Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

Multiplayer arcade games used to be goldmines in the arcades. There’s not much better as a teenager than spending your pocket money battling alongside your friends in a bid to rescue a (insert person here). Many of these games were ported to home consoles meaning you could do battle without leaving the comfort of your own home. However, not all converted coin-op games were successful. How did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game fair?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (TMNT II on the NES) is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, developed and released by Konami for the Arcade in 1989. It was ported to the NES in 1990 with some additional levels and enemies that were different from the arcade version. In 1991, it was released for the ZX Spectrum, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, PC and Commodore 64. I reviewed the NES version.

Tempted by a large bounty placed on the heads of the Turtles by arch-nemesis Shredder, two intergalactic bounty hunters kidnap April O’Neil and use her as bait to lure the Turtles out into the open. The Turtles give chase and must fight their way through 10 hazardous levels, enemies and boss battles to defeat Shredder and rescue their friend.

The graphics are far superior to the original Nes TMNT game (Screenshot taken by the author)

Straight away, it is clear to see how much the graphics have been improved when compared to the first TMNT Nes game. The levels and characters look great! They are colourful and vibrant, and the sprites are very well animated. The intro, although short, gets you straight into the action and contains the authentic TMNT theme. The game is faster, slicker, and the upbeat music really gets your blood pumping.

You start with three lives but can gain more every 200 enemies you defeat. You can also regain health by eating pizza slices.

Donatello takes on Bebop (Screenshot taken by the author)

I do, however, have a few gripes with this game. Firstly, these are supposed to be “ninja” Turtles, yet they have maybe three different moves: a flying kick, and two different ways to swing their weapons. WTF? There are no throws, there are no kick or punch combinations, and you cannot pick up extra weapons to throw at the enemies. Earlier games such as Double Dragon had more of a move set to prevent the fighting from becoming monotonous. Secondly, Donatello is supposed to have a bo, a long wooden stick. Yet, his reach is pitiful. You have to get close to the enemies, within their striking range, to attack. If you don’t wish the game to be too easy, simply slow down his attack or make his bo attacks weaker. These points made the game very frsutrating and dull for me.

Disappointingly, the NES version could only cope with a one- and two-player mode, so it loses some of what made the arcade version an awesome fighting experience.

Did I complete the game?

No, nowhere near.

What the critics said:

GamePro: “The heavy-duty faithful-to-the-arcade style game play (and it’s a long game!) are real crowd pleasers, and the radioactive mutants are as personable as ever. The new scenes blended in with the original arcade scenes are a great addition. The music could have been better but, hey, you can’t have everything.Overall 4.6/5.[1]

My verdict:

“This game looks fantastic! With the music, it looks and sounds just like a Turtle game should be! However, the gameplay is dull. These guys are supposed to be ninjas. Where are all their moves? The game becomes very boring, very quickly, even in two-player mode. I think this is a game for the younger gamer. It is overrated and only hardcore Turtles fans should bother with this game.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @Nicklovestogame.


[1] Arcade, J., ‘Proview – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game’. GamePro. (December 1990). :106-8. (https://retrocdn.net/images/9/90/GamePro_US_017.pdf Accessed 24th August 2020).

Hudson’s Adventure Island

As a married man with a full time job, I find that I have less and less time to devote to videogames. I love modern games like the Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed series and thoroughly enjoy playing and immersing myself into these worlds. Sadly, I don’t have 40 extra hours a week to devote to such in-depth games on a regular basis. It is for this reason that I have embraced the retrogaming world. Games that one can simply pick up, mess around with for 20 minutes and put down again very much have their place in the gaming world. Simpler games should not be sniffed at!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Hudson’s Adventure Island is a side-scrolling platform game adapted from the arcade game Wonder Boy. It was developed and published by Hudson Soft, released in Japan in 1986, North America in 1987, and Europe in 1992 under the title of Adventure Island Classic. Versions can be found on the NES, MSX, Game Boy, Gamate, Game Boy Advance, Game Cube and PlayStation 2. I reviewed the NES version.

You play as Master Higgins (Master Wigins in the UK and Takahashi Meijin in Japan), who has travelled to an island in the South Pacific to rescue Princess Leilani (sometimes known as Tina) from the Evil Witch Doctor. Along the way you need to eat fruit that appear out of the ether in order to keep your energy levels up. However, if you get touched by an enemy, you instantly die.

Whilst traversing through forests, mountains and caves, you will find eggs that contain bonus items to help you on your way. These items include:

Stone axes – Which can be used to throw at the enemies

Skateboard – Helps you travel faster

A flower – Double the points you get from collecting fruit

Milk – Fills up your energy bar

Honeygirl – Make syou invincible for a limited period of time

However, beware of the:

Eggplant – Takes energy away from you.

