Burgertime

BurgertimeThe Game: As Chef Peter Pepper, you climb around a multi-level factory whose sole function is to make some really big burgers. We’re talking about some BIG burgers here. But your ingredients aren’t exactly cooperating with you… (Namco, 1985 [Japan] / Data East, 1987 [US])

Memories: A little bit of an oddity – a Data East-originated arcade game ported to the Famicom by arcade competitor Namco (and then sold in the US by Data East itself) – this version serves up a happy meal worth of authentic Burgertime action on the NES. Continue reading

Elevator Action

Elevator ActionThe Game: As a daring spy, you break into a top secret enemy facility, trying to grab vital secrets and evade or kill as many enemy agents as you can. Your only means of getting from floor to floor through most of the game is via the elevator – which gives you an advantage and also makes you vulnerable. (Taito, 1985)

Memories: Almost a dead ringer for its arcade inspiration graphically, the NES edition of Elevator Action actually loses a few points for having lousy sound – something I rarely count off points for, truth be told. But by the time of the NES, the means were there to replicate the arcade sound – take a listen to Super Mario Bros. for proof. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters Buy this gamefor a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Tengen, 1985)

Memories: You’ve gotta hand it to Atari – back in the day, they were the experts at exploiting a license until just about every possible option was exhausted. They were also quite adept at staying on the map – up to a point. Where this title might have been released by Atarisoft only a year or two earlier, Atari set up a new imprint – Tengen – to create and market games for the NES. By virtue of Atari’s existing license with Namco, Tengen threrefore produced the first NES port of Pac-Man, and Namco later released its own. (It’s worth noting that the Namco-Atari connection – forged in the late 70s when Namco distributed Atari arcade games in Japan – wasn’t history just yet; Atari later handled the American release of Namco’s Pac-Mania coin-op.) Continue reading

Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt

Super Mario Bros. / Duck HuntThe Game: Intrepid plumbers Mario and Luigi have fallen back on Mario’s original mandate – rescuing the damsel – as they journey through the kingdom, battling Koopas and braving falls from dizzying heights, all to Buy this gamerescue the princess (who, as always, seems to be in another castle). In Duck Hunt things are a bit more normal – you’re just trying to nail some ducks in the wild, with the help and encouragement (and, if you let one get away, derisive laughter) from your trusty huntin’ dawg. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: Right up there with Atari 2600 Pac-Man in ubiquity, and almost universally loved (think about that for a moment – how many video games reach quite that level of popularity?), Super Mario Bros. was the ticket the NES needed to break into the U.S. market. Continue reading

Wrecking Crew

Wrecking CrewThe Game: Mario toils away on a construction site when his tools turn against him and start acting like, well, tools. Now Mario has to outfox his own tools and demolish the platforms around them – maybe taking the tools out in the process. He has his trusty hammer, and strategically placed bombs help to speed the process as well (but can be dangerous if Mario hangs around too close). Great care must be taken to demolish the structures in the correct order so access isn’t cut off to areas needed to finish the level. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: Possibly the most obscure of Mario’s career detours, this game at least depicts Mario in the same job he was pursuing before Donkey Kong came along: as a construction worker of some kind, rather than a plumber. At its heart, though, Wrecking Crew is about blowing stuff up – in the right order – rather than building anything. It’s a neat puzzle game disguised as a platformer. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: Who said landscaping was easy? You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into See the videoyour tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (Namco, 1985)

Memories: For some reason that I have a hard time trying to fathom, this game was released for the Famicom only – the Japanese console which was re-engineered as the NES for the English-speaking market. The reason I can’t fathom that is that this is a perfectly playable port of Dig Dug. Did Namco really think that this cute classic was past its sell-by date in the States? Continue reading

Donkey Kong 3

Donkey Kong 3The Game: As Stanley the gardener, you’re trying to repel a swarm of pests unleashed by that meanest of pixellated gorillas, while also using your pesticide to propel him off the screen. Protect your flowers and yourself, and wear plenty of Off. (Nintendo, 1986)

