Monday, June 27, 2011

Burger Time (NES Game)

Burger Time is one of the all-time greatest single scree platformers. You are Peter Pepper, a short order cook who needs to make a bunch of burgers. Sounds simple enough. It would be simple if it weren't for the mortal enemies of short order cooks: hot dogs, fried eggs, and pickles. These enemies will chase you all over the screen in an attempt to thwart your burger making ways. Your only defenses are your street smarts and the few pepper shakers you have with you. Pepper is like a taser to eggs, hot dogs, and pickles. It will knock them out for a while and you can go about your burger making ways. Here's a handy tip, if you send an enemy down with a burger piece you're dropping, it will drop faster and farther.

The paragraph above describes Burger Time in general. I own the game on several systems. The NES version does have a few drawbacks. First of all, the ladders are poorly animated. Sometimes it's hard to tell if a ladder goes all the way up because it looks like it has a split in the middle. Also, the enemies don't get progressively harder. You just play through the levels and when they start repeating, your enemies will suddenly be super fast. It seems a bit unfair. One last thing: the death jingle. When you die, the music makes it sound like you accomplished something. It's a little fanfare. It's just not appropriate death music. Oh, and sometimes it's hard to tell if you've reached a platform yet. You'll find yourself over the platform or under it on the ladder and pressing over won't do anything even though it looks like you're right on the platform. These are nit-picky things, but since I own and have played several versions of this game, I have to pick some nits.

With all my gripes, I still really enjoy this game. It's the same classic platforming action that turned the arcade game into a franchise ported on multiple systems. Warts and all, this is still a very enjoyable game and one of my personal favorites. I'm giving it a solid...

Bump n' Jump (NES Game)

Bump n' Jump was a fairly old arcade title when it showed up on the NES. It had already been ported on the Atari 2600, Intellivision, and Commodore 64 before it showed up in Nintendo form. That being the case, this is still one of the best versions of Bump n' Jump if not the best (did you say it "thee best" in your head? Good).

Bump n' Jump is a simple driving game. You make your way along the road trying not to get bumped into a wall by the other drivers. You can bump them into a wall, or even jump and smash them from above. It's very satisfying to destroy enemy cars. In the beginning of the game, you'll see a car drive off as someone screams, "Help me!" One can only assume, as it is with oh so many other classic games, that your girl has been kidnapped. As you make your way along the many highways and byways (say it like Jimmy Pardo) you'll eventually come to the car that took your girl. Pounce on it a bunch of times and you'll set your little lady free. The end.

As a fairly simple game, I can't rate Bump n' Jump too highly, especially when you consider the fact that it's a late title in the NES library. It is a fun game, and I enjoyed playing. I feel comfortable giving it...

Bubble Bobble (NES Game)

Bubble Bobble is a great little single screen maze shooter that actually has an ending! You are an adorable little dragon (or are you? Play it to the end and find out!) who shoots bubbles. You shoot your enemies with your bubbles, which traps them. Once your enemy is trapped, you have to touch him again to kill him. Once killed, he'll drop off some prize or another that you can pick up for points. Most of the prizes are food items.

So what sorts of enemies do bubble shooting dragons fight? As if I have to tell you. Of course it's little robots, whales, Grimace, springy bees, helicopter hippos, space invaders, ghosts, and Link from the Zelda games. Oh, and the main boss is a duck with a walking stick. Did I mention that this game is a little weird? It is.

So Bubble Bobble has 100 levels (not counting secret levels), and many of them are pretty easy to blast through while some will give you fits. The levels don't necessarily get harder as you go along. Some early levels are pretty hard and some of the levels in the 60's are super easy because all your enemies drop in a straight line and can be blasted almost before they land.

Before I go one for way too long, here's the skinny. The gameplay is simple and great. The music is cute the first time you hear it, but it will repeat approximately 3,000 times if you play the game all the way through and you'll eventually hate it. All of the levels are interesting and well-designed, and your enemies each present their own little challenges. The only beef I have with the game is this: if you play all 100 levels by yourself, you'll get the bad ending. You have to beat the game with a friend to get the good ending. So good luck finding someone willing to play through 100 levels of Bubble Bobble with you. Anyway, the game is enjoyable even if you can't get the good ending by yourself. It's one of the best single screen maze shooters you'll ever see, so it deserves a very good score of...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Boulder Dash (NES Game)

Boulder Dash is a game I already knew well because I've played it a billion times or so on my trusty rusty Atari 800XL. The major difference between the NES version and the Atari version is that your character in the NES version is a little miner while the Atari version features a little alien. The NES version also features a Super Mario 3 style stage selection screen. Aside from that it's basically the same game with slightly better graphics.

Boulder Dash is a classic maze game. Your little miner must dig his way around the screen picking up diamonds and avoiding falling boulders and other hazards. All it takes is one accidental death to figure out what will and won't bring boulders down on your head and you'll pretty much have the gameplay figured out. Like Bomberman, this is a really simple game. While it doesn't push the limits of the NES, it's enjoyable to play. I think my fondness for the Atari version of this game makes me enjoy the NES version a little less. There's really nothing wrong with the game, but it doesn't really stand out as one of the best things the NES can offer. Boulder Dash gets...

Bomberman (NES Game)

Many people know Bomberman on later systems as one of the all-time greatest multi-player games. Bomberman on the NES is a single player game only, but it features the same gameplay as the other versions of the game. Basically you're a a guy fighting...I dunno...99 Luftballons. The balloons will kill you if you touch them, as will the blast from your bomb which projects, barring any obstacles, one square in each direction. It takes good timing to kill your enemies, because once they are more than one square away from your bomb, they are free and clear.

Bomberman is a simple game. The gameplay is simple and easy to pick up, the music is simple yet catchy, and your enemy's patterns are simple and fairly easy to predict. There isn't much variation, but if you enjoy the first level, you'll enjoy the rest of the game. Bomberman is a classic, and a game you should definitely own on some system or another. I would actually recommend later versions of this game, such as the excellent Super Bomberman on the SNES, over the original. That being the case, I can't give Bomberman more than...


So an interesting thing happened with X-Men comics that I haven't talked about yet: they changed big time. Looking back at the history of the series, it almost didn't make it past 66 issues. Despite the fact that the stories got really good around issue #30 (not that they were bad before, but they picked up in a big way around the 30th issue or so. The stories became a lot more engaging and the action a lot more gripping) and kept at that high level all the way to issue#66, sales were apparently slow. So from 1970 to 1975 there were no new X-Men comics. Marvel periodically reprinted old issues during this time, but until Giant Size X-Men, there was no new X-Men material. From the looks of it, the series was all but dead.

Giant Size X-Men really gave the series the shot in the arm it needed, but it also brought a whole bunch of changes, some I knew were coming and some I didn't. All in all, Giant Size X-Men is crucial and fascinating. But before I go dropping a number of Stan Lees on it, let's talk about the changes, mainly...

