Archive for April, 2007


Monday, April 30th, 2007

As I’ve alluded to in the past, video games from the 80’s were weird. Most of those game couldn’t hold a candle to the weirdness that’s in Battletoads.

The story goes something like this: There’s this group of anthropomorphic toads, Rash, Zitz, and Pimple (yes, they’re named after skin disorders), who are led by an anthropomorphic bird, that are dedicated to defeating the forces of evil. Evil in this case being Silas Volkmire (some weird skull-headed thing, he doesn’t actually appear in this game), the Dark Queen (who looks kind of like Elvira) and their army that consists of Psyko-Pigs, giant rats, and other assorted riffraff. Anyway, Pimple, the largest Battletoad, and Princess Angelica, the princess of… something are out for a cruise in a space car and they get kidnapped by Evil. It’s then up to the two remaining ‘Toads to go down to the planet, beat the Evil into a smear on the landscape and rescue the kidnappees.

With me so far? Excellent.

It’s up to you to take the remaining ‘Toads, who for the purposes of this game happen to look identical save for slightly differing shades of skin tone (one’s a greenish-brown and the other’s brownish-green), through a series of levels with wildly differing themes, goals, and objectives, that are each more impossible than the last. I’m not kidding, this game is unforgivingly, brutally, controller-smashingly hard. It’s partially due to the fact that each level is very different, but it’s mostly due to the various forms of Insta-Death(tm) sprinkled around every level coupled with your paltry allotment of extra lives.

By now you’re probably wondering why anyone would want to play this game. Aside from the engrossing story, varied gameplay, and strangely alluring antagonist. I can think of two reasons: bragging rights, and cartoon violence.

Bragging rights is a given. Being able to make more than a modicum of progress in this game is reason enough to make all but the most modest gamers pound their chest in victory. The real reason (read “the reason I played the game) is the cartoon violence.

The Battletoads have an assortment of ‘finishing moves’ that they can use to deal varying forms of pain to the armies of miscellaneous badness that you have to slog through. Hands that turn into giant fists, feet that turn into giant boots, and having your character turn into a giant wrecking ball injects a little bit of silliness into what is otherwise a game that is an exercise in frustration.

Crystal Castles

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Bentley Bear has a problem. He has an unhealthy need for gems. Gems that just happen to be scattered around castles. Castles made from crystal, crystal castle, if you will.

Of course, Mr. Bear can’t just go picking up gems willy-nilly, that would be seriously boring and not much of a challenge. So throughout the castles are crystal ball enemies that eat gems, ambulatory trees that eat gems, and Gem Eaters that… eat gems. There are reportedly other enemies as you progress through the levels, like swarms of bees, skeletons, ghosts, and Berthilda the Witch. The bees, well they like the honey that shows up on some of the levels. The witch? She likes making you lose lives. But as long as you have the Magic Hat, you’re invincible and therefore OK.

I’ve heard rumors that this game actually has an ending, but I never could get that far. The furthest that I ever got was wherever the warp in the first stage took you, and I only discovered that by complete accident.

Marble Madness

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

Arcade games in the 80’s were weird. Let’s take Marble Madness for example. Your character is a marble and it’s your job to guide it through a series of ‘races’ within a time limit. Extra time you have on the clock carries over to the next race, so it’s in your best interest to get to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Beyond the normal hazards that one would expect to find in a racecourse in that exists in a nondescript space (like hills, precipices with no walls, and hovering platforms) you also have to contend with bizarro enemies like marble-dissolving acid puddles, marble-eating green tube monsters, and aggressive black enemy marbles.

Oh, sure, the game seems short, with its six stages and simplistic goal, you might expect to breeze through this game in a matter of minutes, but you would be mistaken. Sorely. The difficulty level in this game blows way past brutal and borders on sadistic. I would presume that the massive difficulty is to compensate for the shortish game. It’s so hard that it just seems crazy-long.

Adventures of Lolo

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Lolo is a strange creature. He is a blue sphere with hands, feet, and disproportionately large eyes. His mission? Save princess Lala from the top of a tower consisting of a series of floors that each contain a series of puzzles. His weapons? His wits and the occasional magic shot.

Scattered throughout each room are ‘framers’: heart framers that you must collect (some of them give you magic shots), and emerald framers that you can push but not pull. Also in the room is a collection of enemies, most of which start out asleep. Once you collect all of the heart framers in a room, the sleeping monsters spring to life and attempt to stop you from getting the jewel out of the treasure chest that’s also in the room. Getting this jewel will cause all of the monsters in the room to vanish and the door to open, allowing you to go to the next room, and eventually to the next floor.