There are 32 stages in total spread out over 8 worlds. These are further divided up with checkpoints. Once the fourth stage of an area is completed, you must fight and defeat an end of level boss.

It’s easy to look at these videogames nowadays and compare them to modern games, where they will always be found wanting. It is very unfair to do so. So let us compare it to a game that is still revered and remember fondly today: Super Mario Bros (1985). Intially, I don’t think the background graphics are any better or worse than Super Mario Bros, but I do think it’s the sprite design and colours that separate the two here. From what I have seen so far from Adventure Island, the enemy sprites have little to no animation, a stark contrast to Super Mario Bros. Also, unlike Super Mario Bros., Adventure Island’s music is very forgettable.

So what of gameplay? Adventure’s Island’s controls are very slip/slidey (seemingly even more so than in similar games), meaning lots of sliding off the edges of platforms and it takes a while to get used to. It is also very unforgiving. You only have three lives, with little chance of gaining more and no continues.

Did I complete the game?

No, at present, I can only get to the third level of world one.

What the critics said:

At present, I cannot find any comptemorary reviews.

My verdict:

“I just didn’t enjoy playing this game and had little desire to put too much time and energy into it. The graphics are good and it is diverting if you have a spare 15 minutes on your hands, but it just lacks charm and for me, the game just feels cheap.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Hudson’s Adventure Island? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.

Double Dragon

If memory serves, my first time playing Double Dragon was on the Sinclair Spectrum ZX. I remember loving it and I’m sure this was another game that I played with my dad and my older brother. It has gone down in history as a classic game and I was certainly looking forward to revisiting it again.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Double Dragon is a beat-em up developed by Technōs Japan and released in the Arcade in 1987. It was published in Europe and North America by Trade West, coming to home consoles in 1988. Versions have been released on the NES, Master System, Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari ST, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Game Boy, Mega Drive, Game Gear, ZX Spectrum and Atari Lynx to name a few. It appeared on the Wii Virtual Console in 2008, Nintendo 3DS in 2013 and Wii U in 2013. For this review, I played was the NES version.

You play as twin brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee (Hammer and Spike in the American versions), who must fight their way through the territory of the Black Warriors gang to rescue Billy’s girlfriend Marian. At your disposal are an array of punches, kicks, headbutts, throws and elbow strikes. Along the way, you can temporarily use weapons such as baseball bats, knives, whips and dynamite sticks. There are only four levels, but the game is quite challenging and, at present, I can only make it to level three (I swear I completed this game as a kid!).

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Unlike the arcade, the home console version’s two-player co-operative mode was replaced by alternating play, meaning each player plays the game on their own, which was a poor decision by the game designers. Initially, you are limited to just a few fighting moves but as your gain experience points, more fighting moves become available to you which I thought was a nice touch. Due to the lack of power, the NES could only generate two enemies on the screen at any one time.

The NES version also contains a MODE B for both one and two-players where you can select any character from the game to fight in one-on-one battles which adds some replay value.

The graphics are good, especially the background of level one, and are superior to many contemporary games such as Renegade. The characters are distinctive, but the protagonist looks like he’s barefoot. The controls are easy to learn but aren’t as responsive as they could be. You can’t turn around quickly whilst punching but you can whilst kicking. I’d recommend kicking rather than punching anyway. One annoying part of level three is where you need to jump across a stream but as soon as you land you are hit by an enemy and fall into the water, losing a life.

Oddly, this character looks like The Thing from Marvel’s Fantastic Four (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

No, I’ve yet to complete the NES version.

What the critics said:

Entertainment Weekly Magazine: “…Double Dragon now has quality as well as content. There are more screens than the arcade, as well as vertical scrolling and the one on one match that is very reminiscent of Karate Champ (thrown in for free!)…This game is worth every penny! DIRECT HIT!”.[1]

Computer and Video Games: “Nintendo unfortunately locks the two-player mode option, but more than makes up for this deficiency with an extra one-on-one Street Fighter-style game included on the ROM. Overall 83%.[2]

Joystick: “Overall 75%”.[3]

Awards:

Best Graphics – Electronic Gaming Monthly “1989 Player’s Choice Awards”[4]

My verdict:

“Double Dragon is a classic title and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t played it. In fact, I’d wager that I have never met a gamer who hasn’t at least heard of it. The game looks good, and there is a nice amount of hand-to-hand attacks and weapons to use. When this game was released, I can imagine it being a great game! However, it loses marks for the lack of a two-player co-op mode and its short length. It is not a game that encourages regular revisits. Sadly, the game is not as good as I remember but then it is always difficult to revisit games.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Double Dragon? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @Nicklovestogame.