The addition of several new X-Men. This is where things get awesome because we get to meet a couple of my very favorite X-Men. The new additions to the team are as follows (in order of appearance): Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Banshee (although we'd met him before, this is his first appearance as an official member of The X-Men), Storm, Sunfire, Colossus, and Thunderbird. The addition of Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Storm is a very welcome one. I was biting my nails waiting for them to join up. I really didn't know anything about Colossus before he joined the team, but he's quickly becoming one of my very favorite X-Men. Sunfire is a pain in the butt because he still has this WWII era Japanese loyalism and is inherently distrustful of Americans (Colossus is a Ruskie, but you don't hear him complaining about working in the US of A). He doesn't stick around with the X-Men past this issue, which is fine by me. Thunderbird is an even bigger pain in the butt than Sunfire. It's all too fitting that he dies because I was getting pretty tired of his antics. Also, I never got a sense of what Thunderbird's power was. It might have been super strength, but it's never stated or clearly implied. I could take or leave Banshee. He has pretty cool powers, but this Irish "faith an' begorah" crap is getting on my nerves a little. Also, he has the face of an Irish cop in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. It seems vaguely racist. Anyway, the addition of new X-Men is a breath of fresh air. The intrigue brought by Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Storm alone probably saved the series.

Also, immediately following Giant-Size X-men, most of the original X-Men pack up and leave. I know that most of them will be back within a few issues, but their departure gives a chance to really meet the new X-Men and get to know their stories and personalities.

The story of Giant-Size X-Men is basically ok. They're looking for an extremely powerful mutant on this remote island, only to find out that the mutant is the island (I'm experimenting with italics for emphasis instead of bold type, which seems intrusive). It's the sort of thing that would sound really dumb if you sat someone down to explain it to them, but that doesn't mean it's a bad story (Try and explain Lost to someone who's never seen an episode sometime. It'll make you sound like a crazy person). Like I said, the story is ok. It's not as spectacular as you'd expect when you consider the fact that they had to call in extra help.

Anyway, I feel like I'm rambling, which usually means I have nothing else of note to say (do I ever have anything of note to say?). So I'd best wrap this up. Because Giant-Size X-Men revitalized the nearly dead corpse of the X-Men franchise, and because it introduced the world to 4 new stellar characters, how can I give it less than...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bionic Commando (NES Game)

Bionic Commando is a pretty unique game as NES games go. It's a platformer in which your character can't jump. He has a bionic arm that can be used to grapple and swing from platform to platform. The bionic arm is easy to learn and fun to use. It adds an extra special something to the game.

Now here's a fun fact I didn't know before: the original Japanese version of this game was all about the main character taking down Hitler. In the US version, the Nazi themes are played down so much they're hardly noticeable. Check out the side-by-side of the two versions below:

The one on the left is the Japanese version which clearly shows swastikas. The one on the right is the American version which shows a black bird, possibly an eagle. Although the black eagle was a symbol used by Nazis, it's not exclusive to Nazism, which makes it ok for Americans to play in some odd inexplicable way. Seriously, when this game came out the original Castle Wolfenstein was already 7 years old and that game is rife with Nazi killin' fun.

Leaving the Nazi connection aside, it must be stated that Bionic Commando is one of the most fun games in the NES catalogue. The levels are well-designed and the gameplay is simple and addictive. After a few grapples, you'll find that you love your bionic arm. Your weapons and other items are interesting and all have their benefits. Oh, and the game is actually more fun if you tell yourself that you're killing Nazis and eventually Hitler.

You'll move your way through the stage selection screen, ordering your helicopter where to move or drop you. There are enemy zones where you'll meet a ton of danger and communicate with allied operatives along the way. You can also wire-tap enemy comminiques, which might give you added info but might also get you killed. There are also neutral zones where no shots may be fired without inciting an incident more dangerous than anything in the enemy zones. The neutral zones are often filled with information vital to your missions. In addition to the regular mode of play, there is an overhead mode that you'll enter any time you come across an enemy convoy. The overhead mode is a lot like Commando or Ikari Warriors and is yet another attractive addition to this game.

The main question is this: with all that Bionic Commando offers, is it up there with the very greatest the NES can offer (your Super Mario 3's, your Metroids, your Zeldas)? I have to say yes. So much of greatness is based on gameplay and replayability and Bionic Commando has both in spades. I have played through this cartridge many times and I feel it deserves to be up there with the very best. No question, Bionic Commando gets the full...

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (the movie)

Do you like your movies to be visually appealing? If so, run don't walk to see Scott Pilgrim vs The World. it will leave your eye sockets smoldering and empty due to an overflow of enticing visual stimuli. I'm not kidding, this movie assumes you have ADD and splashes cool effect after cool effect on the screen in an attempt to be your visual Ritalin. Prepare yourself, get into the right frame of mind before you see this. Maybe I'm hyping it a bit much. Who cares? I love this movie and I don't care who knows it.

I watched this movie right before I broke down and started reading comics, so that probably factors into my review somewhere. I dunno, I'm the guy who can't listen to anything other than the original London cast singing Les Miserables because it's the first version I heard. Even though Colm Wilkinson is Jean Valjean in most of the other soundtracks, he doesn't sing the songs in the exact same way and my OCD mind can't take it. So there's that.

Spoiler Alert in effect, even though I have no idea what I'm going to write

Anyway, let's talk about the first way in which the movie totally nailed it as an adaptation of the graphic novel: casting. The importance of good casting in an adaptation cannot be overstated. There are a billion fanboys in the world that always try to make up fictitious casts for movie versions of whatever it is they love (Google it and see if I'm lying. I dare you). These attempts at casting are usually flawed and here's why: they put too much emphasis on whether or not the person looks like the role they'll play and not enough on whether or not they can actually play the role. Hollywood makes this mistake as well. How much better would the Get Smart remake have been if they had gotten actual actors for the roles of Agents 99 and 23 (you heard me, Anne Hathaway fans)? Anne Hathaway is no Barbara Feldon. Barbara Feldon played Agent 99 as both quirky and attractive. There's a certain "girl next door" charm to Barbara Feldon. The only person who comes to mind as a Barbara Feldon type is Amanda Bynes, but she's a little too young (Now I'm doing fake casting. Sheesh). Oh, and The Rock is a horrible actor outside of throwaway summer action flicks (actually, he's a horrible actor in those movies too, but it's more defensible because we don't expect Oscar caliber acting in action flicks. It's the reason Sylvester Stallone has had a career outside of Rocky) Anyway, I've spent waaaay too much time talking about how the casting for Get Smart was botched and not enough on why the casting for Scott Pilgrim was great. Let's take it down a paragraph, shall we?

So the casting for Scott Pilgrim was perfect. Not only did the actors in the movie look like the characters from the graphic novel (almost to a disturbing degree at times. Like Alison Pill as Kim. Even her facial expressions were the same in the movie as they were in the book. It's eerie) they act like the characters from the graphic novel. I am using bold too many times to emphasize words. Every single one of the actors carries their part well. There just isn't any dead weight in the cast. Michael Cera is a perfect Scott Pilgrim. You just can't do any better than Jason Schwatzman as Gideon. And where did they get the brilliant idea to dig up Kieran Culkin as Wallace? That was pretty inspired. Anyway, there is not dead weigh in this cast. It's one of the best casting jobs I've ever seen in any adaptation. It's Heath Ledger as The Joker good.

