Video Game Review: Bad Dudes (NES)

If you don’t like 8-bit, 2D, side scrolling, beat’em up video games, you’re probably lame.

Bad Dudes was one of the best. I preferred the arcade version, as it was graphically superior but the home console version for the Nintendo Entertainment System was still a hell of a lot of fun. Especially, with that 64 lives code. It’s pretty damn hard without that.

While I would consider the original Double Dragon a superior game, this one had the benefit of ninjas and the title character of the video game Karnov as one of its bosses.

All the boss battles in this were pretty unique and fun though. The only weak one was probably the second level boss, which was just a tiny midget dude that has claws like Vega from Street Fighter II.

This game has solid levels for the genre. None of them are designed great but you go from the city streets, to fighting on the top of moving semi trucks and trains, into the sewers, out into the country and finally into a big warehouse full of ninjas and all the bosses you already beat.

Some games can be simple and work and that’s exactly what Bad Dudes is. You walk, you punch, you kick and you steal weapons from ninjas you kick the crap out of. What’s not to love?

Rating: 8.75/10
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: Gyromite (NES)

Gyromite was the first game that I ever played for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Back in the day, it was originally packaged with the console before the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo cartridge was the norm.

The game was also unique in that if you played it solo, you had to use R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy), a peripheral that came with the earliest versions of the system. R.O.B. sort of failed as a concept and with it, Gyromite faded into obscurity but the experience of playing the game and using a friggin’ robot pretty much blew my seven year-old mind in 1986.

R.O.B.’s long-term failure probably had to do with the fact that you could only use the peripheral with just two games. But, at least R.O.B. proved to be a marketing success, as many kids wanted the console that came with a robot and without R.O.B. and Gyromite, Nintendo might not have become the powerhouse that they did.

Playing this game now is kind of difficult. You have to have a second player or if you are playing it on an emulator, you need to set up the Player 2 controls in a way that it makes it easy for a single player to control the hero in the game, as well as the moving pipes.

This is an action puzzle game, which was something that Nintendo (and many of its regular third party developers) were superb at developing.

It starts out pretty tame and easy but the game gets seriously difficult as you progress. It’s damn hard playing it on an emulator where you have to basically work with two different controller sets via keyboard.

Still, revisiting this was entertaining and it definitely filled my mind up with some strong nostalgia. It truly is a product of the ’80s and it still works well for what it is, even if the dual controller situation makes it a bit awkward to play.

But in the game’s defense, it was made to be played with your friends or siblings. It’s a tandem, multiplayer game that requires solid teamwork and communication to make it work. That’s not a bad concept.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other action puzzle games for NES: Solomon’s Key, Marble Madness, Clu Clu Land, Lode Runner and Burger Time.

Video Game Review: Ghosts ‘n Goblins (NES)

This would have been one of the greatest NES games ever if it wasn’t so f’n hard! No, seriously. This game makes me want to headbutt an axe.

It doesn’t help things that if you get hit twice, you’re dead. It also doesn’t help things that the majority of the enemies swarm you, move quickly and follow your movements. And you can’t really run most of them off of the screen if you dodge them and keep going.

Another issue with this game is that the mechanics are brutally difficult. Your jumps are short and quick and you can’t go very high. Also, good luck having the controllers respond in any sort of consistent way when you have to jump from moving platforms. Going up and down ladders? Also a mechanical clusterfuck.

Yet, for decades, I haven’t been able to stop playing this game. Because with all the frustration and madness that this pushes up from the darkest parts of my soul, Ghosts ‘n Goblins is just so cool.

I love the music in this game, I love the look and tone of it and at least it came out in an era where we still got games with codes and the level select option made this a lot more fun, even if after level 2, I’m basically dead f’n meat.

The boss fights are really tough but none of the bosses are unbeatable. Working your way through levels full of little flying demons, shitty ladders and moving platforms seems to be more difficult for me than the actual boss fights. Although the big winged demons in the last few levels are a real bitch. And that dragon takes so damn long to kill.

