can move in all directions, clearing each level of many palette-swap enemies which fill the screen from both sides (and often of of it).

Weapons are dropped, and can be picked up, by your protagonist. Your attacks vary between Sega’s three buttons: a strike, jump, and special attack. The strike can be a kick, punch, knee or any combination of such with a jump. The occasional judo throw or wrestling suplex also enters the fray.

It’s also refreshing to see your character able to attack on both sides without needing to face their target necessarily.

While limited in number, a special attack will cut to a cop car pulling up with a bazooka – the rocket of which pretty much disposes of everything on the screen.

Bosses are a mixed lot. There’s a larger skinny punk with a mohawk and claws, a fat guy who breathes fire, and a pair of what I assume are ninja ladies who are a major PITA to hit (as they constantly move by jumping forward/backward).

Levels are referred to as “rounds”, eight in all, with a boss at the end of all but Round 7; and with good reason. When you reach the big bad at the end of Round 8 he sees “potential” in you and gives you a choice of joining his “syndicate” or fighting. If you choose to join, a trap door opens and sends you back to Round 7 to start all over!

If you do battle, you’re basically up against Tony Montana with a few extra henchmen lurking.

The controls are overall crisp, the graphics (even by Sega standards) are arcade quality, and the soundtrack absolutely thumps with riffs ripe from the era it was developed.

As far as beat-em-ups go, this game is a great one to pick up, and easy to get started with at that. But the usual difficulty additions are there, including harder enemies to defeat as the game goes on and an annoying timer you have to beat too.

Yeah, this might be the worst timer added to a game since Ninja Gaiden!

Regardless, if you’ve never played Streets of Rage and are a fan of games in this genre, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Pick it up and check it out NOW!

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is yet another game I had completed when I was younger, but damn if I know how!

I don’t recall half of this game: particularly the items. If not for a guide, I can’t imagine how many hours I would’ve poured into this one, as it would take blind luck to find several of them.

In fact, I’m fairly certain there are items I did not end up finding when I completed the game as a youth!

Regardless, this thing had to have had 100 hours into it as a kid and even as an adult, 8-10 hours of an investment at minimum with cheats.

That seems like nothing compared to the 100-hour campaigns of today’s titles, such as Breath of the Wild.

Much like the comparisons of BoTW being a masterpiece, Link to the Past is a cult favorite which is a masterpiece in its own right. It can also be downright unforgiving, but it’s also groundbreaking.

I also find it hard to believe how groundbreaking many of the Super Nintendo games were way back when, especially with the Sega Genesis stealing a lot of the system’s thunder.

The reason LTTP is an A+ title, even in 2020, is that it introduces many key features and upgrades to the Zelda series. Link could move in eight directions (diagonal movement was new on the SNES), running (via the Pegasus boots) and his sword no longer stabs but swings which made combat a bit easier in some circumstances.

Two parallel worlds were introduced, as well as “pieces of hearts”, the hookshot, spin attack, and most important of all, the Master Sword presentation.

Needless to say, the graphics, sound, controls and gameplay are all what you would come to expect from a Zelda game. If you’re a fan of the series and haven’t played this one, drop everything you’re doing, because it is a treat that even feels fresh after about the dozenth time I’ve completed it – making it one of my favorite games of all time.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers

The 1990’s were full of TMNT shovel ware. The Game Boy was the basic dumpster where these titles reside, aimed toward kids on the go with hardware that forced many games to be oversimplified graphically to fit on the small screen.

That’s a harsh representation of this game, which actually builds upon the original Fall of the Foot Clan by upgrading the graphics to an acceptable TV cartoon style.

The only problem is, your turtle has been made bigger on the screen which creates the usual collision detection issues seen in other games: in other words, you can die… a lot.

Of the three TMNT Game Boy titles, this one best represents Konami’s arcade theme used throughout other TMNT titles as well as Marvel Comics and The Simpsons based games. The ability to hang from certain ceiling structures, and move around on the level rather than side-scrolling as seen in the first game, are featured too.

Each turtle has their usual strengths/weaknesses based on range and speed of attack. If you die, the turtle is “captured” and you have the ability to get them back throughout the game. Otherwise you’re basically stuck with four lives and lots of cheap hits/areas as you’d expect that make the short game last a bit longer.

Your list of who’s who as it pertains to TMNT enemies are here: Foot Clan ninjas, mousers, etc. and the bosses are a good mix from the source cartoon show material including Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, General Traag, Granitor (The Stone Warrior), Krang, Shredder and Super Shredder.

I didn’t mind this game that much but could see where it would take a lot of practice to get to the end with your health/life intact. That’s more or less the status quo of 80’s and early 90’s games where cheap gameplay gimmicks are inserted to make the game more difficult: speaking of, there are difficulty settings to make the cheapness even more unfair!

Overall this game hasn’t aged too well and is only a must-play for completionists like myself. Otherwise it’s a fairly boring and uneventful entry into the series.