[1] Moon, J., ‘Review – Double Dragon’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :44. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).

[2] Rignall, J., ‘Mean Machines – Double Dragon’. Computer and Video Games. (December 1988). : (https://ia800604.us.archive.org/view_archive.php?archive=/1/items/World_of_Spectrum_June_2017_Mirror/World%20of%20Spectrum%20June%202017%20Mirror.zip&file=World%20of%20Spectrum%20June%202017%20Mirror/sinclair/magazines/Computer-and-Video-Games/Issue086/Pages/CVG08600175.jpg Accessed on 4th July 2020).

[3] Huyghues-Lacour, A., ‘Double Dragon’. Joystick. (April 1991). 15:112 (https://archive.org/details/joystick015/page/n111/mode/2up Accessed 6th July 2020).

[4] The 1989 “Player’s Choice Awards” – Best Graphics: Double Dragon. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).

Shadow Warriors/Ninja Gaiden/Ninja Ryūkenden

Throughout the 70s and 80s, the popularity of eastern martial arts rose dramatically in popularity in the west through Bruce Lee and The Karate Kid movies. Naturally, gamers are attracted to games where they can perform a flurry of punches, an array of agile kicks and jumps, and master hand to hand combat because, let’s face it, these things take years of training and dedication which many of us don’t have the inclination for.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Shadow Warriors is a side-scrolling action-platform game developed and published by Tecmo. It was released for the NES in Europe in 1991, having previously been released in Japan in 1988 as Ninja Ryūkenden, and in North America in 1989 as Ninja Gaiden. It was later ported to the SNES, PC and mobile phones.

You control Ryu Hayabusa who travels to America to avenge the murder of his father. He soon learns of a person known as “The Jaquio” who plans to take over the world with the help of an ancient demon whose power is contaminated in two statues. The game contains 20 levels broken down into six acts.

I’m not sure why Ryu has a reddish tinge to him (Screenshot taken by the author)

The controls are very responsive and the movement tight, allowing for close control. Ryu’s main weapon is a sword but you are able to pick up and use limited numbers of shuriken. Ryu can jump and cling onto the walls, but can only climb if he is on a ladder. If not, and a wall is opposite, he can spring himself up by jumping between walls. Annoyingly, and this is common amongst early games, if you progress to a higher screen and you fall back down the whole you just came from, you die as oppose to simply fall to the level below.

The levels are very difficult and unforgiving, but you do receive unlimited continues. Sadly, I was only able to get to Act 3 as my version kept crashing. However, I really enjoyed playing this game and so will definitely return to it in the future. After each act, there is a beautifully illustrated anime-type cutscene furthering the storyline.

The graphics and music are standard for 8-bit home consoles in the 80s but withthe introduction of 16-bit consoles, begin to look dated by the time of its release in Europe in 1991. The Ryu sprite has a reddish glow to him, which is strange.

Between levels, there are beautifully illustrated cut scenes (Screenshot taken by the author)

Mean Machines: “A superb game, very similar to Shadow Warriors coin-op. Highly recommended top Nintendo beat ‘em up fans. Overall 88%.[1]

Mean Machines: “A superbly presented Ninja game which proves very playable. Overall 90%.[2]

Awards:

Best Challenge 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[3]

Best Ending 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[4]

Best Game of the Year – Electronic Gaming Best and Worst of 1989[5]

My verdict:

“Tight controls, beautiful cut scenes but very difficult and unforgiving. A good edition to the ninja genre”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shadow Warriors? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Nintendo Review – Ninja Gaiden’. Mean Machines. (July 1990). Issue 06:12-4. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-magazine-15/page/n107/mode/2up Accessed 10th December 2019).

[2] ‘Nintendo Review – Shadow Warrior’. Mean Machines. (July 1991). Issue 10:66-8. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-magazine-10/page/n67/mode/2up Accessed 10th December 2019).

[3] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:27. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20012%20May-June%201990#page/n23/mode/2up Accessed 1st July 2020).

[4] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:28. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20012%20May-June%201990#page/n23/mode/2up Accessed 1st July 2020).

[5] ‘Best and Worst of 1989’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1990Video Game Buyer’s guide. 5:17. (https://retrocdn.net/images/d/d5/EGM_US_005.pdf Accessed 1st July 2020).

Robocop

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!”

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Robocop is a beat ’em up/run and gun arcade game developed and published by Data East. Based on the 1987 film Robocop, it was released in 1988 for the Arcade, Apple 2, PC, Amiga and Atari ST. It was later release on the NES in 1989 and the Game Boy in 1990.