Solve all the puzzles, beat the boss at the end, and you will have won the game! The only problem is that the puzzles get very hard very quickly. Oh sure, they start out easy enough, and there’s only 50 levels, but the puzzles get mind-bendingly tough after a few floors.

I wasn’t able to get very far… until I figured out that by swapping the second and fourth letters in the passwords that I could skip several levels, and that’s how I finished The Adventures of Lolo without the help of a guide on the Internet.


Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Admit it, you don’t know what a Qix is. It’s OK, most people don’t. That’s what I’m here for, I’m here to help.

Qix is both the name of a game and the name of an entity in said game. It’s an early puzzle-type game that’s deceptively simple. The Qix is a thing made up of roughly parallel lines that moves erratically around a large square. You posses the ability to lay down straight lines to try and stake out a claim on the area not currently occupied by the Qix. Your goal is to bring a certain percentage of the area under your control by drawing lines while simultaneously avoiding the Qix and the Sparx (other enemies that follow the perimeter of the screen and eventually the lines you’ve drawn).

You can draw two kinds of lines, Fast and Slow. Your marker is vulnerable to the Qix while drawing, making it much riskier to utilize the Slow Draw, but you get more points (such choices!). Once you claim enough of the area, the stage is reset, the enemies move faster, and you have less time before you get chased by the Sparx. It’s a game of endurance and planning, with a little bit of reflexes involved. Amazingly enough it still holds up after over 25 years. Well, it holds up to the extent that I wouldn’t mind spending a quarter on it now and again.

Denki Blocks

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

As you may have noticed, I’m a sucker for a good puzzle game. I’m not particularly good at them, but I like playing them, especially if they’re a little more off the wall than ’sort the things falling from the sky by color’. No, Denki Blocks is different. You get to slide multi-colored bricks around a playfield to sort the colored blocks.

See? Way different.

To conceptualize Denki Blocks, pretend you have a large, square plate. On this plate you have different colored blocks that only stick to blocks of the same color. If you tilt the plate in one of the four cardinal directions, all of the blocks on the plate move in unison in that direction, and like colors stick together. Your goal, then, is to make all of the blocks of each color stick together, as doing so will clear the stage.

Stages get progressively more difficult as you move along through the game, which really means that the starting points and the shapes of the blocks gets more ridiculous, which in turn means that the solutions get much more circuitous. I managed to make it about halfway through the game before I had to hang my head in shame and walk away from the game forever. I now understand that I quit just before the game got interesting, with such crazy items that change blocks’ colors, blocks that don’t stick to anything, one-way gates, blocks that stick to the ground. And of course, by interesting I mean mind-bendingly difficult.

I like to think that by no longer playing this game that I’ve saved my GBA from being smashed into a few dozen pieces.

Skate or Die 2: The Search for Double Trouble

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

The original Skate or Die! pretty opened and closed the book on 8-bit competitive skateboarding games. Yet, there was a sequel, a sequel that is only tenuously connected to its predecessor. Good enough, I’d say.

Skate or Die 2 does feature a half-pipe that you can do tricks on. You get three minutes or three lives to score as many points as possible, and if you do well enough CJ (one of the characters from the main game) will hang out of her window and cheer for you, doubling your points for a time. The best part of the mode? The hilariously bad ways your character can wipe out. You can miss your landing on a trick and fall through the bottom of the ramp, you can fall off the bottom of the screen into some bowling pins, etc.

The real meat and potatoes of this game, other than the theme song (with lyrics!), is the Adventure Mode. Adventure Mode tells a particularly convoluted story about a series of events that begins with you (our hero) riding your board down the sidewalk and being (quite easily) distracted by Icepick (the local loco), resulting in the squishing of the mayor’s wife’s dog, which causes the number one activity in the city of Elwood, skateboarding, to be outlawed (Major bummer, dude!).

What to do?

Inexplicably, the following sequence of events takes place: you defeat the mayor’s wife with your paintball gun, skating is somehow reinstated, you get a part time job delivering packages to stores in the local mall to pay for a new halfpipe, but the plans get accidentally blown out the window and on to the beach, you collect the plans, but the building permit and your love interest (CJ from the half-pipe) get stolen in the meantime, so you go to the requisite abandoned warehouse to confront Icepick, get back the permit, and rescue CJ. Oh, and Rodney and Lester from the first game (remember the tenuous connection to the first game?) will pop up every now and then to trade the tapes, CDs, tacos and bags of fries you collect in exchange for tricks and updated skateboards.

Amazingly, all of this takes place in four stages with cutscenes to fill in the missing information. And with only four stages, you’d assume that you could finish this game in an afternoon. And you’d be deluding yourself. This game is unforgivingly, brutally hard. Oh, and you only get one life to complete the game. I played this game for weeks and eventually managed to make it to the warehouse, but only just. I’d usually peter out somewhere around the beach level, either succumbing to the body-builders that explode when you hit them with paintballs or running out of time.