Strangely, defeating Lucifer, the final boss, is one of the easiest tasks in the game. But when you kill his blue demon ass, it’s still really damn satisfying.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins has some strange magical hold over its fans. For something that makes you angry as hell, it still brings you a lot of joy. It’s hard to explain but at the same time, maybe that only works for people that have a lot of nostalgia for the game.

But I’ve never played something so frustrating that still calls me back to it, fairly often, over thirty years later.

This isn’t as frustrating as Silver Surfer for the NES, though. And I never have the urge to go back and play that one other than to remind myself why I hate the shit out of it.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other games in this series, especially the original arcade version. Also, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest for similar themes and bouts of madness trying to play through it.

Video Game: X-Men (Arcade)

Kids of the ’90s know this game. Well, assuming that they had a video arcade near them and were into the X-Men at the height of their ’90s popularity.

This game was originally presented in a double-wide arcade cabinet with two screens and room for six players at the same time. I used to love playing this and I always hoped for a version of it that I could play at home. But it wasn’t until about ten years ago that this was ported and released for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Store.

The home version isn’t as exciting, as I don’t have six people to play this with or even six controls but playing through it on my own or with a friend or two is still quite a lot of fun.

This is a standard 2D, side scrolling, beat’em up game. Those were super popular back in the late ’80s and early ’90s with games like Double DragonFinal Fight, the arcade version of Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesStreets of Rage, the sister game to this one: Captain American and the Avengers, as well as a slew of others. I loved this genre of video games and could never get enough of them. In 2018, I wish side scrolling beat’em ups still populated the marketplace.

For the time, this had solid graphics, great sound, easy gameplay and it was addicting as hell. You didn’t care how many quarters it took, it was hard to leave the arcade without beating this on a playthrough each visit.

The game came out around the same time as the popular X-Men cartoon series. It wasn’t based on that, however. The game was actually designed after the pilot episode of a failed X-Men animated series from a few years earlier. Now that pilot was popular when it VHS, I rented it a lot, but the game sort of exists as an expansion to what probably would have been a solid cartoon series.

You have six playable X-Men characters in this: Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Dazzler. Professor X and Kitty Pryde also show up. The villains also have an impressive roster with Magneto, Mystique, Juggernaut, Emma Frost, Nimrod, Pyro, the Blob and Wendigo. It would’ve been nice to have Sabretooth though.

I still enjoy the hell out of this game and play through it on my PS3 about once a year. Nowadays, it doesn’t cost quarters and I can run through it in about a half an hour.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Captain America and the Avengers arcade game, Spider-Man for Sega Genesis and Maximum Carnage.

Video Game Review: Black Tiger (Arcade)

I’ll be honest, I barely remembered Black Tiger but once playing it in a Capcom classic arcade pack, it came back to me. I then remembered that this game was a huge pain in the ass but at least you could always continue at a spot pretty close to where you died. It was at least more forgiving in that regard than Ghosts & Goblins.

I was also reminded that this game was very similar to Data East’s Karnov, which I loved. Playing this now, it’s still a pretty fun game but I still love Karnov more.

This game isn’t super hard but once you get to the higher level bosses, it really becomes a pain in the ass. The amount of continues I used was astronomical and I would’ve probably spent a paycheck playing through this and beating it in the arcade.

I love the look, feel and sound of the game but the mechanics are pretty clunky. In fact, what made a lot of the boss battles hard were the controls.

It was also difficult trying to figure out what to buy in the store. This has a sort of RPG style to how you buy and use items in the game but I didn’t know what half the icons were supposed to be and I felt that they could have been clearer on store items.

For a seasoned gamer and someone who is much more versed in this game, it can probably be blown through in under a half hour. Hell, there’s a speed run below that took less than 11 minutes. For me, it took several hours and probably a hundred continues to get through this.