A crime wave has swept the city of Detroit and the streets are no longer safe. OCP, a private company, have developed a cyborg to assist law enforcement. Using his fists, and an array of guns, the cyborg known as Robocop aims to clean up the streets, destroy ED-209, and defeat Dick James, the mastermind behind the crime epidemic.

Before the game starts, the intro consists of a run through of Robocop’s cybernetic make-up, which I think would have been made better with a bit more backstory as to how Robocop came to be. Not everyone has seen the film after all. However, the cut scene between the levels are nicely illustrated and the phrase “Crime in progress” appears which is a nice nod to the movie.

A short but well illustrated cut scene kicks the game off (Screenshot taken by the author)

That game is very easy to play. Robocop is a big hunk of machinery and so he can only walk at one speed (As you can imagine, he cannot jump). However, he can also climb and descend stairs, crouch and block, and punch or fire his gun (Note: when descending the stairs you only need to press down as oppose to diagonally down). He can fire his gun in all directions except straight down. During the levels, Robocop can pick up and use other firearms other than his standard side-arm including a machine gun and cobra gun (Robocops standard side-arm has infinite ammo but these other weapons do not).

There is no time limit to the levels, but Robocop’s energy bar depletes as he progresses through the level. Once the bar is depleted he will cease to function and need to restart the level. Thankfully, he can pick up batteries along the way to restore his energy bar. Robocop’s health bar will deplete if he is hit by an enemy. Collecting bottles labelled ‘P’ will help restore his health.

Why unarmed criminals try to take on a cyborg I’ll never know! (Screenshot taken by the author)

At the bottom right of the screen are four symbols. When they flash they indicate the following:

Infrared Vision – Which will help you locate a weak wall that you need to punch to break through.

Punch – You can only defeat an enemy by punching.

Foe Detector – Begins to flash faster and faster the closer you get to a boss/sub-boss.

Energy/Power Alarm – Indicates when energy or health levels are low or when they drop dramatically.

Graphically, this game is good for an 8-bit console in 1989, and matches the likes of Ninja Gaiden. The sprites are detailed and clearly defined against the backgrounds, and when using his gun, Robocop even mimics the one-handed stance seen in the film. The backgrounds themselves are pretty good too. However, there is a fair bit of sprite flicker, especially from the dogs and when you’re shooting at the first boss.

Robocop will only use his gun when the threat level increases (Screenshot taken by the author)

Like the film, Robocop matches his weapon to the threat level of his attackesr, which I think is a very neat feature and adds an element of realism to the game. This means that Robocop won’t use his gun until he comes face to face with an enemy who uses guns, flamethrowers or explosives etc.

I do have a few issues with this game though. Firstly, the stupidity of the unarmed enemies and dogs. Why on Earth would you run towards a huge bloody cyborg that can dispatch you quite easily with one punch…especially when your only attack is a flying kick?! Also, you have one life, then it’s game over. You do seem to get an infinite number of continues but when you use them it takes you back to the beginning of that level. If you are going to force people to use continues and restart the level, then please give them more than one life.

This game only has one difficulty setting so there really is not much to keep you coming back once the game is completed.

Did I complete the game?

No, I barely got past the first level. I just couldn’t be bothered with getting to the end of level boss, dying and being sent back to beginning of the level.

What the critics said:

At present I have been unable to locate contemporary reviews for the NES version.

My verdict:

“Graphically, this game is good and the controls are simple and responsive. However, the game itself is very tough, and although it will certainly pose a challenge to gamers everywhere, the lack of lives sees you having to repeat the same monotonous levels over and over again. This game could have been so much more.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Robocop? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.

Tiny Toon Adventures

“We’re tiny, we’re toony. We’re all a little looney. And in this cartoony we’re invading your TV. We’re comic dispensers. We crack up all the censors. On Tiny Toon Adventures get a dose of comedy.”

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Tiny Toons Adventure is a single-player platform game developed and published by Konami. It was released on the NES in 1991.

Not all is well in Acme Acres. The spoilt rich kid Montana Max is angry because he was unable to bribe the judges of the Animation Festival at Acme Looniversity. Now in a sulk, and wanting to get back at the winner, Buster Bunny, he kidnaps Babs Bunny. Buster, along with pals Dizzy Devil, Furrball, Plucky Duck and Hampton, sets out to rescue Babs.