I did manage (with a Game Genie to give me unlimited life) to make it far enough into the warehouse to get the permit, but got so completely lost in the ridiculously complex maze that I gave up after a couple of hours. I can only assume that after the end of the game you get your ramp built and it turns out to be the halfpipe in the trick mode, making the game nice and circular.

Skate or Die!

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Skate or Die! is both a mantra to live by and a short-lived video game series. For a time in the 1980s you could hardly walk a couple of blocks without falling over some guys with skateboards. Seemingly realizing this, Electronic Arts cashed in and developed a ‘meta-game’ with several mini-events based on skateboarding. You get to do these events in whatever order you like or you can do them all in a kind of Skateboarding Olympics.

Most of the events are for one player at a time, where you compete for some kind of high score. In the High Jump you mash the A and B buttons to try and jump as high as you can on a half-pipe. Pretty lame, especially if you used a turbo controller like I did.

In Freestyle, you took the same half-pipe and the same ‘mash A and B to gain speed’ control scheme, but this time you added the ability to waggle the control pad and mash the A and B buttons to try and to some tricks. You do more tricks, you get more points. You only get 10 passes on the ramp, so you need to chain together as many ‘things’ as you can without crashing in a hilariously horrible way.

Jam allows you to race down a hill covered with rad-to-the-max obstacles and two (yes, two!) paths you could take: one path is shorter, but much tougher to navigate, yielding more points and a potentially faster time. I would invariably end up falling flat on my face too many times and then purposely make my skater crash into the water just off the conveniently-place dock.

Now we move on to the two-player head-to-head events. Both of them.

First is the Race. This takes place in some seedy back alley. You get to race against Lester, the son of the proprietor of the local skate shop (and former marine) to the end of the very short alley, with a path that branches in an attempt to get to the end of the race faster, but ultimately to score more points. You score points by doing very simple tricks and smashing the trash that’s scattered around the alley (you get crazy bonus points for jumping on the squad car at the end of the alley). You also have the option of punch your opponent to sabotage his run while he does the same to you. This mode is great, but is way too short.

Then there’s the Pool Joust. I don’t really like the Pool Joust. In Pool Joust, you and another skater (my favorite is Poseur Pete) skate around an empty cement pond, and one of you has a ‘bopper’ (it looks kind of like a giant cotton swab). Your goal is to use the bopper to knock the other person off of their board. After every five passes, the bopper switches between you and your opponent. You knock your opponent off his board the requisite number of times and you win.

So, yes, it’s a party game, kind of like Caveman Games only with kids on skateboards instead of cave people, and not quite so bizarre.


Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

I’m not going to pretend to really understand what’s going on in Mappy. You have to guide the titular hero, an apparent member of the Micro Police, through a series of houses and get the goods within, presumably before the gang of cats does the same.

Although Mappy is a police officer of sorts, armed with a police-issue baton, the only defense you actually have against the cat gang is whacking them over the head with a door.

And there you have it, one of the arcade games of 1983 distilled down to a couple of paragraphs. And I still don’t really understand it.

Donald Duck

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

Donald Duck has a problem, he’s broke and he needs to buy some playground equipment for his nephews. So what does he do? He does odd jobs around the town for spending money.

You can do each of the jobs offered around the time for anywhere from one to nine minutes, and the longer you work, the more money you can potentially earn. There are four jobs you can do around town, and you can do each one as many times as you want.

Job number one involves catching and sorting fruits thrown off the back of a truck. Each fruit that you put in the correct box gets you a few cents, while each one you miss incapacitates you for a few seconds.

Job number two has you sorting packages that go by on a conveyor belt and tossing them into the correct bin so they can be loaded on a series of planes. Each package you put in the correct bin will get you a few cents.

Job number three has you routing trains. You have a series of joysticks that control junctions on a giant railroad map. Your goal is to get the trains to their correct destination. Each train that you successfully navigate will net you several cents.

Job number four has you sorting toys at a toy store. You have to put the toys on the correct shelves, while making sure that the back of the shelving is closed when a train goes by. Each toy that you sort gets you a few cents, while every toy that falls on the floor costs you a few.

After you’ve worked a while and earned a few dollars, you get to head to the store and buy things that any kid would love to have on their playground. Stuff like: cargo nets, slides, and cardboard boxes. You then place these objects around their play area and watch them play with the stuff you bought.

So, it’s a tool to teach kids about how to work for money, and then letting them spend it on fun things. Almost like real life. With ducks.