But that’s also what I miss about gaming in the ’80s; shit was actually hard. You had to really work for it and develop a unique skill set for every game.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Karnov, Altered Beast, the Ghosts & Goblins series and the Golden Axe series.

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation)

There are lots of great video games over all consoles and platforms, spanning five decades. Few, however, are actual masterpieces. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of those rare masterpieces.

I can’t say a bad thing about this game. I love it wholeheartedly and playing it in 2018 made me weep for myself, as I haven’t replayed through it enough over the years. This experience though, has assured me that it is something I’ll have to play through over a weekend every couple of years. Man, I really enjoyed stepping back into this for the first time in over ten years. It also made me feel the sense of excitement and awe that I had for it when I first bought it and took it home in 1997.

I have always been a fan of the original three Castlevania games and this takes the best elements of the original trilogy of titles, mixes them together and pushes away all the negative parts.

While most people don’t like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, I always adored that game and how ambitious it was for the time. That ambition and it’s RPG like style mostly just upset people that wanted it to be more like its predecessor. But Symphony of the Night borrows the RPG elements, throws them in here and presents it all as something closer to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which was a much better version of the style of the original game.

Like Simon’s Quest, you have to round up pieces of Dracula’s body in order to fight him. And also like Simon’s Quest, you have the freedom to go where you please and obtaining certain items unlocks access to new areas.

The thing is, and most Americans in 1997 didn’t know this, but Symphony of the Night is actually a direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which didn’t come out in the States until later and was then renamed Dracula X. I’ve never played Rondo of Blood but now I want to after revisiting this. Rumor has it, that a version of it is being released for PlayStation 4 soon.

Anyway, apart from this tapping hard into Simon’s Quest, I also love how many firggin’ boss fights you get in this game. There are bosses everywhere in the castle. It’s like you can’t go ten minutes without encountering another boss to fight. What’s also great though, is that the classic bosses return, as well. You get to fight the Grim Reaper, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy and Medusa. You even get the annoying hunchbacks, the pain in the ass gillmen and the mindless zombies, as well as so many other regular enemies that every section of this game is new and fresh.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is absolute perfection in an artistic and interactive medium where such feats are incredibly hard to achieve. Kudos to Konami, as this is one of the best games the studio ever produced and my favorite in the great Castlevania series.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The original Castlevania trilogy for NES, Super Castlevania IV for SNES, the Gameboy Castlevania games and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (also known as Dracula X).

Video Game Review: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES)

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse was really f’n cool when it first came out because of one reason, you could play as Alucard, the son of Dracula.

Well, you could play as a few characters but Alucard was just badass and you could turn into a bat and fly through certain areas. But each character had their own special purpose.

Most importantly though, this returned to the game style of the original Castlevania, which most people wanted after the more complex, tougher and RPG-like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I am of the minority that loves that second game though, even if it’s a favorite classic NES title that people love to shit on. Those people are just simple minded and can’t solve more complex problems and puzzles though.

Anyway, Castlevania III is back to basics with some added flourish in the form of the characters Alucard, Sypha Belnades and Grant Danasty. Your main character is Trevor C. Belmont, as opposed to Simon Belmont, as this game is actually a prequel set a few hundred years earlier.

And while it does return to the formula of the first game, it branches out and is more creative, as it allows you to make choices that effect the game. You can choose different paths and the game has different endings based off of what you do along the way.

This allowed the game to have long lasting replayability. As different people beat it in different ways, kids talking on the playground came to realize that they needed to try different things in order to see the various finales. And this is back in the era when beating a game was a massive undertaking, especially since it typically had to be done in a single sitting. Castlevania III monopolized many summer vacation afternoons.

This is just a solid chapter in a solid series what was fun to play and exciting because of the options within the game. It really was a step forward in gameplay and storytelling evolution.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The other NES Castlevania games: the original Castlevania and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, also PlayStation’s epic sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.