A cute little platform game (Screenshot taken by the author)

You initially start as Buster Bunny, but can also select Dizzy Devil, Furrball and Plucky Duck, each with their own unique abilities, to assist Buster. You will become your selected character when you collect the star icon. Using these characters, you must complete six worlds each with three levels (except the last two worlds which need to be completed in one go). These include: Field of Screamz; Motion Ocean; Sure Weird Forest; Boomtown; Wacklyland; and Monty’s Mansion. Each world ends with a boss battle. Throughout the levels you have the chance to collect carrots which can be exchanged with Hampton for extra lives.

This is a cute little game, and it’s quite fun to play as the different characters. The controls are easy to learn and are very responsive. Each level has a time limit, which gives you a warning if the timer goes below 30 seconds. You also have unlimited continues. However, if you do use a continue, it takes you back to the beginning of the world.

Each character has unique abilities. Plucky Duck is the best swimmer (Screenshot taken by the author)

The Graphics for the levels and backgrounds are good…not great, just good. Then again, they don’t need to be ground-breaking. This is based on a children’s cartoon after all. The sprites are nicely drawn, although, it is a bit peculiar how Buster Bunny and Plucky Duck don’t have a nice clear black outline like the other sprites.

You can only choose one character to assist Buster at the beginning of each world. It is disappointing that in order to change characters, you need to find the star icon as it would have been a nice opportunity to put in some more complex puzzles where each character is needed to use their unique skill. My preferred sidekick was Plucky Duck as he is the best swimmer and can glide whilst jumping.

It is also frustrating that if you die in the boss battle, you are sent back to the beginning of the level, but I guess they need to give the game some longevity. Oddly, there is no music over the title screen, but the in-game music is an 8-bit version of the Tiny Toon theme from the animated series. There is some musical variety through the different levels, but it is the main theme that is most often heard throughout the game.

I’m confused as to why Plucky Duck and Buster Bunny don’t have a nice clear black outline like all the other sprites (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Yes, although I think I used approximately 20 continues for the last two worlds alone.

What the critics said:

GamePro: “Strip away that popularity, however, and you’ve still got a solid game with decent challenge. Konami’s given the Toons’ graphics their 8-bit best. Overall 3.4/5.[1]

Entertainment Weekly: “This multilevel action game is easy enough for even small children to master, although older kids may be challenged by the higher levels. Overall A-“.[2]

N-Force: “The funky fluffy sounds, perfectly compliment the graphics, and gameplay’s as brilliant as ever, with six massive levels and a multitude of sub-levels, the lastability factor’s excellent. Overall 89%”.[3]

My verdict: “Nice graphics and a fun little game which is diverting in its own way. The last two worlds in particular are quite challenging. Sadly, with one difficulty setting, there is a real lack of replay value. Definitely one for the younger gamers out there.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Tiny Toons Adventure? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] The Missing Link. ‘Nintendo Pro Review – Tiny Toon Adventure’. GamePro. (December 1991). 29:38. (https://findyourinnergeek.ca/2013/10/magazine-monday-46-gamepro-issue-29-december-1991/#gallery/5a5d0712b6d4562dc1b1bb0f692dfbf5/8163 Accessed 10th May 2020).

[2] Strauss, B., ‘The Latest Video Games Reviewed’. Entertainment Weekly. (August 7th, 1992).   https://ew.com/article/1992/08/07/latest-videogames-reviewed/ Accessed on 10th May 2020).

[3] ‘Reviewed! – Tiny Toons Adventure’. N-Force. (August 1992). Issue 2:56-7. (https://archive.org/details/N-Force_No_2_1992-08_Europress_Impact_GB/page/n55/mode/2up Accessed on 23rd February 2020).

Kage (Shadow of the Ninja/Blue Shadow)

A picture containing text, book, man

Description automatically generated

I often wonder what goes through the minds of game creators. Naturally, creators wish to make money but at the same time, surely they want to make a game that’ll be loved by gamers. Why they would create games that frustrate gamers because of limited moves, the inability to select weapons, and limited lives and continues, I’ll never know? Kage is one such game!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Kage was developed and published by Natsume in 1990 (Taito in 1991). It was later renamed as Shadow of the Ninja in Japan and Blue Shadow in Europe and Australia. Originally released on the NES, it was later re-released for the Virtual Console on the Wii.

Set in 2029, the evil Emperor Garuda has taken over the USA. Two ninjas from the Iga clan, Lord Hayate and Lady Kaede, are sent to infiltrate the Emperor’s stronghold and assassinate him. Using weapons such as the katana (sword), shuriken (throwing stars) and kusarigama (sickle and chain), the ninjas must fight through numerous enemies and sub-bosses. There are five levels broken down into 16 stages, which see you fight through a seaport, underground sewers, city rooftops, an air fortress and a final fortress.