Casting aside, I believe I mentioned that this film is the visual equivalent of one of those oversized caramel apples with the nuts and the extra caramel dripping down the sides. Seriously, I have never seen a film that felt so much like a comic book. You have to see it to know what I mean, but this movie is riddled with effects lifted right from the pages of the graphic novel. It's really a wonder to behold. I felt the same way in watching this movie as I did the first time I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou (a movie I still love and hold quite dear). I found myself saying, "I can't believe someone thought of telling a story this way." It just felt fresh and exciting, which is what a good movie should be.

Then there's the issue of the music. Music played such a big role in the graphic novel. Not only are tabs and lyrics included in the book itself, Bryan Lee O'Malley includes playlists of songs he feels mesh with the characters and events portrayed in Scott Pilgrim. I have to say that despite hefty expectations, the movie doesn't miss a beat with the music. I do admit that Sex Bob-omb won't have me rushing out to buy the soundtrack to the movie, but it did make me want to dig up my old Tascam and bass guitars (I'm a bassist, which also influences my enjoyment of the movie). Oh, and the Clash at Demonhead song was actually quite good. Bonus points there.

Oh, and the ending to the graphic novel is much different than the ending of the movie even though they generally follow the same plot. It's a nice twist that makes you want to dive into both versions of Scott Pilgrim. I guess with all these words I've typed so far I'd better just buckle down and drop a grade on this thing. I give it...

Scott Pilgrim: The Graphic Novel

Let me get a couple things out of the way: 1) This was the first graphic novel I have ever read in my entire life. Yeah, I know. I'm still a newbie as far as comics go and 2) I saw the movie before I read the graphic novel, which will definitely influence how I feel about things. With that business aside, let's talk Scott Pilgrim.

I had a little spare time on my hands today because our little girl was sick and spent most of her time sleeping or wishing she was sleeping. I've read a whole bunch of X-Men comics (109 of them to be exact) but I feel like my comic reading experience is lacking a little depth. So I decided to pick up a series I could knock out in a few hours, and that's Scott Pilgrim.

Interestingly enough, vol. 1 of Scott Pilgrim is a whole lot like the beginning of the movie. It's like they storyboarded it using the graphic novel or something (I'm sure they did. That sort of stuff is important to the people who hold the graphic novel near and dear). I was a little worried that I was jumping into something that would be exactly like the movie that was based on it, and having seen the movie already the graphic novel might seem redundant.  As I progressed on in the series, my fears were put to rest.

Possible Spoiler Alerts. I don't know because I haven't written the following content yet.

First of all, Scott doesn't face all of the league of Evil Ex's the same way that he did in the movie. Many of the fights are vastly different (especially the twins. I prefer the graphic novel version), which makes reading the graphic novel as important as seeing the movie (assuming you want to do either of those things, of course). The battles are pretty much the most important/entertaining parts of the novel, and they're all very well done. This is not to say that they aren't well done in the movie...just different.

Also, you get a lot more face time with Ramona in the graphic novel. Her character is much more intriguing when you know a little more about her. Even knowing that she really likes Kim and wants to get to know her better makes you like Ramona better as a character. It's those little things that, even though I understand they couldn't fit in the movie, make the difference in the graphic novel. Oh, and I loved the fact that Ramona found out early that Scott cheated on Knives with her and couldn't deal with it (despite the fact that Ramona herself had reportedly cheated on twins).

Oh, and Envy is also a much more compelling character in the graphic novel. She's not just this evil cardboard cutout like in the movie. You get to delve a little deeper into her past and the events that lead to her becoming the sort of entitled self-absorbed person she is. Also, you learn that Scott isn't as innocent in the Envy breakup as he would lead you to believe. This leads us to our next point...

The theme of Scott's bad side is explored much more deeply in the graphic novel. He just doesn't show up as his nega self and quickly make peace with himself like he does in the movie. Scott has to learn to accept that despite his "wo-is-me" outlook, he's probably hurt more people than people have hurt him. He has to come to grips with the fact that he is not a completely good person. He has cheated, lied, and treated others poorly, all while maintaining a self image that is not congruent with his actions. This is a major theme in Scott Pilgrim and one that I really appreciate because in some ways I'm Scott Pilgrim. We're all probably Scott Pilgrim to some degree or another. We have to come to grips with our nega selves in order to be whole.

Anyway, I could go on and on about differences between the book and the movie, but I won't. The graphic novel is excellent and I refer it to anyone who enjoys indie music and is able to laugh at themselves a bit. If you're wondering whether you should read the graphic novel or see the movie first, read the graphic novel first. If you see the movie first, it'll be hard to read the book without hearing Michael Cera's voice in your mind. You'll basically be robbing yourself (as I did) of the opportunity to get to know Scott Pilgrim with your own imagination. As for rating the graphic novel, it's the first and best I've ever read. I heart this story. I heart it so much I'm giving it...

The Unbearable Stench of Kurt Wagner

I always knew that Nightcrawler could teleport and that his teleportation left a little cloud behind, but until I started reading the X-men comics I had no idea what the contents of the cloud was. Turns out it's brimstone (aka sulfur). If you've never had the chance to get a good whiff of sulfur you're missing the chance to scare yourself into a life of pious devotion. Hell is supposedly filled with the foul smelling element that burns like an eternal tire fire. What does sulfur smell like? I dunno. It's like an old woman with broccoli farts (yes, I have known an old woman who got gas when she ate her favorite vegetable. Needless to say, even though she was an old family friend, I hated visiting that woman). Sulfur is used in all your finer stink bombs, so that should give you an indication of its particular scent. I am most familiar with it due to my experiences with cheap Mexican firecrackers. I once cracked open 20 sulfur duds and rolled them into one giant firecracker that nearly took my arm off and let off a stench that a city dump would be ashamed to own up to.

So here's the thing: whenever Nightcrawler teleports, there should be a frame or two depicting those who were in the vicinity gagging and perhaps even losing their lunch due to the air-rending odor. Yes, I know I'm not dealing in reality when I'm talking about a guy who can actually teleport himself around, but if he's leaving sulfur behind they should at least acknowledge how bad it smells. It's like rotten eggs that ate too much Indian food. It's like a hobo convention near an open sewer. It's like King Hippo's undies getting sprayed by a skunk.You get the picture. Nightcrawler is The Spleen of The X-Men. I wouldn't want to be down wind of him, but I'd proudly fight beside him.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It Shouldn't Hurt to be a Nerd

Over the past few years I've seen a steep increase in the number of people who are willing to let their nerd flag fly. In some strange way nerds, who have traditionally been a marginalized group, are in the mainstream now. They have girlfriends and have people who admire them for their knowledge and skills. It's a whole new nerdy world. Guys who would have been stuffed into trash cans not that many years ago are now being lionized by people who aren't even on the chess team (I was invited to join the chess team, and I had many friends on the chess team. I just thought it was a bridge too far. I tried (and failed) to have some semblance of coolness). It's more okay to be a nerd now than it ever has been, and that means there are more out-of-the-closet nerds than ever before.