Memories: As much as many gamers don’t grow as attached to Donkey Kong 3 as they did with the first games in that series, with its Mario-less sidestep into shooter territory, it’s still quite a bit of fun, and this NES cartridge captures the arcade experience perfectly. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your See the videoBuy this gameattempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Nintendo, 1986)

Memories: Once upon a time, Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision was the Donkey Kong experience to beat: short of going to the arcade, it didn’t get any better than that. But Coleco had only negotiated the console rights to the game, and nearly lost that contract when they goofed and showed a version of the game for their ill-fated Adam computer at a 1983 Consumer Electronics Show – though the home computer rights had been granted to Atari. In just two years’ time, none of that would matter – the crash came and went, Coleco exited the home computer and video game businesses, a seriously weakened Atari refocused its efforts on computer hardware, and Nintendo had its own video game console on the US market. Continue reading

Donkey Kong Junior

Donkey Kong JuniorThe Game: Mario has Donkey Kong in captivity, and it’s up to Donkey Kong Jr. to rescue his dad by scaling vines and chains, avoiding nasty-toothed traps and pesky birds, and reaching the key to free the great ape from Mario’s clutches. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: A fairly popular arcade game like Donkey Kong Junior was bound to be ported to home consoles, and the translations ran the gamut from not-good-at-all to good enough. Surely if anyone could really capture the essence of the coin-op, it’d be Nintendo itself. Continue reading

The Legend Of Zelda

The Legend Of ZeldaThe Game: Link wanders the kingdom of Hyrule, attempting to defeat the minions of the evil Ganon and trying to gather the weapons, tools, and items he will need to free the kingdom. Most vital on his quest is the recovery of all the pieces of the magical Triforce, the most powerful force that can be brought against Ganon. But as each piece is recovered and each part of the quest is completed, the next leg of the journey is even more difficult. (Nintendo, 1987)

Memories: If Super Mario Bros. and the Donkey Kong series hadn’t already marked the arrival of Shigeru Miyamoto as a master video game designer, the deal was sealed with the arrival of The Legend Of Zelda, which was a game-changing entry in the adventure genre, to say the very least. Zelda was the title that finally blew down the door and gained wide acceptance for adventure games that couldn’t be finished in a single sitting. Prior to this, adventure games had a niche audience, but tweaking the conventions and expectations of the genre and putting it on a console instead of a computer made Zelda a winner. Continue reading

Zaxxon 3-D

Zaxxon 3-DThe Game: As the lone pilot daring enough to breach the defenses of Zaxxon’s space stronghold yet again, you take on a fleet of perimeter fighters, some of whom helpfully leave power-ups behind when destroyed. Then it’s into the See the videospace base once more, bristling with gun emplacements, fuel tanks that gas up your fighter when they’re shot (we haven’t quite worked that one out either), and walls that you can run face-first if you’re at just the wrong altitude. Just beyond the walls of the base lies the new and improved Zaxxon itself; if you survive that encounter, you begin again. (Sega, 1987)

Memories: With so many major Japanese game makers committed to the Famicom and NES, the Sega Master System didn’t have quite the impressive array of arcade titles in its library. But one thing it could have that everyone else couldn’t was Sega’s own in-house games and updates thereof – hence, this updated, almost-first-person remake of the groundbreaking Zaxxon. Continue reading

Galaga: Demons Of Death

Galaga: Demons Of DeathThe Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships See the videowhich arrives with each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Bandai, 1988)

Memories: Despite being one of the most consistent arcade hits of the early ’80s, Galaga seemed to be left out in the cold for years before coming to the home console scene. The first attempt, Atari’s passable Galaga cartridge for the Atari 7800, didn’t quite have the audiovisual flair of the arcade version. By the time the NES version was released, it was clear that things had changed – for all intents and purposes, this was the arcade game, and it looked and sounded and played just like the original. When the litmus test of ’80s consoles was arcade authenticity, you just couldn’t do better than that. Continue reading