You can select to play either as Lord Hayate or Lady Kaede (Screenshot taken by the author)

It can be played in both single and two player mode. In one player mode, you have the option to decide who you play as. You can run, jump and attack, and even hold onto certain platforms and hang from them. You can then choose to flip up to that platform or drop to the platform below. However, you can only attack the way you are facing when hanging from a platform.

The controls are responsive and simple…perhaps too simple. When using the katana and shuriken, you can only attack straight in front of you or in a crouching position. You cannot slash your sword or throw a shuriken up or diagonally, which I think is pretty dumb, especially where the shuriken is concerned. You can attack diagonally up and straight up when you wield the kusarigama, but not down or diagonally down. Finding scrolls throughout the levels increases the range of your attack, but I didn’t find any on the first stage. You may also find bombs and health potions.

Hangin’ tough (Screenshot taken by the author)

Annoyingly you cannot switch between weapons meaning when you pick up shurikens, you have to use them up before reverting back to the katana or kusarigama, or you need to find an item box conatining a different weapon or additional shuriken. This is frustrating because, and I’m sure I don’t need to explain this, but I will, it would be very handy with some bosses and sub-bosses to be able to save some shurikens back.

Thankfully, there is no time limit on the levels meaning you can take your time.

Be prepared to evade small missiles (Screenshot taken by the author)

Graphically, levels are detailed and well designed, and the sprites are clean and well defined. No complaints there. The music is very basic and easily forgettable.

I didn’t spend that much time on this game because I found the limited move set frustrating and I just didn’t enjoy playing it. The inability to defeat various enemies without taking hits is frustrating.

Did I complete the game?

No, I only managed to get to level 2.2 before I gave up.

What the critics said:

GamePro: “Shadow of the Ninja, however, is above average Ninja fare with top of the line graphics and fast-paced gameplay. One minor hang-up is the sluggish transition between dialogue screens. But all in all this is a top flight, fast-paced action cart.” Overall 4.6/5”.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Superb Graphics and sound intensify this battle for freedom. No rating”.[2]

Total!: “A sexy-looking and very playable platform hack ‘em up, with great two-player option. It’s just a bit too easy for my liking. Overall 74%”.[3]

My verdict:This game isn’t bad, but the limited ways to attack your enemies make it very frustrating. Sadly, this detracts from the nice graphics and keeps me from wanting to pay more. It’s a poor man’s Ninja Gaiden”.

Rating:

What are your memories of Kage? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Bro Buzz. ‘Nintendo Proview – Shadow of the Ninja’. GamePro. (July/August 1991). :24-5. (https://archive.org/stream/GamePro_Video_Game_Greatest_Hits_1991-07_IDG_Publishing_US#page/n25/mode/2up Accessed 7th May 2020).

[2] ‘Shadow of the Ninja’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1991). 21:98-102. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/29/EGM_US_021.pdf Accessed 7th May 2020).

[3] ‘Blue Shadow’. Total!. (April 1992). 4:38-39. (https://archive.org/stream/Total_Issue_004_1992-04_Future_Publishing_GB#page/n37/mode/2up Accessed 7th May 2020).

Kick Master

Many gamers love a good martial arts beat ’em up…Double Dragon, Shinobi, and Ninja Gaiden to name a few. Oddly, Kick Master is set in a medieval world where you battle through forests and caves as oppose to city streets. Where are the knights with their mighty steeds and glinting armour? Where are the broadswords, morning stars, maces and axes? There are none. Apparently, the best way to defeat the monsters in this game is by using an array of kicks. So limber up those hamstrings and groin muscles, and prepare defend yourself against an army of evil demons. Why? Because yet another princess needs saving! After all, if you don’t do it, who else will?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Kick Master is an action game developed by KID and Published by Taito. Although it is considered an action game, it contains elements of a role-playing game, explained below. It was released on the NES in 1992, and this was the version I reviewed.

Castle Lowrel has been attacked by the evil witch Belzed. The king and queen have been slain, and Princess Silphee (strange name I know) has been abducted. You play as Thonolan, an aspiring martial artist, who must battle through eight stages of monsters and defeat Belzed by using an array of kicks and magic spells. As your experience level increases, more types of kicks are unlocked.

The title screen is quite plain, with a black screen and a rectangular banner with Kick Master splashed across it. The music that then plays is quite catchy and fits well with the game, adding an air of almost Castlevania-esque creepiness to it. The pre-game intro is text based, but once the game begins, an animated introduction begins showing how Thonolan’s brother is killed in battle. The illustrations are bright and colourful, but the animation is very basic. The character illustrations do not move but the background does in a parallaxing kind of way.