With the increase in overall nerdy numbers, the schisms that divide certain types of nerds have gotten pretty wide. No, I'm not talking about Star Wars vs Star Trek or anything like that. I'm talking about those who wish to inflict their nerd powers on you, to use them as some sort of nerdy weapon vs. those who seek the more communal aspects of nerd life and seek peace in nerdhood. We can divide nerds into two main groups with many subgroups among them. I will not attempt to make a complete listing of the subgroups, but I will try to cover the topic as best as I can. Do I sound like I'm writing some sort of nerd term paper? Yes I do.

The two main types of nerd (and yes, I know that binary classification systems are often flawed) are the Destroyer Nerd and the Builder Nerd.

Destroyer Nerds are the reason you might not ever want to be a nerd. They are intimidating because they know more about everything than you do (partly because all they ever do is soak up nerd information. They usually have no friends and no life outside their nerdy pursuits) and they are always correcting you or laughing in your face at the slightest mistake. This type of nerd is typified by the comic book guy from The Simpsons. How often have you seen this guy derisively mock someone because they didn't know some nerdy detail that he knows? It's pretty much his whole reason for being.

The destroyer nerds I most hate to be around own a video game store in the city I used to live in. Because they own the store, all they do every day is play video games, read comic books, and discuss various types of nerdy crap. Their job allows them a certain elite level of nerd knowledge that people with a normal day job can't attain without completely sacrificing their social life. I once made the mistake of saying that there is a port of Gunstar Heroes on the Gameboy Advance. What I meant to say was that there is a sequel to Gunstar Heroes, not a port. When my mouth was spitting the sentence out, I couldn't think of the word "sequel." Maybe I was up too late the night before, or maybe I started talking before the thought was fully formed. I dunno. I said port when I meant sequel. When my little faux pas reached the ears of the nerd on duty, he basically jumped down my throat and called me a moron. Then he took the time to explain to me the difference between a port and a sequel, a difference I already knew. You would think I would get a little slack because I'm the guy who walks in once a month asking for Vectrex games (the nerd on duty never fails to point out that he owns the complete Vectrex library including all the peripherals and no, none of them are for sale). So now when I walk in that store, I pretty much keep my mouth shut. I don't want to make the slightest slip-up lest I get an "I know more than you about everything" lecture. Like I said, these guys use nerd knowledge as a weapon.

Builder Nerds are the reason you want to be a nerd. They love sharing and just plain old nerding out. Stan Lee is the perfect builder nerd. If you read the early Marvel comics he worked on, his little comments at the bottom of certain frames all  seem to be saying, "Do you think this is as awesome as I think it is? Seriously, I think this is super awesome." Reading a comic with Stan Lee comments feels like you're reading it with the man himself. You can tell he loves what he does and he loves to share it with the world.

The first builder nerd I ever got to be really good friends with was my friend Ryan. He lived in the small addition on the side of the bachelor pad I lived in during my first year of college. We had this huge house that was disgusting in every way, but the rent was super cheap. Something like 9 guys lived in it, and Ryan was the quiet guy who lived in the addition that had its own bathroom and kitchenette. We never talked to the guy during the first semester, and were only vaguely aware that he lived in our place. One night he knocked on the door to the main house to ask to use the bathroom or something. Once inside the house, he noticed my large collection of Calvin and Hobbes stuff. He got really excited and we started talking about how great Calvin and Hobbes is. He went to his room and pulled out some Calvin and Hobbes collections I hadn't read yet, and he loaned them to me. I, in turn, loaned him the ones he hadn't read. We talked about all kinds of stuff that night. It was, "Do you still listen to synthpop from the 80's even though almost nobody else in the world does? Me too!" "Have you used the cheat codes on Descent and laughed when the lady's voice said, 'cheater'? Me too!" "Do you hold Cinnamon Toast Crunch to be the superior sugar cereal over all other sugar cereals? Me too!" Ryan and I ended up staying up until 3 in the morning talking about all kinds of nerdy stuff. It was one of the best times I've ever had talking about nerdy crap. Since that time, I've had similar discussions with my music nerd friends, my movie nerd friends, my video game nerd friends, and all other nerdy friends. Sharing nerdy knowledge is one of the best things a nerd can do.  It's a building and rejoicing process rather than a destroying one.

And now we take a look at the subsets of nerddom.

Destroyer Nerd Subsets

The Old Guard- This is the guy who can't accept the fact that there are 12 year old kids who enjoy the same nerdy crap he does. Somehow he's forgotten that he was once a 12 year old  with nerdy interests and that at one time there were people who knew more than he did. He's probably forgotten all the builder nerds who helped him gain all his nerdy knowledge. The old guard nerd is, at heart, an ingrate.

The Ninja Nerd- This type of nerd is never a part of any conversation. He has no friends, and subsists in nerddom only by sneak attacking existing nerdy conversations. This is the type of guy who will sneak up and lecture you on the difference between a sequel and a port when he wasn't even a part of the original conversation. He's always there lurking in the shadows, waiting for someone to make a mistake that he can pounce on. He'll correct you, make you feel bad, and leave as soon as he came. It's no wonder he has no friends.

The Evil Career Nerd- This is a guy who works in the nerd industry but uses his powers for evil rather than good. It's the comic store guy who talks down to you because he knows everything and you don't. It's the record store guy who laughs in your face because you haven't heard of some obscure band who only has 45's on some Japanese label. It's the guys who work at that video game store who gave me a half hour of crap for a slight verbal mistake. These are the living versions of the comic book guy from The Simpsons.

The Claim Jumper- Although he is usually lying about it, this guy knew about every trend in nerddom before you did. He was on the bandwagon back when it was freshly felled trees waiting to go to the mill to become the boards that would eventually become the bandwagon. He will never stop rubbing your face in the fact that he staked his claim first. About the 90 millionth time you hear about how he had the screener for the pilot of Firefly before the series even hit the air and become a cult classic you just want to punch him in the face.

The Player Hater- Nothing is good enough for this guy. He believes true nerd power comes from staring awesome things in the face and declaring them to be not nearly good enough for his refined palate. No matter how good something is, he'll find something wrong with it. He thinks he's a great critical thinker and a very refined person, but he's really just a two-bit hater. It takes no skill to find fault with everything you see. Nerds of this variety are probably very insecure at heart, and their player hating is a smoke screen.

The Hoarder- This is the guy who's holding four aces but will never show them. He'll let you see the two of clubs that fills out his hand, but you'll never see the single of spades. He feels like he'll lose his power and status if he ever lets anyone else know about some nerdy area of knowledge in which he is an expert. He seriously thinks his life would be perfect if nobody else knew about Voltron or whatever it is he is hoarding. In addition to robbing the nerd community of his expertise, this guy is robbing himself of potential friendships and good times.

