Video Game Review: Section Z (NES)

I vividly remember playing this game for the first time. It was at my cousin’s house just outside of New York City circa 1988. I thought it was pretty damn cool but I never really got to play it again until emulators and roms became a thing in the late ’90s.

I’ve never played the game all the way through though, so I figured I’d revisit it in an effort to try and kick its ass so that I didn’t have to review it with my tail between my legs.

Well, I kicked its ass… but it was definitely not a cakewalk.

The reason being is actually my biggest gripe about the game.

The main problem I have with Section Z is that its not really clear which gate to take at the end of each stage and how you’re supposed to progress. So I had to read up on that a little and I got the gist of it. Kids in 1988 without the Internet probably lost their hair before middle school.

Anyway, there are basically three sets of levels. To beat each one, you have to get to the level with the barrier shield and destroy it. Once you do that, you’ve got to figure out which gate will then advance you to the next section of levels. Along the way there are also some cool boss fights. I thought that the final boss was solid because it looked cooler than anything else in the game and the fight was fun.

The gameplay is pretty good and fluid. I like the mechanics, they’re easy to use and understand and even though the levels can get repetitive, you don’t get bored. Well, unless you’re stuck in a loop of stages you can’t find your way out of because there’s no way to really know where to go without a guide or a walkthrough.

Section Z is nowhere close to being a perfect game or one you’ll be dying to play after beating it but it’s a really satisfying side scrolling shooter that is good at killing time on a rainy day.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other 8-bit side scrolling shooters in a sci-fi setting. For example: Gradius, Lifeforce, MagMax, Seicross, etc.

Video Game Review: The Guardian Legend (NES)

This is a game that I had never played. I remember seeing the box on shelves at most of the mom and pop video stores around me but I didn’t rent it because the box art didn’t really tell me anything about the game and frankly, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to convey now that I’ve played this.

I’m glad that I gave it a shot, all these years later, but I only did so due to an article I read about underrated NES games. This one sounded cool because it has different modes of play: one that plays like an outer space version of 1942 and another that plays like a bird’s eye view dungeon game similar to the original Zelda but with a futuristic sci-fi atmosphere.

This also reminds me a lot of Crystalis, which I played through recently and adored.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to do but it didn’t take long for me to figure things out. The only real trouble I had was opening some of the gates, as the later ones in the game all require you to do something unique to access them. But none of that ruined the gameplay and the only time I really got stumped, I figured it out fairly quickly.

For a game that is, more or less, two games in one, both modes are well designed and a hell of a lot of fun. The game, at its best, is pretty refreshing and exhilarating.

The Guardian Legend is a game that probably would’ve been a massive hit had it existed in the time of the Internet. I just don’t know anyone who played it and because of that, I never heard a buzz about it.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Crystalis and the 8-bit era Gradius games.

Video Game Review: Spy Hunter (NES)

I wanted to replay the arcade version of this game but I couldn’t get the rom to work on MAME. So I went back and played the original Nintendo port of the game, as I still own the cartridge.

This is one of those games that I used to play a lot, whether it was the arcade or Nintendo version. Granted, at the time, I didn’t know that it just replays in cycles and that there isn’t really an end to it.

The NES version of the game was the one I played most and for a port of the arcade version, it’s really well done and not too different.

Spy Hunter is still fun to play but I guess I am less motivated at trying to conquer it since you actually can’t. It’s an endless loop and because of that, there’s not much about it that feels rewarding.

In fact, the most rewarded I ever felt playing it, as a kid, was when I used to reach the boat dock and then got to play the boat stage, which usually led to a pretty quick death.

Based off of the game’s box art, which featured a bunch of vehicles, I always assumed that the game had all sorts of playable modes that were just really hard to access, due to the game’s difficulty once you get to the boat stage.

Other kids my age thought the same thing, as there was always that one kid that claimed he flew the plane or drove the motorcycle. Now I know that those kids were liars.

Anyway, this is still a good game and a good way to kill twenty minutes but without a real objective, it seems kind of pointless.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other vertical scrolling vehicle shooters for NES.

Video Game Review: Super C (NES)

Contra was a massive game for the original Nintendo. Super C, its first sequel also did well but it wasn’t a phenomenon like its predecessor. I think that the reason why has a lot to do with the Konami Code giving you 30 lives in Contra but only 10 in Super C, a game that was actually harder.

For the most part, this plays and feels exactly like the first game except for one major change.

The levels in the first game where you walk through two fortresses with your back to the camera and move forward in almost a 3D effect are now replaced with vertical scrolling bird’s eye view levels, which kind of suck. The main reason is that jumping is disabled due to the mechanics of the level and therefore, evading a volley of bullets from baddies is much more difficult. I’m not sure why they changed this but I prefer the alternate non-side scrolling levels of the first game a lot more.