The level graphics are very detailed and push the NES to its limit (screenshot taken by the author)

The gameplay is quite frustrating and takes some getting used to. The reach of your kicks isn’t all that far, so you have to be incredibly precise with the timing of your attacks else you get hit by the monsters. When you kill a monster, it releases three objects for you to grab. Each object either assists you (heart for energy, coin for experience points, and potion bottle for magic points) or hinders you (skull and crossbones for poison). Along the way you will pick up different magical abilities such as lightning, healing and fireballs etc. (thankfully these are also explained in the manual).

The levels have no time limit which allows the player to take their time and really get to grips with the different kicks when they become available. The game has infinite continues, and after each level you will be given a password, allowing you to walk away and come back to it another day. However, you will not get to see the end credits until you complete it on the hardest setting.

Entering the bowls of the Earth! (screenshot taken by the author)

Graphically, the levels look great and are very detailed. They probably pushed the NES to its limits. All the sprites are distinctive and are varying in their strength and difficulty to defeat. This was also the first game to use parallax scrolling.

The game actually requires a certain amount of tactics. As mentioned above, when an enemy is killed, they release three objects. If you’re quick enough you may be able to catch two before they disappear off screen. However, it soon becomes clear that you must either focus on gaining experience points to unlock more kicks, or collect magic points to be able to use spells. You can do a mix of both of course. This adds a layer of complexity to the game not often found in these sorts of 8-bit games.

Additionally, one nice feature is that in the options menu, there is a demonstration of all the kicks Thonolan can perform, and at what level he needs to be to be able to perform them. This is also explained in the manual.

I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy playing this game, but then again, I can’t say that I did. I am…indifferent to it. I wasn’t instantly enamoured with this game, but I will say that the game grows on you the more your play.

Did I complete the game?

At present I have been unable to complete the game. I managed to reach the octopus boss battle at the end of level 5 but so far am unable to defeat it. I do however have a password and will no doubt return to this game in the future.

What the critics said:

Gamepro: “If Kick Master sounds similar to most NES side-scrolling martial arts offering, you’re right. But that doesn’t mean it’s not great. The challenge pushes the fast-and-furious needle almost off the scale, but that’s cool because you get unlimited continues and passwords. Overall 21/25.[1]

Nintendo Power: “Overall 13.7/20.[2]

My verdict:

“The gameplay takes a little getting used to but the graphics look great. Take time to get used to Kick Master as it will grow on you. This game is a challenge and will no be completed in an afternoon.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Kick Master? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Boss Music. ‘Nintendo Pro Review – Kick Master’. Gamepro. (February 1992). 31:28 https://archive.org/details/GamePro_Issue_031_February_1992/page/n29/mode/2up Accessed 2nd April 2020).

[2] ‘Kick Master’. Nintendo Power. (September 1991). 28:42-47. https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20028%20September%201991#page/n43/mode/2up Accessed 2nd April 2020).

Snow Bros.

What makes a great video game? Graphics, music, replay value, multiplayer options…there is no correct answer. Personally, I feel that gameplay is more important than the others. If a game doesn’t play well, the rest is pointless. That’s just my opinion of course.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Snow Bros. was developed and published by Toaplan for the arcade in North America, Japan and Europe in 1990. Over the next few years it was released for home consoles on the NES, Game Boy and Mega Drive in North America and Japan but wasn’t officially released in Europe until the Android and iOS versions in 2012.

In this platform game you play as Prince Nick and/or Prince Tom who are cursed and turned into snowmen by King Scorch whilst he captures Princesses Teri and Tina. Naturally, the two princes pursue King Scorch in order to rescue the princess.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

To progress through each level, you must turn monsters into snowballs by throwing snow at them. Once they are transformed into snowballs, you need to push them into each other or to the bottom of the screen where they smash against the wall and die. Once all monsters in a level are defeated you progress to the next level. There are several power-ups to help you along the way. The power-ups are: Red – increases walking speed; Blue – increases amount of snow you throw; Yellow – increases the distance snow can be thrown; Green – inflates you like a balloon where you can fly around the level killing anything you come into contact with. There are 50 levels in total, with a boss battle occuring every 10 levels.

Every ten levels, there is a big, bad boss to defeat (Screenshot taken by the author)

The levels are very colourful, sometimes so much that it hurts the eyes. The game also tends to flicker a little when the screen is busy. The controls are simple…move left or right, jump and throw. This game looks simple, and older gamers may think this is for children…it is not! It’s challenging and it’ll take you several tries before you can complete the game. The game has limited replay value, but I think you will come back to it more than once after you have beaten the game.

Quite simply, this is a fun game to play, especially in two player mode. Thankfully, you cannot harm each other when you are throwing snow, which could get extremely frustrating if that was a feature.