Builder Nerd Subsets

The Old Timer- The old timer is the guy who has been doing nerdy crap his whole life. He enjoys seeing a new generation come up and take hold of the nerdy crap he loves. My Dad is this kind of nerd. For Father's Day I gave him some DVD's with tons of digital comics on them. He started talking to me about why Jack Kirby's Marvel stuff was the best there has ever been, and we ended up having a nice long discussion about comics that both of our wives rolled their eyes at. It's fun to be able to talk about stuff with a guy who remembers when The X-Men were brand new.

The Good Career Nerd- This is the guy who works in the nerd industry and manages to not let his status go to his head. It's the comic store guy who gladly introduces neophyte nerds to comics they will probably enjoy. It's the record store guy who will put on a record of a great band you aren't aware of because he wants you enjoy it as much as he does (His name is Steve and he co-owns Hoodlum's in Tempe). It's the video game store guys who love to direct you to awesome games you haven't played (Some of these guys work at Bookman's in Mesa). They are guys who use their positions to bring good stuff to good people.

The Rejoicer- This is my friend Ryan. It's the guy who you can talk to until 3 in the morning. He loves that anyone else in the world knows about M.A.S.K. (because illusion is the ultimate weapon y'know). His mind is blown any time he meets someone who loves Get Smart as much as he does. Life is a 24/7 party for this guy because at any moment he could start up a conversation with a random stranger about how great Patrick Stewart is.

The Librarian- This guy owns an extensive collection of nerdy stuff, but is somehow not opposed to constantly lending it out. He views his collection as less of a personal property and more of a collective pool. Unfortunately, this guy is very easily exploited by destroyer nerds. If he surrounds himself with builder nerds, however, this guy can create a nerd commune where peace and happiness reign.

The Sherpa- This is the guy who will take a young or aspiring nerd by the hand and guide him through the admittedly convoluted world of sci-fi, comic books, and other nerdy crap. He helps you avoid the jabs thrown at you by destroyer nerds. He helps you set up your nerdy base camp with your nerd essentials and may even help you reach a nerdy summit or two. The sherpa is a true friend and is of great value to aspiring nerds.

Anyway, I might add more nerd types when I think of 'em, but these will suffice for now. As you can see, destroyer nerds are self-centered and bring nothing of value to the nerd community. Builder nerds are the nerd community. There wouldn't be conventions and gatherings if there weren't nerds whose purpose in life is to share and rejoice in good things.

If I were president of nerds (and no, this is not me throwing my hat into the ring. If I ever run it won't be until at least 2016) I would actively seek to set up some sort of nerd rehabilitation to help destroyer nerds learn to contribute positively to society. There really needn't be a rift in nerddom. It pains me to see it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

X-men on Holiday

Now that I've devoured the first 105 or so X-Men comics, I've come to yet another startling conclusion: X-Men vacations suck. Just look at the graph below.

As you can see, not only do the X-Men encounter much more danger than they expect when they take a vacation, they encounter more danger overall than they would have if they just stayed home. Never in 105 issues of X-Men have they taken a vacation that wasn't immediately ruined by danger beyond their wildest imaginations. If they had just stayed home clipping their toenails and waiting for Cerebro to warn them of incoming danger, not only would they be more prepared to face it, it wouldn't be nearly as cataclysmic as anything they face on holiday. I guess it sucks to be one of the X-Men because you really never get a day off.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blaster Master (NES Game)

I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for Blaster Master. I'm still a realist, so I won't be giving 5 Tanookis to a game that doesn't deserve it, but my review may be a little more favorable than it should be. Or not. I don't know how to check whether or not I'm being objective. Let's just assume that I'm not.

In Blaster Master you are the drive of an awesome little tank. It can jump, shoot, and do a bunch of other stuff. Not only can you drive the tank around, you can hop out of the tank and take off to places the tank can't go. As a matter of fact, you'll face all the bosses on foot rather than in your tank. After each boss you'll receive a powerup that will allow you to move on to the next level as well as hidden areas in the current level. Powerups include better weapons that can shoot formerly impenetrable walls, hover jets that allow you to reach levels you can't jump to, and many others.

If you play this game through to the very end, you'll learn that the whole ordeal was so that you, the driver of the little tank, could get your pet frog back. That frog picked such a dangerous area to get lost in, he deserves to die. I had pet frogs when I was a kid, but I wouldn't have hopped in a tank and taken on the world if my frog got away.

Leaving the frog aside for a moment, I have to say that overall this is a great game. There's a lot of enjoyment packed in this little cartridge. It deserves every bit of...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blades of Steel (NES Game)

Blades of Steel is the first name (there aren't many other names) in hockey on the NES. This is classic hockey action as it should be. Although Blades of Steel attempts to be fairly realistic, some of the things in the game are completely different than regular hockey as it is played in any league anywhere.

There is no offsides and no icing, which speeds up the game considerably. There is plenty of fighting, but there are no major penalties for fighting. In fact, the player who wins in the fight gets the puck. I've scored goals from picking fights in front of the opposing goal. Not only do you not get penalized for fighting, I haven't seen a single penalty handed out in Blades of Steel. Although this is a radical departure from NHL style hockey, it makes for a good video game. Oh, and with remarkable forsight, tie games are decided by a shootout, which is something the NHL didn't implement until 2005.

The one thing that you really need to have a handle on is your goalie. When the opposing team gets the puck into your zone, you will find yourself controlling both your goalie and the defense. An arrow scrolls back and forth across the front of the net showing you where your opponents shot will go. It's best to forget about your defense and just focus on controlling your goalie. If you do that, you'll find it's much easier to stop shots and pass the puck out of your zone.

The teams in Blades of Steel are not NHL licensed, so the game only shows the names of the cities. You'll find, however, that each team wears its NHL colors, so it's easy to pretend you're playing in the NHL. If you're wondering why Los Angeles isn't wearing their black and silver sweaters, it's because they're wearing these pre-Gretzky sweaters. Also, you have the option to either play a single exhibition game or play in a tournament (playoff hockey is always the best).

Anyway, this is one of the best sports games for the NES and it's a must-own if you're an avid NES collector.

Big Bird's Hide & Speak (NES Game)

I'm not going to actually rate this game because I'm not a part of the target demographic. I wasn't even a part of the target demographic when this game was made. I'm getting old. Anyway, this game is notable for its excellent voice synthesizer. Big Bird is the only character that talks in this game, but it sounds just like the Big Bird you know from Sesame Street. It was really a technical breakthrough for the NES.

There are 6 variations on a very simple game in Big Bird's Hide and Speak. Each of them is based on finding Sesame Street characters in the windows of a house (see picture) or finding the letters that correspond to them. You select the right character by having the little yellow bird land on their window. The little yellow bird doesn't care what button you push on the direction pad, which is confusing. It just cycles through the windows top to bottom with every push of a button. If I were rating this things, I would knock off big points for that. Anyway, Big Bird's Hide and Speak is kinda boring and overly simple, but I'm not in the target demographic so I won't rate it. It's just a Nintendo game someone gave me and since I'm reviewing all my Nintendo games I felt compelled to write a blurb on it.

