Video Game Review: Dragon Warrior II (NES)

In my review of the first Dragon Warrior a.k.a. Dragon Quest game, I’m sure I talked about how it was one of my favorite RPGs of all-time and my number one favorite for the original Nintendo.

I tried playing this one way back in the day but I couldn’t get a handle on it. I think that when I was a kid, I found it difficult because of all the bells and whistles that Enix added to this game.

You see, instead of being one badass knight, you now had a party with three characters and you also found yourself in battles with multiple enemies, sometimes as many as eight! In the original game, all the encounters were always one-on-one.

As a kid, I felt overwhelmed by this game. But as years rolled on and I played more advanced RPGs, the things that caught me offguard with this game weren’t really a problem for me anymore.

In fact, the innovations that this game made, changed the RPG landscape going forward, as everyone else started developing RPGs with parties and multiple monsters to fight all at once.

Looking at this now, and at face value, this is everything that the first game was but even better!

However, as great as this is and as much as I enjoy most of it, it’s bogged down by some problems. But the issues it has have more to do with this being the first of its kind and not having the understanding of how important gameplay balance is to an RPG.

This game is massive when compared to its predecessor. There is so much area to explore but it can be a bit much and remembering which town is which and how to get to an area is hard to remember. You definitely need to use maps with this game.

Additionally, some of the dungeons are massive and completely maddening.

But the biggest issue, is that the leveling system is unbalanced with the pacing of the game and you have to literally spend hours upon hours grinding away for experience points. The problem with that, is that it ruins the game’s momentum.

Before you can go to the final castle and run through a string of five, yes five, powerful bosses, you have to spend days, maybe weeks, building up your characters. And your second character is a total weakling that dies all the time and makes it hard for him to collect experience because of that.

Also, the game is impossible without using guides. You can talk to every person in every town but most of the time, it is never clear what you need to do to advance the plot. Playing this now, I kept a walkthrough of bullet points handy because I would have been lost without it.

A lot of people shit on this game and I understand why. I still loved playing it though. And from what I’ve heard, Dragon Warrior III corrects a lot of this game’s mistakes. I plan on playing that one in the very near future.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Dragon Warrior a.k.a. Dragon Quest games for the original NES, as well as the NES Final Fantasy games.

Video Game Review: Rygar (NES)

Rygar didn’t seem to be a very popular game when it came out for the original Nintendo back in the late ’80s but I always dug the hell out of it because it was so different than everything else and it had really rad music.

It’s unique in that it provides the player with both a side scrolling mode, as well as levels that are played in a top-down bird’s-eye-view. But between both of these modes, the game’s mechanics are consistent and show how how well crafted this is, as far as the actions of the player.

There is one issue with the game that exposes a design flaw and that’s how you can make enemies disappear if they get too close to the edge of the screen. There are a lot of enemies that you can just make disappear by exposing this flaw, which makes the game easier but considering just how challenging the game is, this can become really handy in the tougher levels.

What I really find cool about this game is the weapon. It’s a disk attached to a chain but the way it moves in the game makes it feel like more of an energy weapon. You can smash the button really fast and it sort of just wiggles in place, hitting the enemies multiple times. But even with that cool caveat, the game is still a real challenge and not easy to beat.

Almost all of the levels in this are well designed and tough to navigate and this game does take a bit of a learning curve to adapt to it’s uniqueness.

In the end, this is a blast to play and it’s something I revisit every few years because I still love it.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.

Video Game Review: Metroid (NES)

When people talk about bonafide NES classics, Metroid is always near the top of everyone’s list and rightfully so. It’s a superb, lengthy game in an era where lengthy games didn’t really exist. In fact, this one was so lengthy that it needed a code system to allow players to pick up where they left off.

Back in 1987, this took my cousin Billy and I a few months to crack. Granted, we were also eight years-old, at the time, and had to go to elementary school full-time. We didn’t have the luxury of modern gamers, plucking away for days and days, calling off shifts at work because the obsession is more important than responsibility.

This game still plays well, especially for those of us who never quite quit playing classic Nintendo titles.

It’s fun, it’s hard and it has one of the most kick ass soundtracks of its era.

The game also spawned a franchise with many solid sequels. However, this one is still the greatest of them all, in my opinion. I never had a Super Nintendo, so I didn’t spend too much time playing Super Metroid and the Gameboy’s Metroid II was also fantastic but this one takes the cake, as far as I’m concerned.

But maybe I’ll give Super Metroid a playthrough in the near future.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.

Video Game Review: Contra (NES)

What’s cooler than a badass 8-bit shoot’em up 2D side scroller from the ’80s? How about a badass 8-bit shoot’em up 2D side scroller that also goes vertical and throws a couple pseudo 3D dungeons into the mix?

Plus, this has pretty cool boss battles with bosses that look badass. And for something that just involves running, gunning and jumping, the game’s design doesn’t make it feel repetitive.

Konami were most definitely on their A-game in the ’80s, especially in the coin-op arcade market. This was originally an arcade game but it’s this port to the original Nintendo Entertainment System that is most remembered. In fact, I’d say that this game was beloved by a generation and for good reason.

The NES version is well designed, performs great and it runs pretty damn smoothly. Also, the controls are very good, as are the in-game physics. I also dig the hell out of the game’s music.

I love Contra and even if it is near impossible to beat without the infamous Konami Code, I would play through this game multiple times in a row, as a kid.

In 2019, this is still one of my favorite classic NES games to fire up on my emulator. I still play this thing at least once a month.

Plus, Contra evolved into a series with sequels that were also pretty good. Maybe not as iconic, but each entry brought something new to the series.

But it is this one, the original, that still stands tall and is, frankly, one of the best Nintendo games ever made.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.

Video Game Review: Rush’n Attack (NES)

I have fond memories of this game. As a kid, a friend at school let me borrow it for the whole summer. I played the shit out of it because I knew that eventually I’d have to give it back.

Revisiting it all these years later, it doesn’t hold up to my memories of it but I still liked giving it a playthrough.

The game is a simple side scroller where you just mostly have a combat knife that you use to go all stabby on the enemy soldiers running at you. There isn’t a lot of strategy in this game, just stab, stab, stab and jump over those landmines.

It is actually more difficult than it needs to be though, as it’s one of those games where one hit kills you. You can get through it all with enough practice though and it’s even easier if you’re playing it on an emulator that allows you to save your progress.

For the time though, the game has a cool visual style and I like the music.

It plays off of the Cold War fears in the ’80s and I’ve often wondered if Rush’n Attack‘s title was a tongue and cheek way of saying “Russian Attack”.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.

Video Game Review: Mad Max (PlayStation 4)

This fills the void in my heart of Fallout 4 being a broken trainwreck. Sure, it’s not really the same type of game, as this plays more like a post-apocalyptic Grand Theft Auto with mechanics that are very, very similar to Batman: Arkham City but it is a superb post-apocalyptic action adventure that hits its mark damn well.

From the start, I was captivated by the game. The opening scene that sets the stage for the main plot was fantastic and balls to the wall badass. This immediately felt like Mad Max with an extra level of gravitas thrown into it. I was pumped to play this while the credits were rolling after that intro scene.

The gameplay also starts with a bang, as you aren’t hindered by tutorials that take too long.

I love that the game also has a territory system similar to the board game Risk but with much more complex and layered ways at taking territory away from the enemy. The bulk of the game is wrapped up in these tasks, as you try to wrestle territory away and free the wasteland from tyranny. All the while, you work at building up your allies’ camps, which benefits you greatly in the game.

Surprisingly, even with a lot to do, you can blow through this game rather rapidly if that’s your gaming style. But you can also take your time, explore, pick up scrap (basically in-game currency) and get lost in vehicular combat, which is a hell of a lot of fun.

Additionally, the graphics are solid, the weather system is intense and the controls are really fluid. There isn’t much to pick apart.

All in all, this game is a literal blast and a fuck ton of fun. I hope a sequel gets made at some point but that’s probably unlikely, as this didn’t even get any DLC content.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: any of the Grand Theft AutoSaint’s Row or Batman: Arkham games.

Video Game Review: Blaster Master (NES)

Blaster Master is one of those games that I play, time and time again, wishing that it would be better than it actually is because there is just something really cool about it.

The game was really damn unique for the time in that there are different gameplay modes.

First, you get to drive around in this sweet vehicle that shoots and jumps. The jumping feature is simply badass and you can actually change direction mid-jump.

Second, you get to leave the vehicle and run around as a little dude with a blaster. This is so that you can reach areas that your little battle buggy can’t.

Third, as the little dude, you can enter dungeons. Once there, you play in a bird’s-eye-view mode, as you walk around and blast shit, going through mazes and looking for a boss to fight.

The game is creative and the extra layers of gameplay are what makes this a memorable experience when compared to other games from this generation.

However, the novelty and coolness start to wear off due to the controls. The controls in this game are shit and it makes an already difficult game, more difficult than it needs to be. You do adapt to the controls with more gameplay but they never really feel like they’re fluid.

And yes, the game is already pretty hard. Granted, lots of NES games are hard by modern standards where just about every game gives you difficulty options and can be beaten if you just keep playing. But this seems hard even for regular NES standards.

But I still like firing this up every now and again because it’s such a great concept. It just wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.