You must throw snow at the enemy to turn them into snowballs (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Although I did play this several times with Mrs. L, I completed it by myself.

What the critics said?

At present I have been unable to find a contemporary review of this game.

My verdict: “This game is fun! It’s easy to control but challenging. It has the added bonus of being two player, and even after you have beaten the game, you’ll want to play through it again and again.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Snow Bros.? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.

Contra (Probotector & Gryzor)

A picture containing man, holding, people

Description automatically generated

Arcade games were designed to be nigh on impossible to complete. This was because not only did the creators want to challenge gamers, but they also needed to be able to sell a product to arcade owners who in turn wanted games that gamers would repeatedly pump their pocket money in to continue playing…it is a business after all. When arcade games were ported to home consoles, it often seems that the creators failed to adjust the difficulty levels. Young gamers today have no idea how easy they have it all with constant automatic saving, online walkthroughs and cheat pages close-by, at the touch of a button.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Contra is a run and gun video game developed and published by Konami for the Arcade in 1987. A home version was released on the NES in 1988 (in Europe, Contra was known as Probotector). Ocean Software ported the game to the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC in Europe in 1988 under the name Gryzor. Interestingly, Ocean’s cover art for the game was a clearly influenced by a photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Predator. I reviewed the NES version of this game.

The cover art was clearly influenced by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Predator (1987).

According to the NES manual, in 1957, a large object crashed into the Amazon near some Mayan ruins. Nothing further seemed to have happened and the incident was forgotten about. 30 years later, reports of weird alien monsters terrorising the local villages have been received by the Pentagon. Rather than create a political incident by sending in an army, the US send in two commandos, Lance and Bill, to find and destroy the aliens.[1]

Bright colours, clearly defined sprites, and excellent gameplay (Screenshot taken by the author)

Contra is easy to play but tough to master. You mainly run, jump, lay down, and shoot. The controls are nice and responsive, and you can shoot in all directions. However, if you want to shoot directly down, then you need to jump. You can jump down to a lower platform simply by pressing down and jump. Be careful though…one shot can kill you and you only get a finite amount of lives and continues

The manual describes all the levels you will fight through as well as what all the power-ups do. The power ups are greatly appreciated as you progress through the games and the enemies begin to increase in number and strength. They also make defeating the end of level bosses much easier.

After every level you must battle your way through a series of rooms by destroying a flashing button to lower the electrical field (Screenshot taken by the author)

After every level, the perspective changes and your character begins in the foreground firing at enemies and defensive weapons in the background. Once you destroy the circular flashing light, which powers the electrical fence stopping you from moving forward, the rear wall explodes and you can progress to the next room. This must be done several times before you complete the level.

The levels are very well designed and very detailed. They are brightly coloured with many different platforms for you to jump up to and down from. The music fits the game well, and the sprites are clean and nicely animated. The overall graphics are pretty damn good for a home console in 1988.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

The game becomes a lot more fun in two-player mode. Although you are competing for points, you are actually co-operating to beat the game, and it certainly makes the game easier. Mrs. L was my co-op buddy for this run through.

Did I complete the game?

Mrs. L and I did complete the game, but we needed the cheat that gave us 30 odd lives each. Else we could only get past the first few levels. On YouTube I did see one video where someone completed the game without dying once. Fair play to them.

What the critics said:

Computer Gaming World: “Two player contests are always in demand, because most video games are designed for a solo gamer. Contra is doubly welcome, because it is a truly outstanding action epic.” No rating given.[2]

Joystick: ”Overall 92%”.[3]

Awards:

Best Action Game – 1989 Player’s Choice Awards[4]

My verdict:

“Although this game is tough, it is also a lot of fun, especially in two player mode. Great graphics, tight controls, and adrenalin inducing levels. I think that you will find yourself returning to this game again and again.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Contra? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘How to Play Contra’. NES Contra Manual. :4 (https://www.gamesdatabase.org/Media/SYSTEM/Nintendo_NES/manual/Formated/Contra_-_1988_-_Konami.pdf Accessed 28th March 2020)

[2] Katz, A., ‘Video Gaming World – Contra’. Computer Gaming World. (June 1988). 48:40. (https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_48/page/n39/mode/2up Accessed March 29th 2020).

[3] Huyghues-Lacour, A., ‘Probotector’. Joystick. (April 1991). 15:118. (https://archive.org/details/joystick015/page/n117/mode/2up Accessed on 6th July 2020).

[4] ‘The 1989 “Player’s Choice Awards” – Best Action Game: Contra’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :20. (https://retrocdn.net/images/6/64/EGM_US_BuyersGuide_1989.pdf Accessed on 6th February 2020).