Batman (NES Game)

Batman is a pretty decent side-scroller. It's not Contra, but it's playable and reasonably enjoyable...I guess. I really only have one beef about this game: who are these people you're fighting? Batman's foes are usually themed villains and their equally themed henchmen. Where's The Riddler, The Penguin, Clayface, Poison Ivy...anyone? The Joker shows up in the cut scenes, but you never get the feeling that these military-style foes that you face are his henchmen. They don't have the Joker flair at all. You fight the joker at the end of the game, but it doesn't feel like you've been building up to that battle at all. In the end, Batman blames The Joker for killing his parents(?!) and throws him off the top of a building and apparently The Joker survives. I don't like that storyline at all.

For being a moderately bland side-scroller and for not having a realistic storyline when there are dozens of good Batman storylines they could have used I'm giving Batman...

Battle of Olympus (NES Game)

When Zelda II and Castlevania II done fell off (nod to Seth Romatelli) they should have taken a page from the Battle of Olympus.playbook. Battle of Olympus is an hack and slash platformer that seamlessly incorporates RPG elements without slowing down the action or making you wander aimlessly and talk to people who have nothing to say. Battle of Olympus just did things right, and they deserve a lot of credit for it.

Battle of Olympus is set in ancient Greece. You are the hero (of course) who makes his way from Greek city to Greek city slaying enemies both large and small. Along the way you'll meet up with Greek gods such as Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes. The gods will give you weapons and armor to help you kill some of the harder enemies in the game. I particularly like the sandals of Hermes that not only allow you to jump higher in general, they allow you to walk on the ceilings and treetops (like the picture above) if you want.

There are always plenty of enemies to slash through, but you'll actually want to stop and talk to the townspeople. None of the townspeople throw out superfluous information. Everything they say is in some way relevant to what you're doing. The beauty of the townspeople in this game (aside from not giving meaningless info) is that their words scroll quickly and they never use a dozen words when two will do. If you listen to the townspeople, they'll let you know who you need to kill and what weapons you'll need and where to get those weapons. It's mind-blowingly refreshing to not have your time wasted by pointless exposition and info that has no bearing on the task at hand.

Anyway, lest I make myself completely unlike the townspeople in this game, here's the skinny: this game is a whole lot of fun. It's simple to learn, and it's satisfying to slay mythical Greek creatures. Maybe I'm overcompensating because I've been so disappointed with Castlevania II and Zelda II, but I still feel like giving Battle of Olympus...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bases Loaded II (NES Game)

This game should have been called "Fielding Impossible" because it's the worst example of 8-bit defensive baseball ineptitude I've seen. The 1962 Mets had better fielding than this game provides. The whole thing is an unholy mess. The game doesn't look that bad in the pitching and batting screen. The animations of the batter are a little choppy, but it's not terrible. Once the ball goes into play, the camera shifts to a shot of the field, but it's taken from either the first or third baseline (depending on where the ball is hit) which is completely disorienting. Also, the graphics for the fielders are much worse than those of the pitcher and batter. They're tiny, choppy, and don't move to the ball worth crap. There isn't much more about this game that needs to be said. The game is bad and the people who made it should feel bad. Final score:

Baseball Stars (NES Game)

Now here's an odd little duck. Baseball Stars is a game unlike any other baseball game for the NES. That may or may not be a good thing (it's probably ok because a lot of baseball games on the NES stink out loud).

Here's how Baseball Stars struck me at first: I noticed that my batter was slouched over the plate like he's got lower back problems. I've seen guys lean into it, but the picture above is a little much, no? His elbow is almost touching his knee. He's crowding the plate. He's begging for one in the ear. After noticing the odd posture, I noticed that the field is HUGE. Seriously, the fields in most baseball games for the NES are small to make up for the fact that the fielders are slow as mud. Baseball Stars brings it with a realistically (or perhaps slightly exaggerated) sized field.

Fielding was a bit of a problem at first, but once you get a few chances to field a pop fly, you'll be all over it. There are still some unrealistic things (third baseman unable to throw out a guy at first, etc.) and a few bugs (CPU caught a few balls it wasn't anywhere near, yet I have to be directly under a ball within a millimeter of accuracy or it won't be a catch) but it's not the worst fielding I've seen in an NES baseball game. It's all relative. If the fielding was this bad on a PS2 baseball game I'd be furious.

The team and player names are a bit silly. I was playing the Japanese team in the picture above, and as you can see I have a player named Toyota. I believe Fuji and Honda are also on the team. The other team is the Ghouls and their pitcher is named Cyclops. They also have Mummy, Jason, and Bela (as in Lugosi) on the team among others. All the other teams and players are equally silly.

The batting is a little difficult. This is one game where the pitcher has a definite advantage. The pitcher can change the direction of the ball after it leaves his hand. This means the pitcher can throw a ball that zig-zags its way to the plate. Even though it will come across the middle of the plate, such pitches are darn near unhittable. As for the batting itself, the timing is a bit wonky. Instead of anticipating a pitch, it's best to wait for the exact millisecond when you think the ball is past you and then you swing. You can't get a hit any other way.

All in all Baseball Stars is a solid yet not stellar baseball game. I can see myself playing it again in the future, but not until I've played Baseball Simulator 1.000 again. I give Baseball Stars...

Baseball Simulator 1.000 (NES Game)

I'm not the first person to realize this, but Baseball Simulator 1.000 is a horrible name for a video game, especially one as fun as this. From the name you'd expect something like a fantasy baseball game where you look at stats and never play an actual game. Baseball Simulator 1.000 actually gives the very best in arcade-style baseball fun. It's one of the best, if not the (say it like "thee" in your head) best baseball games on the NES.

First of all, the characters are a little more cartoony than they are in other games. They're all a bit on the pudgy side, which is fun. It's the same reason it was fun to watch David Wells play. Also, look how chunky your bat is. It's a caveman club. Also, different players have different powers that you can enable when you're up to bat. Some can make the ball zig-zag making it impossible to field. Others can make the ball catch on fire. My favorite is the guy who turns into a tornado at the plate. It's all much sillier and more fun than the name would imply.

With my scathing review of the fielding in Bad News Baseball, one might ask, "How's the fielding in Baseball Simulator 1.000?" It's not that bad. As a matter of fact, by the 7th inning I was routinely throwing guys out and even tossed a double play. It still has room for improvement, but barring any dark horses (I've got my eye on you, James K. Polk) I have to say: this is my very favorite baseball game on the NES. That being the case, baseball games on the NES aren't as good as most other games. So even though this one is top drawer, overall it gets only...

Even though it's not perfect, chances are this is the most fun you'll ever have playing baseball on the NES.

Barker Bill's Trick Shooting (NES Game)

Barker Bill's trick shooting is a simple light gun game that feels a whole lot like Duck Hunt. It's even got that freaking dog who laughs at you with the same exact sound effect from Duck Hunt (see picture above).

