Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for October, 2008


Posted by Tracy Poff on October 28, 2008

Tetris, the classic falling blocks game, was released by Nintendo in November 1989.

Truly, Tetris needs no introduction. There are hundreds of implementations of this simple, yet challenging game. Nintendo’s 1989 offering for the NES is quite well-done.

There are few options. The player can choose between A-type and B-type games, and select which music should be played, if any.

The A-type game is simply pieces falling endlessly, with the goal being to obtain the highest score. The six types of pieces fall starting at the top of the screen, and proceed toward the bottom. While they are in the air, the player can move them left and right, rotate them, or cause them to drop more quickly. Some of the pieces are rarer than others, so it’s necessary to choose where the pieces are placed with care–you can’t count on a line appearing whenever you need it.

For every ten lines you complete, the game’s speed increases one level and the colors of the blocks change. The more lines you eliminate at once, the more points you get, with a Tetris (four lines removed) scoring the most points. You also score more points if you’re at a higher level–each line is worth ten times as much at level nine as it is at level zero, for example.

As the game progresses and the blocks fall faster, the game becomes much more difficult. If the blocks reach too high on the screen, the music will speed up as a warning. If the blocks reach the top of the screen, you lose.

The B-type game is similar to the A-type game, except that rather than playing endlessly, the goal is to remove 25 lines at a particular level, and with a set height of blocks added at the start. Now the lines count down, and the game ends upon removing all 25.

You’re given a score based on the level and height you selected, as well as the points accumulated while removing the lines.

If your score is high enough, you can enter your name on the high score table, and be known far and wide as a Tetris master–at least until you power off the console. I played this game a lot when I was younger, though I suppose I wasn’t that skilled at it–on a good game, I’d get about 110 lines, though I understand that experts can get over 200.

Though this is a fairly old game, it’s quite nice. The graphics are nice, clear, and colorful (though the color schemes for some of the levels are a bit ugly), the music is good, and the gameplay is simply excellent. The B-type game offers a nice, quick challenge if you’re in the mood, and the A-type is nice for slightly longer gaming sessions. Of course, there are many other versions of Tetris, which may be better or worse than this one (I hear that Tengen’s NES version is superior), but Nintendo’s Tetris is definitely worth playing.

Personal Slant

Posted in 1989, Falling Blocks, Full Review, Good, NES | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on October 27, 2008

Pinball was released by Nintendo in February 1984 in Japan and October 1985 in the US, and, as the name suggests, is a simple pinball game.

Pinball features two pinball screens and a bonus screen. An extra ball is awarded for every 50,000 points, and the flipper becomes invisible while your score is between 100,000 and 150,000 points. Each screen has a way to place a block post between the flippers to prevent your ball from falling, and several special ways to get large amounts of points.

After releasing the plunger, the ball goes to the top screen, and falls through one of the three lanes to score 500 or 1,000 points.

Putting the ball through the green lane on the right causes the penguins in the center to act like a slot machine, and hitting the moving pink slot target will cause them to stop on either 3, 7, or a penguin. Matching them scores points and causes a block post to appear between the flippers.

Putting the ball through the upper left lane causes the seals to bounce balls on their noses, activating the 100 point bumper in the middle. Between this and the dots filling that lane, this scores 2,800 points.

The counter at the upper left awards the shown number of points when it is hit, increasing each time by 100 points, up to a maximum of 1,000 points. It resets when you put the ball through the left lane.

The four targets on the left award a 1,000 point bonus when you hit them all. The hole on the lower right only kicks the ball back if you fall in it; the ball exits from that hole when leaving the bonus screen.

Falling from the top screen doesn’t lose the ball, but rather drops it to the bottom screen.

On the bottom screen, there are a few features of note. Passing through the lanes at the top flips over the cards. When all the cards are flipped, a 5,000 point bonus is awarded, and a block post appears between the flippers.

Hitting all seven of the targets on the left awards a 1,000 point bonus, and removes the pink bars on the right, allowing you to relaunch the ball.

The three eggs above the flippers hatch when hit once, disappear when hit again, and turn back to eggs when you pass over them a third time. Causing all three eggs to be hatched at the same time adds stoppers to the outlanes. Between this and the cards, it is possible to keep the ball quite safe, though these stoppers do disappear once they are hit once.

