Video Game Review: Karnov (Arcade)

I played the arcade version of Karnov a few times, back in the ’80s. I barely have any memory of it, though and I guess that’s because the original Nintendo port was a damn good port.

Playing this now, it’s damn near identical to its 8-bit port, other than the graphics are a bit better and the gameplay is slightly smoother.

I used to play the NES game a lot. But it’s nice getting refamiliarized with this one.

Karnov is a cool character that was also featured in other Data East games to the point that he essentially became their Mario. He’s actually the first boss in both versions of the Bad Dudes video games.

Since the character became so prominent for Data East, it’s surprising that this game never got a sequel. It’s unique, cool as fuck and as I’ve already pointed out, features a prominent character for the developer.

These games remind me a lot of the Rygar games, as it features a unique hero in a very unique but interesting fantasy setting. Both games have cool landscapes, awesome beasts to battle and present a serious challenge that isn’t unbeatable but requires the development of great skill to do so.

Karnov is just a blast to play, even if it’s difficult to adjust to its playing style. Frankly, this should’ve birthed a long-running franchise. Maybe if it became that, Data East would still exist today.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling fantasy action games for the arcade and the original Nintendo.

Video Game Review: Contra (Arcade)

As much as I have played Contra on the original Nintendo, I hadn’t played the arcade version in decades. I always remembered it looking better and having better sound but I wanted to replay it just to see the differences between this original version and its more widely known NES port.

So this obviously does have better graphics and sound but it also has smoother gameplay.

Beyond that, the levels feel more condensed and the bosses take less hits to defeat.

However, even though you have the ability to continue after death, those continues are limited, so it’s extremely hard to actually play through the game in its entirety. In fact, I kept getting put down on the snow level, about midway through the game.

Still, this was a hell of a lot of fun and it should be considered an arcade classic in the same vein the NES version is considered an original Nintendo classic.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the arcade and classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.

Video Game Review: Bad Dudes Vs. Dragonninja (Arcade)

I’ve played through and beat the original Nintendo port of this game at least a dozen or so times in the last three decades. However, I haven’t actually played through the superior, smoother arcade version since the late ’80s.

There was actually a Bad Dudes arcade cabinet in a convenient store right next to my cousin’s house when we were kids. We dropped a fuck ton of quarters in that machine.

It’s a game that was just too f’n cool for words when I was a kid. Ninjas were awesome! And here, you play as one of two buff Jean-Claude Van Damme looking dudes and smash color coded ninjas by the dozens.

You also got to do it in greatly designed levels where each had a unique look and vibe about them. The moving semi truck and freight train levels just added an extra dose of badassness to the already badass proceedings.

The arcade version is also the best version. It plays smoother, has better graphics, better sound and just exists on a higher level than the NES version, which was watered down by the limitations of the console.

Bad Dudes is, hands down, one of my all-time favorite beat’em up side scrollers of all-time. Revisiting this version of it just solidified that even more.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s beat’em up games like Double Dragon and its sequels, RenegadeCrime Fighters, Final Fight, River City Ransom, Streets of Rage and its sequels, etc.

Video Game Review: Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (Sega Master System)

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was the first sequel to the hit Ghosts ‘n Goblins game. This port to the Sega Master System actually came out a year after it was ported to Sega’s more advanced Genesis console.

However, this version of the game added in some cool stuff that the arcade and other ports didn’t have.

The Master System port features a unique upgrade system. The biggest thing that stands out is that the player can now enter shops and purchase better armor, weapons and magic.

The graphics on this version are also pretty impressive considering that the Master System console was a step behind the Genesis. This game looks visually better than the more comparable Nintendo Entertainment System’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins game from a few years earlier.

I thought that the controls were a bit wonky, though. Then again, they’re not that different from the older NES game that I spent hours upon hours playing in the late ’80s.

Like its predecessor, this game is also really damn difficult and frustrating. I didn’t get anywhere near completing it before giving up in frustration to go smoke a joint and grill a steak.

Despite being a visually alluring installment of the series, this one does fall kind of flat. It’s more frustrating than fun, the levels aren’t that great and the overall level design is kinda meh.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other games in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise.

Video Game Review: Crime City (Arcade)

Crime City is something I surprisingly never played back in the ’80s. However, I stumbled across a video of some gameplay and I immediately went to my RetroPie to see if this was on it. It was!

The game is a simple side-scrolling shooter similar to the RoboCop arcade game. Visually it kind of reminds me of Bad Dudes and Rolling Thunder. But these are three games I really like, so this one is in good company.

This is fast paced and energetic. Ultimately, you just jump over obstacles and duck for cover as you progress through levels by filling assholes with lead. There are different weapons you can get throughout the game. The machine gun is a lot of f’n fun.

My only issues with the game is that the level design is a bit weak and the screen feels cramped, a lot. Also, the game is pretty short. I feel like I beat it in under fifteen minutes of total gameplay.