I found Barker Bill's Trick Shooting to be a pretty tough little cookie in some of the modes. You basically have the option of shooting at balloons (which raise wildly and unpredictably) plates (which move faster than you think) or random falling objects (hard to gauge when to shoot). I found myself pulling my chair up right against the screen and shooting from point blank range (an unforgivable sin in Duck Hunt).

This game, although tough, doe shave its charm. The graphics are bright and visually appealing. Barker Bill (who looks like a circus ringmaster) and his assistant (who looks like a Vegas waitress) are well animated and fairly lifelike for an NES game. They'll actually chew you out if you let plates that you were going to shoot crash to the ground below. The dog is just as infuriating as he is in Duck Hunt, which I suppose is the whole purpose of his being.

Despite the fairly steep difficulty (at least compared to Duck Hunt) Barker Bill's Trick Shooting is a nice light gun title for the NES that you'll probably enjoy on some level or another. I'll give it...

Balloon Fight (NES Game)

Do you like Joust? Do you like Bubble Bobble? If you answered in the affirmative to either of those questions, chances are you'll really get a kick out of Balloon Fight. It's an adorable little game that is sure to delight lovers of single-screen platformers.

This game is a lot like Joust in that you are out to knock your enemies out of the sky (they're trying to do the same to you). You've got little balloons attached to yourself, and you've got to flap your arms to fly around and attack your enemies. The arm flapping seemed really laborious to me at first, but that's only because I'm a complete idiot. I played through 30 stages of this game before realizing that instead of continual mashing of the "A" button to make my little man fly, I could just press and hold "B." Yeah, took me 30 levels to figure out the function of the second of two buttons.

This game is a lot like Bubble Bobble in that once your enemies are downed, you have to touch them to clear them off the screen otherwise they'll come back (I suppose Joust has the same feature with the eggs). After you knock them off whatever ledge they land on, a bubble will come up from the water at the bottom of the screen and you can hit it for extra points. I may have only been thinking Bubble Bobble because of the bubbles in Balloon Fight, but there is another reason it's a lot like Bubble Bobble: it goes on basically forever. I made it to level 51 before biting the dust, and there was no discernible end in sight.

In addition to the other balloonists who are out to get you in Balloon Fight, there are occasional balls of lightning shot by the clouds, as well as a giant fish who will eat you if you get too close to the water (I suppose that's comparable to the pterodactyl and lava hand in Joust). Once you get into the higher levels, the screen becomes almost a total hazard zone.

All in all I have to say that I love Balloon Fight. The animation is charming, the music fits perfectly, the gameplay is simple and addictive. It's everything you could want in a single-screen platformer. The only knock I can give it is that unlike Bubble Bobble, it uses a lot of the same levels over and over, so you get pretty accustomed to the pitfalls of each of the six or so levels you'll actually see. Other than that, this game is deserving of...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

When Superheroes Brawl

So I've gotten far enough into the X-Men comics to have seen them fight nearly as many other superheroes as they have villains. They've taken on The Avengers, Spiderman, The Sub-Mariner, The Banshee, and many other characters who generally fall on the side of good. One thing I've noticed about all these brawls is that they tend to all be about basically the same thing. So I'm going to pass on my knowledge to you.

If you ever see a comic with a cover that boasts: "Spiderman vs The X-Men" or "Thor vs The Fantastic 4" or "Iron Man vs an unarmed girl scout" you can refer to the handy chart below to know what the fight is all about.

It happens every single time. You're sitting there looking at two guys (or gals, let's not leave the ladies out because...ya fights) who are basically on the same team duke it out it's usually because of a misunderstanding that could have been solved by asking something as simple as, "Hey Spiderman, what brings you here?" It's a little maddening but I suppose if your good guys are going to be legitimately good, they can't be picking fights with each other for no reason, and not having an open dialogue is as good a reason as any. And I suppose everyone wants to know who'd win in a fistfight between Wolverine and Spiderman (Wolverine, but it'd be closer than you think). Anyway, I just wanted to toss this nugget of info out into the world.

That's How I Do

Strawberry Short Kook, Sir Isaac Lime, Alexander the Grape, Louis-Bloo Raspberry, Poncho Punch and Li'l Orphan Orange.

What's all that jazz? Oh, that's just me rattling off all 6 zippy flavors of Otter Pops, my favorite summertime snack, from memory. No need for cheat sheets, I know my Otter Pops by heart. Oh, and for kicks I did them in order from most delicious to least (you know when you're down to the dregs of your Otter Pops when it's just Li'l Orphan Orange and nobody else. It's only fitting that the Orphan gets picked last).

Now that it's summer and I'm well into my second case of Otter Pops, I thought I drop a little ode to my very favorite frozen sugar-laden treat. Not nerdy enough material you say? Well how about the fact that I have visited the Otter Pops website and actually downloaded songs performed by the fictional pop group called Otter Popstars and used them in mix tapes (yes on actual cassettes) to woo the woman who eventually became my wife. If that ain't a nerdy devotion to Otter Pops, I don't know what is.

My Mom used to buy these things in bulk from Price Club (remember when that was a place?) and my siblings and I would down these things like nobody's business. At that time, my Mom was taking our family off processed sugar. We didn't have any candy or sweets of any kind in the house and yet Otter Pops made it under the radar somehow.

In those days I would only engage in 3.5 of the six flavors. I was all about Strawberry Short Kook, Alexander the Grape, and Sir Isaac Lime and could be talked into Louis-Bloo Raspberry if everything else was Li'l Orphan Orange and Poncho Punch. I didn't do Li'l Orphan Orange because she's the most boring of all the flavors. I once puked up a Poncho Punch, so that took him out of the rotation. Louis-Bloo Raspberry was ok in a pinch, but not nearly as good as the trifecta mentioned before. I can mark the official date of my becoming an adult as the day I bought a case of Otter Pops when I was in college and I taught myself to love each and every flavor. No longer am I an Otter Pop racist. Each color is beautiful and delicious (except those tropical flavored ones. That's just heresy).

Anyway, with the weather officially hot it's time for the Otter Pops to find their way into the respective freezers of every person in the world who knows what cool summertime treats are all about. Oh, and do yourself a favor and hit up the official Otter Pops website and download a song or two. I recommend "Place in My Heart." Play it for that special lady or guy in your life and then give them a Strawberry Short Kook, proving that you love them enough to give them the very best flavor. That's summertime love Otter Pop style.

Nerd transmission complete.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bad News Baseball (NES Game)

Bad News Baseball is about on par with any of the other baseball titles you'll see on the NES. I love vintage baseball video games, but they all seem to suffer from the same malady: the fielding sucks. I don't know why, but video game fielders from 1976 to 1999 (approximately) just couldn't manage to chase down a ball with any sort of gusto. Bad News Baseball has this problem as bad as any other game I've seen.

Before I start dissing it, I had better talk about the things that make Bad News Baseball a good game. It has some of the cleanest graphics you'll see as far as NES baseball goes. The intro that zooms in on the field from the top of one of the light poles is a nice touch. The pitchers and batters are nicely and smoothly animted, which is much appreciated. There are silly touches like the fact that the second plate umpire is a rabbit. I also like the fact that if you strike out to end an inning, your batter will angrily slam his bat on the ground.

