Too Much Free Time

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

Posts Tagged ‘Nintendo’

Donkey Kong

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 1, 2013

Donkey Kong is a platformer, released by Nintendo on 9 July 1981.


With the proto-platformer Space Panic and its clone Apple Panic out of the way, we can look at something a little more familiar. Though Donkey Kong clearly owes certain design elements to Space Panic, it adds the ability to jump. Without this ability, Space Panic plays more like a maze game than a modern platformer. Donkey Kong‘s kinship to modern platformers is clear.


Donkey Kong consists of four stages, which are presented differently depending on the port. To quote from Arcade-History:

The original Japanese version had all four stages displayed in their original, logical order 1-2-3-4.
For this US version, they changed it to match the ‘How High Can You Try/Get?’ theme, with the stage order as follows :
L-01 : 1-4
L-02 : 1-3-4
L-03 : 1-2-3-4 (as in all levels of the Japanese version)
L-04 : 1-2-1-3-4
L-05 : 1-2-1-3-1-4
L-06 through L-21 all remain the same as L-05
L-22 : 1 (Kill screen).

There are further differences on console and home computer ports of the game–and Donkey Kong has been ported many, many times.

Each stage has its own goal. In the first, it is necessary only to reach the top of the screen, where Pauline stands, dodging barrels and fireballs along the way. Other stages are more complicated.

Donkey Kong is quite good, for its age. The visuals and sound are simple, but attractive, and Jumpman’s movements are smooth and responsive.

It’s a fine game in its own right, but its influence on later games cannot be overstated. Donkey Kong certainly had some direct influence on later platformers, generally, but it also gave us two characters–Donkey Kong himself and Mario, initially called Jumpman–who would go on to greater glory. There were two more arcade games in the Donkey Kong series, Donkey Kong Junior and Donkey Kong 3, and Donkey Kong would go on to star in the Donkey Kong Country series of platformers, and make appearances in many other Nintendo games. Mario, of course, is the star of a massive and ever-growing series of his own, beginning with an arcade game, Mario Bros., and continuing in scores of games on every Nintendo console and handheld since.

Personally, I don’t care for this style of platformer much, but I feel indebted to Donkey Kong for the great games that came after. I’m planning to work my way through as many platformers as possible, so there’ll be plenty of both kinds, coming up.

Posted in 1981, Arcade, Full Review, Good, Platformer | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on March 30, 2009

Excitebike, released by Nintendo in November 1984 in Japan, and October 1985 in the US, is a classic racing game for the NES.

Two modes are available, Selection A and Selection B. In Selection A, you race against the clock, alone on any of five tracks.

You play the red motorcyclist, and must pass the required number of laps on each obstacle-strewn track before time runs out. If you fail to beat the third place time, you lose. Since you can select which track you want to play on, this isn’t such a big deal,though, and the early tracks are pretty easy.

The track consists of four lanes, which you can switch among with the up and down buttons. In addition to changing lanes, you have the choice of the slower or faster gear for your bike. The faster gear has an obvious advantage, but also a disadvantage: as you use the faster gear, your bike heats up, and if you keep it up too long, your bike will overheat, forcing you to wait on the sidelines until it cools off again. Using the slower gear will allow your bike to cool, as will running over arrows that appear on the track. As a result, much of the strategy involves knowing when to use the faster gear and when to take it slower. Use the right gear and avoid or manage the obstacles, and you shouldn’t have much trouble until the last two tracks.

In Selection B, you still must beat the clock but there’s an additional difficulty: other racers appear on the track.

The other racers don’t seem to be intelligent–they don’t seem to try to block you intentionally, but they do get in the way, and running into them can cause a crash, costing you precious seconds. This mode is a little more interesting than Selection A, because of the added difficulty, but play is basically the same. I’d suggest playing Selection A if you’re trying to get the best possible times, and Selection B if you just want to race.

In addition to the two play modes, there’s a design mode, which lets you select from the available obstacles to make your own track.

You can try to make some interesting tracks this way, and it’s a little amusing, but the inability to save means that it’s a bit of a waste to spend much time trying to make a really good track, since it’ll be gone when you power off the console. It’s not that there isn’t a save option–it’s right there on the menu, and will happily spend a few minutes claiming to save, but it’s intended for use with the Famicom Data Recorder, a cassette attachment which was never released outside of Japan. The rest of us are out of luck.

AI: 6/10
The computer-controlled racers provide a little extra challenge, and a little extra scenery, but it would have been nice if they were aggressive and tried to keep you from passing.
Gameplay: 8/10
The game controls smoothly, and it’s really quite fun. If it had more tracks and supported two players, it might get a perfect score. Even without these, Excitebike is an excellent racing game.
Graphics: 8/10
Ordinarily, I say you should never to anything 3D on the NES, but Excitebike pulls off the 3D obstacles very well–it’s easy to see how tall they are and what slope they’re at, which is the most important thing for this game. I can’t score this any higher, though, because the tracks are pretty bland, and the most variation we get on different tracks is a palette swap. Not bad, but they might have done a little more.
Sound: 4/5
I’m only counting this half since there’s no background music during the races, just sound effects. That said, what sound exists is not bad, but a little repetitive. Like Indy 500, the main sound we hear during the race is the constant roar of the engine. Unlike Indy 500, that is actually useful since you can tell how hot your bike is by the sound of the engine. It still gets a little old, but at least it’s functional.
Personal Slant: 10/10
Whatever shortcomings Excitebike has, it’s still quite a fun old game, and I have very fond memories of it. Especially given it’s age (it was one of the first NES games, 25 years ago), I can’t really find fault with it.
Total: 8/10
Fun fact: Excitebike fit on only 24K of ROM. By comparison, this review, together with the five screenshots it contains, takes up about 23K–just about the same size as the game that is its subject! There’s certainly a lot of excellent gaming packed in such a small size. This is one game that’s absolutely worth playing, and since I understand that it’s available on the Wii virtual console we all have the good fortune to be able to play it, even if we can’t find a working NES.

Posted in 1984, Driving, Full Review, Good, NES | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »


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 »