However, the game sort of makes up for that mistake in the level design of the standard side scrolling levels. We now have levels that feature side and vertical scrolling, as well as slanted platforms that add to the challenge but make this game feel more advanced.

I also thought that most of the boss battles were really fun, even if the bosses here aren’t as iconic as those from its predecessor. In regards to bosses, my only complaint is that the final boss is one of the easiest in the franchise and a total cakewalk as a final boss. But at least the boss looked damn cool.

Ultimately, this isn’t as good as the first game but it’s still in the same ballpark and for fans that love Contra that haven’t actually given Super C a fair shot, it’s worth your time, especially because its just like playing new levels in a game you already love. But with less lives available, it’d behoove you to be less reckless.

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. But definitely the original Contra.

Video Game Review: Mickey Mousecapade (NES)

I used to play this a lot, as a kid. However, it’s not as good as I remembered it being, especially when compared to the other games Capcom made for Disney properties in this era. This is one of the earlier ones though and I guess it paved the way for the better games that followed.

This is a decent platformer for the most part. It’s just kind of short and overly difficult not because it was meant to be hard but because it had some shoddy design and mechanics.

Some of the boss battles are made to overwhelm you and there really isn’t a way to block or dodge a constant barrage of attacks. You just kind of need to have full life, take damage and hope for the best.

Also, some levels are overly complicated. I remember having problems with the woods level, as there are hidden doors you have no idea are there and you have to access them to advance. When I was a kid, after hours of frustration, I found one of the doors by mistake. I remembered that and that’s the main reason I was able to beat the game this time.

None of the bosses are particularly interesting or fun to fight but you do get to fight Pete from the classic Steamboat Willie cartoon, as well as Maleficent, even though she has an incredibly oversized head and looks more like a Funko Pop than a badass sorceress.

Mickey Mousecapade hasn’t aged well but it’s kind of fun, even if it is frustrating.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Capcom made Disney games for the original Nintendo: the DuckTales series, the Chip & Dale series, Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, etc.

Video Game Review: MagMax (NES)

This game is pretty wonky and kind of weird.

There doesn’t seem to be much point to it and playing through it just seems kind of aimless and really repetitive. Granted, it’s a simple ’80s 8-bit side scrolling action shooter but it’s pretty unimaginative, completely lacks any sort of story and looks more like a generic bootleg game than something designed and programmed by a major studio.

While I don’t think that FCI was a massive studio, they did put out other games in the era like Seicross, Lunar Pool, Phantom Fighter, the WCW Wrestling games, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games and the Ultima series. But this one feels like it was done half-assed and rushed out to get another coin-op machine into arcades. This Nintendo port of the game is even worse.

The only kind of cool thing about it is that there is an above ground and an underground section of the game and both run parallel. You can hope between the two whenever you want when you come across the gate that warps you from to the other. There doesn’t seem to be any benefit from playing on one plane or the other but the underground section makes it harder to dodge enemy attacks.

As you progress through the game, you collect robots pieces. You go from being a small space ship vehicle to a full walking mecha if you collect the pieces. However, every time an enemy hits you, you lose a piece.

All of the enemies are just generic look metal shapes and pretty f’n basic. The only really cool enemy is the boss, which looks like the three heads of Mecha-King Ghidorah attached to Max Rebo’s keyboard. However, battles with this boss aren’t too difficult and even after beating him, you just keep cycling through levels and have to fight him again. It doesn’t seem as if there is an end to the game, it may just keep cycling forever.

Overall, MagMax is not very fun, it’s pretty monotonous and there are dozens of games far better than this one on the original Nintendo.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling 8-bit sci-fi action games.

Video Game Review: Gradius (NES)

After revisiting Lifeforce, I thought that I’d also revisit the game that came before it, the original Gradius.

While this and Lifeforce look and play similarly, this game suffers from a few things that its first sequel fixed.

For one, when you die, you respawn at a checkpoint you’ve previously passed, as opposed to right where you croaked. This makes you burn through lives a lot quicker and if there is that one spot or sequence that keeps kicking your ass, you have to do the whole thing over again… again and again. It just becomes tedious where in Lifeforce you can still progress in spite of your faults, as long as you still have lives to spare.

Secondly, the game feels less structured in a bad way. In Lifeforce, it was clear that you progressed to a new level after a boss battle and a change in how the screen scrolls, whether horizontally or vertically. In Gradius, everything is side scrolling and there aren’t real ends to levels, you just sort of fly into them, making the whole game feel like one long, endless stage.

Plus, the boss battles here are all weak and uninspiring and they’re also pretty repetitive.

Gradius isn’t a total letdown. However, if you’ve never played this or Lifeforce, you should start with this. If you do it the other way around, this one will feel like a frustrating disappointment.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other games in the Gradius series, as well as other 8-bit Konami action shooters.