Godzilla: Monster Of Monsters

Godzilla: Monster Of MonstersThe Game: It is the year 2XXX (don’t worry, we couldn’t find it on our calendars either), and Planet X has declared war on Earth’s solar system, sending its finest kaiju into the fray. In this time of our most desperate need, Godzilla and Mothra step forward to defend the Earth and fight for humanity, taking out enemy installations, spacecraft and even those pesky enemy monsters. But even Godzilla and Mothra can only take so much damage… (Toho Studios/Nintendo, 1988)

Memories: Not exactly Godzilla’s finest hour, Monster Of Monsters is a fairly average side-scrolling fighting game that just happens to feature the King of Monsters as its star. And while there’s a certain thrill to having Godzilla as one’s on-screen avatar, the game itself doesn’t do a lot to distinguish itself from the glut of similar side-scrolling fighters that was out at the time. Continue reading

Mappy Land

Mappy LandThe Game: Mappy the Mouse is back, pursuing his feline arch nemesis Boss The Big Bit and his kitty kohorts through several themed zones of an amusement park. Riddled with ladders, trampolines, secret weapons and treasures, the park goes from wild west to tropical and beyond. Just avoid the cats, lest Mappy become someone’s mousy morsel. (Taxan [under license from Namco], 1988)

Memories: As much marketing muscle as was flexed for the introduction of Namco’s Mappy, you can tell that there was a strong feeling that he was the next big thing. But apparently law enforcement’s #1 rodent didn’t quite catch on; Mappy wasn’t the expected super-hit, going over moderately better in Japan than it did in the U.S. Continue reading

Xevious

XeviousThe Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the Buy this gamemothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and deadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Bandai, 1988)

Memories: It wasn’t the first version of Xevious ever to hit a home console – Atari, who held the arcade rights for Namco’s genre-defining scrolling shoot ’em up in North America, made sure it had the rights for its home consoles too. But, in one of the more unfortunate coincidences of the video game industry, none of the three planned versions of Xevious made it out of the starting gate on time. Continue reading

Baseball

BaseballThe Game: Baseball returns to the small screen – the very small screen – on the Game Boy. Step up to the plate and take a swing; after three outs, take control of the pitcher, basemen and outfield, trying to keep the computer from scoring a run. (Nintendo, 1989)

Memories: If Baseball! on the Odyssey2 was my favorite iteration of baseball as a video game during the 1980s, Nintendo‘s Baseball was my favorite of the late ’80s and ’90s. I remember spending a lot of quality time with this game on my first Game Boy – and most of that time was fun and challenging rather than frustrating, placing this well above quite a few baseball video games. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Konami/Ultra, 1989)

Memories: Ah, the eternal conundrum of Q*Bert – to turn the controller, or try to do diagonals with an NES joypad? The original arcade incarnation of the mighty orange one solved the problem pretty simply by turning a standard four-directional joystick at a 45-degree angle within the coin-op’s casing. To truly replicate that effect, you’re given the option of rotating the NES controller 45 degrees or to try to do diagonals while holding it straight (in effect, hitting the left and down portions of the plus-shaped pad simultaneously to move in that direction). There’s a whole pre-game startup screen devoted to controller orientation here. And as awkward as it is, the 45-degree angle option is much more responsive on the NES. Now, a joystick such as the Advantage may help here, but again, the hardware itself dictates that the controller won’t be as responsive diagonally. Continue reading

Ultima IV

Ultima IV: Quest Of The AvatarThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Britannia, and Lord British calls for your service again. You start out alone, accumulating traveling (and fighting) companions along your journey, striving to live by the Eight Virtues that See the videogovern conduct in the kingdom. Along the way, numerous creatures, both evil and simply pesky, challenge you. As you go forth on the quest, you must also collect the mantras of each Virtue, travel to the corresponding Shrines, and meditate there until you reach enlightenment. With enlightenment and experience come the strength to rid Britannia of evil – but beware the dark side… (Sega / Origin Systems, 1989)

Memories: I’ve played Ultima IV on both the NES and the Sega Master System, and hands down, the Sega edition comes out on top. For such a relatively complex game, the Sega version of Ultima IV keeps the controls incredibly simple, with a menu-driven system that has a lot of options and yet never overwhelms the player. Continue reading

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