When I was at PAX last weekend, among the numerous items I bought included a small stack of NES games and a console to play them on. With the old NES still tucked away in storage at my parents' house, I haven't had a chance to play anything from my 8-bit library for a very long time, and so I decided to start my collection afresh with some games I came across at the show. Most of the games I bought aren't exactly great, but I knew that going in. Besides, none of the NES games I bought cost more than maybe nine bucks. So there's that.
I won't go over all of the games that I bought. Tetris is still Tetris, after all, and if you don't know what that is by now, I don't know what to tell you.
Shadowgate is one of the few games, aside from Tetris, that I bought at the show that I had actually played before. The game is a graphic adventure of the old school. A step or two up from the basic text adventure game, the game asks you to wander around a castle in first person, static screen by static screen. Your actions are presented in a list, and the gameplay is largely comprised of collecting items and knowing when, where, and how to use them at the proper moment. Also, avoiding the game's numerous deathtraps. This game will eat you alive if you're unprepared. And in addition to the things you'd normally have to worry about in other games, like fire-breathing dragons, evil wizards, and precariously fragile ledges with pots of gold, there are the torches.
Yes, torches. At the top of the menu screen are a pair of torches that gradually dim over time before going out. If they both go out, you are screwed. Also, dead. Not necessarily in that order. How do you avoid this fate? By pretty much taking every torch off every wall you see and keeping them in your inventory. Then, when your lights need a boost, pop into the menu and add their torchlight radiance to your own. Or something. It's a puzzling game.
On the other hand, it's not nearly as terrifying as Uninvited.
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
You kids know those Etrian Odyssey games you like so much? You ever play a Shin Megami Tensei game? How about The Dark Spire? You know what they all all have in common? Wizardry. It is their great-great-grandfather, and it will kick your ass so hard that you could chew your own colon afterwards. That means making an adventuring party, entering a dungeon, barely surviving your first few battles, running back for the entrance...oh, wait. You're lost. You forgot to bring graph paper, you soft, entitled, Call of Duty-playing piece of shit. Your iron sights and moronic racist taunts won't save you now! HAHAHAHAHAHA...ahem.
But yeah, this game is a challenge. And it is old-school dungeon crawl to its very core, from the method of building a party through the first-person dungeon exploration. You want to play the game with a quartet of hobbit thieves? Sure, you can do that. Don't expect to live very long, though. Also, bring graph paper. You'll need it.
Shingen the Ruler
Now, Shingen the Ruler is pretty much impenetrable, and that's not entirely the game's fault. It's a strategy game not entirely unlike an early Romance of the Three Kingdoms or Nobunaga's Ambition, which in the era it was produced meant being incredibly dense with menus. So, if you don't have an instruction manual, it's going to be slow going. Though, for whatever reason, the label on the NES cartridge actually features a legend that defines the various menu item abbreviations. A nice touch, except that back in the day when this game was published, there was no top-loading NES, meaning that you could not read it while playing the game. How is this useful, again?
My experience was also soured a bit by the state of the cartridge, which converted the title screen music into nothing less than a screeching hymn of the damned. But to be fair, here's a clip of some gameplay made by someone that:
A. Knows what they're doing, and
B. Doesn't have a game cartridge that had been touched by Satan at some point in its life.
Kabuki: Quantum Fighter
What in the flying fuck is going on here? Let's take a look at this again. A computer virus takes over Earth's defense systems and threatens to go Skynet and annihilate everyone and everything. The best possible solution to this scenario is to stick a soldier into an untested device designed to convert the human mind into binary data. Sort of like Tron, and Tron is pretty cool.
But this is not Tron. This is Kabuki: Quantum Fighter. Rather than get decked out in glowing neon spandex, the psyche of our hero, Colonel Scott O'Connor, takes the form of a Japanese kabuki actor. Now this just sounds vaguely like a Troma filmthat was released the year before. Hmm.
Anyway, how does our intrepid kabuki hero kabuki kill his enemies? With his long, red mane of kabuki hair. Seriously, there's more head-banging in this game than most heavy metal concerts. All of this insanity aside, however, the game is actually not terrible. And though I still have yet to get beyond the first stage, I'd hesitantly call it good by the standards of early '90s action platformers. I mean, don't get me wrong, the game is completely ridiculous. But it's a game on a console popularized by a rotund Italian in overalls that eats mushrooms to grow huge and save a princess from a fire-breathing turtle. In that regard, Kabuki: Quantum Fighter's premise is actually par for the course.
There is one reason and one reason only that I bought Dragon Power, and it's not because of the gameplay (which is pretty crap). It's because it's a Dragon Ball game in a ridiculously thin disguise. Sort of like putting on glasses and pretending you're not Superman. Except that those that know better aren't stupid enough to believe it. Dragon Power is more or less a history lesson on censorship and localization in the NES era. The game was released well before anything Dragon Ball had become popular in the west, so Bandai decided to strip out all of the Dragon Ball-ness by changing names, giving Goku a shorter haircut and a Karate Kid bandana, and transforming Master Roshi's perverted desire for panties into a desire for sandwiches (which arguably is even more perverted).
It's the sort of ridiculous localization that thankfully just doesn't happen that often anymore. Not that I'm really clamoring to play a properly localized version of Dragon Power. It's a pretty bad game. Clunky controls and poor combat would doom this game to obscurity if it weren't for its translation asking you to bring Master Roshi all the sandwiches you can find.