The batting is easy to control, but the pitching is another matter. I had to look up the manual to find out why the opposing pitcher was throwing 100 MPH pitches while my guy was tossing 56 MPH lobs. Pitching is a three step process, and takes a little practice before you're throwing it right each time. By the time you learn it,  the computer has already sent a ball or two into the stands. Then there's the aforementioned fielding. Because your outfielders don't line up with your infielders (even though they all run in whichever direction you push) it's impossible to know where your outfielders are when a ball is hit to them. The CPU is always under every fly ball, which is infuriating. Also, slow rollers are deadly. Your infielders can only chase them so far, and all your fielders are always slower than the slowest hit. Once a slow roller gets past your infield, chances are you have no idea where your outfield is. In the meantime, the runner is screaming around the bases. I had the CPU hit an inside the park homer just because I couldn't chase down a ball that would be a routine out in real life.

Despite all the fielding woes, Bad News Baseball is still a lot of fun to play. It's best to play with a friend as both sides will suffer from poor fielding and the game will be about an even match. Warts and all I still give Bad News Baseball...

Bad Dudes (NES Game)

Do you remember where you were the first time you read the words, "The President has been kidnapped by ninjas. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue The President?" I was at my neighbor's house and we were all set for some Double Dragon style martial arts mayhem. The stage was set and we were ready to rock and/or roll. Unfortunately for us, Bad Dudes didn't meet up to our expectations.

Everything about the way Bad Dudes starts makes you think it's going to absolutely rock.

The first thing you see (after the Data East logo) are two muscle-bound dudes in black tank tops (one of the guys bears an uncanny resemblance to Sly Stallone). Then you are allowed to choose one of two players: Blade and Striker. How 80s awesome are those names? Then you get the message that The President has been kidnapped by ninjas, and a man with Top Gun glasses asks you if you are a bad enough dude to rescue The President. If that isn't the perfect table setting for ninja butt-kickin' I don't know what is.

Here's the problem with Bad Dudes: it's super choppy. The first thing you notice is that your character doesn't walk normally. He sort of plods along in a non-ninja way. I've stared at it for an hour and I think only one of his legs moves and the other is stationary. Also, the game suffers from serious blink issues. Your enemies are constantly blinking, making them hard to track and harder to attack with precision. Maybe they're just bad ninjas and don't know how to disappear completely. The controls are anything but natural, with some functions taking plenty of practice to master. The gameplay for this game is really just a big mess. All the elements combine to form a game that just isn't that much fun to play.

Not only is the gameplay poor, I have a few questions about Bad Dudes: If an enemy is holding a full-size ninja sword and that same sword still looks full size after the ninja is killed and the sword is left behind, why does it turn into a small dagger when I pick it up? Also, why did you make me stab a dog? He didn't look like a vicious dog. He looked like someone's pet beagle. Oh, and what's with the small ninjas? Are there monkeys, midgets or children in those costumes? If it's monkeys or children, I feel bad. If it's midgets, I don't feel quite as bad.

Bad Dudes is nowhere near as fun as Double Dragon, Kung Fu, or River City Ransom. I recommend each of those games more highly than Bad Dudes. I'm afraid this under-powered game gets no more than...

And if it weren't for the intro it would only get 1 Tanooki.

Astyanax (NES Game)

Astyanax is a horrible, horrible game. I played it all the way through and hated nearly every minute of it. In this game you are a guy with green hair named Astyanax. You have been brought from your home world (Earth?) to help save a princess who has been capture so an evil guy named Blackhorn (who wears a viking helmet with white horns) can steal her magical powers. The little fairy who brought you to this place is named Cutie. You read it right: Cutie. She tells you all sorts of boring crap in slow-scrolling cut scenes that you will be thankful to skip. The dialogue in this game sounds like it was written by a sixth grader, and possibly was. Here are some examples:

"Woooo...where am I?" (Astyanax says wooo a lot for no real reason. I think he means to say "whoa")

"What is this????? Is this really a castle?" (Asked by a guy who had been transported from his world to another by a fairy. The castle is the most normal thing he sees in the game)

"Ha ha are a noisy fly" (It's true)

"You will see me controlling this world after you die." (Because that's what dead people do)

"Can you defeat me?" (Asked by Astyanax before his big showdown with Blackhorn. Is he begging for Blackhorn to beat him, or is he just asking so he can avoid getting into a fight he can't win?)

Anyway, the dialogue is painful and the gameplay is worse. Even though the intro says you are a freshman in high school and you look like a standard 98 pound weakling in the cut scenes, you are this gigantic knight. You can have one of three weapons which you get by breaking these totem pole things. You will either have a regular sword, a battle axe, or a sword that looks suspiciously like the one on the  Demon Sword cartridge. There is no noticeable difference between the weapons and no way of knowing which is best. You have very limited arm motion in swinging your weapons, and the collision detection is so poor that you can't always tell if you're hitting your enemies. Your enemies respawn after a very short period of time and after moving a short distance. This can be a problem. For example: if you're fighting one of the awkward-moving skeletons and it bumps you back a little after defeating him, you'll have to defeat him all over again when you get to the spot where you originally saw him. It's frustrating.

The levels are laid out in such a haphazard way that you wonder if they play tested this piece of crap at all. Here's what irks me: if you are on one of the many platform levels where a fall means certain doom, they will place enemies on short platforms so that you are sure to be bumped off and die if you don't kill the enemy first. It's frustrating because some of the enemies don't appear until you're on top of them. Also, due to your short arms the only way to kill an enemy on another platform is to use some of your magic, which you won't always have unless you're using cheat codes (without my Game Genie I would not have made it through this game). So basically the game tries to kill you in ways that you can do almost nothing about. That's always a nice feature.

Eventually you fight Blackhorn's right hand man who is a large skeleton. His name? Thorndog. I'm going to just brainstorm here and come up with better names for a skeleton than Thorndog. Here we go: Ol' Bones, Skele-man, Skullface, Bonehead, Ribsy Bonepants, Skullhead McGee, Broncanus, Dr. Lotsabones, Napoleon Bonaparte, Boney McBone, Vertebrae Vinny, No-Skin Sam, and Cuddles. That took me less than two minutes and every one of those names is better than Thorndog. Anyway, after you fight Ribsy Bonepants he tells you in another excruciating cut scene that in killing him, you have allowed yourself to be trapped by his spell. Cutie sacrifices herself to break the spell and you're on your way.

You fight a bunch of guys and eventually kill Blackhorn, who isn't a very hard boss at all. Then you'll meet up with the princess who sends you back home. Your prize for beating the game is that Cutie is still alive and she's not a tiny fairy anymore. She's a real girl that you can smooch and everything. The end.

As I stated all throughout this thing, I hated playing this game. It was tedious and poorly designed. If I weren't determined to play and review all my NES games I would have quit this game after the first level. Because it was such a terrible experience, I'll give it the lowest rating I've ever given...