Still, it’s fun and action packed. It looks good, sounds good and plays good. What more could you want?

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling beat’em up/shooters where the hero is thrashing scumbags and thugs.

Video Game Review: Rygar (Arcade)

I had thought that I had played this version of Rygar, back in the day, but having now blazed through it, I don’t think that I did.

This is not the same game as the more famous Nintendo version, which is still one of my all-time favorite games. This isn’t about exploring a massive world and switching between side scrolling and vertical scrolling, bird’s-eye-view areas. Nope, this game is just a side scrolling action game with quick stages you have to blow through against a timer.

This is a hell of a lot of fun and it keeps the Rygar aesthetic, which is just cool and unique. However, it lacks the challenge and scope of the Nintendo game, which felt like an epic adventure in the 8-bit ’80s.

I think that fans of the Nintendo game will still like this, as it looks great, has great sound and music and it features smooth gameplay and similar mechanics, albeit more fine tuned.

The arcade Rygar is a fine game on its own and a different experience altogether.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the original Nintendo version of the game, as well as the PlayStation 2 Rygar. Also, other side scrolling fantasy action games of the ’80s.

Video Game Review: Shinobi (Arcade)

Shinobi was a really cool game when it was released in 1987. Ninjas were at their all-time height of coolness and chucking dozens of stars at gutter punks and gangsters was definitely worth a quarter or seventeen.

I never got very far in the game, though. However, now playing through the thing, I know that I used to get about halfway through it before running out of money or giving up in frustration.

The game has pretty good graphics for the time and the gameplay is really smooth. None of the ports of this game did it any justice on home consoles, honestly. However, the console ports did give you a health bar instead of dying on a single hit.

And that’s my only real gripe about the arcade game, as it’s really hard to get through with one-hit deaths. Furthermore, you get knocked back to a checkpoint upon death, which is how not to do side scrolling beat’em up style games.

I guess I could also point out that the game is fairly short, if you can play through it without getting shellacked. I think that the average person will still get a solid half hour out of it, though, as long as they’re not some superstar that can blaze through it like an actual ninja.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other games under the Shinobi brand, as well as the Ninja Gaiden games.

Video Game Review: Ninja Gaiden (Arcade)

Ninja Gaiden is a franchise that is most known for the trilogy of games that were released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. In fact, I already reviewed those three games and they are the Ninja Gaiden games I am most familiar with and have spent the most time being frustrated over.

This version of Ninja Gaiden has similarities to the first NES game but it is a different beast altogether. This, being an arcade game, plays much more like what’s typical for that style.

Additionally, the graphics and sound are much better, as is the general mechanics and controls.

Instead of being a simple side scroller where one slash of your sword kills common enemies dead, this plays more like a beat’em up in the same vein as Double Dragon, Final Fight or Streets of Rage.

It’s a pretty well crafted game, I like the platforming in it and the fighting is pretty straightforward. The boss battles also aren’t anywhere near as difficult as they were in the NES games.

However, I do have one gripe and that’s the same gripe I have with several games in this style.

When you die, you go back to a checkpoint, as opposed to respawning on the screen like the better beat’em ups of the era. I always preferred this and I think other players did as well, which is why games like Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Final Fight soaked up quarters and this just never got as popular in arcades.

Kids wanted to always feel like they were progressing. Knocking them backwards, again and again, in a tough area just makes them want to play something else they feel like they can beat.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Ninja Gaiden games for the arcade, Nintendo and later consoles.

Video Game Review: Green Beret (Arcade)

Many of you that are my age probably haven’t played Green Beret, at least the original arcade version. However, I bet a lot of you have played it’s Nintendo port, which was retitled Rush’n Attack. It was a pretty popular game and it’s something I used to play for hours on end.

I actually didn’t know that Green Beret existed. It wasn’t in any of my local arcades and if it was, I overlooked it for some reason.

So having now played it, it’s pretty much exactly the same as the more familiar version, except the controls, the graphics and the sound are better. Not by a heck of a lot but it is noticeably better and smoother.

My issue with the game is that when you die, you respawn at a checkpoint, as opposed to reappearing on the same screen like an arcade beat’em up game. I think this was a mistake on Konami’s part, as it makes the game much harder and with that, it breeds more frustration, and with that it makes it less likely that players will continue to drop quarters in the machine if they feel like they aren’t advancing in any way.

I found the gameplay of Green Beret to be more difficult and faster than Rush’n Attack, a game I’ve learned to conquer fairly easy. I had some difficulty with this game and couldn’t advance enough in the final level. I ended up rage quitting in frustration with the intent of trying again in the near future.

All in all, this is a good, well-crafted game for its time but the checkpoint respawning just makes it more frustrating than it needs to be.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games of the classic arcade era or on the classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.