Finally, the hole in the upper right leads to the bonus stage.

In the bonus stage, you control Mario. You’re supposed to run beneath the ball to bounce it back up, rather like breakout. Unlike breakout, though, the floor beneath the girl shrinks when the column of lights beneath it are turned the same color. The colors change whenever the ball rolls over them. When the floor disappears, the girl falls, and you must catch her and allow her to walk off to the left or right. Doing so awards you 10,000 points and restarts the bonus level. The level ends if the ball falls to the sides, which causes it to pop out of the hole on the top screen, or the girl falls without you catching her, which will cost you your ball.

That’s the whole game! The difference between the A and B games is that the ball is heavier in the B games, making them more challenging. It’s a fairly simple game, but it’s pretty well done. The controls are pretty good and the graphics aren’t bad. There’s no music in the game, but the sound effects are nice. I’d say that if you like pinball games, this one is worth a try. It lacks the accurate physics and detail of later pinball games, but it’s still a fun diversion.

Gameplay: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound/Music: 6/10
Personal Slant: 8/10
Overall: 7.25/10

(An FAQ by Luke Jozwiak provided the details on the point values.)

Posted in 1984, Full Review, Good, NES, Pinball | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

First Impressions: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: DragonStrike

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 13, 2008

DragonStrike is a fantasy shoot-em-up set in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Universe, developed by Westwood Associates and published in July 1992 by Pony Canyon.

When the game opens, you select the type of dragon to play (Bronze, Silver, or Gold), each of which has different attributes (speed and armor) and attacks (each dragon has two). Having selected the type of dragon to play, you are presented with a map, with icons for each mission you undertake.

As far as I can tell, the missions must be completed in order, so the map only serves as a progress indicator. Despite there being only twelve icons, the description on MobyGames indicates that there are more than twelve missions, though I didn’t advance far enough to see if this was true.

On to the main event, then. For the first mission, we are instructed:

You first mission is to engage three white dragon scouts.

May your ambition propel you to victory.

The first thing to note about this game is that the controls are rather different from shooters like Abadox or 1943; it rather reminds me of Zone 66, a later freeform shooter for DOS. Rather than the d-pad moving your dragon, left and right turn you, and you always fly forward and a constant rate. Up and down cause you to rise or lower in the air, which is necessary for attacking some enemies. Note, though, that when you are low in the air, obstacles on the ground (like the trees in the above screencap) will harm you, while you can fly right over them when you’re higher up.

The white dragon scouts shown above are not the only enemies, although in the first level the other enemies (catapults and archers) are land-based. Once you defeat the enemy dragons, the mission is complete, and you are free to fly off the top of the map to continue to the next mission.

The next mission is to destroy a fleet of ships and a kraken. The first part proceeds basically the same way the first mission did: destroy the boats and either destroy the other enemies or avoid their attacks. After this first part is complete, though, we see the first boss, the kraken.

It is only vulnerable from below, but a few well-placed attacks will take care of it. I found that it was possible to get into the right position, then just hold left to fly in circles, which was enough to avoid its attacks, and fire off a shot every time I came around.

The next level is a swamp, and we’re instructed to slay the black dragon which lies therein. I didn’t bother to go beyond this point, since the game seems to be pretty much the same thing with different graphics for each mission.

I have only one major issue with this game. My dragon initially fires two attacks, side by side, which will miss smaller enemies if you’re attacking straight on. Since the dragon moves constantly and you must avoid enemy fire, that can make it a little difficult to aim–it can be necessary to come around several times before you get the aiming right, though that might be mitigated by a bit of practice.

Despite the issue with aiming, I think the game is fairly well done. It might get boring after a while, but for the few minutes I played, it seemed pretty enjoyable. The fantasy setting was a nice change from the usual sci-fi settings of shooters. The graphics weren’t too bad for an NES game, though the music leaves much to be desired.

Overall, I’d say the game is worth a shot. There are some better shooters, but if you’re looking for a change, DragonStrike won’t disappoint you.

Posted in Decent, First Impressions, Freeform Shooter, NES | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »